Jewish Holiday Calendar
Note: For October 2014 site updates, please scroll past this entry....
The Jewish civil year begins in the fall, though the Biblical year begins in spring (Exod. 12:2). Preparations for the fall holidays begin with a thirty day period of teshuvah (repentance) during the (late summer) month of Elul. The following ten days begin with the Feast of Trumpets (i.e., Rosh Hashanah, on Tishri 1) and end with the Day of Atonement (i.e., Yom Kippur, on Tishri 10). These first ten days of the new year are called the "Ten Days of Awe" (i.e., aseret ye'mei teshuvah: עֲשֶׁרֶת יְמֵי תְּשׁוּבָה), or simply the Jewish "High Holidays." Just five days after the solemn time of Yom Kippur begins the joyous week-long festival of Sukkot ("Tabernacles"), which is immediately followed by the celebration of Simchat Torah.
The Fall Holidays:
The fall festivals prophetically indicate the Day of the LORD, the second coming of Yeshua, the great national turning of the Jewish people, and the establishment of the reign of the Messiah upon the earth during the Millennial Kingdom in the world to come.
Note that in accordance with tradition, the following holiday dates begin at sundown:
Month of Tishri (begins Wed., Sept. 24th, 2014)
Month of Cheshvan (begins Thurs., Oct. 23rd, 2014)
Month of Kislev (begins Sat., Nov. 22nd, 2014)
- Month of Elul (begins Mon., Aug. 25th, 2014)
- Four Sabbaths: Vayetzei, Vayishlach, Vayeshev, Miketz
- Sigd - 50th day after Yom Kippur; (Tues., Nov. 29th)
- Dates for Chanukah 2014:
- 1st candle Tues., Dec. 16th [Kislev 25]
- 2nd candle Wed., Dec. 17th
- 3rd candle: Thurs., Dec. 18th
- 4th candle: Fri., Dec. 19th [Shabbat Miketz]
- 5th candle: Sat., Dec. 20th
- 6th candle: Sun., Dec. 21st
- 7th candle: Mon., Dec. 22nd (Tevet 1)
- 8th candle: Tues., Dec. 23rd [Zot Chanukah]
October 2014 Updates
The Armor of Light...
10.31.14 (Cheshvan 7, 5775) We are in the midst of a great spiritual war -- the war for the truth. This has been the battle from the beginning. The very first recorded words of Satan (הַנָּחָשׁ) questioned God's truth: "Did God really say...?" (Gen. 3:1). In the end there will be found two types of people: those who love the truth and those who love the lie; these are children of light (בְּנֵי הָאוֹר) and children of darkness (בְּנֵי הַחשֶׁךְ), respectively. Followers of Yeshua the Messiah are told to "walk as children of light" / ὡς τέκνα φωτὸς περιπατεῖτε (Eph. 5:8). Children of light are called to be am kadosh - a holy people - separate from the evil engendered by the fallen world and its forces, just as the very first creative expression of God was the separation of light from darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). The children of light "hate evil and love the good," and conversely, the children of darkness "hate the good and love evil" (Psalm 34:21, Prov. 8:13, Amos 5:15, John 3:20-21). Yes, we hate sin, because it separates people from healing; we hate sin because we love others. We are to walk in the peace and love of God; to do acts of justice and lovingkindness (Psalm 97:10). "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other."
Surely our great need is to have heart, to find strength, resolution, and steadfast determination to walk boldly during these heartless and depraved days (2 Tim. 3:1-5). We are not without God's help, of course. Yeshua told us that the Ruach HaKodesh (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) would be "called alongside" (παράκλητος) to comfort us on the journey. The English verb "comfort" literally means "to give strength" (from com- ["with"] and fortis ["strong"]), an idea similarly expressed by the verb "encourage," that is, to "put heart [i.e., 'core'] within the soul." In Hebrew, the word courage is expressed by the phrase ometz lev (אמֶץ לֵב), meaning "strong of heart," denoting an inner quality of the will rather than of the intellect. Our faith is the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 4:4, 5:4).
Fear is the primary tool of the devil and the underlying motive behind sin itself (Rom. 14:23). Beloved, "do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom 12:21).
May we always focus on Yeshua, the Light of Torah and the true Wisdom of God: "Whoever has My commandments (מִצְוֹתַי) and keeps them, that is the one who loves me. And the one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will manifest (lit., "shine within" from ἐν, "in" + φαίνω, "shine") myself to him" (John 14:21). There it is - the Source of the Light that overcomes all darkness; the Power that is behind the armor of God... Yeshua is the Beginning, the Center, and the End of all true meaning from God.
"Where your treasure is, there will be your heart" (Matt. 6:21). Your heart, your soul, your inmost being: What you value most defines and "locates" you. We cannot not treasure; we cannot desire not to desire; we are inherently valuing beings. It's not a question of whether you will worship, but what you indeed are worshiping. We always find what we seek, and our heart, our core, is revealed by what we value most... Shabbat shlaom chaverim sheli. And may God impart to you grace to take hold of heaven's true treasure. Amen.
Love's Fear and Trembling...
10.31.14 (Cheshvan 7, 5775) The gospel reveals God's passion for us, the call of his heart, his desire to elevate us to the role of the beloved, and we respond by accepting Him as the great Lover of our souls, the "ultimate concern" of our life. Sin threatens to seduce us away from God's love, to interfere with our relationship, which evokes God's "jealousy" to protect love from loss. It is written that "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18), but perfect love (τελεία ἀγάπη) must be "perfect," that is, reciprocal, complete, consummated, and alive with passion. In Hebrew, perfect love is "shalem" - that is, whole, healed, and unified (אַהֲבָה שְׁלֵמָה). Perfect love is both given and received... It is not "perfect love" to objectively accept that God loves you in Jesus. No, you must receive this as an inward passion, you must live within it, must embrace it, take possession of it, and let it fill your heart to abundance. This love, this "perfect love," then will cast away your fear of being unwanted, rejected, and abandoned. But to know this love, you have to open your heart and accept it as your own, the essential reality of who you are:
אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְעָלַי תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ
a·ni · le·do·di · ve·a·lai · te·shu·ka·to
"I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me"
I realize the analogy of God as the great "Lover of our Souls" is ideal for most of us, and yet how important it is that we understand ourselves as the "beloved"!
Eyes of the Heart...
10.31.14 (Cheshvan 7, 5775) The Hebrew word for "seeing" (ra'ah) is related to the word for "fear" (yirah), suggesting that when we really see life as it is, we will be filled with wonder and awe over the glory of it all. Every bush will be aflame with the Presence of God and the ground we walk upon shall suddenly be perceived as holy (Exod. 3:2-5). Nothing will seem small, trivial, or insignificant. It is in this sense that we are to serve the LORD with "fear and trembling" (φόβοv καὶ τρόμοv), that is, with an inner awareness of the sanctity and sacredness of life itself (Phil. 2:12-13). Da lifnei mi atah omed: "Know before whom you stand!" We must rouse ourselves and become aware... Sin puts us to sleep, numbs our minds and hearts, and blinds us to the radiance of divine revelation. When we see life as it is, with the "eyes of the heart" (Eph. 1:18), we will be filled with wonder and awe over the mystery of life itself. "Fearing" (יִרְאָה) and "seeing" (רָאָה) will be linked and unified.
Fret Not Thyself...
10.31.14 (Cheshvan 7, 5775) It is written in our holy Scriptures: "Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday" (Psalm 37:1-6). Here are a few brief comments on this great passage that I hope might encourage you...
"Fret not thyself because of evildoers,
neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity" (v1)
אַל־תְּקַנֵּא בְּעשֵׂי עַוְלָה
al · titchar · ba'merei'im
al · tekanei · be'osei · avlah
Note that the phrase translated "fret not" (אַל־תִּתְחַר) comes from the verb charah (חָרָה), meaning to burn in anger, to fume in indignation or resentment, to become vexed or disturbed, or to take offense... We are admonished not to allow the seeming prosperity of evildoers inspire you to question the power and rule of God, as it says: "Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD (יִרְאַת־יְהוָה) all the day" (Prov. 23:17). Worldly prosperity is devoid of real hope: "the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out" (Prov. 24:20). Likewise do not envy (אַל־תְּקַנֵּא) the workers of iniquity (עשֵׂי עַוְלָה), that is, those who practice injustice by the power of the lie. Do not desire their power, for it is a trap that leads them to destruction, as David prayed: "Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see" (Psalm 69:22-23; cp. Rom. 11:9-10).
"For they shall soon be cut down like the grass,
and wither as the green herb" (v2)
כִּי כֶחָצִיר מְהֵרָה יִמָּלוּ
וּכְיֶרֶק דֶּשֶׁא יִבּוֹלוּן
ki · khe'chatzir · me'heirah · yimalu
ukh'yerek · deshe · yibbolun
The Hebrew word for "grass" used in this verse (i.e., חָצִיר) refers to a hay-like variety that sprouts quickly but does not put down deep roots, so that it withers and fades in the sustained presence of the sun. By analogy, the wicked enjoy a short season of growth that ultimately is insubstantial, superficial, and spiritually spurious...
By extension this implies that we should not fret or envy the wicked of this world, for their prosperity is transitory and finally unreal, and the heart of faith desires what is everlastingly true and righteous. As is written: "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold" (Prov. 22:1; Eccl. 7:1). The wicked are likened to grass that will soon be razed, and to green herb that withers away, as it also says: "Though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever" (Psalm 92:7), and they "conceive chaff; they give birth to stubble; their breath is a fire that will consume them" (Isa. 32:12). The righteous are considered alive even in death; the wicked are considered "dead" even while alive (Berachot 18a-b).
"Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land,
and verily thou shalt be fed" (v3)
בְּטַח בַּיהוָה וַעֲשֵׂה־טוֹב
שְׁכָן־אֶרֶץ וּרְעֵה אֱמוּנָה
be'tach · badonai · va'aseh · tov
shekhon · eretz · ure'eh · emunah
Unlike the wicked who will dry up and blow away like chaff (Psalm 1:4), the righteous who trust in the LORD (בְּטַח בַּיהוָה) feed on (or "befriend") His faithfulness (רְעֵה אֱמוּנָה), and they indeed shall be truly fed. Note that we are to trust in the LORD and to do (or make) good (ועֲשֵׂה־טוֹב). Trust by itself is not sufficient but must be lived out in righteousness (Matt. 7:21; 1 John 2:29; James 1:22). It is easy to be self-deceived, to fool yourself into believing that you are doing "God's work" when in fact you are acting in carnal pride (Micah 3:11).
Genuine trust shows itself in the visible world (Matt 5:16). The all-essential commandment of Torah is to trust in the LORD with all your heart (Prov. 3:5) for divine righteousness and life (Hab. 2:4). "So shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed," literally, and you shall "befriend faithfulness" (וּרְעֵה אֱמוּנָה); you shall be watched over like a sheep that grazes in lush pasture land, secure in the presence of the good shepherd (Psalm 23:1-3). Trust God to nurture you in the wonders of his faithful love.
"Trust in the LORD ... and "befriend faithfulness." The sages teach this verse begins with "trust" (i.e., betach) and ends with "faith" (i.e., emunah) to teach that faith is subordinate to trust. Faith refers to intellectual assent that God controls the world, that he is righteous, holy, etc., but trust involves translating such faith to the realm of action and doing... As the sage Ramban put it: "Everyone who trusts has faith but not everyone who has faith trusts."
"Delight thyself also in the LORD;
and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart" (v4)
וְיִתֶּן־לְךָ מִשְׁאֲלת לִבֶּךָ
ve'hitanag · al · Adonai
ve'yitten · lekha · mishalot · libbekha
When we delight in the LORD by seeking to make His will our highest good and desire, then our requests will be fulfilled. As Blaise Pascal asked, "What is left for us but to unite our will to that of God himself, to will in him, with him, and for him the thing that he has eternally willed in us and for us." We will not be consumed with the vain desires of the wicked of this world, and we will be free to pursue the treasures of heaven. "You shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken" (Isa. 58:14). "This is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us" (1 John 5:14). God heeds the language of his love and passion, and when we delight in him, he fulfills the deepest yearning of our hearts...
"Commit thy way unto the LORD;
trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass" (v5)
גּוֹל עַל־יְהוָה דַּרְכֶּךָ
וּבְטַח עָלָיו וְהוּא יַעֲשֶׂה
gol · al · Adonai · darkekha
u'vetach · alav · ve'hu · ya'aseh
The Hebrew here is stronger: "Roll your way upon the LORD" (גּוֹל עַל־יְהוָה) by confessing your burdens of resentment, fear, envy, etc., and bringing your heart before God for deliverance. Note that the Hebrew word for "commit" (i.e., גּוֹל) can also mean to "reveal" or "heap upon" and therefore we can read: "Reveal (or unload) your way to the LORD; trust in Him and He will act (וְהוּא יַעֲשֶׂה), that is, he will assuredly intervene on your behalf.
"And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light,
and thy judgment as the noonday" (v6)
וְהוֹצִיא כָאוֹר צִדְקֶךָ
ve'hotzi · kha'or · tzidkekha
u'mishpatekha · katzahorayim
When the LORD acts on our behalf He graciously will bring forth your righteousness "as the light" (וְהוֹצִיא כָאוֹר צִדְקֶךָ) and your justice "as the noonday" (וּמִשְׁפָּטֶךָ כַּצָּהֳרָיִם). The way of trusting in God will finally be vindicated as the LORD manifests the Divine Presence at the restoration of all things after the End of Days...
"Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God." (1 Cor. 4:5).
10.30.14 (Cheshvan 6, 5775) An old Jewish prayer, uttered somewhat wistfully, begins, "O Lord, I know that You will help us; but will You help us before You will help us?" It's not always easy to wait for God, especially when we are in pain or anxiety, but we must never, ever, give up; we must never forget the promise and reality of our ultimate healing in Jesus. Faith expresses hope in the Reality, Substance, and Being (ὑπόστασις) of the Invisible and is made captive to undying hope (Heb. 11:1). Therefore the Spirit cries out: "Hope to the LORD; be strong and strengthen your heart; and (again) hope to the LORD."
קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה חֲזַק וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּךָ
ka·veh · el · Adonai · cha·zak · ve'ya·metz · lib·be·kha,
ve-ka·veh · el · Adonai
"Hope to the LORD; be strong and let your heart be strengthened;
and (again) hope to the LORD"
Download Study Card
In this verse, the imperative verb translated "wait" is the Hebrew word kaveh (קַוֵּה), which might better be rendered as "look for with anticipation!" or "hope!" (the same root appears in the Hebrew word for hope, i.e., tikvah: תִּקְוָה). Therefore hope in the Lord and "chazak!" - be strong! (the Septuagint translates chazak as "andridzou" (ἀνδρίζου - act like a man!). Note that the verb ve'yametz is a causal active stem (i.e., Hiphal) in the "jussive mood," which means it is imperative – "command your heart to be strengthened," or "let your heart be made strong!" Make the decision to be strong in the LORD, and the LORD will give you strength to bear your present suffering: "Look to the LORD (קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה) and find hope." Amen. God will help us, and he will help us before he will help us!
Each of us is still upon the "Potter's wheel," though we keep faith that God is molding us and shaping us to reach our end... "Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the Universe, who walks with the wounded" (שֶׁהוֹלֵךְ עִם הַפְצוּעִים). Amen. "Blessed art You, LORD our God, King of the universe, who makes us captives of hope."
His Overcoming Light...
10.29.14 (Cheshvan 5, 5775) There is a lot of engineered fear "in the air," and the enemy of our souls seeks first of all to lead us into a place of exile, worry, and pain. We are able to resist him by submitting to the truth about reality (James 4:7). God's Name YHVH (יהוה) means "Presence" and "Love," and there is no power in heaven or earth that can overrule His hand. Therefore even if the prophesied "End of Days" were to begin this very hour, our responsibility is to focus on the Divine Presence and to walk in His truth and love. As King David said, "I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8).
שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט
shiv·vi·ti · Adonai · le·neg·di · ta·mid
ki · mi·mi·ni · bal · e·mot
"I have set the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken"
Hebrew Study Card
The devil's strategy is as banal as it is tedious, namely, to entice us to forget the truth of God and to live in a state of virtual exile and pain. Therefore Shema - listen and remember - is the basic commandment. Since the LORD is the Center of all that is real, to become anxious is to "practice the absence" of God's presence instead of practicing His Presence. We have to remember the future, as well as the present and past....
There is a future time of healing and deliverance coming to us, though we must abide in the shadow of its substance for a bit longer: "For behold, the Day is coming (הַיּוֹם בָּא), burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The Day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my Name, the Sun of Righteousness (שֶׁמֶשׁ צְדָקָה) shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out skipping like calves released from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts" (Mal. 4:1-3).
This awesome passage from the Book of Malachi primarily applies to the Second Coming of Yeshua and the great "Day of the LORD" (יוֹם יהוה). The "Sun of Righteousness," shemesh tzaddik (שֶׁמֶשׁ צְדָקָה), refers to Messiah son of David, the risen life-giving Healer of God. Of Him it is said, "The LORD God is a sun and a shield" (Psalm 84:11) and "the LORD shall be to thee an everlasting Light (אוֹר עוֹלָם), and thy God thy glory; thy sun shall no more go down, for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light" (Isa. 60:19-20). The Divine Light will shine on those who receive God's righteousness, that is, on those who put their trust in the One who said, 'I am the Light of the world' (John 8:12). Shine Your Light upon us, O LORD!
The sages say, "in the world to come (עוֹלָם הַבָּא), God will bring the sun out of its sheath to burn the wicked; they will be judged by it, but the righteous will be healed by it' (Shemot Rabbah). Yeshua is compared to the "Sun" because as the Sun is the central luminous body of our world, so Yeshua is called the "Light of Life" (אוֹר הַחַיִּים). Yeshua is melech ha-kavod (מֶלֶךְ הַכָּבוֹד), "the King of Glory" -- and no one can stand before the blinding power of His countenance (Psalm 27:4; Rev. 1:8-19). His is the "Fountain of Light" for all of creation, the Source and End of all life: "For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things were created through Him and for Him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together... that in everything He might be preeminent" (Col. 1:16-18). Yeshua will come "with healing in his wings" -- that is, in healing radiance, with rays and beams, which metaphorically describe His influence over the hearts of men... Note that the word for "wings" used in this passage (i.e., kanaf: כָּנָף) pictures the image of a heavenly tallit (טַלִּית), or the heavenly firmament (רָקִיעַ) of the LORD's sheltering Presence.
It is always God's will for you to to know His love and to walk in the power of His deliverance for your soul... Nothing can overturn His will or separate you from the Presence of His Love.
Revival of Heart...
10.29.14 (Cheshvan 5, 5775) "O Lord, all my desire is before you; my groaning is not hidden from you." Until the Master of the Universe helps, the Master of the Universe will help... Amen. God will help us, and he will help us before we know that he helps us! Therefore do not be anxious; fear not: your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask Him. God will make everything new, in the name and for the sake of his love...
