Jewish Holiday Calendar
Note: For December 2015 site updates, please scroll past this entry....
The Jewish civil year begins in the fall, though the Biblical year begins in spring (Exod. 12:2). Preparations for the fall holidays begin with a thirty day period of teshuvah (repentance) during the (late summer) month of Elul. The following ten days begin with the Feast of Trumpets (i.e., Rosh Hashanah, on Tishri 1) and end with the Day of Atonement (i.e., Yom Kippur, on Tishri 10). These first ten days of the new year are called the "Ten Days of Awe" (i.e., aseret ye'mei teshuvah: עֲשֶׁרֶת יְמֵי תְּשׁוּבָה), or simply the Jewish "High Holidays." Just five days after the solemn time of Yom Kippur begins the joyous week-long festival of Sukkot ("Tabernacles"), which is immediately followed by the celebration of Simchat Torah.
The Fall Holidays:
The fall festivals prophetically indicate the Day of the LORD, the second coming of Yeshua, the great national turning of the Jewish people, and the establishment of the reign of the Messiah upon the earth during the Millennial Kingdom in the world to come.
Note that in accordance with tradition, holiday dates begin at sundown. Moreover, some holidays may be postponed one day if they happen to fall on the weekly Sabbath:
Month of Tishri (Sun. Sept. 13th [eve] - Mon. Oct. 12th [day])
Month of Cheshvan (Mon. Oct. 12th [eve] - Wed. Nov. 11th [day])
Month of Kislev (Wed. Nov. 11th [eve] - Fri. Dec. 11th [day])
- Month of Elul (Fri. Aug. 14th [eve] - Sun. Sept. 13th [day])
Month of Tevet (Fri., Dec. 11th [eve] - Sun. Jan. 10th [day])
- Four Sabbaths: Toldot, Vayetzei, Vayishlach, Vayeshev
- Dates for Chanukah 2015 (5776):
- 1st Chanukah candle - Sun. Dec. 6th [Kislev 25]
- 2nd Chanukah candle - Mon. Dec. 7th
- 3rd Chanukah candle: Teus. Dec. 8th
- 4th Chanukah candle: Wed. Dec. 9th
- 5th Chanukah candle: Thur. Dec. 10th
- 6th Chanukah candle: Fri. Dec. 11th (Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Chanukah)
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 Chanukah begins Sunday, Dec. 6th at sundown, many calendars may indicate that it occurs on Monday, December 7th...
December 2015 Updates
Our Sacred Brevities...
12.31.15 (Tevet 19, 5776) Many people live as if God doesn't exist and that death does not occur. Instead of soberly acknowledging that their days are numbered in this world, they deny the reality of death, living as if the present moment will last forever, steadfastly ignoring any idea of judgment to come. Yeshua warned us, however, that "nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light" (Mark 4:22). We should tremble before such words. Each of us will give account for what we have done with the time given us (Heb. 9:27; 2 Cor. 5:10; Matt. 12:36). Moses therefore 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" (βάρος δόξης) that will shine in the world to come...
"As for man, his days are as grass. . . the wind passes over him and he is gone" (Psalm 103:15-16). Life goes by so quickly, and we never know when our personal "Rosh Hashanah" will come. "No one knows the day or hour..." That's why it is so vital to be healed and to turn to God while there is still time. So turn to him today and bacharta ba'chayim (בָּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים) - "choose life!" "For this commandment (of turning to God) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away. It is not in heaven... nor across the sea.... Rather, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; Rom. 10:8-13).
Think of today, this immediate hour... Now is the time we have to turn to God for life. Do not delay until the next day; do not say, "Tomorrow I will turn..." We only have this day, this hour to make our stand: tomorrow is a different world. As it is said, "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand, today -- if we hear his voice and do not harden our hearts" (Psalm 95:7-9). We are warned not to "harden our hearts," that is, not to lose sight of real hope by refusing to trust in the promises of God's love.
לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע
וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה
lim·not · ya·me·nu · ken · ho·da
ve·na·vi · le·vav · chokh·mah
"Teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom."
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Despite the frailty and tenuous brevity of our days, may it please the LORD God to shine the power of His radiance upon us, and to establish our works for His praise. May He help us to "number our days" so that we may obtain levav chokhmah (לְבַב חָכְמָה) - a heart of wisdom to live according to His will (James 1:5). Above all else, may the "God of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of Glory (אֲבִי הַכָּבוֹד), impart to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him (רוּחַ הַחָכְמָה וְהֶחָזוֹן לָדַעַת אתוֹ), having the "eyes of your hearts" (ὀφθαλμοὺς τῆς καρδίας) enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you" (Eph. 1:17-18). May you be strong, resolute, and fully focused on our LORD, and may God make this real for us: Amen.
Truth of the Inward...
12.30.15 (Tevet 18, 5776) It is written in our Scriptures: "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he." We often see what we want to see more than what is really there. That's called wishful thinking. We overlook much, and we often ignore what might challenge our own preferred interpretations. For example, we may think that we are trusting God for our lives, but we worry, we attempt to control others, we get angry, and so on. We have a blind spot regarding the question whether we really trust God, perhaps because seriously investigating what we really believe seems too threatening (John 16:31-32). After all, what if we don't really know what to believe? What if we struggle to believe? What if we are confused? What does that say about who we are? So we ignore the real problem (namely, our lack of truth and our little faith in God) and continue to think we are something we are not. We fool ourselves and trade a sense of "satisfaction" at the expense of truth. This is a common failing of human nature. During the Nazi years, many ordinary Germans refused to investigate reports of atrocities at the death camps because it was too costly to discover the truth (the same might be said about any patriotic citizens who rationalize the actions of their government regardless of the moral issues involved). By willfully hiding from the facts, we pretend we are not responsible, and therefore we justify passivity in the face of injustice and evil.
Yeshua warned that the time would come when those who kill others will delude themselves into thinking they are doing God a big favor (John 16:2). Think of how massively self-deceived such a thing is as that -- to murder someone as a so-called service to God! Many of the biggest enemies of the truth are often those who think they are doing God such favors.
הֵן־אֱמֶת חָפַצְתָּ בַטֻּחוֹת
וּבְסָתֻם חָכְמָה תוֹדִיעֵנִי
hen · e·met · cha·fatz·ta · va·tu·chot
uv·sa·tum · chokh·mah · to·di·ei·ni
"Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you will teach me wisdom in the secret heart"
Often, however, the truth "of the inward being" must come at the expense of heartache, for surely the heart must ache, tremble, and despair before it comes to accept the truth about its condition. This sort of truth is "existential," meaning that it is known only through the process of living life itself. As Kierkegaard said, "There are many people who reach their conclusions about life like schoolboys: they cheat their master by copying the answer out of a book without having worked the sum out for themselves." Yes, and they cheat themselves, too, since they somehow believe that "knowing the answer" given by another is the same thing as "knowing the answer" of their own inward being... Kierkegaard continues this thought: "The truth is lived before it is understood. It must be fought for, tested, and appropriated. Truth is the way... you must be tried, do battle, and suffer if you are to acquire truth for yourself. It is a sheer illusion to think that in relation to truth there is an abridgment, a short cut that dispenses with the necessity of struggling for it."
Note that the "inward parts" (טֻחוֹת) refers to the "kidneys" which were thought to be "the reins" or the concealed (i.e., te'ach: טִיחַ) source of the will within the person. Interestingly, the word for "inward parts" comes from the verb tachah (טָחָה) that means to "shoot with a bow," alluding to the idea of inner Torah as a directive power. God wants purity of the heart – passion, singleheartedness, and earnestness – as we live and practice the truth. God wants "the inner parts," the concealed parts of the soul, to be filled with his Torah, and therefore David asks God to make him to know wisdom there - in the "secret heart" - so that he might apprehend God's truth and do teshuvah that purifies the heart.
Empathy of Moses...
12.30.15 (Tevet 18, 5776) From our Torah portion this week (Shemot) we read: "when Moses grew up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens" (Exod. 2:11). The sages say, "do not read, 'grew up,' but rather 'became great'" (וַיִּגְדַּל), since Moses exiled himself by opening his eyes to his people's suffering. Indeed Moses was made great as he emptied himself of his royal privilege and identified with the pain and misfortunes of others (Phil. 2:7). As is written: "By faith Moses was made great (μέγας γενόμενος) by refusing to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin" (Heb. 11:24-25).
Concerning this verse the great Torah commentator Rashi wrote, "Moses set his eyes and heart to feel their anguish." The midrash says that when Moses saw the hard labor of the people, he took their yoke upon him. Indeed some of the earlier sages said that sharing the burden of another is the essence of Torah, the very foundation of all heavenly obligation (Avot 6:6). Therefore the Apostle Paul wrote (Gal. 6:2): "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the Torah of the Messiah (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ)." Expressing empathy by identifying with the pains of others requires bittul hayesh (בִּטּוּל הַיֵּשׁ), or the setting aside of the ego, which is also the essential requirement for revelation from heaven. Hence Moses was given direct encounter with the Divine Presence because of his great humility.
In order to say, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done" you must let go of your own agenda; your ego must be deposed from its petty little kingdom... Likewise, you can't say, "Come, Lord Jesus" by putting your fear first, or by otherwise demanding that your life should center on your own personal "advent." No, you must consciously choose to live in exile to this world (Gal. 6:14). How can we ever expect the LORD to live out His life through us if we do not genuinely offer our lives to Him? And yet this is exactly the problem of the ego...
A principle of spiritual life is that we descend in order to ascend, or the "the way up is the way down." As Yeshua said, "Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all" (Mark 10:44). Becoming nothing (i.e., ayin) in this world is the condition for seeing something in the world to come. But we become nothing by trusting in the miracle, not by trying to efface ourselves... This is not another venture of the ego. Life in the Spirit means trusting that God will do within you what you cannot do for yourself... We can only take hold of what God has done for us by "letting go" of our own devices (Phil. 2:13). When we really let go and trust, we will become nothing (i.e., klume: כְּלוּם), carried by the Torah of the Spirit of life. The way is not trying but trusting; not struggling but resting; not of clinging to life, but of letting go...
"So-called pious people are unfree. They too lack the authentic certitude of inwardness. That is why they are so pious! And the world is surely justified in laughing at them. If, for example, a bowlegged man wants to be a dancing master but is not able to execute a single step, he is comical. So it is also with the multitudes who are so religious. Often you can hear the pious beating time, as it were, exactly like one who cannot dance but nevertheless knows enough to beat time, yet who are never fortunate enough to get in step. In order to reassure themselves, the pious seize upon grandiose ideas that the world hates. They battle ideas, but not with their lives. Such is the life of those who lack inwardness." - Kierkegaard (Journals)
Note: This is another example of the difficulty of truly trusting God for the miracle, of receiving the miracle... Some people scorn the idea of "easy believism," though of course there is nothing at all "easy" about exercising true faith in the LORD and living the truth in our lives. We need the miracle; we need grace from heaven to impart real passion for us to walk according to God's heart.
Man of Sorrows...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Shemot... ]
12.29.15 (Tevet 17, 5776) The LORD said, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry... I know their sorrows" (Exod. 3:7). The grammar here is intense: "seeing I have seen" (רָאה רָאִיתִי). Understand, then, that God surely sees your struggles, friend. Second, know that God heeds the outcry (צְעָקָה) of your heart, and indeed, he interprets your groaning as if it were for the sake of serving him. Your heart's cry is transformed by grace to be the cry for God himself, for relationship with Him. "The cry of the people has come to me," he told Moses (Exod 3:9), which means all the sufferings, the wrongs, the hopes, the fears, the groans, the despair, the prayers, were present before him, as if he counted every word and sigh. Third, realize that God knows your sorrows; he gathers all your tears into his bottle (Psalm 56:8). The word translated "sorrows" (מַכְאב) is the same used to describe the "Man of sorrows" (אישׁ מַכְאבוֹת), Yeshua our Suffering Servant, who gave up his life to deliver you from darkness, sorrow, and fear (Isa. 53:3-5).
"If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe from falling, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown - that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love. Between God and the soul there is ultimately no between." - Julian of Norwich
Cast your care upon him...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Shemot... ]
12.29.15 (Tevet 17, 5776) "And when she (Yocheved) could hide him (Moses) no longer, she took for him a basket made of reeds and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank" (Exod. 2:3). The sages note that what distinguishes this makeshift "ark" (תֵּבָה) from a boat is the absence of a sail or rudder: There is no way to control its direction or outcome... Like Noah's ark, it is a vehicle completely surrendered to God's care. Likewise we must cast ourselves upon the waters of God's mercy and trust that he will guide our way (1 Pet. 5:7).
Note: I understand that "letting go" is not always easy to do.... For instance, there have been a number of home break-ins in our neighborhood, and my gut instinct is to try to manage my fear using carnal methods (i.e., home defense strategies)... It is harder (though infinitely better) to let go and trust that our LORD will protect us and guard the doorways of our home, relying on Him guide the way of our lives. As it says in our Scriptures: "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain" (Psalm 127:1).
God Knows your Name...
