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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]
          



 

September 2013 Updates



Herald of Righteousness...


 

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

09.30.13 (Tishri 26, 5774)  It is astounding to consider that Abraham personally knew the patriarch Noah (Abraham was 58 years old when Noah died), and undoubtedly Noah told him of his father Lamech, who had seen and spoken with Adam, the very first man created by God alone.  Later, Abraham's son Isaac knew Shem, Noah's firstborn son, the first high priest of Salem who preserved the message of teshuvah (repentance) and retained the original promise of the coming Redeemer given by God. For this reason the New Testament calls Noah a "herald of righteousness" (2 Pet. 2:5).

 

It is said that the righteous have three qualities. First, they are kind and just - "tzaddik" (צדִּיק); second, they are wholehearted and loyal – "tamim" (תָּמִים); and third, they "walk with God," accepting the yoke of heaven and not questioning God's actions. Noah had all three of these qualities, as it says, "Noah was a righteous man (ish tzaddik), blameless (tamim) in his generation: Noah walked with God" (Gen. 6:9).
 

אֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדת נחַ
נחַ אִישׁ צַדִּיק תָּמִים הָיָה בְּדרתָיו
אֶת־הָאֱלהִים הִתְהַלֶּךְ־נחַ

el·leh · to·le·dot · No·ach
No·ach · ish · tzad·dik · ta·mim · ha·yah · be·do·ro·tav
et · ha·E·lo·him · hit·ha·lekh · No·ach
 

"These are the generations of Noah.
Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation.
Noah walked with God."



Noah's righteousness is all the more remarkable because he lived in the midst of an entirely depraved and heartless culture. The "Days of Noah" (יְמֵי־נחַ) were marked by "lawlessness" (anomie), moral anarchy, violence, corruption, and complete disregard of the transcendental truth of God. "The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart" (Gen. 6:5-6). Because people denied moral reality and regarded God as unconcerned with their behavior, the LORD brought the flood to prove that He repays both the righteous and the wicked.

Our Lord warned that as it was in the days of Noah, so it would be during the time of his second coming (Matt. 24:38-39). Regarding the character of souls living during the End of Days, the Apostle Paul foresaw that "people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power" (1 Tim 3:1-4). The Apostle Peter calls them "scoffers who walk after their own evil inner urges (1 Pet. 3:3). Note that drug abuse (φαρμακεία) will also be rampant at this time (Gal. 5:19; Rev. 9:21, 18:23).

Note: For more on this subject, see "The Days of Noah."
 




Parashat Noach (פרשת נח)


 

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

09.29.13 (Tishri 25, 5774)  In last week's Torah portion (Bereshit), we read about the tragic and disheartening history of earliest humanity. After just ten generations, from Adam to Noah, the LORD had grown so weary of humanity that he "regretted" (yinchem, יִּנָּחֶם) creating man in the first place and "his heart was saddened" (Gen. 6:6). It is interesting to note that the word translated "regretted" comes from the root nacham (נָחַם) -- the same root for the name "Noah" (נחַ) himself. Other Hebrew words that use this root include nichum (compassion), nu'ach (rest), nacham (repent/console), and menuchah (rest from work), and so on. Though God "regretted" (נָחַם) that He had made mankind (Gen. 6:7), he "consoled himself" by finding a means to comfort lost humanity...

Noah's father Lamech (לֶמֶךְ, "powerful one") regarded his son as a deliverer who would comfort humanity from the ravages of the original curse (Gen. 5:29). Noach would give rest from the toil and vexation of life. Indeed, Noah was a "type" of savior who would rebirth the world by giving lasting comfort and rest (for more on this, see the page "Noah and Jesus").  In like manner it was prophesied that Yeshua would give us everlasting rest: "His rest shall be glorious" (Isa. 11:10), just as He offers rest to the weary (Matt. 11:28, Heb. 4:9). His sacrifice on the Cross at Moriah undoes the kelalah (curse of work) over the children of Adam.  Indeed, His life, sacrifice, and resurrection was like a "magic spell" that "spoke backwards" the sin of the "First Adam" - and by means of His deliverance the power of the curse was forever broken (Gal. 3:13, John 3:14, 2 Tim.1:10; Heb. 2:14; Heb. 9:27-28; 1 John 3:8, Rev. 22:3). Yeshua is Adam ha-Sheni - the "Second Adam" - the promised Son of Man. By means of His Spirit we are given an everlasting comfort (John 14:16).

Eschatologically, the "days of Noah" are a picture of the idolatrous conditions of the world that will prevail just before the calling up of the followers of Yeshua before the time of Great Tribulation upon the earth: "As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man" (Matt. 24:37). The generation of the Flood was said to be "filled with violence" (Gen. 6:13) caused by ignorance -- literally the "state of ignoring" moral and spiritual truth. Because people willingly disregarded God from their midst, they arrogated to themselves divine prerogatives: "every man did what was right in his own eyes." The resulting moral corruption and anarchy led to divine and catastrophic judgment: when God destroyed them with water, they return the world to its original state of tohu vavohu v'choshekh: "confusion and emptiness and darkness" (Gen. 1:2). This is our world today.

The seven day warning given to Noah suggests the seven year tribulation period to come (Daniel's 70th week), and also the "rapture" of the people of God who will be carried above the prophesied worldwide cataclysm.  Just as God protected Israel during the time of judgment upon Egypt, so He will protect His people from the wrath of the "great Day of the LORD." But please note that "the LORD shut him in" (Gen. 7:16). Noah's teivah (ark) had God Himself as its designer (Gen. 6:15f), just as salvation in Messiah is by God's design (Jonah 2:9; Eph. 1:9, 1:11). It contained only one door (Gen. 6:16), just as Yeshua is the only door to salvation (John 10:9; 14:6). Noah's ark contained three levels (Gen. 6:16) and salvation has three own experiential levels (2 Cor. 1:10): past, present, and future. In the past (at Moriah) Yeshua delivered us from the penalty of sin; in the present, He is delivering us from the power of sin; and in the future He will deliver us from the very presence of sin.  Baruch Hashem - may that day come soon!
 


Calendar Note:  On the Biblical calendar, the month of Cheshvan (חֶשְׁוָן) immediately follows the "holiday month" of Tishri, and begins October 3rd (at sundown) this year. The Torah records that God brought down the Great Flood that destroyed the world on Cheshvan 17 (Gen. 7:10-11), which lasted until Cheshvan 27 (Gen. 8:14) - exactly one calendar year after it began (Rashi notes that the 11-day discrepancy between the 17th and 27th represents the 11-day difference between the solar and lunar calendar year). Because Noah's Flood began and ended during this month, Cheshvan is generally regarded as "mar" - a time of judgment, especially regarding water (rain). Cheshvan always has a two-day Rosh Chodesh. Because rain is central to the health of the spring crops, on the 17th of the month those living in Israel begin requesting rain by adding vetein tal u'matar librakha ("and grant dew and rain for blessing") to the Amidah prayer.
 

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

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

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



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Irrepressible Creation...


 

[ Parashat Bereshit is always read on the Sabbath following Simchat Torah, and therefore is the very first portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading... ]

09.27.13 (Tishri 23, 5774)  The cosmological dogma that the universe somehow was caused by an enormous (and yet inexplicable) explosion several billions of years ago (i.e., the "big bang") is routinely accepted by people today, though such a theory cannot explain what caused the big bang itself, nor can it explainwhy is there something rather than nothing at all... Moreover, whereas scientific cosmology "omnisciently" claims that the universe came into existence without a discernible reason, that is, groundlessly or without rational warrant, it is somehow considered "irrational" to believe that a personal and holy God created the world for the sake of revealing his love and glory to mankind. In light of this, it is helpful to remember that genuine science involves observation and measurement, and whenever cosmologists extrapolate beyond empirical evidence to explain the origin of the universe, they are creating a myth or a model that is every bit as religious as those who believe God created the universe yesh me'ayin, "out of nothing."
 

הַשָּׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד־אֵל
וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו מַגִּיד הָרָקִיעַ
יוֹם לְיוֹם יַבִּיעַ אמֶר
וְלַיְלָה לְּלַיְלָה יְחַוֶּה־דָּעַת

ha-sha·ma·yim · me·sa·pe·rim · ke·vod · El,
u·ma·a·seh · ya·dav · mag·gid · ha·ra·ki·a;
yom · le·yom · ya·bi·a · o·mer,
ve·lai·la · le·lai·la · ye·cha·veh · da·at
 

"The heavens recount the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims the work of His hands.
Day after day it speaks out;
night after night it reveals His greatness."
(Psalm 19:1-2)



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Even logic reveals that the universe had a beginning, since it is impossible to traverse an infinite number of moments to arrive at a present moment... Since the universe is indeed present, therefore it necessarily had a beginning. The question of the origin of the universe therefore leads to "inference to the best explanation." On the assumption that the Torah is true, what would we expect to see in light of human history and its values, of good and evil, of love, beauty and truth, and so on... The objections raised to a personal Creator and King are moral more than they are intellectual. It is a matter of the will, not of the evidence itself. There is plenty of "junk science" in the world today that purports to substantiate godlessness. The LORD is revealed intuitively within each human soul, and the impression of the Divine nature is indelibly written on the human heart. As it is written, "God's eternal power and divine nature from the creation of the world are understood through what has been made, so people are without excuse" (Rom 1:20).

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

Note: For more on this, see the article, "Irrepressible Creation."
 




Gospel in the Garden...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah portion for this week, parashat Bereshit. Please review the Torah portion to find your place here... ]

09.27.13 (Tishri 23, 5774)  The very first prophecy of the Bible was spoken to the serpent, namely, God's promise that through the "seed of the woman" would come One who would battle the serpent and ultimately crush the kingdom of Satan (Gen. 3:15). Notice that the promise of the coming "Serpent Slayer" was given to Adam and Eve before their judgment was announced. And even after their judgment was given, "the LORD God made tunics of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them" - a clear picture of being compassionately "robed in righteousness" imparted by an innocent sacrifice. The very first sacrifice recorded in the Torah - performed by God Himself - prefigured the coming redemption by the "seed of the woman" who would die as a substitutionary sacrifice for their sins.

Note: For more on this, please see "The Gospel in the Garden."
 




Creation and Design...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah portion for this week, parashat Bereshit. Please review the Torah portion to find your place here... ]

09.27.13 (Tishri 23, 5774)  If you were walking through the woods one day and suddenly found an exquisitely crafted pocket watch lying on the ground, you wouldn't think it had magically "just appeared out of thin air," with no cause or explanation for its presence, much less would you think that the watch was produced by random forces operating in an entirely material universe. On the contrary, as you look closely at the watch and observe its intricacies of design, you marvel over the precisely machined, interlocking gears, calibrated springs, and a beautifully fashioned faceplate that marks motion in meticulous increments. And so it is, with our experience of creation and its complexities and wonders. The existence of a world in all its intricate detail forces a thinking person to recognize the Divine Presence that brought all things into being and sustains them for a greater end. Thus the Kol Dodi rearranges the letters of the word bara (בָּרָא), "to create," to form ba'er (בַּאֵר), "to clarify," since creation clarifies the role of the design and glory of the Creator: "In the beginning, God clarified the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1).
 




Creation for the Messiah...


 

09.27.13 (Tishri 23, 5774)  The Talmud says "All the world was created for the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b). The New Testament had earlier said the same thing: "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). The first word uttered by God, "Let there be light" (Gen. 1:3), was uttered on behalf of all who would behold His glory, as it is written, "Arise, shine forth, for your light has come" (Isa. 60:1). 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." 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). Therefore the name for man (i.e., adam: אָדָם) is connected with the word for "very" (i.e., me'od: מְאד): the birthday of humanity is therefore the Coronation Day for the King of the Universe.

The implication that God is our Creator is enormous and pervades everything else in our lives. God's creative power is witnessed by all conscious life.  The Divine Light that was created before the sun and the stars represents God's immanent presence that "lights up" all of creation  - including our minds (Gen. 1:3). Since we were created b'tzelem Elohim, "in the image of God," the witness of God's truth is foundational to all of our thinking as well.  The revelation (not the invention) of logical first principles is part of God's "signature," if you will, of how the mind is wired to reality. Likewise we have intuitive awareness regarding the existence of moral truth (i.e., the standard of justice and moral law), aesthetic truth (i.e., ideals of beauty, goodness, worth, and love), and metaphysical truth (i.e., cause and effect relationships). "The heavens are recounting the glory of God, and the expanse is proclaiming his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). God's power and presence can be clearly inferred from the tremendous effect of the universe itself. As Paul stated, "the invisible things of Him (τά ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ) from the creation of the world are clearly seen (καθορω), so that people are without excuse" (Rom. 1:19-20). It is the fear of the LORD (יִרְאַת יהוה) that is truly the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10). The Hebrew word for fearing (ירא) and seeing (ראה) share the same root. We cannot truly see reality apart from reverencing God as the Lord and King of Creation.

Note: For more on this, see "High Holidays and the Gospel."
 




A Covenant of Fire...


 

[ Parashat Bereshit is always read on the Sabbath following Simchat Torah, and therefore is the very first portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading... ]

09.27.13 (Tishri 23, 5774)  The Scriptures reveal that words created the universe -- or rather, the Word of God did (בְּרֵאשִׁית הָיָה הַדָּבָר). When the Divine Voice (i.e., the Word of God) spoke cosmic Light into existence (Gen. 1:3), God was not creating the physical light of the Sun or the Moon, since the heavenly bodies were created later (Gen. 1:14). This supernal light was the first expression of God's handiwork outside of Himself, His first revelation of contingent existence (i.e., existence that owes its source, continuance, and end to God's transcendent power and will). The Divine Light formed the canvass, if you will, of God's portraiture of creation (in three-dimensional terms, the Divine Light formed a sort of "container" that became the "house" or "place" of Creation). Among other things, this means that ultimate reality is grounded in the Source of Light, Love, and Truth -- regardless of how dark the present hour may appear. God's Name YHVH means He is always present, and therefore we call upon Him in our time of need (Heb. 4:16).

Note: For more on this subject, see "Covenant of Fire."
 




Mystery and Creation...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah portion for this week, parashat Bereshit. Please review the Torah portion to find your place here... ]

09.27.13 (Tishri 23, 5774)  Why is there something rather than nothing? Why does anything exist at all? These are basic questions about the meaning of life. Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? "God created the universe," you say, yes, but exactly why did He do so? What purpose did he have in mind? In particular, why were you created? What is the purpose of your life? What do you hope to achieve with the limited amount of time you have on this earth? Such questions brood within the soul, even if they are hidden from consciousness by various forms of busyness and distraction. At the outset of serious thinking about anything at all we are confronted with such ultimate questions. What is real? Why are we here? Where are we going? What does God want from us?

The Torah begins: "In the beginning God created..." (Gen. 1:1). No explanation is given, simply the mysterious declaration that God's eternal power is behind the realm of the world of appearances. We only begin to get some idea of God's hidden purposes as he reveals his design in Scripture. There we learn that God chose to create the universe yesh me'ayin, "out of nothing," in order to share his wisdom, glory, and love with other beings He created. "You created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created" (Rev. 4:11). All this was for the sake of the Messiah, who built the world in chesed (חֶסֶד) and who forever reigns as the King of eternal life and love. "For from him and through him and to him are all things." The purpose of your life is to learn that you are beloved by God, to know and receive the infinite worth you have in his eyes, and to share that love with others. You were created to be made part of God's great family, the Kingdom of Love.
 

לְךָ יָאֶה אֲדנֵינוּ וֵאלהֵינוּ
 לְקַבֵּל אֶת הַכָּבוֹד וְהַיְקָר וְהַגְּבוּרָה
 כִּי אתָּא בָּרָאתָ הַכּל
 וּבִרְצוֹנְךָ הָיוּ וְנִבְרְאוֹ

le·kha · ya·eh · a·do·nei·nu · ve·lo·hei·nu
le·ka·bel · et · hak-ka·vod · ve'ha-ye·kar · ve'ha-ge·vu·rah
ki · at·tah · ba·ra·ta · ha-kol
u·vir·tzon·kha · ha·yu · ve'niv·re·u
 

"You are worthy, O Lord and our God,
 to receive the glory and the honor and the power:
 for You have created all things,
 and for thy pleasure they are and were created"
(Rev. 4:11)


 
Hebrew Study Card

 

The purpose of God's creative activity was the building of a kingdom based on divine love (מַלְכוּת הָאֱלהִים). As King David wrote, עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה / olam chesed yibaneh: "The world is built with chesed" (Psalm 89:2). The world itself is to built on the foundation of God's love (חֶסֶד, chesed) as it is expressed in the life Yeshua the Messiah (1 Cor. 3:11). Indeed, the very first mitzvah (commandment) given to mankind was simply פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ / p'ru ur'vu: "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28). Ideally speaking, the family, then, is a picture of a nurturing community based on chesed. For the Christian, this "family building" is centered on Yeshua the Messiah, the true King of the kingdom and the rosh pinnah (ראשׁ פִּנָּה), or "corner stone" of the Temple of God (see Heb. 3:1-6).


Addendum: Asking Questions

A good teacher doesn't feed students answers but rather provokes them to ask their own questions and to think for themselves... In that sense, a good teacher is like an "intellectual midwife," there to assist the one who explores the meaning of questions. This is especially true regarding matters of spiritual life: "There are many people who arrive at conclusions in life much the way schoolboys do; they cheat their teachers by copying the answer book without having worked the problem themselves." Merely "having the answer" does little spiritual good if the weight of the question that it proposes to address is not fully understood.  As Kierkegaard said regarding all the so-called "Bible answer men" -- "The most fatal thing of all is to satisfy a want which is not yet felt, so that without waiting till the want is present, one anticipates it, likely also using stimulants to bring about something which is supposed to be a want, and then satisfies it. And this is shocking! And yet this is what so many clergy do, whereby they really are cheating people out of what constitutes the significance of life, and instead helping them to waste it."

There is a temptation, then, for those who regard themselves as teachers or preachers to get ahead of the need, to over-anticipate, and therefore mislead those they hope to help. On the other hand, many are too busy (or too proud) to marvel over the sheer wonder of existence itself and grow impatient (or even threatened) with questions like these. They don't take the time to reflect about why they were born, what purpose is connected with their life, or where they are going, until they are confronted with suffering and trouble. Sometimes we must "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

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

Everything is inherently mysterious, since everything ultimately expresses the inscrutable will and decrees of God.... Ask yourself with earnestness of heart: Where do I come from? Who am I? Where am I going? For what reason was I created? The first step is to wonder, to ask the searching questions, and to seek God's wisdom... The LORD is faithful and will reveal truth to the heart that seeks.. It is too easy to be preoccupied with everyday concerns and to miss the marvel and sheer wonder of existence itself. If you will approach these questions with humility and reverence, you will be filled with wonder, your heart will be filled with greater fervor, and you will hunger more than ever for God's Presence.
 