אֲדנָי נֶגְדְּךָ כָל־תַּאֲוָתִי
וְאַנְחָתִי מִמְּךָ לא־נִסְתָּרָה
Adonai · neg·de·kha · khol-ta·a·va·ti
ve·an·cha·ti · mi·me·kha · lo-nis·ta·rah
"O Lord, all my desire is before you;
my groaning is not hidden from you."
Hebrew Study Card
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... "So do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory (αἰώνιον βάρος δόξης) 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). We must trust in God's unseen hand for our good.
It is written for our upbuilding and edification: "Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the Name of the LORD (יִבְטַח בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה) and rely on his God" (Isa. 50:10). Trusting in God (i.e., bittachon - בִּטָּחוֹן) does not mean that we are obligated to affirm that this is "the best of all possible worlds," though it does mean we believe that eventually God will wipe away every tear and make all things right.. O Lord, make everything new, revive the hurting, in the name and for the sake of thy love, Amen...
The Power to Change...
10.29.14 (Cheshvan 5, 5775) When King David cried out, lev tahor bera-li, Elohim: "Create in me a clean heart, O God" (Psalm 51:10), he did not use the Hebrew word yatzar (יָצַר), which means to "fashion" or "form" something from preexisting material, but he instead used the word bara (בָּרָא), a verb exclusively used to refer to God's creation of the cosmos (Gen. 1:1). David understood that no amount of reformation of his character would be enough, and instead appealed to that very power of God that created the worlds yesh me'ayin (יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן), "out of nothing." Such was the nature of the remedy required...
לֵב טָהוֹר בְּרָא־לִי אֱלהִים
וְרוּחַ נָכוֹן חַדֵּשׁ בְּקִרְבִּי
lev · ta·hor · be·ra·li · E·lo·him,
ve·ru·ach · na·khon · cha·desh · be·kir·bi
"Create for me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me"
Hebrew Study Card
Yeshua taught, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). The Greek word translated "pure" is katharos (καθαρός), sometimes used describe the cleansing of a wound (catharsis), or to describe the unalloyed quality of a substance revealed through refining fire. Metaphorically, then, purity of heart refers to separation from the profane - singleness of vision, wholeheartedness, passion, and focused desire for the sacred. As we center our affections on Yeshua, we become pure in heart -- i.e., unified, made whole, and healed of our inner fragmentation. We see the Lord both in this world, through his effects, and then panim el panim (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), "face to face," in the world to come. Our hope purifies us for that coming great day of full disclosure (1 John 3:2-3; Heb. 12:14).
If we are impure of heart, we will be inwardly divided, unfocused, fragmented, filled with destabilizing anxiety, envy, unresolved hurt, anger, and so on. More tragically, because we seek to escape ourselves, we will be devoid of a true center, without a focal point or abiding purpose, and therefore we will be lost to ourselves, wandering and without rest...
May God help each of us keep our focus on what is real! Shalom.
The Hidden Palace...
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]
10.28.14 (Cheshvan 4, 5775) The midrash says Abraham first encountered God by contemplating nature, likening it to a brilliantly lit palace that must have an owner. As he considered nature's wonder, a voice called out saying, "I am the owner of this palace..." The sages discuss the various preoccupations that commonly distract us from similarly detecting God's presence in nature for ourselves. Rabbi Shlomo asked, "God's greatness is inestimable; the entire cosmos is but a mustard seed when compared to him. How can so small a world block out so tremendous a God?" When we seek the truth of God, the eyes of faith will detect the "hidden palace," and everything around us will seem miraculous.
קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יהוה צְבָאוֹת
מְלא כָל־הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ
ka·dosh ka·dosh ka·dosh, Adonai Tze·va·ot,
me·lo khol ha·a·retz ke·vo·do
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!"
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"For his invisible attributes (τὰ γὰρ ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ), namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made..." (Rom. 1:20). "For by him (King Messiah) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things were created through him and for him" (Col. 1:16). "To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God ( μόνῳ σοφῷ θεῷ), be honor and glory forever and ever" (1 Tim. 1:17). "He (Moses) endured as seeing him who is invisible" (Heb. 11:27). "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. 4:18).
Moses "endured as seeing Him who is invisible." It is this "as seeing Him" that is the essence of faith -- seeing God's hand and presence through the throes of temptation, stormy clouds, and darkness. Faith does not give the last word to despair.
The Meaning of "Hebrew"
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]
10.28.14 (Cheshvan 4, 5775) In parashat Lekh Lekha Abram is called ha-ivri (הָעִבְרִי) - "the Hebrew," a term that means "one who has crossed over" (עָבַר) from another place. Rashi identifies this "other place" as Ur of the Chaldees (אוּר כַּשְׂדִים), located east of the Euphrates River, though the midrash (Genesis Rabbah) symbolically identifies it as the realm of idolatry: "The whole world stood on one side, but Abram crossed over to the other." Abram separated himself from a world steeped in idolatry and polytheism by worshiping the One LORD God who is the sole Creator of all things.... Understood in this way, being "Hebrew" means being regarded as an "other," a "stranger," or an "outsider" to idolatrous world culture. Similarly, all those who "cross over" from the realm of death to life because of Yeshua our Savior are rightly called "Hebrews" (John 5:24).
To Abram came to divine invitation: "Go forth ... I will show you" (Gen. 12:1). It was only after Abram made the long journey to the unknown land of Canaan that God appeared to him to him by the Oaks of Mamre saying, "To your offspring I will give this land" (Gen. 18:1). Abram did not believe the promise because he saw God; he was only able to see God after he had walked in faith. First Abram heard the message, and later - after he acted on his faith - was he enabled to see more. This is the deeper meaning of being "Hebrew," one who crosses over from the realm of the dead to the realm of the Living God...
Therefore we note that hearing (shema) is more important than simply seeing... When we hear the truth and accept it into our understanding, it informs our perceptions, not the other way around. Truth is something revealed to the heart first, and only later to the senses.
Being a true Jew...
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]
10.28.14 (Cheshvan 4, 5775) The word "Hebrew" means "boundary crosser," though the word "Jew" means one who praises the LORD (יְהוּדָה). The word "Jew" (יְהוּדִי) comes from a root (יָדָה) which means to "thank" or to "praise" (Gen. 29:35). The Apostle Paul alluded to this by saying that one whose heart has been circumcised by the Spirit is "one who is praised by God -- not by men" (Rom. 2:29). Being a Jew therefore means you are "chosen" to receive blessings and grace to live in holiness for the glory of God and for the healing of the world. The performance of various commandments are for the greater purpose of tikkun olam, the "repair of the world," in order to reveal God's goodness and love (Eph. 2:8-10). Doing so makes someone a Jew, since his praise comes not from man, but from the LORD. God is the source and the power of what makes a true tzaddik (righteous person). After all, Israel was meant to be a "light to the nations" (Isa. 42:6; 60:3), and God had always planned for all the families of the earth to come to know Him and give Him glory through his chosen servant Abraham (Gen. 12:3; 22:18). "Jewishness" is therefore not an end in itself but rather a means to bring healing to the nations... Indeed, the entire redemptive story of the Scriptures centers on the cosmic conflict to deliver humanity from the "curse" by means of the "Seed of the woman" who would come. The gospel is Jewish because it concerns God's great redemptive plan for the whole world (John 3:16; 4:22).
Note: For more on this see "The Father of all who Believe."
Our Good Shepherd...
10.28.14 (Cheshvan 4, 5775) Where it says, "Surely goodness and mercy (טוֹב וָחֶסֶד) shall follow me all the days of my life" (Psalm 23:6), note the Hebrew verb translated "shall follow me" (i.e., יִרְדְּפוּנִי) comes from a root (i.e., radaf: רָדַף) that means "to pursue," as a hunter chases after his prey. David was sure that God's lovingkindness would "hound" him as he made his way through this world - even in the dark places, even in "the valley of the shadow of death" (בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת) - where God's rod and staff would comfort him and direct his way (Psalm 23:4). "May your love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you."
אַךְ טוֹב וָחֶסֶד יִרְדְּפוּנִי כָּל־יְמֵי חַיָּי
וְשַׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית־יְהוָה לְארֶךְ יָמִים
akh · tov va'che·sed · yir·de·fu·ni · kol · ye·mei · chai·yai
ve'shav·ti · be'vet · Adonai · le'o·rekh · ya·mim
"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever."
Hebrew Study Card
"Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation (הָאֵל יְשׁוּעָתֵנוּ). Selah. Our God is a God of salvation, and to GOD, the Lord, belong deliverances from death." Amen.
Created for the Messiah...
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]
10.27.14 (Cheshvan 3, 5775) The sages say that the departure of Abraham from his country, kindred, and his father's house represented a sort of "third creation," after the first account given in Genesis and the rebirth of the world after the flood. The midrash says that the world itself was created for the sake of Abraham's progeny: Where is is written, "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created" (Gen. 2:4), the letters of the word translated "when they were created" (i.e., be'hibaram: בְּהִבָּרְאָם) can be rearranged to spell "in Abraham" (i.e., בְּאַבְרָהָם), which suggests that the world was created for the sake of Abraham's seed, that is, the Messiah.
The Talmud states that "all the world was created for the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b). The New Testament earlier stated the same thing: "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Indeed, all of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of the Messiah's power (Heb. 1:3). Creation begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our LORD... The Messiah is the Center of Creation - its beginning and end. As it is written: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the 'Aleph' and the 'Tav,' the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).
Yeshua our Messiah is called מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים / Melech Malchei Hamelachim: The "King of kings of kings." He is LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest celestial glory to the dust of death upon a cross. יְהִי שֵׁם יהוה מְברָךְ / yehi shem Adonai mevorakh: "Let the Name of the LORD be blessed" forever and ever (Psalm 113:2).
The LORD as El Shaddai...
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]
10.27.14 (Cheshvan 3, 5775) In this week's Torah (Lekh Lekha), the LORD described Himself using the name El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדַּי), often mistranslated as "God Almighty." In Genesis 17:1, God said to Abram: "I AM El Shaddai. Walk before me and be perfect." But why did the LORD choose to reveal Himself using this distinctive name to Abram?
Most English translations render El Shaddai as "God Almighty," probably because the translators of the Septuagint (i.e., the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) thought Shaddai came from a root verb (shadad: שָׁדַד) that means "to overpower" or "to destroy." The Latin Vulgate likewise translated Shaddai as "Omnipotens" (from which we get our English word omnipotent). In other words, the translators regarded this term to suggest that God is so overpowering that He is considered "Almighty."
According to the Jewish sages, however, Shaddai is a contraction of the phrase, "I said to the world, dai (enough)" (as in the famous word used in the Passover Haggadah, Dayeinu -- "it would have been sufficient"). God created the world but "stopped" at a certain point. He left creation "unfinished" because He wanted us to complete the job by means of exercising chesed (love) in repair of the world (tikkun olam).
Jacob's blessing given in Genesis 49:25, however, indicates that Shaddai might be related to the word for breasts (shadaim), indicating sufficiency and nourishment (i.e., "blessings of the breasts and of the womb" (בִּרְכת שָׁדַיִם וָרָחַם)). In this case, the Name might derive from the contraction of sha ("who") and dai ("enough") to indicate God's complete sufficiency to nurture the fledgling nation into fruitfulness. Indeed, God first uses this Name when He refers to multiplying Abraham's offspring (Gen. 17:2). Understood in this light, the name El Shaddai provides a picture of God's nurturing love for our lives... God sustains us and loves us, like a mother loves her newborn child...
El Shaddai is used almost exclusively in reference to the three great patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and (according to Exodus 6:2-3) was the primary name by which God was known to the founders of Israel (the name YHVH given to Moses suggests God's absolute self-sufficiency, whereas the name Elohim suggests God's soverign power). The word "Shaddai" (by itself) was used later by the prophets (e.g., Num. 24:4; Isa. 13:6, Ezek. 1:24) as well as in the books of Job, Ruth, and in the Psalms. In modern Judaism, Shaddai is also thought to be an acronym for the phrase Shomer daltot Yisrael - "Guardian of the doors of Israel" - abbreviated as the letter Shin on most mezuzot:
Note: While the name El Shaddai presents a "feminine image" of the LORD, this is assuredly appropriate, since God created both genders as a reflection of His image, as it is written: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female (זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה) he created them (Gen. 1:27). However, some people have made the dubious suggestion that El Shaddai should further be translated as "the many breasted One," even though such language suggests the abominable practices and idols common in various ancient fertility cults - customs that were later subject to the most severe judgment of God upon the seven Canaanite nations. It should be clear, in light of the overall context of the revelation given in the Torah, that the name El Shaddai is directly connected with the sanctity of the promise given to Abraham regarding the future growth of his family, and ultimately of the coming of the promised Seed, the Messiah...
By Faith, not by Sight...
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]
10.27.14 (Cheshvan 3, 5775) Our Torah portion this week states, "And the LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land" (Gen. 12:7). Note that this was the first time God actually appeared to Abram, since earlier he had only "heard" God say to him, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you" (Gen. 12:1). In other words, it was only later - after Abram had obeyed God's voice by making the move to Canaan, that the LORD appeared to him and an altar was established (Gen. 12:7-8). As long as he remained with his father in the City of Haran (the last outpost of Mesopotamia), he was in a place of delay, unable to behold the Divine Presence. Abram first had to act on what he knew before he was given confirmation by God (John 13:17). Perhaps that is why the very first place Abram came to in the promised land was the "Oak of Moreh" (אֵלוֹן מוֹרֶה), or the "Teaching Tree." Abram was taught that to believe in order to understand, not to understand in order to believe....
Notice, however, that Abram was immediately tested once he arrived in the promised land. After building another altar and calling upon the name of the LORD (Gen. 12:8), a severe famine tempted him to look for food in the land of Egypt. After leaving the land of promise, Abram willingly forfeited his identity (i.e., he denied he was Sarai's husband) and found himself powerless as his wife was abducted into Pharaoh's harem. The LORD intervened on his behalf, however, and plagued Pharaoh and his household with great plagues, which surely prefigured the future time of the great Exodus during the time of Moses...
In this connection we further note that the next time the Torah states that the LORD appeared to Abram was after he had returned from Egypt, after rescuing Lot from the kings of the east, when he encountered the mysterious Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק) in Salem. After this dramatic encounter, Abram separated his clan from his nephew Lot and returned to the first altar he built in the promised land (Gen. 13:4).
Crossing Over to Life...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha... ]
10.26.14 (Cheshvan 2, 5775) Our Torah portion this week begins: "Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go (לֶךְ־לְךָ) from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land I will show you" (Gen. 12:1). The Book of Hebrews comments, "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance, and he went out, not knowing where he was going... for he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Heb. 11:8,10). The Sefat Emet says that every person of faith is likewise commanded daily to "lekh-lekha," to "go for yourself" by crossing over from the world and its deadening habits to live as an exile with God. Paradoxically, we find ourselves when we lose ourselves - when we leave behind the labels, roles, and identities this world foists upon us and instead resolve to seek the promise of God's Kingdom. As Yeshua said, "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 16:25).
Note: In a sefer Torah (i.e., a handwritten Torah scroll), Hebrew words are written without vowels, so "lekh lekha" (לך־לך), often translated as "go forth," could be read as "go, go!" - emphasizing the importance of the mitzvah: Get moving! Start walking! Begin your journey!
Parashat Lekh-Lekha - לך־לך
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha... ]
10.26.14 (Cheshvan 2, 5775) Last week's Torah portion (i.e., parashat Noach) showed how the LORD miraculously preserved Noah and his family from the cataclysmic judgment of the great flood. Just as there were ten generations from Adam to Noah, so there were also ten generations from Noah to Abram. And just as Noah became the father of 70 nations, so Abram would become the father of the Jewish people, through whom the Promised Seed - the Messiah and Savior of the world - would eventually come.
In our Torah portion this week (Lekh-Lekha), we read that Abram was 75 years old, married to (his half-sister) Sarai, and guardian of his nephew Lot (his deceased brother Haran's son) when he received the promise of divine inheritance: "And the LORD said to Abram, "Go from (i.e., lekh-lekha: לך־לך) your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. In Hebrew, the phrase lekh lekha means "go for yourself" (lit. "walk [הָלַךְ] for yourself [לְךָ]"), though it can be interpreted it to mean "go to yourself," that is, "look within yourself" in order to begin walking out your own journey into the promises. The realm of divine promise is only attained when we venture out in faith. Like our father Abraham, we are called to "cross over," leave everything behind, and take hold of God's glorious promise for our lives.
Note: The sages wonder why the Torah describes the righteousness of Noah as a prelude to his being chosen by God, and yet says nothing of Abraham's spiritual qualities before God called him... They answer that God chose Abraham because he loved him, not because of his merit or righteous deeds. The essence of covenant between God and Abraham is also inviolable, based on God's sovereign choice and unconditional love.
The Torah of Love...
10.24.14 (Tishri 30, 5775) "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, such is the one who loves me. And the one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him" (John 14:21). Note that the Greek word translated "manifest" means to "shine inside" (i.e., ἐμφανίζω, from ἐν, "in" and φαίνω, "shine"), indicating that the revelation would be inward light of the Presence of Messiah himself (Χριστὸς ἐν ὑμῖν, ἡ ἐλπὶς τῆς δόξης, Col. 1:27). As we receive God's love, as we embrace it as our own, the love of Messiah will become inwardly visible to you. This comes from a place of surrender and acceptance. As Paul Tillich said, "Sometimes in a moment of weakness light breaks into darkness, and it is as though a voice says, 'You are accepted; you are accepted... Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.' If that happens to you, then you experience grace, and everything will be transformed." Lord, shine your light upon us!
And may God's love shine within your heart, friend... Shabbat Shalom.
Prayer for this hour...
10.24.14 (Tishri 30, 5775) Many of us are hurting, Lord, and we sometimes feel alone in our struggle... This world seems so senseless, so brutal, and so evil at times; we feel powerless, overwhelmed, and even sick inside... We look to You, O God, and for your mercy and power. Help us to accept what we cannot change and to completely trust in Your great healing, despite the sickness of the world around us. Remind us that though we cannot change the world, we are given grace to sustain our trust in You, our glorious and merciful Healer. And may we never be ashamed; may we never grow bitter; may our sorrows lead us from strength to strength. And may this time of testing lead us to greater wisdom, to deeper compassion, and finally back to You. Amen.
"The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day." From the first glimmer of heaven-sent faith we detect the divine light, "the light of dawn," which continues to grow more and more until it becomes as radiant as the midday, an image of the full light of the World to Come. Praise God that more light is coming to you who are trusting in the LORD, even in your present darkness: "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Yeshua our Messiah" (Phil. 1:6).
וְארַח צַדִּיקִים כְּאוֹר נגַהּ
הוֹלֵךְ וָאוֹר עַד־נְכוֹן הַיּוֹם
ve'o·rach · tzad·di·kim · ke'or · no·gah
ho·lekh · va'or · ad · ne·khon · hai'yom
"The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
which shines brighter and brighter until full day."
