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Jewish Holiday Calendar 

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

In the summer there occurs a three week period of mourning that begins with the Fast of Tammuz and ends with tragic holiday of Tishah B'Av. The last nine days of this three week period (i.e., from Av 1 until Av 9th) are days of increased mourning. However, after this somber time, the romantic holiday of Tu B'Av, the 15th of Av occurs. Summer ends with the 30 days of the month of Elul, a yearly season of teshuvah (repentance) that anticipates Rosh Hashanah and the fall holidays. The 30 days of Elul are combined with the first 10 days of the month of Tishri to create the Forty Days of Teshuvah that culminate with Yom Kippur.
 

Summer Holiday Calendar

The Summer Holidays:


 

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

  1. Month of Tammuz (begins Friday, June 7th, 2013)
  2. Month of Av (begins Sunday, July 7th, 2013)
  3. Month of Elul (begins Monday, August 5th, 2013)



 

July 2013 Updates


Out of the Shadows...


 

07.31.13  (Av 24, 5773)  Do you harbor a secret dread of being invisible - of being unseen, unacknowledged, overlooked?  How much does that drive what you do and say, and how you might relate to others?  Take comfort that your Heavenly Father sees when the sparrow falls; he arrays the flower in its hidden valley; and he calls each star by name. More importantly, the Lord sees you and understands your struggle... As we look to Him, we will be seen -- and our dread of being invisible, irrelevant, and insignificant will itself vanish.
 

הָרפֵא לִשְׁבוּרֵי לֵב וּמְחַבֵּשׁ לְעַצְּבוֹתָם
מוֹנֶה מִסְפָּר לַכּוֹכָבִים לְכֻלָּם שֵׁמוֹת יִקְרָא

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

 

"He is the healer of the brokenhearted and the One who binds up their sorrows.
 He counts the number of the stars, to all of them He assigns names."
(Psalm 147:3-4)

Download Study Card
 

It is tragic that the great need of the soul -- to be accepted and loved by God -- can become a source of dread within the heart... Faith requires us to courageously press through the fear of being seen by God to take hold of the assurance that God loves us -- despite the fact that we are seen by Him... Many people resist coming to God because they are afraid of being seen by Him; we must encourage them to persevere and boldly pass through the veil to take hold of the love of God that overcomes His judgment.

Choose to fight (ἀγωνίζομαι - "agonize," "struggle") another day, chaverim... Do not yield to despair or to fear. Press on and keep fighting the "good fight" of faith (1 Tim. 6:12). You infinitely matter to heaven; your life has great value; you are significant and you are truly loved by our Heavenly Father... There is a "future and a hope" reserved for you (Jer. 29:11); there is "a white stone, and on that stone will be written a new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it" (Rev. 2:17). This promise is given to the "one who conquers" (Τῷ νικῶντι) because of the love and grace of our God. Indeed, by faith we are made "more than conquerors" (lit. "hyper conquerors," ὑπερνικῶμεν) through the Messiah and his love for us (Rom. 8:37).

God has promised: "I will give you a new heart (לֵב חָדָשׁ), and a new spirit (רוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה) I will put within you.  And I will remove the heart of stone (לֵב הָאֶבֶן) from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezek. 36:26). Receive God's promise for your soul, since His love alone is what you really need... Ask Him for the promise of His Comfort today.
 




The Meaning of Life...


 

07.31.13  (Av 24, 5773)  The Hebrew word for "life" is chayim (חַיִּים), a plural noun that contains two consecutive letter yods (יי) that picture two "hands held together" (the Hebrew word yad [יָד] means "hand"), or the union of our spirit with God's Spirit. The word itself reveals that there is no life apart from union with God, who extends his hand to you and says, "Live in me" (John 15:4). Live in God, who is your life, your love, your light, your truth, your healing, your beauty, your breath, and your salvation. Yeshua is the Source of all life, and we find nourishment, strength, and fullness of joy as we connect with his life. The Lord is our light and our salvation, the Mediator of divine life (Psalm 27:1; John 1:4). The Voice of the LORD still speaks: "Take heart. It is I; be not afraid."

The word chayim can be read as chai (חי), "alive," combined with the particle im (אם), "if," suggesting that being alive is conditional on our connection with God in the truth.  "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם); whoever refuses the Son shall not see life, but the separation of God remains" (John 3:36). Life and peace are therefore inextricably connected, and those who refuse Yeshua, the Prince of Peace (שַׂר־שָׁלוֹם), therefore separate themselves from unity with God. Yeshua alone is the means of receiving the divine life: "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).

The Divine Life is such that it is never diminished as it shared but instead grows and multiplies in miraculous ways. This is alluded to by the Hebrew word for love (i.e., ahavah: אהבה), the gematria of which is thirteen (1+5+2+5=13), but when shared with another it is multiplied: 13 x 2 = 26 - the same value for the Sacred Name (יהוה), i.e., (10+5+6+5=26). The love of God given in Yeshua is the very life of the universe...

The word chayim is also written in the plural to indicate that each person potentially contains a "universe of lives" within him or her. Spiritually, your soul is a unity that contains a multiplicity of changes, yet remains a distinct identity. Physically, when Cain murdered his brother Abel, it is written, "the voice of your brother's bloods (plural) cries out from the ground" (Gen. 4:10), indicating that Abel's descendants also cried out. In light of this the Talmud states, "Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world; and whoever saves a life, it is as if he saved an entire world" (Sanhedrin 37a).
 




Knowing who you are...


 

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

07.31.13  (Av 24, 5773)  One of the greatest mistakes is to forget the message of who you really are and your beloved status before the LORD... "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine" (Isa. 43:1). Forgetting who you are leads to forgetting who the LORD is, just as forgetting who the LORD is leads to forgetting who you are... A verse from our Torah reading this week speaks to us along these lines: "You are children of the LORD your God (בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַיהוָה אֱלהֵיכֶם). You shall not cut yourselves for the dead. For the LORD has chosen you to be for him a treasured people (עַם סְגֻלָּה) out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth" (Deut. 14:1-2). God regards us as his beloved children, and therefore we trust him as a child trusts his father. We may not always understand all that our father does, but we have complete faith in his good will toward us, even in the face of death itself. We do not engage in self-destructive mourning, then, because we are treasured by God and we trust in God's promises for eternal life (John 11:25). Because of this, Jewish halachah (legal custom) puts limits to grieving practices. Excessive mourning, interminable gloom, self-destructive anger, or the refusal to let go of our fear may indicate a lack of faith in God's care as our Father. Remember where it says "God works all things together for good," for that includes even physical death... Let us therefore "hope to the LORD (קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה); be strong and strengthen our heart; and (again) let us hope to the LORD" (Psalm 27:14).

Note: For more on this very important topic, please see the article "Am Segulah."
 




Returning Back Home...


 

[ The following entry is related to the month of Elul and the "Season of Repentance..." ]

07.31.13  (Av 24, 5773)  The following parable speaks of the season of teshuvah: A king's son was at a far distance from his father. Said his friends to him, "Return to your father." He said, "I can't: the way is too far. His father sent word to him and said, "Go as far as you are able, and I will come the rest of the way to you. Thus says the Holy One, blessed be He, to his faraway children: "Return to Me, and I will return to you" (Mal. 3:7).
 

שׁוּבוּ אֵלַי וְאָשׁוּבָה אֲלֵיכֶם
 אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת

shu·vu · e·lai · ve·a·shuv·ah · a·lei·khem
a·mar · Adonai · tze·va·ot

 

"Return to me, and I will return to you,
says the LORD of hosts" (Mal. 3:7)

Shiviti

 

It is never too late to turn to God... The prophet Jeremiah spoke in the Name of the LORD: "Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD. I will not look on you in anger, for I am kind (כִּי־חָסִיד אֲנִי), declares the LORD" (Jer. 3:12). When the people drew back in shame, however, God encouraged them by saying "My children, if you return, will you not be returning to your Father? Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness. "Behold, we come to you, for you are the LORD our God."

Of course Yeshua illustrated the idea of teshuvah (i.e., תְּשׁוּבָה, "returning to God") by telling the great story of the "prodigal son" (Luke 15:11-32). After squandering his father's inheritance, a wayward son "came to himself" and decided to return home, full of shame and self-reproach. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." The father then ordered a celebratory meal in honor of his lost son's homecoming. When his older brother objected, the father said, "We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."

God sees you while you are still "a long way off" (Rom. 5:8). He runs to you with affection when you first begin to turn your heart toward Him.  Indeed, God's compassion is so great that He willingly embraces the shame of your sins and then adorns you with "a fine robe, a ring, and sandals." Your Heavenly Father even slaughters the "fattened calf" (Yeshua) so that a meal that celebrates your life may be served.
 




Tzedakah's Seeing...


 

07.30.13  (Av 23, 5773)  Although we are forbidden to test (נסה) the LORD (Deut. 6:16, Matt. 4:7; Acts 5:9), we are permitted to do so regarding the matter of tzedakah (charity) and the offering of our tithes, as it is written: "Bring all the tithes into the storehouse ... and put me to the test, says the LORD of Hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour out for you blessing immeasurable."
 

הָבִיאוּ אֶת־כָּל־הַמַּעֲשֵׂר אֶל־בֵּית הָאוֹצָר
וִיהִי טֶרֶף בְּבֵיתִי וּבְחָנוּנִי נָא בָּזאת אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת
אִם־לא אֶפְתַּח לָכֶם אֵת אֲרֻבּוֹת הַשָּׁמַיִם
וַהֲרִיקתִי לָכֶם בְּרָכָה עַד־בְּלִי־דָי

ha·vi·u · et · kol · ha·ma·a·ser · el · bet · ha·o·tzar
vi·hi · te·ref · be·ve·ti · uv'cha·nu·ni · na · ba·zot, · a·mar · Adonai · Tze·va·ot
im · lo · ef·tach · la·khem · et · a·ru·bot · ha·sha·ma·yim,
va·ha·ri·ko·ti · la·khem · be·ra·khah · ad · be·li-dai

 

"Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.
And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts,
if I will not open the windows of heaven for you
and pour out for you blessing immeasurable."
(Mal. 3:10)


 


A related verse in our Torah reading for this week says, "You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because of this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake" (Deut. 15:10). The sages note that the phrase because of this thing (בּגְלַל הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה) hints that "the world goes in a circle." Today one is rich; tomorrow the other is rich. This is inferred from the connection between the word "because" (בִּגְלַל) and the word for "circle" (גַּלְגָל), both of which share the same root (גלל). Indeed, the sages consider the act of giving (tzedakah, i.e., charity) as one of the greatest of commandments, since it is the essence of God to give to His creation, and it is through giving that we are enabled to see the Divine Presence, as it is written in Psalm 17:15, "I will see your face in righteousness (tzedakah)" (אֲנִי בְּצֶדֶק אֶחֱזֶה פָנֶיךָ).
 




A Matter of Life and Death...


 

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

07.30.13  (Av 23, 5773)  Our Torah portion this Shabbat begins, "See! I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse" (Deut. 11:26). The blessing comes when we focus on God and allow His Spirit to guide us; and the curse comes when we go after other gods that we "have not known."  These alien passions distract us and separate us from the true Divine Presence, and this leads to the "works of the flesh" (i.e., addictions, cravings, uncontrollable passions, etc.). When we walk in the Spirit we experience the blessing and are made free of the law of sin and death (Gal. 5:16-24).
  

    But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Yeshua the Messiah have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:16-24)
     




Receiving the Blessing...


 

07.29.13  (Av 22, 5773)  Our Torah portion this week begins, "Look, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse" (Deut. 11:26). The Hebrew grammar of this verse is noteworthy, since it begins with the imperative singular "you look!" (רְאֵה) but then shifts to the plural, "before you" (לִפְנֵיכֶם), which suggests that though the Torah is freely given to everyone "who has ears to hear," it's our personal responsibility to "choose life" and walk its message out in our lives... In other words, God offers his blessing to all, but it must be personally received to be your own. "According to your faith, let it be for you" (Matt. 9:29).

The shift from the singular to plural further implies that it is our duty to go beyond our own self-interest to extend care for other people, since we are members of God's family (מִשׁפָּחָה). This thought is sometimes expressed using the Hebrew phrase kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh (כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל עָרֵבִים זֶה בַּזֶה), "all Israel is responsible for one another." This is a foundational value in Judaism - to preserve and protect the Jewish community and to help each person maintain their Jewish identity and responsibility to one another.
 




HaMakom - the Place of God


 

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

07.29.13  (Av 22, 5773)  From our Torah portion this week we read, "But you shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose ... there you shall go" (Deut. 12:5). The sages note that the gematria for this verse (5150) is the same as "You shall therefore lay up these words of Mine in your heart and in your soul..." (Deut. 11:18), which therefore shows that the Divine Presence, Hamakom (הַמָּקוֹם), the Holy Temple, was always meant to be manifested within your heart... As Yeshua said, "the kingdom of heaven is within you."
 




Forty Days of Teshuvah...



 

[ The last month of the Jewish calendar begins Monday, August 5th at sundown... ]

07.28.13  (Av 21, 5773)  The last month of the Jewish calendar (counting from Tishri) is called Elul (אֱלוּל), which begins Monday, August 5th at sundown this year. Traditionally, Rosh Chodesh Elul marks the beginning of a forty day "Season of Teshuvah" that culminates on Yom Kippur. The entire month of Elul is therefore a time set aside each year to prepare for the Yamim Nora'im, the "Days of Awe," by getting our spiritual house in order.

Elul and Teshuvah
 

The Days of Favor...
According to Jewish tradition the month of Elul represents the time that Moses spent on Sinai getting the second set of tablets after the idolatrous incident of the Golden Calf. Moses ascended on Rosh Chodesh Elul and descended 40 days later on the 10th of Tishri (the end of Yom Kippur). These 40 days are sometimes called Yemei Ratzon (יְמֵי רָצוֹן) - "Days of Favor," since it was during this time that the LORD forgave the Jewish nation after the sin of the Golden Calf (Pirke d'Reb Eliezar). Therefore the sages have said Elul marks a favorable season to turn to the LORD for help restoring broken or strained relationships in our lives.
 

וַאֲנִי תְפִלָּתִי־לְךָ יְהוָה
 עֵת רָצוֹן אֱלהִים בְּרָב־חַסְדֶּךָ
 עֲנֵנִי בֶּאֱמֶת יִשְׁעֶךָ

va·a·ni · te·fil·la·ti · le·kha · Adonai
et · ra·tzon · E·lo·him · be·rov · chas·de·kha
nei·ni · be·e·met · yish·e·kha
 

"But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD.
 At a favorable time, O God, in the abundance of your love
 answer me in the truth of your salvation"
(Psalm 69:13)



 

As it is written, "God is near to all those who call to Him, to those who call to Him in the truth" (Psalm 145:18). Since God desires all to turn to Him, those who pray with awareness of their need to surrender to the LORD will assuredly find His favor (1 John 5:14).

On the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah begins four weeks after Chodesh Elul (i.e., Wed., Sept. 4th at sundown). During the time leading up to the High Holidays, it is customary to engage in cheshbon ha-nefesh ("soul searching") and to derive comfort that God is forgiving and loving to those who sincerely turn to Him. The sages chose the seven "Haftarot of comfort" to encourage us to make our hearts ready for the upcoming High Holiday Season.
 




Offering False Compassion...


 

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

07.28.13  (Av 21, 5773)  After instructing the Israelites to utterly destroy any city that has defiantly embraced idolatry to eradicate apostasy from the land, the Torah adds: "and the LORD will give you mercy" (וְנָתַן־לְךָ רַחֲמִים), which suggests that as we take a stand against evil and refuse to offer it false compassion or to enable it to continue by offering excuses, the LORD our God will extend to us special mercy by keeping our hearts tender. Ironically, making excuses for evil hardens the heart, just as offering comfort to those who refuse to turn to the truth is not true compassion...
 