Seedbed of Creation...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah portion for this week, parashat Bereshit. Please review the Torah portion to find your place here... ]

09.27.13 (Tishri 23, 5774)  The Book of Genesis (בְּרֵאשִׁית) is truly the "beginning," the "root," and the "seedbed" of all the subsequent Scriptures - including the message of the gospel and the revelation of the New Testament. In Genesis we see the creation and ruin of man through sin, but we take hold of the promise of deliverance through the coming Seed of the woman; in the Book of Exodus (שְׁמוֹת) we see God's powerful redemption secured through the blood of the Lamb; in the Book of Leviticus (וַיִּקְרָא) we encounter communion and atonement in the holy sanctuary; in the Book of Numbers (בַּמִדְבַּר) we experience the leading of God through desert places, and in the Book of Deuteronomy (הַדְּבָרִים) we are renewed by God's faithfulness before we take hold of our inheritance. Ultimately, the concluding book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, serves as a climactic "final chapter" of the story begun in Genesis, where the Tree of Life (עֵץ הַחַיִּים) is restored to the midst of the paradise of God, and the presence of sin and death have been forever eradicated....

Everything begins with the foundational truth that Almighty God is our personal Creator (הַבּוֹרֵא). This is the first principle of all rational thinking: "In the beginning (בְּרֵאשִׁית), God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). Notice that the word "beginning," i.e., bereshit, comes from the word reishit (רֵאשִׁית), meaning first or best (Psalm 111:10), which does not necessarily mean "the beginning" in a temporal sense (הַרִאשׁוֹן), but rather primacy or rulership over all that exists. Indeed, the word includes the root idea of "head" (ראשׁ), which suggests the "head of all things," that is, to the Messiah, the Creative Word of God who is the "head of all beginning and authority" and through Whom and for Whom all things were created (Col. 1:16; 2:10).

For more on this subject, please see: Genesis and the Seedbed of Creation.
 




Finding Your Focal Point...


 

09.27.13 (Tishri 23, 5774)  Your faith must mean something to you if it is to mean anything to God, for "without faith it is impossible to please him" (Heb. 11:6). The LORD must be your ultimate concern, the passion of your heart, your desperate treasure, or he will be as nothing to you (Matt. 13:12; Luke 8:18). God's Name is Savior, Healer, Redeemer... As Abraham Heschel once remarked, "God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance." Likewise King David said, echat sha'alti me'et Adonai, otah avakesh: "One thing I ask of the Lord; that is what I will seek" (Psalm 27:4). David asked for one thing – not many things. He did not come with a litany of requests. He was not double minded. He had focus. As Kierkegaard said, "purity of the heart is to will one thing." David sought the best he could find. He wanted the "pearl of great price."

The most important thing in life is to decide what is the most important thing in life - and then to act accordingly. Time is short for all of us, and it is more vital than ever to find healing for our woundedness. We have to quit pretending to be what we aren't and learn to be honest and vulnerable. Spirituality without honesty and humility is a sham. If you don't know how to begin, then begin there - by knowing your confusion, your need for the miracle of God's help and direction... For instance, if you don't know how to really love, then confess your heart's condition and pray for the miracle you need. It is a great mercy to be broken, in desperate need of heart, afflicted, tested, and in mourning. As it is written, "God has compassion for the lowly and broken, and saves the souls of the bankrupt ones."
 

יָחס עַל־דַּל וְאֶבְיוֹן
וְנַפְשׁוֹת אֶבְיוֹנִים יוֹשִׁיעַ

ya·chos · al-dal · ve·ev·yon
ve·naf·shot · ev·yo·nim · yo·shi·a

 

"He has compassion for the lowly and broken,
and saves the souls of the bankrupt ones"
(Psalm 72:13)


 
Hebrew Study Card
  


When God said, "Let there be light, and there was light" (Gen. 1:3), He seemed to put on light as a robe of the Divine Majesty and Kingship: He wrapped Himself with radiance as a tallit gadol... Da lifnei mi attah omed (דַּע לִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עוֹמֵד) – "Know before whom you stand." The whole earth is lit up with God's glory, and every bush of the field is aflame before us -- if we have eyes to see (Isa. 6:3). May it please the LORD to open our spiritual eyes so that we can behold more of His glory and majesty in this hour... Amen.
 




Our Father, Our King...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah portion for this week, parashat Bereshit. Please review the Torah portion to find your place here... ]

09.27.13 (Tishri 23, 5774)  Both the Torah of Moses and the New Testament writings attest that Yeshua is Elohim (אֱלהִים) -- the Creator of the cosmos and the Master of every possible world: בְּרֵאשִׁית הָיָה הַדָּבָר / "in the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1,14). The Divine Word and Voice cannot be separated from God any more than the Spirit of God can be separated. Yeshua is the Source of all life (YHVH): כָּל־הַמַּעֲשִׂים נִהְיוּ עַל־יָדוֹ / "All things came to be by means of Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created" (John 1:3). The "Word made flesh" is the "image of the invisible God" and the "radiance [zohar] of the glory of God and the exact imprint (χαρακτήρ, 'character') of his nature" (Col. 1:15). All of creation, every possible world, is being constantly upheld by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3): "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). As our Creator and Master of the Universe, Yeshua is our King and our Judge: from him and through him and to him are all things (Rom. 11:36). He is the "firstborn of creation," referring to his utter preeminence and glory that is before all things...

Yeshua is the Center of Creation - it's beginning and end. As it is written: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the 'A' and the 'Z,' the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). The central point of all true Torah, then, is the redemptive love of God demonstrated in the "first and last" principle of sacrificial life. This was prefigured in the original paradise when Adam and Eve were clothed by the lamb sacrificed for their transgression (Gen. 3:21), and the theme continues throughout Torah, for example, in the account of the sacrifice of Isaac (the Akedah), in the visions of Jacob, in the commissioning of Moses, in the redemption from the plague of death by the blood of the sacrificed lamb in Egypt, and by the climactic revelation of the altar given at Sinai (i.e., the Tabernacle). Just as the "korban tamid" of the Temple (i.e., the continual sacrifice of the lamb upon the altar) recalled the original Passover and foretold of the Lamb of God to come, so Yeshua, the "Living Torah," embodied the Sacrificial Life itself, the true Lamb of God that was offered upon the altar the cross, to demonstrate God's infinite condescension, mercy and love that redeems the world from the power of sin and the plague of spiritual death. Avinu Malkeinu: Just as there is no Passover apart from the Lamb, so there is no "Rosh Hashanah" or "Yom Kippur" apart from God's atoning love given in the Messiah.
 




Parashat Bereshit...


 

[ Parashat Bereshit is always read on the Sabbath following Simchat Torah, and therefore is the very first portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading... ]

09.26.13 (Tishri 22, 5774)  The Book of Genesis (i.e., Sefer Bereshit [סֵפֶר בְּרֵאשִׁית]) is the first book of Torah, setting the context and defining the themes for the rest of the Scriptures. The book is concerned with beginnings: the creation of the universe and the origin of humanity, the transgression and fall of mankind, and the promise of humanity's redemption through the Messiah, the promised Seed of Eve (Gen. 3:15). The narrative of the book quickly moves from universal history (Adam, Noah, Babel) to the particular story of Abraham, the first patriarch of the Jewish people. The remainder of the book focuses on the lives of the early patriarchs, and especially the life of Joseph, and ends after the entire family of Jacob migrated to Egypt to escape famine through the auspices of Joseph (the prelude to the story of the Exodus). There are fifty perakim (chapters) in the book (20,512 words, 78,064 letters), divided into twelve weekly Torah readings.

In Jewish tradition, the word "bereshit" (בְּרֵאשִׁית) can refer to either the first Torah portion of the Bible (i.e., Gen. 1:1-6:8) or to the first book of the Torah itself. When it is used to refer to the Torah portion, it is called "parashat Bereshit," and the text covers the creation of the universe, including Adam and Eve, the subsequent transgression of Adam and Eve, the murder of Abel by humanity's firstborn son Cain, and the increasing depravity of the generations until the time of the calling of Noah. When it is used to refer to the book, however, it is called "Sefer Bereshit," or the "Book of Bereshit," and the text covers everything from the creation of the universe to the descent of Jacob's son Joseph into Egypt in anticipation of the great Exodus under Moses. Note that the ancient Greek translation of the Bible (i.e., the Septuagint) called this book "Genesis," (Γένεσις: "birth", "origin"), a name that was carried over in subsequent Latin and English translations.

The Torah portion opens with this succinct statement about the creative activity of God: "In the beginning (i.e., "bereshit") God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). Note that the Scriptures therefore begin - not from the first person perspective of some man's understanding of God - but from an omniscient third person perspective, a Voice that reveals the Glorious Power that created the entire cosmos by means of His Word. The very first verse of the Bible, then, alludes to the triune nature of God, as further indicated by the use of the plural form of the name Elohim with the singular verb bara (he created). As mentioned before, the word bereshit itself suggests the "head of all things," that is, to the Messiah, the Creative Word of God who is the "Head of all beginning and authority" and through Whom and for Whom all things were created (Col. 1:16; 2:10).

After this astounding opening line, shrouded as it is in mystery, the Torah describes how God created the universe yesh me'ayin - out of nothing (Heb. 1:3) over a six "day" period. On the first day God created darkness and light; on the second day He created the atmosphere, dividing the "upper" from the "lower" waters. On the third day He set the boundaries of land and sea and seeded the earth with trees and vegetation. On the fourth day He fixed the position of the sun, moon and stars as timekeepers and illuminators of the earth. Fish, birds and reptiles were created on the fifth day; and land animals, and finally the human being, on the sixth. God ceased from His creative work on the seventh day, and sanctified it as a day of rest: the very first Shabbat...
 

 




The Rejoicing of Torah...


 

[ This evening Jews observe Simchat Torah, the festival celebrating both the completion of the year's Torah Reading cycle as well as the start of a new cycle... ]

09.26.13 (Tishri 22, 5774)  The overall purpose of the fall holidays - regarded as the climax of the Jewish calendar year - is to prepare our hearts to rejoice in the awesome revelation of the Word of God: "To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him" (Deut. 4:35). Again it is written, "there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me... "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:17-18). "By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: 'To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance'" (Isa. 45:23; Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:9-11). All the festivals of the calendar lead up to this great truth: the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth (John 1:1,14). The celebration of Simchat Torah, then, is the celebration of the Messiah, the Living Torah.

The holiday is called Simchat Torah, the "rejoicing of Torah," and not Simchat Ba'Torah, "rejoicing in the Torah," because the Word is spoken so that we will receive (shema) its message. It is not enough to rejoice over Torah, we need to know that the Torah rejoices over us! Therefore we rejoice during this season, just after Sukkot, because this recalls how the Torah made flesh among us. Messiah came to speak the truth of God's love to our hearts, and it is his delight when we receive his message!
 

אַתָּה הָרְאֵתָ לָדַעַת כִּי יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלהִים
אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּוֹ

at·tah · hor·ei·ta · la·da·at · ki · Adonai · hu · ha·e·lo·him
ein · od · mi·le·va·do
 

"To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD is God;
there is no other besides him" (Deut. 4:35)



Hebrew Study Card
  

Despite some of the ambiguity surrounding the themes of the festival of Sukkot (e.g., does it recall God's protective clouds, or rather the frailty of the desert experience after the Exodus? Does it recall the historical Exodus or is it an agricultural celebration?), the focus is the same, namely, to know the revelation of the Word of the LORD and his salvation! The final and great rejoicing of the Biblical year centers on the disclosure of the Word of God. And during the coming Millennial Kingdom, when the Word of God is again disclosed directly from Zion, all the nations of the earth will celebrate the revelation of God (Zech. 14:16-19).
 




The Delight of Torah...


 

[ This evening Jews observe Simchat Torah, the festival celebrating both the completion of the year's Torah Reading cycle as well as the start of a new cycle... ]

09.26.13 (Tishri 22, 5774)  God is not the "author of confusion," and that means that rational intelligibility is foundational to divine revelation. "The Torah was written in the language of men," which is to say, it expresses ideas people can understand. The Scriptures declare: "Blessed is the man who ... delights in the Torah of the LORD (בְּתוֹרַת יְהוָה); all that he does shall prosper" (Psalm 1:1-3). And while it is true that we are no longer 'under' the terms of the covenant given at Sinai (Rom. 3:23), we still delight 'in' the Torah and meditate on its precepts day and night (Psalm 1:2; 19:8; 119:15, 47, 97; Neh. 8:12, etc.). After all, Torah "written upon the heart" is a mark of the New Covenant believer (Jer. 31:31-33). As it is written in Proverbs: "If you seek it [i.e., the wisdom revealed in the Torah] like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God" (Prov. 2:4-5). If worldly men seek money and riches for life in this world, should we be less earnest in our pursuit of true and eternal riches?

Furthermore, where it is written, "all Scripture is breathed out by God (θεόπνευστος) and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:16-17), it is evident that the Scriptures referred to here are the Jewish Scriptures (i.e., the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings), since they are the foundation, the context, and the overarching matrix for the later New Covenant revelation... These were the Scriptures Yeshua used to contextualize and explain his ministry to his followers: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27; John 1:45). In other words, the Torah has both a logical, a linguistic, and a theological priority regarding our understanding of the New Testament Scriptures, and the failure to read in context invariably leads to faulty interpretations and doctrinal errors of various kinds. "To the Jew first, and [then] to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16) is a principle not only of how the gospel message would transcend ethnic Israel to be offered to all the nations, but also about how we should approach the subject of Biblical hermeneutics.... God "breathed out" (θεόπνευστος) his revelation in order, and the message itself must be understood in light of that order (John 4:22).

Since Yeshua the Messiah is Torah Ha'Emet - the True Torah - we should likewise celebrate the "Joy of Torah" in our lives. He is the Living Torah, the Living Word, written upon our hearts so that we can truly dance and embrace the Truth given from God. Indeed, Yeshua did not come to destroy the Torah but rather to fulfill it in our lives (Matt. 5:17-20).
 




Beginning Again, Again...


 

[ The following is related to Simchat Torah and the great value of Torah study for our lives... ]

09.25.13 (Tishri 21, 5774)  Each week in synagogues across the world a portion from the Torah (called a parashah) is studied, discussed, and chanted. Jewish tradition has divided the Torah into 54 of these portions - roughly one for each week of the year - so that in the course of a year the entire Torah has been recited during services. The final reading of this cycle occurs on the holiday of Simchat Torah ("Joy of the Torah"), a festival celebrating both the completion of the year's Torah Reading cycle as well as the start of a brand new cycle. Each year, then, we "rewind" the scroll and begin again. The sages have wisely said that you cannot compare studying Torah for the 49th time to studying it for the 50th time....

Since we are about to begin the Torah again for a new year, it is worthwhile to remind ourselves about how the Torah itself begins... In this connection we note that it speaks from an omniscient, "third person" perspective. When we read, "In the beginning, God (אֱלהִים) created the heavens and the earth," we must ask who exactly is speaking? Who is the narrator of the Torah? The very next verse states that the Spirit of God (רוּחַ אֱלהִים) was hovering over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2), followed by the first "direct quote" of God Himself: i.e., "Let there be light" (Gen. 1:3). The creative activity of Elohim (God) and the presence of Ruach Elohim (the Spirit of God) are therefore narrated by an omniscient Voice or "Word of God." Obviously the Spirit of God is God Himself (who else?), just as the Word of God is likewise God Himself, and therefore the first verses of the Torah reveal the Triune nature of the Godhead. God is One in the sense of echdut, "unity," "oneness," and so on.  There can be no sense of "person" apart from relationship, and therefore God's Personhood entirely transcends all our finite conceptions - and yet God forever is One....
 




Who Raises the Dead...


 

09.25.13 (Tishri 21, 5774)  "We we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself, yes, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead" (2 Cor 1:8-9). This marks the end of carnal hope, when we realize we are but "dead men walking," and from this extremity of inner desperation and clarity we learn to rely solely on God for what we need. Here we abandon ourselves to God's care, despite the despair, darkness, and fear. We rely on "God who raises the dead," because all other remedies have been vanquished. It is a great gift to be so afflicted, for these "troubles of love" teach us to trust God alone for all we need. The only way out is through. We don't seek an easy way of life, but only that the LORD our God be with us throughout our troubles.
 




The Great Need to Wake Up...


 

09.25.13 (Tishri 21, 5774)  We are living in perilous times, and for all the more reason we must "pay more careful attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away" (Heb. 2:1). We must be anchored to the truth lest we become shipwrecked in our faith. Drifting is often imperceptible, and occurs slowly, though the end result is as deadly as openly turning away from God in outright apostasy. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, "The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts." The grave danger today is to quietly and invisibly give up hope, to unconsciously "go with the flow," to become comfortably numb, to fall asleep, and therefore to die inside... It is far more dangerous to ignore God's mercy, or to make a pretense of knowing God's grace, than it is to blatantly break his law. Therefore the urgent need is to remember, to hear, and to awaken the soul to face the truth about reality. We must focus the heart, concentrate the will, and consciously "set" the Lord always before us (Psalm 16:8). Each day we must awaken from our emptiness to reaffirm the central truth: "Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:4-5). "Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light" (Eph. 5:14).

We must press on to secure our high calling in Messiah: "Let us know; let us press on to know (i.e., נִרְדְּפָה, "pursue after") the LORD; His going out is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth" (Hos. 6:3). May God help us pursue him be'khol levavkha - with all our heart - because He has promised, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13). And may the love of the LORD indeed be upon us, even as we put our hope in Him (Psalm 32:22).
 

יְהִי־חַסְדְּךָ יְהוָה עָלֵינוּ
 כַּאֲשֶׁר יִחַלְנוּ לָךְ

ye·hi · chas·de·kha · Adonai · a·lei·nu
ka·a·sher · yi·chal·nu · lakh
 

"May your love, O LORD, be upon us,
 as we hope in You"
(Psalm 33:22)



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

Whatever the heart genuinely seeks, it will find. We are constantly "asking, seeking, and knocking" (Matt. 7:7), even if we are often unaware of our heart's search. It is impossible to be neutral in all of this, and we are either walking in faith or drifting away. "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Messiah, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end" (Heb. 3:12-14).
 




