May 2012 Updates
Awaiting that Day...
05.31.12 (Sivan 10, 5772) Of this evil world it is written, "Why do the people rage and the nations devise schemes that will fail? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Mashiach, saying, 'Let us tear off the shackles of their yoke, and throw off their ropes from us!' But the enthroned LORD laughs at their insolence and holds them in derision, until the appointed hour when He will speak to them in his wrath and terrify them in his fury" (Psalm 2:1-5).
The LORD God Almighty will surely break the pride of the "kings of the earth" with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel, and the shattering will be so ruthless that among its fragments not a shard will be found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern (Psalm 2:9; Isa. 30:14). For from His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (Rev. 19:15). "As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, breaking them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth" (Dan. 2:34-35). "And the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed ... and it shall stand forever" (Dan. 2:44). One day the edifice of man's godless pride will come crashing down, and there will be no trace left of its rubble...
The prophet Isaiah foresaw the glory of the coming kingdom: "It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD (הַר־יְהוָה), to the house of the God of Jacob (בֵּית אֱלהֵי יַעֲקב), that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isa. 2:2-4; see also Jer. 3:17, Micah 4:1, etc.).
כִּי מִצִּיּוֹן תֵּצֵא תוֹרָה וּדְבַר־יְהוָה מִירוּשָׁלָםִ
ki · mi·tzi·yon · tei·tzei · to·rah · ud·var · Adonai · mi·ru·sha·la·yim
"For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the Word of the LORD from Jerusalem" (Isa. 2:3b)
Before this glorious time of the Millennial Kingdom, however, the great "Day of the LORD" will come - a time of worldwide, catastrophic judgment that will befall the kings and princes of this world... "The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man will cry loud there" (Zech. 1:14).
We must be be careful not to love this world or the things of this world (1 John 2:15). The kingdom of man is at war with the kingdom of God, and whoever wishes to be a "friend" of this evil world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4). Regarding this doomed world the LORD speaks thus to His children: "Come out of the midst of her and be ye separate, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues." This call to be separate may be more difficult for those who live in the midst of present-day "Babylon" than in other places of the world, because in Babylon it is far too easy to coddle the flesh and to avoid taking a costly stand for the truth... However, the reign of Babylon is spreading like a cancer throughout the world, consolidating power, and soon it will demand complete allegiance of all who dwell upon the earth. During that time of tribulation, all the peoples of the world will be forced to chose whether to accept the "mark of the beast" (i.e., citizenship in world order) or to face persecution, etc. Adonai oz le'amo yiten (יְהוָה עז לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן) - May the LORD protect and strengthen His people.
05.31.12 (Sivan 10, 5772) Where it is written in the Book of Genesis, "Let us make man in our image and likeness (בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ), we note that the word "image" (i.e., tzelem: צֶלֶם) comes from the word tzel (צֵל), meaning "shadow," thus suggesting that man was originally created to cleave to God as closely as a shadow follows its Substance. And just as a shadow resembles its originating substance, so man was to resemble the reality of the Divine Presence in this world.
אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ תִּירָא
אתוֹ תַעֲבד וּבוֹ תִדְבָּק וּבִשְׁמוֹ תִּשָּׁבֵעַ
et · Adonai · E·lo·hey·kha · ti·rah
o·to · ta·a·vod · u·vo · tid·bak · u·vish·mo · ti·sha·ve·a
"You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve Him and cleave to Him,
and by His Name you shall swear." (Deut. 10:20)
In this verse we are commanded to cleave to God in our service and devotion to Him. Note that the Hebrew word for "cleaving" is devakut (דְּבָקוּת), a word use to refer to personal communion with God (Deut. 11:22). This word derives from the Hebrew root davak (דבק), meaning to "cling" or "stick" (the Modern Hebrew word for glue is devek which likewise comes from the same root). Davak is used to describe how a man cleaves to his wife so that they become basar echad – "one flesh" (see Gen. 2:24), and is related to the word for bodily joint (debek), the bond of our bones to our skin (Job 19:20). The Scriptures declare: yesh ohev davek me'ach – "there is a friend who sticks (davek) closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24). His Name is Yeshua, the Holy One of Israel who descended to earth by clothing himself in human flesh. Yeshua demonstrated God's own devakut for us by "cleaving" to the cross as full payment for our sin. Because of His loyal love for us, we can now experience "at-one-ment" and communion with God (see John 17:21-23). Blessed be His Name forever.
The New Testament reveals that essential purpose of the redeemed life is to become conformed (σύμμορφος) to the image and likeness of Yeshua (Rom. 8:29). We are to follow Yeshua's example and cleave to His ways (1 Pet. 2:21). Because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, our lives should resemble something of the character of Messiah - His heart, His compassion, etc. The fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of Messiah in you - the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). The question is not "do you accept Jesus as your Savior" as much as "Does Jesus truly live inside your heart?" May God do the miracle, chaverim...
Postscript: "It is easier to know the entire Talmud than to correct a single bad character trait" (Salanter). Although many would become criminals if they did not labor in Torah, the converse is not necessarily guaranteed. Someone who has learned much Torah does not necessarily acquire good character traits (middot). One must work toward this goal by studying musar and being honest about one's spiritual progress, while restraining the tendency toward self-indulgence (Pninei Kehilos Yaakov). We must "put off" the old nature and its instincts and "put on" the new nature given to us by God (Eph. 4:22-24). You are a new creation by the power of God's love (2 Cor. 5:21). Therefore we are to be doers of the word, not hearers only, "deceiving our own selves" (James 1:22). You are not who you were... Live out who you really are - and quit heeding the clamor of your old instincts.
Some of the sages say that our actions on earth call forth God's response from above... If you act with kindness, you evoke kindness from heaven, and the day is crowned in benevolence; if you act with mercy, the day is crowned in mercy, and so on. As it is written: "With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the pure in heart you show yourself pure; but with the crooked you make yourself seem perverse" (Psalm 18:25-26).
But "what good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that sort of faith save him?" (James 2:14). "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 7:14). This is the work of God - to believe in the One whom God has sent (John 6:29). We often behave what we believe... actions speak louder than words. Many merely profess to know God, but they deny him by their works (Titus 1:6). God forbid that we should not be honest with ourselves! We must confess our sins, deplore the condition of our perverse hearts, and earnestly ask God for the miracle to be transformed by His grace so that we more resemble our Savior Yeshua...
Keeping your Focus...
05.30.12 (Sivan 9, 5772) Eating is inherently a sacrificial act: We must "eat life" in order to live.... But while physical food helps us survive, we must ask the question, for what end? Do we live for the sake of eating (and thereby live to eat for another day, and so on), or do we eat in order to live? If the latter, then what is the goal of such life? What is the source of its nutrient and where is it taking you? What does your soul or "inner man" feed upon to gain the spiritual will to live? Food is a means to an end, and whenever we eat, we are eating in hope that our lives have significance, purpose, value. Man does not live by bread alone...
The same can be said regarding with our choices, goals, and desires. Why get out of bed in the morning? Why go on living? Many people drift through life with little or no thought about where they are really going, though they are getting there in a hurry. This somnambulant state is the default mode of those enslaved by this world and its delusions. Others tend toward "busyness" and escapism because they are afraid that the present moment, their present hour, is devoid of meaning. Our secret dread is that our lives will not count for anything, that we are vain, empty, shadows. The Scriptures state: "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the time (ἐξαγοράζω) because the days are evil. Therefore don't be unthinking (ἄφρων), but understand God's will" (Eph. 5:15-17).
In another place we read, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13). The sages say that we should always stir up the yetzer ha-tov, the good inclination, against the yetzer ha-ra, the evil inclination, since it is written: "Tremble (in anger) but do not sin" (Psalm 4:4; Eph. 4:26). In other words, be angry at the inclination of your own sinful impulses and rebuff it with authority. Although it may beckon as your friend, offering you solace, comfort, flattery, excuses, and so on, regard the impulse as a secret enemy that seeks to ensnare you and lead you to the depths of shame - both in this world and in the world to come. Therefore we are instructed to hate what is evil and hold fast to what is good (Rom. 12:9). Indeed the Apostle Paul wrote, "I discipline my body (i.e., ὑπωπιάζω, lit. "beat it black and blue") and keep it under control (i.e., δουλαγωγέω, lit. "make it a bondslave") lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (1 Cor. 9:27). We must be merciless when it comes to the importunate seductions of our flesh, though we must show compassion to those who struggle with their own evil inclination, of course (Gal. 6:2). Our best defense is to pray fervently and to ask the LORD to renew heartfelt desire for Him, since our flesh tempts us to satisfy desire with counterfeit pleasures... Therefore we remember that in God's Presence there is fullness of joy; at His right hand there are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
This life represents a real spiritual war for the souls of men. To engage the enemy, we must take the high ground, where we have the strategic advantage. We fight from a place of victory and strength (Eph. 1:3). We take hold of the "armor of light" that will blind the eyes of the enemy of our souls as we wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the power of the truth of God Almighty. "The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds, destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and to take every thought captive to obey the Messiah" (2 Cor. 10:4-5). We must be sober and vigilant, submitted to God and standing securely on the great promises of our confession. Victory belongs to the LORD, and He will help us overcome for the glory of His great Name. Amen.
The Importance of Gratitude...
05.29.12 (Sivan 8, 5772) Sin, at its root, is a type of ingratitude - the arrogant view that life is something "owed" to you, that it is yours by right, instead of humbly accepting it as a gift from God. The ungrateful soul often feels threatened or offended when it regards the present supply to be lacking, and it tends to either blame others or to assume the role of a victim... Such discontent reveals arrogance, since it falsely assumes that life should center around the ego and its demands. "A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves" (Beecher). Ultimately ingratitude is a form of idolatry, since it claims that it "owns" its own soul and can do with it as it wishes.
"The careless soul receives the Father's gifts as if it were a way things had of dropping into his hand... yet he is ever complaining, as if someone were accountable for the problems which meet him at every turn. For the good that comes to him, he gives no thanks - who is there to thank? At the disappointments that befall him he grumbles - there must be someone to blame!" - George MacDonald
There is the story of how Caesar, having prepared a great feast for his nobles and friends, was greatly displeased because the appointed day's weather was so stormy that the event had to be canceled. In a fit of rage he commanded all his archers to shoot their arrows at the heavens, in an attempt to defy Jupiter for the rainy weather. When the soldiers began shooting their arrows, however, they returned upon their own heads so that many of them very sorely wounded. And so it is with our mutterings and murmuring, which are like arrows shot at God Himself, which of course can never hurt Him, but which assuredly return upon our own heads to our own hurt. Indeed, the murmurer audaciously charges God Himself with folly, as if God were somehow incompetent or responsible for thwarting the ego's desire... Therefore we see that murmuring is as witchcraft before the LORD (1 Sam. 15:23): "How long shall I bear with this evil congregation that murmurs against me?" (Num. 14:27).
The grateful soul, on the other hand, humbly acknowledges that every moment of life is a gift from heaven, and therefore constantly offers thanks to heaven: "I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart" (Psalm 9:1); "give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever" (Psalm 136:3). Since all things come from God, we have a duty to love Him bekhol levavkha, with all our hearts (Deut. 6:5). As C.S. Lewis wrote, "We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good; if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country."
It is important to understand that no blessing from heaven is issued based on supposed virtues or in repayment of good "works," since by definition the idea of divine blessing implies God's irrepressible grace (Rom. 4:4). As Ben Zoma rightly observed: "Who then is rich? He who rejoices in his portion, as it is written: 'You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you' (Psalm 128:2). 'You shall be' refers to this world; and 'it shall be well with you' refers to the world to come" (Avot 4:1). The LORD will never forsake the person who puts their trust in Him (Heb. 13:5; Josh 1:5; Isa. 41:10). As the Apostle Paul wrote, "godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Tim. 6:6).
אַשְׁרֵי כָּל־יְרֵא יְהוָה הַהלֵךְ בִּדְרָכָיו
יְגִיעַ כַּפֶּיךָ כִּי תאכֵל אַשְׁרֶיךָ וְטוֹב לָךְ
ash·rei · kol · ye·rei · Adonai · ha·ho·lekh · bid·ra·khav
ye·gi·ah · ka·pe·kha · ki · to·khel · ash·re·kha · ve·tov · lakh
"How blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you." (Psalm 128:1-2)
D.L. Moody once said, "There are many of us that are willing to do great things for the Lord, but few of us are willing to do little things." Many people are content to "serve" God only on their terms, only if it such service somehow pleases them, etc. We must be careful! There are many carcasses strewn along the way of so-called ministry, where people fooled themselves into thinking they were doing God a favor by means of their service. "All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirits" (Prov. 16:2). "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?"
Ingratitude is directly linked to the withering effects of arrogance and pride. "Pride is of such intimate connection with ingratitude that the actions of ingratitude seem directly resolvable into pride as the principal reason of them." Ultimately, this withering of the soul can lead to the outer darkness of hell itself:
The whole difficulty of understanding Hell is that the thing to be understood is so nearly Nothing. But you'll have had experiences... it begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. You can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine." - C.S. Lewis (The Great Divorce)
It has been said that hell is a locked door - from the inside. It shuts out the light and refuses the message of God's great love. It is the joy of the LORD that gives us strength and refuge (Neh. 8:10). Undoubtedly there will be a lot of surprises in the world to come, when the unknown, the nameless, the anonymous, and the least likely of souls will be honored by God for their quiet and faithful service to the "least of these." The first will be last... everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. May the LORD help each of us to humbly turn to Him and confess our need for His mercy and grace.
"The LORD ponders the hearts" (Prov. 21:2). If you are in ministry, it is always good to remember that the LORD God Almighty, the Master of the Universe, does not in any way need your help, your support, or your vote of confidence in Him. On the contrary, if you hope to truly serve the Living God, you desperately need His help lest you incur judgment!
A grateful heart chooses to find wonder and countless blessings in the seemingly mundane realm of everyday life. It uses the "good eye," even in when the heart is wounded and looking for relief... "Thou who hast given so much to me, give me one more thing - a grateful heart!" (George Herbert). Amen. May our Lord keep our hearts soft and full of thanks for the ongoing wonder of His love and salvation!
Receive every day as a resurrection from death, as a new enjoyment of life; meet every rising sun with such sentiments of God's goodness, as if you had seen it, and all things, new-created upon your account: and under the sense of so great a blessing, let your joyful heart praise and magnify so good and glorious a Creator. - William Law
05.29.12 (Sivan 8, 5772) One who is proud and haughty is like one who denies the existence of the LORD, as it is written: "And your heart will become haughty (וְרָם לְבָבֶךָ) and you shall forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the house of slavery" (Deut. 8:14). Note that the Hebrew word for "forget" (i.e., shakhan: שָׁכַח) can mean to wither (ξηραίνω) and become useless (John 15:6, James 1:11). As it is written in Psalm 137:5, "If I forget you (אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ), Jerusalem let my right hand wither (תִּשְׁכַּח)." Therefore we see that pride is the original sin itself, denying the very First Commandment itself: "I am the LORD thy God (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ) who brought you out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). Exalting the ego by "forgetting" about the LORD - that is, by suppressing the truth of His reality, power, and glory - invariably leads to inward withering. Just as the ego attempts to "puff itself up" and to enlarge itself, so forgetting about God leads to a corresponding withering of soul, a diminution of heart. This is yet another example of the spiritual principle: "the first shall be last and the last shall be first" (Mark 9:35; Matt. 20:25-26).
אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ
אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם
a·no·khi · Adonai · E·lo·hey·kha
a·sher · ho·tzei·ti·kha · me·e·retz · mitz·ra·yim
mi·bet · a·va·dim
"I am the LORD your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of the house of slavery." (Exodus 20:2)
So long as we are full of ourselves, we will wither, dry up, and become like chaff in the wind. We all have our personal Egypt, our desert, our time of being brought low so that we can remember that God alone has the power to rebuild us by means of His grace. Suffering, afflictions, and yissurim reveal to us our nothingness of our false greatness, and therefore they teach us to modestly and humbly ask for God's deliverance. May LORD our God help each of us humble ourselves so that we can behold His glory...
Parashat Naso - נשא
05.28.12 (Sivan 7, 5772) Our Torah portion for this week is parashat Naso ("lift up!"), the second portion of Book of Numbers (i.e., Sefer Bamidbar). Naso is the longest of the 54 weekly Torah portions, with a total of 176 verses. Among other things, this portion gives the commandment for Aaron and his sons to bless the people of Israel (Num. 6:23-27) which later came to be known as the "priestly blessing" (birkat kohanim).
The text of the blessing is in three distinct parts and is sometimes called "the three in one blessing." Notice that it is phrased in the singular rather than plural because it is meant to have personal application, not to be a general benediction over a crowd of people. It has been sometimes noted that the first section consists of three words, the second of five, and the third of seven, and various speculations have been offered as to why the blessing is structured this way (e.g., 3+5 is the number of grace, 7 marks completion, etc.). Notice that the phrase, "The LORD lift up His face toward you..." (יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ) pictures the beaming face of a parent as he lifts up his beloved child in joy... The repetitive construction of God "lifting up His face" (יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיך) suggests that God's justice has been fully satisfied and His compassion now flows outward to the child in loving grace.
Note: To learn more about this wonderful blessing, click here (you can also listen to it chanted by clicking here).
Eschatology and Shavuot
05.28.12 (Sivan 7, 5772) There are some people who believe that the holiday of Shavuot is linked (eschatologically) with the "rapture" of the church, that is, the doctrine that the followers of Yeshua the Messiah will be caught up (ἁρπάζω, harpazo) and taken away before the time of the Great Tribulation and the Great Day of the LORD (1 Thess. 4:17; John 14:3; 1 Cor. 15:51-52). After all, Shavuot marked the day of great and dramatic revelation, with signs of fire and the sounds of a heavenly shofar blast, an appointed time when Moses first ascended to receive revelation from Sinai and later the Holy Spirit descended upon the followers of Messiah from Zion. Shavuot therefore marks the fulfillment of Passover that culminates in the rapturous goal of our redemption... Both Jew and Gentile are "waved" before the LORD (as symbolized by shtei ha-lechem, the two loaves), representing the "one new man" of kallat Mashiach, the "bride of Messiah," or the assembly of those called out from every tribe and tongue to be a part of God's heavenly kingdom.
Though of course no one knows the day or hour of the return of Yeshua our Messiah (see Matt. 24:36; Acts 1:7), there are clues given in Scripture about the conditions of the world before His return, and Yeshua himself gave us parables warning us to be looking for Him (Matt. 24:2-14; 25:1-13). The Apostle Paul said that followers of the Lord can know the "season" of Messiah's return, and warned that He will come "as a thief in the night" - not in great power and glory at the end of the age (1 Thess. 5:2-6). Moreover, Paul forewarned of the rise of worldwide godlessness (2 Tim. 3:1-7) and the even of the apostasy of the "institutionalized" church (1 Tim. 4:1-3). Other Scriptures foretell of the coming One World Government, the rise of the Messiah of evil (Antichrist), the persecution of the national Israel (a nation miraculously restored to the promised land), the rebuilding of the Temple, the coming Great Tribulation, and so on. "When these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near" (Luke 21:28).
David Reagan relates that back in 1990, the late Elbert Peak, who was 80 years old at the time said, "Sixty years ago when I first started preaching, you had to scratch around like a chicken to find one sign of the Lord's soon return." He paused for a moment, and then added, "But today there are so many signs I'm no longer looking for them. Instead, I'm listening for a sound - the sound of a trumpet!"
05.28.12 (Sivan 7, 5772) In the United States, Memorial Day is a national holiday observed on the last Monday of May, commemorating all the men and women who have died in military service for their country. For those who have lost a loved one during their military service, please accept our heartfelt condolences....
05.25.12 (Sivan 4, 5772) This Saturday, May 26th (at sundown) marks the end of the 49 days of counting and the beginning of the "Jubilee" of Shavuot ("Weeks" or "Pentecost"). For traditional Judaism, Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Jewish confirmation ceremonies are often held at the synagogue for young adults to recommit themselves to Talmud Torah (the study of Torah) and the decision to live as a Jew.
