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Jewish Holiday Calendar 

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

The Jewish civil year begins in the fall, though the Biblical year begins in spring (Exod. 12:2). Preparations for the fall holidays begin with a thirty day period of teshuvah (repentance) during the (late summer) month of Elul. The following ten days begin with the Feast of Trumpets (i.e., Rosh Hashanah, on Tishri 1) and end with the Day of Atonement (i.e., Yom Kippur, on Tishri 10). These first ten days of the new year are called the "Ten Days of Awe" (i.e., aseret ye'mei teshuvah: עֲשֶׁרֶת יְמֵי תְּשׁוּבָה), or simply the Jewish "High Holidays." Just five days after the solemn time of Yom Kippur begins the joyous week-long festival of Sukkot ("Tabernacles"), which is immediately followed by the celebration of Simchat Torah. The holiday of Chanukah occurs in late fall and carries over to the winter season:
 

Fall Holiday Calendar
 

The Fall Holidays:

Fall Holidays
 

The fall festivals prophetically indicate the Day of the LORD, the second coming of Yeshua, the great national turning of the Jewish people, and the establishment of the reign of the Messiah upon the earth during the Millennial Kingdom in the world to come.

Note that in accordance with tradition, holiday dates begin at sundown. Moreover, some holidays may be postponed one day if they happen to fall on the weekly Sabbath:

  1. Month of Elul (Friday Sept. 2nd, 2016 [eve] - Sun. Oct. 2nd, 2016)
  2. Month of Tishri (Sun. Oct. 2nd [eve] - Tues. Nov. 1st [day])
  3. Month of Cheshvan (Mon. Oct. 31st [eve] - Wed. Nov. 30th [day])
    • Four Sabbaths: Noach, Lekh-Lekha, Vayera, Chayei Sarah
    • Yom Ha'Aliyah - A modern holiday that honors honor the contributions of olim (immigrants) to Israeli society (Cheshvan 7 - Thurs., Oct. 26)
    • Sigd - 50th day after Yom Kippur; Ethiopian Jewish holiday (Tues., Nov. 29)
  4. Month of Kislev (Wed. Nov. 30th [eve] - Fri. Dec. 29th [day])
    • Four Sabbaths: Toldot, Vayetzei, Vayishlach, Vayeshev 
    • Winter Solstice: Wed. Dec. 20th (Kislev 20)
    • Dates for Chanukah 2016 (5777):
      • 1st Chanukah candle - Sat. Dec. 24th [i.e., Kislev 25]
      • 2nd Chanukah candle - Sun. Dec. 25th
      • Christmas: Sun. Dec. 25th
      • 3rd Chanukah candle: Mon. Dec. 26th
      • 4th Chanukah candle: Tues. Dec. 27th
      • 5th Chanukah candle: Wed. Dec. 28th
  5. Month of Tevet (Thurs., Dec. 29th [eve] - Fri. Jan. 27th [day])
    • Four Sabbaths: Miketz, VayigashVayechi, Shemot
    • Dates for Chanukah (continued):
      • 6th Chanukah candle: Thur. Dec. 29th (Rosh Chodesh Chanukah)
      • 7th Chanukah candle: Fri. Dec. 30th
      • 8th Chanukah candle: Sat. Dec. 31st [Zot Chanukah]
    • Secular New Year: Sun. Jan. 1st, 2017 (Tevet 3) 
    • Tenth of Tevet - Sun. Jan. 8th, 2017; fast over the seige of Jerusalem
       


 

Note:  Some calendars will list the first day of a holiday without indicating that the holiday actually begins sundown the night before... So, for example, while Chanukah begins Saturday, Dec. 24th at sundown, many calendars may indicate that it occurs on Sunday, December 25th.
 




December 2016 Updates


My Lord and My God...


 

12.30.16 (Kislev 30, 5777)  God's power is present in all things, in every world, every soul. Yeshua is the Source of all life in the universe: כָּל־הַמַּעֲשִׂים נִהְיוּ עַל־יָדוֹ / "All things were made by Him (John 1:3). God is Light, and Yeshua reveals the Light of God (John 8:12). The "Word made flesh" is the "image of the invisible God" and the "radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint (χαρακτήρ, 'character') of his nature" (Col. 1:15). All of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3): "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Creation begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Mashiach... He is the Center of Creation - it's beginning and end. As it says: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the 'A' and the 'Z,' the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). Indeed, Yeshua is the "King of kings of kings" (מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים), the LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest celestial glory to the shame of bearing our sin and guilt upon a cross... All Reality centers upon Him.
 

יְהוָה אֲדנֵינוּ מָה־אַדִּיר שִׁמְךָ בְּכָל־הָאָרֶץ
אֲשֶׁר תְּנָה הוֹדְךָ עַל־הַשָּׁמָיִם

Adonai · a·do·nei·nu · mah · ad·dir · shim·kha · be·khol · ha·a·retz
a·sher · te·nah · ho·de·kha · al · ha·sha·ma·yim
 

"O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your Name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens."
(Psalm 8:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 

God's abiding provision for our need is revealed in the "face of Messiah" (בִּפְנֵי הַמָּשִׁיחַ), not in the fading glory of the former covenant (2 Cor 3:4-18). Unlike Moses - who veiled his face to hide the fact that the glory of the former covenant of Sinai was indeed fading away - "we all, with unveiled face, reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. This comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:12-4:1). Each of us, like Moses, must ascend the mountain of Zion to behold the Glory of God: "And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Yeshua only" (Matt. 17:8). "The face of Yeshua the Messiah" is therefore the radiance and glory of God Himself.

 

"Stand up and bless the LORD your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be His glorious Name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise" (Neh. 9:5; Psalm 138:2; Phil. 2:9-11; Isa. 45:23). We have to stand for the truth, because the truth is what sets us free (John 8:32). As Yeshua said, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world -- to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37). The way of life is found in Yeshua: "Whoever has the Son has the life (הַחַיִּים); whoever does not have the Son does not have the life" (1 John 5:12).

Therefore, as Yeshua said: "Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you... As you have the light, believe in the light. Then the light will be within you, and shining through your lives. You'll be children of light (בְּנֵי הָאוֹר). I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness" (John 12:35-6, 46).
 




The Miketz Prophecies...


 

[ Our Torah reading for the Shabbat of Chanukah is parashat Miketz, i.e., Gen. 41:1-44:17. ]

12.30.16 (Kislev 30, 5777)  Our Torah portion this week is "Miketz" (מקץ), a word that means "at the end," and therefore it points to the prophetic future (i.e., the "end of days" or acharit ha-yamim). Just as Joseph was a "dreamer" who was betrayed by his brothers but was promoted to a place of glory by the hidden hand of God, so Yeshua was betrayed by his people yet was exalted over all the nations (מֶלֶךְ הַגּוֹיִם). And just as Joseph later disguised himself as a "stranger" and an "Egyptian" to his brothers but was finally revealed to be their savior, so will the Jewish people eventually come to see that Yeshua is the true Savior of Israel. Then will come true the hope of Rav Sha'ul (the Apostle Paul) who wrote, "And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, 'There shall come out of Zion the Redeemer (גּוֹאֵל) who shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob'" (Rom. 11:26).

Note: For more on this important topic, see "Joseph and his brothers."
 




Chanukah and Prophecy...


 

12.30.16 (Kislev 30, 5777)  Many Bible scholars say that the prophet Daniel (6th Century BC) foresaw the rise of Alexander the Great centuries beforehand in the vision of a "male goat running from the west" that had a conspicuous horn between its eyes (see Dan. 8:1-12; 21-22). This goat destroyed the power of the kings of Media and Persia (symbolized by two horns on a ram, Dan. 8:20). Though the "goat" (Alexander) became exceedingly great, eventually its horn was "broken into four [kingdoms]," and out of these four horns arose a "little horn" (i.e., the Seleucid king Antiochus "Epiphanes," c. 175-163 BC) who had authority over "the glorious land" (i.e., Israel). This "little horn" (קֶרֶן מִצְּעִירָה) greatly magnified itself, cast down some of the stars (i.e., righteous souls), took away the sacrifices, and defiled the very Sanctuary in Jerusalem. As we will see, Chanukah ultimately is a prophetic message regarding the End of Days and the victory of our Messiah...

Antiochus is perhaps most notorious for setting up an altar to Zeus over the altar of burnt offering in Temple compound and sacrificing a pig within the Sanctuary of the Temple itself. This sacrilege is otherwise known as the "abomination of desolation" (שִׁקּוּץ מְשׁמֵם) that was decreed to occur 2,300 days into Antiochus' reign (Dan. 8:13-14). Notice, however, that Daniel's prophecy has a "dual aspect" to it, and the description of the rise of the "little horn" (in Dan. 8:9-10) suggested something far more portentous than the reign of a local tyrant.  This horn "grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the glorious land. It grew great, even to the host of heaven. And some of the host and some of the stars it threw down to the ground and trampled on them."

In light of other New Testament scriptures, it is clear that this "exceedingly great horn" refers to future world leader (sometimes called the "Antichrist") who would one day attempt to "assimilate" all of humanity into a "New World Order" (Dan. 9:26-27, 2 Thess. 2:3; Rev. 13:7-9, etc.). It is likely that it was this sense of the "abomination that makes desolation" that Yeshua referred to in Matt. 24:15 and Mark 13:14, and it is this "abomination that makes desolation" that will be overthrown by Yeshua at the end of the Great Tribulation period (Dan. 8:23-25; Matt. 24:30; Rev. 19:11-16; 20:2, etc.).

 

The intertestamental Book of Maccabees (c. 2nd Century BC) tell us more about this "little horn" and his vicious oppression of the Jewish people. Antiochus installed Hellenistic Jews to the priesthood and demanded the adherence to Hellenistic cultural ideals.  He established edicts that prohibited observing the weekly Sabbath and the other biblical festivals. The reading of the Torah was outlawed and all copies of it were ordered to be burned. Temple sacrifices were forbidden; circumcision was outlawed and the penalty for disobedience was death. Women who disobeyed the edict by circumcising their sons were paraded about the city with their babies hanging at their breasts and then thrown down from the top of the city wall (2 Macc. 6:1-11). Many Jews fled and hid in the wilderness and caves and many died kiddush HaShem - as martyrs (see Heb. 11:36-39). Eventually Jewish resistance to this imposed Hellenization meant war. In 164 BC, in Modin, a small town about 17 miles from Jerusalem, Mattityahu (Matthias), a Hasmonean priest, and his five sons took refuge. When Antiochus' soldiers arrived at Modim to erect an altar to Zeus and force the sacrifice of a pig, Mattityahu and his sons rose up and killed the Syrians. They then fled to the Judean wilderness and were joined by other freedom fighters.  After some organizing, they soon engaged in successful guerrilla warfare against their Syrian/Greek oppressors. The three-year campaign culminated in the cleansing and rededication of the Temple (for more on this subject, see Chanukah and Spiritual Warfare).

Note:  For more on this subject, see "Why Christians should celebate Chanukah."
 




Teshuvah's Like-for-Like...


 

[ Our Torah reading for the Shabbat of Chanukah is parashat Miketz, i.e., Gen. 41:1-44:17. ]

12.30.16 (Kislev 30, 5777)  It is said that genuine teshuvah (repentance) is evident when a person is confronted with the same temptation to which he previously succumbed, but successfully withstands the test and resists.  Joseph's brothers demonstrated teshuvah when they refused to abandon their father's favorite son to the "pit" of an Egyptian prison cell (Gen. 44:16-17). Once the brothers offered to suffer the same fate as falsely accused Benjamin, Joseph knew they had repented and were no longer the same people who had betrayed him when he was a young man...

Note that next week we will read how Judah offered to sacrifice his life for his brother, and this act led to the revelation of Joseph...
 




A Great Miracle Happened...


 

[ Tomorrow evening at sunset begins Zot Chanunkah, the conclusion of Chanukah... ]

12.30.16 (Kislev 30, 5777)  Each side of a dreidel (a four-sided spinning top used for Chanukah) has a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet: Nun (נ), Gimmel (ג), Hey (ה), and Shin (שׁ), which together form the acronym, Nes Gadol Hayah Sham (נֵס גָדוֹל הָיָה שָׁם) – "a great miracle happened there," referring to the victory of the Macabees. In Israel, however, the letter Shin is replaced with the letter Pey (פּ) to form the acronym, Nes Gadol Hayah Poh (נֵס גָדוֹל הָיָה פּה), meaning "a great miracle happened here," referring to Temple and the land of Israel.  Because Chanukah represents Yeshua, the true Light of the World, we likewise can say: Nes Gadol Hayah Poh, "a great miracle happened here," referring to the Temple of our hearts, when the Light of the LORD overcame our darkness and gave us everlasting hope and consolation...

Thank God that after Yeshua was crucified and died for our transgressions, the parochet in the Temple (i.e, the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple) was torn from top to bottom, thereby opening the way of access to the Divine Presence for all who are willing to come in faith...  The light of God's love now shines for us all!
 




Source of Light...


 

12.29.16 (Kislev 29, 5777)  "God is Light; in Him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). "I AM come a light into the world, that whoever believes in me should not abide in darkness" (John 12:46). The ultimate message of Chanukah is eschatological and full of hope. This world is passing away and the Kingdom of Heaven will one day be established upon the earth. We live in light of this blessed hope (Titus 2:11-13). The world's rulers are "on notice" from God Almighty: their days are numbered and they will surely face the judgment of the LORD God of Israel (Psalm 2). We must stand against evil by refusing to conform to the world around us (Eph. 6:11-18). Now is the time. "Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). Followers of Yeshua are part of His Dwelling - extensions of His Presence in this dark world - and during this season may we remember the call to rededicate our lives to Him! May your light shine!

More Chanukah Pictures (click for larger):
 
Chanukah 5777 Collage

Left-to-right (top): 1. Window decorations; 2. Vadim and Irina; 3. Latkes with apple sauce;
4. John with his sons; 5. Yasha lights the menorah.
(bottom): 1. Judah lights the menorah; 2. Peter lights the menorah; 3. Third Day of Chanukah;
4. Josiah and Judah; 5. Lit menorah at the window

 




New Year Assumptions...


 

12.28.16 (Kislev 28, 5777)  Often we don't realize what is not being said because of what is being said. In other words, hidden or unspoken assumptions are always at work in communication, though we rarely take the time to examine these assumptions for ourselves.  Advertisers, politicians, and others who wish to control your thinking implicitly understand this and therefore regularly employ various techniques to distract you from examining their assumptions. They understand that the louder (or more frequently or more threateningly) something is said, the less likely you will question its truth status or engage in reasonable thinking of your own.... In other words, "truth" for such pragmatists is little more than persuasion. Get the crowd to believe you and you've got the "truth."

For example, in most countries of the world, "New Year's Day" is usually celebrated on January 1st, though this date comes from the arbitrary decree of the consuls of ancient (and pagan) Rome -- certainly not from anything taught in the Torah and the Hebrew Scriptures. According to Torah, however, there are two mirroring "New Years" observed during the year. The first occurs two weeks before Passover (Nisan 1) and the second occurs ten days before Yom Kippur (Tishri 1). The first is called Rosh Chodashim (see Exod. 12:2), which commemorates the month of the redemption of the Jewish people (i.e., the month Yeshua was sacrificed for our sins), whereas the second is called Yom Teru'ah that is associated with the "Feast of Ingathering" at the "end of the year" (Exod. 23:16, 34:22). Later Yom Terua'h became known as Rosh Hashanah ("the head of the year") which began a ten-day "trial" of humanity climaxing on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

The two "new years" of the Jewish calendar mirror each other and reveal the two advents of Messiah. For more on the secular New Year and its relationship to the calendar of Torah, see the page, "The Gregorian Calendar and Pagan Assumptions."
 




Turning to See...

Photography by John J Parsons
 

[ The holiday of Chanukah runs from Dec. 24 through Jan. 1st... Happy Chanukah! ]

12.27.16 (Kislev 27, 5776)  During the holiday of Chanukah we kindle lights, but we do not to use these lights for profane purposes: We are simply to behold them, to see something amazing, and to be touched by the light... There is no place where God is not present, and indeed the name YHVH (יהוה) means "Presence" (הָיָה וְהוֶה וְיָבוֹא). God showed himself in the midst of a common thornbush as a fire that does not burn. Moses "turned aside" to see the bush, which means he looked past the layer of the common, the profane, and the ordinary, to see the uncommon, the sacred, and the extraordinary. We light our menorah; we see the flames rise upward - like thorns on a thornbush - and we may catch a glimpse of God's radiance, if we "turn aside" to see... When we slow down, when we make room within our hearts for God - a sanctuary within - we will often see what is commonly overlooked.

When we look at something, we often do not see it because we are looking somewhere else – looking past the present moment by reliving the past or by anticipating the future. This is why we must learn to sanctify the moments of our lives by offering blessings and prayers, observing the mo'edim (holidays), and so on, because doing so helps us "pause" to see what is right before us, right now...

