Shaddai

Learn Hebrew

Learn Torah

Hebrew for Christians
B'siyata d'shmaya - With the help of heaven
Hebrew4Christians Site Updates

Jewish Holiday Calendar 

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

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

Winter Holiday Calendar

The Winter Holidays:

Chagall Menorah - stained glass detail
 

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

  1. Month of Kislev (Wed. Nov. 11th [eve] - Fri. Dec. 11th [day])
    • Four Sabbaths: Toldot, Vayetzei, Vayishlach, Vayeshev
    • Dates for Chanukah 2015 (5776):
      • 1st Chanukah candle - Sun. Dec. 6th [Kislev 25]
      • 2nd Chanukah candle - Mon. Dec. 7th
      • 3rd Chanukah candle: Teus. Dec. 8th
      • 4th Chanukah candle: Wed. Dec. 9th
      • 5th Chanukah candle: Thur. Dec. 10th
      • 6th Chanukah candle: Fri. Dec. 11th (Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Chanukah)
  2. Month of Tevet (Fri., Dec. 11th [eve] - Sun. Jan. 10th [day])
  3. Month of Shevat (Sun., Jan. 10th [eve] - Mon. Feb. 8th [day])
  4. Month of Adar I (Mon., Feb. 8th [eve] - Wed., March 9th [day])
  5. Month of Adar II (Wed., March 9th [eve] - Fri. April 8th [day])


Note:  Many Jewish calendars will list the first day of a holiday without indicating that the holiday actually begins sundown the night before... So, for example, while Purim begins Wednesday, March 23rd at sundown, some calendars may indicate that it occurs on Thursday, March 24...
 


 

January 2016 Updates
 


Moses Receives the Law...


 

01.31.16 (Shevat 21, 5776)  Last week we read in our Torah that exactly seven weeks after the Exodus from Egypt (i.e., 49 days after the first Passover), Moses gathered the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai to enter into covenant with the LORD. In a dramatic display of thunder, lightning, billowing smoke and fire, the LORD descended upon the mountain and recited the Ten Commandments to the people. Upon hearing the awesome Voice of God, however, the people shrank back in fear and begged Moses to be their mediator before God. The people then stood far off, while Moses alone drew near to the thick darkness to receive further instructions from the LORD.

This week we learn about these additional instructions Moses received on the mountain. The Jewish sages traditionally count 53 distinct commandments in this portion of the Torah, easily making it one of the most "legalistic" (i.e., law-focused) sections of the entire Bible. Civil laws, liability laws, criminal laws, agricultural laws, financial laws, family purity laws, Sabbath laws, and holiday laws are all given in this portion. These various social and civil laws are called "mishpatim" (מִשְׁפָּטִים), a plural word that means "rules" or "judgments."

After receiving these additional rules, Moses descended Sinai and went before the people to reveal to them the words of the LORD. Upon hearing the details, the people responded in unison, "all the words which the LORD has said we will do" (i.e., na'aseh: נַעֲשֶׂה). Moses then wrote down the words of the covenant into a separate scroll (sefer habrit), built an altar at the foot of Sinai, and ordered sacrifices to the LORD to be made.  He then took the sacrificial blood from the offerings, threw half upon the altar, and read the scroll of the covenant to the people. The people ratified the covenant by saying, "all that the LORD says we will do and obey" (i.e., na'aseh ve'nishmah: נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע). Upon hearing this, Moses took the other half of the sacrificial blood and threw it on the people saying, "Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words" (Heb. 9:18). After this ceremony, Moses, Aaron, and seventy of the elders of Israel ascended Mount Sinai to eat a "covenant affirmation meal" between Israel and the LORD.

After returning from the mountain with the elders, the LORD commanded Moses to go back up to receive the tablets of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments. On the seventh day there, he heard the Voice of the LORD calling to him from the midst of the cloud of glory, and then entered into the Presence of the LORD. He remained on the mountain for a total of forty days and forty nights receiving further revelation about the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle) while the Israelites waited for him at the camp down below.
 

 




Duty of the Heart...


 

01.31.16 (Shevat 21, 5776)  God began the Ten Commandments by saying, "I AM the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2), rather than saying, "I AM the LORD your God, Creator of heaven and earth" (Gen. 1:1). The LORD refers to himself as our Savior first, since creation is designed to demonstrate His redemptive love given through Yeshua, the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9). "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Creation therefore begins and ends with the love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Messiah, the great Lamb of God... He is the Center of Creation - the Aleph and Tav - the Beginning and the End (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:17). All the world was created for the Messiah: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).
 




Where do you live?


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Yitro). Shabbat Shalom, friends! ]

01.29.16 (Shevat 19, 5776)  The other day a clerk asked me where I lived, and I answered in terms of a physical address - a city, street name, house number, and so on. "Where we live" is usually defined by locating ourselves on a map of some kind, pointing to some physical place. Spiritually-speaking, however, "where we live" resolves to a cluster of philosophical questions about the significance of our lives, about how we choose to interpret our experience, about how we direct our focus, about what we regard as ultimately real, and so on. The Ten Commandments begin: "I AM the LORD your God" (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ), which teaches us that the whole Torah was spoken to enable us to say that where we live is before the Divine Presence in all our ways....

Shabbat Shalom, and thank you all for praying for the Hebrew for Christians ministry. With our son Emanuel David just 10 days old now, we have been struggling to find time to sleep, eat, and so on. Peace and good and love to you all, friends.
 




Beware of False Prophets...


 

01.29.16 (Shevat 19, 5776)  "Beware of false prophets," Yeshua warned, "who come to you in sheep's clothing (literally, "the skins of sheep," ἐν ἐνδύμασι προβάτων), but who inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:15; cp. 2 Pet. 2:1). However, because they come in disguise, pretending to be "children of light," we must be all the more vigilant. On the one hand, we must beware of those who "wrap themselves in a tallit" (legalists) and teach that we should come under the yoke of the law (Matt. 23:15), and on the other, we must beware those who minimize words of the holy Torah, who falsely claim that the way to heaven is "broad," and that we therefore are "free" to walk after the desires of our own hearts (Matt. 7:13-14). We must use discernment, friends. The LORD allows false teachers in our midst to test our hearts: "For there must be (δεῖ) factions among you so that those who are genuine among you may be recognized" (1 Cor. 11:19). Therefore "test the spirits" to see if they are "of God," that is, whether they focus on the righteousness of God given exclusively through Yeshua, the "narrow way that leads to life" - or whether they focus on something else. The Holy Spirit always centers the heart on the glory of God revealed in Yeshua (John 16:14; 1 Cor. 2:2, etc.).
 




First and last Word...


 

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

01.29.16 (Shevat 19, 5776)   The traditional commentators often divide the Ten Commandments as those primarily between man and God (לָמָקוֹם) and those between man and his neighbor (לְחֲבֵרוֹ), but these are ultimately one and the same. To see this, note that the Commandments begin with the word anochi ("I AM") and end with le're'kha ("to/for your neighbor"). Joining these together says "I am your neighbor," indicating that the LORD Himself is found in your neighbor. The first and last word of the law of Moses, then, is simply "I AM your neighbor." Every social transgression is therefore a transgression against God, and vice-versa. As our Scriptures teach, "If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar," and "love fulfills the law" (1 John 4:20; Rom. 13:8). When we love our neighbor as ourselves (אָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ), we are in effect showing love for the LORD.


 




Hope in Lament...


 

01.28.16 (Shevat 18, 5776)   Dear Lord, in the worst of our moments, thank you for seeing the Savior within us; thank you for heeding the hope that the Spirit imparts.... "When my heart was embittered, when I was pierced in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; You hold my right hand" (Psalm 73:21-23). Despite the lament, however, the psalmist affirmed that he was always with God - notwithstanding his ignorance, his complaint of heart, his doubts, fears, and so on... God is not driven away by our pain and confusion, but on the contrary, he takes us by the hand and will not let go: "It was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them" (Hos. 11:3).
 

כִּי יִתְחַמֵּץ לְבָבִי וְכִלְיוֹתַי אֶשְׁתּוֹנָן
וַאֲנִי־בַעַר וְלא אֵדָע בְּהֵמוֹת הָיִיתִי עִמָּךְ
וַאֲנִי תָמִיד עִמָּךְ אָחַזְתָּ בְּיַד־יְמִינִי

ki · yit·cha·metz · le·va·vi · ve·khil·yo·tai · esh·to·nan
va·a·ni · va·ar · ve·lo · e·da · be·he·mot · ha·yi·ti · i·makh
va·ani · ta·mid · i·makh · a·chaz·ta · be·yad · ye·mi·ni
 

"When my heart was embittered, when I was pierced in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; You hold my right hand."
(Psalm 73:21-23)



 

The heart of the psalmist was embittered or "soured" (literally "leavened" with chametz) over the thought that the wicked flourish in this world while the righteous often are afflicted and gravely suffer... Such (envious) thoughts hurt like a sword that penetrated the heart, "a shtuken nisht in hartz," in Yiddish. Note, however, that the pain came because the mind was focused on temporal things, and therefore the psalmist judged himself as being ignorant, "like a beast" that has no consciousness of eternity.
 

    "On Judgment Day, I like everyone else, will be allowed to hang all my unhappiness and suffering on a branch of the great Tree of Sorrows. Then, when I have found a limb from which my sorrows can dangle, I will walk slowly around that tree. Do you know what I will do on that walk? I will search for a set of sufferings I might prefer to those I have hung on the tree. But search as I may, I will not find any, and in the end, I will freely choose to reclaim my own personal set of sorrows rather than that of another. I will leave that tree wiser than when I got there, and I will be ready to walk toward the Tree of Life." (Hasidic Tales: Martin Buber).
     

Again, dear Lord, in the worst of my moments, thank you for seeing the Savior within me; thank you for heeding the hope that the Spirit imparts...
 




The Divine "Law School"...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Yitro). Shabbat Shalom, friends! ]

01.28.16 (Shevat 18, 5776)  The sages said that "the laws of the Torah were given that people should live by them and not that they should die by them" (Lev. 18:5). This is true, though it is not true without qualification. Legalists and spiritual perfectionists are constantly depressed because they never feel like they've done enough or have fulfilled their duty. They feel inadequate, and this leads to severity and hardness of heart. However, such spiritual failure serves as a "halfway house" to the truth, since the law was intended to reveal our sinful condition and to lead us to a state of brokenness and surrender (Gal. 3:24-25). As is is written, "For from the law comes the knowledge of sin" (διὰ γὰρ νόμου ἐπίγνωσις ἁμαρτίας), but now the righteousness of God (צִדְקַת אֱלהִים) apart from the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets" (Rom. 3:20-21, Gal. 3:19). The phrase "apart from the law" means from an entirely different sphere from that which says, "do this and live." It is the "righteousness" (δικαιοσύνη) that comes from God, not from man. The law by itself, though holy, just, and good, is powerless to give life, though it indeed reveals our need for life that graciously is given apart from the law. Love, then, is the miracle of God that alone gives us life and power us to keep the truth of the law -- its inner meaning -- and that love is found in God the truth of Yeshua the Messiah...
 




Torah of Faith...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah for this week, Parashat Yitro, and the giving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai in particular... ]

01.28.16 (Shevat 18, 5776)   When asked how many commandments are in the Torah, most Jews will answer 613, based on Jewish tradition (the number 613 is sometimes called "taryag" (תריג), an abbreviation for the letters Tav (400) + Resh (200) + Yod (10) + Gimmel (3) = 613).  Despite several attempts made over the centuries, however, there has never been a definitive list of these commandments, and of those who tried to compile such, no two agree... Some say the number 613 comes from a fanciful midrash that teaches that since there are 365 days in a year (corresponding to the 365 negative commandments) and 248 "parts" of the body (corresponding to the positive commandments), each day we should use our body to serve God. Regardless of the exact count, however, the Talmud followed the Apostle Paul by understanding all the Torah's commandments to be derived from the Ten Commandments given at Sinai, the most basic of which is the very First Commandment, namely, "I AM the LORD your God (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ) who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). This foundational commandment was later restated by the prophet Habbakuk as: וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה / "The righteous person will live by faith in God" (Hab. 2:4; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38).

Note:  I stated that the sages of the Talmud "followed" the Apostle Paul's line of thinking on this subject since Paul wrote centuries before the Talmud was compiled... And incidentally, the New Covenant Scriptures are not without the imperatives of "Torah," of course, with some people counting over 1,000 distinct commandments in its pages...
 




Holocaust Remembrance Day...


 

01.27.16 (Shevat 17, 5776)   On January 27, 1945, the largest of the Nazi death camps (Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland) was liberated by Soviet troops. In October 2005, the UN General Assembly designated this date as "International Holocaust Remembrance Day" to commemorate and honor the victims of the Nazi era. Note that the UN-sponsored date is not the same thing as Yom HaShoah, which occurs in the spring (Nisan 27).

