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Jewish Holiday Calendar 

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

The spring holidays of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits are a portrait of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah: Yeshua was crucified on erev Pesach, buried on Chag Hamotzi, and was resurrected on Yom Habikkurim (Firstfruits). Shavu'ot (i.e., the feast of Pentecost) was the day the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) fell on believers in fulfillment of the promise given by our Lord. See the links below for more information.
 

Spring Holiday Calendar
The Spring Holidays:


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

  1. Month of Nisan (begins Monday, March 11th, 2013)
  2. Month of Iyyar (begins Tuesday, April 9th, 2013)
  3. Month of Sivan (begins Thursday, May 9th, 2013)



 


May 2013 Updates



Do we die to the Torah?


 

05.31.13  (Sivan 22, 5773)  Many Christian commentators of the Book of Galatians fail to make certain critical distinctions that often lead to exegetical errors and theological confusion. Perhaps the most serious of these errors is the failure to carefully distinguish between the idea of "law" and the idea of "covenant."  It is a source of confusion to say, for instance, that we have "died to the law" (νόμῳ ἀπέθανον) without qualifying the idea of "law" to explicitly and exclusively refer to the legal subset of the terms of the covenant given at Sinai, and not to the Torah in general. If we are not careful to make such a distinction, then absurd implications will follow, including the idea that the Torah is not relevant for the life of a follower of Messiah today. To refute this notion we need only consider the teaching of Yeshua himself, who clearly reinforced the ethical and spiritual teaching of the Torah and taught us to follow his example (Mark 12:28-34; Matt. 5-7). Moreover the theological concepts of sin, righteousness, faith, grace, and so on, all derive from the Torah of Moses, so when the New Testament admonishes, "Let no one deceive you: whoever practices righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous" (1 John 3:7), it is appealing to the ongoing meaning and relevance of the Torah for the life of the Christian today.

Part of the difficulty regarding how we understand the role of the law concerns linguistic ambiguity. The word nomos (νόμος, "law") has a range of meanings in Greek and therefore should not necessarily be regarded as an equivalent for the term Torah (תּוֹרָה). As I've explained elsewhere, the word "Torah" is derived from the verb yarah (יָרָה), meaning to "shoot" (as an arrow) or to indicate direction. It is therefore a general term that refers to instruction or guidance, and should be carefully distinguished from other Hebrew words such as "commandment" (i.e., mitzvah: מִצְוָה), "statutes" (i.e., chukkim: חֻקִּים), "judgments" (i.e., mishpatim: מִשְׁפָּטִים), and so on.  To traditional Jewish thinking, the legal aspect of Torah is generally called halakhah (from halakh: הָלַךְ, "to walk") and includes the ideas of case law (תַּקָּנָה), custom (מִנְהָג), and the use of tradition (מָסרֶת) as expressed within the Oral Law. The legal aspects of Torah have roots in the system of judges (הַשּׁפְטִים) that Moses commissioned (Exod. 18:13-24; Deut. 16:18, 19:17-18, etc.) and in the Bet Din (בֵּית דִן), or religious system of justice that culminated in the supreme court of Israel called the Sanhedrin (סַנְהֶדְרִין). These legal aspects of Torah are usually distinguished from exegetical understanding of Scripture (e.g., midrash), which is generally called aggadah (אֲגָּדָה).

In light of these distinctions, it is unfortunate that the ancient Jewish translators of the Scriptures into Koine Greek chose to use the word "law" (i.e., nomos) for the word Torah, since this led to essential misunderstanding about the meaning of Torah itself. For example, they chose to translate the Hebrew name of the last book of Moses (i.e., devarim: דְּבָרִים, "words") as "the Second Law" (i.e., Δευτερονόμιον, fr. deutero + nomos), since many Hellenistic Jews at that time regarded the book as a summary (or retelling) of the various laws of Moses (mishneh Torah). Indeed, in most cases the Septuagint translated the word "Torah" (תּוֹרָה) as "nomos" (νόμος). In Deuteronomy 4:8, for instance, the word nomos is used to denote to the collection of mishpatim, chukkim, and mitzvot representing all of Israel's covenantal obligations before the LORD. This idea that "Torah" meant "nomos" was carried over to New Testament usage, of course, and the distinction between the idea of "law" and "instruction" was thereby made unclear...

In the New Testament, nomos is used in varied ways. James used it to refer to the moral will of God (James 2:9-11, 4:11). The Apostle John quotes Yeshua using it to refer to the Tanakh in general (John 10:34; 15:25), though it is most often used to refer to the writings of Moses in the Gospels (Matt. 11:13, Luke 16:16; 24:44; John 12:34; Acts 13:15; 28:23). Certainly the moral and ritual aspects of the writings of Moses are represented using the word (Matt. 7:12; 22:40; Luke 2:22,39;8:5; John 1:17; 7:19,23, etc.).

In Paul's letters, the use of the word nomos is likewise varied. In most cases it follows the Septuagint's usage by regarding it as the collective set of commandments given by Moses (Rom. 2:12-29; 3:19; 5:20; 7:7; Gal. 3:21; 1 Cor. 9:8; 14:34), whereas in other places it refers to the Tanakh in general (Rom. 3:19, 1 Cor. 14:21). Still in other cases, nomos appears to be used by Paul to refer to "principles," such as his description of the "law of sin and death" as opposed to the "law of the Spirit of life" (Rom. 7:23, 8:2). For Paul, the overarching principle of the law is the ethic of love (Gal 5:14; Rom. 13:8-10). In each case of Paul's use of the word nomos, however, we must carefully examine the flow of Paul's reasoning as well as the historical context of a given letter.

Paul writes that while the "law" is holy, righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12), it was nevertheless destined to obsolescence because the ministry of Ysehua the Messiah effected a new and better covenant with God (Heb. 7:12-19; 8:6). Therefore we do not reinstitute the covenant of Sinai as followers of Jesus, since doing so denies that we are made righteous by means of the finished work of Christ (see Gal. 2:16). When Paul taught that "no one is justified by the law" (ἐν νόμῳ οὐδεὶς δικαιοῦται), he was saying that because of our sinful nature, we are unable to keep the terms of the covenant given at Sinai, the "covenant of works," and therefore righteousness needed to come from an outside agency, or by means of divine intervention given for our sake... Salvation is "of the LORD."

Paul asks a rhetorical question, "If we seek to be justified in this way -- that is, by trusting in something "outside" the Sinai revelation, should we regard Messiah as the "minister of sin," since, for example, he allows table fellowship with those whom the Sinai covenant calls the ritually unclean? (Gal. 2:17). Of course not, since the love of Messiah takes away our sin and removes that which separates us from one another (Eph. 2:14). Paul goes further and says that if he were to espouse the terms of the Sinai covenant, he would be condemned as a transgressor once again (Gal. 2:18). So on the contrary, Paul says that he has died to that former covenant, and if he were to revert to it once again he would be guilty of spiritual adultery (Rom. 7:1-4). "I have been crucified with Messiah" refers to the end of the former covenantal relationship with God so that new life could be imparted. We die to the former covenant (and its curses mentioned in the tochachah) in order to "live unto God." The cross of Messiah is the great divide between the old and new covenants.

Consequently, Paul says, "I no longer live, but Messiah lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). This is the doctrine of the "indwelling Christ," or the immanent Presence of the Spirit of Mashiach. The old "I" derived naturally from Adam, symbolizing the old nature, no longer operates as the source of life for us (Rom. 6:6), and new life from the Root of Messiah is supernaturally imparted (Eph. 4:24, Gal. 4:6). "Engrafted into the death of Christ we derive a secret energy from it, as the shoot does from the root" (Calvin).  The life "I now lead in the flesh," that is, in the physical body, is governed by the law of faith in Messiah, who "loved me and gave himself for me." Jesus gave himself "for you," for your "exchange," as your "life-for-life" substitute upon the cross. He is your eternal "at-one-ment" with God.  Because of all this, we do not "nullify" (ἀθετέω) the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through keeping the covenant at Sinai, Messiah died for nothing (Gal. 2:21).

Here we have an exclusive either/or regarding how we are "justified" before God. We either can attempt to keep the terms of the Sinai covenant as means of establishing a right relationship with the LORD, or we put our trust in the righteousness of God given through Jesus, the great Lamb of God, the true Substance and meaning of atoning sacrifice. You can either attempt to justify yourself through keeping the contract made at Sinai, or you can trust that the sacrifice of Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life -- but you can't do both... If Moses suffices, there is no need for the cross; if the cross suffices, there is no need for the law (i.e., the "law" understood in the terms given at Sinai with attendant blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience).  It is the "for me" love of God demonstrated at the cross, however, that sustains real faith and empowers us to walk in righteousness "written upon the heart" by the operation of the indwelling Spirit (see Jer. 31:31-33).

To repeat what I hope now is rather obvious, the idea of "dying to the law" does not nullify the moral and spiritual truths of Torah, but only the legal terms of the covenant given at Sinai. Paul is not teaching "antinomianism" here. As I've stated elsewhere, "Torah" is a function word of "covenant" and all the essential moral and spiritual truths of the writings of Moses are restated in the New Testament scriptures. We don't die to the Torah, but to the verdict of sin that was against delivered by the terms of the Sinai covenant.  This is vital to understand, since otherwise we will completely misunderstand what Paul was teaching. Yeshua clearly taught the laws of Torah and moved them "inward," to be made a part of the heart. He faulted the Pharisees for tithing "mint and cumin" but neglecting the "weightier matters" of the law – that is, the deeper truth to love and care for others (see Matt. 23:23). He repeatedly stressed the need for the law to be "written upon the heart" and not to be regarded as a set of external decrees written upon tablets of stone...

We never will die to "Torah," friends, but we do "die" to the older system of being made right with God by means of the offices and sacrifices of the Levitical priesthood. We have a new covenant that is really new, not a rehashed version of the Sinai revelation. The law of Messiah is to bear one another's burdens and to love one another (Gal. 6:2; John 13:34). We do not "die to the Torah" but instead walk it out as a matter of the heart. These matters are clearly repeated in the New Testament (again, see Matt. 5-7). As John Calvin once rightly said, "It is by faith alone that we are justified, but faith that justifies is not alone."

We must be mindful to "rightly divide" (ὀρθοτομέω, lit. "cut straight") the word of truth, lest we find ourselves confusing the great covenants of God and how they are to be "walked out" in our lives (2 Tim. 2:15). There is "Torah" (תּוֹרָה) and there is "covenant" (בְּרִית). Torah is a general word that means "instruction" and is always a function of the underlying covenant of which it is part. Torah is therefore our response to the covenantal actions of the LORD God of Israel. Followers of Yeshua are therefore not "anti-Torah" even if they understand this word in relation to the new and better covenant of God (Heb. 8:6). There is indeed a Torah of the New Covenant, just as there is Torah of the older one. Understood in this way, Messianic believers are called to be "Torah Observant," since that simply means adhering to the instruction of King Yeshua who is the embodiment of all genuine truth from God.

Note:  For more about this subject, see the "Role of Torah" section of the site.
 




Love's Fear and Trembling...


 

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

05.31.13  (Sivan 22, 5773)  When people are in love, they seek ways to mutually respect, affirm, and honor each other, and they are careful not to wound the relationship through selfishness or strife. The fear of losing love evokes a healthy zeal to protect it from loss... The same may be said of God's relationship with us. The gospel represents God's passion for us, the call of his heart, his desire to elevate us to the role of the beloved, and we respond by accepting Him as the Lover of our souls, the ultimate concern of our life. Sin threatens to seduce us away from God's love, to interfere with our relationship, which evokes God's "jealousy" to protect love from loss. It is written that "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18), but perfect love (τελεία ἀγάπη) must be "perfect," that is, reciprocal, complete, consummated, and alive with passion. In Hebrew, perfect love is "shalem" - that is, whole, healed, and unified (אַהֲבָה שְׁלֵמָה). Perfect love is both given and received... It is not "perfect love" to objectively accept that God loves you in Jesus. No, you must receive this as an inward passion, you must live within it, must embrace it, take possession of it, and let it fill your heart to abundance. This love, this "perfect love," then will cast away your fear of being unwanted, rejected, and abandoned. But to know this love, you have to open your heart and accept it as your own, the essential reality of who you are:
 

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְעָלַי תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ

a·ni · le·do·di · ve·a·lai · te·shu·ka·to
 

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


  


We are told to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" (μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου) since the love of God demands no less than our all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.
 




What We Value Most...


 

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

05.30.13  (Sivan 21, 5773)  What you fear says a lot about you, since fear is closely linked to what we value and ultimately worship... All the world is lit up with the radiance of God our Savior. Fearing lesser things blinds us to the truth of Reality and glorifies the realm of darkness. The world system is based on slavery to such lesser gods and fears, but we are to walk in the awe of the LORD God Almighty alone, and the light of his reverence overcomes the fear of this world. As the Gerer Rebbe said: "If a man has fear of anything except the Creator, he is in some degree an idolater. For to fear is to offer worship to the thing feared, and this form of worship may be offered only to the LORD."
 

אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ תִּירָא
וְאתוֹ תַעֲבד וּבִשְׁמוֹ תִּשָּׁבֵעַ
לא תֵלְכוּן אַחֲרֵי אֱלהִים אֲחֵרִים
מֵאֱלהֵי הָעַמִּים אֲשֶׁר סְבִיבוֹתֵיכֶם
כִּי אֵל קַנָּא יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ בְּקִרְבֶּךָ

et · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · ti·ra
ve·o·to · ta·a·vod · u·vish·mo · ti·sha·vei·a
lo · te·le·khun · a·cha·rei · e·lo·him · a·cha·rim
me·elohei · ha·a·mim · a·sher · se·vi·vo·tei·khem
ki · el · kan·na · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · be·kir·be·kha
 

"It is the LORD your God whom you shall fear.
Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.
You shall not go after other gods,
the gods of the peoples who are around you
for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God."
(Deut. 6:13-15)


 

 

The fear of the Lord, yirat HaShem, is reverent awe and wonder that resembles the great trembling of love: "With this ring I do worship thee..." The Scriptures repeatedly state that this fear is reishit chockmah (רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה) – the "beginning of wisdom" and the foundation of all true godliness and obedience.... Sin always entices us to fear the "lesser gods"; it seduces us to live in arrogance, pride, anger, envy, lust, despair, and so on. Sin expresses the opposite of godly reverence and seeks to justify cowardly indolence so that people learn to actually "love" and defend what enslaves them...

Fearing lesser gods is an affront to the glory and majesty of our Savior. We are commanded to be full of courage given by God's own spirit: It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed" (Deut. 31:8). "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (Josh. 1:9).

The fear of the LORD expresses the power of faith to repel the schemes and designs of the devil. Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve'" (Matt. 4:10). "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). Ultimately, the fear of the LORD is a great gift, the underlying motive of all true teshuvah (repentance).

When the people heard the Voice of the LORD thunder at Sinai, they drew back in fear and appealed to Moses to be their mediator: "You speak with us and we will listen, but let not God speak with us, for we might die" (Exod. 20:19). Moses replied, "Do not be afraid, for God came in this way to test you and in order that His fear should remain before you, so that you do not sin" (Exod. 20:20). The point of fearing God, then, is to keep us from what separates us from the love of God. The Kotzker Rebbe commented: "When Moses exhorted the people not to be afraid, he meant that the fear "for we might die" was not what God wants from us. Rather, God desires that the fear of Him should remain before you so that you do not sin. That is the only true fear of heaven." The "fear of the LORD" is that we might lose sight of what we really need for life...
 




