Jewish Holiday Calendar
Note: For March 2016 site updates, please scroll past this entry....
Spring is the start of the Biblical Year and is marked by two of the Shelosh Regalim (three annual pilgrimage festivals): Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost). The holiday of Shavuot is held seven weeks (or fifty days) following the morning after Pesach.
The Spring Holidays:
The spring holidays provide a portrait of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah: Yeshua was crucified on erev Pesach, buried during Chag Hamotzi, and was resurrected on Yom Habikkurim (Firstfruits). Shavuot (i.e., the feast of Pentecost) was the day the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) fell on believers in fulfillment of the promise given by our Lord.
Note that in accordance with tradition, the following holiday dates begin at sundown:
Month of Nisan (Fri. April 8th [eve] - Sat. May 7th [day])
Month of Iyyar (Sat. May 7th [eve] - Mon. June 6th [day])
Month of Sivan (Mon. June 6th [eve] - Tues. July 5th [day])
- Month of Adar II (Wed., March 9th [eve] - Fri. April 8th [day])
Note: Because this is a Jewish leap year, the holiday of Passover -- and particularly the Festival of Firstfruits -- will not occur near the traditional date of "Easter" or "Resurrection Sunday" as it is often called in the Gregorian calendar... For more information, see the Calendar Pages....
Dates for Passover 2016:
Free Seder Guide
March 2016 Updates
Separated for Love...
03.31.16 (II Adar 21, 5776) From our Torah we read: "For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy" (Lev. 11:45). Because we are God's people, his redeemed children, we should be holy, just as God is holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16). Holiness, however, is not a matter of what you do (such as wrapping yourself in religious rituals) but instead is a matter of what you "allow" to happen: You let go and allow yourself to be rescued and taken up from the "depths of Egypt" to be with God. Holiness is something you receive; it is a gift of being "set apart" to be sacred and beloved by God. Genuine holiness (i.e., kedushah) is connected with love and grace.
In Hebrew, the word kedushah (קְדוּשָׁה) means sanctity or "set-apartness" (other Hebrew words that use this root include kadosh (holy), Kiddush (sanctifying the wine), Kaddish (sanctifying the Name), kiddushin (the ring ceremony at a marriage), and so on). Kadosh connotes the sphere of the sacred that is radically separate from all that is sinful and profane. As such, it is lofty and elevated (Isa. 57:15), beyond all comparison and utterly unique (Isa. 40:25), entirely righteous (Isa. 5:16), glorious and awesome (Psalm 99:3), full of light and power (Isa. 10:7), and is chosen and favored as God's own (Ezek. 22:26).
After the LORD split the sea and led his people across, Israel sang a song of praise to Him. Shirat Hayam (the Song of the Sea) is an "antiphon", or song of response to the loving deliverance given by the LORD (Exod. 15:1-21). "The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him..." "Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode... You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established."
Note further that the opening statement, "Then they sang" is actually in the future tense: "Then they will sing," which refers to the coming of Messiah. Indeed, in Revelation 15:3 we read that the song will indeed be sung to the Heavenly Bridegroom in the coming New Jerusalem... Note also that in the closing phrase of the song, "the LORD will reign forever" (Exod. 15:18), the word "will reign" (יִמְלךְ) is spelled with a missing Vav, which suggests the Messiah Yeshua. The LORD will indeed reign when the rightful heir to the throne of David and the true King of Israel soon appears. Then shall we be with our Beloved forever and ever.
Note: Today is our beloved son Judah's seventh birthday! Please offer up a prayer for this boy to become a man of God who will serve the LORD our God. Thank you!
Hearing the Unsaid...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, parashat Shemini... ]
03.31.16 (II Adar 21, 5776) From our Torah portion this week we read: "Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered strange fire (אֵשׁ זָרָה) before the LORD, that He had not commanded them" (Lev. 10:1). The sages note that while Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu were godly people, they did not understand the phrase, "that He had not commanded them" (אֲשֶׁר לא צִוָּה אתָם), because they had assumed that since God did not explicitly tell them not to do something (i.e., not to burn incense in the Holy Place), then it was permissible to go ahead and do that thing. However, just because God does not say that we should not to do something does not mean that we are therefore at liberty to do it. All we can infer from silence is silence, not that the silence somehow communicates agreement with our desires.... Remember that it is not what God has not said that should be our concern, but rather what he has said (Deut. 29:29).
This sort of presumption is common today, where many make a pretense of ignorance, suppressing what they don't want to hear to justify their own religious perspectives and ideologies... It takes a genuine humility to confess that we often don't know why we are doing what we are doing, and then to back up and ask for God's help and direction.
Seeing the Sacred...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, parashat Shemini... ]
03.31.16 (II Adar 21, 5776) Regarding the verse: "This is the thing that the LORD commanded you to do, so that the glory of the LORD may appear to you" (Lev. 9:6), the sages comment that if you wish to know if your action is something God wills, then see if leads to the revelation of the glory of God... In other words, "the thing" (זֶה הַדָּבָר) that God wants for us is to behold the Sacred Presence that pervades and upholds all things. Indeed the Hebrew word for seeing, ra'ah (רָאָה) is connected with the word "awe," yarah (יִרְאָה). When we really see life as it is, we will be filled with wonder over the glory of it all. Every bush will be aflame with the Presence of God and the ground we walk upon shall suddenly be perceived as holy (Exod. 3:2-5). Nothing will seem small, trivial, or insignificant.
Love Believes all things...
03.30.16 (II Adar 20, 5776) "I would have fainted unless I believed to see the goodness of the LORD..." (Psalm 27:13). Faith is therefore self-authenticating: as you trust in the good, the good will be revealed: believe to see! As Yeshua said, "According to your faith be it done unto you" (Matt. 9:29). And if it is faith that makes you whole, then its lack makes you sick... As you doubt, so you will lose sight of what is real, true, and abiding. Being cynical is cowardly: "There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true" (Kierkegaard). The cynic refuses the possibility of truth because he is afraid of being fooled, and for this fear he willingly closes his eyes to the good. "Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact" (James). When we trust God's promises, we affirm an unseen good even if the present hour is shrouded in darkness. Faith sees beyond "the seen" to the unseen (2 Cor. 4:18). The "seen" is not ultimately real, and consequently faith is exiled from the vanity of the present hour. Therefore affirm your faith, dear friend; do not allow your heart to waver. Refuse the darkness of fear by choosing to believe in the reality of God's love for your soul, despite the mess you've made of your life. Affirm that God's love is more real, more substantive, and more valuable than anything disclosed in this world that fades away. Amen.
Torah of Shame...
03.30.16 (II Adar 20, 5776) If we fail to see goodness and beauty all around us, it is likely we do not see it within ourselves, either (Matt. 6:22). Therefore we should be especially careful not to do violence to our souls by means of shame. We you are ashamed, it is not your sin you hate, but you yourself, and that is a grievous condition indeed. Self-hatred repels your heart from love, from forgiveness, and from healing. Yes, we can indeed hate and lament our sin, but we must be careful to first know who we are and what our beloved Lord has done for us. We must, therefore, repudiate voices that damn us and call us to despair. The Word of the LORD is love, grace, and peace spoken to the heart of faith (Rom. 8:1).
Note: There is guilt over sin -- real, objective, and grievous -- and then there is shame over ourselves. The conviction of sin leads us to the remedy of Messiah; shame leads us to hell.
A Consuming Fire...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Shemini... ]
03.29.16 (II Adar 19, 5776) "Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron ... brought strange fire before the LORD" (Lev. 10:1). The sages interpret "strange fire" (i.e., esh zarah: אֵשׁ זָרָה) as alien passion or illicit zeal stimulated by artificial means (in this case, drinking wine before their service). The experience of intoxication may seem to elevate the soul, but in reality it muddles the ability to discern spiritual realities: "Drink no wine or strong drink ... when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean" (Lev. 10:9-10). Nadab and Abihu were highly honored in Israel, the first priests of God, and if they drank wine before entering the sanctuary it was surely not for crass purposes, but rather to "sanctify" their experience, or so they thought... They were severely judged, however, because they presumptuously sought to sanctify themselves by means of an artificial influence, and this made them "strange" before God. Likewise many people today seek "spiritual highs" and "signs" without undergoing the discipline of Torah study, prayer, meditation, and so on. God wants our hearts in service, but our hearts must be honest and reverent before Him.
"Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron ... brought strange fire ... and they died before the LORD" (Lev. 10:1-2). It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God who is "a Consuming Fire, a jealous God (Deut. 4:24). Indeed, though atonement was provided under the law for every kind of sin and transgression, there was one exception: "But the soul that sins presumptuously (בְּיָד רָמָה) shall be out off from the midst of my people" (Num. 15:30). We must be careful not to casually regard God's truth with undue familiarity, lest we find ourselves under the influence of strange passions that lead to presumption....
Note: "Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Cor. 10:11). It is astounding that during the very time that the Tabernacle was inaugurated, tragedy struck and Aaron's two sons were killed. This should warn those teachers who speak casually of God from the pulpit, since they act profanely and encroach upon the Divine Presence. Let us be admonished, friends and honor the Living God: Da lifne mi attah omed: "Know before Whom you stand!"
The Decree of Love...
[ The following is related to our (additional) Torah reading for Shabbat Parah (Num. 19:1-22)... ]
03.29.16 (II Adar 19, 5776) Our Torah for this week includes an additional reading (i.e., maftir) about the famous "Red Heifer" sacrifice and its meaning. The additional portion begins: "Now the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 'This is the decree of the Torah... take a red cow" (Num. 19:1-2). Notice that the LORD called the red heifer sacrifice "the" decree of Torah (חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה), as if it were the Torah's central commandment, thereby highlighting the necessity of faith, and in particular, faith that believes that God provides healing from death by means of a divine exchange of the pure for the impure. The idea of God's substitutionary atonement, his love that empathizes and heals you of sin - is therefore the heart of faith, "the" central decree of true Torah. And this, of course, is the message of the cross itself: Jesus "saves people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). Yeshua was willing to become unclean, cut off, and the bearer of your sin so that you could be made pure, clean, and accepted in exchange (2 Cor. 5:21). May He "purge you with hyssop" so that you are made whiter than snow (Psalm 51:7).
Brokenness and Service...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Shemini... ]
03.28.16 (II Adar 18, 5776) The service of God requires the death of the ego (Luke 9:23). Rashi says that Aaron was still deeply ashamed over the Sin of the Calf, and that is why Moses urged his brother forward: "Draw near to the altar" (Lev. 9:7). And though Aaron felt inadequate and unworthy to be the High Priest of Israel, Rashi comments that he was chosen precisely because of this. His reluctance and sense of utter unworthiness was the very reason why he was granted the role of Israel's High Priest. Likewise you might feel unworthy of your high calling in the Messiah and yet you are called to come before the Divine Presence and function as God's holy priest, no less than Aaron... You are chosen in your weakness; you are beloved because of your lowly standing; you are made "pure in heart" because you realize your own inner nothingness and need before the Savior.... Your brokenness is a gift that magnifies God's unending love and grace (1 Cor. 1:26-29).
Note: For more on this, see "Brokenness and Service: Further thoughts on Shemini."
Signs and Wonders...
03.28.16 (II Adar 18, 5776) Regarding those who seek the services of "miracle workers," the Kotzker Rebbe is reported to have said, "There are miracles and then there are miracles... Some people regard as a miracle if God does someone's will; we regard as a miracle if someone does God's will." Amen, a true miracle, and one greater than the splitting of the sea, is that of a transformed heart that loves God and seeks to do God's will. Similarly, some people seek signs of the times and the End of the World, though the true "end of the world" arrives the moment you surrender your life to God's care...
Reason for Being...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Shemini... ]
03.28.16 (II Adar 18, 5776) "This is the thing that the LORD commanded you to do, so that the glory of the LORD may appear to you" (Lev. 9:6). Have you considered why you were born into this world? What is your purpose, destiny, and end? The Torah states that you were personally created by God, who breathed out the breath of life (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים) into you, so you could know the glory of God and spiritual reality. As it is written: "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your desire they existed and were created" (Rev. 4:11). God creates all things for his glory, which indeed is the first blessing recited over the bride and groom of a traditional Jewish wedding: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלם שֶׁהַכּל בָּרָא לִכְבוֹדו / "Blessed are you Lord our God king of the universe, who has created all things for his glory." The purpose of life is to know and love God, to walk in His light and truth, and to glorify his compassion and grace forever...
At a traditional Jewish wedding the groom places the ring on his bride's finger and says: Harei, at mekudeshet li: "Behold, you are betrothed to me." Love and holiness are interconnected, since the beloved is set apart as sacred and treasured. May God help us see the wonder of His love for our lives: "Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (1 Pet. 1:14-16).
Shabbat Parah - שבת פרה
03.27.16 (II Adar 17, 5776) The Sabbath that immediately follows Purim is called Shabbat Parah - the "Sabbath of the Cow," when the chapter of the parah adumah (פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה), or the "Red Heifer" (Num. 19:1-22), is recited following the regular Torah service. The early sages chose this additional portion of Scripture to be reviewed at this time to help prepare for the coming New Year (i.e., Rosh Chodashim) and because the people were required to purify themselves before coming to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festival of Passover.
The Red Heifer offering is considered a paradox to most Jewish thinkers, since the one who offers the sacrifice becomes unclean, while the sprinkling of the ashes of the sacrifice makes people clean... The ritual is considered chok within the Jewish tradition, meaning that it makes no rational sense. In fact, the Talmud states that of all the taryag mitzvot (613 commandments), this is the only one that King Solomon could not fathom, since this sacrifice was regarded as the most paradoxical of all the sacrifices found in the Torah. The sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah is the fulfillment of the symbolism of the red cow (i.e., parah adumah). Both were entirely rare and without defect (sin); both were sacrificed outside the camp; both made the one who offered the sacrifice unclean but made the one who was sprinkled by it clean; and finally, both sacrifices cleanse people for priestly service.
The parah adumah had to be a perfect specimen that was completely red, "without blemish, in which there is no defect (mum)." The rabbis interpreted "without blemish" as referring to the color, that is, without having so much as a single white or black hair. This is the only sacrifice in the Torah where the color of the animal is explicitly required. Moreover, the parah adumah was never to have had a yoke upon it, meaning that it must never have been used for any profane purposes.
Unlike all other sacrifices offered at the mizbeach (the altar at the Mishkan), the parah adumah was taken outside the camp and there slaughtered before the priest (in this case, Elazar, Aaron's son), who then took some of its blood and sprinkled it seven times before the Mishkan (thereby designating it as a purification offering). [During the Second Temple period, the High Priest performed this ceremony facing the Temple while atop the Mount of Olives.] Then the red heifer would be burned in its entirety: its hide, flesh, blood, and even dung were to be burned (unlike other Levitical korbanot). Unlike other offerings, all the blood of the sacrifice was to be burned in the fire.
Hyssop, scarlet yarn, and a cedar stick would then be thrown upon the burning parah adumah (these same items were used to cleanse from tzara'at, skin disease). In other words, the blood was assimilated into the ashes of the sacrifice, which were then gathered and mixed with water to create the "water of separation" (mei niddah) for the Israelite community. Note that the word "separation" (niddah) refers to menstrual impurity and harkens to Zech. 13:1: "On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and from niddah."
Anyone (or anything) that came into contact with a corpse (the embodiment of sin and death) was required to be purified using the mei niddah. The purification procedure took seven days, using stalks of hyssop dipped into the water and shaken over the ritually defiled person on the third day and then again on the seventh day. After the second sprinkling, the person undergoing the purification process would be immersed in a mikvah and then be unclean until the following evening. For more about Shabbat Parah, click here.