According to the sages, Shavuot marks the culmination of the experience of redemption, sometimes called Atzaret Pesach ("the Conclusion of Passover"). Since the Exodus from Egypt led to the revelation of Sinai, the goal of Passover was the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people, just as the deliverance given by Yeshua led to the revelation of Zion so that the Torah would be "written upon our hearts." And just as God took the Jews out of Egypt so that they would be His own treasured people (עַם סְגֻלָּה), holy and separated from the pagan cultures around them, so He calls followers of Yeshua to "die to the world" and live sanctified lives. Indeed, all of the mo'edim (holidays) are connected with this event, including the fall festivals of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
Some additional Shavuot customs include decorating the home and synagogue with greenery, eating dairy foods and sweets (as samples of "milk and honey"), and staying up the entire night before Shavuot to read selections from the entire Torah (this custom is called tikkun leil shavu'ot: תִּקּוּן לֵיל שָׁבוּעוֹת, "Rectification for Shavuot Night"). For the Messianic Jew, Shavuot is the time of celebrating the birth of kallat Mashiach - the Bride of the Messiah (or Church), since the Ruach HaKodesh was poured out to the believers in Jerusalem during this festival. For more information please see the Shavuot pages....
"Chag Shavuot Sameach!" - Happy Shavuot to you!
The Chesed of Ruth...
[ The following entry is related to the Book of Ruth, which is traditionally read during the holiday of Shavuot ("Pentecost"). Happy holidays, chaverim! ]
05.25.12 (Sivan 4, 5772) The Book of Ruth (מְגִלַּת רוּת) tells a marvelous story of redemptive love and devotion (i.e., chesed: חֶסֶד) dating back to the dark period of Jewish history known as the "time of the Judges" (c. 12th century BC). The story is traditionally read during Shavuot ("Weeks" or "Pentecost"), both because the events recounted took place during the time of the spring harvest (linking it to the agricultural aspect of holiday), and Ruth herself is a picture of willing acceptance of a Jewish lifestyle (linking it to the religious aspect of the holiday). Just as Israel willingly accepted the Torah at Sinai without knowing its content (kol asher diber Adonai na'aseh v'nishmah), so Ruth gave up everything she knew to accept the Torah. Like the people of Israel, Ruth believed in order to understand, not the other way around... For more, see the article, "The Chesed of Ruth."
God's Faithful Passion...
05.25.12 (Sivan 4, 5772) The Haftarah for this week's Torah portion (Bamidbar) tells the story of God's constant love for Israel, despite her faithlessness and treachery. God commanded his prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute to illustrate His troubled relationship with his people: "Go, take to yourself a prostitute (אֵשֶׁת זְנוּנִים) who will bear children conceived through prostitution, for the land commits great prostitution by forsaking the LORD" (Hos. 1:2). For more on this remarkable metaphor of God's faithful love for Israel, see "God's Faithful Passion."
God is our Creator, our King, our Judge, our Redeemer - but most importantly He is our Father who profoundly loves us as his children... We are like prodigal sons for whom his heart yearns... Indeed, the LORD is even likened to our faithful husband and a passionate lover! "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth" (Song. 1:2). Yesh ohev davek me'ach (יֵשׁ אהֵב דָּבֵק מֵאָח): "There is a lover who sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24).
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Shavuot Same'ach, chaverim!
A Thought Experiment...
05.25.12 (Sivan 4, 5772) As a thought experiment, imagine that you had just discovered you had only one week left to live... How would you face your imminent death? What would plan to do? How would you spend your remaining time on earth? ... And if, upon reaching the moment of death itself, what if you heard a heavenly voice granting you divine reprieve, sparing you from death, and you realized your life was not over. How would you go on with your life? What would be different for you?
And how does this relate to the idea of "taking up your cross," dying daily to this world, and living again by the power of resurrected life? If we infinitely resign from life - in complete surrender - and yet open our eyes to find ourselves still here, we can re-embrace life and engage it on another level altogether... Perhaps that is why death is likened to "sleep." Every day we "let go" and fall into the oblivion of sleep, yet arise in the new day, with new hope to go on living.
Spiritual danger is just as real as physical danger, though most people pretend it isn't because it isn't easily seen. The real dangers of life are not vulnerability to crime or some accident, however, but rather susceptibility to despair, the tendency to put off repentance, and the possibility of not dying well.... It is a great danger to walk through life asleep only to be jolted awake upon the day of death. "The greatest danger is that one does not discover, that one is not always discovering, that one is in danger" (Kierkegaard). Danger of what? Of wasting your life with trifles and vanities; of never learning how to truly love or to be loved; of becoming numb, unfeeling, and therefore unmoved by your need for God. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, "The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."
My point is simply to raise awareness of the frailty of life, its brevity, its preciousness. As Moses prayed, "Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). Moses is asking that the LORD would teach us how to make our days count for eternity, to have a weight of glory that will shine in the world to come. Being aware of both the frailty of life and its eternally enduring significance is to acquire a heart of wisdom.
May the LORD our God help us not to waste our days by losing sight of true wonder.
Beholding Abba's Eyes...
05.25.12 (Sivan 4, 5772) There are countless analogies about how we are to understand God given in the Scriptures. For instance, God is likened to a farmer, a shepherd, a caring neighbor, a tenant, a king, an impartial judge, a pottery maker, an investor, an employer, a jilted husband, a passionate lover, and so on. However, the analogy Yeshua used the most was that the LORD God is our Heavenly Father, and we are His children. As it is written in the Psalms, "Like a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him" (Psalm 103:13). The most intimate Name of God is simply Abba, a term of endearment for a child uses for his father...
In this connection, let me ask how you understand God as your Heavenly Father? In particular, how do you envision the "eyes of the Lord?" How do you conceive His gaze as He watches the ways of your life? How do you see yourself in His eyes? Are you afraid that His eyes may express some disappointment, some disapproval, some "distance," or do you regard them as warm and inviting, shining with love as they focus on you? The Lord "looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand."
כִּי נכַח עֵינֵי יְהוָה דַּרְכֵי־אִישׁ
ki · no·cha · ein·ei · Adonai · dar·khei · ish
ve·khol · ma·ge·lo·tav · me·fal·les
"For a man's ways are before the eyes of the LORD,
and He ponders all his paths." (Prov. 5:21)
Hebrew Study Card
It is good to be seen by God, to not go unnoticed, to never be alone, abandoned... As this Scripture states, God ponders your ways... Note that the Hebrew word for "ponders" (פָּלַס) can mean "to weigh in a balance," or it can mean to "make level," to "set the crooked straight." It is the second meaning used here (as in Isa. 26:7). The Lord looks upon you with love and acceptance because of your trust in His Son. He makes your way straight because of Yeshua... He welcomes you into His presence with happiness and joy; "the LORD lifts up His countenance upon you," meaning He lifts you up in His arms like a joyful father lifts up his beloved child. For those who can believe, the eyes of the LORD are like those of a loving father who greatly rejoices over the presence of his child....
It has been said that hell is like a prison that is locked from the inside... Yeshua stands at the door of the heart and knocks, calling out for you to open the door and let him enter (Rev. 3:20). "If anyone hears his voice..." He comes to set the prisoners free.
The Sword of the Spirit
05.25.12 (Sivan 4, 5772) We are told not to fear men, who are only able to kill the body, but not the soul (Matt. 10:28). However, there is still the grave danger that the soul itself can be destroyed by means of its own apathy. In the physical realm, we can be killed by the hand of another, but in a spiritual sense, we can only be killed if we willingly destroy ourselves. Therefore my prayer is often, "LORD, save us from ourselves - from our own despair, from our own self-destructive urges. Help us to love you and turn away from all doubt; help us to affirm your promise of life given to us every day. Amen."
"We have met the enemy, and he is us," but if that is so, how are we able to overcome the deceptiveness of our own hearts? How do we defeat our own inner evil, the yetzer hara, our own subconscious "death wish"? How can we transcend the lusts of the flesh and our own natural, all-too-human desires? Yeshua gives us the answer: "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth" (John 17:17). We are able to overcome our natural tendency to deceive ourselves by staying grounded in the Word of truth, kitvei Hakodesh, the Holy Scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15). "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom. 15:4). God's promises give us life (Psalm 119:50). It is the Scriptures that "are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Tim. 3:15). Of course, the Scriptures themselves are the means to the end of encountering God Himself and partaking of the power of the Holy Spirit, but they are foundational to all experience, and all spiritual experience must be grounded in their truth (Isa. 8:20).
In Paul's description of the "armor of God" that believers are to take up, the Scriptures are called the "sword of the Spirit," which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:10-18). "For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb. 4:12). Studying God's truth is the divinely appointed means of obtaining discernment and perseverance for the spiritual warfare of this world. Note the connection between the Word and the Spirit in these verses... The way of the righteous, derekh tzaddikim (דֶּרֶךְ צַדִּיקִים), is marked by fruit of the Spirit. Therefore the beloved Book of Psalms begins, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his desire is the Torah of the LORD, and in His Torah he meditates day and night" (Psalm 1:1-2).
אַשְׁרֵי־הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לא הָלַךְ בַּעֲצַת רְשָׁעִים
וּבְדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים לא עָמָד וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים לא יָשָׁב
כִּי אִם בְּתוֹרַת יְהוָה חֶפְצוֹ וּבְתוֹרָתוֹ יֶהְגֶּה יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה
ash·rei · ha-ish · a·sher · lo · ha·lakh · ba·a·tzat · re·sha·im
uv·de·rekh · cha·ta·im · lo · a·mad · uv·mo·shav · lei·tzim · lo · ya·shav
ki · im · be·to·rat · Adonai · chef·tzo · uv·to·ra·to · ye·he·geh · yo·mam · va·lai·lah
"Happy is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is the Torah of the LORD, and in His Torah he meditates day and night."
Hebrew Study Card
This man is "blessed" because the one who desires the truth of the LORD has found great treasure, and all that he puts his hand to do shall prosper (Psalm 1:3). Notice that the word "desire" (i.e., chafetz: חָפֵץ) expresses the innermost wish of the heart or soul (Matt. 15:19; Luke 6:45). Strong desire – passion – is vital to the apprehension of the truth, and it is a great gift from God to be free from the slavery of habit and unreflective, visceral bondage to worldly lusts. As David said, "my soul is consumed with longing for Your decrees at all times" (Psalm 119:20). Hunger for God, strong desire for Him, is a sign that He is indeed calling you to walk in His ways, since you would never truly seek Him unless He first called out to you (John 6:44). The word "Torah" here refers to God's wisdom, His will, His way – not exclusively to the laws (mishpatim, chukkim, etc.) written in the Bible.
Where it is written, "you shall meditate upon it day and night" (Josh 1:8), R' Yochanan said: this is no command or obligation, but a blessing, since the words of Torah - like the Tree of Life that brings forth its fruit in its season (Psalm 1:2-3) - brings prosperity and good success to those who delight in it.
The person who "reflects" or meditates on God's way will let the truth empower his decisions in this world. The word yehegeh (יֶהְגֶּה) means that the righteous person is so filled with the truth of the Scriptures that words leave his mouth as if on their own. This person will behold and take hold of the Tree of Life (Psalm 1:3). If you find studying and living the truth of Scripture joyless, be careful that you don't drift into spiritual exile! Beware of apathy and be vigilant of the great danger of destroying yourself... God says that those who delight in the study of His word please Him, but others He allows to perish.
The one who genuinely desires God's truth and meditates upon it "day and night" will be saved from the judgment that will befall the ungodly (Psalm 1:5-6). Studying and living God's truth is therefore the means of your preservation and perseverance in this world. Living the truth of Scripture produces assurance that God knows you and will take you through the corridor of this world unharmed by the coming judgment (John13:17).
"Many are my heart's distresses; let me know Your Ways, Eternal One; teach me Your paths" (Psalm 25:4,17). "Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are He who took me from my mother's womb. My praise is continually of you. You have made me see much trouble and hardship, but You will revive me again and raise me up from the depths of the earth" (Psalm 71:6,20). Baruch atah HaShem, ha-noten la'ya'eif ko'ach - "Praised are You, LORD, who gives strength to the bowed down."
Note: For more on this subject, please see article, "The way of the righteous."
Confession and Reality...
05.25.12 (Sivan 4, 5772) Sin is not the result of not understanding what is right, but rather of being unwilling to understand such, and therefore is the refusal to do what is right. It is not the result of ignorance but rebellion. Sin doesn't say "I can't" but rather "I won't," and therefore it is a matter of the will, the heart, the secret desires of the soul... Just as grace is inaccessible for someone who refuses to be honest with himself, so is forgiveness. If a person refuses to confess the truth about his condition, salvation itself is impossible, since God literally cannot save the soul that denies its need for Him. Therefore the Scripture does not vainly declare: "Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy."
מְכַסֶּה פְשָׁעָיו לא יַצְלִיחַ
וּמוֹדֶה וְעזֵב יְרֻחָם
me·khas·seh · fe·sha·av · lo · yatz·li·ach
u·mo·deh · ve·o·zeiv · ye·ru·cham
"Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy."
Hebrew Study Card
A person who "conceals" or "covers" his sin is really denying it, either by outright disavowal or by explaining it away by offering self-deceptive excuses. This person simply cannot prosper – in the spiritual sense of the word – because he is not living in reality... Indeed, his conscience is burdened with a "secret ban," an inner voice of condemnation that must be suppressed and squelched. It is only the person who comes to the light, who acknowledges the truth of his sin and who is anxious to be free of its effects, who will be shown mercy (i.e., rachamim (רַחֲמִים), which comes from the word rechem (רֶחֶם), "womb").
Note that God alone has the prerogative to cover or atone for sin, as an expression of His grace, but it is never fitting for someone to atone for his own sin in order to exonerate himself. God's anger over sin is not appeased when sin is minimized, dismissed, excused, or rationalized away (though the LORD delights when we overlook the offenses of others). This is because all sin is an offense against God and represents a breach of the relationship between the sinner and God. Your sin, in other words, hurts not only yourself and other people, but most significantly, it wounds the very heart of God Himself by causing a breach or separation in your relationship with Him. Therefore we see Yeshua forgiving others for sins they have committed against other people as if He were the offended party in the sin. As C.S. Lewis wrote, "He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offenses. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin" (Mere Christianity).
In this evil world, it may sometimes seem that crime "pays," but certainly not before the Divine Presence, and in the world to come, every word and deed will be fully accounted before the bar of God's justice and truth. But even in this world, the sinner is secretly haunted by his conscience; he is driven to madness, hidden despair, and lives in dread and anxiety over the truth he conceals... It has been said that the problem with "getting away with it" is that you indeed "get away with it," meaning that your sin will follow you as doggedly as your own shadow in this world... Ultimately sin is a form of cowardice, since it hides in fear from the light of truth.
I mentioned yesterday that one of the reasons God revealed the Ten Commandments was because it was His way of saying, "I know who you really are, I see you..." This is why the people drew back in terror, because they realized that God saw the inner condition of their heart, exposed it, and shined the light of moral truth upon it. Nonetheless it is a great and ongoing credit to the Jewish people that they were willing to receive the revelation at Sinai, since it demonstrates that they were genuinely willing to be honest with themselves. Despite their many subsequent failures, they still revered the truth of God's Torah and meticulously preserved the revelation for future generations (Rom. 3:1-2).
A person who denies or excuses his sin simply cannot prosper – in the spiritual sense of the word – because he refuses to live in reality... Confessing the truth about yourself – owning your behavior, taking personal responsibility, refusing to blame others, and so on, leads to real prosperity, spiritual blessing and true inner peace.
Being honest with ourselves...
05.24.12 (Sivan 3, 5772) Why do we have such difficulty being genuinely honest with ourselves? Despite the fact that we may profess that we are "sinners saved by grace," we often make excuses for our failures, rationalizing that we are not "that bad," and therefore we postpone genuine teshuvah (repentance) and trifle with our spiritual lives. We do this because we feel an almost irresistible need to justify ourselves, to "save face" by pretending that we are not "incurably sick," or by attempting to find something about us that makes feel valuable and worthy. As H.L. Mencken once wittingly noted, "the 'truth' that survives is simply the lie that is pleasantest to believe."
With regard to others, however, we often pretend that we are someone else because we crave their approval and we estimate our worth in terms of their acceptance... This "living for others" causes us to conceal or deny who we really are because we are afraid of rejection. Eventually, however, the practice of such pretense may confound the "outer version" of who we are with the "inner version," leading to exhaustion, resentment, and bitterness over our need for acceptance. The process of self-deception may be worsened if we join an organized religion, where we experience the peer pressure of the group regarding how we are to live before God. We adopt a creed and a set of religious practices - not from a sense of personal conviction - but rather because of our need for the group's approval of us. There is grave danger in all of this, since we run the risk of "living for others" in the name of serving God.... We learn to cover up our problems, to maintain a veneer of respectability, to pretend that everything is okay, to stuff our feelings, and to ultimately justify ourselves. We refrain from confessing our struggles so we will not appear to be weak.
The LORD, however, wants us to have truth in the "inward being" (Psalm 51:6), though that truth will cost us something, namely whatever worldly gains we might find through self-deception... Opening our hearts to divine examination eventually means colliding with the world of men and their conspiracies, since the godly man no longer abides their presence (Psalm 1:1-2). The Apostle Paul said there was an exclusive disjunction between seeking the approval of men and of the approval of God: "Do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of the Messiah (Gal. 1:10). Likewise we are told not to deceive ourselves (lit., "reason around" the truth, from παραλογίζομαι, from παρά, "around, beside" and λογίζομαι, "to reason") by merely hearing the truth of Scripture and not living it (James 1:22). God is not interested in "lip service" any more than he desires heartless sacrifice (Isa. 29:13; Hos. 6:6; Matt. 15:9). "Let your love be genuine (ἀνυπόκριτος, without a "mask" put on), abhor what is evil; cling to what is good (Rom. 12:9). God abhors those who pretend to know Him but who are really spiritual impostors (Matt. 7:21-23; 25:11-12; Luke 6:46).
Yeshua warned, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy (Luke 12:1)." But what is hypocrisy? The word comes from the Greek prefix ὑπὸ (under) combined with the verb κρίνω (to judge), and hence refers to the inability to come to a decision and exercise genuine conviction. It is a state of being "double minded," duplicitous, and insincere... Later the word connoted playing a part, "putting on a show," feigning righteousness, acting with insincerity, reusing "canned answers" or repeating the party line. Hypocrisy is therefore a form of self-deception. It is institutionalized prejudice dressed up as religion; it is counterfeit thinking that cheats the truth; it is ethnocentric nonsense that despises others as unworthy, inferior, etc. The "leaven of the Pharisees" is like old sourdough added to the community -- it "puffs people up" and is therefore based on human pride.
Tragically (and paradoxically) many people can talk themselves into believing something without really believing it, and that is perhaps the most dangerous thing of all (Matt. 7:22-23). On the other hand, some people can talk themselves into believing (or accepting) something that they know is untrue (or morally wrong), and that self-deception leads to inner fragmentation, chaos, and dissolution of character. A "double-minded man is unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8). The word translated "double-minded" is dipsuchos (δίψυχος), a word formed from δίς, "twice" and ψυχή, "soul." The word describes the spiritual condition of having "two souls" that both want different things at once -- a state of inner contradiction and ambivalence. Consciously or not, double-minded people attempt to look at two different things at once. They seek their end in a world of finite things – in "good fortune," in personal honor, in worldly entertainment, or other immediacies of the passing day. Such a cross-eyed approach leads to disorientation and spiritual destruction. A divided house cannot stand.
William James once said that a great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices... "We like to continue to believe what we have been accustomed to accept as true, and the resentment aroused when doubt is cast on any of our assumptions leads us to seek every manner of excuse for clinging to them. The result is that most of our so-called reasoning consists in finding arguments for going on believing as we already do." (J. H. Robinson). "Reason," then, is often used as a tool to justify our desires, rather than being a means of discerning the truth...