Parashat Re'eh - ראה


 

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

07.28.13  (Av 21, 5773)  In our Torah portion for this week (Re'eh), Moses continues his great farewell address, telling the people that surrendering to the will of the LORD will bring them great blessing, whereas refusing to yield will bring them loss... It begins: "See (רְאֵה), I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse (בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָה): the blessing when you heed the commandments (מִצְוֹת) of the Lord your God which I command you today, and the curse, when you refuse to heed the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known" (Deut. 11:26-28). In the Hebrew text we notice that the word re'eh is singular ("you see!"), whereas the following pronoun is plural ("before you today"), which stresses that though the Torah is freely given to everyone "who has ears to hear," it's our own personal responsibility to "choose life" and walk its message out in our lives (Deut. 30:19).

A widely accepted maxim of the Talmud is: "All is in the hands of God except the fear of heaven (yirat shamayim)" (Berachot 33b; Niddah 16b). In other words, though God constantly showers the world with grace and light, He does not "force" us to revere His Presence but rather leaves that choice with us.  God could overwhelm us all so that we had no choice but to see and fear Him, but He "withdraws" Himself and restrains His influence in our lives so that we can exercise faith. The Hebrew word for seeing (ראה) and the word for fearing (ירא) share the same root. We cannot genuinely "choose life" apart from personally seeing it, but we cannot see it apart from the reverence of God. The reverence of God sanctifies our perception and enables us to see clearly. Therefore we understand that the righteous "walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7).

In this connection, our Torah portion also teaches the importance of helping others who are in need: "If there be among you a needy person ... you shall not harden your heart, nor shut your hand" (Deut. 15:7). Indeed practicing compassion evokes compassion from Heaven for your own life, as it is said, "whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his deed."
 

מַלְוֵה יְהוָה חוֹנֵן דָּל
 וּגְמֻלוֹ יְשַׁלֶּם־לוֹ

mal·veh · Adonai · cho·nein · dal
u·ge·mu·lo · ye·sha·lem · lo
 

"Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD,
 and He will repay him for his deed" (Prov. 19:17)


 


When we give without any hope of repayment it is reckoned as if our gift was given directly to the LORD Himself, and the gracious One Himself promises to completely repay the act of chesed. The Lord offers "collateral on the loan," so to speak, which will be repaid either in this world or assuredly in the world to come... This is another example of love's "like-for-like" and the reciprocity of faith: "Give, and it will be given to you: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use will be the measure you receive" (Luke 6:38; also 2 Cor. 9:6).

We never lose what we give away by faith, as it is counted as treasure in heaven; and indeed only what we give to others will abide in the world to come. Therefore we are commanded to give tzedakah (צְדָקָה, "charity") not because it is "right," but it is right because it is based on God's love and care for others. Something is righteous, in other words, because it expresses the truth about God's love. As it is said, "the world is built in chesed (חֶסֶד)" (Psalm 89:3[h]). Practicing compassion is the underlying motivation for adherence to all of God's commandments, for without the inner motivation of love, there is little point to anything else the Torah might say.

Note: For more on this wonderful Torah portion, please see the Re'eh Summary page and its various related articles.  Shavuah Tov, chaverim!
 




Thou Shalt be Satisfied...


 

[ The Torah reading for this week is parashat Eikev, traditionally read during Shabbat Va'tomer, the second "Sabbath of consolation" after Tishah B'Av. ]

07.26.13  (Av 19, 5773)  Our Torah portion this week includes the remarkable commandment: "And you shall eat and be satisfied" (Deut. 8:10), which means that God desires for us to receive the goodness of life itself. "Taste and see that the LORD is good." Addictions, cravings, lusts, etc., arise from a refusal to be satisfied, by hungering for more than the blessing of the present moment. "My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13). The living waters are present for us, but we will only find them if we open our hearts to the wonder of God in this moment. We can "break the spell" of continual dissatisfaction, of the power of greed, ambition, and so on, when we discover that our constant hunger is really a cry for God and His blessing. This is the blessed "hunger and thirst" given by the Spirit (Matt. 5:6). Our sense of inner emptiness is an invitation to come to the waters and drink life. So come to God's table and ask the Lord Yeshua to give you the water that will satisfy your heart's true thirst for life...
 

וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ
עַל־הָאָרֶץ הַטּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַן־לָךְ

ve·a·khal·ta · ve·sa·va·ta · u·ve·rakh·ta · et · Adonai · e·lo·he·kha
al · ha·a·retz · ha·to·vah · a·sher · na·tan · lakh
 

"And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the LORD your God
for the good land he has given you."
(Deut. 8:10)



 

"Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack" (Psalm 34:8-9). We can only "taste and see" when we are earnest however, when we seek God with passion... When you pray, lift up your heart and soul to God, asking for the miracle to surrender to Him in the truth. Where it says, "with all your heart" (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ), present before him all your passion and desires; your hopes and your needs, your fears and your anger; and where it says, "with all your soul" (וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ), offer before him your very soul, as if to be sacrificed in his service; and where it says, "with all your muchness" (וּבְכָל־מְאדֶךָ) offer to him all your strength, all your means, and all your dreams. Ask to be filled with the Ruach HaKodesh to be enabled to apprehend the glory of God in the face of the Messiah (בִּפְנֵי הַמָּשִׁיחַ), through whom we are being transformed for the glory of God. Shabbat Shalom!
 




My Lord and My God...


 

07.26.13  (Av 19, 5773)  God's power is present in all things, in every world, every soul. Yeshua is the Source of all life in the universe: כָּל־הַמַּעֲשִׂים נִהְיוּ עַל־יָדוֹ / "All things were made by Him (John 1:3). God is Light, and Yeshua reveals the Light of God (John 8:12). The "Word made flesh" is the "image of the invisible God" and the "radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint (χαρακτήρ, 'character') of his nature" (Col. 1:15). All of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3): "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 begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Mashiach... He is the Center of Creation - it's beginning and end. As it says: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the 'A' and the 'Z,' the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). Indeed, Yeshua is the "King of kings of kings" (מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים), the LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest celestial glory to the shame of bearing our sin and guilt upon a cross...
 

יְהוָה אֲדנֵינוּ מָה־אַדִּיר שִׁמְךָ בְּכָל־הָאָרֶץ
אֲשֶׁר תְּנָה הוֹדְךָ עַל־הַשָּׁמָיִם

Adonai · a·do·nei·nu · mah · ad·dir · shim·kha · be·khol · ha·a·retz
a·sher · te·nah · ho·de·kha · al · ha·sha·ma·yim
 

"O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your Name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens."
(Psalm 8:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 

God's abiding provision for our need is revealed in the "face of Messiah" (בִּפְנֵי הַמָּשִׁיחַ), not in the fading glory of the former covenant (2 Cor 3:4-18). Unlike Moses - who veiled his face to hide the fact that the glory of the former covenant of Sinai was indeed fading away - "we all, with unveiled face, reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. This comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:12-4:1). Each of us, like Moses, must ascend the mountain of Zion to behold the Glory of God: "And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only" (Matt. 17:8). "The face of Yeshua the Messiah" is therefore the radiance and glory of God Himself.

 

"Stand up and bless the LORD your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be His glorious Name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise" (Neh. 9:5; Psalm 138:2; Phil. 2:9-11; Isa. 45:23). We have to stand for the truth, because the truth is what sets us free (John 8:32). As Yeshua said, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world -- to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37). The way of life is found in Yeshua: "Whoever has the Son has the life (הַחַיִּים); whoever does not have the Son does not have the life" (1 John 5:12).

Therefore, as Yeshua said: "Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you... As you have the light, believe in the light. Then the light will be within you, and shining through your lives. You'll be children of light (בְּנֵי הָאוֹר). I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness" (John 12:35-6, 46).
 




Fight the Good Fight...


 

07.26.13  (Av 19, 5773)  If the LORD is God, then that changes absolutely everything, and nothing is unaffected by this all-pervasive truth. As Abraham Heschel once said, "God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance," and this is eminently true because "in Him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Since reality turns on God, reasoning from another set of assumptions is really a form of delusional thinking that ultimately leads to insanity, that is, unsoundness of mind derived from folly or unreasonableness. The fool has said "in his heart" there is no God (Psalm 14:1). "The wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD. In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek Him; all his thoughts are, 'There is no God'" (Psalm 10:3-4). The suppression of the truth necessarily implies an exchange for the lie, and with the lie comes deranged reasoning, slavery, darkness, and fear....

Ultimately we are living in the midst of a great spiritual war -- the war for truth.  This has been the battle from the beginning.  The very first recorded words of Satan (הַנָּחָשׁ) questioned God's truth: "Did God really say...?" (Gen. 3:1). In the end there will be found two types of people: those who love the truth and those who love the lie. These are the children of light (בְּנֵי הָאוֹר) and the children of darkness (בְּנֵי הַחשֶׁךְ), respectively. Followers of Yeshua the Messiah are told to "walk as children of light" / ὡς τέκνα φωτὸς περιπατεῖτε (Eph. 5:8). The children of light are called to be am kadosh - a holy people - separate from the evil engendered by the fallen world and its forces, just as the very first creative expression of God was the separation of light from darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). The children of light "hate evil and love the good," and conversely, the children of darkness "hate the good and love evil" (Psalm 34:21, Prov. 8:13, Amos 5:15, John 3:20-21). Regarding the heavenly Zion to come, it is written: "nothing ritually unclean will ever enter into it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or practices falsehood (lit. "makes a lie"), but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Rev. 21:27).

We have to stand for the truth, because the truth is what sets us free (John 8:32). As Yeshua said to Pilate, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world -- to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37). We must turn away from the lie to embrace the truth. One day all that is hidden will become manifest. "As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; His throne was ablaze with fire and its wheels were all aflame. A river of fire was streaming forth and proceeding from his presence; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened...." (Dan. 7:9-10).

If the devil can't kill you, he will try to make you insane... He will lie to you about who you really are... He he will attempt harass you and vex your soul. He will whisper fearful things in your ear... He will make what is small seem big and what is big seem small. He will raise dark suspicion within your soul, causing you to walk in mistrust. He will remind you of your sins to make you feel ashamed and dirty. He will hiss that you are unlovable and unworthy. He will argue on behalf of your flesh that you deserve better than this... He will tempt you to seek relief in cisterns of emptiness and futility. Most of all, he will try to cast a spell to make you forget that you are truly a prince or princess of God Almighty... The devil seeks to drive you into the exile of loneliness and despair. Rebuke him in the Name of the LORD!

Da lifnei mi attah omed: "Know before whom you stand!" As Elisha said to his servant Gehazi, "Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them" (2 Kings 6:16). We are surrounded by an innumerable multitude of angels, with the LORD of Hosts who rules over all.  Ask the LORD God Almighty to give you the "strategic advantage" over the enemy -- for you to see his wiles, but not for him to see you.... Ask God for the armor of light that blinds eyes accustomed to darkness (Rom. 13:12). How else can we fight this archenemy of our souls? We cannot fight "fire with fire," but we can appeal to the One who fills heaven and earth "with horses and chariots of fire all around" (2 Kings 6:17). "Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh, Adonai Tzeva'ot" (Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of the armies of heaven); "melo khol ha-aretz kevodo" (the whole earth is filled with His glory" (Isa. 6:3).
 




Gratitude and Seeing...


 

07.26.13  (Av 19, 5773)  We are commanded to see small miracles, everyday "signs and wonders..." "And you shall bless the LORD your God for the good..." (Deut. 8:10). Whenever we derive benefit or enjoyment from something we are to bless (i.e., thank) God for his goodness.  Jewish tradition says that if one eats or drinks without saying a blessing, it is as if he has stolen from God. From the verse, "What does the LORD ask of you..." (Deut. 10:12), the sages infer that a person should say at least 100 blessings a day, since the word מה, "what," alludes to the word מאה, a "hundred." The Hebrew term for gratitude is hakarat tovah (הַכָּרַת טוֹבָה), a phrase that means "recognizing the good." The heart looks through the eye, and therefore how we see is ultimately a spiritual decision: "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). When we see rightly, we are awakened to God's Presence in the little things of life, those small miracles and glories that constantly surround us. The good eye of faith sees hundreds of reasons to bless God for the precious gift of life (1 Cor. 10:31). Open your eyes... The LORD is "enthroned among the blessings of His people" (Psalm 22:3).
 




An End to Darkness...


 

07.25.13  (Av 18, 5773)  In our struggle against the darkness, there is an end coming, so don't let your heart grow numb. Never give up hope. The Spirit says: "Be silent before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not burn with anger over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil schemes. Abandon your anger and forsake your rage. Do not burn with anger: it tends only to distress. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who keep hope in the LORD shall inherit the land. In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there" (Psalm 37:7-10).
 

וְעוֹד מְעַט וְאֵין רָשָׁע
וְהִתְבּוֹנַנְתָּ עַל־מְקוֹמוֹ וְאֵינֶנּוּ

ve·od · me·at · ve·ein · ra·sha
ve·hit·bo·nan·ta · al · me·ko·mo · ve·ei·ne·nu
 

"In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there."
(Psalm 37:10)



 

Just a little longer (od me'at) and there will be no wicked one (ve'ein rasha). Soon God will utterly vanquish wickedness, though in the present hour such hope might seem distant and far away. Stay strong in your desire for God's Name to be vindicated, for righteousness and love to shine as the noonday. Take hold of this vision through tevunah (understanding), and contemplate that there will be "no place" for the wicked one: wickedness itself will be driven away like dissipating smoke. Moreover, it is not only the wicked of this world, but our own inner wickedness that will find no place, for in the world to come we will be free from not only sin's influence but also sin's presence within our own hearts... Maranatha!
 




A Circumcised Heart...


 

07.25.13  (Av 18, 5773)  "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer hardened" (Deut. 10:16). This metaphor pictures cutting away the outer covering of the heart so that it is "opened up" to feel once again. God wants us to let go of "hard feelings" so we can experience compassion (i.e., com+passion: "feeling-with") and sympathy for other people... Heart circumcision represents a radical turning away from the insular realm of the self toward the emotional realm of others and God. When our hearts are open, we are able to receive the flow of the Spirit of God and obey the "law of the Messiah" (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) to bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2).
 

וּמַלְתֶּם אֵת עָרְלַת לְבַבְכֶם
וְעָרְפְּכֶם לא תַקְשׁוּ עוֹדָ

u·mal·tem · et · or·lat · le·vav·khem
ve·or·pe·khem · lo · tak·shu · od
 

"Circumcise the foreskin of your heart,
and be no longer hardened"
(Deut. 10:16)



 

Physical circumcision represents a sign or mark of inclusion; it is a token that you are one of God's family, a Jew, though it is only a sign or token. Spiritual circumcision is an inner operation of the heart that marks you a true child of heaven. It is about your identity and purpose. Therefore we see the paradox that some physical Jews are not spiritual Jews, and some spiritual Jews are not physical Jews (though some are both), as the Apostle Paul said: For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God (Rom. 2:28-29).

Spiritually speaking, a heart that is insensitive, indifferent, unfeeling, and callous toward the needs of others is regarded as "hard." Sometimes such hardness comes as a result of living in a fallen world. Many wounded people live with "scar tissue" that surrounds their heart, making them feel numb and unwilling to open up and trust others. Their affections have become disordered and their ego rationalizes blaming others or seeking various forms of entitlement. "Turning off your heart" can mean suppressing any positive regard for others (empathy) while nurturing anger and self-righteousness, or it may mean withdrawing from others as a lifeless shell (both approaches vainly attempt to defend the heart from hurt). Although Yeshua always showed great compassion, especially to the wounded and broken in spirit (Isa. 42:3), He regularly condemned the "hardness of heart" ("sclero-cardia," σκληροκαρδία) of those who opposed his message of healing and love.

A hard heart is closed off and impermeable to love from others, and especially from God. It is a "difficult" (קָשֶׁה) heart, inflexible and even cruel.  Scripture uses various images to picture this condition, including a "heart of stone" (Ezek. 36:26, Zech. 7:12), an "uncircumcised heart" (Jer. 9:26), a "stiff neck" (Deut. 31:27), and so on. Stubbornness is really a form of idolatry, an exaltation of self-will that refuses to surrender to God. If you are wounded and afraid to open your heart in trust to others, ask God for healing...