The Haftarah for Shabbat Parah
The Haftarah read for Shabbat Parah (Ezek. 36:16-38) is ostensibly linked to the sacrifice of the Red Heifer, though on a deeper level it relates to Israel's national salvation and return to the promised land after the Great Tribulation period.... Despite the horrors of the worldwide Diaspora of the Jewish people and their faithlessness before the nations, God will be true to His promises by causing the Jews to finally accept His salvation (i.e., Yeshua) and to both return to the land of Israel and to be reinstated as God's covenant people. At that time, "all Israel will be saved," as the Apostle Paul also foretold (Rom. 11:26). For more information about this Haftarah, see the Shabbat Parah page here.
Parashat Shemini - פרשת שמיני
03.27.16 (II Adar 17, 5776) This week's Torah reading, called Shemini ("eighth"), continues the account of the seven-day ordination ceremony for the priests that was described earlier in Parashat Tzav. During each of these "seven days of consecration," Moses served as the first High Priest of Israel by offering sacrifices and training the priests regarding their duties. On the eighth day however, (i.e., Nisan 1), and just before the anniversary of the Passover, Aaron and his sons began their official responsibilities as Israel's priests. It is no coincidence that the inauguration of the sanctuary is directly connected to the Passover, since the daily sacrifice of the Lamb served as an ongoing memorial of the Exodus from Egypt -- and indeed the laws of sacrifice form the central teaching of the Torah itself. In this connection, we again note that the central sacrifice of the Tabernacle was that of a defect-free lamb offered every evening and morning upon the altar in the outer court, along with matzah and a wine offering, signifying the coming of the true Passover Lamb of God and his great sacrifice for us (Exod. 29:38-42; Num. 28:4-10; John 1:29).
He is Risen Indeed!
[ Shalom and love to all our Christian friends who are celebrating the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua at this time... We share with you the great joy of the message of God's victory in Messiah! Baruch HaShem: He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! ]
03.25.16 (II Adar 15, 5776) The Scriptures make clear that Yeshua is the true Passover Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) whose sacrificial death and shed blood causes the wrath of God to "pass over" (pasach) those who are trusting in Him (John 1:29, 3:36; Acts 8:32-36; 1 Cor. 5:7-8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20, etc.). Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! (Rev. 5:12). But while the sacrifice of Yeshua gives us atonement (כַּפָּרָה) with God, the resurrection of the Messiah (i.e., techiyat ha-Mashiach: תְּחִיַּת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) justifies His work of salvation on behalf of the sinner and forever vindicates the righteousness of God.
The resurrection of Yeshua is not an "academic" or speculative question to be considered in purely rational terms, but rather is a matter of eternal life or death. How we choose to respond to its message determines our destiny. Everything turns on whether we awaken to the risen reality and Presence of Yeshua in our lives. Without Him we are hopeless; with Him we are more than conquerors (1 Cor. 15:14; Rom. 8:37).
Yeshua completely atoned for our sins and His resurrection validated that God the Father accepted His sacrifice. It was God the Father (i.e., Reality) who raised Yeshua in victory (Gal. 1:1, Rom. 10:9), and those who put their trust trust in Him are declared righteous on account of their faith. Yeshua "was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25). As Jesus Himself said, "Because I am alive, you also will live" - שֶׁכֵּן אֲנִי חַי וְגַם אַתֶּם תִּחְיו / ὅτι ἐγὼ ζῶ καὶ ὑμεῖς ζήσετε (John 14:19).
For more on this vital subject, please see "Why the resurrection of Yeshua matters."
Fear of the LORD...
03.25.16 (II Adar 15, 5776) Some people are afraid that God will punish them for their sins, but the true fear of God, yirat shamayim, is better understood as the fear of losing our closeness to Him... The sages say that where it is written, "What does the LORD ask of you except to fear the LORD" (Deut. 10:12), we should read instead, "fear with the LORD" (לְיִרְאָה אֶת־יְהוָה), that is, we share his concern that we could forfeit the sanctity of a heart-relationship with Him due to indifference, carelessness, and sin... We fear our sin because it blinds us from awareness of God's care and love. The fear of God can therefore be understood as God's fear that we will miss the blessing of intimately knowing him...
The LORD has promised to never leave nor forsake us, though we can choose to turn away from his love and care for our lives... We are not permitted to fear other than that we have no fear of God, for that indeed is a fearful state of soul. May it please God to help each us never to leave nor forsake ourselves by getting lost, by forgetting what is real, and by abandoning hope in the miracle for our lives. And may the LORD help us not be grieved, not to hurt ourselves, and never to abandon our hearts to the despair of shame. Amen.
A Blessed Brokenness...
03.25.16 (II Adar 15, 5776) Many of us have been given the special blessing of needing God so viscerally that we will fall apart or even self-destruct apart from His daily intervention in our lives... Yeshua speaks to the desperately needy of heart: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3). We groan in hope... In our Torah portion this week (Tzav) we read that the fire on the altar was to be kept burning at all times (Lev. 6:12-13), which symbolizes esh tamid (אֵשׁ תָּמִיד), or the inner fire of the heart... How blessed it is to be full of the fire of this inner need, this relentless groaning, this constant hunger to be set free. As it is written, the high and lifted up One dwells with the broken and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the crushed:
כִּי כה אָמַר רָם וְנִשָּׂא שׁכֵן עַד וְקָדוֹשׁ שְׁמוֹ
מָרוֹם וְקָדוֹשׁ אֶשְׁכּוֹן וְאֶת־דַּכָּא וּשְׁפַל־רוּחַ
לְהַחֲיוֹת רוּחַ שְׁפָלִים וּלְהַחֲיוֹת לֵב נִדְכָּאִים
ki · kho · a·mar · ram · ve·nis·sa · sho·khen · ad · ve·ka·dosh · she·mo,
ma·rom · ve·ka·dosh · esh·kon · ve·et · dak·ka · ush·fal · ru·ach
le·ha·cha·yot · ru·ach · she·fa·lim · u·le·ha·cha·lot · lev · nid·ka·im
"For this is what the high and lifted up One says, the One who abides forever,
whose Name is Holy: "I dwell in a high and holy place, but also with the broken
and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the crushed."
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God reveals Himself to the "lowly in spirit" (שְׁפַל־רוּחַ), that is, to those who understand their own nothingness and complete dependence on Him.... Notice that the word dakka (דַּכָּא) refers to being crushed to the very dust, the very same word used to describe how Yeshua was crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:10). William James called this deep work of the spiritual life Zerrissenheit, a term that can be translated as "torn-to-pieces-hood," or a state of being utterly broken and in disarray (see William James: Varieties of Religious Experience). From the point of view of our dependence on God for salvation, dakka refers to humility and contrition we express in light of God's unmerited favor and love for our souls... We identify with the death of Messiah offered on our behalf; we find healing and acceptance in the Presence of the One who was torn to pieces and made dust for our merit. Humility is essential to awareness of God in the truth.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵנוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂנוּ אֲסִירֵי תִּקְוָה
ba·rukh · at·tah · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · me·lekh · ha·o·lam,
a·sher · a·sa·nu · a·si·rei · tik·vah
"Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe,
who has made us captives of hope."
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Affirming the Light...
03.25.16 (II Adar 15, 5776) From our Torah for this week (i.e., Tzav) we read: "The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not be extinguished" (Lev. 6:12). The sages say do not read "burning on it" but rather "burning in him" (בּוֹ), referring to the heart of the priest. And where the text says "it (i.e., the fire) shall not be extinguished" (לא תִכְבֶּה), read instead "extinguish (תִכְבֶּה) the negative (לא)" by trusting in God's promise for our good, despite any temporary setbacks or apparent failures. The Holy Spirit imparts the fire of faith that fills our hearts with hope (רוּחַ נָכוֹן), affirming with "tongues of fire" words of life and light that vanquish darkness. As it is written: "Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; He is gracious, merciful, and righteous" (Psalm 112:4).
זָרַח בַּחשֶׁךְ אוֹר לַיְשָׁרִים
חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם וְצַדִּיק
za·rach · ba·cho·shekh · ohr · lai·sha·rim
chan·nun · ve·ra·chum · ve·tzad·dik
"Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;
He is gracious, merciful, and righteous."
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Spiritually speaking, the first step is to find hope... The Divine Light is seen by means of the eye of faith (עַיִן שֶׁל אֱמוּנָה), and therefore we find strength by trusting in God's Presence, even though we cannot presently see Him (2 Cor. 4:18; 5:7). "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Know Him in all your ways, and He will straighten your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil" (Prov. 3:5-7). Wait on the LORD and He will strengthen your heart....
We must keep courage, remain steady as we fight the good fight of faith. As it is written, "The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men attack me to devour my flesh, when my adversaries and enemies attack me, they totter and fall. Even if an army is deployed against me, I do not fear; even if war is rises against me, I remain full of trust" (Psalm 27:1-3).
The Midrash says, "The Holy One Himself, as it were, made light for the upright. Thus it says, "The LORD is my light and my salvation" (Psalm 27:1) and "When I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me" (Micah 7:8). While I sit in darkness in this world, during these latter days before the promised return of Yeshua, when troubles may afflict me and lawlessness may abound – then God's light will shine brighter still, for the LORD is gracious to all who put their hope in Him, and this favor and love will be manifest for me.
Let us affirm our confidence: The darkness of this world forever is swept back before the overmastering radiance and power of Yeshua, the King of Glory, the Root and Descendant of David, and the Bright Morning Star (Rev. 22:16). Those who believe in Him are given the "light of life" that overcomes the darkness of this world (John 8:12).
May God renew a "right spirit" (רוּחַ נָכוֹן), ruach nachon, within us (Psalm 51:10). Amen.
Overcoming the World...
03.24.16 (II Adar 14, 5776) An old Jewish prayer, uttered somewhat wistfully, begins, "O Lord, I know that You will help us; but will You help us before You will help us?" It's not always easy to wait for God, especially when we are in pain or anxiety, but we must never, ever, give up; we must never forget the promise and reality of our ultimate healing in Jesus. Faith expresses hope in the Reality, Substance, and Being (ὑπόστασις) of the Invisible and is made captive to undying hope (Heb. 11:1). Therefore the Spirit cries out: "Hope to the LORD; be strong and strengthen your heart; and (again) hope to the LORD."
קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה חֲזַק וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּךָ
ka·veh · el · Adonai · cha·zak · ve'ya·metz · lib·be·kha,
ve-ka·veh · el · Adonai
"Hope to the LORD; be strong and let your heart be strengthened;
and (again) hope to the LORD"
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In this verse, the imperative verb translated "wait" is the Hebrew word kaveh (קַוֵּה), which might better be rendered as "look for with anticipation!" or "hope!" (the same root appears in the Hebrew word for hope, i.e., tikvah: תִּקְוָה). Therefore hope in the Lord and "chazak!" - be strong! (the Septuagint translates chazak as "andridzou" (ἀνδρίζου - act like a man!). Note that the verb ve'yametz is a causal active stem (i.e., Hiphal) in the "jussive mood," which means it is imperative – "command your heart to be strengthened," or "let your heart be made strong!" Make the decision to be strong in the LORD, and the LORD will give you strength to bear your present suffering: "Look to the LORD (קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה) and find hope." Amen. God will help us, and he will help us before he will help us!
Each of us is still upon the "Potter's wheel," though we keep faith that God is molding us and shaping us to reach our end... "Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the Universe, who walks with the wounded" (שֶׁהוֹלֵךְ עִם הַפְצוּעִים). Amen. "Blessed art You, LORD our God, King of the universe, who makes us captives of hope." Purim Sameach, chaverim!
Our Good Shepherd...
03.24.16 (II Adar 14, 5776) Where it says, "Surely goodness and mercy (טוֹב וָחֶסֶד) shall follow me all the days of my life" (Psalm 23:6), note the Hebrew verb translated "shall follow me" (i.e., יִרְדְּפוּנִי) comes from a root (i.e., radaf: רָדַף) that means "to pursue," as a hunter chases after his prey. David was sure that God's lovingkindness would "hound" him as he made his way through this world - even in the dark places, even in "the valley of the shadow of death" (בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת) - where God's rod and staff would comfort him and direct his way (Psalm 23:4). "May your love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you."
אַךְ טוֹב וָחֶסֶד יִרְדְּפוּנִי כָּל־יְמֵי חַיָּי
וְשַׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית־יְהוָה לְארֶךְ יָמִים
akh · tov va'che·sed · yir·de·fu·ni · kol · ye·mei · chai·yai
ve'shav·ti · be'vet · Adonai · le'o·rekh · ya·mim
"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever."
Hebrew Study Card
"Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation (הָאֵל יְשׁוּעָתֵנוּ). Selah. Our God is a God of salvation, and to GOD, the Lord, belong deliverances from death." Amen.
The End of the Wicked..
[ The floowing is related to the holiday of Purim and Purim HaGadol at the end of the age... ]
03.24.16 (II Adar 14, 5776) It is written in our holy Scriptures: "Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday" (Psalm 37:1-6). Here are a few brief comments on this great passage that I hope might encourage you...
"Fret not thyself because of evildoers,
neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity" (v1)
אַל־תְּקַנֵּא בְּעשֵׂי עַוְלָה
al · titchar · ba'merei'im
al · tekanei · be'osei · avlah
Note that the phrase translated "fret not" (אַל־תִּתְחַר) comes from the verb charah (חָרָה), meaning to burn in anger, to fume in indignation or resentment, to become vexed or disturbed, or to take offense... We are admonished not to allow the seeming prosperity of evildoers inspire you to question the power and rule of God, as it says: "Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD (יִרְאַת־יְהוָה) all the day" (Prov. 23:17). Worldly prosperity is devoid of real hope: "the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out" (Prov. 24:20). Likewise do not envy (אַל־תְּקַנֵּא) the workers of iniquity (עשֵׂי עַוְלָה), that is, those who practice injustice by the power of the lie. Do not desire their power, for it is a trap that leads them to destruction, as David prayed: "Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see" (Psalm 69:22-23; cp. Rom. 11:9-10).
"For they shall soon be cut down like the grass,
and wither as the green herb" (v2)
כִּי כֶחָצִיר מְהֵרָה יִמָּלוּ
וּכְיֶרֶק דֶּשֶׁא יִבּוֹלוּן
ki · khe'chatzir · me'heirah · yimalu
ukh'yerek · deshe · yibbolun
The Hebrew word for "grass" used in this verse (i.e., חָצִיר) refers to a hay-like variety that sprouts quickly but does not put down deep roots, so that it withers and fades in the sustained presence of the sun. By analogy, the wicked enjoy a short season of growth that ultimately is insubstantial, superficial, and spiritually spurious...
By extension this implies that we should not fret or envy the wicked of this world, for their prosperity is transitory and finally unreal, and the heart of faith desires what is everlastingly true and righteous. As is written: "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold" (Prov. 22:1; Eccl. 7:1). The wicked are likened to grass that will soon be razed, and to green herb that withers away, as it also says: "Though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever" (Psalm 92:7), and they "conceive chaff; they give birth to stubble; their breath is a fire that will consume them" (Isa. 32:12). The righteous are considered alive even in death; the wicked are considered "dead" even while alive (Berachot 18a-b).
For more on this topic, see "Psalm 37 Recited in Hebrew." Purim Sameach, chaverim!
