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Jewish Holiday Calendar 

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

The Jewish civil year begins in the fall, though the Biblical year begins in spring (Exod. 12:2). Preparations for the fall holidays begin with a thirty day period of teshuvah (repentance) during the (late summer) month of Elul. The following ten days begin with the Feast of Trumpets (i.e., Rosh Hashanah, on Tishri 1) and end with the Day of Atonement (i.e., Yom Kippur, on Tishri 10). These first ten days of the new year are called the "Ten Days of Awe" (i.e., aseret ye'mei teshuvah: עֲשֶׁרֶת יְמֵי תְּשׁוּבָה), or simply the Jewish "High Holidays." Just five days after the solemn time of Yom Kippur begins the joyous week-long festival of Sukkot ("Tabernacles"), which is immediately followed by the celebration of Simchat Torah.
 

Fall Holiday Calendar

The Fall Holidays:


 

The fall festivals prophetically indicate the Day of the LORD, the second coming of Yeshua, the great national turning of the Jewish people, and the establishment of the reign of the Messiah upon the earth during the Millennial Kingdom in the world to come.

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

  1. Month of Elul (began Mon., Aug. 5th, 2013)
  2. Month of Tishri (begins Wed., Sept. 4th, 2013)
  3. Month of Cheshvan (begins Thurs., Oct. 3rd, 2013)
  4. Month of Kislev (begins Sat., Nov. 2nd, 2013)
    • Four Sabbaths: Vayetzei, Vayishlach, Vayeshev, Miketz
    • Dates for Chanukah 2013:
      • 1st candle Wednesday, Nov. 27 [Kislev 25]
      • 2nd candle Thursday, Nov. 28th [Thanksgiving Day]
      • 3rd candle: Friday, Nov. 29th [Shabbat Miketz]
      • 4th candle: Saturday, Nov. 30th
      • 5th candle: Sunday, Dec. 1st
      • 6th candle: Monday, Dec. 2nd
      • 7th candle: Tuesday, Dec. 3rd
      • 8th candle: Wednesday, Dec. 4th [Zot Chanukah]
           



 

October 2013 Updates



The Armor of Light...


 

10.31.13 (Cheshvan 27, 5774)  We are in the midst of a great spiritual war -- the war for the truth. This has been the battle from the beginning. The very first recorded words of Satan (הַנָּחָשׁ) questioned God's truth: "Did God really say...?" (Gen. 3:1). In the end there will be found two types of people: those who love the truth and those who love the lie; these are children of light (בְּנֵי הָאוֹר) and children of darkness (בְּנֵי הַחשֶׁךְ), respectively. Followers of Yeshua the Messiah are told to "walk as children of light" / ὡς τέκνα φωτὸς περιπατεῖτε (Eph. 5:8). Children of light are called to be am kadosh - a holy people - separate from the evil engendered by the fallen world and its forces, just as the very first creative expression of God was the separation of light from darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). The children of light "hate evil and love the good," and conversely, the children of darkness "hate the good and love evil" (Psalm 34:21, Prov. 8:13, Amos 5:15, John 3:20-21). Yes, we hate sin, because sin separates people from healing; we hate sin but we love others. We are to walk in the peace and love of God; to do acts of justice and lovingkindness (Psalm 97:10). "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other."

In a sense, the history of humanity - especially as it has been expressed philosophically and politically through the centuries -- has been nothing less than the collusion to redefine reality as something that it isn't. "The kings of the earth station themselves, and the dignitaries (רוֹזְנִים) take counsel together against (lit. "over") the LORD and His Mashiach" (Psalm 2:1-3). Spiritual warfare is therefore the fight for sanity and truth in a world that prefers madness and self-deception...

Be vigilant! If the devil can't kill you, he will try to drive you insane... He will lie to you about who you really are... He he will harass you and vex your soul. He will whisper fearful things in your ear... He will make what is small seem big and what is big seem small. He will raise dark suspicion within your soul, causing you to walk in mistrust. He will remind you of your sins to make you feel ashamed and dirty. He will hiss that you are unlovable and unworthy. He will argue on behalf of your flesh that you deserve better than this... He will tempt you to seek relief in cisterns of emptiness and futility. Most of all, he will try to cast a spell to make you forget that you are truly a prince or princess of God Almighty... The devil seeks to drive you into the exile of loneliness and despair. Submit yourself to God and refuse to heed voices of fear or shame. Da lifnei mi attah omed: "Know before whom you stand!"

There are two basic approaches to "spiritual warfare." The first is to discern the presence of evil and then pray for God's intervention, deliverance, protection, and so on. The second is to use ayin tovah and focus on God instead - to "set your thoughts on things above" (Phil. 4:8). Whereas the former approach may at times seem necessary to dissipate encroaching darkness to find inner peace, the latter approach has the decided advantage of trusting in the Divine Presence that pervades and overrules all things (Psalm 16:8). When David was surrounded by the enemy, he kept focused on the glory of the LORD. David knew that God would shelter him and elevate him above the powers of darkness (Psalm 27:1-6). The highest form of spiritual warfare, then, is to consciously turn away from fear by choosing to praise the LORD God, magnifying His Name, and walking before Him in awe...
 

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָד

Adonai · o·ri · ve·yish·i, · mi'mi · i·ra?
Adonai · ma'oz · chay·ai, · mi'mi · ef·chad?
 

"The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?"
(Psalm 27:1)


 
Hebrew Study Card
 

Surely our great need is to have heart, to find strength, resolution, and steadfast determination to walk boldly during these heartless and depraved days (2 Tim. 3:1-5). We are not without God's help, of course. Yeshua told us that the Ruach HaKodesh (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) would be "called alongside" (παράκλητος) to comfort us on the journey. The English verb "comfort" literally means "to give strength" (from com- ["with"] and fortis ["strong"]), an idea similarly expressed by the verb "encourage," that is, to "put heart [i.e., 'core'] within the soul." In Hebrew, the word courage is expressed by the phrase ometz lev (אמֶץ לֵב), meaning "strong of heart," denoting an inner quality of the will rather than of the intellect. Our faith is the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 4:4, 5:4).

Fear is the primary tool of the devil and the underlying motive behind sin itself (Rom. 14:23). Beloved, "do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom 12:21).

Always focus on Yeshua, the Light of Torah (האור של תורה) and the true Wisdom of God (חָכְמַת אֱלהִים): "Whoever has My commandments (מִצְוֹתַי) and keeps them, that is the one who loves me. And the one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will manifest (lit., "shine within" from ἐν, "in" + φαίνω, "shine") myself to him" (John 14:21). There it is - the Source of the Light that overcomes all darkness; the Power that is behind the armor of God... Yeshua is the Beginning, the Center, and the End of all true meaning from God. Blessed is His Name forever and ever...
 




Lord, teach us to pray...

Rouault Jesus
 

10.31.13 (Cheshvan 27, 5774)  Yeshua told his followers, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go forth and bear fruit..." (John 15:16). Religious pride recoils at these words, thinking, "I don't want to be chosen by God; I want to be in control; I want to choose God first." The ego seeks some reason for revelation, some merit that commends the self to God. It's hidden assumption is, "thank you, God, that I am not like other men" (Luke 18:11). The choice of God is scandalous because it is based on God's love, not our own (1 John 4:19). We were spiritually reborn, not as the result of anything in the realm of nature, nor even through our personal decision, but solely on account of God's sovereign prerogative (John 1:13). The carnal ego is quick to suggest, however, that God "needs you" to do his will, or that you have something unique to offer heaven by your service, though it is idolatrous to elevate the self this way. "Not by might nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of Hosts" (Zech. 4:6). We don't seek to please God so that we can be chosen; we are chosen so that we can please him... God's grace and love for us is always the starting point: "Lord, teach us to pray," that is, choose the words for us, the groaning of your Spirit, in accordance with your perfect will...

It is the fruit of his Spirit, not the fruit of our own that matters (Gal. 5:22-23). We are God's workmanship, created in the Messiah for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). We are able to live for God through the agency of His love and sustaining grace, all for the sake of the glory of His Name. "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).
 




The Oath of Blessing...


 

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

10.31.13 (Cheshvan 27, 5774)  In our Torah portion this week (Toldot) we learn that the great oath of blessing that God gave to Abraham was extended (exclusively) to his beloved son Isaac (Gen 26:3-4; Rom. 9:7). Recall that it was only after the Akedah (the sacrifice of Isaac) that the LORD God swore the oath (שְׁבוּעָה) that through Abraham would all the families of the earth be blessed: "By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son (ben yachid), I will surely bless you... and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice" (Gen. 22:16-18; cp. Gal. 3:9,16). The phrase, "by myself have I sworn" is the most solemn oath God could make and must be regarded as an inviolable vow (Heb. 6:13-18). It is nothing short of astounding to realize that the very existence of Israel and the Jewish people - and therefore the advent of the Messiah himself - derives from the Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his "only begotten son," an act of faith that constituted a "deeper Torah" than the law of Moses given at Sinai...

The "Gospel of Moses" revealed in the Akedah foretells the cross of our Savior. For more on this subject, see "Israel and the Akedah" here.
 




Broken and Remade...


 

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

10.30.13 (Cheshvan 26, 5774)  "See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is immoral or profane like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it (the blessing) with tears" (Heb. 12:15-17; Gen. 27:38). "For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters (מְקוֹר מַיִם חַיִּים), and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13). Spiritually speaking, there are two basic sorts of breaking. One is to be broken by the inevitable sin and ruin of this world, and the other is to be made lev-nishbar (לֵב־נִשְׁבָּר), a broken heart, before the LORD. The former breaking comes from the vain attempt to find life in the broken vessels of this world, and "repentance" is expressed as remorse over perceived temporal loss. This sorrow eventually leads the soul to death (2 Cor. 7:10). To be inwardly broken, on the other hand, requires mourning over your life and returning to God for deliverance (Matt. 5:4). In hunger and thirst for God's righteousness the soul finds eternal satisfaction, since God alone provides the vessel of "living water" we need to live (John 4:14; 7:38). We all must drink from God's fountain of life (מְקוֹר חַיִּים), lest we suffer spiritual dehydration and death....

Are you haunted by an inner ache for love, joy, peace, and life? "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6). Our inner poverty and need is a disguised grace; our desire for healing reveals the Spirit's invitation. Faith begins with the recognition of our need, since only then will we come to Yeshua for the "Bread of Life" (לֶחֶם הַחַיִּים) and the "Living Water" (מַיִם חַיִּים). Everything we need is found in him, though we must reach out in faith: "For without faith (אֱמוּנָה) it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who seek him" (Heb. 11:6). God rewards those who seek him; he answers the heart's cry; he responds to all who trust in his love and salvation. Therefore "ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened" (Matt. 7:7-8). We are not saved by faith in our own faith, but in the Reality and Power of the LORD God who alone can raise the dead to new life....
 




Shadowing God...


 

10.29.13 (Cheshvan 25, 5774)  Where it is written in the Book of Genesis, "Let us make man in our image and likeness (בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ), we note that the word "image" (i.e., tzelem: צֶלֶם) comes from the word tzel (צֵל), meaning "shadow," thus suggesting that man was originally created to cleave to God as closely as a shadow follows its Substance. And just as a shadow resembles its originating substance, so man was to resemble the reality of the Divine Presence in this world. The New Testament reveals that essential purpose of the redeemed life is to become conformed (σύμμορφος) to the image and likeness of Yeshua (Rom. 8:29, 1 Pet. 2:21). "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:49). The work of the Spirit is "Messiah in you - the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). The question therefore isn't, "do you accept Jesus as your Savior" as much as it is, "Does Jesus truly live inside your heart?"
 




Two Blessings for Jacob...


 

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

10.29.13 (Cheshvan 25, 5774)  When we think of Jacob, we tend to recall the dramatic episode when he disguised himself as Esau to "steal" the blessing from his father Isaac. In our Torah this week, however, we note that Jacob actually received two blessings from his father. The first blessing -- given to disguised Jacob -- focused on material blessings: the "dew of heaven," the "fatness of the earth," "plenty of grain and wine," political power and hegemony (Gen. 27:28-29), whereas the second blessing -- given to an undisguised Jacob -- focused on his role as God's chosen patriarch of Israel (Gen. 28:3-4). The difference between these blessings turned on Isaac's restored vision. His first blessing was tailored to the character of Esau as his "natural choice," whereas his second blessing looked beyond appearances to behold the vision that was originally given to his father Abraham:
 

וְאֵל שַׁדַּי יְבָרֵךְ אתְךָ
וְיַפְרְךָ וְיַרְבֶּךָ וְהָיִיתָ לִקְהַל עַמִּים
וְיִתֶּן־לְךָ אֶת־בִּרְכַּת אַבְרָהָם
לְךָ וּלְזַרְעֲךָ אִתָּךְ

ve'el · Shad·dai · ye·va·rekh · ot·kha
ve'yaf·re·kha · ve'yar·be·kha · ve'ha·yi·ta · lik·hal · a·mim
ve'yit·ten · le·kha · et · bir·kat · Avraham
le·kha · ul·zar·a·kha · i·takh
 

"May El Shaddai bless you,
make you fertile and numerous to become an assembly of peoples.
And may He grant the blessing of Abraham
to you and your offspring"
(Gen. 28:3-4)


 


Recall that after Esau discovered that the blessing was given to Jacob, he lamented and pled with his father to bestow upon him a blessing as well.  It is interesting to note that the "residual" blessing that Isaac gave to Esau was the inverse of that given to Jacob: the "fatness of the earth" was put before the "dew of heaven" (compare Gen. 27:39 with Gen. 27:28). In other words, receiving sustenance from heaven is of greater importance than simply finding earthly prosperity. And indeed, Jacob was "blessed" with trouble his whole life, which caused him to rely on the "dew from heaven," whereas Esau was "blessed" with prosperity that came from trafficking in this world.
 




Moving Heaven and Earth...


 

10.29.13 (Cheshvan 25, 5774)  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 - to know Him, to walk in the light of his love and to be filled with wisdom, patience, kindness, and so on, will assuredly move heaven and earth (1 John 5:14). God is 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" (Psalm 145:18). Rouse then your heart! Boldly draw near to the throne of Grace to find help in your present hour of need (Heb. 4:16). Cry out to God Most High (לֵאלהִים עֶלְיוֹן), to the very One who will fulfill his purpose for you (Psalm 57:2).
 

אֶקְרָא לֵאלהִים עֶלְיוֹן לָאֵל גּמֵר עָלָי
יִשְׁלַח מִשָּׁמַיִם וְיוֹשִׁיעֵנִי חֵרֵף שׁאֲפִי סֶלָה

ek·ra · le·lo·him · el·yon · la'el · go·mer · a·lai
yish·lach · mi·sha·ma·yim · ve·yo·shi·ei·ni · che·ref · sho·a·fi · se·lah
 

"I cry to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
He will send from heaven and save me from the reproach of those who pursue me"
(Psalm 57:1-2)


 




Crucified with Him...


 

10.29.13 (Cheshvan 25, 5774)  Only Yeshua can help us die to ourselves - to let go of the "self life" and to be set free from the tyranny of what we naturally are... The old nature is never "reformed" by religion but is put to death by a supernatural act of God, as it says: "I have been crucified (συνεσταύρωμαι) with Messiah; it is no longer "I" who live, but Messiah who lives in me. And the life "I" now live in the flesh "I" live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). By faith we trust that we already have been crucified with him, just as by faith we trust that we already have newness of life, though all this is only "theoretical" unless and until the Spirit of God makes it real in our lives. Only the LORD can put a new heart within us; only God can make the new "I" walk in the flesh; only the Spirit can breathe upon dry bones raised from the dust to make them live (Ezek. 37:5). We must believe not only that Yeshua died as our substitute for sin - saving us from its penalty - but also that our old nature has died with him - delivering us from its power. As it is written, "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin" (Rom. 6:6).
 

עֵינַי תָּמִיד אֶל־יְהוָה
כִּי הוּא־יוֹצִיא מֵרֶשֶׁת רַגְלָי

ei·nai · ta·mid · el · Adonai
ki · hu · yotz·i · me·re·shet · rag·lai
 

"My eyes are ever toward the LORD,
for he will pluck my feet out of the net."
(Psalm 25:15)



 

"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Yeshua the Messiah were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Messiah was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:3-4). "For as many of you as were baptized into Messiah have put on the Messiah" (Gal. 3:27) [by "baptism" think identification, not some ritual act]. Yeshua not only died for our sins, but he also has released us sin's power, that is, from the power of death itself. May the LORD our God make the truth of what He has done for us alive and breathing in us -- by the power of his salvation in Yeshua!

Note: 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. 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...
 




Overcoming the Darkness...


