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Jewish Holiday Calendar 

Note: For April 2015 site updates, please scroll past this entry....

Spring is the start of the Biblical Year and is marked by two of the Shelosh Regalim (three annual pilgrimage festivals): Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost). The holiday of Shavuot is held seven weeks (or fifty days) following the morning after Pesach.
 

Spring Holiday Calendar

Dates for Passover 2014


The Spring Holidays:

Spring Holidays
 

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

  1. Month of Nisan (Fri., March 20th, 2015)
  2. Month of Iyyar (Sat. April 18th, 2015)
  3. Month of Sivan (Mon. May 18th, 2015)

Note:  Many Jewish calendars will list the first day of a holiday without indicating that the holiday actually begins sundown the night before... So, for example, while Passover begins Friday April 3rd at sundown, many calendars will indicate it occurs on Saturday, April 4th...
 

Dates for Passover 2015:
Dates for Passover 2015

Free Seder Guide
 
 



 

April 2015 Updates
 



Alongside the Fleeting...


 

04.30.15 (Iyyar 11, 5775)  God's people are always "strangers" in this world; they are literally "e-stranged" -- living here, yet not here. We are outsiders and pilgrims, not at home in this world, and our faith therefore is both a type of "protest" against any interpretation of reality that excludes, suppresses, denies, or minimizes the Divine Presence as well as a longing for the place where we truly belong.... If you feel crazy in an insane situation, then you are really quite sane... The world will feel oppressive and strange once you have been awakened from its madness and refuse to be moved by the delusions of the crowd...  Life in olam hazeh (this world) is a place of passing that leads to the world to come. Our faith affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life is a deeper reality that is ultimately real and abiding. It "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31).
 

כִּי־גֵרִים אֲנַחְנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ
וְתוֹשָׁבִים כְּכָל־אֲבתֵינוּ
כַּצֵּל יָמֵינוּ עַל־הָאָרֶץ וְאֵין מִקְוֶה

ki  ge·rim  a·nach·nu  le·fa·ne·kha,
ve·to·sha·vim  ke·khol  a·vo·tei·nu,
katz·tzel  ya·mei·nu  al  ha·a·retz · ve·ein  mik·veh

 

"For we are strangers before you
and sojourners, as all our fathers were.
As a shadow are our days on the earth, and there is nothing that abides"
(1 Chron. 29:15)



 

The Apostle Paul taught that we to be "conformed" (σύμμορφος) to the Messiah (Rom. 8:29), but not "conformed" (συσχηματίζω) to the pattern of this fallen world (Rom. 12:2). The former word means to resemble or be made similar in form (μορφή), whereas the latter means to accept the world's scheme (σχῆμα) of understanding things, to passively go along with the world's lies, wishful thinking, fearmongering, propaganda, etc. Of course we need God's help to escape the "programming" of our age, and therefore the Holy Spirit helps us to become transfigured – "changed from the inside out" - by the renewal of our minds, enabling us to see things in light of the reality of our identity in the Messiah. So refuse to let the world system get you down, but focus on God and His great glory. Take heart, friends: being exiled by the world is an indication that you belong to the Kingdom of God...
 




Passion and Truth....


 

04.30.15 (Iyyar 11, 5775)  Revelation is unknowable apart from passion... It is common enough to draw near to God with lips while the heart is far away from Him (Isa. 29:13). God doesn't care about your "religion" if your heart is withheld, nor is He impressed that you are a member of a particular denomination (i.e., the commandments of men). Spiritually speaking, the place of utmost danger is indifference toward God, and this danger constitutes the burden of a true prophet of God. "To listen (shema) is better than sacrifice... I desire love (chesed) and the knowledge of God (da'at Elohim) more than burnt offerings" (1 Sam. 15:22, Hos. 6:6). During the End of Days people will have a "form" (μόρφωσιν) of godliness but will deny its power, since their hearts will be obstinately turned away from the truth. "And because lawlessness (i.e., ἀνομία, lit. a=without; nomos=Torah) will be increased, the love of many will grow cold (Matt. 24:12). In this connection we note that the Hebrew word for "falsehood" (or "lie") is sheker (שֶׁקֶר), which can also be read as she-kar (שֶׁקַר), meaning "that which" (-שׁ) makes you cold (קַר). The truth of God can't be known apart from passion. What sort of a lover is he who is feckless or half-hearted in his devotion? Can you know the truth about true love without yearning, longing, and desire?

The Hebrew word for sin (חֵטְא) means "missing the mark," though that essentially means missing the revelation of God's glory because lesser fears consume the heart and obscure passion of the truth... When we really see life as it is, we will be filled with wonder and awe over the glory of it all. "Fearing" (יִרְאָה) and "seeing" (רָאָה) will be linked and unified.
 

    "There is much to drag us back, O Lord: empty pursuits, trivial pleasures, unworthy cares. There is much to frighten us away: pride that makes us reluctant to accept help; cowardice that recoils from sharing your suffering; anguish at the prospect of confessing our sins. But You are stronger than all these forces. We call you our Redeemer and Savior because you redeem us from our empty, trivial existence, you save us from our foolish fears. This is your work which you have completed and will continue to complete in us every moment." - Kierkegaard

 




Extraordinary Encounters...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim... ]

04.30.15 (Iyyar 11, 5775)  We "sanctify" our hearts whenever we consciously focus on what is sacred, awesome, wonderful, and glorious about Reality, and in particular, on the Living God, oseh shamayim va'aretz (עשֵׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ), the Maker of Heaven and Earth, and the great salvation we have in Yeshua. In our Torah portion this week (Acharei Mot) we read: "You shall not do as they do (לא תַעֲשׂוּ) in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do (לא תַעֲשׂוּ) in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes" (Lev. 18:3). In other words, we are not to follow the crowd, to appeal to the status quo, or to mimic the customs of the world because we are a visionary people. Being in a vital relationship with God means separating from the ordinary and mundane, leaving our "original homeland" behind us and crossing over to the realm of blessing. Abraham had to leave the land of his father before he could receive the promise; the Israelites had to trek far into the desert before they received the vision at Sinai, and we have to leave our old lives behind to partake of newness of life. There is a radical break from the past -- we are transformed, reborn, and made into new creations by the miracle of God (2 Cor. 5:17). "Being holy" therefore means coming alive and looking away from that which deadens the spirit (Col. 3:1-4). Behold, the LORD God of Israel makes all things new.

The call to be holy is radical and completely contrary to the world and its messages of conditional approval. Worldly culture flatters itself by making a pretense of true originality and genuine love. It imagines itself to be "cool," unconventional, creative, sophisticated, artistic, and so on, but really it is often trite, uninspired, and cloyingly tragic. To be truly original means encountering God in your daily experience, struggling through the day in faith, disregarding the clamor and demands of popular culture and its idolatry (i.e., fads, fashions, trends, etc.). God calls his people to come alive, to be new, and to experience abundant life; we are to treasure the unseen, the possible, and to keep faith in the healing good that will overwhelm all darkness. Now that's radical; that's original; that's powerful.

Note the connection between worldliness and idolatry, since idolatry essentially involves trying to find your identity, your worth, your satisfaction, and your ultimate fulfillment in the realm of the transitory and the finite (i.e., the world) rather than in God.... We are (rightly) warned against the vices of "worldliness" and are admonished to abstain from popular culture and its spurious values, but note well that worldliness extends well beyond all this, since it concerns understanding the identity and nature of the person as a whole. The fruit of worldliness is the result of being rooted in this world rather than in God's kingdom. The various desires of the human heart - even the desire for "normal things" like personal happiness in this world - may be regarded as "worldly" if they are devoid of submission to God and His rule. Conversely, even Christian workers may be "worldly" if they base their identity in what they do rather than who they are in the Messiah...

We are "in" but not "of" the world; we are embedded within our culture to be salt and light, and that means we stay true to our vision and relationship with the LORD our God... We don't have to reinvent the wheel, however, since we learn from one another and especially from the testimony of our holy Scriptures, but nevertheless we must personally venture out and encounter God within our own hearts, trusting in his love for our everlasting healing. B'chol dor va'dor: in each generation an individual should look upon himself or herself as having been personally delivered from Egypt. To be efficacious, the message of the Passover Lamb must be personally received by the heart of faith.

Renew the affirmation of faith and know who you are: "If then you have been raised with Messiah, seek the things that are above (τὰ ἄνω ζητεῖτε), where the Messiah is seated at the right hand of God; focus your thoughts on the things above - not on things here on earth - for you have died, and your life has been hidden with Messiah in God. Then when the Messiah, who is your life, appears, you too will appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4).
 




Loving the Stranger...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim... ]

04.29.15 (Iyyar 10, 5775)  "You shall love the stranger as yourself" (Lev. 19:34). This mitzvah applies not only to someone whom we regard as an "outsider," but more radically to the "stranger within ourselves," that is, to those aspects of ourselves we censor, deny, or reject. Like the prodigal son, we have to "come to ourselves" to return home (Luke 15:17), yet we won't know that we are unconditionally loved until we venture complete disclosure. That is the great risk of trusting in God's love for your soul: You must accept that you are accepted despite your own unacceptability... Those parts of ourselves that we "hide" need to be brought to the light, atoned for, healed, and reconciled. If we don't love and accept ourselves, then how can we hope to love and accept others?  May God grant us his healing peace in Yeshua, Amen...
 




Practical Holiness...


 

04.28.15 (Iyyar 9, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week (Kedoshim) reveals that the "appointed times" (i.e., mo'edim: מוֹעֲדִים) were given by God to help us turn away from the omnipresent urge within the human heart to embrace vanity: "Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father and guard (שָׁמַר) my Sabbaths (שַׁבְּתתַי)... Do not turn to worthlessness (i.e., אֱלִיל) or make for yourselves any molten gods" (Lev. 19:3-4). In other words, the Biblical holidays - including Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and so on - were intended to help us to sanctify ("set apart," "make holy") the times and seasons in order to remind us of God's Presence (Psalm 104:19). Therefore they are called mikra'ei kodesh (מִקְרָאֵי קדֶשׁ), "times in which holiness is proclaimed" (Lev. 23:2). The Torah's declaration that these days are holy implies that they are set apart for special activities, such as commemorating God as our Creator (Shabbat), our Redeemer (Passover), our Resurrection (Firstfruits), our Law Giver (Shavuot), our King (Rosh Hashanah), our High Priest (Yom Kippur), our Shelter (Sukkot), and so on. In this connection it should be noted that it is a mistake to assume that the divine calendar was somehow abrogated with the cross of Yeshua, since all of the Jewish holidays center on Him, and indeed the advent of the Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit) occurred precisely after the prescribed 49 day countdown to Shavuot (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4).

Presently our lives "suspended" between two worlds - this phenomenal world with its illusions (olam hazeh), and the real world of spiritual substance and meaning (olam haba). We exist in an "already-not-yet" state of expectation and yearning where we must consciously mediate the truth of heaven by bringing it "down to earth." This is a truth war, and by truth I do not mean intellectual knowledge as much as the living truth that marks the lifestyle and vision of a follower of Messiah. We consciously remember Torah truth; we choose to always "set the LORD before us," and take "every thought captive to the passion of Messiah..." May God help each of us heed the call to walk in holiness by the power of His love and grace. Amen.

For more on this subject, see "Practical Holiness: Further thoughts on Kedoshim."
 




The Goal of Holiness...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim... ]

04.28.15 (Iyyar 9, 5775)  "Be holy as I am holy" (Lev. 19:2). This doesn't mean wrapping yourself up in some protective cloak of religious rituals as much as it means accepting your own atonement: reconciling who you are with your past, finding healing and love, and walking in genuine hope... Holiness isn't as much "separation" from the profane as it is "consecration" to the sacred, and in that sense it is a kind of teshuvah, a turning of the heart back to reality.... Negatively put, "being holy" is turning away from fear, despair, and anger; positively put, it is embracing the worth and value of life, respecting the Divine Presence, and walking in the radiance of God's love. Hashivenu Adonai....
 




