Jewish Holiday Calendar
Note: For July 2015 site updates, please scroll past this entry....
In the summer there occurs a three week period of mourning that begins with the Fast of Tammuz and ends with Tishah B'Av. The last nine days of this three week period (i.e., from Av 1 until Av 9th) are days of increased mourning. However, after this somber time, the romantic holiday of Tu B'Av, the 15th of Av occurs. Summer ends with the 30 days of the month of Elul, a yearly season of teshuvah (repentance) that anticipates Rosh Hashanah and the fall holidays. The 30 days of Elul are combined with the first 10 days of the month of Tishri to create the "Forty Days of Teshuvah" that culminate with Yom Kippur.
Because they occur between the spring and fall holidays, the summer holidays help us prepare for the second coming of the Messiah:
The Summer Holidays:
Note that in accordance with tradition, holiday dates begin at sundown. Moreover, some holidays may be postponed one day if they happen to fall on the weekly Sabbath:
Month of Av (begins Thursday, July 16th, 2015)
Month of Elul (begins Friday August 14th, 2015)
- Month of Tammuz (begins Tuesday, June 16th, 2015)
Note: Many Jewish calendars will list the first day of a holiday without indicating that the holiday actually begins sundown the night before... So, for example, while Tishah B'Av begins Saturday, July 25th at sundown, many calendars will indicate it occurs on Sunday, July 26th...
July 2015 Updates
Ten Matters of Heart...
07.31.15 (Av 15, 5775) Our Torah for this week (Va'etchanan) reviews the Ten Commandments (עשרה הדיברות), which may be summarized this way: 1) "I AM your only deliverer, the One who loves and chooses you; 2) love me exclusively; 3) regard my love as sacred; 4) rest in me; 5) honor your life and its history. Do no harm to others: 6) forsake anger, 7) abandon lust, 8) renounce greed, and 9) abhor lying. 10) Refuse envy. Know that you belong to me and that you are accepted. Love others as you are also loved.
The "heart of the law" is the Torah of love, just as the "law of love" is the Torah of the Gospel (John 15:12). "Teach me the whole Torah, a heathen said, while I stand on one foot. Shammai cursed and drove the man away. He went to Hillel. Hillel said, What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else: that is the whole Torah. The rest will follow – go now and learn it." As the Apostle Paul taught: "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: Ve'ahavta: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Gal. 5:14). Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:10).
Rabbi Levi said, "When the Holy One spoke to the people of Israel, each one felt personally spoken to by God, and thus it says in the singular, 'I am the Eternal One, your God.'" Indeed the very first commandment given at Sinai was to accept the reality of our personal deliverance by the LORD: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you (singular) out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). In fact, God used the second person singular (not plural) for all the verbs throughout the Ten Commandments: "you (singular) shall have no other gods beside me"; "you (singular) shall not take the Name of the LORD your God in vain," and so on. The very first commandment, however, is the starting point for all that follows. Until you accept the LORD as your God and to trust Him as your own Deliverer, the rest of the commandments are not likely to be heeded.
Personal Update: Please keep the Hebrew for Christians ministry in your prayers. Olga's pregnancy has been physically hard for her, and we have been experiencing many tests (financial, health-related, and so on). Your prayers mean so much. Shabbat Shalom!
The Reason for Creation...
[ Our Torah portion this week (Va'etchanan) reiterates the Ten Commandments to the generation that was ready to enter into the promised land... ]
07.31.15 (Av 15, 5775) When the LORD gave the Ten Commandments (עשרה הדיברות), 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, the house of slavery" (Deut. 5:6), rather than saying, "I AM the LORD your God, Creator of heaven and earth" (Gen. 1:1). The LORD refers to himself as our Savior first, since creation is designed to demonstrate His redemptive love given through Yeshua, the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9). "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 love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Messiah, the great Lamb of God... 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).
Faith of the Heart...
07.31.15 (Av 15, 5775) Those who refuse the truth of God are described as those who "walk in the futility (ματαιότης) of their minds" (Eph. 4:17). "They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance (i.e., ἄγνοια - "agnosticism") that is in them, due to their hardness of heart" (Eph. 4:18). This hardness of heart (σκληροκαρδία) leads to a cynical state of callousness or apathy (ἀπαλγέω, lit. "numbness," the "inability to feel"), which is the very opposite of empathy or compassion (Eph. 4:19). Notice the progression of this process. People close their eyes to the light and become estranged from the life of God because they choose to have a hard heart (לב קשה). Put the other way around, hardening the heart leads to willed ignorance, alienation from the life of God, darkened understanding, and a "futile" mind... But notice that the heart of man is central because it determines the "contours of life" (Prov. 4:23). It is the heart (לֵבָב), or the "inner man," that that focuses the will to believe, determining what we acknowledge and what we ignore. Indeed, salvation itself is a matter of turning to see (teshuvah) and believing from the heart (πιστεύσῃς ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ σου) the Reality of God's great love and healing given to us in Yeshua (Rom. 10:9).
Love's Long Passion...
07.31.15 (Av 15, 5775) Newness of life is a miracle, since it is a gift from heaven (John 3:3-8; Eph. 2:8-9). Only God can give to us the love for Him that he fully knows we so desperately need; only God can deliver us from our "disordered loves" to take hold of what is truly essential. All we can do is ask, and keep on asking - even as we struggle on, despite ourselves - until we begin to understand what we really need. It's as if we are constantly being asked, "Is this what you want?" and our choices confess the truth of what we believe... Only God does the miracle of real change within the human heart - only God can give life from the dead. Create in me a pure heart, O God, make new within me a spirit that says 'Yes!'" (Psalm 51:10). Amen. Hashivenu, Adonai!
Meanwhile let us persevere in hope... Where it is written, love "suffers long..." (1 Cor. 13:4), the Greek word μακροθύμως (long-suffering) is derived from μακρός (long, great) + θυμός (passion), which indicates that love is a "long passion," that is, a passion that stays true despite the challenges it may encounter. God gives His comfort, chaverim.
The Holiday of Tu B'Av...
[ The 15th of Av - otherwise called Tu B'Av - begins at twilight this evening...... ]
07.30.15 (Av 14, 5775) The 15th of Av (i.e., Tu B'Av) begins after sundown tonight and runs through the following day. Just as Yom Kippur originally celebrated the reconciliation of Israel to the LORD after the sin of the Golden Calf, so Tu B'Av originally celebrated the reconciliation of Israel for the Sin of the Spies. Therefore both the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur became joyous times celebrating forgiveness and restoration to the LORD. The Babylonian Talmud (Ta'anit 31a) quotes Shimon ben Gamliel as saying, "Israel had no holidays as joyous as the fifteenth of Av and the Day of Atonement, when the maidens of Israel would go out and dance in the vineyards... What were they saying: Young man, consider whom you choose to be your wife..."
In modern Israel, Tu B'Av is observed as an annual holiday of love and affection (i.e., chag ha-ahavah: חַג הָאַהֲבָה) that is celebrated like "Valentine's Day" (though it is a much older holiday of course). However, since it is the "last" festival of the Jewish year, Tu B'Av prophetically pictures our marriage to the Lamb of God (Seh Elohim), Yeshua our beloved Messiah. On a soon-coming day those who belong to him and are faithful to follow his ways will be blessed with the unspeakable joy as their "wedding day" finally has come. This is heaven itself - to be in the Presence of the LORD and to be His beloved (Rev. 19:6-9).
With the advent of the holiday of Tu B'Av, we are reminded of the beautiful phrase, ani l'dodi ve'dodi li (אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי), "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine" (Song. 6:3), a phrase the sages say is an acronym for the name Elul (אלול). Now the month of Elul begins in just a couple of weeks (i.e., Friday, August 14th this year), and the entire month is set apart to prepare us for the coming High Holidays that begin mid September. During this time it we engage in cheshbon ha-nefesh ("soul searching") and to derive comfort that God is forgiving and loving to those who turn to Him. The sages chose the seven "Haftarot of comfort" to encourage us to make our hearts ready for the upcoming High Holiday Season.
Note: Why is the 15th of Av called Tu B'Av? Well, as you perhaps know, Hebrew letters can be used to express numbers. Joining the letters Tet (9) and Vav (6), for example, equals the number 15, sometimes written as the acronym "Tu" (ט"ו). The phrase "Tu B'Av" (ט"ו באב) indicates the 15th day of the month of Av (אָב), a "full-moon" holiday that has been celebrated as a day of love and affection since the First Temple period.
Return to your heart...
07.30.15 (Av 14, 5775) In our holy Torah we read, "Know therefore today and return to your heart (וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ), for the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). Here again we see the centrality of the heart as the mode to encounter God (Luke 17:21). Savor the phrase, "Know therefore today and return to your heart..." It the heart that is the place of connection with God... As Yeshua said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20). Today is the day to "return to your heart" and receive again God's love for your soul...
וְיָדַעְתָּ הַיּוֹם וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ
כִּי יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלהִים בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל
וְעַל־הָאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת אֵין עוֹד
ve·ya·da·ta · ha·yom · va·ha·she·vo·tai · el · le·va·ve·kha
ki · Adonai · hu · ha·E·lo·him · ba·sha·ma·yim · mi·ma·al
ve·al · ha·a·retz · mi·ta·chat · ein ·od
"Know therefore today, and lay it to your heart,
that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath;
there is no other." - Deut. 4:39
The Unity of Love...
07.29.15 (Av 13, 5775) Our Torah for this week (Va'etchanan) includes the first part of the Shema (שמע): "Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is One, and you shall love (וְאָהַבְתָּ) the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:4-5). During its recitation we pronounce each word very carefully and cover our eyes with our right hand, focusing on the sovereignty of God and our primary need to love Him with our whole being. Yeshua said that the Shema was the great commandment of Torah (see Mark 12:28-31). Note that the opening declaration of the Shema includes three Divine Names: Lord (יהוה), God (אלהים), and Lord (יהוה) again, which suggests the multiplicity-in-oneness (unity) that the word "echad" implies (see below). The two letters Ayin (ע) and Dalet (ד) are written enlarged in the opening verse of the Shema. Together, these letters form the word 'ed (עֵד), which means "witness," suggesting that we recite the Shema to testify of the sovereignty of God and our great need to love Him bekhol levavkha, (בּכָל־לְבָבְךָ) with all our hearts...
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד
she·ma · Yis·ra·el · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · Adonai · e·chad
"Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD."
Hebrew Study Card / Shema Reader Page
The Shema says "The LORD our God is one LORD" (יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד). Interestingly, the word echad (אֶחָד) in Hebrew, translated as "one," implies unity in diversity, not absolute numerical identity (the word for one and only one, i.e., "unique," is yachid (יָחִיד)). For example, in Exodus 26:6 the parts of the Tabernacle (Mishkan) are to be constructed so that "it shall be one (echad) tabernacle," and Ezekiel spoke of two "sticks" (representing fragmented Israel) as being reunited into one: "and they shall be one (echad) stick in My hand" (Ezek. 37:19). Moses also uses echad in Genesis 2:24 when he says: "And they (husband and wife) will become one flesh (basar echad)." God's attributes as Compassionate Source of life, Eternal Judge, and Savior, are unified and affirmed in this verse. Ultimate Reality is multidimensional, personal and loving, and that is part of the very essence of God. There is no such thing as a "Person" - either human or Divine - that exists in an absolute vacuum, outside of relationship. Absolute monism is inconsistent with the idea of Divine Personhood, just as Aristotle's "Unmoved Mover" is a logical absurdity.
Note: For more information about the Shema and its blessings, or to download Shema study pages, please see the Shema section of the site. Shalom.
The Heart of Heaven...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av... "Nachamu, nachamu..." ]
07.28.15 (Av 12, 5775) In our Torah for this week (Vaetchanan), Moses recalled the awesome revelation of the Torah at Sinai, describing how the mountain "burned with fire unto the heart of heaven" (בּעֵר בָּאֵשׁ עַד־לֵב הַשָּׁמַיִם) when the Ten Commandments were inscribed upon the two tablets of testimony (Deut. 4:11-13). The sages say that the tablets represented a heart, as it says, "write them on the tablet of your heart" (Prov. 3:3), and God's word is likened to a fire that reveals the great passion of God's heart for us (Jer. 23:29; Deut. 4:24). Tragically, the two tablets were smashed after the people lost sight of the heart of heaven (לב שמים), and therefore God requires a broken heart - teshuvah - to behold his glory once again. Therefore we see that Yeshua died of a broken heart upon the cross for our return to God, when the fire of his passion burned unto the very heart of heaven, and in his mesirat ha'nefesh we see the greater glory of God...
חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת אַל־יַעַזְבֻךָ
כָּתְבֵם עַל־לוּחַ לִבֶּךָ
che·sed ve·e·met al ya·az·vu·kha
kosh·rem al gar·ge·ro·tey·kha
kot·vem al lu·ach lib·be·kha
"Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart."
Hebrew Study Card
Praying to Pray...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan... ]
07.28.15 (Av 12, 5775) Our Torah portion for this week begins, "And I pleaded (ואתחנן) with the LORD at that time, to say..." (Deut. 3:23), which implies that we must first pray in order to be able to pray, that is, we make ourselves ready to pray by finding the inner freedom and grace to groan before the LORD.... If you can't find the words to pray, then plead with the LORD and ask for the Holy Spirit to groan on your behalf (Rom. 8:26). "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Matt. 7:7). "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will show forth your praise" (Psalm 51:15).
The need to pray with the proper focus, intention, and heart is surely one of our greatest needs... "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). The disciples were not asking for a formula or recipe prayer (such as might be recited from a prayer book), but for the right motivation, direction, and "Torah" of prayer... If we ask according to his will, God hears us (1 John 5:14), since we are speaking heaven's "language" of truth and humility. Therefore pray for the ability to pray effectively, to commune in trust with your heavenly Father. The prayer of a righteous person has great power (James 5:16).
אֲדנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח
וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶךָ
Adonai · se·fa·tai · tif·tach
u'fi · yag·gid · te·hil·la·te·kha
"O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise"
I am my Beloved's...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan... ]
07.27.15 (Av 11, 5775) From our Torah this week we read: "I stood between the LORD and you at that time .. for you were afraid..." (Deut. 5:5). Martin Buber comments: 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."
My LORD my God...
07.27.15 (Av 11, 5775) As we draw close to God and learn how to cleave to his heart, we will be delivered from the pain of our fears, despite the ongoing darkness of ha'olam ha'zeh (הָעוֹלָם הַזֶּה), this present age (Psalm 119:105). As King David said, Adonai ori v'yishi, mimi ira: "The LORD is my light and my salvation" – literally, "my Jesus," my Yeshua – "whom shall I fear? Adonai ma'oz chayai, mimi efchad: "The LORD is the refuge of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1). Yeshua is the Light of Life (אוֹר הַחַיִּים), the Healer of the fearful heart, the I-AM-WITH-YOU-ALWAYS One. His love overcomes all our fears. As the apostle Paul asked, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31).
יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָ
Adonai o·ri ve·yish·i, mi·mi i·ra
Adonai ma·oz chai·yai, mi·mi ef·chad
"The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?"
Hebrew Study Card
And as we hear the "footsteps of the Messiah" approaching nearer, let us heed the words of our Savior: "when you see these things taking place, you know that the time is near, right at the door" (Mark 13:29), and let us then encourage one another to wake up and come alive: "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Messiah will shine on you!" (Eph. 5:14). The message of teshuvah (repentance, "turning back to God") is always, "Wake up - you are living a nightmare." There is only one remedy, and that is discovered by coming to the Divine Light by opening your heart to the love and very real presence of God.
New Book offering:
God's Secrets Only Hebrew Can Reveal
07.27.15 (Av 11, 5775) My Israeli friend and Hebrew professor, Dr. Danny ben-Gigi, just wrote a new book called "God's Secrets only Hebrew Can Reveal" that you can now order from Hebrew for Christians. Discover how the prophet Daniel deciphered the "writing on the wall," what Jesus meant by a "jot and tittle" of the Holy Torah, what the term "the Son of Man" really means, and much more!
The book is printed in full color and includes 145 fascinating topics explaining various heavenly secrets that are embedded into the Hebrew scriptures. Two companion audio CDs are also included. No formal knowledge of Hebrew is required to use this book - all Hebrew terms and phrases are clearly explained. For more information, click here!
Finding God in Exile...
07.27.15 (Av 11, 5775) From this week's Torah (i.e., parashat Va'etchanan) we read: "if you seek for the LORD your God from there, you will find him, if you search for him with all your heart (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ) and with all your soul" (Deut. 4:29). From where do we search, from what place, except while we are in exile, after hardship, testing, and tribulation? If you seek for the LORD your God from there - in the midst of your exile, in the midst of your heart's cry - you will find him there, in your heart. This message is a prophecy, so that even after testing befalls you, in the end you will belong to the LORD and will hear his voice.
וּבִקַּשְׁתֶּם מִשָּׁם אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ וּמָצָאתָ
כִּי תִדְרְשֶׁנּוּ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶׁךָ
u·vik·kash·tem · mi·sham · et · Adonai · E·lo·hey·kha · u·ma·tza·ta
ki · tid·re·she·nu · be·khol · le·va·ve·kha · u·ve·khol · naf·she·kha
"But you will seek the LORD your God from there and you will find Him,
if you search for Him with all your heart and with all your soul."
Note that the word "you will seek" is in the plural, whereas the rest of the verse is in the singular. "Where is God to be found?" asks the Kotzker Rebbe, but "in the place where He is given entry!" As the Apostle Paul wrote, "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is LORD and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same LORD is LORD of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For "everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved" (Rom. 10:8-13).
Parashat Vaetchanan - ואתחנן
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av (i.e., Shabbat Nachamu, see below). ]
07.26.15 (Av 10, 5775) Our Torah portion this week (Va'etchanan) includes some of the most foundational texts of the Jewish Scriptures, including the Ten Commandments, the Shema (the duty to love God and study His Torah), and the commandments of tefillin and mezuzot. In addition, in this portion Moses predicts the worldwide exile and the eventual redemption of the Jewish people in acharit hayamim (the prophesied "End of Days").
The portion begins with Moses' plea to the LORD to be allowed entry into the Promised Land, despite God's earlier decree (see Num. 20:8-12; 27:12-14). The Hebrew word va'etchanan (וָאֶתְחַנַּן) comes from the verb chanan (חָנַן), which means to beseech or implore. It derives from the noun chen (חֵן), grace, implying that the supplication appeals to God's favor, not to any idea of personal merit (in Jewish tradition, tachanun (תַּחֲנוּן) are prayers recited after the Amidah begging for God's grace and mercy). Moses was asking God to show him grace by reversing the decree that forbade him to enter the Promised Land.
Note that in Jewish tradition, the idea of appealing to God's grace is not without expending personal effort. The gematria of vaetchanan is 515 -- the same as the word for prayer (i.e., tefillah, תְּפִלָּה) - which suggests that while grace is "free," it is something precious that must be sought after with the whole heart. Despite his repeated appeals, however, God finally said to Moses: רַב־לָך, "enough from you" (Deut. 3:26) and reaffirmed His decree that he would not be allowed to lead Israel into the land. That privilege was given to Yehoshua bin Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן), i.e., "Joshua the son of Nun," who foreshadowed Yeshua the Messiah.
Moses was forbidden into the land because symbolically the covenant made at Sinai was insufficient to fulfill the promise of God. This insufficiency, however, was not the fault of God's Torah, which is "holy, just, and good" (Rom. 7:12), but rather because of the weakness of the human condition (i.e., the "law of sin and death" - תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת). "For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3-4). The New Covenant was needed to bring people to Zion, and this required a "change in the Torah" and the offices of a new priesthood (Heb. 7:12). "The former commandment was set aside because of its weakness and uselessness - for the law made nothing perfect - but a better hope is introduced, and that is how we now draw near to God" (Heb. 7:18-19).
חַסְדֵי יְהוָה כִּי לא־תָמְנוּ כִּי לא־כָלוּ רַחֲמָיו
חֲדָשִׁים לַבְּקָרִים רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ
chas·dei · Adonai · ki · lo-ta·me·nu, · ki · lo-kha·lu · ra·cha·mav,
cha·da·shim · la·be·ka·rim · rab·bah · e·mu·na·te·kha
"The faithful love (חֶסֶד) of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies (רַחֲמִים) never come to an end;
they are new every morning (חֲדָשִׁים לַבְּקָרִים);
great is your faithfulness (אֱמוּנָה)"
Hebrew Study Card
Shabbat Nachamu (שַׁבַּת נַחֲמוּ)
[ With the advent of this Sabbath, we have seven weeks to prepare for the new year (Rosh Hashanah) and the High Holidays - a "jubilee" season that heralds the return of Yeshua... ]
07.26.15 (Av 10, 5775) The prophet Zechariah (זְכַרְיָה) foresaw the future Messianic Era when the various fast days of the Jewish year will be transformed into to appointed times of great joy (Zech. 8:19): "Thus says Adonai Tzeva'ot (יהוה צְבָאוֹת): The fast of the fourth month (Tzom Tammuz), and the fast of the fifth month (Tishah B'Av), and the fast of the seventh month (Tzom Gedaliah), and the fast of the tenth month (Asarah b'Tevet), will be to the house of Judah for joy and rejoicing, and for pleasant appointed seasons, and the truth and the peace they have loved (וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָבוּ)."
Because Zion is promised such future consolation by God, Jewish tradition named the Sabbath immediately following Tishah B'Av as the "Sabbath of Comfort" (i.e., shabbat Nachamu: שַׁבַּת נַחֲמוּ) and assigned the prophetic portion from the Book of Isaiah that begins: נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי - Nachamu, Nachamu ami - "be comforted, be comforted, my people..." (Isa. 40:1). The sages reasoned that the word nachamu was repeated to offer consolation for both Temples that were destroyed. Thematically, this Shabbat marks a time of joy over anticipated comfort: Despite present tribulations, the LORD will vindicate His glory and completely ransom His people.
נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי יאמַר אֱלהֵיכֶם
na·cha·mu · na·cha·mu · am·mi · yo·mar · E·lo·hey·khem
"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God"
Hebrew Study Card
Shabbat Nachamu marks the start of a series of seven weekly readings related to the final redemption of the Jewish people (and indeed the entire world) called "The Seven Haftarot of Consolation." From the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av until Rosh Hashanah, we read words of comfort from the prophets. These selections foretell the the restoration of the Jewish people to their land (the ingathering of the exiles), the future redemption of Israel, and the coming of the Messianic Era. In other words, we have seven weeks - 49 days - to prepare for the start of the new year (Rosh Hashanah) and the High Holidays - a prophetic "jubilee" season that concerns the return of Yeshua (and may He return soon, chaverim).
Note: Parashat Vaetchanan is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av.
A Tishah B'Av Parable...
[ The following is related to Tishah B'Av, the traditional date of the destruction of the Temple...]
07.24.15 (Av 8, 5775) The theme of the fragility of life is part of the sober message of Tishah B'Av. After all, the great symbol of God's manifest presence on the earth, the Holy Temple, went up in smoke, and the very place (i.e., ha-makom: הַמָּקוֹם) where the LORD chose to "put His Name" was utterly destroyed. As the people were taken captive and led into exile, the great vision of Zion appeared to be forever lost (Psalm 137:1-4).
The LORD had forewarned that exile, persecution and progressively worse punishments would befall the people if they would break faith with Him (Lev. 26:14-46). But how could all this have happened? Notice that the "rebuke" portion of the tochachah begins with v'im lo tishme'u li (וְאִם־לא תִשְׁמְעוּ לִי), "if you do not listen to me" (Lev. 26:14), which recalls the Shema and the duty to love the Lord bekhol levavkha, "with all your heart." The sages point out that the refrain "if you walk contrary to me" (וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי) - which occurs several times during the rebuke - really means "if you walk carelessly (i.e., keri: קְרִי) with me." The commentator Rashi notes that the verb karah (קָרָה) means "to befall" or "to happen" and therefore suggests a sense of randomness (the related word mikreh [מִקְרֶה] means "coincidence"). In other words, if the people regarded the events of life as "random," then God would make (seemingly) random trouble arise in their midst. For this reason a careless attitude about the things of God is the first step toward apostasy...
It's been said that the opposite of love isn't hate, but rather indifference, and that explains why punishments came when the people "left their first love." If you walk carelessly with God, then you may be afflicted with "troubles of love" (i.e., yissurei ahavah: יִסּוּרֵי אַהֲבָה), that is, with various difficulties, intended to help you "come to your senses," to help you wake up, and to cause you return to the LORD for healing... This is a severe mercy of God.
