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Jewish Holiday Calendar 

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

The winter holidays (חגי החורף) remember special times when God acted on behalf of His people so that they would triumph over their enemies, and therefore they prophetically picture the final victory in the world to come.
 

Winter Holiday Calendar

The Winter Holidays:

Chagall Menorah - stained glass detail
 

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

  1. Month of Kislev (Sat., Nov. 2nd, 2013)
    • Four Sabbaths: Vayetzei, Vayishlach, Vayeshev, Miketz
    • Dates for Chanukah 2013:
      • 1st candle: Wednesday, Nov. 27 [Kislev 25]
      • 2nd candle: Thursday, Nov. 28th [Thanksgiving Day - US]
      • 3rd candle: Friday, Nov. 29th [Shabbat Miketz]
      • 4th candle: Saturday, Nov. 30th
      • 5th candle: Sunday, Dec. 1st
      • 6th candle: Monday, Dec. 2nd
      • 7th candle: Tuesday, Dec. 3rd
      • 8th candle: Wednesday, Dec. 4th [Zot Chanukah]
  2. Month of Tevet (Mon., Dec. 2nd, 2013)
  3. Month of Shevat (Wed., Jan. 1st, 2014)
  4. Month of Adar I (Thur., Jan. 30th, 2014)
  5. Month of Adar II (Sat., March 1st, 2014)
    • Four Sabbaths: Vayikra, Tzav (Zachor), Shemini (Parah), Tazria (Ha'chodesh)
    • Ta'anit Esther - the fast of Esther (Thur. March 13th)
    • Purim - The Festival of Lots (Sat. March 15th) [14th of Adar II]
    • Shushan Purim - Purim in Israel (Sun. March 16th) [15th of Adar II]
       




 

December 2013 Updates
 



Turning to a New Year...


 

12.31.13 (Tevet 28, 5774)   The Book of Lamentations is an acrostic poem that begins with the Hebrew letter Aleph (א) in the word "eichah" (אֵיכָה), which also marks the Hebrew name of the book. "How (eichah) lonely sits the city that once was full of people!" (Lam. 1:1). The sages note that this word "how" (i.e., eichah) could also be read as "where are you?" (i.e., ayeka: אַיֶּכָּה), God's first word spoken to Adam after he broke covenant in the Garden (Gen. 3:9). Note that God's question is often our own: "Where are you? Where are you, God? Are you here, in the midst of this tedious moment? Do you know my loneliness, my ache for love?" Yet how many people today live in a state of self-imposed exile from the LORD?  God uses our loneliness ("how lonely...") to search our hearts, asking each of us, ayeka – "Where are you?" "Why have you turned away from me and chosen a state of exile?" Our haunting sense of God's absence impels us to seek for him... God awaits our only possible response, "Hashivenu!" -- an imperative (demand) for the grace to repent: "You return us (i.e., you cause us to return) so that we may be reunited with you and healed!"
 

הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה
חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם

ha·shi·ve·nu · Adonai · e·ley·kha · ve·na·shu·vah
cha·desh · ya·mei·nu · ke·ke·dem
 

"Turn us back to yourself, O LORD, so that we may return to you;
renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Our response to the questioning love of the LORD is called teshuvah ("turning [shuv] to God"). Teshuvah is an "answer" to a shelah, or a question. God's love for us is the question, and our teshuvah – our turning of the heart toward Him – is the answer.
 




Torah of Passover...


 

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

12.31.13 (Tevet 28, 5774)   The very first occurrence of the word "Torah" in the Scriptures refers to the faith of Abraham (Gen. 26:5), and the second refers to the law of Passover: "There shall be one law (תּוֹרָה) for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you" (Exod. 12:49). There is a link here. Abraham lived before the time of the Exodus, of course, and therefore he obeyed the Torah of Passover by means of the Akedah (the sacrifice of his beloved son Isaac and the substitution of the lamb of God upon the altar). Abraham's faith revealed that the inner meaning of Torah is that the "righteous shall live by faith" (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17), that is, by trusting God's justification of the sinner (Heb. 11:17-19). The Torah of Passover likewise teaches that redemption from death is possible through the exchange of an innocent sacrificial victim. The blood of the lamb was "a sign" of imputed righteousness obtained entirely by faith - with no "leaven," or human works, added. This is the "korban" principle of "life-for-life" that underlies the sacrificial system of the Tabernacle as well. Ultimately all true Torah points to Yeshua, the Lamb of God, who is the divinely appointed Redeemer and promised Slayer of the Serpent...

"When the fullness of time (τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου) had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the Torah, to redeem those who were under the Torah, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Gal. 4:4-5).
 




Passover and the Exodus...


 

12.30.13 (Tevet 27, 5774)   Regarding the certainty of deliverance Yeshua said: "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes in the One who sent me has (i.e., ἔχει, present active indicative) eternal life and will not be condemned, but has passed over (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24). Note that the verb translated "has passed over" (μεταβέβηκεν) is a perfect active that expresses completed action: "this one has already crossed over from death to life." In other words, it is a "done deal" though it is only experienced as we surrender to the love and grace of God.   The "basis" (βάσις) of life is now radically new and of a different order. As the apostle Paul later summarized: "For it is by grace you have been saved (i.e., σεσῳσμένοι, a perfect passive participle that denotes completed action done on your behalf with effects that continue to the present) through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:9-10). Ultimately, salvation is a question about who you really are, not about what you do....
 

אָמֵן אָמֵן אֲנִי אוֹמֵר לָכֶם
 הַשּׁוֹמֵעַ אֶת דְּבָרַי וּמַאֲמִין לְשׁוֹלְחִי
 יֶשׁ לוֹ חַיֵּי עוֹלָם וְאֵינוֹ בָּא בְּמִשְׁפָּט
 כִּי אִם עָבַר מִמָּוֶת לְחַיִּים

a·men · a·men · a·ni · o·mer · la·khem
ha·sho·me·a · et · de·va·rai · u·ma·a·min · le·shol·chi
yesh · lo · cha·yei · o·lam, · ve·ei·no · ba · be·mish·pat
ki · im · a·var · mi·ma·vet · le·cha·yim
 

"Truly, truly, I say to you,
whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me
has eternal life, and he will not be condemned,
but has crossed over from death to life."
(John 5:24)



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Our Lord does not want us uncertain or unsure of His great love for us. A fearful believer explained that he was anxious about his acceptance before heaven. When he was asked to define "salvation," he answered, "freedom, deliverance, rest, peace." So you think fear will help you do away with your fear? You are fearful of the idea of freedom from fear?

"Be strong and of good courage" - chazak ve'ematz (חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ). The LORD God promises "never to leave you nor forsake you," and to be with you wherever you go (Josh. 1:5,9; Heb. 13:15, Psalm 139; Matt. 28:20). In the Greek New Testament the wording of Hebrews 13:15 is highly emphatic: "Not ever will I give up on you (οὐ μή σε ἀνῶ); no, not ever will I leave you behind (οὐδ᾽ οὐ μή σε ἐγκαταλίπω)." May you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd calling you, and may He forever keep you under His watchful care. Amen.
 




Passing Over to You...


 

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

12.30.13 (Tevet 27, 5774)   In our Torah this week we read about the institution of Passover and the final plague that would befall the Egyptians on the very first Passover night. When we think of this ominous time, we may imagine God "passing over" those houses that had the blood of the lamb smeared on their doorposts, though it might better be said that God passed into the homes of those who trusted him, while he withdrew His Presence from those that did not...

To see this notice that two different words are used that can be translated as "pass over." First, God said, "I will pass over (i.e., avar: עֲבַר) the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments; I am the LORD" (Exod. 12:12). But directly after saying this, God promised to "pass over" (i.e., pasach: פָּסַח) the homes of those who trusted in him to impart his protection from the plague of death: "The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over to you (lit. עֲלֵכֶם, 'upon you'), and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt" (Exod. 12:13). In other words, when God would see the blood of the Passover lamb, he would pass over to enter the house and "cover" its occupants from the judgment of death.

The blood of the Passover lamb sheltered people from the plague of death by atoning for their sin by means of a substitutionary sacrifice. The Torah states that "the life (i.e., nefesh: נֶפֶשׁ, or 'soul') of the flesh is in the blood" (Lev. 17:11), and therefore death represents the separation of the soul from the body. The life blood of a sacrificial lamb was therefore offered in exchange for the death and destruction of others. Eating the lamb "roasted by fire" meant identifying with the death offered in exchange for your own; eating matzah, or unleavened bread, signified being delivered in haste, apart from the "rise of the flesh" or human design; and eating maror, or bitter herbs, recalled the bitterness of former bondage.

For more on this subject, see "Parashat Bo: The Life is in the Blood."
 




Distilling of Heart...


 

12.30.13 (Tevet 27, 5774)   Brokenness distills the intentions of the heart by helping us to be more honest with ourselves. We begin to realize that we are more vulnerable than at first we thought; that our faith is not as strong as we imagined, and that our motives are often mixed and unconscious. Illusions are striped away; idols crumble; deeper levels of selfishness are uncovered; the gap between our words and our deeds is exposed... It is one thing, after all, to intellectually think about faith or to idealize spirituality, but it is quite another to walk out faith in darkness. Yet it is only there, in the rawness of heart, that we discover what we really believe and how our faith makes traction with reality...
 

    I do not see the road ahead of me, I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean I am actually doing so. But I believe the desire to please you does in fact please you, and I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for your are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. - Thomas Merton
     

Take hope, struggling friend... It is surely the will of God for you to find strength in weakness and comfort in affliction. As our Scriptures say, God is "the Father of Mercies and God of all comfort" (אַב הָרַחֲמִים וֵאלהֵי כָּל־נֶחָמָה). The Lord "comforts us" (lit., "calls us to His side," παρακαλέω) in our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are afflicted with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
 




About the Secular New Year...


 

12.29.13 (Tevet 26, 5774)   In most countries of the world, "New Year's Day" is usually celebrated on January 1st, though this date comes from the arbitrary decree of the consuls of ancient (and pagan) Rome -- certainly not from anything taught in the Torah and the Hebrew Scriptures. According to Torah, there are two mirroring "New Years" observed during the year. The first occurs two weeks before Passover (Nisan 1) and the second occurs ten days before Yom Kippur (Tishri 1). The first is called Rosh Chodashim (see Exod. 12:2), which commemorates the month of the redemption of the Jewish people (i.e., the month Yeshua was sacrificed for our sins), whereas the second is called Yom Teru'ah that is associated with the "Feast of Ingathering" at the "end of the year" (Exod. 23:16, 34:22). Later Yom Terua'h became known as Rosh Hashanah ("the head of the year") which began a ten-day "trial" of humanity climaxing on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

 

The two "new years" of the Jewish calendar mirror each other and reveal the two advents of Messiah. For more on the secular New Year and its relationship to the calendar of Torah, see the page, "The Gregorian Calendar and Pagan Assumptions."
 




A New Beginning...


 

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

12.29.13 (Tevet 26, 5774)   The very first word of the Torah indicates the awareness of the significance of time - "in the beginning..." (Gen. 1:1), and according to Jewish tradition, the very first commandment given to the children of Israel (as a whole) was that of Rosh Chodesh (ראש חודש), or the declaration of the start (or head) of the "new month," particularly concerning the first month of their redemption (Exod. 12:2). In other words, Passover month was to begin Israel's year. Note that the word for month (i.e., chodesh) comes from the root chadash (חָדָש), meaning "new," and therefore the Passover redemption was intended to mark a "new beginning" for the Jewish people. And indeed, God marks the start of our personal redemption as the beginning of our life as a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), just as Yeshua is the "first of the firstfruits" of God's redeemed humanity (1 Cor. 15:45-49).

For more on this subject, see "Parashat Bo: The Significance of the Moon."
 




Despair and Healing...


 

12.29.13 (Tevet 26, 5774)   Can despair be curative? Yes, if it expresses the loss of our idolatrous ideals, visions, and dreams... It is hard to let go of old expectations, to give up cherished fantasies, and to find ourselves in a place of emptiness, but we must go through the desert before we can live the promise. We can only grow spiritually when we let go of our romance with the world, abandoning its vain idols, and awakening to the reality of the Divine Presence. We then can turn to God and learn to live in the moment, trusting him to help us through the temptations of the day. We all must walk through the "valley of the shadow of death" to find hope on its other side, and it is only by passing that way can we know the Name of God as the "I-AM-with-you-always" One.
 




Rosh Chodesh Shevat


 

12.29.13 (Tevet 26, 5774)   This Wednesday, January 1st, marks Rosh Chodesh Shevat (חדש שבט), that is, the eleventh month of the Jewish calendar (counting from the month of Nisan).  Shevat is important because Moses began his summary of the Torah (i.e., Mishneh Torah, or the sermon recorded in Book of Deuteronomy) on the first day of this month (Deut. 1:1,3). Because of this, the sages have long associated the Rosh Chodesh Shevat with the holiday of Shavuot (i.e., the sixth of Sivan), since on both these dates God appealed to Israel to receive the message of the Torah. The month of Shevat is also important because the "Rosh Hashanah for Trees" occurs on the 15th of the month (i.e., Tu B'Shevat).

The following (simplified) blessing can be recited to celebrate the new month and to ask the LORD God Almighty to help you for this coming season:
 

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

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

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



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Parashat Bo - בא


 

12.29.13 (Tevet 26, 5774)   Our Torah reading for this week begins with God commanding Moses "to go" (i.e., bo: בּא) before Pharaoh to announce further apocalyptic judgments upon Egypt. The purpose of this power encounter was to vindicate God's justice and glory (deliverance/salvation) by overthrowing the tyranny of unjust human oppression. Pharaoh's nightmare of "one little lamb" outweighing all the firstborn of Egypt was about to be fulfilled.

Recall that last week's Torah (Va'era) reported how Pharaoh defiantly refused to listen to Moses' pleas for Israel's freedom, despite seven devastating plagues that came upon Egypt in God's Name (יהוה). In this week's portion (Bo), the battle between the LORD and Pharaoh comes to a dramatic conclusion. The last three of the ten plagues are unleashed upon Egypt: a swarm of locusts devoured all the crops and greenery; a palpable darkness enveloped the land for three days and nights; and all the firstborn of Egypt were killed precisely at the stroke of midnight of the 15th of the month of Nisan... In this connection note that the word בּא ("go") and פרעה ("Pharoah") added together equal the gematria of משׁיח ("mashiach"), providing a hint of the Messianic redemption that was foreshadowed in Egypt. Every jot and tittle.

