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Jewish Holiday Calendar 

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

The Jewish civil year begins in the fall, though the Biblical year begins in spring (Exod. 12:2). Preparations for the fall holidays begin with a thirty day period of teshuvah (repentance) during the (late summer) month of Elul. The following ten days begin with the Feast of Trumpets (i.e., Rosh Hashanah, on Tishri 1) and end with the Day of Atonement (i.e., Yom Kippur, on Tishri 10). These first ten days of the new year are called the "Ten Days of Awe" (i.e., aseret ye'mei teshuvah: עֲשֶׁרֶת יְמֵי תְּשׁוּבָה), or simply the Jewish "High Holidays." Just five days after the solemn time of Yom Kippur begins the joyous week-long festival of Sukkot ("Tabernacles"), which is immediately followed by the celebration of Simchat Torah.
 

Fall Holiday Calendar

The Fall Holidays:


 

The fall festivals prophetically indicate the Day of the LORD, the second coming of Yeshua, the great national turning of the Jewish people, and the establishment of the reign of the Messiah upon the earth during the Millennial Kingdom in the world to come.

Note that in accordance with tradition, the following holiday dates begin at sundown:

  1. Month of Elul (began Mon., Aug. 5th, 2013)
  2. Month of Tishri (begins Wed., Sept. 4th, 2013)
  3. Month of Cheshvan (begins Thurs., Oct. 3rd, 2013)
  4. Month of Kislev (begins Sat., Nov. 2nd, 2013)



 

August 2013 Updates



The Work of Faith...


 

08.30.13 (Elul 24, 5773)  You are invited to come before the Divine Presence - you are welcomed with joy - because of the glory of God's love given to you in Yeshua... And while you can never "earn" God's love, of course, you must take hold of it by faith, as Yeshua said: "This is the work of God - that you believe in the One whom God sent (John 6:29). This is the great work of the heart: learning to believe that Yeshua was given for your sake, because you are redeemable and have infinite value in the eyes of heaven.  Faith finds courage to accept God's love, despite whatever tempts you to feel unworthy or unacceptable.  It pushes past the superficial view that you can please God by what you do, instead of enjoying God by knowing who He is: God is love; God is Light; He is Faithfulness, the Savior of your life... Faith works through his love (Gal. 5:6).

Shabbat Shalom and love to you all, to each one of you... I thank the LORD God for you and esteem you as part of my spiritual family. May you be strong in the LORD and the power of his might; may you be happy and blessed and know God's great peace; may you be filled to overflowing with God's healing love and grace and kindness and beauty and wonder... This is my prayer for this Jewish new year. That we will all wake up to behold the love of God in the face of Yeshua our LORD... May he come speedily, and in our days. The King is coming! Shanah Tovah! The great shofar will soon sound!
 




Life from the Dead...


 

08.30.13 (Elul 24, 5773)  Repentance means that we believe that the kindness of God can give life to our dead hearts. Repentance is therefore first of all a matter of faith, of believing in the miracle of God. And though it is a great gift from heaven, repentance requires honesty and acknowledgment of the truth. We must confess our inner poverty, our neediness, and mourn over the loss and hurt caused by our sin. Repentance turns away from our attempts to defend or justify ourselves and instead turns to God to heal our separation from Him (Rom. 8:3-4). Teshuvah buries our old nature by being made into a new creation.

It is no small thing to believe the message of Yeshua, and indeed, it involves a passionate inwardness that scandalizes the rational mind. Our father Abraham is extolled as the model of righteous faith, but he was tested to sacrifice the moral law (e.g., "thou shalt not murder") when he lifted up the knife to slay his beloved son Isaac. Faith requires you to change your everyday thinking, to go beyond natural expectations, to "walk on water." In the case of Yeshua, we are confronted with the "Absolute Paradox," namely, the God-Man, the Infinite-made-Finite, the Holy-made-Profane, the Sinless-made-Sin, who says to you: "I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26). You will never die; you will never hunger; you are made whole through my brokenness; you will be cleansed by my defilement, and so on. It's not just hard to believe, it's impossible, which is why it is a miracle of God to be saved (Matt. 19:26). "It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is no help at all" (John 6:33). The difference is Yeshua: Salvation is of the LORD. We are enabled to love and know God by means of his inner life and spirit, not by means of good intentions or religious zeal. Faith itself is a miracle, the power of God....

Some people imagine spirituality as a climb upward, an "ascent of the soul" that aims to reach God through the performance of good deeds or religious rituals. But God does not say "at the end of the way you will find me," but rather, "I AM the way, the very road under your feet, the Place (הַמָּקוֹם) where you are, the Bridge to the Father (John 14:6). "For all things come from You (כִּי־מִמְּךָ הַכּל), and from your hand we give to you" (1 Chron. 29:14). The LORD is Present in every "here" and every "now," the Source of all we are. And no matter what our circumstances, we will find God if we search "bekhol levavkha" - with all our being, as it is written: "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart."

The principle of the self-life, the ego, religious observance, "doing the law," etc., is a spiritual dead-end because we are without life, without power. The word is this: God gives strength to the weary, to the faint, to those who are without potency or power. But this means that we first must be emptied, broken, and stripped of our self-sufficiency before the strength of God is manifest in us: "My power is made perfect (τελειοῦται) in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). None of this flatters the ego. God's way is first to break us, to make us weaker and weaker, so that he can then fill us with the miraculous divine nature. Like all sacrifices that were brought to the altar, we must pass through death to life by means of our union with the Messiah at the cross... It is only after the cross that it may be said, "It is no longer 'I' who lives; now it is Messiah who lives His life in me" (Gal. 2:20). There is indeed strength, power, and victory – but such comes after the cross, after we reckon carnal energy as useless. Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says Adonai Tzeva'ot.
 




Turn from the Beginning...


 

08.29.13 (Elul 23, 5773)  The Jewish sages say that teshuvah (return) was created before the world itself, as it says, "Before the mountains were born, or you brought the world into being, you were the Eternal God who says "Return (שׁוּבוּ), O sons of man" (Psalm 90:2-3). The Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world, and God clothed humanity in divine sacrifice from the very beginning (Gen. 3:15,21; Rev. 13:8). The water of life (מַיִם חַיִּים) flows from the original orchard of Eden to the world to come (Gen. 2:10; Rev. 22:1). The LORD subjected creation to vanity for the sake of hope (Rom. 8:20), for the revelation of his greatness, as he descended into its depths to return and restore all things to himself. God decreed to enter space-time as the Son of Man, the "Second Adam," to become our Savior and healer. He came to reveal the face of God to us (2 Cor. 4:6). Yeshua "descended in order to ascend;" we are able to know God's compassion, love and healing through his mesirat nefesh – his total sacrifice of body and soul – for the sake of returning us to God.
 




Repentance and Courage....


 

08.29.13 (Elul 23, 5773)  Change is hard for us, isn't it? Once we become accustomed to something, it's often difficult to change our vision. We see what we want to see; we pretend to choose when we are chained to habit; we take ourselves hostage to the power of the lie. Most of us seem to instinctively resist change, even at the expense of our well-being. This "bias for the familiar" leads to addictions, prejudices, excuses, unreflective habits, bitterness, and countless other forms of self-defeating patterns of behavior. As William James once remarked, "A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." Too many of us believe our own "propaganda."

An example of self-deception may be found in the phenomenon of unbridled patriotism... Some people, even professing Christians, seem to cheer for war and rationalize its execution by saying that we should submit to the decision of our leaders -- regardless of whether their decision is righteous or not.  However, Yeshua not only upheld the Torah of justice and righteousness, he went further and taught us to love our enemies and to refuse to retaliate when we are attacked (Matt. 5:39; 5:44). He taught us that the power of love is greater than the power of hate, and that those who live by the sword will die by the sword (Matt. 26:52; Rom. 12:21). You might object to this and regard this approach as romantic, idealistic, politically unrealistic, and so on, but it is clear that Yeshua taught that only those who make peace will be called the sons of God (Matt. 5:9).

When the Syrian army came to attack ancient Israel, Elisha the prophet consoled his anxious servant and said, "O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see." So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the LORD and said, "Please strike this people with blindness." So he struck them with blindness" (2 Kings 6:17-18). So what happened next? Elisha led the "army of the blind" to the headquarters of the king of Israel, and then he prayed for their eyes to be open. The astounded King then asked the prophet if he should strike them all down, but Elisha answered, "Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master." So the king made them a great feast and then sent them back home... So much for common assumptions about dealing with political enemies (Luke 6:27).

Those serving in the military (or the police) have a moral choice and an obligation to pursue justice and to obey God, even if that means refusing to obey orders of commanding officers.  If, for example, a soldier was ordered to torture people or to commit war crimes, it would be wickedness to comply with the order... After the Holocaust, Nazi war criminals justified their atrocities by saying: "I was just following orders..." An unjust law or order should not be obeyed (Acts 5:29). God is not a pragmatist; he does not talk about "collateral damage" or wink at torturing or murdering others for the sake of a supposed greater good. A person is always an end in themselves, and the individual is what is real - the State is abstraction, a social fiction... People will justify murder, torture, unjust wars, and so on, "because they have not known the Father, nor me" (John 16:3).

In our Torah portion for this week (Vayeilech) Moses said, "For I know how rebellious and hardened you are. Behold, even today while I am yet with you, you have been rebellious against the LORD" (Deut. 31:27). The text should read, however, "you have been rebellious with the LORD (עִם־יְהוָה)," which suggests the people used the teaching of Torah itself to justify their disobedience... Recall how Moses' envious cousin Korah twisted the idea of God's love for "all the people" as an excuse to overthrow the leadership of Moses and Aaron... Likewise  the Pharisees of Yeshua's day put a "fence" around the Torah to justify disobedience to the law (Matt. 23:23). Rarely does the devil seduce people to flatly disobey the teaching of Scripture; no, more often he deludes a person to think that his personal interpretation is superior, or that something is God's will when it is not.  Being rebellious "with God" is to take up the Name of the LORD in vain (Exod. 20:7), that is, justifying your own vision and desires in the name of religion.
 




Repentance and Faith...


 

08.29.13 (Elul 23, 5773)  Some people are scandalized by what they call "easy believism," or the idea that we only need to believe in Yeshua to be saved. Sometimes they call this teaching "cheap grace" or "sloppy agape," though in fairness it must be stressed that there is nothing easy about truly believing. What is easy, however, is professing that you believe without undergoing a miraculous heart transformation. Anyone can say, "I believe in Jesus," but the test is whether he lives within you. Is he the source of your life?  Do you draw life from Him?  Anyone can claim they are saved, but it is a miracle greater than splitting the sea to undergo divine metamorphosis, to be given a heart that loves unconditionally, that dies to pride, and that lives as the servant of all. Yeshua asks, "Do you really believe? Many will say to me in that day, 'Lord, Lord...' but I will say to them, 'I never knew you...' (Matt. 7:22-23). It's not just hard to believe (obey), it's impossible apart from God's radical intervention. It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is no help at all (John 6:33).

Living by faith does not mean we profess Christianity or "talk theology" like some college professor. It's one thing to believe that, and another to believe in... Human reason can rightly infer that a morally good, all-powerful Creator exists, for example (Rom. 1:20), but it is unable to know God's love that way... Love requires trust, "taking to the heart." We are to "know this day and turn to your heart (והֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ) that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). We need to know truth (cognitive) and to be moved by the heart (emotional); we need both Spirit and Truth (John 4:24). "For all things come from You (כִּי־מִמְּךָ הַכּל), and from your hand we give to you" (1 Chron. 29:14). Teshuvah centers on Yeshua our Savior: turn to believe in Him!
 




Return of the Captives...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Nitzavim... ]

08.28.13 (Elul 22, 5773)  It is written in our Torah for this week, "The LORD your God will return as you return (וְשָׁב יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ אֶת־שְׁבוּתְךָ), and will have mercy upon you, turning to gather you back..." (Deut 30:3). This has both a present and prophetic application. First, in the present hour, if you turn to God, he will show you compassion, and he will "gather back" all those distant and fragmented parts of yourself into shalom and wholeness. He will restore your lost days; he will bring you out of exile and give you comfort in Yeshua. He makes all things new. "Draw near, therefore to God, and he will draw near to you" (James 4:8). Second, the LORD will return to earth as the Jewish people return from their captivity, and he will restore Zion during the time of the final redemption. The LORD will turn captivity into mercy; he will turn in his compassion to his people. As it is written: "I will be found by you, declares the LORD... and I will bring you back..." (Jer. 29:14).

 

The language of the Torah here is emphatic: "even if your exile is at the farthest edge of heaven (בִּקְצֵה הַשָּׁמָיִם), from there the LORD your God will gather you..." (Deut. 30:4). Note that this prophecy is written in the singular and therefore pertains to each individual exile. God will "gather you," that is, he bring you back to make you whole. Even if your exile (singular) is to the uttermost, the LORD will take you and deliver you, as it is written, "He is able to save to the uttermost (σῴζειν εἰς τὸ παντελὲς) those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25).

Note that it appears that the prophesied war between Israel and Syria may be drawing near, the outcome of which will be catastrophic for Damascus and injurious to the northern cities of Israel (Isa. 17:1-3). "Behold, Damascus will cease to be a city and will become a heap of ruins." This war from the north will cause a worldwide escalation of political tension that may invite the advent of the Messiah of Evil to arise as a worldwide "peacemaker."
 




Emissaries of Shalom...


 

08.28.13 (Elul 22, 5773)  "And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying... 'Blessed are the peacemakers (עשֵׂי שָׁלוֹם), for they shall be called the sons of God'" (Matt. 5:9). Such peacemakers are not like those of the world who award themselves peace prizes, but rather are appointed emissaries who humbly share the message of Divine Reconciliation with those suffering alienation from God... A true emissary of God will not proclaim "peace at any price," however, since there can be no peace apart from the righteousness and truth of God given through Yeshua the Messiah (John 14:6). When Israel was released from captivity and returned from Babylon, the prophet envisioned the kingdom of God on earth: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces shalom, who brings good news, proclaiming salvation (יְשׁוּעָה) and who says to Zion, "Your God reigns" (Isa. 52:7). Later the apostle Paul understood this vision to refer to the proclamation of the reconciliation of the world given through Yeshua our Lord (Rom. 10:15).
 

מַה־נָּאווּ עַל־הֶהָרִים רַגְלֵי מְבַשֵּׂר
מַשְׁמִיעַ שָׁלוֹם מְבַשֵּׂר טוֹב מַשְׁמִיעַ יְשׁוּעָה
אמֵר לְצִיּוֹן מָלַךְ אֱלהָיִךְ

mah · na'vu · al · he·ha·rim · rag·lei · me·va·ser
mash·mi·a · sha·lom · me·va·ser · tov · mash·mi·a · ye·sh·uah
o·mer · le'tzi·on · ma·lakh · e·lo·ha·yikh
 

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger
who announces shalom, who brings good tidings, announcing salvation
and who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."
(Isa. 52:7)


 

When Yeshua said, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Matt. 10:34), he was referring to the sword of the spirit that would cut through the lies of this world... We earnestly contend for the faith, and that means taking captive all the vain arguments and proud ideas of men in their ongoing defiance of the truth of God... There is a time to fight and a time to offer comfort.
 




