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Jewish Holiday Calendar 

Note: For site updates, please scroll past this entry....

The spring holidays of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits are a portrait of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah: Yeshua was crucified on erev Pesach, buried on Chag Hamotzi, and was resurrected on Yom Habikkurim (Firstfruits). Shavu'ot (i.e., the feast of Pentecost) was the day the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) fell on believers in fulfillment of the promise given by our Lord. See the links below for more information.
 

Spring Holiday Calendar
The Spring Holidays:


Note that in accordance with Jewish tradition, all holiday dates begin at sundown:

  1. Month of Nisan (begins Monday, March 11th, 2013)
  2. Month of Iyyar (begins Tuesday, April 9th, 2013)
  3. Month of Sivan (begins Thursday, May 9th, 2013)

 

Dates for Passover 2013:

Free Seder Guide
 



 


April 2013 Updates



Shavuot and Revelation...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Shavuot, which begins May 14th this year... ]

04.30.13  (Iyyar 20, 5773)  During the holiday of Shavuot ("Weeks") we remember how the LORD graciously condescended to meet with the Jewish people at Sinai, and how all the people heard the Voice of God (קוֹל אֱלהִים) speaking from the midst of the fire (Deut. 4:33). This awesome event foreshadowed the great advent of the King and Lawgiver Himself, when the Eternal Word (דְבַר־יְהוָה) became flesh to dwell with us (Phil. 2:6-7; John 1:1,14), and it further foreshadowed the advent of the Spirit of Truth given to the disciples of Messiah (Acts 2:1-4). Any theology that regards God as entirely transcendent will have a problem with divine immanence, since the highness, holiness, and perfection of God will make him seem distant, outside of us, far away, and even unknown... Incarnational theology, on the other hand, manifests the nearness of God to disclose the divine empathy. Indeed, the LORD became Immanuel (עִמָּנוּ אֵל), "one with us," to share our mortal condition, to know our pain, and to experience what it means to be wounded by sin, to be abandoned, alienated, forsaken. The "Eternal made flesh" bridges the gap between the realm of Ein Sof (אין סוף), the Infinitely transcendent One, and the finite world of people lost within their sinful frailty. Of course we believe Adonai Echad (יְהוָה אֶחָד) - that the "LORD is One" - both in the sense of being exalted over all things but also in the sense of being compassionately involved in all things (Rom. 11:36). During Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah both at Sinai, at Bethlehem (בֵּית לֶחֶם), and within our hearts. We celebrate that God is indeed the King and Ruler over all, but we further affirm that God's authority and rule extends to all possible worlds - including the realm of finitude and even death itself.

A verse for Shavuot comes from the prophet Isaiah. Note the allusion to hashilush HaKodesh (הַשִּׁלּוּשׁ הַקָּדוֹשׁ), the three references of the Name of the LORD (יהוה):
 

כִּי יְהוָה שׁפְטֵנוּ יְהוָה מְחקְקֵנוּ
יְהוָה מַלְכֵּנוּ הוּא יוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ

ki · Adonai · sho·fe·tei·nu · Adonai · me·cho·ke·kei·nu
Adonai · mal·kei·nu · hu · yo·shi·ei·nu

 

"For the LORD is our judge; the LORD is our lawgiver;
the LORD is our king; He will save us."
(Isa. 33:22)



Hebrew Study Card
  

As I've mentioned elsewhere, the climax of the Torah given at Sinai was the revelation of the Sanctuary (i.e., the Mishkan), where the daily sacrifice of a defect-free lamb (i.e., korban tamid: קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד) was to be offered upon the altar with matzah and wine (Num. 28:1-8), clearly alluding to the great "Passover Lamb of God" who was to come... The two tablets of the law, summarizing the Ten Commandments, were stored inside the Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן בְּרִית־יְהוָה), the innermost place of the Tabernacle, a sacred "three-in-one" box. As such, the ark served as a symbol of kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), the Throne of Glory. It stood entirely apart as the only furnishing placed in the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). Upon the cover of the Ark (i.e., the kapporet) were fashioned two cherubim (i.e., angel-like figures) that faced one another (Exod. 25:17-18). According to the Talmud (Succah 5b), each cherub had the face of a child - one boy and one girl - and their wings spread heavenward as their eyes gazed upon the cover (Exod. 25:20). God's voice would be heard only in the midst of innocence, humility, purity, and hope... Each year during the Yom Kippur avodah, sacrificial blood was sprinkled seven times over the cover of the Ark to symbolize the covering of the law's demand and the atonement of sin secured through Messiah.
 




Near the Brokenhearted...


 

04.30.13  (Iyyar 20, 5773)   Of the Messiah it is written, "A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench" (Isa. 42:3)... People conscious of their feebleness and who have been crushed because of it are likened to "bruised reeds," and he [the Messiah, the Savior] shall bring no injury to them... As it is written, "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted (נִשְׁבְּרֵי־לֵב) and saves the crushed in spirit." Indeed, the LORD binds up the broken of heart and gives liberty to those in captivity (Isa. 61:1). "A smoking flax shall he not quench" -- neither will the LORD snuff out an unsteady flame ready to expire, but will tend to it with special oil to cause it to burn more brightly.
 

קָרוֹב יְהוָה לְנִשְׁבְּרֵי־לֵב
וְאֶת־דַּכְּאֵי־רוּחַ יוֹשִׁיעַ

ka·rov · Adonai · le·nish·be·rei · lev
ve·et · dak·ei · ru·ach · yo·shi·a

 

"The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit"
(Psalm 34:18)



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

Spirituality often enough involves a sense of irremediable brokenness, a feeling that you are not whole, that you are a mess, and that your need for God's healing is constant and relentless... Contrary to the ideals of proud humanism, spirituality is a state of "blessed neediness," of being "poor in spirit," that aches with inner desperation for God's power of healing. Those who humbly cry out to the LORD understand their great need for deliverance, "Woe is me, for I am ruined..." (Isa. 6:5). As Yeshua said, "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:14).

Our Lord Yeshua testified: "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10), and therefore He is found in the midst of the leper colonies of the hurting, the forgotten, and the rejected. As the "Man of Sorrows" (i.e., ish makhovot: אִישׁ מַכְאבוֹת) he understands the language of our pain (Isa. 53:3).

"For God so loved the world" that he became entirely unesteemed -- "despised and rejected of men, a man of pains, acquainted with sickness" – so that he could taste rejection, sorrow, pain, and death for every man (John 3:16; Heb. 2:9). "For our sake God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). It was the love of God that put Yeshua on the Cross, and because of Yeshua, God forever exchanges our inner hell and abandonment with His everlasting love and acceptance. It is finished, and may His great Name be praised in all the earth...
 




Torah that Cuts to the Bone...


 

04.29.13  (Iyyar 19, 5773)   The message of the cross scandalizes human pride because it unconditionally declares there is nothing we can do to justify ourselves before God apart from the work of the Messiah rendered on our behalf. Human pride naturally wants to add something to the mix - by esteeming our will or our obedience to be determinative, but the Scriptures attest that we are declared righteous by trusting in the sacrifice of God for our souls, and not because of any merit of our own (Gal. 3:11). In other words, salvation is "of the LORD," and we are entirely hopeless apart the direct intervention of God for healing.... The Lord saves us, not because of works of righteousness (מַעֲשֵׂי הַצְּדָקָה) we might do, but solely on account of His mercy offered to us in Messiah our Savior (Titus 3:5).

In general, human pride has no quarrel with the theology of a transcendent, all-powerful, and holy God to whom we all owe obedience, and therefore religious systems based on "karma" are invariably amenable to human pride...  A "First Cause" or a Source of Moral Law may present a religious demand upon the soul, but it presents no scandal to human reason. After all, the law of religion is simply "do what is good and you will be rewarded; do what is evil and you will be punished," and karma-based religions aim to effect a favorable "disposition" in the eyes of heaven. What is scandalous, however, and what is therefore entirely paradoxical to human reason, is that the Infinite One Himself became Finite and embodied as a human being, and that the infinitely transcendent One is also the entirely immanent One, pervading every possible world and every realm of creation -- including the "fallen" realm of humanity -- to become manifest in visage of Yeshua of Nazareth....

Again, it is relatively easy for human reason to concede awareness of a transcendental power that created the universe and who is the Source of Moral reality, but it cannot fathom how such Supreme Power could be made manifest in a state of weakness, identifying with what is most broken, most perverse, and most sick in the human soul and condition. The cross of Messiah is a scandal because human pride wants to deny the reality that humanity is incurably wounded, sick and without hope apart from divine intervention. Religious pride imagines that mankind is able to ascend the heights of heaven in its own strength, but the message of the cross is that God's love is so great that He is willing to descend - to willingly empty Himself to undergo shame, disgrace, condemnation - and indeed the horror of execution by crucifixion - all for the sake of our everlasting healing and salvation.

Do you want Torah that cuts to the bone? Do you want the raw, unvarnished truth? Then look to the cross of Messiah, the hallowed place (הַמָּקוֹם) where the transcendent, the all-powerful, and the holy are surrendered to become an object of horror, grief, and despair; where God's own glorious holiness and righteousness are exchanged for our sin...  We must turn away from the urge to deny reality, by pretending that the salvation could be gained by some sort of self-improvement project, or by assuming that there exists some form of repentance that can take the place of the awful divine remedy given in our place. Turn to the cross and receive the death benefits of Messiah! "For I decided to know nothing among you except Yeshua the Messiah and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2).

Some people are reluctant to accept the truth of God's unconditional love because they fearfully imagine that doing so will lead to "lawlessness," or to a lax attitude that tolerates or even justifies sin. "Why not do evil that good may come?" they reason (Rom. 3:8). Such thinking grievously misunderstands the purpose of Torah, however, and fails to see that the "deeper Torah" allows us to walk in the light of God's truth. The goal (or "end") of the Torah is love - the divine love revealed in Messiah - and if we really love God, we will not seek an excuse to gratify our lower nature at the expense of our relationship with Him.

The scandal of the cross goes both ways, however...  If human pride is offended at the truth about its hopeless condition, then God is offended when people deny or minimize the need for the cross of the Savior. When Peter sought to find an alternative cure for the fatal disease we all share, Yeshua said to him: "Out of my sight, Satan! You are a stumbling block (i.e., scandal: σκάνδαλόν) to me; for you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men" (Matt. 16:21-24). Do you want to know what outrages the Spirit of God? The denial of the cross and its eternal significance; the delusion that we can effect our own righteousness apart from God's grace. The "scandal of the cross" ultimately is a problem for human pride, and certainly not to the LORD God our Savior, who uses the cross to demonstrate the wisdom and power of God (1 Cor. 1:18). Those who deny the need for the cross, however, are left without remedy for their eternal condition (Heb. 10:26-31).

A scandal is a disgrace, a shame, an offence, even an outrage. The cross is scandalous because it represents the "death of God," that is, the sacrifice of God's transcendence, power, and holiness to become entirely identified with the fallenness of mankind. This is the shock the disciples had to face when they witnessed Yeshua die... The cross reveals that we are powerless to heal ourselves, and that the remedy is only found in the life given in our exchange. The exchange works both ways: We must deny ourselves - our pretenses, our supposed dignity, our inflated sense of self-importance - to receive what Yeshua has done by becoming our substitute. We must impute our sin to Him as our Sin-Bearer and impute His love to us as our Healer. We are crucified with Him, we are made part of that great exchange, by trusting in His work of salvation performed for us. We must be careful not to mock God. We don't give lip-service to what Yeshua has done and then revert to a pretense of righteousness based on self-determination or so-called "Torah observance."

We renounce our efforts to please God and surrender ourselves to His love and care. We trust in the work of Yeshua for our righteousness, not our own meritorious works. Salvation is "of the LORD" (לַיהוָה הַיְשׁוּעָה). Again, we are not saved "by works of righteousness (מַעֲשֵׂי הַצְּדָקָה) that we have done, but solely on account of God's mercy given to us in Messiah our Savior (Titus 3:5). Grace excludes all boasting (Eph. 2:9). We believe that God justifies the ungodly by trusting in his heart of compassion (Rom. 4:1-8). God loves us with "an everlasting love" (i.e., ahavat olam: אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם) and draws us in chesed (חֶסֶד, i.e., His faithful love and kindness). As it is written: אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם אֲהַבְתִּיךְ עַל־כֵּן מְשַׁכְתִּיךְ חָסֶד / "I love you with an everlasting love; therefore in chesed I draw you to me" (Jer. 31:3). Note that the word translated "I draw you" comes from the Hebrew word mashakh (מָשַׁךְ), meaning to "seize" or "drag away" (the ancient Greek translation used the verb helko (ἕλκω) to express the same idea). As Yeshua said, "No one is able to come to me unless he is "dragged away" (ἑλκύσῃ) by the Father (John 6:44). God's chesed seizes us, scandalizes us, takes us captive, and leads us to the Savior... Spiritual rebirth is a divine act, "not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). In everything - including human reason itself - the LORD God Almighty is preeminent.
 




Jerusalem Day 2013...


 

[ This year Jerusalem Day is observed Tuesday, May 7th at sundown... ]

04.28.13  (Iyyar 18, 5773)   In Israel, "Jerusalem Day" (יום ירושלים) 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" (לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאַה בִּירוּשָׁלָיִם). On March 23, 1998, the Knesset passed the Jerusalem Day Law, making it an official Israeli holiday. This year, Iyyar 28 runs from Tuesday, May 7th (after sundown) through Wednesday, May 8th (until sundown). May God help us to always cherish the vision of Zion: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning."
 

אִם־אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ יְרוּשָׁלָםִ
תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי

im · esh·ka·chek · ye·ru·sha·la·yim
tish·kach · ye·mi·ni

 

"If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget [its skill]"
(Psalm 137:5)



Hebrew Study Card
  

Some have said this verse should be read, "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, forget my right hand!" meaning that whatever good we might have (as symbolized by the right hand) should be lost apart from God Himself and the great vision of Zion. As King David had said, "I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8), so the loss of the right hand means the loss of the Divine Presence.

