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Jewish Holiday Calendar 

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

The winter holidays (חגי החורף) remember special times when God acted on behalf of His people so that they would triumph over their enemies, and therefore they prophetically picture the final victory in the world to come.
 

Winter Holiday Calendar

The Winter Holidays:

Chagall Menorah - stained glass detail
 

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

  1. Month of Kislev (begins Sat., Nov. 22nd, 2014)
    • Four Sabbaths: Vayetzei, Vayishlach, Vayeshev, Miketz
    • Dates for Chanukah 2014:
      • 1st candle Tues., Dec. 16th [Kislev 25]
      • 2nd candle Wed., Dec. 17th
      • 3rd candle: Thurs., Dec. 18th
      • 4th candle: Fri., Dec. 19th [Shabbat Miketz]
      • 5th candle: Sat., Dec. 20th
      • 6th candle: Sun., Dec. 21st
  2. Month of Tevet (Sun., Dec. 21st, 2014)
  3. Month of Shevat (Tues., Jan. 20th, 2015)
  4. Month of Adar (Wed., Feb. 18th, 2015)



 

January 2015 Updates
 


Keeping your Focus...


 

01.30.15 (Shevat 9, 5775)  The important thing is to remain focused on what is ultimately real... We do this by learning to pray "without ceasing," which means centering our thoughts and desires in light of the Divine Presence. King David always "set" the LORD before him and he was unmoved in times of testing (Psalm 16:8). To know the truth means choosing before the audience of God's reality, before the holy witnesses of heaven and the sacredness that inheres in all things. We know this truth as we do - as we trust - as we "live, move, and have our being." Most especially we must learn the truth of God's love for our souls in Jesus, for he is the one who has promises never to leave nor forsake us.
 

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."
(Isa. 41:10)



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Here is an encouraging quote from Julian of Norwich I read recently: "Every soul who has willingly served God in any degree on earth, shall possess three degrees of happiness in heaven. First, our Lord will honor and thank them; Second, all the creatures in Heaven will see this honor and thanks; and Third, this will last forever...."  Shabbat shalom.
 




Celebrate God's Love...


 

01.30.15 (Shevat 9, 5775)  Yeshua said the kingdom of heaven could be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his beloved son. Those who were invited made one excuse after another why they could not attend, so the disappointed king then instructed his servants to "go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame... and compel everyone you find to come in, so my house may be filled." God loves people and implores them to personally join in the celebration of his love, to partake of the marriage feast of Lamb (Rev. 19:7). But note that this means that we are to bring all the lame, broken, and fearful parts of ourselves to the banqueting table of God's love... The courage to "come to the table" only comes from a sense of being welcomed and accepted, that is, by trusting that you are truly made safe by God's love....

Perhaps we are afraid of God's unconditional love for us because we've experienced rejection or abandonment in our lives. We silently wonder, "What if God lets me down and I get hurt again?" We prefer the "comfort" of our fears to the risk of letting go and trusting in God's love for us, just as we are... This fear shows up in a lot of ways, for instance, by thinking we have to be "religious," or by attempting to clean ourselves up before we can accept God's love, On the other hand, we might entertain a sense of false humility that considers our sin to be too much for God to bear, and thereby excuse ourselves from the celebration.... In every case the problem is the need to control. We want to define the terms of love before we will let go and trust. We are offended at the idea of divine grace because we want to esteem ourselves as worthy of God's love based on who we are, rather than on who God is... The message of God's love, however, is scandalous, precisely because it gives wholeheartedly to those who are undeserving and unworthy, to the tax collectors, the sinners, the crippled and blind and lame...

Shabbat Shalom friends! Let's rejoice that we are always welcome in God's Presence because of Yeshua our Lord.
 




The Fight of Faith...


 

01.30.15 (Shevat 9, 5775)  Our Torah this week (Beshalach) begins with the battle against Pharaoh and ends with the battle against Amalek... The sages note that while just a few weeks separate these confrontations, each is different in character. In the former case, the Israelites panicked and God directly intervened on their behalf, splitting the sea and overthrowing Egypt's army; in the latter case, the people seem ready for the fight, led by Joshua. One common feature of both struggles is the hand of Moses grasping the staff of God, though in the former case the staff is lifted up before all the people, whereas in the latter case it is held up when no one is watching, and Aaron and Hur are needed to help steady Moses' grip... The battle with Amalek resulted from the question the people asked: "Is God in our midst or not?" (Exod. 17:17). The fight that came centered on the people's need to find their trust in God's promises -- even if God did not directly manifest his presence "in their midst" as he did when he threw Pharaoh's army into the sea.

The battle with Amalek symbolizes the "good fight of faith" we must wage every day, as we consciously decide to trust that God is indeed "in our midst," even if our present circumstances appear desolate and forsaken...
 




Our Spiritual Warfare...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Beshalach...  ]

01.30.15 (Shevat 9, 5775)  In our Torah for this week (Beshalach) we read how "Amalek" attacked the Israelites after they had miraculously crossed over the sea into a new life of freedom (Exod. 17:8). Spiritually speaking the Amalekites aligned themselves with the wicked Pharaoh of Egypt and therefore they sought to continue the war against God's people. Apparently the Amalekite clan in Canaan was founded by a grandson of Esau (Gen. 36:12,16), though Amalek is also listed as the "first among the nations," a man who even predated the time of Abraham (Num. 24:20, Gen. 14:7). In Augustine's terms, Amalek represents the "City of the World," whereas Israel represents the "City of God."

In Jewish tradition, Amalek represents pure evil, or those who have "given themselves over" to Sitra Achra, the side of impurity. Indeed the name Amalek (עֲמָלֵק) begins with the letter Ayin (symbolizing the eye) and equals 240 in gematria -- the same value for safek (סָפֵק), meaning "doubt," and for rahm (רָם), meaning "haughty." Amalek therefore represents "the evil eye of doubt," or even "the severed eye" (i.e., when you remove Ayin from "Amalek," you are left with malak (מָלָק), a verb that means "to chop off" or to sever). Understood in this way, Amalek represents spiritual blindness acting arrogantly in the world, and therefore the LORD vowed perpetual warfare against Amalek: "The Hand is on God's throne. God shall be at war with Amalek for all generations" (Exod. 17:16).

The Torah reveals that we must "go out and fight" Amalek, which is a call to ongoing spiritual warfare in our lives (Deut. 25:17-19). When Moses raised his hands in battle against the Amalekites, the Israelites prevailed, but if he lowered them, they suffered defeat (Exod. 17:11). Eventually Moses grew weary and needed Aaron and Hur to help him hold his arms steady to ensure victory (Exod. 17:12). Note that the Hebrew word translated "steady" is emunah (אֱמוּנָה), the word for faith... It was Moses' steady faith in God's power that gave Israel the victory over the powers of darkness, just as we lift up our faith in God's power demonstrated at the cross gives us the victory over Satan and his schemes.

For more on what Amalek represents, see the article, "Warfare with Amalek."
 




No Free Fish...


 

01.30.15 (Shevat 9, 5775)  The Divine promise was "I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt" (Exod. 6:6), though later the people "romanticized" their captivity and wanted to return there to eat their "free fish" (Num. 11:5). The sages note the word "burdens" (סִבְלת) can also mean "tolerance," which suggests that the people had tolerated their enslavement and made it "work" for them... And are we not likewise at risk to be enslaved by the sumptuous comforts and amenities offered by this world? Have we not tolerated our own slavery -- our addictions to comfort, pleasures, a life of ease and "free fish"? Are we really ready to leave all that we know behind to experience the glory of Zion? People may profess that they want to know God, that they "hunger and thirst for righteousness" and earnestly desire that the kingdom of heaven be manifest, and yet they can't get away from their favorite television shows, super bowls, political intrigues, pop idols, and other the fads of the day... We must be careful not to become comfortable in our exile – to become "friends of this world" – by losing faith's voice of protest; we must be careful not to be distracted from beholding spiritual reality and the ultimate healing to come. We are away from home, friends! When the hour comes and we hear "gemar ha'tikkun" – the sound of the shofar of Messiah summoning us all to follow him to the Holy Land -- will we be ready to leave everything behind?

The story is told (by Abraham Twerski in his book, "Rebbes and Chassidim") how Rabbi Nachum of Chernobyl once stayed at an inn, and as was his custom, he arose at midnight to recite lamentations over the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the people... The innkeeper, hearing his wailing, arose to see what the trouble was, and could not understand why the rabbi was sitting on the ground, mourning and praying... Nachum explained that we continually mourn the loss of our land and our exile, and that we cry out to God to hasten the ultimate redemption, when Mashiach will take us out of exile and lead us back to Jerusalem, our beloved Zion....

The innkeeper asked, "Will we all go to Jerusalem?" "Of course," Rabbi Nachum said. "But what will become of my little farm, my cows and chickens?" the innkeeper asked. "What account are these compared to our being in exile? Nachum replied. "We are repeatedly attacked by the Tartars, they carry out pogroms, killing and pillaging our people! In Jerusalem we will be free of such persecutions!"

The innkeeper was still not satisfied. "I must talk to my wife about this," he said. When he later told his wife what Rabbi Nachum said about the redemption by Mashiach, she said, "And how can we leave our farm and the cows and chickens that we worked so hard to get?" The innkeeper then explained how we would be free of the pogroms and persecutions of the bands of Tartars. The wife thought a bit and then said, "Go tell the rabbi that when Mashiach comes, he should take the Tartars to Jerusalem, and we can live here in peace."
 




The Longer Road Home...


 

01.29.15 (Shevat 8, 5775)  God chose to take the people along the "longer road" to the promised land, just as we find ourselves still awaiting our redemption in the world to come. And like the Israelites, we must be on guard, since when things get difficult, our tendency is to go back to what is familiar, even if it is painful. Thank God we have a Good Shepherd who teaches us and guides us in the way to go: "And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher (מוֹרֶה) will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. Your ears will hear a word behind you, saying: 'This is the way; follow it,' when you turn to the right or to the left" (Isa. 30:20-21).
 

וְאָזְנֶיךָ תִּשְׁמַעְנָה דָבָר מֵאַחֲרֶיךָ לֵאמר
זֶה הַדֶּרֶךְ לְכוּ בוֹ
כִּי תַאֲמִינוּ וְכִי תַשְׂמְאִילוּ

ve·oz·ne·kha · tish·ma·nah · da·var · me·a·cha·re·kha · le·mor:
zeh · ha·de·rekh · le·khu · vo
ki · ta·a·mi·nu · ve·khi · tas·me·i·lu
 

"Your ears will hear a word behind you saying:
'This is the way; follow it,'
when you turn to the right or to the left."
(Isa. 30:21)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

 

What a beautiful image of our LORD as our Teacher and Good Shepherd, who guides us in the paths of life and delivers us from "right-hand and left-hand errors." And may God keep us upon the path, free from the seductions of the tempter who wants to distract our souls and lead us into fruitless byways and trouble. May we be given grace to behold His face, even in the midst of adversity or affliction, learning from Him the way to go... Amen.

Update: Please pray for Hebrew for Christians. This ministry is facing some tough challenges, including spiritual attacks, etc. Thank you for your concern and kindness, friends.
 




Believing and Seeing...


 

01.29.15 (Shevat 8, 5775)  Despite all the miracles and wonders performed on behalf of the Israelites, the people soon seemed to "forget" about their great redemption. Indeed, it was just a few days after the awe-inspiring deliverance from Egypt that the people began to murmur, complain, and "kvetch" (Exod. 16:1-3). Such discontent warns us that miracles are never enough to sustain faith: Seeing isn't believing, but rather the other way around (Rom. 8:24; Heb. 11:1; 2 Cor. 4:18). This explains why groups that emphasis "signs and wonders" often contain so many exhausted people. Miracles are insufficient for faith; people get excited about them while they occur, but they soon forget them and return to a state of desperation and despair. Necessarily the cycle must repeat itself, with ever-increasing claims of the miraculous, in order to keep the movement going. In light of this, it is wise to regard the desire for "signs and wonders" as a counterfeit of the real need to surrender and serve God. After all, to truly love the LORD with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength - now that is a miracle of a greater kind than that of splitting the sea!

For more on this, see "Believing and Seeing: Further Thoughts on Parashat Beshalach."
 




Appearance and Reality...


 

01.29.15 (Shevat 8, 5775)  The Hebrew word for "world" or "age" is olam (עוֹלָם), which is derived from a root verb (עָלַם) that means "to conceal" or "to hide." God "hides" His face from us so that we will seek Him, and that means we must press through ambiguity to earnestly take hold of divine truth. Centuries before the time of the philosopher Plato, King David proclaimed that there was a "divided line" between the realm of the temporal world and realm of the hidden and eternal world. The temporal world is finite, subject to change, yet pointed beyond itself to an eternal world, which was the source of real significance, meaning, and life itself (2 Cor. 4:18). Therefore King David said, בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָיו תָּמִיד/ bakeshu fanav tamid: "Seek His face continually" (Psalm 105:4). Note that the numerical value for the word "fanav" (i.e., "His face") is the same as that for the word "olam." When we truly seek God's face (i.e., His Presence) we are able to discern the underlying purpose for our lives.
 

דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה וְעֻזּוֹ
 בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָיו תָּמִיד

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

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

ζητήσατε τὸν κύριον καὶ κραταιώθητε
ζητήσατε τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ διὰ παντός



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Note that the ancient Greek version of the Torah (i.e., the Septuagint) translates this verse as, "Seek the LORD and be strengthened; seek His face through everything (διὰ παντός)." Unlike Plato, however, who "saw through" the temporal world and regarded it as less than real, King David understood that how we live within the intersection of these two realms revealed our inner character of faith -- and therefore our ultimate destiny....

Note: The sages point out that the word for "forever," "le'olam," is spelled so that it can be read "to conceal" (in Hebrew, "le'aleim"), meaning that the Name of God is "hidden," too. "This is my name - forever!" meaning, my Name YHVH is forever a mystery...
 




The Torah of Manna...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Beshalach...  ]

01.28.15 (Shevat 8, 5775)  Jewish tradition counts 49 days from the Passover/Exodus to the revelation at Sinai, a seven week period of purification and preparation... During this time the Israelites carried the bones of Joseph (עַצְמוֹת יוֹסֵף) -- the Hebrew word for "bones" (i.e., etzem: עֶצֶם) also refers to his "essence," or the deep conviction Joseph had in God's promise (Gen. 50:25; Heb. 11:1). The journey into the desert is meant to test us – to reveal our strengths and weaknesses. We cross over from the "comfort of slavery" to a barren place that exposes what lurks within our hearts. Yeshua likewise was tempted in the desert and overcame the devil there (Matt. 4:1-11).

The sages say that the verse: "The LORD is my strength and my song (עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ), and he has become my salvation (וַיְהִי־לִי לִישׁוּעָה)," refers to two aspects of the life of faith (Exod. 15:2). "My strength and song" refers to the decision we make to desire freedom, truth, righteousness, and so on, whereas "he has become my salvation" refers God's power, our surrender to his love, and our rest in him...  It is the balance (and tension) of these two – the willingness to choose and the decision to surrender – that marks the walk in the desert (Phil. 2:13-14). We are both totally responsible yet utterly unable to help ourselves, and stressing either our own freedom or God's sovereignty disrupts the partnership and unity of our journey. It is not a matter of resolute willing nor a matter of passivity: We exercise our strength by trusting God through the darkness and emptiness of the desert.

This balance may be illustrated in the commandment concerning the manna, the miraculous sustenance given to us each day (Exod. 16:1-30). We can only rightfully gather what we can eat for the day, and if we try to gather more, the gift itself will rot... This teaches us to appreciate the present without fear of the future. The "Torah of Manna" (תּוֹרַת הַמָּן) is that we must gather only what the moment requires and no more: "Give us this day our daily bread," as Yeshua taught us to pray. On the sixth day we are able to gather a double portion so that we are free to focus on God's presence and provision on Shabbat.

Despite the miracle of crossing the sea, we journey until hunger and thirst arrest our way -- when the bread we carry is exhausted and the water we find tastes bitter. This "bitter water" represents the pain of our past, the reflux of our wounded heart, and our need for "sweet water," the healing waters of life (מַיִם חַיִּים). The mysterious tree that Moses used to sweeten the bitter wates stands for the Tree of Life (עֵץ הַחַיִּים), which itself foreshadows the tree (cross) of our Savior. Bitterness is overcome when touched by this tree. And this tree represents the sacred ground where heaven and earth intersect, the place of atonement, where the heart of God pours our his heart for our eternal good.
 




Heaven's Alphabet...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Beshalach...  ]

01.28.15 (Shevat 8, 5775)  A verse from our Torah portion this week (Exod. 16:16) contains all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (i.e., aleph (א), bet (בּ), gimmel (ג), etc.).  The special verse reads, "This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer (עמֶר), according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.'" Since this refers to the manna the Israelites were to collect for their daily bread, and this verse contains all the letters of the alphabet, we may poetically infer that if we immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, "from Aleph (א) to Tav (ת)," God will provide us with the "daily bread" (לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ) we need, just as He did when the bread from heaven (לֶחֶם מִן־הַשָּׁמָיִם) was miraculously given to feed the Israelites in the desert. Therefore Yeshua, who is the Aleph and Tav, taught us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," which surely refers to the spiritual food (i.e., encouragement, hope, life) that we receive from the Word of Life (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4).

Yeshua taught us: "Don't be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow has its own troubles. Live one day at a time" (Matt. 6:34). It makes no sense to worry about the future if the LORD is the Good Shepherd who tenderly watches over your way (Psalm 23:1). Every day we are given daily bread, but we must remember that manna could not be stored up without becoming rotten (Exod. 16:20).

Isn't it amazing how studying the Hebrew text reveals further insights into the Scriptures?  And may you rest in the promise: "My God will supply every need of yours - "from A to Z" - according to his riches in glory in Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil. 4:19). He is lechem ha'chaim - the Living Bread from heaven (John 6:51)!


 




The Taste of Gratitude...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Beshalach...  ]

01.27.15 (Shevat 7, 5775)  The LORD said to Moses, "'Look I am going to rain down bread from heaven (לֶחֶם מִן־הַשָּׁמָיִם) for you. The people will go out and gather a portion for that day so that I might test whether they will walk in my Torah (תּוֹרָה) or not" (Exod. 16:4). This miraculous bread was called manna (מָן) because when the people first saw it they asked one other, "mann hu" (מָן הוּא), "what is it?" Although the Torah describes its taste as like "honey cakes" (Exod. 16:31), the midrash says that its taste was a function of a person's sense of gratitude. For those who were thankful for God's care, manna tasted delicious (like a good cookie?), but to those who murmured, it tasted bland and unsatisfying (like stale matzah?). "According to your faith, be it done unto you" (Matt. 9:29).
 

טַעֲמוּ וּרְאוּ כִּי־טוֹב יְהוָה
אַשְׁרֵי הַגֶּבֶר יֶחֱסֶה־בּוֹ

ta·a·mu · ur·u · ki · tov · Adonai
ash·rei · ha·ge·ver · ye·che·seh · bo
 

"Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!"
(Psalm 34:8)



 

Addictions, cravings, lusts, etc., often arise from refusing to be satisfied, by hungering for more than the blessing of the moment. "My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13). The living waters are always present for us, but we will only find them if we open our hearts to the wonder of God in this moment.  We must slow down, savor the moment, and see God's hand in everything around us: "Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD God of Hosts: The whole earth is filled with His glory" (Isa. 6:3). Opening our spiritual eyes will break the cycle of unthinking habit, of "mindless eating," and so on. Ultimately this is another aspect of shema, or listening to your body, your heart, your soul – and especially listening for God's word spoken to your inward being. We can "break the spell" of continual dissatisfaction, of the power of greed, pride, and so on, when we discover that our constant hunger is really a cry for God and His blessing. Our sense of inner emptiness is an invitation to come to the waters and drink life... May God help us come!
 




Baptism into Moses...


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading (Beshalach) and the Exodus from Egypt... ]

01.27.15 (Shevat 7, 5775)  The Apostle Paul likened the crossing of the sea as a metaphor of baptism: "All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Cor. 10:1-2,11). In the New Testament, baptism symbolizes our identification with Yeshua's death, burial, and resurrection (Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:3-5). The Israelites were facing death and were therefore at the "end of themselves." They had no other appeal or hope than God's gracious intervention on their behalf (i.e., salvation). Still, they needed to act and move forward. After they took the step of faith, they could see the Shekhinah Glory lighting up the way of deliverance, though this meant being "buried" within the midst of the sea. Their earlier fear of death was replaced with a song of God's great deliverance (shirat hayam). The other side of the sea represents new life in the Messiah, the life that comes from above, by the power and agency of the Holy Spirit... The Israelites died to their old life, were symbolically buried in the waters, but arose to new freedom by the grace and power of God...

 

Note that this "baptism into Moses" (1 Cor. 10:1-2) was not a water baptism, since even though the people went through the water, they crossed over the sea on dry ground... No, it was a baptism or "immersion" into the Shekhinah Cloud, an identification with Moses and his mission (Heb. 11:29). At Sinai Moses would later ascend into the midst of that Cloud to behold the vision of the altar of Messiah (i.e., the Mishkan, or Tabernacle). Ultimately baptism is about identifying with the redemptive mission of God through Yeshua our Savior. The meaning of baptism is to be immersed by the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to be made part of the greater redemptive mission of God's people.
 




Stepping out in Faith...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Beshalach...  ]

01.27.15 (Shevat 7, 5775)  From our Torah this week (i.e., parashat Beshalach) we read how Israel was trapped before the sea with no way of escape... Moses then cried out to God who told him to march forward -- right into the waters -- as the Pillar of Cloud settled between the people and Pharaoh's advancing army. According to a well-known midrash, when Moses lifted his staff to divide the sea, at first nothing happened. The people waited anxiously at the seashore, wondering what to do. Finally, Nachshon ben Aminadav, a descendant of Judah (Num. 1:7), waded into the water "up to his nose," and then the winds began blowing to divide the waters (Shemot Rabbah). The great miracle of kriat yam suf - the splitting of the sea - therefore resulted because someone took a step of faith: "And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall (חוֹמָה) to them on their right hand and on their left" (Exod. 14:22). They marched across the sea all that night (i.e., Nisan 21), under the light of the Shekhinah Glory...

The Talmud says "kasheh le'zavgom ke'kriat yam suf," which means it is more difficult for God to create a marriage than to split the sea.  They reason this way because each person needs to take individual action to trust the other. Likewise with God. It is more difficult for God to get us to be in a genuine, trusting relationship with Him than it is for Him to split a sea. Of course the problem is not with God, who is the perfect "husband," but with our adulterous inner nature. It took the LORD a year to deliver Israel from Egypt, but it took Him 40 years to teach Israel to trust in His promises of love. God always awaits our teshuvah - our "answer" - to His invitation before He will reveal more to us. As Yeshua once said to his followers, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now" (John 16:12). Some things about God can only be known by stepping out in faith and surrendering ourselves entirely to Him.

For more on this subject, see "Stepping out in Faith..."
 




Holocaust Remembrance Day


 

01.26.15 (Shevat 6, 5775)  On January 27, 1945, the largest of the Nazi death camps (Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland) was liberated by Soviet troops. In October 2005, the UN General Assembly designated this date as "International Holocaust Remembrance Day" to commemorate and honor the victims of the Nazi era. Note that the UN-sponsored date is not the same thing as Yom HaShoah, which occurs after Passover in the spring (i.e., Nisan 27).

The systematic genocide of the Jewish people is one of the most heinous and barbarous crimes in the history of humanity. Reflecting on these atrocities should cause us to be vigilant to protect the individual liberties of all people from the hands of the State.  Any political ideology or religious creed that elevates the interest of the "collective" over the sanctity of the individual is inherently suspect.  For more information, see this page.
 




Shabbat Shirah - שַׁבַּת שִׁירָה


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading (Beshalach) and the crossing of the sea... ]

01.26.15 (Shevat 6, 5775)  The central event of this week's Torah portion is how the LORD split the waters of the sea to make a path for His people to escape from Egypt. This event is commemorated in the great "Song the Sea" (i.e., Shirat Hayam: שִׁירַת הַיָּם), a hymn praising God for His deliverance (see Exod. 15:1-21). Because of its critical significance for the Jewish people, the Sabbath on which this song is chanted is called Shabbat Shirah ("Sabbath of the Song"), and the custom is for all the congregation to rise while it is recited...

The Torah states that when the Israelites entered the sea, it became dry land, with the water as "a wall (חוֹמָה) to their right and to their left" (Exod. 14:29). To commemorate this miracle, the Hebrew text of the "Song of the Sea" is stylized to resemble a "wavy wall," with the words written in alternating "blocks" to suggest a wave of water, like this:
 

Shirat Hayam
 

The soferim (Torah scribes) count exactly 198 words in this song, which is the numerical value for the word tzchok (צחק), a word that means "laughter" and is the word used to describe Sarah's response when she finally gave birth to Isaac (Gen. 21:6). According to Rabbi Bachya, the laughter in Isaac's name comes from Abraham's joy (Gen. 17:17). The joy of Isaac's birth, then, is linked with the "birth" of the nation of Israel at the time of the Exodus, just as his symbolic death during the Akedah represents Israel's rebirth...

Because it marks deliverance, the Song of the Sea (i.e., the Song of Moses) as well as the "Song of the Lamb" will be sung in the world to come (Rev. 15:3). For more on this, see "The Song of the Sea: Further Thoughts on Beshalach."
 




Parashat Beshalach - בשלח


 

[ In our Torah portion this week the waters of the Red Sea divide to make a path for the Israelites, a miracle that symbolized newness of life as God's liberated people... ]

01.25.15 (Shevat 5, 5775)  Last week's Torah portion (i.e., parashat Bo) described how the Israelites were finally delivered from their bondage in Egypt after God issued the decisive plague during the time of Passover.  In this week's portion (Beshalach), the Israelites began their journey home, after 430 years of exile. Instead of leading them along a direct route to the Promised Land, however, the LORD directed them south, toward the desert, where the Glory of God appeared as a Pillar of Cloud by day and as a Pillar of Fire by night to lead them on their way. When Pharaoh heard that the Israelites were at the border of the desert, however, he perversely decided to pursue them and bring them back to Egypt. God then redirected the Israelites to camp near the edge of the Sea of Reeds, where the Egyptian army finally caught up with them. Dramatically, the Israelites were caught between the sea on one side, and Pharaoh's army on the other...