Yom Purim HaGadol...
[ The holiday of Purim begins this evening at sundown... ]
03.23.16 (II Adar 13, 5776) Purim is a prophetic holiday, foretelling of the ultimate victory to come. Here is a vision of the coming "Purim haGadol," that Coming Day and hour: "Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True (נֶאֱמָן וְיָשָׁר), and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a Name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the Name by which he is called is the Word of God (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים). And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. And He will tread the winepress of the fierce fury of the wrath of God, the Ruler over All (παντοκράτωρ), the LORD God Almighty (יְהוָה אֱלהֵי צְבָאוֹת). On his robe and on his thigh he has a Name written, the King of kings (מֶלֶךְ הַמְּלָכִים) and the Lord of lords (אֲדנֵי הָאֲדנִים). And with the breath of his lips He will slay the wicked" (Rev. 19:11-16).
On the great Day of the LORD (יוֹם־יְהוָה הַגָּדוֹל), the wicked will become "ashes under the feet of the righteous," hearkening to the promise of in the New Testament: "The God of peace (אלהֵי הַשָּׁלוֹם) will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah be with you" (Rom. 16:20). Meanwhile, of course, we must fight the "good fight of faith" and be strong in the LORD and the power of His might. "Wondrously show Your steadfast love, O Savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at Your right hand" (Psalm 17:7). As King Asa once prayed, "LORD, there is no one besides Thee to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O LORD our God, for we trust in Thee, and in Thy name have come against this multitude. O LORD, Thou art our God; let not man prevail against Thee" (2 Chron. 14:11). We offer praise in anticipation of the great deliverance to come: "Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip" (Psalm 66:8-9). The LORD is surely able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy (Jude 1:24).
May that day come speedily, and in our time...
HAPPY PURIM CHAVERIM!
Presence in Prayer...
03.23.16 (II Adar 13, 5776) We often need to pray before we can pray... "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). Some of the sages said that when you so pray, your focus should be so concentrated that you are ready to die during the prayer. Regard yourself as a living sacrifice (korban chai) and offer your blood, your body, your soul, your will upon the altar before God (Rom. 12:1). Say, "Lord, I offer myself to Thee, to do with me as Thou will. Relieve me of the bondage of myself, that I might do Thy will..." Ask for the Holy Spirit to breath out the words of God's heart; cleave to God as if you had ascended before the Throne of Grace. "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise" (Psalm 51:15).
אֲדנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶךָ
Adonai · se·fa·tai · tif·tach · u·fi · yag·gid · te·hil·la·te·kha
"O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise"
Yeshua taught us to abstain from using "vain repetitions" in our prayers, since our Heavenly Father knows what we need before we ask Him (Matt. 6:7-8). Don't worry about the verbiage of your prayers, then, since the Holy Spirit will groan on your behalf (Rom. 8:26). Ultimately prayer is a kind of teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה), a word often translated as "repentance," though it's more accurately understood as turning (shuv) to God in response to His call. "When you pray, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words be without heart" (John Bunyan).
Word Became Flesh...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Tzav.... ]
03.23.16 (II Adar 13, 5776) Our Torah portion this week begins, "The Eternal (יהוה) spoke to Moses" (Lev. 6:8), which paradoxically refers to God as if He is a man... Theologians may call this sort of language "anthropomorphism," though it clearly anticipates the great Incarnation itself, when the Timeless and Infinite One became embodied in time and space in the person of Yeshua. Indeed Yeshua is called the "Word of God" who became flesh and "tabernacled" in our midst (John 1:1,14). And just as the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) mediates the Divine Presence to heavenly host, so Yeshua mediates the Divine Presence to humanity as the "Son of Man" (בֶּן־הָאָדָם). "For the Eternal One who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Cor. 4:6). In the Book of Hebrews we read that "in these last days God has spoken to us ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ," which literally means God speaks in the language "of Son" (Heb. 1:2). The Eternal speaks as the One who emptied Himself to become one of us, who clothed himself in our humanity, so that he could touch us, empathize with us, and to ultimately die for our atonement as the "Lamb of God."
Hidden in Plain Sight...
[ The holiday of Purim begins Wednesday, March 23rd at sundown this year... ]
03.22.16 (II Adar 12, 5776) Although the Name of God is not explicitly mentioned in the Book of Esther, the story is essentially about revelation, that is, the disclosure of God's Presence despite His apparent concealment. The phrase hester panim (הֶסְתֵר פָּנִים) means "hiding of face" and is often used when discussing the divine providence. God's plan is being fulfilled, step-by-step, even if it is hidden within the "natural" world of human beings and their choices (Jer. 10:23; Prov. 21:1). The LORD is Ha'mashgiach (i.e., הַמַּשְׁגִיחַ, the supervisor) of all things - from the motions of subatomic particles to the great events of the cosmos. He not only calls each star by its own name (Psalm 147:4), but knows each particular lily and sparrow (Matt. 6:28-30, 10:29). Indeed, each person is under the direct, personal supervision of God Himself (הַשְׁגָּחָה פְּרָטִית) -- whether he or she is conscious of this or not. As Yeshua said, even the hairs on your head are all numbered (Matt. 10:30).
גָּדוֹל יְהוָה וּמְהֻלָּל מְאד
וְלִגְדֻלָּתוֹ אֵין חֵקֶר
ga·dol · Adonai · u·me·hul·lal · me·od
ve·lig·dul·la·to · ein · che·ker
"Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable"
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The Apostle Paul taught that God "chose us [εκλεγομαι] in the Messiah before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4). God called you by name -- before He created the very universe itself. "God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth" (2 Thess. 2:13). God loves you with an "everlasting love" (אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם) and with lovingkindness (i.e., chesed, חֶסֶד) draws you to Himself (Jer. 31:3). There is no fear in God's sovereign and irresistible love for your soul (1 John 4:18). "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31).
Note: For more on this topic, see "Theology, Paradox, and Purim."
Parables and Revelation...
03.22.16 (II Adar 12, 5776) Yeshua often used such agricultural images in his parables. For example, he explained that people are known by the "fruits" of their lives (Matt. 7:16-20). He likened the spread of his message in terms of "sowing and reaping" (Matt. 13:3-23) and compared the Kingdom of Heaven to the secret working of a mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32). Yeshua regarded the world as a "field" for planting with different "types of soil" (Matt. 13:38-43), and warned of the "great harvest" of souls at the end of the age (Luke 10:2; Matt. 13:30). He pointed to signs from a fig tree to indicate the nearness of the prophesied End of Days (Matt. 24:32-33). Yeshua also used the metaphor of a "vine and its branches" to explain how his followers are to be connected to Him (John 15:1-6).
Undoubtedly Yeshua often taught in parables because they simultaneously conceal and reveal the truth. A parable obscures the truth to those who don't really want it; just as it reveals the truth to those who do (Luke 8:9-10). Since Yeshua's whole life was a parable of sorts - a "disguise" that led to the victory of our deliverance (Phil. 2:7) - it is not surprising that he regularly used "figures of speech" to provoke people to examine their own heart attitude and faith... In this connection note that Yeshua never explained the "mysteries of the kingdom of God" directly to the crowds, nor did He ever pander to the crowd's clamor or interests. His message is always meant for the individual soul who was willing to follow Him -- to the one who had "ears to hear."
Reading the parables can help us take inventory of our lives. For example, whenever we hear the famous "parable of the sower" (Matt. 13:3-23) we are reminded that God is like a farmer who sows seed upon the soil of human hearts (the quality of which may be hard, shallow, choked, or good). If we are honest with ourselves, we will see our own hardness, shallowness, and selfishness in contrast to the fruitfulness marked by the good soil, and this may prompt us to seek God for help. Only the new heart (lev chadash) created by power of God's Spirit can possibly yield the fruit of the Spirit. Yeshua therefore warns us: "Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away" (Luke 8:18).
Yeshua's whole life was a parable of sorts - a "disguise" that led to the victory of our deliverance (Phil. 2:7) -- and that's our Purim connection!
How Long, O Lord?
03.21.16 (II Adar 11, 5776) The last promise of Scripture is "I come quickly" (Rev. 22:20), and the last prayer is the antiphon: "Amen, come, Lord Yeshua." Meanwhile we "inwardly groan" for the fulfillment of our redemption: we are suspended between worlds, walking in hope yet subject to the same vanities that befall all flesh. This reminds me of the old story of the Maggid of Brisk who each year would bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah would come that year. Once a certain Torah student asked him, "Rabbi, every year you bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah must come that year, and yet he does not come. Why bother doing this every year, if you see that Heaven ignores you?" The Maggid replied, "The law states that if a son sees his father doing something improper, he is not permitted to rebuke him but must say to him, 'Father, the Torah states thus and so.' Therefore we must tell God, who is our Father, that by keeping us in long exile, he is, in a sense, causing injustice to us, and we must point out, "thus and so it is written in the Torah," in hope that this year he might redeem us." This same principle, of course, applies to those of us who are living in exile and who eagerly await the second coming of the Messiah Yeshua. We should continue asking God to send Him speedily, and in our day, chaverim...
חוּשָׁה לְעֶזְרָתִי אֲדנָי תְּשׁוּעָתִי
chu·sah le·ez·ra·ti Adonai te·shu·a·ti
"Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation"
Although God sometime tarries, He declares, "I am the LORD; in its time I will hasten it" (Isa. 60:22). But still the heart sighs, "Is it time, LORD? Will you now restore the kingdom to Israel?" But as Jesus said, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority" (Acts 1:6-7). We are left waiting for ultimate God's answer: His glorious coming to fulfill our salvation. Meanwhile 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). God will help us before He will help us. May He come speedily, and in our day. Amen.
Law of the Guilt Offering...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Tzav.... ]
03.21.16 (II Adar 11, 5776) "This is the law of the guilt offering. It is most holy" (Lev. 7:1). Like the sin offering (חַטַּאת), the guilt offering (i.e., asham: אָשָׁם) is also described as "most sacred," kodesh kodashim (קדֶשׁ קָדָשִׁים), because it prefigures how the sinner is restored to a place fellowship with God... Some of the Torah sages read this verse differently, however, saying: "This is the Torah - i.e., the hashkafah (הַשׁקָפָה) or perspective - of the one who is guilty: his own will and desire are (perversely) elevated to be "most holy." In other words, sin idolatrously elevates the will to be supreme, and this self-exaltation creates guilt within the soul.
"Purim" in the Messiah...
[ The holiday of Purim begins Wednesday, March 23rd at sundown this year... ]
03.21.16 (II Adar 11, 5776) On Purim we remember how the Jewish people escaped from Haman's evil plot to destroy them, though any day that is marked by special deliverance by God may be regarded as a "personal" or "special" Purim. Therefore some Jewish families and communities celebrate "special purims" to commemorate the anniversary of a particular deliverance. The most important deliverance we have comes from being set free from the guilt of our sins, of course, since this gives us true peace with God (Rom. 5:1,11). In fact, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is also known as Yom Kippurim in the Tanakh, which can be read as Yom Ke-Purim (i.e., יוֹם, "a day" + כְּ, "like" + פֻּרִים, "Purim"). Thus the day on which Yeshua sacrificed Himself on the cross is the greatest Purim of all, since through His loving intervention we are eternally delivered from the hands of our enemies. Yehi shem Adonai mevorakh: "Blessed be the Name of the Lord."
Seeing the Invisible...
03.21.16 (II Adar 11, 5776) Faith sees the invisible light, the truth of love that overcomes all the powers of darkness, hate, and fear. "I believe. I believe in the sun even when it is not shining; I believe in love even when feeling it not; and I believe in God, even when God is silent" (from an anonymous poem found on the wall of a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where some Jews hid from the Nazis).
The soul testifies that there is "unfinished business," that there is more than meets the eye, that evil will not have the last word, and that tears will one day forever be wiped away. Despite the ambiguity, faith "hopes against hope" that the LORD God will intervene and bring everlasting healing to us all. As it says, "Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the Name of the LORD (יִבְטַח בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה) and rely on his God."
מִי בָכֶם יְרֵא יְהוָה שׁמֵעַ בְּקוֹל עַבְדּוֹ
אֲשֶׁר הָלַךְ חֲשֵׁכִים וְאֵין נגַהּ לוֹ
יִבְטַח בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה וְיִשָּׁעֵן בֵּאלהָיו
mi va·khem ye·rei Adonai sho·mei·a be·kol av·do
a·sher ha·lakh cha·she·khim ve·ein no·gah lo
yiv·tach be·shem Adonai ve·yi·sha·en be·lo·hav
"Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness and has no light
trust in the Name of the LORD and rely on his God."
Hebrew Study Card
Faith is a sort of "holy protest" over the state of the world: "How long, O LORD, forever?" Eventually God will wipe away every tear and make all things right... Bittachon (trust) 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. Meanwhile, may God keep us from such depth of sorrow that leads to sickness, darkness and despair. Amen.
The Ram of Ordination...
03.20.16 (II Adar 10, 5776) In our Torah portion for this week (i.e., parashat Tzav) we learn how the first priests of Israel were consecrated for service by the blood of the lamb. First Aaron and his sons were washed with water, arrayed in priestly garments, and anointed with holy oil. During this ordination ceremony, a sin offering and burnt offering were offered on their behalf, and then a special "ram of ordination" (i.e., eil ha-milu'im: אֵיל הַמִּלֻּאִים, lit. "ram of abundance [מָלֵא]") was slaughtered. Some of this ram's blood was applied to the right ear, right thumb, and big toe of the Aaron and his sons (a picture of Yeshua as our suffering High Priest), and the rest of the blood was dashed upon the sides of the altar. After its slaughter, Moses took some unleavened bread and put it in the hands of the priests to perform tenufah (a wave offering) before the altar (a picture of the resurrection).
As followers of Yeshua, we too have been anointed with the blood from the "Ram of Ordination" -- Yeshua as our Kohen Gadol of the better covenant (Heb. 8:6). And we too have been anointed with the sacred shemen (oil) that symbolizes the presence and aroma of the LORD in our lives. As followers of Yeshua we are therefore truly "...a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). As Yeshua said: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you" (John 15:16). May the LORD God of Israel be pleased to help you serve Him in the truth...
Hiddenness and Disclosure...
03.20.16 (II Adar 9, 5776) The sages extol the importance of the holiday of Purim because it reveals the hidden hand of God, despite his apparent absence in the affairs of this world... On the surface, each turn of the story could be explained naturally, or as simple "coincidence," yet in the end we realize that God was at work behind the scenes, carefully putting together deliverance for God's people. The eye of faith trusts in God's providential plan, despite appearances to the contrary. Indeed, the phrase hester panim (הֶסְתֵר פָּנִים) means "hiding of the face" and is often used when discussing the Book of Esther. Understood as hidden providence, hester panim is somewhat like the sun on an overcast day: Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there. God's great love is at work at all times, in all affairs of the universe, whether we perceive it or not.
The holiday of Purim occurs this coming Wednesday, March 23 (at sundown) and runs through the following day. In anticipation of the coming holiday, then, let me wish you and your family Purim Sameach (פורים שמח) -- with the prayer that you will stand true to your faith, despite this wicked world and its syncretizing influences. Hooray for Mordecai! -- may the LORD raise up many like him!
What We Really Need...
