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Jewish Holiday Calendar 

Note: For May 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.
 

Spring Holiday Calendar

The Spring Holidays:

Spring Holidays
 

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

  1. Month of Adar II (Sun. March 2nd, 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
       
  2. Month of Nisan (Mon. March 31st, 2014)
  3. Month of Iyyar (Tues. April 29th, 2014)
  4. Month of Sivan (Thur. May 29th, 2014)

 



 

May 2014 Updates
 



I Need Thee Every Hour...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Shavuot, which begins at sundown, June 3rd... ]

05.30.14 (Iyyar 30, 5774)  "The counting from Passover to Shavuot is carried out as one who waits for the coming of the human being he loves best, counting the days and hours" (Maimonides).  If the Passover redemption is incomplete without the giving of the Torah at Sinai, how much more is redemption given by Messiah, the true Lamb of God, incomplete without the advent of the Spirit? The cross leads to the revelation of "deeper Torah," imbued by the inward power of the Holy Spirit that quickens our hearts to long for the coming of our Beloved Savior and the establishment of his kingdom over all the earth...

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




Receiving what you give...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Naso ("lift up!")... ]

05.30.14 (Iyyar 30, 5774)  From our Torah portion this week we read: "Each one shall keep his holy donations: whatever anyone gives to the priest shall be his" (Num. 5:10). This is the spiritual principle that what we give away is what we possess, and as we measure, so will be measured back to us again (Luke 6:38). The sages comment that being selfish, acquisitive, and power-hungry are drives common among the animals, but what makes a man unique is his ability to sacrifice himself for others. Giving tzedakah, then, is an inherently spiritual act, and ultimately only that which we give to others in love will be kept as holy. "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:21).
 




Agreeing with Reality...


 

05.30.14 (Iyyar 30, 5774)  The moment you sense pride or fear taking hold of your heart, stop and turn to God. Even if you must turn 70 x 7 times, there is hope, since even the desire of "being willing to do God's will" refines the heart. It is far better to be repeatedly turning to God in brokenness than it is to live under the pretense that you have no need for ongoing deliverance. It has been wisely said that "you cannot widen the narrow way of surrender." Religious people are perhaps most at risk here, since often enough they fool themselves into believing that passionate commitment requires they know everything about God, or that they are walking in joy and victory, when the truth is that they are often lonely, hurting, and sometimes unsure of themselves... God surely understands your need, and He wants all your heart, not just the parts you might think he wants.
 

יְהוָה עֻזִּי וּמָגִנִּי בּוֹ בָטַח לִבִּי
וְנֶעֱזָרְתִּי וַיַּעֲלז לִבִּי וּמִשִּׁירִי אֲהוֹדֶנּוּ

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

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


 

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

Shabbat Shalom and love to you all... And please remember this ministry in your prayers, friends. The warfare has been intense lately, and the enemy of our souls wants me to grow weary and to give up... Please pray for God's provision and strength. Thank you.
 




Keeping hope during exile...


 

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

05.30.14 (Iyyar 30, 5774)  "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8). This verse sets up a great contrast between olam ha-zeh and olam haba – between this present world and the heavenly realm.  King David states, "Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you (וְחֶלְדִּי כְאַיִן נֶגְדֶּךָ). Surely all mankind stands as a mere vanity" (Psalm 39:5). Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God, the Eternal, the abiding, and true: "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you" (Psalm 73:25). To the extent that we regard this world as our "home" we will find the transience of life to be tragic; but when we regard ourselves as strangers here, transience becomes a passageway to the heavenly places.
 

יָבֵשׁ חָצִיר נָבֵל צִיץ
 וּדְבַר־אֱלהֵינוּ יָקוּם לְעוֹלָם

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

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


Hebrew Study Card
 
 

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

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

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




All Sin is Theft...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Naso ("lift up!")... ]

05.30.14 (Iyyar 30, 5774)  Again, from our Torah portion this week (Naso) we read: "he shall confess his sin that he has committed, and he shall make restitution" (Num. 5:7). The sages ask why confession of sin is linked with restitution from theft, and they answer that since sin (in general) abuses the life we have been given, it must ultimately be understood as a form of theft against God... For instance, we are not to look upon indecency or listen to lashon hara (evil speech), and should we do so, we use our bodies and minds in forbidden ways, and this abuse "steals from" the lease on life we've been given by God.
 




The Prophet like Moses...


 

05.29.14 (Iyyar 29, 5774)  Our Torah portion this week (Naso) concludes, "And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with the LORD, he heard the Voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat (i.e., kapporet: כַּפּרֶת) that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him" (Num. 7:89).

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

Notice, however, that Moses was extraordinary in the sense that he transcended the entire system of religion that was later established as Judaism. First, as the great legislator, Moses stood outside of the law, serving as its voice of authority. Second, as the high priest of Israel, Moses instituted various sacrificial rites before the laws of sacrifice were enacted. For example, he instituted the Passover sacrifice in Egypt (Exod. 12:1-11), and when the people later reached Sinai, he offered blood sacrifices to ratify the terms of the covenant (Exod. 24:8). Moreover, he ascended the mountain and received the prophetic vision of the Sanctuary before the priesthood had been instituted in Israel (Exod. 25:8-9). And even after the laws of the priests were enacted and the Tabernacle was erected, Moses was allowed to go before the very Holy of Holies to hear the Voice of the LORD, even though technically speaking this was forbidden, since Moses was not a kohen (i.e., descendant of Aaron).

"A prophet like unto me..." (Deut. 18:15). I mention this because some Jewish people stumble over the fact that Yeshua, who was from the tribe of Judah, served as Israel's High Priest of the New Covenant. Of course this issue is addressed in the Book of Hebrews, where the role of the Malki-Tzedek priesthood is ascribed to King Yeshua (Heb. 5:6-11; 7:1-19), but it is important to realize that Moses himself foresaw the coming of the Messiah as Israel's great prophet, priest and King (Deut. 18:15-19; John 5:36). Indeed, just as Moses himself was "outside" the law by serving as Israel's priest but nevertheless was commissioned by God Himself, so also with Yeshua, who instituted the sacrifice of His blood as the Lamb of God and who went directly before God's Throne to intercede on our behalf.

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




The Blessing of Shalom...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Naso ("lift up!")... ]

05.29.14 (Iyyar 29, 5774)  "May the LORD lift up his face upon you and give you peace" (Num. 6:26). May the LORD "lift up his face" (יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו) toward you in welcome, and may his countenance be radiant with joy over you. May his face be "toward you," not turned away or hidden... When God turns toward you, he imparts the blessing without which all other blessings are beholden, namely, his peace (i.e., shalom). After all, what good is worldly prosperity or temporal pleasure apart from God's blessing of peace?  To have shalom (שָׁלוֹם) is to be made shalem (שָׁלֵם) – made whole, complete, secure, happy – and therefore the peace of God (שְׁלוֹם הָאֱלהִים) is assuredly the most essential blessing....

Let me add that there is objective, God-established peace found in our Savior: "since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1). This is the reconciliation that God effected through the cross of Yeshua for our atonement (Rom. 5:11). God's love makes our eternal peace real, secure, and finished... There is also a subjective side of peace, however, that is a fruit of the Spirit of God: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace..." (Gal. 5:22). This is the inner peace that we experience by trusting in God's care for our lives, despite our struggles; such peace comes when we allow the Spirit of God to reign within our hearts by faith (Phil. 4:7; Col. 3:15).

Note: Of course there is the reality of spiritual warfare, depression, anxiety, etc. that many of us face. Please let us pray for one another - that the peace of God, the blessing of God, would inwardly and genuinely be manifested within the hearts of all who call on the name of Yeshua for life... Let us seek, ask, and knock on heaven's door for help, chaverim yakarim.
 




The Priestly Blessing...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Naso ("lift up!")... ]

05.29.14 (Iyyar 29, 5774)  From our Torah portion this week (Naso) we learn about the "birkat kohanim," or the blessing the priests of Israel were to pronounce over the people in God's name. "Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, 'So shall you bless the people of Israel: saying to them, "May the LORD bless you and guard you..." (Num. 6:23-24). The sages note that the additional phrase "saying to them" (אָמוֹר לָהֶם) means to speak gently, with kindness, love, and with grace. The role of the priest was to draw others closer to the Lord, revealing his heart of compassion for them – and to make people feel lovable, worthy, and chosen by God. Only after an individual sensed God's welcoming love and favor would they be able to shine as a light to the nations....
 

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

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

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



Download Study Card
 

The Torah prescribed that only the descendants of Aaron (i.e., the kohanim) were allowed to convey this blessing upon the people of Israel, and indeed this practice continues in synagogue services today. During an (Orthodox) service, for example, the priests first remove their shoes and have their hands ritually washed by Levites (if any are present). This custom is apparently based on the verse, "Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the LORD!" (Psalm 134:2). They then ascend to stand before the Ark and each one covers his head and arms with a tallit (prayer shawl) while privately reciting the blessing: "Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who makes us holy with the holiness of Aaron, and has commanded us to bless His people Israel with love." When they have finished, the cantor will say, "Kohanim..." as a signal for the priests to begin.

Each priest then raises his hands, with the palms facing downward and the thumbs of his outspread hands touching. The four fingers on each hand are sometimes split into two sets of two fingers each (thus forming the letter Shin (שׁ), an emblem for Shaddai), or sometimes they are arranged to form an overlapping lattice of 'windows.' As the priest(s) chant the melody of the blessing, the cantor recites each word. This ceremony is sometimes called Nesiat Kapayim, the "lifting of the hands." According to Jewish tradition, the Divine Presence would shine through the fingers of the priests as they blessed the people, and no one was allowed to look at this out of respect for God.


 

The "Three-in-One" Blessing

As I've mentioned before, the text of the priestly blessing (Num. 6:24-26) begins with three words, is comprised of three parts, invokes the divine Name three times, and is therefore quite appropriately called "the three-in-one blessing." Notice that it is phrased in the singular rather than plural because it is meant to have personal application, not to be a general benediction over a crowd of people. It has been sometimes noted that the first section consists of three words, the second of five, and the third of seven, and various speculations have been offered as to why the blessing is structured this way (e.g., 3+5 is the number of grace, 7 marks completion, etc.). Notice that the phrase, "The LORD lift up His face toward you..." (יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ) pictures the beaming face of a parent as he lifts up his child in joy... The repetitive construction of God "lifting up His face" (יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיך) suggests that God's justice has been fully satisfied and His compassion now flows outward to the child in loving grace.

Under the terms of the older covenant (הַבְּרִית הַיְשָׁנָה), only the descendants of Aaron were chosen to convey the blessing of God to the people of God, but under the terms of the greater New Covenant (הַבְּרִית הַחֲדָשָׁה), all followers of Yeshua are made part of "a chosen people, a priesthood of King Messiah, a holy nation, a people for his own possession," so that we may proclaim the glory of Him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:5-6). "Through Yeshua, then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his Name" (Heb. 13:15). It must be remembered that the subject of the priestly blessing is the LORD (יהוה); He (alone) is the One who does the blessing, and even under the older covenant the sons of Aaron merely transmitted or conveyed God's blessing to the people. Since the LORD God Almighty is the only true Blessor, undoubtedly Yeshua recited the "priestly blessing" over his disciples when he ascended back to heaven (Luke 24:50-51). As Yeshua said to his followers, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you" (John 14:27; 20:19). And who but the Prince of Peace (שַׂר שָׁלוֹם) could speak these words in the truth? This Prince was promised by the prophet to be God's Son, the anointed King of Israel Himself. Indeed to receive Yeshua is to receive the great Blessing of God. "Whoever has the Son has life (חַיִּים); whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:12).

Note:  For more information about the Priestly Blessing, and to download Hebrew study pages, listen to audio chants, etc., please see the Birkat Kohanim page and its links.
 




The Madness of Sin...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Naso ("lift up!")... ]

05.28.14 (Iyyar 28, 5774)  From our Torah this week (Naso) we read, "If any man's wife goes astray and breaks faith with him" (Num. 5:12). The Talmud comments that "goes astray" (i.e., tisteh: תִשְׂטֶה) is written so it may be read "goes insane" (i.e., tishteh: תִשְׁטֶה), and concludes that sin is a form of insanity, that is, a denial of what is real, and therefore a state of delusion. We are required, of course, to believe that God is knowable (Rom. 1:19-20), that we are always in His presence (Prov. 15:3; Psalm 94:9; 139), that He knows all things (Psalm 147:5), and nothing can be hidden from Him (Isa. 40:28; Jer. 23:24; Heb. 4:13), but when we sin we "break from" this reality and deny the divine Presence by a perverse act of self-exaltation. Whenever we imagine that we are unseen by God or whenever we "forget" that we live, move, and have our being in His presence, we are denying reality. Our sin causes us lose sight of what's real: we forget who God is; we forget who we are; and we exile ourselves from the Source of life... Surely sin is a form of insanity, and therefore we have a moral and spiritual obligation to think clearly and to value truth.
 