The terrified people then began to blame Moses for their predicament. Moses reassured them of God's great deliverance and raised his staff to miraculously divide the waters of the sea. All that night the Shekhinah Glory enshrouded the Egyptian army but gave light to Israel as the people crossed through the sea on dry ground. Just before dawn, the dark pillar of cloud that veiled the Egyptian army lifted, and the soldiers immediately rushed after the Israelites into pathway of the sea. God then told Moses to lift his staff again so that the waters would overwhelm the Egyptians with their chariots and horsemen. By the time dawn arrived, the Israelites saw the dead bodies of Pharaoh's army lining the seashore.



 

Shabbat Shirah - שַׁבַּת שִׁירָה

Because of the critical significance of the miracle of crossing the sea, this Sabbath is called Shabbat Shirah, the "Sabbath of the Song," because it includes the song of deliverance sung by Moses and Miriam after the people made safe passage to new life. The "Song of the Sea" (i.e., shirah hayam) begins, "The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation" / עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ וַיְהִי־לִי לִישׁוּעָה (Exod. 15:2, cp. Isa. 12:2). For Orthodox Jews, singing Shirat Hayam every day is thought to fulfill the biblical commandment to "remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live" (Deut. 16:3). Note that Shirat Hayam is also sung on the 7th day of Passover, as a memorial of the deliverance by God through the waters of the Sea of Reeds.

Following their jubilation, the narrative resumes as God led the people away from the sea, into the desert of Sin (מִדְבַּר־סִין), a desolate region about midway to Mount Sinai. After traveling three days without finding any water, however, the people complained and God provided them with fresh water at Marah. Awhile later, the matzah the people had brought with them ran out and God tested their obedience by giving them "bread from heaven" (i.e., manna). The portion ends with the Amalekites' surprise attack of Israel at Rephidim, near Mount Sinai, and the introduction of Joshua as the leader of the army of Israel.
 

 




The Meaning of Passover...


 

01.23.15 (Shevat 3, 5775)  In Parashat Bo we read about the institution of Passover and the final terrible plague that would befall the Egyptians on Passover night. When we think of this time, we may imagine God "passing over" those houses that had the blood of the lamb smeared on their doorposts, though it might better be said that God passed into the homes of those who trusted him, while he withdrew His Presence from those that did not...

To see this note that two different words are used that can be translated as "pass over." First, God said, "I will pass over (i.e., avar: עֲבַר) the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments; I am the LORD" (Exod. 12:12). But directly after saying this, God promised to "pass over" (i.e., pasach: פָּסַח) the homes of those who trusted in him to impart his protection from the plague of death: "The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over to you (lit. עֲלֵכֶם, 'upon you'), and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt" (Exod. 12:13). In other words, when God would see the blood of the Passover lamb, he would pass over to enter the house and "cover" its occupants from the judgment of death.

The blood of the Passover sheltered people from the plague of death by atoning for their sin by means of a substitutionary sacrifice. The Torah states that "the life (i.e., nefesh: נֶפֶשׁ, or 'soul') of the flesh is in the blood" (Lev. 17:11), and therefore death represents the separation of the soul from the body. The life blood of a sacrificial lamb was therefore offered in exchange for the death and destruction of others. Eating the lamb "roasted by fire" meant identifying with the death offered in exchange for your own; eating matzah, or unleavened bread, signified being delivered in haste, apart from the "rise of the flesh" or human design; and eating maror, or bitter herbs, recalled the bitterness of former bondage.

The first time the word "blood" occurs in the Scriptures concerns the death of Abel, the son of Adam and Eve who was murdered by his brother Cain. After Abel's blood was shed, the LORD confronted Cain and said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground" (Gen. 4:10). Since blood is the carrier of life, it bears the energy and vitality of life: it has its own spiritual "voice." Likewise, the blood of Yeshua, the true Lamb of God who died upon the cross, speaks on our behalf, and reverses the power of death by creating a barrier that death can no longer cross, since the death of the sacrificial victim "exchanges" the merit and power of life. Unlike the blood of Abel that "cries out" for justice, the blood of Yeshua cries out for mercy (Heb. 12:24). Putting our trust in the provision of God's sacrifice causes His wrath (or righteous judgment) to pass over while simultaneously extending love to the sinner.... This is the essential message of the gospel itself, that we have atonement through the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua our Savior, the great Lamb of God.  As Yeshua said, "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the One who sent me has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and will not be condemned, but has passed over (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24). Just as God's judgment passes over from life to death on my behalf; so His love passes over from death to life on my behalf...

Notice that the Hebrew verb "pasach" can also mean "to limp," suggesting the heel of Messiah that was "bruised" in the battle for our redemption (Gen. 3:15). It is the cross of Yeshua that enables the mercy of God to "overcome" his justice, or that allows "steadfast love and truth to meet; righteousness and peace to kiss" (Psalm 85:10). His attribute of Justice passes over us as His attribute of Compassion passes into us... The sacrifice of Messiah allows God to be both just and the justifier of those who trust in God's remedy and exchange for our sin (Rom. 3:26).

The idea of substitutionary atonement is surely mysterious and complicated, but ultimately the message is simple: God loves you and has made a way for you to be eternally accepted -- despite your sin... God is your healer: That's the "good news" of the cross. That's what Yeshua meant when he said, "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם). For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved" (John 3:14-17). Humanity as a whole has been "bitten by the snake" and needs to be delivered from its deadly venom. Just as the image made in the likeness of the destroying snake was lifted up for Israel's healing, so the One made in the likeness of sinful flesh was to be lifted up as the Healer of the world (Rom. 8:3). All we need to do is look and believe. Yeshua died for you so you can live. He stands at the door and knocks, offering to "pass over" to give you his life (Rev. 3:20). 
 




Facing our Pharaohs...


 

01.23.15 (Shevat 3, 5775)  The sages sometimes allegorize the Exodus into a parable about the journey of our faith. Moses represents our heart called by God whereas Pharaoh represents our sin nature and the tyranny of the ego... Like Moses you are called by God to "go to Pharaoh," that is, to confront what keeps you from experiencing your freedom. The "heart of Pharaoh" represents your cynical and hardened self – the defensive ego that is fearful and marked by unhealed grief. You must face this "Pharaoh" and courageously demand to be set free to serve the LORD. The power of Pharaoh represents the "surface" of things - the world and its burdens, its fleeting vanities, its ongoing "need" to control others, and so on. Salvation (יְשׁוּעָה) is likened to rebirth that delivers us from the "narrow places of Egypt" (i.e., from mitzrayim: , "from," and צַר, "narrow") into newness of life...

Note: None of this is meant to impugn the historical Exodus, of course, but to find a way to make it's experience felt dor va'dor - "in every generation..."
 




Pride and Destruction...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Bo.... ]

01.23.15 (Shevat 3, 5775)  Our Torah this week centers on the liberation of Israel from Egypt, and the journey from the narrow spaces of "mitzraim" into the realm of freedom. In this connection we note that freedom does not mean merely "freedom from" oppression, servitude, and so on, but "freedom to" serve God with dignity and purpose... The Passover leads directly to the revelation of the Torah, where we learn that real freedom is the power to chose the righteous path... We are never more free than when we serve God.

A tragic paradox of Pharaoh is that, despite his assumed "god-like" status, he was enslaved by his own fears...  His "hardening of heart" was a defense mechanism that prevented him from feeling compassion for others -- and particularly for the Israelites whom he ruthlessly exploited. Indeed the more he oppressed the people, the more afraid he became of his own heart (a bad conscience is always the result of cowardice). Because he was incapable of coping with his feelings, he denied them, and eventually he was enslaved by his own defenses. Ironically, the "mighty Pharaoh" lost control over himself, and that led to his destruction...
 




A Blessed Hunger...


 

01.22.15 (Shevat 2, 5775)  The first words of Yeshua recorded in John's Gospel are a question: "What are you seeking?" And the second express an invitation: "Come and see..." (John 1:38-39). The problem with many of us is not that we are so hungry, but rather that we are not hungry enough... We settle for junk food when God spreads out his banqueting table before us. There is a "deeper hunger" for life, and I pray we are all touched by such hunger pangs; there is a "blessed hunger and thirst" that feeds our heart's cry for God (Matt. 5:6); there is a "divine discontent" that leads to a deeper sense of contentment for the heart... If you are feeling empty today, ask God to feed you with His life-giving food. The Spirit of the Living God calls out, "Seek Me and live" (Amos 5:4).
 

כִּי כה אָמַר יְהוָה לְבֵית יִשְׂרָאֵל
דִּרְשׁוּנִי וִחְיוּ

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

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



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El Gibbor: The Mighty God...


 

01.22.15 (Shevat 2, 5775)  Why is there no reference to Moses as we read from the traditional Haggadah during our Passover Seder? Because as important as Moses is to the exodus from Egypt (יציאת מצרים), only God Himself may be called the Deliverer (הַמּוֹשִׁיעַ) or the Redeemer (הַגּוֹאֵל) of Israel. God - not Moses - is the focus of the story. Indeed when Moses acted in his own strength, he was made a "failed Messiah," a fugitive living in exile, a wanderer in the desolate places of the land of Midian. Moses needed to be humbled in the desert before he could learn to recognize the Divine Presence... It was only after meeting Yeshua - the "Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) speaking out of the midst of the fire" - that he was enabled to function as God's servant and mediator.

Note:  For more on this see "The Call of Moses..."
 




A Holy Suspense...


 

01.22.15 (Shevat 2, 5775)  The walk of faith is one of "holy suspense," trusting that God is on the other side of the next moment, "preparing a place for you" (John 14:3). In the present, then, we live in unknowing dependence, walking by faith, not by sight. For "hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he sees?" (Rom. 8:24). This is the existential posture of faith - walking in darkness while completely trusting in God's care. Our task at any given moment is always the same - to look to God and to accept His will. This is where time and eternity meet within us, where God's kingdom is revealed in our hearts.

"Who among you fears the LORD and hears (שָׁמַע) the voice of his Servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the Name of the LORD and rely on his God... I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them" (Isa. 50;10; 42:16). 
 




Da Lifnei Mi Attah Omed...


 

01.22.15 (Shevat 2, 5775)  In many synagogues there is a powerful phrase displayed on the doors of Aron Ha-Kodesh (the holy ark in which are kept the Torah scrolls) that says, "Know before whom you stand" (in Hebrew: דַּע לִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עוֹמֵד - da lifnei mi attah omed). This phrase is intended to remind us that we are to have a reverent and focused attitude while we are at services. Note, however, that such a distinction between the sacred and the profane is somewhat artificial, since we are always in the Presence of God (Acts 17:28) and the whole earth is filled with His glory (Isa. 6:3). But taken as a general principle of life, da lifnei mi attah omed enjoins us to be aware that everything we say, think, or do is before the divine audience of the Living God (אֵל־חָי) Himself.

Since the LORD is infinite, the distinctions we make (as finite creatures) in terms of time and space do not apply to Him. God infinitely transcends all of creation and He alone is holy (Isa. 42:8, 28:11). But understand that God's infinite Presence also means He fills the heavens and the earth (Isa. 6:3). The whole earth is lit up with God's Glory, and every bush is aflame before us, if we have eyes to see...

Though God is infinitely above us, He is not "remote" from us, nor are the very angels in heaven any "closer" to Him than you are right now. As the One who Emptied Himself said, "your Heavenly Father knows the number of hairs upon your head" (Matt. 10:30). We can draw close to Him by opening our eyes of faith.

Note: For more on this subject, see "The Call of Moses."
 




Truth and Inner Healing...


 

01.21.15 (Shevat 1, 5775)  "Truth is heavy, therefore few wear it" (Midrash Shmuel). This is about inner honesty, about "owning" who you are are being willing to endure yourself as you learn to walk with God. Where it is written "You shall love the stranger as yourself" (Lev. 19:34), understand that this also applies to the "stranger within ourselves," that is, to those aspects of ourselves we hide, deny, or reject. Like the prodigal son, we have to "come to ourselves" to return home (Luke 15:17), yet we can't do that without trusting that love is somehow available to us, even with the hidden parts of ourselves we seek to escape. That is the great risk of trusting in God's love for your soul. The secret parts of ourselves that we "hide" need to be brought to the light, confessed, healed, and reconciled.

We must begin by asking God for courage and strength... We must let go of the fear that we will discover the truth about who we really are -- about what we've done, what we've thought, about who we've allowed ourselves to become. Confession (ὁμολογία) means bringing yourself naked before the Divine Light to agree with the truth about who you are. Indeed, the word homologeo literally means "saying the same thing" - from ὁμός (same) and λόγος (word). We need to confess the truth if we are to be free from the pain of the past. When King David wrote, "The LORD is my Light and my salvation (my yeshua; my "Jesus," my truth); whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1), he implied that he should even be free of fear of himself and of his past.
 

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָד

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

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



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Naming and Reality...