12.28.15 (Tevet 16, 5776) The Book of Exodus begins, ve'eleh shemot (וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת), "and these are the names" (of the sons of Israel). God call each person by name to make the journey... Indeed, God calls each star by its own name (Gen. 22:17, Psalm 147:4) and yet He also knows each lily of the field and sparrow that flutters its wings (Matt. 6:28-30, 10:29). As Yeshua said, even the hairs on your head are all numbered (Matt. 10:30). In Jewish theology, the term hashgachah pratit (הַשְׁגָּחָה פְּרָטִית) refers to God's personal supervision of our lives (hashgachah means "supervision," and pratit means "individual" or "particular"). Since God is the Master of the Universe, His supervision and providence reaches to the smallest of details of creation - from subatomic particles to the great motions of the cosmos. Of particular interest, however, are those whom He created be'tzelem Elohim: in His image and likeness. The LORD is called אלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר / Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol-basar: "The God of the spirits of all flesh" (Num. 16:22), and that means that every spirit ultimately answers to Him.
אִם־יִסָּתֵר אִישׁ בַּמִּסְתָּרִים
וַאֲנִי לא־אֶרְאֶנּוּ נְאֻם־יְהוָה
הֲלוֹא אֶת־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת־הָאָרֶץ
אֲנִי מָלֵא נְאֻם־יְהוָה
im · yis·sa·ter · ish · ba·mis·ta·rim
va·ani · lo · er·en·nu · ne·um · Adonai
ha·lo · et · ha·sha·ma·yim · ve·et · ha·a·retz
a·ni · ma·lei · ne·um · Adonai
"Can a man hide himself in secret places
so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD.
Do I not fill heaven and earth?
declares the LORD." (Jer. 23:24)
We find great comfort when we understand that God has complete authority over categorically everything in the universe -- including our ultimate welfare (John 10:27-28). When we pray to the LORD God of Israel, we intuitively understand that He is completely sovereign and Lord over all things... All power, glory, authority, and dominion is His alone, and all that is in the heaven and in the earth is His (1 Chron. 29:11-12). We do not worry that He is incapable of handling our troubles or that He is unable to help us. No, we acknowledge that the God most High (אֵל עֶלְיוֹן) sustains all things by the Word of His power (Col. 1:17). He is "the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings (מֶלֶךְ הַמְּלָכִים) and the Lord of lords" (1 Tim. 6:15). Whenever we think clearly in light of the revelation of Scripture, we apprehend the truth about God's sovereign glory and power...
Being and Truth...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Shemot... ]
12.28.15 (Tevet 16, 5776) In our Torah portion this week, Moses asked for God's Name, and God then said ehyeh asher ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה), "I AM that I AM" (or "I will be what I will be"), abbreviated simply as ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה), "I AM" (Exod. 3:14). Note that God identifies himself with being itself, since ehyeh is the Qal imperfect form of the verb hayah (הָיָה), meaning "to be." Indeed, the Name YHVH (יהוה) essentially means "Presence," since God is called ha-hoveh, ve'hayah, ve'yavo (הַהוֶה וְהָיָה וְיָבוֹא) - "the One who is, and was, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8). This "threefold Name" of the LORD of Hosts encompasses all possible states of being, indicating that God is LORD over all possible worlds...
וַיּאמֶר אֱלהִים אֶל־משֶׁה אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה
וַיּאמֶר כּה תאמַר לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
אֶהְיֶה שְׁלָחַנִי אֲלֵיכֶם
va·yo·mer · E·lo·him · el · Mo·she · eh·yeh · a·sher · eh·yeh
va·yo·mer · koh · to·mar · liv·nei · Yis·ra·el
eh·yeh · she·la·cha·ni · a·le·khem
"God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM."
And he said, "Say this to the sons of Israel,
'I AM has sent me to you'" (Exod. 3:14)
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New Year Assumptions...
12.28.15 (Tevet 16, 5776) Often we don't realize what is not being said because of what is being said. In other words, hidden or unspoken assumptions are always at work in communication, though we rarely take the time to examine these assumptions for ourselves. Advertisers, politicians, and others who wish to control your thinking implicitly understand this and therefore regularly employ various techniques to distract you from examining their assumptions. They understand that the louder (or more frequently or more threateningly) something is said, the less likely you will question its truth status or engage in reasonable thinking of your own.... In other words, "truth" for such pragmatists is little more than persuasion. Get the crowd to believe you and you've got the "truth."
For example, in most countries of the world, "New Year's Day" is usually celebrated on January 1st, though this date comes from the arbitrary decree of the consuls of ancient (and pagan) Rome -- certainly not from anything taught in the Torah and the Hebrew Scriptures. According to Torah, however, there are two mirroring "New Years" observed during the year. The first occurs two weeks before Passover (Nisan 1) and the second occurs ten days before Yom Kippur (Tishri 1). The first is called Rosh Chodashim (see Exod. 12:2), which commemorates the month of the redemption of the Jewish people (i.e., the month Yeshua was sacrificed for our sins), whereas the second is called Yom Teru'ah that is associated with the "Feast of Ingathering" at the "end of the year" (Exod. 23:16, 34:22). Later Yom Terua'h became known as Rosh Hashanah ("the head of the year") which began a ten-day "trial" of humanity climaxing on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
The two "new years" of the Jewish calendar mirror each other and reveal the two advents of Messiah. For more on the secular New Year and its relationship to the calendar of Torah, see the page, "The Gregorian Calendar and Pagan Assumptions."
The Book of Exodus...
12.27.15 (Tevet 15, 5776) Over the next eleven weeks (until the second week of March) we will be reading and studying the Book of Exodus (סֵפֶר שְׁמוֹת) and considering its message in light of revelation of Yeshua our Messiah. There are forty chapters in this book (16,723 words, 63,529 letters) that are traditionally divided into eleven weekly Torah readings.
Some of the greatest narratives of all the Scriptures are found in this great book, including the Israelites' enslavement and subsequent deliverance with the ten plagues by the hand of the LORD. After the great Passover, Moses led the people out of the land Egypt, crossing the Sea of Reeds, and arriving at Sinai to receive the Torah exactly 49 day later. While Moses was on the mountain, however, the people worshipped a Golden Calf, and a long period of repentance occurred until the covenant was reestablished. The remainder of the book describes the vision and construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) -- the great Altar upon which a defect-free lamb was offered every day and every night...
In English the word "Exodus" ("going out") comes from the title of the ancient Greek translation of the phrase Sefer Yetziat Mitzraim ("the book of the going out from Egypt"). Hence the Greek word ἔξοδος became "Exodus" in Latin which later was adopted into English. In the Hebrew Bible this book is called Shemot ("names"), following the custom of naming a book according to its first significant word.
Personal Update: A gentle request to remember me, John, in your prayers, my friends... This has been an especially difficult season of my life and I need your prayers for this ministry to continue, and for God's will to be done. Thank you so much.
Parashat Shemot - שמות
12.27.15 (Tevet 15, 5776) Our Torah reading for this week is the very first of the Book of Exodus, called parashat Shemot (שְׁמוֹת). This portion begins directly where the Book of Genesis left off, namely by listing the "names" (shemot) of the descendants of Jacob who came to Egypt to live in the land of Goshen. Over time Jacob's family flourished and multiplied so greatly that the new king of Egypt – who did not "remember" Joseph - regarded them as a political threat and decided to enslave them. When the king's oppression did not curb their growth, however, he cruelly commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill all newborn Jewish boys. When the midwives refused to obey, however, the Pharaoh commanded that all newborn boys were to be drowned in the Nile river (the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim (מִצְרַיִם), can be rearranged to form the phrase tzar mayim (צַר מַיִם), meaning "torture through water," which was the plan of the nefarious Pharaoh).
During this time of grave oppression, a family from the tribe of Levi bore a son and hid him for three months. When the baby could no longer be concealed, however, his mother Yocheved (יוֹכֶבֶד) set him afloat in the Nile River inside a basket, praying that he might somehow escape death. Miriam (מִרְיָם), the baby's sister, watched what would happen, and soon the basket was discovered by the daughter of Pharaoh, who decided to save the baby and adopt him as her own son. Miriam then cleverly offered to have her mother become the baby's wet-nurse for the princess. After the child was duly weaned, he was brought to Pharaoh's palace to live as the princess' son. The princess named him "Moses" (משֶׁה), meaning "drawn out" (מָשָׁה) of the water.
Later, when Moses was a full-grown man, he "went out to his people and looked on their burdens." When he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite slave, he killed the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand. The following day he tried to reconcile two Israelites who were fighting, but the one in the wrong prophetically objected: "And who made you a prince and judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?" Upon hearing this Moses decided to flee from Egypt to Midian. There he rescued Zipporah (צִפּרָה), the daughter of Jethro (יִתְרוֹ), a Midianite priest. Soon afterward, Moses decided to work for Jethro and married Zipporah. They had a son named Gershom (גֵּרְשׁם).
After nearly 40 years living in Midian as a shepherd, God called out to Moses from the midst of a burning bush to commission him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt back to the Promised Land. When Moses protested that he was inadequate for this task, God gave him three "signs" to authenticate his message. God also appointed his brother Aaron to be his spokesperson. Moses and Aaron then went to the Pharaoh and demanded that the Israelites be permitted to leave Egypt to worship the LORD in the wilderness. The Pharaoh, however, dismissed Moses and his God, and increased the workload of the slaves by forcing them to make bricks without straw.
Shalom and good upon you... And may we all have great joy and strength as we begin reading a new book of Torah this week, friends! SHAVUAH TOV!
Unto us a Child is Born...
12.25.15 (Tevet 13, 5776) Regarding the birth of Messiah it is written in our Scriptures: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called: the Wonderful Counselor (פֶּלֶא יוֹעֵץ), the Mighty God (אֵל גִּבּוֹר), the Father of Eternity (אֲבִיעַד), the Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6). "Unto us a child is born" - this is the first advent - when the Messiah would be rejected, suffer, and die for our sins; and "unto us a son is given" - this is the second advent - when the Messiah will reign as David's greater regent in the kingdom promised to Zion.
כִּי־יֶלֶד יֻלַּד־לָנוּ בֵּן נִתַּן־לָנוּ
וַתְּהִי הַמִּשְׂרָה עַל־שִׁכְמוֹ
וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ פֶּלֶא יוֹעֵץ
אֵל גִּבּוֹר אֲבִיעַד שַׂר־שָׁלוֹם
ki · ye·led · yu·lad · la·nu, · ben · nit·tan · la·nu
va·te·hi · ham·mis·rah · al · shikh·mo
va·yi·kra · she·mo · pe·le · yo·etz
El · gib·bor, a·vi · ad, sar · shalom
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called: the Wonderful Counselor,
the Mighty God, the Father of Eternity, the Prince of Peace."
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Notice that the four terms used to describe this coming King clearly transcend the historical figure of any earthly king of Israel. For example, the word "pele" in pele yo'etz (wonderful counselor) is used in Judges 13:18 regarding the name of the Angel of the LORD (who in verse 22 is identified as God). El Gibbor (Mighty God) is clearly a title for the Holy One of Israel (Isa. 10:20-21; Psalm 24:8). Avi'ad (Father of Eternity) refers to God as Avinu Malkenu (see Isaiah 63:16, 1 Chron. 29:10; Psalm 68:5; Mal. 2:10). And as for Sar Shalom (Prince of Peace), both the Talmud and Scripture refer to "the Name of God as Peace" (Shab. 10b, Judges 6:24). It is clear, therefore, that these terms are designations for the LORD God of Israel and not merely that of a human being (for more on this, see this page).
Many Christians focus on Isaiah 9:6 and rightly link it to the nativity account of the gospels, but it is important to understand that the promise is also linked to the eschatological future: "Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this" (Isa. 9:7; Luke 1:32-33). Notice that the phrase "his rule will be increased" (לְםַרְבֵּה הַמִּשְׂרָה) is spelled using a closed Mem (ם) instead of the usual open Mem (מ), which suggests that the authority of the One to whom the rule will be given is final and complete. The "child that was born" will be soon be revealed as "the Son that is given" to Israel. One day soon Yeshua will return to Zion (i.e., Jerusalem) to establish His kingdom and fulfill God's promises to Israel. That day and hour are close... Come quickly, LORD!
Seeing Inside Out...
12.25.15 (Tevet 13, 5776) We tend to look on the outside of others, forgetting that their inner life is undoubtedly much like our own. But if we objectify people, if we regard them as "outsiders," we exile a large part of ourselves, and thereby risk losing something our own hearts... In this fallen and dark world, people fumble along searching for meaning, purpose, and redemption, hoping to find some warmth, kindness, and inner peace. Often they are seeking for spirituality where it cannot be found... Our salvation in Yeshua gives us access to the "inside," to a place of divine consolation, where we are given the means to take hold of the compassion, comfort, and love from the Real World. Therefore let us recognize the hurting among us and offer them courage as they walk the way of faith (Gal. 6:2).