Seeing God's Face...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim... ]

04.27.15 (Iyyar 8, 5775)   A Roman emperor once asked Rabbi Joshua if the universe had a ruler. The sage answered, indeed, the LORD is the Creator of all things, as it is written, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." The emperor then asked, "Why is God not like the emperor of Rome, who is seen twice a year so that people may know and worship him?" Rabbi Joshua said that unlike human kings, the LORD was too powerful for people to see; as it is written in the Torah: "No person shall see Me and live." The emperor was skeptical, however, and insisted that unless he could physically see God, he would be unable to believe. Rabbi Joshua then pointed to the sun high in the sky: "Look into the sun and you will see God." The emperor tried to look into the sun, but was forced to cover his eyes to keep them from burning: "I cannot look into the sun," he said. Joshua then replied: "Listen to yourself: If you cannot look into the sun which is but one of God's creations, how can you expect to look at God?" (Sefer HaAggadah)

It is interesting to compare this story with another...  Leo Tolstoy tells the parable of an old cobbler who despaired of life and yearned to finally see God. In a dream one night a heavenly voice told that he would see God's face the very next day. The cobbler began the day on the alert, hoping to catch a glimpse of God, but he was distracted when he encountered a needy family. They were cold and desperate, so he took them in and cared for them. The day passed and as he finally laid down to sleep, the cobbler realized he had completely forgotten to look for God.  He apologized to God and once again asked to die... As he fell asleep he dreamed that he saw the family he had helped walking by when the heavenly voice then said, "Rest assured: you saw God today in the faces of those you helped." "Truly, as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me" (Matt. 25:40).
 

וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ
אֲנִי יְהוָה

ve·a·hav·ta · le·re·a·kha · ka·mo·kha
a·ni · Adonai
 

"You shall love your neighbor as yourself:
I AM the LORD."
(Lev. 19:18)



Hebrew Study Card
  

"He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen... Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever truly loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. " (1 John 4:7-8).
 




Love and Reproof...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim... ]

04.27.15 (Iyyar 8, 5775)  In our Torah portion this week there is a wonderful verse (Lev. 16:16) which states that the LORD "dwells with them in the midst of their contamination" (הַשּׁכֵן אִתָּם בְּתוֹךְ טֻמְאתָם). Even though the people were unclean (i.e., defiled by sin and tumah), the Divine Presence was not removed and the means for reconciliation were provided...  Aren't you glad that the love of God doesn't "stop there" (i.e., with a verdict about our sinful condition) but goes beyond the offense to provide remedy and hope?

Yeshua said, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I AM in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). This is expressed by the Hebrew word for love (i.e., ahavah: אהבה), the gematria of which is thirteen, but when shared with another is multiplied: 13 x 2 = 26 -- the same value for the name of the LORD (יהוה). The commandment, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ) thus awakens in the other the same kind of love for you -- and the result will be a "double love" -- or the love of God (אַהֲבַת הָאֱלהִים). Of course this isn't easy, but immediately after giving the commandment, God declares: "I AM the LORD" (אֲנִי יְהוָה), which the sages traditionally interpret to mean, "I, the LORD, will help you fulfill this commandment if you sincerely wish to do so."

For more on this topic, see the Torah article "Love and Reproof."
 




Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim


 

[ This week we have another "double portion" of Torah: Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. Please read the Torah portions to find your place here...  ]

04.26.15 (Iyyar 7, 5775)   This week we have a "double portion" of Torah. The first portion (i.e., Acharei Mot) describes the Yom Kippur ritual to purify the Tabernacle, and the second portion (i.e., Kedoshim) provides a series of commandments concerning the practical expression of holiness in daily life: "Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy (קְדשִׁים תִּהְיוּ), for I the LORD your God am holy" (Lev. 19:2). You can download the Shabbat Table Talks for both these portions here:
 

The call to live a holy, separate life before the LORD requires that we are imbued with the truth of God, and that implies that we will attend to the Torah and its meaning for our lives. We are living in stressful times, chaverim. The Apostle Paul wrote that the time before the "End of Days" would be "perilous" (χαλεπός) and full of human depravity (2 Tim. 3:1-5). In light of the raging spiritual war going on all around us, the following needs to be restated: "The important thing is to not lose your mind..."

The mind is the "gateway" to your heart, andtherefore it is essential to guard your thinking by immersing yourself in the truth.  Fear is often the result of believing the lie that God is not in control or is unable/unwilling to help you... "Not losing your mind" therefore means being grounded in what is real, and it therefore means understanding your identity and provision as a child of God. "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (גְּבוּרָה / δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός), lit. a "delivered" mind, "healed" from fragmentation (2 Tim. 1:7). The Greek word "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός) comes from the verb sodzo (σῴζω), meaning "to save," from saos (σάος) "safe," in the sense of being under restraining influence of the Spirit of God...

If you are afraid of man, understand that this comes not from the Spirit of God, but rather from the enemy of our souls... God is as close as your heart and mouth, and therefore we stand in His Presence, and we must live in awe of Him... We are not to be like the world that lives in terror of man, lusting after security from the vain devices of mere men. No - look to the LORD God Almighty, the Master of the Universe.... "What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:27-28).

Time is nearly up for this world, and the hour draws near: "The nations rage, their kingdoms totter; He utters his voice, the earth melts. Adonai Tzeva'ot imanu - the LORD of hosts is with us; our fortress is the God of Jacob. Selah" (Psalm 46:6-7). If you were to die tonight, what would happen to your eternal soul? Are you certain of your acceptance before the Father, and if so, on what basis? There is a way that seems right - even for the professing Christian. We are admonished to "enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many" (Matt. 7:14).

Among other things, a life of faith is a form of protest against any reality that excludes the Divine Presence of Yeshua, God's redemptive love... Because of this, faith expresses a kind of temporal unhappiness or longing for the ultimate healing of all.... מָרַן אֲתָא - Maranatha!

Note: For more about the relationship between Passover and Yom Kippur, see the article entitled, Yom Kippur and the Gospel.
 




Substance of Hope...


 

04.24.15 (Iyyar 5, 5775)   It is written that faith is the "substance" (ὑπόστασις) of hope, the conviction of unseen blessing, and "without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Heb. 11:6). Life in this world may be likened to a school wherein we learn how great God is and how much we are loved, valued, and esteemed precious in His eyes. You are here to learn that God is your healer, that he will make your crooked things straight, and that you are his beloved child... Faith sees the unseen end in God's unfailing love: The LORD God of Israel says: "And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them" (Isa. 42:16). Amen, and God will turn all our darkness into light...
 

וְהוֹלַכְתִּי עִוְרִים בְּדֶרֶךְ לא יָדָעוּ
 בִּנְתִיבוֹת לא־יָדְעוּ אַדְרִיכֵם
 אָשִׂים מַחְשָׁךְ לִפְנֵיהֶם לָאוֹר
 וּמַעֲקַשִּׁים לְמִישׁוֹר
 אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים עֲשִׂיתִם וְלא עֲזַבְתִּים

ve·ho·lakh·ti · iv·rim · be·de·rekh · lo · ya·da·u
bin·ti·vot · lo · ya·du · ad·ri·khem
a·sim · mach·shakh · lif·ne·hem · la·or
u·ma·a·ka·shim · le·mi·shor
el·lah · ha·de·va·rim · a·si·tim · ve·lo · a·zav·tim
 

"And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know,
 in paths that they have not known I will guide them.
 I will make dark places before them turn to light,
 and perverse things into uprightness.
 These things I will do, and I will not forsake them."
(Isa. 42:16)



Hebrew Study Card
 


Faith is its own reward, since believing the truth brings you into alignment with reality (Gen. 15:1). Teshuvah is the response to God's love... Faith confesses that God is your Ultimate Concern, your Supreme Good, the goal and end of all that matters to your heart. Your faith is "more precious than gold," because its heart is your highest blessing, namely, the Divine Presence, the beatific reality, and heaven itself.... God tests our faith to draw our attention to Him (Psalm 119:71); to teach us endurance (Rom. 5:3-5; James 1:4); to upbuild our soul (Jude 1:20); to purify our affections (1 Pet. 1:7), and to glorify God's Name (kiddush HaShem). May God help each of us hold the substance of real hope within our hearts. Amen.

Shabbat shalom and please remember this ministry in your prayers... Thank you.

 




Do you now believe?


 

04.24.15 (Iyyar 5, 5775)  "Do you now believe?" (John 16:31). Some people are scandalized by what they call "easy believism," or the idea that we only need to believe in Yeshua to be saved. Sometimes they malign this teaching as "cheap grace" or "sloppy agape," though in fairness it must be stressed there is nothing easy about truly believing. What is easy, however, is professing that you believe without undergoing a miraculous heart transformation. Anyone can say, "I believe in Jesus," but the test is whether he lives within you. Is he the source of your life? Do you draw life from Him? Anyone can claim they are saved, but it is a miracle greater than splitting the sea to undergo divine metamorphosis, to be given a heart that loves unconditionally, that dies to pride, and that lives as the servant of all. Yeshua asks, "Do you really believe? Many will say to me in that day, 'Lord, Lord...' but I will say to them, 'I never knew you...' (Matt. 7:22-23). It's not just hard to believe (obey), it's impossible apart from God's radical intervention. It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is no help at all (John 6:33).

Living by faith does not mean we profess Christianity or "talk theology" like some college professor. It's one thing to believe that, and another to believe in... Human reason can rightly infer that a morally good, all-powerful Creator exists, for example (Rom. 1:20), but it is unable to know God's love that way... Love requires trust, "taking to the heart." We are to "know this day and turn to your heart (והֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ) that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). We need to know truth (cognitive) and to be moved by the heart (emotional); we need both Spirit and Truth (John 4:24). "For all things come from You (כִּי־מִמְּךָ הַכּל), and from your hand we give to you" (1 Chron. 29:14). Teshuvah centers on Yeshua our Savior: turn to believe in Him!

Regarding the question of faith, Kierkegaard once wrote, "The easiness of Christianity is distinguished by one thing only: by the difficulty. Thus the Master's yoke it easy and its burden light -- for the person who has cast off all his burdens, all of them, the burdens of hope and of fear and of despondency and of despair -- yet it is difficult."  Yes, the difficult thing is to truly believe in the "for-you miracle" of God's love.  Sins can be like great possessions that are difficult to give up. Among other things, we must forgive ("give away") our sins (both our own and those against us), and that means trusting God enough to bear our wounds for us. Forgiveness allows us to move on with our lives by letting go of the pain of the past (2 Cor. 5:16). The atonement cost God everything, and yet is of no spiritual value until it is accepted into the heart. It is "easy" to understand this, but it is difficult to live it.

πιστεύω· βοήθει μου τῇ ἀπιστίᾳ - "I believe, help thou my unbelief" (Mark 9:24).
 




The Fear of the LORD...



 

04.24.15 (Iyyar 5, 5775)  Some people are afraid that God will punish them for their sins, but the true fear of God, yirat shamayim (יִרְאָת שָׁמַיִם), is the tragedy of losing our closeness to Him... This is the fear of the Lord. The sages say that where it is written, "What does the LORD ask of you except to fear the LORD" (Deut. 10:12), we should read instead, "fear with the LORD" (לְיִרְאָה אֶת־יְהוָה), that is, we share his concern that we could forfeit the sanctity of a heart-relationship with Him due to carelessness and sin... We fear our sin because it blinds us from awareness of God's care and love. The fear of God can therefore be understood as God's fear that we will miss the blessing of intimately knowing him.

The LORD has promised to never leave nor forsake us, though we can choose to turn away from his love and care for our lives... We are not permitted to fear other than that we have no fear of God, for that indeed is a fearful state of soul.  May it please God to help each us never to leave nor forsake ourselves by getting lost, by forgetting what is real, and by abandoning hope in the miracle for our lives... May the LORD help us not be grieved, not to hurt ourselves, and never to abandon our hearts to the despair of shame...

