Jewish Holiday Calendar
Note: For November 2015 site updates, please scroll past this entry....
The Jewish civil year begins in the fall, though the Biblical year begins in spring (Exod. 12:2). Preparations for the fall holidays begin with a thirty day period of teshuvah (repentance) during the (late summer) month of Elul. The following ten days begin with the Feast of Trumpets (i.e., Rosh Hashanah, on Tishri 1) and end with the Day of Atonement (i.e., Yom Kippur, on Tishri 10). These first ten days of the new year are called the "Ten Days of Awe" (i.e., aseret ye'mei teshuvah: עֲשֶׁרֶת יְמֵי תְּשׁוּבָה), or simply the Jewish "High Holidays." Just five days after the solemn time of Yom Kippur begins the joyous week-long festival of Sukkot ("Tabernacles"), which is immediately followed by the celebration of Simchat Torah.
The Fall Holidays:
The fall festivals prophetically indicate the Day of the LORD, the second coming of Yeshua, the great national turning of the Jewish people, and the establishment of the reign of the Messiah upon the earth during the Millennial Kingdom in the world to come.
Note that in accordance with tradition, holiday dates begin at sundown. Moreover, some holidays may be postponed one day if they happen to fall on the weekly Sabbath:
Month of Tishri (Sun. Sept. 13th [eve] - Mon. Oct. 12th [day])
Month of Cheshvan (Mon. Oct. 12th [eve] - Wed. Nov. 11th [day])
Month of Kislev (Wed. Nov. 11th [eve] - Fri. Dec. 11th [day])
- Month of Elul (Fri. Aug. 14th [eve] - Sun. Sept. 13th [day])
Month of Tevet (Fri., Dec. 11th [eve] - Sun. Jan. 10th [day])
- Four Sabbaths: Toldot, Vayetzei, Vayishlach, Vayeshev
- Dates for Chanukah 2015 (5776):
- 1st Chanukah candle - Sun. Dec. 6th [Kislev 25]
- 2nd Chanukah candle - Mon. Dec. 7th
- 3rd Chanukah candle: Tues. Dec. 8th
- 4th Chanukah candle: Wed. Dec. 9th
- 5th Chanukah candle: Thur. Dec. 10th
- 6th Chanukah candle: Fri. Dec. 11th (Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Chanukah)
Note: Many Jewish calendars will list the first day of a holiday without indicating that the holiday actually begins sundown the night before... So, for example, while Chanukah begins Sunday, Dec. 6th at sundown, many calendars may indicate that it occurs on Monday, December 7th...
November 2015 Updates
The Depth of Hebron...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Parashat Vayeshev... ]
11.30.15 (Kislev 18, 5776) As a child, Joseph was adorned with a "coat of many colors" (כְּתנֶת פַּסִּים) and lived in the glory of his father's house as the favored son. He was an innocent dreamer who was given visions of greatness by God Himself. Despite being despised and rejected by his brothers, however, his father commissioned him "from the depth of Hebron" (מֵעֵמֶק חֶבְרוֹן) to look into their welfare (Gen. 37:14). Notice that the word Hebron (חֶבְרוֹן) comes from a root that means "union" or "fellowship," suggesting that Jacob sent out his beloved son "from the depth their fellowship" to search for his missing children.... Similarly, Yeshua existed in glory with His Father yet chose to divest himself of his splendor to reach out to his brothers. His incarnation was an infinite descent from the "depth of Hebron" (i.e., communion with the Father) into the realm of "no reputation" (i.e., kenosis, "emptying") in search of his brothers' love (Phil. 2:6-7; Luke 19:10).
Parashat Vayeshev - וישב
11.29.15 (Kislev 17, 5776) In our Torah portion for this week (i.e., parashat Vayeshev), we read how Joseph's jealous brothers stripped him of his "coat of many colors" and threw him into a pit -- a providential event that eventually led to the deliverance of the Jewish people by the hand of a "disguised savior." Indeed, the life of Israel's chosen son Joseph foreshadowed the two advents of Yeshua our Messiah: first as Israel's Suffering Servant, and second as the national deliverer of the Jewish people during tribulation...
For more information, please read the Torah summary page for Vayeshev and its related articles. You can also download the Shabbat "Table Talk" for the portion here:
The Torah of Wrestling...
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Vayishlach... ]
11.27.15 (Kislev 15, 5776) "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'" (Matt. 7:21-23). Despite the practice and profession of their faith, these people were strangers to God... They had a false sense of assurance, believing that they were "serving God" while they really were not... So the essential question here is whether Yeshua truly knows you. You may know a lot about God, religion, spirituality, and yet you may remain unknown by him... Where do you find life? What are you loving? Where are you going?
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21). Yet what is the will of the Father but to trust in Messiah for life (John 6:40)? "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" Yeshua answers: "This is the work of God, that you believe in the One whom he has sent" (John 6:28-29). The Torah of God centers on trusting the Messiah (Titus 3:5-7).
On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not ... do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I say to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness' (Matt. 7:22-23). From this we see that good works - even those done in the name of Messiah - are insufficient for life, and that something more is needed... That "something more" is the reality of relationship with him. However, even Yeshua's sacrifice on the cross can't bring you into relationship with him apart from receiving it for your healing... By faith you encounter Yeshua clothed in your flesh, your sin, and suffering death for you. "As long as Christ remains outside of us we are separated from him."
Some people feel frightened when they consider all this, but fear arises only if we miss Yeshua's point... Good works can't save you, even those performed in the Savior's name. What saves you is trusting in God's great love for your life: "This is the work of God, to trust in the One whom God has sent [for you]" (John 6:28-29). Genuine salvation is "of the LORD" (יְשׁוּעָתָה לַיהוָה); that is, comes from his loving intervention on your behalf (Titus 3:5-7; Eph. 2:8-10). This is the will of the Father, the true Torah of the LORD, namely, to honor the Messiah and know him by faith... You trust him for eternal life, you believe that he bears your sins, you seek to know his heart, and you desire to share your life with him. It is lawlessness to reject the Torah of the LORD that commands us to follow Messiah and know him in all our ways - including the ways of our struggles, our fears, and so on... Each of us must wrestle alone, in the dark places of fear, to find our new name from God (Gen. 32:24). Is the blessing for you or not? The essential thing is to know (and more importantly) to be known by Yeshua.... It is a matter of trust, of sharing your heart, being real with him, walking with him, loving him... "This is the work of God, to trust in the One whom God has sent [for you]." Trusting God means accepting that you are loved (and safe) because of who God is.
The gospel is "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16). It is a miracle of being in a right relationship with God. We are pursued by his love, and he haunts us until we surrender to his will... Like Jonah we first must be "swallowed up" in consciousness of our own rebellion before we realize we are undone, that we are without remedy apart from God's intervention and deliverance. We start there - in the "belly of the fish" - and later are resurrected to go forth by God's mercy and grace. As we look to Yeshua, as we lean on him, he reveals more of himself to us. He gives us the grace and strength we need; he is always enough...
Whether Yeshua is living in you (and you are living in Him) is the most important question of your life upon which everything else turns. The great mystery is "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). As Ravenhill once said, "I don't ask people if they're saved anymore; I look them straight in the eye and say, "Does Christ live inside you?" Indeed, He is present right now -- for you -- in this very moment... Are you connected with Him in the truth? Are you drawing life from His life? Do you really live in Yeshua? "God is making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Messiah, be reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20).
Each of us must wrestle alone, in the dark places of fear, to receive our new name from God (see Gen. 32:24). Again I ask: Is the blessing for you or not? Are you willing to be loved and accepted by him? What is your name? What do you call yourself? You cannot know God apart from his love, yet for some people that is exactly where the struggle lies... Look within your heart; test yourself; do you believe God cares for you? Take hold of the promise and do not let go until you know who you are in his love. "To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it" (Rev. 2:17).
Repeat these affirmations of faith:
The blessing is there for you, though you might need to wrestle in faith to fully take hold of your identity in Messiah. May God help you answer to the new name he calls out to you...
בָּרוּךְ הוּא הָאֱלהִים אֲבִי אֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ
אֲשֶׁר בֵּרַךְ אתָנוּ מִשְּׁמֵי מְעוֹנוֹ
בְּכָל־בִּרְכַּת הָרוּחַ בַּמָּשִׁיחַ
ba·rukh · hu · ha·e·lo·him · av·i · a·do·nei·nu · Yeshua · ha·ma·shi·ach
a·sher · be·rakh · o·ta·nu · mi·she·mei · me·o·no
be·khol · bir·kat · ha·ru·ach · ba·ma·shi·ach
"Blessed be Adonai, Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah,
who has blessed us in heavenly places
with every spiritual blessing in the Messiah." (Eph. 1:3)
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Fighting for Yourself...
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Vayishlach... ]
11.27.15 (Kislev 15, 5776) In our Torah portion for this week (i.e., parashat Vayishlach), we read how Jacob wrestled with a mysterious "Man" until the break of dawn, but refused to let go until he had secured God's blessing (Gen. 32:24-26). This climactic moment marked a "rebirth" experience for Jacob as signified by his new name "Israel" (יִשְׂרָאֵל), meaning "one who has striven (שָׂרָה) with God (אֱלהִים) and prevailed" (Gen. 32:28). It is fascinating to notice that Jacob was not renamed "God-fearer," or "God-lover," or even "Man of faith," but rather "God-wrestler" – one who struggles with God until the blessing comes... As Yeshua said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" – that is, for those who struggle and search for truth – "for they shall be filled" (Matt. 5:6). The blessing comes with a wound, however: The limp that Jacob acquired constantly reminded him of his ongoing need for God's help as he walked through this life. "The one who falls on this Stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on anyone, it will crush him" (Matt. 21:44).
"If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?" (Avot 1:14). So how are you struggling? How does that feed your hunger for God? The characteristically Jewish approach to life is to struggle, to fight, and to ask hard questions until we find out who we really are and what we call ourselves... We can change what has happened in our past by changing what is happening in our present: "For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel: dirshuni vichyu (דִּרְשׁוּנִי וִחְיוּ) - "Seek me and live" (Amos 5:4).
Thanksgiving to God...
11.27.15 (Kislev 15, 5776) "We give thanks to You, O God; we give thanks, for Your Name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds" (Psalm 75:1). Amen, we give thanks to God because He has graciously given us salvation (יְשׁוּעָה) through His Son Yeshua: for His Name is near. Note that the Hebrew adverb "near" (i.e., karov: קָרְבָּן) means "close enough to touch," and indeed the noun form means "a near kinsman" (i.e., kinsman redeemer). Yeshua is God made Near, the One who clothes Himself in the frailty of our humanity to become our "close relative."Because of Yeshua, God Himself has become our "close relative." Confession (i.e., todah: תּוֹדָה) and trust (i.e., emunah: אֱמוּנָה) are central here. As it is written: "The word is very near you [כִּי־קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאד] - as close as your mouth and your heart (Deut. 30:14). You must "confess with your mouth" and believe "in your heart" that God loves you with an everlasting love. The miracle comes to the heart that will receive the blessing. Whoever calls upon the Name of the LORD will not be disappointed (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:9-13; Psalms 86:5; Rev. 3:20).
הוֹדִינוּ לְּךָ אֱלהִים הוֹדִינוּ וְקָרוֹב שְׁמֶךָ
ho·di·nu · le·kha · E·lo·him · ho·di·nu · ve·ka·rov · she·me·kha,
sip·pe·ru · ni·fle·o·te·kha
"We give thanks to You, O God; we give thanks, for Your Name is near.
We recount your wondrous deeds" (Psalm 75:1)
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The Ladder of Truth...
11.26.15 (Kislev 14, 5776) The Hebrew idea of "truth" (i.e., emet: אֱמֶת) is richer than factual description or "correspondence" between language and reality, since it contains moral implications and possibilities: what is true is also right, good, reliable (honest), beautiful, and sacred. The Hebrew word comes from a verb (aman) that means to "confirm" or establish, and the noun form (i.e, emunah: אֱמוּנָה, "faithfulness" or "trustworthiness") expresses the will to live by what is ratified, the "amen" of decision. The Hebrew concept is therefore existential: truth that is not lived is not really truth. Speaking the truth (dibbur emet) and abhoring dishonesty are considered foundational to moral life, as it says: "Speak the truth (דַּבְּרוּ אֱמֶת) to one another; render true and perfect justice in your gates" (Zech. 8:16). Yeshua said, "Amen, amen I say to you...." throughout his ministry to stress the reliability and certainty of God's truth (Matt. 5:18, 26, etc.). Indeed, Yeshua is called "the Amen, the faithful and true witness" (Rev. 3:14).
The ancient Greek word translated "truth" is aletheia (ἀλήθεια), a compound formed from an alpha prefix (α-) meaning "not," and lethei (λήθη), meaning "forgetfulness." Greek scholars say the word lethei itself derives from the verb lanthano (λανθάνω), which means "to be hidden," so the general idea is that a-letheia (i.e., truth) is non-concealment, non-hiddenness, or (put positively) revelation or disclosure. Thus the word of Yeshua - His message, logos (λόγος), revelation, and presence - is both "unforgettable" and "irrepressible." Yeshua is the Unforgettable One that is manifest as the express Word of God (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים). He is the Light of the world (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם) who imparts the "light of life" (John 8:12). Though God's message can be supressed by evil and darkened thinking, the truth is regarded as self-evident and full of intuitive validation (see Rom. 1:18-21).