 

[ Refuse voices of fear. We escape from the lies and propaganda of this evil world by setting our attention on the Divine Presence that pervades all things... ]

10.28.13 (Cheshvan 24, 5774)  Adonai ohri, ve'yishi: mimi ira? "The LORD is my light and my salvation, of whom shall be afraid?" When David was surrounded by his enemies, and even when war rose up against him, his strategy was to keep spiritually focused by seeking God and celebrating His glory (Psalm 27:1-6). David knew that "the battle belongs to the LORD" and that he could trust God to lift up his head above his enemies. "I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies" (Psalm 18:3).
 

מְהֻלָּל אֶקְרָא יְהוָה
 וּמִן־איְבַי אִוָּשֵׁעַ

me·hul·lal · ek·ra · Adonai
u·min · oy·ye·vai · iv·va·she·a
 

"I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies"
(Psalm 18:3)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Calling upon the LORD means more than simply keeping a "positive attitude," though keeping hope alive and using ayin tovah (the good eye) are part of the arsenal we can use to "fight the good fight of faith" (1 Tim. 6:12). Victory over the dark powers comes through verbally affirming (confessing) our hope in God's Presence and powerful Deliverance given in Yeshua the Savior - despite the current struggle (Rom. 10:9). From prison to praise: As you call upon the LORD - who is worthy to be praised - so are you delivered from your enemies.

It is written that the LORD is enthroned among the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3), and therefore offering heartfelt and genuine praise is your direct line to the Divine Presence. Praising the LORD also causes the power of the evil one to be cut off, his eyes blinded, and his malice thwarted... Use the weapon of praise!  When Israel went to battle, the shofar was sounded and great cries of praise went up to heaven. "So on they went, ahead of the army chanting, Hodu ladonai, ki leolam chasdo - 'Praise the Lord, for His mercy endureth forever!' And the scripture says, "...when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten" (2 Chron. 20:22). Your victory over darkness is found in praise and hope, even when hope is tested in the midst of the battle.

Praise God despite your present difficulties by anticipating good to come. As it is written, "Though the fig tree does not blossom, nor fruit be found on the vines, though the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, and though the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation" (Hab. 3:17-18). The targum translates "I will rejoice in the LORD" as "I will rejoice in the promised Word of the LORD." The Source of such joy comes to the heart of faith that sees Elohei Yishi (אֱלהֵי יִשְׁעִי), the "God of my salvation," namely, the One who was and is and is to come (הַהוֶה וְהָיָה וְיָבוֹא) – the LORD our God Yeshua (Rev. 1:4;8; Isa 41:4). Augustine of Hippo rendered Elohei Yishi as "God my Jesus," since "Jesus" (i.e., Yeshua) means YHVH saves. Yea, what can separate us from the love of God in Jesus? Always remember that we never fight for, but always from, the place of His victory. The joy of the LORD is our strength, and we find that strength in Yeshua our risen and victorious Savior.

"The night is almost gone, and the day is near; therefore let us put on the armor of light (τὰ ὅπλα τοῦ φωτός). For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid of them nor dismayed... for there are more with us than with them. With them is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles. You shall therefore not fear them, for it is the LORD your God who fights for you."

The battle centers on standing firm and keeping focused on the LORD, especially in this day of hypnotic evil, disinsformation, propaganda, political corruption and lies, incipient fascist control of the world's economic system, etc. There are chariots of fire are around us; may the LORD God give us eyes to see....
 




The Seed of Isaac...


 

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

10.28.13 (Cheshvan 24, 5774)  When the time came for Rebekah to give birth, the first child came out with a full head of hair and of red (אַדְמוֹנִי) complexion (Gen. 25:25). Since he looked like a child who had been born long before, they named him Esav (from asah [עָשָׂה], meaning "made," or "completed"). His twin brother then came out holding his heel, and therefore was dubbed Ya'akov (meaning "heel holder" or "grappler"). It is interesting to note that Esav's name comes from the same root (i.e., asah: עָשָׂה) that is used for the word "works" (מַעֲשִׂים), whether human or divine. The midrash says that the spirit of Jacob was protesting from the very moment of his birth that his twin brother Esau was "complete" and that his works would be sufficient apart from divine intervention. Isaac immediately favored Esau, presumably because he was the firstborn; but Rebekah, believing the promise of the LORD, favored secondborn Jacob. We have to wonder why Isaac did not believe the message given to Rebekah regarding the twins (Gen. 25:23). Did Isaac associate the name Ya'akov (grappler of the heel) with the original prophecy given in the Garden ("he shall bruise your heel [עָקֵב]")? If Isaac believed that the Messiah would come through his line, perhaps he associated the image of Jacob attacking the heel of his brother as a bad omen.

Note:  For more on this subject, see "The Seed of Isaac," here.
 




Gift of Holy Desperation...


 

10.28.13 (Cheshvan 24, 5774)  Do you have the "gift of holy desperation"? That's the very special blessing of needing God so viscerally that you otherwise will fall apart or even self-destruct apart from His ongoing intervention in your life... You pray because your very life depends on it; you believe because without God, you would be swallowed up in darkness... The fire on the altar was to be kept burning at all times (Lev. 6:12-13), which symbolizes esh tamid (אֵשׁ תָּמִיד), or the inner fire of the heart... How blessed it is to be full of the fire of this inner need, this relentless groaning, this constant hunger to be set free: As Job wistfully yearned: "All the days of my warfare I hope, until my change will come."
 

אִם־יָמוּת גֶּבֶר הֲיִחְיֶה
כָּל־יְמֵי צְבָאִי אֲיַחֵל עַד־בּוֹא חֲלִיפָתִי

im · ya·mut · ge·ver · ha·yich·yeh?
kol · ye·mei · tze·va·i · a·ya·chel · ad · bo · cha·li·fa·ti
 

"If a man dies, shall he live again?
All the days of my warfare I hope, until my change should come."
(Job 14:14)

The cross, not the scales
 
 

The Hebrew word for "change" (חֲלִיפָה) here refers to a change of garments, picturing the robes that Joshua the High Priest was given when he stood accused before the Angel of the LORD (Zech. 3:3-5). We want to be fully clothed with the garments of God's righteousness that are imputed to us through faith. Our groaning for complete deliverance from the affect of our sins is further evidence of the inner vision we have been given by the Holy Spirit.
 




Wounds of a Friend...


 

10.27.13 (Cheshvan 23, 5774)  "Surely he has taken up our sicknesses and has carried our sorrows; yet we regarded him as stricken, beaten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced (profaned) for our transgressions; he was crushed for our perversions; upon him was the correction that brought our peace, and by his blows we are healed" (Isa. 53:4-5). In this famous passage that foretold the suffering of Yeshua as Mashiach ben Yosef, note that the word translated "blow" (i.e., chaburah: חַבּוּרָה, "wound" or "stripe") comes from the same root as the word for "friend" (i.e., chaver: חָבֵר), and therefore we can read "in His friendship we are healed." Yeshua gave up His life for us so that we could become his friends... As he later said regarding his sacrifice: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Indeed of Yeshua it may truly be said, Yesh ohev davek me'ach – "there is a friend who sticks (davek) closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24).
 




Parashat Toldot - תולדת


 

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

10.27.13 (Cheshvan 23, 5774)  Last week's Torah (Chayei Sarah) told how Abraham's faithful servant Eliezer sought a bride for Isaac from among Abraham's relatives living in Mesopotamia. In response to his prayer to the LORD, Eliezer was shown that Abraham's nephew's daughter Rebekah was chosen to be one of the great matriarchs of Israel.

This week's reading (Toldot) continues the story by revealing that Isaac and Rebekah had been married for twenty years but were still without an heir to carry on the family line.  Finally their prayers were answered and Rebekah conceived, though not without complications. When she inquired of the LORD about her travail, God told her that she was carrying twins that would be heads of two rival nations, but the younger child would in fact become the promised heir of the chosen people. When the day came for Rebekah to give birth, the first child came out "red and covered with hair," so they called his name Esau ("hairy"); then his brother came out with his hand grasping Esau's heel, so they named him Jacob ("supplanter," from the Hebrew root meaning "heel").

The Torah describes that Esau became a hunter, "a man of the field," while Jacob was ish tam yoshev ohalim, "a wholesome man, who lived in tents." Isaac favored Esau; but Rebekah, believing the promise of the LORD, favored Jacob...

The portion then gives us a look at the spiritual life of the two boys. According to Jewish tradition, on the day of the funeral of their grandfather Abraham, Jacob was cooking lentil soup for Isaac, the traditional mourner's meal. Esau rushed in from a hunting expedition, exhausted and hungry. He then begged Jacob to give him some of "that red stuff" (i.e, ha'dom hazeh), but Jacob answered that he would give him some only if he would sell him his birthright. Esau agreed to the terms and discounted his birthright as being worth only a bowl of beans (on account of this incident, Esau was given the additional name of Edom ("red"). In this manner the Torah describes how Esau "spurned the birthright."

 

Years later, when Isaac was old and blind, Jacob (with his mother Rebekah's help) tricked Isaac into conferring the blessing of the firstborn upon him, thereby making Jacob the heir of the family, and not Esau. When the ruse was discovered, however, Esau sought to kill his brother, and Jacob was forced to flee his home, never to see his mother again...

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

 




Love Stronger than Death...


 

10.25.13 (Cheshvan 21, 5774)   "And Abraham stood up from before the dead ... saying, 'I am an outsider and sojourner (גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב)...'" (Gen. 23:2-4). He regarded himself as "a stranger in a strange land," despite being exactly where God had directed him. Abraham felt outside this world, bereft of an abiding place, and yet he was strong in faith. Just as he did not stagger over the promise that from him would come a multitude of descendants, so he did not stagger as he stood up from before the lifeless body of his beloved wife Sarah. Surely he foresaw Sarah with him again, raised from the dead by the hand of God; surely he believed that love was stronger than death... "By faith he [Abraham] went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Heb. 11:9-10).

The message of the gospel is that the love of God is indeed stronger than the power of sin and death... Thank God for Yeshua, our Savior and Healer! Shabbat Shalom, chaverim.
 




My Times are in Your Hand...


 

10.25.13 (Cheshvan 21, 5774)  God is the Source of your life, the sustaining power for your very existence, the mystery behind the beat of your heart... The Hebrew word for life is plural (i.e., chayim: חַיִּים) to imply that life cannot be lived alone but must be shared. Notice that within the word chayim itself are embedded two consecutive Yods (יי), which represent joined hands, or metaphorically, union with God (1 John 5:12). This is further suggested by the Hebrew word for love (i.e., ahavah: אהבה), the gematria of which is thirteen (1+5+2+5=13), but when shared it is multiplied: 13 x 2 = 26, the same value for the Name of the LORD (יהוה), i.e., (10+5+6+5=26). The LORD is "ever present," that is, His love constantly imbues, sustains, carries, directs, and rules over the entire universe. Every breath of your life is ultimately directed by God. As David said, "My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors! Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love" (Psalm 31:15-16).
 

ְּיָדְךָ עִתּתָי הַצִּילֵנִי מִיַּד־אוֹיְבַי וּמֵרדְפָי
הָאִירָה פָנֶיךָ עַל־עַבְדֶּךָ הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי בְחַסְדֶּך

be'ya·de·kha · i·to·tai · ha·tzi·lei·ni · mi'yad · oy'vai · u'mei·ro·de·fai
ha'i·rah · fa·ne·kha · al · av·de·kha · ho·shi·ei·ni · ve'chas·de·kha
 

"My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors! Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love."


 

The central message of the cross of Messiah is that God regards you as personally worth dying for, and indeed, that your life is worth the exchange of His own... You are treasured; you are loved. This is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3-5). "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). It is there, in the secret place of the heart, that the sound of the "knock" is either heard or disregarded (Rev 3:20). May the Lord give us the willingness to heed what is of first importance, and to open the door of our hearts to take hold of his love...

Even if the end world should end this very hour, the heart of God is of first importance...
 




The Light of Life...


 

10.25.13 (Cheshvan 21, 5774)  The Hebrew word for "darkness" (i.e., choshekh: חשֶׁךְ) can be rearranged to spell both the verb "to cringe" (i.e., kachash: כָּחַשׁ) and the verb "to forget" (i.e., shakhach: שָׁכַח). To forget the Word of God is to be surrounded by darkness, as it says, "For the commandment (מִצְוָה) is a lamp, and the Torah is light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life" (Prov. 6:23).
 

כִּי נֵר מִצְוָה וְתוֹרָה אוֹר
וְדֶרֶךְ חַיִּים תּוֹכְחוֹת מוּסָר

ki · ner · mitz·vah · ve·to·rah · ohr
ve·de·rekh · chai·yim · to·che·khot · mu·sar
 

"For the commandment is a lamp, and the Torah is light,
and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life."



Download Study Card
 

Yeshua is the Living Torah (תּוֹרַת חַיִּים) and its spiritual Light, for through Him we are able to see (John 8:12). The numeric value of the word "lights" (i.e., אורות) is 613, the traditional number of commandments enumerated in the written Torah. Yeshua is the inner light and meaning of all that the written Torah says; indeed, He is the goal (i.e., τέλος, "purpose" or "reason") of all that the Torah teaches and the means of attaining righteousness for all who trust in Him (Rom. 10:4). Yeshua is ohr ha'chayim (אוֹר הַחַיִּים), the "light of life."

C.S. Lewis once wrote, "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." As it is written in the Scriptures: "For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light do we see Light" (Psalm 36:9).

God is light, and in him is no darkness at all... (1 John 1:5).
 




Dwelling in the Truth....


 

10.24.13 (Cheshvan 20, 5774)  We have a moral duty, given by God Himself, to live according to spiritual reality. Confession means "saying the same thing" about ourselves that God says - and that means not only acknowledging our sins, but also affirming that we are loved by Him. Saying that God doesn't love you is a lie as damning as denying His very existence. We gain access to the Divine Presence, we sojourn with him and "share his dwelling," as we live according to the truth: "O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth within his heart" (Psalm 15:1-2).
 

יהוה מִי־יָגוּר בְּאָהֳלֶךָ מִי־יִשְׁכּן בְּהַר קָדְשֶׁךָ
הוֹלֵךְ תָּמִים וּפעֵל צֶדֶק וְדבֵר אֱמֶת בִּלְבָבוֹ

Adonai · mi · ya·gur · be·a·ho·le·kha · mi · yish·kon · be·har · kod·she·kha
ho·lekh · ta·mim · u·fo·el · tze·dek · ve·do·ver · e·met · bil·va·vo
 

"O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth within his heart."
(Psalm 15:1-2)



 

Note that the word tamim (תָּמִים). translated "blamelessly," might better be rendered "perfectly," that is, complete in all its parts; where no part is missing. The person who walks perfectly, then, means one who is wholehearted in their faith and trust.... Note that this person does what is right – that is, practices tzedakah and performs good deeds; he uses the "good eye" to bless others. Speaking truth "within the heart" is critical since it implies that the person is sincere, honest, without ulterior motives, and so on... He is a "true" person with a heart that can be trusted. The phrase also implies the person is free from self-deception or the need to pretend to be something he isn't.

We are commanded to keep distant from falsehood (Exod. 23:7; Prov. 4:24). People often lie when they want to manipulate reality to serve their desires. In that sense the lie is similar to lust, since lust seeks its own inner satisfaction regardless of the moral duty of the moment... Lying is also like stealing, since it reports reality to be something it isn't, and that difference robs another person of what is needed to navigate their lives properly... "A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech" (Prov. 6:12). Truth is the foundation of reality, and lying is therefore a form of denial of reality – a dangerous denial - since reality invariably proves self-authenticating (John 3:18). "The lip of truth will stand forever; but a lying tongue is but for a moment" (Prov. 12:19).

The lie is a type of violence. Martin Buber once said, "What is accomplished through lies can assume the mask of truth; what is accomplished through violence can go in the guise of justice, and for a while the hoax may be successful. But soon people realize that lies are lies at bottom, that violence is violence - and that both lies and violence will suffer the destiny history has in store for all that is false."

"There are many ways to offend against the truth. One way is to deny it: the way of the liar. Another way is to keep silent when the truth should be spoken: the way of the coward. At the other end is the cruel use of the truth - pointing out failure when silence is the way of honor, or by distorting 'little truths' for the sake of a supposed capital "T" truth, that is, lying for the sake of an ideology or dogma: the way of the politician" (John Cogley).

Being honest with ourselves is absolutely essential for any sort of authentic spiritual life... "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty" (Kierkegaard). Confession means "saying the same thing" about ourselves that God says - and that means living according to spiritual reality...
 




Strangers with Him...