There is a midrash about a dialog between Adam and God after Adam's banishment from the Garden of Eden. Adam feared that all humans would later blame him for their mortality, but God replied, "Don't worry about the others. From now on, each soul will be responsible for giving account of his or her life. Each person is required to write his or her own 'Book of Life.' On the Day of Judgment, I simply ratify what has been written." Socrates was surely correct when he said that the unexamined life is not worth living, since we must perform cheshbon ha-nefesh, an "accounting of the soul," every day in our walk with God. Examine yourselves (πειράζετε) to see whether your faith is genuine (2 Cor. 13:5). What are your private thoughts and hidden desires?
There is the "lawful use of the law" (1 Tim. 1:8-11). One of the reasons God revealed the Ten Commandments was because it was His way of saying "I know who you really are, I see you..." This is why the people drew back in terror, since God saw their inner condition, exposed it, shined the light of His truth upon it. You have the impulse to be faithless, to worship the moment, to cheat, to lie, to lust, to kill, and so on. If you think you can keep the Ten Commandments, it is unlikely you have dared to examine your own inner impulses. If you take the time to do so, you will see these things are there....
Thank the LORD our God that there is real healing for our inner dividedness, ambivalence, and double-mindedness, but that healing demands rigorous honesty. "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." Therefore we are instructed to confess our faults one to another, and pray for one another, that we may be healed (James 5:16). May the LORD our God help each of us to be wholehearted in our devotion to Him. Amen.
Above I said that the law reveals both the holy character of God as well as our inner condition of heart, since its imperatives imply the need for obedience. This is the entry point, if you will, because the assumption that the "flesh" can justify itself through its own inner determination must be shattered and broken as were the first tables of stone... It is only after confession and the acceptance of our great need for divine deliverance are we given new hearts to serve God -- no longer as fearful slaves, but as His redeemed children. The genuinely redeemed soul is a "new creation" that inhabits a new realm or "order" of reality (2 Cor. 5:16-17; Gal. 6:15). There is new wine put into new wineskins... Asking a regenerated soul to observe the written law is like asking a post graduate student to go back and take kindergarten classes again. You can review the ordinances, rules, customs, and so on, but ultimately this God wants the inward heart. In other words, "Torah" means something far more than merely the mishpatim, chukkot, and shoftim (laws, decrees, and judgments) revealed in the lawcode revealed to Moses. There is Torat Yeshua, the "yoke" of His teaching that brings you before the Throne of Grace, before the heavenly kapporet, and empowers you to walk according to the law of love by the power of the Holy Spirit. The New Covenant provides both the Source for keeping the inner meaning of the Torah - as well as its true End - in Yeshua, the First and the Last, who is forever the Living Torah....
Stop Striving and Know...
05.23.12 (Sivan 2, 5772) One thing I look forward to in heaven is that there will be no noise... there will no unnecessary talk, no empty chatter, no ugly words, no seductive appeals, no voices of anger, no whispers of fear, no mindless television, no raging rap music, and no phony political rhetoric. The voice of the lie will be finally silenced. Everything will be lit up, clear, turned inside out, transparent, pure... Words will serve the divine purpose of communicating love and grace; they will be sung from the heart; they shall build up and no more be used to tear down. You will both speak your heart and your heart will be heard in heaven, just as words directed to you will be full of deep meaning and eternal life.
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
"Stop your striving and know that I am God,
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."
Hebrew Study Card
The verb "be still" (i.e., rapha: רָפָה) means to let go, to 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... "Stand still, and see the salvation of God" (Exod. 14:13). As Blaise Pascal once noted, "All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone." This is because many people cannot live with themselves and seek escape; they therefore are compelled to seek release through the buzz and noise of what lies outside of themselves....
If, in observing the present state of the world and life in general, from a Christian point of view one had to say (and from a Christian point of view with complete justification): It is a disease.... And if I were a physician and someone asked me "What do you think should be done?" I would answer, "The first thing, the unconditional condition for anything to be done, consequently the very first thing that must be done is: create silence, bring about silence; God's Word cannot be heard, and if in order to be heard in the hullabaloo it must be shouted deafeningly with noisy instruments, then it is not God's Word; create silence!
Ah, everything is noisy; and just as a strong drink is said to stir the blood, so everything in our day, even the most insignificant project, even the most empty communication, is designed merely to jolt the senses or to stir up the masses, the crowd, the public, noise! And man, this clever fellow, seems to have become sleepless in order to invent ever new instruments to increase noise, to spread noise and insignificance with the greatest possible haste and on the greatest possible scale.
Yes, everything is soon turned upside down: communication is indeed soon brought to its lowest point with regard to meaning, and simultaneously the means of communication are indeed brought to their highest with regard to speedy and overall circulation; for what is publicized with such hot haste and, on the other hand, what has greater circulation than trash! Oh, create silence!"
- Soren Kierkegaard (For Self-Examination)
The Name YHVH (יהוה) means "God is Present" and near, as close as your heart. The LORD is near, even when I feel lost and far away. We can attune ourselves to hear God's "still, small voice" (קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה) when we are quieted, not when we are surrounded by the crowd and its cheers and its murmurings... God cannot be found in noise and restlessness, much less in the fear-mongering and propaganda of this world. "God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls."
The Spirit of the Word...
05.23.12 (Sivan 2, 5772) Hebrew is written using only consonants; the vowel sounds are supplied by the one speaking the words (i.e., by inhaling/exhaling). "For the word is very near you" – כִּי־קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאד - "it is in your mouth and in your heart" (Deut. 30:14). Note that the word "breath" is ruach (רוּחַ) in Hebrew (i.e., wind, spirit), and the word for "heart" is lev (לֵב), which is the center of volition. It is out of the desires (περίσσευμα) of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). The spirit breathes life into what is spoken (John 6:63). "Behold, I will cause breath (רוּחַ) to enter you, and you shall live" (Ezek. 37:5).
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul identified "the word that is very near you" with the "word of faith" (τὸ ῥῆμα τῆς πίστεως), or the message of the gospel that offers salvation (Rom. 10:8). Note, however, that when Paul quoted from the Torah (i.e., Deut. 30:14), he deliberately omitted the phrase "so that you can do it" (לַעֲשׂתוֹ), because the message of the gospel is precisely that you cannot "do it," but (praise be to God) Yeshua can and indeed already has finished the work on your behalf (John 19:30). Instead of attempting to merit your own righteousness through religious striving, you now confess your faith that Yeshua is the LORD (יהוה) who vanquished the power of sin and death on your behalf (Rom. 10:8-10). By faith you are "justified" in Yeshua - regarded by God as "just-if-I'd" never sinned - and "just-if-I'd" always obeyed. This is the miracle of the "exchanged life" based on the korban principle of the sacrifice of Messiah for our deliverance (2 Cor. 5:21). You are now set free to live by the power of the Holy Spirit according to the law of love. "For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Yeshua the Messiah from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2). The Messiah alone is your Savior, the Substance of your hope. He "hears the groaning of the prisoner and sets free those who are subject to death" (Psalm 102:20).
"The righteousness of God" is revealed to the heart of faith, since "the righteous shall live by his faith" - tzaddik be'emunato yicheh (צַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה) [Rom. 1:17; Hab. 2:4]. This is the righteousness of God manifested apart from the law (Rom. 3:21), or the "righteousness [of God] imputed apart from works" (Rom. 4:6). Faith in God's righteousness is the essence of all true Torah from heaven, since apart from faith we are spiritually dead and "powerless (ἀδύνατος) to please God" (Heb. 11:6).
The way of salvation (דֶּרֶךְ הַיְשׁוּעָה) is always a matter of the heart and will, and therefore the Holy Spirit always cries out: Choose Life! "For this commandment (of teshuvah) is not too hard (lit. "too wonderful") for you, neither is it far away. It is not in heaven...nor across the sea.... Rather, the Word (הַדָּבָר) is very near you - in your mouth and your heart.... If you are willing to open you heart and believe, you will discover that "the kingdom of God is inside of you - ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστιν (Luke 17:21), and that Yeshua is the breath of your life.
Personal Note: I humbly ask for your prayers, chaverim. Like many of you I have been struggling lately... Please ask the LORD to help sustain this work and to give me victory over the powers of hell arrayed against me. Thank you.
Chayei Sha'ah - Fleeting Life
05.23.12 (Sivan 2, 5772) Do any of us know the measure of our days? Can we truly appreciate the limited amount of time we are given in this life? When we are young we believe we will live forever. David prayed, "make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am" (Psalm 39:4).
Life in this world is called chayei sha'ah (חַיֵּי שָׁעָה, "fleeting life") in Jewish thought. Chayei sha'ah is the life of "vanity of vanities," a vapor that soon dissipates in the winds of time (Eccl. 1:1; Job 8:9; Psalm 144:4). In light of eternity, King David reminds us that our days are as a few "handbreadths." We walk as "shadows" through the byways of this world.
Many of us make the mistake of looking to the "what" of life instead of looking to the "who." We look superficially at things, at our present circumstances, and tend to forget that God is in control of all our days. Often we are looking for something rather than for Someone.
God sometimes brings affliction and distress into our lives to help us regain a godly perspective. This is meant to shock us out of our lethargy. King David was at the point of death itself. He felt frail and alone. Like Solomon, he questioned the meaning of life. What good were riches or the esteem of others when everything is fading like a flower of the field (Job 14:2; Psalm 103:15)? David realized that life itself is a kind of suffering. The whole of creation groans and sighs....
The turning point came when David realized he was asking the wrong kind of question. Since the things of life are fleeting and empty, a mere change of circumstance is never enough. It is not a question of seeking a "what," but rather a "Who." Instead of focusing on external circumstances, David inwardly accepted the Presence of God in everything: tochalti lekha hi: "my hope is to you."
וְעַתָּה מַה־קִּוִּיתִי אֲדנָי
תּוֹחַלְתִּי לְךָ הִיא
ve·at·tah · mah · kiv·vi·ti · Adonai?
to·chal·ti · le·kha · hi
"And now, O Lord, to what do I look?
my only hope is in You."
Hebrew Study Card
Creation was made subject to vanity, but it was done so for the sake of hope (Rom. 8:20). Hope (tochelet) is the substance of chayei olam (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם), or eternal life (Rom. 8:24). Because God ordered creation this way, we must turn our attention away from the flux of life to discover the Rock of Israel (צוּר יִשְׂרָאֵל), who is the abiding Substance of our hope. "Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created (עַם נִבְרָא) may praise the LORD: that He looked down from His holy height (מִמְּרוֹם קָדְשׁוֹ); from heaven the LORD looked at the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die, that they may declare in Zion the Name of the LORD (שֵׁם יְהוָה), and in Jerusalem His praise" (Psalm 102:18-21).
The Seeking Savior...
05.22.12 (Sivan 1, 5772) "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick" (Matt. 9:12). Even though we are weak, sickly, broken, and sinful people, we must never lose hope and begin to fear that we do not belong to the Kingdom of the Messiah... Indeed, our infirmities are often a blessing in disguise, a gift that reveals our need... He has torn us so that we may be healed; He has struck us down so that He may bind us up:
לְכוּ וְנָשׁוּבָה אֶל־יְהוָה
כִּי הוּא טָרָף וְיִרְפָּאֵנוּ
le·khu · ve·na·shu·vah · el · Adonai
ki · hu · ta·raf · ve·yir·pa·ei·nu
yakh · ve·yach·be·shei·nu
"Come, let us return to the LORD;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up."
Our infirmities draw us closer to God our Healer. If you are sinful and sick, you are invited to come before the Master for life and rescue from the power of sin... Take your place among the lepers, the tax collectors, the outcasts... you will never hear Him criticize you or shame you for coming to Him for healing of your sinful state... "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). Yeshua is the Good Shepherd (הָרעֶה הַטּוֹב) who leaves his flock of 99 sheep in order to find the one sheep who is lost (Matt. 18:12-14). He is always like that – He is always seeking and saving the lost sinner; He is always offering life and healing to those who have been made sick with the plague of sin. Thank God we have a Savior who seeks us out in our desperate need!
King David wrote, "You have given those who fear you a banner (נֵּס לְהִתְנוֹסֵס) for the sake of the truth" (Psalm 60:4), which Rashi interprets, "You have given hardships and suffering to those who fear you to elevate them in the way." Indeed the word nes (נֵּס) can mean "banner" (as on the mast of a ship), a "sign" (or miracle), or a "test" (nisayon). God tests those who fear Him in order to help them become a miraculous sign to the world at large. Ultimately, the sign or miracle is the gift of Messiah's suffering on our behalf and His resurrection for our justification (Isa. 11:10). Even in the face of our enemies who have breached the land, we have the promise of victory in Adonai Nissi (יְהוָה נִסִּי), God my Miracle.
May you, broken and contrite one, hear the word of His hope calling out for your soul... He is your Shepherd, your Healer, and your Miracle. May you come beneath His banner of truth and love to find eternal refuge....
Parashat Bamidbar - במדבר
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Bamidbar ("in the wilderness"). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
05.21.12 (Iyyar 28, 5772) It is customary to refer to "books" of the Hebrew Bible according to their initial word(s). For example, the first book of the Torah is called Bereshit ("in the beginning"), from the first word in the scroll (בְּרֵאשִׁית). When the Hebrew was later translated into Koine Greek (c. 3rd-2nd century BC), individual books were assigned names based on the interpretations of the sages. Therefore the Septuagint (i.e., the ancient Greek translation) named the first book of the Torah Γένεσις ("birth" or "origin"), which later made its way into English (and other languages) via Latin as the word "Genesis."
It's important to understand that the names of the various books of the Bible were "coined" by the Greek translators and are not part of the original texts of Scripture themselves. Therefore the "Book of Leviticus" is a transliteration of the Greek phrase βιβλίον το Λευιτικόν, ("book of the Levites"), though in a Torah scroll it was simply identified according to its first significant word: Vayikra (וַיִּקְרָא - "and he called"); likewise, the "Book of Numbers" comes from the Greek word Ἀριθμοί ("numbers"), though in a Torah scroll it was identified by the keyword Bamidbar (בְּמִדְבַּר - "in the wilderness"); and so on. Of course, we refer to the names of the books in Hebrew (not Greek, etc.): Bereshit (for Genesis), Shemot (for Exodus), Vayikra (for Leviticus), and so on.
Bamidbar means "in the wilderness" and is the name associated with the fourth book of the Torah scroll. Since several censuses are recorded in it, the book is also sometimes called sefer ha-pekudim (the book of counting), so named because of the phrase bemispar shemot (בְּמִסְפַּר שֵׁמוֹת) - "they were counted according to their names" (Num. 1:2). The sages stress that unlike earlier censuses (e.g., Exod. 30:12-14), this one was personal because it was based on individual names (shemot). Accordingly, and because the idea of personal counting was considered central, the book was translated in the Septuagint using the Greek word Ἀριθμοί ("numbers") as its title. As Yeshua said, even the very hairs on our heads are all numbered (Matt. 10:30).
The Tribe of Levi was the smallest of the tribes of Israel (both before and after the sin of the Golden Calf). According to midrash, this was because the Levites were faithful to God while in Egypt and therefore did not come under the special blessing of God to supernaturally multiply those who persecuted the tribes (Exod. 1:12). Even when going out of Egypt, the LORD preserved a remnant for the sake of His Name.
The book recounts Israel's adventures in the wilderness (מִדְבָּר) from their second year of the Exodus until the 40th year. In general, it details how the tribes of Israel were counted and meticulously arranged into military camp formation around the Mishkan (tabernacle).
Note: Each tribe had its own prince (nassi) and its own unique flag (degel), and each tribe's flag color corresponded with the color of its respective stone in Aaron's breastplate (Exod. 28:15-21). For example, Judah's stone was a sky-blue carbuncle and therefore the color of his flag was like the color of the sky with a "fiery lion" embroidered upon it (Gen. 49:9).
Led by the Shekhinah (שְׁכִינָה) cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, at first the Jews were en route to the Promised Land - the land of Canaan - which the LORD swore to give to Abraham and his descendants forever. However, the people rebelled (i.e., their complicity in the "Sin of the Spies") and were therefore condemned to wander for 40 years in the desert. This 40 year period is often thought of as a time of punishment, though it was also a time of refinement for the nation, and it was during this time that God demonstrated great love for Israel by feeding the people with manna, giving them water from rock (i.e., the so-called Well of Miriam), protecting them with the Clouds of Glory, instructing them through the teaching of Moses, and so on. God loves his people -- even when they are faithless -- and his punishments are ultimately healing and redemptive.
The Great Assembly (כְּנֶסֶת הַגְּדוֹלָה) decreed that parashat Bamidbar would be read on the Sabbath before the festival of Shavuot "so that the year and its curses will be terminated." This phrase refers to the "Great Rebuke" - called the Tochachah (תּוֹכָחָה) - that was delivered in the previous Torah reading (i.e., Bechukotai, the last portion of Vayikra). Recall that this portion used 11 verses to describe the blessings for obedience (i.e., "if you follow my laws...") but used three times as many (33 verses) to describe the curses for disobedience to the Sinai covenant ("but this is what will happen if you do not listen to me"). Since the curses (קְלַלוֹת) included the destruction of the Temple and the great exile (galut) from the land, and since Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah at Sinai, it was thought that recommitting to the Sinai covenant during Shavuot would "reverse the curse" and cause blessing to come upon Israel. This explains why Shavuot was regarded as time for Israel to recommit themselves to talmud Torah (the study of Torah) and to renew the decision to live as a Jew. And this further explains why the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) was given to Yeshua's disciples precisely during this time after His resurrection. Instead of recommiting to Sinai we were given evidence that the New Covenant was beginning to be established at Zion....
The Hebrew word midbar ("wilderness") shares the same root as davar (דּבר) which means "word." Sometimes we need to be alone to hear God speaking kol demamah dakkah (קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה) - "the sound of a low whisper" (1 Kings. 19:12), and indeed some of the sages regard the journey into the wilderness (as opposed to the direct route to the Promised Land) as God's way of separating His people away in order to speak to them "privately." The desert (i.e., "word") of Sinai is the word of humility (עֲנָוָה). When God spoke Torah to Moses (mattan Torah), it was from a nondescript mountain - a place of emptiness, brokenness and need. Indeed, another word for Sinai is Chorev (חרֵב), a word that refers to the dryness and desolation. That is the starting point -- not the lush places of future promise. We receive Torah "bamidbar" because we can only hear God's davar in a place of humility and inner quiet. God brings us to an arid place -- inhospitable, and dangerous -- to reveal our need for Him. This is a necessary excursion to prepare us to look for the greater hope of Zion.
The giving of the law was meant to offer gracious discipline until the Messiah would come to fulfill the law's true intent (Gal. 3:19, 24-25). Yeshua is the Greater Hope, the One who delivers us from the curse of Sinai to bring us to Zion (Gal. 3:10). We enter into the realm of promise when we personally put our trust in God's love for us -- not by redoubling our efforts to obtain favor through adherence the terms given at Sinai (Heb. 8:13). "For the Torah made nothing perfect; but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, and that is how we draw near to God" (Heb. 7:19).
Ascension and Mem B'Omer...
05.18.12 (Iyyar 25, 5772) Today marks the 40th day of the Omer Count (i.e., Mem B'Omer), the time associated with the ascension of Yeshua. Recall that Yeshua told His followers that it was good that he would leave them, so that the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ), the "Comforter" or "Advocate" (παράκλητος), would be given to them. "But I tell you the truth, it is for your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate (ὁ παράκλητος) will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7). Notice that the word translated as "advantage" here is the Greek word συμφέρω (from σύν, "with" and φέρω, "to carry"), which suggests that we would be given power that "carries us" with the Lord during the trials of this life... Bo, Ruach Elohim: "Come, Holy Spirit..."
