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Jewish Holiday Calendar 

Note: For April 2016 site updates, please scroll past this entry....

Spring is the start of the Biblical Year and is marked by two of the Shelosh Regalim (three annual pilgrimage festivals): Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost). The holiday of Shavuot is held seven weeks (or fifty days) following the morning after Pesach.
 

Spring Holiday Calendar

Dates for Passover 2015


The Spring Holidays:

Spring Holidays
 

The spring holidays provide a portrait of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah: Yeshua was crucified on erev Pesach, buried during Chag Hamotzi, and was resurrected on Yom Habikkurim (Firstfruits). Shavuot (i.e., the feast of Pentecost) was the day the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) fell on believers in fulfillment of the promise given by our Lord. 

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

  1. Month of Adar II (Wed., March 9th [eve] - Fri. April 8th [day])
  2. Month of Nisan (Fri. April 8th [eve] - Sat. May 7th [day])
  3. Month of Iyyar (Sat. May 7th [eve] - Mon. June 6th [day])
  4. Month of Sivan (Mon. June 6th [eve] - Tues. July 5th [day])

Note:  Because this is a Jewish leap year, the holiday of Passover -- and particularly the Festival of Firstfruits -- will not occur near the traditional date of "Easter" or "Resurrection Sunday" as it is often called in the Gregorian calendar... For more information, see the Calendar Pages....
 

Dates for Passover 2016:
Dates for Passover 2016

Free Seder Guide
 
 



 

April 2016 Updates
 


Confession of our Hope...


 

04.29.16 (Nisan 21, 5776)  It is written: "Faith is the foundation (i.e., ὑπόστασις: the "substance," reality, being, etc.) of hope, the conviction of the unseen... Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near must believe that God exists and rewards (μισθαποδότης) those who seek him" (Heb. 11:1,6). Note that God is pleased when we seek his presence, that is, when we when we look past the ephemera and ambiguity of the phenomenal world for the truth about spiritual reality. For our part, faith depends on confession. We must say that we believe, and affirm it with all our heart (Rom. 10:9). As it says, "I will make Your faithfulness known with my mouth" (Psalm 89:2). When you encounter tribulation, or experience some crisis of faith, reaffirm aloud: "I believe in God's promise..." Physically expressing your faith is itself an act of faith, and this encourages your soul to trust in God's healing reward even in the present struggle or darkness.

One of the more difficult tests of faith is learning to "endure yourself" as your inner character is being transformed by the mercy of God... To do so, you must receive the miracle of life in Yeshua (1 John 5:12). You must look beyond the realm of appearance, where the "outward man" perishes, to the realm of ultimate healing, where the "inward man" is finally liberated from the ravages of sin and death. This is the comfort we have in our affliction: God's promise revives our hearts to say, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth" (Job 19:25). Even in the "shadow of the valley of death" (i.e., this moribund and broken world), the LORD is with us and comforts us with His Presence (Psalm 23:4). We are given this great promise: "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:49).

Dear Lord, in the worst of our moments, thank you for seeing the Savior within us; thank you for heeding the groaning of hope that your Spirit of compassion imparts.... "When my heart was embittered, when I was pierced in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am always with you; You hold my right hand" (Psalm 73:21-23). Despite this lament, however, the psalmist affirmed that he was always with God - notwithstanding his ignorance, his complaint of heart, his doubts, fears, and so on... God is not driven away by our pain and confusion, but on the contrary, he takes us by the hand and will not let go: "It was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them" (Hos. 11:3).
 

שְׁמַע־יְהוָה קוֹלִי אֶקְרָא
וְחָנֵּנִי וַעֲנֵנִי

she·ma · Adonai · ko·li · ek·ra
ve'chon·nei·ni · va'a·nei·ni
 

"Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me"
(Psalm 27:7)


 
 

Of course it's not always easy to wait for God, especially when we are in pain or anxiety, but we must never, ever, give up; we must never ever, abandon our heart's longing for ultimate healing. Therefore the Spirit cries out: come alive and trust in the promise of God; receive the heavenly gift. Ve'yesh tikvah le'acharitekh (וְיֵשׁ־תִּקְוָה לְאַחֲרִיתֵךְ): "There is hope for your future," declares the LORD (Jer. 31:17). "Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, who makes us prisoners of hope" (אֲסִירֵי הַתִּקְוָה). Friends, Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful" (Heb. 10:23).

"The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Yeshua our Messiah" (Phil. 4:7). Shabbat Shalom chaverim!
 




Root of the Righteous...


 

04.29.16 (Nisan 21, 5776)  It is written, "No one is established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will never be moved" (Prov. 12:3). A person's heart is revealed by his core convictions and desires. Wealth and the pleasures of this world do no good for the eternal soul. Although the wicked of this world may appear to prosper, it is only temporary and will not last (Psalm 37:1-2); on the other hand, though the righteous may appear to fall, it is only temporary, and they will rise again, since the Root of the Righteous (שׁרֶשׁ צַדִּיקִים) is God's own power: "The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast down, for the Lord holds his hand" (Psalm 37:23-24).
 

לא־יִכּוֹן אָדָם בְּרֶשַׁע
וְשׁרֶשׁ צַדִּיקִים בַּל־יִמּוֹט

lo · yi·kon · a·dam · be're·sha'
ve'sho·resh · tzad·di·kim · bal · yi·mot
 

"No one is established by wickedness,
but the root of the righteous will never be moved."
(Proverbs 16:2)


 


The sages note that the word translated "established" (in Prov. 12:3) comes from a word (כֵּן) meaning a "base" or a "stand" – that is, something external that supports something, but the word "root" (שׁרֶשׁ) refers to the inner essence of the plant. The Malbim said that man is like an inverted tree with its roots on top, drawing life from heaven that provides him with spiritual sustenance. The wicked cut themselves off from the root and base their lives on the material and transitory foundation of this world. Yeshua likened the immovability of the righteous as those who build their house on the rock: when the tempest comes, the house will not fall, because it is founded upon the rock. Those who build their house on the sands of this world are foolish: when the tempest comes, the house will collapse and its fall will be great (Matt. 7:24-27). In the midst of life's storms and trials, the righteous (הצדיקים) have an inner support that keeps them from being destroyed, and that is the Rock of our Salvation (צוּר יִשְׁעֵנוּ), Yeshua our Lord!

The Scriptures state twice: שׁרֶשׁ לְמָטָּה וְעָשָׂה פְרִי לְמָעְלָה / "Take root downward and bear fruit upward" (2 Kings 19:30; Isa. 37:31). As Yeshua said, "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it produces a harvest (John 12:24). The inner life goes into the earth - it dies and then is re-opened to yield fruit. We pray we might surrender ourselves to the Lord fully, being immersed in His passion, "bearing fruit in every good work (ἐν παντὶ ἔργῳ ἀγαθῷ καρποφοροῦντες) and growing in da'at HaShem (דַעַת אֱלהִים) - the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10). The "fruit of the righteous is a Tree of Life" lit., etz chayim (עֵץ חַיִּים), "the Tree of lives" (Prov. 11:30). It is the fruit of Yeshua, the Righteous One, who bears fruits of healing for the lives of those who turn to Him in trust...

"I can do all things through the Messiah who strengthens me," not "some things," or a "few things," but ALL things (Phil. 4:13). Yeshua is the Tree of Life, the Source of all our strength. "May you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being" (Eph. 3:16). Let's remember to pray for one another and ask the LORD to help make each of us fruitful to the glory of our Heavenly Father (John 15:8).
 




How to "Count the Omer"


 

[ The following is related to the Torah's commandment to count exactly 49 days after the feast of Firstfruits until the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost).  ]

04.28.16 (Nisan 20, 5776)  The Hebrew word "omer" (עמֶר) generally refers to a measure of grain. The Torah commands that an omer of new grain (called chadash) must be "waved" by the priests before the altar on each of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot (Lev. 23:15-21). This ritual act is called omer ha-tenufah (עמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה), or the "waving of the omer." Prior to the offering of such "new grain," only the produce from earlier harvests could be eaten (which is called yashan, "old"). This is the "firstfruits" connection. Only crops that have been first dedicated to God are kosher for use by God's people...


 

The climax of the 49 days of counting (from the day after Passover to Pentecost) was not the giving of the lawcode at Sinai, but rather the revelation of the altar (i.e., the Tabernacle) and its subsequent fulfillment in the sacrificial death of Yeshua as our Lamb of God.  Moreover, it was during this time that Yeshua made His post-resurrection appearances to His disciples - and indeed ascended to heaven during this 49 day period... Of particular importance is the holiday of Shavuot, day 7x7 of the count, when the Holy Spirit (Ruach ha-Kodesh) was given to the disciples in fulfillment of the promise of Yeshua that we would not be left comfortless... Shavuot, then, marks the time of "Jubilee" of the Spirit, when are clothed with power from on high to serve the LORD without fear...

For more on this subject, see: "Sefirat HaOmer: Should we Count the Omer?"
 




The Overmastering Light...


 

04.28.16 (Nisan 20, 5776)  There is a lot of cunningly engineered fear (and outrage) "in the air," and the enemy of our souls seeks first of all to lead us into a place of exile, worry, and pain. We are able to resist him by submitting to the truth about reality (James 4:7). God's Name YHVH (יהוה) means "Presence" and "Love," and there is no power in heaven or earth that can overrule His hand. Therefore even if the prophesied "End of Days" were to begin this very hour, our responsibility is to focus on the Divine Presence and to walk in His truth and love. As King David said, "I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken" (Psalm 16:8).
 

שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
 כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט

shiv·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"
(Psalm 16:8)



Hebrew Study Card
 

The devil's strategy is as banal as it is tedious, namely, to entice us to forget the truth of God and to live in a state of virtual exile and pain. Therefore Shema - listen and remember - is the basic commandment. Since the LORD is the Center of all that is real, to become anxious is to "practice the absence" of God's presence instead of practicing His Presence. We have to remember the future, as well as the present and past....

There is a future time of healing and deliverance coming to us, though we must abide in the shadow of its substance for a bit longer: "For behold, the Day is coming (הַיּוֹם בָּא), burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The Day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my Name, the Sun of Righteousness (שֶׁמֶשׁ צְדָקָה) shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out skipping like calves released from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts" (Mal. 4:1-3).

This awesome passage from the Book of Malachi primarily applies to the Second Coming of Yeshua and the great "Day of the LORD" (יוֹם יהוה). The "Sun of Righteousness," shemesh tzaddik (שֶׁמֶשׁ צְדָקָה), refers to Messiah son of David, the risen life-giving Healer of God. Of Him it is said, "The LORD God is a sun and a shield" (Psalm 84:11) and "the LORD shall be to thee an everlasting Light (אוֹר עוֹלָם), and thy God thy glory; thy sun shall no more go down, for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light" (Isa. 60:19-20). The Divine Light will shine on those who receive God's righteousness, that is, on those who put their trust in the One who said, 'I am the Light of the world' (John 8:12). Shine Your Light upon us, O LORD!

The sages say, "in the world to come (עוֹלָם הַבָּא), God will bring the sun out of its sheath to burn the wicked; they will be judged by it, but the righteous will be healed by it' (Shemot Rabbah). Yeshua is compared to the "Sun" because as the Sun is the central luminous body of our world, so Yeshua is called the "Light of Life" (אוֹר הַחַיִּים). Yeshua is melech ha-kavod (מֶלֶךְ הַכָּבוֹד), "the King of Glory" -- and no one can stand before the blinding power of His countenance (Psalm 27:4; Rev. 1:8-19). His is the "Fountain of Light" for all of creation, the Source and End of all life: "For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things were created through Him and for Him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together... that in everything He might be preeminent" (Col. 1:16-18). Yeshua will come "with healing in his wings" -- that is, in healing radiance, with rays and beams, which metaphorically describe His influence over the hearts of men... Note that the word for "wings" used in this passage (i.e., kanaf: כָּנָף) pictures the image of a heavenly tallit (טַלִּית), or the heavenly firmament (רָקִיעַ) of the LORD's sheltering Presence.
 




Anger and Idolatry...


 

04.27.16 (Nisan 19, 5776)  It is written "the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God" (James 1:20). Indeed, being filled with anger or rage is a form of idolatry: "MY will be done..." It is a common struggle to let go of our need to be "right" all the time, but turn to God for the precious blessing of true humility... The Hebrew word for sin (i.e., chet: חֵטְא) means "missing the mark," though that essentially means missing the revelation of God's glory because anger and lesser fears consume the heart and obscure passion of the truth...
 