03.18.16 (II Adar 7, 5776) "Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matt. 6:8). We sometimes pray for what we think we need but overlook what we really need. For instance, we may pray for health, material blessing, and opportunity, but what we really need is the ability to trust, the willingness to surrender our lives to God without qualification, and the grace to see the good in others and not their faults. These needs are just as real as our need for food and clothing, since apart from grace to extend empathy and love toward others, we will never be truly happy. Love "overlooks" a multitude of sins; it looks beyond the present moment to see with compassion, of kindness, of empathy... What we really need, then, is to be after God's own heart, to see other people as God sees them, and to overlook matters that offend or feed our sense of pride. This is what we truly need, and therefore we trust that the Lord our God mercifully "decodes" our apparent petitions to express what the Spirit of God groans on our behalf (Rom. 8:26).
כִּי־עָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן אָנכִי
וְלִבִּי חָלַל בְּקִרְבִּי
ki · a·ni · ve·ev·yon · a·no·khi
ve·lib·bi · chal·lal · be·kir·bi
"For I am poor and needy,
and my heart is stricken within me."
The word translated as "stricken" is challal (חָלַל), meaning "wounded, pierced, polluted, defiled, or brokenhearted." This is the condition of heart that is prerequisite for doing real business with heaven. "God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.... I need Christ, not something that resembles Him." (C.S. Lewis: A Grief Observed)
Shabbat shalom friends...
The Purim Prophecies...
[ The holiday of Purim begins Wednesday, March 23rd at sundown this year... ]
03.18.16 (II Adar 7, 5776) Both Chanukah and Purim are holidays that celebrate God's victory over the forces of darkness... Just as the prophet Daniel foresaw the events of Chanukah, that is, the rise of "Epihpanes," the "Messiah of Evil" who will one day attempt to "assimilate" all of humanity into a "New World Order" (Dan. 9:27, 2 Thess. 2:3; Rev. 13:7-9, etc.), so Purim foretells how this wicked one will attempt to destroy the Jewish people during the End of Days (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים), though he will be destroyed by his own wicked devices. The Midrash Esther says that Purim, unlike many of the other holidays, will be celebrated even after the final redemption after the End of Days. This is because the story of Purim -- i.e., God's covenantal faithfulness and defense of His people -- will be magnified in the deliverance that leads to the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom upon the earth. Indeed, the Second Coming of the Messiah will be regarded as the final fulfillment of Purim! So while it is a often seen as time of unbridled celebration in Israel (ad lo yoda), the holiday of Purim has a very sober prophetic message that foretells the glorious end of this age.
Here is a vision of the coming "Purim haGadol," the great deliverance:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True (נֶאֱמָן וְיָשָׁר), and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a Name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the Name by which he is called is the Word of God (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים). And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. And He will tread the winepress of the fierce fury of the wrath of God, the Ruler over All (παντοκράτωρ), the LORD God Almighty (יְהוָה אֱלהֵי צְבָאוֹת). On his robe and on his thigh he has a Name written, the King of kings (מֶלֶךְ הַמְּלָכִים) and the Lord of lords (אֲדנֵי הָאֲדנִים). And with the breath of his lips He will slay the wicked. - Rev. 19:11-16
May that day come speedily, and in our time...
HAPPY PURIM CHAVERIM!
Why Purim Matters...
[ The holiday of Purim begins Wednesday, March 23rd at sundown this year... ]
03.18.16 (II Adar 7, 5776) Over the past centuries, virtually no other book of the Tanakh ("Old Testament") has received more "mixed reviews" than the Book of Esther, especially among mainstream theologians and denominational church leaders. After all, the central point of the book concerns God's providential care for the Jewish people (i.e., ethnic Israel), and historically-speaking, many Christian theologians have found this conclusion unacceptable to their theological biases and their church creeds. Indeed, the Book of Esther leads inescapably to the celebration of Jewish identity and survival despite the evil plans and designs of anti-Semites, and therefore those theologians that believe that the church replaces Israel will tend to regard the message of the book with suspicion (or they will attempt to reinterpret "Israel" to mean the "church"). For those who understand that the so-called "church" partakes of the covenantal blessings given to Israel, however, the Book of Esther recounts a thrilling and beautiful story about God's faithful love and care for His people... Despite the "Veggie-Tales" approach to the story, the message of Esther reaffirms the perpetuity and salvation of ethnic Israel. The promise of Zion will indeed be fulfilled!
For more on this subject, see the "Scandal of Esther," here.
Torah of Atonement...
[ The following is related our Torah reading for this week, parashat Vayikra... ]
03.18.16 (II Adar 7, 5776) The Torah's emphasis on blood atonement confounded post-Temple Jewish thought, so that the sages of the first and second centuries created "Judaism without a Temple" by claiming that "study, prayer, and good deeds" would replace the need for sacrifices at the Temple. Nevertheless, the Torah clearly affirms the need for blood atonement, and indeed over 40% (247) of the 613 mitzvot (commandments) concern the ceremonial laws of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Book of Leviticus is the central book of the Torah, and blood atonement by an innocent, sacrificial victim is at the heart of the law given to the priests of Israel. The Torah makes it clear that blood (דָּם) is used as a means of consecration as well as a means of obtaining atonement (כַּפָּרָה) with God. Blood was used on the doorposts of the houses in Egypt to ward off judgment and was later used to ratify the covenant given at Sinai (Exod. 24:8). All the elements of Mishkan (Tabernacle) were likewise "separated" by its use: The altar, the various furnishings of the Temple, the vestments of the priests, and even the priests themselves were sanctified by blood (Exod. 29:20-21, Heb. 9:21). But ultimately blood was used to "make atonement" for the soul upon the altar. As the Torah (Lev. 17:11) plainly states: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood (כִּי נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם), and I have given it for you on the altar to atone (לְכַפֵּר) for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life (כִּי־הַדָּם הוּא בַּנֶּפֶשׁ יְכַפֵּר)." Blood is therefore connected to the holiness of life through sacrificial death.... Despite the sage's invention of "Judaism" without the Temple, the Torah emphatically teaches that blood is connected to the holiness of life through sacrificial death...
Unlike the "rational" (i.e., Greek) approach of the post Second Temple Pharisees, the medieval Torah commentator Nachmanides (1194-1270), or the "Ramban," regarded the sacrifices as the means to express teshuvah (repentance) by trusting in God's substitutionary sacrifice given in place of the sinner. Since we all sin by means of impure thoughts, speech, and actions, God required that when a sacrifice was presented, the sinner's hands would lean into the animal, and then he would confess with his mouth before burning the innards (kidney, fat, etc., regarded as the source of thought and lust), while pouring the blood beside the altar, "thinking that he himself is worthy of having his own blood spilled and body burned, were it not for the love of God who had received a substitute for him (an exchange) - the sacrifice atoning for him, its blood shed for his blood, its life-force for his life-force" (Nachmanides' Commentary on the Torah). In other words, there is an identity between the sinner and the sacrifice, though to be efficacious, the sinner must have faith, be moved, and turn to personally receive God's mercy and love. The sacrifice is for the sinner's sake, to help us to draw close to God, to awaken within us the desire to change. The trauma of the sacrifice is meant to so deeply move the heart that we will turn away from our apathy and indifference... Participating in the sacrifice is meant to resolutely turn our hearts back to God: As you consider the blood shed and the suffering endured so that you could be forgiven, you better appreciate the terrible cost of your sin and the awesome grace given for your sake... (Were you there when they crucified my Lord?)
Note: For more on this subject, see Parashat Vayikra: Why the Sacrifices? and "Rabbis who deny Blood Atonement."
Deliverance from Fear...
03.17.16 (II Adar 6, 5776) Many of us need to grow up and take responsibility for our lives. Often we are full of anger and inner conflict. We rage at life and are quick to blame others, but inwardly we are really afraid, and our "outrage" is just a disguised form of fear. And yet fear itself arises from unbelief, or rather from the faith that either God doesn't exist or doesn't care for us, and therefore the voice of fear seduces us to feel alone, victimized, insecure and afraid (if you verbalize what you are afraid of, eventually you will hear yourself questioning whether God is in control or whether he is there for you). Tragically, the more we cling to fear, vainly believing that it will somehow "protect us," the more we become fearful (and angry) people. To worry is to "practice the absence" of God instead of practicing his presence, and the longer we practice that kind of "faith," the more we will experience exile. We must renounce our fears by trusting in the LORD our God and relying on his promises. Refuse, therefore, those anxious thoughts that weigh in upon you, creating pressure and "dis-ease." Call upon the LORD for help in the midst of your storm. Be still and know that God is real; listen for the holy whisper: "It is I; do not be afraid..." There is no fear in God's love. As the Spirit says, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength" (Isa. 30:15). The truth of God sets you free indeed (John 8:32).
דָּרַשְׁתִּי אֶת־יְהוָה וְעָנָנִי
da·rash·ti · et · Adonai · ve·a·na·ni
u·mik·kol · me·gu·ro·tai · hitz·tzi·la·ni
"I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
and he delivered me from all my fears."
"The trouble with the world," sighed the teacher, "is that human beings refuse to grow up." "When can a person be said to grow up?" asked a student. "On the day he does not need to be lied to about anything" (Anthony de Mello: "One Minute Wisdom"). For more on learning to overcome anger and fear, see Psalm 37: "Fret Not Thyself..."
The Place of Atonement...
03.17.16 (II Adar 6, 5776) From our Torah portion this week (Vayikra) we read: "He shall bring it (i.e., the offering) to the entrance of the tent of meeting (אהֶל מוֹעֵד), that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on its head and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf (לְכַפֵּר עָלָיו). Then he shall slaughter it before the LORD, and Aaron's sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar. Then he shall flay the offering and cut it into pieces..." (Lev. 1:3-6). We are justified by faith, but that means we bring our hope to the appointed place where God meets with us. We have "access by faith into this grace wherein we stand" (Rom. 5:2), and that implies we trust that God gives us right standing on account of his great love. We come to the cross - the entrance of the tent - and "lean into" our Lord, identifying with his death as atonement on our behalf. As it is written: "God has ordained a place of atonement (i.e., ἱλαστήριος, or "mercy seat" [i.e., kapporet: כַּפּרֶת]), in the cross of Yeshua, accessible through faith in his blood, for the demonstration of His righteousness, so that God might be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Yeshua" (Rom. 3:25-26).
It has been noted that there were no prescriptions of words to be spoken during the semikhah/shechitah ceremony (i.e., sacrificial ceremony), no formulas or ritualized prayers. The sacrifice was performed in silence. The worshipper would firmly lay both hands on the head of the sacrificial victim and reflect that this animal's fate should really be his -- i.e., that he deserved to die for his sin. Only because of the LORD's mercy was this animal accepted in his place, and therefore the sacrificial rite was ultimately one of healing and restoration... This is the "korban" principle of "life-for-life." When the LORD saw the shed blood and ascending smoke of the sacrifice, He forgave the sinner based on his faith and teshuvah (repentance). The "sweet savor" (i.e., re'ach nicho'ach: רֵיחַ־נִיחוֹחַ) of the sacrifice refers to the future life (and healing) of the worshipper -- not the sacrifice itself. By itself -- apart from genuine repentance -- the sacrifice holds no power to forgive sin, and indeed, forgiveness is a relational concept (Matt. 5:24, 6:12, Isa. 1:11, etc.). In the Levitical system, the offering of a sacrifice served as a "symbol and expression of man's desire to purify himself and become reconciled to God" (Nehama Leibowitz: New Studies in Vayikra).
"God put forward Yeshua as a propitiation (ἱλαστήριον) through faith in His blood" (Rom. 3:25). The sprinkling of Yeshua's blood - represented by His Passion upon the cross - was "presented" upon the Heavenly Kapporet, before the very Throne of God Himself. Yeshua here functions as the great High Priest after the order of Malki-Tzedek (i.e., Melchizedek) who provides everlasting forgiveness for our sins (Heb. 9:7-10:10). Because of His sacrifice, the parochet - the wall-like covering separating the Holy of Holies - was rent asunder and God's love was let loose upon the world! Baruch Hashem! All those who are trusting in Yeshua as their atoning sacrifice before God (i.e., kapparah: כַּפָּרָה) are able to draw near to God full of confidence in his love (Heb. 4:16; Rom. 5:2; Eph. 3:12).
Leviticus and Yeshua...
[ The following is related our Torah reading for this week, parashat Vayikra... ]
03.17.16 (II Adar 6, 5776) The Book of Leviticus (ויקרא) is to the Torah what the Book of Hebrews is to the New Testament. Leviticus is both the physical and spiritual center of the Five Books of Moses and comprises its ritual expression. The sages count 246 of the 613 commandments of the Torah in this book (over 40%), and many of the Talmud's discussions regarding ritual purity and holiness are based on it.
Many Christian readers of the Bible want to skip the Book of Leviticus, however, because they find the detailed description of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the various laws of the sacrificial system to be tedious and/or irrelevant for followers of Yeshua. This is unfortunate because in its pages the great sacrificial work of Yeshua is foreshadowed and explained for us. Indeed, without the underlying concepts "seeded" there, various fundamental New Testament teachings concerning the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua for our sins, justification by faith, and our duty to walk in sanctification would not make much sense....
The LORD intended that the sacrificial laws given to the Levitical priests (i.e., kohanim) would foreshadow the coming atoning sacrifice offered by Yeshua, the "Lamb of God slain from the foundation (יְסוֹד) of the world" (1 Pet. 1:19-20, Rev. 13:8). This is why these laws are called torat Kohanim - the "teaching of the priests." This instruction (i.e., torah: תּוֹרָה) was intended for all Israel to understand the need for blood atonement in order to draw near to God (Lev. 17:11). The Levitical system as a whole served as a "type" or "picture" of heavenly realities. Moses received the "pattern" (i.e., tavnit: תַּבְנִית) of the Throne of God on Sinai, but this was a physical copy or "shadow" of the spiritual Reality he beheld in visions. The Mishkan was always intended to be moved into the Promised Land, which King David later established in Zion, the place of the Holy Temple. But it was the sacrificial death of Yeshua that is the focal point and goal of it all: Yeshua is the Substance of all that the sacrifices foreshadowed...
For more on this topic please see "Leviticus and Yeshua."
Gratitude and Spirituality....
03.16.16 (II Adar 5, 5776) Expressing gratitude is a core value of genuine spirituality. "Modei ani," I thank you, God... Being thankful indicates that you are trusting that God is working all things together for your good, and it confesses that all you are is a gift from heaven. Indeed, the Hebrew word todah (תּוֹדָה), usually translated "thanks," can mean both "confession" and "praise." The matriarch Leah used a play on words regarding the birth of her fourth son (Gen. 29:35) when she said she would thank the LORD (אוֹדֶה אֶת־יהוה), and therefore she named him "Judah" (יְהוּדָה), from which the word "Jew" was later derived. The Apostle Paul, the greatest of the Torah sages, alluded to this when he said that a true Jew (יְהוּדִי) is one inwardly (κρυπτός), whose circumcision is a matter of spirit, not of the flesh. A genuine Jew gives thanks to God for who He is and what He has done; his desire is not for the approval of men, but of God (Rom. 2:28-29).
הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי־טוֹב
כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ
ho·du La·do·nai ki tov ki le·o·lam chas·do
"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his loyal love endures forever."
Hebrew Study Card
The patriarch Judah's name eventually designated the tribe and tribal district in which Jerusalem was located, and its inhabitants (regardless of their original tribal origin) were called "Judahites," "Judeans" (יְהוּדִים) or, in the shorter form, "Jews." In the Bible, the shorter term first appears after the destruction of the First Temple, 2 Kings 25:25, and was later used in the books of Jeremiah, Ezra/Nehemiah. The term also used in the New Testament to designate any physical descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Theology, Paradox, and Purim...