The vision of Zion is central to the Jewish heart. When religious Jews pray three times a day, they always face toward Jerusalem, and during each major holiday, we always wish to celebrate "next year in Jerusalem."  In Jewish tradition, remembering the destruction of Zion is a commandment (i.e., zecher le'chorban: זֶכֵר לְחֻרְבָּן) and certain customs have developed, such as leaving a part of the eastern wall of the house unpainted, etc.  As it is written, "Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth" (Psalm 50:2).

Note:  Click here to learn 25 reasons why Jerusalem matters...
 




Mem B'Omer - The Ascension of Messiah


 

[ Saturday, May 4th after sundown marks Mem B'Omer, the 40th day of the Omer Count... ]

04.28.13  (Iyyar 18, 5773)   We are in the midst of Sefirat Ha-Omer (the "Counting of the Omer"), a 49 day countdown that runs from Nisan 16 through Sivan 5. The first day of the omer count begins on the second night of Passover, and the last day occurs the day before the great jubilee of Shavuot ("Pentecost"). On our Gregorian calendars, these dates run from March 26th until May 13th this year. This is a "countdown period" leading to the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the giving of the Holy Spirit to Yeshua's disciples...


 

Saturday, May 4th after sundown (Iyyar 25) marks the 40th day of the Omer Count (i.e., Mem B'Omer), the time associated with the ascension of Yeshua back to the heavenly realm (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:9-11; Eph. 4:8). A thousand years before the birth of our Moshiah (מוֹשִׁיעַ), David prophesied of the ascension when he announced the Lord's enthronement at the right hand of God (Psalm 110:1; Matt. 22:41-46; 26:64). 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..."
 




Parashat Behar-Bechukotai


 

04.28.13  (Iyyar 18, 5773)   This week we will read the final two portions of the Book of Leviticus (i.e., Vayikra), namely, parashat Behar and Bechukotai (בהר־בחקתי). Like a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him. Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek - "Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened!"
 


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).

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.
 




Eschatology and Shavuot


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Shavuot, which begins May 14th this year... ]

04.26.13  (Iyyar 16, 5773)   Some people believe that the ultimate fulfillment of the holiday of Shavuot is found in the mysterious catching away (ἁρπάζω, harpazo) of believers 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). They reason that since Shavuot marked the day of dramatic revelation, with signs of fire and the sounds of a heavenly shofar blast, an appointed time that marks the jubilee fulfillment of Passover, it can therefore be seen as the rapturous end of redemption for those who believe, symbolic of a wedding day, when God betrothed Israel as His own people, separate from all others.  Both Jew and Gentile will be "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 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 admonishing us to actively be looking (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 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) whose "god" will be the "security state" (Dan. 11:38), 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).

Regarding the "world system," however, we have quite a different vision... The LORD God Almighty has vowed to 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). Nebuchadnezzar's great dream will soon be fulfilled: "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... Even so, come quickly, Lord!

Note:  Our tradition does not require us to accept everything at face value, though it does expect us to study, to wrestle, to seek truth. Each of us must "go to Peniel" to wrestle with the Angel; each of us must be renamed from Ya'akov ("a supplanter") to Israel ("a prince with God"). When the Spirit of Truth asks, "What is your name," may the LORD God grant you the courage to refuse to "let go" until you receive the divine blessing of love and acceptance.  Shabbat Shalom and love to all of you captives of hope.
 




Passion and Truth....


 

04.25.13  (Iyyar 15, 5773)  Revelation is unknowable apart from passion... It is common enough to draw near to God with lips while the heart is far away from Him (Isa. 29:13). God doesn't care about your "religion" if your heart is withheld, nor is He impressed that you are a member of a particular denomination (i.e., the commandments of men). Spiritually speaking, the place of utmost danger is indifference toward God, and this danger constitutes the burden of a true prophet of God. "To listen (shema) is better than sacrifice... I desire love (chesed) and the knowledge of God (da'at Elohim) more than burnt offerings" (1 Sam. 15:22, Hos. 6:6). During the End of Days people will have a "form" (μόρφωσιν) of godliness but will deny its power, since their hearts will be obstinately turned away from the truth. "And because lawlessness (i.e., ἀνομία, lit. a=without; nomos=Torah) will be increased, the love of many will grow cold (Matt. 24:12). In this connection we note that the Hebrew word for "falsehood" (or "lie") is sheker (שֶׁקֶר), which can also be read as she-kar (שֶׁקַר), meaning "that which" (-שׁ) makes you cold (קַר). The truth of God can't be known apart from passion. What sort of a lover is he who is feckless or half-hearted in his devotion? Can you know the truth about true love without yearning, longing, and desire?

The Hebrew word for sin (חֵטְא) means "missing the mark," though that essentially means missing the revelation of God's glory because lesser fears consume the heart and obscure passion of the truth... When we really see life as it is, we will be filled with wonder and awe over the glory of it all. "Fearing" (יִרְאָה) and "seeing" (רָאָה) will be linked and unified.
 

    "There is much to drag us back, O Lord: empty pursuits, trivial pleasures, unworthy cares. There is much to frighten us away: pride that makes us reluctant to accept help; cowardice that recoils from sharing your suffering; anguish at the prospect of confessing our sins. But You are stronger than all these forces. We call you our Redeemer and Savior because you redeem us from our empty, trivial existence, you save us from our foolish fears. This is your work which you have completed and will continue to complete in us every moment." - Kierkegaard

 




Above All Seek Wisdom...


 

04.25.13  (Iyyar 15, 5773)  Seek wisdom, which is reishit (רֵאשִׁית), the very first thing: "Acquire wisdom; acquire insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth" (Prov. 4:5). Remember and do not forget what is most important... Learn to listen and listen to learn. "What is the first business of one who desires wisdom? To get rid of self-conceit, for it is impossible for anyone to learn that which he thinks he already knows." We need humility to learn the truth; we need to quiet ourselves to shema (שָׁמַע), to listen and hear. As William James admonished, "A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices."
 

רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה קְנֵה חָכְמָה
וּבְכָל־קִנְיָנְךָ קְנֵה בִינָה

rei·shit · chokh·mah · ke·neh · chokh·mah
u·ve·khol · kin·ya·ne·kha · ke·neh · vi·nah

 

"Wisdom is the very first thing: so acquire wisdom,
and whatever you acquire, get insight"
(Prov. 4:7)



Hebrew Study Card
  




You always Speak Twice...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Emor.... ]

04.25.13  (Iyyar 15, 5773)  Our Torah portion this week begins, "And the LORD said to Moses, "Speak (אמר) to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say (וְאָמַרְתָּ) to them..." (Lev. 21:1). Rashi noted that the repeated verb emor (אמר) has a softer tone than the verb dibber (i.e., "speak," as in a command), suggesting almost a pleading quality: "Speak softly again and again..." The repetition suggests that the priests (i.e., teachers who would serve as examples to Israel) shouldn't simply tell people what to do/believe, but rather they should both tell and gently demonstrate Torah truth in their daily lives. When teaching, we are always speaking twice: once to explain and a second time to ignite a passion.... Likewise we study the "Living Torah" by first learning from Yeshua (Matt. 23:8) and only afterward are we commissioned to go "to all the nations and teach" (Matt. 28:19). Such education for eternity impels us to make fellow-learners (disciples), not simply by imparting intellectual doctrine, but by kiddush HaShem -- by sanctifying the LORD in our lives.  In this way we are made a "living letter" that is sent into the world that shares the living message of the gospel (2 Cor. 3:2-3). But we must first learn the meaning of what we say before we say it...

Note:  For more on this subject, see Parashat Emor: Speaking Twice.
 




Education of the Heart...


 

04.24.13  (Iyyar 14, 5773)  Yeshua embodies the Torah of Love (הַתּוֹרָה שֶׁל אַהֲבָה), and his commandment is for us to love as he loved (John 13:34; 15:12). Walking with God isn't just a matter of "head education," but rather of "heart education," and these two must always go together as do Spirit and Truth (John 4:23). Head education seeks knowledge primarily as a means of defining "faith" as a creed or set of doctrines to believe. As such, it aims to allay intellectual doubt and to help us better understand the truth of Reality. Heart education, on the other hand, centers on fear, or rather, on overcoming our fear by inwardly surrendering to God's love and healing grace. When we learn the heart of God - when we accept that we are truly accepted despite ourselves - then we are delivered from the need to defend or justify ourselves. We can let go, quit denying who we are, and count on God's ongoing care for our lives. We can even learn to love our enemies because we have inner peace, and that means we no longer are enemies to either ourselves or to others...
 




Loving Your Enemies...


 

04.24.13  (Iyyar 14, 5773)  The central commandment - and the only one that ultimately has any eternal significance - is to love others, and that includes the "other" who is your enemy. That we can love our enemy is presupposed by the Master who reveals that acceptance of God's love (ἀγάπη) is the miraculous means to unconditionally value and sanctity all of human life (Matt. 5:44-ff).  Loving your enemy, then, is really no different than loving your neighbor, since it is neither based on the principle of reciprocity nor on the worthiness of the recipient of love, but is instead grounded in God's unconditional kindness and acceptance for your soul.  In practice, loving your enemy means "putting off the old" nature by refusing to be an enemy yourself, that is, by consciously choosing to believe in the miracle of God's love. You quit the blame game; you give up the desire for retaliation; you drop your demand for an apology, and you will overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21). Turning away from anger means learning to be free of bitterness, resentment, and the fear that brings pain to our lives. It means consciously choosing not to play the part of the enemy to others who have wounded you in the past.. Loving your enemy means loving yourself, accepting your own imperfections, and experiencing God's healing grace.
 

אֶהֱבוּ אֶת־איְבֵיכֶם
וְהִתְפַּלְלוּ בְּעַד רדְפֵיכֶם
לְמַעַן תִּהְיוּ בָנִים לַאֲבִיכֶם שֶׁבַּשָׁמָיִם

e·he·vu · et · oy·vei·khem
ve·hit·pal·le·lu · be·ad · rod·fei·khem
le·ma·an · ti·he·yu · va·nim · la·a·vi·khem · she·ba·sha·ma·yim

 

"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven."
(Matt. 5:44-45)



  

We must practice compassion for other people and use ayin tovah - the "good eye" (Matt. 6:22). If you know the truth, or think you know the truth, try to share it with others in simplicity, with good will toward them. Otherwise, you run the terrible risk of disqualifying whatever truth you think you possess by means of untruthful actions, and this undermines the soul and brings pain to the heart.
 

    "It is a mistake to think that there are times when you can safely address a person without love. You can work with objects without love - cutting wood, baking bricks, making iron - but you cannot work with people without love. In the same way as you cannot work with bees without being cautious, you cannot work with people without being mindful of their humanity. It is the quality people as it is of bees: if you are not very cautious with them, then you harm both yourself and them. It cannot be otherwise, because mutual love is the law of our existence." - G. Ephraim Lessing
     


Of course offences will come (Luke 17:1). "Try to understand and remember that a person always tries to do what is best for himself. And if he is right when he does what is best for himself, it is good; but if he is mistaken, it is bad, because suffering will following after such mistakes. If you remember this, then you will never be upset with anybody, you will never reproach anybody, and you will never be an enemy to anybody" (Epictetus).  As it is written, "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Cor. 13:7).

Ultimately we've go no place left to go but into the arms of God's love, and that means we lay it all down. This beautiful prayer is attributed to Francis of Assisi:
 

    Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
    where there is hatred, let me sow love;
    where there is injury, pardon;
    where there is doubt, faith;
    where there is despair, hope;
    where there is darkness, light;
    and where there is sadness, joy.

    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.
     


Note: Though "the works of love" are most important, they must issue from the Source of God's love for our souls - otherwise they will be based in self-interest and of no real spiritual value (see 1 Cor. 13:3). They are the works of His love... In this connection it is vital for us not to lose faith that we can change, even if we presently find our heart calloused or numb or even unable to love.  We must not lose hope; as it is written, "the LORD bestows favor and honor: No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly" (Psalm 84:11). In your struggle to love, you will find strength by trusting that God is your ally, your helper, and the healer of the broken heart. If you ask him for bread, he will not give you a stone; if you ask him for the miracle of a new heart, he will surely hear your prayer (1 John 5:14).
 




Right Uses of Despair...


 

04.23.13  (Iyyar 13, 5773)  Can despair be curative? Yes, if it expresses the loss of our idolatrous ideals, visions, and dreams... It is hard to let go of old expectations, to give up cherished fantasies, and to find ourselves in a place of emptiness, but we must go through the desert before we can live the promise. We can only grow spiritually when we let go of our romance with the world, abandoning its vain idols, and awakening to the reality of the Divine Presence. We then can turn to God and learn to live in the moment, trusting him to help us through the temptations of the day. We all must walk through the "valley of the shadow of death" to find hope on its other side, and it is only by passing that way can we know the Name of God as the "I-AM-with-you-always" One.
 




God was the Word...


 

04.23.13  (Iyyar 13, 5773)  The Messiah is called the Word of God (ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ), which means that He is the manifest expression of God's substance - the reason, logic, purpose, and the Message of creation (Col. 1:15-17; Heb. 1:3). The Logos (ὁ Λόγος) represents the "logic" or inner significance of reality itself. Whenever we think about anything, the "Torah of logic" (תּוֹרָה הַהִגָּיוֹן) enables us to identify our subject (a=a), make distinctions about it (~[a and ~a]), detect relationships and connections (if a>b; and b>c, then a>c), and to otherwise be coherent and intelligible.... This is part of what it means to say we are created be'tzelem Elohim (בְּצֶלֶם אֱלהִים), "in the image of God" -- a phrase that suggests that we are like an outline (i.e., tzel: צֵל) that corresponds to its originating Source. God reveals to us the divine light of truth and imparts the inner voice of reason to enable us to apprehend reality, to distinguish temporal and spatial connections, make inferences, to discern cause and effect, and so on. You simply cannot deny the laws of logic without desecrating the image of God, and indeed, you cannot not use logic to argue that there is no need for logic itself. In other words, we have intuitive, self-evident, and axiomatic awareness that the Word of God is the ground for all our inner thoughts and words. The truth that God is the "ground" of all our thinking makes Him close indeed - as close as your next breath, your next thought, your next heartbeat, and so on.
 