Personal Update: My children have been sick all week and we're pretty exhausted over here.  Thank you for your prayers, dear friends. Shabbat Shalom.
 




Cleansing from Exile...


 

04.24.15 (Iyyar 5, 5775)  The sages point out that the concept of "unclean" (טָמֵא) is associated with matters of life and death: contact with the dead; the experience of childbirth, life-reproductive cycles, and so on. It's almost as if God warns us to be especially conscious of his prerogative over such matters. Encountering powerful forces beyond our control requires us to separate ourselves and be purified. Whether we grieve over loss or rejoice over newness of life, we need to take some time away from others, and then we come to God to be purified and restored from our contact with raw experience. Whenever we get so caught up in our experience that we feel disconnected from others, due to trauma or some intense ordeal, we especially need to return from our exile and reunite with others.

 



Words of Life...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Tazria-Metzora. Please read the Torah portion to find your place here... ]

04.24.15 (Iyyar 5, 5775)  Just as a body can become sick with illness, so can a soul: "I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me; heal my soul (רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי), for I have sinned against you'" (Psalm 41:4). Likewise we understand that fear influences the way the brain processes images and messages. And since the mind and body are intricately interconnected, fear is often the root cause of many physiological problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, clinical depression, and other ailments. Left unchecked, fear can be deadly. Note the connection between fear, lashon hara (evil thoughts/words), and sickness (tzara'at), which are themes of this week's Torah portion...

The targum Onkelos states that God breathed into Adam the ability to think and to speak. In other words, thought and speech are two primary characteristics of the image (tzelem) and likeness (demut) of God. Since our use of words is directly linked to the "breath of God" within us, lashon hara (לָשׁוֹן הָרָה) defaces God's image within us.... Using words to inflict pain therefore perverts the image of God, since God created man to use language to "build up" others in love. This is part of the reason the metzora (i.e., one afflicted with tzara'at) was regarded as "dead" and in need of rebirth.

Lashon hara is really a symptom of the "evil eye" (ayin hara). "Evil comes to one who searches (דָּרַשׁ) for it" (Prov. 11:27). We must train ourselves to use the "good eye" (ayin tovah) and extend kaf zechut - the "hand of merit" to others. Genuine faith is optimistic and involves hakarat tovah, that is, recognizing the good in others and in life's circumstances. Gam zu l'tovah: "This too is for the good" (Rom. 8:28). The Midrash states that God afflicted houses with tzara'at so that treasure hidden within the walls would be discovered. The good eye finds "hidden treasure" in every person and experience.

King David said (Psalm 35:13): "May what I prayed for happen to me!" (literally, tefillati al-cheki tashuv - "may it return upon my own breast").  Some of our prayers are conscious words spoken to God, whereas others are unconscious expressions of our inner heart attitudes. When we harbor indifference, ill will, or unforgiveness toward others, we are only hurting ourselves. It is very sobering to realize that our thoughts are essentially prayers being offered up to God... When we seek the good of others we find God's favor, healing and life. Yeshua spoke of "good and evil treasures of the heart" that produce actions that are expressed in our words (Luke 6:45). A midrash states that if someone speaks well of another, the angels above will then speak well of him before the Holy One.

In light of the enigma of "spiritual impurity" (i.e., tumah) and its ultimate expression revealed in the corruption of death, it is all the more telling that we should heed the cry of the Spirit: "Choose Life!" (Deut. 30:19). Sin is a type of "spiritual suicide" that seduces us to exchange eternal good for the petty and trivial. The nachash (serpent) in the garden of Eden was the first to speak lashon hara. He slandered God and lied to Eve about how to discern between good and evil. He is a murderer and the father of lies. Resist his wiles with the truth of God...

May it please the LORD to help each of us be entirely mindful of the power and sanctity of our words... May it please Him to help us use our words for the purpose of strengthening and upbuilding (οἰκοδομὴν) one another (Eph. 4:29). May God help us take every thought "captive" to the obedience of the Messiah, thereby enabling us to always behold and express the truth of God's unfailing love.
 




Purification and Healing...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah, parashiyot Tazria-Metzora.... ]

04.23.15 (Iyyar 4, 5775)  The cleansing of a metzora (i.e., "leper") corresponded with other significant sacrificial rituals given in the Torah. The sprinkling of the hyssop by the priest recalled the blood of Passover; the offering made of the two birds - one which was sacrificed and the other set free - recalled the scapegoat of the Yom Kippur ritual. The washing of garments, the shaving of all hair, and the immersion in a mikveh (a pool of fresh water) recalled the birth of the Jewish people at the Sea of Reeds. Finally, the blood of the guilt offering sprinkled on the earlobe, thumb and foot, recalled the dedication of Aaron and his sons as the priests of Israel (Lev. 14:14). In other words, the individual purification process mirrored the purification of the community of Israel, and healing ultimately meant being re-identified as a redeemed child of God.  In a very literal sense, then, we see how the metzora was "reborn" by water and by the blood (John 3:5; 19:34; Heb. 9:19).

Of the Messiah it is written: "He is despised and rejected of men, a man of pains (אִישׁ מַכְאבוֹת) and acquainted with sickness (וִידוּעַ חלִי), and we hid as it were our faces from him. He was despised and we esteemed him not.  Surely he has carried our sicknesses (חֳלָיֵנוּ) and borne our pains (מַכְאבֵינוּ), yet we esteemed him as plagued (נָגַע), smitten of God (מֻכֵּה אֱלהִים) and oppressed. But he was pierced (מְחלָל) for our transgressions (פְּשָׁעֵנוּ), he was crushed for our iniquities (עֲוֹנתֵינוּ): the discipline for our peace was upon him (מוּסַר שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ עָלָיו); and in his blows we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, but the LORD has attacked in him (הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:3-6). Through the substitutionary sacrifice of the righteous Suffering Servant, Yeshua, we are both forgiven and made free from the power of sin and death. Because of Him we are no longer "lepers" or outcasts from the community of God but are made clean through His loving touch.

Notice that the word translated "blow" (i.e., חַבּוּרָה, "wound" or "stripe") comes from the same root as the word "friend" (חָבֵר), and therefore we can read this as "in His friendship we are healed." Yeshua gave up His life for us so that we could become his friends... As He later told us regarding his sacrifice: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Indeed of Yeshua it may truly be said, Yesh ohev davek me'ach – "there is a friend who sticks (davek) closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24).

Note: For more on this subject, see the article: "Thoughts on Holiness."
 




The Leper Messiah...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah, parashiyot Tazria-Metzora.... ]

04.23.15 (Iyyar 4, 5775)  "The Messiah -- what is his name?... The sages say, "the Leper Scholar..." (Sanhedrin 98b). But how was it that Yeshua was able to touch the metzora ("leper") and yet remain clean himself (Matt 8:1-4)? Only because He is the LORD (יהוה), the true Healer. Just as Yeshua spoke with greater authority than Moses (Matt. 5:21-48), so He was able to do what Moses (and those under the Levitical system of worship) could not do -- namely, reach down in compassion and take away the uncleanness from our lives.... Yeshua's blood creates the "waters of separation" (מֵי נִדָּה). He is the fulfillment of the "Red Heifer" sacrifice. Only Yeshua enters the "leper colony" of humanity and takes away our tzara'at (sin) by becoming ish machovot (אישׁ מַכְאבוֹת), a leper Himself, the Just for the Unjust, that He might make us acceptable before the LORD.
 

כִּי־אַתָּה אֲדנָי טוֹב וְסַלָּח
 וְרַב־חֶסֶד לְכָל־קרְאֶיךָ

ki · at·tah · Adonai · tov · ve·sal·lach
ve·rav · che·sed · le·khol · ko·re·e·kha

 

"For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
 abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you."
(Psalm 86:5)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Just as a body can become sick with illness, so can the soul: "I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me; heal my soul (רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי), for I have sinned against you!'" (Psalm 41:4). If you feel your sins biting you, and your heart is wavering and beginning to tremble, take your place on the outside of the camp, where the lepers are standing, for they are the ones for whom the Gospel is intended.... Yeshua enters the leper colony to touch the leper. He seeks and saves the lost.  The message of God's love and forgiveness is received only by those who understand how much they need it, to the self-confessed lepers of the soul... The gospel is sure remedy for the sick, not the healthy; it is for the sinner, not the "saint." For those who accept Yeshua as their Redeemer, sin is turned right through the pain He bore on the cross, and forgiveness is a matter of sheer grace, not merit. There is joy in heaven for one sinner who turns to God in repentance, and this implies that every time you go to the LORD in your brokenness, in the truth of your need for Him, He will receive you with divine happiness.
 

אֲנִי־אָמַרְתִּי יְהוָה חָנֵּנִי רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי
כִּי־חָטָאתִי לָךְ

a·ni · a·mar·ti · Adonai · cho·nei·ni · re·fa·ah · naf·shi
ki · cha·ta·ti · lakh

 

"I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me
heal my soul for I have sinned against you."
(Psalm 41:4)


 


Note: For more on this subject, see the article, "The Leper Messiah."
 




Cleansing of the Leper...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Tazria-Metzora. Please read the Torah portion to find your place here... ]

04.22.15 (Iyyar 3, 5775)  Although the priest needed to go "outside the camp" to examine a metzora (i.e., "leper"), the person still needed to "be brought" to the priest to meet him there, while he or she was in a state of exile (Lev. 14:2-3). In other words, the afflicted one was required to meet the priest "half-way." Like the prodigal son who returns home, God lovingly waits for us at the "edge" of the camp to meet us half-way... Hashivenu (הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ): "Return us to You, LORD, and we shall return" (Lam. 5:21).

The case of the metzora reveals that God sometimes disciplines his child with "exile" in order to awaken teshuvah within the heart. God imparted the spiritual disease of tzara'at to "remind" us of our sin and need for atonement, and the purification ritual was meant to illustrate our need for spiritual rebirth.... The gracious aim of affliction, then, is to "wake us from our slumbers" in order to reveal the way of life... As C.S. Lewis once said, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

The love of God is so great that He reached out and touched us - becoming a "leper" for us - and even chose to die "in exile" upon the cross to eternally purify us from our sins... In that sense, Yeshua surely meets us far more than "half-way," since He "emptied Himself" (κενόω)  of His heavenly glory and power in order to willingly bear our sickness, shame, and even death itself on our behalf... "But [He] made himself nothing (εκενωσεν), taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men; and being found in human form, he brought himself low by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:7-8).
 




Israel's Independence Day...


 

[ Yom Huledet Same'ach, Israel!  Happy 67th Birthday to the miraculous people of the miraculous promised land! May God make your numbers like the stars in heaven! ]

04.21.15 (Iyyar 2, 5775)  On Wednesday April 22nd (at sundown) we observe Israel's Independence Day, called Yom Ha'atzma'ut (יוֹם הָעַצְמָאוּת). The word atzma'ut (independence) comes from atzmi - "my bones" (i.e., etzem: עֶצֶם), so the name itself reminds us of the God's glorious promise to revive the "dry bones" (עֲצָמוֹת) of Israel by bringing the Jewish people back from their long exile (Ezek. 37:1-6). Son of man, can these bones live?

But why should Christians care about ethnic Israel?  After all, many Christian denominations advocate some version of "Replacement Theology" and regard the promises God made to the Jewish people as belonging exclusively to their church...  The existence of the modern State of Israel therefore evokes little thanks to God from these groups, and some of their ranks even regard Israel's revived presence on the world stage as an embarrassment to their typically "liberal" theology.  Hence we see the (remarkably bad) phenomena of so-called "Christian" church denominations that express anti-Israel sentiment, even asking their followers to divest investments in Israel on behalf of the "Palestinians," etc.