A parable attempts to explain the heart behind Tishah B'Av and the tragic destruction of the Temple: Once a great artist desire to paint his greatest masterpiece, and journeyed with his companion to the top of a high mountain to find the perfect view. After several days, the painting was complete, though the artist began to view his work at different angles to see what improvements might be made. He started walking backward, admiring his work. He continued to pace backward, focusing only on his painting, when he approached the edge of a cliff. When his friend realized the danger, he called out for him to stop, but the artist took no heed to his words. At the last moment, when he was about to plunge to his certain death, however, his friend picked up a knife, ran to the picture, and began slashing it to pieces, destroying the masterpiece before the artist's eyes. "What are you doing!" the artist cried out, having finally come to his senses. "Look behind you and you'll see why I did it" replied the friend. Similarly with God. He tried to warn the people to turn back to Him lest they perish, but they refused to heed His words, so finally He allowed the Temple to be destroyed so that the people themselves could come to their senses and many would escape with their lives....
The daily sacrifice at the Temple was a defect-free lamb that was offered both in the evening and in the morning - a continual sacrifice by fire to God... Ultimately the Temple itself was a means to the greater end of revealing Yeshua as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.... And just as the Sacred Name (יהוה) transcends temporal things - even things as wonderful as the Holy Temple itself - so the Holy Temple was meant to point to Messiah - and to the innermost chamber of our heart that receives Him (1 Cor. 6:19).
The idea of tochachah is not simply something for ethnic Israel, of course, since the New Testament likewise warns us that God will punish those who likewise walk carelessly (i.e., keri: קְרִי) with Him. Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as God's children? "My son, do not regard lightly (ὀλιγώρει) the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary by his reproof (תּוֹכֵחָה). For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and reproves (יוֹכִיחַ) every child whom he receives" (Heb. 12:5-6; Prov. 3:11-12). The Lord charged the assembly at Ephesus that they had let go of their first love. Yeshua therefore urged them: "Remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds (ἔργα) you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your menorah from its place – unless you repent" (Rev. 2:4-5). "God is not mocked (μυκτηρίζω - lit., "to turn up the nose at"), and what a man sows, he also reaps" (Gal. 6:7; Psalm 39:11). There are abiding consequences for the choices we make in our lives. "For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Messiah and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 5:6-7).
אַשְׁרֵי הַגֶּבֶר אֲשֶׁר־שָׂם יְהוָה מִבְטַחוֹ
ְלא־פָנָה אֶל־רְהָבִים וְשָׂטֵי כָזָב
ash·rei · ha·ge·ver · a·sher · sam · Adonai · miv·ta·cho
ve·lo · fe·nah · el · re·ha·vin · ve·sa·tei · kha·zav
"Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust,
who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie."
Note that the language of tochachah may seem severe, but this bespeaks the severe mercy of God, and his great passion that we do not turn away and lose relationship with him.... Understand, then, the imperatives of Scripture as appeals to seek life... Realize they are impassioned appeals of the Lover of your soul to walk with him in love. As C.S. Lewis once said, God cannot give us peace apart from Him, since there literally is no such thing. God's voice of imperative is a reminder that we can only find what we really need with Him.
Note: The holiday of Tishah B'Av represents the yearning of the heart for the establishment of the Kingdom of God upon the earth... As Yeshua taught his disciples to pray: tavo malkhutekha (תָּבא מַלְכוּתֶךָ): "Thy Kingdom come"; ye'aseh retzonkha (יֵעָשֶׂה רְצוֹנְךָ): "Thy will be done," ba'aretz ka'asher na'asah va'shamayim (בָּאָרֶץ כַּאֲשֶׁר נַעֲשָׂה בַשָּׁמָיִם) "on earth, as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10). Now if you say that the King of the Jews lives inside your heart by faith (Matt. 2:2), and if the King of the Jews calls Jerusalem the "City of the Great King" (Psalm 48:2, Matt. 5:35), then heed the Spirit's call to "pray for the healing of Jerusalem" and the final redemption to come. At the End of the Age, the Messiah will indeed return to establish Zion as a praise upon the earth (Isa. 62:7).
Redeemer of Waste Places...
07.24.15 (Av 8, 5775) Though it would have taken just two weeks to march directly to the promised land from Egypt, the people were not ready and needed to wander from one dry place to another. Therefore we are told to remember the "whole way" (כָּל־הַדֶּרֶךְ) of our journey: "God led you these forty years in the desert that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart - לָדַעַת אֶת־אֲשֶׁר בִּלְבָבְךָ..." (Deut. 8:2). Yea, God works "all things together for good" - even tragic events such as the destruction of the Temple and the exile of His people, and therefore we are commanded to remember the "whole way" of our journey. "Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost" (John 6:12). We "press on to the goal" but also trust that God is able to redeem even the seasons of our lives lived in the waste places. Because of Yeshua, nothing of our lives will be be entirely lost. ברוך יהוה שגואל את הצער שלנו - "Blessed is the LORD who redeems our sorrows."
Shabbat Shalom v'yom tov chaverim! May the peace of God be with you, even if you are temporarily beset by various troubles.... May you experience the balm of his comfort and the gentle touch of his hand as you rest in his perfect love. Amen.
The Voice of Our Words....
07.24.15 (Av 8, 5775) According to Jewish tradition, it was on Tishah B'Av (the ninth of Av) when the people wept over the report of the spies, a lapse of faith so serious that it provoked God to decree that the very generation He redeemed from Egypt would die in the exile of the desert (Num. 13-14). As Moses later recounted this tragic event, he says something peculiar: "The LORD heard the 'voice of your words' (קוֹל דְבַרִים) and was angry..." (Deut. 1:35). The grammar here is unusual, for the text could have simply said, "the LORD heard your words," but the Torah adds something else, the idea of "emotional tone," or the manner, the words were spoken... Sometimes it's not so much what you say that matters, but how you say it. Words of the heart are expressed more by tone, the "voice of the words," than by the words themselves...
The heart has its own voice regardless of the words we are able to articulate. For instance, if you love someone, then really love them -- and abhor being halfhearted. Being hot or being cold is better then being tepid, because then you are being honest, and honesty will always evoke a genuine response from heaven...
Note: But what if you cannot help but feel pain behind your words? What if you struggle with unhappy feelings at times? Then get alone with God and pour out your heart: "Cast your burden upon the LORD (הַשְׁלֵךְ עַל־יְהוָה יְהָבְךָ) and He will sustain you" (Psalm 55:22).
Eyes of the Heart...
07.23.15 (Av 7, 5775) The Hebrew word for "seeing" (ra'ah) is related to the word for "fear" (yirah), suggesting that when we really see life as it is, we will be filled with wonder and awe over the glory of it all. Every bush will be aflame with the Presence of God and the ground we walk upon shall suddenly be perceived as holy (Exod. 3:2-5). Nothing will seem small, trivial, or insignificant. It is in this sense that we are to serve the LORD with "fear and trembling" (φόβοv καὶ τρόμοv), that is, with an inner awareness of the sanctity and sacredness of life itself (Phil. 2:12-13). Da lifnei mi atah omed. Sin puts us to sleep, numbs our minds and hearts, and blinds us to the radiance of divine revelation. When we see life as it is, with the "eyes of the heart" (Eph. 1:18), we will be filled with wonder and awe over the glory of it all. "Fearing" (יִרְאָה) and "seeing" (רָאָה) will be linked and unified.
The "Tone" of Tishah B'Av...
[ The tragic holiday of Tishah B'Av begins this Saturday at sundown... ]
07.23.15 (Av 7, 5775) The Book of Lamentations (מגילה איכה) is traditionally recited during Tishah B'Av to remember the destruction of the Holy Temple and other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. Lamentations is an acrostic poem that begins with the Hebrew letter Aleph in the word "eichah" (אֵיכָה): "How (eichah) lonely sits the city that once was full of people!" (Lam. 1:1). The sages note that this word "how (eichah)" could also be read as "where are you?" (אַיֶּכָּה, ayekah), God's first question to Adam after he broke covenant in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:9). The midrash draws a connection between the lamentation of the LORD over Adam's banishment from Eden and Israel's banishment from Zion (Hos. 6:7). In both cases the problem centers on the failure to ask where God is.
During the Tishah B'Av service at the synagogue, when the cantor reaches the second to last verse of the book, "Hashivenu," he pauses and the congregation recites the verse in unison: Hashivenu Adonai, elekha vena-shuvah; chadesh yamenu kekedem: "Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21). Often this verse is repeated and sung to a haunting melody as the scroll is returned to the Ark.
הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה
חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם
ha·shi·ve·nu Adonai e·ley·kha ve·na·shu·vah,
cha·desh ya·me·nu ke·ke·dem
"Turn us back to yourself, O LORD, so that we may return to you;
renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21)
Hebrew Study Card
How many people today live in a state of self-imposed exile from the LORD? How lonely... God uses our loneliness and alienation to question our hearts, asking each of us, ayekah – "Where are you?" "Why have you turned away from me and chosen a state of exile?" Our inner pain is meant to provoke us to seek His face. He awaits our only possible response, "Hashivenu!" -- an imperative (demand) for the grace to repent: "You return us (i.e., you cause us to return) so that we may be reunited with you and healed!" We do not appeal to our own resources or strength to undergo this return, but rather trust that God's sovereign grace is sufficient to restore us to His presence. As Yeshua said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up" (John 6:44).
The tears of the prophet Jeremiah represent God's compassionate love for the Jewish people; the Book of Lamentations is really God's cry... God cares about the suffering of His people: b'khol tzaratam lo tzar (בְּכָל־צָרָתָם לוֹ צָר) - "In all their affliction he was afflicted" (Isa. 63:9). Even after all the horrors that befell the people of Judah due to God's disciplinary judgment, the LORD still encouraged them to seek Him again. "The faithful love of the LORD (חַסְדֵי יהוה) never ceases, and his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness" (Lam. 3:22-23). Our response to the faithful love of the LORD is teshuvah (i.e., תְּשׁוּבָה, "turning [shuv] to God"). In Modern Hebrew teshuvah means an "answer" to a shelah (שְׁאֵלָה), or a question. God's love for us is the question, and our teshuvah – our turning of the heart toward Him – is the answer. We return to the LORD when we truly acknowledge that He is our Father and our King. May we so turn today...
Note: I will be at a funeral all day today; thank you for your prayers for my family....
Shema of Wisdom...
[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]
07.23.15 (Av 7, 5775) The Mishnah asks, "Who then is wise?" and answers, "one who learns from everyone" (Avot 4:1). Wisdom, then, requires that you make space and take time to listen to others. "The talkative listen to no one, for they are ever speaking. And the first evil that attends those who do not know how to be silent is that they hear nothing" (Plutarch). Therefore Moses said, "If something is too difficult for you, bring it to me and I will listen" (Deut. 1:17). The sages comment that Moses would not pontificate a decision but would quietly and intently listen – and the solution would be revealed. The same may be said regarding prayer. After you've unburdened your heart of its anxious thoughts - these being "too difficult for you" - then you are made ready to hear God's voice in your midst....
Seeking Things Above...
[ The theme of teshuvah (repentance, turning to God) is central during the Three Weeks... ]
07.22.15 (Av 6, 5775) "How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him" (1 Kings 18:21). These words of Eliyahu ha-navi (Elijah the prophet) are meant for us to hear today, during this season of teshuvah leading up to Tishah B'Av. We are being called to make up our minds (metanoia) and turn (shuv) to the LORD. After all, what is more important to you than your relationship with the LORD God of Israel? Is there anything more important than this?
If we are spiritually identified with Yeshua, we are "dead" to this age (olam hazeh) and awakened to a realm that transcends the appeals of the flesh (olam habah). We no longer live chayei sha'ah (חַיֵּי שָׁעָה, "fleeting life") but chayei olam (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם, "eternal life"). Therefore "if you have been raised with Messiah, seek the things that are above (τὰ ἄνω ζητεῖτε), where the Messiah is seated at the right hand of God; focus your thoughts on the things above - not on things here on earth - for you have died, and your life has been hidden with Messiah in God" (Col. 3:1-4). The aorist verb "you have died" indicates "you have died once for all," that is, that this is a condition granted by the power and agency of God on your behalf. You don't "try to die" to the flesh; you accept that God has killed its power over you through Yeshua...
To de-cide means to "cut away" other options. Yeshua tells us to take up the cross and die because that which is dead no longer suffers from ambivalence and carnal inner conflict... There are no "half-measures" here; when we accept that we have already been crucified with Messiah, we confess that our true life is not here, in this world, but is bound up in Him, and that God alone is our ultimate concern and end. In that sense, the life we now live in the flesh "catches up" with the truth and power that God has decreed for our salvation.