Before the final plague, God instructed the Jewish people to establish a new calendar based on the sighting of the new moon of spring. On the tenth day of that month, God told the people to acquire a "Passover offering" to Him, namely an unblemished lamb (or goat), one for each household. On the 14th of that month ("between the evenings") the animal would be slaughtered and its blood sprinkled on the doorposts and lintel of every Israelite home, so that God would "pass over" these dwellings when He came to kill the Egyptian firstborn that night. The roasted meat of the offering was to be eaten that night with unleavened bread (matzah) and bitter herbs (maror). God then commanded the Israelites to observe a seven-day "festival of matzah" to commemorate the Exodus for all subsequent generations.

Because of this, our corporate identity begins with a shared consciousness of time from a Divine perspective. The mo'edim (festivals of the LORD) all are reckoned based on the sacred calendar given to the redeemed Israelite nation. As it is also written in the Book of Psalms: "He made the moon for the appointed times" / עָשָׂה יָרֵחַ לְמוֹעֲדִים (Psalm 104:19). Undoubtedly Yeshua followed this calendar, as did His first followers (Gal. 4:4).

Just before the dreadful final plague befell, God instructed the Israelites to ask their Egyptian neighbors for gold, silver and jewelry, thereby plundering Egypt of its wealth (this was regarded as "uncollected wages" for hundreds of years of forced labor and bondage - not to mention for the services of Joseph, whose ingenuity brought the world's wealth to Egypt in the first place). Moses then instructed the people to prepare the Passover sacrifice, that is, the korban Pesach (קָרְבָּן פֶּסַה) - the Passover lamb - and to smear its blood on the two sides and top of the doorway, resembling the shape of the Hebrew letter Chet (ח). This Hebrew letter, signifying the number eight, is connected with the word חי (chai), short for chayim (חַיִּים), "life." The blood of the lamb (דַּם הַשֶּׂה) not only saves from the judgment of death, but also is a symbol of divine life given for our redemption. The "life is in the blood."


 

The death of the firstborn at last broke Pharaoh's resistance and he finally allowed the Israelites to depart. Because they left in great haste there was no time for their dough to rise. The Torah states that there were 600,000 adult men who left Egypt, along with the women, children, and a "mixed multitude" of other Egyptian slaves who tagged along.

The Israelites were commanded to consecrate all the firstborn to God and to commemorate the anniversary of the Exodus each year by celebrating the LORD's Passover in conjunction with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. During this time they were to remove all leaven from their homes for seven days, eat matzah, and retell the story of their redemption to their children. The portion ends with the commandment to wear tefillin (phylacteries) on the arm and head as a reminder of how the LORD saved the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt.

Note: Please see the Summary Page for parashat Bo for more information. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for this Torah portion here: 
 

 




The Exodus Parable...


 

12.29.13 (Tevet 26, 5774)   The great exodus of Israel from Egypt is the central parable of the Torah. The bondage of the Israelites to Pharaoh represents humanity's slavery to sin; God's deliverance from bondage is effected by trusting in the blood of the sacrificial lamb of God; the passage from death to life symbolically comes through baptism into the Sea of Reeds; the journey to truth represents the pilgrimage to Sinai, and so on. Indeed, the redemption in Egypt led directly to revelation given at Sinai, and when the LORD God gave the Ten Commandments, he did not begin by saying he was our Creator, but rather our Redeemer: "I am the LORD your God (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ), who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). This is because the purpose of the creation itself is to demonstrate God's redemptive love and to be known as our Savior and Redeemer, just as Yeshua is the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9). "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Creation therefore begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Mashiach, the great Lamb of God and our Savior... He is the Center of Creation - the Aleph and Tav - the Beginning and the End (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:17). All the world was created for the Messiah: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).

Note: For more on this, see the article, "Love Story Exodus."
 




Refuse the lies of fear...


 

[ Since this world's propaganda constantly seeks to weaken us through fear, let me again urge you to always remember what is Real... ]

12.27.13 (Tevet 24, 5774)   Worry is a place of exile and pain. Since God's Name YHVH means "Presence" and "Love," to be troubled or anxious is to practice the absence of God's presence instead of practicing His Presence... We must "set the LORD" always before us (Psalm 16:8). Where it is written, "cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Pet. 5:7), the word translated "anxiety" (μέριμνα) comes from a Greek verb (μερίζω) that means to be fragmented or divided into parts and pieces. We bring our brokenness to God - including those distractions that tear us away from Him and that make us inwardly fragmented and afraid - in order to receive God's love and care for our lives... We bring our brokenness to God - including those distractions that tear us away from Him and that make us inwardly fragmented and afraid - in order to receive God's love and care for our lives...
 

אַל־תִּירָא כִּי עִמְּךָ־אָנִי אַל־תִּשְׁתָּע כִּי־אֲנִי אֱלהֶיךָ
אִמַּצְתִּיךָ אַף־עֲזַרְתִּיךָ אַף־תְּמַכְתִּיךָ בִּימִין צִדְקִי

al  ti·ra  ki  im·me·kha  a·ni;  al  tish·ta  ki  a·ni  E·lo·he·kha
im·matz·ti·kha  af  a·zar·ti·kha,  af  te·makh·ti·kha  bi·min  tzid·ki
 

"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
(Isa. 41:10)



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Take comfort that your Heavenly Father sees when the sparrow falls; he arrays the flower in its hidden valley; and he calls each star by name. More importantly, the Lord sees you and understands your struggle with fear... Bring to Him your needy heart and trust in His provision and care...  As we look to Him, we will be seen -- and our dread of being invisible, irrelevant, and insignificant will itself vanish.

Note that the meaning of God's Name (YHVH) was initially revealed to Moses as simply ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה), "I AM," or "I WILL BE" (Exod. 3:14), though it is wonderful to understand that His Name is also revealed as ehyeh imakh (אהְיֶה עִמָּךְ), "I WILL BE WITH YOU" (Josh. 1:5,9; Isa. 41:10,13; John 10:28; Matt. 28:20, etc.). Just as the LORD is called Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 16:22), so He is the Source of your breath, the One who exhales to you nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" that enables you to live (Job 12:10). Indeed the Name YHVH (יהוה) first appears in the Torah in regarding imparting the breath of life to Adam (Gen. 2:7). Note further that each of the letters of the Name YHVH represent vowel sounds (i.e., breath), suggesting again that God's Spirit is as close as your very next breath. Like the wind that cannot be seen, so is the spirit the essential part of your identity. Yeshua breathed on his followers and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22).

This is a word for the exiles of every age: Be not afraid - al-tirah – not of man, nor of war, nor of tribulation, nor even of death itself (Rom. 8:35-39). If God is for us, then who is able to stand against us? "In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? (Psalm 56:11). Indeed, Yeshua came to die to destroy both the works of the devil and the power of death itself, in order to "release all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (1 John 3:8; 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, but rather life, peace, and love. Because Yeshua is alive, we also shall live (John 14:19); because of Yeshua's victory, we can now walk without fear: al-tirah, "Fear not, for I Am with you."

"Fear not, for I am with you..." אַל־תִּירָא כִּי עִמְּךָ־אָנִי.  What we need most of all is right here, present in this hour, whether we're conscious of it or not. God is with you, even if you feel alone, lost in darkness, unclean, afraid... "Dear Lord Jesus, I don't know who I am, I don't know where I am, and I don't know what I am, but please love me" (prayer of a sufferer from Alzheimer's disease). That's what we need most, to trust that we are safe in God's love, and that's the ultimate message of our atonement in Messiah.
 




Seeing God's Face...


 

12.27.13 (Tevet 24, 5774)  A Roman emperor once asked Rabbi Joshua if the universe had a ruler. The sage answered, indeed, the LORD is the Creator of all things, as it is written, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." The emperor then asked, "Why is God not like the emperor of Rome, who is seen twice a year so that people may know and worship him?" Rabbi Joshua said that unlike human kings, the LORD was too powerful for people to see; as it is written in the Torah: "No person shall see Me and live." The emperor was skeptical, however, and insisted that unless he could physically see God, he would be unable to believe. Rabbi Joshua then pointed to the sun high in the sky: "Look into the sun and you will see God." The emperor tried to look into the sun, but was forced to cover his eyes to keep them from burning: "I cannot look into the sun," he said. Joshua then replied: "Listen to yourself: If you cannot look into the sun which is but one of God's creations, how can you expect to look at God?" (Sefer HaAggadah)

It is interesting to compare this story with another...  Leo Tolstoy tells the parable of an old cobbler who despaired of life and yearned to finally see God. In a dream one night a heavenly voice told that he would see God's face the very next day. The cobbler began the day on the alert, hoping to catch a glimpse of God, but he was distracted when he encountered a needy family. They were cold and desperate, so he took them in and cared for them. The day passed and as he finally laid down to sleep, the cobbler realized he had completely forgotten to look for God.  He apologized to God and once again asked to die... As he fell asleep he dreamed that he saw the family he had helped walking by when the heavenly voice then said, "Rest assured: you saw God today in the faces of those you helped." "Truly, as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me" (Matt. 25:40).
 

וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ
אֲנִי יְהוָה

ve·a·hav·ta · le·re·a·kha · ka·mo·kha
a·ni · Adonai
 

"You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD."
(Lev. 19:18)



Hebrew Study Card
  




Surrender to Peace...


 

12.26.13 (Tevet 23, 5774)  "Be still and know that I am God." This is something you must do; you must quiet your heart to cultivate inner peace. Turn a deaf ear to those anxious thoughts that weigh in upon you, creating pressure and "dis-ease." Being still enables you to hear the holy whisper in the midst of the storm saying, "It is I; be not afraid."
 

הַרְפּוּ וּדְעוּ כִּי־אָנכִי אֱלהִים
 אָרוּם בַּגּוֹיִם אָרוּם בָּאָרֶץ

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
  

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




Education of the Heart...


 

12.26.13 (Tevet 23, 5774)  Yeshua embodies the Torah of Love (הַתּוֹרָה שֶׁל אַהֲבָה), and his commandment is for us to love as he loved (John 13:34; 15:12). Walking with God isn't just a matter of "head education," but rather of "heart education," and these two must always go together as do Spirit and Truth (John 4:23). Head education seeks knowledge primarily as a means of defining "faith" as a creed or set of doctrines to believe. As such, it aims to allay intellectual doubt and to help us better understand the truth of Reality. Heart education, on the other hand, centers on fear, or rather, on overcoming our fear by inwardly surrendering to God's love and healing grace. When we learn the heart of God - when we accept that we are truly accepted despite ourselves - then we are delivered from the need to defend or justify ourselves. We can let go, quit denying who we are, and count on God's ongoing care for our lives. We can even learn to love our enemies because we have inner peace, and that means we no longer are enemies to either ourselves or to others...
 




The Purpose of Freedom...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Parashat Va'era) and the theme of freedom. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

12.24.13 (Tevet 21, 5774)  Freedom apart from purpose is a delusion. Slavery is horribly evil because it restricts the good use of our power - it negates who we are, denies our means for living, and thereby disfigures the image of God Himself. Freedom, however, is a means to an end, namely, the right use of power to serve God as His children. God saves us from bondage so that we can demonstrate His power and glory, not so that we might cast off restraint... Real freedom means the power to choose the good, not to do whatever lust desires or dictates. Freedom implies accountability as its necessary condition, because without responsibility, we are still enslaved to our lower nature. "I have on my table a violin string. It is free to move in any direction I like. If I twist one end, it responds; it is free. But it is not free to sing. So I take it, and fix it into my violin. I bind it, and when it is bound, it is free for the first time to sing." (Rabindranath Tagore)

The story of the exodus from Egypt is the story about the struggle for human dignity and freedom. God abhors slavery and oppression, and indeed the First Commandment reminds us that the LORD delivered us from the "house of bondage" (Exod. 20:2). Indeed the gospel is about the greater exodus (ἔξοδος) of God's people given through Yeshua (Luke 9:30-31). God's message to the Pharaoh of old is also for all the world's dictators and their henchmen: "Thus says the Eternal One, the God of the Hebrews: 'Let my people go that they may serve Me' (Exod. 7:16). The Kings of the earth may "set themselves" in defiance of the LORD, but in the end will come a rod of iron that will surely dash their rule to pieces (Dan. 2:31-35).

In our Torah portion this week we read: "I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brings you out..." (Exod. 6:7). God takes us to Himself so that we may know Him as our personal deliverer... This is the ultimate goal of redemption - to be known and loved by God. Freedom from bondage is important because it lets us cleave to the LORD as our God...
 




Knowing the Name...


 

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

12.24.13 (Tevet 21, 5774)  When God said to Moses: "I appeared (וָאֵרָא) to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדָּי), but by my name the LORD (יהוה) I did not make myself known to them" (Exod. 6:3), he was stating that the patriarchs had not directly experienced His mastery over creation through the signs and wonders He would perform as Israel's Redeemer. The patriarchs understood God as El Shaddai, the all-sufficient One who nurtured the fledgling nation and who foretold Israel's future, but Moses (and the Israelites) would now understand God's attributes of covenantal faithfulness (chesed) as the "Promise Keeper" by directly witnessing his revelation and great saving acts. The great Torah commentator Rashi states that the Name YHVH implies that there is no power that can prevent God from keeping His word and fulfilling His promise of redemption. God is the Lord of lords and King of kings, and therefore His word can never fail (Deut. 10:17; Dan. 2:47). Ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו): "there is no power apart from Him" (Deut. 4:35,9).

The name "ehyeh asher ehyeh" (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה) means "I shall be as I shall be," that is, "I shall be with those who desire that I shall be with them. I reveal myself to those who seek for me, and as I am sought, so I will be found. According to your faith be it done unto you: Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled..."

For more on this subject, see the article: Yeshua and YHVH.
 




Slavery and Passivity...


 

12.23.13 (Tevet 20, 5774)  From our Torah portion this week (Va'era) we read, "I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians" (Exod. 6:6). The sages say the Hebrew word for "burdens" (סִבְלת) can also be read as passivity (סְבִילוּת): "I will deliver you from passivity toward your slavery...." So long as the people regarded their enslavement as tolerable, they could excuse it, rationalize it, and even defend it. Therefore God allowed tribulation to progressively increase so that the people would understand their need. Likewise we cannot even begin to understand our need for deliverance as long as we are comfortable, numb, and dead inside... The first step toward moral freedom, then, is to be set free from our denial, to wake up, to resist evil, and to find faith that God desires something better for our lives. Passively accepting the values of this evil world means succumbing to its false claims to authority. As Bonhoeffer solemnly reminds us: 'Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.'
 