Some Chanukah Pictures (click for larger):
 
Chanukah 5777 Collage

Left-to-right (top): 1. Window decoration; 2. Chocolate gelt jar; 3. Chanukah cookies we made;
4. Emanuel's first Chanukah; 5. Judah lights the menorah.
(bottom): 1. Josiah lights the menorah; 2. Judah, Josiah, Emanuel; 3. Olga with her sons;
4. John holds Emanuel David; 5. colors and textures of the season


 


The Torah records that God's first words were "Let there be light" (i.e., yehi or: יְהִי אוֹר) and then states that "God separated (וַיַּבְדֵּל) this light from the darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). It is this "separation," or distinction, that is foundational to the concept of kedushah (קְדֻשָּׁה), or "holiness," a term that first appears regarding the distinction between ordinary and sacred time: "God blessed the seventh day and made it holy" (יְקַדֵּשׁ) because on it God rested from all his work that he had created to do" (Gen. 2:3). We are called away from the darkness to come into the light. Indeed the very purpose of salvation is "to turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God" (Acts 26:18).

And should the darkness attempt to enshroud your way, we pray for God's light to be rekindled within your soul.. Keep faith that the light still shines and that despair will not be your final end. Your mourning will find its comfort, your tears will be wiped away, and your grief will find its solace... May God transform your heartache into the holy resolve to know the truth of His great love. Amen.
 




Inner Light of Love...

Photography by John J Parsons
 

12.27.16 (Kislev 27, 5776)  "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, such is the one who loves me. And the one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him" (John 14:21). Note that the Greek word translated "manifest" means to "shine inside" (i.e., ἐμφανίζω, from ἐν, "in" and φαίνω, "shine"), indicating that the revelation would be inward light of the Presence of Messiah himself (Χριστὸς ἐν ὑμῖν, ἡ ἐλπὶς τῆς δόξης, Col. 1:27). As we receive God's love, as we embrace it as our own, the love of Messiah will become inwardly visible to you. This comes from a place of surrender and acceptance.  As Paul Tillich said, "Sometimes in a moment of weakness light breaks into darkness, and it is as though a voice says, 'You are accepted; you are accepted... Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.' If that happens to you, then you experience grace, and everything will be transformed." Ultimately Chanukah is about salvation and transformation - beauty from ashes - and the love of God...
 




Yom Kippur and Christmas...


 

12.27.16 (Kislev 27, 5776)  If the priest Zechariah was performing the Yom Kippur avodah when he was visited by the angel Gabriel (as seems to be the case given the context, see Luke 1:8-23), and his wife Elizabeth conceived about that time (see Luke 1:24, that is, sometime in the middle of the month of Tishri), and her cousin Mary was then told of the incarnation six months later, during Passover season (Luke 1:26, 36), then the birth of Yeshua would have been sometime during the middle of the month of Tevet, which is indeed close to the traditional December 25th date observed by the majority of Christians...

After all, as you read the the prophetic announcement of the birth of John given in Luke, it certainly seems that Zechariah was performing the Yom Kippur ritual at the Temple, offering incense before the parochet before he entered the sacred chamber of the Holy of Holies. Indeed, one implication of this interpretation is that the Lamb of God (שׂה הָאֱלהִים) was conceived during Passover, which seems appropriate as the time of the Incarnation...

ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν -- "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14) -- which of course is the essence of the gospel message. As it is written concerning the birth of Messiah: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6).

Of course the exact date of Yeshua's birth is existentially irrelevant, apart from the fact that he indeed was born into this world as our Savior, and indeed, the New Testament stresses the significance of his death more than his birth (1 Cor. 2:2; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Nevertheless, we use the "good eye" to regard our Christian friends who honor this time to remember the birth of Yeshua, even if we have convictions that may lead us to think Messiah was born during Sukkot. For some hopefully peaceful discussion about the birth date of the Messiah Yeshua, see the article, "Christmas: Was Jesus really born on December 25th?"

Note:  The point of this entry was to explore the traditional date as a possibility, not to be dogmatic and intolerant. You certainly do not have to agree with the traditional date, though if you disagree, then you should at least address the pertinent question of what Zechariah was doing in his service when the prophecy of the birth of John was made. Above all, follow your own convictions and walk in peace toward all people (Heb. 12:14). Shalom.
 




Parashat Miketz - מקץ

Tzofnat Pane'ach -
 

[ The eight days of Chanukah run from Sat. Dec. 24th (i.e., Kislev 25) through Sun. Jan. 1st this year. The weekly Torah reading is not suspended for Chanukah (as it is for Passover and Sukkot), though additional Torah readings are read for each of the eight days of the holiday... ]

12.26.16  (Kislev 26, 5777)  In our Torah portion for Chanukah week, we will read how Joseph successfully interpreted Pharaoh's dreams and rose to power in Egypt. Because of a famine in the land of Canaan, however, his brothers came to Egypt in search of food. A disguised Joseph then tested his brothers to see whether they were the same people who had callously sold him into slavery, or whether they had undergone teshuvah (repentance).

The eventual revelation of Joseph and his reconciliation with his brothers is a prophetic picture of acharit ha-yamim (the "End of Days") when Israel, in Great Tribulation, will come to accept Yeshua as Israel's true deliverer.  Presently, the veil is still over the eyes of the Jewish people and they collectively regard Yeshua as an "Egyptian" of sorts.  In this connection, I list some of the ways that Joseph is a "type" or foreshadowing of the coming Yeshua as the Suffering Servant (see "Mashiach ben Yosef").
 

Note:  This year the eight days of Chanukah began on Sunday, December 24th at sundown (1st candle) and will run through the daylight hours of Monday, January 1st. The tradition is that on the first night of Chanukah one flame is lit, on the second night two, and so on until the eighth night when eight flames are lit. In this way we remember the 'growth' of the miracle. We also read a small section of Torah for each of the days of Chanukah. See the Parashat hashavu'ah page for more information.

 




Receiving the Light...



 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah runs from Dec. 24th through Jan. 1st this year... ]

12.24.16  (Kislev 24, 5777)  The essence of Chanukah is simply to receive the light, to bear witness of the radiance of God's victory. We celebrate the work of God, his salvation (יְשׁוּעָה), and the triumph of his love. Therefore its message is "wake up, open your eyes, and believe" the good news: darkness and despair will not prevail; your mourning will find comfort, your grief its solace. Your heart's deepest longing shines brightly, even now, if you will but believe... With God's help, fight the darkness of fear...
 

קוּמִי אוֹרִי כִּי בָא אוֹרֵךְ
 וּכְבוֹד יְהוָה עָלַיִךְ זָרָח

ku·mi  o·ri  ki  va  or·rekh
ukh·vod  Adonai  a·la·yikh  za·rach
 

"Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you."
(Isa. 60:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 


The LORD said to Moses from the midst of the shining flame: 'Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy' (Exod. 3:5). The Chofetz Chaim comments: "We all need to rise higher... Never say, I will be able to lift myself up at another time or different place. By faith see that this place, right now, is holy ground, and awaits your response." May God open the "eyes of our heart" to help us see (Eph. 1:18-19). 

FROM OUR FAMILY TO YOU --  SHABBAT SHALOM, CHAG CHANUKAH SAME'ACH, and a JOYFUL CHRISTMAS SEASON TO YOU ALL!!!  Amen!
 




Unto us a Child is Born...


 

12.24.16  (Kislev 24, 5777)  Regarding the birth of Messiah it is written in our Scriptures: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called: the Wonderful Counselor (פֶּלֶא יוֹעֵץ), the Mighty God (אֵל גִּבּוֹר), the Father of Eternity (אֲבִיעַד), the Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6). "Unto us a child is born" - this is the first advent - when the Messiah would be rejected, suffer, and die for our sins; and "unto us a son is given" - this is the second advent - when the Messiah will reign as David's greater regent in the kingdom promised to Zion.
 

כִּי־יֶלֶד יֻלַּד־לָנוּ בֵּן נִתַּן־לָנוּ
וַתְּהִי הַמִּשְׂרָה עַל־שִׁכְמוֹ
וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ פֶּלֶא יוֹעֵץ
אֵל גִּבּוֹר אֲבִיעַד שַׂר־שָׁלוֹם

ki · ye·led · yu·lad · la·nu, · ben · nit·tan · la·nu
va·te·hi · ham·mis·rah · al · shikh·mo
va·yi·kra · she·mo · pe·le · yo·etz
El · gib·bor,  a·vi · ad,  sar · shalom
 

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
 and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
 and his name shall be called: the Wonderful Counselor,
the Mighty God, the Father of Eternity, the Prince of Peace."
(Isa. 9:6)

Shiviti

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Notice that the four terms used to describe this coming King clearly transcend the historical figure of any earthly king of Israel. For example, the word "pele" in pele yo'etz (wonderful counselor) is used in Judges 13:18 regarding the name of the Angel of the LORD (who in verse 22 is identified as God). El Gibbor (Mighty God) is clearly a title for the Holy One of Israel (Isa. 10:20-21; Psalm 24:8). Avi'ad (Father of Eternity) refers to God as Avinu Malkenu (see Isaiah 63:16, 1 Chron. 29:10; Psalm 68:5; Mal. 2:10). And as for Sar Shalom (Prince of Peace), both the Talmud and Scripture refer to "the Name of God as Peace" (Shab. 10b, Judges 6:24). It is clear, therefore, that these terms are designations for the LORD God of Israel and not merely that of a human being (for more on this, see this page).

Many Christians focus on Isaiah 9:6 and rightly link it to the nativity account of the gospels, but it is important to understand that the promise is also linked to the eschatological future: "Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this" (Isa. 9:7; Luke 1:32-33). Notice that the phrase "his rule will be increased" (לְםַרְבֵּה הַמִּשְׂרָה) is spelled using a closed Mem (ם) instead of the usual open Mem (מ), which suggests that the authority of the One to whom the rule will be given is final and complete. The "child that was born" will be soon be revealed as "the Son that is given" to Israel. One day soon Yeshua will return to Zion (i.e., Jerusalem) to establish His kingdom and fulfill God's promises to Israel. That day and hour are close... Come quickly, LORD!
 




Humanism and Darkness...


 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah begins sundown on Saturday, Dec. 24th this year... ]

12.24.16  (Kislev 24, 5777)  Regarding the verse, "And the earth was without form and void (תהוּ וָבהוּ), and darkness was upon the surface of the deep" (Gen. 1:2), the midrash comments: "Darkness – these are the Greeks who darkened the eyes of the Jewish nation with their evil decrees." The utter darkness of Hellenistic thought (i.e., ancient Greek "universalism") came disguised as an angel of light, as "enlightened" thinking, but whenever such humanism usurps the authority of divine revelation, the result is exile and darkness. Indeed, the very worst kind of exile is to be unaware that you are in exile, to be so blinded that you do not see that you do not see... As Yeshua said, "If the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Matt. 6:23); and "be careful lest the light in you be darkness" (Luke 11:35). In the end, the world and its blind lusts will pass away, for it is "tohu" (תּהוּ) - confusion and unreality - but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).
 




Irrational Humanism...


 

12.23.16  (Kislev 23, 5777)  Skeptics often object to the existence of God because there appears to be so much gratuitous evil in the universe. They maintain that the three propositions: 1) God is all-loving; 2) God is all-powerful; and 3) evil exists; are semantically incompatible and therefore logically inconsistent. You can choose any two of the three propositions to believe, they pontificate, though you cannot consistently believe all three without becoming irrational. To avoid a lot of boring discussion about the unsoundness of this old argument, suffice it to say that it has long been shown that there is no logical contradiction by affirming all three propositions, and therefore the so-called "problem of evil" is not a deal-breaker for a rational person of faith. Because of this, the skeptic will then try a different approach by saying that while the existence of evil may not prove there is no Supreme Being, it nevertheless makes it "improbable" that such a being exists, and therefore the rational person will not believe in God as all-loving, all-powerful, etc.  However, I want to point to a linguistic dilemma the skeptic encounters by arguing this way, since it is impossible to define "evil," "good," or to make the value claim that one state of affairs is "better" than another state of affairs without appealing to transcendental standards of goodness and justice. This fact demonstrates that many skeptics are parasites and abusers of religious language, pilfering metaphysical assumptions without providing any justification of their own. They can only complain about God and evil by assuming ideas that are derive from theological concepts of truth, justice, goodness, and so on. The skeptic needs to be told to back up and clarify their terms. They should not be allowed to smuggle in appeals to transcendental values in their attempt to say there are no transcendent values.

Have you ever heard someone utter the supposed axiom, "Everything is relative"? This is an example of sloppy and even absurd thinking, since if everything is relative, then the statement "everything is relative" is relative, which of course is a contradiction in terms. Did you know that Albert Einstein's famous "Theory of Relativity" was at first going to be called the "Theory of Invariance"? That's because the theory assumes the constancy of the speed of light to interpret states of energy/matter based on unchanging "laws" of physics (i.e., the measured velocity of light is the same (invariant) regardless of any relative motion). Don't be fooled by slick talkers who make a pretense of knowledge. If everything were relative, then nothing could be known, including the idea that anything is relative to another thing.
 




The Reality of God...


 

[ I realize the following topic is a bit "philosophical," but during this time of year we may encounter people who regard faith in God as "humbug" or nonsense, and we should be equipped to give an answer for the hope we hold.  Please skip this, however, if you do not find it helpful. ]

12.23.16  (Kislev 23, 5777)  Can people really know that God exists and what God is like by means of reason? The Scriptures emphatically declare that indeed they can: "For the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even the Eternal Power and Divinity; so that people are without excuse" (Rom. 1:20). The unseen is seen - discerned by the "eye" of logical inference  - so that the phenomenal effect of the universe itself reveals intelligent design and divine agency. Moreover, since it is impossible to traverse an infinite number of causal connections to arrive at a present effect, people may rationally know that the universe itself is not eternal but has a determinate beginning as well. However, an even greater witness to the reality of God is found within the intuitions of the human heart. Intuitively we have an impression or idea of the "Supreme Being," that is, a being than which no greater can be conceived (Eccl. 3:11). Now if this idea were merely a fantasy, however, it is possible to conceive of something greater, namely the reality of the Supreme Being, and therefore, since something that exists is greater than something merely imaginary, the Supreme Being necessarily exists. This "ontological" argument turns on the question of whether the idea of existence should be regarded as a "predicate" or "quality" that can be ascribed to something, though it seems clear it can, since we regularly distinguish between the real verses the illusory, between truth and fiction, and so on. Are such everyday distinctions valid when applied to the concept of God, however? Yes of course. Those who knowingly trifle with the meaning of what the word "is" is are prevaricators who seek to undermine meaningful connections that allow us to navigate and interpret our experiences. In light of the foregoing, then, it is evident that we indeed know the universe had a beginning and that the Source of the universe is the Supreme Being who is One (there can only be one "supreme" being, after all), who is also all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, morally perfect, personal and fully conscious, entirely holy (i.e., one of a kind and unique), and so on. These superlative attributes (or "predicates") logically follow and are maximally present from the logical realization of what a "Supreme Being" must be like. For instance, a Supreme Being must logically be present (i.e., "exist") in all possible worlds, since there can be no logically possible world where there is no source or agency that does not provide the conditions for that world to exist. Likewise, a Supreme Being must be all-knowing, since any deficiency in knowledge would designate a being less than the Supreme Being, that is, the One than which no greater may be conceived...

The secular "world" has its own religious mythologies, of course. For instance, the paradigms of western science have gone through various refining transformations or "shifts" over the centuries, and today the prevailing myth is that the universe is the effect of a cosmologically unknown (though supposedly) transcendental event called the "big bang" -- "from which, and through which, and to which are all things..." If you dare to question this dogma today, or to inquire about the "first cause" of this inexplicably and primordially determinative beginning, however, contemporary agnostic cosmology is essentially silent, though its proponents often find their voice denying that a personal God is the Creator of all things. In light of this intolerance, then, the "world" offers nothing but the present moment and must despair over both the beginning and end for anything that exists – from the realm of subatomic particles to the motions of great heavenly bodies. There is no existentially relevant "telos" or goal for anything other than the sheer immediacy of the moment (i.e., "survival"), and any thought of transcendental beauty or goodness is regarded as an illusion. Nevertheless, if the universe is the effect of a power greater than itself, that power is the answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing, and the next step is to inquire about the possibility of knowing anything about this transcendental power itself.

God created us so that we could discern truth about reality. The mind functions according to intuitive logical laws because it is made in the image and likeness of God Himself... God Himself is the Source of all logic, since He created reality and structured the world to be intelligible according to its laws. As it is written: "In the beginning was the Word (i.e., ὁ λόγος - the Logic), and the λόγος was with God, and the λόγος was God... All things were made by Him (כָּל־הַמַּעֲשִׂים נִהְיוּ עַל־יָדוֹ); and without him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:1-3). The LORD created a world that exhibits order and great beauty. And since human beings were created b'tzelem Elohim (בְּצֶלֶם אֱלהִים), in the image of God, our thoughts (and the words used to formulate our thoughts) as well as our actions are likewise intended to exhibit order and beauty.  As it is written in our Scriptures: "For the fruit of light (καρπὸς τοῦ πνεύματος) is found in all that is good and right and true" - כִּי־פְרִי הָאוֹר כָּל־מַעֲשֵׂי חֶסֶד וְצֶדֶק וֶאֱמֶת (Eph. 5:9).

As a matter of perception and the interpretation of experience, it is important to remember that we do not directly see light but by means of the light; the light is the medium by which we receive revelation... The heart looks through the eye, and therefore how we choose to see is a spiritual decision: "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). When we see rightly, we behold the radiance of God shining within us, even in the midst of our everyday affairs. A grateful heart is awake to God's Presence in the little things of life, those small miracles and glories that constantly surround us.
 