Hebrew Study Card
Herald of Righteousness...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Noach. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here... ]
10.23.14 (Tishri 29, 5775) It is astounding to consider that Abraham personally knew the patriarch Noah (Abraham was 58 years old when Noah died), and undoubtedly Noah told him of his father Lamech, who had seen and spoken with Adam, the very first man created by God alone. Later, Abraham's son Isaac knew Shem, Noah's firstborn son, the first high priest of Salem who preserved the message of teshuvah (repentance) and retained the original promise of the coming Redeemer given by God. For this reason the New Testament calls Noah a "herald of righteousness" (2 Pet. 2:5).
It is said that the righteous have three qualities. First, they are kind and just - "tzaddik" (צדִּיק); second, they are wholehearted and loyal – "tamim" (תָּמִים); and third, they "walk with God," accepting the yoke of heaven and not questioning God's actions. Noah had all three of these qualities, as it says, "Noah was a righteous man (ish tzaddik), blameless (tamim) in his generation: Noah walked with God."
Noah's righteousness is all the more remarkable because he lived in the midst of an entirely depraved and heartless culture. The "Days of Noah" (יְמֵי־נחַ) were marked by "lawlessness" (anomie), moral anarchy, violence, corruption, and complete disregard of the transcendental truth of God. "The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart" (Gen. 6:5-6). Because people denied moral reality and regarded God as unconcerned with their behavior, the LORD brought the flood to prove that He repays both the righteous and the wicked.
Yeshua warned that as it was in the days of Noah, so it would be during the time of his second coming (Matt. 24:38-39). Regarding the character of souls living during the End of Days, the Apostle Paul foresaw that "people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power" (1 Tim 3:1-4). The Apostle Peter calls them "scoffers who walk after their own evil inner urges (1 Pet. 3:3). Note also that "pharmakeia" (φαρμακεία), or drug abuse, would also be rampant (Gal. 5:19; Rev. 9:21, 18:23).
Note: For more on this subject, see "The Days of Noah."
Noah and Messiah...
10.23.14 (Tishri 29, 5775) The name Noah comes from the shoresh (root) nacham (נָחַם), meaning to "comfort." Other Hebrew words that use this root include nichum (compassion), nuach (rest), and menuchah (rest from work). Noah's very name foreshadowed the coming of Yeshua who brings us healing and grace. Noah's father Lamech (meaning "powerful one") regarded his son as a deliverer who would comfort humanity from the ravages of the curse (Gen. 3). In like manner it was prophesied that Yeshua would give us everlasting rest: "His rest shall be glorious" (Isa. 11:10), and He offers rest to the weary (Matt. 11:28, Heb. 4:9). His sacrifice on the cross at Moriah undoes the curse over the children of Adam. Indeed, Yeshua's life, sacrifice, and resurrection "spoke backwards" the sin of the "First Adam" - and by means of His deliverance the power of the curse was forever broken (Gal. 3:13, John 3:14, 2 Tim.1:10; Heb. 2:14; Heb. 9:27-28; 1 John 3:8, Rev. 22:3). Through him we are given an everlasting comfort (John 14:16).
Noah's teivah ("ark") had God Himself as its designer (Gen. 6:15f), and salvation in Yeshua is likewise by God's design (Jonah 2:9; Eph. 1:9, 1:11). The ark contained only one door (Gen. 6:16), just as Yeshua is the only door to salvation (John 10:9). Moreover, the ark contained three levels (Gen. 6:16) and salvation has three own experiential levels (2 Cor. 1:10): past, present, and future. In the past (at Moriah) Yeshua delivered us from the penalty of sin; in the present, He is delivering us from the power of sin; and in the future He will deliver us from the very presence of sin. From Noah's hand was given the sign of the dove, a symbol of peace and the abiding presence of the Spirit of God, just as Yeshua imparts the Holy Spirit to those who trust in him... For more on this, see "Noah and Jesus," here.
The Days of Noah...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Noach... ]
10.22.14 (Tishri 28, 5775) "For just as the days of Noah were, in the same way will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware (ἔγνωσαν) until the flood came and swept them all away. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot - they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all - so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed" (Matt. 24:38-9; Luke 17:28-30).
Note that the primary characteristic of the generation of the flood was ignorance, that is, refusing to acknowledge spiritual reality.... Yeshua told us that this generation was asleep, blind, unaware (ἔγνωσαν, "agnostic"). For ten consecutive generations -- from the creation of Adam until the generation of Noah -- people progressively became more and more "forgetful" of spiritual reality and truth. Eating and drinking, romantic intrigue and marriage, buying and selling, and other worldly affairs were the preoccupations of the day. People lived lives in abysmal ignorance of the reality around them. They "forgot" who God was, who they were, why they existed, and where they were going. In short, they were "unaware."
Spiritual blindness eventually leads to corruption and outright violence. Of Noah's generation it was written that "the whole earth was corrupt before God, and filled with violence" (Gen. 6:11). Rashi understood the word "corruption" (shachat) to mean sexual immorality (i.e., idolatry) and "violence" (chamas) to mean robbery. In general, however, the sages regarded the word chamas to refer to lawlessness, that is the denial of Torah, and consequently the benighted condition of living without yirat ha-shamayim (awe of heaven). When people are spiritually dead, they are unconscious of the wonder of God; they are oblivious to what is real; and they consequently debase themselves into animals.
Note: For more on this see: "The Days of Noah: further thoughts on parashat Noach."
The Illusion of Technique...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Noach... ]
10.22.14 (Tishri 28, 5775) From our Torah portion this week we read how the descendants of Noah eventually settled in the "land of Shinar" (i.e., the land of "two rivers" (שני נהרות) alluding the Tigris-Euphrates of ancient Babylon) saying: "Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower (עִיר וּמִגְדָּל) with its "head in the heavens," and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth" (Gen. 11:3-4). Here the sages say that after mankind developed the technology to mass produce building materials, humanity began to deify itself and to negate the authority of God. And indeed, the history of humanity – beginning at Shinar but reiterated philosophically and politically throughout the subsequent generations -- has continued the attempt to redefine reality as something that it isn't. As it is written: "The kings of the earth station themselves, and the dignitaries (רוֹזְנִים) take counsel together against (lit. "over") the LORD and His Messiah" (Psalm 2:1-3). Spiritual warfare is therefore the fight for sanity and truth in a world that prefers madness and self-deception...
Hope, despite ourselves...
10.21.14 (Tishri 27, 5775) We must give our secret pain to God, even if we don't understand it, and even if it refuses to go away... Our hearts are often vexed; we are a mess of mixed motives; we are strong to be made weak, weak to be made strong. We bless and curse from the same mouth... And yet, despite all this, despite our inner contradictions, the dance between the "old man" and "new," the divided house of our lives - our present sorrows, our troubles, our fears – we must endure ourselves, we must press on, and we must never let go of hope in God's love. Therefore we must not hide ourselves from God's presence, nor pretend to be what we are not. We are invited to come boldly before the Lord to help in our hour of need. O Lord my God, be Thou my healer, the One who makes me whole... Refa'eini Adonai, ve'eiafei: "Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed."
רְפָאֵנִי יְהוָה וְאֵרָפֵא
הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי וְאִוָּשֵׁעָה כִּי תְהִלָּתִי אָתָּה
re·fa·ei·ni · Adonai · ve·ei·ra·fei
ho·shi·ei·ni · ve·iv·va·shei·ah, · ki · te·hil·la·ti · at·tah
"Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise."
Hebrew Study Card
The fact that God knows the number of hairs on your head means that he knows you better than you know yourself... Your heavenly Father "sees in secret," and that also means that he can and will save you from whatever is hidden within you that still resists his love and touch... We have to trust in God's power to heal us, even when it seems that healing is not forthcoming, even when we still find ourselves divided, troubled, and anxious. We have to believe that God's help is always present. "Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who hope for the LORD."
God sees what He does within us, His "it-is-finished" work, the effect of His great salvation within our hearts, even if at this present hour this may be hidden from our eyes... There is appearance, and there is reality; and only God sees what is ultimately real. We have to trust in His promise to be transformed into the divine nature, even if today we find ourselves sinful, needy, and in disrepair... By God's grace we are what we are. So don't give up. We are saved by hope (ἐλπίδι ἐσώθημεν, Rom. 8:24), a hope for you today.
Broken and Remade...
10.20.14 (Tishri 26, 5775) "See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is immoral or profane like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it (the blessing) with tears" (Heb. 12:15-17; Gen. 27:38). "For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters (מְקוֹר מַיִם חַיִּים), and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13). Spiritually speaking, there are two basic sorts of breaking. One is to be broken by the inevitable sin and ruin of this world, and the other is to be made lev-nishbar (לֵב־נִשְׁבָּר), a broken heart, before the LORD. The former breaking comes from the vain attempt to find life in the broken vessels of this world, and "repentance" is expressed as remorse over perceived temporal loss. This sorrow eventually leads the soul to death (2 Cor. 7:10). To be inwardly broken, on the other hand, requires mourning over your life and returning to God for deliverance (Matt. 5:4). In hunger and thirst for God's righteousness the soul finds eternal satisfaction, since God alone provides the vessel of "living water" we need to live (John 4:14; 7:38). We all must drink from God's fountain of life (מְקוֹר חַיִּים), lest we suffer spiritual dehydration and death....
Are you haunted by an inner ache for love, joy, peace, and life? "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6). Our inner poverty and need is a disguised grace; our desire for healing reveals the Spirit's invitation. Faith begins with the recognition of our need, since only then will we come to Yeshua for the "Bread of Life" (לֶחֶם הַחַיִּים) and the "Living Water" (מַיִם חַיִּים). Everything we need is found in him, though we must reach out in faith: "For without faith (אֱמוּנָה) it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who seek him" (Heb. 11:6). God rewards those who seek him; he answers the heart's cry; he responds to all who trust in his love and salvation. Therefore "ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened" (Matt. 7:7-8). We are not saved by faith in our own faith, but in the Reality and Power of the LORD God who alone can raise the dead to new life....
Return to your Heart...
10.20.14 (Tishri 26, 5775) In the Torah we read, "Know therefore today and return to your heart (וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ), for the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). Here again we see the centrality of the heart as the mode to encounter God (Luke 17:21). Savor the phrase, "Know therefore today and return to your heart..." It the heart that is the place of connection with God... As Yeshua said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20). Today is the day to "return to your heart" and receive again God's love for your soul...
Parashat Noach (פרשת נח)
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Noach... ]
10.19.14 (Tishri 26, 5775) In last week's Torah portion (Bereshit), we read about the tragic and disheartening history of earliest humanity. After just ten generations, from Adam to Noah, the LORD had grown so weary of humanity that he "regretted" (yinchem, יִּנָּחֶם) creating man in the first place and "his heart was saddened" (Gen. 6:6). It is interesting to note that the word translated "regretted" comes from the root nacham (נָחַם) -- the same root for the name "Noah" (נחַ) himself. Other Hebrew words that use this root include nichum (compassion), nu'ach (rest), nacham (repent/console), menuchah (rest from work), and so on. Though God "regretted" (נָחַם) that He had made mankind (Gen. 6:7), he "consoled himself" by recalling the means to comfort lost humanity...
Noah's father Lamech (לֶמֶךְ, "powerful one") regarded his son as a deliverer who would comfort humanity from the ravages of the original curse (Gen. 5:29). Noach would give rest from the toil and vexation of life. Indeed, Noah was a "type" of savior who would rebirth the world by giving lasting comfort and rest (for more on this, see the page "Noah and Jesus"). In like manner it was prophesied that Yeshua would give us everlasting rest: "His rest shall be glorious" (Isa. 11:10), just as He offers rest to the weary (Matt. 11:28, Heb. 4:9). His sacrifice on the Cross at Moriah undoes the kelalah (curse of work) over the children of Adam. Indeed, His life, sacrifice, and resurrection was like a "magic spell" that "spoke backwards" the sin of the "First Adam" - and by means of His deliverance the power of the curse was forever broken (Gal. 3:13, John 3:14, 2 Tim.1:10; Heb. 2:14; Heb. 9:27-28; 1 John 3:8, Rev. 22:3). Yeshua is Adam ha-Sheni - the "Second Adam" - the promised Son of Man. By means of His Spirit we are given an everlasting comfort (John 14:16).
Eschatologically, the "days of Noah" are a picture of the idolatrous conditions of the world that will prevail just before the calling up of the followers of Yeshua before the time of Great Tribulation upon the earth: "As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man" (Matt. 24:37). The generation of the Flood was said to be "filled with violence" (Gen. 6:13) caused by ignorance -- literally the "state of ignoring" moral and spiritual truth. Because people willingly disregarded God from their midst, they arrogated to themselves divine prerogatives: "every man did what was right in his own eyes." The resulting moral corruption and anarchy led to divine and catastrophic judgment: when God destroyed them with water, they return the world to its original state of tohu vavohu v'choshekh: "confusion and emptiness and darkness" (Gen. 1:2). This is our world today.
The seven day warning given to Noah suggests the seven year tribulation period to come (Daniel's 70th week), and also the "rapture" of the people of God who will be carried above the prophesied worldwide cataclysm. Just as God protected Israel during the time of judgment upon Egypt, so He will protect His people from the wrath of the "great Day of the LORD." But please note that "the LORD shut him in" (Gen. 7:16). Noah's teivah (ark) had God Himself as its designer (Gen. 6:15f), just as salvation in Messiah is by God's design (Jonah 2:9; Eph. 1:9, 1:11). It contained only one door (Gen. 6:16), just as Yeshua is the only door to salvation (John 10:9; 14:6). Noah's ark contained three levels (Gen. 6:16) and salvation has three own experiential levels (2 Cor. 1:10): past, present, and future. In the past (at Moriah) Yeshua delivered us from the penalty of sin; in the present, He is delivering us from the power of sin; and in the future He will deliver us from the very presence of sin. Baruch Hashem - may that day come soon!
Calendar Note: On the Biblical calendar, the month of Cheshvan (חֶשְׁוָן) immediately follows the "holiday month" of Tishri, and begins October 23rd (at sundown) this year. The Torah records that God brought down the Great Flood that destroyed the world on Cheshvan 17 (Gen. 7:10-11), which lasted until Cheshvan 27 (Gen. 8:14) - exactly one calendar year after it began (Rashi notes that the 11-day discrepancy between the 17th and 27th represents the 11-day difference between the solar and lunar calendar year). Because Noah's Flood began and ended during this month, Cheshvan is generally regarded as "mar" - a time of judgment, especially regarding water (rain). Cheshvan always has a two-day Rosh Chodesh. Because rain is central to the health of the spring crops, on the 17th of the month those living in Israel begin requesting rain by adding vetein tal u'matar librakha ("and grant dew and rain for blessing") to the Amidah prayer.
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֵיךָ יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ
שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ חדֶשׁ טוֹב בַּאֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ אָמֵן
ye·hi · ra·tzon · mil·fa·ne·kha · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · ve·lo·hei · a·vo·tei·nu
she·te·cha·desh · a·lei·nu · cho·desh · tov · ba'a·do·nei·nu · Ye·shu·a · ha·ma·shi·ach · A·men
"May it be Your will, LORD our God and God of our fathers,
that you renew for us a good month in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah. Amen."
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[ The first occurrence of the Name YHVH (יהוה) concerns the creation of Adam (Gen. 2 :4)... ]
10.19.14 (Tishri 26, 5775) The Name of God, YHVH (יהוה), means "Presence" (Exod. 3:13-14), "Breath" (Gen. 2:7; Num. 16:22), "Life" (Deut. 30:20), and "abundant Love and Truth" (Exod. 34:6-7), but it also means the "I-AM-WITH-YOU One" who keeps His promises. The Name YHVH means that "God was (i.e., hayah: היה), God is (i.e., hoveh: הוֶה), and God always will be (i.e., veyihyeh: וְיִהְיֶה)," which implies that He is ever present and not restricted by time or space. Moreover, God is called havayah (הֲוָיָה), which means He is continually sustaining creation by the Word of His power: "In Him we live, move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28; Heb. 1:3). As it is poetically expressed in the Psalms, "Behind and before you besiege me; You lay your hand upon me."
אָחוֹר וָקֶדֶם צַרְתָּנִי
וַתָּשֶׁת עָלַי כַּפֶּכָה
a·chor · va·ke·dem · tzar·ta·ni
va·ta·shet · a·lai · ka·pe·khah
"Behind and before You besiege (cover) me;
You lay your hand upon me."
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"Behind and before you besiege me." The word "behind" is the preposition achor (אָחוֹר), a word related to the word acharon (אַחֲרוֹן), "west," though it also refers to something later (אַחֲרֵי), such as a later place or time (אַחֲרִית). In Hebrew, the preposition generally means "backward" (לאחור) or "behind" (מאחור). God's got your back, friend... Note further that the word translated "before" is kedem (קֶדֶם), a preposition that means "east" but also refers to the primordial beginning, the dawn. The root verb kadam (קָדַם) means to "meet" in initial contact. God is always present for you, friend, and that includes times and days that lie ahead, in the distant future... As far as the east is from the west, so far does God's compassion and love cover you, surround you, and sustain you (Psalm 103:12).
"You besiege me." The verb tzartani (צַרְתָּנִי) comes from the root tzur (צור) that means to encircle, to press upon, to "pressurize," as by relentlessly attacking a stronghold. The image is that God "hems us in," that is, He surrounds us and shelters us with His Presence – so that we cannot escape: You are under God's supervision and protection, friend... And while the root tzur can imply tzuris (trouble, affliction), in this context it is used to picture the Lord securing our station, preserving, protecting, and defending our way. "You lay your hand upon me." God's personal and providential hand is at work in your life – He is HaMashgiach hagadol (הַמָּשְׁגִיחַ הַגָּדוֹל) - the Great Overseer of the universe, and that means your way is as sure and secure as the very power that God's own will affords.
"If there be anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe from falling, I know nothing of it - for it was not shown me. But this was shown - that in falling and rising again we are always kept in the same precious love." - Julian of Norwich
"We cannot fall beneath the arms of God. However low we fall, they are underneath us still." - William Penn
Thank God for His providential and all-pervasive care for your soul. He is the LORD of all time and space, and that means He is an ever-present help to bring you safely back home...
Hope and Testing...
10.17.14 (Tishri 24, 5775) Our suffering is easier to bear when we know it has a purpose, an answer to the question "why?" Where endurance (ὑπομονή) is needed, however, is precisely when we cannot discern such a purpose, and our troubles seem pointless, gratuitous, and meaningless... If we have faith to contextualize our testing as part of God's providential plan, then we can learn to accept it as bearing a hidden good, even if at the present we do not detect its salubrious effect and eternal purpose. It is difficult to underestimate the importance of the hope that our lives – such as they are – have a divine reason and eternal validity. The temptation is to seek relief from our haunting emptiness through various forms of distraction, yet the question of our meaning, our value, our very "reason for being," is ultimately inescapable. The Torah begins here: by investing all of reality – from the grand motions of the cosmic spheres to the smallest subatomic particles – with purpose, direction, destiny... and hope. "In the beginning God created..."