    "What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coasts, the guns of our war steamers, or the strength of our gallant and disciplined army. These are not our reliance against tyranny in our fair land. All of them may be turned against our liberties, without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted within us. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism at your own doors. Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage, and you prepare your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of those around you, you have lost the genius of your own independence, and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises." - Abraham Lincoln (Speech at Edwardsville, 1858)
     

 




Deliverance from Ourselves...


 

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

12.23.13 (Tevet 20, 5774)  From our Torah portion this week (Va'era) we read, "Pharaoh's heart was hardened (וַיֶּחֱזַק) so he would not listen..." (Exod. 8:19). The worst kind of bondage is when you are oppressed by yourself - so enslaved by your inner urges - that you are no longer able to think outside of your desire or to choose otherwise. It might be greed, the desire for pleasure, fear, anger, or the "need" to be right (i.e., pride), but whatever controls you is ultimately your taskmaster. Ironically, Pharaoh's will to enslave the Israelites made him into a slave.  Self-deception entices us to deny the consequences of our passions or to rationalize them by pretending we are victims. Because of this, we become further enslaved to our own sense of self-importance, and we are ensnared within the prison house of the all-demanding ego. We can only be delivered from the inner tyranny of ourselves only by God's power, as Yeshua said: "you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). This is the truth of God's power of deliverance given in Yeshua our Lord (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18). The truth sets you free not merely in some intellectual sense (i.e., being made free from error), but in a volitional sense, in the core of your being, when your will is no longer enslaved to the power and inner darkness of sin....
 




Parashat Va'era - וארא


 

12.22.13 (Tevet 19, 5774)  Last week's Torah portion (Shemot) told how Moses and Aaron were commissioned to go before Pharaoh and deliver the LORD's message: "Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness." Not only did Pharaoh reject the request, but he imposed even harsher decrees against the Israelites and caused them to suffer miserably. Moses then appealed to the LORD, who reassured him that Pharaoh would eventually relent because of "the greater might" of God's power to deliver His people.

In this week's portion (Va'era), the LORD told Moses that He was going to fulfill His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by giving the Israelites the land of Canaan, and that he had heard the "groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians held as slaves" (Exod. 6:5). God therefore instructed Moses to say to the people, "I am the LORD and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgment; and I will take you to me for a people and I will be to you a God" (these are the "four expressions of redemption" we recite during the Passover Seder every year).

Despite these great promises, however, the people were unable to listen because of their "shortness of breath" (מִקּצֶר רוּחַ) on account of their harsh slavery. The LORD then instructed Moses: "Go in, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the people of Israel go out of his land" -- and the great showdown between the LORD and the gods of Egypt began...

Note: Please see the Summary Page for parashat Va'era for more information. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for this Torah portion here: 
 




Love's Great Humility...


 

12.20.13 (Tevet 17, 5774)   "Unless you turn (shuv) and become like children, you will never (οὐ μὴ) enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). Such is the importance of simple trust in God... Indeed Yeshua repeatedly taught us to trust God as "Abba," our Father (אַבָּא אָבִינוּ). He taught that we are warmly accepted as part of his family; that we are under his constant care; and that we live within his household as beloved children... And even though God is utterly transcendent, the Infinite One (אין סוף) and Creator of all worlds, he humbles himself to feed the birds of the air, to water lilies of the field, and to count the number of hairs on your head (Psalm 113:5-6). He is as close as your next breath; he leans upon your bosom at the table; he anticipates what you need before you ask him... The "fear of the Lord" is that you might fail knowing his great love for you -- that you will forget your true identity in lesser things. Therefore affirm the truth that you are loved with an unending and everlasting love, that you are safe, that you are surely accepted, and that nothing can ever separate you from the power of love. God your Father hears you, he knows you, and he loves you bekhol levavo (בְּכָל־לְבָבוֹ) - "with all his heart."

May you know God as your Abba. "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and fellow heirs with Messiah - even if we may suffer together with him to the end that we may also be glorified together with him" (Rom. 8:15-17).
 




Moses and the Messiah...


 

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

12.20.13 (Tevet 17, 5774)   Like Joseph before him, Moses was a "picture" of Yeshua in various ways. Though he was a Jew from the tribe of Levi, he appeared as a "prince of Egypt" to his own people and was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22). And though he was God's chosen deliverer, Moses was initially rejected by the Israelites and then turned to the Gentiles, taking a "foreign" bride. After being severely tested in the desert, he was empowered by God's Spirit to become Israel's deliverer for their hour of great tribulation. Indeed, both Moses and Yeshua were "sent from a mountain of God" to free Israel. Both revealed the meaning of God's Name; both spoke with God "face to face." Moses was sent from (physical) Mount Sinai in Midian; Yeshua was sent from a spiritual "Mount Zion" in Heaven (Heb. 12:22). The New Testament relates that Moses and Elijah later met with Yeshua to discuss His "departure," literally, "His Exodus" (τὴν ἔξοδον αὐτοῦ) that he would accomplish at Jerusalem to redeem the entire world (Luke 9:30-31).

Note: For a more comprehensive list of the various correspondences between Moses and Yeshua, see the article, "Moses' Prophecy of the Messiah."
 




Being and Truth...


 

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

12.20.13 (Tevet 17, 5774)   In our Torah portion this week, Moses asked for God's Name, and God then said ehyeh asher ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה), "I AM that I AM" (or "I will be what I will be"), abbreviated simply as ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה), "I AM" (Exod. 3:14). Note that God identifies himself with being itself, since ehyeh is the Qal imperfect form of the verb hayah (הָיָה), meaning "to be." Indeed, the Name YHVH (יהוה) essentially means "Presence," since God is called ha-hoveh, ve'hayah, ve'yavo (הַהוֶה וְהָיָה וְיָבוֹא) - "the One who is, and was, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8). This "threefold Name" of the LORD of Hosts encompasses all possible states of being, indicating that God is LORD over all possible worlds...
 

וַיּאמֶר אֱלהִים אֶל־משֶׁה אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה
וַיּאמֶר כּה תאמַר לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
אֶהְיֶה שְׁלָחַנִי אֲלֵיכֶם

va·yo·mer · E·lo·him · el · Mo·she · eh·yeh · a·sher · eh·yeh
va·yo·mer · koh · to·mar · liv·nei · Yis·ra·el
eh·yeh · she·la·cha·ni · a·le·khem
 

"God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM."
And he said, "Say this to the sons of Israel,
'I AM has sent me to you'" (Exod. 3:14)


 
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Note that the verb ehyeh has the value of 21 (Aleph = 1, Hey = 5, Yod = 10 and Hey = 5), and the sages say that "ehyeh asher ehyeh" equals 21 times 21, or 441, which is the same value as emet (אמת), the word for truth (Aleph = 1, Mem = 40, and Tav = 400). In other words, God's Being is truth, and indeed the LORD is called the God of Truth (Psalm 31:5).
 




The Law of Faith...


 

12.20.13 (Tevet 17, 5774)   "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21). And what is the will of the Father but to trust in Messiah for life (John 6:40)? "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" Yeshua answers: "This is the work of God, that you believe in the One whom he has sent" (John 6:28-29). The Torah of God centers on Messiah. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not ... do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I say to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness' (Matt. 7:22-23). From this we see that works - even those done in the name of Messiah - are insufficient for life, and that something more is needed.  Yeshua wasn't questioning their theology, nor was he denying deeds done in his name. What he was questioning was their heart, how they knew him, whether they trusted in his love. "As long as Christ remains outside of us we are separated from him." Paradoxically, those who appealed to their good deeds were those who practiced "lawlessness," since they did not keep the law of faith (תורה של אמונה) in God's love...
 

יְהוָה תִּשְׁפּת שָׁלוֹם לָנוּ
 כִּי גַּם כָּל־מַעֲשֵׂינוּ פָּעַלְתָּ לָּנוּ

Adonai · tishpot · shalom · lanu
 ki · gam · kol · ma'asenu · pa'alta · lanu
 

"O LORD, you will establish peace for us,
for You have indeed done for us all our works."
(Isa. 26:12



Hebrew Study Card
 

Note that God does the work "for us" (לָּנוּ) and we are His witnesses... Salvation is "of the LORD," and is not the result of our own efforts. Anything of eternal value comes from God alone, who is the beginning and end of grace. "Not by (human) might, nor by (human) power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts (Zech. 4:6). If we lose sight of this truth, we are again made subject to the "law of sin and death" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת), that is, the futile principle of self-justification that constitutes the "wheel of suffering." We can escape this cycle only when we accept the truth about our condition and trust God for our deliverance. It is the "law of the Spirit of Life" (תוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים), that is, the inner reign of the Holy Spirit, that sets us free from the reign of sin that leads to death...

It is written: "And the work of the Righteousness One will be peace, and the service of Righteousness One will be quietness and assurance forever" (Isa. 32:17). Note that it is the "work" (singular) of righteousness that is in view here – not the "works" (plural) of righteousness that we might perform (Titus 3:5). In other words, it is the work of the LORD alone, that is, the righteousness and glory of the Messiah, blessed be He, that gives us true peace (Psalm 37:39). Likewise the "service of righteousness" refers to the singular "avodah" of the great High Priest "after the order of Malki-Tzedek," which is the eternal service of intercession established by the inviolable will and counsel of Almighty God (Heb. 7:20-21). This avodah does not refer to acts of service performed by human beings in their religious ceremonies (i.e., the Levitical priesthood with its various forms of sacrificial worship), but rather the perfect act of service and sacrifice of Yeshua given upon the cross -- the everlasting atonement and eternal redemption secured by the priesthood of Yeshua (Heb. 9:12). "For our sake He made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ)."  Only God through Yeshua can give us true inner peace and security forever; only Yeshua gives us peace with God....
 




He was Born to Die...


 

12.20.13 (Tevet 17, 5774)   Regardless of your particular conviction regarding the date of Yeshua's birth, the most important thing to remember is that He was born to die (Heb. 10:5-7). The story of his birth is only significant in relation to His sacrificial death (Mark 8:27-33). The "manger" scene leads directly to the cross at Moriah.  Indeed, in Jewish tradition the day of one's death is more important than the day of one's birth, since death summarizes the meaning and significance of a person's life in this world.  Birth represents potential, whereas death represents inheritance... Therefore the Jewish custom is to commemorate the anniversary of a person's death (i.e., yahrzeit: יארצייט) and not the date of his or her birth. This custom is derived from the Scriptures themselves: "A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth" (Eccl. 7:1):
 

טוֹב שֵׁם מִשֶּׁמֶן טוֹב
וְיוֹם הַמָּוֶת מִיּוֹם הִוָּלְדוֹ

tov · shem · mi·she·men · tov
ve·yom · ha-ma·vet · mi·yom · hiv·va·le·do
 

"A good name is better than fragrant oil,
and the day of death than the day of birth."



Hebrew Study Card
 

The day of Yeshua's death represents the message of the Gospel story itself: "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). This is of "first importance": Yeshua was born to die for our sins, to make us right with God, and was raised from the dead to vindicate the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 15:3-5). "For our sake God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). The birth of the Messiah (or rather His incarnation) was the "first step" toward His sacrifice for our deliverance (Heb. 2:9-18). As Paul said, "I decided to know nothing among you except Yeshua the Messiah - and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2).

Note:  This timely and important entry continues here.
  




The Birth of Messiah...


 

12.19.13 (Tevet 16, 5774)   Though the world perverts the message of the birth of Messiah for the sake of its greed, take a moment to reflect on its ongoing spiritual significance, namely, that God empties Himself of His regal glory and power to become your High Priest, able to fully sympathize with your weakness, frailty, shame, and chronic sinfulness (Heb. 4:15-16; Phil 2:7-8). Almighty God, the Presence of Love, clothed himself in human flesh and bone to become Immanuel (עִמָּנוּ אֵל) - "one with us" - so that we could be touched by Him, healed by Him, saved by Him... Therefore let's join the refrain of heavenly host: "Glory to God in the highest, and upon earth peace, among men - good will."
 

כָּבוֹד לֵאלהִים בַּמְּרוֹמִים
וְשָׁלוֹם עֲלֵי אֲדָמוֹת בְּקֵרֵב אַנְשֵׁי רְצוֹנוֹ

ka·vod · le·lo·him · ba·me·ro·mim
ve·sha·lom · a·lei · a·da·mot · be·ke·rev · an·shei · re·tzo·no
 

"Glory to God in the highest,
and upon earth peace, among men - good will."
(Luke 2:14)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Consider the absolute humility of God by choosing to enter into this world as "baby Jesus." Meditate on the glory and sheer paradox of God's love! "Baby Jesus" is the perfect disguise to hide the truth from the proud eyes of the flesh, though the humble of heart can see... What would do without the gift of God, friends? What hope would we have? Regardless of the exact date of his birth of His birth, thank God that our LORD and Messiah was willing to be born into this dark world to offer Himself as our sacrificial Redeemer!


Postscript: Is "Christmas" Pagan?

Some people refuse to celebrate "Christmas" and "Easter" because of their supposedly pagan origins. The truth, however, is not as simple as these religious "purists" pretend it to be.... Of course there are many secular and "functional pagans" who disregard the historical truth and spiritual significance of the birth (and death) of Messiah, and sadly, most Christian liturgical calendars disregard the significance of Torah's holiday calendar. Nevertheless, it is fallacious (as well as mean-spirited) to suggest that if a sincere Christian honors the birth, death, and resurrection of Yeshua during the "traditional" dates, he or she is therefore living as a pagan. A particular Christian may be mistaken regarding the anniversary of these events, but that does not imply that he or she willfully rejects the truth of Scripture or adheres to a pagan worldview. That conclusion simply does not logically follow...

What do we do, then, if we sincerely seek to follow the Torah's calendar in light of entrenched Christian customs? Well, we certainly may commemorate the birth of Messiah during the holiday of Sukkot (or Passover, etc.), though we must be careful to show charity and use the "good eye" toward those who may adhere to the traditional date for "Christmas." Likewise we commemorate the death and resurrection of Messiah during Passover and Firstfruits, respectively, though we do not begrudge those of good faith who honor these great events of salvation during what they call the "Easter" season. Often we are tested in exactly this way, chaverim! We must not miss the "weightier matters" of extending love to others, as Yeshua clearly taught (Matt. 23:23). Moreover it is written, "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5; Col. 2:16). Friends, we must test the spirits -- and that includes our own! How do we treat the "stranger" among us? How do we regard the "weaker brother?" Do we demand that our doctrine be esteemed, or do we allow room for others to seek the Lord and his wisdom? Ask yourself: Does this person (or group) honor Yeshua as God the Son, the Redeemer of Humanity who died for our sins and rose from the dead? If so, then keep your heart warm and soft toward him, even if he has yet to discover the Jewish roots of their faith. "Strive for peace with everyone" (Heb. 12:14). "Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you" (Phil. 3:15). Though we desire unity with one another (John 17:11), we cannot insist on doctrinal uniformity. The truth is known in humility and love.

