Jewish Holiday Calendar
Note: For April 2014 site updates, please scroll past this entry....
Spring is the start of the Biblical Year and is marked by two of the Shelosh Regalim (three annual pilgrimage festivals): Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost). The holiday of Shavuot is held seven weeks (or fifty days) following the morning after Pesach.
The Spring Holidays:
Note that in accordance with tradition, the following holiday dates begin at sundown:
- Month of Adar II (Sun. March 2nd, 2014)
Month of Nisan (Mon. March 31st, 2014)
Month of Iyyar (Tues. April 29th, 2014)
Month of Sivan (Thur. May 29th, 2014)
- Four Sabbaths: Vayikra, Tzav (Zachor), Shemini (Parah), Tazria (Ha'Chodesh)
- Ta'anit Esther - the fast of Esther (Thur. March 13th)
- Shabbat Zachor - Fri. March 14th; Erev Purim
- Purim - The Festival of Lots (Sat. March 15th) [14th of Adar II]
- Shushan Purim - Purim in Israel (Sun. March 16th) [15th of Adar II]
- Vernal Equinox - Thurs. March 20th (17th of Adar II)
- Shabbat Parah - Fri. March 21st; purification for Passover
- Shabbat Ha'Chodesh - Fri. March 28th; preparation for Nisan
Note: Many Jewish calendars will list the first day of a holiday without indicating that the holiday actually begins sundown the night before... So, for example, while Passover begins Monday, April 14th at sundown, many calendars will indicate it occurs on Tuesday, April 15th...
Dates for Passover 2014:
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April 2014 Updates
04.30.14 (Nisan 30, 5774) Today is Rosh Chodesh Iyyar - the first day of the new Hebrew month, Iyyar. The sages say that the name Iyyar (אייר) can be read as an acronym for the Hebrew words, "I AM the LORD your Healer" (אֲנִי יי רפְאֶךָ, Exod. 15:26). And since each day of the month of Iyyar falls within the "countdown" to the revelation represented by Shavuot (Pentecost), we ask the Lord to deliver us from all that spiritually weakens us, so that we can be blessed with "hitgalut shlemah" (הִתְגָּלוּת שְׁלֵמָה), complete revelation, and an unhindered sense of God's Presence in our hearts. To a good month in Yeshua, friends!
Prophetic Significance of Israel...
[ The following is related to Yom HaAtzma'ut (יוֹם הָעַצְמָאוּת) - Israel's Independence Day - which begins May 5th at sundown this year. Happy 66th Birthday, Israel! ]
04.30.14 (Nisan 30, 5774) Can a case be made that we among the "terminal generation" before the return of Yeshua? The Torah predicted that the "End of Days" would occur sometime after the return of the Jewish people from their worldwide dispersion back to the land of Israel (Deut. 30:1-3), and indeed the theme of exile and return is repeated in the prophets (Jer. 23:3; 32:37-38; Ezek. 37:21, etc.). Therefore it is surely extraordinary that Israel was reborn as a nation in their ancient homeland on May 14, 1948 (Iyyar 5, 5708), after nearly 2,000 years of exile... Moreover, the existence of the modern State of Israel is entirely consonant with New Testament prophecies regarding the advent of the Messiah, since Yeshua taught that the Jewish people would be in the land of Israel at the time of his second coming, and that the city of Jerusalem would be surrounded by enemies of the Jewish state (see Matt. 24-25; Mark 13, Luke 21). Furthermore, if we understand a "generation" to mean 70-80 years in duration (as stated in Psalm 90:10), then when Yeshua said, "this generation (ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη) shall not pass until all these things take place" (Matt. 24:34), he was referring to the generation that would originate with the restoration of the modern State of Israel, which further implies that Daniel's 70th Week (i.e., the Great Tribulation) could begin very soon. And while it is true that "no one knows the day or hour" of Yom Adonai haGadol (יוֹם־יְהוָה הַגָּדוֹל), the "great day of the LORD," Yeshua faulted the scribes and the Pharisees for failing to discern "the signs of the times" (Matt. 16:3) and for missing the "time of their visitation" (Luke 19:44).
מִי רָאָה כָּאֵלֶּה
הֲיוּחַל אֶרֶץ בְּיוֹם אֶחָד
אִם־יִוָּלֵד גּוֹי פַּעַם אֶחָת
mi · sha·ma · ka'zot
mi · ra'ah · ka'e·leh
hai·yu·chal · e·retz · be·yom · e·chad
im · yiv·va·led · goy · pa·am · e·chat
"Who has heard such a thing?
Who has seen such things?
Shall a land be born in one day?
Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?"
Like many other prophetic statements found in the Jewish Scriptures, this verse from the prophet Isaiah is "dual aspect," since it was both partially fulfilled when the Jewish people reestablished the State of Israel, but it will be entirely fulfilled at the outset of the Millennial Kingdom after the return of Messiah (see Isa. 66:7-16; Rom. 11:26). Meanwhile we behold the restoration of the "Fig Tree," and understand that the great harvest draws near, friends... May God help each one of us be awake, ready, with hearts full of steadfast faith (1 John 3:2-3; Titus 2:11-14; Matt. 24:32).
Regardless of how you may regard the prophetic events that herald the "end of the world," however, know this: Today might be your last in this world - your very own Rosh Hashanah when you will appear before the Judge and Creator of your life... Therefore should we live each day as if it were our last and pray that God will help us to serve Him in the truth.
Note: Let me add that while we may discern that the time is indeed short, I do not believe in "date setting" or predicting the return of the LORD, since that is חוכמה אטומה, "sealed wisdom" known only to the Father (Matt. 24:36, Acts 1:7; 1 Thess. 5:2, etc.). Shalom.
The Month of Iyyar...
04.29.14 (Nisan 29, 5774) On the Torah's calendar, the month of Iyyar falls between the great month of redemption (i.e., Nisan) and the third month of revelation (Sivan), and is therefore primarily regarded as a "month of passage" to prepare us for the climactic revelation given at Sinai (during Shavuot). Later, the agricultural aspect of this "passage" was enshrined in terms of Sefirat HaOmer (סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר), or the "counting the sheaves," when a sheaf of barley was waved before the altar each day for 49 days before the arrival of the climactic holiday of Shavuot (Lev. 23:15-16). Indeed, Jewish mystical tradition associates each passing day of the month of Iyyar with a heightened spiritual status wherein a different level of (tumah) impurity is "purged" from the soul, thereby implying that the Israelites' journey from Egypt to Sinai represented a spiritual transformation.
This year, Chodesh Iyyar begins Tuesday, April 29th at sundown. The following (simplified) blessing can be recited to ask the LORD to help you for the coming new month:
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֵיךָ יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ
שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ חדֶשׁ טוֹב בַּאֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ אָמֵן
ye·hi · ra·tzon · mil·fa·ne·kha · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · ve·lo·hei · a·vo·tei·nu
she·te·cha·desh · a·lei·nu · cho·desh · tov · ba·a·do·nei·nu · Ye·shu·a · ha·ma·shi·ach · amen
"May it be Your will, LORD our God and God of our fathers,
that you renew for us a good month in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah. Amen."
Download Study Card
Special Dates for the Month of Iyyar:
For more information about this month of the Torah's calendar, see the Chodesh Iyyar page. Chodesh tov, chaverim...
God's "Super Sign" of Israel...
[ The following is related to Yom HaAtzma'ut (יוֹם הָעַצְמָאוּת) - Israel's Independence Day - which begins May 5th at sundown this year. Happy 66th Birthday, Israel! ]
04.29.14 (Nisan 29, 5774) After the Jewish people had suffered for nearly 2,000 years of exile as clearly foretold by Moses (Lev. 26:38, 44; Deut. 28:64-64) and the Hebrew prophets (Isa. 43:5-6; Jer. 30:11; Joel 3:2; Ezek. 36:8-10; Hos. 9:1-10, etc.), Israel was miraculously reborn as a nation in their ancient homeland on May 14, 1948 (Iyyar 5, 5708). Today Jews across the world celebrate Iyyar 5 as Israeli Independence Day, which this year begins Monday May 5th at sundown...
Israel's Independence Day is called Yom Ha'atzma'ut (יוֹם הָעַצְמָאוּת), the "day of independence." In Hebrew, the word independence (atzma'ut) comes from atzmi - "my bones" (i.e., etzem: עֶצֶם), so the name itself alludes to God's glorious promise to revive the "dry bones" (עֲצָמוֹת) of Israel by bringing the Jewish people back from their long exile during the End of Days (Ezek. 37:1-6). Son of man, can these bones live?
But why should Christians care about ethnic Israel? After all, many Christian denominations advocate some version of "Replacement Theology" and regard the promises God made to the Jewish people as belonging exclusively to their church... The existence of the modern State of Israel therefore evokes little thanks to God from these groups, and some of their ranks even regard Israel's revived presence on the world stage as an embarrassment to their typically "liberal" theology. Hence we see the (remarkably bad) phenomena of so-called "Christian" church denominations that express anti-Israel sentiment, even asking their followers to divest investments in Israel on behalf of the "Palestinians," etc.
Briefly, we should care about Israel because the existence of Jewish people - and of the nation of Israel in particular - demonstrates that God is faithful to the covenant promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (e.g., Gen. 15:9-21). The perpetuity of the Jewish people - despite so much worldwide and satanic hatred over the millennia - is an awesome testimony of God's faithful love (Jer. 31:35-37). עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי / am Yisrael chai: "The people of Israel live!" Israel is a sign of the "sure mercies of David" (חַסְדֵי דָוִד הַנֶּאֱמָנִים) that are revealed in Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah (Isa. 55:1-6). Moreover, the New Covenant itself, as foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, explicitly promises the perpetuity of the Jewish people thoughout the ages (Jer. 31:31-37):
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD (יהוה), when I will make a new covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law (תּוֹרָה) within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar– the LORD of hosts is his Name: "If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) cease from being a nation before me forever." Thus says the LORD: "If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israelfor all that they have done, declares the LORD. – Jer. 31:35-36
According to this theologically critical passage, if you saw the sun shine today or the stars in the night sky, you can be assured that God's promise to preserve the "offspring of Israel" -- (i.e., zera Yisrael: זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) -- is in effect. Indeed, in the world to come, heavenly Jerusalem will have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel engraved upon its gates (Rev. 21:12). Note well that this is the only occurrence in the entire Tanakh (i.e., "Old Testament") that the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) is explicitly mentioned... It is a foundational passage of Scripture for those who claim to be followers of the Jewish Messiah.
All the blessings Christians enjoy ultimately come from the root of God's covenants with Israel... Yeshua our Savior was born the King of the Jews, and plainly said salvation is "from the Jews" (Matt. 2:2; 27:11; John 4:22). The Apostle Paul clearly warned those who think the church has "replaced" Israel: "Remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you" (Rom. 11:18). This doctrine is so foundational that it may be rightly said that how you think about Israel will affect every other area of your theology. Indeed, the nation of Israel is God's "super sign" that He is faithful to His covenant promises (Jer. 31:35-37). Celebrating Israel's existence acknowledges God's loyal love for us all! For more on this subject, see the article, "Is Christianity Anti-Jewish?"
In the holy Torah we read how God said to Moses, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (אֱלהֵי אַבְרָהָם אֱלהֵי יִצְחָק וֵאלהֵי יַעֲקב), has sent me to you.' This is my name forever (זֶה־שְּׁמִי לְעלָם), and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations'" (Exod. 3:15). "Your Name, O LORD, endures forever, your renown, O LORD, throughout all ages" (Psalm 135:13). Therefore the prophet cries: "in the east give glory to the LORD; in the coastlands of the sea, give glory to the Name of the LORD, the God of Israel" (אֱלהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל).
יְהוָה שִׁמְךָ לְעוֹלָם
יְהוָה זִכְרְךָ לְדר־וָדר
Adonai · shim·kha · le'o·lam
Adonai · zikh·re·kha · le'dor · va'dor
"Your Name, O LORD, endures forever,
your renown, O LORD, throughout all ages"
Giving and Receiving...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Emor.... ]
04.28.14 (Nisan 28, 5774) Parashat Emor contains more mitzvot (commandments) regarding holiness than any other Torah portion (the sages identify no less than 63). In addition, the portion provides a list of the eight main holidays, or "appointed times" (i.e., mo'edim: מוֹעֲדִים), found in the Jewish Scriptures. These "festivals of life" are sometimes called mikra'ei kodesh (מִקְרָאֵי קדֶשׁ), "times in which holiness is proclaimed" (Lev. 23:2). Note that this is the first time that the Torah reveals a comprehensive description of the festivals of the year, which include the following:
- The Sabbath - weekly observance of Shabbat that commemorates God as the Creator of the world. According to the sages, Shabbat is the most important of the appointed times, even more important than Yom Kippur and the Ten Days of Awe. There are 54 weekly Sabbaths in a "leap year" and 50 for regular years...
- Pesach (Nisan 15), also called Passover.
- Unleavened Bread (Nisan 15-22); note that the Counting of the Omer is first mentioned in this section of Torah (Lev. 23:9-16).
- Firstfruits (Nisan 17), also called Reishit Katzir.
- Shavuot (Sivan 6), also called Pentecost.
- Yom Teru'ah (Tishri 1), also called Rosh Hashanah (note that this is the first time this is revealed in Torah).