By faith resolve to understand that you are dead to this world; you are dead to sin's power; you are set free and no longer enslaved to the deception of the worldly matrix, etc. Now you are made alive to an entirely greater and more powerful order and dimension of reality, namely, the spiritual reality that is not disclosed to the vanity of this age. Therefore we are to consciously focus our thoughts (φρονέω) on the hidden reality of God rather than on the temporal world that is passing away: "For we are looking not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient (i.e., "just for a season," καιρός), but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18).
Your greatest need...
07.22.15 (Av 6, 5775) From our Torah this week (i.e., Devarim) we read: "For the LORD your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing" (Deut. 2:7). With God you have everything you need; but without Him you will never be truly satisfied - no matter what things you might have... "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee," which is to say that the merry-go-round of desire for things of this world is ultimately vain and unfulfilling. Indeed, it is slavery to be attached to unslakeable desire; it is madness to restlessly desire more and more. God has set eternity within our hearts (Eccl. 3:11), a hunger that only heaven can fulfill, but we try to find happiness with the trinkets and junk of this passing and fading realm.... When the LORD is "with us" – and when we dwell in the simplicity of that reality – we lack nothing: Adonai Ro'i, lo echsar (יְהוָה רעִי לא אֶחְסָר) - "The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not lack" (Psalm 23:1). "For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you" (Psalm 84:11-12).
כִּי שֶׁמֶשׁ וּמָגֵן יְהוָה אֱלהִים
חֵן וְכָבוֹד יִתֵּן יְהוָה
לא יִמְנַע־טוֹב לַהלְכִים בְּתָמִים
יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם בּטֵחַ בָּךְ
ki · she·mesh · u'ma·gen · Adonai · Elohim
chen · ve'kha·vod · yit·ten · Adonai
lo · yim·na · tov · la·cho·le·khim · be'ta·mim
Adonai · Tze·va·ot · ash·rei · a·dam · bo·te·ach · bakh
"For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you"
Moving a Mountain...
07.22.15 (Av 6, 5775) From our Torah this week (i.e., Devarim) we read: "The LORD our God said to us in Horeb, 'You have stayed long enough at this mountain; turn and take your journey... See, I have set the land before you; go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their offspring after them" (Deut. 1:6-8). Here the sages comment that the righteous can overcome every obstacle – even if it is as big as a mountain – for to them it is "like a hair," but the wicked withdraw from even the smallest obstacle, because to them it is like a mountain. In the world to come, God will show the righteous the yetzer ha'ra (evil inclination) as a mountain, and they will exclaim, "How were we able to move such a mountain?" But to the wicked God will show the evil inclination as a hair, and they will exclaim, "Why couldn't we overcome such a trifle as this hair?" It is faith in God's love that enables us cast away the imposing darkness of fear to take possession of the heavenly promise. "For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you" (Matt. 17:20).
καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ νίκη ἡ νικήσασα τὸν κόσμον, ἡ πίστις ἡμῶν. – "And this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith" (1 John 5:4).
He Carries us Through...
[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]
07.21.15 (Av 5, 5775) From our Torah this week (Devarim) we read: "The LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place" (Deut. 1:31). Part of the miracle of faith is coming to believe that you all matter – that your thoughts, words, and deeds are of interest to God. You may be tempted to regard yourself as unseen and powerless before the Creator of the universe. How is it possible for anyone to serve the Infinite One, since "even the heavens, and the heaven of heavens, cannot sustain You" (1 Kings 8:27)? Are we not made of clay, whose foundation is but dust? (Job 4:19). Here the miracle of faith believes that God, the LORD and Source of all life, seeks relationship with us, and that He makes place within Himself to hear us, to engage our lives, and to walk with us... Indeed, "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us:" God emptied himself (κενόω) and clothed himself with human dust so that we could be touched by His love. The LORD carries us through our exile so that we might know and trust him...
"And just as we have borne the image of the man of dust,
so we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:49).
Are you Willing to Ascend?
07.21.15 (Av 5, 5775) From our Torah portion this week (i.e., Devarim) we read: "But you were not willing to ascend (וְלא אֲבִיתֶם לַעֲלת), but became bitter (מָרָה) against the Word of the LORD your God" (Deut. 1:26). Moses' rebuke was not that the people were afraid to conquer the land as much as that they had lost heart and no longer desired to take hold of God's promise. The people gave up their dream; they forsook their hope; and they had lost the "devotion of their youth, their love as a bride, how they followed the LORD in the desert, into a land not sown" (Jer. 2:2). The people's failure was on two levels: First they lapsed in faith by abdicating trust in God's word, and second, they had lost the passion of their first love. In light of this, the sages say that the greater problem was that of losing heart, since the heart directs the will to believe in the miracle of God...
Moses' rebuke of the people's heart condition recalls the sober warning Yeshua gave to the Ephesian believers: "I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your menorah from its place, unless you repent" (Rev. 2:2-5). Likewise the author of the Book of Hebrews commented: "And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief" (Heb. 3:17-19). The question of our faith is essential: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31).
Moses' Miraculous Words...
[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]
07.20.15 (Av 4, 5775) The midrash says that though Moses "stammered" and was "kevad peh" (heavy of mouth), he was empowered to speak fluently whenever the Holy Spirit moved him. Sefer Devarim (the Book of Deuteronomy) is unique among the five books of Torah because it represents Moses' great farewell appeal to follow the LORD bekhol levavkha, "with all of your heart" (Deut. 6:5). In this final book of Torah, Moses - who once described himself as lo ish devarim (לא אִישׁ דְּבָרִים) "a man of no words" (Exod. 4:10), speaks some of the moving words of all of the Holy Scriptures, eloquently calling us to embrace the truth of Torah, to walk in God's love, and to await the final redemption...
Anticipating Tishah B'Av...
[ Note that Tishah B'Av is postponed one day this year because the 9th of Av falls on the weekly Sabbath... The fast will begin, then, on Saturday July 25th at sundown... ]
07.20.15 (Av 4, 5775) We are in the midst of the "Three Weeks of Sorrow" that began with the Fast of Tammuz and ends with the fast of Tishah B'Av. Spiritually, these three weeks are marked by a renewed called for teshuvah (repentance), and the weekly readings from the prophets all warn about imminent judgment from heaven. Indeed, the Sabbath that immediately precedes the fast of Tishah B'Av is called Shabbat Chazon (the "Sabbath of Vision") because the Haftarah that is read (i.e., Isa. 1:1-25) describes the vision of the prophet Isaiah regarding the imminent destruction of the Temple:
"Hear, O heavens and give ear, O earth,
For the LORD has spoken;
Though I brought up and raised My children,
They have rebelled against me." (Isa. 1:2)
When it was first recorded, Isaiah's vision of the destruction was still future, and the Jews still had a chance to repent before the great tragedy befell them. However, since they refused to turn back to God, calamity overtook them. Today the Haftarah is traditionally chanted to the same haunting melody as Megilat Eichah (Lamentations), written by the prophet Jeremiah, who was an eyewitness to the destruction and fall of Jerusalem.
During the last nine days of the Three Weeks of Sorrow it is common to confess the sins in our lives that likewise contribute to the lack of God's Presence in our midst. Hashivenu Adonai, elecha vena-shuvah; chadesh yamenu kekedem: "Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21).
Though Shabbat Chazon is a time of mourning, it is also a time for hope. The Torah reading for this Sabbath is always parashat Devarim, the first portion of the Book of Deuteronomy. In this reading, Moses details the victorious battles with Sihon the king of Amorites and Og the king of Bashan. Because it speaks of God's victory, the sages recommended envisioning the future Temple that will be built by the Messiah at this time. According to Jewish tradition, after the Messiah comes and restores Israel, Tishah B'Av will become one of the happiest days of the year (and may He arrive soon and in our days).
07.19.15 (Av 3, 5775) Our Torah reading for this week is the very first portion from the Book of Deuteronomy (i.e., Devarim: דְּבָרִים), which is always read on the Sabbath that immediately precedes the doleful holiday of Tishah B'Av (תשעה באב). In Jewish tradition, this special Sabbath is called "Shabbat Chazon" (שַׁבַּת חַזוֹן), "the Sabbath of Vision," since the Haftarah that is read (Isa. 1:1-25) comes from the vision of the prophet Isaiah regarding the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In Jewish tradition and liturgy, teshuvah (repentance) and viduy (confession of sin) are the themes of this preparatory Sabbath.
Thank you for your prayers for this ministry, friends... Now more than ever.
Walking by Faith....
07.17.15 (Av 1, 5775) The Hebrew word for "faith" is emunah (אֱמוּנָה), which comes from the verb aman (אָמַן), meaning to uphold, support, to make steady and sure. The Hebrew word for "truth" (אֱמֶת) comes from the same root, as does the word "amen" (אָמֵן), implying that reality is upheld and subsists by the Word of God's power (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:17). Faith enables the soul to perceive the eternal within the transitory, the invisible within the visible, and the Divine Presence in the midst of the whirlwind. When applied to the heart, "faith" is better understood as "faithfulness," since it implies integrity and trustworthiness, and so on. God's faithfulness is bound with His love (חֶסֶד), which means that He can be relied upon to uphold you as you sojourn through this world to world to come...
Therefore we "walk by faith, not by sight," as if the invisible were indeed visible. We must stay focused and uphold our hope, for through hope we are saved (Rom. 8:24). Faith is the conviction (ἔλεγχος) of things unseen (Heb. 11:1). Do not be seduced by mere appearances; do not allow yourself to be bewitched into thinking that this world could ever be your home. No, we are strangers and pilgrims here; we are on the journey to the reach "the City of Living God, to heavenly Jerusalem, to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven" (Heb. 12:22-23). Therefore please do not lose heart. Keep to the narrow path. Set your affections on things above since your real life is "hidden with God" (Col. 3:1-4). Do not yield to the temptation of despair. Look beyond the "giants of the land" and reckon them as already fallen. Keep pressing on. Chazak, chazak, ve-nit chazek - "Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!" Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called (1 Tim. 6:12).
Note: We had a death in our family today... though she died in pain, grandma Anastasia called upon the LORD as she crossed over. She was an amazing prayer warrior, and this world is surely lessened by her absence. יְהוָה נָתַן וַיהוָה לָקָח יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָךְ
The Journey of Torah...
07.17.15 (Av 1, 5775) "Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by the Word of the LORD" (Num. 33:2). The sages here say that Moses wrote of the journey out of slavery to receive the laws of God because the people needed the various laws and rules to learn to be attached to God, though at first this was not the way. Our father Abraham received the meaning of the Torah before it was given at Sinai (Gen. 26:5), and through Abraham it was revealed that the essence of Torah is trust in God (Gen. 15:6). It was because of the harshness of the exile in Egypt that the people needed to be instructed as children to understand God's truth and moral reality (Gal. 3:24-25). The beginning and end of true Torah, however, was a matter of faith – trusting in the redemptive message of God based on sacrificial love (Gen. 3:15; 22:1-14). The Passover was offered before the Sinai revelation. In that sense, the giving of the law at Sinai was a provisional matter meant to teach the people about salvation that comes through faith in the Lamb of God (Rom. 10:4).
For more, see "The Most Important Mitzvah..."
Journey of Renewal...
[ The following is related to our Torah portion for this week, parashat Masei... ]
07.16.15 (Tammuz 29, 5774) Eleh masei v'nei Yisrael: "these are the journeys of the children of Israel..." (Num. 33:1). At the Word of the LORD (עַל־פִּי יְהוָה) the people camped, and at the Word of the LORD they journeyed (9:23). When the Ark of the Covenant was dispatched to follow the Shekhinah Cloud (שכינה ענן), Moses would say: ""Arise, O LORD, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you. And when it rested, he said, "Return, O LORD, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel" (10:35-36). The Torah lists the various stations of the desert not only to document God's care for his people, but because the various journeys signified constant renewal – dismantling and reassembling the Mishkan (Tabernacle); approaching again before the Divine Presence; and keeping the vision of Zion alive in the midst of a barren wasteland...
קוּמָה יְהוָה וְיָפֻצוּ איְבֶיךָ
וְיָנֻסוּ מְשַׂנְאֶיךָ מִפָּנֶיךָ
ku·mah · Adonai · ve·ya·fu·tzu · o·ye·ve·kha
ve·ya·nu·su · me·sa·ne·kha · mi·pa·ne·kha
"Arise, O LORD, and let your enemies be scattered,
and let those who hate you flee before you"
The Journey of journeys...