Seeing with Heart...


 

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

05.30.13  (Sivan 21, 5773)  "We walk by faith, not by sight." This is true for all people, since every soul lives by faith of some kind or another. Our Torah portion this week (Shelach) begins with the episode of the spies and concludes with the warning not to "spy after your heart and after your eyes" (Num. 15:39). The Torah mentions the heart first and then the eyes to indicate that the eyes follow the heart.  We see as we believe with our heart: "According to your faith be it done unto you." When the spies said, "We are not able to go up (לא נוּכַל לַעֲלוֹת)... for they are stronger than us" (Num. 13:31), they revealed their unwillingness to believe in God's promise, or, to put it another way, they revealed their faith in God's inability to deliver on his word.... Indeed, the Hebrew word for "than us" (מִמֶּנּוּ) can also mean "than Him," suggesting that the spies believed that even God would be unable to uproot the Canaanites. According to their faith, so it was done; by believing that it was impossible, they lost the possibility of God's promise...

Faith sees what is possible and refuses to yield to the artificiality of mere appearance. Indeed, appearances are often a test of our courage. We may never know how often a test was given and - just before victory was manifest - the heart grew faint and was lost to fear. "According to your faith be it done to you" is a spiritual principle that applies to everyone. In that sense, it is not that we have faith that matters (since we all do), but whether our faith is grounded in the promises and power of the LORD God of Israel, or something else....
 

אָמַרְתְּ לַיהוָה אֲדנָי אָתָּה
טוֹבָתִי בַּל־עָלֶיךָ

a·mart · la·do·nai: ·  A·do·nai · at·tah
tov·va·ti ·  bal - a·ley·kha
 

"I say to the LORD, "You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you."
(Psalm 16:2)


 
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Spying with little eye...


 

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

05.30.13  (Sivan 21, 5773)  Which will you choose to believe - the "spying eyes" of the flesh, or the Word and promise of the LORD God Almighty? The "eyes of the flesh" focus on this world and its possibilities (חַיֵּי שָׁעָה) and are therefore unable to discern beyond mere surface appearances. They are easily seduced by superficialities and glitter of this world and its vanities (עוֹלָם הַשֶּׁקֶר). The eyes of faith, on the other hand, "look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). Faith sees the realm of the invisible (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם): For we "walk by faith, not by sight." We are "saved by hope," but hope that is seen is not hope (Rom. 8:24-25). Faith is the foundation (ὑπόστασις) of things hoped for, the conviction (ἔλεγχος) of things (πρᾶγμα) not seen" (Heb. 11:1).

In our Torah portion this week, the people had trekked across the desert of Paran for several days, with their camps ordered in military precision. The Ark of the Covenant was in their midst and the Shekhinah Glory filled the desert skies. Now the people were at Kadesh Barnea (קָדֵשׁ בַּרְנֵעַ), about 11 days out from Sinai and about three days to the border of the promised land... The great promise of Zion was finally within reach! But then a dark misgiving arose within the heart of the people... fear ... the old whisper of the enemy was heard in the desert wind: "has God really said...?" (Gen. 3:1). In light of the events of the great Exodus, the mistrust of the people demonstrates that miracles are insufficient to sustain our faith. "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign." Seeing isn't believing, but rather the other way around.  Yeshua made this point in His parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Even if a person should encounter someone literally risen from the dead it wouldn't suffice to impart true faith (Luke 16:31). The great sin that so angered God to declare: "I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter into My rest..." was not that of the Golden Calf, as dreadful as that was, but rather the sin of unbelief.... "So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Let us, therefore, fear lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it" (Heb. 3:7-4:2).

Note:  For more on this topic, see "Spying Eyes: Further Thoughts on Shelach."
 




The Purpose of Tzitzit...


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shelach Lekha and the commandment of tzitzit fringes. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

05.30.13  (Sivan 21, 5773)  After the people rebelled by heeding the report of the spies and were forbidden to enter the Promised Land, the LORD commanded that tzitzit, or "tassels," were to be put on the "corners" of their garments to warn them of the danger of unbelief: "Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels (צִיצִת) on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after" (Num. 15:38-39). Note that there is Hebrew wordplay used in this passage, since the verb translated not to "follow after" your own heart is the same word used to describe "spying out" the land of Canaan (Num. 13:2).

 




The Faith of Grasshopper...


 

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

05.29.13  (Sivan 20, 5773)  In order to trust God, you must believe that you are valuable to Him and that He genuinely desires a relationship with you. You must accept that God has redeemed you to elevate your soul so that you could know and love Him... The spies could not transcend their slave mentality and therefore were unable to overcome the pain of their past; they continued to define themselves as victims...  After scouting out the promised land,  they confessed their sense of inadequacy: "we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves" (Num. 13:33). The spies felt small because they had forgotten the very reason for their redemption - they had overlooked their new identity as God's children. Their lack of self-respect made them feel unworthy of the inheritance. The sin of the spies was not that they doubted they could overcome the "giants in the land," but rather that God was really with them... Sadly the spies view of themselves was more real to them than God's view of them, and that is why they added, "and so we were (like grasshoppers) in their eyes."

Note:  If we belong to Messiah, we have to be careful not to let the past define us any longer. We are made "new creations" in Yeshua... For more on this subject, see "Small in our Eyes: Further thoughts on Shelach.
 




The Crucified Life...


 

05.28.13  (Sivan 19, 5773)  Some people seem to think that to be "crucified with Messiah" means that we must totally surrender our lives to God by denying ourselves and mortifying every passion apart from the Spirit of Messiah living within us (Gal. 2:20). However, if we could do this - if we really could crucify ourselves, deny ourselves, and completely yield our hearts to God in absolute surrender, we wouldn't need the miracle of salvation, would we? We'd be back at the religious game, attempting to please God through our own "best efforts," and endeavoring to affect spirituality by means of our own merit. On the contrary, Yeshua said that no one is able to come (οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐλθεῖν) to him for life unless God Himself "drags him" (John 6:44). The flesh is scandalized by this, of course, since the ego plays no part. Eternal life is found in the righteousness of Yeshua, and self-denial means to quit thinking about yourself (from α-, "not," + ῥέω, "to speak") by accepting what he has done for you. We have been (already) crucified with Messiah (the verb συνεσταύρωμαι is a perfect passive form), and just as we are identified with him in his death, so we are identified with him in his resurrected life. This is a matter of faith, trusting that God's love for your soul overcomes the law's powerlessness and your own inability to save yourself...

"For I through the law to the law died, so that I might live to God" (Gal. 2:19). This is the immediate context of the statement, "it is no longer I who live, but Messiah who lives in me." The principle of the self-life, the ego, religious observance, "doing the law," etc., is a spiritual dead-end. The law is indeed holy, but we are "sold under sin," and the law therefore serves as a witness of that reality. By itself, however, the law is powerless to deliver us.  Since we are not justified by the covenant of the law, we die to its terms and become unresponsive to its appeal. By faith we "reckon ourselves dead to sin" -- the "I" of the old nature dies and is exchanged with the new nature given by Messiah. We don't try to die to our sinful nature but simply accept its demise through our union with Yeshua....

The law serves as a "mirror" that reveals our great need, but the Light of the mirror - the radiance that illuminates redemptive reality itself - is the great remedy we have in Messiah. We are not saved by keeping the law but by trusting that God justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). And just as we are saved by trusting in the power and righteousness of God (δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ), so are we sanctified. We don't come to the cross and then go back to the former covenant of law (which is likened to adultery, see Rom. 7:1-4). No, we are "married to another," given access to an entirely new order of reality, made into a new creation with a profoundly new, supernatural identity. Teshuvah, or "repentance," is returning to God by means of God's grace. Those who so turn, those who truly believe the gospel, have been crucified with Messiah, are raised to newness of life, and have a "place at the table" in the kingdom. True life is found in relationship with the Eternal, and just as Messiah's death was given for our behalf, so also was his life (John 14:6). All the imperatives of the New Testament are directed to the new nature within you, not to the old nature that seeks to justify itself through attempts at reform. "We do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Messiah died for no purpose" (Gal. 2:21). If the Spirit truly quickens, the soul already has become a recipient of the miracle.
 




Making Room for Wonder...


 

05.28.13  (Sivan 19, 5773)  Ultimately we must make the choice whether we will respect life or not (see Deut. 10:12). In this present world, God "hides" so that people may seek him (Isa. 45:15; Matt. 13:10-15). The voice of conscience may be suppressed and the revelation of nature ignored; moreover, some things are perceived only if they are looked for in the right way, and the Divine Presence is not apprehended apart from humility and reverence. We must "make room" for wonder; we must open the "eye of the heart" to see what is greater than our everyday vision. "It is good to look at the sky often, as this helps develop the awe of God." Indeed the word for fear, yirah (יִרְאָה), is connected with the word for seeing, ra'ah (רָאָה). When we really see life as it is, we will be filled with wonder over the glory of it all. Every bush will be aflame with the Presence of God and the ground we walk upon shall suddenly be perceived as holy (Exod. 3:2-5). Nothing will seem small, trivial, or insignificant. In this sense, "fear and trembling" (φόβοv καὶ τρόμοv) before the LORD is a description of the inner awareness of the sanctity of life itself (Psalm 2:11, Phil. 2:12).

The fear of God is paradoxical. One verse teaches the fear of the Lord (i.e., his power), another teaches the "fear not" love of the Lord (i.e., his grace). We are drawn to God in adoration, appreciation, wonder, and love, and yet we are compelled to shrink back because of His overwhelming power, glory, holiness, and radiance. Therefore we see "the disciple whom Jesus loved" both leaning on his chest but also falling on his face in "dreadful adoration" (John 13:23; Rev. 1:17). Only when these heart attitudes are combined is the heart balanced. But the fear of the Lord is primary (see Psalm 110:10; Prov. 1:7, 9:10), and when we walk in it, we are released from the ordinary fears of men by apprehending a far surpassing power that overrules all things. Again, it is a paradox: if we fear lesser things we lose sight of the awe of God; but if we first revere God, we will lose sight of lesser fears.
 




Promise of this Hour...



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

05.27.13  (Sivan 18, 5773)  Think of today, this immediate hour... Now is the time we have to turn to God for life. Do not delay until the next day; do not say, "Tomorrow I will turn with all my heart." We only have this day, this hour to make our stand: tomorrow is a different world. As it is said, "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand, today -- if we hear his voice and do not harden our hearts." We are warned not to "harden our hearts," that is, not to protect ourselves by giving up hope and refusing to believe in the possibility of love...
 

כִּי הוּא אֱלהֵינוּ וַאֲנַחְנוּ עַם מַרְעִיתוֹ וְצאן יָדוֹ
הַיּוֹם אִם־בְּקלוֹ תִשְׁמָעוּ
אַל־תַּקְשׁוּ לְבַבְכֶם כִּמְרִיבָה
כְּיוֹם מַסָּה בַּמִּדְבָּר

ki · hu · e·lo·hei·nu · va·a·nach·nu · am · mar·i·to · ve·tzon · ya·do
hai·yom · im · be·ko·lo · tish·ma·u
al · tak·shu · le·vav·khem · kim·ri·vah
ke·yom · mas·sah · ba·mid·bar
 

"For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand
today, if you hear his voice and do not harden your hearts as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the desert."
(Psalm 95:7-8)



 

The fear of the LORD God is called yirat ha'shamayim, or yirat Hashem (יִרְאַת יהוה). This is not a dread of divine retribution as much as a sense of honor, respect, reverence, and awe over apprehending the power and "weight" of the sacredness of life... We fear the LORD when we become awake, when our blind eyes are opened, and we then realize that life is a gift, a wonder, a divine possibility, and therefore a great responsibility. We have a holy ambivalence, a fearful hope, as we rejoice with trembling, since we understand that the Divine Presence is involved with all that we say, do, and think... Like the patriarch Jacob we exclaim, מַה־נּוֹרָא הַמָּקוֹם / "How awesome is this place!" (Gen. 28:17).
 




Memorial Day


 

05.27.13  (Sivan 18, 5773)   In the United States, Memorial Day is a national holiday observed on the last Monday of the month of May, that commemorates the sacrifice of those men and women who died in military service for their country. For those who have lost a loved one during their military service, please accept our heartfelt condolences and appreciation for your great sacrifice...
 




Parashat Shelach Lekha


 

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

05.26.13  (Sivan 17, 5773)  This week's Torah portion, Shelach Lekha (שלח־לך), recounts how Moses sent twelve spies into the land of Canaan to search it out and give a report of its condition. The spies returned 40 days later extolling the land, saying that was indeed fruitful and zevat chalav u'devash (זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבַשׁ), "flowing with milk and honey." However, ten of the spies also gave a discouraging report, indicating their lack of confidence that the people could conquer the land. Only Joshua (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ) and Caleb (כָּלֵב) kept faith in God's promise. Upon hearing the report of the ten spies, however, the people rebelled and cried out to return to Egypt. Angered by their lack of faith, God sought to destroy the people, but Moses interceded on their behalf.  The LORD then decreed to lengthen the Israelites' wandering in the desert to 40 years -- one year for each day the spies were in the land. All of the faithless generation of the Exodus over the age of 20 would die in the desert, except for Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who kept faith with the LORD.  After hearing the judgment of God, a group of remorseful Israelites decided to "repent" by taking matters into their own hands. Without either the "ark of the covenant of the LORD" or Moses' leadership, they presumptuously decided to storm a mountain on the border of land, but were defeated by the Amalekites and Canaanites.

If last week's Torah was "sefer kvetch," this week's Torah reveals the fateful outcome... The people's lapse of faith in God's power serves as a profound and very sober warning, and indeed is a primary warning regarding the dreadful sin of unbelief in the New Testament (see Heb. 3:7-4:11). Indeed, Jewish tradition states that the decree that "none of the men who had seen my glorious Presence and my signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert ... will see the land that I swore to give to their fathers" (Num. 14:22-23) was given on the Ninth of Av (i.e., Tishah B'Av), and was prophetic of the destruction of the Holy Temple and the later worldwide exile of the Jewish people from the Promised Land...

Note: The tragedy of the sin at Kadesh ultimately has a happy ending, however, since the LORD is never thwarted by man's sin and weaknesses.  After the 38 years of exile were complete, Moses' successor Joshua sent a second spying expedition to the promised land, though this time God led the spies to a prostitute named Rahab (רָחָב), a direct descendant of Yeshua the Messiah, who later identified her faith in the LORD's victory by displaying the scarlet cord (חוּט הַשָּׁנִי) during the fall of Jericho (Joshua 2). Rahab was the (grand)mother of Boaz, who later married Ruth, the great grandmother of King David. May God likewise give us courage to walk in the power of His promises, even if our present circumstances seem daunting. May the LORD clothe each of us with the "spirit of David" to stand before all the giants of the land who defy the LORD and His power.
 




Faith in the Unseen Good...