Blessings of Israel...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Vayechi... ]
12.24.15 (Tevet 12, 5776) "Then Jacob called his sons and said, "Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in the end of days (בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים). Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob (בְּנֵי יַעֲקב), listen to Israel your father (יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲבִיכֶם)" (Gen. 49:1-2). Here Jacob used both his names before blessing his sons. His name "Jacob" represented his natural life – his birth as the "heel-holder" of Esau; his hunger for his earthly father's blessing; and his self-doubt as he pretended to be someone other than himself... His name "Israel," on the other hand, was given to him after he grappled with the mysterious Angel, refusing to relent until he found his blessing despite the pain of his past. "Israel" represents Jacob's rebirth, his God-given ability to father his children, and the grace to impart the appropriate blessing to each child as needed (Gen. 49:28).
Celebrating Messiah's Birth...
12.24.15 (Tevet 12, 5776) If the priest Zechariah was performing the Yom Kippur avodah when he was visited by the angel Gabriel (as seems to be the case given the context, see Luke 1:8-23), and his wife Elizabeth conceived about that time (see Luke 1:24, that is, sometime in the middle of the month of Tishri), and her cousin Mary was then told of the incarnation six months later, during Passover season (Luke 1:26, 36), then the birth of Yeshua would have been sometime during the middle of the month of Tevet, which is indeed close to the traditional December 25th date observed by the majority of Christians...
After all, as you read the the prophetic announcement of the birth of John given in Luke, it certainly seems that Zechariah was performing the Yom Kippur ritual at the Temple, offering incense before the parochet before he entered the sacred chamber of the Holy of Holies. Indeed, one implication of this interpretation is that the Lamb of God (שׂה הָאֱלהִים) was conceived during Passover, which seems appropriate as the time of the Incarnation...
ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν -- "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14) -- which of course is the essence of the gospel message. As it is written concerning the birth of Messiah: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6).
Of course the exact date of Yeshua's birth is existentially irrelevant, apart from the fact that he indeed was born into this world as our Savior, and indeed, the New Testament stresses the significance of his death more than his birth (1 Cor. 2:2; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Nevertheless, we use the "good eye" to regard our Christian friends who honor this time to remember the birth of Yeshua, even if we have convictions that may lead us to think Messiah was born during Sukkot. For some hopefully peaceful discussion about the birth date of the Messiah Yeshua, see the article, "Christmas: Was Jesus really born on December 25th?"
Note: The point of this entry was to explore the traditional date as a possibility, not to be dogmatic and intolerant. You certainly do not have to agree with the traditional date, though if you disagree, then you should at least address the pertinent question of what Zechariah was doing in his service when the prophecy of the birth of John was made. Above all, follow your own convictions and walk in peace toward all people (Heb. 12:14). Shalom.
The Hungry Heart...
12.24.15 (Tevet 12, 5776) The hungry heart that seeks God will find Him within the heart itself, because the heart is the place where we become aware and alive to the Divine Presence. As Yeshua said, "The kingdom of heaven is found within you" (Luke 17:21); it is a matter of the heart, of choosing to have emunah (faith), rather than seeing with the eyes. We believe to see, not the other way around! What a great gift it is to truly desire God -- to hunger and thirst for Him above all else... Ask the LORD to fill you with His Spirit to reveal the expanse of your heart's need for Him, and to establish His glorious reign within you...
Love's Great Humility...
12.23.15 (Tevet 11, 5776) "Unless you turn (shuv) and become like children, you will never (οὐ μὴ) enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). Such is the importance of simple trust in God... Indeed Yeshua repeatedly taught us to trust God as "Abba," our Father (אַבָּא אָבִינוּ). He taught that we are warmly accepted as part of his family; that we are under his constant care; and that we live within his household as beloved children... And even though God is utterly transcendent, the Infinite One (אין סוף) and Creator of all worlds, he humbles himself to feed the birds of the air, to water lilies of the field, and to count the number of hairs on your head (Psalm 113:5-6). He is as close as your next breath; he leans upon your bosom at the table; he anticipates what you need before you ask him... The "fear of the Lord" is that you might fail knowing his great love for you -- that you will forget your true identity in lesser things. Therefore affirm the truth that you are loved with an unending and everlasting love, that you are safe, that you are surely accepted, and that nothing can ever separate you from the power of love. God your Father hears you, he knows you, and he loves you bekhol levavo (בְּכָל־לְבָבוֹ) - "with all his heart."
May we know God as our beloved Abba. "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and fellow heirs with Messiah - even if we may suffer together with him to the end that we may also be glorified together with him" (Rom. 8:15-17).
The Grace of Forgiveness...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Vayechi... ]
12.23.15 (Tevet 11, 5776) After the burial of their father Jacob, the brothers said, "perhaps Joseph will repay us the evil we did him" (Gen. 50:15). The commentator Rashi notes the word translated "perhaps" (לוּ) expresses a wish: "We wish Joseph would repay us the evil we did him." The brothers could not accept Joseph's forgiveness because they clung to their guilt and shame... It would have been easier for them to tolerate retribution for their wrongs than to accept such unmerited grace and kindness. And such is the case with some of us, too. We might find it easier to trust in God's disapproval of us more than his welcoming love, since that agrees with our sense of self-contempt. We must be careful, however, since such "humility" may really cloak the proud demand of the flesh not to feel indebted to God. The carnal life understands the idea of "karma," payback, like-for-like and "eye for eye" justice, but it stumbles over sheer grace. Faith in God's love given in Yeshua is the courage to accept that you are accepted despite your own sense of unacceptability...
The Word Made Flesh...
12.22.15 (Tevet 10, 5776) At Sinai we heard the Voice of God (קוֹל אֱלהִים) speaking from the midst of the Fire (Deut. 4:33), an event that foreshadowed the great advent of the King and Lawgiver Himself, when the Eternal Word (דְבַר־יְהוָה) became flesh and dwelt with us (Phil. 2:6-7; John 1:1,14). Any theology that regards God as entirely transcendent (i.e., God is beyond any analogy with the finite) will have a problem with divine immanence (i.e., God is inherent within the finite), since the highness, holiness, and perfection of God will make Him seem distant, outside of us, far away, and unknown... Incarnational theology, on the other hand, manifests the nearness of God to disclose the divine empathy. Indeed, the LORD became Immanuel (עִמָּנוּ אֵל), "one with us," to share our mortal condition, to know our pain, and to experience what it means to be wounded by sin, to be abandoned, alienated, forsaken. It is God's own bittul hayesh (בִּטּוּל הַיֵּשׁ) - his self-nullification for the sake of love and truth. The "Eternal made flesh" bridges the gap between the realm of Ein Sof (אין סוף), the infinitely transcendent One, and the finite world of people lost within their sinful frailty. Of course we believe Adonai Echad (יְהוָה אֶחָד) - that the "LORD is One" - both in the sense of being exalted over all things but also in the sense of being compassionately involved in all things (Rom. 11:36). We therefore celebrate the giving of the Torah both at Sinai and especially at Bethlehem with the birth of Messiah. We celebrate that God is indeed the King and Ruler over all, but we further affirm that God's authority and rule extends to all worlds - including the realm of our finitude and need...
As I've mentioned elsewhere, the climax of Sinai was the revelation of the Sanctuary. The two tablets of the law, summarizing the Ten Commandments, were stored inside the famous Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן בְּרִית־יְהוָה), a sacred "three-in-one" box placed in the innermost chamber of the Tabernacle called the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). As such, the Ark served as kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), the Throne of Glory itself. Upon the cover (or crown) of the Ark (i.e., the kapporet) were fashioned two cherubim (i.e., angel-like figures) that faced one another (Exod. 25:17-18). According to the Talmud (Succah 5b), each cherub had the face of a child - one boy and one girl - and their wings spread heavenward as their eyes gazed upon the cover (Exod. 25:20). It was here that God's Voice would be heard during the Yom Kippur service, when sacrificial blood was sprinkled upon the crown to symbolize the atonement of sin secured through Messiah, the Word that became flesh for us... In the very heart of the Sanctuary, then, we see the Word of God and the sacrficial blood.
God Himself was clothed with human skin: our flesh, our bones... The incarnation is the "Absolute Paradox," as Kierkegaard once said, wherein the Infinite and the Finite meet in mystery of the Divine Presence. Here God "touches a leper," eats with sinners and prostitutes, sheds human tears, and suffers heartache like all other men... The gloriously great God, the very Creator of the cosmos, has "emptied Himself" to come in the form of a lowly servant (δοῦλος) - disguised to the eyes of the proud and hardhearted, but is revealed as High Priest to those who are genuinely broken and in profound need. The LORD God is God over all possible worlds, and that includes both the celestial realms of the heavens but also the world of the fallen, the ashamed, the alienated, and the lost... God's infinite condescension reveals and augments the majesty of His infinite transcendence. There is no world - nor ever shall there be such - where the LORD God Almighty does not reign and have preeminence.
Do not suppose for a moment that the Torah of Moses does not teach "incarnational" theology. Since God created human beings in his image and likeness, the "anthropomorphic language" of Scripture is meaningful. The LORD reveals himself in human terms - using human language, expressing human emotions, and so on, as it says: Moses spoke to God panim el panim - "face to face" (Deut. 34:10). The Torah always has to take on human form - the Word made flesh - for the sake of human beings who live in flesh and blood reality...
The greatest expression of God's word is found in the Presence of Yeshua. This is the Word of God that "tabernacles" with us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Yeshua is the "Living Torah," Immanuel (עִמָּנוּ אֵל), "God with us," who enters our world to rescue us from death. Our Scriptures state that "in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son, whom He appointed the Heir of all things, through whom also He created the worlds" (Heb 1:2). Note that the Greek construction for the phrase translated, "by his son" is ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ, which literally means "he spoke to us in Son" -- that is, in the language or voice of the Son of God Himself... God speaks the language "of Son" from the midst of the fire revealed at Zion. "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe (μετὰ αἰδοῦς καὶ εὐλαβείας) - for our God is Esh Okhelah - a Consuming Fire" (Heb. 12:28-29).
Blessing without Envy...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Vayechi... ]
12.22.15 (Tevet 10, 5776) "I know my son, I know" (Gen. 48:19). Jacob's distinctive blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh was intended to serve as a parable to warn of the dangers of fraternal envy. The blessing of God is for the whole family, regardless of whoever may be regarded as "the favored son." And since both Ephraim and Manasseh had accepted God's decree without protest, Jacob ordained that these two brothers should serve as examples for all Israel to follow. Therefore he blessed them that day, saying, "By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying, יְשִׂמְךָ אֱלהִים כְּאֶפְרַיִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה - yesimkha Elohim ke'efraim ve'khimnasheh: 'May God make you like Ephraim and as Manasseh'" (Gen. 48:20) -- a phrase that has been incorporated into our weekly Sabbath blessings...
Vayechi - "And He Lived"
[ Happy Holidays, friends... Our Torah reading for this week is Parashat Vayechi, the final portion from the Book of Genesis, which includes Jacob's great prophecy of the coming Messiah. ]
12.21.15 (Tevet 9, 5776) Our Torah reading for this week, parashat Vayechi (ויחי), recounts how the great patriarch Jacob adopted Joseph's two sons (Ephraim and Manasseh) as his own children. When Jacob blessed the boys, however, he intentionally reversed the birth order by putting the younger before the older, signifying that the old struggle he had faced as a child was over, and he now understood things differently. And note Ephraim and Manasseh's reaction: the older did not envy the younger, nor did the younger boast over the older. The family had apparently learned that blessing from God is for the good of all, and that there is no real blessing apart from genuine humility that esteems the welfare of others. Jacob was now ready to summon his family to hear his final words. Among other things, he foretold how the Messiah would come from the line of Judah and then instructed his sons to bury him only in the promised land, and not in Egypt.
After his death, Joseph and his brothers, with various dignitaries of Egypt, formed a funeral procession and returned to Canaan to bury Jacob in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. After the funeral, they returned to Egypt, but Joseph's brothers feared that he would now repay them for their former betrayal and threw themselves on his mercy. Joseph reassured them that they had no reason to fear him and reminded them that God had overruled their earlier intent by intending him to be a blessing to the whole world.
The portion ends with the account of the death of Joseph, who made the sons of Israel promise to take his bones with them when the LORD would bring them back to the land of Canaan (alluding to the great Exodus to come). Joseph's faith in the Jewish people's return to the Promised Land is summarized by his statement: "God will surely remember you." He died at age 110, was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt, full of faith that he would be raised from the dead in the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
For more information, please read the Torah summary page for Vayechi and its related articles. You can also download the Shabbat "Table Talk" for the portion here:
Note: This Shabbat we will finish reading the Book of Genesis (סֵפֶר בְּרֵאשִׁית) for the current Jewish year... This inestimably great book begins with an account of the creation of the universe by the LORD and ends with Joseph being put into a coffin in Egypt. Note that the word translated "coffin" is the Hebrew word aron (אֲרוֹן), a word used elsewhere in the Torah to refer exclusively to the Ark of the Covenant (the ark that Noah built and the ark that Moses was placed in are both called "teivah"). Throughout their desert wanderings after the Sinai revelation, the Israelites actually carried two special arks - one holding the bones of Joseph and the other holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments.
Refuse the lies of fear...