אַל־תְּבַהֵל בְּרוּחֲךָ לִכְעוֹס
כִּי כַעַס בְּחֵיק כְּסִילִים יָנוּחַ

al · te·va·hel · be·ru·cha·kha · likh·os
ki · kha·as · be·chek · ke·si·lim · ya·nu·ach
 

"Be not alarmed in your spirit to become angry,
for anger lodges in the heart of fools"
(Eccl. 7:9)
  


The sages consider sins of speech to be indicative, first of all, of the condition of the heart that marks evil and unbelief (see Luke 6:45; Matt. 12:37). Unreflective, impulsive talk is profoundly revelatory. Complaining against God's providential care of your life is a serious issue, and if left uncorrected, can lead to outright apostasy. Indeed refusing to accept life on God's terms – including your shortcomings, problems, tests, hang-ups, and other things -- is idolatry that elevates your will as supremely important. We must be very careful here. Inordinate anger is always a problem, though if it surfaces you may use it as an opportunity to examine the lies you are believing and the false assumptions you hold to be true.

A simple (and effective) antidote to anger is gratitude... Understand the sheer gratuity of your life and its manifold blessings. Meditate on Psalm 103 and contemplate on how life itself is a tremendous gift and that every day you are given is a sacred opportunity... Pray to be delivered of your anger, too. By all means do not allow it to become a settled disposition within you -- a scowl of the heart, a cynical and suspicious way of seeing everything! Ask God to soften your heart and to awaken you to his heart expressed in all things.
 

    "There is much to drag us back, O Lord: empty pursuits, trivial pleasures, unworthy cares. There is much to frighten us away: pride that makes us reluctant to accept help; cowardice that recoils from sharing your suffering; anguish at the prospect of confessing our sins. But You are stronger than all these forces. We call you our Redeemer and Savior because you redeem us from our empty, trivial existence, you save us from our foolish fears. This is your work which you have completed and will continue to complete in us every moment." - Kierkegaard

 




Do you now believe?


 

04.27.16 (Nisan 19, 5776)  "Do you now believe?" (John 16:31). Some people are scandalized by what they call "easy believism," or the idea that we only need to believe in Yeshua to be saved. Sometimes they malign this teaching as "cheap grace" or "sloppy agape," though in fairness it must be stressed there is nothing easy about truly believing. What is easy, however, is professing that you believe without undergoing a miraculous heart transformation. Anyone can say, "I believe in Jesus," but the test is whether he lives within you. Is he the source of your life?  Do you draw life from Him?  Anyone can claim they are saved, but it is a miracle greater than splitting the sea to undergo divine metamorphosis, to be given a heart that loves unconditionally, that dies to pride, and that lives as the servant of all. Yeshua asks, "Do you really believe? Many will say to me in that day, 'Lord, Lord...' but I will say to them, 'I never knew you...' (Matt. 7:22-23). It's not just hard to believe (obey), it's impossible apart from God's radical intervention. It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is no help at all (John 6:33).

Living by faith does not mean we profess Christianity or "talk theology" like some college professor. It's one thing to believe that, and another to believe in... Human reason can rightly infer that a morally good, all-powerful Creator exists, for example (Rom. 1:20), but it is unable to know God's love that way... Love requires trust, "taking to the heart." We are to "know this day and turn to your heart (והֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ) that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). We need to know truth (cognitive) and to be moved by the heart (emotional); we need both Spirit and Truth (John 4:24). "For all things come from You (כִּי־מִמְּךָ הַכּל), and from your hand we give to you" (1 Chron. 29:14). Teshuvah centers on Yeshua our Savior: turn to believe in Him!

Regarding the question of faith, Kierkegaard once wrote, "The easiness of Christianity is distinguished by one thing only: by the difficulty. Thus the Master's yoke it easy and its burden light -- for the person who has cast off all his burdens, all of them, the burdens of hope and of fear and of despondency and of despair -- yet it is difficult."  Yes, the difficult thing is to truly believe in the "for-you miracle" of God's love.  Sins can be like great possessions that are difficult to give up. Among other things, we must forgive ("give away") our sins (both our own and those against us), and that means trusting God enough to bear our wounds for us. Forgiveness allows us to move on with our lives by letting go of the pain of the past (2 Cor. 5:16). The atonement cost God everything, and yet is of no spiritual value until it is accepted into the heart. It is "easy" to understand this, but it is difficult to live it.

πιστεύω· βοήθει μου τῇ ἀπιστίᾳ - "I believe, help thou my unbelief" (Mark 9:24).
 




Fear and Trembling...


 

[ During the Sabbath of Passover week it is customary to read the ancient "love song" of King Solomon called Shir Ha-Shirim (שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים), or the "Song of Songs." ]

04.27.16 (Nisan 19, 5776)  The gospel reveals God's passion for us, the call of his heart, his desire to elevate us to the role of the beloved, and we respond by accepting Him as the great Lover of our souls, the "ultimate concern" of our life. Sin threatens to seduce us away from God's love, to interfere with our relationship, which evokes God's "jealousy" to protect love from loss. It is written that "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18), but perfect love (τελεία ἀγάπη) must be "perfect," that is, reciprocal, complete, consummated, and alive with passion. In Hebrew, perfect love is "shalem" - that is, whole, healed, and unified (אַהֲבָה שְׁלֵמָה). Perfect love is both given and received... It is not "perfect love" to objectively accept that God loves you in Jesus. No, you must receive this as an inward passion, you must live within it, must embrace it, take possession of it, and let it fill your heart to abundance. This love, this "perfect love," then will cast away your fear of being unwanted, rejected, and abandoned. But to know this love, you have to open your heart and accept it as your own; you have to accept yourself as the beloved of God:
 

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְעָלַי תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ

a·ni · le·do·di · ve·a·lai · te·shu·ka·to
 

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


  


I realize the analogy of God as the great "Lover of our Souls" is ideal for us, and yet it is vital that we understand ourselves as the "beloved" of the Lord... May the LORD help us walk in the truth of his love. Amen...
 




Countdown to Pentecost...


 

04.26.16 (Nisan 18, 5776)  In Jewish tradition, forty nine days – seven weeks of days – are carefully counted between the second day of Unleavened Bread and Shavuot (Pentecost or "Weeks"). This period of time is called Sefirat HaOmer (סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר), or the "counting the [barley] sheaves." In abstract terms, it's almost as if there is a dotted line pointing directly from Passover to Shavuot - a "Jubilee" of days - representing the climax of Passover itself. The early sages identified this climax as the revelation of the Torah at Sinai, but the New Testament identifies it as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) that confirmed the reality of the New Covenant of God. The redemption process that began at Passover was therefore completed at Shavuot, and that "completion" was the revelation of God's love and deliverance for the entire world. And though the Jewish sages did not fathom the use of the otherwise forbidden leaven in the offering (see Eph. 2:14). The countdown to Shavuot therefore goes beyond the giving of Torah at Sinai and points to the greater revelation of Zion. Shavuot is the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit's advent to those who are trusting in Messiah (Acts 2:1-4). "Counting the Omer," then, is about receiving the Holy Spirit to experience and know the resurrected LORD of Glory. You can "count" on that, chaverim!


 

From a Messianic point of view, the climax of the 49 days was not the giving of the lawcode at Sinai, but rather the revelation of the altar (i.e., the Tabernacle) and its subsequent fulfillment in the sacrificial death of Yeshua as our Lamb of God. Moreover, it was during this time that Yeshua made His post-resurrection appearances to His disciples - and indeed ascended to heaven during this 49 day period... Of particular importance is the holiday of Shavuot, day 7x7 of the count, when the Holy Spirit (Ruach ha-Kodesh) was given to the disciples in fulfillment of the promise of Yeshua that we would not be left comfortless... Shavuot, then, marks the time of "Jubilee" of the Spirit, when are clothed with power from on high to serve the LORD without fear...

For more on this subject, see: "Sefirat HaOmer: Counting the Sheaves to Shavuot."
 




Passover's Love Song...


 

04.26.16 (Nisan 18, 5776)  During the Sabbath of Passover week it is customary to read the ancient "love song" of King Solomon called Shir Ha-Shirim (שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים), or the "Song of Songs."  In Jewish tradition, since Passover marks the time when our "romance" with God officially began, the sages chose this song to celebrate God's love for his people. And since Passover is also called Chag Ha-Aviv, the festival of spring, the Song is also associated with creativity and hope associated with springtime (Song 2:11-12). One way to read this poem is to see the king, who had disguised himself as a lowly shepherd to win the heart of the Shulamite woman, as a picture of Yeshua who took the form of a lowly servant to demonstrate his eternal love for those who are trusting in him... Indeed, the Song of Songs is linked to the "lilies" (i.e., shoshanim: שׁשַׁנִּים) mentioned in Psalm 45, which presents a Messianic vision of the Divine Bridegroom and offers an "ode" for a forthcoming wedding.
 

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי
הָרעֶה בַּשׁוֹשַׁנִּים

a·ni · le·do·di · ve·do·di · li
ha·ro·eh · ba·sho·sha·nim
 

"I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine;
he grazes among the lilies."
(Song 6:3)


 
Download Study Card
 


The meaning of Passover is of course rooted in the greatest love story ever told - about God, creation, the loss of Adam and Eve, the call of Israel, and the coming of the Messiah who would sanctify us as His own people, deliver us from the plague of death, and redeem us from the penalty of sin. Yeshua's mesirat nefesh ("giving over of soul" in sacrifice) and his triumph at the cross made the new covenant with God possible. As our Suffering Servant, He gave up His life for ours in exchange, redeeming us from the sickness unto death and making the way for our everlasting healing.

Whether or not you were able to attend a Passover Seder this year, please understand that there is always a place for you at His table.  After all, Yeshua made a place for you within His heart when he died for you on the cross, and that is what Passover is really all about anyway.  Shalom chaverim.

Note:  For more on the connection between Passover and the Song of Songs, see the article Shir Hashirim: Passover and the Song of Solomon.
 




Why the Resurrection Matters...


 

[ The following entry is related to the great holiday of Firstfruits... ]

04.25.16 (Nisan 17, 5776)  The Scriptures make clear that Yeshua is the true Passover Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) whose sacrificial death and shed blood causes the wrath of God to "pass over" (pasach) those who are trusting in Him (John 1:29, 3:36; Acts 8:32-36; 1 Cor. 5:7-8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20, etc.). Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! (Rev. 5:12). But while the sacrifice of Yeshua gives us atonement (כַּפָּרָה) with God, the resurrection of the Messiah (i.e., techiyat ha-Mashiach: תְּחִיַּת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) justifies His work of salvation on behalf of the sinner and forever vindicates the righteousness of God.

The resurrection of Yeshua is not an "academic" or speculative question to be considered in purely rational terms, but rather is a matter of eternal life or death. How we choose to respond to its message determines our destiny. Everything turns on whether we awaken to the risen reality and Presence of Yeshua in our lives. Without Him we are hopeless; with Him we are more than conquerors (1 Cor. 15:14; Rom. 8:37).
 

Everything turns on whether we awaken to
the risen Reality and Presence of Yeshua in our lives...

 


Yeshua completely atoned for our sins and His resurrection validated that God the Father accepted His sacrifice. It was God the Father (i.e., Reality) who raised Yeshua in victory (Gal. 1:1, Rom. 10:9), and those who put their trust trust in Him are declared righteous on account of their faith.  Yeshua "was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25).  As Jesus Himself said, "Because I am alive, you also will live" (John 14:19).

Note:  
For more on the tremendously important subject of why the resurrection of Yeshua matters, please see this article.
 




The Mysterious Shroud of Turin


 

[ The following entry is related to the holiday of Firstfruits. Some people contend that the famous Shroud of Turin is the authentic burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth, whereas others claim it is an sophisticated forgery. Regardless, the study of the shroud surely is provocative and provides a remarkable reminder of both the suffering and the resurrection of our Messiah.... ]

04.25.16 (Nisan 17, 5776)  A few years ago I read fascinating article that reported that one of the leading scientists of the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STRP) later confessed that the sample taken from cloth was flawed (i.e., it came from a piece of the Shroud that was repaired in the Middle Ages, not from the original cloth). The scientist -- Ray Rogers, a chemist from the Los Alamos National Laboratory -- later acknowledged that it's now entirely reasonable to conclude that the cloth was none other than the burial shroud of Jesus of Nazareth. And today I read that the most recent experiments conducted by scientists at the University of Padua (in northern Italy) have dated the shroud to the time of Christ....

