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Jewish Holiday Calendar 

Note: For January 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)



 

January 2013 Site Updates
 


A Messy Perseverence...


 

01.31.13  (Shevat 20, 5773)  I once met a man who told me that he was a writer. I asked what sort of things he wrote, and he surprisingly told me nothing, because he refused to write anything unless it was of the utmost quality. Because of this hopelessly high standard, he felt entirely unworthy to write.... What a paradox, and what a shame. This is similar to the artist who sought the perfect face to paint, but finding no face he esteemed "worthy," gave up painting altogether. If we wait for the ideal time to love, or to act in faith, we might never do so, or if we do, it may be for reasons that are not based on heartfelt love. It is better to walk out our faith with imperfection than to not walk it out at all! It's better to risk failing than to give up before you even begin...
 

יֵצֶר סָמוּךְ תִּצּר שָׁלוֹם שָׁלוֹם כִּי בְךָ בָּטוּחַ
 בִּטְחוּ בַיהוָה עֲדֵי־עַד כִּי בְּיָהּ יְהוָה צוּר עוֹלָמִים

ye·tzer · sa·mukh · titz·tzor · sha·lom · sha·lom · ki · ve·kha · ba·tu·ach
bit·chu · vadonai · a·di-ad · ki · be·Yah · Adonai · tzur · o·la·mim
 

You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, for he trusts in you.
Trust in the LORD forever, for Yah the LORD is an everlasting rock.
(Isa. 26:3-4)
 



Hebrew Study Card

 

We have to step out in faith, despite the messiness of our imperfections... If you write, there will be typos; if you teach, there will be oversights; if you sing or play music, there will be missed notes, and so on... As Hillel the Elder said, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, then what am 'I'? And if not now, when?" (Avot. 1:14). We all are broken vessels, flawed and frail, but we press on, trusting that God will give us his perfect peace and will bring forth His strength despite our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-10). And may God give us all the permission to be who we are...
 




These are the words...


 

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

01.31.13  (Shevat 20, 5773)  From our Torah portion this week we read: "You shall be treasured and set apart; you shall be a child of the King; you shall be one who helps others draw near to God... these are the words (אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים) that you shall speak" (Exod. 19:5-6). These are the words of love: "And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your substance. Set these words (הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה), which I command you this day, upon your heart" (Deut. 6:5-6). We store up these words so that, in a holy moment, they are quickened within us and we are able to hear the Voice of the LORD speaking from the midst of the fire that burns within our hearts.  As Simone Weil said, "love is revelation, and revelation comes only with love."
 




Torah of the Neighbor...


 

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

01.31.13  (Shevat 20, 5773)  The Ten Commandments are often divided into two basic groups or categories. The first five commandments are said to be between man and God (i.e., ben adam lechavero: בֵּין אָדָם לְחֲבֵרוֹ), and contain 146 words; whereas the second five are said to be between man and other people (i.e., ben adam la-Makom: בֵּין אָדָם לְמָקוֹם), and contain 26 words, the same value as the Name of God, YHVH (יהוה). In this connection we note that the Ten Commandments begin with "I AM" (אָנכִי) and end with "[for] your neighbor" (לְרֵעֶךָ), which when joined together says, "I am your neighbor."  In other words, the LORD Himself is also found in your neighbor... When we love our neighbor as ourselves (אָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ), we are demonstrating love for God. But who, then, is your neighbor? You are -- to every other soul you may encounter this day (Luke 10:36).
 




Focus and Simplicity...


 

01.31.13  (Shevat 20, 5773)  Some people tend to "overthink" matters and make things more difficult than necessary. For example, someone once asked Nachman of Breslov, a great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, "When I am praying and I mention HaShem's holy name, what profound thoughts, what deep intentions, should I have in mind?" Rabbi Nachman answered, "Isn't the simple meaning - God - enough for you?" We must be careful here and not lose sight of what is really important. We should serve God with "simplicity" (תֻּמָּה), that is, sincerely, with all our hearts and with straightforward intent. We should use a "single eye" and resist the temptation to "read into things" (Matt. 6:22-23). As it is written in the Torah, "be simple (תָּמִים) with the LORD your God" (Deut. 18:13).
 

תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ

ta·mim · ti·he·yeh · im · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha
 

"You shall be wholehearted with the LORD your God"
(Deut. 18:13)
 



 

In the Sefer Torah (i.e., the handwritten Torah scroll), the first letter of the word tamim ("simple, wholehearted") is written extra LARGE in order to emphasize its importance. Notice also the little word im (עִם), "with," that follows in this verse. This hearkens to the simplicity spoken of by the prophet: "What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness (chesed), and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8). Having a humble heart walks "with" the LORD. Genuine humility begins with the awareness that 1) there is a God and 2) you are not Him.... It is the practice of "knowing before whom you stand" and living your life in light of this fundamental truth.

Again, we must exercise caution. We can evade the truth by means of being overly "sophisticated" when we read the Scriptures. The essential truth is plain enough, but we want to split hairs, consult a variety of commentaries, engage in mystical speculations, and so on, all in an attempt to defend ourselves against hearing from the Spirit of God! But as it says in Scriptures: holekh batom yelekh betach, "Whoever walks in simplicity (בַּתּם) walks securely" (Prov. 10:9).

Kierkegaard once lamented: "The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly." There is a very real danger of "thinking about" truth rather than living it. For instance, you might study the Psalms as literature and attempt to understand the nuances of Hebrew poetry, but that is altogether different than reciting the psalms with inner passion, with simple conviction and the earnest desire to unite our heart's cry with the devotion that gave life to the words... We must read with a heart of faith to unlock the truth that speaks to the heart.  If you believe only what you understand, your faith is actually grounded in your own reasoning, not in the Divine Voice of Love...

It is written that "God protects the simple" (Psalm 116:6). "Love believes everything" (1 Cor. 13:7), even if that may make the lover appear to be a fool (Prov. 14:15). Rabbi Nachman comments, "This is because, while you will believe in that which is false and foolish, you will also believe the truth. In this you are better off than the person who is sophisticated and skeptical of everything. He begins by ridiculing foolishness and falsehood, but eventually ends up ridiculing everything – including the truth!" The skeptic ultimately is a coward who is more afraid of being deceived than he is willing to risk living in the truth.
 




The Law and the Spirit...


 

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

01.30.13  (Shevat 19, 5773)  "On the first day of the third month after leaving Egypt, the people of Israel came to the desert of Sinai" (Exod. 19:1). The revelation at Mount Sinai is celebrated each year during the festival of Shavuot ("Weeks"), which occurs exactly seven weeks (49 days) after Passover (because of this, Shavuot is sometimes called "Pentecost," meaning "the 50th day"). The 49 day countdown from the day after Passover was later commemorated as the period of "counting the omer." In Jewish tradition, Shavuot is called the "time of the giving of our Torah," the culmination of the Passover deliverance, though it is also the time when the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) was poured out to the followers of Yeshua in fulfillment of the New Covenant (Acts 2, Jer. 31:31-33).
 




The Divine "Law School"...


 

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

01.30.13  (Shevat 19, 5773)  The sages said that "the laws of the Torah were given that people should live by them and not that they should die by them" (Lev. 18:5). This is true, though it is not true without qualification. Legalists and spiritual perfectionists are constantly depressed because they never feel like they've done enough or have fulfilled their duty. They feel inadequate, and this leads to severity and hardness of heart. However, such spiritual failure serves as a "halfway house" to the truth, since the law was intended to reveal our sinful condition and to lead us to a state of brokenness and surrender (Gal. 3:24-25). As is is written, "For from the law comes the knowledge of sin" (διὰ γὰρ νόμου ἐπίγνωσις ἁμαρτίας), but now the righteousness of God (צִדְקַת אֱלהִים) apart from the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets" (Rom. 3:20-21, Gal. 3:19). The phrase "apart from the law" means from an entirely different sphere from that which says, "do this and live." It is the "righteousness" (δικαιοσύνη) that comes from God, not from man. The law by itself, though holy, just, and good, is powerless to give life, though it indeed reveals our need for life that graciously is given apart from the law.
 




The "Problem" of Obedience...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Yitro) and the relationship between surrendering to God (trust) and acts of obedience (works)... ]

01.30.13  (Shevat 19, 5773)  The first duty of the heart is to surrender to God's love for your soul. Surrender of the heart is deeper than outward obedience, since it is possible to obey God for the wrong reasons. Our motivation must be grounded in God's love first of all. This is what it means to "die to yourself" or to be "crucified" with Messiah: you let go; you relinquish control; you trust God to sustain you, even in your weakest moment. That is the nature of trusting in God's love for you. 

Some people seem to think that the way of salvation depends on our obedience. But those who say things like we must "trust and obey," or "believe and repent" either do not understand the radical nature of what it means to truly trust God, or they confuse the idea of surrender with obedience. After all, if we seriously think that we are delivered by our obedience, the focus will be on our will, our "works," our performance, and our religious life will become self-centered, driven, and insecure. Moreover, this willful approach assumes we can obey, that we are capable of attaining some kind of spiritual perfection, and so on. No one denies the requirement to obey God, of course, but the question centers on the means to do just that. What is the source of our power to obey God?  To remedy matters of self-deception, it is helpful to review the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus interprets the Ten Commandments to show us what really lurks within the unregenerated heart.

The moral law of God is a perfect mirror, revealing the truth about our inward condition. The reality of our sin leads to brokenness and the confession of our need for God's power to change our hearts. But we can only get to that place by means of the cross: We first die to all hope in ourselves and our religious aspirations, and then God does the miracle. The cross demonstrates that any attempt of the flesh to please God (i.e., "religion") is useless and needs to be laid to rest.  True obedience, then, means surrendering to the LORD who heals your heart (forgives your sin) and sets you free to know Him. This is the "end of the law," after all - to walk as God's free child who pleases Him out of a relationship of love, trust, and blessing. We can obey God, in other words, only if we first surrender our hearts to his love.
 

לא כַחֲטָאֵינוּ עָשָׂה לָנוּ וְלא כַעֲוֹנתֵינוּ גָּמַל עָלֵינוּ
כִּי כִגְבהַּ שָׁמַיִם עַל־הָאָרֶץ גָּבַר חַסְדּוֹ עַל־יְרֵאָיו
כִּרְחק מִזְרָח מִמַּעֲרָב הִרְחִיק מִמֶּנּוּ אֶת־פְּשָׁעֵינוּ
כְּרַחֵם אָב עַל־בָּנִים רִחַם יְהוָה עַל־יְרֵאָיו
כִּי־הוּא יָדַע יִצְרֵנוּ זָכוּר כִּי־עָפָר אֲנָחְנוּ

lo · kha·cha·ta·ei·nu · a·sah · la·nu · ve·lo · kha·a·vo·no·tei·nu · ga·mal · a·lei·nu
ki · khig·vo·ah · sha·ma·yim · al-ha·a·retz · ga·var · chas·do · al-ye·re·av
kir·chok · miz·rach · mi·ma·a·rav · hir·chik · mi·me·nu · et-pesh·a·ei·nu
ke·ra·chem · av · al-ba·nim · rich·am · Adonai · al-ye·re·av
ki · hu · ya·da · yitz·rei·nu · za·khur · ki-a·far · a·nach·nu
 

Not according to our sins does He deal with us, and not for our iniquities does He repay us. For as high as the heavens ascend over the earth, so His love overwhelmingly prevails for those who revere Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us. Like a father who is merciful to his sons, so the LORD shows mercy to those who revere Him. For He knows our nature; He remembers we are but dust.
(Psalm 103:10-14)
 



 


Important Note:  All who surrender obey, but not all who obey surrender... While we are not saved by obeying rules of conduct but solely by trusting in God's love (Eph. 2:9; 2 Tim. 1:9, Titus 3:5, Rom. 11:6, etc.), we will find ourselves willing to obey God from the heart only if we are really convinced that he loves and accepts us, despite our sins... The love of God is not without discipline, structure, and order, after all. Love is polite; it listens; it seeks to serve and worship with reverence and gratitude. So, after unconditionally surrendering our hearts to God, we will desire to do his will, that is, we will want to know and to do his Torah (Psalm 1:2), and the Holy Spirit will therefore lead us to a place of order, faithfulness, and peace -  not to disorder and confusion (1 Cor. 14:33,40). There are disciplines to the life of faith that are instilled within our hearts to help us "work out" the inner transformation of God's love into our daily lives. And that is part of the rationale for liturgy, ritual, observing the moedim (biblical holidays), reading the weekly Torah portions, giving tzedakah, performing acts of chesed, and so on.  Ideally such things are meant to provide "form" to the inner content of the heart.  Shalom.
 




Ten Matters of Heart...


 

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

01.30.13  (Shevat 19, 5773)  The Ten Commandments may be summarized this way: 1) "I am your only deliverer, the One who loves and choses you; 2) love me exclusively; 3) regard my love as sacred; 4) rest in me; 5) honor your life and its history. Do no harm to others: 6) forsake anger, 7) abandon lust, 8) renounce greed, and 9) abhor lying. 10) Refuse envy. Know that you belong to me and that you are accepted. Love others as you are also loved.

The "heart of the law" is the Torah of love, just as the "law of love" is the Torah of the Gospel (John 15:12). "Teach me the whole Torah, a heathen said, while I stand on one foot. Shammai cursed and drove the man away. He went to Hillel. Hillel said, What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else: that is the whole Torah. The rest will follow – go now and learn it." As the Apostle Paul taught: "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: Ve'ahavta: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Gal. 5:14). Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:10).
 




The Torah of Willingness...


 

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

01.30.13  (Shevat 19, 5773)  Do you need to understand before you will believe? The midrash says that God offered the Torah to each the 70 nations, but each nation first asked to understand what was required, and then rejected the offer... Finally God approached Israel and asked: "Will you accept my Torah?" And they replied, kol asher dibber Adonai na'aseh (כּל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּר יְהוָה נַעֲשֶׂה), "all that the LORD has spoken we will do" (Exod. 19:8). In other words, Israel was willing to accept the Torah even before they understood what was required of them. Later they reaffirmed their simplicity of heart by saying na'aseh ve'nishma: "We will do and then we will understand" (Exod. 24:7).
 




The First Commandment...


 

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

01.29.13  (Shevat 18, 5773)  Rabbi Levi said, "When the Holy One spoke to the people of Israel, each one felt personally spoken to by God, and thus it says in the singular, 'I am the Eternal One, your God.'" Indeed the first commandment given at Sinai was to accept the reality of our personal deliverance by the LORD: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you (singular) out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). In fact, God used the second person singular (not plural) for all the verbs throughout the Ten Commandments: "you (singular) shall have no other gods beside me"; "you (singular) shall not take the Name of the LORD your God in vain," and so on. The very first commandment, however, is the starting point for all that follows. Until you are personally willing to accept the LORD as your God and to trust Him as your own Deliverer and King, the rest of the commandments are not likely to be heeded.
 

אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ
אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם
מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים

a·no·khi · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha
a·sher · ho·tze·ti·kha · me·e·retz · mitz·ra·yim
mi·bet · a·va·dim
 

"I am the LORD your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of the house of slavery"
(Exod. 20:2)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

Hebrew Study Card
 

It is noteworthy that God began with the phrase asher hotzetikha me'eretz mitzrayim ("who delivered you from the land of Egypt") instead of identifying Himself as the Creator of heaven and earth (Gen. 1:1). This is because the purpose of creation is to demonstrate God's redemptive love and to be known as our Savior and Redeemer, just as Yeshua is the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9). "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Creation therefore begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Mashiach, the great Lamb of God... He is the Center of Creation - the Aleph and Tav - the Beginning and the End (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:17). All the world was created for the Messiah: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).
 




The Longer Road Home...


 

01.29.13  (Shevat 18, 5773)  God chose to take the people along the "longer road" to the promised land, just as we find ourselves still awaiting our redemption in the world to come. And like the Israelites, we must be on guard, since when things get difficult, our tendency is to go back to what is familiar, even if it is painful. Thank God we have a Good Shepherd who teaches us and guides us in the way to go: "And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher (מוֹרֶה) will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. Your ears will hear a word behind you, saying: 'This is the way; follow it,' when you turn to the right or to the left" (Isa. 30:20-21).
 