A Matter of Life and Death...


 

08.27.13 (Elul 21, 5773)  "I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life (בָּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים), that you and your offspring may live" (Deut. 30:19). Does it seem obvious to you that a person would choose life and live? Yet so many refuse this very thing; they do not choose life but rather take a self-destructive path.... They do so, undoubtedly, because they are spiritually blind, taken captive by the delusions and vanities of this evil world. Despite the incalculable cost – the pain, sorrow, and the inevitable loss – people persist in their lawless self-will, enslaved to their passions, without an abiding center, and therefore without a true self. The miracle of God imparts the will to "choose life" by trusting in the power of the Messiah. As it is written, "Whoever has the Son has the life (הַחַיִּים); whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:12).
 




Personal Rosh Hashanah...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

08.27.13 (Elul 21, 5773)  Spiritual danger is just as real as physical danger, though most people pretend it isn't because it isn't easily seen. The real dangers of life are not vulnerability to crime or some accident, however, but rather susceptibility to despair, the tendency to put off repentance, and the possibility of not dying well.... It is a great danger to walk through life asleep only to be jolted awake upon the day of death. "The greatest danger is that one does not discover, that one is not always discovering, that one is in danger" (Kierkegaard). Danger of what? Of wasting your life with trifles and vanities; of never learning how to truly love or to be loved; of becoming numb, unfeeling, and therefore unmoved by your need for God.  As C.S. Lewis once wrote, "The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."

Moses prayed to God: "teach us to number our days," that is, help us understand how to make our days count for eternity, to have a weight of glory that will shine in the world to come...  The sages say on the day of death, one considers one's life as if it had been a single day... Life goes by so quickly, and we never know when our personal Rosh Hashanah will come. "No one knows the day or hour..." That's why it is so vital to be healed and to turn to God while there is still time. So turn to him today and bacharta ba'chayim – "choose life!" "For this commandment (of turning to God in teshuvah) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away. It is not in heaven... nor across the sea.... Rather, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; cp. Rom. 10:8-13).
 

לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע
 וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה

lim·not · ya·me·nu · ken · ho·da
ve·na·vi · le·vav · chokh·mah
 

"Teach us to number our days
 that we may get a heart of wisdom."
(Psalm 90:12)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Despite the frailty and brevity of our days, may it please God to shine the power of His radiance upon us and to establish our works for His praise. May He help us to "number our days" so that we may obtain levav chokhmah (לְבַב חָכְמָה) - a heart of wisdom to live according to His will (James 1:5). Above all else, may the "God of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of Glory (אֲבִי הַכָּבוֹד), impart to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the "eyes of your hearts" (ὀφθαλμοὺς τῆς καρδίας) enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you" (Eph. 1:17-18). May you be strong, resolute, and fully focused on our LORD, chaverim. Amen.
 




God's Radiant Light...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

08.27.13 (Elul 21, 5773)  In the Gospel of John it is recorded that Yeshua said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (i.e., ᾽Εγώ εἰμι ἡ ὁδὸς καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια καὶ ἡ ζωή), no one can come to the Father apart from my hand" (John 14:6). The Greek word translated "truth" in this verse is aletheia (ἀλήθεια), a compound word formed from an alpha prefix (α-) meaning "not," and lethei (λήθη), meaning "forgetfulness." Truth is therefore a kind of "remembering" something forgotten, or a recollecting of what is essentially real. Etymologically, the word aletheia suggests that truth is also "unforgettable" (i.e., not lethei), that is, it has its own inherent and irresistible "witness" to reality. People may pretend or even lie to themselves, but ultimately the truth has the final word... "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5).
 

כִּי־עִמְּךָ מְקוֹר חַיִּים
בְּאוֹרְךָ נִרְאֶה־אוֹר

ki · im·me·kha · me·kor · chai·yim
be·or·kha · nir·eh · ohr
 

"For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light."
(Psalm 36:9)



Hebrew Study Card
 


"In Your light we see light..."  When you enter a dark room with a lamp, the darkness flees and is overcome by the light. So also with teshuvah: When we turn to the Lord spiritual darkness is overcome by the Divine Radiance. In Yeshua is life, the light of the world; those who receive Him behold ohr ha'chayim (אוֹר הַחַיִּים) - the "light of life."

During this Season of Teshuvah -- and always -- may the LORD God of Israel help us walk in the unforgettable and irrepressible radiance of His glory. May God help us shine with good works that glorify God's Name (Matt. 5:16). "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness' (יְהִי אוֹר וַיְהִי־אוֹר), has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Cor. 4:6).
 




Words of Heart...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

08.27.13 (Elul 21, 5773)  "If we ask anything according to God's will, he hears us," which is to say that in heaven there is only the language of truth, and truth is the language of heaven. Those who pray insincerely abuse the gift of speech, and such language is not understood in heaven... God speaks to us "in son," which is forever the language of faithfulness, hope, and love (1 Cor. 13:13). Kierkegaard wrote, "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty." Confession means "saying the same thing" about ourselves that God says - and that means not only acknowledging our sins, but also affirming that we are loved by God. "Love hopes all things" (1 Cor. 13:7), and therefore the language of truth is always spoken in hope. No truth about your sin is known apart from the love of God revealed in Yeshua our Messiah.
 




Waking Up to Reality...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of spiritual renewal... ]

08.26.13 (Elul 20, 5773)  It's vital to remember that one of the main tactics of the devil is to cast a spell over you to induce a sense of forgetfulness and apathy... The devil wants you to forget that you are a child of the King. The entire venture of teshuvah (repentance) presupposes that you are created b'tzelem Elohim - in the image of God - and therefore you have infinite value and dignity. This is all the more evident in light of the awesome ransom that Yeshua paid to reconcile your soul with God.  So what is the greatest sin you can commit in your life? To forget what God has done for you... Remaining asleep, unmindful of your true identity is one of the most tragic things of life. Therefore Rosh Hashanah is sometimes called Yom Ha-Zikaron - the "Day of Remembrance" (Lev. 23:24). The blast of the shofar is meant to jolt us from our sleep... We are to remember who we really are -- to remember that God is our King. The person who says, "Tomorrow I will do teshuvah" really is saying, "Not now." And then tomorrow comes and he says, "Not now." And in this way his entire life passes by, saying, "Not now." Finally one day he wakes up only to find himself already dead. May God help us wake up to the Reality that is set before us.

  Listen to the Shofar (click speaker icon)

During this season (and always) we make a conscious effort to turn back to reality: first, we turn back to God and to ourselves (i.e., self-examination and confession); second, we turn to others we have harmed (i.e., asking for forgiveness), and third, we turn to others in need (i.e., giving tzedakah). I realize that we are to do teshuvah every day, of course (Psalm 16:8); though the "Season of Teshuvah" provides us with an opportunity to again remember the importance of these matters. "Consider every day as if were an Elul day, and Elul itself is of course Elul" (Yisrael Salanter).
 




We're Running Out of Time...


 

08.26.13 (Elul 20, 5773)  The prophetic spirit is always asking: "How long will you go limping between two different opinions?" (1 Kings 18:21). This urgent question is meant for us to hear today, since the day and hour is assuredly drawing near.... We are being called to make up our minds and turn (shuv) to the LORD. After all, what is more important to you than your relationship with God? Is there anything more important than this?

Abraham Heschel once wrote, "God is of no importance unless he is of supreme importance." Stated differently, it is impossible to be indifferent toward God. You cannot serve two masters. Ultimately you will either hate or love him, but he will never let you be half-hearted toward him (Rev. 3:16). Yeshua always forced the issue. Consider how often people were offended by his ministry. The gospel message is always offensive to those who make much of themselves. Accepting the cross of Yeshua means abandoning the whole religious game. As Bonhoeffer said, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die."

The Scriptures warn that a "double-minded man is unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8). The word translated "double-minded" is dipsuchos (δίψυχος), which literally means having "two souls." A double-minded man is full of inner conflict and indecision; he's like the proverbial "divided house" that cannot stand. The way to be healed of a divided heart is to earnestly make a decision: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (ἐγγίσατε τῷ θεῷ καὶ ἐγγιεῖ ὑμῖν), cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8). Note that the verb used in this verse (i.e., ἐγγίζω, "draw near") means to come close enough to touch. Understood in this light, we are invited to come so close to God that we are able to "touch" Him -- and to be touched by Him as well. Therefore today is the day to "seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near" (Isa. 55:6).
 

דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה בְּהִמָּצְאו
קְרָאֻהוּ בִּהְיוֹתוֹ קָרוֹב

dir·shu · Adonai · be·hi·matz·o
ke·ra·u·hu · bi·yo·to · ka·rov
 

"Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near."
(Isa. 55:6)



Hebrew Study Card
 

God responds to those who sincerely cry out to him (Psalm 145:18). He is "near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18). Indeed, salvation is as close as your own mouth and heart (Rom. 10:8-13). But how many are the days of your life? How many opportunities for you to make up your mind? "How long will you go limping between two opinions?" Choose this day whom you will serve... Whoever has the Son has the life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have the life (1 John 5:12).

The sages advise: "Repent one day before you die." But who knows the day of one's death in advance? Therefore live each day as if it were to be your last, and may God help you make the wholehearted decision to "seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near." Amen.
 




Parashat Nitzavim-Vayeilech


 

[ This week we have a "double portion" of Torah: parashat Nitzavim ("You are standing") and parashat Vayeilech ("and he went"). ]

08.25.13 (Elul 19, 5773)  Parashat Nitzavim is always read on the Shabbat immediately before Rosh Hashanah, and therefore it is the last portion read before the new Jewish year.  In many synagogues, the opening and concluding paragraphs of Nitzavim are also read during the Yom Kippur morning service.

The portion begins: "You are standing here today, all of you, before the LORD your God (אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלהֵיכֶם) ... so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the LORD your God, which the LORD your God is making with you today, that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob" (Deut. 29:10-13). After this Moses went on to review Israel's history and prophetic future -- i.e., the great prophecy of the Diaspora and Return of the Jewish people -- and then he solemnly appealed for us to turn to the LORD for life:
 

הַעִידתִי בָכֶם הַיּוֹם אֶת־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת־הָאָרֶץ
הַחַיִּים וְהַמָּוֶת נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ הַבְּרָכָה וְהַקְּלָלָה
וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה אַתָּה וְזַרְעֶךָ

ha·i·do·ti  va·khem  hai·yom  et  ha·sha·ma·yim  ve·et  ha·a·retz
ha·chai·yim  ve·ha·ma·vet  na·ta·ti  le·fa·ney·kha  ha·be·ra·khah  ve·ha·ke·la·lah
u·va·char·ta  ba·chai·yim,  le·ma·an  tich·yeh  at·tah  ve·zar·e·kha
 

"I call heaven and earth to witness against you today,
that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.
Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.
(Deut. 30:19)



 

The way of return (teshuvah) is always a matter of the heart and will: bacharta ba'chayim: "Choose Life!" "For this commandment (of teshuvah) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away. It is not in heaven...nor across the sea.... Rather, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; cp. Rom. 10:8-13). In the end of days (acharit hayamin), the LORD will remove the "partial hardening" of the Jewish people so that they will turn to Him with all their heart and soul (Deut. 30:6, Rom. 11:25-26).

But why this seemingly topsy-turvy process of teshuvah? Why do the Jewish people have to go through this long period of suffering, tribulation, and scattering, only to be finally regathered one day in the future? Moses himself gives us the answer (as does the Apostle Paul in the Book of Romans): "The secret things (ha-nistarot) belong to the LORD our God (הַנִּסְתָּרת לַיהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ), but the things that are revealed (ha-niglot) belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deut. 29:29). Part of the "secret things" concerns the mystery the suffering of the Jewish people, since it is clear that God particularly afflicts those whom he loves through testing, and indeed part of the meaning of being am segulah (a "select people") implies dealing with God - by means of blessing or by curse (Heb. 10:31). In the end, however, God's plan for Israel will decisively demonstrate His wisdom, power, and glory, so much so that that Paul commented on ethnic Israel's future by exclaiming, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways" (Rom. 11:33).

 

Perhaps you (like me) once learned Psalm 19:7 as, "The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul." The Hebrew text reads, תּוֹרַת יְהוָה תְּמִימָה מְשִׁיבַת נָפֶשׁ, and might better be translated as, "The instruction of the LORD is perfect, returning the soul." Giving heed to the Torah causes our souls to undergo teshuvah, the very theme of Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays....

Now more than ever, chaverim.  We must not put our trust in man or in this moribund world system (κοσμος). We are undoubtedly living close to the "end of days." God's judgment has begun in earnest.  It is time for us to choose whether we will be shaken or if we will walk in the trust of the LORD God of Israel. Choose this day.

 

 




The Last Sabbath of the Year...

Selichot Siddur
 

[ Since this coming Shabbat is the last of the Jewish year, many congregations will hold a special late-night service to offer prayers for forgiveness in anticipation of the High Holidays... ]

08.25.13 (Elul 19, 5773)  The Hebrew word selichah (סְלִיחָה) means "excuse me!" in modern Hebrew, but in the Scriptures it refers exclusively to God's offer of pardon and forgiveness of the repentant sinner. Therfore we read in the Scriptures, "But with you there is forgiveness (selichah), that you may be feared" (Psalm 130:4):
 

כִּי־עִמְּךָ הַסְּלִיחָה לְמַעַן תִּוָּרֵא

ki  im·me·kha  ha-se·li·chah  le·ma'an  tiv·va·rei
 

"But with you there is the forgiveness,
that you may be held in awe."
(Psalm 130:4)



 

In Jewish tradition, the plural form of the word selichah is selichot (סְלִיחוֹת), a term that refers to additional penitential poems (פּיּוּטִים) and prayers recited throughout the "Forty Days Teshuvah" (many of these prayers may be found in a High Holiday Machzor or prayerbook). On the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah, many congregations hold a late-night "Selichot Service" (called leil selichot, literally, "night of penitential prayers") to offer prayers for forgiveness in anticipation of the High Holidays. During this service, the chazzan (cantor) often dresses in a kittel (white burial shroud) and chants in a style similar to the liturgy for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
 




The Anniversary of Creation...