The systematic genocide of the Jewish people is one of the most heinous and barbarous crimes in the history of humanity. Reflecting on the atrocities should lead each of us to be vigilant to protect the individual liberties of all people at the hands of the State.  Any political ideology or religious creed that elevates the interest of the "collective" over the sanctity of the individual is therefore inherently suspect.

Note: For more information about IHRD, see this page.
 




Torah of the Will...


 

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

01.27.16 (Shevat 17, 5776)   Do you need to understand before you will believe? The midrash says that God offered the Torah to each the 70 nations, but each nation first asked to understand what was required, and then rejected the offer... Finally God approached Israel and asked: "Will you accept my Torah?" And they replied, kol asher dibber Adonai na'aseh (כּל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּר יְהוָה נַעֲשֶׂה), "all that the LORD has spoken we will do" (Exod. 19:8). In other words, Israel was willing to accept the Torah even before they understood what was required of them. Later they reaffirmed their simplicity of heart by saying na'aseh ve'nishma: "We will do and then we will understand" (Exod. 24:7). Faith is first of all a matter of heart, of gratitude, and responding to God's invitation. All the "externals" of the Sinai experience - the fire, the smoke, the blasts of the shofar - were known in the deeper fire, smoke, and soundings of the heart of faith.

First we learn to trust Him, and then we learn to walk with Him... in that order.
 




Lawful Use of the Law...


 

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

01.27.16 (Shevat 17, 5776)   For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God" (Rom. 8:14). Are you led by the Spirit of God in your daily life, in the midst of your joys, sorrows, and tribulations? This is essential, after all. Do you live in the freedom of Messiah? If you are led by the Spirit, you no longer labor under the law of sin and death but you are set free to experience a new order of reality (Rom. 8:2). The law is holy, righteous, and good, of course, but it also reveals our lethal spiritual condition (Rom. 7:7-25) and therefore it reveals our great need for a Savior, the Messiah who is the end (τέλος) of the law (Rom. 10:4; Gal. 3:21-24, 4:4-5). Those who advocate "Torah observance" do not understand the divine purpose of the law itself (1 Tim. 1:7), and those who teach the law as the means of finding life "frustrate the grace of God" (Gal. 2:19-21). The "lawful use of the law" demonstrates the holiness of God and serves as a mirror of our sinful condition, but the "unlawful use of the law" seeks righteousness apart from the saving agency of Messiah who (alone) is the "righteousness of God." The end of the commandment is "love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim. 2:5). And just as Yeshua came not for the righteous but for sinners (Mark 2:17), so the law was not given for the righteous, but for those who know they need deliverance from the power of indwelling sin (Rom. 3:20, 7:7). "Know this: the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to life-giving doctrine" (1 Tim. 1:9-10).

The Apostle Paul wrote that the lawcode reveals our sinful condition: "for from the law comes the knowledge of sin" (διὰ γὰρ νόμου ἐπίγνωσις ἁμαρτίας). "But now the righteousness of God (צִדְקַת אֱלהִים) apart from the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets" (Rom. 3:20-21, see also Gal. 3:19). The phrase "apart from the law" means from an entirely different sphere from that which says, "do this and live." It is the "righteousness" (δικαιοσύνη) that comes from God, not from man.... Yeshua is Adonai Tzidkenu - the LORD our Righteousness.

But what about the statement that the LORD would write the Torah upon our hearts?  Does not the New Covenant state: "I will put my law (תּוֹרָה) within them, and I will write it on their hearts" (Jer. 31:31-33)? Yes, it surely does, but it is vital to understand that the Torah referred to here is the Torah of the New Covenant, not the Torah of the Old Covenant (2 Cor. 3:14). Surely the "ministry of death (θάνατος), carved in letters on stone, which is being brought to an end" was not to be written on our hearts!  No, the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.  The "ministry of condemnation" (i.e., κατάκρισις, judgment) is contrasted with the "ministry of righteousness" (i.e., δικαιοσύνη) and far exceeds it in glory and value (2 Cor. 3:6-9). Again, as Paul plainly stated: "The law is good if it is used lawfully," understanding that the lawcode speaks to those who are lawbreakers - to the lawless and disobedient, to adulterers, murderers, and so on (1 Tim. 1:8-10). In other words, the law functions as a sort of "cage" intended to restrain the evil impulses of the heart. The problem is not with the law, but rather with the underlying condition of the heart.... What we need is not more laws, but transformation of heart - and that is precisely what the New Covenant is all about: The miracle of spiritual rebirth, a new "heart of flesh," and God-given power to walk in love and thereby transcend the law and its requirements...

As you consider these matters, be careful to distinguish between the general idea of Torah (תּוֹרָה) with the more specific idea of covenant (בְּרִית), since these are different (though related) ideas. The Hebrew word "Torah" is a general word that means "instruction" or "teaching," whereas the word "covenant" refers to a specific agreement made between God and man. In order to avoid confusion between the Torah of Moses (תּוֹרַת משֶׁה) and the Torah of Yeshua (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ), we must keep in mind that Torah is always a function of the underlying covenant (בְּרִית, "cut") of which it is part.  This implies that if the covenant were to change, so would our responsibility (i.e., Torah), as is stated in the Book of Hebrews (e.g., Heb. 7:12). Followers of Yeshua have Torah, of course, though it is based on the New Covenant of God, not on the promise to obey the terms of the covenant given at Sinai. We must exercise care here, since the failure to make this distinction leads to exegetical errors and invalid doctrines. For more on this important subject, please see Why then the Law?

The Torah of the New Covenant centers on walking in the Spirit. Regarding the middot ha-lev (qualities of heart) that are to mark the follower of Yeshua, the Apostle Paul wrote, "the fruit of the Spirit (פְּרִי הָרוּחַ) is love, joy, peace; long-suffering, generosity, acts of kindness; faithfulness, humility, and modesty – against such there is no law" (Gal. 5:22-23). Notice that while there is "one fruit" of the Spirit (i.e., "fruit" [καρπὸς] is singular), the expression of the "inner seed" produces a manifold yield, just as the Tree of Life (עֵץ הַחַיִּים) produces twelve different kinds of fruit, one for each month of the Jewish year (see Rev. 22:1-2).
 




Torah of the Neighbor...


 

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

01.26.16 (Shevat 16, 5776)   The Ten Commandments are often divided into two basic groups or categories. The first five commandments are said to be "between man and God" (i.e., ben adam le'chavero: בֵּין אָדָם לְחֲבֵרוֹ), and contain 146 words; whereas the second five are said to be "between man and other people" (i.e., ben adam la'Makom: בֵּין אָדָם לְמָקוֹם), and contain 26 words, the same value as the Name of God, YHVH (יהוה). In this connection we note that the Ten Commandments begin with "I AM" (אָנכִי) and end with "[for] your neighbor" (לְרֵעֶךָ), which when joined together says, "I AM your neighbor."  In other words, the LORD Himself is also found in your neighbor... When we love our neighbor as ourselves (אָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ), we are demonstrate our love for God.  But who, then, is your neighbor? You are -- to every other soul you may encounter this day (Luke 10:36).

Note: I should add that loving others is impossible without first receiving (inwardly accepting and making your reality) who you are as the "beloved of the Lord..." You have to start there, since you can't give away what you don't have. If you struggle with loving others, or are a cynic, a misanthrope, a jaded soul, or are wounded or bitter of heart, then first find your heart's healing and then simply live honestly before others... May God help each of us!
 




These are the words...


 

01.26.16 (Shevat 16, 5776)   From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Yitro) we read: "You shall be treasured and set apart; you shall be a child of the King; you shall be one who helps others draw near to God... these are the words (אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים) that you shall speak" (Exod. 19:5-6). These are the words of love: "And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your substance. Set these words (הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה), which I command you this day, upon your heart" (Deut. 6:5-6). We store up these words so that, in a holy moment, they are quickened within us and we are able to hear the Voice of the LORD speaking from the midst of the fire that burns within our hearts.  As Simone Weil said, "love is revelation, and revelation comes only with love."
 




Ten Matters of Heart...


 

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

01.26.16 (Shevat 16, 5776)   The Ten Commandments of Torah (עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדִבְּרוֹת) may be summarized this way: 1) "I AM your only deliverer, the One who loves and chooses you; 2) love me exclusively; 3) regard my love as sacred; 4) rest in me; 5) honor your life and its history. Do no harm to others: 6) forsake anger, 7) abandon lust, 8) renounce greed, and 9) abhor lying, and 10) refuse envy. Know that you belong to me and that you are accepted. Love others as you are also loved..."

The "heart of the law" is the Torah of love, just as the "law of love" is the Torah of the Gospel (John 15:12). "Teach me the whole Torah, a heathen said, while I stand on one foot. Shammai cursed and drove the man away. He went to Hillel. Hillel said, What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else: that is the whole Torah. The rest will follow – go now and learn it." As the Apostle Paul taught: "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: Ve'ahavta: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Gal. 5:14). Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:10).

Note: "Now the goal of the commandment is love (τὸ δὲ τέλος τῆς παραγγελίας ἐστὶν ἀγάπη) from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith, though some people, having strayed away, have turned instead to vain talk, desiring to be teachers of the Torah but without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions" (1 Tim. 1:5-7). If your understanding of Torah and the meaning of the Ten Commandments (עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדִבְּרוֹת) doesn't lead you directly to God's love, you have made a seriously wrong turn...  For more on this subject, click here.
 




Fruit of our Words...


 

01.25.16 (Shevat 15, 5776)   Yeshua said that as a tree is to its fruit, so is a person's heart is to his speech. Our words arise from an underlying source and root: "I tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will give account for every careless word (πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργὸν) they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). First note that the phrase translated "every careless word" can be understood as "every 'workless' word," that is, every vain or empty word spoken, every broken promise, every insincere utterance, and so on. Second, note that there is a relationship between naming and being in Hebrew thought, and indeed the Hebrew word davar (דּבר), usually translated as "word," can also mean "thing." This suggests that our words define reality - not in an absolute sense, of course - but in terms of our perspective and attitude, and for that we are held responsible before the LORD. Since our words express our thoughts, Yeshua wants us to make up our minds: "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit." 

Listen to the words of your heart and understand that they are devarim, "things" that are defining the course of your life right now. Our thoughts and words "exhale" the breath of God that was given to each of us. In a very real sense they serve as "prayers" we are constantly offering.... And may it please our gracious and long-suffering LORD to answer the cry of our heart: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer." Amen.
 

יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי־פִי
וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי לְפָנֶיךָ יְהוָה צוּרִי וְגאֲלִי

yi·he·yu · le·ra·tzon · im·rei · fi
ve·heg·yon · lib·bi · le·fa·ne·kha · Adonai · tzu·ri · ve·go·a·li
 

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to You, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
(Psalm 19:14)


  
Hebrew Study Card

 




New Year for Trees...


 

[ Today is "Tu B'Shevat" or the 15th of the month of Shevat (שְׁבָט), which marks the traditional date celebrating the "New Year" for Trees.. ]

01.25.16 (Shevat 15, 5776)   The Bible begins and ends with the great Tree of Life -- first in the orchard of Eden, and later in the midst of the paradise of heaven. ‎"The Tree of Life (i.e., etz ha' chayim: עֵץ הַחַיִּים) was in the midst of the garden..." (Gen. 2:9); "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the Tree of Life (etz ha-chayim) with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month" (Rev. 22:1-2). Notice that the "twelve fruits" (καρποὺς δώδεκα) from the Tree of Life are directly linked to the "twelve months" of the Jewish year (κατὰ μῆνα ἕκαστον ἀποδιδοῦν τὸν καρπὸν αὐτοῦ: "each month rendering its fruit"). Twelve months; twelve fruits.... This teaches us that the sequence of the holidays (moedim) was intended to teach us revelation about God. That is why God created the Sun and the Moon for signs and for "appointed times" (Gen. 1:14), as it also says: "He made the moon to mark the appointed times (לְמוֹעֲדִים); the sun knows its time for setting" (Psalm 104:19).

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

The "Tree of Life" is mentioned ten times in Scripture, corresponding to the "ten words of God" (i.e., the Ten Commandments). In the Torah it first appears in the center of the paradise of Eden (Gen. 2:9; 3:22-4), but it is soon lost to humanity because of Adam's transgression. In the book of Revelation, it reappears in the center of the Paradise of God (Rev. 2:7, 22:2), resurrected on account of the faithful obedience of Yeshua as mankind's "last Adam" (1 Cor. 15:45). Those who have washed their robes by means of His righteousness are given access to this Tree in the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 22:14). The paradise lost by Adam has been regained by the greater ben-adam, the Son of Man, Yeshua the Messiah, the Savior of the children of men...