Hardness of heart is something all of us deal with, even those who believe in Yeshua. After all, believers are commanded to "put off the old self with its practices" (Col. 3:9) and are urged not to harden their hearts (μὴ σκληρύνητε τὰς καρδίας) through unbelief (Heb. 3:8,15, 4:7). May God's love help us keep our hearts soft and open toward others... May He give us a new heart, and put a new spirit within us. May He remove the heart of stone (לֵב הָאֶבֶן) from us and give us a heart of flesh (לֵב בָּשָׂר). May we be lev echad - "one heart" - with one another and with the Father (Ezek. 11:19). May we be so sensitized to the Presence of God that we detect the slightest touch from His hand upon us. Amen.
 




Love and Discipline...


 

07.24.13  (Av 17, 5773)  "Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you" (Deut. 8:5). The troubles God sends your way indicate that you are his child, since his correction (i.e., musar: מוּסָר) reveals heavenly concern for your life (Heb. 12:6-8; Prov. 3:12). A student once asked his rebbe if we get punished for our sins in this world, and was told "only if we are fortunate..." It is no sign of God's favor to be without testing and trials; even less should we always get what we want! (Psalm 69:22). God offers "education for eternity" (חִנוּךְ לְשֵׁם הַנֵצַח) so that you can "know in your heart" (וְיָדַעְתָּ עִם־לְבָבֶךָ) that he is your Heavenly Father... "It is for the sake of discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons... for if you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons" (Heb. 12:7-8).
 

וְיָדַעְתָּ עִם־לְבָבֶךָ
כִּי כַּאֲשֶׁר יְיַסֵּר אִישׁ אֶת־בְּנוֹ
יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ מְיַסְּרֶךּ

ve·ya·da·ta · im · le·va·ve·kha
ki · ka·a·sher · ye·ya·ser · ish · et · be·no
Adonai · e·lo·he·kha · me·ya·se·re·ka
 

"Know then in your heart
that as a man disciplines his son
so the LORD your God disciplines you." (Deut. 8:5)



 

Not everyone is blessed with being disciplined by God. Many are called, but few are chosen. The righteous person - the tzaddik - is always under God's scrutiny, both in order to refine his character and to bring about further correction. This scrutiny is a sure sign of God's love, for if we endure chastisement, we are being received as his sons...  Purity of the heart is to will one thing, and divine testing functions as a "refining fire" that removes the dross of ambivalence from our hearts. For the righteous, the various trials of life ask a divine question addressed to the heart of faith: Do you love me? Will you trust me now - in this place? with this trouble? in this darkness? As we believe, we are given more revelation, and that, in turn, further vindicates God's faithfulness and love.

Remaining steadfast during testing is the way we express love to God: "Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life (עֲטֶרֶת הַחַיִּים) that God promised to those who love him" (James 1:12). The "tested genuineness of your faith" is precious to God and will bring praise and glory and honor when the Messiah's righteousness is vindicated upon the earth (1 Pet. 1:7). May you stay strong in faith and be strengthened in all the tests God sends your way!
 




Remember all the way...


 

07.24.13  (Av 17, 5773)  "Remember all the way (אֶת־כָּל־הַדֶּרֶךְ) that the Lord your God has led you..." (Deut. 8:2). We learn what is in our hearts by being tested in the dry places. "From the day you left Egypt... you have been rebellious against God" (Deut. 9:7). Moses' rebuke was meant to awaken the people, to encourage them to search their hearts and confess who they were. Self-examination is essential for us to return to God, for otherwise we continue the cycle of pride-shame that binds us. We can't learn to walk as children of God until we are free of the need to defend ourselves. We come to the cross "just as we are," full of brokenness and need, confessing "salvation is of the LORD."  Ve'zakharta et kol ha'derekh - remember this "all the way" of our sojourn... God knows the whole way that you have come, and he is refining your heart for your ultimate good (Jer. 29:11).
 




Always Here and Now...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, parashat Eikev.... ]

07.24.13  (Av 17, 5773)  From our Torah portion this week (Eikev) we read: "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you..?" (Deut. 10:12). This is the unending question for the heart of faith: it is always here and it is always "now." The midrash says that the word "and now" (וְעַתָּה) implies the "what" of repentance (תְּשׁוּבָה), turning to God in this hour, regardless of whatever sins you have committed in your past. True repentance turns you away from your sin to become present before God, wherever you might be...
 




Healing a Divided Heart...


 

07.23.13  (Av 16, 5773)  From our Torah portion we read, "Don't say in your heart... it is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in" (Deut. 9:4). Not even in your heart (בִּלְבָבְךָ) where the guise of humility is not needed... Internalize that you obtain your inheritance by the blessing of God alone. To realize this, we must surrender our pride. Inner dividedness comes from being undecided about who we really are: We both see and yet do not see our real motives. For instance, we may suspect that we are proud or selfish, but we push this awareness out of mind in an act of willed ignorance. This creates "double-mindedness" since we both want to be humble and proud at the same time. The source of our problem, then, is the will, which serves as a gatekeeper of what we admit to ourselves, and the healing comes when we are honest before God and ask Him to be delivered from the sickness of our ambivalence: "Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your Name" (Psalm 86:11).
 

הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה דַּרְכֶּךָ אֲהַלֵּךְ בַּאֲמִתֶּךָ
 יַחֵד לְבָבִי לְיִרְאָה שְׁמֶךָ

ho·re·ni · Adonai · dar·ke·kha · a·ha·lekh · ba·a·mi·te·kha
ya·ched · le·va·vi · le·yir·ah · she·me·kha
 

"Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your Name."



 

Much of the walk of faith involves kavanah (כַּוָנָה), or focus; we are to "press on" (διώκω) to hear the upward call of God (Phil. 3:14). The problem for many of us is that we are irresolute, indecisive, and therefore we hesitate... A divided heart is at war within itself, "two-souled" (δίψυχος) and unstable in all its ways (James 1:8). If "purity of heart is to will one thing," then impurity of heart is the result of simultaneously willing two things... It is therefore a state of inner contradiction, of having two separate "minds" or "wills" that hold contrary thoughts or desires. Yeshua said that "a divided house cannot stand." May it please God to heal us of such ambivalence by making our hearts whole, resolute, steadfast, full of conviction, and entirely awake to the glory of His Presence at our right hand (Psalm 16:8). May we be set free from lesser fears that divide the heart and rob the soul of shalom shelemah, God's perfect peace...
 




Grappling with Faith...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, parashat Eikev.... ]

07.23.13  (Av 16, 5773)  The Hebrew word eikev (עֵקֶב) is often translated "because," though it literally means "heel," and therefore recalls Jacob (יעקב) the "heel-holder" who wrestled with the pain of his past to learn to bear the name Israel (יִשְׂרָאֵל), the "prince of God" (Gen. 32:28)... Like Jacob, we must grapple to believe that the covenant of God's love and acceptance is meant for us, too... The Sassover rebbe reads the opening verse of our Torah portion, "And it shall be because you listen..." (וְהָיָה עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן) as, "and it shall be when your heel is ready to take a step, you will listen to your heart."  This is the step of faith. As you walk with God, you will come to know yourself as a child of the great King.  Regarding the related verse, "Because Abraham heard my voice" (עֵקֶב אֲשֶׁר־שָׁמַע אַבְרָהָם בְּקלִי), the sages read, "Abraham heard the word 'down to his heel.'" Like Abraham, we will hear God's voice as we walk with him by faith...
 




Idolatry and Rage...


 

[ The Torah reading for this week is parashat Eikev, traditionally read during Shabbat Va'tomer, the second "Sabbath of consolation" after Tishah B'Av. ]

07.23.13  (Av 16, 5773)  We are commanded not to destroy ourselves by allowing bitterness, anger, or fear to consume our hearts. In our Torah portion this week we read: "And you shall not bring an abominable thing (תּוֹעֵבָה) into your house and become devoted to destruction like it" (Deut. 7:26). In his comment on this verse, Abraham Twerski quotes the Mishnah that says if someone goes into a rage, it is equivalent to idol worship, and therefore such should never be brought into the home. Indeed, rage is linked with avodah zarah - idolatry - because it exalts the ego and claims that the Lord can't (or won't) help you in your moment of testing or need. The Scriptures are clear, however, that "there is no test given to you that you cannot handle with God's help" (1 Cor. 10:13), and we are invited to come boldly before the Divine Presence to find help in our time of need (Heb. 4:16). Believing that you can't overcome your fear or anger problem is therefore a form of idolatry. As is written: Lo yiheyeh vekha el zar (לא־יִהְיֶה בְךָ אֵל זָר) -- "there shall be no foreign god within you" (Psalm 81:9), which means that we must expressly deny the ego's demand to have its will be done. Being full of a sense of self-importance is to be enslaved to vanity and to have a foreign god "within you." God will indeed help us if we ask according to his will (1 John 5:14-15). Blessed are You, Lord our God, who delivers us from self-destruction.
 

לא־יִהְיֶה בְךָ אֵל זָר
וְלא תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לְאֵל נֵכָר

lo · yi·he·yeh · ve·kha · el · zar
ve·lo · tish·ta·che·veh · le·el · ne·khar
 

"There shall be no strange god within you;
you shall not bow down to a foreign god."
(Psalm 81:9)


 




The Fear of the LORD...



 

07.22.13  (Av 15, 5773)  Some people are afraid that God will punish them for their sins, but the true fear of God, yirat ha'shamayim, is rather the fear of losing our closeness to Him... The sages say that where it is written, "What does the LORD ask of you except to fear the LORD" (Deut. 10:12), we should read instead, "fear with the LORD" (לְיִרְאָה אֶת־יְהוָה), that is, we share his concern that we could forfeit the sanctity of a heart-relationship with Him due to carelessness and sin... We fear our sin because it blinds us from awareness of God's care and love. The fear of God can therefore be understood as God's fear that we will miss the blessing of intimately knowing him.

The LORD has promised to never leave nor forsake us, though we can choose to turn away from his love and care for our lives... We are not permitted to fear other than that we have no fear of God, for that indeed is a fearful state of soul.  May it please God to help each us never to leave nor forsake ourselves by getting lost, by forgetting what is real, and by abandoning hope in the miracle for our lives... May the LORD help us not be grieved, not to hurt ourselves, and never to abandon our hearts to the despair of shame...
 




The Hunger of Heart...


 

07.22.13  (Av 15, 5773)  From our Torah portion this week we read, "...man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD" (Deut. 8:3). The sages liken this to being fed from the King's own table, right out of the Ruler's mouth, so to speak. But what is the food from God's table but the sacrifice of the lamb, which the LORD called "my offering, my bread" (Num. 28:1-8)? "God is like a king who prepares a banquet and sends his loved ones some of the food that lies before him" (Talmud: Niddah 70b). The sacrifice of the lamb satisfies the hunger of God's heart for our reconciliation with him, and we therefore find life by sharing "God's food," the Lamb of God. As Yeshua said, "Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life... This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever" (John 6:54,8).
 

אֲנִי הוּא לֶחֶם הַחַיִּים
כָּל־הַבָּא אֵלַי לא יִרְעַב
וְהַמַּאֲמִין בִּי לא יִצְמָא עוֹד

ani · hu · le·chem · ha·cha·yim
kol · ha·ba · e·lai · lo · yir·av
ve·ha·a·min · bi · lo · yitz·ma · od
 

"I am the Bread of Life
all who follow me will not hunger
and those who believe in me will not thirst"
(John 6:35)


 

Note that the Greek uses "double negatives" to express strong negation, i.e., all who follow me will never, ever hunger or thirst: ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος τῆς ζωῆς ὁ ἐρχόμενος πρὸς ἐμὲ οὐ μὴ πεινάσῃ, καὶ ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ οὐ μὴ διψήσει πώποτε.

The sacrifice of the lamb represents "God's food," a pleasing aroma, for it most satisfied the hunger of God's heart (Eph. 5:2). Indeed, the obedience of Yeshua to the death upon the cross represents God's hunger for atonement, or "at-one-ment," since it restored what was lost to Him through sin, namely, fellowship with human beings. God could never be satisified until He was able to let truth and love meet (Psalm 85:10).
 




Parashat Eikev - עקב


 

[ The Torah reading for this week is parashat Eikev, traditionally read during Shabbat Va'tomer, the second "Sabbath of consolation" after Tishah B'Av. ]

07.21.13  (Av 14, 5773)  Last week's Torah portion (Va'etchanan) ended with a sober warning to obey the LORD and heed his commandments: "Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God (הָאֵל הַנֶּאֱמָן) who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today" (Deut 7:9-11).

In this week's portion (Eikev), Moses continues his admonition by saying, "If you heed these judgments, and keep and do them, the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers" (Deut. 7:12). Obedience to the commandments (i.e., faith) will yield manifold blessings: children, harvests, livestock, and other bounty of the land. Indeed, the Israelites would be "blessed above all peoples," free of every type of sickness, living in victory in the Promised Land. The people were not to live in any kind of fear, particularly of the seven nations of the land of Canaan. Instead they were to exercise faith, recalling what the LORD did to Pharaoh in Egypt and delivered the people. The people were to have no tolerance for idols of any kind. They were to "devote them to utter destruction," burning them with fire and eradicating them from the land.

Moses then reminded the people how the LORD had taken care of them throughout their wandering in the desert. For nearly 40 years, God humbled them, feeding them with manna and giving them water from the miraculous Rock. Even the Shekhinah glory miraculously kept their clothes fresh and their shoes from wearing out! Moses said that the LORD did all this to teach the people to rely on Him alone to meet all their needs. The various hardships in the desert had disciplined them to learn that "man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD."
 

כִּי לא עַל־הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם
כִּי עַל־כָּל־מוֹצָא פִי־יהוה יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם׃

ki  · lo · al-ha·le·chem · le·va·do · yich·yeh · ha·a·dam;
ki · al-kol-mo·tza · fi-Adonai · yich·yeh · ha·a·dam
 

"Man does not live on bread alone, but by everything that comes
from the mouth of the LORD does man live."
(Deut. 8:3)



Hebrew Study Card
 

The portion continues with Moses encouraging the people to trust in God for their every need, for as long as they did so, God would prosper them in the land and continue to care for them, just as He did in the desert.  However, Moses warned the people not to forget the LORD by ignoring his commandments, especially after they had settled the land and become prosperous. If the people forgot their supernatural deliverance and origin, turning to idols or believing that their own ingenuity gave them their wealth, God promised that they would soon perish from the land, just like the seven Canaanite nations before them.

Parashat Eikev concludes with the passage which is used liturgically as the second (of three) portions of the Shema (called the Vehayah). These words (i.e., Deut. 11:13-21), reiterate the connection between Israel's devotion to the LORD and their blessing as God's chosen people, are recited twice a day by Orthodox Jews all over the world. 

Note: For more on this important Torah portion, see the parashah summary page. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for Eikev here:
 

 




The Last Sabbaths of the Year....


 

[ The last seven weeks of the Jewish year prepare us for the High Holidays... ]

07.21.13  (Av 14, 5773)  The weekly haftarah portion (i.e., reading from the Prophets) is usually thematically connected with the weekly Torah portion; however, beginning with the 17th of Tammuz until the end of the Jewish year, the connection changes. During the Three Weeks of Sorrow, we always read three prophetic portions of rebuke. However after Tishah B'Av and for the next seven weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah (i.e., the new year), we read selections of comfort that foretell of the future redemption of the Jewish people and the coming Messianic Era. Collectively the last seven weeks of the calendar are called the "Seven Weeks of Comfort," and are intended to help us find comfort and strength to prepare for the coming new year...

The second of the "Seven Weeks of Comfort" leading up to Rosh Hashanah is called Va'tomer Tzioyn (וַתּאמֶר צִיּוֹן, "But Tzion said..."), which strongly admonishes us to never regard Zion as abandoned.... "Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me" (Isa. 49:15-16). The Haftarah concludes by Isaiah saying that the LORD will comfort the Mountain of Zion by making it like the Garden of Eden, with joy and happiness within her, along with thanksgiving and the sound of song. May that day come soon...
 

חַסְדֵי יְהוָה כִּי לא־תָמְנוּ כִּי לא־כָלוּ רַחֲמָיו
חֲדָשִׁים לַבְּקָרִים רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ

chas·dei · Adonai · ki · lo-ta·me·nu, · ki · lo-kha·lu · ra·cha·mav,
cha·da·shim · la·be·ka·rim · rab·bah · e·mu·na·te·kha
 

"The faithful love (חֶסֶד) of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies (רַחֲמִים) never come to an end;
they are new every morning (חֲדָשִׁים לַבְּקָרִים);
great is your faithfulness (אֱמוּנָה)"
(Lam. 3:22-23)



Hebrew Study Card
 




An Everlasting Love...