Note that the LXX (i.e., the ancient Greek translation of the Torah and OT otherwise known as the Septuagint) dates from the time of the philosopher Plato, though of course the Hebrew text dates back to the time of Moses (13th century BC) and even earlier. About 300 BC, "Theophrastus," a student of Aristotle, wrote of the Jews that 'being philosophers by race, they converse with each other about the Divine." Abraham, who dates from about 2,000 BC, was the first avowed monotheist who openly repudiated the polytheism and idolatry of ancient Ugaritic culture (Abraham long predates the rise of Hinduism and the animistic hymns of the Vedas and their priestly commentary found in the Upanishads by a thousand years, just as ancient Judaism predates "Islam" by thousands of years). Similarly, both David and his son Solomon (10th century BC) wrote "existential" works of philosophy, predating the modern world by nearly 3,000 years...
Thanksgiving and Sukkot...
11.25.15 (Kislev 13, 5776) The American holiday of Thanksgiving (חַג הַהוֹדָיָה) undoubtedly has its roots in the Jewish tradition of giving thanks to God, and some historians believe that the early "pilgrims" actually derived the idea for the holiday from the Biblical festival of Sukkot (i.e., "the feast of Tabernacles"). Before fleeing to the "New World," the pilgrims lived for a decade among the Sephardic Jews in Holland, since Holland was considered a safe haven from religious persecution at the time. Since the pilgrims were devout Calvinists and Puritans, their religious idealism led them to regard themselves as "new Israel," and it is likely that they learned that Sukkot commemorated the people of Israel's deliverance from their religious persecution in ancient Egypt at that time. After they emigrated to the "Promised Land" of America, it is not surprising that these pilgrims may have chosen the festival of Sukkot as the paradigm for their own celebration. As the Torah commands: "Celebrate the feast so that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God" (Lev. 23:39-43). The highly devout pilgrims regarded their perilous journey to the new world as a type of "Exodus event" and therefore sought the appropriate Biblical holiday to commemorate their safe arrival in a land full of new promise...
It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for "turkey" is tarnegol hodu (תַּרְנְגוֹל הוֹדו), literally, "Indian chicken," which is often shortened to hodu (הוֹדוּ). It is a happy coincidence that we customarily eat turkey on Thanksgiving, and this reminds us of the "thanks" connection: "Give thanks (hodu) to the Lord for he is good" (הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי־טוֹב), for His steadfast love endures forever."
הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי־טוֹב
כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ
ho·du la·Adonai ki tov
ki le·o·lam chas·do
"Give thanks to the LORD for He is good;
for His steadfast love endures forever."
Hebrew Study Card
Note: For more on this subject, see "Thanksgiving and Sukkot."
Made Small by Love...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, parashat Vayishlach... ]
11.25.15 (Kislev 13, 5776) Regarding Jacob's statement to the LORD, "I am not worthy of the least of all your mercies" (Gen. 32:11), we note that the Hebrew text literally reads: "I have been 'made small' by all your kindnesses" (קָטנְתִּי מִכּל הַחֲסָדִים), which suggests that when we begin to recognize the daily kindnesses bestowed upon us, we will more thankful for our everyday existence (הַכָּרַת טוֹבָה). Awareness of God's ongoing care makes us "small" in humility as we consider the miracles and extraordinary grace found in our daily lives.
Reconciliation and Atonement...
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Vayishlach). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
11.24.15 (Kislev 12, 5776) When he was younger, Jacob was willing to deceive his own father and to "grapple" the advantage from his brother, but now he was a broken man who understood that he was entirely unworthy to receive God's blessing: "I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love (chesed) and all the faithfulness (emet) that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps" (Gen. 32:10). In Torah scrolls, the Hebrew word katonti (קָטנְתִּי), translated as "I am unworthy," is written with a diminished Tet (ט) to indicate the humility of Jacob. Jacob no longer felt "entitled" to receive God's favor, though he was conscious of it nonetheless. He was now addressing his prayer to the LORD (יהוה) rather than to God (אֱלהִים), indicating that he first sought the compassion of God instead of God's justice....
Note: For more on this subject, see the article "Reconciliation and Atonement."
Light in our Darkness...
11.24.15 (Kislev 12, 5776) From our Torah portion this week (Vayishlach) we read: "And Jacob called the name of the place "the Face of God" (i.e., Peniel: פְּנִיאֵל) saying, "For I have seen God face to face (פּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), and yet my life has been delivered" (Gen. 32:30). And where did Jacob see God "face to face" except in the struggle of faith, while seeking the blessing, even in the midst of his own inner conflict? And here too may we find the Shining Presence, the Face of God, even in the midst of our troubled lives, as we struggle, refusing to let go until we are taken hold by God's love...
The "name of the place" (שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם) here refers to the heart, the place of God, the inner sanctuary. Where it says, "let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8), the text literally reads, let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell within them (בְּתוֹכָם), that is, within their hearts. Hamakom is the holy ground of the heart; the Place within where He is known in awe...
Telling God your name...
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Vayishlach... ]
11.23.15 (Kislev 11, 5776) Some people make it the business of theology to know God's Name, but God begins by first asking for our name instead. Recall that Jacob had disguised who he really was in the hope of obtaining the blessing (Gen. 27), though his duplicity forced him into an exile that lasted until he was finally willing to be honest with himself. And like Jacob, each of us must answer God's question: "What is your name?" (Gen. 32:27). When we "wrestle through" this question to face who we really are, we encounter God and find our blessing, that is, our true identity. Each of us has to go through the process of being renamed from "manipulator" (i.e., Yaakov) to "one in whom God rules" (i.e., Israel). But note the order: it is only when we "tell God our name," that is, own who we really are, that He meets with us "face to face" (Gen. 32:30). You will not be able to say, "I will not let you go unless you bless me," until you are willing tell God your name (Gen. 32:26-27).
Let me add that while "telling God your name" can be painful and even frightening, it is not the last word about who you really are. We are faced with an inner dualism as we struggle to take account of our lives. On the one hand, we need to confess the truth of our sinfulness, brokenness, and so on, while on the other we must endure ourselves and find faith that God's blessing nevertheless belongs to us, despite the mess we've made of our lives.... We have to be willing to accept God's new name for us and to believe that God will miraculously transform our inner nature for good. We are renamed from Yaakov to Israel, though we still know ourselves as both. Jacob was renamed "Israel" but afterward he walked with a limp, seeing both the new and the old natures within him. Jacob still struggled, though his struggle was now focused on walking as God's beloved child in this world: the limp was given to help him lean on the Lord for support.
Some people may need help learning to "endure themselves." Many are able, it seems, to receive the hope that they are forgiven for their past sins, but they are subsequently scandalized by encountering their own inner struggles, and they eventually despair over their ongoing weakness... Tragically, some are even tempted to regard the warfare within the heart as a sign of being devoid of all saving grace! We must remember, however, that there is a real struggle between the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit (Gal. 5:17). We must never move away from simple trust in the message of God's unconditional love demonstrated at the cross; we must never seek to legitimize our place in God's heart. When we walk by the Spirit, we are no longer under the law (Gal. 5:18), which is to say, we no longer need to justify ourselves but instead trust in God's power to transform us. Just as we are saved by the love of God, so are we changed, so do we grow.
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Vayishlach... ]
11.22.15 (Kislev 10, 5776) Our Torah portion this week contains the famous account of how Jacob "wrestled" with the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) just before he encountered his estranged brother Esau. During the "grappling" session (recall the meaning of Jacob's name), the Angel injured Jacob's thigh, but Jacob refused to release his hold until he received the blessing (הַבְּרָכָה). The LORD then asked him, "What is your name (מַה־שְּׁמֶךָ)?" And he said, "Jacob" (i.e., Ya'akov: יַעֲקב). The Angel then replied, "Your name shall no longer be Ya'akov ("heel holder" [of Esau]) but Yisrael ("contender with God"), for as a prince (i.e., sar: שַׂר) you have contended (i.e., sarita: שָׂרִיתָ) with God and with men and have prevailed" (Gen. 32:28). Jacob finally prevailed with God when he refused to let his past determine his spiritual status and destiny... This teaches that Jacob finally received the blessing when he refused to let his past determine his spiritual identity and destiny. With God's help he overcome the pain and shame of his past through faith.
Likewise each of us must "go to Peniel" to wrestle with the Angel, just as each of us must be renamed from Ya'akov ("a supplanter") to Israel ("a prince with God"). When the Spirit of Truth asks, "What is your name," may the LORD God grant you the courage to refuse to "let go" until you receive the divine blessing of love and acceptance...
Note: We always read this portion of Scripture a couple weeks before Chanukah when we connect the vision and ministry of Joseph with that of Yeshua, the great Suffering Servant Savior of the world. יֵשׁוּעַ אוֹר הָעוֹלָם
A Holy Desperation...
11.20.15 (Kislev 8, 5776) Do you have the "gift of holy desperation"? That's the special blessing of needing God so viscerally that you otherwise will fall apart or self-destruct apart from His daily intervention in your life... Do you sense your need for deliverance "in the kishkes," that is, in your gut? Do you pray because your very life depends on it? The Torah says that the fire on the altar was to be kept burning at all times (Lev. 6:12-13), which symbolizes esh tamid (אֵשׁ תָּמִיד), or the inner fire of the heart... How blessed it is to be full of the fire of this inner need, this relentless groaning, this constant hunger to be set free: As Job yearned: "All the days of my warfare I hope, until my change will come" (Job 14:14).
What shall we do? In many ways we offend others. We are damaged, wounded, and much within us awaits healing. So we turn to God again and again, up to 70 x 70 times, if necessary, and keep seeking, despite ourselves. We learn to "endure ourselves" and tolerate our own imperfections, forgiving ourselves, for as long as we pretend that we are not subject to the faults common to others, we are liable to be controlled by them.
Shabbat shalom, chaverim... Keep hope alive, for your change will indeed come! Amen.
The Meeting Place of God...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Parashat Vayetzei... ]
11.20.15 (Kislev 8, 5776) In our Torah portion this week (Vayetzei), it is written that Jacob "came to a certain place and stayed there that night" (Gen. 28:11). The Hebrew text, however, indicates that Jacob did not just happen upon a random place, but rather that "he encountered the place" -- vayifga ba'makom (וַיִּפְגַּע בַּמָּקוֹם). Since the Hebrew word makom ("place") comes from a verb that means "to arise" or ascend (i.e., קוּם), the vision of the ladder pictures Yeshua, the one who would "descend" (as the Son of Man) and would "rise" (as the resurrected LORD) to be our Mediator before God. Indeed the Hebrew word for "intercessor" (i.e., mafgia: מַפְגִּיעַ) comes from the same verb (paga') mentioned in our verse (see also Isa. 59:16). Yeshua is our Intercessor who makes "contact" with God on our behalf. Through His sacrifice for our redemption upon the cross (i.e., his greater Akedah), Yeshua created a meeting place (paga') between God and man.
Jacob's profound vision of the ladder pictures the mysterious contact between heaven and earth – the intersection between the natural and supernatural realms, and in that sense it is a metaphor of the incarnation: the Infinite One closed in the finite, made tangible, visible, the "word made flesh." God's word to us must always be so clothed, since it speaks across the chasm to be heard within the bounds of creation, yet it remains mysterious, wonderful, full of hidden and divine glory. In Yeshua, heaven is opened and the angels of God ascend and descend (John 1:51).
Note: For more on this subject, see "Jacob's Dream of Messiah."
Cleaving to God's Love...
11.20.15 (Kislev 8, 5776) The Hebrew word "devakut" (דְּבָקוּת) means "cleaving" and is a word sometimes used to describe communion with God (Deut. 10:20). This word derives from the Hebrew root "davak" (דבק), meaning to "cling" or "stick" (the Modern Hebrew word for glue is "devek" which likewise comes from the same root). Davak is used to describe how a man "cleaves" to his wife so that they become basar echad, or "one flesh" (see Gen. 2:24), and is related to the word for a bodily joint (debek), the bond of our bones to our skin (Job 19:20). The Scriptures declare: yesh ohev davek me'ach – "there is a loving friend (i.e., ohev) who sticks (davek) closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24). His Name is Yeshua, the Holy One of Israel who descended to earth by clothing himself in human flesh so that we could come to know God as our best and closest friend... Yeshua so demonstrated devakut for us that he "cleaved" to the cross to restore our hearts and bring us back to God. Because of His loyal love for us, we can now experience "at-one-ment" and genuine communion with God (see John 17:21-23). Blessed be His Name forever.
אִישׁ רֵעִים לְהִתְרעֵעַ
וְיֵשׁ אהֵב דָּבֵק מֵאָח
ish · re·'im · le·hit·ro·ei·a
ve·yesh · o·hev · da·vek · me·ach
"A man of many companions may come to ruin,
but there is a Friend who sticks closer than a brother"
In Jewish mystical tradition, devakut is considered as the highest step on the spiritual ladder back to God, similar to the ideal "beatific vision" of some Christian traditions. Yeshua, however, emphasized that He alone is the true sullam, or Ladder, to God. Just as Jacob saw a ladder reaching to heaven with the angels of God ascending and descending upon it, so Yeshua is sha'ar hashamayim - the gateway into heaven (Gen. 28:12, John 1:51, 14:6).
The Gateway to Heaven...
11.19.15 (Kislev 7, 5776) When Jacob awoke from his prophetic dream of the ladder, he solemnly exclaimed: "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know" (Gen. 28:16). Here the verbal clause "I did not know" (וְאָנכִי לא יָדָעְתִּי) emphasizes the subject of the verb, and may be understood as: "and I, even I did not know." This may indicate that Jacob was so overwhelmed by the revelation that he had entirely lost sight of himself in the awe of the Divine Presence. He then said: "mah nora ha'makom hazeh!" - how awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God (בֵּית אֱלהִים), the gate of heaven! (Gen. 28:17). Our Lord referred to this vision when he met Nathanael and said: "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man" (John 1:51). Just as Jacob saw the ladder ascending to heaven with the angels of God ascending and descending upon it, so Yeshua said that He was the Ladder to God, sha'ar ha-shamayim (שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם) - the gateway into heaven (John 14:6). Indeed, Yeshua is the true Place or "house of God" and its very cornerstone (Rosh Pinnah, Matt. 21:42). Yeshua is the One who descended so that we might ascend to eternal life (John 11:25; 14:2).
