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June 2012 Updates


Shabbat "Table Talk" for Chukat


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat (Num. 19:1-22:1). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

06.29.12  (Tammuz 9, 5772)  It has been said that we are not punished for our sins, but by means of them, which is to say that the act of sinning itself is to suffer spiritual separation, loss, and even death itself... King David understood that because of his sin he became "unclean" through his contact with death, and therefore he used the imagery of being sprinkled with the waters of the red heifer in his appeal to the LORD: "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Psalm 51:7).
 

תְּחַטְּאֵנִי בְאֵזוֹב וְאֶטְהָר
 תְּכַבְּסֵנִי וּמִשֶּׁלֶג אַלְבִּין

te·cha·te·ei·ni · ve·e·zov · ve·et·har
te·kha·be·sei·ni · u·mi·she·leg · al·bin

"Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
 wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow"

(Psalm 51:7)



  


We find cleansing and healing from the LORD: "Come, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins have stained you like scarlet, you can become white like snow; even though they are red as crimson, they will be like wool" (Isa. 1:18). As our Torah portion this week explains, scarlet was one element added to the fire of the red cow to create the purifying waters that were applied by hyssop branches. The Hebrew word for "scarlet" (שני) means "double-dyed," from shanah (שנה), to repeat or double, suggesting the deep stain of sin within the human heart... Scarlet was also added to the running water when the metzora ("leper") was cleansed. 

You can follow the "scarlet thread" throughout the Scriptures, of course. In connection with our Torah portion, it is noteworthy that scarlet was the color of Yeshua's robe when bearing our sins (Matt. 27:28), and Yeshua indeed is the perfect fulfillment of the red heifer, the substance of all its symbolism (Heb. 9:13-14). Like the heifer, Yeshua was completely without sin or defect (2 Cor 5:21; John 8:46); He was sacrificed outside the camp (Heb 13:13); He made Himself sin for us (2 Cor 5:21); His sprinkling makes us clean (1 Pet 1:2; Heb 12:24; Rev 1:5); and the "water of separation" that His sacrifice created is the means by which we are made clean from the impurity of sin (Eph 5:25-6; Heb 10:22). Thank God for the eternal cleansing we have in Yeshua our Messiah!
 

 




Be Still and Know...


 

06.29.12  (Tammuz 9, 5772)  "Be still and know that I am God." This is something you must do; you must quiet your heart to cultivate inner peace. Turn a deaf ear to those anxious thoughts that weigh in upon you, creating pressure and "dis-ease." Being still enables you to hear the holy whisper in the midst of the storm saying, "It is I; be not afraid."
 

הַרְפּוּ וּדְעוּ כִּי־אָנכִי אֱלהִים
 אָרוּם בַּגּוֹיִם אָרוּם בָּאָרֶץ

har·pu · u·de·u · ki · a·no·khi · E·lo·him
a·rum · ba·go·yim · a·rum · ba·a·retz

"Be still (i.e., let go, surrender) and know that I am God,
 I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth"

(Psalm 46:10)



Hebrew Study Card
  

Note that the verb "be still" (i.e., rapha: רָפָה) means to "let go," "stop striving," to "relinquish control," and to surrender your life and the fate of the world to the care of God... "Being still" means finding serenity and inner peace in the midst of God's providential plans for good... As it is written in Torah: "Stand still, and see the salvation of God" (Exod. 14:13).

Why are we often anxious over mere trifles? Why do we heed the voices of fear? It is Satan who torments our minds with fearful ideas, insecurities, cynical suggestions, mocking thoughts, and so on. The LORD is the Master of the Universe, Ribbono Shel Olam - and nothing is too difficult for Him. We can come directly before Him, the Sovereign Power over all, and appeal for help for all our needs (Heb. 4:16).

We hear the "still small voice" (i.e. קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה) of the Holy Spirit when we quiet our hearts to become receptive.... This is not some "new age" nonsense but the very truth of the Scriptures. Even God Himself will not shout over our worldly distractions. Quieting ourselves means finding kavanah, focus. We must intently look to Him for all we need.

To experience true love, we have to drop all our defenses... Just for a moment, close your eyes, and allow yourself to imagine the Spirit of God hovering over you like a dove... Or take a walk in a solitary place and listen for the sound of the wind in the trees. Since the very Name of the LORD (YHVH) is marked by breath, slowly breathe in and out and thank God for the breath of your life today...
 




Repent and Believe the Joy


 

06.29.12  (Tammuz 9, 5772)  From the squalor of a Roman prison cell, the Apostle Paul counsels us to be filled with a joy that is only known by making a wholehearted decision to believe in God's all-pervasive love. This is a joy that overcomes every worldly circumstance in complete victory and praise, since it partakes in God's own joy over His Son Yeshua. Indeed, the word for "joy" (χαρά) is related to the word for "grace" (χάρις), both of which are received entirely by faith. Where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is true liberty... No matter what your circumstances, nothing can ever take away the victory you have in the Messiah. Therefore repent and believe the joy of the gospel!
 



Beauty for Ashes...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat (Num. 19:1-22:1). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

06.28.12  (Tammuz 8, 5772)  The ashes of the red heifer represented the death and sacrifice of something extremely rare, valuable, and precious. The ashes were mixed with "living water" (מַיִם חַיִּים) to reveal the truth that though the end of all flesh is but dust and ashes, the Spirit gives cleansing and life. Indeed the word ashes (אֵפֶר) may be rearranged to spell both cure (רַפֵא) and beauty (פְאֵר). The author of the book of Hebrews argues from the lesser to the greater: If the sprinkling of water mixed with the ashes of a red heifer purify the flesh from contamination with physical death, how much more does the blood of Messiah purify the soul from the deeds that cause spiritual death? (Heb. 9:13-14). Indeed, because of Yeshua's sacrifice we are given "beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness," that we may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified (Isa. 61:3).
 




The Hidden Self...


 

06.28.12 (Tammuz 8, 5772)  The unexamined life is not worth living. Often our true motives are hidden - even from ourselves - so that we are unaware of how we are being controlled by them. For example, often we harbor an unacknowledged desire to find approval and validation from others, even though that causes us to lose sight of God (Gal. 1:10). "The enemy within is usually in hiding..." It has been said that "we are only as sick as the secrets we keep," though the secrets we keep from ourselves are surely the most dangerous.

God wants our honesty, our hearts. Kierkegaard wrote, "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty." Confession means "saying the same thing" about ourselves that God says - and that means not only acknowledging our sins, but also affirming that we are loved by God. We are saved by hope, and that hope is for you today. May it please the LORD our God to help us by shining the light of His truth within the secret places of our hearts.
 




Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness


 

06.28.12  (Tammuz 8, 5772)  Surely the self is the prison that binds the soul... And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself (ἀρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν), take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:23-24). Note that the Greek verb translated "deny" in this verse means to forget yourself, or to quit thinking about yourself (from α-, "not," +ῥέω, "to speak"). Rather than abstaining from your carnal desires, then, denying yourself really means joyful self-forgetfulness. You are set free from the clamor of the self because your heart is focused on something so much greater and wonderful.

In light of this, we must soberly assess how much of our suffering is caused because the self, or the ego, refuses to let go and die? How much pain is produced because we "remember" ourselves, we think of ourselves first, we put our fear of loss or our desire for comfort above everything else? Is not such selfishness the essence of sin? Yeshua tells us to take up the cross and die daily because that which is dead no longer suffers from ambivalence and selfish inner conflict... There are no "half-measures" in this approach to life. If we truly take up the cross and die to ourselves, our struggle with the flesh would be over. All spiritual truth leads us to this place, to the constant practice of dying to the flesh. The pain we sometimes feel is from the flesh that still clings to this life.

We need courage to let go and trust. "Do you fear that He may not be able to supply from Himself that help which He may have taken away on a human level? And why does He take human help away, except to supply you with Himself?" (Fenelon).  God has to remove all that we rely upon other than Himself so that we understand that He alone is all we need. As Kierkegaard wrote, "It is terrifying when God takes out the instruments for the surgery for which no human being has the strength: to take away a person's human zest for life, to slay him – in order that he can live as one who has died to the world and to the flesh. It cannot be otherwise, for in no other way can a human being love God..." May it please the LORD to help us deny ourselves and take up the cross daily... Amen.

Note: I hasten to add - lest anyone might mistakenly think me otherwise - that I am not fully surrendered in my heart, and that I deal with the rise of the flesh daily... Apart from the miraculous intervention of God, I am hopelessly lost, full of sin of every kind, and terribly weak. I am grateful that I realize how sin-sick I am, however, since taking up the cross and dying to myself therefore represents the LORD's daily deliverance.... Ultimately, taking up the cross means embracing the message God's love -- despite the truth of my weak and sinful condition. I could never take up the cross apart from Him, that is, apart from His death on the cross for my sin...  It was for joy that Yeshua endured the cross (Heb. 12:2) - the joy that we would be reconciled with God because of His great sacrifice on our behalf.
 




The Red Heifer Sacrifice


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat (Num. 19:1-22:1). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

06.27.12  (Tammuz 7, 5772)  The Torah says that the ritual of the red cow (parah adumah) is "the decree of the Torah" (זאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה), meaning that cleansing from death is its central ritual purpose. Note that the word ashes (אֵפֶר) is composed of the same letters as the word for healing "cure" (רַפֵא). Yeshua is the fulfillment of the red cow, since He was completely without sin or defect (2 Cor. 5:21; John 8:46); He was sacrificed outside the camp (Heb. 13:13); He made Himself sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21); His sprinkling makes us clean (1 Pet. 1:2; Heb. 12:24; Rev. 1:5); by His sacrifice we are healed (Isa. 53:5); and the "water of separation" that His sacrifice created is the means by which we are made clean from the impurity of sin (Eph. 5:25-6; Heb. 10:22).

Note: For more on this fascinating subject, please see "Yeshua our Red Heifer."
 




Power in Praise...


 

06.27.12  (Tammuz 7, 5772)  Think counterculturally. Do not let your mind be conformed (lit., "squeezed into the mold") of this world, but be transformed (μεταμορφόω, i.e., metamorphosized like a caterpillar is changed into a butterfly) by the renewal of your mind (Rom. 12:2). The Greek word translated "renewal" is ἀνακαίνωσις, from ἀνά, meaning "into the midst," and καινός, meaning "newness." The idea here is that we are inwardly transfigured as we take hold of the truth of the new covenant and make it central to our lives. For this we must "put on the mind of Messiah" and repudiate the world's values and vain philosophy (1 Cor. 2:16). "When the devil is called the god of this world, it is not because he made it, but because people serve him with worldliness." The "god of this world" blinds the eyes of those who do not believe so they cannot see the truth of the gospel of Messiah (2 Cor. 4:4). The philosophy of this world is always based on lies, propaganda, fear, lust, pride, anger, appeals to vanity, and so on.  We must use discernment and test the world's assumptions against the truth of the Scriptures.

God never breaks before offering His blessing (Mark 6:41), and personal brokenness is the means of instilling His character within us (Gal. 2:20; 2 Cor. 4:17). Always remember that we never fight for, but always from, the place of victory. To paraphrase the late FB Meyers, our God is the LORD of the armies of heaven (יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת) who can summon glorious power at any moment to benefit His people. Believe that the LORD is between you and your struggle - and what troubles you have will flee as clouds before the thunderous gale.

King David quoted Moses regarding the nature of the battle with the powers of this world. "God shall arise, and His enemies shall be scattered; and those who hate him shall flee before Him! As smoke is driven away, so You shall drive them away; as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God!" (Psalm 68:1-2; Num. 10:35). Keep this verse firmly in mind whenever you read the news of this evil world or whenever you consider the schemes of the princes of this age... The prosperity of the wicked shall be entirely cut off, and their hour of judgment is fast approaching, chaverim.

As I said the other day, the greatest weapon of spiritual warfare is heartfelt praise offered up to God. When you are feeling oppressed or troubled, lift up your hands by using the powerful weapon of praise... Satan and the powers of darkness simply cannot stand before someone offering praise and thanks to the LORD for their personal deliverance. "As you call upon the LORD - who is worthy to be praised - so are you delivered from your enemies" (Psalm 18:3).
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אָבִינוּ
 מֵעוֹלָם וְעַד־עוֹלָם
 לְךָ יְהוָה הַגְּדֻלָּה וְהַגְּבוּרָה וְהַתִּפְאֶרֶת
 וְהַנֵּצַח וְהַהוֹד כִּי־כל בַּשָּׁמַיִם וּבָאָרֶץ
 לְךָ יְהוָה הַמַּמְלָכָה וְהַמִּתְנַשֵּׂא לְכל לְראשׁ

ba·rukh · at·tah · Adonai · E·lo·hei · Yis·ra·el · a·vi·nu
me·o·lam · ve·ad · o·lam
le·kha · Adonai · ha·ge·dul·lah · ve·ha·ge·vu·rah · ve·hat·tif·e·ret
ve·han·ne·tzach · ve·ha·hod -- ki · khol · ba·sha·ma·yim · u·va·a·retz
le·kha · Adonai · ham·mam·la·kha · ve·ham·mit·na·sei · le·khol · le·rosh

 

"Blessed are you, O LORD, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever.
Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory
and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours.
Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all."
(1 Chron. 29:10-11)



 




Descend to Ascend...


 

06.26.12  (Tammuz 6, 5772)   In order to say, "thy kingdom come" (תָּבא מַלְכוּתֶך) you must also say "my kingdom go..." You have to let go of your own agenda; your ego must be deposed from its petty little kingdom... Likewise, you can't say, "Come, Lord Jesus" by putting your fear first, or by otherwise demanding that your life should center on your own personal advent. No, you must consciously choose to live in exile to this world (Gal. 6:14). How can we ever expect the LORD to live out His life through us if we do not genuinely offer our lives to Him? An "anonymous" prayer along these lines reads, "God I offer myself to Thee - to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy power, Thy love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always. Amen." As Yeshua plain told us: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself (ἀπαρνέομαι) and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?  For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done" (Matt. 16:24-27).

This is another one of the "the way up is the way down" principles of spiritual life.  Life in the Spirit means trusting that God will do in you what you cannot do for yourself... We can only take hold of what God has done for us by "letting go" of our own devices (Phil. 2:13). When we really let go and trust, we will be carried by the law of the Spirit of life. The way is not trying but trusting; not struggling but resting; not of clinging to life, but of letting go:
 

אֶקְרָא לֵאלהִים עֶלְיוֹן
 לָאֵל גּמֵר עָלָי

ek·ra · le·lo·him · el·yon
la·el · go·mer · a·lai

"I call to the Ascended God
 to God who completes (or "finishes," "perfects," etc.) me"
(Psalm 57:2)



  

Dying to yourself resembles despair, but it is despair over the self, never despair over God. On the contrary, we trust in God to the degree that we abandon all faith in ourselves. Salvation is "of the LORD," not as a result of our own supposed merits.  We trust God for the miracle; we don't try to make it happen. We get there by letting go, not by struggling... We take up the cross, becoming "dead" to all our supposed rights and demands, which is another way of saying we let go and fall backward to be held up by God's power.
 