The Torah alludes that human life is like "the tree of the field," i.e., כִּי הָאָדָם עֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה, Deut. 20:19), and many people therefore observe Tu B'Shevat as time to assess man's place within creation as well.  Since God created the world for a habitation (see Isa. 45:18), some of the sages have likened the world itself as a "great tree" with human beings as its fruit. Yeshua our Savior often used such agricultural images in his parables. For example, he explained that people are known by the "fruits" of their lives (Matt. 7:16-20); he likened the spread of his message in terms of "sowing and reaping" (Matt. 13:3-23), and he compared the Kingdom of Heaven to the secret working of a mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32). Yeshua further regarded the world as a "field" for planting with different "types of soil" (Matt. 13:38-43), and warned of the "great harvest" of souls at the end of the age (Luke 10:2; Matt. 13:30). He pointed to signs from a fig tree to indicate the nearness of the prophesied End of Days (Matt. 24:32-33). More intimately, oue Lord also used the metaphor of a "vine and its branches" to explain how his followers are to be connected to Him (John 15:1-6).


 




The First Commandment...


 

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

01.25.16 (Shevat 15, 5776)   Rabbi Levi said, "When the Holy One spoke to the people of Israel, each one felt personally spoken to by God, and thus it says in the singular, 'I am the Eternal One, your God.'" Indeed the first commandment at Sinai was to accept the reality of our personal deliverance by the LORD: "I am the LORD your God (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ), who brought you (singular) out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). In fact, the Hebrew text of the Torah reveals that God used the second person singular (not plural) for all the verbs throughout the Ten Commandments: "you (singular) shall have no other gods beside me"; "you (singular) shall not take the Name of the LORD your God in vain," and so on. The very first commandment, however, is the starting point for all that follows. Until you are personally willing to accept the LORD as your God and to trust Him as your own Deliverer and King, the rest of the commandments are not likely to be heeded.
 

אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ
אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם
מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים

a·no·khi · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha
a·sher · ho·tze·ti·kha · me·e·retz · mitz·ra·yim
mi·bet · a·va·dim
 

"I am the LORD your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of the house of slavery"
(Exod. 20:2)

Marc Chagall (detail)

Hebrew Study Card
 

It is noteworthy that God began with the phrase asher hotzetikha me'eretz mitzrayim ("who delivered you from the land of Egypt") instead of identifying Himself as the Creator of heaven and earth (Gen. 1:1). This is because the purpose of creation is to demonstrate God's redemptive love and to be known as our Savior and Redeemer, just as Yeshua is the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9). "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Creation therefore begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Mashiach, the great Lamb of God... He is the Center of Creation - the Aleph and Tav - the Beginning and the End (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:17). All the world was created for the Messiah: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).
 




Parashat Yitro - יתרו


 

01.24.16 (Shevat 14, 5776)  In our Torah portion for this week (parashat Yitro), Moses' father-in-law Jethro (i.e., "Yitro") heard how the Israelites were delivered from their oppression in Egypt and how they had crossed over the Sea into the land of Midian. He then journeyed to the region of Rephidim where his son-in-law told him all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake. Jethro then proclaimed that the LORD is greater than all other gods, and offered up a sacrifice (Exod. 18:1-12).

Seeing the strain the journey had brought upon Moses, however, Jethro wisely advised his son-in-law to appoint a hierarchy of magistrates and judges to help him govern the people, thereby freeing Moses to be a more effective intercessor before the LORD.  Jethro's counsel helped implement a system of justice that became the basis of Jewish social law.

After the third new moon after leaving Egypt (i.e., the 1st day of the month of Sivan), the Israelites encamped opposite Mount Sinai, the place where Moses was initially commissioned. Moses then ascended the mountain, and there God commanded him to tell the leaders that if they would obey the LORD and keep His covenant, then they would be mamlekhet kohanim ve'goy kadosh (מַמְלֶכֶת כּהֲנִים וְגוֹי קָדוֹשׁ) -- a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation." After returning down to deliver this message to the elders, the people responded by proclaiming, kol asher diber Adonai na'aseh ("all that the LORD has spoken, we shall do").  Moses then returned to the mountain and was told to command the people to prepare themselves to experience the presence of God upon the mountain in three days.

According to Jewish tradition, on the morning of the "third day" (i.e., the sixth of Sivan, exactly seven weeks (49 days) after the Exodus), all the children of Israel gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai, where the LORD descended amidst thunder, lightning, billowing smoke, fire, and the voluminous blast of the heavenly shofar. The LORD then declared the foundation of moral conduct required of the people, namely, the Ten Commandments. Because this vision was so overwhelming, the terrified Israelites began beseeching Moses to be their mediator lest they die before the Presence of God.  The portion ends as the people stood far off, while Moses alone drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
 




Celebrate God's Love...


 

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

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

Shabbat Shalom friends! Let's rejoice that we are always welcome in God's Presence because of Yeshua our Lord. It is His heart that makes us good, not our own!
 




God My Salvation...

Marc Chagall Detail
 

01.22.16 (Shevat 12, 5776)  If you are having a tough day today, or if you feel oppressed, lonely, or heavy of heart, let me encourage you to praise God anyway...  Offering thanks to the LORD is a powerful weapon for announcing God's triumph over the darkness of the present hour (2 Cor. 10:4). Indeed, the Lord is "enthroned" by the praises (תְּהִלּוֹת) of His people (Psalm 22:3). Therefore give voice to your hope and confidently affirm: "Behold, God is my salvation (i.e., my yeshua, my "Jesus"); I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation" (Isa. 12:2).
 

הִנֵּה אֵל יְשׁוּעָתִי אֶבְטַח וְלא אֶפְחָד
כִּי־עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ יְהוָה
וַיְהִי־לִי לִישׁוּעָה

hi·nei · el · ye·shu·a·ti · ev·tach · ve·lo ·ef·chad,
ki · o·zi · ve·zim·rat · Yah · Adonai
vai·hi · li · li·shu·ah
 

"Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the LORD God (יָהּ יְהוָה) is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation."
(Isaiah 12:2)

Marc Chagall Detail

Download Study Card
 


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

Behold the goodness and kindness of our God! Where it is written: "Know Him in all your ways" (Prov. 3:6), this of course includes the way of your struggles and the way of your transgressions... Acknowledge these ways before Him, too, and trust that God will help you overcome fear and depart from your sin (Prov. 28:13). As it is said, "Because he is devoted to Me I will deliver him; I will keep him safe, for he knows My Name. When he calls to Me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him My salvation" (Psalm 91:14-16). 

Personal Update:  With the birth of our son Emanuel David this week, it's been especially difficult to find the time to write and share with you over the last few days, so please forgive me... My wife Olga is just trying to get some sleep, while I have been extra busy with my other kids. We went to the doctor yesterday, and the baby and momma are doing okay. Please pray for them, however, since Emanuel was born a bit earlier than anticipated and that leads to various concerns for his well-being, etc. Thank you so much.


 




Baptism into Moses...


 

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

01.22.16 (Shevat 12, 5776)  The Apostle Paul likened the crossing of the sea as a metaphor of baptism: "All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Cor. 10:1-2,11). In the New Testament, baptism symbolizes our identification with Yeshua's death, burial, and resurrection (Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:3-5). The Israelites were facing death and were therefore at the "end of themselves." They had no other appeal or hope than God's gracious intervention on their behalf (i.e., salvation). Still, they needed to act and move forward. After they took the step of faith, they could see the Shekhinah Glory lighting up the way of deliverance, though this meant being "buried" within the midst of the sea. Their earlier fear of death was replaced with a song of God's great deliverance (shirat hayam). The other side of the sea represents new life in the Messiah, the life that comes from above, by the power and agency of the Holy Spirit... The Israelites died to their old life, were symbolically buried in the waters, but arose to new freedom by the grace and power of God...

 

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




Faith and Collision...


 

01.22.16 (Shevat 12, 5776)  Both the theology and philosophy of the Messiah (i.e., hashkafah: השקפה, "vision" or "outlook") insists that truth matters, and that knowing the truth about God is absolutely essential for life itself.  Nothing is more important; nothing is more vital. As Yeshua solemnly affirmed: "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world -- to bear witness to the truth (ἵνα μαρτυρήσω τῇ ἀληθεία); everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37). Indeed he also said: "This is eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם), that they may know you, the only true God (אֶל־אֱמֶת), and Yeshua the Messiah (יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ) whom you have sent (John 17:3). Note that the Hebrew word for knowledge is da'at (דַּעַת), a word that implies intimate cognitive differentiation and the apprehension of spiritual reality. Your life is a venture of faith, an irrepeatable, infinitely costly venture. Faith both affirms and negates at the same time. Like falling in love with someone, the cost of passionately believing that Yeshua (alone) is the "way and the truth and the life" comes at the expense of other faith possibilities -- and thereby incurs the risk of offense (Rom. 9:33, 1 Pet. 2:7-8; Gal. 5:11, Matt. 24:8-11; etc.). Does this make faith in Messiah intolerant then? Not at all... All faith expressions - including skepticism, universalism, or "politically correct" humanism - are exclusivistic commitments to whatever the believer embraces as his or her "ground of ultimate concern." Each person has their own "narrow gate" -- though this gate does not necessarily lead to life. Yeshua taught that the "narrow gateway of life" (שַּׁעַר אֶל־הַחַיִּים) is found only by the few (Matt. 7:13-14), and this doubtlessly was said to reprove the mob mentality that regards "tolerance" as the greatest of all virtues and fanaticism as the greatest of all evils. There is safety in numbers, the mob reasons, and the life of genuine conviction makes you an outcast of the group, since it exposes the "groupthink" and its inevitable moral evasions.... Public enemy number one is the person of real conviction. This was true in the days of the Hebrew prophets as it is today. "The voice crying in the wilderness" often cries alone.

Our faith says humans are created be'tzelem Elohim - in the image of God.  "In the beginning was the Logos" (John 1:1). Logic itself is "hard-wired" into us and any attempt to deny its validity presupposes its existence.  Logic also presupposes any form of experience, since we cannot even identify something without its categories at work. Similarly, the sense of value is hard-wired into us.  We cannot know anything without valuing (and willing) knowledge itself, and therefore our sense of value (and goodness) precedes all experience. So both empirical and moral truth is inescapable for self-conscious individuals. Now since faith is always faith in something, it is evident that it points to something "outside" of itself, namely, to reality. In matters of fact (rather than tautological statements such as a=a), the "belief that p" is an existential statement that "p exists." A particular belief can be mistaken, of course, but if it is a true belief then (by definition) it must proximally correspond to reality. In other words, our beliefs are confessions of faith concerning what is ultimately real.

Note: For more on this subject, see "Faith and Collision."
 




Amalek and Spiritual Warfare...


 

01.21.16 (Shevat 11, 5776)  In our Torah for this week (Beshalach) we read how "Amalek" attacked the Israelites after they had miraculously crossed over the sea into a new life of freedom (Exod. 17:8). Spiritually speaking the Amalekites aligned themselves with the wicked Pharaoh of Egypt and therefore they sought to continue the war against God's people. Apparently the Amalekite clan in Canaan was founded by a grandson of Esau (Gen. 36:12,16), though Amalek is also listed as the "first among the nations," a man who even predated the time of Abraham (Num. 24:20, Gen. 14:7). In Augustine's terms, Amalek represents the "City of the World," whereas Israel represents the "City of God."

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

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

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




Stepping out in Faith...


 

01.20.16 (Shevat 10, 5776)  From our Torah this week (i.e., parashat Beshalach) we read how Israel was trapped before the sea with no way of escape... Moses then cried out to God who told him to march forward -- right into the waters -- as the Pillar of Cloud settled between the people and Pharaoh's advancing army. According to a well-known midrash, when Moses lifted his staff to divide the sea, at first nothing happened. The people waited anxiously at the seashore, wondering what to do. Finally, Nachshon ben Aminadav, a descendant of Judah (Num. 1:7), waded into the water "up to his nose," and then the winds began blowing to divide the waters (Shemot Rabbah). The great miracle of kriat yam suf - the splitting of the sea - therefore resulted because someone found real courage and took a step of faith: "And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall (חוֹמָה) to them on their right hand and on their left" (Exod. 14:22). They marched across the sea all that night (i.e., Nisan 21), under the light of the Shekhinah Glory...

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

Update:  Here's quick update over here: Baby Emanuel and Olga are doing well, though please pray for Olga -- she suffers from postpartum depression and can get despondent after giving birth.  Please ask Abba to comfort her. We need get to the doctor three times this week and we're all tired.  Our six year old son Judah is also sick. Thanks for praying...
 




Heaven's Alphabet...


 

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

01.19.16 (Shevat 9, 5776)  A verse from our Torah portion this week (Exod. 16:16) contains all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (i.e., aleph (א), bet (בּ), gimmel (ג), etc.).  The special verse reads, "This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer (עמֶר), according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.'" Since this refers to the manna the Israelites were to collect for their daily bread, and this verse contains all the letters of the alphabet, we may poetically infer that if we immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, "from Aleph (א) to Tav (ת)," God will provide us with the "daily bread" (לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ) we need, just as He did when the bread from heaven (לֶחֶם מִן־הַשָּׁמָיִם) was miraculously given to feed the Israelites in the desert. Therefore Yeshua, who is the Aleph and Tav, taught us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," which surely refers to the spiritual food (i.e., encouragement, hope, life) that we receive from the Word of Life (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4).

