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Jewish Holiday Calendar 

Note: For February 2013 updates, please scroll past this entry....

The winter holidays remember special times of victory when God acted on behalf of His people so that they would triumph over their enemies.  Note that in accordance with Jewish tradition, all holiday dates begin at sundown:

Winter Holiday Calendar

The Winter Holidays:


 

  1. Month of Kislev (begins Wed. Nov 14th)
  2. Month of Tevet (begins Thur. Dec. 13th)
  3. Month of Shevat (begins Fri. Jan. 13th, 2013)
  4. Month of Adar (begins Sat. Feb 9th)



 

February 2013 Updates



Builder of the House...


 

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

02.28.13  (Adar 18, 5773)  Our Torah portion this week (Ki Tisa) states that God endowed a man named "Betzalel" with the Spirit of God (רוּחַ אֱלהִים), and with wisdom (חָכְמָה), understanding (תְּבוּנָה), and knowledge (דַּעַת) - the same attributes used to describe God as the Creator of the Universe (Exod. 35:31; Prov. 3:19-20). Indeed, the name Betzalel (בְּצַלְאֵל) means "in the shadow of God" (from בְּ [in] + tzel [צֵל], "shadow" + El [אֵל], "God") who "foreshadowed" Messiah in that 1) he was from the kingly tribe of Judah, 2) he was a young carpenter, 3) he was unusually "filled with the Spirit of God," 4) his father's name (Uri) means "my light" (James 1:17), 4) his assistant was called Oholiav (אָהֳלִיאָב), a name that means "my Father's tent," and 5) it was Betzalel (rather than Moses) who actually built the Mishkan, which was the pattern for the spiritual House of God (Heb. 3:3-6; 1 Pet. 2:5). Indeed, as the one who fashioned the "Ark of the covenant" where the blood would be presented for our atonement, Betzalel foresaw the message of the redemption of Messiah.

 

Note:  For more on this, see the "Betzalel and the Messiah" article.
 




Endurance and Grace...


 

02.28.13  (Adar 18, 5773)  In times of severe testing people 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, to stay constant, and to breathe out simple prayers for help and to focus the heart upon the Lord's Presence: "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..."

Life itself weans us from life as we learn that nothing ultimately belongs to us... We must learn to make peace with our sorrows and disappointments, to let go of them and to accept that this day, despite its frailty and trouble, is a precious gift from above. "My peace I give to you" (שלי שלום אני אתן לך), said Yeshua, "not as the world gives, I give to you" (John 14:27). Not as the world gives... When we let go, when we put everything in God's hands, we acknowledge that all we have is a gift from God.
 




Eyes of Heart...


 

02.28.13  (Adar 18, 5773)  Pride blinds the heart. As Abraham Heschel said, "In a controversy, the instant we feel anger, we have already ceased striving for truth and have begun striving for ourselves." C.S. Lewis remarked, "A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you." Ironically, only the humble are able to comprehend the highness of the Lord, as it is written, "Though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar."
 

כִּי־רָם יְהוָה וְשָׁפָל יִרְאֶה
 וְגָבהַּ מִמֶּרְחָק יְיֵדָע

ki · ram · Adonai · ve·sha·fal · yir·eh
ve·ga·vo·ah · mi·mer·chak · ye·e·dah
 

"For though the LORD is exalted, He regards the lowly,
 but the haughty He knows from afar."
(Psalm 138:6)



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

Lewis continues: "Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man... It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being "above" the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone" (Mere Christianity). In other words, when we give up our insecurities, when we understand who we are - confessing our name - we lose the illusory "need" to be better than others, and we are set free from the spirit of fear that lies behind all pride. Kierkegaard speaks to the "religiously" proud person: "The proud person always wants to do the right thing, the great thing. But because he wants to do it in his own strength, he is fighting not with man, but with God." The antidote to pride is the fall of the soul, besetting sins that bring us back to a place of need and brokenness: "For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he is fooling himself" (Gal. 6:3). If we suppose we are without need of divine compassion, we are in spiritual danger... "If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God" (1 Cor. 8:2-3).

May the Lord help us all humble ourselves to behold His glory in all things...
 




The Importance of Sabbath


 

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

02.28.13  (Adar 18, 5773)  Each Shabbat we recite kiddush and remember that God is both our Creator (Gen. 1:31-2:3; Exod. 20:8, 31:7) and our great Redeemer (Deut. 5:15). As it says in our Torah portion for this week (Ki Tisa), "Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign (אוֹת) between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is sacred for you, as a covenant forever (בְּרִית עוֹלָם)..." (see Exod. 31:12-17). When we usher in Shabbat on Friday evening, we bear witness that God is our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Savior. Note that the Hebrew word for "sign" (אוֹת) is formed using a Vav (וֹ) surrounded by an Aleph (א) and a Tav (ת), a word that pictures being surrounded by God's Presence. We enter into the all-encompassing rest that God provides - relying on His power and grace alone to make us whole. "It is finished," and the Sabbath testifies of the rest we have in Messiah, our Creator and Redeemer. We let go and are renewed by the grace of God.
 

זָכוֹר אֶת־יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ

za·khor · et · yom · ha·shab·bat · le·ka·de·sho
 

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it sacred"
(Exod. 20:8)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)
 

We are not legalistic about Sabbath observance, of course, since that surely misses the point. As Yeshua taught us: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). Note that well. The Sabbath was made -- it is the result of God's work performed on our behalf: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). There remains a "Sabbath rest" for the people of God, which is the principle of God's power effecting life within us. The Sabbath is a delight – not a burden; a time for celebrating the finished work of Yeshua (Isa. 58:13; Heb. 4:9).

Of course the principle of Sabbath "surrender" applies to every day of our lives.  After all, the "daily sacrifice," or korban tamid (קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד), was offered to the LORD every morning and evening upon the altar, which means we find our rest in Him every day, trusting in his sacrificial love to do the work of salvation within us... Surrendering to this truth enables us to be a "living sacrifice" (i.e., korban chai: קָרְבָּן חַי) and to die daily (Luke 9:23).

It is clear that the Sabbath will be honored in the Millennial Kingdom to come, and indeed, in heaven itself. Speaking of the coming Kingdom of God that will be established upon the earth, the prophet Isaiah foretold: "From new moon to new moon, from Sabbath to Sabbath (שַׁבָּת בְּשַׁבַּתּוֹ), all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD" (Isa. 66:23). Since this vision concerns the prophetic future, it is clear that the Sabbath day (as well as Rosh Chodesh, the new moon) will be observed. Likewise, in the heavenly Jerusalem to come, the Tree of Life is said to yield "twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month" (Rev. 22:2). Notice that the "twelve fruits" (καρποὺς δώδεκα) from the Tree of Life are directly linked to the "twelve months" of the Jewish year (κατὰ μῆνα ἕκαστον ἀποδιδοῦν τὸν καρπὸν αὐτοῦ: "each month rendering its fruit"). In other words, the sequence of the Biblical holidays (i.e., the mo'edim) - including the Sabbath - were always intended to teach us great revelation about God.

Note: For more on this subject, see the Ki Tisa article, "Shabbat as a Sign."
 




The Torah of Love...


 

02.27.13  (Adar 17, 5773)  "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, such is the one who loves me. And the one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him" (John 14:21). Note that the Greek word translated "manifest" means to "shine inside" (i.e., ἐμφανίζω, from ἐν, "in" and φαίνω, "shine"), indicating that the revelation would be inward light of the Presence of Messiah himself (Χριστὸς ἐν ὑμῖν, ἡ ἐλπὶς τῆς δόξης, Col. 1:27). As we receive God's love, as we embrace it as our own, the love of Messiah will become visible to you. This comes from a place of inward surrender. As Paul Tillich said, "Sometimes in a moment of weakness light breaks into darkness, and it is as though a voice says, 'You are accepted; you are accepted... Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.' If that happens to you, then you experience grace, and everything will be transformed."

May the LORD our God so open our hearts to Him always...


Note: Someone wrote complaining that I had quoted Paul Tillich, a liberal theologian of the last century. I reminded this person that the truth status of a statement derives from its agreement with reality - not on who may have said it.  In logic, we say it is a "genetic fallacy" to impugn a statement based its origin rather than whether it in fact corresponds to reality (i.e., it's truth status). Even the devil, after all, can quote Scripture...
 




A Work of the Heart...


 

02.27.13  (Adar 17, 5773)  Some people imagine spirituality as a climb upward, an "ascent of the soul" that aims to reach God through the performance of certain meritorious actions... But God does not say "at the end of the way you will find me," but rather, "I AM the way, the very road under your feet, the Place (הַמָּקוֹם) where you are, the Bridge to the Father (John 14:6). The LORD is Present in every "here" and every "now." And no matter what our present circumstances, we will find God if we search "bekhol levavkha" - with all our hearts, as it is written: "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart."
 

וּבִקַּשְׁתֶּם אתִי וּמְצָאתֶם
 כִּי תִדְרְשֻׁנִי בְּכָל־לְבַבְכֶם

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

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

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

Hebrew Study Card

 

In logic if p then q implies -q then -p (contraposition). If we do not search for God bekhol levavkha - "with all your heart" - then you will not find him. The search comes through the heart, not the head... The Spirit of God's love calls out, "Seek Me and live" (Amos 5:4). If you are feeling empty today, ask God to feed you with His life-giving bread. Seek the LORD and His goodness. He is faithful and true and will surely answer the sincere cry of the heart: "You will desire me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart."
 




Mitzvah Chadashah - מִצְוָה חֲדָשָׁה


 

02.27.13  (Adar 17, 5773)  "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another (ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους): just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another" (John 13:34). What's new about this mitzvah is assuredly not the duty to love God and one's neighbor, since Yeshua had already affirmed the Shema and directly linked the love of God with our duty to care for others (see Matt. 22:37-39). No, what's new here is Yeshua Himself - his sacrificial grace, his unconditional acceptance, his "reckless" mercy, his everlasting atonement, and the abounding favor of God we find exclusively in him. The Torah of Yeshua is the absolute reverence of human life itself, where each soul is understood as being of infinite significance before the very Throne of God Himself.

This also explains why God even commands us to love our enemies (Luke 6:27-36). We love our enemies not because we hope they will eventually change (i.e., not by pretending they are not really our enemies), nor by contriving a mode of sentimentality, but solely because love is an ongoing decision to bestow dignity and respect to all people...
 




Life from the Dead...


 

02.26.13  (Adar 16, 5773)  When Yeshua told his students to "raise the dead" (Matt. 10:8), he meant to bring life to the dying souls of others - to give them comfort, hope, and life-giving, resurrecting vision... As the parable of the "Prodigal Son" teaches, the father's heart longs to receive those who have wasted their lives and failed miserably (Luke 15:11-32). The person who genuinely turns to God, even after a lifetime of failure and sin, may be able to experience a deeper sense of God's grace than someone who unthinkingly obeyed the rules for purposes of self protection. This is the reversal of parable: the younger son finds acceptance whereas the older son finds himself struggling... If you are a returning son, the memory of your wasted life can help you to remain honest about your teshuvah; if you are a "dutiful son," the grace of the father can help you learn to accept yourself.
 

    "You may call God love; you may call God goodness. But the best name for God is compassion" - Meister Eckhart 

 




Hidden Treasures...


 

02.26.13  (Adar 16, 5773)  Our Savior sees through the surface problems of illness, weakness, moral failures, etc., to perceive the great underlying value of the person. God's love sees the hidden beauty, worth, and value of your life. "The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it" (Matt. 13:45-46). You may be tempted to identify with the merchant and regard this parable as a challenge for you to give up everything to obtain the surpassing worth of the kingdom of heaven, but another way to understand it is to see God as the merchant, the central character of the story.... Instead of you paying the great price for the pearl, turn the story around: God pays the price - and you are regarded as His choice pearl! You are a treasured possession, the "apple of God's eye..." 
 




Turning Water to Wine...


 

[ This Shabbat is called "Shabbat Parah," the Sabbath of the [red] Cow." In addition to reading the regular Torah reading (i.e., Ki Tisa), we read about the mysterious red heifer sacrifice.... ]

02.26.13  (Adar 16, 5773)  The first "sign" (σημεῖον) of the Messiah, namely, the miracle of turning water into wine during the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), prefigured his teaching about the new covenant and the wedding celebration to come.  Yeshua transformed holy water intended for individual purification (i.e., mei niddah [מֵי נִדָּה], the waters that cleanse from contact with death), into a means of celebrating the gift of shared life. Instead of focusing on matters of personal holiness that might separate us, Yeshua brought love and union to the forefront.  Morover, during his last Passover Seder with his disciples, Yeshua took the Third Cup, the Cup of Redemption, and sanctified it as the Cup of Betrothal, symbolizing his promise that one day we shall be united to him forever (Rev. 19:7).

It is noteworthy that Yeshua's earthly ministry began amidst betrothal and the celebration of love, and one of his central parables focused on whether people would accept the Father's invitation to join in the wedding celebration for his Son (Matt. 22:2-14). And in the world to come, we will forever celebrate the glory of God's eternal love for us...
 