וְאָזְנֶיךָ תִּשְׁמַעְנָה דָבָר
מֵאַחֲרֶיךָ לֵאמר
זֶה הַדֶּרֶךְ לְכוּ בוֹ
כִּי תַאֲמִינוּ וְכִי תַשְׂמְאִילוּ

ve·oz·ne·kha · tish·ma·nah · da·var
me·a·cha·re·kha · le·mor:
zeh · ha·de·rekh · le·khu · vo
ki · ta·a·mi·nu · ve·khi · tas·me·i·lu
 

"Your ears will hear a word
behind you saying:
'This is the way; follow it,'
when you turn to the right or to the left."
(Isa. 30:21)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

 

What a beautiful image of our LORD as our Teacher and Good Shepherd, who guides us in the paths of life and delivers us from "right-hand and left-hand errors." And may God keep us upon the path, free from the seductions of the tempter who wants to distract our souls and lead us into fruitless byways and trouble.

May we be given great grace to behold His face, even if we are in the midst of adversity or affliction, learning from Him the way to go.... Amen.
 




Dying to Self; Crucified Life...


 

01.29.13  (Shevat 18, 5773)  The Kotzer Rebbe once said, "One who is too full of himself has no room for the Holy One," and while this is surely true, he misunderstands the nature of the problem. The "self" does not need to be humbled but rather to die, and therefore God provides the means of divine exchange through the vicarious death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua performed on our behalf. By faith we affirm: I "have been crucified" (a perfect passive verb) with Christ, and it is no longer "I" who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). The miracle of the exchanged life comes as we surrender to the truth of the salvation of God performed for us. Some people seem to think that being "crucified" with Messiah means that we first surrender all our selfish desires, impulses, ambitions, etc., and then willingly choose to live in obedience to God. The problem with this way of thinking is that it is surely impossible for the flesh to crucify itself, and indeed if we could undergo such a transformation by an act of will, we would not need the cross of Messiah itself...

Having been "crucified with" Messiah teaches us that God's way of deliverance is radically different than man's way. Man's way is to attempt to reform his nature, to strive to follow the law, to resist the impulse to lust and sin, to create "good karma," and so on, whereas God's way is not to make us stronger and stronger, but rather to make us weaker and weaker - by crucifying the old nature.

The cross demonstrates that any attempt of the flesh to please God (i.e., "religion") is useless and needs to be laid to rest. The cross represents the instrumentality of the death of your religious aspirations: it is the surrender of all human effort whatsoever. Therefore the Greek verb used in Gal. 2:20 is a "perfect passive," denoting completed action through the agency of another: "I have been crucified (συνεσταύρωμαι) with the Messiah." Like all sacrifices that were brought to the altar, we must pass through death to life by means of our union with the Messiah at the cross... It is only after the cross that it may be said, "It is no longer 'I' who lives; now it is Messiah who lives His life in me."  Yeshua didn't die a painful and bloody death on the cross to save sinful flesh but rather to become sinful flesh in exchange for the sinner who trusts in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). That's the essence of the gospel, the power of God's salvation. On some mysterious level, the exchange of our sin with Messiah's righteousness is "ontological," meaning that it has real being, existence, substance, energy, and reality. Therefore we do not attempt to crucify ourselves, but instead accept that we already have been crucified by the agency of the Spirit of God.
 




Resist the Devil...


 

01.28.13  (Shevat 17, 5773)  There is a lot of fear "in the air," and the enemy of our souls seeks first of all to lead us into a place of exile, worry, and pain. Resist him by submitting yourself to the truth about reality (James 4:7). God's Name YHVH (יהוה) means "Presence" and "Love," and there is no power in heaven or earth that can overrule His hand. Therefore even if the prophesied "End of Days" were to begin this very hour, our responsibility is to focus on the Divine Presence and to walk in His truth and love. As King David said, "I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved."
 

שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
 כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט

shiv·vi·ti · Adonai · le·neg·di · ta·mid
ki · mi·mi·ni · bal · e·mot
 

"I have set the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken"
(Psalm 16:8)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

Hebrew Study Card
 

The devil's strategy is as banal as it is tedious, namely, to entice us to forget the truth of God and to live in a state of virtual exile and pain.  Therefore Shema - listen and remember - is the basic commandment. Since the LORD is the Center of all that is real, to become anxious is to "practice the absence" of God's presence instead of practicing His Presence. We have to remember the future, as well as the present and past....

There is a future time of healing and deliverance coming to us, though we must abide in the shadow of its substance for a bit longer: "For behold, the Day is coming (הַיּוֹם בָּא), burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The Day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my Name, the Sun of Righteousness (שֶׁמֶשׁ צְדָקָה) shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out skipping like calves released from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts" (Malachi 4:1-3).

This awesome passage from the Book of Malachi primarily applies to the Second Coming of Yeshua and the great "Day of the LORD" (יוֹם יהוה). The "Sun of Righteousness," shemesh tzaddik (שֶׁמֶשׁ צְדָקָה), refers to Messiah son of David, the risen life-giving Healer of God. Of Him it is said, "The LORD God is a sun and a shield" (Psalm 84:11) and "the LORD shall be to thee an everlasting Light (אוֹר עוֹלָם), and thy God thy glory; thy sun shall no more go down, for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light" (Isa. 60:19-20). The Divine Light will shine on those who receive God's righteousness, that is, on those who put their trust in the One who said, 'I am the Light of the world' (John 8:12). Shine Your Light upon us, O LORD!

It is always God's will for you to to know His love and to walk in the power of His deliverance for your soul... Nothing can overturn His will or separate you from the Presence of Love.
 




A "New Covenant" at Sinai


 

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

01.28.13  (Shevat 17, 5773)  In our Torah portion this week (Yitro), God revealed the Ten Commandments to the Israelites at Sinai, a dramatic event that some say represented the giving of the law, or the "Old Covenant," to Israel. Now while a case can surely be made that the revelation at Sinai represented an "older covenant" (see 2 Cor. 3:14; Heb. 7:18, 8:6,13, and here), when looked at from another perspective, Sinai actually represented a sort of new covenant, since it was given later and served as a proviso to the covenant given earlier to Abraham (Gal. 3:18). The culmination of the covenant at Sinai was the revelation of the altar (i.e., the Tabernacle), which pictured the sacrificial blood "covering" the tablets of God's judgment. This, in turn, recalled Abraham's great sacrifice of his son Isaac (the Akedah), which further recalled the very first sacrifice of the Bible, namely the lamb slain in the orchard of Eden to cover the shame of Adam and Eve's sin (Gen. 3:21; Rev. 13:8). Therefore it was the promise God made to Eve regarding the "Seed to Come" that is the original covenant (Gen. 3:15), and it was this covenant that was later fulfilled by Yeshua, the "Serpent Slayer" of God (Num. 21:9; John 3:14). This is the "Gospel in the Garden" message, the original promise of the lamb of God that was slain from the foundation of the world... In other words, the "new covenant" (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) may better be understood as the fulfillment of the original covenant, the promise to redeem all of humanity from the curse of sin and death. The redemptive plan of God therefore moves in an ascending circle. The "Tree of Life" reaches back to the orchard of Eden and extends into the World to Come...

Because there is so much confusion regarding the topic of the role of the law, particularly among "Messianic believers," I would like to reiterate a few things mentioned elsewhere on this site. Let me first remind you that the legal aspect of the "Torah" refers to the subset of the written Torah called Sefer Ha-Brit (סֵפֶר הַבְּרִית), a portion that defined various ethical, social, and ritual obligations given at Sinai (Exod. 24:7-8). It is a "category mistake" to simply regard the first five books of the "Torah" as the "law," since the law was given later in sacred history, after the Exodus. Moreover, the Book of Genesis reveals that the very first "priest" (i.e., kohen: כּהֵן) was neither a Jew nor a Levite nor a descendant of Aaron, but rather Someone who is said to have "neither beginning of days nor end of life" but is made like (ἀφωμοιωμένος) the Son of God, a priest continually (Heb. 7:3). This priest, of course, was Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק), the King of Salem (מֶלֶךְ שָׁלֵם) to whom Abraham offered tithes after his victory over the kings (Gen. 14:18). The author of the Book of Hebrews makes the point that the priesthood of Malki-Tzedek is greater than the Levitical priesthood and is therefore superior to the rites and services of the Tabernacle (Heb. 7:9-11). It was to Malki-Tzedek that Abram (and by extension, the Levitical system instituted by his descendant Moses) gave tithes and homage -- and rightly so, since Yeshua is the great High Priest of the better covenant based on better promises (Heb. 8:6). As the Scriptures teach, in everything Messiah has preeminence (John 5:39; Luke 24:27; Col. 1:18).
 




Holocaust Remembrance Day


 

01.27.13  (Shevat 16, 5773)  On January 27, 1945, the largest of the Nazi death camps (Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland) was liberated by Soviet troops. In October 2005, the UN General Assembly designated this date as "International Holocaust Remembrance Day" to commemorate and honor the victims of the Nazi era. Note that the UN-sponsored date is not the same thing as Yom HaShoah, which occurs in the spring (Nisan 27).

The systematic genocide of the Jewish people is one of the most heinous and barbarous crimes in the history of humanity. Reflecting on the atrocities should lead each of us to be vigilant to protect the individual liberties of all people at the hands of the State.  Any political ideology or religious creed that elevates the interest of the "collective" over the sanctity of the individual is therefore inherently suspect.

Note: For more information about IHRD, see this page.
 




Judgment's "Like-for-Like"


 

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

01.27.13  (Shevat 16, 5773)  When Moses' father-in-law heard how the LORD had delivered the Israelites from the hands of Pharaoh, he said, "Now I know ... in the same manner which they [the Egyptians] acted arrogantly, [the LORD] brought it upon them" (Exod. 18:11). In other words, Yitro affirmed the spiritual principle of "life-for-like": As we do unto others, so it will be done unto us. For example, since the Egyptians had denied food and water to the slaves, they themselves suffered hunger and thirst; since they had turned away from the light, they suffered darkness; since they had enslaved and robbed, they were plundered; since they withheld Israel's life as God's firstborn, their own firstborns were killed; since they had thrown Israelite babies into the waters, they were thrown into the Sea. As they did, so was returned to them (Gal. 6:2). Indeed each plague not only represented a judgment upon a particular "god" of Egypt, but also a "like for like" judgment upon those who refused to turn to the LORD for deliverance...

Note: I am asking for your prayers again. I caught a cold/flu and am having trouble with painful cough, sore throat, and trouble breathing. Shalom and thank you.
 




Parashat Yitro - יתרו


 

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

01.27.13  (Shevat 16, 5773)  In our Torah portion for this week, Moses' father-in-law Jethro (i.e., "Yitro") heard how the Israelites were delivered from their oppression in Egypt and how they had crossed over the Sea into the land of Midian. He then journeyed to the region of Rephidim where his son-in-law told him all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake. Jethro then proclaimed that the LORD is greater than all other gods, and offered up a sacrifice (Exod. 18:1-12).

Seeing the strain the journey had brought upon Moses, however, Jethro wisely advised his son-in-law to appoint a hierarchy of magistrates and judges to help him govern the people, thereby freeing Moses to be a more effective intercessor before the LORD.  Jethro's counsel helped implement a system of justice that became the basis of Jewish social law.

After the third new moon after leaving Egypt (i.e., the 1st day of the month of Sivan), the Israelites encamped opposite Mount Sinai, the place where Moses was initially commissioned. Moses then ascended the mountain, and there God commanded him to tell the leaders that if they would obey the LORD and keep His covenant, then they would be mamlekhet kohanim v'goy kadosh -- a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation." After returning down to deliver this message to the elders, the people responded by proclaiming, kol asher diber Adonai na'aseh ("all that the LORD has spoken, we shall do").  Moses then returned to the mountain and was told to command the people to prepare themselves to experience the presence of God upon the mountain in three days.

According to Jewish tradition, on the morning of the "third day" (i.e., the sixth of Sivan, exactly seven weeks (49 days) after the Exodus), all the children of Israel gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai, where the LORD descended amidst thunder, lightning, billowing smoke, fire, and the voluminous blast of the heavenly shofar. The LORD then declared the foundation of moral conduct required of the people, namely, the Ten Commandments. Because this vision was so overwhelming, the terrified Israelites began beseeching Moses to be their mediator lest they die before the Presence of God. The portion ends as the people stood far off, while Moses alone drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
 




Celebrate God's Love...


 

01.25.13  (Shevat 14, 5773)  Yeshua said the kingdom of heaven could be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his beloved son. Those who were invited made one excuse after another why they could not attend, so the disappointed king then instructed his servants to "go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame... and compel everyone you find to come in, so my house may be filled." God loves people and implores them to personally join in the celebration of his love, to partake of the marriage feast of Lamb (Rev. 19:7). But note that this means that we are to bring all the lame, broken, and fearful parts of ourselves to the banqueting table of God's love... The courage to "come to the table" only comes from a sense of being welcomed and accepted, that is, by trusting that you are truly made safe by God's love....

Perhaps we are afraid of God's unconditional love for us because we've experienced rejection or abandonment in our lives. We silently wonder, "What if God lets me down and I get hurt again?" We prefer the "comfort" of our fears to the risk of letting go and trusting in God's love for us, just as we are... This fear shows up in a lot of ways, for instance, by thinking we have to be "religious," or by attempting to clean ourselves up before we can accept God's love, On the other hand, we might entertain a sense of false humility that considers our sin to be too much for God to bear, and thereby excuse ourselves from the celebration.... In every case the problem is the need to control. We want to define the terms of love before we will let go and trust. We are offended at the idea of divine grace because we want to esteem ourselves as worthy of God's love based on who we are, rather than on who God is... The message of God's love, however, is scandalous, precisely because it gives wholeheartedly to those who are undeserving and unworthy, to the tax collectors, the sinners, the crippled and blind and lame...

Shabbat Shalom and Yom Tov, friends! Let's rejoice that we are always welcome in God's Presence because of Yeshua our Lord.
 




The Tree of Life...


 

[ The "Rosh Hashanah" for trees is observed on the 15th of Shevat (i.e., Tu B'Shevat), which this year occurs Friday, Jan. 25th at sundown (i.e., this Shabbat)... ]

01.25.13  (Shevat 14, 5773)  The Scriptures state twice: "Take root downward and bear fruit upward" (2 Kings 19:30; Isa. 37:31). As Yeshua said, "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it produces a big harvest (John 12:24). We pray we might surrender ourselves to the Lord fully, being immersed in His passion, "bearing fruit in every good work (ἐν παντὶ ἔργῳ ἀγαθῷ καρποφοροῦντες) and growing in da'at HaShem (דַעַת אֱלהִים) - the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10). The "fruit of the righteous is a Tree of Life" lit., etz chayim (עֵץ חַיִּים), literally, "the Tree of lives" (Prov. 11:30). It is the fruit of Yeshua, the Tzaddik of God, the Righteous One, who bears fruits of healing in the lives of those who turn to Him in trust...

The "Tree of Life" is mentioned ten times in Scripture, corresponding to the "ten words of God." In the Torah it first appears in the center of the paradise of Eden (Gen. 2:9; 3:22-4), but it is soon lost to humanity because of Adam's transgression. In the book of Revelation, it reappears in the center of the Paradise of God (Rev. 2:7, 22:2), resurrected on account of the faithful obedience of Yeshua as mankind's "last Adam" (1 Cor. 15:45). Those who have washed their robes by means of His righteousness are given access to this Tree in the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 22:14). The paradise lost by Adam has been regained by the greater ben-adam, Son of man, Yeshua the Messiah, the Savior of the children of men...
 




Our Daily Bread...


 

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

01.24.13  (Shevat 13, 5773)  A verse from our Torah portion this week (Exod. 16:16) contains all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (i.e., aleph (א), bet (בּ), gimmel (ג), etc.).  The special verse reads, "This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer (עמֶר), according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.'" Since this refers to the manna the Israelites were to collect for their daily bread, and this verse contains all the letters of the alphabet, we may poetically infer that if we immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, "from Aleph (א) to Tav (ת)," God will provide us with the "daily bread" (לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ) we need, just as He did when the bread from heaven (לֶחֶם מִן־הַשָּׁמָיִם) was miraculously given to feed the Israelites in the desert. Therefore Yeshua, who is the Aleph and Tav, taught us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," which surely refers to the spiritual food (i.e., encouragement, hope, life) that we receive from the Word of Life (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4).

May you rest in the promise: "My God will supply every need of yours - "from A to Z" - according to his riches in glory in Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil. 4:19).
 




Amalek and Spiritual Warfare...