What we really need...
11.18.15 (Kislev 6, 5776) From our Torah we read, "But you shall seek the place (הַמָּקוֹם) that the LORD your God will choose ... there you shall go" (Deut. 12:5). Heaven is abiding in the Presence of God, being with Yeshua our LORD, and ultimately that is all we will ever need... If you love God and God loves you, what need do you have of the world to come, of rewards, accolades, recognition, and so on? The love of God is all you need, and whatever else heaven might mean is surely found in that. If we do not live today - now - are we really living? As it is said, "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand, today - if we hear his voice" (Psalm 95:7).
The Narrow Door...
11.18.15 (Kislev 6, 5776) "Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (Luke 13:24). The narrow door is the way of humility, assuming a low position, crawling, if you will, and making yourself small... The large, wide-open door is designed for the crowd and its idols. Beware of the world that seeks to assimilate the soul: beware of becoming part of the crowd! The individual is lost and overwhelmed in the midst of the crowd and its momentum. The crowd assimilates the soul, laughs at the notion of individual responsibility, and abandons itself to the gravity of purely natural forces... The life of faith, on the other hand, refuses to regard the individual human heart as a triviality, a joke. Faith is an individual struggle, a walk into unknowing; it is the way of the sojourner who feels uneasy in this world of shadows... God is always with us and helps us stay strong and resolute, even as we struggle through the darkness of this age. Press on, chaverim! Do not lose sight of your high calling in Yeshua.
Chosen by the Chosen One...
11.18.15 (Kislev 6, 5776) Everyone wants to feel "chosen," loved, and esteemed, but the truly Chosen One (הנבחר), namely, the One who from the foundation of the world was given as the Promised Seed and Savior of the world - did not seek his own glory, but "disguised" himself as a servant, stooping to wash our feet, to touch our infirmities, and to take upon himself our woundedness and shame. The heart of the truly Chosen One was for us to understand that we are "am segulah" (עַם סְגֻלָּה), a treasured and loved people. And just as true love is not diminished when it is given, so God shares his chosenness with us; he regards each of us as precious and worthy of his redemption.
Being a Jew means that you are "chosen" to take on additional responsibilities to live in holiness for the glory of God and for the welfare of the world. Therefore a Jew takes the role of being a both a mediator (i.e., "priest") and ambassador for God. The performance of various mitzvot are for the greater purpose of tikkun olam, the "repair of the world." After all, Israel was always meant to be a "light to the nations." God's greater plan was for all the families of the earth to come to know Him and give Him glory. "Jewishness" is therefore not an end in itself but rather a means to bring healing truth to the nations... Indeed, the entire redemptive story of the Scriptures is about the cosmic conflict to deliver humanity from the "curse" by means of the "Seed of the woman" who would come. Any talk of genetics, bloodlines, lineage, and so on are a means to this greater redemptive end....
In fact, a chosen person is not selected on the basis of their genetics or lineage, but solely from the personal call and election of God. "For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but "through Isaac shall your offspring be named." This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring" (Rom. 9:6-8). The idea of chosenness therefore is independent of considerations of "flesh" but is directly related to our response to God's promises.... This was true of "Israel at large" in relation to its faithful subset called she'arit Yisrael (i.e., the faithful remnant), just as it is true of those who trust the promise of life in Yeshua the Messiah.
עַם־זוּ יָצַרְתִּי לִי
am · zu · ya·tza·rti · li
te·hil·la·ti · ye·sa·pei·ru
"I have formed this people for Myself;
they shall recount my praise."
In this connection note how the Apostle Peter refers to followers of Yeshua as "a chosen people, priests of the King, a holy nation, a people of God's own possession" (1 Pet. 2:9, cp. Ex. 19:6, Deut. 7:6). This is clearly a reference to both Jews and Gentiles who receive Yeshua as their Savior, since he adds: "Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people" (1 Pet. 2:9-10). The Apostle Paul likewise understands Christians to be "chosen people" (Eph. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13). All true Christians are b'kehunat Mashiach - in the priesthood of Messiah Yeshua and therefore have direct access to God. This priestly lineage began with Malki-Tzedek (Melchizedek), culminated in Yeshua, and is passed directly to the believer by means of his or her justification and identification with the Lord, "who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a 'peculiar people' (i.e., am segulah: עַם סְגֻלָּה), zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14).
The Scandal of God's Love...
11.17.15 (Kislev 5, 5776) In the apostle John's writings, the "world" or kosmos, represents the collective condition of lost humanity that is in direct opposition to God, a defiant social world characterized by spiritual "darkness" that is ruled by the devil (John 3:16-21; 12:31; 16:11). Yeshua spoke of two basic "worlds" - the spiritual world "above" and the earthly world "below." "You are from below (ἐκ τῶν κάτω), I am from above (ἐκ τῶν ἄνω); you are of this world (ἐκ τούτου τοῦ κόσμου), I am not of this world" (John 8:23). It is important to note that for John, these two worlds are presently active and intersecting in daily experience, and therefore salvation and judgment occur in the present - not in some far-off future state (1 John 2:8; John 3:18). The general outworking of human history is essentially a conflict between the Kingdom of God (מַלְכוּת אֱלהִים) and the kingdom of Satan (John 8:34-6) that is being waged by the "children of darkness" and the "children of light" (Eph. 5:8; Col. 1:13, 1 Thess. 5:5, etc.). Politically speaking, Augustine described the conflict as one between the "City of Man" and the "City of God" (Matt. 11:12). Therefore David asked God to protect him from those who are "set on fire, even the sons of men" (Psalm 57:4) and Yeshua referred to the ruler of this world (ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τούτου) who desired to "eat up his flesh" but who ultimately would be cast out (John 12:31; 14:30). The source of strife, murder, and war, is the spirit that enflames fleshly passions (i.e., hedone: ἡδονή) by creating unrest within the soul (James 4:1-3). Those who are regenerated by the grace of God are "transposed" (μεθίστημι) from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light (Col. 1:13). "Everyone who has been fathered by God conquers the world" (1 John 5:4). Because of the love of God (אַהֲבַת אֱלהִים), we overcome the world and its philosophy of death through the victory of the eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) we have in Yeshua our LORD (1 Cor. 15:57).
The realm of the "fallen world" -- understood in terms of the "fellowship" (κοινωνία) of darkness -- is something from which we are delivered and of which we are no longer to be enslaved (Col. 1:13). As Yeshua said, "If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own" (John 15:19). In other words, we are "in" but not "of" this world (John 17:15), and though we physically coexist with others in this time-space, we are no longer citizens of this fallen world and its underlying value system. We are not to love this world, nor the things this world values, since doing so embraces a philosophy of life that is at war with the Father and contrary to the truth of eternity (1 John 2:16; James 4:4). The fallen world values "the flesh" and the "desire of the eyes" that is patterned according to the "arrogance of life." In other words, it is a "beauty pageant" that esteems others based on their accidental qualities instead of their inner and essential qualities. It values others as means to an end rather than as ends in themselves.... The realm of the flesh is the all-too human, the selfish, the natural, the ordinary, and the tit-for-tat, where love and acceptance are extended in conditional terms (Matt. 5:46-47).
We see then the connection between worldliness and idolatry, since idolatry essentially involves trying to find your identity, your worth, your satisfaction, and your ultimate fulfillment in the realm of the transitory and the finite rather than in God.... We are (rightly) warned against the vices of "worldliness" and are admonished to abstain from popular culture and its spurious values, but note well that worldliness extends well beyond all this, since it concerns understanding the identity and nature of the person as a whole. The fruit of worldliness is the result of being rooted in this world rather than in God's kingdom. The various desires of the human heart - even the desire for "normal things" like personal happiness in this world - may be regarded as "worldly" if they are devoid of submission to God and His rule. Conversely, even followers of Yeshua may be "worldly" if they base their identity in what they do rather than who they are in the Messiah...
Many of us are still not fully awake to the reality and truth of our salvation, which is the love and acceptance of God given to us in Yeshua. Our everyday assumptions about life often reveal that we are steeped in the world system and its values more than the truth of God. We seek to be praised and validated; we compete for worldly "success," we wither when we are criticized, we fume when we are rejected, and therefore we are anxious because we accept how the world defines us, labels us, and judges who we are... The apostle Paul reminds us, however, that seeking to "find ourselves" in the terms and categories of this world is a tragic spiritual misstep. By means of the salvation of Messiah, we are "crucified" to the world, and that means (negatively stated) we are made "dead" to its allure and its conditional "love," and (positively stated) that we are made alive to the Reality of beauty, truth, wonder, grace, and God's unconditional love. Paul distills this conflict in religious terms, by considering the temptation to "do religion" in the attempt to "justify" our existence (Gal. 6:12-13). To those who preached adherence to the "law" as the way of life, Paul forcefully countered: "God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our LORD Yeshua the Messiah, through whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world; for neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a being new creation" (Gal. 6:14-15). We "died to the law" to live in union with another, namely our Moshia, our Savior Yeshua, who gives us his righteousness in exchange for our sin (Rom. 7:1-6; Gal. 2:19; 2 Cor. 5:21). "We do not nullify the grace of God (οὐκ ἀθετῶ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ), for if righteousness were found through the law, then our Messiah died for no purpose" (Gal. 2:21).
We must look solely to the "serpent lifted up" as God's remedy for our "sickness unto death" (Num. 20:11; John 3:14). Trusting Yeshua scandalizes the religious mind because it concedes that we are "dead" to the law and its righteousness, that we are entirely bereft of good works or any merit that might commend ourselves before God, and therefore we solely rely on God's instrument of healing grace given to us by means of the cross, that is, the very passion that Yeshua suffered for us. The cross of Messiah condemns all that the world esteems -- including religion and its rationalizations -- because it is the gateway that leads to eternal life. Indeed Paul regarded his heritage as a Jew, a rabbi, and an esteemed Pharisee as meaningless in comparison to this central and all-pervasive truth (Phil. 3:2-8). The cross of Messiah frees us from sin and makes us right with God: "by Yeshua everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the Law of Moses" (Acts 13:38). The cross enables us to walk in newness of life, delivered from the sentence of death given through the just verdict of the law. The "scandal of the cross" is therefore the antipathy between human pride and the confession of the truth of our lethal condition, and yet access to its power comes at the price of radical humility, the confession of our need, the admission of our own undoing, and our profound hunger to be delivered from the curse. "For the so-called 'foolishness of God' is wiser than merely human wisdom, and the so-called 'weakness of God' is stronger than mere human strength" (1 Cor. 1:25).
Healing of the Heart...
11.16.15 (Kislev 4, 5776) If you've lived for awhile in this fallen world, it is likely you've been wounded and know the bitter taste of disappointment. Many of us have been abused, lied to, mistreated, and so radically damaged that we have become distant, unwilling to open our hearts, fearful that our trust might be shattered again... So how long does it take for you to "come down" from your anger? Do you hold on to the hurt to "enforce" emotional barriers around your heart? Do you harbor "hard feelings" that drive others away? Do you justify living in a self-imposed prison, your very own place of exile? Do you find it difficult to trust? Are you quick to take offence? Are you free to let down your guard with others and let them know who you really are inside? Unless we can find healing for our shame and woundedness, there is a very real risk of becoming hardhearted (קְשֵׁי־לֵב), numb, unfeeling, and incapable of receiving or giving love... The miracle comes when we are willing to be "childlike" once again by awakening to God's love for us. We learn the heart of the Father; we regain our identity as his accepted child. When we come to understand God as our Father, we can trust him to heal our broken hearts and bind up our wounds:
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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Tragically, fear interferes with our ability to let go and surrender to God's love. When we are afraid of losing control, failing, being criticized or rejected, we are living in a state of fear; we are in a state of "offence." Put the other way around, when we want control, when we seek success at all costs, when we crave approval from others, or if we "need" to always be right, perfect, "religious," etc., then we are living in fear. Such fear creates compulsions, addictions, unthinking habits, and an abiding sense of shame....
Do not be robbed of the joy of the Spirit. The message of the cross is that your heart is desired by God. The Scriptures teach, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love" (1 John 4:18). Indeed, the LORD imparts a spirit of power, love, and a "safe mind" to us (2 Tim. 1:7). Do you feel safe with God? empowered? truly loved? These are marks of the Spirit of God -- not a sense of being rejected by Him. May the miracle come forth as you open your heart to his unfailing love; Amen...
A Deeper Awakening...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Vayetzei... ]
11.16.15 (Kislev 4, 5776) From our Torah portion this week we read: "Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place (אָכֵן יֵשׁ יְהוָה בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה), yet I did not know it" (Gen. 28:16). This event marked a deeper awakening for Jacob as he discovered God's Presence even in his sleep, even while in exile, and even in his ignorance... "How awesome is this place" (מַה־נּוֹרָא הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה), meaning "the place" of revelation. Henceforth Jacob began to understand that the whole world is filled with God's glory (Isa. 6:3), and that Torah is centered on knowing Him in all our ways (Prov. 3:6).
וְהוּא יְיַשֵּׁר ארְחתֶיךָ
be·khol · de·ra·khe·kha · da·ei·hu
ve·hu · ye·ya·sher · or·cho·te·kha
"In all your ways know Him
and he will make upright your paths."
Jacob had been asleep but was suddenly jarred awake. He found himself in awe, sensing the presence of the gateway to heaven. The sages note the grammar here is emphatic, suggesting that Jacob said: "Surely the LORD is in this place -- but am I (וְאָנכִי)? I do not know! (לא יָדָעְתִּי). Jacob had awakened from his dream to realize that he had been dreaming his life away, living in a fantasy world. God is present in this place – but am I? Have I awakened to be present before God?
