Jewish Holiday Calendar
Note: For July 2016 site updates, please scroll past this entry....
In the summer there occurs a three week period of mourning that begins with the Fast of Tammuz and ends with Tishah B'Av. The last nine days of this three week period (i.e., from Av 1 until Av 9th) are days of increased mourning. However, after this somber time, the romantic holiday of Tu B'Av, the 15th of Av occurs. Summer ends with the 30 days of the month of Elul, a yearly season of teshuvah (repentance) that anticipates Rosh Hashanah and the fall holidays. The 30 days of Elul are combined with the first 10 days of the month of Tishri to create the "Forty Days of Teshuvah" that culminate with Yom Kippur.
Because they occur between the spring and fall holidays, the summer holidays help us prepare for the second coming of the Messiah:
The Summer Holidays:
Note that in accordance with tradition, holiday dates begin at sundown. Moreover, some holidays may be postponed one day if they happen to fall on the weekly Sabbath:
Month of Av (begins Thursday, Aug. 4th, 2016)
Month of Elul (begins Friday Sept. 2nd, 2016)
Month of Tishri (begins Sunday, Oct. 2nd, 2016)
- Month of Tammuz (begins Tuesday, July 5th, 2016)
Note: Some calendars will list the first day of a holiday without indicating that the holiday actually begins sundown the night before... So, for example, while Tishah B'Av begins Saturday, August 13th at sundown, many calendars will indicate it occurs on Monday, August 14th...
July 2016 Updates
The Central Thing...
07.31.16 (Tamuz 25, 5776) From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Mattot) we read: zeh ha'davar asher tzivah Adonai: "This is the thing the LORD has commanded" (Num. 30:1). The language here seems to suggest that there is only one matter that God has commanded, namely, to speak truth and to be faithful in our promises (Num. 30:2). This is because the sacredness of our word is the foundation for all our other responsibilities. After all, if our word is equivocal, it is unclear, unreliable, undecided, and therefore ultimately meaningless.... Insincere words are without genuine commitment, and the lack of decisiveness undermines all Torah. "This is the thing the LORD has commanded," namely, to accept your duty to honor the truth; to keep your faith in God's word; and to hold sacred your commitment before God. !זֶה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה
כִּי־אֱמֶת יֶהְגֶּה חִכִּי
וְתוֹעֲבַת שְׂפָתַי רֶשַׁע
ke-e·met · ye·he·geh · chi·ki
ve·to·a·vat · se·fa·tai · re·sha
"For my mouth will utter truth;
wickedness is an abomination to my lips"
A politician was once chided for not keeping his promises, to which he slyly replied, "Yes, but I never promised to keep my promises..." Later, the same politician actually "promised to keep his promises," but was again proven false to his word. When he was confronted over his latest treachery, he replied, "Yes, but I never promised to promise to keep my promises..." And so it goes with many of the "double-tongued" political leaders of our day.
"What you say about the present state of mankind is true: indeed it is even worse than you say. For they neglect not only the Law of Christ, but even the Law of Nature as known by the Pagans. For now they do not blush at adultery, treachery, perjury, theft and other crimes, which I will not say Christian doctors, but the Pagans and Barbarians have themselves denounced. They err who say: "The world is turning pagan again." Would that it were! The truth is, we are falling into a much worse state. Post-Christian man is not the same as pre-Christian man. He is as far removed as a virgin from a widow... there is a great difference between a spouse-to-come and a spouse sent away." – C.S. Lewis (letter to Don Giovanni Calabria)
Parashiyot Mattot-Masei (מטות־מסעי)
07.31.16 (Tamuz 25, 5776) We have a "double portion" of Torah for this week, friends, as we conclude Sefer Bamidbar, or "the Book of Numbers." Our first Torah portion, parashat Mattot (מַטּוֹת, "tribes") begins with the LORD giving laws regarding the making of vows (nedarim). After this, the Israelites were commanded to wage war against the Midianites for seducing the people to sin at the incident of "Baal Peor." During the ensuing battle, the wicked sorcerer Balaam was killed, as well as five tribal kings of the land of Midian. Our second Torah portion, parashat Masei (מַסְעֵי, "journeys") provides the boundaries of the land of Canaan that were to be initially occupied by the Israelites. Note that these borders are not the same as those described earlier to Abraham (see Gen. 15:18-21), since that area will be given to Israel only after our Messiah returns to establish Zion during the Millennial Kingdom (see Ezek. 47:15-48:35). During that coming time, Jerusalem (i.e., Zion) will be the center of the earth and renamed as "Adonai Shammah" (יְהוָה שָׁמָּה), "the LORD is there." Note that since the Book of Deuteronomy is "mishneh Torah" (מִשְׁנֶה תוֹרָה) - a sermonizing "retelling of Torah," it may be said that the Torah of Moses ends with these final portions, and by extension, with the ongoing yearning for Zion...
You can download the "Table Talk" for each of these portions here:
Since this week's Torah portions conclude the "Book of Numbers," we traditionally recite three special words of encouragement: Chazak, chazak, ve'nitchazek, meaning "be strong, be strong, and we will get stronger." Shavuah tov, chaverim!
07.29.16 (Tamuz 23, 5776) "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). The way of faith always represents collision with the world (κόσμος) and its philosophy of the "good life." Happy are those who "hunger and thirst" for righteousness, who refrain from this world and make themselves its exiles because of their inner heartache. For them no amount of the world's pleasures can obscure the difference between what is and what ought to be... This world is at best a corridor to the world to come, a "valley of decision" about what we ultimately choose to believe and to love... The heart of faith looks forward to "the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10).
צָמְאָה נַפְשִׁי לֵאלהִים לְאֵל חָי
מָתַי אָבוֹא וְאֵרָאֶה פְּנֵי אֱלהִים
tza·me·ah · naf·shi · le·lo·him · le·el · chai
ma·tai · a·vo · ve·e·ra·eh · pe·nei · e·lo·him
"My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?"
There is a great danger to become so assimilated into this world that there is no longer any collision, no longer any protest, but merely the whimper of the soul that begs to be left alone from the general toil and troubles of this age... Conscience is seared; natural affections have been abandoned; and the "life" of the soul becomes a mere cipher, a phantom, a ghost... This is the scheme of the worldly dialectic that traps the human soul into living and dying for the sake of sheer vanity. May God help us not to so waste our days... The core prayer of the godly soul is always, "Help me, O LORD my God! Save me according to your steadfast love" (Psalm 109:26). Empty our hearts from vanity, O LORD, and afflict us with hunger and thirst for You, for you alone are what we really need....
Olam Katan - Small World
07.29.16 (Tamuz 23, 5776) It is written in our Torah portion for this week (i.e., Pinchas), "My offering, my food for my food offerings, my pleasing aroma, you shall be careful to offer to me at its appointed time" (Num. 28:2). Food for God? What need has the LORD for food? But by this is meant "as you have done it to least of these my brethren, you have done it unto Me" (Matt. 25:40). The offerings you make to tzedakah (giving charity, your time, your kindness, etc.) constitute food presented before the secret place of God's altar...
God created Adam alone, as a solitary being, made in the divine image, to teach us that to destroy a single life is to destroy an entire world, and to sustain a single life is to sustain an entire world. Therefore everyone should say: 'For my sake the world was created' (Talmud). Each of us is olam katan (עולם קטן), a small world that represents the large world. Indeed, one righteous human being can sustain the entire world, as it is written (Prov. 10:25), "the righteous is the foundation of the world" (וְצַדִּיק יְסוֹד עוֹלָם).
On the other hand, balance is of course required here. Each of us is olam katan, a small world, though, as Rabbi Noah of Lekhivitz once wisely said, "if we are small in our own eyes, we are indeed 'a world,' but if we are a 'world' in our own eyes, we are thereby made small." This thought obviously echoes Yeshua's teaching: "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Matt. 23:12).
גַּאֲוַת אָדָם תַּשְׁפִּילֶנּוּ
וּשְׁפַל־רוּחַ יִתְמךְ כָּבוֹד
ga·a·vat · a·dam · tash·pi·le·nu
u·she·fal · ru·ach · yit·mokh · ka·vod
"The proud will be humbled,
but the humble will be honored"
Rabbi Akiva once said that the greatest principle of Torah is to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18), though Ben Azzai said that even greater is the principle that God created man in His likeness (בִּדְמוּת), since then one cannot say, 'Since I despise myself I can despise another as well; since I curse myself, let the other be accursed as well.' Being made in God's likeness means how we regard ourselves and others will be the measure we regard God Himself (1 John 4:20). Therefore the first commandment is always, "I am the LORD thy God..." (Exod. 20:2), since apart from faith, there is no Torah of any kind.
The Mystery of Spirit...
07.29.16 (Tamuz 23, 5776) The word "spirit" points to wonder, to something extraordinary and beyond our expectation, that is, to the mysterious Divine Presence that pervades all things yet rises above all things. Yeshua likened the Ruach (רוּחַ) with the inscrutable motions of the wind: "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). We see the effect of the wind, but not the wind itself, which illustrates that the wind is ultimately beyond our grasp and control. To be "born of the Spirit" is therefore a mysterious intervention from heaven (John 1:13), just as being "led by the Spirit" implies seeing differently, that is, apprehending the Divine Presence in the mysterious motions of life.
אָנָה אֵלֵךְ מֵרוּחֶךָ
וְאָנָה מִפָּנֶיךָ אֶבְרָח
a·na · e·lekh · me·ru·che·kha
ve·a·na · mi·fa·ne·kha · ev·rach
"Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?"
"The wind blows where it will; you are aware of its soughing, but no one knows whence it comes or whither it goes. So also with longing, the longing for God and the eternal, the longing for our Savior and Redeemer. Comprehend it you cannot, nor should you; indeed, you dare not even want to attempt - but you are to use the longing. Would the merchant be responsible if he does not use the opportune moment; would the sailor be responsible if he does not use the favorable winds - how much more, then, is the one who does not use the occasion of longing when it is offered" (Kierkegaard: Discourses).
The Book of Questions...
07.29.16 (Tamuz 23, 5776) A good teacher doesn't feed students answers but rather provokes them to ask their own questions and to think for themselves... In that sense, a good teacher is like an "intellectual midwife," there to assist the one who explores the meaning of questions. This is especially true regarding matters of spiritual life: "There are many people who arrive at conclusions in life much the way schoolboys do; they cheat their teachers by copying the answer book without having worked the problem themselves." Merely "having the answer" does little spiritual good if the weight of the question that it proposes to address is not fully understood. As Kierkegaard said regarding all the so-called "Bible answer men" -- "The most fatal thing of all is to satisfy a want which is not yet felt, so that without waiting till the want is present, one anticipates it, likely also using stimulants to bring about something which is supposed to be a want, and then satisfies it. And this is shocking! And yet this is what so many clergy do, whereby they really are cheating people out of what constitutes the significance of life, and instead helping them to waste it."
There is a temptation, then, for those who regard themselves as teachers or preachers to get ahead of the need, to over-anticipate, and therefore mislead those they hope to help. On the other hand, many are too busy (or too proud) to marvel over the sheer wonder of existence itself and grow impatient (or even threatened) with questions like these. They don't take the time to reflect about why they were born, what purpose is connected with their life, or where they are going, until they are confronted with suffering and trouble. Sometimes we must "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."
Instead of regarding the Bible as a "Book of Answers" for our questions, it is worthwhile to think of it as a "Book of Questions" for our answers. As we listen, God questions us so that we can know him by means of the dialog within our hearts. As any good teacher knows, when a student earnestly wrestles with a question he learns more than if he were given a straightforward answer. Similarly, the Lord gives us permission to be without answers so that we will be free to seek, to struggle, and to "own" what we come to understand through our relationship with him... That way our learning will be real, substantive, and born from the urgency our own inner need. Indeed, God's very first question to man is always, אַיֶּכָּה - ayekah: "Where are you?" (Gen. 3:9), which appeals for us to acknowledge how we hide from the truth. "Where are you?" is the poignant call of the Seeking Father for his lost child, and the question only becomes "our own" when we are willing to look at how we've come to be at this place in our lives. Where are we and how did we get here? God's question to our heart is meant to lead us out of hiding to respond to his loving call...
True and False Zeal...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
07.29.16 (Tamuz 23, 5776) You may be entirely sincere in your convictions, but you may be sincerely wrong... In the time of the Second Temple, for instance, the Zealots despised the rule of Rome. Their political hatred caused them to blindly regard anyone who didn't share their passion as a personal enemy. In one of the great tragedies of Jewish history, these zealots actually killed more Jews than did the Romans themselves! And how many Christians these days "kill" relationships with other believers because of their particular zeal regarding some doctrinal question? I am not suggesting that doctrine is unimportant, of course, but before you pick up that sword to do the business of Pinchas, you might do well to consider your heart's attitude...
We need to be careful with our passions. There is a "false zeal" that leads to estrangement and confusion. Withholding love from others is ultimately grounded in an appeal to God as the administrator of Justice. It is an appeal to God as Elohim (אֱלהִים), not as YHVH (יהוה), the Compassionate Source of Life. If we insist on our rights, we appeal to principles of justice, i.e., to God as the Lawgiver. But if we intend to have God be the Judge of others, we must appeal to Him to be our own Judge as well. If we have an unforgiving spirit toward others, we will not be forgiven (Matt. 6:15); if we are judgmental toward them, we ourselves will be put on trial; if we are cruel and ungiving toward them, we will experience life as hellish, miserable and mean. This reciprocal principle of Kingdom life appears throughout Jesus' teaching. According to your faith, be it done unto you (Matt. 9:29).
Note: For more on this important topic, see "Parashat Pinchas: God's Greater Zeal."
Love's Hope and Zeal...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas... ]
07.28.16 (Tamuz 22, 5776) The zeal of Pinchas reminds us that sometimes we must act decisively and fearlessly for the sake of the truth, even if our passion may be misunderstood... Indeed, the failure to honor our ideals leads to apathy, despair, and a state of inner contradiction. The sages ask: When the Beloved knocks, do we hesitate and say, "I have already taken off my robe – must I put it on again? I have already washed my feet – must I soil them again?" (Song 5:3). When she finally rouses herself to answer the door, alas! he is gone... With God all things are possible, but that includes the risk of loss, the real choice of betraying our heart's desire and losing the highest. May God help each of us set our affections above, eagerly awaiting the promised time of consummation. Amen.