Miriam's Well and Messiah...


 

[ Our Torah portion this week (i.e., Chukat) tells us of Miriam's death, and immediately afterward the Torah states that the people became thirsty... ]

06.26.12  (Tammuz 6, 5772)   A midrash teaches that a miraculous Rock/Well of Living Water accompanied the Jews throughout their journey in the desert that provided them with mayim chayim (i.e., fresh water). Later Jewish tradition called this rock the "Well of Miriam," though the Apostle Paul earlier had identified this spiritually life-giving Rock (i.e., νευματικῆς πέτρας) with the Messiah Himself (see 1 Cor. 10:4). In other words, Yeshua was the Source of Life for the Jewish people as they wandered in the desert of Sinai. He was the Living Water (מַיִם חַיִּים) then, just as He is the inner Fountain of Life today (John 4:10). Indeed, Yeshua is truly the "Rock of Israel" (צוּר יִשְׂרָאֵל), our "spiritual oasis" in the desert, and the Source of our life and healing.

This also explains why Moses' sin of striking the Rock (at Meribah) was considered such a desecration of the Name of the LORD. The Rock (הַצּוּר) was a picture of Him who was stricken for His people (Isa. 53:4 and 1 Cor. 10:4), and Moses' second striking suggested that the Messiah would need to be stricken a second time in order to provide the needs of the people.  No! The Rock that was once smitten for the people was now to be spoken to as the "Living Rock" (1 Cor. 10:4). Moses conveyed the wrong message, suggesting that the first striking had been insufficient and that something more was needed.
 




The Letter Aleph


 

06.26.12  (Tammuz 6, 5772)   The Hebrew letter Aleph (א) is the "father" or "king" of the Aleph-Bet, whose original pictograph represents an ox, strength, and leader. It's numerical value is one (and also 1,000) and it is a silent letter. Aleph therefore is preeminent in its order and alludes to the ineffable mysteries of the oneness of God. Indeed, the word aluph (derived from the very name of this letter) means "Master" or "Lord."

In the classical Hebrew script (ketav Ashurit) used for writing Torah scrolls, Aleph is constructed from two Yods (that represent "hands") joined by a diagonal Vav (that represents man). One Yod (י) reaches upward while the other reaches downward, and both extend from the "fallen" Vav (ו), picturing a "wounded Man" or Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). In the Hebrew numbering system (i.e., gematria), Yod = 10 and Vav = 6, so adding up the three parts of Aleph yields 26, the same value as the Name of the LORD: YHVH (יהוה).

The very first letter of the Hebrew Alphabet, then, pictures the three-in-one LORD who mediates all of life for our salvation. And just as there are three parts to Aleph, but Aleph is One (echad), so there are three Persons to the Godhead, yet God is absolutely One. The gematria of the word Aleph (אָלֶף) is 111 (Aleph=1, Lamed=30, and Pey=80).
 




The Name of the LORD


 

06.25.12  (Tammuz 5, 5772)   The LORD is the Source of all existence. This is implied in the Name YHVH (יהוה) itself, which comes from the Hebrew verb "to be" (hayah), and therefore the LORD is called ha-hoveh, ve'hayah, ve'yavo (הַהוֶה וְהָיָה וְיָבוֹא) - "the One who is, and was, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8). The LORD first defined His essential Name to Moses as ehyeh asher ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה), "I AM that I AM," abbreviated simply as ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה), "I AM" (Exod. 3:14). This "threefold" Name of the LORD of Hosts encompasses all possible states of being, so that of the LORD alone it is said, melo kol ha-aretz kevodo: "the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isa. 6:3).
 

קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יהוה צְבָאוֹת
מְלא כָל־הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ

ka·dosh · ka·dosh · ka·dosh · Adonai · Tze·va·ot,
me·lo · khol · ha·a·retz · ke·vo·do

 

"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!"
(Isa. 6:3)


 
Download Study Card
 


Note that traditional Hebrew spelling for YHVH is marked with feminine vowel ending (i.e., the "-ah" suffix), suggesting that the LORD is the Source and "Womb" of life (the Hebrew word for "mercy" is rachamim, which comes from rechem, meaning "womb"). The Name Elohim (אֱלהִים), on the other hand, uses a masculine ending, and is usually associated with God as the Creator, King, and Judge over all.... Of course the LORD our God (Adonai Elohim) is beyond sexual differentiation - and therefore God "contains" both the best of masculine and feminine characteristics, though these are understood analogically, since God is the Creator and Author of both. The LORD is our Heavenly Father, our Heavenly Mother, our Life-Giving Spirit, and so on. Shalom.
 




Warfare through Praise


 

06.25.12  (Tammuz 5, 5772)   When you are feeling oppressed or troubled, use the weapon of praise... Satan and the powers of darkness simply cannot stand before someone who is offering up genuine praise to the LORD for their personal deliverance. "As you call upon the LORD - who is worthy to be praised - so are you delivered from your enemies."
 

מְהֻלָּל אֶקְרָא יְהוָה
 וּמִן־איְבַי אִוָּשֵׁעַ

me·hul·lal · ek·ra · Adonai
u·min · oy·ye·vai · iv·va·she·a

"I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies"
(Psalm 18:3)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Calling upon the LORD means more than simply keeping a positive attitude, though having a positive attitude (i.e., hope) and using ayin tovah (the good eye) is part of the arsenal we can use to "fight the good fight of faith." Victory over the dark powers comes through verbally affirming (confessing) your hope in God's Presence and powerful Deliverance given in Yeshua the Savior (Rom. 10:9)... From prison to praise: As you call upon the LORD - who is worthy to be praised - so are you delivered from your enemies.

It is written that the LORD is enthroned among the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3), and therefore offering heartfelt and genuine praise is your direct line to the Divine Presence. Praising the LORD also causes the power of the evil one to be cut off, his eyes blinded, and his malice thwarted... Use the weapon of praise!  When Israel went to battle, the shofar was sounded and great cries of praise went up to heaven. "So on they went, ahead of the army chanting, Hodu ladonai, ki leolam chasdo - 'Praise the Lord, for His mercy endureth forever!' And the scripture says, "...when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten" (2 Chron. 20:22). Your victory over darkness is found in praise and hope, even when hope is tested in the midst of the battle.

"Though the fig tree does not blossom, nor fruit be found on the vines, though the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, and though the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation" (Hab. 3:17-18). The targum translates "I will rejoice in the LORD" as "I will rejoice in the Word of the LORD." The Source of such joy comes to the heart of faith that sees Elohei Yishi (אֱלהֵי יִשְׁעִי), the "God of my salvation," namely, the One who was and is and is to come (הַהוֶה וְהָיָה וְיָבוֹא) – the LORD our God Yeshua (Rev. 1:4;8; Isa 41:4). Augustine renders Elohei Yishi as "God my Jesus," since "Jesus" (i.e., Yeshua) means YHVH saves. Yeshua is the One who breathed life into the first Adam just as He is the One who breathes eternal life into those who are descended from Him, the great "second Adam."
 




Parashat Chukat - פרשת חקת


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat (Num. 19:1-22:1). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

06.24.12  (Tammuz 4, 5772)   Among other things, this week's Torah portion includes the unusual ritual law of the Red Heifer (parah adumah) whose ashes purify those contaminated by contact with death. This ritual is considered chok (חק) within the Jewish tradition, meaning that it makes no rational sense. The Talmud states that of all the commandments in the Torah, this is the only one that King Solomon could not fathom, causing him to exclaim: "I said I would be wise, but it is far from me" (אָמַרְתִּי אֶחְכָּמָה וְהִיא רְחוֹקָה מִמֶּנִּ, Eccl. 7:23). However, as I hope you will see, the symbolism of the red heifer clearly foreshadows the sacrifice of the Messiah that delivers us from the uncleanness of death...
 




Table Talk for Korach


 

06.22.12  (Tammuz 2, 5772)   It's an old custom to discuss the weekly Torah portion with your family (and friends) during the Friday night Sabbath meal.  To make it a little easier to remember what to discuss, I created a "Shabbat Table Talk" page for parashat Korach.  Hopefully this will help to generate some discussion around your Sabbath table, chaverim. To download the page, click here.

Note: Please keep this ministry in your prayers, as the battle has been increasingly difficult for us recently. Thank you, and Shabbat shalom friends. May you be made strong and of good courage as you put your trust in Yeshua for salvation and inner healing.
 




Descent into Hell...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Korach. Please read the Torah portion to find your place here... ]

06.22.12  (Tammuz 2, 5772)  Is there a blessing that comes from rebellion? Is there anything redeemable about protesting the status quo, objecting to the state of the world, refusing to accept reality, even if that has theological implications? In Dostoevsky's great novel the Brothers Karamazov, a character named Ivan takes issue with his devout brother Alyosha's unquestioning faith in God. Even though Ivan would like to believe that this is "the best of all possible worlds," and that God indeed works "all things together for good," he stumbles over the ongoing presence of moral evil in the world. For instance, Ivan insists that nothing could possibly justify the torture of a five year old little girl who was chained to an outhouse and left to die in the Russian winter. He objects that somehow this awful suffering may be part of God's great plan for the ages. The same sort of objection may be expressed regarding the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Holocaust and other obvious cases of grotesque moral evil in our world. A rebel like Ivan cannot "accept such a universe," even if it is true that one day God will wipe away every tear from the eyes of everyone.

But is there anything to learn here? Can the rebel teach us anything or impart to us any wisdom?  Well, for one thing, we observe that the rebel lacks patience and begrudges faith that God is ultimately good. He sees the cup as "half-empty" rather than "half-full." His lack of trust, however, serves as a warning for us. Doubt cries out, "Let's put truth to the test," though the truth eventually swallows up doubt and brings to silence the rebel's protest. This was the solution given in the Book of Job, after all, when God overwhelmed Job from the midst of the whirlwind. As Kierkegaard wrote: "Speak, raise your voice, cry out. God can speak even louder: all the thunder is at His disposal. And thunder is the answer, it is the explanation: firm, trustworthy, primordial. God's answer, even if it smashes man to pieces, is superior to all the chattering of human wisdom."

In my own darkest moments of despair and doubt, I have been jarred back to reality after personally encountering radical evil - either that which arose from within my own heart or that which was committed by others in this world. After all, how can we explain the inexplicable cruelty and madness of human beings - war, murder, rape, abortion, genocide, the breakup of families over selfish desires, and so on - without invoking the category of real moral evil? Yet evil, by itself, is entirely senseless apart from real moral goodness, and therefore the rebel's cry is often the call for transcendental justice... Nonetheless the rebel can't have it both ways; he can't consistently object to the existence of moral evil in the universe apart from appealing to God's holiness and the existence of moral truth. It's been said that while the man of faith must must wrestle with the "problem of evil," the faithless man must wrestle with the "problem of goodness."

Often a disease must "declare itself" to be identified, treated, and hopefully cured. Likewise with our struggle with sinful impulses and the disease of our own divided hearts. Sin "forces the hand" of truth by revealing our own ambivalence, our own inner darkness, our own fears, doubts, lusts, and so on. The rise of sinful impulses and rebellious desire serve as warning signals... Indignation, disgust, and even shame are the voice of protest from our higher nature, appealing to the greater truth that we are God's children, called to walk with God, to mirror His character, and to exist on a different level. We see this in the case of Korah, whose rebellion ultimately revealed God's truth, and whose name was later associated with twelve great Psalms in the Scriptures. In one of these Psalms we read how the sons of Korah learned the meaning of the gospel itself by considering God's love despite the sins and failures of the past: "Steadfast love and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed" (Psalm 85:10).
 

חֶסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ

che·sed  ve·e·met  nif·ga·shu,  tzedek  ve·sha·lom  na·sha·ku

"Love and truth have met,
justice and peace have kissed."

The cross, not the scales

Download Study Card
 


Is there any good that comes from rebellion? Again, only to serve as a warning, and sometimes we need to be warned... The fire pans of the 250 rebels who followed Korah and died in the fire were later hammered and made into part of the altar. God was able to take the very means of their rebellion (i.e., the fire pans) to serve His purposes. Moreover, the "blessed fault" of our sin and rebellion helps us to profoundly understand our great (and ongoing) need for God's grace and forgiveness. Only the rebel who turns to God in teshuvah can understand the deepest expression of God's love...

Korah serves as a warning to us all. He took the hard road, and his followers learned the hard way... He was a "taker," and being a taker means that he was a slave, in bondage to the yetzer hara (evil impulse). Takers see the world as something "out there" to be exploited, consumed, and used. To deal with the "Korah within" each of us - the rebel, the complaining child, etc., - we must first confess the truth about the damage we've done by our own "taking," that is, by making our own selfish demands on others, and so on. To be healed, we have to revisit the depths of our hell to acknowledge and confess the impulse of our own "inner rebel." In the end, only the LORD our God can deliver us from evil.
 




Falling into Grace...


 

06.22.12  (Tammuz 2, 5772)  It's been wisely said that we must "unlearn" a lot during the days of our sojourn in this world, and that is especially true for people who still assume that they know something about life. "If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he needs to know" (1 Cor. 8:2). And it is also true, I'm afraid, for religious people, that is, for those who regard spirituality as a litany of "do's and don'ts" or a recipe of rituals rather than as receiving a new identity given to us by the miracle of God.

There is a "further journey" that comes from an inner awareness that "the way up is the way down," or by understanding that "we descend in order to ascend." Yeshua used the metaphor of the seed to illustrate this truth. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a seed of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). We must come to the "end of ourselves," falling and resting as a seed sown in the earth, so that our "outer shell" is softened and broken by rains from heaven and the warming power of the sun. The "ego" has to fall and die so that new life can come forth...

 

In another analogy, Yeshua said that "you can't put new wine into old wineskins." A new container is needed - a new means of holding what is good. The denial of this truth makes a Pharisee or a religionist whose "spirituality" is little more than a sequence of rituals or a litany of rule-following behaviors. Of course this is preliminary stage on the journey, but it can never be the end point or goal, since the love and acceptance of God can be known only through grace and forgiveness. Spiritual maturity comes from accepting the truth about ourselves, accepting our failures, our imperfections, our guilt, and our great need. Forgiveness demands that we accept imperfection - both in ourselves as well as in others. We let go and then reaccept what is fallen.... Some Christian mystics have called this "the way of the wound," though the idea first comes from Yeshua Himself, of course. The Apostle Paul wrote, "for when I am weak, then I am made strong" (2 Cor. 12:10).

