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Jewish Holiday Calendar 

Note: For August 2017 site updates, please scroll past this entry....

In the summer there occurs a three week period of mourning that begins with the Fast of Tammuz and ends with Tishah B'Av. The last nine days of this three week period (i.e., from Av 1 until Av 9th) are days of increased mourning. However, after this somber time, the romantic holiday of Tu B'Av, the 15th of Av occurs. Summer ends with the 30 days of the month of Elul, a yearly season of teshuvah (repentance) that anticipates Rosh Hashanah and the fall holidays. The 30 days of Elul are combined with the first 10 days of the month of Tishri to create the "Forty Days of Teshuvah" that culminate with Yom Kippur.

Because they occur between the spring and fall holidays, the summer holidays help us prepare for the second coming of the Messiah:

Summer Holiday Calendar

The Summer Holidays:

Summer Holidays

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

  1. Month of Tammuz (Fri., June 23rd [eve] - Sat., July 23rd [day])
  2. Month of Av (Sun., July 23rd [eve] - Mon., Aug. 21st [day])
  3. Month of Elul (Mon., Aug. 21st [eve] - Wed. Sept. 20th [day])
  4. Month of Tishri (Wed. Sept. 20th [eve]) - Thur. Oct. 19th [day]

Note:  Some calendars will list the first day of a holiday without indicating that the holiday actually begins sundown the night before... So, for example, while Tishah B'Av begins Monday, July 31st at sundown, some calendars will indicate it occurs on Tuesday, August 1st...

August 2017 Updates

The Battle for Reality...


08.31.17 (Elul 9, 5777)   As I've mentioned before, the great Apostle Paul foretold that the time before the "End of Days" would be "perilous" (χαλεπός) and full of appalling human depravity (2 Tim. 3:1-5). This is our world today.  Because of the raging spiritual war going on all around us, then, the following needs to be emphatically restated: "The important thing is to not lose your mind..."

The mind is the "gateway" to your heart, and it is therefore essential to guard your thinking by immersing yourself in the truth... Fear is often the result of believing the lie that God is not in control or is unable/unwilling to help you... "Not losing your mind" therefore means being grounded in what is real, and it therefore means understanding your identity and provision as a child of God. That is why the first piece of the "armor of God" is the "belt of truth," since truth is the foundation (יְסוֹד) of life with God (Eph. 6:14). "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (גְּבוּרָה / δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός), lit. a "delivered" mind, "healed" from fragmentation (2 Tim. 1:7). The Greek word "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός) comes from the verb sodzo (σῴζω), meaning "to save," from saos (σάος) "safe," in the sense of being under caring influence of the Spirit of God...

Teshvuah of Wisdom....


[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

08.31.17 (Elul 9, 5777)   Moses prayed to God: "teach us to number our days," that is, help us understand how to make our days count for eternity, to have a weight of glory that will shine in the world to come... The sages say on the day of death, one considers one's life as if it had been a single day. Life goes by so quickly, and we never know when our personal Rosh Hashanah will come. "No one knows the day or hour..." That's why it is so vital to be healed and to turn to God while there is still time. So turn to him today and bacharta ba'chayim – "choose life!" "For this commandment (of turning to God in teshuvah) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away. It is not in heaven... nor across the sea.... Rather, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; cp. Rom. 10:8-13).

לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע
 וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה

lim·not · ya·me·nu · ken · ho·da
ve·na·vi · le·vav · chokh·mah

"Teach us to number our days
 that we may get a heart of wisdom."
(Psalm 90:12)

Hebrew Study Card

Despite the frailty and brevity of our days, may it please God to shine the power of His radiance upon us and to establish our works for His praise. May He help us to "number our days" so that we may obtain levav chokhmah (לְבַב חָכְמָה) - a heart of wisdom to live according to His will (James 1:5). Above all else, may the "God of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of Glory (אֲבִי הַכָּבוֹד), impart to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the "eyes of your hearts" (ὀφθαλμοὺς τῆς καρδίας) enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you" (Eph. 1:17-18). May you be strong, resolute, and fully focused on our LORD, chaverim. Amen.

Return us to You, O LORD...


08.31.17 (Elul 9, 5777)   Have you ever lost something very valuable only to later discover it "hiding in plain sight," in the most obvious place? And yet that is what tends to happen to each of us as time goes by: we lose sight of what is most important and get lost in trivialities... We forget the meaning and purpose of our existence, we begin to sleepwalk through our days, numb and in quiet despair... A key verse chanted in preparation for the new year (i.e., Rosh Hashanah) is: Hashivenu Adonai elekha ve'nashuvah: "Return us to you, O LORD, and we shall return," chadesh yamenu ke'kedem: "renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21). When we ask the LORD return us to Him, we are really asking him to help us wake up, to redirect our focus, and to enable us to engage in heartfelt self-examination by asking searching questions: "Who am I?" "How did I get here?" and so on. Teshuvah is a matter of "coming to yourself" and remembering the most important truths of life.

הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה
חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם

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

"Return us to you, O LORD, and we shall return;
renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21)

Hebrew Study Card


Victory over Evil...


08.30.17 (Elul 8, 5777)   This week's Torah portion (Ki Teitzei) begins: "When you go out to war over your enemies" (i.e., כִּי־תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל־איְבֶיךָ), which would seem to make more grammatical sense were it to say, "When you go out to war against your enemies..."  The sages comment that the Torah is here saying that when we go out to war, we start out "over" our enemies, that is, in a state of victory by God's grace (Exod. 14:14). Now we do not engage in physical warfare to take possession of the promised land, and therefore we must understand our enemies to be the three enemies of the soul, namely, our own lower nature (yetzer ha'ra), the devices of Satan, and the godless philosophy of this present world of darkness (Eph. 2:2-3; 1 John 2:15-17; Eph. 6:10-11). Nevertheless we are assured victory over these by faith, understanding that "no good thing does the LORD withhold to those who are trusting in Him" (Psalm 84:11). In the midst of the battle, then, offer up praise (Psalm 18:3). God works all things together for your good (Rom. 8:28). "You are the God of my salvation (אֱלהֵי יִשְׁעִי), and in You do I hope all the day (Psalm 25:5). Barukh attah Adonai, shomei'a tefillah: (בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה שׁוֹמֵעַ תְּפִלָּה) – "Blessed are You, O LORD, who listens to prayer." Because of the victory of Yeshua at the cross, we do not work toward a place of victory against our enemies, but rather from the place of His victory (1 Cor. 15:57).

Blessed is our LORD Yeshua, the Killer of death; the Slayer of the Serpent; the final Victory of God's awesome love for us!  We are made more than conquerors (ὑπερνικῶμεν, lit. "hyper-conquerors," "overcomers") through Him that loved us (Rom. 8:38). Therefore "thanks be to God, who in our Messiah leads us in a perpetual victory parade" (2 Cor. 2:14).

Holy Introspection....


[ The unexamined life is not worth living, and indeed it is merely a facsimile of a worthwhile life... The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

08.30.17 (Elul 8, 5777)   We are all on a spiritual journey, writing the "Book of our Life." To help us in the "writing" process, the Jewish sages decided that the month of Elul should be set aside as a season for cheshbon hanefesh (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ) - "making an account of the soul." This means that we engage in honest self-examination about our behavior. After all, what is the essence of teshuvah if it is not honesty with yourself?  "For everyone who does wicked things (lit., ὁ φαῦλα, that which is "easy," "worthless," or "vain") hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed" (John 3:20). Therefore we make some time to reflect about our lives from the previous year. We ask searching questions like, "How did I get to this place in my life?" "Where am I now?" "Am I where I should be?"  We engage in this process of self-examination with an aim to grow -- to let go of the pain of the past and move forward.  Confession (ὁμολογία) means bringing yourself naked before the Divine Light to agree with the truth about who you are. Indeed, the word homologeo literally means "saying the same thing" - from ὁμός (same) and λόγος (word). We need to confess the truth if we are to be free from the pain of the past. When King David wrote, "The LORD is my Light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1), he implied that he should even be free of fear of himself and of his past....

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָד

Adonai  o·ri  ve·yish·i,  mi·mi  i·ra?
Adonai  ma'oz-chay·yai,  mi·mi  ef·chad?

"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?"

Hebrew Study Card

Being honest with ourselves is absolutely essential for any sort of authentic spiritual life... "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty" (Kierkegaard). Confession means "saying the same thing" about ourselves that God says - and that means not only acknowledging our various sins, transgressions, and iniquities, but also affirming our new identity as the beloved children of God. Saying that God doesn't love you is a lie as damning as denying His very existence...

Strangers with Him...


08.29.17 (Elul 7, 5777)   "Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears! For I am a stranger with you, a sojourner, like all my fathers" (Psalm 39:12). The righteous regard themselves as outsiders (i.e., gerim: גֵּרִים) in this world, temporary residents (i.e., toshavim: תּוֹשָׁבִים) on their way to the world to come (Heb. 13:14), while the wicked regard this world as the only (or all-consuming) reality, and therefore they cling, demand their place here, and live entirely for its momentary pleasures. In light of this, it has truly been said that God 'settles' among those who are strangers in this world, but makes himself "strange" to those who 'settle' here...  And may it please the LORD our God to give us the blessing of dissatisfaction with this world and its trinkets, and an abiding and all-consuming desire to be home with Him. Amen.

שִׁמְעָה־תְפִלָּתִי יְהוָה וְשַׁוְעָתִי הַאֲזינָה
אֶל־דִּמְעָתִי אַל־תֶּחֱרַשׁ כִּי גֵר אָנכִי עִמָּךְ
תּוֹשָׁב כְּכָל־אֲבוֹתָי

shim·ah · te·fil·la·ti · Adonai · ve·shav·a·ti · ha·a·zi·nah
el · dim·a·ti · al · te·che·rash · ki · ger · a·no·khi · i·makh
to·shav · ke·khol · a·vo·tai

"Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry;
hold not your peace at my tears! For I am an outsider with you,
a temporary resident, like all my fathers."
(Psalm 39:12)

Hebrew Study Card

Keep moving toward the Heavenly City, friends... Do not give up hope.  "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). "He will preserve you (βεβαιόω) to the end, guiltless in the Day of our Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Cor. 1:8). He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it (1 Thess. 5:24). "The Lord is faithful (נֶאֱמָן הוּא): He will establish you and guard you against the evil one" (2 Thess. 3:3).

The Law of Faith...


[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Teitzei, which contains more commandments than any other Torah portion... ]

08.29.17 (Elul 7, 5777)   When asked how many commandments are in the Torah, most Jews will answer 613, based on Jewish tradition (the number 613 is sometimes called "taryag" (תריג), an abbreviation for the letters Tav (400) + Resh (200) + Yod (10) + Gimmel (3) = 613).  Despite several attempts made over the centuries, however, there has never been a definitive list of these commandments, and of those who tried to compile such, no two agree... Some say the number 613 comes from a fanciful midrash that teaches that since there are 365 days in a year (corresponding to the 365 negative commandments) and 248 "parts" of the body (corresponding to the positive commandments), each day we should use our body to serve God. Regardless of the exact count, however, the Talmud followed the Apostle Paul by understanding all the Torah's commandments to be derived from the Ten Commandments given at Sinai, the most basic of which is the very First Commandment, namely, "I AM the LORD your God (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ) who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). This foundational commandment was later restated by the prophet Habbakuk as: וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה / "The righteous person will live by faith in God" (Hab. 2:4; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). Indeed, Yeshua taught us the law of faith in God's love, which preempts, overrules, and informs all the others...

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

Natural Evils and Faith...


[ Our prayers are offered for the hurricane victims in Houston and Southeast Texas tonight... ]

08.29.17 (Elul 7, 5777)   It has been said that there are two basic categories of evil in the world, moral evils and natural evils. Moral evils are usually defined as wicked and malicious actions freely inflicted upon humankind by humankind, cruel acts such as murder, theft, deception, and so on, whereas natural evils are disasters that occur as the result of natural processes that are beyond the realm of human control, "acts of God" such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, cataclysms, etc. The so-called "problem of natural evil" is thus the problem of understanding why the Creator might allow such natural disasters to occur...

Since we affirm that our Creator is entirely loving, completely righteous, and superlatively all-powerful (Deut. 32:4; Psalm 107:8; 147:5; 1 John 4:16, etc.), we might ask why God would allow natural evils to occur in this world.  Before we begin considering that, however, as a Torah-believing people, we must reject those false doctrines that claim that God is not all powerful (i.e., unable prevent natural evils), or that God is not morally perfect (i.e., indifferent to suffering), and we must likewise reject any doctrine that denies that evil really exists (or that claims it is an illusion), and therefore, because our theological commitments are obtained by revelation, we are left with the dilemma of whether we will resolve natural evil to be a type of moral evil (e.g., tracing it back to the consequence of the original transgression of Adam and Eve and/or to the activity of demonic influences), or whether we will simply confess that God permits natural evil for mysterious - though ultimately beneficial - purposes (Rom. 8:28; 1 Pet. 1:6-7). Notice, though, that if natural evil is said to come from moral evil, then it is often dubiously claimed to be divine retribution or punishment for sin of some kind. The problem with this crude view of vengeance, however, is that it assumes that God esteems justice above mercy, a view Yeshua particularly repudiated (Matt. 23:23). Moreover, the idea that natural disasters express "karma" for sin does not explain why many victims such as little children should suffer for the moral evil of others, or indeed why some wicked people seem immune from the consequences of their obvious wickedness (Jer. 12:1). "Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" Abraham asked (Gen. 18:25). Others have claimed that because God created free moral agents, evil is "necessary" in order for certain types of good to exist. For example, since we are able to resist and oppose evil, moral virtues such as courage, compassion, selflessness, endurance, etc., are able to develop. The problem with this "soul building" theory, however, is that it would imply that evil is eternal, and that heaven itself "needs" evil in order for good to be known... On the contrary, evil is better understood as the perversion of the good, not an opposite yet complementary energy to the good. The problem of evil is not solved by appealing to "Yin and Yang" dualisms.

Despite the reality of both moral and natural evil, then, we must affirm that God is both morally perfect and all-powerful, and therefore we are bound to infer that all that happens is by divine design intended for our ultimate good (Rom. 8:28). Despite Voltaire's mockery of Dr. Pangloss (Candide), this indeed is the "best of all possible worlds," since all that exists is under the direct supervision of the LORD God Almighty, oseh shamayim va'aretz. All of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of God's power (Heb. 1:3): "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). The Scriptures begin and end with the redemptive love of God. Yeshua is the Center of Creation - it's beginning and end. As it is written: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). Indeed, Yeshua is the LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest of celestial glories to the very dust of death upon a cross... Yehi shem Adonai mevorakh: "Let the Name of the LORD be blessed" forever and ever (Psalm 113:2).

Suffering and testing are the means by which our faith is refined and perfected. "Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold – gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away – and will bring praise and glory and honor when Yeshua the Messiah is revealed" (1 Pet. 1:7). " Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction" (Isa. 48:10). Endurance means that we continue to trust God even when we find no empirical reason to do so, as we abandon ourselves to God's care and believe in the reality of an unseen good.  Therefore the Spirit cries out: "Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God" (Isa. 50:10). Amen. "God is our refuge and strength, ezrah be'tzorot nimtza me'od -- a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah" (Psalm 46:1-3).

The Hebrew word for "world" or "age" is olam (עוֹלָם), which is derived from a root verb (עָלַם) that means "to conceal" or "to hide." God "hides" His face from us so that we will seek Him, and that means we must press through ambiguity to earnestly take hold of divine truth. Centuries before the time of the philosopher Plato, King David proclaimed that there was a "divided line" between the realm of the temporal world and realm of the hidden and eternal world. The temporal world is finite, subject to change, yet pointed beyond itself to an eternal world, which was the source of real significance, meaning, and life itself (2 Cor. 4:18). Therefore King David said, בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָיו תָּמִיד/ bakeshu fanav tamid: "Seek His face continually" (Psalm 105:4). Note that the numerical value for the word "fanav" (i.e., "His face") is the same as that for the word "olam." When we truly seek God's face (i.e., His Presence) we are able to discern the underlying purpose for our lives.

דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה וְעֻזּוֹ
 בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָיו תָּמִיד

dir·shu · Adonai · ve·u·zo
ba·ke·shu · fa·nav · ta·mid

"Seek the LORD and his strength;
 seek his presence continually."
(Psalm 105:4)

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Note that the ancient Greek version of the Torah (i.e., the Septuagint) translates this verse as, "Seek the LORD and be strengthened; seek His face through everything (διὰ παντός)." Unlike Plato, however, who "saw through" the temporal world and regarded it as less than real, King David understood that how we live within the intersection of these two realms revealed our inner character of faith -- and therefore our ultimate destiny....

Prayer for just one thing...


08.28.17 (Elul 6, 5777)  King David says in Psalm 27:4, "One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek" (אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת־יְהוָה אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ). Notice immediately that David asked for just one thing – not many things. He did not come with a litany of requests. He was not "double minded." As Kierkegaard said, "purity of the heart is to will one thing." David asked for the gift of focus and the pursuit of truth. He desired the "pearl of great price."  Note also that the verb translated "I will seek" (avakesh) comes from the verb bakash (בָּקַשׁ) meaning "to wish" or "to desire." The verse could therefore be read as, "The one thing I ask from the Lord is for godly desire – for the will to "behold the sweetness of the Lord, and to inquire in His Presence." This is a prayer for the highest we may attain. The "one thing" David asked for was a heart made alive to perceive the wonder of God.

אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת־יְהוָה אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ
שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית־יְהוָה כָּל־יְמֵי חַיַּי
לַחֲזוֹת בְּנעַם־יְהוָה וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלוֹ

att·ah · sha·al·ti · me·et-Adonai · o·tah · a·vak·kesh
shiv·ti · be·vet-Adonai · kol-ye·mei · cha·yai
la·cha·zot · be·no·am-Adonai · u·le·va·ker · be·he·kha·lo


"One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his Presence."
(Psalm 27:4)


If we consciously delight ourselves in the Lord, He has promised to give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). As Yeshua taught us: "seek first the Kingdom of God" (Matt. 6:33).