[ The following concerns the holiday of Purim, which begins Wed., March 23rd at sundown... ]
03.16.16 (II Adar 5, 5776) The theme of the holiday of Purim (פּוּרִים) is the providential survival of the Jewish people despite various attempts by their enemies to destroy them. As such, Purim (like Passover) is a celebration of the deliverance and faithfulness of the LORD God of Israel. The terrible irony of the anti-Semite is that he hangs himself using his own rope. The tragic character of Haman, then, represents the Biblical archetype of all those who refuse to acknowledge God's faithful love for the Jewish people....
On the Torah's calendar, both the last month of the year (Adar) and the first month (Nisan) center on the theme of God's salvation. In Adar we celebrate Purim, and 30 days later we celebrate Passover... However Purim, unlike Passover, celebrates the "hiddenness" of God's actions. There is no dramatic power encounter; no parting of the Red Sea, no cataclysmic judgments regarding Purim. This is suggested by the name of the Book of Esther itself, Megillat Ester (מְגִלַּת אֶסְתֵּר), since the word megillah ("scroll") is related to the word giluy (גִּלּוּי), "revelation," and the name Esther is related to the word hester (הֶסְתֵר), meaning "hiddenness." The phrase hester panim (הֶסְתֵר פָּנִים) means "hiding of face" and is often used when discussing the role of God in the Book of Esther. God's plan is being fulfilled, step-by-step, even if it is hidden within the "natural" world of human beings and their choices (Jer. 10:23; Prov. 21:1).
For more on this subject, see "Theology, Paradox, and Purim."
The Spirit of Hope...
[ The following concerns the holiday of Purim, which begins Wed., March 23rd at sundown... ]
03.15.16 (II Adar 4, 5776) When Moses proclaimed the good news of God's forthcoming redemption for Israel, the Torah states that the people could not listen because they were "short of breath" (Exod. 6:9). Interestingly, this phrase (i.e., mi'kotzer ru'ach: מִקּצֶר רוּחַ) can also mean "lacking in spirit," as if in a paralyzed state of hopelessness. They became "short of breath" and could no longer receive the message of the Holy Spirit...
Indeed, life in this evil world can be suffocating at times. And though we may not be under the oppression of a cruel Pharaoh, we are affected by the "princes of this age" who spurn the message of the Messiah's redemption and love, and we are still subjected to bondage imposed by taskmasters who defy the LORD and who seek to enslave us by means of lies, propaganda, and threats of violence... The devil is still at work in the hearts and minds of many of his "little Pharaohs" that govern the world system... The Scriptures make it clear that we are engaged in genuine spiritual warfare: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12).
It is evident that one of the central purposes of God's redemption is to bestow freedom and dignity upon his people. As the story of Pharaoh reveals, God does not take kindly to oppressors, dictators, and other megalomaniacal world leaders who deny the truth and who therefore seek to enslave (or kill) human beings created in His image and likeness. Just as God judged Egypt for its oppression and violence, so He will one day break the "rulers of this world" with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel (Psalm 2:9-10).
To help us "catch our breath" during this time of waiting, it is important to remember that the LORD redeems us so that we may become His children and therefore be clothed with everlasting dignity... Our redemption makes us heirs of the Kingdom of God and citizens of heaven. We must never regard ourselves as slaves - not to the State, not to the bankers, not to fear, and not to "religion" (Gal. 5:1). God gave up His Son for us so that we could be made free to live with honor as his dearly loved children.... All the threats of the world system - economic, political, religious, social, etc. - are ultimately made empty and vain by the glorious redemption promised to us in Yeshua our Savior.
There is an old story of the Maggid of Brisk who each year would bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah would come that year. Once a certain Torah student asked him, "Rabbi, every year you bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah must come that year, and yet he does not come. Why bother doing this every year, if you see that Heaven ignores you?" The Maggid replied, "The law states that if a son sees his father doing something improper, he is not permitted to humiliate him but must say to him, 'Father, the Torah states thus and so.' Therefore we must tell God, who is our Father, that by keeping us in long exile, he is, in a sense, causing injustice to us, and we must point out, "thus and so it is written in the Torah," in hope that this year he might redeem us." This same principle, of course, applies to those of us who are living in exile and who eagerly await the second coming of the Messiah Yeshua. We should continue asking God to send Him speedily, and in our day, chaverim...
The Scriptures declare that "we are saved by hope" (ελπιδι εσωθημεν), that is, we are saved through an earnest expectation of good to come on account of the promises of the LORD God of Israel. The LORD is called "The God of Hope" (אֱלהֵי הַתִּקְוָה), indicating that He is its Author and its End (Rom. 15:13). God both gives birth to our hope (tikvah) and is the satisfaction of our heart's deepest longings. For those with God-given hope, gam zu l'tovah – all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28). In light of this, hope is the one "work" that we are called to perform: "What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?" Yeshua answered, "This is the work of God, that you trust (i.e. hope) in the one whom He sent" (John 6:28-29).
Don't let the doomed world system destroy or impugn your hope, chaverim... If the devil can't seduce you with illusory hope or counterfeit joy, he will attempt to oppress you with fear and doubt. Fight the good fight of faith and refuse to succumb to despair. Run the race before you with endurance (Heb. 12:1). Look up, for the time of your deliverance draws near... God redeems us for the sake of His love and honor... It is the "breath of God" that gives us life and courage to face this dark and perverse world (John 20:22). May you be filled with the hope and strength that comes from the Holy Spirit.
אֵלֶיךָ יְהוָה נַפְשִׁי אֶשָּׂא אֱלהַי בְּךָ בָטַחְתִּי
אַל־אֵבוֹשָׁה אַל־יַעַלְצוּ איְבַי לִי
e·ley·kha A·do·nai naf·shi es·sa, E·lo·hai be·kha va·tach·ti,
al–e·vo·shah, al–ya·al·tzu oy·vai li
"Unto thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in thee:
let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me."
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Whisper of the Spirit...
03.15.16 (II Adar 4, 5776) Many of us need to learn to let go, to rest, and to surrender to God's care for us. Some of us need to stop our religious activities to be able to hear the voice of the Spirit. When the prophet Elijah became exhausted, he fled to Mount Horeb – the very place of the Sinai revelation – to find refuge. When the Word of the LORD came to him, Elijah was asked "What are you doing here?" and then explained how his zeal had led him to the cave of fear and fatigue. God then told Elijah to stand on the mount, just as he had earlier told Moses to do so (Exod. 33:21-22). "And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a still and gentle whisper (דְּמָמָה דַקָּה). And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (1 Kings 19:11-13). Note how God repeated his initial question: "What are you doing here?" The Word speaks in a whisper so we will move closer to hear; He invites us to express our disappointment, exhaustion, frustration, and fear to him. Elijah wanted to lay down and die, but God wanted to strengthen his hope...
Be admonished: If you have the audacity to think you are doing God a favor by "serving him," then learn to listen. The Spirit speaks with a "still and gentle whisper" (דְּמָמָה דַקָּה), not in the noisy clamor of the crowd and its nonsense. We can attune ourselves to hear kol demamah dakkah (קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה), God's "still and gentle voice," when we are quieted, not when we are surrounded by the crowd with its taunts, its cheers and its murmurings... If you entertain negative thoughts or messages, however, you remove yourself from the realm of the truth. If you listen to news of this world and believe its messages of fear or anger, you will be deaf to the whispering of the Holy Spirit. The Name YHVH (יהוה) means "God is Present" and near, as close as your heart and breath. The LORD God will not be heard in noise and restlessness, much less in the clamor of fear-mongering and propaganda. "God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls."
Be careful not to justify your lusts by appealing to "righteousness," which is yet another case of taking the Name of the LORD in vain.
Messiah and Sacrifice...
[ The following is related our Torah reading for this week, parashat Vayikra... ]
03.15.16 (II Adar 4, 5776) The very first prophecy of Torah concerns the promise of the coming "seed of the woman" who would vanquish the serpent (nachash) that had originally tempted and deceived Eve (Gen. 3:15), and the very first sacrifice of the Torah was offered by God Himself, when He slaughtered a lamb to cover the shame of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21). The New Testament teaches that Yeshua came as the Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) to die "for our sins" (John 1:29). Sin separates us from God, but korban (sacrifice) draws us near. The message of the gospel is that the Voice of the LORD - the very Word spoken from between the cherubim above the kapporet (mercy seat) - "became flesh" (ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο) and "tabernacled among us" (ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν) for the purpose of becoming our substitutionary sacrifice for the guilt and defilement caused by our sin (John 1:1,14). Yeshua was "born to die" (Heb. 10:5-7), and his life was lived in relation to His sacrificial death (Mark 8:27-33). As the Apostle Paul put it: This is of "first importance": Messiah was born to die for our sins, to make us right with God, and was raised from the dead to vindicate the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 15:3-5).
"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; Num. 21:5-9). 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 was to be lifted up to forever be the Healer of the world (Rom. 8:3). Bless His Holy Name.
For more on this subject, see Parashat Vayikra: Why the Sacrifices?
Leviticus and the Lamb...
03.14.16 (II Adar 3, 5776) The Book of Leviticus is the third of the Torah, representing another stage in our spiritual journey. Genesis reveals both our divine origin but also our tragic fallenness, and the book ends with our need for deliverance from bondage to Egypt. Exodus reveals that we are liberated from slavery by trusting in the provision of God demonstrated by the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, and the book ends with the climax of the revelation of Torah given at Sinai, namely, the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) where the the need for blood atonement was enshrined. Indeed blood atonement is the central theme of the central book of Torah, i.e., Leviticus, where we are called to draw near to God through sacrificial rites, the foremost of which was the ongoing offering (i.e., korban tamid: קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד) of a defect-free male lamb, together with unleavened bread and wine. The LORD called this "My offering, My bread" (Num. 28:1-8). In other words, the center of the Torah is the altar that constantly prefigured the Lamb of God who would be offered up to secure our eternal redemption (John 1:29; Heb. 9:11-12).
רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה
ra·uy · ha·seh · ha·ta·vu·ach · le·ka·bel · ge·vu·rah
o·sher · ve·chokh·mah · ve·ko·ach · vi·kar · ve·kha·vod · uv·ra·kha
"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and might and honor and glory and blessing"
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Though God instructed each household to select its own defect-free lamb for the family Passover, the Torah refers to "the" Lamb of God, as if there was only one: "You shall keep it [i.e., the Passover lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter him (אתוֹ) at twilight (Exod. 12:6). Indeed there is only one great Lamb of God "slain from the foundation of the world," namely, the One given in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:21), sacrificed in place of Isaac during the Akedah, selected for the Passover from Egypt (and later commemorated as korban tamid (the daily offering) at the Temple (Num. 28:1-8)), later incarnated as our Savior, the great Lamb of God who offered Himself upon the cross for our sins (John 1:29), and who ascended to eternal victory to be seated upon the very Throne of God's Glory (Rev. 5:12-13; Rev. 22:1). Amen, the Torah centers on the great Lamb of God....
Sacrifice and Blessing...
03.14.16 (II Adar 3, 5776) From our Torah reading this week (Vayikra) we read: "When any person of you (mikem) brings an offering to God..." (Lev. 1:2), upon which the midrash comments: "Why does the text state 'mikem," translated "of you"? Because from this we derive that whoever recites one hundred blessings a day is as if he or she offered sacrifice. And how do we know this? From the Hebrew word mikem (מִכֶּם), which has a numerical value of 100: Mem + Kaf + Mem" (Yalkut Ma'ayan Ganim). The midrash attempts to connect the practice of "making a blessing" over the various moments of our day (arising, bathing, eating, drinking, etc.) with that of sacrifice, suggesting that the essence of sacrifice is gratitude...
Some of the sages have likened "making a blessing" to requesting God for permission to partake of the goodness of His world. Offering thanks "opens the world" to the Divine Presence, which in effect, sanctifies our experience. When we slow down and savor the moments of life, we will become more aware, more sensitive, and more receptive to the miracle of what is given... "The "sacrifice of praise" will flow from us spontaneously as we contemplate the peaceful glory of a sunset, listen to the song of a bird, smell the scent of a strawberry, or sit around the table with family or friends. In this way we become a "living sacrifice" as we walk in gratitude and love (Eph. 5:2; Heb. 13:15).
The Scriptures counsel us to be transformed by "renewing our minds" (Rom. 12:2), though how we are to do this remains an open question. Our perspectives and attitudes are shaped by our assumptions about life, many of which are "preconscious" or hidden from our awareness. Habitual thoughts, biases, prejudices, fears, etc., all affect (and distort) the way we see and understand reality. In light of this, how can we change? How can we overcome our habitual negativity, misery, and general unhappiness? How do we develop right thinking power? How do we learn to apply our minds to perceive the good, instead of responding in unreflective and negative ways to our circumstances? How do we discipline our will so that "if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Phil. 4:8)?
There are innumerable books on the subject of logic, detecting fallacies, and using sound reasoning techniques, but there are not many that discuss the "morality" of our thinking, that is, our God-given responsibility to perceive the truth and to consistently express it in our everyday actions. Since our thinking invariably leads to practical choices, we have a primary duty to know the truth and live out its implications in our lives. The failure to do so is not only inconsistent, logically speaking, but immoral, ethically speaking (and dangerous, spiritually speaking, since bondage is ignorance of the truth). If the truth bears witness that there is a personal God who creates each soul in the world, for instance, this should affect how we value and respect others, and the failure to do so will result in cognitive dissonance and internal contradiction that yields mental suffering, misery, emotional pain, and insecurity in our lives. A "double-minded" person is "two-souled" (δίψυχος), unstable (i.e., ungrounded, restless, unbalanced) in all his ways (James 1:8).
Healing comes from receiving the light of truth, being "single-minded," with our eye focused on what is real. "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). Likewise the Torah commands: "You shall be made whole (i.e., tamin: תָּמִים) with the LORD your God" (Deut. 18:13). We are made "whole" or "perfect" (i.e., complete) when we resolutely turn to God for healing of our inner dividedness, as it says: "The Torah of the LORD is perfect (תָּמִים), returning the soul" (Psalm 19:8). And where it is written, "Let us hear end of the matter: Fear God and love his commandments, the text adds: ki zeh kol-ha'adam (כִּי־זֶה כָּל־הָאָדָם), "for this is the whole man," suggesting that those who return will be healed of their double-mindedness (Eccl. 12:13). Ultimately we are made whole when we are united to God in Messiah, for then we are "with the LORD our God" and the Spirit writes Torah within the heart of faith (Jer. 31:33).
The heart of truth sees beyond the present to find meaning in the Eternal, yet it refocuses on the present to endow it with sacred significance... "Love hopes all things" (1 Cor. 13:7). To rightly see the present moment, in other words, we must first look to the Eternal, since that grounds our perspective and contextualizes our hope: "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" (2 Cor. 4:17-18).
Regard this as a prophecy for your life: "You shall be made whole with the LORD your God." God's love heals the inner brokenness of our hearts. When we accept this, we discover that surrendering to God's will truly makes us "whole." "As many as I love, I reprove and correct: be zealous therefore, and turn. Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his heart and share a meal with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:19-20). These are words of our Lord Yeshua, who speaks to those who "hear his voice." May you open the door of your heart; may you return to Him now...