"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...
Shabbat Shalom to you, chaverim!
Turn Away from Fear...
10.17.14 (Tishri 24, 5775) The "world" (κόσμος) is a place of fearful exile from the Lord. To find healing, turn away from its faithless messages of terror and manipulation and consciously listen (shema) to the promises of God. "He who abides in the secret of the Most High will dwell in the shadow of Shaddai" - ישֵׁב בְּסֵתֶר עֶלְיוֹן בְּצֵל שַׁדַּי יִתְלוֹנָן (Psalm 91:1). The "midst of the dark cloud" (Exod. 24:18) is a place of sacred and holy concealment. The LORD will save you from the ensnaring trap and from the devastating pestilence: "Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place-- the Most High (עֶלְיוֹן) who is my refuge, no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways" (Psalm 91:9-11).
כִּי־אַתָּה יְהוָה מַחְסִי עֶלְיוֹן שַׂמְתָּ מְעוֹנֶךָ
לא־תְאֻנֶּה אֵלֶיךָ רָעָה וְנֶגַע לא־יִקְרַב בְּאָהֳלֶךָ
כִּי מַלְאָכָיו יְצַוֶּה־לָּךְ לִשְׁמָרְךָ בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ
ki · at·tah · Adonai · mach·si · Elyon · sam·ta · me'o·ne·kha
lo · te'u·neh · e·le·kha · ra'ah · ve'ne·ga · lo · yik·rav · be'o·ho·le·kha
ki · mal·akh·av · yetz·a·veh · lakh · lish·mor·kha · be'khol · de·ra·khe·kha
"Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place -- the Most High who is my refuge, no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways."
Faith brings to life the prophecy: "You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday... because you have made the LORD your dwelling place."
The so-called "security" of man is an illusion. Turn away from the fears common to the faithless denizens of this world. Rise above the lies and violence of men! God's truth is your strength and your shield (Psalm 91:4). Repent of your fear and ask the LORD Most High, the Ascended One, to cover you with the glory of his presence. And may He shelter you under His wings, and may you find refuge in His truth - his sword and shield!
Note: Of course we sometimes get sick and physically die, as it says, "You return man to dust and say, 'Return, you sons of man'" (Psalm 90:3). Indeed, the "outer man perishes." Our trust in God's care, however, enables us to rise above the fears common to the worldly of this age and to overcome the power of the lie that seeks to enslave people... No matter what befalls us, with God, there is no plague, no death, and no end to his love.
Addendum: Someone asked why I put quotes around the word "world," at the start of this entry. By "world" I mean the idea of κόσμος, that is, the political and economic sphere, the realm of ideology, propaganda, fake news, fashion, fads, pop culture and its idolatry, mass educational indoctrination, etc. We are delivered from this evil world to become members of God's kingdom of light and love (Col. 1:13). We turn away from the clamor of man's illusions to focus on God's sovereign power: For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength."
The Delight of Torah...
[ This evening Jews observe Simchat Torah, the festival celebrating both the completion of the year's Torah Reading cycle as well as the start of a new cycle... ]
10.17.14 (Tishri 24, 5775) God is not the "author of confusion," and that means that rational intelligibility is foundational to divine revelation. "The Torah was written in the language of men," which is to say, it expresses ideas people can understand. The Scriptures declare: "Blessed is the man who ... delights in the Torah of the LORD (בְּתוֹרַת יְהוָה); all that he does shall prosper" (Psalm 1:1-3). And while it is true that we are no longer 'under' the terms of the covenant given at Sinai (Rom. 3:23), we still delight 'in' the Torah and meditate on its precepts day and night (Psalm 1:2; 19:8; 119:15, 47, 97; Neh. 8:12, etc.). After all, Torah "written upon the heart" is a mark of the New Covenant believer (Jer. 31:31-33). As it is written in Proverbs: "If you seek it [i.e., the wisdom revealed in the Torah] like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God" (Prov. 2:4-5). If worldly men seek money and riches for life in this world, should we be less earnest in our pursuit of true and eternal riches?
Furthermore, where it is written, "all Scripture is breathed out by God (θεόπνευστος) and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:16-17), it is evident that the Scriptures referred to here are the Jewish Scriptures (i.e., the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings), since they are the foundation, the context, and the overarching matrix for the later New Covenant revelation... These were the Scriptures Yeshua used to contextualize and explain his ministry to his followers: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27; John 1:45). In other words, the Torah has both a logical, a linguistic, and a theological priority regarding our understanding of the New Testament Scriptures, and the failure to read in context invariably leads to faulty interpretations and doctrinal errors of various kinds. "To the Jew first, and [then] to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16) is a principle not only of how the gospel message would transcend ethnic Israel to be offered to all the nations, but also about how we should approach the subject of Biblical hermeneutics.... God "breathed out" (θεόπνευστος) his revelation in order, and the message itself must be understood in light of that order (John 4:22).
Since Yeshua the Messiah is Torah Ha'Emet - the True Torah - we should likewise celebrate the "Joy of Torah" in our lives. He is the Living Torah, the Living Word, written upon our hearts so that we can truly dance and embrace the Truth given from God. Indeed, Yeshua did not come to destroy the Torah but rather to fulfill it in our lives (Matt. 5:17-20).
Torah's First Day...
10.17.14 (Tishri 24, 5775) Concerning the account of creation of the first day (i.e., Gen. 1:3-5), the midrash notes the word light (אוֹר) appears five times, one for each of the five books of Torah: "Let there be light" (יְהִי אוֹר) refers to the Book of Genesis (Bereshit) and how God created the world with light; "and there was light" (וַיְהִי־אוֹר) refers to the Book of Exodus (Shemot), the light of redemption from the darkness of exile; "God saw that the light was good" (וַיַּרְא אֱלהִים אֶת־הָאוֹר כִּי־טוֹב) refers to the book of Leviticus (Vayikra) and the sacrifices at the altar; "God separated the light from the darkness" (וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלהִים בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחשֶׁךְ) refers to the Book of Numbers (Bamidbar), and how Israel separated themselves from their past and how the clouds of glory illuminated their way; and finally, "God called the light day" (וַיִּקְרָא אֱלהִים לָאוֹר יוֹם) refers to the Book of Deuteronomy (Devarim), the retelling of the Torah (מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה), which distills the commandments that enlighten the heart of faith, as it says, "the commandment is a lamp and the Torah is light" (Prov. 6:23).
The Rejoicing of Torah...
[ Today is Simchat Torah, the festival celebrating both the completion of the year's Torah Reading cycle as well as the start of a new cycle... ]
10.17.14 (Tishri 24, 5775) The overall purpose of the fall holidays - regarded as the climax of the Jewish calendar year - is to prepare our hearts to rejoice in the awesome revelation of the Word of God: "To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him" (Deut. 4:35). Again it is written, "there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me... "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:17-18). "By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: 'To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance'" (Isa. 45:23; Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:9-11). All the festivals of the calendar lead up to this great truth: the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth (John 1:1,14). The celebration of Simchat Torah, then, is the celebration of the Messiah, the Living Torah.
The holiday is called Simchat Torah, the "rejoicing of Torah," and not Simchat Ba'Torah, "rejoicing in the Torah," because the Word is spoken so that we will receive (shema) its message. It is not enough to rejoice over Torah, we need to know that the Torah rejoices over us! Therefore we rejoice during this season, just after Sukkot, because this recalls how the Torah made flesh among us. Messiah came to speak the truth of God's love to our hearts, and it is his delight when we receive his message!
אַתָּה הָרְאֵתָ לָדַעַת כִּי יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלהִים
אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּוֹ
at·tah · hor·ei·ta · la·da·at · ki · Adonai · hu · ha·e·lo·him
ein · od · mi·le·va·do
"To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD is God;
there is no other besides him" (Deut. 4:35)
Hebrew Study Card
Despite some of the ambiguity surrounding the themes of the festival of Sukkot (e.g., does it recall God's protective clouds, or rather the frailty of the desert experience after the Exodus? Does it recall the historical Exodus or is it an agricultural celebration?), the focus is the same, namely, to know the revelation of the Word of the LORD and his salvation! The final and great rejoicing of the Biblical year centers on the disclosure of the Word of God. And during the coming Millennial Kingdom, when the Word of God is again disclosed directly from Zion, all the nations of the earth will celebrate the revelation of God (Zech. 14:16-19).
Through the Shadows...
10.17.14 (Tishri 24, 5775) "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you" (Psalm 73:25). Such is the "exile of hope" we suffer in this world... Torah begins: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was "tohu va'vohu v'choshekh" (תהוּ וָבהוּ וְחשֶׁךְ) - confusion and emptiness and darkness - which the sages interpret to mean that when we truly understand that God created the heavens and the earth, we will realize our earthy desires to be barren, empty and unreal. In their despair, Plato and the early Greek philosophers sought "timeless universals" which they believed disclosed the reality of an "upper world," a heavenly realm of unchanging goodness, beauty, and truth. The world we experience with our senses is a shadowy place of change and decay; but the real world, discerned by clear thinking, is a place of permanence, goodness and illumination. Likewise the righteous soul trusts that despite this fleeting world that turns to dust, there is an eternal realm, a place of abiding love, and a heavenly home. The land of promise is a "foreign land" to this world, but the heart of faith beholds "the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10). "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come" (Heb. 13:14). Therefore "we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient (πρόσκαιρος), but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Cor. 4:18-5:1). In this world we suffer exile, groaning to be with our Savior, the Source of all blessing: "I say to the LORD, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you" (Psalm 16:2).
מִי־לִי בַשָּׁמָיִם וְעִמְּךָ לא־חָפַצְתִּי בָאָרֶץ
כָּלָה שְׁאֵרִי וּלְבָבִי צוּר־לְבָבִי וְחֶלְקִי אֱלהִים לְעוֹלָם
mi-li · va·sha·ma·yim · ve·im·me·kha · lo-cha·fatz·ti · va·a·retz
kal·lah · she·ei·ri · u·le·va·vi · tzur-le·va·vi · ve·chel·ki · E·lo·him · le·o·lam
"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."
Hebrew Study Card
The very worst kind of exile is to be unaware that you are in exile, to be so blinded that you do not see that you do not see... As Yeshua said, "If the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Matt. 6:23); and "be careful lest the light in you be darkness" (Luke 11:35). Ignorance is the willful "state of ignoring" moral and spiritual truth.. In the end, the world and its blind lusts will pass away, for it is "tohu" (תּהוּ) - confusion and unreality - but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).
Those who rely on mere appearances will invariably find themselves confounded. The LORD therefore commissioned the prophet: "Go, and say to this people: 'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive'" (Isa. 6:9). Where it is written, "God gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own devices" (Psalm 81:12; Rom. 1:24); and "they went backward and not forward" (Jer. 7:24), we learn there is no place of "neutrality" or indifference toward God. The Lord will give to you according to your faith...
The Spirit cries out, "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). Yet we hunger and ache for love that fulfills the infinite depth of our hearts: "My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you (Isa. 26:9). I say to the LORD, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you" (Psalm 16:2). Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God, the Eternal, the abiding, and true...
In the Beginning...
10.16.14 (Tishri 23, 5775) "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). The word translated as "beginning," however (i.e., bereshit: בְּרֵאשִׁיתּ), logically does not mean a point in chronological time, since time, regarded as the measurement of motion, is inextricably connected to existence and came into being with creation itself. Time and being are therefore linked. Therefore, it is better to understand bereshit to mean "with wisdom," since the word is based on the root idea of rosh (ראשׁ, "head," or "chief"), which suggests what is most important, i.e., "at the head of (all things)," etc.
Another way to read this statement is to notice the direct object marker (אֵת) of the verb bara (בָּרָא) in the first verse. Read literally, it would say, "With wisdom (or "within his own mind or counsel") God created all things - Aleph through Tav - namely, the heavens and the earth." Some have said the direct object marker here refers to Yeshua, and while it is indeed true that He is the Aleph and Tav (Rev 1:8), "the One who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty," in this verse he is Elohim (אֱלהִים), our Creator, which agrees with many other Scriptures such as Col. 1:15-17, Heb. 1:1-3; John 1:1-14; Eph 1:21; Phil. 2:9-11, Rom. 14:11 (with Isa. 45:22-24); Rom. 11:36, etc. Others have said "Aleph-Tav" here refers to the holy alphabet, the power from the Word.
Mystery of Creation...
[ The following is related to our Torah portion for this week, parashat Bereshit.... ]
10.16.14 (Tishri 23, 5775) Why is there something rather than nothing? Why does anything exist at all? These are basic questions about the meaning of life. Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? "God created the universe," you say, yes, but exactly why did He do so? What purpose did he have in mind? In particular, why were you created? What is the purpose of your life? What do you hope to achieve with the limited amount of time you have on this earth? Such questions brood within the soul, even if they are hidden from consciousness by various forms of busyness and distraction. At the outset of serious thinking about anything at all we are confronted with such ultimate questions. What is real? Why are we here? Where are we going? What does God want from us?
The Torah begins: "In the beginning God created..." (Gen. 1:1). No explanation is given, simply the mysterious declaration that God's eternal power is behind the realm of the world of appearances. We only begin to get some idea of God's hidden purposes as he reveals his design in Scripture. There we learn that God chose to create the universe yesh me'ayin, "out of nothing," in order to share his wisdom, glory, and love with other beings He created. "You created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created" (Rev. 4:11). All this was for the sake of the Messiah, who built the world in chesed (חֶסֶד) and who forever reigns as the King of eternal life and love. "For from him and through him and to him are all things." The purpose of your life is to learn that you are beloved by God, to know and receive the infinite worth you have in his eyes, and to share that love with others. You were created to be made part of God's great family, the Kingdom of Love.
לְךָ יָאֶה אֲדנֵינוּ וֵאלהֵינוּ
לְקַבֵּל אֶת הַכָּבוֹד וְהַיְקָר וְהַגְּבוּרָה
כִּי אתָּא בָּרָאתָ הַכּל
וּבִרְצוֹנְךָ הָיוּ וְנִבְרְאוֹ
le·kha · ya·eh · a·do·nei·nu · ve·lo·hei·nu
le·ka·bel · et · hak-ka·vod · ve'ha-ye·kar · ve'ha-ge·vu·rah
ki · at·tah · ba·ra·ta · ha-kol
u·vir·tzon·kha · ha·yu · ve'niv·re·u
"You are worthy, O Lord and our God,
to receive the glory and the honor and the power:
for You have created all things,
and for thy pleasure they are and were created"
Hebrew Study Card
The purpose of God's creative activity was the building of a kingdom based on divine love (מַלְכוּת הָאֱלהִים). As King David wrote, עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה / olam chesed yibaneh: "The world is built with chesed" (Psalm 89:2). The world itself is to built on the foundation of God's love (חֶסֶד, chesed) as it is expressed in the life Yeshua the Messiah (1 Cor. 3:11). Indeed, the very first mitzvah (commandment) given to mankind was simply פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ / p'ru ur'vu: "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28). Ideally speaking, the family, then, is a picture of a nurturing community based on chesed. For the Christian, this "family building" is centered on Yeshua the Messiah, the true King of the kingdom and the rosh pinnah (ראשׁ פִּנָּה), or "corner stone" of the Temple of God (see Heb. 3:1-6).
For more, click here: "Creation and the Kingdom of Love."
Addendum: Asking Questions
A good teacher doesn't feed students answers but rather provokes them to ask their own questions and to think for themselves... In that sense, a good teacher is like an "intellectual midwife," there to assist the one who explores the meaning of questions. This is especially true regarding matters of spiritual life: "There are many people who arrive at conclusions in life much the way schoolboys do; they cheat their teachers by copying the answer book without having worked the problem themselves." Merely "having the answer" does little spiritual good if the weight of the question that it proposes to address is not fully understood. As Kierkegaard said regarding all the so-called "Bible answer men" -- "The most fatal thing of all is to satisfy a want which is not yet felt, so that without waiting till the want is present, one anticipates it, likely also using stimulants to bring about something which is supposed to be a want, and then satisfies it. And this is shocking! And yet this is what so many clergy do, whereby they really are cheating people out of what constitutes the significance of life, and instead helping them to waste it."
There is a temptation, then, for those who regard themselves as teachers or preachers to get ahead of the need, to over-anticipate, and therefore mislead those they hope to help. On the other hand, many are too busy (or too proud) to marvel over the sheer wonder of existence itself and grow impatient (or even threatened) with questions like these. They don't take the time to reflect about why they were born, what purpose is connected with their life, or where they are going, until they are confronted with suffering and trouble. Sometimes we must "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."
Instead of regarding the Bible as a "Book of Answers" for our questions, it is worthwhile to think of it as a "Book of Questions" for our answers. As we listen, God questions us so that we can know him by means of the dialog within our hearts. As any good teacher knows, when a student earnestly wrestles with a question he learns more than if he were given a straightforward answer. Similarly, the Lord gives us permission to be without answers so that we will be free to seek, to struggle, and to "own" what we come to understand through our relationship with him... That way our learning will be real, substantive, and born from the urgency our own inner need. Indeed, God's very first question to man is always, ayekah: "Where are you?" (Gen. 3:9), which appeals for us to acknowledge how we hide from the truth. "Where are you?" is the poignant call of the Seeking Father for his lost child, and the question only becomes "our own" when we are willing to look at how we've come to be at this place in our lives. God's question to our heart is meant to lead us out of hiding to respond to his loving call...
Everything is inherently mysterious, since everything ultimately expresses the inscrutable will and decrees of God.... Ask yourself with earnestness of heart: Where do I come from? Who am I? Where am I going? For what reason was I created? The first step is to wonder, to ask the searching questions, and to seek God's wisdom... The LORD is faithful and will reveal truth to the heart that seeks.. It is too easy to be preoccupied with everyday concerns and to miss the marvel and sheer wonder of existence itself. If you will approach these questions with humility and reverence, you will be filled with wonder, your heart will be filled with greater fervor, and you will hunger more than ever for God's Presence.
Vanity and Creation...
10.16.14 (Tishri 23, 5775) This week's Torah portion (Bereshit) describes some of the dire consequences of the "Fall of Man," as Adam and Eve (Chavah) are exiled from the garden, and the very first family of the earth is shown to be tragically and catastrophically dysfunctional. In a fit of jealous rage, Adam's firstborn son Kayin (Cain) murders his younger brother Hevel (Abel) and becomes an alienated vagabond, banished from his family. God then gave mankind ten generations to return to Him but nothing inherently changed. Finally "the LORD saw how great was man's wickedness on earth, and how every thought devised within his heart was nothing but evil every day. And the LORD regretted that He had made man on earth, and His heart was saddened. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth" (Gen. 6:5-7).
The Talmud states that even after the great Flood (הַמַּבּוּל) humanity refused to truly turn back to God (as the present state of this world also attests).
For more on this see, "Vanity and Creation: Further thoughts on Parashat Bereshit."
The Gospel in the Garden...