Rabbi Yochanan said: "Since the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from prophets and given to fools and children" (Gemara: Baba Batra 12b).  Why fools and children?  Perhaps because they are more open to God's Presence than adults with their many prejudices... Children are often more receptive to simply embrace the truth of God, as Yeshua said: "Unless you turn (shuv) and become like children, you will never (οὐ μὴ) enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3), and "in that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will" (Luke 10:21). Indeed, the foolishness of the gospel (and the basic "Christmas" message) is the very power of God (1 Cor. 1:18-25). As it is written: "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14).
 




Providential Impediments...


 

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

12.19.13 (Tevet 16, 5774)   The midrash says Moses had a speech impediment and that is why he described himself as "heavy of mouth and of tongue," unfit to speak on behalf of God (Exod. 4:10). God reassured him, however, by reminding him that his limitation was by divine providence: "Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak" (Exod. 4:11-12). The sages comment that God did not cure Moses of his stuttering because He wanted the Israelites to know Moses as his chosen messenger. When he spoke in the Name of the LORD, the stuttering entirely disappeared and Moses spoke with fluent ease. This was to teach the people not to trust in human oratory or wisdom, but rather in the power of God (see 1 Cor. 2:1-5). Just as the Apostle Paul, the "Moses of the New Covenant," was given a "thorn in the flesh" (σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί) to keep him humbly relying upon God for his sufficiency to serve (2 Cor. 12:7-10), so Moses was rendered entirely dependent upon the LORD to speak as his mediator.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness" (δύναμις ἐν ἀσθενείᾳ τελεῖται). Therefore I will boast most gladly of my weaknesses, that the power of Messiah may tabernacle (ἐπισκηνόω) within me (2 Cor. 12:9).
 




"These are the Names..."


 

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

12.18.13 (Tevet 15, 5774)   This week's Torah portion (the first of the Book of Exodus) is called Shemot (שְׁמוֹת, "names") because it begins with a list of the "names" of the sons of Jacob who came to dwell in the land of Goshen: וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הַבָּאִים מִצְרָיְמָה / "These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt" (Exod. 1:1). Now while it's true that the Scriptures here list the names of Jacob's descendants, this portion more importantly refers the Names of the LORD God of Israel Himself. "These are the names..."

To see this, let's consider the central story of our reading, namely, the commissioning of Moses at the Burning Bush (see Exod. 3:1-20). Note that the Torah states that it was the Angel of the LORD (i.e., Malakh Adonai: מַלְאַךְ יהוה) who appeared to Moses בְּלַבַּת־אֵשׁ מִתּוֹךְ הַסְּנֶה / "in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush" (Exod. 3:1-2). But then the Torah goes on to say that the LORD (יהוה) saw Moses drawing near to the bush while God (i.e., Elohim: אֱלהִים) called out to him. God (i.e., Elohim) then commanded Moses to remove his sandals and identified Himself as the "God of Abraham (i.e., Elohei Avraham: אֱלהֵי אַבְרָהָם), the God of Isaac (i.e., Elohei Yitzchak: אֱלהֵי יִצְחָק), and the God of Jacob (i.e., Elohei Ya'akov: אֱלהֵי יעֲקב)."  In this short and dramatic account we have several Names of God presented - the Angel of the LORD, the LORD, God (Elohim), and the "God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" - all of which refer to the One true God!

When God commissioned Moses to be His shaliach (שָלִיחַ‎) - His emissary - to go before Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel back to the Promised Land, he objected that he was unfit for the task. He protested that he was kevad peh - "heavy of mouth" and kevad lashon, "heavy of tongue," and therefore unable to speak on behalf of the LORD (Exod. 4:10). God reminded him that He was the Creator of the mouth: "Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?" (Exod. 4:11).

Perhaps it was because Moses was "heavy of mouth" that he continued to object to God's plan. After all, what would Moses say if he were asked what God's Name was?  Perhaps Moses couldn't speak well enough to properly enunciate the Divine Name?  It is revealing to understand the LORD's reply: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה / "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh ('I will be what I will be'); and He said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM (אֶהְיֶה) has sent me to you.'" Then God (i.e., אֱלהִים) went on to "spell it out" for Moses: "Say this to the people of Israel, 'The LORD (יהוה), [namely] the God of your fathers, [namely] the God of Abraham (אֱלהֵי אַבְרָהָם), [namely] the God of Isaac (אֱלהֵי יִצְחָק), and [namely] the God of Jacob (אֱלהֵי יעֲקב), has sent me to you.' This is my name forever (זֶה־שְּׁמִי לְעלָם), and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations" (Exod. 3:14-15).

Now I included the Hebrew text here to make it explicit that the distinct Names of God in this passage (i.e., יהוה, אֱלהִים, מַלְאַךְ יהוה, and so on) all refer to the One true LORD God of Israel, Maker of Heaven and earth. Indeed, the Torah makes it clear that the Name of the LORD YHVH (יהוה) is associated with the phrase ehyeh asher ehyeh (rendered as "I AM THAT I AM" in the KJV), which derives from the Qal imperfect first person form of this verb hayah (הָיָה): "I will be."  In other words, there is a direct connection between the Name YHVH and Being and Reality itself. YHVH is the Source of all being and has being inherent in Himself (i.e., He is necessary Being). Everything else is contingent being that derives existence from Him. The name YHVH also bespeaks the utter transcendence of God. In Himself, God is beyond all "predications" or attributes of language: He is the Source and Foundation of all possibility of utterance and thus is beyond all definite descriptions. Hence the LORD is sometimes simply called HaShem, "the Name," since no amount of verbiage will ever do justice to the infinite majesty and truth of His Life...

People who argue about the name of God miss the point... As I've said before, God is "Presence" (Exod. 3:13-14), "Breath" (Gen. 2:7; Num. 16:22), "Life" (Deut. 30:20), "Love" (Exod. 34:6-7), and the "I-AM-WITH-YOU One" who keeps His promises. The Name YHVH (יהוה) means that "God was (i.e., hayah: היה), God is (i.e., hoveh: הוֶה), and God always will be (i.e., veyihyeh: וְיִהְיֶה)," which implies that He is ever present and not restricted by time or space. Moreover, God is called havayah (הֲוָיָה), which means He sustains creation by the Word of His power: "In Him we live, move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28; Heb. 1:3).

Note:  For more, see "Shemot: Divine Names Theology" and "Using the Name in Vain."


Quick Addendum:

The Name of God is not unimportant, of course, but involves a complex constellation of interrelated ideas and revelation about the character and deeds of the God of Israel. God's Name represents his power, his character, and his loving actions in the universe. For the purposes of our discussion here, however, the question about "the" Name of God must first of all be understood as a matter of interpretation of Torah and the Jewish Scriptures.
 




He knows your sorrows...


 

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

12.18.13 (Tevet 15, 5774)   The LORD said, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry... I know their sorrows" (Exod. 3:7). The grammar here is intense: "seeing I have seen" (רָאה רָאִיתִי). Understand, then, that God surely sees your struggles, friend.  Second, know that God heeds the outcry (צְעָקָה) of your heart, and indeed, he interprets your groaning as if it were for the sake of serving him. Your heart's cry is transformed by grace to be the cry for God himself, for relationship with Him. "The cry of the people has come to me," he told Moses (Exod 3:9), which means all the sufferings, the wrongs, the hopes, the fears, the groans, the despair, the prayers, were present before him, as if he counted every word and sigh. Third, realize that God knows your sorrows; he gathers all your tears into his bottle (Psalm 56:8). The word translated "sorrows" (מַכְאב) is the same used to describe the "Man of sorrows" (אישׁ מַכְאבוֹת), Yeshua our Suffering Servant, who gave up his life to deliver you from darkness, sorrow, and fear (Isa. 53:3-5)...
 

    "If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe from falling, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown - that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love. Between God and the soul there is ultimately no between." - Julian of Norwich

 




The Centrality of Exodus...


 

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

12.18.13 (Tevet 15, 5774)   The Exodus is perhaps the most fundamental event of Jewish history; it is "the" miracle of the Torah. In addition to being commemorated every year during Passover (Exod. 12:24-27; Num. 9:2-3; Deut. 16:1), it is explicitly mentioned in the first of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:2), and it is recalled every Sabbath (Deut. 5:12-15). The festivals of Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles) likewise derive from it (the former recalling the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the latter recalling God's care as the Exodus generation journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land), as does the Season of Teshuvah (repentance) that culminates in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Indeed, nearly every commandment of the Torah (including the laws of the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system) may be traced back to the story of the Exodus, and in some ways, the entire Bible is an extended interpretation of its significance. Most important of all, the Exodus both prefigures and exemplifies the work of redemption given through the sacrificial life of Yeshua the Messiah, the true King of the Jews and the blessed Lamb of God.

The deeper meaning of exile concerns awareness of the divine presence. The worst kind of exile is not to know that you are away from home... That is why Egypt (i.e., Mitzraim) is called metzar yam - a "narrow straight."  Egypt represents bondage and death in this world, and the exodus represents salvation and freedom. God splits the sea and we cross over from death to life. Since Torah represents awareness of God's truth, Israel was led into a place of difficulty to learn and receive revelation (Gen. 46:1-7). Out of the depths of darkness God's voice would call his people forth. Likewise we understand our "blessed fault," the trouble that moves us to cry out for God's miracle in Yeshua...
 




Greatness of Empathy...


 

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

12.17.13 (Tevet 14, 5774)   From our Torah portion this week (Shemot) we read: "when Moses grew up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens" (Exod. 2:11). The sages say, "do not read, 'grew up,' but rather 'became great'" (וַיִּגְדַּל), since Moses exiled himself by opening his eyes to his people's suffering. Indeed Moses was made great as he emptied himself of his royal privilege and identified with the pain and misfortunes of others (Phil. 2:7). As is written: "By faith Moses was made great (μέγας γενόμενος) by refusing to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin" (Heb. 11:24-25).

Concerning this the great Torah commentator Rashi wrote, "Moses set his eyes and heart to feel their anguish." The midrash says that when Moses saw the hard labor of the people, he took their yoke upon him. Indeed some of the earlier sages said that sharing the burden of another is the essence of Torah, the very foundation of all heavenly obligation (Avot 6:6). Therefore the Apostle Paul wrote (Gal. 6:2): "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the Torah of the Messiah (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ)." Expressing empathy by identifying with the pains of others requires bittul hayesh (בִּטּוּל הַיֵּשׁ), or the setting aside of the ego, which is also the essential requirement for revelation from heaven. Hence Moses was given direct encounter with the Divine Presence because of his great humility.
 




Sufficient this day...


 

12.17.13 (Tevet 14, 5774)   In the Gospel of Matthew we read these words of our LORD Yeshua the Messiah: "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matt. 6:34). Kierkegaard comments: "If there is no next day for you, then all earthly care is annihilated. When the next day comes, it loses its enchantment and its disquieting insecurity. If there is no next day for you, then either you are dying or you are one who by dying to temporality has grasped the Eternal, either one who is actually dying or one who is really living... The one who rows a boat turns his back to the goal toward which he is working. So it is with the next day. When, with the help of the Eternal, a person lives absorbed in today, he turns his back to the next day. The more he is eternally absorbed in today, the more decisively he turns his back to the next day." Amen. May God help us live for Him today. Today is the day of salvation; today may we hear His voice.
 

שִׁירוּ לַיהוָה שִׁיר חָדָשׁ
שִׁירוּ לַיהוָה כָּל־הָאָרֶץ
 שִׁירוּ לַיהוָה בֲָּרכוּ שְׁמוֹ
 בַּשְּׂרוּ מִיּוֹם־לְיוֹם יְשׁוּעָתוֹ

shi·ru · ladonai · shir · cha·dash;
shi·ru · ladonai · kol ·ha·a·retz
shi·ru · ladonai · ba·ra·khu · she·mo;
ba·se·ru · mi·yom · le·yom · ye·shu·a·to
 

"Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!
Sing to the LORD, bless his Name; tell of his salvation from day to day."

(Psalm 96:1-2)



Hebrew Study Card 
 

It is the saddest thing of all if a human being goes through life without discovering his need for God. Therefore blessed indeed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:3). It is a "blessed fault" to understand our inner poverty, to know anguish of heart, and to be able to abide in God's salvation one day at a time....

"If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). The sages say, "Being free means that I am in the place I am supposed to be." In other words, freedom means trusting, accepting, and yielding to God's path of blessing for you. This a place of great spiritual contentment where we are liberated from the slavery of fear and disappointment. Jesus lived this freedom, since He completely yielded Himself to His father's daily care (John 5:19; 8:29; 14:10). Deliverance comes from trusting in God's love - that he makes crooked things straight, that he heals your inner strife, and that he prepares a place for you...
 




Remove your Shoes...


 

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

12.16.13 (Tevet 13, 5774)   We live in the midst of a mysterious universe filled with astounding wonder and vast complexity, from the smallest of subatomic particles to the largest of cosmic events... If we could really see, if our eyes were truly open, we would understand that the universe and everything in it is filled with God's glory (Psalm 19:1). Where it is written, "Remove your shoes, for the place you are standing is holy" (Exod. 3:5) means we are to remove the deadness of our habits, those routine ways of "sightless seeing" that insulate us and hide us from the astonishment of reality. "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"
 

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

    "Out of all this world, take this forest; out of all the forest, take this tree. Out of all the tree, take this branch. Out of all the branch, take this leaf. And on this leaf that is like no other, observe this drop of rain that is like no other. And on this single drop observe the reflection of leaves and branches, of the entire tree, of the forest and of all the world - then only will you see the stars beyond the light of day."

    - James Kirkup

 




The Midwifery of God...


 

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

12.16.13 (Tevet 13, 5774)   In this week's Torah reading (Shemot), recall how the Hebrew midwives disobeyed the Pharaoh's evil decree to murder any Israelite boys they helped deliver. When the Pharaoh later asked them why they continued to let the Israelite boys be born, the midwives replied, "because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them" (Exod. 1:19). In the Torah, the phrase "before the midwife comes to them" contains a textual oddity: the word אֲלֵהֶן ("to them") is usually spelled אלהין, and the Talmud (Sotah 11b) suggests that the missing Yod () in this word indicates that God Himself functioned as a Midwife to the Israelite women. How do they reach this conclusion? Well first of all Yod represents the Divine Presence (recall how this letter was added to Abram and Sarai's names, among others). Next, using Hebrew gematria, the value of אֲלֵהֶן is discovered to equal 86 (1+30+5+50) -- the same value as the word אלהים, the word Elohim (God).