Parashat V'Zot Ha'Berakhah


 

[ We read the last portion of Torah for the holiday of Simchat Torah... ]

09.24.13 (Tishri 20, 5774)  This week's Torah portion (for Simchat Torah) is called V'zot HaBerakhah ("this is the blessing"), which is also the last portion of the entire Torah. After reading this portion, we will "rewind the scroll" back to parashat Bereshit to begin reading all over again. We do this every year because Talmud Torah - the study of Torah - is a cyclical venture that equips us to better understand the Scriptures - including the New Testament writings.... In this connection, it is interesting to note that the very first letter of the Torah is the Bet (בּ) in the word bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית), and the very last letter of the Torah is the Lamed (ל) in the word Israel (יִשְׂרָאֵל). Putting these letters together we get the word lev (לֵב), "heart," suggesting that the entire Torah - from the first letter to the last - reveals the heart and love of God for us... Moreover, the first letter of Scripture is a Bet (בּ), as explained above, and the last letter is a Nun (ן) in the word "Amen" (אָמֵן), so the whole Bible - from beginning to end - reveals the Person of God the Son (בֶּן) for us...
 

Note:  For more on this subject, see "Every Letter of Torah."
 




Circle of Torah Study...


 

[ The celebration of Torah (i.e., "Simchat Torah") immediately follows the holiday of Sukkot... ]

09.24.13 (Tishri 20, 5774)  On Simchat Torah we both conclude the annual reading of the Torah and immediately begin reading it again, to signify that Torah is like a circle, without beginning and without end. The study of Torah is ongoing because it provides the framework and context for understanding the message of the New Testament. "The Torah that Moses commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Jacob" (Deut. 33:4). Our inheritance is bound up with the Torah: it is part of our story, our history, our heritage (Gal. 3:7; Rom. 4:16; Luke 24:27). The stories of Torah serve as parables and allegories that inform the deeper meaning of the ministry of Messiah: "Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come (1 Cor. 10:11). "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom.15:4). You are no longer a stranger or outsider to the heritage of the LORD (Eph. 2:19). Disciples of Yeshua are called talmidim (תַּלְמִידִים) -- a word that comes from lamad (לָמַד) meaning "to learn." Among other things, then, following the Messiah means becoming a student of the Jewish Scriptures that He loved and fulfilled (Matt. 5:17-18; Luke 24:44-45). Only after learning from Yeshua as your Teacher will you be equipped to "go to all the nations and teach" others (Matt. 28:19).
 




Vapors of Time...


 

09.24.13 (Tishri 20, 5774)  The book of Ecclesiastes (megillat Kohelet) is always read during the festive holiday of Sukkot, though you might be surprised to learn that many of the early sages did not want it included as part of the Jewish Scriptures. After all, the philosophy of Kohelet - that we are incapable of fully understanding the purposes of the world, and therefore much of what we think is important is really havel havalim (הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים), "vanity of vanities" - is contrary to the theology of reward and punishment found in the writings of Moses. This question is not unlike the Book of Job and the mysterious question as to why the righteous suffer.... It is to their credit that the Jewish sages finally decided to include Ecclesiastes as part of the accepted canon, however, since it takes humility to admit that we must continue to seek God, despite uncertainty in this world.  As mentioned the other day, King Solomon concludes his reflection as follows: "Fear God and keep his commandments: ki zeh kol-ha'adam (כִּי־זֶה כָּל־הָאָדָם), "for this is the whole man" (Eccl. 12:13).

For more on this subject, see Sukkot and Vanity...
 




The Waters of Life...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, the "Feast of Tabernacles."  ]

09.23.13 (Tishri 19, 5774)  The seventh (and last) day of the festival of Sukkot is called Hoshana Rabba (הוֹשַׁנָא רַבָּא). Hoshana (sometimes transliterated as "Hosanna") comes from the Hebrew phrase hoshia na (הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא), meaning "save us now," combined with "rabbah," meaning "great," to refer to a great corporate plea for salvation. It was on this climactic day of the festival that the people gathered at the Temple for the water ceremony, waving lulavs and circling the courtyard seven times (hakafot) while chanting "Ana Adonai - Hosiah na" (Psalm 118:25), "save us, we pray O LORD!"  The New Testament records that it was on the last day of Sukkot (i.e., "the great day") - perhaps during the water libation ceremony itself - that Yeshua stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his inmost being will flow rivers of living water'" (John 7:37-38).
 

אָנָּא יְהוָה הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא אָנָּא יְהוָה הַצְלִיחָה נָּא
בָּרוּךְ הַבָּא בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה בֵּרַכְנוּכֶם מִבֵּית יְהוָה

an·na  Adonai  ho·shi·ah  na / an·na  Adonai  hatz·li·chah  na
ba·rukh  hab·bah  be·shem  Adonai / be·rakh·nu·khem  mi·beit  Adonai

 

"Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, let us thrive!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
We bless you from the house of the LORD."
(Psalm 118:25-26)



Hebrew Study Card
 

The early sages had taught "at the feast of Sukkot judgment is made concerning the waters," referring to the rain needed for the forthcoming planting season. The historian Josephus calls the ceremonial drawing of water from the Pool of Siloam "the very sacred close (συμπέρασμα) of the year," since the amount of rainfall over the next few months would directly impact the harvest in the spring. The need for rain over the winter months in Israel was an ongoing need for the welfare of the people...

"With joy shall you draw water out of the wells of salvation" (Isa. 12:3). Yeshua once encountered a woman who had come to draw water from a well and said, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:13-14). Likewise he taught earlier in his ministry, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6). Just as the people understood they needed physical rain to sustain their physical lives, so Yeshua pointed to himself as the source of "spiritual rain," or "living water" that would sustain their spiritual lives. The "rain of blessing," then, referred to the refreshing power of the Holy Spirit that would become an inner source of life for those who believe... As Yeshua said, "out of his inmost being will flow rivers of living water," which some have thought refers back to the miraculous waters that were given in the desert: "Each soul will be a rock smitten in the thirsty land, from which crystal rivers of life-giving grace shall flow." Indeed the Hallel that is recited during the festival includes the verse: "He turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters" (Psalm 114:8).
 




A Prophetic Rejoicing...


 

09.23.13 (Tishri 19, 5774)  Regarding the holiday of Sukkot the Torah states, ve'samchta be'chagekha - "you shall rejoice in your holiday" and ve'hayita akh same'ach - "you shall have nothing but joy" (Deut. 16:14-15). But how can Torah command us to rejoice? Can we be forced to dance, sing, and make merry? Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote, "The Gaon of Vilna said that ve'samchta be'chagekha (וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְּחַגֶּךָ) is the most difficult commandment of Torah, and I could never understand why. Only during the war did I understand. Those Jews who, in the course their journey to the end of hope, managed to dance on Simchat Torah ... taught us how Jews should behave in the face of adversity. For them, ve'samchta be'chagekha was one commandment impossible to observe -- yet they observed it." In this connection, let me add that these words of Torah are ultimately prophetic: "you shall rejoice; you shall have nothing but joy...." That day is coming, when our tears are wiped away and our wounds are forever healed.
 




Dwelling in the Presence...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, the "Feast of Tabernacles."  ]

09.23.13 (Tishri 19, 5774)  During the holiday of Sukkot we construct a sukkah, a "booth" or temporary structure, that we will "live in" for the holiday week. Living in a sukkah is meant to recall God's surrounding love and care for us as we make our journey through the desert of this world on our way to Zion... On a spiritual level, however, the essence of Sukkot is "dwelling" or "abiding" in the Divine Presence.  And though the LORD is forever enthroned in heaven as our Creator, our King, and our loving Deliverer, and though indeed the whole earth is filled with His glory (Isa. 6:3), nevertheless we must make a dwelling within our hearts. He stands at the door and knocks (Rev. 3:20). "Where does God dwell," it is asked, "but where He is given a dwelling place, a sanctuary, a throne within the heart."
 
Sukkot 5774 - Day 2 Collage

Left-to-right (top): 1. Judah waves lulav; 2. some signs in the sukkah; 2. Josiah waves lulav;
4. more lights on the schach; 5. a family picture (Shabbat Sukkot)
(bottom): 1. John sounds the shofar; 2. Vadim dances; 3. full moon for Sukkot;
4) eating yom tov meal; 5) Singing "hodu Ladonai" and rejoicing.
 

Sukkot 5774 - Day 3 Collage

Left-to-right (top): 1. Josiah dancing; 2. inside the sukkah; 2. yom tov meal;
4. Judah drinks the cup; 5. John in the sukkah
(bottom): 1. Peter celebrates; 2. inside the sukkah; 3. lulav /etrog;
4) Irina recites netilat lulav; 5) hora dance inside the sukkah.
 


 

Sukkot is about trusting in God's care, exercising bittachon. The inner is not the outer, and vice-versa. So what good is dwelling in a beautiful sukkah if your heart is not abiding and overflowing with God's love and grace? On the other hand, if your heart is indeed overflowing with God's love, what is a sukkah, after all?

Whether Yeshua is living in you (and you are living in Him) is the most important question of your life upon which everything else turns.  As Ravenhill once said, "I don't ask people if they're saved anymore; I look them straight in the eye and say, "Does Christ live inside you?" Therefore we must ask: Are you connected with Him in the truth?  Are you "abiding" in the Savior?  Are you drawing life from Him, like a vine branch shares the life of the Vine, or are you broken off and in danger of being withered? (John 15:1-6). Such questions center on the true source of your life, the place (ha-makom) or root of your being... Yeshua explained that those who did not abide in Him would be "cut off," a metaphor that is especially sobering, since no one cuts off a branch from a vine or tree to which that branch was never united. Therefore we must always be dwelling in His life, connected to Him every hour, steadfast in our faith...

There are two great questions God always is asking us. The first is "who do you say that I am?" and the second is "will you make a place for me?" Being in a love relationship with God is the goal of life, the "end of the law," and the reason we were created. But we cannot love God apart from understanding his passion for us. The LORD is the "Jealous God," a Consuming Fire, the One who desires all of our heart on the altar (Luke 9:23). Therefore the very first commandment is simply אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ, "I AM the LORD your God" (Exod. 20:2), because without "making a place" for the LORD within your heart, nothing else will follow.

Note: To see some larger pictures of our Sukkot celebrations, click here.
 




Sukkah of the Heart...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, the "Feast of Tabernacles." Chag Sameach! ]

09.23.13 (Tishri 19, 5774)  The word sukkot (סֻכּוֹת) is the plural of the Hebrew word sukkah (סֻכָּה), meaning a "booth" or "hut." In traditional Judaism, a sukkah is a temporary structure used for "living in" (i.e., primarily eating meals or entertaining guests) throughout the week-long holiday. The purpose of the sukkah is to remind us of how God tenderly cared for the Israelites as they made their trek through the dangers of the desert. God spoke endearingly to Israel: "Follow me into the wilderness, into an unsown land" (Jer. 2:2).

The Scriptures state, "The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down" (Psalm 145:14). It has been said that the word sukkah can be understood as an acronym formed from the words somekh Adonai (סוֹמֵךְ יְהוָה), "the LORD upholds," kol (כָּל), "all," and ha'noflim (הַנּפְלִים), "the ones who fall." This suggests that those who make a sanctuary within their hearts, trusting in God's indwelling Presence, will be upheld and kept from falling (Jude 1:24).
 

סוֹמֵךְ יְהוָה לְכָל־הַנּפְלִים
וְזוֹקֵף לְכָל־הַכְּפוּפִים

so·mekh · Adonai · le·khol · ha·no·fe·lim
ve·zo·kef · le·khol · ha·ke·fu·fim

 

"The LORD upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down"
(Psalm 145:14)



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

The Kotzer Rebbe said that the verse, "this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him" (Exod. 15:2), may be understood as, "this is my God, and I will make a dwelling for Him within me." Though the LORD is forever enthroned in heaven as our Creator, King, and Deliverer, we still must decide to "make a dwelling" within our hearts. He stands at the door and knocks. "Where does God dwell," it is asked, "but where He is given a dwelling place, a sanctuary, a throne within the heart?"
 




Wholeness and Faith..


 

09.22.13 (Tishri 18, 5774)  Though Sukkot is called the "Season of Our Joy" (i.e., Z'man Simchateinu) the somber Book of Ecclesiastes (קהֶלֶת) is always recited on the Sabbath of the festival. "Vanity of vanities, says Kohelet, vanity of vanities! All is vanity" (Eccl. 1:2). We read this book to remind us that lasting meaning and purpose is not found in life lived "under the sun" but rather in knowing and serving God. Indeed the Book concludes, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole [duty of] man" (Eccl. 12:13), though note that the Hebrew text actually reads, ki zeh kol-ha'adam (כִּי־זֶה כָּל־הָאָדָם), "for this is the whole man," which suggests that those who revere the LORD our God and obey His Word are made "whole," that is, healed of their ambivalence and inner vanity...
 

סוֹף דָּבָר הַכּל נִשְׁמָע אֶת־הָאֱלהִים יְרָא
וְאֶת־מִצְוֹתָיו שְׁמוֹר כִּי־זֶה כָּל־הָאָדָם

sof · da·var · ha·kol · nish·ma ·  et · ha-E·lo·him · yir·a
ve·et · mitz·vo·tav · she·mor · ki · zeh · kol · ha·a·dam

 

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God
and keep his commandments: for this is the whole man."
(
Eccl. 12:13)



Download Study Card 
 

"The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8). Note the great contrast between olam ha-zeh and olam haba – between this present world and the heavenly realm.... Unlike the grass of the field that dries up or flowers that soon fade, the word of God stands forever. And despite the frailty of man and the inevitability of physical death, God's truth endures, which is a foundation upon which we can rest.

But how are the metaphors that man is "like dried up grass" or a "withered flower" intended to comfort us? Do they not, on the contrary, lead us to regard our lives as vain and perhaps meaningless? Yes indeed. Our lives are empty and vain apart from God and His truth. If we find ourselves wincing over such images, it is perhaps time to reexamine the state of our faith: To the extent that we regard this world as our "home" we will find the transience of life to be tragic... For those who are seeking a heavenly habitation, the "City of God" and the fulfillment of the promise of Zion, the fleeting nature of this evil world is ultimately a form of consolation...

Note: For more on this subject, see "Sukkot and Vanity" and "Everlasting Consolation."
 




Sukkot Same'ach be'Yeshua!


 

09.19.13 (Tishri 15, 5774)  Last evening we began celebration of the week-long holiday of Sukkot ("Tabernacles") by eating a special meal with some family members in our sukkah, waving our lulavs, and so on. Here are a few pictures from our celebration:
 

Sukkot 5774 - Day 1 Collage

Left-to-right (top): 1. Preparing; 2. Gathering in the sukkah; 3. Olga lights holiday candles;
4. Reciting kiddush for Sukkot; 5. Reciting ha'motzi for Sukkot.
(middle): 1. looking at the etrog; 2. Irina waves the lulav; 3. Vadim waves the lulav;
4. Judah waves lulav; 5. and Josiah waves lulav.
(bottom): 1. Olga; 2. Peter; 3. L'chaim b'Yeshua! 4. Eating dinner; 5. next year in Jerusalem!

 
 

The Torah states, "On the first day [of Sukkot] you shall take to yourselves the fruit of the goodly tree, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days" (Lev. 23:40). In Jewish tradition, after reciting the Hebrew blessing and shaking the lulav around, it is customary to recite (or sing) the following antiphon from Psalm 136:
 

הוֹדוּ לַיהוה כִּי־טוֹב כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ

ho·du  la·Adonai  ki-tov,  ki  le·o·lam  chas·do
 

"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever."



Hebrew Study Card
  

Indeed, is there any better reason to give thanks to the LORD than because of His steadfast love, i.e., His chesed (חֶסֶד)? Is there anything greater than God's love?  Can anything overcome it? Can even the hardness of your own heart somehow veto or negate it's purposes?  It was because of His great love that God himself (יהוה) "emptied Himself" of heavenly glory, clothed himself in human flesh and came to us, disguised as a lowly servant. God performed this act of "infinite condescension" in order to "sukkah" with us as our "hidden King" (John 1:1,14, Phil. 2:7-8). Your neshama (soul) is likened to the "Shulamite woman" he came to woo so that you might "come into His tent" -- willingly, from a heart that comes from trust (Song of Solomon).

When we receive Yeshua as the Lover of our souls, we abide in the hope of love that awaits future consummation in the world to come...  Meanwhile, we are "suspended between worlds," though the veil of this world has been rent asunder and we may now appear before the LORD in the realm of the spirit by faith. We can come "boldly" before the Throne of Grace (παρρησίας τῷ θρόνῳ τῆς χάριτος) to find help for our lives (Heb. 4:16). Note that the word translated "boldly" in this verse (παρρησίας) comes from πᾶς (all) + ῥέω (to utter), suggesting that we can speak freely to God and share everything within our heart without fear or shame. We do not need to conceal ourselves from the Divine Light -- any more than we need to perform arabesque rituals or offer any "prescribed prayers" to access Him. We who are trusting in God's sheltering love understand the LORD to be our loving Savior and Redeemer. In our brokenness we can bare our souls before Him without fear ("there is no fear in love" - אין פַּחַד בָּאַהֲבָה). We can express "all our heart" to the LORD and be assured that He will help us in our hour of need (Heb. 4:16). "Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us" (Psalm 62:8).

Shalom and blessings to you all in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah - the One who "tabernacles" with us in the Holy Spirit and who graciously invites all to come within the shelter of His everlasting love. וַיְהִי בְשָׁלֵם סֻכּוֹ וּמְעוֹנָתוֹ בְצִיּוֹן / vayehi v'shalem sukko, u'me'onato v'Tzion: "His sukkah is in Shalem; His place in Zion" (Psalm 76:3). Though this world is surely under divine judgment, may those who trust in the LORD say: יִצְפְּנֵנִי בְּסֻכּה בְּיוֹם רָעָה / yitzpeneni be'sukkoh be'yom ra'ah, "He will conceal me in His sukkah in the day of trouble" (Psalm 27:5).

Whether you have the opportunity to wave the lulav in a Sukkah or not this year, we sincerely wish you a season of joy as you celebrate the sheltering presence of the LORD Yeshua in your life, chaverim... Chag Sukkot Sameach!
 




Surrounded by His Sukkah...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot which begins at sunset today... ]

09.18.13 (Tishri 14, 5774)  The root idea of the word "sukkah" means to cover or surround, as in hedge of protection. The Hebrew root is used when Moses asked to behold God's glory and the meaning of the name YHVH (יהוה), and God said, "Behold there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory overtakes you I will cover you with my hand (וְשַׂכּתִי כַפִּי עָלֶיךָ) until I have passed by (Exod. 33:21-21). The hand of God (יַד־יְהוָה) is our sukkah, and indeed the LORD writes our names upon his palms and sets us as a seal upon his heart (Isa. 49:16; Sol. 8:6). Likewise David affirmed that God would treasured you within his sukkah and elevate you upon the Rock that is Messiah:
 

כִּי יִצְפְּנֵנִי בְּסֻכּה
בְּיוֹם רָעָה יַסְתִּרֵנִי בְּסֵתֶר אָהֳלוֹ
בְּצוּר יְרוֹמְמֵנִי

ki · yitz·pe·nei·ni · be·suk·koh
be·yom · ra·ah · yas·ti·rei·ni · be·se·ter · a·ho·lo
be·tzur · ye·ro·me·mei·ni

 

"For he will cover me in his sukkah
in the day of trouble he will hides me in the secret place of his tent;
on the Rock he elevates me"
(Psalm 27:5)
 


The LORD will "store you" as a treasured person (the word tzafan [צָפַן] means to treasure) in his sukkah, a symbol of his protection of your soul... in the day of trouble he will hide you in his tent, that is, within his dwelling place, under the shadow of his wings he makes you refuge; he will elevate you upon the Rock which is Messiah (1 Cor. 10:4).