Even though the controversy regarding the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin gets technical and involved, I tend to regard the Shroud as authentic, primarily because there are no known means for a medieval artist to have created a "negative" (holographic) image of a body (especially an image with such anatomical detail that only a modern pathologist would appreciate), and there is simply no motive for someone to have done so, anyway. After all, what can it possibly mean to call an utterly unique item a "forgery" anyway?  Both the "how" and the "why" questions of the Shroud are troubling to those who (a priori) reject the possibility of the miraculous, and therefore the idea that the Shroud is a forgery or a hoax has become the standard biased response for many who reject the historical resurrection of Yeshua from the dead. 

On the hypothesis that the Shroud of Turin is an elaborate and sophisticated forgery, however, we must suppose there once was a medieval artist who was so talented that he or she could paint the "negative" image of a body, that is, an image with the full spectrum of light reversed. Moreover, this artist would have to paint in obverse -- somewhat like a minting impression.  This painter also would have to be intimately familiar with the customs of crucifixion that were unknown during the Middle Ages. For instance, he or she would have to know that the Romans crucified their victims entirely naked, that they pounded the nails through the wrists (not through the hands, as is usually depicted by stigmata paintings of the period), that the victim wore Palestinian style "earlocks" (i.e. peyot ha-rosh) and so on. This fantastic artist also would have to paint in an incredibly realistic and detailed style (again, unlike all other artists of the period), noting such things as the presence of a coin located under the right eyelid and the presence of various blood stains in physiologically correct locations on the cloth.... Finally, this medieval artist would have to paint from the perspective of a negative exposure -- a concept that was unknown until nearly 600 years later. In short, it seems that our hypothetical artist would have to something of a miracle worker.... If it's a fake, it's a seemingly miraculous fake; but if it's true, it's astoundingly true.... Either way, the Shroud testifies of something...


 

In addition to the lack of technology in the Middle Ages to create such an image, the question must be asked about why such a invisible image would be produced in the first place.  What possible motive would be at work in this case?  Why would our supposed artist go through all this trouble, especially during the relatively superstitious Middle Ages? What point would there have been in creating such a fantastic duplicity?  The inference to the best explanation suggests that the Shroud of Turin, whatever else it might be, certainly is not the result of human ingenuity and forgery....  Occam's Razor applies in this case: we do not need to multiply miracles in order to explain something that could be explained through the attested historical accounts of the resurrection of Yeshua.

So should the Shroud of Turin be cited as evidence of the resurrection of Yeshua?  Is it a valid "apologetic" device, an empirical "proof" of the resurrection? Well, since we cannot say for certain that the image is that of Yeshua ha-Notzri (Jesus of Nazareth), we cannot make a dogmatic claim that this is direct evidence of His resurrection, though it's surely consistent with it. The shocking image -- revealed through negative spectrum light -- is that of a 1st century Jewish man who was beaten, whipped, and crucified. Pollen samples taken from the cloth also indicate a Middle East provenance.  Though we cannot offer a scientific "proof" that this is the burial shroud of Yeshua, we might make a "legal" case that it is.... In other words, the imprinted image of the Shroud is consistent with the testimony of the New Testament and the theistic worldview, but certainly not with "naturalism" or other worldviews. The Shroud is a "problem" for those who are unbelievers, not believers...  If it were later debunked as some sort of a forgery, our faith would remain unshaken, since we believe in order to understand, not conversely. Empirical evidences are never conclusive for skeptics anyway. As Yeshua said, "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31).  And perhaps that's the allure and beauty of the Shroud -- like so many other matters of faith, what you see is what you ultimately choose to see....  Like a looking glass, it reveals more about the person looking at it than it does of the thing itself...


Addendum: Please note that I am not advocating venerating relics or chasing visions of "bleeding icons," etc. Such things are always insufficient for a heart change from God.  As Yeshua said, "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31). Nonetheless, I find it fascinating that if the Shroud of Turin is a forgery, it's entirely amazing and unlike any other seen before, but if it's authentic, it's evidence of the resurrection itself (1 Cor. 2:2). I also see no sense in claiming (as some have) that the Shroud is some form of "satanic deception."  After all -- forgery or not -- the Shroud points to something the powers of darkness and deception certainly do not want to be published, namely, the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua...

Some current books and research on the shroud can be found here.
 




He is Forever Alive...


[ The following is related to holiday of First Fruits which began last night at sundown... ]

04.25.16
 (Nisan 17, 5776)  The most important fact of all history - and that which radically transforms everything else - is the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead (תחייתו של משיח). Spiritual life means being awake to the risen reality and saving Presence of Yeshua, the One who Overcame and vanquished the power of death. Without Him we are hopeless; with Him we are more than conquerors (1 Cor. 15:14; Rom. 8:37). The resurrection means Yeshua is forever alive, and that today he hears your heart's cry. He is surely able to help you, and nothing can overthrow his invincible will. Our Lord suffered and died for your inner peace and healing, but now death has no hold over him, and he "ever lives to make intercession for you" (Rom. 6:9, Heb. 7:25). He is your compassionate Advocate (παράκλητος, lit. "one called alongside") who gives you heavenly comfort (1 John 2:1). Even more: The very power that raised Yeshua from the dead now dwells in you (Rom. 8:11). The miracle of new life is "Messiah in you - the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). The Lord will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5): He "sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24); He sustains your way, and he will perfect the work of salvation on your behalf (Jude 1:24). In short, there simply is no "gospel" message apart from the resurrection! The resurrection is the victory of God's plan of salvation - His everlasting vindication over the powers of darkness - for your life.

The Talmud says "All the world was created for the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b). The New Testament had earlier said the same thing: "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Indeed, all of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of the Messiah's power (Heb. 1:3). Creation begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our LORD... The Messiah is the Center of Creation - its beginning and end. As it is written: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the 'Aleph' and the 'Tav,' the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36). Yeshua our Messiah is called מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים / Melech Malchei Hamelachim: The "King of kings of kings." He is LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest celestial glory to the dust of death upon a cross. Yehi shem Adonai mevorakh (יְהִי שֵׁם יהוה מְברָךְ): "Let the Name of the LORD be blessed" forever and ever (Psalm 113:2). So while we can agree with the Talmud's general statement that the world was created "for the Messiah," we would insist that the name of the Messiah is none other than Yeshua, God's Son, and indeed, there is no other (Acts 4:12).
 

חַי־יְהוָה וּבָרוּךְ צוּרִי
וְיָרוּם אֱלוֹהֵי יִשְׁעִי

chai-Adonai · u·va·rukh · tzur·i
ve'ya·rum · e·lo·hei · yish·i
 

"The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock,
and exalted be the God of my salvation."
(Psalm 18:46)


 
Hebrew Study Card

 

The heart of faith 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). The early Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) rendered Elohei Yishi as "God my Jesus," since "Jesus" (i.e., Yeshua) rightly means YHVH saves. Yeshua is the One who breathed life into the first Adam just as He is the One who breathes eternal life into those who are descended from Him, the great "second Adam."


Note: For more on the First Fruits of Messiah, see the article: "Reishit Katzir."
 




The Life is in the Blood...


 

[ The following concerns the holiday of Passover, which begins this evening... We must always remember that there is no Passover without the blood of the Lamb... Chag Pesach Samea'ch! ]

04.22.16
 (Nisan 14, 5776)  The very first time the word "blood" (דָּם) occurs in the Scriptures concerns the death of Abel, the son of Adam and Eve who was murdered by his brother Cain. After Abel's blood was shed, the LORD confronted Cain and said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood (קוֹל דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ) is crying to me from the ground" (Gen. 4:10). Since blood is the carrier of life, it bears the energy and vitality of life: it has its own spiritual "voice." Likewise, the blood of Yeshua (דְּמֵי יֵשׁוּעַ), the true Lamb of God who died upon the cross, speaks on our behalf, and reverses the power of death by creating a barrier that death can no longer cross, since the death of the sacrificial victim "exchanges" the merit and power of life. Unlike the blood of Abel that "cries out" for justice, the blood of Yeshua cries out for life and mercy (Heb. 12:24). Putting our trust in the provision of God's sacrifice causes His wrath (or righteous judgment) to pass over while simultaneously extending eternal life and blessing to the sinner.... This is the essential message of the gospel itself, that we have atonement through the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua our Savior, the great Lamb of God. As Yeshua said, "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the One who sent me has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and will not be condemned, but has passed over (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24). Just as God's judgment passes over from life to death on my behalf; so His love passes over from death to life on my behalf...

For more on this subject, see "Parashat Bo: The Life is in the Blood."
 




Passover: Who knows 15?


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Friday, April 22 this year.... ]

04.21.16 (Nisan 13, 5776)  Many of us are familiar with the connection between Passover and the number four. There are four "special Sabbaths" that precede the festival, and the holiday itself has four names: Chag Ha-Pesach (the holiday of the Passover [Num. 9:2]); Chag HaMatzot (the holiday of Unleavened Bread [Exod. 12:17-20]); Chag Ha-Aviv (the holiday of spring [Deut. 16:1]), and Z'man Cheiruteinu (the Season of our Freedom). During the seder, we partake of arba kosot ("four cups"), ask arba kushiyot ("four questions"), discuss arba Banim ("four sons"), and so on. However, it has been noted by various sages that the number fifteen is also connected to this holiday. There are 15 Steps to the traditional Passover Seder, which is held exactly 15 days into the first month of the Jewish year (i.e., Nisan). The famous "Song of the Sea" (i.e., Shirat Hayam: שִׁירַת הַיָּם) - which thanks God for the Exodus from Egypt - is found in the 15th chapter of the Book of Exodus, which was crafted by the scribes so that its center column has exactly 15 "steps" of text:


 

The Divine Name YAH (יה) - which first occurs in the Scriptures in the "Song of the Sea" (Exod. 15:2) - equals 15 in Hebrew gematria, and during the seder meal there are 15 things for which we sing Dayenu (i.e., דַּיֵּנוּ: "it would have been enough").  Furthermore, there were 15 steps on the south side of the Temple Mount, leading up to the Temple, and 15 psalms (120-134) that sung by the Levites as "Songs of the Steps." There are also 15 words uttered in the Priestly Blessing (Birkat Kohanim).... 15 is also the number of completion (7) combined with the number of grace (8), indicating the plan of God's redemption for the ages.
 




Celebrate God's Love...


 

04.20.16 (Nisan 12, 5776)  Yeshua said the kingdom of heaven could be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his beloved son. Those who were invited made one excuse after another why they could not attend, so the disappointed king then instructed his servants to "go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame... and compel everyone you find to come in, so my house may be filled." God loves people and implores them to personally join in the celebration of his love, to partake of the marriage feast of Lamb (Rev. 19:7). But note that this means that we are to bring all the lame, broken, and fearful parts of ourselves to the banqueting table of God's love... The courage to "come to the table" only comes from a sense of being welcomed and accepted, that is, by trusting that you are truly made safe by God's love....

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

    The sages sometimes say that God is closer to sinners than to saints.  "God in heaven holds each person by a string. When you sin, you cut the string; but then God ties it up again, making a knot - and thereby you are brought a little closer to him. Again and again your sins cut the string - and with each further knot God keeps drawing you closer and closer." (Anthony de Mello in One Minute Wisdom)

 




Blood on the Doorposts...


 

04.20.16 (Nisan 12, 5776)  The Torah describes how the Israelites were commanded to slaughter the Passover and daub its blood on the two sides and top of the doorway of their houses (Exod. 12:7). The LORD would then see the blood and "pass over" their dwellings during the plague of the death of the firstborn. Based on this description, we might assume the blood was put on the outside of the door, though Rashi reasoned that it was placed on the inside, where they themselves could see it as a sign for them (i.e., הָיָה הַדָּם לָכֶם לְאוֹת [Exod. 12:13]). Indeed, after the blood was applied, the doors were shut and no one was permitted to leave the house until the following morning (Exod. 12:22). The blood of the sacrifice was intended to be seen as a sign for those who were trusting in the redemption of God. Likewise, by faith we apply the blood of the lamb to the "inside" of our hearts...

Note:  For more on this, see the parashat Bo article: "Blood on the Doorposts."
 




The Very First Passover...


 

04.19.16 (Nisan 11, 5776)  The story of Passover goes all the way back to the beginning, to the very orchard of Eden itself, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate from the forbidden tree. Because of their transgression, our original ancestors incurred the plague of death and were exiled from the Divine Presence, though God graciously promised to heal them through the coming Seed of the woman – the Savior who would crush the head of the serpent and break the fangs of his venomous sting (Gen. 3:15). Soon after making this great promise, God clothed our primordial parents with the skin of a sacrificed lamb (Gen. 3:21), linking their coming deliverance with the "Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world" (1 Pet. 1:18-20). The very first "Passover" was in the garden. And the story of Passover extends to the world to come, where in the redeemed paradise of God we will celebrate the victory of the Lamb who was slain for our redemption (Rev. 5:12-13).