All religious reality begins with what biblical religion calls the 'fear of God.' It comes when our existence between birth and death becomes incomprehensible and uncanny, when all security is shattered through the mystery. This is not the relative mystery of that which is inaccessible only to the present state of human knowledge and is hence in principle discoverable. It is the essential mystery, the inscrutableness of which belongs to its very nature... Through this dark gate (which is only a gate and not, as some theologians believe, a dwelling) the believing man steps forth into the everyday which is henceforth hallowed as the place in which he has to live with the mystery. He steps forth directed and assigned to the concrete, contextual situations of his existence. That he henceforth accepts the situation as given him by the Giver is what Biblical religion calls the 'fear of God.' - Martin Buber, Eclipse of God
When God said, "Let there be light, and there was light" (Gen. 1:3), He seemed to put on light as a robe of the Divine Majesty and Kingship: He wrapped Himself with radiance as a tallit gadol... Da lifnei mi attah omed (דַּע לִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עוֹמֵד) – "Know before whom you stand." The whole earth is lit up with God's glory, and every bush of the field is aflame before us -- if we have eyes to see (Isa. 6:3). May it please the LORD to open our spiritual eyes so that we can behold more of His glory and majesty in this hour... Amen.
Personal Update: Please remember me (John) in your prayers, friends... I am beset with various challenges and difficulties and covet your prayers for God's help and blessing. Thank you so much, chaverim.
Parashat Vayetzei - וַיֵּצֵא
11.15.15 (Kislev 3, 5776) Our Torah portion for this week (Vayetzei) includes Jacob's famous dream of a ladder (סֻלָּם) extending from earth to heaven, with the angels of God ascending and descending, and the LORD Himself standing above assuring Jacob of his safe return to the land he had fled. Jacob awoke and responded to the dream with awe: "Surely the LORD is in this place (בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה), and I did not know it." And he was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." And he called the name of that place Bethel (בֵּית־אֵל) i.e., "the house of God."
The sages explain that ha-makom (הַמָּקוֹם), literally "the place" that Jacob saw, was actually Mount Moriah, the location where Jacob's father Isaac was bound as the "sacrificed seed" and which later became the site of the Holy Temple. The word makom comes from a verb (קוּם) meaning "to arise," suggesting resurrection and ascension. In later Rabbinical thought Ha-Makom became synonymous with the name of God Himself ("God is the place of the world, but the world is not God's only place").
Yeshua referred to Jacob's dream when he said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man" (John 1:51). Just as Jacob saw the ladder ascending to heaven with the angels of God ascending and descending upon it, so Yeshua told Nathanael that He was the Ladder to God, the sha'ar ha-shamayim (שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם) - the way into heaven (John 14:6). Indeed, Yeshua is the true Place or "house of God" and its Chief Cornerstone (Rosh Pinnah, Matt. 21:42). The LORD is the resurrection and life, the One who prepares a place for you (John 11:25; 14:2).
Secret of the Most High...
11.13.15 (Kislev 1, 5776) One of the great Hebrew names of God is El Elyon (אֵל עֶלְיוֹן), often translated as God "Most High." Notice that the name "Elyon" (עֶלְיוֹן) comes from a root word (עָלָה) that means "to ascend." For instance, an "olah offering" (עלָה) is a whole burnt offering that ascends upward to heaven, and "aliyah" (עֲלִיָּה) means "going up" to the land of Israel. The word "Elyon," then, expresses the truth that the LORD is the Ascended One who overcame all the powers of hell and utterly vanquished death's power. In other words, Elyon is a name for the LORD our God Yeshua. It is written: "He who abides in the secret of the Most High will dwell in the shadow of the Almighty" (Psalm 91:1). The one who "abides" in the secret of the Most High dwells in an ascended place of rest – being lifted up above the surrounding madness of this fallen world of flux and shadows. The Hebrew word is related to the word to lodge or "sleep" (לִין), connecting it with death and resurrection. By dwelling in the death and resurrection of Yeshua, God will shield you with His Presence and make evil powerless before you... When you "abide" in the secret of Elyon - the Ascended One - you are concealed by the dark clouds of His Glory, and the Presence of Shaddai (שַׁדַּי), the Sustaining One, will overshadow you... The LORD will save you from the ensnaring trap and from the devastating pestilence (Psalm 91:3).
ישֵׁב בְּסֵתֶר עֶלְיוֹן
בְּצֵל שַׁדַּי יִתְלוֹנָן
אמַר לַיהוָה מַחְסִי וּמְצוּדָתִי
yo·shev · be·se·ter · El·yon
be·tzel · Shad·dai · yit·lo·nan
o·mar · ladonai · mach·si · u·me·tzu·da·ti
E·lo·hai · ev·tach · bo
"He who dwells in the secret of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust."
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Since God is hidden from the proud, we must humble ourselves to ascend before His Presence (James 4:10). The LORD is Elyon – High above - but He dwells "with the lowly and the broken of heart" (Isa. 57:15). Therefore the LORD our God is called Shaddai (שַׁדַּי) – our Sustainer, Provider, Refuge, Fortress, our Home. Just as we can be surrounded by the "shadow of death" (tzal mavet), so we can be surrounded by the "shadow of Shaddai" (tzal Shaddai). Like an eagle brooding over her chicks, so Shaddai covers you with wings of protection (Psalm 91:4). "Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place -- the Most High, who is my refuge -- no evil shall befall you, no plague come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways" (Psalm 91:9-11).
Note: I want to express my heartfelt thanks to the LORD God of Israel, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, for all my friends and supporters over the years. This ministry simply could not exist without your kindness and help. Thank you. And may the blessing and the radiance of the LORD shine brightly within your hearts, chaverim. Shabbat Shalom and chodesh tov...
His Surpassing Glory...
11.13.15 (Kislev 1, 5776) "I AM the LORD. There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior (אֵל־צַדִּיק וּמוֹשִׁיעַ); there is none besides me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I alone am God, and there is no other (כִּי אֲנִי־אֵל וְאֵין עוֹד). By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: 'To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance" (Isa. 45:21-23). Who is as great as our LORD Yeshua, the King of king of kings (מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים) and the only true Savior of the world (מוֹשִׁיעַ הָעוֹלָם)? Who else died on the cross for our sins to redeem us from destruction and everlasting despair? Who else "loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood" (Rev. 1:5)? There is salvation in no other Name (Acts 4:12) and "of Him all the prophets bear witness that He alone is our Redeemer" (Acts 10:43; Acts 26:22; John 5:46; 8:56; Luke 24:27). His is the Name above all other Names -- far above all other so-called gods and idols of this world (Phil. 2:9-11). Only Yeshua has the power to deliver us from the sickness of "spiritual death," for without Him we are not truly alive (1 John 5:12).
אֲנִי יְהוָה וְאֵין־עוֹד אֱלהִים מִבַּלְעָדַי
אֵל־צַדִּיק וּמוֹשִׁיעַ אַיִן זוּלָתִי
פְּנוּ־אֵלַי וְהִוָּשְׁעוּ כָּל־אַפְסֵי־אָרֶץ
כִּי אֲנִי־אֵל וְאֵין עוֹד
בִּי נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי יָצָא מִפִּי צְדָקָה
דָּבָר וְלא יָשׁוּב כִּי־לִי תִּכְרַע כָּל־בֶּרֶךְ
a·ni · Adonai · ve·ein · od · Elohim · mi·bal·a·dai
el · tzad·dik · u·mo·shi·a · a·yin · zu·la·ti
pe·nu · e·lai · ve·hi·va·she·u · kol · af·sei · a·retz
ki · a·ni · El · ve·ein · od
bi · nish·ba·ti · ya·tza · mi·pi · tze·da·kah
da·var · ve·lo · ya·shuv · ki · li · tikh·ra · kol · be·rekh
ti·sha·va · kol · la·shon
"I AM the LORD. There is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me.
Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!
For I AM God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return: 'To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance."
Of Yeshua it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God" (Rom. 14:11); "therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on him the Name that is above every name, so that at the name of Yeshua every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Yeshua the Messiah is LORD (יהוה), to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:9-11). "Yeshua is far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come" (Eph. 1:21).
כּה־אָמַר יְהוָה מֶלֶךְ־יִשְׂרָאֵל
וְגאֲלוֹ יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת
אֲנִי רִאשׁוֹן ואֲנִי אַחֲרוֹן
וּמִבַּלְעָדַי אֵין אֱלהִים
koh · a·mar · Adonai · me·lekh · Yis·ra·el
ve·go·a·lo · Adonai · Tze·va·ot
a·ni · ri·shon · va·a·ni · ach·a·ron
u·mi·bal·dai · ein · E·lo·him
"Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel
and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts:
"I AM the first and I AM the last;
beside me there is no god."
The passage continues: "Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen" (Isa. 44:7). It is instructive to compare this passage from the Book of Isaiah with John's vision given at the island of Patmos recorded in the Book of Revelation: "When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last (אֲנִי רִאשׁוֹן ואֲנִי אַחֲרוֹן) and the Living One. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and Hell" (Rev. 1:17-18).
Kaddish and Providence...
11.13.15 (Kislev 1, 5776) Since we trust that "all things work together for good" (Rom. 8:28), we bless God for perceived evil as well as for perceived good, since all circumstances of life come from the hand of the LORD our God. We believe in an all-powerful, supreme LORD who has not abandoned the world, but who actively sustains and upholds it with benevolent intent. When bad things happen to the righteous, we trust in God's personal care for their ultimate good, despite their present troubles. "Though he slay me, I will trust in Him" (Job 13:15). This is the heart behind the Kaddish, the mourner's prayer, that expresses acceptance of God's world, despite the pain, sorrow, loss, and so on.
The term hashgachah pratit (הַשְׁגָּחָה פְּרָטִית) refers to God's personal supervision of our lives (hashgachah means "supervision," and pratit means "individual" or "particular"). Since He is the Master of the Universe, God's supervision reaches to the smallest of details of creation - from subatomic particles to the great motions of the cosmos. God not only calls each star by its own name (Psalm 147:4), but knows each particular lily and sparrow (Matt. 6:28-30, 10:29). Each person created in the likeness of God is therefore under the direct, personal supervision of God Himself -- whether that soul is conscious of that fact or not. As Yeshua said, even the hairs on your head are all numbered (Matt. 10:30). Indeed, the God of Israel is called אלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר / Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol-basar: "The God of the spirits of all flesh" (Num. 16:22), and that means He is LORD even over those who vainly attempt to suppress His Presence and reality. "Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth?" (Jer. 23:24).
The Talmud says that when Moses asked God, "Please show me your glory" (Exod. 33:18), he was asking for God's vindication in the light of the gnawing question: "Why do the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper?" Moses was not given an explicit answer, and some of the sages said he wrote the enigmatic Book of Job to demonstrate that the question can only be reduced to God's inscrutable will: "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?" (Job 38:4). In other words, the question can only be answered by the One who knows the beginning from the end, the Infinite One who sees the implications and concatenation of all things. As finite beings, we see only a fraction of the big picture, and therefore we must yield our trust to the Wisdom and Power of Almighty God (Deut. 32:4).
It is written, "Your eyes saw me when I was inside the womb. All the days ordained for me were recorded in your scroll before one of them came into existence" (Psalm 139:16). In light of God's providential ordering of our lives, Blaise Pascal asked, "What is left for us but to unite our will to that of God himself, to will in him, with him, and for him the thing that he has eternally willed in us and for us." The Mishnah says it this way: "Do His will as if it was your will that He may do your will as if it was His will" (Avot 2:4). In other words, what else can we do but learn to trust, accept, and to say "yes" to life -- even if at times we may feel like orphans, lost in a fatherless world... All our days are recorded in God's scroll...
גָּלְמִי רָאוּ עֵינֶיךָ וְעַל־סִפְרְךָ כֻּלָּם יִכָּתֵבוּ
יָמִים יֻצָּרוּ וְלא אֶחָד בָּהֶם
gol·mi · ra'u · ei·ne·kha · vw'al-sif·re·kha · kul·lam · yik·ka·tei·vu
ya·mim · yutz·tza·ru · ve·lo · e·chad · ba·hem
"Your eyes saw me when I was inside the womb. All the days ordained for me
were recorded in your scroll before one of them came into existence."
Therefore may God "teach us to number our days to get a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). The sages say on the day of death, one considers one's life as if it had been a single day... Life goes by so quickly, and we never know when our personal Rosh Hashanah will come. "No one knows the day or hour..." That's why it is so vital to be healed and to turn to God while there is still time. So turn to him today and bacharta ba'chayim (בָּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים) - "choose life!" "For this commandment (of turning to God in teshuvah) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away. It is not in heaven... nor across the sea.... Rather, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; Rom. 10:8-13).
For more on this, see the meditation entitled "Paradox and Presence."
The Prerogative of God...