Now the Hebrew Name Elohim is traditionally thought to represent God in His attribute of justice, and the sages surmised that God directly intervened (as a Midwife) to save the Hebrew babies from the unjust decree of Pharaoh. One implication of this interpretation, by the way, is that the midwives did not, in fact, lie to the Pharaoh. Though they detested his evil policies, they told the truth when they said that that the Israelite women gave birth before they came to them. What they didn't mention, and of course would have made no difference to the wicked Pharaoh, was that God Himself - Elohim - was intervening in this situation as the Creator and Judge of all the earth to deliver the baby boys. Ultimately, of course, this Pharaoh would come to realize this, but not before first experiencing the strong arm of God expressed in the ten plagues upon Egypt. The last and final plague (i.e., makkat bechorot, the death of the firstborn), you will recall, was divine recompense delivered in response the attempted genocide of the Jewish people.... (more here)
 




The Torah of Love...


 

12.16.13 (Tevet 13, 5774)   "If you love me, you will keep my commandments..." (John 14:15). The logical contrapositive statement is, "if you do not keep my commandments, you do not love me." Our struggle to obey is really a struggle of the heart to love. We can read Yeshua's words with prophetic hope, however: "When you love me, you will keep my commandments." In other words, as you love Yeshua and know his heart, you will fulfill his Torah, since the love of God is the gateway of all true obedience.

Your Heavenly Father sees in secret... "The deepest thing in our nature is this region of heart in which we dwell alone with our willingnesses and our unwillingnesses, our faiths and our fears" (William James). It is there, in the secret place of the heart, where the sound of the "knock" is either heard or disregarded (Rev 3:20). May the Lord give us the willingness to do His will and the courage to believe in His love; may he deliver us from doubt and from every other fear. And may we all be strong in faith, not staggering over the promises, but giving glory to God for the miracle of Yeshua our LORD.

Lord, when I feel lost, remind me again how you have found me, how you have prepared a place for me, and that your love is all I really need to be home... If I must suffer, please let it neither embitter nor shatter me. If I cry out in protest or despair, accept my heartache and grant me your compassion and comfort. When my faith falters, reveal to me that you are always near. Help me, Yeshua, to chose life this day. Amen.
 




Offering Breath Prayers...


 

12.16.13 (Tevet 13, 5774)   From our Torah portion this week (Shemot) we read: "The people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help... And God heard their groaning... and God saw the people of Israel-- and God knew" (Exod. 2:23-25). When Moses later told the good news of God's forthcoming redemption, the people couldn't listen because of their "shortness of breath" (מִקּצֶר רוּחַ) and their harsh slavery (Exod. 6:9).

In times of severe testing people often do not need further teaching, but rather "endurance," or what the New Testament calls hupomone (ὑπομονή), a word that means "remaining [μένω] by [ὑπο]" the Divine Presence while being tested. Suffering people do not need moral platitudes from others, but only the will to believe, the resolution to stay constant, and to ability breathe out simple prayers for help to the LORD: "God have mercy..." "Help me, O God..." "I need Thee, O Lord..." When we receive grace to faithfully suffer, we hear the Spirit whispering back to us: "Be not afraid..." "Live in me..." "Walk in the light..." "I am with you always..." "You are loved..."
 

רְפָאֵנִי יְהוָה וְאֵרָפֵא
הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי וְאִוָּשֵׁעָה כִּי תְהִלָּתִי אָתָּה

 re·fa·ei·ni · Adonai · ve·ei·ra·fei
ho·shi·ei·ni · ve·iv·va·shei·ah, · ki · te·hil·la·ti · at·tah
 

"Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise."
(Jer. 17:14)



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Parashat Shemot - שמות


 

12.15.13 (Tevet 12, 5774)   Our Torah reading for this week is the very first of the Book of Exodus, called parashat Shemot (שְׁמוֹת). This portion begins directly where the Book of Genesis left off, namely by listing the "names" (shemot) of the descendants of Jacob who came to Egypt to live in the land of Goshen. Over time Jacob's family flourished and multiplied so greatly that the new king of Egypt – who did not "remember" Joseph - regarded them as a political threat and decided to enslave them. When the king's oppression did not curb their growth, however, he cruelly commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill all newborn Jewish boys. When the midwives refused to obey, however, the Pharaoh commanded that all newborn boys were to be drowned in the Nile river (the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim (מִצְרַיִם), can be rearranged to form the phrase tzar mayim (צַר מַיִם), meaning "torture through water," which was the plan of the nefarious Pharaoh).

During this time of grave oppression, a family from the tribe of Levi bore a son and hid him for three months. When the baby could no longer be concealed, however, his mother Yocheved (יוֹכֶבֶד) set him afloat in the Nile River inside a basket, praying that he might somehow escape death. Miriam (מִרְיָם), the baby's sister, watched what would happen, and soon the basket was discovered by the daughter of Pharaoh, who decided to save the baby and adopt him as her own son. Miriam then cleverly offered to have her mother become the baby's wet-nurse for the princess. After the child was duly weaned, he was brought to Pharaoh's palace to live as the princess' son. The princess named him "Moses" (משֶׁה), meaning "drawn out" (מָשָׁה) of the water.

Later, when Moses was a full-grown man, he "went out to his people and looked on their burdens." When he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite slave, he killed the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand. The following day he tried to reconcile two Israelites who were fighting, but the one in the wrong prophetically objected: "And who made you a prince and judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?" Upon hearing this Moses decided to flee from Egypt to Midian. There he rescued Zipporah (צִפּרָה), the daughter of Jethro (יִתְרוֹ), a Midianite priest. Soon afterward, Moses decided to work for Jethro and married Zipporah. They had a son named Gershom (גֵּרְשׁם).

After nearly 40 years living in Midian as a shepherd, God called out to Moses from the midst of a burning bush to commission him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt back to the Promised Land. When Moses protested that he was inadequate for this task, God gave him three "signs" to authenticate his message. God also appointed his brother Aaron to be his spokesperson. Moses and Aaron then went to the Pharaoh and demanded that the Israelites be permitted to leave Egypt to worship the LORD in the wilderness.  The Pharaoh, however, dismissed Moses and his God, and increased the workload of the slaves by forcing them to make bricks without straw.

Note: For more about this reading, please read the Torah summary page for Shemot and its related articles. You can also download the Shabbat "Table Talk" for the portion here:
 

 




The Book of Exodus...


 

12.15.13 (Tevet 12, 5774)   Over the next ten weeks (until the second week of March) we will be reading and studying the Book of Exodus and considering its message in light of revelation of Yeshua our Messiah.... There are forty chapters in this book (16,723 words, 63,529 letters) that are traditionally divided into eleven weekly Torah readings.

Some of the greatest narratives of all the Scriptures are found in this book, including the Israelites' enslavement and subsequent deliverance with the ten plagues by the hand of the LORD.  After the very first Passover, Moses led the people out of the land Egypt, crossing the Sea of Reeds, and arriving at Sinai to receive the Torah exactly 49 day later.... While Moses was on the mountain, however, the people worshipped a Golden Calf, and a long period of repentance occurred until the covenant was reestablished. The remainder of the book describes the details and construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

In English the word "Exodus" ("going out") comes from the title of the ancient Greek translation of the phrase Sefer Yetziat Mitzraim ("the book of the going out from Egypt"). Hence the Greek word ἔξοδος became "Exodus" in Latin which later was adopted into English. In the Hebrew Bible this book is called Shemot ("names"), following the custom of naming a book according to its first significant word.
 




The Word Made Flesh...


 

12.13.13 (Tevet 10, 5774)   At Sinai the Jewish people heard the Voice of God (קוֹל אֱלהִים) speaking from the midst of the fire (Deut. 4:33), an event that foreshadowed the great advent of the King and Lawgiver Himself, when the Eternal Word (דְבַר־יְהוָה) became flesh and dwelt with us (Phil. 2:6-7; John 1:1,14). Any theology that regards God as entirely transcendent will have a problem with divine immanence, since the highness, holiness, and perfection of God will make him seem distant, outside of us, far away, and unknown... Incarnational theology, on the other hand, manifests the nearness of God to disclose the divine empathy. Indeed, the LORD became Immanuel (עִמָּנוּ אֵל), "one with us," to share our mortal condition, to know our pain, and to experience what it means to be wounded by sin, to be abandoned, alienated, forsaken. It is God's own bittul hayesh (בִּטּוּל הַיֵּשׁ) - his self-nullification for the sake of love and truth. The "Eternal made flesh" bridges the gap between the realm of Ein Sof (אין סוף), the infinitely transcendent One, and the finite world of people lost within their sinful frailty. Of course we believe Adonai Echad (יְהוָה אֶחָד) - that the "LORD is One" - both in the sense of being exalted over all things but also in the sense of being compassionately involved in all things (Rom. 11:36). We therefore celebrate the giving of the Torah both at Sinai and especially at Bethlehem with the birth of Messiah. We celebrate that God is indeed the King and Ruler over all, but we further affirm that God's authority and rule extends to all worlds - including the realm of our finitude and need...

As I've mentioned elsewhere, the climax of Sinai was the revelation of the Sanctuary. The two tablets of the law, summarizing the Ten Commandments, were stored inside the famous Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן בְּרִית־יְהוָה), a sacred "three-in-one" box placed in the innermost chamber of the Tabernacle called the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). As such, the Ark served as kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), the Throne of Glory itself. Upon the cover (or crown) of the Ark (i.e., the kapporet) were fashioned two cherubim (i.e., angel-like figures) that faced one another (Exod. 25:17-18). According to the Talmud (Succah 5b), each cherub had the face of a child - one boy and one girl - and their wings spread heavenward as their eyes gazed upon the cover (Exod. 25:20). It was here that God's Voice would be heard during the Yom Kippur service, when sacrificial blood was sprinkled upon the crown to symbolize the atonement of sin secured through Messiah, the Word that became flesh for us... In the very heart of the Sanctuary, then, we see the Word of God and the sacrficial blood.

God Himself was clothed with human skin: our flesh, our bones... The incarnation is the Absolute Paradox, as Kierkegaard said, wherein the infinite and the finite meet in mystery of the Divine Presence. Here God "touches a leper," eats with sinners and prostitutes, sheds human tears, and suffers heartache like all other men... The gloriously great God, the very Creator of the cosmos, has "emptied Himself" to come in the form of a lowly servant  (δοῦλος) - disguised to the eyes of the proud and hardhearted, but is revealed as High Priest to those who are genuinely broken and in profound need. The LORD God is God over all possible worlds, and that includes both the celestial realms of the heavens but also the world of the fallen, the ashamed, the alienated, and the lost... God's infinite condescension reveals and augments the majesty of His infinite transcendence. There is no world - nor ever shall there be such - where the LORD God Almighty does not reign and have preeminence.

Do not suppose for a moment that the Torah of Moses does not teach "incarnational" theology. Since God created human beings in his image and likeness, the "anthropomorphic language" of Scripture is meaningful. The LORD reveals himself in human terms - using human language, expressing human emotions, and so on, as it says: Moses spoke to God panim el panim - "face to face" (Deut. 34:10). The Torah always has to take on human form - the Word made flesh - for the sake of human beings who live in flesh and blood reality...

The greatest expression of God's word is found in the Presence of Yeshua. This is the Word of God that "tabernacles" with us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Yeshua is the "Living Torah," Immanuel (עִמָּנוּ אֵל), "God with us," who enters our world to rescue us from death. Our Scriptures state that "in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son, whom He appointed the Heir of all things, through whom also He created the worlds" (Heb 1:2). Note that the Greek construction for the phrase translated, "by his son" is ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ, which literally means "he spoke to us in Son" -- that is, in the language or voice of the Son of God Himself... God speaks the language "of Son" from the midst of the fire revealed at Zion. "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe (μετὰ αἰδοῦς καὶ εὐλαβείας) - for our God is Esh Okhelah - a Consuming Fire" (Heb. 12:28-29).

Shabbat Shalom and may the radiance of Messiah shine within your heart by faith!
 




Beginnings of Oppression...


 

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

12.13.13 (Tevet 10, 5774)   We usually think that the oppression of the Jewish people in ancient Egypt began sometime after the death of Joseph, when the new Pharaoh arose, though there are hints it was present even during Joseph's reign as vice-regent of the land. Recall that when his father Jacob died, Joseph petitioned Pharaoh for permission to leave Egypt to bury him in the land of Canaan (Gen. 50:5). The Pharaoh agreed, though the Torah states "only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land" (Gen. 50:8), perhaps as "collateral" ensuring the Jewish people would return (cp. Exod. 10:24). The sages regard this as an omen of the bondage to come according to Abraham's dreadful vision (Gen. 15:12-13). This further explains Joseph's prophetic statement to his brothers that "God will surely deliver you (פָּקד יִפְקד) and bring you up out of this land" (Gen. 50:24), even though at that time the family lived and prospered in the land of Goshen...
 




The Grave of Jacob...


 

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

12.13.13 (Tevet 10, 5774)  In our Torah for this week (Vayechi), Jacob said: "I am about to die; in my grave that I hewed out for myself... there you shall bury me" (Gen. 50:5). Though Abraham had purchased the Cave of Machpelah as a family burial site, Jacob personally dug his own grave there so it would serve as a reminder of the day of his death. In this way Jacob regarded himself dead to this world yet retained hope in the world to come. As Moses later wrote, "Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom."
 

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
 

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).
 




Teshuvah of Transformation...


 

12.12.13 (Tevet 9, 5774)   Our Lord said that teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה), or "repentance," is more like spiritual rebirth than moral reformation: "Unless you are born from above (ἄνωθεν), you cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). This implies that we experience a radical shift in the way we "live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). The Greek word metanoia (μετάνοια) comes from a verb that means more than simply "changing your mind," but rather refers to the process of being transformed, or "metamorphosized," into a new kind of being -- like a worm that is changed into a butterfly that takes to the bright sky (2 Cor. 5:17). Teshuvah, then, means turning (i.e., shuv: שׁוּב) to receive your new identity, your new life, in Messiah. To "repent" is to escape from the default mode of life to enter into a new realm of existence itself. It is an abandonment of the old life and nature – those self-serving assumptions driven by fear – so that we can walk in wonder and newness of life.

And may God make this alive and real within our hearts... Amen.
 




Abiding in Him...