[ Since this world's propaganda constantly seeks to weaken us through fear, let me again urge you to always remember what is Real... ]
12.18.15 (Tevet 6, 5776) Worry is a place of exile and pain. Since God's Name YHVH means "Presence" and "Love," to be troubled or anxious is to practice the absence of God's presence instead of practicing His Presence... We must "set the LORD" always before us (Psalm 16:8). Where it is written, "cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Pet. 5:7), the word translated "anxiety" (μέριμνα) comes from a Greek verb (μερίζω) that means to be fragmented or divided into parts and pieces. We bring our brokenness to God - including those distractions that tear us away from Him and that make us inwardly fragmented and afraid - in order to receive God's love and care for our lives... We bring our brokenness to God - including those distractions that tear us away from Him and that make us inwardly fragmented and afraid - in order to receive God's love and care for our lives...
אַל־תִּירָא כִּי עִמְּךָ־אָנִי אַל־תִּשְׁתָּע כִּי־אֲנִי אֱלהֶיךָ
אִמַּצְתִּיךָ אַף־עֲזַרְתִּיךָ אַף־תְּמַכְתִּיךָ בִּימִין צִדְקִי
al ti·ra ki im·me·kha a·ni; al tish·ta ki a·ni E·lo·he·kha
im·matz·ti·kha af a·zar·ti·kha, af te·makh·ti·kha bi·min tzid·ki
"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
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Take comfort that your Heavenly Father sees when the sparrow falls; he arrays the flower in its hidden valley; and he calls each star by name. More importantly, the Lord sees you and understands your struggle with fear... Bring to Him your needy heart and trust in His provision and care... As we look to Him, we will be seen -- and our dread of being invisible, irrelevant, and insignificant will itself vanish.
Note that the meaning of God's Name (YHVH) was initially revealed to Moses as simply ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה), "I AM," or "I WILL BE" (Exod. 3:14), though it is wonderful to understand that His Name is also revealed as ehyeh imakh (אהְיֶה עִמָּךְ), "I WILL BE WITH YOU" (Josh. 1:5,9; Isa. 41:10,13; John 10:28; Matt. 28:20, etc.). Just as the LORD is called Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 16:22), so He is the Source of your breath, the One who exhales to you nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" that enables you to live (Job 12:10). Indeed the Name YHVH (יהוה) first appears in the Torah in regarding imparting the breath of life to Adam (Gen. 2:7). Note further that each of the letters of the Name YHVH represent vowel sounds (i.e., breath), suggesting again that God's Spirit is as close as your very next breath. Like the wind that cannot be seen, so is the spirit the essential part of your identity. Yeshua breathed on his followers and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22).
This is a word for the exiles of every age: Be not afraid - al-tirah – not of man, nor of war, nor of tribulation, nor even of death itself (Rom. 8:35-39). If God is for us, then who is able to stand against us? "In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? (Psalm 56:11). Indeed, Yeshua came to die to destroy both the works of the devil and the power of death itself, in order to "release all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (1 John 3:8; Heb. 2:14-15). The resurrection of the Messiah is the focal point of history - not the "dust of death." Death does not have the final word, but rather life, peace, and love. Because Yeshua is alive, we also shall live (John 14:19); because of Yeshua's victory, we can now walk without fear: al-tirah, "Fear not, for I Am with you."
"Fear not, for I am with you..." אַל־תִּירָא כִּי עִמְּךָ־אָנִי. What we need most of all is right here, present in this hour, whether we're conscious of it or not. God is with you, even if you feel alone, lost in darkness, unclean, afraid... "Dear Lord Jesus, I don't know who I am, I don't know where I am, and I don't know what I am, but please love me" (prayer of a sufferer from Alzheimer's disease). That's what we need most, to trust that we are safe in God's love, and that's the ultimate message of our atonement in Messiah.
SHABBAT SHALOM AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO YOU ALL!
The Humility of Messiah...
12.18.15 (Tevet 6, 5776) Though the world corrupts the message of the birth of Messiah for the sake of its greed, take a moment to reflect on its ongoing spiritual significance, namely, that God empties Himself of His regal glory and power to become your High Priest, able to fully sympathize with your weakness, frailty, shame, and chronic sinfulness (Heb. 4:15-16; Phil 2:7-8). Almighty God, the Presence of Love, the Heart of God, clothed himself in human flesh and bone to become Immanuel (עִמָּנוּ אֵל) - "one with us" - so that we could be touched by Him, healed by Him, and forever saved by Him... Therefore let's join the refrain of heavenly host: "Glory to God in the highest, and upon earth peace, among men - good will."
כָּבוֹד לֵאלהִים בַּמְּרוֹמִים
וְשָׁלוֹם עֲלֵי אֲדָמוֹת בְּקֵרֵב אַנְשֵׁי רְצוֹנוֹ
ka·vod · le·lo·him · ba·me·ro·mim
ve·sha·lom · a·lei · a·da·mot · be·ke·rev · an·shei · re·tzo·no
"Glory to God in the highest,
and upon earth peace, among men - good will."
Hebrew Study Card
Consider the absolute humility of God as He chose to enter into this world as "baby Jesus." Meditate on the glory and sheer paradox of God's love! "Baby Jesus" is the perfect disguise to hide the truth from the proud eyes of the flesh, though the humble of heart can see... What would do without the gift of God, friends? What hope would we have? Regardless of the exact date of his birth of His birth, let's thank God that our Moshia (Savior) was willing to be born into this dark world to offer Himself as our sacrificial Redeemer! "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen."
What do we do, then, if you sincerely seek to follow the Torah's calendar in light of entrenched Christian customs? Well, we certainly may commemorate the birth of Messiah during the holiday of Sukkot (or Passover, etc.), though we must be careful to show charity and use the "good eye" toward those who may adhere to the traditional date for "Christmas." Likewise we commemorate the death and resurrection of Messiah during Passover and Firstfruits, respectively, though we do not begrudge those of good faith who honor these great events of salvation during what they call the "Easter" season. Often we are tested in exactly this way, chaverim! We must not miss the "weightier matters" of extending love to others, as Yeshua clearly taught (Matt. 23:23). Moreover it is written, "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5; Col. 2:16). Friends, we must test the spirits -- and that includes our own! How do we treat the "stranger" among us? How do we regard the "weaker brother?" Do we demand that our doctrine be esteemed, or do we allow room for others to seek the Lord and his wisdom? Ask yourself: Does this person (or group) honor Yeshua as God the Son, the Redeemer of Humanity who died for our sins and rose from the dead? If so, then keep your heart warm and soft toward him, even if he has yet to discover the Jewish roots of their faith. "Strive for peace with everyone" (Heb. 12:14). "Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you" (Phil. 3:15). Though we desire unity with one another (John 17:11), we cannot insist on doctrinal uniformity. The truth is known in humility and love.
Assurance and Salvation...
12.18.15 (Tevet 6, 5776) Regarding the certainty of deliverance Yeshua said: "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes in the One who sent me has (i.e., ἔχει, present active indicative) eternal life and will not be condemned, but has passed over (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24). Note that the verb translated "has passed over" (μεταβέβηκεν) is a perfect active that expresses completed action: "this one has already crossed over from death to life." In other words, it is a "done deal" though it is only experienced as we surrender to the love and grace of God. The "basis" (βάσις) of life is now radically new and of a different order. As the apostle Paul later summarized: "For it is by grace you have been saved (i.e., σεσῳσμένοι, a perfect passive participle that denotes completed action done on your behalf with effects that continue to the present) through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:9-10). I'm so glad it's not the strength of my grip that keeps me holding on to God, but the strength of His.....
אָמֵן אָמֵן אֲנִי אוֹמֵר לָכֶם
הַשּׁוֹמֵעַ אֶת דְּבָרַי וּמַאֲמִין לְשׁוֹלְחִי
יֶשׁ לוֹ חַיֵּי עוֹלָם וְאֵינוֹ בָּא בְּמִשְׁפָּט
כִּי אִם עָבַר מִמָּוֶת לְחַיִּים
a·men · a·men · a·ni · o·mer · la·khem
ha·sho·me·a · et · de·va·rai · u·ma·a·min · le·shol·chi
yesh · lo · cha·yei · o·lam, · ve·ei·no · ba · be·mish·pat
ki · im · a·var · mi·ma·vet · le·cha·yim
"Truly, truly, I say to you,
whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me
has eternal life, and he will not be condemned,
but has crossed over from death to life."
Download Study Card
Our Lord does not want us uncertain or unsure of His great love for us. A fearful believer explained that he was anxious about his acceptance before heaven. When he was asked to define "salvation," he answered, "freedom, deliverance, rest, peace." So you think fear will help you do away with your fear? You are fearful of the idea of freedom from fear?
"Be strong and of good courage" - chazak ve'ematz (חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ). The LORD God promises "never to leave you nor forsake you," and to be with you wherever you go (Josh. 1:5,9; Heb. 13:15, Psalm 139; Matt. 28:20). In the Greek New Testament the wording of Hebrews 13:15 is highly emphatic: "Not ever will I give up on you (οὐ μή σε ἀνῶ); no, not ever will I leave you behind (οὐδ᾽ οὐ μή σε ἐγκαταλίπω)." May you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd calling you, and may He forever keep you under His watchful care. Amen.
The Birth of Messiah...
12.17.15 (Tevet 5, 5776) Though the promised birth of Yeshua may have occurred during the holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles), with the incarnation occurring during Chanukah (the Festival of Light), many people of good faith observe the traditional "Gregorian Calendar" date of December 25th... Regardless of your particular conviction regarding the date of Yeshua's birth, the most important thing to remember is that He was born to die (Heb. 10:5-7). The story of his birth is only significant in relation to His sacrificial death (Mark 8:27-33). The "manger" scene leads directly to the cross at Moriah. Indeed, in Jewish tradition the day of one's death is more important than the day of one's birth, since death summarizes the meaning and significance of a person's life in this world. Birth represents potential, whereas death represents inheritance... Therefore the Jewish custom is to commemorate the anniversary of a person's death (i.e., yahrzeit: יארצייט) and not the date of his or her birth. This custom is derived from the Scriptures themselves: "A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth" (Eccl. 7:1):
טוֹב שֵׁם מִשֶּׁמֶן טוֹב
וְיוֹם הַמָּוֶת מִיּוֹם הִוָּלְדוֹ
tov · shem · mi·she·men · tov
ve·yom · ha-ma·vet · mi·yom · hiv·va·le·do
"A good name is better than fragrant oil,
and the day of death than the day of birth."
Hebrew Study Card
The day of Yeshua's death (on Erev Pesach) represents the message of the Gospel story itself: "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). This is of "first importance": Yeshua was born to die for our sins, to make us right with God, and was raised from the dead to vindicate the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 15:3-5). "For our sake God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). The birth of the Messiah (or rather His incarnation) was the "first step" toward His sacrifice for our deliverance (Heb. 2:9-18). As Paul said, "I decided to know nothing among you except Yeshua the Messiah - and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2).
Note: For more on this, see "He was born to Die." For a discussion about possible birth dates for Yeshua, see "Was Jesus born on December 25th?" For traditional Christmas readings from the New Testament, see Matt. 1:18-2:12, Luke 1:26-2:20.
The Revelation of Joseph...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Parashat Vayigash... ]
12.17.15 (Tevet 5, 5776) According to midrash (ancient Jewish commentary), just before Joseph revealed his true identity he turned to his brothers and said, "You told me that your brother Joseph died. Are you sure?" "Yes, we are; he's dead," the brothers replied. Joseph then became angry and said, "How can you lie? You sold him as a slave. I bought him myself and can call him right now." Joseph then called out, "Joseph, son of Jacob, come here right now to speak to your brothers." Terrified, the brothers turned to see if Joseph was coming....
When he overheard his brothers contritely preparing to meet their brother and to humbly ask for his forgiveness, Joseph then looked at them and said in a loud voice: "Who are you looking for? אֲנִי יוֹסֵף הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי - I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" (Notice that Joseph revealed himself to his brothers using Hebrew speech as the token of his identity.) When he saw his brothers draw back in fear at his shocking disclosure, Joseph reassured them by saying, ge'shu na elai - "Please come near to me; come and see..."
On a peshat level (i.e., literal sense), when Joseph revealed his identity he was asking his brothers if his father Jacob was still physically alive (ani Yosef - ha'od avi chai: "I am Joseph; is my father still alive?"). This is puzzling, since in earlier encounters the brothers attested that Jacob was very much alive... On a sod level (i.e., in a mysterious sense), since Joseph is a picture of Yeshua (Mashiach ben Yosef), the question can be phrased, "I am Yeshua - is My father alive?," that is, do you now understand the righteousness of God the Father in raising me from the dead and promoting me to His right hand? Yeshua therefore evokes the confession of faith from the beloved Jewish people: "I am your brother Yeshua: do you now understand that My Father is alive?"
Note: For more on this fascinating topic, see "The Disguised Egyptian." Also consider the Purim pages and the relationship between "hiding" and "revealing" in our lives.
Miracle of a New Heart...
