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Jewish Holiday Calendar 

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

In the summer there occurs a three week period of mourning that begins with the Fast of Tammuz and ends with Tishah B'Av. The last nine days of this three week period (i.e., from Av 1 until Av 9th) are days of increased mourning. However, after this somber time, the romantic holiday of Tu B'Av, the 15th of Av occurs. Summer ends with the 30 days of the month of Elul, a yearly season of teshuvah (repentance) that anticipates Rosh Hashanah and the fall holidays. The 30 days of Elul are combined with the first 10 days of the month of Tishri to create the "Forty Days of Teshuvah" that culminate with Yom Kippur.

Because they occur between the spring and fall holidays, the summer holidays help us prepare for the second coming of the Messiah:
 

Summer Holiday Calendar

The Summer Holidays:

Summer Holidays
 

Note that in accordance with tradition, holiday dates begin at sundown. Moreover, some holidays may be postponed one day if they happen to fall on the weekly Sabbath:

  1. Month of Tammuz (begins Tuesday, June 16th, 2015)
  2. Month of Av (begins Thursday, July 16th, 2015)
  3. Month of Elul (begins Friday August 14th, 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 Tishah B'Av begins Saturday, July 25th at sundown, many calendars will indicate it occurs on Sunday, July 26th... 

 




August 2015 Updates


A Select Treasure...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Tavo... ]

08.31.15 (Elul 16, 5775)   "You are a treasured possession ... a people holy to the LORD your God " (Deut. 26:18-19). Holiness, or kedushah (קְדוּשָׁה), represents transformation, being wholly set apart and turned toward the sacred, the Divine Presence. The LORD said to Moses from the midst of the shining flame: "Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy" (Exod. 3:5). The Chofetz Chaim comments: "By faith see that this place, right now, is holy ground, and awaits your response."
 

קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יהוה צְבָאוֹת
מְלא כָל־הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ

ka·dosh  ka·dosh  ka·dosh,  Adonai  Tze·va·ot,
me·lo  khol  ha·a·retz  ke·vo·do
 

"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!"
(Isa. 6:3)


 
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Spiritually speaking, the very first step is to find hope... The Divine Light is seen by means of the eye of faith (עַיִן שֶׁל אֱמוּנָה), as it is written, "Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; He is gracious, merciful, and righteous" (Psalm 112:4). Therefore we find life by trusting in God's Presence, even as we learn to see the invisible (2 Cor. 4:18; 5:7). "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Know Him in all your ways, and He will straighten your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil" (Prov. 3:5-7).

Note: I am on the road this week and ask for your prayers for safe travels.  Thank you!
 




Shabbat Kumi Ori - קוּמִי אוֹרִי



 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Tavo... ]

08.31.15 (Elul 16, 5775)  The haftarah for parashat Ki Tavo (i.e., Isa. 60:1-22) is the sixth of the seven readings from the prophets that are consecutively read before Rosh Hashanah. These "haftarot of comfort" foretell of the restoration of the Jewish people and of the coming of the Messianic Era. In this week's reading, The Haftarah reading for this coming Shabbat describes the future salvation of the nation of Israel.  The LORD promises to shine His glorious light upon the Jewish people and to reveal His glory, despite the hour of darkness and tribulation that comes upon the earth:
 

    "Arise and shine (קוּמִי אוֹרִי) for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD (כְּבוֹד יהוה) has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will shine upon you (וְעָלַיִךְ יִזְרַח יהוה), and his glory will be seen upon you (וּכְבוֹדוֹ עָלַיִךְ יֵרָאֶה). And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip" (Isa. 60:1-4).
     

Sometime during the "plague of darkness" that represents the time of the Great Tribulation (i.e., the Day of the LORD and the judgment of the world, or Yom Adonai), Israel will finally turn to the LORD and receive Yeshua as their long-lost Messiah (Zech. 12:10). The veil will finally be taken away, and all Israel will be saved. The Light of Salvation (Yeshua) will be revealed and the glory of the LORD (כְּבוֹד יהוה) will radiantly shine (זָרָח) upon the Jewish people.  The land of Israel will be like Goshen during the times of the plagues of Egypt as the world powers are all judged and destroyed. Then the survivors of the nations will understand that the LORD is indeed with Israel and will turn to Him in surrender as well. "And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken" (Isa. 40:5). Yeshua will return to Zion to establish the Kingdom of God upon the earth (Zech. 2:10-13).
 

קוּמִי אוֹרִי כִּי בָא אוֹרֵךְ
 וּכְבוֹד יְהוָה עָלַיִךְ זָרָח

ku·mi  o·ri  ki  va  or·rekh
ukh·vod  Adonai  a·la·yikh  za·rach

 

"Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you."
(Isa. 60:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 
 




Parashat Ki Tavo - כי־תבוא


 

08.30.15 (Elul 15, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week (Ki Tavo) includes Moses' seemingly endless description of terrible consequences that would befall the Jewish people if they disobeyed the terms of the Sinai covenant (Deut. 28:15-68). In Jewish tradition this litany of woe is called the "tochachah" (תּוֹכָחָה), a word that means "rebuke" or "reprimand." Reading the tochachah is difficult and painful, though it serves as a bitter medicine to wake us up and prevent us from falling into a lethal coma. In that sense the tochechah may be regarded as a great blessing, since it shocks us into experiencing the gravity of God's grace. This is similar to Yeshua's grave warnings about the dangers of hell. If we refuse to listen or rush past his words, we are missing the substance of God's lament given through the Hebrew prophets. Sin is a lethal problem, and we must turn to God for healing or we will die. As Blaise Pascal once wrote, "Between heaven and hell is only this life, which is the most fragile thing in the world." Therefore shuvah! -- turn to God and receive the blessing of life!
 




The Work of Faith...


 

08.28.15 (Elul 13, 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).

Shabbat Shalom and love to you all, to each one of you... I thank the LORD God for you and esteem you as part of my spiritual family. May you be strong in the LORD and the power of his might; may you be happy and blessed and know God's great peace; may you be filled to overflowing with God's healing love and grace and kindness and beauty and wonder... This is my prayer for this Jewish new year. That we will all wake up to behold the love of God in the face of Yeshua our LORD... May he come speedily, and in our days. The King is coming! Shanah Tovah! The great shofar will soon sound!
 




Fighting Spiritual Blindness...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Teitzei.... ]

08.28.15 (Elul 13, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week (Ki Teitzei) commands us to remember what the Amalekites did to the Jewish people just after they left Egypt during the time of the Exodus (Exod. 17:8-16; Deut. 25:17-19). Paradoxically God commanded the Israelites to "blot out the remembrance" of Amalek while swearing to fight Amalek "from generation to generation" (Deut. 17:16). In this connection note that the name "Amalek" (עֲמָלֵק) begins with the letter Ayin (symbolizing the eye) and equals 240 in gematria -- the same value for safek (סָפֵק), the Hebrew word for doubt.  Amalek therefore symbolizes "the eye of doubt," or even "the severed eye" (the Hebrew verb מָלָק means "to chop" or "sever" in reference to the "eye" of Ayin). The power of Amalek therefore represents spiritual blindness as it acts in the world. We are never to forget that the light of God overcomes the darkness of this world, and that light is found in Yeshua our LORD....

Note:  For more on this important topic, see "Warfare with Amalek."
 




Taking Captivity Captive...


 

08.28.15 (Elul 13, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week begins, "When you go out to war against your enemies..." (Deut. 22:10), which the sages interpret to refer to spiritual warfare that must be waged against the evil inclination (yetzer ha'ra) and satan. We are promised victory over evil if we go out to confront the battle (כִּי־תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה), not by ignoring it or hoping that it will somehow just go away... When we go out to battle, God will help us "capture its captivity" (וְשָׁבִיתָ שִׁבְיוֹ), that is, we will capture the strategies and strongholds of wickedness itself.  We will see through the lies, the cunning, and the schemes of the enemy and bring them before the LORD (2 Cor. 10:4-5). We must not shrink back in fear; we must fight the good fight of faith, taking up the whole armor of God, and bearing the victory of Yeshua our LORD in our hearts.
 




Teshuvah's Confession...


 

08.27.15 (Elul 12, 5775)  Teshuvah and confession go hand in hand. Confession means bringing yourself naked before the Divine Light to agree with the truth about who you are. Indeed, the Greek word "homologia" (ὁμολογία) literally means "saying the same thing" - from ὁμός (same) and λόγος (word). As I've said before, in Modern Hebrew teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה) means an "answer" to a shelah (שְׁאֵלָה), or a question.  God's love for us is the question, and our teshuvah – our turning of the heart toward Him – is the answer (and healing) for our broken hearts.  Teshuvah is one of the great gifts God gives each of us – the ability to turn back to Him and seek healing for our brokenness.

May we turn to Him now!
 




Teshvuah of Wisdom....


 

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

08.26.15 (Elul 11, 5775)  Spiritual danger is just as real as physical danger, though most people pretend it isn't because it isn't easily seen. The real dangers of life are not vulnerability to crime or some accident, however, but rather susceptibility to despair, the tendency to put off repentance, and the possibility of not dying well.... It is a great danger to walk through life asleep only to be jolted awake upon the day of death. "The greatest danger is that one does not discover, that one is not always discovering, that one is in danger" (Kierkegaard). Danger of what? Of wasting your life with trifles and vanities; of never learning how to truly love or to be loved; of becoming numb, unfeeling, and therefore unmoved by your great need for God...

Moses prayed to God: "teach us to number our days," that is, help us understand how to make our days count for eternity, to have a weight of glory that will shine in the world to come...  The sages say on the day of death, one considers one's life as if it had been a single day... Life goes by so quickly, and we never know when our personal Rosh Hashanah will come. "No one knows the day or hour..." That's why it is so vital to be healed and to turn to God while there is still time. So turn to him today and bacharta ba'chayim – "choose life!" "For this commandment (of turning to God in teshuvah) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away. It is not in heaven... nor across the sea.... Rather, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; cp. Rom. 10:8-13).
 

לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע
 וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה

lim·not · ya·me·nu · ken · ho·da
ve·na·vi · le·vav · chokh·mah
 

"Teach us to number our days
 that we may get a heart of wisdom."
(Psalm 90:12)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Despite the frailty and brevity of our days, may it please God to shine the power of His radiance upon us and to establish our works for His praise. May He help us to "number our days" so that we may obtain levav chokhmah (לְבַב חָכְמָה) - a heart of wisdom to live according to His will (James 1:5). Above all else, may the "God of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of Glory (אֲבִי הַכָּבוֹד), impart to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the "eyes of your hearts" (ὀφθαλμοὺς τῆς καρδίας) enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you" (Eph. 1:17-18). May you be strong, resolute, and fully focused on our LORD, chaverim. Amen.
 




Spelling out "Teshuvah"


 

08.26.15 (Elul 11, 5775)   Rabbi Sussya of Anipol once said: "There are five verses in the bible that constitute the essence of the Torah. These verses begin in Hebrew with one of these letters: Tav (תּ), Shin (שׁ), Vav (ו), Bet (בּ), and Hey (ה), which form the word for repentance, "teshuvah" (תְּשׁובָה). The five verses are 1) Tamim tiheyeh (תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה): "Be wholehearted before God" (Deut. 18:13); 2) Shiviti Adonai (שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה): "I have set the LORD always before me" (Psalm 16:8); 3) Va'ahavta lere'akha (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ): "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18); 4) Bekhol derakekha (בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ): "In all your ways know Him" (Prov. 3:6); and 5) Higid lekha (הִגִּיד לְךָ): "Walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). In other words, the way of teshuvah, of answering God's call for you to return to Him, is to sincerely set the LORD before you, to love others, and to walk out your days in heartfelt gratitude.
 

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

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

In other words, "teshuvah" (repentance) may be seen as an acronym that stands for being wholehearted, seeking God, loving others, knowing God in all your journey, and walking in humility. May the LORD our God impart the miracle of teshuvah to each of us today....
 




Teshuvah and Truth...


 

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

08.25.15 (Elul 10, 5775)  In the New Testament, the Greek word metanoia (and its related verb, metanao) is the most commonly used word to express the idea of "repentance." The compound word is formed from 'μετα' (after, with) and 'νοεω' (to think) and generally means "changing your mind" (in the noun form) or "thinking differently" (in the verb form). Since it can represent an "afterthought" expressed emotionally as disappointment over a loss of some kind, metanoia is similar to the idea of nacham (נָחַם) in the Hebrew Scriptures, which literally means to "sigh" as a way of expressing regret or consolation. The Greek word strepho (στρέφω), like the Hebrew word shuv (שׁוּב), means to "return" to God in a practical sense, that is, by performing acts of contrition. In either case, however, a change of direction is implied, and that change ultimately begins with how we think and what we regard as truth. Repentance, then, involves a new vision, a new way of seeing reality...