Pinchas and Isaac...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
07.28.16 (Tamuz 22, 5776) The name "Phinehas" (i.e., Pinchas: פִּינְחָס) shares the same numeric value (gematria) as the name "Isaac" (i.e., Yitzchak: יִצְחָק), which suggests that just as Isaac was willing to be sacrificed in obedience to God (i.e., during the Akedah at Moriah), so Pinchas was willing to die for his zeal. Note further that Pinchas' passion turned away the wrath of God and established a covenant of an "eternal priesthood" (כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם), a phrase that shares the letter value as the word be'acharit (בְּאַחֲרִית), a term that means at the "end of days" (Gen. 49:1; 1 John 2:18). To string this together, we see a connection between Isaac and Pinchas, both of whom picture Yeshua our Messiah. Isaac is a picture of the Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים), of course, and Pinchas pictures the zeal that grafts the heart into the everlasting priesthood of God. The Hebrew gematria affirms that the priesthood of Yeshua that brings everlasting peace is the "end of days" priesthood for humanity, and there is no other. Just as Pinchas was "grafted in" to the priesthood of Israel, so those who belong to Messiah are "grafted in" priests for the end of days...
כִּי־קִנְאַת בֵּיתְךָ אֲכָלָתְנִי
וְחֶרְפּוֹת חוֹרְפֶיךָ נָפְלוּ עָלָי
ki · ki·nat · be·te·kha ·a·cha·la·tni
ve·cher·pot · cho·re·fe·kha · na·fe·lu · a·lai
"For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.
So pray with the wholehearted conviction that God has called you to intercede on behalf of the world... Your prayers in the Name above all Names move heaven and earth!
The Courage of Pinchas...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas... ]
07.28.16 (Tamuz 22, 5776) Pinchas is sometimes (unjustly) regarded as a "fanatic" who took the law into his own hands, but it must be remembered that he acted in the midst of a terrible crisis – a mutiny of Israel's leaders who had abandoned God's authority – and he acted courageously, in accordance with God's will, and for the welfare of his people (see Num. 25:1-8). Superficially Pinchas' zeal may appear "dangerous" to those without moral conviction, and his action may seem outrageous to those who are faithless, but God rewarded him with a covenant of peace (בְּרִיתִי שָׁלוֹם) and a covenant of eternal priesthood (בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם) for his courage (see Num. 25:10-13). Understood in context, Pinchas' actions were justified, and it would be a mistake to confuse his conviction with angry and unthinking "fanaticism." Indeed, the real danger of fanaticism in our world may be found in political movements led by those who lust after worldly power. In fact, political demagogues, in the name of their godless philosophies of communism, socialism, and fascism, have murdered more people in the last 100 years than all the religious conflicts in the history of the world combined... Tragically, the 20th century was the bloodiest in human history, with over 260 million people murdered by political movements that suppressed the truth of Scripture and that regarded human beings as mere "animals" to be exploited. Contrary to the zeal of the fascists of today's world, the zeal of Pinchas was of an entirely different order. Where is says, Pinchas "was jealous with my jealousy among them" (Num. 25:11) the S'fat Emet noted that he instilled "among them," that is, the people, a sense of God's passion and truth, and for this he was commended by heaven...
First Step of Torah...
07.28.16 (Tamuz 22, 5776) I sometimes feel concern for people who are obsessed over technical questions regarding "Torah observance" (i.e., dietary law, Sabbath observance, ritual practices, etc.). Whenever the question of moral obedience comes up (as it invariably does in such discussions), it is helpful to recall the first and most basic commandment of all, i.e., the commandment to love the LORD with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. THAT is the starting point. Indeed, the very first of the Ten Commandments is אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ - Anochi Adonai Eloheykha: "I AM the Lord your God." Without this personal acceptance of the LORD as your God (i.e., your willingness to trust and to love Him), you simply cannot fulfill any of the commandments with the right inward intent. We must begin with the duty to love the LORD, and that means regarding him as lovable, wonderful, and the healer of all that is broken within us. The LORD heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3). The "work of God" is to trust in the miracle of his love for you (John 6:29).
There are not two different spiritual paths here: one for the Jew and another for the rest of the world... The LORD God is One, and the duty to receive and walk truth is for all people, just as Yeshua died for the sins of the whole world.
The Breath of Life...
07.27.16 (Tamuz 21, 5776) A verse from this week's Torah (i.e., parashat Pinchas) reveals yet another great Name of God: Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), which can be translated "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 27:16). This Name reveals that God 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 (see Job 12:10). The sages use the analogy of a glassblower who creates a glass vessel. Just as the glassblower blows into a tube to form a vessel from molten glass, so the "breath" (i.e., neshamah: נְשָׁמָה) that comes from the LORD functions as spirit (i.e., ruach: רוּחַ) that forms and fills the human soul (i.e., nefesh: נֶפֶשׁ). Note especially that the Name YHVH (יהוה) first appears in this connection (Gen. 2:7), a Name that also means "God is Present" (Exod. 3:14) and "God is Mercy" (Exod. 34:6-7). And also consider that each letter of the Name YHVH represents a vowel sound (i.e., breath), suggesting that God's Spirit is as close as your very next breath. Like the wind that cannot be seen, so is the spirit the essential part of your identity. Truly in God we "live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).
Note that Elohei ha'ruchot lekhol basar can also be translated as the "God of the breath for all flesh..." When Yeshua cried out, "It is finished" and breathed his last breath as He died for our sins upon the cross, the greatest exhalation of the Spirit occurred, the greatest sigh, the greatest utterance was ever declared. The sacrificial death of Yeshua for our deliverance was God's final word of love breathed out to those who are trusting in Him.
The Gift of Desperation...
[ The following is related to our Torah for this week, Parashat Pinchas, which describes the daily offering of the lamb as God's "food" (Num. 28:1-8)... ]
07.27.16 (Tamuz 21, 5776) Many of us have been given the "gift of holy desperation." That's the special blessing of needing God so viscerally that you will fall apart or even self-destruct apart from His daily intervention in your life... "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3). We groan in hope... Our Torah says that the fire on the altar was to be kept burning at all times (Lev. 6:12-13), which symbolizes esh tamid (אֵשׁ תָּמִיד), or the inner fire of the heart... How blessed it is to be full of the fire of this inner need, this relentless groaning, this constant hunger to be set free. Even more wonderful is how the korban tamid - the daily whole burnt sacrifice of the lamb - represents Yeshua's ongoing and wholehearted passion for you to come alive to God's love...
Rich Toward Heaven...
07.27.16 (Tamuz 21, 5776) From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Pinchas) we read: "For the many you shall make much his inheritance (לָרַב תַּרְבֶּה נַחֲלָתוֹ), and for the few you shall make small his inheritance: each according to his number will be given his inheritance" (Num. 26:54). The sages comment this refers not only to the population of the tribes and their allotment in the land, but also to one's individual share in the world to come (אִישׁ לְפִי פְקֻדָיו יֻתַּן נַחֲלָתוֹ). The "many" refers to one who attends to the Divine Presence and is rich toward heaven, whereas the "few" refers to those who cheat themselves out of their eternal future by making themselves poor toward heaven. Life in the world to come is therefore determined by the investment you are making here, today (1 Cor. 3:8-15; Col. 3:24). The fool lays up treasure for himself on earth and neglects his heavenly calling, but the wise soul is "rich toward God" (Luke 12:16-21). "Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward" (Heb. 10:35).
Center of the Torah...
07.26.16 (Tamuz 20, 5776) According to a fascinating midrash cited by Rabbi Yaakov ibn Chaviv, several of the sages of the Mishnah (i.e., Tannaim) attempted to choose the central verse that summarized the meaning of the entire Torah. Ben Zoma said, "We have found the most all-inclusive verse to be, 'Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is One'" (Deut. 6:4). Ben Nanas said, "We have found the most all-inclusive verse to be, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Lev. 19:18). Shimon ben Pazi said, "We have found the most all-inclusive verse to be, 'The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight'" (Num. 28:4). Then one of the sages stood up and said, "It is ben Pazi who is correct," and the assembly concurred...
In other words, the key idea of the Torah centers on sacrifice, and in particular, the continual sacrifice of the lamb. According to the early sages, the daily sacrifice of the lamb is more important than either the Shema or even the duty to love others... The continual (i.e., tamid: תָּמִיד) sacrifice of the lamb is central to the meaning of the Torah. It is the Torah's most all-inclusive idea; tt is the core idea of true Torah, and it reveals Yeshua!
For more on this, see "The Central Idea of Torah: Further thoughts on Parashat Pinchas."
The Three Weeks...
07.26.16 (Tamuz 20, 5776) We are in the midst of the "Three Weeks of Sorrow" that began with the Fast of Tammuz and ends with the solemn fast of Tishah B'Av. Spiritually, these three weeks are marked by a call for teshuvah (repentance), and the weekly readings from the prophets all warn about judgment from heaven. Now when it comes to teshuvah (turning to God), we need not only to remember and account for the past, but even more do we need to remember the future... "This world is like a corridor before the World to Come; prepare yourself in the corridor, that you may enter into the hall." God tests us along the way, disciplining and correcting us, so that we are no longer "two-souled" but rather strong of faith, with singleness of vision and purpose. So do not forget the future; always remember your true home with God and anticipate the reunion that awaits you...
Keeping your Focus...
07.26.16 (Tamuz 20, 5776) One of the main strategies of the devil is to induce a sense of forgetfulness, apathy, and hopelessness... The devil wants you to ignore what is real and who you really are. The truth is your weapon against the cascade of lies that pours forth from the world and its princes. The entire venture of teshuvah (repentance) presupposes that you are created "in the image of God," that you are related to him, and therefore you have infinite value and dignity. This is all the more evident in light of the awesome ransom that Yeshua gave to reconcile your soul with God. Therefore hold fast to the truth, friends; da lifnei mi attah omed - "know before Whom you stand." Turn to what is real, refuse the lies and despair of this world, and review what will abide the test of Eternity.
כִּי־חַסְדְּךָ לְנֶגֶד עֵינָי
ki · chas·de·kha · le·ne·ged · ei·nai
ve·hit·hal·lakh·ti · ba·a·mi·te·kha
"For your steadfast love is before my eyes
and I walk in your truth."
Note that the verb "I walk" (הִתְהַלַּכְתִּי) is "hithpael," a verb pattern used to express reflexive, intensive action done to oneself. Therefore we could translate this as "I earnestly choose to walk" in the truth, indicating decisiveness of intent, focus, purpose... As King Shlomo said: בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ - "know Him in all your ways" (Prov. 3:6).
Feeding God's Heart...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas... ]
07.25.16 (Tamuz 19, 5776) As I've discussed elsewhere on the site, the climax of the revelation of the Torah at Sinai was not the giving of the Ten Commandments to Israel but was instead the vision of the Altar of the Sanctuary... However -- as our Torah portion this week makes clear -- the central sacrifice upon this altar was the daily sacrifice (i.e., korban tamid: קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד) of a defect-free male lamb with unleavened bread and wine. The LORD calls this "my offering" (קָרְבָּנִי) and "my bread" (לַחְמִי) [Num. 28:1-8]. In other words, the service and ministry of the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle) constantly foretold the coming of the great Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) who would be offered upon the altar of the cross to secure our eternal redemption (John 1:29; Heb. 9:11-12).
The sacrifice of the lamb represents "God's food," a pleasing aroma (רֵיחַ נִיחוֹחַ), for it most satisfied the hunger of God's heart (Eph. 5:2). Indeed, Yeshua's offering upon the cross represents God's hunger for our atonement, our healing from the sickness of death, since it restored what was lost to Him through sin, namely, communion with his children. God could never be satisfied until He was able to let truth and love meet (Psalm 85:10).
Note: For more on this subject, see "The Hunger of God's Heart."
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas... ]
07.25.16 (Tamuz 19, 5776) From our Torah this week we read Moses' appeal for his successor: "Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh (אלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd" (Num. 27:16-17). The Koznitzer rebbe commented here that Moses asked God to appoint a leader "for all flesh," lekhol basar (לְכָל־בָּשָׂר). Rearranging the letters of basar (בָּשָׂר), he formed the word shavar (שָׁבָר), which means "to break in pieces," and concluded that a true leader should be one with a broken heart (לב שבור), that is, one who can sympathize and have pity on his people (Heb. 2:8; 4:15; 5:1-ff). Indeed, the true successor to Moses, the Shepherd of Israel, was to be broken in pieces for all people..
Our Very Present Help...
07.25.16 (Tamuz 19, 5776) "For the very hairs of your head are all numbered" (Matt. 10:30). Yeshua was not using "poetic exaggeration" here, but instead affirmed that God's wisdom and knowledge is so vast that it pervades and encompasses all things (including things about ourselves we do not see or understand). God's providence descends to the subatomic dust and ascends to the massive orbs and stars that sweep through the heavens. There is no realm – no possible world – nothing above, below, or around you – that is beyond God's sustaining power and will. All that was, is, and ever shall be is forever under God's sovereign authority, and he rules over all things for his glory and good. There is no "chance" or "coincidence" in God's universe; nothing is beyond his reach and purposive design. Therefore we can remain at peace even in the midst of the world's turmoil and storms: God is always here, always working for your ultimate healing and good. God is "your refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah."
אֱלהִים לָנוּ מַחֲסֶה וָעז
עֶזְרָה בְצָרוֹת נִמְצָא מְאד
עַל־כֵּן לא־נִירָא בְּהָמִיר אָרֶץ
וּבְמוֹט הָרִים בְּלֵב יַמִּים
E·lo·him la·nu ma·cha·seh va·oz
ez·rah ve·tza·rot nim·tza me·od
al ken lo ni·ra be·cha·mir a·retz
u·ve·mot ha·rim be·lev ya·mim
"God is our refuge and strength,
an everpresent help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.
According to many of the Jewish sages, Psalm 46 concerns the "birth pangs" of the Messianic Age and the prophetic war of Gog and Magog (Ezek. 38-39) that will usher in the Kingdom of God during the End of Days. This is hinted at in the opening of the psalm, where it is written, "Of the sons of Korach: according to alamot (עֲלָמוֹת)," i.e., the "hidden things" or "ages" to come. Recall that the sons of Korach were miraculously delivered from the rebellion of Korach in the desert and therefore they foreshadow the community of Israel delivered at the end of the present age. God is our refuge and strength during perilous days - so "hide yourself for a little moment, until the indignation will have passed" (Isa. 26:20).
God is a very present help in times of trouble, so "if from there [i.e., the trouble of the latter days] you shall seek the LORD your God with all your heart, you will find him, if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 4:29-31). The sages say that machaseh (refuge) implies being protected by God, while 'oz (strength) implies being empowered by God to withstand afflictions that originate from the hand of man. During the time of tribulation, God will grant both to His people. God is our help during distress, "very available," that is, very much present both in quality (i.e., His full Presence) and in quantity (i.e., He is ever-present, or always present). Fear is not an option for the heart of faith, since God gives providential help during time of our need (Heb. 4:16).
Ultimately any true help comes from the LORD Yeshua, of course, who will deliver Israel from all her enemies at the end of the great tribulation period (i.e., at His second coming). It is interesting that the sages say that the word "very" (i.e., me'od: מְאד) in the phrase, "a very present help" is thought to be an acronym for Messiah, Adam, David (מָשִׁיחַ אָדָם דָוִד) - that is, to the "Messiah, son of man and son of David," who will wield the authority of both the first man as well as God's chosen regent upon the earth...