 

[ Note that Elul 25 begins this coming Shabbat - Friday, August 30th at sundown... ]

08.25.13 (Elul 19, 5773)  Popular Judaism regards Rosh Hashanah as the date of the Creation of the universe by God (Talmud: Rosh Hashanah 27a), but the Midrash (rightly) notes that it occurred six days earlier, on the 25th of Elul, when God created the Divine light yesh me'ayin by saying, "Let there be light" (Gen. 1:3-5). This is called ma'asei bereshit (מַעֲשֵׂה-בְּרִאשִׁית), the very first work of creation, which is the revelation of His Word: "And God said..." Indeed, the first "red letters" of the Scriptures pertain the Divine Light of God:
 

וַיּאמֶר אֱלהִים יְהִי אוֹר וַיְהִי־אוֹר

vai·yo·mer · E·lo·him · ye·hi · ohr · vai·hi · ohr
 

And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.
(Gen. 1:3)


 


Note:  For more on this subject, see "Teshuvah and Creation."
 




The Curse of the Law...


 

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

08.23.13 (Elul 17, 5773)  We are told that we must "receive" the life of Yeshua into our hearts, and that is certainly true, but we must also receive his death as well... This is the meaning of "taking up your cross." It is the death of Yeshua in your place that releases you from the curse of the law (מִקִּלְלַת הַתּוֹרָה), that is, spiritual death, as it says, "the Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree" (Gal. 3:13). By faith we "lay hands" on him and "lean into" his death, confessing our guilt and sin and receiving his sacrifice as offered up for our sake. Our sins are "transferred" to his account, and his righteousness is transferred to ours. This is the idea of our "justification," -- "just-if-i'd" never sinned, and "just-if-i'd" always obeyed... As it is written, "God made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we would become the righteousness of God (δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ) in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21). It is the righteousness of God, not our own. We receive the "death benefits" of Yeshua, who has bequeathed to us the great inheritance of everlasting life and heaven itself... Our identification with His death makes us "free from the law," not in the sense that we are free to sin, but rather free to live in a different order of relating to God, a new and a better covenant, whereby we are given power over sin and death. "I have been crucified with the Messiah: It is no longer I who live, but Messiah who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness came through the terms of the law, then Messiah died for no purpose" (Gal. 2:20-21). Trusting in Yeshua gives us "access by faith into grace" so that we are fully and forever accepted in God's Presence...

Note, however, that we are delivered from the curse of the law, but not from the law itself (Matt. 5:17-19). After all, the Torah, understood to refer to the will of the LORD our God, is written on our hearts by the power and agency of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, in accordance with the promise of the New Covenant of God (Jer. 31:33). For more on this important topic, see the Ki Tavo article, "Death with Messiah."
 




The LORD our Mashgiach


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

08.23.13 (Elul 17, 5773)  During the Season of Teshuvah, we make extra effort to remind ourselves of the kingship of the LORD and of our responsibility to live before his Presence in the truth, as his royal children. We remember that we are responsible to God for the gift of our lives, and that we shall render account for all we have done (Matt. 12:36-37). The Scriptures declare that each of us passes before the gaze of the Eternal, one by one, as it says: "The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds" (Psalm 33:13-15).
 

מִשָּׁמַיִם הִבִּיט יְהוָה רָאָה אֶת־כָּל־בְּנֵי הָאָדָם
מִמְּכוֹן־שִׁבְתּוֹ הִשְׁגִּיחַ אֶל כָּל־ישְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ
הַיּצֵר יַחַד לִבָּם הַמֵּבִין אֶל־כָּל־מַעֲשֵׂיהֶם

mi·sha·ma·yim · hib·bit · Adonai · ra·ah · et · kol · be·nei · ha·a·dam
mi·me·khon · shiv·to · hish·gi·ah · el · kol · yo·she·vei · ha·a·retz
hai·yotz·er · ya·chad · lib·bam · ha·me·vin · el · kol · ma·a·sey·hem
 

"The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man;
from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth,
he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds"
(Psalm 33:13-15)



  

The LORD "looks down from heaven," not in some general way, but He "beholds" each person individually – he looks directly and personally upon each soul. God discerns each person's actions and inner intentions with perfect clarity; He completely comprehends every outcome of every action in the entire universe, simultaneously and in all possible states. The LORD is the Mashgiach (מַשְׁגִּיחַ), the personal Supervisor and Overseer of each human soul. And though our God truly is the great King over all, the Master of the Universe and Sovereign on High, his greatness reaches down to the lowest of depths, humbly appealing for any who are willing to turn to him, to choose life, to receive his love and grace.

  Listen to the Shofar (click speaker icon)
 




The Season of Teshuvah...


 

08.23.13 (Elul 17, 5773)  Soren Kierkegaard said that life must be lived forward, but it can only be understood backward, and therefore the present hour provides the only real opportunity you have to examine your soul... Therefore "repent one day before you die," and that day is today, since no one knows the day or the hour of his death. The midrash notes that the word Elul (אֶלוּל), when read backward, spells lulei (לוּלֵא), meaning "if not" or "were it not for...", which suggests that the last month of the Jewish year serves as a season to examine ourselves, to confess our sins, and to resolve to more completely turn toward the Divine Presence before the coming new year... Indeed the gematria (letter value) of the name Elul (1+30+6+30) is the same as the word binah (בִּינָה), "understanding," or the ability to discern between (בֵּין) truth and error. During this season of teshuvah, then, we ask the Lord to impart to us greater understanding about how to return to him bekhol levavkha, with all our hearts...

Note: We are not legalists, nor do we agree with those rabbis who say Rosh Hashanah is a day of our judgment, since that has been taken care of at the cross of Messiah, when Yeshua was crucified for our sins. "He declared us not guilty because of his gracious love; and now we know that we are heirs of eternal life" (Titus 3:7). Our faith in Yeshua forever seals us in the Book of Life (סֵפֶר הַחַיִּים)! Nevertheless we must turn to Him every day, we must walk in the light of his heart, and therefore the call to teshuvah (repentance) is always timely. Moreover there is a prophetic aspect to this season, as Yom Teruah (i.e., Rosh Hashanah) represents the "Day of the LORD" (יוֹם יְהוָה) and the imminent apocalyptic judgment of the present world... Just as the spring festivals foretold Messiah's first advent, so the fall festivals foretell his second coming... Moreover, "teruah" (תְּרוּעָה) is the blast of a shofar, the "calling up" signal for those who belong to Messiah; the opening of the Gate to the Wedding of the Lamb! May God help us be ready to soon see our King!
 




Miracles and Trust...


 

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

08.23.13 (Elul 17, 5773)  It's been said that God delivered Israel with ten great wonders rather than just one to demonstrate his power over all the realms, and yet the ongoing miracles through the desert – the manna, the miraculous well, the clouds of glory – actually prevented the people from learning to fully trust in Him. "You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt ... the signs and those great wonders. But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear" (Deut. 29:2-4). But did not the Exodus generation know, see, and hear the power of God? Did they not witness the great Passover redemption, walk across the split sea, and later behold God's glory at Sinai? Did they not drink water from the rock and eat bread that fell from the sky? Yes, they experienced God's power, but only as a child might... Moses explained that after they entered the promised land, these miracles would cease, and that meant they needed to remember who they were, and to trust in God's love, presence and power without proof. At first the people did not understand that God is the LORD over all the earth, and He provided signs, wonders, and miracles; but when they matured, they were to know, see and hear the LORD in all things...
 




Relentless Blessings...


 

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

08.23.13 (Elul 17, 5773)  "And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you hear (shema) the Voice of the LORD your God" (Deut. 28:2). The language here is unusual, as if these blessings would seize you like an army takes an enemy stronghold. The sages comment that God's blessings can "overtake" you in a way that may hide their true purpose for your good (Rom. 8:28). At such times we do not understand they are a concealed mercy (רַחֲמִים נִסְתָר) designed for our benefit.  Therefore king David affirmed his confidence despite being surrounded by trouble. Where it is written, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life" (Psalm 23:6), the verb translated "shall follow me" (i.e., יִרְדְּפוּנִי) comes from a root word that means "to pursue," as a hunter chases after his prey. David was sure that God's lovingkindness would "hound" him as he made his way through this world - even in the dark places, even in "the valley of the shadow of death" (בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת) - where God's rod and staff would there comfort him and shepherd his way (Psalm 23:4). "May your love, O LORD, be upon us, as we hope in You."
 

יְהִי־חַסְדְּךָ יְהוָה עָלֵינוּ
 כַּאֲשֶׁר יִחַלְנוּ לָךְ

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
  


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

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




Worldly Afflictions...


 

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

08.22.13 (Elul 16, 5773)  From our Torah portion this week we read: "And the Egyptians mistreated and afflicted us..."  (Deut. 26:6). The sages note that the word translated "they afflicted" (וַיָּרֵעוּ) could be translated either as "they made us bad (רַע)" or "they befriended us" (רֵעַ), though the two meanings may be related, since befriending the ideals and values of the world corrupts us so that we lose our identity and our spiritual sensitivity. As it is written, "whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). Therefore we are admonished not to love this world and its rubbish: "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15).
 




Choosing to See...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

08.22.13 (Elul 16, 5773)  Teshuvah, or turning to God, means learning to see with new eyes, from a radically new perspective. As we change our focus, we see that "everything is new" (2 Cor. 5:17). Perception is a matter of heart, and therefore we choose to see and hear what we want to see and hear (Isa. 6:10; John 12:40). If we do not see God, it is because we have decided to turn away from his presence (Rom. 1:18-22). Our desires determine what we see and how we focus; we choose to interpret reality by an act of will, not by merely seeing with the physical eyes. We believe in order to see, not the other way around, and what we see is therefore disclosed by faith (Matt. 9:29). Often we do not see things as they are, but how we want to see them. We see as we are in our hearts: "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he" (Prov. 23:7).

How you choose to see defines the world you will inhabit (Prov. 4:23). The eyes follow the heart, and therefore seeing is a matter of inner attitude (Matt. 6:22-23). Yeshua said that our problem comes from within: "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts," and these thoughts show up in our actions (Matt. 15:19; Prov. 11:27). The Spirit of God indeed creates a new heart and spirit within us (Ezek. 36:26), but the "eyes of the heart" (ὀφθαλμοὺς τῆς καρδίας) must be enlightened by constantly turning to God (Eph. 1:18). We set the LORD always before us. We need the "good eye" of the Spirit to impart purity of heart, thereby enabling us to see the Presence of God all around us (Matt. 5:8; Isa 6:3).

Yeshua said, "Seek and you will find" (Luke 11:4). You will find what you seek. Look for the good and the good will be disclosed; look for evil, and you will discover it, too. The optimist believes this is the best of all possible worlds; the pessimist is afraid the optimist is right. Both look at the same world, but both have two radically different visions...

"Dear LORD God, help me change my thinking; correct my faulty vision, heal my distorted focus... Open my eyes to behold your beauty, your truth, and your glory in my life. Help me seek your love and goodness -- and to find it, even here, in this passing world of shadows. Do not let the pain of the past blind me to the healing of this present hour. Help me to "spy out" the land about me and report that it is good - flowing with milk and honey - rather than as a place of fear and inevitable pain... Dear Yeshua, Lord of all that is worthy and good, help me not overlook the everyday miracles and wonders that surround my way. Amen."

We can either put all our energy into not falling, or we can focus on the walk before us... Changing your vision means no longer looking at the hell of your past, but looking to the promise of a glorious future. Focus on God and his great love for you; do not return to the house of bondage, the prison house of fear. Keep the "eyes of your heart" on Yeshua who is the Light, the Compassion, and the Healing touch of the LORD our God. May you hear him say, "Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear (Matt. 13:16).

Note: I feel it necessary to say that our faith is not one of "philosophical idealism," i.e., the doctrine that perception literally creates reality... No, but our perception defines reality for us ("for-us-reality"), our interpretation of what is real, and ultimately this will be measured against the Reality of God Himself and the truth of God. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he - but not so is God... Reality is what God says it is - it is his word that determines truth and not our own subjective mental states or ideas. We are made in God's image and likeness; God intimates and reveals his presence, but ultimately all things belong to Him and will give account of their being before His Presence. Shalom.
 




Teshuvah and Truth...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

08.21.13 (Elul 15, 5773)  In the New Testament, the Greek word metanoia (and its related verb, metanao) is the most commonly used word to express the idea of "repentance." The compound word is formed from 'μετα' (after, with) and 'νοεω' (to think) and generally means "changing your mind" (in the noun form) or "thinking differently" (in the verb form). Since it can represent an "afterthought" expressed emotionally as disppointment over a loss of some kind, metanoia is similar to the idea of nacham (נָחַם) in the Hebrew Scriptures, which literally means to "sigh" as a way of expressing regret or consolation. The Greek word strepho (στρέφω), like the Hebrew word shuv (שׁוּב), means to "return" to God in a practical sense, that is, by performing acts of contrition. In either case, however, a change of direction is implied, and that change ultimately begins with how we think and what we regard as truth. Repentance, then, involves a new vision, a new way of seeing reality...

Yeshua's earthly ministry began with the message, "The time has come and the kingdom of God draws near: repent (μετανοεῖτε) and believe (πιστεύετε) the good news" (Mark 1:15). These two verbs (repent, believe) are in the imperative mood. We are commanded to repent, to "change our thinking," and to turn away from hopelessness - and the sin that hopelessness begets - by accepting God's intervention and deliverance. But you cannot believe if you do not first turn, and therefore you must change your focus: clear away the world's distractions and ready your heart to hear the message. It is in the desert places that we "prepare the way of the Lord and make straight a highway for our God."
 

קוֹל קוֹרֵא בַּמִּדְבָּר פַּנּוּ דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה
יַשְּׁרוּ בָּעֲרָבָה מְסִלָּה לֵאלהֵינוּ

kol · ko·rei · ba·mid·bar · pa·nu · de·rekh · Adonai
ya·she·ru · ba·a·ra·vah · me·sil·lah · le·lo·hei·nu
 

A voice cries out: 'In the desert prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the steppes a highway for our God.'
(Isa. 40:3)



 

Note that the word translated "prepare" (i.e., panu) comes from a root word (פָּנָה) that means to turn to face someone... The Hebrew word panim (פָּנִים), "face," comes from the same root, as does the word penimi (פְּנִימִי), "inner," and the word penimiyut (פְּנִימִיוּת), meaning "inwardness" or "immanency." This suggests that we must go within our own hearts, and there, in our "desert places," we will encounter the Presence of the LORD. It is in the solitude of the desert - away from the noise and distractions of this vain world, where we can focus our heart, confess our sin, and express our great need for God... Being honest with ourselves makes us yashar (יָשַׁר), and crooked ways are made straight for God to be received... The Hebrew word mesilah (מְסִלָּה) alludes to the ladder (i.e., sullam: סֻלָּם) that Jacob saw in the desert when he received the blessing of God (Gen. 28:12). Yeshua is the Bridge, or Ladder (הַסֻּלָּם), that unites and mediates heaven and earth (John 1:51).