There is no "shortcut" to this process. "For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted" (Luke 14:11). This explains why the crestfallen tax collector left the Temple justified while the Pharisee remained mired in his sins. Only those who accept their own brokenness, their own personal fall and death, are able to find healing and life. The LORD opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). This grace is "received" by faith, which implies that it is something miraculously done to you, done on your behalf.  Accepting your fallenness takes courage and faith: you let go and trust that God will be there to bear you up on your way down...

O blessed fault - the dread sin that breaks my heart before the LORD... Were it not for anguish of heart, how would I have sought the solace and healing of my Savior? Sorrow was God's messenger to my need. The fault of my sin occasioned God's mercy and grace, "for where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Rom. 5:20). The law was given by Moses, but love and faithfulness (חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת) come through Yeshua our Messiah (John 1:17).

Because of "the fall of Yeshua" on our behalf, because He descended in order to ascend, we are able to turn to God in hope. This is the meaning of teshuvah. God has made the way for us to be received, loved, and accepted - despite our fallenness and the stain of our sins (Heb. 9:11-28). Yeshua paid the penalty for your sins, and the only real question then remains: Will you believe it? Will you accept that you are accepted by the love of God?
 




The Madness of Korah...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Korach.  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

06.21.12  (Tammuz 1, 5772)  Korah claimed to be a "man of the people" who sought equality and justice for all, but in truth he was usurper who desired to undermine God's authority and truth. Like all hypocrites, Korah accused Moses of what was in his own heart: "You have gone too far! (רַב־לָכֶם, lit., "(too) much for you!")... all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why do you raise yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?" (Num. 16:3). Implicit in Korah's complaint was the rejection of the idea of "chosenness," and this further impugned the divine origin of Torah revelation. After all, if it were true that the LORD was equally among all the people, surely a democratic (rather than theocratic) model of government would be best... Moses, however, clearly understood Korah's real motives, and therefore called for a "power encounter" to demonstrate the veracity and integrity of his office.

The portion begins with the words, "And Korah took..." וַיִּקַּח קרַח / (Num. 16:1). The sages note that this verse does not say exactly what it was that Korah took. The Hebrew simply reads, Va'yikach Korach... which may suggest that Korah took offense, and indeed the entire portion can be regarded as one of machloket (i.e., מַחְלקֶת, strife or argument), which can be either l'shem shamayim, "for the name of heaven" (i.e., to discern truth) or shelo l'shem shamayim, "not for the name of heaven." A mishnah reads, "Any machloket waged for the sake of Heaven (in the service of God) will stand. Any machloket which is not for the sake of Heaven will not stand. Which controversy was an example of being waged in the service of God? Such was the controversy of Hillel and Shammai. And which was not for God? Such was the controversy of Korah and all his company" (Pikei Avot 5:20). Note that the name Korah may come from a verb meaning "split," alluding to the division he would later express.

Jewish tradition tends to regard Korah as a paradigmatic "rationalist" who took offense over the decrees (non-rational laws) of Torah. For example, the midrash says that Korah argued with Moses about the techelet (blue) string required of tzitzit, asking Moses that if a garment were made entirely of blue thread, would tzitzit still be required to be worn? Such a law seemed illogical, and therefore Korah questioned it. In that sense, Korah represents the perspective of rationalism: "I understand in order to believe," rather than the other way around, "I believe in order to understand." Kol Dodi notes that Korah's name (i.e., קרַח) can be arranged to spell choker (חקֶר), meaning to "analyze." Korah thought that the human mind was capable of understanding the LORD through analysis and reason, rather than through faith and obedience...

Note: For more on this subject, see the article, "The Madness of Korah."
 




The Breath of God...


 

06.21.12  (Tammuz 1, 5772)  A verse from this week's Torah (Korach) reveals another great Name of God: Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), which can be translated "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 16:22). The LORD is the Source of your breath, the One who exhales to you nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" that enables you to live (Job 12:10). The sages use the analogy of a glassblower who creates a glass vessel. Just as the glassblower blows into a tube to form a vessel from molten glass, so the breath (i.e., neshamah: נְשָׁמָה) that comes from the LORD functions as spirit (i.e., ruach: רוּחַ) that forms the human soul (i.e., nefesh: נֶפֶשׁ). Note that the Name YHVH (יהוה) first appears in this connection (Gen. 2:7), a Name that means "God is Present" (Exod. 3:14) and "God is Mercy" (Exod. 34:6-7). Note also that the letters of the Name YHVH each represent vowel sounds (i.e., breath), suggesting that God's Spirit is as close as your very next breath. Like the wind that cannot be seen, so is the spirit the essential part of your identity. Yeshua breathed on his followers and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22).

The special Name Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar appears only one other place in the Torah. After accepting the fact that he would soon die and therefore be unable to finally lead the people into the promised land, Moses prayed: "Let the LORD (יהוה), "the God of the spirits of all flesh" (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd." So the LORD said to Moses, "Take Joshua the son of Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן, lit. "son of life"), a man in whom is the Spirit (רוּח), and lay your hand on him" (Num. 27:16-18).

The Talmud notes that the word Nun (נוּן) means "fish," a symbol of activity and life. Joshua, the chosen one who succeeded Moses and led the people into the Promised Land, was the "Son of Life" - a clear picture of Yeshua our Messiah, the "spirit-filled good Shepherd" who would lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). The LORD is indeed the "God of the breath of all flesh." When Yeshua cried out, "It is finished" and breathed his last breath as He died for our sins upon the cross, the greatest exhalation of the Spirit occurred, the greatest sigh, the greatest utterance was ever declared. The sacrificial death of Yeshua for our deliverance was God's final word of love breathed out to those who are trusting in Him...
 




The Centrality of Heart


 

06.21.12  (Tammuz 1, 5772)  All life flows from the heart, whether it is physical life or spiritual life.  And just as the physical heart supplies life-giving blood through the arteries to the various organs of the body, so our faith, or the spiritual heart, supplies the means of life and grace to the organs of the spirit. And just as the physical heart can be obstructed or blocked, so faith can become constricted and hindered by sin, impeding the free flow of the Divine Presence. Therefore since the heart represents the "engine" that sustains life, it is vital that we attend to the heart's needs in order to be healthy people...
 

מִכָּל־מִשְׁמָר נְצר לִבֶּךָ
 כִּי־מִמֶּנּוּ תּוֹצְאוֹת חַיִּים

mik·kol · mish·mar · ne·tzor · li·be·kha,
ki · mi·me·nu · to·tze·ot · cha·yim

"Above everything else guard your heart,
 for from it are the contours of life"
(Prov. 4:23)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Notice that the word mishmar (מִשְׁמָר) refers to the act of guarding someone closely, just as an prison guard or warden might keep watch over a prisoner. The phrase translated "with all diligence" (mikkol-mishmar) literally means "more than anything that might be guarded," and is used here to intensify the command to exercise vigilance. Plainly put, this verse commands us to watch over our heart more than anything else.

And yet "the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint" (Isa. 1:5). We understand how apt we are to go astray in our affections, and therefore the heart is easily divided, obstructed, and liable to failure... Despite its frailty, however, the heart determines totze'ot chayim, or the "issues" or "contours" of life. In the Tanakh, the word totza'ot is often used to refer to the borders of territories or the boundaries of a city. This verse is saying that from the heart of a person (lev) a "map" or "chart" to life is drawn. As the heart is either pure or corrupt, so will be the course of one's life...  Purity of heart represents healing, which means being single-minded in our affections and attention before the LORD.

How you choose to guard your heart from inner corruption and hardness will determine the "road" of your life. Concerning this verse the Metzudos commentary says, "Above all – more than anything else – a person must be careful to guard his heart from improper thoughts, for one cannot contemplate using the heart – the very vortex of life – to harbor thoughts that are inimical to life." Because the flesh is weak, we must be vigilant lest we become cynical, weary, and unfeelingly selfish. An unguarded heart soon becomes troubled, lonely, suspicious, and unstable. If, however, we keep ourselves from the obstruction of sin, we will experience the free flow of compassion, encouragement, and joy. The faithful heart is open - it believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Cor. 13:7).

It is your personal responsibility to guard your heart from negative influences -- a duty that is connected with yielding yourself as a vessel or "steward" of the kingdom of God. We must regularly ask God to enlighten "the eyes of the heart" according to His wisdom and power (i.e., truth revealed in Scripture), and to impart the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our desires and affections so that they conform to the character of the Messiah. In this connection, note the correspondence between the Tabernacle (or Temple) and the regenerated human being. Just as there are three realms within the Mishkan - the realm of the unclean (tamei), clean (tahor), and the holy (kadosh), so there are there realms of the human being: the realm of the flesh (basar), the soul (nefesh), and the spirit (ruach):

 

The great vision of the Sanctuary - the climax of Sinai - revealed that faith in the efficacy of a blood sacrifice was the means by which a person could draw near to God. Just as the physical heart is central to distribution of blood - and the "life is in the blood" - so faith in God's vicarious atonement leads to life and healing. In this regard, the altar represents the heart, and we must carefully guard the innermost place, the holy of holies, that is within us. It was the heart of God that offered up Yeshua as our means of eternal atonement...

On the other hand, unbelief leads to defilement (or pollution), which is the natural process of degradation that alienates the soul from the Divine Presence. In other words, the flow of the Spirit may be obstructed because of sin. If we trust in ourselves, if we rely on our own abilities to obtain spiritual life and healing, we deny the need to draw near to God for salvation, and thereby we deceive ourselves. After all, the heart's so-called "truth" may indeed express little more than a fool's dream, as it is written, "Whoever trusts in his own heart is a fool (כְּסִיל), but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered."
 

בּוֹטֵחַ בְּלִבּוֹ הוּא כְסִיל
 וְהוֹלֵךְ בְּחָכְמָה הוּא יִמָּלֵט

bo·te·ach · be·li·bo · hu · khe·sil
ve·ho·lekh · be·choch·mah · hu · yim·ma·let

"Whoever trusts in his own heart is a fool,
 but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered"
(Prov. 28:16)


 


Notice that the fool retains the deluded perspective that the heart (or intuition) can "trump" revelation of the Scriptures, and spiritually-speaking that is a very dangerous place to be. In other words, this proverb warns us against a "false subjectivity," or self-deception. The heart must be carefully "guarded" because it constantly seeks to stray away from God and lapse into self-centered idolatry. As the Scriptures attest: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9).

We must never rely our own heart or intuition, which is often prone to self-justification, delusion, wishful thinking, and so on, but must instead trust the heart of God as revealed in the message of Yeshua the Messiah, the Savior who literally broke His heart for our deliverance. By itself - apart from radical intervention from heaven - the human condition is marked by self-deception, indulgence, and willful ignorance. Hence we see so-called Christian people endorsing fornication, winking at various forms of sexual sin, espousing contentious heresies, promoting apostasy, etc. Regarding unregenerate human nature, then, the Scriptures attest that the "thoughts and imaginations of the thoughts of the heart are only evil and that continually" since the "flesh" is perpetually at war with the spirit (Rom. 8:7; Gal. 5:17). "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander" (Matt. 15:19). All our so-called good deeds are "niddah" before heaven – they are as "filthy rags" that signify death.

The one who walks wisely – with chochmah (חָכְמָה) – will heed the truth of the Scriptures, seeking the Lord and his counsellors, and trusting in God's Spirit to deliver his soul from the snares of death -- even from the concealed snares lurking within his own carnal heart. Not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Living God is the heart guarded... Amen - let it be true of us, chaverim, in the Name of the Holy One of Israel.
 




Finding Serenity...


 

06.20.12  (Sivan 30, 5772)  Reb Shmeke of Nikolsburg once said: "When I was young, I wanted to change the world. I tried, but the world didn't change. So I decided to change my town, but my town didn't change. Then I resolved to change my family, but my family didn't change. Then I realized that I first had to change myself." I would add, "but then I realized that I couldn't change even myself, so I cried to the LORD for a new heart (lev chadash) and He answered my plea..." Yes, and may it please the LORD to deliver us -- from ourselves!

Reb Sassover once said: "Here are some qualities that make for good character: Remove anger from your heart; be not anxious over a world that is not yours; find peace of mind, for when you have no peace, you have nothing; reprove no one until you yourself are perfect; remember the souls of others are as much a part of the Godhead as is yours; and bear in mind that only someone who has withstood temptation can be called righteous." I would add, "but then I realized that I could do none of these things, so I cried to the LORD for a new spirit (ruach chadasha) and He answered my plea.
 

בְּטַח אֶל־יְהוָה בְּכָל־לִבֶּךָ
וְאֶל־בִּינָתְךָ אַל־תִּשָּׁעֵן
בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ וְהוּא יְיַשֵּׁר ארְחתֶיךָ

be·tach · el · Adonai · be·khol · lib·be·kha
ve'el · bi·na·te·kha · al · tish·a·en
be·khol · de·ra·khe·kha · da·ei·hu · ve·hu · ye·ya·sher · or·cho·te·kha

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
Know Him in all your ways, and He will straighten your paths."
(Prov. 3:5-6)



Hebrew Study Card
 

"Know Him in all your ways," that is, in all that you put your hand to do look for the Divine Presence and guidance (1 Cor. 10:31). As King David stated, "I have set the Lord always before me, because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8). The very first step is finding hope... Only then can we pray the "serenity prayer," i.e., "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Trusting in the LORD brings inner light from the Holy Spirit wherein the our way is made "yashar" (upright), the same word used in the names "Jeshurun" and "Yisrael."

Nachman of Breslov once said that "The whole earth is a very narrow bridge (kol ha'olam kulo gesher tzar me'od), and the point of life is never to be afraid." Likewise we understand Yeshua to be the Bridge to the Father, the very narrow way of passage that leads to life. He calls out to us in the storm of this world, "Take heart. It is I; be not afraid" (Matt. 14:27). When Peter answered the call and attempted to walk across the stormy waters, he lost courage and began to sink, but Yeshua immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt (lit., "think twice," i.e., διστάζω, from δίς, "two," "double," +  στάσις, "stand")? Matt. 14:31

We must be careful not to let the light in us become darkness (Luke 11:35). The love and acceptance of God is the answer to our fear, not the thought of being judged by Him or attempting to merit his favor through religion. God's love is our hope, and this hope gives us courage to persevere the storms of the day...
 