We will not fear - even though the earth will change due to the mighty wars between the nations - and even if the mountains themselves are moved into the heart of the sea -- a prophetic allusion to the return of Yeshua upon the Mount of Olives at the end of the tribulation (Zech. 14:4). Despite the "rage and foam" of the nations, the LORD will break their godless pride as our Messiah returns with the multitude of His servants to exact vengeance upon the enemies of God (Zech. 14:5). "And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one" (Zech. 14:9).
Amen, and may that great Day come soon!
Echoes from the Future...
07.24.16 (Tamuz 18, 5776) Yeshua forewarned of the alienation and moral sickness that would pervade mankind just before the time of his return: "Because lawlessness (i.e., ἀνομία, from -α ('not') + νομος, 'torah') will be increased," he said, "the love of many will grow cold (i.e., ψύχομαι, 'be extinguished')" (Matt. 24:12). Note the link between Torah and love: true love requires respect for God's authority, for without that the divine image is disfigured and desecrated. Likewise the Apostle Paul foresaw that the "End of Days" (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) would be a time of peril (καιροὶ χαλεποί) because people would become increasingly narcissistic, self-absorbed, infatuated with their own sense of self-importance, abusive toward others, disrespectful to elders, ungrateful, heartless, unforgiving, without self-control, brutal, treacherous, and so on (2 Tim. 3:1-4). Therefore, in light of the spiritual war that rages all around us, it is vital that we remain firmly rooted in what is real by taking hold of our identity and provision as children of God. "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (גְּבוּרָה / δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός), i.e., a "delivered" mind -- centered and "healed" from inner chaos (2 Tim. 1:7). The name of the LORD (יהוה) means "Presence," and in Him "we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). He is as close as our heart and our very breath (Rom. 10:8). We are not to be troubled like the world that lives in terror of man, nor are we to crave security from the vain devices of mere men. No - we must look to God Almighty, the Master of the Universe. He alone is our Refuge and Defense, the One who gives us steadfast love in the midst of these storms. "Let not your heart be troubled" - God is in control of the whirlwind, friends...
According to orthodox Jewish eschatological tradition, the period of time immediately before the Messiah's arrival is sometimes called ikvot meshicha (עִקְּבוֹת מְשִׁיחַ), the time when the "footsteps of the Messiah" can be heard. Some of the "signs" of this period include the rise of various false prophets, numerous wars and "rumors of wars" (including the rise of Magog), famines, earthquakes, worldwide apostasy from the faith, persecution, and a globalized sort of godlessness that is revealed in unbridled selfishness, greed, chutzpah (audacity), shamelessness, and a general lack of hakarat ha-tov (gratitude). The greatest sign, however, will be that Israel will exist once again as a sovereign nation, despite the prophesied exile among the nations (Deut. 4:27-31; Jer. 30:1-3). For more on this fascinating subect, see the article "Birthpangs of Messiah."
Parashat Pinchas - פינחס
07.24.16 (Tamuz 18, 5776) Last week's Torah portion (i.e., parashat Balak) first introduced us to Phinehas (i.e., Pinchas), the son of Eleazar the priest (and grandson of Aaron), who, during the tragic rebellion at Baal Peor, zealously removed evil from Israel by driving a spear through a tribal prince who was brazenly cavorting with a Midianite princess in definace of God's law. On account of Pinchas' zeal for the truth of Torah, God stopped the plague and Israel was delivered from destruction...
This week's Torah portion (i.e., parashat Pinchas) begins with the LORD rewarding Pinchas by granting him a "covenant of peace" (בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם) and officially promising to incorporate him into the priestly line of Israel. This promise was remarkable because Pinchas was technically not qualified to be a priest, since he had already been born when the original promise was given to Aaron and his sons, and since his father Eleazar was married to an "outsider" – namely, the daughter of Jethro (also called Putiel, Exod. 6:25).
After Pinchas was honored before the people of Israel, the LORD commanded Moses and Eleazar to conduct another census of the people (this was 39 years after the Exodus from Egypt), with the result of 601,730 men between the ages of twenty and sixty (1,820 less that the original census taken at the start of the journey). Moses was then instructed on how the land was to be divided by lottery among the tribes and families of Israel. The daughters of Zelophehad then petitioned Moses that they be granted the portion of the land belonging to their father, who died without sons, and God accepted their claim and incorporated it into the laws of inheritance.
The LORD then commanded Moses to climb mount Abarim to "see the land which I have given to the children of Israel," though he was forbidden to enter it because he struck the rock twice at Kadesh. God then told Moses to formally appoint Joshua bin Nun as his successor who would lead the Jewish people into the Promised Land.
Parashat Pinchas (like parashat Emor in the Book of Leviticus) also includes mention of all of the (sacrifices of the) mo'edim (holidays) given to Israel (Num. 28). These include the daily (tamid), weekly (Shabbat), monthly (Rosh Chodesh) sacrifices, as well as the sacrifices assigned to the special holidays: Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hoshannah (Terumah), Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret. Remembering the joys of the Temple and the special celebrations of the Jewish people are thought to add a contrast to the otherwise somber time of reflection during the Three Weeks of Sorrow.
The Three Weeks of Sorrow...
07.24.16 (Tamuz 18, 5776) According to Jewish tradition Moses shattered the tablets on the 17th day of the 4th month, after he came down from Mount Sinai and found the people worshipping the golden calf. Today, this tragic date is commemorated as a fast day (i.e., the "Fast of Tammuz"), which marks the beginning of a three week period of mourning that culminates on the 9th of Av, the date the Israelites were sent into exile from the promised land because they believed the evil report of the spies (Num. 14:20-35).
During this three week period of national mourning, the weekly readings from the prophets are all "Haftarahs of Rebuke" that warn the people about imminent judgment from heaven, and therefore the theme of most Jewish religious services is teshuvah (repentance). In addition, weddings or other joyous events are usually not held during this time of year. Indeed, among the very Orthodox, the last nine days of the three weeks are the most rigorous and solemn. Beginning on the first day of the month of Av, traditional mourning customs are practiced in anticipation of the most solemn fast day of Tishah B'Av, when the Book of Lamentations (Megillat Eichah) is plaintively recited during the evening service.
Dates During the Three Weeks of Sorrow:
This year the Fast of Tammuz begins at dawn on Sunday, July 24th and lasts until sunset. Tishah B'Av begins Saturday, August 13th and ends Sunday, July 14th at sunset.
Abiding in Him...
07.22.16 (Tamuz 16, 5776) Yeshua used the allegory of a vine and its branches to illustrate how we are to be spiritually connected to Him: "I am the true Vine, and you are the branches," he said (John 15:1-6). The purpose of the branch is to be a conduit of the life of the vine. We derive our identity, life and strength from being made part of Yeshua's life, His vision, and His purposes... In Hebrew, this idea is called devakut (דְּבָקוּת) which means "cleaving" to God bekhol-levavkha (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ), "with all your heart," and bekhol-nafshekha (בְּכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ), "with all your soul," and bekhol-me'odekha (בְּכָל־מְאדֶךָ), "with all your being..." Cleaving to God is the essence of the great commandment to love the Lord given in the Shema. We are able to so cleave to God in Yeshua because God does a miracle and gives us lev chadash, a new heart to serve Him. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Whether Yeshua is living in you (and you are living in Him) is the most important question of your life upon which everything else ultimately depends. He appeals to each heart of faith: "Live in me, and I will live in you" (John 15:4).
Shabbat Shalom and thank you for being a part of Hebrew for Christians, friends...
Wounds of a Friend...
07.22.16 (Tamuz 16, 5776) "Surely he has taken up our sicknesses and has carried our sorrows; yet we regarded him as stricken, beaten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced (profaned) 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). In this famous passage that foretold the suffering of Yeshua as Mashiach ben Yosef, note that the word translated "blow" (i.e., chaburah: חַבּוּרָה, "wound" or "stripe") comes from the same root as the word for "friend" (i.e., chaver: חָבֵר), and therefore we can read "in His friendship we are healed." Yeshua gave up His life for us so that we could become his friends... As he later said regarding his sacrifice: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Indeed of Yeshua it may truly be said, Yesh ohev davek me'ach – "there is a friend who sticks (davek) closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24).
Practice the Presence...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Balak... ]
07.22.16 (Tamuz 16, 5776) "I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me" (Num. 22:34). The sages comment that ignorance of the Divine Presence is not a legitimate excuse. The whole world is filled with God's glory, though this awareness is suppressed because of sin. Ignorance (literally the "state of ignoring" moral and spiritual truth) is a choice for which we are responsible (Rom. 1:18-20). Sin blinds us to our eternal responsibility. The antidote to ignorance is to become mindful, awake, and aware... We must choose to attend to God's Presence, as David said, "I have set the LORD always before me" (Psalm 16:8). King David knew, of course, that God was always present, all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful, yet he consciously turned to God in heartfelt humility. David "practiced the presence" of the LORD by realizing that all taht he said, did, and even thought was before the Presence of the Master of the Universe.
שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט
shiv·vi·ti · Adonai · le·neg·di · ta·mid
ki · mi·mi·ni · bal · e·mot
"I have set the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken."
Hebrew Study Card
To repair the breach between "faith" and "practice," to unify his heart and its affections, David determined to "set" the LORD before him. Note that the verb "set" here is piel, that is, intensive... We must intently focus our mind and heart to regard ourselves as in the Presence of God; we must sense His eye upon us and "know before Whom we stand." The sages say that when David wrote these words, he was referring to the scroll of Torah which he kept tied to his arm (shel yad). King David literally "set" the Word of the LORD upon his right hand to help him keep focused.
Blessing of the Good Eye...
07.22.16 (Tamuz 16, 5776) "The one who utters a blessing is blessed; the one who utters a curse is cursed" (Ruth Rabbah). This does not mean that we should walk about blessing others in a formulaic (i.e., insincere) way as much as it expresses the great truth that as we are within, so we are without: as we forgive, so we are forgiven; as we give, so we receive... But we can't give to others what we have not received, and that means first of all learning to see how we are loved by God, despite ourselves. We must use ayin tovah, the "good eye" for the sake of our own inner peace. We must extend to ourselves "good will" and compassion before we can offer it to others. If you can't yet love yourself, ask the Lord to help you begin by not hating yourself, by turning away from the fear that hides behind your anger. As Rashi wisely said, "hatred causes a person to forget his identity."
Life from the Dead...
07.21.16 (Tamuz 15, 5776) "Though the outer man perishes..." yet we must not judge by external appearances, since our faith is based on an unseen good: "I am the resurrection and the life (אֲנכִי הַתְּקוּמָה וְהַחַיִּים); whoever believes in me - though he die - yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26). Your faith in God's promise allows you to transcend moments of testing: sickness, perils, even death itself, to establish the reality of your trust. Yes, the physcial body will die (Heb. 9:27), but this too is yet another moment to receive the promise of eternal life. Live in God's name; die in God's name: He is on the other side of the veil, preparing a place for you (John 14:3). "For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's" (Rom. 14:8).
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer man perishes, our inner man is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.... So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the physical body, we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 4:16–5:7).
It is no small thing to believe the message of Yeshua, and indeed, it involves a passionate inwardness that scandalizes the rational mind. Our father Abraham is extolled as the model of righteous faith, but he was tested to sacrifice the moral law (e.g., "thou shalt not murder") when he lifted up the knife to slay his beloved son Isaac. Faith requires you to change your everyday thinking, to go beyond natural expectations, to "walk on water." In the case of Yeshua, we are confronted with the "Absolute Paradox," namely, the God-Man, the Infinite-made-Finite, the Holy-made-Profane, the Sinless-made-Sin, who says to you: "I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26). You will never die; you will never hunger; you are made whole through my brokenness; you will be cleansed by my defilement, and so on. It's not just hard to believe, it's impossible, which is why it is a miracle of God to be saved (Matt. 19:26). "It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is no help at all" (John 6:33). The difference is Yeshua: Salvation is of the LORD. We are enabled to love and know God by means of his inner life and spirit, not by means of good intentions or religious zeal. Faith itself is a miracle, the power of God....
"The thoughts of your heart are disclosed as you choose whether you will believe or not."
- Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813-1855).
Curses turned to Blessings...
[ In our Torah portion this week (Balak), we read how Balaam intended to curse the Israelites, but God "took hold of his tongue" and made him bless the people instead... ]
07.21.16 (Tamuz 15, 5776) God can (and does) turn curses into blessings... For example, Joseph was blessed despite the ill-will of his brothers: "You devised evil against me, but God devised it for good" (Gen. 50:20). Note that the same verb for "devised" (i.e., chashav: חשׁב) is used to describe both the evil intent of the brothers and the good intent of the Lord. This teaches us that God overrules the malice of men to effect his own good purposes, and therefore we can rightfully affirm gam zu l'tovah (גַּם זוּ לְטוֹבָה), "this too is for good" (Rom. 8:28). Underlying the surface appearance of life (chayei sha'ah) is a deeper reality (chayei olam) that is ultimately real, abiding, and designed for God's redemptive love to be fully expressed. Resist the temptation, therefore, to judge by mere appearances. Forbid your troubles to darken the eye of faith. Do not unjustly judge God's purposes or try to understand His ways. As the story of Balaam shows, God makes even the wrath of man praise Him (Psalm 76:10). "Then God opened Balaam's eyes, and he saw the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down..." (Num. 22:31). Indeed, every knee will bow to the LORD our God and Savior (Isa. 45:22-23; Phil. 2:10-11).
We find comfort that the schemes of the wicked are subject to the sovereign purposes of the LORD our God. Ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו) - there is no power that can be exercised apart from God's consent and overarching will... Indeed all authority on heaven and earth belongs to Yeshua, the "the Ruler of the Kings of the earth" (עֶלְיוֹן לְמַלְכֵי־אָרֶץ). As it is written, "All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name" (Psalm 86:9).
Blessing of Inner Peace...
07.21.16 (Tamuz 15, 5776) It is remarkable that the traditional morning blessing recited at synagogues around the world begins with words attributed to Balaam, the enigmatic and self-styled prophet: Mah Tovu: "How lovely are your tents, O Jacob; your dwelling places, O Israel!" (Num. 24:5). The sages say that the word "tent" (אהֶל) refers to the inner life – how we really feel inside – whereas the word "dwelling" (מִשְׁכָּן) refers to the outer life - our place or circumstances. Together, the inner and the outer mark the quality of our lives, but the inner is the starting point, since we must first learn to live in peace with ourselves. This is vital: we must first tolerate our shortcomings and practice compassion toward our frail humanity... This is sometimes called shalom ba'bayit, "peace in the home" (of the self). Such inner peace is the greatest of blessings, since without it we will cling to pain, fear, and anger, thereby making us unable to find our place at the table in God's kingdom of love.
מַה־טּבוּ אהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקב
mah · to·vu · o·ha·le·kha · Ya·a·kov
mish·ke·no·te·kha · Yis·ra·el
"How lovely are your tents, O Jacob,
your dwellings, O Israel"
Note: For more on this, see the Mah Tovu Blessing pages.