Since God's Name (יהוה) means "Presence," "Breath," "Compassion," "Love," "Healing," and so on, we are surrounded by his Sukkah at all times... In other words, you don't have to be in a physical sukkah to be in His sukkah! May God open our eyes to see his glory!

Sukkot Same'ach be'Yeshua (סוכות שמחה בישוע) - Happy Sukkot in Yeshua!

Our Sukka (last year)...
 




Yeshua the Hidden Guest...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles... ]

09.18.13 (Tishri 14, 5774)  The Aramaic word "ushpizin" (אוּשְׁפִּיזִין) refers to the seven "mystical guests" who are said to (metaphorically) visit us during the festival of Sukkot, namely: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David, respectively. According to tradition, on each night a different guest (i.e., ushpiz: אוּשְׁפִּיז) enters the sukkah, and we are to symbolically welcome them by offering them a place at our table (this is similar to the tradition of Elijah's Cup during Passover). On the first night comes Abraham; on the second, Isaac, and so on. In the Gospel of John we read that Yeshua said he go up to the Feast of Tabernacles "in secret" (ἐν κρυπτῷ), like an ushpiz (John 7:10). During the "middle of the festival," perhaps on the fourth day (the "Day of Joseph"), Yeshua went to the Temple and began teaching the people (John 7:14), and on the last great day, called Hoshana Rabbah, when the High Priest led a parade to the pool of Siloam during the water libation ritual, Yeshua stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink" (John 7:38). Finally, on the morning following the festival, called Shemini Atzeret, Yeshua returned to the Temple and said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12), recalling the words of the prophet: "On that day there shall be no light... and living waters shall flow out of Jerusalem; And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one" (Zech. 14:6,9; Isa. 13:10; 30:26).

Note: For more on this see, "The Seven Ushpizin: Yeshua as the Hidden Guest."


Season of SukkotClick for Hoshana RabbahClick for Shmini AtzeretClick for Simchat TorahSukkotClick for Yom KippurSeason of Sukkot
 




Strangers to this world...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles... ]

09.17.13 (Tishri 13, 5774)  God's people are "strangers" in this world; they are literally estranged and live as "resident aliens" -- here, yet not here.... 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), and likewise King David confessed: "For we are strangers with You, mere transients like our fathers; our days on earth are like a shadow without abiding (1 Chron. 29:15). Faith affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life is a deeper reality that is ultimately real and abiding. It "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31). The life of faith therefore calls us to live as toshavim - sojourners - who are at an infinite "distance" from the world of appearances and who seek the Eternal. Sukkot means we ache with a divine "homesickness" as we look forward to our real home in heaven (Heb. 11:9-10). "O You who are at home deep within my heart, enable me to join you deep in my heart."
 




Enshrining the Name...


09.17.13 (Tishri 13, 5774)  According to Rashi, Moses gathered the people to assemble the Tabernacle the day following Yom Kippur, that is, the day after he came down from the mountain upon learning the meaning of the name YHVH (Exod. 34:6-7; 35:1-35). For this reason it is traditional to begin building your sukkah on the day following Yom Kippur, recalling the revelation of the covenant of God's mercy: "The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation (my Yeshua); this is my God and I will enshrine Him."
 

עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ וַיְהִי־לִי לִישׁוּעָה
זֶה אֵלִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ אֱלהֵי אָבִי וַאֲרמְמֶנְהוּ

o·zi · ve·zim·rat · Yah · vai·hi · li · li·shu·ah
zeh · E·li · ve·an·ve·hu · E·lo·hei · a·vi · va·a·ro·me·men·hu

 

"The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation;
this is my God and I will enshrine Him, God my Father, and I will exalt Him"
(Exod. 15:2)



 

A midrash dating from the 2nd century BC says that we are to be joyful during Sukkot because it was at this time that Isaac was born: "And we returned in the seventh month, and found Sarah with child before us, and we blessed him, and we announced to him all the things which had been decreed concerning him (Jubilees 16:16). Moved by gratitude to God, Abraham established a festival of joy to celebrate the birth of his long-awaited son by decorating booths (sukkot) and thanking HaShem for the miracle of his heir. "And Abraham took branches of palm trees, and the fruit of goodly trees, and every day going round the altar with the branches seven times [a day] in the morning, he praised and gave thanks for all things in joy" (Jubilees 16:31). In other words, Sukkot originally celebrates the birth of Isaac - and by extension, the birth of Yeshua our Messiah, the Akedah of God.
 




Building our Sukkah...

Inside the Sukkah
 

[ The week-long holiday of Sukkot begins Wednesday, Sept. 18th at sundown this year... ]

09.17.13 (Tishri 13, 5774)  Since Sukkot begins just a few days after Yom Kippur, it's always a challenge to put up our sukkah in time. Since the weather yesterday was favorable, we got everything out of the garage, cleaned up the yard, and got to work. After assembling the frame, we laid the supporting beams for the ceiling and covered them with a bamboo schach (roof). Then we put seasonal lights around the beams, hung flags from the roof, and attached wall hangings and other decorations inside the tent.  Here are a few pictures of the occasion (you can see more pictures here):
 
Sukkot 5774 - Building the Sukkah

Left-to-right (top): 1. Judah getting ready; 2. an etrog with pitom (stem); 2. Josiah hangs a gourd;
4. some homemade decorations; 5. a row of Israeli flags
(bottom): 1. John adjusts schach (roof); 2. lulav sets; 3. Olga adjusts the lights;
4) hope for the season; 5) John inside the sukkah
 


 

Hiddur mitzvah (הִדּוּר מִצְוָה) is a phrase that means "making a commandment beautiful," and we want to make our sukkah a place of beauty, a personal mishkan or "tabernacle." The sages note that the idea behind hiddur mitzvah comes from the great Song of Moses: "This is my God and I will enshrine (נָוָה) Him" (Exod. 15:2). Since we are surrounded by God's clouds of glory - and also by a "great cloud of witnesses" who watch as we walk in faith (Heb. 12:1) - it is only fitting to do our best to "enshrine" the LORD!

We have yet to assemble our lulav -- i.e., the fragrant "bouquet" made by binding together one date palm branch (lulav), two willow branches (aravot), and three myrtle branches (hadasim), but plan to do so on erev Sukkot. According to midrash, the fruit that Adam and Eve ate was actually the etrog, and yet this fruit is considered most precious as we celebrate Sukkot. But how would etrog, a symbol of our downfall, be made part of our rejoicing unless we celebrate how God brings blessing out of a curse because of Yeshua our Lord... Only Yeshua is able to redeem us from our past and make all things new!

It is written in Psalm 27, "for he will hide me in his Sukkah in the day of trouble ... and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts (teruah) of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD" (Psalm 27:5-6). If all goes well, we will have some "ushpizin" (guests) for the first night of Sukkot on Wednesday evening.  Chag Sukkot Same'ach, friends!
 




Etrog and Lulav...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, the "Feast of Tabernacles." Chag Sameach! ]

09.17.13 (Tishri 13, 5774)  During Sukkot we use "four species" that symbolize the fruit of the land (Lev. 23:40). The etrog (אֶתְרג), a lemon-like citron, is used as "the fruit of goodly trees," and is often regarded as a symbol of the heart.  The sages say the word "etrog" can be seen as an acronym for "faith (אֱמוּנָה), repentance (תְּשׁוּבָה), healing (רְפֻאָה), and redemption (גְּאֻלָּה)."  Also, the initials of the words "Let not the foot of pride overtake me" (Psalm 36:12) - אַל־תְּבוֹאֵנִי רֶגֶל גַּאֲוָה - spell the word "etrog," suggesting that the fruit of the humble heart is most beautiful in the eyes of heaven.

If the etrog represents the heart, the lulav (date palm branch) is said to represent the spine or backbone of a person. Notice that the word lulav (לוּלָב) can be broken down as לוֹ ("to him") and לֵב ("heart"). A person who loves the LORD bekhol levavkha, with all his heart, will be given "spiritual backbone," real conviction and strength.
 




Quick Sukkot Seder Guide

Shake Your Lulav!
 

[ The week-long holiday of Sukkot begins Wednesday, Sept. 18th at sundown this year... ]

09.16.13 (Tishri 12, 5774)  Sukkot is just around the corner!  To make things a bit easier to celebrate the upcoming holiday, I consolidated the traditional blessings and steps into a single (double-sided) page that you can print to use with your celebrations:
 

Since it follows Yom Kippur (i.e., the Day of Atonement), Sukkot represents a time of renewed fellowship with God, an prophetic time when we gratefully acknowledge the Lord's sheltering provision and ongoing care for our lives... In this connection the sages note that the numerical equivalent (gematria) of sukkah (סוכּה) is 91, the same as the sum of two of the Divine Names: Adonai (אדני) and YHVH (יהוה).

Originally, the Mishkan (and later, the Temple) represented God's Shekhinah Presence among His redeemed people (Exod. 29:44-45). The New Testament reveals that God Himself "tabernacled" with us by coming in the disguised form of lowly servant in order to function as the great High Priest of the New Covenant (see Phil. 2:7, John 1:14). Because of Yeshua's priestly avodah and sacrifice, we now have access to the Heavenly Throne of God's Grace (Heb. 4:16). We are confident of the eternal atonement that our beloved Messiah has secured for us all (Heb. 10:14), and we trust that our names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life (Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5). We rejoice that we are members of the greater Temple of His body: we are now part of His Heavenly Sukkah (Eph. 5:30)!

 

"Oh, let us hear the voice crying in the wilderness of our own hearts..."  Ufros Alenu Sukkat Shlomekha - "Spread over us Your Sukkah of Peace."
 




The Holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles)


 

[ The week-long holiday of Sukkot begins Wednesday, Sept. 18th at sundown this year... ]

09.15.13 (Tishri 11, 5774)  On the Jewish calendar, there is a quick transition from the somber time of the Jewish High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur) to the week-long festival of Sukkot (called "Tabernacles" in the Christian tradition). If the High Holidays focus on the LORD as our Creator, our Judge, and the One who atones for our sins, then Sukkot is the time when we joyously celebrate all that He has done for us. Prophetically understood, the seven days of Sukkot picture olam haba, the world to come, and the Millennial Kingdom reign of Mashiach ben David. If Yeshua was born during Sukkot (i.e., conceived during Chanukah, the festival of lights), then another meaning of the "word became flesh and 'tabernacled with us" (John 1:14) extends to the coming kingdom age, when He will again "sukkah" with his people during the time of his reign from Zion.

Since it represents the time of ingathering of the harvest, Sukkot prophetically prefigures the joyous redemption and gathering of the Jewish people during the days of the Messiah's reign on earth (Isa. 27:12-13; Jer. 23:7-8). Indeed all of the nations that survived the Great Tribulation will come together to worship the LORD in Jerusalem during the Feast of Sukkot (Zech. 14:16-17). The holiday season therefore provides a vision of the coming Kingdom of God upon the earth, when the Word will again "tabernacle with us."
 

 

This year Sukkot begins just after sundown on Wednesday, Sept. 18th (i.e., Tishri 15 on the Jewish calendar). The festival is celebrated for seven days (i.e., from Tishri 15-21) during which we "dwell" in a sukkah -- a hut of temporary construction, with a roof covering (schach) of raw vegetable matter (i.e., branches, bamboo, etc.). The sukkah represents our dependence upon God's shelter for our protection and divine providence. We eat our meals in the sukkah and recite a special blessing (leshev Ba-Sukkah) at this time.

In addition to the Sukkah, the most prominent symbol of Sukkot is the Arba'at Ha-minim (אַרְבַּעַת הַמִּינִים) - "the Four Species," or four kinds of plants explicitly mentioned in the Torah regarding the festival of Sukkot: "On the first day you shall take: 1) the product of goodly trees (etrog), 2) branches of palm trees (lulav), 3) boughs of leafy trees (hadas), and 4) willows of the brook (aravot), and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days" (Lev. 23:40). We wave the "four species" (held together as a bouquet with the etrog) and recite a blessing (netilat lulav) to ask God for a fruitful and blessed year.


 

Note:  The weekly Torah readings are suspended for the week of Sukkot, though we will finish reading the Torah (and begin reading it anew) on the holiday of Simchat Torah, immediately following the holiday. For more information about Sukkot, including how you can observe it as a follower of Yeshua, see the Sukkot pages and their links.
 




Peace to you in Messiah...


 

09.13.13 (Tishri 9, 5774)  The great commandment is always Shema, listen -- listen to the Voice of God's love for you; listen to the message of God's good will for you; listen to the quiet voice of the Spirit whispering your name... "For in Yeshua the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of Messiah's cross" (Col. 1:19-20). Be still and know; surrender your own devices, agree within your heart of hearts that you are beloved because of God's invincible love. The LORD makes all things new; he sets you free to live in the grace of his everlasting atonement.

Shabbat Shalom and happy holidays! Praise God that those who trust in Messiah are written and sealed for good in the Book of Life! The "first fruits" of the Fruit of the Spirit are love, joy, and peace... may they be yours, chaverim.
 




Yom Kippur and the Name


 

[ Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement," begins this evening at sunset... ]

09.13.13 (Tishri 9, 5774)  Yom Kippur was the only time when the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and call upon the Name of YHVH (יהוה) to offer blood sacrifice for the sins of the people. This "life for a life" principle is the foundation of the sacrificial system and marked the great day of intercession made by the High Priest on behalf of Israel. For this reason it was also called the "Day of God's Mercy," or the "Day of God's Name."  This alludes to the revelation of the Name YHVH (יהוה) and the attributes of God's Compassion after the sin of the Golden Calf (Exod. 34:6-7). How much more, then, is Yom Kippur the "Day of Yeshua's Name" since He secured for all of humanity everlasting kapparah (atonement)? Yeshua the Messiah is Moshia ha'olam (מוֹשִׁיעַ הָעוֹלָם), the Savior of the world; He alone possesses the "Name above all other Names" (Phil. 2:9-10; Acts 4:12). It is altogether fitting, then, that God's "hidden Name" (i.e., shem ha-meforash: שֵׁם הַמְּפרָשׁ) was proclaimed before the kapporet (the cover of the Ark of the Covenant) in the Holy of Holies while atonement for our sins was made through the sacrificial blood.

This gives us a whole new perspective on Paul's words (Rom. 10:9): "if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is LORD (יהוה) and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead (i.e., that his blood was shed and presented on your behalf upon the heavenly kapporet), then you will be saved (that is, you will be reconciled to God and made a partaker of the atoning work of Yeshua). Surely the Apostle Paul, a zealous rabbi who diligently studied Torah in Jerusalem under Rabbi Gamaliel (who was himself the grandson of the renowned Rabbi Hillel the Elder), understood the theological implications when he stated that the prophecy: "And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the Name of the LORD (בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה) shall be saved" (Joel 2:32) applied directly to Yeshua (Rom. 10:10).
 




Yom Kippur by Heart...


 

[ The following is related to Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement"... ]

09.13.13 (Tishri 9, 5774)  The story is told that once a farmer traveled to attend Yom Kippur services but got lost in the woods. As sunset approached, the man was tempted to despair, but he remembered that true service to God is marked by joy and faith, regardless of the present circumstances. He decided, then, to turn his eyes toward heaven. 'Dear God,' he said. 'I have never learned to pray like others have. I have no prayer book, and I am unable to attend a Yom Kippur service... All I really know is the Hebrew aleph-bet. I will recite the letters for You, and You put them together to make the proper words." He then began reciting 'Aleph, Bet, Gimmel, Dalet...' He did this over and over again, full of faith. Later he made his way out of the woods and explained what happened to a sage, who reassured him that above all God prefers sincerity of the heart.

I relate this story to encourage those of you who - for any number of reasons - are unable to attend a Messianic Yom Kippur service... God sees your heart and knows all about you. Rejoice that your atonement is complete in Yeshua, then, and ask God to make "words" from the simple groaning of your spirit... "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so..." Out of the mouths of babies God ordains strength (Psalm 8:2). Shalom.
 




Yom Kippur and Messiah...


 

[ Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement," begins this evening at sunset... ]

09.13.13 (Tishri 9, 5774)  How do we understand the contradiction that Yom Kippur is to be observed as a "statute forever" (Lev. 16:29) while the New Testament states that Jesus puts an end to sacrifice and now is our eternal atonement (Heb. 9:12; 24-26)? First we must note that this contradiction only arises when we make the (false) assumption that the Sinai covenant can never be abrogated, which would imply that a new covenant is not possible. If we can only relate to God through the terms given at Sinai, in other words, then the Levitical priesthood (alone) serves to mediate us before God, and there would be no need for the cross of Messiah. However, the new covenant was clearly predicted throughout the Torah, the writings, and the prophets, and the rabbinical assumption is therefore false. We can understand this by an analogy: If an employer makes a contract with an employee with certain provisions and conditional benefits that are subject to annual review, but later rescinds that contact and offers a new one with far better benefits, there is no contradiction involved. A real contradiction would be, "you must observe Yom Kippur forever," and then - in the same contract - read, "you no longer need observe Yom Kippur forever."

Since the Torah says of the Yom Kippur ritual, "this shall be a statute forever (חֻקַּת עוֹלָם) for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins" (Lev. 16:34), it is urgent for us to explore what "forever" might mean in this case, especially in light of the atonement given in Yeshua.  First, we note that the Hebrew word translated "forever" is olam (עוֹלָם), which is derived from a root verb alam (עָלַם) that means "to conceal" or "to hide." Olam may have its origins using spatial imagery, a distance so vast that it is unseen, beyond the horizon, and therefore it can also mean "world." When it is applied to the terms of the Sinai covenant (and the Tabernacle represents the "ritual expression" of that covenant), the word means perpetual, ongoing, etc., in that domain or "world." It is interesting to note that the Jewish sages never regarded "olam" as unchangeable, since in the world to come Torah from Zion (Isa. 2:3).