 

01.21.15 (Shevat 1, 5775)  It's a wonder that some people are eager to know the phonetics of God's name far more than its meaning... They confuse the "signifier" with the "Signified." The meaning of the Name YHVH (יהוה) is Life, Being, Presence, Love, "I am that I am," ehyeh asher ehyeh - the complete conscious self-identity and awareness that is at the heart of all that exists. When God said to Moses: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, "I AM who I AM," he was not being obscurantist but rather completely straightforward: His essence and identity are One. The Talmud lists 70 names of God based on his role relative to the creation: He is Creator, King, Father, LORD of hosts, Judge, Savior, and so on. God perfectly knows who he is and therefore is entirely free to assume different roles without compromising his unique and sacred inner essence. God reveals various titles and attributes that we can (analogically) comprehend, but the inner life of God is and forever shall be an infinite sacred mystery... Knowing God's name isn't about being able to pronounce a special proper noun, after all, but is about accepting Ultimate Reality: Hayah hoveh yihyeh (היה הוה יהיה), "He was, He is, He will be" ... your loving heavenly Father.

Still, the question may be asked what is the "best" Name of God? Some of the Jewish sages have said that it is revealed by reciting all 304,805 letters of the Torah in a series. That is, string together all 304,805 letters of the Torah - from the first letter of Bereshit (Bet) through the last letter of Devarim (Lamed) - and "read" this as a single "Word."

304,805 letters in Torah
 

Of course, we should also add the letters for the Prophets (neviim) and the Writings (ketuvim) to the Torah's 304,805 letters, not to mention the 138,020 words of the Greek New Testament. When we do so, we have the million letter name of God!

Taking a different approach, we learn from the teachings of Yeshua the Mashiach that the Name of God is best understood as "Father." In fact, Yeshua used the common Aramaic word for "father" (abba) to refer to His relationship with God, and He wanted his talmidim (disciples) to do likewise.... It is well and good to understand the meaning of the various Names and Titles of God as revealed in the Scriptures, of course, but in the end we need to trust in God as a child trusts in the love of his father.
 




The Great Lamb of God...


 

01.20.15 (Tevet 29, 5775)  From our Torah portion this week (parashat Bo) we learn that though God instructed each household to select its own lamb for the Passover, the Torah refers to "the" Lamb of God, as if there was only one: "You shall keep it [i.e., the Passover lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter him (אתוֹ) at twilight (Exod. 12:6). Note that the direct object "him" (i.e., oto) can be read as Aleph-Tav (את) combined with the letter Vav (ו), signifying the Son of Man who is First and Last... Indeed there is only one "Lamb of God" that takes away the sins of the world, and that is our Savior, Yeshua the Messiah...
 

רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה

ra·uy · ha·seh · ha·ta·vu·ach · le·ka·bel · ge·vu·rah
o·sher · ve·chokh·mah · ve·ko·ach · vi·kar · ve·kha·vod · uv·ra·kha
 

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and might and honor and glory and blessing"
(Rev. 5:12)



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The Limping Messiah...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Bo.... ]

01.20.15 (Tevet 29, 5775)  The word "Passover" comes from pasach (פָּסַח), a verb that means to "pass over," though it also can mean "to limp," recalling the "heel of Messiah" that would be bruised in the battle for our deliverance (Gen. 3:15). This connection may be discovered when studying the semantic range of the root pasach throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. For instance, the related participle pise'ach (פִּסֵחַ) means "lame" or "crippled" (for example, see Lev. 21:18; Deut. 15:21; 2 Sam. 9:13, Mal. 1:8, etc.), while there are several uses of the verb pasach that explicitly mean to "limp" or "be lame."  For example, in 2 Sam. 4:4 it says: "and he (Mephibosheth) fell and 'became lame" (וַיִּפָּסֵחַ); in 1 Kings 18:21, we read: "how long will you limp (פּסְחִים) between two opinions?" and in 1 Kings 18:26 it is written: "and they (the priests of Baal) 'limped upon the altar" (וַיְפַסְּחוּ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ) in a pagan ritual dance. In other words there is a connection between Passover and becoming wounded, and this alludes to the Savior whose heel was bruised during the battle for our deliverance. Yeshua is "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29).

For more on this subject, see "The Gospel in the Garden."
 




The Purging Process...


 

01.20.15 (Tevet 29, 5775)  "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He purges (καθαίρει), that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:1-2). If you bear fruit you will experience the "purging process," and that means suffering affliction... This might seem to you backward: Why does the fruitful branch need to be cut back?  Indeed, the promise of suffering is not meant for an evil person, but for the righteous soul who trusts in God. Purging is painful but it is also purifying, yielding new growth within our hearts. Yeshua taught, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). The Greek word translated "pure" is katharos (καθαρός), sometimes used describe the cleansing of a wound (catharsis), or to describe the unalloyed quality of a substance revealed through refining fire. We "rejoice" in testing because that is the way of real growth, sustained hope, and the revelation of God's deep love (Rom. 5:3-4). In our afflictions we are given heavenly consolation that helps us to persevere (2 Cor. 1:3-5). We are being weaned from this present age to be made ready for heavenly glory, for things unimaginably wonderful, soon to be revealed to you. Chazak – stay strong in the Lord, friends.
 

טוֹב־לִי כִי־עֻנֵּיתִי לְמַעַן אֶלְמַד חֻקֶּיך

tov  li  khi-u·nei·ti, le·ma·an el·mad chu·ke·kha
 

"It is good for me that I was afflicted,
that I might learn your decrees." (Psalm 119:71)


Note that the Hebrew word translated "I was afflicted" here (עֻנֵּיתִי) comes from the verb anah (עָנָה), which also means to "answer." It is a great blessing when God answers the call of your heart by giving you opportunity to overcome trouble by means of his grace... Thank God for the blessing of being made needy for Him!
 




New Beginnings...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Bo.... ]

01.19.15 (Tevet 28, 5775)  The very first word of the Torah indicates the awareness of the significance of time - "in the beginning..." (Gen. 1:1), and according to Jewish tradition, the very first commandment given to the children of Israel (as a whole) was that of Rosh Chodesh (ראש חודש), or the declaration of the start (or head) of the "new month," particularly concerning the first month of their redemption (Exod. 12:2). In other words, Passover month was to begin Israel's year. Note that the word for month (i.e., chodesh) comes from the root chadash (חָדָש), meaning "new," and therefore the Passover redemption was intended to mark a "new beginning" for the Jewish people. And indeed, God marks the start of our personal redemption as the beginning of our life as a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), just as Yeshua is the "first of the firstfruits" of God's redeemed humanity (1 Cor. 15:45-49).

For more on this subject, see "Parashat Bo: The Significance of the Moon."
 




The Torah of Passover...


 

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

01.19.15 (Tevet 28, 5775)  The very first occurrence of the word "Torah" in the Scriptures refers to the faith of Abraham (Gen. 26:5), and the second occurrence refers to the law of Passover: "There shall be one law (תּוֹרָה) for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you" (Exod. 12:49). There is a link here. Abraham lived before the time of the Exodus, of course, and therefore he obeyed the Torah of Passover by means of the Akedah (the sacrifice of his beloved son Isaac and the substitution of the lamb of God upon the altar). Abraham's faith revealed that the inner meaning of Torah is that the "righteous shall live by faith" (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17), that is, by trusting God's justification of the sinner (Heb. 11:17-19). The Torah of Passover likewise teaches that redemption from death is possible through the exchange of an innocent sacrificial victim. The blood of the lamb was "a sign" of imputed righteousness obtained entirely by faith - with no "leaven," or human works, added. This is the "korban" principle of "life-for-life" that underlies the sacrificial system of the Tabernacle as well. Ultimately all true Torah points to Yeshua, the Lamb of God, who is the divinely appointed Redeemer and promised Slayer of the Serpent...

"When the fullness of time (τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου) had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the Torah, to redeem those who were under the Torah, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Gal. 4:4-5).
 




Retelling the Story...


 

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

01.18.15 (Tevet 27, 5775)  In our Torah for this week we are commanded to retell "in the hearing of your son and your grandson" how the LORD made a mockery of the Egyptians and performed wonders to deliver us" (Exod. 12:2). This commandment is the basis of the Passover haggadah (i.e., הַגָּדָה, "telling"), the "oral tradition" of our faith, when we personally retell the story from generation to generation so that the spirit of the message is not lost. We participate in the seder to make it "our own story," a part of who we are. Therefore b'khol-dor vador: "Every Jew must consider himself to have been personally redeemed from Egypt." Retelling the story of the exodus enables us to "know that I am the LORD" (Exod. 10:2). We recall the words, bishvili nivra ha'olam – "For my sake was this world created," while we also recall the words, anokhi afar ve'efer – "I am but dust and ashes." When we retell the story of the great redemption, we strengthen our faith and better know the LORD.

The LORD admonishes that the story of our redemption should be "as a sign on your hand and as a memorial (זִכָּרוֹן) between your eyes, that the Torah of the LORD may be in your mouth" (Exod. 13:9). We are instructed to "remember" (זָכַר) over and over again because our disease, our sickness of heart, induces us to forget how we were enslaved in the house of bondage. We must consciously remember and never forget that only by means of God's strong hand (בְּיָד חֲזָקָה) are we ever made free (John 8:36).
 




Exodus and Tradition...


 

01.18.15 (Tevet 27, 5775)  How important is tradition in our lives? So important that we could not understand even the first word of the Scriptures without it ... There is a story that illustrates this point. A pagan came to Hillel seeking to convert but was troubled with the idea of tradition, though he accepted the idea of the written Scriptures. Since the man did not know how to read Hebrew, however, Hillel began pointing to the letters in the written Torah to teach him the alphabet: "This is Aleph... this is Bet... this is Gimmel," and so on, until the man began to understand the letters of the Aleph-Bet. "Now come tomorrow, and I will teach you more." The next day, Hillel pointed to the exact same letters but reversed their names, "This is Gimmel... this is Aleph... this is Bet," and so on. The convert was confused: "But yesterday you said just the opposite!" Hillel replied, "Now you have had your first lesson. You see that the written word alone is insufficient, and we need the tradition to explain God's Word." Another way to make this point is to say that the Torah was not revealed along with a dictionary that defines the meaning of its words....

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

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

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




The Exodus Parable...


 

01.18.15 (Tevet 27, 5775)  The great exodus from Egypt (יציאת מצרים) is the central parable of the Torah. The bondage of the Israelites to Pharaoh represents humanity's slavery to sin; God's deliverance from bondage is effected by trusting in the blood of the sacrificial lamb of God; the passage from death to life symbolically comes through baptism into the Sea of Reeds; the journey to truth represents the pilgrimage to Sinai, and so on. Indeed, the redemption in Egypt led directly to revelation given at Sinai, and when the LORD God gave the Ten Commandments, he did not begin by saying he was our Creator, but rather our Redeemer: "I am the LORD your God (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ), who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). This is because the purpose of the creation itself is to demonstrate God's redemptive love and to be known as our Savior and Redeemer, just as Yeshua is the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9). "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 therefore begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Mashiach, the great Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) and our Savior (מוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ)... He is the Center of Creation - the Aleph and Tav - the Beginning and the End (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:17). All the world was created for the Messiah: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).

Note: For more on this, see the article, "Love Story Exodus."
 




Parashat Bo - בא


 

01.18.15 (Tevet 27, 5775)  Our Torah reading for this week begins with God commanding Moses "to go" (i.e., bo: בּא) before Pharaoh to announce further apocalyptic judgments upon Egypt. The purpose of this power encounter was to vindicate God's justice and glory (deliverance/salvation) by overthrowing the tyranny of unjust human oppression. Pharaoh's nightmare of "one little lamb" outweighing all the firstborn of Egypt was about to be fulfilled.

Recall that last week's Torah (Va'era) reported how Pharaoh defiantly refused to listen to Moses' pleas for Israel's freedom, despite seven devastating plagues that came upon Egypt in God's Name (יהוה). In this week's portion (Bo), the battle between the LORD and Pharaoh comes to a dramatic conclusion. The last three of the ten plagues are unleashed upon Egypt: a swarm of locusts devoured all the crops and greenery; a palpable darkness enveloped the land for three days and nights; and all the firstborn of Egypt were killed precisely at the stroke of midnight of the 15th of the month of Nisan... In this connection note that the word בּא ("go") and פרעה ("Pharoah") added together equal the gematria of משׁיח ("mashiach"), providing a hint of the Messianic redemption that was foreshadowed in Egypt. Every jot and tittle, chaverim!

Before the final plague, God instructed the Jewish people to establish a new calendar based on the sighting of the new moon of spring. On the tenth day of that month, God told the people to acquire a "Passover offering" to Him, namely an unblemished lamb (or goat), one for each household. On the 14th of that month ("between the evenings") the animal would be slaughtered and its blood sprinkled on the doorposts and lintel of every Israelite home, so that God would "pass over" these dwellings when He came to kill the Egyptian firstborn that night. The roasted meat of the offering was to be eaten that night with unleavened bread (matzah) and bitter herbs (maror). God then commanded the Israelites to observe a seven-day "festival of matzah" to commemorate the Exodus for all subsequent generations.