Briefly, we celebrate the phenomenon of Israel because the existence of Jewish people - and of the nation of Israel in particular - demonstrates that God is faithful to the covenant promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (e.g., Gen. 15:9-21; Rom. 11:28). The perpetuity of the Jewish people - despite so much worldwide persecution over the millennia - is a great testimony of God's faithful love (Jer. 31:35-37). Let us therefore gratefull affirm: ַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי / am Yisrael chai: "The people of Israel live!"  Israel is a sign of the "sure mercies of David" (חַסְדֵי דָוִד הַנֶּאֱמָנִים) that are revealed in Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah (Isa. 55:1-6). Moreover, the New Covenant itself, as foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, explicitly promises the perpetuity of the Jewish people throughout the ages (Jer. 31:31-36):
 

    Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD (יהוה), when I will make a new covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law (תּוֹרָה) within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

    Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar– the LORD of hosts is his Name: "If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) cease from being a nation before me forever." Thus says the LORD: "If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the LORD. – Jer. 31:35-36
     

According to this theologically critical passage, if you saw the sun shine today or the stars in the night sky, you can be assured that God's promise to preserve the "offspring of Israel" -- (i.e., zera Yisrael: זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) -- is in effect. Indeed, in the world to come, heavenly Jerusalem will have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel engraved upon its gates (Rev. 21:12). Note well that this is the only occurrence in the entire Tanakh (i.e., "Old Testament") that the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) is explicitly mentioned... It is a foundational passage of Scripture for those who claim to be followers of the Jewish Messiah.

In this connection, let me ask you a simple question.  If the King of the Jews is our hope and lives inside our hearts by faith, and if the King of the Jews calls Jerusalem the "City of the Great King" (Psalm 48:2, Matt 5:35), then it only makes sense that we would praise God for his love for Israel. Indeed, the LORD (יהוה) identifies Himself as "the God of Israel" over 200 times in the Jewish Scriptures. How important is this to your theology?
 

 בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה אֱלהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
מֵהָעוֹלָם וְעַד הָעוֹלָם אָמֵן וְאָמֵן

ba·rukh · Adonai · E·lo·hei · Yisrael
me·ha·o·lam · ve'ad · ha·o·lam: a·men ve·a·men

 

"Blessed be the LORD God of Israel
from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen."
(Psalm 41:13)



Download Study Card
 

All the blessings Christians enjoy ultimately come from the root of God's covenants with Israel... Yeshua our Savior was born the King of the Jews, and plainly said salvation is "from the Jews" (Matt. 2:2; 27:11; John 4:22). The Apostle Paul clearly warned those who think the church has "replaced" Israel: "Remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you" (Rom. 11:18). This doctine is so foundational that it may be righly said that how you think about Israel will affect every other area of your theology. For more on this subject, see the article, "Is Christianity Anti-Jewish?"
 




Words of Healing...


 

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

04.21.15 (Iyyar 2, 5775)  Just as a body can become sick with illness, so can a soul: "I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me; heal my soul (רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי), for I have sinned against you!'" (Psalm 41:4). Jewish tradition links tzara'at ("leprosy") with the sin of lashon hara ("evil talk"), suggesting that the word metzora ("leper") is word play from the Hebrew phrase, motzi ra: "one who brings forth [speaks] evil." As it is written: mavet ve'chaim be'yad lashon (מָוֶת וְחַיִּים בְּיַד־לָשׁוֹן) - "Death and life and in the power of the tongue" (Prov. 18:21). Because we are made in the image and likeness of God, our words matter -- and they wield power. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "word" (דָּבָר) also means "thing." When we bless others, we are invoking grace and good will to be manifest in the world, but when we curse others, the opposite effect is intended...

Yeshua soberly warned us, ‎"I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account (ἀποδίδωμι) for every careless word they speak (i.e., πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργόν, all "empty" or "thoughtless" words), for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). Every word we utter reaches up to the highest places of heaven and echoes there. The sages say, "my words - not a soul knows." But the Holy One, blessed be He, says, "I am sending an angel who will stand near you and record every word you say about your neighbor." Every word we speak is recorded in the "heavenly scrolls" (Rev. 20:12). Therefore David admonishes us, ‎"Who desires life (מִי־הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים) and loves many days that bring forth good? Guard your tongue from evil and keep your lips from using deceptive speech. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:13-14). Notice the connection between our words and our deeds here, which again suggests the connection between "words" and "things" (i.e., devarim: דְּבָרִים). It is very sobering to realize that our thoughts are essentially prayers being offered up to God...

Because the metzora was put into exile because of his sinful thinking (i.e., words), so he came back to the "edge of the camp" only with words... This first step back was crucial, as the prophet later said, "Return to the LORD and repent! Say to him: 'Completely forgive our iniquity; accept our penitential prayer, that we may offer the praise of our lips'" (Hos. 14:2). When we sincerely return to the LORD, He will take care of the problem of our impurity, uncleanness, and sin. That's the message of the cross of Yeshua, too. We can add nothing to His finished work but simply accept it as performed on our behalf through faith...
 




Healing our Sicknesses...


 

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

04.21.15 (Iyyar 2, 5775)  The Hebrew word tzara'at ("leprosy") may be read as "tzar ayin" (צַר עַיִן), meaning a mingy or arrogant eye... And just as our words reveal what is within our hearts (Luke 6:45), so do our eyes (Luke 11:34; Matt. 15:19). How we look upon others is a function of how we see ourselves; and therefore we all share in the disease of our fellows. "The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, 'Unclean, unclean.'" The sages interpret, "Unclean, unclean!" (Lev. 13:45) to mean that the one who is unclean calls others "unclean," which is to say, he projects his own defects onto others. Healing comes when we understand that we all are affected by sin and sickness, and when we criticize others, we condemn ourselves (Rom. 2:1). We are to love our enemies, and that includes the enemy we perceive within ourselves... There is much in all of us that remains broken, unclean, and in need of God's touch. Love uses the "good eye" to believe in the good, even if that good is yet unseen (Heb. 11:1). "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things" (1 Cor. 13:7), and that includes for our healing.
 




The Work of Faith...


 

04.20.15 (Iyyar 1, 5775)  You are invited to come before the Divine Presence - you are welcomed with joy - because of the glory of God's love given to you in Yeshua... And while you can never "earn" God's love, of course, you must take hold of it by faith, as Yeshua said: "This is the work of God - that you believe in the One whom God sent (John 6:29). This is the great work of the heart: learning to believe that Yeshua was given for your sake, because you are redeemable and have infinite value in the eyes of heaven.  Faith finds courage to accept God's love, despite whatever tempts you to feel unworthy or unacceptable. It pushes past the superficial view that you can please God by what you do, instead of enjoying God by knowing who He is: God is love; God is Light; He is Faithfulness, the Savior of your life... Faith works through his love (Gal. 5:6).

As it is written in our Scriptures, ἐν τῷ φωτὶ περιπατῶμεν ὡς αὐτός ἐστιν ἐν τῷ φωτι: "Walk in the light, as He is in the light" (1 John 1:7).
 




Prophetic Significance of Israel...


 

[ The following is related to Yom HaAtzma'ut (יוֹם הָעַצְמָאוּת) - Israel's Independence Day - which begins April 22nd at sundown this year.  Happy 67th Birthday, Israel! ]

04.20.15 (Iyyar 1, 5775)  Can a case be made that we among the "terminal generation" before the return of Yeshua? The Torah predicted that the "End of Days" would occur sometime after the return of the Jewish people from their worldwide dispersion back to the land of Israel (Deut. 30:1-3), and indeed the theme of exile and return is repeated in the prophets (Jer. 23:3; 32:37-38; Ezek. 37:21, etc.). Therefore it is surely extraordinary that Israel was reborn as a nation in their ancient homeland on May 14, 1948 (Iyyar 5, 5708), after nearly 2,000 years of exile... Moreover, the existence of the modern State of Israel is entirely consonant with New Testament prophecies regarding the advent of the Messiah, since Yeshua taught that the Jewish people would be in the land of Israel at the time of his second coming, and that the city of Jerusalem would be surrounded by enemies of the Jewish state (see Matt. 24-25; Mark 13, Luke 21). Furthermore, if we understand a "generation" to mean 70-80 years in duration (as stated in Psalm 90:10), then when Yeshua said, "this generation (ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη) shall not pass until all these things take place" (Matt. 24:34), he was referring to the generation that would originate with the restoration of the modern State of Israel, which further implies that Daniel's 70th Week (i.e., the Great Tribulation) could begin very soon.  And while it is true that "no one knows the day or hour" of Yom Adonai haGadol (יוֹם־יְהוָה הַגָּדוֹל), the "great day of the LORD," Yeshua faulted the scribes and the Pharisees for failing to discern "the signs of the times" (Matt. 16:3) and for missing the "time of their visitation" (Luke 19:44).
 

מִי־שָׁמַע כָּזאת
מִי רָאָה כָּאֵלֶּה
הֲיוּחַל אֶרֶץ בְּיוֹם אֶחָד
אִם־יִוָּלֵד גּוֹי פַּעַם אֶחָת

mi · sha·ma · ka'zot
mi · ra'ah · ka'
e·leh
hai
·yu·chal · e·retz · be·yom · e·chad
im · yiv·va·led · goy ·
pa·am · e·chat

 

"Who has heard such a thing?
Who has seen such things?
Shall a land be born in one day?
Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?"
(Isa. 66:8)



 

Like many other prophetic statements found in the Jewish Scriptures, this verse from the prophet Isaiah is "dual aspect," since it was both partially fulfilled when the Jewish people reestablished the State of Israel, but it will be entirely fulfilled at the outset of the Millennial Kingdom after the return of Messiah (see Isa. 66:7-16; Rom. 11:26). Meanwhile we behold the restoration of the "Fig Tree," and understand that the great harvest draws near, friends... May God help each one of us be awake, ready, with hearts full of steadfast faith (1 John 3:2-3; Titus 2:11-14; Matt. 24:32). Amen.

Regardless of how you may regard the prophetic events that herald the "end of the world," however, know this: Today might be your last in this world - your very own Rosh Hashanah when you will appear before the Judge and Creator of your life... Therefore should we live each day as if it were our last and pray that God will help us to serve Him in the truth.

Note:  Let me add that while we may discern that the time is indeed short, I do not believe in "date setting" or predicting the return of the LORD, since that is חוכמה אטומה, "sealed wisdom" known only to the Father (Matt. 24:36, Acts 1:7; 1 Thess. 5:2, etc.). Shalom.
 




Parashat Tazria-Metzora


 

04.19.15 (Nisan 30, 5775)  This week we have a "double portion" of Torah to read: parashat Tazria and Metzora, both of which focus on the concept of being "clean" (טָהוֹר) and obtaining purification from a state of "uncleanness" (טָמֵא). Of particular importance is the healing and purification of the metzora (i.e., "leper"), which is similar to the ritual performed for cleansing during the great Day of Atonement (i.e., Yom Kippur).

A midrash states that when the Israelites first heard about the divinely imparted affliction of tzara'at, sometimes (inaccurately) translated as "leprosy," they despaired and became fearful. Moses reassured them by telling them that tzara'at was a sign from God that they were a chosen nation, and this was his way of encouraging them to do teshuvah in to be in fellowship with Him. Likewise God sometimes disciplines us for our sins (Heb 12:7-8) for the purpose of granting us the gift of teshuvah (2 Cor. 7:10). We must therefore strive to make our conversation and the inmost intent of our hearts "captive to the obedience of the Messiah," blessed be He (Matt. 5:37; Eph. 4:29; Col. 3:8; 2 Cor. 10:5; 1 Tim 4:2; etc.).

A student once asked his rebbe: "Do we get punished for our sins in this world?" His succinct response was, "Only if we are fortunate..." Indeed, correction from God is a blessing in disguise, since there is no worse state in this life than to be untouched or overlooked by God (Rom. 1:28). God is teaching us through our failures; he is training us to persevere, to endure, and to become strong.  As it is written, "If you are left without discipline (מוּסָר), then you are illegitimate children and not sons" (Heb. 12:8).