- Yom Kippur (Tishri 10) also called the Day of Atonement.
- Sukkot (Tishri 15-22) also called Tabernacles (note that this is the first time the commandments to dwell in a Sukkah and to wave the arba minim (four species) are mentioned in the Torah).
Notice that there is a restatement of the commandment to leave food for the poor and the stranger (pe'ah, leket, etc.) that appears right in the midst of the list of the Biblical holidays (see Lev. 23:22), which the sages said was intended to remind us to help those in need, especially during these times. Hence the giving of tzedakah is a regular part of the Jewish holidays (e.g., giving ma'ot chittim [מַעוֹת חִטִּים] "money for wheat" during Passover, matanot la'evyonim [מַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיוֹנִים] for Purim, and so on). The sages ask, "Why did the Torah place the mitzvah of helping the poor while speaking about the holidays and their particular sacrifices? To teach us the greatness of charity: 'God credits whoever gives charity to the poor as if they built the Holy Temple and presented offerings therein to God.' Indeed, Yeshua taught us that giving a gift to the poor is giving a gift to God Himself (Matt. 25:40).
מַלְוֵה יְהוָה חוֹנֵן דָּל
mal·veh · Adonai · cho·nein · dal
u·ge·mu·lo · ye·sha·lem · lo
"Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD,
and He will repay him for his kindness."
Hebrew Study Card
Since there are at least 50 weekly Sabbaths in a Jewish year in addition to the seven prescribed holidays (not to mention Rosh Chodesh and the other holidays such as Purim, Chanukah, Israel Independence Day, etc.), it is no wonder that the Scriptures declare: "A person with a cheerful heart has a continual celebration" (Prov. 15:15). The moedim are times to cheerfully give thanks to the LORD for all He has done....
For more on this subject, see "Appointed Times: Further thoughts on Parashat Emor."
Come in your need...
04.28.14 (Nisan 28, 5774) "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you" (James 4:8). There are no conditions given here -- other than your raw need to connect with God for help. "Purify your hearts, you double-minded ones" (δίψυχοι, lit. "two-souled ones"); make up your mind and be unified within your heart: "How long will you go limping between two different opinions?" (1 Kings 18:21). You are invited to come; God has made the way; your place at the table has been set and prepared. "Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith (ἐν πληροφορίᾳ πίστεως), with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful" (Heb. 10-22-23).
Parashat Emor - אמור
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Emor.... ]
04.28.14 (Nisan 28, 5774) Our Torah portion this week (parashat Emor) lists the eight main holidays revealed in the Jewish Scriptures. In the Torah, these "holidays" are called "appointed times" (i.e., mo'edim: מוֹעֲדִים), a word which comes from a root meaning witness (עֵד). Other words formed from this root include edah (עֵדָה), a congregation, edut (עֵדוּת), a testimony, and so on. The related verb ya'ad (יָעַד) means to meet, assemble, or even to betroth. The significance of the holy days, then, is for the covenant people of the LORD to bear witness to God's love and faithfulness. As it is written:
כָּל־אָרְחוֹת יְהוָה חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת
לְנצְרֵי בְרִיתוֹ וְעֵדתָיו
kol · or·chot · Adonai · che·sed · ve·e·met
le·no·tze·rei · ve·ri·to · ve·e·do·tav
"All the paths of the LORD are love and truth
to the ones guarding His covenant and His testimonies."
Hebrew Study Card
Metaphorically the paths of the Lord (orechot Adonai) are likened to ruts or grooves created by the wheels of a caravan (ארְחָה) passing repeatedly over the same ground. These paths signify the Divine Presence journeying with God's children in this world. In temporal terms, we are able to discern the path by means of the divine calendar. God's love and faithfulness attend to His covenant (brit) and to the commemorations of the yearly "appointed times" which testify to God's love and faithfulness. Keeping God's testimonies, then, means that we will be careful to observe the holidays in order to witness to God's truth...
"Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, 'These are the appointed times of the LORD (מוֹעֲדֵי יְהוָה) that you shall proclaim as holy convocations (מִקְרָאֵי קדֶשׁ); they are My appointed times'" (Lev. 23:2). Note that these hallowed times - the very first of which is the weekly Sabbath - are "of the LORD," and that means they should be regarded as appointments given by God Himself to help draw us closer to Him, to reveal His prophetic truth, and to remind ourselves of His great plan for our lives.
Please see the quick summary for Emor for more information. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for this portion here:
Our Duty to Truth...
[ Yom HaShoah is observed Sunday, April 27th at sundown through April 28th at sundown... ]
04.28.14 (Nisan 28, 5774) We are "epistemologically" responsible to walk in the Spirit of truth and to reject what is false (1 John 4:6). This implies that we have a moral and spiritual duty to think clearly and not abuse our minds (Phil. 4:8; Rom. 12:2). God made us so that we could discern truth about reality. The mind functions according to logical laws because it is made in the image and likeness of God Himself... God Himself is the ground of all logic, since He created reality and structured the world to be knowable according to its laws. As it is written: "In the beginning was the word/logic (ὁ λόγος), and the λόγος was with God, and the λόγος was God" (John 1:1). God created a world that exhibits order and great beauty. And since human beings were created b'tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, our thoughts (and the words used to formulate our thoughts) as well as our actions are intended to exhibit order and beauty. People perish because "they refuse to love the truth and so be saved" (2 Thess. 2:10-12). Therefore the issue of truth - physical, moral, aesthetic, spiritual, etc. - is central to salvation itself.
Since the use of language presupposes the laws of logic, every utterance we make is grounded in transcendental meaning and significance.... In the world to come you will be shocked to understand that everything you thought, everything you said, and everything you did was given to you from above, and therefore has tremendous significance. "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer" (Psalm 19:14).
יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי־פִי
וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי לְפָנֶיךָ יְהוָה צוּרִי וְגאֲלִי
yi·he·yu · le·ra·tzon · im·rei · fi
ve'heg·yon · lib·bi · le·fa·ne·kha · Adonai · tzu·ri · ve'go'a·li
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer."
Hebrew Study Card
May it please God to help us use our words for the purpose of strengthening and upbuilding (οἰκοδομὴν) one another (Eph. 4:29). May our words always be gracious and "seasoned with salt" (Col. 4:6). Dear Lord, awaken our hearts. As it is written: "Whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected" (1 John 2:5).
Note: For more on this vital topic see the articles: Teshuvah of the Mind, and The Importance of Truth: Teshuvah and Moral Courage.
Cowardice and Atrocities...
[ Yom HaShoah is observed Sunday, April 27th at sundown through April 28th at sundown... ]
04.27.14 (Nisan 27, 5774) Yom HaShoah, or "Holocaust Remembrance Day," marks Israel's day of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews -- including over a million children -- who perished as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany and its accomplices. It was inaugurated in 1953 and is annually observed on the 27th day of the month of Nisan, just a few days after Passover Week in the spring (this year, Sunday, April 7th at sundown). In stark contrast to the celebration of freedom commemorated during Passover, Yom HaShoah marks a very difficult time when we revisit specters of absolute evil and again ask haunting questions about the power and presence of malevolence in our world. Often we are left speechless over the cruelty and depravity of human beings. It all seems so inexplicable, so needlessly horrible, so senseless, so vile... We may feel powerless, despondent, or full of indignation, but still we ask ourselves, how could this have happened? How was all of this possible?
Simply put, the Holocaust was the result of cowardice and self-deception... The systematic, institutionalized, and "politically correct" genocide of the Jewish people was made possible solely because so many others - including nominal "Christians" - forfeited their God-given responsibility to live as authentic individuals by passively surrendering their will to "the crowd." But giving up your identity to join a gang inevitably leads to fragmentation of the soul, potentially inviting in a "legion of demons..." Regardless of whether it's a gang of thugs running an inner city neighborhood, or the pressure to keep quiet over ethical misconduct at your place of work, or the desire to feel "approved" as a good citizen of the state, or even the pressure to conform to a particular religious group, in either case, "losing yourself" in the midst of the crowd is an evasion, a cop-out, and a desecration of the image of God within you. Indeed following the crowd is a form of slavery where you surrender your freedom for the sake of a supposed sense of security... You become self-deceived because you no longer "own" yourself but became the ward of "another." Becoming a member of a crowd makes you into a copy or similitude, a shadow rather than a person of substance.
We must never forget what happened to the Jewish people under Hitler. The Holocaust was made possible because people timidly refused to stand apart from the group to serve as bold witnesses of the truth. And the great risk of our age is the revival of political fascism that attempts to again control, disarm, and violate people's freedom all for the supposed greater good of the "state." We must remember that silence in the face of evil is itself evil: "First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me" (Martin Niemöller).
Note: Soldiers are often told chazak v'amatz ("be strong and courageous") before they encounter the dangers of the battlefield, but it's vital to remember that each of us is engaged in a spiritual war every day of our lives. This war is essentially a battle for truth. If we accept false ideas about the nature of reality, we will live in a state of weakness and fear, even if our reasoning otherwise seems sound.... For more on this, see: Cowardice of the Crowd: Further Thoughts on the Shoah.
Battle Against the Lie...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Kedoshim... ]
04.25.14 (Nisan 25, 5774) We are living in stressful times, friends... The Apostle Paul wrote that the time before the "End of Days" would be "perilous" (χαλεπός) and full of human depravity (2 Tim. 3:1-5). In light of the raging spiritual war going on all around us, the following needs to be restated: "The important thing is to not lose your mind..."
The mind is the "gateway" to your heart, and it is therefore essential to guard your thinking by immersing yourself in the truth... Fear is often the result of believing the lie that God is not in control or is unable/unwilling to help you... "Not losing your mind" therefore means being grounded in what is real, and it therefore means understanding your identity and provision as a child of God. "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (גְּבוּרָה / δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός), lit. a "delivered" mind, "healed" from fragmentation (2 Tim. 1:7). The Greek word "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός) comes from the verb sodzo (σῴζω), meaning "to save," from saos (σάος) "safe," in the sense of being under restraining influence of the Spirit of God... The closest Hebrew word might be musar (מוּסָר), moral "discipline."
Part of the task of "guarding your mind" is being able to discern between good and evil. "The fear of the LORD is to hate evil (יִרְאַת יְהוָה שְׂנאת רָע); I hate arrogant pride and the evil way and perverse utterances" (Prov. 8:13). As Amos cried out, "Hate what is wrong, love what is right" (שִׂנְאוּ־רָע וְאֶהֱבוּ טוֹב). We are called to love the truth and abhor the lie. Tolerating sin in a world ripe for judgment is a tacit form of "collaboration" with the enemy... Indeed, the only thing regarded as intolerable in the devil's world is the objection that people have a supposed "liberty" to sin. But the LORD is clear on this point: "Those who call evil good and good evil are as good as dead, who turn darkness into light and light into darkness, who turn bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter. Those who think they are wise in their own sight are as good as dead, those who think they possess understanding" (Isa. 5:20-21).
Yeshua said to Pontius Pilate, "For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world - to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:38). Our Torah portion this week includes the statement, Lo ta'amod al dam re'ekha: "You must not stand idly by when your neighbor's life is at stake" (Lev. 19:16). The principle of lo ta'amod (לא תַעֲמד) means that we have a moral duty to speak the truth when others are victimized. "Standing idly by" can therefore mean refusing to come forward with the truth about a situation from fear of the consequences, but it can also mean excusing the sin of our culture and of our friends. "A truthful witness (עֵד אֱמֶת) rescues lives, but the one who breathes lies (יָפִחַ כְּזָבִים) brings deception" (Prov. 14:25). As it is written, "You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness (עֵד חָמָס)" (Exod. 23:1). It is the truth that sets people free to serve God, but this presupposes the ability to discern how we all become enslaved to deception. "You are to distinguish between the holy (i.e., ha-kadosh: הַקּדֶשׁ) and the common (i.e., ha-chol: הַחל), and between the unclean (i.e., ha-tamei: הַטָּמֵא) and the clean (i.e., ha-tahor: הַטָּהוֹר)" (Lev. 10:10, see also Ezek. 44:23). Just as God separated the light from the darkness (Gen. 1:4), so we are called to discern between (בֵּין) the realms of the holy and the profane, the sacred and the common, and the clean and the unclean. Indeed, the Torah states "God called the light Day, and the darkness he called night," thereby associating His Name with the light but not with the darkness (Gen. 1:5). "For you all are sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness" (1 Thess. 5:5). We are instructed therefore to wear the "armor of light" (Rom. 13:12) and to be equipped to wage spiritual warfare in God's Name (Eph. 6:11-18).
For more on this topic, see "Parashat Kedoshim: Battle Against the Lie."
Healing a Divided Heart...
04.24.14 (Nisan 24, 5774) The walk of faith involves kavanah (כַּוָנָה), or focus; we are to "press on" (διώκω) to hear the upward call of God (Phil. 3:14). The problem for many of us is that we are irresolute, indecisive, and therefore we hesitate... A divided heart is at war within itself, "two-souled" (δίψυχος) and unstable in all its ways (James 1:8). If "purity of heart is to will one thing," then impurity of heart is the result of simultaneously willing two things... It is therefore a state of inner contradiction, of having two separate "minds" or "wills" that hold contrary thoughts or desires. Yeshua said that "a divided house cannot stand." May it please God to heal us of such ambivalence by making our hearts whole, resolute, steadfast, full of conviction, and entirely awake to the glory of His Presence at our right hand (Psalm 16:8). The LORD is always near; he is not far from each one of us. "Draw near to God (ἐγγίσατε τῷ Θεῷ) and he will draw near to you; purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8). As it is written: "The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth" (Psalm 145:18). May we be set free from lesser fears that divide the heart and rob the soul of shalom shelemah, God's perfect peace...
הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה דַּרְכֶּךָ אֲהַלֵּךְ בַּאֲמִתֶּךָ
יַחֵד לְבָבִי לְיִרְאָה שְׁמֶךָ
ho·re·ni · Adonai · dar·ke·kha · a·ha·lekh · ba·a·mi·te·kha
ya·ched · le·va·vi · le·yir·ah · she·me·kha
"Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your Name."
The heart looks through the eye, and therefore how we see is ultimately a spiritual decision: "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). The source of our problem, then, is the will, which serves as a gatekeeper of what we admit to ourselves, and the healing comes when we are honest before God and ask Him to be delivered from our ambivalence: "Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your Name" (Psalm 86:11).
The Great War for Souls...
[ "For our struggle is against spiritual forces of evil..." Eph. 6:12 ]
04.24.14 (Nisan 24, 5774) Ultimately we are living in the midst of a great spiritual war -- the war for truth. This has been the battle from the beginning. The very first recorded words of Satan (הַנָּחָשׁ) questioned God's truth: "Did God really say...?" (Gen. 3:1). In the end there will be found two types of people: those who love the truth and those who love the lie. These are the children of light (בְּנֵי הָאוֹר) and the children of darkness (בְּנֵי הַחשֶׁךְ), respectively. Followers of Yeshua the Messiah are told to "walk as children of light" / ὡς τέκνα φωτὸς περιπατεῖτε (Eph. 5:8). The children of light are called to be am kadosh - a holy people - separate from the evil engendered by the fallen world and its forces, just as the very first creative expression of God was the separation of light from darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). The children of light "hate evil and love the good," and conversely, the children of darkness "hate the good and love evil" (Psalm 34:21, Prov. 8:13, Amos 5:15, John 3:20-21). Regarding the heavenly Zion to come, it is written: "nothing unclean will ever enter into it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or practices falsehood (lit. "makes a lie"), but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Rev. 21:27).
We must stand for the truth, because the truth is what sets us free (John 8:32). As Yeshua said, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world -- to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37). We must turn away from the lie to embrace the truth. One day all that is hidden will become manifest. "As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; His throne was ablaze with fire and its wheels were all aflame. A river of fire was streaming forth and proceeding from his presence; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; court sat in judgment, the books were opened" (Dan. 7:9-10).
If the devil can't kill you, he will try to make you insane... He will lie to you about who you really are... He he will attempt harass you and vex your soul. He will whisper fearful things in your ear... He will make what is small seem big and what is big seem small. He will raise dark suspicion within your soul, causing you to walk in mistrust. He will remind you of your sins to make you feel ashamed and dirty. He will hiss that you are unlovable and unworthy. He will argue on behalf of your flesh that you deserve better than this... He will tempt you to seek relief in cisterns of emptiness and futility. Most of all, he will try to cast a spell to make you forget that you are truly a prince or princess of God Almighty... The devil seeks to drive you into the exile of loneliness and despair. Resist him in the Name of the LORD!
נָסוּ וְאֵין־רדֵף רָשָׁע וְצַדִּיקִים כִּכְפִיר יִבְטָח
na·su · ve'ein · ro·def · ra·sha / ve·tzad·di·kim · kikh·fir · yiv·tach
"The wicked flee when there is no one pursuing,
but the righteous are as confident as a lion."
Hebrew Study Card
Da lifnei mi attah omed: "Know before whom you stand!" As Elisha the prophet said to his fearful servant Gehazi, "Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them" (2 Kings 6:16). We are surrounded by an innumerable multitude of angels, with the LORD of Hosts who rules over all. Ask the LORD God Almighty to give you the "strategic advantage" over the enemy -- for you to see his wiles, but not for him to see you.... Ask God for the armor of light that blinds eyes accustomed to darkness (Rom. 13:12). How else can we fight this archenemy of our souls? We are forbidden to fight "fire with fire," but we can assuredly appeal to the One who fills heaven and earth "with horses and chariots of fire all around" (2 Kings 6:17). "Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh, Adonai Tzeva'ot" (Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of the armies of heaven); "melo khol ha-aretz kevodo" (the whole earth is filled with His glory" (Isa. 6:3).
קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יהוה צְבָאוֹת
מְלא כָל־הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ
ka·dosh ka·dosh ka·dosh, Adonai Tze·va·ot,
me·lo khol ha·a·retz ke·vo·do
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!"
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Hear it sung
God told the prophet Jeremiah, "Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD" (Jer. 1:8). Likewise Yeshua says to us, "Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you" (Luke 10:19). We need the courage and boldness that comes from the Holy Spirit to overcome the "giants in the land." We need the confidence of young David who beheaded Goliath in the Name of the Living God. Ask God to empower you to serve Him now... Just as salvation is "of the LORD," so is the battle of faith: "Not by might, nor by power - but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts" (Zech. 4:6).
Holocaust Memorial Day...
[ Yom HaShoah is observed Sunday, April 27th after sundown this year... ]
04.24.14 (Nisan 24, 5774) Some people mark the date of November 9, 1938 as the start of the Jewish Holocaust. On that dreadful night - called Kristallnacht, "the Night of Broken Glass" - thousands of Germans, organized by the Nazis, destroyed over 1,000 synagogues, burned precious Torah scrolls and prayer books in town squares, ransacked and looted over 7,000 Jewish businesses, and invaded and terrorized many Jewish homes. Many Jews were killed during the attacks, and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken away to the concentration camps. Kristallnacht was followed by further persecution of the Jews and is viewed by most historians as the pogram that initiated the infamous "Final Solution."
To readily identify who was a Jew to the authorities, Hitler ordered all subjugated peoples of Jewish descent to wear yellow stars of David on their clothing. Hitler relied on non Jews to spy on and identify all those who did not comply. When the order to wear the star was issued in Holland, however, an underground newspaper made 300,000 yellow stars that said, "Jews and non-Jews stand united in their struggle," and distributed them to the public to express their solidarity with the plight of the Jewish people. In Denmark, too, the "yellow star law" was rebuffed, and King Christian X was reported to have said that if the law were to be enforced by the Nazis, he pledged to wear one himself, as would all the other people of Denmark. Later, the Danish resistance movement (with the help of ordinary Danish citizens) opposed the Nazis by safely evacuating the Jews to nearby neutral Sweden.
By far the largest act of civil resistance against Hitler and the Nazis occurred during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which took place in Poland on the eve of Passover, April 19, 1943. Unfortunately most Jews were unable to defend themselves because oppressive gun control laws had disarmed the population; nevertheless, it still took the Nazi war machine nearly a month to vanquish the ghetto - longer than it took for Hitler to overcome the entire country of Poland. Because the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising symbolized Jewish resistance against the Nazis, in 1953, after the State of Israel was formed, it was proposed to observe Yom HaShoah on the anniversary of the uprising -- on the 14th of Nisan -- but this date was rejected because it marked the start of Passover. After considerable debate, the memorial was postponed until after the Passover holiday week was over, on the 27th of Nisan, eight days before Yom Ha'atzma'ut, or Israeli Independence Day.
While there is no official "haggadah" for the Yom HaShoah memorial, it is traditional to light a yellow yahrzeit candle for those who died, to attend a Yom HaShoah memorial service, and to recite kaddish. Some people prepare a lavish meal using recipes written from memory by the starving women of Theresienstadt (salvaged after the war). Many of these recipes are for rich desserts and cakes, recalling days of joy before the women and their families were rounded up and brought to the concentration camps. During the memorial meal, stories of Jews who died are told, as well of those of survivors. Many survivors tell stories about the "hidden children" who were saved by righteous Gentiles (חֲסִידֵי אוּמוֹת הָעוֹלָם). These young survivors were either hidden in secret places (like Anne Frank) or were "adopted" by Christian families who pretended they were their own children.
What does the Holocaust mean to you? How do you do "theology after Auschwitz?" Does the Shoah rouse you to be vigilant against the rise of political evil in the world? Does its warn you how about how easy it is for you to "tune out" - to close your eyes, ears, and nose to the presence of evil and the practice of social injustice and crimes against humanity? As Elie Wiesel said, "Indifference to evil is evil." Hitler not only murdered millions of Jews (including over a million Jewish children), but he also murdered millions of non-Jews whom he regarded as a threat to his political ideology and to "homeland security." We must never forget the horrors of Holocaust because it could happen again - and to believe otherwise is to forget the radical evil lurking within human nature. Germany was perhaps the greatest nation of Europe, cultured, brilliant, "Christian," enlightened, with a rich history of intellectual and artistic genius -- and yet it nevertheless practiced unspeakable barbarity and tolerated massive and heartless genocide against the Jewish people...
קוּמִי רנִּי בַלַּיְלָה לְראשׁ אַשְׁמֻרוֹת
שִׁפְכִי כַמַּיִם לִבֵּךְ נכַח פְּנֵי אֲדנָי
שְׂאִי אֵלָיו כַּפַּיִךְ עַל־נֶפֶשׁ עוֹלָלַיִךְ
ku·mi · ro·ni · va·lai·lah · le·rosh · ash·mu·rot
shif·khi · kha·ma·yim · lib·bekh · no·khach · pe·nei · a·do·nai
se·i · e·lav · ka·pa·yikh · al · ne·fesh · o·la·lai·yikh
"Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches!
Pour out your heart like water before the face of the LORD!
Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children."
"I believe. I believe in the sun even when it is not shining; I believe in love even when feeling it not; and I believe in God, even when God is silent" (from an anonymous poem found on the wall of a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where some Jews hid from the Nazis).
"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference." - Elie Weisel
Though we can't control what happens in this dangerous world, we can trust that God is working all things together for good, even during times of severe testing, and even in things that are blatantly evil (Rom. 8:28; Gen. 50:20). And while we instinctively recoil at the prospect of physical death, there are decidedly things worse than death itself, namely, losing hope in life, walking in the darkness of despair, living a joyless existence because of fear. As much as we abhor evil - and we must resist it with all our hearts - even more must we love the good - and cling to God (וּלְדָבְקָה־בוֹ) with all that is within us.
"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." - Elie Wiesel
Ultimately, the most important thing to remember regarding death is the truth about God's salvation (יְשׁוּעָה). After all, God assuredly hates death and provides each of us with its eternal remedy: By clothing himself in human flesh, Yeshua embraced mortality itself and willingly bore the penalty for your sins, exchanging his life for yours, thereby destroying the one who had the power of death, namely the devil, and by so doing, set you free from slavery to the dread of death (Heb. 2:14-15). To those who belong to belong to Messiah, death represents a passage to eternal life and the loving presence of God Himself.
Only the miracle of faith can see hope in the face of radical evil... and yet that is the very message of the cross of the Messiah... Our Lord demonstrated that He is the Killer of death itself; the Slayer of the Serpent; and the ultimate Triumph of God's Light over the realm of despair and everlasting darkness... He is the First and the Last, the Living One who died, and behold is alive forevermore, the true Keyholder of Death and Hell (Rev. 1:18).
Parashat Kedoshim - קדשים
[ Happy Passover, chaverim! The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Kedoshim). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
04.23.14 (Nisan 23, 5774) Last week's Torah portion (Acharei Mot) concerned the yearly Yom Kippur ritual that purged the uncleanness and sin of the people and restored the Sanctuary to a state of purity. This week's Torah portion (Kedoshim) continues the theme of purity with the LORD saying to "the whole assembly of Israel" (כָּל־עֲדַת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל), "You must be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy" (Lev. 19:2). Note that the commandment to speak to the "whole assembly" differs from earlier instructions ("Speak to the Israelites, and say to them..."), which has led some of the commentators to say that these instructions were to be taught to Israel in a more public way (i.e., be'hakel - "in full assembly"). At any rate, this portion lists more mitzvot (commandments) regarding practical ethics (musar) than any other of the Torah, thereby directly connecting the holiness of the community with obedience to God's moral truth...
After stating the foundational requirement to be holy, the LORD begins to explain, "Each of you must respect (i.e., yirah: יִרְאָה) his mother and his father, and you must keep my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God" (Lev. 19:3). The duty to revere (or honor) one's parents recalls the Fifth Commandment (Exod. 20:12), which is the starting point of learning to respect other people in our lives. Notice that the word for "my Sabbaths" (שַׁבְּתתַי) implies both the keeping of the weekly Sabbath as well as the "appointed times" of the LORD. As we will see, sanctifying time is a way we can express practical holiness in our lives...