 

[ The Torah reading for this week is parashat Beha'alotekha. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here... ]

05.24.13  (Sivan 15, 5773)  From our Torah portion this week we read: "At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out" (Num. 9:23). This teaches us that God's Name is to be heeded every step of the way. Whenever we journey someplace, near or far, we say, "be'ezrat Hashem ('with God's help') I am going to this place, and I will stay for so long, im yirtzeh Hashem ('if it pleases God')." As James the Righteous reminds us, "You do not know what tomorrow will bring. For what is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes (James 4:14-15). "Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow" (Psalm 144:4). We share exile with the LORD in this age, as strangers and sojourners with Him; indeed, our lives are hidden with Him, waiting to be revealed (Col. 3:1-4). "The present form (τὸ σχῆμα) of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31), and the heart of faith looks for a city whose designer and builder is God Himself (Heb. 11:10). "So we do not lose heart... For the things that are seen are turning to dust, but the things that are unseen endure forever" (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
 

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

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

"Know Him in all your ways," that is, in all that you put your hand to do look for the Divine Presence and guidance (1 Cor. 10:31). As King David stated, "I have set the Lord always before me, because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8). The very first step of the journey is to find hope...

Shabbat shalom and love to you all...  Keep trusting and call upon the Name of the LORD!
 




Mirrors of the Heart...


 

05.24.13  (Sivan 15, 5773)  We may see folly in others but not in ourselves. The sages note that the faults of others often reflect our own failures of character. As it says, "evil comes to those who seek for it" (Prov. 11:27). The seeker the LORD (וְדרְשֵׁי יְהוָה), on the other hand, "lacks no good thing," because they discover the good always enough to meet their needs. Seeking the LORD is its own reward, since it leads us to the great gift of contentment.
 

כְּפִירִים רָשׁוּ וְרָעֵבוּ
וְדרְשֵׁי יְהוָה לא־יַחְסְרוּ כָל־טוֹב

 ke·fi·rim · ra·shu · ve·ra·ei·vu
ve·do·re·shei · Adonai · lo · yach·se·ru · khol · tov
 

"Young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing."
(Psalm 34:10)



 

At any given moment, in the inwardness of our hearts, we can turn to God and appeal to the Divine Presence that gives life and sustains all of creation in His love... We just need to wake up and snap out of the trance that captivates the world...
 




Shekhinah of Humility...

Georges Rouault - Jesus
 

05.23.13  (Sivan 14, 5773)  "Let your tongue acquire the habit of saying, 'I do not know,' so that you are not led to lie" (Berachot 4a). We have to learn that we don't always know the answer, and that often enough we don't even know the meaning of the question being asked... Accepting our limitations enables us to humbly ask God for help as we walk by faith. "The Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know (οὐκ οἴδαμεν) what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Rom. 8:26). We groan in hope... It is a blessedness to be free from the need to be seen, to be approved by others, to feel like we always have to be "right," to manage appearances, and so on. God opposes the proud, but his Spirit (רוּחַ) rests upon the lowly, the humble of heart. Therefore humility (עֲנָוָה) is considered one of the greatest of middot ha-lev (heart qualities). As it is written, the high and lifted up One dwells with the broken and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the crushed:
 

כִּי כה אָמַר רָם וְנִשָּׂא שׁכֵן עַד וְקָדוֹשׁ שְׁמוֹ
מָרוֹם וְקָדוֹשׁ אֶשְׁכּוֹן וְאֶת־דַּכָּא וּשְׁפַל־רוּחַ
לְהַחֲיוֹת רוּחַ שְׁפָלִים וּלְהַחֲיוֹת לֵב נִדְכָּאִים

 ki · kho · a·mar · ram · ve·nis·sa · sho·khen · ad · ve·ka·dosh · she·mo,
ma·rom · ve·ka·dosh · esh·kon · ve·et · dak·ka · ush·fal · ru·ach
le·ha·cha·yot · ru·ach · she·fa·lim · u·le·ha·cha·lot · lev · nid·ka·im
 

"For this is what the high and lifted up One says, the One who abides forever,
whose Name is Holy: "I dwell in a high and holy place, but also with the broken
and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the crushed."
(Isa. 57:15)



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God reveals Himself to the "lowly in spirit" (שְׁפַל־רוּחַ), that is, to those who understand their own nothingness and complete dependence on Him.... Notice that the word dakka (דַּכָּא) refers to being crushed to the very dust, the very same word used to describe how Yeshua was crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:10). William James called this deep work of the spiritual life Zerrissenheit, a term that can be translated as "torn-to-pieces-hood," or a state of being utterly broken and in disarray... From the point of view of our dependence on God for salvation, dakka refers to humility and contrition we express in light of God's unmerited favor and love for our souls...  We identify with the death of Messiah offered on our behalf; we find healing and acceptance in the Presence of the One who was torn to pieces and made dust for our merit. Humility is essential to awareness of God in the truth.

Personal Note: I earnestly ask for your prayers for my health, friends. I have been dealing with painful asthma, heart pain, and some other things recently. Thank you very much...
 




The Power of God - גְּבוּרַת אֱלהִים


 

[ In this age of apostasy, it is imperative to get the message of the gospel right... ]

05.23.13  (Sivan 14, 5773)  People confuse morality with religion all the time, saying things like, "if I do good, the rest will take care of itself," but Yeshua did not come to simply teach (or reinforce) moral truth, but to die for our sins and to transform our nature. The message of the cross is not that we should become good or do good works but rather that our old nature must die and be replaced with something far greater... When King David cried out to the Lord, "Create in me a clean heart, O God," he did not use the Hebrew word yatzar (יָצַר), which means to "fashion" or "form" something from pre-existing material (Gen. 2:7), but he instead used the word bara (בָּרָא), a verb exclusively used in the Torah to refer to God's direct creation of the cosmos (Gen 1:1). In other words, King David understood that no amount of reformation of his character would be enough, and therefore he appealed to that very power of God that alone could create yesh me'ayin, or "out of nothing." Such was the nature of the remedy required that was fulfilled in the cross of Messiah....

Being saved by God is first of all ontological - it is about your being, identity, reality, and so on. You are briah chadasha - a new creation. The realm of conscience, law, morality, etc., while valid, is not the ultimate goal of your redemption. Sinai was always meant to lead to Zion, which means that salvation ultimately is about who you are as a beloved child of God more than what you do as a moral or nice religious person...


Note: Reb Shmeke of Nikolsburg once said: "When I was young, I wanted to change the world. I tried, but the world didn't change. So I decided to change my town, but my town didn't change. Then I resolved to change my family, but my family didn't change. Then I realized that I first had to change myself." I would add, "but then I realized that I couldn't change even myself, so I cried to the LORD for a new heart (lev chadash) and He answered my plea..."  Yes, and may it please the LORD to deliver us -- from ourselves!
 




The Upside Down Way...


 

05.23.13  (Sivan 14, 5773)  We must be vigilant lest we become seduced by worldly forms of spirituality that flatter and coddle the ego... "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." Following the Messiah is inherently personal, calling for the passion of the individual heart. It is known in the crucible of inner decision, not through being assimilated into a large crowd or by finding identity in external labels, gnostic visions, accolades, and so on. God is unimpressed with men's religions and their supposed revelations and prophecies... Kierkegaard admonishes: "Everything that needs numbers in order to become significant is by that very fact insignificant. Everything that can be arranged, executed, completed only with the help of numbers, the sum of which startles people in amazement, as if this were something important - precisely this is unimportant. The truly important is inversely related, needs a progressively smaller and smaller number to implement its completion. And for the most important of all, that which sets heaven and earth in motion, only one person is needed. And what is most important of all? What interests angels and demons most is that a person is actually involved with God - for this one single human being is enough."

In order to say, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done" you must let go of your own agenda; your ego must be deposed from its petty little kingdom... Likewise, you can't say, "Come, Lord Jesus" by putting your fear first, or by otherwise demanding that your life should center on your own personal "advent." No, you must consciously choose to live in exile to this world (Gal. 6:14). How can we ever expect the LORD to live out His life through us if we do not genuinely offer our lives to Him? And yet this is exactly the problem of the ego...

A principle of spiritual life is that we descend in order to ascend, or the "the way up is the way down." As Jesus said, "Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all" (Mark 10:44). Becoming nothing (i.e., ayin) in this world is the condition for seeing something in the world to come. But we become nothing by trusting in the miracle, not by trying to efface ourselves... This is not another venture of the ego. Life in the Spirit means trusting that God will do within you what you cannot do for yourself... We can only take hold of what God has done for us by "letting go" of our own devices (Phil. 2:13). When we really let go and trust, we will become nothing, carried by the Torah of the Spirit of life. The way is not trying but trusting; not struggling but resting; not of clinging to life, but of letting go...
 

    "So-called pious people are unfree. They too lack the authentic certitude of inwardness. That is why they are so pious! And the world is surely justified in laughing at them.  If, for example, a bowlegged man wants to be a dancing master but is not able to execute a single step, he is comical. So it is also with the multitudes who are so religious. Often you can hear the pious beating time, as it were, exactly like one who cannot dance but nevertheless knows enough to beat time, yet who are never fortunate enough to get in step. In order to reassure themselves, the pious seize upon grandiose ideas that the world hates. They battle ideas, but not with their lives. Such is the life of those who lack inwardness." - Kierkegaard (Journals)

 




Come just as you are...


 

05.22.13  (Sivan 13, 5773)  Since God knows the number of hairs on our heads, he also knows those character defects that we do not see in ourselves... Nevertheless we must come to God "just as we are," since what we are is ultimately unknowable by us. This implies that we can't wait to turn to God until we have already confessed our sins, since we often do not know what they are. "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick" (Mark 2:17), which means that we come in a state of unknowing blindness to find healing. We don't see so we can turn; we turn so we can see. Confession turns to see God's remedy for our sin, and true teshuvah must begin with hope, with the vision that the LORD is our Helper and the Healer of our souls.
 

אֶשָּׂא עֵינַי אֶל־הֶהָרִים מֵאַיִן יָבא עֶזְרִי
עֶזְרִי מֵעִם יְהוָה עשֵׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ

 es·sa · ei·nai · el · he·ha·rim · me·a·yin · ya·vo · ez·ri
e·zri · me·im · Adonai · o·seh · sha·ma·yim · va·a·retz
 

"I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth."
(Psalm 121:1-2)



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Just as King David prayed, שְׁגִיאוֹת מִי־יָבִין מִנִּסְתָּרוֹת נַקֵּנִי, "who can understand his errors; cleanse me from nistarot chata'ot, secret sins" (Psalm 19:12), so we likewise trust that God's remedy for our sin will heal even that which is hidden from our own awareness... In this connection Dallas Willard wrote:
 

    "Real spiritual need and change is on the inside, in the hidden area of life that God sees and that we cannot even see in ourselves without his help. Indeed, in the early stages of spiritual development we could not endure seeing our inner life as it really is. The possibility of denial and self-deception is something God has made accessible to us, in part to protect us until we begin to seek Him."  Renovation of the Heart
     

God has to help us come to terms with ourselves in ways that will not cause us to destroy ourselves or to lose hope... He touches us in our sinful condition and slowly begins the process of both revealing to us what we really are and how we have been really healed.
 




Light of the Servant...


 

[ The Torah reading for this week is parashat Beha'alotekha. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here... ]

05.21.13  (Sivan 12, 5773)  Our Torah portion this week begins with the LORD instructing Aaron to kindle the seven lamps of the menorah (מְנוֹרָה) so that the light from each would be "turned" toward its central shaft (Exod. 25:37; Num. 8:4). The entire menorah was formed mikshah (מִקְשָׁה), that is, beaten from a single piece of pure gold (זָהָב טָהוֹר), and its base, shaft, branches, cups, fruits, and flowers were all "one" with its substance (Exod. 25:31). The central shaft upheld the light of the shamash (servant or helper lamp) which also served as the trunk for the other branches. The radiance of the menorah symbolized the Divine light (shamash can also be read shemesh, "sun"), which is the radiance of Yeshua, the Tree of Light and the great Servant of the LORD (John 8:12; 1 John 1:5). Yeshua is the light that gives light to every person created in the image of God (John 1:9). Our spiritual life stems from our connection with Him, since he provides us with support, sustenance, and illumination from the oil of the Holy Spirit (John 15:1-5)..

Yeshua is the Light of the LORD (אוֹר יי). As it is written, "God is our light and our yeshuah, our salvation" (Psalm 27:1; 1 John 1:5). He alone is the Light of the world (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם), the Shamash (שַׁמָּשׁ) who descends to ignite the "light of life" (אוֹר הַחַיִּים) within all who will believe. Our Savior is the Radiance (זוֹהַר) of the glory of God (Heb. 1:3), the Fire of God's holy countenance. The one who has the Son has life, but the one who refuses this life is spiritually dead. May we all walk in the Light of His countenance; "O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD" (Isa. 2:5).
 

בֵּית יַעֲקב לְכוּ וְנֵלְכָה בְּאוֹר יְהוָה

bet · Ya·a·kov · le·khu · ve·nel·khah · be·or · Adonai
 

"O house of Jacob, come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD"
(Isa. 2:5)



 

Note:  For more on the mystery of the menorah, see "The Menorah and the Tree of Life."
 




Keeping Hope Alive...


 

05.21.13  (Sivan 12, 5773)  The fact that God knows the number of hairs on your head means that he knows you better than you know yourself... Your heavenly Father "sees in secret," and that also means that he can and will save you from whatever is hidden within you that still resists his love and touch... We have to trust in God's power to heal us, even when it seems that healing is not forthcoming, even when we still find ourselves divided, troubled, and anxious. We have to believe that God's help is always present. "Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who hope for the LORD."
 

חִזְקוּ וְיַאֲמֵץ לְבַבְכֶם
 כָּל־הַמְיַחֲלִים לַיהוָה

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

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



 

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

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

רְפָאֵנִי יְהוָה וְאֵרָפֵא
הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי וְאִוָּשֵׁעָה כִּי תְהִלָּתִי אָתָּה

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

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



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Receptivity of Heart...


 

05.20.13  (Sivan 11, 5773)   Undoubtedly Yeshua often taught in parables because they simultaneously conceal and reveal the truth. A parable obscures the truth to those who don't sincerely want it, just as it reveals the truth to those who do (Luke 8:9-10). Since Yeshua's whole life was a parable of sorts - a "disguise" that led to the victory of our deliverance (Phil. 2:7) - it is not surprising that he regularly used "figures of speech" to provoke people to examine their own heart attitude and faith...  In this connection note that Yeshua never explained the "mysteries of the kingdom of God" directly to the crowds, nor did He ever pander to the crowd's clamor or interests. His message is always meant for the individual soul who was willing to follow Him -- to the one who had "ears to hear."

In the famous parable of the sower (Matt. 13:3-9), God is likened to a farmer who scatters seed upon the "soil" of human hearts.  The seed that fell by the "way side" was unheeded, ignored, and therefore snatched away; the seed that fell in "stony places" found no depth or rootedness, and soon withered away; the seed that fell "among thorns" found no room to grow... The "good soil," on the other hand, received the seed and allowed it take root so that it could bear fruit. Note that in each case the same seed is sown, but what determines the yield of the seed is the receptivity of heart...

The parables help us take inventory of our lives. If we are honest with ourselves, we will see our own hardness, shallowness, and selfishness in contrast to the fruitfulness marked by the good soil, and this may prompt us to do teshuvah... Only the new heart (lev chadash) created by power of God's Spirit can yield the fruit of the Spirit. Yeshua therefore warns us: "Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away" (Luke 8:18).