Dioplia of Despair...


 

05.28.14 (Iyyar 28, 5774)  People live in despair because they are often double-minded. Consciously or not, they are attempting to look at two different things at once. They seek their end in a world of finite things – in "good fortune," in personal honor, in worldly entertainment, or other immediacies of the passing day. Such a cross-eyed approach leads to disorientation and spiritual destruction. A divided house cannot stand. But to be single-minded means first of all making the sincere decision to believe, and then confessing your faithlessness to God. As Soren Kierkegaard wisely observed: "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty." Therefore we are instructed to confess our faults one to another, and pray for one another, that we may be healed (James 5:16). As it is written: "You must be wholehearted (i.e., simple; sincere) with the LORD your God" (Deut. 18:13).
 

תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ

ta·mim · ti·he·yeh · im · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha
 

"You shall be wholehearted with the LORD your God"
(Deut. 18:13)
 



 

In the Sefer Torah (i.e., the handwritten Torah scroll), the first letter of the word tamim ("simple, wholehearted") is written extra LARGE in order to emphasize its importance. Notice also the little word im (עִם), "with," that follows in this verse. This hearkens to the simplicity spoken of by the prophet: "What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness (chesed), and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8). Having a humble heart walks "with" the LORD. Genuine humility begins with the awareness that 1) there is a God and 2) you are not Him.... It is the practice of "knowing before whom you stand" and living your life in light of this fundamental truth.

When we study Scripture or things of "religion," we must be  careful not to lose sight of what is important. We should serve God with "simplicity" (תֻּמָּה), that is, sincerely, with all our hearts and with straightforward intent. We should use a "single eye" and resist the temptation to "read into things" (Matt. 6:22-23). Indeed, God knows that we can evade the truth by means of being overly "sophisticated" when we read the Scriptures. The essential truth is plain enough, but we want to split hairs, consult a variety of commentaries, engage in mystical speculations, and so on, all in an attempt to defend ourselves against hearing from the Spirit of God!  But as it says in Scriptures: holekh batom yelekh betach, "Whoever walks in simplicity (בַּתּם) walks securely" (Prov. 10:9).

Kierkegaard once lamented: "The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly." Indeed - there is a real danger of merely "thinking about" truth rather than living it... For instance, you might study the Psalms as literature and attempt to understand the nuances of Hebrew poetry, but that is altogether different than reading them with inner passion, with simple faith and the earnest desire to unite your heart's cry with the devotion that originally gave life to the sacred words... Likewise you might study Torah, pronounce the Name YHVH, carefully observe the festivals, and hope to "correct" Christians regarding their religion, and still be a lost soul... We must read with a heart of faith to unlock the truth that speaks to the heart. If you believe only what you understand, your faith is actually grounded in your own reasoning, not in the Divine Voice of Love.
 




The Great Vision of Zion...


 

05.28.14 (Iyyar 28, 5774)  Today is Yom Yerushalayim, a time we thank the LORD God of Israel for the City of Jerusalem and the great vision of Zion... Some people regard the reestablishment of the modern State of Israel as an historical accident, without any theological significance. They do not regard the Jewish people's regathering to their ancient homeland as a miracle, nor do they regard it as a sign that we are beginning to see the prophesied period known as acharit hayamim – "the End of Days" (Deut. 28:64; 30:3-5). Likewise they deny that the liberation of Jerusalem on June 7, 1967 (Iyyar 28, 5727) has any prophetic significance, despite the fact that Yeshua himself testified that the Jewish people would be back in their ancestral homeland just before his second coming....
 

Ultimately what you believe about Israel and Zion will affect
ALL other areas of your theology...

 
It is vital to understand that Zion represents the rule and reign of God in the earth and is therefore synonymous with the Kingdom of God (מַלְכוּת אֱלהִים). The entire redemptive plan of God – including the coming of the Messiah Himself and our very salvation – is wrapped up in it (1 Pet. 2:6). It is the "historiography" of God – His philosophy of history, if you will.  And this perhaps explains why the world system (and its agency, the devil) routinely mischaracterizes and condemns "Zionism" as a form of racism or injustice...

Friends, how can we forget Zion, "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22)? Is she not "our mother" (Gal. 4:26)? Are we not her citizens, indeed, her exiles in this age?  As the psalmist said, "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!" (Psalm 137:5-6). Of course we are instructed to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Psalm 122:6), but we are further told to "badger" the LORD until he makes Zion "the praise of the earth" (Isa. 62:7).

 

God loves Zion since it symbolizes His redemptive program in human history. In a sense, Zion is the heart of the Gospel message and the focal point of God's salvation in this world. "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch" (Isa. 62:1). Zion represents our eschatological future – our home in olam haba (the world to come). Even the new heavens and earth will be called Jerusalem – Zion in her perfection (Rev. 21).

Yeshua called Jerusalem the "City of the great King" (Psalm 48:2; Matt 5:35). It is the place where He was crucified, buried, resurrected, and from whence He ascended to heaven. It is also the birthplace of kehilat Mashiach (i.e., the "church") and the aim of human history. One day (soon) Yeshua will physically return to Zion as Mashiach ben David to restore the throne in the City of David. At that time, all the New Covenant promises given to ethnic Israel will be literally fulfilled as the Kingdom of God is manifest upon the earth (Luke 1:32-33; Zech. 8:3, 12:10-14; Micah 4:2-4; Rev. 20:2-6).
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלם
לְחֲזוֹנוֹ שֶׁל צִיּוֹן

ba·rukh · at·tah · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · me·lekh · ha·o·lam
le·cha·zo·no · shel · Tzi·yon
 

"Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the Universe,
for the vision of Zion"

 




Faith in Darkness...


 

05.27.14 (Iyyar 27, 5774)  Sometimes, in the midst of our struggles, there is a "purposed absence of God," such as when Yeshua delayed healing his friend Lazarus, despite being asked to do so.  "Now Yeshua loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was" (John 11:5-6). Yeshua then told his disciples: "Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." When he arrived near Bethany, both Martha and Mary said, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died," but it was precisely then - in the face of death, its dark silence, sorrow, and offence - that the question was asked of them: "Do you believe I AM the resurrection and the life?" Likewise Yeshua calls out to those who are willing to hear: "Come to life; be born in the Spirit, awaken, and come out from your tomb..." (John 11:43-44).
 




A Blessed Hunger...


 

05.27.14 (Iyyar 27, 5774)  The first words of Yeshua recorded in John's Gospel are a question: "What are you seeking?" And the second express an invitation: "Come and see..." (John 1:38-39). The problem with many of us is not that we are so hungry, but rather that we are not hungry enough... We settle for junk food when God spreads out his banqueting table before us. There is a "deeper hunger" for life, and I pray we are all touched by such hunger pangs; there is a "blessed hunger and thirst" that feeds our heart's cry for God (Matt. 5:6); there is a "divine discontent" that leads to a deeper sense of contentment for the heart... If you are feeling empty today, ask God to feed you with His life-giving food. The Spirit of the Living God calls out, "Seek Me and live" (Amos 5:4).
 

כִּי כה אָמַר יְהוָה לְבֵית יִשְׂרָאֵל
דִּרְשׁוּנִי וִחְיוּ

ki · kho · a·mar · Adonai · le·veit · Yis·ra·el:
dir·shu·ni · vi·che·yu
 

For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel:
"Seek me and live"
 (Amos 5:4)



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Healing the Divided Heart...


 

05.27.14 (Iyyar 27, 5774)  The divided heart is spiritually sick; being "two-souled" (δίψυχος) makes you "unstable" (i.e., ἀκατάστατος, "restless," "inconstant," "undecided," "disengaged," etc.) in all your ways (James 1:8). King David understood the great need for focus, for passion, for surrender: "One thing I ask of the Lord; that is what I will seek" (Psalm 27:4). Therefore he prayed for deep healing: "Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your Name" (Psalm 86:11). David understood that walking in the truth required "uniting his heart," or "repairing the breach" within his inner affections so that he could experience God's Presence... He needed emotional healing from inner wounds that split him off from reality. In effect, David prayed: "After You have healed my ambivalent heart, I will thank You with all my heart - entirely, wholly, completely - and I will glorify Your Name forever. My healing comes from Your great love (chesed) toward me, and through your love I am delivered free from the depths of hell" (Psalm 86:12-13).

The problem for many of us is that we are neither wholly willing nor wholly unwilling. We are irresolute, indecisive, hesitant, and feckless... One the one hand we want to follow Messiah, on the other hand we discover inner resistance. Our inner dividedness comes from being undecided about who we really are: We both see and yet do not see our real motives. The source of our problem, then, is the will, which serves as a gatekeeper of what we admit to ourselves, and the healing comes when we are honest before God and ask Him to be delivered from the sickness of our ambivalence. May God give us his blessing of real peace, with our hearts made sound and secure by the power of his grace...
 




The Eye of the LORD...


 

05.27.14 (Iyyar 27, 5774)  The "eye of the LORD" (עֵין יְהוָה) is a metaphor for God's omniscience, that is, His intimate and perfect knowledge of all things. God's understanding is ein mispar (אֵין מִסְפָּר), "beyond reckoning," and is therefore incalculably great (Psalm 147:5; Isa. 40:28; Rom. 11:33). For instance, God both created the universe yesh me'ayin, "out of nothing" but also sustains the entire cosmos at every instant (Heb. 11:3; Rom. 1:20; Col. 1:16-17). Moreover, the LORD (יהוה) transcends all distinctions of space and time so that he comprehends everything with absolute clarity. Poetically, the Scriptures state that God calls all the stars of heaven by name (Psalm 147:4); that he knows the number of hairs upon your head (Matt. 10:30), that he sees in secret (Matt. 6:4), and that he knows the beginning from the end, including every word uttered from your lips as they are spoken (Psalm 139:4). So the LORD God, the Spirit of Truth, eternally knows everything in all possible worlds...

That God is "omniscient," however, may suggest that the Divine Presence is remote and abstract - as if God were an enormous computer "mind," or a repository of all facts and counterfactual conditions of the universe. This is not the Torah's viewpoint, however, since the LORD is absolutely personal, intentional, loving, just, holy, and so on. Moreover, God directly sustains and interacts with creation, upholding his purposes and divine decrees. Therefore while it is true that God comprehends all the providential affairs of the cosmos in general, there is a deeper sense in which God "sees" the soul, a personal way of seeing based on spiritual intimacy, compassion and grace. However, though the eye of God is upon all things in general, as a matter of providence, it is directed with special attention to those who fear him and who trust in his love, as it says: "Behold, the eye of the LORD is toward those who fear Him, toward those who hope in his love" (Psalm 33:18). Therefore ayin Adonai is connected with the idea of blessing, the eye of divine love: "May the LORD bless you and keep you; may the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; may the LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you his peace" (Num. 6:24-26).
 

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

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

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



 

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

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

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




Memorial Day...


 

05.26.14 (Iyyar 26, 5774)  In the United States, Memorial Day is a national holiday observed on the last Monday of the month of May, that commemorates the sacrifice of those men and women who died in military service for their country. For those who have lost a loved one during their military service, please accept our heartfelt condolences and appreciation for your great sacrifice... And may the LORD God Almighty have mercy upon all the nations of the world by imparting the revelation of His Living Torah, Yeshua, as it says, "Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint, but the one who keeps Torah is made happy" (Prov. 29:18). If there is no vision, there is no direction, and this can lead to
 moral and spiritual disorder, chaos, and bondage.
 

בְּאֵין חָזוֹן יִפָּרַע עָם
וְשׁמֵר תּוֹרָה אַשְׁרֵהוּ

b'ein · cha·zon · yip·pa·ra' · am
ve·sho·mer · to·rah · ash·rei·hu

 

"Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint,
but the one who keeps Torah is made happy" (Prov. 29:18).



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The Month of Sivan...