[ The following is related to Simchat Torah and parashat Bereshit... ]
10.15.14 (Tishri 22, 5775) The very first prophecy of the Bible was spoken to the serpent, namely, God's promise that through the "seed of the woman" would come One who would battle the serpent and ultimately crush the kingdom of Satan (Gen. 3:15). Notice that the promise of the coming "Serpent Slayer" was given to Adam and Eve before their judgment was announced. And even after their judgment was given, "the LORD God made tunics of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them" - a clear picture of being compassionately "robed in righteousness" imparted by an innocent sacrifice. The very first sacrifice recorded in the Torah - performed by God Himself - prefigured the coming redemption by the "seed of the woman" who would die as a substitutionary sacrifice for their sins.
"God creates the cure before the plague." Just as God created mankind only after He created the pathway of repentance (i.e., Yeshua is called the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world": 1 Pet. 1:20, Eph. 1:4, Rev. 13:8), so purification from death and the nullification of the curse was also foreseen and provided by the cross of the Messiah. Yeshua is the antidote to the venom delivered through the serpent's bite (John 3:14-15). "For as in Adam all die, so also in Messiah shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22). The "new seed" of life given to us in Yeshua makes us into a "new creation" (בְּרִיאָה חֲדָשָׁה) that fully restores the defaced image of God within us: "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:49).
Note: For more on this, please see "The Gospel in the Garden."
Creation for the Messiah...
[ The following is related to our Torah portion for this week, parashat Bereshit... ]
10.15.14 (Tishri 22, 5775) The Talmud says "All the world was created for the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b). The New Testament had earlier said the same thing: "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). The first word uttered by God, "Let there be light" (Gen. 1:3), was uttered on behalf of all who would behold His glory, as it is written, "Arise, shine forth, for your light has come" (Isa. 60:1). When Adam first opened his eyes and human consciousness was born, he immediately understood that the LORD created all things, including himself. According to midrash, Adam's first words were, יהוה מֶלֶךְ עוֹלָם וָעֶד / Adonai malakh olam va'ed: "The LORD is King for ever and ever." God then said, "Now the whole world will know that I am King," and He was very pleased. This was the "tov me'od" (טוֹב מְאד) moment of creation, when God saw all that He had made "and found it very good" (Gen. 1:31). Therefore the name for man (i.e., adam: אָדָם) is connected with the word for "very" (i.e., me'od: מְאד): the birthday of humanity is therefore the Coronation Day for the King of the Universe.
The implication that God is our Creator is enormous and pervades everything else in our lives. God's creative power is witnessed by all conscious life. The Divine Light that was created before the sun and the stars represents God's immanent presence that "lights up" all of creation - including our minds (Gen. 1:3). Since we were created b'tzelem Elohim, "in the image of God," the witness of God's truth is foundational to all of our thinking as well. The revelation (not the invention) of logical first principles is part of God's "signature," if you will, of how the mind is wired to reality. Likewise we have intuitive awareness regarding the existence of moral truth (i.e., the standard of justice and moral law), aesthetic truth (i.e., ideals of beauty, goodness, worth, and love), and metaphysical truth (i.e., cause and effect relationships). "The heavens are recounting the glory of God, and the expanse is proclaiming his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). God's power and presence can be clearly inferred from the tremendous effect of the universe itself. As Paul stated, "the invisible things of Him (τά ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ) from the creation of the world are clearly seen (καθοράω), so that people are without excuse" (Rom. 1:19-20). It is the fear of the LORD (יִרְאַת יהוה) that is truly the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10). The Hebrew word for fearing (ירא) and seeing (ראה) share the same root. We cannot truly see reality apart from reverencing God as the Lord and King of Creation.
It was asked for what purpose mankind was created. One said to purify the soul; another said to gain wisdom; another to serve God. Nay, but understand that man was created to elevate the heavens, to celebrate the heart of the Father, and to be needed by heaven's embrace... To focus on ourselves, on our purification, our "religion," misses the greater point that it is God's love that makes true life possible.
Note: For more on this, see "High Holidays and the Gospel."
Covenant of Fire...
[ The following is related to our Torah portion for this week, parashat Bereshit... ]
10.15.14 (Tishri 22, 5775) The six letters of the very first word of the Bible, namely, the word bereshit (בראשׁית), are sometimes compared to the six days of creation. The first and last two letters form the word "covenant" (i.e., brit: ברית) while the remaining (inner) letters form the word "fire" (i.e., esh: אשׁ), suggesting that the act of creation itself is a "Covenant of Fire." Here's a simple diagram to show the relationship:
Words created the universe -- or rather, the Word of God did (בְּרֵאשִׁית הָיָה הַדָּבָר). When the Divine Voice (i.e., the Word of God) spoke cosmic Light into existence (Gen. 1:3), God was not creating the physical light of the Sun or the Moon, since the heavenly bodies were created later (Gen. 1:14). This supernal light was the first expression of God's handiwork outside of Himself, His first revelation of contingent existence (i.e., existence that owes its source, continuance, and end to God's transcendent power and will). The Divine Light forms the canvass, if you will, of God's portraiture of creation (in three-dimensional terms, the Divine Light forms a sort of "container" that becomes the "house" of Creation). Among other things, this means that ultimate reality is grounded in the Source of Light, Love, and Truth -- regardless of how dark the present hour may appear.... God's Name YHVH means He is always present, and therefore we call upon Him in our time of need (Heb. 4:16).
Note: For more on this subject, see "Covenant of Fire."
Creation and Revelation...
[ The following is related to our Torah portion for this week, parashat Bereshit... ]
10.15.14 (Tishri 22, 5775) If you were walking through the woods one day and suddenly found an exquisitely crafted pocket watch lying on the ground, you wouldn't think it had magically "just appeared out of thin air," with no cause or explanation for its presence, much less would you think that the watch was produced by random forces operating in an entirely material universe. On the contrary, as you look closely at the watch and observe its intricacies of design, you marvel over the precisely machined, interlocking gears, calibrated springs, and a beautifully fashioned faceplate that marks motion in meticulous increments. And so it is, with our experience of creation and its complexities and wonders. The existence of a world in all its intricate detail forces a thinking person to recognize the Divine Presence that brought all things into being and sustains them for a greater end. Thus the Kol Dodi rearranges the letters of the word bara (בָּרָא), "to create," to form ba'er (בַּאֵר), "to clarify," since creation clarifies the role of the design and glory of the Creator: "In the beginning, God clarified the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1).
The Waters of Life...
[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, the "Feast of Tabernacles." ]
10.15.14 (Tishri 22, 5775) The seventh (and last) day of the festival of Sukkot is called Hoshana Rabba (הוֹשַׁנָא רַבָּא). Hoshana (sometimes transliterated as "Hosanna") comes from the Hebrew phrase hoshia na (הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא), meaning "save us now," combined with "rabbah," meaning "great," to refer to a great corporate plea for salvation. It was on this climactic day of the festival that the people gathered at the Temple for the water ceremony, waving lulavs and circling the courtyard seven times (hakafot) while chanting "Ana Adonai - Hosiah na" (Psalm 118:25), "save us, we pray O LORD!" The New Testament records that it was also on the last day of Sukkot (i.e., "the great day") - perhaps during the water libation ceremony itself - that Yeshua stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his inmost being will flow rivers of living water'" (John 7:37-38).
אָנָּא יְהוָה הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא אָנָּא יְהוָה הַצְלִיחָה נָּא
בָּרוּךְ הַבָּא בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה בֵּרַכְנוּכֶם מִבֵּית יְהוָה
an·na Adonai ho·shi·ah na / an·na Adonai hatz·li·chah na
ba·rukh hab·bah be·shem Adonai / be·rakh·nu·khem mi·beit Adonai
"Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, let us thrive!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
We bless you from the house of the LORD."
Hebrew Study Card
The early sages had taught "at the feast of Sukkot judgment is made concerning the waters," referring to the rain needed for the forthcoming planting season. The historian Josephus calls the ceremonial drawing of water from the Pool of Siloam "the very sacred close (συμπέρασμα) of the year," since the amount of rainfall over the next few months would directly impact the harvest in the spring. The need for rain over the winter months in Israel was an ongoing need for the welfare of the people...
"With joy shall you draw water out of the wells of salvation" (Isa. 12:3). Yeshua once encountered a woman who had come to draw water from a well and said, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:13-14). Likewise he taught earlier in his ministry, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6). Just as the people understood they needed physical rain to sustain their physical lives, so Yeshua pointed to himself as the source of "spiritual rain," or "living water" that would sustain their spiritual lives. The "rain of blessing," then, referred to the refreshing power of the Holy Spirit that would become an inner source of life for those who believe... As Yeshua said, "out of his inmost being will flow rivers of living water," which some have thought refers back to the miraculous waters that were given in the desert: "Each soul will be a rock smitten in the thirsty land, from which crystal rivers of life-giving grace shall flow." Indeed the Hallel that is recited during the festival includes the verse: "He turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters" (Psalm 114:8).
[ Parashat Bereshit is always read on the Sabbath following Simchat Torah, and therefore is the very first portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading... ]
10.14.14 (Tishri 21, 5775) The cosmological dogma that the universe somehow was caused by an enormous (and yet inexplicable) explosion several billions of years ago (i.e., the "big bang") is routinely accepted by people today, though such a theory cannot explain what caused the big bang itself, nor can it explainwhy is there something rather than nothing at all... Moreover, whereas scientific cosmology "omnisciently" claims that the universe came into existence without a discernible reason, that is, groundlessly or without rational warrant, it is somehow considered "irrational" to believe that a personal and holy God created the world for the sake of revealing his love and glory to mankind. In light of this, it is helpful to remember that genuine science involves observation and measurement, and whenever cosmologists extrapolate beyond empirical evidence to explain the origin of the universe, they are creating a myth or a model that is every bit as religious as those who believe God created the universe yesh me'ayin, "out of nothing."
הַשָּׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד־אֵל
וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו מַגִּיד הָרָקִיעַ
יוֹם לְיוֹם יַבִּיעַ אמֶר
וְלַיְלָה לְּלַיְלָה יְחַוֶּה־דָּעַת
ha-sha·ma·yim · me·sa·pe·rim · ke·vod · El,
u·ma·a·seh · ya·dav · mag·gid · ha·ra·ki·a;
yom · le·yom · ya·bi·a · o·mer,
ve·lai·la · le·lai·la · ye·cha·veh · da·at
"The heavens recount the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims the work of His hands.
Day after day it speaks out;
night after night it reveals His greatness."
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Simple logic reveals that the universe had a beginning, since it is impossible to traverse an infinite number of moments to arrive at a present moment... Since the universe is indeed present, therefore it necessarily had a beginning. The question of the origin of the universe therefore leads to "inference to the best explanation." On the assumption that the Torah is true, what would we expect to see in light of human history and its values, of good and evil, of love, beauty and truth, and so on... The objections raised to a personal Creator and King are moral more than they are intellectual. It is a matter of the will, not of the evidence itself. There is plenty of "junk science" in the world today that purports to substantiate godlessness. The LORD is revealed intuitively within each human soul, and the impression of the Divine nature is indelibly written on the human heart. As it is written, "God's eternal power and divine nature from the creation of the world are understood through what has been made, so people are without excuse" (Rom 1:20).
If the devil can't kill you, he will try to make you insane... He will lie to you about who you really are... He will harass you and vex your soul; he will whisper fearful things in your ear... He will make what is small seem big and what is big seem small. He will raise dark suspicion within your soul, causing you to draw back in worry. He will remind you of your sins to make you feel ashamed, dirty, and unwelcome. He will hiss that you are unlovable and unworthy. He will argue on behalf of your flesh that you deserve better than this... He will tempt you to seek relief in cisterns of emptiness and futility. Most of all, he will try to cast a spell to make you forget that you are truly a prince or princess of God Almighty... The devil seeks to drive you into the exile of loneliness and despair. Resist him in the Name of the LORD!
Faith affirms that meaning is real, from God, and that each of us has eternal significance in the eyes of heaven... Faith sees the hidden realm of the invisible (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם), the underlying substance (ὑπόστασις) of hope, the conviction of unseen and everlasting good (Heb. 11:1).
Note: For more on this, see the article, "Irrepressible Creation."
Seedbed of Creation...
[ The following is related to our Torah portion for this Shabbat, parashat Bereshit... ]
10.14.14 (Tishri 21, 5775) The Book of Genesis (בְּרֵאשִׁית) is truly the "beginning," the "root," and the "seedbed" of all the subsequent Scriptures - including the message of the gospel and the revelation of the New Testament. In Genesis we see the creation and ruin of man through sin, but we take hold of the promise of deliverance through the coming Seed of the woman; in the Book of Exodus (שְׁמוֹת) we see God's powerful redemption secured through the blood of the Lamb; in the Book of Leviticus (וַיִּקְרָא) we encounter communion and atonement in the holy sanctuary; in the Book of Numbers (בַּמִדְבַּר) we experience the leading of God through desert places, and in the Book of Deuteronomy (הַדְּבָרִים) we are renewed by God's faithfulness before we take hold of our inheritance. Ultimately, the concluding book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, serves as a climactic "final chapter" of the story begun in Genesis, where the Tree of Life (עֵץ הַחַיִּים) is restored to the midst of the paradise of God, and the presence of sin and death have been forever eradicated....
Everything begins with the foundational truth that Almighty God is our personal Creator (הַבּוֹרֵא). This is the first principle of all rational thinking: "In the beginning (בְּרֵאשִׁית), God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). Notice that the word "beginning," i.e., bereshit, comes from the word reishit (רֵאשִׁית), meaning first or best (Psalm 111:10), which does not necessarily mean "the beginning" in a temporal sense (הַרִאשׁוֹן), but rather primacy or rulership over all that exists. Indeed, the word includes the root idea of "head" (ראשׁ), which suggests the "head of all things," that is, to the Messiah, the Creative Word of God who is the "head of all beginning and authority" and through Whom and for Whom all things were created (Col. 1:16; 2:10).
For more on this subject, please see: Genesis and the Seedbed of Creation.
Beginning Again, Again...
[ The following is related to Simchat Torah and the great value of Torah study for our lives... ]
10.13.14 (Tishri 20, 5775) Each week in synagogues across the world a portion from the Torah (called a parashah) is studied, discussed, and chanted. Jewish tradition has divided the Torah into 54 of these portions - roughly one for each week of the year - so that in the course of a year the entire Torah has been recited during services. The final reading of this cycle occurs on the holiday of Simchat Torah ("Joy of the Torah"), a festival celebrating both the completion of the year's Torah Reading cycle as well as the start of a brand new cycle. Each year, then, we "rewind" the scroll and begin again. The sages have wisely said that you cannot compare studying Torah for the 49th time to studying it for the 50th time....
Our spiritual inheritance is bound up with the Torah: it is part of our story, our history, our heritage (Deut. 33:4; Gal. 3:7; Rom. 4:16; Luke 24:27). The stories of Torah serve as parables and allegories that inform the deeper meaning of the ministry of Messiah: "Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come (1 Cor. 10:11). "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom.15:4). You are no longer a stranger or outsider to the heritage of the LORD (Eph. 2:19). Disciples of Yeshua are called talmidim (תַּלְמִידִים) -- a word that comes from lamad (לָמַד) meaning "to learn." Among other things, then, following the Messiah means becoming a student of the Scriptures He loved and fulfilled (Matt. 5:17-18; Luke 24:44-45). Only after learning from Yeshua as your Teacher will you be equipped to "go to all the nations and teach" others (Matt. 28:19).
Torah First and Last...
[ We read the last -- and first -- portion of Torah for the holiday of Simchat Torah... ]
10.13.14 (Tishri 20, 5775) Our Torah reading for this week is a bit complicated. In addition to the passages we read for the holiday of Sukkot, we will read both the last portion of the Torah (i.e., V'zot HaBerakhah: Deut. 33:1-34:12) as well as the first chapter of Bereshit (i.e., Gen. 1:1-2:3) for the holiday of "Simchat Torah" (which immediately follows Sukkot). Then, on the Sabbath that immediately follows Simchat Torah, we will read the entire portion of Bereshit (i.e., Gen. 1:1-6:8). The upshot is that we have a "double portion" of Torah for this week, friends, as we read the end of the scroll and then "rewind" it to the beginning...
Every year we read the Torah from beginning to end... We do this every year because Talmud Torah - the study of Torah - is an ongoing venture in the life of a Jew. In this connection, it is interesting to note that the very first letter of the Torah is the Bet (בּ) in the word bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית), and the very last letter of the Torah is the Lamed (ל) in the word Israel (יִשְׂרָאֵל). Putting these letters together we get the word lev (לֵב), "heart," suggesting that the entire Torah - from the first letter to the last - reveals the heart and love of God for us... Moreover, the first letter of Scripture is a Bet (בּ), as explained above, and the last letter is a Nun (ן) in the word "Amen" (אָמֵן), so the whole Bible - from beginning to end - reveals the Person of God the Son (בֶּן) for us...
Note: For more on this subject, see "Every Letter of Torah."
Dwelling in the Presence...
[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, the "Feast of Tabernacles." ]
10.12.14 (Tishri 19, 5775) During the holiday of Sukkot we construct a sukkah, a "booth" or temporary structure, that we will "live in" for the holiday week. Living in a sukkah is meant to recall God's surrounding love and care for us as we make our journey through the desert of this world on our way to Zion... It is an attempt to make visible the invisible, to give a glimpse of God's abiding glory. On a spiritual level, however, the essence of Sukkot is "dwelling" or "abiding" in the Divine Presence. And though the LORD is forever enthroned in heaven as our Creator, our King, and our loving Deliverer, and though indeed the whole earth is filled with His glory (Isa. 6:3), nevertheless we must make a dwelling within our hearts. He stands at the door and knocks (Rev. 3:20). "Where does God dwell," it is asked, "but where He is given a place, a sanctuary, a throne within the heart."
Left-to-right (top): 1. John with his sons; 2. Judah in the sukkah; 2. Josiah waves lulav;
4. lights on the sukkah roof; 5. Judah holds the etrog
(bottom): 1. faith and Sukkot; 2. beautiful Olga; 3. the Sukkot full moon (and eclipse);
4) the reason for the season; 5) John waves the lulav.
Left-to-right (top): 1. John reciting kiddush; 2. family in the sukkah; 2. Vadim ha'motzi;
4. Olga lights yom tov candles; 5. the lulav and etrog for Sukkot
(bottom): 1. Peter waves lulav; 2. Judah with lulav; 3. holding up the shofar;
4) one of our ushpizin; 5) hora dance inside the sukkah.
There are two great questions God always is asking us. The first is "who do you say that I am?" and the second is "will you make a place for me?" Being in a love relationship with God is the goal of life, the "end of the law," and the reason we were created. But we cannot love God apart from understanding his passion for us. The LORD is the "Jealous God," a Consuming Fire, the One who desires all of our heart on the altar (Luke 9:23). Therefore the very first commandment is simply אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ, "I AM the LORD your God" (Exod. 20:2), because without "making a place" God's love within your heart, nothing else will follow.
Note: To see some larger pictures of our Sukkot celebrations, click here.
Sukkah of the Heart...