 

[ The 15th of the month of Av, otherwise called Tu B'Av, occurs tonight at sundown... ]

07.21.13
  (Av 14, 5773)  This evening begins Tu B'Av, the 15th day of the month of Av, a time associated with love in Jewish tradition. An old Jewish legend says that 40 days before a person is conceived in the womb, God decrees who that person's life partner will be (Talmud: Mo'ed Katan 18b). The sages calculate that Tu B'Av falls 40 days before Elul 25, the traditional date of the creation of the universe, and infer that at that time - before the foundation of the world - God "chose us to be His beloved (Eph. 1:4). At any rate, Tu B'Av reminds us of the deeper truth that you were created to be in a love relationship with God! 
 

מֵרָחוֹק יְהוָה נִרְאָה לִי
וְאַהֲבַת עוֹלָם אֲהַבְתִּיךְ
עַל־כֵּן מְשַׁכְתִּיךְ חָסֶד

me·ra·chok · Adonai · nir·ah · li
ve·a·ha·vat · o·lam · a·hav·tikh
al · ken · me·shakh·tikh · cha·sed
 

"The LORD appeared to me from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn you."
(Jer. 31:3)



Hebrew Study Card 
 

Note that the word translated "I have drawn you" (i.e., מְשַׁכְתִּיךְ) comes from the Hebrew word mashakh (מָשַׁךְ), meaning to "seize" or "drag away" (the ancient Greek translation used the verb helko (ἕλκω) to express the same idea). As Yeshua said, "No one is able to come to me unless he is "dragged away" (ἑλκύσῃ, same word) by the Father" (John 6:44). God's chesed seizes us, takes us captive, and leads us to the Savior... Spiritual rebirth is a divine act of creation, "not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). God is always preeminent.
 




Romance and Tu B'Av...


 

[ The 15th of Av, otherwise called Tu B'Av, begins at twilight on Sunday, July 21st... ]

07.21.13  (Av 14, 5773)  The 15th of Av (i.e., Tu B'Av) begins after sundown tonight and runs through the following day. Just as Yom Kippur originally celebrated the reconciliation of Israel to the LORD after the sin of the Golden Calf, so Tu B'Av originally celebrated the reconciliation of Israel for the Sin of the Spies. Therefore both the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur became joyous times celebrating forgiveness and restoration to the LORD. The Babylonian Talmud (Ta'anit 31a) quotes Shimon ben Gamliel as saying, "Israel had no holidays as joyous as the fifteenth of Av and the Day of Atonement, when the maidens of Israel would go out and dance in the vineyards... What were they saying: Young man, consider whom you choose to be your wife..."

In modern Israel, Tu B'Av is observed as an annual holiday of love and affection (i.e., chag ha-ahavah: חַג הָאַהֲבָה) that is celebrated like "Valentine's Day" (though it is a much older holiday).  However, since it is the "last" festival of the Jewish year, Tu B'Av prophetically pictures our marriage to the Lamb of God (Seh Elohim), Yeshua our beloved Messiah. On a soon-coming day those who belong to him and are faithful to follow his ways will be blessed with the unspeakable joy as their "wedding day" finally has come. This is heaven itself - to be in the Presence of the LORD and to be His beloved (Rev. 19:6-9).

With the advent of the holiday of Tu B'Av, we are reminded of the beautiful phrase, ani l'dodi ve'dodi li (אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי), "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine" (Song. 6:3), a phrase the sages say is an acronym for the name Elul (אלול). Now the month of Elul begins in just a couple of weeks (i.e., Monday, August 5th this year), and the entire month is set apart to prepare us for the coming High Holidays in early September. During this time it we engage in cheshbon ha-nefesh ("soul searching") and to derive comfort that God is forgiving and loving to those who turn to Him. The sages chose the seven "Haftarot of comfort" to encourage us to make our hearts ready for the upcoming High Holiday Season.

Note: Why is the 15th of Av called Tu B'Av? Well, as you perhaps know, Hebrew letters can be used to express numbers.  Joining the letters Tet (9) and Vav (6), for example, equals the number 15, sometimes written as the acronym "Tu" (ט"ו). The phrase "Tu B'Av" (ט"ו באב) indicates the 15th day of the month of Av (אָב), a "full-moon" holiday that has been celebrated as a day of love and affection since the First Temple period.
 




With all your heart...


 

07.19.13  (Av 12, 5773)  We love God because He is our Creator, our Breath of Life, the Source of all true good, our Savior, our Healer, and the substance of all that is real and significant... We are able to love because he discloses his love to us (1 John 4:19). We respond to God with a heart of gratitude and love, not out of fear of punishment; with a whole heart (כָּל־לֵבָב), not a heart divided by fear. The Torah says you are to love God bekhol levavkha (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ), "with all your heart" – like Abraham, who loved God wholeheartedly; and you are to love God bekhol nafshekha (בְּכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ), "with all your soul" – like Isaac, who gave his soul over to God, willing to be sacrificed for our atonement; and you are to love God bekhol me'odekha (בְּכָל־מְאדֶךָ), "with all your muchness" – like Jacob who gave from his substance to support his children, the sons of Levi. And these words, namely, the words that return us to God's love, shall today be on your heart (הַיּוֹם עַל־לְבָבֶךָ), which means we are to love God at all times, for this is the day that the LORD has made...
 

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

ve'a·hav·ta · et · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · be'khol · le·vav·kah
uv'khol · naf·she·kha · uv'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 strength."
(Deut. 6:5)



 

The Lord knows how you have walked across this great desert (Deut. 2:7). He knows your groaning of heart, because He has carried you through, like a father carries his young son, all the way until you have come to this place (Deut. 1:31). So, in this present age, likened to a desert, do we walk, awaiting to cross over to the world to come. Here is the valley of the shadow of death, but here we will not fear, for God is with us, and he gives us the comfort of his touch as we make our way back home (Psalm 23:4). "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, and we shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever." Nachamu! Shabbat Shalom, chaverim!
 




The Heart of Heaven...


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av... Nachamu, nachamu... ]
 

07.19.13  (Av 12, 5773)  In our Torah portion this week (Vaetchanan), Moses recalled the awesome revelation of the Torah at Sinai, describing how the mountain "burned with fire unto the heart of heaven" (בּעֵר בָּאֵשׁ עַד־לֵב הַשָּׁמַיִם) when the Ten Commandments were uttered and were written upon the two tablets (Deut. 4:11-13). The sages say that the tablets represented a heart, as it says, "write them on the tablet of your heart" (Prov. 3:3), and God's word is likened to a fire that reveals the great passion of God's heart for us (Jer. 23:29; Deut. 4:24). Tragically, the two tablets were smashed after the people lost sight of the heart of heaven, and therefore God requires a broken heart - teshuvah - to behold his glory once again.  Therefore we see that Yeshua died of a broken heart upon the cross for our return to God, and the fire of his passion burned unto the very heart of heaven....
 




The Temple of your Body...


 

07.19.13  (Av 12, 5773)  The sages have said that a person's body corresponds to the structure of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its holy vessels, and that the heart should be aligned and directed toward the Holy of Holies. Where it is says, "Let them make for me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8), this refers first of all to the heart, which is the midst of the soul... The earthly Tabernacle served as a pattern (תַּבְנִית) of the heavenly realm, revealing the cosmic structure of redemptive reality (Exod. 25:40; Heb. 8:5). Every day a defect-free lamb was offered on the outer altar along with wine and unleavened bread.  And just as the priest would enter the Tabernacle to serve, so we enter into our lives, our bodies and souls, to serve God.  "Jerusalem" can be read as yirah shalem, complete awe, or fear perfected by God's love. Sanctifying our inner life helps us to revere the LORD at all times, and no impure forces will be able to come near to you. Your heart is the mikdash – the dwelling place for God's holiness – just as the Holy of Holies is found within the heart of faith. "Or do you not know that your body is a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit (מִשְׁכַּן רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) within you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

"If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you" (Prov. 25:21-22). Some have said that the "enemy" here refers to the yetzer hara, the "evil impulse," and that by proactively attending to the inner emptiness and neediness we sometimes feel - by feeding ourselves the "bread of Torah" and the "water of the Spirit" - we will overcome the evil with good (Rom. 12:21). We must understand that our sinful desires often disguise our heart's deepest need. If you feel yourself lacking, the evil impulse will offer to fill the void. The best defense against inner emptiness is to be filled with the Spirit of God. Study the truth of Scripture, pray, develop hakarat hatov (gratitude), and perform acts of gemilut chassidim (tzedakah, acts of kindness). Overcome the evil impulse with good. The LORD will see to it that your cup will overflow in the presence of your enemy (Psalm 23:5). Thus it is written, "From my enemies You teach me wisdom in doing your commandments" (Psalm 119:98), meaning that the yetzer hara can teach us if we use its energy to help us turn to God. Therefore Yeshua said, "Be wise as serpents but harmless as doves" (Matt. 10:16).
 




The Nearness of God...


 

07.19.13  (Av 12, 5773)  In our Torah portion this week we read, "For what great people (goy) is there that has gods so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?" (Deut. 4:7). Unlike the so-called "gods" of this world who may seem near but are nothing but delusions and chimeras, the LORD fills all possible worlds and surrounds them. And even though the LORD is exalted over all worlds, exalted in infinite glory, he is nevertheless as close to us as our breath and the cry of our heart. Yesh ohev davek me'ach (יֵשׁ אהֵב דָּבֵק מֵאָח): He is the lover of our souls (Prov. 18:24).

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




The Great Commandment...


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av... ]

07.19.13  (Av 12, 5773)  Our Torah portion this week includes the first part of the Shema: "Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is One" (Deut. 6:4). During its recitation we pronounce each word very carefully and cover our eyes with our right hand, testifying of the sovereignty of God and our primary duty to love Him with our whole being. Yeshua said that the Shema was the great commandment of Torah (see Mark 12:29-30).
 

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד

she·ma · Yis·ra·el · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · Adonai · e·chad
 

"Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is One."
(Deut. 6:4)


  

Note that this verse includes three Divine Names: Lord (יהוה), God (אלהים), and Lord (יהוה) again, which suggests the multiplicity-in-oneness (unity) that the word "echad" implies (see below). God's attributes as Compassionate Source of life, Eternal Judge, and Savior, are unified and affirmed in this verse. The two letters Ayin (ע) and Dalet (ד) are enlarged in the opening verse of the Shema. Together, these letters form the word 'ed (עֵד), which means "witness," suggesting that we recite the Shema to testify of the sovereignty of God and our primary duty to love Him bekhol levavkha, with all our hearts...

Interestingly, the word echad (אֶחָד) in Hebrew implies unity in diversity, not absolute numerical identity (the word for one and only one, i.e., "unique," is yachid (יָחִיד). For example, in Exodus 26:6 the parts of the Tabernacle (mishkan) are to be constructed so that "it shall be one (echad) tabernacle," and Ezekiel spoke of two "sticks" (representing fragmented Israel) as being reunited into one: "and they shall be one (echad) stick in My hand" (Ezek. 37:19). Moses also uses echad in Genesis 2:24 when he says: "And they (husband and wife) will become one flesh (basar echad)." Ultimate Reality is multidimensional, personal and loving, and that is part of the very essence of God. There is no such thing as a "Person" - either human or Divine - that exists in an absolute vacuum, outside of relationship. Absolute monism is inconsistent with the idea of Divine Personhood, just as Aristotle's "Unmoved Mover" is a solipsistic illusion and logical absurdity.

Note:  For more information about the Shema and its blessings, or to download Shema study pages, please see the Shema section of the site. Shalom.
 




The Remarkable Remnant...


 

[ The following is related to both Tishah B'Av and this week's Torah portion (Vaetchanan). An idolatrous heart withdraws itself from God's Holy Presence (Ezek. 8:6)... ]

07.18.13  (Av 11, 5773)  God watches over his remnant... In his vision of the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem due to the apostasy of the people, the prophet Ezekiel overheard the LORD commissioning a mysterious "man clothed in linen, with a writing case at his side, saying, "Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark (lit. a Tav, תָּו, which resembled a cross) on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it." And to the others he said in my hearing, "Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity... but touch no one on whom is the mark" (Ezek. 9:4-ff). God has set his seal of ownership upon us and put his Spirit in our hearts as a pledge of what is to come (2 Cor. 1:22). God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: "The Lord knows those who are his," and "Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity" (2 Tim. 2:19).

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

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

    Once, while Diogenes was sitting in the morning sunlight, Alexander the Great was standing by, and said to him, "Ask any favor you choose of me." And Diogenes replied, "Cease to shade me from the sun...."

 




Ultimate Concerns...


 

07.18.13  (Av 11, 5773)  Our Torah portion this week repeats the commandment not to make an idol: "Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you... 'You shall not make for yourself a carved image (לא־תַעֲשֶׂה־לְךָ פֶסֶל) or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth" (Deut. 4:23; 5:8). Literally this refers to the ancient practice of bowing before "mediating forces" of God, often symbolized by art and ritual, as a token of respect or as a means of finding "acceptance" within a group. We are not to imitate such customs of the pagan world around us; on the contrary, we testify of the One True God and repudiate the need for intermediaries between God and man... On a different level, "bowing before an idol" means passively yielding to the world and its ideals rather than submitting to the truth. When we seek to fit in, to feel like we belong, and follow the trends and passions of the crowd, we express idolatry of heart. Most intimately, an idol is a source of desire, happiness, and security apart from the LORD. Your "god" is whatever your heart admires, follows and loves... If you have "other gods" before the LORD, then something is wrong, since we were created by God to find life in Him alone. "Surely you don't think the Scripture speaks vainly when it says: the spirit which He sent to live in us wants us for himself alone?" (James 4:5) "Grace will save a man... but it will not save him and his idol" (A.W. Tozer). Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14).

The purpose or "goal" of life is to learn to be loved by God, to accept our place within his heart, and to "live, move, and have our being" rightly related to Divine Truth revealed in Messiah. The first lesson, then, is to know who we are and how much we are loved. Learning this is often a struggle, however. We are easily distracted. We forget why we are here. Because of this we must constantly remind ourselves of our true identity, of our high calling, and the reason for our lives... Much of our trouble comes from "disordered love," by elevating what is finite to the status of the infinite. Indeed idolatry is the substitution of not-god (לא־אֵל) for the sacred, absolutizing the present and worshiping the temporal. We find lasting inner peace only after we surrender to God's will for our lives...

Often we are slow to realize our desperate need and God therefore allows us to revisit the various "waste places" of our own lusts until we have become sick of ourselves -- sick "to the bones." We have to be willing "to give up our sickness." Usually that means that we must experience repeated failures until we have "learned from the heart" that the LORD alone is our Healer and Deliverer (2 Cor. 7:10). Ironically it is only after we have abandoned teshuvah in our strength that we are enabled to truly turn.

God knows that we are unable to overcome our inner corruption - that we are unable to help ourselves - apart from his miraculous intervention, and therefore he creates a new heart and puts a new spirit within us (Ezek. 36:26). In this way the Lord makes us direct witnesses of his transforming power and glory... Our changed lives are made testimonies sent out to impart hope, to raise the dead of heart, and to bind up the bruised of spirit.

People are "hard-wired" to value and desire what they esteem as good.  It's not a question of whether we worship, but what... What is your ultimate concern? What are you looking to for life?
 




Pouring out of Heart...


 

07.18.13  (Av 11, 5773)  Pouring out your heart to God in an honest, transparent, and earnest way is called hitbodedut (הִתְבּוֹדְדוּת). As it is written, "Trust Him at all times; pour out your heart before Him" (Psalm 62:8). After we "talk our hearts out" before the Lord, in our emptiness we can begin to truly listen, as it says, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength" (Isa. 30:15). Only after we sigh deeply and surrender are we receptive to the voice of the Spirit's whisper. "Blessed are all those who wait for Him" (Isa. 30:18). We wait, we abide, even when God takes his time or does not immediately intervene. We do not lose heart, for we find strength when we trust in God's love... The Light of the world still shines: Yeshua, be my inner word, my heart, and my groaning for life today, and forevermore, amen.
 