 

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

01.24.13  (Shevat 13, 5773)  In our Torah portion this week (Beshalach) we read how "Amalek" attacked the Israelites after they had miraculously crossed over the sea into a new life of freedom (Exod. 17:8). Spiritually speaking the Amalekites aligned themselves with the wicked Pharaoh of Egypt and therefore they sought to continue the war against God's people. Apparently the Amalekite clan in Canaan was founded by a grandson of Esau (Gen. 36:12,16), though Amalek is also listed as the "first among the nations," a man who even predated the time of Abraham (Num. 24:20, Gen. 14:7). In Augustine's terms, Amalek represents the "City of the World," whereas Israel represents the "City of God."

In Jewish tradition, Amalek represents pure evil, or those who have "given themselves over" to Sitra Achra, the side of impurity. Indeed the name Amalek (עֲמָלֵק) begins with the letter Ayin (symbolizing the eye) and equals 240 in gematria -- the same value for safek (סָפֵק), meaning "doubt," and for rahm (רָם), meaning "haughty." Amalek therefore represents "the evil eye of doubt," or even "the severed eye" (i.e., when you remove Ayin from "Amalek," you are left with malak (מָלָק), a verb that means "to chop off" or to sever). Understood in this way, Amalek represents spiritual blindness acting arrogantly in the world, and therefore the LORD vowed perpetual warfare against Amalek: "The Hand is on God's throne. God shall be at war with Amalek for all generations" (Exod. 17:16). Concerning this verse Rashi notes that the term "God's throne" is written incompletely in Hebrew as kes Yah (כֵּס יָהּ), rather than as kisei Adonai (כִּסֵּא יְהוָה), which suggests that God's rule will be incomplete until the powers of darkness are totally wiped off the face of the earth (by the hand of Yeshua our LORD; see Rev. 19-20). Amalek embodies the principle of lo yareh HaShem, the lack of the fear of God, and therefore represents the power of darkness and evil in the world.

The Scriptures state that we must "go out and fight" Amalek, which is a call to ongoing spiritual warfare in our lives (Deut. 25:17-19). We can't sit by and passively accept evil; nor can we ignore it or pretend that it doesn't exist. We must call evil by its name and exercise spiritual authority over it (Eph. 5:11; Luke 10:19). The weapons of our warfare have divine power to destroy enemy strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4). We are protected by the armor of God and "weapons of light" (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 6:11-18). Note that the battle with Amalek came after the incident at Marah, where the bitter waters were turned sweet by means of the "healing tree" that was felled (Exod. 15:25), a picture of the cross of the Messiah who gives us living water (mayim chayim) and who saves us from the power of sin and death. When we are cleansed and sanctified by the sacrificial blood, we will overcome evil by the power of God's grace and goodness, though this requires earnest faith on our part. When Moses raised his hands in battle against the Amalekites, the Israelites prevailed, but if he lowered them, they suffered defeat (Exod. 17:11). Eventually Moses grew weary and he needed Aaron and Hur to help him hold his arms steady to ensure victory (Exod. 17:12). Note that the Hebrew word translated "steady" is emunah (אֱמוּנָה), the word for faith... It was Moses' steady faith in God's power that gave Israel the victory over the powers of darkness, just as we lift up our faith in God's power demonstrated at the cross gives us the victory over Satan and his schemes.

Note: For more on what Amalek represents, see the article, "Warfare with Amalek."
 




The Danger of "Toraolatry"


 

01.23.13  (Shevat 12, 5773)  The legendary Kotzker Rebbe wisely repeated a truth that Yeshua had taught thousands of years before him, namely, that God wants surrender from our hearts, not religious observance. He said, "The prohibition against making idols includes the prohibition against making idols out of the commandments. We should never imagine that the whole purpose of the Torah is its outer form, but rather the inward meaning." Or as Jesus taught, "First clean the inside of the cup that the outside also may be clean."

But what does this mean? Aren't we supposed to obey God's commandments? Yes of course, though first of all you must know who you are; you must understand and emotionally accept that you are a beloved child of God, and indeed one for whom Jesus exchanged his very life... This is the great commandment to shema, listen, to the truth that God is your life, your breath, your love... This is the core of your identity, your "sacred center," the hidden "you" that your heavenly Father sees in secret (Matt. 6:6). You must first obey this "Torah" before attempting to work out other questions of theology or religious practice in your life. This is what it means to first "clean the inside of the cup..."

Yeshua stated there are "weightier matters of the Torah," and we know that the LORD did not give the Torah in vain, but we must put first things first... We do not worship a book or a Torah scroll, but instead worship the Living God who breathes out Torah to our hearts. Therefore we are to first "love the LORD with all our heart" and then we can go on to worry about matters such as how to perform ma'asim tovim, good works in our lives (Matt. 6:33).

Note: The Essene community in Qumran practiced the "outer form" of Torah without heeding its inner meaning. For example, even though they were scrupulous in their prayer observances, ceremonial washings, and adherence to various commandments of Torah, they regarded anyone with a physical "blemish" to ceremonially unclean and therefore not invited to partake of their table fellowship. The lame, the blind, or those with other physical defects were not allowed into their communities. Yeshua undoubtedly knew of their idolatrous practices and repudiated them (see Luke 14:13-14).
 




Keep Trusting, Friend...


 

01.22.13  (Shevat 11, 5773)  The walk of faith is one of ascent and descent and ascent... It's often "two steps forward, one step back." It is a long road, and we are learning to obey, seeking to grow closer to God. Authentic repentance doesn't imply that we will never sin or make any mistakes, of course, but rather means that the oscillating pattern of "up, then down, then up" is the basic way we walk. Our direction has changed for good; we have turned to God for life and hope. We now understand our sins in light of a greater love that bears them for us even as we draw ever closer to the One who calls us home...

Therefore press on in faith, trusting in God's call to your heart. You can make it, friend, since you have a great Savior in Yeshua.
 




The Song of the Sea...


 

[ The following is related to the famous "Song of the Sea" found in this week's Torah reading... ]

01.22.13  (Shevat 11, 5773)  Perhaps the central event of this week's Torah reading (i.e., Beshalach) is how the LORD miraculously split the waters of the sea to make a path the people to escape from Egypt. This event is commemorated in the great "Song the Sea" (i.e., Shirat Hayam: שִׁירַת הַיָּם), a spontaneous hymn praising God for His deliverance (see Exod. 15:1-21). The Torah states that when they entered the sea, it became dry land, with the water as "a wall (חוֹמָה) to their right and to their left" (Exod. 14:29). To commemorate this miracle, the Hebrew text of the "Song of the Sea" is stylized to resemble a "wavy wall," with the words written in alternating "blocks" to suggest a wave of water. For more on this fascinating subject, see "The Song of the Sea."
 




Study to be Approved...


 

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

01.22.13  (Shevat 11, 5773)  Lasting transformation of the heart comes from "following" the LORD God of Israel, as it is says, "The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight" (Prov. 4:7). Disciples of Yeshua are therefore called talmidim (תַּלְמִידִים) -- a word that comes from lamad (לָמַד) meaning "to learn" (the Hebrew word for teacher is melamad (מְלַמֵּד) from the same root). In the Greek New Testament, the word for "disciple" is μαθητής (the word "math" comes from this), that is, a pupil of a διδάσκαλος, or a teacher. In other words, disciples of Yeshua are automatically "enrolled" in the school of truth, which is also a "school of suffering" (Col. 1:24). In the Torah the "daily sacrifice," or  korban tamid (קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד), was offered to the LORD every morning and evening upon the altar, which corresponds to being a "living sacrifice" (i.e., korban chai: קָרְבָּן חַי) to the LORD (Rom. 12:1-2). We must take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). Yeshua plainly said: "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world -- to bear witness to the truth. All who are of the truth listen to my voice" (John 18:37). It is hard to imagine a follower of Yeshua who does not love, study, and value the truth...

"Study (σπουδάζω) to show yourself approved to God, a workman that is unashamed, rightly dividing (ὀρθοτομέω, lit. "cutting straight") the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). "Those who study Torah give light wherever they are," which means they attest to the truth of the Scriptures. God gives us light to overcome the darkness, and that light is His Word.

Note: For more on this subject, see "Believing and Seeing."
 




Love Story Exodus...


 

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

01.22.13  (Shevat 11, 5773)  When God delivered Israel from Egypt, He did not take them on the fast track to the Promised Land (though He certainly could have done so). No, there was a circuitous route to take, a divinely appointed wandering, a "Divine Stroll of betrothal," if you will. In order to reveal Himself to the Israelites, God had to led them directly into the desert. He embittered waters to make them sweet once again; He let stomachs growl to provide the Bread of life; He parched mouths to give Living Water from the "Rock that was struck" (1 Cor. 10:4). God did all this to reveal to his newly redeemed people that He is the satisfaction of all their longings.  For more on this, see "Love Story Exodus."
 




Baptism into Moses...


 

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

01.21.13  (Shevat 10, 5773)  The "baptism into Moses" (1 Cor. 10:1-2) was not a water baptism, since even though the people went through the water, they crossed over the sea on dry ground... No, it was a baptism or "immersion" into the Shekhinah Cloud, an identification with Moses and his mission (Heb. 11:29). At Sinai Moses would later ascend into the midst of that Cloud to behold the vision of the altar of Messiah (i.e., the Mishkan, or Tabernacle). Ultimately baptism is about identifying with the redemptive mission of God through Yeshua our Savior. The meaning of baptism is to be immersed by the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to be made part of the greater redemptive mission of God's people.

 




The Allegory of Exodus...


 

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

01.21.13  (Shevat 10, 5773)  The story of the exodus is as an allegory of faith. We were slaves, but the LORD redeemed us and set us free from our bondage. Immediately afterward, we faced great distress as the powers of darkness sought to enslave us again, but God intervened and delivered us from their wicked devices. Through the Shekhinah Cloud we crossed over into newness of life, leaving the corpses of this world behind. We offered our thanks and praises to God, but soon we experienced severe thirst. We searched for worldly water but found it "marah," or bitter. It was only after the "tree" was added to the bitterness that the water became sweet, a picture of the cross of Messiah who suffered and thirsted for us. Then we came to the oasis of Elim, a place of rest that pictured heaven to come, though the Spirit led us into the desert of emptiness and hunger to discover how we must trust God for "manna," our daily bread from heaven. We experienced thirst again, and God provided an ongoing source of living water from the Rock that was smitten, another picture of the grace and sustenance of Messiah (1 Cor. 10:4). We fought against brazen powers of unbelief (Amalek), but we overcame them by the power of God. We received the Torah, only to discover we could not abide its demands. We committed idolatry but the LORD forgave and revealed the Altar of Mercy (the Tabernacle) that gave us access to His Presence by means of the sacrificial blood, recalling the Lamb of God that was slain.
 




Stepping out in Faith...


 

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

01.21.13  (Shevat 10, 5773)  The people faced death in every direction: Pharaoh's army approached behind them and the sea churned before them. According to midrash, when Moses lifted his staff to divide the sea, at first nothing happened. The people waited anxiously at the seashore, wondering what to do. Finally, Nachshon ben Aminadav, a descendant of Judah, walked into the water "up to his neck" and the winds began blowing to divide the waters (Shemot Rabbah). The miracle of splitting of the sea resulted because someone took a step of faith before God revealed His power. Only then could the people cross the sea, under the light of the Shekhinah Glory...

Note: For more on this amazing topic, see "Stepping out in Faith: Further thoughts on Parashat Beshalach."
 




The Taste of Gratitude...


 

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

01.21.13  (Shevat 10, 5773)  Exactly one month after the Exodus (i.e., Iyyar 15), the LORD led the Israelites from the oasis at Elim into the deeper part of the desert, to midbar Sin (מִדְבַּר־סִין), a desolate region that was about midway to Sinai going southeast (Exod. 16:1). About this time, the matzah the people had brought with them ran out and the Israelites began grumbling against Moses and Aaron, saying: "If only we had died by the hand of God in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to our fill, for you have brought us out into this desert to starve to death!" (Exod. 16:3). God then said to Moses, "'Look I am going to rain down bread from heaven (לֶחֶם מִן־הַשָּׁמָיִם) for you. The people will go out and gather a portion for that day so that I might test whether they will walk in my Torah (תּוֹרָה) or not" (Exod. 16:4). Each Friday they received a double portion to last them through Shabbat, and the test (nisayon) centered on whether the people would refrain from seeking manna on God's appointed day of rest. Note that the Ten Commandments had not yet been given to Israel at this time, so it is likely that the test of manna was meant to prepare them for the law of the Sabbath that would be given at Sinai the following month (i.e., on Sivan 6, or Shavuot).

The bread from heaven was called manna (מָן) because when the people first saw it they asked one other, mann hu (מָן הוּא), "what is it?" Although the Torah describes its taste as like "honey cakes" (Exod. 16:31), the midrash says that the taste of manna was a function of a person's sense of gratitude. For those who were thankful, manna tasted delicious (like a good cookie?), but to those who murmured, it tasted bland and unsatisfying (like stale matzah?). "According to your faith, be it done unto you" (Matt. 9:29).

Note: For more on the subject of manna, see the parashah-related article entitled, "Bread from Heaven," and the Passover article entitled, "Partaking of the Bread of Humilty."
 




Parashat Beshalach - בשלח


 

[ In our Torah portion this week the waters of the Red Sea divide to make a path for the Israelites, a miracle that symbolized newness of life as God's liberated people... ]

01.20.13  (Shevat 9, 5773)  Last week's Torah portion (parashat Bo) described how the Israelites were finally released from their bondage in Egypt after God delivered the decisive plague during the time of Passover. In this week's portion (Beshalach), the Israelites began their journey home, after 430 years of exile. Instead of leading them along a direct route to the Promised Land, however, God directed them south, toward the desert, where the Glory of God appeared as a Pillar of Cloud by day and as a Pillar of Fire by night to lead them on their way. When Pharaoh heard that the Israelites were at the border of the desert, however, he perversely decided to pursue them and bring them back to Egypt. God then redirected the Israelites to camp near the edge of the Sea of Reeds, where the Egyptian army finally caught up with them. Dramatically, the Israelites were caught between the sea on one side, and Pharaoh's army on the other...

The terrified people then began to blame Moses for their predicament. Moses reassured them of God's final deliverance and raised his staff to miraculously divide the waters of the sea. All that night the Shekhinah Glory enshrouded the Egyptian army but gave light to Israel as the people crossed through the sea on dry ground. Just before dawn, the dark pillar of cloud that veiled the Egyptian army lifted, and the soldiers immediately rushed after the Israelites into pathway of the sea. God then told Moses to lift his staff again so that the waters would overwhelm the Egyptians with their chariots and horsemen. By the time dawn arrived, the Israelites saw the dead bodies of Pharaoh's army lining the seashore.

 

Shabbat Shirah - שַׁבַּת שִׁירָה

Because of the critical significance of the miracle of crossing the sea, this Sabbath is called Shabbat Shirah, the "Sabbath of the Song," because it includes the song of deliverance sung by Moses and Miriam after the people made safe passage to new life. The "Song of the Sea" (i.e., shirah hayam) begins, "The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation" / עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ וַיְהִי־לִי לִישׁוּעָה (Exod. 15:2, cp. Isa. 12:2).  For Orthodox Jews, singing Shirat Hayam every day is thought to fulfill the biblical commandment to "remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live" (Deut. 16:3). Note that Shirat Hayam is also sung on the 7th day of Passover, as a memorial of the deliverance by God through the waters of the Sea of Reeds.

Following their jubilation, the narrative resumes as God led the people away from the sea, into the desert of Sin (מִדְבַּר־סִין), a desolate region about midway to Mount Sinai. After traveling three days without finding any water, however, the people complained and God provided them with fresh water at Marah. Awhile later, the matzah the people had brought with them ran out and God tested their obedience by giving them "bread from heaven" (i.e., manna). The portion ends with the Amalekites' surprise attack of Israel at Rephidim, near Mount Sinai, and the introduction of Joshua as the leader of the army of Israel.

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

 




Tu B'Shevat - טו בשבט


 

[ The "Rosh Hashanah" for trees is observed on the 15th of Shevat (i.e., Tu B'Shevat), which this year occurs Friday, Jan. 25th at sundown (i.e., this Shabbat)... ]

01.18.13  (Shevat 9, 5773)  The 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat (i.e., Tu B'Shevat) is traditionally regarded as the time when spring begins in Israel. The rainy and cold season ends when the blossoms of almond trees first begin to appear. Indeed some scholars have said that originally Tu B'Shevat was a "folk festival" to welcome the re-emergence of spring.  During the time of the Temple, Tu B'Shevat was selected as the date when Temple taxes were assessed from Jewish farmers (i.e., ma'aser). The sages reasoned that by this time the trees had begun to soak up the winter rains, causing their sap to rise, and therefore Tu B'Shevat marked the start of their growing season. In this way Tu B'Shevat became known as "Rosh Hashanah Le'ilanot," the New Year for Trees. 