Yeshua's earthly ministry began with the message, "The time has come and the kingdom of God draws near: repent (μετανοεῖτε) and believe (πιστεύετε) the good news" (Mark 1:15). These two verbs (repent, believe) are in the imperative mood. We are commanded to repent, to "change our thinking," and to turn away from hopelessness - and the sin that hopelessness begets - by accepting God's intervention and deliverance. But you cannot believe if you do not first turn, and therefore you must change your focus: clear away the world's distractions and ready your heart to hear the message. It is in the desert places that we "prepare the way of the Lord and make straight a highway for our God."
 

קוֹל קוֹרֵא בַּמִּדְבָּר פַּנּוּ דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה
יַשְּׁרוּ בָּעֲרָבָה מְסִלָּה לֵאלהֵינוּ

kol · ko·rei · ba·mid·bar · pa·nu · de·rekh · Adonai
ya·she·ru · ba·a·ra·vah · me·sil·lah · le·lo·hei·nu
 

A voice cries out: 'In the desert prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the steppes a highway for our God.'
(Isa. 40:3)



 

Note that the word translated "prepare" (i.e., panu) comes from a root word (פָּנָה) that means to turn to face someone... The Hebrew word panim (פָּנִים), "face," comes from the same root, as does the word penimi (פְּנִימִי), "inner," and the word penimiyut (פְּנִימִיוּת), meaning "inwardness" or "immanency." This suggests that we must go within our own hearts, and there, in our "desert places," we will encounter the Presence of the LORD. It is in the solitude of the desert - away from the noise and distractions of this vain world, where we can focus our heart, confess our sin, and express our great need for God... Being honest with ourselves makes us yashar (יָשַׁר), and crooked ways are made straight for God to be received... The Hebrew word mesilah (מְסִלָּה) alludes to the ladder (i.e., sullam: סֻלָּם) that Jacob saw in the desert when he received the blessing of God (Gen. 28:12). Yeshua is the Bridge, or Ladder (הַסֻּלָּם), that unites and mediates heaven and earth (John 1:51).

Since God holds us responsible to repent and believe the truth of the gospel (Acts 17:30-31), He must have made it possible for us to do so ("ought" implies "can").  And indeed, God has created us in His image so that we are able to discern spiritual truth. He created us with a logical sense (rationality) as well as a moral sense (conscience) so that we can apprehend order and find meaning in the universe He created.  All our knowledge presupposes this. Whenever we experience anything through our senses, for example, we use logic to categorize and generalize from the particular to the general, and whenever we make deductions in our thinking (comparing terms, making inferences, and so on), we rely on logic. We have an innate intellectual and moral "compass" that points us to God.

Since we all necessarily must think in order to live, we should value clear thinking. This should be obvious enough, though people often make various errors and misjudgments because they devalue the effort required to carefully think through a question.  As William James once said, "A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." When it comes to questions about the gospel, however, God regards such carelessness to be blameworthy. Again, the LORD holds us accountable for what we think and believe, especially when it comes to the reality and mission of His Son.

The truth about God is always available to human beings, if they are willing to look for it. The Divine Light that was created before the sun and the stars represents God's immanent presence that "lights up" all of creation  - including our minds (Gen. 1:3). As Paul stated, "the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen so that people are without excuse" (Rom. 1:19-20). The heavens are constantly attesting to the reality of God's handiwork (Psalm 19:1). All of creation "shouts out" that there is a God. Even small children understand this.

Note: 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.  For more on this subject, see "Teshuvah of the Mind."
 




Teshuvah and Seeking...


 

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

08.25.15 (Elul 10, 5775)   The Hebrew word for "world" or "age" is olam (עוֹלָם), which is derived from a root verb (עָלַם) that means "to conceal" or "to hide." God "hides" His face from us so that we will seek Him, and that means pressing through ambiguity of this world to discern and take hold of the truth. Therefore King David said, בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָיו תָּמִיד/ bakeshu fanav tamid: "Seek His face continually" (Psalm 105:4). Note that the Hebrew gematria (numerical value) for the word "fanav" (i.e., "His face") is the same as that for the word "olam." When we truly seek God's face (i.e., His Presence) we are able to discern the underlying purpose for our lives in this age.
 

דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה וְעֻזּוֹ
 בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָיו תָּמִיד

dir·shu · Adonai · ve·u·zo
ba·ke·shu · fa·nav · ta·mid
 

"Seek the LORD and his strength;
 seek his presence continually."
(Psalm 105:4)

ζητήσατε τὸν κύριον καὶ κραταιώθητε
ζητήσατε τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ διὰ παντός 



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

The ancient Greek version of the Torah (i.e., the Septuagint) translates this verse, "Seek the LORD and be strengthed; seek His face through everything (διὰ παντός)." The LORD God gives us "inner strength" (i.e., ἐγκράτεια, from εν-, "in" + κράτος, "strength" or "power") when we yield to "the power of His might" (ἐν τῷ κράτει τῆς ἰσχύος αὐτοῦ) (Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 6:10). Therefore we must remember God's power and glory, for "He is the LORD our God (הוּא יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ); His judgments are in all the earth" (Psalm 105:7).
 




Seek God and Live...


 

[ The following concerns the "Season of Repentance" leading up to the High Holidays... ]

08.24.15 (Elul 9, 5775)  The sages affirm, "This world is like a corridor before the World to Come; prepare yourself in the corridor, that you may enter into the hall" (Avot 4:21), which implies that the great commandment is always "seek Me and live" (Amos 5:4). "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near" (Isa. 55:6). "Where can God be found?" asks the Kotzker rebbe, "but where one lets Him in..." God sometimes "hides" from us so that we are given the opportunity to seek Him with all our hearts.
 

כִּי כה אָמַר יְהוָה לְבֵית יִשְׂרָאֵל
דִּרְשׁוּנִי וִחְיוּ

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

 

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



Download Study Card
 
 

God's Spirit is always calling for us to return to Him, to "seek God and live..."  What is holding your heart back? In Hebrew teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה) means an "answer" to a to a shelah (שְׁאֵלָה), or a question. It is a response to the call of God... The One who ransomed us from death and offers us life in abundance is standing at the door knocking, waiting for us to respond to call (Rev. 3:20). During this season of teshuvah, may we all hear the Voice of Him who invites the brokenhearted to join him: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). Blessed is the LORD our Comforter....

Note:  I will be on the road for the next few days, though I will be updating the site as I find the time... Shalom and love to you all.
 




The High Holidays Psalm...


 

08.24.15 (Elul 9, 5775)  It is an old custom to read (or to sing) the Book of Psalms during the month of Elul. In the famous Song of Moses, it is written: וַיּאמְרוּ לֵאמר אָשִׁירָה לַיהוָה / "and they spoke, saying: 'I will sing to the LORD' (Exod. 15:1). This phrase can be formed into an acronym for Elul (אלול), and the sages therefore reasoned that hearing the Psalms were vital during the Season of Repentance and Days of Favor.

Of all the great Psalms, however, Psalm 27 is considered the central one of the season of teshuvah. The midrash on the Psalms states that the word ori (אוֹרִי), "my light," refers to Rosh Hashanah (based on Psalm 37:6) whereas the word yishi (יִשְׁעִי), "my salvation" (lit. "my Jesus") refers to the atonement given on Yom Kippur.  King David also mentions that God would hide him in his sukkah (בְּסֻכּה) in the time of trouble, referring to the holiday of Sukkot (Psalm 27:5). Therefore since it alludes to all three of the fall holidays, Psalm 27 is regarded as the thematic Psalm for the High Holidays of the Jewish year.
 

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָד

Adonai · o·ri · ve·yish·i · mi·mi · i·ra
Adonai · ma·oz · chai·yai · mi·mi · ef·chad
 

"The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1)



Hebrew Study Card 
 

Finally, Psalm 27:13 contains a textual oddity. It is often translated: "Unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." The word often translated "unless" is lulei (לוּלֵא), which read backwards spells Elul (אלול). This is said to suggest that salvation comes from faith that sees the goodness of the LORD. Repentance is only really possible if we believe in the goodness and love of the Lord "in the land of the living."
 




The Law of Faith...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Teitzei, which contains more commandments than any other Torah portion... ]

08.23.15 (Elul 8, 5775)  When asked how many commandments are in the Torah, most Jews will answer 613, based on Jewish tradition (the number 613 is sometimes called "taryag" (תריג), an abbreviation for the letters Tav (400) + Resh (200) + Yod (10) + Gimmel (3) = 613).  Despite several attempts made over the centuries, however, there has never been a definitive list of these commandments, and of those who tried to compile such, no two agree... Some say the number 613 comes from a fanciful midrash that teaches that since there are 365 days in a year (corresponding to the 365 negative commandments) and 248 "parts" of the body (corresponding to the positive commandments), each day we should use our body to serve God. Regardless of the exact count, however, the Talmud followed the Apostle Paul by understanding all the Torah's commandments to be derived from the Ten Commandments given at Sinai, the most basic of which is the very First Commandment, namely, "I AM the LORD your God (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ) who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). This foundational commandment was later restated by the prophet Habbakuk as: וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה / "The righteous person will live by faith in God" (Hab. 2:4; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38).

Note:  I stated that the sages of the Talmud "followed" the Apostle Paul's line of thinking on this subject since Paul wrote centuries before the Talmud was compiled... And incidentally, the New Covenant Scriptures are not without the imperatives of "Torah," of course, with some people counting over 1,000 distinct commandments in its pages...
 




Parashat Ki Teitzei - כי־תצא


 

[ This week's Torah reading (parashat Ki Teitzei) is always read during the month of Elul..]

08.23.15 (Elul 8, 5775)  In last week's Torah reading (Shoftim), Moses defined an extensive system of justice for the Israelites and pointed to the coming Messiah who would be the rightful King of Israel. In this week's portion (Ki Teitzei), Moses returns to the immediate concern of life in the promised land by providing further laws to be enforced regarding civil life in Israel. In fact, Jewish tradition identifies no less than 74 of the Torah's 613 commandments in this portion (more than any other), covering a wide assortment of rules related to ethical warfare, family life, burial of the deceased, property laws, the humane treatment of animals, fair labor practices, and honest economic transactions.

The haftarah for parashat Ki Teitzei (i.e., Isa. 54:1-10) is the fifth of seven readings from the prophets that are consecutively read before Rosh Hashanah. These "haftarot of comfort" foretell of the restoration of the Jewish people and of the coming of the Messianic Era. In this week's reading, the LORD compares the children of Israel to a wife who has long been barren. According to the sages, God tells the "Wife of His youth" to sing out with joy, for soon she will have a hard time keeping track of all her children! Many will return by means of a mighty wave of repentance that will sweep over the world when Jerusalem is finally redeemed and the Messiah Yeshua reigns in Israel.

Though the LORD hardened Israel for a season (Rom. 11:25-29), His love for her is constant and sure, and all His promises will be established. In the End of Days all Israel will be saved, in times "like the days of Noah." But just I God swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so He has sworn that Israel will be regathered and restored.
 

רָנִּי עֲקָרָה לא יָלָדָה פִּצְחִי רִנָּה וְצַהֲלִי לא־חָלָה
כִּי־רַבִּים בְּנֵי־שׁוֹמֵמָה מִבְּנֵי בְעוּלָה אָמַר יְהוָה

ran·ni · ak·a·rah · lo · ya·la·dah · pitz·chi · rin·nah · ve·tza·ha·li · lo · cha·lah
ki · rab·bim · be·nei · sho·me·mah · mi·be·nei · ve·o·lah · a·mar · Adonai

 

"Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one
will be more than the children of her who is married," says the LORD."
(Isa. 54:1)

 




The King's Torah...


 

08.21.15 (Elul 6, 5775)  From our Torah this week (Shoftim) we read: "And he shall write for himself a copy of the Torah (i.e., mishneh ha'torah: מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה) ... and it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life so that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of the Torah" (Deut. 17:18-19). The Jewish king was required to carry his sefer Torah (Torah scroll) with him at all times (Sanhedrin 21b). When King David said, "I have set the Lord always before me; he is at my right hand" (Psalm 16:8), he was referring to Torah which he kept tied to his arm (tefillin shel yad). David literally "set" the Word of the LORD upon his right hand to help him keep focused. Likewise the Spirit of God ties Torah upon our hearts (Jer. 31:33). Studying and meditating on Torah elevates our souls and attunes us to God's Presence. As David said: "In my heart I have stored up your word so that I won't miss seeing you. Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your decrees."
 