Spelling out "Teshuvah"


08.28.17 (Elul 6, 5777)  Rabbi Sussya once said: "There are five verses in the bible that constitute the essence of the Torah. These verses begin in Hebrew with one of these letters: Tav (תּ), Shin (שׁ), Vav (ו), Bet (בּ), and Hey (ה), which form the word for repentance, "teshuvah" (תְּשׁובָה). The five verses are 1) Tamim tiheyeh (תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה): "Be wholehearted with God" (Deut. 18:13); 2) Shiviti Adonai (שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה): "I have set the LORD always before me" (Psalm 16:8); 3) Va'ahavta lere'akha (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ): "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18); 4) Bekhol derakekha (בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ): "In all your ways know Him" (Prov. 3:6); and 5) Higid lekha (הִגִּיד לְךָ): "Walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). In other words, the way of teshuvah, of answering God's call for you to return to Him, is to sincerely set the LORD before you, to love others, and to walk out your days in heartfelt gratitude.

הִגִּיד לְךָ אָדָם מַה־טּוֹב
 וּמָה־יְהוָה דּוֹרֵשׁ מִמְּךָ
 כִּי אִם־עֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד
 וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת עִם־אֱלהֶיךָ

hig·gid · le·kha · a·dam · mah · tov
u'mah · Adonai · do·resh · mi·me·kha
ki · im · a·sot · mish·pat · ve·a·ha·vat · che·sed
ve·hatz·ne·a · le·chet · im · e·lo·hey·kha

"He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you:
 Only to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk modestly with your God"
(Micah 6:8)

Hebrew Study Card

In other words, "teshuvah" (repentance) is an acronym that stands for being whole, seeing God, loving others, knowing God in all your journey, and walking in humility...

Note:  Some have objected to me quoting Rabbi Sussya, saying that since he apparently was not a believer in Yeshua, we should have nothing to do with him. Oy. This objection is a classic example of the "genetic fallacy," that is, rejecting an idea based on who said it rather than whether or not it is true.  The honest approach is to ask whether these five essential Torah truths all indeed point to our need to do teshuvah or not... Moreover, since Yeshua is YHVH, all these verses point to Him anyway!  Please carefully read Luke 24:15-36.

Truth and Inner Healing...


08.28.17 (Elul 6, 5777)  "Truth is heavy, therefore few wear it" (Midrash Shmuel). This is about inner honesty, about "owning" who you are are being willing to endure yourself as you learn to walk with God. Where it is written "You shall love the stranger as yourself" (Lev. 19:34), understand that this also applies to the "stranger within ourselves," that is, to those aspects of ourselves we hide, deny, or reject. Like the prodigal son, we have to "come to ourselves" to return home (Luke 15:17), yet we can't do that without trusting that love is somehow available to us, even with the hidden parts of ourselves we seek to escape. That is the great risk of trusting in God's love for your soul. The secret parts of ourselves that we "hide" need to be brought to the light, confessed, healed, and reconciled.

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

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָד

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

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

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

Teshuvah of Mercy...


[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

08.28.17 (Elul 6, 5777)  It's been said that grace is getting what you don't deserve, whereas mercy is not getting what you do... Yeshua said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" (Matt. 5:7). This is not a reciprocal law like karma, i.e., you get in return what you first give, since we cannot obtain God's mercy as reward for our own supposed merit (Rom. 4:4). No, we are able to extend mercy to others when we are made merciful ("full of mercy"), that is, when we first receive mercy from God. After all, you can't give away what you don't have, and if we have no mercy for others, it is likely that we have not received it ourselves, as the parable of the Good Samaritan reveals (Luke 10:25-8). Your forgiveness is your forgiveness: as you forgive, so you reveal your heart. What you do comes from what you are, not the other way around. We are first transformed by God's grace and then come works of love. We are able to judge others mercifully, with the "good eye," because we come to believe that we are beloved by God.

The pattern therefore abides: First you realize you are broken, impoverished of heart, and you therefore mourn over your sinful condition. Then you hunger and thirst for God's righteousness, for his healing and deliverance, and you learn to trust the mercy of God, that is, you come to accept that you are accepted despite your unacceptability. You begin to show yourself mercy; you learn to "suffer yourself" and forgive your own evil, and then you extend this mercy to others who are hurting around you... The failure to extend mercy, to demand your "rights" or hold on to grudges, implies that you are relating to God as Judge rather than as Savior (James 2:13). If we condemn what we see in others, we have yet to truly see what is within our own hearts; we have yet to see our desperate need for God's mercy for our lives. If you don't own your own sin, your sin will own you. Being merciful is a response to God's love and therefore is essential to genuine teshuvah... Ask the LORD to help you let go of the pain of the past by being full of mercy toward yourself and others.

Parashat Ki Teitzei - כי־תצא


[ This week's Torah reading (parashat Ki Teitzei) is always read during the month of Elul..]

08.27.17 (Elul 5, 5777)  In last week's Torah reading (Shoftim), Moses defined an extensive system of justice for the Israelites and pointed to the coming Messiah who would be the rightful King of Israel: "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers -- it is to him you shall listen" (Deut. 18:15). In this week's portion (i.e., Ki Teitzei: כי־תצא), Moses returns to the immediate concern of life in the promised land by providing additional laws to be enforced regarding civil life in Israel. In fact, Jewish tradition (following Maimonides) identifies no less than 74 of the Torah's 613 commandments in this portion (more than any other), covering a wide assortment of rules related to ethical warfare, family life, burial of the deceased, property laws, the humane treatment of animals, fair labor practices, and honest economic transactions.

Of particular interest to us is the statement that a man who was executed and "hanged on a tree" (עַל־עֵץ) is under the curse of God (Deut. 21:22-23). According to the Talmud (Nezakim: Sanhedrin 6:4:3), the Great Sanhedrin (סַנְהֶדְרִין גְדוֹלָה) decided that "a man must be hanged with his face towards the spectators" upon a wooden stake, with his arms slung over a horizontal beam. It should be noted that while this is technically not the same thing as the gruesome practice of Roman crucifixion, the reasoning based on this verse was apparently used to justify the execution of Yeshua (Mark 15:9-15; John 19:5-7; 15). The exposed body was required to be buried before sundown to keep the land from being defiled. Besides the shame and degradation of this manner of death, the one so executed would be unable to fall to their knees as a final act of repentance before God, thereby implying that they were under the irrevocable curse of God (קִלְלַת אֱלהִים).

In this connection, we should note that Yeshua was falsely charged with blasphemy before the corrupt Sanhedrin of His day (Matt. 26:65; Mark 14:64; John 10:33) - an offence that was punishable by stoning (Lev. 24:11-16). However, since the Imperial Roman government then exercised legal hegemony over the region of Palestine, all capital cases were required to be submitted to the Roman proconsul for adjudication, and therefore we understand why the Jewish court remanded Yeshua and brought him to be interrogated by Pontius Pilate. Because Roman law was indifferent to cases concerning Jewish religious practices (i.e., charges of blasphemy), however, the priests further slandered Yeshua by illegitimately switching the original charge of blasphemy to that of sedition against Rome. The Sanhedrin undoubtedly rationalized their duplicity because the Torah allowed for an offender to impaled or "hung on a tree" (Num. 25:4), and since they were unable to do carry out this judgment because of Roman rule in the area, they needed Pilate to condemn him to death by crucifixion (Matt. 27:31; Mark 15:13-4; Luke 23:21; John 19:6,15). Note that crucifixion is mentioned elsewhere in the Talmud (Nashim: Yevamot 120b) regarding whether a widow can remarry if her husband had been crucified, as well as by the Jewish historian Josephus. The Talmud furthermore alludes to the death of Yeshua where Yeshua is said to have been crucified on "eve of Passover" (Nezekin: Sanhedrin 43a).

For more on this week's Torah portion, please see the Ki Teitzei study pages.

Draw Near to Love...


[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shoftim. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

08.25.17 (Elul 3, 5777)  "You shall be wholehearted with the LORD your God" (Deut. 18:13). We approach God – for what? for personal blessing? for our needs to be met? And yet our greatest need is for communion with God, that is, for a real connection that is full of eternal significance. We cannot draw near to God with an insincere heart, however, since that implies distance between God and ourselves. Neither can we draw near and seek to defend ourselves, for it is God alone who justifies... Relating to God halfheartedly creates anxiety and inner contradiction within us, revealing that we have not yet made up our minds to be entirely "with the LORD." A divided heart both wants God and does not want God at the same time. It is a state of being "two-souled" (δίψυχος) and therefore unstable in our way (James 1:8). To be made whole (i.e., tamim: תָּמִים) with God means surrendering your will to God's love, letting go of your hesitation, and becoming "filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:19). Therefore when God asks you to be wholehearted with Him, understand this to mean that his desire is for you to draw near, to be made whole, and to be filled with passionate assurance of his love for you.

Shabbat Shalom and thank you for praying for this ministry, dear friends...

The High Holidays Psalm...


08.25.17 (Elul 3, 5777)   It is an old custom to read (or to sing) the Book of Psalms during the month of Elul. In the famous Song of Moses, it is written: וַיּאמְרוּ לֵאמר אָשִׁירָה לַיהוָה / "and they spoke, saying: 'I will sing to the LORD' (Exod. 15:1). This phrase can be formed into an acronym for Elul (אלול), and the sages therefore reasoned that hearing the Psalms were vital during the Season of Repentance and Days of Favor.

Of all the wonderful Psalms, however, Psalm 27 is considered the central one of the season of teshuvah. The midrash on the Psalms states that the word ori (אוֹרִי), "my light," refers to Rosh Hashanah (based on Psalm 37:6) whereas the word yishi (יִשְׁעִי), "my salvation" (lit. "my Jesus") refers to the atonement given on Yom Kippur.  King David also mentions that God would hide him in his sukkah (בְּסֻכּה) in the time of trouble, referring to the holiday of Sukkot (Psalm 27:5). Therefore since it alludes to all three of the fall holidays, Psalm 27 is regarded as the thematic Psalm for the High Holidays of the Jewish year.

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָד

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

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

Hebrew Study Card 

Finally, Psalm 27:13 contains a textual oddity. It is often translated: "Unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." The word often translated "unless" is lulei (לוּלֵא), which read backwards spells Elul (אלול). This is said to suggest that salvation comes from faith that sees the goodness of the LORD. Repentance is only really possible if we believe in the goodness and love of the Lord "in the land of the living."

Made Whole with God...


08.25.17 (Elul 3, 5777)   In our Torah portion for this week (Shoftim) we read: "You shall be wholehearted with the LORD your God" (Deut. 18:13). Note that the word "wholehearted" in this verse (i.e., tamim: תָּמִים) is often translated as "perfect" or "blameless" in many Bible versions, though it is better to understand the word to connote being made "complete" or "whole." When God said to Abraham, "I am El Shaddai; walk before me and be tamim (Gen. 17:1), he was not saying "be perfect" or "don't ever make a mistake," but rather be fully engaged, that is, to walk before God passionately, sincerely, with all his heart, and by doing so to "walk out" the relationship with full assurance that he is accepted and beloved by God. Likewise when Yeshua said "Be therefore perfect as your Father who is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48), he meant that we should be complete, finished, and "made whole" by knowing and receiving the overflowing love and light of God. Indeed being "wholehearted" is a mandate to know who you are, to know what is truly good as distinguished from what is evil, and to be united with God's passion to be healed from our ambivalence (δίψυχος).  We are made "whole" or "perfect" (i.e., complete) when we resolutely turn to God for healing of what divides our hearts, as it says: "The Torah of the LORD is perfect (תָּמִים), returning the soul" (Psalm 19:8). Understand the Torah's commandment, then: "You shall be tamim (i.e., whole and wholehearted) with the LORD your God," to be a prophecy of transformation for your life, friend... May you know "the love of Messiah that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:19).

Prayers for Forgiveneness...


08.25.17 (Elul 3, 5777)   The Hebrew word selichah (סְלִיחָה) colloquially means "forgiveness," though in the Hebrew Scriptures it refers exclusively to God's offer of pardon and forgiveness of the repentant sinner. For instance, in Psalm 130:4 we read, "But with you there is forgiveness (selichah), that you may be feared" (כִּי־עִמְּךָ הַסְּלִיחָה לְמַעַן תִּוָּרֵא). During the month of Elul it is customary to recite "selichot" (prayers for forgiveness) appealing to God's mercy. The core passage taken from the Torah is Exodus 34:6-7, called the "Thirteen Attributes of Mercy" in Jewish tradition, so-called because the LORD declares the meaning of his Name YHVH to Moses using thirteen characteristics or attributes. This second revelation of the meaning of the name YHVH represents the heart of God as he forgives our sins and provides atonement. As I've mentioned before, the additional revelation of the Name is given only after the confession of need for atonement which foretells of the New Covenant with God that is given to the broken of heart. Just as the tablets were broken by the sin of the people, so God requires a broken heart - teshuvah - to behold his glory and understand the deeper meaning of his Name.

Teshuvah of Salvation...


08.25.17 (Elul 3, 5777)   What good is teshuvah without genuine hope? If we expect to be rejected or disapproved by God, it's unlikely we will take the first step toward "returning" to Him. Or if we believe we are conditionally accepted, we will "return" in a state of self-justification, like the older son in Yeshua's parable of the prodigal son. In that case we would need to keep a checklist within our minds of all the commandments we've kept. We would reckon our obedience as virtue or merit, and, if we felt any qualms about our service, we would feel obliged to perform extra mitzvot to allay our sense of guilt.  Teshuvah would essentially mean preparing a legal defense, arguing that on the basis of our merits we should be accepted before God's Presence. Ultimately such "repentance" amounts to a demand that we be declared righteous, lovable, worthy, etc.

Yeshua's first words of public ministry were "Repent and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). The word "repent" is metanao (μετανοέω), meaning "change your thinking," and the word "gospel" means "good news" (i.e., εὐαγγέλιον, from , εὖ- "good," and ἄγγελος, "message"). We could translate the verse as: "Go beyond your usual way of thinking by believing the message of God's good will toward you." The good news is that we are to be set free from the curse of the law and the futile efforts of seeking self-justification before Heaven...  We no longer need to live in fear of God's conditional acceptance of us (and therefore of our conditional worth). As the Apostle Paul later preached: "Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38-39).

The Jews had known about repentance (teshuvah) for a very long time, of course.  They understood the rituals and mitzvot that were required to "keep the law," and they even devised legal formulas for "making your defense" before the Almighty (i.e., the Kol Nidre service recited before Yom Kippur: "We exonerate ourselves for failing to keep our word...").  If Moses and the law could have saved us, we wouldn't need to be "declared righteous by God's grace through the redemption in Yeshua" (Rom. 3:24); if following Moses were sufficient, we wouldn't need the cross of Messiah! All we'd need to do is work harder at repentance, perform additional mitzvot, earn merit before Heaven, and so on. But clearly Yeshua meant something other than this when He made the call to "repent."

The repentance Yeshua preached was inextricably connected with the "good news" that He (alone) is God's answer to the problem of our sin. Yeshua was born to die as the divinely appointed Sin-bearer of the world (Heb. 10:5-7). He came to earth and emptied himself (κένωσις) of His regal glory and power in order to be the High Priest (הַכּהֵן הַגָּדוֹל) after the order of Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק) and the Mediator of the New Covenant (Heb. 5:6; 9:15; Psalm 110:4; 1 Tim. 2:5). He came to Jerusalem (Moriah) for the explicit purpose of suffering, dying, and being raised from the dead (Matt. 16:21; Luke 9:22). Yeshua died not only for our forgiveness, but also to deliver us from "the law of sin and death" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת), i.e., the power that sin holds in our lives. He died to set us free so that we could become the beloved children of God (בְּנֵי אֱלהִים). Yeshua surely was not calling people to become followers of the scribes and Pharisees, who were blind guides and hypocrites (Matt. 23:13-36). He did not want people to become slaves to rituals or religion (1 Cor. 7:23). No, He called people to follow Him: "Take up your cross and follow Me." Turn your thinking around!  Die to your religion. Be comforted because there is good news from heaven! God's unconditional acceptance is given to those who trust in the righteousness of Yeshua in place of any self-righteousness that might be gained by performing the "works of the law" (Gal. 2:16, Titus 3:5). Yeshua is "the goal of the law for righteouness" for all who believe (Rom. 10:4-13). Wow. Now that's a message that requires a profound "change of mind" for a "Torah observant" Jew to accept. Dying to the religious project of attaining self-righteousness is to admit the need for radical deliverance from the law itself.

Yeshua's message of salvation was rejected by the religious establishment of His day, just as it is likewise rejected by all other "karma-based" religions and philosophies that believe that "good deeds" are sufficent to earn you a place in heaven... After all, the religious Jews assumed they already understood the requirements for repentance and the means for finding "atonement" with God through the rituals and practices surrounding the High Holidays.  Their religion was essentially a meritocracy based on the performance of "good works" (מַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים) that were thought to impart "zechut" and righteousness to the soul.  But Yeshua explained to those "who trusted in themselves that they were righteous" that a person is not justified on the basis of their supposed good deeds or merits, but entirely by appealing to God's compassion and mercy. It was the "despised" tax collector - not the "self-righteous" Pharisee - that left the Temple justified (Luke 18:10-14).

Teshuvah of the Heart...


08.25.17 (Elul 3, 5777)   The month of Elul (אֱלוּל) is sometimes called "the month of love and compassion" (based on the acronym formed from אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי / "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine," Song 6:3). This poignant verse alludes to the mystery that God is our Heavenly Groom and we are His betrothed. God is the great Lover of our souls, and the greatest mitzvah of all is to keep faith in His covenant promise of love (Rom. 8:24). Our Beloved is Coming! Yeshua will soon be here, chaverim. Don't miss the Bridegroom's call! Return to the passion of your first love (Rev. 2:4).


Yeshua illustrated the idea of teshuvah (i.e., תְּשׁוּבָה, "returning to God") by telling the story of the "prodigal son" (Luke 15:11-32). After squandering his father's inheritance, a wayward son decided to return home, full of shame and self-reproach. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." The father then ordered a celebratory meal in honor of his lost son's homecoming. When his older brother objected, the father said, "We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."


This parable reveals that teshuvah ultimately means returning (shuv) to the compassionate arms of your Heavenly Father... God sees you while you are still "a long way off" (Rom. 5:8). He runs to you with affection when you first begin to turn your heart toward Him.  Indeed, God's compassion is so great that He willingly embraces the shame of your sins and then adorns you with "a fine robe, a ring, and sandals." Your Heavenly Father even slaughters the "fattened calf" (Yeshua) so that a meal that celebrates your life may be served.... 