07.21.16 (Tamuz 15, 5776) "Judge others as you would want to be judged." As Yeshua said, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge be'tzekdek (בְּצֶדֶק),' that is, with merciful judgment (John 7:24). Truth is classically understood as "correspondence with reality," however since reality is not static, the truth of something is bound up with its past, present, and future. To "walk in truth," then, means being mindful of the complexities of something, and consequently refusing to rush to judgment or to be prejudiced in our thinking... Since truth includes possibilities for the future, it uses the good eye and "hopes all things" (1 Cor. 13:7). Notice that the word tzedek (צֶדֶק) includes the decision to act in "charity" and love. We are commanded to give tzedakah (צְדָקָה, "charity") not only because it is "right," but because it expresses God's love and care for others. A judgment is righteous, in other words, because it decisively affirms faith in God's love...
"Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind... Pride always means enmity - it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good - above all, better than someone else - I think we may be sure we are being acted upon, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is either that you forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether. "- C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity)
Note: I should mention here that the eternal verities are not subject to temporal qualifications, and discernment of other people's doctrine might lead to the (warranted) conclusion that they are trafficking in falsehood (e.g., think of secular humanists, hedonists, cultists, and so on). Understand this entry as a word spoken to someone who is inside the ambit of the basic truths of Scripture, who walks with Yeshua, but who at times may struggle with their own "dogmas" that lead them to anger, fear, etc. In other words, "hope for all things" must be grounded in Reality... However, there is always hope even for enemies of the truth, as the Apostle Paul shows, and we can still believe and pray for eternal healing for those who are presently in darkness.
Uncovering of Eyes...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Balak... ]
07.20.16 (Tamuz 14, 5776) "Then the LORD uncovered Balaam's eyes and he saw..." (Num. 22:31). This implies that the great "seer" had been walking "sightlessly" – blind to reality, closed off, unable to get past his own narrow perspective... Indeed the Hebrew verb for "uncovered" (i.e., galah: גָּלָה) implies captivity and exile (i.e., galut: גָּלוּת). Seeing is essentially a spiritual act – a decision of the will - though to see the truth about reality requires the miracle from God... Just "as the hand held before the eye conceals the greatest mountain," so we hide from view the mysteries and glories that surround our way. Like the man born blind who needed a miracle to see the world around him, so we are delivered from our blindness only when God reaches down and touches us so we can see (John 9). "Amazing grace... I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see."
אַל־תַּסְתֵּר פָּנֶיךָ מִמֶּנִּי
al · tas·teir · pa·ne·kha · mi·me·ni
"Do not hide your face from me" - Psalm 27:9
This is such an important appeal – to be enabled by the miracle to see God's face in all things, in every person we encounter, and in every experience we have... Amen.
Judgment and Projection...
07.20.16 (Tamuz 14, 5776) How easy it is to see the faults of others but to overlook our own; how effortless it is to fool ourselves! But suppose, right when we were judging another, we we to catch glimpse of ourselves? What reflection might we see? Would we see a face of concern, expressing compassion, or a face of anger, expressing fear? Notice that how we see others reveals how we see ourselves: "For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you" (Matt. 7:2). If we see character flaws in others, it is likely we have these very defects ourselves, and the more visceral our reaction, the more likely we share them with those whom we judge...
The Faces of Life...
07.20.16 (Tamuz 14, 5776) The Hebrew word for "face" is panim (פָּנִים), a term that is grammatically plural, which suggests that there is no single "face" or appearance that can fully define or express the essence of a person. Just as your soul (נְשָׁמָה) is a unity that contains a multiplicity of changes yet remains a distinct identity, so there is an "inward face" that abides the outer expressions. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "inside" is penim (פְּנִים), which is spelled exactly the same as the word for "face."
The word panim itself comes from panah (פָּנָה), a verb meaning "to turn." The Hebrew preposition "before" is lifnei (לִפְנֵי), from the same root, which literally means "turning toward" or facing something. This suggests that we have to consider different angles or perspectives and be careful not to jump to conclusions or to make superficial judgments about others. We have to turn in empathy toward others. The Torah says we are to judge be'tzedek (בְּצֶדֶק), that is, with righteousness, by using a "good eye," by giving the benefit of the doubt to others, and by exercising kindness (Lev. 19:15). As Yeshua said, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24).
"Why do you see the speck in your brother's eye, but you don't notice the log in your own?" (Matt. 7:4). The Baal Shem Tov is reported to have said, "It is not good to be alone, for one cannot know one's own defects. Other people are mirrors, in which you can discover your own flaws by observing the acts you dislike in them. In fact, it is only because you share them yourself in some degree that you are able to see another person's flaws." May it be Thy will, Lord and God of our fathers, to remove all barriers between us, and endow us with the vision to see the good in all people, and overlook their defects. Amen.
In the great "three-in-one blessing" known as birkat kohanim (Num. 6:24-26), the LORD is asked to shine the light of His face upon us (פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ), and to lift up His face to behold us in love... The two "faces" here represent the loving countenance of the Divine Presence and our own face turned toward His loving gaze. Therefore the most intimate connection with the LORD is described as being panim el panim (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), being "face to face" with God. The LORD is the One who sees the "face beneath the face" in our hearts, and that face ultimately is that of Yeshua Himself: "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18). "For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Cor. 4:6). Let us therefore come boldly (i.e., without pretense) before the Throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in our time of need" (Heb. 4:16).
Overcoming the Darkness...
07.19.16 (Tamuz 13, 5776) As a seed planted within soil seeks life by "reaching" for the sun, so our souls are drawn upward by the desire for God. The Lord calls us "out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9); he calls us to awaken, to grow, and to come to the fullness of his life (John 10:10). Being called "out of darkness" means being set free of those spiritual forces that have held us captive. When we turn to the Divine Light for our sustenance and healing, we are set free from the pain of our fears and the insanity of evil (Acts 26:18). As it is written: "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7). The Greek word "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός) comes from the verb sodzo (σῴζω), meaning "to save," from saos (σάος) "safe," in the sense of being under care and influence of the Spirit of God. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Heeding the truth of Yeshua grounds you in what is real and reveals your identity and provision as a child of God, as it is written: "For you are my lamp (כִּי־אַתָּה תָּאִיר נֵרִי), O LORD, and my God lightens my darkness" (Psalm 18:28).
Thou Shalt be Satisfied...
07.19.16 (Tamuz 13, 5776) In the Torah we read the rather remarkable commandment: "And you shall eat and be satisfied" (Deut. 8:10), which implies that God desires for us to receive the goodness of life itself. "Taste and see that the LORD is good." Addictions, cravings, lusts, etc., arise from a refusal to be satisfied, by hungering for more than the blessing of the present moment. "My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13). The living waters are present for us, but we will only find them if we open our hearts to the wonder of God in this moment. We can "break the spell" of continual dissatisfaction, of the power of greed, ambition, and so on, when we discover that our constant hunger is really a cry for God and His blessing. This is the blessed "hunger and thirst" given by the Spirit (Matt. 5:6). Our sense of inner emptiness is an invitation to come to the waters and drink life. So let us all come to God's table and ask the Lord Yeshua to give us the water that will satisfy our heart's true thirst for life... Amen.
וְהִתְעַנַּג עַל־יְהוָה וְיִתֶּן־לְךָ מִשְׁאֲלת לִבֶּךָ
גּוֹל עַל־יְהוָה דַּרְכֶּךָ וּבְטַח עָלָיו וְהוּא יַעֲשֶׂה
ve·hit·a·nag · al · Adonai · ve·yit·ten · le·kha · mish·a·lot · lib·be·kha
gol · al · Adonai · dar·ke·kha · u·ve·tach · a·lav · ve·hu · ya·a·seh
"Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act."
Hebrew Study Card
Refuge of Teshuvah...
07.19.16 (Tamuz 13, 5776) The message of teshuvah (repentance) is one of healing. As is written in our Torah, "Guard well your souls..." (וְנִשְׁמַרְתֶּם מְאד לְנַפְשׁתֵיכֶם) [Deut. 4:15]. The Hebrew grammar of this verse is a bit unusual, since the verb shamar (שָׁמַר), meaning to "guard" or to "keep," is written in the passive voice (niphal), i.e., "Let yourselves be guarded well..." If we open our hearts to heed or listen to the truth of God - if we let go and surrender to God's will for our lives - we will be protected from the snares of idolatry. "Know therefore today, and lay it to your heart (וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ), that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath -- there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). When you surrender from the heart you will understand that "the LORD is your Guard" (יְהוָה שׁמְרֶךָ); the LORD is yishmor et nafshekha - "the One who guards your life" (Psalm 121:5,7).
Thank you all for your prayers for my health...
Near the Brokenhearted...
07.19.16 (Tamuz 13, 5776) Spirituality often enough involves a sense of irremediable brokenness, a feeling that you are not whole, that you are a mess, and that your need for God's healing is constant and relentless... Contrary to the ideals of proud humanism, spirituality is a state of "blessed neediness," of being "poor in spirit," that aches with inner desperation for God's power of healing. Those who humbly cry out to the LORD understand their great need for deliverance. Our Lord Yeshua testified: "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10), and therefore He is found in the midst of the leper colonies of the hurting, the forgotten, and the rejected. As the "Man of Sorrows" (i.e., ish makhovot: אִישׁ מַכְאבוֹת) he understands the language of our pain (Isa. 53:3).
קָרוֹב יְהוָה לְנִשְׁבְּרֵי־לֵב
ka·rov · Adonai · le·nish·be·rei · lev
ve·et · dak·ei · ru·ach · yo·shi·a
"The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit"
Hebrew Study Card
The question may be asked, how can we live with our brokenness? Yeshua asks us not to see it as a curse from God that reminds us of our wretched condition but to yield it to Him for our sanctification and ultimate healing... In this way, brokenness can be a gateway to a deeper walk with God, going "through the wound" to find life and blessing...
The Doctrine of Balaam...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Balak. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here... Shavuah tov, chaverim. ]
07.19.16 (Tamuz 13, 5776) The "doctrine of Balaam" (ἡ διδαχή Βαλαάμ) is the wicked strategy of enticing others to sin by encouraging them to "eat food offered to idols" and to engage in sexual immorality (Rev. 2:14). This was how Balaam was able finally to curse the Israelites at Baal Peor, after all (see Num. 25:1-10; 31:16). In short, Balaam's doctrine was one of "syncretism," advocating a mindless "tolerance" that arrogantly claimed that all religions are equally true, and therefore all are equally false... Such "tolerance" is a charade for moral and spiritual nihilism that lends itself well to political fascism. In ancient Rome, official "tolerance" led to the brutal intolerance of the "Imperial Cult" where the power of the State (represented by the Emperor) was worshiped. In our age, the doctrine of Balaam first entices people to "eat food offered to idols," that is, to partake of the irrational dogma of "absolute tolerance" and unthinking universalism. After opening the heart to accept such idolatry, sexual immorality is the natural expression, a consequence of debasing doctrinal promiscuity. God sets us free from the slavery of surrounding culture to become a witness of the truth. Assimilating with this world and its political ideals is spiritual adultery. Do not fool yourself: Whoever makes himself a friend of the world is an enemy of God (James 4:4).
כִּיּ בְּרב חָכְמָה רָב־כָּעַס
וְיוֹסִיף דַּעַת יוֹסִיף מַכְאוֹב
ki · be'rov · choch·mah · rov-ka·as
ve·yo·sif · da'at · yo·sif · makh·ov
"For in much wisdom is much vexation,
and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow"
Keep on Trusting...
07.18.16 (Tamuz 12, 5776) When Yeshua said, "Let not your heart be troubled... I go to prepare a place for you," he was assuring his friends that he had matters well under his control, and therefore they did not need to worry, since his passion rendered their salvation completely secure... The future is a "prepared place" for you, even if life in this world is often marked by testing and various refining fires. God has not promised to rescue us according to our own schedule, however, so if it appears that your prayers are not immediately answered, keep waiting in faith: "Rejoice, even if you have been grieved by various trials, because the tested genuineness of your faith -- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire -- may result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Pet. 1:6-7). God works "all things together for good," and since the exercise of faith is your good, he engineers all things to build your faith. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD" (Isa. 55:8).
Recall the words: "Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God" (Isa. 50:10). Trusting in God (i.e., bittachon - בִּטָּחוֹן) doesn't mean that we are obligated to say this is "the best of all possible worlds," though it does mean we believe that eventually God will wipe away every tear and make all things right... Bittachon is a word for this world, which says, "Though he slay me, I will trust in him..." Those who call upon the LORD can trust not only in concealed good behind ambiguous appearances ("all things work together for good") but also in a future, real, substantive good that will one day be clearly manifest for us all... We fight the "good fight" of faith, which is a worthy struggle that eventually is realized for blessing. Meanwhile, may the LORD our God keep us from such depth of sorrow that leads to sickness, darkness and despair.
The very last promise of Scripture is "I come quickly" (אֲנִי בָא מַהֵר) and the last prayer is, "Amen, come, Lord Yeshua" (אָמֵן בּאָה־נָּא הָאָדוֹן יֵשׁוּעַ) [Rev. 22:20]. Meanwhile we "inwardly groan" for the fulfillment of our redemption; since presently we are suspended between worlds, walking in hope yet subject to the vanities that befall all flesh. And though God may tarry, He declares, "I am the LORD; in its time I will hasten it" (Isa. 60:22). So we are made captives to hope, clinging to the promise of our ultimate healing and redemption. Our hearts therefore affirm that God is faithful "to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 1:24). Amen. God will help us before He will help us, and may He come speedily, and in our day....
He is Faithful and True...
[ In our Torah portion this week (Balak), we read how Balaam intended to curse the Israelites, but God "took hold of his tongue" and made him bless the people instead... ]
07.18.16 (Tamuz 12, 5776) It is encouraging to understand that despite the repeated failures of the Israelites in the desert, the LORD never let go of his people... Indeed, as the story of Balaam reveals, if a spiritual enemy would secretly arise to curse Israel, God would take the sorcerer "by the tongue" to evoke God's blessing instead (Deut. 23:4-5). As Balaam himself attested: "there is no sorcery (i.e., nachash: נַחַשׁ) against Jacob, no divination (i.e, kesem: קֶסֶם) against Israel" (Num. 23:23). Unlike scheming Balaam, who was willing to say whatever people wanted to gain temporal reward, God is "not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind" (Num. 23:19). What the LORD has promised he will invincibly perform: His word is full of integrity and truth: "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8). The God of Israel is forever faithful in his love, and no one can overrule his desire (Num. 23:20; Rom. 11:29).
Personal Update: This week I am going to a surgeon for a consulation; your prayers for me are deeply appreciated. Meanwhile, let's keep our hearts directed toward the Lord and seek after him "b'khol levavkha," with all our being. Amen.