בְּרֵאשִׁית הָיָה הַדָּבָר
וְהַדָּבָר הָיָה אֵת הָאֱלהִים
וֵאלהִים הָיָה הַדָּבָר

be·re·shit · ha·yah · ha·da·var
ve·ha·da·var · ha·yah · et · ha·e·lo·him
ve·lo·him · ha·yah · ha·da·var

 

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God
and God was the Word"
(John 1:1)



Hebrew Study Card
  


As an academic note, let me add that there is scholarly discussion about the grammar of the clause, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος ("and God was the Word").  Some say that the word theos (without the article) should be translated as if the article was present because it precedes the copula "was" thereby making the predicate noun definite (i.e., Colwell's Rule): "The Word was God..." Another way to translate this clause, however, is to see theos as a qualifier, that is, a predicate adjective expressing identity of being: "What the Word was God was," and vice-versa. In light of the numerous other places in Scripture that clearly attest that Yeshua is indeed the LORD, the latter approach is preferable: The Word perfectly expresses the very radiance of God (Col. 1:15-17; Heb. 1:3).

The very first letter of the Hebrew alphabet pictures the Word of God, the Holy Beginning. The letter Aleph (א) is "three-in-one," constructed from two Yods (representing "hands") joined by a diagonal Vav (representing a man). One Yod (י) reaches upward while the other reaches downward, and both extend from the "fallen" Vav (ו) that pictures a "wounded Man" or Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). In the Hebrew numbering system, Yod = 10 and Vav = 6, so adding up the three parts of Aleph yields 26, the same value as the Name of the LORD, YHVH (יהוה). All of this linked together, chaverim. The very first letter of the alphabet, the "king of the letters," pictures the loving Word of God who mediates heaven and earth so that we can experience and know the meaning of His great love.

Note: Some have said that the idea of the Logos comes from the notion of the Memra (Word) mentioned in various Aramaic targums (1st century BCE), but the Logos concept is far older than these Aramaic translations of the Hebrew, and indeed extend back to the ancient philosopher Heraclitus (6th century BCE).  Moreover, the Greek term logos was later used by the translators of the ancient Greek version of the Torah (i.e., the Septuagint, or LXX) to render the Hebrew word devar and its cognates.
 




Anticipating Shavuot ("Pentecost")


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Shavuot, which begins May 14th this year... ]

04.22.13  (Iyyar 12, 5773)   A week is called shavu'a (שָׁבוּעַ) in Hebrew, from a root word sheva (שֶׁבַע) that means seven. Seven is the number of holiness and completion, and the first verse of Torah has seven words (בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ). Moreover, in six days God created the heavens and the earth, but on the seventh day he rested and set it apart as sacred (Gen. 2:3). The holiday of Shavuot (שָׁבוּעוֹת), or "weeks," marks the "Jubilee of Passover," which occurs after we count 7x7 (49) days from the day following Passover until we reach Sivan 6 (which this year begins Tuesday, May 14th at sundown). Since Shavuot occurs on the 50th day after Passover, the Greek translators of the Torah called it "Pentecost" (πεντηκοστή).  Shavuot marks the goal or climax of Passover season, commemorating both the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Sinai as well as the giving of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Messiah (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4).


 

The holiday of Shavuot is one of the shelosh regalim (three pilgrimage festivals) given in the Torah (Exod. 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16) and therefore reveals profound spiritual truth for followers of Yeshua (Luke 24:44; 2 Tim. 3:16). God did not want us to miss the significance of this holiday, since it expresses the freedom and truth of the New Covenant of Zion.

Note:  For a bit more to help you "attune" yourself to the holiday of Shavuot, see the articles "Preparing for Shavuot" and "The Law of Liberty."
 




Surrender to Peace...


 

04.22.13  (Iyyar 12, 5773)   "Be still and know that I am God." This is something you must do; you must quiet your heart to cultivate inner peace. Turn a deaf ear to those anxious thoughts that weigh in upon you, creating pressure and "dis-ease." Being still enables you to hear the holy whisper in the midst of the storm saying, "It is I; be not afraid."
 

הַרְפּוּ וּדְעוּ כִּי־אָנכִי אֱלהִים
 אָרוּם בַּגּוֹיִם אָרוּם בָּאָרֶץ

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

 

"Be still (i.e., let go, surrender) and know that I am God,
 I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth"
(Psalm 46:10)



Hebrew Study Card
  

Note that the verb "be still" (i.e., rapha: רָפָה) means to "let go," "stop striving," to "relinquish control," and to surrender your life and the fate of the world to the care of God... "Being still" means finding serenity and inner peace in the midst of God's providential plans for good...  We find peace as we trust God's will for our the outcome of our lives, without "taking thought" for tomorrow and its concerns (Matt. 6:34). The past is gone, after all, and the future is God's business: all we have is the present moment to call upon the Name of the LORD. Be faithful in the present hour, then, asking God for the grace and strength you need to endure the task at hand.  In this way we may experience the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7).
 




Parashat Emor - אמור


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Emor.... ]

04.21.13  (Iyyar 11, 5773)  Our Torah portion this week (parashat Emor) 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."
(Psalm 25:10)



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...

"Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, 'These are the appointed times of the LORD (מוֹעֲדֵי יְהוָה) that you shall proclaim as holy convocations (מִקְרָאֵי קדֶשׁ); they are My appointed times'" (Lev. 23:2). Note that these hallowed times - the very first of which is the weekly Sabbath - are "of the LORD," and that means they should be regarded as appointments given by God Himself to help draw us closer to Him, to reveal His prophetic truth, and to remind ourselves of His great plan for our lives.

Note: Please keep this ministry in your prayers... Every day I come under attack from the powers of darkness who seek to discourage me from continuing this work. If you are helped by this ministry, please pray for Hebrew for Christians. Thank you.
 




Countdown to the Harvest...


 

04.21.13  (Iyyar 11, 5773)  We are in the midst of Sefirat Ha-Omer (the "Counting of the Omer"), a 49 day countdown that runs from Nisan 16 through Sivan 5 on the Biblical calendar system (see Lev. 23:15-16). The first day of the omer count begins on the second night of Passover, and the last day occurs the day before the great jubilee of Shavuot ("Pentecost"). On our Gregorian calendars, these dates run from March 26th until May 13th this year. This is a "countdown period" leading to the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the giving of the Holy Spirit to Yeshua's disciples...


 

About "Lag B'Omer..."


 

After sundown this coming Sabbath (i.e., April 27th) begins the 33rd day of the omer count, called Lag B'Omer (ל״ג בעומר), which later became a mystical holiday that commemorates the teaching of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (i.e, Rashbi: רשב"י), the purported author of the Zohar, a fundamental text of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). According to tradition, on the day of his death, Rabbi Shimon revealed the deepest secrets of the Kabbalah to his followers and insisted that they would thereafter celebrate the anniversary of his death (Yahrzeit) with joy. His followers then associated his death on Iyyar 18 with the anniversary of the revelation of Kabbalah (Torat Ha-Nistar) to Israel. Among Kabbalists, Lag B'Omer celebrates the giving of the "mystical Torah" to Israel just as the holiday of Shavuot celebrates the giving of the written Torah. Today special Lag B'Omer "bonfire" celebrations are held in the village of Meron (near Safed, Israel) where the Rashbi is buried to mystically recall the "sparks that fly upward," back to God...

According to tradition, Lag B'Omer also commemorates the reprieve of a plague that caused the death of thousands of Rabbi Akiva's students during the last of the Jewish-Roman wars (called the Bar Kochba Revolt (מרד בר כוכבא‎), c.132-135 AD). Since Jewish tradition assumed that the Messiah would be a military leader who would deliver the Jews and usher in world peace, Rabbi Akiva (incorrectly) surmised that Shimon bar Kochba, the leader of the Jewish resistance, was the Jewish Messiah -- based on an esoteric reading of Numbers 24:17: כּוֹכָב מִיַּעֲקב - "A star shall come out of Jacob" ("Bar Kokhba" means "son of a star" in Aramaic).  His tragic endorsement led to death of countless Jews and further alienated the Messianic Jewish community from Israel. The eventual defeat of the Jews by Emperor Hadrian marked the sure beginning of the Jewish Diaspora from the Promised Land. The province of Judaea was then renamed "Palestine" and Jerusalem was called Aelia Capitolina.

According to later Jewish tradition, all of Akiva's students died during the time of the Omer Count, but Akiva "started over" with a new batch of just five students. Of these, his most famous student was Shimon bar Yochai. The Talmud (Yevamot 62b) recalls the tragedy of Bar Kochba and commemorates it as a "Scholar's Festival," in honor of Rabbi Akiva.

It should be evident that Lag B'Omer is NOT a Christian/Messianic Jewish holiday, but on the contrary celebrates occultic speculations that further separate many Jewish people from the liberating truth of Yeshua the Messiah. During this time of "countdown," chaverim, let us pray that the eyes of many Jews will soon be opened to see that Yeshua is indeed the Messiah and Savior of Israel.
 




Loving the Stranger...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim... ]

04.19.13  (Iyyar 9, 5773)  "You shall love the stranger as yourself" (Lev. 19:34). This mitzvah applies not only to someone whom we regard as an "outsider," but more radically to the "stranger within ourselves," that is, to those aspects of ourselves we censor, deny, or reject. Like the prodigal son, we have to "come to ourselves" to return home (Luke 15:17), yet we won't know that we are unconditionally loved until we venture complete disclosure. That is the great risk of trusting in God's love for your soul: You must accept that you are accepted despite your own unacceptability... Those parts of ourselves that we "hide" need to be brought to the light, atoned for, healed, and reconciled. If we don't love and accept ourselves, then how can we hope to love and accept others?
 




The Goal of Holiness...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim... ]

04.19.13  (Iyyar 9, 5773)  "Be holy as I am holy" (Lev. 19:2). This doesn't mean wrapping yourself up in some protective cloak of religious rituals as much as it means accepting your own atonement: reconciling who you are with your past, finding healing and love, and walking in genuine hope... Holiness isn't as much "separation" from the profane as it is "consecration" to the sacred, and in that sense it is a kind of teshuvah, a turning of the heart back to reality.... Negatively put, "being holy" is turning away from fear, despair, and anger; positively put, it is embracing the worth and value of life, respecting the Divine Presence, and walking in the radiance of God's love.
 




Respect Precedes Torah...


 

04.19.13  (Iyyar 9, 5773)  It is said, "respect precedes Torah," which means that we must esteem ourselves and others properly as image bearers of God. This is basic to all else. But we must first care; we must be willing to give up our sickness; we must want to be healed. This also means that we are willing to give up blaming others and confess the truth about how we have brought pain to our lives. After we learn to forgive ourselves, we can let go of the pain, the weary anger, and forgive others of their missteps, too. It is impossible to be joyful apart from such humility. Therefore each of us must rebuff demonic impulses and turn to God for healing.  And we must beseech the Lord to help us stay awake and to resist being lulled back into the unconsciousness of the world and its delusions.
 




Alongside the Fleeting...


 

04.19.13  (Iyyar 9, 5773)  God's people are always "strangers" in this world; they are literally "e-stranged" -- living here, yet not here. We are outsiders and pilgrims, not at home in this world, and our faith therefore is both a type of "protest" against any interpretation of reality that excludes, suppresses, denies, or minimizes the Divine Presence as well as a longing for the place where we truly belong.... If you feel crazy in an insane situation, then you are really quite sane... The world will feel oppressive and strange once you have been awakened from its madness and refuse to be moved by the delusions of the crowd... Life in olam hazeh (this world) is a place of passing that leads to the world to come. Our faith affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life is a deeper reality that is ultimately real and abiding. It "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31).
 

כִּי־גֵרִים אֲנַחְנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ
וְתוֹשָׁבִים כְּכָל־אֲבתֵינוּ
כַּצֵּל יָמֵינוּ עַל־הָאָרֶץ וְאֵין מִקְוֶה

ki  ge·rim  a·nach·nu  le·fa·ne·kha,
ve·to·sha·vim  ke·khol  a·vo·tei·nu,
katz·tzel  ya·mei·nu  al  ha·a·retz · ve·ein  mik·veh

 

"For we are strangers before you
and sojourners, as all our fathers were.
As a shadow are our days on the earth, and there is nothing that abides"
(1 Chron. 29:15)



 

The Apostle Paul taught that we to be "conformed" (σύμμορφος) to the Messiah (Rom. 8:29), but not "conformed" (συσχηματίζω) to the pattern of this fallen world (Rom. 12:2). The former word means to resemble or be made similar in form (μορφή), whereas the latter means to accept the world's scheme (σχῆμα) of understanding things, to passively go along with the world's lies, wishful thinking, fearmongering, propaganda, etc. Of course we need God's help to escape the "programming" of our age, and therefore the Holy Spirit helps us to become transfigured – "changed from the inside out" - by the renewal of our minds, enabling us to see things in light of the reality of our identity in the Messiah. So refuse to let the world system get you down, but focus on God and His great glory. Take heart, friends: being exiled by the world is an indication that you belong to the Kingdom of God...
 




Seeking Things Above...


 

04.18.13  (Iyyar 8, 5773)  "If then you have been raised with Messiah, seek the things that are above (τὰ ἄνω ζητεῖτε), where the Messiah is seated at the right hand of God (לִימִין אֱלהִים). Focus your thoughts on the things above, not on things here on earth. For you have died, and your life has been hidden with Messiah in God. Then when the Messiah, who is your life, appears, you too will appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4).

All of this turns on our faith... If we are spiritually identified with Yeshua, we are "dead" to this age (olam hazeh), and therefore we are awakened to a realm that transcends the appeals of carnal flesh (olam habah). We no longer live chayei sha'ah (חַיֵּי שָׁעָה, "fleeting life") but chayei olam (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם, "eternal life"). The arorist verb "you have died" indicates "you have died once for all," that is, this is a condition granted by the power and agency of God on your behalf.  You don't "try to die" to the flesh; you accept what God has done by killing its power over you through Yeshua... You are dead to this world; you are dead to sin's power; you are no longer enslaved to the deception of the worldly matrix, etc. Now you are made alive to an entirely greater and more powerful order and dimension of reality, namely, the spiritual reality that is not disclosed to the vanity of this age. Therefore we are to consciously focus our thoughts (φρονέω) on the hidden reality of God rather than on the temporal world that is passing away: "For we are looking not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient (i.e., "just for a season," καιρός), but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18).