בִּטְחוּ בוֹ בְכָל־עֵת עָם
שִׁפְכוּ־לְפָנָיו לְבַבְכֶם
אֱלהִים מַחֲסֶה־לָּנוּ סֶלָה

bit·chu · vo · ve·khol-et · am
shif·khu · le·fa·nav · le·vav·khem
E·lo·him · ma·cha·seh-la·nu · se·lah
 

"Trust in Him at all times, people;
pour out your heart before Him
God is a refuge for us: Selah" (Psalm 62:8)



 

Remember the One who poured out his heart for our healing before the Father, in the agony of his passion and in his heart's suffering unto death for our sake... Few words were spoken, but groans, cries, gasps for breath, and the steadfast resolution to offer up the last drop of his blood for our healing and life... Pouring out of heart is not about the words we use, but the fullness of heart being presented: "When you pray, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words be without heart" (Bunyan).
 




A Blessed Reverence...


 

07.17.13  (Av 10, 5773)  The sages say the verse, "Blessed is the person who fears always" (Prov. 28:14), means that whenever you want to do something, you should first seriously consider the consequences... If you do not think clearly, you will not fear, and such carelessness invariably leads to sin. The sacred is bound up with care; it sets boundaries between the profane and the holy.  The "fear of the LORD" is expressed as vigilance against the lusts of the lower nature (yetzer ha'ra)... We "tremble" before God when we are awake to His holiness and wonder (Phil. 2:12). The Temple was destroyed because of our forefathers did not think about their actions; they first exiled themselves from the Divine Presence and then they "caught up with" the pain of their exile for themselves.
 

אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם מְפַחֵד תָּמִיד
וּמַקְשֶׁה לִבּוֹ יִפּוֹל בְּרָעָה

ash·rei · a·dam · me·fa·ched · ta·mid
u·mak·sheh · lib·bo · yi·pol · be·ra·ah
 

"Blessed is the one who fears the LORD always,
but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity."
(Prov. 28:14)


 




Seeking God in Exile...


 

07.17.13  (Av 10, 5773)  Paradoxically, the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the people indicate the nearness of God... That's the message of consolation we read on the afternoon of Tishah B'Av. We hear the voice of the prophet crying out to our alienated hearts: "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the perverse man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly forgive" (Isa. 55:6-7). We may sometimes feel far from God's Presence, lost in a place of exile, yet faith pushes through pain and doubt to find the LORD still near to us; faith hears the Spirit calling out: "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon Him while he is near..."
 

דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה בְּהִמָּצְאוֹ קְרָאֻהוּ בִּהְיוֹתוֹ קָרוֹב
יַעֲזב רָשָׁע דַּרְכּוֹ וְאִישׁ אָוֶן מַחְשְׁבתָיו
וְיָשׁב אֶל־יְהוָה וִירַחֲמֵהוּ
וְאֶל־אֱלהֵינוּ כִּי־יַרְבֶּה לִסְלוֹחַ

dir·shu · Adonai · be·him·ma·tzo, · ke·ra·u·hu · bih·yo·to · ka·rov
ya·a·zov · ra·sha · dar·ko, · ve·ish · a·ven · mach·she·vo·tav
ve·ya·sho · el · Adonai · vi·ra·cha·me·hu
ve·el · E·lo·he·nu · ki · yar·beh · lis·lo·ach
 

"Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way, and the perverse man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly forgive."
(Isa. 55:6-7)



Hebrew Study Card
  

Please take a moment to let these words penetrate your heart... God is extending to you an personal invitation to seek Him and call upon His Name. This is not a demand to stand before Him in judgment, since the invitation is explicitly directed to the sinner: "Seek the LORD (i.e., dirshu Adonai: דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה) while he may be found; call upon him while he is near (i.e., karov: קָרוֹב). Let the wicked man (i.e., rasha: רָשָׁע) forsake his way, and the perverted man (i.e., ish avon: אִישׁ אָוֶן) his thoughts; and let him return (i.e., shuv: שׁוּב) to the LORD, that He may have compassion (i.e., rachamim: רַחֲמִים) on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly forgive (i.e., selichah: סְלִיחָה)." God calls you to receive His compassion, His love, and His forgiveness...

The invitation of divine grace is offensive to forms of worldly religion based on personal merit and the supposed ability of human beings to flatter blessings from Heaven... Nearly all "karma-based" religions of the world are scandalized and offended by God's unconditional love for the unworthy and helpless sinner. For them, God's love is conditional, based as it is on the observance of certain religious rituals, adhering to certain rules, and playing the approved "language game" (creeds, confessions, etc.). Legalism always attempts to find the "key" to open the door into the Presence of God through various forms of self effort ("don't touch this," "don't eat that," etc. Col. 2:20-23). It's underlying hope is that if I do such and such (or abstain from such and so), I will be accepted. It is therefore a mode of relating to God based on His conditional acceptance and approval. But faith in God's love is the key that opens the door to freedom. Faith is the miracle that makes blind eyes see (John 9:38-39). When we truly "live in the Presence of the LORD" by faith, we are set free from the trap of legalism. We receive the love of God; we accept that we are accepted; and then we walk in God's zealous care for our souls.
 

    "For my thoughts (מַחְשְׁבוֹתַי) are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways (דְּרָכָי), declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word (דָּבָר) be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands" (Isa. 55:8-12).
     

The religious leaders of Yeshua's day were offended because he "welcomed sinners" and enjoyed eating meals with them (Luke 15:2). From the perspective of the "holier-than-thou" Pharisees, befriending a sinner was downright scandalous. Such is the hidden sickness lurking within man's theological systems. May we likewise be regarded as offensive to those self-righteous people who care more for their own need to be clean than for the need of others to be touched and shown genuine love...
 




Kept by God's Power...



 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av... ]

07.17.13  (Av 10, 5773)  From our Torah portion this week we read: "Take good heed for your souls..." (Deut. 4:15). The Hebrew grammar here is a bit unusual, since the verb shamar (שָׁמַר), meaning to "keep" or to "guard," is written in the passive (niphal), i.e., "Let yourselves be guarded well..." (וְנִשְׁמַרְתֶּם מְאד לְנַפְשׁתֵיכֶם). If we open our hearts to heed or listen to the truth of God - if we surrender to God's will for our lives - we will be protected from the snares of idolatry. "Know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). When you surrender from the heart you will understand that "the LORD is your keeper ... yishmor et nafshekha - the LORD will guard your life" (Psalm 121:5,7).
 

וְיָדַעְתָּ הַיּוֹם וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ
 כִּי יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלהִים בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל
 וְעַל־הָאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת אֵין עוֹד

ve·ya·da·at · ha·yom · va·ha·she·vo·tai · el · le·va·ve·kha
ki · Adonai · hu · ha·E·lo·him · ba·sha·ma·yim · mi·ma·al
ve·al · ha·a·retz · mit·ta·chat · ein · od
 

"Know therefore today, and lay it to your heart,
 that the LORD is God in heaven above
 and on the earth beneath: there is no other."
(Deut. 4:39)



 

Note that the phrase "lay it to your heart" may better be rendered as "return to your heart" (וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ), suggesting that the truth of the LORD is found there – within the heart that truly seeks him. Hashivenu! In other words, the truth is found in the heart's seeking for the LORD and His love. Know this truth today... "The most important part of teaching is to teach what it is to know," that is, to know "in your heart."
 




The Works of Faith...



 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av... ]

07.16.13  (Av 9, 5773)  From our Torah portion this week we read: "And now, O Israel, shema: listen to the decrees and judgments that I am teaching you, and do them that you may live..." (Deut. 4:1). The sages have said that "the seal of God is truth," since the final letters of the three words that conclude the account of creation (Gen. 2:3) -- bara Elohim la'asot, "God created to do," spell the word for truth (emet) [i.e., בָּרָא אֱלהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת - אמת]. We do not study Torah and the Scriptures merely for intellectual edification, but l'shem shamayim, for the sake of doing the "works of love." As Rabbi Chiya said, "Someone who studies Torah but does not intend to do the mitzvot (commandments), it were better were he not created." Faith without maa'sim tovim (works) is dead, and we are to be "doers of the word" and not hearers only (James 1:22). The Baal Shem Tov said, "the object of Torah is that the individual should become Torah himself," which agrees with New Testament teaching that we are to be "living letters," expressing God's light in our daily lives through our actions (Matt. 5:16; 2 Cor. 3:3; Phil. 2:15).
 

וְעַתָּה יִשְׂרָאֵל שְׁמַע אֶל־הַחֻקִּים וְאֶל־הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים
אֲשֶׁר אָנכִי מְלַמֵּד אֶתְכֶם לַעֲשׂוֹת לְמַעַן תִּחְיוּ

ve·at·tah · yis·ra·el · she·ma · el · ha·chu·kim · ve·el · ha·mish·pa·tim
a·sher · a·no·khi · me·la·med · et·khem · la·a·sot · le·ma·an · ti·che·yu
 

"And now, O Israel, listen to the decrees and judgments
that I am teaching you, and do them that you may live..."
(Deut. 4:1)


 

God writes the Torah on the hearts of those who put their trust in Yeshua for righteousness (Jer. 31:31; Heb. 10:16). It is written that "we are God's workmanship, created in Yeshua the Messiah for good works (לְמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים) that God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). In other words, the agency of the good works is the reality and spirit of Yeshua within the heart of faith, not the striving of the carnal nature... Yeshua, be my inner word, my heart, and my groaning for life today, and forevermore, amen.
 




Exile of the Heart...


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av... ]

07.16.13  (Av 9, 5773)  From this week's Torah portion we read: "if you seek for the LORD your God from there, you will find him, if you search for him with all your heart (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ) and with all your soul" (Deut. 4:29). From where do we search, from what place, except while in exile, after hardship, testing, and tribulation? If you seek for the LORD your God from there - in the midst of your exile, in the midst of your heart's cry - you will find him there, in your heart. This message is a prophecy, so that even after testing befalls you, in the end you will belong to the LORD and will hear his voice.
 

וּבִקַּשְׁתֶּם מִשָּׁם אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ וּמָצָאתָ
 כִּי תִדְרְשֶׁנּוּ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶׁךָ

u·vik·kash·tem · mi·sham · et · Adonai · E·lo·hey·kha · u·ma·tza·ta
ki · tid·re·she·nu · be·khol · le·va·ve·kha · u·ve·khol · naf·she·kha
 

"But you will seek the LORD your God from there and you will find Him,
if you search for Him with all your heart and with all your soul."
(Deut. 4:29)


  

Note that the word "you will seek" is in the plural, whereas the rest of the verse is in the singular. "Where is God to be found?" asks the Kotzker Rebbe, but "in the place where He is given entry!" As the Apostle Paul wrote, "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is LORD and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same LORD is LORD of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For "everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved" (Rom. 10:8-13).

Our Torah portion for this week begins, "And I pleaded (ואתחנן) with the LORD at that time, to say..." (Deut. 3:23), which implies that we must first pray in order to be able to pray, that is, we make ourselves ready to pray by finding the inner freedom and grace to groan before the LORD.... If you can't find the words to pray, then plead with the LORD and ask for the Holy Spirit to groan on your behalf (Rom. 8:26). "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Matt. 7:7). "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will show forth your praise" (Psalm 51:15).
 




Zion's Indefatigable Vision...


 

[ The fast of the Ninth of Av (i.e., Tishah B'Av) begins July 15th at sundown... ]

07.15.13  (Av 8, 5773)  The somber holiday of Tishah B'Av represents the yearning of the heart for the establishment of the Kingdom of God upon the earth... As Yeshua taught his students to pray: "Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10). Now if you say that the King of the Jews lives inside your heart by faith (Matt. 2:2), and if the King of the Jews calls Jerusalem the "City of the Great King" (Psalm 48:2, Matt 5:35), then heed the Spirit's call to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem..." At the End of the Age, the Messiah will indeed return to establish Zion as a praise upon the earth.
 

שַׁאֲלוּ שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלָםִ
יִשְׁלָיוּ אהֲבָיִךְ

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 




Parashat Vaetchanan - ואתחנן


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av (i.e., Shabbat Nachamu, see below). ]

07.15.13  (Av 8, 5773)  Our Torah portion this week (Va'etchanan) includes some of the most foundational texts of the Jewish Scriptures, including the Ten Commandments, the Shema (the duty to love God and study His Torah), and the commandments of tefillin and mezuzot. In addition, in this portion Moses predicts the galut (exile) and the eventual redemption of the Jewish people in acharit hayamim (the prophesied "End of Days").

The portion begins with Moses' plea to the LORD to be allowed entry into the Promised Land, despite God's earlier decree (see Num. 20:8-12; 27:12-14). The Hebrew word va'etchanan (וָאֶתְחַנַּן) comes from the verb chanan (חָנַן), which means to beseech or implore. It derives from the noun chen (חֵן), grace, implying that the supplication appeals to God's favor, not to any idea of personal merit (in Jewish tradition, tachanun (תַּחֲנוּן) are prayers recited after the Amidah begging for God's grace and mercy). Moses was asking God to show him grace by reversing the decree that forbade him to enter the Promised Land.

Note that in Jewish tradition, the idea of appealing to God's grace is not without expending personal effort. The gematria of vaetchanan is 515 -- the same as the word for prayer (i.e., tefillah, תְּפִלָּה) - which suggests that while grace is "free," it is something precious that must be sought after with the whole heart. Despite his repeated appeals, however, God finally said to Moses: רַב־לָך, "enough from you" (Deut. 3:26) and reaffirmed His decree that he would not be allowed to lead Israel into the land. That privilege was given to Yehoshua bin Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן), i.e., "Joshua the son of Nun," who foreshadowed Yeshua the Messiah.

Moses was forbidden into the land because symbolically the covenant made at Sinai was insufficient to fulfill the promise of God. This insufficiency, however, was not the fault of God's Torah, which is "holy, just, and good" (Rom. 7:12), but rather because of the weakness of the human condition (i.e., the "law of sin and death" - תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת). "For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3-4). The New Covenant was needed to bring people to Zion, and this required a "change in the Torah" and the offices of a new priesthood (Heb. 7:12). "The former commandment was set aside because of its weakness and uselessness - for the law made nothing perfect - but a better hope is introduced, and that is how we now draw near to God" (Heb. 7:18-19).
 

חַסְדֵי יְהוָה כִּי לא־תָמְנוּ כִּי לא־כָלוּ רַחֲמָיו
חֲדָשִׁים לַבְּקָרִים רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ

chas·dei · Adonai · ki · lo-ta·me·nu, · ki · lo-kha·lu · ra·cha·mav,
cha·da·shim · la·be·ka·rim · rab·bah · e·mu·na·te·kha
 

"The faithful love (חֶסֶד) of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies (רַחֲמִים) never come to an end;
they are new every morning (חֲדָשִׁים לַבְּקָרִים);
great is your faithfulness (אֱמוּנָה)"
(Lam. 3:22-23)



Hebrew Study Card
 




Shabbat Nachamu - שַׁבַּת נַחֲמוּ


 

[ With the advent of this Sabbath, we have seven weeks to prepare for the new year (Rosh Hashanah) and the High Holidays - a prophetic season that heralds the return of Yeshua... ]

07.15.13  (Av 8, 5773)  The prophet Zechariah foresaw the future Messianic Era when the various fast days of the Jewish year will be transformed into to appointed times of great joy (Zech. 8:19): "Thus says Adonai Tzeva'ot (יהוה צְבָאוֹת): The fast of the fourth month (Tammuz), and the fast of the fifth month (Tishah B'Av), and the fast of the seventh month (Yom Kippur), and the fast of the tenth month (Asarah b'Tevet), will be to the house of Judah for joy and rejoicing, and for pleasant appointed seasons, and the truth and the peace they have loved (וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָבוּ)."

Because of this prophecy of coming consolation for Israel, on the Sabbath immediately following the fast of Av (i.e., Tishah B'Av) we recall the promise of the final redemption of the Jewish people - and indeed the entire world. Therefore the sages named this Sabbath the "Sabbath of Comfort" (i.e., Shabbat Nachamu: שַׁבַּת נַחֲמוּ) and assigned the prophetic portion from the Book of Isaiah that begins: נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי - Nachamu, Nachamu ammi - "be comforted, be comforted, my people..." (Isa. 40:1).
 

נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי יאמַר אֱלהֵיכֶם

na·cha·mu · na·cha·mu · am·mi · yo·mar · E·lo·hey·khem
 

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God"
(Isa. 40:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 

The sages reasoned that the word nachamu was repeated to offer consolation for both of the Temples that were destroyed. Thematically, this Shabbat marks a time of joy over our anticipated comfort: Despite our present tribulations, in the end the LORD will vindicate His glory and completely ransom His people.  Note further that the verb yomar is imperfect, implying that God is always saying this to His people...
 




Tishah B'Av - July 15th-16th


 

[ This year the Fast of Av, Tishah B'Av, begins Monday, July 15th at sundown... ]

07.14.13  (Av 7, 5773)  Tishah B'Av (תשעה באב, the "ninth [day] of [the month of] Av") is an annual day of mourning that recalls the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people over the centuries, but most especially the destruction of the Holy Temple and the ongoing galut (exile) of Israel. This year Tishah B'Av begins Monday July 15th at sundown and runs 25 hours until Tuesday, July 16th, one hour after sundown. The customs for observing the fast are similar to those of Yom Kippur.

Tishah B'Av is generally regarded as the saddest day of the Jewish year (even sadder than Yom Kippur) since it was on this date that both the First and the Second Temples were destroyed and the Jewish people were forced into exile.  The root of these tragedies is said to go back to the Exodus from Egypt, when the LORD decreed a 40 year exile from the Promised Land because of the Sin of the Spies on the ninth of Av. In addition, Aaron died on Av 1 (Num. 33:38), and this was said to foreshadow the destruction of the Temple.  The sages call this prophetic principle: ma'aseh avot siman labanim (מַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹת סִימָן לַבָּנִים): "The deeds of the fathers are signs for the children."

The ninth of Av is the lowest point of a three week period of mourning that began with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz (undertaken to recall the first breach in the walls of Jerusalem by the Babylonians before the First Temple was destroyed). The "Three Weeks of Sorrow" is intended to instill a sense of teshuvah (repentance) and to prepare for the Messianic redemption to come.

Three Weeks of SorrowThree Weeks of Sorrow
 

During Tishah B'Av synagogue services, the lights are dimmed and the Aron Hakodesh (Holy Ark) is draped in black (in some synagogues the parochet (curtain) is removed as a sign of mourning). Crowns are removed from Torah scrolls. Congregants remove their shoes and do not greet each other. The cantor leads the prayers readings in a low, mournful voice, and the cantillation for Scripture readings is set to elegiac, sorrowful melodies.
 




Sorrowful yet Rejoicing...


 

07.12.13  (Av 5, 5773)  It is written that "a joyful heart (לֵב שָׂמֵחַ) is good medicine" (Prov. 17:22). Where it says, "Serve the LORD with gladness" (Psalm 100:2), the sages note that "with gladness" (בְּשִׂמְחָה) contains the same letters as the word "thought" (מַחֲשָׁבָה), which suggests that happiness is found by thinking worthy thoughts. As the apostle admonished: "Think on these things" (Phil. 4:8). We find spiritual happiness when we choose to be thankful. This is called hakarat tovah (הַכָּרַת טוֹבָה), a phrase that means recognizing or being aware of the good. Cultivate a sense of wonder. Look at the sky often, for it is the "daily bread of the eyes." Albert Einstein once said, "There are two ways to live your life; one is as though nothing is a miracle, and the other is as though everything is." Happiness is a choice, a decision to see the good, to open your eyes to wonder, and to turn away from negative, fearful visions. The Torah of the LORD rejoices the heart (Psalm 19:8); let the heart of those who seek the LORD be glad (Psalm 105:3). We are to "serve the LORD with happiness, come into His presence with singing. Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we belong to him; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture."
 

עִבְדוּ אֶת־יְהוָה בְּשִׂמְחָה בּאוּ לְפָנָיו בִּרְנָנָה
דְּעוּ כִּי־יְהוָה הוּא אֱלהִים הוּא־עָשָׂנוּ
וְלוֹ אֲנַחְנוּ עַמּוֹ וְצאן מַרְעִיתוֹ

iv·du · et · Adonai · be·sim·chah · bo·u · le·fa·nav · bir·na·nah,
de·u · ki · Adonai · hu · E·lo·him · hu · a·sa·nu
ve·lo · a·nach·nu · am·mo · ve·tzon · mar·i·to
 

"Serve the LORD with happiness, come before His Presence with singing
Know that the LORD is God; it is He who has made us,
and we belong to him: we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture."
(Psalm 100:2-3)



 

Note that Psalm 100 is called mizmor le'todah (מִזְמוֹר לְתוֹדָה), a "psalm of thanksgiving." The sages debated whether this expression of thanks refers to the deliverance of Israel at the End of Days or to the religious duty to offer thanks after being saved by misfortune (i.e., the ritual of the "thank offering" during the time of the Holy Temple). The Midrash says that in the world to come, when the Messiah will rebuild the Temple, the sin offering (chatat) and the guilt offering (asham) will no longer be needed and only the thank offering (i.e., zevach ha-todah: זֶבַח הַתּוֹדָד) will be offered to commemorate God's salvation (יְשׁוּעָה). This is because at that time "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26) and the prophetic fulfillment of Yom Kippur will be realized for the entire world. But either way -- in this world or in the world to come -- we are to "serve the LORD with happiness" and to sing joyfully before Him. Note that such is not marked by frivolity, but instead is reverent and sober: we are to serve the LORD during these times. "Let your heart be glad, for you are called into the Divine Presence, and you stand before the One who is the Source of all life, love, and being. Therefore serve the LORD with gladness, and yet serve the LORD with fear (Psalm 2:11).

We serve the LORD in fear by means of da'at, or spiritual knowledge: da lifne mi atah omed: "Know before Whom you stand..." That is, know that the LORD God is your Creator, your Judge, your Redeemer. He is the One who has made you for Himself and gives you life to know Him. God made you to be His – and you need Him for every moment of your life...

Giving thanks opens the door: "Whoever offers a thank offering (זבֵחַ תּוֹדָה) glorifies me" (Psalm 50:23). The todah offering was unusual because it was accompanied with an elaborate offering of bread - including the offering of otherwise forbidden leavened bread (Lev. 2:11). "With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring near (karov) loaves of leavened bread" (Lev. 7:13). The only other time leavened bread (i.e., chametz) was offered at the altar was during the holiday of Shavuot, as a token of thanks for the fulfillment of the wheat harvest. The wave offering (i.e., tenufah: תְּנוּפָה) of the two loaves prophetically pictured the "one new man" (composed of both Jew and Gentile) before the LORD, which was the climax of God's plan for the world's redemption through Yeshua, the true Passover Lamb of God. The 50 day countdown to Shavuot therefore anticipated the advent of the Holy Spirit given to the followers of Yeshua (Acts 1:8, 2:1-4).

The thank offering mentioned in the Torah reappears in the New Testament. In the Book of Hebrews were are instructed to "continually offer up a sacrifice of thanks (זֶבַח תּוֹדָה) to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his Name" (Heb. 13:15). It is interesting to note that the Greek verb used to "offer up" (i.e., ἀναφέρω) is used to translate the Hebrew verb "to draw near" (karov) in Leviticus. In other words, the "offering up of thanks" for the sacrifice of Yeshua functions as "korban" and draws us near to God. Thanking God for personal deliverance constitutes "right sacrifices" (זִבְחֵי־צֶדֶק) as we draw near to God in the hope of His love (Psalm 4:5; Heb. 7:19). As Yeshua said, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" (John 12:32).

The targum notes that the offering for thanksgiving (i.e., the todah: תוֹדָה) is inherently superior to all other offerings. Other sacrifices were intended to serve as a means to an end - namely, to expiate sin in order to restore fellowship - but the thank offering was meant to praise God for His deliverance and glorifies His Name as our Savior. In other words, because the LORD has saved us, we are now under obligation to "serve the LORD with gladness" and to sing joyfully to His Name... We are commanded to be delighted, to be happy, to see the wonder and glory and beauty and love of the LORD -- even if we experience sadness during the days of our exile or find ourselves in distress --since our salvation assuredly draws near (may the Messiah return speedily and in our days).

It is written, "the LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not lack" (Psalm 23:1). This is a message "for me" that is enlivened and made near by faith: "the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it" (Deut. 30:19). Offer God your thanks for what He has done for you. Every word of Scripture is spoken to the heart of faith, to the one who trusts in the LORD for salvation: "Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations" (Psalm 100:4-5). "Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!" (Psalm 32:11).

Note: I realize we are anticipating the somber time of Tishah B'Av, but I do not want to overlook God's great invitation to come before His Presence with thanksgiving, especially since our Lord Yeshua has made the way for us! The parochet (veil) of the Holy Place has been rent asunder and the Divine Presence is available to all who come by faith in the finished work and shed blood of Messiah poured out for our sake (Heb. 4:16). Because of our great salvation, we are to "rejoice in the LORD always" (Phil. 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16).

Tishah B'Av reminds us of the "holy ambivalence" we have in this age, however, since here we are both a "sorrowful yet rejoicing" people, made captives of God's hope... We experience the "already-not-yet" tension of faith; we are home, yet away from home; we are accepted, yet still in exile; we are "in" but not "of" the world... We are healed, but still sick; mortally wounded, but made eternally alive; saved but still lost... We have been given all the blessings of heaven, yet we still suffer lack and need as we journey through this world as strangers. Yeshua is indeed the King of Glory, yet he has yet to establish the kingdom here, so we await his coming and keep faith in God's promise...
 




Turn us to You, O LORD...



 

[ This year the Fast of Av, Tishah B'Av, begins Monday, July 15th at sundown... ]

07.12.13  (Av 5, 5773)  During the Tishah B'Av evening service we read the Book of Lamentations, an acrostic poem that begins with the Hebrew letter Aleph (א) in the word "eichah" (אֵיכָה), which also marks the Hebrew name for the book. "How (eichah) lonely sits the city that once was full of people!" (Lam. 1:1). The sages note that this word "how (i.e., eichah) could also be read as "where are you?" (i.e., ayeka: אַיֶּכָּה), God's first word spoken to Adam after he broke covenant in the Garden of Eden. Our heart's problem centers on the failure to respond to God's question, that is, our failure to return to Him... The Hebrew word hashivenu (הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ) comes from the verb shuv (שׁוּב), "turn," from which the word teshuvah is derived. When the reader reaches the second to last verse of the scroll, "Hashivenu," he or she pauses and the congregation recites the verse in unison: Hashivenu Adonai, eleykha vena-shuvah; chadesh yamenu ke'kedem: "Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21).
 

הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה
חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

How many people today live in a state of self-imposed exile from the LORD? God uses our loneliness ("how lonely...") to search our hearts, asking each of us, ayeka – "Where are you?" "Why have you turned away from me and chosen a state of exile?" Our inner pain is meant to provoke us to seek His face. He awaits our only possible response, "Hashivenu!" -- an imperative (demand) for the grace to repent: "You return us (i.e., you cause us to return) so that we may be reunited with you and healed!" We do not appeal to our own resources or strength to undergo this return, but rather trust that God's sovereign grace is sufficient to restore us to His presence. As Yeshua said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up" (John 6:44).
 




Whisper of the Spirit...


 

07.12.13  (Av 5, 5773)  The Spirit speaks with a "still and gentle whisper" which will be inaudible unless we make room within ourselves to listen... If we entertain negative thoughts or messages, however, our spiritual receptivity will be impaired or damaged. For example, if we listen to news of this world and heed its messages of fear or anger, we squelch the whispering of the Holy Spirit. The Name YHVH (יהוה) means "God is Present" and near, as close as your heart. The LORD is near, even when I feel lost and far away. We can attune ourselves to hear kol demamah dakkah (קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה), God's "still, small voice," when we are quieted, not when we are surrounded by the crowd with its cheers and its murmurings... God cannot be heard in noise and restlessness, much less in the fear-mongering and propaganda of this world. "God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls."
 




Immanence and Exile...


 

[ This year the Fast of Av, Tishah B'Av, begins Monday, July 15th at sundown... ]

07.12.13  (Av 5, 5773)  Ultimately, the loss of "the place where God put His Name" was a deliberate affliction of His love for his people. The Sacred Name of God [יהוה] is formed from the words hayah ("He was"), hoveh ("He is"), and yihyeh ("He will be"): הָיָה הוֶה וְיִהְיֶה, indicating that the LORD is always present, despite momentary appearances. Note that all the letters of the Name are "vowel letters," which mean they evoke breath and life. Indeed the very first occurrence of the Holy Name in Torah regards the inspiration of nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" in Adam (Gen. 2:4). The LORD is always present for you, breathing out life and hope, despite the appearance of exile... The veil that once separated us from God has been rent asunder...
 




The Exile of Carelessness...


 

[ This year the Fast of Av, Tishah B'Av, begins Monday, July 15th at sundown... ]

07.12.13  (Av 5, 5773)  How could the great symbol of God's manifest presence on the earth, the Holy Temple, go up in smoke, and the very place (i.e., ha-makom: הַמָּקוֹם) where the LORD chose to "put His Name" be destroyed? We note that  the "rebuke" portion of the tochachah begins with v'im lo tishme'u li (וְאִם־לא תִשְׁמְעוּ לִי), "if you do not listen to me" (Lev. 26:14), which recalls the Shema and the duty to love the Lord bekhol levavkha, "with all your heart." The sages point out that the refrain "if you walk contrary to me" (וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי) - which occurs several times during the rebuke - really means "if you walk carelessly (i.e., keri: קְרִי) with me." The commentator Rashi notes that the verb karah (קָרָה) means "to befall" or "to happen" and therefore suggests a sense of randomness (the related word mikreh [מִקְרֶה] means "coincidence"). If the people regarded the events of life as "random," then God would reciprocate by bringing senseless trouble into their lives. For this reason a careless attitude about the things of God is the first step toward apostasy...

It's been said that the opposite of love isn't hate, but rather indifference, and that explains why punishments came when the people "left their first love." If you walk carelessly with God, then you may be afflicted with "troubles of love" (i.e., yissurei ahavah: יִסּוּרֵי אַהֲבָה), that is, with various difficulties, intended to help you "come to your senses," to help you wake up, and to cause you return to the LORD for healing... This is a severe mercy of God.

Note: During Tishah B'Av we weep over our sins that have brought us into a place of exile. The sages note that the word "weeping," i.e., בְּכִי, has the same letter value as the word for "heart," i.e., לב. We weep from the heart, then, because the heart itself is what needs to be healed...  For more on this subject, see "A Tishah B'Av Parable," here.
 




Moses' Miraculous Words...


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.11.13  (Av 4, 5773)  The midrash says that though Moses "stammered" and was "kevad peh" (heavy of mouth), he was enabled to speak fluently whenever the Holy Spirit moved him.  Sefer Devarim (the Book of Deuteronomy) is unique among the five books of Torah because it represents Moses' great farewell appeal to follow the LORD with a whole heart. In this final book, we hear Moses - who once described himself as lo ish devarim, "a man of no words" - speaking some of the moving words of all of the Scriptures, calling us to embrace the truth of Torah, to walk in God's love, and to await the final redemption...
 




Expressing Anger to God...


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.11.13  (Av 4, 5773)  From our Torah portion this week we read: "You were not willing to go up but rebelled at the word of the LORD your God. And you murmured in your tents and said, 'Because the LORD hates us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt...'" (Deut. 1:26-27). We may decry the puerile insolence of the people, we lament their lack of faith, and yet God was still speaking through Moses to Israel... The sages ask whether we can ever be justfiably angry at God, and answer that we can, because otherwise we could never love Him "bekhol levavkha," with all our heart (Deut. 6:5). Indeed, how can we claim to love God if we withhold the truth, lie to ourselves, and attempt to hide who we really are from Him?  If you are angry at God, he already knows, so why the pretense? Being angry with God is part of being a real person in a real relationship with Him, and allowing yourself to express the truth of your heart to him is a sign of trust... 
 