כִּי־עִמְּךָ מְקוֹר חַיִּים
בְּאוֹרְךָ נִרְאֶה־אוֹר

ki · im·me·kha · me·kor · chai·yim
be·or·kha · nir·eh · ohr
 

"For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light."
(Psalm 36:9)



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"In Your light we see light..." When you enter a dark room with a lamp, the darkness flees and is overcome by the light. So also with prayer (i.e., teshuvah): When we turn to the Lord, spiritual darkness is overcome by the Divine Radiance. In Yeshua is life, who is the light of the world; all those who receive Him behold ohr ha'chayim (אוֹר הַחַיִּים) - the "light of life."
 




Love's Great Humility...


 

12.23.16  (Kislev 23, 5777)  "Unless you turn (shuv) and become like children, you will never (οὐ μὴ) enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). Such is the importance of simple trust in God... Indeed Yeshua repeatedly taught us to trust God as "Abba," our Father (אַבָּא אָבִינוּ). He taught that we are warmly accepted as part of his family; that we are under his constant care; and that we live within his household as beloved children... And even though God is utterly transcendent, the Infinite One (אין סוף) and Creator of all worlds, he humbles himself to feed the birds of the air, to water lilies of the field, and to count the number of hairs on your head (Psalm 113:5-6). He is as close as your next breath; he leans upon your bosom at the table; he anticipates what you need before you ask him... The "fear of the Lord" is that you might fail knowing his great love for you -- that you will forget your true identity in lesser things. Therefore affirm the truth that you are loved with an unending and everlasting love, that you are safe, that you are surely accepted, and that nothing can ever separate you from the power of love. God your Father hears you, he knows you, and he loves you bekhol levavo (בְּכָל־לְבָבוֹ) - "with all his heart."

May we know God as our beloved Abba. "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and fellow heirs with Messiah - even if we may suffer together with him to the end that we may also be glorified together with him" (Rom. 8:15-17).
 




Substance of Hope...


 

12.23.16  (Kislev 23, 5777)  It is written that faith is the "substance" (ὑπόστασις) of hope, the conviction of unseen blessing, and "without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Heb. 11:6). Life in this world is likened to a school wherein we learn how great God is and how much we are loved, valued, and esteemed precious in His eyes. You must believe that God is your healer, that he will make the crooked things straight, and that you are his beloved child... Faith sees the end in God's unfailing love: The LORD God of Israel says: "And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them."
 

וְהוֹלַכְתִּי עִוְרִים בְּדֶרֶךְ לא יָדָעוּ
 בִּנְתִיבוֹת לא־יָדְעוּ אַדְרִיכֵם
 אָשִׂים מַחְשָׁךְ לִפְנֵיהֶם לָאוֹר
 וּמַעֲקַשִּׁים לְמִישׁוֹר
 אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים עֲשִׂיתִם וְלא עֲזַבְתִּים

ve·ho·lakh·ti · iv·rim · be·de·rekh · lo · ya·da·u
bin·ti·vot · lo · ya·du · ad·ri·khem
a·sim · mach·shakh · lif·ne·hem · la·or
u·ma·a·ka·shim · le·mi·shor
el·lah · ha·de·va·rim · a·si·tim · ve·lo · a·zav·tim
 

"And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know,
 in paths that they have not known I will guide them.
 I will make dark places before them turn to light,
 and perverse things into uprightness.
 These things I will do, and I will not forsake them."
(Isa. 42:16)



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Faith is its own reward, since believing the truth brings you into alignment with reality. Teshuvah is the response to God's love... Faith confesses that God is your Ultimate Concern, your Supreme Good, the goal and end of all that matters to your heart. Your faith is "more precious than gold," because its heart is your highest blessing, namely, the Divine Presence, the beatific reality, and heaven itself.... God tests our faith to draw our attention to Him (Psalm 119:71); to teach us endurance (Rom. 5:3-5; James 1:4); to upbuild our soul (Jude 1:20); to purify our affections (1 Pet. 1:7), and to glorify God's Name (kiddush HaShem). May God help each of us hold the substance of real hope within our hearts. Amen.
 




All-Pervasive Radiance...


 

12.23.16  (Kislev 23, 5777)  Many people go through the day oblivious to the miracle of existence... If you carefully consider even the most common of things, however, such as a piece of bread, for instance, you will soon realize that it represents a series of causes leading back to transcendental power, and finally, to the Creator and Sustainer of all things. A piece of bread comes from flour, which is milled from seed grown in topsoil through an amazing synthesis of light, air, minerals, and water. However, photosynthesis is a secondary effect of more fundamental forces such as the energy of the sun, the elements of earth, water, and atmosphere, the pull of gravity, and the marvelous inner "form" or intelligence of the seed itself... The "germination" of a seed is really quite miraculous, replicating the body and energy of a plant in miniature form ("this acorn I hold in my hand contains a thousand oak trees"). My point here is simple. Life is full of mysteries, though we can suppress consciousness of its wonders by means of ingratitude for our existence. God is never silent, however, since "The heavens tell the story of the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims the work of his hands; Day after day it speaks out; night after night it reveals His greatness" (Psalm 19:1-2).
 

הַשָּׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד־אֵל
וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו מַגִּיד הָרָקִיעַ
יוֹם לְיוֹם יַבִּיעַ אמֶר
וְלַיְלָה לְּלַיְלָה יְחַוֶּה־דָּעַת

ha-sha·ma·yim · me·sa·pe·rim · ke·vod · El,
u·ma·a·seh · ya·dav · mag·gid · ha·ra·ki·a;
yom · le·yom · ya·bi·a · o·mer,
ve·lai·la · le·lai·la · ye·cha·veh · da·at
 

"The heavens recount the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims the work of His hands.
Day after day it speaks out;
night after night it reveals His greatness."
(Psalm 19:1-2)



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A sense of wonder and mystery is central to faith, since "the last step of human reason is the confession that there are an infinite number of things that are beyond it" (Blaise Pascal).  Just as human reason and logical principles ultimately point beyond itself, so faith points beyond itself to the Lord as the Source and the End of all mystery, beauty, goodness, love, and truth... The idea of mystery is not a confession of ignorance as much as it is an awareness of the inherent sanctity of life and of the ultimate triumph of love.... Faith believes that everything will ultimately be healed by God's overarching will, through which the universe is sustained and made intelligible to us. Therefore, Da lifnei mi attah omed: "Know before whom you stand!" We are constantly surrounded by an ongoing procession of the glory of God (Isa. 6:3). May the Lord our God help us open our eyes to see...
 




The Humility of God...


 

12.22.16  (Kislev 22, 5777)  Consider the absolute humility of God as He chose to enter into this world as "baby Jesus." Marvel over his humble beginnings, surrounded by obscurity, unwanted, rejected of men, and laid in a "manger" (φάτνη) - a word used in stark contrast to an "inn" (κατάλυμα), that is, a place designed for the reception of men (Luke 2:7). Meditate, then, on the glory and sheer paradox of God's love! "Baby Jesus" is the perfect disguise to hide the truth from the proud eyes of the flesh, though the humble of heart can see... "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn (στραφῆτε) and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). What would do without the gift of God, friends? What hope would we truly have?  Regardless of the exact anniversary of his birth, thank God that our LORD and Messiah was willing to be born into this dark world to offer Himself as our great High Priest, our beloved Savior, and our Eternal Redeemer!
 




The "For You" Message...


 

12.22.16  (Kislev 22, 5777)  The Name of the Promised Son is "Immanuel" (עִמָּנוּ אֵל), "God is with us," which implies for the individual heart of faith that God is with you, too. Yeshua was born into this world for your benefit – everything he did, his entire life and sacrificial death - was done for your sake. It is not some species of humility to reason that since Yeshua died for "all the world" that therefore you are of no real importance in the great story of redemption; on the contrary, there could be no "for all" without you, too; you are part of His story... "For unto you is born this day in the city of David the Savior, who is Messiah the Lord" (Luke 2:11). Yeshua is the "I AM for-you Savior," the "I AM with-you-always God," your Sacred Center, your present Comfort, your exceeding great reward and consolation. The heart can only apprehend this reality by exercising personal faith – not merely by believing certain facts or theological doctrines. The heart must receive the miracle that the message of divine love, the very heart and passion of God, has been providentially given and preserved by the Spirit of God to be delivered unto you: It is the living "unto you" message that God personally whispers to your trembling and trusting heart...
 




Do you now Believe?


 

12.21.16  (Kislev 21, 5777)  Soren Kierkegaard notes that many people read the Gospels after "skipping to the end" and pretending they know the "whole megillah," namely that love wins, and all shall be well... Nevertheless he reminds us that our LORD is completely just and there is no intrinsic advantage given to Yeshua's contemporaries over those who are living today. The same message requires the same faith to encounter the truth of the Teacher. "I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26). Or do you suppose that you would have acted in faith had you been alive when Yeshua was here on earth? Consider well. When Mary held her newborn son and changed his soiled clothing, did she then believe he was the Savior of the world? Did she fully understand the "end of the story" at that time? When the disciples watched with horror as their Master was arrested, unjustly condemned, and then brutally crucified, did they then believe God was manifest in the flesh? Did they fathom the depths of God's providential love for them?  And even after the resurrection from the dead, when Yeshua had directly appeared to his followers and they watched as he ascended on high, did they trust that eternal death was forever swallowed up by His overmastering and triumphant life?

Do you think our present generation would more readily accept the message of Yeshua more than that generation 2,000 years ago? That generation clamored: "We will not have this man rule over us!" (Luke 19:14), yet is this not the recurrent mantra of spiritual darkness spoken throughout the generations?  How many of us read the Gospels and encounter something radically challenging, only to excuse ourselves and pretend that the question is not being asked of us? How many of us "take up our cross" and follow the path of sacrificial love? "But I say to you, love your enemies and do good to them that hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you" (Luke 6:27-28). Many want to believe they are following Yeshua's Torah here but hesitate when they hear such things; they don't really want to trouble themselves by changing or denying their natural impulses... Kierkegaard laments: "The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand, but we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly."

We must listen with a heart of faith to unlock the truth that speaks to the heart. If you believe only what you can tolerate, however, your faith is actually grounded in your own interests, not in the Divine Voice of Love that seeks to heal the world. "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand today -- if you hear his voice" (Psalm 95:7). Today, if you hear his voice and do not harden your heart (Heb. 3:15). "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God, but encourage one another every day, as long as it is called "today," so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:12-13).
 




Love Believes all things...


 

12.21.16  (Kislev 21, 5777)  "I would have fainted unless I believed to see the goodness of the LORD..." (Psalm 27:13). Faith is therefore self-authenticating: as you trust in the good, the good will be revealed. As Yeshua said, "According to your faith be it done unto you" (Matt. 9:29). And if it is faith that makes you whole, then its lack makes you sick... As you doubt, so you will lose sight of what is real, true, and abiding.  Being cynical is cowardly: "There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true" (Kierkegaard). A cynic refuses the possibility of truth because he is afraid of being fooled, and for this fear he willingly closes his eyes to the good. "Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact" (William James). When we trust God's promises, we affirm an unseen good even if the present hour is shrouded in darkness. Faith sees beyond "the seen" to the unseen (2 Cor. 4:18). The "seen" is not ultimately real, and consequently faith is exiled from the vanity of the present hour. Therefore affirm your faith, friend. Refuse the darkness of fear by choosing to believe in the reality of God's love for your soul, despite the mess you've made of your life. Affirm that God's love is more real, more substantive, and more valuable than anything disclosed in this world that fades away.
 




Torah of Faith...


 

12.21.16  (Kislev 21, 5777)  "The righteous shall live by faith" in the promise of God's unconditional love (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17). The Torah of faith (תּוֹרַת הָאֱמוּנָה) therefore includes these additional commandments from the heart of Yeshua: 1) "Thou shalt believe thou are my beloved - entirely accepted and entirely forgiven"; 2) "Thou shalt forget the shame of thy past"; 3) "Thou shalt stop thinking of your sin but rather of My great remedy for you"; 4) "Thou shalt let me carry your woundedness far away, yea, to the bottom of the sea"; 5) "Thou shalt live in My love and be filled with its spirit," and 6) "Thou shalt be made new." We are to know ourselves as "dead to sin but alive to God" (Rom. 6:11), which means we die to despair, we die to fear of abandonment, yea, we die to death itself, and now we are alive to hope, alive to healing, yea, we alive to love that endures forever.
 

הִנֵּה עֻפְּלָה לא־יָשְׁרָה נַפְשׁוֹ בּוֹ
 וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה

hin·nei  u·pe·lah  lo  ya·she·rah  naf·sho   bo
ve·tzad·dik  be·e·mu·na·to   yich·yeh
 

"Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
 but the righteous shall find life by means of his trust."
(Hab. 2:4)
 
Hebrew Study Card

 




That Light Still Shines...


 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah begins sundown on Saturday, Dec. 24th this year... ]

12.20.16  (Kislev 20, 5777)  Chanukah is important because it stands in opposition to the propaganda of humanism and its ongoing attempt to deny the reality of the Divine Presence in our lives... It makes bold the statement that reality is not reducible to merely natural categories, and it repudiates the "Hellenistic" conceit that all religions are true, and it especially rejects the arrogant notion that the LORD God of Israel is just "one more member" of some globalist pantheon... Chanukah adamantly denies the politically correct dogma that despair is the universal condition of humanity and that darkness will finally extinguish the light. Like the gospel message, Chanukah scandalizes human rationalism and the solipsism that affirms that "man is the measure of all things." "For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world (νικᾷ τὸν κόσμον); and this is the victory that has overcome the world- our faith" (1 John 5:4).

The darkness of this world is forever swept back before the overmastering radiance and power of Yeshua, the King of Glory, the Root and Descendant of David, and the Bright Morning Star (Rev. 22:16). Those who believe in Him are given the "light of life" that overcomes the darkness of this world (John 8:12).
 




Chanukah and Humanism...


 

12.20.16  (Kislev 20, 5777)  The holiday of Chanukah reminds us that we must remain committed to Torah truth in a godless, and therefore insane, world. After all, since reality is the "handiwork" (i.e., conscious design) of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, morally perfect, purposive, personal, and spiritual Agency who has been revealed in the Jewish Scriptures, those who deny this reality are living in a state of ongoing delusion. In a sense, the history of humanity - especially as it has been expressed philosophically and politically -- has been nothing less than the conscious design to redefine reality as something that it isn't. "The kings of the earth station themselves, and the dignitaries take counsel together against the LORD and His Messiah" (Psalm 2:1-3). Spiritual warfare is therefore the fight for sanity and truth in a world that prefers madness and self-deception.

In a prophetic sense the story of "Epihpanes" foreshadows the coming time of the "Messiah of Evil" (antichrist) who will one day attempt to "assimilate" all of humanity into a "New World Order" (Dan. 9:27, 2 Thess. 2:3; Rev. 13:7-9, etc.). At first he will appear to be a "world savior" who will broker peace for Israel and the Mideast, but after awhile, like his archetype Epiphanes, he will savagely betray the Jewish people and set up a "desolating sacrilege" in the Holy Place of the Temple (Matt. 24:15). His satanic rise will occur during acharit hayamim - the "End of Days" - otherwise called the period of the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24). The Final Victory of God will be established when Yeshua returns to destroy this Messiah of Evil at His Second Coming. The Holy Temple will then be rebuilt and dedicated by the hand of the true Mashiach of Israel.

The Gemara says that Javan, the descendant of Noah's son Japheth (Gen. 10:2), became the founding father of ancient Greece who inherited Japheth's blessing: "May God give beauty to Japheth (יַפְתְּ אֱלהִים לְיֶפֶת) and let him dwell in the tents of Shem" (Gen. 9:27). This blessing gave him the special ability to found the arts, philosophy, and science, though if these were exercised apart from the influence of Shem, that is, apart from a Torah perspective, such pursuits would ultimately become vain and even dangerous. In other words, even though "all truth is God's truth," human learning must be contextualized in light of the divine revelation. The humanistic mindset deifies knowledge and technique; it understands to believe, instead of believing to understand.  For this reason, among others, the spiritual war between Zion and the secular world rages to this hour...

Note:  For more on this, please see "Chanukah and Spiritual Warfare."
 




Chanukah and Vigilance...


 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah begins at sundown on Saturday, Dec. 24th this year... ]

12.20.16  (Kislev 20, 5777)  The message of Chanukah is to resist being "assimilated" into this dark world and its benighted culture. As it says in our Scriptures, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed (i.e., transfigured by the light) through the renewal (ἀνακαίνωσις) of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God" (Rom. 12:2). Notice that the Greek word translated "conformed" is a passive verb (συσχηματίζω, derived from σύν, "with," + σχῆμα, "matrix") which means that we must consciously resist being lulled into accepting this world's various ideologies (matrix) that are crafted to ignore Divine the Presence and Truth. In the realm of the spiritual, there is simply no place of neutrality, and if we are not going forward, then it's likely we are going backward... Therefore we are repeatedly commanded to test the spirits and to examine truth claims. We ask God for wisdom and use the discernment that comes from the Holy Spirit.
 