"Table Talk" for Behar-Bechukotai
[ This Shabbat we read the final two portions of the Book of Leviticus (i.e., Vayikra), namely, parashat Behar and Bechukotai. Please read the portions to find your place here... ]
05.18.12 (Iyyar 24, 5772) It is encouraging and edifying to discuss the weekly Torah portion with your family and friends during the Friday night Sabbath meal. To make it a little easier to discuss some topics, I created a new Shabbat "Table Talk" guide for both parashat Behar and parashat Bechukotai. The guides include a brief summary of the Torah portion, a few questions (with answers), and some additional topics for discussion. Hopefully this material will prompt some interesting (and enjoyable) discussion around your Sabbath table, chaverim. You can download the discussion guides here:
Parashat Bechukotai begins, "If you walk in my statutes ... you shall eat your bread ... and I will give peace ... and none shall make you afraid." The midrash notes that the blessings listed in this section (Lev. 26:3-13) begin with the letter Aleph (in the word אִם) and end with the letter Tav (in the word קוֹמְמִיּוּת), which suggests that they encompass all other possible blessings (from Aleph to Tav). This reminds me of a Psalm that lists "from A to Z" the blessings that are bestowed upon the righteous:
אַשְׁרֵי־אִישׁ יָרֵא אֶת־יְהוָה
בְּמִצְוֹתָיו חָפֵץ מְאד
Ash·rei · ish · ya·rei · et · Adonai,
Be·mitz·vo·tav · cha·fetz · me·od
"How blessed is the one who fears the LORD,
who takes great delight in keeping his commands" (Psalm 112:1)
Notice that Psalm 112 is an "acrostic" (alphabetical) song. After the call to praise the LORD (Hallelujah), every stanza (twenty-two in all) begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet (i.e., Aleph, Bet, Gimmel, and so on). The first verse includes both Aleph and Bet, the second verse includes Gimmel and Dalet, and so on, with each stanza separated by an atnach accent mark. Note further that the word translated "happy" (i.e., ashrei: אַשְׁרֵי) comes from a verb (אָשַׁר) that means to go straight (yashar), or to advance in your walk with the LORD (the word yesharim [יְשָׁרִים] means "the upright ones"). Ashrei can also mean "enriched." As Psalm 1 teaches us, "Enriched is the person who has not walked after the advice of the wicked, nor stood on the path of sinners, nor sat among the scorners, but finds delight (חָפֵץ) in the law (תּוֹרָה) of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night... (Psalm 1:1-2). The one who reveres the LORD and honors His truth will be like a tree transplanted beside flowing streams, yielding fruit at the proper time, with leaves that never fall off" (Psalm 1:3, cp. Jer. 17:7-8). "If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness (צֶדֶק) has been born of him" (1 John 2:29).
Personal Update: Please keep this ministry in your prayers. There are times when the spiritual oppression seems so severe all I can do is plead, plead, and plead before God for His deliverance and healing. "Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise" (Jer. 17:14). Shabbat Shalom, chaverim...
Carelessness and Exile...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Bechukotai). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
05.18.12 (Iyyar 24, 5772) Our Torah portion this week (Bechukotai) includes the first great "rebuke" (i.e., tochachah: תּוֹכָחָה) of Israel given in the Scriptures (the second is found in Ki Tavo, i.e., Deut. 28:15-68). In this ominous section, God promises the people great blessing if they would obey Him (Lev. 26:3-13), but He forewarns that exile, persecution and other progressively worse punishments would befall them if they would break faith with Him (Lev. 26:14-46). The sages note that divine censure would come if the people "forgot" about God or otherwise became careless in their observance of His laws. They point out that the refrain "if you walk contrary to me" (וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי) - which occurs several times during the rebuke - really means "if you walk carelessly (i.e., keri: קְרִי) with me." Rashi notes that the verb קָרָה means "to befall" or "to happen" and therefore suggests a sense of randomness (the related word mikreh [מִקְרֶה] means "coincidence"). If the people regarded the events of life as "random," then God would reciprocate by bringing senseless trouble into their lives... For this reason the sages regard a careless attitude about God's will as the very first step to inevitable apostasy. In other words, regarding whatever happens in life as mere "coincidence" essentially denies God's Presence, and this attitude will eventually call for God's corrective intervention. People can be "hot or cold" regarding their relationship with Him, but God will never give the option of affecting indifference toward Him...
Note: For more on this subject, see the article "Thoughts on the Tochachah."
Troubles of Love - יִסּוּרִים שֶׁל אַהֲבָה
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Bechukotai). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
05.18.12 (Iyyar 24, 5772) Parashat Bechukotai is the final portion of the Book of Leviticus, which is the central book of the Torah. In light of all that God had done for the Jewish people - from their great deliverance in Egypt to the ordination of the priesthood in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) - God expected them to live up to their high calling as His chosen people: "You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy" (Lev. 19:2).
It has been said that the opposite of love is not hate, but rather indifference, and that explains why the punishments would come if the people "left their first love." Indeed, the "rebuke" portion of the tochachah begins with v'im lo tishme'u li (וְאִם־לא תִשְׁמְעוּ לִי), "if you do not listen to me" (Lev. 26:14), which recalls the Shema and the duty to love the Lord bekhol levavkha, "with all your heart." If the people walk carelessly (i.e., keri: קְרִי) with God, then God will afflict them with "the troubles of love" (i.e., yissurei ahavah: יִסּוּרֵי אַהֲבָה), afflictions that would haunt them because of God's jealousy. A student once asked his rebbe: "Do we get punished for our sins in this world?" His succinct response was, "Only if we are made fortunate..." It is the worst possible fate for God to be indifferent to you! Can anything be more tragic than to be forgotten or to go unnoticed by God? It is far better that He afflict and harass you with the "troubles of love!"
Jewish tradition generally regards the entire chapter of Leviticus 26 as a great rebuke (i.e., "the" tochachah: הַתּוֹכָחָה), even though the chapter itself begins with promises of blessing for obedience to God's law (Lev. 26:3-13). The sages of the Talmud regard the "rebuke section" of this chapter (Lev. 26:14-46) as even more severe than the rebuke found in the Book of Deuteronomy (Deut. 28:15-68), because it was spoken directly by the LORD to the Jewish nation as a whole, whereas the latter warning was spoken by Moses himself and addressed in singular form (Megillah 31b). It is often difficult to find volunteers to publicly read this Torah portion during synagogue services, and the custom arose to have just one person read the entire rebuke section as one long aliyah (reading), as opposed to breaking it up for several people to read in smaller parts. It is also customary for the one making this aliyah to recite the passage in a lowered tone of voice...
The tochachah of Bechukotai begins with 11 verses that promise blessings for obedience to God's laws, but three times as many (i.e., 33 verses) that promise punishment for disobedience. To help "offset" this discrepancy, the midrash notes that blessing section begins with the letter Aleph (in the word אִם) and ends with the letter Tav (in the word קוֹמְמִיּוּת), which suggests that the blessings encompass all other possible blessings (from Aleph to Tav). On the other hand, the punishment section begins with the letter the Vav (in the word וְאִם) and ends with the letter Hey (in the word משֶׁה), the last two letters found in the Sacred Name (יהוה), which suggests that God's compassion would be present even in the suffering to come in the latter days. Another way to look at this is to regard the letter Vav as the symbol of man, and the letter Hey as the symbol of the Spirit: in the end - after the punishments were complete - God's compassion would prevail over His judgment for sin, and the Spirit of God would rest upon Israel. The midrash further states during the days of the Messiah, Israel will keep the Torah, "from Aleph to Tav" (i.e., from beginning to end), and at that time all the blessings God promised to them would finally be fulfilled.
The idea of tochachah is not simply something for ethnic Israel, of course, since the New Testament likewise warns us that God will punish those who likewise walk carelessly (i.e., keri: קְרִי) with Him. Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as God's children? "My son, do not regard lightly (ὀλιγώρει) the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary by his reproof (תּוֹכֵחָה). For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and reproves (יוֹכִיחַ) every child whom he receives" (Heb. 12:5-6; Prov. 3:11-12). The Lord charged the assembly at Ephesus that they had let go of their first love. Yeshua therefore urged them: "Remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds (ἔργα) you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your menorah from its place – unless you repent" (Rev. 2:4-5). Because God is never indifferent toward those who are trusting in His salvation, he will discipline and correct us to keep close to Him. He will afflict us with the "troubles of love." As it is written, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God" (Heb. 10:30).
Regarding the curses of this section, I'd like to relate a beautiful story I once read. The child of a famous Torah sage was used to hearing his father read the weekly Torah portion at synagogue, but on the Shabbat of Bechukotai his father happened to be out of town, and the boy listened intently as a substitute Torah reader recited the various punishments listed in the parashah. Afterwards, the boy was so emotionally distraught that he fell into a deep depression that lasted for over a month. The child was later asked, "Why were you not disturbed this way when the admonition was read in past years?" The boy replied, "When father reads it, no curses are heard." Yes, when "father reads," namely, the Father that sees our hearts in the darkest of places, we will hear His voice of blessing....
At the end of this parashah, as with every other parashah that concludes a book of the Torah, we say, Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek - "Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened!" Despite the "heaviness" associated with the idea of God's judgment and punishment, we must press on in faith.... The great commandment is always "Choose Life!" (Deut. 30:19), and that life comes from being in a loving relationship with our Heavenly Father through our Yeshua our Savior, blessed be He (1 John 5:12). May God help us return to our first love for Him b'khol levavkha - with all our hearts. "I love those who love me; and those who seek me will find me" (Prov. 8:17). "The LORD is good to those who hope (קוה) for him, to the soul who seeks him" (Lam. 3:25).
New Hebrew Meditation:
The Cry of the Heart...
05.17.12 (Iyyar 23, 5772) Today I wrote a brief Hebrew meditation ("Cry of the Heart") based on the verse: "He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them" (Psalm 145:19). God allows troubles into our lives so that we will "keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking..." The door of blessing will be opened to us through perseverance of heart... "For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened" (Matt. 7:8).
Personal Update: Recently I twisted my ankle on a hike and have had trouble sleeping because of the pain. Your prayers for my healing are appreciated, friends... Thank you.
Jerusalem Day - Solar Eclipse
[ Jerusalem Day is observed Saturday, May 19th through Sunday, May 20th this year... ]
05.16.12 (Iyyar 22, 5772) In Israel, "Jerusalem Day" (Yom Yerushalayim) commemorates the re-unification of old city of Jerusalem on June 7th, 1967 during the Six Day War. In 1968 the Chief Rabbinate of Israel declared Iyyar 28 to be a minor holiday to thank God for answering the 2,000-year-old prayer of "Next Year in Jerusalem." On March 23, 1998, the Knesset passed the Jerusalem Day Law, making it a national holiday. This year, Iyyar 28 runs from Saturday, May 19th (after sundown) through Sunday, May 20th (until sundown). Note that this year the moon will eclipse nearly 95% of the sun on Sunday (in the United States, the solar eclipse will begins around 7:30 pm (CDT) and will last for two hours).
Note further that the very next day, Monday, May 21st, marks Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the new moon of Sivan, which means that within two consecutive days we will have the sun eclipsed by the moon, followed by the disappearance of the moon! "Then the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed, for the LORD of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders" (Isa 24:23)." Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth" (Psalm 50:2).
Note: Click here to learn 25 reasons why Jerusalem matters...
Be not Afraid...
05.16.12 (Iyyar 22, 5772) Most of us understand that loving God is our essential obligation, the end or "goal" of all the other commandments, the very reason why God has spoken and why we exist. Yeshua plainly taught that this was the point of "the law and the prophets," the rest being commentary (Matt. 7:12, Matt. 22:36-40). However, while love is our greatest duty - the yoke of heaven - you might be surprised to learn that the most frequent commandment is simply al-tirah, "Be not afraid." Over and over again in the Scriptures we hear the LORD saying to those who trust in Him, al tira, "be not afraid."
אַל־תִּירָא כִּי עִמְּךָ־אָנִי
אַל־תִּשְׁתָּע כִּי־אֲנִי אֱלהֶיךָ
אַף־תְּמַכְתִּיךָ בִּימִין צִדְקִי
al · ti·ra · ki · im·me·kha · a·ni; al · tish·ta · ki · a·ni · E·lo·he·kha
im·matz·ti·kha · af · a·zar·ti·kha; af · te·makh·ti·kha · bi·min · tzid·ki
"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand"
Hebrew Study Card
This is a word for the exiles of every age: Be not afraid - al-tirah – not of man, nor of war, nor of tribulation, nor even of death itself (Rom. 8:35-39). If God be for us, who can be against us? Indeed, Yeshua came to die to destroy the power of death "and to release all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (Heb. 2:14-15). The resurrection of the Messiah is the focal point of history - not the "dust of death." Death does not have the final word. Indeed, because Yeshua is alive, we also shall live (John 14:19). Because of Yeshua's victory, we can now live without fear: al-tirah, "Be not afraid, it is I." "There is no fear in God's perfect love," as the Apostle John wrote (1 John 4:18). If we love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19), then we find courage because of the heart He imparts to us... God will uphold you – even in the trials of your faith.
Of course this doesn't mean that we should pretend that evil doesn't exist or that there's no real danger in this world. No, the Scriptures are clear that there are spiritual enemies in the world and we are engaged in a genuine spiritual war (1 Pet. 5:8-9; Eph. 6:10-18). Indeed every day the media attempts to frighten us by broadcasting lies and fearmongering propaganda. We must fight these messages of fear by remembering the truth and promises of God; we must never fear mere men but rather the LORD our God, who is our Maker, our King, and our Redeemer. We must train our minds to see beyond mere appearances, to ignore the messages of this dark world, and to look for God's Presence in everything.
יְהִי־חַסְדְּךָ יהוה עָלֵינוּ כַּאֲשֶׁר יִחַלְנוּ לָךְ
ye·hi · chas·de·kha · Adonai · a·lei·nu, · ka·a·sher · yi·chal·nu · lakh
May your chesed, O LORD, be upon us,
as we wait for You (Psalm 33:22)
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We must trust in the LORD and His care for our lives, which always comes "as we hope" in Him... May it please God to impart to each us the courage that comes from Heaven itself. May He help us not to live in fear, but rather to walk in faith, full of confidence. So remember: al-tirah, "be not afraid!" Let us be strong and be strengthened in Yeshua our King.
Shavuot and Firstfruits...
[ The following is related to the holiday of Shavuot (i.e., "Weeks" or "Pentecost"), which occurs Saturday, May 26th at sundown this year. ]
05.16.12 (Iyyar 22, 5772) We are nearing the end of the 49 day "countdown" that runs from the second day of Passover until the holiday of Shavuot ("Weeks" or "Pentecost"). This seven week period is called "Counting the Omer" (סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר) in Jewish tradition (Lev. 23:15-16). During the Temple period, on each of these days a priest would wave a sheaf (omer) of barley before the LORD as a symbolic gesture of dedicating the coming harvest to Him. This ceremony was called tenufat ha-omer ("waving of the sheaf"). On the 50th day, however, a sample of the first fruits of the wheat harvest was baked into two loaves of leavened bread (called "Shtei Ha-Lechem," שְׁתֵּי הַלֶּחֶם) and waved before the altar as the climactic rite of the season (Lev. 23:15-20). Notice that this was the only time that otherwise forbidden chametz (leaven) was used by the priests for worship (see Lev. 2:11).
The holiday of Shavuot (שָׁבֻעוֹת), "weeks," is regarded as the culmination of the experience of redemption since it is directly linked with Passover and ends with the ripened first fruits (בִּכּוּרִים) of the wheat harvest. The word "first fruits" includes the idea of being first born (בְּכוֹר) or "chosen" (בָּחַר), that is, the first fruit of the human family (James 1:18). Adam was a pattern (i.e., τύπος, "type" or imprint) of the One to come (Rom. 5:14); but the "first of the first fruits" is Yeshua, who was resurrected as the first "new Man" on the holiday of first fruits (1 Cor. 15:22; 45-47; Rom. 5:12-19). Shavuot, then, is central among the holidays, since without the giving of the Holy Spirit at Zion (Acts 2:1-4) we would not be able to partake of the other festivals of the year... In other words, the goal (τέλος) of our redemption was to set us free to become God's own chosen and treasured people (i.e., am segulah: עַם סְגֻלָּה), a light to the nations: ambassadors for Heaven's voice. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) is therefore the climax of redemption, imparting the presence of the Comforter (παράκλητος) to help us live sanctified lives (Acts 1:8).
The number seven is said to represent wholeness and completion, just as God created the heavens and the earth in six days but rested (finished) on the seventh (and indeed, the first complete verse of the Torah contains exactly seven words). The concept of the "week" (שָׁבוּעַ) therefore is an ongoing reminder that God is our King, the Creator of the world. The word Shavuot (שָׁבֻעוֹת) includes (and perfects) the idea of sheva (שֶׁבַע), or "seven." We are to count seven groups of seven, or exactly 49 days, from the second day of Passover until we reach the climactic day of Shavuot when revelation was given. We see the same cycle of sevens with regard to the laws of Shemittah (Lev. 25:4) and the Year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:8). The "seventy weeks of years" (i.e., 490 years) in Daniel's vision also reveals the complete prophetic vista of human history - from the time of the crucifixion of the Messiah through the period of the Great Tribulation at the End of the Age (Dan. 9:24-27).
Captives of Hope...
05.15.12 (Iyyar 21, 5772) An old Jewish prayer, uttered somewhat wistfully, begins, "O Lord, I know that Thou wilt help us; but wilt Thou help us before Thou wilt help us?" It's not always easy to wait for God: "Hope deferred makes the heart sick" (Prov. 13:12). Where it is written, "hope to the LORD (קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה); be strong and strengthen your heart; and (again) hope to the LORD" (Psalm 27:14), we see that hope gives us inward strength:
קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה חֲזַק וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּךָ
ka·veh el Adonai cha·zak ve'ya·metz lib·be·kha,
ve-ka·veh el Adonai
"Hope to the LORD; be strong and let your heart be strengthened;
and (again) hope to the LORD"
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In this famous verse, the imperative verb kaveh (often translated as "wait") might better be rendered as "look for with anticipation!" or "hope!" (the root of this verb actually appears in the Hebrew word for hope: "tikvah"). Hope in the Lord and chazak! - "be strong" (the Septuagint translates chazak as andridzou - "act like a man"). That is, hope in the Lord, be stouthearted and decisive in your conviction, and then the LORD will instill courage within your heart (the verb ametz is hiphil, meaning that it is God who produces the courage within you). But note the order here: You must first step out in faith, obeying the commandment to hope in the LORD, and then God will fill your heart with courage.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵנוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂנוּ אֲסִירֵי תִּקְוָה
ba·rukh at·tah Adonai E·lo·hei·nu me·lekh ha·o·lam,
a·sher a·sa·nu a·si·rei tik·vah
"Blessed art You, LORD our God, King of the universe,
who has made us captives of hope."
When we put our hope in the LORD, strong in our conviction, we will be given courage to bear whatever may befall us - and this is help indeed during these perilous days! "Hope to the LORD (קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה); be strong and strengthen your heart; and (again) hope to the LORD." There can be no turning to God without genuine hope (תִּקְוָה). Indeed, as the Apostle Paul wrote: "We are saved by hope" (Romans 8:24).
05.15.12 (Iyyar 21, 5772) In general it may be said that "pantheism" is a metaphysical doctrine that identifies God with the universe, or that regards the universe as a manifestation of God. A variant of this doctrine is that everything is "in" God, or that the physical universe is likened to a divine "body" whereas God represents its "soul..." C.S. Lewis once called such doctrine "damned nonsense," meaning it was literally nonsense that led to damnation. Contrary to such universalism that reduces all things to an undifferentiated unity (i.e., "the One"), the Scriptures clearly teach that God is holy, and moral goodness and evil are eternally separated by means of a "Great Divorce." The LORD is not both the cancer and the cure, the sickness and the disease... Among other things, this means that we live in a "high-stakes" universe where truth is of eternal significance.