The great story of our redemption is revealed on two levels in Scripture - one that concerns the paradise of Eden (the universal level), and the other that concerns the paradise of Israel (the particular level). Therefore Yeshua is both rightly called the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29) and "the Messiah our Passover Lamb who has been sacrificed for us" (1 Cor. 5:7). Likewise he is both called the "Seed of the woman," and "the Son of David"; the "Second Adam," and the "King of the Jews," and so on. The story of Israel's redemption in Egypt therefore serves as an allegory of both the universal salvation promised in Eden (i.e., the lamb slain from the foundation of the world) as well as the revelation of the sacrificial ministry of Yeshua as Israel's promised Messiah. Yeshua is both the Savior of the world as well as Israel's true King and Deliverer.

Note:  For more on this subject, please see the articles, "The Very First Passover" and "The Gospel in the Garden."
 




Our Broken Matzah...


04.19.16 (Nisan 11, 5776)  During our Passover Seder, we will place three matzahs on the table, said to represent Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, respectively. During the Yachatz step of the seder, the middle matzah (representing Isaac) will be broken to recall how Isaac was sacrificed in obedience to his father, foreshadowing the sacrifice of Yeshua by God the Father. Indeed, the Talmud states, "We break the middle matzah in tribute to Yitzchak (Isaac), who accepted the sins of the people upon himself" (Shabbos 89b). The smaller half of this broken matzah will be eaten later during the Motzi Matzah step, while the larger half will be eaten during the Afikomen step, near the end of the night...

In Hebrew, the middle of something is it's heart - the heart of the heavens, the heart of the earth, the heart of the sea, the heart of a person... Since the offering of Isaac by Abraham foretold of the greater offering of Yeshua by God Himself, when we break the middle matzah, then, we recall the broken heart of God over the pain Yeshua endured by taking our sins upon Him at the cross...."For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21).

During his Passover seder with his disciples, Yeshua "took matzah, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body" (Matt. 26:26). Since Yeshua did this while they were eating dinner, the matzah he broke would have been the Afikomen, thereby making the connection between the hidden bread (lechem ha-nistar) that would be broken given for our deliverance. The matzah we eat during Passover is called lechem oni (לֶחֶם ענִי) - "the bread of [His] suffering" - and eating the Bread of Life that was "broken for us" remembers the great suffering of our LORD...
 




The Question of Passover...


 

04.18.16 (Nisan 10, 5776)  During the Passover seder we begin our retelling the story of the Exodus when the question is sung: "Mah nistanah ha-lailah ha-zeh mikol ha-leilot?" - How does this night differ from all other nights? This is the central question of Passover, asked for thousands of years, and the answer is always the same: "We were slaves, but God redeemed us from our bondage by the blood of the lamb (דַּם הַשֶּׂה)." Note again that there were not many lambs, but the LORD told Israel: "You shall keep it [i.e., the Passover lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter him (אתוֹ) at twilight (Exod. 12:6). Each family put their trust in God's uniquely appointed sacrifice to be delivered from the plague of death (מכת המוות).
 




Cleanse out the old leaven...


 

04.17.16 (Nisan 9, 5776)  The Torah states that during the days of Passover, sometimes called the Festival of Unleavened Bread, no chametz (i.e., leavened food) may be eaten for a full seven days - from the 15th of Nisan through the 22nd of Nisan (Exod. 12:15-18; 34:18). Every trace of leavening must be purged from our homes, and no leavened products of any kind may be consumed during this time (Exod. 12:15). Spiritually speaking, leaven represents decay, rotting influences, bitterness, sourness, unforgiveness, and so on. "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Test me and know my thoughts. And see if there be any idolatrous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).
 

חָקְרֵנִי אֵל וְדַע לְבָבִי בְּחָנֵנִי וְדַע שַׂרְעַפָּי
וּרְאֵה אִם־דֶּרֶךְ־עצֶב בִּי וּנְחֵנִי בְּדֶרֶךְ עוֹלָם

chok·rei·ni · el · ve'da · le·va·vi · be·cha·nei·ni · ve'da · sar·a·pai
u·reh · im · de·rekh · o·tzev · bi · u'ne·chei·ni · be'de·rekh · o·lam
 

"Search me, O God, and know my heart! Test me and know my thoughts;
and see if there be any idolatrous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting"
(Psalm 139:23-34)



Hebrew Study Card
 


The search for chametz is not unlike the soul searching we do before the fall High Holidays, when we perform chesbon hanefesh (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ) by taking inventory of our spiritual condition before the LORD. In other words, we are instructed to search and remove sources of inner impurity so that we might experience the truth that we are a "new lump" - that is, a new substance that is purged from the sour and rotting influences of our past lives (1 Cor. 5:7). Since Yeshua has been sacrificed as our Passover Lamb (הַשֵׁה פִסְחֵנוּ), understand that you are a "new creation" (בְּרִיָּה חֲדָשָׁה) and are made "unleavened" by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 5:17). Therefore we are likewise commanded put away the "old nature" - the yetzer ha'ra - and purge from your life the old influences that inwardly canker you and make you sick. Walk without hypocrisy in the truth of the love of God for your soul.

Note:  For more on this subject, a brief audio discussion is available here.
 




Abraham and the Exodus...


 

[ The following entry summarizes a portion of the story of Passover, which we hope to retell during the Passover Seder on Friday, April 22 this year... ]

04.15.16 (Nisan 7, 5776)  Our father Abraham had personally experienced his own "Exodus from Egypt" when he left the Promised Land during a time of famine, and his beloved wife Sarah was subsequently abducted into Pharaoh's harem. In a state of helplessness, God then intervened on Abraham's behalf and "plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues" (Gen. 12:10-20). Later, when Abraham sought reassurance that his progeny would indeed inherit the promised land, the LORD made an unconditional "Covenant between the Parts" (בְּרִית בֵּין הבְּתָרִים) where He solemnly vowed to give the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants forever (Gen. 15). However, during that time, Abraham was also given a "dark vision" and foresaw both the 400 year slavery of his family and their deliverance during the time of the great Exodus (Gen. 15:12-14). When Abraham's grandson Jacob later was told by God to go to Egypt to be reunited with his son Joseph, he was assured that God would make his family into "a great nation" there (גוֹי גָּדוֹל אֲשִׂימְךָ שָׁם), and he was further promised: va'anochi a'alekha (ואָנכִי אַעַלְךָ), "and I will bring you back up" to the promised land (Gen. 46:2-4). When the time finally came for Jacob to die, he said to his Joseph: "Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers" (Gen. 48:21). Jacob went to his grave trusting that God's promises would come true, as his son Joseph did when he insisted that his brothers solemnly swear to take his bones with them when God would later rescue Israel (Gen. 50:24-25). The Book of Genesis ends with the embalmed body of Joseph put into a coffin, awaiting the advent of Moses and the promised Exodus of the Jewish people...
 




Taking Passover Personally...


 

[ The great holiday of Passover begins Friday evening, April 22nd... ]

04.15.16
 (Nisan 7, 5776)  The message of Passover applies to each of us: "In each and every generation an individual should look upon him or herself as if he or she (personally) had left Egypt." Indeed the very First Commandment is to accept the reality of our personal deliverance by the LORD: "I AM the LORD your God (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ ), who brought you (singular) out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). Note that the Hebrew word "Egypt" is mitzraim (מִצְרַיִם), a word that means "prison, enclosure, or straights," from the verb tzur (צוּר) meaning "to bind or confine" (the Yiddish word tsuris, "trouble," comes from the same root). On the other hand, the Hebrew word for salvation is yeshuah (יְשׁוּעָה), from a root that means to "make wide," to "release from constraint," to deliver or set free. It is noteworthy that God began the Ten Commandments by identifying Himself as our Redeemer and Deliverer rather than as our Creator, because the purpose of creation is to be set free by means of God's redemptive love given through Yeshua, the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Eph. 1:4).
 




Passover and Freedom...


 

04.15.16 (Nisan 7, 5776)  Passover is sometimes called z'man cheruteinu (זְמָן חֵרוּתֵנוּ), the "Season of our Freedom." Our postmodern culture today is wicked and lawless, afflicted with the cowardice that comes from having a bad conscience. In that sense it is decidedly unfree and enslaved to its own self-destructive impulses. Tragically, many people today interpret "freedom" to mean the ability to do whatever they want to do whenever they want to do it.  However, simply "doing your own thing" is not the Torah's idea of freedom. Yeshua told us "whoever commits sin is the slave (δουλος) of sin," and went on to say "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:34-36).   True freedom (i.e., cherut: חרוּת) is therefore moral and spiritual rather than merely physical. Real freedom has to do with the power to choose what is right and good, not to simply get your own way or to practice your lusts... Our deliverance is meant to clothe us with divine power to walk in righteousness and truth.

Where it is written, "The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets" (Exod. 32:16), the midrash says do not read "engraved (חָרוּת) on the tablets" but rather as "freedom (חֵרוּת) on tablets," since only those who obey God's will may rightly be called "free" people...
 




Truth and Freedom...


 

04.15.16 (Nisan 7, 5776)  When Yeshua said that the truth would "make us free" (ἐλευθερώσει), he was referring to the acceptance of the Witness of Divine Reality (i.e., the Word, Breath, Spirit, Voice, Message, Meaning, and Love of God) that delivers us from the lies we habitually tell ourselves.  If you "persevere in my word" (μείνητε ἐν τῷ λόγῳ τῷ ἐμῷ) he said, "then you are my disciples indeed, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (ἡ ἀλήθεια ἐλευθερώσει ὑμᾶς, John 8:31-32). In other words, as we identify with his vision and redemptive mission, we will "be free indeed" from the tohu va'vohu (Gen. 1:2) – the "chaos and unreality" – that inescapably besets the way of the lie...  We will be delivered from vanity and delusions of this world and its diseased affections; we will be set free from the need to justify ourselves by religion (perfectionism); we will no longer crave other people's approval; we will not be moved by the crowd and its pressures; we will find courage to face our challenges without resorting to escapism; and we will learn how to experience peace even when we encounter frustrations.  Despite our daily struggles and tests, we will be released from bondage to anger and resentment as we yield our will in trust that God is working all things together for our ultimate good (Rom. 8:28). Genuine freedom is not an "accidental property" of the heart, depending on "luck" or "fortune," but instead is a decision to believe in the Reality of the salvation of God given in Yeshua our LORD.
 




The Leper Messiah...


 

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

04.14.16 (Nisan 6, 5776)  It is tragic that traditional Judaism does not include Isaiah 53 as part of its yearly Haftarah readings.  Perhaps the sages got confused about how to interpret the prophet. This shouldn't surprise us, however, since the prophets were regularly misunderstood and persecuted by various "religious authorities" in Jewish history (see Luke 11:47-51). Still, the sages might have missed the coming of Yeshua because there are two distinct pictures of the Messiah revealed in the visions of the prophets.  On the one hand, Messiah is portrayed as a great king, deliverer, and savior of the Jewish people who comes in triumph "in the clouds" (Dan. 7:13), but on the other he is depicted as riding a donkey, lowly and humble, a suffering servant, born in lowliness, despised and rejected of men (Zech. 9:9). These two visions of Messiah eventually led to various oral traditions that there would be two Messiahs: a Messiah ben Joseph (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־יוֹסֵף) and a Messiah ben David (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־דָוִד). In other words, the sages split the concept of Messiah in two, "dividing the visions," by regarding one Messiah as a sufferer and the other Messiah as a conqueror.

Messiah ben Yosef is identified with the Suffering Servant, of whom the patriarch Joseph prefigured (and of whom Isaiah plainly spoke in his four "Servant Songs"). In some traditions of Judaism, Messiah ben Yosef is recognized as a forerunner and harbinger of the final deliverer, Messiah ben David. Ben Yosef suffers for the sins of Israel and ends up getting killed in the battle against evil for the benefit of ben David (in this way, the two ideas of Messiah were attempted to be "connected" - though not unified).  In the Talmud it is written, "When will the Messiah come?" And "By what sign may I recognize him?" Elijah tells the rabbi to go to the gate of the city where he will find the Messiah sitting among the poor lepers (Sanhedrin 98a). ‎"The Messiah -- what is his name?... The sages say, the Leper Scholar, as it is said, 'surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God and afflicted...'" (Sanhedrin 98b). These statements concern the idea of Messiah ben Yosef...