The followers of the God of Israel are to be holy (i.e., kadosh: קָדוֹשׁ), and indeed our Torah portion literally means "holy ones" (i.e., kedoshim: קְדשִׁים). Personal holiness is the "key" that unifies the various laws listed in the Torah, and represents our practical responsibility to "walk with the LORD." In Hebrew, the noun form of "holy" (i.e., kadosh) is kedushah (קְדֻשָּׁה), from the root קדשׁ that means sanctity or "set-apartness." Some other Hebrew words that use this root include kiddush (sanctifying the wine), kaddish (sanctifying the Name), kiddushin (the ring ceremony at a marriage), and so on. Kadosh connotes the sphere of the sacred that is radically separate from all that is sinful and profane. As such, it is lofty and elevated (Isa. 57:15), beyond all comparison, utterly unique (Isa. 40:25), absolutely righteous (Isa. 5:16), glorious and awesome (Psalm 99:3), full of light and power (Isa. 10:7), and is favored as God's own (Ezek. 22:26). Indeed, holiness is a synonym for the LORD Himself (i.e., Ha-kadosh barukh hu: הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא- "The Holy One, blessed be He").
The idea of holiness therefore implies differentiation: the realm of the holy is entirely set apart from the common, the habitual, or the profane. The holy is singular, awe-inspiring, even "terrible" or dreadful (see Neh. 1:5; Psalm 68:35). As the Holy One (ha-kadosh), God is utterly unique, distinct, sacred, and "set apart" as the only One of its kind. He alone is worthy of true worship and adoration, since He alone is peerless, without rival, and stands in relation to the world as Creator and Lord. Yes, only the Lord is infinitely and eternally Other -- known to Himself as "I AM THAT I AM" (Exod. 3:15).
Holiness, then, implies more than an abstract or indifferent "metaphysical" separation (as is suggested by various forms of religious dualism), but rather moral separation from that which is profane (chullin), banal, common, or evil. In other words, holiness implies absolute moral goodness and perfection. It is impossible that the Holy One could condone sin, since this would negate the distinction between the sacred and profane and thereby undermine the nature of holiness itself. The Holy is in opposition to the profane and therefore the LORD must hate and oppose that which violates the sacred.
Various practical mitzvot are given in this Torah portion through which a Jew is sanctified, or set apart to be kadosh - holy - and therefore fit for relationship with God. God is not only "wholly Other" (i.e., transcendent) but also pervades all of creation (i.e., "immanent"), and those who are called into His Presence must therefore be holy themselves. Such practical holiness results in sanctification obtained through the observance of commandments (mitzvot). These commandments include both mitzvot aseh (commandments to do something) and mitzvot lo ta'aseh (commandments to refrain from doing something). In addition, chukkim, or "statutes" are given that further separate the Jew from the customs and profanity of the surrounding nations.
For example, though it is inevitable (and psychologically necessary) that we make judgments about other people, the Torah states, be'tzedek tishpot 'amitekha, "in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor" (see also John 7:24), which implies that we must use the "good eye" (ayin tovah) when we think of other people. Indeed, the focal point and the very heart of what practical holiness represents is stated as v'ahavta l're'akha kamokha - "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Note that the direct object of the verb (ahav - to love) is your neighbor. But who, exactly, is my neighbor? Some have claimed that the word rea (neighbor) refers only to one's fellow Jew - not to others at large in the world. However this is obviously false, since the "stranger" (ger) is explicitly identified to be an object of our love (Lev 19:34). And note that Yeshua the Mashiach answered this question by turning it around. Instead of attempting to find someone worthy of neighborly love, I am asked to be a worthy and loving neighbor myself (Luke 10:29-37).
The phrase v'ahavta l're'akha kamokha (Lev. 19:18) is considered the most comprehensive rule of conduct toward others found in the entire Torah. The Talmud (Shabbat 31a) tells the story of how Rabbi Hillel, a contemporary of Yeshua, was once challenged by a pagan: "Make me a proselyte, on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel agreed, and while standing on one foot said, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah and the rest is commentary; go and learn it." Yeshua likewise said, "In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this is the point of the law and the prophets" (Matt 7:12). The apostle Paul - who was a student of Hillel's grandson Gamaliel - likewise wrote: "Love (ἡ ἀγάπη) does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment (πλήρωμα) of the law" (see Rom. 13:10, Gal. 5:14).
Notice that the commandment to love our neighbor is given in connection with forgiveness. Leviticus 19:18 reads, Lo tikom, v'lo titor (לא־תִקּם וְלא־תִטּר): "You must not take vengeance nor bear a grudge ... but you must love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD." In Jewish tradition, "Yom Kippur does not atone until we have made peace with one another." In light of the greater glory of the New Covenant, this may be stated, "the Cross of Yeshua will not avail you unless you are willing to forgive others for their sins against you" (Matt. 6:14-15).
The problem, of course, is not that we don't know what our duty before God is, but rather finding the means to truly live a life of love and forgiveness toward others in this fallen world... But thanks be to God - the Holy Spirit enables us to do the impossible...
Awake, O my soul...
04.23.14 (Nisan 23, 5774) Spiritually speaking, the greater danger is not some spectacular sin but rather the imperceptible drifting away of the heart, a cooling of passion, a failure to tend the fire of our inner altar.... I would much prefer a heaven-sent affliction and chastisement than to fade away in deathly repose, a state of unconscious exile... "Awake, my glory! Awake!" (עוּרָה כְבוֹדִי עוּרָה). Break the spell of lethal habit.
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).
Captives to Hope...
04.22.14 (Nisan 22, 5774) Many people want healing apart from the cure. How many of us settle for half-measures? While you might find respite for your suffering in temporary measures, you cannot have lasting healing apart from the divine remedy... Nonetheless, the Lord our God gives us special graces, especially in light of the passing of days, with thwarted hope, aching bones, and inner keening for lasting deliverance. This "gift of despondency" helps us to awaken and to reach out to find the Real, the True, the Eternal. Learn to wait; ask God for the wisdom of patience. Between acceptance and anxiety, always choose acceptance. Find hope while waiting...
An old Jewish prayer, uttered somewhat wistfully, begins, "O Lord, I know that Thou wilt help us; but wilt Thou help us before Thou wilt help us?" It's not always easy to wait for God, especially when we are in pain or anxiety, but we must never, ever, give up; we must never ever, abandon our heart's longing for ultimate healing. Faith exercises hope in the Reality, Substance, and Being (ὑπόστασις) of the Invisible and is made captive to undying hope (Heb. 11:1). Therefore the Spirit cries out: "Hope in the LORD; be strong and strengthen your heart; and (again) hope in the LORD" (Psalm 27:14).
וְנָחֲךָ יְהוָה תָּמִיד וְהִשְׂבִּיעַ בְּצַחְצָחוֹת נַפְשֶׁךָ
וְעַצְמתֶיךָ יַחֲלִיץ וְהָיִיתָ כְּגַן רָוֶה
וּכְמוֹצָא מַיִם אֲשֶׁר לא־יְכַזְּבוּ מֵימָיו
ve'nachakha · Adonai · ta·mid · ve·his·bi·a · be·tzach·tza·chot · naf·she·kha
ve·atz·mo·te·kha · ya·cha·litz · ve·ha·yi·ta · ke·gan · ra·veh
u·khe·mo·tza · ma·yim · a·sher · lo · ye·kha·ze·vu · mei·mav
"And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail." - Isa. 55:11
"Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." - Yeshua
He is Risen Indeed...
04.21.14 (Nisan 21, 5774) He is Alive! The night of Nisan 17 marked the time of the resurrection of Messiah. Our Lord was crucified on Nisan 14 (a Thursday), exactly when the Passover lambs were being sacrificed at the Holy Temple, and He rose from the dead three days and nights later, on the night of Nisan 17 (i.e., before sunrise on Sunday). We rejoice that He is risen - He is alive - and our redemption is eternally secure! The most important fact of all history - and that which radically and forever transforms everything else - is the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead (תחייתו של משיח).
Personal Note: I recently hurt my back and am having trouble sleeping and even sitting to write... Your prayers are for my healing are appreciated, friends. Thank you.
Passover Seder Pictures
[ The eight day festival of Passover began April 14th at sundown this year... ]
04.18.14 (Nisan 18, 5774) Chag Pesach Sam'each (חג פסח שמח), Happy festival of Passover, chaverim. We held our annual Passover Seder over at our home last Monday evening and had a wonderful time. We started the seder before sundown and ended some time after midnight. After that I stayed up late to watch the lunar eclipse and the appearance of the "blood moon." Here are a few pictures from the event:
[Left-to-right, top]: 1) Our matzah tosh; 2) Elijah's Cup; 3) Handwashing basin;
4) the ceremonial seder plate; 5) printed and bound H4C Seder Guides.
[Left-to-right, bottom]: 1) Judah gets ready; 2) the table setting; 3) Lighting Yom Tov candles;
4) Josiah listening; 5) Reciting Kiddush for Passover.
[Left-to-right, top]: 1) Vadim and Irina; 2) Seder hand washing; 3) dipping karpas;
4) The three matzot; 5) Yachatz - Breaking the middle matzah.
[Left-to-right, bottom]: 1) Tasting the Matzah; 2) eating Maror; 3) the Hillel sandwich;
4) Singing Dayenu; 5) Next year in the New Jerusalem!
It is written: "Be holy as I am holy" (Lev. 19:2). This doesn't mean wrapping yourself up in some protective cloak of religious rituals as much as it means accepting your own atonement: reconciling who you are with your past, finding healing and love, and walking in genuine hope... Holiness isn't as much "separation" from the profane as it is "consecration" to the sacred, and in that sense it is a kind of teshuvah, a turning of the heart back to reality.... Negatively put, "being holy" means turning away from fear, despair, and anger; positively put, it is embracing the worth and value of life, respecting the Divine Presence, and walking in the radiance of God's love. May God open our hearts for Him!
The Passover 2014 Eclipse...
04.18.14 (Nisan 18, 5774) After our Passover Seder last Monday night, I spent some time taking pictures of the spectacular lunar eclipse, which occurred from around 1:30 am until 4:00 am in our time zone. Here are a few pictures of the eclipse progression (there are some larger pictures on the Hebrew for Christians Facebook page, if interested):
Praise God for His awesome work of creation! Seeing the Passover lunar eclipse was both a humbling and a profoundly sacred experience. The following blessing is customarily recited when you witness a remarkable event in God's creation, for instance, when you see an eclipse, a shooting star, or beautiful mountain vista, or some other natural wonder:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
עשֶׂה מַעֲשֶׂה בְרֵאשִׁית
ba·rukh · at·ta · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · me·lekh · ha·o·lam
o·seh · ma·a·seh · ve·rei·shit
"Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe,
who makes the works of creation."
Should We "Count the Omer"?
[ The following is related to the Torah's commandment to count exactly 49 days after the feast of Firstfruits until the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost). ]
04.18.14 (Nisan 18, 5774) The word "omer" (עמֶר) generally refers to a measure of grain. The Torah commands that an omer of new grain (called chadash) must be "waved" by the priests before the altar on each of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot (Lev. 23:15-21). This ritual act is called omer ha-tenufah (עמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה), or the "waving of the omer." Prior to the offering of such "new grain," only the produce from earlier harvests could be eaten (which is called yashan, "old"). This is the "firstfruits" connection. Only crops that have been first dedicated to God are kosher for use by God's people...
In post-Temple Jewish tradition, the priestly ritual of waving the omer was replaced with the custom of simply counting down 49 days, beginning with the second day of Passover, until the 50th day is reached... This countdown period is called Sefirat HaOmer (סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר), or the "counting the sheaves." In abstract terms, it's almost as if there is a dotted line pointing directly from Passover to Shavuot - a "Jubilee" of days - representing the climax of Passover itself. The early sages identified this climax as the revelation of the Torah at Sinai, but the New Testament identifies it as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) that confirmed the reality of the New Covenant of God. The redemption process that began at Passover was therefore completed at Shavuot, and that "completion" was the revelation of God's love and deliverance for the entire world. Though the Jewish sages did not fathom the use of the otherwise forbidden leaven in the offering (Lev. 2:11), prophetically the waving of shtei ha-lechem (two loaves) during Shavuot pictured the "one new man" (composed of both Jew and Gentile) standing before the altar of the LORD (Eph. 2:14). The countdown to Shavuot therefore goes beyond the giving of Torah at Sinai and points to the greater revelation of Zion. Shavuot is the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit's advent to those who are trusting in Messiah (Acts 2:1-4). "Counting the Omer," then, is about receiving the Holy Spirit to experience and know the resurrected LORD of Glory. You can "count" on that, chaverim!
Again, from a Messianic point of view, the climax of the 49 days was not the giving of the lawcode at Sinai, but rather the revelation of the altar (i.e., the Tabernacle) and its subsequent fulfillment in the sacrificial death of Yeshua as our Lamb of God. Moreover, it was during this time that Yeshua made His post-resurrection appearances to His disciples - and indeed ascended to heaven during this 49 day period... Of particular importance is the holiday of Shavuot, day 7x7 of the count, when the Holy Spirit (Ruach ha-Kodesh) was given to the disciples in fulfillment of the promise of Yeshua that we would not be left comfortless... Shavuot, then, marks the time of "Jubilee" of the Spirit, when are clothed with power from on high to serve the LORD without fear...
Trusting His Heart...