Overruling the Wicked...
07.17.16 (Tamuz 11, 5776) Our Torah portion for this week (Balak) is named after a fretful Moabite king (בָּלָק) who sought to curse the Jewish people by hiring the services of a wicked Midianite "prophet" named Balaam (בִּלְעָם). King Balak's plan was to employ Balaam's sorcery (כַּשָׁפוּת) against the Israelites to prevent them from entering the Promised Land. Similar to the delicious irony that befell the villain Haman in the Book of Esther, however, King Balak's scheme was upended, and the curse he sought to put on the Jewish people was repeatedly pronounced as a blessing by Balaam instead. After several foiled attempts, Balak fretfully dismissed the prophet, but before departing from the dejected king, Balaam ironically prophesied the destruction of the Moabites and the victorious establishment of Israel. The shameful story of Balaam reveals that "there is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel" (Num. 23:23). Ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו) - no weapon or scheme devised against God will ever prosper (Isa. 54:15-17).
But who was this mysterious prophet named Balaam? According to Jewish tradition, Jacob's wicked uncle Laban had a son named Beor (בְּעוֹר), who became the father of Balaam. In other words, the "cursing prophet" Balaam was none other than the grandson of Laban:
Note that the name "Beor" first appears in connection with a king of Edom (Gen. 36:32), which suggests that Balaam might have once been a king of the Edomites (i.e., the descendants of Esau). Further note the phonetic similarity to Peor. If Beor and Peor are the same, then Balaam was actually a prophet of Baal Peor, a local Semitic god.
Balaam was regarded as a great seer, magician and an adept in the occult. He had an "evil eye" and drew the spirit of demons to anything he gazed upon (Avot 5:22). His notoriety made him famous, and powerful people asked him to invoke curses on their enemies. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 106a) states that Balaam became so famous as a magician that he later became a chief advisor to Pharaoh. It was Balaam who advised the new Pharaoh to enslave the Israelites and to afflict them with brutal taskmasters (Exod. 1:8-11). For more information about the identity of Balaam, see the entry entitled, "The Curses of Balaam."
Doing to Know...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat. Shabbat Shalom friends! ]
07.15.16 (Tamuz 9, 5776) The commandments of God are usually divided between the rational laws (i.e., mishpatim) and the divine decrees (i.e., chukkim), though this distinction is somewhat artificial, since all of the commandments of the Torah (and that includes the Torah of the New Covenant) are grounded in the mystery of God's will, which is to say that we are to obey them simply because they derive from the Divine Authority itself... When the people gathered before Moses to receive the covenant at Mount Sinai, they said: "All the LORD has spoken we will do and we will hear" (na'aseh ve'nishmah: נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע). Note the order: first comes the decision to obey (na'aseh), and then comes understanding (ve'nishmah). As Yeshua said, "If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will understand" (John 7:17). The heart of faith is willing to do what God asks before hearing what exactly is required. Many people operate the other way round, sitting in judgment of God's word, demanding to understand why they should obey. You cannot understand apart from faith, however, and that is categorically true of all forms of knowledge, which is usually defined as "justified true belief." We are to be "doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves" (James 1:22). The Greek verb used in this verse is emphatic: "Be doers!" (γίνεσθε) means "be born! come alive! do, live, exist before God! This is a call to creative action, to newness of life!
The Scriptures state that "if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like" (James 1:23-24). If we just hear the truth but do not act upon it, we are comically likened to someone who carefully looks at his face in a mirror but then promptly forgets what he looks like after he steps away... Likewise those who only hear the word but do not bring it to life in their deeds forget who they are and why they were created (Eph. 2:10; Titus 2:14; Col. 1:10). When we look into the mirror of truth we see our need for teshuvah and turn to God for the healing miracle he provides (Heb. 4:12). It's not about doing but being, though being is revealed in doing... If your actions do not align with your values, then back up and recover who you really are in Messiah, understand what your new nature truly is. That is what it means to "take up the yoke" of Messiah, for his yoke is easy (kal) and burden is light, and the task is to repeatedly practice allowing Him to carry your pain, shame, and sin far, far away from your heart.
There is a deeper law, however, a "mirror" that reveals something beyond our passing image. When we look intently into the "perfect law of liberty" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵרוּת וּמַחֲזִיק) - the law of faith, hope, and love for our Savior - we find blessing in our deeds (James 1:25). Note that the verb translated "look into" the law of liberty is the same used when John stooped down to "look inside" the empty tomb of Yeshua (John 20:5). The deeper law reveals the resurrection power of God's invincible love. The Torah of the New Covenant also has many mitzvot, though these are based on the love God gives to us in Yeshua: "This is my Torah: that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34).
Decrees of the Heart...
07.15.16 (Tamuz 9, 5776) The classical sages say that the "chukkim," or the divine decrees whose rationale defy human understanding, are necessary for the practice of faith since otherwise people would attempt to rationalize spirituality into merely ethical concerns... The sacrifice of the red heifer transcends human comprehension, just as the divine exchange makes the pure impure and the impure pure. That is the message of the cross, after all. The deeper aspects of revelation go beyond human reason since they are bound up in the heart and passion of God. The cross of Yeshua reveals the Center of God's Mysterious Love for us.
וַאֲנִי עָלֶיךָ בָטַחְתִּי יְהוָה
אָמַרְתִּי אֱלהַי אָתָּה
va·a·ni · a·le·kha · va·tach·ti · Adonai
a·mar·ti · e·lo·hai · at·tah
But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, "You are my God."
Substance and Faith...
07.15.16 (Tamuz 9, 5776) Do we understand in order to believe, or do we believe in order to understand? Faith sees what is possible; it "reifies" hope and abides in the realm of promise (Heb. 11:1). Therefore we believe in order to see; we do not see in order to believe... As Blaise Pascal once said, "The heart has its reasons that reason knows not of." We don't look to the scientific method to discover meaning, value, purpose, and so on, since science presupposes these things. Science cannot validate itself using its own methodology, nor can it explain why there is an external world, why the future should resemble the past, or why there is something rather than nothing at all... Nor can science explain the heart's hunger for life, for meaning, for love, beauty, and for deliverance from alienation, guilt, and death. Science "explains" music in terms of sound waves, but the human heart hears melody, longing, hope... Faith requires you to go beyond the sensible world of the human mind, with its causes and effects, to descry the deeper world of the Spirit.
Shadows and Reality...
07.15.16 (Tamuz 9, 5776) Sometimes we lose sight of our true and abiding end... The ancient thinker Socrates argued that philosophy, when done correctly, was "practice for death," since the passing shadows of this world pointed to unchanging good, our true end. Likewise Yeshua our Messiah taught us to take up the cross and die daily (Luke 9:23). It is difficult for us to die and "let go," however, often because we are deeply attached to this world, and we often abide under the worldly illusion that we will live forever, that tomorrow will resemble today, and that heaven can wait... History is littered with crumbling monuments offered to the idols of this world. The Scriptures are clear, however: "The present form (τὸ σχῆμα) of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31), and the heart of faith seeks a city whose Designer and Builder is God Himself (Heb. 11:10). "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day... For the things that are seen are turning to dust, but the things that are unseen endure forever (2 Cor. 4:16-18). Because of our sin, creation was made "subject to vanity," though God has overcome the dust of death by giving us an unshakable hope (Rom. 8:20).
אָדָם לַהֶבֶל דָּמָה
יָמָיו כְּצֵל עוֹבֵר
a·dam · la·he·vel · da·mah
ya·mav · ke·tzel · o·veir
"Man is like a breath;
his days are like a passing shadow."
The truth that ha'kol oveir (הַכּל עוֹבֵר), "everything passes" like a shadow, should help us keep our perspective regarding the various moments of testing we all face in this life. As Nachman of Breslov once said, "The whole earth is a very narrow bridge, and the important thing is never to be afraid" (כָּל־הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ גֶּשֶׁר צַר מְאד וְהָעִקָּר לא לְפַחֵד כְּלָל). Yeshua is the Bridge to the Father, the narrow way of passage that leads to life. He has overcome the meretricious world and its vanities. He calls out to us in the storm saying, "Take heart. It is I; be not afraid" (Matt. 14:27). When Peter answered the call and attempted to walk across the stormy waters, he lost courage and began to sink, but Yeshua immediately took hold of him, saying, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt (lit., think twice)?"
Loving God's Torah...
07.15.16 (Tamuz 9, 5776) "Oh how I love your Torah! It is my meditation all the day long" (Psalm 119:97). The sages note that the evil inclination (יֵצֶר הָרָע) can fool a person into thinking he fears God and loves Torah, when such is not case (we can so identify with what we "ought" to be that we deny what we really are). The test is this: What do you talk about? What occupies your passion? What is your ultimate concern? What is your chief delight? King David put aside concerns of ambition and worldy success and made God's truth the focus of his attention: "One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple" (Psalm 27:4).
כָּל־הַיּוֹם הִיא שִׂיחָתִי
mah · a·hav·ti · to·ra·te·kha
kol · ha·yom · hi · si·cha·ti
"Oh how I love your Torah;
It is my meditation all the day."
Hebrew Study Card
This verse begins the "Mem section" of the Psalm 119 acrostic. Mem is the letter of "water" (mayim), symbolizing the "spring" of the Torah. In traditional soferut (scribal arts), the letter Mem (מ) is formed from two parts: a Vav (ו) and a Kaf (כ), the gematria of which equals 26, the same value for the sacred Name YHVH (יהוה). The Torah (תּוֹרָה) is central to the revelation of the LORD, just as Yeshua is forever "the Voice of the Living God speaking from the midst of the fire" (Deut. 5:26, Matt. 17:1-3).
Note that the phrase "my meditation" (שִׂיחָתִי) comes from the Hebrew word siyach (שִׂיחַ), meaning to meditate, ponder, to rehearse or "go over in one's mind," to talk about, etc. In Proverbs 6:20-22, this word is used to refer to the inward voice heard by a son who has bound his parent's teachings to his heart: "When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you (תְשִׂיחֶךָ)." Indeed the same root is used to describe God's thought (שֵׂחַ) in Amos 4:13 (cp. 1 Cor. 2:16).
The Hebrew word "Torah" (תּוֹרָה) is often rendered as "law" in many English translations, but this is unfortunate, since the word comes from the root word yarah (יָרָה), which means "to shoot an arrow" or "to hit the mark." Understood in light of this, Torah does not so much denote a set of rules that (legalistically) prescribe behavior, as it reveals a sense of direction or aim in the way of life (הַדְרָכָה). Loving Torah, then, means earnestly appreciating the gracious revelation of the Lord as He instructs us regarding who we are and how we are to live before Him as His beloved children...
Note: For more on this important topic, see "Delighting in Torah."
Purging from Sin...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
07.14.16 (Tamuz 8, 5776) It is noteworthy that cedarwood, hyssop, and scarlet thread were used not only for cleansing the leper (Lev. 14) and for cleansing from contact with death (Num. 19), but also during the ratification of the covenant at Sinai (Exod. 24:8; Heb. 9:19-20) and indeed during the crucifixion of our Lord. Of course hyssop (אֵזוֹב) is first mentioned regarding the application of the blood of the lamb upon the doorposts during the Passover (Exod. 12:22), and King David later appealed to God for cleansing saying, "purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean" (Psalm 51:7). A hyssop branch was also used to offer vinegar to Messiah during the time of his crucifixion (John 19:29). Likewise the wood from a cedar tree (עֵץ אֶרֶז) was used to purify both the leper and those contaminated with death, and it is likely the type of wood used for the cross of Messiah. Finally, scarlet (שָׁנִי) thread symbolizes both blood and royalty, and appears in the birth of Judah's children Zerach and Peretz (Gen. 38:28), in the coverings of the Tabernacle, as a sign of Rahab's faith (Josh 2:8,21), and as the color of the robe of Messiah during his crucifixion (Matt. 27:28).
The Scarlet Thread...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat (Num. 19:1-22:1). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
07.14.16 (Tamuz 8, 5776) Among other things this week's Torah portion (chukat: חֻקַּת) describes the highly unusual ritual law of the Red Heifer (parah adumah) whose ashes purify those contaminated by contact with death... This ritual is considered chok (חק) within the Jewish tradition, meaning that it makes no apparent rational sense. The Talmud states that of all the various commandments, judgments, and decrees found in the Torah, this is the only one that King Solomon could not fathom, causing him to exclaim: "I said I would be wise, but it is far from me" (אָמַרְתִּי אֶחְכָּמָה וְהִיא רְחוֹקָה מִמֶּנִּ, Eccl. 7:23). However, as I hope you will see, the symbolism of the red heifer clearly foreshadows the sacrifice of the Messiah that delivers us from the uncleanness of death... "You are far, farther than the heavens and near, nearer than my own body" (ben Asher).
It has been said that we are not punished for our sins, but by means of them, which is to say that the act of sinning itself is to suffer spiritual separation, loss, and even death itself... King David understood that because of his sin he became "unclean" through his contact with death, and therefore he used the imagery of being sprinkled with the waters of the red heifer in his appeal to the LORD: "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."
תְּחַטְּאֵנִי בְאֵזוֹב וְאֶטְהָר
תְּכַבְּסֵנִי וּמִשֶּׁלֶג אַלְבִּין
te·cha·te·ei·ni · ve·e·zov · ve·et·har
te·kha·be·sei·ni · u·mi·she·leg · al·bin
"Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow"
We find cleansing and healing from the LORD: "Come, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins have stained you like scarlet, you can become white like snow; even though they are red as crimson, they will be like wool" (Isa. 1:18). As our Torah portion this week explains, scarlet was one element added to the fire of the red cow to create the purifying waters that were applied by hyssop branches. The Hebrew word for "scarlet" (שני) means "double-dyed," from shanah (שנה), to repeat or double, suggesting the deep stain of sin within the human heart... Scarlet was also added to the running water when the metzora ("leper") was cleansed.
Indeed, you can follow the "scarlet thread" throughout the Scriptures, from the very first sacrifice in the garden to the cross of Messiah. In connection with our Torah portion, it is noteworthy that scarlet was the color of Yeshua's robe when bearing our sins (Matt. 27:28), and Yeshua indeed is the perfect fulfillment of the red heifer, the Substance of all its symbolism (Heb. 9:13-14). Like the heifer, Yeshua was completely without sin or defect (2 Cor 5:21; John 8:46); He was sacrificed outside the camp (Heb 13:13); He made Himself sin for us (2 Cor 5:21); His sprinkling makes us clean (1 Pet 1:2; Heb 12:24; Rev 1:5); and the "water of separation" that His sacrifice created is the means by which we are made clean from the impurity of sin (Eph 5:25-6; Heb 10:22). Thank the LORD God of Israel for the eternal cleansing we have in Yeshua our Messiah!