בְּלִבִּי צָפַנְתִּי אִמְרָתֶךָ
לְמַעַן לא אֶחֱטָא־לָךְ
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה לַמְּדֵנִי חֻקֶּיךָ

be·lib·bi · tza·fan·ti · im·ra·te·kha
le·ma·an · lo · e·che·ta · lakh
ba·rukh · at·tah · Adonai · lam·me·dei·ni · chuk·ke·kha
 

"In my heart I have stored up your word
so that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your decrees."
 (Psalm 119:11-12)


 
 

Some misguided people claim that Yeshua spoke Aramaic, not Hebrew. Well, consider this. If the king of the Jews was required to "make a copy of sefer Torah" (Deut. 17:18-19), then surely Yeshua, the great King of the Jews (מלך היהודים), the true Messiah of Israel, read Hebrew and understood kotzo shel yod (קוֹצוֹ שֶׁל יוֹד) - "every jot and tittle" of its meaning (see Matt. 5:17-19). Indeed, Yeshua knew the traditional Hebrew blessings, prayers, and hymns (Matt. 26:26-30); he chanted Hebrew in synagogue (Luke 4:16), and he reasoned with the Hebrew-speaking sages in Jerusalem as a young boy (Luke 2:42-27). Surely the "King of the Jews" spoke lashon hakodesh! (more here)
 




Our Daily Teshuvah...


 

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

08.21.15 (Elul 6, 5775)  Teshuvah ("repentance") is described as "turning" to God, though practically speaking it is a repeated turning, that is, a turning to God in moments of ambiguity, pain, distress, as well as in moments of happiness, elation, celebration... It is in the midst of the ego's clamor, before the parade of worldly desire or pressure, in the crucible of "everydayness" that we must "come to ourselves" and find true wonder. In that sense, teshuvah is a sort of focus, a direction, a seeking, and a center of life -- the place of constant repair for the inner breach we constantly feel. Therefore our LORD directed us to pray, ten-lanu ha'yom lechem chukeinu: תֶּן־לָנוּ הַיּוֹם לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ - "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matt. 6:11), which is to say, give to our hearts the nourishment we truly need, namely, the ongoing willingness to see "the LORD who is always before us" (Psalm 16:8).
 




Life from the Dead...


 

08.21.15 (Elul 6, 5775)  Repentance means that we believe that the kindness of God can give life to our dead hearts, and therefore it is first of all a matter of faith - accepting that the miracle of God is for you, too... And though it is a great gift from heaven, repentance requires honesty and acknowledgment of the truth. We must confess our inner poverty, our neediness, and mourn over the loss and hurt caused by our sin. Repentance turns away from our attempts to defend or justify ourselves and instead turns to God to heal our separation from Him (Rom. 8:3-4). The first step is to turn (shuv) to God for the miracle, friends... As it is written: לְכוּ וְנָשׁוּבָה אֶל־יְהוָה - "Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up" (Hos. 6:1).

Some people imagine spirituality as a climb upward, an "ascent of the soul" that aims to reach God through the performance of good deeds or religious rituals. But God does not say "at the end of the way you will find me," but rather, "I AM the way, the very road under your feet, the Place (הַמָּקוֹם) where you are, the Bridge to the Father (John 14:6). "For all things come from You (כִּי־מִמְּךָ הַכּל), and from your hand we give to you" (1 Chron. 29:14). The LORD is Present in every "here" and every "now," the Source of all we are. And no matter what our circumstances, we will find God if we search "bekhol levavkha" - with all our being, as it is written: "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart."

The principle of the self-life, the ego, religious observance, "doing the law," etc., is a spiritual dead-end because we are without life, without power. The word is this: God gives strength to the weary, to the faint, to those who are without potency or "koach." But this means that we first must be emptied, broken, and stripped of our self-sufficiency before the strength of God is manifest in us: "My power is made perfect (τελειοῦται) in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). None of this flatters the ego, of course. God's way is first to break us, to make us weaker and weaker, so that he can then fill us with the miraculous divine nature. Like all sacrifices that were brought to the altar, we must pass through death to life by means of our union with the Messiah at the cross... It is only after the cross that it may be said, "It is no longer 'I' who lives; now it is Messiah who lives His life in me" (Gal. 2:20). There is indeed strength, power, and victory – but such comes after the cross, after we reckon carnal energy as useless. Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says Adonai Tzeva'ot.
 




Teshuvah and Humility...

Georges Rouault - Jesus
 

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

08.21.15 (Elul 6, 5775)  Concerning the theme of teshuvah, or "repentance," we read: "For this is what the high and lifted up One says, the One who abides forever, whose Name is Holy (קָדוֹשׁ): "I dwell in a high and holy place, but also with the broken and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly (i.e., ruach shefalim: רוּחַ שְׁפָלִים), and to revive the heart of the crushed" (i.e., lev nidka'im: לֵב נִדְכָּאִים) [Isa. 57:15]. Here we learn that God gives life (revives) to those who are "lowly in spirit" (שְׁפַל־רוּחַ), that is, to those who understand their own nothingness and complete dependence on God for life... Indeed, the "heart of the crushed" (לֵב נִדכֶּה) refers to being crushed "to the dust" -- the same word (dakka: דַּכָּא) is used to describe how Yeshua was "crushed for our iniquities" (see Isa. 53:10). William James called this deep work of the spiritual life "Zerrissenheit," a term that can be translated as "torn-to-pieces-hood," or a state of being utterly broken and in disarray... From the point of view of our dependence on God for salvation, "dakka" refers to humility and contrition we express in light of God's unmerited favor and love for our souls.  We humbly identify with the death of Messiah offered on our behalf; we find healing and acceptance in the Presence of the One who was torn to pieces and made dust for our merit. Humility (עֲנָוָה) is essential to awareness of God in the truth. Shuvah Yisrael!
 

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

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

"For this is what the high and lifted up One says, the One who abides forever,
whose Name is Holy: "I dwell in a high and holy place, but also with the broken
and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the crushed."
(Isa. 57:15)



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Note: Thank you all so much for remembering this ministry in your prayers, for without your help, I couldn't do this work. May the LORD our God's blessing be upon you...
 




The LORD my Yeshua...


 

08.20.15 (Elul 5, 5775)  As we draw close to God and cleave to his heart, we will be delivered from the pain of our fears. The LORD becomes our Light and our Salvation, illuminating our steps despite the darkness and evil of olam ha'zeh, this present age (Psalm 119:105). As David said, Adonai ori v'yishi: "The LORD is my light and my salvation" – literally, my Jesus, my Yeshua – "whom shall I fear? The LORD is the refuge of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1). Yeshua is the Light of Life (אוֹר הַחַיִּים), the Healer of the fearful heart, the I-AM-WITH-YOU-ALWAYS One. His love overcomes all our fears. As the apostle Paul asked, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31).

And as we hear the "footsteps of the Messiah" approaching nearer, let us heed the words of our Savior: "when you see these things taking place, you know that the time is near, right at the door" (Mark 13:29), and let us then encourage one another to wake up and come alive: "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Messiah will shine on you!" (Eph. 5:14). The message of teshuvah (repentance, "turning back to God") is always, "Wake up - you are living a nightmare." There is only one remedy, and that is discovered by coming to the Divine Light by opening your heart to the love and very real presence of God.
 

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָ

Adonai  o·ri  ve·yish·i,  mi·mi  i·ra
Adonai  ma·oz  chai·yai,  mi·mi  ef·chad

 

"The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?"
(Psalm 27:1)



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"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).

Note: The midrash Shocher Tov states that the word ori (אוֹרִי), "my light," refers to Rosh Hashanah (based on Psalm 37:6) whereas the word yishi (יִשְׁעִי), "my salvation," refers to the atonement given on Yom Kippur. King David also mentions that God would hide him in his sukkah (בְּסֻכּה), referring to the holiday of Sukkot (Psalm 27:5). Since all three holidays are alluded to in this Psalm (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot), Psalm 27 is regarded as the thematic hymn for the Fall Holidays of the Jewish year. Yeshua is our Light and our Salvation, the One who says, "It is I; be not afraid" (John 8:12; Mark 14:27; etc.).
 




You Shall be Made Whole...


 

08.20.15 (Elul 5, 5775)  Our Torah for this week (i.e., Shoftim) asks us to make up our minds and return to the LORD: תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ - "You shall be whole (תָּמִים) with the LORD your God" (Deut. 18:13). We are made "whole" or "perfect" (i.e., complete) when we decisively turn to God for healing of our inner dividedness, as it says: "The Torah of the LORD is perfect (תָּמִים), returning the soul" (Psalm 19:8). And where it is written, "Let us hear end of the matter: Revere God and keep his commandments, the text adds: ki zeh kol-ha'adam (כִּי־זֶה כָּל־הָאָדָם), "for this is the whole man," suggesting that those who return will be healed of their double-mindedness (Eccl. 12:13). Ultimately we are made whole when we are united to God in Messiah, for then we are "with the LORD our God" and the Holy Spirit writes Torah within the inward heart of faith (Jer. 31:33).
 

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

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

 

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



Hebrew Study Card 
 

"You shall be whole (תָּמִים) with the LORD your God" (Deut. 18:13). Note that we may read this as a prophecy: "You shall be made whole with the LORD your God."  God's love heals the inner brokenness of our hearts. When we accept this, we discover that surrendering to God's will truly makes us "whole." "As many as I love, I reprove and correct: be zealous therefore, and turn. Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his heart and share a meal with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:19-20). These are words of our Lord Yeshua, who speaks these words to those who "hear his voice." Open the door of your heart! Return to Him now!
 




Practicing Righteousness...


 

08.19.15 (Elul 4, 5775)  The Hebrew word tzedek means "righteousness" or "justice" and is one of the fundamental attributes of the LORD God of Israel. Almighty God is called the LORD our Righteousness (יהוה צִדְקֵנוּ), the Righteous God (אֱלהִים צַדִּיק), the Righteous Judge (שׁוֹפֵט צַדִּיק), and so on. The righteousness of God implies that we who are created in His image have a corresponding duty to exercise righteousness in our daily lives. Practicing righteousness is assuredly not "optional" for the follower of Yeshua, who is rightly called the King of Righteousness (מֶלֶךְ הַצְּדָקָה). Tzedek, tzedek tirdof (צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף), "righteousness, righteousness, you shall pursue," is a message for Christians. "If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness (πᾶς ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην) has been born of him" (1 John 2:29). "Doing" and "being" are united in the Hebraic mindset...There is no "being" righteous apart from the fruits of righteousness. As Yeshua said, "You shall know them by their fruits..."
 

וְהָיָה מַעֲשֵׂה הַצְּדָקָה שָׁלוֹם
וַעֲבדַת הַצְּדָקָה הַשְׁקֵט
וָבֶטַח עַד־עוֹלָם

ve'haya ma'aseh ha'tezdakah shalom
va'avodat ha'tzedakah hashket
va'vetach ad olam

 

"And the work of righteousness shall be peace;
and the service of righteousness shall be quietness
and assurance for ever."
(Isa. 32:17)
 


Let me emphatically add that while we are not justified by "works of righteousness" (Titus 3:5-6), we nonetheless will evidence righteousness as a result of the miracle of regeneration. Indeed, faith in the efficacy of the cross of Yeshua (i.e., God's salvation) implies acknowledging the righteousness of God... In other words, you cannot have the cross without the Torah, and you cannot have the Torah without the cross... Faith in God's righteousness transcends the weakness of the law (caused by human frailty, not by the character of the law itself) by imparting a new principle (or law) called the law of the Spirit of Life in Yeshua the Messiah (תּוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים בְּיֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ): "For the law of the Spirit of life in the Messiah Yeshua has set you free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2). The "law of sin and death" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת) is the principle of the "flesh" that we remain subject to until we come to completely trust in the righteousness that only God gives us through Yeshua our Savior. Then the miracle occurs...
 

    "Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה), and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?"

    Now Joshua was standing before the Angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the Angel said to those who were standing before him, "Remove the filthy garments from him." And to him he said, "Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments." And I said, "Let them put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments.

    And the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) was standing by. And the Angel of the LORD solemnly assured Joshua, "Thus says the LORD of hosts (יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת): If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch (צֶמַח). For behold, on the stone (הָאֶבֶן) that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day." (Zech 3:1-9)
     

Notice the order of this amazing vision. First Joshua (Yehoshua ben Yehotzadak) was cleansed from his iniquity and clothed in God's righteousness, and then he was commanded to walk in the LORD's ways and to keep God's charge. This undoubtedly prefigured the grace of Tzemach Tzaddik (צֶמַח צַדִּיק), the Righteous Branch to come, who would likewise take away our sin and clothe us with God's righteousness. We are given the Holy Spirit to enable us to respond to God's love and to obey Him as dear children (Eph. 5:1-2). The LORD is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and He calls each of us to walk in holiness before Him (Lev. 20:7; 1 Pet. 1:15-16).

Note: For more on this see, "The Call for Righteousness: Further thoughts on Shoftim."
 




Choosing to See...


 

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

08.19.15 (Elul 4, 5775)  Teshuvah, or "turning to God," means learning to see with new eyes, from a radically new perspective. As we change our focus, we see that "everything is new" (2 Cor. 5:17). Perception is a matter of heart, and therefore we choose to see and hear what we want to see and hear (Isa. 6:10; John 12:40). If we do not see God, it is because we have decided to turn away from his presence (Rom. 1:18-22). Our desires determine what we see and how we focus; we choose to interpret reality by an act of will, not by merely seeing with the physical eyes. We believe in order to see, not the other way around, and what we see is therefore disclosed by faith (Matt. 9:29). Often we do not see things as they are, but how we want to see them. We see as we are in our hearts: "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he" (Prov. 23:7).