Second, we must remember that  Torah (תּוֹרָה) is a "function word" that expresses our responsibility in light of the covenantal acts of God, and if you choose to relate to God by means of the Sinai covenant, you are liable to the terms and provisions of that contract (e.g., niddah laws, blood ritual laws, tithing laws, agricultural laws, etc.), and this includes being liable to the enumerated curses for disobedience. The covenant at Sinai is indeed eternal and never can change - it is brit olam, a perpetual covenant - but if you choose to abide by its terms, you are responsible for your side of the contract... The Book of Hebrews states: "When there is a change in the priesthood (הַכְּהוּנָּה), there is necessarily (ἀνάγκη) a change in the Torah as well" (Heb. 7:12). The Levitical priesthood expresses the Torah of the Covenant of Sinai (בְּרִית יְשָׁנָה), just as the greater priesthood of Yeshua expresses the Torah of the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה).

Third, Yeshua our Messiah came to deliver us from sin and to establish the new covenant with God, which both transcends the moral law of Sinai and provides an entirely new way to be in relationship with God by the power of the Holy Spirit. The new covenant sets us free from the terms of Sinai (by the death of the Testator, Heb. 9:15) so that we might serve God in a new and better way (see Jer. 31:33; Rom. 7:1-6; Heb. 8:6; Rom. 9:31-32; Acts 13:39; Gal. 4:21-5:1). We "die" to the terms of the former contract to serve God in a new and powerful way (Rom. 7:1-4), with the inner intent of the law written upon our hearts (Jer. 31:31-33). This is the "deeper Torah" that goes back to the original covenant made in the Garden of Eden (for more on this, see "The Gospel in the Garden").

Fourth, Yeshua is the King, the Lawgiver of Torah, and its Substance: he did not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill their message and meaning (Matt. 5:17-18; Rom. 10:4). As the King, he has the authority to annul contracts with his subjects, and he has the authority to implement new agreements based on his sovereign will...

Finally, those who follow the law of Moses simply cannot keep the Day of Atonement as commanded in the Book of Leviticus, nor have Jews been able to do so since 70 AD, after the destruction of the Second Temple as was foretold by Yeshua (Matt. 24:2; Luke 19:41-4). Note that this was by divine design, since the way into the Holy of Holies (i.e., kodesh hakodashim: קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים) was not yet open for all as long as the "outer tent" still stood (i.e., the Levitical priesthood as the ritualistic expression of the covenant made at Sinai), since that was symbolic of "the present age," or the "dispensation that was passing away" (Heb. 8:13, 9:8-9; for more, see "The Parochet Rent in Two").  Despite the later invention of "Judaism without the Temple," the life is indeed "in the blood" (Lev. 17:11) and in Messiah we are given fulness of life! Only Yeshua gives us true atonement, and that's the true Torah of the LORD! The redemption obtained by animal sacrifices was merely provisional and symbolic, "for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Heb. 10:4). For eternal remedy something far greater was needed, namely, the sacrifice of God Himself. Consequently, when Yeshua came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me," and "'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book" (Heb. 10:5,7). As the Book of Hebrew states: "We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat who serve the Tabernacle" (i.e., the Levitical system of worship). We are cleansed from our sins and made eternally right with God beause of the cross of Yeshua...

The bottom line is this. We have a greater High Priest who intercedes for us by means of his own shed blood within the true Holy of Holies, "made without hands," in the olam of reality. We do not mix the covenants of God, for this leads to double-mindedness and is regarded as spiritual adultery (Rom. 7:1-4). It is chillul HaShem - the desecration of the Name above all Names - to turn away from the meaning and message of the cross of Messiah.

Note: We study the Yom Kippur and the various rituals of blood atonement to better understand the meaning of Yeshua's sacrificial death for us as God's High Priest of the New Covenant.  Moreover, as I've explained elsewhere on this site, Yom Kippur prophetically pictures the "Day of the LORD" or the Day of Judgment in Acharit Ha-Yamim (the End of Days). The heavenly shofar blasts heard at Mount Sinai will be reissued from Zion for all the world to hear. First will be the gathering together of those who follow the Messiah (i.e., those declared tzaddikim because of the merit of Yeshua's sacrifice), and then God's war against Satan and the world system will begin, culminating in the long-awaited coronation of the King of King of Kings.  After the judgment of the nations after the Great Tribulation, ethnic Israel will be fully restored to the LORD and their sins will be completely purged (Matt. 24). "All Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26). Yeshua will then physically return to Israel to establish His glorious millennial kingdom in Zion. Then all the promises given to ethnic Israel through the prophets will finally be fulfilled.
 




Trust from the Heart...


 

09.13.13 (Tishri 9, 5774)  "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding" (Prov. 3:5). Note the contrast between trusting and understanding in this familiar verse. Trust is a matter of heart, the decision to let go, whereas understanding is analytical, "objective," a matter of physical seeing. Human reason may help you discern the "what" of faith, but it is powerless to waken the soul, to breath life into heart, and to impart passion to seek God's Presence as your greatest need and your utmost good.
 

בְּטַח אֶל־יְהוָה בְּכָל־לִבֶּךָ
וְאֶל־בִּינָתְךָ אַל־תִּשָּׁעֵן

be·tach · el · Adonai · be·khol · lib·be·kha
ve·el · bi·na·te·kha · al · tish·sha·ein

 

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and do not rely on your own understanding"
(Prov. 3:5)

The cross, not the scales

Hebrew Study Card
 

Some commandments do not test how we comprehend our faith as much as they test the surrender of our heart.  The test of faith requires bittachon - that is, abandoning our need to understand so that we can completely cling to God's wisdom...

"Fear not, for I am with you..." אַל־תִּירָא כִּי עִמְּךָ־אָנִי.  What we need most of all is right here, present in this hour, whether we're conscious of it or not. God is with you, even if you feel alone, lost in darkness, unclean, afraid... "Dear Lord Jesus, I don't know who I am, I don't know where I am, and I don't know what I am, but please love me" (prayer of a sufferer from Alzheimer's disease). That's what we need most, to trust that we are safe in God's love, and that's the ultimate message of our atonement in Messiah.
 




Atonement and Healing...


 

[ Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement," begins Friday, Sept. 13th this year. ]

09.12.13 (Tishri 8, 5774)  Atonement is about righting the wrong that separates us from God, repairing the breach caused by our sin, and being healed from the curse of death. We all desperately need this healing, yet our own hearts are the source of the trouble (Matt. 15:19-20). The holiness and justice of God (אלהִים) requires that sin be punished by death, but God is also merciful and gracious (יהוה), and therefore He instituted a system of animal sacrifices and blood rituals to provisionally "atone" for sin (i.e., restore the broken relationship with God). Since the life of the flesh is in the blood (Lev. 17:11), and the penalty for sin is death, the shedding of blood represents atonement (כַּפָּרָה) for sin. With regard to the chatat ("sin offering") or asham ("guilt offering"), a person would bring a kosher animal (korban) to the entrance of the Tabernacle and place both hands on the animal's head to identify with it (Lev. 4:29). This act of "semikhah" (סְמִיכָה) symbolically (i.e., ritually) transferred the penalty of sin and guilt to the sacrificial animal. Then, the person would slay the animal and confess that his sin caused the innocent to be slain in his place (Menachot 110a). The elaborate sacrificial system was intended to depict this "life-for-life" principle: God accepted the blood of a sacrifice in exchange for the life of the sinner...

The sacrificial system of the Tabernacle was a temporary arrangement until the coming of Messiah, the Promised Deliverer (Gal. 3:24-25; Rom. 10:4; Heb. 9:1-12). The redemption obtained by animal sacrifices was merely provisional and symbolic, "for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Heb. 10:4). For eternal remedy, for the spiritual life of the soul, something far greater was needed, namely, the sacrifice of God Himself. Consequently, when Yeshua came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me," and "'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book" (Heb. 10:5,7). All this is profoundly mysterious, of course. After all, if the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) could enter the Holy of Holies only once a year to present sacrificial blood upon the kapporet, invoking the Divine Name YHVH, and interceding for God's mercy on behalf of the people, how much more mysterious is Messiah's intercession for us as he willingly shed his own blood and died in exchange for the curse of our sins (Gal. 3:13)? It was there - in the true Holy of Holies, the "greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands" (Heb. 9:11), where the blood of Yeshua was poured out to pay the penalty for our sins, and it was there that we are given eternal life and healing (2 Cor. 5:21). Yeshua is the true Temple of God and the Central Sacrifice of God given on our behalf. In ways we simply cannot fathom, the sacrificial death of Yeshua redeems us from the curse of death and makes us alive together with God. We draw near to God through Him alone; he alone is the true High Priest of God, the One who finishes the work of redemption on our behalf in the Temple of his body...

The New Testament teaches that Yeshua came to die "for our sins," to heal us from the plague of death (Heb. 7:27, 9:26; 1 John 3:5). Our sin separates us from God, but Messiah's sacrifice draws us near (Heb. 7:19). The message of the gospel is that the Voice of the LORD - the very Word spoken from between the cherubim above the kapporet (mercy seat)  - "became flesh" (ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο) and "tabernacled among us" (ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν) for the purpose of becoming our substitutionary sacrifice for the guilt and defilement caused by our sins (John 1:1,14). Yeshua was "born to die" (Heb. 10:5-7), and his life was lived in relation to His sacrificial death (Mark 8:27-33). As the Apostle Paul put it: This is of "first importance": Yeshua was born to die for our sins, to make us right with God, and was raised from the dead to vindicate the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 15:3-4). His sacrificial death eternally draws us near to God, and we can come boldly before God's Presence on the basis of His shed blood for our sins...

The sacrificial system of Torah functions as a parable for us, or a metaphor of God's great redemptive plan revealed in the life and death of Yeshua. The Mercy Seat (kapporet) represents both the Throne of God (Heb. 4:16; 2 Kings 19:15) as well as the cross of Yeshua, where propitiation for our sins was made (Rom. 3:25). The glory of the Torah of Moses was destined to fade away (2 Cor. 3:3-11), just as its ritual center (i.e., the Tabernacle/Temple) was a shadow (σκιά) to be replaced by the greater priesthood of Malki-Tzedek (Heb. 10:1; 13:10). Yeshua is the Goal and the "Goel" (i.e., גּאֵל, Redeemer) from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13). "For the law made nothing perfect, but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, and that is how we draw near (karov) to God" (Heb. 7:19). The sacrificial death of Yeshua caused the parochet of the Temple to be torn asunder, revealing that access to the Presence of God is now available for all who come to God trusting in the finished work of God's Son.

For more on this subject, see "Why the Sacrifices?" and "Yom Kippur and the Gospel."

Note:  To this world, the idea of blood atonement for sin is about as popular as getting a root canal or learning that you have a terminal disease... Nevertheless it is all the more precious because it pertains to the deepest mysteries of God's love and healing for us. The ground of all reality, the "Substance" of all things, is God's redeeming love given in Yeshua. In the climactic Book of Revelation, the Lamb that was slain is seen in "the midst of the throne of God," the Heavenly Kapporet itself: "For the Lamb in the midst of the throne (τὸ ἀρνίον τὸ ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ θρόνου) will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Rev. 7:17).
 




Blood of a Better Kind...


 

[ The following is related to Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement"... ]

09.11.13 (Tishri 7, 5774)  The Torah of Moses reveals that the very first "priest" (i.e., kohen: כּהֵן) was neither a Jew nor a Levite nor a descendant of Aaron, but rather Someone who is said to have "neither beginning of days nor end of life" but is made like (ἀφωμοιωμένος) the Son of God, a priest continually (Heb. 7:3). This priest, of course, was Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק), the King of Salem (מֶלֶךְ שָׁלֵם) to whom Abraham offered tithes after his victory over the kings (Gen. 14:18). The author of the Book of Hebrews makes the point that the priesthood of Malki-Tzedek is greater than the Levitical priesthood and is therefore superior to the rites and services of the Tabernacle (Heb. 7:9-11). It was to Malki-Tzedek that Abram (and by extension, the Levitical system instituted by his descendant Moses) gave tithes and homage -- and rightly so, since Yeshua is the great High Priest of the better covenant based on better promises (Heb. 8:6).
 

נִשְׁבַּע יְהוָה וְלא יִנָּחֵם
אַתָּה־כהֵן לְעוֹלָם
עַל־דִּבְרָתִי מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק

nish·ba' · Adonai · ve·lo · yin·na·chem
at·tah · kho·hen · le·o·lam
al · div·ra·ti · mal·ki-tze·dek
 

The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind,
"You are a priest forever
after the cause of Malki-Tzedek."
(Psalm 110:4)

The cross, not the scales

 

Indeed, Yeshua is Himself the Promised Seed of Abraham who saves the world from the kelalah (curse) caused by Adam's transgression (Gen. 3:15). It is profoundly prophetic how Abraham was met by the Coming One as the Priest of the Most High God in the City of Zion, and how he gave him the tokens of bread and wine - the very commemorative emblems Yeshua gave to His disciples as a witness of His mediation for their sins (1 Cor. 11:23-26). It is also highly prophetic that Abraham himself was commanded by the LORD to offer human sacrifice when he bound his "only begotten son" Isaac upon the altar at Moriah (see The Gospel of Moses). Many midrashim state that Isaac actually was killed but came back to life, and that agrees with the Book of Hebrews description that Abraham expected the resurrection of his son (Heb. 11:17-19). It is incorrect, then, to claim that the Torah categorically forbade human sacrifice. On the contrary, it was proclaimed to Adam and Eve, prefigured in the Akedah, and later spoken about directly by the Hebrew prophets, including King David. "Then he [Messiah] said, 'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book'. I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart" (Heb. 10:7; Psalm 40:8). As the prophet Isaiah also attested:
 

    He is despised and rejected of men, a man of pains (אִישׁ מַכְאבוֹת) and acquainted with sickness (וִידוּעַ חלִי), and we hid as it were our faces from him. He was despised and we esteemed him not. Surely he has carried our sicknesses (חֳלָיֵנוּ) and borne our pains (מַכְאבֵינוּ), yet we esteemed him as plagued (נָגַע), smitten of God (מֻכֵּה אֱלהִים) and oppressed. But he was pierced (מְחלָל) for our transgressions (פְּשָׁעֵנוּ), he was crushed for our iniquities (עֲוֹנתֵינוּ): the discipline for our peace was upon him (מוּסַר שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ עָלָיו); and in his blows we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, but the LORD has attacked in him (הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:3-6).
     

The LORD has "attacked in him (הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all..." Through the substitutionary sacrifice of the righteous Suffering Servant, Yeshua, we are both forgiven and made free from the power of sin and death. Because of Him we are no longer "lepers" or outcasts from the community of God but are made clean through His loving touch.

The priesthood of Yeshua is said to be after the "order of Malki-Tzedek," based on a direct oath from God, that predates the operation of the Levitical priesthood (for more information about the role of Yeshua as our High Priest, see the article "Yom Kippur and the Gospel"). This is not unlike the King/Priest office that Moses held when he commanded the sacrifice of the Passover lambs during the Exodus. The korban pesach (sacrifice of Passover) was not originally instituted through the Levitical priesthood (i.e., the Mishkan), but rather predated the giving of the law to the priests. It is no coincidence that Yeshua explicitly referred to this (pre-Levitical priesthood) event to speak of His role as Seh Elohim, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 3:1-12).

Indeed, the Levitical priesthood "made nothing perfect" and therefore a "new priesthood" was required to finally reconcile us back to God (Heb. 7:19). "For when there is a change (μετατιθεμένης) in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change (μετάθεσις) in the law as well" (Heb. 7:12). The word translated "change" here comes from the verb μετατίθημι (from meta, "after" + tithemi, to "set") which would be better translated as "transposed." The idea is the priesthood reverted back to the original priesthood of Zion and therefore required a corresponding "transfer" of authority (μετάθεσις) to the original kingship as well (Heb. 7:12). Yeshua is our great Kohen Gadol (High Priest) after the order of Malki-Tzedek (Heb. 5:10, 6:20; 7:1-28), just as He is our King and the final authority of the Torah.  Those who follow Him are called to be mamlekhet kohanim v'goy kadosh, "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" forever (Exod. 19:6, 1 Pet. 2:9, Rev. 1:6, 5:10). Followers of Yeshua have an altar "from which those who serve in the Tabernacle are not permitted to eat" (Heb. 13:10).

In the older covenant, the role of the priest was primarily to help someone offer sacrifice, or present "korban" (קָרְבָּן) to God. This Hebrew word comes from a root (קרב) that means to "come close," specifically, to draw near to God. In other words, the primary function of a priest was to help "mediate" the presence of God by means of vicarious sacrifice.  This was the "korban" principle of "life-for-life" that implied hearing a confession of guilt and pronouncing forgiveness. The entire sacrificial system of the Torah (Mishkan/Temple) was predicated exclusively upon this. Only those who radically reinterpret the Torah and disregard over 40% of the mitzvot could claim that blood sacrifice is not expressly taught in the Torah. The life of the flesh is in the blood -- given to make "atonement" upon the altar (Lev. 17:11). The entire system was set up to "point to" the coming sacrifice of the Messiah Himself of whom the prophets foretold (Isa. 53, Psalm 22, Zech. 12:10, etc.).

Under the terms of the Sinai covenant, the kohen served as a facilitator, a helper, a comforter for those who wanted to draw near the LORD.  The offering of a sacrifice served as a "symbol and expression of man's desire to purify himself and become reconciled to God" (Leibowitz, Vayikra). A related function of the priest was to serve as a healer, or someone who would pronounce the unclean as "clean." The metzora ("leper") first needed to be covered with his condition before he could be pronounced clean.  This was metaphorical of the sinner's complete identification with his sin. The pronouncement of being "clean" meant restoration to the community and renewed fellowship. In each of these cases we find that priesthood of Yeshua is a greater than all the sacrifices made at the Temple.  Indeed, He is greater than the Temple itself, which was merely a "shadow" of His Reality and Substance (Matt. 12:6; Heb. 10:1).

When the Second Temple was destroyed in fulfillment of Yeshua's prophecy (Mark 13:1-2, Luke 19:44), "Judaism without a Temple" was born, and that meant (among other things), that the role of the sage replaced that of the priest. Indeed, despite the Council of Yavne and its legacy (i.e., Mishnah/Talmud), there simply is no Torah-based Judaism apart from the Holy Temple. Over 40% (247) of the 613 mitzvot (Torah commandments) concern the ceremonial laws of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Book of Leviticus is the central book of the Torah, and blood atonement by an innocent, sacrificial victim is at the heart of the law given to the priests of Israel.
 




Yom Kippur and Jonah...


 

[ The following is related to Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement"... ]

09.11.13 (Tishri 7, 5774)  During the afternoon service of Yom Kippur, the Book of Jonah is recited to awaken the heart to "Arise, call out to your God" (1:6). In the Pesikta midrash it is written, "Israel said to God, 'Master of the Universe, if we repent, will you accept it?' and God replied, 'Would I accept the repentance of the people of Nineveh, and not yours?'" The sages therefore say that the story of Jonah is recited at this time to remind us that if God could forgive the Ninevites, so He can forgive us, too...