 

[ The month of Sivan begins Thursday, May 29th, after sundown this year... ]

05.26.14 (Iyyar 26, 5774)  The third month of the Jewish lunar calendar (reckoned from Nisan) is called Sivan (סִיוָן), which usually begins during late May or early June on our secular calendars (this year, on May 29th). In the Torah this month is simply called "the third month" (i.e., chodesh ha-shlishi: חדֶשׁ הַשְּׁלִישִׁי), though some time after the Babylonian Captivity it assumed its present name. Sivan is mentioned only once in the Jewish Scriptures, in the post-Exillic Book of Esther (Esther 8:9).

The Talmud comments about this month of special revelation: "Blessed be our God who has given a threefold Torah (Torah, Prophets, Writings) to a threefold nation (Kohanim, Levites, and Israelites) through one who was third (Moses, the third child after Aaron and Miriam) in the third month" (Shabbos 88a). Indeed, it was during the month of Sivan that the Holy Spirit was imparted to the disciples of Messiah, in accordance with His promise (Acts 1:4-5; 2:1-4). Spiritually speaking, then, the month of Sivan represents both the giving of the Torah to Israel (i.e., z'man mattan Toratenu: זְמַן מַתַּן תּוֹרָתֵינוּ), when the drama which began with the Exodus from Egypt culminated with the giving of the Torah, and also the advent of the Holy Spirit so that the inner meaning of Torah would be "written upon the hearts" of those who trust in God's New Covenant with mankind (Jer. 31:31-33; Heb. 8:10; 10:16; Jer. 24:7).

The Rosh Chodesh Blessing:
 

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

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

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



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Remembering Jerusalem...


 

[  Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Day, is observed May 27th and 28th this year.... ]

05.26.14 (Iyyar 26, 5774)  In Israel, "Jerusalem Day" (יום ירושלים) commemorates the re-unification of old city of Jerusalem on June 7th, 1967 during the Six Day War. In 1968 the Chief Rabbinate of Israel declared Iyyar 28 to be a minor holiday to thank God for answering the 2,000-year-old prayer of "Next Year in Jerusalem" (לשנה הבאה בירושלים). On March 23, 1998, the Knesset passed the Jerusalem Day Law, making it a national holiday. This year, "Jerusalem Day" runs from Tuesday, May 27th (after sundown) through Wednesday, May 28th (until sundown). Sha'alu shelom Yerushalayim (Psalm 122:6).

The Hebrew word "Zion" (צִיּוֹן) is mentioned over 160 times in the Scriptures. That's more than the words faith, hope, love, and countless other key words... And since Zion is a poetic form of the word Jerusalem (יְרוּשָׁלַםִ), the number of occurrences swells to nearly 1,000! Since it's the most frequently occurring place name in all the Scriptures, it's no overstatement to say that God Himself is a Zionist.... "Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth" (Psalm 50:2). "The LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are said of you, O City of God" (Psalm 87:2-3). Indeed, Yeshua our Savior called Jerusalem the "City of the great King" (Psalm 48:2; Matt 5:35): It is the place (הַמָּקוֹם) where He was crucified, buried, resurrected, and ascended to heaven; and is it furthermore the place where He will return to earth (Zech. 14:1-9).

In Psalm 122:6 it is written, שַׁאֲלוּ שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלָםִ - sha'alu shelom Yerushalayim - "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem," a phrase that reveals prophetic truth about our Savior and Messiah. The word sha'alu (שַׁאֲלוּ) means "you ask" (as in ask a sheilah, a question), shalom (שׁלוֹם) is the name of Yeshua, the Prince of Peace (i.e., Sar Shalom: שַׂר־שָׁלוֹם), and Jerusalem means "the teaching of peace" (Jeru- comes from the same root as the word Torah [ירה], which means "teaching"). The phrase sha'alu shelom Yerushalayim can therefore be construed, "ask about the Prince of Peace and His Teaching." Yeshua is indeed the rightful King of Jerusalem (Matt. 5:35) who is coming soon to reign over all the earth.
 

שַׁאֲלוּ שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלָםִ
יִשְׁלָיוּ אהֲבָיִךְ

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

 

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



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Parashat Naso - נשא


 

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

05.25.14 (Iyyar 25, 5774)  Our Torah portion this week (parashat Naso) includes the famous blessing that Aaron and his sons (i.e., the priests) were instructed to recite over the people of Israel. The text of the blessing (Num. 6:24-26) begins with three words, is comprised of three parts, invokes the divine Name three times, and is therefore appropriately called "the three-in-one blessing." Notice that the words are spoken in the grammatical singular rather than plural because they are meant to have personal application, not to be a general benediction over a crowd of people. The phrase, "The LORD lift up His face toward you..." (יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ) pictures the beaming face of a parent as he lifts up his beloved child in joy... The repetitive construction of God "lifting up His face" (יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיך) suggests that God's justice has been fully satisfied and His compassion now flows outward to the child in loving grace. Undoubtedly Yeshua recited the "priestly blessing" over his disciples when he ascended back to heaven, though of course He would have spoken it in the grammatical first person: "I will bless you and keep you (אני אברך אותך ואשמור לך); I will shine upon you and will be gracious to you; I will lift up my countenance upon you, and give you my shalom" (Luke 24:50-51).
 

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

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

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



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

 




The Meaning of Life...


 

05.23.14 (Iyyar 23, 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 ci (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...

Shabbat shalom, friends... Blessing, love, and peace to you in the Name above all names.
 




Remember who you are...


 

05.23.14 (Iyyar 23, 5774)  The haftarah for this coming Shabbat (i.e., Hosea 2:1-23) likens the Lord to a "jilted lover" who refuses to give up his passion for us. He loves us even in the filth of our depravity and redeems us from a life of shame; he zealously seeks us, takes us back, and restores us to a place of honor and joy... It is vital to understand that sin does not mean breaking God's law as much as it means breaking God's heart.

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




A Resting Motion...


 

05.23.14 (Iyyar 23, 5774)  A verse from our Torah portion this week reads: "as they rest, so they shall move" (Num. 2:17). The sages comment that while this verse refers to the arrangement and movement of the tribal camps in the desert, it also expresses the deeper principle that as we rest from our works -- trusting in God's blessing and care -- so we shall "live, move, and have our being" with God as the sustaining Presence within our hearts. This "Sabbath principle" of "as they rest, so they move" (כַּאֲשֶׁר יַחֲנוּ כֵּן יִסָּעוּ) means that as we let go in trust, the LORD will make our way and sustain us through the desert of this world. For "in his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind" (Job 12:10).
 




The Breath of Life....


 

05.23.14 (Iyyar 23, 5774)  Torah without Spirit is like a body without soul... As I've mentioned elsewhere on this site, the Name YHVH (יְהוָה) is connected with life-giving Spirit. Before man first came alive, the LORD breathed into him nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" (Gen. 2:7; Job 12:10). Later, Moses called the LORD Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), which can be translated "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 16:22). Indeed, the name YHVH is unutterable apart from breath, from ruach (רוּח), since each letter represents a vowel or breathing sound. Yeshua breathes out to his followers and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22). It is the breath of God that breathes into us to make us truly alive. When we open our hearts to receive the life-giving Spirit, we find comfort and help. God's spirit breathes out prayers within us (Rom. 8:26), reveals the truth about Yeshua (John 15:26), transforms our inner character (Gal. 5:22-23), imparts spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12), and gives us the life from heaven (John 3:8). Bo ru'ach Yeshua (בּא רוּח ישׁוּע), "Come, spirit of Yeshua!"

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

"In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind" (Job 12:10). The LORD is indeed the "God of the breath of all flesh." When Yeshua cried out, "It is finished" and breathed his last breath as He died for our sins upon the cross, the greatest exhalation of the Spirit occurred, the greatest sigh, the greatest utterance was ever declared. The sacrificial death of Yeshua for our deliverance was God's final word of love breathed out to those who would put their trust in Him...
 

אֲשֶׁר בְּיָדוֹ נֶפֶשׁ כָּל־חָי
 וְרוּחַ כָּל־בְּשַׂר־אִישׁ

a·sher · be·ya·do · ne·fesh · kol · chai
ve·ru·ach · kol · be·sar · ish
 

"In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of all mankind."
(
Job 12:10)



 


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




Prelude to the Desert...


 

[ The following is a brief survey of the Torah as a "prelude" to our study of the Book of Numbers. Hopefully this will provide some overall context to the book as we read it again this year... ]

05.22.14 (Iyyar 22, 5774)  The Book of Genesis (i.e., Sefer Bereshit [סֵפֶר בְּרֵאשִׁית]) describes the creation of the world, the transgression of Adam and Eve, the promise of the coming Savior, and the subsequent lapse of the human race into godlessness and depravity. The wicked generations of Cain caused the world to be entirely steeped in anarchy and bloodlust, so that "every intention of the thoughts of man's heart was only evil continually."  After ten generations, the LORD "had enough" and destroyed the human race by means of the great flood. Only Noah and his immediate family were spared. Noah had three sons, of whom God chose Shem to be the high priest of the remnant of the human race. From Shem's line would ultimately come Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Of course Abraham had a son named Isaac, and Isaac later had a son named Jacob. From Jacob (who was renamed "Israel") were born twelve sons, each of whom became patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. Jacob's treasured son Joseph, however, was sold into slavery by his envious brothers, but later God promoted him to great power in the land of Egypt. The Book of Genesis ends with Joseph's dramatic reconciliation with his family, who then emigrated to Egypt to escape a devastating famine in the land of Canaan. Before his death, Jacob blessed his sons and confirmed the coming of the Savior through the tribe of Judah.

The Book of Exodus (i.e., Sefer Shemot [סֵפֶר שְׁמוֹת]) describes how the family of Jacob (i.e., the twelve tribes of Israel) multiplied into a great nation while dwelling in the land Egypt. Eventually, however, the Egyptians came to regard these "outsiders" as a political threat and convinced the Pharaoh to enslave and to grievously oppress them. The book describes how God intervened on behalf of Israel and chose Moses (and Aaron) to confront the Pharaoh and to demand that the Israelites be set free. Pharaoh refused Moses' repeated appeals, however, despite plagues of warning visited upon the Egyptians. As a final act of judgment, God instituted the Passover and killed all the firstborn sons of the land of Egypt.  Moses and the Israelites then fled from Egypt, crossing the Red Sea into the Midian desert as directed by the Pillar of Cloud and Fire. When the people finally convened at Mount Sinai 49 days later, they received the Ten Commandments, and Moses was called up the mountain to receive the vision of the Tabernacle. While Moses was on the mountain, however, the Israelites forged a Golden Calf and worshipped it, and God threatened to destroy the people. Moses successfully interceded on their behalf, however, and after a period of national teshuvah (repentance), the covenant was renewed.  The remainder of the book describes the architectural details and the construction of the Tabernacle, which was finally assembled and consecrated a year after the Exodus from Egypt (i.e., on Nisan 1). The Book of Exodus ends with the Shekhinah Glory of the LORD filling the newly built sanctuary: "For the cloud of the LORD was on the Tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys."

Moses' brother Aaron had been selected to be the first High Priest of the Jewish people, and Aaron's sons were designated as Israel's priests. Since the Tabernacle was intended to symbolize God's Presence among the people, Moses undoubtedly instructed Aaron and his sons (along with the other Levites) about their forthcoming responsibilities. The Book of Leviticus (i.e., Sefer Vayikra [סֵפֶר וַיִּקְרָא]) is therefore called Torat Kohanim - the Law of the Priests - since it deals largely with the service of the priests in the Tabernacle (the book was probably originally written during the six months when the Tabernacle and its furnishings were being made). The laws of sacrificial offerings are therefore detailed, as well dietary laws, laws regarding purity and impurity, and specific rituals for purifying the sanctuary. Throughout the book the holiness of God is stressed, with the corresponding duty for the priests and the people to be holy themselves. Apart from the narrative concerning the days of the Tabernacle's consecration (i.e., the death of Aaron's sons), the book itself is somewhat "timeless," with an emphasis on the need for blood atonement and sacrificial rituals to draw near to God. The Book ends with a list of blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience to God's law.