Why did Yeshua come? He was like the father in the parable who was actively looking for his lost son... He came to "seek and save the lost" (Luke 19:10). Yeshua likened Himself to a shepherd who left his flock to search for one lost sheep, and after finding it, laid the sheep on his shoulders rejoicing (Luke 15:3-7). He also likened Himself to a woman who lost a coin but diligently searched for it. After she found it, she called together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the lost coin!' (Luke 15:8-10).

Season of our Return...


08.24.17 (Elul 2, 5777)   Every year the "Season of Teshuvah" runs forty days from the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul to Yom Kippur. During this time we make every effort to repent, or "turn [shuv] toward God." In Jewish tradition, these 40 days are called Yemei Ratzon (יְמֵי רָצוֹן) - "Days of Favor," since it was during this time that the LORD forgave the Jewish nation after the sin of the Golden Calf (Pirke d'Reb Eliezar).  Some have likened these 40 days to the number of days it takes for the human fetus to be formed within the womb. Teshuvah is a sort of death and rebirth: a death of the past life and the birth of a new life and a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). It is an awakening from the sleep induced by sin, and manifests itself as the power of the Holy Spirit working in the heart of the believer who trusts in God's salvation through Yeshua.  Therefore the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) gives us spiritual life that enables us to be "conformed" (i.e., σύμμορφος, "formed together") with Yeshua's purpose (ratzon) in this world (Rom. 8:28-30). God's Favor is most fully revealed in the character (χαρακτὴρ) of His Son (Heb. 1:3).

But why forty days?  Do we really need that much time to prepare ourselves to repent and make confession for our sins?  Jewish tradition determined that the forty days came from Israel's experience at Sinai (Yeshua also spent "40 days" in the wilderness).  According to Rashi, Moses ascended Mount Sinai no less than three times for forty days and nights. The first ascent began on the 6th of Sivan, 50 days after the Exodus, when Moses first received the Ten Commandments and began learning the details of the Torah (this corresponds to the holiday of Shavuot or "Pentecost").  When he descended and saw the people worshipping the Golden Calf, however, he smashed the tablets (Exod. 32:19). According to tradition, this occurred on the 17th of Tammuz, a date later associated with calamity for Israel.  On the following day Moses burned the Golden Calf and judged the transgressors. He then reascended on the 19th of Tammuz and interceded on behalf of Israel for 40 more days (until the 29th of Av), though he descended the mountain without assurance. God then called Moses the following day, that is, on Elul 1, to ascend a third time to receive a new set of tablets. Forty more days and nights were spent receiving the revelation of Torah at Sinai.  Moses finally descended on Tishri 10 - Yom Kippur - with the second set of tablets in hand and the assurance of God's forgiveness:


According to Torah and Jewish tradition, then, the month of Elul represents the time that Moses spent on Sinai preparing the second set of tablets after the idolatrous incident of the Golden Calf. Moses ascended on Rosh Chodesh Elul ("Head of the Month of Elul") and then descended 40 days later on the 10th of Tishri, the end of Yom Kippur, when the repentance of the people was complete. The month of Elul therefore represents the time of national sin and forgiveness obtained by means of teshuvah before the LORD.

Here is a more detailed drawing I made of the forty days that run from Elul 1 to Yom Kippur:


Listening to the Shofar (שׁוֹפָר)

Beginning on Rosh Chodesh Elul and continuing until the day before Rosh Hashanah, it is customary to blow the shofar (ram's horn) every day (except for Shabbat). This practice was adopted to awaken us for the coming High Holidays.

The custom is to first blow tekiah (תְּקִיעָה), a long single blast (the sound of the King's coronation), followed by shevarim (שְׁבָרִים), three short, wail-like blasts (signifying repentance), followed by teruah (תְּרוּעָה), several short blasts of alarm (to awaken the soul), and to close with tekiah hagadol (תְּקִיעָה הַגָּדוֹל), a long, final blast.

  Listen to the Shofar!


The Eternal Now...


08.24.17 (Elul 2, 5777)   The Mishnah says, shuv yom echad lifnei mi'tatakh: "Repent one day before you die" (Avot 2:10), but who knows the day of one's death in advance?  Perhaps your name will be called today, ending your "lease on life" in this world. Are you ready? Are you prepared to appear before God your Creator, your Judge, and your Redeemer?  Therefore live each day as if it were your last, making sure you seek the things that really matter... "Watch -- for you know neither the day nor the hour..." (Mark 13:33). Today is the day of salvation (Psalm 95:7; Heb. 3:15). As C.S. Lewis wrote: "The Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most temporal part of time -- for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays, the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which [God] has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. God would therefore have us continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present — either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself" (The Screwtape Letters).

A Blessed Mourning...


[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the Forty days of Teshuvah... ]

08.23.17 (Elul 1, 5777)   "And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying... 'Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted' (Matt. 5:4). Mourning is the expression of care, the voice of pain, the sorrow of a broken heart. Those who mourn care deeply; they feel the weight of loss; they grieve over sin. Such sorrow expresses the longing to be released from inner sickness of evil, as Yeshua said: "from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts..." (Mark 7:21). Our own evil desires convict us of the truth... Here there is no place left to hide, no rationalization, no vain hope for self-reformation - just the raw revelation of our fatal condition and the sincere appeal for God's mercy in Yeshua. Mourning over our sins draws us to God, to the Comforter (παράκλητος) who "comes alongside" to bind up the broken heart. The danger remains, however, for those who deny their sin and refuse to mourn, since they are made blind to God's forgiveness and comfort (John 9:41). How shall God be able in heaven to dry up your tears when you have not yet wept?

זאת נֶחָמָתִי בְעָנְיִי
כִּי אִמְרָתְךָ חִיָּתְנִי

zot · ne·cha·ma·ti · ve'·on·yi
ki · im·ra·te·kha · chi·yat·ni


"This is my comfort in my affliction,
that your word gives me life."
(Psalm 119:50)

Hebrew Study Card

One of the great tests of our faith is to refuse to succumb to despair in the face of our sins.  We must look to the miracle of Yeshua... We must look beyond the realm of appearance, where the "outward man" perishes, to the realm of ultimate healing, where the "inward man" is finally liberated from the ravages of sin and death. This is comfort we have in affliction: God's promise revives our hearts to say, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth" (Psalm 119:50; Job 19:25). Even in the "shadow of the valley of death" (i.e., this moribund and broken world), the LORD is with us and comforts us with His Presence (Psalm 23:4). We are given this great promise: "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:49).

Turn from the Beginning...


08.23.17 (Elul 1, 5777)   The Jewish sages say that teshuvah (return) was created before the world itself, as it says, "Before the mountains were born, or you brought the world into being, you were the Eternal God who says "Return (שׁוּבוּ), O sons of man" (Psalm 90:2-3). The Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world, and God clothed humanity in divine sacrifice from the very beginning (Gen. 3:15,21; Rev. 13:8). The water of life (מַיִם חַיִּים) flows from the original orchard of Eden to the world to come (Gen. 2:10; Rev. 22:1). The LORD subjected creation to vanity for the sake of hope (Rom. 8:20), for the revelation of his greatness, as he descended into its depths to return and restore all things to himself. God decreed to enter space-time as the Son of Man, the "Second Adam," to become our Savior and healer. He came to reveal the face of God to us (2 Cor. 4:6). Yeshua "descended in order to ascend;" we are able to know God's compassion, love and healing through his mesirat nefesh – his total sacrifice of body and soul – for the sake of returning us to God.

The Season of Teshuvah...


08.23.17 (Elul 1, 5777)   The famous Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said that life must be lived forward, but it can only be understood backward, and consequently the present hour provides the only real opportunity you have to examine your soul... Therefore "repent one day before you die," and that day is today, since no one knows the day or the hour of his death. The midrash notes that the word Elul (אֶלוּל), when read backward, spells lulei (לוּלֵא), meaning "if not" or "were it not for...", which suggests that the last month of the Jewish year serves as a season to examine ourselves, to confess our sins, and to resolve to more completely turn toward the Divine Presence before the coming new year... Indeed the gematria (letter value) of the name Elul (1+30+6+30) is the same as the word binah (בִּינָה), "understanding," or the ability to discern between (בֵּין) truth and error. During this season of teshuvah, then, we ask the Lord to impart to us greater understanding about how to "live forward" by returning to him "bekhol levavkha," with all our hearts...

Personal Note:  Please remember me, John, in your prayers friends... I deal with chronic pain that interferes with my sleep. Moreover the spiritual warfare has been especially intense lately. Please pray for God's provision and strength. I earnestly need your prayers for this ministry to continue and for God's will to be done. Thank you so much...

You shall be made whole...


08.23.17 (Elul 1, 5777)  How long will you go "limping" between two different opinions? What is more important to you than your relationship with the LORD God of Israel?  Our Torah reading for this week (i.e., parashat Shoftim) reminds us to make up our minds and return to the LORD: "You must be whole (i.e., tamim: 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 Holy Spirit writes Torah within the heart of faith (Jer. 31:33). May God make us each "whole" in Him!

תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ

ta·mim  ti·he·yeh  im  Adonai  E·lo·he·kha

"You shall be whole with the LORD your God"
(Deut. 18:13)


In the Sefer Torah (i.e., the handwritten Torah scroll), the first letter of the word tamim ("whole") is written extra LARGE in order to emphasize the importance of the word.  Notice also the little word "with" (i.e., 'im: עִם) that follows in this verse. This hearkens to Micah 6:8 where it is written: "What does the LORD require of you but to do justice (mishpat), and to love kindness (chesed), and to walk humbly (hatznea lechet) with your God?" Having a humble heart walks with the LORD. Humility begins with the awareness that 1) there is a God and 2) you are not Him.... It is the practice of "knowing before whom you stand" and living your life in light of this fundamental truth.

For more on this topic please see: "Make Up Your Mind: Further thoughts on Shoftim."

Our Duty to Truth...


[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shoftim. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

08.23.17 (Elul 1, 5777)  Our Torah portion this week (parashat Shoftim) includes the famous statement: tzedek, tzedek tirdorf (צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף): "Righteousness, righteousness, you shall pursue" (Deut. 16:20). The sages infer that the double mention of the word "righteousness" means that the pursuit of righteousness must itself be righteous. In other words, the end never justifies the means. God is not a pragmatist, and there are no "noble lies" for sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. The truth is gained only by truth, and therefore we may not use unjust methods even to promote a supposedly just cause.

צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף
לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה וְיָרַשְׁתָּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ
אֲשֶׁר־יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נתֵן לָךְ

tze·dek · tze·dek · tir·dof
le·ma·an · ti·che·yeh · ve·ya·rash·ta · et-ha·a·retz
a·sher · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · no·ten · lakh

"Righteousness, righteousness, you must pursue;
so that you will live and inherit the land
that the LORD your God gives you."
(Deut. 16:20)


A related implication is that we should never be deceptive about promoting faith in God. We shouldn't flatter people, cajole them into believing, offer them vain hope, or misrepresent the truth of the message of the gospel. We should never promise people worldly happiness, prosperity, unending health, etc., in the name of religion, since this also is "means-to-end" reasoning. We must be clear about the demands of faith and the costs involved. And of course it is entirely forbidden to endorse violence of any kind (verbal or physical) to promote the cause of religion. Indeed, a sure mark of a false religion is to teach people to hate or even murder others "for God's sake..." Any religion that is based on "jihad-mentality" is therefore false and subject to fearful judgment from Almighty God.

"Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, and who does not turn to the proud or turn aside to lies" (Psalm 40:4); "no one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes" (Psalm 101:7; Rev. 21:27).

לא־יֵשֵׁב בְּקֶרֶב בֵּיתִי עשֵׂה רְמִיָּה
דּבֵר שְׁקָרִים לא־יִכּוֹן לְנֶגֶד עֵינָי

lo · ye·shev · be·ke·rev · be·ti · o·seh · re·mi·yah
do·ver · she·ka·rim · lo · yi·kon · le·ne·ged · ei·nai

"No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house;
no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes."
(Psalm 101:7)

Rosh Chodesh Elul - ראש חדש אלול


08.22.17 (Av 30, 5777)  This evening* marks Rosh Chodesh Elul (the "new moon" of the Hebrew month of Elul), which, according to the Torah, was the time when Moses reascended Mount Sinai (the third time) to receive the second set of Tablets from the LORD. Since the tablets were not inscribed until 40 days later (on the 10th of Tishri, the date of Yom Kippur), the 29 days of Elul are considered a time of selichot (prayers for forgiveness) in anticipation of the Ten High Holy Days. For more information, please see this page.

Beginning on Elul 1 and continuing until Erev Rosh HaShanah, the custom is to blow the shofar every day. Psalm 27 is often recited every day during this time as well.  The following (simplified) blessing can be recited to ask the LORD to help you prepare for the month of Elul and the forty day "Season of Repentance":

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

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

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

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Note:  The calendar says that Av 29th at sundown is "Rosh Chodesh Elul," though technically speaking it begins the following evening, namely Av 30th at sundown. When the ending month is 29 days long, Rosh Chodesh of the new month will always be celebrated for one day: the first day of the new month; however, when the preceding month has 30 days (as it does in the case of the month of Av), then Rosh Chodesh of the new month will be celebrated for two days. In this case, both the 30th day of the preceding month and the first day of the new month will be called Rosh Chodesh (as it is in the case of the month of Elul).

Turning Away, Turning Toward

Chagall Detail

[ The following entry continues the theme of teshuvah (repentance) for the month of Elul.  This is the time to prepare our hearts for the coming High Holidays, chaverim... ]

08.22.17 (Av 30, 5777)   When Lot was mercifully urged by the angels to flee from the corruption of life in Sodom, he was commanded: himalet al-nafshekha, al-tabit acharekha / הִמָּלֵט עַל־נַפְשֶׁךָ אַל־תַּבִּיט אַחֲרֶיךָ - "Flee for your life! Don't look back" (Gen. 19:17). Interestingly, the Targum Onkelos translates this as: "Be merciful to your life; look not behind you." From this the sages note that teshuvah, or repentance, is both a turning away and a turning toward. It is a turning away from sin and it is a turning toward God. Of the two turnings, however, turning toward God is more important...

It's one thing to turn away from sin -- to distance yourself from temptation and to flee from the yetzer hara, or evil inclination -- and it's another to turn toward God and seek His love and help for your life.... In the former case, your focus is still on the self and the sources of inner corruption; in the latter case, your focus is on God as the Source of your healing and life.  Of course both turning away from sin and turning toward God can be thought of as a single "movement" of the heart, but it is turning toward God that is the goal.

May it please God to give us all teshuvah shelemah -- a complete repentance -- by having our hearts turn away from all distractions so that we can focus on serving Him alone...


Eclipses and Wonders...


08.21.17 (Av 29, 5777)   God taught our father Abraham that the LORD alone is the Master of the Universe (אדון עולם) who alone controls the stars and the affairs of men, not "chance" (luck), or "fate" (kismet), or any "secret influences" of the zodiac (mazzarot)... A midrash says that when God asked Abram to look up at the night sky to count the stars, at first he saw just one big star shining. "That star is you lighting up the world," said God. Then Abram saw two stars. "Those are for you and your son," continued God.  Then Abram saw three stars: "You, your son, and your grandson." When Abram looked up again, he saw twelve stars. "There will be twelve tribes," explained God. Suddenly the whole sky from one end to the other was covered with stars: "And so shall your descendants be, too many to count," promised the LORD God. The sages comment further. God then gave Abram a vision, out of the world altogether and into furthest reaches of outer space!  Abram then saw the immense galaxies and glorious constellations. It was then that God reaffirmed, "So shall your descendants be," referring to all who come to share his faith (see Rom. 4:16). Nonetheless, when we see an eclipse, a shooting star, or other spectacular natural phenomena, we remember that God created the laws of nature in a precise and marvelous way: Barukh attah Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha-olam, shehakol bara likhvodo: "Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the Universe, who creates all things for his glory."


The Month of Elul...


08.20.17 (Av 28, 5777)   Monday, Aug. 21st (at sundown) marks Rosh Chodesh Elul, the first day of the 6th month of the Torah's calendar. The word "Elul" (אֱלוּל) is said to be an acronym for the phrase, ani le'dodi ve'dodi li (אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי), "I am my beloved's, and my beloved in mine" (Song 6:3), to encourage us to return to God, to become full of desire for the Beloved of our soul. We are likened to empty vessels in need of oil, and the call to teshuvah moves us to seek to be filled with the Spirit of God's love and kindness. Indeed, the Spirit takes us into the desert places to reveal to us our need (Deut. 8:3; Jer. 2:2; Luke 4:1). "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled" (Matt. 5:6).

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי
הָרעֶה בַּשׁוֹשַׁנִּים

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


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

Ani l'dodi...

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This verse is sometimes linked to the "lilies" (i.e., shoshanim: שׁשַׁנִּים) mentioned in Psalm 45, which presents a Messianic vision of the Divine Bridegroom and offers an "ode" for a forthcoming heavenly wedding: "Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father's house, and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him" (Psalm 45:10-11). Soon the LORD will return for His betrothed, and then we will finally celebrate the great "marriage" with our King!

God wants us to seek him, to yearn for him, and to desire him... he sings out to our hearts in love. Interestingly, where it says: אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי הָרעֶה בַּשׁוֹשַׁנִּים, we can read, "I am for my beloved, and my beloved is for me, the Shepherd (הָרעֶה) among the lilies." Where is your Shepherd? Among the flowers... in a place of love and beauty set for you.

Torah of Teshuvah...


08.20.17 (Av 28, 5777)   Perhaps you (like me) once learned Psalm 19:7 as, "The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul." The Hebrew reads, תּוֹרַת יְהוָה תְּמִימָה מְשִׁיבַת נָפֶשׁ, and might better be translated as, "The Torah of the LORD is perfect, returning the soul." Heeding Torah causes our souls to undergo teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה), or "repentance," which is the very theme of Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays.

תּוֹרַת יְהוָה תְּמִימָה מְשִׁיבַת נָפֶשׁ
עֵדוּת יְהוָה נֶאֱמָנָה מַחְכִּימַת פֶּתִי

torat · Adonai · temimat · meshivat · nafesh
eidut · Adonai · ne'emanah · machkimat · peti


"The Torah of the LORD is perfect, returning the soul
The testimony of the LORD is reliable, making wise the simple."
(Psalm 19:7)

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This again is the message of teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה), or "repentance." We turn away (shuv) from ourselves to discover that only the love of God given in Yeshua gives life to our dead hearts. Teshuvah is therefore first of all a matter of faith, of trusting in the miracle of God. And though it is indeed a great gift from heaven, it requires that we pass through the "narrow gate" of humility by confessing the truth about who we are (Matt. 7:13). We turn away from our pride; we acknowledge our inner poverty, our neediness, and we mourn over the loss and hurt caused by our sin. Teshuvah turns away from our attempts to defend or justify ourselves and instead turns to God to heal our separation from Him (Rom. 8:3-4). By faith God buries our old nature and transforms us into a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).