הַשְׁלִיכוּ מֵעֲלֵיכֶם אֶת־כָּל־פִּשְׁעֵיכֶם
אֲשֶׁר פְּשַׁעְתֶּם בָּם
וַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה

hash·li·khu · me·a·le·khem · et · kol · pish·e·khem
a·sher · pe·sha·e·tem · bam
va·a·su · la·khem · lev · cha·dash · ve·ru·ach · cha·da·shah
 

"Cast away from you all the transgressions
 that you have committed,
and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit."
(Ezek. 18:31)


 
Hebrew Study Card
 




Joseph and Messiah...



 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Parashat Vayeshev... ]

12.19.16  (Kislev 19, 5777)  More chapters of the Torah are devoted to the life of Joseph than to the account of creation, the story of Adam and Eve, the flood of Noah, the call of Abram to the promised land, the miraculous birth and (near) sacrifice of Isaac, the transformation of Jacob into Israel, and so on.  Perhaps Joseph is given such prominence in Scripture because his life depicted both the Suffering Servant (Yeshua's first advent) and the One who reigns at the right hand of the power on high and delivers Israel (Yeshua's second advent). The life of Joseph provides a "prophetic outline" of Yeshua the Lord, the One who is both Mashiach ben Yosef (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־יוֹסֵף), "the Messiah son of Joseph," as well as Mashiach ben David (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־דָוִד), "the Messiah the Son of David."

For more on this subject, including 60 ways in which Joseph prefigured the advent of Yeshua the Messiah, see "Mashiach ben Yosef."
 




The Magnificat of Mary...


 

[ Mary is surely to be reckoned as the greatest of the imahot of Israel, "the mothers of Israel," with a stature like Sarah who also gave birth to the "miracle son" Isaac (Rom. 4:19)... ]

12.19.16  (Kislev 19, 5777)  "Then Mary said, 'My soul magnifies the LORD, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked up the lowliness of his servant, for behold, from this time forth all generations will count me blessed, because the Mighty One (אֵל גִּבּוֹר) has done great things for me: sacred is his Name'" (Luke 1:46-49). Unlike some Christian religious traditions, we do not worship or adore Mary, since such heart affection is reserved for God alone (Matt. 4:10; Deut. 6:5). Nevertheless we commend Mary's great faith, and we honor her as a true servant (and prophetess) of God who was entrusted to bear the promised Seed of salvation given in Yeshua... Mary's greatness was that she had complete confidence in God's promise, even though she could not tell that the promise was true by seeing or feeling anything at the time.  Mary was given the great blessing and miracle of faith in the unseen goodness and power of the LORD, and therefore she magnified the LORD (יהוה) and called Him "God my Savior" (בֵּאלהֵי יִשְׁעִי, lit. "God my Jesus"). In the case of the incarnation of the Redeemer in the womb of the virgin, Mary embodies the principle that "faith is being assured of what we hope for and being convinced of what we do not see" (Heb. 11:1). Mary trusted in God's promise and love even though it was presently hidden from her eyes...
 

    "He (Abraham) did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), nor when he considered the deadness (νέκρωσις) of Sarah's womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised." (Rom. 4:19-21)

 




The Depth of Hebron...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Parashat Vayeshev... ]

12.19.16  (Kislev 19, 5777)  As a child, Joseph was adorned with a "coat of many colors" (כְּתנֶת פַּסִּים) and lived in the glory of his father's house as the favored son. He was an innocent dreamer who was given visions of greatness by God Himself. Despite being despised and rejected by his brothers, however, his father commissioned him to go "from the Valley of Hebron" to check on their welfare (Gen. 37:14). Notice that the phrase translated "from the Valley of Hebron" literally reads "from the depth of Hebron" (מֵעֵמֶק חֶבְרוֹן), while the word Hebron (חֶבְרוֹן) comes from a root that means "union" or "fellowship."  Symbolically, then, the Torah teaches that Jacob sent out his beloved son "from the depth their fellowship" to search for his missing children.  Similarly, Yeshua existed in glory with His Father yet chose to divest himself of his splendor to reach out to his brothers. His incarnation was an infinite descent from the "depth of Hebron" (i.e., communion with the Father) into the realm of "no reputation" (i.e., kenosis, "emptying") in search of his brothers' love (Phil. 2:6-7; Luke 19:10).
 




Parashat Vayeshev - וישב


 

12.18.16  (Kislev 18, 5777)  In our Torah portion for this holiday week (i.e., parashat Vayeshev), we read how Joseph's jealous brothers stripped him of his "coat of many colors" and threw him into a pit -- a providential event that eventually led to the deliverance of the Jewish people by the hand of a "disguised savior." Indeed, the life of Israel's chosen son Joseph foreshadowed the two advents of Yeshua our Messiah: first as Israel's Suffering Servant, and second as the national deliverer of the Jewish people during tribulation...

For more information, please read the Torah summary page for Vayeshev and its related articles. You can also download the Shabbat "Table Talk" for the portion here:
 

 




The Word Made Flesh...


 

12.18.16  (Kislev 18, 5777)  At Sinai we heard the Voice of God (קוֹל אֱלהִים) speaking from the midst of the Fire (Deut. 4:33), an event that foreshadowed the great advent of the King and Lawgiver Himself, when the Eternal Word (דְבַר־יְהוָה) became flesh and dwelt with us (Phil. 2:6-7; John 1:1,14). Any theology that regards God as entirely transcendent (i.e., God is beyond any analogy with the finite) will have a problem with divine immanence (i.e., God is inherent within the finite), since the highness, holiness, and perfection of God will make Him seem distant, outside of us, far away, and unknown... Incarnational theology, on the other hand, manifests the nearness of God to disclose the divine empathy. Indeed, the LORD became Immanuel (עִמָּנוּ אֵל), "one with us," to share our mortal condition, to know our pain, and to experience what it means to be wounded by sin, to be abandoned, alienated, forsaken. It is God's own bittul hayesh (בִּטּוּל הַיֵּשׁ) - his self-nullification for the sake of love and truth. The "Eternal made flesh" bridges the gap between the realm of Ein Sof (אין סוף), the infinitely transcendent One, and the finite world of people lost within their sinful frailty. Of course we believe Adonai Echad (יְהוָה אֶחָד) - that the "LORD is One" - both in the sense of being exalted over all things but also in the sense of being compassionately involved in all things (Rom. 11:36). We therefore celebrate the giving of the Torah both at Sinai and especially at Bethlehem with the birth of Messiah. We celebrate that God is indeed the King and Ruler over all, but we further affirm that God's authority and rule extends to all worlds - including the realm of our finitude and need...

As I've mentioned elsewhere, the climax of Sinai was the revelation of the Sanctuary. The two tablets of the law, summarizing the Ten Commandments, were stored inside the famous Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן בְּרִית־יְהוָה), a sacred "three-in-one" box placed in the innermost chamber of the Tabernacle called the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). As such, the Ark served as kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), the Throne of Glory itself. Upon the cover (or crown) of the Ark (i.e., the kapporet) were fashioned two cherubim (i.e., angel-like figures) that faced one another (Exod. 25:17-18). According to the Talmud (Succah 5b), each cherub had the face of a child - one boy and one girl - and their wings spread heavenward as their eyes gazed upon the cover (Exod. 25:20). It was here that God's Voice would be heard during the Yom Kippur service, when sacrificial blood was sprinkled upon the crown to symbolize the atonement of sin secured through Messiah, the Word that became flesh for us... In the very heart of the Sanctuary, then, we see the Word of God and the sacrificial blood.

God Himself was clothed with human skin: our flesh, our bones... The incarnation is the "Absolute Paradox," as Kierkegaard once said, wherein the Infinite and the Finite meet in mystery of the Divine Presence. Here God "touches a leper," eats with sinners and prostitutes, sheds human tears, and suffers heartache like all other men... The gloriously great God, the very Creator of the cosmos, has "emptied Himself" to come in the form of a lowly servant  (δοῦλος) - disguised to the eyes of the proud and hardhearted, but is revealed as High Priest to those who are genuinely broken and in profound need.  The LORD God is God over all possible worlds, and that includes both the celestial realms of the heavens but also the world of the fallen, the ashamed, the alienated, and the lost... God's infinite condescension reveals and augments the majesty of His infinite transcendence. There is no world - nor ever shall there be such - where the LORD God Almighty does not reign and have preeminence.

Do not suppose for a moment that the Torah of Moses does not teach "incarnational" theology. Since God created human beings in his image and likeness, the "anthropomorphic language" of Scripture is meaningful. The LORD reveals himself in human terms - using human language, expressing human emotions, and so on, as it says: Moses spoke to God panim el panim - "face to face" (Deut. 34:10). The Torah always has to take on human form - the Word made flesh - for the sake of human beings who live in flesh and blood reality...

The greatest expression of God's word is found in the Presence of Yeshua. This is the Word of God that "tabernacles" with us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Yeshua is the "Living Torah," Immanuel (עִמָּנוּ אֵל), "God with us," who enters our world to rescue us from death. Our Scriptures state that "in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son, whom He appointed the Heir of all things, through whom also He created the worlds" (Heb 1:2). Note that the Greek construction for the phrase translated, "by his son" is ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ, which literally means "he spoke to us in Son" -- that is, in the language or voice of the Son of God Himself... God speaks the language "of Son" from the midst of the fire revealed at Zion. "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe (μετὰ αἰδοῦς καὶ εὐλαβείας) - for our God is Esh Okhelah - a Consuming Fire" (Heb. 12:28-29).
 




Free Chanukah Resources...


 

12.16.16  (Kislev 16, 5777)  The Chanukah Blessings page includes some free "Hebrew Study Cards" you can use for your Chanukah celebrations. Each card includes the Hebrew text, phonetic transliteration, and English translation for the blessing. In addition I have recorded Hebrew audio clips for the Chanukah blessings as well, so you can listen to the Hebrew as your learn to recite the blessings... I have also created a handy one page summary of the Hebrew blessings you can download here. I hope you find this material helpful, chaverim! Chag Chanukah Sameach (חַג חֲנֻכָּה שָׂמֵחַ)!
 

 




The Father of Lights...

Photp by John J Parsons
 

12.16.16  (Kislev 16, 5777)  It is written in our Scriptures: "God is light and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Our Savior is "the Light of the world," the Divine Message that gives light to every soul who is born (John 1:9). As the Source of all light, his power is irrepressible, invincible, and overcomes every shade of darkness. Yeshua is the Logos (Λόγος), the underlying "logic" of all of creation. Unlike the transient radiance of the heavenly bodies, the Divine Light remains constant and supreme over all of creation, without any diminution or variation: God is the "Father of Lights" (James 1:17). And just as we know that the sun still shines even on the most overcast of days, so we understand that the Divine Presence is always there -- always giving, always shining, always loving us... We can trust in the power of our God to help us, since His radiance and truth pervade the darkness to enlighten our way (Psalm 112:4). As Yeshua said of his mission, "I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness" (John 12:46). Let us believe and behold the Light!  Hashivenu! O LORD God, let your light shine upon us...
 

אֱלהִים יְחָנֵּנוּ וִיבָרְכֵנוּ
יָאֵר פָּנָיו אִתָּנוּ סֶלָה

E·lo·him · ye·chon·nei·nu · vi·var·khei·nu
ya·er · pa·nav · it·ta·nu · se·lah
 

"May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us, selah."
(Psalm 67:1)



 

True spirituality is inner light that comes from union with Messiah. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." We "walk in the light," experiencing inner peace and joy in the Holy Spirit when we heed and obey the Voice of God's love and abide in the secret place of His grace. The people of God are united to one another by the power of God's love. O LORD God, "light up my eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death" (Psalm 13:3). May the light and love of the Lord our God shine within you, friends. Shabbat Shalom!
 




Birth of the Messiah...


 

12.16.16  (Kislev 16, 5777)  Though the promised birth of Yeshua may have occurred during the holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles), with the incarnation occurring during Chanukah (the Festival of Light), many people of good faith observe the traditional "Gregorian Calendar" date of December 25th... Regardless of your particular conviction regarding the date of Yeshua's birth, the most important thing to remember is that He was born to die (Heb. 10:5-7). The story of his birth is only significant in relation to His sacrificial death (Mark 8:27-33). The "manger" scene leads directly to the cross at Moriah.  Indeed, in Jewish tradition the day of one's death is more important than the day of one's birth, since death summarizes the meaning and significance of a person's life in this world. Birth represents potential, whereas death represents inheritance... Therefore the Jewish custom is to commemorate the anniversary of a person's death (i.e., yahrzeit: יארצייט) and not the date of his or her birth. This custom is derived from the Scriptures themselves: "A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth" (Eccl. 7:1):
 

טוֹב שֵׁם מִשֶּׁמֶן טוֹב
וְיוֹם הַמָּוֶת מִיּוֹם הִוָּלְדוֹ

tov · shem · mi·she·men · tov
ve·yom · ha-ma·vet · mi·yom · hiv·va·le·do
 

"A good name is better than fragrant oil,
and the day of death than the day of birth."



Hebrew Study Card
 

The day of Yeshua's death (on Erev Pesach) represents the message of the Gospel story itself: "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). This is of "first importance": Yeshua was born to die for our sins, to make us right with God, and was raised from the dead to vindicate the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 15:3-5). "For our sake God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). The birth of the Messiah (or rather His incarnation) was the "first step" toward His sacrifice for our deliverance (Heb. 2:9-18). As Paul said, "I decided to know nothing among you except Yeshua the Messiah - and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2).

Note:  For more on this, see "He was born to Die."  For a discussion about possible birth dates for Yeshua, see "Was Jesus born on December 25th?" For traditional Christmas readings from the New Testament, see Matt. 1:18-2:12, Luke 1:26-2:20.
 




Surrender and Salvation...


 

[ A reminder of very important truth...  Grow in grace, chaverim! ]
 
12.16.16  (Kislev 16, 5777)  When we affirm that we are no longer "under the law," this means we find our identity in a different order of reality than that which says, "Do this and live" (Lev. 18:5; cp. Gal. 3:11-12; Rom. 10:5). Many of us, however, stumble here, and reintroduce conditions based on a lower level of spiritual understanding. We suppose, for instance, that we will experience the miracle based on something we do, and busy ourselves attempting to commend ourselves to God. We focus more on our life in God (religion) rather than God's life in us (miracle), and therefore we relegate spirituality as a means to reform natural character rather than the reality of encountering the Divine Presence. A true change of heart is a miracle of the highest order, though this change often consitutes a "slow-motion" transformation. The transformation begins, however, when we are assured of our welcome before God's Presence, despite the truth about who we really are...  Only then are we able to honestly surrender everything we are - both the good and the bad - to God's care. And that is what it means to "give up" your life to the Messiah. You let go of the claims you have on your own identity; you quit bargaining with your carnal nature; you "come to yourself" by confessing all your desires - the good and the evil - as being present within you; and you therefore quit denying your "shadow self," that is, those hidden parts of your self that engage in fear, anger, lust, and so on. You come out of hiding, naked and without making excuses, and present yourself to God, appealing to him for compassion, deliverance and the miracle of new life given in Yeshua. Faith lives in the work of God's miracle; the former life, defined in terms of the natural self with its aspirations and desires, passes away and we are reborn to live as beloved children of God our Father (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15).

εἰ δὲ πνεύματι ἄγεσθε, οὐκ ἐστὲ ὑπὸ νόμον - "if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law" (Gal. 5:18), which is another way of saying that when you receive the truth of God's love, you are free to live as a beloved child, no longer as a slave to a law code that was given to constrain the evil impulses of the lower nature (see 1 Tim. 1:5-11). You are given direct access to the Divine Presence as was the Kohen haGadol during the Yom Kippur avodah of the former covenant... Because of Yeshua, we are made priests of a better covenant, "not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke..." (Jer. 31:32), but a radically NEW covenant wherein "we have access by faith into this Grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Rom. 5:2; Heb. 8:6-13).
 




Torah of Trust...


 

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

12.15.16  (Kislev 15, 5777)  "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'" (Matt. 7:21-23). Despite the practice and profession of their faith, these people were strangers to God... They had a false sense of assurance, believing that they were "serving God" while they really were not... So the essential question here is whether Yeshua truly knows you. You may know a lot about God, religion, spirituality, and yet you may remain unknown by him... Where do you find life? What are you loving? Where are you going?

On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not ... do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I say to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness' (Matt. 7:22-23). From this we see that good works - even those done in the name of Messiah - are insufficient for life, and that something more is needed... That "something more" is the reality of relationship with him. However, even Yeshua's sacrifice on the cross can't bring you into relationship with him apart from receiving it for your healing... By faith you encounter Yeshua clothed in your flesh, your sin, and suffering death for you.  "As long as Christ remains outside of us we are separated from him."

You may feel a bit frightened when you consider all this, but fear arises only if we miss Yeshua's point... Good works can't save you, even those performed in the Savior's name. What saves you is trusting in God's great love for your life: "This is the work of God, to trust in the One whom God has sent [for you]" (John 6:28-29). Genuine salvation is "of the LORD" (יְשׁוּעָתָה לַיהוָה); that is, comes from his loving intervention on your behalf (Titus 3:5-7; Eph. 2:8-10). This is the will of the Father, the true Torah of the LORD, namely, to honor the Messiah and know him by faith... You trust him for eternal life, you believe that he bears your sins, you seek to know his heart, and you desire to share your life with him. It is lawlessness to reject the Torah of the LORD that commands us to follow Messiah and know him in all our ways - including the ways of our struggles, our fears, and so on... Each of us must wrestle alone, in the dark places of fear, to find our new name from God (Gen. 32:24). Is the blessing for you or not? The essential thing is to know (and more importantly) to be known by Yeshua.... It is a matter of trust, of sharing your heart, being real with him, walking with him, loving him... "This is the work of God, to trust in the One whom God has sent [for you]." Trusting God means accepting that you are loved (and safe) because of who God is.