12.16.15 (Tevet 4, 5776) The central commandment of Scripture is to love God and others, yet this is precisely the commandment we find impossible to obey. Tragically, when we look within we soon discover we are loveless at heart: "For out of the heart comes evil..." (Mark 7:21; Jer. 17:9). The essence of Torah is to "do good and no evil," but we are inherently selfish, judgmental of others, calloused, and proud. So how can we do the impossible?
There is a persistent temptation to regard our inability to love as the result of something other than our own inner perversity, or what the Bible calls "spiritual death." If we are not careful, we will pray that the Lord will show mercy and compassion on that which is to crucified, buried, and taken away. God does not reform our carnal nature but puts it on the cross to be done away, and then he replaces it with a radically new nature based on the Spirit and resurrection life... This great miracle of God is found in union with the Messiah's life. "Live in me and I will live in you," Yeshua says, "as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it finds life in the vine, neither can you, unless you find life in me; for apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:4-5). You cannot do the impossible, but with God all things are possible (Mark 10:27; Phil. 4:13).
Therefore the ability to love comes by the miracle of God (Ezek. 36:26; 1 John 4:19). As we live in Yeshua, we find life, love, light, truth, and salvation from the hell of a loveless heart. Unite yourself with his death, burial, and resurrection; reckon yourself to be immersed into him, death-for-death, life-for-life (Rom. 6:8-11; Col. 3:1-4). "Unless a seed of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it abides alone..." (John 12:24). Yeshua is the source of all life, and we find nourishment, strength, and fullness of joy as we connect with him.
By faith affirm: "I have been crucified with Messiah, and it is no longer 'I' who live, but Messiah who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). There is a new "I" that comes from above, known only in spiritual relationship with the Savior. The miracle of the exchanged life comes as we surrender to the truth of what God has done for us (2 Cor. 5:17). That's the essence of the gospel, "the power of God for salvation to all who believe" (Rom. 1:16). Therefore we do not attempt to crucify ourselves, or labor to reform our lower nature, but we instead accept that we already have been crucified by the mercy and power of God. We clothe ourselves in the robes of his righteousness as we celebrate God's redeeming love for our lives. Only then are we empowered by the Spirit to truly "love the LORD and keep his charge."
Surrender and Salvation...
12.16.15 (Tevet 4, 5776) When we affirm that we are no longer "under the law," this means we find our identity in a different order of reality than that which says, "Do this and live" (Lev. 18:5; cp. Gal. 3:11-12; Rom. 10:5). Many of us, however, stumble here, and reintroduce conditions based on a lower level of spiritual understanding. We suppose, for instance, that we will experience the miracle based on something we do, and busy ourselves attempting to commend ourselves to God. We focus more on our life in God (religion) rather than God's life in us (miracle), and therefore we relegate spirituality as a means to reform natural character rather than the reality of encountering the Divine Presence. A true change of heart is a miracle of the highest order, though this change often consitutes a "slow-motion" transformation. The transformation begins, however, when we are assured of our welcome before God's Presence, despite the truth about who we really are... Only then are we able to honestly surrender everything we are - both the good and the bad - to God's care. And that is what it means to "give up" your life to the Messiah. You let go of the claims you have on your own identity; you quit bargaining with your carnal nature; you "come to yourself" by confessing all your desires - the good and the evil - as being present within you; and you therefore quit denying your "shadow self," that is, those hidden parts of your self that engage in fear, anger, lust, and so on. You come out of hiding, naked and without making excuses, and present yourself to God, appealing to him for compassion, deliverance and the miracle of new life given in Yeshua. Faith lives in the work of God's miracle; the former life, defined in terms of the natural self with its aspirations and desires, passes away and we are reborn to live as beloved children of God our Father (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15).
εἰ δὲ πνεύματι ἄγεσθε, οὐκ ἐστὲ ὑπὸ νόμον - "if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law" (Gal. 5:18), which is another way of saying that when you receive the truth of God's love, you are free to live as a beloved child, no longer as a slave to a law code that was given to constrain the evil impulses of the lower nature (1 Tim. 1:5-11). You are given direct access to the Divine Presence as was the Kohen haGadol during the Yom Kippur avodah of the former covenant... Because of Yeshua, we are made priests of a better covenant, "not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke..." (Jer. 31:32), but a radically NEW covenant wherein "we have access by faith into this Grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Rom. 5:2; Heb. 8:6-13).
Blessing for Darkness...
12.15.15 (Tevet 3, 5776) "If I say, surely darkness covers me, the darkness is not made dark to you, but the night shines as the day ... nothing hides from your radiance" (Psalm 139:11-12). We have to trust that God is in our darkness, in the silence, in the unknown... You come out of the shadows when you admit that you act just like other people, that you are human, in need of reconciliation yourself... Above all you need God. You need help. You need a miracle to help you to truly love. You may find excuses for many things, but you cannot escape the "wretched man that I am" reality that is grounded in your fears. God sees in the darkness and is present there, too. When you feel alone, like an unbridgeable gulf lay between you and all that is good, even then may the LORD shine His light upon you...
גַּם־חשֶׁךְ לא־יַחְשִׁיךְ מִמֶּךָ
וְלַיְלָה כַּיּוֹם יָאִיר
gam · cho·shekh · lo · yach·shikh · mi·me·ka
ve·lai·lah · ka·yom · ya·ir
ka·cha·she·khah · ka·o·rah
"The darkness is not made dark to you;
but the night shines as the day:
as the darkness so is the light...
"For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God outshines my darkness" (Psalm 18:28). There is "depression," and there is the dark night of the soul, and these are different matters, though they may overlap... "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." The dark night of the soul is an experience of trusting God in the darkness yet has a spiritual direction and end. We walk through this darkness with God and learn from him even there....
The Sacred Name...
12.15.15 (Tevet 3, 5776) God's Name means "Amen" and "faithfulness." The "Name above all other names" is Yeshua, the embodiment of God's great attributes of chesed (love) and tzedek (justice). In the cross of Yeshua is fulfilled the prophecy: "Love and truth meet; righteousness and peace have kissed" (Psalm 85:10), and at the cross God is revealed as both "just and the justifier" of the ungodly who trust in Messiah for righteousness (Rom. 3:25). God first revealed the meaning of His Name to Moses after the sin of the Golden Calf, when Israel was in a state of brokenness and teshuvah: YHVH (יהוה) means "merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in love and truth" (Exod. 34:6). Where it says, "you have made great upon all your Name your Word" (Psalm 138:2), we see that Yeshua the Messiah, the Utterance and the Breath of God made flesh, is the highest revelation of the Name of God (Phil. 2:9-11, Isa. 45:23).
אֶשְׁתַּחֲוֶה אֶל־הֵיכַל קָדְשְׁךָ
כִּי־הִגְדַּלְתָּ עַל־כָּל־שִׁמְךָ אִמְרָתֶךָ
esh·ta·cha·veh · el · hei·khal · kod·she·kha
ve·o·deh · et · she·me·kha
al · chas·de·kha · ve·al · a·mi·te·kha
ki · hig·dal·ta · al · kol · shim·kha · im·ra·te·kha
"I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your Name
for your love and your truth,
for you have made great upon all your name your Word."
In this verse note that the "holy temple" (הֵיכַל) refers to the Mishkan, not the Temple in Jerusalem, since it had not yet been built, and therefore it rightly refers to the Divine Presence that dwells among man, i.e., to the Messiah himself (John 1:1;14). God first revealed the meaning of His Name to Moses after the sin of the Golden Calf, when Israel was in a state of brokenness and teshuvah: God's Name YHVH (יהוה) means "merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in love and truth" (Exod. 34:6). Where it says, "you have made great upon all your Name your Word," we see that the greatness of Messiah, the Utterance and Breath of God made flesh, the highest revelation of the Name of God.
The Providential Prince...
[ Our Torah reading for this week is parashat Vayigash... ]
12.15.15 (Tevet 3, 5776) Though Joseph was given great wisdom to interpret Pharaoh's dreams and to serve as Egypt's regent, his foresight did not prevent the famine from coming in the first place, and the testing that came was part of God's hidden plan. The role of the true prophet is to bear witness to God's truth and to shepherd God's people through the unfolding vision. Joseph could not control the outcome, though he worked within the context of revelation to bring about deliverance. In both the "fat times and the lean" we look to God for comfort and strength: We "show up" every day to ready ourselves for what is coming, even if we currently find ourselves in darkness. We refuse fear because we trust that the LORD our God is guiding our way...
The term hashgachah pratit (הַשְׁגָּחָה פְּרָטִית) refers to God's personal supervision of our lives (hashgachah means "supervision," and pratit means "individual" or "particular"). Since He is the Master of the Universe, God's supervision and providence reaches to the smallest of details of creation - from subatomic particles to the great motions of the cosmos. God not only calls each star by its own name (Psalm 147:4), but knows each particular wildflower and sparrow (Matt. 6:28-30, 10:29). Each person created in the likeness of God is therefore under the direct, personal supervision of God Himself -- whether that soul is conscious of that fact or not. As Yeshua said, even the hairs on your head are all numbered (Matt. 10:30). The God of Israel is also called אלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר / Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol-basar: "The God of the spirits of all flesh" (Num. 16:22), and that means that he has providential purposes for every human being brought into this world (John 1:4).
The Good Eye of Faith...
12.14.15 (Tevet 2, 5776) Among other things the story of Joseph reveals how God's hidden hand moves for good in our lives. Despite the betrayal of the pit, and the unjust suffering of the prison house, there was light, exaltation, and joy to come forth. God knows how to take our emptiness to yield "storehouses in Egypt..." As Joseph later told his brothers, "you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Gen. 50:20). Resist the temptation to judge by mere appearances. Forbid your sorrow to blind the eyes of faith. Do not unjustly judge God's purposes or try to understand His ways; accept that He works all things together (συνεργέω) for good -- making even the very wrath of man to praise Him...
Faith "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" for purposes that are good (1 Cor. 7:31). It affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life (chayei sha'ah) is a deeper reality (chayei olam) that is ultimately real, abiding, and ultimately designed for God's redemptive love to be fully expressed. In this world we must "see through" a mirror (i.e., indirectly) to begin to see the dawn of our eternal home; but one day we will behold God panim el panim (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), "face to face" (1 Cor. 13:12). In the meantime, faith beholds the invisible light, the truth of God's love that overcomes all the powers of darkness, hate, and fear.... "I believe. I believe in the sun even when it is not shining; I believe in love even when feeling it not; and I believe in God, even when God is silent" (from an anonymous poem found on the wall of a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where some Jews hid from the Nazis).
For more on this important topic, see "Joseph and the Good Eye."
The Revelation of Joseph...
[ Our Torah reading for Christmas week is parashat Vayigash... ]
12.13.15 (Tevet 1, 5776) In our Torah portion this week, Benjamin stood before Joseph accused of the theft of a chalice, while Judah "drew near" (vayigash) and vicariously offered to bear the penalty for his brother, pleading with Joseph to spare his father the loss of yet another son. Joseph was so moved by Judah's act of mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice) that he decided the time had finally come for him to reveal his identity to his brothers. After clearing the room, he began speaking in Hebrew and said, אֲנִי יוֹסֵף הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי, "I am Joseph, is my father still alive?" When the brothers drew back in shock and dismay, Joseph said, "Draw near to me, please" (from the same verb nagash) and then explained how God providentially brought him to Egypt to save the family's life....
The revelation of Joseph and his reconciliation with his brothers is a prophetic picture of the acharit hayamim (end of days) when the Jewish people will come to understand that Yeshua is indeed the One seated at the right hand of the majesty on high as Israel's Deliverer. At that time Yeshua will speak comforting words to His long lost brothers and restore their place of blessing upon the earth. Indeed, the entire story of Joseph is rich in prophetic insight regarding our Lord and Savior. Vayigash (וַיִּגַּשׁ) means "and he drew near," referring first to Judah's intercession for the sins of his brothers, and then to Joseph's reciprocal desire for the brothers to draw near to him (Gen. 44:18, 45:4). Joseph initiated the reconciliation by saying, גְּשׁוּ־נָא אֵלַי / g'shu na elai - "Please draw near to me," and indeed there is a play on the verb nagash (נָגַשׁ), "draw near," throughout this story. Yeshua is depicted both in Judah's intercession (as the greater Son of Judah who interceded on behalf of the sins of Israel) and in Joseph's role as the exalted Savior of the Jewish people in time of tribulation. When Joseph disclosed himself and asked, "Is my father alive," we hear Yeshua evoking the confession of faith from the Jewish people: "I am Yeshua: do you now understand that My Father is alive?" Upon His coming revelation, all Israel will confess that indeed God the Father is "alive" and has vindicated the glory of His Son.
Note: For more information, please read the Torah summary page for Vayigash and its related articles. You can also download the Shabbat "Table Talk" for the portion here:
Rosh Chodesh and Winter Solstice...