Parashat Shoftim - שופטים


08.20.17 (Av 28, 5777)   Rosh Chodesh Elul Tov, friends, and welcome the Forty Days of Teshuvah! May we we all draw near to the LORD God our Savior during this season of teshuvah. Our Torah reading for this week (parashat Shoftim) begins with the commandment that the people of Israel should appoint judges (i.e., shoftim: שׁפְטִים) and officers (i.e., shoterim: שׁוֹטְרִים) so that justice would be enforced throughout the promised land (Deut. 16:18). The call for justice is famously stated as, "tzedek, tzedek tirdof" (צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף): "Justice, Justice you shall pursue" (Deut. 16:20). The word tzedek means "righteousness" and involves the duty to adhere to moral truth. Throughout the Torah portion the theme of social justice predominates, as the ethical characteristics for judges are defined, as well as for elders, kings, prophets, and priests, all of whom are responsible for maintaining a just and healthful society.  As the prophet wrote: "The work of righteousness (tzedakah) shall be peace" (וְהָיָה מַעֲשֵׂה הַצְּדָקָה שָׁלוֹם), and added that "the service of righteousness (וַעֲבדַת הַצְּדָקָה) shall be quietness and security forever" (Isa. 32:17).

בִּרְבוֹת צַדִּיקִים יִשְׂמַח הָעָם
וּבִמְשׁל רָשָׁע יֵאָנַח עָם

bir·vot · tzad·di·kim · yis·mach · ha·am
u·vim·shol · ra·sha · ye·a·nach · am


"When the righteous increase, the people rejoice,
but when the wicked rule, the people groan."
(Prov. 29:2)

Regarding making judgments about others we should try to always extend the benefit of the doubt (i.e., kaf zechut, "the hand of merit"). When we judge mercifully and in accord with the truth, the Divine Presence joins us, but if we act corruptly, we "push" the Presence away and create a sense of exile.  Yeshua told us to "whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 7:12). In other words, as we judge others, so we are judged ourselves. We must be careful to avoid rationalizations or to fool ourselves... Looking at others from a selfish perspective is ultimately a form of "bribery" that blinds us to the truth about righteousness (see Deut. 16:19).

Tzedek, tzedek tirdof also means that justice must be pursued in a just manner. The methods used to obtain justice must themselves be just. The Scriptures therefore do not advocate pragmatism or utilitarian thinking. There are no "noble lies" in the Kingdom of Heaven. Violence (verbal or physical) or deception done in the name of God is always a bad idea. We must execute great restraint and caution when we confront oppression in the world. If you want to change the world around you, begin with yourself....


Call to do Teshuvah...


[ The following entry is related to the month of Elul and the "Season of Repentance..." ]

08.18.17 (Av 26, 5777)   The Elul Eclipse this year marks the beginning of the "Forty Days of Teshuvah" leading up to Yom Kippur. This is a season of introspection and teshuvah (i.e., "repentance") whereby we seek to turn our hearts to God and to attune ourselves to what is most important. This is not a trivial task but requires courage and the willingness to be genuinely honest with ourselves... All of us have unhealed parts, "hidden faults" of which we are not fully aware. Therefore king David prayed, "Who can discern his errors? cleanse me from secret faults" (Psalm 19:12). We are cleansed by confession, that is, by looking within our hearts to uncover deeper motivations... If we are honest with ourselves we may discover, for example, that we are angry or fearful people, despite how we otherwise wish to regard ourselves. If you find yourself unable to let something go, for instance, some pain or failure of the past, remind yourself that you must do so if you want to move on with your life. Focusing on how things could have been different is to be enslaved to the past. The goal of teshuvah (repentance) is to turn us back to God for life, but to do this, we must be be willing to let go of what makes us sick.

שְׁגִיאוֹת מִי־יָבִין מִנִּסְתָּרוֹת נַקֵּנִי
גַּם מִזֵּדִים חֲשׂךְ עַבְדֶּךָ
אַל־יִמְשְׁלוּ־בִי אָז אֵיתָם
וְנִקֵּיתִי מִפֶּשַׁע רָב

she·gi·ot · mi-ya·vin · min·nis·ta·rot · nak·kei·ni
gam · mi·ze·dim · cha·sokh · av·de·kha
al-yim·she·lu-vi · az · e·tam
ve·ni·ke·ti · mi·pe·sha · rav


"Who can discern his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults;
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression." (Psalm 19:12-13)

Chagall Angel (glass detail)


Note that the Hebrew word translated "errors" (i.e., shegi'ot: שְׁגִיאוֹת) comes from a root word (שָׁגָה) that means to wander, stray, or transgress. The question raised by King David is of course rhetorical: "Who can discern his errors?" The answer is no one – apart from divine intervention... David therefore asked to be cleansed from his "secret faults," which are not those that were performed by him "in secret," but rather those that were unknown, unseen, and unconscious to his own sense of awareness. These are "mindless" sins, unthinking offenses, hidden dispositions, character traits and actions that a person unwittingly performs, perhaps because of deep forces of which he was oblivious. These are the "secret sins" set in the light of God's face (Psalm 90:8); the "sluggish darkness" of the human heart that leads to death and ruin: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and incurably sick; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9). How many of us, after all, are fully aware of what we are doing when we are doing something? How many of us are completely transparent both to ourselves and before God, with no unclear motives, etc.? We must always be vigilant... There is always the force of habit, or the subconscious desires or conflicts of the inner life, that work on us, not to mention the trauma of our past and the present devices from the enemy of our souls. May the LORD give us the willingness to be healed, even if there are parts of ourselves that seem to resist that healing.

Note further that "presumptuous" sins (מִזֵּדִים) are not necessarily flagrant sins as much as those that arise from self-reliance or pride (זָדוֹן). Only the humble of heart can be truly free from the dominance of presumption and sin. "Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me" (Psalm 119:133). May God make us humble of heart, free from presumption and the illusion that we do not need God for every step we take.  Therefore may it please the Lord to heal those parts of ourselves that don't even know they need to be healed... Amen.

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Elul Tov, chaverim. Turn to God in teshuvah while there is still time! The LORD calls out to all who are willing to believe to come to Him for life: "Seek Me and live!" Do not let the shame of your past hinder you; run to God's outstretched arms!


בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה הַמְּרָפֵא אֵת חֲטָאֵנוּ הַנִּסְתָּרִים

ba·rukh · Adonai · ha·me·ra·fei · et · cha·ta·ei·nu · ha·nis·ta·rim

"Blessed is the LORD who heals our hidden sins."


Remembering our future...


08.18.17 (Av 26, 5777)   Though we are optimistic about the purpose and end of reality, and though we believe that God "works all things together for good" (Rom. 8:28), we are not therefore "monistic idealists," that is, those who say that evil is not real or who claim that it is "part of God."  We are given "exceedingly great and precious promises," yet in this world we suffer and experience pain, heartache, and troubles. Yeshua said "in this world you will have tribulation," though that is not the end of the story, of course, for there is the cheer of God's' victory, even if we must repeatedly ask God for grace to endure our troubles without murmuring (John 16:33; Heb. 4:16). I realize that is often difficult, and some of you might be within the fiery furnace even now. You might be asking, "Where are you, Lord, in all of this? Why don't you bring me out of these troubles?" In such testing you need endurance (ὑπομονή) to hold on to hope, remembering that God uses affliction to refine you for good. As Paul said, "We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces refined character, and refined character produces hope" (Rom. 5:3-4). Each of us is still upon the "Potter's wheel," and God's hand continues to shape us into vessels that one day will reveal his glory and honor. "May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace" (Psalm 29:11).

יְהוָה עז לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן
יְהוָה יְבָרֵךְ אֶת־עַמּוֹ בַשָּׁלוֹם

Adonai · oz · le·am·mo · yit·ten
Adonai · ye·va·rekh · et · am·mo · va·sha·lom

"The LORD will give strength to his people;
The LORD will bless his people with peace."
(Psalm 29:11)

Hebrew Study Card

Keep holding on, dear friends! The Lord our God is faithful and true. He gives us acharit ve'tikvah (אַחֲרִית וְתִקְוָה), "a future and a hope" (Jer. 29:11). Shabbat Shalom!

The Bridge of Faith...


08.18.17 (Av 26, 5777)   There is always a gap between what we are and what we could be, between the "is" and the "ought," and between the real and the ideal in our lives... Our conversion imparts to us a new spiritual nature, but we still must struggle through our deep inadequacies so that we might learn to truly love God and others (Shema). God graciously saves us by faith, and he sanctifies us the selfsame way, though in the latter case this means learning to keep focus, to persevere, and persist in hope - despite the shortfall of our lives. So where are you going today? Are you keeping faith in God's promises for your life? Are you catching up with the miracle of what God has done for you?

הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה דֶּרֶךְ חֻקֶּיךָ
וְאֶצְּרֶנָּה עֵקֶב

ho·rei·ni · Adonai · de·rekh · chuk·ke·kha
ve·e·tze·ren·nah · e·kev

"Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes;
and I will keep it to the end"
(Psalm 119:33)


Often the only prayer we have is "Help, LORD" (עזור לי יהוה), I use this one on a daily basis, that is, whenever I am confronted with the truth of my condition... Living in the "already-not-yet" state of redemption is a soul-building venture that helps us to acquire the precious middah (quality) of patience: "In your patience possess ye your souls" (Luke 21:19). Testing produces endurance (Rom. 5:3), but God surely is faithful "to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 1:24). May He come speedily, and in our day. Amen.

Avodah Zarah...


08.18.17 (Av 26, 5777)   "Beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them..." (Deut. 4:19). God's creation is surely magnificent and mysterious, but it is a means to the end of displaying his glory, and is not to be regarded as an end in itself (Psalm 19:1-3). The sages wonder, however, why the Torah condemns venerating the heavenly powers, and ask, "Would not a king be pleased when his people honor his officers?" They reply that since we are partakers of God's nature and direct witnesses of his Reality (Rom. 1:19-20), bowing to the creature rather than the Creator violates the sanctity of the soul. Idolatry is forbidden because it denies that you are a bearer of God within your heart, and that outrages the Divine Presence by desecrating his handiwork. On the other hand, if the soul knows that he is joined with God, his godly esteem will strengthen him to walk according to his true identity as a child of the Most High God.

Blessed to Give...


08.17.17 (Av 25, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week (parashat Re'eh) we read: "you shall surely tithe..." (Deut. 14:22), which can also be translated as "be certain to tithe" (the infinitive absolute (עַשֵּׂר תְּעַשֵּׂר) lays emphasis on the action). God wants us to have a "treasure in heaven that does not fail," and therefore tithing may be regarded as form of "investment" in heaven, of being "rich toward God" (see Luke 12:21, 33; Matt. 6:19-20). Moreover, our Torah portion further commands us to give to the needy, admonishing us not to harden our hearts but rather to feel compassion: "You shall give to him freely (literally, "giving you shall give"), and do not let your heart feel bad when you give, for because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake" (Deut. 15:10). Here the Hebrew word "give" is mentioned twice (נָתוֹן תִּתֵּן) because giving to others is also giving to God, as it is written, "Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed" (Prov. 19:17). When we give tzedakah (charity), it may seem like we giving something from our own substance for the sake of another, but in truth we are actually taking, since we are spiritually receiving back much more than we give (both in this life and especially in the world to come). The reward we get in return for our giving is always far greater than whatever we originally gave (Mal. 3:10), and this implies that giving is really a kind of "taking..." This agrees with Yeshua's teaching: "Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:38).

Nearness of Blessing...


[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Re'eh... ]

08.17.17 (Av 25, 5777)   From our Torah this week we read: "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen (shema) the commandments of the LORD your God ... the curse if you do not listen and turn away" (Deut. 11:26-28). Here we note that the only condition for the blessing is that we actively listen to God, for that is the path, but if we refuse to listen we will therefore stray from the path. The blessing, then, is as close as your heart, revealed as you choose to believe; the curse moves you away from the heart, straying from the path to a place of exile...

Life in Perilous Times...


08.17.17 (Av 25, 5777)   The Scriptures foretell that the time before the prophesied End of Days would be "perilous" (χαλεπός) and full of moral depravity: "Understand this, that in the last days perilous times (καιροὶ χαλεποί) shall come" (2 Tim. 3:1). In the entire New Testament, the only other place we find this word translated "perilous" (i.e., χαλεπός) is in Matthew 8:28, where it describes savage demonic activity. Indeed, the word likely comes from a Greek verb (χαλάω) that means "to let down from a higher place to a lower," thereby creating a sort of spiritual "chasm" or rift, which again suggests that Satan's activity will be unleashed upon the earth.  In the "End of Days," then, a wave of fierce demonic activity will appear upon the earth that will menace and terrorize others. If you can stomach reading the daily news, you will see that this peril is a regular feature of our world today.

Are we then to be in dread of these things?  No. "There is no fear in God's love" (φόβος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ). God gives truth and grace to help us navigate our difficult situation; he understands the character of the times in which we live... Notice that the Greek word translated "times" in the phrase "perilous times" (καιροὶ χαλεποί) is also translated "appointed times" (מוֹעֲדִים) throughout the Scriptures. In other words, God has appointed this time to be one of judgment upon the world system, and we are here forewarned so that we can speak the truth and offer healing to others who seek deliverance... The Lord will never leave us nor forsake us; He will shelter us in Goshen (גּשֶׁן, lit. "drawing near") before the hour of his wrath; He will walk with us through the waters, and through the fires (Isa. 43:2). Our Lord knows how to calm the storms around us...

Let's be careful to whom we listen and accept as our authority.  The latest "news" and gossip of this evil world is inherently deceptive, a carefully crafted dialectic of social engineering devised by Satan that is intended to divide people into warring factions in order to enslave them to their fears. We are not to follow the madness of the crowd or be victims of such devices (1 Pet. 5:8-9). The irony in all of this is that there is indeed a "dialectic" of the Spirit in motion, however, a dialectic that will make the various conflicts of this world look like a mere "tempest in a teapot." The great day of the LORD approaches, and the elements will all be burned with fervent heat, as it is written: "But the Day of the LORD (יוֹם־יְהוָה) will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a horrific roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and every deed done on it will be laid bare" (2 Pet. 3:10). As was also foretold in our prophets: "Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed" (Isa. 51:6). Instead of giving credence to the fearmongering and propaganda of this depraved world, we must follow the LORD God Almighty and to submit to His leadership despite the miasmic madness that surrounds us. May God give us greater grace for these desperate days...

Cursed for your Blessing...


08.17.17 (Av 25, 5777)   "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse" (Deut. 11:26). The blessing comes from the obedience of faith, and not in any other way. You cannot be justified by the law, that is, declared righteous before God, even if you were to keep all of the commandments except one: "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it" (James 2:10), and indeed the Scriptures state that no one is without sin (e.g., Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:23; 5:12 1 John 1:8; Psalm 130:3; 143:2; Prov. 20:9; Isa. 53:6; Isa. 64:6). The consequence of sin is death (Rom. 6:23) which is separation and exile from the Divine presence. The good news is that we are justified by God's righteousness, not our own. τῷ δὲ μὴ ἐργαζομένῳ πιστεύοντι δὲ ἐπὶ τὸν δικαιοῦντα τὸν ἀσεβῆ λογίζεται ἡ πίστις αὐτοῦ εἰς δικαιοσύνην  - "to the one who does not work but believes in the One who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness" (Rom. 4:5). In other words, we are given merit (or "imputed righteousness") on the basis of our faith that God justifies (i.e., declares righteous) those who trust in the sacrificial intervention of Yeshua for their sin problem.  God has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, as it is written, "Cursed is every one who is hanged on a tree" (Gal. 3:13). If, however, you refuse the way of the healing provided by heaven, then (by default) you have chosen the path that leads to the curse. That is why remaining agnostic or "neutral" on the question of how we are made right with God is not an option (John 3:18-21). Each of us has been bitten by the snake and must now look upon the truth (Num. 21:8-9; John 3:14-15). There is no "middle ground" when it comes to the divine remedy: it is either cross of Messiah for your sins or you must bear the loss on your own. The path of blessing, however, is found by trusting in God's righteousness, which the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16-17).

You are invited to come before the Divine Presence to receive the blessing - you are welcomed with joy - because of the glory of God's love given to you in Yeshua... And while you can never "earn" God's love, of course, you must take hold of it by faith, as Yeshua said: "This is the work of God - that you believe in the One whom God sent (John 6:29). This is the great work of the heart, the "obedience of faith," namely, trusting that Yeshua was given for your sake, for your sins, so that you can be healed by the love and grace of God.  Faith finds courage to accept God's love, despite whatever may tempt you to feel unworthy or unacceptable.  It pushes past the superficial view that you can please God by what you do, instead of enjoying God by knowing who He is: God is love; God is Light; He is Faithfulness, the Savior of your life... Faith works through his love (Gal. 5:6).

Education for Eternity...


[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Re'eh... ]

08.17.17 (Av 25, 5777)   "Know within your heart that, as a parent disciplines his child, so the LORD your God disciplines you" (Deut. 8:5). This verse expresses the idea of "musar" (מוסר), or moral education intended to develop godly character within us. "My son, despise not the chastening (i.e., musar) of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction (i.e., tokhechah). For whom the Lord loves he corrects; even as a father the son in whom he delights" (Prov. 3:11; see also Heb. 12:5-6). In light of Torah we infer that God disciplines us because we are his children, for the sake of our growth and maturity, and not for vindictive reasons. God's correction indicates that he feels responsible for our character development, as a good father feels responsible for the character development of his child. Correction from the Lord is ultimately "soul-building," since it enables us to be partakers of His holiness -- and is grounded in His love and concern for us as our Heavenly Father (see Heb. 12:5-11). Hang in there, friend. "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Heb. 12:11). May God help us in our "education for eternity."

וְיָדַעְתָּ עִם־לְבָבֶךָ
כִּי כַּאֲשֶׁר יְיַסֵּר אִישׁ אֶת־בְּנוֹ
יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ מְיַסְּרֶךָּ

ve·ya·da·ta · im · le·va·ve·kha
ki · ka·a·sher · ye·ya·ser · ish · et · be·no
Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · me·ya·se·re·ka


"Know within your heart that, as a parent disciplines his child,
so the LORD your God disciplines you" (Deut. 8:5)


The Torah of Love...