If you do not take the distinction between good and bad very seriously, then it is easy to say anything you find in this world is a part of God. But, of course, if you think some things really bad, and God really good, then you cannot talk like that. You must believe that God is separate from the world and that some of the things we see in it are contrary to His will. Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, 'If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realise that this also is God.' The Christian replies, 'Don't talk damned nonsense.' For Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the world, that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colours and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God 'made up out of His head' as a man makes up a story. But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again." (Lewis: Mere Christianity)
In this connection, beware of Kabbalistic theology that claims that "everything is God," or that claims that the Shema (i.e., Deut. 6:4) implies either that God creates evil or that evil is somehow not real. When a Kabbalist says, "HaShem is One," ask him to clarify his terms. For instance, some interpret this to mean that since God is the source for everything, what we call "good" or "evil" is relative to God's ultimate unity: "Even that which appears as evil is really goodness and kindness, because from the One who is good it is impossible that evil can emanate" (Malbim). In other words, moral evil in the universe is really an "aspect" of the greater divine "unity," since categorically everything flows from God... According to Kabbalah, whether you know it or not, this is the "best of all possible worlds," despite the existence and prevalence of moral evil. Indeed what we call "evil" is really just an illusion or a statement of our ignorance about what is ultimate. It should be clear that the theological denial of evil based on cosmic "oneness" is contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture:
הוֹי הָאמְרִים לָרַע טוֹב וְלַטּוֹב רָע
שָׂמִים חשֶׁךְ לְאוֹר וְאוֹר לְחשֶׁךְ
שָׂמִים מַר לְמָתוֹק וּמָתוֹק לְמָר
hoy · ha·om·rim · la·ra · tov · ve·la·tov · ra,
sa·mim · cho·shekh · le·or · ve·or · le·cho·shekh,
sa·mim · mar · le·ma·tok · u·ma·tok · le·mar
"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter" (Isa. 5:20)
It is not an exaggeration to say that the spirit of the age" is invariably based on the "devil's logic" of pantheism, and much of modern politics is based the metaphysical philosophy of G.W. Hegel (1770-1831), an idealist and pantheistic thinker who "triangulated" truth to mean its assimilation into a higher unity (i.e., the dialectic). Among others, Karl Marx was Hegel's disciple. Indeed, all the deception of the devil begins with the denial of God's rightful rule and authority as the King of the Universe, that is, from a rejection of God's revelation and truth given in the Scriptures. Contrary to the "politically correct" spirit of this world, however, God's truth is inviolable and one day every soul will be judged in in its light:
יִרְאַת יְהוָה שְׂנאת רָע
גֵּאָה וְגָאוֹן וְדֶרֶךְ רָע
וּפִי תַהְפֻּכוֹת שָׂנֵאתִי
yir·at · Adonai · se·not · ra
ge·ah · ve·ga·on · ve·de·rekh · ra
u·fi · tah·pu·khot · sa·nei·ti
"The fear of the LORD is the hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.
The fear of the Lord (יִרְאַת יְהוָה) shows itself in hatred of evil, since evil represents what is contrary to God's love, life, healing, truth, mercy, salvation, and so on. In a sense, the fear is born by the hatred of evil and all that evil means. You cannot serve two masters. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge," which means primarily the fear of God's retributive justice and punishment of the sinner. Fearing God's wrath for evil is the foundation of all the commandments (see Rambam on Deut. 10:12). It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God. The minimum fear of heaven, yirat hashamayim, is to fear God's power to punish transgressors and those who love and practice sin: as Yeshua said: "fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt. 10:28). "The living are destined to be judged. Do not let your evil inclination convince you that the grave is a place of refuge for you... Against your will you will have to give account and reckoning before the Supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. As it is written, 'Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil'" (Avot 4:22).
For those who are saved, the fear of the LORD does not mean distrusting His love and grace, of course, but implies reverential affection for Him, godly awe over all He has done to pardon your sin through the awful cost of the cross... It is the "fear and trembling" that comes from appreciating all God has done for you so that you can live as His child.
Sometimes we need to correct other people's doctrine, and a good shepherd will throw stones at wolves that threaten the sheep. It is written: "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead refute (ἐλέγχω) them" (Eph. 5:11). Yeshua clearly condemned the practices and dogma of many religious teachers of his day, calling them whitewashed tombs, a brood of vipers, hypocrites, etc. (Matt. 23:22, 27). Those who teach false doctrine, such as kabbalists, are enemies of the gospel and therefore deceivers... The apostle John would not so much as greet those who deviated from the message of the gospel, and instructed followers of Messiah to do likewise (2 John 1:10-11). Paul minced no words when he wished that the "legalists" who advocated circumcision would "go all the way and emasculate themselves" (Gal. 5:12). Paul literally cursed those who perverted the teaching of the gospel of grace (Gal. 1:8-9) and said in another place: "If anyone does not love the Lord Yeshua -- a curse be on him" (1 Cor. 16:22). It is not unloving to rebuke your neighbor, if it is done in a spirit of humility: "You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reprove your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him" (Lev. 19:17).
Surely our great need today is to have heart, strength, resolution, and earnest conviction in order to walk boldly through these darkened days (2 Tim. 3:1-5). As Lewis further said, "Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point." Without courage, people become "men without chests," heartless clones of real men who are essentially cowards because they have no passion to live for the truth...
The mantra of today's politically correct world is, "Everyone is special and has a unique vision," thereby relegating all truth claims into the same homogenous class. But if categorically everyone has "the truth," then no one really does, because "truth" has been qualified to death and redefined into oblivion... In light of today's insipid political correctness, the confession of Yeshua results in a collision with the world. Kierkegaard would undoubtedly apply the following comment to the idea of pantheism: "The goal is not to merge into God through some fading away or in some divine ocean. No, in an intensified consciousness "a person must render account for every careless word he has uttered." Even though grace blots out sin, the union with God still takes place in the personality clarified and intensified to the utmost."
Does this make Christianity intolerant then? Not unless you are a hypocrite. All faith expressions - including skepticism, universalism, or "politically correct" humanism - are exclusivistic commitments to whatever the believer embraces as his or her "ground of ultimate concern." Every person has their own "narrow gate," though this does not necessarily lead to life in God. No, the "narrow gateway of life" (שַּׁעַר אֶל־הַחַיִּים) is found only by the few (Matt. 7:13-14). There is safety in numbers, the mob reasons, and the cost of genuine conviction may be ostracism from the group, but then you are in good company, since the true prophets were persecuted as outcasts as well (Matt. 5:11-12).
We live in a "high-stakes" universe where truth is of eternal significance. Christian (and Jewish) theology insists that truth matters, and knowing the truth about God is absolutely essential for life itself. Nothing is more important. Nothing is more vital. "This is eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם), that they may know you, the only true God (אֶל־אֱמֶת), and Yeshua the Messiah whom you have sent (John 17:3). The Hebrew word for knowledge is da'at (דַּעַת), a word that implies intimate knowledge (the opposite of da'at is folly). Euphemistically, it implies romantic love. Knowing the "only true God" implies being passionately committed to the truth and abandoning other promiscuous possibilities...
Feeding on Faithfulness...
05.14.12 (Iyyar 20, 5772) Our Lord Yeshua taught us: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth ... but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:19-21). In this connection, Soren Kierkegaard tells the story of a poor old couple that possessed nothing but poverty. As they grew older, their anxiety about the future increased:
They did not assail heaven with their prayers, for they were too pious for that; but nevertheless they continually cried to heaven for help. Then it happened one morning that the wife, going out to the oven, found a precious stone of great size upon the hearth. She immediately showed the stone to her husband, who saw at once that they were well supplied for the rest of their life. A bright future for this old couple – what joy! Yet, God-fearing as they were, and content with little, they resolved that since they had enough to live upon for another day, they would sell the jewel not that day, but the following. And then a new life would begin.
That night the woman dreamed that she was transported to paradise. An angel took her around and showed her all the glories an oriental imagination could invent. Then the angel led her into a hall where there were long rows of armchairs adorned with pearls and precious stones, which, the angel explained, were for the devout. Finally the angel showed her the chair that was intended for her. Looking more closely, the woman saw a large jewel was missing from the back of the seat. She asked the angel how that had come about.
Now be alert, here comes the story! The angel answered, "That was the precious stone you found on the hearth. You received it in advance, and so it cannot be inserted again." In the morning the woman related the dream to her husband. She felt they should hold on to the stone for a few years longer rather than let the precious stone be absent throughout eternity. And her devout husband agreed. So, that evening they laid the stone back on the hearth and prayed to God that he would take it back. In the morning, sure enough, it was gone. Where it had gone the old couple knew: it was now in its right place. (Attack upon Christendom, 246)
In the end, you can only "keep" what you give away (John 12:25). This old couple's treasure was stored in the "right place," free from the vanity and illusions of this world and its comforts, and free from the concessions made to human frailty that would result in an eternal loss... So where is your treasure being stored, chaverim?
The trials and testings of this life are meant to prepare us for eternity. They are God-given opportunities to exercise faith! We have one chance to walk this life and then we face judgment. "Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Gal. 6:9). I sincerely pray that we will not miss the reward that comes from living in genuine faith in God's Presence and provision!
לא אַרְפְּךָ וְלא אֶעֶזְבֶךָ
lo · ar·pe·kha · ve·lo · e·ez·ve·kha
"I will not fail you nor abandon you" (Josh. 1:5)
Note: For more on this, see the article "Feeding on Faithfulness."
[ This week we read the final two portions of the Book of Leviticus (i.e., Vayikra), namely, parashat Behar and Bechukotai. Please read the portions to find your place here... ]
05.14.12 (Iyyar 20, 5772) In this week's Torah portion (Behar) the LORD states: "...you are strangers (גֵּרִים) and settlers (תּוֹשָׁבִים) with Me" (Lev. 25:23). This is a paradoxical phrase, since a ger (גֵּר) is one who is just passing through, like a visitor or tourist, whereas a toshav (תּוֹשָׁב) is one who is a resident or a citizen. How can someone be both a visitor and a resident of a place, or a stranger and a citizen at the same time? How can one "pass through" a place he is said to dwell?
Concerning this paradox the Maggid of Dubna comments: "If you see yourselves in this world as strangers and remember that you are here only for a short visit, passing through the hallway of this world, then I will settle among you. However, should you see yourselves as settlers on this world, "owners" who are here to stay, then I am but a stranger among you. Either you are the settlers and I the stranger, or you the stranger and I the settler." In other words, God "settles" among the exiles in this world, and those who "settle" here, who lay claim to this world, therefore make God their stranger (James 4:4).
Note: God's people are "strangers" in this world; they are literally estranged and live as "resident aliens" -- here, yet not here. For more on this, see the article "Strange Settlers."
Our Daily Bread...
05.14.12 (Iyyar 20, 5772) God humbles us and tests us to show us how much we need His daily care (Deut. 8:3). Recall that the curse put upon the nachash (serpent) was that it would go about on its belly, eating the dust of the earth (Gen. 3:14)... But what kind of a curse was this - to put food before its face at all times? The sages say the worst curse of all is to never feel the need for the Creator. As David said, "Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them" (Psalm 69:22). The fact that we have needs, deficiencies - especially regarding our daily sustenance - is a "blessed fault," since it makes us look to the LORD, who is our only real provider.
God's Thoughts and Ways...
05.13.12 (Iyyar 19, 5772) It would be simple if God always and automatically rewarded a good deed and immediately punished a bad one, but since human beings were created b'tzelem Elohim (in the likeness of God), they are not trained like dogs... Consequently, it is often difficult to discern God's ways in this world, first because we "see through a glass darkly," and secondly, because God deliberately obscures His Presence so that people might seek His face (Psalm 27:8-9). The Book of Job, the Book of Ecclesiates, and the lives of the prophets all testify that we must be careful to distinguish between appearance and reality, and not to assume that obedience to the moral law invariably yields blessing and prosperity. After all, riches can be a deadly snare and affliction can be a blessing; and it is common to see the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer. Indeed, beholding the Divine Presence requires faith to enlighten the perception of the heart (Heb. 11:6), and God's love and grace remain undetected in a heart hardened by cynicism and despair. Yet it is written, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD."
כִּי לא מַחְשְׁבוֹתַי מַחְשְׁבוֹתֵיכֶם
וְלא דַרְכֵיכֶם דְּרָכָי נְאֻם יְהוָה
ki · lo · mach·she·vo·tai · mach·she·vo·te·khem
ve·lo · dar·khei·khem · de·ra·khai · ne·um · Adonai
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD"
This verse contrasts God's thoughts and ways with those of sinful and hardhearted men, as mentioned in the immediately preceding verses: "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the perverse man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isa. 55:6-7). In other words, unlike men, God's thoughts and ways are forgiving, gracious, and there is a heaven-wide difference between the divine and human ways of thinking. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:9). God's amazing love is revealed in His Word, which descends from heaven like rain or snow to water the earth and give life (Isa. 55:10-11).
There is a classic Jewish folktale that is sometimes told to illustrate that we cannot easily understand God's ways in this world:
One day, the Torah sage Joshua ben Levi watched as a mysterious stranger did a secret act of kindness for someone in the marketplace. Joshua wondered if this stranger might be none other than the prophet Elijah, who never died and whom God commissioned to go about as a hidden tzaddik doing acts of mercy in this world. Joshua approached the man and asked to take him along on his journey. The prophet agreed, but only on the condition that no matter how strange he might think his actions were, Joshua was to ask for no explanation. If he asked, Elijah said, then they would part company.
The first night they visited the house of a poor couple whose only possession was a cow. The man and wife welcomed the two weary wanderers, fed them, and insisted they sleep in the cottage's only bed, while they themselves slept on the floor. The next morning, Elijah prayed that the couple's cow might die, and before they left the house, the cow was dead.... Joshua wondered, "Is this the way God repays acts of kindness to us?" but he remained silent.
The second night they came to the house of a wealthy man. After much begging, the man agreed to let the two strangers sleep in his barn, though he offered them no food or blankets. The next morning the rich man ordered his servants to repair a breach in the wall around his property, but before they could begin, Elijah prayed and the wall was miraculously rebuilt... Joshua wondered, "Is this the way God rewards those who refuse hospitality?" but remembering his promise, he said nothing.
The following day they reached a beautiful synagogue, with seats of silver and gold, but the people there seemed to have hearts of stone. No one offered to feed them, and it was only with diligent begging that they were allowed to remain in the synagogue overnight, sleeping on the hard benches. The next morning Elijah blessing the congregation, praying they would all become leaders. Joshua was bewildered and disturbed, but he held his peace and did not question Elijah.
In the next town, the synagogue was a simple, wooden one, but the congregation warmly welcomed the wayfarers and invited them to dine with them. Several members of the synagogue offered them their homes to spend the night. The next morning, Elijah prayed that God would choose any one of the congregation to be its leader...
This was too much for Joshua, who was exasperated at what he had seen and finally demanded an explanation for Elijah's prayers. "Great prophet - far be it from me to tell you what to do. Yet it seems to me that you add insult to injury; that you reward good with evil, and evil with good. Please explain to me your strange ways." Elijah then turned to him and said, "Now we must go our separate ways, for you have broken your word to me. But before we part, I will explain what you have seen, and how little you have understood."
"Regarding the couple who showed us great hospitality and gave us their last crumbs of bread, I prayed their cow might die, for I knew that one that very day the wife was to be stricken deathly ill by a decree from heaven, and because of my prayers, the cow was taken instead of her. And as for the rich man. I rebuilt his wall for him since beneath the broken section was hidden a vast treasure which his servants would have discovered while making the repairs. As for the congregation of the rich, I prayed they might all become leaders, for a multiplicity of leaders brings a multiplicity of disputes. For the congregation of the poor, I prayed they might have only one leader, for with just one to guide them, success will overtake all they do."
"Learn from this," Elijah concluded, "if you see an evil person prosper, it is not always to his advantage; and if you see a righteous person suffer yissurim (troubles), do not imagine God is unjust. For while man judges by the sight of his eyes, God looks into the heart, and He always rules the world with justice and mercy." (Adapted from Sanhedrin 98a and Sefer Ha-Ma'asiyot)
Jewish tradition tends to be indomitably optimistic in its outlook. Here is another classic story intended to teach that God always works "behind the scenes" for our good:
There was a certain man called Nachum Gam Zu, so called because he had the supposed ability to see that whatever happens to an individual is tied to a cosmic calculation for good that only God comprehends. Whenever something went wrong for him, he would always say, "Gam zu le'tovah," meaning, "this too is for good."
One day, Rabbi Akiva traveled and sought to find a place to spend the night at a certain town, but no one would let him in. Akiva remembered the words of Nachum Gam Zu and said, gam zu le'tovah, "this too is for good," and went to sleep in a field. He had with him a donkey, a rooster, and a lamp. That evening his lamp was blown out by a strong wind, his rooster was eaten by a cat, and a lion killed and devoured his donkey - but despite all this, he still, gam zu le'tovah. Later that night plunderers attacked the town, capturing the inhabitants. Akiva realized that had he not been turned away from the town, he would have shared the town's fate, and moreover, had the lamp not gone out or the animals been killed, he would have been detected by the marauders and surely killed. Therefore Akiva regarded these misfortunes as a blessing in disguise, and he gratefully testified that everything God does is indeed for the best. (Talmud: Chagiga 12a; Sefer HaAggadah)
[ This week we read the final two portions of the Book of Leviticus (i.e., Vayikra), namely, parashat Behar and Bechukotai. Please read the portions to find your place here... ]
05.13.12 (Iyyar 19, 5772) Why is it, the sages asked, that God bypassed all of the world's great and lofty mountains and chose to give His Torah on the obscure mountain of Sinai? Because God's Spirit (רוח) rests with the lowly, the humble of heart. Therefore humility (ענוה) is considered one of the greatest of middot ha-lev (heart qualities).
It is perhaps in this connection that we should understand the commandments given in this parashah to refrain from harvesting the land every seventh year (the shemittah - שׁמטּה) and to cancel all outstanding debts every 50 years (during the Yovel - יובל). Each of us must live in conscious dependence on God's provision and care for our lives... The earth is the LORD's and the fulness thereof, and in the end everything reverts back to God, since He alone owns all things. "From Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things" (Rom. 11:36).
God reveals Himself to the contrite (i.e., dakka: דַּכָּא) and the lowly of spirit (רוּחַ שְׁפָלִים), that is, to those who understand their own nothingness and live in utter dependence on Him.... Notice that the word dakka refers to being crushed to the very dust, as Yeshua was verily crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:10). From the point of view of our dependence on God for salvation, dakka refers to our contrition as we turn to God in genuine teshuvah... Pride, arrogance, and self-righteousness are antithetical to the awareness of God in the truth.
05.11.12 (Iyyar 19, 5772) A central and recurring theme in the Torah of Messiah is that "the last shall be first and the first shall be last" (Matt. 20:16). This is the principle of divine "transposition" or holy irony. What God esteems as great, man regards as vain, and therefore heaven delivers the judgment: "To be great in the kingdom of heaven you must become the servant of all, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave (Matt. 20:26-27). God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5; James 4:6). The principle of spiritual greatness is always this: "Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted" (Matt 23:12). Indeed, the ego and its agenda is called to die: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (John 12:24-25).
We must be careful here, however, since the "first" and the "last" might not be the ones you think they are... For example, it can happen that a poverty-stricken person, weak and despised, who has even suffered persecution for Messiah may come to regard himself as "first" because of his self-satisfaction, whereas a rich man who is honored and enjoys the world's good things may come to regard himself as contemptible and last before heaven. In these circumstances, the one who regards himself as "first" may indeed be last, while the one who regards himself as "last" may indeed be first.
Of course, the heart is deceitful above all things, and incurably sick - mi yadeinu? - who can know it? But how is the heart sick? By seeking excuses to evade the truth of its great need. "No person is saved except by grace; the apostle, too, was accepted only by grace. But there is one sin that makes grace impossible, that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must unconditionally require, and that is honesty.
עָקב הַלֵּב מִכּל וְאָנֻשׁ הוּא מִי יֵדָעֶנּוּ
אֲנִי יְהוָה חקֵר לֵב בּחֵן כְּלָיוֹת
וְלָתֵת לְאִישׁ כִּדְרָכָיו כִּפְרִי מַעֲלָלָיו
a·kov · ha·lev · mi·kol · ve·a·nush · hu - mi · ye·dei·nu?
a·ni · Adonai · cho·ker · lev · bo·chen · ke·la·yot
ve·la·tet · le·ish · ki·dra·khav · kif·ri · ma·a·la·lav
"The heart is deceitful above all things and incurably sick - who can understand it?