Note: The phrase "sacrifice of praise" (θυσίαν αἰνέσεως) comes from the New Covenant Scriptures (i.e., Heb. 13:15), which is the term used in the ancient Greek translation of the Torah (i.e., the Septuagint) for the "thank offering" (i.e., zevach ha'todah: זבַח הַתּוֹדָה) that expressed gratitude to God for His salvation (θυσίας τοῦ σωτηρίου).
Drawing Near by Sacrifice....
[ The following is related our Torah reading for this week, parashat Vayikra... ]
03.14.16 (II Adar 3, 5776) The classical sages say that the word vayikra (וַיִּקְרָא) expresses a sort of ambivalence about how we are able to connect with God. Rashi says the verb can be interpreted to derive from the root yakar (יָקָר), meaning "costly" or "dear," so we read: "And he was dear, and the LORD spoke to Moses." On the other hand, the verb may be related to the word mikreh (מִקרֶה), a chance meeting, so we read: "And he happened to encounter God, and the LORD spoke to Moses..." The very first word of the Book of Leviticus, then, raises questions about closeness and distance, of drawing near yet remaining outside. There is the call to draw near from above, yet it calls out to us in our separation...
Sin causes separation from God, and the way this separation is overcome is by means of sacrifice, or "korban," which may be defined as that which is given up to draw us near (קָרַב) to God. The quintessential archetype of sacrifice is given in the Akedah, where Abraham offered his beloved son on an altar, and where God provided a lamb to take his place. The Torah states that Abraham saw "another ram" (אַיִל אַחַר), which means he clearly regarded his son as a type of sacrificial lamb (Gen. 22:13). Isaac was made like a lamb yet afterward God provided a divine exchange. The offering up of what was most dear to Abraham drew him near to God, just as the offering up of what was most dear to God, namely, His only begotten Son, drew God to man... (more)
The Call of Vayikra...
[ The following is related our Torah reading for this week, parashat Vayikra... ]
03.14.16 (II Adar 3, 5776) The first verse of the Book of Leviticus is usually translated: "And the LORD called to Moses and spoke to him," where the subject of the verb vayikra (וַיִּקְרָא), "and he called," has an implied antecedent, which if expressed would read: "And the LORD called to Moses and the LORD spoke..." The Hebrew text of the Torah scroll is written with a small Aleph (א) at the end of the verb vayikra, however, indicating something of textual and grammatical interest. Note that the Hebrew letter Aleph is constructed from two Yods (each that represent a yad, or "hand") joined by a diagonal Vav (that represents a man). One Yod (י) reaches upward while the other reaches downward, and both extend from the "fallen" Vav (ו), picturing Yeshua, the humble One who was "wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities" as our Mediator between heaven and earth (Isa. 53:5; 1 Tim. 2:5). The implied subject, then, of vayikra can be seen to be the "small Aleph," the Humble One who calls out from the Tent of Meeting...
"And he called" is written anonymously, but once you understand that this is the Word of the LORD speaking, you will turn back to the Creator and then YHVH will speak to you from within the Tent of Meeting...
The LORD Calls Out - ויקרא
[ This week we begin a new book of Torah, sefer Vayikra (i.e., the book of Leviticus)... ]
03.13.16 (II Adar 3, 5776) Our Torah reading for this week is Vayikra ("and he called"), the very first portion from the Book of Leviticus (ספר ויקרא). In Jewish tradition, the Book of Leviticus is sometimes called the "Book of Sacrifices" (ספר הזבחים) since it deals largely with the various sacrificial offerings brought to the altar at the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle). Indeed, over 40 percent of all the Torah's commandments are found in this central book of the Scriptures, highlighting that blood atonement is essential to the Torah. After all, since the revelation of the Tabernacle was the climax of the revelation given at Sinai, the Book of Leviticus serves as its ritual expression, as it is written: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement (kapparah) by the life" (Lev. 17:11).
Unlike narrative portions of other books of the Torah, the Book of Leviticus begins with the LORD "calling out" (i.e., vayikra) to Moses to explain that the way to draw near to Him is by means of atoning sacrifice. It is noteworthy that throughout the book, only the sacred name of the LORD (יהוה) is used in connection with sacrificial offerings, and never the name Elohim (אֱלהִים). This suggests that sacrificial offerings were given to draw us near to experience God's mercy and compassion rather than to simply appease His anger.... In other words, the Name of the LORD represents salvation (i.e., yeshuah: יְשׁוּעָה) and healing for the sinner, not God's judgment (John 3:17). Indeed, the word korban (קָרְבָּן), often translated as "sacrifice" or "offering," comes from a root word karov (קָרַב) that means to "draw close" or "to come near" (James 4:8). The sinner who approached the LORD trusting in the efficacy of the sacrificial blood shed on his or her behalf would find healing and life...
Note that the word in the ancient Greek translation of the Torah (called the Septuagint) that was selected to translate the Hebrew word kapporet (i.e., "mercy seat") is hilasterion (ἱλαστήριον), sometimes translated "propitiation." The New Testament picks up this usage in Romans 3:25: "God put forward Yeshua as a propitiation (ἱλαστήριον) through faith in His blood." In other words, the shedding of Yeshua's blood - represented by His Passion upon the cross - was "presented" upon the Heavenly Kapporet, before the very Throne of God Himself for our atoning sacrifice (i.e., kapparah: כַּפָּרָה) before God.
Please see the summary for parashat Vayikra for more information. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for this portion here:
[ The holiday of Purim begins Wed. March 23rd at sundown this year... ]
03.13.16 (II Adar 3, 5776) The Sabbath that immediately precedes the holiday of Purim is called Shabbat Zakhor - the "Sabbath of Remembrance." The maftir (additional reading) instructs us to "remember" (זָכוֹר) how the nation of Amalek attacked the Jews at Rephidim immediately following the Exodus from Egypt (see Exod. 17:8-16). After Israel routed the attack, God told Moses, "Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" (Exod. 17:14). Moses later explained that Amalek did not fight using conventional methods of war but rather attacked and killed the weakest members of Israel, "those who were lagging behind" in the camp (Deut. 25:17-19). This cowardly approach represented the first attack of God's newly redeemed people, a Satanic assault that God vowed never to forget.... Amalek therefore embodies satanic forces arrayed against the people of God.
Note that the name "Amalek" (עֲמָלֵק) begins with the letter Ayin (symbolizing the eye) and equals 240 in gematria -- the same value for safek (סָפֵק), the Hebrew word for doubt. Amalek therefore suggests "the eye of doubt," or even "the severed eye" (the Hebrew verb מָלָק means "to chop" or "sever" in reference to the "eye" of Ayin). Amalek therefore represents spiritual blindness as it acts in the world...
The additional Haftarah portion (1 Sam. 15:2-34) speaks of how King Saul later failed to "devote to destruction" the evil tribe of Amalek -- a mistake which cost him the kingship of Israel. Samuel's rebuke of Saul's compromise is always timely: "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.... Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king."
These two readings were selected before Purim because Haman was an "Agagite" (Esther 3:1), i.e., a direct descendant of Agag, the king of Amalek (whom Saul nearly spared, see 1 Sam. 15:32-33), and we should therefore link the 'wiping-out' of Haman with the 'wiping-out' of Amalek. The spiritual war between the light and the darkness admits of no compromise. For more information about this Sabbath, click here.
Seeking Things Above...
03.11.16 (II Adar 1, 5776) If we are spiritually made alive with Yeshua, we are made "dead" to this age (olam hazeh) and awakened to a realm that transcends the appeals of the flesh and the lower nature (olam habah). We no longer live chayei sha'ah (חַיֵּי שָׁעָה, "fleeting life") but chayei olam (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם, "eternal life"). Therefore "if you have been raised with Messiah, seek the things that are above (τὰ ἄνω ζητεῖτε), where the Messiah is seated at the right hand of God; focus your thoughts on the things above - not on things here on earth - for you have died, and your life has been hidden with Messiah in God" (Col. 3:1-4). The aorist verb "you have died" indicates "you have died once for all," that is, that this is a condition granted by the power and agency of God on your behalf. You don't "try to die" to the flesh; you accept that God has killed its power over you through Yeshua...
To de-cide means to "cut away" other options. Yeshua tells us to take up the cross and die because that which is dead no longer suffers from ambivalence and carnal inner conflict... There are no "half-measures" here; when we accept that we have already been crucified with Messiah, we confess that our true life is not here, in this world, but is bound up in Him, and that God alone is our ultimate concern and end. In that sense, the life we now live in the flesh "catches up" with the truth and power that God has decreed for our salvation.
Take a moment and quietly reflect... Have you you heard the "upward call of God in Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil. 3:14)? This "upward call" (τῆς ἄνω κλήσεως) is the invitation from above, the sound of the heavenly Voice, beckoning you to enter the "high country" of the world to come. As Yeshua said, "I am from above (ἐγὼ ἐκ τῶν ἄνω)." Our true identity is not found in this world and its vain philosophy. The cross brings these things to an end, as we "cross over" from the realm of the dead to the realm of life (Gal. 6:14)... So again, we are admonished: "Seek the things that are above where the Messiah is seated at the right hand of God; focus your thoughts on the things above - not on things here on earth - for you have died, and your life has been hidden with Messiah in God. Then when the Messiah, who is your life, appears, you too will appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4). May God help us seek...
Strangers and Sojourners...
03.11.16 (II Adar 1, 5776) God's people are always "strangers" in this world; they are literally "e-stranged" -- living here, yet not here. We are outsiders and pilgrims, not at home in this world, and our faith therefore is both a type of "protest" against any interpretation of reality that excludes, suppresses, denies, or minimizes the Divine Presence as well as a longing for the place where we truly belong.... If you feel crazy in an insane situation, then you are really quite sane... The world will feel oppressive and strange once you have been awakened from its madness and refuse to be moved by the delusions of the crowd... Life in olam hazeh (this world) is a place of passing that leads to the world to come. Our faith affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life is a deeper reality that is ultimately real and abiding. It "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31).
כִּי־גֵרִים אֲנַחְנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ
כַּצֵּל יָמֵינוּ עַל־הָאָרֶץ וְאֵין מִקְוֶה
ki ge·rim a·nach·nu le·fa·ne·kha,
ve·to·sha·vim ke·khol a·vo·tei·nu,
katz·tzel ya·mei·nu al ha·a·retz · ve·ein mik·veh
"For we are strangers before you
and sojourners, as all our fathers were.
As a shadow are our days on the earth, and there is nothing that abides"
(1 Chron. 29:15)
The Apostle Paul taught that we to be "conformed" (σύμμορφος) to the Messiah (Rom. 8:29), but not "conformed" (συσχηματίζω) to the pattern of this fallen world (Rom. 12:2). The former word means to resemble or be made similar in purpose or form (μορφή), whereas the latter means to accept the world's scheme (σχῆμα) of understanding things, to passively go along with the world's lies, wishful thinking, fearmongering, propaganda, etc. Of course we need God's help to escape the "programming" of our age, and therefore the Holy Spirit helps us to become transfigured – "changed from the inside out" - by the renewal of our minds, enabling us to see things in light of the reality of our identity in the Messiah. So refuse to let the world system get you down, but focus on God and His glory. Take heart, friends: being exiled by the world is an indication that you belong to the Kingdom of God...
By faith resolve to understand that you are dead to this world; you are dead to sin's power; you are set free and no longer enslaved to the deception of the worldly matrix, etc. Now you are made alive to an entirely greater and more powerful order and dimension of reality, namely, the spiritual reality that is not disclosed to the vanity of this age. Therefore we are to consciously focus our thoughts (φρονέω) on the hidden reality of God rather than on the temporal world that is passing away: "For we are looking not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient (i.e., "just for a season," καιρός), but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18).
Passion and Truth....
03.10.16 (I Adar 30, 5776) Revelation is unknowable apart from passion... It is common enough to draw near to God with lips while the heart is far away from Him (Isa. 29:13). God doesn't care about your "religion" if your heart is withheld, nor is He impressed that you are a member of a particular denomination (i.e., the commandments of men). Spiritually speaking, the place of utmost danger is indifference toward God, and this danger constitutes the burden of a true prophet of God. "To listen (shema) is better than sacrifice... I desire love (chesed) and the knowledge of God (da'at Elohim) more than burnt offerings" (1 Sam. 15:22, Hos. 6:6). During the End of Days people will have a "form" (μόρφωσιν) of godliness but will deny its power, since their hearts will be obstinately turned away from the truth. "And because lawlessness (i.e., ἀνομία, lit. a=without; nomos=Torah) will be increased, the love of many will grow cold (Matt. 24:12). In this connection we note that the Hebrew word for "falsehood" (or "lie") is sheker (שֶׁקֶר), which can also be read as she-kar (שֶׁקַר), meaning "that which" (-שׁ) makes you cold (קַר) [see Matt. 24:20]. The truth of God can't be known apart from passion. What sort of a lover is he who is half-hearted or uncertain in his devotion? Can you know the truth about true love without yearning, longing, and desire?
The Hebrew word for sin (חֵטְא) means "missing the mark," though that essentially means missing the revelation of God's glory because lesser fears consume the heart and obscure passion of the truth...
"There is much to drag us back, O Lord: empty pursuits, trivial pleasures, unworthy cares. There is much to frighten us away: pride that makes us reluctant to accept help; cowardice that recoils from sharing your suffering; anguish at the prospect of confessing our sins. But You are stronger than all these forces. We call you our Redeemer and Savior because you redeem us from our empty, trivial existence, you save us from our foolish fears. This is your work which you have completed and will continue to complete in us every moment." - Kierkegaard
May God help us never to lose our "first love" nor miss what matters most of all...
True Spiritual Power...
03.09.16 (I Adar 29, 5776) True spirituality humbly trusts in God's power to change the heart, and never in the power of "magic." Magic willfully attempts to control God (or other things) through some kind of technique: a special formula, a shibboleth, a ritual, a custom, or through rule-following behaviors. Magical thinking is common to all religions that believe that they can influence spirits through their own merits or ritual actions. Trusting in the miraculous power of God, however, is precisely the opposite of such magical thinking. It acknowledges that we are not in control, that we cannot manage our own lives, and that we must completely let go in trust... The miracle of inner transformation occurs when we accept God's love and power alone as our remedy, and renounce our magical thinking. The voice of God's grace begins with the message: "Don't change; I love you just the way you are, though I will reveal that love to you through inner transformation."
I was neurotic for years. I was anxious and depressed and selfish. Everyone kept telling me to change. I resented them, and I agreed with them, and I wanted to change, but simply couldn't, no matter how hard I tried. What hurt the most was that, like the others, my best friend kept insisting that I change. So I felt powerless and trapped. Then one day another friend said to me, "Don't change! Never change! I love you just as you are." Those words were music to my ears: "Don't change, never change -- I love you just as you are." I relaxed; I came alive -- and suddenly I changed! (Anthony de Mello: The Song of the Bird, 1982)
This is why Yeshua explained that we must be "born again" (John 3:3). There is nothing of the old life that can bring about new creation... This is as mysterious as the movement of the winds (John 3:8). It would be comical were it not so tragic that religious people think they can somehow manipulate God into accepting them based on their own demands, their own "script," their own religion.... The message of grace is that everything has been done for you, and the only thing you need to do is "show up," to have faith, and to accept your place at the table. Human pride always stumbles over the idea of unconditional love.
The Troubles of Love...