How you choose to see defines the world you will inhabit (Prov. 4:23). The eyes follow the heart, and therefore seeing is a matter of inner attitude (Matt. 6:22-23). Yeshua said that our problem comes from within: "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts," and these thoughts show up in our actions (Matt. 15:19; Prov. 11:27). The Spirit of God indeed creates a new heart and spirit within us (Ezek. 36:26), but the "eyes of the heart" (ὀφθαλμοὺς τῆς καρδίας) must be enlightened by constantly turning to God (Eph. 1:18). We set the LORD always before us. We need the "good eye" of the Spirit to impart purity of heart, enabling us to see the Presence of God all around us (Matt. 5:8; Isa 6:3).

The apostle Paul urges us to undergo self-examination: "Put yourselves to the test (ἑαυτοὺς πειράζετε) to see if you are in the faith; prove yourselves (ἑαυτοὺς δοκιμάζετε) to see whether Yeshua the Messiah lives within you - lest you fail the test and be disapproved (ἀδόκιμος)" (1 Cor. 13:5). Notice that the verb "to prove" (dokimadzo: δοκιμάζω) means to test something by fire (like a precious metal) to discover its quality and purity. The Spirit searches the deep things of the heart (1 Cor. 2:10).

"Dear LORD God, help me change my thinking; correct my faulty vision, heal my distorted focus... Open my eyes to behold your beauty, your truth, and your glory in my life. Help me seek your love and goodness -- and to find it, even here, in this passing world of shadows. Do not let the pain of the past blind me to the healing of this present hour. Help me to "spy out" the land about me and report that it is good - flowing with milk and honey - rather than as a place of fear and inevitable pain... Dear Yeshua, Lord of all that is worthy and good, help me not overlook the everyday miracles and wonders that surround my way. Amen."

We can either put all our energy into not falling, or we can focus on the walk before us... Changing your vision means no longer looking at the hell of your past, but looking to the promise of a glorious future. Focus on God and his great love for you; do not return to the house of bondage, the prison house of fear. Keep the "eyes of your heart" on Yeshua who is the Light, the Compassion, and the Healing touch of the LORD our God. May you hear him say, "Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear (Matt. 13:16).
 




The Whole Commandment...


 

08.18.15 (Elul 3, 5775)  "The whole commandment that I command you today you shall observe and do, so that you may live..." (Deut. 8:1). The Hebrew phrase kol ha'mitzvah (כָּל־הַמִּצְוָה), here translated as "the whole commandment," refers to the heart attitude, or the inner passion of the soul. Some have linked the word "commandment" (מִצְוָה) with the word "connection" (צוותא), suggesting that God's commandments are the means by which we cleave to Him, as is written: "this is the love of God (אַהֲבַת אֱלהִים), that we keep his commandments" (1 John 5:3). The commandments are "for life" (Lev. 18:5), which means they serve as the call of the Beloved to rise to something far greater... The "Whole Commandment" is to walk in God's love. As it is written, tamim yiyeh im Adonai Elohekha: "You shall be wholehearted with the LORD your God" (Deut. 18:13).

The Kotzker once said, "The prohibition against making idols includes the prohibition against making idols out of the commandments. We should never imagine that the whole purpose of the Torah is its outer form, but rather the inward meaning." Indeed, sacrificial blood was placed over the tablets of the law (i.e., the blood sprinkled on the kapporet, or the "crown" of the Ark) that represented God's forgiveness and atonement for sin. The life is "in the blood," which represents God's passion, the deepest truth of Torah. And this is the message of the gospel itself, of course, since the blood of Yeshua passionately shed for our sake has opened up a new and everlasting way for us to be rightly related to God (Heb. 9:12).
 




The Eternal Now...


 

08.18.15 (Elul 3, 5775)  The Mishnah says, shuv yom echad lifnei mi'tatakh: "Repent one day before you die" (Avot 2:10), but who knows the day of one's death in advance?  Perhaps your name will be called today, ending your lease on life in this world. Are you ready? Are you prepared to appear before God your Creator and Redeemer? Therefore live each day as if it were your last, making sure you seek the things that really matter... "Watch -- for you know neither the day nor the hour..." (Mark 13:33). As C.S. Lewis wrote: "The Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most temporal part of time -- for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays, the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which [God] has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. God would therefore have us continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present — either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself" (The Screwtape Letters).
 




Turn from the Beginning...


 

08.18.15 (Elul 3, 5775)  It has been said that teshuvah (return) was created before the world itself, as it says, "Before the mountains were born, or you brought the world into being, you were the Eternal God who says "Return (שׁוּבוּ), O sons of man" (Psalm 90:2-3). The Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world (καταβολῆς κόσμου), and God clothed humanity in divine sacrifice from the very beginning (Gen. 3:15,21; Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:20). The Waters of Life (מַיִם חַיִּים) flow from the original orchard of Eden to the world to come (Gen. 2:10; Rev. 22:1). God subjected creation "to vanity" to reveal his greatness as he descended into its depths to return and restore all things to himself (Rom. 8:20; Eph. 1:10). The LORD entered space-time as the Son of Man, the "Ultimate Adam" (ὁ ἔσχατος ᾽Αδὰμ) to become our Savior and Healer (1 Cor. 15:22, 1 Cor. 15:45-49). He came to reveal "the face of God" to us in Messiah (2 Cor. 4:6). God's first question to lost man is "ayeka" (אַיֶּכָּה), "Where are you?" (Gen. 3:9). Yeshua "descended in order to ascend" so that we may find God's compassion, love and healing through his mesirat nefesh (מְסִירַת נֶפֵשׁ) – his total sacrifice of body and soul – for the sake of returning us to God.
 




Lawful use of the Law...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shoftim... ]

08.17.15 (Elul 2, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week (i.e., Shoftim) includes the famous statement: tzedek, tzedek tirdorf (צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף): "Righteousness, righteousness, you shall pursue" (Deut. 16:20). The sages infer that the double use of the word "righteousness" means that the pursuit of righteousness must itself be righteous. In other words, the end does not justify the means. The truth is gained only by truth, and therefore we may not use unjust methods even to promote a supposedly good cause. For example, using propaganda to wage wars of aggression, using torture to extract information, spying on citizens for the sake of "security" -- all are direct violations of Torah. Despite what some politicians might claim, without true justice, the future of a society is radically threatened. Indeed, there is a direct link between pursuing righteousness and the welfare of the state....
 

צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף
לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה וְיָרַשְׁתָּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ
אֲשֶׁר־יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נתֵן לָךְ

tze·dek · tze·dek · tir·dof
le·ma·an · ti·che·yeh · ve·ya·rash·ta · et-ha·a·retz
a·sher · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · no·ten · lakh
 

"Righteousness, righteousness, you must pursue;
so that you will live and inherit the land
that the LORD your God gives you."
(Deut. 16:20)


 

A related implication is that we should never be deceptive about promoting "religion" or faith in God. We shouldn't flatter people, threaten them into believing, offer them vain hope, or misrepresent the truth of the message of the gospel. We should never promise people worldly happiness, prosperity, unending health, etc., in the name of religion, since this also is "means-to-end" reasoning. We must be clear about the demands of faith and the costs involved. And of course it is entirely forbidden to endorse violence of any kind (verbal or physical) to promote the cause of religion. Indeed, a sure mark of a false religion is to teach people to hate or even murder others "for God's sake..." Any religion that is based on "jihad-mentality" is therefore false and subject to fearful judgment from Almighty God.

Take it to heart: "Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, and who does not turn to the proud or turn aside to lies" (Psalm 40:4); "no one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes" (Psalm 101:7; Rev. 21:27). "Choose this day whom you will serve..."
 




Strangers with Him...


 

08.17.15 (Elul 2, 5775)  "Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears! For I am a stranger with you, a sojourner, like all my fathers" (Psalm 39:12). The righteous regard themselves as outsiders (i.e., gerim: גֵּרִים) in this world, temporary residents (i.e., toshavim: תּוֹשָׁבִים) on their way to the world to come (Heb. 13:14), while the wicked regard this world as the only (or all-consuming) reality, and therefore they cling, demand their place here, and live entirely for its momentary pleasures. In light of this, it has truly been said that God 'settles' among those who are strangers in this world, but makes himself "strange" to those who 'settle' here...  And may it please the LORD our God to give us the blessing of dissatisfaction with this world and its trinkets, and an abiding and all-consuming desire to be home with Him. Amen.
 

שִׁמְעָה־תְפִלָּתִי יְהוָה וְשַׁוְעָתִי הַאֲזינָה
אֶל־דִּמְעָתִי אַל־תֶּחֱרַשׁ כִּי גֵר אָנכִי עִמָּךְ
תּוֹשָׁב כְּכָל־אֲבוֹתָי

shim·ah · te·fil·la·ti · Adonai · ve·shav·a·ti · ha·a·zi·nah
el · dim·a·ti · al · te·che·rash · ki · ger · a·no·khi · i·makh
to·shav · ke·khol · a·vo·tai
 

"Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry;
hold not your peace at my tears! For I am an outsider with you,
a temporary resident, like all my fathers."
(Psalm 39:12)


 
Hebrew Study Card
 

Keep moving toward the Heavenly City, friends... Do not give up hope.  "I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion (ἐπιτελέω) at the Day of Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil 1:6). The LORD is able to guard you (φυλάξαι) from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy (Jude 1:24). "He will preserve you (βεβαιόω) to the end, guiltless in the Day of our Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Cor. 1:8). He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it (1 Thess. 5:24). "The Lord is faithful (נֶאֱמָן הוּא): He will establish you and guard you against the evil one" (2 Thess. 3:3).
 




Parashat Shoftim - שופטים


 

08.16.15 (Elul 1, 5775)  Our Torah for this week (Shoftim) begins with the commandment that the people of Israel should appoint judges (i.e., shoftim: שׁפְטִים) and officers (i.e., shoterim: שׁוֹטְרִים) so that justice would be enforced throughout the promised land (Deut. 16:18). The call for justice is famously stated as, "tzedek, tzedek tirdof" (צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף): "Justice, Justice you shall pursue" (Deut. 16:20). The word tzedek means "righteousness" and involves the duty to adhere to moral truth. Throughout the Torah portion the theme of social justice predominates, as the ethical characteristics for judges are defined, as well as for elders, kings, prophets, and priests, all of whom are responsible for maintaining a just and healthful society. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: "The work of righteousness (tzedakah) shall be peace" (וְהָיָה מַעֲשֵׂה הַצְּדָקָה שָׁלוֹם), and added that "the service of righteousness (וַעֲבדַת הַצְּדָקָה) shall be quietness and security forever" (Isa. 32:17).
 

בִּרְבוֹת צַדִּיקִים יִשְׂמַח הָעָם
וּבִמְשׁל רָשָׁע יֵאָנַח עָם

bir·vot · tzad·di·kim · yis·mach · ha·am
u·vim·shol · ra·sha · ye·a·nach · am

 

"When the righteous increase, the people rejoice,
but when the wicked rule, the people groan."
(Prov. 29:2)
 


Regarding making judgments about others we should try to always extend the benefit of the doubt (i.e., kaf zechut, "the hand of merit"). When we judge mercifully and in accord with the truth, the Divine Presence joins us, but if we act corruptly, we "push" the Presence away and create a sense of exile.  Yeshua told us to "whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 7:12). In other words, as we judge others, so we are judged ourselves. We must be careful to avoid rationalizations... Looking at others from a selfish perspective is therefore a form of "bribery" that blinds us to the truth about righteousness (see Deut. 16:19).

Tzedek, tzedek tirdof also means that justice must be pursued in a just manner. The methods used to obtain justice must themselves be just. The Scriptures therefore do not advocate pragmatism or utilitarian thinking. There are no "noble lies" in the Kingdom of Heaven. Violence (verbal or physical) or deception done in the name of God is always a bad idea. We must execute great restraint and caution when we confront oppression in the world. If you want to change the world around you, begin with yourself....
 

 




Torah's Weightier Matters...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Re'eh: "See!" ]

08.14.15 (Av 29, 5775)  From our Torah this week we read: "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing (הַבְּרָכָה), if you obey (שָׁמַע) the commandments of the LORD your God... and the curse (הַקְּלָלָה), if you turn aside (סוּר, "withdraw," "draw back") from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known" (Deut. 11:26-28). Presupposed here, of course, is knowing what the commandments of the Lord are, which is why we are further commanded neither add nor to subtract from Torah (Deut. 4:2). We are neither to go back to passivity and slavery by making Torah another "taskmaster" (i.e., "adding" to Torah), nor are we to erect "private altars" by exalting our own interpretation as exclusionary and divine (i.e., "subtracting" from Torah) (Deut. 12:1-7). Instead, we must face up to our responsibilities by making difficult life choices: we must discern the "weightier matters of Torah" (Matt. 23:23). When we were enslaved in Egypt, we were free from responsibility; we could play the victim by blaming others for our sins, our sorrows, our troubles. When were set free to serve God, however, we were given the power to choose to live outside of the realm of the curse by accepting God's blessing. Therefore bacharta ba'chayim: choose life so you may live!
 