Messiah ben David, on the other hand, is identified as the great military ruler and King of Israel of whom King David prefigures.  This greater "son of David" will regather the exiles, set up the (Third) Temple, and deliver Israel from all her enemies. This is the "Shiloh" version of Messiah that the sages of Judaism (such as Maimonides) have long been expecting (for more on the vision of Zion, see "As the Day Draws Near"). We believe Yeshua the Messiah in His second coming will completely fulfill this description of Messiah ben David.

The sages apparently were unwilling to unify the various Messianic prophecies in the Tanakh and therefore chose to "divide the visions." Ironically, while they longed for the ideal of Zion to be finally realized, they missed the means by which Zion itself would be established.  They did not comprehend that the prophecies concerning the one Messiah would be fulfilled in two distinct ways: Yeshua is both Ben Yosef (the Suffering Servant - at His first coming) and Ben David (the Reigning King - at His second coming).  He is also the Anointed Prophet, Priest, and King as foreshadowed by other me'shichim (משיחים) in the Tanakh.

"And of the Messiah -- what is his name?... The early sages answer, the "Leper Scholar" (מלומד מצורע)..." (Sanhedrin 98b). How was it that Yeshua was able to touch the metzora ("leper") and yet remain clean himself (Matt 8:1-4) unless he the LORD our Healer, the "the learned leper"? Just as Yeshua spoke with greater authority than Moses (Matt. 5:21-48), so He was able to do what Moses (and those under the Levitical system of worship) could not do -- namely, reach down in compassion and take away the uncleanness from our lives.... Yeshua's blood creates the "waters of separation" (מֵי נִדָּה). He is the fulfillment of the "Red Heifer" sacrifice. Only Yeshua enters the "leper colony" of humanity and takes away our tzara'at (sin) by becoming ish machovot (אישׁ מַכְאבוֹת), a leper Himself, the Just for the Unjust, that He might make us acceptable before the LORD.

As the prophet Isaiah wrote of Messiah:
 

    "He is despised and rejected of men, a man of pains (אִישׁ מַכְאבוֹת) and acquainted with sickness (וִידוּעַ חלִי), and we hid as it were our faces from him. He was despised and we esteemed him not. Surely he has carried our sicknesses (חֳלָיֵנוּ) and borne our pains (מַכְאבֵינוּ), yet we esteemed him as plagued (נָגַע), smitten of God (מֻכֵּה אֱלהִים) and oppressed. But he was pierced (מְחלָל) for our transgressions (פְּשָׁעֵנוּ), he was crushed for our iniquities (עֲוֹנתֵינוּ): the discipline for our peace was upon him (מוּסַר שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ עָלָיו); and in his blows we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, but the LORD has attacked in him (הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:3-6)


"The LORD has "attacked in him (הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all..." (Isa. 53:6).  Through the substitutionary sacrifice of the righteous Suffering Servant, Yeshua, we are both forgiven and made free from the power of sin and death. Because of Him we are no longer "lepers" or outcasts from the community of God but are made clean through His loving touch.

For more on this see: "The Leper Messiah: Further Thoughts on parashat Metzora."
 




The LORD our Savior...


 

04.14.16 (Nisan 6, 5776)  Why is there no reference to Moses as we read from the traditional Haggadah during our Passover Seder? Because as important as Moses is to the exodus from Egypt (יציאת מצרים), only God Himself may be rightly called the Deliverer (הַמּוֹשִׁיעַ) and the Redeemer (הַגּוֹאֵל) of Israel. God - not Moses - is the Central Character and focus of the story. Indeed when Moses acted in his own initiative, thinking that he was to become Israel's deliverer, he became a "failed Messiah," a fugitive living in exile and a wanderer in the desolate places of Midian (Exod. 2:11-15). The "prince of Egypt" needed to be humbled in the desert before he could learn to recognize the Divine Presence... It was only after meeting Yeshua - the "Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) speaking out of the midst of the fire" - that he was enabled to function as God's servant and mediator.

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




Truth and Inner Healing...


 

04.14.16 (Nisan 6, 5776)  "Truth is heavy, therefore few wear it" (Midrash Shmuel). This is about inner honesty, about "owning" who you are are being willing to endure yourself as you learn to walk with God. Where it is written "You shall love the stranger as yourself" (Lev. 19:34), understand that this also applies to the "stranger within ourselves," that is, to those aspects of ourselves we hide, deny, or reject. Like the prodigal son, we have to "come to ourselves" to return home (Luke 15:17), yet we can't do that without trusting that love is somehow available to us, even with the hidden parts of ourselves we seek to escape. That is the great risk of trusting in God's love for your soul. The secret parts of ourselves that we "hide" need to be brought to the light, confessed, healed, and reconciled.

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

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָד

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

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



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See your sin only in relation to the cross of the Savior; know his heart despite your wretchedness. Accept that you are accepted despite your unacceptability...
 




The Exodus Parable...


 

04.13.16 (Nisan 5, 5776)  The great exodus from Egypt (יציאת מצרים) is the central parable of the Torah. The bondage of the Israelites to Pharaoh represents humanity's slavery to sin; God's deliverance from bondage is effected by trusting in the blood of the sacrificial lamb of God; the passage from death to life symbolically comes through baptism into the Sea of Reeds; the journey to truth represents the pilgrimage to Sinai, and so on. Indeed, the redemption in Egypt led directly to revelation given at Sinai, and when the LORD God gave the Ten Commandments, he did not begin by saying he was our Creator, but rather our Redeemer: "I am the LORD your God (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ), who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). This is because the purpose of the creation itself is to demonstrate God's redemptive love and to be known as our Savior and Redeemer, just as Yeshua is the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9). "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Creation therefore begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Mashiach, the great Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) and our Savior (מוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ)... He is the Center of Creation - the Aleph and Tav - the Beginning and the End (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:17). All the world was created for the Messiah: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).

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




Exodus and Tradition...


 

04.13.16 (Nisan 5, 5776)  How important is tradition in our lives? So important that we could not understand even the first word of the Scriptures without it ... There is a story that illustrates this point. A pagan came to Hillel seeking to convert but was troubled with the idea of tradition, though he accepted the idea of the written Scriptures. Since the man did not know how to read Hebrew, however, Hillel began pointing to the letters in the written Torah to teach him the alphabet: "This is Aleph... this is Bet... this is Gimmel," and so on, until the man began to understand the letters of the Aleph-Bet. "Now come tomorrow, and I will teach you more." The next day, Hillel pointed to the exact same letters but reversed their names, "This is Gimmel... this is Aleph... this is Bet," and so on. The convert was confused: "But yesterday you said just the opposite!" Hillel replied, "Now you have had your first lesson. You see that the written word alone is insufficient, and we need the tradition to explain God's Word." Another way to make this point is to say that the Torah was not revealed along with a dictionary that defines the meaning of its words....

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

In Hebrew the word chinukh (חִנּוּךְ) means "education," a word that shares the same root as "chanukah" (חֲנֻכָּה, "dedication"). Unlike the classical Greek ideal that regards education as some sort of Platonic "enlightenment" (i.e., being "led out" of the cave of ignorance), the classical Jewish ideal implies dedication to God and living out faith in His promises.  This ideal goes beyond the process of merely transmitting "factual" information, since dedication (faith) must be lived as well as intellectually taught.  The truth of faith is therfore existential, meaning it is known only in so far as it is lived and experienced in this world... All other ends of knowledge ultimately exist for this purpose, and rightly understood, then, education may be regarded as a form of worship.

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

Note:  I wrote this entry because some people question my use of Jewish "midrash," which is nothing more than traditional Jewish commentary passed down for hundreds and even thousands of years... Please be aware that Christians use their own "midrash," however, whenever they read a Bible commentary, recite a church creed, or study a book of theology. Commentary, and even careful Biblical exegesis, are not divinely inspired, of course, which is why we must test the spirits, use discernment, and ask God for wisdom....

Be assured, friend, that I completely trust the Scriptures and rely on them daily to help me know the truth about God and to walk in his light. That said, I don't believe we should ignore what is obvious in this case, namely, that our Bibles have been preserved and handed down (by the grace of and power of God) to us over time, though much of this process is both mysterious to us and certainly beyond our control. It is the Spirit that gives life, after all... We do not look up the answers in the book without needing to think through the meaning of the words, the ideas and concepts being expressed, and especially by asking for the Holy Spirit to help us discern the true intent of the original authors and how that applies to us today.

God miraculously preserved the Scriptures, this is true; though in every generation we must interpret the words, understand its context and meaning, and apply it to our time in history... False teachers love to pretend they are immune from their own biases, but they are assuredly the first in line to tell what the text "really" means - and how others are all wrong.
 

    "To a visitor who described himself as a seeker after Truth, the Rebbe said, 'If what you seek is Truth, there is one thing you must have above all else.' 'I know,' said the seeker, 'an overwhelming passion for it.' 'No,' replied the rebbe, 'an unremitting readiness to admit that you may be wrong." (quoted by Anthony de Mello but the story goes back to earlier Chassidic sources)

 




The New Pharaoh's Dream...


 

04.13.16 (Nisan 5, 5776)  According to midrash, just as the Pharaoh during the time of Joseph was troubled by his dreams (Gen. 41:1-7), so was the "new king" that arose during the time of Moses. In the new Pharaoh's dream, an old man was standing before him as he sat on his throne, holding a balance in his hand. The old man placed all the nobles and governors of Egypt on one side of the balance, and on the other side, he placed one small lamb. To Pharaoh's astonishment, however, the lamb outweighed all the leaders of Egypt! When the king asked his advisors to interpret the dream, they said it foretold of a coming king who would overthrow the kingdom of Egypt and set the Israelites free. This coming one would excel in wisdom and his name would be remembered forever as the Savior of Israel.

Of course the rest of the Book of Exodus is essentially God's interpretation of the new Pharaoh's dream, as the great events of the Exodus would reveal. The LORD God of Israel forewarned this king that Egypt would come into judgment by the Lamb of God... Indeed, the only way to escape this judgment and the wrath of God was by being covered by the sacrificial blood of the lamb... The Lamb of God is central to Israel's deliverance and becomes the focal point of the revelation of the sanctuary later given at Sinai.

Israel was redeemed from Egypt by trusting in the promise of their deliverance, as it is written, "and the people believed" (וַיַּאֲמֵן הָעָם) ... and bowed their heads and worshiped" (Exod. 4:31). Recall that the blood of the korban Pesach - the Passover lamb - was to be smeared on the two sides and top of the doorway, resembling the shape of the letter Chet (ח). This letter, signifying the number 8, is connected with the word חי (chai), short for chayim (life). The blood of the lamb (דַּם הַשֶּׂה) not only saves from the judgment of death, but it also is the means of imparting divine life and power (John 1:29).
 




The Limping Messiah...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Friday April 22nd... ]

04.12.16
 (Nisan 4, 5776)  The word "Passover" comes from pasach (פָּסַח), a verb that means to "pass over," though it also can mean "to limp," recalling the "heel of Messiah" that would be bruised in the battle for our deliverance (Gen. 3:15). This connection may be discovered when studying the semantic range of the root pasach throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. For instance, the related participle pise'ach (פִּסֵחַ) means "lame" or "crippled" (for example, see Lev. 21:18; Deut. 15:21; 2 Sam. 9:13, Mal. 1:8, etc.), while there are several uses of the verb pasach that explicitly mean to "limp" or "be lame."  For example, in 2 Sam. 4:4 it says: "and he (Mephibosheth) fell and 'became lame" (וַיִּפָּסֵחַ); in 1 Kings 18:21, we read: "how long will you limp (פּסְחִים) between two opinions?" and in 1 Kings 18:26 it is written: "and they (the priests of Baal) 'limped upon the altar" (וַיְפַסְּחוּ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ) in a pagan ritual dance. In other words there is a connection between Passover and becoming wounded, and this alludes to the Savior whose heel was bruised during the battle for our deliverance. Yeshua is "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29).

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




The Sign of Life...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Friday April 22nd... ]

04.12.16
 (Nisan 4, 5776)  "The blood shall be a sign for you... And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt" (Exod. 12:13). The blood would be a sign for the eye of faith, i.e., "for you," and not for the unbelieving world at large. During the afternoon of the 14th, the korban Pesach (Passover lamb) was slaughtered and its blood smeared on all three sides of the doorframe, top, right and left, that is, in the form of the letter Chet (ח). This letter is connected with the word chai (חי), "alive," and chayim (חיים), "life," signifying that atoning life is in the sacrificial blood (Lev. 17:11). Note that some say that the letters of the YHVH (יהוה) – the Name of Divine Compassion - were daubed on the doorposts: The Yod (י) was written on the top beam, the Vav (ו) on the right doorpost, and the Hey (ה) on the left. In other words, since Yeshua is YHVH, His Name was written on the doorposts of the faithful.
 