It is comforting to remember that fruit does not immediately crop up but requires time and its own season... The process of spiritual growth is ultimately mysterious and the result of divine grace: "The Kingdom of God is like someone who spreads seed on the ground. He goes to sleep and gets up, night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. By itself (αὐτομάτη, "automatically") the soil produces a crop, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. And when the grain is ripe, he comes in with his sickle because the harvest has come" (Mark 4:26-29). With God all things are possible, and the life of God is a miracle that comes from God's own source of Life. It is the fruit of the Spirit, after all, and not the result of human effort or moral reformation...

 

Where it is written, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I didn't know it," we must look to the place of the heart, for the kingdom of heaven is found there, whereas the places of this world are merely occasions leading to that greater place.... "Take off your shoes, for the place you are standing is holy ground" refers to every place, for the whole world is filled with God's glory (Psalm 139:7; Isa. 6:3; Luke 17:21).
 




Parashat Beha'alotekha - בהעלתך


 

[ The Torah reading for this week is parashat Beha'alotekha. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here... ]

05.19.13  (Sivan 10, 5773)  Last week's Torah portion (Naso) concluded with the Israelite camp arranged around the completed Mishkan (Tabernacle), furnished and supplied by donations from each of the twelve tribes. Moses was inside the Mishkan, listening to the Voice of the LORD "speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim" (Num. 7:89).

In this week's Torah reading, the LORD first gives instructions about how Aaron was to light the lamps of the menorah within the sanctuary (inner chamber) of the Tabernacle. Each day Aaron was to clean each of the seven lamps and to refill them with the very purest olive oil. The wicks were then to be bent or positioned so that the six outer lamps projected their lights toward the seventh (and central) shaft. The lamps of the menorah were to be lit daily, "from evening until morning," in a specific sequence - starting from the central lamp (the shamash) and then moving right to left (Exod. 27:21). A further description of the menorah was also given, stating that it was formed according to the pattern that God showed Moses upon the mountain.

The word beha'alotekha (בְּהַעֲלתְךָ) literally means "when you raise up" (from alah: עָלָה, "to ascend"), and in this context refers to the kindled flames of the menorah. The sages say that the Torah uses this Hebrew word to imply that the daily lighting and tending of the menorah was an act of sacrificial worship (like an olah offering). The midrash states that Aaron was completely humble in his office as the first Kohen Gadol (High Priest) of Israel and the daily task of lighting the lamps never became routine for him, but he remained entirely focused and reverent every time he performed this avodah.

Moses then gathered the Levites together to consecrate them for their service at the Tabernacle. In a ceremony that signified a sort of "rebirth," the Levites were first sprinkled with water mixed with the ashes of the red heifer (i.e., the "water of purification"). Then they shaved off all their hair and were immersed in a mikveh (a ritual bath containing flowing water). The congregation of Israel was then called to the gate of the Tabernacle and the firstborn among them performed "semikhah" by laying their hands on the heads of the Levites. Aaron then lifted each of them up as an "wave offering" before the LORD. Finally, the Levites laid their hands on the head of two bulls that Aaron slaughtered as a sin offering and a whole burnt offering given on their behalf. After all this, the Levites were ready to serve as mediators for the people.

The Israelites had been at Sinai for nearly a year before God commanded them to begin their journey through the desert back to the Promised Land. It was at Sinai that Moses had first set up the Tabernacle, dedicated the priesthood, and taught the people the commandments of the Torah. In the "second year, in the second month, on the 20th day of the month" (i.e., Iyyar 20), the cloud lifted from over the Tabernacle and Moses dispatched the Ark of the Covenant to follow after it into the desert (Num. 10:33-36). Moses then directed the people to set out "by stages" toward the desert of Paran (in the Negev).

After three days into their journey the people began to complain about their hardship, and God became angry and caused a fire to burn in the outskirts of the camp. In addition, the 70 elders of Israel were killed, and the fires raged until Moses interceded on behalf of the nation. This station of the journey was thereafter named "Taberah" (burning).

Some time after this, the "mixed multitude" began to lust after meat, and the Israelites began weeping for the cuisine they had enjoyed back in Egypt. Moses despaired for his life and told God the burden of the people was too much for him. God then instructed him to appoint 70 new elders that would be filled with the Holy Spirit so they could help bear the burden of leadership, and as for the people's complaints about the lack of meat and the boring taste of "manna," God promised to send so much meat that it would "come out of their nostrils." God then caused an enormous flock of quails to begin falling from the sky around the camp, which the people began to gather and cook. However, while "the meat was yet between their teeth" the quail became a plague and many Israelites died. This station of the journey was thereafter named "the graves of craving" (Kivrot ha-ta'avah).

After this, the Israelites set out to a place they called Chazerot ("enclosures"), where Aaron and Miriam privately slandered Moses and his leadership. Miriam not only questioned Moses' decision to leave his wife, but also questioned his unique role as the mediator of the covenant at Sinai. God then instructed Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to come to the Tabernacle, where He descended in a pillar of cloud. The LORD then called Aaron and Miriam forward and warned them that Moses was uniquely chosen to be the leader of Israel, since God spoke to him plainly and only Moses was permitted to behold the likeness (temunah) of the LORD Himself. When the pillar of cloud ascended, Miriam was left with tzara'at ("leprosy"), the punishment for lashon hara (evil speech). Despite Moses' and Aaron's intercession for her, however, the LORD banished Miriam from the camp for seven days, after which time she was brought back and the LORD directed the people further into the desert of Paran.

Note: You can download the Shabbat Table talk for this week's Torah here:
 

 




Beha'alotekha - "Sefer Kvetch"


 

[ A central commandment our Torah reading this week is "Thou Shalt Not Kvetch" (or, to put it positively, "Thou Shalt be Grateful"). Please read the portion to "find your place" here. ]

05.19.13  (Sivan 10, 5773)  Some of the sages have called this week's Torah portion "Sefer Kvetch," the Book of Complaint, since the first stage of the journey back to the promised land was marked with murmuring, ingratitude, and fantasies about the "good old days" when the people ate "free fish" in Egypt, and so on. The repeated episodes of complaining really were a form of rebellion against God's leadership, as the people blasphemously charged the LORD with folly, incompetence, or even malice ("Why did God take us out of Egypt - to kill us all in the desert?"). Indeed, the spiritual condition of the people was so bad that they were all doomed to die in the desert. The New Testament later identifies the unbelief of the people as a picture of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 3:7-4:6).

Often the Israelites appeared to behave like spoiled children, demanding "real food" and fussing over the miraculous supply of bread that literally came from heaven... It would be funny were it not so tragic: Despite all the miracles the people had directly experienced during the great Exodus - including the tremendous revelation at Sinai - in a little over a year the memory of Egypt had become positively euphoric, and the people "forgot" how degrading their lives were as slaves... They romanticized the way things were, rationalizing that it wasn't "that bad," and so on. 

Again, a central commandment of this Torah portion is "Thou Shalt Not Kvetch" (or, put positively, "Thou Shalt be Grateful"). "The deeds of the fathers are signs for the children," and therefore we are sternly warned not to follow the example of those who were redeemed by God's outstretched hand but who later drew back in fear and unbelief: "I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter my rest.' Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Messiah if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is written, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion" (Heb. 3:11-16).

Note:  The narrative of Torah was supposed to have ended after the Exodus generation left Sinai to enter the Promised Land with the completed Tabernacle... Unfortunately, things did not work out that way, and "sefer kvetch" begins with Numbers chapter 11. According to the Talmud, the scribes marked this "unhappy ending" by putting an "inverted Nun" before and after Numbers 10:35-36 to mark a break in the (ideal) narrative. What should have been written (beginning with chapter 11) was the "happy ending," namely, that the redeemed Israelites successfully entered the land because they kept faith in the LORD's promises. In other words, the account of the sin of the spies, the apostasy at Kadesh Barnea, the exile of the Exodus generation, etc., should never have happened. The sages said that marking the text this way affirms that what should have been written (as the happy ending) will one day be so written, after the Messiah comes to finally deliver the Jewish people. For more on this subject, see the article, "The Seven Books of Moses."
 




Reciting Breath Prayers...


 

05.17.13  (Sivan 8, 5773)  In times of severe testing people do not need further teaching, but rather "endurance," or what the New Testament calls hupomone (ὑπομονή), a word that means "remaining [μένω] by [ὑπο]" the Divine Presence while being tested. Suffering people do not need moral platitudes from others, but only the will to believe, to stay constant, and to breathe out simple prayers for help and to focus the heart upon the Lord's Presence: "God have mercy..." "Help me, O God..." "I need Thee, O Lord..." When we receive grace to faithfully suffer, we hear the Spirit whispering back to us: "Be not afraid..." "Live in me..." "Walk in the light..." "I am with you always..." "You are loved..."
 

רְפָאֵנִי יְהוָה וְאֵרָפֵא
הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי וְאִוָּשֵׁעָה כִּי תְהִלָּתִי אָתָּה

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

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



Download Study Card

 




Moses and the Messiah...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Naso ("lift up!"). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

05.17.13  (Sivan 8, 5773)  Our Torah portion this week ends, "And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with the LORD, he heard the Voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat (i.e., kapporet: כַּפּרֶת) that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him" (Num. 7:89).

Now Moses was truly an extraordinary and wonderful person -- Israel's first great prophet, priest, and king. His life can be divided into three great distinct periods of 40 years each. First, he was raised as an Egyptian and lived as a prince of Egypt (the Egyptian period); second, he fled to the land of Midian where he became a shepherd and encountered God in the desert (the Midianite period); and third, after the great deliverance from Egypt, Moses led the people back to Sinai where he 1) became the mediator (priest) of the covenant between God and Israel, 2) legislated the various laws of the Torah, and 3) received the prophetic vision of the Tabernacle, the future exile, and the ultimate glory of Zion.

Notice, however, that Moses was extraordinary especially because he foreshadowed and foretold the coming of King Messiah (Deut. 18:15-19; John 5:46). In what ways did he do this, you might ask? Well, first, as Israel's great legislator, Moses stood outside of the law, serving as its mediator and voice of authority. Second, Moses instituted various sacrificial rites before the laws of sacrifice were legally enacted. For example, he instituted the Passover sacrifice in Egypt (Exod. 12:1-11), and when the people later reached Sinai, he offered sacrifices to ratify the covenant (Exod. 24:8). Moreover, he ascended the mountain and received the prophetic vision of the Sanctuary before the priesthood had been instituted in Israel (Exod. 25:8-9). And even after the laws of the priests were enacted and the Tabernacle was erected, Moses was allowed to go before the very Holy of Holies to hear the Voice of the LORD (Num. 7:89), even though technically speaking this was forbidden, since Moses was not a kohen (i.e., descendant of Aaron). Indeed, just as Moses himself was "outside" the law but was commissioned by God Himself (Exod. 3:4), so also with Yeshua (Heb. 10:5-9), who instituted the sacrifice of His blood as the Lamb of God and who went directly before God's Throne to intercede on our behalf.

Like Moses, Yeshua stood outside the law as its mediator and voice of authority (Matt. 5-7); He came into this world to offer himself as a sacrifice to save mankind (Heb. 10); he entered into the holy place of the Temple and stopped the Levitical sacrifices (Mark 11:15-16); he went to the cross - the Substance of the shadows of the sacrificial system, and there interceded on our behalf, establishing the new covenant based on better promises (Heb. 8). Yeshua surpasses the glory of Moses like the builder of a house surpasses the glory of the house iteslf (Heb. 3:3). Indeed Yeshua is the true King of the Jews, the great High Priest after the order of Malki-Tzedek, and the real tzaddik and prophet of God.

Note: For more on this subject, see "Moses' Prophecy of the Messiah."
 




The Kingdom Within You...


 

[ We are celebrating the great holiday of Shavuot, the climax of Passover... ]

05.16.13  (Sivan 7, 5773)  Shavuot is the culmination of Passover in another sense. Passover represents "God with us" (עִמָּנוּ אֵל), as the Word made flesh, and "God for us" (אֱלהִים לָנוּ), as the sacrificial Lamb of God, but Shavuot adds another dimension by representing "God within us" (אֱלהִים בְּתוֹכֵנוּ), the indwelling Presence, the "breath of God"  that forever abides in our hearts. Yeshua was eager for us to partake of this miracle: "I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper (i.e., ὁ παράκλητος, one "called alongside to help) will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7). As it is written, "By this we know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit" (1 John 4:13). Or don't you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ בְּתוֹכֵנוּ), whom you have from God? "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God" (Rom. 8:14).
 




The Sword of the Spirit...


 

05.16.13  (Sivan 7, 5773)  We are told not to fear men, who are only able to kill the body, but not the soul (Matt. 10:28). However, there is still the grave danger that the soul itself can be destroyed by means of its own apathy. In the physical realm, we can be killed by the hand of another, but in a spiritual sense, we can only be killed if we willingly destroy ourselves. Therefore my prayer is often, "LORD, save us from ourselves - from our own despair, from our own self-destructive urges. Help us to love you and turn away from all doubt; help us to affirm your promise of life given to us every day. Amen."

"We have met the enemy, and he is us," but if that is so, how are we able to overcome the deceptiveness of our own hearts? How do we defeat our own inner evil, the yetzer hara, our own subconscious "death wish"? How can we transcend the lusts of the flesh and our own natural, all-too-human desires? Yeshua gives us the answer: "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth" (John 17:17). We are able to overcome our natural tendency to deceive ourselves by staying grounded in the Word of truth, kitvei Hakodesh, the Holy Scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15). "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom. 15:4). God's promises give us life (Psalm 119:50). It is the Scriptures that "are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Tim. 3:15). Of course, the Scriptures themselves are the means to the end of encountering God Himself and partaking of the power of the Holy Spirit, but they are foundational to all experience, and all spiritual experience must be grounded in their truth (Isa. 8:20).

In Paul's description of the "armor of God," the Scriptures are called the "sword of the Spirit," which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:10-18). "For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb. 4:12). Studying God's truth is the divinely appointed means of obtaining discernment and perseverance for the spiritual warfare of this world. Note the connection between the Word and the Spirit in these verses... The way of the righteous, derekh tzaddikim (דֶּרֶךְ צַדִּיקִים), is marked by fruit of the Spirit. Therefore the beloved Book of Psalms begins, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his desire is the Torah of the LORD, and in His Torah he meditates day and night" (Psalm 1:1-2).
 

אַשְׁרֵי־הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לא הָלַךְ בַּעֲצַת רְשָׁעִים
וּבְדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים לא עָמָד
וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים לא יָשָׁב
כִּי אִם בְּתוֹרַת יְהוָה חֶפְצוֹ
וּבְתוֹרָתוֹ יֶהְגֶּה יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה

ash·rei · ha-ish · a·sher · lo · ha·lakh · ba·a·tzat · re·sha·im
uv·de·rekh · cha·ta·im · lo · a·mad
uv·mo·shav · lei·tzim · lo · ya·shav
ki · im · be·to·rat · Adonai · chef·tzo
uv·to·ra·to · ye·he·geh · yo·mam · va·lai·lah
 

"Happy is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is the Torah of the LORD,
and in His Torah he meditates day and night"
(Psalm 1:1-2)

Brief Audio Commentary



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

This man is "blessed" because the one who desires the truth of the LORD has found great treasure, and all that he puts his hand to do shall prosper (Psalm 1:3). Notice that the word "desire" (i.e., chafetz: חָפֵץ) expresses the innermost wish of the heart or soul (Matt. 15:19; Luke 6:45). Strong desire – passion – is vital to the apprehension of the truth, and it is a great gift from God to be free from the slavery of habit and unreflective, visceral bondage to worldly lusts. As David said, "my soul is consumed with longing for Your decrees at all times" (Psalm 119:20). Hunger for God, strong desire for Him, is a sign that He is indeed calling you to walk in His ways, since you would never truly seek Him unless He first called out to you (John 6:44). The word "Torah" here refers to God's wisdom, His will, His way – not exclusively to the laws (mishpatim, chukkim, etc.) written in the Bible.