Note: When we consider the symbolism and relevance of the red heifer sacrifice, it is important to clarify our terms... It is overly simplistic for Christians to regard the Torah (תּוֹרָה) using the general term "law." The writings of Moses include a wide range of material, including sacred history, poetry, songs, prophecies, traditions, rituals, commandments, and covenants. In general, the ancient sages divide the Torah into aggadah (stories) and halakhah (legal material), though the legal material is subdivided into chukkim (חֻקִּים), that is, "divine decrees" given without a specified reason, and mishpatim (מִשְׁפָּטִים), or "moral laws" given for a clearly specified reason (an example of the former is the decree of the Red Cow; of the latter, the commandment against stealing). In addition, the Torah includes eidot (עֵדוֹת) or "testimonials" (from the root word, 'ed, "witness") that commemorate events in redemptive history, such as Shabbat, the Passover seder, and the other holidays of the Torah's calendar (i.e., the mo'edim [מוֹעֲדִים], lit. "the appointed witnesses"). For more on this fascinating subject, see "Taryag Mitzvot: A List of the 613 Commandments."
Courage in Affliction...
07.13.16 (Tamuz 7, 5776) There are some well-meaning souls who seem to think that the life of faith in Yeshua should be relatively pain-free and without the normal sorts of infirmities that affect all people. These people seem to reason that since Yeshua died on the cross as a ransom for our sins, being bruised for our iniquities, we should therefore be set free from pain and sickness of every kind (based on their reading of Isa. 53:5, and in particular the Hebrew phrase וּבַחֲבֻרָתוֹ נִרְפָּא־לָנוּ, "by his wounds we are healed"). This implies that if a Christian gets sick or experiences loss in their life, then he/she must somehow be deficient either in their understanding of the power of the atonement or in the exercise of their faith... Such a viewpoint seems to suggest that followers of Messiah are supposed to lead lives of (American-style) "prosperity," with papier-mâché smiles and an undying "can do" attitude -- even in the face of the most heart-rending adversity, injustice and pain in the world.
For more on this topic see: "Courage in Sickness: Dealing with pain, loss, and illness."
The Source of Help...
07.13.16 (Tamuz 7, 5776) Where it is written, "I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come?" (Psalm 121:1), the Hebrew interrogative applies to the verb of the first clause: "Will I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where my help comes?" The answer to the rhetorical question immediately follows: "No! My help comes from the LORD – oseh shamayim va'aretz – the One who makes heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:2). Every moment of the present hour is subject to God's creative and providential rule, and therefore the godly look to heaven for the help they need, not to the high places of men with their worldly powers.
אֶשָּׂא עֵינַי אֶל־הֶהָרִים מֵאַיִן יָבא עֶזְרִי
עֶזְרִי מֵעִם יְהוָה עשֵׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ
es·sa · ei·nai · el-he·ha·rim · me·a·yin · ya·vo · ez·ri?
ez·ri · me'im · Adonai · o·seh · sha·ma·yim · va·a·retz
"I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth."
Hebrew Study Card
07.12.16 (Tamuz 6, 5776) If you receive no solace for your suffering; if you find no ready comfort despite repeated appeals to heaven; then you must surrender your heartache, your grief, and your troubles to God in complete trust of his overarching will: "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done" (Matt. 26:42). In this way you sanctify your suffering, trusting in God's care, even if you have been grieved by various trials (1 Pet. 1:6). Suffering for the sake of love ultimately provides healing for that which is broken, and indeed such suffering "fills up what is lacking in Messiah's afflictions" (Col. 1:24).
יְהוָה נָתַן וַיהוָה לָקָח
יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָך
Adonai · na·tan · vadonai · la·kach
ye·hi · shem · Adonai · me·vo·rakh
"The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the Name of the LORD be blessed."
Hebrew Study Card
Job questioned the meaning of his life in light of his relentless suffering: "Cursed is the day that I was born... Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire? ... Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul?" (Job 3). Job's friends, so full of "piety" and religious wisdom, were quick to offer "God's answer" for his pain, though of course they did not really speak for God at all, but simply sought to protect themselves from facing their own fears... They needed an explanation to justify their own life, and therefore they sought to rationalize Job's torment. "God is perfect and never unjust," they insisted, and therefore Job's suffering was punitive, the result of his hidden sin, and ultimately intended to be corrective... Job rejected such religious platitudes and the notion of a "karma-based" theodicy, and instead directly appealed for heaven's vindication. Finally God allowed Job to voice his lament and to vent his pain and outrage, and only then - after Job had finished his case - was the revelation of God's mystery and love disclosed...
What Job didn't need were glib answers, cheap talk, shallow certainties, and sanctimonious mumbo-jumbo... To be truly healed, Job needed to give voice to his pain, to question God's care, and to rediscover the meaning and wonder of the Divine Presence despite his afflictions... Job needed someone safe to share his burden with, a friend who "sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24). Thank God for Yeshua, who feels the pain of our infirmities and intercedes for us with heaven's own sympathy (Heb. 4:15-16).
The Gift of Life...
07.12.16 (Tamuz 6, 5776) "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly discerned, being understood by the things that are made…" (Rom. 1:20). The very first kindness that God bestows upon you is the miracle of your existence itself, namely, that he "wove you together" in your mother's womb (תְּסֻכֵּנִי בְּבֶטֶן אִמִּי) and brought you into being from nonexistence (Psalm 139:13). In Him you "live and move and have your being" (Acts 17:28). You were created b'ahavat olam (בְּאַהֲבַת עוֹלָם), in everlasting love, and indeed God knew you before you were born (בְּטֶרֶם אֶצּוֹרְךָ בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ) (Jer. 1:5; 31:3). You are "fearfully and wonderfully made," a unique soul that bears the handiwork of heaven itself. God's love and mercy sustains your days; the LORD compasses you "behind and before" and lays his hand upon you; He knows all your ways (Psalm 139:1-5). Indeed, God prepares a place for you and calls you to join him at the celebration of his love given in Yeshua.
בְּטֶרֶם אֶצּוֹרְךָ בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ
וּבְטֶרֶם תֵּצֵא מֵרֶחֶם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּיךָ
נָבִיא לַגּוֹיִם נְתַתִּיךָ
be·te·rem · e·tzor·kha · va·be·ten · ye·da·ti·kha
u·ve·te·rem · tei·tzei · me·re·chem · hik·dash·ti·kha
na·vi · la·goy·im · ne·ta·ti·kha
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
Mother of the Golden Calf...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat... ]
07.12.16 (Tamuz 6, 5776) Some of the sages, such as Rashi, have said that the ritual of the Red Heifer (פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה) was intended to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf (egel ha-zahav). The Golden Calf represents seeking for life in this finite world, losing sight of the invisible, unnamable, and mysterious Creator and Redeemer. Idolatry expresses our fear of being abandoned in the desert, and impels us to seek for security and comfort in the immediacy of the moment. The ritual of the Red Heifer brings us face to face with our contact with death and offers us purification and healing. The cow itself symbolizes our impulse to idolatry, which must be turned entirely to dust and ash in the fires of God's truth. To this are added cedar, representing our pride, and hyssop, representing our lowliness. A crimson string is added that symbolizes our blood connection and lower nature (דּם). All these are burned together and the ashes mixed with living water to create a holy admixture that heals us from the perversity of death. Ironically, we are cleansed from the "dust and ashes" of death by being sacrificially covered with God's "dust and ashes" given in our place.
Kiddush and Comfort...
07.11.16 (Tamuz 5, 5776) "And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying... 'Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted' (Matt. 5:4). Mourning is the expression of care, the voice of pain, the sorrow of a broken heart. Those who mourn care deeply; they feel the weight of loss; they grieve over sin. Such sorrow expresses the longing to be released from inner sickness of evil, as Yeshua said: "from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts..." (Mark 7:21). Our own evil desires convict us of the truth... Here there is no place left to hide, no rationalization, no vain hope for self-reformation - just the raw revelation of our fatal condition and the sincere appeal for God's mercy in Yeshua. Mourning over our sins draws us to God, to the Comforter (παράκλητος) who "comes alongside" to bind up the broken heart. The danger remains, however, for those who deny their sin and refuse to mourn, since they are made blind to God's forgiveness and comfort (John 9:41). How shall God be able in heaven to dry up your tears when you haven't wept?
זאת נֶחָמָתִי בְעָנְיִי
כִּי אִמְרָתְךָ חִיָּתְנִי
zot · ne·cha·ma·ti · ve'·on·yi
ki · im·ra·te·kha · chi·yat·ni
"This is my comfort in my affliction,
that your word gives me life."
Hebrew Study Card
One of the great tests of our faith is "enduring ourselves" as we learn to love as God loves us... To do so, we must receive the miracle of Jesus... We must look beyond the realm of appearance, where the "outward man" perishes, to the realm of ultimate healing, where the "inward man" is finally liberated from the ravages of sin and death. This is comfort we have in affliction: God's promise revives our hearts to say, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth" (Job 19:25). Even in the "shadow of the valley of death" (i.e., this moribund and broken world), the LORD is with us and comforts us with His Presence (Psalm 23:4). We are given this great promise: "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:49).
Saved from Death's Sting...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat... ]
07.11.16 (Tamuz 5, 5776) "Everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live" (Num. 21:8). The fiery serpent – the very sting of which brings death – is what must be looked upon, confronted, and confessed. We must look at that which kills us, and by seeing it, we can then see God's miracle (נֵּס) that delivers us... Therefore we look to the cross – the place where Yeshua clothed himself with our sickness and sin – to realize God's remedy for our eternal healing. As Yeshua explained to Nicodemus, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14-15). Humanity as a whole has been "bitten by the snake" and needs to be delivered from its lethal venom. Just as the image made in the likeness of the destroying snake was lifted up for Israel's healing, so the One made in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3) was to be lifted up as the Healer of the world. In Yeshua the miraculous exchange takes place: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). Bless His holy name!
Beauty for Ashes...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat. Please read the Torah summary to "find your place" here. ]
07.10.16 (Tamuz 4, 5776) The ashes of the red heifer represented the death and sacrifice of something extremely rare, valuable, and precious. The ashes were mixed with "living water" (מַיִם חַיִּים) to reveal the truth that though the end of all flesh is but dust and ashes, the Spirit gives cleansing and life. Indeed the word ashes (אֵפֶר) may be rearranged to spell both cure (רַפֵא) and beauty (פְאֵר). The author of the book of Hebrews argues from the lesser to the greater: If the sprinkling of water mixed with the ashes of a red heifer purify the flesh from contamination with physical death, how much more does the blood of Messiah purify the soul from the deeds that cause spiritual death? (Heb. 9:13-14). Indeed, because of Yeshua's sacrifice we are given "beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness," that we may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified (Isa. 61:3).
Our Wounded Healer...
[ The following entry concerns our Torah reading for this week, parashat Chukat... ]
07.10.16 (Tamuz 4, 5776) Our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Chukat) begins with the words: zot chukat ha-Torah (זאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה), "this is the decree of Torah" (Num. 19:2). The language here is both striking and unique, suggesting that what follows (i.e., the mysterious ritual of the red heifer) is "the seminal decree" of the entire Torah... If we think about the meaning of the red heifer, however, we will understand that its ashes were used to create the "waters of separation" (i.e., mei niddah: מֵי נִדָּה) to cleanse people from contact with death (i.e., separation). To fulfill this vital decree, however, required sacrificial love, since the priest who performed this service would become defiled (separated) for the sake of the healing of others... In this connection note that the Hebrew word for love is ahavah (אַהֲבָה), which comes from a root verb (יָהַב) that means "to give." Love means giving of yourself to benefit another person (John 15:13). The central decree of Torah, then, which is reckoned beyond our ability to rationally understand, is that God's love is so great that it is willing to become dust and ashes on our behalf so that we might find blessing and life...
The mitzvah of parah adamah (i.e., the red heifer) represents the suspension of logic in deference to the Divine Will. This attitude is not restricted to this mitzvah. Scripture introduces the mitzvah of the parah adamah with the words "this is the law of the Torah." Surrendering one's own reasoning and accepting the superior reasoning of Hashem is the law of the entire Torah... To the extent that we let go of our own will, we can understand the Divine will. Our ancestors at Sinai understood this ideal when they proclaimed, "we will do and then we will understand." Torah is not beyond our understanding, but we must be willing to make the sacrifices that true Torah understanding demands. - Living Each Day, Rabbi Abraham Twerski
Yeshua willingly became unclean on our behalf - through contact with our sin and death - so that we could become clean (Isa. 53:4, 2 Cor. 5:21, Gal. 3:3, Eph. 5:2, Titus 2:14). The pure became impure through His sacrificial offering. Because of Him, we have been cleansed from our sins "by a better sprinkling" than that which the Tabernacle of Moses could afford (Matt. 26:28, Heb. 9:14, 12:24, Eph. 1:7, 1 Pet. 1:2,18-19, Rom. 5:9; Col. 1:14, 1 John 1:7, etc.).
Decision and Revelation...
07.08.16 (Tamuz 2, 5776) Every one of us is a teacher of sorts, proclaiming through our personal choices what we believe to be true. False teachers are those whose choices "teach" that there is no God, no eternal life, no meaning to life, and ultimately, no real hope... It cannot be any other way, for we all teach by our choices; we communicate by our assumptions of what we regard is of "ultimate concern." Postmodern philosophy never answered any of the haunting existential questions of life, such as: What is reality? Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the purpose of life? What happens when we die? Who am I? Do moral choices matter? and so on, but instead merely reinterpreted the hunger for meaning to be about power and control... Nonsense! People may evade the great questions of life by pretending they are unknowable, but Scripture attests that all people are created in God's image and are intuitively aware of God's reality and power: "For His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made; so they are without excuse" (Rom. 1:20). We have a sacred duty to honor God's truth and that implies we bear a sacred animosity toward lies and false teaching. "Do not be deceived: associating with false teaching corrupts good character" (1 Cor. 15:33). We hate sin because it wounds and kills the soul. Think straight; awaken to the holiness of life; turn away from vain thoughts and lies; embrace the truth of God's salvation.
Every day we make decisions regarding good and evil, and therefore every day we are deciding (i.e., proclaiming, teaching, and attesting) our faith to others. The issue is not whether we love or whether we hate, but what we love and what we hate....
יִרְאַת יְהוָה שְׂנאת רָע
גֵּאָה וְגָאוֹן וְדֶרֶךְ רָע
וּפִי תַהְפֻּכוֹת שָׂנֵאתִי
yir·at · Adonai · se·not · ra,
ge·ah · ve·ga·on · ve·de·rekh · ra
u·fi · tah·pu·khot · sa·nei·ti
"The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate."
Followers of Yeshua must love the truth and abhor the lie. Tolerating sin in a world ripe for judgment is a tacit form of "collaboration" with the enemy... Indeed, the only thing regarded as intolerable in the devil's world is the objection that people have a supposed "liberty" to sin. But the LORD is clear on this point: those who call evil good and good evil are doomed. Therefore we are enjoined: "O you who love the LORD, hate evil" (Psalm 97:10). Yes, hate what is evil and love what is good (Amos 5:15). The connection between loving God and hating evil is repeated in the New Testament: "Let your love be genuine (ἀνυπόκριτος, without a "mask" put on): abhor what is evil; cling to what is good (Rom. 12:9). If we truly love the LORD, let us walk in the awe of His great Name by hating what is evil.