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

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


 



 

It's a Boy!
 


 

01.18.16 (Shevat 8, 5776)  Please welcome to the world our new son, Emanuel David Parsons, born Sunday, January 17th at 8:21 pm (i.e., Shevat 7th, 5776). Emanuel was born a little earlier than we expected and weighed in at 7.2 pounds, measuring 20" long.  We praise the LORD God of Israel our Savior for this amazing blessing, and we ask for your prayers for our child. Olga and the baby are doing fine, though we are all exhausted... More to come.

Left-to-right: 1. my beautiful wife Olga; 2. our new baby boy; 3. John holds his new son;
4. our baby being examined, weighed, etc., 5. Judah, Josiah, Olga and our new baby
 




Shabbat Shirah - שַׁבַּת שִׁירָה


 

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

01.18.16 (Shevat 8, 5776)  Perhaps the central event of this week's Torah portion is how the LORD split the waters of the sea to make a path for His people to escape from Egypt. This event is commemorated in the great "Song the Sea" (i.e., Shirat Hayam: שִׁירַת הַיָּם), a hymn praising God for His deliverance (see Exod. 15:1-21). Because of its critical significance for the Jewish people, the Sabbath on which this song is chanted is called Shabbat Shirah ("Sabbath of the Song"), and the custom is for all the congregation to rise while it is recited...

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

Shirat Hayam
 

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

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




Parashat Beshalach - בשלח


 

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

01.17.16 (Shevat 7, 5776)  Last week's Torah portion (i.e., parashat Bo) described how the Israelites were finally delivered from their bondage in Egypt after God issued the decisive plague during the time of Passover.  In this week's portion (Beshalach), the Israelites began their journey home, after 430 years of exile. Instead of leading them along a direct route to the Promised Land, however, the LORD directed them south, toward the desert, where the Glory of God appeared as a Pillar of Cloud by day and as a Pillar of Fire by night to lead them on their way. When Pharaoh heard that the Israelites were at the border of the desert, however, he perversely decided to pursue them and bring them back to Egypt. God then redirected the Israelites to camp near the edge of the Sea of Reeds, where the Egyptian army finally caught up with them. Dramatically, the Israelites were caught between the sea on one side, and Pharaoh's army on the other...

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



 

Shabbat Shirah - שַׁבַּת שִׁירָה

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

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

 




A Holy Suspense...

Photo by John J Parsons
 

01.15.16 (Shevat 5, 5776)  The walk of faith is one of "holy suspense," trusting that God is on the other side of the next moment, "preparing a place for you" (John 14:3). In the present, then, we live in unknowing dependence, walking by faith, not by sight. For "hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he sees?" (Rom. 8:24). This is the existential posture of faith - walking in darkness while completely trusting in God's care. Our task at any given moment is always the same - to look to God and to accept His will. This is where time and eternity meet within us, where God's kingdom is revealed in our hearts.
 

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

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

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



Download Study Card
 

The Ruach HaKodesh (Spirit of holiness and love) breathes out: "I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them" (Isa. 42:16). Shabbat Shalom, friends...
 




A Blessed Hunger...


 

01.15.16 (Shevat 5, 5776)  The first words of Yeshua recorded in John's Gospel are a question: "What are you seeking?" And the second express an invitation: "Come and see..." (John 1:38-39). The problem with many of us is not that we are so hungry, but rather that we are not hungry enough... We settle for junk food when God spreads out his banqueting table before us. There is a "deeper hunger" for life, and I pray we are all touched by such hunger pangs; there is a "blessed hunger and thirst" that feeds our heart's cry for God (Matt. 5:6); there is a "divine discontent" that leads to a deeper sense of contentment for the heart... If you are feeling empty today, ask God to feed you with His life-giving food. The Spirit of the Living God calls out, "Seek Me and live" (Amos 5:4).
 

כִּי כה אָמַר יְהוָה לְבֵית יִשְׂרָאֵל
דִּרְשׁוּנִי וִחְיוּ

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

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



Download Study Card
 




The Meaning of Passover...


 

01.14.16 (Shevat 4, 5776)  In Parashat Bo we read about the institution of Passover and the final terrible plague that would befall the Egyptians on Passover night. When we think of this time, we may imagine God "passing over" those houses that had the blood of the lamb smeared on their doorposts, though it might better be said that God passed into the homes of those who trusted him, while he withdrew His Presence from those that did not...

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

For more on this topic, see the Passover article, "Crossing over the Doorposts..."
 




The Limping Messiah...


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Bo, and the exodus from Egypt... ]

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

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




The Great Lamb of God...


 

01.14.16 (Shevat 4, 5776)  From our Torah portion this week (parashat Bo) we learn that though God instructed each household to select its own lamb for the Passover, the Torah refers to "the" Lamb of God, as if there was only one: "You shall keep it [i.e., the Passover lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter him (אתוֹ) at twilight (Exod. 12:6). Note that the direct object "him" (i.e., oto) can be read as Aleph-Tav (את) combined with the letter Vav (ו), signifying the Son of Man who is First and Last... Indeed there is only one "Lamb of God" that takes away the sins of the world, and that is our Savior, Yeshua the Messiah...
 

רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה

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

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



Hebrew Study Card

 




Theology of Suffering...


 

[ The following may be a bit "deep" if you have never studied the philosophy of religion, but I hope it may be helpful as you consider some of the ways people try to explain why God allows suffering in this world... Please skip it if it doesn't help you. Shalom.  ]

01.14.16 (Shevat 4, 5776)  How we answer the question of why we suffer depends on how we interpret its meaning and its potential purpose in our lives. Does God orchestrate suffering for our ultimate good, as part of his plan for our lives, or does God respond to our suffering and seek to heal us from its influence? In other words, should we accept suffering as "inside" God's master plan for our lives, or somehow "outside" of that plan?

Such a question is surely not academic, since genuine suffering threatens our basic need to understand what is happening to us (and why), and therefore our heart cries out for a reason for our loss and pain.  Indeed seemingly pointless suffering can lead to bitterness, chronic depression, the loss of faith, and even suicide, so it is vital to attempt to understand its function in our lives and to find hope in our struggles. After all, without some reason for suffering, some "why" that we can use to navigate and interpret our struggle, we may begin to feel victimized, prisoners of an absurd and pain-riddled world...

Most people of faith in the Hebrew Scriptures infer that there is a divine purpose for everything (i.e., the "principle of sufficient reason") which is grounded and determined in God's sovereign will. God is the Supreme Power who orchestrates history and its redemption according to a divine plan. The Lamb was slain from the "foundation of the world." The Lord is Ribbono Shel Olam, the "Master of the Universe," who directs all things after the counsel of his own will and in accordance with his sovereign good pleasure (see Isa. 40:13; Eph. 1:3-12; Rom. 8:28). This understanding implies that suffering is "inside" God's plan, not something "outside" of it, since by allowing suffering God in effect decrees its occurrence. Whatever touches our lives is bound up in God's overarching plan for creation, and since God is perfectly good, we can trust his plan for us, even if we suffer in this life (Jer. 29:11).

This exegetical approach to the question of why we suffer flows from various Biblical premises that God our Creator is infinite in power, wisdom, and love. Surely God can do anything he desires, and whatever He chooses is the best, which implies that this is the "best of all possible worlds," and - mystically accepted -- that everything is perfect -- even if we cannot fathom the deep purposes behind God's decrees (Isa. 55:8-9). Nothing is impossible for God (Luke 1:37); God never makes mistakes; God is not unaware, asleep, or unable to intervene in our lives. Indeed, God's power sustains the world at every moment, from the realm of the subatomic to the realm of cosmic (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:16-17). And since God is supremely loving, compassionate, and perfectly good, we can trust his plan and feel secure that "all is well, and all manner of thing shall be well," even when we are in darkness (Isa. 50:10).

Perhaps the biggest objection to this optimistic view has to do with what appears to be "gratuitous" evil, such as senseless murders, "horrendous" evils such as wars of aggression and genocide, and "natural" evils such as earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and so on. It is difficult to fit such tragedies into a "perfect world scenario," and human outrage instinctively seeks for an alternative explanation. For instance, wouldn't the universe be better -- all other things being equal -- if just one child was not murdered rather than murdered? In other words, to successfully object to the idea that this is "the best of all possible worlds," we need to find only one logically possible counterexample which in turn would cast doubt upon the meaning of the original premises.... Put another way, are we prepared to say that it is necessary for God's perfect plan that every actual evil occurs, or can we say that it is at least possible that a world without one of these evils would be better than a world with it?

A different approach to the problem of why we suffer begins by rejecting the idea that suffering is "inside" God's plan, but instead should be regarded as "outside," as an alien force resulting from disobedience to God's moral will. Suffering is not an essential part of God's plan, but a derived part, a corollary to disobedience. Indeed, God's ultimate plan is to remove our suffering by means of our free response to his healing love. God "restricts" himself (tzimtzum) or "empties" himself (κενόω) to allow creatures some measure of real choice.  Sin is the abuse of freedom for which God cannot be held responsible, and therefore suffering arises as a consequence for turning away from the reality of God's good will.

The appeal of this view is that it seems to make sense of the common "language of imperative" found in the Scriptures. Over and over we are commanded to love God, to love others as ourselves, to pursue justice, to walk in mercy, to do righteousness, and so on. We have a duty to serve God and follow the truth. "Ought implies can," and therefore the commands of Scripture imply that it is our responsibility to choose what is right and good, and to refrain from doing what is wrong and evil. In other words, it is up to us to turn to God and walk in his ways, and it's our failure to yield our will to God's direction (Torah) that leads to delusional thinking, and finally to suffering, pain, and death itself...

The "free will defense" (of God's goodness despite the presence of evil) as it's sometimes called, is not without complications, however. For instance, if we say that God cannot cause free moral agents to do what is right, and therefore that he must create them with the capability to choose evil, then this implies that God created the possibility for evil, and that when this possibility is considered in relation to God's foreknowledge, this further implies that God created moral agents knowing they would choose evil over good. However, if suffering is not "inside" God's plan, it is hard to understand why God wouldn't have created truly free moral agents who always choose the good in the first place. Certainly that is not a logical impossibility. Indeed, as Augustine said regarding the question of obedience and freedom, at first Adam and Eve were "able to sin" (posse peccare); but after they disobeyed God, they were infected with spiritual death and rendered "unable not to sin" (non posse non peccare). After regeneration through Yeshua, the soul is "able not to sin" (posse non peccare), though in heaven, finally, the soul will be "unable to sin" (non posse peccare), that is, free from the the possibility and presence of sin.

Let me explain this a bit futher. According to Augustine, when God created man, he was in a state of "innocence" wherein he was entirely free to chose either to sin or not. After Adam sinned, however, death entered into the human race and the state of soul of all the descendants of Adam and Eve thereby became "unregenerated" (i.e., spiritually dead). Man's ability to choose was vitiated and he became enslaved to self-interest, driven by fear, and engulfed in spiritual darkness. His state of being as a "natural man" precluded him from apprehending the truth and living according to its light.  After spiritual rebirth and "regeneration," however, the soul is "made alive" (ζωοποιεω) by the Holy Spirit and made free from the "law of sin and death," i.e., the power of sin. This does not mean, however, that the regenerated soul is able to attain a state of moral perfection and entirely cease from sinning, since the process of sanctification involves apprehending the soul's new identity through the ongoing practice of faith. Finally, the state of soul in olam haba -- the world to come -- is one wherein the soul is "glorified" and accorded the power both not to sin and the everlasting grace to be unable to sin against God. This is the heavenly state - the Holy Mountain - where the very presence of sin will forever be eradicated. If God will orchestrate such and end, why could he not have done so from the beginning?

A troubling implication of the classical "free will" defense, however, is that the possibility for doing evil seems necessary to be a free moral agent, which seems to suggest that evil is eternal... Like the (dubious) logic that claims we cannot know light apart from darkness, love apart from hate, and peace apart from strife, etc., so we will need these contradistinctions forever. But it seems contrary to the promise of Scripture that God will wipe every every tear from our eyes in the world to come, yet the language of pain will be known as well...
 

עַד־אָנָה יְהוָה תִּשְׁכָּחֵנִי נֶצַח
עַד־אָנָה תַּסְתִּיר אֶת־פָּנֶיךָ מִמֶּנִּיָ


ad  a·nah  Adonai  tish·ka·chei·ni  ne·tzach?
ad  a·nah  tas·tir  et-pa·ney·kha  mi·me·ni?
 