The Message of Jude...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Korach.  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

06.19.12  (Sivan 29, 5772)  Our Torah portion this week centers on the rebellion of Korach, a man who questioned God's authority and arrogantly sought to "intrude" into the office of the priesthood.  It is noteworthy that his rebellion is explicitly mentioned only once in the New Testament - in the Book of Jude - as an example of the fate that awaits those false teachers who likewise despise God's law. Unfortunately, Jude's warning is often neglected today, probably because people feel uncomfortable over the prospect of God's judgment.  After all, in our "politically correct" age, people have been indoctrinated to regard "tolerance" as the greatest of virtues and "intolerance" (especially of moral evil) as the greatest of vices.... Most unbelievers don't mind hearing the "good news" of God's love, but they take exception when they are confronted with their personal duty to live according to the moral truth revealed in the Torah. False teachers within the church are dangerous because they feed on this sense of discomfort and attempt to rationalize it away. Jude identifies them as spiritual impostors who "work from the inside" to confound or obscure the truth of God. Such a charlatan may appear to be a genuine believer, but their hidden agenda is to sow confusion and sin among God's children. They are proverbial "wolves in sheep's clothing" (Matt. 7:15). Jude's warning is especially important for us to heed in this present hour, because in the time immediately preceding the coming of the Messiah, spiritual deception and unbridled godlessness will greatly increase (2 Tim. 3:1-5).

Note: The problem of false teaching and apostasy is very real today, just as it was in the day of Jude. For more on this subject, please see the article, "The Message of Jude."
 




Parashat Korach - פרשת קורח


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Korach.  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

06.18.12  (Sivan 28, 5772)  Last week's Torah portion (Shelach) told the tragic story about the "sin of the spies" (chet ha-meraglim) and of the divine decree that the generation of Israelites rescued from Egypt was sentenced to die while in the desert.  In this week's portion (Korach), the hard truth of their condition began to sink in, and the people bemoaned their fate and rebelled further by attempting to overthrow the Lord's designated leadership and return to Egypt. This rebellion was instigated and organized by Moses' cousin Korach, who - along with a band of co-conspirators - was swiftly judged and put to death, thereby vindicating the Aaronic priesthood and Moses' leadership of Israel.

Korach was the cousin of Moses and a well-respected Kohathite who was honored to be one of the carriers of the Holy Ark. He was renowned as a wealthy man of influence - a nassi (prince) of the people. However, despite all this privilege, Korach wanted more. Korach rationalized that he should be the head of the Kohathite clan (instead of his cousin Elzaphan), since he was the firstborn of Kohath's second son, whereas Elzaphan was the not even a firstborn son. Indeed, because he felt slighted by Moses' choice of Elzaphan, Korach went further and brazenly questioned whether the office of the High Priest should not have been given to him - rather than to Aaron (Num. 16:10).

The battle between Korach and Moses/Aaron was a sort of "palace intrigue" based on family rivalries. It is inaccurate to regard this as a struggle between the Levites (as a whole) and the priests, since the Levitical clans of Gershon and Merari were not a part of Korach's rebellion. Instead, it was a battle within the Kohathite clan itself - or rather, between the Kohathites and the subset of their clan that was given the honor of the priesthood (i.e., Aaron and his sons). Ultimately, of course, the battle was between Korach and God Himself, since Korach's complaint centered on God's decision to exclusively chose Moses and Aaron to lead the people of Israel.

Note: For more about this portion, see the Parashat Korach pages and its related articles. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for Korach by clicking here.
 




Rosh Chodesh Tammuz


 

06.17.12  (Sivan 27, 5772)  On the Biblical calendar the fourth month of the year (counting from Nisan) is called Tammuz (תַּמּוּז) in Jewish tradition. The name "Tammuz" is of Sumerian origin, and some scholars identify it as the name of a Sumerian sun god (Shamash or Dumuzid) who was thought to be responsible for the seasonal life/death/rebirth cycle. The idolatry of Tammuz was something God explicitly condemned (Ezek. 8:14), though despite the prophets warnings, the Israelites persisted in it, which led to the destruction of the Holy Temple. The Fast of the 17th of Tammuz marks the beginning of the "Three Weeks of Sorrow," a 21 day period of national mourning for the destruction of the Temple that is completed on Tishah B'Av.

 

Rosh Chodesh Blessing

Since Rosh Chodesh Tammuz marks the beginning of a season of teshuvah (repentance) and the Three Weeks of Sorrow, we humbly ask the LORD to help us turn to Him with all our hearts. Here is a Hebrew blessing to sanctify the new month:
 

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֵיךָ יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ
שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ חדֶשׁ טוֹב בַּאֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ אָמֵן

ye·hi · ra·tzon · mil·fa·ne·kha · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · ve·lo·hei · a·vo·tei·nu
she·te·cha·desh · a·lei·nu · cho·desh · tov, · ba·a·do·nei·nu · Ye·shu·a · ha·ma·shi·ach · amen

"May it be Your will, LORD our God and God of our fathers,
that you renew for us a good month in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah. Amen."



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Seeing the Unseen...


 

06.15.12  (Sivan 25, 5772)  The Torah begins with the Hebrew letter Bet (בּ), representing the number two, because God created not one world, but two. There is the realm of this world, called olam ha-zeh (עוֹלָם הַזֶּה), and there is the realm of the world to come, called olam ha-ba (עוֹלָם הַבָּא). The letter Bet therefore represents a two-fold house (בַּיִת) - the "house" of physical creation and the "house" of spiritual reality. The letter itself is formed from three Vavs (ו), which add up to 18, the same value for the word chai (חי), or "alive." We are strangers and sojourners here. Life is this present world is likened to a walking a corridor that leads to the next world. We must live our lives in conscious awareness of our eternal end in the world to come: "Know whence you came and to where you are going and before Whom you are destined to give a final accounting" (Pirkei Avot 3:1).
 

אֵלֶיךָ נָשָׂאתִי אֶת־עֵינַי הַיּשְׁבִי בַּשָּׁמָיִם

ley·kha · na·sa·ti · et · ei·nai · ha·yo·she·vi · ba·sha·ma·yim

"To you I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!"
(Psalm 123:1)



 

We lift up our eyes because intuitively we understand that the LORD is exalted over all things, including the course of the natural world and the affairs of olam ha-zeh. Uplifted eyes are filled with the hope of God's intervention as we make our way through the valley and byways of life in this world.  We yearn for God and His deliverance... Notice in the verse above that the spelling for ha-yoshevi (הַיּשְׁבִי), "the one enthroned," is unusual, since it contains a Yod (י) suffix. The normal spelling would be simply ha-yoshev (הַיּשֵׁב). The extra Yod, the smallest of letters, represents the heart of prayer. God is enthroned "for me," that is, within my heart; O LORD, put your Spirit (י) within me as I look to you in prayer!

The Psalm continues regarding the hardship of exile in this world: "Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that he have mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us (חָנֵּנוּ יְהוָה חָנֵּנוּ): for we are exceedingly filled with contempt" (Psalm 123:2-3). Likewise we are looking to the LORD for our deliverance from this evil world, and we earnestly ask the LORD to return soon to establish His Kingdom in our midst...

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:16-18). Press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Yeshua our Messiah (Phil. 3:14). Shabbat Shalom, and stay strong in hope, chaverim...

Shabbat "Table Talk" for Shelach (PDF download)
 




The Meaning of Truth...


 

06.15.12  (Sivan 25, 5772)  In Hebrew, the word "truth" is emet (אֱמֶת), from a verb that means to establish, uphold, make reliable (the word for "faith," i.e., emunah: אֱמוּנָה, comes from the same root, as does the word "amen"). Note that the word emet contains the first, middle, and the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, indicating that truth encompasses all things and endures from the beginning (א) to the end (ת). Therefore we see that Yeshua is the truth, since He is Aleph and Tav, the First and the Last (Rev. 1:17; 2:8; Isa. 41:4). Indeed, Yeshua is the "direct object" (אֵת) of all creation - the goal of which all the action of the universe tends. "All the world was created for the Messiah" who is the Center of Creation - it's beginning, middle, and end.


 

The Hebrew word for "letter" is ot (אוֹת), which can also mean "sign" or "wonder." Each letter of the alphabet, then, may contain signs that point to wonderful truths about life. As the various acrostics in Scripture reveal, even the order of the letters are of divine origin. According to midrash, the LORD God Himself taught the alphabet (along with the numerical values, mathematical relationships, etc. for the letters) to Adam, who then passed this knowledge down to his sons, and they passed this to their sons, and so on, until it was taught to Jacob at the School of Shem in Salem (later renamed Jerusalem). Jacob taught the secrets of the alphabet to Joseph, who used it to decipher dreams, etc.

The Jewish sages say "the seal of God is truth," since the final letters of the three words that conclude the account of creation -- bara Elohim la'asot ("God created to do" [Gen. 2:3]) -- spell the word "emet." In other words, the truth is meant to be alive, living, and "to do" the will of God. Indeed, if we remove the letter Aleph from the word emet (אֱמֶת), we are left with the word "dead" (i.e., met: מֵת), the opposite of life (i.e., chayim: חַיִּים). The letter Aleph is the ineffable letter that represents oneness and preeminent glory of God. Therefore, if we attempt to ignore or suppress God in our understanding of truth, we end up with death. And since Yeshua told us, "I am the way (הַדֶּרֶךְ), the truth (הָאֱמֶת), and the life (הַחַיִּים); no one comes to Father apart from me" (John 14:6), those who deny His reality are in a state of spiritual death (i.e., separation from life)... We simply cannot know the meaning of life apart from the Person and Glory of Yeshua our Messiah!

In the New Testament, the word for truth is aletheia (ἀλήθεια), a compound word formed from an alpha prefix (α-) meaning "not," and the word lethei (λήθη), meaning "forgetfulness" (in ancient Greek mythology, the "waters of Lethe" induced a state of oblivion or forgetfulness). Truth is therefore a kind of "remembering" what is real, which explains why the Torah repeatedly enjoins us to remember and not to forget the LORD our God. The truth is strong because it has its own inherent and irresistible "witness" to reality. People may lie to themselves, but ultimately the truth has the final word. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5).

Note: For more on this subject, see "Yeshua: The Light that Cannot be Hidden."
 




The Meaning of Life...


 

06.14.12  (Sivan 24, 5772)  The Hebrew word for "life" is chayim (חַיִּים), which is written in the plural to imply that life cannot be lived alone... Embedded within the word itself are two consecutive Yods (יי), representing unity in plurality (Yod-Yod is also a Name of God). Therefore the LORD is called Elohim Chayim (אֱלהִים חַיִּים), "the Living God," and we only come to life through our union with Him. Chayim may be formed from the word chai (חי), "alive" combined with the particle im (אם), "if," suggesting that being alive is conditional on our union with God in the truth.  "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם); whoever refuses the Son shall not see life, but the separation of God remains" (John 3:36). Life and peace are therefore inextricably connected, and those who refuse Yeshua, the Prince of Peace (שַׂר־שָׁלוֹם), therefore separate themselves from unity with God. Yeshua alone is the means of receiving the divine life: "Whoever has the Son has the life (הַחַיִּים); but whoever does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:12).

God's life is such that it is never diminished as it shared but instead grows and multiplies in miraculous ways. This is alluded to by the Hebrew word for love (i.e., ahavah: אהבה), the gematria of which is thirteen (1+5+2+5=13), but when shared with another it is multiplied: 13 x 2 = 26 - the same value for the Sacred Name (יהוה), i.e., (10+5+6+5=26). The love of God given in Yeshua is the very life of the universe...

The word chayim is also written in the plural to indicate that each person potentially contains a "universe of lives" within him or her. Spiritually, your soul is a unity that contains a multiplicity of changes, yet remains a distinct identity. Physically, when Cain murdered his brother Abel, it is written, "the voice of your brother's bloods (plural) cries out from the ground" (Gen. 4:10), indicating that Abel's descendants also cried out. In light of this the Talmud states, "Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world; and whoever saves a life, it is as if he saved an entire world" (Sanhedrin 37a).
 




Attuning Your Heart...


 

06.14.12  (Sivan 24, 5772)  Prayer is essentially a response to God's call for us, a kind of teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה), or turning (shuv) to God. God's love for us is the question, and our turning of the heart toward Him is the answer. Prayer is not about finding the right words: "When you pray, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words be without heart" (Bunyan). Inwardly bow in awe before the throne of grace. Keep praying until you are able to let go and trust God's heart.

Note: For more on this, see "A few thoughts on prayer."
 




Seeing with Eyes of Hope...


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shelach Lekha. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

06.14.12  (Sivan 24, 5772)  The sages teach that the people were denied entrance into the land because they were not ready; they needed another 38 years in the desert to prepare their hearts. However, notice that during the time of David, long after the people had taken possession of the land, there was still need for the heart to be prepared, though this time regarding the future glory of Zion. The kingdom of God has always been a matter of faith, "spied out" with the eyes of the heart. Therefore David prayed, "I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living" (Psalm 27:13).
 

לוּלֵא הֶאֱמַנְתִּי לִרְאוֹת בְּטוּב־יְהוָה בְּאֶרֶץ חַיִּים

lu·lei · ha·e·man·ti · lir·ot · be·tuv · Adonai · be·e·retz · cha·yim

"I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living"
(Psalm 27:13)



 

Even in the midst of the promised land, David, the chosen King in the line of Messiah Himself, was subject to persecution, perplexity, trial, and so on. Despite this, he expressed complete confidence in God and trusted that the LORD would uphold him so he could behold the goodness of the Divine Presence manifest on the earth. David believed in the principle, "according to your faith be it done unto you..."

Some have said that this verse should be read, "Unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living..." - with no closing thought or object, implying a breaking off of the thought... In the Hebrew text of the Tehillim scroll the word rendered "unless" is written with "extraordinary" pointing (with dots over the letters), suggesting amplification. According to the Talmud, the word lulei (לוּלֵא) can be read backwards as "Elul" (אלול), the month set apart for teshuvah before the High Holidays begin. Repentance is only really possible if we believe in the goodness and love of the Lord "in the land of the living." In other words, there can be no genuine repentance apart from real hope.

David was pained by the harsh and evil reality of the world and turned to God for help. In the last verse David encouraged himself never to give up hope, to continue to wait for God to grant him salvation: קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה חֲזַק וְיַאֲמֵץ - "Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; again -- wait for the LORD (וְקַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה).
 




Wisdom in the Secret Heart


 

06.14.12  (Sivan 24, 5772)  In his great penitential psalm, King David wrote: "Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and You will teach me wisdom in the secret heart" (Psalm 51:6). Often, however, the truth of the inward heart comes at the expense of heartache, for surely the heart must ache, tremble, and despair before it comes to accept the truth about its condition. This sort of truth is "existential," meaning that it is known only through the process of living life itself. As Kierkegaard said, "The truth is lived before it is understood. It must be fought for, tested, and appropriated. Truth is the way.. you must be tried, do battle, and suffer if you are to acquire truth for yourself. It is a sheer illusion to think that in relation to truth there is an abridgment, a short cut that dispenses with the necessity of struggling."
 