Pilgrimage in a Circle...


 

08.14.15 (Av 29, 5775)  Portion Re'eh concludes with the commandment to make three "pilgrimage festivals" (i.e., shelosh regalim) each year: Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (Tabernacles).  In the Torah, these "holidays" are called "appointed times" (i.e., mo'edim: מוֹעֲדִים), a word which comes from a root meaning witness (עֵד). Other words formed from this root include edah (עֵדָה), a congregation, edut (עֵדוּת), a testimony, and so on. The related verb ya'ad (יָעַד) means to meet, assemble, or even to betroth. The significance of the holy days, then, is for the covenant people of the LORD to bear witness to God's love and faithfulness by revisiting our history and by looking forward to their ultimate fulfillment, when we no longer pass through this world but abide in the heavenly reality. Meanwhile we trust in God's prophetic plan as revealed in the holy calendar, and observe the seasons as he has commanded. As it says, "All the paths of the LORD are love and truth to the ones guarding His covenant and His testimonies."
 

כָּל־אָרְחוֹת יְהוָה חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת
 לְנצְרֵי בְרִיתוֹ וְעֵדתָיו

kol · or·chot · Adonai · che·sed · ve·e·met
le·no·tze·rei  · ve·ri·to · ve·e·do·tav

 

"All the paths of the LORD are love and truth
 to the ones guarding His covenant and His testimonies."
(Psalm 25:10)



Hebrew Study Card
  

Metaphorically the paths of the Lord (orechot Adonai) are likened to ruts or grooves created by the wheels of a caravan (ארְחָה) passing repeatedly over the same ground. These paths signify the Divine Presence journeying with God's children in this world. In temporal terms, we are able to discern the path by means of the divine calendar. God's love and faithfulness attend to His covenant (brit) and to the commemorations of the yearly "appointed times" which testify to God's love and faithfulness.  Keeping God's testimonies, then, means that we will be careful to observe the holidays in order to witness to God's truth...

Shababt Shalom and Chodesh Tov, dear friends.  May this coming Season of Teshuvah be one where we all draw closer to the LORD our God... Amen.
 




Seeing Moral Reality...


 

08.14.15 (Av 29, 5775)  Our Torah portion (Re'eh) exhorts us to see clearly – to focus the will – by understanding that our choices have spiritual consequence, and that we are responsible for what we choose. "Re'eh - see!" Open your eyes and apprehend that there is overarching moral reality before which we are infinitely accountable. Therefore we are commanded first to see, because without clear vision we will be unable to discern what is a blessing and what is a curse – that is, we will be blind to the effect our choices have in our lives (Prov. 29:18). Therefore choose this day, and choose life (בָּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים)! Look and know there is good and there is evil, there is the sacred and the profane; there is real blessedness and loss...  God will never allow us to be indifferent to Reality. We can (and we must) choose, and if we should regard ourselves as powerless, we deny the truth of our freedom – we turn away from possibility and become enslaved to a victim mentality.... You cannot opt out of responsibility for your choices, since not choosing is itself a choice, and therefore are "forced to be free" - and bear the consequences of how we live.
 

בְּאֵין חָזוֹן יִפָּרַע עָם
וְשׁמֵר תּוֹרָה אַשְׁרֵהוּ

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

 

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



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The message of Re'eh is that every moment presents us with the real possibility to see the sacred, the holy, and the good... The blessing comes when we focus on God and allow His Spirit to guide us, though the curse comes when we go after other gods that we "have not known" (Deut. 13:3). These "alien passions" distract us and separate us from the true Divine Presence, and this leads to the "works of the flesh" (i.e., addictions, cravings, uncontrollable passions, etc.). Seeking after "other gods" is to experience exile, trouble, and separation from YHVH, who is the Source of healing and love. When we walk in the Spirit we experience the blessing and are made free of the law of sin and death (Gal. 5:16-24).
 




Returning Back Home...


 

[ Tonight at sundown is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the start of the 40 days of teshuvah (i.e., repentance, turning back to God) that leads up to Yom Kippur...  ]

08.14.15 (Av 29, 5775)  The following parable speaks of the season of teshuvah: A king's son was at a far distance from his father. Said his friends to him, "Return to your father." He said, "I can't: the way is too far. His father sent word to him and said, "Go as far as you are able, and I will come the rest of the way to you. Thus says the Holy One, blessed be He, to his faraway children: "Return to Me, and I will return to you."
 

שׁוּבוּ אֵלַי וְאָשׁוּבָה אֲלֵיכֶם
 אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת

shu·vu · e·lai · ve·a·shuv·ah · a·lei·khem
a·mar · Adonai · tze·va·ot

Click to listen... 

"Return to me, and I will return to you,
says the LORD of hosts" (Mal. 3:7)



 

It is never too late to turn to God... there is always hope. The prophet Jeremiah spoke in the Name of the LORD: "Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD. I will not look on you in anger, for I am kind (כִּי־חָסִיד אֲנִי), declares the LORD" (Jer. 3:12). When the people drew back in shame, however, God encouraged them by saying "My children, if you return, will you not be returning to your Father? Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness. "Behold, we come to you, for you are the LORD our God."

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

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




For its own sake...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Re'eh: "See!" ]

08.14.15 (Av 29, 5775)  "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse..." (Deut 11:26). The sages comment that Moses was actually reprimanding the people as if they were mere babes: "After forty years of teaching you Torah I still need to talk to you as a child! Surely by now you should understand that doing righteousness is good for its own sake (i.e., tov lishma: טוב לשמה), without appeal to rewards." Indeed appealing to rewards and punishments is an immature spirituality: the righteous understand that there is no reward or blessing apart from serving and loving others, and that all genuine piety is a gift from God himself. The only real reward is pleasing the Lord and enjoying his love forever.

"Now to the One who is able to keep you from falling, and to cause you to stand, rejoicing, without blemish before His glorious presence, to the only God our Savior (μόνῳ θεῷ σωτῆρι) through Yeshua the Messiah, our Lord and great Lamb of God, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time, and now, and for all eternity. Amen" (Jude 1:24-25). Shabbat Shalom and great peace, love, healing, and happiness to you all...
 




Seeking the Place...


 

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

08.13.15 (Av 28, 5775)  "But you shall seek the place (הַמָּקוֹם) that the LORD your God will choose... there you shall go" (Deut. 12:5). This indicates the primacy of seeking: you must first seek "the place" and then you can go... The sages note that the gematria for this verse is the same as "You shall therefore lay up these words of Mine in your heart and in your soul..." (Deut. 11:18), which again reveals that the Divine Presence, "HaMakom" (הַמָּקוֹם), is manifest within the place of our hearts... If we seek God with all our hearts we will "come there," and we will find Him there. Our yearning for God leads us to the place of His Presence, as it says: "Open to me the gates of righteousness (שַׁעֲרֵי־צֶדֶק), that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD" (Psalm 118:19). It is our heartache, our hunger, thirst, and our yearning for love that opens the gate to come before God. Praise the LORD - His heart is the place we truly need...
 

פִּתְחוּ־לִי שַׁעֲרֵי־צֶדֶק אָבא־בָם אוֹדֶה יָהּ
זֶה־הַשַּׁעַר לַיהוָה צַדִּיקִים יָבאוּ בוֹ

pit·chu · li · sha·a·rei · tze·dek · a·vo · vam · o·deh · Yah;
zeh · ha·sha·ar · ladonai · tzad·di·kim · ya·vo·u · vo

 

"Open to me the gates of righteousness that I may enter through them and give thanks
to the LORD. This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it."
(Psalm 118:19-20)


Of the "Place of God" (הַמָּקוֹם) the Torah says "that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8), which can be translated as "that I may dwell within them," indicating that the point of the Tabernacle was to bring God within the hearts of His people... We must create a place within our hearts, in other words, for God to dwell within us. Yeshua likewise told us that we would experience peace and joy when we "abide in Him." Note that the numeric value of the word mishkan (מִשְׁכָּן) is the same as the word shema (שְׁמַע), "hear" or "listen" (Deut. 6:4). When we really stop to listen to the LORD, we will find His glorious and loving Presence...
 




The Struggle of Faith...


 

08.13.15 (Av 28, 5775)  In our Torah reading for this week (parashat Re'eh) it is written: "You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way" (Deut. 12:4), which there refers to Canaanite practices of idolatry that were based on mystery and superstition. Unlike religious cults that were based on vain speculations, however, Jews are duty-bound to carry out God's will as expressed by the truth of divine revelation. Our father Abraham was given revelation of Torah (Gen. 26:5) and at Sinai moral truth was enshrined in the Ten Commandments (Exod. 24:12; Deut. 5:22). A basic assumption of Torah is that "ought implies can," or that we are genuinely responsible to know and to do moral truth.  Unlike the ancient "mystery religions" that abandoned themselves by "celebrating" the lower nature, the Torah insists on overruling our base impulses and finding peace in the midst of the struggle to live in righteousness. Therefore we do not understand the Hebrew word "shalom" (שָׁלוֹם), or "peace," to simply mean the absence of strife, but rather "wholeness," "completeness," "healing" -- the integration of the heart and mind that comes through catharsis and personal struggle (Gen. 32:28). Faith does not mean passivity, but protest -- "arguing" for (and sometimes with) heaven, reminding God of his promises, lamenting over the divine absence; finding courage to oppose the status quo, and repeatedly appealing to heaven "be'khol levaveinu" (בְּכָל־לְבָבֵנוּ) -- with all our hearts -- precisely because we believe that our prayers can affect even the divine decrees... Genuine faith consciously speaks to "move mountains into the sea" (Mark 11:23) and refuses to let go of God until it receives the promised blessing to become "Israel" (Gen. 32:26).
 




See the Blessing...


 

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

08.12.15 (Av 27, 5775)  "See, I AM giving... the blessing (הַבְּרָכָה) when you hearken (i.e, shama: שָׁמַע) to the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you today" (Deut. 11:26-27). Do not understand this as referring to blessing that results from hearing God's word, but rather the blessing that enables you to hear it... It is the blessing of being made awake, alive, and attuned to the Spirit of God. In this world you may or may not receive material blessing as you heed the truth, though you assuredly will be sustained by God's ongoing care (Psalm 37:25). The heavenly blessing is always present before you, however, when you sincerely turn to God and seek to do his will. And may it please the LORD our God to help us turn to Him now, in this hour...

"Blessed be the God and Father of our our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who has blessed us in Messiah with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" (Eph. 1:3). Note that the Greek text translated "with every spiritual blessing" (i.e., ἐν πάσῃ εὐλογίᾳ πνευματικῇ) does not refer to "merely spiritual" as opposed to substantial or material blessings, but rather the blessing given by the Holy Spirit, those powers and graces "in heavenly places" (ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις), that derive from the kingdom of God, which are the highest blessings of all.
 




The Always Giving One...


 

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

08.12.15 (Av 27, 5775)  "See, I give before you today a blessing..." (Deut. 11:26). Here note the Hebrew verb notein (נתֵן), "give," is present: God is "always giving" you a new beginning, a fresh opportunity to turn to God to receive his blessing. Some of the sages comment that your "I" is being set before you this day, and that it can become a blessing (or a curse) depending on your willingness to believe. Others have said that we should read this verse as, "See that I AM giving (רְאֵה אָנכִי נתֵן)..." or "See, I AM the Giving One before you" (רְאֵה אָנכִי נתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם). God asks us to open our eyes to the light of His Presence and receive the blessing of his welcome (Heb. 4:16; Rom. 5:1-2).
 




The Heavenly Language...


 

08.12.15 (Av 27, 5775)  "This is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to God's will, he hears us" " (1 John 5:14) which is to say that in heaven there is only the language of truth, and truth is the language of heaven. Those who pray insincerely abuse the gift of speech, and such language is not understood in heaven... God speaks to us in the language of faithfulness, hope, and love (1 Cor. 13:13). Kierkegaard wrote, "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty." Confession means "saying the same thing" about ourselves that God says - and that means not only acknowledging our sins, but also affirming that we are loved by God. "Love hopes all things" (1 Cor. 13:7), and therefore the language of truth is always spoken in hope. No truth about your sin is known apart from the love of God revealed in Yeshua our Messiah.
 




A Treasured People...


 

08.11.15 (Av 26, 5775)  From our Torah reading this week it is written: "You are children of the LORD your God. You shall not cut yourselves or make any baldness on your foreheads for the dead. For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be for him "am segulah" (עַם סְגֻלָּה) - a treasured people out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth" (Deut. 14:1-2). From this passage we infer that we are not to excessively mourn over death as those who do not know the truth, since our God, the Father of Israel, is the Eternal One (יהוה), and even if our earthly fathers die, we will never be orphans, because the LORD, the Everlasting God who is the "God of the spirits of all flesh" (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), always watches over us: "He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber" (Psalm 121:3). However if we forget who we are, if we lose sight of our place in the Father's heart, we are likely to fall into a state of excessive and self-destructive mourning over the losses we experience in this world. Despair, death worship, bodily mutilation, nihilism, etc., are expressions of fear and unbelief. On the other hand, if remember our place at the Father's table as his children, if we accept that we are beloved of God - his very own "treasured people" - then we will regard the difficulties we encounter in this world as a test of faith intended for our good (Deut. 8:3,16, Jer. 29:11).