Since God holds us responsible to repent and believe the truth of the gospel (Acts 17:30-31), He must have made it possible for us to do so ("ought" implies "can").  And indeed, God has created us in His image so that we are able to discern spiritual truth. He created us with a logical sense (rationality) as well as a moral sense (conscience) so that we can apprehend order and find meaning in the universe He created.  All our knowledge presupposes this. Whenever we experience anything through our senses, for example, we use logic to categorize and generalize from the particular to the general, and whenever we make deductions in our thinking (comparing terms, making inferences, and so on), we rely on logic. We have an innate intellectual and moral "compass" that points us to God.

Since we all necessarily must think in order to live, we should value clear thinking. This should be obvious enough, though people often make various errors and misjudgments because they devalue the effort required to carefully think through a question.  As William James once said, "A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." When it comes to questions about the gospel, however, God regards such carelessness to be blameworthy. Again, the LORD holds us accountable for what we think and believe, especially when it comes to the reality and mission of His Son.

The truth about God is always available to human beings, if they are willing to look for it. The Divine Light that was created before the sun and the stars represents God's immanent presence that "lights up" all of creation  - including our minds (Gen. 1:3). As Paul stated, "the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen so that people are without excuse" (Rom. 1:19-20). The heavens are constantly attesting to the reality of God's handiwork (Psalm 19:1). All of creation "shouts out" that there is a God. Even small children understand this.

Note: 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. For more on this subject, see "Teshuvah of the Mind."
 




A Select Treasure...


 

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

08.20.13 (Elul 14, 5773)  "You are a treasured possession ... a people holy to the LORD your God " (Deut. 26:18-19). Holiness, or kedushah (קְדוּשָׁה), represents transformation, being wholly set apart and turned toward the sacred, the Divine Presence. The LORD said to Moses from the midst of the shining flame: "Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy" (Exod. 3:5). The Chofetz Chaim comments: "By faith see that this place, right now, is holy ground, and awaits your response."
 

קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יהוה צְבָאוֹת
מְלא כָל־הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ

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

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


 
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Spiritually speaking, the very first step is to find hope... The Divine Light is seen by means of the eye of faith (עַיִן שֶׁל אֱמוּנָה), as it is written, "Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; He is gracious, merciful, and righteous" (Psalm 112:4). Therefore we find life by trusting in God's Presence, even as we learn to see the invisible (2 Cor. 4:18; 5:7). "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Know Him in all your ways, and He will straighten your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil" (Prov. 3:5-7).
 




Focus of the Heart...


 

08.20.13 (Elul 14, 5773)  Yeshua taught, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God'" (Matt. 5:8). The Greek word translated "pure" is katharos (καθαρός), sometimes used describe the cleansing of a wound (catharsis), or to describe the unalloyed quality of a substance revealed through refining fire (the corresponding Hebrew word for the "pure of heart" (בַּר־לֵבָב), used in Psalm 24:4, comes from a root (בָּרַר) that likewise means to purify by fire).  Metaphorically, then, purity of heart refers to separation from the profane - singleness of vision, wholeheartedness, passion, and focused desire for the sacred.  As the Beatitudes reveal (Matt. 5:3-8), only those who are impoverished in spirit, who mourn over themselves and hunger for God's mercy, are refined by their struggle to see God (the Greek text implies these will see God now – with inward vision – and in the world to come). Because the pure in heart use ayin tovah, the good eye, they walk "in the light, as He is in the light" (Matt. 6:22). When we are undivided in heart, the Spirit imparts to us a hidden wisdom (1 Cor. 2:6-7) and we are able to discern hidden realities that others do not see (1 Cor. 2:14). As we center our affections on Yeshua, we become unified, made whole, and healed of our inner fragmentation. We see the Lord both in this world, through his effects, and then panim el panim (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), "face to face," in the world to come. Our hope purifies us for that coming great day of full disclosure (1 John 3:2-3; Heb. 12:14).

If we are impure of heart, we will be inwardly divided, unfocused, fragmented, filled with destabilizing anxiety, envy, anger, and so on. More tragically, because we seek to escape ourselves, we will be devoid of a true center, without a focal point or abiding purpose, and therefore we will be lost to ourselves, wandering and without rest....

The heart is a miracle, an "engine" that distributes life, and the heartbeat is a great mystery, inexplicably pulsing with energy, contracting the muscles. The pulse of the heart, then, is the "center of the center" of a person's physical life...

As below, so above. It is the Spirit that gives life (John 6:63). The Holy Spirit imparts the "pulse" of the Divine Life, and we gain newness of life when we trust God for purification from our sins through Yeshua our LORD. As King David further attested: Lev tahor bara li Elohim – "Create in me a clean heart, O God" and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10). Only the new heart (lev chadash) created by power of God's Spirit can possibly yield the life of the Spirit within us. The creation of a new heart represents the transformation of your whole inner nature - with the impartation of new appetites, new passions, new desires, and the rebirth of your will. If you struggle with being inwardly divided, fervently ask the LORD to give you the blessing of purity of heart...

Note:  People tend to think of "purity of heart" in moral terms, such as not looking with lust on others, not coveting, etc., though these are symptoms of disordered love... Genuine purity is a matter of focus, of finding the "good portion" and the "one thing necessary" (Luke 10:42). Such purity heals you of ambivalence, settling the heart's inner decision. Purity of heart realizes that all that you've ever longed for is found in God alone. It is a great, great gift from heaven to know God as your heart's true desire - to fully understand that your relationship with Him is the ultimate concern and treasure of your existence.
 




The Joy of Surrender...


 

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

08.19.13 (Elul 13, 5773)  Our Torah portion this week explains the reason for the judgment and exile of God: "Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness ... therefore you shall serve your enemies" (Deut. 28:47). Some of the sages do not read this as, "because you failed to be joyful..." but rather "because you failed to serve God - and that became your joy." In other words, finding joy and happiness outside of God is the reason for God's corrective judgment.  Being happy that you are "free" of Torah, or regarding it as a burden, is a sign of spiritual trouble. As Yeshua said: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an Yod, nor a stroke of a Yod (קוֹצוֹ שֶׁל יוֹד), will pass from the Torah until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes (λύσῃ) one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:17-19).

There is indeed Torah for the follower of Yeshua - namely, his commandments and teaching found in the New Testament... Just because we are no longer under the terms of the Sinai covenant does not mean we are devoid of the Torah of the new covenant! For the follower of Yeshua, much of this process is "unconscious," by which I mean that it happens as a result of God's grace (χάρις, a word related to χαρά, "joy") over time, and thereby we become God's witnesses... As we learn to see the beauty of God's Torah, we will spontaneously and joyfully seek to do those things that please our LORD and Master. As the Apostle John wrote: "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (lit. "heavy," βαρύς) (1 John 5:3).
 




The Gravity of God's Grace...


 

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

08.19.13 (Elul 13, 5773)  Our Torah portion this week includes Moses' seemingly endless description of terrible consequences that would befall the Jewish people if they disobeyed the terms of the Sinai covenant (Deut. 28:15-68). In Jewish tradition this litany of woe is called the "tochachah" (תּוֹכָחָה), a word that means "rebuke" or "reprimand." Reading the tochachah is difficult and painful, though it serves as a bitter medicine to wake us up and prevent us from falling into a lethal coma. In that sense the tochechah is a great blessing since it shocks us into experiencing the gravity of God's grace. This is similar to Yeshua's grave warnings about the dangers of hell. If we refuse to listen or rush past his words, we are missing the substance of God's lament given through the Hebrew prophets. Sin is a lethal problem, and we must turn to God for healing or we will die. As Blaise Pascal once wrote, "Between heaven and hell is only this life, which is the most fragile thing in the world." Therefore shuvah! -- turn to God and receive the blessing of life!

We must turn to God every day; we must choose to set the LORD before us always (Psalm 16:8). This is implied by our Torah portion as well: After hearing each curse, the people were required to ratify the words by saying, 'Amen' (Deut. 27:15). We must say "amen" to both the blessing and to the curse, which means that we accept the infinite significance of our choices... For example, those who reject the first commandment, namely, to accept the LORD as their God, are subject to the spiritual implications, and yet to this we must also say "Amen" (Deut. 27:15). The great choice we face every day is whether or not we will surrender ourselves to the blessing of God... As Moses said, "I call heaven and earth to witness against you: today I set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore bacharta ba'chayim: choose life, that you and your offspring may live" (Deut. 30:19).

Note:  For more on this very important topic, see "The Curses of the Law."
 




Teshuvah of Concern...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

08.19.13 (Elul 13, 5773)  Blaise Pascal wrote that faith in Yeshua is essentially a confession of irreparable human infirmity, and therefore its message is always directly there - to the place of our pain and desperation. Consequently it has no voice or message to mere triflers - to those who might patronize it as philosophically interesting, morally edifying, poetically beautiful, politically useful, and so on. No, no, never: the Spirit speaks to the heart in its anguish, in its lament over the suffering and agony of life in this world, and there breathes out the haunting question, "Do you want to be healed?"
 

 עָקב הַלֵּב מִכּל וְאָנֻשׁ הוּא
 מִי יֵדָעֶנּוּ

a·kov · ha·lev · mik·kol · ve·a·nush · hu
mi · ye·da·en·nu
 

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


 


Though our faith can be expressed in theological terms, it remains first of all a message to the individual in existential distress, shouting the way of escape to those on the edge of the everlasting abyss... The language of genuine teshuvah is one of ultimate concern, a message that appeals to matters of life and death itself.
 

    "A life of a human being begins with the illusion that a long, long time and a whole world lie before him in the distance, begins with the foolhardy delusion that he has such ample time for his many claims. The poet is the eloquent and enthusiastic confidant of this foolhardy but beautiful delusion. But when a person in the infinite transformation discovers the eternal itself so close to life that there is not the distance of one single claim, of one single evasion, of one single excuse, of one single moment of time from what he in this instant, in this second, in this holy moment shall do - then he is on the way..." (Kierkegaard: Works of Love)

 




Parashat Ki Tavo - כי־תבוא


 

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

08.18.13 (Elul 12, 5773)  Last week's Torah portion (Ki Teitzei) listed no less than 74 of the Torah's 613 commandments, covering a wide assortment of social and ethical rules that were to be observed in the Promised Land. In this week's Torah portion (Ki Tavo), Moses concludes the legal section of his discourse by first ordaining that the "first fruits" of the crops (called "bikkurim") be brought to the priests in a annual tithing ritual. After explaining additional laws of tithing for all of the people, Moses instructed that a "second Sinai experience" should be enacted immediately after the people crossed the Jordan river. The portion concludes with Moses delivering the great tochachah ("Rebuke") which foretold a terrible litany of curses that would result from the people's disobedience.
 

 




Shabbat Kumi Ori - קוּמִי אוֹרִי


 

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

08.18.13 (Elul 12, 5773)  The haftarah for parashat Ki Tavo (i.e., Isa. 60:1-22) is the sixth of the seven readings from the prophets that are consecutively read before Rosh Hashanah. These "haftarot of comfort" foretell of the restoration of the Jewish people and of the coming of the Messianic Era. In this week's reading, The Haftarah reading for this coming Shabbat describes the future salvation of the nation of Israel.  The LORD promises to shine His glorious light upon the Jewish people and to reveal His glory, despite the hour of darkness and tribulation that comes upon the earth:
 

    "Arise and shine (קוּמִי אוֹרִי) for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD (כְּבוֹד יהוה) has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will shine upon you (וְעָלַיִךְ יִזְרַח יהוה), and his glory will be seen upon you (וּכְבוֹדוֹ עָלַיִךְ יֵרָאֶה). And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip" (Isa. 60:1-4).
     

Sometime during the "plague of darkness" that represents the time of the Great Tribulation (i.e., the Day of the LORD and the judgment of the world, or Yom Adonai), Israel will finally turn to the LORD and receive Yeshua as their long-lost Messiah (Zech. 12:10). The veil will finally be taken away, and all Israel will be saved. The Light of Salvation (Yeshua) will be revealed and the glory of the LORD (כְּבוֹד יהוה) will radiantly shine (זָרָח) upon the Jewish people.  The land of Israel will be like Goshen during the times of the plagues of Egypt as the world powers are all judged and destroyed. Then the survivors of the nations will understand that the LORD is indeed with Israel and will turn to Him in surrender as well. "And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken" (Isa. 40:5). Yeshua will return to Zion to establish the Kingdom of God upon the earth (Zech. 2:10-13).
 

קוּמִי אוֹרִי כִּי בָא אוֹרֵךְ
 וּכְבוֹד יְהוָה עָלַיִךְ זָרָח

ku·mi  o·ri  ki  va  or·rekh
ukh·vod  Adonai  a·la·yikh  za·rach

 

"Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you."
(Isa. 60:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 

The LORD said to Moses from the midst of the shining flame: 'Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy' (Exod. 3:5). The Chofetz Chaim comments: We all need to rise higher... Never say, I will be able to lift myself up at another time or different place. By faith see that this place, right now, is holy ground, and awaits your response. May God open the "eyes of your heart" to help you see (Eph. 1:18-19).
 




Teshuvah and Seeking...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

08.18.13 (Elul 12, 5773)  The Hebrew word for "world" or "age" is olam (עוֹלָם), which is derived from a root verb (עָלַם) that means "to conceal" or "to hide." God "hides" His face from us so that we will seek Him, and that means pressing through ambiguity of this world to discern and take hold of the truth. Therefore King David said, בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָיו תָּמִיד/ bakeshu fanav tamid: "Seek His face continually" (Psalm 105:4). Note that the Hebrew gematria (numerical value) for the word "fanav" (i.e., "His face") is the same as that for the word "olam." When we truly seek God's face (i.e., His Presence) we are able to discern the underlying purpose for our lives in this age.
 

דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה וְעֻזּוֹ
 בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָיו תָּמִיד

dir·shu · Adonai · ve·u·zo
ba·ke·shu · fa·nav · ta·mid
 

"Seek the LORD and his strength;
 seek his presence continually."
(Psalm 105:4)

ζητήσατε τὸν κύριον καὶ κραταιώθητε
ζητήσατε τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ διὰ παντός 



Hebrew Study Card

 

The ancient Greek version of the Torah (i.e., the Septuagint) translates this verse, "Seek the LORD and be strengthed; seek His face through everything (διὰ παντός)." The LORD God gives us "inner strength" (i.e., ἐγκράτεια, from εν-, "in" + κράτος, "strength" or "power") when we yield to "the power of His might" (ἐν τῷ κράτει τῆς ἰσχύος αὐτοῦ) (Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 6:10). Therefore we must remember God's power and glory, for "He is the LORD our God (הוּא יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ); His judgments are in all the earth" (Psalm 105:7).
 