"How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?" (Psalm 13:1)



Download Study Card
 


The "free will defense of God" is popular because it permits us to feel outrage over suffering and evil without blaming God.  Suffering is not something God intended for us (it is "outside" his plan), and therefore we must fight against it. Nevertheless we can make a distinction between evil and suffering, and though we agree that God does not will us evil, he may indeed will that we suffer, if that suffering "upbuilds the soul" or transforms our character to reveal the truth of Christ. The Chasidic School has said, "Man descends in order to ascend," meaning that the battle with yetzer hara (the "lower nature") is meant to strengthen us and develop qualities that we could otherwise not know. The Chassidic masters must have read Kierkegaard, who called suffering the process of being "educated for eternity." This world of shadows and decay is not our true home, and suffering is God's way of calling us away from the allure of its illusions. We only become a person, a self, in relationship with eternity, and suffering turns the soul's gaze away from the fleeting to the truth that unifies and heals us. As C.S. Lewis said, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

Marcel Proust once said, "To wisdom and goodness we make only promises; pain we obey," which I interpret to mean that suffering can teach us and help us develop into mature people. God "purges" the vine branches; he cuts back and reshapes our growth and direction (John 15:1-8). Our suffering builds endurance and strength, and unites us deeply with God's heart, with the goal of being glorified with Yeshua (Rom. 8:17). Suffering teaches us empathy, compassion, and humility, and God comforts us in our afflictions so that we can comfort others with the comfort we have been given by God (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

God graciously "delivers our soul from death, our eyes from tears, and our feet from stumbling" (Psalm 116:8) so that we are enabled to express his compassionate love to others in our lives... "For as we share abundantly in Messiah's sufferings, so we share abundantly in consolation (παράκλησις) of the Messiah, too" (1 Cor. 1:5). Therefore we can say, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort (אלהֵי כָּל־נֶחָמָה), who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Note that Paul links our present suffering (πάθος, pathos) with a divinely imparted comfort (παράκλησις, "paraklesis"), which he regards as a state of blessedness. God Himself "calls us to His side" (from παρά + καλέω) in the midst of our afflictions and pain.... The Greek text reads, ὁ παρακαλῶν ἡμᾶς ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ θλίψει ἡμῶν, and might be better rendered as, "The one calling to us [to His side] in all our tribulations" (2 Cor. 1:4). God invites us to come to His side for comfort so that we might offer his comfort to a lost and pain-riddled world.

In this view, suffering is "inside" God's plan as a means of ultimately healing us. Indeed, far from being a sign of God's abandonment, suffering is transformed to be a means of God's care for us. We are disciplined by God to bear a greater good (Heb. 12:7-11); we learn to endure trials for the sake of knowing and sharing the miracle of God's comforting love.

There are some other attempts to put suffering "outside" of God's plan that might be mentioned here. Some people regard life in this world as a cosmic battlefield and blame the devil for all the suffering and evil we experience. The proper response is not to blame God but rather to join Him in the battle of the ages against evil.

The traditional "problem of evil" may be stated that the three sentences: 1) God is all good; 2) God is all powerful; and 3) evil exists, are incompatible, if not logically, then at least existentially. The empirical philosopher David Hume succinctly put the problem this way: "Is He willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is impotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Whence then is evil?" (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion). In other words, if God is all good he would want to eliminate evil, and if God is all powerful he is able to eliminate evil, and yet evil exists, so we are left with the choice of accepting any two of these statements at the expense of the third. For example, someone could affirm that God is all good and evil exists, but God is unable to overpower evil; or someone could say that God is both all good and all powerful, and therefore (ultimately speaking) evil does not exist, and so on. Some people attempt to make suffering "outside" of God's will by denying his omnipotence -- by claiming that God literally cannot overcome evil because he has given moral agents their own sovereign will to choose...  God can't remove evil the way he can't make a square circle or cause 2+2 to equal 5.  Others say that God does not know the future because reality is a process, and not a set of facts, and God simply leaves room for personal choices that are not predetermined to occur.

It should be clear that these other approaches are contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture, since God is the God of Truth (אֵל אֱמֶת) who indeed knows the beginning from the end, and indeed God's understanding and power are infinite (Psalm 147:5; Isa. 40:28; Psalm 145:3; Rom. 11:33). God is perfect in all his ways (Deut. 32:4). The Judge of the earth shall always do what is right (Gen. 18:25). Moreover God is utterly holy, absolute in moral perfections, and his will is beyond reproach. Additionally, Yeshua knew the truth value of "counterfactual conditionals" (Matt. 11:21-23), so it is simply incorrect to suppose that God cannot foresee future possibilities as well as actualities. God knows the truth conditions of all possible worlds, just as God knows the outcome of all actualized possibilities in the actual world.

Among those of us who trust God and the words of our Lord Yeshua the Savior, however, we are faced with paradox, with mystery, and therefore we must learn to accept that we "see through a glass darkly" (1 Cor. 13:12). On the one hand we unreservedly believe that God is the sole Authority of reality, the Master of the universe who decrees and ordains all things perfectly. God knows the number of the hairs on our head; he knows our thoughts before we think them and our words before we utter them (Psalm 139); he knows the bloom of every hidden wildflower and when the sparrow falls (Matt. 10:29). Surely He is our Good Shepherd who leads us through the world and orders all things to work together for our good (Rom. 8:28). His promises are secure because God is in control, and God's Name YHVH (יהוה) means that he is the Faithful One who reigns over all states of being and time, in every realm of existence. God is Eternal and therefore he is the Possessor of Eternal Life, Truth, Being, and so on. YHVH is Lord of lords and King of kings whose word can never fail (Deut. 10:17; Dan. 2:47). Ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו): "there is no power apart from Him" (Deut. 4:35,9). Because our great God is in control of our lives and future, he must ordain suffering for us with only benevolent and healing intent.

On the other hand, the imperative language of Scripture implies that we have a real duty and responsibility to do truth, to love others, to receive the light, to trust in God, and so on. Like the rich man who asked Yeshua how to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17-22), God does not force us to follow him or to accept his love, though there are real consequences for those who willingly choose to disregard moral and spiritual reality. Nevertheless, and this is the problem given in the Book of Job, it is very often the righteous that suffer, while the wicked prosper, and it this breakdown of the principle of "karma" that is most problematic...

In the end the question of why creatures suffer may be an unanswerable question, at least at the present time, because we are not omniscient and cannot ascertain the deepest reaches of God's redemptive purposes. Nevertheless we presently groan and seek for answers, because suffering is a ubiquitous part of our experience (צַעַר בַּעֲלֵי חַיִּים), and it threatens our sense of God's care for our lives... The academic question of how to reconcile faith in God with the prevalence of suffering is very different than the life of faith itself, where we trust God's heart, even if we cannot understand why things happen the way they do. Like a small child, we take hold of our heavenly Father's hand, not knowing why he is leading us the way we are going, but trusting in his care every step of the way.

Necessarily every human being is a theologian of sorts, since thinking about what is ultimately real is inescapable, especially when we are confronted with questions regarding life and death.... The issue often isn't whether a person will believe in God, but rather how he or she will approach the question of God's Presence in light of suffering. Part of the difference between a "theology of rebellion" and a "theology of hope" is that rebellion is a mode of the intellectual (i.e., a deification of logic, a demand for temporal and this-worldly justice, and so on), whereas hope is a mode of personal trust (i.e., a "letting go" of the demand for answers in order to surrender to love).  When you encounter God as the lover of your soul, you begin to apprehend the truth that "love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude; it does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth" (1 Cor. 13:4-6). Being in a genuine love-relationship with God gives you the courage to face the ambiguity of a world filled with suffering with hope and compassion.
 

    "If the world exists not chiefly that we may love God but that God may love us, yet that very fact, on a deeper level, is so for our sakes. If He who in Himself can lack nothing chooses to need us, it is because we need to be needed. Before and behind all the relations of God to man, as we now learn them from Christianity, yawns the abyss of a Divine act of pure giving—the election of man, from nonentity, to be the beloved of God, and therefore (in some sense) the needed and desired of God, who but for that act needs and desires nothing, since He eternally has, and is, all goodness. And that act is for our sakes. It is good for us to know love; and best for us to know the love of the best object, God. But to know it as a love in which we were primarily the wooers and God the wooed, in which we sought and He was found, in which His conformity to our needs, not ours to His, came first, would be to know it in a form false to the very nature of things. For we are only creatures: our role must always be that of patient to agent, female to male, mirror to light, echo to voice. Our highest activity must be response, not initiative. To experience the love of God in a true, and not an illusory form, is therefore to experience it as our surrender to His demand, our conformity to His desire: to experience it in the opposite way is, as it were, a solecism against the grammar of being." - The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis
     


Note:  Of course this brief discussion merely scratches the surface of the meaning of suffering for those who believe in God. There are a large number of books that address the problem of suffering in better detail, and I would recommend Richard Rice's book "Suffering and the Search for Meaning" as a good place to start exploring some of the basic issues. Some other books include: "Wandering in Darkness" by Eleaonore Stump; "Suffering and the Courage of God" by Robert Morris; "The Problem of Pain" by C.S. Lewis; "Walking with God through Pain and Suffering," by Timothy Keller; "God, Freedom, and Evil" by Alvin Plantiga; "Pathways in Theodicy: An Introduction to the Problem of Evil" by Mark Scott; "The Many Faces of Evil" by John Feinberg; and "Philosophy of Religion" by C.S. Evans and R. Zachary Manis.  Also see "Musings about Suffering," "Paradox and Presence," "The Devil's Logic," "A Dangerous Schooling," and "The Power of Hope," on the Hebrew for Christians web site.
 




Retelling the Story...


 

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

01.13.16 (Shevat 3, 5776)  In our Torah reading for this week we are commanded to retell "in the hearing of your son and your grandson" how the LORD mocked (הִתְעַלַּלְתִּי) the Egyptians "and performed great wonders to deliver us, so that you may know that I am the LORD" (Exod. 10:2). This commandment is the basis of the Passover haggadah (i.e., הַגָּדָה, "telling"), or the "oral tradition" of our faith, when we personally retell the story from generation to generation so that the spirit of the message is not lost. We participate in the seder to make it "our own story," a part of who we are. Therefore be'khol-dor vador: "Every Jew must consider himself to have been personally redeemed from Egypt." Retelling the story of the exodus enables us to "know that I am the LORD" (וִידַעְתֶּם כִּי־אֲנִי יְהוָה). We recall the words, bishvili nivra ha'olam – "For my sake was this world created," while we also recall the words, anokhi afar ve'efer – "I am but dust and ashes." When we retell the story of the great redemption, we strengthen our faith and better know the LORD.

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




Exodus and Freedom...


 

[ The following concerns the Exodus from Egypt and our Torah reading, parashat Bo... ]

01.13.16 (Shevat 3, 5776)  God's redemption is both "out of" and "into." The LORD takes us out of hell, bondage, and death into heaven, liberty, and eternal life. But note that he takes us out only to bring us back in; he redeems us to bring us to Sinai; he writes Torah upon our hearts; he makes us "in but not of" the world (John 17:15-16). Every Passover we retell the story of our redemption. We remember how we bitterly cried because of our bondage and how God graciously delivered us by the blood of the lamb. We rejoice that we are called am segulah (עַם סְגֻלָּה) - God's selected "treasured people." Because of God's love demonstrated at the cross, we are transferred (μεθίστημι) from the realm of darkness into the kingdom of the Divine Presence (Col. 1:13). Today may we live as salt and light to a perverse world, sharing the message of God's great liberation from the power of sin, death, and evil...





Abraham's Dark Vision...


 

[ The following concerns the Exodus from Egypt and our Torah reading, parashat Bo... ]

01.12.16 (Shevat 2, 5776)  In Parashat Bo we arrive at the successful conclusion of the LORD's campaign to free Israel from bondage in Egypt.  Immediately following the description of ninth plague (i.e., the plague of darkness), redemption through the sacrifice of the Passover lamb (קָרְבָּן פֶּסַה) is explained.  The Jewish people were saved by the blood of the lamb, just as today we call upon Yeshua as the Lamb of God.  And indeed our father Abraham foresaw the deliverance of God's people (Gen. 12:17; Gen. 15:12-14; John 8:56, etc.).

Regarding the sequence of the plagues, Rabbi Bechaye (11th century, Spain) wrote that they followed one another over a twelve-month period. On Nisan 15 God spoke to Moses from the burning bush and commissioned him to go to Pharaoh. On Nisan 21, Moses told his father-in-law Yitro (Jethro) of his mission and left for Egypt.  Near the end of the month of Nisan, Moses immediately went before Pharaoh and warned him to release the Jews. For the next three months (Iyyar, Sivan, and Tammuz), Moses went into hiding and instructed the elders of Israel regarding their coming deliverance. The plague of blood began on the first of Av and lasted seven days.  A respite of three weeks occurred before the next plague (frogs). This was the pattern for all the ten plagues (i.e., roughly a plague a month). The last plague - that of the death of the firstborn - occurred in the month of Nisan, a year after Moses first warned Pharaoh (Exod. 4:22-23). The period of the plagues therefore totaled twelve full months, at least according to respected Jewish tradition (Tzenah Urenah).