The rabbis say that tza'arat comes from lashon hara (i.e., gossip or the abuse of our words). Yeshua clearly warned us, "I tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will give account (ἀποδίδωμι) for every careless word they speak (i.e., πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργόν, all "empty" or "thoughtless" words), for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). Every word we utter reaches up to the highest places of heaven and echoes there. The sages say that the Holy One, blessed be He, sends an angel who records every word you say about your neighbor in the "heavenly scrolls" (Rev. 20:12). Therefore David admonishes, "Who desires life (מִי־הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים) and loves many days that bring forth good? Guard your tongue from evil and keep your lips from using deceptive speech. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:13-14).

In the Gospels we read how Yeshua healed various "lepers" and even touched them (e.g., Matt. 8:2-3, Mark 1:40-41). But how could He do this without Himself becoming tamei (unclean)? We must remember that it was the prerogative of the LORD God of Israel to "touch" those afflicted with tzara'at and heal them based on their teshuvah, and in like measure, Yeshua entered the "leper colony" of humanity to heal those who cried out to Him. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and His love reaches down to those who are afflicted and oppressed on account of their uncleanness. If you call upon Him, He will likewise touch you and restore you to fellowship with God.


For Further Study:

 




Gift of Holy Desperation...


 

04.17.15 (Nisan 28, 5775)  Do you have the "gift of holy desperation"? That's the very special blessing of needing God so viscerally that you otherwise will fall apart or even self-destruct apart from His ongoing intervention in your life... You pray because your very life depends on it; you believe because without God, you would be swallowed up in darkness... The fire on the altar was to be kept burning at all times (Lev. 6:12-13), which symbolizes esh tamid (אֵשׁ תָּמִיד), or the inner fire of the heart... How blessed it is to be full of the fire of this inner need, this relentless groaning, this constant hunger to be set free: As Job wistfully yearned: "All the days of my warfare I hope, until my change will come."
 

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

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

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


 
 

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




Kosher on the Inside...


 

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

04.17.15 (Nisan 28, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week includes dietary laws collectively called kashrut (כַּשְׁרוּת). The sages say that just as the Ark was overlaid with gold inside and out to signify that the inner and the outer should agree (Exod. 25:11), so a kosher animal had to have both split hooves (as an external sign) and to chew its cud (as an internal function). An animal can appear to be superficially kosher but really isn't so. For example, a pig has split hooves yet does not chew its cud. The inner and outer sign must both be present, and when we apply this as a principle of spiritual life, this means that we should be honest and sincere - that both our outer life and our heart attitude should agree, should be echad, "one." We are vessels of the Divine Presence, the Life of Yeshua is within us, therefore it is essential that we be yashar - upright, and to walk in honesty at all times...

Note: For more on Kosher Law, see Keeping Kosher - How Close a Look?
 




Trust in the Darkness...


 

04.17.15 (Nisan 28, 5775)  "And Aaron was silent" (Lev. 10:3). Here the sages connect surrender to God with humility, for surely the death of Aaron's two son's evoked his cry of protest, his objection before the LORD... The reason for what happens in our lives is often (always?) beyond our understanding, yet the righteousness of God's plan – even if undisclosed to us - must be accepted by faith. As it says: "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:9). The refusal to accept what cannot be understood is to worship the powers of the mind, and to elevate the role of human reason above even God Himself. Faith accepts God's goodness and trusts in his care, even if that means we find ourselves walking in the dark: "Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God" (Isa. 50:10).
 

מִי בָכֶם יְרֵא יְהוָה שׁמֵעַ בְּקוֹל עַבְדּוֹ
 אֲשֶׁר הָלַךְ חֲשֵׁכִים וְאֵין נגַהּ לוֹ
 יִבְטַח בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה וְיִשָּׁעֵן בֵּאלהָיו

mi · va·khem · ye·rei · Adonai · sho·mei·a · be·kol · av·do?
a·sher · ha·lakh · cha·she·khim · ve·ein · no·gah · lo?
yiv·tach · be·Shem · Adonai · ve·yi·sha·en · be·lo·hav
 

"Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness and has no light
trust in the Name of the LORD and rely on his God."
(Isa. 50:10)



 

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... Bittachon is a word for this world, which says, "Though he slay me, I will trust in him..." Those who call upon the LORD can trust not only in concealed good behind ambiguous appearances ("all things work together for good") but also in a future, real, substantive good that will one day be clearly manifest for us all... We fight the "good fight" of faith, which is a worthy struggle that eventually is realized for blessing.  Meanwhile, may the LORD our God keep us from such depth of sorrow that leads to sickness, darkness and despair.

If you ask for bread, your heavenly Father will not give you a stone... The sages call this a kal va'chomer inference (i.e., קַל וְחמר, "light and weighty"), namely, that if a light condition is true, then a heavier one is certainly true... Yeshua used this kind of reasoning all the time: If God cares for the needs of the birds of the air, how much more (kal va'chomer) will he care for your needs? (Matt. 6:26). If God so clothes the grass of the field, how much more (kal va'chomer) will he clothe you (Matt. 6:30)? If your heavenly Father knows the number of hairs on your head, surely he knows the state of your soul.  And if God wants us to walk in righteousness, kal va'chomer does he want us to know his love... Only God can give to us the love for him that he fully knows we so desperately need; only God can deliver us from our "disordered loves" to take hold of what is truly essential.  All we can do is ask, and keep on asking - even as we struggle on, despite ourselves - until we begin to understand what we really need. It's as if we are constantly being asked, "Is this what you want?" and our choices confess the truth of what we believe... Only God does the miracle of real change within the human heart - only God can give life from the dead!
 




Brokenness and Service...


 

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

04.16.15 (Nisan 27, 5775)  The service of God requires the death of the ego (Luke 9:23). Rashi says that Aaron was still deeply ashamed over the Sin of the Calf, and that is why Moses urged his brother forward: "Draw near to the altar" (Lev. 9:7). And though Aaron felt inadequate and unworthy to be the High Priest of Israel, Rashi comments that he was chosen precisely because of this. His reluctance and sense of utter unworthiness was the very reason why he was granted the role of Israel's High Priest.  Likewise you might feel unworthy of your high calling in the Messiah and yet you are called to come before the Divine Presence and function as God's holy priest, no less than Aaron... You are chosen in your weakness; you are beloved because of your lowly standing; you are made "pure in heart" because you realize your own inner nothingness and need before the Savior.... Your brokenness is a gift that magnifies God's unending love and grace (1 Cor. 1:26-29).

Note: For more on this, see "Brokenness and Service: Further thoughts on Shemini."
 




Meaning in Suffering...

Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial
 

[ Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day, is observed April 15th (and 16th) this year... ]

04.15.15 (Nisan 26, 5775)  It has been noted that the survivors of the concentration camps were not necessarily the physically strongest, but they were people able to find meaning in their suffering and who never lost sight of hope. As survivor Viktor Frankl once said, "In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice." In light of this, let's resolve now to live each day full of concentrated hope - full of conviction - that even should this be the last day of our earthly existence, we will stand for God, we will hold on to the truth of God's salvation, and we will die in the everlasting hope of God's victorious love.
 

    We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way...

    Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. - Viktor E. Frankl

 




Deliver Us from Evil...


 

[ Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day, is observed April 15th (and 16th) this year... ]

04.15.15 (Nisan 26, 5775)  Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote, "No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same."  There is a "shadow" or darker side to ourselves that we normally keep hidden from view, even from ourselves. Yeshua said "out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander, and these are what defile a person" (Matt. 15:19-20). If you were given a magic ring which when placed on your finger made you invisible, would your behavior change? Would you be moral if you were entirely sure that you wouldn't be held accountable? Why is it difficult to understand our true motives, to "own" the darker impulses that sometimes rise within us? Each of us can act like a petty Pharaoh, and - dare I say it - even like a cruel Nazi at times, blaming others to excuse our own evil ways... When we come to the light to confess the truth, we become more aware of what we really need, and we can ask God for healing; we then can forgive ourselves and begin to "lift off" our stuff from others.
 

עָקב הַלֵּב מִכּל וְאָנֻשׁ הוּא מִי יֵדָעֶנּוּ

a·kov · ha·lev · mi·kol · ve·a·nush · hu - mi · ye·dei·nu?
 

"The heart is deceitful above all things and incurably sick
- who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9)

 

The heart is deceitful above all things, and incurably sick - mi yadeinu? - who can know it? But how is the heart sick? By seeking excuses to evade the truth of its great need; by denying its own inner poverty... "No person is saved except by grace, yes; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must unconditionally require, and that is honesty" (Kierkegaard).

Julian of Norwich said, "All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well," and yet the darkest pitch of depression is precisely the inability to take hold of such hope... Faith in the midst of darkness must yet affirm that despite own sin, our own wretchedness, nothing will hinder nor overcome the working of God's goodness...
 




Holocaust Memorial Day...


 

[ Yom HaShoah is observed Wednesday, April 15th after sundown this year... ]

04.15.15 (Nisan 26, 5775)  Some people mark the date of November 9, 1938 as the start of the Jewish Holocaust. On that dreadful night - called Kristallnacht, "the Night of Broken Glass" - thousands of Germans, organized by the Nazis, destroyed over 1,000 synagogues, burned precious Torah scrolls and prayer books in town squares, ransacked and looted over 7,000 Jewish businesses, and invaded and terrorized many Jewish homes. Many Jews were killed during the attacks, and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken away to the concentration camps. Kristallnacht was followed by further persecution of the Jews and is viewed by most historians as the pogram that initiated the infamous "Final Solution."

To readily identify who was a Jew to the authorities, Hitler ordered all subjugated peoples of Jewish descent to wear yellow stars of David on their clothing. Hitler relied on non Jews to spy on and identify all those who did not comply. When the order to wear the star was issued in Holland, however, an underground newspaper made 300,000 yellow stars that said, "Jews and non-Jews stand united in their struggle," and distributed them to the public to express their solidarity with the plight of the Jewish people. In Denmark, too, the "yellow star law" was rebuffed, and King Christian X was reported to have said that if the law were to be enforced by the Nazis, he pledged to wear one himself, as would all the other people of Denmark. Later, the Danish resistance movement (with the help of ordinary Danish citizens) opposed the Nazis by safely evacuating the Jews to nearby neutral Sweden.

By far the largest act of civil resistance against Hitler and the Nazis occurred during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which took place in Poland on the eve of Passover, April 19, 1943. Unfortunately most Jews were unable to defend themselves because oppressive gun control laws had disarmed the population; nevertheless, it still took the Nazi war machine nearly a month to vanquish the ghetto - longer than it took for Hitler to overcome the entire country of Poland. Because the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising symbolized Jewish resistance against the Nazis, in 1953, after the State of Israel was formed, it was proposed to observe Yom HaShoah on the anniversary of the uprising -- on the 14th of Nisan -- but this date was rejected because it marked the start of Passover. After considerable debate, the memorial was postponed until after the Passover holiday week was over, on the 27th of Nisan, eight days before Yom Ha'atzma'ut, or Israeli Independence Day.

While there is no official "haggadah" for the Yom HaShoah memorial, it is traditional to light a yellow yahrzeit candle for those who died, to attend a Yom HaShoah memorial service, and to recite kaddish. Some people prepare a lavish meal using recipes written from memory by the starving women of Theresienstadt (salvaged after the war). Many of these recipes are for rich desserts and cakes, recalling days of joy before the women and their families were rounded up and brought to the concentration camps. During the memorial meal, stories of Jews who died are told, as well of those of survivors. Many survivors tell stories about the "hidden children" who were saved by righteous Gentiles (חֲסִידֵי אוּמוֹת הָעוֹלָם). These young survivors were either hidden in secret places (like Anne Frank) or were "adopted" by Christian families who pretended they were their own children.