Each of us must wrestle alone, in the dark places of fear, to receive our new name from God (see Gen. 32:24). Again I ask: Is the blessing for you or not? Are you willing to be loved and accepted by him? What is your name? What do you call yourself? You cannot know God apart from his love, yet for some people that is exactly where the struggle lies... Look within your heart; test yourself; do you believe God cares for you? Take hold of the promise and do not let go until you know who you are in his love. "To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it" (Rev. 2:17).

Note:  For more on this topic see: "Torah of Wrestling: Further thoughts on Vayishlach."
 




Messiah and Chanukah...


 

[ The eight days of Chanukah begin Saturday, Dec. 24th at sundown this year... ]

12.15.16  (Kislev 15, 5777)  For each of the days of Chanukah we light candles, kindling one for the first day, two for the second, and so on until we reach the climactic eighth day, when all shine together. Some of the sages say the word "Messiah" (i.e., mashiach: מָשִׁיחַ) may be regarded as an acronym for the phrase "we light throughout the eight days of Chanukah," i.e., מַדְלִיקִין שְׁמוֹנָה יְמֵי חֲנוּכָּה: madlikin (מ) shemonah (שׁ) yemei (י) Chanukah (ח). Indeed, the central lamp of the Chanukah menorah is called the shamash (שַׁמָש), the "Servant" that bears the original flame that kindles all the others. The salvations, wonders, and solace that God performed for us "in those days, at this time" therefore prefigure the greater deliverance we have in Yeshua, the Suffering Servant and Light of the World...
 

 




God-Wrestling and Faith...


 

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

12.15.16  (Kislev 15, 5777)  Before he could return from his exile, Jacob had to face his fears and wrestle with God. The outcome of the struggle was a blessing, as signified by a new name, "Israel" (יִשְׂרָאֵל), meaning one who struggles (שָׂרָה) with God (אֵל). Jacob finally prevailed with God when the power of his faith overcame the pain of his past... Jacob's story teaches that before we can return from our place of exile, we have to face our fears and wrestle over who we really are. Each of us must be renamed from Jacob to Israel, from being a manipulator to one who surrenders to God's power and blessing. Just as Jacob finally prevailed with God when the power of his faith overcame the pain of his past, so we can escape from our own exile - the prison of our past - by proclaiming from the heart: "I have seen God "face to face" (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), and yet my life has been delivered" (Gen. 32:30).

The prophet Hosea adds some further insight about Jacob's great struggle of faith and how it eventually led to the revelation of God at Bethel:
 

וָיָּשַׂר אֶל־מַלְאָךְ וַיֻּכָל בָּכָה וַיִּתְחַנֶּן־לוֹ
בֵּית־אֵל יִמְצָאֶנּוּ וְשָׁם יְדַבֵּר עִמָּנוּ
וַיהוָה אֱלהֵי הַצְּבָאוֹת יְהוָה זִכְרוֹ

vai·ya·sar · el · mal·akh · vai·yu·chal · ba·khah · vai·yit·cha·nen · lo
bet · el · yim·tza·e·nu · ve·sham · ye·da·ber · im·ma·nu
va·do·nai · E·lo·hei · ha·tze·va·ot · Adonai · zikh·ro
 

"Yes, he [Jacob] fought with the Angel and won; he wept and sought his favor.
He found Him at Bethel, and there He spoke with us;
even the LORD, the God of hosts; the LORD is His memorial."
(Hosea 12:4-5)



 

Jacob "wept and made supplication" to the Angel, a fact left unmentioned by Moses' account in the Torah (Gen. 32:22-30), though perhaps hinted at in Jacob's prayer before the climactic conflict: "I am not worthy of the least of thy tender mercies..." (Gen. 32:10). This shows that the struggle was spiritual, not physical, and that Jacob finally "won" the fight by paradoxically submitting himself to God... The injured thigh was a token of Jacob's surrender to the Angel (Gen. 32:25, 31), and it was only after his flesh was wounded that Jacob's life was empowered by God to take hold of the realm of promise, as signified by his return to Bethel... The story is ultimately about death and resurrection: After his gut-wrenching struggle, Israel was wounded so that he could know that the LORD "gives power to the faint, and to them that have no might, he increases strength" (see Isa. 40:29).

Notice that Jacob continued to wrestle until he was injured by the Angel of the LORD, after which he simply "hung on" for dear life until he received the blessing directly from God. In other words, Jacob discovered that struggling and resisting God were useless for the blessing to be secured, so he simply yielded in submission.... This was the turning point of his life, the moment when his new name and identity were bestowed. The LORD surely could have overpowered Jacob, but it took far more for Jacob to freely surrender his will. In the end, the New Testament attests to change that issued from Jacob's brokenness: Despite some additional struggles he later faced with the flesh, he was finally able to die with the blessing of God to impart to his children (Heb. 11:21).

And may God help us fight the good fight of faith - and prevail!
 




Reconciliation and Atonement...


 

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

12.14.16  (Kislev 14, 5777)  During Jacob's dream of the ladder (Vayetzei) the LORD described Himself as the "God of Abraham your father" and then added, "and the God of Isaac" (Gen. 28:13). In his prayer for God's help before returning home, however, Jacob elevated his relationship to Isaac by praying to "the God of my father Abraham and the God of my father Isaac (וֵאלהֵי אָבִי יִצְחָק), the LORD who said to me, 'Return...'" (Gen. 32:9). This change is significant because Jacob was returning to confront not only his difficult past with Esau, but the wound he caused his father's heart (and to mourn the loss of his mother, too)... But notice that Jacob's attitude had undergone a profound transformation. When he was younger, Jacob was willing to deceive his own father and to "grapple" the advantage from his brother, but now he was a broken man who understood that he was entirely unworthy to receive God's blessing: "I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love (chesed) and all the faithfulness (emet) that you have shown to your servant" (Gen. 32:10). In Torah scrolls, the Hebrew word katonti (קָטנְתִּי), translated as "I am unworthy," is written with a diminished Tet (ט) to show the humility of Jacob. Jacob no longer felt "entitled" to receive God's favor, though he was conscious of it nonetheless. He was now addressing his prayer to the LORD (יהוה) rather than to God (אֱלהִים), indicating that he first sought the compassion of God instead of God's justice.

Note: For more on this subject, see "Reconciliation and Atonement" here.
 




Surrounded by Wonders...


 

12.14.16  (Kislev 14, 5777)  "The works of the LORD are great, sought out by all who desire them" (Psalm 111:2). This refers to the various "natural" phenomena that surround and pervade our existence (and indeed to the Ground of existence itself), which no finite being has the power to duplicate. Such matters are "sought out by all who desire to know them" (דְּרוּשִׁים לְכָל־חֶפְצֵיהֶם), that is, they are accessible to the observant heart and testify to the divine wisdom of the Creator (Rom. 1:20; Deut. 4:29). The works of the LORD are understood "in the secret of the upright ones" (בְּסוֹד יְשָׁרִים) and are perceived by the heart of faithful (Psalm 111:1). Hod ve'hadar pa'olo: "majestic and splendid is His work; and his righteousness endures forever" (Psalm 111:3). Many people, alas, sleepwalk through their days, oblivious to the sacred wonders about them. Even though God's gifts abound and pervade all existence, they are taken for granted and go by unseen and unnoticed. Many blandly assume the future will resemble the past, that the sun will rise tomorrow, without considering the majestic significance of the sun itself, its being and presence. Now just because something happens every day doesn't make it any less wonderful, of course. People create labels and concepts to generalize their experiences, though often this creates habits of mind that lull the soul to sleep... Indeed some people regard "boredom" to be the greatest evil in life, and they are right – being bored over the sacred gift of life is indeed a great evil!
 

גְּדלִים מַעֲשֵׂי יְהוָה
דְּרוּשִׁים לְכָל־חֶפְצֵיהֶם

ge·do·lim · ma'a·sei · Adonai
de·ru·shim · le·khol · chef·tzei·hem

Click to listen 

"The works of the LORD are great,
sought out by all who desire them"
(Psalm 111:2)

 




Raised from the Dust...



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

12.14.16  (Kislev 14, 5777)  In his poignant appeal to God for help, Jacob prayed: "I have been diminished (קָטנְתִּי) by all the kindness and all the truth you have done for your servant" (Gen. 32:10). Jacob was "made small" through the revelation of God's love and truth, and the focus shifted away from himself to God: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). Jacob's subsequent wrestling with the angel pictured birth pangs, the throes of his spiritual rebirth. Rashi notes that the word translated "wrestled" (i.e., va'ye'avak: וַיֵּאָבֵק, Gen. 32:24) is related to the idea of "raising the dust" (i.e., avak: אָבָק), which suggests resurrection from the dust. The struggle – the "death match" – was to bury old Jacob and to raise him up as "Israel," a prince of God the King.
 

קָטנְתִּי מִכּל הַחֲסָדִים וּמִכָּל־הָאֱמֶת
אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ אֶת־עַבְדֶּךָ

ke·ton·ti · mi·kol · ha·cha·sa·dim · u·mi·kol · ha·e·met
a·sher · a·si·ta · et-av·de·kha

Click to listen 

"I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of love and faithfulness
that you have done for your servant."
(Gen. 32:10)
 

Yeshua told us we must "forget ourselves" in order to discover what really matters: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 16:24-25). Note that the phrase translated "deny himself" comes from a Greek verb (ἀπαρνέομαι) that means "to affirm that you have no acquaintance or connection with someone," and is the same verb used when Peter denied the Messiah (from α-, "not," + ῥέω, "to speak"). To deny yourself, then, means to be willing to disregard your own personal interests in a given moment -- to "betray" the selfish impulse that seeks to rule the ego in your daily life.  It is a "putting off" of the old nature and a "putting on" of the new (Eph. 4:22-24). Put positively, denying yourself means "forgetting yourself" because you are overwhelmed with God's great love for your soul, and therefore you no longer "know yourself" according to the flesh but according to the Spirit of God (2 Cor. 5:16-17).
 




Jacob's Surrender...


 

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

12.13.16  (Kislev 13, 5777)  Our Torah portion this week tells the story of how Jacob fled from the land of Haran to return home, but this forced him to directly face the pain of his past.  Jacob was especially anxious about seeing his aggrieved brother again, and therefore he prayed to God in humility for deliverance (Gen. 32:9-11). He then sent messengers ahead with gifts for Esau, and when he finally approached him, Jacob humbly bowed down seven times in deep respect. The sages comment that Jacob realized the only hope he had of protecting himself and his family was to diminish himself... His long-standing battle with Esau had really been an inner struggle with his own ego - his own insatiable desire to be first, to secure his father's favor, and so on. Because of this, Jacob realized he could only find peace with his brother if he first found peace within himself, and therefore he let go of his need to be first and surrendered himself.  Paradoxically, we must descend in order to ascend, and the "the way up is the way down." As Yeshua said, "The first shall be last and the last shall be first," and "Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all" (Mark 9:35; 10:44). Becoming "nothing" (i.e., ayin) in this world is the condition for life in the world to come (Gal. 6:3). When you are "not there," you are no longer under the influence of the ego, and therefore you are set free to be yourself and to serve God (Col. 3:1-3).

Now this is not pious talk that is ideal but practically unattainable; no, we are enabled to extinguish the demands of the ego by trusting in the miracle of God, not by trying to efface ourselves... Surrender is not another venture of the ego. Life in the Spirit means trusting that God will do for you what you cannot do for yourself... We can only take hold of what God has done for us by "letting go" of our own devices (Phil. 2:13). When we really let go and trust, we will be lifted up by the "Torah of the Spirit of life" (Rom. 8:2). The way is not trying but trusting; not struggling but resting; not of clinging to life, but of letting go...
 




Telling God your name...


 

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

12.13.16  (Kislev 13, 5777)  Some people make it the business of theology to know God's Name, but God begins by first asking for our name instead. Recall that Jacob had disguised who he really was in the hope of obtaining the blessing (Gen. 27), though his duplicity forced him into an exile that lasted until he was finally willing to be honest with himself.  And like Jacob, each of us must answer God's question: "What is your name?" (Gen. 32:27). When we "wrestle through" this question to face who we really are, we encounter God and find our blessing, that is, our true identity. Each of us has to go through the process of being renamed from "manipulator" (i.e., Yaakov) to "one in whom God rules" (i.e., Israel). But note the order: it is only when we "tell God our name," that is, own who we really are, that He meets with us "face to face" (Gen. 32:30). You will not be able to say, "I will not let you go unless you bless me," until you are willing tell God your name (Gen. 32:26-27).

I should add that while "telling God your name" can be painful and even frightening, it is not the last word about who you really are. We are faced with an inner dualism as we struggle to take account of our lives. On the one hand, we need to confess the truth of our sinfulness, brokenness, and so on, while on the other we must endure ourselves and find faith that God's blessing nevertheless belongs to us, despite the mess we've made of our lives.... We have to be willing to accept God's new name for us and to believe that God will miraculously transform our inner nature for good. We are renamed from Yaakov to Israel, though we still know ourselves as both. Jacob was renamed "Israel" but afterward he walked with a limp, seeing both the new and the old natures within him.  Jacob still struggled, though his struggle was now focused on walking as God's beloved child in this world: the limp was given to help him lean on the Lord for support.

Note:  Some people may need help learning to "endure themselves." Many are able, it seems, to receive the hope that they are forgiven for their past sins, but they are subsequently scandalized by encountering their own inner struggles, and they eventually despair over their ongoing weakness... Tragically, some are even tempted to regard the warfare within the heart as a sign of being devoid of all saving grace! We must remember, however, that there is a real struggle between the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit (Gal. 5:17). We must never move away from simple trust in the message of God's unconditional love demonstrated at the cross; we must never seek to legitimize our place in God's heart. When we walk by the Spirit, we are no longer under the law (Gal. 5:18), which is to say, we no longer need to justify ourselves but instead trust in God's power to transform us. Just as we are saved by the love of God, so are we changed, so do we grow.

Note: Someone asked me, "how do you know your real name"?  You do so by faith: Your new name is "beloved," "accepted," "child of God," because these accord with the truth of who God says you are, not with the labels and names ascribed to you by this world...
 




Wresting the Blessing...


 

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

12.12.16  (Kislev 12, 5777)  In our Torah portion for this week (i.e., parashat Vayishlach), we read how Jacob wrestled with a mysterious "Man" until the break of dawn, but refused to let go until he had secured God's blessing (Gen. 32:24-26). This climactic moment marked a "rebirth" experience for Jacob as signified by his new name "Israel" (יִשְׂרָאֵל), meaning "one who has striven (שָׂרָה) with God (אֱלהִים) and prevailed" (Gen. 32:28). It is fascinating to notice that Jacob was not renamed "God-fearer," or "God-lover," or even "Man of faith," but rather "God-wrestler" – one who struggles with God until the blessing comes... As Yeshua said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" – that is, for those who struggle and search for truth – "for they shall be filled" (Matt. 5:6). The blessing comes with a wound, however: The limp that Jacob acquired constantly reminded him of his ongoing need for God's help as he walked through this life. "The one who falls on this Stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on anyone, it will crush him" (Matt. 21:44).

So how are you struggling? How does that feed your hunger for God? The characteristically Jewish approach to life is to struggle, to fight, and to ask hard questions until we find out who we really are and what we call ourselves...  We can change what has happened in our past by changing what is happening in our present: "For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel: dirshuni vichyu (דִּרְשׁוּנִי וִחְיוּ) - "Seek me and live" (Amos 5:4).


 




Light in our Darkness...


 

12.11.16  (Kislev 11, 5777)  From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Vayishlach) we read: "And Jacob called the name of the place "the Face of God" (i.e., Peniel: פְּנִיאֵל) saying, "For I have seen God face to face (פּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), and yet my life has been delivered" (Gen. 32:30). And where did Jacob see God "face to face" except in the struggle of faith, while seeking the blessing, even in the midst of his own inner conflict? And here too may you find the Shining Presence, the Face of God, even in the midst of your troubled life, as you struggle, refusing to let go until you are taken hold by God's love...

The "name of the place" (שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם) where Jacob saw God's face refers to the heart, the place of God, the inner sanctuary. Where it says, "let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8), the text literally reads, let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell within them (בְּתוֹכָם), that is, within their hearts. Hamakom is the holy ground of the heart; the Place within where He is known in awe...
 




Parashat Vayishlach...


 

[ We always read Vayishlach a couple weeks before Chanukah when we connect the vision and ministry of Joseph with that of Yeshua, the Suffering Servant Savior of the world... ]

12.11.16  (Kislev 11, 5777)  Our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Vayishlach) contains the famous account of how Jacob "wrestled" with the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) just before he encountered his estranged brother Esau. During the "grappling" session (recall the meaning of Jacob's name), the Angel injured Jacob's thigh, but Jacob refused to release his hold until he received the blessing (הַבְּרָכָה). The LORD then asked him, "What is your name (מַה־שְּׁמֶךָ)?"  And he said, "Jacob" (i.e., Ya'akov: יַעֲקב). The Angel then replied, "Your name shall no longer be Ya'akov ("heel holder" [of Esau]) but Yisrael ("contender with God"), for as a prince (i.e., sar: שַׂר) you have contended (i.e., sarita: שָׂרִיתָ) with God and with men and have prevailed" (Gen. 32:28). Jacob finally prevailed with God when he refused to let his past determine his spiritual status and destiny... This teaches that Jacob finally received the blessing when he refused to let his past determine his spiritual identity and destiny. With God's help he overcome the pain and shame of his past through faith.