    God, you help complete strangers - so why don't you help me? - Yiddish Proverb

 




Between the Straights - בֵּין הַמְּצָרִים


 

[ This year the Fast of Av, Tishah B'Av, begins Monday, July 15th at sundown... ]

07.11.13  (Av 4, 5773)  We are in the midst of the three week period which began with the Fast of Tammuz and ends after the Fast of Av (i.e., Tishah B'Av). During these three weeks we recall the past and mourn the great tragedies which befell our people, including the destruction of the two Holy Temples. The Sabbath that immediately precedes the fast of Tishah B'Av is called Shabbat Chazon (the "Sabbath of vision") since the Haftarah that is read (i.e., Isa. 1:1-25) comes from the vision of the prophet Isaiah regarding the imminent destruction of the Temple. After the Messiah Yeshua returns to establish the kingdom, Tishah B'Av will be transformed into a time of great rejoicing (Zech 8:19).

Three Weeks of SorrowThree Weeks of Sorrow
 

A mashal (parable) from Hassidic tradition speaks of this season... Rabbi Baruch of Mezibush (a grandson of the Baal Shem Tov) once found his young son crying. "And why are you crying?" he asked. The boy replied: "My friends and I were playing 'hide and seek.' When it came my turn to hide, I hid but after a long time in hiding I realized that they stopped looking for me... " Rabbi Baruch calmed his child and then said to the others, "And is this not precisely what God cries about? He hid from us - as a result of our sins - but the purpose of His hiding is so that we shall search and seek Him. As it is written, if we search we will find Him (Deut. 4:29; Jer. 29:13). But, like the child, we stop looking for Him..."
 




Taking the Name in Vain....


 

07.10.13  (Av 3, 5773)  People tend to misunderstand what it means to "take the Name of the LORD in vain," thinking that this serves as a prohibition against using profanity or uttering blasphemous words... The Hebrew text, however, states that you shall not "carry" (תִשָּׂא) God's name in vain, which means you must not use the Name of God as justification for your selfish causes. Just as people often flatter themselves by uncritically accepting their own opinions, so they may appeal to God to vindicate their own petty differences with others. We must be vigilant and careful not to discredit God by doing things "in His Name" that he never said we should do...
 

לא תִשָּׂא אֶת־שֵׁם־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ לַשָּׁוְא
כִּי לא יְנַקֶּה יְהוָה אֵת אֲשֶׁר־יִשָּׂא אֶת־שְׁמוֹ לַשָּׁוְא

lo · tis·sa · et · shem · Adonai · e·lo·he·kha · la·shav'
ki · lo · ye·nak·keh · Adonai · et · a·sher · yis·sa · et · she·mo · la·shav'
 

"You shall not carry the Name of the LORD your God for vain purposes,
for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who carries his name in vain."
(Exod. 20:7)
 

Knowing the Name of the LORD means being in a personal, vital, and all-important relationship with the truth. The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth (רוּחַ הָאֱמֶת). This means honoring God's character as "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin" (Exod. 34:6-7).

God is not as concerned about your "orthodox terminology" as much as he is looking for you to passionately and truly seek His face. The service of your lips must be accompanied with avodat ha'lev - service of the heart, lest the Name be used "lashav" - in vain... The same can be said about calling upon the Name of the LORD. God is not a snob.  He doesn't get offended if someone might "lisp" His Name or tangle up their words when they call upon Him... God looks at the heart and to see if the soul truly wants His Holy Presence. As the prophet said, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart, and I will be found by you, declares the LORD" (Jer. 29:13-14).
 




Blessings and Acceptance...


 

07.09.13  (Av 2, 5773)  We are thankful that our hope is not found in our own supposed virtue or goodness, but rather in the goodness and compassion of the LORD our God. Salvation is "of the LORD," which means that it is God's work performed on our behalf. Therefore we recite the following Hebrew blessing to express this truth of our acceptance: "Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the Universe, who loves us despite ourselves..."
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵנוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
שֶׁאוֹהֵב אוֹתָנוּ לַמְרוֹת עַצְמֵנוּ

ba·rukh · at·tah · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · me·lekh · ha·o·lam,
she·o·hev · o·ta·nu · lam·rot · atz·me·nu
 

"Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the Universe,
who loves us despite ourselves."
 

This blessing can be recited in the singular, of course: barukh attah Elohai melekh ha'olam, she'ohev oti lamrot atzmi (שֶׁאוֹהֵב אוֹתִי לַמְרוֹת עַצְמִי): "Blessed are you, LORD my God, King of the Universe, who loves me despite myself..."

It is a great joy to realize that God loves you and welcomes you into relationship with Him despite the repeated moral failures and sins of your life... In light of this, here is another Hebrew blessing thanking God for loving you just as you are, trusting in Yeshua: mevorakh hu Adonai she'ohev oti kemo she'ani ki shel Yeshua ha'mashiach: "Blessed is the LORD who loves me as I am because of Jesus the Messiah."
 

מְבוֹרָך הוּא יהוה שֶׁאוֹהֵב אוֹתִי כְּמוֹ שֶׁאֲנִי
כִּי שֶׁל יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ

me·vo·rakh · hu · Adonai · she·o·hev · o· ti · ke·mo · she·a·ni
ki · shel · Ye·shu·a · ha·ma·shi·ach
 

"Blessed is the LORD who loves me as I am
because of Jesus the Messiah."

 

It is a blessing to understand our great need, to be ache with hunger and thirst for God's deliverance... A.W. Tozer once said, "It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply." Likewise Alan Redpath once wrote, "When God wants to do an impossible task, He takes an impossible individual – and crushes him." This seems to be the divine pattern. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). The hard "outer shell" of the seed must be broken so that the life of the Spirit can come through... The Lord is near to the nishbar lev, the one with a broken heart.
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵנוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
הַהוֹלֵךְ עִם הַפְּצוּעִים

ba·rukh · at·tah · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · me·lekh · ha·o·lam
ha·ho·lekh · im · ha·pe·tzu·im
 

"Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the Universe,
who walks with the wounded."

 




Words and Consequences...


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.09.13  (Av 2, 5773)  The midrash notes the morphological similarity between the word devarim (דְּבָרִים), "words," and devorim (דְּבוֹרִים), "bees." The words of Torah can give joy and sweetness to those who heed them (Psalm 19:10), but they are a deadly poison to those who do not: "Just as the honey of the bee is sweet and its sting is sharp, so, too, are the words of Torah." Likewise, our words can either be used to build up, edify, and comfort others, or they can be used to tear down, deliver poison, and cause pain.  As it is written in the Book of Proverbs, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue."
 

מָוֶת וְחַיִּים בְּיַד־לָשׁוֹן
וְאהֲבֶיהָ יאכַל פִּרְיָהּ

ma·vet · ve·chai·yim · be·yad · la·shon
ve·o·ha·ve·ha · yo·khal · pir·yah
 

"Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits" (Prov. 18:21)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Our ability to use language is perhaps what most differentiates us from animals -- and what most closely links us to God Himself. Indeed, words (devarim) and rationality (הִגָּיוֹן) are central to tzelem Elohim, the image of God, even as Yeshua represents this image most perfectly as devar Elohim (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים), the "Word (λόγος) of God" (Heb. 1:3, John 1:1). Just as the Word of God resounded, "Let there be Light, and there was Light (Gen. 1:3), so our words are the medium of how we experience and understand reality.  Words, then, can bring forth light and life, though tragically, they can cause darkness and death, too.

Life and death are be'yad lashon - in the "hand of the tongue," an idiom meaning under the control of the tongue.. Our words (and the thoughts they express) have vast spiritual significance and repercussion... Because we are made in the image and likeness of God, words wield spiritual power. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "word" (דָּבָר) also means "thing." When we bless others, we are invoking grace and good will to be manifest in the world, but when we curse others, the opposite effect is intended. The phrase, "those who love it will eat its fruits," suggests that as we speak, think, and imagine, so will come to us: we will eat the fruit of our words and their consequences....

Note: For more on this, see the parashah article, "These are the Bees."
 




Parashat Devarim - דברים


 

[ The first portion from the Book of Deuteronomy is always read during "Shabbat Chazon," the Sabbath that immediately precedes the fast of Tishah B'Av... ]

07.07.13  (Tammuz 29, 5773)  The very first portion from the Book of Deuteronomy, parashat Devarim, is read every year during the Three Weeks of Sorrow on the Sabbath immediately before the sorrowful holiday of Tishah B'Av. In Jewish tradition, this Sabbath is called Shabbat Chazon (שַׁבַּת חַזוֹן), "the Sabbath of Vision," since the Haftarah that is read (i.e., Isa. 1:1-25) comes from the vision of the prophet Isaiah regarding the imminent destruction of the Temple. In Jewish tradition and liturgy, teshuvah (repentance) and confession are the themes of this Sabbath.

During this solemn season we review our lives and ask God to help us return to Him. We chant the Hashivenu: "Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21). The Hebrew word hashivenu (הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ) comes from the verb shuv (שׁוּב), "turn," from which the word teshuvah ("repentance") is likewise derived. May it please God to help us turn back to Him with all our hearts:
 

הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה
חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

At the beginning of the Torah portion (Devarim), Moses gives words of musar (rebuke or correction) regarding the Sin of the Spies. It was this sin of unbelief, you may recall, that led to the LORD's decree that the generation that left Egypt would not enter into the Promised Land.  The New Testament calls this episode the "provocation" or "rebellion" (παραπικρασμος), which the "unpardonable sin" of the Torah (Heb. 3:15-4:1) - far worse even than the Sin of the Golden Calf. According to the Talmud, because of Israel's unbelief the LORD decreed that this date (the 9th of Av) would be one of perpetual mourning, foretelling the time when the people would grieve over the Temple that was destroyed in their midst.

In the midrash Pesikta Rabbati (פסיקתא רבתי) it is noted that Moses began his last book with the phrase eleh ha-devarim ("these are the words") because the Torah is compared to a bee (דְּבוֹרָה) whose honey is sweet but whose sting is poisonous (the word devarim (דְּבָרִים) looks like the word for bees (דְבוֹרִים)). The words of Torah give joy and sweetness to those who heed it (Psalm 19:10), but they are deadly poison to those who do not. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God (Heb. 10:31), and as Yeshua warned his followers, "from him that has not, even that he has shall be taken away from him" (Luke 19:26). (For more on this, see "These are the Bees.")

The message of Devarim is not without comfort, however, since it also includes Moses' recollection of the victorious battles with the Amorites... Because of this, the sages recommended envisioning the future Temple that will be built by the Messiah during this time of year. Indeed according to Jewish tradition, after the Messiah comes to restore Israel, the tragic holiday of Tishah B'Av will become one of the happiest days of the year... As it is written: "Thus says the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month (Fast of Tammuz) and the fast of the fifth (i.e., Tishah B'Av) and the fast of the seventh (Yom Kippur) and the fast of the tenth (Asarah B'Tevet) shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָבוּ - love truth and peace" (Zech 8:19).
 




The Month of Av...


 

[ The sorrowful holiday of Tishah B'Av begins Monday, July 15th (at sundown) and runs 25 hours, that is, until an hour after sundown the following day... ]

07.07.13  (Tammuz 29, 5773)  The month of Av is traditionally regarded as the most tragic in the Jewish calendar. On the first day of this month, Aaron (the first High Priest of Israel) died (Num. 33:38), which was regarded as a prophetic omen of the future destruction of both of the Temples on the Ninth of Av. Parashat Masei is traditionally read near the new moon of the month of Av (which begins this evening, Sunday, July 7th, at sundown).
 

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

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

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



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The month of Av begins the mourning phase of the "Three Weeks of Sorrow." During the final nine days of these three weeks - beginning with Rosh Chodesh Av (i.e., Av 1) and ending on Tishah B'Av (i.e., Av 9) - observant Jews will begin emotionally preparing for the fast of Av. It is common to confess the sins in our lives that contribute to the lack of God's Presence in our midst. Typically marriages are not held during this time, and many Jews deliberately refrain from ostensibly pleasurable activities, such as listening to music, dancing, taking vacations, and sometimes even shaving. In fact, most Orthodox Jews will refrain from any activity that might require the recitation of the Shehecheyanu blessing.

Three Weeks of SorrowThree Weeks of Sorrow
 

Among observant Jews, Tishah B'Av is regarded as the saddest day of the Jewish year (even sadder than Yom Kippur) since it was on this date that the LORD tragically decreed that the original generation rescued from Egypt would be denied entrance into the Promised Land because of the Sin of the Spies. This event was considered prophetic of other tragedies of Jewish history (based on the principle: מַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹת סִימָן לַבָּנִים / ma'aseh avot siman labanim: "The deeds of the fathers are signs for the children"), and indeed on precisely this date both of the Temples were destroyed and the Jewish people suffered exile. The purpose of the nine days of mourning is to instill a sense of teshuvah (repentance) in preparation for the 25 hour fast of on the Ninth of Av.
 




Made Captive to Hope...


 

07.05.13  (Tammuz 27, 5773)  The Scriptures are filled with desperate cries of the heart... "How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?" (Psalm 13:1-2). "Make haste to help me, O LORD, my salvation!" (Psalm 38:22). "My soul melts away for grief; strengthen me according to your word" (Psalm 119:28). "Answer me quickly, O LORD! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit" (Psalm 143:7). God know that "hope deferred makes the heart sick" (Prov. 13:12), so there can be no turning to God, no teshuvah, apart from the presence of real hope (תִּקְוָה). Indeed, as the Apostle Paul wrote: "We are saved by hope" (Rom. 8:24).

An old Jewish prayer, uttered somewhat wistfully, begins, "O Lord, I know that Thou wilt help us; but wilt Thou help us before Thou wilt help us?" It's not always easy to wait for God, especially when we are in pain or anxiety, but we must never, ever, give up; we must never ever, abandon our heart's longing for ultimate healing.  Faith excercises hope in the Reality, Substance, and Being (ὑπόστασις) of the Invisible and is made captive to undying hope (Heb. 11:1). Therefore the Spirit cries out: "Hope to the LORD; be strong and strengthen your heart; and (again) hope to the LORD" (Psalm 27:14). "Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the Universe, who walks with the wounded" (שֶׁהוֹלֵךְ עִם הַפְצוּעִים).
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵנוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂנוּ אֲסִירֵי תִּקְוָה

ba·rukh · at·tah · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · me·lekh · ha·o·lam,
a·sher · a·sa·nu · a·si·rei · tik·vah
 

"Blessed art You, LORD our God, King of the universe,
who has made us captives of hope."


 
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Shabbat Shalom, and please keep me in your prayers, friends. Thank you so much...
 




Judging with Mercy...


 

07.04.13  (Tammuz 26, 5773)  "Judge others as you would want to be judged." As Yeshua said, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge be'tzekdek (בְּצֶדֶק), that is, with merciful judgment" (John 7:24). Truth is traditionally understood as correspondence with reality, however since reality is not static, the truth of something involves its past, present, and future. By definition, then, truth requires humility, since we are not God and we don't know all the facts. To walk in truth, then, means being mindful of the complexities of something, and consequently refusing to rush to judgment or to be prejudiced in our thinking... Notice that the word tzedek (צֶדֶק) includes the heart motive of acting in "charity" and love. We are commanded to give tzedakah (צְדָקָה, "charity") not only because it is "right," but because it expresses God's love and care for others. A judgment is righteous, in other words, because it expresses the truth about God's love.
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵנוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
שֶׁהוֹלֵךְ עִם הַפְצוּעִים

ba·rukh · at·tah · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · me·lekh · ha·o·lam
she·ho·lekh · im · ha·fe·tzu·im
 

"Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the Universe,
who walks with the wounded."

 




The Sanctity of Boundaries...


 

07.03.13  (Tammuz 25, 5773)  "The land .. defined by its boundaries" (Num. 34:2). God knows that we all need a sense a space for ourselves, and that's why he defines limits for our lives. Boundaries help us respect ourselves and others; they are integral to the idea of "inheritance." A city without walls is easily overrun, and so are our souls if we cannot say "no" to others or to restrain our impulses (Prov. 25:28). Boundaries give us a sense of place and direction; they help us stay centered, focused, and 'at home' with ourselves. Those who violate the boundaries of others violate the commandment not to steal, and therefore they deny the One who has ordained the sanctity of human life (Deut. 27:17).
 