After the Second Temple was destroyed, the sages of the Diaspora continued to celebrate Tu B'Shevat by eating various fruits and nuts that were grown in the Promised Land.  In synagogue services it became customary to partake of the seven types of grains and fruits listed in the Torah (i.e., wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates) while reciting the prescribed Hebrew blessings. Almonds were eaten to recall the bloom of the almond tree. Carob also became associated with Tu B'Shevat because it was commonly eaten while traveling to Jerusalem during the days of the Temple (carob is an ideal traveling food since it does not spoil). In the sixteenth century, however, the mystics of Safed "reinvented" Tu B'Shevat to represent a time to "repair" the original sin of eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden.  These mystics developed an esoteric "seder" that focused on the "Tree of Life," which they understood to mean the spiritual powers that impart divine energy to the physical world (called sefirot, or divine attributes). Reciting blessings over various kinds of fruits and eating them was thought to release "divine sparks" hidden within the seeds, thus restoring the balance of the soul. Today this mystical approach is very popular in mainstream in Judaism (for more on this subject, see the Kabbalah pages).

In 1948 the Zionist dream of an independent State of Israel miraculously came to pass, and one of the first things the settlers did when they came back to their land was to plant trees and develop moshavim (collective farms). Reforesting the land by planting trees during Tu B'Shevat eventually became national custom. Today Israeli schoolchildren plant trees in special ceremonies (neti'at Etzim), and people living in the Diaspora often donate money to plant trees in Israel through the services of the Jewish National Fund. Tu B'Shevat therefore resembles an "Israeli Arbor Day" when trees are planted and the rebirth of the Jewish homeland is celebrated.  It is customary to eat "first fruits" from the Land of Israel on this date, to recite various Hebrew blessings, and to discuss Jewish values such as tikkun olam ("repairing the world"), tza'ar ba'alei chayim (alleviating "the suffering of living creatures"), ahavat Yisrael ("love of Israel"), bal taschit ("do not destroy"), and so on.


 

Though Tu B'Shevat is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah as a holiday, the Scriptures clearly teach that God is the Creator of all life - including vegetative life (Gen. 1:11-13). God created the "seed bearing plants and fruit trees of every kind... and God saw that it was good." And God said [to Adam], "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food" (Gen. 1:29). The warning to care for creation is found in various midrashim:

    The Holy One led Adam through the Garden of Eden and said, "I created all my beautiful and glorious works for your sake. Take heed not to corrupt and destroy My world. For if you destroy it, there is no one to make it right after you." (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13)
     

The Scriptures explicitly state various laws regarding the use of trees. In other words, there is a "Torah of Trees." For example, "When you enter the land and plant any tree for food, you shall regard its fruit as "uncircumcised" (i.e., orlah: עָרְלָה) for three years; in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the LORD; only in the fifth year may you use its fruit, to increase its yield for you: I am the LORD your God" (Lev. 19:23-25; 26:3-4). The Torah also clearly forbids the destruction of fruit trees during times of warfare: "When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you?" (Deut. 20:19-20). Clearly God cares for trees. The psalmist describes the trees of the forest as singing for joy (Psalm 96:12), just as the prophet Isaiah foretold the day when the trees of the field shall "clap their hands" in praise to the LORD God of Israel (Isa. 55:12).

It was an old Jewish custom to plant a cedar tree when a boy was born and a pine tree when a girl was born. When two people were married, branches from these trees were used to make poles for their wedding canopy.... (The custom of planting of a "marriage tree" at the birth of a child is called neti'ah shel simchah, "a joyous planting.")  On a spiritual level, this pictures being "grafted in" and made part of the marriage canopy of Yeshua, etc.

Torah alludes that human life is like "the tree of the field," i.e., כִּי הָאָדָם עֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה, Deut. 20:19), and many people therefore observe Tu B'Shevat as time to assess man's place within creation as well. Since God created the world for a habitation (Isa. 45:18), some have pictured the world itself as a "great tree" with human beings as its fruit. Yeshua often used such agricultural images in his parables. For example, he explained that people are known by the "fruits" of their lives (Matt. 7:16-20). He likened the spread of his message in terms of "sowing and reaping" (Matt. 13:3-23) and compared the Kingdom of Heaven to the secret working of a mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32). Yeshua regarded the world as a "field" for planting with different "types of soil" (Matt. 13:38-43), and warned of the "great harvest" of souls at the end of the age (Luke 10:2; Matt. 13:30). He pointed to signs from a fig tree to indicate the nearness of the prophesied End of Days (Matt. 24:32-33). Yeshua also used the metaphor of a "vine and its branches" to explain how his followers are to be connected to Him (John 15:1-6).

During the night of Tu B'Shevat, Orthodox Jews read Pri Etz Hadar (literally "Fruit of Goodly Trees"), a booklet that contains selections from Torah, Mishnah, Gemarah, and Zohar regarding trees, fruit, fruitfulness, and so on. King Solomon declared: "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise" (Prov. 11:30). The one who delights in the Torah (תּוֹרָה) and meditates upon it daily is likened to a tree planted by streams of water that yields fruit in its season. All that he does shall prosper (Psalm 1:1-3). The wisdom of Torah (chochmat haTorah) is metaphorically called etz chaim, a "Tree of Life." As the Torah service ends at the synagogue, it is customary to sing, "It is a tree of life to those who take hold of it, and whoever grasps it close will be made happy" (Prov. 3:18). Just as the root system of a tree is a source of sustenance for its fruit, so the Torah is the root source of wisdom for the Jew.
 

עֵץ־חַיִּים הִיא לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ
וְתמְכֶיהָ מְאֻשָּׁר

etz · cha·yim · hi · la·ma·cha·zi·kim · bah,
ve·tom·khe·ha · me·u·shar
 

"It is a tree of life [עֵץ־חַיִּים] to those who take hold of it,
whoever grasps it close will be made happy."
(Prov. 3:18)

Sharmon Davidson Tree of Life Detail

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The Bible begins and ends with the Tree of Life (עֵץ חַיִּים) -- first in the orchard of Eden, and then in the midst of the paradise of heaven. ‎"The Tree of Life (etz ha-chayim) was in the midst of the garden.." (Gen. 2:9). "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the Tree of Life (etz ha-chayim) with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month...." (Rev. 22:1-2).

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"). Twelve months; twelve fruits.... The sequence of the holidays (moedim) were always intended to teach us great revelation about God. That is why God created the Sun and the Moon for signs and for "appointed times" (Gen. 1:14). As it is also written: "He made the moon to mark the appointed times (לְמוֹעֲדִים); the sun knows its time for setting" (Psalm 104:19). Note further that the Majority Text of Revelation 22:14 reads: "Blessed are those who do His commandments (Μακάριοι οἱ ποιοῦντες τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ) so that they may have access the Tree of Life..."
 

 

The great command is to "Choose life!" in everything we do. If we live in faith, resurrection life will triumph in us through the Messiah. We will become agents of hope and healing to a dark and lost world... And when our redemption is finally complete, even the trees of the field will clap their hands in joy (Isa. 55:12)! May that day be soon, chaverim....


Tu B'Shevat Blessing:
 

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ
שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ טוֹב וּפוֹרֶה שָּׁנָה
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 · tov · u·fo·reh · sha·nah,
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 and fruitful year
in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah.  Amen."



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The Scriptures state twice: שׁרֶשׁ לְמָטָּה וְעָשָׂה פְרִי לְמָעְלָה / "Take root downward and bear fruit upward" (2 Kings 19:30; Isa. 37:21). As Yeshua said, "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it produces a big harvest (John 12:24). We pray we might surrender ourselves to the Lord fully, being immersed in His passion, "bearing fruit in every good work (ἐν παντὶ ἔργῳ ἀγαθῷ καρποφοροῦντες) and growing in da'at HaShem (דַעַת אֱלהִים) - the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10). "May it be Your will, LORD our God and God of our fathers, that you renew for us a good and fruitful year in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah." [Amen.]

Borei Pri Ha-Etz
 

Note:  If you would like to celebrate Tu B'Shevat with your friends or family, I've created a simplified (and non-Kabbalistic) Tu B'Shevat Seder Guide that will give you some idea about how to perform your own home ceremony. I hope you will find it helpful, chaverim.  Blessings to you in Yeshua, our Tree of Life!
 




God's Perfect Love...


 

01.18.13  (Shevat 7, 5773)  The Scriptures seem to give mixed messages about fearing God. On the one hand we are clearly told to "fear not" (אַל־תִּירָא), since God is always with us for our good (Isa. 41:10); yet on the other hand we are told to tremble before God our Judge, the One who has the power to kill not only the body but also the soul (Matt. 10:28). So which is it: Should we fear God or not? Is fear the enemy of faith or its expression? Should we regard ourselves as "sinners in the hands of an angry God," or as "saints in the hands of the Lover of our souls"? Does God welcome us into his presence just as we are, or does he demand that we attain an acceptable level of sanctity before doing so?

These are not academic questions, since they radically affect how we relate to God. So what is more basic to you - escaping from God's anger or accepting his love? Are you fleeing the wrath to come, or surrendering to his passion for you? Do you serve God from a heart of fearful obligation, or through joyful trust? Do you think God's justice and holiness overrides his forgiveness and compassion? Is fear or surrender the inner attitude of your heart?

Psychologists tell us that what we fear most is really ourselves, though often we often don't realize this because we project our fear on to other things. We are secretly afraid of our own inner urges, we dread losing control, we feel dangerous to ourselves, and therefore we seek to disguise who we really are. Hidden guilt makes us feel unworthy, condemned, and intolerably defective, so we suppress this by fearing other things, and that includes fearing intimacy, acceptance, and even love itself...

Tragically, fear interferes with our ability to let go and surrender to God's love. When we are afraid of losing control, failing, being criticized or rejected, we are living in a state of fear. Put the other way around, when we want control, when we seek success at all costs, when we crave approval from others, or if we "need" to always be right, perfect, "religious," etc., then we are living in fear. Such fear creates compulsions, addictions, unthinking habits, and an abiding sense of shame....

So do you feel welcomed and accepted before God - just as you are - or is there "something wrong"? Certainly there is nothing wrong with God's love for you. After all, he literally shed his blood so you may know you are forgiven; the "Lamb of God" died in your place because God esteems you worthy of his love,  despite your many failures, sins, and the secret fear of your heart. Do not be robbed of the joy of the Spirit. The message of the cross is that your heart is desired by God. The Scriptures teach, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love" (1 John 4:18). Indeed, the LORD imparts a spirit of power, love, and a "safe mind" to us (2 Tim. 1:7). Do you feel safe with God? empowered? loved? These are marks of the Spirit of God, not a sense of being rejected by Him. Open your heart to his unfailing love...
 

הָרפֵא לִשְׁבוּרֵי לֵב וּמְחַבֵּשׁ לְעַצְּבוֹתָם
מוֹנֶה מִסְפָּר לַכּוֹכָבִים לְכֻלָּם שֵׁמוֹת יִקְרָא
גָּדוֹל אֲדוֹנֵינוּ וְרַב־כּחַ לִתְבוּנָתוֹ אֵין מִסְפָּר

ha·ro·fei · lish·vu·rei · lev · u'me·cha·besh · le'atz·tze·vo·tam
mo·neh · mis·par · la·ko·kha·vim · le·khu·lam · she·mot · yik·ra,
ga·dol · A·do·nei·nu · ve'rav · ko'ach · lit·vu·na·to · ein · mis·par
 

"He is the healer of the broken in heart and binds up their wounds.
He counts the number of the stars, he calls them all by name.
Great is our Lord and of great power; his understanding is infinite."
(Psalm 147:3-5)



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Note: It is written that the fear of the LORD is "the beginning of wisdom (רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה)," but it also the beginning of the inner experience of God's love... Indeed we fear and tremble over the value and grace God has so lavishly bestowed upon us through Messiah. Without this awe of the LORD, you will be unable to turn away from evil (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10; 10:27; 14:27, 15:33; 16:6) and you will find yourself alone, in a place of sadness and vexation, of despair and inner pain. The Spirit of God's love plainly declares that "the fear of the LORD leads to life (יִרְאַת יְהוָה לְחַיִּים, lit. "is for life"). Be in awe over the mystery of God's infinite love and kindness for your soul...
 




The Life of the Blood


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Bo) and the story of the Passover exodus from Egypt.... Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.17.13  (Shevat 6, 5773)  The Hebrew word for "Passover" comes from a verb pasach (פָּסַח) that means to "pass over," though it also can mean "to limp," recalling the "heel of Messiah" that was bruised in the battle for our deliverance (Gen. 3:15). It is written in the Torah, "the life (i.e., nefesh [נֶפֶשׁ], breath, "soul") of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to cleanse (i.e., kafar [כָפַר], cover, atone, ransom, purify) your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life" (Lev. 17:11). When Yeshua offered his blood upon the cross for our purification, he poured out his very soul, his final breath, and his last extremity for the sake of our healing... Since blood is the carrier of life, it has its own spiritual "voice" that intercedes on our behalf in the Holy of Holies made without hands (Gen. 4:10; Rev. 6:10; Heb. 9:12, 12:24). The great passion of our Lord still speaks, since Yeshua always lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25).
 




Why God Chose Abraham...


 

01.17.13  (Shevat 6, 5773)  A midrash says that God was looking for one man who would be the father of a people that would serve as his "collective prophet," or his mouthpiece to the world, though this man had to be very wise, a man who understood himself, since how a person understands himself affects how he would understand God. So God went looking for a man who knew himself and understood human nature. First he came to an ancient philosopher and explained the mission: "I am looking for a man who knows what he is so that he can be my prophet to the world. So tell me, what is man?" The philosopher answered, "Man is a little god, a spark of the divine, full of inner truth, beauty, and immortality." God then asked, "Is that it?" and the philosopher replied, "Yes, though man must be reminded that he is indeed divine." God then replied, "Don't call me, I'll call you," and went to a barbarian chief, asking the same question. The chief answered, "Man is a wolf ready to devour; he is always on the prowl." God then asked, "Is that it?" and the chief said yes. God again replied, "Don't call me, I'll call you." Finally God came to Abram and questioned him likewise. Abram said, "I can't possibly be your prophet, God, since I am entirely confused about what I am. Sometimes I think I am a little god, full of goodness, and at other times I act like a beast, ready to devour. Most of the time I feel like I am a sort of zoo, with countless animals within me, some tame and others fierce." "Very good," said God, "and you shall be my prophet..."

The point of this midrash is that we need to honestly know who we are in order to know who God is (and vice versa). For instance, an "idealist" may believe that man is essentially good and therefore evil is an illusion, but this would make God indifferent to sorrow, suffering, and acts of injustice. On the other hand, a "realist" may believe man is essentially evil and therefore regard goodness as an illusion, but this would make God indifferent to beauty, truth, and acts of love... Both views are incomplete, since man is made in the image of God and yet has inherited a "fallenness" or "alienation" due to freely chosen sin. Blaise Pascal observed, "We can only know God well when we know our own sin. And those who have known God without knowing their wretchedness have not glorified Him but have glorified themselves." And yet we cannot possibly know God if we do not understand that we are valued and treasured by Him, worthy of the sacrifice of His beloved Son for our lives... The truth is we are both worthy yet fallen, as Abram said, bishvili nivra ha'olam – "for my sake was this world created," yet also, anokhi afar ve'efer – "I am but dust and ashes."
 




Safe in God's Love...


 

01.17.13  (Shevat 6, 5773)  How do you think God regards you? Does he see your sin first? If you think he disapproves of you, it's likely you will attempt to earn his approval by doing certain things (and not doing others), which puts you "under the law," that is, the never-ending cycle of self-justification. But you will never feel safe as long as you regard God's acceptance of you as conditional, since you will only be as secure as your own best efforts, a project that will exhaust you in the end. Instead you must know yourself as truly loved by God, just as the "prodigal son" came to know his father's unconditional love and acceptance despite his many misdeeds (Luke 15:11-32). The incarnation of Jesus means that God "runs to meet and embrace you," regardless of whatever happened in your life that made you run away from home. Whatever else it may be, sin is the separation from God's love, but Yeshua made the decision to die for your sins before you were born. Your sin cannot overrule God's surpassing and personal love for your soul...  Accept that you are accepted; know this in your heart. And may we all find shalom in God's perfect love.
 