[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, the "Feast of Tabernacles." Chag Sameach! ]
10.10.14 (Tishri 16, 5775) The word sukkot (סֻכּוֹת) is the plural of the Hebrew word sukkah (סֻכָּה), meaning a "booth" or "hut." In traditional Judaism, a sukkah is a temporary structure used for "living in" (i.e., primarily eating meals or entertaining guests) throughout the week-long holiday. The purpose of the sukkah is to remind us of how God tenderly cared for the Israelites as they made their trek through the dangers of the desert. God spoke endearingly to Israel: "Follow me into the wilderness, into an unsown land" (Jer. 2:2).
The Scriptures state, "The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down" (Psalm 145:14). It has been said that the word sukkah can be understood as an acronym formed from the words somekh Adonai (סוֹמֵךְ יְהוָה), "the LORD upholds," kol (כָּל), "all," and ha'noflim (הַנּפְלִים), "the ones who fall." This suggests that those who make a sanctuary within their hearts, trusting in God's indwelling Presence, will be upheld and kept from falling (Jude 1:24). God knows I need this truth to be made real in this hour...
סוֹמֵךְ יְהוָה לְכָל־הַנּפְלִים
so·mekh · Adonai · le·khol · ha·no·fe·lim
ve·zo·kef · le·khol · ha·ke·fu·fim
"The LORD upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down"
Hebrew Study Card
The Kotzer Rebbe said that the verse, "this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him" (Exod. 15:2), may be understood as, "this is my God, and I will make a dwelling for Him within me." Though the LORD is forever enthroned in heaven as our Creator, King, and Deliverer, we still make a dwelling within us. He stands at the door and knocks. "Where does God dwell," it is asked, "but where He is given a dwelling place, a sanctuary, a throne within the heart?"
Yeshua the Hidden Guest...
[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles... ]
10.10.14 (Tishri 16, 5775) The Aramaic word "ushpizin" (אוּשְׁפִּיזִין) refers to the seven "guests" whom we remember and honor during the weeklong festival of Sukkot, namely: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and King David, respectively. According to Jewish tradition, on each night a different guest (i.e., ushpiz: אוּשְׁפִּיז) enters the sukkah, and we are to symbolically welcome them by offering them a place at our table (this is similar to the tradition of Elijah's Cup during Passover). On the first night comes Abraham; on the second, Isaac, and so on. In the Gospel of John we read that Yeshua said he go up to the Feast of Tabernacles "in secret" (ἐν κρυπτῷ), like an ushpiz (John 7:10). During the "middle of the festival," perhaps on the fourth day (the "Day of Joseph"), Yeshua went to the Temple and began teaching the people (John 7:14), and on the last great day, called Hoshana Rabbah, when the High Priest led a parade to the pool of Siloam during the water libation ritual, Yeshua stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink" (John 7:38). Finally, on the morning following the festival, called Shemini Atzeret, Yeshua returned to the Temple and said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12), recalling the words of the prophet: "On that day there shall be no light... and living waters shall flow out of Jerusalem; And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one" (Zech. 14:6,9; Isa. 13:10; 30:26).
Note: For more on this see, "The Seven Ushpizin: Yeshua as the Hidden Guest."
Wholeness and Faith..
10.09.14 (Tishri 15, 5775) The Book of Ecclesiastes (megillat Kohelet) is read during the holiday of Sukkot, though you might be surprised to learn that many of the early sages did not want it included as part of the Jewish Scriptures. After all, the philosophy of Kohelet - that we are incapable of fully understanding the purposes of the world, and therefore much of what we think is important is really havel havalim (הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים), "vanity of vanities" - is contrary to a theology of reward and punishment found in the writings of Moses. This question is not unlike the Book of Job and the mysterious question as to why the righteous suffer... It is to their credit that the sages finally decided to include the scroll as part of the accepted canon, however, since it takes great humility to admit that we must continue to seek God, despite uncertainty and transience of this world. Indeed, we read this book to remind us that lasting meaning and purpose is not found in life lived "under the sun" but rather in knowing and serving God. Solomon therefore concludes his existential reflection as follows: "Fear God and keep his commandments: ki zeh kol-ha'adam (כִּי־זֶה כָּל־הָאָדָם), "for this is the whole man" (Eccl. 12:13), which suggests that those who revere the LORD and obey His Word will be healed of despair and inner vanity...
סוֹף דָּבָר הַכּל נִשְׁמָע אֶת־הָאֱלהִים יְרָא
וְאֶת־מִצְוֹתָיו שְׁמוֹר כִּי־זֶה כָּל־הָאָדָם
sof · da·var · ha·kol · nish·ma · et · ha-E·lo·him · yir·a
ve·et · mitz·vo·tav · she·mor · ki · zeh · kol · ha·a·dam
"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God
and keep his commandments: for this is the whole man."
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"The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8). Note the great contrast between olam ha-zeh and olam haba – between this present world and the heavenly realm.... Unlike the grass of the field that dries up or flowers that soon fade, the word of God stands forever. And despite the frailty of man and the inevitability of physical death, God's truth endures, which is a foundation upon which we can rest.
But how are the metaphors that man is "like dried up grass" or a "withered flower" intended to comfort us? Do they not, on the contrary, lead us to regard our lives as vain and perhaps meaningless? Yes indeed. Our lives are empty and vain apart from God and His truth. If we find ourselves wincing over such images, it is perhaps time to reexamine the state of our faith: To the extent that we regard this world as our "home" we will find the transience of life to be tragic... For those who are seeking a heavenly habitation, the "City of God" and the fulfillment of the promise of Zion, the fleeting nature of this evil world is ultimately a form of consolation...
Note: For more on this subject, see "Sukkot and Vanity" and "Everlasting Consolation."
The Lulav Bouquet...
10.09.14 (Tishri 15, 5775) During Sukkot we use "four species" that symbolize the fruit of the land (Lev. 23:40). The etrog (אֶתְרג), a lemon-like citron, is used as "the fruit of goodly trees," and is often regarded as a symbol of the heart. The sages say the word "etrog" can be seen as an acronym for "faith (אֱמוּנָה), repentance (תְּשׁוּבָה), healing (רְפֻאָה), and redemption (גְּאֻלָּה)." The lulav (date palm branch) is said to represent the spine or backbone of a person. Notice that the word lulav (לוּלָב) can be broken down as לוֹ ("to him") and לֵב ("heart"). A person who loves the LORD bekhol levavkha, with all his heart, will be given "spiritual backbone," real conviction and strength.
The Torah states, "On the first day [of Sukkot] you shall take to yourselves the fruit of the goodly tree, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days" (Lev. 23:40). In Jewish tradition, after reciting the Hebrew blessing and shaking the lulav around, it is customary to recite (or sing) the following antiphon from Psalm 136: "Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever."
Shalom and blessings to you all in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah - the One who "tabernacles" with us in the Holy Spirit and who graciously invites all to come within the shelter of His everlasting love. וַיְהִי בְשָׁלֵם סֻכּוֹ וּמְעוֹנָתוֹ בְצִיּוֹן / vayehi v'shalem sukko, u'me'onato v'Tzion: "His sukkah is in Shalem; His place in Zion" (Psalm 76:3). Though this world is surely under divine judgment, may those who trust in the LORD say: יִצְפְּנֵנִי בְּסֻכּה בְּיוֹם רָעָה / yitzpeneni be'sukkoh be'yom ra'ah, "He will conceal me in His sukkah in the day of trouble" (Psalm 27:5).
Whether you have the opportunity to wave the lulav in a Sukkah or not this year, we sincerely wish you a season of joy as you celebrate the sheltering presence of the LORD Yeshua in your life, chaverim... Chag Sukkot Sameach!
A Prophetic Rejoicing...
10.08.14 (Tishri 15, 5775) Regarding the holiday of Sukkot the Torah states, ve'samchta be'chagekha - "you shall rejoice in your holiday" and ve'hayita akh same'ach - "you shall have nothing but joy" (Deut. 16:14-15). But how can Torah command us to rejoice? Can we be forced to dance, sing, and make merry? Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote, "The Gaon of Vilna said that ve'samchta be'chagekha (וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְּחַגֶּךָ) is the most difficult commandment of Torah, and I could never understand why. Only during the war did I understand. Those Jews who, in the course their journey to the end of hope, managed to dance on Simchat Torah ... taught us how Jews should behave in the face of adversity. For them, ve'samchta be'chagekha was one commandment impossible to observe -- yet they observed it." In this connection, let me add that these words of Torah are ultimately prophetic: "you shall rejoice; you shall have nothing but joy...." That day is coming, when our tears are wiped away and our wounds are forever healed. Amen. Chag Sukkot Same'ach, friends...
The Sukkot 2014 Eclipse...
10.07.14 (Tishri 14, 5775) After decorating our Sukkah last night, I spent some time taking pictures of the spectacular lunar eclipse, which occurred from around 2:30 am until 6:00 am in our time zone. Here are a few pictures of the eclipse progression:
Like the Passover eclipse we saw last April, seeing the Sukkot lunar eclipse was both a humbling and a profoundly sacred experience. The following blessing is customarily recited when you witness a remarkable event in God's creation, for instance, when you see an eclipse, a shooting star, or beautiful mountain vista, or some other natural wonder:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
עשֶׂה מַעֲשֶׂה בְרֵאשִׁית
ba·rukh · at·ta · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · me·lekh · ha·o·lam
o·seh · ma·a·seh · ve·rei·shit
"Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe,
who makes the works of creation."
Sukkot and the Birth of Isaac...
10.07.14 (Tishri 13, 5775) An ancient midrash dating from the 2nd century BC says that we are to be joyful during Sukkot because it was at this time that Isaac was born: "And we returned in the seventh month, and found Sarah with child before us, and we blessed him, and we announced to him all the things which had been decreed concerning him (Jubilees 16:16). Moved by gratitude to God, Abraham established a festival of joy to celebrate the birth of his long-awaited son by decorating booths (i.e., sukkot) and thanking God for the miracle of his heir. The midrash reads: "And Abraham took branches of palm trees, and the fruit of goodly trees, and every day going round the altar with the branches seven times [a day] in the morning, he praised and gave thanks for all things in joy" (Jubilees 16:31). In other words, Sukkot originally celebrates the birth of Isaac - and by extension, the birth of Yeshua our Messiah, the very Akedah of God!
Note: For more on this subject, see "Was Jesus born on December 25th?"
Sukkot and God's Name...
10.07.14 (Tishri 13, 5775) According to Rashi, Moses gathered the people to assemble the Tabernacle the day following Yom Kippur, that is, the day after he came down from the mountain upon learning the meaning of the name YHVH (Exod. 34:6-7; 35:1-35). For this reason it is traditional to begin building your sukkah on the day following Yom Kippur, recalling the revelation of the covenant of God's mercy: "The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation (my Yeshua); this is my God and I will enshrine Him.
עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ וַיְהִי־לִי לִישׁוּעָה
זֶה אֵלִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ אֱלהֵי אָבִי וַאֲרמְמֶנְהוּ
o·zi · ve·zim·rat · Yah · vai·hi · li · li·shu·ah
zeh · E·li · ve·an·ve·hu · E·lo·hei · a·vi · va·a·ro·me·men·hu
"The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation;
this is my God and I will enshrine Him, God my Father, and I will exalt Him"
Yeshua is the inner meaning of the Name YHVH, our song and our salvation!
Surrounded by His Sukkah...
[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles... ]
10.07.14 (Tishri 13, 5775) The root idea of the word "sukkah" means to cover or surround, as in hedge of protection. The Hebrew root is used when Moses asked to behold God's glory and the meaning of the name YHVH (יהוה), and God said, "Behold there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory overtakes you I will cover you with my hand (וְשַׂכּתִי כַפִּי עָלֶיךָ) until I have passed by (Exod. 33:21-21). The hand of God (יַד־יְהוָה) is our sukkah, and indeed the LORD writes our names upon his palms and sets us as a seal upon his heart (Isa. 49:16; Sol. 8:6). Likewise David affirmed that God would treasure you within his sukkah and elevate you upon the Rock that is Messiah:
כִּי יִצְפְּנֵנִי בְּסֻכּה
בְּיוֹם רָעָה יַסְתִּרֵנִי בְּסֵתֶר אָהֳלוֹ
ki · yitz·pe·nei·ni · be·suk·koh
be·yom · ra·ah · yas·ti·rei·ni · be·se·ter · a·ho·lo
be·tzur · ye·ro·me·mei·ni
"For he will hide me in his sukkah
in the day of trouble he will conceal me in the secret place of his tent;
on the Rock he will raise me up"
The LORD will "treasure you" (the word tzafan [צָפַן] often is translated as "to hide") in his sukkah, a symbol of his protection of your soul... in the day of trouble he will conceal you in his tent, that is, within his dwelling place, under the shadow of his wings he makes you refuge; he will elevate you upon the Rock which is Messiah (1 Cor. 10:4).
Since God's Name (יהוה) means "Presence," "Breath," "Compassion," "Love," "Healing," and so on, we are surrounded by his Sukkah at all times... In other words, you don't have to be in a physical sukkah to be in His sukkah! May God open our eyes to see his glory!
Sukkot Same'ach be'Yeshua (סוכות שמחה בישוע) - Happy Sukkot in Yeshua!
Building our Sukkah...
[ The week-long holiday of Sukkot begins Wednesday, Oct. 8th at sundown this year... ]
10.06.14 (Tishri 12, 5775) Since Sukkot begins just a few days after Yom Kippur, it's always a challenge to put up our sukkah in time. Since the weather yesterday was amenable, we got everything out of the garage, cleaned up the yard, and got to work. After assembling the frame, we laid the supporting beams for the ceiling and covered them with a bamboo schach (roof). Then we put seasonal lights around the beams and began gathering our wall hangings and other things to decorate inside the tent. Here are a few pictures:
Left-to-right (top): 1. Olga and the boys; 2. etrog with lulav; 2. Judah helping out;
4. the roof beams in place; 5. Israeli flags and lights
(bottom): 1. getting things ready; 2. Judah; 3. winding lights on the roof beams;
4) John looks at the etrog; 5) Josiah's birthday is during Sukkot!
Hiddur mitzvah (הִדּוּר מִצְוָה) is a phrase that means "making a commandment beautiful," and we want to make our sukkah a place of beauty, a personal mishkan or "tabernacle." The sages note that the idea behind hiddur mitzvah comes from the great Song of Moses: "This is my God and I will enshrine (נָוָה) Him" (Exod. 15:2). Since we are surrounded by God's clouds of glory - and also by a "great cloud of witnesses" who watch as we walk in faith (Heb. 12:1) - it is only fitting to do our best to "enshrine" the LORD!
We have yet to assemble our lulav -- i.e., the fragrant "boquet" made by binding together one date palm branch (lulav), two willow branches (aravot), and three myrtle branches (hadasim), but plan to do so on erev Sukkot. According to midrash, the fruit that Adam and Eve ate was actually the etrog, and yet this fruit is considered most precious as we celebrate Sukkot. But how would etrog, a symbol of our downfall, be made part of our rejoicing unless we celebrate how God brings blessing out of a curse because of Yeshua our Lord... Only Yeshua is able to redeem us from our past and make all things new!
It is written in Psalm 27, "for he will hide me in his Sukkah in the day of trouble ... and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts (teruah) of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD" (Psalm 27:5-6). If all goes well, we will have some "ushpizin" (guests) for the first night of Sukkot on Wednesday evening. Chag Sukkot Same'ach, friends!
Note: You can view more Sukkot 5775 pictures here.
Strangers to this World...
[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles... ]
10.05.14 (Tishri 11, 5775) God's people are "strangers" in this world; they are literally estranged and live as "resident aliens" -- here, yet not here.... Thus Abraham said to the sons of Chet: "I am a 'stranger and sojourner' (גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב) among you; sell me a burial site..." (Gen. 23:4), and likewise King David confessed: "For we are strangers with You, mere transients like our fathers; our days on earth are like a shadow without abiding (1 Chron. 29:15). Faith affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life is a deeper reality that is ultimately real and abiding. It "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31). The life of faith therefore calls us to live as toshavim - sojourners - who are at an infinite "distance" from the world of appearances and who seek the Eternal. Sukkot means we ache with a divine "homesickness" as we look forward to our real home in heaven (Heb. 11:9-10). "O You who are at home deep within my heart, enable me to join you deep in my heart."
Quick Sukkot Seder Guide
[ The week-long holiday of Sukkot begins Wed. Oct. 8th at sundown this year... ]
10.05.14 (Tishri 11, 5775) Sukkot is just around the corner! To make things a bit easier to celebrate the upcoming holiday, I consolidated the traditional blessings and steps into a single (double-sided) page that you can print to use with your celebrations:
Since it follows Yom Kippur (i.e., the Day of Atonement), Sukkot represents a time of renewed fellowship with God, an prophetic time when we gratefully acknowledge the Lord's sheltering provision and ongoing care for our lives... In this connection the sages note that the numerical equivalent (gematria) of sukkah (סוכּה) is 91, the same as the sum of two of the Divine Names: Adonai (אדני) and YHVH (יהוה).
Originally, the Mishkan (and later, the Temple) represented God's Shekhinah Presence among His redeemed people (Exod. 29:44-45). The New Testament reveals that God Himself "tabernacled" with us by coming in the disguised form of lowly servant in order to function as the great High Priest of the New Covenant (see Phil. 2:7, John 1:14). Because of Yeshua's priestly avodah and sacrifice, we now have access to the Heavenly Throne of God's Grace (Heb. 4:16). We are confident of the eternal atonement that our beloved Messiah has secured for us all (Heb. 10:14), and we trust that our names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life (Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5). We rejoice that we are members of the greater Temple of His body: we are now part of His Heavenly Sukkah (Eph. 5:30)!
"Oh, let us hear the voice crying in the wilderness of our own hearts..." Ufros Aleinu Sukkat Shelomekha - "Spread over us Your Sukkah of Peace."
The Holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles)
[ The week-long holiday of Sukkot begins Wed. Oct. 8th at sundown this year... ]
10.05.14 (Tishri 11, 5775) On the Jewish calendar, there is a quick transition from the somber time of the Jewish High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur) to the week-long festival of Sukkot (called "Tabernacles" in the Christian tradition). If the High Holidays focus on the LORD as our Creator, our Judge, and the One who atones for our sins, then Sukkot is the time when we joyously celebrate all that He has done for us. Prophetically understood, the seven days of Sukkot picture olam haba, the world to come, and the Millennial Kingdom reign of Mashiach ben David. If Yeshua was born during Sukkot (i.e., conceived during Chanukah, the festival of lights), then another meaning of the "word became flesh and 'tabernacled with us" (John 1:14) extends to the coming kingdom age, when He will again "sukkah" with his people during the time of his reign from Zion.
Since it represents the time of ingathering of the harvest, Sukkot prophetically prefigures the joyous redemption and gathering of the Jewish people during the days of the Messiah's reign on earth (Isa. 27:12-13; Jer. 23:7-8). Indeed all of the nations that survived the Great Tribulation will come together to worship the LORD in Jerusalem during the Feast of Sukkot (Zech. 14:16-17). The holiday season therefore provides a vision of the coming Kingdom of God upon the earth, when the Word will again "tabernacle with us."