We share the visibility of the Messiah in this age... Since He is presently hidden from view, "the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not" (1 John 3:1); on the other hand, when He is revealed from heaven, so we will appear with him in glory... Therefore "being dead" is an inversely reciprocal relationship: being dead to this world is to be alive in the other world, and vice-versa....  We have "hidden life" in the Messiah, as it is written: "your life has been hidden (i.e., κρύπτω, "concealed," "disguised") with the Messiah in God." By faith you are made dead to one order of reality so that you would be made alive to another order of reality, to the reality of God that transcends the shadows and decay of this world. Your life has been hidden - like a "hidden treasure" - with the Messiah, who holds its store for you and will reveal its glory in the coming age. Because Yeshua knows you by name, calls you to follow Him, and is your Sin-Bearer, Priest, Advocate, and Savior before the throne of God, your life is indeed "hidden with Him," and you are made secure through His all-powerful providential care... Praise His Name forever.

Salvation is forever a matter of life and death. We esteem earthly doctors because they are healers of the body, but how much more do people need true healers of the soul? "Be not deceived" about your own hope for eternity; "God is not mocked" (μυκτηρίζω). He knows your inner motivations with perfect clarity (Gal. 6:7; Heb. 4:12). To "serve" God in the truth means being willing to face ongoing self-examination, to own up to the truth about yourself, to be real, to be honest. We are here to share the message of God's love and to help bring others to eternal life. Yeshua's fiercest words of condemnation were reserved for those who played games with "religion" - for those who forgot that people were literally dying without God's love... May God help us remember what is closest to His heart, friends...
 




The Secret Door...


 

04.18.13  (Iyyar 8, 5773)  There is a "secret door" that you can enter at any time... This door leads to the realm of the Divine Presence, as David said: shiviti (שִׁוִּיתִי) - "I have set the LORD always before me - because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken" (Psalm 16:8). But how did King David "set the LORD" before Him if he did not "enter the door" of faith, trusting that God would indeed be near to him? The great commandment is Shema, listen... Therefore the Spirit invites you to come: "Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known" (Jer. 33:3).
 

קְרָא אֵלַי וְאֶעֱנֶךָּ וְאַגִּידָה לְּךָ
גְּדלוֹת וּבְצֻרוֹת לא יְדַעְתָּם

ke·ra · e·lai · ve·e·e·ne·ka · ve·a·gi·dah · le·kha
ge·do·lot · u·ve·tzu·rot · lo · ye·da'·tam

 

"Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you
great and hidden things that you have not known."
(
Jer. 33:3)



 

At any given moment of our day, regardless of our circumstances, we can attune ourselves to the reality of the Divine Presence and come "boldly before the Throne of Grace" (Heb. 4:16). The world knows nothing of this realm and is enslaved by appearances and the delusions of this realm, olam hazeh. As Yeshua said, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given" (Matt. 13:11). The Spirit always says, "Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you" (Isa. 26:20). In the secret places of our heart - our "prayer closet" - we appeal to the Hidden Presence to be manifest in the midst of every circumstance of our lives...
 




Sensing the Sacred...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim... ]

04.17.13  (Iyyar 7, 5773)  The Torah records God's first act of creation with the imperative utterance: "Let there be light" (i.e., yehi or: יְהִי אוֹר), and then goes on to say that "God separated (וַיַּבְדֵּל) the light from the darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). It is this "separation," or distinction, that is foundational to the concept of kedushah (קְדֻשָּׁה), or "holiness." Holiness is also expressed in the distinction between ordinary and sacred time: "God blessed the seventh day and made it holy" (יְקַדֵּשׁ) because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation" (Gen. 2:3). Therefore we are repeatedly told to "distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean" (Lev. 10:10). Note that the word translated "distinguish" (וּלֲהַבְדִּיל) comes from the same verb used to describe how God separated the light from the darkness. In order to do this, we need understanding (i.e., binah: בִּינָה), or the ability to distinguish between (בֵּין) realms of reality. As it is written, "You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and I have separated you (וָאַבְדִּל) from other people that you should be mine" (Lev. 20:26).
 

וִהְיִיתֶם לִי קְדשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי יְהוָה
וָאַבְדִּל אֶתְכֶם מִן־הָעַמִּים לִהְיוֹת לִי

vi·yi·tem · li · ke·do·shim · ki · ka·dosh · a·ni · Adonai
va·av·dil · et·khem · min-ha·a·mim · li·he·yot · li

 

"You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy
and I have separated you from the peoples to be mine"
(
Lev. 20:26)



 

There is no other way to approach the Holy One apart from consciousness of His infinite glory and unsurpassable worth. "I will lift up my eyes to the hills" (Psalm 121:1). As the Holy One (i.e., ha-kadosh: הַקָּדוֹשׁ), the LORD (יהוה) is utterly unique, distinct, sacred, and set apart as the only One of its kind. He alone is worthy of true worship and adoration, since He alone is utterly peerless, without rival, and stands in relation to the world as Creator, Redeemer, and Lord. To affirm the LORD is holy is to be conscious that He is utterly sacred.

Note: Being "holy" does not mean being sanctimonious or having a sour face about the world and its carnal pleasures. It has nothing at all to do with affected spirituality, angry pride, or the fear of becoming unclean... Indeed, some of the most holy moments are those of love, joy, peace, as well as times of struggle, sorrow, affliction, and fiery temptation. Holiness is ultimately "ontological," which means it has to do with reality... A person can be holy and yet sinful; he can be holy and yet feel lost or abandoned. On the other hand, a person can be seemingly sinless, morally upright, and yet be completely unholy.
 




Love and Holiness...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim... ]

04.17.13  (Iyyar 7, 5773)  This week we have another "double portion" of Torah: Acharei Mot and Kedoshim, both of which focus on holiness. In response to the recent death of Aaron's sons for offering "strange fire" in the Tabernacle, Acharei Mot ("after the death") explains the holiness code for the kohanim (priests) of Israel -- and in particular gives the laws for the Yom Kippur service. Parashat Kedoshim, on the other hand, concerns the holiness code for the entire congregation of Israel.

In Hebrew, the word "holiness" is kedushah (קְדֻשָׁה), from a root (קדשׁ) that means sanctity or "set-apartness." Other Hebrew words that use this root include kadosh (קָדוֹשׁ, 'holy'), kiddush (קִדּוּש, sanctifying the wine), kaddish (קַדִּישׁ, sanctifying the Name), kiddushin (the ring ceremony at a marriage), mikdash (מִקְדָּש, sanctuary), and so on. Kadosh connotes the sphere of the sacred that is radically separate from all that is sinful and profane. As such, it is lofty and elevated (Isa. 57:15), beyond all comparison and utterly unique (Isa. 40:25), entirely righteous (Isa. 5:16), glorious and awesome (Psalm 99:3), full of light and power (Isa. 10:7), and is chosen and favored as God's own (Ezek. 22:26). Indeed, holiness is a synonym for the LORD Himself (HaKadosh barukh hu - The Holy One, blessed be He).

The focal point and the very heart of what practical holiness means is stated as as the duty: ve'ahavta l're'akha kamokha (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ) - "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18). Note that the direct object of the verb (i.e., ahav - to love) is your "neighbor" (רֵעַ). But who, exactly, is my neighbor? Some have claimed that the word re'a (neighbor) refers only to one's fellow Jew or friend, and not to others at large in the world. However this is obviously false, since the "stranger" (ger) is explicitly identified to be an object of our love (see Lev. 19:34). And note that when Yeshua was asked this very question, he turning it around. Instead of attempting to find someone worthy of neighborly love, we are asked to be worthy and loving neighbors ourselves (Luke 10:29-37).
 

וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ אֲנִי יְהוָה

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."
(
Lev. 19:18)



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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."

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 found in 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.

Though most sages say that the greatest principle of Torah is to love your neighbor as yourself, Ben Azzai said that even greater is believing that God created human beings in His likeness (בִּדְמוּת), since then one cannot say, "Since I despise myself I can despise another as well; since I curse myself, let the other be accursed as well." Being made in God's likeness implies that how we regard ourselves and others is the same measure we regard God Himself (1 John 4:20). Therefore the first commandment is always, "I am the LORD thy God..." (Exod. 20:2), since apart from faith, there is no Torah of any kind.

Note: For more on this subject, see "Love and Holiness."
 




Love and Reproof...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim... ]

04.17.13  (Iyyar 7, 5773)  In our Torah portion this week there is a wonderful verse (Lev. 16:16) which states that the LORD "dwells with them in the midst of their contamination" (הַשּׁכֵן אִתָּם בְּתוֹךְ טֻמְאתָם). Even though the people were unclean (i.e., defiled by sin and tumah), the Divine Presence was not removed and the means for reconciliation were provided...  Aren't you glad that the love of God doesn't "stop there" (i.e., with a verdict about our sinful condition) but goes beyond the offense to provide remedy and hope?

Yeshua said, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I AM in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). This is expressed by the Hebrew word for love (i.e., ahavah: אהבה), the gematria of which is thirteen, but when shared with another is multiplied: 13 x 2 = 26 -- the same value for the name of the LORD (יהוה). The commandment, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ) thus awakens in the other the same kind of love for you -- and the result will be a "double love" -- or the love of God (אַהֲבַת הָאֱלהִים). Of course this isn't easy, but immediately after giving the commandment, God declares: "I AM the LORD" (אֲנִי יְהוָה), which the sages traditionally interpret to mean, "I, the LORD, will help you fulfill this commandment if you sincerely wish to do so."

For more on this topic, see the Torah article "Love and Reproof."
 




Footsteps of the Messiah...


 

04.17.13  (Iyyar 7, 5773)  Yeshua forewarned of the alienation and moral sickness that would pervade mankind just before the time of his return: "Because lawlessness (i.e., ἀνομία, from -α ('not') + νομος, 'torah') will be increased," he said, "the love of many will grow cold (i.e., ψύχομαι, 'be extinguished')" (Matt. 24:12). Note the link between Torah and love: true love requires respect for God's authority, for without that the divine image is disfigured and desecrated.  Likewise the Apostle Paul foresaw that the "End of Days" (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) would be a time of peril (καιροὶ χαλεποί) because people would become increasingly narcissistic, self-absorbed, infatuated with their own sense of self-importance, abusive toward others, disrespectful to elders, ungrateful, heartless, unforgiving, without self-control, brutal, treacherous, and so on (2 Tim. 3:1-4). Therefore, in light of the spiritual war that rages all around us, it is vital that we remain firmly rooted in what is real by taking hold of our identity and provision as children 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), i.e., a "delivered" mind, "healed" from fragmentation (2 Tim. 1:7). The name of the LORD (יהוה) means "Presence," and in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). He is as close as our heart and our very breath (Rom. 10:8). We are not to be troubled like the world that lives in terror of man, nor are we to crave security from the vain devices of mere men.  No - we must look to God Almighty, the Master of the Universe. He alone is our Refuge and Defence, the One who gives us steadfast love in the midst of these storms.

Ikvot HaMashiach - עִקְּבוֹת הַמָּשִׁיחַ

According to Jewish eshcatological tradition, the period of time immediately before the Messiah's arrival is sometimes called ikvot meshicha (עִקְּבוֹת מְשִׁיחַ), the time when the "footsteps of the Messiah" can be heard. Some of the "signs" of this period include the rise of various false prophets, numerous wars and "rumors of wars" (including the rise of Magog), famines, earthquakes, worldwide apostasy from the faith, persecution, and a globalized sort of godlessness that is revealed in unbridled selfishness, greed, chutzpah (audacity), shamelessness, and a general lack of hakarat ha-tov (gratitude). The greatest sign, however, will be that Israel will exist once again as a sovereign nation, despite the prophesied exile among the nations (Deut. 4:27-31; Jer. 30:1-3). According to some of the sages, the 9th century work Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer foretells that just before the coming of Messiah, "Ishmael" will rise in power to terrorize the world. According to Yalkut Shimoni, the king of Persia (Iran) is going to "have a weapon that is going to terrorize the world." A coming "Messiah of evil" (code name Armilus) will soon appear on the world stage to offer a peace treaty for Israel and the Middle East, "but when they shall say, 'peace and security' (confirmed covenant) then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman (time of Jacob's Trouble), and they will not escape (1 Thess. 5:3).

Note: For more on this subect, see the article "Birthpangs of Messiah" and its related links.
 




Finding Your Focal Point...


 

04.16.13  (Iyyar 6, 5773)    Your faith must mean something to you if it is to mean anything before God... As Abraham Heschel once wisely remarked, "God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance." Likewise King David said, echat sha'alti me'et Adonai, otah avakesh: "One thing I ask of the Lord; that is what I will seek." David asked for one thing – not many things. He did not come with a litany of requests. He was not double minded.  As Kierkegaard said, "purity of the heart is to will one thing." David sought the best he could find. He wanted the "pearl of great price."

The most important thing in life is to decide what is the most important thing in life - and then to act accordingly. Time is short for all of us, and it is more vital than ever to find healing for our woundedness. We have to quit pretending to be what we aren't and learn to be honest and vulnerable. Spirituality without honesty and humility is a sham. If you don't know how to begin, then begin there - by knowing your confusion, your need for the miracle of God's help and direction... For instance, if you don't know how to really love, then confess your heart's condition and pray for the miracle you need. As it is written, "God has compassion for the lowly and broken, and saves the souls of the bankrupt ones."
 

יָחס עַל־דַּל וְאֶבְיוֹן
וְנַפְשׁוֹת אֶבְיוֹנִים יוֹשִׁיעַ

ya·chos · al-dal · ve·ev·yon
ve·naf·shot · ev·yo·nim · yo·shi·a

 

"He has compassion for the lowly and broken,
and saves the souls of the bankrupt ones"
(Psalm 72:13)


 


When God said, "Let there be light, and there was light" (Gen. 1:3), He seemed to put on light as a robe of the Divine Majesty and Kingship: He wrapped Himself with radiance as a tallit gadol... Da lifnei mi attah omed (דַּע לִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עוֹמֵד) – "Know before whom you stand." The whole earth is lit up with God's glory, and every bush of the field is aflame before us -- if we have eyes to see (Isa. 6:3). May it please the LORD to open our spiritual eyes so that we can behold more of His glory and majesty in this hour... Amen.
 