I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man
according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds."
The heart truly needs a miracle to be healed of self-deception and inner dishonesty, and praise God that He is indeed our great miracle-making Savior! May it please the LORD to empty us of pride and self-righteousness, trusting only in Yeshua's grace and mercy that makes us truly "first" in His eyes... Shabbat Shalom, chaverim!
Living in the Present...
05.11.12 (Iyyar 19, 5772) "Today if you hear His voice..." I have a friend who is literally obsessed with the end times, regularly sending me emails predicting dates, times, etc., and urging me to get ready. I like to remind him that for many people, the "end of the world" is actually today. How so? Because today some people will literally die and face their own personal Rosh Hashanah, whereas other people will genuinely take up the cross and die to their own agenda, fully trusting in God's plan and purposes for the world at large.
A life of a human being begins with the illusion that a long, long time and a whole world lie before him in the distance, begins with the foolhardy decision that he has ample time for his many claims... But when a person in the infinite transformation discovers the eternal itself so close to life that there is not the distance of one single claim, of one single evasion, of one single excuse, of one single moment of time from what he -- in this instant, in this second, in this holy moment -- shall do, then he is on the way to becoming a Christian...
How rare is the person who actually is contemporary with himself; ordinarily most people are apocalyptically, in theatrical illusions, hundreds of thousands of miles ahead of themselves, or several generations ahead of themselves in feelings, in delusions, in intentions, in resolutions, in wishes, in longings. But the believer (the one present) is in the highest sense contemporary with himself. To be totally contemporary with oneself today with the help of the eternal is also the most formative and generative: it is the gaining of eternity. (Kierkegaard: Discourses).
When Yeshua said, "concerning that day and hour no one knows ... but the Father only" (Matt. 24:26), he meant to put to rest various end-times speculations so that His followers would be enabled to live today before the Divine Presence... "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority" (Acts 1:7). We are called to follow Yeshua today... Today if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts... Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Matt. 6:34). We must learn to live one day at a time because yesterday is gone, the future is uncertain, but the present is a gift from heaven. Repentance is a daily turning to God, and we must trust that whatever plans God has in store for the world will be disclosed to the one looking to Him at just the right time. Therefore we can take comfort in David's words:
שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט
shi·vi·ti Adonai le·neg·di ta·mid
ki mi·mi·ni bal e·mot
"I have set the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken."
Hebrew Study Card
King David envisioned the Divine Presence standing before him, as close as his right hand. He "set the Lord always before him," which means that he consciously chose to regard all he did in relationship with the Master of the Universe. David's focus made his heart steadfast and unshaken during the great trials of his life. The LORD was his Rock and his Salvation.
Love the Stranger as Yourself
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Emor). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
05.11.12 (Iyyar 19, 5772) Our Torah portion this week tells the disturbing story of a man who was executed for blasphemy (see Lev. 24:10-16). We are told that two people, one of whom was described simply as "an Israelite man," and the other the "son of an Israelite woman" named Shelomit (שְׁלמִית), got into a fight in the middle of the camp. During the fight, the son of the Israelite woman "blasphemed" God's Name and cursed. As a result, the man was brought to Moses who then asked God what was to be done. The LORD answered by commanding that those who heard the man blaspheme should personally lay their hands on his head and then the entire community was to stone the man to death...
The sages wonder what might have drove this man to revile God's Name, and they first note that since he was a son of an Egyptian man and an Israelite woman, he was essentially a Jew without a tribe. Moreover, since the right to inherit derived from the father, this man would have had no hope of inheritance in the promised land, no "place" among the people of God... Shelomit was from the tribe of Dan, and the midrash says that her son had appealed to the tribal leaders to provide him with a sense of identity and belonging. Sadly, he was refused, and his hurt and anger at being treated as an outsider eventually led to the fight "in the middle of the camp." Some of the sages place the blame for this man's death on those who refused to help him, since they refused to make him feel like a "member of the tribe." These people should have welcomed him as a brother and remembered their hardship as slaves and strangers in Egypt. Because of their hardness of heart, however, the man was abandoned, and this eventually led to his self-destructive actions. The sages note that the LORD required that the accusers were to first lay hands on this "unnamed man" to make them confront the fact that they were also responsible for his death.
Did you know that one of the most frequently occurring commandments is for the Jew to love the stranger? The commandment is repeated in various forms over 30 times in the Jewish Scriptures, for instance "You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD" (Lev. 19:18); "You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God" (Lev. 19:34); "Love the stranger, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt" (Deut. 10:19); "You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt" (Exod. 22:21); "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong" (Lev. 19:33); "Do not oppress the stranger" (Zech. 7:10); "Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due the stranger" (Deut. 24:19); "The stranger shall be as the native born children of Israel among you" (Ezek. 47:22), and so on. Clearly the LORD does not want people to feel ostracized, excluded, out of place, or otherwise left out of His providential and loving plans... Indeed, the message of the universal love of God is at the heart of the gospel itself, harkening back to God's earliest promises to redeem humanity and restore paradise lost. "Religion," tribalism, prejudice, ethnic pride, and so on, are anathema to the Kingdom of God.
Jewish tradition says that King David was born on Shavuot, the holiday of shtei ha-lechem, the "two loaves" that prophetically foretold of the advent of the "one new man" (Eph. 2:14-22) and of the mysterious inclusion of the Gentiles into the covenant promises of God (Eph. 3:6). God has a great compassion for the outsider, for the lost, and for those who are without inheritance in this world. During Shavuot it is customary to read the Book of Ruth which tells the story about redeeming love and the advent of King David. Recall that King David was a direct descendant of Ruth, who as a Moabitess was an outsider and "stranger" to the promises of God (Ruth 4:17). Despite being part of an despised and rejected group of people (see Deut. 23:3), Ruth overcame the law's demand by believing in the love and acceptance of a redeemer of Israel (Ruth 3:9). Ruth's great grandson was named David (דָוִד), meaning "beloved," which has the same numerical value as the word "hand" (יָד). It is no wonder that the LORD chose David to represent God's extended hand of love for the stranger, for the convert, for the outsider, the leper, and the lost, since his descendant Yeshua the Messiah came to love and redeem the entire world by means of His outstretched hand. "Blessed be the Name of the LORD."
It's been said that a "stranger" is a friend whose name you don't yet know. Just as we are commanded va'ahavta le'reakha kamokha (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ), to love our neighbor as ourselves (Lev. 19:18), so we are commanded ve'ahavta lo kamokha (וְאָהַבְתָּ לוֹ כָּמוֹךָ), to love the stranger as ourselves (Lev. 19:34), and that means opening our hearts toward others to make them feel welcome in our presence. May the LORD our God help each of us to extend love, compassion, and acceptance to everyone we encounter today. Amen.
The Ladder of Sinai...
[ The following is related to the holiday of Shavuot (i.e., "Weeks" or "Pentecost"), which occurs Saturday, May 26th at sundown this year. ]
05.11.12 (Iyyar 19, 5772) The revelation at Sinai and Jacob's vision of the ladder share something in common. Just as Yeshua was the "Voice of the Living God (קוֹל אֱלהִים חַיִּים) speaking (davar) from the midst of the fire" at Sinai (Deut. 5:26), so He was the ascended LORD standing above the ladder speaking the word of promise given earlier to Israel (Gen. 28:12-15). The sages note that the Hebrew word for "ladder," i.e., sullam (סֻלָּם), has the same numerical value as the word Sinai (סִינָי), which suggests that there is a connection between the two great visions. And indeed, Yeshua is sha'ar ha-shamayim - "the Gateway to Heaven," the Bridge or Ladder to God, the very means by which the Living Torah both descends and ascends for the sake of our deliverance (see John 1:51). In other words, the "ladder of Sinai" is not meant for us to ascend to heaven by means of our own effort to attain deliverance, but rather is meant for the LORD our Savior to descend and ascend on our behalf. Yeshua is the way, the truth, and the life (הדֶּרֶךְ וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַחַיִּים): no one can draw near to the Heavenly Father apart from Him (John 14:6).
Keeping your Balance...
05.10.12 (Iyyar 18, 5772) An old chassidic tale says that every person should walk through life with two notes, one in each pocket. On one note should be the words bish'vili niv'ra ha'olam (בִּשְׁבִילִי נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם) -- "For my sake was this world created," and on the other note the words, anokhi afar ve'efer (אָנכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר) -- "I am but dust and ashes." Regarding the former statement, never say, "What does all this have to do with me?" Instead, do your share to supply something missing - be salt and light - and leave the world a little better for your sojourn within it. With regard to the latter statement, always understand that it is only on account of God's love that you exist during this time at all...
Walking by Faith...
05.10.12 (Iyyar 18, 5772) The Hebrew word for "faith" is emunah (אֱמוּנָה), which comes from the verb aman (אָמַן), meaning to uphold, support, to make steady and sure. The Hebrew word for "truth" (אֱמֶת) comes from the same root, as does the word "amen" (אָמֵן), implying that reality is upheld and subsists by the Word of God's power (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:17). Faith enables the soul to perceive the eternal within the transitory, the invisible within the visible, and the Divine Presence in the midst of the whirlwind. When applied to the heart, "faith" is better understood as "faithfulness," since it implies integrity and trustworthiness, and so on. God's faithfulness is connected with His love (חֶסֶד), which means that He can be relied upon to uphold you as you sojourn through this world.
Exercising faith means actively listening to the Eternal Voice, the Word of the LORD that calls out in love in search of your heart's trust... To have faith means justifying God's faith in you, that is, understanding that you are worthy of salvation, that you truly matter to God, and that the Voice calls out your name, too.... Living in faith means consciously accepting that you are accepted by God's love and grace. Trusting God means that you bear ambiguity, heartache, and darkness, yet you still allow hope to enlighten your way.
כִּי־אַתָּה תָּאִיר נֵרִי
יְהוָה אֱלהַי יַגִּיהַּ חָשְׁכִּי
ki · at·tah · ta·ir · ne·ri
Adonai · E·lo·hai · ya·gi·ah · chosh·ki
"For it is you who light my lamp;
the LORD my God enlightens my darkness."
Hebrew Study Card
The Rizhiner Rebbe once said, "Let your light penetrate the darkness until the darkness itself becomes the light and there is no longer a division between the two. As it is written, "And there was evening and there was morning, one day." Yea, the darkness and the light are both alike unto Thee, O LORD, as it is written: "If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you" (Psalm 139:11-12).
"To have faith is to perceive the wonder that is here, and to be stirred by the desire to integrate the self into the holy order of being. Faith does not spring out of nothing. It comes with the discovery of the holy dimension of our existence. Faith means to hold small things great, to take light matters seriously, to distinguish between the common and the passing from the aspect of the lasting. It is from faith from which we draw the sweetness of life, the taste of the sacred, the joy of the imperishably dear. It is faith that offers us a share in eternity." - Abraham Heschel
We walk by faith, not by sight - by hearing the Word of God, heeding what the Spirit of God is saying to the heart... For now we "see through a glass darkly," which literally means "in a riddle" (ἐν αἰνίγματι). A riddle is an analogy given through some resemblance to the truth, though quite often the correspondences are puzzling and obscure. Hence, "seeing through a glass darkly" means perceiving obscurely or imperfectly, looking "through" something else instead of directly apprehending reality. This is contrasted with the "face to face" (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים) vision and clarity given in the world to come, when our knowledge will be clear and distinct, and the truth of God will no longer be hidden. Being "face to face" with reality means being free of the riddles, the analogies, the semblances, etc., which cause us to languish in uncertainty... Now we know in part, but then shall we know in whole.
In light of the obscurity of life in this temporary age, we are encouraged not to lose heart, since though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being raised into newness (ἀνακαινόω) day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). "For our light and transient troubles are achieving for us an everlasting glory whose weight is beyond description, because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17).
Therefore we "walk by faith, not by sight," as if the invisible is indeed visible. We must stay strong and keep hope, for through hope we are saved (Rom. 8:24). Faith is the conviction (ἔλεγχος) of things unseen (Heb. 11:1). Do not be seduced by mere appearances; do not allow yourself to be bewitched into thinking that this world could ever be your home. No, we are strangers and pilgrims here; we are on the journey to the reach "the City of Living God, to heavenly Jerusalem, to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven" (Heb. 12:22-23). Therefore do not lose heart. Keep to the narrow path. Set your affections on things above since your real life is "hidden with God" (Col. 3:1-4). Do not yield to the temptation of despair. Look beyond the "giants of the land" and reckon them as already fallen. Keep pressing on. Chazak, chazak, ve-nit chazek - "Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!" Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called (1 Tim. 6:12).
Is Life Worth Living?
05.10.12 (Iyyar 18, 5772) On account of the great transgression of Adam and Eve, and in light of the ongoing wickedness of mankind, the early sages Hillel and Shammai debated whether humans should have been created. The school of Shammai took the view that it would have been better for humans not to have been created, whereas the school of Hillel opposed them, saying it was better that humans were created. Finally a vote was called for and the decision rendered was this: It would have been better for humans not to have been created than to have been created, but since we are indeed here, let us search our ways regarding what we are to do (Eruvin 13b).
The debate between Hillel and Shammai is not trivial, nor should it be dismissed out of hand. After all, King Solomon was described as the wisest man on earth and yet he despaired over the meaning of life: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Similarly Shakespeare once said that life was little more than "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." William James once said, "In the deepest heart of all of us there is a corner in which the ultimate mystery of things works sadly." This mysterious ache of the soul asks the haunting question: is life worth living, after all?
הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים אָמַר קהֶלֶת
הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים הַכּל הָבֶל
he·vel · ha·va·lim · a·mar · ko·he·let
he·vel · ha·va·lim · ha·kol · ha·vel
"Vanity of vanities," says Kohelet,
"vanity of vanities! All is vanity."
Of course, Christianity clearly agrees with the school of Hillel regarding the question of whether life is worth living. For example, the Westminster Catechism states, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever" (an end, it may be said, that is also man's chief good). Christianity is not a life-denying faith, though it soberly acknowledges that olam hazeh - this world - is very often a vale of tears and a place of testing. Suffering and affliction in this present age are eschatologically justified as the means of apprehending a greater good. The taking up of the cross is the means to a great future good: "For our light momentary affliction (θλῖψις: oppression, "squeezing" (as of grapes), "tsuris") prepares us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor. 4:17). This world is not our home, and we are afflicted with hardship while we sojourn in our exile. Our hearts "groan" (or "sigh," στενάζομεν) to be in heaven with the LORD, though our present state of suffering should be regarded as a temporary and "light" burden that will be fully comforted in the promised world to come.
Vanity has an end, chaverim, and this end affects the entire universe. The prophetic future holds hope that salvation will be literally cosmic in its sweep: "For the creation was subjected to vanity (לַהֶבֶל) not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Rom. 8:20-21). May that day soon come for us, friends!
A few thoughts on Prayer...
05.09.12 (Iyyar 17, 5772) God wants your heart, and prayer is the means by which your heart is offered to Him. "When you pray, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words be without heart" (John Bunyan). Set your affections upward, lift up your soul, and inwardly bow in awe before the Presence of the King who sits upon the Throne of Grace. Pour out your concerns before Him, since He cares for you. Our prayers are answered when we are able to let go and trust God's heart for us (Phil. 4:6-7).
Since prayer is the expression of the heart, it is vital to understand that it means far more than reciting certain "religious" words in formulaic petition. God is not interested in empty prayers any more than he desires heartless sacrifice (Isa. 29:13; Hos. 6:6; Matt. 15:9). King David said (Psalm 35:13): "May what I prayed for happen to me!" (literally, tefillati al-cheki tashuv - "may it return upon my own breast"). Some of our prayers are conscious words spoken to God, whereas others are unconscious expressions of inner heart attitudes. Be careful how you think! It is sobering to realize that our thoughts are essentially prayers being offered up to God... When we will the good of others we find God's favor, healing and life. Yeshua spoke of "good and evil treasures of the heart" that produce actions that are expressed in our words (Luke 6:45). A midrash states that if someone speaks well of another, the angels above will then speak well of him before the Holy One.
"Pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17). The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: I bade you pray in the assembly of your city, but if you cannot pray there, pray in your field, but if you cannot pray there, pray on your bed, but if you cannot pray there, "be still and know that I am God" (Midrash). Therefore pray often -- and sometimes use words...
The late Henri Nouwen wrote, "I am beginning to see that much of praying is grieving," since the confession of the truth when we "come to ourselves" (Luke 15:17) is often painful. When we pray to the LORD, however, it's obvious that we are not imparting to Him any information, since the Master of the Universe knows all things. As King David wrote: ki ein milah bilshoni, hen, Adonai, yadati khulah: "For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, you know it altogether" (Psalm 139:4). Yeshua taught us to abstain from using "vain repetitions" in our prayers, since our Heavenly Father knows what we need before we ask Him (Matt. 6:7-8). Some people think that God is impressed with a large crowd of people who are praying for the same thing, as if this were not another form of "vain repetition." The same can be said of being part of a large prayer list. No, there is no need for the crowd to offer prayer, since God regards the individual heart of faith as sufficient to move a mountain and cast it into the sea (Matt. 21:21). One heartfelt prayer that makes real contact with the LORD is better than thousands of people praying for someone or some situation of which they know next to nothing on a prayer chain... True prayer, then, is a means of reverent listening, or quieting ourselves, so that we might hear what the Spirit of God is saying... When you pray bekhol levavkha, with all your heart, you apprehend God's glory and express your desire to Him. You are then enabled to intercede for others by means of the Holy Spirit with "groanings too deep for words" (Rom. 8:26).
Finally, we must remember that prayer is essentially a response to God's call for us... In that sense, prayer is a kind of teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה), a word often translated as "repentance," though it's more accurately understood as turning (shuv) to God in response to His call. God's love for us is the question, and our turning of the heart toward Him is the answer. We are able to turn to God because the LORD first turns to us:
"Father in Heaven! You have loved us first, help us never to forget that You are love so that this sure conviction might triumph in our hearts over the seduction of the world, over the inquietude of the soul, over the anxiety for the future, over the fright of the past, over the distress of the moment. But grant also that this conviction might discipline our soul so that our heart might remain faithful and sincere in the love which we bear to all those whom You have commanded us to love as we love ourselves.
You have loved us first, O God, alas! We speak of it in terms of history as if You have only loved us first but a single time, rather than that without ceasing You have loved us first many things and every day and our whole life through. When we wake up in the morning and turn our soul toward You - You are the first - You have loved us first; if I rise at dawn and at the same second turn my soul toward You in prayer, You are there ahead of me, You have loved me first. When I withdraw from the distractions of the day and turn my soul toward You, You are the first and thus forever. And yet we always speak ungratefully as if You have loved us first only once.
- Soren Kierkegaard (Prayers of Kierkegaard)
Countdown to Shavuot...
05.08.12 (Iyyar 16, 5772) We are in the midst of the 49 day "countdown" that runs from the second day of Passover until the holiday of Shavuot ("Weeks" or "Pentecost"). This seven week period is called "Counting the Omer" (סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר) in Jewish tradition (Lev. 23:15-16). During the Temple period, on each of these days an appointed priest would wave a sheaf (omer) of barley before the LORD as a symbolic gesture of dedicating the coming harvest to Him. This ceremony was called tenufat ha-omer ("waving of the sheaf"). On the 50th day, however, a sample of the first crop of the wheat harvest was baked into two loaves of leavened bread (called "Shtei Ha-Lechem," שְׁתֵּי הַלֶּחֶם) and waved before the altar as the climactic rite of the season (Lev. 23:15-20). Notice that this was the only time that otherwise forbidden chametz (leaven) was used by the priests for worship (see Lev. 2:11).
The holiday of Shavuot is regarded as the culmination of the experience of redemption, sometimes called Atzaret Pesach, the "Conclusion of Passover." It is therefore the end (τέλος) or goal of the redemption experience for believers. Just as the redemption by the blood of the lambs led to Israel's deliverance and the giving of the Torah at Sinai (סִינַי), so the redemption by the blood of Yeshua led to the world's deliverance and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Zion (צִיּוֹן). And just as the covenant at Sinai effectively created the nation of Israel, so the new covenant at Zion created the worldwide people of God, redeemed from "every tribe and tongue" (Rev. 5:9).