This year Sukkot begins just after sundown on Wednesday, Oct. 8th (i.e., Tishri 15 on the Jewish calendar). The festival is celebrated for seven days (i.e., from Tishri 15-21) during which we "dwell" in a sukkah -- a hut of temporary construction, with a roof covering (schach) of raw vegetable matter (i.e., branches, bamboo, etc.). The sukkah represents our dependence upon God's shelter for our protection and divine providence. We eat our meals in the sukkah and recite a special blessing (leshev Ba-Sukkah) at this time.
In addition to the Sukkah, the most prominent symbol of Sukkot is the Arba'at Ha-minim (אַרְבַּעַת הַמִּינִים) - "the Four Species," or four kinds of plants explicitly mentioned in the Torah regarding the festival of Sukkot: "On the first day you shall take: 1) the product of goodly trees (etrog), 2) branches of palm trees (lulav), 3) boughs of leafy trees (hadas), and 4) willows of the brook (aravot), and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days" (Lev. 23:40). We wave the "four species" (held together as a bouquet with the etrog) and recite a blessing (netilat lulav) to ask God for a fruitful and blessed year.
Note: The weekly Torah readings are suspended for the week of Sukkot, though we will finish reading the Torah (and begin reading it anew) on the holiday of Simchat Torah, immediately following the holiday. For more information about Sukkot, including how you can observe it as a follower of Yeshua, see the Sukkot pages and their links.
Torah of the Heart...
10.03.14 (Tishri 9, 5775) Isaiah the prophet over two thousand years ago, in the name of God: "This people draw near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" (Isa. 29:13, Matt. 15:8). The sages comment: "Nothing has changed from that day to this. Therefore, when you go to pray, leave yourself outside – go in only with your heart." Amen, the language of the heart is what is most important. "When you pray, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words be without heart" (Bunyan).
Yom Kippur and the Gospel...
[ The following is related to Yom Kippur which begins sundown this evening... ]
10.03.14 (Tishri 9, 5775) It is vital to remember that the detailed instructions for constructing the Tabernacle were "according to the pattern" (תַּבְנִית) given to Moses at Sinai (Exod. 25:9). In other words, the tent (Mishkan), the furnishings such as the Table of the Bread of Presence (הַשֻּׁלְחָן לֶחֶם פָּנִים), the golden Menorah (מְנוֹרָה), the Bronze Altar for sacrifices (מִזְבֵּחַ הַנְחשֶׁת), the vessels, and so on, were first shown to Moses before they were created. They were copies or "shadows" that were intended to prefigure the eternal reality of the Heavenly Tabernacle itself. The entire sacrificial system was metaphorical, if you will, and pointed to a deeper reality that transcended the earthly sphere. Even the yearly Yom Kippur ritual was never intended to remain into perpetuity but pointed to something more profound -- namely, the greater avodah (ministry) of Yeshua, the Kohen Gadol of the New Covenant (Heb. 9). Indeed, if the older covenant had been sufficient to provide a permanent solution to the problem of our sin, there never would have been need for a new covenant to supersede it (see Hebrews 8:7). For more on this very important topic, please see "Yom Kippur and the Gospel."
Note: In light of the finished work of Yeshua on our behalf, we do not wish to be "sealed for a good year" (i.e., g'mar chatimah tovah) in the book of life during this season... In light of the sacrifice of Yeshua this is chillul Hashem - a desecration of the Name of the LORD. Instead we trust that our names are written and sealed for good because of His sacrifice on our behalf... Likewise you are at liberty to fast so that you might identify with the Jewish people and to intercede on their behalf, but you should not fast in an attempt to atone for your sins or to appeal to God for grace apart from the finished work of Yeshua on the cross.
Dear friends, I wish you all great joy and happiness in the precious atonement secured for you through the sacrifice of Yeshua our Messiah. May you feel "at-one" with the Father's heart for you; may you know the great truth of God's profound passion for you. May the LORD our God bless you with a deeper awareness of his love as you consider the great price he paid for your everlasting healing! Amen.
Yom Kippur and Jonah...
[ The following is related to Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement"... ]
10.03.14 (Tishri 9, 5775) During the afternoon service of Yom Kippur, the Book of Jonah is recited to awaken the heart to "Arise, call out to your God" (1:6). Like Jonah we first must be "swallowed up" in consciousness of our own rebellion before we realize we are undone, that we are without remedy apart from God's direct intervention and deliverance. We start there - in the "belly of the fish" - and later are resurrected to go forth by God's mercy and grace. Likewise we first see ourselves as undone and go to the cross, finding pardon and given the power of the ruach HaKodesh to live unto God according to the truth. But note that the imperatives of the New Testament are directed to the new nature given to us by God, and not to the old nature that has been crucified and done away. We are admonished to live in accordance with the truth of what God has done for us through the Moshia', the Savior. You are a new creation, therefore be who you are in the Messiah!
It is noteworthy that Yeshua mentioned the "sign of Jonah the prophet," that is, Jonah's miraculous deliverance after being entombed in the belly of the fish for three days, to authenticate his own claim to be Israel's Redeemer. "Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth" (Matt. 12:40). "This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet (אוֹת יוֹנָה הַנָּבִיא). For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation" (Luke 11:29-30). In other words, the story of Jonah foreshadowed the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah, that is, his death, burial and especially his miraculous resurrection on the third day. Just as God brought Jonah back to life after three days in the belly of the earth, so the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead would vindicate his claim to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world. In this way the "Sign of Jonah" and the sacrificial and atoning work of Yeshua as our High Priest of the new covenant are connected.
"We we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself, yes, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead" (2 Cor 1:8-9). This marks the end of carnal hope, when we realize we are but "dead men walking," and from this extremity of inner desperation and clarity we learn to rely solely on God for what we need. Here we abandon ourselves to God's care, despite the despair, darkness, and fear. We rely on "God who raises the dead," because all other remedies have been vanquished. It is a great gift to be so afflicted, for these "troubles of love" teach us to trust God alone for all we need. The only way out is through. We don't seek an easy way of life, but only that the LORD our God be with us throughout our troubles...
Torah of Blood Atonement...
[ The following is related to Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement"... ]
10.02.14 (Tishri 8, 5775) "The Life is in the blood..." (Lev. 17:11). The "Day of Atonement" is the English translation for Yom Kippurim (יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים). The shoresh (root) for the word "kippur" is kafar (כָּפַר), which probably derives from the word kofer, meaning "ransom." This word is parallel to the word "redeem" (Psalm 49:7) and means "to exchange by offering a substitute." The great majority of usages in the Tanakh concern "making an atonement" by the priestly ritual of sprinkling of sacrificial blood to cleanse from sin or defilement (i.e., tahora). The blood of the sacrifice was given in exchange for the life of the worshiper (the "life-for-life" principle). This symbolism is clarified when the worshiper leaned his hands on the head of the sacrifice (semichah) while confessing sin (Lev. 16:21; 1:4; 4:4, etc.). The shoresh also appears in the term kapporet [the "Mercy Seat," but better rendered as simply the place of blood covering]. The kapporet was the golden cover of the sacred chest in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle (or Temple) where the sacrificial blood was presented.
כִּי נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם הִוא
וַאֲנִי נְתַתִּיו לָכֶם עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ
כִּי־הַדָּם הוּא בַּנֶּפֶשׁ יְכַפֵּר
ki · ne·fesh · ha·ba·sar · ba·dam · hi
va·a·ni · ne·ta·tiv · la·khem · al · ha·miz·bei·ach
le·kha·peir · al · naf·sho·tei·khem
ki · ha·dam · hu · ba·ne·fesh · ye·kha·peir
"For the life of the flesh is in the blood,
and I have given it for you on the altar
to atone for your souls,
for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life."
Hebrew Study Card
The blood of Messiah ransoms our souls from death, brings us near to the Divine Presence, and cleanses us from all sin... The voice of his blood cries out on our behalf (Heb. 12:24), and his life was given in exchange for ours: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:12). We "lean into" Yeshua, confessing our sins, and are cleansed from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). In the New Testament Yeshua is called the "atonement" (ἱλασμός) for our sins (1 John 2:2), a Greek word that was used in the Septuagint (i.e., LXX) to translate the Hebrew word kippurim in the Torah (Lev. 25:9). The Septuagint uses the same word (ἱλασμός) to translate the Hebrew word for selichah (forgiveness), for example: "But with you there is forgiveness (הַסְּלִיחָה), that you may be held in awe" (Psalm 130:4). Just as the blood was sprinkled upon the kapporet in the Holy of Holies during the Yom Kippur ritual, so the blood of Messiah was sprinkled the heavenly kapporet, the very altar of Almighty God, to secure for us everlasting redemption and healing...
"Come now and reason with the LORD. Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (Isa. 1:18). The blood of bulls and goats could never fully remove our sins since they did not represent the very life of God poured out on our behalf (Heb. 10:4). God chose the ultimate "cleansing agent" for sin by shedding the precious blood of His own Son for the sake of our atonement (1 Cor. 15:3-4; Rom. 5:11). The blood of Yeshua truly cleanses us from the stain of our sins (Heb. 10:12-14). We make "spiritual contact" with the sacrificial blood of Yeshua through faith -- by being "baptized into His death" and identifying with Him as our Sin-Bearer before God. We then are delivered from the law's verdict against us and accepted into the Kingdom of God (Rom. 4:25; 2 Cor. 5:21; Col. 1:13-14, 2:10-15).
לְכוּ־נָא וְנִוָּכְחָה יאמַר יְהוָה
אִם־יִהְיוּ חֲטָאֵיכֶם כַּשָּׁנִים כַּשֶּׁלֶג יַלְבִּינוּ
אִם־יַאְדִּימוּ כַתּוֹלָע כַּצֶּמֶר יִהְיוּ
lekhu · na · venivakhechah · yomar · Adonai
im · yihehu · chata'eikhem · kashanim · kasheleg · yalbinu
im · ya'adinu · khatolah · katzemer · yiheyu
"Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."
Hebrew Study Card
Our Great Need to Wake Up...
10.02.14 (Tishri 8, 5775) We are living in perilous times, and for all the more reason we must "pay more careful attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away" (Heb. 2:1). We must be anchored to the truth lest we become shipwrecked in our faith. Drifting is often imperceptible, and occurs slowly, though the end result is as deadly as openly turning away from God in outright apostasy. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, "The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts." The grave danger today is to quietly and invisibly give up hope, to unconsciously "go with the flow," to become comfortably numb, to fall asleep, and therefore to die inside... It is far more dangerous to ignore God's mercy, or to make a pretense of knowing God's grace, than it is to blatantly break his law. Therefore the urgent need is to remember, to hear, and to awaken the soul to face the truth about reality. We must focus the heart, concentrate the will, and consciously "set" the Lord always before us (Psalm 16:8). Each day we must awaken from our emptiness to reaffirm the central truth: "Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:4-5). "Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light" (Eph. 5:14).
We must press on to secure our high calling in Messiah: "Let us know; let us press on to know (i.e., נִרְדְּפָה, "pursue after") the LORD; His going out is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth" (Hos. 6:3). May God help us pursue him be'khol levavkha - with all our heart - because He has promised, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13). And may the love of the LORD indeed be upon us, even as we put our hope in Him (Psalm 32:22).
יְהִי־חַסְדְּךָ יְהוָה עָלֵינוּ
כַּאֲשֶׁר יִחַלְנוּ לָךְ
ye·hi · chas·de·kha · Adonai · a·lei·nu
ka·a·sher · yi·chal·nu · lakh
"May your love, O LORD, be upon us,
as we hope in You"
Hebrew Study Card
Whatever the heart genuinely seeks, it will find. We are constantly "asking, seeking, and knocking" (Matt. 7:7), even if we are often unaware of our heart's search. What are you looking for, friend? What do you want? It is impossible to be neutral regarding these questions, and we are either walking in faith or drifting away. "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Messiah, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end" (Heb. 3:12-14).
Blood Over the Tablets...
[ The following concerns Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement..." ]
10.02.14 (Tishri 8, 5775) The earthy Tabernacle (i.e., Mishkan) and its furnishings were "copies" of the heavenly Temple and the Throne of God Himself. Moses was commanded to make the Sanctuary according to the "pattern" revealed at Sinai (Exod. 25:9). As it is written in our Scriptures, "For Messiah has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are representations (ἀντίτυπος) of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf" (Heb. 9:24). The centermost point of the earthly Tabernacle was the Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן־הַקּדֶשׁ), a "three-in-one" box that contained God's Holy Word (i.e., the tablets of the Torah). As such, the Ark served as a symbol of kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), the Throne of Glory. The Ark stood entirely apart as the only furnishing placed in the "three-in-one" space called the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). Upon the cover of the Ark (i.e., the kapporet) were fashioned two cherubim (i.e., angel-like figures) that faced one another (Exod. 25:17-18). According to the Talmud (Succah 5b), each cherub had the face of a child - one boy and one girl - and their wings spread heavenward as their eyes gazed upon the cover (Exod. 25:20). This was the sacred place where the blood of purification was sprinkled during Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and this is the Place (הַמָּקוֹם) that prefigured the offering of the blood of the Messiah, our eternal Mediator of the New Covenant. "For I will appear in the cloud over the kapporet" (Lev. 16:2; Exod. 25:22). As it is written, "I have blotted out your transgressions like a thick cloud and your sins like heavy mist; return to me (שׁוּבָה אֵלַי), for I have redeemed you (Isa. 44:22).
The central ritual of atonement given in the Torah is that of the anointed High Priest sprinkling sacrificial blood over the tablets of the law upon the kapporet (the "mercy seat") of the Ark of the Covenant - the Place where "Love and truth meet, where righteousness and peace kiss" (Psalm 85:10). It was from the midst of the surrounding cloud in the Holy of Holies that the Voice of the LORD was heard, just as it was in the midst of the surrounding cloud of darkness upon the cross that Yeshua cried out in intercession for our sins...
צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ
che·sed ve·e·met nif·ga·shu
tzedek ve·sha·lom na·sha·ku
"Love and truth have met,
justice and peace have kissed."
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Note further that the High Priest was required to perform the Yom Kippur avodah (service) alone, while wearing humble attire, divested of his glory, and in complete solitude: "No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out" (Lev. 16:17). The Hebrew text literally says, "no adam (אָדָם) shall be in the tent," which suggests that something more than the natural man is needed for divine intercession. And just as Moses alone approached God in the thick clouds at Sinai to receive the revelation of the Altar as mediator of the older covenant (Exod. 24:15), so Yeshua, the Mediator of the New Covenant, went through his severest agony on the cross as the darkness covered the earth (Luke 23:44; Matt. 27:45).
The Heart of Atonement...
[ Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement," begins Friday, October 3rd at sunset... ]
10.02.14 (Tishri 8, 5775) Most of our deepest anxieties come from the fear of death, whether we are conscious of this or not... Death represents fear of the unknown, fear of being abandoned, fear of being rejected, fear of being separated from others, and so on. I am so glad Yeshua gives us eternal life, which for me is not so much about immortality of the soul as it is being loved and accepted by God... That is what "at-one-ment" means, after all (John 17:22-23). Because God loves and accepts us, we trust Him to be present for us, even in the darkest of hours, on the other side of the veil, where he "prepares a place for us" (John 14:2). As Yeshua said, "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the One who sent me has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and will not be condemned, but has passed (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24). God's love "crosses over" from death to life and now forever sustains me.
Ultimately, Yom Kippur is about God's love and acceptance, that is, His way of making purification for our sins. As I've explained before, the word for love (i.e., ahavah: אהבה) equals the number thirteen (1+5+2+5=13), but when shared it is multiplied: 13 x 2 = 26, which is the same value for the Sacred Name (יהוה), i.e., (10+5+6+5=26). Likewise the Hebrew word for "life" is chayim (חַיִּים), is written in the plural to emphasize that life cannot be lived alone but must be shared. Notice that within the word itself are embedded two consecutive Yods (יי), representing unity in plurality (Yod-Yod is an abbreviation for YHVH, also indicating the "deep Akedah" of Father and Son). God gave up His life so that we can be in relationship with Him, that is, so that we can be "at-one" with His heart for us. Whatever else it may mean, then, the word "atonement" (i.e., kapparah, "covering," "protection," "purification," "forgivenenss") is about accepting God's heart for you - being unified in his love - and if you miss that, you've missed the entire point of the high holiday season. Yom Kippur, then, is a time to celebrate God's great love for us.
Heart of Repentance...
10.02.14 (Tishri 8, 5775) The teshuvah (repentance) called for by Yeshua is not that of the rabbis... The rabbis want you to be sorry for your sins, to confess "every sin in the book," and to find "atonement" in religious rituals, but this is not "good news," but rather "stale news." The teshuvah of Yeshua is the miracle of new life; Messiah sets you free from the power of sin and death itself. The repentance of Yeshua is to trust in God's remedy for your sin: "This is the work of God, to believe in the One whom God sent" (John 6:29). "He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then His own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him" (Isa. 59:16). We must turn away from the idea that God demands anything from us other than trust in his love. "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). Stop trying to measure up to his standards. You simply cannot give more than you have the love to give, so you must begin by getting your heart needs met by accepting God's unconditional love. It's not about what you do for God, after all, but about what he does for you. That's the message of the gospel. Trust that you are rightly related to God because of the salvation of Yeshua, not because of your own efforts at self-improvement. "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the One who sent me has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and will not be condemned, but has passed over (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24).
Do you believe that God loves you right now - just as you are - and that you don't have to change or improve yourself to be loved by him? Do you believe that, whatever your present condition, God loves you with the very passion that put Yeshua on the cross? The LORD is present for you now, if you will believe, not some time later, after you've attempted to remedy yourself... If we come to God in utter poverty of spirit, confessing our need for deliverance from the misery of ourselves, why do we think that, after so coming, we should later relate to God on a different basis? You are delivered by trusting in God's grace, by accepting his love for your soul, and likewise are you sanctified. We never get beyond our need for the cross, which is to say that we always need God's compassion and mercy...
We must be careful not to worship an idol, that is, a false concept of God! It is possible to read the Bible, to go to church or synagogue, and yet worship a pagan god. How so? By not knowing the heart of the Father; by not honoring the One who passionately seeks our healing. We know the Father by the Son, that is, in "the language of Son" (Heb. 1:2; Luke 10:21-24). Our heavenly Father is eager to forgive and embrace all of his children. In Yeshua's famous parable of the "prodigal son," the father saw his child a "long way off" and ran to embrace and kiss him - no questions asked, no explanations needed about his past. When the son nevertheless began reciting his carefully prepared speech of repentance, the father barely listened, and in his overwhelming joy instructed his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found...' (Luke 15:20-25).
What God Asks of You...