Surrounding Presence...


 

02.26.13  (Adar 16, 5773)  The Name of God, YHVH (יהוה), means "Presence" (Exod. 3:13-14), "Breath" (Gen. 2:7; Num. 16:22), "Life" (Deut. 30:20), and "Love" (Exod. 34:6-7), but it also means the "I-AM-WITH-YOU One" who keeps His promises. The Name YHVH 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 is continually sustaining creation by the Word of His power: "In Him we live, move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28; Heb. 1:3). As it is poetically expressed in the Psalms, "Behind and before you besiege me; You lay your hand upon me" (Psalm 139:5):
 

אָחוֹר וָקֶדֶם צַרְתָּנִי
וַתָּשֶׁת עָלַי כַּפֶּכָה

a·chor · va·ke·dem · tzar·ta·ni
va·ta·shet · a·lai · ka·pe·khah
 

"Behind and before You besiege (cover) me;
You lay your hand upon me."
(Psalm 139:5)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

Download Study Card
 

 

"Behind and before you besiege me." The word "behind" is the preposition achor (אָחוֹר), a word related to the word acharon (אַחֲרוֹן), "west," though it also refers to something later (אַחֲרֵי), such as a later place or time (אַחֲרִית). In Hebrew, the preposition generally means "backward" (לאחור) or "behind" (מאחור). God's got your back, friend... Note further that the word translated "before" is kedem (קֶדֶם), a preposition that means "east" but also refers to the primordial beginning, the dawn. The root verb kadam (קָדַם) means to "meet" in initial contact. God is always present for you, friend, and that includes times and days that lie ahead, in the distant future...  As far as the east is from the west, so far does God's compassion and love cover you, surround you, and sustain you (Psalm 103:12).

"You besiege me." The verb tzartani (צַרְתָּנִי) comes from the root tzur (צור) that means to encircle, to press upon, to "pressurize," as by relentlessly attacking a stronghold. The image is that God "hems us in," that is, He surrounds us and shelters us with His Presence – so that we cannot escape: You are under God's supervision and protection, friend... And while the root tzur can imply tzuris (trouble, affliction), in this context it is used to picture the Lord securing our station, preserving, protecting, and defending our way. "You lay your hand upon me." God's personal and providential hand is at work in your life – He is HaMashgiach hagadol (הַמָּשְׁגִיחַ הַגָּדוֹל) - the Great Overseer of the universe, and that means your way is as sure and secure as the very power that God's own will affords.
 

    "If there be anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe from falling, I know nothing of it - for it was not shown me.  But this was shown - that in falling and rising again we are always kept in the same precious love." - Julian of Norwich

    "We cannot fall beneath the arms of God. However low we fall, they are underneath us still." - William Penn
     

Thank God for His providential and all-pervasive care for your soul. He is the LORD of all time and space, and that means He is an ever-present help to bring you safely back home...
 




Refuah Shlemah - Complete Healing


 

02.25.13  (Adar 15, 5773)  It's been said that both the devil and God want your soul, but their approaches are diametrically opposite to one another.... God offers you a bitter cup that, after it has been duly tasted, will be turned sweet, whereas the devil offers you an artificially sweetened cup that, after it has been duly tasted, will be found bitter to the last of its dregs... When you accept your suffering as ordained by God - by the LORD of Glory who could easily deliver you from all trace of its presence in but the twinkling of an eye – your heartache is sanctified, and your praise becomes more dear to Him. Only the wise and loving LORD knows how bitter waters may be made sweet; only the great Refiner of our souls knows how to bring eternal beauty up from ashes... So heal me, O LORD (even if that means refining fire for my life), and I shall be healed; save me, O LORD (do whatever it takes to bring me to the end of myself), and I shall be saved – for you are my praise.
 

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)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

Download Study Card
 

 

Note: I realize times are tough for a lot of you, but please keep this ministry in your prayers, as our support has dropped in recent months.  Thank you...
 




Being a Spiritual Warrior...


 

02.25.13  (Adar 15, 5773)  The Scriptures state: "Be empowered in the Lord and in the strength of his might" (Eph. 6:10). This implies that we are indeed given the supernatural means to stand in days of battle, and that we adapt the mindset of a true spiritual warrior at all times. We are to be arrayed as a knight of faith, full of valor, honor, and heart. Our weapons include the graces of truth, charity, chastity, and patience - mighty powers from the perspective of the enemy of our souls... "Do not be overcome by the evil, but overcome the evil with the good" (Rom. 12:21). "The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light" (Rom. 13:12).
 




Our Purim Spiel Pictures

Purim Sameach!
 

02.25.13  (Adar 15, 5773)  Last Saturday night we staged our annual family Purim play over at our house. We dressed in costume and reenacted the basic story of the Book of Esther while reading from the megillah. Here are a few pictures from the event:
 

Purim Play, Adar 15  5773

Left-to-right (top): 1. Purim noisemakers; 2. Josiah is ready for the play;
3. John in costume; 4. Olga as Queen Esther (yeah!); 5. King Ahasuerus
(bottom): 1. the wicked Haman (boo!); 2. hamentash (yum!); 3. Yom tov kiddush;
4. Judah in costume; 5. Hooray for Mordecai!

 

Since Purim falls exactly 30 days before Passover, now is the time to begin planning your  Passover Seder, which is scheduled for Monday, March 25th, at sundown this year...

 




Sabbath of the "Red Cow"


 

[ This Shabbat is called "Shabbat Parah," the Sabbath of the [red] Cow." In addition to reading the regular Torah reading (i.e., Ki Tisa), we read about the mysterious red heifer sacrifice.... ]

02.25.13  (Adar 15, 5773)  The Shabbat that immediately follows Purim is called Shabbat Parah - the "Sabbath of the [red] Cow." In traditional synagogue services, two Torah scrolls will be removed from the ark, and from the first scroll will be read the Torah portion for the week (e.g., Ki Tisa), and from the second will be read the chapter regarding the laws of the sacrifice of the "Red Heifer" (Num. 19:1-22). The early sages decided to recite the laws of the Red Heifer at this time to recall the remedy of the sin of the Golden Calf, and to remind the people to purify themselves before coming to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festival of Passover.  It is thought that since the sprinkling of the "waters of separation" cleanses from the uncleanness of death, reading this portion will help prepare our hearts for the time of Passover when we celebrate deliverance from death.

The Red Heifer offering is considered a paradox to most Jewish thinkers, though it can be seen as a revelation of the Yeshua our Messiah. The paradox is that the one who offers this sacrifice becomes ritually impure, while the sprinkling of the ashes is used to make people clean... The ritual is considered chok within the Jewish tradition, meaning that it makes no rational sense.  The Talmud states that of all the 613 commandments given in the Torah, even King Solomon with all his wisdom could not fathom this decee. However, the sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah can be understood as the fulfillment of the symbolism of the parah adumah.  Both were entirely rare and without defect (sin); both were sacrificed "outside the camp"; both made the one who offered the sacrifice unclean but made the one who was sprinkled by it clean; and finally, both sacrifices cleanse people for priestly service.

The parah adumah had to be a perfect specimen that was completely red, "without blemish, in which there is no defect (mum)." The rabbis interpreted "without blemish" as referring to the color, that is, without having so much as a single white or black hair.  This is the only sacrifice in the Torah where the color of the animal is explicitly required. Moreover, the parah adumah was never to have had a yoke upon it, meaning that it must never have been used for any profane purposes.


 

Unlike all other sacrifices offered at the altar, the parah adumah was taken outside the camp and there slaughtered before the priest, who then took some of its blood and sprinkled it seven times before the Mishkan (thereby designating it as a purification offering). [During the Second Temple period, the High Priest performed this ceremony facing the Temple while atop the Mount of Olives.] Then the red heifer would be burned in its entirety: its hide, flesh, blood, and even dung were to be burned (unlike other Levitical korbanot). Unlike other offerings, all the blood of the sacrifice was to be burned in the fire.

Hyssop, scarlet yarn, and a cedar stick would then be thrown upon the burning parah adumah (these same items were used to cleanse from tzara'at, skin disease). In other words, the blood was assimilated into the ashes of the sacrifice, which were then gathered and mixed with water to create the "water of separation" (mei niddah) for the Israelite community. Note that the word "separation" (niddah) refers to menstrual impurity and harkens to Zech. 13:1: "On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and from niddah."

Anyone (or anything) that came into contact with a corpse (the embodiment of sin and death) was required to be purified using the mei niddah. The purification procedure took seven days, using stalks of hyssop dipped into the water and shaken over the ritually defiled person on the third day and then again on the seventh day. After the second sprinkling, the person undergoing the purification process would be immersed in a mikvah and then be unclean until the following evening.

According to Jewish tradition, the Red Heifer sacrifice was to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf, though the Torah itself does not make this association. The LORD Yeshua, our High Priest of the New Covenant, is the perfect fulfillment of the Parah Adumah, since he was completely without sin or defect (2 Cor 5:21; John 8:46); he was sacrificed outside the camp (Heb 13:13); he made himself sin for us (2 Cor 5:21); his sprinkling makes us clean (1 Pet 1:2; Heb 12:24; Rev 1:5); and the "water of separation" that his sacrifice created is the means by which we are made clean from the impurity of sin (Eph 5:25-6; Heb 10:22).

Note: For more on the Red Heifer sacrifice, see the "Gospel of the Red Cow" article.
 




Parashat Ki Tisa - כי תשא


 

[ This Shabbat is called "Shabbat Parah," the Sabbath of the [red] Cow." In addition to reading the regular Torah reading (Ki Tisa), we read about the mysterious red heifer sacrifice.... ]

02.24.13  (Adar 14, 5773)  Our Torah reading this week is Ki Tisa, one of the longest of the Torah. It includes the tragic account of the Sin of the Golden Calf (עֵגֶל מַסֵּכָה) and Moses' passionate intercession for Israel. After a period of teshuvah (repentance) for Israel's idolatry, the LORD graciously revealed the meaning of the Name YHVH (יהוה), that is, the thirty-two words that have become known in Jewish tradition as the Shelosh Esrei Middot, or the "Thirteen Attributes of God's Mercy." This was the LORD's own definition of His character and attributes to Moses after the breaking of the Sinai covenant.  See the Parashah Summary for the Hebrew text and audio of this vital revelation from God.
 

זָרַח בַּחשֶׁךְ אוֹר לַיְשָׁרִים
חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם וְצַדִּיק

za·rach · ba·cho·shekh · ohr · lai·sha·rim
chan·nun · ve·ra·chum · ve·tzad·dik
 

"Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;
He is gracious, merciful, and righteous."
(Psalm 112:4)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

Download Study Card
 

 

In this week's portion, God commanded that all Israelites over the age of twenty were required to help support the Sanctuary: "Each shall give (וְנָתְנוּ) a ransom for his life to the LORD" (Exod. 30:12). The sages note that the word ve'natnu can be written backward and forward, alluding to the idea that whoever gives tzedekah (i.e., "charity") never feels the loss of having given anything away (Bava Batra). Giving benevolence produces wealth; tzedakah is an investment in your spiritual future! Indeed, "charity saves from death" - tzedakah hatzil mi-mavet: / צְדָקָה תַּצִּיל מִמָּוֶת (Prov. 10:2; 11:4). The love of God is like that: when we give it away, it becomes our own possession. The converse is also true. If we withhold from others, then eventually God will make it so that we are unable to give what we would have given had we the opportunity (and consequently, we lose our blessing). In this age of economic fear, giving tzedakah is truly countercultural and faith-affirming: but the truth abides: when we give, we receive....

The midrash Yalkut Shimoni adds that God showed many great treasures to Moses. "To whom does this treasure belong?" asked Moses. "To those who give tzedakah," answered God. "And to whom does this one belong?" "To those who support orphans." And thus did God answer him regarding each treasure.  Finally, Moses came upon a certain treasure and asked, "To whom does this belong?" "This belongs to one who has no merit of his own. I give him this treasure unearned," replied God. This is referred to in the words, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious" (Exod. 33:19). God's love is given freely, even to those who are undeserving. That's the message of the Cross of Yeshua, after all. God's love and grace is poured out to those who are without merit or hope. 

Note: Please (please) keep this ministry in your prayers, chaverim. Things have been stressful for us lately and I have been weary. Thank you so much....
 




Miracles of an Ordinary Kind....


 

02.22.13  (Adar 12, 5773)  We tend to look for God in the extraordinary, in the great and imposing, in "signs and wonders," but Jesus regularly pointed to ordinary things to reveal truths about the kingdom of God. For example, he said the kingdom was like a mustard seed that grew into a tree that the birds would come to roost (Luke 13:18-19). Jesus didn't point to the cedars of Lebanon or to a high mountain, but to a lowly plant - something altogether unremarkable and ordinary - to reveal the transcendent. This parable, like many others, is intended to help see with new eyes. Teshuvah ("repentance") means changing our vision, turning around, and experiencing the wonder that is right before our eyes. "The Kingdom of God is within (ἐντὸς) you" (Luke 17:21). What the world esteems as ordinary is really miraculous, and what the world esteems as extraordinary is really unremarkable.

"Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). A child's heart is unprotected, open, free of the designs and defenses of the world of men. Such a heart welcomes the gift of life and takes hold of it with eager simplicity. The parables of Jesus constantly upend our usual way of seeing by challenging us to experience life in a new way. We are to be reborn; we are to rise up from a lifetime of sleep and walk in the power of resurrected life.

Note:  Spiritual fruit does not immediately crop up but requires time and its own season... The process of spiritual growth is mysterious and divine, 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 "ordinary" process of the growth of a seed is regarded 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...

SHABBAT SHALOM and HAPPY PURIM!
 




The Good Eye of Faith...




[ Note that the following entry is related to the festival of Purim, which begins at sundown Saturday, 23rd this year.  For more information, see the Purim pages.]

02.22.13  (Adar 12, 5773)  The arch villain of the Book of Esther is an unsavory character named Haman, who was a descendant of the wicked tribe of Amalek that attacked the people of Israel just after the great exodus from Egypt (Exod. 17:8). Rashi states that God allowed the Amalekites to attack because the people doubted whether the Lord was with them or not (Exod. 17:7). The sages note that the name "Haman" (המן) has a numeric value of 95, the same as ha'melekh (המלך), "the king," and therefore they draw the inference that when we question whether God is present with us or not, evil rulers like Haman are given king-like powers in this world... On the other hand, when we trust in God we are clothed with divine power and protection from the rulers of this world...

Purim is a prophetic holiday, foretelling of the ultimate victory to come. On the great Day of the LORD (יוֹם־יְהוָה הַגָּדוֹל), the wicked will become "ashes under the feet of the righteous," hearkening to the promise of in the New Testament: "The God of peace (אלהֵי הַשָּׁלוֹם) will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah be with you" (Rom. 16:20). Meanwhile, of course, we must fight the "good fight of faith" and be strong in the LORD and the power of His might. "Wondrously show Your steadfast love, O Savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at Your right hand" (Psalm 17:7). As King Asa once prayed, "LORD, there is no one besides Thee to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O LORD our God, for we trust in Thee, and in Thy name have come against this multitude. O LORD, Thou art our God; let not man prevail against Thee" (2 Chron. 14:11). We offer praise in anticipation of the great deliverance to come: "Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip" (Psalm 66:8-9). The LORD is surely able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy (Jude 1:24).


HAPPY PURIM CHAVERIM!
 




Accepted and Loved...


 

02.22.13  (Adar 12, 5773)  The parable of the feast (Luke 14:16-24) reveals how Yeshua regards "gatekeepers" of God's kingdom -- those self-appointed moralists and religious experts who accept only those whom they consider virtuous, worthy, or doctrinally kosher. Contrary to this "exclusionary" sense of personal holiness, the Lord loves people and implores them to enjoy table fellowship with him: "Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled" (Luke 14:23). Indeed, the Lord himself stands at the door and knocks for you... (Rev. 3:20). The courage to "come to the table" will be found when you realize that you welcomed and accepted, regardless of the sins and troubles of your life. Hence we see how the outcasts -- the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the lepers, and the sick -- were all drawn to the Messiah. They found true acceptance in His presence and tender compassion in His eyes... When Yeshua touched the leper and laid his hands on the dead girl (Mark 5:40-41), he forfeited his own personal purity for the sake of God's love. Ultimately holiness is not a means of self-protection, but rather loving others enough to take hold of them in their state of sickness and need.
 




The Words of Light...


 

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

02.21.13  (Adar 11, 5773)  Our Torah portion this week (Tetzaveh) begins with commandment to "keep the light burning" (Exod. 27:20). God's first words of creation were yehi ohr: "let there be light!" (Gen 1:3), just as the Menorah served as a picture of the radiant Tree of Life.  The heart looks through the eye, and how we choose to see is ultimately a spiritual decision: "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). In other words, when we see rightly, we will behold the radiance of God shining within us (Isa. 6:3). We are enabled to see by means of the revelation of the Word: "The entrance of your words give light (Psalm 119:130). But we must kindle the light within our hearts; we must open our eyes its brilliance, we must choose to see the Divine Presence with "eyes of the heart" that are being enlightened (Eph. 1:8). For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Yeshua the Messiah (2 Cor. 4:6). Torah ohr! May God help us "let our light shine!"
 

פֵּתַח דְּבָרֶיךָ יָאִיר מֵבִין פְּתָיִים

pe·tach · de·va·re·kha · ya·ir · mei·vin · pe·ta·im
 

"The entrance of your words give light,
giving insight to the simple."
(Psalm 119:130)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)
 
 




Teshuvah of Transformation


 

02.21.13  (Adar 11, 5773)  Our Lord Yeshua 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. 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.

Let's pray for one another, friends, so that we turn to God in the truth. May the Lord help each of us "put off our old self, which belongs to our former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:22-24).
 




Baptism with Fire...


 

02.21.13  (Adar 11, 5773)  "He (Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Matt. 3:11). The immersion into fire causes the old to be entirely transformed into something new. The Spirit of God searches and tests the heart (Jer. 17:10), helping lead the soul to surrender as an olah (עלָה), a whole burnt offering, ascends to heaven.  Therefore the LORD our God is called esh okhelah (אֵשׁ אכְלָה), a Consuming Fire (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29). The "tongues of fire" that rested upon the head of the disciples were an outward sign of an inward reality (Acts 2:3). Reminiscent of Jesus' metaphor of the vine and the branches (John 15:1-8), the New Testament apocrypha includes this provocative statement: "If one is near to me, he will burn. I am the fire that blazes, who is near me is near the fire; who is far from me is far from life" (Gospel of the Savior). When we turn to the Lord bekhol levavkha, with all our heart, all that we have ever known is left behind as we rise into newness of life.
 

אֲנִי יְהוָה חקֵר לֵב בּחֵן כְּלָיוֹת
וְלָתֵת לְאִישׁ כִּדְרָכָיו כִּפְרִי מַעֲלָלָיו

a·ni · Adonai · cho·ker · lev · bo·chen · ke·la·yot
ve·la·tet · le·ish · kid·ra·khav · kif·ri · ma·a·la·lav
 

"I the LORD search the heart and test the mind,
to give every man as to his ways, as to the fruit of his deeds."
(Jer. 17:10)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)
 
 

Note: The quote taken from the "Gospel of the Savior" does not mean that I am endorsing the New Testament Apocrypha or the Pseudepigrapha, though they may shed some light on how early believers interpreted some things. This is somewhat similar to reading Talmud or Midrash in Jewish tradition.
 




Parables and Purim...


 

[ Note that the following entry is related to the festival of Purim, which begins at sundown Saturday, 23rd this year.  For more information, see the Purim pages. ]

02.20.13  (Adar 10, 5773)  The Hebrew word for "parable" is mashal (מָשָׁל), which means a "likeness" or "similitude," though it also can refer to a proverb or ethical maxim (as in the case of Mishlei Shlomo, the Proverbs of Solomon). In the New Testament, the word παραβολή means juxtaposition, or the casting (βάλλω) of one thing beside (παρα) another thing for the purpose of comparison or contrast. Figuratively, a parable resembles the shape of a parabola, that is, a "u-shaped curve" that goes out and turns back in on itself. Hence the parables of Jesus generally have a "twist" that is meant to turn the hearer back to question his or her own perspective, heart attitude, and so on. The purpose of the parable is to provoke us think outside of our prejudices so that we can see divine possibility in our lives.

Undoubtedly Yeshua often taught in parables because they simultaneously conceal and reveal the truth. A parable obscures the truth to those who don't really want it; just as it reveals the truth to those who do (Luke 8:9-10). Since Yeshua's whole life was a parable of sorts - a "disguise" that led to the victory of our deliverance (Phil. 2:7) - it is not surprising that he regularly used "figures of speech" to provoke people to examine their own heart attitude and faith...  In this connection note that Yeshua never explained the "mysteries of the kingdom of God" directly to the crowds, nor did He ever pander to the crowd's clamor or interests. His message is always meant for the individual soul who was willing to follow Him -- to the one who had "ears to hear."

"As you go about, let people know that the Kingdom of Heaven (מַלְכוּת הַשָׁמַיִם) has come. Take care of the sick, waken the lifeless, forgive the sinner, and banish the demonic" (Matt. 10:7-8). We proclaim the truth of the kingdom when we serve as healers, caregivers, and those who seek to bring the grace of God and inner peace to others.. "Go into all the world and preach the gospel, and sometimes use words..."

Note:  For more on this topic, see the Purim article, "Parables and Revelation."
 




Hidden in Plain Sight...


 

[ Note that the following entry is related to the festival of Purim, which begins at sundown Saturday, 23rd this year.  For more information, see the Purim pages. ]

02.20.13  (Adar 10, 5773)  Although the Name of God is not explicitly mentioned in the Book of Esther, the story is essentially about revelation, that is, the disclosure of God's Presence despite His apparent concealment. The phrase hester panim (הֶסְתֵר פָּנִים) means "hiding of face" and is often used when discussing the divine providence. God's plan is being fulfilled, step-by-step, even if it is hidden within the "natural" world of human beings and their choices (Jer. 10:23; Prov. 21:1). The LORD is HaMashgiach (i.e., הַמַּשְׁגִיחַ, the supervisor) of all things - from the motions of subatomic particles to the great events of the cosmos. He not only calls each star by its own name (Psalm 147:4), but knows each particular lily and sparrow (Matt. 6:28-30, 10:29). Indeed, each person is under the direct, personal supervision of God Himself (הַשְׁגָּחָה פְּרָטִית) -- whether he or she is conscious of this or not. As Yeshua said, even the hairs on your head are all numbered (Matt. 10:30).
 

גָּדוֹל יְהוָה וּמְהֻלָּל מְאד
וְלִגְדֻלָּתוֹ אֵין חֵקֶר

ga·dol · Adonai · u·me·hul·lal · me·od
ve·lig·dul·la·to · ein · che·ker
 

"Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable"
(Psalm 145:3)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

Download Study Card
 
 

The Apostle Paul taught that God "chose us [εκλεγομαι] in the Messiah before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4). God called you by name -- before He created the very universe itself. "God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth" (2 Thess. 2:13). God loves you with an "everlasting love" (אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם) and with lovingkindness (i.e., chesed, חֶסֶד) draws you to Himself (Jer. 31:3). There is no fear in God's sovereign and irresistible love for your soul (1 John 4:18). "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31).

Note:  For more on this topic, see "Theology, Paradox, and Purim."
 




Purim and Yom Kippur...


 

[ Note that the following entry is related to the festival of Purim, which begins at sundown Saturday, 23rd this year.  For more information, see the Purim pages. ]

02.19.13  (Adar 9, 5773)  The holiday of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is also known as Yom Kippurim in the Torah (יוֹם כִּפֻּרִים, see Lev. 23:28), which can be read as Yom Ke-Purim, a 'day like Purim' (i.e., יוֹם, "day" + כְּ, "like" + פֻּרִים, "purim").  Both Purim and Yom Kippur celebrate our deliverance from the great enemies of sin and death, and both holidays foreshadow the great purim (deliverance) we have in Yeshua our LORD.
 

הִנֵּה לְשָׁלוֹם מַר־לִי מָר
 וְאַתָּה חָשַׁקְתָּ נַפְשִׁי מִשַּׁחַת בְּלִי
 כִּי הִשְׁלַכְתָּ אַחֲרֵי גֵוְךָ כָּל־חֲטָאָי

hin·nei · le·sha·lom · mar · li · mar
ve·at·tah · cha·shak·ta · naf·shi · mi·sha·chat · be·li
ki · hish·lakh·ta · a·cha·rei · gev·kha · kol · cha·ta·ai
 

"Behold, for shalom - bitterness to me; bitterness;
 but You have loved my soul from the pit of nothingness,
 for You have cast all my sins behind Your back."
(Isa. 38:17

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

 

In the verse quoted above, we read that God loves the soul "from the pit of nothingness," which pictures a loving father running to rescue his child from being swallowed alive by the earth (the Hebrew verb chashak (חָשַׁק) suggests pulling someone up out of a hopeless pit). That God casts all our sins behind His back figuratively denotes oblivion – and sins of the forgiven soul can are not brought to remembrance ever again. This is similar to the image given by Micah: "He will turn again, and have mercy on us: he will put away our iniquities: and he will cast all our sins into the bottom of the sea" (Micah 7:19).

The "ultimate" meaning of Purim is to be forgiven and accepted by God on account of the winning performance, the impeccable works of righteousness, and the victory of love over judgment secured by Yeshua the Messiah at the cross... Our deliverance depends not only on the substitutionary death of Yeshua as our kapparah (atonement), but also on the substitutionary life He lived (and still lives) on our behalf. Yeshua fulfills the Torah on our behalf. The cure for our lawlessness is not more laws but a deeper sense of God's grace given to us in Yeshua, who kept the law perfectly and ransomed us from its righteous judgment.... Because of Yeshua we have grace and peace (shalom) with God.