 

12.12.13 (Tevet 9, 5774)   Yeshua appeals to each heart of faith: "Live in me, and I will live in you" (John 15:4). Live within God's love for you; let his compassion fill you with great peace. The Name of the Lord, YHVH (יהוה), means He is always present; He will never leave you nor forsake you... Breathe in his Holy Spirit (John 20:22); let your heart become "at-one" with him.  Dwell within his all-pervading love and kindness... Open your heart to be His sanctuary. As it is written, the one who dwells in the secret of the ascended one (עֶלְיוֹן) abides in the shadow of Shaddai (שַׁדַּי).
 

ישֵׁב בְּסֵתֶר עֶלְיוֹן
 בְּצֵל שַׁדַּי יִתְלוֹנָן
 אמַר לַיהוָה מַחְסִי וּמְצוּדָתִי
 אֱלהַי אֶבְטַח־בּוֹ

yo·shev · be·se·ter · El·yon
be·tzel · Shad·dai · yit·lo·nan
o·mar · ladonai · mach·si · u·me·tzu·da·ti
E·lo·hai · ev·tach · bo
 

"He who dwells in the secret of the ascended one
 will abide in the shadow of Shaddai.
 I will say to the LORD, [You are] "My refuge and my fortress,
 my God, in whom I trust."
(Psalm 91:1-2)



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One of the great Hebrew names of God is El Elyon (אֵל עֶלְיוֹן), often translated as God "Most High." The name first appears in the Torah regarding the mysterious figure of Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק), the timeless king and priest of Zion who served "God Most High" (Gen. 14:18). Malki-Tzedek is the first priest (i.e., kohen: כּהֶן) named in the Torah, a mediator who ministered "bread and wine" to our father Abraham - alluding to the sacraments later use to commemorate our Passover redemption. As the timeless king and priest of God, Malki-Tzedek is a revelation of the LORD our God Yeshua before He emptied Himself and made his descent to this world (Phil. 2:7; Heb. 7:3). Yeshua is our great King of Kings and High Priest of the New Covenant, a better covenant that restores the kingship and priesthood back to God Himself (Heb. 7:12). Yeshua is our Atonement with God....

Now the name "Elyon" itself (עֶלְיוֹן) comes from a root word (עָלָה) that means to ascend. For instance, an olah offering (עלָה) is a whole burnt offering that ascends upward to heaven. Calling God Elyon expresses the truth that the LORD our God has ascended on high, the Resurrected One who overcame all the powers of hell and utterly vanquished death's power... In other words, Elyon is a Name for the LORD our God Yeshua.

Notice further that the one who "dwells" in the secret of Elyon abides in an ascended place of rest - being lifted up far above the surrounding world of flux and shadows, and being entirely delivered from the futile law of self-justification (i.e., the law of sin and death). The Hebrew word "dwell" used in this verse is related to the word to lodge or "sleep" (לִין), connecting it with death and resurrection. By dwelling in the death and resurrection of Yeshua, God will shield you with His Presence and make evil powerless before you...

When you "dwell" in the secret of Elyon - the Ascended One - you are concealed by the dark clouds of His Glory, and the Presence of Shaddai overshadows you... The LORD will save you from the ensnaring trap and from the devastating pestilence (Psalm 91:3). By abiding in the truth that God's Presence pervades all things at all times - you become a "stranger" (גֵּר) with the LORD in this world, a "sojourner" (תּוֹשָׁב) who awaits the recompense of the wicked and the healing of the world at the end of the age. "You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot" (Psalm 91:13).
 




Genuine Humility...


 

12.12.13 (Tevet 9, 5774)   Genuine humility doesn't mean regarding yourself with contempt or engaging in self-abuse, but rather means esteeming yourself in realistic terms. And since God regards your life as worthy of an infinite redemption, true humility means respecting yourself, honoring the miracle of God's presence within you and valuing your identity as a beloved child of God... An old chassidic tale says that every person should walk through life with two notes, one in each pocket. On one note should be the words anokhi afar ve'efer (אָנכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר) - "I am but dust and ashes," and on the other note the words, bishvili nivra ha'olam (בִּשְׁבִילִי נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם) - "For my sake was this world created." We are dust, yes indeed, but we are glorious dust because of God's love: "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).
 




Blessing without Envy...


 

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

12.12.13 (Tevet 9, 5774)   "I know my son, I know" (Gen. 48:19). Jacob's blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh was a parable intended to warn Israel of the dangers of fraternal envy... The blessing of God is for the whole family, regardless of whoever may be regarded as the favored son. And since both Ephraim and Manasseh had accepted God's decree without protest, Jacob ordained that these two brothers should be examples for all Israel to follow. Therefore he blessed them that day, saying, "By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying, yesimkha Elohim ke'efraim ve'khimnasheh: 'May God make you like Ephraim and as Manasseh'" (Gen. 48:20).
 




Resisting the Darkness...


 

12.11.13 (Tevet 8, 5774)   The Spirit expressly states that in acharit ha'yamim, the latter days, people will have "seared consciences," that is, a moral sense that is rendered unresponsive, numb, and unfeeling... People will be unable to discern the significance of moral and spiritual reality, thereby silencing any qualm of moral protest. We see this today in our scandal-saturated culture, as politicians brazenly lie with impunity and moral anarchy is openly celebrated. We must be careful not to heed the devil's logic of compromise, that "dialectic" that denies transcendental moral reality by pretending that truth can only be defined by the pragmatism of the hour and its desire. "The world passes away and the lusts thereof..." (1 John 2:17). We must consciously remind ourselves that the LORD God of Israel does not endorse sin, regardless of any supposed political benefit given to the world at large, and that the end never justifies the means. God is not a pragmatist, and there are no "noble lies" for sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Martin Buber once said, "What is accomplished through lies can assume the mask of truth; what is accomplished through violence can go in the guise of justice, and for a while the hoax may be successful. But soon people realize that lies are lies at bottom, that violence is violence - and that both lies and violence will suffer the destiny history has in store for all that is false." As Yeshua himself said, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world -- to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37). "Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the Tree of Life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are all those who love and practice the lie..." (Rev. 22:14-15).



Addendum: Does the End Justify the Means? 

In the realm of ethics, a basic problem with "means-to-end reasoning" is defining what is meant by "the good." It simply begs the question to say that what is "right" is that which brings about the desired outcome, since we must still explain why one outcome is more "desirable" than another. Political zealots have always defended their barbarity by claiming that it was for the sake of "a better world" or for a "greater good."  Indeed the Antichrist will be a big believer that the "ends justify the means" as he employs global deception and global enslavement for the sake of his perverted vision of utopia.

The Scriptures reveal that we do not "discover" what is right by means of experience, but we bring to experience an intuitive sense of moral value and truth (Rom. 2:15). The Apostle Paul condemned the pragmatic thought, "let us do evil that good may come" (Rom. 3:8), which means he rejected the supposition that we can disregard the moral quality of our methods for the sake of a good end.  Tragically people may think they are doing "many wonderful works" in God's name, and their goals may indeed be good, but the Lord will say to them, "Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness," because they are not doing according the will of the Father (Matt. 7:22-23). Even when the end is good, we must still walk out everything else God specified. We don't lie or sugarcoat the demands of the gospel, even if by employing such methods we were seemingly able to "convert" the entire world.
 




The Grace of Forgiveness...


 

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

12.11.13 (Tevet 8, 5774)   After the burial of their father Jacob, the brothers said, "perhaps Joseph will repay us the evil we did him" (Gen. 50:15). The commentator Rashi notes the word translated "perhaps" (לוּ) expresses a wish: "We wish Joseph would repay us the evil we did him." The brothers could not accept Joseph's forgiveness because they clung to their guilt and shame... It would have been easier for them to tolerate retribution for their wrongs than to accept such unmerited grace and kindness.  And such is the case with some of us, too. We might find it easier to trust in God's disapproval of us more than his welcoming love, since that agrees with our sense of self-contempt. We must be careful, however, since such "humility" may really cloak the proud demand of the flesh not to feel indebted to God. The carnal life understands the idea of "karma," payback, like-for-like and "eye for eye" justice, but it stumbles over sheer grace. Faith in God's love is the courage to accept that you are accepted despite your own sense of unacceptability...
 




All-Sufficient Grace...


 

12.11.13 (Tevet 8, 5774)   By the grace of God "we are what we are" (1 Cor. 15:10), and therefore God perfectly understands that we can't give away what we don't have ourselves... "God chooses what the world thinks is foolish to put to shame the so-called wise, and God chooses what the world thinks is weak to put to shame the so-called strong. And God chooses what is insignificant and despised in this world - even things that are not, to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast in the Divine Presence" (1 Cor. 1:27-29). Contrary to the propaganda of this evil world, God helps those who can't help themselves, friends, and therefore our hope is in Him alone for all that really matters.

"Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who seek your aid. For You are great and perform great wonders: You alone are God" (Psalm 86:5,10). Because of the wonder of Yeshua it may be affirmed: "the Lord takes great delight in me, and I am quieted by his love. He renews my life in hope: he shouts for joy over me" (Zeph. 3:17).
 




Gospel in Few Words...


 

12.10.13 (Tevet 7, 5774)   Can you expound the essential meaning of the gospel in a single (and preferably short) sentence? How about "Yeshua the Messiah came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim 1:15), or perhaps, "For our sake he made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21)? Of course "unpacking" the meaning of these sentences is where things get more difficult, but a succinct expression of faith can often provide us with a starting point...

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed" (וּבַחֲבֻרָתוֹ נִרְפָּא־לָנוּ). "For in him all the fullness (πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα) of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the message (εὐαγγέλιον) that you heard" (Col 1:19-23).

"For the Messiah also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous (δίκαιος ὑπὲρ ἀδίκων), that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit" (1 Pet. 3:18). "And God is so rich in mercy (מָלֵא רַחֲמִים) and who loves us with such intense love (בְּרב אַהֲבָתוֹ אֲשֶׁר אָהַב אתָנוּ), even when we were dead because of our acts of disobedience, he brought us to life along with the Messiah- it is by grace that you have been delivered (בַּחֶסֶד נוֹשַׁעְתֶּם). That is, God raised us up with the Messiah Yeshua and seated us with him in heaven, in order to exhibit in the ages to come how infinitely rich is his grace, how great is his kindness toward us who are united with the Messiah Yeshua. For you have been delivered by grace through trusting, and even this is not your accomplishment but God's gift" (Eph. 2:4-8).

And of course there is always the old "stand by" verse of John 3:16:
 

כִּי־כֵן אהֵב אֱלהִים אֶת־הָעוֹלָם
עַד־אֲשֶׁר נָתַן בַּעֲדוֹ אֶת־בְּנוֹ אֶת־יְחִידוֹ
וְכָל־הַמַּאֲמִין בּוֹ לא־יאבַד
כִּי בוֹ יִמְצָא חַיֵּי עוֹלָם׃

ki-khen  o·hev  E·lo·him  et-ha·o·lam,
ad-a·sher  na·tan  ba·a·do  et-be·no  et-ye·chi·do,
ve·khol-ha·ma·a·min  bo,  lo-yo·vad
ki  vo  yim·tza  cha·yei  o·lam
 

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only and unique Son,
so that whoever trusts in Him should not be destroyed, but have eternal life"
(John 3:16)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Here are a few other simplified expressions of our faith (I am sure you can come up with some others, chaverim): "He has freed us from our sins by his blood" (Rev. 1:5); "he that has the Son has life" (1 John 5:12); "Yeshua died for our sins, was buried, rose again on the third day, and forever reigns" (1 Cor. 15:3-4,25).

Let's push this approach a bit further.  How about just four words?


Three words?


Can we find two words?

  • "Messiah Crucified" (המָּשִׁיחַ הַנִּצְלָב);
  • "Jesus Saves"
  • "My help" (בְּעֶזְרָתִי)
     

Or how about just one word:

  • Chesed / love (חֶסֶד)
  • Abba (Father)
  • Spirit (הָרוּחַ)
  • Truth (הָאֱמֶת)
  • Messiah (הַמָּשִׁיחַ)
  • Moshia - Savior (מוֹשִׁיעַ)
  • King (הַמֶּלֶךְ)
  • Jesus / Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ) - because whatever your need, the answer is found in Him.
     

Finally - dare I suggest it? - how about no words at all? To paraphrase Francis of Assisi, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel - and sometimes use words." Of course words are important, but by themselves they are never enough, and very often they are unnecessary (James 2:18)... There is a language of love ("the works of love") that goes beyond any diction the tongue may express.  This is why the Name of the LORD always is something more than a mere word, concept, or idea... The Name of the LORD is God's love and power and glory and grace and kindness and mercy and passion as He Himself knows it to be real, true, and utterly invincible in all things...
  

חֶסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ
צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ

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

"Love and truth have met,
justice and peace have kissed." (Psalm 85:10)

The cross, not the scales

Hebrew Study Card
 

 




God of the Living...


 

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

12.09.13 (Tevet 6, 5774)   After he blessed his children, Jacob breathed his last and "was gathered" to his people (Gen. 49:33). The Talmud comments about life in olam ha'zeh, this world: "Act while you can; while you have the chance, the means, and the strength" (Shab. 151b). What if Jacob had waited to bless his sons? The word vayechi (וַיְחִי) means "and he lived," referring to the "days of the years of Jacob's life." The Torah here states that Jacob did not die, but he lived. As Yeshua said concerning the physical death of the patriarchs, "Now He is not God of the dead, but of the living -- for all live before Him" (Luke 20:38).
 




Hope for this hour...


 

12.09.13 (Tevet 6, 5774)   That God knows the number of hairs on your head means that he knows you better than you know yourself... Your heavenly Father "sees in secret," which means that He can and will deliver you from whatever is hidden within your heart that still resists love and truth... Trust in God's kindness to heal you, even when it seems that help is not forthcoming, even when you still find yourself divided, troubled, and anxious. Take up hope that God is present and "for you," even in the hour of testing. "Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who hope for the LORD."
 

חִזְקוּ וְיַאֲמֵץ לְבַבְכֶם
 כָּל־הַמְיַחֲלִים לַיהוָה

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

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



 

God sees what He does within us, His "it-is-finished" work, the effect of His great salvation within our heart, even if at this present moment that effect may be hidden from our eyes... There is appearance, and there is reality; and only God sees what is ultimately real. We have to trust in His promise to be transformed into the divine nature, even if today we find ourselves sinful, needy, and in disrepair...

It is by God's grace we are what we are (χάριτι δὲ θεοῦ εἰμι ὅ εἰμι). So don't give up. We are saved by hope (ἐλπίδι ἐσώθημεν, Rom. 8:24), and that hope is for you today.
 