הֵן־אֱמֶת חָפַצְתָּ בַטֻּחוֹת
 וּבְסָתֻם חָכְמָה תוֹדִיעֵנִי

hen · e·met · cha·fatz·ta · va·tu·chot
uv·sa·tum · chokh·mah · to·di·ei·ni
 

"Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
 and you will teach me wisdom in the secret heart"
(Psalm 51:6)



 

Note that the "inward parts" (טֻחוֹת) refers to the "kidneys" which were thought to be "the reins" or the concealed (i.e., te'ach: טִיחַ) source of the will within the person. Interestingly, the word for "inward parts" comes from the verb tachah (טָחָה) that means to "shoot with a bow," alluding to the idea of inner Torah as a directive power. God wants purity of the heart – passion, singleheartedness, and earnestness – as we live and practice the truth. God wants "the inner parts," the concealed parts of the soul, to be filled with his Torah, and therefore David asks God to make him to know wisdom there - in the "secret heart" - so that he might apprehend God's truth and do teshuvah that purifies the heart.

David's sin was "ever before him," though the Psalm moves from confession of sin to a prayer for God's miracle of deliverance and healing from sin's power. As Jeremiah prayed: "Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end" (Lam. 3:19-22).
 




Joshua and Jesus...


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shelach Lekha. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

06.14.12  (Sivan 24, 5772)  Before the sending out the leaders of the tribes to spy out the land, Moses renamed his trusted servant Hoshea (הוֹשֵׁעַ) to Yehoshua (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ), appending the letter Yod (י) to make his name begin with a divine prefixive (יָהּ־). The Talmud (Sotah 34b) states that Moses foresaw the treachery and faithlessness of the spies and appended the Yod to remind Hoshea that YHVH (יהוה) must come first. This renaming of Hoshea, however, was certainly prophetic, since Joshua was chosen to be the successor of Moses who would finally lead the people into the promised land. Notice that the name Yehoshua (i.e., Joshua) and Yeshua (i.e., Jesus) come from the same root (i.e., yasha: ישׁע) meaning "salvation" or deliverance (in the Greek LXX, Joshua is spelled Ιησους, the same spelling for Jesus in the New Testament). Indeed, in the Book of Nehemiah, Yehoshua is explicitly called Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ), the name often transliterated as "Jesus" (Neh. 8:17).

There are a number of similarities between Joshua and Jesus given in the Torah. For example, Joshua was a descendent of Joseph from Ephraim (lit., "double fruit"), and Yeshua came as Messiah ben Yosef, the "son of Joseph" who would come from Bethlehem of Ephrata (אֶפְרָתָה), a term that also means "fruifulness." Joshua was Moses' faithful companion at Sinai (Exod. 24:13) and overseer of the "Tent of Meeting" (אהל מועד), taking every opportunity to be near God's presence (Exod. 33:11). He was a capable commander of the armies of Israel who regularly routed the enemy in battle (Exod. 17:9, etc.). Joshua was truly humble and of impeccable moral character, a true servant of Israel filled with Holy Spirit of God (Num. 27:18). Therefore both Joshua and Yeshua loved God's house (Exod. 33:11; Luke 2:49), both were faithful leaders of Israel (Deut. 1:37-38; Matt. 2:6); and both were directly ordained by God. Moreover, Joshua was tested and found steadfast in his faith (Num. 32:12); he was willing to be "despised and rejected of men" rather than appease the mob, just as was Yeshua. Both Joshua and Yeshua appointed 12 men (Josh. 4:4; Mark 3:16-19); both led the people of God to the Promised Land and engaged in warfare for the Kingdom of Heaven; both performed various miracles; both allotted the inheritance of the LORD to God's people (Deut. 1:38, 3:28), both circumcised the people (Joshua at Gilgal; Yeshua in the Spirit); both married Gentile brides (Joshua is said to have married Rahab, Yeshua married the faithful of the nations), both signified salvation by means of the "scarlet cord," and so on.  Moses was the "lawgiver" of Israel who was unable to give rest (salvation) to Israel; that honor was given to Joshua, who brought the people into the promised land after Moses had died on Mount Nebo (see Rom. 7:1-4).

Joshua's full name was "Joshua the son of Nun" (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן). The Talmud notes that the word Nun (נוּן) means "fish," a symbol of activity and life. The first mention of the word is found in Exodus 33:11 in reference to Yehoshua. One application here is to note that Yehoshua, the one who succeeded Moses and was able to enter the Promised Land, was the "Son of Life" - a clear picture of Yeshua our Mashiach, blessed be He...

A midrash says that when Yehoshua was born, no one took note, but when he died, all of Israel took note. Nonetheless, the Israelites did not mourn for him properly. One was busy with his vineyard, the other with his field, yet another with his coal. "The Holy One, Blessed be He, therefore sought to make the whole world quake" (Midrash Shmuel 23:7). This is also an apt description of Yeshua as Mashiach ben Yosef, the Suffering Servant, whose birth went unnoticed, but His death and resurrection indeed shook the world!
 




Keeping Sane in an Insane World


 

06.13.12  (Sivan 23, 5772)  We are living in stressful times, chaverim. The Apostle wrote that the time before the "End of Days" would be "perilous" (χαλεπός) and full of human depravity (2 Tim. 3:1-5). In light of the raging spiritual war going on all around us, the following needs to be emphatically restated: "The important thing is to not lose your mind..."

The mind is the "gateway" to your heart, and it is therefore essential to guard your thinking by immersing yourself in the truth... Fear is often the result of believing the lie that God is not in control or is unable/unwilling to help you. It is the truth that sets you free. "Not losing your mind" therefore means being grounded in what is real, and it therefore means understanding your identity and provision as a child of God. "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (גְּבוּרָה / δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός), lit. a "delivered" mind, "healed" from fragmentation (2 Tim. 1:7). The Greek word "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός) comes from the verb sodzo (σῴζω), meaning "to save," from saos (σάος) "safe," in the sense of being under restraining influence of the Spirit of God... The closest Hebrew word might be musar (מוּסָר), moral "discipline." Contrary to the "fearmongering spirit" of this evil age, we therefore affirm that God Almighty is in control and that He gives to us a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7).

Part of the task of "guarding your mind" is being able to discern between good and evil. "The fear of the LORD is to hate evil (יִרְאַת יְהוָה שְׂנאת רָע); I hate arrogant pride and the evil way and perverse utterances" (Prov. 8:13). As Amos cried out, "Hate what is wrong, love what is right" (שִׂנְאוּ־רָע וְאֶהֱבוּ טוֹב). We are called to love the truth and abhor the lie. Tolerating sin in a world ripe for judgment is a tacit form of "collaboration" with the enemy... Indeed, the only thing regarded as intolerable in the devil's world is the objection that people have a supposed "right" to sin. But the LORD is clear on this point: "Those who call evil good and good evil are as good as dead, who turn darkness into light and light into darkness, who turn bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter. Those who think they are wise in their own sight are as good as dead, those who think they possess understanding" (Isa. 5:20-21).

In light of the madness and ever-increasing depravity of this evil world, it is essential to remember that God is in complete control of all things. He works "all things together for good" to those who are trusting in Him. "There is no fear in God's love" (אין פַּחַד בָּאַהֲבָה), especially since we know that ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו) -- there is no real power apart from the LORD (i.e., He is the only true Power in the universe, despite the vain threats that mankind routinely inflict upon one another). Indeed, our King the Messiah Yeshua is called Elyon lemalkhei-aretz (עֶלְיוֹן לְמַלְכֵי־אָרֶץ) - the "Ruler of the princes of the earth" (Rev. 1:5) - and that means they ultimately will answer to Him. Despite the madness and schemes of this world, we know that the LORD God Almighty reigns, and therefore we need not be afraid of man or his devices. The call to holiness is a call to act counter culturally -- call upon the Name of the LORD and walk in faith, chaverim!
 




Never, Never Give up Hope...


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shelach Lekha. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

06.13.12  (Sivan 23, 5772)  In our Torah portion this week (Shelach), we read how Moses sent the leaders of the tribes to spy out the land of Israel before the people were to take possession of it. Despite attesting to the fruitfulness of the land, the spies returned with discouraging reports of the strength of the inhabitants and of the prevalence of plague. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, encouraged the people not to lose hope in God's promise to give them the land as an everlasting possession. The people ignored them, however, and cried throughout the entire night, lamenting their fate and viewing their situation as utterly hopeless. According to the sages, the people did not cry because of anxiety, fear of the battle, or even from sadness; instead, they cried in despair, because they had lost hope in the LORD and wanted to return to their former slavery in Egypt...

Because the people gave up their hope in God and wanted to return to their life of bondage, the LORD decreed they would indeed return - bound to wander in the desert - until the entire generation ransomed from Egypt had died in exile. (The Talmud notes that the "night of crying" occurred on the ninth of Av (i.e., Tishah B'Av), which later commemorated the destruction of the Temple.)

A central lesson of this week's Torah portion, then, is to warn us of the tragic consequences of losing hope in God's promises. When the Israelites gave up hope in God - when they regarded their situation as hopeless - they entered into despair, a final refusal to trust God for their good.  By refusing to believe in the kindness and care of God, the people tragically consigned themselves to terrible doom and loss. The fact that the LORD was so angry over the people's lack of trust teaches us that no matter how dark the circumstances, we must never, never, never give up hope. Utter hopelessness is never an option for God's children.
 

חִזְקוּ וְיַאֲמֵץ לְבַבְכֶם
 כָּל־הַמְיַחֲלִים לַיהוָה

chiz·ku · ve·ya·a·metz · le·vav·khem
kol · ham·ya·cha·lim · la·donai

"Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
 all you who wait for the LORD!"
(Psalm 31:24)



 

Those who survived the Nazi death camps never lost all hope. Indeed, despair and the loss of hope is usually followed closely by death, as the following story relates:
 

    The angel of death met a caravan on the the desert way to Baghdad. "Why must you hasten to Baghdad," asked the caravan leader. "To take 5,000 lives" the angel replied. On his way back from the city, the angel and caravan crossed paths and met once again. "You deceived me," the caravan head said. "Instead of 5,000 you took 50,000 lives." "Not so," replied the angel, "5,000 and not one more. It was Fear who killed the rest."
     

It seems unfathomable, but the very generation that had directly witnessed the LORD's power during the great deliverance from Egypt somehow abandoned their hope in God, which should soberly warn us that we must make every effort to keep hope alive in our hearts, especially during these darkened days (Heb. 3:12-14). After all, we are saved by hoping in the promises of God (Rom. 8:24), and God swore in His wrath that those who give up hope would never enter into his rest (Psalm 95:7-11; Heb. 3:7-11). We are warned not to "harden our hearts," that is, not to insulate ourselves, to protect ourselves, by refusing to believe in the possibility of love.

The message that we are saved by hope is as relevant today as it was during the time of the Exodus, though today we put our hope in the promise of the New Covenant and the message of the cross of Yeshua our Savior. The cross demonstrates that we cannot save ourselves but - baruch Hashem - the good Lord indeed saves the hopeless... Aren't you grateful that God is faithful, even when you sometimes are not, and that he loves you, despite your frailty and sin? It's not about who you are, after all; it's about who God is. God did not save you because you were good, but He will make you good because He saves you.

Thank the LORD our God that there is real healing for our inner dividedness, ambivalence, and double-mindedness, though such healing demands rigorous honesty. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). If God's love was conditional or based on our performance, this verse could not be included in the Scriptures, since God would then only love those who were holy, sinless, and righteous... Instead, God wants our honesty, our hearts. "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty." Confession means "saying the same thing" about ourselves that God says - and that means not only acknowledging our sins, but also affirming that we are loved by God. We are saved by hope, and that hope is for you today.
 




Our High Calling...


 

06.12.12  (Sivan 22, 5772)  The way we "see" is profoundly influenced by how we hear.... The Midrash Rabbah says that the ear (אזֶן) gives life to all the organs of the body. How so? By listening (שׁמע, shema) to the Torah. This idea is repeated in the New Testament: "Faith comes from listening to the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17). It is the Word of God (דְּבַר־אֱלהִים) that is our very life, chaverim, and therefore all the more reason should we treasure it.

Just as our hearts are said to be mikdash me'at (מִקְּדָשׁ מְעַט), a little sanctuary for the Kingdom of heaven (Luke 17:29; Rom. 14:17), so each of us is given a unique sphere of influence that is to be yielded to God's authority as His divinely appointed regent and priest. The question remains: We will rule over our own inner kingdom in agreement with what God expects of His kings and queens, or will we forfeit our responsibilities?

The kingdom of God centers upon the Presence and glory of God, of course. We are called a "kingdom of priests" (Rev. 1:5; 5:10). The Hebrew word for "priest" (i.e., kohen: כּהֶן) comes from a root (כּהנ) that suggests drawing the Spirit of Life near or close to another, or "mediating" the Divine Presence. We can see that through the grammatical structure of the word itself. When the letter Kaf (כּ) is prefixed to a word, it can mean "like" or "as." The letter Hey (ה) serves as a demonstrative (i.e., a pointer), sometimes used to refer to the "hand" or Spirit of God, and the letter Nun (נ) represents freedom and life. In the Torah, the role of the priest was to help people draw near to God. As priests of the New Covenant, our role is to help one another draw close to our Savior and King Yeshua, and to encourage us to stay on the path (Heb. 3:12-14). There is no hierarchy among the true followers of the Messiah, since we are all one body (1 Cor. 12:12-26). Such is our high calling, chaverim, that we should live as "priests" to one another, serving one another and encouraging one another to press on, to never, ever give up hope... Shalom.


Personal Update: Please remember me in your prayers, chaverim, as the battle has been especially fierce for me the last week or so.  Thank you so much.
 




Dealing with Yetzer Hara...


 

06.12.12  (Sivan 22, 5772)  "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you" (Prov. 25:21-22). Some of the sages have said that the "enemy" here refers to the yetzer hara (יֵצֶר הָרָה), the "evil impulse," and that by attending to the inner emptiness and neediness we sometimes feel -  by feeding ourselves the "bread of Torah" and the "water of the Spirit" - we will overcome the evil with good (Rom. 12:21).
 

אִם־רָעֵב שׂנַאֲךָ הַאֲכִלֵהוּ לָחֶם
 וְאִם־צָמֵא הַשְׁקֵהוּ מָיִם
 כִּי גֶחָלִים אַתָּה חתֶה עַל־ראשׁוֹ
 וַיהוָה יְשַׁלֶּם־לָךְ

im · ra·ev · so·na·a·kha · ha·a·khi·le·hu · la·chem
ve·im · tza·mei · hash·ke·hu · ma·yim
ki · ge·cha·lim · at·tah · cho·teh · al · ro·sho
vadonai · ye·sha·lem · lakh

"If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
 and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
 for you will heap burning coals on his head,
 and the LORD will reward you."
(Prov. 25:21-22)



 

Note that the image of "burning coals" may refer to the censer of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest), who burned incense for intercession and mercy before God. Applied inwardly, showing true kindness and compassion to ourselves – even when our lower nature "clamors for food" – is a way to overcome our evil impulses through teshuvah (turning, repentance)... Similarly showing kindness to your enemies can overcome their ill-will them with divine grace, so that their own conscience will be moved to acknowledge the benefit of your kindness, and their heart may be inflamed to do teshuvah.