Here is a simplified diagram of the sequence given in the midrash:


 

For more on this, see "The Sequence of the Plagues: Further thoughts on Parashat Bo."
 




The New Pharaoh's Dream...


 

[ The following concerns the great Exodus from Egypt and our Torah reading, parashat Bo... ]

01.12.16 (Shevat 2, 5776)  According to midrash, just as the Pharaoh during the time of Joseph was troubled by his dreams (Gen. 41:1-7), so was the "new king" that arose during the time of Moses. In the new Pharaoh's dream, an old man was standing before him as he sat on his throne, holding a balance in his hand. The old man placed all the nobles and governors of Egypt on one side of the balance, and on the other side, he placed one small lamb. To Pharaoh's astonishment, however, the lamb outweighed all the leaders of Egypt! When the king asked his advisors to interpret the dream, they said it foretold of a coming king who would overthrow the kingdom of Egypt and set the Israelites free. This coming one would excel in wisdom and his name would be remembered forever as the Savior of Israel.

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

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




Trusting God's Heart...


 

01.12.16 (Shevat 2, 5776)  If you can't detect God's hand in your circumstances, then trust His heart... The heart of faith affirms: gam zu l'tovah (גַּם זוּ לְטוֹבָה): "This too is for good," even if the present hour may be shrouded in darkness... Whenever I am confused about life (which is often enough), I try to remember what God said to Moses after the tragic sin of the Golden Calf: "I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my Name, 'The LORD' (יהוה). And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy" (Exod. 33:19). God's character does not change: the LORD is the same "yesterday, today, and forever." The meaning of the Name, however, cannot be known apart from understanding the need of the heart....

What is God like - what is His heart - is the first question, and how we answer that will determine how we deal with all the other questions that come up in theology... What do you feel inside when you stare up at the ceiling before you go to bed? In light of the ambiguity and heartaches of life we might wonder if God is there for us. Does God care? Is He angry at me? Does He really love me? This is the raw place of faith, where we live in the midst of our questions. The Name YHVH means "He is present," even when we are unconscious of His Presence in the hour of our greatest need.
 

יוֹם אִירָא אֲנִי אֵלֶיךָ אֶבְטָח

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

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



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




Breath Prayers...


 

01.12.16 (Shevat 2, 5776)  In times of severe testing people often do not need further teaching, but rather "endurance," or what the New Testament calls hupomone (ὑπομονή), a word that means "remaining [μένω] by [ὑπο]" the Divine Presence while being tested. Suffering people do not need moral platitudes from others, but only the will to believe, the resolution to stay constant, and to ability breathe out simple prayers for help to the LORD: "God have mercy..." "Help me, O God..." "I need Thee, O Lord..." When we receive grace to faithfully suffer, may we be able to hear the Spirit whispering back to us: "Be not afraid..." "Live in me..." "Walk in the light..." "I am with you always..." "You are loved..."
 

רְפָאֵנִי יְהוָה וְאֵרָפֵא
הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי וְאִוָּשֵׁעָה כִּי תְהִלָּתִי אָתָּה

 re·fa·ei·ni · Adonai · ve·ei·ra·fei
ho·shi·ei·ni · ve·iv·va·shei·ah, · ki · te·hil·la·ti · at·tah
 

"Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise."
(Jer. 17:14)



Download Study Card
 

Yeshua taught us to abstain from using "vain repetitions" in our prayers, since our Father knows what we need before we ask Him (Matt. 6:7-8). Don't worry about the verbiage of your prayers, then, but attend to the inner groan of your heart (Rom. 8:26). When you are severely tested, you may have to keep on asking, especially if you are in pain. God knows the language of our sorrows and wounds... "When you pray, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words be without heart" (John Bunyan). 
 




Incomprehensibilty and Faith...


 

01.12.16 (Shevat 2, 5776)  I often struggle with pain that sometimes so overwhelms me that all I can do is cry out to God for mercy, to ask Him for a moment of respite, and to plead (again and again) for divine healing...  In the midst of this agony my heart sometimes desperately cries out, "Where is God in this harrowing moment?" I am pressed to the edge of death itself, and though I have been delivered, often there is a residual "aftershock" that leaves me exhausted and bewildered. The trouble is not one of unbelief, but rather of belief itself: I do not doubt that God sees and knows my anguish, nor do I question his great love for me... Still, what troubles me is the incomprehensibility of the struggle, the rawness of the fight, even as I recover from intense wrestling near the edge itself. I quote Miguel de Unamuno in this connection: "Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God Himself." And perhaps this is the hidden blessing of such extreme affliction, for it throws me upon God and makes me as viscerally desperate for him as someone who is drowning gasps for his next breath of air...

Lord, when I feel lost and alone, remind me again how you have found me, how you have prepared a place for me, and that's all I really need to be home... If I must suffer, please let it neither embitter nor shatter me. If I cry out in protest or despair, accept my heartache and grant me your compassion and comfort. When my faith falters, reveal to me that you are always near. Help me, Yeshua, to chose life this day. Amen.
 




Facing our Pharaohs...


 

01.11.16 (Shevat 1, 5776)  The sages sometimes "allegorize" the Exodus into a parable about the journey of faith. Moses represents our heart called by God, whereas Pharaoh represents our sin nature and the tyranny of the ego... Like Moses we are called by God to "go to Pharaoh," that is, to confront what keeps us from experiencing our freedom. The "heart of Pharaoh" represents our cynical and hardened self – the defensive ego that is fearful and marked by unhealed grief. We must face this "Pharaoh" and courageously demand to be set free to serve the LORD. The power of Pharaoh represents the "surface" of things - the world and its burdens, its fleeting vanities, its ongoing "need" to control others, and so on. Salvation (יְשׁוּעָה) is likened to rebirth that delivers us from the "narrow places of Egypt" (i.e., from mitzrayim: , "from," and צַר, "narrow") into newness of life...

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




Pride and Self-Destruction...


 

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

01.11.16 (Shevat 1, 5776)  Our Torah this week centers on the liberation of Israel from Egypt, and the journey from the narrow spaces of "mitzraim" into the realm of freedom. In this connection we note that freedom does not mean merely "freedom from" oppression, servitude, and so on, but "freedom to" serve God with dignity and purpose... The Passover leads directly to the revelation of the Torah, where we learn that real freedom is the power to chose the righteous path... We are never more free than when we serve God.

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

לִפְנֵי־שֶׁבֶר גָּאוֹן
וְלִפְנֵי כִשָּׁלוֹן גּבַהּ רוּחַ

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 




The Exodus Parable...


 

01.10.16 (Tevet 29, 5776)  The great exodus from Egypt (יציאת מצרים) is the central parable of the Torah. The bondage of the Israelites to Pharaoh represents humanity's slavery to sin; God's deliverance from bondage is effected by trusting in the blood of the sacrificial lamb of God; the passage from death to life symbolically comes through baptism into the Sea of Reeds; the journey to truth represents the pilgrimage to Sinai, and so on. Indeed, the redemption in Egypt led directly to revelation given at Sinai, and when the LORD God gave the Ten Commandments, he did not begin by saying he was our Creator, but rather our Redeemer: "I am the LORD your God (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ), who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). This is because the purpose of the creation itself is to demonstrate God's redemptive love and to be known as our Savior and Redeemer, just as Yeshua is the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9). "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Creation therefore begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Messiah, the great Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) and our Savior (מוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ)... He is the Center of Creation - the Aleph and Tav - the Beginning and the End (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:17). All the world was created for the Messiah: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).

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




The Month of Shevat...


 

01.10.16 (Tevet 29, 5776)  This evening marks Rosh Chodesh Shevat (חדש שבט), that is, the eleventh month of the calendar (counting from the month of Nisan). Shevat is important because Moses began his summary of the Torah (i.e., Mishneh Torah, or the sermon recorded in Book of Deuteronomy) on the first day of this month (Deut. 1:1,3). Because of this, the sages have long associated the Rosh Chodesh Shevat with the holiday of Shavuot (i.e., the sixth of Sivan), since on both these dates God appealed to Israel to receive the message of the Torah. The month of Shevat is also important because the "Rosh Hashanah for Trees" occurs on the 15th of the month (i.e., Tu B'Shevat).

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

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

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

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



Download Study Card
 




The Exodus from Egypt...


 

01.10.16 (Tevet 29, 5776)  Our Torah reading for this week begins with God commanding Moses "to go" (i.e., bo: בּא) before Pharaoh to announce further apocalyptic judgments upon Egypt. The purpose of this power encounter was to vindicate God's justice and glory (deliverance/salvation) by overthrowing the tyranny of unjust human oppression. Pharaoh's nightmare of "one little lamb" outweighing all the firstborn of Egypt was about to be fulfilled.

Recall that last week's Torah (i.e., parashat Va'era) reported how Pharaoh defiantly refused to listen to Moses' pleas for Israel's freedom, despite seven devastating plagues that came upon Egypt in God's Name (יהוה). In this week's portion (i.e., parashat Bo), the battle between the LORD and Pharaoh comes to a dramatic conclusion. The last three of the ten plagues are unleashed upon Egypt: a swarm of locusts devoured all the crops and greenery; a palpable darkness enveloped the land for three days and nights; and all the firstborn of Egypt were killed precisely at the stroke of midnight of the 15th of the month of Nisan...

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

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

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


 

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

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

 




Welcomed by Love...


 

01.08.16 (Tevet 27, 5776)  "Not being welcome is your greatest fear. It connects with your birth fear, your fear of not being welcome in this life, and your death fear, your fear of not being welcome in the life after this. It is the deep-seated fear that it would have been better if you had not lived" (Nouwen). The central message of the cross of Messiah is that God regards you as personally worth dying for, and indeed, that your life is worth the exchange of His own... You are treasured; you are loved. This is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3-5). The Word of Life is - above all else - an invitation, a cry of welcome, that sings out to you in your loneliness and shame. The core of the battle is here - whether you will decide to trust in God's love or shrink back into the places of darkness, isolation, and pain. Yeshua says, "Come to me; I love you, I accept you; I receive you; please, be welcome with me; I will take your hand, I will be with you..."

Personal Note: Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov, friends. Praise God for His lovingkindness and heartfelt welcome for us all!  And please, friends, remember us in your prayers: We are struggling financially and expecting a baby during this new month. If you are helped here, please consider supporting Hebrew for Christians. Thank you so much.
 




Pride's Hard Lessons...


 

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

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

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

לִפְנֵי־שֶׁבֶר גָּאוֹן
וְלִפְנֵי כִשָּׁלוֹן גּבַהּ רוּחַ

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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




The Power of Truth...


 

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

01.08.16 (Tevet 27, 5776)  In this week's Torah reading (Va'era), the LORD sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh with the timeless message: shelach et ami (שׁלַּח אֶת־עַמִּי), "let my people go!" Because of Pharaoh's hardness of heart, however, God began the sequence of plagues that would demonstrate his sovereignty over all the powers and so-called "gods" of Egypt (Exod. 12:12). The ten plagues (i.e, eser ha'makot: עֶשֶׂר הַמָּכּוֹת) were given not just to vanquish the pride of Pharaoh, however, but to awaken the people of Israel. After hundreds of years of slavery, the people had forgotten who they really were and had passively accepted that all real power was vested in humans. Among other things, God's intervention was meant to deliver the people from the fallacy of ascribing greatness to worldly powers. Ultimately the people of Israel - and indeed the entire world - would come to understand ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו), "there is no power apart from Him" (Deut. 4:35).

Note:  The lie is a type of violence. Martin Buber once said, "What is accomplished through lies can assume the mask of truth; what is accomplished through violence can go in the guise of justice, and for a while the hoax may be successful. But soon people realize that lies are lies at bottom, that violence is violence - and that both lies and violence will suffer the destiny history has in store for all that is false."
 




The Name El Shaddai...


 

[ The following entry is also related to this week's Torah reading (Parashat Va'era)... ]

01.08.16 (Tevet 27, 5776)  "I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as El Shaddai..." (Exod. 6:3). The name El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדָּי) is often translated "God Almighty," probably because the translators of the Septuagint (i.e., the Greek translation of the Old Testament) thought shaddai came from a root verb (shadad) that meant "to overpower" or "to destroy." The Latin Vulgate likewise translated Shaddai as "Omnipotens" (from which we get our English word omnipotent). In other words, God is so overpowering that He is considered "Almighty." It is more likely, however, that the name Shaddai is connected to shadayim (שָׁדַיִם) the Hebrew word for "breasts," indicating sufficiency and nourishment (i.e., the breasts of a mother who shows rachamim, compassion). And indeed, a survey of the name in Scripture connects it with the fertility and growth of the original families of Israel.

For more on the Hebrew name El Shaddai, see the article, "God as El Shaddai."
 




Knowing the Name...