God regards us as his beloved children, and therefore we trust him as a child trusts his father. We may not always understand all that our father does, but we have complete faith in his good will toward us, even in the face of death itself. We do not engage in self-destructive mourning, then, because we are treasured by God and we trust in God's promises for eternal life (John 11:25). Because of this, Jewish halachah (legal custom) puts limits to grieving practices.  Excessive mourning, interminable gloom, self-destructive anger, or the refusal to let go of our fear may indicate a lack of faith in God's care as our Father. Remember where it says "God works all things together for good," for that includes even physical death... Let us therefore "hope to the LORD (קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה); be strong and strengthen our heart; and (again) let us hope to the LORD" (Psalm 27:14).

For more on this very important topic, please see the article "Am Segulah."
 




Walking after the LORD...


 

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

08.11.15 (Av 26, 5775)  "You shall walk after the LORD your God and revere him and keep his commandments and heed his voice; you shall serve him and cleave to him" (Deut. 13:4). Here the sages note that the word "after" (i.e., acharei: אַחֲרֵי) implies a sense of distance – and that when we feel distant from God, we should begin taking steps so that we can learn to cleave to him... Experiencing "distance" is a blessing from heaven, then, since without sensing our great need, how could we turn and seek God for healing and life? Indeed, one who regards himself as close to God may actually be far away from him, while the one who realizes how distant he is may in truth be drawing close. We can cleave to God (דְּבָקוּת) only if we first see ourselves as "acharei," or removed, as it is written: "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted (קָרוֹב יְהוָה לְנִשְׁבְּרֵי־לֵב) and saves the crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18). As we learn to walk with God, we are often in tension between reverence and love; we feel distant yet we are invited to draw close to God's heart to heal our alienation (James 4:8).

Brokenness distills the intentions of the heart by helping us to be more honest with ourselves. We begin to realize that we are more vulnerable than at first we thought; that our faith is not as strong as we imagined, and that our motives are often mixed and unconscious. Illusions are striped away; idols crumble; deeper levels of selfishness are uncovered; the gap between our words and our deeds is exposed... It is one thing, after all, to intellectually think about faith or to idealize spirituality, but it is quite another to walk out faith in darkness. Yet it is only there, in the rawness of heart, that we discover what we really believe and how our faith makes traction with reality...
 




Blessed to Give...


 

08.11.15 (Av 26, 5775)  From our Torah portion for this week (i.e., parashat Re'eh) we read: aser te'aser: "You shall tithe..." (Deut. 14:22). Understand this as the great blessing of becoming a conduit of heavenly good to others. The sages say that giving tzedakah (צְדָקָה, i.e., "charity") to others is like a nursing mother. As long as she suckles her child, her milk supply is replenished and even increases; but once she weans the child, her supply dries up...  So also when we give of our substance – the more we give, the more we will have; the less we give, the less we will have (Matt. 13:12). Therefore as our Lord taught us: "Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. 'Middah keneged middah' (מִדָּה כְּנֶגֶד מִדָּה) - for with the measure you use it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:38).
 




Hidden in Plain Sight...


 

08.10.15 (Av 25, 5775)  Where it is written in the Torah, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I didn't know it" (יֵשׁ יְהוָה בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה וְאָנכִי לא יָדָעְתִּי), we learn to look to the place of the heart, for the kingdom of heaven is found there, whereas the places of this world are merely occasions leading to that greater place.... "Take off your shoes, for the place you are standing is holy ground" refers to every place, for the whole world is filled with God's glory (Psalm 139:7; Isa. 6:3; Luke 17:21).
 




Receptivity of Heart...


 

08.10.15 (Av 25, 5775)  Undoubtedly Yeshua often taught in parables because they simultaneously conceal and reveal the truth. A parable obscures the truth to those who don't sincerely want it, just as it reveals the truth to those who do (Luke 8:9-10). Since Yeshua's whole life was a parable of sorts - a "disguise" that led to the victory of our deliverance (Phil. 2:7) - it is not surprising that he regularly used "figures of speech" to provoke people to examine their own heart attitude and faith...  In this connection note that Yeshua never explained the "mysteries of the kingdom of God" directly to the crowds, nor did He ever pander to the crowd's clamor or interests. His message is always meant for the individual soul who was willing to follow Him -- to the one who had "ears to hear."

In the famous parable of the sower (Matt. 13:3-9), God is likened to a farmer who scatters seed upon the "soil" of human hearts.  The seed that fell by the "way side" was unheeded, ignored, and therefore snatched away; the seed that fell in "stony places" found no depth or rootedness, and soon withered away; the seed that fell "among thorns" found no room to grow... The "good soil," on the other hand, received the seed and allowed it take root so that it could bear fruit. Note that in each case the same seed is sown, but what determines the yield of the seed is the receptivity of heart...

The parables help us take inventory of our lives. If we are honest with ourselves, we will see our own hardness, shallowness, and selfishness in contrast to the fruitfulness marked by the good soil, and this may prompt us to do teshuvah... Only the new heart (lev chadash) created by power of God's Spirit can yield the fruit of the Spirit. Yeshua therefore warns us: "Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away" (Luke 8:18).

It is comforting to remember that fruit does not immediately crop up but requires time and its own season... The process of spiritual growth is ultimately mysterious and the result of divine grace: "The Kingdom of God is like someone who spreads seed on the ground. He goes to sleep and gets up, night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. By itself (αὐτομάτη, "automatically") the soil produces a crop, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. And when the grain is ripe, he comes in with his sickle because the harvest has come" (Mark 4:26-29). With God all things are possible, and the life of God is a miracle that comes from God's own source of Life. It is the fruit of the Spirit, after all, and not the result of human effort or moral reformation...
 




Forty Days of Teshuvah...


 

[ The month of Elul begins this coming Shabbat, chaverim...  That means it is time to think ahead and to begin preparing for the coming fall holidays... ]

08.09.15 (Av 24, 5775)  The last month of the Jewish calendar (counting from Tishri) is called Elul (אֱלוּל), which begins Friday, Aug. 14th (at sundown) this year (i.e., Shabbat). Traditionally, Rosh Chodesh Elul marks the beginning of a forty day "Season of Teshuvah" that culminates on the solemn holiday of Yom Kippur. The month of Elul is therefore a time set aside each year to prepare for the "Days of Awe," by getting our spiritual house in order.

During this time we make additional effort to repent, or "turn [shuv] toward God." In Jewish tradition, these 40 days are sometimes called Yemei Ratzon (יְמֵי רָצוֹן) - "Days of Favor," since it was during this time that the LORD forgave the Jewish nation after the sin of the Golden Calf (Pirke d'Reb Eliezar). Some of the sages liken these 40 days to the number of days it takes for the human fetus to be formed within the womb.

Rosh Hashanah will begin in about five weeks (i.e., Sunday, Sept. 13th at sundown). During the time leading up to the High Holidays, it is customary to engage in cheshbon ha-nefesh ("soul searching") and to derive special comfort that God is forgiving and loving to those who sincerely turn to Him. The Jewish sages chose the seven "Haftarot of comfort" to encourage us to make our hearts ready for the upcoming High Holiday Season.


 

Note that the word "Elul" (אֱלוּל) may be read as an acronym for the phrase, ani le'dodi ve'dodi li (אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי), "I am my beloved's, and my beloved in mine" (Song 6:3), to encourage us to return to God, to become full of desire for the Beloved of our soul...
 

Shuvah Yisrael ad Adonai Elohekha: "Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God..." (Hos. 14:1). The sages say you must return to the place where the LORD is your God -- that you receive his acceptance and love, and that you reclaim your status as his beloved child...

The following (simplified) blessing can be recited to ask the LORD to help you prepare for the month of Elul and the forty day "Season of Repentance":
 

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

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

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



Download Study Card
 




Parashat Re'eh - ראה


 

08.09.15 (Av 24, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week begins, "See (רְאֵה), I give before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing (הַבְּרָכָה), if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse (הַקְּלָלָה), if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known" (Deut. 11:26-28). We obtain God's blessing (i.e., berakhah: בְּרָכָה) when we obey Him, and our decision to obey manifests the blessed state of walking before the Divine Presence (the direct object marker et (את) before the word "the blessing" alludes to the blessings of "Aleph to Tav," that is from Yeshua, as described in Lev. 26:3-13). As King David said, "I have set (שִׁוִּיתִי) the LORD always before me..." (Psalm 16:8). David made a choice to "set" the LORD before his eyes, for he understood that opening his eyes to Reality was the only path of real blessing.

On the other hand, we obtain God's curse (i.e., kelalah: קְלָלָה) when we close our eyes and "forget" that the LORD is always present.... Suppressing God's truth invariably leads to idolatry, that is, to self exaltation. Note that the root word for the word "curse" (kalal) means to be treated as of little account, and therefore "ratifies" the rebellious heart's attitude toward God. This is middah keneged middah - we are ignored by the LORD as we ignore Him, just as we seen by Him when we truly seek His face (Isa. 55:6-7). So we see that the blessing or the curse really comes from our own inward decision, and God establishes the path we have chosen. As King David said, "God supports my lot" (Psalm 16:5), and Solomon wrote, "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps" (Prov. 16:9).
 


Note: The third of the "Seven Weeks of Comfort" leading up to Rosh Hashanah is called Aniyah so'arah (עֲנִיָּה סעֲרָה, "O afflicted and storm-tossed one"), which reminds the Jewish people of God's eternal and unconditional covenant of peace. Indeed of the Jewish people it is said, "no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment." Therefore the LORD invites the people to drink freely from the waters of life: "Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant (בְּרִית עוֹלָם), my steadfast, sure love for David (Isa. 55:3; Luke 1:68-75; Acts 13:34).
 




The Bread of Life...


 

08.07.15 (Av 22, 5775)   Our Torah portion for this week includes the famous statement: "Man does not live by bread alone (על־הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם), but from everything that comes from the mouth of the LORD shall he live" (Deut. 8:3). Note that Yeshua quoted this verse when he was tested with physical hunger in the wilderness (Matt. 4:3-4). Eating is inherently a sacrificial act: We must "eat life" in order to live....  But while physical food helps us survive, we must ask the question, for what end? Do we live for the sake of eating (and thereby live to eat for another day, and so on), or do we eat in order to live? If the latter, then what is the goal of such life?  What is the source of its nutrient and where is it taking you? What does your soul or "inner man" feed upon to gain the spiritual will to live?
 

כִּי לא עַל־הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם
כִּי עַל־כָּל־מוֹצָא פִי־יהוה יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם

ki  · lo · al-ha·le·chem · le·va·do · yich·yeh · ha·a·dam;
ki · al-kol-mo·tza · fi-Adonai · yich·yeh · ha·a·dam

 

"Man does not live on bread alone, but by everything that comes
from the mouth of the LORD does man live" (Deut. 8:3)



Hebrew Study Card
 


Both the written Torah and Yeshua (who is the true embodiment and expression of Torah) attest that we receive sustenance from the Word of God (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים), the Source of spiritual life.  But the word of God itself expresses the message of the very love of God (אַהֲבַת הָאֱלהִים) that always sustains us -- whether we are conscious of this or not. After all, for those of us who understand our brokenness and radical dependence for deliverance from ourselves, what "word" could we possibly endure were it not His words of hope, consolation, and even endearment?  The Love of God is our life, chaverim, and the love of God is most clearly seen in the life and sacrificial death of Yeshua the Messiah...

May we always remember that our very spiritual life -- its source and its end -- depends upon receiving the word of the Living God who is King of Eternity (אֱלהִים חַיִּים וּמֶלֶךְ עוֹלָם). He is the Bread of our Life (לֶחֶם הַחַיִּים) who speaks life-giving words of hope and love to all who will attend themselves to His Presence.  Shabbat Shalom.
 




Religion vs. Spirituality...


 

08.07.15 (Av 22, 5775)   It has been wisely said that "religion is for people afraid of going to hell; spirituality is for those who have been there...." Religion seeks defense of the ego and delights in the idea of personal reward; spirituality seeks death of the ego and delights in the idea of shared love... Studying the Scriptures for the sake of "religion" is ultimately self-defeating, since the answer is not religion but spiritual rebirth: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).

"Circumcise your hearts," our Torah says, "and be no longer 'difficult' (i.e., לא תַקְשׁוּ עוֹד) [Deut. 10:16]. Find a way to feel, to care, to sympathize once again... "It is enough to open your heart the smallest amount - even the width of a pin head - to repent, so that you feel a prick within your heart, like a piercing sting in living tissue, not like a needle thrust into dead flesh" (Menachem Mendel of Kotzk).
 