Prophetic Significance of Israel


 

[ The following is related to Yom HaAtzma'ut (יוֹם הָעַצְמָאוּת) - Israel's Independence Day - which begins April 15th at sundown this year.  Happy 65th Birthday, Israel! ]

04.15.13  (Iyyar 5, 5773)  Can a case be made that we among the "terminal generation" before the return of Yeshua? The Torah predicted that the "end of days" would occur sometime after the return of the Jewish people from their worldwide dispersion back to the land of Israel (Deut. 30:1-3), and indeed the theme of exile and return is repeated in the prophets (Jer. 23:3; 32:37-38; Ezek. 37:21, etc.). Therefore it is surely extraordinary that Israel was reborn as a nation in their ancient homeland on May 14, 1948 (Iyyar 5, 5708), after nearly 2,000 years of exile... The existence of the modern State of Israel is entirely consonant with New Testament prophecies regarding the advent of the Messiah, since Yeshua taught that the Jewish people would be in the land of Israel at the time of his second coming, and that the city of Jerusalem would be surrounded by enemies of the Jewish state (see Matt. 24-25; Mark 13, Luke 21). Furthermore, if we understand a "generation" to mean 70-80 years in duration (as stated in Psalm 90:10), then when Yeshua said, "this generation (ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη) shall not pass until all these things take place" (Matt. 24:34), he was referring to the generation that would originate with the restoration of the modern State of Israel, which further implies that Daniel's 70th Week (i.e., the Great Tribulation) could begin very soon, perhaps within as few as 5-15 years (add 19 years if you begin counting with the annex of Jerusalem in June 7th, 1967).  And while it is true that "no one knows the day or hour" of Yom Adonai haGadol (יוֹם־יְהוָה הַגָּדוֹל), the "great day of the LORD," Yeshua faulted the Pharisees for failing to discern "the signs of the times" (Matt. 16:3) and for missing the "time of their visitation" (Luke 19:44).
 

מִי־שָׁמַע כָּזאת
מִי רָאָה כָּאֵלֶּה
הֲיוּחַל אֶרֶץ בְּיוֹם אֶחָד
אִם־יִוָּלֵד גּוֹי פַּעַם אֶחָת

mi · sha·ma · ka'zot
mi · ra'ah · ka'
e·leh
hai
·yu·chal · e·retz · be·yom · e·chad
im · yiv·va·led · goy ·
pa·am · e·chat

 

"Who has heard such a thing?
Who has seen such things?
Shall a land be born in one day?
Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?"
(Isa. 66:8)



 

Like many other prophetic statements found in the Jewish Scriptures, this verse from the prophet Isaiah is "dual aspect," since it was both partially fulfilled when the Jewish people reestablished the State of Israel, but it will be entirely fulfilled at the outset of the Millennial Kingdom after the return of Messiah (see Isa. 66:7-16; Rom. 11:26). Meanwhile we behold the restoration of the "Fig Tree," and understand that the great harvest draws near, friends... May God help each one of us be awake, ready, with hearts full of steadfast faith (1 John 3:2-3; Titus 2:11-14; Matt. 24:32).

Note:   "Preterism" is an eschatological interpretative scheme that believes all the great prophecies of the New Testament, such as Armageddon and the destruction of Jerusalem, the coming of the Messiah of Evil (Antichrist), the birth pangs of Messiah, the Great Tribulation, and especially Yom Adonai (יוֹם־יְהוָה הַגָּדוֹל) - the Great Day of the LORD - were all fulfilled in AD 70 when the Romans destroyed the Holy Temple. In other words, a full-fledged preterist believes that there is no "prophetic future" left to be fulfilled, since the "end of the world" has already come! The "Second Coming" occurred during the first Pentecost after the resurrection, etc. etc... More damningly, preterists assert that Yeshua's various prophetic statements about the "end of the age" were restricted to the culture of his day and therefore his words should not be taken seriously by us today. As I hope you can see, this viewpoint is inherently anti-Israel, since it abhors the theocratic vision of Zion and denies the prophecies of the kingdom to come in Jerusalem.

It is interesting that ultra-Orthodox Jews who study the Hebrew prophets understand the vision of Zion and the coming Kingdom of Messiah. Only those who radically allegorize the plain meaning of the Scriptures would dare deny Israel's place in God's providential plan for the ages. In the end, preterism appears to be little more than the theological justification for "supersessionism," or the idea that the "church" supersedes (i.e., replaces) Israel as the true covenant people of God. It is time for so-called Christians who suppose they are the "Israel of God" to honestly deal with Jeremiah 31:31-37 -- the only place in the entire "old Testament" where the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) is explicitly mentioned.

Regardless of how you may regard the prophetic events that herald the "end of the world," however, know this: Today might be your last in this world - your very own Rosh Hashanah when you will appear before the Judge and Creator of your life... Therefore should we live each day as if it were our last and pray that God will help us to serve Him in the truth.
 




Happy Birthday, Israel!


 

[ Yom Huledet Same'ach, Israel!  Happy 65th Birthday to the miraculous people of the miraculous promised land! May God make your numbers like the stars in heaven! ]

04.14.13  (Iyyar 4, 5773)   Tomorrow at sundown we celebrate Israel's Independence Day, called Yom Ha'atzma'ut (יוֹם הָעַצְמָאוּת). The word atzma'ut (independence) comes from atzmi - "my bones" (i.e., etzem: עֶצֶם), so the name itself reminds us of the God's glorious promise to revive the "dry bones" (עֲצָמוֹת) of Israel by bringing the Jewish people back from their long exile (Ezek. 37:1-6). Son of man, can these bones live?

But why should Christians care about ethnic Israel?  After all, many Christian denominations advocate some version of "Replacement Theology" and regard the promises God made to the Jewish people as belonging exclusively to their church...  The existence of the modern State of Israel therefore evokes little thanks to God from these groups, and some of their ranks even regard Israel's revived presence on the world stage as an embarrassment to their typically "liberal" theology.  Hence we see the (remarkably bad) phenomena of so-called "Christian" church denominations that express anti-Israel sentiment, even asking their followers to divest investments in Israel on behalf of the "Palestinians," etc.

Briefly, we should care about Israel because the existence of Jewish people - and of the nation of Israel in particular - demonstrates that God is faithful to the covenant promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (e.g., Gen. 15:9-21). The perpetuity of the Jewish people - despite so much worldwide and satanic hatred over the millennia - is an awesome testimony of God's faithful love (Jer. 31:35-37). עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי / am Yisrael chai: "The people of Israel live!" Israel is a sign of the "sure mercies of David" (חַסְדֵי דָוִד הַנֶּאֱמָנִים) that are revealed in Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah (Isa. 55:1-6). Moreover, the New Covenant itself, as foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, explicitly promises the perpetuity of the Jewish people thoughout the ages (Jer. 31:31-37):
 

    Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD (יהוה), when I will make a new covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law (תּוֹרָה) within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

    Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar– the LORD of hosts is his Name: "If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) cease from being a nation before me forever." Thus says the LORD: "If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israelfor all that they have done, declares the LORD. – Jer. 31:35-36
     

According to this theologically critical passage, if you saw the sun shine today or the stars in the night sky, you can be assured that God's promise to preserve the "offspring of Israel" -- (i.e., zera Yisrael: זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) -- is in effect. Indeed, in the world to come, heavenly Jerusalem will have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel engraved upon its gates (Rev. 21:12). Note well that this is the only occurrence in the entire Tanakh (i.e., "Old Testament") that the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) is explicitly mentioned... It is a foundational passage of Scripture for those who claim to be followers of the Jewish Messiah.

In this connection, let me ask you a simple question.  If the King of the Jews is our hope and lives inside our hearts by faith, and if the King of the Jews calls Jerusalem the "City of the Great King" (Psalm 48:2, Matt 5:35), then it only makes sense that we would heed King David's admonition to "ask for the peace of Jerusalem..."
 

שַׁאֲלוּ שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלָםִ יִשְׁלָיוּ אהֲבָיִךְ

sha·a·lu · she·lom ·  ye·ru·sha·la·yim, · yish·la·yu  · o·ha·va·yikh
 

"Ask for the well-being of Jerusalem;
May those who love you be at peace"
(Psalm 122:6)



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King David was a great prophet. Note that the phrase "sha'alu shalom Yerushalayim" actually reveals truth about our Savior Yeshua the Messiah.  The word sha'alu actually means "ask" (as in ask a sheilah, a question).  Shalom is a Name of Yeshua, since He indeed is Sar Shalom (the Prince of Peace).  The word Jerusalem means "teaching of peace" (the "Jeru" at the  beginning of the word comes from the same root as the word Torah, which means teaching), so the phrase could be construed as "ask about the Prince of Peace and His Teaching." Yeshua is indeed the rightful King of Jerusalem who is coming soon to reign over all the earth.  מָרַן אֲתָא יְשׁוּעַ / Maranatha Yeshua! "Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done" (Rev. 22:12).

Note: All the blessings Christians enjoy ultimately come from the root of God's covenants with Israel... Yeshua our Savior was born the King of the Jews, and plainly said salvation is "from the Jews" (Matt. 2:2; 27:11; John 4:22). The Apostle Paul clearly warned those who think the church has "replaced" Israel: "Remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you" (Rom. 11:18). This doctine is so foundational that it may be righly said that how you think about Israel will affect every other area of your theology. For more on this subject, see the article, "Is Christianity Anti-Jewish?"
 




Seeing God's Face...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim... ]

04.14.13  (Iyyar 4, 5773)   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
אֲנִי יְהוָה

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."
(Lev. 19:18)



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).
 




Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim


 

[ This week we have another "double portion" of Torah: Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. Please read the Torah portions to find your place here...  ]

04.14.13  (Iyyar 4, 5773)  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...

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).

Time is nearly up for this world, and the hour draws near: "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. We are admonished 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).

Among other things, a life of faith is a form of protest against any reality that excludes the Divine Presence of Yeshua, God's redemptive love... Because of this, faith expresses a kind of temporal unhappiness or longing for the ultimate healing of all.... מָרַן אֲתָא - Maranatha!


Note: For more about the relationship between Passover and Yom Kippur, see the article entitled, Yom Kippur and the Gospel.
 




Cleansing of the Leper...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Tazria-Metzora. Please read the Torah portion to find your place here... ]

04.12.13  (Iyyar 2, 5773)  Although the priest needed to go "outside the camp" to examine a metzora (i.e., "leper"), the person still needed to "be brought" to the priest to meet him there, while he or she was in a state of exile (Lev. 14:2-3). In other words, the afflicted one was required to meet the priest "half-way." Like the prodigal son who returns home, God lovingly waits for us at the "edge" of the camp to meet us half-way... Hashivenu (הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ): "Return us to You, LORD, and we shall return" (Lam. 5:21).

The case of the metzora reveals that God sometimes disciplines his child with "exile" in order to awaken teshuvah within the heart. God imparted the spiritual disease of tzara'at to "remind" us of our sin and need for atonement, and the purification ritual was meant to illustrate our need for spiritual rebirth.... The gracious aim of affliction, then, is to "wake us from our slumbers" in order to reveal the way of life... As C.S. Lewis once said, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

The love of God is so great that He reached out and touched us - becoming a "leper" for us - and even chose to die "in exile" upon the cross to eternally purify us from our sins... In that sense, Yeshua surely meets us more than "half-way," since He "emptied Himself" (κενόω) of His heavenly glory and power in order to willingly bear our sickness, shame, and even death itself on our behalf... "But [He] made himself nothing (εκενωσεν), taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men; and being found in human form, he brought himself low by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:7-8).
 




Shemirat Ha-Lashon - שְׁמִירַת הַלָּשׁוֹן


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Tazria-Metzora. Please read the Torah portion to find your place here... ]

04.11.13  (Iyyar 1, 5773)  According to the sages, tzara'at ("leprosy") was a punishment for evil speech, or "lashon hara" (לָשׁוֹן הָרָה). In midrashic literature, lashon hara is regarded as equal to idol worship, sexual immorality, and murder, and the one who indulges in it defiles his mouth so that even words of Torah and prayer are corrupted. "From the same mouth come blessing and cursing; brothers, these things ought not to be so" (James 3:10). The sages even go further: "Lashon Hara is worse than murder. One who murders, murders but one; however, one who speaks lashon hara kills three: the one who speaks it, the one who hears it, and the one of whom it is spoken." Lashon hara is likened to "emotional homicide" caused by publicly shaming another. According to the Talmud, the shamed person's face is drained of blood and turns white, and therefore humiliation is called halbanat panim, "whitening the face." Therefore the sages identify the metzora (i.e., leper) with hamotzi ra, "one who brings forth evil," and they stress shemirat ha-lashon, the "guarding of the tongue," as a cardinal virtue of the righteous.

Those who think it easy to control the tongue have likely never really tried to do so. "The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell" (James 3:5-6). Ultimately, controlling your tongue is a matter of controlling your inner thoughts, your heart, and your attitude (shemirat ha-lev). Therefore we are admonished to be "quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger," since the anger of man never works the righteousness of God (James 1:19). May the LORD our God help us always to speak with grace, "seasoned with salt" (Col. 4:6); and may we all "speak the truth in love to grow up in every way" (Eph. 4:15).

Note: For more on this important topic, click here.
 




Atonement and Blood...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Tazria-Metzora. Please read the Torah portion to find your place here... ]

04.10.13  (Nisan 30, 5773)  Though the creation of human life (i.e., birth) is regarded as one of the greatest events in the world, the Torah states that it begins in impurity (טֻמְאָה), indicating that natural life by itself is insufficient for attaining spiritual life (John 3:7). Hence we read in our Torah portion that the birth of a child results in impurity for the mother that required blood atonement (Lev. 12:2,7). A new mother is treated as a niddah (a menstruent woman) and is considered impure (i.e., tamei, טָמֵא) for 40 days (if a boy) or 80 days (if a girl). Only after making an offering of blood (e.g., a lamb, a young pigeon, or a turtledove) was she declared "clean" (טָהֵר) by the priests.  This was also true of Miriam (i.e., Mary, the mother of Yeshua) who fulfilled her "days of purification" and offered the prescribed sacrifices according to the law (Luke 2:22-24).