We must be careful not to confuse cause and effect in the realm of the spiritual. After the original transgression of Adam and Eve, death became the root problem of the human condition, so to speak, with indwelling sin as its fruit (i.e., the "works of the flesh"). It is this inherited "spiritual death" that causes sin. To focus on outward behavior without first of all dealing with the underlying problem of death is therefore a spiritual misstep. It is to clean the outside of the cup or to wash the outside of a tomb in a vain attempt to disguise the truth about our unclean and dead condition. The good news is not that God wants to make bad people good, but rather wants to make dead people alive... The cure for spiritual death is to be reborn and to partake of the resurrected life of Yeshua.

Following Yeshua is not a sort of "moral reformation" or self-improvement program to make us acceptable to God. Yeshua did not die on the cross so that we could become followers of the rabbis... No! He is LORD and Master and we find salvation in His acts of deliverance done on our behalf and for our benefit. The temptation is always to go back to the law of sin and death (i.e., the principle of self-justification), but as Luther once said, "The sin underneath all our sins is the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and that we must take matters into our own hands."

"LORD, I need Thee every hour..." There never will be a time when we "get past" the need for God's grace given in Yeshua, since the only antidote to power of indwelling sin is the greater power of God's redeeming love within our hearts (1 John 3:8). The gospel is - not was - "the power of God for salvation (δύναμις θεοῦ ἐστιν εἰς σωτηρίαν) for everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16); it is an ongoing source of power for our lives... Our identity is made secure in the finished work of the Messiah - we trust in His strength, not our own; it is "Messiah in you" that is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). Just as we are given a new life entirely by means of God's grace, so we are also sanctified as we walk in that newness of life... "As you received Yeshua the Messiah the LORD, so walk in Him" (Col. 2:6). The focus is always on Yeshua and His righteousness and obedience... Every step of the way is a miracle and a wonder when we walk "in Messiah."

We walk "in Him," that is, in His strength, in His power, in His love... we don't walk "to" Him or attempt to climb the "stairway to heaven." Yeshua is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the Bridge - sha'ar hashamayim (שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם) and the Divine Ladder upon whom the angels of God ascend and descend. We look to Him, not to ourselves for life. Because of the life of Yeshua within us, we are now able to bear fruit of the Holy Spirit as the Torah is written upon our hearts (Jer. 31:31). We are able to keep the Torah because the life of Yeshua empowers us to do so...
 




Voice to our Pains...


 

02.19.13  (Adar 9, 5773)  Our Lord Yeshua taught, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matt. 5:4), yet this presupposes that we are willing to face what has wounded us, and to give voice to our pain before the One who alone can truly heal us (Psalm 147:5). The Lord calls the sick for healing, not those who are well (Luke 5:31-32). "The way out is through," which means that we neither deny nor flee from suffering, but rather invite God into the midst of our pain to reveal what we really need.... But we have to befriend our difficulties and to quit resisting their effect, since afflictions are God's means to draw us closer to Him. God offers to comfort the mourner-- the Greek word means "to call along side" (παρακαλέω) for encouragement and strength.  Indeed, God is known as the Comforter (παράκλητος, literally, the "One called alongside") to those who stand as mourners before Him. God comforts the needy, the broken, and the grief-stricken. 

There is a special blessing for our suffering given in the New Testament: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction (πάθος, pathos), so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Cor. 1:3-4):
 

בָּרוּךְ הָאֱלהִים אֲבִי אֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ
אַב הָרַחֲמִים וֵאלהֵי כָּל נֶחָמָה
הַמְנַחֵם אתָנוּ בְּכָל צָרוֹתֵינוּ
בְּאפֶן שֶׁנּוּכַל לְנַחֵם אֶת הַלְּחוּצִים בְּכָל צָרָה שֶׁהִיא
בַּנֶחָמָה שֶׁנֻּחַמְנוּ אָנוּ מֵאֵת אֱלהִים

ba·rukh · ha·E·lo·him · a·vi · a·do·nei·nu · Ye·shu·a · ha·ma·shi·ach
av · ha·ra·cha·mim · ve·lo·hei · kol · ne·cha·mah
ha·me·na·chem · o·ta·nu · be·khol · tza·ro·tei·nu
be·o·fen · she·nu·khal · le·na·chem · et · ha·le·chu·tzim · be·khol · tza·rah · she·hi
ba·ne·cha·mah · she·nu·cham·nu · a·nu · me'et · E·lo·him
 

"Blessed be the God and Father of Yeshua the Messiah our LORD,
the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort,
who comforts us in all our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort
those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves
are comforted by God." (2 Cor. 1:3-4)

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You can't give away what you don't have. God invites us to come to His side for comfort so that we might share the comfort we have experienced with a lost and pain-riddled world.
 




Intercession and Incense...


 

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

02.18.13  (Adar 8, 5773)  The last item described in the Mishkan (i.e., the "Tabernacle") was a golden "altar of incense" (מִזְבַּח הַקְּטרֶת) that was to be placed in the Holy Place just before the veil separating the Holy of Holies. Every morning and evening the High Priest would burn sacred incense on this altar (symbolizing the prayers of the priests), and the blood of atonement was also applied there during the Yom Kippur avodah (service). The sages say that the word "incense" – i.e., ketoret (קְטרֶת) – can be thought of as an acronym of the words kedushah (קדוּשׁה), "holiness," tahorah (טהוֹרה), "purity," rachamim (רחמים), "compassion," and tikvah (תּקוה), "hope," characteristics that marked the passion of Yeshua who interceded for us as he offered his blood before the heavenly kapporet as our High Priest of the new covenant. Followers of Yeshua are likewise called priests of God (Rev. 1:6; 1 Pet. 2:5), and our prayers and service are regarded as a "sweet-smelling savor" offered to the Lord (Rev. 8:4). As it says in the Psalms: "Let my prayer be counted as incense before You; the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice."
 

תִּכּוֹן תְּפִלָּתִי קְטרֶת לְפָנֶיךָ
מַשְׂאַת כַּפַּי מִנְחַת־עָרֶב

ti·kon · te·fil·la·ti · ke·to·ret · le·fa·ne·kha
ma·sat · ka·pai · min·chat · a·rev
 

"Let my prayer be counted as incense before You;
the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice."
(Psalm 141:2)

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The Purim Prophecies...


 

[ Note that the following entry is related to the festival of Purim, which begins at sundown Saturday, 23rd this year.  For more information, see the Purim pages. ]

02.17.13  (Adar 7, 5773)  Both Chanukah and Purim are holidays that celebrate God's victory over the forces of darkness... Just as the prophet Daniel foresaw the events of Chanukah, that is, the rise of "Epihpanes," the "Messiah of Evil" 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.), so Purim foretells how this wicked one will attempt to destroy the Jewish people during the End of Days (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים), though he will be destroyed by his own wicked devices. The Midrash Esther says that Purim, unlike many of the other holidays, will be celebrated even after the final redemption after the End of Days. This is because the story of Purim -- i.e., God's covenantal faithfulness and defense of His people -- will be magnified in the deliverance that leads to the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom upon the earth. Indeed, the Second Coming of the Messiah will be regarded as the final fulfillment of Purim! So while it is a often seen as time of unbridled celebration in Israel (ad lo yoda), the holiday of Purim has a very sober prophetic message that foretells the glorious end of this age.

Here is a vision of the coming Purim haGadol, the great deliverance:
 

    Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True (נֶאֱמָן וְיָשָׁר), and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a Name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the Name by which he is called is the Word of God (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים). And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. And He will tread the winepress of the fierce fury of the wrath of God, the Ruler over All (παντοκράτωρ), the LORD God Almighty (יְהוָה אֱלהֵי צְבָאוֹת). On his robe and on his thigh he has a Name written, the King of kings (מֶלֶךְ הַמְּלָכִים) and the Lord of lords (אֲדנֵי הָאֲדנִים). And with the breath of his lips He will slay the wicked. - Rev. 19:11-16
     

May that day come speedily, and in our time...
 




Light of the World...


 

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

02.17.13  (Adar 7, 5773)  Our Torah portion this week (Tetzaveh) explains that the Israelites were instructed to bring olive oil for the lamps of the Menorah, which the High Priest would kindle every evening and morning in the Holy Place. According to the Mishnah (Menachot 8:4), only the purest olive oil could be used for the lamps of the menorah (i.e., only the first drop from each olive, to avoid any sediment). Moreover (and as described later in Torah), the wicks of the menorah were to be bent toward the central wick, thereby signifying the glory of the Shamash, or Servant Branch of the LORD (Num. 8:1-2). Just as purest of oil was intended to emit the purest kind of light, so Yeshua is the Central Branch and the Divine Light of the world (John 8:12).


 




Christianity and Purim...



[ Note that the following entry is related to the festival of Purim, which begins at sundown Saturday, 23rd this year.  For more information, see the Purim pages.]
 

02.17.13  (Adar 7, 5773)  Over the centuries, virtually no other book of the Tanakh ("Old Testament") has received more mixed reviews than the Book of Esther. In general it may be said that the book has been well received by the Jews, but disliked by most Christian theologians and "church" leaders. For example, the Jewish scholar Maimonides (the Rambam) praised Esther as being close in rank to that of the Torah itself, saying, "When the Messiah comes, only Esther and the Torah will remain" (Mishneh Torah, Megillah). On the other hand, many Christian scholars have dismissed the book and effectively "buried" as irrelevant to the mission of the "church." That, of course, is a shame, since Purim - like all the holidays - points to the ministry and message of Yeshua our Messiah.

Perhaps the Book of Esther has been "theologically neglected" because many Christian theologians are anti-Jewish in their thinking.  After all, the point of the book centers on God's providential care for the Jewish people, and certain theologians find this conclusion abhorrent to their theological biases.  Indeed, the Book of Esther leads inescapably to the celebration of Jewish identity and survival despite the evil plans and designs of anti-Semites, and therefore Christian theologians who believe that the church replaces Israel will tend to regard the message of the book with deep suspicion (hence some teachers openly express indifference to the existence of the modern State of Israel today).  For those who understand that the church partakes of the covenantal blessings given to Israel, however, the Book of Esther is a beautiful story about God's faithful love and care for His people...

Some Christian theologians attempt to "excuse" their oversight of the Book of Esther because they find in it no obvious message for the Church. Unlike the Torah-based holidays of Passover and Shavuot (which they regard as fulfilled in the New Testament), the Book of Esther seems parochial in its focus and "disconnected" from the rest of the Scriptures.  In other words, since the Book of Esther (and therefore the holiday of Purim) celebrates the existence and perpetuity of the Jewish people, these theologians regard it to be of little consequence for Christians.  This is actually quite an astounding conclusion, however, especially since Esther is part of the Christian canon of Scripture, and the book clearly states that "these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every clan, province, and city, and that these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants" (Esther 9:28). From this text it should be clear that the only way to ignore (or suppress) the message of the book is to deny the Jewish roots of the Christian faith.  How your church leaders regard the Book of Esther is a test case of whether or not they accept the heretical doctrine of Replacement Theology...

Note: To continue reading this entry, please click here... 
 




Remembering Amalek...



 

[ The Sabbath that immediately precedes the holiday of Purim is called Shabbat Zachor, the "Sabbath of Remembrance," where we remember the fateful end of the enemies of God. This year Purim will be celebrated Saturday, Feb. 23rd (i.e., sundown after Shabbat). ]

02.17.13  (Adar 7, 5773)  The Shabbat that immediately precedes Purim is called Shabbat Zachor - the "Sabbath of Remembrance." The Maftir (additional reading) commands us to remember (זָכוֹר) how the nation of Amalek functioned as Satan's emissary by attacking the Israelites at Rephidim, immediately following the Exodus from Egypt (see Exod. 17:8-16). After Israel routed the attack, God told Moses, "Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" (Exod. 17:14). The sages chose the Sabbath before the holiday of Purim to recall our responsibility to engage in spiritual warfare because the villian Haman (of the Book of Esther) was a descendant of Amalek.

Just as the Torah commands us to remember (זָכוֹר) the Shabbat to keep it holy (Exod. 20:8); to remember (זָכוֹר) the Passover redemption (Exod. 13:3), and to remember (זָכוֹר) what God did to Miriam (Deut. 24:9), so we are commanded to remember (זָכוֹר) what Amalek did to Israel (Deut. 25:17). To fulfill this commandment, Jewish tradition publicly recites these verses on the Shabbat before Purim (called Shabbat Zachor) so that the 'wiping-out' of Amalek might be connected with the 'wiping-out' of Haman the Agagite, i.e., a descendant of Amalek (Esther 3:1). In addition, it is customary for Jewish soferim (scribes) to literally blot out the name Amalek when they test their quills before writing a Torah scroll....


 

Note: For more on this subject, see "Shabbat Zachor: Remembering the Fight of Faith."
 