A Hidden Disclosure...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

08.18.13 (Elul 12, 5773)  Paradoxically we are to "let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works" (Matt. 5:16), and yet we are to be careful not to "let our left hand know what our right hand is doing" (Matt. 6:3). Good works are to be seen by others, but not as a result of our own hand or merit.  Indeed, we are to be unmindful of ourselves - our left hand not knowing what our right hand does - thereby practicing hidden righteousness (נִסתָר צַדקָנוּת). We deny ourselves by forgetting ourselves, and we then overlook any desire for recognition or reward. This happens "unconsciously" as we focus on the LORD and bear witness to the miracle of his transformation of our hearts and lives. The great commandment is always Shema - listen - and heed God's voice: "And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left (Isa. 30:21).
 




The Torah of Mercy...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

08.16.13 (Elul 10, 5773)  It's been said that grace is getting what you don't deserve, whereas mercy is not getting what you do... Yeshua said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" (Matt. 5:7). This is not a reciprocal law like karma, i.e., you get in return what you first give, since we cannot obtain God's mercy as reward for our own supposed merit (Rom. 4:4). No, we are able to extend mercy to others when we are made merciful ("full of mercy"), that is, when we first receive mercy from God. After all, you can't give away what you don't have, and if we have no mercy for others, it is likely that we have not received it ourselves, as the parable of the Good Samaritan reveals (Luke 10:25-8). Your forgiveness is your forgiveness: as you forgive, so you reveal your heart. What you do comes from what you are, not the other way around. We are first transformed by God's grace and then come works of love. We are able to judge others mercifully, with the "good eye," because we come to believe that we are beloved by God.

The pattern therefore abides: First you realize you are broken, impoverished of heart, and you therefore mourn over your sinful condition. Then you hunger and thirst for God's righteousness, for his healing and deliverance, and you learn to trust the mercy of God, that is, you come to accept that you are accepted despite your unacceptability. You begin to show yourself mercy; you learn to "suffer yourself" and forgive your own evil, and then you extend this mercy to others who are hurting around you... The failure to extend mercy, to demand your "rights" or hold on to grudges, implies that you are relating to God as Judge rather than as Savior (James 2:13). If we condemn what we see in others, we have yet to truly see what is within our own hearts; we have yet to see our desperate need for God's mercy for our lives. If you don't own your own sin, your sin will own you. Being merciful is a response to God's love and therefore is essential to genuine teshuvah... Ask the LORD to help you let go of the pain of the past by being full of mercy toward yourself and others.

Shabbat Shalom, dear friends... May God be with you and bless you in Yeshua...
 




Restoring what is Lost...


 

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

08.16.13 (Elul 10, 5773)  "Do not ignore the loss of your brother... you shall restore it to him" (Deut. 22:1-3). The Torah states that it is a moral duty to return lost items to others, and on a spiritual level that includes restoring honor and dignity to those who have lost sight of their value in the eyes of God... For even greater reason we must make restitution to those whom we have harmed. Making amends is part of the teshuvah process. We hurt ourselves when we hurt others, and we hurt others when we hurt ourselves. The way out of that circle is through making amends. As Yeshua taught: "If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matt. 5:22-23). "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working" (James 5:16). Ultimately, confession of the truth is not optional for anyone.

Indeed, regarding the duty to restore what is lost to our brother mentioned above, the Torah adds, "and you are not to ignore it," which literally reads, "you are unable to hide it" (לא תוּכַל לְהִתְעַלֵּם). Rabbi Abraham Twerski notes that the Torah is not giving us a command as much as stating a fact: You are unable to hide from a wrongful act. In other words, the problem with "getting away with it" is that you get away with it, that is, you take it with you. Such self-deception sears your conscience, makes you numb inside, and deadens the heart. Making amends to others is life-giving, helping you let go of what you've done wrong to restore inner peace. We must be vigilant not to let our hearts die because of either shame or rationalization. May the LORD help us walk in the Spirit of Truth.
 




Taking Captivity Captive...


 

08.16.13 (Elul 10, 5773)  Our Torah portion this week begins, "When you go out to war against your enemies..." (Deut. 22:10), which the sages interpret to refer to spiritual warfare that must be waged against the evil inclination (yetzer ha'ra) and satan. We are promised victory over evil if we go out to confront the battle (כִּי־תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה), not by ignoring it or hoping that it will somehow just go away... When we go out to battle, God will help us "capture its captivity" (וְשָׁבִיתָ שִׁבְיוֹ), that is, we will capture the strategies and strongholds of wickedness itself.  We will see through the lies, the cunning, and the schemes of the enemy and bring them before the LORD (2 Cor. 10:4-5). We must not shrink back in fear; we must fight the good fight of faith, taking up the whole armor of God, and bearing the victory of Yeshua our LORD in our hearts.
 




Fighting Spiritual Blindness...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Teitzei.... ]

08.15.13 (Elul 9, 5773)  Our Torah portion this week (Ki Teitzei) commands us to remember what the Amalekites did to the Jewish people just after they left Egypt during the time of the Exodus (Exod. 17:8-16; Deut. 25:17-19). Paradoxically God commanded the Israelites to "blot out the remembrance" of Amalek while swearing to fight Amalek "from generation to generation" (Deut. 17:16). In this connection note that the name "Amalek" (עֲמָלֵק) begins with the letter Ayin (symbolizing the eye) and equals  240 in gematria -- the same value for safek (סָפֵק), the Hebrew word for doubt.  Amalek therefore symbolizes "the eye of doubt," or even "the severed eye" (the Hebrew verb מָלָק means "to chop" or "sever" in reference to the "eye" of Ayin). The power of Amalek therefore represents spiritual blindness as it acts in the world. We are never to forget that the light of God overcomes the darkness of this world, and that light is found in Yeshua our LORD....

Note:  For more on this important topic, see "Warfare with Amalek."
 




God There and Here...


 

08.15.13 (Elul 9, 5773)  "If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in the lowest depths, you are here" (Psalm 139:8) The sages note the use of the adverbs "there" and "here" in this verse, saying that when a person feels like he has ascended to great heights, the LORD will be "there" (שָׁם), that is, distant from him, but when he is humble and low, the LORD will be "here" (הִנֵּה), that is, right at his side (Isa. 57:15). This is the "upside-down" way of beholding the Kingdom of Heaven. Can a camel go through the eye of a needle? No more than a 'rich man' can find life through his own ventures (Matt. 19:23-24). The only way to enter life is to disown your riches (i.e., your self-sufficiency) by becoming "impoverished in spirit." This is the narrow way that leads to life (Matt. 7:14). You have to let go of the "baggage" of your worldly ego... Yeshua teaches that only by emptying ourselves can we be made full; only by mourning ourselves can we find comfort, and only by hungering and thirsting for God's righteousness can we find inner satisfaction...
 

אִם־אֶסַּק שָׁמַיִם שָׁם אָתָּה
וְאַצִּיעָה שְּׁאוֹל הִנֶּךָּ

im · es·sak · sha·ma·yim · sham · at·tah
ve·a·tzi·ah · she·ol · hin·ne·ka
 

"If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
if I descend to the lowest depths, You are here."
 (Psalm 139:8)
  


Note:  I was hospitalized with chest pains and breathing problems last night. Baruch Hashem my heart checked out fine, however your prayers for my healing are sincerely appreciated... Thank you, dear friends.
 




The Law of Faith...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Teitzei, which contains more commandments than any other Torah portion... ]

08.14.13 (Elul 8, 5773)  When asked how many commandments are in the Torah, most Jews will answer 613, based on Jewish tradition (the number 613 is sometimes called "taryag" (תריג), an abbreviation for the letters Tav (400) + Resh (200) + Yod (10) + Gimmel (3) = 613).  Despite several attempts made over the centuries, however, there has never been a definitive list of these commandments, and of those who tried to compile such, no two agree... Some say the number 613 comes from a fanciful midrash that teaches that since there are 365 days in a year (corresponding to the 365 negative commandments) and 248 "parts" of the body (corresponding to the positive commandments), each day we should use our body to serve God. Regardless of the exact count, however, the Talmud followed the Apostle Paul by understanding all the Torah's commandments to be derived from the Ten Commandments given at Sinai, the most basic of which is the very First Commandment, namely, "I AM the LORD your God (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ) who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). This foundational commandment was later restated by the prophet Habbakuk as: וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה / "The righteous person will live by faith in God" (Hab. 2:4; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38).

Note:  I stated that the sages of the Talmud "followed" the Apostle Paul's line of thinking on this subject since Paul wrote centuries before the Talmud was compiled...
 




United with Messiah...


 

08.14.13 (Elul 8, 5773)  "If you are united with me and my teaching ... you will bear much fruit that glorifies God and demonstrates you are my student" (John 15:7-8). We are to learn from Yeshua, who teaches us the inner meaning of Torah, how to be rightly related to God, and how to love others bekhol levavkha, with all our heart. This is the education for eternity. We are to be united with his words, his heart, and his vision for life. We set the LORD always before us; we know Him in all our ways; we live in devotion to the truth he taught...  What truth? That God Himself entered our world to die on our behalf, to overcome our separation from life (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Yeshua delivers us from the curse of death by means of his shed blood and his resurrected life: Because he lives, we also live. This is the truth that sets us free. People who think that "freedom" means be able to walk after the lusts of their imaginations are really enslaved to their lower nature. Such is a sign of weakness and cowardice, not strength; it reveals sickness of the spirit, not life and healing... Blindly following the crowd or yielding to the dictates of evil passion is slavery of the soul. True freedom is the power to walk in the light that overcomes the darkness.

Being a student (disciple) of Yeshua means being united with his mission to give life and healing to a lost and sin-sick world... It is to share the message of his love with others. "To love another is to help them love God," which is the great commission - to go and teach others the truth that sets them free (Matt. 28:19-20).
 




Seek and you shall find...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

08.13.13 (Elul 7, 5773)  Teshuvah, or turning to God, means waking up, coming alive, returning to what is real...   As is says: "Awake thou that sleepest - arouse from your state of slumber: and arise from the dead" (Eph. 5:14). The message to the sinner is always, "Wake up, wake up - you are living a nightmare..." The Spirit of God's love calls out, dirshuni vichyu (דִּרְשׁוּנִי וִחְיוּ), "seek me and live!" Open your eyes to discover life! "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart."
 

וּבִקַּשְׁתֶּם אתִי וּמְצָאתֶם
 כִּי תִדְרְשֻׁנִי בְּכָל־לְבַבְכֶם

u'vik·kash·tem · o·ti · u·metz·a·tem
ki · tid·re·shu·ni · be·khol · le·vav·khem

 

"You will seek me and find me
 if you search for me with all your heart"
(Jer. 29:13)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

Hebrew Study Card
  

"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened" (Matt. 7:7-8). The problem with many of us is not that we are so hungry, but rather that we are not hungry enough... We settle for "junk food" when God spreads out his banqueting table before us. There is a "deeper hunger" for life, and I pray we are all touched by such hunger pangs; there is a "blessed hunger and thirst" that feeds our heart's cry for God (Matt. 5:6); there is a "divine discontent" that leads to a deeper sense of contentment for the heart...
 




Refusing Offense...


 

08.13.13 (Elul 7, 5773)  People today are quick to take offense, made prisoners of their own insecurities... Ironically, the more you seek your own honor, the less you'll find. Turn yourself around; get out of yourself: "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." "If anyone would be first, he must be servant of all" (Mark 9:35). "And blessed is the man who is not offended" (וְאַשְׁרֵי הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לא־יִכָּשֵׁל).

The devil seeks to "divide and conquer" people by emphasizing what makes them different. He seeks to sow seeds of mistrust, suspicion, and hatred based on fear and ignorance. We must fight the power of the lie by means of the truth of the LORD God Almighty. All people are created be'tzelem Elohim (בְּצֶלֶם אֱלהִים), intended to be image-bearers of the Divine, and each soul will give account for its life – for every careless thought, word, and deed. As it is written, "No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Heb. 4:13). Refuse, therefore, to take offense over anything - over perceived insults, over attacks on your character, and especially over the news (i.e., propaganda) of this evil world, friends. All things come from the hand of God to test you; to refine what is in your heart... Give up your personal "rights" and surrender yourself to the providential care of your Heavenly Father. But regarding the affairs of this world, understand that the nations are tohu (תהוּ), "confusion and unreality" (Isa. 40:17), and the schemes of worldly men are ultimately doomed (Psalm 1:6). Ein od milvado: Understand that the LORD God Almighty is the great King over all the earth (Psalm 47:7).
 

כִּי מֶלֶךְ כָּל־הָאָרֶץ אֱלהִים
זַמְּרוּ מַשְׂכִּיל

ki · me·lekh · kol · ha·a·retz · E·lo·him
za·me·ru · mas·kil

 

"For God is the King of all the earth:
sing praises with understanding."
 (
Psalm 47:7)


 
 

Adonai malakh ge'ut lavesh (יְהוָה מָלָךְ גֵּאוּת לָבֵשׁ) - "the LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty," lavesh Adonai oz hit'azar (לָבֵשׁ יְהוָה עז הִתְאַזָּר) "the LORD is robed and girded with strength." Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved" (Psalm 93:1).
 




A Blessed Desperation...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

08.12.13 (Elul 6, 5773)  "And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying... 'Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled'" (Matt. 5:6). Many people hunger for spiritual experiences, for material "blessings," or for signs of the miraculous, while others seek knowledge and wisdom, but it is the righteousness of God that alone truly satisfies the heart (Matt. 6:33). This righteousness is not achieved by means of performing religious rituals or by doing good deeds, but instead "comes to life" within the heart by trusting in Yeshua, the righteousness of God (צִדְקַת אֱלהִים). He is the vine and we are branches, and as we draw life from him, his life flows within us to bear deeds of righteousness to the praise and glory of God (John 15:1-5; 1 John 3:7). But note that while we can't attain righteousness by means of virtuous deeds, the cost for attaining such is confession of the truth of our condition: brokenness and mourning of heart (Matt. 5:3-4). Those who profoundly hunger for deliverance from their moral bankruptcy and grieving of heart will be satisfied, but only those who do so. God will indeed wipe away our tears, but the tears must be shed...

The Torah of Yeshua is heeded by the "impoverished of spirit" who know they must "find God or die." It is first a word spoken to the shattered of heart and crushed of spirit. Those who empty themselves before God will find their own desire fulfilled, for God will satisfy them with inner peace and joy. This is the righteousness of God that is known by yielding to His love secured in Messiah. The "fruit of the Spirit" is then expressed in the heart through acts of gratitude and mercy, that is, "faith working through love" (Gal. 5:6). Teshuvah is always a response to God's compassion, as it says, "we love him because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19). Paradoxically, we never find ultimate satisfaction in finite things, but only by seeking the Eternal One, and by means of seeking the infinite we find the delight to seek further still: "Come further up, come further in!" It is great blessedness to be desperate for God, to long for him more and more; to keep asking, seeking, knocking (Matt. 7:7). When we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness as our supreme need, God will satisfy us by drawing us into an ever-deepening desire for him.
 