The goal of Passover redemption was to set us free to become God's own treasured people (i.e., am segulah: עַם סְגֻלָּה), a light to the nations: ambassadors for Heaven's voice. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) is therefore the climax of redemption, imparting the presence of the Comforter (παράκλητος) to help us live sanctified lives (Acts 1:8).
Rooted in Love...
05.08.12 (Iyyar 16, 5772) Faith receives; love gives... Love walks out faith. We can only give away what we are able to receive, and therefore we ask God to help us receive so that we can impart hope to those in need (2 Cor. 1:3-5). We receive from Him so that we might be able to give. Even our afflictions are permitted so that we can offer consolation to others who are in need. As St. Francis once prayed, "O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life." Amen.
God's love is such that it is never diminished as it is given away, 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).
Thank you for being here, for regularly visiting this web site... You encourage my heart every day. I earnestly ask the LORD God of Israel, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to bless you, keep you, and shine the light of His countenance upon you... "May He grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts 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, and to know the love of Messiah that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:16-19).
Sincerity of Heart...
05.08.12 (Iyyar 16, 5772) The heart of a child... God prefers sincerity of the heart, passion borne of mercy, the "weightier matters" of Torah, more than mere religious rites or sacrifice. "God of my ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, hear my voice. My heart is filled with love for you, but I am not a learned man, and I am lost for words before you... The only thing that I know is the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, so, please, Master of the Universe, accept the letters from me, and combine them to be words of blessing and praise to Your Name. Aleph... Bet... Gimmel... Dalet..." (Adapted from a Chassidic folktale)
כִּי־רָם יְהוָה וְשָׁפָל יִרְאֶה
וְגָבהַּ מִמֶּרְחָק יְיֵדָע
ki · ram · Adonai · ve·sha·fal · yir·eh
ve·ga·vo·ah · mi·mer·chak · ye·e·dah
"For though the LORD is exalted, He regards the lowly,
but the haughty He knows from afar."
Hebrew Study Card
Just as the LORD, at the beginning of creation, made the world yesh me'ayin, "out of nothing," so His creative power continues unchanged. God takes what is infinitely nothing, what is worthless, despised, and dead, and creates it new, for the sake of His glory. He is able to take a dead heart, a heart of stone, and make it tender and soft through the breath of His Spirit... Therefore His eyes look upon the lowly, the humble, the poor in spirit, but He disregards those who lift themselves up in pride.
Blessed Hunger and Thirst
05.07.12 (Iyyar 15, 5772) What prompts us to keep pressing on, to keep searching for the LORD? Is it not a sense that something is still missing from life? Our desire for undying, unconditional love draws us to the Savior, and therefore our yearning for deliverance is a blessing in disguise. After all, would we seek God apart from hunger, thirst, yissurim, troubles? Many of us are impelled because we seek release from acute and painful inner conflict, yet the "thorn in the flesh" is meant to reveal the sufficiency of grace.
תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ
ta·mim · ti·he·yeh · im · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha
"You shall be wholehearted with the LORD your God"
In the Sefer Torah (i.e., the handwritten Torah scroll), the first letter of the word tamim ("wholehearted") is written extra LARGE in order to emphasize the importance of the word. The word tamim (תָּמִים) means "finished," "complete," "perfect" or "thoroughly made." The Scriptures state that a "double-minded man is unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8). The word translated "double-minded" is dipsuchos (δίψυχος), a word formed from δίς, "twice" and ψυχή, "soul." The word describes the spiritual condition of having "two souls" that both want different things at once. It is therefore a state of inner contradiction, of having two separate minds holding contradictory thoughts. "How long will you go limping between two opinions?" Obviously being two-soulled is the opposite of being singlehearted...
The antidote for having a "double-mind" is explicitly given in the Scriptures: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8). For how long? For as long as we have breath, since we will always need His healing touch during the days of our sojourning here on earth. Often we are not able to let go of our sins until we hurt enough and get "sick of our sickness." In the world to come we will forever be healed of our inner conflicts, though in this world we must press on and keep asking the LORD to give us purity of heart to will one thing.... Don't lose hope. God is there to help us, one day at a time, chaverim.
A warning about making resolutions is given by Kierkegaard: "The devil uses many arts to tempt a human being, by means of high-minded resolutions, or rather by talk about them and admiration of them, together with the subsequent distaste when a person sees how little he can do, wants to induce him to give up everything. No, we creep before we learn to walk, and to want to fly is precarious. To be sure, there are great decisions, but even in regard to them the main thing is to activate one's resolution, lest one become so high-flying in the resolution that one forgets to walk" (Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses). Allow me to quote Kierkegaard again in this connection: "Faith expressly signifies the deep, strong, blessed restlessness that drives the believer so that he cannot settle down at rest in this world, and therefore the person who has settled down completely at rest has also ceased to be a believer, because a believer cannot sit still as one sits with a pilgrim's staff in one's hand - a believer travels forward..." (Upbuilding Discourses)
Pathways of Chesed
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Emor). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
05.07.12 (Iyyar 15, 5772) Our Torah portion this week lists the eight main holidays revealed in the Jewish Scriptures. In the Torah, these "holidays" are called "appointed times" (i.e., mo'edim: מוֹעֲדִים), a word which comes from a root meaning witness (עֵד). Other words formed from this root include edah (עֵדָה), a congregation, edut (עֵדוּת), a testimony, and so on. The related verb ya'ad (יָעַד) means to meet, assemble, or even to betroth. The significance of the holy days, then, is for the covenant people of the LORD to bear witness to God's love and faithfulness. As it is written:
כָּל־אָרְחוֹת יְהוָה חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת
לְנצְרֵי בְרִיתוֹ וְעֵדתָיו
kol · or·chot · Adonai · che·sed · ve·e·met
le·no·tze·rei · ve·ri·to · ve·e·do·tav
"All the paths of the LORD are love and truth
to the ones guarding His covenant and His testimonies."
Hebrew Study Card
Metaphorically the paths of the Lord (orechot Adonai) are likened to ruts or grooves created by the wheels of a caravan (ארְחָה) passing repeatedly over the same ground. These paths signify the Divine Presence journeying with God's children in this world. In temporal terms, we are able to discern the path by means of the divine calendar. God's love and faithfulness attend to His covenant (brit) and to the commemorations of the yearly "appointed times" which testify to God's love and faithfulness. Keeping God's testimonies, then, means that we will be careful to observe the holidays in order to witness to God's truth...
Keeping your Perspective...
05.07.12 (Iyyar 15, 5772) "To be rich, to be famous? What do these profit a year hence, when other names sound louder than yours, when you lie hidden away under ground, along with idle titles engraven on your coffin? But only true love lives after you - follows your memory with secret blessings - or precedes you, intercedes for you" (William Makepeace Thackeray). As Yeshua our Lord said, "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?" (Matt. 16:26).
The Principle of Rest...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Emor). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
05.07.12 (Iyyar 15, 5772) In Jewish tradition, the Sabbath is regarded as the first and most important of the holy days, since it is both a memorial of God's work of creation (Exod. 20:11; 31:17) and of the redemption from Egypt by the blood of the lamb (Deut. 5:15). It is "the foremost day of the holy festivals marking the Exodus from Egypt" recalling the LORD as our King and our Redeemer. In our Torah portion this week we read that the seventh day is "a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation (מִקְרָא־קדֶשׁ). You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the LORD in all your dwelling places" (Lev. 23:3). Notice that the gematria of the phrase, "you shall do no work" (i.e., כָּל־מְלָאכָה לא תַעֲשׂוּ) is 953, the same numeric value as the verse: "Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him, and He will act" (Psalm 37:5).
וגּוֹל עַל־יְהוָה דַּרְכֶּךָ
וּבְטַח עָלָיו וְהוּא יַעֲשֶׂה
gol · al · Adonai · dar·ke·kha
u·ve·tach · a·lav · ve·hu · ya·a·seh
"Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in Him, and He will act on your behalf."
Hebrew Study Card
If we trust in the LORD by refraining from our own devices, He will work for us, acting on our behalf, so that we find rest for our souls. This is the true principle of Shabbat - resting in God's provision of grace. As the Sabbath above, so the Sabbath below. Yeshua cried out, "It is finished," referring to the work of redemption performed on our behalf. "Therefore there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from His" (Heb. 4:9-10).
Use the good eye...
05.07.12 (Iyyar 15, 5772) "If you treat me as if I were what I ought to be and could be, I will become what I ought to be and could be" (Johann von Goethe). The central rule of Torah is "you shall love your fellow as yourself" (Lev. 19:18). Loving others requires having a "good eye," as opposed to a "grudging eye" that squints in criticism. In Hebrew, a "grudging eye" (ayin tzara) literally means using a "narrow look," that is, refusing to see the bigger picture. How we choose to see others is often prophetic and is an exercise of faith. Love "hopes all things... believes all things (1 Cor. 13:7). Choosing to see the potential good in others creates the opportunity for the good to come to life.
וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ
ve·a·hav·ta · le·re·a·kha · ka·mo·kha
a·ni · Adonai
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD."
Hebrew Study Card
The "like-for-like" nature of love means that it is reciprocal. "If I dwell in Thy Presence today, I will dwell there all days. How that may be I do not know, but that it may be is my hope." Even in our worst moments the LORD uses the "good eye" to see us, and therefore we can affirm: "Thou art with me, and thy rod and staff comfort me." As King David mused, "Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I descend to Sheol, you are there" (Psalm 139:8-9).
Christ commands you to "love your neighbor as yourself." But this "as yourself"? Certainly no wrestler can get so tight a grasp upon his opponent as that which this commandment gets on our selfish hearts. The commandment is so easy to understand, and yet we must be broken in spirit to follow it. As Jacob limped after he had wrestled with God, so shall our selfishness be broken when it has wrestled with this commandment. Yet this commandment does not teach that a man should not love himself; rather, it teaches him the proper kind of self-love. Christianity presupposes that a man loves himself, and adds that in loving himself he should also love his neighbor. - Kierkegaard: Works of Love
The central commandment of Torah is "you shall love," but such love requires that we believe in the vindication of the good. Therefore refuse to accept the world's dark propaganda and dialectic; repudiate the temptation to embrace cynicism or despair. Don't let the devil and this world blacken your heart or cause your eye to squint at others in fear. The spirit of the world traffics in fear, hatred, and death, but we overcome evil with good. Walk counterculturally, full of faith in the invisible hand of God. As Luther once said, "If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere fight and disgrace if he flinches at that point."
Parashat Emor - אמור
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Emor). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
05.06.12 (Iyyar 14, 5772) Parashat Emor contains more mitzvot (commandments) regarding holiness than any other Torah portion (the sages identify no less than 63). In addition, the portion provides a list of the eight main holidays, or "appointed times" (i.e., mo'edim: מוֹעֲדִים), found in the Jewish Scriptures. These "festivals of life" are sometimes called mikra'ei kodesh (מִקְרָאֵי קדֶשׁ), "times in which holiness is proclaimed" (Lev. 23:2). Note that this is the first time that the Torah reveals a comprehensive description of the festivals of the year, which include the following:
- The Sabbath - weekly observance of Shabbat that commemorates God as the Creator of the world. According to the sages, Shabbat is the most important of the appointed times, even more important than Yom Kippur and the Ten Days of Awe. There are 54 weekly Sabbaths in a "leap year" and 50 for regular years...
- Pesach (Nisan 15), also called Passover.
- Unleavened Bread (Nisan 15-22); note that the Counting of the Omer is first mentioned in this section of Torah (Lev. 23:9-16).
- Firstfruits (Nisan 17), also called Reishit Katzir.
- Shavuot (Sivan 6), also called Pentecost.
- Yom Teru'ah (Tishri 1), also called Rosh Hashanah (note that this is the first time this is revealed in Torah).
- Yom Kippur (Tishri 10) also called the Day of Atonement.
- Sukkot (Tishri 15-22) also called Tabernacles (note that this is the first time the commandments to dwell in a Sukkah and to wave the arba minim (four species) are mentioned in the Torah).
Notice that there is a restatement of the commandment to leave food for the poor and the stranger (pe'ah, leket, etc.) that appears right in the midst of the list of the holidays (see Lev. 23:22), which the sages said was intended to remind us to help those in need, especially during these times. Hence the giving of tzedakah is a regular part of the Jewish holidays (e.g., giving ma'ot chittim [מַעוֹת חִטִּים] "money for wheat" during Passover, matanot la'evyonim [מַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיוֹנִים] for Purim, and so on). The sages ask, "Why did the Torah place the mitzvah of helping the poor while speaking about the holidays and their particular sacrifices? To teach us the greatness of charity: 'God credits whoever gives charity to the poor as if they built the Holy Temple and presented offerings therein to God.' Giving a gift to the poor is giving a gift to God Himself!"
Since there are at least 50 weekly Sabbaths in a Jewish year in addition to the seven prescribed holidays (not to mention Rosh Chodesh and the other holidays such as Purim, Chanukah, Israel Independence Day, etc.), it is no wonder that the Scriptures declare: "A person with a cheerful heart has a continual celebration" (Prov. 15:15). The moedim are times to cheerfully give thanks to the LORD for all He has done....
In this connection, notice that the calendar is divided into two equal parts of exactly six lunar months each, both of which center on redemptive rituals and end with harvests. The first half of the divine calendar begins on Rosh Chodashim (i.e., Nisan 1; Exod. 12:2), which is followed by the instructions to select the Passover lamb on Nisan 10 (Exod. 12:3), slaughter it in the late afternoon of 14th (Exod. 12:6-7) and eat it on the 15th (Exod. 12:8). The Passover itself initiated the seven day period of unleavened bread (from Nisan 15-22), wherein no leaven was to be consumed (Exod. 12:15-20). On an agricultural level, Passover represents spring, the season of the firstfruit harvests (i.e., chag ha-katzir: חַג הַקָּצִיר), and so on. On the "other side of the calendar," Yom Teruah (or Rosh Hashanah) marks the start of the second half of the year (Exod. 23:16, Lev. 23:24), which is followed by the Yom Kippur sacrifice ten days later, on Tishri 10 (Lev. 23:27), followed by the weeklong festival of Sukkot ("Tabernacles") that occurs from Tishri 15-22 (Lev. 23:34-36). On an agricultural level, Sukkot represents the reaping of the fall harvest (i.e., chag ha'asif: חַג הָאָסִף) at the "end of the year" (Exod. 23:16). In other words, in some respects the fall holidays "mirror" the spring holidays on the divine calendar, and indeed, both sides of the calendar represent different aspects of God's redemptive plan for the world. As I've written about elsewhere, the spring holidays represent the first advent of Yeshua (i.e., Yeshua as Suffering Servant, Lamb of God, Messiah ben Yosef), whereas the fall holidays represent His second advent (Yeshua as Conquering Lord, Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Messiah ben David).
In an attempt to include Chanukah and Purim as apart of the divine calendar revealed in the Torah, the Jewish sages note that immediately after the LORD revealed these holidays, he instructed Moses to keep the menorah in the Holy Place of the Mishkan burning continually (ner tamid) and to provide weekly "showbread," or twelve loaves of bread on the shulchan inside the Holy Place. The sages say that the instructions regarding the oil of the menorah alludes to Chanukah, whereas the lechem ha-panim ("showbread") alludes to hester panim - or "hiding of face" and the nes nistar (hidden miracle) of the Esther story.
Cycles of Time...
Instead of thinking of time as a linear sequence of events (i.e., the measurement of linear, progressive motion), Jewish thinking tends to regard it in terms of a spiral or "helix," with a forward progression delimited by an overarching (and divine) pattern that recurs cyclically throughout the weeks, months, and years of life. This can be seen in the Hebrew language itself. Some of the sages note that the Hebrew word for "year" - shanah (שָׁנָה) - shares the same root as both the word "repeat" (שָׁנָה) and the word "change" (שִׁנָּה). In other words, the idea of the "Jewish year" implies ongoing "repetition" - mishnah (מִשְׁנָה) - or an enduring "review" of the key prophetic events of redemptive history as they relived in our present experiences... (The idea that the events of the fathers were "parables" for us is expressed in the maxim: מַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹת סִימָן לַבָּנִים / ma'aseh avot siman labanim: "The deeds of the fathers are signs for the children.") The Jewish year then repeats itself thematically, but it also changes from year to year as we progress closer to the coming Day of Redemption... We see this very tension (i.e., constancy-change), for example, in the "dual aspect" of the ministry of Yeshua our Messiah. In His first advent Yeshua came as our Suffering Servant and thereby fulfilled the latent meaning of the spring holidays, and in His second advent He will fulfill the latent meaning of the fall holidays. Nonetheless, we still commemorate both the "type and its fulfillment" every year during Passover by extending the ritual of the Seder to express the reality of Yeshua as the world's "Lamb of God," just as we commemorate the fall holidays in expectation of His rule and reign as our King....
None of this is meant to suggest, by the way, that there isn't an "end point" in the process - a Day in which we will be with God and enjoy His Presence forever... The idea of the "cycles" of time, or "timeless patterns in time," suggests, however, that the "seed" for our eternal life with God has already been sown - and was indeed foreknown even from the Garden of Eden, despite the fact that we presently groan while awaiting the glory of heaven.
Shabbat Table Talk (אחרי מות־קדשים)
[ This week we have a "double portion" of Torah: Acharei Mot and Kedoshim (i.e., Leviticus 16:1-20:27). Please read the Torah portions to find your place here... ]
05.04.12 (Iyyar 12, 5772) This week we have a "double portion" of Torah. The first portion (i.e., Acharei Mot) describes the Yom Kippur ritual to purify the Tabernacle, and the second portion (i.e., Kedoshim) provides a series of commandments concerning the practical expression of holiness in daily life: "Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy" (Lev. 19:2). You can download the Shabbat Table Talks for both these portions here:
The call to live a holy, separate life before the LORD requires that we are imbued with the truth of God. We are living in stressful times, chaverim. The Apostle Paul 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 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... "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."
If you are afraid of man, understand that this comes not from the Spirit of God, but rather from the enemy of our souls... God is as close as your heart and mouth, and therefore we stand in His Presence, and we must live in awe of Him... We are not to be like the world that lives in terror of man, lusting after security from the vain devices of mere men. No - look to the LORD God Almighty, the Master of the Universe.... "What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:27-28).
Yeshua said to Pontius Pilate, "For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world - to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:38). "You are to distinguish between the holy (i.e., ha-kadosh: הַקּדֶשׁ) and the common (i.e., ha-chol: הַחל), and between the unclean (i.e., ha-tamei: הַטָּמֵא) and the clean (i.e., ha-tahor: הַטָּהוֹר)" (Lev. 10:10, see also Ezek. 44:23). Just as God separated the light from the darkness (Gen. 1:4), so we are called to discern between (בֵּין) the realms of the holy and the profane, the sacred and the common, and the clean and the unclean. Indeed, the Torah states "God called the light Day, and the darkness he called night," thereby associating His Name with the light but not with the darkness (Gen. 1:5). "For you all are sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness" (1 Thess. 5:5). We are instructed therefore to wear the "armor of light" (Rom. 13:12) and to be equipped to wage spiritual warfare in God's Name (Eph. 6:11-18).
Time is nearly up for this world, chaverim... "The nations rage, their kingdoms totter; He utters his voice, the earth melts. Adonai Tzeva'ot imanu - the LORD of hosts is with us; our fortress is the God of Jacob. Selah" (Psalm 46:6-7). If you were to die tonight, what would happen to your eternal soul? Are you certain of your acceptance before the Father, and if so, on what basis? There is a way that seems right ... even for the professing Christian. The Messiah admonished us to "enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many" (Matt. 7:14).
Shabbat Shalom, chaverim, and may the Light of the Divine Presence, the "armor of light" (Rom. 13:12), surround you like a fiery shield as you walk by faith, not by sight, in this dark world... In the Name of Yeshua, the very Light of the World: Amen.
Seeing God's Face...