Note: Tonight at sundown is Rosh Chodesh Tevet, one of the shortest days of the Hebrew calendar year... Chodesh Tevet marks the 10th month of the Torah's calendar (counting from the first month of Nisan). This was the fateful month that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon besieged Jerusalem before the Temple was destroyed in 586 BC (2 Kings 25:1; Jer. 39:1; Ezek. 24:1-2). The name of the tenth month is explicitly called Tevet (טֵבֵת) in the Scriptures (see Esther 2:16). Rosh Chodesh Tevet is sometimes observed as one day and sometimes as two, because the preceding month (Kislev) is sometimes "full" (consisting of 30 days) and sometimes deficient (consisting of only 29 days). With a two-day Rosh Chodesh, the first day is the 30th day of the preceding month (i.e., Kislev 30th), and its second day is the first day of the following month. Chodesh Tov and Chanukah Sameach, chaverim!
A Great Miracle Happened...
[ This evening at sunset begins Zot Chanunkah, the conclusion of Chanukah... ]
12.13.15 (Tevet 1, 5776) Each side of a dreidel (a four-sided spinning top used for Chanukah) has a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet: Nun (נ), Gimmel (ג), Hey (ה), and Shin (שׁ), which together form the acronym, Nes Gadol Hayah Sham (נֵס גָדוֹל הָיָה שָׁם) – "a great miracle happened there," referring to the victory of the Macabees. In Israel, however, the letter Shin is replaced with the letter Pey (פּ) to form the acronym, Nes Gadol Hayah Poh (נֵס גָדוֹל הָיָה פּה), meaning "a great miracle happened here," referring to Temple and the land of Israel. Because Chanukah represents Yeshua, the true Light of the World, we likewise can say: Nes Gadol Hayah Poh, "a great miracle happened here," referring to the Temple of our hearts, when the Light of the LORD overcame our darkness and gave us everlasting hope and consolation...
Thank God that after Yeshua was crucified and died for our transgressions, the parochet in the Temple (i.e, the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple) was torn from top to bottom, thereby opening the way of access to the Divine Presence for all who are willing to come in faith... The light of God's love now shines for us all!
The Father of Lights...
12.11.15 (Kislev 29, 5776) It is written in our Scriptures: "God is light and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Our Savior is "the Light of the world," the Divine Message that gives light to every soul who is born (John 1:9). As the Source of all light, his power is irrepressible, invincible, and overcomes every shade of darkness. Yeshua is the Logos (Λόγος), the underlying "logic" of all of creation. Unlike the transient radiance of the heavenly bodies, the Divine Light remains constant and supreme over all of creation, without any diminution or variation: God is the "Father of Lights" (James 1:17). And just as we know that the sun still shines even on the most overcast of days, so we understand that the Divine Presence is always there -- always giving, always shining, always loving us... We can trust in the power of our God to help us, since His radiance and truth pervade the darkness to enlighten our way (Psalm 112:4). As Yeshua said of his mission, "I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness" (John 12:46). Let us believe and behold the Light! Hashivenu! O LORD God, let your light shine upon us...
אֱלהִים יְחָנֵּנוּ וִיבָרְכֵנוּ
יָאֵר פָּנָיו אִתָּנוּ סֶלָה
E·lo·him · ye·chon·nei·nu · vi·var·khei·nu
ya·er · pa·nav · it·ta·nu · se·lah
"May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us, selah."
True spirituality is inner light that comes from union with Messiah. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." We "walk in the light," experiencing inner peace and joy in the Holy Spirit when we heed and obey the Voice of God's love and abide in the secret place of His grace. The people of God are united to one another by the power of God's love. O LORD God, "light up my eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death" (Psalm 13:3). May the light and love of the Lord our God shine within you, friends. Shabbat Chanukah Shalom and chodesh tov!
Reason for Being...
12.11.15 (Kislev 29, 5776) God created us so that we could discern truth about reality. The mind functions according to intuitive logical laws because it is made in the image and likeness of God Himself... God Himself is the Source of all logic, since He created reality and structured the world to be intelligible according to its laws. As it is written: "In the beginning was the Word (i.e., ὁ λόγος - the Logic), and the λόγος was with God, and the λόγος was God... All things were made by Him (כָּל־הַמַּעֲשִׂים נִהְיוּ עַל־יָדוֹ); and without him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:1-3). The LORD created a world that exhibits order and great beauty. And since human beings were created b'tzelem Elohim (בְּצֶלֶם אֱלהִים), in the image of God, our thoughts (and the words used to formulate our thoughts) as well as our actions are likewise intended to exhibit order and beauty. As it is written in our Scriptures: "For the fruit of light (καρπὸς τοῦ πνεύματος) is found in all that is good and right and true" - כִּי־פְרִי הָאוֹר כָּל־מַעֲשֵׂי חֶסֶד וְצֶדֶק וֶאֱמֶת (Eph. 5:9).
Note: For more on this vitally important topic, see "Theology and the Greek Mindset."
My Lord and My God...
12.11.15 (Kislev 29, 5776) God's power is present in all things, in every world, every soul. Yeshua is the Source of all life in the universe: כָּל־הַמַּעֲשִׂים נִהְיוּ עַל־יָדוֹ / "All things were made by Him (John 1:3). God is Light, and Yeshua reveals the Light of God (John 8:12). The "Word made flesh" is the "image of the invisible God" and the "radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint (χαρακτήρ, 'character') of his nature" (Col. 1:15). All of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3): "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Creation begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Mashiach... He is the Center of Creation - it's beginning and end. As it says: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the 'A' and the 'Z,' the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). Indeed, Yeshua is the "King of kings of kings" (מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים), the LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest celestial glory to the shame of bearing our sin and guilt upon a cross... All Reality centers upon Him.
יְהוָה אֲדנֵינוּ מָה־אַדִּיר שִׁמְךָ בְּכָל־הָאָרֶץ
אֲשֶׁר תְּנָה הוֹדְךָ עַל־הַשָּׁמָיִם
Adonai · a·do·nei·nu · mah · ad·dir · shim·kha · be·khol · ha·a·retz
a·sher · te·nah · ho·de·kha · al · ha·sha·ma·yim
"O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your Name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens."
Hebrew Study Card
God's abiding provision for our need is revealed in the "face of Messiah" (בִּפְנֵי הַמָּשִׁיחַ), not in the fading glory of the former covenant (2 Cor 3:4-18). Unlike Moses - who veiled his face to hide the fact that the glory of the former covenant of Sinai was indeed fading away - "we all, with unveiled face, reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. This comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:12-4:1). Each of us, like Moses, must ascend the mountain of Zion to behold the Glory of God: "And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Yeshua only" (Matt. 17:8). "The face of Yeshua the Messiah" is therefore the radiance and glory of God Himself.
"Stand up and bless the LORD your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be His glorious Name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise" (Neh. 9:5; Psalm 138:2; Phil. 2:9-11; Isa. 45:23). We have to stand for the truth, because the truth is what sets us free (John 8:32). As Yeshua said, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world -- to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37). The way of life is found in Yeshua: "Whoever has the Son has the life (הַחַיִּים); whoever does not have the Son does not have the life" (1 John 5:12).
Therefore, as Yeshua said: "Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you... As you have the light, believe in the light. Then the light will be within you, and shining through your lives. You'll be children of light (בְּנֵי הָאוֹר). I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness" (John 12:35-6, 46).
Hearing the Call of Hope...
12.10.15 (Kislev 28, 5776) The only way out of the painful ambiguity of life is to hear a message from the higher world, the Heavenly Voice, that brings hope to our aching and troubled hearts: "Faith comes by hearing the word of Messiah - ῥῆμα Χριστοῦ" (Rom. 10:17). And yet what is the meaning of this message if it is not that all shall be made well by heaven's hand? There is hope, there is hope, and all your fears will one day be cast into outer darkness, swallowed up by God's unending comfort... "Go into all the world and make students (תַּלְמִידִים) of all nations" (Matt 28:19), and that means sharing the hope that what makes us sick - our depravity and despair - has been healed by Yeshua, and that we escape the gravity of our own fallenness if we accept his invitation to receive life in him. "For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God outshines my darkness."
כִּי־אַתָּה תָּאִיר נֵרִי
יְהוָה אֱלהַי יַגִּיהַּ חָשְׁכִּי
ki · at·tah · ta·ir · ne·ri
Adonai · E·lo·hai · ya·gi·ah · chosh·ki
"For it is you who light my lamp;
the LORD my God outshines my darkness."
Hebrew Study Card
Exercising faith means actively listening to the Eternal Voice, the Word of the LORD that calls out in love in search of your heart's trust... To have faith means justifying God's faith in you, that is, understanding that you are worthy of salvation, that you truly matter to God, and that the Voice calls out your name, too.... Living in faith means consciously accepting that you are accepted by God's love and grace. Trusting God means that you bear ambiguity, heartache, and darkness, yet you still allow hope to enlighten your way.
The Rizhiner Rebbe once said, "Let your light penetrate the darkness until the darkness itself becomes the light and there is no longer a division between the two. As it is written, "And there was evening and there was morning, one day." Yea, the darkness and the light are both alike unto Thee, O LORD, as it is written: "If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you" (Psalm 139:11-12).
"To have faith is to perceive the wonder that is here, and to be stirred by the desire to integrate the self into the holy order of being. Faith does not spring out of nothing. It comes with the discovery of the holy dimension of our existence. Faith means to hold small things great, to take light matters seriously, to distinguish between the common and the passing from the aspect of the lasting. It is from faith from which we draw the sweetness of life, the taste of the sacred, the joy of the imperishably dear. It is faith that offers us a share in eternity." - Abraham Heschel
We walk by faith, not by sight - by hearing the Word of God, heeding what the Spirit of God is saying to the heart... For now we "see through a glass darkly," which literally means "in a riddle" (ἐν αἰνίγματι). A riddle is an analogy given through some resemblance to the truth, though quite often the correspondences are puzzling and obscure. Hence, "seeing through a glass darkly" means perceiving obscurely or imperfectly, looking "through" something else instead of directly apprehending reality. This is contrasted with the "face to face" (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים) vision and clarity given in the world to come, when our knowledge will be clear and distinct, and the truth of God will no longer be hidden. Being "face to face" with reality means being free of the riddles, the analogies, the semblances, etc., which cause us to languish in uncertainty... Now we know in part, but then shall we know in whole.
In light of the obscurity of life in this temporary age, we are encouraged not to lose heart, since though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being raised into newness (ἀνακαινόω) day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). "For our light and transient troubles are achieving for us an everlasting glory whose weight is beyond description, because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17).
Therefore we "walk by faith, not by sight," as if the invisible is indeed visible. We must stay strong and keep hope, for through hope we are saved (Rom. 8:24). Faith is the conviction (ἔλεγχος) of things unseen (Heb. 11:1). Do not be seduced by mere appearances; do not allow yourself to be bewitched into thinking that this world should ever be your home. No, we are strangers and pilgrims here; we are on the journey to the reach "the City of Living God, to heavenly Jerusalem, to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven" (Heb. 12:22-23). Therefore do not lose heart. Keep to the narrow path. Set your affections on things above since your real life is "hidden with God" (Col. 3:1-4). Do not yield to the temptation of despair. Look beyond the "giants of the land" and reckon them as already fallen. Keep pressing on. Chazak, chazak, ve-nit chazek - "Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!" Fight the good fight of the faith. May the LORD our God help you take hold of the eternal life to which you were called (1 Tim. 6:12).
Note: Chanukah Sameach, friends. Please pray for this ministry... Things have been difficult for me lately, so please ask our Lord for his favor and grace for this work to continue. Thank you.
Light and Revelation...
12.10.15 (Kislev 28, 5776) We do not directly see light but by means of the light; the light is the medium by which we receive revelation... The heart looks through the eye, and therefore how we choose to see is a spiritual decision: "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). When we see rightly, we behold the radiance of God shining within us, even in the midst of our everyday affairs. A grateful heart is awake to God's Presence in the little things of life, those small miracles and glories that constantly surround us.
כִּי־עִמְּךָ מְקוֹר חַיִּים
ki · im·me·kha · me·kor · chai·yim
be·or·kha · nir·eh · ohr
"For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light."
Hebrew Study Card
"In Your light we see light..." When you enter a dark room with a lamp, the darkness flees and is overcome by the light. So also with prayer (i.e., teshuvah): When we turn to the Lord, spiritual darkness is overcome by the Divine Radiance. In Yeshua is life, who is the light of the world; all those who receive Him behold ohr ha'chayim (אוֹר הַחַיִּים) - the "light of life."
Note: I've been sick with the flu the last couple days; your prayers are appreciated!
Source of Light...
12.09.15 (Kislev 27, 5776) "God is Light; in Him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). "I AM come a light into the world, that whoever believes in me should not abide in darkness" (John 12:46). The ultimate message of Chanukah is eschatological and full of hope. This world is passing away and the Kingdom of Heaven will one day be established upon the earth. We live in light of this blessed hope (Titus 2:11-13). The world's rulers are "on notice" from God Almighty: their days are numbered and they will surely face the judgment of the LORD God of Israel (Psalm 2). We must stand against evil by refusing to conform to the world around us (Eph. 6:11-18). Now is the time. "Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). Followers of Yeshua are part of His Dwelling - extensions of His Presence in this dark world - and during this season may we remember the call to rededicate our lives to Him! May your light shine!
Darkness of Man's Wisdom...