In Every Generation...


 

[ "In every generation, each of us is obligated to see himself or herself [lirot et atzmo] as though he or she personally came forth from Egypt." - Traditional Hagadah ]

04.12.16 (Nisan 4, 5776)  Concerning the observance of the Passover Seder the Torah states, "When your son asks you in time to come, 'What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?' then you shall say to your son, 'We were slaves (עֲבָדִים הָיִינוּ) to Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes" (Deut. 6:20-23). We are instructed to "remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out" (Deut. 7:19). And where it is written in the Shema, "You shall teach them diligently to your children," we ask, what do we teach? And we answer: Everything – the whole story of our deliverance... So to help fulfill our great obligation to keep educating our children, I am again updating "Worthy is the Lamb - A Messianic Passover Haggadah" for this year.... Please feel free to download this succinct guide for your own study or Passover celebration.
 




The Great Lamb of God...


 

04.11.16 (Nisan 3, 5776)  From the Torah (parashat Bo) we learn that though God instructed each household to select its own lamb for the Passover, the Torah refers to "the" Lamb of God, as if there was only one: "You shall keep it [i.e., the Passover lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter him (אתוֹ) at twilight (Exod. 12:6). Note that the direct object "him" (i.e., oto) can be read as Aleph-Tav (את) combined with the letter Vav (ו), signifying the Son of Man who is First and Last... Indeed there is only one "Lamb of God" that takes away the sins of the world, and that is our Savior, Yeshua the Messiah...

Note that the original Passover sacrifice was not given to the Levitical priesthood as a sin offering since it preceded Sinai and the giving of the various laws concerning the sacrificial rites... Therefore the blessing, "You are blessed, LORD our God, King of the universe, who releases the captives" (i.e., matir asurim: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֶינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם מַתִּיר אֲסוּרִים), is for all people who are trusting in the blood of the Lamb for life. Indeed, in the world to come all the redeemed will sing of the Great Passover of Messiah that was foretold by Moses and fulfilled by the outstretched hands of Yeshua our LORD:
 

רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 




The Chosen Lamb of God...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Friday, April 22nd... ]

04.11.16
 (Nisan 3, 5776)  The Sabbath that occurs immediately before Passover is called Shabbat HaGadol (שבת הגדול), which is associated with the selection of the sacrificial lamb four days before the time of Passover (Exod. 12:1-6). The New Testament notes that it was four days before Passover (Nisan 10) when Yeshua made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, signifying His Messiahship, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zech. 9:9). During this time, when the pilgrims had come to select a lamb for their Passover sacrifice at the Temple - they saw Yeshua and cried out: hoshiah na (הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא), meaning "please save" or "save now" (in English this phrase was translated from the Latin to form "Hosanna!"). The people spontaneously began singing Psalm 118:25-26 in anticipation of the great Messianic hope:
 

אָנָּא יְהוָה הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא אָנָּא יְהוָה הַצְלִיחָה נָּא
בָּרוּךְ הַבָּא בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה בֵּרַכְנוּכֶם מִבֵּית יְהוָה

an·na · Adonai · ho·shi·ah · na  / an·na · Adonai · hatz·li·cha · na
ba·rukh · ha·ba · be·shem · Adonai / be·rakh·nu·khem · mi·bet · Adonai
 

"Please, LORD save us! Please, LORD rescue us!
Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD
We bless you from the house of the LORD."
(Psalm 118:25-26)


 
Hebrew Study Card

 

Though he came in humility, riding upon a lowly donkey, it is striking to note that once he arrived in Jerusalem for Passover, Yeshua immediately went to the Temple and drove out all who sold there, overturning the tables of the "moneychangers" and the seats of those who sold pigeons (Matt. 21:1-16). The true Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) had come! At the Temple he then healed the blind and castigated the religious authorities by stating that the praise of children overruled their objections (Psalm 8:2). Over the next two days, he was accosted by priests, scribes, Pharisees, etc. - the whole religious establishment - which culminated in his utter denunciation of them beginning in Matthew 23 ("Woe unto you..."). He then left the Temple and foretold its destruction to the disciples, going on to explain the signs of the End of the Age (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) that would precede the advent of the Messianic Kingdom (Matt. 24). Yeshua was later crucified (before sundown) on Nisan 14, prophetically corresponding with the time when the Passover lambs were sacrificed at the Temple.

Note: For more on the prophetic aspects of the selection of the Passover lamb, see the Shabbat Hagadol pages. For a tentative chronology of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah, see "Reshit Katzir: Messiah as the Beginning of the Harvest."
 




Cleansing of the Leper...

Art by Bill Hoover, 2013
 

04.10.16 (Nisan 2, 5776)  Recall from last week's Torah (Tazria) that if someone was diagnosed with tzara'at ("leprosy"), they were forced to live in a state of exile. The afflicted person (called a metzora) tore his clothes like a mourner, put a shroud over his face, and remained alone. If anyone came near, the person would cry out: "Unclean! Stay away! Do not become impure because of me!" While so isolated, the person would have opportunity to perform teshuvah (repentance) and to reexamine his relationship with God.

In our Torah portion this week (Metzora), we learn about the laws for cleansing "lepers" (i.e., metzorim). If the one suffering from tzara'at (i.e., the metzora) had apparently been healed, he would first call for the priest to be officially reexamined. If the priest saw no sign of tumah (uncleanness), a second examination was scheduled seven days later, and if at that time there was no further sign of disease, the process of tahara (purification) would begin.

The purification process was somewhat elaborate: After the second examination, the priest required that the metzora bring the following items for his cleansing:

  1. An earthenware bowl filled with spring water (mayim chayim)
  2. Two birds of the same type (whether turtledoves or pigeons)
  3. A stick of cedar wood
  4. A hyssop branch
  5. A scarlet thread
     

The priest then commanded that one of the birds should be slaughtered over the earthen vessel filled with fresh water, with its blood mixing with the water. The living bird, the piece of cedar, and the hyssop branch were then tied together using the scarlet thread, and the entire bundle was dipped into the earthen vessel. The blood and water mixture was then sprinkled seven times on the healed metzora, and the living bird was then set free.

Next, the healed person washed his clothes, shaved off all his hair (including his eyebrows), and bathed in a mikveh (ritual pool for cleansing).  After that he could return to the camp - but he could not return to his home for another seven days. On the eighth day he would bathe again and offer several offerings (a chatat, an asham, an olah, and a minchah), but the blood from the asham (guilt) offering was mixed with oil and applied to his earlobe, thumb and foot, similar to the blood applied to the priests during their ordination. Oil from a meal offering was sprinkled seven times in the direction of the Sanctuary. Only after all this was he pronounced tahor (clean) by the priest. His life of uncleanness would be over, and he would be like a man who was brought back from the dead to new life.

This purification ritual corresponded with other rituals revealed in the Torah. The sprinkling of the hyssop by the priest recalled both the blood of the Passover lamb and the sprinkling of the ashes of the Red Heifer that cleanse from contact with death; the offering made of the two birds - one which was sacrificed and the other set free - recalled the scapegoat of the Yom Kippur ritual. The washing of garments, the shaving of all hair, and the immersion in a mikveh recalled the birth of the Jewish people at the Sea of Reeds. The blood of the guilt offering applied to the earlobe, thumb and foot, recalled the dedication of Aaron and his sons as the priests of Israel
(Lev. 14:14). In other words, the individual purification process mirrored the purification of the community of Israel, and healing ultimately meant being reidentified as a redeemed child of God. In a very literal sense, then, we see how the metzora was "reborn" by water and by the blood (John 3:5; 19:34; Heb. 9:19).
 

 




Rosh Hashanah of Spring...


 

[ The following is related to the Biblical New Year and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

04.08.16 (Nisan 1, 5776)  Spiritual danger is just as real as physical danger, though most people pretend it isn't because it isn't easily seen. The real dangers of life are not vulnerability to crime or some accident, however, but rather susceptibility to despair, the tendency to put off repentance, and the possibility of not dying well.... It is a great danger to walk through life asleep only to be jolted awake upon the day of death. "The greatest danger is that one does not discover, that one is not always discovering, that one is in danger" (Kierkegaard). Danger of what? Of wasting your life with trifles and vanities; of never learning how to truly love or to be loved; of becoming numb, unfeeling, and therefore unmoved by your need for God.  As C.S. Lewis once wrote, "The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."  Hashivenu Adonai elecha vena-shuvah: "Turn us to You, O LORD, and we shall be turned..." (Lam. 5:21).
 

הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה
חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם

ha·shi·ve·nu  Adonai  e·ley·kha  ve·na·shu·vah,
cha·desh  ya·me·nu  ke·ke·dem
 

"Turn us back to yourself, O LORD, so that we may return to you;
renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Note:  Generally speaking there are two "New Years" in the Biblical calendar and Jewish tradition. The first occurs two weeks before Passover (on the new moon of Nisan) and the second occurs during Rosh Hashanah (on the new moon of Tishri). The first marks the month of the redemption of the Israelites from Egypt by the blood of the lamb (דַּם הַשֶּׂה) -- and it is also the month in which Yeshua was sacrificed upon the cross at Moriah to redeem us from our sins. The second marks the month of Israels' corporate salvation that will be fulfilled in the prophesied End of Days...

The Sabbath that immediately precedes (and sometimes falls on) the Biblical New Year is called Shabbat HaChodesh (שַׁבַּת הַחדֶש), the "Sabbath of the Month" (of Nisan). This Sabbath is significant because it marks the start of the month of Redemption (i.e., the first month called Nisan) which the LORD Himself called "the beginning of months" (Exod. 12:1-2). The instruction to sanctify the first new moon of the year (i.e., Rosh Chodashim) indicates that it is our responsibility to sanctify (i.e., observe) Biblical time in general. In other words, when we observe "the beginning of months," we are acknowledging that time itself is rooted in the Biblical calendar with its divinely inspired cycle of festivals (i.e., the moedim). Among other things, the advent of Rosh Chodashim reminds us that Passover begins 14 days later, under the full moon of the first month (i.e., Friday April 22nd at sunset this year).

L'shanah Tovah u'metuka b'Yeshua Adoneinu, chaverim! "To a good and sweet year in Yeshua our LORD, friends!" Amen!  Shabbat shalom and may the peace of God be with you.
 




Walk in the Light...


 

04.08.16 (Nisan 1, 5776)  Fear profoundly affects the way the brain processes images and messages, influencing the way we see and hear things. And since the mind and body are intricately interconnected, fear is a root cause of many physiological problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, clinical depression, and many other ailments. Left unchecked, fear can be deadly.... Most of our negative emotions come from fear, including anger, frustration, and rage. On a spiritual level, fear and worry can cause people to question God's love, to doubt His promises, and to succumb to despair.

The devil knows that frightening people causes them to be unsettled, off-balance, and vulnerable to all sorts of manipulation and deception. Living in fear is a form of slavery (Heb. 2:15), but where the Spirit of the LORD is there is liberty and peace (2 Cor. 3:17). Therefore "fear no evil," for God is with you (Psalm 23:4). There is no fear in God's love, but perfect love (אַהֲבָה שְׁלֵמָה) throws out fear (1 John 4:18). The LORD repeatedly tells us not to be afraid – not of man, nor of war, nor of tribulation, nor even death itself (Rom. 8:35-39). Indeed, one of the most frequent commandments in Scripture is simply al-tirah (אַל־תִּירָא), "Be not afraid."
 

אַל־תִּירָא כִּי עִמְּךָ־אָנִי אַל־תִּשְׁתָּע כִּי־אֲנִי אֱלהֶיךָ
אִמַּצְתִּיךָ אַף־עֲזַרְתִּיךָ אַף־תְּמַכְתִּיךָ בִּימִין צִדְקִי

al  ti·ra  ki  im·me·kha  a·ni;  al  tish·ta  ki  a·ni  E·lo·he·kha
im·matz·ti·kha  af  a·zar·ti·kha,  af  te·makh·ti·kha  bi·min  tzid·ki
 

"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
(Isa. 41:10)



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Take comfort that your Heavenly Father sees when the sparrow falls; he arrays the flower in its hidden valley; and he calls each star by name. More importantly, the Lord sees you and understands your struggle with fear... Bring to Him your needy heart and trust in His provision and care...  As we look to Him, our fears will begin to melt away...
 