Although it appears after the Book of Leviticus in the Torah scroll, the Book of Numbers (i.e., Sefer Bemidbar [סֵפֶר בְּמִדְבַּר]) picks up precisely where the Book of Exodus left off, with the Glory of the LORD hovering over Tabernacle as the Israelites camped at Sinai. The book opens: "The LORD spoke to Moses in the desert of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head" (Num. 1:1-2). After the adult men were counted (the result of 603,550 is identical to earlier number in the Book of Exodus (cp. Num. 1:45-46; Exod. 38:26-27)) - the tribes were meticulously arranged into military camp formation around the Tabernacle. It should be noted, however, that the narrative in the book is not presented in entirely chronological order, since later it is stated that Israel celebrated the Passover before this census was taken (cp. Num. 1:1-2; 9:1-5), and the commencement of the journey to the promised land began when the Divine cloud lifted from the Tabernacle and began moving towards the wilderness of Paran (Num. 10:11-12). Besides, very little is told us about the 38 years of wandering in the desert, though certain spiritually significant episodes are described in the text... At any rate, the purpose of the census appears to be military, and only true Israelites were allowed to fight in God's battles (i.e., the "mixed multitude" were eligible). However, despite being personally led by the Shekhinah cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night - with the Divine Presence encamping in their midst and protecting them on all sides - the Israelites repeatedly rebelled against the LORD. When the camp of Israel finally drew near to the promised land, the people lapsed in their faith and succumbed to the fears expressed by the faithless spies. This grave sin led to God's judgment that Israel's entry into the land would be delayed for an additional 38 years, during which time every person 20 years of age and older was fated to die in the wilderness (except for Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, the two spies who trusted in God). Truly it's been said that it was easier for the LORD to take the people out of Egypt than for Him to take Egypt out of the people.

Following this tragic judgment, God turned the people back to the desert and restated various laws regarding the Tabernacle. Moses' cousin Korach - joined by other prominent leaders of Israel - then rebelled by challenging God's designated leadership and calling for the people to return to Egypt. After God destroyed the rebels and vindicated the priesthood of Aaron and his sons, the people wandered in the desert for several more years. After further tests and failures of the people - including Moses' own lapse at Kadesh Barnea which led to his banishment from the promised land - the 38 year period of exile finally drew to a close. Another census was taken, and Joshua was commissioned to lead the people into the land. The Book of Numbers ends with the next generation of Israel beginning to conquer the region of Canaan east of the Promised Land.

Technically speaking, the Book of Numbers marks the end of the historical narrative of the Torah, since it briefly describes the Israelites arrival at the end of their journey, the impending death of Moses, and the appointment of Joshua as the new leader of the people (the Book of Deuteronomy presents Moses' final sermon before he died). In Jewish tradition, the book is generally not regarded as a book of law, though the sages discover various forms of "case law" in its pages (e.g., the case of the inheritance of the daughters of Zelophehad). Instead, the book functions as a warning of the need to adhere to God's Torah and to exercise faith in His provision for the people. It ends with a note of hope, as the surviving generation begins to take hold of God's promise and enter into the land...

On a "macro level," the Torah tells the story of our pilgrimage to Zion, the mountain of the LORD that will one day fill the whole earth.... Genesis describes our creation and fall; Exodus describes our bondage and deliverance; Leviticus describes the walk of holiness; and Numbers describes the test and refinement of our faith (Deuteronomy is "mishneh Torah," the retelling and review of the inner meaning of the first four books).

It has been rightly said that the Book of Numbers displays both the "goodness and the severity of God" (Rom. 11:22). The New Testament cites various acts of rebellion mentioned in the book as "parables" or examples that were recorded so that we might be warned to keep our faith resolute (1 Cor. 10:1-12; Rom. 15:4). The Apostle Paul wrote, "Now these things took place as examples (i.e., τύποι, "types") for us, that we might not desire evil as they did... they were written down for our warning (νουθεσία) on whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Cor. 10:6, 11). Part of the wonder of the story of the Exodus generation is that "the deeds of the fathers are signs for the children" (מַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹת סִימָן לַבָּנִים), which means that the stories recorded in the Torah are "immortal" patterns intended to teach us spiritual truth. The faithlessness of the Exodus generation is therefore an eternal warning of failing to genuinely possess the promises of God... As Paul further states in this connection, "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12). We stand by trusting in the goodness of God and therefore we are warned about the severe consequences of unbelief.

Likewise, the author of the Book of Hebrews warns that "Exodus generation" was forbidden to enter into God's rest because of their unbelief. "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Messiah, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is written, 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion;" (Heb. 3:12-15). And again, "Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened" (Heb. 4:1-2).

May the Living God (אֵל חַי) give you the grace to trust in Him... May He forever keep you! May He guard you from the seduction of unbelief.... May you forever resist the temptation to lose your heart. Walk strong, chaverim! Be strong in the LORD and the power of His might!
 




Suffering's Voice...


 

05.22.14 (Iyyar 22, 5774)  If you receive no solace for your suffering; if you find no ready comfort despite repeated appeals to heaven; then you must surrender your heartache, your grief, and your troubles to God in complete trust of his overarching will: "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done" (Matt. 26:42). In this way you sanctify your suffering, trusting in God's care, even if you have been grieved by various trials (1 Pet. 1:6). Suffering for the sake of love ultimately provides healing for that which is broken, and indeed such suffering "fills up what is lacking in Messiah's afflictions" (Col. 1:24).
 

יְהוָה נָתַן וַיהוָה לָקָח
 יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָך

Adonai · na·tan · vadonai · la·kach
ye·hi · shem · Adonai · me·vo·rakh
 

"The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the Name of the LORD be blessed."
(Job 1:21)



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Job questioned the meaning of his life in light of his relentless suffering: "Cursed is the day that I was born... Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire? ... Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul?" (Job 3). Job's friends, so full of "piety" and religious wisdom, were quick to offer "God's answer" for his pain, though of course they did not really speak for God at all, but simply sought to protect themselves from facing their own fears... They needed an explanation to justify their own life, and therefore they sought to rationalize Job's torment. "God is perfect and never unjust," they insisted, and therefore Job's suffering was punitive, the result of his hidden sin, and ultimately intended to be corrective... Job rejected such religious platitudes and the notion of a "karma-based" theodicy, and instead directly appealed for heaven's vindication. Finally God allowed Job to voice his lament and to vent his pain and outrage, and only then - after Job had finished his case - was the revelation of God's mystery and love disclosed...

What Job didn't need were glib answers, cheap talk, shallow certainties, and sanctimonious mumbo-jumbo... To be truly healed, Job needed to give voice to his pain, to question God's care, and to rediscover the meaning and wonder of the Divine Presence despite his afflictions... Job needed someone safe to share his burden with, a friend who "sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24). Thank God for Yeshua, who feels the pain of our infirmities and intercedes for us with heaven's own sympathy (Heb. 4:15-16).
 




Come just as you are...


 

05.21.14 (Iyyar 21, 5774)  Since God knows the number of hairs on our heads, he also knows those character defects that we do not see in ourselves... Nevertheless we must come to God "just as we are," since what we are is ultimately unknowable by us. This implies that we can't wait to turn to God until we have already confessed our sins, since we often do not know what they are. "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick" (Mark 2:17), which means that we come in a state of unknowing blindness to find healing. We don't see so we can turn; we turn so we can see. Confession turns to see God's remedy for our sin, and true teshuvah ("repentance," "turning") must begin with the vision that the LORD is our Helper and the Healer of our souls...
 

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

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

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



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

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

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




Beatitudes of Humility...


 

05.21.14 (Iyyar 21, 5774)  "Blessed are those who weep while the world goes on laughing, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; blessed are the meek, for they shall overcome; blessed are those who realize they know little, for they shall find treasure; blessed are those who realize they are unrighteous, for they shall find healing; blessed are the misfits who are disowned by the world as fools, for they shall find mansions in heaven; blessed are the weak, for they shall be made strong; blessed are those who weep, for they shall obtain eternal consolation; blessed are those who refuse to assimilate into this world and its idols, for they shall be called victors in the world to come..."

God turns everything "upside down," for what is esteemed in this world is regarded as vanity in the world to come, and vice-versa. Indeed, the wisdom of this world is based on what I have called the "devil's logic," that is, the cynical notion that "truth" is nothing more than a political tool used to exploit others.  The devil's logic is devoid of transcendental reality and therefore relies on compromise and "tolerance" to define truth as a form of "consensus" and "group think." Invariably this approach leads to ambiguity, confusion, cowardice, absurdism, madness, and cruelty...

The Scriptures teach, "Light is sown for the righteous (tzaddikim), and joy for the upright (yashar) in heart" (Psalm 97:11). May it please the LORD God to renew our courage to live wholeheartedly according to His truth, and to resist the pressure to conform to the idolatry of this world. Amen.
 




Lessons in Waste Places...


 

05.20.14 (Iyyar 20, 5774)  How much energy is wasted going backward, returning to the same empty places? Yet we are creatures of habit; we tend to be lazy and we avoid examining our convictions and underlying assumptions; we are apt to ignore or explain way evidence that might challenge us, or - if we can no longer avoid the truth - we procrastinate and later "forget" the resolve to turn our heart to God in the truth. This way we can "hear" a commandment and yet postpone our action until later; we can agree to follow Messiah, but only in our own terms. Like Augustine, we pray: "Grant me chastity and continence -- only not yet..." And so we are turned back to emptiness because we refuse to go forward.
 

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


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

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




Hearing the Whisper...


 

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

05.20.14 (Iyyar 20, 5774)  The Hebrew word midbar ("desert") shares the same root as davar (דּבר) which means "word." We often need to be alone to hear God speaking kol demamah dakkah (קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה) - "the sound of a low whisper" (1 Kings. 19:12), and the journey into the desert was God's way of separating His people to speak with them "privately," so to speak. But to hear the word we must humble ourselves, and the desert (i.e., "word") of Sinai is therefore first of all the word of humility (עֲנָוָה). When God spoke Torah to Israel, it was from a nondescript mountain - a place of emptiness, brokenness and need. Indeed, another word for Sinai is "chorev" (חרֵב), a word that means dryness and desolation. That is the starting point -- not the lush places of a future paradise. We receive Torah "bamidbar" because we can only hear God's davar in a place of lowliness and inner quiet. God brings us to an arid place -- inhospitable, and dangerous -- to reveal our need for Him, to show Himself as our Sustainer. The way to Sinai is a necessary excursion to prepare us to look for the greater hope of Zion. May God help us heed the whisper of His Spirit...
 




Ascension of Messiah...


 

[ Saturday, May 24th after sundown marks Mem B'Omer, the 40th day of the Omer Count... ]

05.20.14 (Iyyar 20, 5774)  We are in the midst of Sefirat Ha-Omer (the "Counting of the Omer"), a 49 day "countdown" that runs from Nisan 16 through Sivan 5. The first day of the omer count began on the second night of Passover, and the last day occurs the day before Shavuot ("Pentecost"). On our Gregorian calendars, these dates run from April 15th through June 2nd this year. This is a "countdown period" leading to the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the giving of the Holy Spirit to Yeshua's disciples...


 

Saturday, May 24th after sundown (Iyyar 25) marks the 40th day of the Omer Count (i.e., Mem B'Omer), the time associated with the ascension of Yeshua back to the heavenly realm (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:9-11; Eph. 4:8). A thousand years before the birth of our Moshiah (מוֹשִׁיעַ), David prophesied of the ascension when he announced the Lord's enthronement at the right hand of God (Psalm 110:1; Matt. 22:41-46; 26:64). Recall that Yeshua told His followers that it was good that he would leave them, so that the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ), the "Comforter" or "Advocate" (παράκλητος), would be given to them. "But I tell you the truth, it is for your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate (ὁ παράκλητος) will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7). Notice that the word translated as "advantage" here is the Greek word συμφέρω (from σύν, "with" and φέρω, "to carry"), which suggests that we would be given power that "carries us" with the Lord during the trials of this life... Bo, Ruach Elohim: "Come, Holy Spirit..."

Note:  For more on Mem B'Omer, click here.
 




Parashat Bamidbar - במדבר


 

[ Our Torah reading for this week is parashat Bamidbar ("in the desert").  ]

05.19.14 (Iyyar 19, 5774)  Our Torah portion for this week, parashat Bamidbar (בְּמִדְבַּר), begins the Book of Numbers, where the narrative begins precisely where the Book of Exodus left off, with the glory of the LORD hovering over the Mishkan (Tabernacle) as the Israelites were stationed at Sinai. On the first day of the thirteenth month following the Exodus from Egypt – exactly thirty days after the Tabernacle was first consecrated – God commanded Moses to take a census of all Israelite males over 20 years of age who would bear arms. Moses and the heads of each tribe recorded the results, with 603,550 men in all. This number did not include the Levites, however, since they were designated to take care of the Tabernacle and its furnishings during the journeys.

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

 

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

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

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

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


Note:  Saturday, May 24th after sundown (i.e., Iyyar 25) marks the 40th day of the Omer Count (i.e., Mem B'Omer), the time associated with the ascension of Yeshua back to the heavenly realm (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:9-11; Eph. 4:8). Click here for more information.
 