Likewise each of us must "go to Peniel" to wrestle with the Angel, just as each of us must be renamed from Ya'akov ("a supplanter") to Israel ("a prince with God").  When the Spirit of Truth asks, "What is your name," may the LORD God grant you the courage to refuse to "let go" until you receive the divine blessing of love and acceptance...
 


The word vayishlach (וַיִּשְׁלַח) means "and he sent" (from shalach, שׁלח, "to send"). The sages comment that like Jacob, each person of faith is a shaliach (שָׁלִיחַ), or an "emissary" sent out to bear witness to others of the reality and true blessing of God. And may the LORD God of Israel help you, friend, serve as an extension (שְׁלוּחָה) of His loving and gracious Presence to all you may encounter this day....

May this week be a good one for you, my friend.  May you embody and express with all your heart the grace and love of God, and the great peace of God that surpasses understanding, so that your life will be meaningful and will reveal the Blessing of Heaven in all that you do.  Shavuah Tov!
 




Treasures of the Heart...


 

12.09.16  (Kislev 9, 5777)  Our Lord appealed to us: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:19-21). This teaches us that the good of the heavenly world is not subject to the decay of this world, and that God invites our hearts to find abiding treasure in His Presence.

This world is not our home; we are "strangers" here. It is an affliction to wait for the LORD, a blessed discontent, a "homesickness" of heart... The apostle Paul says our loneliness and alienation prepare for us an "eternal weight of glory" beyond all comparison, because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. "For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17-18). Just as the "two-souled" man is unstable in all his ways, so the process of being "educated for eternity" means learning to focus our heart's passion and hope on the glory of heaven. "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Shabbat shalom, chaverim. We are traveling to see my mother for the weekend, though we remember you all in our prayers. Peace and love and good be upon you as you seek the LORD and walk in the Divine Light of Yeshua.
 




Why Celebrate Chanukah?


 

12.09.16  (Kislev 9, 5777)  The word chanukah (חֲנֻכָּה) means "dedication," a word that shares the same root as the Hebrew the word chinukh (חִנּוּךְ), meaning "education." Just as the Maccabees fought and died for the sake of Torah truth, so we must wage war within ourselves and break the stronghold of apathy and indifference that the present world system engenders (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 6:11-18). We must take time to educate ourselves by studying the Torah and New Testament, for by so doing we will be rededicated to the service of the truth and enabled to resist assimilation into the corrupt world. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world..." (1 John 2:15).

During this time of year -- and especially during this dark hour of history near the prophesied "end of days" -- it is imperative to remember that we are in the midst of the great "war of the ages," where people's souls and destinies are at stake... This world is likened to the "Valley of Decision," the corridor to the world to come... We cannot afford to be indifferent to the darkness that continues to blind the eyes of so many people. We must take a stand for God's truth and be fully equipped to give an account for the hope we have in Yeshua. Ultimately the "cleansing of the Temple" is a matter of the heart, chaverim....

We are all called to "fight the good fight of faith" and to take hold of the eternal life given to us in Yeshua our LORD (1 Tim. 6:12). Among other things this means refusing to assimilate with the corrupt world system (Κόσμος) and forfeiting our identity in Yeshua.... Chanukah is a "fighting holiday" -- a call to resist the oppression of this world and to rededicate our lives entirely to God....  Indeed, of all the people in the world, Christians who love Yeshua should should understand the true meaning of Chanukah and to rejoice that the Yeshua our Messiah overcame this world.

For those of you who might want some additional information about why Chanukah is  important for believers in Yeshua, please see the article, "Let your light shine - Why Christians should celebrate Chanukah." I hope you will find it encouraging, chaverim.

Note:  Some people think it's amusing to wish people a happy "Christnukah" or "Chanukahmas" (combining the words "Chanukah" and "Christmas"), though in reality these are two very different holidays. The Hebrew word chanukah means "dedication" and marks an eight day winter celebration (from Kislev 25 - Tevet 3) that celebrates the (national) rededication of the Second Temple after a small group of Jewish believers defeated the forces of assimilation at work in their world. "Christmas," on the other hand, celebrates the birth of the Messiah and the advent of his redemptive mission to save the world from the sickness of spiritual death. Chanukah is not "Jewish Christmas," nor is Christmas a Gentile substitute for Chanukah. They are different holidays that celebrate different things, friends.
 




Chanukah and Vigilance...


 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah runs from Sat. Dec. 24th - Sun. Jan. 1st this year... ]

12.09.16  (Kislev 9, 5777)  A central message of Chanukah is to resist being "assimilated" into this dark world and its benighted culture.  As it says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed (i.e., transfigured by the light) through the renewal (ἀνακαίνωσις) of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God" (Rom. 12:2). Notice that the Greek word translated "conformed" is a passive verb (συσχηματίζω, derived from σύν, "with," + σχῆμα, "matrix") which means that we must consciously resist being lulled into accepting this world's various ideologies (matrix) that are crafted to ignore Divine the Presence and Truth.  In the realm of the spiritual, there is simply no place of neutrality, and if we are not going forward, then it's likely we are going backward...  Therefore we are repeatedly commanded to test the spirits (including our own!) and to examine truth claims. We ask God for wisdom and use the discernment from the Holy Spirit.
 

הַשְׁלִיכוּ מֵעֲלֵיכֶם אֶת־כָּל־פִּשְׁעֵיכֶם
אֲשֶׁר פְּשַׁעְתֶּם בָּם
וַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה

hash·li·khu · me·a·le·khem · et · kol · pish·e·khem
a·sher · pe·sha·e·tem · bam
va·a·su · la·khem · lev · cha·dash · ve·ru·ach · cha·da·shah
 

"Cast away from you all the transgressions
 that you have committed,
and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit."
(Ezek. 18:31)


 
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We must exercise diligence to ensure we are taken captive by the world and its seductive deceptions.  Both Passover and Chanukah celebrate spiritual freedom, and indeed the very first word given at Sinai was "I AM the LORD thy God who brought you out (הוֹצֵאתִיךָ)... of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). God's first concern is to be known as your Deliverer, the God of your freedom. Therefore the Spirit of God says, "Thou shalt be free" (2 Cor. 3:17; Gal. 5:1). Set your focus, then, on the Divine Presence and refuse to live in fear of mere men and their political schemes. God has an appointment scheduled with the princes of this world, though we trust he is our Good Shepherd who will keep us from the wrath to come..
 




Saved by Hope...



 

12.09.16  (Kislev 9, 5777)  "For we are saved by hope (τῇ γὰρ ἐλπίδι ἐσώθημεν): but hope that is seen is not hope..." (Rom. 8:24). The "eyes of the flesh" focus on this world and its possibilities (חַיֵּי שָׁעָה) and are therefore unable to discern beyond mere surface appearances. They are easily seduced by superficialities and glitter of this world and its vanities (עוֹלָם הַשֶּׁקֶר). The eyes of faith, on the other hand, "look 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). In other words, faith "sees" the realm of the invisible (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם): For we "walk by faith, not by sight." We are "saved by hope," but hope that is seen is not hope.... Faith is the foundation (ὑπόστασις) of things hoped for, the conviction (ἔλεγχος) of things (πρᾶγμα) not seen" (Heb. 11:1).

By faith we have access to God's promises (Rom. 5:2), yet we do not see these treasures yet because they remain hidden in the future.  God's treasures are presently concealed and are found only by the heart of faith. Therefore we read, "Beloved, now are we the children of God, but it does not yet appear what we shall be..." (1 John 3:2). Our redemption is eternally secure yet remains to be wonderfully fulfilled, and therefore we must not lose sight of the goal. God both gives birth to our hope and is the satisfaction of our deepest longings. For those with God-given hope, gam zu l'tovah – all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28). Now "may the God of hope (אֱלהֵי הַתִּקְוָה) fill you with all joy and peace (כּל־שִׂמְחָה וְשָׁלוֹם) in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope" (Rom. 15:13).
 




The Beauty of Truth...


 

12.09.16  (Kislev 9, 5777)  It has been said that the Greek mindset regards what is beautiful as what is good, whereas the Hebraic mindset regards what is good as what is beautiful.  The difference is one of orientation.  Doing our duty before God, in other words, is what is truly beautiful, not merely appreciating the appearance of symmetry, order, and so on.  This explains why moral discipline (i.e., musar, מוּסָר) is so prominent in Hebrew wisdom literature. True beauty cannot exist apart from moral truth.

The word chinukh (חִנּוּךְ), "education," shares the same root as the word "chanukah" (חֲנֻכָּה, dedication). Unlike the Greek view that regards education as a pragmatic process of improving one's personal power or happiness, the Jewish idea implies dedication/direction to God and His concrete purposes on the earth.  Disciples of Yeshua are likewise 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). In the New Testament, the word "disciple" is μαθητής, a learner or a pupil of a διδάσκαλος, or a  teacher.  True education is therefore foundational to being a disciple of the Messiah.

Following Yeshua, then, first of all means submitting to His authority and learning from Him as your Teacher (Matt. 23:8). Only after spending time with Him are you commissioned to go "to all the nations and teach..." (Matt. 28:19). This is accomplished not only by explaining (propositional) doctrine but by kiddush HaShem -- sanctifying the LORD in our lives. We are called to be a "living letter" sent to the world to be "read" (2 Cor. 3:2-3).

During Chanukah we recall the courage and faith of Judah the "Maccabee" and his brothers. The name "Maccabee" is said to be an acronym [מ כּ בּ י] for Moses' affirmation of faith: מִי־כָמכָה בָּאֵלִם יהוה / "Who is like you, LORD, among the mighty?" (Exod. 15:11). Since God alone is the Supreme Ruler of the universe, we do not need to live in fear of man. As King David wrote: יהוה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא / "The LORD is my Light and my Salvation - of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1). Yeshua the Messiah is our true Light (ha'or ha'amiti) and our Salvation (yeshu'ah). He has said, "My peace I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 14:27, 16:33).
 

בָּרוּךְ הוּא הָאֱלהִים אֲשֶׁר נָתַן־לָנוּ תְּשׁוּעָה נִצַּחַת בְּיַד
יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ אֲדנֵינוּ
 

ba·rukh · hu · ha-E·lo·him · a·sher · na·tan-la·nu · te·shu·ah · ni·tza·chat · be·yad
Yeshua ha-Ma·shi·ach · A·do·nei·nu
 

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through
our Lord Yeshua the Messiah! (1 Cor. 15:57)



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Note:  For more on this see, "The Beauty of Truth: A Chanukah Meditation."
 




The Blessing of Tradition...


 

[ There is tradition, and then there is tradition... Not all tradition is bad, of course, though we must be careful not to become enslaved to habitual ways of thinking that may hinder us from encountering the truth... ]

12.09.16  (Kislev 9, 5777)  Some people think they are free from the influence of "tradition" in their understanding of Scripture, but of course this is logically impossible. In fact, we could not understand even the first word of the Scriptures without the aid of tradition... There is a story that illustrates this point. A pagan came to Hillel seeking to convert but was troubled with the idea of tradition, though he accepted the idea of the written Scriptures. Since the man did not know how to read Hebrew, however, Hillel began pointing to the letters in the written Torah to teach him the alphabet: "This is Aleph... this is Bet... this is Gimmel," and so on, until the man began to understand the letters of the Aleph-Bet. "Now come tomorrow, and I will teach you more." The next day, Hillel pointed to the exact same letters but reversed their names, "This is Gimmel... this is Aleph... this is Bet," and so on. The convert was confused: "But yesterday you said just the opposite!" Hillel replied, "Now you have had your first lesson. You see that the written word alone is insufficient, and we need the tradition to explain God's Word." Another way to make this same point is to say that the Torah was not revealed along with a dictionary that defines the meaning of its words...

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

Abraham demonstrated such unwavering trust in God's truth that he was willing to offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice, and therefore the promises of God were entrusted to him and his descendants because the LORD foresaw how they would preserve the Word of God for future generations (see Rom. 3:1-2). Part of our faith implies that we trust that God, by means of the Ruach HaKodesh, has providentially preserved the texts of Scripture over the centuries, and that he has enabled his people to discern the meaning of the texts as well...  Of course we are study to show ourselves approved before God (2 Tim. 2:15) but that means we persevere in the quest to hear God's voice and follow the leading of the Spirit...

Understand that there is much tradition embedded in our Bibles, chaverim... For example, both the earliest Hebrew and Greek manuscripts did not include any vowel markings or punctuation marks, and that means "oral tradition" was used to interpret the meaning of words and the grammar of texts. Moreover, the very concept of what constitutes "Scripture" (i.e., the development of the "canon") was the product of historical decisions beyond our control. Later, chapter divisions, verse numbers, and the arrangement of the "books" into a single codex ("book") was devised (what we now call our "Bible"), but such textual divisions and interpolations were not part of the original scrolls....  Despite all this "meddling" by tradition, we nevertheless believe that the Bible we have today is the true Word of God, but that implies that we also believe that it was handed down over the centuries to us by godly people, and that God's truth was meticulously and miraculously preserved.  We believe God preserves kotzo shel yod (קוֹצוֹ שֶׁל יוֹד) -- every Yod (י) and every stroke of the Yod! Indeed comparing manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls with medieval manuscripts proves the remarkable preservation of the words of Scripture, so that we can rest assured we have reliable texts. Where we run into differences, however, concerns interpretative factors (i.e., "hermeneutics"). Each of us interprets the words of the Bible based on historical biases and prejudices that we bring to its texts: we often read and think just what we want to read and think, instead of asking God for the wisdom and humility to study and learn...

When Yeshua said to beware of man's traditions, he was referring to those religious traditions that put a "fence" (gezerah) around the clear teaching of Torah, not the more general "tradition" to learn how to read, how to study, how to value God's truth, etc. In fact, without linguistic traditions, for example, no one could ever read anything, since the meaning of the words and sounds signified by letters, etc., would constantly be in flux...

The Torah was written in the language of human beings so that human beings could understand its message, but this presupposes reliance on our tradition.... For example, the Torah provides general instructions to build the Mishkan (tabernacle) according to the "pattern" (תַּבְנִית) given to Moses (Exod. 25:9), but it does not provide explicit details about how forge silver and gold, how to make gate "sockets," how to weave embroidery for the parochet (curtain), and so on. Units of measure such as "cubits" and "amot" can only be understood by consulting oral tradition. Likewise the Torah commanded Israel to set up a system of judges and law courts, though it did not provide explicit instructions about how the courts were to function. "Faith comes by hearing the word of God" (Rom. 10:17).

Rightly understood, Jewish "tradition" is a great blessing that recalls our heritage, our history, and our destiny as the people of God... Indeed tradition (מָסוֹרֶת) is connected to our collective memory and to our very inheritance in the world to come (Rev. 21:12). So let us not unthinkingly disparage the word "tradition," but instead honor the providential hand of God as Scripture has been miraculously preserved for us over the centuries.  And as for Christians who mistakenly insist that we are not beholden to Jewish history and tradition, we are warned not to be "arrogant toward the branches; if you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you" (Rom. 11:18). As partakers of the covenants given to Israel, you aren't feeding the root; the root is feeding you...
 




Inexplicable Suffering...


 

12.08.16  (Kislev 8, 5777)  "Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless" (Psalm 88:15). Unless your theology can accommodate the darkness expressed in Psalm 88, you are liable to be overthrown through periods of depression and anguish of heart.... Human reason naturally seeks a link between moral cause and effect, but Psalm 88, the Book of Job, the Book  of Ecclesiastes, and innumerable other Scriptures leave the soul in a voiceless state of suffering when certain evils befall us. Recall how Aaron, the first High Priest, was told he could not grieve for the death of his two sons when the Mishkan was dedicated. There sometimes is no "because," no "cause" that is forthcoming. Sometimes we are left with wordless grief, consigned to a place of darkness and inner pain.

Alan Redpath once wrote, "When God wants to do an impossible task, He takes an impossible individual -- and crushes him" (The Making of a Man of God).  This seems to be the divine pattern. Certainly Yeshua understood what it felt like to have everything good ripped away from him, all human sympathy withdrawn, with nothing left but darkness and terror, tasting even the infinite loss of divine consolation. There is a "following" of the LORD even into the dust of death. 

Sometimes suffering can be cognitive or emotional as well as physical. The presence of moral evil in the world -- including the prevalence of "war creators" and the innumerable ways human beings routinely harm one other -- can cause us to almost die of despair. This too must be part of our confession.

God is "big enough" to handle the vent of anger, the abyss of your sadness and grief; surely God knows that life in this world calls for the lament of the soul... May it please the LORD - the very Name and Meaning of all true love - to hear the anguish of our heart as a cry for his presence, for his comfort, and for heaven itself.... Amen.