The Great Lamb of God...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Bo) and the story of yetziat mitzrayim, the great Exodus from Egypt....  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.16.13  (Shevat 5, 5773)  Though God instructed each household to select its own defect-free lamb for the family Passover, the Torah refers to "the" Lamb of God, as if there was only one: "You shall keep it [i.e., the Passover lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter him (אתוֹ) at twilight (Exod. 12:6). Note that the direct object "him" (i.e., oto) can be read as Aleph-Tav (את) combined with the letter Vav (ו), signifying the Son of Man who is First and Last... Indeed there is only one "Lamb of God" that takes away the sins of the world, and that is our Savior, Yeshua the Messiah...
 

רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה

ra·uy · ha·seh · ha·ta·vu·ach · le·ka·bel · ge·vu·rah
o·sher · ve·chokh·mah · ve·ko·ach · vi·kar · ve·kha·vod · uv·ra·kha
 

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and might and honor and glory and blessing"
(Rev. 5:12)



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Keeping Your Focus...


 

01.16.13  (Shevat 5, 5773)  The New Testament calls a double-minded man "two-souled" (δίψυχος, from δίς, "twice" and ψυχή, "soul"), and unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). Such a person is "ever learning and never able to arrive at the knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 3:7) because he has yet to make a decision about who he really is and what he really wants... Without conviction, focus, or strength, he is like an unwalled city without ready defense. Rabbi Simcha Bunim once observed someone pacing back and forth, back and forth. Finally he said to the man, "I understand why you went from here to there. I also can understand why your returned, because on arriving there you realized things were better here. What I can't understand is why you went back there again."

Elijah the prophet asks, "How long will you go limping in a state of double mindedness?" (1 Kings 18:21). After all, what is more important to you than your relationship with God? Abraham Heschel once wrote, "God is of no importance unless he is of supreme importance." Stated differently, it is impossible to be indifferent toward God. As Yeshua warned, you cannot serve two masters. Ultimately you will either hate or love him, but he will never let you be halfhearted toward him (Rev. 3:16). May God help us to be steadfast, resolute, and always abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58), though if you find yourself struggling with willingness, then may God help you be willing to be willing...
 

בְּנִי שְׁמר אֲמָרָי וּמִצְוֹתַי תִּצְפּן אִתָּךְ
שְׁמר מִצְוֹתַי וֶחְיֵה וְתוֹרָתִי כְּאִישׁוֹן עֵינֶיךָ
קָשְׁרֵם עַל־אֶצְבְּעתֶיךָ כָּתְבֵם עַל־לוּחַ לִבֶּךָ

be·ni · she·mor · a·ma·rai · u·mitz·vo·tai · titz·pon · it·takh
she·mor · mitz·vo·tai · vech·yeh · ve·to·ra·ti · ke·i·shon · ei·ne·kha
ko·shrem · al · etz·be·o·te·kha · kotz·vem · al · lu·ach · lib·be·kha
 

"My child, keep my sayings, and treasure my commandments with you.
Guard my commandments and live! Regard my Torah as your most precious
possession; Bind it on your fingers; write it on the tablet of your heart."
(Prov. 7:1-3)



 

Our "precious possession" is the Torah, which is be regarded as "the apple [pupil] of the eye," that is, what is cherished above everything else. "Torah within the heart is the eye of the soul." Metaphorically, we "bind" Torah truth on our fingers, which recalls tefillin that were to serve "as a sign on your hand and as frontlets between your eyes" (Deut. 6:8). This idea first appears to commemorate the LORD's great deliverance of Israel from Egypt: "And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the Torah of the LORD may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt" (Exod. 13:9). The significance of Torah continues with the New Covenant redemption of Yeshua, of course, since "writing the Torah on the tablets of the heart" is an operation of the Holy Spirit of God (Jer. 31:33, Heb. 10:16).
 




Freedom for All...


 

01.16.13  (Shevat 5, 5773)  Spiritual freedom does not promote selfish indulgence but rather concern for the needs of others. God doesn't save just an individual soul, but a "community," a "body," an extended family... As it says, "There are many parts, yet one body" (1 Cor. 12:20). Therefore Yeshua taught us to pray in the plural, on behalf of the bonds of our several hearts made one: "Our Father in heaven (אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם), give us this day our daily bread." We are here for the sake of others, to be part of a larger community to whom we are connected by the love of Messiah. In the bond of our great and mutual need for the LORD are we shown to be God's children, members of his house.
 




Surrender and Love...


 

01.16.13  (Shevat 5, 5773)  Surrendering to God's love is the beginning, and end, of our spiritual journey. The first step is to turn away from the negative and to turn toward the light: First listen (shema), respond, and then trust in God's great love for your soul. The very first of the Ten Commandments is "I am the LORD your God." There can be no love apart from real trust, and therefore surrender is basic. The very reason for our lives is to learn to be loved by God, and our need for that love is the way of the prodigal son, who "comes to himself" to discover that he was accepted, welcomed, and at home in the Father's heart.
 

חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם יְהוָה
אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וּגְדָל־חָסֶד

chan·nun · ve·ra·chum · Adonai
e·rekh · a·pa·yim · u·gdol · cha·sed
 

"The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in love."
(Psalm 145:8)



 

That said, God's love is not cheap, and we must always remember that it is revealed in the marred and bleeding face of Yeshua, who unjustly suffered and died to give us eternal remedy from that which denies love, namely the power of sin and death. Because God gives us all that He has - "the life is in the blood" - he calls forth complete surrender to His will, which means receving the miracle of new life. It is God's love that brought forth the blood of Messiah that heals us. Trusting in God's deliverance acknowledges that evil is indeed real, but it denies that it has the last word, and therefore we confess that God's sacrificial love overcomes its power and hold on our soul... Though love without justice is blind, and justice without love is cruel, God is One and delivers us at the cross, where He is revealed as both just and the justifier of those who trust in Him (Rom. 3:26). The "voice of the blood" spoken from the cross doesn't wink at sin or excuse it, but bears it on behalf of the honest sinner, exchanging the curse of death for the blessing of God's eternal life...
 




The Meaning of Passover...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Bo) and the story of yetziat mitzrayim, the great Exodus from Egypt....  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.16.13  (Shevat 5, 5773)  In our Torah portion this week (parashat Bo) we read about the institution of Passover and the final terrible plague that was to befall the Egyptians on the Passover night. When we think of this time, we may imagine God "passing over" those houses that had the blood of the lamb smeared on their doorposts, though it might better be said that God passed into the homes of those who trusted him, while he withdrew His Presence from those that did not...

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

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

The first time the word "blood" occurs in the Scriptures concerns the death of Abel, the son of Adam and Eve who was murdered by his brother Cain. After Abel's blood was shed, the LORD confronted Cain and said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground" (Gen. 4:10). Since blood is the carrier of life, it bears the energy and vitality of life: it has its own spiritual "voice." Likewise, the blood of Yeshua, the true Lamb of God who died upon the cross, speaks on our behalf, and reverses the power of death by creating a barrier that death can no longer cross, since the death of the sacrificial victim "exchanges" the merit and power of life. Unlike the blood of Abel that "cries out" for justice, the blood of Yeshua cries out for mercy (Heb. 12:24). Putting our trust in the provision of God's sacrifice causes His wrath (or righteous judgment) to pass over while simultaneously extending love to the sinner.... This is the essential message of the gospel itself, that we have atonement through the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua our Savior, the great Lamb of God.  As Yeshua said, "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the One who sent me has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and will not be condemned, but has passed over (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24). Just as God's judgment passes over from life to death on my behalf; so His love passes over from death to life on my behalf...

Notice that the Hebrew verb "pasach" can also mean "to limp," suggesting the heel of Messiah that was "bruised" in the battle for our redemption (Gen. 3:15). It is the cross of Yeshua that enables the mercy of God to "overcome" his justice, or that allows "steadfast love and truth to meet; righteousness and peace to kiss" (Psalm 85:10). His attribute of Justice passes over us as His attribute of Compassion passes into us... The sacrifice of Messiah allows God to be both just and the justifier of those who trust in God's remedy and exchange for our sin (Rom. 3:26).

The idea of substitutionary atonement is surely mysterious and complicated, but ultimately the message is simple: God loves you and has made a way for you to be eternally accepted -- despite your sin... That's the "good news" of the cross. That's what Yeshua meant when he said, "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם). For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:14-17). Humanity as a whole has been "bitten by the snake" and needs to be delivered from its deadly venom. Just as the image made in the likeness of the destroying snake was lifted up for Israel's healing, so the One made in the likeness of sinful flesh was to be lifted up as the Healer of the world (Rom. 8:3). All we need to do is look and believe. Yeshua died for you so you can live. He stands at the door and knocks, offering to "pass over" to give you his life (Rev. 3:20).
 




The First Passover...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Bo) and the story of yetziat mitzrayim, the great Exodus from Egypt....  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.15.13  (Shevat 4, 5773)  The very first occurrence of the word "love" in the Scriptures refers to Abraham's passion for his son Isaac (i.e., the word ahavah: אַהֲבָה, in Gen. 22:2), whom God asked to be sacrificed upon an altar as a whole burnt offering. Abraham's faith that God's love was greater than the power of death gave him courage, and at just the last moment, the Angel of the LORD intervened and provided a ram (lamb) to take Isaac's place. As Abraham had said to his son, Elohim yireh-lo haseh (אֱלהִים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה), "God Himself will provide a lamb," he therefore named the place Adonai Yireh, meaning "the LORD will provide." The sacrifice of Isaac echoed the very first Passover sacrifice, namely, that of the lamb in the Garden of Eden, offered to clothe Adam and Eve after their sin. As Yeshua our Savior later attested regarding these things: "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad" (John 8:56).

Note: For more on this important subject, please see the articles, "The Sacrificed Seed of Abraham: Thoughts about the Akedah," and "The Gospel in the Garden."
 




A Costly Obedience...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Bo) and the story of yetziat mitzrayim, the great Exodus from Egypt....  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.15.13  (Shevat 4, 5773)  The LORD asked the Israelites to be willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of their redemption (mesirat HaShem). When God asked the people to obtain a sacrificial lamb, to lead it through the streets, to bring it to their homes, and to keep it for four days before finally slaughtering it and daubing its blood on the doorposts of their homes, he was asking them to risk their lives for their faith, because the Egyptians regarded the lamb as a "god." The sight of the blood of a lamb on doorposts would have been regarded as utterly "offensive" to those adhered to Egyptian religious values, and yet God Almighty called for prescisely this collision with the world.... Just as God had asked Abraham to offer up his son Isaac upon the altar, and Isaac courageously obeyed, so trusting in the promise of God might cost us something. As Yeshua said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matt. 16:24).

Note: For more on this subject, see the Shabbat HaGadol page.
 




The Lamb of God...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Bo) and the story of yetziat mitzrayim, the great Exodus from Egypt....  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.15.13  (Shevat 4, 5773)  The very first occurrence of the word "Torah" in the Scriptures refers to the faith of Abraham (Gen. 26:5), and the second refers to the law of Passover: "There shall be one law (תּוֹרָה) for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you" (Exod. 12:49). There is a link here. Abraham lived before the time of the Exodus, of course, and therefore he obeyed the Torah of Passover by means of the Akedah (the sacrifice of his beloved son Isaac and the substitution of the lamb of God upon the altar). Abraham's faith revealed that the inner meaning of Torah is that the "righteous shall live by faith" (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17), that is, by trusting God's justification of the sinner (Heb. 11:17-19). The Torah of Passover likewise teaches that redemption from death is possible through the exchange of an innocent sacrificial victim. The blood of the lamb was "a sign" of imputed righteousness obtained entirely by faith - with no "leaven," or human works, added. This is the "korban" principle of "life-for-life" that underlies the sacrificial system of the Tabernacle as well. Ultimately all true Torah points to Yeshua, the Lamb of God, who is the divinely appointed Redeemer and promised Slayer of the Serpent...

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

אֲרוֹמִמְךָ אֱלוֹהַי הַמֶּלֶךְ וַאֲבָרֲכָה שִׁמְךָ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד
בְּכָל־יוֹם אֲבָרֲכֶךָּ וַאֲהַלְלָה שִׁמְךָ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד
גָּדוֹל יְהוָה וּמְהֻלָּל מְאד וְלִגְדֻלָּתוֹ אֵין חֵקֶר

a·ro·mim·kha · E·lo·hai · ha·me·lech · va·a·va·ra·kha · shim·kha · le·o·lam · va·ed
be·khol · yom · a·va·ra·khe·kha · va·a·ha·le·lah · shim·kha · le·o·lam · va·ed
ga·dol · Adonai · u·me·hul·lal · me·od · ve·lig·du·la·to · ein · che·ker
 

"I will extol you, my God, O King; and I will bless your name for ever and ever.
Every day will I bless you; and I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable"
(Psalm 145:1-3)



 




Retelling the Story...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Bo) and the story of yetziat mitzrayim, the great Exodus from Egypt....  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.15.13  (Shevat 4, 5773)  In our Torah portion this week we are commanded to retell "in the hearing of your son and your grandson" how the LORD made a mockery of the Egyptians and performed wonders to deliver us" (Exod. 12:2). This commandment is the basis of the Passover haggadah (i.e., הַגָּדָה, "telling"), the "oral tradition" of our faith, when we personally retell the story from generation to generation so that the spirit of the message is not lost. We participate in the seder to make it "our own story," a part of who we are. Therefore b'khol-dor vador: "Every Jew must consider himself to have been personally redeemed from Egypt." Retelling the story of the exodus enables us to "know that I am the LORD" (Exod. 10:2). We recall the words, bishvili nivra ha'olam – "For my sake was this world created," while we also recall the words, anokhi afar ve'efer – "I am but dust and ashes." When we retell the story of the great redemption, we strengthen our faith and better know the LORD.

The LORD admonishes that the story of our redemption should be "as a sign on your hand and as a memorial (זִכָּרוֹן) between your eyes, that the Torah of the LORD may be in your mouth" (Exod. 13:9). We are instructed to "remember" (זָכַר) over and over again because our disease, our sickness of heart, induces us to forget how we were enslaved in the house of bondage. We must consciously remember and never forget that only by means of God's strong hand (בְּיָד חֲזָקָה) are we ever made free (John 8:36).
 

וְהָיָה לְךָ לְאוֹת עַל־יָדְךָ
וּלְזִכָּרוֹן בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ
לְמַעַן תִּהְיֶה תּוֹרַת יְהוָה בְּפִיךָ
כִּי בְּיָד חֲזָקָה הוֹצִאֲךָ יְהוָה מִמִּצְרָיִם

ve·ha·yah · le·kha · le·ot · al · ya·de·kha
ul·zik·ka·ron · bein · ei·ne·kha
le·ma·an · ti·he·yeh · to·rat · Adonai · be·fi·kha
ki · be·yad · cha·za·kah · ho·tzi·a·kha · Adonai · mi·mitz·ra·im
 

"And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand
and for a memorial between your eyes,
that the Torah of the LORD may be in your mouth.
For with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt."
(Exod. 13:9)


 


In this connection, the traditional haggadah describes four kinds of "children" at the seder table. First is the child who is unable to ask, or who doesn't understand that there is a question about the meaning of the seder (she'eilo yodea lishol). Second is a simple child who goes along with the seder but does not bother to look beneath the surface to find its meaning and relevance. The third child is rasha - alienated and distant - a stranger at the table who wants to hear a different story rather than the one being told. Finally, the wise child (chakham) humbly asks, seeks, and desires to understand the mystery and the truth about Passover. The wise child's questions lead to answers that lead to yet other questions, and so the meaning of the redemption belongs to him...  By extension, since Yeshua is indeed the Lamb of God, the true Substance of the meaning of Passover, we must ask and answer the question, "Were you there when they crucified our LORD?"
 




Cowardice and Collective Judgment...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Bo) and the story of yetziat mitzrayim, the great Exodus from Egypt....  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.14.13  (Shevat 3, 5773)  In our Torah portion this week we read, "At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock" (Exod. 12:29). But how was it fair that all the Egyptians (and their animals) suffered for the sins of Pharaoh and his evil advisors? Well, first of all the wealth and indeed the very existence of the Egyptian people came through the merit of Joseph, who interpreted Pharaoh's dreams, saved the nation from famine, and brought the world's wealth into Egypt. Indeed it was an act of "collective ingratitude" for the Egyptian people to have "forgotten" this fact of their history and to willfully overlook the oppression of the Israelites. Moreover, because they were silent in the face of ongoing injustice and even genocide of the Jews, the LORD regarded the common Egyptian people just as blameworthy as those taskmaster who were simply "following orders" issued by the Pharaoh and his court. The principle is stated by Bonhoeffer: "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak; not to act is to act." Just like the slavery of ancient Egypt, the dreadful European Holocaust was also made possible because cowardly people made various excuses why they could not resist political evil. Dictators, tyrants, despots, big business CEOs, religious leaders, "civic" leaders, union leaders, gang leaders, etc., all gain their power through collusion with the people they govern. Wicked thugs and henchmen wink at evil because they are in line for a payoff, and the common people are intimated because of the threat of "political" violence... The Pharaoh's supposed strength - like the strength of all wicked leaders - ultimately came from lying to people who were only too willing to believe the lies... Beware of the crowd, chaverim...