[ The following is related to our Torah portion for this week, parashat Masei... ]
07.16.15 (Tammuz 29, 5774) From our Torah portion this week (i.e., Masei) we read: "These are the journeys of the people of Israel (מַסְעֵי בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל) who went out of the land of Egypt..." (Num. 33:1). The sages ask why the word "journeys" (plural) was used here, since only the first journey – from Rameses to Sukkot – literally marked "yetziat mitzrayim," the going out of Egypt – and the other journeys were outside of Egypt, in the desert. They answer that the journey out of Egypt goes beyond the physical land to the spiritual realm - an exodus from captivity to the secular world itself. As has been said, it took the LORD 40 days to get Israel out of Egypt, but it took 40 years to get Egypt out of Israel... The "journey out of Egypt" is therefore a journey of smaller journeys that leads to deliverance.
The Torah uses a repetitious expression, "Sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy" (הִתְקַדִּשְׁתֶּם וִהְיִיתֶם קְדשִׁים) (Lev. 11:44) because when we make an effort -- no matter how feeble at times -- to draw near to the LORD, He will draw near to us... Indeed the walk of faith is one of ascent and descent and ascent again: It's often "two steps forward, one step back..." It is a long road, a process, as we learn to obey and seek to grow closer to God. Authentic repentance doesn't imply that we will never sin or make any mistakes, of course, but rather means that the oscillating pattern of "up, then down, then up" is the basic way we walk. Our direction has changed for good; we have turned to God for life and hope. We now understand our sins in light of a greater love that bears them for us even as we draw ever closer to the One who calls us home...
The Central Thing...
07.15.15 (Tammuz 28, 5774) From our Torah portion this week (Mattot) we read: zeh ha'davar asher tzivah Adonai: "This is the thing the LORD has commanded" (Num. 30:1). The language here seems to suggest that there is only one matter that God has commanded, namely, to speak truth and to be faithful in our promises (Num. 30:2). This is because the sacredness of our word is the foundation for all our other responsibilities. After all, if our word is equivocal, it is unclear, unreliable, undecided, and therefore ultimately meaningless.... Insincere words are without genuine commitment, and the lack of decisiveness undermines all Torah. "This is the thing the LORD has commanded," namely, to accept your duty to honor the truth; to keep your faith in God's word; and to hold sacred your commitment before God. !זֶה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה
כִּי־אֱמֶת יֶהְגֶּה חִכִּי
וְתוֹעֲבַת שְׂפָתַי רֶשַׁע
ke-e·met · ye·he·geh · chi·ki
ve·to·a·vat · se·fa·tai · re·sha
"For my mouth will utter truth;
wickedness is an abomination to my lips"
A politician was once chided for not keeping his promises, to which he slyly replied, "Yes, but I never promised to keep my promises..." Later, the same politician actually "promised to keep his promises," but was again proven false to his word. When he was confronted over his latest treachery, he replied, "Yes, but I never promised to promise to keep my promises..." And so it goes with many of the "double-tongued" political leaders of our day.
"What you say about the present state of mankind is true: indeed it is even worse than you say. For they neglect not only the Law of Christ, but even the Law of Nature as known by the Pagans. For now they do not blush at adultery, treachery, perjury, theft and other crimes, which I will not say Christian doctors, but the Pagans and Barbarians have themselves denounced. They err who say: "The world is turning pagan again." Would that it were! The truth is, we are falling into a much worse state. Post-Christian man is not the same as pre-Christian man. He is as far removed as a virgin from a widow... there is a great difference between a spouse-to-come and a spouse sent away." – C.S. Lewis (letter to Don Giovanni Calabria)
The Struggle of Faith...
07.15.15 (Tammuz 28, 5774) I know many of you are in pain, struggling to hang on to hope, waiting for the fulfillment of the promise of your salvation in Yeshua. Keep the fire of your heart burning, friend... Rabbi Nachman once told a person who was struggling with his faith: "It is written that all creation was brought into being because of people like you. God saw there would be people who would cling to our holy faith, suffering greatly because confusion and doubt would plague them. God perceived that such would overcome these doubts and troubles of heart and remain strong in their belief. It was because of this that God brought forth all creation." Good words... Never yield to despair, since that leads to further darkness and fear. Press on and keep fighting the "good fight" of faith (1 Tim. 6:12). Remember that you infinitely matter to heaven; your life has great value; you are significant and you are truly loved by our Heavenly Father. There is a "future and a hope" reserved for you; there is "a white stone, and on that stone will be written a new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it" (Rev. 2:17). May "the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tested with fire, be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Pet. 1:7).
כִּי אָנכִי יָדַעְתִּי אֶת־הַמַּחֲשָׁבת
אֲשֶׁר אָנכִי חשֵׁב עֲלֵיכֶם נְאֻם־יְהוָה
מַחְשְׁבוֹת שָׁלוֹם וְלא לְרָעָה
לָתֵת לָכֶם אַחֲרִית וְתִקְוָה
ki · a·no·khi · ya·da·ti · et · ha·ma·cha·sha·vot
a·sher · a·no·khi · cho·shev · a·lei·khem · ne·um · Adonai
mach·she·vot · sha·lom · ve·lo · le·ra·ah
la·teit · la·khem · a·cha·rit · ve·tik·vah
"For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD,
plans for blessing and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."
Hebrew Study Card
The heart 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 matter is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3-5). "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). We must begin here, first, always... Chazak chaverim.
[ The following is related to our Torah portion for this week, parashat Mattot... ]
07.15.15 (Tammuz 28, 5774) The Hebrew word translated "tribe" (מַטֶּה) literally means "staff" or stick, which is related to a root that means to "bend" or "incline." For example: "Because he has inclined his ear to me (כִּי־הִטָּה אָזְנוֹ), therefore I will call on Him as long as I live" (Psalm 16:2). A true leader of the people, one who holds the staff of godly authority, turns his attention to the needs of his people; he will "incline his ear" and seek to encourage them to turn their hearts to God, their true King and Shepherd....
Needing a New Heart...
07.14.15 (Tammuz 27, 5775) Yeshua always reveals the inner condition of the heart, despite the rationalizations we may contrive... "You have heard that it was said, "Do no murder," but I say to you, harbor no anger; you have heard "do no adultery," but I say to you harbor no lust..." You have heard it said, "Do not break an oath," but I say to you swear no oath at all, but let your word be enough. Yeshua writes the Torah inwardly to reveal our great need. A person who makes an oath assumes he can keep the law, that he can control the impulses and sickness of his own divided heart. That is the source of the problem... The Lord reveals what we are inside so that we may realize our need for healing from ourselves. What we really need is a miracle on the order of splitting the sea or raising the dead, namely, a new heart (לֵב חָדָשׁ) and a new spirit (רוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה) put within us. For those of you who might struggle with pride, fear, anger, and hardness of heart, please take hold of hope. God can turn "stone to flesh" and make you fully alive by His power.
וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ
וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה אֶתֵּן בְּקִרְבְּכֶם
וַהֲסִרתִי אֶת־לֵב הָאֶבֶן מִבְּשַׂרְכֶם
וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב בָּשָׂר
ve·na·ta·ti · la·khem · lev · cha·dash
ve·ru·ach · cha·da·shah · e·ten · be·kir·be·khem
va·cha·si·ro·ti · et · lev · ha·e·ven · mi·be·sar·khem
ve·na·ta·ti · la·khem · lev · ba·sar
"And I will give you a new heart (לֵב חָדָשׁ),
and a new spirit (רוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה) I will put within you.
And I will remove the heart of stone (לֵב הָאֶבֶן) from your flesh
and give you a heart of flesh (לֵב בָּשָׂר)."
The heart (lev) is the inner person, the seat of the emotions, thought, and will. A new heart (lev chadash) represents the transformation of the whole of your inner nature - with the impartation of new appetites, new passions, new desires, etc. (Psalm 51:10). A new spirit (ruach chadashah) implies the renewal of your inner life – the rebirth of your will. This is the "law of the Spirit" (תוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים) and the new principle of eternal life (Rom. 8:2).
The "stony heart" (lev ha'even) represents unfeeling, self-serving numbness of being. This heart is the locus of yetzer hara, the inner selfish impulse that is the common heritage of the "natural man." The Targum renders this as, "I will break the heart of the wicked, which is hard as a stone.'' A hard heart has a form of "sclerosis" that makes it closed off and impermeable to love from others, and especially from God. Scripture uses various images to picture this condition, including a "heart of stone" (Ezek. 36:26, Zech. 7:12), an "uncircumcised heart" (Jer. 9:26), a "stiff neck" (Deut. 31:27), and so on. Stubbornness is really a form of idolatry, an exaltation of self-will that refuses to surrender to God.
The heart of flesh (lev basar) represents an inner life of genuine feeling and joy that makes a fit habitation for the radiance of the Divine Presence. After all, the word for "grace" (χάρις) is directly linked to the word for "joy" (χαρά). This heart is soft and tender - a spiritual and sanctified heart - that is submissive to the will of God. It is upon the inner "tablets" of this heart that the Torah of God truly written (Jer. 31:33).
There aren't two gospel messages: one for the sinner and the other for the saint... The message of the gospel is always "good news" to those who are sin-sick and riddled with guilt and shame, and it is always "bad news" for those who deny their inner condition before God and believe that they can justify themselves. In other words, there's no "gospel" message apart from the message of the cross of Yeshua, and the cross represents the end of the ego and its devices. We don't get saved in order to follow the path of self-righteousness; we get saved to be witnesses of God's righteousness... We love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
May it please God to give us all soft hearts and renewed spirits that are empowered to love in the truth and to walk before His Presence... May He perform a divine "heart transplant" so that we may feel the heartbeat of the Spirit within us. Amen.
07.14.15 (Tammuz 27, 5775) "Judge others as you would want to be judged." As Yeshua said, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge be'tzekdek (בְּצֶדֶק),' that is, with merciful judgment (John 7:24). Truth is classically understood as "correspondence with reality," however since reality is not static, the truth of something is bound up with its past, present, and future. To "walk in truth," then, means being mindful of the complexities of something, and consequently refusing to rush to judgment or to be prejudiced in our thinking... Since truth includes possibilities for the future, it uses the good eye and "hopes all things" (1 Cor. 13:7). Notice that the word tzedek (צֶדֶק) includes the decision to act in "charity" and love. We are commanded to give tzedakah (צְדָקָה, "charity") not only because it is "right," but because it expresses God's love and care for others. A judgment is righteous, in other words, because it decisively affirms faith in God's love...
"Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind... Pride always means enmity - it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good - above all, better than someone else - I think we may be sure we are being acted upon, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is either that you forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether. "- C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity)
Prophecy of Healing...
07.14.15 (Tammuz 27, 5775) Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad: "Listen, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is one." Instead of thinking of the Shema (שְׁמַע) as a commandment to be externally obeyed, you can trust it as a prophecy about your inner life: "You shall love (וְאָהַבְתָּ) the LORD your God with all your heart (בּכָל־לְבָבְךָ), and with all your soul (וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ), and with all your might" (Deut. 6:5). Only God can quicken a dead heart, after all, and fill the soul with holy affections; only the LORD can impart to us strength needed to take hold of promises as He writes His Torah upon our heart. As it is written, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever" (Rom. 11:36).
וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ
ve·a·hav·ta · et · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · be·khol · le·vav·kha
u·ve·khol · naf·she·kha · u·ve·khol · me·o·de·kha
"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your might"
Hebrew Study Card
God will take away your stony heart and give you a new heart, along with a new spirit to be willing to know His love, as it is written, "I will give you a new heart (lev chadash), and a new spirit (ruach chadashah) I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezek. 36:26). Your new heart will be like Yeshua's own: open, accessible, flexible, trusting, sharing, emotionally alive, able to feel, pulsating with God's energy and power...
The great promise is this: "you shall love," since love is what is most true about who you are... You shall love the LORD, since He is the Source and End of all real love. You will love the LORD more and more, as you grow ever closer to Him and one day will behold Him panim-el-panim, "face to face." You shall love the LORD with all your heart, which implies God has indeed given you a new heart to love Him with; and with all your soul, which implies that you are enabled to truly feel, and that your heart is made tender and sensitized; and with all your might - that is, with all your "muchness," your "substance," or that reality that makes you who you really are in the LORD... May the LORD fulfill this prophecy in you, friend.
Guarding Your Heart...
07.13.15 (Tammuz 26, 5775) In our Torah for this week (Mattot) we are told to keep our word and not to break our promises (Num. 30:1-2). Yeshua went well beyond these basic requirements, however, and warned us that whatever is spoken in this life is "echoed" throughout eternity and will be reheard upon the day of judgment. He taught: "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless (ἀργὸν) word they utter, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). We are especially warned against making false promises or promises we might break: "Do not make an oath at all ... but let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil" (Matt. 5:34-37). Therefore the Holy Spirit says through David: "What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit" (Psalm 34:12-13).