The essence of divine revelation is the "Name" of God, which is the power of Love... It was the love of God that put Yeshua on the cross, and the voice of that Name is best heard in the cry of God's own broken heart expressed there. The Name of the LORD is the Reality and Meaning of all true love in the universe... 
 




Teshuvah of Quiet...

Photo by John J Parsons
 

12.07.16  (Kislev 7, 5777)  "Be still and know that I AM..." (Psalm 46:10). Prayer is a type of listening (shema), a turning back to heed the message of God's love and hope. Indeed, the word "teshuvah" (תְּשׁוּבָה), often translated as "repentance," also means an answer or response to a question. God's love is the question, and the heart's response is the answer. Some of us may find it difficult to trust, to open our heart to receive grace and kindness. For those of us wounded by abandonment, it can be a great struggle to hear the voice of God calling you "beloved," "worthy," "valued," and "accepted." When you find faith to receive God's word of love, however, your heart comes alive and you begin to heal. May you hear the Spirit speaking to you this hour...
 




Dangerous Drifting...


 

12.07.16  (Kislev 7, 5777)  Spiritually speaking, the greater danger is not some spectacular sin but rather the imperceptible drifting away of the heart, a cooling of passion, a failure to tend the fire of our inner altar.... Therefore we are earnestly admonished to "pay more careful attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away" (Heb. 2:1). The nautical metaphor is clear: we must be anchored to the truth lest we become shipwrecked in our faith. Drifting is often imperceptible, and occurs slowly, though the end result is as deadly as openly turning away from God in outright apostasy. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, "The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts." The grave danger today is to quietly and invisibly give up hope, to unconsciously "go with the flow," to become comfortably numb, to fall asleep, and therefore to die inside... It is far more dangerous to ignore God's mercy, or to make a pretense of knowing God's grace, than it is to blatantly break his law. Therefore the urgent need is to remember, to hear, and to awaken the soul to face the truth about reality. We must focus the heart, concentrate the will, and consciously "set" the Lord always before us (Psalm 16:8). Each day we must awaken from our emptiness to reaffirm the central truth: "Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:4-5). "Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light" (Eph. 5:14).
 




Healing and Honesty...



 

12.07.16  (Kislev 7, 5777)  It is written in our Scriptures: "Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed" (James 5:16)... Note the connection here between acknowledging the truth about our struggles and finding healing for our souls.  It has been wisely said that "we are only as sick as the secrets we keep." Indeed, hiding our sins and struggles may make us strangers to ourselves and prisoners to shame and fear. What remains hidden within us can become a destructive force, a "dark side" of the self that suddenly erupts in unexpected ways.  We find deliverance by becoming vulnerable and sharing our true self with a trusted friend. As Margary Williams wrote in the Velveteen Rabbit: "Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand." It's in this context that confession and healing may be found, as we share our brokenness with another and discover real hope in God's redeeming love.

The unexamined life -- especially as a follower of Yeshua -- is not worth living, and the practice of suppressing the truth about our sinful condition can lead to self-deception and even death (1 Cor. 11:30). "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:7-8). "Therefore, confess (ἐξομολογέω, lit. 'speak out') your sins to one another and pray (εὔχομαι) for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person (tzaddik) works great power" (James 5:16).
 




Affliction and Comfort...


 

12.07.16  (Kislev 7, 5777)  Some of us carry emotional pain that refuses to leave us, even after we have poured out our hearts before heaven for deliverance... Perhaps this pain comes from wounds inflicted early in life that have left us feeling betrayed, victimized, and wary of the promise love. God knows our struggle... We can find healing when we learn to "own" the pain and make it part of the story of our redemption, trusting that God will use it to draw us close to him for our good. After all, God is called "the Father of Mercies and God of all comfort" (אַב הָרַחֲמִים וֵאלהֵי כָּל־נֶחָמָה), and the Lord "comforts us" (lit., "calls us to His side," παρακαλέω) in our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are afflicted with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Take comfort, then, that your Heavenly Father sees when the sparrow falls; he arrays the flower in its hidden valley; he calls each star by name. More importantly, the Lord sees you and understands your struggle. He will never leave you nor forsake you...
 

הָרפֵא לִשְׁבוּרֵי לֵב וּמְחַבֵּשׁ לְעַצְּבוֹתָם
מוֹנֶה מִסְפָּר לַכּוֹכָבִים לְכֻלָּם שֵׁמוֹת יִקְרָא

ha-ro·fei · lish·vu·rei ·lev · u'me·cha·besh · le'atz·tze·vo·tam
mo·neh · mis·par · la·ko·kha·vim · le·khu·lam · she·mot · yik·ra

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"He is the healer of the brokenhearted and the One who binds up their sorrows.
 He counts the number of the stars, to all of them He assigns names."
(Psalm 147:3-4)

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Brokenness distills the intentions of the heart by helping us to be more honest with ourselves. We begin to realize that we are more vulnerable than at first we thought; that our faith is not as strong as we imagined, and that our motives are often mixed and unconscious. Illusions are striped away; idols crumble; deeper levels of selfishness are uncovered; the gap between our words and our deeds is exposed... It is one thing, after all, to intellectually think about faith or to idealize spirituality, but it is quite another to walk out faith in darkness. Yet it is only there, in the rawness of heart, that we discover what we really believe and how our faith makes traction with reality...
 

    I do not see the road ahead of me, I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean I am actually doing so. But I believe the desire to please you does in fact please you, and I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for your are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. - Thomas Merton

 
Take hope, struggling friend... It is surely the will of God for you to find strength in weakness and comfort in affliction. As our Scriptures say, God is "the Father of Mercies and God of all comfort." The Lord calls us to His side to receive his comfort and love.
 




The Ladder of Messiah...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Parashat Vayetzei. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

12.06.16  (Kislev 6, 5777)  The revelation at Sinai and Jacob's vision of the ladder share something in common. Just as Yeshua was the "Voice of the Living God (קוֹל אֱלהִים חַיִּים) speaking (davar) from the midst of the fire" at Sinai (Deut. 5:26), so He was the Ascended LORD standing above the ladder speaking the word of promise (Gen. 28:12-15). In this connection we note that the words for "ladder," (i.e., sullam: סֻלָּם), "voice" (i.e., kol: קל), and "Sinai" (סִינָי) all have the same numerical value, which suggests a connection between the two great visions. Yeshua is the Ladder to God, the means by which the Living Torah both descends and ascends for the sake of our deliverance (John 1:51). The "ladder of Sinai" is not meant for us to ascend but rather is for the LORD our Savior to descend and ascend on our behalf. Yeshua is the way, the truth, and the life (הדֶּרֶךְ וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַחַיִּים): no one can draw near to the Heavenly Father apart from Him (John 14:6).
 




The Ladder of Truth...


 

12.06.16  (Kislev 6, 5777)  The Hebrew idea of "truth" (i.e., emet: אֱמֶת) is richer than accurate factual description, since it also contains moral implications: what is true is also right, good, reliable (honest), beautiful, and sacred. The Hebrew word itself comes from a verb (aman) that means to "confirm" or establish. The noun emunah (i.e, אֱמוּנָה, "faithfulness" or "trustworthiness") comes from this root, as does the familiar word "amen," which expresses the will to live by what is ratified, since truth that is not lived is not truth. Indeed speaking the truth (dibbur emet) is considered foundational to moral life, as it says: "Speak the truth (דַּבְּרוּ אֱמֶת) to one another; render true and perfect justice in your gates" (Zech. 8:16). Yeshua repeatedly said, "Amen, Amen I say to you...." throughout his teaching ministry to stress the reliability and certainty of God's truth (Matt. 5:18, 26, etc.). Indeed, Yeshua is called "the Amen, the faithful and true witness" (Rev. 3:14).

The ancient Greek word translated "truth" is aletheia (ἀλήθεια), a compound formed from an alpha prefix (α-) meaning "not," and lethei (λήθη), meaning "forgetfulness." Greek scholars say the word lethei itself derives from the verb lanthano (λανθάνω), which means "to be hidden," so the general idea is that a-letheia (i.e., truth) is non-concealment, non-hiddenness, or (put positively) revelation or disclosure. Thus the word of Yeshua - His message, logos (λόγος), revelation, and presence - is both "unforgettable" and "irrepressible." Yeshua is the Unforgettable One that is manifest as the express Word of God (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים). He is the Light of the world (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם) who imparts the "light of life" (John 8:12). Though God's message can be supressed by evil and darkened thinking, the truth is regarded as self-evident and full of intuitive validation (see Rom. 1:18-21).

Note that the LXX (i.e., the ancient Greek translation of the Torah and OT otherwise known as the Septuagint) dates from the time of Plato, though of course the Hebrew text dates back to the time of Moses (13th century BC) and even earlier.  About 300 BC, "Theophrastus," a student of Aristotle, wrote of the Jews that 'being philosophers by race, they converse with each other about the Divine." Abraham, who dates from about 2,000 BC, was the first avowed monotheist who openly repudiated the polytheism and idolatry of ancient Ugaritic culture (Abraham long predates the rise of Hinduism and the animistic hymns of the Vedas and their priestly commentary found in the Upanishads by a thousand years). Similarly, both David and his son Solomon (10th century BC) wrote "existential" works of philosophy, predating the modern world by nearly 3,000 years...

Regarding Jacob's famous dream, the sages ask: "When is the man lower on the ladder higher than the man who is higher on the ladder? When the lower one is climbing up and other higher one is descending down..." Or as Kierkegaard put it, the way is "how." How you focus determines the direction you are taking. So where is your focus? Are you looking to God for help, for strength, and the ability to draw close to him, or are you looking to your own strength, direction, and will?
 




Truth and Passion...


 

12.06.16  (Kislev 6, 5777)  During the prophesied "End of Days" (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) people will have a "form" (μόρφωσιν) of godliness but will deny its inner power, since their hearts will be turned away from the truth: "And because lawlessness (i.e., ἀνομία, lit. a=without; nomos=Torah) will be increased, the love of many will grow cold" (Matt. 24:12). In this connection we note that the Hebrew word for "falsehood" (or "lie") is sheker (שֶׁקֶר), which can also be read as she-kar (שֶׁקַר), meaning "that which" (-שׁ) makes you cold (קַר). The truth of God can't be known apart from passion, inner fire, desire. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "sin" (חֵטְא) means "missing the mark," though that essentially means missing the revelation of God's glory because lesser fears deaden the heart and cool the passion for the truth...

Understand that the New Covenant (i.e., "New Testament") is explicitly mentioned only one place in the Tanakh (i.e., "Old Testament"), namely, in Jer. 31:31-34, which foretold that the inner meaning and principles of Torah (the "weightier matters of the law") would be written upon the heart of the believer (compare Heb. 8:8-12). We have a new covenant in Yeshua, though it's vital to understand that the Torah (and its subset, the "law") still has its place, serving to remind us of our sinful condition, as well as our moral duty to pursue personal righteousness and social justice. The power to obey the law comes from a different source, however, a different means, and delivers a different end with the grace and power of God given by the Holy Spirit, though the moral truths of Torah are unchangeable...
 




The Meeting Place of God...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Parashat Vayetzei... ]

12.06.16  (Kislev 6, 5777)  In our Torah portion this week (Vayetzei), it is written that Jacob "came to a certain place and stayed there that night" (Gen. 28:11). The Hebrew text, however, indicates that Jacob did not just happen upon a random place, but rather that "he encountered the place" -- vayifga ba'makom (וַיִּפְגַּע בַּמָּקוֹם). Since the Hebrew word makom ("place") comes from a verb that means "to arise" or ascend (i.e., קוּם), the vision of the ladder pictures Yeshua, the one who would "descend" (as the Son of Man) and would "rise" (as the resurrected LORD) to be our Mediator before God. Indeed the Hebrew word for "intercessor" (i.e., mafgia: מַפְגִּיעַ) comes from the same verb (paga') mentioned in our verse (see also Isa. 59:16). Yeshua is our Intercessor who makes "contact" with God on our behalf. Through His sacrifice for our redemption upon the cross (i.e., his greater Akedah), Yeshua created a meeting place (paga') between God and man.

Jacob's profound vision of the ladder pictures the mysterious contact between heaven and earth – the intersection between the natural and supernatural realms, and in that sense it is a metaphor of the incarnation: the Infinite One closed in the finite, made tangible, visible, the "word made flesh." God's word to us must always be so clothed, since it speaks across the chasm to be heard within the bounds of creation, yet it remains mysterious, wonderful, full of hidden and divine glory. In Yeshua, heaven is opened and the angels of God ascend and descend (John 1:51).

Note:  For more on this subject, see "Jacob's Dream of Messiah."
 




Mystery and Humilty...


 

12.05.16  (Kislev 5, 5777)  Though it is important to guard our sincere convictions and to be passionate about what we believe, we must nevertheless be careful to walk in humility before the mystery of life...  After all, much is inscrutable to us, much is beyond our understanding, and therefore, if we are honest, we should be reverent before the "sacred secrecy" of everything.  Fanaticism and intolerance (whether secular or religious) is motivated by willful ignorance of the marvelous complexities that pervade existence. The fanatic invariably seeks to reduce life to a simple formula, recipe, and a generalization. The humble person, on the other hand, freely confesses that they "walk by faith, not by sight" -- by hearing the Word of God and heeding what the Spirit of God is saying to the heart... For now we "see through a glass darkly," which literally means "in a riddle" (ἐν αἰνίγματι). A riddle is an analogy given through some resemblance to the truth, though quite often the correspondences are puzzling and obscure. Hence, "seeing through a glass darkly" means perceiving obscurely or imperfectly, looking "through" something else instead of directly apprehending reality. We see only a reflection of reality, and our knowledge in this life is indirect and imperfect. This is contrasted with the "face to face" (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים) vision and clarity given in the world to come, when our knowledge will be clear and distinct, and the truth of God will be fully manifest and no longer hidden. Being "face to face" with reality means being free of the riddles, the analogies, the semblances, etc., which at best adumbrate our way.. Such reflection should make us humble whenever we share our faith. "Now we know in part, but then shall we know in whole" (1 Cor. 13:12). Let therefore repeat that an honest theology must find a place for mystery, for "seeing through a glass darkly," and for the apprehension of awe and wonder.
 

    "A genuine faith must recognize the fact that it is through a dark glass we see; though by faith we do penetrate sufficiently to the heart of the mystery so as not to be overwhelmed by it. A genuine faith resolves the mystery of life by the mystery of God.  It recognizes that no aspect of life or existence explains itself, even after all known causes and consequences have been traced. All known existence points beyond itself. To realize that it points beyond itself to God is to assert that the mystery of life does not dissolve life into meaninglessness...." (Reinhold Niebuhr)
     

Since the LORD God is called the Infinite One (אֵין סוֹף) whose understanding is without limit (Psalm 147:5), we must use analogies, metaphors, symbols, allusions, parables, poetry, and other linguistic devices (as well art and music) to convey spiritual truth and meaning. We compare (συγκρίνω) spiritual things with spiritual (1 Cor. 2:13). Some of the classical "mystics" have said the way to God is through the transcendence of words altogether, though most of them use imagery and poetry to speak about "ineffable" reality. Others, like Soren Kierkegaard, use "indirect communication" to evoke the decision to believe, to find hope, and to walk by faith. The truth can be found, not by means of humanistic learning, but by special revelation and encounter with the Truth of God.

This is sometimes called "argumentum spiritus sancti," or the argument from the Holy Spirit. Kierkegaard wrote in his journals: "In 1 John 5:9 we read: 'If we receive the testimony of men' (this is all the historical proofs and considerations) 'the testimony of God is greater' -- that is, the inward testimony is greater. And then in verse 10: 'He who believes in the son of God has the testimony in himself.' Therefore genuine faith is more than a creed or "doctrine"; it is existence itself, a matter of spirit, wherein new life is expressed in relationship to God through Yeshua the Savior. Regarding the rational enterprise of theology proper, Kierkegaard wrote: "A dogmatic system ought not to be erected on the basis: to comprehend faith, but on the basis: to comprehend that faith cannot be comprehended" (Journals and Papers).

Our lives are surrounded by miracles, mysteries, and wonders... We cannot "live, move, and have our being" apart from the surpassing glory that pervades reality, and particularly that which makes our hearts come alive.
 

    "Bring me a fruit from that tree." "Here it is, venerable sir." "Cut it open." "It is cut open, venerable sir." "What do you see in it?" "Very small seeds, venerable sir." "Cut one of them open." "It is cut open, venerable sir." "And what do you see in it?" "Nothing, venerable sir." Then he said, "That hidden thing which you cannot see, O gentle youth, from that hidden thing has this mighty tree grown" (Upanishad)
     


Regarding the "indirect method" of communication, we note that Yeshua himself regularly used parables and stories to communicate deeper truths about ultimate reality. For instance, he likened the human heart to "soil" into which the Heavenly Farmer plants seed; he wanted his followers to know God as "heavenly Father," the idealization of family love, and so on. Often he was surprised at how dull his own disciples were regarding his use of spiritual analogies (Matt. 15:16, 16:9-11; Mark 8:17; John 6:22-66). Furthermore Yeshua often taught in parables because they simultaneously conceal and reveal the truth. A parable obscures the truth to those who don't really want it; just as it reveals the truth to those who do (Luke 8:9-10). Since Yeshua's whole life was a parable of sorts - a "disguise" that led to the victory of our deliverance (Phil. 2:7) - it is not surprising that he regularly used "figures of speech" to provoke people to examine their own heart attitude and faith... In this connection note that Yeshua never explained the "mysteries of the kingdom of God" directly to the crowds, nor did He ever pander to the crowd's clamor or interests. His message is always meant for the individual soul who was willing to follow Him -- to the one who had "ears to hear." Yeshua will forever be the Face of God to us, our Mediator and Savior, blessed be He (2 Cor. 3:18).