Dangers of Carelessness...


 

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

05.16.14 (Iyyar 16, 5774)  This week's Torah portion includes the first great "stinging rebuke" (i.e., tochachah: תּוֹכָחָה) of the community of Israel given in the Torah (the second is found in Ki Tavo, i.e., Deut. 28:15-68). In this sober and ominous section, God promises the people great blessing if they would obey Him (Lev. 26:3-13), but He forewarns that exile, persecution and other progressively worse punishments would befall them if they would break faith with Him (Lev. 26:14-46). The sages note that divine censure would come if the people "forgot" about God or otherwise became careless in their observance of His laws. They point out that the refrain "if you walk contrary to me" (וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי) - which occurs several times during the rebuke - really means "if you walk carelessly (i.e., keri: קְרִי) with me." Rashi notes that the verb קָרָה means "to befall" or "to happen" and therefore suggests a sense of randomness (the related word mikreh [מִקְרֶה] means "coincidence"). If the people regarded the events of life as "random," then God would reciprocate by bringing senseless trouble into their lives. For this reason the sages regard a careless attitude about God's will as the very first step to inevitable apostasy. In other words, regarding whatever happens in life as mere "coincidence" essentially denies God's Presence, and this attitude will eventually call for God's corrective intervention. People can be "hot or cold" regarding their relationship with Him, but God will never give the option of affecting indifference toward Him... Indeed, God may bring hardship into our lives to regain our attention and cause us to return to Him. As C.S. Lewis once said, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

Note, however, that after the litany of woes given in this section of Torah (i.e., Lev. 26), we read these words of comfort and hope: "But I will remember the covenant of the ancients (בְּרִית רִאשֹׁנִים), whom I brought out of the land of Egypt" (Lev. 26:45). In other words, God's faithful promises to the Jewish people are as sure as his power to create the world yesh me'ayin, "out of nothing," or to clothe "dry bones" with flesh and spirit (Ezek. 37:1-14). The great promise and vision of Zion will be fulfilled; all Israel shall one day be saved, and there shall be "one flock with one Shepherd" (John 10:16). For more on this topic, please see "The Tochachah: Further Thoughts on Parashat Bechukotai."

At the end of our Torah reading for this week, as with every other that concludes a book of the Torah, we say, Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek - "Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened!" Despite the "heaviness" associated with the idea of God's judgment and punishment, we must press on in faith... The great commandment is always "Choose Life!" (Deut. 30:19), and that life comes from being in a loving relationship with our Heavenly Father through our Yeshua our Savior, blessed be He (1 John 5:12). May God help us return to our first love for Him b'khol levavkha - with all our hearts. "I love those who love me; and those who seek me will find me" (Prov. 8:17). "The LORD is good to those who hope (קוה) for him, to the soul who seeks him" (Lam. 3:25).
 




Always the First Step...

Tochelet - by J Parsons
 

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

05.16.14 (Iyyar 16, 5774)  There is a core element of your spiritual life that is all-determinative, that affects everything else, and that is the question of whether you will choose to "show up," whether you will engage it's hope; and whether you will open your eyes and yield yourself to the light... This is an ongoing decision. Our Torah portion for this week begins, "If you walk in my statutes (אִם־בְּחֻקּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ) and observe my commandments and do them..." (Lev. 26:3). The sages note that unlike the holy angels, we must "walk out" the faith of our days, and therefore we are always moving either forward or backward. God's sun shines on the just and unjust alike (Matt. 5:45). Every human being lives by faith of some kind, and it is therefore impossible to opt out of the decision to "choose this day whom we shall serve" (Josh. 24:15). Indifference or apathy is as much a spiritual decision as is outright rebellion, and if we do nothing today to draw us near to the Lord, we will eventually regress and slip backward. This is all very sobering. "No one knows the day or hour," and that's why it is so vital to turn to God and be healed while there is still time. So turn today and bacharta ba'chayim (בָּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים) - "choose life!" "For this commandment (of turning to God) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away... No, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; Rom. 10:8-13).

Note:  What's perhaps most heroic about Job is that he never turned away from hope, despite the crucifixion of his world. As Kierkegaard said, "The moment the LORD took everything away, he did not say, 'The LORD took away,' but first of all he said, 'The LORD gave..." (Upbuilding Discourses). His words of protest were born of faith's deep struggle: "Where are you, God? Have you not promised never to leave me? Why am I alone in this pain, blind to your Presence?" Job's struggle to vindicate God's goodness and love despite inexplicable suffering was not a problem of unbelief, but rather a problem of how to reconcile the gap between present reality and the expectation of hope...
 




Awakening to Love...


 

05.16.14 (Iyyar 16, 5774)  How do we change? How are we made new? Is it through self-effort - through our adherence to "religion," or is it by the miracle of God's compassionate intervention in our lives? When Yeshua invites us to turn and come to Him, he wants us to awaken to something so valuable that we would be willing to give up everything in the world to take hold of it (Matt. 13:45-46). True spiritual transformation is not just about leaving your sin behind you (as good as that is), but is rather about discovering the glory of true and infinite life. It's about being the beloved. May the Lord help us see...

God's love sees the hidden beauty, worth, and value of your life. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it" (Matt. 13:45-46). You may be tempted to identify with the merchant and regard this parable as a challenge to give up everything to obtain the surpassing worth of the kingdom of heaven, but another way to understand it is to see God as the Merchant, the central character of the story.... Instead of you paying the great price for the pearl, turn the story around: God pays the price - and you are regarded as His choice pearl! You are a treasured possession, the "apple of God's eye..."

We are changed by the power of unconditional love, but this means that we must allow ourselves to be loved without attempting to earn it (Rom. 4). If we are willing to receive love only if we regard ourselves as worthy or deserving of it, then we will reinforce the illusion that love can be bought, explained, or owed to us based on our merit.

Have you discovered the glory and wonder of God's unconditional love, despite the many sins and the shame of your life? Do you know "in your gut" that his love means no longer having to defend or explain yourself? God's love enables you to quit hiding what you really are from Him; you can give up the pretense of being something you're not. When you turn to the Lord in the transparency of your brokenness, weakness, and neediness, you will find Him there, accepting you for who you really are...

That's the message of gospel, after all. The cross of Yeshua is the end of "self improvement" projects, and that includes the "end of the law" as the means of attempting to find our acceptance before God (Rom. 10:4). We come to know God's love and acceptance "apart from the law," that is, despite our repeated failures, pain, and loss of the false self.  We are truly changed as we disclose more and more of what we really are to God, that is, when we come "out of the shadows" to be made visible and healed before His glorious Presence. Then we discover the "lightness" of being united to the risen Messiah and the "law of the Spirit of life in Yeshua (תּוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים בְּיֵשׁוּעַ). May God work within us all such a miracle!
 




Feeding on Faithfulness...


 

05.15.14 (Iyyar 15, 5774)  In our Torah for this week (i.e., Bechukotai) we read: "You shall eat your bread to the full and be satisfied" (Lev. 26:5). The gift of contentment is a great blessing, since it means being free from the pain produced by unrelenting and imperious desire... Indeed, a perpetual, insatiable craving is a sign of slavery to inner emptiness, and no amount of food, drugs, romance, etc., can ever fill this spiritual void. This is why we need true bread, the bread that gives life (לֶחֶם הַחַיִּים), and this bread is the spiritual nourishment Yeshua gives to our hearts (John 6:35). When we taste his bread, when we commune with him, we soon learn that our desires for other things are hallow, futile, and empty. The more we feed on his love, the more we will find ourselves free the tyranny of lesser desires.
 

תּוֹדִיעֵנִי ארַח חַיִּים
שׂבַע שְׂמָחוֹת אֶת־פָּנֶיךָ
נְעִמוֹת בִּימִינְךָ נֶצַח

to·di·ei·ni · o·rach · cha·yim
so·va' · se·ma·chot · et · pa·ne·kha
ne·i·mot · bi·min·kha · ne·tzach
 

"You will cause me to know the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore."
(Psalm 16:11)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

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The blessing we traditionally regularly recite over bread (hamotzi lechem) is a prophecy of sorts: "Blessed are You, Lord our God, who will bring bread up from the earth." This applies first of all to the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead, but it also applies to Yeshua as lechem ha-chayim (לֶחֶם הַחַיִּים), the Bread of Life, who meets our heart's needs (John 6:35). As we feed on God's faithfulness, we shall be satisfied...
 




Trusting His Heart...


 

05.15.14 (Iyyar 15, 5774)  If you can't discern God's purpose in your circumstances, you must 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."
(Exod. 34:6)

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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.
 




Spirit and Truth...


 

05.14.14 (Iyyar 14, 5774)  It is the Holy Spirit that gives us life and who breathes the true meaning of Torah into our hearts. "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law" (Gal. 5:18). That is, you are no longer to be constrained by either legalism or lawlessness, since "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is power" to please God. The Spirit sets us free from the seduction of both legalism and debauchery (Gal. 3:1-2; Eph. 5:18). When we are led by the Spirit, we rely upon God's provision to walk in a way that pleases Him. On the other hand, when we rely on the "flesh," we are operating under the principle of our own (in)ability to please God, which invariably leads to pride (legalism) or profligacy (anti-legalism) - and sometimes to both. Therefore we see that role of the "law" is often connected with the "flesh," but the role of the Spirit is connected with life and power...

Walking in the Spirit (i.e., trusting in God's salvation) does not lead to lawlessness but rather fulfills the righteousness of the law in us through faith (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:16). Christians live under the "law of liberty" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵרוּת), though this obviously does not mean the supposed "freedom" to become enslaved to sin again (Gal. 5:13; 1 Pet. 2:16). On the contrary, the law of liberty implies that we are made free from the "law of sin and death" (i.e., the futile principle of self-justification) in order to serve God in newness of life.  As the Apostle James uses this term, it is the power to act on the truth that has been given to you.  We are to be "doers" of the Word, and not hearers only, since faith without works is dead and leads to self-deception (lit., "reasoning around" the truth, i.e., παραλογίζομαι, from παρά, "around, beside" and λογίζομαι, "to reason"). Only those who follow through and live their faith will be blessed in their actions (James 1:25). This mirrors Yeshua's statement, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 13:17). This is the "law of the Spirit of life in Yeshua (תּוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים בְּיֵשׁוּעַ). We are no longer enslaved to the power of sin but have a new principle of life that leads us to true freedom.  After all, true freedom doesn't mean doing whatever you want, but rather means the power to choose contrary to the demands of your lower nature. We "put off" the old self and "put on" the new (Eph. 4:22-24). It is the divinely imparted "new nature" that gives us the power to "put to death" the old self by reckoning it crucified with Messiah (Gal. 2:19-20). Obedience to this Torah leads to further revelation, just as disobedience to it leads to further darkness (Matt. 13:12). Yeshua is only the "Author of Eternal Salvation" for those who heed and obey Him (Heb. 5:9). "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25).

For more on this subject, see "Why then the Law?"
 




Heeding the Call of Hope...

Tochelet - by J Parsons
 

05.14.14 (Iyyar 14, 5774)  The only way out of the painful ambiguity of life is to hear a message from the higher world, the Heavenly Voice, that brings hope to our aching and troubled hearts: "Faith comes by hearing the word of Messiah - ῥῆμα Χριστοῦ" (Rom. 10:17). And yet what is the meaning of this message if it is not that all shall be made well by heaven's hand? There is hope, there is hope, and all your fears will one day be cast into outer darkness, swallowed up by God's unending comfort... "Go into all the world and make students (תַּלְמִידִים) of all nations" (Matt 28:19), and that means sharing the hope that what makes us sick - our depravity and despair - has been healed by Jesus, and that we escape the gravity of our own fallenness if we accept his invitation to receive life in him. "For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God outshines my darkness."
 

כִּי־אַתָּה תָּאִיר נֵרִי
 יְהוָה אֱלהַי יַגִּיהַּ חָשְׁכִּי

ki · at·tah · ta·ir · ne·ri
Adonai · E·lo·hai · ya·gi·ah · chosh·ki
 

"For it is you who light my lamp;
 the LORD my God outshines my darkness."
(Psalm 18:28)
 


Hebrew Study Card
 

Exercising faith means actively listening to the Eternal Voice, the Word of the LORD that calls out in love in search of your heart's trust... To have faith means justifying God's faith in you, that is, understanding that you are worthy of salvation, that you truly matter to God, and that the Voice calls out your name, too.... Living in faith means consciously accepting that you are accepted by God's love and grace. Trusting God means that you bear ambiguity, heartache, and darkness, yet you still allow hope to enlighten your way.