08.16.17 (Av 24, 5777)   God does not love you based on your obedience, but his love for you will lead you to obedience... It is only after accepting that you are accepted despite yourself -- despite your inherent inability to please God, despite your incurably sick heart, despite your disobedience, sin, and so on -- it is only then that earnest, Spirit-enabled obedience may spontaneously arise within your heart. In that sense "obedience" is like falling in love with someone. It is your love that moves you to act and to express your heart, and were you prevented from doing so, you would undoubtedly grieve over your loss... Therefore the "law of the Spirit of Life in Messiah" is first of all empowered by God's grace and love. We walk by faith, hope, and love - these three.  And this explains why the very first step of teshuvah (repentance) is to love God: Shema! Ve'ahavta et Adonai... The first work of faith is to believe in the miracle that God's love is "for-you-love..."

If you still find yourself operating from a sense of God's conditional acceptance, you will undoubtedly need to repeat the same sins over and over until your heart is finally convinced of its incurably wretched state. You must first be utterly sick of yourself to believe in the miracle of God's deliverance. Only after this does the good news of the gospel find its opportunity to speak...

Destroying Idols...


08.16.17 (Av 24, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week (i.e., Re'eh) we read: "You must destroy the names of [their gods] out of that place" (Deut. 12:3). But how are we to obliterate the names of idols in our midst except by ignoring them – or rather, by refusing to invest them with power to affect our lives?  Instead of focusing on the various ways that people may go wrong in their theology and practice, we must look instead to the Lord and walk in His ways. Let us seek his face, spending time in deep prayer, pouring our hearts out before Him. Let us worry less about what others are doing than how we may enter into meaningful connection with God for ourselves. As Yeshua said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matt. 6:33). Focus your attention on tending the fire upon your own altar instead of fretting over the altars of others. We destroy the names of idols by letting them fade or pass away; we refuse to be seduced by their deceptive claims to authority and instead reaffirm our devotion to the one true God.

Softening your Heart...


08.16.17 (Av 24, 5777)   "You must cut away the barrier of your heart and no longer stiffen your neck" (Deut. 10:16). But how can we do this other than by accepting the will of God and therefore trusting in his guidance? When we surrender to Gods' care and stop resisting his will, we can let go, relax, and begin to flow with the Spirit. When we soften and open our heart, we allow ourselves to be taken up and comforted by God's Presence.

True and False Prophets...


[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Re'eh... ]

08.15.17 (Av 23, 5777)   From our Torah portion for this week we read:"If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder (אוֹת אוֹ מוֹפֵת), and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, 'Let us go after other gods,' which you have not known, 'and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst" (Deut. 13:1-5).

This passage concerns matters of godly leadership, and raises questions of what criteria should be used to establish authority. Note that the Torah here immediately states that a miraculous "sign" (i.e., אוֹת, or unusual event) or "wonder" (i.e., מוֹפֵת - literally, "appealing thing") does not authenticate a message as being from the LORD.  No, what distinguishes a true prophet from a false one is something deeper, namely a genuine passion to adhere to basic Torah principles, that is, moral truths that are easily discoverable by anyone.  As Yeshua taught us, a true prophet of God will never undermine the commandments given in Torah (Matt. 5:19). The truth of God bears its own internal witness and does not stand or fall by outward signs of success for confirmation (Rom. 1:19-20; Psalm 19:1-3; John 1:9). Yeshua warned us that false prophets would arise and perform great signs and wonders that would be so compelling that lead astray, if possible, even the elect" (Matt. 24:24). Moreover, the Messiah of evil is soon to appear, "the coming of the lawless one who, by the activity of Satan, and with all power and false signs and wonders will deceive those who are perishing – "because they refused to love the truth and so be saved" (2 Thess. 2:9-10). Note the connection between loving truth and salvation, friends. We are instructed to "test the spirits" by first asking whether their teaching is in alignment with the truth of Torah, and then by asking whether the doctrine ascribes glory and greatness to Yeshua, the Savior and LORD, who is none other than God who has come in the flesh to ransom lost humanity from the curse of the law's judgment (Gal 3:10-13; Rom. 8:3; 1 John 4:1-3). The promised New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) inscribes the Torah on our hearts and establishes truth within the inner being (Jer. 31:31; Heb. 8:10). Eternal life centers on a spiritual connection with Yeshua, the Living Torah, and True Vine of God (John 15:1-8). As it is written: "Whoever has the Son has the life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:12). The true sign of God, and a miracle greater than that of parting the sea, is life given to a dead heart, an inner transformation that comes from the power of the Living God.

It is important to remember that God doesn't share His glory with those who profane His Name. The Name of God is not subject to the spirit of the age and its linguistic conventions but rather represents His character and reputation. He is looking for those to worship Him in the spirit of truth -- for those who want to share His heart and passion for a lost and dying world... The Father's business is to save the world through the ministry of His Son Yeshua the Messiah (Matt. 28:19-20).

The way of Yeshua is always hidden in this world -- it is a life of sacrifice, of struggle, and quiet confidence and joy.  What man esteems and what God esteems are two different things. God invariably uses the lowly, the humble, and the weak to display His glory and power. God is not revealed by Cathedrals with ornate priesthoods and elaborate rituals any more than he is revealed by the hucksterism and nonsense shouted from televangelists or revivalists (nor, for that matter is He revealed in the convoluted music of J.S. Bach or in the arid theologizing found in many "Protestant" sermons). The Good Shepherd leads his sheep beside still waters...

Signs and wonders are always ambiguous and constitute a divine test (Deut. 13:3; 1 Cor. 11:19). Yeshua pointed this out in His parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Even if a person should encounter someone literally risen from the dead it wouldn't suffice to impart true faith.  Indeed, Yeshua had stern words for those who wanted Him for the sake of "signs and wonders." He called them an "adulterous generation" -- because they were not interested in God's passion but rather in their own (Matt. 12:29; 16:4).

Yeshua told us that the "great" in the Kingdom of God are those willing to be the servant of all (Mark 9:35). Those who truly give Him glory -- who do not profane His Name -- will live in humility and will habitually ascribe glory to the Person and work of Yeshua the Messiah. They will agree with Paul's words: "God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal. 6:14). The Holy Spirit, whom Yeshua called the "Spirit of Truth," always brings glory to its right focal point (John 16:13-14). We are called to live the "crucified life" and be filled with truth.

We must use godly discernment, friends.  Note this well: The LORD allows false teachers in our midst to test our hearts: "For there must be (δεῖ) factions among you so that those who are genuine among you may be recognized" (1 Cor. 11:19). Therefore "test the spirits" to see if they are "of God," that is, whether they focus on the righteousness of God given exclusively through Yeshua, the "narrow way that leads to life" - or whether they focus on something else. The Holy Spirit always centers the heart on the glory of God revealed in Yeshua (John 16:14; 1 Cor. 2:2, etc.).

Torah's Weightier Matters...


[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Re'eh... ]

08.14.17 (Av 22, 5777)   From our Torah this week we read: "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing (הַבְּרָכָה), if you obey (שָׁמַע) the commandments of the LORD your God... and the curse (הַקְּלָלָה), if you turn aside (סוּר, "withdraw," "draw back") from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known" (Deut. 11:26-28). Presupposed here, of course, is knowing what the commandments of the Lord are, which is why we are further commanded neither add nor to subtract from Torah (Deut. 4:2). We are neither to go back to passivity and slavery by making Torah another "taskmaster" (i.e., "adding" to Torah), nor are we to erect "private altars" by exalting our own interpretation as exclusionary and divine (i.e., "subtracting" from Torah) (Deut. 12:1-7). Instead, we must face up to our responsibilities by making difficult life choices: we must discern the "weightier matters of Torah" (Matt. 23:23). When we were enslaved in Egypt, we were free from responsibility; we could play the victim by blaming others for our sins, our sorrows, our troubles. When were set free to serve God, however, we were given the power to choose to live outside of the realm of the curse by accepting God's blessing. Therefore bacharta ba'chayim: choose life so you may live!

Remember who you are...


[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Re'eh... ]

08.14.17 (Av 22, 5777)   One of the greatest mistakes is to forget who you really are and your beloved status before the LORD... "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine" (Isa. 43:1). Forgetting who you are leads to forgetting who the LORD is, just as forgetting who the LORD is leads to forgetting who you are...

The Torah declares: "You are children of the LORD your God (בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַיהוָה אֱלהֵיכֶם). You shall not cut yourselves for the dead" (Deut. 14:1). In this verse, Moses reminds the people that they are children of the Eternal (יהוה) and therefore they were not to mourn for the dead like those without hope of life beyond the grave... Our God, the Father of Israel, is the Source of Life, and even if our earthly fathers die, we will never be orphans, because the LORD, the Everlasting God who is the "God of the spirits of all flesh" (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), always watches over us: "He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber" (Psalm 121:3). But if we forget who we are, if we lose sight of our place in the Heavenly Father's heart, then we are likely to fall into a state of excessive and self-destructive mourning over the losses we experience in this world. In the most tragic cases, this can lead to the darkness of unremedied despair, "living among the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones" (Mark 5:5). On the other hand, if remember our place at the Father's table as his children, if we take hold that we are beloved of God - his very own "treasured people" - then we will regard the difficulties we encounter in this world as a test of faith intended for our good (Deut. 8:3,16, Jer. 29:11).

God regards us as his beloved children, and therefore we trust him as a child trusts his father. We may not always understand all that our father does, but we have complete faith in his good will toward us, even in the face of death itself. We do not engage in self-destructive mourning, then, because we are treasured by God and we trust in God's promises for eternal life (John 11:25). Because of this, Jewish halachah (legal custom) puts limits to grieving practices.  Excessive mourning, interminable gloom, self-destructive anger, or the refusal to let go of our fear may indicate a lack of faith in God's care as our Father. Remember where it says "God works all things together for good," for that includes even physical death... Let us therefore "hope to the LORD (קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה); be strong and strengthen our heart; and (again) let us hope to the LORD" (Psalm 27:14).

For more on this very important topic, please see the article "Am Segulah."

The Meaning of Shalom...


08.14.17 (Av 22, 5777)   In our Torah reading for this week (i.e., parashat Re'eh) it is written: "You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way" (Deut. 12:4), which there refers to Canaanite practices of idolatry that were based on mystery and superstition. Unlike these religious cults that were based on vain speculations, however, the Jews were duty-bound to carry out God's will as expressed by the truth of divine revelation. Our father Abraham was given revelation of Torah (Gen. 26:5) and at Sinai moral truth was enshrined in the Ten Commandments (Exod. 24:12; Deut. 5:22). A basic assumption of Torah therefore is that "ought implies can," or that we are genuinely responsible to know and to do moral truth.  Unlike the ancient "mystery religions" that abandoned themselves by "celebrating" the lower nature, the Torah insists on overruling our base impulses and finding peace in the midst of the struggle to walk in righteousness. Therefore we do not understand the Hebrew word "shalom" (שָׁלוֹם), or "peace," to simply mean the absence of strife, but rather "wholeness," "completeness," "healing" -- the integration of the heart and mind that comes through catharsis and personal struggle (Gen. 32:28). Faith does not mean passivity, but protest -- "arguing" for (and even sometimes arguing with) heaven, reminding God of his promises, lamenting over the divine absence; finding courage to oppose the status quo, and repeatedly appealing to heaven "be'khol levaveinu" (בְּכָל־לְבָבֵנוּ) -- with all our hearts -- precisely because we believe that our prayers can affect even the divine decrees... True faith confesses to "move mountains into the sea" (Mark 11:23) and refuses to let go of God until it receives the promised blessing to become "Israel" (Gen. 32:26).

Seeing the Blessing...


[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, parashat Re'eh.... ]

08.14.17 (Av 22, 5777)   "See, I am giving... the blessing (הַבְּרָכָה) when you hearken (i.e, shama: שָׁמַע) to the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you today" (Deut. 11:26-27). Do not understand this as referring to blessing that results from hearing God's word, but rather the blessing that enables you to hear it... It is the blessing of being made awake, alive, and attuned to the Spirit of God. In this world you may or may not receive material blessing as you heed the truth, though you assuredly will be sustained by God's ongoing care (Psalm 37:25). The heavenly blessing is always present before you, however, when you sincerely turn to God and seek to do his will. And may it please the LORD our God to help us turn to Him now, in this hour...

"Blessed be the God and Father of our our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who has blessed us in Messiah with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" (Eph. 1:3). Note that the Greek text translated "with every spiritual blessing" (i.e., ἐν πάσῃ εὐλογίᾳ πνευματικῇ) does not refer to "merely spiritual" as opposed to substantial or material blessings, but rather the blessing given by the Holy Spirit, those powers and graces "in heavenly places" (ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις), that derive from the kingdom of God, which are the highest blessings of all.

Solar Eclipse and Forty Days of Teshuvah...


[ The month of Elul begins Monday, Aug. 21st, which marks the advent of the 40 days of teshuvah. This signals the call to turn to God and to prepare for the coming fall holidays... ]

08.13.17 (Av 21, 5777)   The last month of the Torah's calendar (counting from the month of Tishri) is called Elul (אֱלוּל), which begins Monday, August 21st this year (and which also will be marked by a total solar eclipse). Traditionally, Rosh Chodesh Elul marks the beginning of a forty day "Season of Teshuvah" that culminates on the solemn holiday of Yom Kippur. The month of Elul is therefore a time set aside each year to prepare for the Yamim Nora'im, the "Days of Awe," by getting our spiritual house in order.

During this season we make additional effort to repent, or "turn [shuv] toward God." In Jewish tradition, these 40 days are sometimes called Yemei Ratzon (יְמֵי רָצוֹן) - "Days of Favor," since it was during this time that the LORD forgave the Jewish nation after the sin of the Golden Calf (Pirke d'Reb Eliezar). Some of the sages liken these 40 days to the number of days it takes for the human fetus to be formed within the womb.

Rosh Hashanah will begin in about five weeks (i.e., Wed.,  September 20th at sundown). During the time leading up to the High Holidays, it is customary to engage in cheshbon ha-nefesh ("soul searching") and to derive comfort that God is forgiving and loving to those who sincerely turn to Him. The Jewish sages chose the seven "Haftarot of comfort" to encourage us to make our hearts ready for the upcoming High Holiday Season.


Note that the word "Elul" (אֱלוּל) may be read as an acronym for the phrase,
ani le'dodi ve'dodi li (אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי), "I am my beloved's, and my beloved in mine"
(Song 6:3), to encourage to become full of desire for the Beloved of our soul...

Shuvah Yisrael ad Adonai Elohekha: "Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God..." (Hos. 14:1). The sages say you must return to the place where the LORD is your God -- that you receive his acceptance and love, and that you reclaim your status as his beloved child...

The following Hebrew blessing can be recited to ask the LORD to help you prepare for the month of Elul and the forty day "Season of Repentance":

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

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

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

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Parashat Re'eh - ראה


08.13.17 (Av 21, 5777)   Our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Re'eh) begins, "See (רְאֵה), I give before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing (הַבְּרָכָה), if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse (הַקְּלָלָה), if you ... turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known" (Deut. 11:26-28). We obtain God's blessing (i.e., berakhah: בְּרָכָה) when we obey the LORD, and our decision to obey manifests the blessed state of walking before the Divine Presence (the direct object marker et (את) before the word "the blessing" alludes to the blessings of "Aleph to Tav," that is from Yeshua, as described in Lev. 26:3-13). As King David said, "I have set (שִׁוִּיתִי) the LORD always before me..." (Psalm 16:8). David made a choice to "set" the LORD before his eyes, for he understood that opening his eyes to Reality was the only path of real blessing.

On the other hand, we obtain God's curse (i.e., kelalah: קְלָלָה) when we close our eyes and "forget" that the LORD is always present.... Suppressing God's truth invariably leads to idolatry, that is, to self exaltation. Note that the root word for the word "curse" (kalal) means to be treated as of little account, and therefore "ratifies" the rebellious heart's attitude toward God. This is middah keneged middah - we are ignored by the LORD as we ignore Him, just as we seen by Him when we truly seek His face (Isa. 55:6-7). So we see that the blessing or the curse really comes from our own inward decision, and God establishes the path we have chosen. As King David said, "God supports my lot" (Psalm 16:5), and Solomon wrote, "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps" (Prov. 16:9).

Note: The third of the "Seven Weeks of Comfort" leading up to Rosh Hashanah is called Aniyah so'arah (עֲנִיָּה סעֲרָה, "O afflicted and storm-tossed one"), which reminds the Jewish people of God's eternal and unconditional covenant of peace. Indeed of the Jewish people it is said, "no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment." Therefore the LORD invites the people to drink freely from the waters of life: "Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant (בְּרִית עוֹלָם), my steadfast, sure love for David (Isa. 55:3; Luke 1:68-75; Acts 13:34).

A Chosen People...


08.13.17 (Av 21, 5777)   "God chose you... from among all peoples" (Deut. 10:15). The idea is repeated several times in Torah (for example, see Deut. 14:2; Exod. 19:5-6; Deut. 7:7-8; Amos 3:2). The corollary of being chosen, however, is the responsibility to serve as an instrument of God's love to repair a broken world. Therefore the Apostle Peter refers to followers of Messiah as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession" (1 Peter 2:9, cp. Exod. 19:6, Deut. 7:6). Please note that these words were addressed to those formerly called Gentiles, since he adds: "Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people" (1 Pet. 2:10, cp. Deut. 32:21; Hos. 2:23; Rom. 9:25). The Apostle Paul likewise calls believers in Yeshua a "chosen people" (Eph 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13) who have been given direct and priestly access to God (Heb. 4:16). This priestly lineage began with Malki-Tzedek (Melchizedek), culminated in the advent of Yeshua, and is passed directly to the disciples by means of their justification and identification with the risen Savior "who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a treasured people (am segullah), zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14). Therefore "blessed is God who … has chosen us in Messiah before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless ...  through whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace" (Eph. 1:3-7).

The Fear of the LORD...


08.11.17 (Av 19, 5777)  Some people are afraid that God will punish them for their sins, but the true fear of God, yirat ha'shamayim, is rather 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 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... May the LORD help us not be grieved, not to hurt ourselves, and never to abandon our hearts to the despair of shame...

Shabbat Shalom, and may the LORD help us stay close to his heart always.

Healing a Divided Heart...