Because of this, our corporate identity begins with a shared consciousness of time from a Divine perspective. The mo'edim (festivals of the LORD) all are reckoned based on the sacred calendar given to the redeemed Israelite nation. As it is also written in the Book of Psalms: "He made the moon for the appointed times" / עָשָׂה יָרֵחַ לְמוֹעֲדִים (Psalm 104:19). Undoubtedly Yeshua followed this calendar, as did His first followers (Gal. 4:4).

Just before the dreadful final plague befell, God instructed the Israelites to ask their Egyptian neighbors for gold, silver and jewelry, thereby plundering Egypt of its wealth (this was regarded as "uncollected wages" for hundreds of years of forced labor and bondage - not to mention for the services of Joseph, whose ingenuity brought the world's wealth to Egypt in the first place). Moses then instructed the people to prepare the Passover sacrifice, that is, the korban Pesach (קָרְבָּן פֶּסַה) - the Passover lamb - and to smear its blood on the two sides and top of the doorway, resembling the shape of the Hebrew letter Chet (ח). This Hebrew letter, signifying the number eight, is connected with the word חי (chai), short for chayim (חַיִּים), "life." The blood of the lamb (דַּם הַשֶּׂה) not only saves from the judgment of death, but also is a symbol of divine life given for our redemption. The "life is in the blood."


 

The dreadful final plague - the death of the firstborn - at last broke Pharaoh's resistance and he not only allowed the Israelites to depart without any conditions, he urged them to go. Because they left in great haste there was no time for their dough to rise. The Torah states that there were 600,000 adult men who left Egypt, along with the women, children, and a "mixed multitude" of other Egyptian slaves who tagged along.

The Israelites were commanded to consecrate all the firstborn to God and to commemorate the anniversary of the Exodus each year by celebrating the LORD's Passover in conjunction with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. During this time they were to remove all leaven from their homes for seven days, eat matzah, and retell the story of their redemption to their children. The portion ends with the commandment to wear tefillin (phylacteries) on the arm and head as a reminder of how the LORD saved the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt.
 

 




The Month of Shevat...


 

01.18.15 (Tevet 27, 5775)  Whenever I can, I try to catch a glimpse of the moon, since it serves as the timepiece of the Jewish calendar (counting from the month of Nisan). This Tuesday, January 20th, marks Rosh Chodesh Shevat (חדש שבט), that is, the eleventh month of the calendar (counting from the month of Nisan).  Shevat is important because Moses began his summary of the Torah (i.e., Mishneh Torah, or the sermon recorded in Book of Deuteronomy) on the first day of this month (Deut. 1:1,3). Because of this, the sages have long associated the Rosh Chodesh Shevat with the holiday of Shavuot (i.e., the sixth of Sivan), since on both these dates God appealed to Israel to receive the message of the Torah. The month of Shevat is also important because the "Rosh Hashanah for Trees" occurs on the 15th of the month (i.e., Tu B'Shevat).

The following (simplified) blessing can be recited to celebrate the new month and to ask the LORD God Almighty to help you for this coming season:
 

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

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

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



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Exodus and Freedom...


 

01.17.15 (Tevet 26, 5775)  God's redemption is both "out of" and "into." The LORD takes us out of hell, bondage, and death into heaven, liberty, and eternal life. But note that he takes us out only to bring us back in; he redeems us to bring us to Sinai; he writes Torah upon our hearts; he makes us "in but not of" the world (John 17:15-16). Every Passover we retell the story of our redemption. We remember how we bitterly cried because of our bondage and how God graciously delivered us by the blood of the lamb. We rejoice that we are called am segulah - God's own treasured people. Because of God's love demonstrated at the cross, we are transferred (μεθίστημι) from the realm of darkness into the kingdom of the Divine Presence (Col. 1:13). Today may we live as salt and light to a perverse world, sharing the message of God's great liberation from the power of sin, death, and evil...



 




The Meaning of Holiness...


 

01.16.15 (Tevet 25, 5775)  It is written: "Be holy as I am holy" (Lev. 19:2). This doesn't mean wrapping yourself up in some protective cloak of religious rituals as much as it means accepting your own atonement: reconciling who you are with your past, finding healing and love, and walking in genuine hope... Holiness isn't as much "separation" from the profane as it is "consecration" to the sacred, and in that sense it is a kind of teshuvah, a turning of the heart back to reality.... Negatively put, "being holy" means turning away from fear, despair, and anger; positively put, it is embracing the worth and value of life, respecting the Divine Presence, and walking in the radiance of God's love.

It needs to be remembered that the essence of sin is found in unbelief. Sin is not so much disobedience to an external code of behavior as much as it is abandoning your trust, your identity, and your hope as a beloved child of God. It is a type of chosen hopelessness. As you believe so you will behave, and as you behave so you believe... Therefore one of the greatest of sins is to forget the truth of who you really are – a prince or princess of God! The great temptation of sin is rooted in the lie that we are unworthy people, that God does not really loves us (just the way we are), that He is disappointed in us, and so on. With God's help, let us be bold to take our place at the banqueting table, friends. Shabbat Shalom!
 




I am my Beloved's...


 

01.16.15 (Tevet 25, 5775)  The Pharaoh embodies the principle of the selfish ego, and therefore each of us has a "little Pharaoh" inside seeking to control the world. Martin Buber comments: "In the Scriptures we read, 'I stood between the LORD and you' (Deut. 5:5). The 'I' stands between God and us. When a man says 'I am' [as if he were sufficient unto himself] he shuts himself off from Him. But there is no dividing wall before the one who sacrifices his 'I,' for of him it is said, 'I am my beloved's and his desire is for me' (Song 7:10). When 'I' belongs to the Beloved, then His desire is for me" (Collected Sayings).
 

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְעָלַי תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ

ani · le'do·di · ve·a·lai · te·shu·ka·to
 

"I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me."
(Song 7:10)


 




First things First...


 

01.16.15 (Tevet 25, 5775)  Why did the Eternal One create a solitary man upon the earth, and not a group of people? To teach that each of us is esteemed by our Creator as as "olam malei" (עוֹלָם מָלֵא), an entire world, just as every hair on your head is indeed numbered (Luke 12:7). In other words, we must first find our identity and presence in relationship with God before we can truly relate to others in the world (Matt. 6:33).

And this explains why God Himself must take our place for the alienation we have caused by our sin. The cross is God's means of "turning back" to the sinner. Only God can save us because God created us b'tzelem Elohim, to be like Him, with the significance of "an entire world."  The Love of God doesn't deny pain, brokenness, or evil but finds its remedy...
 




Spiritual Cardiopathy...


 

01.16.15 (Tevet 25, 5775)  One symptom of "sklerocardia," that is, the condition of having a "hard heart," is unwillingness to be grateful for the gift of life and its various blessings. Such inner hardness desensitizes the soul, making us feel numb inside... People today tend to be thankless, intolerant, self-willed, and so "full of themselves" that they suppose they are doing God a big favor just by being alive. They proudly assume they are always right, and therefore they convince themselves that life "owes" them something. Such thinking resembles the arrogant character of Pharaoh, who took for granted all that he had as if it somehow was his "by right." In Hebrew, gratitude is called hakarat tovah (הַכָּרַת טוֹבָה), or the "recognition of the good." It is an openhearted attitude that appreciates each moment of life as a gift to be valued. Hardness of heart can make us "forget" to see, understand, hear, and remember the truth of God in our lives (Mark 8:17-19). When we are filled with anxiety or fear, for example, we are forgetting the truth and risk hardening our hearts.

Of course it is often a struggle to be a "joyful sojourner" in this dark and tragic world, and the temptation is to make ourselves numb inside. We must first of all be honest with ourselves. If we wrestle with our own hardness of heart, we must be careful to refuse despair, since despair hardens the heart even further... Instead, we must consciously recall that the LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Psalm 103:8; 116:3-5). Keep faith that God alone can (and will) change our hearts to more resemble the inner life and character of Yeshua. Let's keep trusting for that and ask God to do this miracle for each of us, for the sake of the glory of His Name.
 




What Pharaoh can teach us...



 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Parashat Va'era) and the theme of freedom. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.16.15 (Tevet 25, 5775)  Though he sometimes appeared to change his mind in light of the intervention of God, Pharaoh nevertheless reverted to his older thinking after the danger seemed to pass. Such is the way of the wicked: their remorse over evil is short-lived, and as soon as their difficulty eases, they revert once again to their perverse ways. Therefore the Torah states that after each of the first five plagues, Pharaoh hardened (lit., "strengthened") his heart. It was only after five successive opportunities to face reality, to give up his claim to be god, to turn to the LORD in humility, however, that God ratified Pharaoh's will by "helping him" become the person he decided to be. Therefore after the sixth plague the Torah states, "And the LORD strengthened Pharaoh's heart" (Exod. 9:12). As C.S. Lewis once said, ultimately 'there are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, Thy will be done."

Pharaoh teaches us that God will never force a sinner to turn away from their sin, but if they willfully continue to sin, they may become unable to turn, trapped in a very difficult place.... The Shemot Rabbah states: "The Holy One, blessed be He, gives someone a chance to repent, and not only one opportunity but several chances: once, twice, three times. But then, if the person still has not repented, God locks the person's heart altogether, cutting off the possibility of repentance in the future." There is a very real risk that those who choose to be at war with God, who flatly refuse repeated appeals to turn to the LORD, will become progressively "strengthened" in their resolution to defy reality...
 




The Name El Shaddai...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Parashat Va'era). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.16.15 (Tevet 25, 5775)  "I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as El Shaddai..." (Exod. 6:3). The name El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדָּי) is often translated "God Almighty," probably because the translators of the Septuagint (i.e., the Greek translation of the Old Testament) thought shaddai came from a root verb (shadad) that meant "to overpower" or "to destroy." The Latin Vulgate likewise translated Shaddai as "Omnipotens" (from which we get our English word omnipotent). In other words, God is so overpowering that He is considered "Almighty." It is more likely, however, that the name Shaddai is connected to shadayim (שָׁדַיִם) the Hebrew word for "breasts," indicating sufficiency and nourishment (i.e., the breasts of a mother who shows rachamim, compassion). And indeed, a survey of the name in Scripture connects it with the fertility and growth of the original families of Israel.

Note: The puzzling statement that God "did not make His Name YHVH (יהוה) known" to the original patriarchs (i.e., Exod. 6:3) is discussed here.  For more on the Hebrew name El Shaddai, see the article, "God as El Shaddai."
 




The Power of Truth...


 

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

01.16.15 (Tevet 25, 5775)  In this week's Torah reading (Va'era), the LORD sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh with the timeless message: shelach et ami (שׁלַּח אֶת־עַמִּי), "let my people go!" Because of Pharaoh's hardness of heart, however, God began the sequence of plagues that would demonstrate his sovereignty over all the powers and so-called "gods" of Egypt (Exod. 12:12). The ten plagues (i.e, eser ha'makot: עֶשֶׂר הַמָּכּוֹת) were given not just to vanquish the pride of Pharaoh, however, but to awaken the people of Israel. After hundreds of years of slavery, the people had forgotten who they really were and had passively accepted that all real power was vested in humans. Among other things, God's intervention was meant to deliver the people from the fallacy of ascribing greatness to worldly powers. Ultimately the people of Israel - and indeed the entire world - would come to understand ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו), "there is no power apart from Him" (Deut. 4:35).
 




The Fruit of the Spirit...


 

01.16.15 (Tevet 25, 5775)  Regarding the "new heart" that informs the follower of Yeshua, the Apostle Paul wrote, "the fruit of the Spirit (פְּרִי הָרוּחַ) is love, joy, peace; long-suffering, generosity, acts of kindness; faithfulness, humility, and modesty - against such there is no law" (Gal. 5:22-23). Notice that while there is "one fruit" of the Spirit (i.e., "fruit" [καρπὸς] is singular), God produces a manifold yield, just as the one Tree of Life (עֵץ הַחַיִּים) produces twelve different kinds of fruit, one for each month of the Jewish year (see Rev. 22:1-2). We are told, however, that spiritual fruit does not immediately crop up but requires time and its own "season" (Psalm 1:3). Moreover the process of spiritual growth is mysterious and divine: "The Kingdom of God is like someone who spreads seed on the ground. He goes to sleep and gets up, night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. By itself (αὐτομάτη, "automatically") the soil produces a crop, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. And when the grain is ripe, he comes in with his sickle because the harvest has come" (Mark 4:26-29).

In the list of the fruit of the Spirit, it is important to see what is not listed.... What is not listed are "signs," "wonders," or the trappings of worldly success or power. Though spiritual impostors may simulate the exercise of spiritual gifts, they can never "fake" the real fruit of the Holy Spirit.... Yeshua did not say that you shall know them by their flash, but "you shall know them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:16-20). It is the fruit of the Spirit of God - not the fruit of your best efforts, your devotion, your desire. We "follow" Yeshua by accepting his vision, hope, and love... By faith we receive his heart and spirit as our own, and identify with his mission to bring healing to the world. For more see "The Fruit of the Spirit."
 