Edmund Burke said, "All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing." Similarly, the great risk of our age is the revival of political fascism that attempts to again control, disarm, and violate people's freedom all for the supposed greater good of the "state." As the German theologian Martin Niemoller said, "First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me."

Note: For more on this subject, see the article, "The Cowardice of the Crowd."
 




The Shema Prophecy...


 

01.14.13  (Shevat 3, 5773)  Instead of thinking of the Shema (שְׁמַע) as a commandment to be externally obeyed, you can regard it as a prophecy about your inner life: "You shall love (וְאָהַבְתָּ) the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deut. 6:5). Only God can quicken a dead heart, after all, and fill the soul with holy affections. Only the LORD can impart to us strength needed to take hold of promises as He writes His Torah upon our heart. As it is written, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever" (Rom. 11:36).
 

וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ
וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל־מְאדֶךָ

ve·a·hav·ta · et · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · be·khol · le·vav·kha
u·ve·khol · naf·she·kha · u·ve·khol · me·o·de·kha
 

"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart
 and with all your soul and with all your might"
(Deut. 6:5)



 

God will take away your stony heart and give you a new heart, along with a new spirit to be willing to know His love, as it is written, "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 give you a heart of flesh" (Ezek. 36:26). Your new heart will be like Yeshua's own: open, accessible, flexible, trusting, sharing, emotionally alive, able to feel, pulsating with God's energy and power...

The promise is this: "you shall love," since love is what is most true about who you are... You shall love the LORD, since He is the Source and End of all real love. You will love the LORD more and more, as you grow ever closer to Him and one day will behold Him panim-el-panim (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), "face to face." You shall love the LORD with all your heart, which implies God has indeed given you a new heart to love Him with; and with all your soul, which implies that you are enabled to truly feel, and that your heart is made tender and sensitized; and with all your might - that is, with all your "muchness," your "substance," or that reality that makes you who you really are in the LORD...
 




A New Beginning...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Bo) and the story of yetziat mitzrayim, the great Exodus from Egypt....  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.14.13  (Shevat 3, 5773)  The Jewish sages say that  the very first commandment given to the people of Israel was that of Rosh Chodesh (ראש חודש), or the declaration of the start (or head) of the "new month," particularly concerning the first month of their redemption (Exod. 12:2). In other words, Passover month was to begin Israel's year. Note that the word for month (i.e., chodesh) comes from the root chadash (חָדָש), meaning "new," and therefore the Passover redemption was intended to mark a "new beginning" for the Jewish people. And indeed, God marks the start of our personal redemption as the beginning of our life as a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), just as Yeshua is the "first of the firstfruits" of God's redeemed humanity (1 Cor. 15:45-49).

The liturgy of the Jew is his calendar (Abraham Heschel). "This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you" (Exod. 12:2). Nisan was the month when God made the Covenant between the Halves (בְּרִית בֵּין הַבְּתָרִים) to Abraham (Gen. 15) who understood that exactly 400 years later Israel would be redeemed from their bondage. It was also the month that Isaac was born, and the time when Isaac was offered up and bound to the altar (Gen. 22). God also appeared to Moses in the burning bush during Nisan and later redeemed Israel on the very first Passover. Nisan is also the month when Yeshua was crucified, buried, and raised from the dead. It is also called Aviv, the "av" of the months, the month of the Father, the month of resurrection.
 




The Exodus Parable


 

01.13.13  (Shevat 2, 5773)  The exodus of Israel from Egypt is the central parable of the Torah. The bondage of the Israelites to Pharaoh represents humanity's slavery to sin; God's deliverance from bondage is effected by trusting in the blood of the sacrificial lamb of God; the passage from death to life symbolically comes through baptism into the Sea of Reeds; the journey to truth represents the pilgrimage to Sinai, and so on. Indeed, the redemption in Egypt led directly to revelation at Sinai, and when the LORD God gave the Ten Commandments, He did not begin by saying he was our Creator, but rather our Redeemer: "I am the LORD your God (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ), who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). This is because the purpose of the creation itself is to demonstrate God's redemptive love and to be known as our Savior and Redeemer, just as Yeshua is the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9). "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Creation therefore begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Mashiach, the great Lamb of God... He is the Center of Creation - the Aleph and Tav - the Beginning and the End (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:17). All the world was created for the Messiah: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).

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




Parashat Bo - בא


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Bo) and the story of yetziat mitzrayim, the great Exodus from Egypt....  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.13.13
  (Shevat 2, 5773)  Parashat Bo begins with the LORD commanding Moses "to go" (i.e., bo: בּא) before Pharaoh to announce further apocalyptic judgments upon Egypt. The purpose of this power encounter was to vindicate God's justice and power (deliverance/salvation) by overthrowing the tyranny of unjust human oppression. Pharaoh's nightmare of "one little lamb" outweighing all the firstborn of Egypt was about to be fulfilled.

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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






The Torah of Empathy


 

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

01.11.13  (Tevet 29, 5773)  There is the old Chassidic story of two men sitting and enjoying a drink together. One of them then says to the other, "You know, you're my best friend. I really love you, brother!" The other man responds, "Oh yeah? If you really love me, tell me where I hurt..." The point of the story is that we can't honestly say we love someone without taking the time to know them -- and that means knowing how they suffer.

The Law of Messiah (תוֹרת המשׁיח) is to bear one another's burdens (τα βαρη, "weights," Gal. 6:2), and that means making ourselves vulnerable -- and making room inside our hearts for the vulnerability of others. James tells us that personal healing comes from "confessing out" (εξομολογεισθε) our sins (τας αμαρτιας) to one another so that we may be healed (James 5:16). Of course it's humbling to share our sins, our failures, and our hurts to another, but without an audience for the inner voice of our pain, we suffer all the more.

If someone loves us, they will know "where we hurt"; and if we love them, we will know where they hurt, too. We take comfort that Yeshua sticks closer to us than a brother, interceding on our behalf and "knowing where we hurt." But if we say that we love him, are we are not claiming that we know him and "where he hurts?" Does Yeshua suffer today?  The Apostle Paul wrote: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Col. 1:24). What is "lacking in Christ's afflictions" is our present sacrifice for the sake of others... Yeshua hungers with those who are hungry, thirsts with those who are thirsty, feels loneliness with those who are abandoned, shivers with those who are cold, weeps with those who are forlorn, is imprisoned with those who are incarcerated, is sick with those who are ill, and so on (Matt. 25:31-ff). Yeshua feels the pain of even the "least of these my brothers." This is where he hurts, friends....

We are invited to awaken to the reality of the Divine Presence and come "boldly before the Throne of Grace." The Gates of Teshuvah are always open for you. The Spirit of God always says, "Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you" (Isa. 26:20). Beauty for ashes! Be strong and let us be strengthened as we rest in Yeshua, our great LORD and Messiah, our Healer and our Deliverer. Let us draw near to lean upon Him now, friends! Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov!
 




The Name El Shaddai...


 

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

01.11.13  (Tevet 29, 5773)  "I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as El Shaddai..." (Exod. 6:3). The name El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדָּי) is often translated "God Almighty," probably because the translators of the Septuagint (i.e., the Greek translation of the Old Testament) thought shaddai came from a root verb (shadad) that meant "to overpower" or "to destroy." The Latin Vulgate likewise translated Shaddai as "Omnipotens" (from which we get our English word omnipotent). In other words, God is so overpowering that He is considered "Almighty." It is more likely, however, that the name Shaddai is connected to shadayim (שָׁדַיִם) the Hebrew word for "breasts," indicating sufficiency and nourishment (i.e., the breasts of a mother who shows rachamim, compassion). And indeed, a survey of the name in Scripture connects it with the fertility and growth of the original families of Israel.

Note: The puzzling statement that God "did not make His Name YHVH (יהוה) known" to the original patriarchs (i.e., Exod. 6:3) is discussed here.  For more on the Hebrew name El Shaddai, see the article, "God as El Shaddai."
 




Trusting in God's Love...


 

01.11.13  (Tevet 29, 5773)  Faith believes the miracle of love. We are justified by God, that is, regarded as "just-if-I'd" never sinned and "just-if-I'd" always obeyed, through trusting in the finished work of Yeshua performed on our behalf, in our place, and for our benefit, upon the cross at Calvary. Personally trusting in the sacrificial death of Yeshua offered in exchange for your life "imputes" the righteousness of God on the basis of your faith. Our identity is based on the miracle of our union with Yeshua's sacrifice for our sin, as well as his resurrection victory over its accusation and power.  If we deny this, then we abandon faith in God's grace, because we are saying that Messiah died in vain (Gal. 2:21). The "work of God" is to keep faith in what He has done for you (John 6:29). Choose to focus on what God says about you rather than your own self-assessment...

It is important not to lose sight of the "simplicity" of the message of our salvation, even if we sometimes wrestle with questions about the relationship between "faith and works," "law and grace," "freedom and predestination," and so on. Let's not be vexed by theology, but trust in the testimony of the Holy Spirit... The bottom line is to accept that you are accepted into God's heart, despite the conviction of your own unacceptability... Shalom to you.
 




Spiritual Cardiopathy...


 

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

01.11.13  (Tevet 29, 5773)  One symptom of "sklerocardia," that is, the condition of having a "hard heart," is unwillingness to be grateful for the gift of life and its various blessings. Such inner hardness desensitizes the soul, making us feel numb inside... People today tend to be thankless, intolerant, self-willed, and so "full of themselves" that they suppose they are doing God a favor just by being alive. They proudly assume they are always right, and therefore they convince themselves that life "owes" them something. Such thinking resembles the arrogant character of Pharaoh, who took for granted all that he had as if it somehow was his "by right." In Hebrew, gratitude is called hakarat tovah (הַכָּרַת טוֹבָה), or the "recognition of the good." It is an openhearted attitude that appreciates each moment of life as a gift to be valued. Hardness of heart can make us "forget" to see, understand, hear, and remember the truth of God in our lives (Mark 8:17-19). When we are filled with anxiety or fear, for example, we are forgetting the truth and risk hardening our hearts.

Of course it is often a struggle to be a "joyful sojourner" in this dark and tragic world, and the temptation is to make ourselves numb inside. We must first of all be honest with ourselves. If we wrestle with our own hardness of heart, we must be careful to refuse despair, since despair hardens the heart even further... Instead, we must consciously recall that the LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Psalm 103:8; 116:3-5). Keep faith that God alone can (and will) change our hearts to more resemble the inner life and character of Yeshua. Let's keep trusting for that and ask God to do this miracle for each of us, for the sake of the glory of His Name.
 




Centrality of the Exodus...


 

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

01.10.13  (Tevet 28, 5773)  The exodus from Egypt is perhaps the most fundamental event of Jewish history. In addition to being commemorated every year during Passover (Exod. 12:24-27; Num. 9:2-3; Deut. 16:1), it is explicitly mentioned in the first of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:2), and it is recalled every Sabbath (Deut. 5:12-15). The festivals of Shavuot and Sukkot likewise derive from it (the former recalls the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the latter God's care as the Exodus generation journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land). Indeed, nearly every commandment of the Torah (including the laws of the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system) may be traced back to the story of the Exodus. Most importantly, the Exodus prefigures and exemplifies the work of redemption given through the sacrificial life of Yeshua the Messiah, the true King of the Jews and the Lamb of God.
 




Divine Plagues, Human Choices...


 

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

01.10.13  (Tevet 28, 5773)  Why did the LORD bring about a sequence of ten plagues rather than issuing a single, decisive, and all-powerful act of deliverance? Because the plagues were intended not only to punish the Egyptians, but also to convince the Israelites of the greatness of the LORD and his power over all the so-called gods of Egypt. The plagues also demonstrated that it was not an accidental cause that brought about their freedom, but rather God's direct, purposive, and powerful intervention on their behalf. Moreover, the sequence of the plagues and their increasing severity allowed time for the Egyptians (including Pharaoh, of course), to repent. Indeed, the sages say that the plagues were timed according to the Jewish calendar. Rabbi Bechaye (11th century, Spain) wrote that on Nisan 14 God spoke to Moses from the burning bush and commissioned him to go to Pharaoh and the final plague occurred on Nisan 14, the following year (i.e., the Passover).

 


God's Outstretched Arm...

Normally God does not immediately punish a transgressor or reward the one who obeys, because if he did so, if he set up the moral structure of reality to instantly confer cause and effect, then people would turn to him like animals conditioned to salivate at the sound of a bell... People would be "robots," not souls made in the image of the One who freely creates all things. Therefore God "hides" so that we can seek him. God's great "gamble," if you will, was to willingly restrict his overmastering glory and power so that we can choose our own destiny. He respects our freedom so much that he was willing to create a universe with the risk that some might never choose to seek him...

Certainly the Master of the Universe could split open the heavens in an instant and overwhelmingly reveal His glory to the entire world, but then faith would no longer be needed, since the question of the Divine Presence would be settled as a matter of experiential fact. The reason God doesn't do this is to give people "opportunity" to seek Him, to press through the ambiguity so that the heart may be revealed. When the LORD God finally does reveal himself, however, no one will be able to deny the truth (1 Cor. 3:13).

In this connection, the sages say that one of the few times that God overruled human freedom was precisely when he "introduced" himself to Israel (and to Egypt) by demonstrating his overmastering power and glory during the time of the exodus. This is what was meant by zeroa netuyah (זְרוֹעַ נְטוּיָה), an "outstretched hand," as if God extended his hand out into the world...

Note:  The relationship between human freedom and divine sovereignty is paradoxical to human reason, because while God sovereignly chooses the redeemed (Rom. 9:11-15), each of us faces judgment for our own choices and actions in this life (2 Cor. 5:10, Matt. 16:26; Heb. 9:27). Therefore we are told to work out (κατεργάζεσθε) our own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13). Faith is a gift, of course, though it is also practiced through acts of love which attest of its authenticity and presence... Actions reveal faith, just as faith shapes actions. The life of genuine faith does not imply that we will attain perfection in this life, but it trusts that God will keep working within us so that we will freely choose what He desires.
 




Life is in Yeshua...


 

01.10.13  (Tevet 28, 5773)  The Hebrew word for "life" is chayim (חַיִּים), a plural noun that contains two consecutive Yods (יי) that pictures two "hands held together" (the Hebrew word yad means hand), or the union of our spirit with God's Spirit. The word reveals that there is no life apart from union with Yeshua, who extends his hand to you and says, "Live in me." We live in him by faith, receiving our daily bread as his flesh and our drink as his blood. He is the Source of all life, and we find nourishment, strength, and fullness of joy in His Presence. The LORD is our light and our salvation (יְשׁוּעָה), the Mediator of receiving the divine life. As it is written, "Whoever has the Son has the life (הַחַיִּים); but whoever does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:12).
 




Exodus and Freedom...


 

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

01.10.13  (Tevet 28, 5773)  God's redemption is both "out of" and "into." The LORD takes us out of hell, bondage, and death into heaven, liberty, and eternal life. But note that he takes us out only to bring us back in; he redeems us to bring us to Sinai; he writes Torah upon our hearts; he makes us "in but not of" the world (John 17:15-16). Every Passover we retell the story of our redemption. We remember how we bitterly cried because of our bondage and how God graciously delivered us by the blood of the lamb. We rejoice that we are called am segulah - God's own treasured people. Because of God's love demonstrated at the cross, we are transferred (μεθίστημι) from the realm of darkness into the kingdom of the Divine Presence (Col. 1:13). Today may we live as salt and light to a perverse world, sharing the message of God's great liberation from the power of sin, death, and evil...
 




The Center Holds...



 

01.10.13  (Tevet 28, 5773)  Our faith affirms that the universe was not impersonally caused into actuality but presently exists by divine design. Cosmological history has a purpose, a goal, and is therefore "going someplace." And just as the LORD our God freely chose to create the universe yesh me'ayin, "out of nothing," so He freely sustains it, keeping us alive to this hour: "For in Him we live, move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Yeshua, the radiance of the glory of God, upholds all things by his power (Heb. 1:3); through Him all things are "arranged in order" (συνίστημι) and are bound together (Col. 1:17). God is in the world continually creating in and all around us; He is not a static "first cause" of the universe but rather the creative Power and reigning Source of all life.
 