The Torah makes it clear that blood (דָּם) is used as a means of consecration as well as a means of obtaining atonement (כַּפָּרָה) with God.  Blood was used on the doorposts of the houses in Egypt to ward off judgment and was later used to ratify the covenant given at Sinai (Exod. 24:8). All the elements of Mishkan (Tabernacle) were likewise "separated" by its use: The altar, the various furnishings of the Temple, the vestments of the priests, and even the priests themselves were sanctified by blood (Exod. 29:20-21, Heb. 9:21). But ultimately blood was used to "make atonement" for the soul upon the altar. As the Torah (Lev. 17:11) plainly states: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood (כִּי נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם), and I have given it for you on the altar to atone (לְכַפֵּר) for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life (כִּי־הַדָּם הוּא בַּנֶּפֶשׁ יְכַפֵּר)." Blood is therefore connected to the holiness of life through sacrificial death...

Note: For more on this subject, see the "Atonement and Blood" article.
 




Words and Healing...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Tazria-Metzora. Please read the Torah portion to find your place here... ]

04.10.13  (Nisan 30, 5773)  Just as a body can become sick with illness, so can a soul: "I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me; heal my soul (רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי), for I have sinned against you!'" (Psalm 41:4). Likewise we understand that fear influences the way the brain processes images and messages. And since the mind and body are intricately interconnected, fear is often the root cause of many physiological problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, clinical depression, and other ailments. Left unchecked, fear can be deadly. Note the connection between fear, lashon hara (evil thoughts/words), and sickness (tzara'at), which are themes of this week's Torah portion...

The targum Onkelos states that God breathed into Adam the ability to think and to speak. In other words, thought and speech are two primary characteristics of the image (tzelem) and likeness (demut) of God. Since our use of words is directly linked to the "breath of God" within us, lashon hara (לָשׁוֹן הָרָה) defaces God's image within us.... Using words to inflict pain therefore perverts the image of God, since God created man to use language to "build up" others in love. This is part of the reason the metzora (i.e., one afflicted with tzara'at) was regarded as "dead" and in need of rebirth.

Lashon hara is really a symptom of the "evil eye" (ayin hara). "Evil comes to one who searches (דָּרַשׁ) for it" (Prov. 11:27). We must train ourselves to use the "good eye" (ayin tovah) and extend kaf zechut - the "hand of merit" to others. Genuine faith is optimistic and involves hakarat tovah, that is, recognizing the good in others and in life's circumstances. Gam zu l'tovah: "This too is for the good" (Rom. 8:28). The Midrash states that God afflicted houses with tzara'at so that treasure hidden within the walls would be discovered. The good eye finds "hidden treasure" in every person and experience.

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 our inner heart attitudes. When we harbor indifference, ill will, or unforgiveness toward others, we are only hurting ourselves. It is very sobering to realize that our thoughts are essentially prayers being offered up to God... When we seek 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.

In light of the enigma of "spiritual impurity" (i.e., tumah) and its ultimate expression revealed in the corruption of death, it is all the more telling that we should heed the cry of the Spirit: "Choose Life!" (Deut. 30:19). Sin is a type of "spiritual suicide" that seduces us to exchange eternal good for the petty and trivial. The nachash (serpent) in the garden of Eden was the first to speak lashon hara. He slandered God and lied to Eve about how to discern between good and evil. He is a murderer and the father of lies. Resist his wiles with the truth of God...

May it please the LORD to help each of us be entirely mindful of the power and sanctity of our words... May it please Him to help us use our words for the purpose of strengthening and upbuilding (οἰκοδομὴν) one another (Eph. 4:29). May God help us take every thought "captive" to the obedience of the Messiah, thereby enabling us to always behold and express the truth of God's unfailing love.
 




The New Month of Iyyar


 

04.09.13  (Nisan 29, 5773)  On the Torah's calendar, the month of Iyyar falls between the great month of redemption (i.e., Nisan) and the third month of revelation (Sivan), and is therefore primarily regarded as a "month of passage" to help us prepare for the revelation given at Sinai (i.e., mattan Torah). Later, the agricultural aspect of this "passage" was enshrined in terms of Sefirat HaOmer (סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר), or the "counting the sheaves," when a sheaf of barley was waved before the altar each day for 49 days before the arrival of the great jubilee of Shavuot (Lev. 23:15-16). In Rabbinical tradition, each passing day of the month of Iyyar is an opportunity to awaken to the importance of the Torah. For followers of Yeshua, each day anticipates the giving of the Holy Spirit and how the inner meaning of the Torah is written upon the heart by the power of God (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4; Jer. 31:33).


 

The Rosh Chodesh Blessing

The following (simplified) blessing can be recited to ask the LORD to help you for the coming new month of Iyyar:
 

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

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

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

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The month of Iyyar has become very important in more recent Jewish history and tradition. On the modern Jewish calendar, a number of newer holidays are observed, including Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day), Yom HaAtzma'ut (Israel's Independence Day), Lag B'Omer (Iyyar 18), and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). By far the greatest of these modern holidays is Yom Ha'atzmaut, or Israel's Independence Day, which was originally announced on before sunset on Friday, May 14th (i.e., Iyyar 5, 5708). And of course the liberation of the Temple Mount on June 7th, 1967 (i.e., Iyyar 28, 5727) is also highly prophetic as well!
 




Parashat Tazria-Metzora


 

04.09.13  (Nisan 29, 5773)  This week we have a "double portion" of Torah to read: parashat Tazria and Metzora, both of which focus on the concept of being "clean" (טָהוֹר) and obtaining purification from a state of "uncleanness" (טָמֵא). Of particular importance is the healing and purification of the metzora (i.e., "leper"), which is similar to the ritual performed for cleansing during the great Day of Atonement.

A midrash states that when the Israelites first heard about the divinely imparted affliction of tzara'at, sometimes (inaccurately) translated as "leprosy," they despaired and became fearful. Moses reassured them by telling them that tzara'at was a sign from God that they were a chosen nation, and this was his way of encouraging them to do teshuvah in to be in fellowship with Him. Likewise God sometimes disciplines us for our sins (Heb 12:7-8) for the purpose of granting us the gift of teshuvah (2 Cor. 7:10). We must therefore strive to make our conversation and the inmost intent of our hearts "captive to the obedience of the Messiah," blessed be He (Matt. 5:37; Eph. 4:29; Col. 3:8; 2 Cor. 10:5; 1 Tim 4:2; etc.).

A student once asked his rebbe: "Do we get punished for our sins in this world?" His succinct response was, "Only if we are fortunate..." Indeed, correction from God is a blessing in disguise, since there is no worse state in this life than to be untouched or overlooked by God (Rom. 1:28). God is teaching us through our failures; he is training us to persevere, to endure, and to become strong. As it is written, "If you are left without discipline (מוּסָר), then you are illegitimate children and not sons" (Heb. 12:8).

The rabbis say that tza'arat comes from lashon hara (i.e., gossip or the abuse of our words). Yeshua clearly warned us, "I tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will give account (ἀποδίδωμι) for every careless word they speak (i.e., πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργόν, all "empty" or "thoughtless" words), for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). Every word we utter reaches up to the highest places of heaven and echoes there. The sages say that the Holy One, blessed be He, sends an angel who records every word you say about your neighbor in the "heavenly scrolls" (Rev. 20:12). Therefore David admonishes, "Who desires life (מִי־הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים) and loves many days that bring forth good? Guard your tongue from evil and keep your lips from using deceptive speech. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:13-14).

In the Gospels we read how Yeshua healed various "lepers" and even touched them (e.g., Matt. 8:2-3, Mark 1:40-41). But how could He do this without Himself becoming tamei (unclean)? We must remember that it was the prerogative of the LORD God of Israel to "touch" those afflicted with tzara'at and heal them based on their teshuvah, and in like measure, Yeshua entered the "leper colony" of humanity to heal those who cried out to Him. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and His love reaches down to those who are afflicted and oppressed on account of their uncleanness. If you call upon Him, He will likewise touch you and restore you to fellowship with God.


For Further Study:

 




Deliver Us from Evil...


 

[ Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day, is observed April 7th (and 8th) this year... ]

04.08.13  (Nisan 28, 5773)  Holocaust survivor Vicktor Frankl wrote, "No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same."  There is a "shadow" or darker side to ourselves that we normally keep hidden from view, even from ourselves. Yeshua said "out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander, and these are what defile a person" (Matt. 15:19-20). If you were given a magic ring which when placed on your finger made you invisible, would your behavior change? Would you be moral if you were entirely sure that you wouldn't be held accountable? Why is it difficult to understand our true motives, to "own" the darker impulses that sometimes rise within us? Each of us can act like a petty Pharaoh, and - dare I say it - even like a cruel Nazi at times, blaming others to excuse our own evil ways... When we come to the light to confess the truth, we become more aware of what we really need, and we can ask God for healing; we then can forgive ourselves and begin to "lift off" our stuff from others.
 

עָקב הַלֵּב מִכּל וְאָנֻשׁ הוּא מִי יֵדָעֶנּוּ

a·kov · ha·lev · mi·kol · ve·a·nush · hu - mi · ye·dei·nu?
 

"The heart is deceitful above all things and incurably sick
- who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9)
 

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; by denying its own inner poverty... "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.

Julian of Norwich said, "All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well," and yet the darkest pitch of depression is precisely the inability to take hold of such hope... Faith in the midst of darkness must yet affirm that despite own sin, our own wretchedness, nothing will hinder nor overcome the working of God's goodness...
 




Meaning in Suffering...

Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial
 

[ Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day, is observed April 7th (and 8th) this year... ]

04.08.13  (Nisan 28, 5773)  It has been noted that the survivors of the concentration camps were not necessarily the physically strongest, but they were people able to find meaning in their suffering and who never lost sight of hope. As survivor Vicktor Frankl once said, "In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice."  In light of this, let's resolve now to live each day full of concentrated hope - full of conviction - that even should this be the last day of our earthly existence, we will stand for God, we will hold on to the truth of God's salvation, and we will die in the everlasting hope of God's victorious love.
 

    We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way...

    Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. - Viktor E. Frankl

 




Holocaust Memorial Day...


 

[ Yom HaShoah is observed Sunday, April 7th after sundown this year... ]

04.07.13  (Nisan 27, 5773)  Some people mark the date of November 9, 1938 as the start of the Jewish Holocaust. On that dreadful night - called Kristallnacht, "the Night of Broken Glass" - thousands of Germans, organized by the Nazis, destroyed over 1,000 synagogues, burned precious Torah scrolls and prayer books in town squares, ransacked and looted over 7,000 Jewish businesses, and invaded and terrorized many Jewish homes. Many Jews were killed during the attacks, and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken away to the concentration camps. Kristallnacht was followed by further persecution of the Jews and is viewed by most historians as the pogram that initiated the infamous "Final Solution."

To readily identify who was a Jew to the authorities, Hitler ordered all subjugated peoples of Jewish descent to wear yellow stars of David on their clothing. Hitler relied on non Jews to spy on and identify all those who did not comply. When the order to wear the star was issued in Holland, however, an underground newspaper made 300,000 yellow stars that said, "Jews and non-Jews stand united in their struggle," and distributed them to the public to express their solidarity with the plight of the Jewish people. In Denmark, too, the "yellow star law" was rebuffed, and King Christian X was reported to have said that if the law were to be enforced by the Nazis, he pledged to wear one himself, as would all the other people of Denmark. Later, the Danish resistance movement (with the help of ordinary Danish citizens) opposed the Nazis by safely evacuating the Jews to nearby neutral Sweden.

By far the largest act of civil resistance against Hitler and the Nazis occurred during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which took place in Poland on the eve of Passover, April 19, 1943. Unfortunately most Jews were unable to defend themselves because oppressive gun control laws had disarmed the population; nevertheless, it still took the Nazi war machine nearly a month to vanquish the ghetto - longer than it took for Hitler to overcome the entire country of Poland. Because the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising symbolized Jewish resistance against the Nazis, in 1953, after the State of Israel was formed, it was proposed to observe Yom HaShoah on the anniversary of the uprising -- on the 14th of Nisan -- but this date was rejected because it marked the start of Passover. After considerable debate, the memorial was postponed until after the Passover holiday week was over, on the 27th of Nisan, eight days before Yom Ha'atzma'ut, or Israeli Independence Day.

While there is no official "haggadah" for the Yom HaShoah memorial, it is traditional to light a yellow yahrzeit candle for those who died, to attend a Yom HaShoah memorial service, and to recite kaddish. Some people prepare a lavish meal using recipes written from memory by the starving women of Theresienstadt (salvaged after the war). Many of these recipes are for rich desserts and cakes, recalling days of joy before the women and their families were rounded up and brought to the concentration camps. During the memorial meal, stories of Jews who died are told, as well of those of survivors. Many survivors tell stories about the "hidden children" who were saved by righteous Gentiles (חֲסִידֵי אוּמוֹת הָעוֹלָם). These young survivors were either hidden in secret places (like Anne Frank) or were "adopted" by Christian families who pretended they were their own children.

What does the Holocaust mean to you? How do you do "theology after Auschwitz?" Does the Shoah rouse you to be vigilant against the rise of political evil in the world? Does its warn you how about how easy it is for you to "tune out" - to close your eyes, ears, and nose to the presence of evil and the practice of social injustice and crimes against humanity? As Elie Wiesel said, "Indifference to evil is evil." Hitler not only murdered millions of Jews (including over a million Jewish children), but he also murdered millions of non-Jews whom he regarded as a threat to his political ideology and to "homeland security." We must never forget the horrors of Holocaust because it could happen again - and to believe otherwise is to forget the radical evil lurking within human nature. Germany was perhaps the greatest nation of Europe, cultured, brilliant, "Christian," enlightened, with a rich history of intellectual and artistic genius -- and yet it nevertheless practiced unspeakable barbarity and tolerated massive and heartless genocide against the Jewish people...
 