Pride's Hard Lessons...

blackbird in branches - photo by j parsons
 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Va'era... ]

01.15.15 (Tevet 24, 5775)  The tragic story of Pharaoh reminds us how pride can blind the heart. As Abraham Heschel said, "In a controversy, the instant we feel anger, we have already ceased striving for truth and have begun striving for ourselves." The truth needs no defense. If we find ourselves getting defensive or hostile, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves what we really believe... If we seek to use truth as a weapon, or as a means to rationalize our self-will, then we are not "in the truth," even if our facts in the matter may be correct. We must be careful not to find ourselves using the truth for our own agenda. Yeshua's words haunt the heart: "Without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

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

לִפְנֵי־שֶׁבֶר גָּאוֹן
וְלִפְנֵי כִשָּׁלוֹן גּבַהּ רוּחַ

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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




Arms Opened Wide...


 

01.14.15 (Tevet 23, 5775)  "Not being welcome is your greatest fear. It connects with your birth fear, your fear of not being welcome in this life, and your death fear, your fear of not being welcome in the life after this. It is the deep-seated fear that it would have been better if you had not lived" (Nouwen). The central message of the cross of Messiah is that God regards you as personally worth dying for, and indeed, that your life is worth the exchange of His own... You are treasured; you are loved. This is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3-5). The Word of Life is - above all else - an invitation, a cry of welcome, that sings out to you in your loneliness and shame. The core of the battle is here - whether you will decide to trust in God's love or shrink back into the places of darkness, isolation, and pain. Yeshua says, "Come to me; I love you, I accept you; I receive you; please, be welcome with me; I will take your hand, I will be with you..."


Personal Note: I've been pretty sick the last week or so, and earnestly appreciate your prayers for my healing. And why do we need to ask others for such help except that the Lord wants us to pray for one another and to care for one another? An axiom of prayer is that asking for the need of someone else of which you also have need will return the prayer of blessing to your own good. Give and it shall be given unto you... Shalom chaverim.
 




The Madness of Pharaoh...


 

01.13.15 (Tevet 22, 5775)  In parashat Va'era, Moses confronts Pharaoh and repeatedly demands that the Israelites be set free to serve the LORD. Over and over Pharaoh refuses, with the Torah commenting "vayechezak lev" (וַיֶּחֱזַק לֵב), that he "hardened his heart." Note, however, that this phrase contains the word chazak (חָזָק), "strong," which indicates that Pharaoh "strengthened" his heart, or steeled his resolve not to question his convictions -- a decision that led him to increasingly deny reality. We can learn from Pharaoh here. Sometimes our habitual decisions and self-assured opinions can blind us to what is really happening, and the momentum of such repeated decisions can begin to enslave our thinking. After each of the first five plagues, Pharaoh "hardened his heart," but thereafter the Torah states that the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh (וַיְחַזֵּק יְהוָה אֶת־לֵב פַּרְעה). In other words, God "gave him up" by ratifying his arrogant decisions, and Pharaoh then lost control of his own fate. In the end he destroyed himself because he was unwilling to humble himself by honestly questioning the assumptions he used to justify his life...
 




The Spirit of Hope...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Va'era... ]

01.13.15 (Tevet 22, 5775)  When Moses proclaimed the good news of God's forthcoming redemption for Israel, the Torah states that the people could not listen because they were "short of breath" (Exod. 6:9). Interestingly, this phrase (i.e., mi'kotzer ru'ach: מִקּצֶר רוּחַ) can also mean "lacking in spirit," as if in a paralyzed state of hopelessness. But how did the people become so downhearted?  Had they forgotten the promise given to Abraham (Gen. 15:12-14)? Had they disregarded Joseph's final words (Gen. 50:24-25)?

According to some of the sages, part of the reason for their "shortness of breath" (besides the cruel bondage and hard labor imposed on them) was that the Israelites miscalculated the duration of their 400 year exile, and therefore they began to lose hope. When members of the tribe of Ephraim tried to escape from Egypt some 30 years before the time of the redemption, they were all killed by the Philistines, and many of the Israelites began to believe that they would remain as perpetual slaves (Shemot Rabbah, 20:11). They became "short of breath" and could no longer receive the message of the Holy Spirit...

Indeed, life in this evil world can be suffocating at times. And though we may not be under the oppression of a cruel Pharaoh, we are affected by the "princes of this age" who spurn the message of the Messiah's redemption and love, and we are still subjected to bondage imposed by taskmasters who defy the LORD and who seek to enslave us by means of lies, propaganda, and threats of violence... The devil is still at work in the hearts and minds of many of his "little Pharaohs" that govern the world system... The Scriptures make it clear that we are engaged in genuine spiritual warfare: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12).

It is evident that one of the central purposes of God's redemption is to bestow freedom and dignity upon his people. As the story of Pharaoh reveals, God does not take kindly to oppressors, dictators, and other megalomaniacal world leaders who deny the truth and who therefore seek to enslave (or kill) human beings created in His image and likeness. Just as God judged Egypt for its oppression and violence, so He will one day break the "rulers of this world" with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel (Psalm 2:9-10).

To help us "catch our breath" during this time of waiting, it is important to remember that the LORD redeems us so that we may become His children and therefore be clothed with everlasting dignity... Our redemption makes us heirs of the Kingdom of God and citizens of heaven. We must never regard ourselves as slaves - not to the State, not to the bankers, not to fear, and not to religion (Gal. 5:1). God gave up His Son for us so that we could be made free to live with honor as his dearly loved children.... All the threats of the world system - economic, political, religious, social, etc. - are ultimately made empty and vain by the glorious redemption promised to us in Yeshua our Savior.

There is an old story of the Maggid of Brisk who each year would bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah would come that year. Once a certain Torah student asked him, "Rabbi, every year you bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah must come that year, and yet he does not come. Why bother doing this every year, if you see that Heaven ignores you?" The Maggid replied, "The law states that if a son sees his father doing something improper, he is not permitted to humiliate him but must say to him, 'Father, the Torah states thus and so.'  Therefore we must tell God, who is our Father, that by keeping us in long exile, he is, in a sense, causing injustice to us, and we must point out, "thus and so it is written in the Torah," in hope that this year he might redeem us." This same principle, of course, applies to those of us who are living in exile and who eagerly await the second coming of the Messiah Yeshua. We should continue asking God to send Him speedily, and in our day, chaverim...

The Scriptures declare that "we are saved by hope" (ελπιδι εσωθημεν), that is, we are saved through an earnest expectation of good to come on account of the promises of the LORD God of Israel. The LORD is called "The God of Hope" (אֱלהֵי הַתִּקְוָה), indicating that He is its Author and its End (Rom. 15:13). God both gives birth to our hope (tikvah) and is the satisfaction of our heart's deepest longings. For those with God-given hope, gam zu l'tovah – all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28).

Many of us can quote that we are "saved by grace through faith" (Eph. 2:8), yet we are also clearly told that we are saved by hope (Rom. 8:24). In light of God's promises, hope is the one "work" that we are called to vigorously perform: "What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?" Yeshua answered, "This is the work of God, that you trust (i.e. hope) in the one whom He sent" (John 6:28-29).

Don't let the world system destroy or impugn your hope, chaverim... If the devil can't seduce you with illusory hope or counterfeit joy, he will attempt to oppress you with fear and doubt. Fight the good fight of faith and refuse to succumb to despair. Run the race before you with endurance (Heb. 12:1). Look up, for the time of your deliverance draws near... God redeems us for the sake of His love and honor... It is the "breath of God" that gives us life and courage to face this dark and perverse world (John 20:22). May you be filled with the hope and strength that comes from the Holy Spirit.
 

אֵלֶיךָ יְהוָה נַפְשִׁי אֶשָּׂא אֱלהַי בְּךָ בָטַחְתִּי
אַל־אֵבוֹשָׁה אַל־יַעַלְצוּ איְבַי לִי

ley·kha  A·do·nai  naf·shi  es·sa,  E·lo·hai  be·kha  va·tach·ti,
al–e·vo·shah,  al–ya·al·tzu  oy·vai  li
 

"Unto thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in thee:
let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me."
(Psalm 25:1-2)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)
 
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The Purpose of Freedom...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Parashat Va'era) and the theme of freedom. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.13.15 (Tevet 22, 5775)  Freedom apart from purpose is a delusion. Slavery is horribly evil because it restricts the good use of our power - it negates who we are, denies our means for living, and thereby disfigures the image of God Himself. Freedom, however, is a means to an end, namely, the right use of power to serve God as His children. God saves us from bondage so that we can demonstrate His power and glory, not so that we might cast off restraint... Real freedom means the power to choose the good, not to do whatever lust desires or dictates. Freedom implies accountability as its necessary condition, because without responsibility, we are still enslaved to our lower nature. "I have on my table a violin string. It is free to move in any direction I like. If I twist one end, it responds; it is free. But it is not free to sing. So I take it, and fix it into my violin. I bind it, and when it is bound, it is free for the first time to sing." (Rabindranath Tagore)

The story of the exodus from Egypt is the story about the struggle for human dignity and freedom. God abhors slavery and oppression, and indeed the First Commandment reminds us that the LORD delivered us from the "house of bondage" (Exod. 20:2). Indeed the gospel is about the greater exodus (ἔξοδος) of God's people given through Yeshua (Luke 9:30-31). God's message to the Pharaoh of old is also for all the world's dictators and their henchmen: "Thus says the Eternal One, the God of the Hebrews: 'Let my people go that they may serve Me' (Exod. 7:16). The Kings of the earth may "set themselves" in defiance of the LORD, but in the end will come a rod of iron that will surely dash their rule to pieces (Dan. 2:31-35).

In our Torah portion this week we read: "I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brings you out..." (Exod. 6:7). God takes us to Himself so that we may know Him as our personal deliverer... This is the ultimate goal of redemption - to be known and loved by God. Freedom from bondage is important because it lets us cleave to the LORD as our God...
 




Slavery and Passivity...


 

01.12.15 (Tevet 21, 5775)  From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Va'era) we read, "I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians" (Exod. 6:6). The sages say the Hebrew word for "burdens" (סִבְלת) used in this verse can also be read as passivity (סְבִילוּת): "I will deliver you from passivity toward your slavery...."  So long as the people regarded their enslavement as tolerable, they could excuse it, rationalize it, and even defend it. Therefore God allowed  tribulation to progressively increase so that the people would understand their great need. Likewise we cannot even begin to understand our need for deliverance as long as we are comfortable, numb, and dead inside... Indeed the very worst kind of slavery is to be unaware that you are, indeed, in bondage. The first step toward moral freedom, then, is to be set free from our denial, to wake up, to resist evil, and to find faith that God desires something better for our lives.
 




Deliverance from Ourselves...


 

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

01.12.15 (Tevet 21, 5775)  From our Torah portion for this week (Va'era) we read, "Pharaoh's heart was hardened (וַיֶּחֱזַק) so he would not listen..." (Exod. 8:19). The worst kind of bondage is when you are oppressed by yourself - when you are so enslaved by your inner urges that you are no longer able to think outside of your desire or to choose to do otherwise... It might be greed, the desire for pleasure, fear, anger, or the "need" to be right (i.e., pride), but whatever controls you is ultimately your taskmaster.  Ironically, Pharaoh's will to enslave the Israelites made him into a slave...

Self-deception can entice us to deny the consequences of our passions or to rationalize them by pretending we are victims. Because of this, we may become further enslaved to our own sense of self-importance, and we become ensnared within the prison house of the all-demanding ego. We can only be delivered from the "tyranny of ourselves" by God's power, as Yeshua said: "you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). This is the truth of God's power of deliverance given in Yeshua our Lord (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18). The truth sets you free not merely in some intellectual sense (i.e., being made free from error), but in a volitional sense, in the core of your being, when your will is no longer enslaved to the power and inner darkness of sin... May God help us be free!
 




Knowing the Name...


 

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

01.12.15 (Tevet 21, 5775)  When God said to Moses: "I appeared (וָאֵרָא) to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדָּי), but by my name the LORD (יהוה) I did not make myself known to them" (Exod. 6:3), he was stating that the patriarchs had not directly experienced His mastery over creation through the signs and wonders He would perform as Israel's Redeemer. The patriarchs understood God as El Shaddai, the all-sufficient One who nurtured the fledgling nation and who foretold Israel's future, but Moses (and the Israelites) would now understand God's attributes of covenantal faithfulness (chesed) as the "Promise Keeper" by directly witnessing his revelation and great saving acts. The great Torah commentator Rashi states that the Name YHVH implies that there is no power that can prevent God from keeping His word and fulfilling His promise of redemption. God is the Lord of lords and King of kings, and therefore His word can never fail (Deut. 10:17; Dan. 2:47). Ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו): "there is no power apart from Him" (Deut. 4:35,9).

The name "ehyeh asher ehyeh" (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה) means "I shall be as I shall be," that is, "I shall be with those who desire that I shall be with them. I reveal myself to those who seek for me, and as I am sought, so I will be found. According to your faith be it done unto you: Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled..."

For more on this subject, see the article: Yeshua and YHVH.
 




Parashat Va'era - וארא


 

01.11.15 (Tevet 20, 5775)  Last week's Torah portion (Shemot) told how Moses and Aaron were commissioned to go before Pharaoh and deliver the LORD's message: "Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the desert." Not only did Pharaoh reject the request, but he imposed even harsher decrees against the Israelites and caused them to suffer miserably. Moses then appealed to the LORD, who reassured him that Pharaoh would eventually relent because of "the greater might" of God's power to deliver His people.