I like the acronym "H.A.L.T."  Ask yourself if you are "hungry, angry, lonely, or tired" and then take the appropriate steps to center yourself. If you do not attend to meet your needs in healthy ways, it is likely you will find unhealthy (i.e., sinful) ways to do so. In other words, sometimes the flesh gives us trouble because we are not really dealing with the underlying issues. It is true that the flesh has been crucified with its affections and lusts (Gal. 5:24), and yet we are still told not to get drunk with wine (Eph. 5:18; Deut. 29:6), not to gluttonously eat before others (1 Cor. 11:21;33), and so on. We still carry the weight of the flesh in this world, though one day the flesh itself will be glorified and freed from the gravity of the lower nature. However, until that time, we must contend with the yetzer hara and the overcome the appeal of the flesh... In this way, the "battle with the flesh" is not unlike God's perpetual war with Amalek.

During the IDF induction ceremony at the Kotel Plaza, each new soldier is given two things: a Tanakh and a gun... Likewise you are a soldier in the midst of a raging war. The forces of negativity, darkness, and evil attempt to destroy you from within (yetzer hara) and also from without (demonic powers in the world). You are not given the choice whether to fight the battle, only whether you will walk in victory or defeat. May God Almighty, the LORD of the armies of heaven, strengthen and protect you as you put your trust in Him.
 




Parashat Shelach Lekha


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shelach Lekha. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

06.10.12  (Sivan 20, 5772)  This week's Torah portion, Shelach Lekha (שלח־לך), recounts how Moses sent twelve spies into the land of Canaan to search it out and give a report of its condition. After 40 days, the spies returned and said that though the land was indeed fruitful and zevat chalav u'devash (זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבַשׁ), "flowing with milk and honey," its inhabitants were giant warriors whom the people could never hope to defeat in battle. Only two spies - Joshua and Caleb - kept faith in God's promise. Upon hearing the majority's report, however, the people rebelled and cried out to return to Egypt. In response, God decreed that the Israelites would indeed return - to the desert - until the entire generation that was ransomed from Egypt had died while in exile.

If last week's Torah was "sefer kvetch," this week's Torah reveals the fateful outcome... The people's lapse of faith in God's power serves as a profound and very sober warning, and indeed is a primary warning regarding the dreadful sin of unbelief in the New Testament (see Heb. 3:7-4:11). May God give us courage to walk in the power of His promises, even if our circumstances may seem daunting. May God clothe each of us with the "spirit of David" to stand before all the giants of the land who defy the LORD and His power.

The tragedy of the sin at Kadesh ultimately has a happy ending, however, since the LORD is never thwarted by man's weaknesses.  After the 38 years of exile were complete, Moses' successor Joshua sent a second spying expedition to the promised land, though this time God led the spies to a prostitute named Rahab, a direct descendant of Yeshua our Messiah, who later identified her faith in the LORD's victory by displaying the scarlet cord (חוּט הַשָּׁנִי) during the fall of Jericho (Joshua 2). Rahab was the (grand)mother of Boaz, who later married Ruth, the great grandmother of King David.
 




The Shortest Prayer...


 

06.08.12  (Sivan 18, 5772)  Often the shortest prayers are the best, since God is not impressed with human loquacity or religious talk (Prov. 10:19). Besides, your Heavenly Father knows what you need before you even ask Him, so you do not need to resort to flattering appeals or vain repetitions. The shortest prayer in the Torah is only five words long: El na refa na lah (אֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ), "God please heal her please," spoken by Moses on behalf of his sister Miriam (Num. 12:13). Other good prayers are simply "Help Lord," "Thanks, Lord," and "Yes, Lord." What matters in prayer is the earnestness of heart, not the use of fine words. There is no "shibboleth" or "password" required to open the gates of heaven, just as there is no special name for God that must be invoked. The LORD sees beyond our words and heeds the passion of heart that cries out to Him in sincerity... God is likened to a good father who hears his child crying for his or her daddy.

Note: This reminds me of a joke I read recently. One Chanukah the rabbi arrives in shul and is surprised to see only one person, an elderly Jewish farmer. "Should I proceed?" asks the rabbi. "Sure, why not?" "Well, it is worth having a service for such a small congregation?" The old farmer replies, "Let me tell ya, Rabbi, when I take a bucket of food to the hens, and only one turns up, I don't sent it away hungry..." The rabbi, moved by this simply analogy, then goes up to the bema and proceeds to lead the single Jew through the entire morning service, including a long and very forceful sermon on Chanukah, its history and tradition, and carefully reviews the laws of lighting the menorah. When he finally finishes, he turns to the farmer, "Was that all right?" "You know rabbi," the farmer replies dourly, "when I take a bucket to the hens and only one turns up, I don't give it the whole bucket!"

The Scriptures teach, "When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent" (Prov. 10:19). However, the Scriptures also teach that "a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver" (Prov. 25:11). When we speak with others, it is wise to search for just the right words spoken with the just right tone at just the right time. Shalom, chaverim.
 




The Spirit and the Flesh...


 

06.08.12  (Sivan 18, 5772)  There is the Spirit and there is flesh... After the people complained about the manna and asked for "flesh," Moses asked God, "Where will I get enough meat for them to eat?" The LORD answered by sending a wind (ruach, spirit) that would bring flesh directly to the "doorstep" of their tents. Note, however, that while this flesh was "between their teeth" the plague broke out (Num. 11:18-23; 31-33).

The moral of this story, of course, is that you must be careful what you wish for -- because you just might get it! As it is written (Gal. 5:17-18): "The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But those who are led by the Spirit are free from the law of sin and death" (i.e., they are delivered from the spirit of bondage to fear because they are constrained by God's love and daily care). Living according to the way of the Spirit makes us free from the law of sin and death (Gal. 5:22-33).

A.W. Tozer once wrote, "Beware of any Christian leader who does not walk with a limp," though I would go further and say beware of a Christian leader who doesn't realize that he's a dead man walking... dead to rights; dead to this world; dead to the flesh, and so on. It is the new man, reborn in the Spirit, that is now alive, though its life is not of this world.
 




Beha'alotekha - "Sefer Kvetch"


 

[ The central commandment our Torah reading this week is "Thou Shalt Not Kvetch" (or, put positively, "Thou Shalt be Grateful"). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

06.08.12  (Sivan 18, 5772)  Some of the sages have called this week's Torah portion "Sefer Kvetch," the Book of Complaint, since the first stage of the journey back to the promised land was marked with murmuring, ingratitude, and fantasies about the "good old days" when the people ate "free fish" in Egypt, and so on. The repeated episodes of complaining really were a form of rebellion against God's leadership, as the people blasphemously charged the LORD with folly, incompetence, or even malice ("Why did God take us out of Egypt - to kill us all in the desert?"). Indeed, the spiritual condition of the people was so bad that they were all doomed to die in the desert. The New Testament later identifies the unbelief of the people as a picture of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 3:7-4:6).

Often the Israelites appeared to behave like spoiled children, demanding "real food" and fussing over the miraculous supply of bread that literally came from heaven... It would be funny were it not so tragic: Despite all the miracles the people had directly experienced during the great Exodus - including the tremendous revelation at Sinai - in a little over a year the memory of Egypt had become positively euphoric, and the people "forgot" how degrading their lives were as slaves... They romanticized the way things were, rationalizing that it wasn't "that bad," and so on. 

Again, the central commandment of this Torah portion is "Thou Shalt Not Kvetch" (or, put positively, "Thou Shalt be Grateful"). "The deeds of the fathers are signs for the children," and therefore we are sternly warned not to follow the example of those who were redeemed by God's outstretched hand but who later drew back in fear and unbelief: "I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter my rest.' Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Messiah if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is written, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion" (Heb. 3:11-16).

Note: You can download the Shabbat Table talk for this week's Torah here:
 

 




Internalizing the Sacrifice...


 

[ The Torah reading for this week is parashat Beha'alotekha. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

06.08.12  (Sivan 18, 5772)  Our Torah portion this week describes how the Levites were set apart for service at the Tabernacle (Num. 8:5-12). In a ceremony that signified a sort of "rebirth," they were first sprinkled with mei hachatat (מֵי חַטָּאת), literally, "the waters of sin" (Num. 8:7), which some commentators associate with the water mixed with the ashes of the red heifer that purified from contamination with death (Num. 19:13). Next they shaved off all their hair and were completely immersed in a mikveh (a bath containing flowing water). The steps of being sprinkled with purifying water, shaving off of all the hair, and being completely immersed in a mikveh are similar to the ritual for the cleansing of the leper (Lev. 14:2-32). Rashi notes that each member of the community was required to place their hands on the Levites' heads, just as the hands were placed on the head of a sacrificial animal as it was slaughtered before the altar (Num. 8:10; Lev. 1:4, 3:2). The "waving" of the Levites by the High Priest likewise simulated the ritual of "tenufah" (תְּנוּפָה), that is, the waving of the guilt sacrifice (asham) offered by the leper after his cleansing (Lev. 14:12). Finally, the Levites themselves were to lay their hands on sin and whole burnt offerings to make atonement before the LORD (Num. 8:12).

In the Torah, the most common word used to describe sacrifice is korban (קָרְבָּן), which comes from the root karov (קָרַב) meaning to "draw close" or "to come near." In the Tabernacle, the offering of korbanot (קָרְבָּנוֹת) was the way a worshipper was enabled to draw near to God.  Maimonides states that the purpose of the korbanot (sacrifices) was to represent the idea of substitutionary or vicarious atonement. The blood of the sacrificial animal was shed in place of the individual who offered it at the altar, which was the central means of securing atonement and purification from sin (Lev. 17:11). Some of the sages say that the idea of identifying with the sacrifice was really a means of "internalizing" the sacrifice itself. This process of identification with the sacrifice goes back to the story of the Akedah, or the "binding" of Isaac by Abraham at Moriah. The ram that was offered in Isaac's place was a divine substitute, though the midrash says that each step of the ram's sacrifice was regarded as if it were Isaac himself who was being offered up as a burnt offering.  This link - that the sacrifice "stood for" or identified the individual - was the basis of the "korban principle" that one life could be sacrificially exchanged for the benefit of another life.

 

Of course, the ultimate expression of "internalizing the sacrifice" was that of Yeshua's death on the cross for our sins... Yeshua willingly offered his life to be the means by which we can take hold of everlasting vicarious atonement before God, though each of us is individually responsible to identify with Him in semikhah, to place our hands on his head, "leaning the weight of our sins" upon Him in an act of identification and trust.
 




The Living Truth...


 

06.07.12  (Sivan 17, 5772)  Only the truth that is lived really matters. Students of the great sages would go to their master's home to see how he ate his soup, how he drank wine, how he treated his wife, how patient he was with his children, etc.  God does not want "lip service" or your acknowledgment of the theology that others have worked to understand. As Kierkegaard once wrote: "Truth is not something you can appropriate easily and quickly. You certainly cannot sleep or dream yourself into the truth. No, you must be tried, do battle, and suffer if you are to acquire truth for yourself. It is a sheer illusion to think that in relation to truth there is an abridgment, a short cut that dispenses with the necessity of struggling for it. With respect to acquiring truth to live by, every generation and every individual essentially begin from the beginning."

Yeshua said, "For this reason was I born... to bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37). As his followers, this provides the reason for our lives as well. Why were you born into this world? Better, why were you reborn? Was it not to participate in the redemptive mission of the Savior? God chose you to be His messenger because he foresaw your heart of faith...  It is the truth that sets people free. Freed from what? Freed from slavery to sin, from the darkness of fear, from the dread sting of death itself. This freedom is "ontological," meaning that it has real being, existence, energy, meaning, and purpose. But understand that freedom is inward, spiritual, hidden from the eyes of the world (Luke 17:21). It is Messiah "within you" that matters (Col. 1:27), a reality revealed by the Spirit through listening (shema) to the Voice of the LORD (Rom. 10:17). God's truth is immeasurably powerful enlightens the "eyes of the heart" (Eph. 1:18), releasing the power of Spirit within your inner being (Eph. 3:16). We talk sometimes about kavanah (focus) and tikkun olam (repairing the world), but such things are only meaningful with regard to the true goal of creation itself. You are given the greatest task in all the universe: to live the message of the truth so that others can be set free of their slavery and find eternal life. Your life is likened to a "living letter" from the Messiah, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God (2 Cor. 3:3). May the LORD God Almighty help us to walk in His truth always. Amen.
 




Crucified with Messiah...


 

06.06.12  (Sivan 16, 5772)  We have been "crucified with" Messiah, which teaches us that God's way of deliverance is radically different than man's way. Man's way is to attempt to reform his nature, to strive to follow the law, to resist the impulse to lust and sin, to create "good karma," and so on, whereas God's way is not to make us stronger and stronger, but rather to make us weaker and weaker - by crucifying the old nature. According to the Scriptures, there is no other end for the flesh - the autonomous ego - than its repudiation and death upon the cross. The cross demonstrates that any attempt of the flesh to please God (i.e., "religion") is useless and needs to be laid to rest. The cross represents the instrumentality of the death of your religious aspirations: it is the surrender of all human effort whatsoever. Therefore the Greek verb used in Gal. 2:20 is a perfect passive, denoting action completed through the agency of another: "I have been crucified (συνεσταύρωμαι) with the Messiah." Like all sacrifices that were brought to the altar, we must pass through death to life by means of our union with the Messiah at the cross... It is only after the cross that it may be said, "It is no longer 'I' who lives; now it is Messiah who lives His life in me."

Of course since human beings worship themselves and glory in the flesh, the doctrine of the cross seems like foolishness to the carnally minded. Thus Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: "Christianity was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life's nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in 'another' or 'better' life... The Christian faith is a sacrifice: a sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of the spirit; at the same time, enslavement and self-mockery, self-mutilation." To a "natural man" like Nietzsche, the message of the cross represents the call to resignation, passivity, and weakness, and the religion of the cross is therefore regarded as the cult of the victim, the slave, the weak, etc.  Karl Marx similarly regarded religion as the "opium of the people," that is, a drug of consolation meant to assuage present suffering by escaping to another world... But such "wisdom of this world" is regarded as folly with God (1 Cor. 3:19), who traps the wise in their own conceits but reveals Himself to the humble of heart (Matt. 11:25). From the perspective of one who has truly encountered ultimate reality, the cross represents the very power of God (1 Cor. 1:18). As Paul wrote, "God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Yeshua the Messiah our LORD, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal. 6:14).