04.18.14 (Nisan 18, 5774) If you can't detect God's hand in your circumstances, then trust His heart... Gam zu l'tovah (גַּם זוּ לְטוֹבָה): "This too is for the good." Whenever I am confused about life (which is often), I try to remember what God said to Moses after the tragic sin of the Golden Calf: "I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my Name, 'The LORD' (יהוה). And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy" (Exod. 33:19). God's character does not change: the LORD is the same "yesterday, today, and forever." The meaning of the Name, however, cannot be known apart from understanding the heart's need:
יְהוָה יְהוָה אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן
אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב־חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת
Adonai Adonai El Ra·chum ve·chan·nun
e·rekh ap·pa·yim ve·rav che·sed ve·e·met
"The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness."
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Earlier God had revealed to Moses that the Name YHVH (יהוה) means: "He is Present" (i.e., the word is a play on the Hebrew verb hayah [הָיָה], "to be"), and therefore God is "always there" (Exod. 3:14). The great I AM (אֶהְיֶה) means God stands outside of the constraints of time, "one day is as a thousand years" and "a thousand years as one day" before Him (2 Pet. 3:8). Just as a thousand years is but "a watch in the night" (Psalm 90:4), so one day is as a thousand years. God's Spirit broods over all things and sustains the entire universe. God is "necessary being," the Source of Life, and foundation for all other existence. God's creative love and power sustain all things in creation...
Now while the idea that God is the Source of all life in the universe is surely important, it is not entirely comforting, especially in light of man's guilt and anxiety over death. After all, we do not stand before the "god of the philosophers," but rather the personal God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The meaning of the Name YHVH - that He is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and truth, and so on - therefore presents additional revelation in face of man's inherent brokenness and spiritual need. Some things in life are only known in the passion of faith... things like love, beauty, honor, and so on. The Name of the LORD as the Compassionate One is only known in humility, when all human pretense is stripped away and the inner life is laid bare in its desperate need. The Name YHVH is God's response to the heart's cry for deliverance, for compassion, for mercy....
What is God like - what is His heart - is the first question, and how we answer that will determine how we deal with all the other questions that come up in theology... What do you feel inside when you stare up at the ceiling before you go to bed? In light of the ambiguity and heartaches of life we might wonder if God is there for us. Does God care? Is He angry at me? Does He really love me? This is the raw place of faith, where we live in the midst of our questions. The Name YHVH means "He is present," even when we are unconscious of His Presence in the hour of our greatest need.
The legalist is actually enslaved to the idea of God's conditional acceptance: "If you obey, then you belong." There is still some faith that the right religious scruples, the affirmation of a particular creed, and the practice of certain rituals will gain us access to His heart. The message of the cross scandalizes the religious because it boldly states, "if you believe, then you belong." As Kierkegaard rightly observed, "And this is the simple truth - that to live is to feel oneself lost. He who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look around for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce." For Kierkegaard, religious rituals devoid of a sense of crisis within the heart are little more than a sham. "I think of the times I tried to use him to make my life secure, and undisturbed, and painless. Also the times I was enslaved by fear of him, and by the need to protect myself against him through rites and circumstances" (de Mello). Ritualistic behavior is a tawdry substitute for trusting that His heart is forever present for you.
Anticipating Shavuot ("Pentecost")
[ The holiday of Shavuot serves as the climax of the Passover Season... ]
04.18.14 (Nisan 18, 5774) A week is called shavu'a (שָׁבוּעַ) in Hebrew, from a root word sheva (שֶׁבַע) that means seven. Seven is the number of holiness and completion, and the first verse of Torah has seven words (בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ). In six days God created the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and set it apart as sacred (Gen. 2:3). The holiday of Shavuot (שָׁבוּעוֹת), or "weeks," marks the "Jubilee of Passover," which occurs after we count 7x7 (49) days from the day following Passover until we reach Sivan 6 (which this year begins Tuesday, May 14th at sundown). Since Shavuot occurs on the 50th day after Passover, the Greek translators of the Torah called it "Pentecost" (πεντηκοστή). Shavuot marks the goal or climax of Passover season, commemorating both the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Sinai as well as the giving of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Messiah (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4).
The holiday of Shavuot is one of the shelosh regalim (three pilgrimage festivals) given in the Torah (Exod. 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16) and therefore reveals profound spiritual truth for followers of Yeshua (Luke 24:44; 2 Tim. 3:16). God did not want us to miss the significance of this holiday, since it expresses the freedom and truth of the New Covenant of Zion.
Note: For a bit more to help you "attune" yourself to the holiday of Shavuot, see the articles "Preparing for Shavuot" and "The Law of Liberty."
The Central Fact of Life...
[ The following is related to the holiday of Firstfruits and the resurrection of Jesus... ]
04.17.14 (Nisan 17, 5774) The most important fact of all history - and that which radically transforms everything else - is the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead (תחייתו של משיח). Spiritual life means being awake to the risen reality and saving Presence of Yeshua, the One who Overcame and vanquished the power of death. Without Him we are hopeless; with Him we are more than conquerors (1 Cor. 15:14; Rom. 8:37). The resurrection means Yeshua is forever alive, and that today he hears your heart's cry. He is surely able to help you, and nothing can overthrow his invincible will. Our Lord suffered and died for your inner peace and healing, but now death has no hold over him, and he "ever lives to make intercession for you" (Rom. 6:9, Heb. 7:25). He is your compassionate Advocate (παράκλητος, lit. "one called alongside") who gives you heavenly comfort (1 John 2:1). Even more: The very power that raised Yeshua from the dead now dwells in you (Rom. 8:11). The miracle of new life is "Messiah in you - the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). The Lord will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5): He "sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24); He sustains your way, and he will perfect the work of salvation on your behalf (Jude 1:24). In short, there simply is no "gospel" message apart from the resurrection! The resurrection is the victory of God's plan of salvation - His everlasting vindication over the powers of darkness - for your life.
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). Indeed, all of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of the Messiah's power (Heb. 1:3). Creation begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our LORD... The Messiah is the Center of Creation - its beginning and end. As it is written: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the 'Aleph' and the 'Tav,' the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36). Yeshua our Messiah is called מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים / Melech Malchei Hamelachim: The "King of kings of kings." He is LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest celestial glory to the dust of death upon a cross. Yehi shem Adonai mevorakh (יְהִי שֵׁם יהוה מְברָךְ): "Let the Name of the LORD be blessed" forever and ever (Psalm 113:2). So while we can agree with the Talmud's general statement that the world was created "for the Messiah," we would insist that the name of the Messiah is none other than Yeshua, God's Son, and indeed, there is no other (Acts 4:12).
מִי עָלָה־שָׁמַיִם וַיֵּרַד
מִי אָסַף־רוּחַ בְּחָפְנָיו
מִי צָרַר־מַיִם בַּשִּׂמְלָה
מִי הֵקִים כָּל־אַפְסֵי־אָרֶץ
מַה־שְּׁמוֹ וּמַה־שֶּׁם־בְּנוֹ כִּי תֵדָע
mi a·lah sha·ma·yim vai·ye·rad?
mi a·saf ru·ach be·chof·nav?
mi tza·rar ma·yim ba·sim·lah?
mi he·kim kol af·sei a·retz?
mah she·mo u·mah shem be·no, ki tei·da?
"Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son's name? Surely you know!"
Hebrew Study Card
Why the Resurrection Matters...
[ The following is related to the holiday of Firstfruits, which began yesterday at sundown... ]
04.17.14 (Nisan 17, 5774) The Scriptures make clear that Yeshua is the true Passover Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) whose sacrificial death and shed blood causes the wrath of God to "pass over" (pasach) those who are trusting in Him (John 1:29, 3:36; Acts 8:32-36; 1 Cor. 5:7-8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20, etc.). Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! (Rev. 5:12). But while the sacrifice of Yeshua gives us atonement (כַּפָּרָה) with God, the resurrection of the Messiah (i.e., techiyat ha-Mashiach: תְּחִיַּת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) justifies His work of salvation on behalf of the sinner and forever vindicates the righteousness of God.
The resurrection of Yeshua is not an "academic" or speculative question to be considered in purely rational terms, but rather is a matter of eternal life or death. How we choose to respond to its message determines our destiny. Everything turns on whether we awaken to the risen reality and Presence of Yeshua in our lives. Without Him we are hopeless; with Him we are more than conquerors (1 Cor. 15:14; Rom. 8:37).
Yeshua completely atoned for our sins and His resurrection validated that God the Father accepted His sacrifice. It was God the Father (i.e., Reality) who raised Yeshua in victory (Gal. 1:1, Rom. 10:9), and those who put their trust trust in Him are declared righteous on account of their faith. Yeshua "was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25). As Jesus Himself said, "Because I am alive, you also will live" -
שֶׁכֵּן אֲנִי חַי וְגַם אַתֶּם תִּחְיו / ὅτι ἐγὼ ζῶ καὶ ὑμεῖς ζήσετε (John 14:19).
For more on the tremendously important subject of why the resurrection of Yeshua matters, please see this article.
The Mysterious Shroud of Turin...
[ The following entry is related to the holiday of Firstfruits. Some people contend that the famous Shroud of Turin is the authentic burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth, whereas others claim it is an sophisticated forgery. Regardless, the study of the shroud surely is provocative and provides a remarkable reminder of both the suffering and the resurrection of our Messiah.... ]
04.16.14 (Nisan 16, 5774) A few years ago I read fascinating article that reported that one of the leading scientists of the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STRP) later confessed that the sample taken from cloth was flawed (i.e., it came from a piece of the Shroud that was repaired in the Middle Ages, not from the original cloth). The scientist -- Ray Rogers, a chemist from the Los Alamos National Laboratory -- later acknowledged that it's now entirely reasonable to conclude that the cloth was none other than the burial shroud of Jesus of Nazareth. And today I read that the most recent experiments conducted by scientists at the University of Padua (in northern Italy) have dated the shroud to the time of Christ....
Even though the controversy regarding the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin gets technical and involved, I tend to regard the Shroud as authentic, primarily because there are no known means for a medieval artist to have created a "negative" (holographic) image of a body (especially an image with such anatomical detail that only a modern pathologist would appreciate), and there is simply no motive for someone to have done so, anyway. After all, what can it possibly mean to call an utterly unique item a "forgery" anyway? Both the "how" and the "why" questions of the Shroud are troubling to those who (a priori) reject the possibility of the miraculous, and therefore the idea that the Shroud is a forgery or a hoax has become the standard biased response for many who reject the historical resurrection of Yeshua from the dead.
On the hypothesis that the Shroud of Turin is a sophisticated forgery, however, we must suppose there once was a medieval artist who was so talented that he or she could paint the "negative" image of a body, that is, an image with the full spectrum of light reversed. Moreover, this artist would have to paint in obverse -- somewhat like a minting impression. This painter also would have to be intimately familiar with the customs of crucifixion that were unknown during the Middle Ages. For instance, he or she would have to know that the Romans crucified their victims entirely naked, that they pounded the nails through the wrists (not through the hands, as is usually depicted by stigmata paintings of the period), that the victim wore Palestinian style "earlocks" (i.e. peyot ha-rosh) and so on. This fantastic artist also would have to paint in an incredibly realistic and detailed style (again, unlike all other artists of the period), noting such things as the presence of a coin located under the right eyelid and the presence of various blood stains in physiologically correct locations on the cloth.... Finally, this medieval artist would have to paint from the perspective of a negative exposure -- a concept that was unknown until nearly 600 years later. In short, it seems that our hypothetical artist would have to something of a miracle worker. If it's a fake, it's a seemingly miraculous fake; but if it's true, it's astoundingly true; either way, then, the Shroud testifies of something very remarkable, and indeed, something astonishing.
In addition to the lack of technology in the Middle Ages to create such an image, the question must be asked about why such a invisible image would be produced in the first place. What possible motive would be at work in this case? Why would our supposed artist go through all this trouble, especially during the relatively superstitious Middle Ages? What point would there have been in creating such a fantastic duplicity? The inference to the best explanation suggests that the Shroud of Turin, whatever else it might be, certainly is not the result of human ingenuity and forgery.... Occam's Razor applies in this case: we do not need to multiply miracles in order to explain something that could be explained through the attested historical accounts of the resurrection of Yeshua.
So should the Shroud of Turin be cited as evidence of the resurrection of Yeshua? Is it a valid "apologetic" device, an empirical "proof" of the resurrection? Well, since we cannot say for certain that the image is that of Yeshua ha-Notzri (Jesus of Nazareth), we cannot make a dogmatic claim that this is direct evidence of His resurrection, though it's surely consistent with it. The shocking image -- revealed through negative spectrum light -- is that of a 1st century Jewish man who was beaten, whipped, and crucified. Pollen samples taken from the cloth also indicate a Middle East provenance. Though we cannot offer a scientific "proof" that this is the burial shroud of Yeshua, we might make a "legal" case that it is.... In other words, the imprinted image of the Shroud is consistent with the testimony of the New Testament and the theistic worldview, but certainly not with "naturalism" or other worldviews. The Shroud is a "problem" for those who are unbelievers, not believers... If it were later debunked as some sort of a forgery, our faith would remain unshaken, since we believe in order to understand, not conversely. Empirical evidences are never conclusive for skeptics anyway. As Yeshua said, "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31). And perhaps that's the allure and beauty of the Shroud -- like so many other matters of faith, what you see is what you ultimately choose to see.... Like a looking glass, it reveals more about the person looking at it than it does of the thing itself...