The Rizhiner Rebbe once said, "Let your light penetrate the darkness until the darkness itself becomes the light and there is no longer a division between the two. As it is written, "And there was evening and there was morning, one day." Yea, the darkness and the light are both alike unto Thee, O LORD, as it is written: "If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you" (Psalm 139:11-12).
 

    "To have faith is to perceive the wonder that is here, and to be stirred by the desire to integrate the self into the holy order of being. Faith does not spring out of nothing. It comes with the discovery of the holy dimension of our existence. Faith means to hold small things great, to take light matters seriously, to distinguish between the common and the passing from the aspect of the lasting. It is from faith from which we draw the sweetness of life, the taste of the sacred, the joy of the imperishably dear. It is faith that offers us a share in eternity." - Abraham Heschel
     

We walk by faith, not by sight - by hearing the Word of God, heeding what the Spirit of God is saying to the heart... For now we "see through a glass darkly," which literally means "in a riddle" (ἐν αἰνίγματι).  A riddle is an analogy given through some resemblance to the truth, though quite often the correspondences are puzzling and obscure. Hence, "seeing through a glass darkly" means perceiving obscurely or imperfectly, looking "through" something else instead of directly apprehending reality. This is contrasted with the "face to face" (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים) vision and clarity given in the world to come, when our knowledge will be clear and distinct, and the truth of God will no longer be hidden. Being "face to face" with reality means being free of the riddles, the analogies, the semblances, etc., which cause us to languish in uncertainty... Now we know in part, but then shall we know in whole.

In light of the obscurity of life in this temporary age, we are encouraged not to lose heart, since though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being raised into newness (ἀνακαινόω) day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). "For our light and transient troubles are achieving for us an everlasting glory whose weight is beyond description, because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17).

Therefore we "walk by faith, not by sight," as if the invisible is indeed visible. We must stay strong and keep hope, for through hope we are saved (Rom. 8:24). Faith is the conviction (ἔλεγχος) of things unseen (Heb. 11:1). Do not be seduced by mere appearances; do not allow yourself to be bewitched into thinking that this world should ever be your home. No, we are strangers and pilgrims here; we are on the journey to the reach "the City of Living God, to heavenly Jerusalem, to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven" (Heb. 12:22-23). Therefore do not lose heart. Keep to the narrow path. Set your affections on things above since your real life is "hidden with God" (Col. 3:1-4). Do not yield to the temptation of despair. Look beyond the "giants of the land" and reckon them as already fallen. Keep pressing on. Chazak, chazak, ve-nit chazek - "Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!" Fight the good fight of the faith. May the LORD our God help you take hold of the eternal life to which you were called (1 Tim. 6:12).

Note:  Shalom friends. Please pray for this ministry... Things have been really hard for me lately, so please ask our Lord for his favor and grace for this work to continue. Thank you.
 




Danger of Self-Deception...


 

05.13.14 (Iyyar 13, 5774)  We are admonished: "Test yourselves to see whether you are in the faith" (2 Cor. 13:5). We must courageously look at our lives and ask some tough questions. Do you really believe the truth, or are there other motives at work? Is it possible to think that you really believe when in fact you don't? For example, is it possible to think that you are a spiritual person who serves God, but you are actually mistaken? Tragically it seems that we can "talk ourselves into" believing that we are moral, honest, full of faith, and so on, but our self image does not agree with reality... This is a more serious problem than hypocrisy (not believing what we say), since in this case we really do believe that we are something we are not – we are "true believers" in a distorted view of ourselves! This happens all the time. Most people think they are "above average" and have a high opinion of themselves. Self esteem is important, of course, but it must be grounded in reality: "For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself" (Gal. 6:3). Yeshua warned, "On that day many (πολλοὶ) will profess to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I profess to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'" (Matt. 7:22-23). How is such a dreadful outcome possible unless truly religious people can indeed truly fool themselves? By itself, sincerity is no measure of truth, since we can truly sincere, and yet sincerely wrong...

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

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




Torah of Questions...


 

05.12.14 (Iyyar 12, 5774)  Why is there something rather than nothing? Why does anything exist at all? These are basic questions about the meaning of life. Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? "God created the universe," you say, yes, but exactly why did He do so? What purpose did he have in mind? In particular, why were you created? What is the purpose of your life? What do you hope to achieve with the limited amount of time you have on this earth? Such questions brood within the soul, even if they are hidden from consciousness by various forms of busyness and distraction. At the outset of serious thinking about anything at all we are confronted with such ultimate questions. What is real? Why are we here? Where are we going? What does God want from us?

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

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

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

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

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




What is Lag B'Omer?


 

05.12.14 (Iyyar 12, 5774)  We are in the midst of Sefirat Ha-Omer (the "Counting of the Omer") that leads directly from Passover to Shavuot ("Pentecost"). This is a "countdown period" leading up to the revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and later, to the giving of the Holy Spirit to disciples... These dates run from April 15th through June 2nd this year.


 

The day following this coming Sabbath (i.e., May 17th) begins the 33rd day of the omer count, called Lag B'Omer (ל״ג בעומר), which later became a mystical holiday to commemorate the teaching of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (i.e, Rashbi: רשב"י), the purported author of the Zohar, a fundamental text of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). According to tradition, on the day of his death, Rabbi Shimon revealed the deepest secrets of the Kabbalah to his followers and insisted that they would thereafter celebrate the anniversary of his death (yahrzeit) with joy. His followers then associated his death on Iyyar 18 with the anniversary of the revelation of Kabbalah (Torat Ha-Nistar) to Israel. Among Kabbalists, Lag B'Omer celebrates the giving of the "mystical Torah" to Israel just as the holiday of Shavuot celebrates the giving of the written Torah. Today special Lag B'Omer "bonfire" celebrations are held in the village of Meron (near Safed, Israel) where the Rashbi is buried to mystically recall the "sparks that fly upward," back to God.

Important:  It should be evident that Lag B'Omer is not a Christian/Messianic Jewish holiday, but on the contrary celebrates occult speculations that further separate many Jewish people from the liberating truth of Yeshua the Messiah. During this time of "countdown," chaverim, let us pray that the eyes of many Jews will soon be opened to see that Yeshua is indeed the Messiah and Savior of Israel.
 




Parashat Bechukotai - בְּחֻקּתַי


 

05.12.14 (Iyyar 12, 5774)  Our Torah reading this week (parashat Bechukotai) begins with the promise that if the Israelites would walk in the LORD's statutes (chukkot) and commandments (mitzvot) and perform them, then they would enjoy material blessings and dwell securely in the promised land. Moreover the LORD Himself would make His dwelling with them and would walk among them as their God. The people of Israel would then truly be am segulah (עַם סְגֻלָּה) - a treasured people among all the nations of the earth.

On the other hand, if the people disobeyed God and disregarded His commandments, then they would be considered covenant-breakers, and they would experience all manner of distress and tribulation in their lives. They would experience panic attacks, diseases, heartache, and all manner of tsuris (vexation, trouble); their enemies would eat their increase, and those who hate them would rule over them; they would flee at the rustle of a leaf, and their lives would be full of terror and misery – all because they refused to put the LORD God first in their lives. And if after all this trouble the people would still refuse to return to the LORD, the worst punishment of all would befall them: exile from the promised land and banishment from the Presence of the LORD Himself.

Nonetheless, despite their disobedience, God's love and mercy for Israel would never fully depart, for "if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies – if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land" (Lev. 26:40-42). Moreover, even while they are in exile, in the land of their enemies, God vowed: "I will not cast them away; nor will I ever abhor them to destroy them and to break My covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God" (Lev. 26:44).

The portion (and the Book of Leviticus) ends with a discussion of various laws pertaining to vows and tithes that a person may make to contribute towards the upkeep of the Sanctuary. These include dedications of persons, animals, houses, and lands. The scroll of Leviticus ends with the emphatic statement: "These are the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai."
 

 




Our Core Needs...


 

05.09.14 (Iyyar 9, 5774)  Where it is written, "I can do all things through Messiah who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13), we must include things like receiving the love of God into our hearts, being healed of the pain of rejection, abandonment, and so on. "I can do all things through Messiah" means no longer accepting messages of self-contempt, no longer heeding those sinister whispers that say: "I am of no value," "I am unlovable," "my life is hopeless..." No, "I can do all things through Messiah" means learning to be accepted, to be honored, and to be esteemed by God; it means opening your heart to God's all-transforming love and blessing for your life; and it means allowing your heart to be made right, to experience inner peace... After all, Yeshua's great prayer was that we would know the truth of God's love for us, and this is the central need our lives (John 17).
 




Shekhinah of Humility...


 

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

05.09.14 (Iyyar 9, 5774)  Why is it, the sages asked, that God bypassed all of the world's great and lofty mountains and chose to give His Torah on the humble mountain of Sinai? Because God's Spirit (רוּחַ) rests with the lowly, the humble of heart. Therefore humility (עֲנָוָה) is considered one of the greatest of middot ha-lev (heart qualities). "For this is what the high and exalted one says, the one who rules forever, whose Name is Holy: "I dwell in an exalted and holy place, but also with the crushed and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the crushed" (Isa. 57:15).
 

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

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

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



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




The Work of His Rest...


 

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

05.09.14 (Iyyar 9, 5774)  "At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release (i.e., shemitah, שְׁמִטָּה, a "letting go," from שָׁמַט, to relinquish). And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the LORD's release has been proclaimed" (Deut. 15:1-2). Often it takes more faith to "let go" than to keep your hand to the plough... Relaxing your grip, letting the yield of your efforts go fallow, requires you to trust in God's promise rather than your ability to control outcomes. The Law of Shemittah (תּוֹרָה שְׁמִטָּה) teaches us that when we surrender to God's care, we will suffer no loss, even when we allow our land to go fallow. May the Lord make the work of rest within us...
 




Respect Precedes Torah...


 

05.09.14 (Iyyar 9, 5774)  It is said, "respect precedes Torah," which means that we must esteem ourselves and others properly as image bearers of God. This is basic to all else. We must first of all care; we must be willing to give up our sickness; we must want to be healed. This also means that we are willing to give up blaming others and confess the truth about how we have brought pain to our lives. After we learn to forgive ourselves, we can let go of the pain, the weary anger, and forgive others of their missteps, too. It is impossible to be joyful apart from such humility. Therefore each of us must rebuff demonic impulses and turn to God for healing.  And we must beseech the Lord to help us stay awake and to resist being lulled back into the unconsciousness of the world and its delusions.
 




Don't be afraid...


 

05.08.14 (Iyyar 8, 5774)  There is no fear in love, and therefore over and over the Spirit of God says, "don't be afraid..." When we are afraid, we are believing the lie there is something beyond God's control or reach, and therefore God is "not enough"... In times of testing you must remind yourself of what is real. God formed you in your mother's womb, breathed into you nishmat chayim, the breath of life, and numbers all your days... Every breath you take, every heartbeat in your chest is ordained from heaven, and indeed, there is not a moment of your life apart from God's sovereign and sustaining grace. So what, then, are you afraid of? Dying? Judgment in the world to come? Being left unloved, bereft of home, abandoned, consigned to outer darkness? King David said, "If I make my bed in Hell, behold, you are there" (Psalm 139:8). Look, the LORD God is not only present in your "happy moments," when you feel "put together" and respectable, but he is present in your desperate moments, in your hunger, your thirst, and in your secrets. May we never lose sight of God's love, especially in times of distress and trouble, since we trust that he is always working all things together for our ultimate good (Rom. 8:28).

The Name of the LORD (יהוה) means "Presence" and "Love" (Exod. 3:14; 34:6-7). Yeshua said, "I go to prepare a place for you," which means that his presence and love are waiting for you in whatever lies ahead (Rom. 8:35-39). To worry is "practicing the absence" of God instead of practicing His Presence... Trust the word of the Holy Spirit: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for healing peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11). The Word always speaks hope.

Take comfort that your Heavenly Father sees when the sparrow falls; he arrays the flower in its hidden valley; and he calls each star by name. More importantly, the Lord sees you and knows your struggle with fear. Come to him with your needy heart and trust him to deliver you from the burdens of your soul (Matt. 11:28). Shalom means being free from fear.

This is a word for the exiles of every age: Be not afraid - "al-tirah" – not of man, nor of war, nor of tribulation, nor even of death itself (Rom. 8:35-39). If God be for us, who can be against us? Indeed, Yeshua came to die to destroy the power of death "and to release all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (Heb. 2:14-15). The resurrection of the Messiah is the focal point of history - not the "dust of death." Death does not have the final word. Indeed, because Yeshua is alive, we also shall live (John 14:19). May your chesed, O LORD, be upon us, as we wait for You (Psalm 33:22).