Yeshua didn't die a painful and bloody death on the cross to save sinful flesh but rather to become sinful flesh in exchange for the sinner who trusts in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). That's the essence of the gospel, the power of God's salvation. On some mysterious level, the exchange of our sin with Messiah's righteousness is "ontological," meaning that it has real being, existence, substance, energy, and reality. Our identification with Yeshua on the cross represents the death of our old sin nature, which is forever put away and replaced by a new nature (2 Cor. 5:17). We don't come to the cross to save face, to get "cleaned up," or to become religious, but rather to die and to be reborn to eternal life. By faith there is a divine exchange, whereby the natural life is crucified and buried and the spirit is miraculously given life from heaven. The resurrected life is given only after passing through death to life. It is Messiah in you that is the hope of glory.

If all this is hard for you to understand, take comfort in the words of Scripture. During his earthly ministry Yeshua foresaw the cross and understood that it was his mission to die upon it for the sins of the world. Still, even after he carefully (and repeatedly) explained all this to his disciples, "they understood none of these things... and did not grasp what was said" (Luke 18:31-34). The fact that Yeshua's message regarding the cross was hidden from them (i.e., κρύπτω, "made cryptic") shows us that unaided human reason cannot fathom its eternal significance. After all, reason wants to continue in the illusion that human life is redeemable by means of self-improvement (i.e., religion), and therefore God Himself must reveal the need for the cross by means of the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately the miracle of new life comes from the power of God's Spirit:
 

לא בְחַיִל וְלא בְכחַ כִּי אִם־בְּרוּחִי
אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת

lo · ve·cha·yil · ve·lo · be·kho·ach · ki · im · be·ru·chi
a·mar · Adonai · Tze·va·ot
 

"Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,
says the LORD of the armies of heaven"
(Zech. 4:6)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Our true identity, our spiritual life, our very reason for being is no longer found in this world and its vain philosophy. The cross brings these things to an end, as we "cross over" from the realm of the dead to the realm of life... "If then you have been raised with Messiah, seek the things that are above (τὰ ἄνω ζητεῖτε), where the Messiah is seated at the right hand of God; focus your thoughts on the things above - not on things here on earth - for you have died, and your life has been hidden with Messiah in God. Then when the Messiah, who is your life, appears, you too will appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4).
 




Fooling Yourself...


 

06.06.12  (Sivan 16, 5772)  It has been said that there are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true. Hence we see that thinking that you are spiritual when you really are not is to deceive yourself, but so also is thinking you are not spiritual when you really are.  In the former case you are a hypocrite, but in the latter case you are a person of little faith... If you are willing to honestly examine the status of your spiritual life, see whether you are trusting in your own will to believe, in your own obedience to the moral law, etc., or whether you are trusting in the Reality and power of the resurrected Savior to give you life from the dead...

We've learned from repeated failures that "the power of sin is in the law" (1 Cor. 15:56), that is, in the unjustified pride of the flesh (ego) that attempts to validate or justify itself. The business of working on yourself, excusing yourself, defending yourself, and so on runs so deeply that Paul calls it the "law of sin and death" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת). Often we have to keep revisiting the same sins over and over until the message sinks in and we begin to "get it." Only God Himself knows how many iterations are needed, but the flesh seems irrepressible in its pride and therefore keeps attempting to operate "under the law." Living under the law, however, means living under the principle of self-justification, which invariably leads to failure, guilt, and the need for further self-justification. "Religion" is a construction of the ego, an acronym that means "easing God out." The solution to this ever-turning "wheel of sorrow," this infinite and self-defeating "loop," is to die to the law and its demands and be raised to live in newness of life (Rom. 7:1-6; Gal. 2:19-21).

We read in our Torah portion this week (Beha'alotekha): "Now the man Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any other person on the face of the earth" (Num. 12:3). Note that the word "humble" (i.e., anav: עָנָו) can be rearranged to spell the word "iniquity" (i.e., avon: עוֹן) by swapping the letter Vav (ו), the symbol for man (i.e., "flesh"), in place of the letter Nun (נ), the symbol for life/Yeshua. This suggests that when we put ourselves as the center, we cease to be humble but instead become perverse; conversely, putting Yeshua in the center of your life instills true humility...
 




The Message of Reconciliation


 

06.05.12  (Sivan 15, 5772)  The message of reconciliation we have from God is assuredly the greatest message of all time, and it is our great honor and duty to share its promise with a world that is suffering under the weight of sin and death (2 Cor. 5:18-20). As a "steward" of God's truth (i.e., οἰκονόμος, from οἶκος, "house" and νόμος, "law"), you have been entrusted with the affairs of the Master's estate (1 Cor. 4:1). You are not only a servant, then, but also one of God's own household who has been entrusted with the message of salvation and life. Indeed you are given the title of "ambassador" (πρεσβύτερος), a term that means an official envoy who exercises the authority and power of the one who commissioned him (2 Cor. 5:20). God Himself has authorized you to deliver his central appeal to the sinner: "Be reconciled to God!"  This message is so vital that we are told to "beseech" (δέομαι), that is, to beg, implore, and plead with others to make their peace with God by trusting in the message of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). We plead "for the Messiah's sake" (2 Cor. 5:20), since Yeshua willingly suffered and died in exchange for our sins so that we could be made right with God. The great ministry of reconciliation is therefore the message of the "great exchange" of Messiah's righteousness for our sin. Indeed the word translated "reconciliation" (καταλλαγή) comes from the verb katallasso (καταλλάσσω), meaning exchange one thing for another (i.e., κατά, "according to," and ἄλλος, "another"). "On our behalf God made Yeshua to be sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21). On some mysterious level, the exchange of our sin with Messiah's righteousness is "ontological," meaning that it has real being, existence, substance, energy, reality, and life...

Before anything else, the message of reconciliation must first be internalized and made our own, of course, since we can't give away what we don't have. In other words, we must "put on" our new identity and live the "exchanged life" wherein we possess "all spiritual blessings" in the Messiah, and then we trust in the power of God to do the miracle (Eph. 1:3; 4:23-24). We put no confidence in our own ability or "flesh." It is the life of the Messiah in you that produces true spiritual power... Only God can give salvation, and only the Holy Spirit can soften hearts made hard by sin, but we must be careful never to talk ourselves out of our high calling. As God's ambassadors we sometimes use the direct approach with others, sharing the gospel message, giving our testimony, appealing to others to make a decision, and so on, whereas at other times we do the work "behind the scenes," by praying, interceding, and asking God to bring glory to His Name through our service. In every case we must ask God for wisdom and leave the results with Him, since He is the Master and has everything in control. "The day is short, the labor vast, the toilers idle, the reward great, and the Master of the house is insistent. It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it" (Avot 2:20-21).
 




You are Chosen...


 

06.05.12  (Sivan 15, 5772)  The LORD God Almighty, the only true Savior, the Majesty on High, has personally called and chosen you to be His servant and witness to this needy and broken world (Isa. 43:10). God knew you before you were born (Jer. 1:5) and has loved you with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). The Savior Himself has chosen you to bear fruit in His Name (John 15:16). He equips you to serve Him according to the gift of the grace of God (Eph. 3:7). God has entrusted to you His charge and has made you a steward of His mysteries and treasures (1 Cor. 4:1). He calls you His ambassador and a minister of the "great exchange," that is, the reconciliation given through Yeshua the Messiah (2 Cor. 5:18-21). Indeed to you has been given the greatest of all privileges in the world, and to you God Himself has esteemed worthy of His sacred trust (1 Tim. 1:12; Col. 1:25).
 

אַתֶּם עֵדַי נְאֻם־יְהוָה וְעַבְדִּי אֲשֶׁר בָּחָרְתִּי
 לְמַעַן תֵּדְעוּ וְתַאֲמִינוּ לִי וְתָבִינוּ כִּי־אֲנִי הוּא
 לְפָנַי לא־נוֹצַר אֵל וְאַחֲרַי לא יִהְיֶה

at·tem · e·dai · ne·um · Adonai, ve·av·di · a·sher · ba·char·ti
le·ma·an · te·de·u · ve·ta·mi·nu · li · ve·ta·vi·nu · ki · a·ni · hu
le·fa·nai · lo · no·tzar · El, ve·a·cha·rai · lo · yih·yeh

"You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know and believe me and understand that I AM he.
Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me."
(Isa. 43:10)



Hebrew Study Card
  

Carefully consider these great things.... If you are God's child, then He esteems you worthy of His salvation, blessing, and trust, and He knows that you will persevere in the way of life, even if you may stumble along the way (Prov. 24:16; Psalm 37:24; Jude 1:24-25). God Almighty knows that you will arise and serve Him, despite the setbacks, and has promised to preserve you unto the end (Psalm 37:28). You can be assured that God will do this for you, not because of your own merits, but because of His faithful love for your soul.


Note: In 1 Corinthians 4:1, a "minister" is called huperetes (ὑπηρέτης), a term that referred to an "under rower," that is, a person chained in the underbelly of a large ship who pulled at the great oars to move the vessel... In the ancient literature, such under rowers were often the lowest class criminals who lived their remaining days endlessly rowing in the gloomy light of the galley of the ship. The image here is of humble and tenacious service, even if under duress, and certainly not of some elite status before the eyes of men. Paul later attested "by the grace of God I am what I am (χάριτι δὲ θεοῦ εἰμι ὅ εἰμι), and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me" (1 Cor. 15:10). It was the love of God that so constrained the great Apostle to render his service in self-forgetful joy.
 




God's Relentless Love...


 

06.05.12  (Sivan 15, 5772)  Where it is written, "Surely goodness and mercy (טוֹב וָחֶסֶד) shall follow me all the days of my life" (Psalm 23:6), the Hebrew verb translated "shall follow me" (i.e., יִרְדְּפוּנִי) comes from a root (i.e., radaf: רָדַף) that means "to pursue," as a hunter chases after his prey. David was sure that God's lovingkindness would "hound" him as he made his way through this world - even in the dark places, even in "the valley of the shadow of death" (בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת) - where God's rod and staff would comfort him and direct his way (Psalm 23:4). "May your love, O LORD, be upon us, as we hope in You."
 

יְהִי־חַסְדְּךָ יְהוָה עָלֵינוּ
 כַּאֲשֶׁר יִחַלְנוּ לָךְ

ye·hi · chas·de·kha · Adonai · a·lei·nu
ka·a·sher · yi·chal·nu · lakh

"May your love, O LORD, be upon us,
 as we hope in You"
(Psalm 33:22)



Hebrew Study Card
  


Whatever the heart genuinely seeks, it will find. We are constantly "asking, seeking, and knocking" (Matt. 7:7), even if we are often unaware of our heart's search. The one who pursues righteousness will find it, just as evil will come to the one who searches after it (Prov. 11:27). As it is written, "Those who worship worthless idols forsake the love (i.e., chesed: חֶסֶד) that could be theirs" (Jonah 2:8). David understood that as he pursued God, God's love would pursue him; as we seek, so we are sought by God; as we draw near to God, so He will draw near to us (James 4:8).

The prophet Hosea expresses hope: "Let us know; let us press on to know (i.e., נִרְדְּפָה, "pursue after") the LORD; His going out is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth" (Hos. 6:3). May God help us pursue him b'khol levavkha - with all our heart - because He has promised, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13). And may the love of the LORD indeed be upon us, even as we put our hope in Him. Amen.
 




Time is Short...


 

06.04.12  (Sivan 14, 5772)  Time is short, and we must be careful to make the most of the "remains of the day" before the Lord returns to judge the world (Eph. 5:15-17). Yeshua admonished His followers, "The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going" (John 12:35). When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth (Luke 18:8)? May it please the LORD to impart to us the light of His countenance during these glowering days of trouble and ever-increasing apostasy... As Jeremiah warned Judah before the exile: "Give glory to the LORD your God before he brings darkness, before your feet stumble on the twilight mountains, and while you look for light he turns it into gloom and makes it deep darkness" (Jer. 13:16). "Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish (i.e., στηρίζω, make strong) your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand" (James 5:7-8).
 

אֱלהִים לָנוּ מַחֲסֶה וָעז
 עֶזְרָה בְצָרוֹת נִמְצָא מְאד
 עַל־כֵּן לא־נִירָא בְּהָמִיר אָרֶץ
 וּבְמוֹט הָרִים בְּלֵב יַמִּים

E·lo·him · la·nu · ma·cha·seh · va·oz / ez·rah · ve·tza·rot · nim·tza · me·od
al · ken · lo · ni·ra · be·ha·mir · a·retz / u·ve·mot · ha·rim · be·lev · ya·mim

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
 though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea"
(Psalm 46:1-2)



Hebrew Study Card
  

We will not fear because the LORD our God has promised to give us His strength in time of our need. God is an "ever-present" help – the phrasing is emphatic – and He is always as close as our mouth and heart. Therefore lo nira - "will not we fear." We are to count ourselves safe and to make ourselves strong in the LORD. We are safest when we are exactly where God wants us, even if that is in the midst of battle in the enemy's camp. "Though the earth be removed" suggests that even if the basis for all that is visible will be upended, God is to be called upon and trusted, since He is forever faithful to those who belong to Him. "The Name of the LORD is a strong tower, the righteous one runs into it and is safe" (Prov. 18:10). God will never leave nor forsake those who trust in Him (John 6:37).


A Word to the Seeker...

And now, a brief word for the seeker, that is, to the person who has not put their complete trust in the love and care of the LORD God Almighty. Life is full of questions, and indeed, life poses its most important questions directly to your soul... What is the meaning of your life? Why were you born? Where are you going? What will be your end? How should you live your life? How can you be truly happy? and so on. We sometimes say, "That was a waste," referring to something that didn't turn out as we had hoped, but what if we suspected that our lives were made up of a sequence of such disappointments? What if there was nothing else besides triviality, mere appearances, and fleeting pleasures? The aching question haunts the soul: Am I squandering my life? What will you think of your life when it is all finally over?  Such questions are directed to "the one who has ears to hear"; for those otherwise fighting the good fight of faith today, stay strong and be of good courage!
 




Love's Greater Freedom...


 

06.04.12  (Sivan 14, 5772)  When one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. The Spirit of the LORD reveals possibility and genuine freedom (2 Cor. 3:17). The Spirit imparts "vision of heart" to see beyond mere facts to behold value, meaning, beauty, truth, love... Therefore spiritual language is inherently metaphorical and analogical, since it uses finite terms to express longing for the eternal and infinite. The Voice of the Spirit is one of parables, allegories, allusions, love songs, poetry, wooing, and so on, not the description of a state of affairs or "facts," regardless of how seemingly accurate and rigorous such a description may be.  The reason for this is that, by itself, knowledge of what "is" will never reveal what "ought" or "can" be, and therefore the description of reality (i.e., law) can never prescribe what reality "should" be like. As Einstein wrote, "Mere thinking [about facts] cannot give us a sense of the ultimate and fundamental ends. To make clear these fundamental ends and valuations, and to set them fast in the emotional life of the individual, seems to me precisely the most important function which religion has to perform." For instance, an anthropologist may accurately describe genocidal practices of a culture but he can never make a value judgment that genocide is morally wrong based on observation alone. Something more is needed to do that, an additional step of faith, since the inherent value of human life must be assumed for the idea of moral responsibility to be intelligible.