Addendum: Please understand that I am not advocating venerating relics or any such nonsense. Such things are always insufficient for a heart change from God. As Yeshua said, "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31). Nonetheless, I find it fascinating that if the Shroud of Turin is a forgery, it's entirely amazing and unlike any other seen before, but if it's authentic, it's evidence of the resurrection itself (1 Cor. 2:2). I also see no sense in claiming (as some have) that the Shroud is some form of "satanic deception." After all -- forgery or not -- the Shroud points to something the devil certainly doesn't want to be published, namely, the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua... "In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe, and enough shadows to blind those who don't" (Blaise Pascal).
Passover Love Song...
[ Happy Passover, friends! We enjoyed our seder Monday evening, and I stayed up quite late to watch the lunar eclipse, too. I hope to post some pictures soon... ]
04.16.14 (Nisan 16, 5774) During the Shabbat of Passover week it is customary to read the ancient "love song" of King Solomon called Shir Ha-Shirim (שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים), or the "Song of Songs." In Jewish tradition, since Passover marks the time when our "romance" with God officially began, the sages chose this song to celebrate God's love for his people. And since Passover is also called Chag Ha-Aviv, the festival of spring, the Song is also associated with creativity and hope associated with springtime (Song 2:11-12). One way to read this poem is to see the king, who had disguised himself as a lowly shepherd to win the heart of the Shulamite woman, as a picture of Yeshua who took the form of a lowly servant to demonstrate his eternal love for those who are trusting in him... Indeed, the Song of Songs is linked to the "lilies" (i.e., shoshanim: שׁשַׁנִּים) mentioned in Psalm 45, which presents a Messianic vision of the Divine Bridegroom and offers an "ode" for a forthcoming wedding.
אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי
a·ni · le·do·di · ve·do·di · li
ha·ro·eh · ba·sho·sha·nim
"I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine;
he grazes among the lilies."
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The meaning of Passover is of course rooted in the greatest love story ever told - about God, creation, the estrangement of Adam and Eve, the call of Israel, and the coming of the Messiah who would sanctify us as His own people, deliver us from the plague of death, and redeem us from the penalty of sin. Yeshua's mesirat nefesh ("giving over of soul" in sacrifice) and his triumph at the cross made the new covenant with God possible. As our Suffering Servant, He gave up His life for ours in exchange, redeeming us from the sickness unto death and making the way for our everlasting healing.
Whether or not you were able to attend a Passover Seder this year, please understand that there is always a place for you at His table. After all, Yeshua made a place for you within His heart when he died for you on the cross, and that is what Passover is really all about anyway. Shalom chaverim.
Note: For more on the connection between Passover and the Song of Songs, see the article Shir Hashirim: Passover and the Song of Solomon.
Eating Unleavened Bread....
04.15.14 (Nisan 15, 5774) The Torah states that during the days of Passover, sometimes called the Festival of Unleavened Bread, no chametz (i.e., leavened food) may be eaten for a full seven days - from the 15th of Nisan through the 22nd of Nisan (Exod. 12:15-18; 34:18). Every trace of leavening must be purged from our homes, and no leavened products of any kind may be consumed during this time (Exod. 12:15). For more information about this aspect of the Holiday of Passover, click here....
A Night to be Guarded...
04.13.14 (Nisan 13, 5774) The Torah refers to Passover as leil shimurim (לֵיל שִׁמֻּרִים), a "night to be guarded" (from the verb shamar (שָׁמַר) which means "to watch" or "to guard"). "It is a night that is guarded (leil shimurim) by the LORD to take them [Israel] out of Egypt; this night remains a night to be guarded (שִׁמֻּרִים) by the people of Israel throughout their generations" (Exod. 12:42). Since "this night" - ha-lailah hazeh (הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה) - was guarded by God from the beginning to be the time of redemption, Israel must therefore "guard this night" (i.e., keep a vigil) by means of the Passover Seder (Exod. 13:10; Deut. 16:1), recalling and celebrating God's faithfulness and redemptive love... Note further that the phrase leil shimurim literally means "night of the watches" (shimurim is plural), and therefore it refers not only to the original redemption in Egypt (i.e., the Passover), but also to the time of future redemption by the Messiah (Shemot Rabbah 18). This explains why this night is a regarded as a vigil for all generations (Matt. 24:42).
Note: For more on this subject see, "Leil Shimurim - A Night to be Guarded."
The Life is in the Blood...
[ The following is related to holiday of Passover, which begins Monday evening, April 14th... There is no Passover without the blood of the Lamb... ]
04.11.14 (Nisan 11, 5774) The very first time the word "blood" (דָּם) occurs in the Scriptures concerns the death of Abel, the son of Adam and Eve who was murdered by his brother Cain. After Abel's blood was shed, the LORD confronted Cain and said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood (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). Putting our trust in the provision of God's sacrifice causes His wrath (or righteous judgment) to pass over while simultaneously eternal life and blessing to the sinner.... This is the essential message of the gospel itself, that we have atonement through the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua our Savior, the great Lamb of God. As Yeshua said, "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the One who sent me has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and will not be condemned, but has passed over (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24). Just as God's judgment passes over from life to death on my behalf; so His love passes over from death to life on my behalf...
For more on this subject, see "Parashat Bo: The Life is in the Blood."
The Very First Passover...
[ The following is related to holiday of Passover, which begins Monday evening, April 14th... ]
04.11.14 (Nisan 11, 5774) The story of Passover goes all the way back to the beginning, to the very orchard of Eden itself, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate from the forbidden tree. Because of their transgression, our original ancestors incurred the plague of death and were exiled from the Divine Presence, though God graciously promised to heal them through the coming Seed of the woman – the Savior who would crush the head of the serpent and break the fangs of his venomous sting (Gen. 3:15). Soon after making this great promise, God clothed our original parents with the skin of a sacrificed lamb (Gen. 3:21), linking their coming deliverance with the "Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world" (1 Pet. 1:18-20). The very first "Passover" was in the garden. And the story of Passover extends to the world to come, where in the redeemed paradise of God we will celebrate the victory of the Lamb who was slain for our redemption (Rev. 5:12-13).
The great story of our redemption is revealed on two levels in Scripture - one that concerns the paradise of Eden (the universal level), and the other that concerns the paradise of Israel (the particular level). Therefore Yeshua is both rightly called the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29) and "the Messiah our Passover Lamb who has been sacrificed for us" (1 Cor. 5:7). Likewise he is both called the "Seed of the woman," and "the Son of David"; the "Second Adam," and the "King of the Jews," and so on. The story of Israel's redemption in Egypt therefore serves as an allegory of both the universal salvation promised in Eden (i.e., the lamb slain from the foundation of the world) as well as the revelation of the sacrificial ministry of Yeshua as Israel's promised Messiah. Yeshua is both the Savior of the world as well as Israel's true King and Deliverer.
Note: For more on this subject, please see the articles, "The Very First Passover" and "The Gospel in the Garden."
The Bridge of Faith...
04.11.14 (Nisan 11, 5774) There is always a gap between what we are and what we could be, between the "is" and the "ought," and between the real and the ideal in our lives... Our conversion imparts to us a new spiritual nature, but we still must struggle through our deep inadequacies so that we might learn to truly love God and others (Shema). God graciously saves us by faith, and he sanctifies us the selfsame way, though in the latter case this means learning to keep focus, to persevere, and persist in hope - despite the shortfall of our lives. So where are you going today? Are you keeping faith in God's promises for your life? Are you catching up with the miracle of what God has done for you?
הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה דֶּרֶךְ חֻקֶּיךָ
ho·rei·ni · Adonai · de·rekh · chuk·ke·kha
ve·e·tze·ren·nah · e·kev
"Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes;
and I will keep it to the end"
Often the only prayer we have is "Help, LORD" (עזור לי יהוה), I use this one on a daily basis, that is, whenever I am confronted with the truth of my condition... Living in the "already-not-yet" state of redemption is a soul-building venture that helps us to acquire the precious middah (quality) of patience: "In your patience possess ye your souls" (Luke 21:19). Testing produces endurance (Rom. 5:3), but God surely is faithful "to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 1:24). May He come speedily, and in our day. Amen.
The Broken Matzah...
04.11.14 (Nisan 11, 5774) During the Passover Seder, we place three matzahs on the table, said to represent Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, respectively. During the Yachatz step of the seder, the middle matzah (representing Isaac) will be broken to recall how Isaac was sacrificed in obedience to his father, foreshadowing the sacrifice of Yeshua by God the Father. Indeed, the Talmud states, "We break the middle matzah in tribute to Yitzchak (Isaac), who accepted the sins of the people upon himself" (Shabbos 89b). The smaller half of this broken matzah will be eaten later during the Motzi Matzah step, while the larger half will be eaten during the Afikomen step, near the end of the night...
In Hebrew, the middle of something is it's heart - the heart of the heavens, the heart of the earth, the heart of the sea, the heart of a person... Since the offering of Isaac by Abraham foretold of the greater offering of Yeshua by God Himself, when we break the middle matzah, then, we recall the broken heart of God over the pain Yeshua endured by taking our sins upon Him at the cross...."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. 5:21).
During his Passover seder with his disciples, Yeshua "took matzah, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body" (Matt. 26:26). Since Yeshua did this while they were eating dinner, the matzah he broke would have been the Afikomen, thereby making the connection between the hidden bread (lechem ha-nistar) that would be broken given for our deliverance. The matzah we eat during Passover is called lechem oni (לֶחֶם ענִי) - "the bread of [His] suffering" - and eating the Bread of Life that was "broken for us" remembers the great suffering of our LORD...
Personal Update: My son Judah is sick with the flu and I recently pulled a muscle in my back which is hampering me. Your prayers for us are appreciated. Thank you, chaverim.
Passing Over to You...
04.10.14 (Nisan 10, 5774) In the Torah we read about the institution of Passover and the final plague that would befall the Egyptians on the Passover night. When we think of this ominous time, we may imagine God "passing over" those houses that had the blood of the lamb smeared on their doorposts, though it might better be said that God passed into the homes of those who trusted him, while he withdrew His Presence from those that did not...
To see this notice that two different words are used that can be translated as "pass over." First, God said, "I will pass over (i.e., avar: עֲבַר) the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments; I am the LORD" (Exod. 12:12). But directly after saying this, God promised to "pass over" (i.e., pasach: פָּסַח) the homes of those who trusted in him to impart his protection from the plague of death: "The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over to you (lit. עֲלֵכֶם, 'upon you'), and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt" (Exod. 12:13). In other words, when God would see the blood of the Passover lamb, he would pass over to enter the house and "cover" its occupants from the judgment of death.
The blood of the Passover lamb sheltered people from the plague of death by atoning for their sin by means of a substitutionary sacrifice. The Torah states that "the life (i.e., nefesh: נֶפֶשׁ, or 'soul') of the flesh is in the blood" (Lev. 17:11), and therefore death represents the separation of the soul from the body. The life blood of a sacrificial lamb was therefore offered in exchange for the death and destruction of others. Eating the lamb "roasted by fire" meant identifying with the death offered in exchange for your own; eating matzah, or unleavened bread, signified being delivered in haste, apart from the "rise of the flesh" or human design; and eating maror, or bitter herbs, recalled the bitterness of former bondage.
For more on this subject, see "Parashat Bo: The Life is in the Blood."
Click to enlarge picture
Passover Soul Searching...
04.09.14 (Nisan 9, 5774) The search for chametz (leaven) is not unlike the soul searching we do before the fall High Holidays, when we perform chesbon hanefesh (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ) by taking inventory of our spiritual condition before the LORD. In other words, we are instructed to search and remove sources of inner impurity so that we might experience the truth that we have been made into a "new substance" that is purged from the sour and rotting influences of our past lives... Since Yeshua has been sacrificed as your Passover Lamb, you are indeed a new creation (בְּרִיָּה חֲדָשָׁה), made "unleavened" by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 5:17). Therefore we are likewise commanded put away the "old nature" - the yetzer ha'ra - and purge from your life the old influences that inwardly canker you and make you sick. May you walk in the truth of the love of God for your soul....
חָקְרֵנִי אֵל וְדַע לְבָבִי בְּחָנֵנִי וְדַע שַׂרְעַפָּי
וּרְאֵה אִם־דֶּרֶךְ־עצֶב בִּי וּנְחֵנִי בְּדֶרֶךְ עוֹלָם
chok·rei·ni · el · ve'da · le·va·vi · be·cha·nei·ni · ve'da · sar·a·pai
u·reh · im · de·rekh · o·tzev · bi · u'ne·chei·ni · be·de·rekh · o·lam
"Search me, O God, and know my heart! Test me and know my thoughts.
And see if there be any idolatrous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!"
Hebrew Study Card
Great Lamb of God...
[ The following is related to holiday of Passover, which begins Monday evening, April 14th... ]
04.09.14 (Nisan 9, 5774) Though the LORD instructed each household to select its own defect-free lamb for the family Passover, the Torah refers to "the" Lamb of God, as if there was only one: "You shall keep it [i.e., the Passover lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter him (אתוֹ) at twilight (Exod. 12:6). Note that the direct object "him" (i.e., oto) can be read as Aleph-Tav (את) combined with the letter Vav (ו), signifying the Son of Man who is First and Last... Indeed there is only one "Lamb of God" that takes away the sins of the world, and that is our Savior, Yeshua the Messiah...
רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה
ra·uy · ha·seh · ha·ta·vu·ach · le·ka·bel · ge·vu·rah
o·sher · ve·chokh·mah · ve·ko·ach · vi·kar · ve·kha·vod · uv·ra·kha
"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and might and honor and glory and blessing"
Hebrew Study Card
Freedom to Serve God...
[ The great holiday of Passover begins Monday, April 14th, at sundown... ]
04.09.14 (Nisan 9, 5774) Passover is sometimes called z'man cheruteinu (זְמָן חֵרוּתֵנוּ), the "Season of our Freedom." Some people think that "freedom" means "licentiousness," or the ability to do what they want to do whenever they want to do it. However, simply doing whatever you want to do is not the Torah's idea of freedom. Indeed, Yeshua told us "whoever commits sin is the slave (δουλος) of sin," and went on to say "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:34-36). True freedom (i.e., cherut: חרוּת) is therefore moral and spiritual rather than merely physical. Real freedom has to do with the power to choose what is right and good, not to simply get your own way or to practice your lusts... Where it is written, "The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets" (Exod. 32:16), the midrash says do not read "engraved (חָרוּת) on the tablets" but rather as "freedom (חֵרוּת) on tablets," since only those who obey God's will may rightly be called "free" people (Rom. 6:8).
Strangers and Sojourners...
04.08.14 (Nisan 8, 5774) God's people are always "strangers" in this world; they are literally "e-stranged" -- living here, yet not here. We are outsiders and pilgrims, not at home in this world, and our faith therefore is both a type of "protest" against any interpretation of reality that excludes, suppresses, denies, or minimizes the Divine Presence as well as a longing for the place where we truly belong.... If you feel crazy in an insane situation, then you are really quite sane... The world will feel oppressive and strange once you have been awakened from its madness and refuse to be moved by the delusions of the crowd... Life in olam hazeh (this world) is a place of passing that leads to the world to come. Our faith affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life is a deeper reality that is ultimately real and abiding. It "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31).
כִּי־גֵרִים אֲנַחְנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ
כַּצֵּל יָמֵינוּ עַל־הָאָרֶץ וְאֵין מִקְוֶה
ki ge·rim a·nach·nu le·fa·ne·kha,
ve·to·sha·vim ke·khol a·vo·tei·nu,
katz·tzel ya·mei·nu al ha·a·retz · ve·ein mik·veh
"For we are strangers before you
and sojourners, as all our fathers were.
As a shadow are our days on the earth, and there is nothing that abides"
(1 Chron. 29:15)
The Apostle Paul taught that we to be "conformed" (σύμμορφος) to the Messiah (Rom. 8:29), but not "conformed" (συσχηματίζω) to the pattern of this fallen world (Rom. 12:2). The former word means to resemble or be made similar in purpose or form (μορφή), whereas the latter means to accept the world's scheme (σχῆμα) of understanding things, to passively go along with the world's lies, wishful thinking, fearmongering, propaganda, etc. Of course we need God's help to escape the "programming" of our age, and therefore the Holy Spirit helps us to become transfigured – "changed from the inside out" - by the renewal of our minds, enabling us to see things in light of the reality of our identity in the Messiah. So refuse to let the world system get you down, but focus on God and His glory. Take heart, friends: being exiled by the world is an indication that you belong to the Kingdom of God...
Preparing for Passover...
04.07.14 (Nisan 7, 5774) Passover begins in just one week, on Monday, April 14th at sundown! We prepare for the holiday by consciously removing the "chametz" from our lives: "Cleanse out the old leaven (חָמֵץ) that you may be a new lump, since you really are unleavened; for Messiah, our Passover lamb (משיח השה הפסח שלנו), has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread (matzah) of sincerity and truth" (1 Cor. 5:7-8).
Leaven (i.e., yeast) produces fermentation, especially in bread dough, and is the result of natural processes of decay. We therefore vacuum the house, wipe down cupboards, and physically remove all bread stuffs from our dwelling places. This is in obedience to the commandment to "remove all leaven from our dwellings" (Exod. 12:5, 13:7, Deut. 16:4). On the night before Passover, we perform a ceremony called "bedikat chametz," and symbolically remove the last vestiges of bread crumbs from our homes.
Chametz is metaphorically regarded a corrupting influence, a hidden source of uncleanness that manipulates purer elements. Like the influence of a lump of leaven in a batch of dough, "spiritual" leaven functions as an evil impulse within us (i.e., yetzer ra: יֵצֶר רָע) that corrupts and "sours" our soul. This "yeast in the soul" is essentially pride that manifests itself in idolatrous desires and lusts. That is why unleavened bread is called the "bread of affliction" (i.e., lechem oni, literally, "bread of humiliation" or the "bread of humility").
"Cleanse out the old leaven." Ultimately the problem we have with "holiness" is that we are decidedly unholy people. This is similar to the idea that the Law is "holy, just, and good," but we are "sold into slavery to sin" (Rom. 7:12-14). But thank God for our Savior Yeshua, who imparts holiness to us and sets us free from the attempt to please God through the principle of "self-effort" (1 Cor. 1:30; Titus 3:5; Rom. 8:1-2). You already are unleavened (καθώς ἐστε ἄζυμοι) by the gift of God given in Yeshua our Savior (1 Cor. 5:7). Because of Him, we do not work toward a place of victory, but rather from the place of His victory (1 Cor. 15:57).
The Limping Messiah...
[ The great holiday of Passover begins Monday April 14th... ]
04.07.14 (Nisan 7, 5774) The word "Passover" comes from pasach (פָּסַח), a verb that means to "pass over," though it also can mean "to limp," recalling the "heel of Messiah" that would be bruised in the battle for our deliverance (Gen. 3:15). This connection may be discovered when studying the semantic range of the root pasach throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. For instance, the related participle pise'ach (פִּסֵחַ) means "lame" or "crippled" (for example, see Lev. 21:18; Deut. 15:21; 2 Sam. 9:13, Mal. 1:8, etc.), while there are several uses of the verb pasach that explicitly mean to "limp" or "be lame." For example, in 2 Sam. 4:4 it says: "and he (Mephibosheth) fell and 'became lame" (וַיִּפָּסֵחַ); in 1 Kings 18:21, we read: "how long will you limp (פּסְחִים) between two opinions?" and in 1 Kings 18:26 it is written: "and they (the priests of Baal) 'limped upon the altar" (וַיְפַסְּחוּ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ) in a pagan ritual dance. In other words there is a connection between Passover and becoming wounded, and this alludes to the Savior whose heel was bruised during the battle for our deliverance. Yeshua is "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29).
For more on this subject, see "The Gospel in the Garden."
The Chosen Lamb of God...
[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Monday April 14th... ]
04.07.14 (Nisan 7, 5774) The Sabbath that occurs immediately before Passover is called Shabbat HaGadol (שבת הגדול), which is associated with the selection of the sacrificial lamb four days before the time of Passover (Exod. 12:1-6). The New Testament notes that it was four days before Passover (Nisan 10) when Yeshua made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, signifying His Messiahship, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zech. 9:9). During this time, when the pilgrims had come to select a lamb for their Passover sacrifice at the Temple - they saw Yeshua and cried out: hoshiah na (הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא), meaning "please save" or "save now" (in English this phrase was translated from the Latin to form "Hosanna!"). The people spontaneously began singing Psalm 118:25-26 in anticipation of the great Messianic hope:
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·cha · na
ba·rukh · ha·ba · be·shem · Adonai / be·rakh·nu·khem · mi·bet · Adonai
"Please, LORD save us! Please, LORD rescue us!
Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD
We bless you from the house of the LORD."
Hebrew Study Card
Though he came in humility, riding upon a lowly donkey, it is striking to note that once he arrived in Jerusalem for Passover, Yeshua immediately went to the Temple and drove out all who sold there, overturning the tables of the "moneychangers" and the seats of those who sold pigeons (Matt. 21:1-16). The true Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) had come! At the Temple he then healed the blind and castigated the religious authorities by stating that the praise of children overruled their objections (Psalm 8:2). Over the next two days, he was accosted by priests, scribes, Pharisees, etc. - the whole religious establishment - which culminated in his utter denunciation of them beginning in Matthew 23 ("Woe unto you..."). He then left the Temple and foretold its destruction to the disciples, going on to explain the signs of the End of the Age (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) that would precede the advent of the Messianic Kingdom (Matt. 24). Yeshua was later crucified (before sundown) on Nisan 14, prophetically corresponding with the time when the Passover lambs were sacrificed at the Temple.
Note: For more on the prophetic aspects of the selection of the Passover lamb, see the Shabbat Hagadol pages. For a tentative chronology of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah, see "Reshit Katzir: Messiah as the Beginning of the Harvest."
Parashat Acharei Mot...
04.06.14 (Nisan 6, 5774) Our Torah portion for this week is called Acharei Mot (אַחֲרֵי מוֹת). This portion transitions from the preceding instructions regarding ritual purity (tahora) to recall the tragic incident of Nadab and Abihu, the two sons of Aaron who were killed when they offered "strange fire" upon the Altar of Incense during the dedication of the Tabernacle (Lev. 10:1-2). Because these priests came close to the Holy of Holies in an incorrect manner, the LORD further commanded Moses to instruct Aaron that he should enter the innermost chamber only in a carefully prescribed manner once a year - on the tenth day of the seventh month - during the sacred time called Yom Kippur (i.e., the "Day of Atonement").
On this most solemn day, Aaron was commanded to immerse himself in a mikveh (pool of fresh water) and to dress in all-white linen. He then was instructed to slaughter a bull as a personal sin offering. Aaron then brought some ketoret (incense) to burn within the Holy of Holies before returning to sprinkle the blood of the sin offering seven times before the Ark of the Covenant (i.e., the kapporet or "Mercy Seat"). Aaron repeated this procedure using the blood of one of two goats that was selected (by lot) to be slaughtered as a sin offering on behalf of the people. After this, Aaron took more of the sacrificial blood and purified the Altar of Incense and the other furnishings of the Tabernacle. Later, the fat of these sacrifices was burned on the Copper Altar in the courtyard, though the hide and the flesh were to be entirely burned outside the camp.
After purifying the Tabernacle, Aaron went to the gate of the courtyard and laid both hands upon the head of the other goat (designated "for Azazel," a name for the accusing angel) while confessing all of the sins and transgressions of the people. This "scapegoat" was not slaughtered, however, but was driven away into the wilderness, carrying "all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited." Finally, Aaron returned to the Tent, washed and changed his clothes, and offered two more burnt offerings – one for himself and one for the people – to complete the purification process.
This elaborate ritual was ordained to be a decree for Israel, and the day of Yom Kippur was to be observed every year as a time of "affliction and mourning" for all the people. The portion ends with further instructions about making sacrifices, including the prohibition against offering sacrifices apart from the rites of the Tabernacle. The consumption of blood is explicitly forbidden, since blood was reserved for sacrificial purposes upon the altar.
Light of Revelation...
04.04.14 (Nisan 4, 5774) We do not directly see light but by means of the light; the light is the medium by which we receive revelation... The heart looks through the eye, and therefore how we choose to see is a spiritual decision: "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). When we see rightly, we behold the radiance of God shining within us, even in the midst of our everyday affairs. A grateful heart is awake to God's Presence in the little things of life, those small miracles and glories that constantly surround us.
כִּי־עִמְּךָ מְקוֹר חַיִּים
ki · im·me·kha · me·kor · chai·yim
be·or·kha · nir·eh · ohr
"For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light."
Hebrew Study Card
"In Your light we see light..." When you enter a dark room with a lamp, the darkness flees and is overcome by the light. So also with teshuvah: When we turn to the Lord, spiritual darkness is overcome by the Divine Radiance. In Yeshua is life, who is the light of the world; all those who receive Him behold ohr ha'chayim (אוֹר הַחַיִּים) - the "light of life."
Shabbat shalom and love to you all, dear friends... Thank you for encouraging me to continue this ministry, despite the constant challenges we face.
Weight of Our Words...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Metzora... ]
04.04.14 (Nisan 4, 5774) Just as a body can become sick with illness, so can a soul: "I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me; heal my soul (רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי), for I have sinned against you'" (Psalm 41:4). Evil or negative speech, called lashon hara (לָשׁוֹן הָרָה), is toxic for the soul, and is often the source of much pain and suffering in our lives. Indeed, Satan first spoke lashon hara about the LORD, seducing Eve to doubt God's goodness (Gen. 3:1-6). The sages say that when we engage in lashon hara, we reconnect with the serpent and spiritual darkness. Our Lord Yeshua particularly warned us that our words carry an eternal weight of significance: "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless (ἀργὸν) word they utter, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). Therefore the Holy Spirit says through David: "What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit."
מִי־הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים
אהֵב יָמִים לִרְאוֹת טוֹב
נְצר לְשׁוֹנְךָ מֵרָע וּשְׂפָתֶיךָ מִדַּבֵּר מִרְמָה
mi · ha·ish · he·cha·fetz · chai·yim
o·hev · ya·mim · lir·ot · tov
ne·tzor · le·shon·kha · me·ra · us·fa·te·kha · mi·da·ber · mir·mah
"What man is there who desires life
and loves many days, that he may see good?
Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit"
Hebrew Study Card
Sometimes it's not what we say that may be harmful, but what we don't say... We may avoid saying hurtful things about ourselves or others, and while that is commendable, we must also use the "good tongue" (לָשׁוֹן הַטּוֹב) to affirm and respect ourselves and others. And while we must shun evil speaking, gossip, and lying, we should be mindful to comfort and encourage others for the benefit of their healing...
Those who think it easy to control the tongue have likely never really tried to do so. "The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell" (James 3:5-6). Ultimately, controlling your tongue is a matter of controlling your thoughts, your attitude, and your heart (i.e., shemirat ha-lev: שמירת הלב). Therefore we are admonished to be "quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger," since the anger of man never works the righteousness of God (James 1:19). May the LORD our God help us always to speak with grace, "seasoned with salt" (Col. 4:6); and may we all "speak the truth in love to grow up in every way" (Eph. 4:15).
[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Monday April 14th... ]
04.04.14 (Nisan 4, 5774) The question is asked why the Torah also refers to the Passover as "Chag HaMatzot" (חַג הַמַּצּוֹת), or the holiday of Unleavened Bread (Exod. 12:17-20). The sages answer that while Passover (i.e., Pesach: פֶּסַח) recalls the great miracle that God performed for us by passing over (פָּסַח) the homes of our ancestors and redeeming us from slavery, we nevertheless remember the poor man's bread, lechem oni (לֶחֶם ענִי), that our ancestors ate during the time of their slavery so that we do not lose sight of our lowly origin and our great need for God's grace and deliverance...
Jesus our Healer...
04.03.14 (Nisan 3, 5774) An anxious father repeatedly sought healing for his troubled son. Finally he came to Yeshua and said, "If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." Yeshua answered, "What do you mean, 'If you can'? All things are possible for one who believes" (Mark 9:22-23). Though this man's faith was small -- indeed, nearly non-existent -- he finally encountered the One who was both willing and able to help, and therefore the miracle took place... As Yeshua taught in another place, all that's needed is faith in him "like a grain of mustard seed" to move a mountain or to otherwise do the impossible (Matt. 17:20). That's because it's not up to your little faith to do the miracle, but rather your trust in the One who has "all power in heaven and on earth" (Matt. 28:18).
The Meaning of Life...
04.03.14 (Nisan 3, 5774) The Hebrew word for "life" is chayim (חַיִּים), a plural noun that contains two consecutive letter yods (יי) that picture two "hands held together" (the Hebrew word yad [יָד] means "hand"), or the union of our spirit with God's Spirit. The word itself reveals that there is no life apart from union with God, who extends his hand to you and says, "Live in me" (John 15:4). Live in God, who is your life, your love, your light, your truth, your healing, your beauty, your breath, and your salvation. Yeshua is the Source of all life, and we find nourishment, strength, and fullness of joy as we connect with his life. The Lord is our light and our salvation, the Mediator of divine life (Psalm 27:1; John 1:4). The Voice of the LORD still speaks: "Take heart. It is I; be not afraid."
The word chayim can be read as chai (חי), "alive," combined with the particle im (אם), "if," suggesting that being alive is conditional on our connection with God in the truth. "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם); whoever refuses the Son shall not see life, but the separation of God remains" (John 3:36). Life and peace are therefore inextricably connected, and those who refuse Yeshua, the Prince of Peace (שַׂר־שָׁלוֹם), therefore separate themselves from unity with God. Yeshua alone is the means of receiving the divine life: "Whoever has the Son has the life (הַחַיִּים); but whoever does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:12).
The Divine Life is such that it is never diminished as it shared but instead grows and multiplies in miraculous ways. This is alluded to by the Hebrew word for love (i.e., ahavah: אהבה), the gematria of which is thirteen (1+5+2+5=13), but when shared with another it is multiplied: 13 x 2 = 26 - the same value for the Sacred Name (יהוה), i.e., (10+5+6+5=26). The love of God given in Yeshua is the very life of the universe...
The word chayim is also written in the plural to indicate that each person potentially contains a "universe of lives" within him or her. Spiritually, your soul is a unity that contains a multiplicity of changes, yet remains a distinct identity. Physically, when Cain murdered his brother Abel, it is written, "the voice of your brother's bloods (plural) cries out from the ground" (Gen. 4:10), indicating that Abel's descendants also cried out. In light of this the Talmud states, "Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world; and whoever saves a life, it is as if he saved an entire world" (Sanhedrin 37a).
Desire and Revelation...
[ "Nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away..." ]
04.02.14 (Nisan 2, 5774) I mentioned recently that our own evil inclination, the yetzer hara, needs to be acknowledged so that we may find inner peace... Often our true motives are hidden - even from ourselves - so that we are unaware of how we are controlled by them. For example, if we are gripped by an unacknowledged hunger to find approval and validation from other people, we may often lose sight of God Himself (Gal. 1:10). The enemy within is usually in hiding, and we need special wisdom from God not to be ruled by fear, anger, and so on. It has been said that "we are only as sick as the secrets we keep," though the secrets we keep from ourselves are surely the most dangerous.
"If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you" (Prov. 25:21-22). Some of the sages have said that the "enemy" here refers to the yetzer hara, the "evil impulse," and that by proactively attending to the inner emptiness and neediness we sometimes feel - by feeding ourselves the "bread of Torah" and the "water of the Spirit" - we will overcome the evil with good (Rom. 12:21). If you feel yourself lacking, the evil impulse will offer to fill the void. The only defense against inner emptiness is to be filled with the Spirit of God. Study the truth of Scripture, pray, develop hakarat hatov (gratitude), and perform acts of gemilut chassidim. Again, overcome the evil impulse with good. The LORD will see to it that your cup will overflow in the presence of your enemy (Psalm 23:5). Thus it is written, "From my enemies You teach me wisdom in doing your commandments" (Psalm 119:98), meaning that the yetzer hara can teach us if we submit to God's will... Therefore Yeshua said, "Be wise as serpents but harmless as doves" (Matt. 10:16).
The essence of sin is unbelief. Sin is not so much disobedience to an external code of behavior as much as it is abandoning your trust, your identity, and your hope as a beloved child of God. As you believe so you will behave, and as you behave so you believe... Therefore one of the greatest of sins is to forget the truth of who you really are – a prince or princess of God! The great temptation of sin is rooted in the lie that we are unworthy people, that God does not really loves us (just the way we are), that He is disappointed in us, and so on. This perspicacious quote by Henri Nouwen speaks to my heart:
Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection.... Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, "Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody." ... [My dark side says,] I am no good... I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence."
Ultimately sin seduces people to destroy themselves, since it first of all seeks to disown, impugn, and reject what is most important for spiritual life. The devil seeks to murder and destroy all that we need to be eternally healed... And though we might want to escape from this conflict (or to pretend that it's not really here), the battle is intractably real and must be fully engaged until our redemption is complete (1 Pet. 5:8-9). Meanwhile, spiritual struggles can be downright ugly. Would any one deny that the cross of Messiah was a sacred space - and yet it was precisely from there, from the place of blood and suffering and pain and terror, that the grace, beauty, and strength of God for us would shine forth.
To effectively combat the devil, let us first of all pray to the LORD God Almighty and ask for His power, wisdom, and grace to deal with the evil one's devices and strategies used against us (Eph. 6:11-18; Rom. 13:12, 1 Thess. 5:8; 2 Cor. 10:4-5). Since we are not to be ignorant of the devil and his devices (2 Cor. 2:11), let us particularly ask God to remind us of who we really are in the Messiah, and to give us the power of the Holy Spirit to genuine walk in the truth of our sacred identity. Let's ask God to help us practically apply the victory given to us in the resurrection of Yeshua. With God's help, may we be bold to take our place at His banqueting table, assured that we are indeed His dear children. Shalom.
The Sign of the Blood...
[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Monday April 14th... ]
04.02.14 (Nisan 2, 5774) "The blood shall be a sign for you... And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt" (Exod. 12:13). The blood would be a sign for the eye of faith, i.e., "for you," and not for the unbelieving world at large. During the afternoon of the 14th, the korban Pesach (Passover lamb) was slaughtered and its blood smeared on all three sides of the doorframe, top, right and left, that is, in the form of the letter Chet (ח). This letter is connected with the word chai (חי), "alive," and chayim (חיים), "life," signifying that atoning life is in the sacrificial blood (Lev. 17:11). Note that some say that the letters of the YHVH (יהוה) – the Name of Divine Compassion - were daubed on the doorposts: The Yod (י) was written on the top beam, the Vav (ו) on the right doorpost, and the Hey (ה) on the left. In other words, since Yeshua is YHVH, His Name was written on the doorposts of the faithful.
The original Passover sacrifice was not given to the Levitical priesthood as a sin offering since it preceded Sinai and the giving of the various laws concerning the sacrificial rites... Therefore the blessing, "Blessed art Thou, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who releases the captives" (i.e., matir asurim: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֶינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם מַתִּיר אֲסוּרִים), is for all people who are trusting in the blood of the Lamb for life. Indeed, in the world to come all the redeemed will sing of the Great Passover of Messiah that was foretold by Moses and fulfilled by the outstretched hands of Yeshua our LORD:
רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה
ra·uy · ha·seh · ha·ta·vu·ach · le·ka·bel · ge·vu·rah
o·sher · ve·chokh·mah · ve·ko·ach · vi·kar · ve·kha·vod · uv·ra·kha
"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and might and honor and glory and blessing"
Hebrew Study Card
Concerning the observance of the Passover Seder the Torah states, "When your son asks you in time to come, 'What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?' then you shall say to your son, 'We were slaves (עֲבָדִים הָיִינוּ) to Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes" (Deut. 6:20-23). We are instructed to "remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out" (Deut. 7:19). And where it is written in the Shema, "You shall teach them diligently to your children," we ask, what do we teach? And we answer: Everything – the whole story of our deliverance... So to help fulfill our great obligation to keep educating our children, I just finished updating "Worthy is the Lamb - A Messianic Passover Haggadah" for this year. Please feel free to download this succinct guide for your own study or Passover celebration.
The Power to Change...
04.01.14 (Nisan 1, 5774) Authentic spirituality trusts in God's power to change the heart, and never in the power of "magic." Magic willfully attempts to control God (or other things) through some kind of technique: a special formula, a shibboleth, a ritual, a custom, or some other contrivance. Magical thinking is common to all religions that believe that they can influence spirits through their own merits or ritual actions. Trusting in the miraculous power of God, however, is precisely the opposite of such magical thinking. It acknowledges that we are not in control, that we cannot manage our own lives, and that we must completely let go in trust... Turning to God represents a shock to the soul -- the confession that all we've ever known was vanity and emptiness; it is the antithesis of pride which pretends to understand, control, and manage appearances. We are transformed by God's power when we accept His love as our only remedy, and renounce our magical thinking.
This is why Yeshua explained that we must be "born again" (John 3:3). There is nothing of the old life that can bring about new creation... This is as mysterious as the movement of the winds (John 3:8). It would be comical were it not so tragic that religious people think they can somehow manipulate God into accepting them based on their own demands, their own "script," their own religion.... The message of grace is that everything has been done for you, and the only thing you need to do is "show up," to have faith, and to accept your place at the table. Human pride always stumbles over the idea of God's unconditional love.
Purification and Blood...
[ This is related to our Torah portion this week (Metzora), and our need to be purified from the "leprosy" of our sinful condition... Shanah Tovah, chaverim! ]
04.01.14 (Nisan 1, 5774) The Bible has been described as a "book of blood and a bloody book." In the Torah, just as in the New Testament, sacrificial blood is connected to atonement (כַּפָּרָה) and the forgiveness of sin (Heb. 9:22). Blood is the means by which spiritual uncleanness (tumah) - the defilement caused by sin and death - is removed from us. However, unlike the blood rituals of the Tabernacle which functioned as "a copy and shadow of the heavenly things" (Heb. 8:5), the sacrifice of Yeshua has "perfected for all time" those who are being sanctified (Heb. 10:4, 11-14). All the sacrifices offered in the Mishkan (and Temple) anticipated the greater sacrifice of Yeshua Himself (Heb. 9:23-26). We go "outside the camp" to the Cross and there confess our sin, understanding that we are "spiritual lepers" under sentence of death. By faith we "lean our hands" upon the head of Yeshua, accenting that He is our sacrificial substitute before the Father. We trust in the divine "life-for-life" principle of Yehua's life given for us... We "lean into Him," meaning we trust in His sacrifice and abandon our sins with Him...
"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."
Hebrew Study Card
"The law made nothing perfect, but through a better hope we now draw near to God" (Heb. 7:19). The blood of our Messiah Yeshua is called the "the blood of the everlasting covenant" (דַם בְּרִית עוֹלָם) that cleanses us from our sins (Heb. 13:20, 1 John 1:7). The Cross represents the "Mercy Seat" (Kapporet) that covered the ark in the Holy of Holies made without hands. It is interesting to note that the word used in the Greek Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word kapporet ("cover") is hilasterion (ἱλαστήριον). The New Testament picks up this usage in Romans 3:25: "God put forward Yeshua as a propitiation (ἱλαστήριον) through faith in His blood." In other words, the sprinkling of Yeshua's blood - represented by His Passion upon the cross - was "presented" upon the Heavenly Kapporet, before the very Throne of God Himself.
Note: For more on this subject, see "Atonement and Blood."