03.09.16 (I Adar 29, 5776) People tend to believe what they want to believe until they are faced with reality, and therefore God orchestrates tests and challenges to awaken people from their illusions to make them confront their need for deliverance. Such afflictions are called yissurim shel ahavah, "troubles of love." Thus we read in our Torah how our people groaned because of their harsh slavery and then they cried out to heaven for help: "And God heard their groaning; he remembered his covenant ... and God saw the people of Israel, and God knew" (Exod. 2:24-25). Note the pattern: The people cried out for help; God heard (וַיִּשְׁמַע); he remembered (וַיִּזְכּר), he saw (וַיַּרְא); and he knew (וַיֵּדַע)... God knows our profound need for Him. Affliction teaches us that wishful thinking is unable to sustain the weight of reality, and only God Himself can truly save us...
Where it says, "How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily" (Psalm 13:2), the sages remark that just as long as we take counsel in our own soul there will be despair, since only after we realize that no further counsel can help us do we give up and confess our need for God's salvation. Therefore בְּטַח אֶל־יְהוָה בְּכָל־לִבֶּךָ, "trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding" (Prov. 3:5).
Sabbath and Fire...
03.09.16 (I Adar 29, 5776) Although it was mentioned earlier and in a more philosophical tone, the Torah mentions the importance of the Sabbath as a "prequel" to the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) itself (i.e., Exod. 35:1-35), which teaches us that the divine rest must precede the divine service. Indeed, early Jewish tradition defined "work" as one of the 39 categories of activity (i.e., אבות מלאכה) implied in the construction the Mishkan (Bavli: Shabbat 70a). The Torah's commandment implies that the rest of the Sabbath, which testifies to God's creative activity and his role as our Redeemer (see Exod. 20:11; Deut. 5:15), is fundamental, and regarded as even more important than the construction of the Sanctuary itself. The reason for this, I believe, is that the Tabernacle was meant to symbolically honor and celebrate the Divine Presence, though the awareness of God as our Source of life and healing must be observed first. The Mishkan represented service of God through human creativity, but the deep truth of Sabbath is the exact opposite, namely, surrendering our lives to God in complete dependence, and trusting the Divine Presence to rest upon us. Sabbath, so understood in terms of surrender, trust, and letting go of our "religion" and its rituals, is therefore primary. We do not "kindle fire" on the Sabbath, which is to say, we abandon our reliance on human technique and receive the light of God's Presence instead.
Drawn into His love...
03.08.16 (I Adar 28, 5776) Where it is written, "The LORD appeared to me from far away: 'I have loved you with an everlasting love (אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם); therefore with love (חֶסֶד) have I drawn you'" (Jer. 31:3), note that the word translated "I have drawn you" (i.e., מְשַׁכְתִּיךְ) comes from 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, same word) by the Father" (John 6:44). God's chesed seizes us, takes us captive, and leads us to the Savior... And may the love of the LORD indeed be upon us, even as we put our hope in Him (Psalm 32:22).
יְהִי־חַסְדְּךָ יְהוָה עָלֵינוּ
כַּאֲשֶׁר יִחַלְנוּ לָךְ
ye·hi · chas·de·kha · Adonai · a·lei·nu
ka·a·sher · yi·chal·nu · lakh
"May your love, O LORD, be upon us,
as we hope in You"
Hebrew Study Card
We must train our minds to see beyond mere appearances, to ignore the (fearmongering) messages of this dark world, and to search for God's loving Presence in everything. Walking in trust of God's care for our lives casts out our fears... And (again) may the love of the LORD indeed be upon us, even as we put our hope in Him.
Note: I want to thank all of you who prayed for our new baby Emanuel David. It's been difficult these past weeks, but we thank God that he is gaining weight, and getting stronger each day!
Advent of the Lamb...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Pekudei... ]
03.08.16 (I Adar 28, 5776) In our Torah portion this week (Pekudei) we learn that Moses consecrated the Mishkan (Tabernacle) on Rosh Chodashim, "the first day of the first month of the second year [since the Exodus]" (Exod. 40:17). Note that this date (i.e., Nisan 1) marks the start of the Biblical year and the month of the Passover redemption (see Exod. 12:1-12). The Torah's calendar therefore begins with the advent of the lamb of God, just as the central sacrifice of the Tabernacle was the daily sacrifice (i.e., korban tamid: קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד) of a lamb offered with unleavened bread and wine. The LORD calls this "My offering, My bread..." (see Num. 28:1-8). In other words, the service and ministry of the Tabernacle constantly foreshadowed the coming Lamb of God who would be offered upon the altar "made without hands" to secure our eternal redemption (Heb. 9:11-12).
As I've taught for many years now, the climax of the Torah given at Sinai was the revelation of the Tabernacle. The tablets of the law, summarizing the Ten Commandments, were stored inside the Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן בְּרִית־יְהוָה), the innermost place of the Tabernacle, a sacred "three-in-one" box. As such, the ark served as a symbol of kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), the Throne of Glory. It stood entirely apart as the only furnishing placed in the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). Upon the cover of the Ark (i.e., the kapporet) were fashioned two cherubim (i.e., angel-like figures) that faced one another (Exod. 25:17-18). According to the Talmud (Succah 5b), each cherub had the face of a child - one boy and one girl - and their wings spread heavenward as their eyes gazed upon the cover (Exod. 25:20). God's voice would be heard only in the midst of innocence, humility, purity, and hope... Each year during Yom Kippur, sacrificial blood was sprinkled seven times over the cover of the Ark to symbolize the covering of the law's demand and the atonement of sin secured through Messiah.
Seeing Small Miracles...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, parashat Pekudei... ]
03.08.16 (I Adar 28, 5776) We are instructed to see small miracles, everyday "signs and wonders..." The sages say that a verse from our Torah portion suggests that everyone is obliged to recite at least 100 blessings a day: "... a hundred sockets for a hundred talents of silver, one talent per socket" (Exod. 38:27). The Gerer Rebbe comments, "Just as hundred sockets served as the foundation for the sanctuary, so the daily blessings represent the soul's foundation in holiness." In Jewish thinking, we "bless" God by offering our thanks, and thereby consciousness of life is sanctified. The Hebrew term for gratitude is hakarat tovah (הַכָּרַת טוֹבָה), a phrase that means "recognizing the good." The heart looks through the eye, and therefore how we choose to see is a spiritual decision: "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). When we see rightly, we will behold the radiance of God pervading our way, even in the midst of our mundane affairs (Isa. 6:3). A grateful heart is awake to God's Presence in the little things of life, those small miracles and glories that constantly surround us. The good eye of faith sees hundreds of reasons to bless God for the precious gift of life. The LORD is "enthroned among the blessings of His people" (Psalm 22:3).
The sages warn that in the case of doubt, however, one should not make a blessing that invokes God's Name, since doing so violates the commandment not to lift up the Name of the LORD for vain reasons. Ironically enough, those who make an "idol" out of the Name of God are lifting up the name in vain! It is preferable not to pray than to do so insincerely or without heart.... On the other hand, surely God invites our requests, and therefore a prayer offered be'emunah shelemah, with complete faith, will be heard in heaven. As it is written in the New Testament: "And this is the confidence (i.e., παρρησία, freedom to speak honestly) that we have with him, that if we ask anything according to his will he heeds us. And if we know that he heeds us in whatever we ask, we know that we presently have the requests that we have asked of him" (1 John 5:14-15).
Note: If you want to see blessing, then you must open your eyes. The "commandment" here is more of a mitzvah, that is, an opportunity to become alive and awake. The idea is that you "get to" see the miracle, not that "you must" see it. It is a choice to believe (Col. 3:15).
Meta-Themes of Exodus...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Pekudei... ]
03.07.16 (I Adar 27, 5776) The theme of the Book of Exodus essentially turns on two great events, namely, the deliverance of the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt (yetzi'at Mitzraim) and the subsequent revelation given at Sinai (mattan Torah). Both of these events, however, are grounded in the deeper theme of God's faithful love combined with the need for blood atonement. With regard to the former, the blood of the Passover lamb was required to cause death to "pass over" the houses of the Israelites; with regard to the latter, the sacrificial system (i.e., the Mishkan) was required to draw near to God.
Jewish tradition tends to regard the giving of the law at Sinai to be the goal of the entire redemptive process, a sort of "return from Exile" to the full stature of God's chosen people. Some of the sages have taken this a step further by saying that God created the very universe so that Israel would accept the Torah. Such traditions, it should be understood, derive more from Jewish rabbinical thinking codified after the destruction of the Second Temple than from the narrative presented in the written Torah itself, since is clear that the climax of the revelation at Sinai was to impart the pattern of the Mishkan to Moses. In other words, the goal of revelation was not primarily to impart a set of moral or social laws, but rather to accommodate the Divine Presence in the midst of the people. This is not to suggest that the various laws and decrees given to Israel were unimportant, of course, since they reflected the holy character and moral will of God. Nonetheless, it is without question that the Torah was revealed concurrently with the revelation of the Sanctuary itself, and the two cannot be separated apart from "special pleading" and the suppression of the revelation given in the Torah itself... The meticulous account of the Mishkan is given twice in the Torah to emphasize its importance to God. This further explains why Leviticus is the central book of the Torah of Moses. (For more on this, see "The Eight Aliyot of Moses.")
As we consider these things, however, it is important to realize that underlying the events surrounding deliverance and revelation is something even more fundamental, namely, the great theme of faith (אֱמוּנָה). This theme is our response to God's redemptive love. God's love is the question, and our response - our teshuvah - is the answer. The great command is always to "Choose life!" We must chose to turn away from the darkness to behold the Light... Jewish tradition states there were many Jews who perished in Egypt during the Plague of Darkness because they refused to believe in God's love. Likewise, the revelation at Sinai failed to transform the hearts of many Jews because they despaired of finding hope...
As glorious as the redemption and revelation was, then, there was something even more foundational that gave "inward life" to God's gracious intervention. You must first believe that God loves you and regards you as worthy of His love; you must "accept that you are accepted." It is your faith that brings you near... This is the "Cinderella Story" of Exodus.
Choosing to Belong...
The themes of Exodus will mean little to you unless you identify with the journey of the people, and that implies that you reckon yourself as worth saving... You must see yourself as the recipient of divine affection and love. After all, without this as a first step, how will you make the rest of the journey? This is similar to the very First Commandment revealed at Sinai: "I AM the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt..." Notice that the statement, "I AM the LORD your God" (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ) was uttered in the second person singular, rather than in the plural. In other words, you (personally) must be willing to accept the love of the LORD into your heart, since the rest of the Torah is merely commentary to this step of faith. Therefore the Book of Exodus is called Shemot (שְׁמוֹת), "names," because it sees every person as worthy of God's redeeming love and revelation. "For God so loved the world..." (John 3:16).
For more on this subject, see "Choosing to Belong: Further thoughts on Pekudei."
Glory Fills the Temple...
03.06.16 (I Adar 26, 5776) Our Torah reading for this week is parashat Pekudei, which is the final portion of the Book of Exodus. It begins with Moses' accounting of (פקודי) all the materials that were donated for the construction of the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle). After Moses recorded the inventory of the building materials and furnishings, he carefully checked the special priestly garments. After all the work was confirmed to be in complete accordance with the LORD's instructions, Moses blessed the people. The LORD then commanded Moses to assemble the Mishkan on "the first month in the second year [from the date of the Exodus], on the first day of the month" (i.e., on Nisan 1, or Rosh Chodashim, Exod. 40:17).
Once the Tabernacle was completed and all its vessels were accounted for and inspected, Moses anointed all its components with the sacred anointing oil, called shemen ha-mishchah (note that the word "mishchah" (מִשְׁחָה) comes from the same root as "Messiah" (מָשִׁיחַ), indicating that the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle) would foreshadow God's plan of redemption given in Yeshua). Moses then formally initiated Aaron and his four sons into the priesthood, marking their hands and feet with sacrificial blood and "waving them" before the Lord to picture resurrection. The Divine Presence - manifest as the Shekhinah Cloud of Glory – then filled the Holy of Holies in the Tent of Meeting.
At the end of the portion we read, וַיְכַל משֶׁה אֶת־הַמְּלָאכָה / "Moses finished all the work" (Exod. 40:33), a phrase that has the same gematria (numeric value) as bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית, "in the beginning"), the very first word of the Torah (Gen. 1:1). This suggests that the very creation of the universe was for the sake of the building of the Tabernacle, and by extension, for the sake of the sacrificial love of God to be demonstrated to all of creation. The Talmud states, "All the world was created for the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b) and indeed, Yeshua is called "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" in the New Testament (Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9).
The Presence of the Glory of God that descended from Sinai upon the newly dedicated Mishkan represented a climactic moment for the fledgling nation, since the Sin of the Golden Calf had jeopardized whether the God would indeed dwell within the midst of the camp of Israel... Recall that it was only after Moses had returned from Sinai bearing the second set of Tablets (on Yom Kippur) that the glow of the LORD's redeeming love radiated from his face, and new hope was given to Israel (prefiguring the New Covenant). The King of Glory would accompany the people from Sinai to the Promised Land! (The narrative continues in the Book of Numbers, beginning exactly one month after the Mishkan was assembled.)
Chodesh tov, friends!
Do not lose heart...
03.04.16 (I Adar 24, 5776) I know many of you are in pain, struggling to hang on to hope, waiting for the fulfillment of the promise of your salvation in Yeshua. Keep the fire of your heart burning, friend... Rabbi Nachman once told a person who was struggling with his faith: "It is written that all creation was brought into being because of people like you. God saw there would be people who would cling to our holy faith, suffering greatly because confusion and doubt would plague them. God perceived that such would overcome these doubts and troubles of heart and remain strong in their belief. It was because of this that God brought forth all creation." Amen. Never yield to despair, since that leads to further darkness and fear. Press on and keep fighting the "good fight" of faith (1 Tim. 6:12). Remember that you infinitely matter to heaven; your life has great value; you are significant and you are truly loved by our Heavenly Father. There is a "future and a hope" reserved for you; there is "a white stone, and on that stone will be written a new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it" (Rev. 2:17). May "the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tested with fire, be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Pet. 1:7).
כִּי אָנכִי יָדַעְתִּי אֶת־הַמַּחֲשָׁבת
אֲשֶׁר אָנכִי חשֵׁב עֲלֵיכֶם נְאֻם־יְהוָה
מַחְשְׁבוֹת שָׁלוֹם וְלא לְרָעָה
לָתֵת לָכֶם אַחֲרִית וְתִקְוָה
ki · a·no·khi · ya·da·ti · et · ha·ma·cha·sha·vot
a·sher · a·no·khi · cho·shev · a·lei·khem · ne·um · Adonai
mach·she·vot · sha·lom · ve·lo · le·ra·ah
la·teit · la·khem · a·cha·rit · ve·tik·vah
"For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD,
plans for blessing and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."
Hebrew Study Card
"I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion (ἐπιτελέω) at the Day of Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil 1:6). The LORD is able to guard you (φυλάξαι) from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy (Jude 1:24). "The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down" (Psalm 145:14). "He will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the Day of our Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Cor. 1:8). He who calls you is forever faithful; He will surely do it (1 Thess. 5:24). Yea, "the Lord is faithful (נֶאֱמָן הוּא): He will establish you and guard you against the evil one" (2 Thess. 3:3). The Spirit says, "Fear not, for I AM with you always."
Shabbat Shalom and take heart, dear friends... The day draws near!
Healing the Sick Soul...
03.04.16 (I Adar 24, 5776) Sickness of the soul is just as serious as sickness of the body, and indeed many of our physical sicknesses come from being sick at heart - by living in fear or despair, or by allowing unresolved guilt or anger to destroy ourselves. The Scriptures state that just as a body can become sick with illness, so can the soul: "I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me; heal my soul (רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי), for I have sinned against you.'"