עִיר פְּרוּצָה אֵין חוֹמָה
אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר אֵין מַעְצָר לְרוּחוֹ

'ir · pe·ru·tza · ein · cho·mah
ish · a·sher · ein · ma'e·tzar · le·ru·cho

 

"Like a city breached without walls,
is a person who lacks self-control."
(Prov. 25:28)

 

Notice that the person who violates the boundaries of others is likened to a breached city without walls. We are to respect others as we want to be respected, and if we fail to do so, we will become victims of our own destructive impulses. As we treat others, so we treat ourselves... Indeed, those who violate and abuse the space of other people make themselves vulnerable, weak, and are enslaved to further passions they cannot control.

Boundaries imply mutual respect.  We not only establish our own boundaries, but respect and honor the boundaries of others. In our Torah portion we read, "We will not return home until every Israelite is in possession of his portion" (Num. 32:18; Psalm 68:6). As members of a community, we will be unable to "go home" until we help secure a place for our brothers and sisters... This may be understood by a parable. To be kosher, a Torah scroll cannot have even one missing or extra letter.  Every letter written in every column on a gevil (parchment sheet) is meticulously counted and checked for accuracy by certified Torah scribes, and if even one letter is found missing or illegible, the entire scroll is invalid and must be repaired (or buried in a genizah). Metaphorically, each Jew is likened to a letter on the scroll, and therefore each represents an essential part of the message of the whole. Just as each letter of the scroll is necessary, so each person has their own unique place in God's plan: "The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you...." If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (1 Cor. 12:21,26).

Hillel asked, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" (אם אין אני לי מי לי). In other words, we must make time for "personal soul care" and to learn what it is that we really need. If we don't know what we need, we are liable to abuse ourselves, to indulge in self-destructive behaviors, and so on. But self-care is the first step, and after this we take the second: "But if I am only for myself, what am I?" Our lives are part of a greater whole, and if we neglect the needs of others, we diminish ourselves. Being healthy means finding the balance between self-care and care for others... The Torah gives us the right order: וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ - "love your neighbor as you love yourself," which means that it's not selfish to take care of yourself.  Yeshua said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive," but you can't give away what you don't have, after all. If you are blessed when you give, there is happiness and peace, not a sense of emptiness. God loves a cheerful giver....
 




The Grace of Torah...


 

07.03.13  (Tammuz 25, 5773)  God doesn't have any grandchildren in heaven, only children: He is not your "heavenly grandfather" but your heavenly Father (אֲבִיכֶם בַּשָּׁמַיִם). And just as a good father disciplines his children for their own good, so does your Father in heaven (Prov. 3:11, Heb. 12:5-7). The discipline of God leads you to do teshuvah for your ultimate good (Rom. 2:4). As C.S. Lewis once remarked, God doesn't love you because you are good, but He will make you good because He loves you.

The Hebrew word derekh (דֶּרֶךְ), often translated as "way," metaphorically refers to the journey, manner, or course of your life. Because God is tov v'yashar (good and upright), he teaches his children to be yesharim (יְשָׁרִים), i.e., those who walk uprightly. Indeed, the way of the LORD (דֶּרֶךְ יהוה) is "to do acts of charity and justice" (לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט) (Gen. 18:19). This is the "straight way" (derekh ha-yashar), or the "narrow path" that leads to life (Matt. 7:14). The yesharim are known by the good fruit of their lives (Matt. 7:15-23).
 

טוֹב־וְיָשָׁר יְהוָה
עַל־כֵּן יוֹרֶה חַטָּאִים בַּדָּרֶךְ

tov · ve·ya·shar · Adonai
al · ken · yo·reh · cha·ta·im · ba·da·rekh

 

"Good and upright is the LORD
therefore will he teach sinners in the way."
(Psalm 25:8)
 

Note that the verb used in this verse (יוֹרֶה) comes from the root yarah (ירה) -- the same root used in the word Torah (תּוֹרָה). Because the LORD is good and upright, He gives us Torah for our lives. God educates us for eternity by imparting to us moral and spiritual truth. As King David taught, "Happy is the man who delights in the Torah of the LORD and meditates upon it day and night" (Psalm 1:1-2).

Surely we should love and study the Torah. After all, Yeshua was the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יהוה) who spoke at Sinai when the Torah was given to Israel (Exod. 3:2, Deut. 4:12), and he is the same "yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8). During his earthly ministry, Yeshua studied Torah and clearly taught us to keep the ways of the LORD (Luke 4:16, Matt. 7:12). He repeatedly affirmed the central teaching of the Torah – the Shema –putting the duty to love God above all else (Deut. 6:4-6; Mark 12:29). Indeed, the "New Covenant" itself promises that the Torah would be written "upon our hearts" (Jer. 31:31-33, cp. Matt. 26:28) and is inscrutable apart from it – just as Yeshua himself clearly taught (Luke 24:27; see also: Matt. 5:17, Rom. 15:4, 1 Cor. 10:11, 2 Tim. 3:14-17, etc.).

Yeshua is called derekh ha-chayim (דֶּרֶךְ הַחַיִּים), the way of life (John 14:6). He is the Wonder of the Torah, its living expression and goal. With the psalmist, therefore, we earnestly pray: גַּל־עֵינַי וְאַבִּיטָה נִפְלָאוֹת מִתּוֹרָתֶךָ / gal einai v'abitah nifla'ot mi-Toratekha: "Uncover my eyes and I will behold wonders from your Torah" (Psalm 119:18).
 




Prayer of our Words...


 

07.02.13  (Tammuz 24, 5773)  The LORD is faithful and true (Deut. 7:9; Psalm 12:6; Matt. 24:35). He always keeps His word and therefore He wants us to do so as well. Indeed, Yeshua Himself is called the "Word of God" (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים). As image bearers of God, our words likewise carry deep meaning and sanctity. Just as God's words are trustworthy, true, and lifegiving, so should be our words and communication. The sages say that the words we speak - whether good or bad - call for a response in the realm of spirit. This is hinted at by the Hebrew word for "thing" (i.e., devar: דָּבָר), which also means "word."  Listen to the words of your heart and understand that they are devarim, "things" that are defining the course of your life right now. Our thoughts and words "exhale" the breath of God that was given to each of us. In a very real sense they are "prayers" we are constantly offering.
 

יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי־פִי
וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי לְפָנֶיךָ יְהוָה צוּרִי וְגאֲלִי

yi·he·yu · le·ra·tzon · im·rei · fi
ve·heg·yon · lib·bi · le·fa·ne·kha · Adonai · tzu·ri · ve·go·a·li

 

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to You, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
(Psalm 19:14)


 

For more on this subject, see the parashah article, "The Sanctity of our Words."
 




Needing a New Heart...


 

07.02.13  (Tammuz 24, 5773)  Yeshua always reveals the inner condition of the heart, despite the rationalizations we may contrive... "You have heard that it was said, "Do no murder," but I say to you, harbor no anger; you have heard "do no adultery," but I say to you harbor no lust..." You have heard it said, "Do not break an oath," but I say to you swear no oath at all, but let your word be enough. Yeshua writes the Torah inwardly to reveal our great need. A person who makes an oath assumes he can keep the law, that he can control the impulses and sickness of his own evil heart. That is the source of the problem... The Lord reveals what we are inside so that we may realize our need for healing from ourselves. What we really need is a miracle on the order of splitting the sea or raising the dead, namely, a new heart (לֵב חָדָשׁ) and a new spirit (רוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה) put within us. For those of you who might struggle with pride, fear, anger, and hardness of heart, please take hold of hope. God can turn "stone to flesh" and make you fully alive by His power.
 

וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ
 וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה אֶתֵּן בְּקִרְבְּכֶם
 וַהֲסִרתִי אֶת־לֵב הָאֶבֶן מִבְּשַׂרְכֶם
 וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב בָּשָׂר

ve·na·ta·ti · la·khem · lev · cha·dash
ve·ru·ach · cha·da·shah · e·ten · be·kir·be·khem
va·cha·si·ro·ti · et · lev · ha·e·ven · mi·be·sar·khem
ve·na·ta·ti · la·khem · lev · ba·sar

 

"And I will give you a new heart (לֵב חָדָשׁ),
and a new spirit (רוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה) I will put within you.
And I will remove the heart of stone (לֵב הָאֶבֶן) from your flesh
and give you a heart of flesh (לֵב בָּשָׂר)."
(Ezek. 36:26)

Shiviti

 

The heart (lev) is the inner person, the seat of the emotions, thought, and will. A new heart (lev chadash) represents the transformation of the whole of your inner nature - with the impartation of new appetites, new passions, new desires, etc.  (Psalm 51:10). A new spirit (ruach chadashah) implies the renewal of your inner life – the rebirth of your will. This is the "law of the Spirit" (תוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים) and the new principle of eternal life (Rom. 8:2).

The "stony heart" (lev ha'even) represents unfeeling, self-serving numbness of being. This heart is the locus of yetzer hara, the inner selfish impulse that is the common heritage of the "natural man." The Targum renders this as, "I will break the heart of the wicked, which is hard as a stone.'' A hard heart has a form of "sclerosis" that makes it closed off and impermeable to love from others, and especially from God. Scripture uses various images to picture this condition, including a "heart of stone" (Ezek. 36:26, Zech. 7:12), an "uncircumcised heart" (Jer. 9:26), a "stiff neck" (Deut. 31:27), and so on. Stubbornness is really a form of idolatry, an exaltation of self-will that refuses to surrender to God.

The heart of flesh (lev basar) represents an inner life of genuine feeling and joy that makes a fit habitation for the radiance of the Divine Presence. After all, the word for "grace" (χάρις) is directly linked to the word for "joy" (χαρά). This heart is soft and tender  - a spiritual and sanctified heart - that is submissive to the will of God. It is upon the inner "tablets" of this heart that the Torah of God truly written (Jer. 31:33).

There aren't two gospel messages: one for the sinner and the other for the saint... The message of the gospel is always "good news" to those who are sin-sick and riddled with guilt and shame, and it is always "bad news" for those who deny their inner condition before God and believe that they can justify themselves. In other words, there's no "gospel" message apart from the message of the cross of Yeshua, and the cross represents the end of the ego and its devices. We don't get saved in order to follow the path of self-righteousness; we get saved to be witnesses of God's righteousness... We love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

May it please God to give us all soft hearts and renewed spirits that are empowered to love in the truth and to walk before His Presence... May He perform a divine "heart transplant" so that we may feel the heartbeat of the Spirit within us. Amen.
 




The Fruit of our Words...


 

07.02.13  (Tammuz 24, 5773)  Yeshua said that as a tree is to its fruit, so is a person's heart is to his speech. Our words arise from an underlying source and root: "I tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will give account for every careless word (πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργὸν) they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). First note that the phrase translated "every careless word" can be understood as "every 'workless' word," that is, every vain or empty word spoken, every broken promise, every insincere utterance, and so on. Second, note that there is a relationship between naming and being in Hebrew thought, and indeed the Hebrew word davar (דּבר), usually translated as "word," can also mean "thing." This suggests that our words define reality - not in an absolute sense, of course - but in terms of our perspective and attitude, and for that we are held responsible before the LORD. Since our words express our thoughts, Yeshua wants us to make up our minds: "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit."

And may it please our gracious and long-suffering LORD to answer the cry of our heart: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer" (Psalm 19:14). Amen...
 




Inner and the Outer...


 

[ This week we have a "double portion" of Torah, parashat Mattot and Masei. Please read the Torah portions to "find your place" here. ]

07.02.13  (Tammuz 24, 5773)  Our Torah portion this week begins with Moses instructing the leaders of the tribes, saying: "If a person makes a vow (נֶדֶר) ... he shall not break his word; but he shall do according to all he has said" (Num. 30:2). Notice that the phrase "break his word" literally means to profane (חָלַל) his word, which implies that breaking a promise is a type of spiritual defilement... If we do not honor and respect our words, we lose a sense of meaning, and the substance of what we say and think becomes unstable. Such double-mindedness leads to shame, since without inner conviction we become inwardly divided and fragmented, so that we no longer trust ourselves... Being honest (יָשָׁר) implies that what we say and what we mean are unified. An honest person doesn't play games with words but understands that communication is a sacred trust...

We must be careful with our words so that we do not mislead others. This is called shemirat ha'lashon (שְׁמִירַת הַלָּשׁוֹן), or "guarding of the tongue." Yeshua warned us not make formal oaths, but instead to be trustworthy in our words: let your "yes" mean yes, and your "no" mean no... The talmud agrees by saying that 'no' is an oath and 'yes' is an oath." Our words are to be regarded as sacred, as an expression of truth. God has made us inviolable promises, and we are never to play games with that.  Just as His word is sacred, so we should strive to be sacred in our speech, too....

The Torah states, "You shall not put a stumbling block (מִכְשׁוֹל) before the blind" (Lev. 19:14). In addition to its literal meaning, the word "blind" figuratively refers to a person unaware of all the facts and who is therefore made vulnerable. Someone who misdirects the blind deceives them, and this violates the 9th commandment not to bear false witness (Exod. 20:16; 23:1). Such deception is called genevat da'at (גְּנֵבַת דַעַת), or "stealing the mind," since it defrauds the other person's trust. For example, it is common practice for politicians to disclose only what they think others need to know, and therefore they offer incomplete versions of truth for the sake of their own self-serving interests. Lying to others is a violation, then, of both the commandment not to steal and the commandment not to bear false witness. "The righteous person hates lies" - דְּבַר־שֶׁקֶר יִשְׂנָא צַדִּיק (Prov. 13:5).

"Deliver me, O LORD, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue" (Psalm 120:2). The sages say that the virtue of eminut (אֲמִינוּת), or trustworthiness, begins with learning to trust others... Parents are therefore responsible to fulfill their commitments to their children. Rabbi Zera said, "One should not say to a child, 'I will give you something' and then not do so, since that teaches the child to lie" (Sukka 46b). People learn to lie from a sense of betrayal, from the mismatch between professed words and reality. The breakdown of trust leads to the evasive use of words to protect ourselves. We tell others what we think they want to hear or we mislead them to keep ourselves safe. Breaking promises wounds others, and children can learn to become hardhearted, untrusting, and fearful of intimacy as a result.
 




Words of the Heart...


 

07.01.13  (Tammuz 23, 5773)  During his lectures on Jewish values, Joseph Telushkin asks his audience if they can go 24 hours without saying any unkind words about, or to, anybody. Most people say no, they can't. Rabbi Telushkin then commends them for their honesty, but then points out that if he had asked them if they could go 24 hours without drinking alcohol and they likewise said they couldn't, wouldn't that mean they have a serious drinking problem? (Words that Hurt). His point is that if you can't go 24 hours without saying unkind words about others, you have lost control of your tongue. As Yeshua explained, the tongue expresses the condition of the heart, since "from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45). Therefore the root issue concerns the heart (לֵב), the "midst of the self" that wills, desires, and chooses how to interpret and describe the world. If we choose to see from a heart of fear, we will tend to use our words as a weapon; but if we see with a heart of faith, we will extend compassion and seek to build others up....

In the Book of Proverbs we read, "When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is wise" (10:19). The Chofetz Chaim comments: "When people are preparing a telegram, notice how carefully they consider each word before they put it down. That is how careful we must be when we speak." As James admonishes us: "Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger" (James 1:19).
 

בְּרב דְּבָרִים לא יֶחְדַּל־פָּשַׁע
וְחשֵׂךְ שְׂפָתָיו מַשְׂכִּיל

be'rov · de·va·rim · lo · yech·dal · pa·sha
ve'cho·sekh · se·fa·tav · mas·kil

 

"When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is wise"
(Prov. 10:9)



 

Since words represent thoughts, the use of our tongues has to do with how we choose to think... "Think on these things..." We are instructed to "take every thought captive" (αἰχμαλωτίζω, i.e., lead away as a prisoner) to the obedience of Messiah... It is wise to restrain our speech, because, after all, we often have no idea what we are talking about, and therefore our words can become unruly and even dangerous. Whenever we open our mouth to speak, Heaven is listening (Matt. 12:36-37).

Note:  Someone wrote me to complain that I had quoted Joseph Telushkin in support of a doctrine that Yeshua clearly taught.... Forgive me for any confusion. I simply referenced  Rabbi Telushkin's words (from his book, "Words that Hurt, Words that Heal") to make the point that controlling the tongue is a heart problem. Shalom.
 





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