In this week's portion (Va'era), the LORD told Moses that He was going to fulfill His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by giving the Israelites the land of Canaan, and that he had heard the "groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians held as slaves" (Exod. 6:5). God therefore instructed Moses to say to the people, "I am the LORD and I will bring you out (וְהוֹצֵאתִי) from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you (וְהִצַּלְתִּי) from their bondage, and I will redeem you (וְגָאַלְתִּי) with an outstretched arm and with great judgment; and I will take you (וְלָקַחְתִּי) to me for a people and I will be to you a God" (these are the "four expressions of redemption" we recite during the Passover Seder every year).

Despite these great promises, however, the people were unable to listen because of their "shortness of breath" (מִקּצֶר רוּחַ) on account of their harsh slavery. The LORD then instructed Moses: "Go in, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the people of Israel go out of his land" -- and the great showdown between the LORD and the gods of Egypt began...

Note: Please see the Summary Page for parashat Va'era for more information. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for this Torah portion here: 
 

 




From the Midst of the Thorns...


 

01.09.15 (Tevet 18, 5775)  Why did the LORD, the Holy One, reveal Himself to Moses out of the midst of a lowly thorn bush, and not some grand tree? God lowered himself to speak from within the bush, as it is written: "For though the LORD be high, he regards the lowly" (Psalm 138:6); and "I will be with him in trouble" (Psalm 91:15). The midrash imagines God saying to Moses: "Don't you feel that I suffer anguish whenever Israel does? Know, therefore, from the character of the place from which I speak, out of the thorn bush, that I, as it were share their suffering" (Shemot Rabbah 2:7). God speaks to us from the place of thorns – even those about his own head – words of great comfort and deliverance. From the midst of the fire (בְּלַבַּת־אֵשׁ מִתּוֹךְ הַסְּנֶה), within the lowliest of places, covered in the thorns of our sin and shame, Yeshua speaks words of healing love. Bless his name forever!
 




Cast your care upon him...


 

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

01.09.15 (Tevet 18, 5775)  "And when she (Yocheved) could hide him 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).
 




Visions of Hope...


 

01.09.15 (Tevet 18, 5775)  It has been said that there is never any reason for despair, since hopelessness literally does not exist. Hopelessness is the state of being without hope, but hope is itself grounded in ultimate reality. You may feel hopeless at times, but this feeling is not grounded in ultimate reality, since God works all things together for our good, and Yeshua our Lord has overcome all that would keep us back from receiving true love.... Before the Presence of God there is glorious light, unspeakable beauty, the triumph of love, and unending fullness of joy. When we are tempted to despair over our lives, may the LORD help us remember and return to what is real. Shabbat Shalom to you, friends...
 




Man of Sorrows...


 

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

01.09.15 (Tevet 18, 5775)  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

 




Revelation of Wonder...


 

01.09.15 (Tevet 18, 5775)  "Now Moses led the flock to the far side of the desert. And the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a thorn bush... And God called to him from the midst of the bush (מִתּוֹךְ הַסְּנֶה), "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." Then he said, "... the place on which you are standing is holy ground" (Exod. 3:1-5). Like Moses, every day we walk within the ordinary landscape of our lives until, by a miracle from heaven, we cross over to the "far side of the desert" (אַחַר הַמִּדְבָּר) and where our eyes may perceive the light of the divine fire... At that moment God calls us by name twice – first drawing us apart, and then revealing unseen wonder. The ground before us then becomes holy, and we hear the Voice of the Lord commissioning us to go forth in the light of his Presence, trusting that the awesome vision has revealed what is most real, true, and forever sacred about reality...
 




Providential Impediments...


 

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

01.08.15 (Tevet 17, 5775)  The midrash says Moses had a speech impediment and that is why he described himself as "heavy of mouth and of tongue" (כְּבַד־פֶּה וּכְבַד לָשׁוֹן), unfit to speak on behalf of God (Exod. 4:10). God reassured him, however, by reminding him that his limitation was by divine providence: "Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak" (Exod. 4:11-12). The sages comment that God did not cure Moses of his stuttering because He wanted the Israelites to know Moses as his chosen messenger. When he spoke in the Name of the LORD, the stuttering disappeared and Moses spoke with fluent ease. This was to teach the people not to trust in human oratory or wisdom, but rather in the power of God (see 1 Cor. 2:1-5). Just as the Apostle Paul, the "Moses of the New Covenant," was given a "thorn in the flesh" (σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί) to keep him humbly relying upon God for his sufficiency to serve (2 Cor. 12:7-10), so Moses was rendered entirely dependent upon the LORD to speak as his mediator.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness" (δύναμις ἐν ἀσθενείᾳ τελεῖται). Therefore I will boast most gladly of my weaknesses, that the power of Messiah may tabernacle (ἐπισκηνόω) within me (2 Cor. 12:9).
 




Our Ever-Present Help...


 

01.08.15 (Tevet 17, 5775)  God told Moses that his Name means that He is Present in every moment - past, present, and future. The Name God is "shorthand" for "I AM with you always" (Isa. 41:10; Matt. 28:20). There is no moment, just as there is no place, where God is not "there" for you. He will never leave you nor forsake you (Deut. 31:6; Heb. 13:5). His presence includes times of testing, darkness, and even death itself (Rom. 8:31). The LORD our God does not abandon us, even when He seems hidden, powerless, or apparently unwilling to intervene. Faith trusts that He is always there, especially in moments when we are vulnerable, weak, afraid, and seemingly all alone... Faith receives God as ever-present, the substance of our hope and the dream of our eternal healing and life.
 

אֱלהִים לָנוּ מַחֲסֶה וָעז
 עֶזְרָה בְצָרוֹת נִמְצָא מְאד

E·lo·him · la·nu · ma·cha·seh · va·oz
ez·rah · ve·tza·rot · nim·tza · me·od
 

"God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble."
(Psalm 46:1)


 
Hebrew Study Card

 

Note: The function of a name is to point to or signify reality... When we are in the hardest of moments, we don't worry about the morphology, phonetics, or linguistics of God's Name, but we rather call out and hunger for His Presence, Love, and Light. We are like little kids crying for our father. The Spirit of God speaks words of life to those who need to hear them.
 




Being and Truth...


 

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

01.08.15 (Tevet 17, 5775)  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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Focus and Simplicity...


 

01.08.15 (Tevet 17, 5775)  Some people tend to "overthink" matters and make things more difficult than necessary. For example, someone once asked Nachman of Breslov, a great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, "When I am praying and I mention HaShem's holy name, what profound thoughts, what deep intentions, should I have in mind?" Rabbi Nachman answered, "Isn't the simple meaning - God - enough for you?" Indeed, we must be careful not to lose sight of what is really important. We should serve God with "simplicity" (תֻּמָּה), that is, sincerely, with all our hearts and with straightforward intent. We should use a "single eye" and resist the temptation to "read into things" (Matt. 6:22-23). As it is written in the Torah, "be simple (תָּמִים) with the LORD your God."
 

תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ

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

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



 

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

Again, we must exercise caution. We can evade the truth by means of being overly "sophisticated" when we read the Scriptures. The essential truth is plain enough, but we want to split hairs, consult a variety of commentaries, engage in mystical speculations, and so on, all in an attempt to defend ourselves against hearing from the Spirit of God! But as it says in Scriptures: holekh batom yelekh betach, "Whoever walks in simplicity (בַּתּם) walks securely" (Prov. 10:9).

Kierkegaard once lamented: "The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly." There is a very real danger of "thinking about" truth rather than living it. For instance, you might study the Psalms as literature and attempt to understand the nuances of Hebrew poetry, but that is altogether different than reciting the psalms with inner passion, with simple conviction and the earnest desire to unite our heart's cry with the devotion that gave life to the words... We must read with a heart of faith to unlock the truth that speaks to the heart.  If you believe only what you understand, your faith is actually grounded in your own reasoning, not in the Divine Voice of Love...

It is written that "God protects the simple" (Psalm 116:6). "Love believes everything" (1 Cor. 13:7), even if that may make the lover appear to be a fool (Prov. 14:15). Rabbi Nachman comments, "This is because, while you will believe in that which is false and foolish, you will also believe the truth. In this you are better off than the person who is sophisticated and skeptical of everything. He begins by ridiculing foolishness and falsehood, but eventually ends up ridiculing everything – including the truth!" The skeptic ultimately is a coward who is more afraid of being deceived than he is willing to risk living in the truth.
 




Source of our Breath...


 

01.07.15 (Tevet 16, 5775)  Though 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), it is wonderful to realize that His Name was 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).
 




Naming the Sacred...


 

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

01.07.15 (Tevet 16, 5775)  In our Torah portion this week (Shemot), Moses encountered God in the form of a Paradox – a bush that burned but was not consumed – and from the midst of this fire a Voice was heard, summoning him to lead his people out of Egypt (Exod. 3:2-4). At first Moses protested the call, offering various excuses why he was unfit for the mission, but when he finally began to relent, he asked: "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God's answer is mysteriously wonderful: "Ehyeh asher ehyeh" (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה). And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'Ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה) has sent me to you'" (Exod 3:13-14). The sages have said that this phrase could mean "I AM who I am," or "I will be who I will be," based on the Hebrew verb hayah (הָיָה), which alludes to the name YHVH (יהוה). However, since the name YHVH is not written with vowels and the transliteration is uncertain, focusing on the phonetics misses the point that God is the Source or Ground of all Being, the Sacred Essence of all that is real – the One who is and was and is to come" (Rev. 1:8). God is "ein sof" (אֵין סוֹף), the Infinite, the Unfathomable, the holy mystery of all. Every predication of existence is bound up in His power (Acts 17:28).

The LORD (YHVH) is ultimately "unrepresentable," and therefore we are forbidden to make idols, icons, "graven images," or "likenesses" that attempt to "finitize" his reality (Exod. 20:4; Lev. 26:1). God is always greater than which you can think or imagine (Isa. 55:8-9; 64:4; 1 Cor. 2:9). Paradoxically, our language and knowledge of God is incapable of adequate correspondence, and therefore we must "see through a glass darkly," relying on analogies, allusions, figurative speech, indirect modes of communication, and so on.

Despite all this – despite our inability to fully express or represent our intuitions, experiences, dreams, and imaginations of the divine – we nevertheless can (and do) "dialog" with God in personal terms, using everyday language of the heart. Moses, for example, talked with God throughout his experience at the burning bush – both before he asks for God's name and after. Indeed, YHVH continues: "Say this to the people of Israel, 'The LORD (יהוה), the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham (אֱלהֵי אַבְרָהָם), the God of Isaac (אלהֵי יִצְחָק), and the God of Jacob (וֵאלהֵי יַעֲקב), has sent me to you.' This is my name forever (זֶה־שְּׁמִי לְעלָם), and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations" (Exod. 3:15). In other words, though God's essence is mysteriously transcendent, and his name is "ineffable," he is immanent within human history and is revealed in the lives of the Hebrew patriarchs, in the history of the Jewish people, and in the ongoing conversation of those who are of genuine faith in Him. Indeed, even in olam haba, the world to come, the LORD God will be known in the face of Yeshua (בִּפְנֵי יֵשׁוּעַ), the anointed King of the Jews, in heavenly Zion, where the names of the tribes of Israel will all be remembered (Rev. 21:12).

Note:  Despite all this "theological talk," we simply trust in the love and kindness of God revealed to us in the face and name of Yeshua, our Lord. We call God our "Abba," our Father, and we look to him to shepherd us every step of our sojourn here on earth...
 




God Knows your Name...


 

01.06.15 (Tevet 15, 5775)  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 b'tzelem Elohim: in His image and likeness. The God of Israel 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...
 




The Centrality of Exodus...


 

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

01.05.15 (Tevet 14, 5775)  The Exodus is perhaps the most fundamental event of Jewish history; it is "the" miracle of the Torah. In addition to being celebrated every year during Passover (Exod. 12:24-27; 13:3; Num. 9:2-3; Deut. 16:1), it is explicitly mentioned in the first of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:2; Deut. 5:6), and it is recalled every Sabbath day (Deut. 5:12-15). Both the festivals of Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles) derive from it (the former recalling the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the latter recalling God's care as the Exodus generation journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land), as does the Season of Teshuvah (repentance) that culminates in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Indeed, nearly every commandment of the Torah (including the laws of the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system) may be traced back to the story of the Exodus, and in some ways, the entire Bible is an extended interpretation of its significance. Most important of all, the Exodus both prefigures and exemplifies the work of redemption given through the sacrificial life of Yeshua the Messiah, the true King of the Jews and the blessed Lamb of God.

The deeper meaning of exile concerns awareness of the divine presence. The worst kind of exile is not to know that you are away from home... That is why Egypt (i.e., Mitzraim) is called metzar yam - a "suffering sea."  Egypt represents bondage and death in this world, and the exodus represents salvation and freedom. God splits the sea and we cross over from death to life. Since Torah represents awareness of God's truth, Israel was led into a place of difficulty to learn and receive revelation (Gen. 46:1-7). Out of the depths of darkness God's voice would call his people forth. Likewise we understand our "blessed fault," the trouble that moves us to cry out for God's miracle in Yeshua... 
 




Moses and the Messiah...