Like Jonah we first must be "swallowed up" in consciousness of our own rebellion before we realize we are undone, that we are without remedy apart from God's direct intervention and deliverance. We start there - in the "belly of the fish" - and later are resurrected to go forth by God's mercy and grace. Likewise we first see ourselves as undone and go to the cross, finding pardon and given the power of the ruach HaKodesh to live unto God according to the truth. But note that the imperatives of the New Testament are directed to the new nature given to us by God, and not to the old nature that has been crucified and done away. We are admonished to live in accordance with the truth of what God has done for us through the Moshia', the Savior. You are a new creation, therefore be who you are in the Messiah!

It is noteworthy that Yeshua mentioned the "sign of Jonah the prophet," that is, Jonah's miraculous deliverance after being entombed in the belly of the fish for three days, to authenticate his own claim to be Israel's Redeemer. "Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth" (Matt. 12:40). "This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet (אוֹת יוֹנָה הַנָּבִיא). For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation" (Luke 11:29-30). In other words, the story of Jonah foreshadowed the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah, that is, his death, burial and especially his miraculous resurrection on the third day. Just as God brought Jonah back to life after three days in the belly of the earth, so the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead would vindicate his claim to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world. In this way the "Sign of Jonah" and the sacrificial and atoning work of Yeshua as our High Priest of the new covenant are connected.

Note:  According to Jewish tradition, Jonah ben Amittai (יוֹנָה בֶן־אֲמִתַּי) was a student of the prophet Elisha, who was himself the student of the prophet Elijah... The mother of Jonah was said to the poor widow of Lebanon who offered Elijah hospitality and her last bite of food. When her son Jonah later unexpectedly died, Elijah miraculously revived him (1 Kings 17:8-24). The midrash says that Nineveh was called to repent based on the merit of Asshur who separated from Nimrod before the time of the great rebellion (Gen. 10:22). Later, however, Nineveh was nevertheless destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II (c. 605–562 BC).
 




Blood Over the Tablets...


 

[ The following concerns Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement..." ]

09.10.13 (Tishri 6, 5774)  The earthy Tabernacle and its furnishings were "copies" of the heavenly Temple and the Throne of God Himself. Moses was commanded to make the Sanctuary according to the "pattern" revealed at Sinai (Exod. 25:9). "For Messiah has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are representations (ἀντίτυπος) of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf" (Heb. 9:24). The centermost point of the earthly Temple was the Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן־הַקּדֶשׁ), a "three-in-one" box that contained God's Holy Word (i.e., the tablets of the Torah). As such, the Ark served as a symbol of kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), the Throne of Glory. The Ark stood entirely apart as the only furnishing placed in the "three-in-one" space called the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). Upon the cover of the Ark (i.e., the kapporet) were fashioned two cherubim (i.e., angel-like figures) that faced one another (Exod. 25:17-18). According to the Talmud (Succah 5b), each cherub had the face of a child - one boy and one girl - and their wings spread heavenward as their eyes gazed upon the cover (Exod. 25:20). This was the sacred place where the blood of purification was sprinkled during Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and this is the Place (הַמָּקוֹם) that prefigured the offering of the blood of the Messiah, our eternal Mediator of the New Covenant. "For I will appear in the cloud over the kapporet" (Lev. 16:2; Exod. 25:22). As it is written, "I have blotted out your transgressions like a thick cloud and your sins like heavy mist; return to me (שׁוּבָה אֵלַי), for I have redeemed you (Isa. 44:22).

The central image of the Tabernacle is that of the Law covered with sacrificial blood - the Place where "Love and truth meet, where righteousness and peace kiss" (Psalm 85:10). It was from the midst of the surrounding cloud that the Voice of the LORD was heard:
 

חֶסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ
צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ

che·sed  ve·e·met  nif·ga·shu
tzedek  ve·sha·lom  na·sha·ku

 

"Love and truth have met,
justice and peace have kissed."
(Psalm 85:10)

The cross, not the scales

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Darkness and Intercession....


 

[ Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement," begins Friday, Sept. 13th this year. ]

09.10.13 (Tishri 6, 5774)  The High Priest was required to perform the Yom Kippur avodah (service) alone, while wearing humble attire, divested of his glory, and in complete solitude: "No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out" (Lev. 16:17). The Hebrew text literally says, "no adam (אָדָם) shall be in the tent," which suggests that something more than the natural man is needed for divine intercession. And just as Moses alone approached God in the thick clouds at Sinai to receive the revelation of the Altar as mediator of the older covenant (Exod. 24:15), so Yeshua, the Mediator of the New Covenant, went through his severest agony on the cross as the darkness covered the earth (Luke 23:44; Matt. 27:45).
 




Yom Kippur and Purim...


 

[ Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement," begins Friday, Sept. 13th this year. ]

09.10.13 (Tishri 6, 5774)  The holiday of Yom Kippur (i.e., the Day of Atonement) is called Yom Kippurim in the Torah (i.e., יוֹם כִּפֻּרִים, see Lev. 23:28), which can be read as Yom Ke-Purim, a 'day like Purim' (i.e., יוֹם, "day" + כְּ, "like" + פֻּרִים, "Purim").  Both Purim and Yom Kippur celebrate our deliverance from the great enemies of sin and death, and both holidays foreshadow the great purim (deliverance) we have in Yeshua our LORD... Note further that the Hebrew word for "year" (i.e., shanah: שׁנה) has the same letter value Yom ha'kippurim (i.e., יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים, see Lev. 23:27), which suggests that God's deliverance and atoning love extends to us every day of the year.

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




Behold the Goat of God...


 

[ Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement," begins Friday, Sept. 13th this year. ]

09.10.13 (Tishri 6, 5774)  The original Passover sacrifice (korban Pesach) was not given to the Levitical priesthood as a sin offering since it preceded Sinai and the giving of the laws concerning the sacrificial rites. In the same way, Yeshua's sacrifice was directed from Heaven itself by means of the prophetic office of Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק) - a higher order of priesthood (Gen. 14:18; Psalm 110:4; Heb. 7).

And while we are more familiar with the Biblical imagery of Messiah as "the Lamb of God" (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), it is nonetheless true that he is also depicted as "the Goat of God" who purifies us from iniquity and offers his blood for our everlasting atonement... As the "Lamb of God" Yeshua pictures redemption from slavery to Satan and freedom from the wrath of God. By means of his shed blood and broken body, the plague of death passes over us and we are set free to serve God (this is the Passover/Exodus connection). As the "Goat of God," Yeshua pictures both personal cleansing (i.e., "expiation" for sin: the Greek word (ἱλαστήριον) is used in the LXX for the kapporet (i.e., mercy seat) in the Holy of Holies that was sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice on Yom Kippur) as our personal Mediator before the Father, as well as corporate cleansing for ethnic Israel at the end of the Great Tribulation period.  At that time Yeshua will function as Israel's true High Priest whose sacrifice is applied for Israel's purification, and so "all Israel shall be saved" (this is the Yom Kippur connection).

Note: For more on this see, "Yom Kippur and the Gospel" and "Behold, the Goat of God."
 




Sacrifice and Healing...


 

[ Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement," begins Friday, Sept. 13th this year. ]

09.09.13 (Tishri 5, 5774)  The Bible has been described as a "book of blood and a bloody book." The recurrent theme of the sacrificed lamb reappears throughout, including the very first sacrifice in the garden to cover the sin of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21); the lamb sacrificed in place of Isaac during the ordeal of the Akedah (Gen. 22:13), the sacrifice of the Passover lamb on the eve of the Exodus (Exod. 12:5-8); and the tamid (daily) offering of the lamb at the Temple (Exod. 29:38; Num. 28:3; Ezek. 46:13) -- all of which prefigured the sacrificial death of Messiah as the "Lamb of God" (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Yeshua is the Substance of all that the sacrifices foreshadowed; he is the Goel (i.e., גּאֵל, Redeemer) from the alienation and exile caused by our sin (Gal. 3:13). All priase belongs to Him: "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" (Rev. 5:12).

The Torah makes it clear that blood (דָּם) is used as a means of consecration as well as a means of obtaining atonement (כַּפָּרָה) with God.  Blood was used on the doorposts of the houses in Egypt to ward off judgment and was later used to ratify the covenant given at Sinai (Exod. 24:8). All the elements of Mishkan (Tabernacle) were likewise "separated" by its use: The altar, the various furnishings of the Temple, the vestments of the priests, and even the priests themselves were sanctified by blood (Exod. 29:20-21, Heb. 9:21). But ultimately blood was used to "make atonement" for the soul upon the altar. As the Torah (Lev. 17:11) plainly states: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood (כִּי נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם), and I have given it for you on the altar to atone (לְכַפֵּר) for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life (כִּי־הַדָּם הוּא בַּנֶּפֶשׁ יְכַפֵּר)." Blood is therefore connected to the holiness of life through sacrificial death....

The first time the word "blood" occurs in the Scriptures concerns the death of Abel (הֶבֶל), the son of Adam and Eve who was murdered by his brother Cain. After Abel's blood was shed, the LORD confronted Cain and said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood (קוֹל דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ) is crying to me from the ground" (Gen. 4:10). Since blood is the carrier of life, it bears the energy and vitality of life: it has its own spiritual "voice." Likewise, the blood of Yeshua (דְּמֵי יֵשׁוּעַ), the true Lamb of God who died upon the cross, speaks on our behalf, and reverses the power of death by creating a barrier that death can no longer cross, since the death of the sacrificial victim "exchanges" the merit and power of life. Unlike the blood of Abel that "cries out" for justice, the blood of Yeshua cries out for mercy (Heb. 12:24).

Note: For more on this important topic, see "Parashat Vayikra: Why the Sacrifices?" and "The Life is in the Blood: Further Thoughts on Parashat Bo."
 




Torah and Blood Atonement...


 

[ Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement," begins Friday, Sept. 13th this year. ]

09.09.13 (Tishri 5, 5774)  "The Life is in the blood..." (Lev. 17:11). The "Day of Atonement" is the English translation for Yom Kippur (יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים). The shoresh (root) for the word "kippur" is kafar (כָּפַר), which probably derives from the word kofer, meaning "ransom." This word is parallel to the word "redeem" (Psalm 49:7) and means "to exchange by offering a substitute." The great majority of usages in the Tanakh concern "making an atonement" by the priestly ritual of sprinkling of sacrificial blood to cleanse from sin or defilement (i.e., tahora). The blood of the sacrifice was given in exchange for the life of the worshiper (the "life-for-life" principle). This symbolism is clarified when the worshiper leaned his hands on the head of the sacrifice (semichah) while confessing sin (Lev. 16:21; 1:4; 4:4, etc.). The shoresh also appears in the term kapporet [the "Mercy Seat," but better rendered as simply the place of blood covering]. The kapporet was the golden cover of the sacred chest in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle (or Temple) where the sacrificial blood was presented.
 

כִּי נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם הִוא
וַאֲנִי נְתַתִּיו לָכֶם עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ
לְכַפֵּר עַל־נַפְשׁתֵיכֶם
כִּי־הַדָּם הוּא בַּנֶּפֶשׁ יְכַפֵּר

ki · ne·fesh · ha·ba·sar · ba·dam · hi
va·a·ni · ne·ta·tiv · la·khem · al · ha·miz·bei·ach
le·kha·peir · al · naf·sho·tei·khem
ki · ha·dam · hu · ba·ne·fesh · ye·kha·peir

 

"For the life of the flesh is in the blood,
and I have given it for you on the altar
to atone for your souls,
for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life."
(
Lev. 17:11)



Hebrew Study Card
 

The blood of Messiah ransoms our souls from death, brings us near to the Divine Presence, and cleanses us from all sin... The voice of his blood cries out on our behalf (Heb. 12:24), and his life was given in exchange for ours: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:12). We "lean into" Yeshua, confessing our sins, and are cleansed from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Indeed Yeshua is called the "propitiation" (ἱλασμός) for our sins (1 John 2:2), a word that can be rendered as both the place of our forgiveness, or simply as forgiveness itself. The Septuagint uses the same word (ἱλασμός) to translate the Hebrew word for forgiveness, for example: "But with you there is forgiveness (הַסְּלִיחָה), that you may be held in awe" (Psalm 130:4). Just as the blood was sprinkled upon the kapporet in the Holy of Holies during the Yom Kippur ritual, so the blood of Messiah was sprinkled the heavenly kapporet, the very Altar, of Almighty God to secure for us everlasting redemption and healing...

"Come now and reason with the LORD. Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (Isa. 1:18). The blood of bulls and goats could never fully remove our sins since they did not represent the very life of God poured out on our behalf (Heb. 10:4). God chose the ultimate "cleansing agent" for sin by shedding the precious blood of His own Son for the sake of our atonement (1 Cor. 15:3-4; Rom. 5:11). The blood of Yeshua truly cleanses us from the stain of our sins (Heb. 10:12-14). We make "spiritual contact" with the sacrificial blood of Yeshua through faith -- by being "baptized into His death" and identifying with Him as our Sin-Bearer before God. We then are delivered from the law's verdict against us and accepted into the Kingdom of God (Rom. 4:25; 2 Cor. 5:21; Col. 1:13-14, 2:10-15).
 

לְכוּ־נָא וְנִוָּכְחָה יאמַר יְהוָה
אִם־יִהְיוּ חֲטָאֵיכֶם כַּשָּׁנִים כַּשֶּׁלֶג יַלְבִּינוּ
אִם־יַאְדִּימוּ כַתּוֹלָע כַּצֶּמֶר יִהְיוּ

lekhu · na · venivakhechah · yomar · Adonai
im · yihehu · chata'eikhem · kashanim · kasheleg · yalbinu
im · ya'adinu · khatolah · katzemer · yiheyu

 

"Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."
(
Isa. 1:18)



Hebrew Study Card

 





Atonement and God's Love...


 

[ Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement," begins Friday, Sept. 13th this year. ]

09.08.13 (Tishri 4, 5774)  Most of our deepest anxieties come from the fear of death, whether we are conscious of this or not... Death represents fear of the unknown, fear of being abandoned, fear of being rejected, fear of being separated from others, and so on. I am so glad Yeshua gives us eternal life, which for me is not so much about immortality of the soul as it is being loved and accepted by God... That is what "at-one-ment" means, after all. Because God loves and accepts us, we trust Him to be present for us, even in the darkest of hours, on the other side of the veil, where he has prepared a place for us (John 14:2). As Yeshua said, "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the One who sent me has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and will not be condemned, but has passed (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24). God's love "crosses over" from death to life and now forever sustains me.

Ultimately, Yom Kippur is about God's love and acceptance, that is, His way of making purification for our sins. As I've explained before, the word for love (i.e., ahavah: אהבה) equals the number thirteen (1+5+2+5=13), but when shared it is multiplied: 13 x 2 = 26, which is the same value for the Sacred Name (יהוה), i.e., (10+5+6+5=26). Likewise the Hebrew word for "life" is chayim (חַיִּים), is written in the plural to emphasize that life cannot be lived alone but must be shared. Notice that within the word itself are embedded two consecutive Yods (יי), representing unity in plurality (Yod-Yod is an abbreviation for YHVH, also indicating the "deep Akedah" of Father and Son). God gave up His life so that we can be in relationship with Him, that is, so that we can be "at-one" with His heart for us.  Whatever else it may mean, then, the word "atonement" (i.e., kapparah, "covering," "protection," "purification," "forgivenenss") is about accepting God's heart for you - being unified in his love - and if you miss that, you've missed the entire point of the high holiday season. Yom Kippur, then, is a time to celebrate God's great love for us.
 




Yom Kippur - Day of Atonement


 

[ The following reviews the basics of Yom Kippur, the climax of the Season of Repentance, which  begins Friday, Sept. 13th this year... ]

09.08.13 (Tishri 4, 5774)  Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement," is regarded as the holiest day of the Jewish year, and provides prophetic insight regarding the Second Coming of the Messiah, the restoration of national Israel, and the final judgment of the world. It is also a day that reveals the High-Priestly work of Yeshua as our Kohen Gadol (High Priest) after the order of Malki-Tzedek (Heb. 5:10, 6:20). The term Yom Kippur is written in the plural in the Torah, Yom Ha-Kippurim (יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים), which alludes to the two great atonements given by the LORD - the first for those among all the nations who turn to Yeshua for cleansing and forgiveness, and the second for the purification of ethnic Israel during Yom Adonai, the great Day of the LORD (יוֹם־יְהוָה הַגָּדוֹל) at the end of days.

This year the Yom Kippur fast begins an hour before sundown on Friday, September 13th, and lasts for 25 hours, until an hour past sundown on Saturday, September 14th.  The sages state that "afflicting the soul" (Lev. 23:32), or fasting, is not undertaken to punish ourselves for our sins, but rather to help us focus entirely on our spiritual side. It is customary to light the holiday candles, recite Shehecheyanu, and eat a late afternoon meal with loved ones (called Seudat Mafseket, a meal of cessation) an hour or so before the fast begins. It is also traditional to wear white clothing as a symbol of purity during Yom Kippur religious services, and some married men wear a kittel, or white robe, as well. Because of the sanctity of the holiday, the tallit is worn for evening services as well. Dressing in this way is intended to make us appear pure, like the angels.


Traditional Yom Kippur Services

In traditional Judaism, Yom Kippur consists of several interwoven "services" that are held throughout the 25 hour period of fasting:
 

  1. The "Kol Nidrei" (כָּל נִדְרֵי) service begins before sundown on Tishri 9 and functions as a legal declaration (recited in Aramaic) that annuls "all vows" made in the previous year (or the following year, depending on tradition). Because this is intended to be a "legal" declaration, it is repeated three times during the Kol Nidrei service.
  2. The Maariv (evening) service consists of the recitation of Kaddish, the Shema, the Amidah (standing prayer), along with the confession of sins (viduy) and additional prayers (selichot) recited only on the night of Yom Kippur. In addition, liturgical poems (piyyutim) are recited as well. Most of this service is spent reading from a machzor (High Holiday prayerbook). During viduy (וִדּוּי) section called "al chet," the custom is to lightly beat the chest for each transgression as it is recited.
  3. The Shacharit (morning) service is not unlike other services for festivals during the Jewish year. The traditional morning prayers, the recitation of the Shema and Amidah, and the Torah reading are all part of the service. During Torah reading service there are six aliyot (i.e., separate readings by different people), one more than on other holidays (though if Yom Kippur occurs on Shabbat, there are still seven aliyot).

    The Torah's name for the Day of Atonement is Yom Kippurim (יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים), meaning "the day of covering, canceling, pardon, reconciling." Under the Levitical system of worship, the High Priest would sprinkle sacrificial blood upon the Kapporet (כַּפּרֶת) - the covering of the Ark of the Covenant -  to effect purification (i.e., kapparah: כַּפָּרָה) for the previous year's sins. Notice that Yom Kippur was the only time when the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and invoke the sacred Name of YHVH (יהוה) to offer blood sacrifice for the sins of the Jewish people. This "life for a life" principle is the foundation of the sacrificial system and marked the great day of intercession made by the High Priest on behalf of Israel.
     