Peace in the Storm...


 

04.08.16 (II Adar 29, 5776)  Politicians, advertisers, social activists, and other manipulators understand that when people are afraid, their thinking is compromised, and therefore the propaganda of the world inevitably seeks to incite anxiety, dread, terror, division, and confusion by means of disinformation delivered up through pop culture. The way of healing is therefore to refuse to be bullied by the carefully crafted messages of deception regularly broadcast by the various "princes of this world..."  We are not to be ignorant of Satan and his strategies to foment resentment, mistrust, and hatred. We must overcome the power of the lie by consciously focusing on the truth of God and the abiding Reality of the Divine Presence. As King David resolved within his heart: shiviti - "I have set the LORD always before me - because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken."
 

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."
(Psalm 16:8)



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 true 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 (John 1:29). 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" of the soul. Thank God that the fire that daily needs tending comes from the Spirit of God within us!

But how are we able overcome our fears apart from trusting that God is truly "with us"? The LORD is our Good Shepherd (הָרעֶה הַטּוֹב) who leads us on our way and meets our daily needs; He promises to never leave nor forsake us, especially when we are faced with difficult circumstances. The antidote to our fear is to find comfort in God's abiding love (1 John 4:18): God saves us from our fears (Psalm 34:4, 2 Tim. 1:7). When we trust that God personally cares for us, we find courage to face whatever may come our way...
 




Words of Heart...


 

[ Spiritual truth is a heart language, not just a head language... Ask for wisdom; your heavenly Father will not refuse you... ]

04.08.16 (II Adar 29, 5776)  "If we ask anything according to God's will, he hears us," which is to say that in heaven there is only the language of truth, and truth is the language of heaven. Those who pray insincerely abuse the gift of speech, and such language is not understood in heaven... God speaks to us "in son," which is forever the language of faithfulness, hope, and love (1 Cor. 13:13). Kierkegaard wrote, "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty." Confession means "saying the same thing" about ourselves that God says - and that means not only acknowledging our sins, but also affirming that we are loved by God. "Love hopes all things" (1 Cor. 13:7), and therefore the language of truth is always spoken in hope. No truth about your sin is known apart from the love of God revealed in Yeshua our Messiah.
 




Atonement and Blood...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Tazria... Chodesh Tov! ]

04.07.16 (II Adar 29, 5776)  Though the creation of human life (i.e., birth) is regarded as one of the greatest events in the world, the Torah states that it begins in impurity (טֻמְאָה), indicating that natural life by itself is insufficient for attaining spiritual life (John 3:7). Hence we read in our Torah portion that the birth of a child results in impurity for the mother that required blood atonement (Lev. 12:2,7). A new mother is treated as a niddah (a menstruent woman) and is considered impure (i.e., tamei, טָמֵא) for 40 days (if a boy) or 80 days (if a girl). Only after making an offering of blood (e.g., a lamb, a young pigeon, or a turtledove) was she declared "clean" (טָהֵר) by the priests.  This was also true of Miriam (i.e., Mary, the mother of Yeshua) who fulfilled her "days of purification" and offered the prescribed sacrifices according to the law (Luke 2:22-24).

The Torah makes it clear that blood (דָּם) is used as a means of consecration as well as a means of obtaining atonement (כַּפָּרָה) with God.  Blood was used on the doorposts of the houses in Egypt to ward off judgment and was later used to ratify the covenant given at Sinai (Exod. 24:8). All the elements of Mishkan (Tabernacle) were likewise "separated" by its use: The altar, the various furnishings of the Temple, the vestments of the priests, and even the priests themselves were sanctified by blood (Exod. 29:20-21, Heb. 9:21). But ultimately blood was used to "make atonement" for the soul upon the altar. As the Torah (Lev. 17:11) plainly states: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood (כִּי נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם), and I have given it for you on the altar to atone (לְכַפֵּר) for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life (כִּי־הַדָּם הוּא בַּנֶּפֶשׁ יְכַפֵּר)." Blood is therefore connected to the holiness of life through sacrificial death...

Note:  The concept of "unclean" has connotations that are negative and alien to the Hebrew concept of tumah (טָמְאָה), the noun, or tamei (טָמֵא), the adjective. The word tumah derives from the root word "atum" (אָטוּם) which means "impenetrable," "set apart," or "sealed off." There are a lot of opinions why the period of being set apart is 40 days for the birth of a boy but is doubled to 80 days for the birth of a girl, some quite esoteric (e.g., since a woman's separation is 40 days, a second woman's separation, i.e., that of the baby girl, is also taken into account). The important thing to note, however, is that the time of "impurity" is a "hands-off" time, set apart, intended for sacred purposes. Thus birth and death are times of tumah where people are released from the ordinary to encounter the extraordinary.

For more on this subject, see the "Atonement and Blood" article.
 




More than Half-Way...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Tazria... Chodesh Tov! ]

04.07.16 (II Adar 28, 5776)  Although the priest needed to go "outside the camp" to examine a metzora (i.e., "leper"), the person still needed to "be brought" to the priest to meet him there, while he or she was in a state of exile (Lev. 14:2-3). In other words, the afflicted one was required to meet the priest "half-way." However, the love of God is so great that He reached out and touched us by becoming a "leper" for us, choosing even to die in exile - "outside the camp" - to eternally purify us from our sins... In that sense, our great High Priest Yeshua surely meets us far more than "half-way," since He "emptied Himself" (κενόω) of his heavenly glory and willingly descend into the "leper colony" of humanity, bearing our sickness, shame, and the sting of death itself on our behalf.  As it is written: "But [He] made himself nothing (εκενωσεν), taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men; and being found in human form, he brought himself low by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:7-8).
 




Our Daily Deliverance...


 

04.06.16 (II Adar 27, 5776)  As we ask God for our "daily bread" (לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ), so we ask him for our daily deliverance: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one" (Matt 6:13). Note that the term translated "evil" in many translations ("deliver us from evil") is a substantive rather than an adjective: τοῦ πονηροῦ, the evil one... "Give us this day our daily deliverance from the evil one...." Our daily bread and our daily deliverance are connected with our decision to "choose life" (בַּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים) -- and to always choose life -- even in moments we find difficult, distressing, and even when we might wish that we were no longer living... Choosing life means refusing to escape reality by evading the significance of our choices; it means finding the will to regard life as worthy; it implies that we will eat our bread in trust that the Lord is at work even in the darkest of hours (Passover occurred at midnight)... Choosing life means refusing to eat the fruit of death and to seek Yeshua, the Tree of Life. We live one day at a time; we only have today. We are given daily bread for this hour of our need. Today is the day of your deliverance - if you are willing to walk in it. Therefore, the Spirit of the Living God cries out, "Choose life and live!"

"Do not be grieved [even over yourself], for the joy of the LORD (חֶדְוַת יְהוָה) is your strength" (Neh. 8:10). Affirming the love, faithfulness, compassion, and salvation of God is a powerful way to defeat the enemy of our souls, who regularly entices us to despair. King David constantly asked God to help him in his spiritual struggles. "Though I walk in the midst of trouble (בְּקֶרֶב צָרָה), you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me" (Psalm 138:7). "For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled" (Psalm 143:2-3). Despite whatever struggle we may face, "the LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). Indeed, the Lord God is far greater than your heart's sin and will one day entirely deliver you of sin's effect and influence. Amen.
 




Trust despite darkness...


 

04.06.16 (II Adar 27, 5776)  The reason for what happens in our lives is often (always?) beyond our understanding, yet the righteousness of God's plan – even if undisclosed to us - must be accepted by faith. As it says: "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:9). The refusal to accept what cannot be understood is to worship the powers of the mind, and to elevate the role of human reason above even God Himself. Faith accepts God's goodness and trusts in his care, even if that means we find ourselves walking in the dark: "Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God" (Isa. 50:10).
 

מִי בָכֶם יְרֵא יְהוָה שׁמֵעַ בְּקוֹל עַבְדּוֹ
 אֲשֶׁר הָלַךְ חֲשֵׁכִים וְאֵין נגַהּ לוֹ
 יִבְטַח בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה וְיִשָּׁעֵן בֵּאלהָיו

mi · va·khem · ye·rei · Adonai · sho·mei·a · be·kol · av·do?
a·sher · ha·lakh · cha·she·khim · ve·ein · no·gah · lo?
yiv·tach · be·Shem · Adonai · ve·yi·sha·en · be·lo·hav
 

"Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness and has no light
trust in the Name of the LORD and rely on his God."
(Isa. 50:10)



 

Trusting in God (in Hebrew, bittachon - בִּטָּחוֹן) does not mean that we are obligated to affirm that this is "the best of all possible worlds," though it does mean we believe that eventually God will wipe away every tear and make all things right... Bittachon is a word for this world, which says, "Though he slay me, I will trust in him..." Those who call upon the LORD can trust not only in concealed good behind ambiguous appearances ("all things work together for good") but also in a future, real, substantive good that will one day be clearly manifest for us all... We fight the "good fight" of faith, which is a worthy struggle that eventually is realized for blessing.  Meanwhile, may the LORD our God keep us from such depth of sorrow that leads to sickness, darkness and despair.

If you ask for bread, your heavenly Father will not give you a stone... The sages call this a kal va'chomer inference (i.e., קַל וְחמר, "light and weighty"), namely, that if a light condition is true, then a heavier one is certainly true... Yeshua used this kind of reasoning all the time: If God cares for the needs of the birds of the air, how much more (kal va'chomer) will he care for your needs? (Matt. 6:26). If God so clothes the grass of the field, how much more (kal va'chomer) will he clothe you (Matt. 6:30)? If your heavenly Father knows the number of hairs on your head, surely he knows the state of your soul.  And if God wants us to walk in righteousness, kal va'chomer does he want us to know his love... Only God can give to us the love for him that he fully knows we so desperately need; only God can deliver us from our "disordered loves" to take hold of what is truly essential.  All we can do is ask, and keep on asking - even as we struggle on, despite ourselves - until we begin to understand what we really need. It's as if we are constantly being asked, "Is this what you want?" and our choices confess the truth of what we believe... Only God does the miracle of real change within the human heart - only God can give life from the dead!
 




Words and Healing...


 

[ The following is related this week's Torah (parashat Tazria), and in particular the spiritual sickness (tzara'at) that results from abusing our language (and therefore our thinking). ]

04.05.16 (II Adar 26, 5776)  Just as a body can become sick with illness, so can a soul: "I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me; heal my soul (רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי), for I have sinned against you!'" (Psalm 41:4). Jewish tradition links tzara'at ("leprosy") with the sin of lashon hara ("evil talk"), suggesting that the word metzora ("leper") is word play from the Hebrew phrase, motzi ra: "one who brings forth [speaks] evil." As it is written in Scripture: mavet ve'chaim be'yad lashon (מָוֶת וְחַיִּים בְּיַד־לָשׁוֹן) - "Death and life and in the power of the tongue" (Prov. 18:21). Because we are made in the image and likeness of God, our words matter -- and they wield power. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "word" (דָּבָר) also means "thing." When we bless others, we are invoking grace and good will to be manifest in the world, but when we curse others, the opposite effect is realized. Note, however, that both the blessing and the curse returns to the one who utters it...

Regarding lashon hara Yeshua soberly warned us, ‎"I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account (ἀποδίδωμι) for every careless word they speak (i.e., πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργόν, all "empty" or "thoughtless" words), for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). Every word we utter reaches up to the highest places of heaven and echoes there. The sages say, "my words - not a soul knows." But the Holy One, blessed be He, says, "I am sending an angel who will stand near you and record every word you say about your neighbor." Every word we speak is recorded in the "heavenly scrolls" (Rev. 20:12). Therefore King David admonishes us, ‎"Who desires life (מִי־הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים) and loves many days that bring forth good? Guard your tongue from evil and keep your lips from using deceptive speech. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:13-14). Notice the connection between our words  (i.e., out thoughts) and our deeds here, which again suggests the connection between "words" and "things" (i.e., devarim: דְּבָרִים). It is very sobering to realize that our inmost thoughts are essentially prayers being offered up to God...

"Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given..." (Luke 8:18). Those who curse others, who practice hate, feed the hatred of their own souls and will reap the fruit of their lips... Those who bless others, on the other hand, who practice love, feed grace to their souls and will likewise reap the fruit of their lips. "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45).