Nachman of Breslov once is reported to have said that "The whole earth is a very narrow bridge (כָּל־הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ גֶּשֶׁר צַר מְאד), and the point of life is never to be afraid." Likewise we understand Yeshua to be the Bridge to the Father, the narrow way of passage that leads to life. He calls out to us in the storm of this world, "Take heart. It is I; be not afraid" (Matt. 14:27). When Peter answered the call and attempted to walk across the stormy waters, he lost courage and began to sink, but Yeshua immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt (lit., think twice)?"

We must be careful not to let the light in us become darkness (Luke 11:35). The love and acceptance of God is the answer to our fear, not the thought of being judged by Him or attempting to merit his favor through religion. God's love is our hope, and this hope gives us courage to persevere the storms of the day...  May your chesed, O LORD, be upon us, as we wait for You (Psalm 33:22).

Personal Update: Please keep this ministry in your prayers, friends.  For a variety of reasons we are facing financial difficulties. Please pray that the Lord will provide for us, especially since we have some major bills hanging over our head at this time. Thank you.
 




Alongside the Fleeting...


 

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

05.08.14 (Iyyar 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).

Abraham "sojourned" in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with his children because he looked for a city whose builder and maker was God (Heb. 11:9-11). Likewise we are strangers and exiles here, on the journey to the reach "the City of Living God, to heavenly Jerusalem, to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven" (Heb. 12:22-23). When we take up the cross and follow Yeshua, we die to this world and its dreams. We die to ourselves in order to find life (Mark 8:35-36). We give up houses, lands, all our possessions, family relationships, and even our own lives in order to find residence with God (Matt. 19:29; Luke 14:26). We reckon ourselves "dead" to this world as our home and "look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). We walk by faith, not by sight.  Faith is the conviction (ἔλεγχος) of things unseen (Heb. 11:1) - and that includes the conviction that God will visibly care for our needs even if we let our gardens go fallow and release our claim on all our debtors...

For more on this topic, see "Strange Settlers: Further Thoughts on Parashat Behar."
 




Hebrew and Honey...

Josiah holds a Shin
 

05.07.14 (Iyyar 7, 5774)  Be encouraged to study Hebrew, friends! The method is, "step by step, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little" (Isa. 28:10). Even a little Hebrew helps, and as you progress you will find it is a spiritual language that will bless your life in many wonderful ways.... Indeed the Hebrew word for "letter" is ot (אוֹת), which can also mean "sign" or "wonder." Each letter of the Aleph-Bet, then, may contain signs that point to wonderful truths about life, and particularly about Yeshua, who said, "I AM the Aleph and the Tav (אֲנִי הָאָלֶף וְהַתָּו), the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13).

Yeshua the Mashiach is called devar Elohim (דְּבַר אֱלהִים), the Word of God, and the Aleph and Tav (אָלֶף וְתָו), Who upholds all of the created order by the word of His power. It is the Mashiach Yeshua alone Who is the true yesod (יְסוֹד) or foundation of life itself. Every holy utterance can be traced back to Him, and He is the Source and Origin of all that is good, lasting, and righteous. Indeed, Yeshua is called "the zohar of His glory" (הוּא זהַר כְּבוֹדוֹ), that is, the radiance of the glory of God Himself, who "upholds all things by the word of His power" (נוֹשֵׂא כל בִּדְבַר גְּבוּרָתוֹ) (see Heb. 1:3). Since He is the First and the Last, we can see that the otiyot will all reveal something about Him.

As various acrostic passages in Scripture reveal, the Hebrew letters and their order (aleph, bet, gimmel, etc.) are of divine origin. The Hebrew language is unique in this regard, since you can learn something about God from the Hebrew letters themselves and their spiritual properties. For instance, the order of the letters within a poem or even a word can reveal spiritual properties, and likewise the numeric value of phrases and words can reveal connections to other words that share that same value.

A beautiful Jewish custom developed in the Middle Ages regarding the study of the Hebrew Aleph Bet.  After a young child had successfully learned all the Hebrew letters, a "graduation party" would be held in his or her honor. The letters were written on a slate and each was drizzled with honey. The honored child would then lick each letter so that the words of the Scriptures would seem as appealing as honey (Psalm 19:10). An oneg (party) would then follow congratulating the child for entering the world of Jewish learning.
 




Pride and Fallenness...

blackbird in branches - photo by j parsons
 

05.07.14 (Iyyar 7, 5774)  Pride blinds the heart. As Abraham Heschel said, "In a controversy, the instant we feel anger, we have already ceased striving for truth and have begun striving for ourselves." The truth needs no defense. If we find ourselves getting defensive or hostile, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves what we really believe, since we always act out what we believe... If we seek to use truth as a weapon, or as a means to rationalize our self-will, then we are not "in the truth," even if our facts in the matter may be correct. We must be careful not to find ourselves using the truth for our own agenda. Yeshua's words haunt the heart: "Without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

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

לִפְנֵי־שֶׁבֶר גָּאוֹן
וְלִפְנֵי כִשָּׁלוֹן גּבַהּ רוּחַ

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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




God's Strength Alone...

macro photo by j parsons
 

05.07.14 (Iyyar 7, 5774)  I hope you are staying strong today: "We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16). Even when we face diseases, losses, and even the prospect of death itself, we know there is a miracle within our hearts, and that is what matters most of all... It is written, "The world is built in chesed," olam chesed yibaneh (עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה), which means that our inner life is being built by God's love. We can rejoice, then, even in our afflictions and troubles. There is something unspeakably wonderful coming! Our momentary affliction prepares an "eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:16-19).

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

There are some requests we can make unreservedly to our Father in heaven... For example, we can ask for patience and the fruit of the Spirit to be manifest (i.e., the inner character formation of Messiah within us, despite our flesh); we can ask to be made willing to surrender to the love of God, fully yielded and united with his heart's great passion. Likewise we can assuredly ask for the grace to live and to die well, to "walk in the Spirit," to glorify Yeshua, and so on. We are given confidence when we ask according to God's will, and we can trust that he heeds such petitions (1 John 5:14). Therefore, may God help us "be strong in the Lord and the power of His might..."  Amen.
 




Remembering our Roots...


 

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

05.06.14
 (Iyyar 6, 5774)  How important are the Jewish roots of our faith? How important is our heritage in relation to our understanding of God's ways? Our Torah portion this week is called "Behar," from the phrase behar Sinai (בְּהַר סִינַי) found its opening verse (Lev. 25:1). But why does the word Sinai appear in a portion of Torah that discusses social and agricultural laws that were to be observed only later, in the promised land? What does the subject of the Sabbatical Year (shemittah) have to do with the revelation given at Sinai?

The sages say that the Sabbatical year was mentioned in connection with Sinai in order to teach that Moses received not only the Ten Commandments and the revelation of the Tabernacle there, but also specific laws regulating future social and economic practices of the people as well. The law of the Sabbatical year is a case in point, since it would have been absurd for a law that required farmers to abandon their farming practices once every seven years to have been proclaimed while the people wandered in the desert...

How important is tradition in our lives? So important that we could not understand even the first word of the Scriptures without it ... There is a story that illustrates this point. A pagan came to Hillel seeking to convert but was troubled with the idea of tradition, though he accepted the idea of the written Scriptures. Since the man did not know how to read Hebrew, however, Hillel began pointing to the letters in the written Torah to teach him the alphabet: "This is Aleph... this is Bet... this is Gimmel," and so on, until the man began to understand the letters of the Aleph-Bet. "Now come tomorrow, and I will teach you more." The next day, Hillel pointed to the exact same letters but reversed their names, "This is Gimmel... this is Aleph... this is Bet," and so on. The convert was confused: "But yesterday you said just the opposite!" Hillel replied, "Now you have had your first lesson. You see that the written word alone is insufficient, and we need the tradition to explain God's Word." Another way to make this point is to say that the Torah was not revealed along with a dictionary that defines the meaning of its words....

All this is said to remind us that the transmission of Torah from generation to generation demands that we trust in the providence of God. Indeed the very concept of "Torah" (or Scripture) is bound up with trust and community... This is true of the written word (i.e., trusting in scribal traditions that preserved the Scriptures for us), as well as the oral word (i.e., the customs, interpretations, translations, and wisdom that explain the meaning of the words themselves). Knowledge has been defined as "justified true belief," which implies that there can never be knowledge without trust. It is ludicrous to think that we can translate the Scriptures in a vacuum - all by ourselves without any help from others... We must humble ourselves and become "like little children" to learn from those who have gone before us, and this is why the Jewish value of Talmud Torah - teaching children the words and values of Torah - is regarded as so important. As the Talmud puts it, "The world exists because of the breath of the schoolchildren who study Torah" (Shabbat 119b).

In Hebrew the word chinukh (חִנּוּךְ) means "education," a word that shares the same root as the word "chanukah" (חֲנֻכָּה, "dedication"). Unlike the Greek ideal that regards education as "enlightenment" (i.e., being "led out" of the cave of ignorance), the Jewish ideal implies dedication to God and His concrete purposes on the earth.  This ideal goes beyond the process of merely transmitting information, since dedication must be modeled (lived) as well as intellectually taught. Maimonides noted that the Hebrew word chinukh comes from the Torah's description of dedicating a tool for use at the Holy Altar, "habituating the tool for its work." In other words, godly education is a process of modeling how to be made into a "fit vessel" for the service of God in this world. All other ends of knowledge ultimately exist for this purpose, and rightly understood, education is a form of worship.

Disciples of Yeshua are called talmidim (תַּלְמִידִים) - a word that comes from lamad (לָמַד) meaning "to learn" (the Hebrew word for teacher is melamad (מְלַמֵּד) from the same root). Education is therefore foundational to being a disciple of the Messiah, and the great commission is for each of us to share His teaching with others (Matt. 28:19-20). May God help each of us to be students who are dedicated to living for the sake of Yeshua's Name.

Note: The general idea of "tradition" is more encompassing than the "traditions of men" that Yeshua condemned (Mark 7:1-15). The "traditions of men" were false religious dogmas about how to get right with God (e.g., ritual hand washing, cleaning vessels, elevating customs over the clear teaching of the Torah, and so on), while "tradition" (in general) means (more or less) the shared experiences of people, the common assumptions, the meaning of words and language, self-evident truths, and so on. Whenever a practice becomes so deep-seated that it operates on a preconscious level, we need to be careful. There are some Christians who reject the idea of "tradition" without realizing that it is their "tradition" to do so... The same could be said about various liturgical practices, or the assumption that "church" means listening to a minister provide expository preaching that must be followed by a personal "application" for our lives. We must be mindful of our prejudices and biases. If you reject certain traditions, you are likely doing so because of other assumptions that eventually are part of your tradition. Shalom.
 




Humility and Peace...


 

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

05.06.14 (Iyyar 6, 5774)  Why is it, the sages asked, that God bypassed all of the world's great and lofty mountains and chose to give His Torah on the humble mountain of Sinai? Because God's Spirit (רוּחַ) rests with the lowly, the humble of heart. Therefore humility (עֲנָוָה) is considered one of the greatest of middot ha-lev (heart qualities).

It is perhaps in this connection that we should understand the commandments given in this week's Torah portion to entirely abstain from harvesting the land every seventh year (i.e., the shemittah - שְׁמִטָּה) and to cancel (forgive) all outstanding debts every 50 years during the Yovel (יוֹבֵל), or "Jubilee Year."  Each of us must live in conscious dependence on God's provision and care for our lives. The earth is the LORD's and the fulness thereof, but in the end everything reverts back to God, the true Possessor of heaven and earth. How wonderful that God gives us true "release" and freedom, despite the shackles that mere men try to impose on us. "From Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things."

"For this is what the high and exalted one says, the one who rules forever, whose Name is Holy: "I dwell in an exalted and holy place, but also with the crushed (i.e., dakka: דַּכָּא) and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the crushed" (Isa. 57:15). The Holy One reveals Himself to the "lowly in spirit" (שְׁפַל־רוּחַ), that is, to those who understand their own nothingness and complete dependence on Him for life, healing, and the will to live. Note further that the word dakka (דַּכָּא) is the same word the prophet used to describe how Yeshua would be crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:10). William James called this deep work of the spiritual life Zerrissenheit, a term that can be translated as "torn-to-pieces-hood," or a state of being utterly broken and in disarray. From the point of view of our dependence on God for salvation, dakka refers to humility and contrition we express in light of God's love and grace for our souls...  Pride, arrogance, and self-righteousness are antithetical to the awareness of God in the truth.