 

10.24.13 (Cheshvan 20, 5774)  From our Torah portion this week we read Abraham's words to the Canaanites: "I am an outsider and a temporary resident among you; sell me property for a grave..." (Gen. 23:4). The righteous see themselves as outsiders (גֵּרִים) in this world, here only temporarily (תּוֹשָׁבִים), and on the way to the greater world to come, while the wicked regard this world as the only reality, and therefore they cling, demand their place here, and live entirely for its momentary pleasures. Note that God reminds Abraham's descendants of their identity as his spiritual offspring: "You are outsiders and dwellers (גֵּרִים וְתוֹשָׁבִים) with me" (Lev. 25:23). On this the sages comment: God says to man, if you make yourself a resident of this world, I will be an outsider to you; if you make yourself an outsider, I will dwell within your heart of faith...
 

שִׁמְעָה־תְפִלָּתִי יְהוָה וְשַׁוְעָתִי הַאֲזינָה
אֶל־דִּמְעָתִי אַל־תֶּחֱרַשׁ כִּי גֵר אָנכִי עִמָּךְ
תּוֹשָׁב כְּכָל־אֲבוֹתָי

shim·ah · te·fil·la·ti · Adonai · ve·shav·a·ti · ha·a·zi·nah
el · dim·a·ti · al · te·che·rash · ki · ger · a·no·khi · i·makh
to·shav · ke·khol · a·vo·tai
 

"Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry;
hold not your peace at my tears! For I am an outsider with you,
a temporary resident, like all my fathers."
(Psalm 39:12)


 
Hebrew Study Card
 

Keep pressing on, friends... Do not give up hope.  "I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion (ἐπιτελέω) at the Day of Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil 1:6). The LORD is able to guard you (φυλάξαι) from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy (Jude 1:24). "He will preserve you (βεβαιόω) to the end, guiltless in the Day of our Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Cor. 1:8). He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it (1 Thess. 5:24). "The Lord is faithful (נֶאֱמָן הוּא): He will establish you and guard you against the evil one" (2 Thess. 3:3).
 




Kaddish of God's Providence...


 

10.23.13 (Cheshvan 19, 5774)  Since we know "all things work together for good" (Rom. 8:28), we bless God for perceived evil as well as for perceived good, since all circumstances of life come from the LORD God, and therefore they are equally good, worthwhile, and important. In God's plan everything is for the best (גַּם זוּ לְטוֹבָה), even if that good is hidden from us at the present time. We believe in an all-powerful, supreme LORD who has not abandoned the world, but who actively sustains and upholds it with benevolent intent. When bad things happen to the righteous, they trust in God's personal care for their lives, despite their present troubles. "Though he slay me, I will trust in Him" (Job 13:15). This is the heart behind the Kaddish, the mourner's prayer, that expresses acceptance of God's world, despite the pain, sorrow, loss, and so on.

The term hashgachah pratit (הַשְׁגָּחָה פְּרָטִית) refers to God's personal supervision of our lives (hashgachah means "supervision," and pratit means "individual" or "particular").  Since He is the Master of the Universe, God's supervision reaches to the smallest of details of creation - from subatomic particles to the great motions of the cosmos. God not only calls each star by its own name (Psalm 147:4), but knows each particular lily and sparrow (Matt. 6:28-30, 10:29). Each person created in the likeness of God is therefore under the direct, personal supervision of God Himself -- whether that soul is conscious of that fact or not. As Yeshua said, even the hairs on your head are all numbered (Matt. 10:30). Indeed, the God of Israel is called אלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר / Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol-basar: "The God of the spirits of all flesh" (Num. 16:22), and that means He is LORD even over those who vainly attempt to suppress His Presence and reality. "Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth?" (Jer. 23:24).

The Talmud says that when Moses asked God, "Please show me your glory" (Exod. 33:18), he was asking for God's vindication in the light of the gnawing question: "Why do the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper?" Moses was not given an explicit answer, and some of the sages said he wrote the Book of Job to demonstrate that the question can only be reduced to God's inscrutable will: "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?" (Job 38:4). In other words, the question can only be answered by the One who knows the beginning from the end, the Infinite One who sees the implications and concatenation of all things. As finite beings, we see only a fraction of the big picture, and therefore we must yield our trust to the Wisdom and Power of Almighty God (Deut. 32:4).

It is written, "Your eyes saw me when I was inside the womb. All the days ordained for me were recorded in your scroll before one of them came into existence" (Psalm 139:16). In light of God's providential ordering of our lives, Blaise Pascal asked, "What is left for us but to unite our will to that of God himself, to will in him, with him, and for him the thing that he has eternally willed in us and for us." The Mishnah says it this way: "Do His will as if it was your will that He may do your will as if it was His will" (Avot 2:4). In other words, what else can we do but learn to trust, accept, and to say "yes" to life -- even if at times we may feel like orphans, lost in a fatherless world... All our days are ordained; recorded in God's scroll. Therefore may God "teach us to number our days to get a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).
 

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

Download Study Card
 

"Teach us to number our days..." The sages say on the day of death, one considers one's life as if it had been a single day... Life goes by so quickly, and we never know when our personal Rosh Hashanah will come. "No one knows the day or hour..." That's why it is so vital to be healed and to turn to God while there is still time. So turn to him today and bacharta ba'chayim (בָּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים) - "choose life!" "For this commandment (of turning to God in teshuvah) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away. It is not in heaven... nor across the sea.... Rather, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; Rom. 10:8-13).

An old midrash says, "God appoints an angel and tells it to cause a blade of grass to grow. Only then does that tiny blade flourish" (Bereshit Rabbah). There are no coincidences in God's universe; no "chaos theory," no "butterfly effect" apart from His hand.  Often seemingly senseless or difficult circumstances disguise a hidden good. Therefore the person of faith affirms gam zu le'tova ("this too, is for the best") and acknowledges that everything that happens to us comes from heaven (see Rom. 8:28). For more on this, see the meditation entitled "Paradox and Presence."

Note: How do we interpret the 3rd person imperatives found in the Lord's Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13)? For example, when we pray, "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven," do we understand this as a present reality we are to accept (i.e., your will is being done), or as a wish to be fulfilled (i.e., may your will be done), or perhaps as something else? Are we appealing to God to "let" his will be done, or are we affirming that it is, indeed, being done?
 




Finding a Bride for Isaac...


 

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

10.22.13 (Cheshvan 18, 5774)  Though he is not explicitly named in the account, the "elder servant" commissioned to find a bride for Isaac was undoubtedly Eliezer of Damascus (Gen. 15:2). Eliezer (אֱלִיעֶזֶר), whose name means "my God will help," is regarded as a consummate example of a godly servant, a picture of the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) sent on a mission to find a bride for the Sacrificed Seed of Abraham (i.e., the Messiah Yeshua). Eliezer dutifully departs on his mission and waits by the "well of water," interceding on behalf of righteousness... He asks for a witness from heaven: "Let the young woman to whom I shall say, 'Please let down your jar that I may drink,' and who shall say, 'Drink, and I will water your camels' -- let her be the one whom you have appointed" (Gen. 24:13-14). Rebekah's response of kindness and generosity (i.e., chesed: חֶסֶד) to a tired wayfarer demonstrated God's choice. Note that the test concerned the inward character of the woman, not her status or beauty or other worldly factors. And since a single camel needs about 25 gallons of water and requires 10 minutes to drink, watering ten camels would require 250 gallons and at least a couple hours of work running back and forth to the well - no small task for anyone! Rebekah possessed Abraham's qualities of gracious hospitality and diligence...

Eliezer's prayer to find a bride for Isaac did not appeal for a miracle such as splitting the sea, but instead relied on the providential and "hidden hand" of God that governs the affairs of everyday life... His prayer at the well relied on God's sovereign power to direct him to a woman who, like Abraham, would spontaneously extend compassion to a person in need. The Torah therefore reveals that far from being a coincidence or chance encounter, then, "before he had finished speaking, behold Rebekah..." (Gen. 24:15). "Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear" (Isa. 65:24).

Rebekah was willing to leave her family - all that she knew - based on an "otherworldly" promise. Her response to the invitation was simply: "I will go"(Gen. 24:58). This courageous willingness was likewise a characteristic of Abraham who was willing to leave his homeland in search of the greater things of God. Like Abraham, Rebekah was ger ve'toshav (גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב) - a "stranger and a sojourner" - who left everything behind in order to become part of God's chosen family... (more here)
 




Blessed in all things...


 

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

10.22.13 (Cheshvan 18, 5774)  In the same verse that Abraham is described as "old and come into days" (זָקֵן בָּא בַּיָּמִים), he is also described to have been blessed bakol (בַּכּל) - "in everything" (Gen. 24:1). Contrary to the ideals of youth-obsessed culture, Torah regards aging as a process of construction, of upbuilding, of perfection -- not of decay. The sages say that the elderly "wear the days of their life as a garment," that is, as an accumulated "presence of days" that attends to the soul of the person. Indeed, the Talmud notes that the word zaken ("elder") can be read as zeh kana, "this one has it."  Maturity and wisdom are qualities that should be honored in our culture -- not abhorred or disregarded. As the proverb puts it, עֲטֶרֶת תִּפְאֶרֶת שֵׂיבָה / aseret tiferet sevah: "Gray hair is a crown of glory" (Prov. 16:31). That God blessed Abraham "bakol" means that He revealed his presence to him in all things. This is the meaning of "Abraham was come into days." The days of his life were filled with the Divine Presence, and that is why he died content (Gen. 25:8).
 




Faith and Resurrection...


 

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

10.22.13 (Cheshvan 18, 5774)  More space is given to the negotiation between Abraham and the Hittites for the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron (Gen. 23:3-16) than many other matters in Torah, since it represented Abraham's faith in the resurrection from the dead. Indeed it was the death of Sarah that moved Abraham to "see and greet from afar" the fulfillment of God's promise, despite the appearances of this world (Heb. 11:13). Thus Abraham said to the sons of Chet: "I am a 'stranger and sojourner' (גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב) among you; sell me a burial site..." (Gen. 23:4). Abraham foresaw the City of God, the architecture of Zion to come, and by faith "he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Heb. 11:9-10). It is significant that after the great Exodus, the two faithful spies sent to scout the land (Joshua and Caleb) first visited the burial place of the patriarchs in Hebron to renew their conviction that the land could be taken (Num. 13:21-22). The heart of faith affirms the promise of God, even in the face of the dust of death itself; it affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life is a deeper reality that is ultimately real and abiding. It "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31). Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1).
 

טוֹב לָלֶכֶת אֶל־בֵּית־אֵבֶל מִלֶּכֶת אֶל־בֵּית מִשְׁתֶּה
בַּאֲשֶׁר הוּא סוֹף כָּל־הָאָדָם וְהַחַי יִתֵּן אֶל־לִבּוֹ

tov · la·le·khet · el · bet · e·vel · mi·le·khet · el · bet · mish·teh
ba·a·sher · hu · sof · kol · ha·a·dam · ve·ha·chai · yit·ten · el · lib·bo
 

"It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart."
(Eccl. 7:2)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)
 

"These (i.e., the patriarchs) all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles (גֵּרִים וְתוֹשָׁבִים) on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland (i.e., πατρίδα, "land of the Father"). If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire better, that is, a heavenly land. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city" (Heb. 11:13-16).
 




The Death of Sarah...


 

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

10.22.13 (Cheshvan 18, 5774)  Recall that Sarah gave birth to Isaac when she was 91 years old (Gen. 17:17, 21), and she later died when Isaac was 36 years old, at the age 127 (Gen. 23:1). And while the Torah does not explicitly state the cause of her death, we are told about her death following the dramatic episode of the sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. 22), and the midrash Tanchuma therefore links the two together by saying Sarah died from shock after learning about the ordeal of her son at Moriah.  It was just too much for her heart to bear: "And a sword will pierce through your own soul also..." (Luke 2:35). Therefore Jewish tradition associates the cries of Sarah with the blasts of the shofar during Rosh Hashanah. The broken notes of the shofar are thought to recall her crying for her son...

Isaac was the first "Jewish baby" born to the world, the promised son, the miracle child and the heir of Abraham. As the firstborn son of God's promise, without him the whole world would fall apart, and there would be no salvation to come... So when Sarah heard that Isaac was offered at Moriah, her soul departed from her and she thought the world was falling apart. She prayed to God: "Let me die for my son; let me die in place of my son..." Sarah's love was so great it brought Isaac back to life from the dead.

Note:  We study these things, bring them again to our hearts, because it is part of our great yerushah (יְרוּשָׁה), our heritage, in Messiah Yeshua... The Torah tells our story as the people of God; it is the context and framework of the entire Bible: "Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him" (Isa. 51:1-2). For more on this topic, see "The Akedah of Sarah," by clicking here.
 




The Decision to Love...


 

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

10.21.13 (Cheshvan 17, 5774)  From our Torah portion this week we read, "Then he (Isaac) took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her..." (Gen. 24:67). The sages note the sequence -- first he took her to be his wife, and then he loved her - to highlight that marriage is based on a spiritual decision to love rather than a feeling based on passion or self-interest. Feelings of passion and personal satisfaction may develop from the decision to love, but these by themselves cannot form the love's foundation. Meaningful love is grounded in a decision to honor and cherish the other person, and therefore is spiritual in nature. As C.S. Lewis said, don't let your happiness depend on something you may lose. "Aim at heaven, and you get earth thrown in; aim at earth, and you get neither." Rebekah was willing to leave her family - all that she knew - based on an "otherworldly" promise. Her response to the invitation was simply: "I will go"(Gen. 24:58); Isaac, on the other hand, "took her to be his wife," that is, he pledged to be family for her...

Of course the world gets all this backward and thinks that selfish satisfaction is the basis of a marriage relationship, and therefore, as soon as one (or the other) person feels unsatisfied, the relationship is jeopardized. The truth, however, is that marriage is above all the duty to honor and revere the beloved, regardless of matters of personal self-interest.
 




Know Him in all your ways...


 

10.21.13 (Cheshvan 17, 5774)  Where it says, "In all your ways know Him" (Prov. 3:6), that includes the way of your sins, old seemingly intractable habits of character, and the deepest wounds of your soul. "Pray without ceasing" -- in the midst of your temptations, as you encounter the allure of lust, the fires of anger, or simply the desire to fade away.... Do not hide your struggle - your unclean thoughts, your ambivalence, your need for deliverance - but be quick to pray, to confess, and seek God's mercies. Yeshua is the Good Shepherd, and he is looking out for you, interceding for you, calling out to you in the midst of the storm.
 

בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ
וְהוּא יְיַשֵּׁר ארְחתֶיךָ

be·khol · de·ra·khe·kha · da·ei·hu
ve·hu · ye·ya·sher · or·cho·te·kha

 

"In all your ways know Him
and he will make upright your paths."
(Prov. 3:6)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)
 


The Torah says, "Know therefore today and return to your heart (וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ), for the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). Here we see the centrality of the heart as the place to encounter God (Luke 17:21). In all our ways we are to know Him, and that includes whatever way you find yourself in at this very hour. Today is the day of salvation; pour out your heart before him (Psalm 62:8).
 




Parashat Chayei Sarah...

Marc Chagall Detail
 

10.20.13 (Cheshvan 16, 5774)  Our Torah reading for last week (i.e., Vayera) told how God was faithful to Abraham and Sarah by miraculously giving them a son (Isaac) in their old age. Nonetheless, Abraham faced his greatest test of all by being asked to offer up his promised child as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah, the place of the future Temple. On account of his willingness to obey, God promised He would multiply Abraham's offspring as the stars of heaven and that in his seed (singular) all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

This week's Torah portion is called Chayei Sarah, the "life of Sarah," though it begins (paradoxically) with the account of her death, and tells how the first great matriarch of the Jewish people was buried in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron, a burial site which Abraham had purchased from Ephron the Hittite for four hundred shekels of silver.

After Sarah was buried, Abraham sought a wife for his son by commissioning his faithful servant Eliezer (whom Abraham had originally thought would be his heir), to go among his relatives living in Mesopotamia to seek for a bride for Isaac. Eliezer (i.e., אֱלִיעֶזֶר, lit., "My God will help") then set out on the 550 mile journey to Haran (also called the City of Nahor and the place where Abraham's father died), taking ten camels laden with gifts in search of a suitable bride. Providentially, and in answer to his prayer, as soon as Eliezer reached the city of Nahor he encountered Abraham's grand niece Rebekah drawing water at a well, where she graciously provided water for him and for his ten camels, thereby confirming that she was God's choice for Isaac.

For more about this week's Torah, please read the summary page for Chayei Sarah and its related articles. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for the Torah portion here:
 

 




The Bread of Presence...