כִּי־הִשְׂבִּיעַ נֶפֶשׁ שׁקֵקָה
וְנֶפֶשׁ רְעֵבָה מִלֵּא־טוֹב

ki · his·bi·a · ne·fesh · sho·kei·kah
ve·ne·fesh · re·e·vah · mil·lei · tov

 

"For he satisfies the thirsting soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things."
 (
Psalm 107:9)


 
 

The LORD alone can satisfy the eternal yearning of our spiritual nature. As Augustine said, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."
 

    "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled" (Matt. 5:6). This beatitude again follows logically from the previous ones; it is a statement to which all the others lead. It is the logical conclusion to which they come, and it is something for which we should all be profoundly thankful and grateful to God. I do not know of a better test that anyone can apply to himself or herself in this whole matter of the Christian profession than a verse like this. If this verse is to you one of the most blessed statements of the whole of Scripture, you can be quite certain you are a Christian. If it is not, then you had better examine the foundations again." - D. Martin Lloyd Jones: Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
     

This great blessedness is found only by those who seek God be'khol levavkha, with all their heart, as it is written: "Seek me and live" (Amos 5:4). But we must be vigilant, since a common tactic of the enemy of our souls is to induce us to forget our desperate need, seducing us to think we have already "arrived" or that we "know" all the answers. This is a grave danger. Those who regard themselves as rightly related to God are often deluded regarding their spiritual status (Luke 18:9-14; Rev. 3:15-20). The seeking heart is humble and knows that it has not yet attained to righteousness (Phil. 3:12-14).
 




Parashat Ki Teitzei - כי־תצא


 

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

08.11.13 (Elul 5, 5773)  In last week's Torah reading (Shoftim), Moses defined an extensive system of justice for the Israelites and pointed to the coming Messiah who would be the rightful King of Israel. In this week's portion (Ki Teitzei), Moses returns to the immediate concern of life in the promised land by providing further laws to be enforced regarding civil life in Israel. In fact, Jewish tradition identifies no less than 74 of the Torah's 613 commandments in this portion (more than any other), covering a wide assortment of rules related to ethical warfare, family life, burial of the deceased, property laws, the humane treatment of animals, fair labor practices, and honest economic transactions.

Of particular interest to us is the statement that a man who was executed and "hanged on a tree" (עַל־עֵץ) is under the curse of God (Deut. 21:22-23). According to the Talmud (Nezakim: Sanhedrin 6:4:3), the Great Sanhedrin (סַנְהֶדְרִין גְדוֹלָה) decided that "a man must be hanged with his face towards the spectators" upon a wooden stake, with his arms slung over a horizontal beam. It should be noted that while this is technically not the same thing as the gruesome practice of Roman crucifixion, the reasoning based on this verse was apparently used to justify the execution of Yeshua (Mark 15:9-15; John 19:5-7; 15). The exposed body was required to be buried before sundown to keep the land from being defiled. Besides the shame and degradation of this manner of death, the one so executed would be unable to fall to their knees as a final act of repentance before God, thereby implying that they were under the irrevocable curse of God (קִלְלַת אֱלהִים).

In this connection, we should note that Yeshua was falsely charged with blasphemy before the corrupt Sanhedrin of His day (Matt. 26:65; Mark 14:64; John 10:33) - an offence that was punishable by stoning (Lev. 24:11-16). However, since the Imperial Roman government then exercised legal hegemony over the region of Palestine, all capital cases were required to be submitted to the Roman proconsul for adjudication, and therefore we understand why the Jewish court remanded Yeshua and brought him to be interrogated by Pontius Pilate. Because Roman law was indifferent to cases concerning Jewish religious practices (i.e., charges of blasphemy), however, the priests further slandered Yeshua by illegitimately switching the original charge of blasphemy to that of sedition against Rome. The Sanhedrin undoubtedly rationalized their duplicity because the Torah allowed for an offender to impaled or "hung on a tree" (Num. 25:4), and since they were unable to do carry out this judgment because of Roman rule in the area, they needed Pilate to condemn him to death by crucifixion (Matt. 27:31; Mark 15:13-4; Luke 23:21; John 19:6,15). Note that crucifixion is mentioned elsewhere in the Talmud (Nashim: Yevamot 120b) regarding whether a widow can remarry if her husband had been crucified, as well as by the Jewish historian Josephus. The Talmud furthermore alludes to the death of Yeshua where Yeshua is said to have been crucified on "eve of Passover" (Nezekin: Sanhedrin 43a).
 




Shabbat Rani Akarah - רָנִּי עֲקָרָה


 

08.11.13 (Elul 5, 5773)  The haftarah for parashat Ki Teitzei (i.e., Isa. 54:1-10) is the fifth of seven readings from the prophets that are consecutively read before Rosh Hashanah. These "haftarot of comfort" foretell of the restoration of the Jewish people and of the coming of the Messianic Era. In this week's reading, the LORD compares the children of Israel to a wife who has long been barren. According to the sages, God tells the "Wife of His youth" to sing out with joy, for soon she will have a hard time keeping track of all her children! Many will return by means of a mighty wave of repentance that will sweep over the world when Jerusalem is finally redeemed and the Mashiach reigns in Israel.

Though the LORD hardened Israel for a season (Rom. 11:25-29), His love for her is sure, and all His promises will be established. In the End of Days all Israel will be saved, in times "like the days of Noah." But just I God swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so He has sworn that Israel will be regathered and restored.
 

רָנִּי עֲקָרָה לא יָלָדָה פִּצְחִי רִנָּה וְצַהֲלִי לא־חָלָה
כִּי־רַבִּים בְּנֵי־שׁוֹמֵמָה מִבְּנֵי בְעוּלָה אָמַר יְהוָה

ran·ni · ak·a·rah · lo · ya·la·dah · pitz·chi · rin·nah · ve·tza·ha·li · lo · cha·lah
ki · rab·bim · be·nei · sho·me·mah · mi·be·nei · ve·o·lah · a·mar · Adonai

 

"Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one
will be more than the children of her who is married," says the LORD."
(Isa. 54:1)
 




Know Him in All your Ways...


 

08.09.13 (Elul 3, 5773)  Behold the goodness and kindness of our God!  Where it is written: "Know Him in all your ways" (Prov. 3:6), this of course includes the way of your transgressions... Acknowledge these ways before Him, too, and trust that God will help you depart from your sin (Prov. 28:13). As it is said, "Because he is devoted to Me I will deliver him; I will keep him safe, for he knows My Name. When he calls to Me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him My salvation" (Psalm 91:14-16). 
 

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

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

 

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

"Know Him in all your ways," that is, even in your failures and missteps, your sins and your inquities -- look for the LORD's help (Heb. 4:16). As King David stated, "I have set the Lord always before me, because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8). The very first step is finding hope enough to trust...

Shabbat Shalom and perfect peace to you in the Name above all Names: Yeshua our LORD!
 




The Blessing of Letting Go...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the Forty days of Teshuvah... ]

08.09.13 (Elul 3, 5773)  "And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying... "Blessed are the lowly and humble, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5). Those conscious of their inner poverty, who mourn over their sinful condition, and who are afflicted with themselves, can let go of the need to "manage appearances," to be in control, or to seek validation from others, and therefore they are free to surrender their lives to God's care. They "flow" with the Father's will as a "gentle breeze," no longer resisting or striving, but simply trusting in God's care. When they are wronged, they seek neither revenge nor vindication, but only healing and restoration (1 Pet. 2:23). Paradoxically, it takes strength to be genuinely "lowly of heart," but such is found in the Spirit of God (Zech. 4:6). Indeed, the Spirit leads us to our inheritance: "the humble shall inherit the land and delight themselves in great peace" (Psalm 37:11). The fruit of the Spirit is the outgrowth of God's miraculous life with us, and we partake of that life when we live in Yeshua (John 15:1-5; Gal. 5:22-23).
 

וַעֲנָוִים יִירְשׁוּ־אָרֶץ
וְהִתְעַנְּגוּ עַל־רב שָׁלוֹם

va·a·na·vim · yir·shu · a·retz
ve·hit·a·ne·gu · al · rov · sha·lom

 

"But the humble shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace."
 (
Psalm 37:11)


 
 

God "opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." The LORD our God dwells with those "of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite" (Isa. 57:15). True greatness is found in outside of the self, beyond the instincts of the carnal ego. Those who seek to exalt themselves and to "gain the world" do not understand that the very reason for their life is to be sacrificed for the sake of love. Obeying God's call to love is not a burden, but rather sets the heart free. As Yeshua said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:28-30).
 




Thou Shalt be Made Whole...


 

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

08.09.13 (Elul 3, 5773)   How long will you go "limping" between two different opinions? What is more important to you than your relationship with the LORD God of Israel?  Our Torah this week reminds us to make up our minds and return to the LORD: "You must be whole (תָּמִים) with the LORD your God" (Deut. 18:13). We are made "whole" or "perfect" (i.e., complete) when we resolutely turn to God for healing of our inner dividedness, as it says: "The Torah of the LORD is perfect (תָּמִים), returning the soul" (Psalm 19:8). And where it is written, "Let us hear end of the matter: Fear God and love his commandments, the text adds: ki zeh kol-ha'adam (כִּי־זֶה כָּל־הָאָדָם), "for this is the whole man," suggesting that those who return will be healed of their double-mindedness (Eccl. 12:13). Ultimately we are made whole when we are united to God in Messiah, for then we are "with the LORD our God" and the Holy Spirit writes Torah within the inward heart of faith (Jer. 31:33).
 

סוֹף דָּבָר הַכּל נִשְׁמָע אֶת־הָאֱלהִים יְרָא
וְאֶת־מִצְוֹתָיו שְׁמוֹר כִּי־זֶה כָּל־הָאָדָם

sof · da·var · ha·kol · nish·ma ·  et · ha-E·lo·him · yir·a
ve·et · mitz·vo·tav · she·mor · ki · zeh · kol · ha·a·dam

 

"Let us hear the end of the matter: Fear God
and keep his commandments: for this is the whole man."
 (
Eccl. 12:13)



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Note that the verse from our Torah portion may also be read as a prophecy: "You shall be made whole with the LORD your God." God's love heals the inner brokenness of our hearts. When we accept this, we discover that surrendering to God's will truly makes us "whole." "As many as I love, I reprove and correct: be zealous therefore, and turn. Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his heart and share a meal with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:19-20). These are words of our Lord Yeshua, who speaks these words to those who "hear his voice." Open the door of your heart! Return to Him now!
 




A Blessed Mourning...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the Forty days of Teshuvah... ]

08.09.13 (Elul 3, 5773)  "And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying... 'Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted' (Matt. 5:4). Mourning is the expression of care, the voice of pain, the sorrow of a broken heart. Those who mourn care deeply; they feel the weight of loss; they grieve over sin. Such sorrow expresses the longing to be released from inner sickness of evil, as Yeshua said: "from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts..." (Mark 7:21). Our own evil desires convict us of the truth... Here there is no place left to hide, no rationalization, no vain hope for self-reformation - just the raw revelation of our fatal condition and the sincere appeal for God's mercy in Yeshua. Mourning over our sins draws us to God, to the Comforter (παράκλητος) who "comes alongside" to bind up the broken heart. The danger remains, however, for those who deny their sin and refuse to mourn, since they are made blind to God's forgiveness and comfort (John 9:41). How shall God be able in heaven to dry up your tears when you have not yet wept?
 

זאת נֶחָמָתִי בְעָנְיִי
כִּי אִמְרָתְךָ חִיָּתְנִי

zot · ne·cha·ma·ti · ve'·on·yi
ki · im·ra·te·kha · chi·yat·ni

 

"This is my comfort in my affliction,
that your word gives me life."
(Psalm 119:50)



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

One of the great tests of our faith is to refuse to succumb to despair in the face of our sins.  We must look to the miracle of Jesus... We must look beyond the realm of appearance, where the "outward man" perishes, to the realm of ultimate healing, where the "inward man" is finally liberated from the ravages of sin and death. This is comfort we have in affliction: God's promise revives our hearts to say, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth" (Job 19:25). Even in the "shadow of the valley of death" (i.e., this moribund and broken world), the LORD is with us and comforts us with His Presence (Psalm 23:4). We are given this great promise: "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:49).
 




Blessed Inner Poverty...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the Forty days of Teshuvah... ]

08.09.13 (Elul 3, 5773)  The word ashrei (אַשְׁרֵי) in Hebrew can mean "the happy ones," from the adjective osher (אוֹשֶׁר), "happy," and the root word ashar (אָשַׁר) meaning to "go straight" or to walk uprightly (i.e., yashar: יָשָׁר). Ashrei can also mean "enriched," or favored. Enriched is the man (אַשְׁרֵי־הָאִישׁ) who ... delights in the Torah..." (Psalm 1:1-2). The sages note that ashar is formed from aleph (א), representing the One true God, and sar (שַׂר), meaning ruler, which suggests that when the LORD is the Ruler of your life, you will be enriched and find genuine happiness. Indeed, the word ashrei is embedded in both the first and last words of the Torah scroll itself (i.e., bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית) and Yisrael (יִשְׂרָאֵל)), which hints that we are made happy when we submit to God's will (i.e., his Torah) for our lives...

The Torah of the LORD is most clearly manifested in Yeshua, the Living Torah and Messiah of God, the Wisdom of God: "And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven'" (Matt. 5:2-3). Paradoxically we are profoundly enriched by understanding our great inner poverty and our ongoing need for divine intervention... Only when we come to the end of ourselves, when we realize our powerlessness and radical insufficiency, can we come to know Yeshua as moshia (מוֹשִׁיעַ), as our Savior. And this is an ongoing state of dependency: we walk "with a limp" as did Israel. Therefore Paul said, ὅταν γὰρ ἀσθενῶ, τότε δυνατός εἰμι: "for when I am weak, then I am strong." You are made rich indeed when you encounter your spiritual bankruptcy, brokenness, and must entirely depend on God for your daily miracle...
 

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).
 




The King's Torah...


 

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

08.08.13 (Elul 2, 5773)  From our Torah this week (Shoftim) we read: "And he shall write for himself a copy of the Torah (i.e., mishneh ha'torah: מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה) ... and it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life so that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of the Torah" (Deut. 17:18-19). The Jewish king was required to carry his sefer Torah (Torah scroll) with him at all times (Sanhedrin 21b). When King David said, "I have set the Lord always before me; he is at my right hand" (Psalm 16:8), he was referring to Torah which he kept tied to his arm (tefillin shel yad). David literally "set" the Word of the LORD upon his right hand to help him keep focused. Likewise the Spirit of God ties Torah upon our hearts (Jer. 31:33). Studying and meditating on Torah elevates our souls and attunes us to God's Presence. As David said: "In my heart I have stored up your word so that I won't miss seeing you. Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your decrees."
 