According to the Sages, of all the various berachot (blessings) mentioned in this portion of Torah, the most desirable is that of shalom (שָׁלוֹם), or peace.  The Birchat Kohanim (the priestly blessing) ends with the word shalom, as does the Shemoneh Esrei (sometimes called the "Amidah") -- the central prayer of the synagogue. The root שׂ-ל-מ indicates not merely the absence of strife but completion and fulfillment, a state of wholeness and unity, and this implies a restored relationship with God and man. Hence the word can be variously understood to mean "peace, prosperity, well, health, completeness, safety." Shalom is a necessary precondition for all other forms of goodness.  It represents the Presence and Rule of God over the hearts and souls of humanity. May God grant you His shalom, chaverim.
 




The Jubilee Year...


 

05.06.14 (Iyyar 6, 5774)  Our Torah portion this week (parashat Behar) begins with the commandment that an Israelite farmer must let his land remain fallow every seventh year. This is called the "Sabbatical year" (i.e., shemittah: שמיטה), and the inhabitants of the land were permitted to glean whatever the farmland produced naturally. In addition, the people were told to count seven cycles of seven years – a total of 49 years – and to mark the arrival of the fiftieth year with blasts of the shofar on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). This fiftieth year would be a time of "Jubilee" (yovel) – a year of "release" for the land and all its inhabitants. All slaves would be set free, debts would be canceled, and the stewardship of the land would revert to its original titleholders.

In this connection, how do you determine whether a given year is a Sabbatical year (i.e., shemittah)? We take the current Jewish year and divide by seven; if there is no remainder, it is a shemittah year; otherwise it is not. For example next year (5775) is a Sabbatical Year (note that the Jewish year begins on Rosh Hashanah, on Tishri 1, in the fall). The Jubilee year (yovel) of course follows the seventh of the seven year cycles (i.e., 7 x 7 + 1), though there are some questions about which iteration (1st, 2nd, ... 7th) is currently active.  According to some authorities, the last Jubilee year was in 5727, which means the next would be Yom Kippur 5776, that is, Tues. Oct. 11th, 2016...
 

 




Happy Birthday, Israel!


 

[ Yom Huledet Same'ach, Israel! Happy 66th to the miraculous people of the miraculous promised land! Am Yisrael Chai! May God make your numbers like the stars in heaven! ]

05.05.14 (Iyyar 5, 5774)  Tonight at sundown we celebrate Israel's Independence Day, called Yom Ha'atzma'ut (yohm ha-atz-ma-OOT) in Hebrew (יוֹם הָעַצְמָאוּת). The word atzma'ut (independence) comes from atzmi - "my bones" (i.e., etzem: עֶצֶם). The name reminds us of the God's glorious promise to revive the "dry bones" (עֲצָמוֹת) of Israel by bringing the Jewish people back from their long exile (Ezek. 37:1-6). Son of man, can these bones live?

In Psalm 122:6 we read the line, "pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (שַׁאֲלוּ שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלָםִ). Note that the word sha'alu (שַׁאֲלוּ) actually means "ask" (as in ask a sheilah (שְׁאֵלָה), a question), and "shalom" (שָׁלוֹם), which is a name of Yeshua, who is Sar Shalom (שַׂר־שָׁלוֹם), the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6). The word Jerusalem (יְרוּשָׁלַיִם) means "teaching of peace" (the "Jeru" at the beginning (יְרוּ־) comes from the same root as Torah (i.e., yarah: יָרָה), which means teaching), so the phrase could be construed, "ask about the Prince of Peace and His Teaching." At any rate, we know that Yeshua is indeed the King of Jerusalem (Matt. 5:35) who will soon return to reign over all the earth.
 

שַׁאֲלוּ שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלָםִ
יִשְׁלָיוּ אהֲבָיִךְ

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

 

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



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Welcomed in His Presence...


 

05.02.14 (Iyyar 2, 5774)  "Not being welcome is your greatest fear. It connects with your birth fear, your fear of not being welcome in this life, and your death fear, your fear of not being welcome in the life after this. It is the deep-seated fear that it would have been better if you had not lived" (Nouwen). The message of the gospel is - above all else - an invitation, a cry of welcome, that sings out to you in your loneliness and shame. The core of the battle is here - whether you will decide to trust in God's love or shrink back into the places of darkness, isolation, and pain. Yeshua says, "Come to me; I love you, I accept you; I receive you; please, be welcome with me; I will take your hand, I will be with you..."

I've wrestled with this sort of painful fear for as long as I can remember... a sense of not being welcomed, of not belonging, being "outside" looking in... For me, heaven is a sense of home, of acceptance, a place where you are "inside out" and yet completely loved. In short, heaven is nothing less being loved and accepted by the Lord, and hearing him say, "I love you; you belong to me; I call you my friend..."

Lord I need you; I need you more than my next breath or heartbeat, for your lovingkindness is better than life itself... I come before you; this is my request: that I might know your love, and that you might know my heartache for you. You said "seek my face, and my heart said to you, 'Your face, Lord, do I seek." Do not leave me bereft of comfort, O God; do not hide your face from me. For "whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever..."

There is much talk about "receiving Jesus" into our hearts, but it is even more important to understand that He receives us into His heart... Shabbat Shalom, friends. May God fill you with a sense of His welcome, his acceptance, and his delight in you. Amen.
 





Being the Beloved...


 

05.02.14 (Iyyar 2, 5774)  We are to be who we are, not as we might regard ourselves, and by faith we discover our real identity in the love and mercy of God. Your true self is "hidden with Messiah in God," which means it is spoken into being by the word of his promise (Col. 3:1-4). The assumption that you have a "self" apart from God, that your ego "exists" independently, as the starting point of "your reality," is therefore an illusion that results in tragic disordering of life. You cannot know your true self apart from God's love, because God's love is the ground and Source of who you are...

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

So you see how dangerous negative "self talk" is to the heart... Before you condemn or belittle yourself, understand who (or what) you are talking about. The "old nature" is dead to the new! This is not to suggest that we can live in a perfected state, but what God has done for us is His "it-is-finished" work of healing and eternal remedy. We look to what God has done, and we heed God's message of love, to know who we really are in the Spirit.
 




Countdown to Revelation...


 

05.01.14 (Iyyar 1, 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). Moreover, in six days God created the heavens and the earth, but 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, June 3rd 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.

Again, the climax of the 49 days was not the giving of the lawcode at Sinai, but rather the revelation of the pattern 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 that Shavuot marked the appointed time when the Holy Spirit was given in fulfillment of the promise that we would not be left comfortless (John 14:16-18)... Shavuot, then, marks the time of "Jubilee" of the Spirit, when are clothed with power from on high to serve the LORD without fear.
 




Love's Great Esteem...



 

05.01.14 (Iyyar 1, 5774)  The message of the gospel requires that you regard yourself as worth dying for, that you are God's friend... "There is no greater love than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). God demands that you regard yourself as worth the sacrifice of his beloved son Yeshua in your place; he demands that you understand how dear you are to his heart. The LORD sees something of such great value in you that he was willing to suffer and die to redeem it from loss... Just as the kingdom of God is a "pearl of great price," so you are a pearl of great price to God. What grieves and angers God is the refusal to believe that you are someone of infinite importance to him, for this regards his own esteem of you with contempt...

Of course this does not mean that we are "perfect" people, and indeed the test of faith means learning to "accept that you are accepted" despite who you are, despite your sins, and to patiently "endure yourself" while God continues his transformation of your inner life.  Meanwhile regard your sins and defects of character in light of the cross of Messiah, and never despair over yourself apart from seeing God's outstretched arms for you... When you understand that your sin was accepted into the stricken heart of Yeshua on your behalf, you see it rightly - and the wonder and glory of God's love for us is magnified....

The mere conviction of sin is not the same thing as repentance. We have to step beyond a troubled conscience and have our sin crucified by God's love and grace... Grace is therefore essential to genuine repentance, since moral reformation is never enough. We must be humbled so that we can receive. God gives us bitter experience of our inadequacy to call us to return to him. Only God can kill the power of sin within our hearts. We speak of teshuvah, but there is something on the "other side of return" that is the goal of it all. Conviction of sin is not an end in itself, but rather newness of life...

Note:  Sometimes the great struggle is to receive the love of God, to dwell in conscious awareness of his ongoing care, and not to be blinded by fear, grief, or anger. This is difficult because we must constantly reconcile our sinful condition with God's unconditional acceptance of our lives, and that means learning to receive ourselves despite our missteps and failures. The great risk is to push away from God, to despair over yourself, and to lose sight of why you were given life by the hand of the Lord...
 

הַגּוֹאֵל מִשַּׁחַת חַיָּיְכִי
הַמְעַטְּרֵכִי חֶסֶד וְרַחֲמִים

ha-go·el · mi·sha·chat · chai·yai·khi
ha-me·a·te·rei·khi · che·sed · ve·rach·a·mim

 

"He is redeeming your life from destruction;
He crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies"
(Psalm 103:4)



"For if he was crucified in weakness, he lives by the power of God. And we are also weak in him, but we will live with him by the power of God to you" (2 Cor. 13:4). There is a gap between our ideals and reality, between what we profess and what we do, between our desires and our choices... This realization can help us walk in humility: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). God's strength is "made perfect" (τελειόω) in our weakness, and his blessing comes out of brokenness.

You are invited to come "boldly" before God's throne of grace - into the inner sanctum, where his heart is fully expressed - and there to confess your need. You forget all that is in your past, you forsake all other hope than the miracle that holds all things together for your sake, for this present moment, so that you may open your heart to God's love...
  





Loving the Stranger...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Emor.... ]

05.01.14 (Iyyar 1, 5774)  Did you know that one of the most frequently occurring commandments is for the Jew to love the stranger? The commandment is repeated in various forms over 30 times in the Jewish Scriptures, for instance "You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD" (Lev. 19:18); "You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God" (Lev. 19:34); "Love the stranger, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt" (Deut. 10:19); "You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt" (Exod. 22:21); "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong" (Lev. 19:33); "Do not oppress the stranger" (Zech. 7:10); "Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due the stranger" (Deut. 24:19); "The stranger shall be as the native born children of Israel among you" (Ezek. 47:22), and so on.  Clearly the LORD does not want people to feel ostracized, excluded, or otherwise left out of His providential and loving plans... Indeed, the message of the universal love of God is at the heart of the gospel itself, harkening back to God's earliest promises to redeem humanity and restore paradise lost.  "Religion," tribalism, prejudice, ethnic pride, and so on, are anathema to the Kingdom of God.

Jewish tradition says that King David was born on Shavuot, the holiday of shtei ha-lechem, the "two loaves" that prophetically foretold of the advent of the "one new man" (Eph. 2:14-22) and of the mysterious inclusion of the Gentiles into the covenant promises of God (Eph. 3:6). God has a great compassion for the outsider, for the lost, and for those who are without inheritance in this world. During Shavuot it is customary to read the Book of Ruth which tells the story about redeeming love and the advent of King David. Recall that King David was a direct descendant of Ruth, who as a Moabitess was an outsider and "stranger" to the promises of God (Ruth 4:17). Despite being part of an despised and rejected group of people (see Deut. 23:3), Ruth overcame the law's demand by believing in the love and acceptance of a redeemer of Israel (Ruth 3:9). Ruth's great grandson was named David (דָוִד), meaning "beloved," which has the same numerical value as the word "hand" (יָד). It is no wonder that the LORD chose David to represent God's extended hand of love for the stranger, for the convert, for the outsider, the leper, and the lost, since his descendant Yeshua the Messiah came to love and redeem the entire world by means of His outstretched hand. "Blessed be the Name of the LORD."

On a somewhat deeper level, the commandment to "love the stranger" applies not only to someone whom we regard as an "outsider," but more radically to the "stranger within ourselves," that is, to those aspects of ourselves we censor, deny, or reject. Like the prodigal son, we have to "come to ourselves" to return home (Luke 15:17), yet we can't know that we are unconditionally loved until we venture complete disclosure. That is the great risk of trusting in God's love for your soul. Those parts of ourselves that we "hide" need to be brought to the light, healed, and reconciled. After all, if we don't love and accept ourselves, then how can we hope to love and accept others? Dear Lord, deliver us from the torment of self-hatred, in the Name and passion of your love, amen...
 




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