קוּמִי רנִּי בַלַּיְלָה לְראשׁ אַשְׁמֻרוֹת
שִׁפְכִי כַמַּיִם לִבֵּךְ נכַח פְּנֵי אֲדנָי
שְׂאִי אֵלָיו כַּפַּיִךְ עַל־נֶפֶשׁ עוֹלָלַיִךְ

ku·mi · ro·ni · va·lai·lah · le·rosh · ash·mu·rot
shif·khi · kha·ma·yim · lib·bekh · no·khach · pe·nei · a·do·nai
se·i · e·lav · ka·pa·yikh · al · ne·fesh · o·la·lai·yikh
 

"Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches!
Pour out your heart like water before the face of the LORD!
Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children."
(Lam. 2:19)



"I believe. I believe in the sun even when it is not shining; I believe in love even when feeling it not; and I believe in God, even when God is silent" (from an anonymous poem found on the wall of a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where some Jews hid from the Nazis).
 

    "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference."  - Elie Weisel
     

Though we can't control what happens in this dangerous world, we can trust that God is working all things together for good, even during times of severe testing, and even in things that are blatantly evil (Rom. 8:28; Gen. 50:20). And while we instinctively recoil at the prospect of physical death, there are decidedly things worse than death itself, namely, losing hope in life, walking in the darkness of despair, living a joyless existence because of fear. As much as we abhor evil - and we must resist it with all our hearts - even more must we love the good - and cling to God (וּלְדָבְקָה־בוֹ) with all that is within us.
 

    "There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest."  - Elie Wiesel
     

Ultimately, the most important thing to remember regarding death is the truth about God's salvation (יְשׁוּעָה). After all, God assuredly hates death and provides each of us with its eternal remedy: By clothing himself in human flesh, Yeshua embraced mortality itself and willingly bore the penalty for your sins, exchanging his life for yours, thereby destroying the one who had the power of death, namely the devil, and by so doing, set you free from slavery to the dread of death (Heb. 2:14-15). To those who belong to belong to Messiah, death represents a passage to eternal life and the loving presence of God Himself.

Only the miracle of faith can see hope in the face of radical evil... and yet that is the very message of the cross of the Messiah... Our Lord demonstrated that He is the Killer of death itself; the Slayer of the Serpent; and the ultimate Triumph of God's Light over the realm of despair and everlasting darkness... He is the First and the Last, the Living One who died, and behold is alive forevermore, the true Keyholder of Death and Hell (Rev. 1:18). 
 




Countdown to Revelation...


 

04.05.13  (Nisan 25, 5773)  According to the Torah (Lev. 23:15-17,21), Passover is directly linked to the holiday of Shavuot ("weeks") through the ritual of the Sefirah (סְפָרָה), or "counting the omer." For seven complete weeks following Passover we count until a Jubilee is observed on the 50th day ("Pentecost").  According to the rabbis, this 49 day countdown recalls the period of time from the Passover in Egypt until the giving of the Torah at Sinai, and therefore counting the omer serves as a time of preparation for revelation. Every day during this season a blessing is recited that states how many more days are left before the "seven weeks of days" are complete. During Temple times a sheaf of barley (i.e., omer) was waved before the altar to symbolize the ripening of the coming harvest, which culminated in a special wave offering of two loaves of leavened bread, picturing the "one new man" and the "firstfruits" of the redeemed new covenant people of God...


 

Most significantly, the countdown to the holiday of Shavuot goes beyond the revelation of Torah given at Sinai and points to the greater revelation of Zion. Yeshua is the true Passover Lamb of God and Shavuot is the fulfillment of the promise that the Holy Spirit would write the inner meaning of Torah upon our hearts (Jer. 31:31-34). Also, because of the resurrection and its connection to Shavuot (Pentecost), the counting of the omer is symbolic for followers of Messiah. All of Yeshua's post-resurrection appearances occurred within the days of the Omer count as did His ascension to heaven. For more on the meaning of counting the omer, see the Sefirat HaOmer page and its related links.

Note: Kabbalistic mysticism associates each week of the sefirah to the "sefirot" of the Tree of Life metaphor. For each day of the count they mediate on a particular attribute of God combined with other attributes on the Tree. For instance, on the first day chesed shel b'chesed; on the second, chesed shel gevurah, and so on... This permutation occurs until all seven of the lower seven sefirot are linked with each other in contemplation. In addition, Psalm 67 is sometimes recited because it is composed of 49 Hebrew words which correspond to the 49 days of the Omer count...
 




Kosher on the Inside...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Shemini. Please read the Torah portion to find your place here... ]

04.05.13  (Nisan 25, 5773)  Our Torah portion this week includes dietary laws collectively called kashrut (כַּשְׁרוּת). The sages say that just as the Ark was overlaid with gold inside and out to signify that the inner and the outer should agree (Exod. 25:11), so a kosher animal had to have both split hooves (as an external sign) and to chew its cud (as an internal function). An animal can appear to be superficially kosher but really isn't so. For example, a pig has split hooves yet does not chew its cud. The inner and outer sign must both be present, and when we apply this as a principle of spiritual life, this means that we should be honest and sincere - that both our outer life and our heart attitude should agree, should be echad, "one." We are vessels of the Divine Presence, the Life of Yeshua is within us, therefore it is essential that we be yashar - upright, and to walk in honesty at all times...

Note: For more on Kosher Law, see Keeping Kosher - How Close a Look?
 




Immersion into the Waters...


 

04.04.13  (Nisan 24, 5773)  The ancient philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (6th century BC) observed the "fluidity of life" by famously saying, panta rhei (Πάντα ῥεῖ), "all things flow." You can't step into the same river twice, he said, because it has already moved on.  Raw experience reveals a world that is finite, fluid, and constantly "moving" - like a mysterious river - whereas reflective reason discerns an underlying order that is eternal, timeless, rational, and stable. This is the paradox of change, or the philosophical problem of how something can both change and yet be the same thing. For example, you regard yourself as the same person you were when you were a young child, and yet your physical body has changed considerably, and indeed, the cells of your physical body cyclically die yet replicate over time. What about you has remained the same despite all the changes of your past?  Heraclitus noted that while life was marked by constant change, there is a principle of reason called the logos (ΛΟΓΟΣ) that serves to unify experience and that holds all things together. The dualistic separation of the real from the ideal was later incorporated into Plato's theory of "forms" (εἶδος) and Aristotle's theory of universals....

People subconsciously fear change because it either represents the unknown behind the change, or because it represents decay, dissolution, and death.  In the 1991 movie Shadows and Fog, the lead character Kleinman remarks about a sudden change in the weather by voicing Heraclitus' observation: "Everything's always moving all the time. Everything's constantly in motion -- so it's no wonder that I'm nauseous...." Some people experience anxiety because they feel powerless in the face of change, so they "compensate" by trying to hold on to what cannot be held: "All the desires of this world are like rays of light. You try to catch them in your hand only to find there is nothing in your grasp." Nonetheless, the heart wants life to be both real and yet unchangingly ideal, and the soul yearns for loving relationships that will not be drowned by the inevitable flow of time. In light of this deep inner conflict, the existential question we must face is whether we will "agree" to let go and trust the flow of life, or whether we will protest by demanding our own "heaven" in the here and now. Will we accept life on life's terms, or on our own? Honoring the flow of life is to honor the Father's will for us, to let go of our dread (i.e., our craving for temporal security) by trusting in His sovereign plan for all of life. We overcome anxiety by trusting that God is in the "midst of the whirlwind" of change and is supervising the end of all things according to his good and perfect purposes (Rom. 8:28).

We must first look to the Eternal to see the finite; we must look upward before we look downward. Jesus walked on the water and then calmed the raging storm of life.  Only God can give us safe passage through the shadowy and threatening transience of this world. As we contemplate God's Eternality and power, we realize the wonder and sanctity of our short time here. The Eternal is our refuge, our "dwelling place," in all generations, and that means in the present generation as well, on the other side of fleeting appearances of this world. When we pray to God as Avinu She-bashamayim, "Our Father in Heaven," we are calling to the One (שֶׁ) who is in (בּ) the midst of the waters (שָׁמָיִם) of Life.
 

אֲדנָי מָעוֹן אַתָּה הָיִיתָ לָּנוּ בְּדר וָדר

Adonai · ma·on · at·tah · ha·yi·ta · la·nu · be·dor · va·dor
 

"O Lord, you have been our dwelling place in every generation"
(Psalm 90:1)



 

The Lord spoke of "living water" (מַיִם חַיִּים), or an inward flow that would well up within the heart through the agency of the Spirit of Life: "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water'" (John 7:38). The image that spiritual life is like a flowing river is also found in the Book of Revelation, where the "river of the water of life" flows out from the Throne of God to nourish the Tree of Life (עֵץ חַיִּים) in midst of the paradise of God (Rev. 22:1-2).

The psalmist says (Psalm 118:17): "I shall not die but live." Rabbi Yitzchak said, in order really to live you must give yourself to death, but when you have done so, you discover that you are not to die, but to live. "Giving yourself to death" here means surrendering to God's will, accepting the yoke of heaven, and trusting in His governing "flow" over all of creation. This is the deeper meaning of "baptism" as we are immersed into God's care for our lives. Kierkegaard makes a similar point by saying that only after we have undergone "infinite resignation," that is, only after we have died upon the altar within our heart are we able to be reborn to take hold of reality. "Unless a seed of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24).
 




Our Duty to Truth...


 

[ Yom HaShoah is observed Sunday, April 7th at sundown this year...  ]

04.04.13  (Nisan 24, 5773)  We are "epistemologically" responsible to walk in the Spirit of truth and to reject what is false (1 John 4:6). This implies that we have a moral and spiritual duty to think clearly and not abuse our minds (Phil. 4:8; Rom. 12:2). God made us so that we could discern truth about reality. The mind functions according to logical laws because it is made in the image and likeness of God Himself... God Himself is the ground of all logic, since He created reality and structured the world to be knowable according to its laws. As it is written: "In the beginning was the word/logic (ὁ λόγος), and the λόγος was with God, and the λόγος was God" (John 1:1). God created a world that exhibits order and great beauty. And since human beings were created b'tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, our thoughts (and the words used to formulate our thoughts) as well as our actions are intended to exhibit order and beauty. People perish because "they refuse to love the truth and so be saved" (2 Thess. 2:10-12). Therefore the issue of truth - physical, moral, aesthetic, spiritual, etc. - is central to salvation itself.

"Many people love falsehood and only a few love truth. For it is possible to love falsehood truly, but it is impossible to love truth falsely" (R' Yaakov of Pshischa). May the LORD God of truth (יהוה אֵל אֱמֶת) help us to love truth truly, then, with all our hearts, since love and truth characterize God's rule: As it is written, "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and truth go before you" (Psalm 89:14).

Note: For more on this vital topic see the articles: Teshuvah of the Mind, and The Importance of Truth: Teshuvah and Moral Courage.
 




Come out of your tomb....


 

04.03.13  (Nisan 23, 5773)  Yeshua said, "I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born anew - from above (ἄνωθεν) - he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus objected and asked, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" (John 3:3-4). Nicodemus had trouble visualizing spiritual reality and therefore reverted to categories of the natural. However, the "ordinary" way of seeing is deeply affected by habit, and therefore it resists the invitation to see the extraordinary, to open the heart and mind, and to let go of the "great possessions" of prejudice. Sadly, many people prefer the comfort of not thinking, not seeing, and not believing over the "discomfort" of being jarred awake to face reality. Yeshua calls out to those who are willing to hear: "Come to life; be born in the Spirit, awaken, O soul, and come out from your tomb..." (John 11:43-44).
 




The Gift of Listening...


 

04.03.13  (Nisan 23, 5773)   We all have a great need to be seen, heard, and understood, and therefore one of the greatest gifts we can give to another person is simply to take the time to listen to them. The great commandment is Shema (שׁמע) - to listen - but this implies that we make "space" within ourselves for the voice of others, thereby helping them bear their burdens (Gal. 6:2). And just as God listens to our heart cries and knows where we hurt, so we can offer our empathy so that others will not feel alone in this dark world. Words are meant to be shared in communion, but if we don't make the effort to listen to others, in the end we will only be prattling to ourselves, alone and devoid of real connection...  It is important to remember that we need one another to help fight against the darkness.
 




Acceptance and Trust...


 

[ Yom HaShoah is observed Sunday, April 7th at sundown this year...  ]

04.03.13  (Nisan 23, 5773)   What do we do with anguish of heart? The ancient Jewish custom of keriah (קְרִיעָה), the tearing of clothes (or cutting a black ribbon worn on one's clothes) to express grief, is to be performed while standing up. The sages say this is to teach that even in time of grave testing, when we protest over loss and recoil from what God brings our way - we are to be upright, we are to meet all sorrow while standing upright. We forswear all blame and accept life on God's terms, continuing to trust in times of darkness. Even in moments of inner heartache we affirm faith in God's promises for good.
 

יְהוָה נָתַן וַיהוָה לָקָח
 יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָך

Adonai · na·tan, va·do·nai · la·kach:
ye·hi · shem · Adonai · me·vo·rakh
 

"The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the Name of the LORD be blessed."
(Job 1:21)



Hebrew Study Card
 

We had nothing when we were born into this world, and all that we now have was given to us by hashgachah pratit - the providential plan of God. As the LORD graciously gave, so He has the prerogative to take away. Pain, suffering, and even death itself surely do not come by accident but are rather part of the inscrutable will of God, who works all things together for the good of creation. Gam zu l'tova – this too is "for the good," even if the good is not revealed in the moment.  Job refused to blame God for his troubles, but instead he understood that whatever God does (or allows) must itself good, and there is no reason to doubt this, even if in the present there is tribulation – indeed, even the throes of death. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17). As it is written, lo yimna-tov laholekhim be'tamim (לא יִמְנַע־טוֹב לַהלְכִים בְּתָמִים), "no good thing does he withhold from those who walk in completeness" (Psalm 84:11), and you are made complete (תָּמִים) because of the finished work of Messiah on your behalf.  Do not be afraid of His providence: no good thing will the LORD withhold from you...

We cannot escape suffering in this life, but God gives us heart to face the struggle. Each day contains the opportunity to serve God even in the midst of trouble (Matt. 6:34). We cannot control much of what happens to us in this life, so our task is to sanctify time and trust that God will see to our true needs. Taking refuge in God means personally trusting in His goodness for your soul, despite circumstances that might tempt you to lose heart. al evosh, ki chasiti vakh - "Let me not be ashamed, for I take refuge in You" (Psalm 25:20).
 




Hating What is Evil....