12.09.15 (Kislev 27, 5776) Regarding the verse, "And the earth was without form and void (תהוּ וָבהוּ), and darkness was upon the surface of the deep" (Gen. 1:2), the midrash comments: "Darkness – these are the Greeks who darkened the eyes of the Jewish nation with their evil decrees." The utter darkness of Hellenistic thought (i.e., ancient Greek "universalism") came disguised as an angel of light, as "enlightened" thinking, but whenever such humanism usurps the authority of divine revelation, the result is exile and darkness. Indeed, the very worst kind of exile is to be unaware that you are in exile, to be so blinded that you do not see that you do not see... As Yeshua said, "If the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Matt. 6:23); and "be careful lest the light in you be darkness" (Luke 11:35). In the end, the world and its blind lusts will pass away, for it is "tohu" (תּהוּ) - confusion and unreality - but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).
[ Our Torah reading for the Shabbat of Chanukah is parashat Miketz, i.e., Gen. 41:1-44:17. ]
12.09.15 (Kislev 27, 5776) It is said that genuine teshuvah (repentance) is evident when a person is confronted with the same temptation to which he previously succumbed, but successfully withstands the test and resists. Joseph's brothers demonstrated teshuvah when they refused to abandon their father's favorite son to the "pit" of an Egyptian prison cell (Gen. 44:16-17). Once the brothers offered to suffer the same fate as falsely accused Benjamin, Joseph knew they had repented and were no longer the same people who had betrayed him when he was a young man...
Note that next week we will read how Judah offered to sacrifice his life for his brother, and this act led to the revelation of Joseph...
Inner Light of Love...
12.08.15 (Kislev 26, 5776) "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, such is the one who loves me. And the one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him" (John 14:21). Note that the Greek word translated "manifest" means to "shine inside" (i.e., ἐμφανίζω, from ἐν, "in" and φαίνω, "shine"), indicating that the revelation would be inward light of the Presence of Messiah himself (Χριστὸς ἐν ὑμῖν, ἡ ἐλπὶς τῆς δόξης, Col. 1:27). As we receive God's love, as we embrace it as our own, the love of Messiah will become inwardly visible to you. This comes from a place of surrender and acceptance. As Paul Tillich said, "Sometimes in a moment of weakness light breaks into darkness, and it is as though a voice says, 'You are accepted; you are accepted... Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.' If that happens to you, then you experience grace, and everything will be transformed." Ultimately Chanukah is about salvation and transformation - beauty from ashes - and the love of God...
The Miketz Prophecies...
[ Our Torah reading for the Shabbat of Chanukah is parashat Miketz, i.e., Gen. 41:1-44:17. ]
12.08.15 (Kislev 26, 5776) Our Torah portion this week is miketz (מקץ), a word that means "at the end," and therefore it points to the prophetic future (i.e., the "end of days" or acharit ha-yamim). Just as Joseph was a "dreamer" who was betrayed by his brothers but was promoted to a place of glory by the hidden hand of God, so Yeshua was betrayed by his people yet was exalted over all the nations (מֶלֶךְ הַגּוֹיִם). And just as Joseph later disguised himself as a "stranger" and an "Egyptian" to his brothers but was finally revealed to be their savior, so will the Jewish people eventually come to see that Yeshua is the true Savior of Israel. Then will come true the hope of Rav Sha'ul (the Apostle Paul) who wrote, "And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, 'There shall come out of Zion the Redeemer (גּוֹאֵל) who shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob'" (Rom. 11:26).
Note: For more on this important topic, see "Joseph and his brothers."
Turning to See...
[ The holiday of Chanukah runs from Dec. 6th through Dec. 14th this year... Happy Chanukah! ]
12.07.15 (Kislev 25, 5776) During the holiday of Chanukah we kindle lights, but we do not to use these lights for profane purposes: We are simply to behold them, to see something amazing, and to be touched by the light... There is no place where God is not present, and indeed the name YHVH (יהוה) means "Presence" (הָיָה וְהוֶה וְיָבוֹא). God showed himself in the midst of a common thornbush as a fire that does not burn. Moses "turned aside" to see the bush, which means he looked past the layer of the common, the profane, and the ordinary, to see the uncommon, the sacred, and the extraordinary. We light our menorah; we see the flames rise upward - like thorns on a thornbush - and we may catch a glimpse of God's radiance, if we "turn aside" to see... When we slow down, when we make room within our hearts for God - a sanctuary within - we will often see what is commonly overlooked.
When we look at something, we often do not see it because we are looking somewhere else – looking past the present moment by reliving the past or by anticipating the future. This is why we must learn to sanctify the moments of our lives by offering blessings and prayers, observing the mo'edim (holidays), and so on, because doing so helps us "pause" to see what is right before us, right now... May God help us turn and see, chaverim.
Some Chanukah Pictures:
Left-to-right (top): 1. a hand-painted dreidel; 2. the 1st candle of Chanukah; 3. the Letter Tzade;
4. lights through our window; 5. Keep your eye on the Shamash...
(bottom): 1. John and son Judah; 2. some Hebrew cookie cutouts; 3. sevivon from Israel;
4. my son Josiah lights the menorah; 5. colors and textures of the season
The Torah records that God's first words were "Let there be light" (i.e., yehi or: יְהִי אוֹר) and then states that "God separated (וַיַּבְדֵּל) this light from the darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). It is this "separation," or distinction, that is foundational to the concept of kedushah (קְדֻשָּׁה), or "holiness," a term that first appears regarding the distinction between ordinary and sacred time: "God blessed the seventh day and made it holy" (יְקַדֵּשׁ) because on it God rested from all his work that he had created to do" (Gen. 2:3). We are called away from the darkness to come into the light. Indeed the very purpose of salvation is "to turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God" (Acts 26:18).
And should the darkness attempt to enshroud your way, we pray for God's light to be rekindled within your soul.. Keep faith that the light still shines and that despair will not be your final end. Your mourning will find its comfort, your tears will be wiped away, and your grief will find its solace... May God transform your heartache into the holy resolve to know the truth of His great love. Amen.
Receiving the Light...
[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah runs from Dec. 6th through Dec. 14th this year... ]
12.06.15 (Kislev 24, 5776) The essence of Chanukah is simply to receive the light, to bear witness of the radiance of God's victory. We celebrate the work of God, his salvation (יְשׁוּעָה), and the triumph of his love. Therefore its message is "wake up, open your eyes, and believe" the good news: darkness and despair will not prevail; your mourning will find comfort, your grief its solace. Your heart's deepest longing shines brightly, even now, if you will but believe... With God's help, fight the darkness of fear...
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."
Hebrew Study Card
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: "We all need to rise higher... Never say, I will be able to lift myself up at another time or different place. By faith see that this place, right now, is holy ground, and awaits your response." May God open the "eyes of our heart" to help us see (Eph. 1:18-19).
Free Chanukah Resources...
12.06.15 (Kislev 24, 5776) The Chanukah Blessings page includes some free "Hebrew Study Cards" you can use for your Chanukah celebrations. Each card includes the Hebrew text, phonetic transliteration, and English translation for the blessing. In addition I have recorded Hebrew audio clips for the Chanukah blessings as well, so you can listen to the Hebrew as your learn to recite the blessings... I have also created a handy one page summary of the Hebrew blessings you can download here. I hope you find this material helpful, chaverim! Chag Chanukah Sameach (חַג חֲנֻכָּה שָׂמֵחַ)!
Parashat Miketz - מקץ
[ The eight days of Chanukah run from Sun. Dec. 6th (i.e., Kislev 25) through Mon. Dec. 14th this year. The weekly Torah reading is not suspended for Chanukah (as it is for Passover and Sukkot), though additional Torah readings are read for each of the eight days of the holiday... ]
12.06.15 (Kislev 24, 5776) In our Torah portion for Chanukah week, we read how Joseph successfully interpreted Pharaoh's dreams and quickly rose to power in Egypt. Because of a famine in the land of Canaan, however, his brothers came to Egypt in search of food. A disguised Joseph then tested his brothers to see whether they were the same people who had callously sold him into slavery, or whether they had undergone teshuvah (repentance).
The eventual revelation of Joseph and his reconciliation with his brothers is a prophetic picture of acharit ha-yamim (the "End of Days") when Israel, in Great Tribulation, will come to accept Yeshua as Israel's true deliverer. Presently, the veil is still over the eyes of the Jewish people and they collectively regard Yeshua as an "Egyptian" of sorts. In this connection, I list some of the ways that Joseph is a "type" or foreshadowing of the coming Yeshua as the Suffering Servant (see "Mashiach ben Yosef").
For more information, please read the Torah summary page for Miketz and its related articles. You can also download the Shabbat "Table Talk" for the portion here:
Note: This year the eight days of Chanukah begin on Sunday, December 6th at sundown (1st candle) and will run through the daylight hours of Monday, December 14th. The tradition is that on the first night of Chanukah one flame is lit, on the second night two, and so on until the eighth night when eight flames are lit. In this way we remember the 'growth' of the miracle. We also read a small section of Torah for each of the days of Chanukah. See the Parashat hashavu'ah page for more information.
Be Filled with the Spirit...
12.04.15 (Kislev 22, 5776) Our Heavenly Father sees in secret... "The deepest thing in our nature is this region of heart in which we dwell alone with our willingnesses and our unwillingnesses, our faiths and our fears" (William James). It is there, in the secret place of the heart, that the sound of the "knock" is either heard or disregarded (Rev 3:20). May the Lord give us the willingness to do His will and the courage to believe in His love. And may God deliver us from doubt and from every other fear. May we all be strong in faith, not staggering over the promises, but giving glory to God for the miracle of Yeshua our LORD. May we all be rooted and grounded in love so that we are empowered to apprehend the very "breadth and length and height and depth" of the love of God given to us in Messiah, so that we shall all be filled with all the fullness of God. Shabbat Shalom, chaverim!
That Light Still Shines...
12.04.15 (Kislev 22, 5776) Chanukah is important because it stands in opposition to the propaganda of humanism and its ongoing attempt to deny the reality of the Divine Presence in our lives... It makes bold the statement that reality is not reducible to merely natural categories, and it repudiates the "Hellenistic" conceit that all religions are true, and it especially rejects the arrogant notion that the LORD God of Israel is just "one more member" of some globalist pantheon... Chanukah adamantly denies the politically correct dogma that despair is the universal condition of humanity and that darkness will finally extinguish the light. Like the gospel message, Chanukah scandalizes human rationalism and the solipsism that affirms that "man is the measure of all things." "For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world (νικᾷ τὸν κόσμον); and this is the victory that has overcome the world- our faith" (1 John 5:4).
The darkness of this world is forever swept back before the overmastering radiance and power of Yeshua, the King of Glory, the Root and Descendant of David, and the Bright Morning Star (Rev. 22:16). Those who believe in Him are given the "light of life" that overcomes the darkness of this world (John 8:12). Shabbat Shalom and Chag Urim Sameach!
Finding Perfect Peace...
12.04.15 (Kislev 22, 5776) Fear (and it's offspring, anger) create a place of painful exile within the heart. As we consciously focus on the LORD and spiritual reality, there is no fear, since God's light and love overcome all our darkness (John 1:5; 1 John 4:18; 5:3). The Spirit of God calls out: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, and you are mine" (Isa. 43:1). God has personally redeemed you, friend; He calls you by name, and you belong to Him. The Lord loves you with an everlasting love and draws you close (Jer. 31:3). He will never leave nor forsake you, even if you might face waters that seem to overwhelm or fires that seem to devour (Isa. 43:2). The LORD will keep you in "perfect peace" - the "peace of Peace" (שָׁלוֹם שָׁלוֹם), when you set your mind on Him (Isa. 26:3).
יֵצֶר סָמוּךְ תִּצּר שָׁלוֹם שָׁלוֹם כִּי בְךָ בָּטוּחַ
בִּטְחוּ בַיהוָה עֲדֵי־עַד כִּי בְּיָהּ יְהוָה צוּר עוֹלָמִים
ye·tzer · sa·mukh · titz·tzor · sha·lom · sha·lom · ki · ve·kha · ba·tu·ach
bit·chu · vadonai · a·di-ad · ki · be·Yah · Adonai · tzur · o·la·mim
You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, for he trusts in you.
Trust in the LORD forever, for YAH the LORD is an Everlasting Rock.
Hebrew Study Card
When we forget that God is in complete control of all things, we tend to grow anxious... Feeling worried comes from focusing on ourselves, a perspective that can make us feel alone, forgotten, and even victimized in this world. Worry moves us to defend ourselves, to seek refuge in our own devices, and to forfeit the will of God according to the dictates of lesser fears... The sages say it is not permitted to worry: "To worry is a sin; only one sort of worry is permissible; to worry because one worries." We should worry that we worry because this indicates our hardness of heart and our unbelief! God's name YHVH (יהוה) means "Presence," "Breath," "Life," and "Love." So why be anxious for "tomorrow"? We really only have this moment, but this moment is entirely sufficient when we walk in the light of God and seek to know him in all our ways. "Let the peace of God rule in you" (Col. 3:15).