Where it is written, "you shall meditate upon it day and night" (Josh 1:8), R' Yochanan said: this is no command or obligation, but a blessing, since the words of Torah - like the Tree of Life that brings forth its fruit in its season (Psalm 1:2-3) - brings prosperity and good success to those who delight in it.

The person who "reflects" or meditates on God's way will let the truth empower his decisions in this world. The word yehegeh (יֶהְגֶּה) means that the righteous person is so filled with the truth of the Scriptures that words leave his mouth as if on their own. This person will behold and take hold of the Tree of Life (Psalm 1:3). If you find studying and living the truth of Scripture joyless, be careful that you don't drift into spiritual exile! Beware of apathy and be vigilant of the great danger of destroying yourself... God says that those who delight in the study of His word please Him, but others He allows to perish.

The one who genuinely desires God's truth and meditates upon it "day and night" will be saved from the judgment that will befall the ungodly (Psalm 1:5-6). Studying and living God's truth is therefore the means of your preservation and perseverance in this world. Living the truth of Scripture produces assurance that God knows you and will take you through the corridor of this world unharmed by the coming judgment (John13:17).

"Many are my heart's distresses; let me know Your Ways, Eternal One; teach me Your paths" (Psalm 25:4,17). "Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are He who took me from my mother's womb. My praise is continually of you. You have made me see much trouble and hardship, but You will revive me again and raise me up from the depths of the earth" (Psalm 71:6,20). Baruch atah HaShem, ha-noten la'ya'eif ko'ach - "Praised are You, LORD, who gives strength to the bowed down."

Note:  For more on this subject, please see article, "The Way of the Righteous."
 




Ruth and the Redeemer...


 

05.16.13  (Sivan 7, 5773)  During Shavuot we read the Book of Ruth, which tells the story about redeeming love and the advent of King David. Recall that King David was a direct descendant of Ruth, who as a Moabitess was an outsider and "stranger" to the promises of God (Ruth 4:17; Eph. 2:12). Despite being part of an despised and rejected group of people (see Deut. 23:3), Ruth overcame the law's demand by believing in the love and acceptance of a redeemer of Israel (Ruth 3:9). Ruth's great grandson was named David (דָוִד), meaning "beloved," which has the same numerical value as the word "hand" (יָד). It is no wonder that the LORD chose David to represent God's extended hand of love for the stranger, for the convert, for the outsider, the leper, and the lost, since his descendant Yeshua the Messiah came to love and redeem the entire world by means of His outstretched hands.

Note:  While the narrative of the Book of Ruth is straightforward, to fully understand its spiritual implications we need to be familiar with several laws from the Torah,  including the laws of redemption (Lev. 25:32-55), the laws of Shemittah and Jubilee years (Lev. 25:4, 10, 23), the laws of family inheritance (Num. 27:8-11), the laws of yibbum or "levirate marriage" (Deut. 25:5-10), and various farming laws regarding leaving food for the poor and the stranger (Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22; Deut. 24:19). In addition, we need to understand the laws of warfare for taking possession of the land, and God's repeatedly stated commandment that Israel must be holy and not assimilate with surrounding cultures (Exod. 34:12; Deut. 7:1-6; 14:2, etc.). This restriction applied not only to the seven Canaanite nations (Deut. 7:1; 20:17-18), but also to the descendants of Lot (i.e., Amnonites and the Moabites), since they showed enmity to Israel when they first came to the land (Deut. 23:4-6). Indirectly, then, the story of Ruth provides a strong message to Christians: to follow the story of redemption, you must understand the Torah and its commandments!


Related Topic:

 




The Faith of Ruth...


 

[ During the holiday season of Shavuot it is customary to read the Book of Ruth... ]

05.16.13  (Sivan 7, 5773)  Like Ruth, we have to "go to the threshing floor" as a forbidden outsider to lay claim to the redeeming love of God. We have to courageously answer the question, "Who are you?" by expressing our need for redemption and our faith in the compassion of God... "I am your servant, spread your garment over me, for you are my redeemer" (Ruth 3:9). We have to push past the enmity required by the Torah with its commandments and ordinances to receive our healing - and to find our place within the family of God. When we do, we will hear the words of the Spirit saying: "Great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire" (Matt. 15:28).
 

וַיּאמֶר מִי־אָתּ
וַתּאמֶר אָנכִי רוּת אֲמָתֶךָ
וּפָרַשְׂתָּ כְנָפֶךָ עַל־אֲמָתְךָ
כִּי גאֵל אָתָּה

vai·yo·mer · mi · at?
va·to·mer · a·no·khi · Rut · a·ma·te·kha
u·fa·ra·sta · khe·na·fe·kha · al · a·ma·te·kha
ki · go·el · at·tah
 

"He said, "Who are you?"
And she answered, "I am Ruth, your servant.
Spread your garment over your servant,
for you are a redeemer."
(Ruth 3:9)



 

Note that in the verse above, the word kanafayim (כנפיים), sometimes translated as "wings," can refer to a garment (used as a blanket), but metaphorically it can refer to a wedding canopy – a chuppah – symbolizing the covering and protection of covenantal love... Ruth asked Boaz to take her under his protection, to love her, to marry her.

The story of Ruth reveals that God has a great compassion for the outsider, for the lost, and for those who are without inheritance in this world. Just as we are commanded va'ahavta le'reakha kamokha (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ), to love our neighbor as ourselves (Lev. 19:18), so we are commanded ve'ahavta lo kamokha (וְאָהַבְתָּ לוֹ כָּמוֹךָ), to love the stranger as ourselves (Lev. 19:34), and that means opening our hearts toward others to make them feel welcome in our presence. May the LORD our God help each of us to extend love, compassion, and acceptance to everyone we encounter today.


Related Topic:

 




The Breath of Life....


 

[ Today we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, the climax of Passover... Praise the Living God who Breathes out Life to us in Yeshua! ]

05.15.13  (Sivan 6, 5773)  Torah without Spirit is like a body without soul... As I've mentioned elsewhere on this site, the Name YHVH (יְהוָה) is connected with life-giving Spirit. Before man first came alive, the LORD breathed into him nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" (Gen. 2:7; Job 12:10). Later, Moses called the LORD Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), which can be translated "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 16:22). Indeed, the name YHVH is unutterable apart from breath, from ruach (רוּח), since each letter represents a vowel or breathing sound. Yeshua breathes out to his followers and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22). It is the breath of God that breathes into us to make us truly alive. When we open our hearts to receive the life-giving Spirit, we find comfort and help. God's spirit breathes out prayers within us (Rom. 8:26), reveals the truth about Yeshua (John 15:26), transforms our inner character (Gal. 5:22-23), imparts spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12), and gives us the life from heaven (John 3:8). Bo ru'ach Yeshua (בּא רוּח ישׁוּע), "Come, spirit of Yeshua!"

Before his death, Moses prayed: "Let the LORD (יהוה), "the God of the spirits of all flesh" (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), appoint a man over the congregation ... who shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd." So the LORD said to Moses, "Take Joshua the son of Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן, lit. "son of life"), a man in whom is the Spirit (רוּח), and lay your hand on him" (Num. 27:16-18).  The Talmud notes that the word Nun (נוּן) means "fish," a symbol of activity and life. Joshua, the chosen one who succeeded Moses and led the people into the Promised Land, was the "Son of Life" - a clear picture of Yeshua our Messiah, the "spirit-filled good Shepherd" who would lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:11).

The LORD is indeed the "God of the breath of all flesh." When Yeshua cried out, "It is finished" and breathed his last breath as He died for our sins upon the cross, the greatest exhalation of the Spirit occurred, the greatest sigh, the greatest utterance was ever declared. The sacrificial death of Yeshua for our deliverance was God's final word of love breathed out to those who would put their trust in Him...

Note: During Shavuot we remember the revelation of the giving of the Torah. The very first commandment given at Sinai was "I AM the LORD thy God," which means that we first must receive God's word of love spoken personally to us. When the Spirit of God later descended upon the disciples during the first Pentecost in Jerusalem after the resurrection of Messiah, Torah was written within the heart, in fulfillment God's promise (Jer. 31:33-34).
 




The Spirit of Adoption....


 

[ Today we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, the climax of Passover... Happy Holidays! ]

05.15.13  (Sivan 6, 5773)  Shavuot (or "Pentecost") signifies the coming of the Spirit of Yeshua into the world (John 14:16-18). Just as the parochet (veil) of the Temple was rent asunder from top to bottom, opening up access to the Holy One for all, so the Spirit of Truth (רוּחַ הָאֱמֶת) now freely moves within the hearts of all who will believe. Each person who receives the Spirit of Yeshua no longer is an orphan, but is helped, empowered, and guided by the very hand of God. Therefore we cry out, Abba, Father! (Rom. 8:15)
 

    Yeshua said, "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." (John 14:16-18)

 




Love's Ends and Means...


 

05.15.13  (Sivan 6, 5773)  We can't justify an end - no matter how seemingly right - without practicing the means of God's love... As we share our heart with others, we have to be willing to "refrain from eating meat offered to idols" (in deference to the conscience of another), even if we clearly understand that we may indeed do so, since idols are really nothing (1 Cor. 8:1-13). This is a matter of spiritual maturity, and the principle works both ways. For those convinced that God wants us to observe some aspect of Torah, we extend grace; and for those who disagree, we also extend grace. Our first duty is to walk in the Spirit of God's love, which is what Shavuot is all about...

Note:  When Paul admonished us not to eat meat offered to idols if doing so would offend our brother or sister, he was espousing the principle of charity... Apparently some people actually believed there were spirits that could become "attached" to sacrifices made to idols, and eating such meat would be tantamount to "communing" with such false gods. The apostle reminded the "weaker brothers" that ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו), that there is no real power apart from God (Deut. 4:28; Isa. 44:9-20; etc), and contrasted animistic polytheism with the truth: "But for us there is One God, One LORD..." This agrees with the great Shema: "Hear O Israel, YHVH is Elohim; YHVH is One" (Deut. 6:4; 1 Cor. 8:6). Paul was not endorsing categorical tolerance for idolatrous culture, since idolatry is vain, empty, samsara, unreal, and ultimately will be blown away like chaff in the driving wind. So, while on the one hand Paul urged us to be tolerant of each other's weaknesses, he would never say we should be tolerant of "false gospels," the idea that law-keeping makes us right with God (legalism), or the idea that being under the Torah of love makes us free to sin... Paul has very strong language about these things in Galatians, Romans, etc.
 




Happy Shavuot, chaverim....


 

[ Today begins the holiday of Shavuot, the climax of the Passover Season. Happy Holidays! ]

05.14.13  (Sivan 6, 5773)  Just as Jewish tradition says that every Jew was present at Sinai as a mystical unity, so also with the cross of our Mashiach. I was there, and so were you... "Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great earthquake: 'Blessed be the glory of the LORD from this place!'"
 

וַתִּשָּׂאֵנִי רוּחַ
וָאֶשְׁמַע אַחֲרַי קוֹל רַעַשׁ גָּדוֹל
בָּרוּךְ כְּבוֹד־יְהוָה מִמְּקוֹמוֹ

va·tis·sa·ei·ni · ru·ach
va·esh·ma · a·cha·rai · kol · ra·ash · ga·dol
ba·rukh · ke·vod · Adonai · mi·me·ko·mo
 

"Then the Spirit lifted me up,
and I heard behind me the voice of a great earthquake:
"Blessed be the glory of the LORD from this place!""
(Ezek. 3:12)



 

Chag Sameach and happy Shavuot to each of you! Just as it is said that the giving of the Torah happened at one specified time, but the receiving of it happens all the time, "in every generation," the same may be said regarding the ruach, the spirit of God's love: every day we must open our hearts to receive the Divine Presence: "I need Thee every hour." I wish you a renewed sense of God's love and presence in your life, and may the Spirit of God help you to walk in the power and love of the LORD God of Israel.
 




What You Really Need...


 

05.14.13  (Sivan 5, 5773)  We don't pray to attempt to change God's mind, but rather to change our own: "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matt. 6:8). Prayer is not a means of getting your Father's attention, but rather of getting your attention fixed on reality. It is a confession of your great need to find out who you really are. And while it is indeed true that "God knows everything," He does not know anything apart from his love. God does not "know" you in some "abstract" sense, like a computer that stores data and information, but rather as a parent who loves and cares for you (Psalm 103:13). Your heavenly Father knows the number of hairs on your head; he knows the word on your tongue before you utter it, and he perfectly sees your beginning and end. He has intimate understanding of who you are and what you really need.
 




Beware the Camel Swallowers...


 

05.14.13  (Sivan 5, 5773)  Shema! The two great commandments center on loving God and loving others as ourselves. The problem, however, isn't that we don't understand this, but rather that we are unwilling to obey. So we invent all manner of "religious" excuses; we pretend that other matters are more important, very important, even essential, such as doctrinal positions, creeds, rituals, orthodoxy, and so on.  God forbid that we might get the date wrong for Passover, the resurrection, or Pentecost! So, in the spirit of "humbly desiring the truth," we despise our brothers and sisters, and forsake what is nearest to God's own heart… Hypocrites! If you have trouble keeping the very first and greatest commandment, no amount of religious games will do you any good.

I mention this for those who might risk missing the point of it all - for those who somehow "forget" that the heart is incurably sick, desperately wicked, and who therefore forget that they too are in need of miraculous deliverance and divine intervention. If religion could save us, the cross of Messiah would not have been necessary.... It's that simple.

During the Holocaust, Jews at the death camps who wanted to observe the Passover Seder faced a dilemma. The Torah clearly stated that no chametz (leaven) was to be eaten during the days of Passover, but the only food available to the prisoners contained the forbidden leaven. The prisoners were forced to either use chametz as their "matzah" (and water as their "wine") or else to fast for the eight-day holiday, thereby endangering their lives.  The rabbis rightly quoted the verse "you shall live by My commandments" (Lev. 18:5) to mean that the commandments were ultimately given to lead us to life... Because of this, they recited the motzi matzah blessing while eating chametz at that time...

And does not such reasoning likewise apply to those who seek to follow the Son of God, the One who came to heal the leper, the sick, and to bind up the broken of heart?  The one who bore our sins on the cross? The one who was forsaken, beaten, and despised of men - a man of sorows, acquainted with grief?  What if one of the "little ones who believe" in Him were to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus on Christmas day, or to thankfully eat ham on "easter" because grandma made it specially for that holy day? Do you really think the God of Love would spurn such a little heart of faith? Or do you think God would be pleased by the "holier-than-thou" attitude of some who fool themselves into believing that they "know better" than to have such a foolish heart of trusting love?

Nothing is more shameful and absurd than affecting pride over spiritual matters. "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by God" (1 Cor. 8:1-3). Those who are "puffed up" understand nothing and have an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and so on (1 Tim. 6:4). "Let no one seduce himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise... For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself" (1 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 6:3).

"Camel swallowers" relish correcting other people about various non-essential doctrines (e.g., the timing of the resurrection, the date for Pentecost, the time of the "new moon," etc.), but if they are reminded that our first duty is to simply trust and love Yeshua, they often go on the defensive, thereby proving their motives are not pure... 
 