Parashat Tetzaveh


 

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

02.17.13  (Adar 7, 5773)  In last week's Torah portion (Terumah), God asked for donations (terumot) for the purpose of creating a sanctuary called the Mishkan (i.e., the "Tabernacle"). God then showed Moses the exact pattern according to which the Tabernacle and its furnishings were to be made. First the Ark of the Covenant (and its cover called the kapporet) would occupy an inner chamber called the Holy of Holies. Within an adjoining chamber (called the Holy place) a Table would hold twelve loaves of matzah and a seven-branched Menorah (מְנוֹרָה) would illuminate the tent. God gave precise dimensions of the tent with the added instruction to separate the Holy of Holies by a veil called the parochet. The entire tent was to have a wooden frame covered by colored fabric and the hide of rams and goats. Outside the tent an outer court was defined that would include a copper sacrificial altar and water basin. The outer court was to be enclosed by a fence made with fine linen on silver poles with hooks of silver and sockets of brass.

This week's Torah portion (Tetzaveh) continues the description of the Tabernacle, though the focus shifts to those who will serve within it, namely the kohanim (i.e., priests of Israel). First Moses was instructed to tell the Israelites to bring pure olive oil for the lamps of the Menorah, which the High Priest would later kindle every evening and morning in the Holy Place. God then commanded Moses to ordain Aaron and his sons as priests in a formal ceremony and described the priestly garments to be worn while serving in the Tabernacle.
 

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 steadfast love is eternal;
His faithfulness is for all generations."
(Psalm 100:5)

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All priests were required to wear four garments – linen breeches, tunics, sashes, and turbans, but in addition to these the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) was to wear a blue robe that was decorated with pomegranates and golden bells. Over this robe, an ephod – an "apron" woven of gold, blue, purple, and crimson – was to be worn, upon which was attached a "breastplate" (choshen mishpat) inlaid with precious stones inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. The ephod also contained a pouch holding two unique gemstones called the urim v'tummin (אוּרִים וְתוּמִּים), usually translated as "lights and perfections." According to the Targum Jonathan, when a matter was brought to the High Priest for settlement, he would sometimes hold the urim (from אוֹר, "light") and tummin (from תָּם, "integrity" or "completeness") before the menorah and the Shekhinah would irradiate various letters inscribed on the gemstones to reveal the will of God. Finally, the High Priest would wear a golden plate (called a "tzitz") engraved with the words, "Holy to the LORD" (קדֶשׁ לַיהוָה) upon the front of his turban.


 

One detail you might miss as you read the description of the priestly garments, however, is that there is no mention of shoes, and in fact neither the regular priests nor the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) were allowed to wear shoes or slippers. In other words, they served in the Mishkan (and later at the Temple) barefoot.

The priests were to be ordained in a seven-day consecration ceremony that involved washing, dressing, and anointing them with oil and blood, followed by the offering of sacrifices. The priests were further instructed to present burnt offerings twice a day upon the copper altar. The portion ends with a description of the Golden Altar (i.e., Altar of Incense) upon which incense was offered twice a day by the priests when the Menorah lamps were serviced (evening and morning). In addition, the blood of atonement was to be placed on the corners of the Golden Altar once a year, during the Yom Kippur ritual.
 


 




Telling God your Name...


 

02.15.13  (Adar 5, 5773)  We may want to know God's Name, but God begins by first asking for ours instead...  Recall that Jacob had disguised who he really was in the hope of obtaining the blessing (Gen. 27), though his duplicity forced him into an exile that lasted until he was finally willing to be honest with himself.  And like Jacob, each of us must answer God's question: "What is your name?" (Gen. 32:27). When we "wrestle through" this question to face who we really are, we encounter God and find our blessing, that is, our true name and identity. Each of us has to go through the process of being renamed from "manipulator" (i.e., Yaakov) to "one in whom God rules" (i.e., Israel). But note the order: it is only when we "tell God our name," that is, own who we really are, that He meets with us "face to face" at Peniel (Gen. 32:30). You will not be able to say, "I will not let you go unless you bless me," until you are willing tell God your name (Gen. 32:26-27).

I should add that while "telling God your name" can be painful and even frightening, it is not the last word about who you really are. We are faced with an inner dualism as we struggle to take account of our lives. On the one hand, we need to confess the truth of our radical sinfulness, our depravity, our brokenness, and so on, while on the other we must endure ourselves and find faith that God's blessing nevertheless belongs to us, and that Yeshua gave his life for us and loves us -- despite ourselves. We have to be willing to take God's new name for us and believe that God will transform our inner nature for eternal good.

Shabbat Shalom, chaverim! May God fill you with His peace and comfort, even in the midst of the sometimes stormy struggle to surrender to His perfect rule.  May you know that your name is written in the palm of the Redeemer's hand! Be strong and let us be strengthened as we rest in Yeshua, our great LORD and Messiah, our Healer and our Deliverer.
 




Created for a Purpose...


 

02.15.13  (Adar 5, 5773)  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 bring your message to this world - only you can do this. And since God is entirely unique, you are called to be who you were created to be, not someone else. On his deathbed Reb Zusya said, "I am not afraid that the Holy One will ask me, 'Zusya, why were you not more like Moses?' Rather, I fear the Holy One will say, 'Zusya, why were you not more like Zusya?'

There are no "little people" in God's eyes, since each soul has been created by Him for His glory and purposes... As C.S. Lewis wrote, "There are no 'ordinary' people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations -- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors" (The Weight of Glory). Life is a miracle and 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). May God open our hearts and eyes to truly come alive...
 




Giving from the Heart...


 

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

02.14.13  (Adar 4, 5773)  In our Torah portion this week (Terumah), the Lord asked the people to offer "gifts from the heart" to create a "place" for Him: "Let them make for me a sanctuary that I may dwell within their midst" (Exod. 25:8). The Hebrew word for "sanctuary" is mikdash (מִקְדָּשׁ), which comes from the root word kadash (קָדַשׁ), "to be set apart as sacred." A mikdash is therefore a "set apart space," or a "holy place" that represents something treasured - a place of beauty and worship, a refuge, a place of rest. Other words that share this root idea include kedushah (holiness), kiddushin (betrothal), kaddish (sanctification), kiddush (marking sacred time), and so on. When God said, "Let them make for me a mikdash," then, he was inviting us to make a sacred place within our hearts for His Presence. The "material" required to make this place was ultimately the heart, expressed in free-will offerings given to God.

Each of us is given the opportunity of blessing others by offering them sanctuary within our hearts.  Note that text says, "Take for me an offering" (וְיִקְחוּ־לִי) rather than "Give for me an offering" (Exod. 25:1-2). The sages comment that when we give tzedakah (charity), it may seem like we giving from our own substance for the sake of another, but in truth we are actually taking, since we are spiritually receiving back much more than we give. The return we get for giving is always much greater than whatever we originally gave (Luke 6:38), just as it is surely "more blessed to give than receive" (Acts 20:25). As it is says, "righteousness delivers from death" (Prov. 10:2; 11:4), which means that acts of lovingkindness (i.e., tzedakah) return to us -- both in this world and in the world to come.
 

לא־יוֹעִיל הוֹן בְּיוֹם עֶבְרָה
וּצְדָקָה תַּצִּיל מִמָּוֶת

lo–yo'il · hon · be·yom · ev·rah
u·tze·da·kah · tatz·tzil · mi·ma·vet
 

"Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,
but righteousness delivers from death."
(Proverbs 11:4)

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The Meaning of the Altar...


 

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

02.14.13  (Adar 4, 5773)  Some of the sages say that the Hebrew word for "altar" (i.e., mizbe'ach: מִזְבֵּחַ) can be understood as an acronym for: 1) mechilah (מחילה), that is, the "pardon" sought by sacrifice; 2) zechut (זכוּת), or the "merit" gained from the sacrificial exchange; 3) berakhah (בּרכה), the "blessing" that comes from trusting in God's provision for sin; and 4) chayim (חיים), the "life" that is bestowed from receiving God's love and grace. Therefore we see how the sacrificial system established at the Tabernacle prefigured the great sacrifice of Yeshua upon the altar of the cross...
 




Joy of Self-Forgetfulness...


 

02.13.13  (Adar 3, 5773)  The sages say that the Hebrew word for "happiness," i.e., simchah (שִׂמְחָה), contains the word machah (מָחָה), which means to "erase" or "blot out," and therefore the word suggests that we will find joy and happiness when we lose sight our self-centered desires and pursuits. The Torah repeatedly states, "And you shall rejoice (וְשָׂמַחְתָּ) before the LORD your God in all that you undertake" (e.g., Deut. 12:18, 16:11; 27:7) to emphasize that we find true happiness only in an authentic relationship with the LORD our God. When we focus on serving others and "forget ourselves," we connect with the truth of God and discover real purpose, inner peace, and joy...
 

חָנֵּנִי אֱלהִים כְּחַסְדֶּךָ
כְּרב רַחֲמֶיךָ מְחֵה פְשָׁעָי

cho·ne·ni · E·lo·him · ke·chas·de·kha
ke·rov · ra·cha·me·kha · me·chei · fe·sha·ai
 

"Be gracious to me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercies blot out my transgressions."
(Psalm 51:1)

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Finding happiness through self-forgetfulness is connected with the forgiveness of our sins, as King David prayed to the LORD, כְּרב רַחֲמֶיךָ מְחֵה פְשָׁעָי, "in your abundant mercy, blot out (i.e., machah) my transgressions" (Psalm 51:1). Likewise the LORD declares to those trusting in his salvation: "For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jer. 31:34); and, "as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:12). The Hebrew word simchah is usually translated as chara (χαρὰ) in the Greek, a word related to the word "grace" (χάρις).  We find eternal happiness by trusting that we are accepted by God because of Yeshua our Lord.
 




The Torah of Questions...


 

02.13.13  (Adar 3, 5773)  Instead of regarding the Bible as a "Book of Answers" for our questions, it is worthwhile to think of it as a "Book of Questions" for our answers. As we listen, God questions us so that we can know him by means of the dialog within our hearts. As any good teacher knows, when a student earnestly wrestles with a question he learns more than if he were given a straightforward answer. Similarly, the Lord gives us permission to be without answers so that we will be free to seek, to struggle, and to "own" what we come to understand through our relationship with him... That way our learning will be real, substantive, and born from the urgency our own inner need. Indeed, God's very first question to man is always, ayekah: "Where are you?" (Gen. 3:9), which appeals for us to acknowledge how we hide from the truth. "Where are you?" is the poignant call of the Seeking Father for his lost child, and the question becomes "our own" when we are willing to examine how we've come to be at this place in our lives.  God's question to our heart is meant to lead us out of hiding to respond to his loving call...
 

    A man goes to a psychiatrist because he is deeply depressed. "I hate my life," he said, "I am so unhappy and I do not know what to do."  The psychiatrist replies, "You need to cheer up. The circus is in town, and they have a clown named Grumaldi who is very funny. Why don't you go see Grumaldi? I'm sure he will raise your spirits."  The man answers the psychiatrist, "You do not understand.  I am Grumaldi."
     

Shuvah! Listen! The word teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה) is often translated as "repentance" in English, though it's more accurately understood as turning back (shuv) to God. In Modern Hebrew teshuvah means an "answer" to a shelah (שְׁאֵלָה) or a question. God's love for us is the question, and our teshuvah – our turning of the heart toward Him – is the answer.
 




Sanctuary of Prayer...


 

02.13.13  (Adar 3, 5773)  Often it is not what is said that matters in our prayers, but what is unsaid... We ask God for help but we have no idea what that help might entail, and therefore we must trust Him to do the best, whatever that may be, and to answer the silent cry and groan of the heart. As John Bunyan said, "When you pray, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words be without heart." Set your affections upward, lift up your soul, and inwardly bow in awe before the Presence of the King who sits upon the Throne of Grace. Pour out your concerns before Him, since He cares for you. Our prayers are answered when we are able to let go and trust God's heart for us (Phil. 4:6-7).

King David said (Psalm 35:13): "May what I prayed for happen to me!" (literally, tefillati al-cheki tashuv - "may it return upon my own breast"). Some of our prayers are conscious words spoken to God, whereas others are unconscious expressions of inner heart attitudes. Be careful how you think! It is sobering to realize that our thoughts are essentially prayers being offered up to God... When we will the good of others we find God's favor, healing and life. Yeshua spoke of "good and evil treasures of the heart" that produce actions that are expressed in our words (Luke 6:45). A midrash states that if someone speaks well of another, the angels above will then speak well of him before the Holy One.

The late Henri Nouwen wrote, "I am beginning to see that much of praying is grieving," since the confession of the truth when we "come to ourselves" (Luke 15:17) is often painful. When we pray to the LORD, however, it's obvious that we are not imparting to Him any information, since the Master of the Universe knows all things. As King David wrote: ki ein milah bilshoni, hen, Adonai, yadati khulah: "For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, you know it altogether" (Psalm 139:4). Yeshua taught us to abstain from using "vain repetitions" in our prayers, since our Heavenly Father knows what we need before we ask Him (Matt. 6:7-8). True prayer is a means of reverent listening, or quieting ourselves, so that we might hear what the Spirit of God is saying...  When we pray bekhol levavkha, with all our heart, we apprehend God's glory and express our desire to Him. We are then able to intercede by means of the Spirit with "groanings too deep for words" (Rom. 8:26).
 