Because the metzora was put into exile because of his sinful thinking (i.e., words), so he came back to the "edge of the camp" only with words... This first step back was crucial, as the prophet later said, "Return to the LORD and repent! Say to him: 'Completely forgive our iniquity; accept our penitential prayer, that we may offer the praise of our lips'" (Hos. 14:2). When we sincerely return to the LORD, He will take care of the problem of our impurity, uncleanness, and sin. That's the message of the cross of Yeshua, too. We can add nothing to His finished work but simply accept it as performed on our behalf through faith...

Note:  There is a larger principle here that involves our responsibility to be truth-bearers, to not abuse or slander others, to not abuse our minds, etc.  Evil thought brings evil into verbalized consciousness which is ultimately released into the world, and this is something for which we shall give account. The corollary notion that "good talk" is always blessed must be qualified to carefully define what "good" means.  For instance, some people might regard "good" talk as "nice" or "politically correct" talk, but that certainly is not true; since people routinely flatter and manipulate others using nice-sounding words. Still other people may think they are doing heaven a favor by arguing and beating people over the head with their vision of the truth. Humility is a necessary ingredient for dibbur emet, truth telling, and those who lack it speak falsely even if they technically they are telling the truth.
 




Healing our Sicknesses...


 

04.05.16 (II Adar 26, 5776)  Our Torah portion for this week (Tazria) discusses purification from a spiritual disease called tzara'at (צָרַעַת), often inaccurately translated as "leprosy." The early sages noted that the Hebrew word tzara'at may be read as "tzar ayin" (צַר עַיִן), meaning a stingy or arrogant eye... And just as our words reveal what is within our hearts (Luke 6:45), so do our eyes (Luke 11:34; Matt. 15:19). How we look upon others is a function of how we see ourselves; and therefore we all share in the disease of our fellows. The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, 'Unclean, unclean.' The sages interpret, "Unclean, unclean!" (Lev. 13:45) to mean that the one who is unclean calls others "unclean," which is to say, he projects his own defects onto others. Healing comes when we understand that we all are affected by sin and sickness, and when we criticize others, we condemn ourselves (Rom. 2:1). There is much in all of us that remains broken, unclean, and in need of God's touch. Love uses the "good eye" (ayin tovah) to believe in the good, even if that good is yet unseen (Heb. 11:1). "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things" (1 Cor. 13:7), and that includes for our healing. 

May the LORD heal our sicknesses by teaching us to see from the perspective of His love...
 




Purification and Healing...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah, parashat Tazria.... ]

04.04.16 (II Adar 25, 5776)  The cleansing of a metzora (i.e., "leper") corresponded with other significant sacrificial rituals given in the Torah. The sprinkling of the hyssop by the priest recalled the blood of Passover; the offering made of the two birds - one which was sacrificed and the other set free - recalled the scapegoat of the Yom Kippur ritual. The washing of garments, the shaving of all hair, and the immersion in a mikveh (a pool of fresh water) recalled the birth of the Jewish people at the Sea of Reeds. Finally, the blood of the guilt offering sprinkled on the earlobe, thumb and foot, recalled the dedication of Aaron and his sons as the priests of Israel (Lev. 14:14). In other words, the individual purification process mirrored the purification of the community of Israel, and healing ultimately meant being re-identified as a redeemed child of God.  In a very literal sense, then, we see how the metzora was "reborn" by water and by the blood (John 3:5; 19:34; Heb. 9:19).

Of the Messiah it is written: "He is despised and rejected of men, a man of pains (אִישׁ מַכְאבוֹת) and acquainted with sickness (וִידוּעַ חלִי), and we hid as it were our faces from him. He was despised and we esteemed him not.  Surely he has carried our sicknesses (חֳלָיֵנוּ) and borne our pains (מַכְאבֵינוּ), yet we esteemed him as plagued (נָגַע), smitten of God (מֻכֵּה אֱלהִים) and oppressed. But he was pierced (מְחלָל) for our transgressions (פְּשָׁעֵנוּ), he was crushed for our iniquities (עֲוֹנתֵינוּ): the discipline for our peace was upon him (מוּסַר שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ עָלָיו); and in his blows we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, but the LORD has attacked in him (הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:3-6). Through the substitutionary sacrifice of the righteous Suffering Servant, Yeshua, we are both forgiven and made free from the power of sin and death. Because of Him we are no longer "lepers" or outcasts from the community of God but are made clean through His loving touch.

Notice that the word translated "blow" (i.e., חַבּוּרָה, "wound" or "stripe") comes from the same root as the word "friend" (חָבֵר), and therefore we can read this as "in His friendship we are healed." Yeshua gave up His life for us so that we could become his friends... As He later told us regarding his sacrifice: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Indeed of Yeshua it may truly be said, Yesh ohev davek me'ach – "there is a friend who sticks (davek) closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24).

Note: For more on this subject, see the article: "Thoughts on Holiness."
 




Happy New Year?


 

[ The central holiday of Passover begins Friday, April 22nd at sundown this year... ]

04.03.16 (II Adar 24, 5776)  Did you know that the Biblical Year begins this coming Friday, April 8th at sundown (i.e., Nisan 1, 5776)? Indeed, the LORD set apart this day as the beginning of the months of the calendar (called Rosh Chodashim), the start of the calendar year itself (Exod. 12:1-2). This may seem odd to you, though remember that the world runs on a "clock" that operates under assumptions that are different than those revealed in the Scriptures.... The "wisdom of this world" (σοφία τοῦ κόσμου τούτου) is the prevailing cultural spirit that suppresses the reality of God's Presence and truth. Such "wisdom" is regarded as foolishness before God, and God has promised to "seize the so-called wise in their own craftiness" (1 Cor. 3:19). The life of faith, on the other hand, sees what is invisible. Faith (emunah) apprehends "the substance (ὑπόστασις) of things hoped for, the assurance (ἔλεγχος, conviction, "correction," "argument," i.e., tokhachat: תוֹכַחַת) of things not seen" (Heb 11:1). As the Scripture says, the heart of faith "looks not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18).

The Sabbath that immediately precedes (and sometimes falls on) the Biblical New Year is called Shabbat HaChodesh (שַׁבַּת הַקּדֶשׁ), the "Sabbath of the Month" (of Nisan). This Sabbath is significant because it commemorates the start of the month of Redemption (i.e., the first month called Nisan) which God called "the beginning of months."  We remember this special event by reading an additional passage from the Torah (i.e., maftir) concerning the sanctification of the new moon (Exod. 12:1-20), and we spiritually prepare for this month by studying about Passover and the coming spring holidays:

 

The commandment to sanctify the first new moon of the year (i.e., Rosh Chodashim) reveals that it is our responsibility to sanctify (i.e., observe) Biblical time in general. In other words, when we observe "the beginning of months," we are acknowledging that time itself is rooted in the Biblical calendar with its divinely inspired cycle of festivals (i.e., the moedim). Note that this year the Biblical New Year begins on Friday April 8th at sundown (i.e., Shabbat), and therefore Passover begins exactly two week weeks later, Friday, April 22nd at sundown.

Note:  For more about the Torah's New Year, see the "Rosh Chodashim" pages...
 




Parashat Tazria - תזריע


 

04.03.16 (II Adar 24, 5776)  Our Torah portion for this week (i.e., parashat Tazria) concerns cleansing from "uncleanness" (טָמֵא), as symbolized by the healing and purification of the metzora (i.e., "leper") in a ritual similar to that performed during the Day of Atonement. The sages note that the spiritual disease of tzara'at was a sign from God that the Israelites were indeed a chosen nation, since the affliction moved them to do teshuvah to be in fellowship with Him. Likewise God sometimes disciplines us for our sins (Heb 12:7-8) for the purpose of granting us the gift of teshuvah (2 Cor. 7:10). We must therefore strive to make our conversation and the inmost intent of our hearts "captive to the obedience of the Messiah," blessed be He (Matt. 5:37; Eph. 4:29; Col. 3:8; 2 Cor. 10:5; 1 Tim 4:2; etc.).

A student once asked his rebbe: "Do we get punished for our sins in this world?" His succinct response was, "Only if we are fortunate..." Indeed, correction from God is a blessing in disguise, since there is no worse state in this life than to be untouched or overlooked by God (Rom. 1:28). God is teaching us through our failures; he is training us to persevere, to endure, and to become strong. As it is written, "If you are left without discipline (מוּסָר), then you are illegitimate children and not sons" (Heb. 12:8).

The early sages said that tza'arat comes from lashon hara (i.e., gossip or the abuse of our words). Indeed Yeshua clearly warned us, "I tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will give account (ἀποδίδωμι) for every careless word they speak (i.e., πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργόν, all "empty" or "thoughtless" words), for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). Every word we utter reaches up to the highest places of heaven and echoes there. The sages warn that the Holy One, blessed be He, sends an angel who records every word you say about your neighbor in the "heavenly scrolls" (Rev. 20:12). Therefore King David admonishes, "Who desires life and loves many days that bring forth good? Guard your tongue from evil and keep your lips from using deceptive speech. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:13-14).

In the Gospels we read how Yeshua healed various "lepers" and even touched them (e.g., Matt. 8:2-3, Mark 1:40-41). But how could He do this without Himself becoming tamei (unclean)? We must remember that it was the prerogative of the LORD God of Israel to "touch" those afflicted with tzara'at and heal them based on their teshuvah, and in like measure, Yeshua entered the "leper colony" of humanity to heal those who cried out to Him. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and His love reaches down to those who are afflicted and oppressed on account of their uncleanness. If you call upon Him, He will likewise touch you and restore you to fellowship with God.
 

 




Theology of Flowers...


 

04.01.16 (II Adar 22, 5776)  "Why are you so anxious? Take a lesson from the wildflowers... They neither toil nor spin, yet even Solomon in all his royal glory was not arrayed like one of these ... And if your heavenly Father gives such attention to the appearance of flowers, many of which grow in unseen places, surely he will attend to you, too" (Matt. 6:28-30). So take a deep breath. Don't let worry blind you to God's ongoing care; don't live as those without faith. You have a place in your Father's heart; you have a share in his house above. See the Lord as your Dwelling Place "in all generations"; behold his unchanging glory despite the fleeting shadows of this world.

We must first look to the Eternal to rightly see the finite; we must look upward before we look downward. As we contemplate God's Eternality and power, we realize the wonder and sanctity of our short time here. The Eternal is our refuge, our "dwelling place," in all generations, and that means in the present generation as well, on the other side of fleeting appearances of this world. When we pray to God as Avinu She-bashamayim, "Our Father in Heaven," we are calling to the One who (ש) is in the midst of the waters (מים) of Life.

The psalmist says (Psalm 118:17): "I shall not die but live." In order to live you must give yourself to death, but when you have done so, you discover that you are not to die, but live. "Giving yourself to death" means surrendering to God's will, accepting the yoke of heaven, and trusting in His governing "flow" over all of creation. This is the deeper meaning of "baptism" as we are immersed into God's care for us. Yeshua gives us abundant life.

The bloom of every flower is by eternal purpose, and not one common sparrow is forgotten by your Heavenly Father (Luke 12:6). God's irresistible providence comprehends and orders all things, from the realm of the subatomic to the cosmic motions of the heavenly bodies. The Lord is the Center of reality: "All things were created by Him, and for Him, and in Him all things hold together" (Col. 1:16-17). In light of this, 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." 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 strangers in exile... All our days are ordained; recorded in God's scroll. Therefore may God "teach us to number our days to get a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). So don't lose heart, friend; He who cares for you is a good shepherd, and you shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Amen!
 




Always the First Step...

Tochelet - by J Parsons
 

04.01.16 (II Adar 22, 5776)  There is a core element of your spiritual life that is all-determinative, that effects everything else, and that is the decision of whether you will choose to "show up," whether you will engage it's hope; and whether you will open your eyes and yield yourself to the light... And this is an ongoing decision. Therefore we read in the Torah: "If you walk in my statutes (אִם־בְּחֻקּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ) and observe my commandments and do them..." (Lev. 26:3). The sages note that unlike the holy angels, we must "walk out" the faith of our days, and therefore we are always moving either forward or backward. In this world, God's sun shines on the just and unjust alike (Matt. 5:45). Every human being lives by faith of some kind, and it is therefore impossible to opt out of the decision to "choose this day whom we shall serve" (Josh. 24:15). Indifference or apathy is as much a spiritual decision as is outright rebellion, and if we do nothing today to draw us near to the Lord, we will eventually regress and slip backward. This is all very sobering. "No one knows the day or hour," and that's why it is so vital to turn to God and be healed while there is still time. So turn today and bacharta ba'chayim (בָּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים) - "choose life!" "For this commandment (of turning to God) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away... No, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; Rom. 10:8-13).
 








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