 

10.18.13 (Cheshvan 14, 5774)  The disciples assumed Yeshua needed earthly bread to find strength, but he said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about" (John 4:32). This "hidden bread" (i.e., lechem ha-nistar: לֶחֶם הַנִסְתָּר) was the passion and joy He had doing the will of God... Notice how he often used metaphors to elevate the perspective of his students. Earthly bread is a shadow of a deeper reality. Just as physical bread is a means to physical life, so "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that God speaks" (Deut. 8:4; Matt. 4:4). Yeshua is the true manna, the "Living Bread" (לֶחֶם חַיִּים) from heaven that sustains us in "the desert" of this world. He is the One who truly satisfies the heart by removing the inner pain of our emptiness and hunger. As it is written in Torah, "set the Bread of the Presence (לֶחֶם פָּנִים) on the table before me always" (Exod. 25:30).

Brother Lawrence said, "If I were a preacher, I should preach nothing else but the practice of the presence of God. There is not in the world a way of life more sweet, more delightful than continual converse with God." Indeed, do not most of our problems come from just this – losing sight of reality, failing to partake of God's Bread of Presence? Yeshua said, "Live in me, and I will live in you" (John 15:4). We must make a sacred resolution to abide in reality, to stay united with Him. As David said: shiviti (שִׁוִּיתִי) - "I have set the LORD always before me - because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken" (Psalm 16:8). But how did David "set the LORD" before Him if He did not open the eyes of faith to behold God's Glory?
 

שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

The Hebrew word shiviti comes from the verb shavah (שָׁוָה) which means "to set" or place, referring to focus of the heart required to truly apprehend the Divine Presence. In this connection, we note the "korban tamid" (תָּמִידקָרְבַּן) was the sacrifice of a lamb every evening and morning upon the copper altar in the outer court -- the central sacrifice of the Tabernacle. Along with it, matzah and wine offering were required, thereby revealing the true Passover Lamb of God and his sacrifice for us (Exod. 29:38-42). That the lamb was offered twice daily hints at its two applications - the first concerning the great deliverance from Egypt by the blood of the lamb, and the second concerning the even greater deliverance given through Yeshua, the true Lamb of God. Note also that the constant sacrifice of the lamb required that the fire at the altar would never be extinguished, and by extension, the duty to "care for the inner fire."  Thank God that the fire that daily needs kindling comes from the Spirit of God!

May the LORD help us shine the light of his countenance always. Shabbat shalom, friends!
 




The Death of Death...


 

10.18.13 (Cheshvan 14, 5774)  We must be careful not to confuse cause and effect in the realm of the spiritual.  After the original transgression of Adam and Eve, death became the root problem of the human condition, so to speak, with indwelling sin as its fruit and consequence (i.e., the "works of the flesh").  It is this inherited "spiritual death" that is the energy behind sin. To focus on outward behavior without first of all dealing with the underlying problem of death is therefore a spiritual misstep. It is to clean the outside of the cup or to wash the outside of a tomb in a vain attempt to disguise the truth about our unclean and dead condition. The good news is not that God wants to make bad people good, but rather wants to make dead people alive... The cure for spiritual death is to be ontologically reborn and to partake of the resurrected life of Yeshua.

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

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

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




Identifying with the Lamb...

Chagall - Sacrifice of Isaac
 

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

10.17.13 (Cheshvan 13, 5774)  The near-sacrifice of Isaac establishes that God does not want us to sacrifice ourselves on the altar, but rather to identify with the appointed sacrifice of the lamb given on our behalf... Isaac pictures the identification process. First he completely submitted himself to God's will by being bound as a sacrifice. Once that decision was made, God intervened by providing the ram caught in the thicket, which represented the "binding" or identification of God's sacrifice for him (Gen. 22:13). Just as the lamb was identified with Isaac, so Isaac was identified with the lamb. Likewise, Yeshua died in your place so you can identify with his death for you, trusting it as your atonement provided by your Heavenly Father. Your union with Yeshua means that his death was your death: "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Messiah in God" (Col. 3:3). Likewise, his "life after death" (resurrection) is your eternal life: "When Messiah who is your life appears, you also will appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:4). Baptism symbolizes your identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua as the Lamb of God sacrificed on your behalf (Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:4). Just as Isaac descended from the altar in newness of life, so we are made new creations because of the sacrifice of Messiah: "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).

Of course we cannot crucify ourselves, but we trust that God finishes the work of Jesus on our behalf... We "reckon" ourselves crucified with Messiah and trust in his work of salvation performed for our personal blessing. As it says: "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Yeshua the Messiah" (Rom. 6:11). Only after this can you present yourself as korban chai (קָרְבָּן חַי) - a living sacrifice - for God (Rom. 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:5).

There aren't two gospel messages: one for the sinner and the other for the saint... The message of salvation is always "good news" to those who are sin-sick and riddled with guilt and shame, and it is always "bad news" for those who deny their inner condition before God and believe that they can justify themselves. We never get beyond the call to "repent and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). We don't "get saved" in order to follow the path of self-righteousness; we get saved to be witnesses of God's righteousness... We love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
 




The Ram of God...


 

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

10.17.13 (Cheshvan 13, 5774)  There is a midrash about the white ram Abraham sacrificed in place of his son (Gen. 22:13). After its sacrificial death, the ram's soul returned to heaven, but it wanted to do more in the world of people, so God sent him back to earth. God then gave the ram horns so long that they reached all the way to heaven. In this way, the ram could be in both worlds at once: with its feet on earth and its horns in heaven. Similarly, Yeshua is called the "lamb (ram) slain from the foundation of the world" (1 Pet. 1:20; Eph. 1:4; Rev. 13:8) whom God sent to satisfy His requirements for justice (as Elohim) and to demonstrate His great love (as Compassionate LORD). His descent was for our ascent; his death was given for our life. Yeshua now spans heaven and earth as our substitutionary atonement, intercessor, and heavenly advocate. In Him "steadfast love (chesed) and truth (emet) meet; justice (tzedek) and peace (shalom) kiss" (Psalm 85:10). His merit alone is our Bridge to the Father: יְשׁוּעָתָה לַיהוָה - "Salvation is from the LORD."
 




God's Way of Deliverance...


 

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

10.16.13 (Cheshvan 12, 5774)  From our Torah portion this week we read, "Escape for your life. Do not look back..." (Gen. 19:17). You must turn away from what once defined you and never look back... This includes not only turning away from your former sins, but turning away from the guilt and shame of your sins... Living in the past, wallowing in your sin and regretting your mistakes, can cause you to feel worthless and even hopeless. If you feel compelled to revisit your former life, then be sure to do so before the foot of the cross, in light and presence of God's redemptive love for you. You can't change the past, but you can leave it behind by turning it over to God for healing. Teshuvah (repentance) means accepting who you are in light of God's love and salvation for your soul. "Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this, though I am single-minded: I forget the things that are behind and reach out for the things that are ahead ... heeding the upward call of God in Yeshua our Messiah" (Phil. 3:13-14). May you "find yourself in Him, not having a righteousness of your own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Messiah, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Phil. 3:9).

God's way of deliverance is entirely different than man's way. Man tries to suppress the flesh, to cover it up, to justify its failings, or to enlist its power in the battle against sin (i.e., religion), but God's way is to remove the flesh from the equation. The goal is not to make us stronger and stronger, but rather weaker and weaker, until the flesh is "crucified" and only the sufficiency of the Messiah remains.  Then we can truly say, "I have been crucified with Messiah. It is no longer I who live, but the Messiah who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20). The word "Hebrew" (עִבְרִי) means one who has "crossed over" (עָבַר) to the other side, as our father Abraham did (Gen. 14:13). It is on the other side of the cross that we experience the very power that created the universe "out of nothing" (i.e., yesh me'ayin: יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן) and that raised Yeshua the Messiah from the dead.
 




The Shadow of Shaddai...



 

10.16.13 (Cheshvan 12, 5774)  One of the great Hebrew names of God is El Elyon (אֵל עֶלְיוֹן), often translated as God "Most High." The name first appears in the Torah regarding the mysterious figure of Melchizedek (i.e., מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק), the timeless king and priest of Zion who served "God Most High" (Gen. 14:18). Malki-Tzedek is the first priest (i.e., kohen: כּהֶן) named in the Torah, a mediator who ministered "bread and wine" to our father Abraham - alluding to the sacraments later use to commemorate our redemption.  Note the word "Elyon" itself (עֶלְיוֹן) comes from a root word (עָלָה) that means to ascend. For instance, an olah offering (עלָה) is a whole burnt offering that ascends upward to heaven. Calling God Elyon expresses the truth that the LORD our God has "made aliyah" on high, the resurrected and Ascended One who overcame all the powers of hell and utterly vanquished death's power for us...  In other words, Elyon is a name for the LORD our God Yeshua.
 

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

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

"He who dwells in the secret of the Most High
 will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress,
 my God, in whom I trust."
(Psalm 91:1-2)



Download Study Card
 

It is said that Moses wrote these words as he dwelled in the secret place (סֵתֶר) of the Most High God, in the "midst of the dark cloud" (Exod. 24:18), a place of sacred and holy concealment. As it is written, the thick clouds are a Hiding Place for Him (Job 22:14). Notice that the one who "dwells" in the secret of the Most High abides in an ascended place of rest - being lifted up far above the surrounding madness of this fallen world of flux and shadows. The Hebrew word is related to the word to lodge or "sleep" (לִין), connecting it with death and resurrection. By dwelling in the death and resurrection of Yeshua, God will shield you with His Presence and make evil powerless before you...

Since God hides Himself in this world (Isa. 45:15), we must humbly seek His face to enter into the place of His holy concealment in all things. God is Elyon – High above - but He dwells "with the lowly and the broken of heart" (Isa. 57:15). Therefore the LORD our God is called Shaddai (שַׁדַּי) – our Sustainer, Provider, Refuge, Fortress, our Home. Just as we can be surrounded by the "shadow of death" (tzal mavet), so we can be surrounded by the "shadow of Shaddai" (tzal Shaddai). Like a powerful eagle brooding over her chicks, so Shaddai covers you with wings of protection (Psalm 91:4).

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




Abraham's Three Visitors...


 

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

10.16.13 (Cheshvan 12, 5774)  Parashat Vayera begins: וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו יהוה / Vayera elav Adonai: "and the LORD appeared to him (i.e., Abraham) by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day" (Gen 18:1). The midrash colorfully states that the phrase "by the terebinth trees of Mamre" (בְּאֵלנֵי מַמְרֵא) should be read as "in the terebinth trees," that is, God manifested Himself "as a tree" to suggest that just as an old tree could still bear fruit, so would Abraham in his old age.

Rashi says it was the third day after Abraham's brit millah (i.e., circumcision) and God came (in a vision) to inquire as to his friend's welfare (this is regarded as a divine example of bikkur cholim (בִּקּוּר חוֹלִים), "visiting the sick"). During the vision, Abraham suddenly saw "three men" (שְׁלשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים) standing before him. But who were these strangers?  According to the Jewish sages, they were the archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael disguised as Arab wayfarers. Each angel had a distinct mission. Michael came to announce that Sarah would give birth to a son; Raphael came to heal Abraham from his circumcision; and Gabriel came to overthrow Sodom (Bava Metzia 86b).

Note: For more on this subject, please click here.
 




The Sin of Sodom...


 

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

10.15.13 (Cheshvan 11, 5774)  From our Torah portion this week we read: "And the LORD said, 'The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave...'" (Gen. 18:20). But what was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah? Why did God destroy the two cities? Was it because the people there refused to show hospitality to the angelic visitors (as is claimed by some), or was it because of some ongoing sin of the people?

Though the sin of Sodom undoubtedly included the practice of homosexuality (called "strange flesh" in the Book of Jude), homosexuality itself was a symptom of a nihilistic culture that glorified violence, despised moral authority and spiritual truth, and practiced the exploitation of others. Throughout the Scriptures "Sodom" symbolically represents gross immorality, depravity, and inevitable judgment from heaven. For example, the prophet Ezekiel later wrote of Judah: "Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abomination (תּוֹעֵבָה) before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it" (Ezek. 16:49-50). The New Testament refers to the fate of Sodom as "a fearful example of the everlasting fire of retribution" (Jude 1:7) -- the destructive result of spiritual anarchy, lawlessness, sexual perversion, and trauma (2 Pet. 2:6-10). Thankfully there is real hope for those who seek to escape from the wrath to come by turning to God and trusting in his healing power of salvation, though it is only a "remnant" that find true deliverance (Matt. 7:14). Speaking of the final salvation of Israel, the Apostle Paul quotes Isaiah: "If the LORD of Hosts hadn't left us a few survivors, we'd be as desolate as Sodom, doomed just like Gomorrah" (Isa 1:9; Rom. 9:29).

In this connection it should be noted that homosexuality is not the same as "sodomy," since "sodomy" involves any form of violence, perversion, exploitation, or lawless expression of sexuality regardless of gender... In general, it is more helpful to think of "sodomy" as a code word for egregious sin, "in-your-face" spite toward God, defiant immorality that celebrates spiritual anarchy, moral nihilism, and death... Yes, homosexuality is sin, but so is adultery, fornication, viewing pornography (i.e., the lust of the eyes), covetousness, gluttony, arrogance (idolatry), unbridled anger (rage), sloth, worshiping the things of this world (i.e., fads, trendy TV shows, sports idols, the world's value system), and so on and on. Whenever we consider such things, it is better to look at how we are healed rather than what makes us sick.... The answer in every case to the trauma of the sinful heart is to turn to God and ask for deliverance in the name of Yeshua.

The world and its "group-think" always calls for the abolition of individual conscience. Like the culture of ancient Sodom, today the great sin is to exercise earnest conviction that transcendental moral authority and truth exist, in spite of of the world's "homogenizing" value system... Indeed, the only thing regarded as "intolerable" in the devil's world is the objection that people have a supposed "liberty" to sin in whatever way they please. However, tolerating sin in a world ripe for judgment is a tacit form of "collaboration" with the enemy (James 4:4). The LORD is clear on this point: "Those who call evil good and good evil are as good as dead, who turn darkness into light and light into darkness, who turn bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter. Those who think they are wise in their own sight are as good as dead, those who think they possess understanding" (Isa. 5:20-21).

The "original sin," that is, eating from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, meant that  man sought to transcend God's will to determine what is valuable, true, beautiful, and so on. Man became autonomous, "the measure of all things." Such was the "logical" method of the German idealism of Kant and Hegel, which led to way for Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Adolf Hitler to unleash their nightmares upon the earth. And this ideology behind the cynical postmodern claim that "good and evil" are tools to express political control... Today, more than ever before, the world is like "Sodom," and therefore ripe for judgment from heaven.

And the judgment of God indeed came upon the moral anarchy of that realm... After the angels rescued Lot (and his immediate family), we read "then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven. And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and whatever grew on the ground" (Gen. 19:24-25). The sages note the word translated "overthrew" is vayahafokh (וַיַּהֲפךְ), which means "overturned," suggesting that besides the fire and brimstone that rained down from the sky, an enormous earthquake engulfed the plain, forming a crater filled with salt that became known as the "Dead Sea" (ים המלח).
 




The Sacrificed Seed...



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

10.15.13 (Cheshvan 11, 5774)  "And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together" (Gen. 22:6). Isaac was about 37 years old at this time and needed to understand what was being asked of him: "And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said, "Here am I, my son." And he said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" (Gen. 22:7). This is the first word of dialog recorded over the three day journey... It is hard to imagine Isaac's pathos during this exchange. Abraham replied, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together (Gen. 22:8). Notice that the Hebrew could be read: "God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering -- my son!" (ירְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה לְעלָה בְּנִי) - making it plain that Isaac would be offered upon the altar. The Torah then repeats the phrase, "and they both walked on together," indicating that Isaac had accepted his sacrificial death in obedience to his father's will...

"And when they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son (וַיַּעֲקד אֶת־יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ) and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood" (Gen. 22:9). According to the Talmud, Isaac asked his father to make the knots on his hands and feet tighter - not out of fear that he would change his mind and begin to resist - but in order to encourage his father to offer the sacrifice properly (Bereshit Rabbah 56:8). Like the Suffering Servant who would come after him, Isaac "set his face like a flint" to fulfill God's will (Isa. 50:7).

Isaac kept his eyes directed toward heaven as he lay tightly bound and motionless upon the altar. He awaited the final blow and wanted it to fall with trust and obedience within his heart. It was to be a shared sacrifice between the beloved son and his father. Finally "Abraham stretched out (שׁלח) his hand and took the knife to slaughter (i.e., לִשְׁחט, from shechitah) his son" (Gen. 22:10). The Talmud says that when Abraham "stretched out" his hand, he briefly looked at the knife to determine if it was ritually fit, and this delay was the precise moment when the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יהוה) called out to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" (Gen. 22:11). (Note the repetition of the name "Abraham" during this second call.) According to various midrashim, when Abraham put his knife to his son's neck, Isaac's soul departed from him, but it returned when the Angel of the LORD said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me" (Gen. 22:12). Abraham then immediately released Isaac and recited the blessing, "Blessed are You, LORD, who revives the dead" (בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה מְחַיֶּה הַמֵּתִים).