11.12.15 (Cheshvan 30, 5776) The Haftarah for parashat Toldot begins: "I have loved you," says the LORD. But you say, "How have you loved us?" "Is not Esau Jacob's brother?" declares the LORD. "Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert" (Mal. 1:1-2; cp. Rom. 9:9-13). Some people find God's sovereign choice objectionable, though we know there is no unrighteousness in God's decrees and ways (Deut. 32:4; Psalm 18:30; James 1:17, etc.). Therefore Yeshua told his followers, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go forth and bear fruit..." (John 15:16). Religious pride recoils at these words, thinking, "I don't want to be chosen by God; I want to be in control; I want to choose God first." The ego seeks some reason for revelation, some merit that commends the self to God. It's hidden assumption is, "thank you, God, that I am not like other men" (Luke 18:11). The choice of God is scandalous because it is based on God's love, not our own (1 John 4:19). We were spiritually reborn, not as the result of anything in the realm of nature, nor even through our personal decision, but solely on account of God's sovereign prerogative (John 1:13). This is the message of the choice of Jacob over Esau in our Torah portion this week. Regarding this the New Testament comments: "Though they (i.e., Jacob and Esau) were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad -- in order that God's purpose of election might stand (ἵνα ἡ κατ᾽ ἐκλογὴν πρόθεσις τοῦ θεοῦ μένῃ), not because of works but because of the One who calls, Rebekah was told, "the older will serve the younger" (Rom. 9:11-12). The carnal ego is quick to look for reasons that God chooses people, looking for merit or considering their worldly potential, though it is idolatrous to elevate the self this way. "Not by might nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of Hosts" (Zech. 4:6). We don't seek to please God so that we can be chosen; we are chosen so that we can seek to please him... God's grace and love for us is always the starting point: "Lord, teach us to pray," that is, choose the words for us, the groaning of your Spirit, in accordance with your perfect will...
Recall what I wrote the other day: "Salvation is of the LORD" (לַיהוָה הַיְשׁוּעָה); we are not saved "by works of righteousness (מַעֲשֵׂי הַצְּדָקָה) that we have done, but solely on account of the mercy given to us in God our Savior (אֱלהִים מוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ; Titus 3:4-5). Grace excludes all boasting (Eph. 2:9; Rom. 4:4). We believe that God justifies the ungodly by trusting in his heart of compassion (Rom. 4:1-8). God loves us with "an everlasting love" (i.e., ahavat olam: אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם) and draws us in chesed (חֶסֶד, i.e., His faithful love and kindness). As it is written: "I love you with an everlasting love; therefore in chesed I draw you to me" (Jer. 31:3). Note that the word translated "I draw you" comes from the Hebrew word mashakh (מָשַׁךְ), meaning to "seize" or "drag away" (the ancient Greek translation used the verb helko (ἕλκω) to express the same idea). As Yeshua said, "No one is able to come to me unless he is "dragged away" (ἑλκύσῃ) by the Father (John 6:44). God's chesed seizes us, scandalizes us, takes us captive, and leads us to the Savior... Spiritual rebirth is a divine act, "not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). In everything - including human reason itself - the LORD God Almighty is preeminent. If God has chosen you to be in covenant with him, then you are indeed one of the "chosen people."
Therefore we can affirm the great benediction given in our Scriptures: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Adonai, Yeshua the Messiah, who has blessed us in Messiah with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world (καθὼς ἐξελέξατο ἡμᾶς ἐν αὐτῷ πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου), that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us (προορίσας ἡμᾶς) for adoption as sons through Yeshua the Messiah, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved; in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight..." (Eph. 1:3-8).
It is the fruit of his Spirit, not the fruit of our own that matters (Gal. 5:22-23). As Yeshua said, "it is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all" (John 6:63). We are God's workmanship, created in the Messiah for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). We are able to live for God through the agency of His love and sustaining grace, all for the sake of the glory of His Name. "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).
The Akedah of Jacob...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Toldot... ]
11.12.15 (Cheshvan 30, 5776) How did Jacob feel about his part in the deception of his father Isaac? He undoubtedly was aware of the unusual circumstances of his birth, and in particular of the prophecy given to his mother that he, and not his older brother Esau, would be the heir of Isaac and of the Jewish people (Gen. 25:23; Gen. 25:28). The Torah describes the character of Jacob as a wholesome person, a man of integrity (אִישׁ תָּם) who dwelt in tents (Gen. 25:27), and yet he was forced to choose whether he would obey his mother's will to deceive his father or to adhere to his personal integrity. This explains why at first Jacob "bartered" for the blessing of the firstborn (בְּכוֹר) when he and Esau were younger (Gen. 25:31), hoping to resolve the matter peaceably, but after it became clear that Isaac intended to bless Esau as the family's heir, Rebekah took matters into her own hands (Gen. 27:1-ff). This dilemma was Jacob's "Akedah," if you will, the sacrifice of himself for the will of God. Three times does the Torah indicate the pain of Jacob during this ordeal: "And he went (וַיֵּלֶךְ) and he took (וַיִּקַּח) and he brought (וַיָּבֵא) to his mother..." (Gen. 27:14). The sages here note that the repeated use of וי, meaning "woe," suggested the turmoil Jacob felt as he prepared to deceive his father. On the other hand, Rebekah's deception of her husband was intended to show Isaac that he was gullible and thereby easily deceived by Esau's hypocrisy. It was an object lesson, if you will, rather than a outright case of "stealing." After all, Esau was soon to arrive - venison in hand - and the charade would be exposed for all to see... No, Rebekah's plan was to "open the eyes" of her myopic husband, revealing to him that he had been guilty of sacrificing the righteous son Jacob for the sake of deceptive Esau.
For more discussion on this subject see: "The Deception of Esau."
The Offense of Esau...
11.12.15 (Cheshvan 30, 5776) From our Torah portion this week (i.e., Toldot) we read: "And Jacob was simmering stew when Esau came in from the field, famished" (Gen. 25:29). The Midrash Rabbah comments that Esau saw the stew and asked why it was being cooked. He was told that it was a traditional mourner's meal because his grandfather Abraham had just died. Upon hearing this, Esau quickly became offended that one so righteous as Abraham had died and exclaimed: "If that's the case, there is no reward for one's good deeds, and no repair from death..." In this way Esau's offence over sorrow and suffering moved him to reject reality as being inherently unjust, and by this logic he justified his godless lifestyle... Because bitterness took root within his heart, Esau despised his birthright and spurned the very significance of his life (Heb. 12:15-16).
Of course Jewish post-Holocaust theology (i.e., "theology after Auschwitz") has wrestled with these sorts of harrowing and disturbing questions, though on a far larger and more traumatic scale. How could an all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful God allow (or permit) the horrors of the Shoah? For many Jews, the Holocaust marked the practical end of their faith, while for others it marked the start of a "theology of protest." In either case, however, the horrific reality of the Holocaust requires an authentic response from all of us. Providing an intellectual theory about the "problem of evil" seems empty and even irreverent in the face of such unspeakable acts of cruelty. Beware of any theology that denies the reality and heartache of human suffering. Yeshua offered up "loud cries and tears" during the days of his flesh, and he wept over the pain others experienced (Heb. 5:7, John 11:35).
In Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov (1880), Ivan Karamazov argued with his devout brother Alyosha regarding the nature of faith. Ivan intellectually accepted God's existence, His wisdom, and His heavenly goal to ultimately save an alienated world, but he nonetheless challenged the idea that any future good -- even if it should be "beyond all the heart's imaginings" (1 Cor. 2:9) -- could ever "atone for" the present evil and manifold suffering found in this world. To make his point, Ivan needed to find just one case of entirely "gratuitous evil" - an irrefutable counterexample to the viewpoint that this is the "best of all possible worlds." He therefore listed a number of cases of extreme and excessive cruelty in the world, but he finally focused on a heart-wrenching account of a five year old girl who was chained to an outhouse and left to die in the Russian winter. No matter what might be offered in the way of "defense" of God, no "future good" could possibly justify the suffering of this child. Despite the hopeful theory that God will one day "wipe away every tear," Ivan stated that he could never accept the nature of this-worldly reality: "I refuse to accept this world of God's... Please understand, it is not God that I do not accept, but the world he has created. I do not accept God's world and I refuse to accept it."
Such is the essence of the "offense" (σκάνδαλον) held within the faithless and fearful heart, an offense that objects over the decrees of God and therefore over the nature of reality itself. It is a protest, a generalized objection, to the "drama" of the universe decreed by God to be a place of suffering and pain that ultimately leads to redemption.... Spiritually speaking, this offence is the deep despair called the "sickness unto death."
I once heard the following statement: "The optimist believes that this is the best of all possible worlds; the pessimist believes the optimist is right..." The facts remain the same for both, but what is different is something within the heart, something that moves the will to no longer recoil from the world but rather to accept it.... Faith is a type of courage, a willingness to take risks, even in the midst of ambiguity. It surrenders to God's plan and will, even if that plan makes no rational sense at the moment. Of course it is intellectually "safer" to abstain from such trust and to yield to a "hermeneutic of suspicion." It is woefully easy to play the skeptic, to toy with ultimate questions, to affect intellectual superiority -- but at what cost? Is the supposed "defense" against being mistaken more important the risk of commitment? But such an approach to life is a essentially a form of cowardice. Without risk, we would never marry, have children, or take hold of our dreams. Some people might dismiss the dream of God's love as nonsense and futility, but the Scriptures make it clear that such hope represents the very substance (ὑπόστασις) of our faith (Heb 11:1).
Note: For more on this subject see "Musings about Suffering," and "The Power of Hope."
Two Blessings for Jacob...
11.12.15 (Cheshvan 30, 5776) When we think of Jacob, we often recall the dramatic episode when he disguised himself as Esau to "steal" the blessing from his father Isaac. In our Torah this week, however, we note that Jacob actually received two blessings from his father. The first blessing -- given to disguised Jacob -- focused on material blessings: the "dew of heaven," the "fatness of the earth," "plenty of grain and wine," political power and hegemony (Gen. 27:28-29), whereas the second blessing -- given to an undisguised Jacob -- focused on his role as God's chosen patriarch of Israel (Gen. 28:3-4). The difference between these blessings turned on Isaac's restored vision. His first blessing was tailored to the character of Esau as his "natural choice," whereas his second blessing looked beyond appearances to behold the vision that was originally given to his father Abraham:
וְאֵל שַׁדַּי יְבָרֵךְ אתְךָ
וְיַפְרְךָ וְיַרְבֶּךָ וְהָיִיתָ לִקְהַל עַמִּים
וְיִתֶּן־לְךָ אֶת־בִּרְכַּת אַבְרָהָם
לְךָ וּלְזַרְעֲךָ אִתָּךְ
ve'el · Shad·dai · ye·va·rekh · ot·kha
ve'yaf·re·kha · ve'yar·be·kha · ve'ha·yi·ta · lik·hal · a·mim
ve'yit·ten · le·kha · et · bir·kat · Avraham
le·kha · ul·zar·a·kha · i·takh
"May El Shaddai bless you,
make you fertile and numerous to become an assembly of peoples.
And may He grant the blessing of Abraham
to you and your offspring"
Recall that after Esau discovered that the blessing was given to Jacob, he lamented and pled with his father to bestow upon him a blessing as well. It is interesting to note that the "residual" blessing that Isaac gave to Esau was the inverse of that given to Jacob: the "fatness of the earth" was put before the "dew of heaven" (compare Gen. 27:39 with Gen. 27:28). In other words, receiving sustenance from heaven is of greater importance than simply finding earthly prosperity. And indeed, Jacob was "blessed" with trouble his whole life, which caused him to rely on the "dew from heaven," whereas Esau was "blessed" with prosperity that came from trafficking in this world.
Broken and Remade...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Toldot... ]
11.11.15 (Cheshvan 29, 5776) "See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness (שׁרֶשׁ פּרֶה) springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is immoral or profane like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it (the blessing) with tears" (Heb. 12:15-17; Gen. 27:38). "For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters (מְקוֹר מַיִם חַיִּים), and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13). Spiritually speaking, there are two basic sorts of breaking. One is to be broken by the inevitable sin and ruin of this world, and the other is to be made lev-nishbar (לֵב־נִשְׁבָּר), a broken heart, before the LORD. The former breaking comes from the vain attempt to find life in the broken vessels of this world, and "repentance" is expressed as remorse over perceived temporal loss. This sorrow eventually leads the soul to death (2 Cor. 7:10). To be inwardly broken, on the other hand, requires mourning over your life and returning to God for deliverance (Matt. 5:4). In hunger and thirst for God's righteousness the soul finds eternal satisfaction, since God alone provides the vessel of "living water" we need to live (John 4:14; 7:38). We all must drink from God's fountain of life (מְקוֹר חַיִּים), lest we suffer spiritual dehydration and death....
Are you haunted by an inner ache for love, joy, peace, and life? "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6). Our inner poverty and need is a disguised grace; our desire for healing reveals the Spirit's invitation. Faith begins with the recognition of our need, since only then will we come to Yeshua for the "Bread of Life" (לֶחֶם הַחַיִּים) and the "Living Water" (מַיִם חַיִּים). Everything we need is found in him, though we must reach out in faith: "For without faith (אֱמוּנָה) it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who seek him" (Heb. 11:6). God rewards those who seek him; he answers the heart's cry; he responds to all who trust in his love and salvation. Therefore "ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened" (Matt. 7:7-8). We are not saved by faith in our own faith, but in the Reality and Power of the LORD God who alone can raise the dead to new life....
Heroes made of Clay...
11.11.15 (Cheshvan 29, 5776) The Scriptures portray the "heroes of faith" in realistic terms, as flawed people who sometimes stumbled... It is quite clear that the families of the patriarchs had serious struggles and were often quite "dysfunctional." If we idealize these people, however, we tend to forget their humanity, and they may appear disconnected from us - on a far higher spiritual level. The story of Isaac's troubled family is ultimately one of hope for us all. Isaac was deeply wounded but ultimately found healing, just as his son Jacob later wrestled through his family issues to be renamed "Israel." Take heart, chaverim: God can use us for His kingdom purposes despite whatever wounds and troubles might be in our family backgrounds. The Spirit speaks: "I AM the LORD your healer" (אֲנִי יְהוָה רפְאֶךָ).
Note: For more on this see, "Isaac's Troubled Family: Further thoughts on Toldot."
Decision and Revelation...