The Heart's Treasure...



 

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

02.12.13  (Adar 2, 5773)  The materials needed for the Sanctuary were supplied by means of "terumot" (תְּרוּמוֹת), that is, contributions freely given by those whose hearts were moved (Exod. 25:2, Matt. 6:21). In a sense, God "needs" the willing heart to celebrate the glory of his love. It is the nature of love to be shared, and that implies vulnerability, even for God Himself (Luke 14:16-23). The "house" of the Lord is created from the willing heart, just as the goal of God's creative activity is the building of a kingdom based on divine love (i.e., malkhut ha'Elohim: מַלְכוּת הָאֱלהִים). As King David wrote, עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה / olam chesed yibaneh: "The world is built with love" (Psalm 89:3[h]). This is the meaning of "sanctuary," after all, that our lives are built on the solid foundation of God's grace and love (i.e., chesed: חֶסֶד). It is said that all the world was created for Messiah, since He is the "corner stone" of creation (i.e., rosh pinnah: ראשׁ פִּנָּה), and the house itself is built up in the love of God given in Him.
 




The Holy Menorah...


 

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

02.12.13  (Adar 2, 5773)  The light from the Menorah was a spiritual light. It was not seen from the outside of the Tabernacle, but only while inside the holy chamber, before the holy place of sacrificial atonement. It enabled service to God to be performed, though it was not a light to be used for profane purposes. Notice that the six lamps faced the central lamp -- a picture of Yeshua, the Light of the World whose arms and legs were "hammered" for our sins.... He is the suffering servant (shamash) who lightens everyone in the world. He is the center, the supporting trunk for the other branches (John 15:5).

The physical light came from the burning of pure olive oil - a symbol of anointing and the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ). It was kindled by the hand of a man of peace and humility. Likewise, when we are given light to behold the sacrifice of Yeshua for our atonement (כַּפָּרָה), we are filled with the divine light (John 8:12; 1 John 1:7, Eph. 5:8). When we come to the cross, we can behold the truth of God's unfailing love that draws us to be united with Him.

Interestingly, the Ark of the Covenant was kept in complete darkness, since not even the light of the Menorah could penetrate the innermost chamber (i.e., Holy of Holies). "The darkness and the light are both alike unto Thee" (Psalm 139:12). It was only after the parochet was torn asunder that access was made to the "thick darkness of the Cloud," that is, to the very Throne of Grace, for all who will come in faith (Heb. 4:16).
 

נֵר־לְרַגְלִי דְבָרֶךָ וְאוֹר לִנְתִיבָתִי

ner  le·rag·li  de·va·re·kha,  ve·or  lin·ti·va·ti
 

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path."
(Psalm 119:105)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

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Most of the beauty of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was only seen during the priestly service. Regarding the Ark of the Covenant, the aron hakodesh (אֲרוֹן־הַקּדֶשׁ), the Torah states: "You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a molding of gold around it" (Exod. 25:11). The Gemara (Yoma 72b) says that the ark was the same on the outside as it was on the inside to teach us that our "outside" must match our "inside," or as it is stated there: "Any disciple whose inside is not as his outside is not a true disciple." In Jewish ethical thought, this is called tocho kevaro (תּוֹכוֹ כְּבָרוֹ), the "inside as outside" principle, which means that our lives should be straightforward and free from inner duplicity. In other words, we should be "golden" both inside and out, and that our actions should match the hidden intentions of our heart.
 




The Heavenly Kapporet...


 

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

02.12.13  (Adar 2, 5773)  The word used in the ancient Greek Torah (i.e., the Septuagint) to translate the Hebrew word kapporet (i.e., "cover" of the Ark of the Covenant) is hilasterios (ἱλαστριος), the very same word used to describe the atonement given at the cross of the Savior: "God put forward Yeshua as a propitiation (ἱλαστήριον) through faith in His blood" (Rom. 3:25). In other words, the sprinkling of Yeshua's blood - represented by His Passion upon the cross - was "presented" upon the Heavenly Kapporet, that is, before the very Throne of God Himself, to make everlasting atonement for our souls.  Yeshua is our great High Priest after the order of Malki-Tzedek (i.e., Melchizedek), the One who provides everlasting forgiveness for our sins (Heb. 9:7-10:10). Because of His sacrifice, the parochet - the wall-like covering separating the Holy of Holies - was rent asunder and God's love was let loose upon the world!

Note: For more on this, see "The Mercy Seat: Further Thoughts on Parashat Terumah."
 




Sanctuary of the Heart...


 

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

02.11.13  (Adar 1, 5773)  "And let them make me a mikdash (sanctuary), that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8). The sages ask, shouldn't the text read, "that I may dwell within it?" No, because the meaning of the sanctuary has always been the heart: Each soul must find its sacred place for the Divine Presence to dwell (Rev. 3:20). After all, what good would it be to have the most spectacular Temple - with the radiance of Heavenly Jerusalem itself - if your heart was left on the outside looking in?  On the other hand, even the squalor of a prison cell can betoken the gates of heavenly Jerusalem to the eye of faith. In other words, God dwells wherever we truly let Him in. If our hearts are filled with fear, anger, pride, etc., then how will He dwell within us? We have to get "out of the way" to let God's Presence fill us.... So what is the center of your life? What is the altar of your heart?

Note: For more on this, see "Sanctuary of the Heart: Further Thoughts on Terumah."
 




The Divine Encounter...

Chagall Window
 

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

02.11.13  (Adar 1, 5773)  "Be sure to follow the pattern that you were shown..." (Exod. 25:40). At the inmost center of the Tabernacle, the place of utmost holiness, was the Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן־הַקּדֶשׁ), a "three-in-one" box that held the tablets of the covenant. The Ark served as a symbol of kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), the Throne of Glory, since it stood entirely apart as the only furnishing in the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). Upon the cover of the Ark (i.e., the kapporet) were fashioned two cherubim (i.e., angel-like figures) that faced one another (Exod. 25:17-18). According to the Talmud (Succah 5b), each cherub had the face of a child - one boy and one girl - and their wings spread heavenward as their eyes gazed upon the cover (Exod. 25:20). It was here - in the midst of sacred innocence, humility, purity, and hope - that the sacrificial blood was offered to make atonement for our sins, and it was here where God's Voice would be heard (Exod. 25:22; Num. 7:89).

The image of two innocent children's faces peering before the Throne of God gives fresh meaning to the statement that unless you "turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:1-3). The most important things of life are only known through love, and so-called knowledge apart from love is actually nothing (1 Cor. 13:2). Knowledge "puffs up" (φυσιόω), that is, it swells and feeds the ego and its posture before others, whereas love "builds up" (οἰκοδομέω), that is, it is other-focused and seeks to create a sense of habitation and a place of safety. "If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him" (1 Cor. 8:2-3). May God help us shine his love as His dear children...

Love is the reason we turn to God; it is the basis for teshuvah: "We love Him because He first loved us." We answer God's love by turning to Him.... that is the very first step. We must first receive hope into our hearts and that starts us on our way.
 




Parashat Terumah - תרומה


 

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

02.10.13  (Shevat 30, 5773)  Last week's Torah reading (Mishpatim) explained how the Israelites entered into covenant with God at Mount Sinai. The terms of the covenant were written down in Sefer HaBrit ("the Book of the Covenant"), which contained a variety of laws and rules to govern the Jewish people in the Promised Land. When the people agreed to obey the terms of the covenant, Moses took sacrificial blood and sprinkled it on them saying, "Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words." Moses then re-ascended the mount to receive the tablets of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments and to learn additional Torah from the LORD.

Our Torah portion this week (Terumah) focuses on Moses' extraordinary vision of the very throne of God and the altar that stood before it. The revelation of the Sanctuary and the Altar (i.e., the Mishkan or "Tabernacle") is actually the climax of the revelation of at Sinai, not the revelation of the Ten Commandments and the other ethical and social laws given to the people. And since the revelation of the Mishkan reveals and foretells the cross of Yeshua, it is clear that the Sinai revelation itself centers on the ministry of Yeshua our Messiah...

The reading begins with God asking for help "from every man whose heart moved him" to provide materials for making a portable sanctuary called the Mishkan, the tent-like structure that would symbolize God's Presence dwelling among the people. Gold, silver, brass, red and purple yarns, fine linens, oils, spices, precious stones, etc., all were needed. God said to Moses, "Let them make me a sanctuary (mikdash) so that I may dwell (שָׁכַנְתִּי) in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern (תַּבְנִית) of the Tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it" (Exod. 25:8-9).

God then showed Moses the pattern according to which the Tabernacle and its contents were to be made. First an ark of acacia wood was to be overlaid with pure gold inside and out. The ark was to be fitted with gold rings and gold covered poles to make it portable. The two tablets of the law were to be stored inside the ark. Two cherubim (angel-like figures) were to placed facing each other over a cover of the ark called the kapporet (i.e., "Mercy Seat"). The ark was to be housed within an inner chamber of the tent called the Holy of Holies. Adjacent to the Holy of Holies was a second chamber called the Holy Place. This chamber would contain a table overlaid with pure gold that held twelve loaves of bread along with a golden, seven-branched menorah. The Holy of Holies was separated from the Holy Place by an ornamental veil called the parochet.

The LORD then described the design of the tent along with its exact dimensions. The tent was designed to be completely portable, with a wooden frame covered by richly colored fabric and the hide of rams and goats. The outer court was to include an altar with horns of copper at each corner. The portion ends with a description of the outer court, which was to be entirely enclosed by an ornamental fence made with fine linen on silver poles with hooks of silver and sockets of brass.
 

 




Chodesh Tov, Chaverim...


 

02.10.13  (Shevat 30, 5773)  Today is Rosh Chodesh Adar, that is, the beginning of the month of Adar for the year 5773. On the Biblical calendar Adar (אֲדָר) is the last month of the year (counting from the month of Nisan), and is known as the month of Purim, a festive holiday that always occurs exactly one month before Passover. This year Purim begins under the full moon of the month of Adar (i.e., Sat., Feb. 23rd), and therefore Passover begins one lunar month later, under the full moon of Nisan, on Monday, March 25th (at sundown).

 




A Place for Protest...


 

02.08.13  (Shevat 28, 5773)  The heart of faith can both trust and yet question -- and sometimes even challenge -- God. A lament can arise from a place of faith: "O Lord, I know that you will help us; but will you help us before you will help us?" Sometimes faith must viscerally protest reality, even before the LORD; sometimes it must refuse to accept things as they are and assail the Almighty with petitions for real change... This is part of being honest with God: we come before Him to "trouble" Him, like the widow who relentlessly bothered the unjust judge until he finally acted on her behalf (Luke 18:1-8). Of course there are some afflictions we must accept in silence, but there are others to which we must say "no!" The only way to know the difference is to wrestle our concerns out before the Lord.
 




The Contours of Life...


 

02.08.13  (Shevat 28, 5773)  Life flows from the heart, whether it's physical life or spiritual life. Just as the physical heart supplies life-giving blood through the arteries to the various organs of the body, so our faith, or the "spiritual heart," supplies life and grace to the organs of the spirit. And just as the physical heart can be obstructed or blocked, so faith can become constricted and hindered by sin, impeding the free flow of the Divine Presence. Therefore since the heart represents the "engine" that sustains life, it is vital that we attend to the heart's needs in order to be spiritually healthy people. As the Scriptures say: "Above everything else guard your heart, for from it are the contours of life."
 

מִכָּל־מִשְׁמָר נְצר לִבֶּךָ
 כִּי־מִמֶּנּוּ תּוֹצְאוֹת חַיִּים

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

In the Hebrew scriptures, the word totza'ot (תּוֹצָאוֹת) comes from the verb yatza (יָצָא), which means to go forth or come out (yetziat mitzraim refers to the exodus from Egypt).  In the Tanakh, the word totza'ot is often used to refer to the borders of territory or the boundaries of a city. This verse is saying that from your heart (lev) a "map" or "chart" to life is being drawn -- "the contours of life." As the heart is either pure or corrupt, so will be the course of one's life. An unguarded heart soon becomes troubled by sin, lonely, suspicious, and eventually numb. On the other hand, if we keep ourselves from the obstruction of sin, we will experience the "free flow" of compassion, encouragement, and joy. The faithful heart is open - it believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Cor. 13:7).
 




Knowing the Father's Heart...