The Way of Truth...
07.08.16 (Tamuz 2, 5776) The Hebrew idea of "truth" (i.e., emet: אֱמֶת) is richer than factual description or "correspondence" between language and reality, since it contains moral implications and possibilities: what is true is also right, good, reliable (honest), beautiful, and sacred. The Hebrew word comes from a verb (aman) that means to "confirm" or establish, and the noun form (i.e, emunah: אֱמוּנָה, "faithfulness" or "trustworthiness") expresses the will to live by what is ratified, the "amen" of decision. The Hebrew concept is therefore existential: truth that is not lived is not really truth at all. Speaking the truth (dibbur emet) and abhoring dishonesty are considered foundational to moral life, as it is written: "Speak the truth (דַּבְּרוּ אֱמֶת) to one another; render true and perfect justice in your gates" (Zech. 8:16). Yeshua said, "Amen, amen I say to you...." throughout his ministry to stress the reliability and certainty of God's truth (Matt. 5:18, 26, etc.). Indeed, the Savior is called "the Amen, the faithful and true witness" (Rev. 3:14).
The ancient Greek word translated "truth" is aletheia (ἀλήθεια), a compound formed from an alpha prefix (α-) meaning "not," and lethei (λήθη), meaning "forgetfulness." Greek scholars say the word lethei itself derives from the verb lanthano (λανθάνω), which means "to be hidden," so the general idea is that a-letheia (i.e., truth) is non-concealment, non-hiddenness, or (put positively) revelation or disclosure. Thus the word of Yeshua - His message, logos (λόγος), revelation, and presence - is both "unforgettable" and "irrepressible." Yeshua is the Unforgettable One that is manifest as the express Word of God (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים). He is the Light of the world (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם) who imparts the "light of life" (John 8:12). Though God's message can be supressed by evil and darkened thinking, the truth is regarded as self-evident and full of intuitive validation (see Rom. 1:18-21).
Note that the LXX (i.e., the ancient Greek translation of the Torah and OT otherwise known as the Septuagint) dates from the time of the philosopher Plato, though of course the Hebrew text dates back to the time of Moses (13th century BC) and even earlier. About 300 BC, "Theophrastus," a student of Aristotle, wrote of the Jews that 'being philosophers by race, they converse with each other about the Divine." Abraham, who dates from about 2,000 BC, was the first avowed monotheist who openly repudiated the polytheism and idolatry of ancient Ugaritic culture (Abraham long predates the rise of Hinduism and the animistic hymns of the Vedas and their priestly commentary found in the Upanishads by a thousand years, just as Judaism predates "Islam" by thousands of years). Similarly, both David and his son Solomon (10th century BC) wrote "existential" works of philosophy, predating the modern world by nearly 3,000 years...
Ahavat Olam - Everlasting Love
07.08.16 (Tamuz 2, 5776) Salvation is "of the LORD" (לַיהוָה הַיְשׁוּעָה); we are not saved "by works of righteousness (מַעֲשֵׂי הַצְּדָקָה) that we have done, but solely on account of the mercy given to us in God our Savior (אֱלהִים מוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ; Titus 3:4-5). Grace excludes all boasting (Eph. 2:9; Rom. 4:4). We believe that God justifies the ungodly by trusting in his heart of compassion (Rom. 4:1-8). God loves us with "an everlasting love" (i.e., ahavat olam: אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם) and draws us in chesed (חֶסֶד, i.e., His faithful love and kindness). As it is written: "I love you with an everlasting love; therefore in chesed I draw you to me" (Jer. 31:3). Note that the word translated "I draw you" comes from the Hebrew word mashakh (מָשַׁךְ), meaning to "seize" or "drag away" (the ancient Greek translation used the verb helko (ἕλκω) to express the same idea). As Yeshua said, "No one is able to come to me unless he is "dragged away" (ἑλκύσῃ) by the Father (John 6:44). God's chesed seizes us, scandalizes us, takes us captive, and leads us to the Savior... Spiritual rebirth is a divine act, "not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). In everything - including human reason itself - the LORD God Almighty is preeminent.
מֵרָחוֹק יְהוָה נִרְאָה לִי
וְאַהֲבַת עוֹלָם אֲהַבְתִּיךְ
עַל־כֵּן מְשַׁכְתִּיךְ חָסֶד
me·ra·chok · Adonai · nir·ah · li
ve·a·ha·vat · o·lam · a·hav·tikh
al · ken · me·shakh·tikh · cha·sed
"The LORD appeared to me from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn you."
Hebrew Study Card
There is only One who offers you life, peace, and eternal healing, but it is offered on his terms, not your own. He makes you lay down in pastures of tender grass, he leads you beside the place of quiet waters (עַל־מֵי מְנֻחוֹת). He calls to your heart: "Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am gentle and humble in heart: and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (כִּי עֻלִּי רַךְ וּמַשָּׂאִי קָל) [Matt. 11:28-30]. Thank God for the gracious love of our Savior Yeshua! Shabbat Shalom.
Making the Dead Alive...
07.08.16 (Tamuz 2, 5776) We must be careful not to confuse cause and effect in the realm of the spiritual. After the original transgression of Adam and Eve, death became the root problem of the human condition, so to speak, with indwelling sin as its fruit (i.e., the "works of the flesh"). It is this inherited "spiritual death" that causes sin. To focus on outward behavior without first of all dealing with the underlying problem of death is therefore a spiritual misstep. It is to clean the outside of the cup or to wash the outside of a tomb in a vain attempt to disguise the truth about our unclean and dead condition. The good news is not that God wants to make bad people good, but rather wants to make dead people alive... The cure for spiritual death is to be reborn and to partake of the resurrected life of Yeshua.
Following Yeshua is not a sort of "moral reformation" or self-improvement program to make us acceptable to God. Yeshua did not die on the cross so that we would become entangled in the old ways of being... No! He is Lord and Master and we find new life in His acts of deliverance done on our behalf and for our benefit. The temptation is always to go back to the law of sin and death (i.e., the principle of self-justification), but as Luther once said: "The sin underneath all our sins is the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and that we must take matters into our own hands."
"LORD, I need Thee every hour..." There never will be a time when we "get past" the need for God's grace given in Yeshua, since the only antidote to power of indwelling sin is the greater power of God's redeeming love within our hearts (1 John 3:8). The gospel is - not was - "the power of God for salvation (δύναμις θεοῦ ἐστιν εἰς σωτηρίαν) for everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16); it is an ongoing source of power for our lives... Our identity is made secure in the finished work of the Messiah - we trust in His strength, not our own; it is "Messiah in you" that is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). Just as we are given a new life entirely by means of God's grace, so we are also sanctified as we walk in that newness of life... "As you received Yeshua the Messiah the LORD, so walk in Him" (Col. 2:6). The focus is always on Yeshua and His righteousness and obedience... Every step of the way is a miracle and a wonder when we walk "in Messiah."
We walk "in Him," that is, in His strength, in His power, in His love... we don't walk "to" Him or attempt to climb the "stairway to heaven." Yeshua is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the Bridge - sha'ar hashamayim (שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם) and the Divine Ladder upon whom the angels of God ascend and descend. We look to Him, not to ourselves for life. Because of the life of Yeshua within us, we are now able to bear fruit of the Holy Spirit as the Torah is written upon our hearts (Jer. 31:31). We are enabled to keep the Torah of Yeshua (תּוֹרָה יֵשׁוּעַ) because the life of Yeshua empowers us to do so...
Note: The coming of Messiah should not be regarded as the "second coming of Moses," friends... Something so radically new, powerful, and cosmic has happened in the miracle of "God with us" in Yeshua. Our LORD makes all things new! Abraham saw his day and rejoiced; Moses wrote of Him; the prophets testified of Him -- and the One who is greater than the earthly Temple is forevermore the healing Center of Reality.
Chief Seats at Synagogue...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Korach. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
07.07.16 (Tamuz 1, 5776) Our Torah this week begins, "And Korah took" (וַיִּקַּח קרַח), which immediately suggests something about the character of the man. Though he was wealthy, esteemed among his tribe, and honored with the task of caring for the Ark of the Covenant, none of this was enough for Korah... There was an insatiable hunger, a "black hole" in his soul, an unrelenting envy, that drove him to madness and self-destruction. Korah was imprisoned by his own jealousy, arrogance, and spite. When he compared himself to Moses and Aaron, he felt overlooked, deprived, and therefore he rationalized and justified his desire to be honored. As an archetypal figure, Korach warns us against being swallowed up with egotistical envy or seeking the praises of men (Matt. 23:6-7). In the Kingdom of heaven, worldly success is sheer delusion. There are open and hidden riches. There is a pearl of great price, a treasure "hidden in a field." These riches are regarded as "fool's gold" to those who love this world and trust only in the realm of the phenomenal, but to those who trust in the LORD, they represent all that the heart needs...
The son of Zoma said: "Who is wise? He who learns from all people, as it is said: 'From all those who taught me I gained understanding' (Psalm 119:99). Who is strong? He who conquers his evil inclination, as it is said: 'Better is one slow to anger than a strong man, and one who rules over his spirit than a conqueror of a city' (Prov. 16:32). Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot, as it is said: 'When you eat the toil of your hands you are fortunate and it is good for you' (Psalm 128:2). 'You are fortunate' - in this world; 'and it is good for you' - in the World to Come. Who is honored? He who honors others, as it is said: 'For those who honor Me will I honor, and those who scorn Me will be degraded'" (1 Sam. 2:30). – Avot 4:1
Note: For more on this topic, see the article, "The Madness of Korah."
Madness and Envy...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Korach... ]
07.07.16 (Tamuz 1, 5776) The sages asked how it was possible that Korah could have seriously questioned Moses' role as God's appointed leader, and they answered that he became jealous because his cousin was chosen to be the chief of the Levites instead of him. Korah's envy so possessed him that he impugned Moses' leadership, even though he directly witnessed how Moses had miraculously delivered the Israelites from Egypt by the power of the LORD. Such is the terrible, blinding power of envy, a force that is said to "remove a person from the world" (Avot 4:28) into a realm of grandiosity, delusional thinking, and even insanity. Envy derives from the secret fear that you are inadequate, invisible, and unworthy of love, and therefore it often "overcompensates" as preening grandiosity. This explains the psychological "need" to be better than others – making comparisons that alienate and cause suffering. Everyone wants to feel chosen, special, and unique, though God's love is never expressed at the expense of others... "By the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). When you begin to understand that God loves you with an everlasting love (אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם), you will no longer need to compare yourself to others...
Beware of False Teachers...
07.06.16 (Sivan 30, 5776) Our Torah portion this week (Korach) centers on the rebellion of Korah, a man who questioned God's authority and arrogantly sought to "intrude" into the office of the priesthood. It is noteworthy that his rebellion is explicitly mentioned only once in the New Testament - in the Book of Jude - as an example of the fate that awaits those false teachers who likewise despise God's law. Unfortunately, Jude's warning is often neglected today, probably because people feel uncomfortable over the prospect of God's judgment. After all, in our "politically correct" age, people have been indoctrinated to regard "tolerance" as the greatest of virtues and "intolerance" (even of evil) as the greatest of vices.... Most unbelievers don't mind hearing the "good news" of God's love, but they take exception when they are confronted with their personal duty to live according to the moral truth revealed in the Torah. False teachers within the church are dangerous because they feed on this sense of discomfort and attempt to rationalize it away. Jude identifies them as spiritual impostors who "work from the inside" to confound or obscure the truth of God. Such charlatans may appear to be "true believers," but their hidden agenda is to sow confusion and sin among God's children. They are proverbial "wolves in sheep's clothing" (Matt. 7:15). Jude's warning is especially important for us to heed in this present hour, because in the time immediately preceding the coming of the Messiah, spiritual deception and unbridled godlessness will greatly increase (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
Note: For more on this very important subject, see "The Message of Jude."
The Projection of Korah...
07.06.16 (Sivan 30, 5776) In our Torah reading this week (i.e., parashat Korach), Moses' cousin Korah accused Moses of self-aggrandizement and superiority by saying, "Why do you exalt yourself above the assembly of the LORD? ... Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert, that you also make yourself a prince over us?" (Num. 16:3,13). The Talmud comments: "One who seeks to disqualify another projects his own defects upon him." Korah's own self-exaltation and vanity led him to suppose that Moses was likewise proud and vain. His envy so twisted his perspective that he saw good as bad and bad as good. For him Egypt was the land "flowing with milk and honey" and Moses - not Pharaoh - was the real tyrant! In this connection the Baal Shem Tov said that other people serve as mirrors, and the defects we see in them reflect our own. Korah needed to see that his envy of Moses was rooted in fear, and that healing would come if he would let go and trust that God was in control of his life.
We can learn from the madness of Korah -- as well as his terrible end... "As you judge another you condemn yourself, for you that judge do the same things" (Rom. 2:1). How you react to another person reveals what is within your own heart, and this provides the opportunity to find healing by doing teshuvah and extending compassion to yourself. When you condemn another you are hurting yourself, after all. It is not a matter of factual truth as much as it is of the truth of hope and love. As we forgive others, so we find our own forgiveness (Luke 6:37), but if we insist on our rights, we find ourselves in hell... Fire offered falsely will be answered by the fire of God's judgment.
Note: For much more on this subject, see "The Madness of Korah."
Matters of Life and Death...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Korach. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
07.06.16 (Sivan 30, 5776) We read in our Torah portion the terrible fate of Korah and his co-conspirators: "And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up" (Num. 16:32), which the sages say metaphorically refers to being consumed by this world and its desires. Life is a serious business, an irrepeatable opportunity. Many trifle their way to the grave, fully unprepared for the shock of the world to come... How few make it the great business of life to prepare themselves "until their change comes" (Job 14:14); how few consciously number their days to obtain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12)? We mustn't fool ourselves by thinking we have a long road ahead before we face who we are at the time of our death (Luke 12:19-21). "No one knows the day or hour," yet it is certain to come, and wisdom bids us be prepared. All must die; there is no escape (Heb. 9:27; Eccl. 8:8). In light of this somber truth, do you reflect on its significance? Have you taken time to see how it will be for you at your death? Allow such thoughts to awaken you from your careless and unwatchful state, and admonish you to lay up treasure in heaven (Matt. 6:20). Considering the vastness of eternity, human life is likened to a mere vapor that quickly passes away (Psalm 103:15-16). It is madness to put off that which is of ultimate concern until the last moment.