11.10.15 (Cheshvan 28, 5776) Every one of us is a teacher of sorts, proclaiming through our personal choices what we believe to be true. False teachers are those whose choices "teach" that there is no God, no eternal life, no meaning to life, and ultimately, no real hope... It cannot be any other way, for we all teach by our choices; we communicate by our assumptions of what we regard is of "ultimate concern." Postmodern philosophy never answered any of the haunting existential questions of life, such as: What is reality? Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the purpose of life? What happens when we die? Who am I? Do moral choices matter? and so on, but instead merely reinterpreted the hunger for meaning to be about power and control... Nonsense! People may evade the great questions of life by pretending they are unknowable, but Scripture attests that all people are created in God's image and are intuitively aware of God's reality and power: "For His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made; so they are without excuse" (Rom. 1:20). We have a sacred duty to honor God's truth and that implies we bear a sacred animosity toward lies and false teaching. "Do not be deceived: associating with false teaching corrupts good character" (1 Cor. 15:33). We hate sin because it wounds and kills the soul. Think straight; awaken to the holiness of life; turn away from vain thoughts and lies; embrace the truth of God's salvation.
Every day we make decisions regarding good and evil, and therefore every day we are deciding (i.e., proclaiming, teaching, and attesting) our faith to others. The issue is not whether we love or whether we hate, but what we love and what we hate....
יִרְאַת יְהוָה שְׂנאת רָע
גֵּאָה וְגָאוֹן וְדֶרֶךְ רָע
וּפִי תַהְפֻּכוֹת שָׂנֵאתִי
yir·at · Adonai · se·not · ra,
ge·ah · ve·ga·on · ve·de·rekh · ra
u·fi · tah·pu·khot · sa·nei·ti
"The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate."
Contrary to the philosophy of this fallen world, the essence of love is to hate what is evil; just as it is hateful to be "tolerant" of what is wicked... Followers of Yeshua must love the truth and abhor the lie. Tolerating sin in a world ripe for judgment is a tacit form of "collaboration" with the enemy... Indeed, the only thing regarded as intolerable in the devil's world is the objection that people have a supposed "liberty" to sin. But the LORD is clear on this point: those who call evil good and good evil are as good as dead. Therefore we are enjoined: "O you who love the LORD, hate evil" (Psalm 97:10). Yes, hate what is evil and love what is good (Amos 5:15). The connection between loving God and hating evil is repeated in the New Testament: "Let your love be genuine (ἀνυπόκριτος, without a "mask" put on): abhor what is evil; cling to what is good (Rom. 12:9). If we truly love the LORD, let us walk in the awe of His great Name by hating what is evil.
The Oath and Sacrifice...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Toldot... ]
11.10.15 (Cheshvan 28, 5776) In our Torah portion this week (Toldot) we learn that the great oath of blessing that God gave to Abraham was extended (exclusively) to his beloved son Isaac (Gen 26:3-4; Rom. 9:7). Recall that it was only after the Akedah (the sacrifice of Isaac) that the LORD God swore the oath (שְׁבוּעָה) that through Abraham would all the families of the earth be blessed: "By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son (ben yachid), I will surely bless you... and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice" (Gen. 22:16-18; cp. Gal. 3:9,16). The Hebrew phrase, "by myself have I sworn" (בִּי נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי) is the most solemn oath God could make and must be regarded as an inviolable vow (Heb. 6:13-18). It is nothing short of astounding to realize that the very existence of Israel and the Jewish people - and therefore the advent of the Messiah himself - derives from the Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his "only begotten son" -- an act of faith that constituted the revelation of "deeper Torah" later enshrined in the laws of sacrifice given at Sinai. That is why the key idea of the Torah centers on the idea of atoning sacrifice, and in particular, the continual sacrifice of the lamb. Indeed sacrificial atonement is the central theme of the central book of Torah, i.e., Leviticus, where we draw near to God through sacrificial rites, the foremost of which was the ongoing offering (i.e., korban tamid: קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד) of a defect-free male lamb, together with unleavened bread and wine. The LORD called this "My offering, My bread" (Num. 28:1-8). In other words, at the very center of the Torah we see the Altar that constantly prefigured the Lamb of God who would be offered up to secure our eternal redemption (John 1:29; Heb. 9:11-12). Yeshua is our "lamb offered in the morning and in the evening," and His sacrificial life embodies God's passion for you to receive his love.
The "Gospel of Moses" revealed in the Akedah foretells the cross of our Savior. For more on this subject, see "Israel and the Akedah" here.
Deliver us from Offence...
11.09.15 (Cheshvan 27, 5776) Yeshua forewarned that just before the End of Days, "many shall be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another" (Matt. 24:10). What dreadful people, you might imagine... what terrible depravity will mark that time! And yet here we are today, with so many crusading for their own personal sense of victimhood, demanding special treatment, and threatening retaliation for being treated unfairly... It must be remembered, however, that whenever we find offence in others, we are reflecting the evil within ourselves (Matt. 7:1-5). What is this evil within you ask? How about being intolerant toward those who differ from us? How about be impatient – refusing to allow others to share their perspectives? Indeed, how many of us make the demand that others be "perfect" but turn a blind eye to our own imperfections? And what about the sin of unforgiveness? What about our attitude of suspicion -- using the "evil eye" regarding others' motives – looking for something impure – rather than extending to them the benefit of the doubt? Do you carry resentment with your heart? Do you hold on to a grudge over a real (or imagined) insult from the past? Do you harbor the desire to seek revenge? All of these evil attitudes are symptomatic of arrogant unforgiveness, and failing to remember that all that is good in your life you owe exclusively to the mercy of God alone... When you feel offended, look within and examine the assumptions at work in your thinking. Ask whether your indignation is based on the truth of God or something else. Are you demanding: "My will be done, in heaven as it is on earth?" Are you seeking your own vision, or surrendering to the truth of Reality? Are you (insanely) attempting to justify your hatred of others in the name of love?
It is written, "Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor, but evil comes to him who searches for it" (Prov. 11:27). The one who seeks good is called shocher tov (שׁחֵר טוֹב), "a seeker of good." The shocher tov uses the "good eye" (ayin ha'tovah) to see worth and potential in others. The one who searches out evil, on the other hand, is called doresh ra'ah, "a searcher of evil." The doresh ra'ah has an evil eye (ayin ha'ra) that is stingy, critical and faultfinding. The proverb may therefore be stated this way: When you seek the good of others, you will find God's favor (ratzon), but when you search for evil in others, it becomes your own. As the Baal Shem Tov once said, "When we see faults in others, we must understand that they only reflect the evil within ourselves." Likewise King David said, וּתְפִלָּתִי עַל־חֵיקִי תָשׁוּב, "my prayer shall turn back upon my breast" (Psalm 35:13). Some prayers are conscious words spoken to God, whereas others are expressions of heart attitudes. Our proverb teaches that when we harbor indifference, ill will, or resentment toward others, we hurt ourselves; when we favor others and desire their blessing, on the other hand, we will find God's favor and blessing. Tov ayin hu yevorakh: "The one with the good eye will be blessed" (Prov. 22:9; Matt. 6:22).
שׁחֵר טוֹב יְבַקֵּשׁ רָצוֹן
וְדרֵשׁ רָעָה תְבוֹאֶנּוּ
sho·cher · tov · ye·va·kesh · ra·tzon
ve·do·resh · ra·ah · te·vo·ei·nu
"Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor,
but evil comes to him who searches for it."
Hebrew Study Card
Reciprocity of Heart...
11.09.15 (Cheshvan 27, 5776) Yeshua taught us to pray, "forgive us as we forgive others," which implies that our forgiveness (of others) is the measure of our own forgiveness. This is another example of the principle of "reciprocity," namely the principle that as we sow, so we reap; as we seek, so we will find; as we judge, so we are judged; and so on (Matt. 7:2). When we let go of hurt, anger, and fear, we are no longer driven by our pain, and we can begin to break the cycle and heal. But to forgive others you must first forgive yourself, and that means accepting God's love for you despite your many sins and transgressions. Accepting yourself as forgiven means that you acknowledge that you act just like other people, that you are human, and that you are in need of reconciliation and healing, too. Indeed, forgiveness is central to our very spiritual life, and Yeshua concluded the "Lord's Prayer" by insisting we practice empathy: "For if you forgive others, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:14-15).
Our Healer and Savior taught us: "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses" (Mark 11:25). In the Gates of Repentance it is written: "I hereby forgive all who have hurt me, all who have wronged me, whether deliberately or inadvertently, whether by word or by deed. May no one be punished on my account. And as I forgive and pardon those who have wronged me, may those whom I have harmed forgive me, whether I acted deliberately or inadvertently, whether by word or by deed." Amen.
וְסָלַחְתָּ לַעֲוֹנִי כִּי רַב־הוּא
le·ma·an · shim·kha · Adonai
ve·sa·lach·ta · la·a·vo·ni · ki · rav · hu
"For the sake of your name, LORD
forgive my iniquity for it is great."
I like this quote attributed to Charles Williams: "Many promising reconciliations have broken down because, while both parties came prepared to forgive, neither came prepared to be forgiven." We have a quick eye to see how others offend us, but not how we might offend them. May the Lord help us be yashar, upright and honest with ourselves; may He give us the willingness to admit we make mistakes, that we are in need of mercy, and may He set us free from the slavery of pride. So how do we forgive the people who have offended us? By refusing to condemn them, for then we will not need to forgive. Our great need is to turn, at every moment, and to keep our focus on the Eternal and real.
"In many things we offend all," and therefore we must confess our sins one to another to find healing (James 5:16). However if we do not condemn those who offend us, we will not need to forgive them for their offenses. Walking in God's love sets us free from the slavery of negative emotions such as resentment, bitterness, anger, unresolved grief, and so on.
Rosh Chodesh Kislev...
11.08.15 (Cheshvan 26, 5776) This coming Wednesday, November 11th (after sundown) marks "Rosh Chodesh Kislev." On the Biblical calendar the month of Kislev (כִּסְלֵו) is the ninth of the year (counting from Nisan), and it is also one of the "darkest," with the days progressively getting shorter and the nights getting progressively longer. Kislev is perhaps best known for the eight day holiday of Chanukah (חג החנוכה) which begins on the 25th of the month and runs through the third day of the following month (of Tevet). Since there is always a new moon during the season of Chanukah, it is no wonder that this holiday represents an appropriate time to kindle the lights of faith, and especially to recall the advent of Yeshua the Messiah, the Light of the World (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם).
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֵיךָ יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ
שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ חדֶשׁ טוֹב בַּאֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ אָמֵן
ye·hi · ra·tzon · mil·fa·ne·kha · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · ve·lo·hei · a·vo·tei·nu
she·te·cha·desh · a·lei·nu · cho·desh · tov · ba'a·do·nei·nu · Ye·shu·a · ha·ma·shi·ach · A·men
"May it be Your will, LORD our God and God of our fathers,
that you renew for us a good month
in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah. Amen."
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Chodesh Kislev is sometimes called the "month of dreams" because the weekly Torah portions for this month contain more dreams than any other in the Scriptures. No less than nine dreams (of the ten in the Torah) appear in the four portions of Vayetzei, Vayishlach, Vayeshev, and Miketz - which are all usually read during the month of Kislev. In the Torah, the primary figure connected with dreams is Jacob's son Joseph, who was nicknamed by his brothers as "that dreamer" and who was later named "Decipherer of Secrets" (Tzofnat Paneach) by Pharaoh (Gen. 41:45). Joseph was able to authentically mediate the spiritual and the physical realms through the Spirit of God within him (Gen. 41:38). Prophetically Joseph represents Yeshua the "disguised Egyptian" who likewise was rejected and hated by his brothers but who later became their savior (for more see "Mashiach ben Yosef").
For more on this subject, see "Chodesh Kislev."
Parashat Toldot - תולדת
11.08.15 (Cheshvan 26, 5776) Last week's Torah (i.e., Chayei Sarah) told how Abraham's faithful servant Eliezer sought a bride for Isaac from among Abraham's relatives living in Mesopotamia. In response to his prayer to the LORD, Eliezer was shown that Abraham's nephew's daughter Rebekah was chosen to be one of the great matriarchs of Israel.
This week's reading (Toldot) continues the story by revealing that Isaac and Rebekah had been married for twenty years but were still without an heir to carry on the family line. Finally their prayers were answered and Rebekah conceived, though not without complications. When she inquired of the LORD about her travail, God told her that she was carrying twins that would be heads of two rival nations, but the younger child would in fact become the promised heir of the chosen people. When the day arrived for Rebekah to give birth, the first child came out "red and covered with hair," so they called his name "Esav" (i.e., עֵשָׂו, "hairy"); then his brother came out with his hand grasping Esau's heel (i.e., akev: עָקֵב), so they named him "Ya'akov" (יַעֲקב) from the Hebrew verb (i.e., akav: עָקַב), meaning "to take by the heel; to displace; to supplant."
The Torah describes that Esau became a hunter, "a man of the field," while Jacob was ish tam yoshev ohalim, "a wholesome man, who lived in tents." Isaac favored Esau; but Rebekah, believing the promise of the LORD, favored Jacob...
The portion then gives us a look at the spiritual life of the two boys. According to Jewish tradition, on the day of the funeral of their grandfather Abraham, Jacob was cooking lentil soup for Isaac, the traditional mourner's meal. Esau rushed in from a hunting expedition, exhausted and hungry. He then begged Jacob to give him some of "that red stuff" (i.e, ha'dom hazeh), but Jacob answered that he would give him some only if he would sell him his birthright. Esau agreed to the terms and discounted his birthright as being worth only a bowl of beans (on account of this incident, Esau was given the additional name of Edom ("red"). In this manner the Torah describes how Esau "spurned the birthright."