    "Spirituality senses that which stands above, beyond, behind, and within the passing flux of immediate things; it senses something ultimately present, yet hidden; something ultimately real, yet a remote possibility; something that gives meaning to all that passes, yet remains a mystery; something within you, but still beyond reach; something found, yet still forever sought. This apprehension calls for worship, since the vision never overrules. It is always there, and we are free to open our hearts or turn away from its presence." - Alfred N. Whitehead (paraphrased quote)
     

The Spirit of God "haunts" or "broods over" people, especially those who are willing to honestly ask the "big questions" of life, such as: Why is there something rather than nothing at all? Why do we exist? What is the meaning or purpose of life? Are values and ideals real or merely matters of personal preference?  Is there life after death? Does the universe itself have a purpose, or is everything random? Are human beings free? What is true love? How do we determine right and wrong? What is beauty? What can we know? etc. The atheists and agnostics of the world have to constantly "be vigilant" to defend themselves from the Voice of Reality (Psalm 19:1-4).
 




Guarding Our Minds...


 

01.09.13  (Tevet 27, 5773)  We are living in stressful times, friends... Paranoia is virtually omnipresent and the zeitgeist, or the "spirit of the age," is marked by agitation and dissonance relentlessly promoted by the world's propaganda and mass media disinformation outlets. "Men's hearts are failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming upon the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken." The Apostle Paul wrote that the time before the "End of Days" would be "perilous" (χαλεπός) and full of human depravity (2 Tim. 3:1-5). In light of the raging spiritual war going on all around us, the following needs to be restated: "The important thing is not to lose your mind..."

The mind is the "gateway" to your heart, and it is therefore essential to guard your thinking by immersing yourself in the truth... Fear is often the result of believing the lie that God is not in control or is unable/unwilling to help you... "Not losing your mind" therefore means being grounded in what is real, and it therefore means understanding your identity and provision as a child of God. "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (גְּבוּרָה / δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός), lit. a "delivered" mind, "healed" from fragmentation (2 Tim. 1:7). The Greek word "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός) comes from the verb sodzo (σῴζω), meaning "to save," from saos (σάος) "safe," in the sense of being under restraining influence of the Spirit of God...

In light of the madness and depravity of this world, it is essential to remember that God is in complete control of all things. He works "all things together for good" to those who are trusting in Him (Rom. 8:28). And "there is no fear in love" (אין פַּחַד בָּאַהֲבָה), especially since we know that ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו) -- there is no real power apart from the LORD (i.e., He is the only true Power in the universe, despite the menace and threats that mankind routinely inflict upon one another). Indeed, our King the Messiah Yeshua is called Elyon lemalkhei-aretz (עֶלְיוֹן לְמַלְכֵי־אָרֶץ) - the "Ruler of the princes of the earth" (Rev. 1:5) - and that means they ultimately will answer to Him. Despite the madness and schemes of this world, we know that the LORD God Almighty reigns, and therefore we need not be afraid of man or his devices. The call to holiness is a call to act counter culturally -- call upon the Name of the LORD and walk in faith, chaverim!
 




Beloved Wretch...


 

01.09.13  (Tevet 27, 5773)  Sometimes I feel a bit like that lost dog whose owner posted a sign that said: "Lost Dog with three legs, blind in left eye, missing right ear, tail broken, and recently neutered. Breed unknown. Answers to the name of Lucky."

Afflictions make us "lucky," though most of us begin to understand this only after we've been humbled by our failures. Thank God that that he seeks and saves the lost, the broken, and the unruly...  Thank God for Jesus, "the friend of sinners" (Matt. 11:19). As Margary Williams wrote: "Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand" (Velveteen Rabbit). Thank God he makes us real, chaverim...
 




First things First...



 

01.09.13  (Tevet 27, 5773)  Why did the Eternal One create a solitary man upon the earth, and not a group of people? To teach that each of us is esteemed by our Creator as as "olam malei" (עוֹלָם מָלֵא), an entire world, just as every hair on your head is indeed numbered (Luke 12:7). We must first find our identity and presence in relationship with God before we can relate to others in the world (Matt. 6:33).

And this explains why God Himself must take our place for the alienation we have caused by our sin. The cross is God's means of "turning back" to the sinner. Only God can save us because God created us b'tzelem Elohim, to be like Him, with the significance of "an entire world."  The Love of God doesn't deny pain, brokenness, or evil but finds its remedy...
 




What Pharaoh can teach us...



 

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

01.09.13  (Tevet 27, 5773)  Though he sometimes appeared to change his mind in light of the intervention of God, Pharaoh nevertheless reverted to his older thinking after the danger seemed to pass. Therefore the Torah states that after each of the first five plagues, Pharaoh hardened (lit., "strengthened") his heart. It was only after five successive opportunities to face reality, to give up his claim to be god, to turn to the LORD in humility, however, that God ratified Pharaoh's will by "helping him" become the person he decided to be. Therefore after the sixth plague the Torah states, "And the LORD strengthened Pharaoh's heart" (Exod. 9:12).

Pharaoh teaches us that God will never force a sinner to turn away from their sin, but if they willfully continue to sin, they may become unable to turn, trapped in a very difficult place.... The Shemot Rabbah states: "The Holy One, blessed be He, gives someone a chance to repent, and not only one opportunity but several chances: once, twice, three times. But then, if the person still has not repented, God locks the person's heart altogether, cutting off the possibility of repentance in the future." There is a very real risk that those who choose to be at war with God, who flatly refuse repeated appeals to turn to the LORD, will become progressively "strengthened" in their resolution to defy reality...
 




Forced to be Free...


 

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

01.09.13  (Tevet 27, 5773)  Those who think they are not bound by the laws of morality are enslaved to their lower nature, since the lower nature follows and justifies the appeals of natural impulse and instinct without reflection. Yet denying moral reality is as dangerous as defying the law of gravity, and ultimately is futile. Moral skepticism and relativism are ultimately "unlivewithable," since they deny the most basic experiences of the heart. Moral truth, on the other hand, is plainly apprehended by all who heed the voice of conscience and who esteem what really matters in life - meaning, truth, love, justice, beauty, and so on. Ethical reality is not discovered in a science lab but rather in the reverence of the human heart. In fact, science itself is impossible apart from values and assumptions that regard the knowledge of empirical reality as better than living in a state of ignorance.

Moral truth finds its source and authority in the LORD who fashioned human beings in His image and likeness. We cannot deny moral reality without desecrating ourselves. The Torah teaches that the universe itself was not caused but created, and therefore creativity, value, beauty, freedom, and personhood are at its essence. We are not victims of an impersonal machine, nor is the universe a closed-system of cause and effect that somehow operates apart from the immanent Presence of God. Whether people want to accept it or not, they are bound to live in light of moral reality, and they deny it to their own peril.
 




The Purpose of Freedom


 

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

01.09.13  (Tevet 27, 5773)  Freedom apart from purpose is a delusion. Slavery is horribly evil because it restricts the good use of our power - it negates who we are, denies our means for living, and thereby desecrates the image of God Himself. Freedom, however, is a means to an end, namely, the right use of power to serve God as His children. God saves us from bondage so that we can demonstrate His power and glory, not so that we might cast off restraint... Real freedom means the power to choose the good, not to do whatever lust desires or dictates. Freedom implies accountability as its necessary condition, because without responsibility, we are still enslaved to our lower nature. "I have on my table a violin string. It is free to move in any direction I like. If I twist one end, it responds; it is free. But it is not free to sing. So I take it, and fix it into my violin. I bind it, and when it is bound, it is free for the first time to sing." (Rabindranath Tagore)
 




Tyranny and Evil...


 

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

01.08.13  (Tevet 26, 5773)  The story of the exodus from Egypt is the story about the struggle for human dignity and freedom. God abhors slavery and oppression, and indeed the First Commandment reminds us that the LORD delivered us from the "house of bondage" (Exod. 20:2). God's message to the Pharaoh of old is also for all the world's twisted dictators and their henchmen: "Thus says the Eternal One, the God of the Hebrews: 'Let my people go that they may serve Me' (Exod. 7:16). The Kings of the earth may "set themselves" in pugnacious opposition to the LORD, but in the end will come a rod of iron that will surely dash their rule to pieces (see Psalm 2, Dan. 2:31-35).

Note:  Slavery is still a worldwide problem today. According to Anti-Slavery International, one of the world's oldest human rights organizations, there are currently over 20 million people living in bondage in various countries of the world....
 




I am my Beloved's


 

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

01.08.13  (Tevet 26, 5773)  The Pharaoh embodies the principle of the selfish ego, and therefore each of us has a "little Pharaoh" inside seeking to control the world. Martin Buber comments: "In the Scriptures we read, 'I stood between the LORD and you' (Deut. 5:5). The 'I' stands between God and us. When a man says 'I am' [as if he were sufficient unto himself] he shuts himself off from Him. But there is no dividing wall before the one who sacrifices his 'I,' for of him it is said, 'I am my beloved's and his desire is for me' (Song 7:10). When 'I' belongs to the Beloved, then His desire is for me" (Collected Sayings).
 

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְעָלַי תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ

ani · le'do·di · ve·a·lai · te·shu·ka·to
 

"I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me."
(Song 7:10)



 




The Name of God...


 

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

01.08.13  (Tevet 26, 5773)  While 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), it also means "Faithfulness," the One who keeps His promises. YHVH means that "He was (i.e., hayah: היה), He is (i.e., hoveh: הוֶה), and He always will be (i.e., veyihyeh: וְיִהְיֶה)," which means 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). Unlike mortal men who are limited by time and may be unable to keep their promises because of weakness, infirmity, or death, the LORD is the Eternal One and no power can ever prevent Him from keeping His promises to you. Therefore do we say, בָּרוּךְ הוּא וּבָרוּךְ שְׁמוֹ - Barukh hu u'varukh shemo, "Blessed be God and blessed be His Name."

Note:  A word the Torah sometimes uses for "desire" or "will" is avah (אָבָה), which becomes the word "love," i.e., ahavah (אַהֲבָה), only when God's Spirit (ה) is made part of the will. Rambam therefore explains אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, ehyeh asher ehyeh, "I shall be as I shall be" (Exod. 3:14) to mean, "I shall be with those who desire that I shall be with them." In other words, though the LORD is always present, He awaits for us to express our desire for Him, to make a decision to let him in, so to speak (Rev. 3:20).
 




Hardness of Heart...


 

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

01.08.13  (Tevet 26, 5773)  "I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, he will not heed..." (Exod. 7:3-4). A hardened heart is unfeeling, numb, and therefore unable to spiritually hear or see (Isa. 44:18). Pharaoh's pride and anger made him cruel, oblivious to the suffering of others, both deaf and blind to the pain even of his own obstructed heart. He became his own worst enemy, a prisoner of his own making, a slave to his own pretense and fearful delusions. And so it is with unregenerated human nature that demands to be the center of attention and that stubbornly refuses to submit to God's authority over the bounds of the selfish ego. "God leads men along a path which they themselves choose. If a man wants to be good, God leads him toward goodness; if he wants to travel an evil road, God helps him do that, too." As it says, "The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps."
 

לֵב אָדָם יְחַשֵּׁב דַּרְכּוֹ
וַיהוָה יָכִין צַעֲדוֹ

lev · a·dam · ye·cha·shev · dar·ko
va'Adonai · ya·khin · tza·a·do
 

"The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD directs his steps."
(Prov. 16:9)



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Proverbs 28:14 says, "Happy is the man who fears always, but the one who hardens his heart will fall into evil."  If we find ourselves opposing God, our punishment might be prolonged through the process of hardening, though with God's mercy this hardening may lead to a genuine sense of brokenness and despair -- i.e., the realization that the strength of own self-sufficiency is proven to be of no avail. Turning to the LORD in despair of ourselves is a mark of humility. When we are emancipated from ourselves, we are delivered from pride and thereby enabled to confess our need for God's help... This is a miracle, since the "little Pharaoh inside" always clamors to be the center of attention and refuses to submit to the Presence and authority of the LORD.

Note:  The Torah teaches that the universe was not caused but created, and therefore creativity, freedom, and personhood are at its essence. We are not victims of an impersonal machine; God did not "wind up" the universe and to let it run unsupervised. And even if we should undergo tribulation in this world we are made "more than conquerors" (ὑπερνικῶμεν, lit. "hyper conquerors) through the power of the Eternal One that loves us (Rom. 8:37). For some further thoughts on the paradox of "free will" and the divine decrees, see the related article, "Hardening of Heart."
 




Halfhearted Turning...


 

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

01.08.13  (Tevet 26, 5773)  How many people want God to "save them" so that they can continue to live life on their own terms? How many try to bargain with God, offering conditional surrender and half-measures? When Moses' prayer was answered [regarding the end of the plague of frogs], Pharaoh initially changed his mind but then hardened his heart once again (see Exod. 8:12-15). The Midrash Rabbah comments: "That is the way of the wicked: when they are in trouble they cry out to God; when they have respite, they return to their evil ways." The example of the Pharaoh reminds us to cry out to God at all times, lest we likewise return to our evil ways. It also teaches us to be grateful for our afflictions, for they remind us of how much we need God's help...  Carnal human nature is never reformed but is rather crucified, buried and forever left behind (Gal. 5:24).
 




What do you want?


 

01.07.13  (Tevet 25, 5773)  Imagine the Lord asking you: "What do you want?" or, "What do you seek?" How would you respond? Our deepest yearnings are indeed prayers; whatever the heart secretly seeks, it will find... The person who pursues righteousness will find it, just as evil comes to the person who searches for it (Prov. 11:27). Therefore the voice of wisdom cries out, "I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me" (Prov. 8:17), and the prophet shouts, "Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near" (Isa. 55:6). God is made near to us in Yeshua, who said, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." As you believe, so you will receive (Matt. 21:22).
 

שׁחֵר טוֹב יְבַקֵּשׁ רָצוֹן
וְדרֵשׁ רָעָה תְבוֹאֶנּוּ

sho·cher · tov · ye·vak·kesh · ra·tzon
ve·do·resh · ra·ah · te·vo·ei·nu
 

"Whoever earnestly seeks good seeks favor,
but evil comes to him who searches for it."
(Prov. 11:27)



  

The one who earnestly seeks good is called shocher tov (שׁחֵר טוֹב), "a seeker of good" (the word shocher comes from shachar (שָׁחַר), meaning "dawn" or "morning," suggesting the shacharit prayers and the first appearance of light). The shocher tov has a "good eye" (i.e., ayin ha-tovah) that constantly sees the worth and potential in others. On the other hand, the one who searches out evil is doresh ra'ah, "a searcher of evil." The doresh ra'ah has an evil eye (i.e., ayin hara) that is critical and faultfinding. The principle may be stated this way: When you seek for the good in others, you will find God's favor (ratzon), but when you search for evil in others, the very evil you find becomes your own. This is the hypocrite's paradox: you will always find what you are looking for, and if you look only for the bad in others, you will surely see it, just as if you look for the good, you will find it. "Be careful what you wish for - you just might get it!

People inherently hunger for the "meaning of life," which is really a hunger for the means to the end of life, that is, for God and the reason for their own existence. Followers of Yeshua are called talmidim, or disciples, a word that comes from the root lamad (לָמַד) meaning "to learn." Just as children are educated to help them function in the social world, so each of us must educate our inward souls, turning to God for His guidance given by the Spirit. This is the path of true enlightenment, to ask God for the light of His Presence and to receive the power of the Spirit to lead us on the way. The Spirit refines the heart, just as the burning bush was said by the sages to resemble a heart...  Passion to learn "burns" within us, and a sign of life for us is hunger, thirst, inner ache for meaning, etc.

Note:  For more on this subject, see "Shocher Tov: Reciprocity and Prayer."
 




Refusing Your Fear...


 

01.07.13  (Tevet 25, 5773)  Anxiety is a type of self-harm, the devil's substitute for our inner peace. Fear makes us blind to the truth and enslaves our will: We become bound by fear, and indeed, fear is behind every other kind of sin. The way of sanctification is to stop hurting ourselves, and that means refusing to live in fear. "Others can gain control of you as long as you possess a will distinct from God" (R' Nachman). Teshuvah (repentance) means turning away from fear and yielding ourselves to the love and care of God. The Spirit of God always cries out, "Fear not, for I am with you."
 