Just as there are hundreds of Names of God given in Scripture, so there are many analogies to help us understand His heart. For instance, God is likened to a farmer, a shepherd, a caring neighbor, a tenant, a king, an impartial judge, a pottery maker, an investor, an employer, a jilted husband, a passionate lover, and so on. However, the analogy Yeshua used the most was that the LORD God is our Heavenly Father, and we are His children. As it is written in the Psalms, "Like a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him" (Psalm 103:13). The most intimate Name of God is simply Abba (אבּא), a term of endearment for a child uses for his father. For those who can believe, the eyes of the LORD are like those of a loving father who greatly rejoices over the presence of his child.
 




God's Strength Alone...

macro photo by j parsons
 

12.05.16  (Kislev 5, 5777)  I hope you are staying strong today: "We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16). Even when we face diseases, losses, and even the prospect of death itself, we know there is a miracle within our hearts, and that is what matters most of all... It is written, "The world is built in chesed," olam chesed yibaneh (עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה), which means that our inner life is being built by God's love. We can rejoice, then, even in our afflictions and troubles. There is something unspeakably wonderful coming! Our momentary affliction prepares an "eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look 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. 4:16-19).
 




A Deeper Awakening...

Marc Chagall Detail
 

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

12.05.16  (Kislev 5, 5777)  From our Torah this week we read: "Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place (אָכֵן יֵשׁ יְהוָה בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה), yet I did not know it" (Gen. 28:16). This event marked a deeper awakening for Jacob as he discovered God's Presence even in his sleep, even while in exile, and even in his ignorance... Henceforth Jacob began to understand that the whole world is filled with God's glory (Isa. 6:3), and that Torah is centered on knowing Him in all our ways (Prov. 3:6).
 

בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ
וְהוּא יְיַשֵּׁר ארְחתֶיךָ

be·khol · de·ra·khe·kha · da·ei·hu
ve·hu · ye·ya·sher · or·cho·te·kha

 

"In all your ways know Him
and he will make upright your paths."
(Prov. 3:6)


 


Jacob had been asleep but was suddenly jarred awake. He found himself in awe, sensing the presence of the gateway to heaven. The sages note the grammar here is emphatic, suggesting that Jacob said: "Surely the LORD is in this place -- but am I (וְאָנכִי)? I do not know! (לא יָדָעְתִּי). Jacob had awakened from his dream to realize that he had been dreaming his life away, living in a fantasy world. God is present in this place – but am I? Have I awakened to be present before God?
 

    All religious reality begins with what biblical religion calls the 'fear of God.' It comes when our existence between birth and death becomes incomprehensible and uncanny, when all security is shattered through the mystery. This is not the relative mystery of that which is inaccessible only to the present state of human knowledge and is hence in principle discoverable. It is the essential mystery, the inscrutableness of which belongs to its very nature... Through this dark gate (which is only a gate and not, as some theologians believe, a dwelling) the believing man steps forth into the everyday which is henceforth hallowed as the place in which he has to live with the mystery. He steps forth directed and assigned to the concrete, contextual situations of his existence. That he henceforth accepts the situation as given him by the Giver is what Biblical religion calls the 'fear of God.' - Martin Buber, Eclipse of God

     

When God said, "Let there be light, and there was light" (Gen. 1:3), He seemed to put on light as a robe of the Divine Majesty and Kingship: He wrapped Himself with radiance as a tallit gadol... Da lifnei mi attah omed (דַּע לִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עוֹמֵד) – "Know before whom you stand." The whole earth is lit up with God's glory, and every bush of the field is aflame before us -- if we have eyes to see (Isa. 6:3). May it please the LORD to open our spiritual eyes so that we can behold more of His glory and majesty in this hour... Amen.
 




Parashat Vayetzei - וַיֵּצֵא


 

12.04.16  (Kislev 4, 5777)  Our Torah portion for this week (Vayetzei) includes Jacob's famous dream of a ladder (סֻלָּם) extending from earth to heaven, with the angels of God ascending and descending, and the LORD Himself standing above assuring Jacob of his safe return to the land he had fled.  Jacob awoke and responded to the dream with awe: "Surely the LORD is in this place (בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה), and I did not know it." And he was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." And he called the name of that place Bethel (בֵּית־אֵל) i.e., "the house of God."

The sages interpret ha-makom (הַמָּקוֹם), literally "the place" that Jacob saw, as Mount Moriah, the exact location where Jacob's father Isaac was bound as the "sacrificed seed" and which later became the site of the Holy Temple. Indeed the word makom comes from a verb (קוּם) meaning "to arise," suggesting resurrection and ascension. In later Rabbinical thought Ha-Makom became synonymous with the name of God Himself ("God is the place of the world, but the world is not God's only place").

Yeshua referred to Jacob's dream when he said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man" (John 1:51). Just as Jacob saw the ladder ascending to heaven with the angels of God ascending and descending upon it, so Yeshua told Nathanael that He was the Ladder to God, the sha'ar ha-shamayim (שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם) - the way into heaven (John 14:6). Indeed, Yeshua is the true Place or "house of God" and its Chief Cornerstone (Rosh Pinnah, Matt. 21:42). The LORD is the resurrection and life, the One who prepares a place for you (John 11:25; 14:2).
 

 




Torah of Faith, Hope, Love...


 

12.02.16  (Kislev 2, 5777)  "And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). Here note the distinction between the promise of God and the commandments of God. The promise of God is rooted in God's heart - his desire and will, his character and passion - but the commandments of God are rooted in man's heart, in his desire and will to obey (or not). Receiving God's love is not based on imperative and the language of conditional acceptance, but is based on the promise of love and grace. The "work of faith" (מַעֲשֶׂה הָאֱמוּנָה) is to believe that God accepts you despite your unacceptability, and that you are esteemed righteous for believing the truth of God's heart. Faith justifies the ungodly because faith accepts the promise, just as Abraham was justified because he trusted in the promise of the seed to come. Therefore, as Rabbi Paul taught, we maintain that a person is justified apart from the law (Rom. 3:28), which is to affirm that eternal life is found exclusively in the grace and promises of God. This is the Torah of "faith, hope, and love," and it is a lifelong discipline to know it in the truth. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God's righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6).
 




King of the Weak...

Marc Chagall
 

12.02.16  (Kislev 2, 5777)  In our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Toldot) Isaac repeated the failure of his father Abraham by fearfully saying his wife Rebekah was his "sister" (Gen. 26:7, cp. Gen. 12:13, 20:2). In his weakness Isaac thought, "I'll say she's my sister lest the people there kill me." This story is recounted in Torah to comfort us. If so great a man as the patriarch Isaac lapsed into fearful thinking, we should understand how merciful, patient, and kind God really is. Even though we are sinful and weak people, God still loves and cares for us. He is the King of the weak, the needy, and the "ragamuffins" of this world. He extends his compassion to those who are burdened by their sinfulness and who hunger and thirst for God's righteousness. "Blessed are the pure in heart," that is, those who yearn for God's great love, "for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8).
 




Finding Inner Peace...


 

12.02.16  (Kislev 2, 5777)  The ultimate question is whether you feel "safe" with the truth of who you really are... When you are all alone, in a moment of still silence, when the entire world is asleep and suspended, what is the message of your heart's cry?  Are you okay? Do you trust who you are or what is happening to you, or do you experience anxiety, a sense of lostness, inner pain?  Comfort is found in God's grace. His promise is given to the sick at heart, to those who understand their need for a physician (Matt. 9:12). Since there is nothing about you to commend before God, you are made free to abandon yourself to the divine love. This is the "Name of the LORD," after all, and your heart's cry for love is a "prayer" uttered in that Name. Your heavenly Father sees in secret (Matt. 6:6). Consider the birds of the air; they are unreflective, alive in the atmosphere of God's care. What a great blessing to let go of your fear; what a relief! Surrender to the truth of your helplessness; rejoice that you are "poor in spirit," for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 5:3). So don't give up your faith, my friend. God promises to be with you to the end, leading you to the place where your heart will forever be satisfied in his love.

Note:  It is essential to guard your thinking by immersing yourself in the truth of Scripture... Fear is often the result of believing the lie that God is not in control or is unable/unwilling to help you... "Not losing your mind" therefore means being solidly grounded in what is real, and that means understanding your identity and provision as a child of God. "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός), lit. a "delivered" mind, "healed" from fragmentation (2 Tim. 1:7). The Greek word "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός) comes from the verb sodzo (σῴζω), meaning "to save," from saos (σάος) "safe," in the sense of being under restraining influence of the Spirit of God...
 




Not in Vain...


 

12.02.16  (Kislev 2, 5777)  "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness could come through the law, then Messiah died for nothing" (Gal. 2:21). Now while the law is holy, and the commandments are "holy, just and good" (Rom. 7:12), we cannot be justified by our own good works at the bar of divine judgment, and therefore we rely on God's grace – the promise that God justifies the helpless and the ungodly (see Rom. 4:5). Trying to justify yourself apart from the miracle throws away God's grace and regards Messiah's sacrifice as insufficient, and therefore is the greatest affront before heaven. Because Yeshua's death is essential, however, the law must be understood provisionally, or as a "tutor" that reveals our inner condition (Gal. 3:24). Recall that when the Ten Commandments were first uttered at Sinai, the people drew back in dread because the truth of their inner condition was exposed (Deut. 5:5-6). Paradoxically, the first great lesson of the law is that we are lawbreakers who are in lethal need for deliverance (1 Tim. 1:8-10). For this the miracle of regeneration is needed, as Yeshua clearly taught us (John 3:3-7). We do not find life apart from the Savior, the Way of Life, and therefore it is a grave mistake to regard Yeshua's ministry as a "second coming of Moses." No, Moses himself pointed to the coming of Messiah who would redeem Israel and make all things new (John 5:46; Luke 24:27; Gen. 22, etc.). Ironically, those who continue to establish their own righteousness by attempting to adhere to the law are regarded as slaves, the "children of Hagar," whereas those who trust in the promise of God are regarded as free, the "children of Sarah," inhabitants of Jerusalem that is above (see Gal. 4:21-5:1). The "works of the law," here understood to mean actions performed with the intent of commending the self before heaven, do not effect real righteousness, since Yeshua is the "end of the law" – the goal, purpose, and inner meaning – of eternal righteousness. Therefore Yeshua is Adonai Tzidkenu (יְהוָה צִדְקֵנוּ) – the LORD our Righteousness!

Note:  The obedience of faith (ὑπακοὴν πίστεως), which Yeshua called the work of God (John 6:28-29), is the Torah "written upon the heart" so that we fulfill the heart of the law by means of the heart of God given to us... I am not advocating "anti-nomialism," or moral anarchy, of course: those who are truly people of faith walk in the law of God's love, which is the fulfillment or goal of the law (Rom. 13:10). People who think that we are set "free" from the law do not fully understand either what the law means nor what freedom means. The "work" of faith is real work, though it is the "work" of believing or trusting the promise of God, surrendering the heart to God's love, "accepting that you are accepted despite your unacceptability," and so on. The "work of faith" (מַעֲשֶׂה הָאֱמוּנָה) is the practice of receiving the blessing that you are a child of God by means of our Savior Yeshua's avodah for us... Yes, it's a balance to understand how the law and faith are related, though the power to obey the Shema (i.e., to love God in the truth) comes by receiving the promise of God's heart, not by adherence to a lawcode... The Torah is eternally true; the covenant is truly new.
 




Helmet of Salvation...


 

12.02.16  (Kislev 2, 5777)  "O GOD the Lord, the strength of my salvation, you have covered my head in the day of battle" (Psalm 140:7). We are in the midst of a great war for the sanctity of our souls, and the enemy is always fear. Fear amplifies our anxieties and magnifies our problems, since it heeds messages of unbelief and justifies despair. We must understand that fear is a false witness - an emissary that gainsays the truth and denies the power of God. In the midst of your struggle with fearful thoughts, resolutely put your trust in the Lord, and he will cover your head in the midst of the battle.
 

יְהוִה אֲדנָי עז יְשׁוּעָתִי
סַכּתָה לְראשִׁי בְּיוֹם נָשֶׁק

E·lo·him · Adonai · oz · ye·shu·a·ti
sa·ko·tah · le·ro·shi · be·yom · na·shek
 

"O GOD the Lord, the strength of my salvation,
you have covered my head in the day of battle"
(Psalm 140:7)

 

 




Esau and Rome...


 

12.02.16  (Kislev 2, 5777)  From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Toldot) we read: "And the LORD said to her [i.e., Rebekah], 'Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger'" (Gen. 25:23). Here Jewish tradition associates the progeny of Esau with Rome, and by extension, western "Christendom," even though this association is generally unwarranted except perhaps symbolically. The physical descendants of Esau were called "Edomites" (a term derived from the Hebrew word "red" (אָדם) that first referred to Esau's color at birth (Gen. 25:25) and later with the red stew he ate in exchange for the right of being the firstborn son and heir of his father Isaac (Gen. 25:30)). Historically and geographically speaking, the Edomites settled in Seir in the land south of the Dead Sea. When Israel escaped from Egypt during the time of the great Exodus, the kingdom of Edom refused them safe passage (Num. 20:17-18). Later, after Israel had gained control of the land of Canaan, both King Saul and King David fought against the Edomites. Later still, during the time of the Maccabean Revolt, many Edomites were forced to convert to Judaism, and during the rise of the Roman Empire and the institution of the Judean Province, these converted Edomites (called "Idumaeans") were treated with suspicion because they were sympathetic to the Romans, and indeed many of them were appointed to high places of government at the behest of Rome (e.g., Herod the Great). Perhaps for this reason the sages identified "Edom" with "Rome," regarding the oppression by the Roman Empire (and later by western Christianity) to be the result of the original enmity between Esau and Jacob.
 




The Reward of Faith...


 

12.01.16  (Kislev 1, 5777)  It is written in our Scriptures: "Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Heb. 11:6). Note that the word translated "impossible" in this verse (ἀδύνατος) means powerless, incapable, and so on, which implies that faith is the key that opens the door to God's presence. It is not possible to please God, after all, if you do not believe in his Reality and concern for your life.  Indeed confidence in God's promises is the foundation of everything; it is the source of your inner life connection and the answer to your prayer for healing. As our LORD Yeshua said: "Take heart; your faith has made you whole" (Matt. 9:22). God rewards those who earnestly seek him. This hearkens to the promise made to our father Abraham: אל־תִּירָא אַבְרָם - "Fear not, Abram," אָנכִי מָגֵן לָךְ – "I am your Shield," שְׂכָרְךָ הַרְבֵּה מְאד - your reward shall be very great" (Gen. 15:1). "For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk in trust" (Psalm 84:11). God imparts favor to those who honestly seek Him, as it is written: "and you shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me bekhol levavkha - with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13). That is the teshuvah (answer) to God's haunting question regarding your life; you find "all your heart" as you seek God's presence  in all your ways (Prov. 3:6). Faith is its own reward since it imparts the blessing of Reality. The Greek word used to translate "those who seek" is a present active participle (ἐκζητοῦσιν) that refers to those who continue to search for God's Presence and truth. Like the great prophet Enoch, this is the way to "walk with God." So do not lose heart or throw away your confidence, dear friend, because it has great reward (Heb. 10:35).
 




Broken and Remade...


 

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

12.01.16  (Kislev 1, 5777)  "See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is immoral or profane like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it (the blessing) with tears" (Heb. 12:15-17; Gen. 27:38). "For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters (מְקוֹר מַיִם חַיִּים), and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13). Spiritually speaking, there are two basic sorts of breaking. One is to be broken by the inevitable sin and ruin of this world, and the other is to be made lev-nishbar (לֵב־נִשְׁבָּר), a broken heart, before the LORD. The former breaking comes from the vain attempt to find life in the broken vessels of this world, and "repentance" is expressed as remorse over perceived temporal loss. This sorrow eventually leads the soul to death (2 Cor. 7:10). To be inwardly broken, on the other hand, requires mourning over your life and returning to God for deliverance (Matt. 5:4). In hunger and thirst for God's righteousness the soul finds eternal satisfaction, since God alone provides the vessel of "living water" we need to live (John 4:14; 7:38). We all must drink from God's fountain of life (מְקוֹר חַיִּים), lest we suffer spiritual dehydration and death....

Are you haunted by an inner ache for love, joy, peace, and life? "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6). Our inner poverty and need is a disguised grace; our desire for healing reveals the Spirit's invitation. Faith begins with the recognition of our need, since only then will we come to Yeshua for the "Bread of Life" (לֶחֶם הַחַיִּים) and the "Living Water" (מַיִם חַיִּים). Everything we need is found in him, though we must reach out in faith: "For without faith (אֱמוּנָה) it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who seek him" (Heb. 11:6). God rewards those who seek him; he answers the heart's cry; he responds to all who trust in his love and salvation. Therefore "ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened" (Matt. 7:7-8). We are not saved by faith in our own faith, but in the Reality and Power of the LORD God who alone can raise the dead to new life....
 





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