What does the Holocaust mean to you? How do you do "theology after Auschwitz?" Does the Shoah rouse you to be vigilant against the rise of political evil in the world? Does its warn you how about how easy it is for you to "tune out" - to close your eyes, ears, and nose to the presence of evil and the practice of social injustice and crimes against humanity? As Elie Wiesel said, "Indifference to evil is evil." Hitler not only murdered millions of Jews (including over a million Jewish children), but he also murdered millions of non-Jews whom he regarded as a threat to his political ideology and to "homeland security." We must never forget the horrors of Holocaust because it could happen again - and to believe otherwise is to forget the radical evil lurking within human nature. Germany was perhaps the greatest nation of Europe, cultured, brilliant, "Christian," enlightened, with a rich history of intellectual and artistic genius -- and yet it nevertheless practiced unspeakable barbarity and tolerated massive and heartless genocide against the Jewish people...
 

קוּמִי רנִּי בַלַּיְלָה לְראשׁ אַשְׁמֻרוֹת
שִׁפְכִי כַמַּיִם לִבֵּךְ נכַח פְּנֵי אֲדנָי
שְׂאִי אֵלָיו כַּפַּיִךְ עַל־נֶפֶשׁ עוֹלָלַיִךְ

ku·mi · ro·ni · va·lai·lah · le·rosh · ash·mu·rot
shif·khi · kha·ma·yim · lib·bekh · no·khach · pe·nei · a·do·nai
se·i · e·lav · ka·pa·yikh · al · ne·fesh · o·la·lai·yikh
 

"Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches!
Pour out your heart like water before the face of the LORD!
Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children."
(Lam. 2:19)



"I believe. I believe in the sun even when it is not shining; I believe in love even when feeling it not; and I believe in God, even when God is silent" (from an anonymous poem found on the wall of a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where some Jews hid from the Nazis).
 

    "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference."  - Elie Weisel
     

Though we can't control what happens in this dangerous world, we can trust that God is working all things together for good, even during times of severe testing, and even in things that are blatantly evil (Rom. 8:28; Gen. 50:20). And while we instinctively recoil at the prospect of physical death, there are decidedly things worse than death itself, namely, losing hope in life, walking in the darkness of despair, living a joyless existence because of fear. As much as we abhor evil - and we must resist it with all our hearts - even more must we love the good - and cling to God (וּלְדָבְקָה־בוֹ) with all that is within us.
 

    "There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest."  - Elie Wiesel
     

Ultimately, the most important thing to remember regarding death is the truth about God's salvation (יְשׁוּעָה). After all, God assuredly hates death and provides each of us with its eternal remedy: By clothing himself in human flesh, Yeshua embraced mortality itself and willingly bore the penalty for your sins, exchanging his life for yours, thereby destroying the one who had the power of death, namely the devil, and by so doing, set you free from slavery to the dread of death (Heb. 2:14-15). To those who belong to belong to Messiah, death represents a passage to eternal life and the loving presence of God Himself.

Only the miracle of faith can see hope in the face of radical evil... and yet that is the very message of the cross of the Messiah... Our Lord demonstrated that He is the Killer of death itself; the Slayer of the Serpent; and the ultimate Triumph of God's Light over the realm of despair and everlasting darkness... He is the First and the Last, the Living One who died, and behold is alive forevermore, the true Keyholder of Death and Hell (Rev. 1:18). 
 




Strength for the Weary...


 

04.14.15 (Nisan 25, 5775)  The sages ask, "Why does the Torah use a repetitious expression, "Sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy" (הִתְקַדִּשְׁתֶּם וִהְיִיתֶם קְדשִׁים) (Lev. 11:44)? Because when we make an effort - no matter how feeble at times - to draw near to God, He will draw near to us.  As we sanctify ourselves, so God sanctifies us. Therefore "let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." (Gal. 6:9). So focus and draw near to God, and you will find that he has drawn near to you (James 4:4; Heb. 11:6). Blessed are You LORD our God, who gives strength to the weary:
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵנוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
הַנּוֹתֵן לַיָּעֵף כּהַ

ba·rukh  at·tah  Adonai  E·lo·hei·nu  me·lekh  ha'o·lam
ha·no·tein  lai·ya·ef  ko·ach
 

"Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe,
who gives strength to the weary."



 

People necessarily value things, and therefore every person alive is a "worshipper" (i.e., a person who finds "worth" in something). The question that matters is what is your ultimate concern? What moves you to get out of bed in the morning, to go through your day, to have hope in your heart? What do you really want? Where are you really going? Each of us will stand before God for judgment one day and give account of his or her life... One day all that is hidden will be fully disclosed to the light... 

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




Our Duty to Truth...


 

[ Yom HaShoah is observed Wed. April 15th at sundown through April 16th until sundown.. ]

04.14.15 (Nisan 25, 5775)  We are "epistemologically" responsible to walk in the Spirit of truth and to reject what is false (1 John 4:6). This implies that we have a moral and spiritual duty to think clearly and not abuse our minds (Phil. 4:8; Rom. 12:2). God made us so that we could discern truth about reality. The mind functions according to logical laws because it is made in the image and likeness of God Himself... God Himself is the ground of all logic, since He created reality and structured the world to be knowable according to its laws. As it is written: "In the beginning was the word/logic (ὁ λόγος), and the λόγος was with God, and the λόγος was God" (John 1:1). God created a world that exhibits order and great beauty. And since human beings were created b'tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, our thoughts (and the words used to formulate our thoughts) as well as our actions are intended to exhibit order and beauty. People perish because "they refuse to love the truth and so be saved" (2 Thess. 2:10-12). Therefore the issue of truth - physical, moral, aesthetic, spiritual, etc. - is central to salvation itself.

Since the use of language presupposes the laws of logic, every utterance we make is grounded in transcendental meaning and significance.... In the world to come you will be shocked to understand that everything you thought, everything you said, and everything you did was given to you from above, and therefore has tremendous significance. "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer" (Psalm 19:14).
 

יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי־פִי
וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי לְפָנֶיךָ יְהוָה צוּרִי וְגאֲלִי

yi·he·yu · le·ra·tzon · im·rei · fi
ve'heg·yon · lib·bi · le·fa·ne·kha · Adonai · tzu·ri · ve'go'a·li
 

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer."



Hebrew Study Card
 


May it please God to help us use our words for the purpose of strengthening and upbuilding (οἰκοδομὴν) one another (Eph. 4:29). May our words always be gracious and "seasoned with salt" (Col. 4:6). Dear Lord, awaken our hearts. As it is written: "Whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected" (1 John 2:5). For more on this see: Teshuvah of the Mind, and The Importance of Truth: Teshuvah and Moral Courage.
 




Consuming Fire...


 

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

04.13.15 (Nisan 24, 5775)  "Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron ... brought strange fire before the LORD" (Lev. 10:1). The sages interpret "strange fire" (i.e., esh zarah: אֵשׁ זָרָה) as alien passion or illicit zeal stimulated by artificial means (in this case, drinking wine before the service). The experience of intoxication may seem to elevate the soul, but in reality it muddles the ability to discern spiritual realities: "Drink no wine or strong drink ... when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean" (Lev. 10:9-10). Nadab and Abihu were highly honored in Israel, the first priests of God, and if they drank wine before entering the sanctuary it was surely not for crass purposes, but rather to "sanctify" their experience, or so they thought... They were severely judged, however, because they presumptuously sought to sanctify themselves by means of an artificial influence, and this made them "strange" before God. Likewise many people today seek "spiritual highs" and "signs" without undergoing the discipline of Torah study, prayer, meditation, and so on. God wants our hearts in service, but our hearts must be honest and reverent before Him.

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God who is "a Consuming Fire, a jealous God (Deut. 4:24). Indeed, though atonement was provided under the law for every kind of sin and transgression, there was one exception: "But the soul that sins presumptuously (בְּיָד רָמָה) shall be out off from the midst of my people" (Num. 15:30). We must be careful not to casually regard God's love with undue familiarity, lest we find ourselves under the influence of strange passions that lead to presumption....
 




Your Reason for Being...


 

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

04.13.15 (Nisan 24, 5775)  "This is the thing that the LORD commanded you to do, that the glory of the LORD may appear to you" (Lev. 9:6). Have you considered why you were born into this world? What is your purpose, destiny, and end? The Torah states that you were personally created by God, who breathed out the breath of life (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים) into you, so that you could know God and spiritual reality. As it is written: "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your desire they existed and were created" (Rev. 4:11). God creates all things for his glory, which indeed is the first blessing recited over the bride and groom of a traditional Jewish wedding: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלם שֶׁהַכּל בָּרָא לִכְבוֹדו / "Blessed are you Lord our God king of the universe, who has created all things for his glory." The purpose of life is to know and love God, to walk in His light and truth, and to glorify his compassion and grace forever...

At a traditional Jewish wedding the groom places the ring on his bride's finger and says: Harei, at mekudeshet li: "Behold, you are betrothed to me."  Love and holiness are interconnected, since the beloved is set apart as sacred and treasured.  May God help us see the wonder of His love for our lives: "Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (1 Pet. 1:14-16).
 




Parashat Shemini - פרשת שמיני


 

04.12.15 (Nisan 23, 5775)  This week's Torah reading, Shemini ("eighth"), continues the account of the seven-day ordination ceremony for the priests that was described earlier in Parashat Tzav.  During each of these "seven days of consecration," Moses served as the first High Priest of Israel by offering sacrifices and training the priests regarding their duties. On the eighth day however, (i.e., Nisan 1), and just before the anniversary of the Passover, Aaron and his sons began their official responsibilities as Israel's priests. It is no coincidence that the inauguration of the sanctuary is directly connected to the Passover, since the daily sacrifice of the Lamb served as an ongoing memorial of the Exodus from Egypt -- and indeed the laws of sacrifice form the central teaching of the Torah itself. In this connection, we again note that the central sacrifice of the Tabernacle was that of a defect-free lamb offered every evening and morning upon the altar in the outer court, along with matzah and a wine offering, signifying the coming of the true Passover Lamb of God and his great sacrifice for us (Exod. 29:38-42; Num. 28:4-10; John 1:29).
 

 




Holocaust Memorial Day...


 

[ Yom HaShoah is observed Wednesday, April 15th after sundown this year... ]

04.12.15 (Nisan 23, 5775)  Shoah is the Hebrew word for "destruction" and is another name used to refer to the  European Holocaust, when six million Jews - including one and a half million children - were systematically murdered by the Nazis during World War II. After much impassioned debate, in 1953 the Israeli Knesset designated Nisan 27 as Yom HaShoah (יום השואה), or Holocaust Remembrance Day.

During this day, in Israel, a morning siren sounds, all activity stops, and people stand in honor of those who died during the atrocities of those years. Jews around the world hold memorials and vigils, often lighting six candles in honor of the six million Holocaust victims. Many hold name-reading ceremonies to memorialize those who were murdered.  This year, Yom HaShoah begins Wed, April 15th at sundown and runs through the following day.
 




The Disguised Shepherd...


 

[ During the Sabbath of Passover week we read the "Song of Songs..." ]

04.10.15 (Nisan 21, 5775)  Since the season of Passover marks the time when our "romance" with God officially began (Jer. 2:2), the sages chose to read the "Song of Songs," or Shir Ha-Shirim (שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים), to celebrate God's love for his people. And since Passover is also called Chag Ha-Aviv, the festival of spring, the Song is also associated with creativity and hope associated with springtime (Song 2:11-12).

The author of the Song of Songs is King Solomon (מֶלֶךְ שְׁלמה), as indicated by the song's opening verse: "The Song of Songs, written by Solomon" (Song 1:1). Interestingly, in 1 Kings 4:32 it is stated that "He (Solomon) also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005." Since the Book of Proverbs contains far less that 3,000 proverbs, it is likely that only his best were selected for the book, and while there is a psalm attributed to King Solomon (i.e., Psalm 72), the only other song we have bearing his name is the great "Song of Songs," which in Hebrew might be rendered "the greatest of songs." The other songs of Solomon, however, have apparently been lost to us...