08.11.17 (Av 19, 5777)  From our Torah this week we read, "Don't say in your heart... it is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in" (Deut. 9:4). Not even in your heart (בִּלְבָבְךָ) where the guise of humility is not needed... Internalize that you obtain your inheritance by the blessing of God alone. To realize this, we must surrender our pride. Inner dividedness comes from being undecided about who we really are: We both see and yet do not see our real motives. For instance, we may suspect that we are proud or selfish, but we push this awareness out of mind in an act of willed ignorance. This creates "double-mindedness" since we both want to be humble and proud at the same time. The source of our problem, then, is the will, which serves as a gatekeeper of what we admit to ourselves, and the healing comes when we are honest before God and ask Him to be delivered from the sickness of our ambivalence: "Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your Name" (Psalm 86:11).

Much of the walk of faith involves kavanah (כַּוָנָה), or focus; we are to "press on" (διώκω) to hear the upward call of God (Phil. 3:14). The problem for many of us is that we are irresolute, indecisive, and therefore we hesitate... A divided heart is at war within itself, "two-souled" (δίψυχος) and unstable in all its ways (James 1:8). If "purity of heart is to will one thing," then impurity of heart is the result of simultaneously willing two things... It is therefore a state of inner contradiction, of having two separate "minds" or "wills" that hold contrary thoughts or desires. Yeshua said that "a divided house cannot stand." May it please God to heal us of such ambivalence by making our hearts whole, resolute, steadfast, full of conviction, and entirely awake to the glory of His Presence at our right hand (Psalm 16:8). May we be set free from lesser fears that divide the heart and rob the soul of shalom shelemah, God's perfect peace...

Always Here and Now...


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

08.11.17 (Av 19, 5777)  From our Torah portion this week (Eikev) we read: "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you..?" (Deut. 10:12). This is the unending question for the heart of faith: it is always here and it is always "now." The midrash says that the word "and now" (וְעַתָּה) implies the "what" of repentance (תְּשׁוּבָה), turning to God in this hour, regardless of whatever sins you have committed in your past. True repentance turns you away from your sin to become present before God, wherever you might be... Let us seek God and love, chaverim!  Shabbat Shalom.

Our Good Shepherd...


08.11.17 (Av 19, 5777)  The walk of faith is one of "holy suspense," trusting that God is on the other side of the next moment, "preparing a place for you" (John 14:3). In the present, then, we live in unknowing dependence, walking by faith, not by sight. For "hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he sees?" (Rom. 8:24). This is the existential posture of faith - walking in darkness while completely trusting in God's daily care. Our task at any given moment is always the same - to look to God and to accept His will. This is where time and eternity meet within us, where God's kingdom is revealed in our hearts. Therefore Yeshua taught us: "Don't be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow has its own troubles. Live one day at a time" (Matt. 6:34). It makes no sense to worry about the future if the LORD is the Good Shepherd who tenderly watches over your way (Psalm 23:1).

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."
(Psalm 23:1-3)

Hebrew Study Card

"Who among you fears the LORD and hears (שָׁמַע) 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... I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them" (Isa. 50;10; 42:16). 

Shabbat Shalom, friends. Thank you for your prayers and support as we press on together, studying Scripture and seeking God's face... May the LORD bless you and keep you always....

The Bread of Life...


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

08.11.17 (Av 19, 5777)   Our Torah portion for this week includes the famous statement: "Man does not live by bread alone (על־הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם), but from everything that comes from the mouth of the LORD shall he live" (Deut. 8:3). Note that Yeshua quoted this verse when he was tested with physical hunger in the desert (Matt. 4:3-4). Eating is inherently a sacrificial act: We must "eat life" in order to live....  But while physical food helps us survive, we must ask the question, for what end? Do we live for the sake of eating (and thereby live to eat for another day, and so on), or do we eat in order to live? If the latter, then what is the goal of such life?  What is the source of its nutrient and where is it taking you? What does your soul or "inner man" feed upon to gain the spiritual will to live?

כִּי לא עַל־הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם
כִּי עַל־כָּל־מוֹצָא פִי־יהוה יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם

ki  · lo · al-ha·le·chem · le·va·do · yich·yeh · ha·a·dam;
ki · al-kol-mo·tza · fi-Adonai · yich·yeh · ha·a·dam


"Man does not live on bread alone, but by everything that comes
from the mouth of the LORD does man live" (Deut. 8:3)

Hebrew Study Card

Both the written Torah and Yeshua (who is the true embodiment and expression of Torah) attest that we receive sustenance from the Word of God (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים), the Source of spiritual life.  But the word of God itself expresses the message of the very love of God (אַהֲבַת הָאֱלהִים) that always sustains us -- whether we are conscious of this or not. After all, for those of us who understand our brokenness and radical dependence for deliverance from ourselves, what "word" could we possibly endure were it not His words of hope, consolation, and even endearment?  The Love of God is our life, chaverim, and the love of God is most clearly seen in the life and sacrificial death of Yeshua the Messiah...

May we always remember that our very spiritual life -- its source and its end -- depends upon receiving the word of the Living God who is King of Eternity (אֱלהִים חַיִּים וּמֶלֶךְ עוֹלָם). He is the Bread of our Life (לֶחֶם הַחַיִּים) who speaks life-giving words of hope and love to all who will attend themselves to His Presence. 

The Ineffable Name...


08.11.17 (Av 19, 5777)   The "tetragrammaton," or the four-letter name YHVH (יהוה), is regarded as God's "proper name" in the Scriptures, though it is better to understand it as a metaphorical term that points to God's ineffable and infinite essence (אין סוף). This is plainly taught in Torah. For instance when Moses asked for God's Name, God replied, ehyeh asher ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה), "I AM that I AM" (or "I will be what I will be"), abbreviated simply as ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה), "I AM" (Exod. 3:14). Note that God identified himself with Being itself, since ehyeh is the Qal imperfect form of the verb hayah (הָיָה), meaning "to be." Indeed, the Name YHVH (יהוה) essentially means the "Eternal Presence," since God is called ha'hoveh, ve'hayah, ve'yavo (הַהוֶה וְהָיָה וְיָבוֹא) - "the One who is, and was, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8). This "threefold Name" of the LORD of Hosts encompasses all possible states of being, indicating that God is LORD over all possible worlds... Amen. God's power and understanding are infinite (Psalm 147:5) and his Name is a mystery: "His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many crowns, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself" (Rev. 19:12). So while the Scripture indeed states "the LORD is your name forever" (יהוה שִׁמְךָ לְעוֹלָם), the Hebrew can be read, "the LORD is your name for the world (i.e., לְעוֹלָם), indicating that it is a name accommodated for the language of mankind. Indeed the philosophical idea of a "name" implies "substance" and a definable essence, but the LORD transcends logical analysis and taxonomies. In this connection note that Yeshua taught us to simply regard God as "Abba," our Heavenly Father, likening the Infinite Mystery of Reality to that of a personal and loving providence. The LORD God is both "transcendent," that is, high above all we can ever fully know or describe, but He is also "immanent," that is, as close as our hearts and the breath from our lips (see Deut. 30:14). God's unsearchable greatness, power, and love extend to every possible world, unto the "breadth and length and height and depth" of all that exists, and that includes the inner recesses of your heart...

    "May you, being rooted and grounded in love, have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Messiah that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:18-19).

There are two places in the Torah when God explicitly revealed the meaning of the name YHVH (יהוה) to Moses. Both occurred at Sinai. The first occurred at the outset of Moses' ministry (at the burning bush when he was commissioned to be Israel's deliverer), and the second occurred after incident of the Golden Calf during the time of the revelation of the law at Sinai.  It was only after Moses despaired and confessed the people's need for salvation that the LORD instructed him to meet him again at a place (i.e., makom: מָקוֹם) on the top of Sinai, where He would descend in the cloud to "declare His Name" (Exod. 33:17-34:7). This dramatic experience of revelation was later called middot ha-rachamim, or the revelation of the attributes of God's mercy...

Of the thirteen attributes that defined the meaning of YHVH as our merciful Savior, two are joined together. The LORD is rav chesed ve-emet (רַב־חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת), "abundant in lovingkindness and truth," indicating that his love is always a part of reality... In other words, just as God's Name means "presence" and "breath," it also means "compassion" and "love." As Yeshua said: "I am the Aleph and the Tav," says the LORD God (יְהוָה אֱלהִים), "the One who is and who was and who is to come, the Lord of Hosts (יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת)." Yeshua is the revelation of the Name of God, YHVH clothed in the flesh. As he testified to the Jewish people: "Most assuredly I say to you, before Abraham was, ehyeh: I AM" (John 8:58).

Note:  Some people object to the name "Jesus," claiming that it has pagan (or "Zeus") connotations. However, there is absolutely nothing misleading about the name Jesus, even though it is a Latin transliteration (i.e., IESUS) derived from the Greek transliteration (Ιησοῦς) of the original Hebrew, which later appears in its shortened form as Yeshua (e.g., 1 Chron. 24:11; Neh. 8:17). Note that the name Yehoshua comes from the verb יָשַׁע, "to save," and יה, a shortened form of YHVH, and therefore means "the LORD saves." According to the late Dr. David Flusser, Professor of Early Christianity and Judaism of the Second Temple Period at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, "Yeshua" was the third most popular male name during the time of the Second Temple period. For more on this topic, see the Names of G-d section of this website. Shalom chaverim!

Torah of the Spirit...


08.11.17 (Av 19, 5777)   "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness" (Matt. 7:21-23). This is why we say, "Blessed are You, LORD our God... who sanctifies us with His commandments..." The giving of the commandments is a gift that enables us to walk in the righteousness of life (Prov. 12:28). "If you know that he is righteous, you also know that everyone who practices righteousness has been fathered by him" (1 John 2:29).

It is clear from various Scriptures that we are not justified by means of law-keeping (Rom. 11:6; Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5; 1 Cor. 1:29; Jer. 9:23-24; Isa. 64:6; Zech. 3:4, etc.), though on the other hand that does not excuse us from doing the works of righteousness (Matt. 5:16; Eph. 2:10; 1 John 2:29; Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:12; Col. 1:10; Gal. 5:6, etc. ). The LORD did not "waste His breath" revealing the principles of moral righteousness to the Jewish people, and therefore the followers of Messiah, the anointed King of the Jews, are to "study to show themselves approved unto God" (2 Tim. 2:15) as talmidim (disciples).  Indeed, it is the spirit of truth poured out in the new covenant that "writes Torah upon our hearts" so that we can please God (see Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 10:16). The "law of the Spirit of life in Yeshua" (תּוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים בְּיֵשׁוּעַ) empowers to serve God according to a new principle of freedom. After all, true freedom doesn't mean doing "whatever you want," but rather means the power to choose contrary to the demands of your lower nature. We "put off" the old self and "put on" the new (Eph. 4:22-24). It is the divinely imparted "new nature" that gives us the power to "put to death" the old self by reckoning it crucified with Messiah (Gal. 2:19-20). Obedience to the Torah of Yeshua leads to further revelation, just as disobedience to it leads to further darkness (Matt. 13:12). Yeshua is only the "Author of Eternal Salvation" for those who heed and obey Him (Heb. 5:9). Sanctification is a matter of faith: "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25).

The Shema says, "And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart" (Deut. 6:6). The sages note the distance between the mouth and the heart is as that from earth to heaven. Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves (James 1:22). Put the word into practice and your heart will awaken to heavenly realities. Words that enter the heart become part of your being, and the gateway to the heart are works of love.

Obedience for Good...


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

08.11.17 (Av 19, 5777)   "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you, but to revere the LORD your God, to walk in divine paths, to love and serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?" (Deut. 10:11-12). In this passage God asks for you to be healed, to be made whole, to be loved, and to be set free, but these blessings come from being in an existential and trusting connection with him. Loving God is "for your good" (לְטוֹב לָךְ), though the ostensible appeal for personal reward for obedience may be understood as a sort of concession to our frailties as human beings. Are we asked to obey God for the sake of getting a reward? Should that be the ulterior motive at work in our spirituality? A baby loves based on need, though as he grows he learns to love others for who they are, not for what they can do for him. It is true, as David said in Psalm 19:11 that in the keeping of God's commandments there is "great reward" (i.e., עֵקֶב רָב, alluding to the blessing of Israel), though the true "reward" is found in personally knowing God. What greater reward could there be, after all? The Torah's point here is that obeying God is for our own ultimate good, though this is understood to constitute a good that transcends the hedonism of the ego. At first we may be moved to serve God for the sake of some kind of reward (or to escape punishment), but as we grow in our understanding we begin to realize that there can be no genuine reward apart from the gift of God Himself, and every blessing we receive is meant to be humbly shared with others.

"And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but ... to love the LORD your God with all your heart? (Deut. 10:12). Here we may ask, Can love be commanded? Yes, first as a moral duty, and later as a passion obtained and refined by grace. As we practice our faith – as we "walk in divine paths" – we will learn to love God bekhol levavkha, and from this deep feelings will arise.  Love, however, begins in covenant, in duty, in teshuvah – an answer or response to the question, "Will you follow me?" or "Do you love me?" Only by trusting and walking in God's paths do we begin awakening to how we should live, and our behavior will transform our hearts and souls. The Ve'ahavta of the the Shema ("and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart...") puts God in front of all our experiences (see Deut. 6:5-9). As our eyes are opened we encounter blessings that remind us that we are loved, valuable, and significant people. God's commandments are "for our good" in the sense that they reveal that we are beloved children and God is our heavenly Father. The commandments are invitations to learn to love and to understand how much we are loved.

Our Daily Bread...


08.10.17 (Av 18, 5777)   "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matt. 6:11). Eating food is a spiritual occasion, an opportunity to renew deeper significance for our lives. The Torah states, "When you eat and are satisfied, bless the LORD your God for the good" (Deut. 8:10). Giving thanks sanctifies our experience; it is not just a "polite" thing to do but is at the very heart of leading a Torah-true life... The daily bread of God is what sustains and nourishes our way through this world; it is the bread of hope, the bread of healing, the bread of love. Therefore dirshuni yichyu: "Seek God and live!" (Amos 5:4). The Lord gives us daily bread (לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ) so that we return to Him over and over in our need. God wants us to depend on Him, to keep asking, seeking, knocking.... Storing up manna leads to rottenness because faith is always a present concern. God's truth is not a static thing (like a noun), but rather is alive, purposive, and full of action (like a verb). We keep trusting; we keep walking; we keep pressing on, etc. Therefore Yeshua says, "Follow me; take my yoke upon you, and you will learn." "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8).

Our Torah portion this week says, "And you shall eat and be satisfied, and you shall bless the LORD your God (וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ) for the good..." (Deut. 8:10). From this verse we learn the Torah of Gratitude (תּוֹרַת הַכָּרָת טוֹבָה), that is, acknowledgment of God's blessing in our lives. Even in our times in the desert, when we are tested and experience various trials, we are instructed to open our eyes and be thankful.  Dayenu! God's grace is sufficient for us, for in times of trouble we often grown the most, as it is written: ἡ γὰρ δύναμίς μου ἐν ἀσθενείᾳ τελειοῦται– God's power is perfected in our infirmities (2 Cor. 12:9).

The Oneness of God...


08.10.17 (Av 18, 5777)   Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad: "Hear, O Israel, the LORD (יהוה) is our God (אלהים), the LORD (יהוה) is one (Deut. 6:4). Here many of the sages regard the great affirmation of faith to be that the LORD – YHVH – the very Source and Breath of Life – is none other than Elohim, that is, the Creator, the King, and the Judge over all. YHVH and Elohim are "one," God's compassion and justice are bound together in perfect unity. Some have said "Elohim" is likened to fate, the inevitable weight of reality, or the "law" of moral consequences, whereas YHVH is likened to possibility, to what hope foresees, and therefore to mercy, transformation, deliverance, and salvation. Ultimately the Shema centers on the reconciliation of the truth of what is with what is possible as revealed in the Messiah. At the cross God's attributes of absolute justice and infinite mercy are mediated, reconciled, and made one. "Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him... mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth springs up from the earth; righteousness looks down from heaven" (Psalm 85:9-11).

Note:  You cannot have the Shema (Deut. 6:4) without the Ve'ahavta (Deut. 6:5-11): "Listen... you shall love..." The Ve'ahavta is called kabbalat ol ha'mitzvot (קבלת עול המצוות) - the acceptance of the yoke of the commandments, which means we should not merely know intellectually that there is a God, but that we should love God by serving others in this world. Shema -- "listen" – ve'ahavta – "you shall love." The imperative arises from the Reality; God is the Source o four life, and we share that life with others. Teshuvah ("repentance") is our faithful response to the question of whether we will embrace God's love for us.

Gratitude and Seeing...


08.10.17 (Av 18, 5777)   From our Torah this week (i.e., Eikev) we read: "And you shall bless the LORD your God for the good..." (Deut. 8:10). Whenever we derive benefit or enjoyment from something we are to bless (i.e., thank) God for his goodness. Indeed 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 see is ultimately 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 are awakened to God's Presence in the little things of life, those small miracles and "signs and wonders" that constantly surround us.  The good eye of faith sees hundreds of reasons to bless God for the  gift of life (1 Cor. 10:31). The LORD is "enthroned among the blessings of His people" (Psalm 22:3).

The thank offering mentioned in the Torah (i.e., zevach ha-todah: זֶבַח הַתּוֹדָד) reappears in the New Testament. In the Book of Hebrews were are instructed to "continually offer up a sacrifice of thanks (זֶבַח תּוֹדָה) to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his Name" (Heb. 13:15). It is interesting to note that the Greek verb used to "offer up" (i.e., ἀναφέρω) is used to translate the Hebrew verb "to draw near" (karov) in Leviticus. In other words, the "offering up of thanks" for the sacrifice of Yeshua functions as "korban" and draws us near to God. Thanking God for personal deliverance constitutes "right sacrifices" (זִבְחֵי־צֶדֶק) as we draw near to God in the hope of His love (Psalm 4:5; Heb. 7:19).

"Give thanks to the LORD for He is good; his love endures forever" (Psalm 136:1); "give thanks to the LORD always" (Col. 3:17; Eph. 5:20; 1 Thess. 5:18)... Gratitude is foundational to our lives as followers of Yeshua. Indeed there are really only two prayers we ever offer to God, namely "Help, LORD!" and "Thank you, LORD." Meister Eckhart once remarked that if the only prayer you said in your entire life was, "thank you," that would suffice... Genuine prayer ultimately resolves to an expression of thanks. We are to "praise the Bridge that carries us over" into the Presence and Love of God, and that Bridge is Yeshua our Lord.