[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah begins at sundown on Sunday, Dec. 6th this year... ]
12.04.15 (Kislev 22, 5776) For each of the days of Chanukah we light candles, kindling one for the first day, two for the second, and so on until we reach the climactic eighth day, when all shine together. Some of the sages say the word "Messiah" (i.e., mashiach: מָשִׁיחַ) may be regarded as an acronym for the phrase "we light throughout the eight days of Chanukah," i.e., מַדְלִיקִין שְׁמוֹנָה יְמֵי חֲנוּכָּה: madlikin (מ) shemonah (שׁ) yemei (י) Chanukah (ח). Indeed, the central lamp of the Chanukah menorah is called the shamash (שַׁמָש), the "Servant" that bears the original flame that kindles all the others. The salvations, wonders, and solace that God performed for us "in those days, at this time" therefore prefigure the greater deliverance we have in Yeshua, the Suffering Servant and Light of the World...
Chanukah and Humanism...
12.03.15 (Kislev 21, 5774) The holiday of Chanukah reminds us that we must remain committed to Torah truth in a godless, and therefore insane, world. After all, since reality is the "handiwork" (i.e., conscious design) of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, morally perfect, purposive, personal, and spiritual Agency who has been revealed in the Jewish Scriptures, those who deny this reality are living in a state of ongoing delusion. In a sense, the history of humanity - especially as it has been expressed philosophically and politically -- has been nothing less than the conscious design to redefine reality as something that it isn't. "The kings of the earth station themselves, and the dignitaries take counsel together against the LORD and His Messiah" (Psalm 2:1-3). Spiritual warfare is therefore the fight for sanity and truth in a world that prefers madness and self-deception.
In a prophetic sense the story of "Epihpanes" foreshadows the coming time of the "Messiah of Evil" (antichrist) who will one day attempt to "assimilate" all of humanity into a "New World Order" (Dan. 9:27, 2 Thess. 2:3; Rev. 13:7-9, etc.). At first he will appear to be a "world savior" who will broker peace for Israel and the Mideast, but after awhile, like his archetype Epiphanes, he will savagely betray the Jewish people and set up a "desolating sacrilege" in the Holy Place of the Temple (Matt. 24:15). His satanic rise will occur during acharit hayamim - the "End of Days" - otherwise called the period of the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24). The Final Victory of God will be established when Yeshua returns to destroy this Messiah of Evil at His Second Coming. The Holy Temple will then be rebuilt and dedicated by the hand of the true Mashiach of Israel.
The Gemara says that Javan, the descendant of Noah's son Japheth (Gen. 10:2), became the founding father of ancient Greece who inherited Japheth's blessing: "May God give beauty to Japheth (יַפְתְּ אֱלהִים לְיֶפֶת) and let him dwell in the tents of Shem" (Gen. 9:27). This blessing gave him the special ability to found the arts, philosophy, and science, though if these were exercised apart from the influence of Shem, that is, apart from a Torah perspective, such pursuits would ultimately become vain and even dangerous. In other words, even though "all truth is God's truth," human learning must be contextualized in light of the divine revelation. The humanistic mindset deifies knowledge and technique; it understands to believe, instead of believing to understand. For this reason, among others, the spiritual war between Zion and the secular world rages to this hour...
Note: For more on this, please see "Chanukah and Spiritual Warfare."
Why We Celebrate Chanukah...
12.02.15 (Kislev 20, 5774) The word chanukah (חֲנֻכָּה) means "dedication," a word that shares the same root as the Hebrew the word chinukh (חִנּוּךְ), meaning "education." Just as the Maccabees fought and died for the sake of Torah truth, so we must wage war within ourselves and break the stronghold of apathy and indifference that the present world system engenders (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 6:11-18). We must take time to educate ourselves by studying the Torah and New Testament, for by so doing we will be rededicated to the service of the truth and enabled to resist assimilation into the corrupt world. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world..." (1 John 2:15).
During this time of year -- and especially during this dark hour of history near the prophesied "end of days" -- it is imperative to remember that we are in the midst of the great "war of the ages," where people's souls and destinies are at stake... This world is likened to the "Valley of Decision," the corridor to the world to come... We cannot afford to be indifferent to the darkness that continues to blind the eyes of so many people. We must take a stand for God's truth and be fully equipped to give an account for the hope we have in Yeshua. Ultimately the "cleansing of the Temple" is a matter of the heart, friends...
We are all called to "fight the good fight of faith" and to take hold of the eternal life given to us in Yeshua our LORD (1 Tim. 6:12). Among other things this means refusing to assimilate with the corrupt world system (Κόσμος) and forfeiting our identity in Yeshua.... Chanukah is a "fighting holiday" -- a call to resist the oppression of this world and to rededicate our lives entirely to God and his truth.... Indeed, of all the people in the world, Christians who love Yeshua should should understand the true meaning of Chanukah and to rejoice that the Yeshua our Messiah overcame this world.
For those who want some additional information about why Chanukah is so important, please see the article, "Let your light shine - Why Christians should celebrate Chanukah." I hope you will find it encouraging, chaverim.
כָּךְ יָאֵר נָא אוֹרְכֶם לִפְנֵי בְּנֵי אָדָם
לְמַעַן יִרְאוּ אֶת מַעֲשֵׂיכֶם הַטּוֹבִים
וִיכַבְּדוּ אֶת־אֲבִיכֶם שֶׁבַּשָׁמָיִם
kakh · ya·er · na · o·re·khem · lif·nei · be·nei · a·dam
le·ma·an · yir·u · et · ma·a·se·khem · hat·to·vim
vi·kha·be·du · et · a·vi·khem · she·ba·sha·ma·yim
"Let your light so shine before men,
that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father in heaven"
Οὕτως λαμψάτω τὸ φῶς ὑμῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων,
ὅπως ἴδωσιν ὑμῶν τὰ καλὰ ἔργα,
καὶ δοξάσωσιν τὸν πατέρα ὑμῶν τὸν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς
During this holiday season and forever: "May the God of hope (אלהֵי הַתִּקְוָה) fill you with all joy and peace in believing (שִׂמְחָה וְשָׁלוֹם בָּאֱמוּנָה), so that by the power of the Holy Spirit (עז רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) you may abound in hope" (Rom. 15:13). May you be filled with the light of hope. Chag Urim Same'ach - "Happy Festival of Lights!"
Note: It is somewhat ironic that the only Scriptural reference to the Festival of Chanukah occurs in the New Testament, not in the Tanakh or the intertestamental literature (i.e., the Jewish Apocrypha). In the Gospel of John we read that Yeshua was at the Temple in Jerusalem during the "Feast of Dedication" (חַג חֲנוּכָּה), that is, Chanukah (John 10:22). During a season of remembering miracles (nissim), Yeshua pointed out that the works that He did attested to His claim to be the long-awaited Messiah of the Jewish people (John 10:37-38). His works and character clearly displayed the true Light of who He was, and these works still shine to us today. Again, for more on this topic see: "Let your Light Shine: Why Christians Should Celebrate Chanukah."
Chanukah and Vigilance...
[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah begins at sundown on Sunday, Dec. 6th this year... ]
12.02.15 (Kislev 20, 5774) The message of Chanukah is to resist being "assimilated" into this dark world and its benighted culture. As it says in our Scriptures, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed (i.e., transfigured by the light) through the renewal (ἀνακαίνωσις) of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God" (Rom. 12:2). Notice that the Greek word translated "conformed" is a passive verb (συσχηματίζω, derived from σύν, "with," + σχῆμα, "matrix") which means that we must consciously resist being lulled into accepting this world's various ideologies (matrix) that are crafted to ignore Divine the Presence and Truth. In the realm of the spiritual, there is simply no place of neutrality, and if we are not going forward, then it's likely we are going backward... Therefore we are repeatedly commanded to test the spirits and to examine truth claims. We ask God for wisdom and use the discernment that comes from the Holy Spirit.
הַשְׁלִיכוּ מֵעֲלֵיכֶם אֶת־כָּל־פִּשְׁעֵיכֶם
אֲשֶׁר פְּשַׁעְתֶּם בָּם
וַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה
hash·li·khu · me·a·le·khem · et · kol · pish·e·khem
a·sher · pe·sha·e·tem · bam
va·a·su · la·khem · lev · cha·dash · ve·ru·ach · cha·da·shah
"Cast away from you all the transgressions
that you have committed,
and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit."
Hebrew Study Card
Through the Wound...
12.01.15 (Kislev 19, 5774) "Find God or die" is a slogan for those who are desperate for deliverance. Many of us have felt abandoned at some time, perhaps because of a tragic event that happened when we were vulnerable or unable to defend ourselves. The painful message implied in any kind of abandonment is, "You are not important; you are not of value." Because of this, we may endlessly search for approval from others, even supposing that God's very love is conditional... We may be tempted to engage in "magical thinking" that God can be bribed with ritual acts or flattery. Part of the healing process is to discover that God comes "through the wound." Despite the pain of our past, we come to trust that all of our life is redeemed, not only that which we can accept, but also that which we can do nothing but agonize and protest. God's grace goes there, too. "You shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord" (Psalm 118:17). God will wipe away your tears, friend...
Inner Light of Faith...
[ Chanukah begins in less than a week, at sundown on Sunday, Dec. 6th (1st candle)... ]
12.01.15 (Kislev 19, 5774) Allow the light of God's love to shine in you brightly. As Yeshua said, "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, such is the one who loves me. And the one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him" (John 14:21). Note that the Greek word for "manifest" means to "shine inside" (i.e., ἐμφανίζω, from ἐν, "in" and φαίνω, "shine"), indicating that the revelation would be inward light of the Divine Presence. The Hebrew word for "praise" (i.e., tehillah: תְּהִלָּה) comes from a verb that means "to shine" (i.e., halal: הָלַל), from which we derive the word "halo." Similarly, the word "aura" comes from the Hebrew word "ohr" (אוֹר), meaning "light." Let your inner light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give honor to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).
אֱלהִים יְחָנֵּנוּ וִיבָרְכֵנוּ
יָאֵר פָּנָיו אִתָּנוּ סֶלָה
E·lo·him · ye·chon·nei·nu · vi·var·khei·nu
ya·er · pa·nav · it·ta·nu · se·lah
"May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us, selah."
Inner light comes from God: "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." We "walk in the light," experiencing inner peace and joy in the Holy Spirit when we heed and obey the Voice of God's love and abide in the secret place of His Love. The people of God are united to one another by the power of God's love. O LORD God, "light up my eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death" (Psalm 13:3). May the light and love of our God shine within you, friends!
A Chosen Ignorance...
12.01.15 (Kislev 19, 5774) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was surrounded by the evil of Nazi Germany, regarded stupidity as more dangerous than outright evil, since stupidity is a type of irrationality, a chosen ignorance of what is real and true. Against such willed ignorance we are often defenseless, since any reasoning that appeals to transcendental moral truth finds no traction, carries no weight, and has no effect. The devil, then, seeks first of all to stupefy people, that is, to flatter and persuade them that there is no need for them to engage in serious thinking or to humbly question their assumptions... As William James observed: "A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." The antidote to unthinkingly accepting the biases and inculcated prejudices of the world is to be awakened to the reality of God: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; but fools despise wisdom and correction" (Prov. 1:7).
יִרְאַת יְהוָה רֵאשִׁית דָּעַת
חָכְמָה וּמוּסָר אֱוִילִים בָּזוּ
yir·at · Adonai · rei·shit · da·at
chokh·mah · u'mu·sar · e·vi·lim · ba·zu
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
but fools despise wisdom and correction."
The ground of all right thinking about reality is "wonder," or the sense that life itself is something mysteriously beautiful, amazing, and therefore inherently sacred. This is sometimes called yirat Adonai (יִרְאַת יְהוָה), "the fear of the LORD" that leads to wisdom. Right thinking therefore begins with consciousness of the good (הַכָּרַת טוֹבָה), that is, with an awareness that life itself a gift, a mystery, and a hallowed question... We seek our origin, our essence, and our purpose -- and in our seeking we seek the LORD. We long for deliverance from what keeps us from healing, from love, from real hope. And as we seek, the wonder of the LORD God never ends. As Yeshua said, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Matt. 7:7).
Joseph and Messiah...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Parashat Vayeshev... ]
12.01.15 (Kislev 19, 5774) More chapters of the Torah are devoted to the life of Joseph than to the account of creation, the story of Adam and Eve, the flood of Noah, the call of Abram to the promised land, the miraculous birth and (near) sacrifice of Isaac, the transformation of Jacob into Israel, and so on. Joseph is given such prominence in Scripture because his life depicted both the Suffering Servant (Yeshua's first advent) and the One who reigns at the right hand of the power on high and delivers Israel (Yeshua's second advent). The life of Joseph provides a "prophetic outline" of Yeshua the Lord, the One who is both Mashiach ben Yosef (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־יוֹסֵף), "the Messiah son of Joseph," as well as Mashiach ben David (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־דָוִד), "the Messiah the Son of David."
For more on this subject, including 60 ways in which Joseph prefigured the advent of Yeshua the Messiah, see "Mashiach ben Yosef."