Wisdom and Folly...


 

12.09.13 (Tevet 6, 5774)   The "wisdom of this world" (σοφια του κοσμου τουτου) is the prevailing cultural spirit that suppresses the reality of God's Presence and truth. It is the realm of the savvy, the worldly-wise, the shrewd, the intellectual, the political, and even the "doctrinally pure." Our battle today, as it always has been, is to combat the world and its "wisdom" (i.e., propaganda, lies, and disinformation) by witnessing to God's Presence. This is essentially a spiritual war, since the battlefield is the thickened hearts and dulled minds of those who are in varying states of blindness to the truth (2 Cor. 4:4; 10:4-5). Of course we must begin with ourselves and examine our own inward condition (2 Cor. 13:5; Luke 6:42). Are we truly walking in faith? Do we experience every moment of our lives as a gift from God? Do we directly encounter the Teacher within our hearts, or - God forbid - are we merely impostors, pretenders, or professors? (Matt. 7:21-23)

We also must be careful lest we become seduced by worldly forms of spirituality that flatter or coddle the ego... "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." Following the Messiah is inherently personal, calling for the passion of the individual heart. It is known in the crucible of inner decision, not through being assimilated into a large crowd or by finding identity in external labels, gnostic visions, accolades, and so on. God is unimpressed with men's religions and their supposed revelations and prophecies... Soren Kierkegaard admonishes: "Everything that needs numbers in order to become significant is by that very fact insignificant. Everything that can be arranged, executed, completed only with the help of numbers, the sum of which startles people in amazement, as if this were something important - precisely this is unimportant. The truly important is inversely related, needs a progressively smaller and smaller number to implement its completion. And for the most important of all, that which sets heaven and earth in motion, only one person is needed. And what is most important of all? What interests angels and demons most is that a person is actually involved with God - for this one single human being is enough."

There are no "little people" in God's eyes, since each soul has been created by Him for His glory and purposes... Nothing is trivial. In the world to come you will be shocked to understand that everything you thought, everything you said, and everything you did was given to you from above, and therefore has tremendous significance (Matt. 12:36-37). Indeed, your entire life is on loan from heaven itself...

For more on this subject, see "Kesilut: Wisdom and Folly."
 




Hearing God's Call...


 

[ "Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away" (Luke 8:18).  ]

12.09.13 (Tevet 6, 5774)   Shema! In order to hear rightly, false assumptions about spirituality must be identified and shattered (2 Cor. 10:4). For example, the assumption that you cannot be rightly related to the Lord until you attain some supposed state of spiritual perfection... No, the Voice of the LORD always speaks words of life to the sin-sick, the weary, the desolate of heart. Therefore God's voice is heard in resounding grace, inviting you to draw near, even now, in your imperfect state. The Spirit calls out, "Come..."
 

דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה בְּהִמָּצְאוֹ
קְרָאֻהוּ בִּהְיוֹתוֹ קָרוֹב

dir·shu · Adonai · be·him·ma·tzo
ke·ra·u·hu · bih·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 is extending to you an personal invitation to seek Him and call upon His Name. This is not a demand to stand before Him in judgment, since the invitation is explicitly directed to the sinner: "Let the wicked man (i.e., rasha: רָשָׁע) forsake his way, and the perverted man (i.e., ish avon: אִישׁ אָוֶן) his thoughts; and let him return (i.e., shuv: שׁוּב) to the LORD, that He may have compassion (i.e., rachamim: רַחֲמִים) on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly forgive (i.e., selichah: סְלִיחָה)."  God calls you today to receive His compassion, His love, and His forgiveness.

So "seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon Him while he is near."  Yet where can God be found? asks the Kotzker rebbe, except wherever one lets Him in. The Sacred Name of the LORD (יהוה) means "God is Present" and He shall always be Present... The LORD "stands at the door" and knocks for you to open the door (Rev. 3:20). What holds us back is our shame, but it is precisely this great wound that can only be healed by God's love.


 




The Fast of Tevet...


 

12.08.13 (Tevet 5, 5774)   This coming Friday (i.e., Dec. 13th) is Asarah B'Tevet ("the Tenth of Tevet"), which is the traditional date that recalls the start of Nebuchadnezzar's attack on Jerusalem (in 587 BC) that led to the destruction of the Holy Temple and the eventual exile of the Jewish people. Religious Jews observe this date as a "minor" fast day (i.e., a fast observed from sunrise to sunset) to recall the tragedy and to afflict their souls.

In Israel, Asarah B'Tevet also marks the day Kaddish (memorial prayer) is traditionally recited for people whose date or place of death is unknown. This has resulted in a day of mourning for the many Jews who perished during the Holocaust (in addition to the formal commemoration of Yom HaShoah). Synagogue services normally include prayers of repentance (selichot) and the Torah portion recalls the story of the idolatry of the Golden Calf (i.e., Exod. 32:11-34:10).

Messianic Jewish scholar Alfred Edersheim wrote that an early Aramaic source document called "The Scroll of Fasts" (i.e., Megillat Ta'anit: מְגִילַת תַעֲנִית), which included additional commentary in medieval Hebrew (called scholium), may refer to the 9th of Tevet as the day of Yeshua's birth (i.e., sometime during late December in our Gregorian calendars).  Note that Jewish history regards the month of Tevet to be one of national tragedy, marking the beginning of the destruction of the Holy Temple by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon (in 587 BC). After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, the early sages might have associated the birth of Yeshua as yet another reason for mourning the loss of the Temple on this date. (For more about the controversial date of the birth of Yeshua, see the article, "Christmas: Was Jesus really born on December 25th?")
 




Vayechi - "And He Lived"


 

[ Happy Holidays, friends... Our Torah reading for this week is Parashat Vayechi, the final portion from the Book of Genesis, which includes Jacob's great prophecy of the coming Messiah. ]

12.08.13 (Tevet 5, 5774)   The final portion of the Book of Genesis (Vayechi) recounts how the patriarch Jacob adopted Joseph's two sons (Ephraim and Manasseh) as his own children. When he blessed the boys, however, he reversed the expected order by putting the younger before the older, signifying that the old struggle he had faced as a child was over, and he now understood things differently. And note Ephraim and Manasseh's reaction. The older did not envy the younger, nor did the younger boast over the older. The family had learned that blessing from God is for the good of all, and that there is no real blessing apart from genuine humility. Jacob was now ready to summon his family to hear his final words. Among other things, he foretold how the Messiah would come from the line of Judah and then instructed his sons to bury him in the promised land, and not in Egypt.

After his death, Joseph and his brothers, with various dignitaries of Egypt, formed a funeral procession and returned to Canaan to bury Jacob in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. After the funeral, they returned to Egypt, but Joseph's brothers feared that he would now punish them for their former betrayal and threw themselves on his mercy. Joseph reassured them that they had no reason to fear him and reminded them that God had overruled their earlier intent by intending him to be a blessing to the whole world.

The portion ends with the account of the death of Joseph, who made the sons of Israel promise to take his bones with them when the LORD would bring them back to the land of Canaan (alluding to the great Exodus to come). Joseph's faith in the Jewish people's return to the Promised Land is summarized by his statement: "God will surely remember you." He died at age 110, was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt, full of faith that he would be raised from the dead in the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

"The Torah gives light to the one who makes use of the light" (Talmud). The Hebrew word Vayechi means "and he lived," which of course refers to Jacob, but prophetically refers to Yeshua the Messiah, of whom Jacob himself foretold. In this connection note that the gematria of Vayechi (וַיְחִי) is 34, the same as the number of years of Yeshua's life. It is interesting that during this time of year, when the world at least gives "lip-service" to the birth of Jesus, the Torah portion can be read to refer to the advent of Yeshua the Messiah.

Note: For more information, please read the Torah summary page for Vayechi and its related articles. You can also download the Shabbat "Table Talk" for the portion here:
 

 




The Father of Light...


 

12.06.13 (Tevet 3, 5774)   It is written in our Scriptures: "God is light and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Our Savior is "the Light of the world," the Divine Message that gives light to every soul who is born (John 1:9). As the Source of all light, his power is irrepressible, invincible, and overcomes every shade of darkness. Yeshua is the Logos (Λόγος), the underlying "logic" of all of creation. Unlike the transient radiance of the heavenly bodies, the Divine Light remains constant and supreme over all of creation, without any diminution or variation: God is the "Father of Lights" (James 1:17). And just as we know that the sun still shines even on the most overcast of days, so we understand that the Divine Presence is always there -- always giving, always shining, always loving us... We can trust in the power of our God to help us, since His radiance and truth pervade the darkness to enlighten our way (Psalm 112:4). As Yeshua said of his mission, "I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness" (John 12:46). O LORD God, let your light shine upon us...
 

אֱלהִים יְחָנֵּנוּ וִיבָרְכֵנוּ
יָאֵר פָּנָיו אִתָּנוּ סֶלָה

E·lo·him · ye·chon·nei·nu · vi·var·khei·nu
ya·er · pa·nav · it·ta·nu · se·lah
 

"May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us, selah."
(Psalm 67:1)



 

True spirituality is inner light that comes from union with Messiah. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." We "walk in the light," experiencing inner peace and joy in the Holy Spirit when we heed and obey the Voice of God's love and abide in the secret place of His grace. The people of God are united to one another by the power of God's love. O LORD God, "light up my eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death" (Psalm 13:3). May the light and love of the Lord our God shine within you, friends. Shabbat Shalom and chodesh tov.
 




Fruit in his Season...


 

12.06.13 (Tevet 3, 5774)   Spiritual fruit does not immediately crop up but requires time and its own season (Psalm 1:3). The process of spiritual growth is mysterious and comes from heaven's creative power, as Yeshua said: "The Kingdom of God (מַלְכוּת הָאֱלהִים) is like someone who spreads seed on the ground. He goes to sleep and gets up, night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. By itself (αὐτομάτη, i.e., "automatically") the soil produces a crop, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. And when the grain is ripe, he comes in with his sickle because the harvest has come" (Mark 4:26-29). The wonder of faith understands the "ordinary" process of the growth of a seed as genuinely miraculous... With God all things are possible - and that includes the miracle of our newness of life. It is the fruit of the Spirit, after all, and that means that its source and end is found in God's love...

Thank God it is a process, that we are not perfected in a day, otherwise we might die in despair over ourselves... As it is, God helps us endure ourselves, reminding us to lay down and die so that the power hidden in the "seed" can be released (John 12:24).
 




An Inexplicable Joy...


 

12.06.13 (Tevet 3, 5774)   The other night I was steeped in darkness of heart, lost inside, contemning my failures, feeling unclean, unworthy, and unlovable... As I worked through my exasperation, suddenly I felt an inexplicable sense of joy and even laughter arise within my heart -- a gracious reminder that whatever else was going on with me and my flesh, there was a far deeper work of God going on, and for a brief moment I was able to let go, to laugh, and to be free of any thought other than all shall be well...

In such precious moments, God makes us "speechless" - ἀνεκλάλητος – brought to a place where words fail us, and we are utterly silenced by his great love...

Take hope: "I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil. 1:6). "Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Yeshua the Messiah our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever.  Amen" (Jude 1:24-25).
 




The Advents of Joseph...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Parashat Vayigash... ]

12.05.13 (Tevet 2, 5774)  Our Torah portion this week (Vayigash) includes the dramatic (and private) revelation of Joseph to his long-lost brothers. His five word declaration, ani Yosef, ha'od avi chai ("I am Joseph; is my father alive?"), was highly prophetic, evoking the great I AM utterances of the LORD to the children of Israel. Indeed, some of the sages liken the revelation to the brothers with the great Day of Judgment itself. The Midrash Rabbah says that just as the brothers refused to hear Joseph's prophecies when he was young (i.e., Yeshua's first advent), so they were dismayed and unable to answer him when he was revealed as the exalted savior of the world (i.e., Yeshua's second advent). Joseph's rhetorical question, "Is my father alive?" can be understood as "Do you now accept my father's choice of me as his beloved son?" Hence Joseph calls Jacob avi, "my father," rather than avinu, "our father," alluding to God's providence. Note that only after this does Joseph begin to comfort his brothers and to explain his God-given role as the shepherd of Israel. And even though Joseph acknowledged the wrong done to him, he affirmed the faithful kindness of the LORD: "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good." As the Ararbanel comments, "Joseph wanted to remove the veil of shame over their faces."

The Hebrew word vayigash (וַיִּגַּשׁ) means "and he drew near," referring first to Judah's intercession for the sins of his brothers, and then to Joseph's reciprocal desire for the brothers to draw near to him (Gen. 44:18, 45:4). Joseph initiated the reconciliation by saying, גְּשׁוּ־נָא אֵלַי / geshu na elai - "Please draw near to me," and indeed there is a play on the verb nagash (נָגַשׁ), "draw near," throughout this story. Yeshua is depicted in both the role of the rejected Jewish brother who was later exalted in the Gentile world, and as the disguised Shepherd of Israel who will draw the Jewish people back to Himself in their hour of great tribulation.... When Joseph asked, "Is my father alive," we hear Yeshua evoking the confession of faith from the Jewish people. Upon His coming revelation, all Israel will confess that indeed God the Father is "alive" and has vindicated the glory of His Son.

Note:  If you carefully unpack the "parable" of Joseph, you will see both advents of Yeshua (Jesus) foreshadowed - first as the Suffering Servant who was rejected by his brothers, and second as the reigning Savior of the world...
 




Trust in Dark Hours...


 

12.05.13 (Tevet 2, 5774)  "Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the Name of the LORD (יִבְטַח בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה) and rely on his God."  Spiritual darkness is permitted by God for his own sovereign purposes, perhaps as a means to teach us to abandon ourselves to his care. Trusting in God (i.e., bittachon - בִּטָּחוֹן) does not mean that we are obligated to affirm that this is "the best of all possible worlds," though it does mean we believe that eventually God will wipe away every tear and make all things right. Bittachon is a word for this world, which says, "Though he slay me, I will trust in him..." We do not need to trust for what we is seen in this world, but for an unseen good (Rom. 8:24). Those who call upon the LORD can trust not only in concealed good behind ambiguous appearances ("all things work together for good") but also in a future, real, substantive good that will one day be clearly manifest for us all... We fight the "good fight" of faith, which is a worthy struggle that eventually is realized for blessing. Meanwhile, we pray to God to be kept from such depth of sorrow that leads to sickness, darkness and despair.
 