The Mystery of God...


08.10.17 (Av 18, 5777)   The Torah centers on the LORD our Savior (יהוה מושיענו) who is "God with us" (עִמָּנוּ אֵל). The whole of Scripture concerns the revelation of salvation (יְשׁוּעָה), from the very first prophecy in Eden to the culmination of a new heaven and earth (Rev. 3:15; Isa. 65:17; Rev. 21:1). The mystery of God is Messiah (τοῦ μυστηρίου τοῦ θεοῦ, Χριστοῦ) in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:2-3). Indeed the ultimate mystery is that "God was manifest in the flesh" (θεὸς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί) (Isa. 9:6; Tim. 3:16; John 1:1,14,18, Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:3; 1 John 5:20, etc.). Yeshua is "God's Word," the Living Torah (התורה החיה), the divine message, and the Voice speaking from the midst of the fire. For God, who said "Let light shine out of darkness," is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Messiah" (2 Cor. 4:6). With the advent of the Lord our Savior, God speaks "in Son" (ἐν υἱῷ) and there is no true Torah apart from the Heart of God manifested in the "panim el panim" revelation of Yeshua, who alone is the Mediator and Bridge between heaven and earth. People seek God in all manner of experience, but if they do not seek God in the Messiah, the Transcendent One who emptied Himself to the depths of dust, they will never find Him (Phil. 2:7; 2 Cor. 8:9).


Faith and Healing...


08.10.17 (Av 18, 5777)   Abraham, in despair over everything natural, found the truth of God: "And he believed in the LORD, and the LORD counted it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). Abraham was made right with God as he crossed over from the realm of this world to take hold of unseen beauty and promise...  After all, what is "justification by faith" if it is not the reality that we partake of the divine blessing and heavenly promises solely on account of the righteousness and goodness of God?  Justification is God's business, not our own; it is the divine prerogative to initiate and reveal the glory of salvation. Our response is to simply believe, to let go off our own attempts to justify ourselves, and to allow God to love us.  We have nothing within ourselves to offer the Almighty; rather we trust in the mercy of God to heal us and declare us as righteous... "O LORD, I am made small before all your kindnesses and all your faithfulness, which you have showed to your servant..." (Gen. 32:10). Jacob was "made small" through the revelation of love and truth, and the focus shifted away from himself. "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). This is not an act of the intellect as much as it is an act of will: It is faith in God to do the miracle of transformation. We are called God's workmanship (ποίημα τοῦ Θεοῦ). As Luther once said, "Abraham closed his eyes and hid himself in the darkness of faith, and therein he found light eternal."

Prophetic Listening...


08.10.17 (Av 18, 5777)   A verse from our Torah portion this week (i.e., Eikev) recalls Yeshua's words that "every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old" (Matt. 13:53). Rashi noted that the phrase, "And it shall come to pass if you hear" in Deut. 11:13, i.e., ve'hayah im shamo'a tishme'u (וְהָיָה אִם־שָׁמעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ), is grammatically puzzling, since it the Hebrew literally reads "if you hear, you will hear," which suggests that as we listen attentively to the words of Torah, we will hear more, and we will encounter spiritual connections and applications that are new and ready for this hour. The early sages commented: "If you listen to the old, you will listen to the new" (Berachot 40a). Focusing our attention on the commandments even while in exile is likened to practice for the world to come, since then they will not be new to you when the final redemption appears. Happy are those who love the Torah. More light comes as we live in the truth (John 13:17). As Yeshua also said: "For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away" (Matt. 13:12).

A Circumcised Heart...


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

08.09.17 (Av 17, 5777)   Our Torah for this week (Eikev) appeals to our need to forgive: "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer hardened" (Deut. 10:16). The metaphor of a "circumcised heart" (ברית מילה של הלב) symbolizes cutting away the outer covering of the heart so that it is "opened up" to feel once again. God wants us to let go of "hard feelings" so we can experience compassion (i.e., com+passion: "feeling-with") and sympathy for other people... Heart circumcision represents a radical turning away from the insular realm of the self toward the emotional realm of others and God. When our hearts are open, we are able to receive the flow of the Spirit of God and obey the "law of the Messiah" (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) to bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2).

וּמַלְתֶּם אֵת עָרְלַת לְבַבְכֶם
וְעָרְפְּכֶם לא תַקְשׁוּ עוֹדָ

u·mal·tem · et · or·lat · le·vav·khem
ve·or·pe·khem · lo · tak·shu · od

"Circumcise the foreskin of your heart,
and be no longer hardened"
(Deut. 10:16)


Physical circumcision represents a sign or mark of inclusion; it is a token that you are one of God's family, a Jew, though it is only a sign or token. Spiritual circumcision is an inner operation of the heart that marks you a true child of heaven. It is about your identity and purpose. Therefore we see the paradox that some physical Jews are not spiritual Jews, and some spiritual Jews are not physical Jews (though some are both), as the Apostle Paul said: For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God (Rom. 2:28-29).

Spiritually speaking, a heart that is insensitive, indifferent, unfeeling, and callous toward the needs of others is regarded as "hard." Sometimes such hardness comes as a result of living in a fallen world. Many wounded people live with "scar tissue" that surrounds their heart, making them feel numb and unwilling to open up and trust others. Their affections have become disordered and their ego rationalizes blaming others or seeking various forms of entitlement. "Turning off your heart" can mean suppressing any positive regard for others (empathy) while nurturing anger and self-righteousness, or it may mean withdrawing from others as a lifeless shell (both approaches vainly attempt to defend the heart from hurt). Although Yeshua always showed great compassion, especially to the wounded and broken in spirit (Isa. 42:3), He regularly condemned the "hardness of heart" ("sclero-cardia," σκληροκαρδία) of those who opposed his message of healing and love.

A hard heart is closed off and impermeable to love from others, and especially from God. It is a "difficult" (קָשֶׁה) heart, inflexible and even cruel.  Scripture uses various images to picture this condition, including a "heart of stone" (Ezek. 36:26, Zech. 7:12), an "uncircumcised heart" (Jer. 9:26), a "stiff neck" (Deut. 31:27), and so on. Stubbornness is really a form of idolatry, an exaltation of self-will that refuses to surrender to God. If you are wounded and afraid to open your heart in trust to others, ask God for healing...

Hardness of heart is something all of us deal with, even those who trust in Yeshua. After all, New Covenant believers are commanded to "put off the old self with its practices" (Col. 3:9) and are urged not to harden their hearts (μὴ σκληρύνητε τὰς καρδίας) through unbelief (Heb. 3:8,15, 4:7). May God's love help us keep our hearts soft and open toward others... May He give us a new heart, and put a new spirit within us. May He remove the heart of stone (לֵב הָאֶבֶן) from us and give us a heart of flesh (לֵב בָּשָׂר). May we be lev echad - "one heart" - with one another and with the Father (Ezek. 11:19). May we be so sensitized to the Presence of God that we detect the slightest touch from His hand upon us. Amen.

Believing in Love...


08.08.17 (Av 16, 5777)   From our Torah portion for this week (i.e., parashat Eikev) we read: "But now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask from you ... but to love him with all your heart and with all your soul?" (Deut. 10:12). But how are we able to love God be'khol levavka (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ) – "with all our heart" – and be'khol nafshekha (וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶׁךָ) - "with all our soul," apart from healing of the brokenness that makes our hearts divided and sick?  That is what the redemption from Egypt was about: we were personally chosen by God, redeemed by his grace, led out from from cruel bondage, only to be led into the desert, away from the world, where we slowly began to understand that we were valued, cared for, and beloved of God. We believed in the possibility of promise, of covenant... Only then could we hear the request from heaven: "Now love Me..." In other words, we can only truly love God by knowing we are beloved by God, and the invitation to love him is a response of his great passion for you (1 John 4:19). Accept that you are accepted in the heart of the Beloved (Eph. 1:4-6).

For more on this, see "Blessings and Brokenness."

Cleaving to God...


08.08.17 (Av 16, 5777)   Faith perseveres in the way of life... "You who have clung to the LORD your God are all alive today" (Deut. 4:4). The Hebrew word devakut (דְּבָקוּת) means "cleaving" and refers to communion with God. This word comes from davak (דָּבַק), meaning to "cling" or "stick" (the Modern Hebrew word for "glue" is devek (דֶבֶק) which also comes from the same root). Devakut, then, implies being intimately connected with God in an earnest and passionate relationship.... The sages comment that we can cleave to God only one day at a time, since our future is conditioned upon this present day and its challenges. As Yeshua said: "Take therefore no thought for tomorrow: for tomorrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient for the day its own trouble" (Matt. 6:34). One day at a time. The LORD gives us daily bread (לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ) so that we may persevere for this day; he feeds us with hunger to teach us to rely on alone him for true life (Deut. 8:3). "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand today -- if you hear his voice" (Psalm 95:7). Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart (Heb. 3:15). "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God, but encourage one another every day, as long as it is called "today," so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:12-13).

דָּבְקָה נַפְשִׁי אַחֲרֶיךָ
בִּי תָּמְכָה יְמִינֶךָ

da·ve·kah · naf·shi · a·cha·re·kha
bi · tam·khah · ye·mi·ne·kha


"My soul clings to you;
Your right hand upholds me."
(Psalm 63:8)

Hebrew Study Card


Making Room for Wonder...


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

08.08.17 (Av 16, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Eikev) we read: "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?" (Deut. 10:12-13). Ultimately we must make the choice whether we will respect life or not, and that is the question before us... In this present world, God "hides" so that people may seek him (Isa. 45:15; Matt. 13:10-15). The voice of conscience may be suppressed and the revelation of nature ignored; moreover, some things are perceived only if they are looked for in the right way, and the Divine Presence is not apprehended apart from humility and reverence. We must "make room" for wonder; we must open the "eye of the heart" to see what is greater than our everyday vision. "It is good to look at the sky often, as this helps develop the awe of God." Indeed the word for fear, yirah (יִרְאָה), is connected with the word for seeing, ra'ah (רָאָה). 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. In this sense, "fear and trembling" (φόβοv καὶ τρόμοv) before the LORD is a description of the inner awareness of the sanctity and eternal significance of life itself (Psalm 2:11, Phil. 2:12).

The fear of God is paradoxical. One verse teaches the fear of the Lord (i.e., his power), another teaches the "fear not" love of the Lord (i.e., his grace). We are drawn to God in adoration, appreciation, wonder, and love, and yet we are compelled to shrink back because of His overwhelming power, glory, holiness, and radiance. Therefore we see "the disciple whom Jesus loved" both leaning on his chest but also falling on his face in "dreadful adoration" (John 13:23; Rev. 1:17). Only when these heart attitudes are combined is the heart balanced. But the fear of the Lord is primary (see Psalm 110:10; Prov. 1:7, 9:10), and when we walk in it, we are released from the ordinary fears of men by apprehending a far surpassing power that overrules all things. Again, it is a paradox: if we fear lesser things we lose sight of the awe of God; but if we first revere God, we will lose sight of lesser fears.

In Jewish tradition, seeing the Presence of God in all things is called yirat ha-rommemnut (יִרְאַת הָרוֹמְמוּת), or the "Awe of the Exalted."  We might get a sense of this reverential awe when we behold the canopy of stars in the night sky, or when we look down from atop a mountain peak, or when we catch site of a spectacular sunset. Or we might experience it during the birth of a baby or the death of a loved one... This sense of awe or "transcendent mystery" is also called yirat Adonai (יִרְאַת יְהוָה), the "fear of the Name." It presents a holy hush, a feeling that you are standing before something utterly wonderful, sacred, set apart, mysterious, and profoundly significant; it both attracts yet causes you to draw back... 

Religion vs. Spirituality...


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

08.08.17 (Av 16, 5777)   It has been wisely said that "religion is for people afraid of going to hell; spirituality is for those who have been there...." Religion seeks defense of the ego and delights in the idea of personal reward; spirituality seeks death of the ego and delights in the idea of shared love... Studying the Scriptures for the sake of "religion" is ultimately self-defeating, since the answer is not religion but spiritual rebirth: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).

"Circumcise your hearts," our Torah says, "and be no longer 'difficult' (i.e., לא תַקְשׁוּ עוֹד) [Deut. 10:16]. Find a way to feel, to care, to sympathize once again... "It is enough to open your heart the smallest amount - even the width of a pin head - to repent, so that you feel a prick within your heart, like a piercing sting in living tissue, not like a needle thrust into dead flesh" (Menachem Mendel of Kotzk).

וּמַלְתֶּם אֵת עָרְלַת לְבַבְכֶם
וְעָרְפְּכֶם לא תַקְשׁוּ עוֹד

u·mal·tem · et · or·lat · le·vav·khem
ve·or·pek·hem · lo · tak·shu · od


"Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart,
and be no longer difficult."
(Deut. 10:16)


Thou Shalt be Satisfied...


[ The Torah reading for this week is parashat Eikev, traditionally read during Shabbat Va'tomer, the second "Sabbath of consolation" after Tishah B'Av. ]

08.07.17 (Av 15, 5777)   Our Torah portion this week includes the remarkable commandment: "And you shall eat and be satisfied" (Deut. 8:10), which means that God desires for us to receive the goodness of life itself. "Taste and see that the LORD is good." Addictions, cravings, lusts, etc., arise from a refusal to be satisfied, by hungering for more than the blessing of the present moment. "My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13). The living waters are present for us, but we will only find them if we open our hearts to the wonder of God in this moment. We can "break the spell" of continual dissatisfaction, of the power of greed, ambition, and so on, when we discover that our constant hunger is really a cry for God and His blessing. This is the blessed "hunger and thirst" given by the Spirit (Matt. 5:6). Our sense of inner emptiness is an invitation to come to the waters and drink life. So come to God's table and ask the Lord Yeshua to give you the water that will satisfy your heart's true thirst for life...

וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ
עַל־הָאָרֶץ הַטּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַן־לָךְ

ve·a·khal·ta · ve·sa·va·ta · u·ve·rakh·ta · et · Adonai · e·lo·he·kha
al · ha·a·retz · ha·to·vah · a·sher · na·tan · lakh

"And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the LORD your God
for the good land he has given you."
(Deut. 8:10)


"Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack" (Psalm 34:8-9). We can only "taste and see" when we are earnest however, when we seek God with passion... When you pray, lift up your heart and soul to God, asking for the miracle to surrender to Him in the truth. Where it says, "with all your heart" (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ), present before him all your passion and desires; your hopes and your needs, your fears and your anger; and where it says, "with all your soul" (וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ), offer before him your very soul, as if to be sacrificed in his service; and where it says, "with all your muchness" (וּבְכָל־מְאדֶךָ) offer to him all your strength, all your means, and all your dreams. Ask to be filled with the Ruach HaKodesh to be enabled to apprehend the glory of God in the face of the Messiah (בִּפְנֵי הַמָּשִׁיחַ), through whom we are being transformed for the glory of God.

The "Whole" Commandment...


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

08.07.17 (Av 15, 5777)  "The whole commandment that I command you today you shall observe and do, so that you may live..." (Deut. 8:1). The Hebrew phrase kol ha'mitzvah (כָּל־הַמִּצְוָה), here translated as "the whole commandment," refers to the heart attitude, or the inner passion of the soul. Some have linked the word "commandment" (מִצְוָה) with the word "connection" (צוותא), suggesting that God's commandments are the means by which we cleave to Him, as is written: "this is the love of God (אַהֲבַת אֱלהִים), that we keep his commandments" (1 John 5:3). The commandments are "for life" (Lev. 18:5), which means they serve as the call of the Beloved to rise to something far greater... The "Whole Commandment" is to walk in God's love. As it is written, tamim yiyeh im Adonai Elohekha: "You shall be wholehearted with the LORD your God" (Deut. 18:13), and "Fear God and keep his commandments - כִּי־זֶה כָּל־הָאָדָם - for this is the whole man" (Eccl. 12:13).

The Kotzker once said, "The prohibition against making idols includes the prohibition against making idols out of the commandments. We should never imagine that the whole purpose of the Torah is its outer form, but rather the inward meaning." Indeed, sacrificial blood was placed over the tablets of the law (i.e., the blood sprinkled on the kapporet, or the "crown" of the Ark) that represented God's forgiveness and atonement for sin. The life is "in the blood," which represents God's passion, the deepest truth of Torah. And this is the message of the gospel itself, of course, since the blood of Yeshua passionately shed for our sake has opened up a new and everlasting way for us to be rightly related to God (Heb. 9:12).

Seeing the Sacred...


08.07.17 (Av 15, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Eikev) we read: "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God..." (Deut. 10:12). Every moment of life is an opportunity to ask the question: "How may I see the sacred here?" How may I revere and esteem the gift of life? How may I perceive the awe of God? Seize the moment and walk in God's way, today, now, and in this hour. Open your heart; renew your mind; turn to the light; find the sacred in your midst...

הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה דַּרְכֶּךָ
אֲהַלֵּךְ בַּאֲמִתֶּךָ
יַחֵד לְבָבִי לְיִרְאָה שְׁמֶךָ

ho·rei·ni · Adonai · dar·ke·kha
a·hal·lekh · ba·a·mi·te·kha
ya·ched · le·va·vi · le·yir·ah · she·me·kha

"Teach me your way, O LORD,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your Name"
(Psalm 86:11)


King David understood the great need for focus, for passion, for surrender: "One thing I ask of the Lord; that is what I will seek" (Psalm 27:4). Therefore he prayed for deep healing: "Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your Name" (Psalm 86:11). David understood that walking in the truth required "uniting his heart," or "repairing the breach" within his inner affections so that he could experience God's Presence... He needed emotional healing from inner wounds that split him off from reality. In effect, David prayed: "After You have healed my ambivalent heart, I will thank You with all my heart - entirely, wholly, completely - and I will glorify Your Name forever. My healing comes from Your great love (chesed) toward me, and through your love I am delivered free from the depths of hell" (Psalm 86:12-13).

Where it says, Ve'ahavta et Adonai be'khol levavkha – "you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart" (Deut. 6:5) that includes both your "good heart" and your "bad heart" – that is, all of you, all of your being, the whole person. Come as you are - broken, fragmented, divided within - and ask God to unify your heart by the miracle of his grace...

Tu B'Av - the 15th of Av...