[ This week we have another "double portion" of Torah: Acharei Mot and Kedoshim (i.e., Leviticus 16:1-20:27). Please read the Torah portions to find your place here... ]
05.03.12 (Iyyar 11, 5772) A Roman emperor once asked Rabbi Joshua if the universe had a ruler. The sage answered, indeed, the LORD is the Creator of all things, as it is written, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." The emperor then asked, "Why is God not like the emperor of Rome, who is seen twice a year so that people may know and worship him?" Rabbi Joshua said that unlike human kings, the LORD was too powerful for people to see; as it is written in the Torah: "No person shall see Me and live." The emperor was skeptical, however, and insisted that unless he could physically see God, he would be unable to believe. Rabbi Joshua then pointed to the sun high in the sky: "Look into the sun and you will see God." The emperor tried to look into the sun, but was forced to cover his eyes to keep them from burning: "I cannot look into the sun," he said. Joshua then replied: "Listen to yourself: If you cannot look into the sun which is but one of God's creations, how can you expect to look at God?" (Sefer HaAggadah)
It is interesting to compare this story with another... Leo Tolstoy tells the parable of an old cobbler who despaired of life and yearned to finally see God. In a dream one night a heavenly voice told that he would see God's face the very next day. The cobbler began the day on the alert, hoping to catch a glimpse of God, but he was distracted when he encountered a needy family. They were cold and desperate, so he took them in and cared for them. The day passed and as he finally laid down to sleep, the cobbler realized he had completely forgotten to look for God. He apologized to God and once again asked to die... As he fell asleep he dreamed that he saw the family he had helped walking by when the heavenly voice then said, "Rest assured: you saw God today in the faces of those you helped." "Truly, as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me" (Matt. 25:40).
וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ
ve·a·hav·ta · le·re·a·kha · ka·mo·kha
a·ni · Adonai
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD."
Hebrew Study Card
"He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen... Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever truly loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. " (1 John 4:7-8).
The Heart of Prayer...
05.02.12 (Iyyar 10, 5772) The late Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) wrote, "I am beginning to see that much of praying is grieving," and that rings true to my heart. When we pray to the LORD, it's obvious that we are not imparting to Him any information, since He knows everything, of course. As King David wrote: ki ein milah bilshoni, hen, Adonai, yadati khulah: "For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, you know it altogether" (Psalm 139:4). Yeshua taught us to abstain from using "vain repetitions" in our prayers, since our Heavenly Father knows what we need before we even ask Him (Matt. 6:7-8). The real business of prayer is to give voice to the cry of our heart, to express our need for God's love, and to offer up sincere thanks to Him for the gift of eternal life...
שִׁמְעָה־תְפִלָּתִי יְהוָה וְשַׁוְעָתִי הַאֲזינָה
אֶל־דִּמְעָתִי אַל־תֶּחֱרַשׁ כִּי גֵר אָנכִי עִמָּךְ
shim·ah · te·fil·la·ti · Adonai · ve·shav·a·ti · ha·a·zi·nah
el · dim·a·ti · al · te·che·rash · ki · ger · a·no·khi · i·makh
to·shav · ke·khol · a·vo·tai
"Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry;
hold not your peace at my tears! For I am a sojourner with you,
a guest, like all my fathers."
Hebrew Study Card
Soren Kierkegaard once wrote that the purpose of prayer is not to influence God but rather to change the nature of the one who prays. When we get past our words -- our chatter, the insecurities that rise from our hearts, the cares of the day, even our hopes and dreams -- then we are sufficiently quieted to encounter God. It is then that we can truly listen and begin to apprehend something of God's glory.... It is then that we can grieve over our lives and the lives of others in naked dependence upon God.
Ultimately prayer is a way of listening for the heart of the LORD. As Kierkegaard also wrote, "A person usually desires far too many things, lets his soul flutter with every breeze. But he who prays knows how to make distinctions; little by little he gives up that which according to his earthly conception is less important, since he does not really dare to come before God with it... To pray is not to listen to oneself speak but is to become silent and to remain silent, to wait until the one praying hears from God."
Pilfering Grace from the Gospel...
05.02.12 (Iyyar 10, 5772) The New Testament says that "the righteousness of God" is revealed to the heart of faith, since "the righteous shall live by faith" - tzaddik be'emunato yicheh (צַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה) [Rom. 1:17; Hab. 2:4]. This is the righteousness of God manifested apart from the law (Rom. 3:21), or the "righteousness [of God] imputed apart from works" (Rom. 4:6). Regarding the justification of Abraham, the apostle Paul writes, "Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due, but to the one who does not work but trusts in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness" (Rom. 4:4-5). "He did not waver in unbelief about the promise of God but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God. He was fully convinced that what God promised he was also able to do, and therefore it was credited to Abraham as righteousness" (Rom. 4:20-22). "For by grace (חֶסֶד) you have been saved through faith (אֱמוּנָה), and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). Salvation is not the result of human merit or the mere adherence to certain religious rituals, since "the righteous shall find life" by trusting in the Lord's imputed righteousness. As it is written, "salvation belongs to the LORD."
הִנֵּה עֻפְּלָה לא־יָשְׁרָה נַפְשׁוֹ בּוֹ
וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה
hin·nei u·pe·lah lo ya·she·rah naf·sho bo
ve·tzad·dik be·e·mu·na·to yich·yeh
"Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall find life by means of his trust."
Hebrew Study Card
v'tzaddik be'emunato yich'yeh: "The righteous shall find life through trusting." Faith is the essence of all true Torah from heaven, since apart from faith we are spiritually dead and "powerless (ἀδύνατος) to please God" (Heb. 11:6). Indeed the very purpose of creation is to receive the love of the Creator, and consequently whoever disregards or suppresses this truth necessarily fails to apprehend the essential reason for his or her existence. As David said, "The LORD is near to all who call upon Him - to all who call upon Him in the truth" (Psalm 145:18). God is near to the honest soul who confesses the truth about his need, though God distances himself from the proud and "puffed up" soul...
In general, Jewish tradition seems to go two ways with the idea of Torah as halakhah (i.e., law). On the one hand, it tends to enumerate the various legalities of the Scriptures and to engage in halakhic (legal) discussions regarding "case law," yet on the other hand it seeks to distill the various commandments to more general principles that are fewer and fewer in number. For example, in the Talmud (Makkot 23b-24a) the discussion goes from an enumeration of the 613 commandments identified in the written Torah, to David's reduction of the number to 11 (Psalm 15), to Isaiah's reduction of the number to six (Isaiah 33:15-16); to Micah's reduction to three (Micah 6:8); to Isaiah's further reduction to two (Isaiah 56:1); to the one essential commandment by Habakuk ("But the righteous shall live by his faith" - Hab. 2:4). In this connection is instructive to note that the apostle Paul had earlier distilled the all of the commandments of the Torah to this same principle of faith (Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11, Heb. 10:38).
In light of the New Testament's emphatic teaching that faith in God's love is central, we have to wonder how much Rabbinical Judaism (unwittingly) "borrows" hope from the message of Yeshua and the gospel... After all, after the Second Temple had been destroyed (in direct fulfillment of the prophecy of Yeshua), Judaism had to "reinvent" itself apart from the legalities of the Torah (e.g., the laws of the sacrificial system constitute more than 40% of the commandments). If the rabbis appeal to the authority of the "oral law," however, we must remember that the Mishnah was not compiled until 200 years after the time of Yeshua and the apostles... Even today we see this "borrowing of grace" among the rabbis. They assume that the Torah's commandments have somehow been "suspended," despite the fact that the need for blood atonement, etc., is central to all Torah-true faith, and indeed, is the central idea of the revelation given at Sinai itself... The rabbis want a "righteousness apart from the law" but are unwilling to turn to Yeshua as their Savior and LORD... They must do teshuvah and understand that apart from Yeshua, there is no life. (This is not unlike the atheist who likewise "steals" hope despite the implications of their dismal worldview... After all, the atheist still wants to be able to talk about love, hope, goodness, and so on, though these words are used to hide from the metaphysical tragedy of their lives.)
Of course institutionalized Christianity may also "pilfer grace," since it can cling to oblique forms of legalism or proffer forgiveness without the need for real conviction.... As I said yesterday, Christianity is easy if it is merely regarded as "interesting" or "insightful," since then it pleases people and requires nothing in return. Even easier it is to flatter others, to tickle their ears, and to build up their ego in the name of spirituality or religion. However, when the demand comes, when people understand that there is a real and eternal obligation to authentically live in light of its truth - even to their own potential loss - then the interest quickly fades...
There is simply no grace of God given apart from Yeshua, and it is only through Him that any soul may find salvation (Acts 4:12). Whoever has the Son has the life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5:12).
The LORD will preserve you...
[ Life in Messiah is a journey back home... The following is meant to assure you that God is with you, even in moments of darkness, and He will help you reach the goal... ]
05.02.12 (Iyyar 10, 5772) "I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion (ἐπιτελέω) at the Day of Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil 1:6). The LORD is able to guard you (φυλάξαι) from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy (Jude 1:24). "He will preserve you (βεβαιόω) to the end, guiltless in the Day of our Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Cor. 1:8). He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it (1 Thess. 5:24). "The Lord is faithful (נֶאֱמָן הוּא): He will establish you and guard you against the evil one" (2 Thess. 3:3).
סוֹמֵךְ יְהוָה לְכָל־הַנּפְלִים
so·mekh · Adonai · le·khol · ha·no·fe·lim
ve·zo·kef · le·khol · ha·ke·fu·fim
"The LORD upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down."
Hebrew Study Card
"He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young" (Isa. 40:11). As our Good Shepherd said, "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans for shalom and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope" (Jer. 29:11).
יְהוָה יִגְמר בַּעֲדִי
יְהוָה חַסְדְּךָ לְעוֹלָם
מַעֲשֵׂי יָדֶיךָ אַל־תֶּרֶף
Adonai · yig·mor · ba·a·di
Adonai · chas·de·kha · le·o·lam
ma·a·sei · ya·de·kha · al · te·ref
"The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me;
Your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.
Do not let go of the work of Your hands!"
Hebrew Study Card
Note that I translated the verb teref (תֶּרֶף) - which comes from the verb rafa (רָפָה) - as "let go," as if the hands were slackened. "The LORD is your keeper (יְהוָה שׁמְרֶךָ); the LORD is your shade on your right hand" (Psalm 121:5). "As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me" (Psalm 40:11). Because God's chesed (love) endures forever, we have confidence that His passion will never relent for our eternal good. O LORD, tighten your grip on me and never let me go!
Who is like the LORD our God among the so-called gods of the nations? Let us make our boast in Him alone (1 Cor. 1:31; Psalm 105:3; Jer. 9:23-24). YHVH is the First and the Last, and every knee shall bow to Him in praise (Isa. 44:6; 45:22-24; Phil. 2:10). His is the Name above all other names, and it is only through the grace of the LORD our God Yeshua that any soul finds salvation, since there eternal life in no one else (Acts 4:12). Whoever has the Son has the life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5:12). Therefore yehi shem Adonai mevorakh: "Let the Name of the LORD be blessed."
מִי־כָמכָה בָּאֵלִם יְהוָה
מִי כָּמכָה נֶאְדָּר בַּקּדֶשׁ
נוֹרָא תְהִלּת עשֵׂה פֶלֶא
mi · kha·mo·khah · ba·e·lim · Adonai
mi · ka·mo·khah · ne·dar · ba·ko·desh
no·ra te·hil·lot · o·seh · fe·leh
"Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in praise, doing wonders?"
Hebrew Study Card
Love's Greater Strength...
05.01.12 (Iyyar 9, 5772) Among other things, the cross of Messiah teaches us to distrust the realm of mere appearance in order to discern what is real, abiding, and true... The cross transposes the values of this world by revealing that the inner is not the outer, and vice versa. At the cross the holy becomes the profane, the righteous becomes the condemned, and - baruch Hashem - the other way around. The cross is the place of great exchange (2 Cor. 5:21). For those enslaved by the "matrix" of this world, the message of the cross is regarded as "foolishness," since the world cannot comprehend how grace can overturn "karma" (i.e., law); however, to those who are saved, the cross represents the very power of God (1 Cor. 1:18). The cross of Messiah overturns the heartless wisdom of this world by offering God's heart and love for the world's outcasts...
We "walk by faith, not by sight," and therefore we must live as if the invisible is visible... The LORD God Almighty is on the throne, despite the prevalence of wickedness and depravity in this world. The Scriptures foretell of the increase of wickedness during the prophesied "End of Days" before the Great Tribulation (2 Tim. 3:1-5), yet meanwhile the LORD continues to offer His forbearance and salvation to the world, "not willing that any should perish, but that all should turn to Him in teshuvah" (2 Pet. 3:9). God's forbearance is a demonstration of His great strength, since "in order to forgive sin, it is necessary to have power, just as one must have power in order to return strength to the sick." As Tolstoy once wrote, "Do not think that courage lies only in boldness and power. The highest courage is the courage to be above your rage and to love a person that has offended you."
גֵּוִי נָתַתִּי לְמַכִּים וּלְחָיַי לְמרְטִים
פָּנַי לא הִסְתַּרְתִּי מִכְּלִמּוֹת וָרק
ge·vi · na·ta·ti · le·mak·kim · u·le·cha·yai · le·mo·re·tim
pa·nai · lo · his·tar·ti · mik·li·mot · va·rok
"I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those
who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting."
This verse unquestionably refers to the public scourging of Yeshua our LORD, since there is no evidence that Isaiah ever underwent such treatment (see Luke 18:32). Yeshua was brutally whipped, his beard was literally ripped or torn off his face (the Septuagint renders it, "and my cheeks to blows"), and he was shamefully spat upon – despite being the King of kings of kings... Despite being mocked and humiliated, the Messiah did not retaliate, nor did he invoke divine power to avenge himself or protect his honor and office. The Apostle comments: "When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to the One who judges justly" (1 Pet. 2:23). There is strength that cannot be overcome by the carnal world and its devices; there is the heart of God that decrees his love is stronger than death itself.
Part of the Torah of Yeshua (תּוֹרַת ישׁוּעַ) is to love our enemies and to do good to them (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27). Likewise, the apostle commands to overcome evil with goodness (Rom. 12:21). Being able to love our enemies is truly miraculous, because we are naturally wired to seek revenge when others hurt us... Loving an enemy is surely the highest form of love, and therefore only God can help us do this, chaverim. "What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:27-28).
Leo Tolstoy tells this story about suffering wrong for the sake of God's love:
"Abu Ganifakh died in a prison in Baghdad in which he'd been put by Caliph al-Mansur for refusing to accept the teaching of Kaad. Once, before his death, when this famous spiritual teacher received a heavy blow from a guard, he told the man who hit him, "I could render you an injury after you have done an injury to me. I could complain to the Caliph, but I will not complain. In my prayers, I could tell God about this offense which you have done to me, but I will refrain from this. During the day of the Final Judgment I could ask divine revenge for your act, but even if this day comes today, and even if I knew that my prayer would be heard, even then I would enter paradise only with you." (A Calendar of Wisdom)
It is natural to love our friends and to hate our enemies, but it requires a radically transformed heart to be able to love one's enemies: "If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?" (Matt. 5:46-47; Luke 6:32). As Tolstoy said, it takes more courage, more heart, to rise above your rage and to forgive and love a person that has harmed you. That requires a miracle, lev chadash v'ruach chadashah (לֵב חָדָשׁ וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה), a "new heart and and a new spirit" directly imparted by the hand of the Living God (Ezek. 36:26).
Anthony de Mello asks, "Is it possible for the rose to say, 'I will give my fragrance to the good people who smell me, but I will withhold it from the bad?' Or is it possible for the lamp to say, 'I will give my light to the good people in this room, but I will withhold it from the evil people'? Or can a tree say, 'I'll give my shade to the good people who rest under me, but I will withhold it from the bad'? These are images of what love is about." In other words, love suffers long and is kind; it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Cor. 13:4,7).
Underneath a lot of our anger is hurt, or anyway the fear of being hurt... Our fear is often rooted in this world and our dread over temporal loss. May the LORD our God help us walk by faith, not by sight, as if the invisible is indeed visible... We affirm that the LORD is forever on the Throne and will never be deposed; therefore may we be looking to Him alone as the Source of our strength and power -- even to love our enemies.
Postscript: Christianity is easy if it is merely regarded as "interesting" or "insightful," since then it pleases people and requires nothing in return. Even easier it is to flatter others, to tickle their ears, and to build up their ego in the name of spirituality or religion! However, when the demand comes, when people understand that there is a real and eternal obligation to authentically live in light of its truth - even to their own potential loss - then the interest quickly fades... Here is a test case, a way to examine our hearts: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you" (Luke 6:27).
The Central Duty to Love...
[ This week we have another "double portion" of Torah: Acharei Mot and Kedoshim (i.e., Leviticus 16:1-20:27). Please read the Torah portions to find your place here... ]
05.01.12 (Iyyar 9, 5772) Our Torah portion this week (Acharei Mot - Kedoshim) contains the central verse, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD" (Lev. 19:18). The commandment of "Ahavat Yisrael" (i.e., "Love others as yourself") is generally regarded as the most fundamental of the Torah. The Talmud recounts that when challenged by a pagan to teach the meaning of the Scriptures "while standing on one foot," Hillel said, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah and the rest is commentary; go and learn it." Hillel summed up the Torah as "doing no harm" toward others (i.e., the "Silver Rule"), which agrees with the Apostle Paul's statement, "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment (πλήρωμα) of the law" (Rom. 13:10). Of course Yeshua earlier taught His followers, "whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 7:12; 22:36-40).
Some of the mystics have said that when two people love one another, the Holy One reigns between them. 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). In other words, when we love, esteem, and respect one another, the LORD's presence is multiplied and revealed among us (1 John 4:7-8).
וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ
ve·a·hav·ta · le·re·a·kha · ka·mo·kha
a·ni · Adonai
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD."
Hebrew Study Card
In this connection, it is interesting to note that the gematria for the Hebrew commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (i.e., וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹך) equals 820, the same value as the word yekidashti (וְקִדַּשְׁתִּי), "And I [the LORD] will sanctify" (Exod. 29:44). When God commands us to "love your neighbor as yourself," he graciously includes the addendum: "I am the LORD," which the sages understood to mean, "I will help you to do this," or (in this case) "I will sanctify you through your acts of lovingkindness."
Of course followers of Yeshua have a profound obligation to love and care for one another (John 13:34, 15:12,17, Rom. 13:8; 1 Thess. 4:9; 1 Pet. 1:22, 1 John 3:11, etc.). After all, in this world the only tangible way we can express our love for God is by extending gemilut chasadim (loving acts) to others (James 2:15-17, 1 John 3:17, 4:20). Indeed, our obligation to love and care for others can even preempt our outward duty to love God Himself. For example, what good is it to "tithe mint and cumin" and yet neglect the needs of those who are suffering (Matt. 23:23)?
Tragically, the idea of "loving" or "serving" God can even be used as a pretext for rejecting those with whom we might disagree... What else explains religious hatred, hidebound denominational prejudices, and other forms of sanctimonious humbug at work in the various world religions of today? Even in so-called Christian churches we see this sort of bigotry at work. As Yeshua forewarned: "the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God" (John 16:2). Sadly this sometimes applies even to those who claim to love and worship the Prince of Peace (שַׂר־שָׁלוֹם). The world's religious zealots are routinely trying to "do God a favor" by hating and even killing others... This is the "Jihad-version" of religiosity - a terrible sickness of spirit. In light of the redemptive love and grace of God, can there really be anything more perverse than this?
Love is the central idea of all true Torah. Though there are some slight language differences between the Exodus and Deuteronomy versions of the Ten Commandments, both begin with "I AM" (אָנכִי) and both end with "[for] your neighbor" (לְרֵעֶךָ). Joining these together says "I am your neighbor," indicating that the LORD Himself is your neighbor. When we love our neighbor as ourselves (אָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ), we are in effect demonstrating our love for the LORD. We must learn to disregard the claims of our ego and cling to the idea of chesed. So who is your neighbor? You are -- to every other soul you may encounter this day...