"I believe in You, O Holy One, though at times there no longer seems any reason for believing..." Here is Abraham, who counted the stars in hope, who trusted God for an heir, a promised son - and from this son another, and from that another, and another, until he envisioned his descendants "as the dust of earth" (Gen. 13:16; 15:5-6), and yet here is Abraham lifting up his knife to sacrifice his son, his beloved child, his promise, his future, his dream. Remember that Abraham did not know the end of the story before it began, and therefore his faith attested: "Though he slay me, I will trust in him."

Some people tend to "explain away" the passion of Abraham and Isaac by quoting the New Testament verse: "He [Abraham] considered that God was able even to raise him [Isaac] from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back" (Heb. 11:19) -- as if this would make the sacrificial act any easier! Again we must bear in mind that neither Abraham nor Isaac knew "the end of the story" before they chose to obey God. As I've mentioned before, simply "knowing about" God is not the same thing as personally trusting Him with your life... This is the distinction between emunah (אֱמוּנָה) and bittachon (בִּטָּחוֹן). Simply knowing about God can lead to a sense of "distance," to theological abstractions, to dogmas and creedal formulas. Rabbi Bechaya put the distinction this way: "Everyone who trusts has faith, but not everyone with faith trusts." Bittachon is an intuitive awareness of the personal love of God for your life, coupled with complete trust that He cares for you (Rom. 8:28). It is an expectation that the love of God is for you, too, despite the test.

Note: For more on this crucial subject, see, "The Sacrificed Seed: Further thoughts about the Akedah," by clicking here.
 




The Work of Faith...

Chagall - Sacrifice of Isaac
 

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

10.14.13 (Cheshvan 10, 5774)  James the Righteous says that Abraham was "justified by works" (James 2:21), but surely this refers to the work of faith (τό ἔργον τῆς πίστεως) and not to the works of the law (מַעֲשֵׂי הַתּוֹרָה) - since the Torah explicitly prohibited human sacrifice (Gen. 9:5), and likewise the Angel of the LORD restrained Abraham's hand during the great test of faith (Gen. 22:12). When James therefore stated that Abraham was justified by his works, he implied that our actions ultimately reveal the inner life of faith. On the other hand, the apostle Paul's seemingly contrary statement that Abraham was not justified by works (Rom. 4:1-3) refers to his unwavering confidence in God's promise that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens (Gen. 15:1-6). There is no real contradiction, then, since the two apostles were referring to two different episodes in their discussion of justification... As Yeshua said, "This is the work of God, that you believe in the One whom He has sent" (John 6:29).

The life of faith is inherently paradoxical, as Kierkegaard noted: "Ethically speaking, what Abraham planned to do was to murder Isaac; religiously, however, he was willing to sacrifice Isaac. In this contradiction lies the very anguish that can indeed make anyone sleepless. And yet without that anguish Abraham is not the one he is. Neither would faith be what it is." Although Abraham understood that God must be obeyed, he also understood that human sacrifice was immoral, and hence his struggle represented the collision between the imperative of reason and the imperative of faith. Choosing to heed the voice of reason (i.e., the "ethical," the "universal") over the personal voice of God created a state of "fear and trembling" and a sense of being unable to communicate his passion and mission to others.
 

    "God cannot stand good works in the sense of earning merit. Yet good works are required. They shall be and yet shall not be. They are necessary and yet one ought humbly to ignore their significance or at least forget that they are supposed to be of any significance. Good works are like a child giving his parents a present, purchased, however, with what the child has received from his parents. All the pretentiousness which otherwise is associated with giving a present disappears when the child understands that he has received from his parents the gift which he gives to them."
     

As Kierkegaard further commented: "Faith's conflict with the world is not a battle of thought with doubt, thought with thought. It is a battle of character. The person of faith is a person of character who does not insist upon comprehending everything. Now comes the conflict. The world insists that to believe what you cannot comprehend is not only blind obedience but obscurantism, stupidity, and so on. The world wants to alarm the believer against such foolishness. This is precisely why faith is a task for the person of character."

Note: For more on this vital topic, see "Faith Surpasses Reason."
 




Waking Up in Time...


 

10.14.13 (Cheshvan 10, 5774)  Our life in this world will end far sooner than we expect, and then what will become of us? I am not here thinking of the end of "the" world, but rather the end of your world - when you will die and face the light of eternity. Today, this moment, you are on the way, going someplace; your "latter days" are already come... If you are not prepared today, how will you be better prepared tomorrow? Today is the day of salvation, the hour that matters most. Learn to die to the world now, to let go of what presently holds you captive, so that you are free to meet that which forever shall come. Don't put off genuine teshuvah: turn while there is still time. And may God give us mercy to say from the heart: "For me to live is Messiah, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21).
 




The Way of the LORD...


 

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

10.13.13 (Cheshvan 9, 5774)  From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Vayera) we note that after delivering the announcement of the coming heir to both Abraham and Sarah, the three angels set out to finish their mission (Gen. 18:1-16). Abraham escorted them on their way. The chief Angel (i.e., the Angel of the LORD) then rhetorically asked his two angelic companions, "Should I hide from Abraham what I am about to do (i.e., go to Sodom), seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him (כִּי יְדַעְתִּיו), that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD (דֶּרֶךְ יהוה), to do charity and justice (לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט); that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he has spoken of him" (Gen. 18:17-19). Notice here that the LORD commends Abraham because he would instruct his family in the way of the LORD, namely, to do tzedakah (i.e., charity, righteous giving) and to promote justice in the earth...

When we recite the Shema, we repeat the admonition to follow Abraham's example: "these words that I command you today shall be on your heart, and you shall teach them diligently to your children (וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ), and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise..." (Deut. 6:5-7). We know however, that though Abraham had several sons, we call upon the the God of Isaac (Gen. 28:13), and likewise, though Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau, but we call upon the God of Jacob (Exod. 3:6). We are responsible to instruct our children to keep the way of the LORD, though we must entrust the spiritual results to God's hands....
 




Parashat Vayera - וירא


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Vayera. Please read the Torah portion to find your place here. ]

10.13.13 (Cheshvan 9, 5774)  In last week's Torah (Lekh Lekha), we saw how the LORD spoke to Abram and invited him to forsake his ancestral home for the promise of God. In obedience to the call of the Word of the LORD, Abram left his homeland, his family, and his father's house to seek a better life - "for he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10). But notice that it was only after Abram made the long journey into the unknown land of Canaan that God appeared to him saying, "To your offspring I will give this land" (Gen. 12:1-7). In other words, Abraham did not believe the promise because he saw God; but he was able to see God after he had walked in faith.... His faith in God enabled him to see God's hand, not the other way around. The principle of believing in order to understand is central to the walk of faith in this world.

Our Torah reading for this week (Vayera) includes what I call the "Gospel according to Moses," or rather Moses' account of how Abraham was tested by God to offer his "only begotten son" (בֵּן יָחִיד) as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah -- the place of the future Temple. This famous story is referred to as the Akedah (עֲקֵדָה), or Akedat Yitzchak (עֲקֵידָת יִצְחָק) - the "binding of Isaac" (Gen. 22:1-18). At the very last moment, the Angel of the LORD stopped Abraham from going through with the sacrifice and provided a ram as a substitute.  Abraham then named the location Adonai-Yireh (יהוה יִרְאֶה), "the LORD will provide/see" (from the 3p impf. of the verb ra'ah (רָאָה), "to see"). The binding of Isaac perfectly illustrates both the principle of sacrificial love and the principle that we must first unreservedly believe in that love in order to understand the ways of the LORD.

As Messianic believers, we understand the Akedah as a foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice the heavenly Father would give on our behalf. Unlike Abraham, God the Father actually offered His only begotten Son (בֵּן יָחִיד) Yeshua upon Moriah in order to make salvation available to all who believe (John 3:16-18; 1 John 4:9). As Abraham himself believed: אֱלהִים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה / Elohim yireh-lo haseh ("God Himself will provide a lamb").
 

אֱלהִים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה לְעלָה בְּנִי

E·lo·him · yir·eh-lo · has·seh · le·o·lah · be·ni
 

"God will see for himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son."
(Gen. 22:8)



 

Indeed, the very first occurrence of the word love in the Scriptures (i.e., ahavah: אַהֲבָה) refers to Abraham's love for his "only" son who was to be sacrificed as a burnt offering on Moriah (the very place of the crucifixion of Yeshua), a clear reference to the gospel message (Gen. 22:2; John 3:16). Some scholars have noted that the word ahavah comes from a two-letter root (הב) with Aleph (א) as a modifier. The root means "to give" and the Aleph indicates agency: "I" give (i.e., the Father gives). Love is essentially an act of sacrificial giving... The quintessential passage of Scripture regarding love (αγαπη) in the life of a Christian is found 1 Corinthians 13: "Love seeks not its own..."

Whereas the Akedat Yitzchak foreshadowed God's provision for the coming Temple, the Akedat Yeshua (i.e., the crucifixion of Yeshua at Moriah) was the altar where the justice and chesed (love) of the Father fully met. For more on this incredibly rich subject, please see the articles, "The Passion of Isaac" and "The Sacrificed Seed."
 




Tending the Inner Flame...


 

10.11.13 (Cheshvan 7, 5774)  Of our compassionate Savior Yeshua it is written: "A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench" (Isa. 42:3). People conscious of their frailty and who have been crushed because of it are likened to "bruised reeds" of whom the loving Messiah shall attend. As it is written, "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit." Indeed, He binds up the broken of heart and gives liberty to those in bondage (Isa. 61:1). "A smoking flax shall he not quench" likewise means that our Lord will not snuff out an unsteady flame ready to expire, but will tend to it with special oil to cause it to burn more brightly...

Shabbat shalom to you all, and especially to those of you who are of "unsteady flame..." May God pour out his oil upon you so you can shine for him. Amen.
 




Hope, despite ourselves...


 

10.11.13 (Cheshvan 7, 5774)  We must give our secret pain to God, even if we don't understand it, and even if it refuses to go away... Our hearts are often vexed; we are a mess of mixed motives; we are "strong to be made weak, weak to be made strong." Blessings and curses come from the same mouth... And yet, despite all this, despite our inner contradictions, the battle between the "old man" and the "new," this "divided house" of our inner life - our sorrows, our troubles, our fears – we must endure ourselves, we must press on, and we must never let go of hope in God's love.  Therefore we must not hide ourselves from God's presence, nor pretend to be what we are not. We are invited to come boldly before the Lord to help in our hour of need (Heb. 4:16). O Lord my God, be Thou my healer, the One who makes me whole: "Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed, save me, and I shall be saved, for your are my praise."
 

רְפָאֵנִי יְהוָה וְאֵרָפֵא
הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי וְאִוָּשֵׁעָה כִּי תְהִלָּתִי אָתָּה

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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."

God sees what He does within us, His "it-is-finished" work, the effect of His great salvation within our hearts, even if at this present hour this 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. So don't give up. We are saved by hope (ἐλπίδι ἐσώθημεν, Rom. 8:24), a hope for you today.
 




Hidden Life in God...


 

10.11.13 (Cheshvan 7, 5774)  It is said that the tzaddikim (righteous) are "doubly called" by God: "Abraham, Abraham" (Gen. 22:11), "Jacob, Jacob" (Gen. 46:2), "Moses, Moses" (Exod. 3:4), "Samuel, Samuel" (1 Sam. 3:10), "Saul, Saul" (Acts 9:4), and so on, because the LORD calls to both the soul in this world but also to the soul in heaven. When God told Abram to "get out of your land," he called him to focus on heavenly places – to find his identity there. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God..." (Matt. 6:33). Thus David says, "I shall walk before the LORD in the land of the living" (Psalm 116:9), which means all his deeds would be done for the sake of heaven. The earth then becomes the "land of the living," or "the land that I will show you," as Abram was told (Gen. 12:1). Likewise, followers of Yeshua no longer find their identity in this world but rather through their spiritual union with the resurrected LORD (Gal. 2:20; 6:14; Eph. 1:3; 2:6)... Therefore we are told to "seek the things that are above (τὰ ἄνω ζητεῖτε) where the Messiah is seated at the right hand of God; focus your thoughts on the things above - not on things here on earth - for you have died, and your life has been hidden (κέκρυπται) with Messiah in God. Then when the Messiah, who is your life, appears, you too will appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4).

So have you heard the "upward call of God in Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil. 3:14)? This "upward call" (τῆς ἄνω κλήσεως) is the invitation from above, the sound of the heavenly Voice, beckoning you to enter the "high country" of the world to come. As Yeshua said, "I am from above (ἐγὼ ἐκ τῶν ἄνω)." Our true identity is not found in this world and its vain philosophy. The cross brings these things to an end, as we "cross over" from the realm of the dead to the realm of life (Gal. 6:14). Can you say: "I have been crucified with Messiah. It is no longer I who live, but Messiah who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20)?

The great commandment is always Shema - listen - and heed God's Voice: "And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left (Isa. 30:21). At any given moment of our day, then, we can attune ourselves to hear the "upward call" and come "boldly before the Throne of Grace" (Heb. 4:16). The world knows nothing of this realm and is enslaved by appearances and the delusions of this realm, olam hazeh. As Yeshua said, "To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given" (Matt. 13:11). The Spirit always says, "Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you" (Isa. 26:20). The LORD beckons: "Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known" (Jer. 33:3). And I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, "Come up here, and I will show you..." (Rev 4:1). The repeated or "double call" of heaven is the voice of love. The Beloved calls out to the beloved: "Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away" (Song 2:10, 2:13).

May God quicken his love within our inmost depths... May he make all this real for us.
 




Created for the Messiah...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]

10.10.13 (Cheshvan 6, 5774)  The sages say that the departure of Abraham from his country, kindred, and his father's house represented a sort of "third creation," after the first account given in Genesis and the rebirth of the world after the flood. The midrash says that the world itself was created for the sake of Abraham's progeny: Where is is written, "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created" (Gen. 2:4), the letters of the word translated "when they were created" (i.e., be'hibaram: בְּהִבָּרְאָם) can be rearranged to spell "in Abraham" (i.e., בְּאַבְרָהָם), which suggests that the world was created for the sake of Abraham's seed, that is, the Messiah. Yes, as it is written, "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Indeed, all of creation - including your very life - is being constantly upheld by the word of the Messiah's power (Heb. 1:3). Creation begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our LORD... The Messiah is the Center of Creation - its beginning and end. "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).

Yeshua our Messiah is called מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים / Melech Malchei Hamelachim: The "King of kings of kings." He is LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest celestial glory to the dust of death upon a cross.  יְהִי שֵׁם יהוה מְברָךְ / yehi shem Adonai mevorakh: "Let the Name of the LORD be blessed" forever and ever (Psalm 113:2).
 




An Unconditional Promise...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]

10.10.13 (Cheshvan 6, 5774)  When Abram asked how he could know that he would inherit the land of Canaan (Gen. 15:8), God ratified his promise with a covenant ceremony, which served as a sort of "sworn contract."  In ancient times, a common way to make a formal agreement was for two parties to lay their hands on the head of an animal that was slaughtered and then divided into pieces. Each party of the contract would then hold hands as they walked between the pieces, somberly pledging themselves to the terms of the agreement - lest they suffer the same fate that befell the animal (see Jer. 34:18). In the case of Abram, however, God's agreement to give him the land was clearly unconditional, since after slaughtering the animals he fell into a deep trance (תַּרְדֵּמָה) that immobilized him and rendered him powerless to act. When he awoke from the trance, he saw God walking alone between the pieces (Gen. 15:17). In other words, God made a unilateral promise to give the land to Abram, and Abram was simply to keep faith in God's word...

The "Abraham covenant" i.e., the "Covenant Between the Parts" (בְּרִית בֵּין הַבְּתָרִים), is clearly an unconditional and unilateral covenant established by means of the oath of God Almighty. Note that the "smoking furnace" alludes to the altar at the Tabernacle, as the "flaming torch" alludes to the menorah in the Holy Place. These both picture the altar of the cross and the Light of the World given in Yeshua. Like Abram, we find ourselves in a "trancelike" state, unable to do the sacrifice, but God only asks that we keep faith in Him. Those who want to impugn God's plan for ethnic Israel need to remember that if God could break his promise to Abram, he could likewise break his promise to the church...

Note also that the boundaries of the land promised to Abram are described as being "from the river of Egypt (Nile) to the great river, the river Euphrates" (Gen. 15:18), an area of land that was never fully possessed by the Jewish people, even during the reign of king Solomon. This "greater Israel" will indeed be given to the Jewish people as their homeland during the time of the Millennial Kingdom, when Yeshua establishes Zion upon the earth...