 

02.07.13  (Shevat 27, 5773)  The great parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) teaches that we first must accept ourselves as unconditionally loved by God so that we will come to resemble the character our heavenly Father and express His heart for others. As Yeshua said, "Be compassionate, just as your Father shows compassion" (Luke 6:36). The way of God's love is not found through personal ethics or self-effort, however; we can never reciprocate perfect love in our own strength. Paradoxically, we are enabled to love "like the Father" only by dying to ourselves, that is, by repeatedly failing and returning to the cross and its message of our acceptance. This is a long lesson, since many people believe they can "help" God rather than confessing that they are truly helpless. We have to "come to the end of ourselves" and learn to "be with" God's love, that is, to surrender and live in it fully. The walk of faith is a journey that leads us ever deeper into the heart of God. We walk with God, abiding in His Presence, trusting in Him as a beloved child trusts his father. Only then will we be able to let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16).
 




Glory as Consuming Fire...


 

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

02.07.13  (Shevat 27, 5773)  From our Torah portion this week (Mishpatim) we read: "Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel" (Exod. 24:17). Now some people regard this fire as a threat, even a sign of God's judgment, though it is better to regard it as a sign of God's glorious passion. After all, the pillar of fire had led the people out of bondage, just as it later dwelt between the cherubim upon the Ark of the Covenant. Indeed the fire that fell upon followers of Yeshua at Pentecost was the same manifestation of the glory of God's passionate love that was revealed at Sinai. Our God is a "consuming fire" (אֵשׁ אכְלָה), which means that He is full of passion and zeal that your heart fully belongs to Him...
 

כִּי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ אֵשׁ אכְלָה הוּא אֵל קַנָּא

ki · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · esh · o·khe·lah · hu · El · kan·na
 

"For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a zealous God."
(Deut. 4:24)
 

Hebrew Study Card
 
 

The metaphor that God is a Consuming Fire suggests that He is both indescribable and passionately concerned with our devotion to Him. "Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:28-29). We are promised a kingdom that cannot be shaken, wherein the Fire that consumes will consume all things that are not established by our Heavenly Father... "Know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today..." (Deut. 4:39-40). Our lives on the altar ascend to God in praise. 
 




Eved Ivri Prophecy...


 

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

02.07.13  (Shevat 27, 5773)  A verse from our Torah portion this week alludes to the future redemption of the Jewish people: "A Hebrew slave shall serve six years and in the seventh he shall go out free - by grace [חִנָּם]" (Exod. 21:2). This of course refers to the law of release, or "Shemittah," when all debts were canceled and slaves were set free. Notice, however, that the gematria of the term eved ivri (עֶבֶד עִבְרִי), "Hebrew slave," is 358, which is the same value as that for nachash (נָחָשׁ), "snake," and mashiach (מָשִׁיחַ), "Messiah." Man's first sin was disobeying the Torah of the LORD in the garden and heeding the will of the nachash, an act that resulted in exile from Eden and slavery to sin. God promised to rescue man by the hand of Messiah, who would come to crush the rule of the serpent and establish God's rightful rule on earth (Gen. 3:15). This is a "dual aspect" prophecy, however, since the Messiah first came to deliver us from slavery to sin (first advent), and later will come to establish the Messianic Kingdom on earth (second advent).  Prophetically, Israel represents the eved ivri, who was sold into servitude for six years but was set free "by grace" on the seventh year. This fortells the 6,000 years before acharit hayamim, the prophesied "End of Days" and the great "Day of the LORD," when the sabbatical millennium, the 1000 year reign of King Messiah, will finally commence:


 

This outline is a matter of "the knowledge of God's mystery (μυστήριον), which is Messiah, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:2-3). "Among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away, but we impart a the wisdom of God hidden in a mystery, which God decreed before the ages for our glory" (1 Cor. 2:6-7).

Note:
The great prophet Jeremiah stated that the refusal of the people to release their Hebrew slaves ultimately resulted in the horror of the Babylonian exile: "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I myself made a covenant with your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, saying, 'At the end of seven years each of you must set free the fellow Hebrew who has been sold to you and has served you six years; you must set him free from your service.' But your fathers did not listen to me or incline their ears to me.... Therefore, thus says the LORD: You have not obeyed me by proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and to his neighbor; behold, I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, declares the LORD. I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth" (Jer. 34:13-14, 17).
 




Comfort from the Shepherd...


 

02.06.13  (Shevat 26, 5773)  The Spirit of the Lord comforts and reassures those who trust in Him: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם), and they will never perish - no, never! - and no one will snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:27-28). Note that the Greek grammar in this verse uses a "double negation," which is the strongest way to deny something. In other words, if the question were asked, "Will one of these sheep perish?" the answer is emphatic: "No, no, it will never happen! It is unthinkable!" Indeed all those who belong to Messiah "shall never, ever perish - not into eternity (εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα)." It is an eternal certainty that you who are trusting in Yeshua will never perish, and no power in heaven or earth will be able to take you out of God's hand...  "Surely goodness and mercy shall pursue you all the days of your life, and you shall dwell in the Presence of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:6).

Regarding the certainty of salvation 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 passed 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. 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....

God 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.
 

הֲלוֹא צִוִּיתִיךָ
חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ אַל־תַּעֲרץ וְאַל־תֵּחָת
כִּי עִמְּךָ יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ בְּכל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵךְ

ha·lo · tziv·vi·ti·kha:
cha·zak · ve·e·matz · al · ta·a·rotz · ve·al · te·chat
ki · im·me·kha · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · be·khol · a·sher · te·lekh
 

"Have I not commanded you?
Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed
for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."
(Joshua 1:9)
 

 




The Torah Of Empathy...


 

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

02.05.13  (Shevat 25, 5773)  The "silver rule" of Torah may be stated as, "Do not do to others as you would not have them do to you," (i.e., "do no harm"), whereas the "golden rule" may be stated positively as, "Do to others as they would have done to them" (i.e., "do the good"). Both principles are based on the concept of reciprocity: How you treat others affects who you are, and ultimately will be returned back to you. "You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Exod. 22:20). This is the "Torah of empathy," or the exercise of sympathetic imagination... "Give and it shall be given back to you." Put yourself in the place of the other - the stranger, the outsider, the lost child - and remember the pain you experienced when you were an outsider, isolated and excluded... As we recognize the value, dignity, and worth of others, so we will find it within our own hearts. The measure you use will be measured back to you (Luke 6:38).
 




Torah within the Heart...


 

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

02.05.13  (Shevat 25, 5773)  It has been said that a holy life requires rules, just as art needs form to shape its content... When rules are regarded abstractly, however, they may seem like arbitrary imperatives; when they are regarded as internal principles, on the other hand, they express a pattern of life. Looked at positively, the "law" is not so much a "gilded cage" as a set of "directions" for the way of life. Living the way of Torah is a mark of being a child of the Father of the House. Believers of Yeshua will love the Torah, since it is "written inwardly," on the heart, as it says: "I will put my Torah (תּוֹרָה) within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer. 31:33, Heb. 10:16-17). "For we are his workmanship, created in Yeshua the Messiah for good works (ma'asim tovim), which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph.2:20).
 

נָתַתִּי אֶת־תּוֹרָתִי בְּקִרְבָּם וְעַל־לִבָּם אֶכְתֲּבֶנָּה
וְהָיִיתִי לָהֶם לֵאלהִים וְהֵמָּה יִהְיוּ־לִי לְעָם

na·ta·ti · et · to·ra·ti · be·kir·bam · va·al · lib·bam · ekh·ta·ve·nah
ve·ha·yi·ti · la·hem · le·lo·him · ve·hem·mah · yi·yu-li · le·am
 

"I will put my Torah within them, and I will write it on their hearts.
And I will be their God, and they shall be my people."
(Jer. 31:33b)
 

Hebrew Study Card
 

Although this prophecy will be completely fulfilled when the Jewish people accept Yeshua as Messiah during the time of the coming kingdom, it has obvious application for believers in the present age (e.g., see Heb. 8:8-12; 10:16-17). As it is written, "Blessed is the man whose delight is the Torah of the LORD, and who meditates upon the Torah day and night" (Psalm 1:2). Indeed, the Torah of the LORD is perfect (Psalm 19:7). "Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119:97).

Here are a few verses from the New Testament that speak of Torah acts of gemilut chassidim (acts of lovingkindness): "He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14); "The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people" (Titus 3:8); "What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but has no good works (i.e., ma'asim tovim) to prove it? Is such "faith" able to save him? (James 2:14); "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Messiah, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Cor. 5:10); therefore, "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works" (Heb. 10:24).

Related to our Torah this week (i.e., Mishpatim) is the great prophecy of the transformation of our inner life: "And I will give you a new heart (lev chadash), and I will put a new spirit (ruach chadashah) within you. And I will remove the heart of stone (lev ha'even) from your flesh and give you a soft heart (lev basar). I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules (i.e., mishpatim: מִשְׁפָּטִים).
 

וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ
וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה אֶתֵּן בְּקִרְבְּכֶם
וַהֲסִרתִי אֶת־לֵב הָאֶבֶן מִבְּשַׂרְכֶם
וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב בָּשָׂר
וְאֶת־רוּחִי אֶתֵּן בְּקִרְבְּכֶם
וְעָשִׂיתִי אֵת אֲשֶׁר־בְּחֻקַּי תֵּלֵכוּ
וּמִשְׁפָּטַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם

ve·na·ta·ti · la·khem · lev · cha·dash
ve·ru·ach · cha·da·shah · et·ten · be·kir·be·khem
va·cha·si·ro·ti ·et ·lev ·ha·e·ven · mib·sar·khem
ve·na·ta·ti · la·khem · lev · ba·sar
ve·et · ru·chi · et·ten · be·kir·be·khem
ve·a·si·ti · et · a·sher · be·chuk·o·tai · te·le·khu
u·mish·pa·tai · tish·me·ru · va·a·si·tem
 

"And I will give you a new heart
and a new spirit I will put within you.
And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh
and I will give you a soft heart of flesh.
I will put my Spirit within you,
and cause you to walk in my statutes
and be careful to obey my rules."
(Ezek. 36:26-27)
 


Note:  For more on this subject, see the "Torah Awareness for the Christian" article.
 




Real Power to Change...


 

02.05.13  (Shevat 25, 5773)  How do we change? How are we made new? Do we try harder and harder to "keep the law"? Is that the way God's love will transform our hearts? But ask yourself: Did Yeshua want his disciples to follow Moses or to follow Him into an entirely new level of reality? And when he invites people to turn and come to Him, he wants them to awaken to something so valuable that they are willing to give up everything in the world to obtain it (Matt. 13:45-46). True spiritual regeneration or transformation is not just leaving sin behind you, but is discovering the glory of true and infinite life...

We are changed by the power of unconditional love, but this means that we must allow ourselves to be loved without attempting to earn it (Rom. 4). If we are willing to receive love only if we regard ourselves as worthy or deserving of it, then we will reinforce the illusion that love can be bought, explained, or owed to us based on our merit.

Have you discovered the glory and wonder of God's unconditional love, despite the many sins and the shame of your life? Do you know "in your gut" that his love means no longer having to defend or explain yourself? God's love enables you to quit hiding what you really are from Him; you can give up the pretense of being something you're not. When you turn to the Lord in the transparency of your brokenness, weakness, and neediness, you will find Him there, accepting you for who you really are...

That's the message of gospel, after all. The cross of Yeshua is the end of "self improvement" projects, and that includes the "end of the law" as the means of attempting to find our acceptance before God (Rom. 10:4). We come to know God's love and acceptance "apart from the law," that is, despite our repeated failures, pain, and loss of the false self.  We are truly changed as we disclose more and more of what we really are to God, that is, when we come "out of the shadows" to be made visible and healed before His glorious Presence. Then we discover the "lightness" of being united to the risen Messiah and the "law of the Spirit of life in Yeshua (תּוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים בְּיֵשׁוּעַ). May God work within us all such a miracle!
 

תּוֹדִיעֵנִי ארַח חַיִּים
שׂבַע שְׂמָחוֹת אֶת־פָּנֶיךָ
נְעִמוֹת בִּימִינְךָ נֶצַח

to·di·ei·ni · o·rach · cha·yim
so·va' · se·ma·chot · et · pa·ne·kha
ne·i·mot · bi·min·kha · ne·tzach
 

"You will cause me to know the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore."
(Psalm 16:11)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

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Shadow and Substance...


 

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

02.05.13  (Shevat 25, 5773)  The Baal Shem Tov is reported to have once said, "What matters is not the number of commandments we obey, but how, and in what spirit, we obey them." In other words, when our hearts are full of simple passion to express our love for God, we lose sight of the issue of "keeping the commandments," since they are regarded as a mere "outer form" or the appearance of something far more basic and important... We focus on the Substance and no longer the shadow (Heb. 10:1).

The law is holy, just, and good, and the commandments of God are vital for our well-being and formation of our character, of course. However, as we walk in God's love, empowered by the Ruach HaKodesh, the consciousness of the commandments are "transcended" in the sense that they are no regarded as "outside" of us, but are now found within, as part of how we walk by faith: Torah is written within (Jer. 31:33). In other words, we lose sight of the law as a means of "self-improvement" and instead rely entirely on God's love to transform our nature... It is one thing to act as a child who is under the explicit guidance of a set of rules that govern behavior in the house, and it is another to act as a full-grown heir who is empowered to serve the needs of the house (Gal. 3:24-25).
 