Years later, when Isaac was old and blind, Jacob (with his mother Rebekah's help) tricked Isaac into conferring the blessing of the firstborn upon him, thereby making Jacob the heir of the family, and not Esau. When the ruse was discovered, however, Esau sought to kill his brother, and Jacob was forced to flee his home, never to see his mother again...
Remove your Shoes...
11.06.15 (Cheshvan 24, 5776) We live in the midst of a mysterious universe filled with astounding wonder and vast complexity, from the smallest of subatomic particles to the largest of cosmic events... If we could really see, if our eyes were truly open, we would understand that the universe and everything in it is filled with God's glory (Psalm 19:1). Where it is written, "Remove your shoes, for the place you are standing is holy" (Exod. 3:5) means we are to remove the deadness of our habits, those routine ways of "sightless seeing" that insulate us and hide us from the astonishment of reality. "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"
קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יהוה צְבָאוֹת
מְלא כָל־הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ
ka·dosh · ka·dosh · ka·dosh · Adonai · Tze·va·ot,
me·lo · khol · ha·a·retz · ke·vo·do
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!"
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The LORD is the Source of all existence. This is implied in the Name YHVH (יהוה) itself, which comes from the Hebrew verb "to be" (hayah), and therefore God is called ha-hoveh, ve'hayah, ve'yavo (הַהוֶה וְהָיָה וְיָבוֹא) - "the One who is, and was, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8). God first defined His essential Name to Moses as ehyeh asher ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה), "I AM that I AM," abbreviated simply as ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה), "I AM" (Exod. 3:14). This "threefold" Name of the LORD of Hosts encompasses all possible states of being, so that of the LORD alone it is said, melo kol ha-aretz kevodo: "the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isa. 6:3).
Shabbat Shalom, chaverim! May you "know the love of Messiah (אַהֲבַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:19).
Blessed in all things...
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Chayei Sarah... ]
11.06.15 (Cheshvan 24, 5776) In the same verse that Abraham is described as "old and come into days" (זָקֵן בָּא בַּיָּמִים), he is also described to have been blessed bakol (בַּכּל) - "in everything" (Gen. 24:1). Contrary to the ideals of youth-obsessed culture, Torah regards aging as a process of construction, of upbuilding, of perfection -- not of decay. The sages say that the elderly "wear the days of their life as a garment," that is, as an accumulated "presence of days" that attends to the soul of the person. Indeed, the Talmud notes that the word zaken ("elder") can be read as zeh kana, "this one has it." Maturity and wisdom are qualities that should be honored in our culture -- not abhorred or disregarded. As the proverb puts it, עֲטֶרֶת תִּפְאֶרֶת שֵׂיבָה / aseret tiferet sevah: "Gray hair is a crown of glory" (Prov. 16:31). That God blessed Abraham "bakol" means that He revealed his presence to him in all things. This is the meaning of "Abraham was come into days." The days of his life were filled with the Divine Presence, and that is why he died content (Gen. 25:8).
The sages add that God blessed Abraham bakol because it reflected Abraham's own desire to be a blessing to others. This is the "like-for-like" nature of love: when it is shared and given away, it is returned to the heart by the hand of heaven....
The Decision to Love...
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Chayei Sarah... ]
11.06.15 (Cheshvan 24, 5776) From our Torah portion this week we read, "Then he (Isaac) took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her..." (Gen. 24:67). The sages note the sequence -- first he took her to be his wife, and then he loved her - to highlight that marriage is based on a spiritual decision to love rather than a feeling based on passion or self-interest. Feelings of passion and personal satisfaction may develop from the decision to love, but these by themselves cannot form the love's foundation. Meaningful love is grounded in a decision to honor and cherish the other person, and therefore is spiritual in nature. As C.S. Lewis said, don't let your happiness depend on something you may lose. "Aim at heaven, and you get earth thrown in; aim at earth, and you get neither." Rebekah was willing to leave her family - all that she knew - based on an "otherworldly" promise. Her response to the invitation was simply: "I will go"(Gen. 24:58); Isaac, on the other hand, "took her to be his wife," that is, he pledged to be family for her...
Of course the world gets all this backward and thinks that selfish satisfaction is the basis of a marriage relationship, and therefore, as soon as one (or the other) person feels unsatisfied, the relationship is jeopardized. The truth, however, is that marriage is above all the duty to honor and revere the beloved, regardless of matters of personal self-interest.
The Purging Process...
11.06.15 (Cheshvan 24, 5776) "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He purges (καθαίρει), that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:1-2). If you bear fruit you will experience the "purging process," and that means suffering affliction... This might seem to you backward: Why does the fruitful branch need to be cut back? Indeed, the promise of suffering is not meant for an evil person, but for the righteous soul who trusts in God. Purging is painful but it is also purifying, yielding new growth within our hearts. Yeshua taught, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). The Greek word translated "pure" is katharos (καθαρός), sometimes used describe the cleansing of a wound (catharsis), or to describe the unalloyed quality of a substance revealed through refining fire. We "rejoice" in testing because that is the way of real growth, sustained hope, and the revelation of God's deep love (Rom. 5:3-4). In our afflictions we are given heavenly consolation that helps us to persevere (2 Cor. 1:3-5). We are being weaned from this present age to be made ready for heavenly glory, for things unimaginably wonderful, soon to be revealed to you. Chazak – stay strong in the Lord, friends.
טוֹב־לִי כִי־עֻנֵּיתִי לְמַעַן אֶלְמַד חֻקֶּיך
tov li khi-u·nei·ti, le·ma·an el·mad chu·ke·kha
"It is good for me that I was afflicted,
that I might learn your decrees." (Psalm 119:71)
A Blessed Longing...
11.05.15 (Cheshvan 23, 5776) Our Lord said: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness..." (Matt. 5:6). Yes, blessed are those who suffer such desperate need, who know inner emptiness, who are not made numb to the ache, and who cry from the heart for deliverance. Blessed are those who are in dread over themselves, who fall as one dead before the Divine Presence, who know they are undone, ruined, and dying for life... The great danger, spiritually speaking, is to become complacent, untouched by poverty of heart, to be lulled asleep, lost within a dream, made comatose, living-yet-dead. The gift of faith first reveals our own lostness and then imparts courage to live with ourselves despite ourselves as we seek God's healing and life...
אַשְׁרֵי הָרְעֵבִים וְהַצְּמֵאִים לִצְדָקָה
ash·rei · ha·re·'vim · ve·ha·tze·mei·im · litz·da·kah
ki · hem · yis·ba·u
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be filled"
μακάριοι οἱ πεινῶντες καὶ διψῶντες τὴν δικαιοσύνην
ὅτι αὐτοὶ χορτασθήσονται
Note that the Greek text here uses the definite article for "righteousness" – i.e., "the righteousness [of God]," or even, the "righteous one" [i.e., Messiah]. It is "they" (emphatic, meaning only they) who hunger for this righteousness that will be satisfied...
What do you Seek?
11.05.15 (Cheshvan 23, 5776) Some people want to know "theology" or to glean insights from the Scriptures not for the sake of serving God, but as a way to feel good about themselves, to flatter their egos, etc. We have to examine our motives. Do you really want to know the truth, and if so, why? Are you able to get beyond your own self-interest to hear what the Spirit of God might be saying? What do you hope to do with revelation that may be disclosed to you? Do you seek to know for the sake of making something of yourself, or perhaps to make you feel superior to others? Do you think of truth as a weapon to prove that you are right rather than as the means of living a life of righteousness? Again, take account of your motives. "For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself" (Gal. 6:3). To seek the truth for the sake of feeding the ego misses the point and can lead to self-deception.... Knowledge and truth are essential, of course, but if they are not employed in the service of love – to build up others, to bring healing, hope, and kindness – then they can be dangerous to the spiritual life. "If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know" (1 Cor. 8:2). There is an "oughtness" in the way we are to know, and that is our duty to humbly walk in love...
אַל־תְּהִי חָכָם בְּעֵינֶיךָ
יְרָא אֶת־יְהוָה וְסוּר מֵרָע
al · te·hi · cha·kham · be·ei·ne·kha
ye·ra · et · Adonai · ve·sur · me·ra
"Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Eternal, and turn away from evil."
Faith and Tradition...
11.04.15 (Cheshvan 22, 5776) Some people think they are free from the influence of "tradition" in their understanding of Scripture, but of course this is impossible. In fact, we could not understand even the first word of the Scriptures without tradition... There is a story that illustrates this point. A pagan came to Hillel seeking to convert but was troubled with the idea of tradition, though he accepted the idea of the written Scriptures. Since the man did not know how to read Hebrew, however, Hillel began pointing to the letters in the written Torah to teach him the alphabet: "This is Aleph... this is Bet... this is Gimmel," and so on, until the man began to understand the letters of the Aleph-Bet. "Now come tomorrow, and I will teach you more." The next day, Hillel pointed to the exact same letters but reversed their names, "This is Gimmel... this is Aleph... this is Bet," and so on. The convert was confused: "But yesterday you said just the opposite!" Hillel replied, "Now you have had your first lesson. You see that the written word alone is insufficient, and we need the tradition to explain God's Word." Another way to make this same point is to say that the Torah was not revealed along with a dictionary that defines the meaning of its words...
All this is said to remind us that the transmission of Torah from generation to generation demands that we trust. Indeed the very concept of "Torah" (or Scripture) is bound up with trust and community... This is true of the written word (i.e., trusting in scribal traditions that preserved the Scriptures for us), as well as the oral word (i.e., the customs, interpretations, translations, and wisdom that explain the meaning of the words themselves). Knowledge has been defined as "justified true belief," which implies that there can never be knowledge without trust. It is ludicrous to think that we can translate the Scriptures in a vacuum - all by ourselves without any help from others... We must humble ourselves and become "like little children" to learn from those who have gone before us, and this is why the Jewish value of Talmud Torah - teaching children the words and values of Torah - is regarded as so important. As the Talmud puts it, "The world exists because of the breath of the schoolchildren who study Torah" (Shabbat 119b).
For more on this subject see:
Abraham demonstrated such unwavering trust in God's truth that he was willing to offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice, and therefore the promises of God were entrusted to him and his descendants because the LORD foresaw how they would preserve the Word of God for future generations (see Rom. 3:1-2). Part of our faith implies that we trust that God, by means of the Ruach HaKodesh, has providentially preserved the texts of Scripture over the centuries, and that he has enabled his people to discern the meaning of the texts as well... Of course we are study to show ourselves approved before God (2 Tim. 2:15) but that means we persevere in the quest to hear God's voice and follow the leading of the Spirit...
Understand that there is much tradition embedded in our Bibles, chaverim... For example, both the earliest Hebrew and Greek manuscripts did not include any vowel markings or punctuation marks, and that means "oral tradition" was used to interpret the meaning of words and the grammar of texts. Moreover, the very concept of what constitutes "Scripture" (i.e., the development of the "canon") was the product of historical decisions beyond our control. Later, chapter divisions, verse numbers, and the arrangement of the "books" into a single codex ("book") was devised (what we now call our "Bible"), but such textual divisions and interpolations were not part of the original scrolls.... Despite all this "meddling" by tradition, we nevertheless believe that the Bible we have today is the true Word of God, but that implies that we also believe that it was handed down over the centuries to us by godly people, and that God's truth was meticulously and miraculously preserved. We believe God preserves kotzo shel yod (קוֹצוֹ שֶׁל יוֹד) -- every Yod (י) and every stroke of the Yod! Indeed comparing manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls with medieval manuscripts proves the remarkable preservation of the words of Scripture, so that we can rest assured we have reliable texts. Where we run into differences, however, concerns interpretative factors (i.e., "hermeneutics"). Each of us interprets the words of the Bible based on historical biases and prejudices that we bring to its texts: we often read and think just what we want to read and think, instead of asking God for the wisdom and humility to study and learn...
When Yeshua said to beware of man's traditions, he was referring to those religious traditions that put a "fence" (gezerah) around the clear teaching of Torah, not the more general "tradition" to learn how to read, how to study, how to value God's truth, etc. In fact, without linguistic traditions, for example, no one could ever read anything, since the meaning of the words and sounds signified by letters, etc., would constantly be in flux...
The Torah was written in the language of human beings so that human beings could understand its message, but this presupposes reliance on our tradition.... For example, the Torah provides general instructions to build the Mishkan (tabernacle) according to the "pattern" (תַּבְנִית) given to Moses (Exod. 25:9), but it does not provide explicit details about how forge silver and gold, how to make gate "sockets," how to weave embroidery for the parochet (curtain), and so on. Units of measure such as "cubits" and "amot" can only be understood by consulting oral tradition. Likewise the Torah commanded Israel to set up a system of judges and law courts, though it did not provide explicit instructions about how the courts were to function. "Faith comes by hearing the word of God" (Rom. 10:17).
Rightly understood, Jewish "tradition" is a great blessing that recalls our heritage, our history, and our destiny as the people of God... Indeed tradition (מָסוֹרֶת) is connected to our collective memory and to our very inheritance in the world to come (Rev. 21:12). So let us not unthinkingly disparage the word "tradition," but instead honor the providential hand of God as Scripture has been miraculously preserved for us over the centuries. And as for Christians who mistakenly insist that we are not beholden to Jewish history and tradition, we are warned not to be "arrogant toward the branches; if you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you" (Rom. 11:18). As partakers of the covenants given to Israel, you aren't feeding the root; the root is feeding you...
Overcoming the Darkness...
11.04.15 (Cheshvan 22, 5776) Adonai ohri, ve'yishi: mimi ira? "The LORD is my light and my salvation, of whom shall be afraid?" When David was surrounded by his enemies, and even when war rose up against him, his strategy was to keep spiritually focused by seeking God and celebrating His glory (Psalm 27:1-6). David knew that "the battle belongs to the LORD" (לַיהוָה הַתְּשׁוּעָה) and that he could trust God to lift up his head above his enemies. "I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies" (Psalm 18:3).