 




Faith's Ongoing Passion...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]

10.10.13 (Cheshvan 6, 5774)  From our Torah this week we read: "When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to him and said, "I am El Shaddai (אֲנִי־אֵל שַׁדַּי); walk before me and be perfect" (Gen. 17:1). The Talmud comments that if a person attempts to do a mitzvah but because of circumstances beyond his control cannot fulfill it, God regards it as if it were done (Berachot 6a). What matters here is the person's intent, the desire of the heart, and the sincere attempt to walk in faith before God. This is very different than someone who merely says he desires God's will but is devoid of any action: "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead" (James 2:26). Therefore it is said that God remembers the "ashes of Isaac" even though the Angel restrained Abraham's hand. Abraham's intent to obey invested the sacrificial act as substantive, as though it were actually accomplished. "Walk before me and be perfect" therefore means resolve your heart to hear and obey the Spirit of God. Being "perfect" means being complete in your trust, being "whole with your God..." (Deut. 18:13). May God help each of us be united with his heart and passion...
 




Possessor of Reality...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]

10.10.13 (Cheshvan 6, 5774)  Abram's miraculous victory over the four kings (Gen. 14) demonstrates that a tzaddik, a righteous man, means more to God than the political affairs of the superpowers of the world. Indeed, "the nations are like a drop from a bucket and are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness" (Isa. 40:15,17). Nations come and go, but the lowliest individual will outlive them all. When Abram returned from Damascus after rescuing his nephew Lot from the rulers of the world, he passed through Shalem (Jerusalem) and gave homage to "Melchizedek" (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק), "priest of God Most High," who celebrated the victory with bread and wine, tokens of sacrifice to the Creator. Melchizedek said, "Blessed is Abram to El Elyon (lit., the "Ascended God"), possessor of heaven and earth..." (Gen. 14:19). He referred to God as the possessor of the world (the Hebrew word koneh [קנֵה] is a present participle, meaning that God always is in possession of reality). God is the Master of the universe, LORD of all realms and domains. If you do not trust that God is completely in charge of your life - that not even a hair can fall from your head apart from Him - then you are dishonoring his Name! "He's got the whole world in his hands." Yeshua is called the "ruler of kings of the earth," the LORD of Glory who alone has the "keys of Death and Hades." Nothing can thwart his plans; no power can overcome His will, and no one can impugn his perfections.... Living in fear of sickness, distress, terror, death, and so on, denies God's providential Presence and Power. The Lord clothes the lilies of the field and feeds the birds of the air - and he watches over you as the Good Shepherd of your soul.

Note:  The midrash says that Malki-Tzedek revealed to Abraham the inner meaning of the high priesthood, namely that service of God is pure devotion rendered by offering oneself as a sacrifice to the Creator (i.e., mesirat nefesh). The author of the Book of Hebrews notes that the priesthood of Malki-Tzedek was greater than that of Levi, since Abram offered tithes to him, and David foresaw the great priesthood to come in Jesus (Heb. 7; Psalm 110:4). For more on this subject, see "Who was Malki-Tzedek?"
 




New Hebrew Typography Prints!


 

10.10.13 (Cheshvan 6, 5774)  A new collection of Hebrew prints from Piece of History's Hebrew Typography series includes a concise description of the ancient letter's origin and meaning (text provided by John Parsons of Hebrew for Christians). The prints are made and designed in Israel. Use this distinct, modern representation of one of the oldest symbols to decorate the wall of your home or office. Each print size is 50 x 70cm (19 x 27in.) and the price includes free worldwide shipping directly from Israel. Click here to order.

 

Note:  Hebrew for Christians receives no royalties or money from the sale of these prints.
 




Power in Unity...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]

10.10.13 (Cheshvan 6, 5774)  Abram said to Lot, "Let there be no strife (מְרִיבָה) between you and me" (Gen. 13:8). Abram understood there is great power in peace that preserves us from the destructive forces of the world. The enemy of our souls sows discord, suspicion, and division to separate us from one another. Yeshua prayed that we would be united, but if we reject or despise others over minor differences of theology, we are sinning against the God of love and truth. The midrash says that some members of the Levite clan responsible for carrying the menorah, the table of showbread, and the holy Ark, once died because they failed to show respect to one another. When the sanctuary was to be moved, each one wanted to carry the ark, and they argued among themselves about why they should be first. In the heat of argument, they forgot they were standing before the Ark itself, and this resulted in their deaths. Tragically their pettiness blinded them to the greater reality – and the greater purpose of the Ark itself. May the prayer of our great King and High Priest be answered in us: "Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one" (John 17:11).
 




Famine and Sufficiency...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]

10.09.13 (Cheshvan 5, 5774)  From our Torah this week we read: "Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt..." (Gen. 12:10). Some of the sages say this was a spiritual famine - "not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD" (Amos 8:11). Abram's community grew restless in the land, uncertain, and their hearts began to wander. Such was the "famine in the land." Abram then went down to Egypt (i.e., mitzraim: מִצְרַיִם, a place of metzar or restriction) to learn the need for God's salvation (i.e., yeshuah: יְשׁוּעָה, a word that means deliverance from restriction, that is, freedom and peace). As it is written: "From my distress (מִן־הַמֵּצַר), "my Egypt," I called to the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me in a wide open place" (Psalm 118:5). This further explains why after God delivered the family from Pharaoh, Abram returned to the altar at Bethel to worship the LORD (Gen. 13:3-4). Abram's return to the altar represents returning the house of God, to the blessing of salvation and the inheritance of freely serving God. "God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work" (2 Cor. 9:8).
 




First Words to Abram...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]

10.09.13 (Cheshvan 5, 5774)  The very first time God spoke to Abram marked the beginning of the Jewish people, and the very first thing he said was lekh-lekha (לֶךְ־לְךָ), "go to yourself," by leaving behind what has previously defined your life, namely, 1) your land, 2) your relatives, and 3) your father's house (Gen. 12:1). Note that the order is reversed from what we might naturally expect, moving from the general to the specific, until ultimately we discern that we "go to ourselves" in order to leave ourselves behind... Only after this are we able to enter the land God will show us... As Yeshua said, "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 16:25).
 

וַיּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל־אַבְרָם
לֶךְ־לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ
אֶל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ

va·yo·mer · Adonai · el · Av·ram
lekh-le·kha · me·ar·tze·kha · u·mi·mo·lad·te·kha · u·mi·beit · a·vi·kha
el · ha·a·retz · a·sher · ar·e·ka
 

Now the LORD said to Abram:
"Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house
to the land that I will show you."


"Now the LORD said to Abram, 'Go...  and I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, and you will be a blessing" (Gen. 12:1-2). Note that the first letters of "and you will be a blessing" (i.e., וֶהְיֵה בְּרָכָה) are Vav + Hey (וה), which are the last two letters of the four-letter name YHVH (יהוה), and that signify "the Man (ו) of Spirit (ה)." The first two letters of YHVH spell Yah (יָהּ), referring to God, and the last two therefore refer to the Messiah, the Man of Spirit and Promised Seed. With the call of Abram, Vav + Hey would precede Yod + Hey, suggesting that Abram would serve as a conduit of the Divine Presence to the world. This is the deeper meaning of ve'heyeih berakhah ("and you will be a blessing"), since it meant Abram would be a direct forebear of the coming Messiah. This Hebrew wordplay also suggests that you will be a blessing, a person of Spirit (וה), when you put the LORD (יָהּ) first in your life...
 




Justification by Faith...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]

10.09.13 (Cheshvan 5, 5774)  "And he believed in the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). We are made right with God by trusting in his promises. The Talmud (Makkot 23b-24a) says, "Moses gave Israel 613 commandments, David reduced them to eleven (Psalm 15), Isaiah to six (Isaiah 33:15-16), Micah to three (Micah 6:8), Isaiah reduced them again to two (Isaiah 56:1); but it was Habakkuk who gave the one essential commandment: ve'tzaddik be'emunato yich'yeh (וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה), literally, "the righteous one, by his trust, shall find life" (Hab. 2:4). The New Testament likewise distills the various commandments to the principle that we find life by trusting in God (see Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11, and Heb. 10:38). Spiritual life is the blessing of faith, since apart from faith we are spiritually dead and "powerless (ἀδύνατος) to please God" (Heb. 11:6). As King David said, "The LORD is near to all who call upon Him - to all who call upon Him in the truth" (Psalm 145:18). God is near to the honest soul who confesses the truth about his need, just as God distances himself from the proud and puffed up soul:
 

הִנֵּה עֻפְּלָה לא־יָשְׁרָה נַפְשׁוֹ בּוֹ
 וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה

hin·nei  u·pe·lah  lo  ya·she·rah  naf·sho   bo
ve·tzad·dik  be·e·mu·na·to   yich·yeh
 

"Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
 but the righteous shall find life by means of his trust."
(Hab. 2:4)


 
Hebrew Study Card
 
 

Recall that the people of Israel were redeemed because they trusted in the promise of their deliverance, as it is written, "and the people believed (וַיַּאֲמֵן הָעָם) and bowed their heads" (Exod. 4:31). Faith is the essence of all true Torah from heaven, since apart from it no one can possibly find spiritual life (Heb. 11:6). This is why the first commandment is simply, "I AM the LORD thy God..." (Exod. 20:2). We start here, by trusting that the LORD is our God, since without that, nothing else follows. 

The very purpose of creation is to know the love of the blessed Creator, and consequently whoever disregards or suppresses this truth fails to apprehend the essential reason for his or her existence.  The meaning or message of reality itself is revealed and grounded in God's great love (1 John 4:8). Like the precious promises of a bridegroom to his beloved, the words of Scripture are to be kept in the "midst of the heart" where they serve as a source of life (Prov. 4:21-22).
 




Righteousness and Faith...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]

10.09.13 (Cheshvan 5, 5774)  Our Torah portion this week describes how Abram was declared righteous because he trusted in God's promise for his life. The Hebrew word emunah (אֱמוּנָה), often rendered as "faith" in many English translations, comes from the root word aman (אָמַן), which means to rest securely or rely upon (and from which we also get the word "amen"). The root occurs for the first time in the Torah in connection with Abraham: "And he believed (וְהֶאֱמִן) in the LORD, and He regarded it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). But what was the nature of Abraham's faith that caused God to regard it as tzedakah (צְדָקָה) or "righteousness"? What was the "object" or "content" of his faith? Was it not that Abram knew the character and will of God so intimately that he unconditionally put his trust in Him? Abraham was declared tzaddik (righteous) because he believed and understood that the LORD would fulfill His promise to him, despite his advanced age and the seeming impossibility of becoming the father of a multitude of nations (for more on this, click here). Abraham affirmed God's promise by saying the first "amen."

Now while emunah has an intellectual aspect that understands God's attributes and character, it certainly goes beyond mere intellectual apprehension and assent (i.e., the idea of believing certain ideas or doctrines), since the "object" of faith is the Person of the Living God Himself. Therefore it is not inaccurate to say that emunah is more "belief in" than "belief that." The root word (aman) later appears when the Torah describes how Moses' arms were "steadied" by Aaron and Chur during the battle against Amalek (Exod. 17:12). Genuine faith is a settled conviction (ἔλεγχος) that what God has promised will indeed come to pass (Heb. 11:1). It accepts that God's verbal promise of our future good is entirely reliable and sure - regardless of the present circumstances (it is telling, is it not, that Abram's faith was tested when God asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac on the altar; the obedience of Abram went beyond the evidence, or rather persisted in spite of contrary evidence, and yet remained steadfast). Abraham believed in a future state of affairs (a future-tense proposition) as expressed in his present faith in the Person and Promise of God. He foresaw the redemption of the world (the Messiah) and understood God's promise of salvation (John 8:56).
 

    "What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. But what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due, but to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness" (Rom. 4:1-5).
     

Note:  For more on this subject, see the article, "Emunah and Bittachon."
 




The Name El Shaddai...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]

10.08.13 (Cheshvan 4, 5774)  When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to him and said, "I am El Shaddai (אֲנִי־אֵל שַׁדַּי); walk before me, and be made whole" (Gen. 17:1). Since the compound name "El Shaddai" depicts the image of a nursing mother (i.e., the word shadayim (שדיים) means "breasts," symbolizing sufficiency and nourishment, e.g., Gen. 49:25), perhaps this revelation was meant to remind Abram and Sarai that the LORD would be the Womb, the Sustenance, and the Substance of the coming promised Seed. Only God can bring life out of death - even life from the deadness of Sarai's womb (see Rom. 4:19). For this reason, both Sarai and Abram were renamed by adding the letter Hey (ה) to their original names, symbolizing the Holy Spirit of God. The promised Seed was to be born miraculously, not unlike the virgin birth of the Messiah reported in the Gospels (i.e., just as Sarai was "without a womb" yet enabled to bear the promised seed (of Isaac), so was Mary, a virgin who was enabled to bear God's promised Seed - the Messiah).
 

וַיּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִי־אֵל שַׁדַּי
הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי וֶהְיֵה תָמִים

vai·yo·mer · e·lav · a·ni · El · Shad·dai
hit·ha·lekh · le·fa·nai · ye·he·yeh · ta·mim
 

And He said to him: "I am El Shaddai,
walk before Me and be made whole" (Gen. 17:1)


 
 

In connection with the name El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדַּי), we note that Abraham has more identifiable descendants than any other person in history... From the line of Isaac would come the twelve tribes of the Jewish people (as well as all those Gentiles who have been grafted into the covenantal blessings of Israel, i.e., the "church"), and from Ishmael would come the twelve tribes of the Ishmaelite people. Abraham also later married Keturah who bore him six more sons that became founders of six other nations of the Arab world, including the Midianites. To signify Abram's status, God changed his name from Avram ("exalted father" [from אָב, "father," + רָם, "exalted"]) to Avraham ("father of a multitude," a homonymic wordplay from אָב, "father" + המוֹן, "crowd").  Notice that some regard Avraham's name to mean "father of mercy" (from אָב, "father" + רחם, "womb").

Note:  Most English translations render El Shaddai as "God Almighty," probably because the translators of the Septuagint (i.e., the ancient Greek translation of the Torah) thought that shaddai came from a root verb (shadad: שָׁדַד) that meant "to overpower" or "to destroy." The Latin Vulgate likewise translated shaddai as "Omnipotens," from which we get our English word "omnipotent." or "all-powerful." In other words, the translators regarded this term to suggest that God is so overpowering that He is considered "Almighty." For more on this topic, please see "God as El Shaddai."
 




Returning Along the Way...


 

10.08.13 (Cheshvan 4, 5774)  The moment you sense pride taking hold, stop and turn to God. Even if you must turn 70 x 7 times, there is hope, since even "being willing to do God's will" refines the heart. It is far better to be repeatedly turning to God in brokenness than to live under the illusion 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 most at risk here, since they often fool themselves into thinking that they must know everything about God, or that they must be walking in joy and victory, even when they are lonely, hurting, and unsure of themselves... We must be careful.  Any religion that demands its adherents to always be "up" and is untrue to the human condition. Reread the Psalms or consider the dark walk of faith that many of our forefathers (and foremothers) walked. God wants all our hearts, chaverim, not just the parts we think that he wants. As Paul said, "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 - and therefore to undergo real change. "Now, with God's help, I shall become myself."

We change as we "catch up" with the miracle of God's transformation of our hearts by faith, we witness the "bloom of his inner seed," so to speak. It's God's miracle in us, not the result of our own striving.  We trust in the miracle of God's love and power.
 




Escape from Egypt...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]

10.08.13 (Cheshvan 4, 5774)  Some time after entering the promised land, Abram's faith was tested: "Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there..." (Gen. 12:10). The sages say that Abram stumbled by leaving the land, and that he should have trusted that the LORD would provide for him despite the lack of food. Indeed during his time in Egypt Abram lost sight of God, lied about Sarai, compromised his values, and was passive as his wife was abducted into Pharaoh's harem; the situation got so bad that God finally intervened by sending "great plagues" upon Pharaoh and his household to rescue the family from their captivity (Gen. 12:17). Because of these plagues, Pharaoh urged Abram to to make an "exodus" from the land, and Abram left with wealth acquired there (including Hagar, a daughter of Pharaoh). Humbled by his lapse of faith, Abram then returned to the altar he built near Bethel and called upon the LORD (Gen. 12:10-13:4). Note the parallels here with the later deliverance from Egypt under Moses. Indeed, during the "dark vision" Abram had at the "covenant of the parts" ritual, he foresaw that his experience with Pharaoh would be revisited in the lives of his children (Gen. 15:12-18). Even a great tzaddik like Abram had to learn obedience, as indeed did Messiah himself: "Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered" to become our great High Priest (Heb. 5:8-10). "Out of Egypt have I called my son..."