מִי בָכֶם יְרֵא יְהוָה שׁמֵעַ בְּקוֹל עַבְדּוֹ
 אֲשֶׁר הָלַךְ חֲשֵׁכִים וְאֵין נגַהּ לוֹ
 יִבְטַח בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה וְיִשָּׁעֵן בֵּאלהָיו

mi · va·khem · ye·rei · Adonai · sho·mei·a · be·kol · av·do?
a·sher · ha·lakh · cha·she·khim · ve·ein · no·gah · lo?
yiv·tach · be·Shem · Adonai · ve·yi·sha·en · be·lo·hav
 

"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)



Hebrew Study Card
 

If you ask for bread, your heavenly Father will not give you a stone... Only God can deliver us from our "disordered loves" to take hold of what is truly essential.  All we can do is ask, and keep on asking - even as we struggle on, despite ourselves, despite our losses... And we often revisit our sins over and over until we become "sick of our sickness," that is, until we begin to understand what our heart really needs. It's as if we are constantly being asked, "Is this what you want?" and our choices confess the truth... Only God does the miracle of real change within the human heart - only God can give life from the dead!
 




The Good Eye of Faith...


 

[ Fight the darkness of fear... ]

12.05.13 (Tevet 2, 5774)  Among other things the story of Joseph reveals how God's hidden hand moves for good in our lives. Despite the betrayal of the pit, and the unjust suffering of the prison house, there was light, exaltation, and joy to come forth. God knows how to take our emptiness to yield "storehouses in Egypt..." As Joseph later told his brothers, "you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Gen. 50:20). Resist the temptation to judge by mere appearances. Forbid your sorrow to blind the eyes of faith.  Do not unjustly judge God's purposes or try to understand His ways; accept that He works all things together (συνεργέω) for good -- making even the very wrath of man to praise Him...

Faith "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" for purposes that are good (1 Cor. 7:31). It affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life (chayei sha'ah) is a deeper reality (chayei olam) that is ultimately real, abiding, and ultimately designed for God's redemptive love to be fully expressed. In this world we must "see through" a mirror (i.e., indirectly) to begin to see the dawn of our eternal home; but one day we will behold God panim el panim (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), "face to face" (1 Cor. 13:12). In the meantime, faith beholds the invisible light, the truth of God's love that overcomes all the powers of darkness, hate, and fear.... "I believe. I believe in the sun even when it is not shining; I believe in love even when feeling it not; and I believe in God, even when God is silent" (from an anonymous poem found on the wall of a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where some Jews hid from the Nazis).

For more on this important topic, see "Joseph and the Good Eye."

Chanukah 5774

Chanukah Same'ach!
 




An Everlasting Radiance...


 

12.04.13 (Tevet 1, 5774)  Though the whole earth is filled with the miracles and glory of the LORD, we must choose to see, to open our hearts, and to become God's partners in calling forth goodness and truth. God is the Source of all Light and truth, and therefore we first turn to receive his radiance within our heart. As Yeshua said, "Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your heavenly Father" (Matt. 5:16).
 

כִּי־טוֹב יְהוָה לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ
וְעַד־דּר וָדר אֱמוּנָתוֹ

ki · tov · Adonai · le'o·lam · chas·do,
ve'ad · dor · va'dor · e·mu·na·to
 

"For the LORD is good; his love endures forever,
and his faithfulness is for all generations."
(Psalm 100:5)



Hebrew Study Card
 

It's no small thing to affirm that "the LORD is good," since that affirmation implies our trust that that Reality is ultimately friendly, welcoming, and loving, despite the present hour of darkness... As Albert Einstein once said, "I think the most important question facing humanity is, 'Is the universe a friendly place?' This is the first and most basic question all people must answer for themselves." Indeed. Is there hope for a sense of home in the midst of our long exile? Do we affirm that we are accepted by God, despite our present unacceptability? The skeptic enjoys savoring the theological "problem of evil," though to be fair, he also ought reckon with the "problem of the good," since it is a mystery why the universe should produce beauty, love, and hearts that seek timeless universals... The truth that the LORD is good is radical in its implications... Our faith expresses the victory that all things work together for good!

It's been said that God sends each soul into the world with a special message to deliver, a revelation that only he or she can disclose... No one else can deliver your message of praise to this world - only you can do this, though ultimately your message is always done for the glory of God and the benefit of others. "For you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession (וְעַם סְגוּלָּה), that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9).
 




Essence of Chanukah...


 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah runs from Nov. 27th - Dec. 5th this year... ]

12.04.13 (Tevet 1, 5774)  The essence of Chanukah is simply to receive the light, to bear witness of the radiance of God's victory. We celebrate the work of God, his salvation, and the triumph of his love. Therefore its message is "wake up, open your eyes, and believe" the good news: darkness and despair will not prevail; your mourning will find comfort, your grief its solace. Your heart's deepest longing shines brightly, even now, if you will but believe... With God's help, fight the darkness of fear...
 

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).
 




Chanukah and Vigilance...

John (Hebrew for Christians)
 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah runs from Nov. 27th - Dec. 5th this year... ]

12.04.13 (Tevet 1, 5774)  The message of Chanukah is to resist being "assimilated" into this dark world and its benighted culture. As it says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed (i.e., transfigured by the light) through the renewal (ἀνακαίνωσις) of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God" (Rom. 12:2). Notice that the Greek word translated "conformed" is a passive verb (συσχηματίζω, derived from σύν, "with," + σχῆμα, "matrix") which means that we must consciously resist being lulled into accepting this world's various ideologies (matrix) that are crafted to ignore Divine the Presence and Truth.  In the realm of the spiritual, there is simply no place of neutrality, and if we are not going forward, then it's likely we are going backward...  Therefore we are repeatedly commanded to test the spirits and to examine truth claims. We ask God for wisdom and use the discernment that comes from the Holy Spirit.
 

הַשְׁלִיכוּ מֵעֲלֵיכֶם אֶת־כָּל־פִּשְׁעֵיכֶם
אֲשֶׁר פְּשַׁעְתֶּם בָּם
וַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה

hash·li·khu · me·a·le·khem · et · kol · pish·e·khem
a·sher · pe·sha·e·tem · bam
va·a·su · la·khem · lev · cha·dash · ve·ru·ach · cha·da·shah
 

"Cast away from you all the transgressions
 that you have committed,
and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit."
(Ezek. 18:31)


 
Hebrew Study Card
 

We must exercise diligence to ensure we are taken captive by the world and its seductive deceptions.  Both Passover and Chanukah celebrate spiritual freedom, and indeed the very first word given at Sinai was "I AM the LORD thy God who brought you out (הוֹצֵאתִיךָ)... of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). God's first concern is to be known as your Deliverer, the God of your freedom. Therefore the Spirit of God says, "Thou shalt be free" (2 Cor. 3:17; Gal. 5:1). Set your focus, then, on the Divine Presence and refuse to live in fear of mere men and their political schemes. God has an appointment scheduled with the princes of this world, though we trust he is our Good Shepherd who will keep us from the wrath to come...
 




Signs of the Time...


 

12.03.13 (Kislev 30, 5774)  Despite the evident and manifold increase in the various prophetic "signs" that herald the return of Messiah, many people today seem apathetic and functionally agnostic regarding the imminence of the "End of Days..." Ironically, this indifference itself indicates the nearness of the hour, since Yeshua noted that just before the time of his return many would fall away because of a chosen ignorance of the truth and pervasive numbness of heart (Matt. 24:12). Therefore he rhetorically asked his followers, "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8). We are repeatedly urged to watch, to be vigilant, and to be ready: "Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Matt. 24:44).
 

יָקוּם אֱלהִים יָפוּצוּ אוֹיְבָיו
וְיָנוּסוּ מְשַׂנְאָיו מִפָּנָיו

ya·kum · E·lo·him · ya·fu·tzu · o·ye·vav
ve·ya·nu·su · me·sa·nav · mi·pa·nav
 

"God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered;
and those who hate him shall flee before him."
(Psalm 68:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 

What does Chanukah mean if not resisting the darkness of the world's ignorance -- the matrix that seeks to coddle the flesh and pretend that there is no need for God's intervention and miracle? This is the victory that has overcome the world-- our faith.
 




Chanukah and Humanism...


 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah runs from Nov. 27th - Dec. 5th this year... ]

12.03.13 (Kislev 30, 5774)  The holiday of Chanukah reminds us that we must remain committed to Torah truth in a godless, and therefore insane, world. After all, since reality is the "handiwork" (i.e., conscious design) of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, morally perfect, purposive, personal, and spiritual Agency who has been revealed in the Jewish Scriptures, those who deny this reality are living in a state of ongoing delusion. In a sense, the history of humanity - especially as it has been expressed philosophically and politically -- has been nothing less than the conscious design to redefine reality as something that it isn't. "The kings of the earth station themselves, and the dignitaries take counsel together against the LORD and His Messiah" (Psalm 2:1-3). Spiritual warfare is therefore the fight for sanity and truth in a world that prefers madness and self-deception.

In a prophetic sense the story of "Epihpanes" foreshadows the coming time of the "Messiah of Evil" (antichrist) who will one day attempt to "assimilate" all of humanity into a "New World Order" (Dan. 9:27, 2 Thess. 2:3; Rev. 13:7-9, etc.). At first he will appear to be a "world savior" who will broker peace for Israel and the Mideast, but after awhile, like his archetype Epiphanes, he will savagely betray the Jewish people and set up a "desolating sacrilege" in the Holy Place of the Temple (Matt. 24:15). His satanic rise will occur during acharit hayamim - the "End of Days" - otherwise called the period of the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24). The Final Victory of God will be established when Yeshua returns to destroy this Messiah of Evil at His Second Coming.  The Holy Temple will then be rebuilt and dedicated by the hand of the true Mashiach of Israel.

The Gemara says that Javan, the descendant of Noah's son Japheth (Gen. 10:2), became the founding father of ancient Greece who inherited Japheth's blessing: "May God give beauty to Japheth (יַפְתְּ אֱלהִים לְיֶפֶת) and let him dwell in the tents of Shem" (Gen. 9:27). This blessing gave him the special ability to found the arts, philosophy, and science, though if these were exercised apart from the influence of Shem, that is, apart from a Torah perspective, such pursuits would ultimately become vain and even dangerous. In other words, even though "all truth is God's truth," human learning must be contextualized in light of the divine revelation. The humanistic mindset deifies knowledge and technique; it understands to believe, instead of believing to understand.  For this reason, among others, the spiritual war between Zion and the secular world rages to this hour...

Note: For more on this, please see "Chanukah and Spiritual Warfare."
 




The Revelation of Joseph...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Parashat Vayigash... ]

12.03.13 (Kislev 30, 5774)  According to midrash, just before Joseph revealed his true identity he turned to his brothers and said, "You told me that your brother Joseph died. Are you sure?" "Yes, we are; he's dead," the brothers replied. Joseph then became angry and said, "How can you lie? You sold him as a slave. I bought him myself and can call him right now." Joseph then called out, "Joseph, son of Jacob, come here right now to speak to your brothers." Terrified, the brothers turned to see if Joseph was coming....

When he overheard his brothers contritely preparing to meet their brother and to humbly ask for his forgiveness, Joseph then looked at them and said in a loud voice: "Who are you looking for? אֲנִי יוֹסֵף הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי - I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" (Notice that Joseph revealed himself to his brothers using Hebrew speech as the token of his identity.) When he saw his brothers draw back in fear at his shocking disclosure, Joseph reassured them by saying, g'shu na elai - "Please come near to me; come and see..."

On a p'shat level (i.e., literal sense), when Joseph revealed his identity he was asking his brothers if his father Jacob was still physically alive (ani Yosef - ha'od avi chai: "I am Joseph; is my father still alive?"). This is puzzling, since in earlier encounters the brothers attested that Jacob was very much alive... On a sod level (i.e., in a mysterious sense), since Joseph is a picture of Yeshua (Mashiach ben Yosef), the question can be phrased, "I am Yeshua - is My father alive?," that is, do you now understand the righteousness of God the Father in raising me from the dead and promoting me to His right hand? Yeshua therefore evokes the confession of faith from the beloved Jewish people: "I am your brother Yeshua: do you now understand that My Father is alive?"

Note: For more on this fascinating topic, see "The Disguised Egyptian." Also consider the Purim pages and the relationship between "hiding" and "revealing" in our lives.
 




Parashat Vayigash - ויגש


 

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

12.02.13 (Kislev 29, 5774)  In this week's Torah portion (Vayigash) we read about Joseph's dramatic revelation of his identity to his long lost brothers. Recall that Benjamin had been framed for stealing the Viceroy's chalice and was arrested and brought before Joseph for immediate judgment.  Judah then "drew near" (vayigash) and offered to bear the penalty for his brother, pleading with Joseph to spare his aged father the loss of yet another son. Joseph was so moved by Judah's act of mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice) that he decided the time had finally come for him to reveal his identity to his brothers. After clearing the room, he began speaking in Hebrew and said, אֲנִי יוֹסֵף הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי / ani Yosef, ha'od avi chai / "I am Joseph; is my father alive?" When the brothers drew back in dismay, Joseph said, "Draw near to me, please" (from the same verb nagash) and explained how God providentially brought him to Egypt to save the family's life....

The revelation of Joseph and his reconciliation with his brothers is a prophetic picture of the acharit hayamim (end of days) when the Jewish people will come to understand that Yeshua is indeed the One seated at the right hand of the majesty on high as Israel's Deliverer. At that time Yeshua will speak comforting words to His long lost brothers and restore their place of blessing upon the earth.  Indeed, the entire story of Joseph is rich in prophetic insight regarding our Lord and Savior.  Vayigash (וַיִּגַּשׁ) means "and he drew near," referring first to Judah's intercession for the sins of his brothers, and then to Joseph's reciprocal desire for the brothers to draw near to him (Gen. 44:18, 45:4). Joseph initiated the reconciliation by saying, גְּשׁוּ־נָא אֵלַי / g'shu na elai - "Please draw near to me," and indeed there is a play on the verb nagash (נָגַשׁ), "draw near," throughout this story. Yeshua is depicted both in Judah's intercession (as the greater Son of Judah who interceded on behalf of the sins of Israel) and in Joseph's role as the exalted Savior of the Jewish people in time of tribulation.  When Joseph disclosed himself and asked, "Is my father alive," we hear Yeshua evoking the confession of faith from the Jewish people: "I am Yeshua: do you now understand that My Father is alive?" Upon His coming revelation, all Israel will confess that indeed God the Father is "alive" and has vindicated the glory of His Son.

Note:  For more information, please read the Torah summary page for Vayigash and its related articles. You can also download the Shabbat "Table Talk" for the portion here:
 

 

Chanukah 5774

Chanukah Same'ach!

 




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