The Song is usually interpreted as an allegory of the love affair between God and His  people. The Beloved (representing God) therefore says, "As a lily among the thorns, so is my love for you among among the daughters;" and the maiden (representing God's people) replies, "Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste" (Song 2:2-3). The Jewish scholar Maimonides argued that the song was intended to teach about ahavat HaShem (אַהֲבַת יהוה), the love of God. The Talmud reports that Rabbi Akiva argued for the inclusion of Song in the canon of the Hebrew Bible by saying that if all the other Books of the Bible are considered to be regarded as "Kedoshim" (holy), then Shir Ha-Shirim must be considered "Kodesh Kodoshim," the Holiest of the Holy (Megillah 7a). Akiva is reported to have further said, "The whole world attained its supreme value only on the day when the Song of Songs was given to Israel" (Mishnah Yadayim 3:5). Rashi agrees and therefore states that all the references to King Solomon (שְׁלמה) in the song refer to the LORD, the King of the Universe who creates peace (שָׁלוֹם) in His high places.  Soren Kierkegaard likens the Song to a parable about the disguise of love, the tender passion that is hidden so as to elevate the identity of the beloved.

When we read this book in our Bibles, it's important to remember that we are listening to a song, not to a story being recounted... The song is not recited in any sense of chronological order, but rather uses flashbacks and "antiphony" (responsive verses) that come from the Shulamite woman (a Cinderella figure who worked in the vineyards and tended the sheep), the daughters of Jerusalem, the bridegroom, the family of the Shulamite, and so on.

One day the mysterious shepherd, who traveled with no sheep, told the woman he was leaving but promised he would return for her. The days passed and she waited, but her family and friends began to ridicule her hope. Nonetheless, she loved the shepherd and dreamed of being with him: "On my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not" (Song 3:1). She longed to be with her beloved; she missed him, and dreamed of the day they would be together... There were even strange visitations, a fragrance of her lover in the air, that she could not explain. Surely this longing represents the soul's homesickness for heaven and the Presence of Yeshua... "Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices. "Let him lead me to the banquet hall, and let his banner over me be love" (Song 2:4).

Note: This entry continues here: "Shir Hashirim: Passover and the Song of Solomon".
 




Love's Fear and Trembling...


 

[ During the Sabbath of Passover week it is customary to read the ancient "love song" of King Solomon called Shir Ha-Shirim (שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים), or the "Song of Songs." ]

04.10.15 (Nisan 21, 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; you have to accept yourself as the beloved of God:
 

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"
(Song 7:10)


  


I realize the analogy of God as the great "Lover of our Souls" is ideal for most of us, and yet it is vital that we understand ourselves as the "beloved" of the Lord... Shabbat Shalom!
 




Revival of Heart...


 

04.09.15 (Nisan 20, 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."
(Psalm 38:9)


  
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...

Shabbat Shalom dear friends... May God build you up in his great love and kindness!

 




Two Haunting Questions...


 

04.09.15 (Nisan 20, 5775)  One of the greatest of sins is to forget who you really are – a prince or princess of God. Forgetting who you are leads to forgetting who the Lord is, just as forgetting who the Lord is leads to forgetting who you are.... Therefore the Lord constantly tells us to remember and not to forget the call of his heart, the message of his love.

There are two great, haunting questions God always is asking us. The first is "who do you say that I am?" and the second is "do you love me?" Being in a love relationship with God is the goal of life, the "end of the law," and the reason we were created. As it is written, "Look at the end of the verse," that is, look in order to see through the verse to its point... But we cannot truly love God apart from understanding his passion for us. The LORD is the Jealous God, a Consuming Fire, who desires all of our heart upon the altar (Luke 9:23).

"How long will you go limping between two different opinions?" The divided heart is sick. A double-minded man is "two-souled" (δίψυχος) and unstable in all its ways (James 1:8). King David understood the great need for focus, for passion, for surrender: "One thing I ask of the Lord; that is what I will seek" (Psalm 27:4). Therefore he said, "I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8). "In all your ways know Him" (Prov. 3:6) that is, in all that you put your hand to do look for the Divine Presence and guidance (1 Cor. 10:31)

Note: For more on this meditation, see "Shiviti Adonai."
 




Teshuvah of Listening...


 

04.08.15 (Nisan 19, 5775)  Shema O Israel - Listen! Quiet your heart... find a moment to relax and deeply breathe. The Name of the LORD (יהוה) literally means Presence... God is, was, and always shall be Present. Now listen again, using the inner ear, the "ear of the heart." Listen for the inner Voice of Love calling out for you to turn to LORD your God. Listen with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength -- and you will hear the Voice of the LORD calling out to you from the midst of the storm. Yeshua is the Word, the Voice, of God's love.
 

וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל־מְזוּזֹת בֵּיתֶךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ

ukh·tav·tam · al-me·zu·zot · be'te·kha · u'vish·a·re·kha
 

"Inscribe them on the doorposts of your house
and on your gates."
(Deut. 6:9)

 




Passover Seder Pictures


 

[ The eight day festival of Passover began April 3rd at sundown this year... ]

04.08.15 (Nisan 19, 5775)  Chag Pesach Sam'each (חג פסח שמח), Happy festival of Passover, chaverim. We held our annual Passover Seder over at our home last Friday evening and had a wonderful time. We started the seder before sundown and ended just after midnight. My sons Judah and Josiah helped set up the seder tables and sang the mah nishtanah ("Four Questions"). Here are a few pictures from the event (more here):
 

Passover 5775 - collage 1

[Left-to-right, top]:  1) The kiddush cup; 2) set table with pillows; 3) handwashing;
4) Judah eats some matzah; 5) enjoying the seder together.
[Left-to-right, bottom]: 1) putting matzah in the tosh; 2) urchatz pan; 3) l'chaim b'Yeshua;
4) Josiah tastes the matzah; 5) Group blessing at the end of the seder.



 




Our Daily Deliverance...


 

04.07.15 (Nisan 18, 5775)  Just as we ask God for daily bread (לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ), so we ask him for our daily deliverance: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one" (Matt 6:13). Note that the term translated "evil" in many translations ("deliver us from evil") is a substantive rather than an adjective: τοῦ πονηροῦ, the evil one... "Give us this day our daily deliverance from the evil one...." Our daily bread and our daily deliverance are connected with our decision to "choose life" (בַּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים) -- and to always choose life -- even in moments we find difficult, distressing, and even when we might wish that we were no longer living... Choosing life means refusing to escape reality by evading the significance of our choices; it means finding the will to regard life as worthy; it implies that we will eat our bread in trust that the Lord is at work even in the darkest of hours (Passover occurred at midnight)... Choosing life means refusing to eat the fruit of death and to seek Yeshua, the Tree of Life. We live one day at a time; we only have today. We are given daily bread for this hour of our need. Today is the day of your deliverance - if you are willing to walk in it. Therefore, the Spirit of the Living God cries out, "Choose life and live!"

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




Passover's Love Song...


 

04.07.15 (Nisan 18, 5775)  During the Sabbath of Passover week it is customary to read the ancient "love song" of King Solomon called Shir Ha-Shirim (שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים), or the "Song of Songs."  In Jewish tradition, since Passover marks the time when our "romance" with God officially began, the sages chose this song to celebrate God's love for his people. And since Passover is also called Chag Ha-Aviv, the festival of spring, the Song is also associated with creativity and hope associated with springtime (Song 2:11-12). One way to read this poem is to see the king, who had disguised himself as a lowly shepherd to win the heart of the Shulamite woman, as a picture of Yeshua who took the form of a lowly servant to demonstrate his eternal love for those who are trusting in him... Indeed, the Song of Songs is linked to the "lilies" (i.e., shoshanim: שׁשַׁנִּים) mentioned in Psalm 45, which presents a Messianic vision of the Divine Bridegroom and offers an "ode" for a forthcoming wedding.
 

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי
הָרעֶה בַּשׁוֹשַׁנִּים

a·ni · le·do·di · ve·do·di · li
ha·ro·eh · ba·sho·sha·nim
 

"I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine;
he grazes among the lilies."
(Song 6:3)


 
Download Study Card
 


The meaning of Passover is of course rooted in the greatest love story ever told - about God, creation, the loss of Adam and Eve, the call of Israel, and the coming of the Messiah who would sanctify us as His own people, deliver us from the plague of death, and redeem us from the penalty of sin. Yeshua's mesirat nefesh ("giving over of soul" in sacrifice) and his triumph at the cross made the new covenant with God possible. As our Suffering Servant, He gave up His life for ours in exchange, redeeming us from the sickness unto death and making the way for our everlasting healing.

Whether or not you were able to attend a Passover Seder this year, please understand that there is always a place for you at His table.  After all, Yeshua made a place for you within His heart when he died for you on the cross, and that is what Passover is really all about anyway.  Shalom chaverim.

Note: For more on the connection between Passover and the Song of Songs, see the article Shir Hashirim: Passover and the Song of Solomon.
 




Countdown to Pentecost...


 

04.06.15 (Nisan 17, 5775)  In Jewish tradition, forty nine days – seven weeks of days – are carefully counted between the second day of Unleavened Bread and Shavuot (Pentecost or "Weeks"). This period of time is called Sefirat HaOmer (סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר), or the "counting the [barley] sheaves." In abstract terms, it's almost as if there is a dotted line pointing directly from Passover to Shavuot - a "Jubilee" of days - representing the climax of Passover itself. The early sages identified this climax as the revelation of the Torah at Sinai, but the New Testament identifies it as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) that confirmed the reality of the New Covenant of God. The redemption process that began at Passover was therefore completed at Shavuot, and that "completion" was the revelation of God's love and deliverance for the entire world. And though the Jewish sages did not fathom the use of the otherwise forbidden leaven in the offering (see Eph. 2:14). The countdown to Shavuot therefore goes beyond the giving of Torah at Sinai and points to the greater revelation of Zion. Shavuot is the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit's advent to those who are trusting in Messiah (Acts 2:1-4). "Counting the Omer," then, is about receiving the Holy Spirit to experience and know the resurrected LORD of Glory. You can "count" on that, chaverim!


 

From a Messianic point of view, the climax of the 49 days was not the giving of the lawcode at Sinai, but rather the revelation of the altar (i.e., the Tabernacle) and its subsequent fulfillment in the sacrificial death of Yeshua as our Lamb of God. Moreover, it was during this time that Yeshua made His post-resurrection appearances to His disciples - and indeed ascended to heaven during this 49 day period... Of particular importance is the holiday of Shavuot, day 7x7 of the count, when the Holy Spirit (Ruach ha-Kodesh) was given to the disciples in fulfillment of the promise of Yeshua that we would not be left comfortless... Shavuot, then, marks the time of "Jubilee" of the Spirit, when are clothed with power from on high to serve the LORD without fear...

For more on this subject, see: "Sefirat HaOmer: Counting the Sheaves to Shavuot."
 




Why the Resurrection Matters...


 

04.06.15 (Nisan 17, 5775)  The Scriptures make clear that Yeshua is the true Passover Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) whose sacrificial death and shed blood causes the wrath of God to "pass over" (pasach) those who are trusting in Him (John 1:29, 3:36; Acts 8:32-36; 1 Cor. 5:7-8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20, etc.). Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! (Rev. 5:12). But while the sacrifice of Yeshua gives us atonement (כַּפָּרָה) with God, it is the resurrection of the Messiah (i.e., techiyat ha-Mashiach: תְּחִיַּת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) that justifies our salvation and vindicates the righteousness of God (Rom. 3:23).

Please understand that the resurrection of Yeshua is not an "academic" or speculative question to be considered in purely rational terms, but rather is a matter of eternal life or death. How we choose to respond to its message determines our destiny. Everything turns on whether we awaken to the risen reality and Presence of Yeshua in our lives. Without Him we are hopeless; with Him we are more than conquerors (1 Cor. 15:14; Rom. 8:37).