Abram's carnal excursion to Egypt resulted in the addition of Hagar to the family, and through her role as a "surrogate mother," to the advent of Abram's son Ishmael. Later the Apostle Paul associated the descendants of Hagar as "children of the flesh" in contrast to the descendants of Sarah who are "children of the promise." Ishmael's conception was "natural," i.e., was "of the flesh" and the result of human intervention and calculation; Isaac's conception, on the other hand, was supernatural and the result of God's direct intervention and design. Paul interprets these historical events in allegorical terms. The two mothers "represent" two distinct covenants: Hagar (the daughter of Pharaoh) represents the covenant made at Sinai that results in "children born for slavery," whereas Sarah represents the covenant made earlier based on divine promise that results in freeborn children (Gal. 4:24-27). Mount Sinai is in the barren wilderness -- the starting point of a nation that was once enslaved in Egypt; but Mount Zion/Jerusalem (representing the fulfilled promise) is in the "land flowing with milk and honey" -- the end point of a nation that was divinely chosen. Mount Sinai is ultimately barren, but Mount Zion is "the perfection of beauty" (Psalm 50:2) that bears innumerable children (Isa. 54:1). For more on this subject, see "The Allegory of Hagar and Sarah."
 




Our Daily Deliverance...


 

10.07.13 (Cheshvan 3, 5774)  Just as we ask God for daily bread (לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ), so we ask him for our daily deliverance: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one" (Matt 6:13). Note that the term translated "evil" in many translations ("deliver us from evil") is a substantive rather than an adjective: τοῦ πονηροῦ, the evil one... "Give us this day our daily deliverance from the evil one...." Our daily bread and our daily deliverance are connected with our decision to "choose life" (בַּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים) -- and to always choose life -- even in moments we find difficult, distressing, and even when we might wish that we were no longer living... Choosing life means refusing to escape reality by evading the significance of our choices; it means finding the will to regard life as worthy; it implies that we will eat our bread in trust that the Lord is at work even in the darkest of hours (Passover occurred at midnight)... Choosing life means refusing to eat the fruit of death and to seek Yeshua, the Tree of Life. We live one day at a time; we only have today. We are given daily bread for this hour of our need. Today is the day of your deliverance - if you are willing to walk in it. Therefore, the Spirit of the Living God cries out, "Choose life and live!"

"Do not be grieved (even over yourself), for the joy of the LORD is your strength" (Neh. 8:10). Affirming the love, goodness, faithfulness, compassion, and salvation of God is a powerful way to defeat the enemy of our souls, who regularly seeks to discourage us. King David constantly asked God to help him in his spiritual struggles. "Though I walk in the midst of trouble (בְּקֶרֶב צָרָה), you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me" (Psalm 138:7). "For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled" (Psalm 143:2-3). Despite whatever struggle we may face, "the LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). Indeed, the Lord God is far greater than your heart's sin and will one day entirely deliver you of sin's effect and influence.
 




Father of all who believe...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]

10.07.13 (Cheshvan 3, 5774)  Abraham is traditionally regarded as the first Jew, but the truth is that he was a "Gentile," the son of an idolater (Josh. 24:2), who heard God's voice and then began his pilgrimage of faith to the land of promise (Heb. 11:8-11). Moreover, God personally chose Abraham, promising to make him into a blessing, while he was not yet circumcised, and it was only later, after he sacrificed his beloved son Isaac (i.e., the Akedah) that he was promised that in his Seed (זֶרַע) shall all the nations of the earth be blessed (Gen. 22:18). It was the faith of Abraham - especially as demonstrated by the Akedah - that prefigured the justification of the nations through faith. This is the "Gospel of Moses" which Yeshua alluded (John 5:46). Therefore we read: "And the Scripture, foreseeing (προοράω) that God would justify the nations by faith, proclaimed the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed" (Gal. 3:9). In other words, God's great plan of salvation was from the beginning for all the nations of the earth to be redeemed.

If you understand Jewish thinking on the subject (as opposed to Gentile thinking), Abraham was regarded as the first Jew because he received the rite of brit millah (circumcision). That was the Apostle Paul's understanding as well, as well as the point he made that Abraham was the father of faith for both Jew and non-Jew: "He [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised" (Rom. 4:11-12). As Paul further said regarding this topic, "For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision manifest in the flesh (φανερῷ ἐν σαρκὶ). But a Jew is one inwardly (κρυπτός), and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God" (Rom. 2:28-29). "For neither the rite of circumcision counts for anything, nor does uncircumcision - but בְּרִיאָה חֲדָשָׁה - a new creation" (Gal. 6:15).

In this connection it is helpful to remember that the word "Jew" (יְהוּדִי) comes from a root (יָדָה) which means to "thank" or to "praise" (Gen. 29:35). The Apostle Paul alluded to this by saying that a Jew whose heart has been circumcised by the Spirit is "one who is praised by God," not by men (Rom. 2:29). Being a Jew therefore means that you are "chosen" to receive blessings and grace to live in holiness for the glory of God and for the welfare of the world. The performance of various commandments are for the greater purpose of tikkun olam, the "repair of the world," in order to reveal God's goodness and love. Doing so makes someone a Jew, not some external rite of brit milah (circumcision). God is the source and the power of what makes a true tzaddik. After all, Israel was meant to be a "light to the nations" (Isa. 42:6; 60:3), and God had always planned for all the families of the earth to come to know Him and give Him glory through Abraham (Gen. 12:3). "Jewishness" is therefore not an end in itself but rather a means to bring healing to the nations...  Indeed, the entire redemptive story of the Scriptures centers on the cosmic conflict to deliver humanity from the "curse" by means of the "Seed of the woman" who would come. The gospel is Jewish because it concerns God's great redemptive plan for the whole world...

The first shall be last, and vice-verse (Mark 10:31; Matt. 8:11). "And Yeshua called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:42-45). May it please the LORD to give us all Jewish hearts, full of His praise and the desire to help others in His Name.

Note:  If you are a non-Jewish follower of Messiah, it is better not to regard yourself as a "Gentile" any longer, but as a new creation, one who has "crossed over" from death to life in Yeshua... You are circumcised inwardly by the Spirit and are grafted into the covenant promises given to ethnic Israel. You are no longer a stranger but a fellow heir and member of God's household (Eph. 2:11-13). In the end of days, "all Israel will be saved," which implies that the Jewish people will be restored to God. The great vision of Zion comes...
 




Crossing Over to Life...


 

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

10.07.13 (Cheshvan 3, 5774)  Our Torah portion this week begins: "Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go (לֶךְ־לְךָ) from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land I will show you" (Gen. 12:1). The Book of Hebrews comments, "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance, and he went out, not knowing where he was going... for he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Heb. 11:8,10). The Sefat Emet says that every person of faith is likewise commanded daily to "lekh-lekha," to "go for yourself" by crossing over from the world and its deadening habits to live as an exile with God. Paradoxically, we find ourselves when we lose ourselves - when we leave behind the labels, roles, and identities this world foists upon us and instead resolve to seek the promise of God's Kingdom. As Yeshua said, "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 16:25).
 




The Meaning of "Hebrew"


 

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

10.06.13 (Cheshvan 2, 5774)  In our Torah for this week Abram is called ha-ivri (הָעִבְרִי) - "the Hebrew," a term that means "one who has crossed over" (עָבַר) from another place.  Rashi identifies this "other place" as Ur of the Chaldees (אוּר כַּשְׂדִים), located east of the Euphrates River, though the midrash (Genesis Rabbah) symbolically identifies it as the realm of idolatry: "The whole world stood on one side, but Abram crossed over to the other." Abram separated himself from a world steeped in idolatry and polytheism by worshiping the One LORD God who is the sole Creator of all things.... Understood in this way, being "Hebrew" means being regarded as an "other," a "stranger," or an "outsider" to idolatrous world culture. Similarly, all those who "cross over" from the realm of death to life because of Yeshua our Savior are rightly called "Hebrews" (John 5:24).

To Abram came to divine invitation: "Go forth ... I will show you" (Gen. 12:1). It was only after Abram made the long journey to the unknown land of Canaan that God appeared to him to him by the Oaks of Mamre saying, "To your offspring I will give this land" (Gen. 18:1). Abram did not believe the promise because he saw God; he saw God only after he had ventured out in faith. First Abram heard the message, and later - after he acted on his faith - was he enabled to see more. This is the deeper meaning of being "Hebrew," one who crosses over from the realm of the dead to the realm of the Living God...

Therefore hearing (shema) is more important than simply seeing... When we hear the truth and accept it into our understanding, it informs our perceptions, not the other way around. Truth is something revealed to the heart first, and only later to the senses.
 




Parashat Lekha - לך־לך


 

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

10.06.13 (Cheshvan 2, 5774)  Last week's Torah portion (i.e., parashat Noach) showed how the LORD miraculously preserved Noah and his family from the cataclysmic judgment of the great flood. Just as there were ten generations from Adam to Noah, so there were also ten generations from Noah to Abram. And just as Noah became the father of 70 nations, so Abram would become the father of the Jewish people, through whom the Promised Seed - the Messiah and Savior of the world - would eventually come.

In our Torah portion this week (Lekh-Lekha), we read that Abram was 75 years old, married to (his half-sister) Sarai, and guardian of his nephew Lot (his deceased brother Haran's son) when he received the promise of divine inheritance: "And the LORD said to Abram, "Go from (i.e., lekh-lekha: לך־לך) your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.  In Hebrew, the phrase lekh lekha means "go for yourself" (lit. "walk [הָלַךְ] for yourself [לְךָ]"), though it can be interpreted it to mean "go to yourself," that is, "look within yourself" in order to begin walking out your own journey into the promises. The realm of divine promise is only attained when we venture out in faith. Like our father Abraham, we are called to "cross over," leave everything behind, and take hold of God's glorious promise for our lives.

 

 




Seeing the Unseen...


 

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

10.04.13 (Tishri 30, 5774)  From the point of view of the spirit, the outer is not the inner, since the kingdom of heaven is manifest within you. The realm of mere appearance is therefore inherently deceptive and misleading. Faith trusts in the unseen power of God, not by using eyes that look at the shadows of the world and its emptiness. As Yeshua said, "Do not judge by appearances (ὄψις), but judge with right judgment" (John 7:24). The world and its lusts passes away; it is entirely vain and empty: "tohu" (תּהוּ) - confusion and unreality (1 John 2:15-17). And if even an army were to rise up against us, the heart of faith shall not fear, since it discerns that all things that are ultimately real come to us from the Living God, from the One who speaks to the heart and calls us to believe in the unseen good.  Adonai ori ve'yishi, mimi ira? The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
 

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָד

Adonai · o·ri · ve·yish·i, · mi'mi · i·ra?
Adonai · ma'oz · chay·ai, · mi'mi · ef·chad?
 

"The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?"
(Psalm 27:1)


 
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Surely our great need is to have heart, to find strength, resolution, and steadfast determination to walk boldly during these heartless and depraved days (2 Tim. 3:1-5). We are not without God's help, of course. Yeshua told us that the Ruach HaKodesh (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) would be "called alongside" (παράκλητος) to comfort us on the journey. The English verb "comfort" literally means "to give strength" (from com- ["with"] and fortis ["strong"]), an idea similarly expressed by the verb "encourage," that is, to "put heart [i.e., 'core'] within the soul." In Hebrew, the word courage is expressed by the phrase ometz lev (אמֶץ לֵב), meaning "strong of heart," denoting an inner quality of the will rather than of the intellect. Ometz lev means having an inner resolve, a passion, and a direction.

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith (Heb. 11:7). "Therefore we do not lose heart (lit., we do not faint in despair). Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we 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. 4:16-18). Press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Yeshua our Messiah (Phil. 3:14).

Shabbat Shalom, friends! Beauty for ashes! May God fill you with His peace and comfort, even in the midst of the sometimes stormy struggle to surrender to His perfect love. Be strong and let us be strengthened as we rest in Yeshua, our great LORD and Messiah, our Healer and our Deliverer.  Amen.
 




The Root of Sin and Death...


 

[ The following is related to last week's Torah portion, parashat Bereshit... ]

10.04.13 (Tishri 30, 5774)  The commandment prohibiting eating from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil (עֵץ הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע) contained all other Torah commandments by implication (Gen. 2:17). The commandments not to worship idols, not to curse God, not to steal, not to kill, not to commit adultery, not to covet, and to enforce justice all derive from this primary commandment given in the garden.  After all, Adam lost awareness of God by focusing on himself (idolatry) and failed to express love and reverence for God (profanity); he took from the Tree what was forbidden (coveting/stealing) which led to his own death (killing) and his own inner promiscuity (adultery). He failed to be vigilant and exercise justice by removing the presence of the tempting snake... Notice how these implications form the basic categories of the Ten Commandments, as well as the 613 commandments given later at Sinai. Looked at the other way, all of the commandments of Torah were concentrated into this single prohibition, since had Adam refrained from eating, he likewise would have refrained from all the other sins derived from this first great transgression. Moreover, since the essence of Torah is to trust God (i.e., "the righteous shall live by his faith"), when Adam sinned, he lost faith and the exile began... The Tree of Knowledge of good and evil is really the tree of the knowledge of sin and death.  Just as the law defined sin to reveal our lethal spiritual condition, so the Tree of Knowledge led to the consequence of death and the revelation of our need for healing and deliverance given by Yeshua. "The law of the Spirit of life sets you free in Yeshua the Messiah from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2).

The root of sin and death is found in the desire for "the knowledge of good and evil," that is, by seeking that which what defines sin, or that which is not God's will... It is the attempt to transcend God's authority for something beyond his sovereign good for us, and as such it denies reality and leads to exile and death. In this connection we note that the Hebrew phrase that warns of the consequence of eating from the Tree is mot tamut (מוֹת תָּמוּת), meaning "in dying you will die," which both implies the spiritual nature of death as separation from the divine life, but also the repeated experience of death – the ongoing knowledge of decay, dissolution, and loss...
 




Unforgotten in the Storm...


 

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

10.04.13 (Tishri 30, 5774)  Is there anything worse than to feel forgotten by God, abandoned, even doomed? After being trapped inside the ark for so many months, tossed about in the midst of the roiling cataclysm and whirlwind of heaven, it must have seemed to Noah that God had altogether forgotten his promise to save him, but the Torah states, "God remembered Noah (וַיִּזְכּר אֱלהִים אֶת־נחַ) and all the animals that we were him in the ark" (Gen. 8:1). But why the long silence, especially in such time of grave peril? Why did God seemingly hide his face? Why, except to teach Noah patience and perseverance in the midst of the great storm. Noah is a model of tested faith, which, though it may struggle with feelings of being unseen and forgotten, in the end overcomes such fear to became an heir of righteousness that comes by faith (Heb. 11:7). So if you're in the midst of a storm with no end in sight, hang on - God is faithful and has not forgotten you....
 




Mirroring One Another...


 

10.04.13 (Tishri 30, 5774)  The Hebrew phrase "middah keneged middah" means "measure for measure," referring to an ethical/spiritual principle of reciprocity, or the idea that what you do to others is measured back to you (see Luke 6:38; Mark 4:24; 2 Cor. 9:6). The word middah (מִדָּה) means "quality" and keneged (כְּנֶגֶד) means "facing" or "opposite" (i.e., ke-, "as" + neged, "against"), so middah keneged middah (מִדָּה כְּנֶגֶד מִדָּה) means the mirroring of qualities, like-for-like (Gal. 6:7). Yeshua appealed to this principle when he said: "Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you use will be measured back to you."

In the Torah we read that Adam was given a companion, an ezer kenegdo (עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ), or a "helper opposite to him." The sages say that Chavah ("Eve") could either function as Adam's helper (ezer) or his adversary (i.e., mitnaged: מִתנַגֵד), depending on his merit. Note that Eve was not created to be in subservience to Adam; on the contrary, she was the "finishing touch" of Adam, a more refined and sensitive counterpart. Chavah would mirror back to Adam the middot (qualities) of himself....

In this connection we note that the Hebrew word for man (i.e., ish: אִישׁ) and the word for woman (i.e., ishah: אִשָּׁה) share the same root word (i.e., esh: אֵשׁ), meaning "fire." The words differ by just two letters - a Yod and a Hey - which together form the Divine Name YAH (יה). If God is present between them, then they will be rightly related as man and woman, but if God is not present (symbolized by the absence of the Yod and Hey, respectively), there will only be a destructive fire (אֵשׁ).
 




Words in the Garden...


 

[ The following is related to last week's Torah portion, parashat Bereshit... ]

10.04.13 (Tishri 30, 5774)  Adam was created from the dust by the hand and breath of God (Gen. 2:4-8). But how did he learn to talk and speak, since words are by nature abstractions from experience of the world? Indeed, since words must be shared to have meaning, God must have taught his son lashon hakodesh (the holy tongue) so they could communicate with each other. Likewise the LORD God taught Adam how to walk, eat, drink, and realize cause and effect. Indeed, Adam is called "the son of God" (Luke 3:38), so he was somewhat like a newborn child in need of his Father. God planted a garden of trees for his son, took him to his new home, and provided him with "living water" that flowed from its midst (Gen. 2:8-10); he spent time teaching him and watching him grow... Adam's role was to serve God (לַעֲבוֹד) and to guard the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, that is, to keep from moral knowledge gained apart from the revelation of his heavenly father, and for this reason we understand Adam's transgression as the rejection of God's word for his life.