בְּלִבִּי צָפַנְתִּי אִמְרָתֶךָ
לְמַעַן לא אֶחֱטָא־לָךְ
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה לַמְּדֵנִי חֻקֶּיךָ

be·lib·bi · tza·fan·ti · im·ra·te·kha
le·ma·an · lo · e·che·ta · lakh
ba·rukh · at·tah · Adonai · lam·me·dei·ni · chuk·ke·kha
 

"In my heart I have stored up your word
so that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your decrees."
 (Psalm 119:11-12)


  

Some people claim that Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Hebrew. Well, consider this. If the king of the Jews was required to "make a copy of sefer Torah," then surely Yeshua, the great King of the Jews, the Mashiach, read Hebrew and understood kotzo shel yod (קוֹצוֹ שֶׁל יוֹד) - "every jot and tittle" of its meaning (see Matt. 5:17-19). Indeed, Jesus knew the traditional Hebrew blessings, prayers, and hymns (Matt. 26:26-30); he chanted Hebrew in synagogue (Luke 4:16), and he reasoned with the sages in Jerusalem as a young boy (Luke 2:42-27). Surely the King of the Jews spoke lashon hakodesh... (more here)
 




Returning to Reality...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the Forty days of Teshuvah... ]

08.08.13 (Elul 2, 5773)  "If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I descend to unknown depths, You are there too." God is inescapable presence (יהוה), and therefore teshuvah is not so much a journey we make to God as much as it is returning to Reality, waking up from the unconscious habits and mundane assumptions that blind our hearts from discerning the Spirit. When your heart returns, you will come to understand that God's hand is guiding you and that His right hand always holds you tightly (Psalm 139:10).
 

אִם־אֶסַּק שָׁמַיִם שָׁם אָתָּה
וְאַצִּיעָה שְּׁאוֹל הִנֶּךָּ

im · es·sak · sha·ma·yim · sham · at·tah
ve·a·tzi·ah · she·ol · hin·ne·ka
 

"If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
if I descend to unknown depths, You are there too."
 (Psalm 139:8)
  

Note that I translated the word she'ol (שְּׁאוֹל) as "unknown depths," since the word comes from a root (שָׁאַל) that means to ask or inquire, and therefore the term is likely used in reference to the grave, the "place of asking," the afterlife, and so on.
 




Remembering the Future...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the Forty days of Teshuvah... ]

08.08.13 (Elul 2, 5773)  When it comes to teshuvah (turning to God), we need not only to remember and account for the past, but even more do we need to remember the future... "This world is like a corridor before the World to Come; prepare yourself in the corridor, that you may enter into the hall." God tests us along the way, disciplining and correcting us, so that we are no longer "two souled" but rather strong of faith, with singleness of vision and purpose. But do not forget the future; keep hope alive; always remember your true home with God and anticipate the reunion that awaits you...

Never, ever, give up hope; never believe that you are beyond the reach of God's love. Even in your worst moments, and despite your character defects and your many sins, God's sees what is beautiful and worthy of redemption in you. God forbid that you should miss what Yeshua came to give....   Allow God to love you. There is nothing left for you to do other than to open your heart and receive. "It is finished," were Yeshua's last words from the cross, meaning, "It has been perfected - it is complete and present for you; there is nothing left to add." So do not let your heart be troubled; the Lord prepares a place for you. Turn away from self-doubt and repudiate the lie that you are unable to be truly loved and accepted by God. Be strong in faith; find courage in the promises of God. "For assuredly there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off" (Prov. 23:18). You are not alone. Soon. A little bit more. The time draws near. There is something inexpressibly beautiful and more wonderful than anything you could ever imagine, something more glorious and precious than the deepest desires of your heart, that will appear... soon... for you.
 

כִּי אִם־יֵשׁ אַחֲרִית
וְתִקְוָתְךָ לא תִכָּרֵת

ki · im · yesh · a·cha·rit
ve·tik·va·te·kha · lo · tik·ka·ret
 

"For assuredly there is a future,
and your hope will not be cut off."
 (Prov. 23:18)
 

 

This statement from the Book of Proverbs mirrors the famous promise given later to the prophet Jeremiah, who personally witnessed the destruction of Zion and the horrors of the captivity of God's people: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for healing good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope" (Jer. 29:11). May each of us have faith of heart to proclaim: "The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me; Your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever! Do not let go of the work of Your hands" (Psalm 138:8).

Keep running the race; keep pressing on.... I am cheering for you, too!
 




Our Duty to Truth...


 

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

08.07.13 (Elul 1, 5773)  Our Torah portion this week includes the famous statement: tzedek, tzedek tirdorf (צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף): "Righteousness, righteousness, you shall pursue" (Deut. 16:20). The sages infer that the double mention of the word "righteousness" means that the pursuit of righteousness must itself be righteous. In other words, the end never justifies the means. God is not a pragmatist, and there are no "noble lies" for sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. The truth is gained only by truth, and therefore we may not use unjust methods even to promote a supposedly just cause. For example, using propaganda to wage preemptive wars of aggression, torturing people for information, or spying on citizens for the sake of security -- all are direct violations of the Torah. Despite what the politicians might claim, without true justice, the future of a society is radically threatened. Indeed, there is a direct link between pursuing righteousness and welfare of people:
 

צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף
לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה וְיָרַשְׁתָּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ
אֲשֶׁר־יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נתֵן לָךְ

tze·dek · tze·dek · tir·dof
le·ma·an · ti·che·yeh · ve·ya·rash·ta · et-ha·a·retz
a·sher · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · no·ten · lakh
 

"Righteousness, righteousness, you must pursue;
so that you will live and inherit the land
that the LORD your God gives you."
(Deut. 16:20)


 

We derive restrictions against spying on others from Torah principles (עקרונות תורה). For example, we are not to "uncover the nakedness" of our neighbor (airport scanners), nor are we to listen to their private conversations (wireless phone tapping) or to engage in lashon hara (recording private conversations). Moreover, the priests were required to wear undergarments when serving at the altar, and whenever they traveled in the desert, Israel's tents did not face one another, to afford personal privacy and respect... The Torah is clear: you shall not uncover the nakedness of others (לא תְגַלֵּה עֶרְוָה).

A related implication is that we should never be deceptive about promoting faith in God. We shouldn't flatter people, cajole them into believing, offer them vain hope, or misrepresent the truth of the message of the gospel. We should never promise people worldly happiness, prosperity, unending health, etc., in the name of religion, since this also is "means-to-end" reasoning. We must be clear about the demands of faith and the costs involved. And of course it is entirely forbidden to endorse violence of any kind (verbal or physical) to promote the cause of religion. Indeed, a sure mark of a false religion is to teach people to hate or even murder others "for God's sake..." Any religion that is based on "jihad-mentality" is therefore false and subject to fearful judgment from Almighty God.

"Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, and who does not turn to the proud or turn aside to lies" (Psalm 40:4); "no one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes" (Psalm 101:7; Rev. 21:27).
 

לא־יֵשֵׁב בְּקֶרֶב בֵּיתִי עשֵׂה רְמִיָּה
דּבֵר שְׁקָרִים לא־יִכּוֹן לְנֶגֶד עֵינָי

lo · ye·shev · be·ke·rev · be·ti · o·seh · re·mi·yah
do·ver · she·ka·rim · lo · yi·kon · le·ne·ged · ei·nai
 

"No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house;
no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes."
(Psalm 101:7)
 




Guard Your Heart...


 

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

08.07.13  (Elul 1, 5773)  Our Torah for this week (Shoftim) begins, "judges and officers you shall give to yourself (תִּתֶּן־לְךָ) in all your gates" (Deut. 16:18). Some of the sages interpret the word "gates" (שׁערים) to refer to our sense organs, for example, the "eye gate," the "ear gate," and so on. Likewise we are to write the words of Torah "upon the doors of our house and on our gates" (Deut. 6:9). Because we are naturally inclined to "spy after our hearts and eyes" (Num. 15:39), we are commanded to appoint "gatekeepers" to protect the sanctity of our heart (Prov. 4:23).
 

מִכָּל־מִשְׁמָר נְצר לִבֶּךָ
 כִּי־מִמֶּנּוּ תּוֹצְאוֹת חַיִּים

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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

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

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

"Judges and officers you shall give to yourself (תִּתֶּן־לְךָ) in all your gates" (Deut. 16:18). Note that that Torah states that you shall appoint these to yourself, stated in the singular, not in the plural, to suggest that it is your personal responsibility to guard your heart from negative influences. God considers it your duty to yield yourself as a vessel or "steward" of the kingdom of God (Rom. 6:13). We must regularly ask God to enlighten "the eyes of the heart" according to His wisdom and power (i.e., truth revealed in Scripture), and to impart the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our desires and affections so that they conform to the character of the Messiah.
 




Heaven in His Eyes...


 

08.07.13  (Elul 1, 5773)  Mi li vashamayim, lo chaftzti va'aretz - "Whom have I in heaven but you?" ve'imekha lo chaftzti va'aretz - "but with you I desire nothing on the earth" (Psalm 73:25). When I think of heaven, I don't envision walking streets of gold, living in heavenly mansions, or wearing a crown. These things are pictures to help us envision something deeper still. Indeed, heaven represents a sense of home, a place where you can be "inside out" and yet completely loved for who you are... In short, heaven is nothing less being loved and accepted by the Lord, hearing him say to you, "I love you, and you belong to me; I call you my friend..." And in this world, too, with God's love I have everything I need - even if I should suffer temporal lack; but without it I am truly destitute - even should I gain everything the world may afford (Mark 8:36).
 

מִי־לִי בַשָּׁמָיִם וְעִמְּךָ לא־חָפַצְתִּי בָאָרֶץ
כָּלָה שְׁאֵרִי וּלְבָבִי צוּר־לְבָבִי וְחֶלְקִי אֱלהִים לְעוֹלָם

mi-li · va·sha·ma·yim · ve·im·me·kha · lo-cha·fatz·ti · va·a·retz
kal·lah · she·ei·ri · u·le·va·vi · tzur-le·va·vi · ve·chel·ki · E·lo·him · le·o·lam
 

"Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."
(Psalm 73:25-26)


 
Hebrew Study Card
 




The LORD my Yeshua...


 

08.06.13  (Av 30, 5773)  As we draw close to God and cleave to his heart, we will be delivered from the pain of our fears. The LORD becomes our Light and our Salvation, illuminating our steps despite the darkness and evil of olam ha'zeh, this present age (Psalm 119:105). As David said, Adonai ori v'yishi: "The LORD is my light and my salvation" – literally, my Jesus, my Yeshua – "whom shall I fear? The LORD is the refuge of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1). Yeshua is the Light of Life (אוֹר הַחַיִּים), the Healer of the fearful heart, the I-AM-WITH-YOU-ALWAYS One. His love overcomes all our fears. As the apostle Paul asked, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31).

Yeshua is "the Voice of the Living God (קוֹל אֱלהִים חַיִּים) speaking from the midst of the fire" who understands the needs of His people. He is the Good Shepherd: "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry... I know their sufferings" (Exod. 3:7; Heb. 4:15). A midrash says that the Ten Plagues were needed – not to convince Pharaoh that the LORD was God – but rather to convince the children of Israel of God's love! After all, without faith in that, Israel would never have ventured to leave Egypt. The same could be said of the greater judgment to come upon this world.  The ultimate purpose of yissurei ahavah (יִסּוּרֵי אַהֲבָה) "the troubles of love," is to turn us away from the source of what keeps us in bondage. As we hear the "footsteps of the Messiah" approaching nearer, let us heed the words of our Messiah and Savior: "when you see these things taking place, you know that the time is near, right at the door" (Mark 13:29), and let us then appeal to others to "wake up!" "come alive!" Awake thou that sleepest - arouse from a state of slumber and arise from the dead (Eph. 5:14). The message to the sinner is always, "Wake up - you are living a nightmare..." There is only one remedy.
 

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָ

Adonai  o·ri  ve·yish·i,  mi·mi  i·ra
Adonai  ma·oz  chai·yai,  mi·mi  ef·chad

 

"The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?"
(Psalm 27:1)

Shiviti

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"Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of His Servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the Name of the LORD and rely on his God" (Isa. 50:10).

Note: The midrash Shocher Tov states that the word ori (אוֹרִי), "my light," refers to Rosh Hashanah (based on Psalm 37:6) whereas the word yishi (יִשְׁעִי), "my salvation," refers to the atonement given on Yom Kippur. King David also mentions that God would hide him in his sukkah (בְּסֻכּה), referring to the holiday of Sukkot (Psalm 27:5). Since all three holidays are alluded to in this Psalm (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot), Psalm 27 is regarded as the thematic hymn for the Fall Holidays of the Jewish year. Yeshua is our Light and our Salvation, the One who says, "It is I; be not afraid" (John 8:12; Mark 14:27; etc.).
 




Holy Introspection...


 

08.06.13  (Av 30, 5773)  We are all on a spiritual journey, writing the "Book of our Life." To help us in the "writing" process, the sages decided that the month of Elul should be set aside as a season for 'making an account of the soul" (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ). This means that we take some time to ask some pointed questions, such as: "How did I get to this place in my life?" "Where am I now?" "Am I where I should be?" We engage in this process of self-examination with an aim to grow -- to let go of the pain of the past and move forward. Confession (ὁμολογία) means bringing yourself naked before the Divine Light to agree with the truth about who you are. Indeed, the Greek word homologeo literally means "saying the same thing" - from ὁμός (same) and λόγος (word). When King David wrote, "The LORD is my Light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?" (Psalm 27:1), he implied that he should even be free of fear of himself and of his past...

Personal note:  Please keep me in your prayers, friends... I have been sick with a cold or flu the last couple days and am having difficulty breathing (asthma). Thank you!
 




Teshuvah of the Mind...


 

08.06.13  (Av 30, 5773)  We are responsible to walk in 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 to abuse our minds (Phil. 4:8; Rom. 12:2). The LORD our God will help us to do this, as Yeshua said: "I will ask the Father, and he will give you a Helper (παράκλητος, someone "called to one's side"), to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth (רוּחַ הָאֱמֶת), whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him" (John 14:16-17). The Spirit of Truth helps us "discern what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable, and perfect" (Rom. 12:2) and empowers us to take "every thought captive" to the reality of the Divine Presence (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Truth is connected to memory - both in our personal histories as well as the history of God's redemptive actions performed on our behalf. Hence we are constantly commanded to remember what God has done for us and to "diligently repeat" the truth to our children (Deut. 6:4-9). Similarly, the Spirit of Truth brings to remembrance the words of Yeshua to our hearts (John 14:26).