The Seal of God is Truth...


 

05.14.13  (Sivan 5, 5773)  The sages state "the seal of God is truth," by which they mean that truth bears its own witness to reality. Spiritual truth is ultimately personal, since it is "lived truth," and therefore it is part of the inner will of the person. A true person's life will agree with his or her words; the inner and the outer will correspond and align.  The apostle Paul wrote that God's firm foundation (i.e., yesod: יְסוֹד) bears this distinctive seal: on one side is imprinted, "The LORD knows those who are his" (יוֹדֵעַ יְהוָה אֵת אֲשֶׁר־לוֹ) and on the other side is imprinted, "Let everyone who names the Name of the LORD depart from iniquity" (כּל־הַקּוֹרֵא בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה יָסוּר מֵעָוֶל). People can say one thing and believe another, but ultimately no one can "fake" the truth: God bears witness to what is real, as it says, "All are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Heb. 4:13). The LORD knows who are really his own, and who are impostors. As Yeshua said: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them (וַאֲנִי יוֹדֵעַ אתָן), and they follow me" (John 10:27).

We can test whether our faith is genuine by first asking whether we are trusting Yeshua to be our only means of salvation (and sanctification) -- believing that he alone is our means of finding the righteousness of God (צִדְקַת אֱלהִים), -- and then honestly examining our actions to see whether we evidence the love of God (John 14:1; 15:9-10; 1 John 4:7-8). "Whoever says he lives in Him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked" (1 John 2:6). May the LORD help each of us to evidence in the power the "seal of truth..."

The Hebrew word for truth is emet (אֱמֶת), a word that consists of the first, middle, and last letter of the Hebrew Aleph-bet, indicating that truth encompasses all things and endures from the beginning (א) to the end (ת). But notice that if we remove the letter Aleph from the word, we are left with מֵת, (dead), the opposite of חַיִּים (life). The letter Aleph is the ineffable letter that represents oneness and God's preeminent glory. Therefore, if we attempt to ignore or suppress God in our understanding of truth, we end up with death...

Yeshua our Messiah is called the Aleph and the Tav (הָאָלֶף וְהַתָּו), "the first and the last" (הָרִאשׁוֹן וְהָאַחֲרוֹן). These are divine titles that belong exclusively to YHVH (Isa. 41:4, 44:6, 48:12; Rev. 1:1,17-18; 22:13). Pilate's famous question, "What is truth?" is a category mistake, since truth is not about "what" but about "Who." That is, truth is not something objective and static, a thing to be known and studied from a distance. No. Truth is up-close and personal.... You don't judge the truth, but the truth will reveal what is within you...

Note:  For more on this subject, see the article, "What is Truth?"
 




I Need Thee Every Hour...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Shavuot, which begins at sundown, May 14th... ]

05.13.13  (Sivan 4, 5773)  "The counting from Passover to Shavuot is carried out as one who waits for the coming of the human being he loves best, counting the days and hours" (Maimonides).  If the Passover redemption is incomplete without the giving of the Torah at Sinai, how much more is redemption given by Messiah, the true Lamb of God, incomplete without the advent of the Spirit? The cross leads to the revelation of "deeper Torah," imbued by the inward power of the Holy Spirit that quickens our hearts to long for the coming of our Beloved Savior and the establishment of his kingdom over all the earth...

Just as the giving of the Torah happened at one specified time, but the receiving of it happens all the time, "in every generation," the same may be said regarding the ruach, the Spirit: every day we must open our hearts to the Divine Presence... "I need Thee every hour." The study of Torah never ends, since we are never without need for the Teacher.
 




Preparing for Revelation...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Shavuot, which begins May 14th this year... ]

05.13.13  (Sivan 4, 5773)  Tuesday, May 14th (at sundown) marks the end of the 49 days of counting and the beginning of the "Jubilee" of Shavuot (i.e., "Weeks" or "Pentecost"). Recall that the Torah instructed (Lev. 23:15-16) that we count from the day following Passover (i.e., Nisan 16) for exactly seven weeks, until Sivan 5 (i.e., from March 26th until May 13th this year). On the 50th day (i.e., Sivan 6), a special celebration was to be observed. This annual "countdown period" recalls both the time from the Passover until the revelation at Sinai, and the advent of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) among Yeshua's disciples in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1-4).


 

According to the sages, Shavuot marks the culmination of the experience of redemption, sometimes called Atzaret Pesach, the "conclusion" of Passover. Since the Exodus from Egypt led to the revelation given at Sinai, the goal of Passover was the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. In other words, the LORD took the Jews out of Egypt so that they would be His own treasured people, holy and separated from the pagan cultures around them.  Indeed, all of the mo'edim (holidays) of the biblical calendar are connected with this event, including the fall festivals of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.

It is an old custom to attend services during erev Shavuot and to stay the entire night listening to poems and reading selections from the Torah and from the Talmud (this custom is called tikkun leil shavu'ot: תִּקּוּן לֵיל שָׁבוּעוֹת, "rectification for Shavuot night"). This custom is observed to "repair" the night of Shavuot from the error of sleeping so soundly before the Torah was revealed at Sinai that God had to awaken the Jews with piercing shofar blasts, thunder, and lightning the following morning.  After this all-night vigil, morning prayers are recited thanking God for the revelation at Sinai.


 

Jewish tradition teaches be'chol dor vador - that in every generation each person should consider him or herself as having personally received the Torah at Sinai. The climax of the Shavuot morning service is the recitation of the famous Akdamut poem followed by the reading of the Ten Commandments, when all the congregation stands to "relive" the experience at Sinai. A second Torah scroll is then taken out of the ark and the portion is read (Num. 28:26-31) that describes the sacrificial offerings made at the Temple during Shavuot, and the Haftarah (Ezek. 1:1-28; 3:12) concerns the amazing revelation of God in the form of the Throne/Chariot.

The holiday of Shavuot is one of the shelosh regalim (three major "pilgrimage festivals") commanded in the Torah (Exod. 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16) and therefore it reveals profound spiritual truth for followers of Yeshua (Luke 24:44; 2 Tim. 3:16). God did not want us to miss the significance of this holiday, since it expresses the freedom and truth of the New Covenant of Zion. From my family to you: Shavuot Sameach - "Happy Shavuot!"  May this be a time of renewal and great joy in your lives....

Note:  I am aware that some people insist that Shavuot must occur on a Sunday, following the Sadducee's interpretation that "the day after the Sabbath" (Lev. 23:15) refers to the first day of the week, rather than to the day following the Sabbath of Passover. This has been the historical position of most "mainline" Christian churches...  Everyone can (and should) follow their own earnest conviction on this subject (Rom. 14:5). I follow the traditional Jewish interpretation to identify with the worldwide Jewish community, whereas others might begin the omer count starting on the first Sunday after Passover. I would urge everyone to exercise humility here, because there are genuine differences of opinion among people of good will on this subject. As it is written: "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by God" (1 Cor. 8:1-3).
 




The Eye of the LORD...


 

05.13.13  (Sivan 4, 5773)  The metaphor of the "eye of the LORD" (עֵין יְהוָה) depicts God's omniscience, or his intimate and perfect knowledge of all things. God's understanding is ein mispar (אֵין מִסְפָּר), "beyond reckoning," and is therefore incalculably great (Psalm 147:5; Isa. 40:28; Rom. 11:33). For instance, God both created the universe yesh me'ayin, "out of nothing" but also sustains the entire cosmos at every instant (Heb. 11:3; Rom. 1:20; Col. 1:16-17). Moreover, the LORD (יהוה) transcends all distinctions of space and time so that he comprehends everything with absolute clarity. Poetically, the Scriptures state that God calls all the stars of heaven by name (Psalm 147:4); that he knows the number of hairs upon your head (Matt. 10:30), that he sees in secret (Matt. 6:4), and that he knows the beginning from the end, including every word uttered from your lips as they are spoken (Psalm 139:4). So the LORD God, the Spirit of Truth, eternally knows everything in all possible worlds....

That God is "omniscient," however, may suggest that the Divine Presence is remote and abstract - as if God were an enormous computer "mind," or a repository of all facts and counterfactual conditions of the universe. This is not the Torah's viewpoint, however, since the LORD is absolutely personal, intentional, loving, just, holy, and so on. Moreover, God directly sustains and interacts with creation, upholding his purposes and divine decrees. Therefore while it is true that God comprehends all the providential affairs of the cosmos in general, there is a deeper sense in which God "sees" the soul, a personal way of seeing based on spiritual intimacy, compassion and grace. The "eye of the LORD" is directed with special attention toward those who fear him and trust in his love (chesed). Therefore ayin Adonai is connected with the idea of blessing, the eye of divine love: "May the LORD bless you and keep you; may the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; may the LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you his peace" (Num. 6:24-26).
 

הִנֵּה עֵין יְהוָה אֶל־יְרֵאָיו
לַמְיַחֲלִים לְחַסְדּוֹ
לְהַצִּיל מִמָּוֶת נַפְשָׁם
וּלְחַיּוֹתָם בָּרָעָב

hin·neh · ein · Adonai · el · ye·re·av
lam·ya·cha·lim · le·chas·do
le·hatz·il · mi·ma·vet · naf·sham
ul·chai·yo·tam · ba·ra·av
 

"Behold, the eye of the LORD is toward those who fear Him,
toward those who hope in his love;
to save from death their souls,
and to keep them alive in famine."
(Psalm 33:18-19)



 

There is a mutual sense of "seeing" implied in this verse. We are to behold (or see) that God sees those who fear Him, that is, those who reverence the Divine Presence and who hope in his love. This is further implied by the etymological connection between ra'ah (רָאָה), "seeing" and yirah (יִרְאָה), "fearing." We can only behold God by means of reverence...

There are many references of God's intimate understanding of the choices we make in our lives: "He who planted the ear, shall He not hear? He who formed the eye, shall He not see? (Psalm 94:9). "The eyes of the LORD (עֵינֵי יְהוָה) are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good" (Prov. 15:3). "The Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; from the place of His dwelling He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works" (Psalm 33:13-15). If you fear the LORD and hope in His love demonstrated in Yeshua, you have great comfort: "The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry" (Psalm 34:15; 1 Pet. 3:12).

Note: For a brief audio commentary on this verse, click here.
 




Parashat Naso - נשא


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Naso ("lift up!"). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

05.12.13  (Sivan 3, 5773)  Our Torah portion this week (Naso) includes the famous blessing that Aaron and his sons (i.e., the priests) were instructed to recite over the people of Israel. The text of the blessing (Num. 6:24-26) is in three parts and is therefore called "the three in one blessing." Notice that the words are spoken in the grammatical singular rather than plural because they are meant to have personal application, not to be a general benediction over a crowd of people. The anthropomorphic phrase, "The LORD lift up His face toward you..." (יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ) pictures the beaming face of a parent as he lifts up his beloved child in joy... Undoubtedly Yeshua recited a variant of "priestly blessing" over his disciples when he ascended back to heaven, though of course He would have spoken it in the first person: "I bless you and keep you; I shine upon you and am gracious to you; I lift up my countenance upon you, and give you my peace" (Luke 24:50-51).
 

יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

ye·va·re·khe·kha · Adonai · ve·yish·me·re·kha
ya·eir · Adonai · pa·nav · e·ley·kha · vi·chun·ne·ka
yis·sa · Adonai · pa·nav · e·ley·kha · ve·ya·sem · le·kha · sha·lom
 

"The LORD bless you and guard you;
The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace."
(Num. 6:24-26)



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Note: To learn more about this wonderful blessing, click here (you can also listen to it chanted by clicking here).
 


The sages ask why the Omniscient One required a census for the people, and answered that such was intended to teach them that every soul counts and has eternal significance. Each person - from the greatest to the least - is counted once, no more, no less. So if you seem to be of little account in this world, remember that simple goodness is far better than so-called greatness. Don't be deceived by the world and its vain drama. "For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God."
 




Agreeing with Reality...


 

05.10.13  (Sivan 1, 5773)  The moment you sense pride or fear taking hold of your heart, stop and turn to God. Even if you must turn 70 x 7 times, there is hope, since even the desire of "being willing to do God's will" refines the heart. It is far better to be repeatedly turning to God in brokenness than it is to live under the pretense that you have no need for ongoing deliverance. It has been wisely said that "you cannot widen the narrow way of surrender." Religious people are perhaps most at risk here, since often enough they fool themselves into believing that passionate commitment requires they know everything about God, or that they are walking in joy and victory, when the truth is that they are often lonely, hurting, and sometimes unsure of themselves... God surely understands your need, and He wants all your heart, not just the parts you might think he wants.
 

יְהוָה עֻזִּי וּמָגִנִּי בּוֹ בָטַח לִבִּי
וְנֶעֱזָרְתִּי וַיַּעֲלז לִבִּי וּמִשִּׁירִי אֲהוֹדֶנּוּ

Adonai · uz·zi · u·ma·gin·ni · bo · va·tach · lib·bi
ve·ne·e·zar·ti · vai·ya·a·loz · lib·bi · u·mi·shir·i · a·ho·dei·nu
 

"The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts,
I am helped and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him."
(Psalm 28:7)
 


 

"By the grace of God I am what I am" (χάριτι δὲ θεοῦ εἰμι ὅ εἰμι). "Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are" (Kierkegaard). And only until you can hear, "Never change! I love you just the way you are," will you be free to face who you are. "Now, with God's help, I shall become myself." The miracle belongs to God...

Shabbat Shalom and love to you all... And please keep this ministry in your prayers, too! We really need your help. Baruch Hashem yom yom!
 




Keeping hope during exile...


 

[ Today is Rosh Chodesh, the start of the month of Sivan. Chodesh Tov, chaverim.... ]

05.10.13  (Sivan 1, 5773)  "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8). This verse sets up a great contrast between olam ha-zeh and olam haba – between this present world and the heavenly realm.  King David states, "Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you (וְחֶלְדִּי כְאַיִן נֶגְדֶּךָ). Surely all mankind stands as a mere vanity" (Psalm 39:5). Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God, the Eternal, the abiding, and true: "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you" (Psalm 73:25). To the extent that we regard this world as our "home" we will find the transience of life to be tragic; but when we regard ourselves as strangers here, transience becomes a passageway to the heavenly places.
 

יָבֵשׁ חָצִיר נָבֵל צִיץ
 וּדְבַר־אֱלהֵינוּ יָקוּם לְעוֹלָם

ya·vesh · cha·tzir · na·vel · tzitz
u·de·var · E·lo·hei·nu · ya·kum · le·o·lam
 

"The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever."
(Isa. 40:8)
 


Hebrew Study Card
 
 

The carnal mind instinctively is afraid of change, since it implies death and dissolution, and therefore it reasons from a continuous state of dread (whether conscious or not). Hence the "besetting sin" of the flesh is to "absolutize" the moment and to otherwise regard the finite as an end in itself. But God is our "Rock," a metaphor that implies that He is the immovable foundation and cornerstone of all reality. The LORD is our strong refuge in the stormy changes we all face in this world; the Divine Presence both grounds us and sustains our way. Therefore the LORD is called El Ne'eman (אֵל נֶאֱמָן), "the faithful God." His very Name means certainty, reliability, strength, truth, reality, presence, being, life, and so on...