וּמַלְתֶּם אֵת עָרְלַת לְבַבְכֶם
וְעָרְפְּכֶם לא תַקְשׁוּ עוֹד

u·mal·tem · et · or·lat · le·vav·khem
ve·or·pek·hem · lo · tak·shu · od

 

"Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart,
and be no longer difficult."
(Deut. 10:16)

 




Believing in Love...


 

08.07.15 (Av 22, 5775)  From our Torah portion for this week (i.e., parashat Eikev) we read: "But now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask from you ... but to love him with all your heart and with all your soul?" (Deut. 10:12). But how are we able to love God be'khol levavka (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ) – "with all our heart" – and be'khol nafshekha (וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶׁךָ) - "with all our soul," apart from healing of the brokenness that makes our hearts divided and sick?  That is what the redemption from Egypt was about: we were personally chosen by God, redeemed by his grace, led out from from cruel bondage, only to be led into the desert, away from the world, where we slowly began to understand that we were valued, cared for, and beloved of God. We believed in the possibility of promise, of covenant... Only then could we hear the request from heaven: "Now love Me..." In other words, we can only truly love God by knowing we are beloved by God, and the invitation to love him is a response of his great passion for you (1 John 4:19). Accept that you are accepted in the heart of the Beloved (Eph. 1:4-6).
 

עַתָּה יִשְׂרָאֵל מָה יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ שׁאֵל מֵעִמָּךְ
כִּי אִם־לְיִרְאָה אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ לָלֶכֶת
בְּכָל־דְּרָכָיו וּלְאַהֲבָה אתוֹ וְלַעֲבד אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ
בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶׁךָ

ve·at·tah  Yisrael,  mah  Adonai  E·lo·hey·kha  sho·el  me·im·makh
ki  im  le·yir·ah  et  Adonai  E·lo·hey·kha  la·le·chet
be·khol  de·ra·khav  ul·a·ha·vah  o·to,  ve·la·a·vod  et  Adonai
E·lo·hey·kha  be·khol  le·vav·kha  uv·khol  naf·she·ka?
 

"And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you,
but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him,
to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul?
(Deut. 10:12)



What the LORD asks from us is simply the impossible, since the human heart is unable to truly love and serve the LORD apart from intervening grace (Eph. 2:1-10). The real miracle of faith is found in a transformed heart.  It is never a question of "willpower" or the "zeal" of man; no - it is never a question of what I can do but rather what God can do (John 1:13).
 

דֶּרֶךְ־מִצְוֹתֶיךָ אָרוּץ כִּי תַרְחִיב לִבִּי

de·rekh  mitz·vo·te·kha  a·rutz,  ki  tar·chiv  lib·bi
 

"I will run in the way of your commandments
when you enlarge my heart"
(Psalm 119:32)



We love because He loves us (and we receive and accept that love). It is the strength of his love that keeps you, not the strength of your own... Nevertheless it seems to be the pattern of God's grace to bring affliction and trouble into our lives so that we will begin to seek the Presence of God (i.e., the "troubles of love").  We all are delivered from Egypt by the blood (i.e., the love) of God in the tribulation of hard exile.  After all, how many of us came to know the LORD apart from the pain that comes from apprehending our own slavery to inner brokenness?  Indeed it is a "severe mercy." Therefore our Savior says: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). The hard "outer shell" of the seed must be broken so that the life of the Spirit can come through... The commandment to love the LORD, then, only finds its voice after we come to faith, after we experience the Holy Spirit's power, indeed, after we are made alive from the dead.

The ultimate aim of the various "thorns and snares" of life, then, is to "wake us from our slumbers" 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. For more on this, see "Blessings and Brokenness."
 




Thou Shalt be Satisfied...


 

[ The Torah reading for this week is parashat Eikev, traditionally read during Shabbat Va'tomer, the second "Sabbath of consolation" after Tishah B'Av. ]

08.06.15 (Av 21, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week includes the remarkable commandment: "And you shall eat and be satisfied" (Deut. 8:10), which means that God desires for us to receive the goodness of life itself. "Taste and see that the LORD is good." Addictions, cravings, lusts, etc., arise from a refusal to be satisfied, by hungering for more than the blessing of the present moment. "My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13). The living waters are present for us, but we will only find them if we open our hearts to the wonder of God in this moment. We can "break the spell" of continual dissatisfaction, of the power of greed, ambition, and so on, when we discover that our constant hunger is really a cry for God and His blessing. This is the blessed "hunger and thirst" given by the Spirit (Matt. 5:6). Our sense of inner emptiness is an invitation to come to the waters and drink life. So come to God's table and ask the Lord Yeshua to give you the water that will satisfy your heart's true thirst for life...
 

וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ
עַל־הָאָרֶץ הַטּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַן־לָךְ

ve·a·khal·ta · ve·sa·va·ta · u·ve·rakh·ta · et · Adonai · e·lo·he·kha
al · ha·a·retz · ha·to·vah · a·sher · na·tan · lakh
 

"And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the LORD your God
for the good land he has given you."
(Deut. 8:10)



 

It is written: "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack" (Psalm 34:8-9). We can only "taste and see" when we are earnest however, when we seek God with passion... When you pray, lift up your heart and soul to God, asking for the miracle to surrender to Him in the truth. Where it says, "with all your heart" (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ), present before him all your passion and desires; your hopes and your needs, your fears and your anger; and where it says, "with all your soul" (וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ), offer before him your very soul, as if to be sacrificed in his service; and where it says, "with all your muchness" (וּבְכָל־מְאדֶךָ) offer to him all your strength, all your means, and all your dreams. Ask to be filled with the Ruach HaKodesh to be enabled to apprehend the glory of God in the face of the Messiah (בִּפְנֵי הַמָּשִׁיחַ), through whom we are being transformed for the glory of God.
 




Grappling with Grace...


 

08.05.15 (Av 20, 5775)  I sometimes feel concern for people who are obsessed over technical questions regarding "Torah observance" (i.e., dietary law, Sabbath observance, ritual practices, etc.). Whenever the question of moral obedience comes up (as it invariably does in such discussions), it is helpful to recall the first and most basic commandment of all, i.e., the commandment to love the LORD with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. THAT is the starting point. Indeed, the very first of the Ten Commandments is אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ - Anochi Adonai Eloheykha: "I AM the Lord your God." Without this personal acceptance of the LORD as your God (i.e., your willingness to trust and to love Him), you simply cannot fulfill any of the commandments with the right inward intent. We must begin with the duty to love the LORD, and that means regarding him as lovable, wonderful, and the healer of all that is broken within us. The LORD heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3). The "work of God" is to trust in the miracle of his love for you (John 6:29).

Note:  For more on this, see "Grappling with Grace: Further thoughts on Eikev."
 




Seeing by Means of Light...


 

[ The following entry is indirectly related to our Torah for this week (Eikev) because it looks at the question of "fearing God" and seeing the sacred in our lives... ]

08.05.15 (Av 20, 5775)  C.S. Lewis once made the helpful distinction between "looking at" and "looking along" a sunbeam (Lewis: "Meditation in a Tool Shed," 1945). In the former case, the mind looks "at" the beam itself, from a supposedly "transcendental" perspective, as if it could objectively describe the thing in descriptive terms, as a "fact" or by reducing the phenomena to simpler, more "natural" terms (e.g., defining light as waves or particles or energy). In the latter case, the mind see "along" the beam in relationship with it, seeing by its means, as part of his horizon of experience, not focusing on it (as a fact) but experiencing other things through its agency, and interpreting them in a semantic world of interrelated meanings. Now Lewis' point was that modern scientific humanism makes (an apriori) claim to a "truer" interpretation of experience by looking "at" things, as for example, when it "reduces" (i.e., explains away) religious experience as a matter of genetics, anthropology, psychology, or some other "natural" paradigm. Of course such a presupposition is without real warrant and is indeed self-deceptive, as if "looking at" something doesn't involve its own way of "looking along" the axis of assumptions smuggled into its own methodology.... In short, there is no true "looking at" things as an independent observer, since everyone is affected by their own biases and assumptions they bring to the questions of experience... Therefore Lewis also sagaciously said, " 'I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.' Amen. We (all) walk by faith, not by sight, and the only real question is what direction are we looking?
 




Seeing the Sacred...


 

08.05.15 (Av 20, 5775)  From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Eikev) we read: "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God..." (Deut. 10:12). Every moment of life is an opportunity to ask the question: "How may I see the sacred here?" How may I revere and esteem the gift of life? How may I perceive the awe of God? Seize the moment and walk in God's way, today, now, and in this hour. Open your heart; renew your mind; turn to the light; find the sacred in your midst...
 

הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה דַּרְכֶּךָ
אֲהַלֵּךְ בַּאֲמִתֶּךָ
יַחֵד לְבָבִי לְיִרְאָה שְׁמֶךָ

ho·rei·ni · Adonai · dar·ke·kha
a·hal·lekh · ba·a·mi·te·kha
ya·ched · le·va·vi · le·yir·ah · she·me·kha
 

"Teach me your way, O LORD,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your Name"
(Psalm 86:11)



 

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

Where it says, "Ve'ahavta – you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart" (Deut. 6:5) that includes both your "good heart" and your "bad heart" – that is, all of you, all of your being, the whole person. Come as you are - broken, fragmented, divided within - and ask God to unify your heart by the miracle of his grace...

Note that the fear of the LORD, or "yirat Adonai" (יִרְאַת יְהוָה), is not the fear of punishment but rather the awe of God's love and intimate concern for your life... It is "techillat chokhah" (תְּחִלַּת חָכְמָה), "the start of wisdom," imparting awareness of the sacred gift of your life, your destiny, and your true end before heaven... If there is a negative aspect to the "fear of the LORD," it may be regarded as the fear of damage to your heart and soul – that is, the fear that sin will blind you to God's passion for you... That is indeed the fear of the LORD - to
 

תְּחִלַּת חָכְמָה יִרְאַת יְהוָה
וְדַעַת קְדשִׁים בִּינָה

te·chil·lat · chokh·mah · yir·at · HaShem
ve·da·at · ke·do·shim · bi·nah
 

"The fear of the LORD is the start of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight."
(Prov. 9:10)
 


Now some may object that all people (including unbelievers) should fear God (i.e., because God might send them to hell), but that appeal only makes sense if we assume the person has some sort of faith - no matter how indistinct or rudimentary... But a guilty conscience does not mean spiritual rebirth, though it may be a step on the way... The doctrine of the wrath of God is an important thing to consider, to be sure, and it is connected with his holiness and righteous judgment regarding sin, but it is essentially eschatological, a reciprocal response of heaven that ratifies the individual's willing rejection of God's salvation given in Yeshua, the one who mediates God's truth and his mercy (see Psalm 85:10). For the believer in the One who loves us so much he became a man and died as our substitutionary sacrifice, however, the fear of God is better expressed as reverent awe over his compassion: "That Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith -- that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Messiah that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:17-19).
 




Idolatry and Rage...


 

08.04.15 (Av 19, 5775)  We are warned not to destroy ourselves by allowing bitterness, anger, or fear to consume our hearts. In our Torah portion this week we read: "And you shall not bring an abominable thing (תּוֹעֵבָה) into your house and become devoted to destruction like it" (Deut. 7:26). The sages of the Mishnah said that yielding to rage is equivalent to idol worship and should never be brought into the home. Indeed, rage is linked with avodah zarah - idolatry - because it exalts the ego and claims that the Lord can't (or won't) help you in your moment of testing or need. The Scriptures are clear, however, that "there is no test given to you that you cannot handle with God's help" (1 Cor. 10:13), and we are invited to come boldly before the Divine Presence to find just such help in our time of need (Heb. 4:16). Believing that you can't overcome your fear or anger problem is therefore a form of idolatry. As is written: Lo yiheyeh vekha el zar (לא־יִהְיֶה בְךָ אֵל זָר) -- "there shall be no foreign god within you" (Psalm 81:9), which means that we must expressly deny the ego's demand to have its will be done. Being full of a sense of self-importance is to be enslaved to vanity and to have a foreign god "within you." God and human arrogance cannot coexist - since the inner world of the arrogant person denies God's rightful place as King. As it is written in our Scriptures: "The wrath of man (קֶצֶף אָדָם) does not work the righteousness of God" (James 1:20). God will indeed help us if we ask according to his will (1 John 5:14-15). Thank you, God. "Blessed is the LORD who delivers us from self-destruction" (ברוך יהוה מספק אותנו מהרס עצמי).
 




Remembering all the way...