  4. The Yizkor (יִזְכּר) service functions as a memorial service for family members who have died. Traditionally it is recited following the Torah reading of the Shacharit service, though some communities do it in the early afternoon.
  5. The Musaf (additional) service immediately follows the morning service and is divided into two parts: the repetition of the Amidah (by the cantor) and the "Avodah" service, which recounts the priestly service for Yom Kippur in ancient times. The Musaf service ends with the "Aaronic benediction" (i.e., birkat kohanim).
  6. The Minchah (afternoon) service includes a Torah reading service (Lev. 18), another repetition of the Amidah, and the recitation of the "Avinu Malkenu" poem. In addition, since it focuses on the importance of teshuvah (repentance) and prayer, the entire Book of Jonah is recited as the Haftarah portion of the Torah service.
  7. The Neilah (closing) service is the final service of Yom Kippur. The word "Neilah" (נְעִילָה) means "locking" and in rabbinical tradition this portion of the Yom Kippur service is intended to symbolize that the Book of Life has now been "closed and sealed" at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. The Shema is again recited and the phrase "the LORD He is God (i.e., Adonai hu ha-Elohim: יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלהִים) is repeated seven times (1 Kings 18:39). This declaration is followed by a long blast of the shofar (i.e., tekiah gedolah), the "great shofar," to remind us how the shofar was sounded to proclaim the Year of Jubilee Year (יוֹבֵל) of freedom throughout the land (Lev. 25:9-10).  After Yom Kippur ends, we are required to recite (or hear) Havdalah over wine before we eat anything.
     

Yom Ha-Din - Judgment Day

Yom Kippur marks the climax of the Jewish High Holidays and holds tremendous prophetic significance regarding the Second Coming of Messiah, the restoration of national Israel, and the final judgment of the world. It is also a day that reveals the High-Priestly work of Yeshua as our Kohen Gadol (High Priest) after the order of Malki-Tzedek (Heb. 5:10, 6:20).

According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashanah the destiny of the righteous, the tzaddikim, are written in the Book of Life, and the destiny of the wicked, the resha'im, are written in the Book of Death. Most people, however, won't be inscribed in either book, but are given ten days -- until Yom Kippur -- to repent before sealing their fate. On Yom Kippur, then, everyone's name will be sealed in one of the two books.  The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are therefore called Aseret Yemei Teshuvah - the "Ten Days of Repentance" - because personal repentance can affect the divine decree for good, though on Yom Kippur each person's judgment is decided.


 

As Messianic believers, we maintain that Judgment Day has come and justice was served through the sacrificial offering of Yeshua for our sins (2 Cor. 5:21). He is the perfect fulfillment of the Akedah of Isaac. Our names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life, or Sefer HaChayim (Rev. 13:8). We do not believe that we are made acceptable in God's sight by means of our own works of righteousness (Titus 3:5-6), though that does not excuse us from being without such works (as fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives). The Scriptures clearly warn that on the Day of Judgment to come, anyone's name not found written in the Book of Life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). Moreover, all Christians will stand before the Throne of Judgment to give account for their lives (2 Cor. 5:10). "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (1 Cor. 3:13). Life is an examination, a test, and every moment is irrepeatable. Every "careless" word we utter will be echoed on the Day of Judgment (Matt. 12:36-37). Our future is actually being decided today....

The Spring Festivals (Passover, Firstfruits, and Shavuot) have been perfectly fulfilled in the first coming of Yeshua as Mashiach ben Yosef, and the Fall Festivals (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot) will be fulfilled in His second coming as Mashiach ben David. Since the first advent fulfilled all of the spring mo'edim to the smallest of details, we believe that His second advent portends similar fulfillment as revealed in the fall mo'edim

After the summer of harvest (John 4:35), the very first fall festival on the Jewish calendar is Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashanah), which is a picture of the "catching away" of kallat Mashiach (the Bride of Messiah) for the time of Sheva Berachot (seven "days" of blessing that follows the marriage ceremony). Then will come the Great Tribulation and Yom Adonai (יוֹם יְהוָה) - the great "Day of the LORD.  Yom Kippur prophetically pictures the "Day of the LORD" or the Day of Judgment in Acharit Ha-Yamim (the End of Days). The heavenly shofar blasts heard at Sinai will be reissued from Zion. First will be the gathering together of those who follow the Messiah (i.e., those declared tzaddikim because of the merit of Yeshua's sacrifice), and then God's war against Satan and the world system will begin, culminating in the long-awaited coronation of the King of King of Kings - Melech Malchei Ha-Melachim (מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים).

Just as Rosh Hashanah reveals the coming time of Judgment and the rapture of the kehillat Mashiach (bride of Messiah), Yom Kippur prophetically pictures the Day of the LORD or the Day of Judgment in Acharit HaYamim [last days] for all the nations.  After the judgment of the nations during the Great Tribulation, ethnic Israel will be fully restored to the LORD and their sins will be purged (Matt. 24). "All Israel will be saved." Yeshua will then physically return to Israel to establish His glorious millennial kingdom in Zion. Then all the promises given to ethnic Israel through the prophets will finally be fulfilled.
 

דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה בְּהִמָּצְאוֹ קְרָאֻהוּ בִּהְיוֹתוֹ קָרוֹב

dir·shu · Adonai · be·him·ma·tzo, · ke·ra·u·hu · bih·yo·to · ka·rov

"Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near."
(Isa. 55:6)



Hebrew Study Card 


Yom Kippur - Happy or Sad?

In post-Temple Judaism (i.e., rabbinical Judaism) it is customary for Jews to wish one another g'mar chatimah tovah (גְּמַר חַתִימָה טוֹבָה), "a good final sealing" during the Ten Days of Awe (i.e., the ten days running from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur). The reason for this is that according to Jewish tradition the "writing of God's verdict" (for your life) occurs on Rosh Hashanah, but the "sealing of the verdict" occurs on Yom Kippur. In other words, God in His Mercy gives us ten days to do "teshuvah" before sealing our fate.... But it's up to us -- and our teshuvah -- to "save ourselves" from God's decree of death.  Our personal merits (mitzvot) are the key: וּתְשׁוּבָה וּתְפִלָּה וּצְדָקָה מַעֲבִירִין אֶת רעַ הַגְּזֵרָה / "Teshuvah, prayer, and charity deliver us from the evil decree."

Of course as Messianic Jews (and Christians) we have a permanent "sealing" for good by the grace and love of God given to us in Yeshua our Messiah (see Eph. 1:13, 4:30; 2 Cor. 1:21-22). The Torah's statement that sacrificial blood was offered upon the altar to make atonement (כַּפָּרָה) for our souls (Lev. 17:11) finds its final application in the "blood work" of Yeshua upon the cross at Moriah (Rom. 5:11). The substitutionary shedding of blood, the "life-for-life" principle, is essential to the true "at-one-ment" with God.  The ordinances of the Levitical priesthood were just "types and shadows" of the coming Substance that would give us everlasting atonement with God (Heb. 8-10). Because of Yeshua, we have a Kohen Gadol (High Priest) of the better Covenant, based on better promises (Heb. 8:6). For this reason it is entirely appropriate to celebrate Yom Kippur and give thanks to the LORD for the permanent "chatimah tovah" given to us through the salvation of His Son.

It must always be remembered that Torah (תּוֹרָה) is a "function word" that expresses our responsibility in light of the covenantal acts of God. As the author of the Book of Hebrews makes clear: "When there is a change in the priesthood (הַכְּהוּנָּה), there is necessarily (ἀνάγκη) a change in the Torah as well" (Heb. 7:12). The Levitical priesthood expresses the Torah of the Covenant of Sinai (בְּרִית יְשָׁנָה), just as the greater priesthood of Yeshua expresses the Torah of the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה).

Still, for the Messianic Jewish believer there is a bit of ambivalence about this holiday, perhaps more than any other of the Jewish year.  Part of this ambivalence comes from the "already-not-yet" aspect of the New Covenant itself. Already Yeshua has come and offered Himself up as kapparah (atonement/propitiation) for our sins; already He has sent the Ruach Hakodesh (Holy Spirit) to write truth upon our hearts; already He is our God and we are His people. However, the New Covenant is not yet ultimately fulfilled since we await the return of Yeshua to restore Israel and establish His kingdom upon the earth...  Since prophetically speaking Yom Kippur signifies ethic Israel's atonement secured through Yeshua's sacrificial avodah as Israel's true High Priest and King, there is still a sense of groaning and affliction connected to this holiday that will not be removed until finally "all Israel is saved" (Rom. 11:26). So, while on the one hand we celebrate Yom Kippur because it acknowledges Yeshua as our High Priest of the New Covenant, on the other hand we feel "great sorrow and unceasing anguish in our hearts" for the redemption of the Jewish people and the atonement of their sins (Rom. 9:1-5; 10:1-4; 11:1-2, 11-15, 25-27). In the meantime, we are in a period of "mysterious grace" (yemot ha-mashiach) wherein we have opportunity to offer the terms of the New Covenant to people of every nation, tribe and tongue. After the "fullness of the Gentiles" is come in, however, God will turn His full attention to fulfilling His promises given to ethnic Israel. That great Day of the LORD is drawing close and is assuredly coming soon, chaverim..

Note:  The ten days from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur are called the "Days of Awe" in Jewish tradition. When Yom Kippur falls on a Sabbath, the weekly Torah readings are suspended. For more information, see the Weekly Torah Readings page.
 




The Shepherd's Call...

SadaoWatanabe
 

09.06.13 (Tishri 2, 5774)  "What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray" (Matt. 18:12-13). Though it involves sorrow, and the pain of being lost, repentance is ultimately about finding joy, and when we return to God, we have reason to rejoice. The Good Shepherd says, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:6-7). The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost: "For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out... I myself will be the Shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the banished, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the sick..." (Ezek. 34:11,15-16).
 

אֲנִי אֶרְעֶה צאנִי וַאֲנִי אַרְבִּיצֵם נְאֻם אֲדנָי יְהוִה
אֶת־הָאבֶדֶת אֲבַקֵּשׁ וְאֶת־הַנִּדַּחַת אָשִׁיב
וְלַנִּשְׁבֶּרֶת אֶחֱבשׁ וְאֶת־הַחוֹלָה אֲחַזֵּק

ani · er·eh · tzo·ni · va·a·ni · ar·bi·tzem · ne·um · Adonai · E·lo·him
et · ha·o·ve·det · a·va·kesh · ve·et  · ha·nid·da·chat  · a·shiv
ve·la·nish·be·ret · e·che·vosh · ve·et · ha·cho·lah · a·cha·zek

 

"I myself will be the Shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down,
declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the banished,
and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the sick..."
(Ezek. 34:15-16)
 


Despite the struggles we sometimes face, let me wish you the peace of God that passes all understanding, that inner peace that comes when we surrender ourselves to the love of God given in Yeshua our LORD. Shabbat Shalom, friends!
 




Happy New Year 5774!


 

09.05.13 (Tishri 1, 5774)  Happy New Year - Shanah Tovah - friends!  And may this coming year be good and sweet for you.  Here are a few pictures taken during our celebration for the new year. As you can see, the boys are getting bigger: Josiah is now eight and Judah is four!  Thank you so much for praying for these precious little guys, and for our family, too.
 

Rosh Hashanah 5774

Left-to-right (top): 1. At the apple orchard [Elul 28]; 2. Judah finds an apple; 3. apples and honey;
4. eating pomegranate seeds; 5. blowing shofars: tekiah, shevarim, teruah!
(bottom): 1. Yom Tov candles; 2. kiddush; 3. Round challah; 4) Josiah blows the shofar

 

בַּחֲצצְרוֹת וְקוֹל שׁוֹפָר
הָרִיעוּ לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ יְהוָה

ba·cha·tzotz·rot · ve·kol · sho·far
ha·ri·u · lif·nei · ha·me·lekh · Adonai

 

"With trumpets and the sound of the shofar
shout for joy before the King, the LORD!"
(Psalm 98:6)



  Listen to the Shofar:

 




Shanah Tovah, friends!


 

09.04.13 (Elul 29, 5773)  We sincerely wish you "shanah tovah u'metukah ba'Adoneinu Yeshua ha-Mashiach" - a good and sweet year in our Lord Jesus the Messiah! May the LORD God heal you, body and soul; may He ease your pain, increase your strength, and release you from all your fears... May blessing, love, joy, and true shalom surround you and fill you with ongoing wonder and thanks. In the Name above all Names we pray: Amen.
 




King Messiah and Rosh Hashanah


 

[ Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, September 4th at sundown this year... ]

09.04.13 (Elul 29, 5773)  Both the Torah of Moses and the New Testament attest that Yeshua is Elohim (אֱלהִים) -- the Creator of the cosmos: בְּרֵאשִׁית הָיָה הַדָּבָר / "in the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1,14). The Divine Word and Voice cannot be separated from God any more than the Spirit of God can be separated. Yeshua is the Source of all life in the universe: כָּל־הַמַּעֲשִׂים נִהְיוּ עַל־יָדוֹ / "All things were made by Him (John 1:3). The "Word made flesh" is the "image of the invisible God" and the "radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint (χαρακτήρ, 'character') of his nature" (Col. 1:15). All of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3): "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). As our Creator and Master of the Universe, Yeshua is our King and our Judge, and therefore Rosh Hashanah centers on Him.

But in addition to God's power and sovereignty as our Creator, we note that the Scriptures begin and end with the saving and redemptive love of God. Yeshua is the Center of Creation - it's beginning and end. As it is written: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the 'A' and the 'Z,' the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). Indeed, Yeshua is מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים / Melech Malchei Hamelachim: The "King of kings of kings." He is LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest of celestial glories to the very 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).


 

The central point of all true Torah, then, is the redemptive love of God demonstrated in the "first and last" principle of sacrificial life. This was prefigured in the original paradise when Adam and Eve were clothed by the lamb sacrificed for their transgression (Gen. 3:21), and the theme continues throughout the Torah, for example, in the account of the sacrifice of Isaac (we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah to recall this great act of faith), in the visions of Jacob, in the commissioning of Moses, in the redemption from the plague of death by the blood of the lamb in Egypt, and by the climactic revelation of the altar given at Sinai (i.e., the Tabernacle), which centered on the korban tamid, the continual sacrifice of the lamb of God upon the altar.  Just as there is no Passover apart from the Lamb, so there is no "Rosh Hashanah" or "Yom Kippur" apart from God's atoning love given in the Messiah...

Rosh Hashanah is traditionally observed as the time of the creation of man by God on the sixth day. 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." And so it is with those whose blind eyes are opened by Yeshua; we see that He is the true King of Kings, the LORD of Lords, the true Judge and Righteous Savior of the world... May all Israel say: בָּרוּךְ הַבָּא בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה, "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD."

Note: For more on this, see "High Holidays and the Gospel."
 




Turning as a Child...


 

[ Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, September 4th at sundown this year... ]

09.04.13 (Elul 29, 5773)  There is no teshuvah apart from humility (Matt. 5:5). The disciples of Yeshua came asking, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn (shuv) and become like children (להְיוֹת כַּיְלָדִים), you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:2-3). Said the Kotzer Rebbe, "It is proper to weep during the High Holy Days in order to show that despite all our seeming wisdom and learning, we are as helpless as little children who weep for what they desire." "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will" (Matt 11:25-26).

The late Henri Nouwen wrote, "I am beginning to see that much of praying is grieving." Contrition, grief, and regret for our sins is at the heart of genuine teshuvah. Crying is a expression of utter humility, helplessness, and need. In this life we weep over many things, but we inwardly cry for our Abba, our heavenly Father's love...
 




Is Rosh Hashanah Biblical?


 

[ Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, September 4th at sundown this year... ]

09.04.13 (Elul 29, 5773)  Though the term "Rosh Hashanah" does not occur in the Torah, the start of the 7th month (i.e., Tishri 1) is set apart as a day of rest marked by shofar blowing (see Lev. 23:24-25, Num. 29:1-2). Moreover, the Jewish calendar has symmetry: the fall festivals "mirror" the spring festivals and correspond to one another. Just as there is a "new year" in the spring, on the new moon of Nisan, so there is in the fall, on the new moon of Tishri, the seventh month... That is why we make a "teruah" shout of thanks to God in anticipation of the fulfillment of God's redemptive purposes during the End of Days.

But what about the idea of focusing on repentance during this time of year? Well, undergoing self-examination and teshuvah are clearly commanded by God throughout the Scriptures, including the New Testament writings (see Lam. 3:40; Haggai 1:5; Psalm 119:59; Matt. 7:3-5, Gal. 6:3-4, 1 Cor. 11:28, 2 Cor. 13:5, James 5:16, 1 John 1:8-9, etc.). Setting aside 40 days each year to call us to turn to God is a healing custom, especially if it's done in light of truth of the gospel message.  After all, Christians will stand before the Throne of Judgment (kisei ha-din) to give account for their lives to God (see 2 Cor. 5:10). As it is written: "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (1 Cor. 3:13). The foundation of every true work of God comes from trusting in the finished work of Yeshua the Messiah, and the work of our faith will be tested and judged.

For more on this subject, see Is Rosh Hashanah Biblical?
 




The Teshuvah of Jesus...


 

[ Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, September 4th at sundown this year... ]

09.04.13 (Elul 29, 5773)  The repentance of Jesus is not that of the rabbis... The rabbis want you to be sorry for your sins, to confess "every sin in the book," and to find atonement in religious ritual, but this is not "good news," but rather "stale news." The truth of Yeshua is the miracle of new life; Messiah sets you free from the power of sin and death itself. The repentance of Jesus is to trust in God's remedy for sin: "This is the work of God, to believe in the One whom God sent" (John 6:29). "He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then His own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him" (Isa. 59:16). We must turn away from the idea that God demands anything from us other than simple trust in his love. "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). Stop trying to measure up to his standards. You simply cannot give more than you have the love to give, so you must begin by getting your heart needs met by accepting God's unconditional love. It's not about what you do for God, after all, but about what he does for you. That's the message of the gospel. Trust that you are rightly-related to God because of the salvation of Yeshua, not because of your own efforts at self-improvement. "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the One who sent me has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and will not be condemned, but has passed over (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24).

Do you believe that God loves you right now - just as you are - and that you don't have to change or improve yourself to be loved by him? Do you believe that, whatever your present condition, God loves you with the very passion that put Yeshua on the cross? The LORD is present for you now, if you will believe, not some time later, after you've attempted to remedy yourself... If we come to God in utter poverty of spirit, confessing our need for deliverance from the misery of ourselves, why do we think that, after so coming, we should later relate to God on a different basis? You are delivered by trusting in God's grace, by accepting his love for your soul, and likewise are you sanctified. We never get beyond our need for the cross, which is to say that we always need God's compassion and mercy...