Whenever I read the news I am reminded that we are living in a "withered and fading world" -- nearing the prophesied "End of Days" (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים). But Baruch Hashem, our place (מָקוֹם) is grounded in truth that stands (i.e., יָקוּם, lit. "is raised up") forever! Yeshua is our life; he is the Word of our God that is raised up forever!  So press on faith. Believing is seeing, not the other way around.  "Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah that leads to eternal life" (Jude 1:21).

Note:  For more on this topic, see "Our Everlasting Consolation."
 




The Center of our Journey...


 

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

05.10.13  (Sivan 1, 5773)  Just as the Jews encamped in the desert around the holy Ark of the Covenant, the throne of the Word of God that was sprinkled with sacrificial blood for atonement, so we sojourn our days focused on the Living Word of God, who offered up his own blood upon the heavenly kapporet for our eternal atonement. "For by a single offering (קָרְבָּן אֶחָד) he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified" (Heb. 10:14). The sacrificial love of God is the center most truth of reality: "For I decided to know nothing among you except Yeshua the Messiah and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2).
 




Seeking What is Above...


 

05.09.13  (Iyyar 29, 5773)  "If then you have been raised with Messiah, seek the things that are above, where the Messiah is seated at the right hand of God (לִימִין הָאֱלהִים); focus your thoughts on the things above - not on things here on earth - for you have died, and your life has been hidden with Messiah in God" (Col. 3:1-3). Note that the verb translated "you have died" (ἀπεθάνετε) indicates that your death is a spiritual reality you must accept by faith. You don't "try to die" to the flesh, since that is the fool's errand of man's "religion."  No, you trust that God has killed the power of sin and death on your behalf and imparted to you a new kind of life power (John 1:12; Eph 2:5). Because you partake of an entirely greater dimension of reality, namely, the spiritual reality hidden from the vanity of this age, your life is likewise hidden from this world (Col. 3:4). Therefore we are instructed to consciously focus our thoughts (φρονέω) on the hidden reality of God rather than on the superficial and temporal world that is passing away: "For we are looking not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient (i.e., "just for a season," καιρός), but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18).

Just as you must trust and accept that Yeshua was crucified for you, identifying with you, taking your place in judgment, exchanging his life for your own, so you must trust and accept that you have been crucified with him, and that your old life was taken away and replaced with a new, indestructible nature. In other words, a union is created where his "for me" is answered by my "with him." Χριστῷ συνεσταύρωμαι– "I already have been crucified in Messiah" (Gal. 2:20). Indeed the two go together: to trust in the finished work of Messiah for you is to trust in his finished work within you... When he died on the cross for you, which sins didn't he bear on your behalf? which remedy did he leave unfulfilled?

Note: I am not suggesting "perfectibilty" of the flesh, of course (that's just more religion, after all) but rather perfectibilty of our relationship with God because of the merit of the only true Tzaddik of God, Yeshua our Savior. What God has done will stand forever; his seed is indestructible, and what he calls us to be and to do will therefore never ultimately fail... We overcome because of his perfect love, not by means of our own strength. 
 




Numbering our Days...


 

05.09.13  (Iyyar 29, 5773)  Time seems short, and the days and weeks pass so quickly now... LORD, help us to see what is most worthwhile, to focus on what has eternal significance. Keep us from distraction, from failing to make time to listen for your voice or from recognizing your presence.  As Moses prayed, "Teach us to number our days that we might get a heart of wisdom..."

It is said, "Repent one day before you die." But who knows the day of one's death in advance? Therefore let us live each day as if it were to be our last, and let us live with reverent joy and fearful hope.... It's only when we understand we have a limited time on earth, and that "no man knoweth the day or the hour" when their time is up, that we begin to live each day as if it were the only one we really have...  For every man the "end of this world" is the day of his death, the Day of Judgment. Therefore, again, as Moses prayed, "teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom..."
 

לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע
 וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה

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

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

The cross, not the scales

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Moses' petition surely is not the request that we are enabled to literally count the remaining days of our lives (as if that would help us, anyway), since God does not disclose the day of one's death (though he can teach us how to die well). On the contrary, to "number our days" means first of all to account them in relation to Eternity and to esteem them as both infinitely vain and infinitely precious. In other words, Moses asked that the LORD God would teach us how to make our days count for eternity, to have a weight of glory that will shine forth in the world to come. Living in the awareness of both the frailty of life as well as its eternally enduring significance is to acquire a heart of wisdom, since fleeting moments - and what we choose to do with them - are the very means by which we prepare ourselves for the world to come and our future with the LORD. Indeed, this explains why Moses ends his appeal by asking the LORD: "Let the splendor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!"

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




Resurrection and the Life...


 

05.08.13  (Iyyar 28, 5773)  Despite this shadowy world of constant change, decay, heartache, and physical death, Yeshua our Master speaks in compassion: "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
 

אֲנִי הַתְּחִיָּה וְהַחַיִּים
הַמַּאֲמִין בִּי יִחְיֶה גַּם אִם יָמוּת
 וְכָל מִי שֶׁחַי וּמַאֲמִין בִּי לא־יָמוּת לְעוֹלָם
הַאִם מַאֲמִינָה אַתְּ בָּזֶה

ni · ha'te·chi·yah · ve'ha·chai·yim
ha·ma·a·mim · bi · yich·yeh · gam · im · ya·mut
ve'khol · mi · she'chai · u·ma·a·min · bi · lo · ya·mut · le'olam
ha·im · ma·a·mi·nah · at · ba·zeh?
 

"I am the resurrection and the life.
Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.
Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26)


 
 

This, of course, is the ultimate question - who (or what) are you trusting for life - even in the face of physical death...  You do understand that you will live forever, right?  But perpetuity of conscious existence does not mean chayei olam, or everlasting life, since that is only found in relationship with the Eternal, with the Person of God... So, what are you hoping for when your hour comes? Are you looking to your own merit to secure favor in heaven? Are you hoping for a good verdict on the day of judgment?  Are you looking to Moses or some other prophet to mediate on your behalf? Who are you trusting to be there for you on the other side of the veil? Who do you say that Yeshua is? (Luke 9:20)?

I am amazed that people risk the possibility of eternal life because they are afraid of venturing out in faith...  But such fear is costly indeed, since to deny God is to deny yourself as a spiritual being, and the denial of the reality of the Spirit is the abandonment of your own inner life...  I would rather become a fool for the hope of love than to find some cold satisfaction that love itself is nothing more than a fantasy.  Better to be wrong in love than right apart from love -- for even if I am wrong in my hope, love itself needs no further vindication... Indeed every person alive makes the choice and in the end their choice will be manifest.  What choice? Whether to believe the miracle of the divine love, to believe that God's power is manifest not only in the high and lofty, but in the lowly and broken, and to choose to receive God's eternal remedy given through the "foolishness" of the cross....
 




Happy Jerusalem Day!


 

[  Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Day, is observed May 7th and 8th this year.... ]

05.08.13  (Iyyar 28, 5773)  In Psalm 122:6 it is written, sha'alu shelom Yerushalayim - "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem," a phrase that reveals prophetic truth about our Savior and Messiah. The word sha'alu (שַׁאֲלוּ) means "you ask" (as in ask a sheilah, a question), shalom (שׁלוֹם) is the name of Yeshua, the Prince of Peace (i.e., Sar Shalom: שַׂר־שָׁלוֹם), and Jerusalem means "the teaching of peace" (Jeru- comes from the same root as the word Torah [ירה], which means "teaching"). The phrase sha'alu shelom Yerushalayim can therefore be construed, "ask about the Prince of Peace and His Teaching." Yeshua is indeed the rightful King of Jerusalem who is coming soon to reign over all the earth.
 

שַׁאֲלוּ שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלָםִ
יִשְׁלָיוּ אהֲבָיִךְ

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

 

"Ask for the well-being of Jerusalem;
May those who love you be at peace" (Psalm 122:6).



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The word "Zion" (צִיּוֹן) is mentioned over 160 times in the Scriptures. That's more than the words faith, hope, love, and countless other key words... And since Zion is a poetic form of the word Jerusalem (יְרוּשָׁלַםִ), the number of occurrences swells to nearly 1,000! Since it's the most frequently occurring place name in all the Scriptures, it's no overstatement to say that God Himself is a Zionist.... "Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth" (Psalm 50:2). "The LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are said of you, O City of God" (Psalm 87:2-3).

Note:  Yeshua called Jerusalem the "City of the great King" (Psalm 48:2; Matt 5:35). It is the place where He was crucified, buried, resurrected, and from whence He ascended to heaven. It is also the birthplace of kehilat Mashiach (i.e., the "church") and the focal point of humanity's eschatological future. Click here for 25 reasons why Jerusalem matters....
 




God's Overmastering Power...


 

05.07.13  (Iyyar 27, 5773)  Though it might sometimes seem that evil has the upper hand in this fallen world, we must remember that the LORD God Almighty is in complete control and works all things together for our good - even overturning the schemes of the wicked for our ultimate benefit.  The devil thought he had won a great victory when Yeshua died upon the cross, but God utterly vanquished his evil intent by raising Messiah from the dead and exalting Him as the matchless Ruler over all principalities, powers, and kings of earth (Rev 1:5). Ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו) - there is no power apart from God.  Everything is in His hands, and He alone is the keyholder of hell and death (Rev. 1:18). "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty One, reigns." Therefore the LORD asks your anxious heart: "Behold, I AM the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too difficult for me?"
 

הִנֵּה אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלהֵי כָּל־בָּשָׂר
הֲמִמֶּנִּי יִפָּלֵא כָּל־דָּבָר

hin·neh · a·ni · Adonai · E·lo·hei · kol · ba·sar
ha·mi·ne·ni · yip·pa·lei · kol · da·var
 

"Behold, I AM the God of all flesh
is there anything too difficult (or wonderful) for me?"
(Jer. 32:27)



Hebrew Study Card
 

As it is written in the psalms: "For the LORD Most High (יְהוָה עֶלְיוֹן, lit., "the ascended LORD") is to be feared; for He is the great king over all the earth" (Psalm 47:2).
 




Slowing Down to See...


 

05.06.13  (Iyyar 26, 5773)  Why are we always in such a hurry? Why the mad rush? Where are we hoping to go, after all? R' Mendel noted: "As long as there were no roads, you had to interrupt a journey at nightfall. Then you had all the time in the world to recite psalms at the inn, to open a book, to have a good talk with someone. But nowadays you can ride these roads day and night and there is no time anymore." In our haste to get to where we think we want to be, we can lose sight of where we are, and what matters most....
 




Choosing to Go Forward...


 

[ The following continues the warning against self-deception I was writing about recently. May the LORD our God help us be doers and not just hearers of the truth (James 1:22)... ]

05.06.13  (Iyyar 26, 5773)  How much energy is wasted going backward, returning to the same empty places? Yet we are creatures of habit; we tend to be lazy and we avoid examining our convictions and underlying assumptions; we are apt to ignore or explain way evidence that might challenge us, or - if we can no longer avoid the truth - we procrastinate and later "forget" the resolve to turn our heart to God in the truth. This way we can "hear" a commandment and yet postpone our action until later; we can agree to follow Messiah, but only in our own terms. Like Augustine, we pray: "Grant me chastity and continence -- only not yet..." And so we are turned back to emptiness because we refuse to go forward.
 

    "We like to continue to believe what we have been accustomed to accept as true, and the resentment aroused when doubt is cast upon any of our assumptions leads us to seek every manner of excuse for clinging to them. The result is that most of our so-called reasoning consists in finding arguments for going on believing as we already do." - James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936)


Between slavery and the promised land lies the desert - a transitional place where we learn to depend on God's sustenance alone to bring us through... The "desert experience" can help liberate the soul from its past slavery, or it can reveal that the soul really does not want to be free. Hardship and testing reveal to us what we really believe, after all. It's one thing to be set free from what has once enslaved you, but it is quite another thing to live as a free person, conscious of your own liberty and dignity as a beloved child of God. And yet we are warned that if we don't turn away from what has enslaved us in the first place, if we don't learn to truly see ourselves as a new creation (בְּרִיאָה חֲדָשָׁה), it is likely we will be led back to a place of slavery once again.

Be encouraged, friends. If you feel lost in the desert, remember that it was there that God revealed himself to broken Moses... As it is written, "Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God" (Isa. 50:10). Yeshua is our Good Shepherd who promises to guide our way to the high country of Zion (Psalm 23; John 10:14-16).
 




Parashat Bamidbar - במדבר


 

[ Our Torah reading for this week is parashat Bamidbar ("in the desert").  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

05.05.13  (Iyyar 25, 5773)  The Book of Numbers begins precisely where the Book of Exodus left off, with the glory of the LORD hovering over the Mishkan (Tabernacle) as the Israelites were camped at Sinai. On the first day of the thirteenth month following the Exodus from Egypt – exactly thirty days after the Tabernacle was first consecrated – God commanded Moses to take a census of all Israelite males over 20 years of age who would bear arms. Moses and the heads of each tribe recorded the results, with 603,550 men in all. This number did not include the Levites, however, since they were designated to take care of the Tabernacle and its furnishings during the journeys.

God then gave instructions about how the Israelite camp was to be arranged. The Tabernacle would occupy the central location, with three clans of the Levites surrounding it on the north, south, and west (Moses and Aaron's tents were placed before the entrance on the east). The twelve other tribes were divided into four groups of three, each of which had its own flag and tribal leader's tent. All of the tents of the Israelites were to face the Tabernacle on every side. This camp formation was to be strictly maintained while traveling throughout the desert.

 

Each tribe had its own prince (nassi) and its own unique flag (degel), and each tribe's flag color corresponded with the color of its respective stone in Aaron's breastplate (Exod. 28:15-21). For example, Judah's stone was a sky-blue carbuncle and therefore the color of his flag was like the color of the sky with a "fiery lion" embroidered upon it (Gen. 49:9).

Led by the Shekhinah (שְׁכִינָה) cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, at first the Israelites were en route to the Promised Land - the land of Canaan - which the LORD swore to give to Abraham and his descendants forever.  However, the people rebelled (i.e., their complicity in the "Sin of the Spies") and were therefore condemned to wander for 40 years in the desert. This 40 year period is often thought of as a time of punishment, though it was also a time of refinement for the nation, and it was during this time that God demonstrated great love for Israel by feeding the people with manna, giving them water from rock (i.e., the so-called Well of Miriam), protecting them with the Clouds of Glory, instructing them through the teaching of Moses, and so on. God loves his people -- even when they are faithless -- and his punishments are ultimately healing and redemptive.

The word midbar ("desert") shares the same root as davar (דּבר) which means "word." We often need to be alone to hear God speaking kol demamah dakkah (קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה) - "the sound of a low whisper" (1 Kings. 19:12), and the journey into the desert (as opposed to the direct route to the Promised Land) was God's way of separating His people to speak with them "privately," so to speak. But to hear the word we must humble ourselves, and the desert (i.e., "word") of Sinai is therefore first of all the word of humility (עֲנָוָה). When God spoke Torah to Israel it was from a nondescript mountain - a place of emptiness, brokenness and need. Indeed, another word for Sinai is Chorev (חרֵב), a word that refers to the dryness and desolation. That is the starting point -- not the lush places of a future paradise. We receive Torah "bamidbar" because we can only hear God's davar in a place of lowliness and inner quiet. God brings us to an arid place -- inhospitable, and dangerous -- to reveal our need for Him. The way to Sinai is a necessary excursion to prepare us to look for the greater hope of Zion.