By itself genuine science attempts to observe (or engineer) repeatable sequences of experience, and therefore it is based on the assumption that the future will resemble the past (an assumption, it should be noted, that itself is not directly observed by the scientific method itself). As Immanuel Kant said, "Concepts without percepts are empty; percepts without concepts are blind." In other words, we bring spiritual assumptions to any possible experience, and that includes the practice of science as well. For example, even the most hard-boiled scientist exercises faith that: 1) the external world objectively exists, 2) that it is "better" to know than to be in ignorance, 3) that knowing the truth is "possible," 4) that the laws of logic are "valid" (i.e., that a=a and not something else), 5) that some events may "cause" others (i.e., the idea of causality), 6) that measurement is uniform (i.e., that the scientific method is "reliable"), 7) that mathematics can accurately "map" to the empirical world, 8) that some scientific models are "elegant" whereas others are not, and so on. Please note, however, that each of these assumptions comes from a source outside of the scientific method itself, or (put the other way), that none of these assumptions can be validated by means of the scientific method itself. Therefore any so-called scientist who advocates "meaning of life" doctrines (e.g. the denial of the divine soul of a baby in the womb), or who purports to provide metaphysical knowledge about non-observable events (e.g., macro evolutionary theory) is really an ideologue rather than a scientist...

Now while no amount of description can lead to prescription (i.e., no amount of "is" can produce an "ought"), the converse is also true: no amount of prescription can lead to description (i.e., no amount of "ought" can produce an "is"). For instance, the moral law of God prescribes the moral and the spiritual ideals of human behavior, though (by itself) it is unable to produce the reality through the use of imperative language alone. Like the scientific method, something more is needed to do that, some power or outside agency, since the ability to realize the "ought" must be assumed for the language of responsibility to have meaning. It is important to see that this ability must be brought to the experience of the imperative since it is not discoverable within the language of obligation itself. Therefore we read that "the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, though the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it, that is, the righteousness of God that comes through trusting in Yeshua the Messiah for newness of life (Rom. 3:21-22). For "by Him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:39). In other words, true spiritual life must come from a different source than from the law and its imperatives. Of course "the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good" (Rom. 7:12), but its judgments paradoxically reveal that we are captives of our own depravity. The fault is not with the law of God, but rather with our own sinful nature, which defies God's way in rebellion. Consequently, God decreed that true life would come to us "outside the law," that is, beyond the language of divine imperative, by means of the love and grace of God.  Faith believes the miracle.

Soren Kierkegaard warned, "It is very dangerous to go into eternity with possibilities which one has oneself prevented from becoming realities. A possibility is a hint from God. One must follow it." There is perhaps a secret dread of heart that wishes to deny the freedom we have in the Messiah, and this perhaps explains why people become enslaved to "religious" systems, since doing so provides them with the excuse to avoid taking risks and therefore to continue doing nothing with their lives...

"For freedom the Messiah has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Gal. 5:1). Therefore we see that honest questioning is a valuable spiritual act, since it causes you to consider your freedom and to "own" the choices you are presently making in your life... In other words, only hidebound systems of theology or "religion" repudiate honest questioning since they regard thinking, searching, asking hard questions, and so on, as a threat to their ability to hide the truth from the eyes of the "worshipers." Beware of any religion that demands you that you "touch not; taste not; handle not, etc." since this is a form of self-deception dressed up to look like holiness (Col. 2:21-23). The truth is on an altogether different level (Col. 3:1).
 




Spirit of Prophecy at Sinai...


 

[ The Torah reading for this week is parashat Beha'alotekha. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

06.04.12  (Sivan 14, 5772)   Our Torah portion this week (Beha'alotekha) recounts that after the 70 new leaders of Israel were chosen and brought to the Tabernacle, they were given the gift of prophecy (נְבוּאָה): "As soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it" (Num. 11:25). However, two others (Eldad and Medad) - who had not joined in the religious procession but instead "remained within the camp" - likewise began prophesying, though some people had a problem with this and complained to the leadership. Far from restraining them, however, Moses encouraged them saying: "If only all the LORD's people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!" (Num. 11:29; cp. 1 Cor. 14:5). So we see that even under the economy of the Sinai Covenant, the Holy Spirit was to be poured out upon all of God's people, not just the religious elite...

As Martin Buber once wrote, "The men and women of the Bible are sinners like ourselves, but there is one sin they do not commit, our arch-sin: they do not dare confine God to a circumscribed space or division of life, "religion." They have not the insolence to draw boundaries around God's commandments and say: Up to this point you are sovereign, but beyond these bounds begins the sovereignty of science, or society, or the state."
 




Parashat Beha'alotekha - בהעלתך


 

[ The Torah reading for this week is parashat Beha'alotekha. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

06.03.12  (Sivan 13, 5772)  Last week's Torah portion (Naso) ended with a description of the various gifts and sacrifices offered by the tribal leaders during the dedication of the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle). After the Tabernacle was fully consecrated, Moses went inside the Holy Place to listen as the Voice of the LORD "spoke to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim" (Num. 7:89).

Our Torah portion this week (Beha'alotekha) begins with the LORD giving instructions about how Aaron was to service the lamps of the menorah within the Holy Place of the Tabernacle (Num. 8:1-4). Each day Aaron was to clean each of the seven lamps and to refill them with the very purest olive oil. The wicks were then to be bent or positioned so that the six outer lamps projected their lights toward the seventh (and central) shaft. The lamps of the menorah were to be lit daily, "from evening until morning," in a specific sequence - starting from the central lamp (the shamash) and then moving right to left (Exod. 27:21).

According to the Talmud (Shabbat 22b), while all the lamps received the same amount of olive oil, the "westernmost" lamp (according to Rashi, the center lamp, due to its orientation) miraculously never ran out of oil, even though it was kindled first in the sequence. In other words, when Aaron would rekindle the lamps every evening, he found the shamash still burning, so he simply refilled it with oil and trimmed its wick. This miracle is also said to have occurred during the Temple period, though it abruptly ended about 40 years before the destruction of the Second Temple (c. 30 AD), after the death of Yeshua the Messiah, the true Servant and Branch of the LORD. As it is attested in the Talmud: "Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot ['For the Lord'] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white; nor did the westernmost light shine" (Yoma 39a).

The word beha'alotekha (בְּהַעֲלתְךָ) literally means "when you raise up" (from alah: עָלָה, "to ascend"), and in this context refers to the kindled flames of the menorah. The sages say that the Torah uses this Hebrew word to imply that the daily lighting and tending of the menorah was an act of sacrificial worship (like an olah offering). The midrash states that Aaron was completely humble in his office as the first Kohen Gadol (High Priest) of Israel and the daily task of lighting the lamps never became routine for him, but he remained entirely focused and reverent every time he performed this avodah.

Aaron's humble act of faithful service again indicates that what man esteems and what God esteems are very often two entirely different things.  After all, since the light of the menorah only shined within the confines of sacred chamber of the Tabernacle, it wasn't even visible to those of the camp of Israel. Only the priests who served could behold this light; otherwise it remained hidden from the eyes of man... Like the hidden light of the menorah in the Tabernacle, the deeds of the spiritually humble are beheld inwardly, where the Heavenly Father sees in secret (Matt. 6:4).

After this, Moses gathered all the Levites together to consecrate them for their service at the Tabernacle. In a ceremony that signified a sort of "rebirth," the Levites were first sprinkled with water mixed with the ashes of the red heifer (i.e., the "water of purification"). Then they shaved off all their hair and were immersed in a mikveh (a ritual bath containing flowing water). The congregation of Israel was then called to the gate of the Tabernacle and the firstborn among them performed "semikhah" by laying their hands on the heads of the Levites. Aaron then lifted each of them up as an "wave offering" before the LORD. Finally, the Levites laid their hands on the head of two bulls that Aaron slaughtered as a sin offering and a whole burnt offering given on their behalf. Only after this "rebirth ceremony" were the Levites ready to serve as mediators for the people...

The Israelites had been at Sinai for nearly a year before God commanded them to begin their journey through the desert back to the Promised Land. It was at Sinai that Moses had first set up the Tabernacle, dedicated the priesthood, and taught the people the commandments of the Torah. In the "second year, in the second month, on the 20th day of the month" (i.e., Iyyar 20), the cloud lifted from over the Tabernacle and Moses dispatched the Ark of the Covenant to follow after it into the desert (Num. 10:33-36). Moses then directed the people to set out "by stages" toward the desert of Paran (in the Negev).

After just three days into their journey the people began to complain about their hardship, and God became angry and caused a fire to burn in the outskirts of the camp. In addition, the 70 elders of Israel were killed, and the fires raged until Moses interceded on behalf of the nation. This station of the journey was thereafter named "Taberah" (burning).

Some time after this, the "mixed multitude" began to lust after meat, and the Israelites began weeping for the cuisine they had enjoyed back in Egypt. Moses despaired for his life and told God the burden of the people was too much for him. God then instructed him to appoint 70 new elders that would be filled with the Holy Spirit so they could help bear the burden of leadership. As for the people's complaint about the lack of meat and the boring taste of "manna," God promised to send so much meat that it would "come out of their nostrils." God then caused an enormous flock of quails to begin falling from the sky around the camp, which the people began to gather and cook. However, while "the meat was yet between their teeth" the quail became a plague and many Israelites died. This station of the journey was thereafter named "Kivrot ha-ta'avah" (graves of craving).

After this, the Israelites set out to a place they called Chazerot ("enclosures"), where Aaron and Miriam privately slandered Moses and his unique position as the mediator of the covenant at Sinai. The LORD then instructed Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to approach the Tabernacle, where the Shekhinah Glory descended in a pillar of cloud. The LORD then called Aaron and Miriam forward and sternly warned them that Moses was indeed uniquely chosen to be the leader of Israel. After this, the pillar of cloud ascended, and Miriam was left with tzara'at ("leprosy"), the punishment for lashon hara (evil speech). Despite Moses' and Aaron's intercession for her, however, the LORD banished Miriam from the camp for seven days, after which time she was brought back and the LORD directed the people further into the desert of Paran en route to the Promised Land.

One final thought, Rashi states that the reason the people complained was because they were looking for various reasons to excuse themselves from God. We also use complaints to distance ourselves from others. The sages warn, however, that one who doesn't appreciate what others do for him will eventually deny the good God has done for him as well....
 




Forgiving others...


 

06.01.12  (Sivan 11, 5772)  Sometimes we get things backward... We think that when another person offends us, the fault lies with them - that their sin is the problem - while overlooking the grudge (offense) within our own hearts (Prov. 13:10). Holding on to hurt, harboring a grudge, feeling insulted or abused, etc., may indicate that we have not truly forgiven the other person, however. If we have intellectually forgiven the offense but still feel angry or hurt, we need to move to the next step - to appease the person in order to restore the relationship. When we forgive others, we let go of the sin, both theirs and ours!

When Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was Rav in Pinsk, he suffered at the hands of his enemies. Once when he was away on business, his adversaries came and put his wife and children on a refuse wagon and shamelessly drove them out of town. Rabbi Levi's associates, offended by this outrage, asked R' Zev of Zhitomir to invoke the wrath of God on the perpetrators. "You have come too late," Rabbi Zev said, "Reb Levi is already at the open Aron, praying that no harm befall them." As Yeshua taught: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:44-45).

To uproot offense, resentment, bitterness, etc. from the heart, perform an act of kindness for the one whom you regard with trouble, since doing such enables you to see them in a new light. "Love suffers long and is kind" (1 Cor. 13:4). Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21). Remember that often "hurt people hurt people" and the cure for the wounded soul is kindness. At any rate, you are commanded by the LORD Himself to forgive others, regardless of whether the other person acknowledges their fault before you. As you forgive others, so you are forgiven (Matt. 6:12; 18:21-22).
 




Shabbat Shalom, friends...


 

06.01.12  (Sivan 11, 5772)  Shabbat Shalom, chaverim! May the LORD our God, according to the riches of His glory, grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Messiah dwells in your heart through faith, and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the kedoshim what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Messiah, that surpasses knowledge, and that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:16-19). Please feel free to download the Table Talk for this week's Torah (Naso) portion here:

 




The Paradox of Moses 


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Naso). Please review the Torah portion to find "your place" here... ]

06.01.12  (Sivan 11, 5772)  Our Torah portion this week ends, "And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with the LORD, he heard the Voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat (i.e., kapporet: כַּפּרֶת) that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him" (Num. 7:89).

Now Moses was truly an extraordinary and wonderful person -- Israel's first great prophet, priest, and king. His life can be divided into three great distinct periods of 40 years each. First, he was raised as an Egyptian and lived as a prince of Egypt (the Egyptian period); second, he fled to the land of Midian where he became a shepherd and encountered God in the desert (the Midianite period); and third, after the great deliverance from Egypt, Moses led the people back to Sinai where he 1) became the mediator (priest) of the covenant between God and Israel, 2) legislated the various laws of the Torah, and 3) received the prophetic vision of the Tabernacle, the future exile, and the ultimate glory of Zion.

Notice, however, that Moses was extraordinary in the sense that he transcended the entire system of religion that was later established as Judaism. First, as the great legislator, Moses stood outside of the law, serving as its voice of authority. Second, as the high priest of Israel, Moses instituted various sacrificial rites before the laws of sacrifice were enacted. For example, he instituted the Passover sacrifice in Egypt (Exod. 12:1-11), and when the people later reached Sinai, he offered blood sacrifices to ratify the terms of the covenant (Exod. 24:8). Moreover, he ascended the mountain and received the prophetic vision of the Sanctuary before the priesthood had been instituted in Israel (Exod. 25:8-9). And even after the laws of the priests were enacted and the Tabernacle was erected, Moses was allowed to go before the very Holy of Holies to hear the Voice of the LORD, even though technically speaking this was forbidden, since Moses was not a kohen (i.e., descendant of Aaron).

I mention this because some Jewish people stumble over the fact that Yeshua, who was from the tribe of Judah, served as Israel's High Priest of the New Covenant. Of course this issue is addressed in the Book of Hebrews, where the role of the Malki-Tzedek priesthood is ascribed to King Yeshua (Heb. 5:6-11; 7:1-19), but it is important to realize that Moses himself foresaw the coming of the Messiah as Israel's great prophet, priest and King (Deut. 18:15-19; John 5:36). Indeed, just as Moses himself was "outside" the law by serving as Israel's priest but nevertheless was commissioned by God Himself, so also with Yeshua, who instituted the sacrifice of His blood as the Lamb of God and who went directly before God's Throne to intercede on our behalf.

Note: For more on this subject, see "Moses' Prophecy of the Messiah."
 




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