Parashat Va'era - וארא


 

01.06.13  (Tevet 24, 5773)  Last week's Torah portion (Shemot) told how Moses and Aaron were commissioned to go before Pharaoh to deliver the LORD's message: "Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the desert." Not only did Pharaoh reject the request, but he imposed even harsher decrees against the Israelites and caused them to suffer miserably. Moses then appealed to the LORD, who reassured him that Pharaoh would eventually relent because of "the greater might" of God's power to deliver His people.

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

The portion then provides a genealogy of Moses and Aaron before the great "showdown" between the kingdom of man and the kingdom of God begins. Despite repeatedly witnessing the miraculous judgment of God upon the Egyptians (i.e., the plagues), however, the despot remained proud and unmoved, thereby setting the stage for the final devastating judgment upon the land of Egypt -- and the great Passover redemption of Israel.

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


Rosh Chodesh Shevat


 

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

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

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

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

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




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The God of Breath...


 

01.04.13  (Tevet 22, 5773)  The LORD is called "the God of breath" (Num. 16:22). The Hebrew word for breath is ruach (רוּחַ), which means both "spirit" and "wind." God is as close as your breath and surrounds you like the unseen yet encompassing air. Since God's Name means "Presence" and "Love," he is also the Beloved, the "I-am-with-you-always" lover of your soul. We are never really alone. Just as we must breathe to live, so we pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17).

When Yeshua cried out, "It is finished" and breathed his last breath as He died for our sins upon the cross, the greatest exhalation of the Spirit occurred, the greatest sigh, the greatest utterance was ever declared. The sacrificial death of Yeshua for our deliverance was God's final word of love breathed out to those who are trusting in Him. Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). There is heavenly comfort for you in every moment. Shabbat Shalom!
 




The Divine Present...


 

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

01.04.13  (Tevet 22, 5773)  Today we prayed for someone who is dying and may only have a couple weeks left to live... Confronting the prospect death sobers the heart and focuses our perspective. For example, when we discuss theology, there is a temptation to become proud and to assume that we have a sort of "theological superiority" in our thinking. We may get into hairsplitting distinctions and hotly argue our convictions with others. Be careful!  We just don't have all the answers. After all, what do we really know about God, the LORD, as He is in Himself? Do we know Him as did our father Abraham? Do we know Him when our understanding fails us? God told Moses that his Name means that He is Present in every moment - past, present, and future. The Name God is "shorthand" for "I AM with you always." There is no moment, just as there is no place, where God is not "there" for us. This includes times of testing, darkness, and even death itself. The LORD our God does not abandon us, even when He seems hidden, powerless, or unwilling to intervene. Faith trusts that He is present there, in moments when we are vulnerable, weak, afraid, and seemingly all alone... Faith receives God as always present, the substance of our hope and dream of eternal healing and eternal life.

Note: The function of a name is to point to or signify reality... When we are in the hardest of moments, we don't worry about the morphology, phonetics, or linguistics of God's Name, but we rather call out and hunger for His Presence, Love, and Light. We are like little kids crying for our father. It is vanity and pride that makes people hardhearted regarding such matters. The Spirit of God speaks words of life to those who need to hear them.
 




The Name Ehyeh...


 

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

01.04.13  (Tevet 22, 5773)  In our Torah portion this week, Moses asked for God's Name, and God then said ehyeh asher ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה), "I AM that I AM" (or "I will be what I will be"), abbreviated simply as ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה), "I AM" (Exod. 3:14). Note that God identifies himself with being itself, since ehyeh is the Qal imperfect form of the verb hayah (הָיָה), meaning "to be." Indeed, the Name YHVH (יהוה) essentially means "Presence," since God is called ha-hoveh, ve'hayah, ve'yavo (הַהוֶה וְהָיָה וְיָבוֹא) - "the One who is, and was, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8). This "threefold Name" of the LORD of Hosts encompasses all possible states of being, indicating that God is LORD over all possible worlds...
 

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

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

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


 
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The phrase ehyeh asher ehyeh indicates a connection between the Name YHVH (יהוה) and being itself. YHVH is the Source of all being and has being inherent in Himself (i.e., He is necessary Being), and everything else - from the most gigantic of cosmic objects to the structure of cellular DNA - contingently derives its existence and being from Him. The name YHVH also bespeaks the utter transcendence of God. In Himself, God is beyond all "predications" or attributes of language: He is the Source and Foundation of all possibility of utterance and thus is beyond all definite descriptions.

Note, however, that though the Name is transcendent and above all categories, God went on to further denote the meaning of His Name through a series of human relationships: "Say this to the people of Israel, 'The LORD (יהוה), [namely] the God of your fathers, [namely] the God of Abraham (אֱלהֵי אַבְרָהָם), [namely] the God of Isaac (אֱלהֵי יִצְחָק), and [namely] the God of Jacob (אֱלהֵי יַעֲקב), has sent me to you.' This is my Name forever (זֶה־שְּׁמִי לְעלָם), and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations" (Exod. 3:14-15). In other words, the Name of the LORD contains both the idea of His utter transcendence as well as His immanence; He is the "Master of the Universe" as well as the personal Savior and Lord of the patriarchs and the Jewish people.... The LORD (יהוה) calls Himself "the God of Israel" to link His faithful love with His Salvation, and indeed, this Name is revealed as Yeshua (Jesus), which is the Name above all Names, the Savior of the world....

Beware of those "Messianic" or "Hebrew roots" ministries that advocate a "special name" for God other than (or over and above) the name of Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ). One way to test the spirits on this question is to determine if the ministry plainly confesses (and celebrates) that Yeshua is indeed the LORD God Almighty, the "Name above all Names" (Phil. 2:9-11) -- or whether they waffle on this issue by focusing instead on the name YHVH... Do they spend an exorbitant amount of time and energy on the phonetics of the name of God, offering permutations or linguistic variations while overlooking the fact that the Name refers to Something beyond the merely linguistic? Do they disdain the name Jesus or ridicule Christians who use the name "Christ," regarding them as "pagan" or "Gentile"? Are they part of the "Sacred Name" movement (i.e., cult)? Do they attempt to impress you with the secret meaning of Hebrew words and spurious intellectualism? Do they suggest that Christian theology is inherently suspect and should not be trusted?  Do they mock the idea of the Trinity as incoherent or perhaps even unscriptural? Test the spirits. Ask yourself if they are missing the point of God's revelation by taking the Name of the LORD in vain.


Note: Some people may pedantically insist that ehyeh should not be translated as "I AM" but rather as "I WILL BE," since the verb form is grammatically "imperfect," that is, expressing ongoing or future action. However, the semantic point of the revelation of God's Name is to indicate that He is the utterly transcendent Master of the Universe, and therefore categories of time, that is, past-present-future must be subsumed under this greater idea. God is LORD over all possible places and times (i.e., ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος).

Other people might object to the name "Jesus," claiming that it has pagan connotations. However, there is absolutely nothing misleading about the name Jesus, even though it is a Latin transliteration (i.e., IESUS) derived from the Greek transliteration (᾽Ιησοῦς) of the original Hebrew name Yehoshua (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ), which later appears in its shortened form as Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ), e.g., 1 Chron. 24:11; Neh. 8:17.  Note that the name Yehoshua comes from the verb יָשַׁע, "to save," and יה, a shortened form of YHVH, and therefore means "the LORD saves." According to the late Dr. David Flusser, Professor of Early Christianity and Judaism of the Second Temple Period at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, "Yeshua" was the third most popular male name during the time of the Second Temple period.
 




Teshuvah and Waste Places...


 

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

01.03.13  (Tevet 21, 5773)  Forty years before encountering the LORD in the burning bush, Moses was full of himself, a prince of Egypt "mighty in word and deed" who regarded himself as Israel's deliverer (Acts 7:22-25). But Moses' "Egyptian-styled" ego led him to regard murder and human uprising as the means of deliverance, and consequently God sent him into exile to think things through...  It was there, in the waste places of the desert, that God's education began - the school of brokenness, teshuvah, and heart-listening... Only after this did God appear to him, calling out to the man who had lost all confidence in the flesh. Moses' humility mirrored the emptiness of the desert: "Who am I?" he protested, "I can't do this thing..." (Exod. 3:11). Exactly! Now he understood. Similarly, we must be careful not to regard ourselves as "strong," since the power of the flesh is useless for the purposes of heaven (Zech. 4:6). As it is written, "Thus says the LORD: 'Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the desert, in an uninhabited salt land" (Jer. 17:5-6). It was only after Moses' question, "Who am I?" was answered by God's "I AM who I AM," that the "useless shrub" became aflame with God's power... 

Moses' rod, which he had relied upon for years in the desert, was transformed to be used as an instrument of Divine Power (Exod. 4:1-5). God entrusts the rod of His authority only in the hands of a truly broken man.... Similarly, though Moses was described as a man "mighty in word and deed," these were attributes of the flesh unrefined by the Spirit of God. Therefore, after being humbled in the desert, Moses confessed that he was kevad peh - "heavy of mouth" and kevad lashon, "heavy of tongue," and unable to speak on behalf of the LORD. God then told him that He would "be with his mouth" to teach him what to say (Exod. 4:10-12). This likewise teaches that God entrusts the utterance of his word to the tongue of a genuinely broken man...
 




The End of Fear...



 

01.03.13  (Tevet 21, 5773)  The fear of death is not the kind of fear God wants from his children; on the contrary, God wants you to fear His remoteness, to fear being lost to His loving Presence, to fear falling into sin that removes you from true life. Fearing God doesn't mean fearing His punishment for sin as much as fearing that which breaches the relationship He desires to have with you. That is the right "end" or "goal" of fear - to reverently marvel over the great love God has for your soul....
 

כִּי כִגְבהַּ שָׁמַיִם עַל־הָאָרֶץ
גָּבַר חַסְדּוֹ עַל־יְרֵאָיו

ki · khi·ge·vo·ah · sha·ma·yim · al · ha·a·retz
ga·var · chas·do · al · ye·re·av
 

"For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear Him"
(Psalm 103:11)

The cross, not the scales


  

Those who cling to physical life -- who seek survival at all costs -- are liable to lose sight of the deeper meaning of death, and therefore of life itself. If we worship life here on this earth, we risk losing our own souls.
 




Preparing for the Hour...


 

01.02.13  (Tevet 20, 5773)  Spiritual danger is just as real as physical danger, though most people pretend it isn't because it isn't as easily seen. The real dangers of life are not vulnerability to crime or some accident, however, but rather susceptibility to despair, the tendency to put off repentance, and the very real possibility of not dying well.... It is a great danger to walk through life asleep only to be jolted awake upon the day of death. "The greatest danger is that one does not discover, that one is not always discovering, that one is in danger" (Kierkegaard). Danger of what? Of wasting your life with trifles and vanities; of never learning how to truly love or to be loved; of becoming numb, unfeeling, and therefore unmoved by your need for God.  As C.S. Lewis once wrote, "The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts." The great danger is to be lulled asleep, chaverim...

The hand of the clock sweeps forward, and we are closer to the hour than ever before: "We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast" (2 Sam. 14:14). Though physical life inevitably returns us to dust (Heb. 9:27), death does not have the final word, since God graciously "devises the means by which the banished are brought back home." As it is written, "just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:49). Today we are on the way to face our destiny, even if we suppress this truth through busyness and other distractions. May God impart to us wisdom, as He did to Moses.
 

לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע
 וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה

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

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

The cross, not the scales

Hebrew Study Card
 
  

Moses' petition surely is not that we would be enabled to literally count the remaining days of our lives (as if that would help us, anyway), since God does not disclose the day of one's death, nor should such information be sought... On the contrary, to "number our days" means first of all to account them in relation to Eternity and to esteem them as both infinitely vain and infinitely precious. In other words, Moses is asking that the LORD God would teach us how to make our days count for eternity, to have a weight of glory that will shine in the world to come. Living in the awareness of both the frailty of life as well as its eternally enduring significance is to acquire a heart of wisdom, since fleeting moments - and what we choose to do with them - are the very means by which we prepare ourselves for the world to come and our future with the LORD.  Indeed, this explains why Moses ends his appeal by asking the LORD to establish the work of our hands (Psalm 90:17).

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




The New Pharaoh's Dream...


 

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

01.02.13  (Tevet 20, 5773)  According to midrash, just as the Pharaoh during the time of Joseph was troubled by his dreams (Gen. 41:1-7), so was the "new king" that arose during the time of Moses... In the new Pharaoh's dream, an old man was standing before him as he sat on his throne. The man held a balancing scale. The Pharaoh watched as all the elite of Egypt were placed on one side of the scale, and only a small lamb on the other. When Pharaoh looked, behold, the lamb outweighed all the others!

When he awoke, Pharaoh called his wise men and asked them to interpret his dream, but they could not do so.  Only a magician named Balaam ben Beor had the explanation: "A child will be born to the Israelites who will destroy the land and kill all the people," he said. "Then he will lead the Israelites to freedom. You must stop this from happening!"  Pharaoh's stargazers agreed with Balaam and informed Pharaoh that according to their calculations the child had been born on that very day! "But he is destined to die by water," they said, and an court advisor then recommended that a decree be issued that all newborn Israelite sons be thrown into the Nile river.  Pharaoh agreed to idea, and immediately began scheming about how to implement his genocidal program.

Note: For more on this subject, see the article, "The Advent of Moses."
 




Resolved to Study Torah...


 

01.01.13  (Tevet 19, 5773)  The midrash says that a foolish student will say, 'Who can possibly learn the whole Torah?' but a wise student will say, 'I will learn two laws today, and two tomorrow...' It is "step-by-step, here a little, there a little," and there are no shortcuts to the process, nor should there be, since seeking itself is the goal, and as we draw near to God, He is Present for us.

The Gerer Rebbe asked a young man if he had learned Torah. The man answered, "Just a little..." The Rebbe then said, "That is all anyone has ever learned of Torah...." Indeed Torah is an ocean and each day we savor and reflect on its truth to make it part of our heart and soul. It is God's Holy Spirit that puts the Torah within us and writes it upon our hearts (Jer. 31:33). Therefore "be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (1 Cor. 15:58).
 

מָה־אָהַבְתִּי תוֹרָתֶךָ
 כָּל־הַיּוֹם הִיא שִׂיחָתִי

mah · a·hav·ti · to·ra·te·kha
kol · ha·yom · hi · si·cha·ti
 

"Oh how I love your Torah;
 It is my meditation all the day."
(Psalm 119:97)

The cross, not the scales
 
Hebrew Study Card
 

Note that this verse begins the "Mem section" of the Psalm 119 acrostic. Mem is the letter of "water" (mayim), symbolizing the "spring" of the Torah. In traditional soferut (scribal arts), the letter Mem (מ) is formed from two parts: a Vav (ו) and a Kaf (כ), the gematria of which equals 26, the same value for the sacred Name YHVH (יהוה). The Torah (תּוֹרָה) is central to the revelation of the LORD, just as Yeshua is forever "the Voice of the Living God speaking from the midst of the fire" (Deut. 5:26, Matt. 17:1-3).
 




Moses and the Messiah...


 

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

01.01.13  (Tevet 19, 5773)  Like Joseph before him, Moses was a "picture" of Yeshua in various ways. Though he was a Jew from the tribe of Levi, he appeared as a "prince of Egypt" to his own people and was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22). And though he was God's chosen deliverer, Moses was initially rejected by the Israelites and then turned to the Gentiles, taking a "foreign" bride. After being severely tested in the desert, he was empowered by God's Spirit to become Israel's deliverer for their hour of great tribulation. Indeed, both Moses and Yeshua were "sent from a mountain of God" to free Israel. Both revealed the meaning of God's Name; both spoke with God "face to face." Moses was sent from (physical) Mount Sinai in Midian; Yeshua was sent from a spiritual "Mount Zion" in Heaven (Heb. 12:22). The New Testament relates that Moses and Elijah later met with Yeshua to discuss His "departure," literally, "His Exodus" (τὴν ἔξοδον αὐτοῦ) that he would accomplish at Jerusalem to redeem the entire world (Luke 9:30-31).

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




Remove your Shoes...


 

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

01.01.13  (Tevet 19, 5773)  We live in the midst of a mysterious universe filled with astounding wonder and vast complexity, from the smallest of subatomic particles to the largest of cosmic events... If we could really see, if our eyes were truly open, we would understand that the universe and everything in it is filled with God's glory (Psalm 19:1). Where it is written, "Remove your shoes, for the place you are standing is holy" (Exod. 3:5) means we are to remove the deadness of our habits, those routine ways of "sightless seeing" that insulate us and hide us from the astonishment of reality. "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"
 

קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יהוה צְבָאוֹת
מְלא כָל־הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ

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

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


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

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

    - James Kirkup

 






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