 

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

01.05.15 (Tevet 14, 5775)  There are strong parallels between Joseph and Moses. For example, both were "princes of Egypt" that were educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22); both were God's chosen deliverers; both were initially rejected by their own people and then lived among the Gentiles; and both married "foreign" brides. Moreover, after being severely tested, both were empowered by God's Spirit to become divine saviors during the hour of great tribulation... Most importantly, both foreshadowed the coming Messiah of Israel: Joseph was the rejected brother, "despised and rejected of men," cast into the pit, yet raised up by God's power to reign as Israel's savior; Moses was sent from a "mountain of God" to free his people; the chosen man who revealed the meaning of God's Name, mediated the Torah to Israel, and who spoke to God "face to face." Indeed Moses was sent from (physical) Mount Sinai in Midian, though Yeshua was sent from a spiritual "Mount Zion" in Heaven (Heb. 12:22). The great exodus under Moses was a parable of something far greater: The New Testament relates that Moses and Elijah later met with Yeshua to discuss His "departure," literally, "His Exodus" (τὴν ἔξοδον αὐτοῦ) that he would accomplish at Jerusalem to redeem the entire world (Luke 9:30-31).

Note: For a more comprehensive list of the various correspondences between Moses and Yeshua, see the article, "Moses' Prophecy of the Messiah."
 




The Book of Exodus...


 

01.04.15 (Tevet 13, 5775)  Over the next ten weeks (until the secon week of March) we will be reading and studying the Book of Exodus 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 book, including the Israelites' enslavement and subsequent deliverance with the ten plagues by the hand of the LORD.  After the very first 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.
 




Wounded for Love...

Photo by John J Parsons

 

01.04.15 (Tevet 13, 5775)  "Surely he has taken up our sicknesses and has carried our sorrowful pains; yet we regarded him as stricken, beaten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our perversions; upon him was the correction that brought our peace, and by his blows we are healed" (Isa. 53:4-5). Notice that the Hebrew word translated "blow" (i.e., חַבּוּרָה, "wound" or "stripe") comes from the same root as the word "friend" (חָבֵר), and therefore we can read this as "in His friendship we are healed." Yeshua gave up His life for us so that we could become his friends... As He later told us regarding his sacrifice as the Lamb of God: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). The goal of our atonement is to be in a loving relationship with God.... Indeed of Yeshua it may truly be said, yesh ohev davek me'ach – "there is a friend who sticks (davek) closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24).
 

וְהוּא מְחלָל מִפְּשָׁעֵנוּ מְדֻכָּא מֵעֲוֹנתֵינוּ
מוּסַר שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ עָלָיו וּבַחֲבֻרָתוֹ נִרְפָּא־לָנוּ

ve·hu  me·cho·lal  mi·pe·sha·ei·nu, me·duk·ka  me·a·vo·no·tei·nu
mu·sar she·lo·mei·nu  a·lav,  u·va·cha·vu·ra·to nir·pa-la·nu
 

"But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastening that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed." (Isa. 53:5)


 
 

Note that the verb mecholal ("was pierced") comes from the root (חָלַל) that means to defile, profane, become unclean, desecrate, and so. Yeshua became our "leper" to save us from our alienation from God's love...
 




Parashat Shemot - שמות


 

01.04.15 (Tevet 13, 5775)  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.

Note: For more about this reading, please read the Torah summary page for Shemot and its related articles. You can also download the Shabbat "Table Talk" for the portion here:
 

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!
 




Seeing Inside Out...


 

01.02.15 (Tevet 11, 5775)  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).
 




God of the Living...


 

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

01.02.15 (Tevet 11, 5775)  From our Torah for this Shabbat (Vayechi) we read that after he blessed his children, Jacob breathed his last and "was gathered" to his people (Gen. 49:33). The Talmud comments about life in olam ha'zeh, this world: "Act while you can; while you have the chance, the means, and the strength" (Shab. 151b). What if Jacob had waited to bless his sons? The word vayechi (וַיְחִי) means "and he lived," referring to the "days of the years of Jacob's life." The Torah here states that Jacob did not die, but lived. As Yeshua said concerning the physical death of the patriarchs, "Now He is not God of the dead, but of the living - כֻלָּם חַיִּים לְפָנָיו - for all live before Him" (Luke 20:38). "If we live, we live for the Lord; if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's."
 




Awakening to Love...


 

01.02.15 (Tevet 11, 5775)  How do we change? How are we made new? Is it through self-effort, for example, by making moral resolutions or performing religious acts, or is it by the miracle of God's intervention in our lives? When Yeshua invites us to turn and come to Him, he wants us to awaken to something so valuable that we would be willing to give up everything in the world to take hold of it (Matt. 13:45-46). True spiritual transformation is not just about leaving your sin behind you (as good as that is), but is rather about discovering the glory of true and infinite life. It's about being the beloved. May the Lord help us see...

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

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

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

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




Insatiable Discontent...


 

01.02.15 (Tevet 11, 5775)  "The eye is never satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing..." Perhaps some of us are angry because we are never satisfied, we never feel "full," or content within our heart of hearts... It is a paradox that the more we eat, the more we want to eat; the more we have, the more we want, and so on. The answer to the torment of discontent is simple -- though difficult: Let go of what you desire and learn to be content (Heb. 13:5). As Yeshua counseled: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:19-21). So where is your treasure? What are you seeking? Where is your heart's desire?
 

כָּל־הַדְּבָרִים יְגֵעִים לא־יוּכַל אִישׁ לְדַבֵּר
לא־תִשְׂבַּע עַיִן לִרְאוֹת וְלא־תִמָּלֵא אזֶן מִשְּׁמֹעַ

kol · ha·de·ba·rim · ye·ge·im · lo-yu·chal · ish · le·da·ber
lo-tis·ba' · a·yin · lir·ot · ve·lo-tim·ma·lei · o·zen · mi·she·mo·a
 

"All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing."
(Eccl. 1:8)


  


The Scriptures warn that a "double-minded man is unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8). The word translated "double-minded" is dipsuchos (δίψυχος), which literally means having "two souls" or wills. A double-minded man is full of inner conflict and indecision. He is like the proverbial "divided house" that cannot stand. Indeed, the word translated "unstable" (ἀκατάστατος) means "storm-tossed," like a ship buffeted by waves at sea. When Peter attempted to walk across the stormy waters, he lost courage and began to sink, but Yeshua took hold of him, saying, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" (i.e., διστάζω, literally, "think twice"). The way to be healed of a fractured or divided heart is by earnestly making a decision: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (ἐγγίσατε τῷ θεῷ καὶ ἐγγιεῖ ὑμῖν)... purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8). Note that the verb used in this verse (i.e., ἐγγίζω, "draw near") means to come close enough to touch someone or something. Understood in this light, we are encouraged to come so close to God that we are able to "touch" Him -- and to be touched by Him as well.

May we "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness," friends. Shabbat Shalom!
 




Outshining the Darkness...


 

01.02.15 (Tevet 11, 5775)  As a seed planted within soil seeks life by "reaching" for the sun, so our souls are drawn upward by the desire for God. The Lord calls us "out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9); he calls us to awaken, to grow, and to come to the fullness of his life (John 10:10). Being called "out of darkness" means being set free of those spiritual forces that have held us captive. When we turn to the Divine Light for our sustenance and healing, we are set free from the pain of our fears and the insanity of evil (Acts 26:18). As it is written: "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7). The Greek word "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός) comes from the verb sodzo (σῴζω), meaning "to save," from saos (σάος) "safe," in the sense of being under care and influence of the Spirit of God. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Heeding the truth of Yeshua grounds you in what is real and reveals your identity and provision as a child of God. "For you are my lamp (כִּי־אַתָּה תָּאִיר נֵרִי), O LORD, and my God lightens my darkness" (Psalm 18:28).
 

כִּי־אַתָּה תָּאִיר נֵרִי
 יְהוָה אֱלהַי יַגִּיהַּ חָשְׁכִּי

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

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


Hebrew Study Card
 

 

Sometimes the holidays can be rough on us, emotionally. If you are feeling overwhelmed by irresistible waves of sadness, anger, loneliness, anxiety, or some other pain, then cry out to the One who calms the waves of the storm with His word, saying, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid" (Mark 6:50). Only God can calm the storms within us and give peace within our hearts. The Lord is our refuge; He is always near to help in times of trouble.
 




The Desire of Faith...


 

01.02.15 (Tevet 11, 5775)  "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness..." (Matt. 5:6). What good would it do to have an angel reveal all mysteries and knowledge to you apart from the struggle to learn, to labor, and to make the truth of love your own? The sages say there is something more precious than even wisdom, and that is holy desire, the holy struggle to take hold of the heavenly blessing and to accept your new name (Gen. 32:27-28). When you experience holy desire, you feel a great longing and yearning for God, and this feeling becomes so intense that you do not know what to do, you do not know what to say, you do not know how to pray, and so you simply cry out to God, you cling to him in desperate hope and plead to know his heart directly...
 

רְצוֹן־יְרֵאָיו יַעֲשֶׂה
וְאֶת־שַׁוְעָתָם יִשְׁמַע וְיוֹשִׁיעֵם

re·tzon-ye·rei·av  ya·a·seh
ve·et · shav·a·tam · yish·ma · ve·yo·shi·eim
 

"He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them."
(Psalm 145:19)



Hebrew Study Card
 




Through the Straights...


 

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

01.01.15 (Tevet 10, 5775)  The name for ancient Egypt in Hebrew is "mitzrayim," a word that can be translated as "narrow places" (i.e., -מ, "from," and צַר, "narrow"), suggesting that "Egypt" represents a place of constriction, tribulation, oppression, slavery, and despair. The Hebrew word for salvation, on the other hand, is "yeshuah" (יְשׁוּעָה), a word that means deliverance from restriction, that is, freedom and peace. As it is written: "From my distress (מִן־הַמֵּצַר), i.e., from "my Egypt," I called to the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me in a wide open place" (Psalm 118:5). But why, it may be asked, did God tell Jacob: "Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt" (Gen. 46:3)? Why did God allow this excursion into "heavy darkness" that Abraham clearly foresaw (Gen. 15:12-13)? What is there about Egypt that prepares us to take hold of our promised inheritance? Joseph become a prince of Egypt; however, he was still a captive to Pharaoh, and later, after Joseph died, a "new Pharaoh arose" that did not acknowledge his contribution to Egyptian history (Exod. 1:8). All that remained of Joseph were his bones – a chest of bones that were carried out by Moses (and later buried by Joshua in Shechem). These "bare bones" of Joseph represented the essence of his faith, as he foresaw the time when God would rescue the family from Egypt and raise him up in the land of promise (Gen. 50:24-26; Heb. 11:22).

A principle of spiritual life is that we descend in order to ascend, or the "the way up is the way down." As Jesus 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 promise of God, not by trying to do it 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 be transformed, 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...

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




The Fast of Tevet...


 

01.01.15 (Tevet 10, 5775)  Today is Asarah B'Tevet ("the Tenth of Tevet"), the traditional date of Nebuchadnezzar's attack on Jerusalem (in 587 BC) that led to the destruction of the Holy Temple and the eventual exile of the Jewish people. Religious Jews observe this date as a "minor" fast day (i.e., a fast observed from sunrise to sunset) to recall the tragedy and to afflict their souls.  In modern Israel, Asarah B'Tevet also marks the day Kaddish (memorial prayer) is traditionally recited for people whose date or place of death is unknown. This has resulted in a general day of mourning for the many Jews who perished during the Holocaust (in addition to the formal commemoration during Yom HaShoah). Synagogue services normally include prayers of repentance (selichot) and the Torah portion for Asarah B'Tevet recalls the story of the idolatry of the Golden Calf (i.e., Exod. 32:11-34:10).

Note:  Except for Yom Kippur, the fast days of the Jewish year center on the lost vision of Zion, the destruction of the Holy Temple...
 




Trusting God's Heart...


 

01.01.15 (Tevet 10, 5775)  There is no fear in love, and therefore over and over the Spirit of God says, "don't be afraid..." When we are afraid, we are believing the lie there is something beyond God's control or reach, and therefore God is "not enough"... In times of testing you must remind yourself of what is real. God formed you in your mother's womb, breathed into you nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the breath of life, and numbers all your days... Every breath you take, every heartbeat in your chest is ordained from heaven, and indeed, there is not a moment of your life apart from God's sovereign and sustaining grace (Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:3). So what, then, are you afraid of? Dying? Judgment in the world to come? Being left unloved, bereft of home, abandoned, consigned to outer darkness? King David said, "If I make my bed in Hell, behold, you are there" (Psalm 139:8). The apostle Paul affirmed that nothing in heaven or earth can overcome God's love (Rom. 8:38-39). Keep in mind, then, that the LORD God is not only present in your "happy moments," when you feel "put together" and respectable, but he is present in your desperate moments, in your hunger and in your thirst, in your need for healing, and in your secrets.  May we never lose sight of God's love, especially in times of distress and trouble, since we trust that he is always working all things together for our ultimate good (Rom. 8:28).

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

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

יוֹם אִירָא אֲנִי אֵלֶיךָ אֶבְטָח

yom · i·ra · a·ni · e·ley·kha · ev·tach
 

"When I am afraid, I put my trust in you."
(Psalm 56:3)



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







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