 

[ The Holocaust did not happen in a vacuum but was theoretically justified by appeals to pragmatism and the denial of transcendental moral reality... ]

04.02.13  (Nisan 22, 5773)  Contrary to the philosophy of this fallen world, the essence of love is to hate what is evil; just as it is hateful to be "tolerant" of what is wicked... Followers of Yeshua must love the truth and abhor the lie. Tolerating sin in a world ripe for judgment is a tacit form of "collaboration" with the enemy... Indeed, the only thing regarded as intolerable in the devil's world is the objection that people have a supposed "liberty" to sin. But the LORD is clear on this point: those who call evil good and good evil are as good as dead.  Therefore we are enjoined: "O you who love the LORD, hate evil" (Psalm 97:10). Yes, hate what is evil and love what is good (Amos 5:15). The connection between loving God and hating evil is repeated in the New Testament: "Let your love be genuine (ἀνυπόκριτος, without a "mask" put on): abhor what is evil; cling to what is good (Rom. 12:9). If we truly love the LORD, let us walk in the awe of His great Name by hating what is evil.
 

הוֹי הָאמְרִים לָרַע טוֹב וְלַטּוֹב רָע
 שָׂמִים חשֶׁךְ לְאוֹר וְאוֹר לְחשֶׁךְ
 שָׂמִים מַר לְמָתוֹק וּמָתוֹק לְמָר
 הוֹי חֲכָמִים בְּעֵינֵיהֶם
 וְנֶגֶד פְּנֵיהֶם נְבנִים

hoy · ha-omrim · lara · tov · velatov · ra,
 samim · choshekh · le'or · ve'or · lechoshekh,
 samim · mar · lematok · umatok · lemar;
 hoy · chakhamim · be'einehem
 veneged · penehem · nevonim
 

"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!
 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
 and shrewd in their own sight."
(Isa. 5:20-21)



Every day we make decisions regarding good and evil, and therefore every day we are deciding what we love and what we hate. Choosing not to chose is itself a choice.... The issue is not whether we love or whether we hate, but what we love and what we hate. As it is written, "The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate."
 

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 hatred of evil.
 Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
 and perverted speech I hate."
(Prov. 8:13)



 

The Scriptures do not mince words with this issue. "There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers" (Prov. 6:16-19). "I hate and abhor lying, but I love Your law" (Psalm 119:163). "Take no part in the works of darkness, but instead expose them" (Eph. 5:11). The cross of Messiah is meaningless if God does not really hate sin, violence, and evil... "O you who love the LORD, hate evil" (Psalm 97:10).


Note:   Of course it is usually best to use the "good eye" and to be spontaneous in our recognition and pursuit of the good, though there are times - as there were in the days of Hitler's Germany - when the fight comes to our door, so to speak, and we must deal with it...  Part of the reason popular culture has become so decadent, at least in America, is because people have confused "loving others" with tolerating evil. We must be careful here. It is not loving to ignore the spiritual needs of others, nor is it kindness to pretend not to see what enslaves and harms people. We have a duty to speak the truth in love, even if that is offensive to a culture that intractably seeks the so-called liberty to do evil...
 




The Devil's Logic...


 

[ The Holocaust did not happen in a vacuum but was theoretically justified by appeals to pragmatism and the denial of transcendental moral reality... ]

04.02.13  (Nisan 22, 5773)  It's been said that modern politics operates on the basis of the so-called "Hegelian Dialectic," a method of social engineering based on a rather dismal theory about how precious little people can actually know. This theory can be easily traced to the "critical philosophy" of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), who taught that the human mind cannot transcend itself in order to apprehend ultimate reality. There are limits or boundaries to the mind's ability to discover "things in themselves," and at best we are left with methods (or paradigms) by which we "manage appearances." Even hard sciences, such as physics, can only deal with the phenomenal realm of life.  The inner working of reality — the "noumenal" — is sealed off as essentially unknowable. We are left only with postulates, hypothetical constructs, models, etc., but knowledge is essentially constrained by fundamental structures of consciousness (e.g., the categories of space and time) from which we interpret any possible experience.

Instead of accepting the limits of the human mind that Kant outlined (the "antinomies of reason"), G.W. Hegel (1770-1831) went on to claim that the mind itself is its own endpoint, and therefore the interplay of ideas is itself ultimate reality. In other words, Hegel was an "idealist," by which is meant that he considered ideas to be the substrata of reality. The phenomenal realm is the product of the mind, after all, and therefore it is the very thing Kant said could not be known — i.e., the noumenal.

The Hegelian Dialectic is what I call "the devil's logic," based as it is on compromise, calling evil good and good evil, hissing out a seductive appeal to a supposed "higher synethesis" of esoteric knowledge, claiming superiority to the commonsense truth claims of experience, justifying human atrocities, barbarity, callous pragmatism, and even cold-blooded murder for the sake of power and control. It's the prevailing dogma of the princes of this world, and it is at work in the halls of power today.

Note: For more please see: The Devil's Logic: Pragmatism and the Hegelian Dialectic.
 




Cowardice and Atrocities...


 

[ Yom HaShoah is observed Sunday, April 7th at sundown this year...  ]

04.02.13  (Nisan 22, 5773)   Yom HaShoah, or "Holocaust Remembrance Day," marks Israel's day of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews -- including over a million children -- who perished as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany and its accomplices. It was inaugurated in 1953 and is annually observed on the 27th day of the month of Nisan, just a few days after Passover Week in the spring (this year, Sunday, April 7th at sundown). In stark contrast to the celebration of freedom commemorated during Passover, Yom HaShoah marks a very difficult time when we revisit specters of absolute evil and again ask haunting questions about the power and presence of malevolence in our world. Often we are left speechless over the cruelty and depravity of human beings. It all seems so inexplicable, so needlessly horrible, so senseless, so vile...  We may feel powerless, despondent, or full of indignation, but still we ask ourselves, how could this have happened? How was all of this possible?

Simply put, the Holocaust was the result of cowardice and self-deception... The systematic, institutionalized, and "politically correct" genocide of the Jewish people was made possible solely because so many others - including nominal "Christians" - forfeited their God-given responsibility to live as authentic individuals by passively surrendering their will to "the crowd." But giving up your identity to join a gang inevitably leads to fragmentation of the soul, potentially inviting in a "legion of demons..." Regardless of whether it's a gang of thugs running an inner city neighborhood, or the pressure to keep quiet over ethical misconduct at your place of work, or the desire to feel "approved" as a good citizen of the state, or even the pressure to conform to a particular religious group, in either case, "losing yourself" in the midst of the crowd is an evasion, a cop-out, and a desecration of the image of God within you. Indeed following the crowd is a form of slavery where you surrender your freedom for the sake of a supposed sense of security... You become self-deceived because you no longer "own" yourself but became the ward of "another." Becoming a member of a crowd makes you into a copy or similitude, a shadow rather than a person of substance.

We must never forget what happened to the Jewish people under Hitler. The Holocaust was made possible because people timidly refused to stand apart from the group to serve as bold witnesses of the truth. And the great risk of our age is the revival of political fascism that attempts to again control, disarm, and violate people's freedom all for the supposed greater good of the "state." We must remember that silence in the face of evil is itself evil: "First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me" (Martin Niemöller).

Note: Soldiers are often told chazak v'amatz ("be strong and courageous") before they encounter the dangers of the battlefield, but it's vital to remember that each of us is engaged in a spiritual war every day of our lives. This war is essentially a battle for truth. If we accept false ideas about the nature of reality, we will live in a state of weakness and fear, even if our reasoning otherwise seems sound....  For more on this, see: Cowardice of the Crowd: Further Thoughts on the Shoah.
 




The Sacred Center....


 

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

04.02.13  (Nisan 22, 5773)   It has been said that the theme of the Book of Leviticus is kedushah (קְדֻשָּׁה), "holiness," and indeed the Hebrew root kadosh (קדשׁ) occurs over 150 times in the book. Since God is kadosh, we must be kadosh in our lives as well (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pet. 1:16), and this means first of all being conscious of the distinction between the sacred and the profane, the "clean" and the unclean, and so on. As it is written, "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). Note that the Hebrew word translated "distinguish" (וּלֲהַבְדִּיל) comes from the same verb used to describe how God separated the light from the darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). We are to separate between (בֵּין) the holy and the profane, which means we need understanding (i.e., binah: בִּינָה), or the ability to discern between realms of reality. There is no other way to approach God apart from the consciousness of His infinite glory and unsurpassable and incomparable worth. Infinite Value is the Heart of all Reality....
 

וּלֲהַבְדִּיל בֵּין הַקּדֶשׁ וּבֵין הַחל
וּבֵין הַטָּמֵא וּבֵין הַטָּהוֹר

u'la·hav·dil · bein · ha'ko·desh · u'vein · ha'chol
u'vein · ha'ta·mei · u'vein · ha'ta·hor
 

"You are to distinguish between the holy and the common,
and between the unclean and the clean."
(Lev. 10:10)



 

Note that many of the sages link the duty to pursue wisdom with the immediately preceding commandment not to drink strong drink when approaching the Divine Presence: "Drink no wine or strong drink... when you enter the Tent of Meeting lest you die..." (Lev. 10:9). Just as alcohol (and drugs) can pull you away from reality, so they can remove you from the Divine Presence as well... Indeed, the New Testament states: "Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery (i.e., ἀσωτία, literally, α- (not), + σῴζω (safe/whole/saved)), but be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18; Prov. 20:1; 1 Thess. 5:7, etc.).
 

    "O blessed Jesus, you know the impurity of our affection, the narrowness of our sympathy, and the coldness of our love; take possession of our souls and fill our minds with the image of yourself; break the stubbornness of our selfish wills and mold us in the likeness of your unchanging love, O you who alone can do this, our Savior, our Lord, and our God." - William Temple (1881-1944)
     




Parashat Shemini - פרשת שמיני


 

04.01.13  (Nisan 21, 5773)   This week's Torah reading, Shemini ("eighth"), continues the account of the seven-day ordination ceremony for the priests that was given earlier in Parashat Tzav.  During each of these "seven days of consecration," Moses served as the first High Priest of Israel by offering  sacrifices and training the priests regarding their duties. On the eighth day however, (i.e., Nisan 1), and just before the anniversary of the Passover, God commissioned Aaron and his sons to officially begin their responsibilities as Israel's priests. It is no coincidence that the inauguration of the sanctuary is directly connected to the Passover, since the daily sacrifice of the Lamb served as an ongoing memorial of the Exodus from Egypt -- and indeed the laws of sacrifice form the central teaching of the Torah itself. In this connection, we note that the central sacrifice of the Tabernacle was the sacrifice of a lamb every evening and morning upon the altar in the outer court, along with  matzah and a wine offering, thereby signifying the coming of the true Passover Lamb of God and his sacrifice for us (Exod. 29:38-42; Num. 28:4-10; John 1:29).

Note: You can download the Shabbat Table Talk for this Torah reading here:
 

 




Walking in the Light...


 

04.01.13  (Nisan 21, 5773)   Fear profoundly affects the way the brain processes images and messages, influencing the way we see and hear things. And since the mind and body are intricately interconnected, fear is a root cause of many physiological problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, clinical depression, and many other ailments. Left unchecked, fear can be deadly.... Most of our negative emotions come from fear, including anger, frustration, and rage.  On a spiritual level, fear and worry can cause people to question God's love, to doubt His promises, and to succumb to despair. The devil knows that frightening people causes them to be unsettled, off-balance, and vulnerable to all sorts of manipulation and deception. Living in fear is a form of slavery (Heb. 2:15).

Politicians, advertisers, social activists, and other manipulators understand that when people are afraid, their thinking is compromised, and therefore the propaganda of the world inevitably seeks to incite anxiety, dread, terror, division, and confusion by means of disinformation delivered up through pop culture. The way of healing is therefore to refuse to be bullied by the carefully crafted messages of deception regularly broadcast by the various "princes of this world..." We are not to be ignorant of Satan and his strategies to foment resentment, mistrust, and hatred. We must overcome the power of the lie by consciously focusing on the truth of God and the abiding Reality of the Divine Presence. As King David resolved within his heart: shiviti - "I have set the LORD always before me - because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken."
 

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."
(Psalm 16:8)



Hebrew Study Card

 

The Hebrew word shiviti comes from the verb shavah (שָׁוָה) which means "to set" or place, referring to focus of the heart required to truly apprehend the Divine Presence. In this connection, we note the "korban tamid" (תָּמִידקָרְבַּן) was the sacrifice of a lamb every evening and morning upon the copper altar in the outer court -- the central sacrifice of the Tabernacle. Along with it, matzah and wine offering were required, thereby revealing the true Passover Lamb of God and his sacrifice for us (Exod. 29:38-42). That the lamb was offered twice daily hints at its two applications - the first concerning the great deliverance from Egypt by the blood of the Lamb, and the second concerning the even greater deliverance given through Yeshua, the true Lamb of God (John 1:29). Note also that the constant sacrifice of the lamb required that the fire at the altar would never be extinguished, and by extension, the duty to "care for the inner fire" of the soul. Thank God that the fire that daily needs tending comes from the Spirit of God within us!

Therefore "fear no evil," for God is with you (Psalm 23:4). There is no fear in God's love, but perfect love (אַהֲבָה שְׁלֵמָה) throws out fear (1 John 4:18). The LORD repeatedly tells us not to be afraid – not of man, nor of war, nor of tribulation, nor even death itself (Rom. 8:35-39). Indeed, the most frequent commandment in Scripture is simply al-tirah, "Be not afraid."

But how do we overcome our fears apart from trusting that God is "with us..." He is the Good Shepherd (הָרעֶה הַטּוֹב) who leads us on our way and meets our daily needs. The LORD promises to never leave nor forsake us, especially when we are faced with difficult circumstances. The antidote to our fear is comfort found in God's love (1 John 4:18): God saves us from our fears (Psalm 34:4, 2 Tim. 1:7). When we trust that God personally cares for us, we find courage to face trouble without shrinking back....

The entire world system (κόσμος) is predicated upon fear -- the fear of man and the underlying threat of violence.... We disarm the power of the world over our souls by walking in the Light and refusing to succumb to the lie. We call upon the Name of the LORD and ask Him to empower us to live as His witnesses during these difficult and evil days.
 




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