Today is the Day...


 

02.04.13  (Shevat 24, 5773)  We may desire to do good but postpone doing so because of our apparent lack of means, or because of the perceived absence of fortuitous circumstance. Yet we "pay" for the choices we are making as we "spend our time." We are given only this present hour to encourage others, to express gratitude or sympathy, or to sacrifice something of ourselves for the sake of lasting good. Often it is the small things that matter, and just because we can't do everything doesn't mean we should do nothing. The sages say, "It is not up to you to finish the task, but you are not free to avoid it" (Avot 2:21). Don't let what you can't do overrule what you can do... In the world to come may we never regret the good that was ours to do but left undone! "Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Gal. 6:9).
 

בְּטַח בַּיהוָה וַעֲשֵׂה־טוֹב
שְׁכָן־אֶרֶץ וּרְעֵה אֱמוּנָה

be·takh · badonai · va·aseh · tov
she·khan · e·retz · ur·eh · e·mu·nah
 

"Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and feed upon faithfulness."
(Psalm 37:3)
 




 

The blessing we regularly recite over bread (hamotzi lechem) is really a prophecy of sorts. "Blessed are You, Lord our God, who will bring bread up from the earth." This applies first of all to the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead, but it also applies to Yeshua as lechem ha-chayim (לֶחֶם הַחַיִּים), the Bread of Life, who meets our heart's needs (John 6:35). As we feed on God's faithfulness, we shall be satisfied...
 




You shall be holy to Me...


 

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

02.04.13  (Shevat 24, 5773)  "You shall be holy to me" (Exod. 22:31). That is, you shall be "set apart" to know and live in God's love; you shall dwell in the secret place of the Most High, a place prepared especially for you (Psalm 91:1; John 14:2). Properly understood, holiness (קְדֻשָּׁה) expresses the realm of being loved, cared for, and watched over. It is an intimacy that is exclusively hallowed and made sacred. God calls you to his closed off chamber, the "holy of holies" where He dwells; there he invites you in, he welcomes you, he desires to see you (Heb. 4:16). The deeper meaning of holiness is to be spiritually intimate with God. Hence the Spirit of Holiness uses romantic and even sexual imagery in the Song of Songs to express the deepest yearnings we have for connection with God...
 




Walking Uprightly...


 

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

02.04.13  (Shevat 24, 5773)  In our Torah portion this week we read, "Keep yourselves away from a false matter" (Exod. 23:7). In this connection note that the Hebrew word for falsehood (or lie) is sheker (שֶׁקֶר), which can be rearranged to spell kesher (קֶשֶׁר), meaning a band, gang, or group of people... The power of the lie is often found in the "group" rather than in the individual, and if enough people in a group repeat something untrue, eventually the individual's conscience will be overruled and the truth will be lost... This is a common methodology regularly employed by mass media for purposes of political propaganda.

Regarding this commandment Abraham Twerski comments that it means we should act in a way that will not move us to "hide," and that includes hiding within the anonymity of the crowd. "Think about what you are about to do. Is there a possibility that you may at some time have to deny that you did it? If so, then do not do it" (Twerski on Chumash).

Each of us must individually strive to be yashar (יָשָׁר) - upright and honest, and free from the complications and devious speech that attends to lies. We are to be "simple" (תָּמִים) with the LORD our God (Deut. 18:13), which requires that we are first willing to be rigorously honest with ourselves. "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty" (Kierkegaard).

In this connection we note that the midrash teaches that the Hebrew word for "truth" (i.e., emet: אֱמֶת) is composed of the first, middle, and last letters of the alphabet, whereas the three letters that spell "falsehood" (i.e., sheker: שֶׁקֶר) all stand next to one another. Truth creates a firm foundation, secure, strong, and trustworthy, while falsehood is unstable. As it is written, "truth stands forever, falsehood has no legs."  In other words, the way of truth is "self-authenticating" and made secure, whereas the way of falsehood is  "unlivewithable" and made unsteady...
 




Trust to Understand...


 

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

02.04.13  (Shevat 24, 5773)  From our Torah portion this week we read: "all the people answered with one voice and said, כָּל־הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּר יְהוָה נַעֲשֶׂה / "All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do" (Exod. 19:8; 24:3). It is paradoxical that we must "do" first and then "hear," but in matters of the spirit, we don't really "hear" apart from acting in faith, which is another way of saying that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:17). In other words, our deeds will bring to life our creed, and we will be given light as we act in trust. As Yeshua said, "If you know these things, happy are you if you do them" (John 13:17).
 




Parashat Mishpatim-  משפטים


 

[ Our Torah reading for this week is parashat Mishpatim, which falls on the "Shabbat of the Shekels" this year (see below).  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

02.03.13  (Shevat 23, 5773)  Last week's Torah portion (Yitro) explained that exactly seven weeks after the Exodus from Egypt (i.e., 49 days after the first Passover), Moses gathered the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai to enter into covenant with the LORD. In a dramatic display of thunder, lightning, billowing smoke and fire, the LORD descended upon the mountain and recited the Ten Commandments to the people. Upon hearing the law's categorical requirements, however, the people shrank back in fear and begged Moses to be their mediator before God. The people then stood far off, while Moses alone drew near to the thick darkness to receive the various laws and rules from the LORD.

This week's Torah portion (Mishpatim) begins with Moses in the midst of the "thick darkness" receiving additional instructions regarding civil law for the Israelite people.  The Jewish sages traditionally count 53 distinct commandments in this portion of the Torah, making it one of the most "legalistic" (i.e., law-focused) sections of the entire Bible. Civil laws, liability laws, criminal laws, agricultural laws, financial laws, family purity laws, Sabbath laws, and holiday laws are all given in this portion. These various social and civil laws are called "mishpatim" (מִשְׁפָּטִים), a plural word that means "rules" or "judgments."

After receiving these additional rules, Moses descended Sinai and went before the people to reveal to them the words of the LORD. Upon hearing the details, the people responded in unison, "all the words which the LORD has said we will do" (i.e., na'aseh: נַעֲשֶׂה). Moses then wrote down the words of the covenant into a separate scroll (sefer habrit), built an altar at the foot of Sinai, and ordered sacrifices to the LORD to be made.  He then took the sacrificial blood from the offerings, threw half upon the altar, and read the scroll of the covenant to the people. The people ratified the covenant by saying, "all that the LORD says we will do and obey" (i.e., na'aseh ve'nishmah: נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע). Upon hearing this, Moses took the other half of the sacrificial blood and threw it on the people saying, "Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words." After this ceremony, Moses, Aaron, and seventy of the elders of Israel ascended Mount Sinai to eat a "covenant affirmation meal" between Israel and the LORD.

After returning from the mountain with the elders, the LORD commanded Moses to go back up to receive the tablets of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments. On the seventh day there, he heard the Voice of the LORD calling to him from the midst of the cloud of glory, and then entered into the Presence of the LORD. He remained on the mountain for a total of forty days and forty nights receiving further revelation about the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle) while the Israelites waited for him at the camp down below.
 


Note:  Our Torah portion this week also reminds us of the three major "pilgrimage" holidays (שָׁלשׁ רְגָלִים) of the Biblical year: Passover, Shavu'ot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (Tabernacles): "Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread [Passover]... you shall keep the Feast of Harvest (Shavu'ot, "weeks")... and the Feast of Ingathering (Sukkot) at the end of the year" (Exod. 23:14-17). On each of the three festivals, the people later gathered in "Jerusalem," which R' Nachman says means yirah shalem (יִרְאָה שָׁלֵם), "the perfection or healing of fear."
 




The Sabbath of the Shekels


 

02.03.13  (Shevat 23, 5773)  Four "special Sabbaths" occur just before the start of spring: two before Purim and two before Passover. Collectively, these Sabbaths are called "The Four Shabbatot" and four additional Torah readings (called Arba Parashiyot, or the "four portions") are read on each of these Sabbaths in preparation for these holidays. The names of these four Sabbaths are Shekalim, Zakhor, Parah, and HaChodesh, respectively.

The first of the four Sabbaths is called Shabbat Shekalim (שבת שקלים), "the Sabbath of the Shekels," which occurs just before the month of Adar begins. An additional reading (Exod. 30:11-16) is added to the regular Torah reading that describes the contribution of a half-shekel for the construction and upkeep of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). According to a midrash in the Talmud (Bavli, Shekalim 1), the half-shekel represents a "fiery coin" that the LORD brought from underneath the Throne of His Glory to symbolically "atone" for the sin of the Golden Calf. Since every Jew was required to give this "widow's mite," repentance is accepted for all who come in true humility before the LORD. For us, it might be a time to remember those who offer personal sacrifices so that we also might draw closer to God.
 




The Month of Adar... חודש אדר


 

[ The Hebrew month of Adar begins Saturday, Feb. 9th at sundown this year... ]

02.03.13  (Shevat 23, 5773)  On the Biblical calendar the month of Adar (אֲדָר‎) is the last month of the year counting from the month of Nisan (during a leap year it is called Adar II). Adar is primarily known as the month of Purim, a festive holiday which is always celebrated exactly one month before Passover (Megillah 1:4). During both Purim and Passover we celebrate God's deliverance of His people, and therefore Adar is considered one of the happiest months of the Jewish year: "When Adar comes, joy is increased" (Ta'anit 29a). This year the month of Adar begins on Saturday, Feb. 9th, and Purim begins two weeks later, under the full moon (i.e., Saturday, Feb. 23rd). That means that Passover begins one lunar month later, on Monday, March 25th (at sundown).
 

Winter Holiday Calendar
 

The month of Adar also marks a season of teshuvah (repentance) for us, since it is the last month of the Biblical year, and Adar 7th is the traditional anniversary of the death of Moses. Indeed, just as the month of Elul (i.e., the month that precedes the new year of the fall) serves a time for self-examination, so the month of Adar is a time set apart to reexamine the quality our spiritual life before the start of the new year of spring. In other words, the month of Adar is set apart to help us begin preparing for the holiday of Passover.

The following (simplified) blessing can be recited to ask the LORD to help you regain or enhance your joy for the coming month of Adar:
 

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

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

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



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Blessings Every Day...


 

02.01.13  (Shevat 21, 5773)  Rabbi Simlai taught, "Six hundred thirteen commandments were given to Israel at Sinai. Two hundred and forty eight positive commandments correspond to the joints of the body; three hundred and sixty five prohibitions to the three hundred and sixty five days of the year" (Makkot 23b). This is to say that we are to serve God with every limb of our bodies every day of our lives. The truth of God connects every part of ourselves with every day of our lives...

In the New Testament we read: "In Him we live and move have our being" (Acts 17:28). Just as every breath signifies the giver of the Breath of Life, so every action signifies God's sustaining power.  And since the New Testament actually contains more commandments (i.e., blessings) than the Torah, we rightly infer that at any given place or time we have the Teacher Present, the very Wisdom of God, to guide our steps. As  Yeshua said, "behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20).

One of the Ten Commandments is to rest in the LORD your God (Exod. 20:8-11), which is a picture of the "set table" the LORD provides for us as his children. The deepest principle of Sabbath is that we are set free from our striving and can open our hearts to God's gracious love... "Salvation is of the LORD," and we rest in the what the Lord has done for us. "If you call the Sabbath a delight; if you honor it, then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken" (Isa. 58:13-14).

Shabbat Shalom, chaverim!
 




Borne by the Spirit...


 

02.01.13  (Shevat 21, 5773)  Sin is defined as the transgression of Torah (i.e., ἀνομία) in the Scriptures (1 John 3:4), and at root such rebellion comes from an unwillingness to trust that what God wants is your deepest happiness. Because of this, sin goes "out of bounds" and expresses itself as the desire to control one's life, to define "the good" (or the bad) on its own terms. Surrender, on the other hand, gives up control and relies upon God's care. It relaxes because it accepts God's love as a gift and not as something to be earned. Meister Eckhart said it this way, "God is not attained by a process of addition to anything in the soul, but by a process of subtraction." In other words, we don't need to do anything to be free, though we must "get out of the way" for the Holy Spirit to do the work in us.

Recall that Yeshua said, "If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). De Mello tells this story. A fearful believer was asked why he was so anxious about his faith. "Lest I fail to attain God's salvation," he replied. "But what is God's salvation? What does this mean to you?" "Personal deliverance, freedom, peace" came the reply. "So you are afraid to be free..." At that moment, the anxious believer relaxed and lost his fear forever.
 




Ten Commandments Reader Page


 

[ The following entry relates to this week's Torah reading (Yitro). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

02.01.13  (Shevat 21, 5773)  I created a new "Ten Commandments Reader Page" for those of you who want to practice reciting the commandments in Hebrew. This page provides the Hebrew text of Exodus 20:2-17 with a translation directly underneath. A few explanatory footnotes are also provided. Though it is only a draft version, I hope you will find it helpful, chaverim! You can download the page here.
 




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