10.01.14 (Tishri 7, 5775) In our Torah it is written: "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you, but to revere the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 10:12). Abraham Heschel wrote, "Awe is an intuition for the dignity of all things, a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something supreme. Awe is a sense for transcendence, for the mystery beyond all things. It is "the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10). We start with awe and that leads us to wisdom. First we must learn to properly revere the LORD and only then will we be able to walk (לָלֶכֶת) in His ways, to love (לְאַהֲבָה) Him, and to serve (לַעֲבד) Him with all our heart and soul. The awesome love of God for us is the end or goal of Torah as revealed in our Messiah. We were both created and redeemed in order to know, love, and worship God forever.
In another place it is written: "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD ask of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8), which again presupposes that we fear the LORD. Indeed, "the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה)." Without awe of God, you will walk in darkness and be unable to turn away from evil (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10; 10:27; etc.), as it says: "the fear of the LORD leads to life" (יִרְאַת יְהוָה לְחַיִּים, lit. "is for life").
Today if you hear...
10.01.14 (Tishri 7, 5775) Think of today, this immediate hour... Now is the time we have to turn to God for life. Do not delay until the next day; do not say, "Tomorrow I will turn with all my heart." We only have this day, this hour to make our stand: tomorrow is a different world. As it is said, "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand, today -- if we hear his voice and do not harden our hearts" (Psalm 95:7-9). We are warned not to "harden our hearts," that is, not to lose sight of real hope by refusing to trust in the promises of God's love...
"Teach us to number our days..." (Psalm 90:12). The sages say on the day of death, one considers one's life as if it had been a single day... Life goes by so quickly, and we never know when our personal "Rosh Hashanah" will come. "No one knows the day or hour..." That's why it is so vital to be healed and to turn to God while there is still time. So turn to him today and bacharta ba'chayim (בָּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים) - "choose life!" "For this commandment (of turning to God in teshuvah) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away. It is not in heaven... nor across the sea.... Rather, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; Rom. 10:8-13).
לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע
וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה
lim·not · ya·me·nu · ken · ho·da
ve·na·vi · le·vav · chokh·mah
"Teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom."
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Despite the frailty and tenuous brevity of our days, may it please the LORD God to shine the power of His radiance upon us, and to establish our works for His praise. May He help us to "number our days" so that we may obtain levav chokhmah (לְבַב חָכְמָה) - a heart of wisdom to live according to His will (James 1:5). Above all else, may the "God of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of Glory (אֲבִי הַכָּבוֹד), impart to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him (רוּחַ הַחָכְמָה וְהֶחָזוֹן לָדַעַת אתוֹ), having the "eyes of your hearts" (ὀφθαλμοὺς τῆς καρδίας) enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you" (Eph. 1:17-18). May you be strong, resolute, and fully focused on our LORD, and may God make this real for us: Amen.
No Place of Neutrality...
10.01.14 (Tishri 7, 5775) Where it is written, "God gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own devices" (Psalm 81:12; Rom. 1:24); and "they went backward and not forward" (Jer. 7:24), we learn there is no place of "neutrality" or indifference toward God... We are either going forward with Him or going backward from Him; we are either drawing near or pulling our hearts away... (Rev. 3:16). As Heschel once rightly said, "God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance" (Man is Not Alone). As it is said, "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand, today -- if we hear his voice and do not harden our hearts" (Psalm 95:7-9). We are warned not to "harden our hearts," that is, not to lose sight of real hope by refusing to trust in the promises of God's love... Thank God for the gracious miracle of teshuvah (turning back to God), since without that gift, there would be no abiding hope.
The Shepherd's Call...
10.01.14 (Tishri 7, 5775) "What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray" (Matt. 18:12-13). Though it involves sorrow, and the pain of being lost, repentance is ultimately about finding joy, and when we return to God, we have reason to rejoice. The Good Shepherd says, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:6-7). The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost: "For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out... I myself will be the Shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the banished, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the sick" (Ezek. 34:11,5-16).
אֲנִי אֶרְעֶה צאנִי וַאֲנִי אַרְבִּיצֵם נְאֻם אֲדנָי יְהוִה
אֶת־הָאבֶדֶת אֲבַקֵּשׁ וְאֶת־הַנִּדַּחַת אָשִׁיב
וְלַנִּשְׁבֶּרֶת אֶחֱבשׁ וְאֶת־הַחוֹלָה אֲחַזֵּק
ani · er·eh · tzo·ni · va·a·ni · ar·bi·tzem · ne·um · Adonai · E·lo·him
et · ha·o·ve·det · a·va·kesh · ve·et · ha·nid·da·chat · a·shiv
ve·la·nish·be·ret · e·che·vosh · ve·et · ha·cho·lah · a·cha·zek
"I myself will be the Shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down,
declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the banished,
and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the sick..."
Despite the struggles we sometimes (and often) face, let me wish you the peace of God that passes all understanding, that inner peace that comes when we surrender ourselves to the love of God given in Yeshua our LORD. Amen v'chazak. Shabbat shalom and shanah tovah!
Yom Kippur - Day of Atonement
[ The following reviews the basics of Yom Kippur, the climax of the Season of Repentance, which begins Friday, October 3rd this year... ]
10.01.14 (Tishri 7, 5775) Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement," is regarded as the holiest day of the Jewish year, and provides prophetic insight regarding the Second Coming of the Messiah, the restoration of national Israel, and the final judgment of the world. It is also a day that reveals the High-Priestly work of Yeshua as our Kohen Gadol (High Priest) after the order of Malki-Tzedek (Heb. 5:10, 6:20). The term Yom Kippur is written in the plural in the Torah, Yom Ha-Kippurim (יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים), which alludes to the two great atonements given by the LORD - the first for those among all the nations who turn to Yeshua for cleansing and forgiveness, and the second for the purification of ethnic Israel during Yom Adonai, the great Day of the LORD (יוֹם־יְהוָה הַגָּדוֹל) at the end of days.
This year the Yom Kippur fast begins an hour before sundown on Friday, October 3rd, and lasts for 25 hours, until an hour past sundown on Saturday, October 4th. The sages state that "afflicting the soul" (Lev. 23:32), or fasting, is not undertaken to punish ourselves for our sins, but rather to help us focus entirely on our spiritual side. It is customary to light the holiday candles, recite Shehecheyanu, and eat a late afternoon meal with loved ones (called Seudat Mafseket, a meal of cessation) an hour or so before the fast begins. It is also traditional to wear white clothing as a symbol of purity during Yom Kippur religious services, and some married men wear a kittel, or white robe, as well. Because of the sanctity of the holiday, the tallit is worn for evening services as well. Dressing in this way is intended to make us appear pure, like the angels.
Traditional Yom Kippur Services
In traditional Judaism, Yom Kippur consists of several interwoven "services" that are held throughout the 25 hour period of fasting:
- The "Kol Nidrei" (כָּל נִדְרֵי) service begins before sundown on Tishri 9 and functions as a legal declaration (recited in Aramaic) that annuls "all vows" made in the previous year (or the following year, depending on tradition). Because this is intended to be a "legal" declaration, it is repeated three times during the Kol Nidrei service.
- The Maariv (evening) service consists of the recitation of Kaddish, the Shema, the Amidah (standing prayer), along with the confession of sins (viduy) and additional prayers (selichot) recited only on the night of Yom Kippur. In addition, liturgical poems (piyyutim) are recited as well. Most of this service is spent reading from a machzor (High Holiday prayerbook). During viduy (וִדּוּי) section called "al chet," the custom is to lightly beat the chest for each transgression as it is recited.
- The Shacharit (morning) service is not unlike other services for festivals during the Jewish year. The traditional morning prayers, the recitation of the Shema and Amidah, and the Torah reading are all part of the service. During Torah reading service there are six aliyot (i.e., separate readings by different people), one more than on other holidays (though if Yom Kippur occurs on Shabbat, there are still seven aliyot).
The Torah's name for the Day of Atonement is Yom Kippurim (יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים), meaning "the day of covering, canceling, pardon, reconciling." Under the Levitical system of worship, the High Priest would sprinkle sacrificial blood upon the Kapporet (כַּפּרֶת) - the covering of the Ark of the Covenant - to effect purification (i.e., kapparah: כַּפָּרָה) for the previous year's sins. Notice that Yom Kippur was the only time when the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and invoke the sacred Name of YHVH (יהוה) to offer blood sacrifice for the sins of the Jewish people. This "life for a life" principle is the foundation of the sacrificial system and marked the great day of intercession made by the High Priest on behalf of Israel.
- The Yizkor (יִזְכּר) service functions as a memorial service for family members who have died. Traditionally it is recited following the Torah reading of the Shacharit service, though some communities do it in the early afternoon.
- The Musaf (additional) service immediately follows the morning service and is divided into two parts: the repetition of the Amidah (by the cantor) and the "Avodah" service, which recounts the priestly service for Yom Kippur in ancient times. The Musaf service ends with the "Aaronic benediction" (i.e., birkat kohanim).
- The Minchah (afternoon) service includes a Torah reading service (Lev. 18), another repetition of the Amidah, and the recitation of the "Avinu Malkenu" poem. In addition, since it focuses on the importance of teshuvah (repentance) and prayer, the entire Book of Jonah is recited as the Haftarah portion of the Torah service.
- The Neilah (closing) service is the final service of Yom Kippur. The word "Neilah" (נְעִילָה) means "locking" and in rabbinical tradition this portion of the Yom Kippur service is intended to symbolize that the Book of Life has now been "closed and sealed" at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. The Shema is again recited and the phrase "the LORD He is God (i.e., Adonai hu ha-Elohim: יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלהִים) is repeated seven times (1 Kings 18:39). This declaration is followed by a long blast of the shofar (i.e., tekiah gedolah), the "great shofar," to remind us how the shofar was sounded to proclaim the Year of Jubilee Year (יוֹבֵל) of freedom throughout the land (Lev. 25:9-10). After Yom Kippur ends, we are required to recite (or hear) Havdalah over wine before we eat anything.
Yom Ha-Din - Judgment Day
Yom Kippur marks the climax of the Jewish High Holidays and holds tremendous prophetic significance regarding the Second Coming of Messiah, the restoration of national Israel, and the final judgment of the world. It is also a day that reveals the High-Priestly work of Yeshua as our Kohen Gadol (High Priest) after the order of Malki-Tzedek (Heb. 5:10, 6:20).
According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashanah the destiny of the righteous, the tzaddikim, are written in the Book of Life, and the destiny of the wicked, the resha'im, are written in the Book of Death. Most people, however, won't be inscribed in either book, but are given ten days -- until Yom Kippur -- to repent before sealing their fate. On Yom Kippur, then, everyone's name will be sealed in one of the two books. The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are therefore called Aseret Yemei Teshuvah - the "Ten Days of Repentance" - because personal repentance can affect the divine decree for good, though on Yom Kippur each person's judgment is decided.
As Messianic believers, we maintain that Judgment Day has come and justice was served through the sacrificial offering of Yeshua for our sins (2 Cor. 5:21). He is the perfect fulfillment of the Akedah of Isaac. Our names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life, or Sefer HaChayim (Rev. 13:8). We do not believe that we are made acceptable in God's sight by means of our own works of righteousness (Titus 3:5-6), though that does not excuse us from being without such works (Gal. 5:22-23). The Scriptures clearly warn that on the Day of Judgment to come, anyone's name not found written in the Book of Life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). Moreover, all Christians will stand before the Throne of Judgment to give account for their lives (2 Cor. 5:10). "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (1 Cor. 3:13). Life is an examination, a test, and every moment is irrepeatable. Every "careless" word we utter will be echoed on the Day of Judgment (Matt. 12:36-37). Our future is actually being decided today....
The Spring Festivals (Passover, Firstfruits, and Shavuot) have been perfectly fulfilled in the first coming of Yeshua as Mashiach ben Yosef, and the Fall Festivals (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot) will be fulfilled in His second coming as Mashiach ben David. Since the first advent fulfilled all of the spring holidays to the smallest of details, we believe that His second advent portends similar fulfillment as revealed in the fall holidays.
After the summer of harvest (John 4:35), the very first fall festival on the Jewish calendar is Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashanah), which is a picture of the "catching away" of kallat Mashiach (the Bride of Messiah) for the time of Sheva Berachot (seven "days" of blessing that follows the marriage ceremony). Then will come the Great Tribulation and Yom Adonai (יוֹם יְהוָה) - the great "Day of the LORD. Yom Kippur prophetically pictures the "Day of the LORD" or the Day of Judgment in Acharit Ha-Yamim (the End of Days). The heavenly shofar blasts heard at Sinai will be reissued from Zion. First will be the gathering together of those who follow the Messiah (i.e., those declared tzaddikim because of the merit of Yeshua's sacrifice), and then God's war against Satan and the world system will begin, culminating in the long-awaited coronation of the King of King of Kings - Melech Malchei Ha-Melachim (מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים).
Just as Rosh Hashanah reveals the coming time of Judgment and the rapture of the kehillat Mashiach (bride of Messiah), Yom Kippur prophetically pictures the Day of the LORD or the Day of Judgment in Acharit HaYamim [last days] for all the nations. After the judgment of the nations during the Great Tribulation, ethnic Israel will be fully restored to the LORD and their sins will be purged (Matt. 24). "All Israel will be saved." Yeshua will then physically return to Israel to establish His glorious millennial kingdom in Zion. Then all the promises given to ethnic Israel through the prophets will finally be fulfilled.
דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה בְּהִמָּצְאוֹ קְרָאֻהוּ בִּהְיוֹתוֹ קָרוֹב
dir·shu · Adonai · be·him·ma·tzo, · ke·ra·u·hu · bih·yo·to · ka·rov
"Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near."
Hebrew Study Card
Yom Kippur - Happy or Sad?
In post-Temple Judaism (i.e., rabbinical Judaism) it is customary for Jews to wish one another g'mar chatimah tovah (גְּמַר חַתִימָה טוֹבָה), "a good final sealing" during the Ten Days of Awe (i.e., the ten days running from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur). The reason for this is that according to Jewish tradition the "writing of God's verdict" (for your life) occurs on Rosh Hashanah, but the "sealing of the verdict" occurs on Yom Kippur. In other words, God in His Mercy gives us ten days to do "teshuvah" before sealing our fate.... But it's up to us -- and our teshuvah -- to "save ourselves" from God's decree of death. Our personal merits (mitzvot) are the key: וּתְשׁוּבָה וּתְפִלָּה וּצְדָקָה מַעֲבִירִין אֶת רעַ הַגְּזֵרָה / "Teshuvah, prayer, and charity deliver us from the evil decree."
Of course as Messianic Jews (and Christians) we have a permanent "sealing" for good by the grace and love of God given to us in Yeshua our Messiah (see Eph. 1:13, 4:30; 2 Cor. 1:21-22). The Torah's statement that sacrificial blood was offered upon the altar to make atonement (כַּפָּרָה) for our souls (Lev. 17:11) finds its final application in the "blood work" of Yeshua upon the cross at Moriah (Rom. 5:11). The substitutionary shedding of blood, the "life-for-life" principle, is essential to the true "at-one-ment" with God. The ordinances of the Levitical priesthood were just "types and shadows" of the coming Substance that would give us everlasting atonement with God (Heb. 8-10). Because of Yeshua, we have a Kohen Gadol (High Priest) of the better Covenant, based on better promises (Heb. 8:6). For this reason it is entirely appropriate to celebrate Yom Kippur and give thanks to the LORD for the permanent "chatimah tovah" given to us through the salvation of His Son.
It must always be remembered that Torah (תּוֹרָה) is a "function word" that expresses our responsibility in light of the covenantal acts of God. As the author of the Book of Hebrews makes clear: "When there is a change in the priesthood (הַכְּהוּנָּה), there is necessarily (ἀνάγκη) a change in the Torah as well" (Heb. 7:12). The Levitical priesthood expresses the Torah of the Covenant of Sinai (בְּרִית יְשָׁנָה), just as the greater priesthood of Yeshua expresses the Torah of the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה).
Still, for the Messianic Jewish believer there is a bit of ambivalence about this holiday, perhaps more than any other of the Jewish year. Part of this ambivalence comes from the "already-not-yet" aspect of the New Covenant itself. Already Yeshua has come and offered Himself up as kapparah (atonement/propitiation) for our sins; already He has sent the Ruach Hakodesh (Holy Spirit) to write truth upon our hearts; already He is our God and we are His people. However, the New Covenant is not yet ultimately fulfilled since we await the return of Yeshua to restore Israel and establish His kingdom upon the earth... Since prophetically speaking Yom Kippur signifies ethic Israel's atonement secured through Yeshua's sacrificial avodah as Israel's true High Priest and King, there is still a sense of groaning and affliction connected to this holiday that will not be removed until finally "all Israel is saved" (Rom. 11:26). So, while on the one hand we celebrate Yom Kippur because it acknowledges Yeshua as our High Priest of the New Covenant, on the other hand we feel "great sorrow and unceasing anguish in our hearts" for the redemption of the Jewish people and the atonement of their sins (Rom. 9:1-5; 10:1-4; 11:1-2, 11-15, 25-27). In the meantime, we are in a period of "mysterious grace" (yemot ha-mashiach) wherein we have opportunity to offer the terms of the New Covenant to people of every nation, tribe and tongue. After the "fullness of the Gentiles" is come in, however, God will turn His full attention to fulfilling His promises given to ethnic Israel. That great Day of the LORD is drawing close and is assuredly coming soon, chaverim..
Note: The ten days from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur are called the "Days of Awe" in Jewish tradition. When Yom Kippur falls on a Sabbath, the weekly Torah readings are suspended. For more information, see the Weekly Torah Readings page.
Courage to Draw Near...
10.01.14 (Tishri 7, 5775) The Kotzker rebbe once said, "We read in Torah: 'He has not beheld wickedness in Jacob, nor perverseness in Israel; [when] the LORD his God is with him, and the glory of the King dwells in him' (Num. 23:21), which means that the LORD overlooks offenses when the sinner draws near to Him." Receiving the love of God in Yeshua draws you close to heaven and the glory of the King dwells within you. God no longer knows you after the perversity of your past but according to the trust you have in His promises. As it says, the LORD "does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities, for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love (i.e., chesed: חֶסֶד) toward those who revere Him" (Psalm 103:10-11).
כִּרְחק מִזְרָח מִמַּעֲרָב
הִרְחִיק מִמֶּנּוּ אֶת־פְּשָׁעֵינוּ
kir·chok · miz·rach · mi·ma·a·rav
hir·chik · mi·me·nu · pe·sha·ei·nu
"As far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us"
When we draw near to the LORD in bittachon (trust), he causes our our transgressions to be banished from His presence (the hiphil form of the verb rachak [רָחַק], "to depart" is used in this verse, indicating that God's kindness is the cause of the action). This is because sin represents our separation from the heart of God, yet the Father's heart is always our home: "As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him" (Psalm 103:13). In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), there are two sons: the younger son who runs away and follows the path of unbridled lust, and the older son, who stays home yet inwardly turns away from his father's love. Both sons are lost, and the father grieves for both, because neither son truly understood the father's heart... May you know who you are in the Father's heart this day.