מִי־הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים
אהֵב יָמִים לִרְאוֹת טוֹב
נְצר לְשׁוֹנְךָ מֵרָע וּשְׂפָתֶיךָ מִדַּבֵּר מִרְמָה
mi · ha·ish · he·cha·fetz · chai·yim
o·hev · ya·mim · lir·ot · tov
ne·tzor · le·shon·kha · me·ra · us·fa·te·kha · mi·da·ber · mir·mah
"What man is there who desires life
and loves many days, that he may see good?
Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit"
Hebrew Study Card
The words we say, whether good or bad, call for a response in the realm of spirit. This is hinted at by the Hebrew word for "thing," i.e., devar (דָּבָר), which also means "word." Listen to the words of your heart, your murmuring thoughts, and understand that they are devarim (דְּבָרִים) "things," that are shaping and defining the course of your life right now. Therefore we read, "more than all else, guard your heart, because from it are the bounds of your life (תּוֹצְאוֹת חַיִּים). Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you" (Prov. 4:23-24). Our thoughts and words are ultimately "prayers" we are constantly offering; indeed, how you are thinking determines the "habitation" of your life.
Our words define reality - not in an absolute sense, of course - but in terms of our perspective and attitude, and for that we are held responsible before the LORD. In other words, we are "epistemologically" responsible for what we think. And since our words express our thoughts, Yeshua wants us to make up our minds: "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit."
Yeshua spoke of "good and evil treasures of the heart" that produce actions formed in our words (Luke 6:45). The focus here is not so much on the externals (for example, the use of profanity), but rather on the underlying condition of the human heart. Our inward motive determines our thinking, which in turn affects the way we act and use words. We must be on guard to keep away from lashon hara (evil speech) by focusing on what is worthy, lovely, and of good report (Phil. 4:8). Amen: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer" (Psalm 19:14).
For more on this topic, see "The Sanctity of our Words: Further thoughts on Mattot."
Words and Peace...
07.13.15 (Tammuz 26, 5775) According to the sages, tzara'at (i.e., "spiritual disease") is punishment for evil talk, or "lashon hara" (לָשׁוֹן הָרָה). Using deceitful speech is spiritually dangerous, and therefore a key virtue of the healthy soul is the practice of shemirat ha-lashon (שְׁמִירַת הַלָּשׁוֹן), or the "guarding of the tongue." As the Spirit attests: "Come, children, listen to me: I will teach you the awe of the LORD (יִרְאַת יְהוָה): What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:11-14). This implies that our inner peace is connected with our intention and use of words: Consciously refraining from evil speech expresses reverence and wonder before the Divine Presence, whereas the contrary indicates spiritual dis-ease, a divided heart, and inner grief: "From the same mouth come blessing and cursing; brothers, these things ought not to be so" (James 3:10). We are healed by turning to God in the truth. The one who respects the LORD will "see good," that is, he will see the goodness of his surroundings in the light of God's Presence. Seeing the good in others, using a good eye (ayin tovah), is therefore the contrary of lashon hara and slander. Our words should be used to upbuild, edify, and esteem others, never to accuse or tear them down. May God help us speak so that we "give grace to those who hear" (Eph. 4:29).
Note: The prohibition against lashon hara does not imply that we are excused from making righteous judgments (John 7:24). Sometimes it is the mark of a coward to refrain from speaking the truth. As Albert Einstein once said, "The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing." We must "speak the truth in love," even if that means sometimes offending those who wish to excuse or overlook evil behavior. For more, see "Shemirat Ha'Lashon: Guarding your tongue."
Wholeness and Words...
[ Our Torah this week (Mattot) discusses various laws regarding vows and oaths... ]
07.13.15 (Tammuz 26, 5775) "If a man vows a vow (i.e., neder: נֶדֶר) to the LORD, or swears an oath (i.e., shevuah: שְׁבוּעָה) to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth" (Num. 30:2). The Hebrew expression "break his word" literally means "profane his word" (יַחֵל דְּבָרוֹ), that is, to defile the soul by causing it to be inwardly divided, irresolute, and cowardly. After all, breaking your word means violating the integrity of who you are, showing that what you say and what you do are not unified, and this leads to feelings of shame. Your words confess your reality and bring it to life... If you cannot keep your word, your word becomes profane, empty, lost -- you become a "stranger to yourself," unsure of what you intend. "Let your "yes" be yes and your "no" be no; learn to say what you mean and mean what you say.
"I accept upon myself - without a vow - not to excuse any of my actions with a falsehood. Even if this resolution will cause me great shame, I will will accept that shame and will admit to the truth." - Ahavat Meshorim
Note: A "vow" (neder) is a promise to do something (or to refrain from doing something), whereas an "oath" ( sheva') is a sworn testimony that something is true (or false). See the summary page for Parashat Mattot for more information.
Mourning for Zion...
07.12.15 (Tammuz 25, 5775) We are in the midst of a three week period of mourning that culminates on Tishah B'Av (תשעה באב). During this three week period, the scheduled readings from the prophets are all "Haftarahs of Rebuke" (תוֹכֵחָה) that warn of imminent judgment from heaven, and therefore the theme of most Jewish religious services is teshuvah (repentance). Among the Orthodox, the last nine days of the three weeks are the most solemn. Beginning on the first day of the month of Av, traditional mourning customs are practiced in anticipation of the somber fast day of the Ninth of Av, when the Book of Lamentations (Megillat Eichah) is dolefully recited during the evening service..
The Three Weeks of Sorrow (culminating in Tishah B'Av) undoubtedly marks the saddest and most solemn time of Jewish year, with great emphasis placed on the need for repentance and heartfelt cries for the salvation of the Jewish people. It is a time for us to remember Israel all the more in our prayers and ask for God's revelation of the Messiah.
Parashiyot Mattot-Masei (מטות־מסעי)
07.12.15 (Tammuz 24, 5775) We have a "double portion" of Torah for this week, friends, as we conclude Sefer Bamidbar, or "the Book of Numbers." Our first Torah portion, parashat Mattot (מַטּוֹת, "tribes") begins with the LORD giving laws regarding the making of vows (nedarim). After this, the Israelites were commanded to wage war against the Midianites for seducing the people to sin at the incident of "Baal Peor." During the ensuing battle, the wicked sorcerer Balaam was killed, as well as five tribal kings of the land of Midian. Our second Torah portion, parashat Masei (מַסְעֵי, "journeys") provides the boundaries of the land of Canaan that were to be initially occupied by the Israelites. Note that these borders are not the same as those described earlier to Abraham (see Gen. 15:18-21), since that area will be given to Israel only after our Messiah returns to establish Zion during the Millennial Kingdom (see Ezek. 47:15-48:35). During that coming time, Jerusalem (i.e., Zion) will be the center of the earth and renamed as "Adonai Shammah" (יְהוָה שָׁמָּה), "the LORD is there." Note that since the Book of Deuteronomy is "mishneh Torah" (מִשְׁנֶה תוֹרָה) - a sermonizing "retelling of Torah," it may be said that the Torah of Moses ends with these final portions, and by extension, with the ongoing yearning for Zion....
You can download the "Table Talk" for each of these portions here:
Since this week's Torah portions conclude the "Book of Numbers," we traditionally recite three special words of encouragement: Chazak, chazak, ve'nitchazek, meaning "be strong, be strong, and we will get stronger." Shavuah tov, chaverim!
The Beloved of Life...
07.10.15 (Tammuz 22, 5775) The Hebrew word for "life" is chayim (חַיִּים), a plural noun that contains two consecutive letter yods (יי) that picture two "hands held together" (the Hebrew word yad [יָד] means "hand"), or the union of our spirit with God's Spirit. The word itself reveals that there is no life apart from union with God, who extends his hand to you and says, "Live in me" (John 15:4). Yes - live in God, who is your life, your Beloved, your light, your truth, your healing, your beauty, your breath, and your salvation. Yeshua is the Source of all life, and we find nourishment, strength, and fullness of joy as we connect with his life. The Lord is our light and our salvation, the Mediator of divine life (Psalm 27:1; John 1:4). The Voice of the LORD still speaks: "Take heart. It is I; be not afraid."
Note further that the Hebrew word for "beloved" is yedid (יְדִיד), which comes from the word dod (דּוֹד), as used in the verse ani le'dodi ve'dodi li (אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי), "I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me" (Song 6:3). The name "David" (דָוִד) also comes from this root. It is interesting to see that the word yedid is similarly formed by combining or joining the Hebrew word for "hand" (i.e., yad: יָד) together (i.e., יָד+יָד), which pictures two lovers walking together and holding hands. Your life with God is bound up in knowing him as your Beloved one, and understanding that you are His beloved...
"Where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there I AM in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). The Divine Life is such that it is never diminished as it shared but instead grows and multiplies in miraculous ways. This is alluded to by the Hebrew word for love (i.e., ahavah: אהבה), the gematria of which is thirteen (1+5+2+5=13), but when shared with another it is multiplied: 13 x 2 = 26 - the same value for the Sacred Name (יהוה), i.e., (10+5+6+5=26). The love of God given in Yeshua our Lord is the very heart and life of reality for us, dear friends...
Personal Note: Please remember this ministry in your prayers, friends: I have been in the refining fires lately, and it's been hard on many levels. Thank you, and SHABBAT SHALOM!
Our Daily Deliverance...
07.10.15 (Tammuz 22, 5775) Just as we ask God for daily bread (לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ), so we ask him for our daily deliverance: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one" (Matt 6:13). Note that the term translated "evil" in many translations ("deliver us from evil") is a substantive rather than an adjective: τοῦ πονηροῦ, the evil one... "Give us this day our daily deliverance from the evil one...." Our daily bread and our daily deliverance are connected with our decision to "choose life" (בַּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים) -- and to always choose life -- even in moments we find difficult, distressing, and even when we might wish that we were no longer living... Choosing life means refusing to escape reality by evading the significance of our choices; it means finding the will to regard life as worthy; it implies that we will eat our bread in trust that the Lord is at work even in the darkest of hours (Passover occurred at midnight)... Choosing life means refusing to eat the fruit of death and to seek Yeshua, the Tree of Life. We live one day at a time; we only have today. We are given daily bread for this hour of our need. Today is the day of your deliverance - if you are willing to walk in it. Therefore, the Spirit of the Living God cries out, "Choose life and live!"
"Do not be grieved [even over yourself], for the joy of the LORD (חֶדְוַת יְהוָה) is your strength" (Neh. 8:10). Gratefully affirming the love, faithfulness, compassion, and salvation of God is a powerful way to defeat the enemy of our souls, who regularly entices us to despair and fear. King David regularly asked God to help him in his spiritual struggles. "Though I walk in the midst of trouble (בְּקֶרֶב צָרָה), you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me" (Psalm 138:7). "For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me (תִּתְעַטֵּף עָלַי רוּחִי); my heart within me is appalled" (Psalm 143:2-3). Despite whatever struggle we may face, "the LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). Indeed, the Lord God is far greater than your heart's sin and will one day entirely deliver you of its effect, presence, and influence... Amen.
בְּהִתְעַטֵּף עָלַי רוּחִי
וְאַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ נְתִיבָתִי
be·hit·a·teif · a·lai · ru·chi,
ve·at·ta · ya·da·ta · ne·ti·va·ti
"When my spirit faints within me,
you know my way"
The Breath of Life...
07.09.15 (Tammuz 21, 5775) A verse from this week's Torah (i.e., parashat Pinchas) reveals another great Name of God: Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), which can be translated "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 27:16). This Name reveals that the LORD 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). The sages use the analogy of a glassblower who creates a glass vessel. Just as the glassblower blows into a tube to form a vessel from molten glass, so the "breath" (i.e., neshamah: נְשָׁמָה) that comes from the LORD functions as spirit (i.e., ruach: רוּחַ) that forms and fills the human soul (i.e., nefesh: נֶפֶשׁ). Note especially that the Name YHVH (יהוה) first appears in this connection (Gen. 2:7), a Name that also means "God is Present" (Exod. 3:14) and "God is Mercy" (Exod. 34:6-7). Note also that each letter of the Name YHVH represents a vowel sound (i.e., breath), suggesting 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. Truly in God we "live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).
The Breath of God...
07.09.15 (Tammuz 21, 5775) After accepting that he would soon die and therefore be unable to finally lead the people into the promised land, Moses prayed: "Let the LORD (יהוה), "the God of the spirits of all flesh" (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd." So the LORD said to Moses, "Take Joshua the son of Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן, lit. "son of life"), a man in whom is the Spirit (רוּח), and lay your hand on him" (Num. 27:16-18).