 

08.04.15 (Av 19, 5775)  From our Torah reading this week (i.e., parashat Eikev) it is written: "Remember all the way (אֶת־כָּל־הַדֶּרֶךְ) that the Lord your God has led you..." (Deut. 8:2). We learn what is in our hearts by being tested in the dry places. "From the day you left Egypt... you have been rebellious against God" (Deut. 9:7). Moses' rebuke was meant to awaken the people, to encourage them to search their hearts and confess who they were. Self-examination is essential for us to return to God, for otherwise we continue the cycle of pride-shame that binds us. We can't learn to walk as children of God until we are free of the need to defend ourselves. We come to the cross "just as we are," full of brokenness and need, confessing "salvation is of the LORD." Ve'zakharta et kol ha'derekh - remember this "all the way" of our sojourn... God knows the whole way that you have come, and he is refining your heart for your ultimate good (Jer. 29:11).
 




A Circumcised Heart...


 

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

08.04.15 (Av 19, 5775)  Our Torah for this week (Eikev) appeals to our need to forgive: "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer hardened" (Deut. 10:16). The metaphor of a "circumcised heart" (ברית מילה של הלב) symbolizes cutting away the outer covering of the heart so that it is "opened up" to feel once again. God wants us to let go of "hard feelings" so we can experience compassion (i.e., com+passion: "feeling-with") and sympathy for other people... Heart circumcision represents a radical turning away from the insular realm of the self toward the emotional realm of others and God. When our hearts are open, we are able to receive the flow of the Spirit of God and obey the "law of the Messiah" (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) to bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2).
 

וּמַלְתֶּם אֵת עָרְלַת לְבַבְכֶם
וְעָרְפְּכֶם לא תַקְשׁוּ עוֹדָ

u·mal·tem · et · or·lat · le·vav·khem
ve·or·pe·khem · lo · tak·shu · od
 

"Circumcise the foreskin of your heart,
and be no longer hardened"
(Deut. 10:16)



 

Physical circumcision represents a sign or mark of inclusion; it is a token that you are one of God's family, a Jew, though it is only a sign or token. Spiritual circumcision is an inner operation of the heart that marks you a true child of heaven. It is about your identity and purpose. Therefore we see the paradox that some physical Jews are not spiritual Jews, and some spiritual Jews are not physical Jews (though some are both), as the Apostle Paul said: For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God (Rom. 2:28-29).

Spiritually speaking, a heart that is insensitive, indifferent, unfeeling, and callous toward the needs of others is regarded as "hard." Sometimes such hardness comes as a result of living in a fallen world. Many wounded people live with "scar tissue" that surrounds their heart, making them feel numb and unwilling to open up and trust others. Their affections have become disordered and their ego rationalizes blaming others or seeking various forms of entitlement. "Turning off your heart" can mean suppressing any positive regard for others (empathy) while nurturing anger and self-righteousness, or it may mean withdrawing from others as a lifeless shell (both approaches vainly attempt to defend the heart from hurt). Although Yeshua always showed great compassion, especially to the wounded and broken in spirit (Isa. 42:3), He regularly condemned the "hardness of heart" ("sclero-cardia," σκληροκαρδία) of those who opposed his message of healing and love.

A hard heart is closed off and impermeable to love from others, and especially from God. It is a "difficult" (קָשֶׁה) heart, inflexible and even cruel.  Scripture uses various images to picture this condition, including a "heart of stone" (Ezek. 36:26, Zech. 7:12), an "uncircumcised heart" (Jer. 9:26), a "stiff neck" (Deut. 31:27), and so on. Stubbornness is really a form of idolatry, an exaltation of self-will that refuses to surrender to God. If you are wounded and afraid to open your heart in trust to others, ask God for healing...

Hardness of heart is something all of us deal with, even those who trust in Yeshua. After all, New Covenant believers are commanded to "put off the old self with its practices" (Col. 3:9) and are urged not to harden their hearts (μὴ σκληρύνητε τὰς καρδίας) through unbelief (Heb. 3:8,15, 4:7). May God's love help us keep our hearts soft and open toward others... May He give us a new heart, and put a new spirit within us. May He remove the heart of stone (לֵב הָאֶבֶן) from us and give us a heart of flesh (לֵב בָּשָׂר). May we be lev echad - "one heart" - with one another and with the Father (Ezek. 11:19). May we be so sensitized to the Presence of God that we detect the slightest touch from His hand upon us. Amen.
 




Always Here and Now...


 

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

08.03.15 (Av 18, 5775)  "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you..?" (Deut. 10:12). This is the unending question for the heart of faith: it is always here and it is always "now." The midrash says that the word "and now" (וְעַתָּה) implies the "what" of repentance (תְּשׁוּבָה), that is, turning to God in this hour, regardless of whatever has happened in your past. True repentance turns you away from the darkness of fear to become present before the LORD (יהוה), who is the Source of light, life, love, and healing.  "Come just as you are," but please, come...
 




Gratitude and Seeing...


 

08.03.15 (Av 18, 5775)  From our Torah this week (i.e., parashat Eikev) we read: "And you shall bless the LORD your God for the good..." (Deut. 8:10). Whenever we derive benefit or enjoyment from something we are to bless (i.e., thank) God for his goodness. Indeed the Hebrew term for gratitude is hakarat tovah (הַכָּרַת טוֹבָה), a phrase that means "recognizing the good." The heart looks through the eye, and therefore how we see is ultimately a spiritual decision: "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). When we see rightly, we are awakened to God's Presence in the little things of life, those small miracles and "signs and wonders" that constantly surround us.  The good eye of faith sees hundreds of reasons to bless God for the precious gift of life (1 Cor. 10:31). Open your eyes... The LORD is "enthroned among the blessings of His people" (Psalm 22:3).
 

אַתָּה קָדוֹשׁ
יוֹשֵׁב תְּהִלּוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל

ve·at·tah · ka·dosh · yo·shev · te·hil·lot · yis·ra·el
 

"You are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel."
(Psalm 22:3)


The thank offering mentioned in the Torah (i.e., zevach ha-todah: זֶבַח הַתּוֹדָד) reappears in the New Testament. In the Book of Hebrews were are instructed to "continually offer up a sacrifice of thanks (זֶבַח תּוֹדָה) to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his Name" (Heb. 13:15). It is interesting to note that the Greek verb used to "offer up" (i.e., ἀναφέρω) is used to translate the Hebrew verb "to draw near" (karov) in Leviticus. In other words, the "offering up of thanks" for the sacrifice of Yeshua functions as "korban" and draws us near to God. Thanking God for personal deliverance constitutes "right sacrifices" (זִבְחֵי־צֶדֶק) as we draw near to God in the hope of His love (Psalm 4:5; Heb. 7:19).

"Give thanks to the LORD for He is good; his love endures forever" (Psalm 136:1); "give thanks to the LORD always" (Col. 3:17; Eph. 5:20; 1 Thess. 5:18)... Gratitude is foundational to our lives as followers of Yeshua. Indeed there are really only two prayers we ever offer to God, namely "Help, LORD!" and "Thank you, LORD." Meister Eckhart once remarked that if the only prayer you said in your entire life was, "thank you," that would suffice... Genuine prayer ultimately resolves to an expression of thanks. We are to "praise the Bridge that carries us over" into the Presence and Love of God, and that Bridge is Yeshua our Lord.
 




Close in all our Calling...


 

08.03.15 (Av 18, 5775)  The Torah states that the LORD is close to us "in all our calling to Him" (Deut. 7:7). He listens to all of our heart's cry - our yearning, our lament, as well as our praise, and attends to our daily needs. Our part is to turn to God for help in all that we do: we are to "know Him in all our ways" (בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ) by trusting in his nearness (Prov. 3:5-6). Even if we feel our prayer is unanswered, we trust despite our temporary darkness, believing that God sees our need and knows what is best for us. God is close "in all our calling to Him" (בְּכָּל־קָרְאֵנוּ אֵלָיו), and therefore we are often brought to a place of need. We can endure suffering and find acceptance as we call upon God for help in all that we do.
 




Cleaving to God...


 

08.03.15 (Av 18, 5775)  Faith perseveres in the way of life... "You who have clung to the LORD your God are all alive today" (Deut. 4:4). The Hebrew word devakut (דְּבָקוּת) means "cleaving" and refers to communion with God. This word comes from davak (דָּבַק), meaning to "cling" or "stick" (the Modern Hebrew word for "glue" is devek (דֶבֶק) which also comes from the same root). Devakut, then, implies being intimately connected with God in an earnest and passionate relationship.... The sages comment that we can cleave to God only one day at a time, since our future is conditioned upon this present day and its challenges. As Yeshua said: "Take therefore no thought for tomorrow: for tomorrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient for the day its own trouble" (Matt. 6:34). One day at a time. The LORD gives us daily bread (לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ) so that we may persevere for this day; he feeds us with hunger to teach us to rely on alone him for true life (Deut. 8:3). "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand today -- if you hear his voice" (Psalm 95:7). Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart (Heb. 3:15). "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God, but encourage one another every day, as long as it is called "today," so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:12-13).
 

דָּבְקָה נַפְשִׁי אַחֲרֶיךָ
בִּי תָּמְכָה יְמִינֶךָ

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

 

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



Hebrew Study Card
 




Parashat Eikev - עקב


 

[ The Torah reading for this week is parashat Eikev, traditionally read during Shabbat Va'tomer, the second "Sabbath of consolation" after Tishah B'Av. ]

08.02.15 (Av 17, 5775)  In our Torah reading for this week (i.e., parashat Eikev), Moses continues his farewell address to Israel by saying, "And because (עֵקֶב) you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the  love that he swore to your fathers" (Deut. 7:12). Note that the word eikev (עֵקֶב), often translated "because," literally means "heel," which recalls Jacob (יעקב) the "heel-holder" who wrestled with the pain of his past to learn to bear the name Israel (יִשְׂרָאֵל), the "prince of God" (Gen. 32:28)... And like Jacob, we must grapple to believe that the covenant of God's love and acceptance is for us, too... The Sassover rebbe interpreted the opening verse of our Torah portion, "And because you will listen..." (וְהָיָה עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן) as, "and it shall be when your heel is ready to take a step, you will listen to your heart." This is the step of faith. As you begin to walk with God, you will come to know yourself as a child of the great King.  Likewise regarding the related verse in the Torah, "Because Abraham heard my voice" (עֵקֶב אֲשֶׁר־שָׁמַע אַבְרָהָם בְּקלִי), the sages read, "Abraham heard the word 'down to his heel'" (Gen. 26:5). Like Abraham, we will hear God's voice as we walk with him by faith...
 

עֵץ־חַיִּים הִיא לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ
וְתמְכֶיהָ מְאֻשָּׁר

etz · cha·yim · hi · la·ma·cha·zi·kim · bah
ve·to·me·khe·ha · me·u·shar
 

"Torah is a tree of life to those who lay hold of it;
and those who hold it fast are called blessed"
(Prov. 3:18)



Hebrew Study Card
 


Note:  For more on this important Torah portion, see the parashah summary page. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for Eikev here:
 

 




Shabbat Va'tomer Tzion...


 

08.02.15 (Av 17, 5775)  The weekly haftarah portion (i.e., reading from the Prophets) is usually thematically connected with the weekly Torah portion; however, after the fast of Tishah B'Av, and for the next seven weeks (49 days) leading up Rosh Hashanah (i.e., the new year), we will read selections of comfort that foretell of the future redemption of the Jewish people and the coming Messianic Era. In other words, we have a seven-week period of consolation, encouraging us to keep our hope alive, culminating in the "jubilee" of the Jewish new year. May God prepare our hears, chaverim....

Seven Weeks of Comfort: 

  1. Nachamu, Nachamu Ammi ("Comfort, comfort, my people") - Isa. 40:1-26
  2. Va'tomer Tziyon ("But Zion said...") - Isa. 49:14-51:3 (this week)
  3. Aniyah So'arah ("O afflicted and storm-tossed") - Isa. 54:11–55:5
  4. Anochi, Anochi hu ("I, even I am He...") - Isa. 51:12–52:12
  5. Rani Akarah ("Sing, O Barren one...") - Isa. 54:1–10
  6. Kumi Ori ("Arise and shine..." - Isa. 60:1–22
  7. Sos Asis ("I will greatly rejoice...") - Isa. 61:10–63:9  

 

 


The second of the "Seven Weeks of Comfort" leading up to Rosh Hashanah is called Va'tomer Tzioyn (וַתּאמֶר צִיּוֹן, "But Tzion said..."), which reminds us to never to lose hope for the heavenly future of Zion (Jerusalem).... "Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me" (Isa. 49:15-16). The Haftarah concludes by Isaiah saying that the LORD will comfort the Mountain of Zion by making it like the Garden of Eden, with joy and happiness within her, along with thanksgiving and the sound of song.

Note: The month of Elul begins in about two weeks (i.e., on Friday, September 2nd this year), which initiates the 40 day period of preparation for the Jewish High Holidays. This means that Rosh Hashanah will begin in about six weeks (i.e., Sunday, October 2nd at sundown). During the time leading up to the High Holidays, it is customary to engage in cheshbon ha-nefesh ("soul searching") and to derive comfort that God is forgiving and loving to those who sincerely turn to Him. The sages chose the seven "Haftarot of comfort" to encourage us to make our hearts ready for the upcoming High Holiday Season.
 





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