אֲנִי־אָמַרְתִּי יְהוָה חָנֵּנִי
רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי כִּי־חָטָאתִי לָךְ
a·ni · a·mar·ti · Adonai · cho·nei·ni
re·fa·ah · naf·shi · ki · cha·ta·ti · lakh
"I said, LORD, be gracious to me
heal my soul; for I have sinned against You"
Note the connection between healing of the soul and the confession of sin in this verse. Often we are sick because of inner secrets that need to be brought to the light (1 John 1:9). "Therefore, confess (ἐξομολογέω, lit. 'confess out') your sins to one another and pray (εὔχομαι) for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person (i.e., tzaddik) works great power" (James 5:16). Being yashar - honest and upright - produces spiritual power and life. The word translated "pray" (euchomai) means to "wish (εὐχὴ) for oneself (or for another) the good." Confession (ὁμολογία) means bringing yourself naked before the Divine Light to agree with the truth about who you are. Indeed, the word homologeo literally means "saying the same thing" - from ὁμός (same) and λόγος (word). We need to confess the truth if we are to be free from the pain of the past.
Followers of Jesus are called to be healers (Luke 9:1). The most common word for healing in the New Testament is therapeuo (θεραπεύω), a word that means to serve, to care for, and to restore to health. Unlike showy ministers who draw crowds to demonstrate the power of miraculous "faith healing," spiritual healers take the time to listen to others, to hear their inward pain, and to extend compassion and grace to them. They help open the inner eyes of the heart by extending hope and a new vision about what is real... Indeed, lasting healing focuses less on being cured than on finding a hope that will never die.
Postscript: What eternal good would it do, after all, to be "cured" of some disease if a soul was not also delivered from the power of darkness and sin? What would such "healing" mean, in light of the truth of eternity? After all, if the evil one may afflict people with sickness, surely he may also remove it to keep a person in a state of bondage... Some people, after frantically searching for a cure to their sickness, finally must let go and accept that they are going to die... If they have come to real inner peace, if they hold hope of eternal life within them because of the message of Yeshua, then even though they might not be physically "cured" in this world of shadows, they are indeed forever "healed" for life in the "high country" of the world to come...
God's Word of Love...
03.04.16 (I Adar 24, 5776) In moments of testing, and especially in your failures, heed the voice of God's compassion (מילות רחומות). Use the "good eye" (עַיִן טוֹבָה) to see how the Spirit draws you close in your weakness, calling you to return from your self-imposed exile, welcoming you back to the Divine Presence. Note that the good eye (ayin tovah) is also called the "beautiful eye" (עין יפה), since it sees beauty even in ashes... Do not turn away from God's plea for your comfort; know that God is love (Exod. 34:6; 1 John 4:16); He is light (1 John 1:5), and He is forever with you as your Savior (Isa. 41:10; Matt. 28:20). Using the "beautiful eye" means refusing to think evil about others (including yourself); it "does not impute the bad" - οὐ λογίζεται τὸ κακόν (1 Cor. 13:5) but rejoices in the truth – even if that truth is found only in the hope of a future good (1 Cor. 13:7; Rom. 8:24). Yeshua told us, "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is good (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, heartfelt, compassionate), then your whole body will be full of light" (Matt. 6:22).
כִּי־טוֹב חַסְדְּךָ מֵחַיִּים
ki · tov · chasdekha · me'chayim
sefatai · yeshabechunkha
"Because your lovingkindness is better than life,
my lips will praise you."
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May the LORD our God help us be filled with the radiance of his truth and love... Amen.
Safe in God's Arms...
03.04.16 (I Adar 24, 5776) "Therefore, since we have been justified (δικαιωθέντες) by faith, we have peace with God through our LORD Yeshua the Messiah, through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand" (Rom. 5:1-2). We must be careful never to think that God's salvation is not really secure, or that we may lose our place in God's heart because of our unfaithfulness... Thinking that our salvation depends on our faithfulness puts us back under the "curse of the law," since we are attempting to establish our own righteousness rather than trusting in the love and power of the One who "justifies the ungodly" (Rom. 4:5). No, from beginning to end (and including the middle) we are kept by "the strength of His might" and the "surpassing greatness of His power to us who believe" (Eph. 1:19). We must always remember that "if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, how much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life" (Rom. 5:10). If the death of Yeshua brings us God's grace, his undying life sustains and secures us in that grace. It is the power of God that both saves and sanctifies you, and not the merit of religious observance: "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Gal. 3:3). We do not trust in ourselves, nor in the virtue of our faith, but rather in the great faithfulness of our Savior and God, blessed be He (Psalm 40:11; 121:7; Jude 1:24; Phil 1:6).
חַסְדֵי יְהוָה כִּי לא־תָמְנוּ כִּי לא־כָלוּ רַחֲמָיו
חֲדָשִׁים לַבְּקָרִים רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ
chas·dei · Adonai · ki · lo-ta·me·nu / ki · lo-kha·lu · ra·cha·mav
cha·da·shim · la·be·ka·rim · rab·bah · e·mu·na·te·kha
"The faithful love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness"
Hebrew Study Card
"God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, the Messiah died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life" (Rom. 5:8-10). If God demonstrated the power and will to redeem us in the first place, how much more does He demonstrate the power and will to preserve our redemption? Yea, "if God is for us, who can be against us? Who is the one who condemns?" Who can overrule God's verdict of life and blessing to those who trust in Him? (Rom. 8:31-ff). If the death of Yeshua brings us God's grace, surely his invincible life will forever sustain us in that grace. "Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25).
"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing; it (i.e., salvation) is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). If you are truly born from above, God will never abandon you, as is repeatedly promised in the Scriptures: "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out" (John 6:37). "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never, ever perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (John 10:27-29). He is Faithful and True who promises, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
Good Shepherd's Care...
03.03.16 (I Adar 23, 5776) Where it is written, "the LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want" (Psalm 23:1), we note that "I shall not want" (לא אֶחְסָר) does not mean "I shall not desire," but rather "I shall not lack." When the Lord is your Shepherd, you can trust that you have all that you need. Note that David uses the future tense here (אֶחְסָר) because God is ahead of your next moment, so to speak: "Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Matt. 6:8). God's Name means Presence, Life, Love, and "I-AM-with-you-always." Yeshua is our Good Shepherd (הָרעֶה הַטּוֹב) who makes us lie down in green pastures, a place of abundant life, and then leads us to still waters, literally "waters of rest" (מֵי מְנֻחוֹת), that will restore your soul (the verb translated "restore" is an intensive passive of the verb shuv, "to turn" (שׁוּב), indicating that the Shepherd causes your soul to return to the Divine Presence). As our Good Shepherd has said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:27-28). Yeshua is the one who makes for us the paths of righteousness; He leads us on the way to the Father (John 14:6).
יְהוָה רעִי לא אֶחְסָר
בִּנְאוֹת דֶּשֶׁא יַרְבִּיצֵנִי עַל־מֵי מְנֻחוֹת יְנַהֲלֵנִי
נַפְשִׁי יְשׁוֹבֵב יַנְחֵנִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי־צֶדֶק לְמַעַן שְׁמוֹ
Adonai · ro·i · lo · ech·sar
bi·not · de·she · yar·bi·tzei·ni · al · mei · me·nu·chot · ye·na·cha·lei·ni
naf·shi · ye·sho·vev · yan·chei·ni · ve·ma·a·ge·lei · tze·dek · le·ma·an · she·mo
"The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not lack.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake."
Hebrew Study Card
"Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). Therefore "be strong and of good courage" - chazak ve'ematz (חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ). The LORD God promises "never to leave you nor forsake you," and to be with you wherever you go (Josh. 1:5,9; Heb. 13:15, Psalm 139; Matt. 28:20). In the Greek New Testament the wording of Hebrews 13:5 (i.e., "I will never leave you, nor forsake you") is highly emphatic: "Not ever will I give up on you (οὐ μή σε ἀνῶ); no, not ever will I leave you behind (οὐδ᾽ οὐ μή σε ἐγκαταλίπω)." May you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd calling you, and may He forever keep you under His watchful care. Amen.
Patience and Healing...
03.02.16 (I Adar 22, 5776) "Should pain and suffering, sorrow, and grief, rise up like clouds and overshadow for a time the Sun of Righteousness and hide Him from your view, do not be dismayed, for in the end this cloud of woe will descend in showers of blessing on your head, and the Sun of Righteousness rise upon you to set no more for ever" (Sadhu Singh). The Sun of Righteousness (שֶׁמֶשׁ צְדָקָה) does forever shine, even in the dark hours. "Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise."
רְפָאֵנִי יְהוָה וְאֵרָפֵא
הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי וְאִוָּשֵׁעָה כִּי תְהִלָּתִי אָתָּה
re·fa·ei·ni · Adonai · ve·ei·ra·fei
ho·shi·ei·ni · ve·iv·va·shei·ah, · ki · te·hil·la·ti · at·tah
"Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise."
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O LORD, heal us of our wounds, or, at least help us to endure suffering with special grace to keep us from being distracted from the truth and glory of your Presence... Help us not miss seeing you; help us not trade temporal relief for a deeper healing that you may want for us. Grant us strength to abide in your hope, until the last day, to keep watch for the ready hand of Your love... As we go from place to place, from this moment to the next, help us to behold the Sun of Righteousness that pervades our way. Amen.
The King of All Torah...
03.02.16 (I Adar 22, 5776) The goal of the great Sinai revelation was not to simply impart a set of moral or social laws, but rather to "accommodate" the Divine Presence in the midst of the people. This is not to suggest that the various laws and decrees given to Israel were unimportant, of course, since they reflect the holy character and moral will of God. Nonetheless, the climax of the revelation of the Torah - its goal or purpose or "end" - was the revelation of the altar which prefigured the sacrificial work of the Lamb of God. Indeed, 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, My bread..." (see Num. 28:1-8). In other words, the service and ministry of the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle) constantly foreshadowed the coming Lamb of God who would be offered upon the altar "made without hands" to secure our eternal redemption (Heb. 9:11-12). The sacrifice of the lamb is therefore central to the meaning and purpose of the Torah.
The Talmud says "All the world was created for the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b). The Apostle Paul had earlier said the same thing: "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Indeed, all of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of the Messiah's power (Heb. 1:3). Creation begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our LORD... The Messiah is the Center of Creation - its beginning and end. As it is written: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the 'Aleph' and the 'Tav,' the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36). In everything Yeshua has the preeminence (Col. 1:18), and his "work" is of first importance (1 Cor. 2:2, 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Yeshua our Messiah is called מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים / Melech Malchei Hamelachim: The "King of kings of kings." He is LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest celestial glory to the dust of death upon a cross. Yehi shem Adonai mevorakh: "Let the Name of the LORD be blessed" forever and ever (Psalm 113:2). So while we can agree with the Talmud's general statement that the world was created for the Messiah, we would insist that the Messiah is none other than Yeshua, God's Son, and indeed, the Messiah could be no other...
The Torah of Faith...
03.02.16 (I Adar 22, 5776) We find life by trusting in the promise of God's unconditional love (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17). The Torah of faith (תּוֹרַת הָאֱמוּנָה) therefore includes these additional commandments from the heart of Yeshua our Savior: 1) "You shall believe that you are My beloved - entirely accepted and entirely forgiven"; 2) "You shall forget the shame of your past"; 3) "You shall stop focusing on your sin but rather of My great remedy for you"; 4) "You shall let me carry your woundedness far away, yea, to the depths of the sea"; 5) "You shall live in My love and be filled with my heart," and 6) "You shall be made new." We are to know ourselves as "dead to sin but alive to God" (Rom. 6:11), which means we die to despair, we die to fear of abandonment, yea, we die to death itself, and now we are alive to hope, alive to healing, yea, we alive to love that endures forever... Amen.
הִנֵּה עֻפְּלָה לא־יָשְׁרָה נַפְשׁוֹ בּוֹ
וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה
hin·nei u·pe·lah lo ya·she·rah naf·sho bo
ve·tzad·dik be·e·mu·na·to yich·yeh
"Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall find life by means of his trust."
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The Witness of Reality...
03.01.16 (I Adar 21, 5776) Reality testifies to God's Presence. There is rational, intuitive, and empirical evidence to believe that the universe was created in time by a transcendental power that is the source of all value, meaning, purpose, and so on. To ask, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is not to ask about a possible cause for an observed effect, but to ask about the underlying cause or "ground" of any possible existence at all. The Scriptures reply: "For God's invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature from the creation of the world, have been clearly perceived, because they are understood through what has been made, so people are without excuse" (Rom 1:20). The Spirit of God attests: "The heavens keep telling the story of the glory of God, and the canopy of the sky above proclaims the artwork of His hands. Day after day it pours forth in song; night after night bespeaks His knowledge. There is no audible speech, nor words that are heard, yet God's truth is manifest to the ends of the earth; His glory is on display in all realms" (Psalm 19:1-4).
הַשָּׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד־אֵל וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו מַגִּיד הָרָקִיעַ
וֹם לְיוֹם יַבִּיעַ אמֶר וְלַיְלָה לְּלַיְלָה יְחַוֶּה־דָּעַת
אֵין־אמֶר וְאֵין דְּבָרִים בְּלִי נִשְׁמָע קוֹלָם
בְּכָל־הָאָרֶץ יָצָא קַוָּם וּבִקְצֵה תֵבֵל מִלֵּיהֶם
ha-shamayim · me'saperim · kevod · El, · u'ma'aseh · yadav · maggid · haraki'a
yom · le'yom · yabi'a · omer, · ve'laila · le'laila · yechaveh · da'at
ein · omer · v'ein · devarim · beli · nishma · kolam
bekhol · ha'aretz · yatza · kavam · uviktzel · tevel · mileihem
"The heavens keep telling the story of the glory of God, and the canopy of the sky proclaims the artwork of His hands. Day after day it pours forth in song; night after night bespeaks His knowledge. There is no audible speech, nor words that are heard, yet God's truth is manifest to the ends of the earth; His glory is on display in all realms."
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The Torah begins with the statement that a personal God - not natural forces - is the Sustaining Source, the Unconditioned Ground, and the Conscious Center of all that exists... בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ (Gen. 1:1). Reality has a purpose, a goal, and is therefore "going someplace." And just as the LORD our God freely chose to create the universe yesh me'ayin, "out of nothing," so He freely sustains it, keeping us alive to this hour: "For in Him we live, move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Yeshua, the radiance of the glory of God, upholds all things by his power (Heb. 1:3); through Him all things are "arranged in order" (συνίστημι) and are bound together (Col. 1:17). God is in the world continually creating in and all around us; He is not a static "first cause" of the universe but rather the creative Power and reigning Source of all life...
"You teach," said Emperor Trajan to Rabbi Joshua, "that your God is everywhere, yet I cannot see him." Joshua said that unlike human kings, the LORD was too powerful for people to see; as it is written in the Torah: "No person shall see Me and live." The emperor was skeptical, however, and insisted that unless he could see God, he would be unable to believe. Joshua then pointed to the sun high in the sky: "Look into the sun and you will see God." The emperor tried to look into the sun, but was forced to cover his eyes to keep them from burning: "I cannot look into the sun," he said. Joshua then replied: "Listen to yourself: If you cannot look into the sun which is but one of God's creations, how can you expect to look at God?" (Sefer HaAggadah)
May you be strong in the Lord and the power of His might, friends...