אֵין אָדָם שַׁלִּיט בָּרוּחַ לִכְלוֹא אֶת־הָרוּחַ
וְאֵין שִׁלְטוֹן בְּיוֹם הַמָּוֶת
וְאֵין מִשְׁלַחַת בַּמִּלְחָמָה
וְלא־יְמַלֵּט רֶשַׁע אֶת־בְּעָלָיו
ein · a·dam · sha·lit · ba·ru·ach · likh·lo · et · ha·ru·ach
ve·ein · shil·ton · be·yom · ha·ma·vet
ve·ein · mish·la·chat · ba·mil·cha·mah
ve·lo · ye·ma·leit · re·sha · et · be·a·lav
"No man has power to retain the spirit,
or power over the day of death.
There is no discharge from this war,
nor will wickedness deliver those who are given over to it."
Of course dying in the LORD assumes you are really "in Him," that is, that you are a person whose heart is known by Him (1 Cor. 8:3). You can't die in him if you have never lived in him. In this world we learn to die, and as we die in Him, so we will live in him. Resolve this within your heart: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord" (Rev. 14:15).
Concerning the prospect of death we are not without hope, of course, since Yeshua has overcome death for us and secured our place in heaven (John 11:25; Heb. 2:9-10). "We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast" (2 Sam. 14:14). Though physical life inevitably returns us to dust (Heb. 9:27), death does not have the final word, since God wonderfully "devises the means by which the banished are brought back home." If you belong to the Lord, your death is the day of precious homecoming to be with your beloved Savior: "For me to live is Messiah, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21). As it is written, "just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:49).
Abraham Heschel once wrote, "God is of no importance unless he is of supreme importance." Stated differently, it is impossible to be indifferent toward God. Today we are on the way to face our destiny, even if we suppress this truth through busyness and other distractions. Again, life is a vapor; no one knows the day or hour of death; so we must endeavor to make our peace with God, to serve him in readiness, and so be prepared for whatever may come. Should we deny the reality of our death, we risk wasting our days, being seduced into the mere semblance of life. After all, what is life apart from life in Jesus?
Blaise Pascal once wrote: "I can feel nothing but compassion for those who sincerely lament their doubt, who regard it as the ultimate misfortune, and who, sparing no effort to escape from it, make their search their principal and most serious business. But as for those who spend their lives without a thought for this final end, I view differently. This negligence in the matter where they themselves, their eternity, their all are at stake, fills me more with irritation than pity: yea, it astounds and appalls me... (Pensees, 427). Regarding such need for spiritual sobriety, Kierkegaard comments: "Listen to the cry of a woman in labor at the hour of giving birth - look at the dying man's struggle at his last extremity, and then tell me whether something that begins and ends thus could be intended for enjoyment."
The sages advise: "Repent one day before you die." But who knows the day of one's death in advance? Therefore live each day as if it were to be your last, and may God help you make the decision to "seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near" (Isa. 55:6). Amen. May the LORD quicken these matters to our hearts...
Marks of False Teachers...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Korach... ]
07.05.16 (Sivan 29, 5776) False teachers tend to be "people pleasers." They desire the esteem of the crowd, the praises of men, and therefore appeal to the murmurings of the unregenerate heart: "Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits" (Isa. 30:10). They flatter people by "tickling their ears"; they offer either platitudes or "new revelation" based on their own imagination. Consequently, they tend to be grandiose and quick to disparage God's faithful servants. Thus Korah accused Moses of wanting to exalt himself, when this only disclosed the evil lurking within his own heart (Num. 16:3). False teachers speak in their own name and presume to be something when they are nothing (Gal. 6:3). "The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not... they are prophesying to you a lying vision, the deceit of their own minds" (Jer. 14:14). They secretly deny that Yeshua is LORD (יהוה), though they may offer "lip service" about his importance (2 Pet. 2:1). Instead of focusing on the message of the gospel and the greatness of salvation found in Messiah, they "major in minors," passing over the weightier matters for the sake of various divisive doctrines (Matt. 23:23). They desire to be teachers of the law, but they have no idea what they are talking about (1 Tim. 1:7). Often such deceivers have natural charisma, charm, "good hair," and an ability to bewitch people through buttery oratory or clever presentation (Col. 2:4,8). Often they focus on the truth of the head rather than the truth of the heart; they are more concerned with being vindicated than healing broken hearts. Finally, they tend to exploit people to promote their own self-serving agenda (1 Pet. 2:1-3). They make "merchandise" out of the gullible, regarding them as the means to support their "ministry" rather than as precious souls in need of God's love and care...
False teachers inevitably "twist the Scriptures" by offering unsound interpretations contrary to the ruach, or spirit of the Hebrew prophets, and by evading the commandment to "rightly divide" the word of Truth according to basic logic and clear thinking (2 Tim. 2:15; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; 3:16). In Christian circles, they often come in the name of the law (legalism) or in the name of grace (licentiousness), but rarely do they take the trouble to carefully (and equitably) work through the paradoxical tensions. False teachers are uncomfortable humbly confessing they don't know something, and therefore they are quick to style themselves as an infallible prophet or source of authoritative wisdom...
There is no substitute for taking the time and energy to humbly study Torah, friends, and we should be suspicious of those who claim special insight when it is evident that they have not really labored working through the Scriptures... All disciples of Yeshua are called "students," or talmidim (תַּלְמִידִים), a word that comes from lamad (לָמַד) meaning "to learn" (the study of Scripture is called talmud Torah (תַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה) from the same root). Among other things, then, following Yeshua means becoming a student of the Jewish Scriptures that he both loved and perfectly fulfilled (Matt. 5:17-18; Luke 24:44-45). Only after learning the truth of the Scriptures will you be equipped to "go to all the nations and teach" others (Matt. 28:19). This is accomplished not merely by explaining (propositional) doctrine but by kiddush HaShem -- sanctifying the LORD in our lives (1 Pet. 1:15-16). "You shall know them by their fruits..."
Note: For more on this, see "Marks of False Teachers: Further thoughts on Korach."
Breath of Life...
07.04.16 (Sivan 28, 5776) A verse from this week's Torah (i.e., Korach) reveals another great Name of God: Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), which can be translated "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 16:22). The LORD is the Source of your breath, the One who exhales to you nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" that enables you to live (Job 12:10). The sages use the analogy of a glassblower who creates a glass vessel. Just as the glassblower blows into a tube to form a vessel from molten glass, so the breath (i.e., neshamah: נְשָׁמָה) that comes from the LORD functions as spirit (i.e., ruach: רוּחַ) that forms and fills the human soul (i.e., nefesh: נֶפֶשׁ). Note that the Name YHVH (יהוה) first appears in this connection (Gen. 2:7), a Name that means "God is Present" (Exod. 3:14) and "God is Mercy" (Exod. 34:6-7). Note also that each letter of the Name YHVH represents a vowel sound (i.e., breath), suggesting that God's Spirit is as close as your very next breath. Like the wind that cannot be seen, so is the spirit the essential part of your identity. Yeshua breathed on his followers and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22).
The special Name Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar appears only one other place in the Torah. After accepting the fact that he would soon die and therefore be unable to finally lead the people into the promised land, Moses prayed: "Let the LORD (יהוה), "the God of the spirits of all flesh" (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd." So the LORD said to Moses, "Take Joshua the son of Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן, lit. "son of life"), a man in whom is the Spirit (רוּח), and lay your hand on him" (Num. 27:16-18).
The Talmud notes that the word Nun (נוּן) means "fish," a symbol of activity and life. Joshua, the chosen one who succeeded Moses and led the people into the Promised Land, was the "Son of Life" - a clear picture of Yeshua our Messiah, the "spirit-filled good Shepherd" who would lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). The LORD is indeed the "God of the breath of all flesh." When Yeshua cried out, "It is finished" and breathed his last breath as He died for our sins upon the cross, the greatest exhalation of the Spirit occurred, the greatest sigh, the greatest utterance was ever declared. The sacrificial death of Yeshua for our deliverance was God's final word of love breathed out to those who are trusting in Him.
The Rebellion of Korah...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Korach... ]
07.03.16 (Sivan 27, 5776) Last week's Torah portion (Shelach) told the tragic story about the "sin of the spies" and the divine decree that the generation rescued from Egypt was sentenced to die in the exile of the desert. In this week's portion (Korach), the hard truth of their condition began to sink in, and the people bemoaned their fate and rebelled further by attempting to overthrow God's designated leadership and return to Egypt. This rebellion was instigated and organized by Moses' cousin Korach, who – along with a band of co-conspirators – was swiftly judged and put to death, thereby vindicating the Aaronic priesthood and Moses' leadership of Israel.
Korach was the cousin of Moses and a well-respected Kohathite who was honored to be one of the carriers of the Holy Ark. He was a wealthy man of influence - a nassi (prince) of the people. Despite all this privilege, however, Korach rationalized that he should be the head of the Kohathite clan (instead of his cousin Elzaphan), since he was the firstborn of Kohath's second son, whereas Elzaphan was not even a firstborn son. Indeed, because he felt slighted by Moses' choice, Korach went even further and brazenly questioned whether the office of the High Priest should not have been given to him – rather than to Aaron.
Korach's co-conspirators were two brothers named Dathan and Abiram from the tribe of Reuben, Israel's firstborn son. Together, they put together a force of 250 men to confront Moses and to challenge his exclusive claim to leadership: "You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?"
In response to their challenge, Moses proposed that Korach and his followers bring firepans to offer incense at the Tabernacle to determine whether they were indeed chosen to serve as priests. The following morning, when Korach and his 250 followers assembled at the gate of the Tabernacle to offer incense, God threatened to destroy them all instantly. Moses begged God not to destroy all the people, but only the rebels. He then warned the congregation to stand clear of the dwellings of Korach, Dathan, and Abiram. The earth then opened up and swallowed them alive, and a fire consumed the 250 men who illegitimately offered the incense...
Korach's rebellion introduced outright mutiny and chaos within the leadership of the camp that brought swift and terrible rebuke from the LORD. Nevertheless, the very next day the entire congregation of Israel audaciously began to accuse Moses and Aaron, saying: "You have killed the people of the Lord." When the people looked toward the Tabernacle, however, the Glory of the LORD appeared, where God descended to tell Moses and Aaron that he was going to destroy the Israelites for their treason. Despite Moses and Aaron's fervent intercession, however, a deadly plague broke out among the people. Moses then instructed Aaron to take his firepan with incense and to bring it in the midst of the congregation to make atonement for them. Aaron did so, "and he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed." The Torah tells us that 14,700 Israelites died because of the plague, not including the deaths of those involved in the rebellion of Korach.
As a final test to vindicate Aaron as God's chosen priest, each of the twelve tribal heads of Israel, as well as Aaron himself, were instructed to bring their staffs to Moses. Moses then inscribed their names on each staff and brought them into the sanctuary before the ark of the testimony. "And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you." The following day Moses went into the Tabernacle and "behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds." He then brought out all the staffs and gave them back to each of the tribal leaders. God then told Moses to return Aaron's staff to the Tabernacle as a testimony for generations to come.
After all this transpired, the people began to dread the Presence of the LORD and the Tabernacle. To allay their fears, Moses gave them assurance that the sons of Aaron (i.e., the priests) and the Levites alone would bear responsibility for the sanctuary. But since the Levites and priests would receive no portion in the Promised Land, the people were instructed to generously support them by means of various gifts that are listed at the end of the Torah reading.
Honesty and Faith..
07.01.16 (Sivan 25, 5776) In our Torah for this week (Shelach) the LORD said to Moses, "Send for yourself (שְׁלַח־לְךָ) men to spy out the land" (Num. 13:2), which the sages interpreted to mean that it was not God's decision to send the spies, and indeed later we learn that it was the people who had persuaded Moses to send the scouts ahead: "Then all of you came near me and said, 'Let us send men before us, that they may explore the land for us and bring us word again of the way by which we must go up and the cities into which we shall come.' The thing seemed good to me, and I took twelve men from you, one man from each tribe" (Deut. 1:22-23). Moses approved the people's request because he (mistakenly) believed they were sincere in their desire to discover the best way to ascend to the land. The people were dishonest with themselves, however, and merely pretended to be concerned about logistics and strategy. Their real motive was not to discover the way of ascent, but rather to discover whether God could be trusted... Had the people been honest with themselves, confessing their fear, they might have found opportunity to repent, but because they denied the truth and hid it from themselves, they were unable to go forward. Without honesty faith is impossible. As Kierkegaard said, "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty."
We trust, but if we cannot do that, we need to confess our brokenness even there - in the midst of our fears... God is so good that he runs to us, as the prodigal's father in the story, to meet us in our weakness...
Personal Update: As some of you know, I have been struggling with chronic pain and illness for quite some time now. After seeing a doctor yesterday, it has become evident that I will require some major surgery, which is scheduled in the middle of July.... Your prayers for my health and especially for my family are sincerely appreciated. Thank you. - John
Joshua and Jesus...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Shelach... ]
07.01.16 (Sivan 25, 5776) Before sending out the leaders of the tribes to spy out the land, Moses renamed his trusted servant Hoshea (הוֹשֵׁעַ) to Yehoshua (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ), appending the letter Yod (י) to make his name begin with a divine prefixive (יָהּ־). The Talmud (Sotah 34b) states that Moses foresaw the treachery and faithlessness of the spies and appended the Yod to remind Hoshea that YHVH (יהוה) must come first. This renaming of Hoshea, however, was certainly prophetic, since Joshua was chosen to be the successor of Moses who would finally lead the people into the promised land. Notice that the name Yehoshua (i.e., Joshua) and Yeshua (i.e., Jesus) come from the same root (i.e., yasha: ישׁע) meaning "salvation" or deliverance (in the Greek LXX, Joshua is spelled Ιησους, the same spelling for Jesus in the New Testament). Indeed, in the Book of Nehemiah, Yehoshua is explicitly called Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ), the name often transliterated as "Jesus" (Neh. 8:17).
Of course there are a number of fascinating similarities between Joshua and Jesus given in the Torah. For example, Joshua was a descendent of Joseph from Ephraim (lit., "double fruit"), and Yeshua came as Messiah ben Yosef, the "son of Joseph" who would come from Bethlehem of Ephrata (אֶפְרָתָה), a term that also means "fruifulness." Joshua was Moses' faithful companion at Sinai (Exod. 24:13) and overseer of the "Tent of Meeting" (אהל מועד), taking every opportunity to be near God's presence (Exod. 33:11). He was a capable commander of the armies of Israel who regularly routed the enemy in battle (Exod. 17:9, etc.). Joshua was truly humble and of impeccable moral character, a true servant of Israel filled with Holy Spirit of God (Num. 27:18). Therefore both Joshua and Yeshua loved God's house (Exod. 33:11; Luke 2:49), both were faithful leaders of Israel (Deut. 1:37-38; Matt. 2:6); and both were directly ordained by God. Moreover, Joshua was tested and found steadfast in his faith (Num. 32:12); he was willing to be "despised and rejected of men" rather than appease the mob, just as was Yeshua.
For more on this, see: "Joshua and Jesus: Further thoughts on Shelach Lekha."