Photo by John J Parsons
 

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

01.07.16 (Tevet 26, 5776)  From our Torah portion this week we read that God said to Moses: "I appeared (וָאֵרָא) to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדָּי), but by my name the LORD (יהוה) I did not make myself known to them" (Exod. 6:3). Here we are faced with a puzzle, since the Torah clearly states that God revealed Himself as YHVH to the patriarchs. For example, to Abraham God said, "I am the LORD (אֲנִי יְהוָה) who brought you out of Ur of Kasdim" (Gen. 15:7), and to Jacob he said: "I am the LORD (אֲנִי יְהוָה), the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac (Gen. 28:13). In light of this, how then do we make sense of God's statement that He was not known as YHVH to the patriarchs?

The traditional explanation is that God was stating that the patriarchs had not directly experienced His mastery over creation through the signs and wonders He would perform as Israel's Savior and Redeemer. The patriarchs understood God as El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדַּי), the all-sufficient One who nurtured the fledgling nation and who foretold Israel's future (Gen. 17:1-2; 28:3; 35:11), but Moses (and the Israelites) would now know God's attributes of covenantal faithfulness (chesed) as the "Promise Keeper" by directly witnessing his saving acts. Indeed, the Name YHVH implies that God is the Faithful One, since the name is formed by permutating the letters of the Hebrew root "to be": hayah (was), hoveh (is), and yihey (will be), which implies there is no power that can prevent God from fulfilling His promises. YHVH is Lord of lords and King of kings whose word can never fail (Deut. 10:17; Dan. 2:47). Ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו): "there is no power apart from Him" (Deut. 4:35,9).

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

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

Note:  I apologize if it seems like I am belaboring the "Name of God" question  (a question, by the way, that is relevant only for those who regard the Tanakh and Brit Chadashah as Scripture, not for those who want to dabble in religious or philosophical speculations), but this is a theme in both last week's Torah portion (Shemot), where Moses asked God's Name to validate his mission to Israel, and again in this week's portion (Va'era), where God made the puzzling statement that the patriarchs did not know God's Name as YHVH (יהוה). So, to stay "close to the texts" we need to seriously think about these questions, chaverim.

Let me add a closing comment here. The entire question of God's name resolves to be a question about our ability to understand the very heart of God more than anything else (it's a matter of Who, not What)... Indeed, the name YHVH (יהוה) was revealed yet again to Israel only after the sin of the Golden Calf, when Moses learned that it meant Compassion and Grace (see Exod. 34:6-7). Ultimately, however, the full meaning of God's name was revealed in the last gasp of Yeshua as He died upon the cross for our atonement: ἐξέπνευσεν - "he breathed out," the great exhalation of all that he came to be for us... (Mark 15:37).
 




Way of Perfect Peace...


 

01.06.16 (Tevet 25, 5776)  When we lose sight of the truth that God is in complete control of all things, we tend to grow anxious... Feeling worried comes from focusing on ourselves, a perspective that can make us feel alone, forgotten, and victimized in this world.  Worry moves us to defend ourselves, to seek refuge in our own devices, and to forfeit the will of God according to the dictates of lesser fears... The sages say it is not permitted to worry: "To worry is a sin. Only one sort of worry is permissible; to worry because one worries." We should worry that we worry because this indicates our hardness of heart and our unbelief. God's name YHVH (יהוה) means "Presence," "Breath," "Life," and "Love." Why should we be anxious for "tomorrow"? We really only have this moment, but this moment is entirely sufficient when we walk in the light of God and seek to know him in all our ways:
 

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 your paths upright"
(Prov. 3:6)



  

The great Shema admonishes us to remember the truth "when you sit in your house, when you walk in your ways, when you lie down, and when you rise up" (Deut. 6:6). "In all your ways know Him," that is, in all that you put your hand to do look for the Divine Presence and guidance (1 Cor. 10:31). As King David stated, "I have set the Lord always before me, because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8).

The Name of the LORD is "I-AM-WITH-YOU-ALWAYS," which implies that we always live within God's Presence and care, even if we are often unconscious of this truth. As it is written in the prophets, hen al kapayim hachotikh: "Behold I have engraved you on the palms of my hands" (הֵן עַל־כַּפַּיִם חַקּתִיךְ) - Isa. 49:16.  Rememeber the One who stretched out his hands and died for your healing; remember that he said, "Don't be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." Again, "do not be anxious for any reason, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God (שְׁלוֹם אֱלהִים), which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil. 4:6-7). God keeps in perfect peace those whose mind is stayed on Him (Isa. 26:3).
 




Mystery and the Name...


 

01.05.16 (Tevet 24, 5776)  When Moses asked why he was chosen to be God's emissary, the LORD did not explain His choice in natural terms; nor did not appeal to Moses' past experiences, his potential, or even his great humility... Instead God simply said that whatever inadequacies Moses might have, being in relationship "with Him" was sufficient: ki ehyeh imakh: "for I will be with you" (Exod. 3:12). That is all that Moses would need...

When Moses further sought to justify his calling as a true prophet sent from God, however, he asked to know God's name (Exod. 3:13). God's response was enigmatic: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה - ehyeh asher ehyeh: "I will be what I will be" (or I am what I am), which may be understood as, "It doesn't matter what my Name is - I will be what I will be - all that matters is that I will be with you - ki ehyeh imakh (Exod. 3:12), and that is enough. Indeed, the meaning of God's name is פִּלְאִי- "wonderful and incomprehensible" (Judges 13:18), since He is infinite and beyond all comparison to finite things (Psalm 147:5). God is the great "I AM" that pervades all of Reality (אָנכִי), the glorious Eternal Personal Presence (i.e., hayah, hoveh, ve'yihyeh) whose power constantly sustains all things. Most of all, He is declared and expressed as our Savior, the One who reveals the face of God to us all (2 Cor. 4:6).
 

וַיּאמֶר אֱלהִים אֶל־משֶׁה אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה
וַיּאמֶר כּה תאמַר לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
אֶהְיֶה שְׁלָחַנִי אֲלֵיכֶם

va·yo·mer · E·lo·him · el · Mo·she · eh·yeh · a·sher · eh·yeh
va·yo·mer · koh · to·mar · liv·nei · Yis·ra·el
eh·yeh · she·la·cha·ni · a·le·khem
 

"God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM."
And he said, "Say this to the sons of Israel,
'I AM has sent me to you'" (Exod. 3:14)


 
Download Study Card
 
 

Concerning the Name of God, we read the following vision: "Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called 'Faithful and True' (נֶאֱמָן וְיָשָׁר), and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a Name written that no one knows but himself (שֵׁם כָּתוּב אֲשֶׁר לא־יָדַע אִישׁ כִּי אִם־הוּא לְבַדּוֹ). He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the Name by which he is called is 'the Word of God' (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים). And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. And He will tread the winepress of the fierce fury of the wrath of God, the Ruler over All, the LORD God Almighty (יְהוָה אֱלהֵי צְבָאוֹת). On his robe and on his thigh he has a Name written, the King of kings (מֶלֶךְ הַמְּלָכִים) and the Lord of lords (אֲדנֵי הָאֲדנִים). And with the breath of his lips He will slay the wicked" (Rev. 19:11-16).

Notice that in this passage the LORD both has a Name that no one knows but Himself and also that is He is called 'Faithful and True,' 'the Word of God,' and so on... In other words, within Himself God's Name is something that only He can truly understand, though we can know what He is called based on the revelation and analogical language of the Scriptures.
 




Perfected Strength...


 

01.05.16 (Tevet 24, 5776)  "Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Eternal One, the LORD, is the Creator of the ends of the earth (בּוֹרֵא קְצוֹת הָאָרֶץ). He does not faint nor grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength" (Isa. 40:28-29). Human reason has no objection that God can impart strength, but it objects that strength is found in those who are broken and weary – that is, to those mortally wounded in the battle against evil. The principle of the self-life, the ego, religious observance, "doing the law," etc., is a spiritual dead-end. The word is this: God gives strength to the weary, to the faint, to those who are without potency or power. But this means that we first must be emptied, broken, and stripped of our self-sufficiency before the strength of God is manifest in us: "My power is made perfect (τελειοῦται) in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). God's way is first to break us, to make us weaker and weaker, so that he can then fill us with the miraculous divine nature. Like all sacrifices that were brought to the altar, we must pass through death to life by means of our union with the Messiah at the cross... It is only after the cross that it may be said, "It is no longer 'I' who lives; now it is Messiah who lives His life in me." There is indeed strength, power, and victory – but such comes after the cross, after we reckon carnal energy as useless. Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says Adonai Tzeva'ot.
 

נתֵן לַיָּעֵף כּחַ
וּלְאֵין אוֹנִים עָצְמָה יַרְבֶּה

no·tein · la·ya·ef · ko·ach
u·le·ein · o·nim · otz·mah · yar·beh

 

"He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength"
(Isa. 40:29)



 

Where we read, "Messiah who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20), we emphasize the object of God's redeeming love; we stress that this word is being spoken to "me," and that Messiah's love is poured out "for me." But how can we justify doing so, in light of the innumerable souls that have been brought forth in the world? The Mishnah asks, "Why was man created alone?" and answers so that each person must say the world was created for me. "Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world; and whoever saves a soul, it is considered as if he saved an entire world..."
 




Heart of the Fire...


 

01.05.16 (Tevet 24, 5776)  In our Torah we read that the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יהוה) appeared to Moses "in the flame of fire" from the midst the bush (Exod. 3:2). The Hebrew phrase "flame of fire" (בְּלַבַּת־אֵשׁ) can also be read as the "heart of fire" (from לב, "heart"). What nourishes the flame is the heart of God as expressed through the Word of God saying: "I AM the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."
 

אָנכִי אֱלהֵי אָבִיךָ אֱלהֵי אַבְרָהָם
אֱלהֵי יִצְחָק וֵאלהֵי יַעֲקב

a·no·khi · e·lo·hei · a·vi·kha · e·lo·hei · Av·ra·ham
e·lo·hei · Yitz·chak · vei·lo·hei · ya·a·kov
 

"I AM the God of your father, the God of Abraham
the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob"
(Exod. 3:6)
 




Remove your Shoes...


 

01.05.16 (Tevet 24, 5776)  We live in the midst of a mysterious universe filled with astounding wonder and vast complexity, from the smallest of subatomic particles to the largest of cosmic events... If we could really see, if our eyes were truly open, we would understand that the universe and everything in it is filled with God's glory (Psalm 19:1). Where it is written, "Remove your shoes, for the place you are standing is holy" (Exod. 3:5) means we are to remove the deadness of our unreflective habits, those routine ways of "sightless seeing" that insulate us and hide us from the astonishment of reality. "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"
 

קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יהוה צְבָאוֹת
מְלא כָל־הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ

ka·dosh · ka·dosh · ka·dosh · Adonai · Tze·va·ot,
me·lo · khol · ha·a·retz · ke·vo·do
 

"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!"
(Isa. 6:3)


 
Download Study Card

 

The LORD is the Source of all existence. This is implied in the Name YHVH (יהוה) itself, which comes from the Hebrew verb "to be" (hayah), and therefore God is called ha-hoveh, ve'hayah, ve'yavo (הַהוֶה וְהָיָה וְיָבוֹא) - "the One who is, and was, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8). God first defined His essential Name to Moses as ehyeh asher ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה), "I AM that I AM," abbreviated simply as ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה), "I AM" (Exod. 3:14). This "threefold" Name of the LORD of Hosts encompasses all possible states of being, so that of the LORD alone it is said, melo kol ha-aretz kevodo: "the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isa. 6:3).
 

    "Out of all this world, take this forest; out of all the forest, take this tree. Out of all the tree, take this branch. Out of all the branch, take this leaf. And on this leaf that is like no other, observe this drop of rain that is like no other. And on this single drop observe the reflection of leaves and branches, of the entire tree, of the forest and of all the world - then only will you see the stars beyond the light of day." - James Kirkup
     


Why did God choose to reveal himself to Moses in the midst of a thornbush (הַסְּנֶה)? To teach us that there is no place devoid of the Divine Radiance, not even the lowly thornbush. Indeed the midrash asks, 'Where is God?' and then cites where Torah says, 'I will stand before you there' (Exod. 17:6), which is to say, in every place where you find a trace of footsteps, there I AM. As Elizabeth Browning wrote, "Earth is crammed with heaven; and every bush afire with God; but only he who sees takes off his shoes." May the LORD open our eyes and help us not be sightless among His miracles...
 




Forgiveness and Love...