Yeshua completely atoned for our sins and His resurrection validated that God the Father accepted His sacrifice. It was God the Father who raised Yeshua in victory (Gal. 1:1, Rom. 10:9), and those who put their trust trust in Him are declared righteous on account of their faith. Yeshua "was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25).  As He said, "Because I am alive, you also will live" - שֶׁכֵּן אֲנִי חַי וְגַם אַתֶּם תִּחְיו / ὅτι ἐγὼ ζῶ καὶ ὑμεῖς ζήσετε (John 14:19).

For more on the tremendously important subject of why the resurrection of Yeshua matters, please see please see this article.
 




He is Risen Indeed...


[ The following is related to holiday of First Fruits which begins after sundown today... ]

04.05.15 (Nisan 16, 5775)  The most important fact of all history - and that which radically transforms everything else - is the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead (תחייתו של משיח). Spiritual life means being awake to the risen reality and saving Presence of Yeshua, the One who Overcame and vanquished the power of death. Without Him we are hopeless; with Him we are more than conquerors (1 Cor. 15:14; Rom. 8:37). The resurrection means Yeshua is forever alive, and that today he hears your heart's cry. He is surely able to help you, and nothing can overthrow his invincible will. Our Lord suffered and died for your inner peace and healing, but now death has no hold over him, and he "ever lives to make intercession for you" (Rom. 6:9, Heb. 7:25). He is your compassionate Advocate (παράκλητος, lit. "one called alongside") who gives you heavenly comfort (1 John 2:1). Even more: The very power that raised Yeshua from the dead now dwells in you (Rom. 8:11). The miracle of new life is "Messiah in you - the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). The Lord will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5): He "sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24); He sustains your way, and he will perfect the work of salvation on your behalf (Jude 1:24). In short, there simply is no "gospel" message apart from the resurrection! The resurrection is the victory of God's plan of salvation - His everlasting vindication over the powers of darkness - for your life.

The Talmud says "All the world was created for the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b). The New Testament had earlier said the same thing: "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Indeed, all of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of the Messiah's power (Heb. 1:3). Creation begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our LORD... The Messiah is the Center of Creation - its beginning and end. As it is written: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the 'Aleph' and the 'Tav,' the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36). Yeshua our Messiah is called מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים / Melech Malchei Hamelachim: The "King of kings of kings." He is LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest celestial glory to the dust of death upon a cross. Yehi shem Adonai mevorakh (יְהִי שֵׁם יהוה מְברָךְ): "Let the Name of the LORD be blessed" forever and ever (Psalm 113:2). So while we can agree with the Talmud's general statement that the world was created "for the Messiah," we would insist that the name of the Messiah is none other than Yeshua, God's Son, and indeed, there is no other (Acts 4:12).
 

חַי־יְהוָה וּבָרוּךְ צוּרִי
וְיָרוּם אֱלוֹהֵי יִשְׁעִי

chai-Adonai · u·va·rukh · tzur·i
ve'ya·rum · e·lo·hei · yish·i
 

"The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock,
and exalted be the God of my salvation."
(Psalm 18:46)


 
Hebrew Study Card

 

The heart of faith sees Elohei Yishi (אֱלהֵי יִשְׁעִי), the "God of my salvation," namely, the One who was and is and is to come (הַהוֶה וְהָיָה וְיָבוֹא) – the LORD our God Yeshua (Rev. 1:4;8; Isa 41:4). The early Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) rendered Elohei Yishi as "God my Jesus," since "Jesus" (i.e., Yeshua) rightly means YHVH saves. Yeshua is the One who breathed life into the first Adam just as He is the One who breathes eternal life into those who are descended from Him, the great "second Adam."


Note: For more on the First Fruits of Messiah, see the article: "Reishit Katzir."
 




Our Passover Redeemer...


 

[ The following is related to holiday of Passover, which begins this evening... ]

04.03.15 (Nisan 14, 5775)  The message of Passover applies to each of us: "In each and every generation an individual should look upon him or herself as if he or she (personally) had left Egypt." Indeed the very First Commandment is to accept the reality of our personal deliverance by the LORD: "I AM the LORD your God, who brought you (singular) out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). Note that the Hebrew word "Egypt" is mitzraim (מִצְרַיִם), a word that means "prison, enclosure, or straights," from the verb tzur (צוּר) meaning "to bind or confine" (the Yiddish word tsuris, "trouble," comes from the same root). On the other hand, the Hebrew word for salvation is yeshuah (יְשׁוּעָה), from a root that means to "make wide," to "release from constraint," to deliver or set free. It is noteworthy that God began the Ten Commandments by identifying Himself as our Redeemer and Deliverer rather than as our Creator, because the purpose of creation is to be set free by means of God's redemptive love given through Yeshua, the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9).
 




Passover and Freedom...


 

04.03.15 (Nisan 14, 5775)  Passover is sometimes called z'man cheruteinu (זְמָן חֵרוּתֵנוּ), the "Season of our Freedom." Some people think that "freedom" means "licentiousness," or the ability to do what they want to do whenever they want to do it. However, simply doing whatever you want to do is not the Torah's idea of freedom. Yeshua told us "whoever commits sin is the slave (δουλος) of sin," and went on to say "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:34-36). True freedom (i.e., cherut: חרוּת) is therefore moral and spiritual rather than merely physical. Genuine freedom has to do with the power to choose what is right and good, not to simply get your own way or to practice your lusts... Our deliverance is meant to clothe us with divine power to walk in righteousness and truth.

Note:  Where it is written, "The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets" (Exod. 32:16), the midrash says do not read "engraved (חָרוּת) on the tablets" but rather as "freedom (חֵרוּת) on tablets," since only those who obey God's will may rightly be called "free" people...
 




Chag Kasher V'Same'ach...


 

04.03.15 (Nisan 14, 5775)  Passover begins later today at sundown! Besides getting ready for our Passover Seder, we prepare for the holiday by consciously removing the "chametz" from our lives, as it is written in the New Covenant Scriptures: "Cleanse out the old leaven (חָמֵץ) that you may be a new lump, since you really are unleavened; for Messiah, our Passover lamb (משיח השה הפסח שלנו), has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread (matzah) of sincerity and truth" (1 Cor. 5:7-8).

Leaven (i.e., yeast) produces fermentation, especially in bread dough, and is the result of natural processes of decay. We therefore vacuum the house, wipe down cupboards, and physically remove all bread stuffs from our dwelling places. This is in obedience to the commandment to "remove all leaven from our dwellings" (Exod. 12:5, 13:7, Deut. 16:4). On the night before Passover, we perform a ceremony called "bedikat chametz," and symbolically remove the last vestiges of bread crumbs from our homes.

Chametz is metaphorically regarded a corrupting influence, a hidden source of uncleanness that manipulates purer elements. Like the influence of a lump of leaven in a batch of dough, "spiritual" leaven functions as an evil impulse within us (i.e., yetzer ra: יֵצֶר רָע) that corrupts and "sours" our soul.  This "yeast in the soul" is essentially pride that manifests itself in idolatrous desires and lusts. That is why unleavened bread is called the "bread of affliction" (i.e., lechem oni, literally, "bread of humiliation" or the "bread of humility").

"Cleanse out the old leaven." Ultimately the problem we have with "holiness" is that we are decidedly unholy people. This is similar to the idea that the Law is "holy, just, and good," but we are "sold into slavery to sin" (Rom. 7:12-14). But thank God for our Savior Yeshua, who imparts holiness to us and sets us free from the attempt to please God through the principle of "self-effort" (1 Cor. 1:30; Titus 3:5; Rom. 8:1-2). You already are unleavened (καθώς ἐστε ἄζυμοι) by the gift of God given in Yeshua our Savior (1 Cor. 5:7). Because of Him, we do not work toward a place of victory, but rather from the place of His victory (1 Cor. 15:57).
 




Freedom to Serve God...


 

[ The eight day holiday of Passover begins Friday, April 3rd at sundown... ]

04.02.15 (Nisan 13, 5775)  Passover is sometimes called z'man cheruteinu (זְמָן חֵרוּתֵנוּ), the "Season of our Freedom." Some people think that "freedom" means "licentiousness," or the ability to do what they want to do whenever they want to do it. However, simply doing whatever you want to do is not the Torah's idea of freedom. Indeed, Yeshua told us "whoever commits sin is the slave (δουλος) of sin," and went on to say "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:34-36). True freedom (i.e., cherut: חרוּת) is therefore moral and spiritual rather than merely physical. Genuine freedom has to do with the power to choose what is right and good, not to simply get your own way or to practice your lusts... Where it is written, "The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets" (Exod. 32:16), the midrash says do not read "engraved (חָרוּת) on the tablets" but rather as "freedom (חֵרוּת) on tablets," since only those who obey God's will may rightly be called "free" people (Rom. 6:8).
 




A Night to be Guarded...


 

04.01.15 (Nisan 12, 5775)  The Torah refers to Passover as leil shimurim (לֵיל שִׁמֻּרִים), a "night to be guarded" (from the verb shamar (שָׁמַר) which means "to watch" or "to guard"). "It is a night that is guarded (leil shimurim) by the LORD to take them [Israel] out of Egypt; this night remains a night to be guarded (שִׁמֻּרִים) by the people of Israel throughout their generations" (Exod. 12:42). Since "this night" - ha-lailah hazeh (הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה) - was guarded by God from the beginning to be the time of redemption, Israel must therefore "guard this night" (i.e., keep a vigil) by means of the Passover Seder (Exod. 13:10; Deut. 16:1), recalling and celebrating God's faithfulness and redemptive love... Note further that the phrase leil shimurim literally means "night of the watches" (shimurim is plural), and therefore it refers not only to the original redemption in Egypt (i.e., the Passover), but also to the time of future redemption by the Messiah (Shemot Rabbah 18). This explains why this night is a regarded as a vigil for all generations (Matt. 24:42).

Note: For more on this subject see, "Leil Shimurim  - A Night to be Guarded."
 




Search for Chametz....


 

04.01.15 (Nisan 12, 5775)  The moment you sense pride taking hold, stop and turn to God. Even if you must turn 70 x 7 times, there is hope, since even "being willing to do God's will" refines the heart. It is far better to be repeatedly turning to God in brokenness than to live under the illusion that you have no need for ongoing deliverance. It has been wisely said that "you cannot widen the narrow way of surrender." Religious people are most at risk here, since they often fool themselves into thinking that they must know everything about God, or that they must be walking in joy and victory, even when they are lonely, hurting, and unsure of themselves... We must be careful. Any religion that demands its adherents to always be "up" and is untrue to the human condition. Reread the Psalms or consider the dark walk of faith that many of our forefathers (and foremothers) walked. God wants all our hearts, chaverim, not just the parts we think that he wants. As Paul said, "By the grace of God I am what I am" (χάριτι δὲ θεοῦ εἰμι ὅ εἰμι). "Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are" (Kierkegaard).
 

יְהוָה אֱלהִים צְבָאוֹת הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ
הָאֵר פָּנֶיךָ וְנִוָּשֵׁעָה

Adonai · Elohim · Tzeva'ot · ha·shi·vei·nu
ha'eir · panav · ve'niv·va·shei·ah
 

"Turn us again, O LORD God of hosts,
Let your face shine, that we may be saved"
(Psalm 80:19)


 


Often the only prayer we have is "Help me, LORD" (עזור לי יהוה). I use this one on a daily basis, that is, whenever I am confronted with the truth of my condition... Living in the "already-not-yet" state of redemption is a soul-building venture that helps us to acquire the precious middah (quality) of patience: "In your patience possess your souls" (Luke 21:19). Testing produces endurance (Rom. 5:3), but God surely is faithful "to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 1:24). May He come speedily, and in our day. Amen.
 







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