We must be careful not to worship an idol, that is, a false concept of God! It is possible to read the Bible, to go to church or synagogue, and yet worship a pagan god. How so? By not knowing the heart of the Father; by not honoring the One who passionately seeks our healing. We know the Father by the Son, that is, in "the language of Son" (Heb. 1:2; Luke 10:21-24). Our heavenly Father is eager to forgive and embrace all of his children. In Yeshua's famous parable of the "prodigal son," the father saw his child a "long way off" and ran to embrace and kiss him - no questions asked, no explanations needed about his past. When the son nevertheless began reciting his carefully prepared speech of repentance, the father barely listened, and in his overwhelming joy instructed his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found...' (Luke 15:20-25).
 




Come just as you are...


 

09.03.13 (Elul 28, 5773)  Some people seem to think that we first must repent and then we will encounter the Lord, but it's actually the other way around: we first encounter the Savior and then we learn the meaning of repentance. Thus Paul's eyes were opened after he was first blinded by the light (Acts 9:3-6). Likewise, it is only after we have met the Lord that we begin to understand our blindness of heart, but as learn to see more clearly, we encounter more and more of his love (Rom. 5:20). As Yeshua said, "My yoke is pleasant (χρηστὸς) and my burden is light (Matt. 11:30). Repentance, then, is a progressive and ongoing process of awakening, as we learn to love God and to accept ourselves, despite our struggle with sin. As Anselm prayed: "O Lord, grant us grace to desire thee with all our hearts, that so desiring, we may seek and find thee, and so finding thee, may love thee, and loving thee may hate those things from which you have redeemed us."

We encounter the Lord "just as we are," by means of his gracious intervention in our lives, and so we continue to live by faith in God's grace (indeed, what we call "sanctification" is often just "catching up" with the miracle of his revelation to us). And we always come to God "just as we are," since we are never more than what we are in the truth: "by the grace of God I am what I am," as Paul said. "For all things come from You, and from your hand we give back to you" (1 Chron. 29:14). Therefore the Spirit says, "Come just as you are, or you may never come at all...." As the inimitable Charles Spurgeon eloquently voiced the appeal:
 

    "Come unto me," saith Jesus; Come unto me, and I will give you rest."  Come now; do not wait; do not tarry; do not lie at the pool of ordinances but come unto me; come now at once, immediately, just where you are, just as you are. Wherever the summons finds you, rise without parley, without an instant's delay... nothing else is to be done. No preliminaries are requisite. The whole way of salvation is to trust in Jesus. Trust him now. That done, you are saved. Rely upon his finished work. know that he has meditated on your behalf. Commit thy sinful self to his saving grace. A change of heart shall be yours. All that you need he will supply.

    Come unto me," saith Christ. He does not say, "Come when you have washed and cleansed yourself." Rather should you come to be cleansed. He does not say, "Come when you have clothed yourself and made yourself beautiful with good works." Come to be made beautiful in a better righteousness than you can wear. Come naked, and let him gird thee with fine linen, cover thee with silk, and deck thee with jewels. He does not say, "Come when your conscience is tender, come when your heart is penitent, when your soul is full of loathing for sin, and your mind is enlightened with knowledge and enlivened with joy. But ye that labor, ye that are heavy laden, he bids you to come as you are." (excerpt from C.H. Spurgeon, Sermon #3052; 1916)
     

A prayer to the One calling you to come: "I come to you just as I am - needy, sick within, weary, and broken... I come seeking your love; I come because you invited me to come: I open my heart, such as it is, to you; please join me here, in this place of my need, in this place of pain, and wrap me your comfort. I can only love you as I know your love, Lord Yeshua, so please help me to know your love in the truth.  Amen."
 




Teshuvah of the Heart...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

09.03.13 (Elul 28, 5773)  Yeshua illustrated the idea of teshuvah (i.e., תְּשׁוּבָה, "returning to God") by telling the story of the "prodigal son" (Luke 15:11-32). After squandering his father's inheritance, a wayward son decided to return home, full of shame and self-reproach. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." The father then ordered a celebratory meal in honor of his lost son's homecoming. When his older brother objected, the father said, "We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."

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

Why did Yeshua come? He was like the father in the parable who was actively looking for his lost son... He came to "seek and save the lost" (Luke 19:10). Yeshua likened Himself to a shepherd who left his flock to search for one lost sheep, and after finding it, laid the sheep on his shoulders rejoicing (Luke 15:3-7). He also likened Himself to a woman who lost a coin but diligently searched for it. After she found it, she called together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the lost coin!' (Luke 15:8-10).

Yeshua's first recorded words of public ministry were "Repent (shuv) and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). In Greek the word "repent" is metanao (μετανοέω), meaning "change your thinking," and the word "gospel"  means "good news" (i.e., εὐαγγέλιον, from , εὖ- "good," and ἄγγελος, "message"). We could translate the verse as: "Turn around! Change your thinking and believe the message of God's good will toward you."

The Jews had known about repentance for a long time, of course.  They understood what was required to "keep the law," and they even devised legal formulas for "making your defense" before the Almighty (i.e., the Kol Nidre service recited before Yom Kippur: "We exonerate ourselves for failing to keep our word..."). If Moses and the law could have saved us, we wouldn't need to be "declared righteous by God's grace through the redemption in Yeshua" (Rom. 3:24). We wouldn't need the Cross!  All we'd need to do is work harder at repentance, perform additional mitzvot, earn merit before Heaven, and so on.  But clearly Yeshua meant something other than this when He made the call to "repent."

The teshuvah of Yeshua is inextricably connected with the "good news" that He (alone) is God's answer to the problem of our sin. His message is always "change your thinking and believe the message of God's good will toward you." Yeshua was born to die as the divinely appointed Sin-bearer of the world (Heb. 10:5-7). He came to earth and emptied himself (κένωσις) of His regal glory and power in order to be the High Priest (הַכּהֵן הַגָּדוֹל) after the order of Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק) and the Mediator of the New Covenant (Heb. 5:6; 9:15; Psalm 110:4; 1 Tim. 2:5). He came to Jerusalem (Moriah) for the explicit purpose of suffering, dying, and being raised from the dead (Matt. 16:21; Luke 9:22). Yeshua died not only for our forgiveness, but also to deliver us from "the law of sin and death," i.e., the power that sin holds in our lives. He died to so that we could become children of God (בְּנֵי אֱלהִים).

Yeshua never called us to follow the scribes and Pharisees, whom he called blind guides and hypocrites (Matt. 23:13-36). He did not want people to become slaves to rituals or religion (1 Cor. 7:23). No, he called people to follow Him: "Take up your cross and follow me." Turn your thinking around! Die to your religion, your world. Be comforted because there is good news from heaven! God's acceptance is given to those who trust in the righteousness of Yeshua in place of self-righteousness that may be gained by performing the "works of the law" (Gal. 2:16, Titus 3:5; John 1:17). Yeshua is "the goal of the Torah for righteouness" for all who believe (Rom. 10:4-13). Wow. Now that's a message that requires a profound "change of mind" for the religiously-minded to accept. Dying to the religious project of attaining self-righteousness is to admit the need for radical deliverance from the law itself.

Note: For more on this topic, see "Teshuvah of the Heart."
 




Teshuvah's Deep Regret...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

09.02.13 (Elul 27, 5773)  While it's true that we express sorrow and regret for our sins - we mourn over our lives - this is part of the healing process, with the end result of obtaining comfort from God (Matt. 5:4). Mere regret over sin is not enough, however, since the motive may be from shame (pride) or disappointment over some selfish loss. Esau repented with tears, but his wasn't true repentance since he didn't lament the loss of his heart to God's love... True repentance leads to healing and life. When the woman from Magdala wept and washed Jesus' feet with her tears, he said, "I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven -- for she loved much" (Luke 7:44-48). In other words, she was lavish in her love because she deeply regretted that she had missed what was most important, what she desperately needed all along... She saw her sin as blindness to God's love... After all, why would she weep over her sins unless she loved him? And how could she love him unless he first revealed his love to her? (1 John 4:19)

"For grief (λύπη) as intended by God produces a repentance (תְּשׁוּעָה) that leads to salvation, leaving no regret, but worldly grief produces death" (2 Cor. 7:10).
 




Teshuvah and Healing...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

09.02.13 (Elul 27, 5773)  Repentance is an ongoing disposition of life in Messiah, since it rightly relates us to God. First we encounter our incurable sickness - the inner contradiction and bondage of soul that both loves and hates sin -  and then we seek God's saving power in Yeshua. As the Apostle Paul said: "Who can save me from the misery of myself? – God alone, through Jesus (Rom. 7:18-25). This is the first step, to know the "miserable creature that I am," that is, the slavery of your will to sin, and the second is to be willing to give this sickness of your soul to God's care in Jesus. As he said, "Those who are well have no need of a doctor, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the 'righteous,' but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:31-32). Yeshua regarded forgiveness of your sins as essential to finding inner healing, even more important than health, prosperity, or religious observance.

Repentance means returning to love, finding your heart's desire in God... As Yeshua said, "Repent, for you have lost your first love..." (Rev. 2:4-5). Turn around: Look at what is missing within!  He appeals to you like an ardent lover standing outside in the cold, calling out your name, and knocking for you to open the door to let him inside (Rev. 3:19-20). Open the door of your heart!  Return to him now!  "Lord, help me turn to receive your love..."
 




Holding On to Hope...


 

09.02.13 (Elul 27, 5773)  "Love suffers long and is kind..." (1 Cor. 13:4). Have patience with all things, but most of all with yourself. We must "endure ourselves" along the way, often learning hard lessons about our own insufficiency. Have faith that despite all your imperfections, all your defects of character, and your overall weakness of heart, God is indeed at work in your darkness, molding and shaping you to bear witness of His glorious power to save the soul. The LORD holds your hand; his grace and love will help you persevere, giving you the will to press on in hope. Never give up, friends!
 

דָּבְקָה נַפְשִׁי אַחֲרֶיךָ
בִּי תָּמְכָה יְמִינֶךָ

da·ve·kah · naf·shi · a·cha·re·kha
bi · tam·khah · ye·mi·ne·kha

 

"My soul clings to you;
Your right hand upholds me."
(Psalm 63:8)



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

The concept of "cleaving" or "holding fast" to God is called devakut (דְּבָקוּת) in Jewish tradition, a word that derives from the root davak (דבק), meaning to "cling" or "stick" (the Modern Hebrew word for glue comes from the same root). Davak is used to describe how a man cleaves to his wife so that they become basar echad – "one flesh" (see Gen. 2:24), and is related to the word for bodily joint (debek), the bond of our bones to our skin (Job 19:20). Some have described devakut as "God consciousness imbued with love." "To cleave to Him - that means the cleaving of the mind to Him, for there is no devakut except that of the mind and the meditation of the heart" (Sh'ar ha-ahavah). We are able to cling or cleave to God because He first clung to the cross in love for us (1 John 4:19). 
 




The Ten Days of Awe...


 

[ Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, September 4th at sundown this year... ]

09.02.13 (Elul 27, 5773)  According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashanah (i.e., Tishri 1) the destiny of the righteous, the tzaddikim, are written in the Book of Life (סֵפֶר הַחַיִּים), and the destiny of the wicked, the resha'im, are written in the Book of Death (סֶפֶר הַמָּוֵת). However, most people will not be inscribed in either book, but have ten days -- from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur -- to repent before "sealing their fate." On Yom Kippur, then, everyone's name will be written in one of the books. The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are therefore called Aseret Yemei Teshuvah (עֲשֶׂרֶת יְמֵי תְּשׁוּבָה) - the "Ten Days of Repentance" - because personal repentance can affect the divine decree for good. Shabbat Shuvah, then, is the first Shabbat of the year, which sets the tone for the rest of our year.

Click for ElulClick for Rosh HaShanahClick for Tzom GedaliahYom Kippur
 

As I mentioned the other day, as followers of Yeshua we are not legalists, nor do we agree with the rabbis who claim that Rosh Hashanah is a day of our judgment, since that has been taken care of at the cross of Messiah -- "Judgment Day" happened when Messiah was crucified for our sins. "He declared us not guilty because of his gracious love; and now we know that we are heirs of eternal life" (Titus 3:7). Our faith in Yeshua forever seals us in the Lamb's Book of Life (סֵפֶר הַחַיִּים)! Nevertheless we must turn to Him every day, we must walk in the light of his heart, and therefore the call to teshuvah (repentance) is always timely. Moreover there is a prophetic aspect to this season, as Yom Teruah (i.e., Rosh Hashanah) represents the "Day of the LORD" (יוֹם יְהוָה) and the imminent apocalyptic judgment of the present world... Just as the spring festivals foretold Messiah's first advent, so the fall festivals foretell his second coming... Moreover, "teruah" (תְּרוּעָה) is the blast of a shofar, the "calling up" signal for those who belong to Messiah; the "opening of the gate" to the Wedding of the Lamb! May God help us be ready to soon see our King!

Note: for more on this important subject, including the trust that we are forever "sealed for good" in the Lamb of God's Book of Life, see "Getting Ready for the Days of Awe."
 




Parashat Ha'Azinu (האזינו)


 

[ Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, September 4th at sundown this year... ]

09.01.13 (Elul 26, 5773)  In last week's Torah portion (Vayeleich), Moses finished his farewell address to the people of Israel and commissioned Joshua to be his successor. The LORD then foretold that after Moses' death the Israelites would "whore after foreign gods" and break covenant with Him. In light of this, God instructed him to teach the people a prophetic song called the "Ha'azinu" that foretold Israel's history (past, present, and the future redemption) and warned the people not to stray from the path that the LORD had commanded. Structured in the style of an "oracle," the Ha'azinu contains Moses' final words of prophecy given to the Israelites before he ascended Mount Nebo to die....

We read the Ha'azinu every year just before the advent of the High Holidays. In the Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll), the song is written in a stylized two-column format with extra spaces. Each line of the shirah (song) is matched by a second, parallel unit (Talmud: Shabbat 103b).

haazinu
 

The Ha'azinu reminds us that who we listen to ultimately decides our fate. It begins, "Give ear, O heavens (הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם), and I will speak, and let the earth hear (וְתִשְׁמַע הָאָרֶץ) the words of my mouth" (Deut. 32:1). The word ha'azinu (הַאֲזִינוּ) comes from verb azan (אָזַנ), as does the Hebrew word for "ear" (i.e., ozen: אזֶן). The Midrash Rabbah says that the ear (אזֶן) gives life to all the organs of the body.  How so? By listening (שׁמע, shema) to the Torah. This idea is repeated in the New Testament: "Faith comes from listening to the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17). The Word of God (דְּבַר־אֱלהִים) is our very life, chaverim.

Note:  You can download the free Shabbat Table Talk for Ha'azinu here....
 




Shabbat Shuvah - שַׁבַּת שׁוּבָה


 

[ Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, September 4th at sundown this year... ]

09.01.13 (Elul 26, 5773)  The Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and the solemn fast of Yom Kippur is the very first of the new year, called Shabbat Shuvah (שַׁבַּת שׁוּבָה) - that is, "the Sabbath of Return." It is called "shuvah" because the Haftarah (i.e., Hosea 14:1) begins, Shuvah Yisrael ad Adonai Elohekha (שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ): "Return, O Israel, unto the LORD your God!" As the first Shabbat of the new year, Shabbat Shuvah is intended to "set the tone" for the rest of the year:
 

שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ
 כִּי כָשַׁלְתָּ בַּעֲוֹנֶךָ

shu·vah · Yis·ra·el · ad · Adonai · E·lo·hey·kha,
ki · kha·shal·ta · ba·a·vo·ne·kha

 

"Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity."
(Hosea 14:1)



Download Study Card
 
 




Spelling out "Teshuvah"


 

09.01.13 (Elul 26, 5773)  Rabbi Sussya once said: "There are five verses in the bible that constitute the essence of the Torah. These verses begin in Hebrew with one of these letters: Tav (תּ), Shin (שׁ), Vav (ו), Bet (בּ), and Hey (ה), which form the word for repentance, "teshuvah" (תְּשׁובָה). The five verses are 1) Tamim tiheyeh (תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה): "Be wholehearted before God" (Deut. 18:13); 2) Shiviti Adonai (שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה): "I have set the LORD always before me" (Psalm 16:8); 3) Va'ahavta lere'akha (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ): "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18); 4) Bekhol derakekha (בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ): "In all your ways know Him" (Prov. 3:6); and 5) Higid lekha (הִגִּיד לְךָ): "Walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). In other words, the way of teshuvah, of answering God's call for you to return to Him, is to sincerely set the LORD before you, to love others, and to walk out your days in heartfelt gratitude.
 

הִגִּיד לְךָ אָדָם מַה־טּוֹב
 וּמָה־יְהוָה דּוֹרֵשׁ מִמְּךָ
 כִּי אִם־עֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד
 וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת עִם־אֱלהֶיךָ

hig·gid · le·kha · a·dam · mah · tov
u'mah · Adonai · do·resh · mi·me·kha
ki · im · a·sot · mish·pat · ve·a·ha·vat · che·sed
ve·hatz·ne·a · le·chet · im · e·lo·hey·kha
 

"He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you:
 Only to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk modestly with your God"
(Micah 6:8)



Hebrew Study Card
 

In other words, "teshuvah" (repentance) is an acronym that stands for being whole, seeing God, loving others, knowing God in all your journey, and walking in humility...
 




Rosh Hashanah and Mercy


 

[ Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, September 4th at sundown this year... ]

09.01.13 (Elul 26, 5773)  Rosh Hashanah is called Yom Ha-Din (יוֹם הַדִּין), the Day of Judgment, whereas Yom Kippur is called Yom Ha-Rachamim (יוֹם הָרַחֲמִים), or the Day of Mercies, which suggests that God is first revealed as our Creator and Judge before He is known as our merciful Savior. This is hinted in the two accounts of creation, where God is first revealed as Elohim (Gen. 1:1), but later is revealed as YHVH (יהוה) when He breathed life into man nishmat chayim, the breath of life (Gen. 2:4). It is somewhat odd, however, that during Rosh Hashanah we do not approach God as our Judge, beating our breast in sorrow during confession of sin, as we do on Yom Kippur. Some say the reason we celebrate, eating special foods, rejoicing, listening to the shofar, is because we rejoice in the kingship of God as His royal children, and only later do we appeal to Him as merciful Judge in light of His revelation as YHVH, our Savior, Redeemer, and Lord. As believers in Yeshua, we have all the more reason to rejoice on Rosh Hashanah, since at the cross Yeshua took upon Himself our judgment to give us everlasting mercy from God.
 





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