In general the sages taught that Adam knew language right "out of the box," so to speak, and the midrash reports his first words as, יהוה מֶלֶךְ עוֹלָם וָעֶד / Adonai malakh olam va'ed: "The LORD is King for ever and ever" (quoting from Exod. 15:18). And while it is true that since words require spirit (breath) to be spoken, and God shared his spirit with Adam, God imparted an innate ability to use language, nonetheless Adam undoubtedly needed to experience life in the garden before his words could have meaning. Therefore we see that Adam named the animals only after he personally encountered each one (Gen. 2:19). The holy language Adam learned came from his communion with his heavenly father...
 




Echoes of Heavenly Glory...


 

10.03.13 (Tishri 29, 5774)  Reality testifies to God's Presence. There is rational, intuitive, and empirical evidence to believe that the universe was created in time by a transcendental power that is the source of all value, meaning, purpose, and so on. To ask, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is not to ask about a possible cause for an observed effect, but to ask about the underlying cause or "ground" of any possible existence at all. The Scriptures reply: "For God's invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature from the creation of the world, have been clearly perceived, because they are understood through what has been made, so people are without excuse" (Rom 1:20).

Look at the sky often, for it is the "daily bread of the eyes." We can see something of the awesome mystery of God's eternal power by considering the vast expanse of the cosmos that surrounds us all. Even with the powerful Hubble Telescope and advanced radio spectrum telescope arrays, we see only a sliver of the vast expanse. Trillions upon trillions stars in as many galaxies, and yet we're looking only through a "crack in the door."
 

הַשָּׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד־אֵל וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו מַגִּיד הָרָקִיעַ
וֹם לְיוֹם יַבִּיעַ אמֶר וְלַיְלָה לְּלַיְלָה יְחַוֶּה־דָּעַת
אֵין־אמֶר וְאֵין דְּבָרִים בְּלִי נִשְׁמָע קוֹלָם
בְּכָל־הָאָרֶץ יָצָא קַוָּם וּבִקְצֵה תֵבֵל מִלֵּיהֶם

ha-shamayim · me'saperim · kevod · El · u'ma'aseh · yadav · maggid · haraki'a
yom · le'yom · yabi'a · omer · ve'laila · le'laila · yechaveh · da'at
ein · omer · v'ein · devarim · beli · nishma · kolam
bekhol · ha'aretz · yatza · kavam · uviktzel · tevel · mileihem
 

The heavens keep telling the story of the glory of God, and the canopy of the sky proclaims the artwork of His hands. Day after day it pours forth in song; night after night bespeaks His knowledge. There is no audible speech, nor words that are heard, yet God's truth is manifest to the ends of the earth; His glory is on display in all realms."
(Psalm 19:1-4)



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The expanse of creation serves to reveal the effects of the Divine Glory, as it says: "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived" (Rom. 1:20). Those who deny the Divine Presence must shut their eyes tight and be very careful not to wonder over the ongoing miracle.  God adorned the great expanse with cosmic flowers of the field!

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

    "You teach," said Emperor Trajan to the sage Joshua, "that your God is everywhere, yet I cannot see him." Joshua said that unlike human kings, the LORD was too powerful for people to see; as it is written in the Torah: "No person shall see Me and live" (Exod. 33:20). The emperor was skeptical, however, and insisted that unless he could see God, he would be unable to believe. Joshua then pointed to the sun high in the sky: "Look into the sun and you will see God." The emperor tried to look into the sun, but was forced to cover his eyes to keep them from burning: "I cannot look into the sun," he said. Joshua then replied: "Listen to yourself: If you cannot look into the sun which is but one of God's creations, how can you expect to look at God?"
     

Yeshua our LORD is "the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords (אֲדוֹן הָאֲדנִים וּמֶלֶךְ הַמְּלָכִים), who alone has eternal life within himself, and who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and everlasting power" (2 Tim. 6:15-16). All the world was created for the sake of the Messiah.
 




Let Go and Let God...


 

10.03.13 (Tishri 29, 5774)  "Who among you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? Therefore do not be anxious like the faithless ones, but understand that Your Heavenly father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matt. 6:8;27). Let go of your fear, give up your need to control, forsake your will to be done... Sanctify God's Name and surrender to His glorious reign; trust him with all your heart. Refuse to heed voices of terror; leave off from rage; let God be God and abandon yourself to his care (Phil. 4:6-7).
 




The Dust of God....


 

[ The following is related to last week's Torah portion, parashat Bereshit... ]

10.03.13 (Tishri 29, 5774)  "Then the LORD God formed the man from dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living soul" (Gen. 2:7). We tend to think of dust in self-effacing terms; for example, repenting in "dust and ashes" expresses unworthiness and sinfulness. Yet the dust God used to form Adam was not worthless, but instead represented very fine particles of creation, a substance suspended midway between heaven and earth, almost a "spiritual matter." This is suggested by the fact that God first intended man to be his image bearer and only then used dust as the material for that higher end. The sages note that regarding the creation of animals, God said, "Let the earth (eretz) bring forth according to their kinds" (Gen. 1:24), but regarding man he said, "Let us make him be'tzelmeinu - in our image (as a photograph), after our likeness" (Gen. 1:26). Therefore God brought forth the lower animals in groups, but he created Adam as the only one of its kind, the son of God and prince of God's creation. God breathed into Adam nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), "a living soul" (the word neshamah [נשָׁמָה] is used to describe life breathed into humans, not to animals). The LORD breathed "out of himself" to share his own spirit with mankind... Therefore your soul does not come from nature, but from God; your inner essence originates directly from the LORD. Yeshua breathes out and says to you, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22).

The very first occurrence of the Name YHVH (יהוה) concerns the creation of Adam. When Adam first opened his eyes and human consciousness was born, he immediately understood that the LORD created all things, including himself. According to midrash, Adam's first words were, יהוה מֶלֶךְ עוֹלָם וָעֶד / Adonai malakh olam va'ed: "The LORD is King for ever and ever" (Exod. 15:18). God then said, "Now the whole world will know that I am King," and He was very pleased. This was the "tov me'od" (טוֹב מְאד) moment of creation, when God saw all that He had made "and found it very good" (Gen. 1:31).

Note: From the statement, "for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground" (Gen. 2:5), the early sages inferred that without man, the physical world itself would be pointless... Though there was mist physically present, the providential rains of blessing needed for the cultivation of plant and animal life would be given solely for the benefit of man... The LORD God planted the garden in the east for the sake of Adam (Gen. 2:8). From the very beginning the LORD is the Fountain of living water (מְקוֹר מַיִם־חַיִּים) poured out for us.
 




A Cosmic Redemption...


 

[ The following is related to last week's Torah portion, parashat Bereshit... ]

10.02.13 (Tishri 28, 5774)  After he was finished creating the universe, we read, "and God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). But what does "very good" (טוֹב מְאד) mean from the divine perspective? Does Torah affirm this is the "best of all possible worlds?" Surely the LORD is Master of the universe, the all-powerful, all-loving One who decrees only the best. And since God alone has the means to invincibly effect his will, nothing can overrule his sovereign purpose, and therefore he must create with perfection the world, notwithstanding the reality of evil and sin (Deut. 32:4; Psalm 18:30; Isa. 45:7). "He is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords" (1 Tim. 6:15). Though his ways are inscrutable, our hope is centered on God's great plan for our complete healing in Jesus: "the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now" (Rom. 8:20-22). Regarded as a unified whole – from Aleph to Tav – the Scriptures reveal total overall perfection, God's overarching glory that pervades all things (Isa. 6:3). Even death itself will be swallowed up in the victory of God's life, and all of creation will be set free from its groaning and exile to be restored back to God (1 Cor. 15:24, 54; 2 Cor. 5:4). We trust, then, that God works "all things together for good" (Rom. 8:28), including our present failures and struggles... As Julian of Norwich said, "All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." Know then that the dark forces have no final power over you, and that death does not have the last word... Hope in the LORD and His plan for your blessing (Jer. 29:11). Trust that your life is eternally significant and meaningful. Every breath you take has been given to you from on High, and every hair on your head is numbered. There is a day coming when God will wipe away every tear and manifest the fullness of love to your wounded heart. "No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor. 2:9; Isa. 64:4).
 




Creation and Rest...


 

[ The following is related to last week's Torah portion, parashat Bereshit... ]

10.02.13 (Tishri 28, 5774)  The general account of creation ends: "So God blessed the seventh day and set it apart as as holy, because on it God rested (שָׁבַת) from all his work that he had created to do" (Gen. 2:3). Here we note that rest (shevat) should not be thought of as idleness, that is, the mere cessation of work, since such is blessed and introduces a higher-level of existence, above the natural realm. This is likened to the "hidden blessing" that no manna fell on Sabbath so that what had been accrued could be used at that time (Exod. 16:25). The midrash says here that God rested only from the "work of this world," but not the work of heaven, that is, the ongoing work of sustaining creation by the word of his power, caring for the righteous and judging the wicked, feeding the birds and watering the lilies of the field... Therefore it was on the Sabbath day that Yeshua asked the paralytic man, "Do you want to be healed?" and then instructed him to take up his mat and walk (John 5:1-9). To those religious gatekeepers who accused him of breaking the Sabbath because he did this, Yeshua said, "My Father is working until now, and I am working too," a statement that enraged them even more, since they understood that Yeshua was making himself equal with God (John 5:17-18).

But what about the matter of Sabbath observance? Did Yeshua "break the Sabbath" or did he have a different understanding of its true meaning? When he was criticized by the Pharisees for allowing his disciples to pick some grain from the fields on the Sabbath, he responded that the Scriptures themselves testified that King David "broke the commandment" by eating the bread reserved for the priests (i.e., the "showbread"), and noted that the priests likewise "profaned" the Sabbath by performing avodah (service) at the Temple (Matt. 12:1-5). Yeshua then stated that "someone greater than the Temple is here" and went on to chastise his accusers by pointing out that the deeper principle of the law is to show mercy before sacrifice (Hos. 6:6, Psalm 51:16-17, Prov. 15:8, Matt. 9:13, etc.). As the very "Lord of the Sabbath" (Matt. 12:8), Yeshua sanctioned acts of mercy to be performed on the consecrated day of rest. Indeed, just as the law permitted a male to be circumcised or an animal to be pulled out of a well on this day, for all the more reason should a man be healed on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:11-13). The Sabbath is not a day of (static) rest but is a means of providing rest for others by doing acts of chesed and mercy.  Again, the Pharisees had confused the "inner" with the "outer" and made a category mistake. "Man was not made for the Sabbath, but Sabbath was made for man" (Mark 2:27). "Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed, this one shall bring us comfort (נָחַם) from our work and from the painful toil of our hands" (Gen. 5:29).
 




Design and Substance...



[ The following is related to last week's Torah portion, parashat Bereshit... ]

10.02.13 (Tishri 28, 5774)  "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was tohu va'vohu - without form and empty, and darkness was over the face of the deep..." (Gen. 1:1-2). The sages comment that knowing that God created the heavens and the earth makes us realize that by themselves earthly things are without purpose and substance, since life in the natural world is havel havalim (הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים), "vanity of vanities," apart from the design (form) and the substance of God. Faith in the upper "world" of God, that is, the heavenly realm, therefore evokes a sense of discontent and longing within the soul, and the temporal world and its pleasures will seem distracting and empty. This lack of form and emptiness was part of the original design of creation, however, since it was after God had created the universe that "he saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31).

Just as we cannot see light but by means of it we see other things, so with Yeshua, the Light of Life, the Form and Substance of God... By His illumination we are able to see the spiritual reality of God's Presence and invincible love... Yeshua is "the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power" (Heb. 1:3). He is the Fountain of Life: by his light we see light (Psalm 36:9). Amen, God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).

Note that some teach that there was a "gap" in time between Gen. 1:1 and 1:2 in which the devil rebelled and a cosmic war between good and evil occurred that resulted in the fall of Satan. According to this view, God "started over" by saying yehi ohr, "Let there be light" (Gen. 1:3). There is no textual evidence for such a gap, however, and indeed there are reasons to reject this view as mistaken. First, the Ten Commandments state that God created all that existed - including time, space, angels - in six days (Exod. 20:11; John 1:3). Second, the devil could not have fallen before the creation since he was created "an anointed covering cherub" while in the original paradise (see Ezek. 28:13-15). Third, the taunt of the fall of the King of Babylon prefigured the fall of Satan, where the pride of the evil one was exposed: "You said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High' (Isa. 14:13-14). Notice that the desired ascent was above the stars, above the clouds, etc., all of which were created when God made the expanse (Gen. 1:14-18). Finally, the Scriptures state that there was no sin or death until man brought them into the world (Rom. 5:12), and, since Torah tells us everything was very good at the end of the creation week (Gen. 1:31), Satan must have fallen sometime after Adam and Eve were created...
 




God's Truth and Love...


 

10.01.13 (Tishri 27, 5774)  In Hebrew, the word for truth, i.e., emet (אֱמֶת), contains the first, middle, and the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, indicating that truth encompasses all things and endures from the beginning (א) to the end (ת). The sages sometimes say "the seal of God is truth," since the final letters of the three words that conclude the account of creation, namely, bara Elohim la'asot ("God created to do" [Gen. 2:3]), spell the word emet. The word for falsehood, on the other hand, is sheker (שֶׁקֶר), composed of letters near the end of the alphabet, suggesting instability, impermanence, and distance from God. Indeed the letter Aleph represents the preeminent and ineffable glory of God, but if we remove Aleph from the word emet, we are left with the word "dead" (i.e., met: מֵת), the opposite of life (i.e., chayim: חַיִּים). Therefore, if we attempt to ignore or suppress God in our understanding of truth, we end up with death. And since Yeshua told us, "I am the way (הַדֶּרֶךְ), the truth (הָאֱמֶת), and the life (הַחַיִּים); no one comes to Father apart from me" (John 14:6), those who deny His reality are in a state of spiritual death.
 

אָנכִי הַדֶּרֶךְ וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַחַיִּים
וְאִישׁ לא־יָבא אֶל־הָאָב בִּלְתִּי עַל־יָדִי

a·no·khi · ha·de·rekh · ve·ha·e·met · ve·ha·chai·yim
ve'ish · lo · ya·vo · el · ha·av · bil·ti · al · ya·di
 

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father apart from my hand."
(John 14:6)

Hebrew Study Card
 

Of the thirteen attributes revealed to Moses that defined the Name YHVH (Exod. 34:6-7), two are joined together. The LORD is rav chesed ve-emet (רַב־חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת), abundant in lovingkindness and truth, indicating that his love is always a part of reality... In other words, just as God's Name means "presence" and "breath," it also means "compassion" and "love." As Yeshua said: "I am the Aleph and the Tav," says the LORD God (יְהוָה אֱלהִים), "the One who is and who was and who is to come, the Lord of Hosts (יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת)."

It's been said that the ancient Greek mindset regarded what is beautiful as what is good, whereas the Hebraic mindset regarded what is good as what is beautiful. The difference is radical. Doing our duty before God, in other words, is what is truly beautiful, not merely appreciating the appearance of symmetry, order, balance, and so on. This explains why moral discipline (i.e., musar, מוּסָר) is so prominent in Hebrew wisdom literature. In the spiritual sense, beauty cannot exist apart from moral truth, and moral truth cannot exist apart from "doing the truth" through acts of righteousness...
 




All-Surrounding Presence...


 

10.01.13 (Tishri 27, 5774)  The Name of God, YHVH (יהוה), means "Presence" (Exod. 3:13-14), "Breath" (Gen. 2:7; Num. 16:22), "Life" (Deut. 30:20), and "abundant Love and Truth" (Exod. 34:6-7), but it also means the "I-AM-WITH-YOU One" who keeps His promises. The Name YHVH means that "God was (i.e., hayah: היה), God is (i.e., hoveh: הוֶה), and God always will be (i.e., veyihyeh: וְיִהְיֶה)," which implies that He is ever present and not restricted by time or space. Moreover, God is called havayah (הֲוָיָה), which means He is continually sustaining creation by the Word of His power: "In Him we live, move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28; Heb. 1:3). As it is poetically expressed in the Psalms, "Behind and before you besiege me; You lay your hand upon me" (Psalm 139:5):
 

אָחוֹר וָקֶדֶם צַרְתָּנִי
וַתָּשֶׁת עָלַי כַּפֶּכָה

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

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

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

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

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

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

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

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





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