The Talmud notes that the word Nun (נוּן) means "fish," a symbol of activity and life. Joshua, the chosen one who succeeded Moses and led the people into the Promised Land, was the "Son of Life" - a clear picture of Yeshua our Messiah, the "spirit-filled good Shepherd" who would lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). The LORD is indeed the "God of the breath of all flesh." When Yeshua cried out, "It is finished" and breathed his last breath as He died for our sins upon the cross, the greatest exhalation of the Spirit occurred, the greatest sigh, the greatest utterance was ever declared. The sacrificial death of Yeshua for our deliverance was God's final word of love breathed out to those who are trusting in Him.
07.09.15 (Tammuz 21, 5775) From our Torah this week we read Moses' appeal for his successor: "Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh (אלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd" (Num. 27:16-17). The Koznitzer rebbe commented here that Moses asked God to appoint a leader "for all flesh," lekhol basar (לְכָל־בָּשָׂר). Rearranging the letters of basar (בָּשָׂר), he formed the word shavar (שָׁבָר), which means "to break in pieces," and concluded that a true leader should be one with a broken heart (לב שבור), that is, one who can sympathize and have pity on his people (Heb. 2:8; 4:15; 5:1-ff). He should not be proud or aristocratic, but like a shepherd, a plain and simple person, who guides his people to observe the ways of the LORD.
The Courage of Pinchas...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas... ]
07.09.15 (Tammuz 21, 5775) Pinchas is sometimes (unjustly) regarded as a "fanatic" who took the law into his own hands, but it must be remembered that he acted in the midst of a terrible crisis – a mutiny of Israel's leaders who had abandoned God's authority – and he acted courageously, in accordance with God's will, and for the welfare of his people (see Num. 25:1-8). Superficially Pinchas' zeal may appear "dangerous" to those without moral conviction, and his action may seem outrageous to those who are faithless, but God rewarded him with a covenant of peace (בְּרִיתִי שָׁלוֹם) and a covenant of eternal priesthood (בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם) for his courage (see Num. 25:10-13). Understood in context, Pinchas' actions were justified, and it would be a mistake to confuse his conviction with angry and unthinking "fanaticism." Indeed, the real danger of fanaticism in our world may be found in political movements led by those who lust after worldly power. In fact, political demagogues, in the name of their godless philosophies of communism, socialism, and fascism, have murdered more people in the last 100 years than all the religious conflicts in the history of the world combined... Tragically, the 20th century was the bloodiest in human history, with over 260 million people murdered by political movements that suppressed the truth of Scripture and that regarded human beings as mere "animals" to be exploited. Contrary to the zeal of the fascists of today's world, the zeal of Pinchas was of an entirely different order. Where is says, Pinchas "was jealous with my jealousy among them" (Num. 25:11) the S'fat Emet noted that he instilled "among them," that is, the people, a sense of God's passion and truth, and for this he was commended by heaven...
Feeding God's Heart...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas... ]
07.09.15 (Tammuz 21, 5775) As I've discussed elsewhere on the site, the climax of the revelation of the Torah at Sinai was not the giving of the Ten Commandments to Israel but was instead the vision of the Altar of the sanctuary... However -- as our Torah portion this week makes clear -- the central sacrifice upon this altar was the daily sacrifice (i.e., korban tamid: קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד) of a defect-free male lamb with unleavened bread and wine. The LORD calls this "my offering" (קָרְבָּנִי) and "my bread" (לַחְמִי) [Num. 28:1-8]. In other words, the service and ministry of the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle) constantly foretold the coming of the great Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) who would be offered upon the altar of the cross to secure our eternal redemption (John 1:29; Heb. 9:11-12).
The sacrifice of the lamb represents "God's food," a pleasing aroma (רֵיחַ נִיחוֹחַ), for it most satisfied the hunger of God's heart (Eph. 5:2). Indeed, Yeshua's offering upon the cross represents God's hunger for our atonement, our healing from the sickness of death, since it restored what was lost to Him through sin, namely, communion with his children. God could never be satisfied until He was able to let truth and love meet (Psalm 85:10).
Note: For more on this subject, see "The Hunger of God's Heart."
The Torah of Life...
07.08.15 (Tammuz 20, 5775) It is always good to review the message of the gospel of Messiah (בְּשׂוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ). The way of the carnal ego and its religion is to attempt to reform (or rationalize) its nature, to appear to follow the law, to create "good karma," to beautify itself, and so on, whereas God's way is not to make us stronger and stronger, but rather to crucify the old nature and impart newness of life... Messiah "in me" abolishes the law (understood here as the principle of self-justification), condemns sin in the flesh (by dying on the cross), and kills the spiritual power of death itself (by means of the resurrection)... Like all sacrifices brought to the altar, we must pass through death to life by means of our union with the Messiah at the cross. It is only after the cross that it may be said, "It is no longer 'I' who lives; now it is Messiah who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). But note that the Torah of the New Testament (תורת הברית החדשה) is spoken to the new nature given to us by God, and not to the old nature that is to be reckoned as crucified and done away. By faith we receive "lev chadash ve'ruach chadashah" (לֵב חָדָשׁ וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה) - a new heart and spirit - that empowers us to live the truth of what God has done for us in our beloved Savior. You are a new creation; therefore be who you are in the Messiah!
The Torah says: "Look, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse" (Deut. 11:26). The Hebrew grammar of this verse begins with the imperative singular "you look!" (רְאֵה) but shifts to the plural, "before you" (לִפְנֵיכֶם), which suggests that though the Word is freely given to everyone "who has ears to hear," it's our personal responsibility to "choose life" and wrestle its message out in our lives... In other words, God offers his blessing to all, but it must be personally received to be your own. "According to your faith, let it be for you" (Matt. 9:29). Yeshua died for your sins so that you can receive everlasting spiritual life, but that blessing has no effect unless and until you open your heart. What does it mean to say that Yeshua is "in you" except to say he lives within the heart of faith? "As long as Messiah remains outside of us we are separated from him."
Hold Fast to Truth...
07.08.15 (Tammuz 20, 5775) One of the main strategies of the devil is to induce a sense of forgetfulness, apathy, and hopelessness... The devil wants you to ignore what is real and who you really are. The truth is your weapon against the cascade of lies that pours forth from the world and its princes. The entire venture of teshuvah (repentance) presupposes that you are created "in the image of God," that you are related to him, and therefore you have infinite value and dignity. This is all the more evident in light of the awesome ransom that Yeshua gave to reconcile your soul with God. Therefore hold fast to the truth, friends; da lifnei mi attah omed - "know before Whom you stand." Turn to what is real, refuse the lies and despair of this world, and review what will abide the test of Eternity.
כִּי־חַסְדְּךָ לְנֶגֶד עֵינָי
ki · chas·de·kha · le·ne·ged · ei·nai
ve·hit·hal·lakh·ti · ba·a·mi·te·kha
"For your steadfast love is before my eyes
and I walk in your truth."
Note that the verb "I walk" (הִתְהַלַּכְתִּי) is "hithpael," a verb pattern used to express reflexive, intensive action done to oneself. Therefore we could translate this as "I earnestly choose to walk" in the truth, indicating decisiveness of intent, focus, purpose... As King Shlomo said: בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ - "know Him in all your ways" (Prov. 3:6).
Pinchas and Isaac...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
07.07.15 (Tammuz 19, 5775) The name "Phinehas" (i.e., Pinchas: פִּינְחָס) shares the same numeric value (gematria) as the name "Isaac" (i.e., Yitzchak: יִצְחָק), which suggests that just as Isaac was willing to be sacrificed in obedience to God (i.e., during the Akedah at Moriah), so Pinchas was willing to die for his zeal. Note further that Pinchas' passion turned away the wrath of God and established a covenant of an "eternal priesthood" (כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם), a phrase that shares the letter value as the word be'acharit (בְּאַחֲרִית), a term that means at the "end of days" (Gen. 49:1; 1 John 2:18). To string this together, we see a connection between Isaac and Pinchas, both of whom picture Yeshua our Messiah. Isaac is a picture of the Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים), of course, and Pinchas pictures the zeal that grafts the heart into the everlasting priesthood of God. The Hebrew gematria affirms that the priesthood of Yeshua that brings everlasting peace is the "end of days" priesthood for humanity, and there is no other. Just as Pinchas was "grafted in" to the priesthood of Israel, so those who belong to Messiah are "grafted in" priests for the end of days...
כִּי־קִנְאַת בֵּיתְךָ אֲכָלָתְנִי
וְחֶרְפּוֹת חוֹרְפֶיךָ נָפְלוּ עָלָי
ki · ki·nat · be·te·kha ·a·cha·la·tni
ve·cher·pot · cho·re·fe·kha · na·fe·lu · a·lai
"For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.
So pray with the wholehearted conviction that God has called you to intercede on behalf of the world... Your prayers in the Name above all Names move heaven and earth!
True and False Zeal...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
07.07.15 (Tammuz 19, 5775) You may be entirely sincere in your convictions, but you may be sincerely wrong... In the time of the Second Temple, for instance, the Zealots despised the rule of Rome. Their political hatred caused them to blindly regard anyone who didn't share their passion as a personal enemy. In one of the great tragedies of Jewish history, these zealots actually killed more Jews than did the Romans themselves! And how many Christians these days "kill" relationships with other believers because of their particular zeal regarding some doctrinal question? I am not suggesting that doctrine is unimportant, of course, but before you pick up that sword to do the business of Pinchas, you might do well to consider your heart's attitude...
We need to be careful with our passions. There is a "false zeal" that leads to estrangement and confusion. Withholding love from others is ultimately grounded in an appeal to God as the administrator of Justice. It is an appeal to God as Elohim (אֱלהִים), not as YHVH (יהוה), the Compassionate Source of Life. If we insist on our rights, we appeal to principles of justice, i.e., to God as the Lawgiver. But if we intend to have God be the Judge of others, we must appeal to Him to be our own Judge as well. If we have an unforgiving spirit toward others, we will not be forgiven (Matt. 6:15); if we are judgmental toward them, we ourselves will be put on trial; if we are cruel and ungiving toward them, we will experience life as hellish, miserable and mean. This reciprocal principle of Kingdom life appears throughout Jesus' teaching. According to your faith, be it done unto you (Matt. 9:29).
Note: For more on this important topic, see "Parashat Pinchas: God's Greater Zeal."
Near the Brokenhearted...
07.06.15 (Tammuz 18, 5775) Spirituality often enough involves a sense of irremediable brokenness, a feeling that you are not whole, that you are a mess, and that your need for God's healing is constant and relentless... Contrary to the ideals of proud humanism, spirituality is a state of "blessed neediness," of being "poor in spirit," that aches with inner desperation for God's power of healing. Those who humbly cry out to the LORD understand their great need for deliverance. Our Lord Yeshua testified: "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10), and therefore He is found in the midst of the leper colonies of the hurting, the forgotten, and the rejected. As the "Man of Sorrows" (i.e., ish makhovot: אִישׁ מַכְאבוֹת) he understands the language of our pain (Isa. 53:3).
קָרוֹב יְהוָה לְנִשְׁבְּרֵי־לֵב
ka·rov · Adonai · le·nish·be·rei · lev
ve·et · dak·ei · ru·ach · yo·shi·a
"The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit"
Hebrew Study Card
The question may be asked, how can we live with our brokenness? Yeshua asks us not to see it as a curse from God that reminds us of our wretched condition but to yield it to Him for our sanctification and ultimate healing... In this way, brokenness can be a gateway to a deeper walk with God, going "through the wound" to find life and blessing...
Keep on Trusting...
07.06.15 (Tammuz 18, 5775) When Yeshua said, "Let not your heart be troubled... I go to prepare a place for you," he was assuring his friends that he had matters well under his control, and therefore they did not need to worry, since his passion rendered their salvation completely secure... The future is a "prepared place" for you, even if life in this world is often marked by testing and various refining fires. God has not promised to rescue us according to our own schedule, however, so if it appears that your prayers are not immediately answered, keep waiting in faith: "Rejoice, even if you have been grieved by various trials, because the tested genuineness of your faith -- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire -- may result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Pet. 1:6-7). God works "all things together for good," and since the exercise of faith is your good, he engineers all things to build your faith. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD" (Isa. 55:8).