מְהֻלָּל אֶקְרָא יְהוָה
me·hul·lal · ek·ra · Adonai
u·min · oy·ye·vai · iv·va·she·a
"I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies"
Hebrew Study Card
Praise God despite your present difficulties by anticipating good to come. As it is written, "Though the fig tree does not blossom, nor fruit be found on the vines, though the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, and though the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation" (Hab. 3:17-18). The targum translates "I will rejoice in the LORD" as "I will rejoice in the promised Word of the LORD." The Source of such joy comes to the heart of faith that sees Elohei Yishi (אֱלהֵי יִשְׁעִי), the "God of my salvation," namely, the One who was and is and is to come (הַהוֶה וְהָיָה וְיָבוֹא) – the LORD our God Yeshua (Rev. 1:4;8; Isa 41:4). Augustine of Hippo rendered Elohei Yishi as "God my Jesus," since "Jesus" (i.e., Yeshua) means YHVH saves. Yea, what can separate us from the love of God in Jesus? Always remember that we never fight for, but always from, the place of His victory. The joy of the LORD is our strength, and we find that strength in Yeshua our risen and victorious Savior.
"The night is almost gone, and the day is near; therefore let us put on the armor of light (τὰ ὅπλα τοῦ φωτός). For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid of them nor dismayed... for there are more with us than with them. With them is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles. You shall therefore not fear them, for it is the LORD your God who fights for you."
The battle centers on standing firm and keeping focused on the LORD, especially in this day of hypnotic evil, disinsformation, propaganda, political corruption and lies, incipient fascist control of the world's economic system, etc. There are chariots of fire are around us; may the LORD God give us eyes to see....
A Bride for Isaac...
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Chayei Sarah... ]
11.03.15 (Cheshvan 21, 5776) Though he is not explicitly named in the account, the "elder servant" commissioned to find a bride for Isaac was undoubtedly Eliezer of Damascus (Gen. 15:2). Eliezer (אֱלִיעֶזֶר), whose name means "my God will help," is regarded as a consummate example of a godly servant, a picture of the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) sent on a mission to find a bride for the Sacrificed Seed of Abraham (i.e., the Messiah Yeshua). Eliezer dutifully departs on his mission and waits by the "well of water," interceding on behalf of righteousness... He asks for a witness from heaven: "Let the young woman to whom I shall say, 'Please let down your jar that I may drink,' and who shall say, 'Drink, and I will water your camels' -- let her be the one whom you have appointed" (Gen. 24:13-14). Rebekah's response of kindness and generosity (i.e., chesed: חֶסֶד) to a tired wayfarer demonstrated God's choice. Note that the test concerned the inward character of the woman, not her status or beauty or other worldly factors. And since a single camel needs about 25 gallons of water and requires 10 minutes to drink, watering ten camels would require 250 gallons and at least a couple hours of work running back and forth to the well - no small task for anyone! Rebekah possessed Abraham's qualities of gracious hospitality and diligence...
Eliezer's prayer to find a bride for Isaac did not appeal for a miracle such as splitting the sea, but instead relied on the providential and "hidden hand" of God that governs the affairs of everyday life... His prayer at the well relied on God's sovereign power to direct him to a woman who, like Abraham, would spontaneously extend compassion to a person in need. The Torah therefore reveals that far from being a coincidence or chance encounter, then, "before he had finished speaking, behold Rebekah..." (Gen. 24:15). "Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear" (Isa. 65:24).
Rebekah was willing to leave her family - all that she knew - based on an "otherworldly" promise. Her response to the invitation was simply: "I will go"(Gen. 24:58). This courageous willingness was likewise a characteristic of Abraham who was willing to leave his homeland in search of the greater things of God. Like Abraham, Rebekah was ger ve'toshav (גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב) - a "stranger and a sojourner" - who left everything behind in order to become part of God's chosen family... (more here)
Identifying with the Lamb...
11.03.15 (Cheshvan 21, 5776) Where it is written, "I have been crucified with Messiah: It is no longer 'I" who live, but Messiah who lives in me," we understand this "I" to be the self identified under the covenant of the law, separate from Messiah, and subject to the principle of self-justification. This "I" apart from God no longer lives, but rather a new identity, a new "I" is made alive by trusting in Yeshua, "who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). "For I through the law died to the law (ἐγὼ γὰρ διὰ νόμου νόμῳ ἀπέθανον) so I might live to God" (Gal. 2:19). We have a new "identity" through our union with Messiah, we are "new creations," and our lives are now forever bound up in His invincible life. We no longer look to ourselves, but to the miracle of "Messiah who lives in me." We walk in righteousness by yielding to the abiding righteousness of Yeshua in our daily lives...
Like all sacrifices that were brought to the altar, we must pass through death to life by means of our union with the Messiah at the cross... It is only after the cross that it may be said, "It is no longer 'I' who lives; now it is Messiah who lives His life in me." Yeshua didn't die a painful and bloody death on the cross to save sinful flesh but rather to become sinful flesh in exchange for the sinner who trusts in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). That's the essence of the gospel (εὐαγγέλιον), the power of God's salvation. On some mysterious level, the exchange of our sin with Messiah's righteousness is "ontological," meaning that it has real being, energy, and reality. Therefore we do not attempt to crucify ourselves, but instead accept that we already have been crucified by the agency of the Spirit of God.
The Power to Repent...
11.02.15 (Cheshvan 20, 5776) Rabbi Israel Salanter, the father of the "Musar" movement, once said, "When I was young, I wanted to change the world. I tried, but the world didn't change. So I decided to change my town, but my town didn't change. Then I resolved to change my family, but my family didn't change. Then I realized that I first had to change myself." To his wise words I would add the essence: "but then I realized that I couldn't change myself, so I cried to the LORD for a new heart and He answered my plea..."
We can only truly change when we die and are brought back from the dead by the power of God. As Yeshua said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). We must be spiritually reborn, remade, transformed, "metamorphosed" by the grace and love and kindness of God. This is the miracle of genuine teshuvah (repentance).
Contrary to the laws of "karma" and worldly wisdom, God helps those who can't help themselves... He delights to take the weak and broken and establish them with divine power, for the glory of His own Name. He confounds the mighty of this world with the "foolish" heart of faith. Blessed be His Name forever and ever...
כִּי־חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם יְהוָה אֱלהֵיכֶם
וְלא־יָסִיר פָּנִים מִכֶּם אִם־תָּשׁוּבוּ אֵלָיו
ki chan·nun ve·ra·chum Adonai E·lo·he·khem
ve·lo ya·sir pa·nim mi·kem, im ta·shu·vu e·lav
"For the LORD your God is gracious (channun) and merciful (rachum)
and will not turn away his face from you, if you return (shuv) to him."
2 Chron. 30:9
The Akedah of Sarah...
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Chayei Sarah... ]
11.02.15 (Cheshvan 20, 5776) Recall that Sarah gave birth to Isaac when she was 91 years old (Gen. 17:17, 21), and she later died when Isaac was 36 years old, at the age 127 (Gen. 23:1). And while the Torah does not explicitly state the cause of her death, we are told about her death following the dramatic episode of the sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. 22), and the midrash Tanchuma therefore links the two together by saying Sarah died from shock after learning about the ordeal of her son at Moriah. It was just too much for her heart to bear: "And a sword will pierce through your own soul also..." (Luke 2:35). Therefore Jewish tradition associates the cries of Sarah with the blasts of the shofar during Rosh Hashanah. The broken notes of the shofar are thought to recall her crying for her son...
Isaac was promised son, the miracle child and the promised heir of Abraham and Sarah. As the firstborn son of God's promise, without him the whole world would fall apart, and there would be no salvation to come... According to midrash (traditional Jewish commentary), when Sarah heard that Isaac was offered at Moriah, her soul departed from her and she thought the world was falling apart. She prayed to God: "Let me die for my son; let me die in place of my son..." Sarah's love was so great it brought Isaac back to life from the dead.
Note: We study these things, bring them again to our hearts, because it is part of our great yerushah (יְרוּשָׁה), our heritage, in Messiah Yeshua... The Torah tells our story as the people of God; it is the context and framework of the entire Bible: "Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him" (Isa. 51:1-2). For more on this topic, see "The Akedah of Sarah," by clicking here.
Faith's Good Eye...
11.02.15 (Cheshvan 20, 5776) It is not your job to worry about all the problems in the world, nor is it your role to "fix" the troubles that abound everywhere. The upward call of God in Messiah is grounded in the present moment, the "eternal now," whence you are invited to "walk before God and be made whole" (הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי וֶהְיֵה תָמִים, Gen. 17:1). This implies, among other things, that you must let evil flow past you and ascend by faith above the world and its profane ways. After all, it is God's business to turn darkness to light, to make crooked things straight, to redeem and heal the world and so on... The eye of emunah (faith) discerns gam zu l'tovah (גַּם זוּ לְטוֹבָה), "this too is for good," which is an idea taken directly from the New Testament: "all things work together for good" (i.e., πάντα συνεργεῖ εἰς ἀγαθόν, Rom. 8:28). Notice that the affirmation is not gam zu tovah - "this is the good," but rather gam zu l'tovah - "this, too, is for good." Emunah "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" for purposes that are good (1 Cor. 7:31). It affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life (chayei sha'ah) is a deeper reality (chayei olam) that is ultimately real, abiding, and ultimately designed for God's redemptive love to be fully expressed. In this world we must "see through" a mirror (i.e., indirectly) to begin to see the dawn of our eternal home; but one day we will behold God panim el panim (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), "face to face" (1 Cor. 13:12).
Note: The best way to engage in "tikkun olam" is to spread the hope and truth of the gospel to this world.... We do not look for utopia on earth apart from the Divine Presence.
The Bread of Presence...
11.01.15 (Cheshvan 19, 5776) The disciples assumed Yeshua needed earthly bread to find strength, but he said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about" (John 4:32). This "hidden bread" (i.e., lechem ha-nistar: לֶחֶם הַנִסְתָּר) was the passion and joy He had doing the will of God... Notice how he often used metaphors to elevate the perspective of his students. Earthly bread is a shadow of a deeper reality. Just as physical bread is a means to physical life, so "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that God speaks" (Deut. 8:4; Matt. 4:4). Yeshua is the true manna, the "Living Bread" (לֶחֶם חַיִּים) from heaven that sustains us in "the desert" of this world. He is the One who truly satisfies the heart by removing the inner pain of our emptiness and hunger. As it is written in Torah, "set the Bread of the Presence (לֶחֶם פָּנִים) on the table before me always" (Exod. 25:30).
Brother Lawrence said, "If I were a preacher, I should preach nothing else but the practice of the presence of God. There is not in the world a way of life more sweet, more delightful than continual converse with God." Indeed, do not most of our problems come from just this – losing sight of reality, failing to partake of God's Bread of Presence? Yeshua said, "Live in me, and I will live in you" (John 15:4). We must make a sacred resolution to abide in reality, to stay united with Him. As David said: shiviti (שִׁוִּיתִי) - "I have set the LORD always before me - because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken" (Psalm 16:8). But how did David "set the LORD" before Him if He did not open the eyes of faith to behold God's Glory?
שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט
shi·vi·ti · Adonai · le·neg·di · ta·mid
ki · mi·mi·ni · bal · e·mot
"I have set the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken."
Hebrew Study Card
The Hebrew word shiviti comes from the verb shavah (שָׁוָה) which means "to set" or place, referring to focus of the heart required to truly apprehend the Divine Presence. In this connection, we note the "korban tamid" (תָּמִידקָרְבַּן) was the sacrifice of a lamb every evening and morning upon the copper altar in the outer court -- the central sacrifice of the Tabernacle. Along with it, matzah and wine offering were required, thereby revealing the Passover Lamb of God and his sacrifice for us (Exod. 29:38-42). That the lamb was offered twice daily hints at its two applications - the first concerning the great deliverance from Egypt by the blood of the lamb, and the second concerning the even greater deliverance given through Yeshua, the true Lamb of God. Note also that the constant sacrifice of the lamb required that the fire at the altar would never be extinguished, and by extension, the duty to "care for the inner fire." Thank God that the fire is rekindled daily by the Spirit of God!
Parashat Chayei Sarah...
11.01.15 (Cheshvan 19, 5776) Our Torah reading for last week (i.e., Vayera) told how God was faithful to Abraham and Sarah by miraculously giving them a son (Isaac) in their old age. Nonetheless, Abraham faced his greatest test of all by being asked to offer up his promised child as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah, the place of the future Temple. On account of his willingness to obey, God promised He would multiply Abraham's offspring as the stars of heaven and that in his seed (singular) all the nations of the earth would be blessed.
This week's Torah portion is called Chayei Sarah (חיי שרה), the "life of Sarah," though it begins (paradoxically) with the account of her death, and tells how the first great matriarch of the Jewish people was buried in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron, a burial site which Abraham had purchased from Ephron the Hittite for four hundred shekels of silver.
After Sarah was buried in Hebron, Abraham sought a wife for his son by commissioning his faithful servant Eliezer (whom Abraham had originally thought would be his heir), to go among his relatives living in Mesopotamia to seek for a bride for Isaac. Eliezer (i.e., אֱלִיעֶזֶר, lit., "My God will help") then set out on the 550 mile journey to Haran (also called the City of Nahor and the place where Abraham's father died), taking ten camels laden with gifts in search of a suitable bride. Providentially, and in answer to his prayer, as soon as Eliezer reached the city of Nahor he encountered Abraham's grand niece Rebekah drawing water at a well, where she graciously provided water for him and for his ten camels, thereby confirming that she was God's choice for Isaac.