The giving of the moral lawcode was meant to offer gracious discipline until the Messiah would come to fulfill the law's true intent (Gal. 3:19, 24-25). Yeshua is the Greater Hope, the One who delivers us from the curse of Sinai to bring us to Zion (Gal. 3:10). We enter into the realm of promise when we personally put our trust in God's love for us -- not by redoubling our efforts to obtain favor through adherence the terms given at Sinai (Heb. 8:13). "For the Torah made nothing perfect; but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, and that is how we draw near to God" (Heb. 7:19).

Note: Shabbat "Table Talk" for Bamidbar (PDF download)
 




The Month of Sivan...


 

[ The month of Sivan begins Thursday, May 9th, after sundown this year... ]

05.05.13  (Iyyar 25, 5773)  The third month of the Jewish lunar calendar (reckoned from Nisan) is called Sivan (סִיוָן), which usually begins sometime during May or June. In the Torah this month is simply called "the third month" (i.e., chodesh ha-shlishi: חדֶשׁ הַשְּׁלִישִׁי), though some time after the Babylonian Captivity it assumed its present name. Sivan is mentioned only once in the Jewish Scriptures, in the post-Exillic Book of Esther (Esther 8:9).

Since Sivan always has 30 full days, Rosh Chodesh Sivan (i.e., the celebration of the new month) is observed for only one day. The rabbis call the second day of Sivan is called "yom hameyuchat" (the "day of distinction"), since on this day the people agreed to accept the Torah, and upon thier ratification Moses instructed the people to prepare themselves to become "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exod. 19:6-8). In some circles this "day of distinction" is celebrated as a minor festival. On the third day of month the LORD instructed Moses to "set a boundary" (hagbalah) for the people around the mountain in preparation for the coming revelation to be given "three days later" (Exod. 19:9-15). These three days are called the "Three Days of Separation" (i.e., Sheloshet Yemei Hagbalah: שְׁלשֶׁת יְמֵי הַגְּבָּלָה) to prepare for the revelation on Sivan 6th: "Make yourselves ready by the third day" (Exod. 19:11,15). The Talmud comments: "Blessed be our God who has given a threefold Torah (Torah, Prophets, Writings) to a threefold nation (Kohanim, Levites, and Israelites) through one who was third (Moses, the third child after Aaron and Miriam) in the third month."

The first five days of the month of Sivan anticipate the day that the Torah was revealed to Israel at Sinai, namely, on the sixth of Sivan, a date which the rabbis later associated with the holiday of Shavuot ("Weeks" or "Pentecost"), which occured exactly seven weeks after the Exodus from Egypt. As mentioned above, on the night before Shavuot itself it is customary to read selections from the entire Torah throughout until sunrise. This custom is called tikkun leil shavu'ot: תִּקּוּן לֵיל שָׁבוּעוֹת, "Rectification for Shavuot Night," and was instituted as a "remedy" for Israel's failure to be awake on the morning of the revelation (the midrash scolds the Jewish people for sleeping the night before they received the Torah, and that is why God had to sound a shofar blast and bring thunder and lightning to wake them up). Spiritually speaking, then, the month of Sivan represents the giving of the Torah to Israel (i.e., z'man mattan Toratenu: זְמַן מַתַּן תּוֹרָתֵינוּ), when the drama which began with the Exodus from Egypt culminated with the giving of the Torah. For Messianic believers, the month of Sivan also commemorates the giving of the Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit) to the followers of Yeshua after His ascension into heaven.

The commandment to sanctify the new moon of Sivan reveals that it is our responsibility to sanctify (i.e., observe) Biblical time in general. In other words, when we observe the month in which the Torah was revealed to Israel, we are acknowledging that time itself is rooted in the Biblical calendar with its divinely inspired cycle of festivals (i.e., the moedim). Since Rosh Chodesh Sivan historically marks the beginning of a month of great revelation, we humbly ask the LORD to help us prepare for the coming season of Shavuot:
 

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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Moving Heaven and Earth...


 

05.03.13  (Iyyar 23, 5773)  Act as if your choices have eternal significance; they do; pray as if your life depends on it; it does. Praying in accordance with the will of God - namely, for you to know God, to walk in the light of love, joy, peace; to be filled with wisdom, patience, kindness, and so on, will assuredly move heaven and earth (1 John 5:14). God is forever faithful and always hears those who call out to him with sincerity of heart: "The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth."
 

קָרוֹב יְהוָה לְכָל־קרְאָיו
לְכל אֲשֶׁר יִקְרָאֻהוּ בֶאֱמֶת

ka·rov · Adonai · le·khol · ko·re·av
le·khol · a·sher · yik·ra·u·hu · ve·e·met
 

"The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth."
(Psalm 145:18)



 


The LORD listens when you pray... earnestly think about that for a moment. Act as if your choices have eternal significance; they really do; pray as if your life depends on it; it really does. Wake up; come alive! Let's boldly draw near to the throne of Grace to find help in our present hour of need (Heb. 4:16); let's cry out to God Most High (לֵאלהִים עֶלְיוֹן), to the very One who will fulfill his purpose for us (Psalm 57:2).
 




Choosing to See...


 

05.02.13  (Iyyar 22, 5773)  The Scriptures declare that we are to be "doers" of the word and not hearers only, since faith apart from works is "dead" and leads to self-deception (lit., "reasoning around" the truth, i.e., παραλογίζομαι, from παρά, "around, beside" and λογίζομαι, "to reason"). A common technique of self-deception is to use "selective listening" to otherwise ignore, minimize, or explain away those things we find contrary to our own prejudice. We tend to see what we want and not to see what we don't want... Understanding, then, becomes a servant of the will, and the mind is then engaged to justify the desire of the heart (Matt. 11:19). For instance, many Christians take verses out of context and overlook other verses that would challenge their preferred interpretations. Was Abraham justified by faith or by works (Rom. 4:3; James 2:21)? Is the truth of the Torah relevant for us today? What is the yoke of heaven for those who claim to be followers of the LORD?  Yeshua said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." We can procrastinate and refuse to act, but that also is a decision. We must be careful not to allow the "tradition of men" to overrule the call to follow the way of Messiah (1 John 2:6).
 

    "Nowadays we can become or live as Christians in the most pleasant way and without ever risking the slightest possibility of offence. All we have to do is start with the status quo and observe good virtues (good-better-best). We can continue to make ourselves comfortable by scraping together the world's goods, as long as we stir into the pot what is Christian as a seasoning, an ingredient that almost serves to refine our enjoyment of life. This kind of Christianity is but a religious variation of the world's unbelief, a movement without budging from the spot. That is to say, it is a simulated motion." - Soren Kierkegaard (Journals and Papers)


We can defend ourselves against the temptation to fool ourselves by offering heartfelt prayer to the LORD. As King David petitioned, "Teach me to do what you desire, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me into upright ground":
 

לַמְּדֵנִי לַעֲשׂוֹת רְצוֹנֶךָ כִּי־אַתָּה אֱלוֹהָי
רוּחֲךָ טוֹבָה תַּנְחֵנִי בְּאֶרֶץ מִישׁוֹר

la·me·dei·ni · la·a·sot · re·tzo·ne·kha · ki · at·tah · E·lo·hai
ru·cha·kha · to·vah · tan·chei·ni · be·e·retz · mi·shor
 

"Teach me to do what you desire, for you are my God,
May your good Spirit lead me into upright ground."
(Psalm 143:10)



 

King David appealed to the LORD to be made yashar (יָשַׁר), or "upright" in heart. He sought to live in accordance with his high calling, despite being in oppressive circumstances... Discerning God's will when the soul is in trouble is indeed difficult, and even a man "after God's own heart" may be overwhelmed with ungodly impulses, ambivalence, and the urge to rationalize and take matters into his own hands.  David asked, therefore, to have his priorities settled and his heart unified in divine purpose – to be moved by God's Spirit of goodness.  The phrase, "your good spirit" may refer to the repair of this inner breach, and David was asking for a renewed and awakened attitude – the willingness to do God's will... Being led into "upright" (or level) ground pictures living with integrity and honor in our dealing with others, even among those who regard themselves as our enemies.
 




Pride and Fallenness...


 

05.02.13  (Iyyar 22, 5773)  Pride blinds the heart. As Abraham Heschel said, "In a controversy, the instant we feel anger, we have already ceased striving for truth and have begun striving for ourselves." The truth needs no defense. If we find ourselves getting defensive or hostile, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves what we really believe, since we always act out what we believe... If we seek to use truth as a weapon, or as a means to rationalize our self-will, then we are not "in the truth," even if our facts in the matter may be correct. We must be careful not to find ourselves using the truth for our own agenda. Yeshua's words haunt the heart: "Without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

Kierkegaard notes: "The proud person always wants to do the right thing, the great thing. But because he wants to do it in his own strength, he is fighting not with man, but with God." Indeed, how many people seek visions, dreams, and private prophecies while they forsake the Spirit as it broods over the hearts of those around him or her?  How many seek to "know God" as a matter of the pride of heart?
 

לִפְנֵי־שֶׁבֶר גָּאוֹן
וְלִפְנֵי כִשָּׁלוֹן גּבַהּ רוּחַ

lif·nei · she·ver · ga'on
ve·lif·nei · khi·sha·lon · go·vah · ru·ach
 

"Before destruction there is pride;
and before stumbling there is a haughty spirit."
(Prov. 16:18)



Hebrew Study Card
 

The Koretzer Rebbe was asked for instruction how to avoid sin. He replied, "Were you able to avoid offences, I fear you would fall into a still greater sin - that of pride" (Hasidic). The antidote to pride is the "fall of the soul," that is, those besetting sins and painful failures that bring us back to reality - namely, to the place of brokenness and our need for divine intervention... When we get "sick of our sickness" we enter into holy despair, and then the cry of the heart for lasting deliverance can be truly offered.
 




The Courage to Confess...


 

05.01.13  (Iyyar 21, 5773)  We are told: "Test yourselves to see whether you are in the faith" (2 Cor. 13:5). We are to courageously look at our lives and ask some tough questions. Do you really believe the truth, or are there other motives at work? Is it possible to think that you really believe when in fact you don't? For example, is it possible to think that you are a spiritual person who serves God, but you are mistaken?  Tragically it seems that we can "talk ourselves into" believing that we are moral, honest, full of faith, and so on, but our self image does not agree with reality... This is more serious problem than hypocrisy (not believing what we say), since in this case we really do believe that we are something we are not – we are "true believers" in a distorted view of ourselves! This happens all the time. Most people think they are "above average" and have a high opinion of themselves. Self esteem is important, of course, but it must be grounded in reality: "For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself" (Gal. 6:3). Jesus warned, "On that day many (πολλοὶ) will profess to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I profess to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'" (Matt. 7:22-23). How is such a dreadful outcome possible unless truly religious people can indeed truly fool themselves? By itself, sincerity is no measure of truth, since we can truly sincere, and yet sincerely wrong...

This is a sobering message, friends. We are not to live in fear, though we are indeed to regularly engage in cheshbon hanefesh, to account for the state of our souls (1 Cor. 11:31). We are often people of "little faith" (Matt. 8:26), and sometimes the only honest thing is to plainly confess, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24). As it is written: "The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth" (Psalm 145:18). We find strength by trusting in love and kindness of God for our eternal good.  It is written: "This is the confidence (παρρησία) that we have with Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us. And if we know that He is hearing us, we also know that He will fulfill the petition of our heart" (1 John 5:14-15). What does God want for you but to know his love? He wants you to walk in the truth, full of love, joy, peace, patience, having a sound mind, free of anxiety, and free of interference from the demonic. We can confidently ask Him for these things because such are assuredly His will for our lives.

Note:   Some examples of self-deception include: thinking you are truly humble; regarding yourself as honest or "real"; saying you will pray for someone but "forgetting to do so";  sharing a "prayer concern" for another as a pretext to gossip; thinking you have courage but shrinking away from truth that threatens your self-esteem; thinking you always have to be right or have all the answers; claiming that you are "hearing from God" or that you speak on behalf of the LORD God Almighty (when its clear that you don't); evading responsibility for the needs of other people (including your enemies); blaming others for your problems; pretending that you are thinking for yourself when you are parroting other people's thoughts; flattering yourself that you and God are "buddies" and that He will defend your sinful attitudes, false prophecies, etc. May God help us turn to Him in the truth...
 




Truth in the Inward Parts


 

05.01.13  (Iyyar 21, 5773)  "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he."  We often see what we want to see more than what is really there. That's called wishful thinking. We overlook much, and we often ignore what might challenge our own preferred interpretations. For example, we may think that we are trusting God for our lives, but we worry, we attempt to control others, we get angry, and so on. We have a blind spot regarding the question whether we really trust God, perhaps because seriously investigating what we really believe seems too threatening (John 16:31-32). After all, what if we don't really believe? What if we struggle to believe? What if we are confused?  What does that say about who we are? So we ignore the real problem (namely, lack of trust in God) and continue to think we are something we are not. We fool ourselves and trade a sense of "satisfaction" at the expense of truth. This is a common failing of human nature. During the Nazi years, many ordinary Germans refused to investigate reports of atrocities at the death camps because it was too costly to discover the truth (the same might be said about any patriotic citizens who rationalize the actions of their government regardless of the moral issues involved). By willfully hiding from the facts, we pretend we are not responsible, and therefore we justify passivity in the face of injustice and evil.

Yeshua warned that the time would come when those who kill others will delude themselves into thinking they are doing God a big favor (John 16:2). Think of how massively self-deceived such a thing is as that -- to murder someone as a service to God! Many of the biggest enemies of the truth are often those who think they are doing God such favors.
 

הֵן־אֱמֶת חָפַצְתָּ בַטֻּחוֹת
 וּבְסָתֻם חָכְמָה תוֹדִיעֵנִי

hen · e·met · cha·fatz·ta · va·tu·chot
uv·sa·tum · chokh·mah · to·di·ei·ni
 

"Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
 and you will teach me wisdom in the secret heart"
(Psalm 51:6)



 

Often, however, the truth "of the inward being" must come at the expense of heartache, for surely the heart must ache, tremble, and despair before it comes to accept the truth about its condition. This sort of truth is "existential," meaning that it is known only through the process of living life itself. As Kierkegaard said, "There are many people who reach their conclusions about life like schoolboys: they cheat their master by copying the answer out of a book without having worked the sum out for themselves." Yes, and they cheat themselves, too, since they somehow believe that "knowing the answer" given by another is the same thing as "knowing the answer" of their own inward being... Kierkegaard continues this thought: "The truth is lived before it is understood. It must be fought for, tested, and appropriated. Truth is the way... you must be tried, do battle, and suffer if you are to acquire truth for yourself. It is a sheer illusion to think that in relation to truth there is an abridgment, a short cut that dispenses with the necessity of struggling for it."

Note that the "inward parts" (טֻחוֹת) refers to the "kidneys" which were thought to be "the reins" or the concealed (i.e., te'ach: טִיחַ) source of the will within the person. Interestingly, the word for "inward parts" comes from the verb tachah (טָחָה) that means to "shoot with a bow," alluding to the idea of inner Torah as a directive power. God wants purity of the heart – passion, singleheartedness, and earnestness – as we live and practice the truth. God wants "the inner parts," the concealed parts of the soul, to be filled with his Torah, and therefore David asks God to make him to know wisdom there - in the "secret heart" - so that he might apprehend God's truth and do teshuvah that purifies the heart.
 




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