Recall the words: "Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God" (Isa. 50:10). Trusting in God (i.e., bittachon - בִּטָּחוֹן) doesn't mean that we are obligated to say this is "the best of all possible worlds," though it does mean we believe that eventually God will wipe away every tear and make all things right... Bittachon is a word for this world, which says, "Though he slay me, I will trust in him..." Those who call upon the LORD can trust not only in concealed good behind ambiguous appearances ("all things work together for good") but also in a future, real, substantive good that will one day be clearly manifest for us all... We fight the "good fight" of faith, which is a worthy struggle that eventually is realized for blessing. Meanwhile, may the LORD our God keep us from such depth of sorrow that leads to sickness, darkness and despair.
The very last promise of Scripture is "I come quickly" (אֲנִי בָא מַהֵר) and the last prayer is, "Amen, come, Lord Yeshua" (אָמֵן בּאָה־נָּא הָאָדוֹן יֵשׁוּעַ) [Rev. 22:20]. Meanwhile we "inwardly groan" for the fulfillment of our redemption; since presently we are suspended between worlds, walking in hope yet subject to the vanities that befall all flesh. And though God may tarry, He declares, "I am the LORD; in its time I will hasten it" (Isa. 60:22). So we are made captives to hope, clinging to the promise of our ultimate healing and redemption. Our hearts therefore affirm that God is faithful "to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 1:24). Amen. God will help us before He will help us, and may He come speedily, and in our day....
Parashat Pinchas - פינחס
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
07.05.15 (Tammuz 17, 5775) Last week's Torah portion (i.e., parashat Balak) introduced us to Phinehas (i.e., Pinchas), the son of Eleazar the priest (and grandson of Aaron), who, during the rebellion at Baal Peor, zealously removed evil from Israel by driving a spear through a tribal prince who was brazenly cavorting with a Midianite princess in definace of God's law. On account of Pinchas' zeal for the Torah, God stopped the plague and Israel was delivered from destruction...
This week's Torah portion begins with the LORD rewarding Pinchas by granting him a "covenant of peace" (בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם) and officially promising to incorporate him into the priestly line of Israel. This promise was remarkable because Pinchas was technically not qualified to be a priest, since he was already born when the original promise was given to Aaron and his sons, and since his father Eleazar was married to an "outsider" – namely, the daughter of Jethro (also called Putiel, Exod. 6:25).
After Pinchas was honored before the people of Israel, the LORD commanded Moses and Eleazar to conduct another census of the people (this was 39 years after the Exodus from Egypt), with the result of 601,730 men between the ages of twenty and sixty (1,820 less that the original census taken at the start of the journey). Moses was then instructed on how the land was to be divided by lottery among the tribes and families of Israel. The daughters of Zelophehad then petitioned Moses that they be granted the portion of the land belonging to their father, who died without sons, and God accepted their claim and incorporated it into the laws of inheritance.
The LORD then commanded Moses to climb mount Abarim to "see the land which I have given to the children of Israel," though he was forbidden to enter it because he struck the rock twice at Kadesh. God then told Moses to appoint Joshua bin Nun as his successor who would lead the Jewish people into the Promised Land.
Parashat Pinchas (like parashat Emor in Leviticus) also includes mention of all of the (sacrifices of the) mo'edim (holidays) given to Israel (Num. 28). These include the daily (tamid), weekly (Shabbat), monthly (Rosh Chodesh) sacrifices, as well as the sacrifices assigned to the special holidays: Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hoshannah (Terumah), Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret. Remembering the joys of the Temple and the special celebrations of the Jewish people are thought to add a contrast to the otherwise somber time of reflection during the Three Weeks of Sorrow.
The Three Weeks of Sorrow...
07.05.15 (Tammuz 17, 5775) According to Jewish tradition Moses shattered the tablets on the 17th day of the 4th month, after he came down from Mount Sinai and found the people worshipping the golden calf. Today, this tragic date is commemorated as a fast day (i.e., the "Fast of Tammuz"), which marks the beginning of a three week period of mourning that culminates on the 9th of Av, the date the Israelites were sent into exile from the promised land because they believed the evil report of the spies (Num. 14:20-35).
During this three week period of national mourning, the weekly readings from the prophets are all "Haftarahs of Rebuke" that warn the people about imminent judgment from heaven, and therefore the theme of most Jewish religious services is teshuvah (repentance). In addition, weddings or other joyous events are usually not held during this time of year. Indeed, among the very Orthodox, the last nine days of the three weeks are the most rigorous and solemn. Beginning on the first day of the month of Av, traditional mourning customs are practiced in anticipation of the most solemn fast day of Tishah B'Av, when the Book of Lamentations (Megillat Eichah) is plaintively recited during the evening service.
Dates During the Three Weeks of Sorrow:
This year the fast of Tammuz began at dawn on Tuesday, July 5th and lasted until sunset (Tishah B'Av begins Saturday, July 25th and ends Sunday, July 26th at sunset).
Relying on God Alone...
07.03.15 (Tammuz 16, 5775) "We we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself, yes, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead" (2 Cor 1:8-9). This marks the end of carnal hope, when we realize we are but "dead men walking," and from this extremity of inner desperation and clarity we learn to rely solely on God for what we need. Here we abandon ourselves to God's care, despite the despair, darkness, and fear. We rely on "God who raises the dead," because all other remedies have been vanquished. It is a great gift to be so afflicted, for these "troubles of love" teach us to trust God alone for all we need. The only way out is through. We don't seek an easy way of life, but only that the LORD our God be with us throughout our troubles.
Shabbat shalom dear friends. Thank you for standing with this ministry...
Affliction and Comfort...
07.02.15 (Tammuz 15, 5775) Some of us carry a deep and stubborn inner pain that refuses to leave us, even after we have poured out our hearts before heaven for deliverance... Perhaps this pain comes from wounds inflicted early in life that have left us feeling betrayed, victimized, and wary of the promise love. God knows our struggle... We can find healing when we learn to "own" the pain and make it part of our story, trusting that God will use it to draw us close to him for our good. After all, God is called "the Father of Mercies and God of all comfort" (אַב הָרַחֲמִים וֵאלהֵי כָּל־נֶחָמָה), and the Lord "comforts us" (lit., "calls us to His side," παρακαλέω) in our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are afflicted with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Take comfort, then, that your Heavenly Father sees when the sparrow falls; he arrays the flower in its hidden valley; he calls each star by name. More importantly, the Lord sees you and understands your struggle. He will never leave you nor forsake you...
הָרפֵא לִשְׁבוּרֵי לֵב וּמְחַבֵּשׁ לְעַצְּבוֹתָם
מוֹנֶה מִסְפָּר לַכּוֹכָבִים לְכֻלָּם שֵׁמוֹת יִקְרָא
ha-ro·fei · lish·vu·rei ·lev · u'me·cha·besh · le'atz·tze·vo·tam
mo·neh · mis·par · la·ko·kha·vim · le·khu·lam · she·mot · yik·ra
"He is the healer of the brokenhearted and the One who binds up their sorrows.
He counts the number of the stars, to all of them He assigns names."
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Brokenness distills the intentions of the heart by helping us to be more honest with ourselves. We begin to realize that we are more vulnerable than at first we thought; that our faith is not as strong as we imagined, and that our motives are often mixed and unconscious. Illusions are striped away; idols crumble; deeper levels of selfishness are uncovered; the gap between our words and our deeds is exposed... It is one thing, after all, to intellectually think about faith or to idealize spirituality, but it is quite another to walk out faith in darkness. Yet it is only there, in the rawness of heart, that we discover what we really believe and hxow our faith makes traction with reality...
Presence in Prayer...
07.01.15 (Tammuz 14, 5775) We often need to pray before we can pray... "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). The sages say that when you so pray, your focus should be so concentrated that you are ready to die during the prayer. Regard yourself as a living sacrifice (korban chai) and offer your blood, your body, your soul, your will upon the altar before God (Rom. 12:1). Say, "Lord, I offer myself to Thee, to do with me as Thou will. Relieve me of the bondage of myself, that I might do Thy will..." Ask for the Holy Spirit to breath out the words of God's heart; cleave to God as if you had ascended before the Throne of Grace. "O LORD, open Thou my lips and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise."
אֲדנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶךָ
Adonai · se·fa·tai · tif·tach · u·fi · yag·gid · te·hil·la·te·kha
"O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise"
Yeshua taught us to abstain from using "vain repetitions" in our prayers, since our Heavenly Father knows what we need before we ask Him (Matt. 6:7-8). Don't worry about the verbiage of your prayers, then, since the Holy Spirit will groan on your behalf (Rom. 8:26). Ultimately prayer is a kind of teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה), a word often translated as "repentance," though it's more accurately understood as turning (shuv) to God in response to His call. "When you pray, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words be without heart" (John Bunyan). The point, of course, is that we come to God to do real business with Him, not to play games or to offer "lip service." Are we really "showing up" when we pray?
Awake, O my soul...
07.01.15 (Tammuz 14, 5775) We are living in perilous times, and for all the more reason we must "pay more careful attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away" (Heb. 2:1). Spiritually speaking, the greater danger is often not some spectacular sin but rather the imperceptible drifting away of the heart, a cooling of passion, a failure to tend the fire of our inner altar.... I would much prefer a heaven-sent affliction and chastisement than to fade away in deathly repose, a state of unconscious exile... "Awake, my glory! Awake!" (עוּרָה כְבוֹדִי עוּרָה). Break the spell of lethal habit.
We must be anchored to the truth lest we become shipwrecked in our faith. Drifting is often imperceptible, and occurs slowly, though the end result is as deadly as openly turning away from God in outright apostasy. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, "The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts." The grave danger today is to quietly and invisibly give up hope, to unconsciously "go with the flow," to become comfortably numb, to fall asleep, and therefore to die inside... It is far more dangerous to ignore God's mercy, or to make a pretense of knowing God's grace, than it is to blatantly break his law. Therefore the urgent need is to remember, to hear, and to awaken the soul to face the truth about reality. We must focus the heart, concentrate the will, and consciously "set" the Lord always before us (Psalm 16:8). Each day we must awaken from our emptiness to reaffirm the central truth: "Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:4-5). "Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light" (Eph. 5:14).
We must press on to secure our high calling in Messiah: "Let us know; let us press on to know (i.e., נִרְדְּפָה, "pursue after") the LORD; His going out is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth" (Hos. 6:3). May God help us pursue him be'khol levavkha - with all our heart - because He has promised, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13).
He is Faithful and True...
[ In our Torah portion this week (Balak), we read how Balaam intended to curse the Israelites, but God "took hold of his tongue" and made him bless the people instead... ]
07.01.15 (Tammuz 14, 5775) It is encouraging to understand that despite the repeated failures of the Israelites in the desert, the LORD never let go of his people... Indeed, as the story of Balaam reveals, if a spiritual enemy would secretly arise to curse Israel, God would take the sorcerer "by the tongue" to evoke God's blessing instead (Deut. 23:4-5). As Balaam himself attested: "there is no sorcery (i.e., nachash: נַחַשׁ) against Jacob, no divination (i.e, kesem: קֶסֶם) against Israel" (Num. 23:23). Unlike scheming Balaam, who was willing to say whatever people wanted to gain temporal reward, God is "not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind" (Num. 23:19). What the LORD has promised he will invincibly perform: His word is full of integrity and truth: "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8). The God of Israel is forever faithful in his love, and no one can overrule his desire (Num. 23:20; Rom. 11:29).
Blessing of Inner Peace...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Balak.... ]
07.01.15 (Tammuz 14, 5775) It is remarkable that the traditional morning blessing recited at synagogues around the world begins with words attributed to Balaam, the enigmatic and self-styled prophet: Mah Tovu: "How lovely are your tents, O Jacob; your dwelling places, O Israel!" (Num. 24:5). The sages say that the word "tent" (אהֶל) refers to the inner life – how we really feel inside – whereas the word "dwelling" (מִשְׁכָּן) refers to the outer life - our place or circumstances. Together, the inner and the outer mark the quality of our lives, but the inner is the starting point, since we must first learn to live in peace with ourselves. This is vital: we must first tolerate our shortcomings and practice compassion toward our frail humanity... This is sometimes called shalom ba'bayit, "peace in the home" (of the self). Such inner peace is the greatest of blessings, since without it we will cling to pain, fear, and anger, thereby making us unable to find our place at the table in God's kingdom of love.
מַה־טּבוּ אהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקב
mah · to·vu · o·ha·le·kha · Ya·a·kov
mish·ke·no·te·kha · Yis·ra·el
"How lovely are your tents, O Jacob,
your dwellings, O Israel"
Note: For more on this, see the Mah Tovu Blessing pages.