Followers of Yeshua are commanded to love the truth and to think clearly about their faith. The ministry of reconciliation itself is defined as "the word of truth, by the power of God, through weapons of righteousness" (2 Cor. 6:7). Indeed, the word of truth (τὸν λόγον τῆς ἀληθείας) is a synonym for the "gospel of salvation" itself (Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5; James 1:18). We are saved by Yeshua, who is the "way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). God commands all people to believe this truth (Acts 17:30-31; 1 Tim. 2:4). People perish because "they refuse to love the truth and so be saved" (2 Thess. 2:10-12). Therefore we see that the issue of truth is central to salvation itself....

Genuine teshuvah (repentance) implies that we will change our thinking in order to be transformed by God's truth. The follower of Messiah "cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth" (2 Cor. 13:8). During this Season of Teshuvah, may God help us all to think clearly and to turn our thoughts to Him.  May He protect us from the vanity of a darkened mind and from all distractions that attempt to seduce us away from Him. May the LORD give us the purity of heart to know and do His will in the truth. Amen.

Note:  For more on this subject, see "Teshuvah of the Mind."
 




Chodesh Tov Elul...


 

08.05.13  (Av 29, 5773)  The word "Elul" (אֱלוּל) is said to be an acronym for the phrase, ani le'dodi ve'dodi li (אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי), "I am my beloved's, and my beloved in mine" (Song 6:3), to encourage us to return to God, to become full of desire for the Beloved of our soul. We are likened to empty vessels in need of oil, and the call to teshuvah moves us to seek to be filled with the Spirit of God's love and kindness. Indeed, the Spirit takes us into the desert places to reveal to us our need (Deut. 8:3; Jer. 2:2; Luke 4:1). "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled" (Matt. 5:6).
 

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי
הָרעֶה בַּשׁוֹשַׁנִּים

a·ni · le·do·di · ve·do·di · li
ha·ro·eh · ba·sho·sha·nim

 

"I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine;
he grazes among the lilies."
(Song 6:3)

Shiviti

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This verse is sometimes linked to the "lilies" (i.e., shoshanim: שׁשַׁנִּים) mentioned in Psalm 45, which presents a Messianic vision of the Divine Bridegroom and offers an "ode" for a forthcoming heavenly wedding: "Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father's house, and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him" (Psalm 45:10-11). Soon the LORD will return for His betrothed, and then we will finally celebrate the great "marriage" with our King...

God wants us to seek him, to yearn for him, and to desire him... he sings out to our hearts in love. Interestingly, where it says: אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי הָרעֶה בַּשׁוֹשַׁנִּים, we can read, "I am for my beloved, and my beloved is for me, the Shepherd (הָרעֶה) among the lilies." Where is your Shepherd? Among the flowers... in a place of love and beauty set for you.
 




Clear Thinking and Teshuvah...


 

08.05.13  (Av 29, 5773)  "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he" (Prov. 23:7). Consider for a moment how your thinking defines your inner reality and the quality of your spiritual life. Thinking is inextricably linked to faith, and therefore we are responsible not only for what we believe, but for how we think (Acts 17:30-31). Sinful thinking creates "negative energy" that brings pain to yourself and others. Left unchallenged, such impaired cognitive function leads to slavery of the mind, hopeless addictions of thought, and distressing captivity. The first step to freedom is to confess our sin, acknowledging the reality of our own negativity – and bringing that truth to the light. Therefore teshuvah – turning to God – involves cheshbon hanefesh (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ), accounting for our soul and yielding it to the love of God for rectification: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). For freedom we have been set free, and that means freedom from the power of the lie. If we are blind to our own sin, we cannot confess the truth to find lasting healing (James 5:16).
 




Rosh Chodesh Elul...


 

[ The following entry is meant to help us get ready for the month of Elul and the Forty days of Teshuvah, which begins Monday, August 5th this year... Chodesh Tov! ]

08.04.13  (Av 28, 5773)  This coming Monday evening marks Rosh Chodesh Elul (the "new moon" of the Hebrew month of Elul), which, according to Jewish tradition, was the time when Moses reascended Mount Sinai (the third time) to receive the second set of Tablets from the LORD. Since the tablets were not inscribed until 40 days later (on the 10th of Tishri, the date of Yom Kippur), the 29 days of Elul are considered a time of selichot (prayers for forgiveness) in anticipation of the Ten High Holy Days (Tishri 1-10). For more, see this page.

Beginning on the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul (and continuing until Erev Rosh Hashanah) the custom is to blow the shofar every day (except on Shabbat). Psalm 27 is often recited every day during this time as well...


 

Nachman of Breslov once said that "The whole earth is a very narrow bridge (kol ha'olam kulo), and the important thing is never to be afraid." Yeshua is the Bridge to the Father, the narrow way of passage that leads to life. He calls out to us in the storm of this world, "Take heart. It is I; be not afraid" (Matt. 14:27). Yeshua our Messiah is "the Voice of the Living God (קוֹל אֱלהִים חַיִּים) speaking from the midst of the fire" who understands our need: "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry... I know their sufferings" (Exod. 3:7; Heb. 4:15).

"All the world was created for the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b), and since that is so, we can have confidence that all things work together for good.  God repeatedly tells us not to be afraid - al-tirah – not of man, nor of war, nor of tribulation, nor even of death itself (Rom. 8:35-39). Indeed, Yeshua came to die to destroy the power of death, "and to release all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (Heb. 2:14-15). The resurrection of the Messiah is the focal point of history - not the "dust of death." Death does not have the final word. Indeed, because Yeshua is alive, we also shall live (John 14:19). Because of Yeshua's victory, we can now live without fear: al-tirah, "Be not afraid, it is I."
 

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָ

Adonai  o·ri  ve·yish·i,  mi·mi  i·ra
Adonai  ma·oz  chai·yai,  mi·mi  ef·chad

 

"The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?"
(Psalm 27:1)

Shiviti

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Rosh Chodesh Blessing...

The following Hebrew blessing can be recited to ask the LORD to help you prepare for the month of Elul and the forty day "Season of Repentance":
 

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 · A·men
 

"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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Parashat Shoftim - שופטים


 

08.04.13  (Av 28, 5773)  Our Torah reading this week (Shoftim) begins with the commandment that the people of Israel should appoint judges (i.e., shoftim: שׁפְטִים) and officers (i.e., shoterim: שׁוֹטְרִים) so that justice would be enforced throughout the promised land. The call for justice is famously stated as, "tzedek, tzedek tirdof" (צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף): "Justice, Justice you shall pursue" (Deut. 16:20). The word tzedek means "righteousness" and involves the duty to adhere to moral truth. Throughout the Torah portion the theme of social justice predominates, as the ethical characteristics for judges are defined, as well as for elders, kings, prophets, and priests, all of whom are responsible for maintaining a just and healthful society. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: "The work of righteousness (tzedakah) shall be peace" (וְהָיָה מַעֲשֵׂה הַצְּדָקָה שָׁלוֹם), and added that "the service of righteousness (וַעֲבדַת הַצְּדָקָה) shall be quietness and security forever" (Isa. 32:17).

Regarding making judgments about others we should try to always extend the benefit of the doubt (i.e., kaf zechut). The Talmud states that when we judge mercifully and in accord with the truth, the Divine Presence joins us, but if we act corruptly, we "push" the Presence away and create a sense of exile.  Yeshua told us to "whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 7:12). In other words, as we judge others, so we are judged ourselves. We must be careful to avoid rationalizations... Looking at others from a selfish perspective is therefore a form of "bribery" that blinds us to the truth about righteousness (see Deut. 16:19).

Tzedek, tzedek tirdof also means that justice must be pursued in a just manner. The methods used to obtain justice must themselves be just. The Scriptures therefore do not advocate pragmatism or utilitarian thinking. There are no "noble lies" in the Kingdom of Heaven. Violence (verbal or physical) or deception done in the name of God is always a bad idea. We must execute great restraint and caution when we confront oppression in the world. If you want to change the world around you, begin with yourself....
 




Freedom and Fear...


 

08.02.13  (Av 26, 5773)  Those who are no longer afraid to die are free; they surrender every breath and moment of their lives to God, abiding in the refuge of the Eternal. The world is crucified to them; they are no longer swayed by the praises or threats of men, but seek only to know and honor the LORD in all their ways... As it says, "The fear of the LORD (יִרְאַת יְהוָה) is a fountain of life, to turn away from the snares of death."
 

יִרְאַת יְהוָה מְקוֹר חַיִּים
לָסוּר מִמּקְשֵׁי מָוֶת

yir·at · Adonai · me·kor · chai·yim
la·sur · mi·mo·ke·shei · ma·vet

 

"The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life,
to turn away from the snares of death."
(Prov. 14:27)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)


The fear of the LORD, yirat Adonai, is reverential wonder over the sacredness of our lives; it is an apprehension of the infinite value of who were are and what we do... It is a holy hush of the heart, an immense respect for the glory and sanctity of life, and an abiding sense of awe over the worth, beauty, and overmastering glory of God. The fear of the LORD is life-affirming and healing, turning us away from the snares of death...

God is ever-present and leads the way back home: "Now to the One who is able to keep you from falling, and to cause you to stand, rejoicing, without blemish before His glorious presence, to the only God our Savior through Yeshua the Messiah, our Lord and great Lamb of God, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time, and now, and for all eternity. Amen." Shabbat Shalom and great peace, love, and happiness to you all...
 





Reading in Context...


 

08.02.13  (Av 26, 5773)  A basic principle of Bible interpretation is stated in the axiom: "a text without a context is a pretext," and therefore we must understand the New Testament in light of the Torah, not the other way around... Without the context of Torah, the meaning and terms of the New Testament will be obscure and subject to misunderstanding.  Indeed, we must remember that the Messiah was "embedded" in the Jewish culture of his day, and was fluent in Torah reading and study (Luke 4:16-21; John 4:22). Moreover, Yeshua plainly said that the Jewish Scriptures testify of Him: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27; John 5:39). We study Torah to know Yeshua, the "Living Torah" better: "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old" (Matt. 13:52).
 




Torah of the Heart...


 

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

08.01.13  (Av 25, 5773)  In parashat Vaetchanan we read, "Know therefore today and return to your heart (וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ), for the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). Here we see the centrality of the heart as the place to encounter God (Luke 17:21). In all our ways we are to know Him (Prov. 3:6), and that includes in our "religious" ways, since it is possible to make a pretense of faith, to "obey" without heart or reverence. As our Torah portion this week says, "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse" (Deut. 11:26). Therefore the blessing or the curse is known through faith, through the "hearing of the heart." As it says in Hosea: "Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the LORD are right (כִּי־יְשָׁרִים דַּרְכֵי יְהוָה), and the righteous walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them" (Hos. 14:9). It is the same for both, but the righteous walk by faith, whereas transgressors turn away from their heart....

Savor the phrase, "Know therefore today and return to your heart..." It the heart that is the place of doing business with God... As Yeshua said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20). Today is the day to open your heart to God's love for your soul...
 

בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ
וְהוּא יְיַשֵּׁר ארְחתֶיךָ

be·khol · de·ra·khe·kha · da·ei·hu
ve·hu · ye·ya·sher · or·cho·te·kha

 

"In all your ways know Him
and he will make upright your paths."
(Prov. 3:6)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

 




A Call to Teshuvah...


 

[ The following is related to the start of the 30 day period of teshuvah leading up to the High Holidays. This year the month of Elul begins Monday, August 5th, at sundown... ]

08.01.13  (Av 25, 5773)  All of us have unhealed parts, "hidden faults" of which we are not fully aware. Therefore king David prayed, "Who can discern his errors? cleanse me from secret faults" (Psalm 19:12). We are cleansed by confession, that is, by looking within our hearts to uncover deeper motivations...  If we are honest we may discover, for example, that we are angry or fearful people, despite how we otherwise wish to regard ourselves.  If you find yourself unable to let something go, for instance, some pain or failure of the past, remind yourself that you must do so if you want to move on with your life. Focusing on how things could have been different is to be enslaved to the past. The goal of teshuvah (repentance) is to turn us back to God for life, but to do this, we must be be willing to let go of what makes us sick. Our faith moves us to affirm: "Blessed is the LORD who is the healer of our hidden sins" (בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה הַמְּרָפֵא אֵת חֲטָאֵנוּ הַנִּסְתָּרִים).
 

שְׁגִיאוֹת מִי־יָבִין מִנִּסְתָּרוֹת נַקֵּנִי
גַּם מִזֵּדִים חֲשׂךְ עַבְדֶּךָ
אַל־יִמְשְׁלוּ־בִי אָז אֵיתָם
וְנִקֵּיתִי מִפֶּשַׁע רָב

she·gi·ot · mi-ya·vin · min·nis·ta·rot · nak·kei·ni
gam · mi·ze·dim · cha·sokh · av·de·kha
al-yim·she·lu-vi · az · e·tam
ve·ni·ke·ti · mi·pe·sha · rav

 

"Who can discern his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults;
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression." (Psalm 19:12-13)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

 

Note that the Hebrew word translated "errors" (i.e., shegi'ot: שְׁגִיאוֹת) comes from a root word (שָׁגָה) that means to wander, stray, or transgress. The question raised by David is rhetorical: "Who can discern his errors?" No one – apart from divine intervention... David asked to be cleansed from his "secret faults," which are not those that were performed by him "in secret," but rather those that were unknown, unseen, and unconscious to his own sense of awareness. These are "mindless" sins, unthinking offenses, hidden dispositions, character traits and actions that a person unwittingly performs, perhaps because of deep forces of which he was oblivious. These are the "secret sins" set in the light of God's face (Psalm 90:8); the "sluggish darkness" of the human heart that leads to death and ruin: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and incurably sick; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9). How many of us, after all, are fully aware of what we are doing when we are doing something? How many of us are completely transparent both to ourselves and before God, with no unclear motives, etc.? We must always be vigilant... There is always the force of habit, or the subconscious desires or conflicts of the inner life, that work on us, not to mention the trauma of our past and the present devices from the enemy of our souls.  May the LORD give us the willingness to be healed, even if there are parts of ourselves that seem to resist that healing.

Note further that "presumptuous" sins (מִזֵּדִים) are not necessarily flagrant sins as much as those that arise from self-reliance or pride (זָדוֹן). Only the humble of heart can be truly free from the dominance of presumption and sin. "Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me" (Psalm 119:133). May God make us humble of heart, free from presumption and the illusion that we do not need God for every step we take.  Therefore may it please the Lord to heal those parts of ourselves that don't even know they need to be healed... Amen.
 

בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה הַמְּרָפֵא אֵת חֲטָאֵנוּ הַנִּסְתָּרִים

ba·rukh · Adonai · ha·me·ra·fei · et · cha·ta·ei·nu · ha·nis·ta·rim
 

"Blessed is the LORD who heals our hidden sins."

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

 




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