He Qi art
 

01.04.16 (Tevet 23, 5776)  Yeshua said, "To whom little is forgiven, the same loves little" (Luke 7:47). Do you see the connection between consciousness of your acceptance - trusting that you are beloved by God - and your own ability to express love? The self-righteous do not feel the depth of their sin nor comprehend their great need. Their prayer is always, "Thank you, God, that I am not like other men" (Luke 18:11). To them "little is forgiven" and therefore they love little. To the heart-shattered sinner, on the other hand, to the one who knows the depth of her sin and her terrible need for deliverance, "much is forgiven" - and therefore she loves much. Yeshua teaches us that love sees past moral failures and extends kindness and healing to the one wounded by sin, as it says: "love covers over all transgressions" -  עַל כָּל־פְּשָׁעִים תְּכַסֶּה אַהֲבָה (Prov. 10:12; 1 Pet. 4:8).
 

בָּרֲכִי נַפְשִׁי אֶת־יְהוָה
וְכָל־קְרָבַי אֶת־שֵׁם קָדְשׁוֹ

ba·ra·khi · naf·shi · et · Adonai
ve·khol · ke·ra·vai · et · shem · kod·sho
 

"Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
(Psalm 103:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

It is interesting to note that the word translated "blessed" (barukh) is related to the Hebrew word for "knee" (berekh), as is the word for "blessing" (b'rakha), thus implying an association between humbling ourselves (i.e., kneeling before God in recognition of His blessedness) and receiving personal blessing from Him. Indeed, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who hasblessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Messiah Jesus" (Eph.1:3).
 




Justification by Faith...


 

01.04.16 (Tevet 23, 5776)  Faith is the essence of all true Torah from heaven, since apart from it no one can possibly draw near to God (Heb. 11:6). Indeed the very purpose of creation is to receive the love of the Creator, and consequently whoever disregards or suppresses this truth necessarily fails to apprehend the essential reason for his or her existence. The meaning or message of reality itself is revealed in God's love (1 John 4:8).

Since love for God must be tested to ensure its integrity, it is noteworthy that Jacob (and his sons) explicitly followed God's guidance before immigrating to Egypt, which subsequently led to their oppression by the "new king" of Egypt (see Gen. 46:1-7). Despite the betrayal often afforded by appearances, however, consider how great is the merit of faith, since Israel was redeemed from Egypt only as a reward for trusting in promise of their deliverance, as it is written, "and the people believed" (וַיַּאֲמֵן הָעָם) ... and bowed their heads and worshiped" (Exod. 4:31). Salvation (יְשׁוּעָה) has always been based on faith in God's love and grace...

Like the precious promises of a bridegroom to his beloved, the words of Torah are to be kept in the "midst of the heart" where they serve as a source of life (Prov. 4:21-22). Therefore the prophet Jeremiah sees the land besieged by foreigners and yet signs the deed to redeem the land in the days ahead. Though he was to be evicted from the land and subjugated by the Babylonians, Jeremiah never lost faith in God's promise (Jer. 32:11-14).

For more on this topic see: "Justification by Faith: Further thoughts on Shemot."
 




Shekhinah of Humility...

Georges Rouault - Jesus
 

01.04.16 (Tevet 23, 5776)  "Let your tongue acquire the habit of saying, 'I do not know,' so that you are not led to lie" (Berachot 4a). We have to learn that we don't always know the answer, and that often enough we don't even know the meaning of the question being asked... Accepting our limitations enables us to humbly ask God for help as we walk by faith. "The Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know (οὐκ οἴδαμεν) what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Rom. 8:26). We groan in hope... It is a blessedness to be free from the need to be seen, to be approved by others, to feel like we always have to be "right," to manage appearances, and so on. God opposes the proud, but his Spirit (רוּחַ) rests upon the lowly, the humble of heart. Therefore humility (עֲנָוָה) is considered one of the greatest of middot ha-lev (heart qualities). As it is written, the high and lifted up One dwells with the broken and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the crushed:
 

כִּי כה אָמַר רָם וְנִשָּׂא שׁכֵן עַד וְקָדוֹשׁ שְׁמוֹ
מָרוֹם וְקָדוֹשׁ אֶשְׁכּוֹן וְאֶת־דַּכָּא וּשְׁפַל־רוּחַ
לְהַחֲיוֹת רוּחַ שְׁפָלִים וּלְהַחֲיוֹת לֵב נִדְכָּאִים

 ki · kho · a·mar · ram · ve·nis·sa · sho·khen · ad · ve·ka·dosh · she·mo,
ma·rom · ve·ka·dosh · esh·kon · ve·et · dak·ka · ush·fal · ru·ach
le·ha·cha·yot · ru·ach · she·fa·lim · u·le·ha·cha·lot · lev · nid·ka·im
 

"For this is what the high and lifted up One says, the One who abides forever,
whose Name is Holy: "I dwell in a high and holy place, but also with the broken
and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the crushed."
(Isa. 57:15)



Download Study Card

 

God reveals Himself to the "lowly in spirit" (שְׁפַל־רוּחַ), that is, to those who understand their own nothingness and complete dependence on Him.... Notice that the word dakka (דַּכָּא) refers to being crushed to the very dust, the very same word used to describe how Yeshua was crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:10). William James called this deep work of the spiritual life Zerrissenheit, a term that can be translated as "torn-to-pieces-hood," or a state of being utterly broken and in disarray... From the point of view of our dependence on God for salvation, dakka refers to humility and contrition we express in light of God's unmerited favor and love for our souls...  We identify with the death of Messiah offered on our behalf; we find healing and acceptance in the Presence of the One who was torn to pieces and made dust for our merit. Humility is essential to awareness of God in the truth.
 




The Troubles of Love...


 

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

01.04.16 (Tevet 23, 5776)  People tend to believe what they want to believe until they are faced with reality, and therefore God orchestrates tests and challenges to awaken people from their illusions to make them confront their need for deliverance. Such afflictions are called yissurim shel ahavah, "troubles of love." Thus we read in our Torah how the people groaned because of their slavery and then cried out to heaven for help: "And God heard their groaning; he remembered his covenant ... and God saw the people of Israel, and God knew" (Exod. 2:24-25). Note the pattern: The people cried out for help; God heard (וַיִּשְׁמַע); he remembered (וַיִּזְכּר), he saw (וַיַּרְא); and he knew (וַיֵּדַע)... God knows our profound need for Him. Affliction teaches us that wishful thinking is unable to sustain the weight of reality, and only God Himself can truly save us...

Where it says, "How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily" (Psalm 13:2), the sages remark that just as long as we take counsel in our own soul there will be despair, since only after we realize that no further counsel can help us do we give up and confess our need for God's salvation. Therefore בְּטַח אֶל־יְהוָה בְּכָל־לִבֶּךָ, "trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding" (Prov. 3:5).
 




Moses' Thorn in the Flesh...


 

01.04.16 (Tevet 23, 5776)  When God commissioned Moses to speak to the children of Israel, he protested to the LORD that he was kevad peh - "heavy of mouth" and kevad lashon, "heavy of tongue," and therefore unfit to speak on behalf of the LORD (Exod. 4:10). God then reminded him that He was the Creator of the mouth: "Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?" Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak" (Exod. 4:11-12). According to many of the classical Jewish commentators, God did not cure Moses of his stuttering because He wanted the Israelites to know that he was a divine messenger. When he spoke in the Name of the LORD, the stuttering entirely disappeared and Moses spoke with fluent ease. This was to teach the people not to trust in human oratory or wisdom, but rather in the power of God (see 1 Cor. 2:1-5). Just as the Apostle Paul, the "Moses of the New Covenant," was given a "thorn in the flesh" (σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί) to keep him humbly relying upon God for his sufficiency to serve (2 Cor. 12:7-10), so Moses was rendered entirely dependent upon the LORD but thereby became a "man of words" who spoke with "circumcised lips."

There are indeed "thorns in the flesh" by which we are refined as we endure suffering... Surely God could easily remove our sorrows, but by means of these "troubles of love" we are inwardly transformed (see James 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:5-7; Rom. 8:28-29).
 




Parashat Va'era - וארא


 

01.03.16 (Tevet 22, 5776)  Last week's Torah portion (Shemot) told how Moses and Aaron were commissioned to go before Pharaoh and deliver the God's message: "Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the desert." Not only did Pharaoh dismiss the request, but he imposed even harsher decrees against the Israelites and caused them to suffer miserably. Moses then appealed to the LORD, who reassured him that Pharaoh would eventually relent because of "the greater might" of God's power to deliver His people.

In this week's portion (Va'era), the LORD told Moses that He was now going to fulfill His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by giving the Israelites the land of Canaan, and that he had heard the "groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians held as slaves" (Exod. 6:5). The showdown between the LORD (יהוה) and the so-called gods of Egypt was imminent, and God therefore encouraged the people with precious promises: "I AM the LORD (אֲנִי יְהוָה) and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgment; and I will take you to me for a people and I will be to you a God" (these are the "four expressions of redemption" we recite during the Passover Seder every year).

Despite these wonderful promises, however, the people were unable to listen because of their "shortness of breath" (מִקּצֶר רוּחַ) on account of their harsh slavery. The LORD then told Moses: "Go in, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the people of Israel go out of his land," and the great showdown between the LORD and the gods of Egypt began. However, even after repeatedly witnessing the series of miraculous plagues issued in the Name of the LORD, the despot remained proud and unmoved, thereby setting the stage for the final devastating plagues upon the land of Egypt and the great Passover redemption of Israel.

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

 




Wounded for Love...

Photo by John J Parsons

 

01.01.16 (Tevet 20, 5776)  Of our beloved Savior, ish makhovot (אִישׁ מַכְאבוֹת), the "Man of Sorrows," it is written: "Surely he has taken up our sicknesses and has carried our sorrowful pains; yet we regarded him as stricken, beaten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our perversions; upon him was the correction that brought our peace, and by his blows we are healed" (Isa. 53:4-5). Notice that the Hebrew word translated "blow" (i.e., חַבּוּרָה, "wound" or "stripe") comes from the same Hebrew root as the word "friend" (חָבֵר), and therefore we can read this as "in His friendship we are healed." Yeshua gave up His life for us so that we could become his friends. As He later told us regarding his sacrifice as the Lamb of God (שׂה הָאֱלהִים): "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). The very goal of our atonement, the deep reason for our eternal healing, is to be in a loving relationship with God, and indeed of Yeshua it is truly said, yesh ohev davek me'ach (יֵשׁ אהֵב דָּבֵק מֵאָח) – "there is a friend who sticks (davek) closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24).
 

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

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

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


 
 

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




Keeping your Focus...


 

01.01.16 (Tevet 20, 5776)  Spiritually speaking, the important thing is to remain focused on what is ultimately real... We do this by learning to pray "without ceasing," which means centering our thoughts and desires in light of the Divine Presence. King David always "set" the LORD before him and he was unmoved in times of testing (Psalm 16:8). To know the truth means choosing before the audience of God's reality, before the holy witnesses of heaven and the sacredness that inheres in all things. We know this truth as we do - as we trust - as we "live, move, and have our being." Most especially we must learn the truth of God's love for our souls in Jesus, for he is the one who has promises never to leave nor forsake us.
 

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

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

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



Download Study Card

 

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




The Divine Presence...


 

01.01.16 (Tevet 20, 5776)  God told Moses that his Name means that He is Present (הֹוֶה) in every moment - past, present, and future (הָיָה וְהוֶה וְיָבוֹא). The Name YHVH (יהוה) is "shorthand" for "I AM with you always" (אָנכִי אֶהְיֶה עִמָּכֶם). There is no moment in time, just as there is no place, where God is not "there" for us. This includes times of testing, darkness, and even death itself (Psalm 23:4). The LORD our God does not abandon us, even when He seems hidden, powerless, or unwilling to intervene. Faith trusts that He is present there, in moments when we are vulnerable, weak, afraid, and seemingly all alone, and that all things are bound up in his love and good will toward us... Faith receives God as always present, the substance of our hope and dream of eternal healing and eternal life.

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





Source of our Breath...


 

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

01.01.16 (Tevet 20, 5776)  Though the meaning of God's Name (YHVH) was initially revealed to Moses as simply ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה), "I AM," or "I WILL BE" (Exod. 3:14), it is wonderful to realize that His Name was also revealed as ehyeh imakh (אהְיֶה עִמָּךְ), "I WILL BE WITH YOU" (Josh. 1:5,9; Isa. 41:10,13; John 10:28; Matt. 28:20, etc.). Just as the LORD is called Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 16:22), so He is the Source of your breath, the One who exhales to you nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" that enables you to live (Job 12:10). Indeed the Name YHVH (יהוה) first appears in the Torah in regarding imparting the breath of life to Adam (Gen. 2:7). Note further that each of the letters of the Name YHVH represent vowel sounds (i.e., breath), suggesting again that God's Spirit is as close as your very next breath. Like the wind that cannot be seen, so is the spirit the essential part of your identity. Yeshua breathed on his followers and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22).

Personal Update: We are now just about four weeks away from the birth of our child, and of course we are thrilled and grateful for this blessing! Thank you for your prayers and support, too, as we are planning on a home birth with a midwife to save money.  Shalom friends!
 




<< Return


 

Hebrew for Christians
Copyright © John J. Parsons
All rights reserved.

email