[ This evening, August 6th (at sundown), is the 15th of Av - otherwise called Tu B'Av... ]

08.06.17 (Av 14, 5777)   The Torah teaches that because of the Sin of the Spies, the entire generation of Israelites rescued from Egypt was sentenced to die in the desert (Num. 13-14). According to the Midrash Eichah Rabbah, every year until the fortieth year (after the Exodus), on the eve of the Ninth of Av, Moses would command the people, "Go out and dig," and the people would leave the camp, dig graves, and sleep in them overnight. The following morning a messenger would proclaim, "Let the living separate from the dead!" Fifteen thousand would die that very night, but the survivors would return to the camp for another year.... This occurred year after year, but in the fortieth year no one died. Since they thought they might have miscalculated the days, they slept in their graves an additional night. This went on for five nights until the fifteenth of Av, when they saw the full moon, realized that there calculations were correct, and rejoiced that no more of the first generation would die. They subsequently declared Tu B'Av a day of celebration. The "desert generation" had finally died off and the new generation was finally ready to enter the land!

Just as Yom Kippur originally celebrated the reconciliation of Israel to the LORD after the sin of the Golden Calf, so Tu B'Av originally celebrated the reconciliation of Israel for the Sin of the Spies. Therefore both the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur became joyous times celebrating forgiveness and restoration to the LORD. The Babylonian Talmud (Ta'anit 31a) quotes Shimon ben Gamliel as saying, "Israel had no holidays as joyous as the fifteenth of Av and the Day of Atonement, when the maidens of Israel would go out and dance in the vineyards... What were they saying: Young man, consider whom you choose to be your wife..."

Indeed an old  midrash says that 40 days before a person is conceived in the womb, God decrees who that person's life partner will be (Talmud: Mo'ed Katan 18b). The sages calculate that Tu B'Av falls 40 days before Elul 25, the traditional date of the creation of the universe, and infer that at that time - before the foundation of the world - God "chose us to be His beloved (Eph. 1:4). Tu B'Av reminds us of the deeper truth that you were created to be in a love relationship with God!

In modern Israel, Tu B'Av is observed as an annual holiday of love and affection (i.e., chag ha-ahavah: חַג הָאַהֲבָה) that is celebrated like "Valentine's Day" (though it is a much older holiday of course).  However, since it is the "last" festival of the Jewish year, Tu B'Av prophetically pictures our marriage to the Lamb of God (Seh Elohim), Yeshua our beloved Messiah. On a soon-coming day those who belong to him and are faithful to follow his ways will be blessed with the unspeakable joy as their "wedding day" finally has come. This is heaven itself - to be in the Presence of the LORD and to be His beloved (Rev. 19:6-9).

With the advent of the holiday of Tu B'Av, we are reminded of the beautiful phrase, ani l'dodi ve'dodi li (אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי), "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine" (Song. 6:3), a phrase the sages say is an acronym for the name Elul (אלול). Now the month of Elul begins in just a couple of weeks (i.e., Monday, August 21st this year), and the entire month is set apart to prepare us for the coming High Holidays that begin late September During this time it we engage in cheshbon ha-nefesh ("soul searching") and to derive comfort that God is forgiving and loving to those who turn to Him. The sages chose the seven "Haftarot of comfort" to encourage us to make our hearts ready for the upcoming High Holiday Season.

Note: Why is the 15th of Av called Tu B'Av? Well, as you perhaps know, Hebrew letters can be used to express numbers.  Joining the letters Tet (9) and Vav (6), for example, equals the number 15, sometimes written as the acronym "Tu" (ט"ו). The phrase "Tu B'Av" (ט"ו באב) indicates the 15th day of the month of Av (אָב), a "full-moon" holiday that has been celebrated as a day of love and affection since the First Temple period.

Parashat Eikev - עקב


[ The Torah reading for this week is parashat Eikev, which is traditionally read during Shabbat Va'tomer, the second "Sabbath of Consolation" after Tishah B'Av. ]

08.06.17 (Av 14, 5777)   In our Torah reading for this week (i.e., parashat Eikev), Moses continues his farewell address to Israel by saying, "And because (עֵקֶב) you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the  love that he swore to your fathers" (Deut. 7:12). Note that the word eikev (עֵקֶב), often translated "because," literally means "heel," which recalls Jacob (יעקב) the "heel-holder" who wrestled with the pain of his past to learn to bear the name Israel (יִשְׂרָאֵל), the "prince of God" (Gen. 32:28)... And like Jacob, we must grapple to believe that the covenant of God's love and acceptance is for us, too... The Sassover rebbe interpreted the opening verse of our Torah portion, "And because you will listen..." (וְהָיָה עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן) as, "and it shall be when your heel is ready to take a step, you will listen to your heart." This is the step of faith. As you begin to walk with God, you will come to know yourself as a child of the great King.  Likewise regarding the related verse in the Torah, "Because Abraham heard my voice" (עֵקֶב אֲשֶׁר־שָׁמַע אַבְרָהָם בְּקלִי), the sages read, "Abraham heard the word 'down to his heel'" (Gen. 26:5). Like Abraham, we will hear God's voice as we walk with him by faith...

עֵץ־חַיִּים הִיא לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ
וְתמְכֶיהָ מְאֻשָּׁר

etz · cha·yim · hi · la·ma·cha·zi·kim · bah
ve·to·me·khe·ha · me·u·shar

"A tree of life is Torah to those who lay hold of it;
those who grasp it are called blessed"
(Prov. 3:18)

Hebrew Study Card


Our portion begins: "ve'hayah eikev..." (Deut. 7:12). Here translators differ about how to understand the Hebrew. The JS version, for instance, renders this as "and if you listen," whereas others render it as, "and because you listen..." The former translation makes the blessing seem conditional upon obedience, whereas the latter reading affirms the obedience that leads to blessing...  The Hebrew word eikev (i.e., עקב, "heel," "step"), however, refers to action, and therefore it may be regarded as a prophecy expressing faith that the blessing which God swore on oath will be fulfilled.

Haftarah for Eikev...

Note that the weekly haftarah portion (i.e., reading from the Prophets) is usually thematically connected with the weekly Torah portion; however, after the fast of Tishah B'Av, and for the next seven weeks (49 days) leading up Rosh Hashanah (i.e., the new year), we read selections of comfort that foretell of the future redemption of the Jewish people and the coming Messianic Era. In other words, we have a seven-week period of consolation, encouraging us to keep our hope alive, culminating in the "jubilee" of the Jewish new year. This week we will read Va'tomer Tziyon ("But Zion said...") from Isaiah 49:14-51:3.  Here we read of God's consolation to Israel: "Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me" (Isa. 49:15-16). The Haftarah concludes by Isaiah saying that the LORD will comfort the Mountain of Zion by making it like the Garden of Eden, with joy and happiness within her, along with thanksgiving and the sound of song.

Immanence and Exile...


08.04.17 (Av 12, 5777)   The Sacred Name of God [יהוה] is formed from the words hayah ("He was"), hoveh ("He is"), and yihyeh ("He will be"): הָיָה הוֶה וְיִהְיֶה, indicating that the LORD is always present, despite momentary appearances. Note that all the letters of the Name are "vowel letters," which mean they evoke breath and life. Indeed the very first occurrence of the Holy Name in Torah regards the inspiration of nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" in Adam (Gen. 2:4). The LORD is always present for you, breathing out life and hope, despite the appearance of exile... The veil that once separated us from God has been rent asunder... Let us draw near in faith! Shabbat Shalom and love all of you who call upon the Name of the LORD!

The Works of Faith...


08.04.17 (Av 12, 5777)   From our Torah this week (i.e., Vaetchanan) we read: "And now, O Israel, shema: listen to the decrees and judgments that I am teaching you, and do them that you may live..." (Deut. 4:1). The sages have said that "the seal of God is truth," since the final letters of the three words that conclude the account of creation (Gen. 2:3) -- bara Elohim la'asot, "God created to do," spell the word for truth (emet) [i.e., בָּרָא אֱלהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת - אמת]. We do not study Torah and the Scriptures merely for intellectual edification, but l'shem shamayim, for the sake of doing the "works of love." As Rabbi Chiya said, "Someone who studies Torah but does not intend to do the mitzvot (commandments), it were better were he not created." Faith without maa'sim tovim (works) is dead, and we are to be "doers of the word" and not hearers only (James 1:22). The Baal Shem Tov said, "the object of Torah is that the individual should become Torah himself," which agrees with New Testament teaching that we are to be "living letters," expressing God's light in our daily lives through our actions (Matt. 5:16; 2 Cor. 3:3; Phil. 2:15).

וְעַתָּה יִשְׂרָאֵל שְׁמַע אֶל־הַחֻקִּים וְאֶל־הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים
אֲשֶׁר אָנכִי מְלַמֵּד אֶתְכֶם לַעֲשׂוֹת לְמַעַן תִּחְיוּ

ve·at·tah · yis·ra·el · she·ma · el · ha·chu·kim · ve·el · ha·mish·pa·tim
a·sher · a·no·khi · me·la·med · et·khem · la·a·sot · le·ma·an · ti·che·yu

"And now, O Israel, listen to the decrees and judgments
that I am teaching you, and do them that you may live..."
(Deut. 4:1)


God writes the Torah on the hearts of those who put their trust in Yeshua for righteousness (Jer. 31:31; Heb. 10:16). It is written that "we are God's workmanship, created in Yeshua the Messiah for good works (לְמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים) that God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). In other words, the agency of the good works is the reality and spirit of Yeshua within the heart of faith, not the striving of the carnal nature... Yeshua, be my inner word, my heart, and my groaning for life today, and forevermore, amen.

Awakening to Life...


08.04.17 (Av 12, 5777)   We shouldn't be surprised that most people refuse to wake up and realize the profound spiritual danger of their lives – the dread over the inevitable, the sure demise and loss of all things of this world, and the intuitive certainty of personal judgment and death – since the Scriptures declare that people willingly suppress the truth and "celebrate" untruth (see Rom. 1:20-32). Soren Kierkegaard commented: "The world wants to be deceived... intensely, more intensely, more passionately perhaps than any witness to the truth has fought for the truth, the world fights to be deceived; it most gratefully rewards with applause, money, and prestige anyone who complies with its wish to be deceived" (Judge for Yourself). Indeed, any distraction that seduces people to deny reality will suffice for the sake of untruth... The Scriptures state: "And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in the power of God" (John 3:19-21).

    "While there is nothing terrifying whatever and no terror whatever, there is nothing that builds up either, no upbuilding whatever. There is forgiveness of sin - that is upbuilding. The terrifying is that there is sin, and the magnitude of the terror in the inwardness of guilt-consciousness is proportionate to the dimension of the upbuilding. There is healing for all pain, victory in all strife, rescue in all danger - that is upbuilding. The terrifying is that there is pain, strife, danger; and the magnitude of the terrifying and the terror is proportionate to what builds up and to the upbuilding." - Soren Kierkegaard, Christian Discourses, 1848.

It's vital to remember that one of the main tactics of the devil is to cast a spell over you to induce a sense of forgetfulness and apathy... The devil wants you to forget that you are a child of the King. The entire venture of teshuvah (repentance) presupposes that you are created be'tzelem Elohim - in the image of God - and therefore you have infinite value and dignity. This is all the more evident in light of the awesome ransom that Yeshua paid to reconcile your soul with God.  Understand: the judgment is great because the love is so great... So what is one of the greatest of sins you can commit in your life? To forget what God has done for you... Remaining asleep, unmindful of your true identity is one of the most tragic things of life. Therefore the blast of the shofar is meant to jolt us from our sleep... We are to remember who we really are -- to remember that God is our King. The person who says, "Tomorrow I will do teshuvah" really is saying, "Not now." And then tomorrow comes and he says, "Not now." And in this way his entire life passes by, saying, "Not now." Finally one day he wakes up only to find himself already dead.

May God help us wake up today to the Reality that is set before us. The "End of the World" is the day you will die and give account of how you lived before the Truth of Eternity -- and there will be no more rationalizations, no more evasions, no excuses, no pretense of being a victim, that will bear on the question before the bar of heaven....

Every Prayer Answered...


08.04.17 (Av 12, 5777)   If you earnestly pray yet are tempted to think that God is not responding, remind yourself that every prayer uttered to God from a heart of honest faith, that is, from a heart that trusts in God's redemptive love given in Messiah, is indeed answered, and not a syllable goes unheeded or will be lost before heaven.  Just as assuredly we believe that no one will get away with evil -- that justice will eventually be served and all wrongs redressed at the bar of Eternal Judgment -- so we understand that every utterance of the heart of faith finds compassionate response from the heart of heaven. Indeed the essence of teshuvah (return, "repentance") is heartfelt prayer, and therefore when we bring honest words and turn back to accept the truth, God's mercy and compassion are decisively evoked (1 John 1:9). The most important thing is not to lose faith, however, but to believe that God hears you and will indeed answer the cry of your heart. Decide to believe and settle your expectation. Never give up hope. God is faithful; He will do it (1 Thess. 5:22).

שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ כִּי כָשַׁלְתָּ בַּעֲוֹנֶךָ
קְחוּ עִמָּכֶם דְּבָרִים וְשׁוּבוּ אֶל־יְהוָה
אִמְרוּ אֵלָיו כָּל־תִּשָּׂא עָוֹן וְקַח־טוֹב
וּנְשַׁלְּמָה פָרִים שְׂפָתֵינוּ

shu·vah · Yisrael · ad · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · ki · kha·shal·ta · be·a·vo·ne·kha
ke·khu · im·ma·khem · de·va·rim · ve·shu·vu · el-Adonai
im·ru · e·lav · kol-tis·sa · a·von · ve·kach-tov
u·ne·sha·le·mah · fa·rim · sa·fa·tei·nu

"Return, Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him,
"Take away all iniquity; accept what is good,
and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips." (Hos. 14:1-2)


Torah of the Neighbor...


08.04.17 (Av 12, 5777)   Our Torah reading for this week (i.e., parashat Vaetchanan) repeats Aseret Hadibrot (the Ten Commandments) as they were initially given in Parashat Yitro (Exod. 20:2-17). Though there are some slight language differences between the Exodus and Deuteronomy versions, both begin with "I AM" (אָנכִי) and both end with "[for] your neighbor" (לְרֵעֶךָ). Joining these together says "I am your neighbor," indicating that the LORD Himself is found in your neighbor. When we love our neighbor as ourselves (אָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ), we are in effect showing love for the LORD. We must learn to disregard the claims of our ego and cling to the idea of chesed. So who is your neighbor? You are -- to every other soul you may encounter this day...

Ultimate Concerns...


08.04.17 (Av 12, 5777)   Our Torah portion this week (i.e., Vaetchanan) repeats the commandment not to make an idol: "Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you... 'You shall not make for yourself a carved image (לא־תַעֲשֶׂה־לְךָ פֶסֶל) or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth" (Deut. 4:23; 5:8). Literally this refers to the ancient practice of bowing before "mediating forces" of God, often symbolized by art and ritual, as a token of respect or as a means of finding "acceptance" within a group. We are not to imitate such customs of the pagan world around us; on the contrary, we testify of the One True God and repudiate the need for intermediaries between God and man... On a different level, "bowing before an idol" means passively yielding to the world and its ideals rather than submitting to the truth. When we seek to fit in, to feel like we belong, and follow the trends and passions of the crowd, we express idolatry of heart. Most intimately, an idol is a source of desire, happiness, and security apart from the LORD. Your "god" is whatever your heart admires, follows and loves... If you have "other gods" before the LORD, then something is wrong, since we were created by God to find life in Him alone. "Surely you don't think the Scripture speaks vainly when it says: the spirit which He sent to live in us wants us for himself alone?" (James 4:5) "Grace will save a man... but it will not save him and his idol" (A.W. Tozer). Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14).

The purpose or "goal" of life is to learn to be loved by God, to accept our place within his heart, and to "live, move, and have our being" rightly related to Divine Truth revealed in Messiah. The first lesson, then, is to know who we are and how much we are loved. Learning this is often a struggle, however. We are easily distracted. We forget why we are here. Because of this we must constantly remind ourselves of our true identity, of our high calling, and the reason for our lives... Much of our trouble comes from "disordered love," by elevating what is finite to the status of the infinite. Indeed idolatry is the substitution of not-god (לא־אֵל) for the sacred, absolutizing the present and worshiping the temporal. We find lasting inner peace only after we surrender to God's will for our lives...

Often we are slow to realize our desperate need and God therefore allows us to revisit the various "waste places" of our own lusts until we have become sick of ourselves -- sick "to the bones." We have to be willing "to give up our sickness." Usually that means that we must experience repeated failures until we have "learned from the heart" that the LORD alone is our Healer and Deliverer (2 Cor. 7:10). Ironically it is only after we have abandoned teshuvah in our strength that we are enabled to truly turn.

God knows that we are unable to overcome our inner corruption - that we are unable to help ourselves - apart from his miraculous intervention, and therefore he creates a new heart and puts a new spirit within us (Ezek. 36:26). In this way the Lord makes us direct witnesses of his transforming power and glory... Our changed lives are made testimonies sent out to impart hope, to raise the dead of heart, and to bind up the bruised of spirit. The consolation and comfort we receive from God is the comfort we can offer to those who today are suffering... בָּרוּךְ הוּא הָאֱלהִים אֲבִי אֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ - "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

People are "hard-wired" to value and desire what they esteem as good.  It's not a question of whether we worship, but what... What is your ultimate concern? What are you looking to for life?

The Mark of Faith...


[ The following is related to both Tishah B'Av and this week's Torah portion (Vaetchanan). An idolatrous heart withdraws itself from God's Holy Presence (Ezek. 8:6)... ]

08.04.17 (Av 12, 5777)   God watches over his remnant... In his vision of the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem due to the apostasy of the people, the prophet Ezekiel overheard the LORD commissioning a mysterious "man clothed in linen, with a writing case at his side, saying, "Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark (lit. a Tav, תָּו, which resembled a cross) on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it." And to the others he said in my hearing, "Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity... but touch no one on whom is the mark" (Ezek. 9:4-ff). God has set his seal of ownership upon us and put his Spirit in our hearts as a pledge of what is to come (2 Cor. 1:22). God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: "The Lord knows those who are his," and "Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity" (2 Tim. 2:19).

Praying to Pray...


[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan... ]

08.04.17 (Av 12, 5777)   Our Torah portion for this week begins, "And I pleaded (ואתחנן) with the LORD at that time, to say..." (Deut. 3:23), which implies that we must first pray in order to be able to pray, that is, we make ourselves ready to pray by finding the inner freedom and grace to groan before the LORD.... If you can't find the words to pray, then plead with the LORD and ask for the Holy Spirit to groan on your behalf (Rom. 8:26). "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Matt. 7:7). "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will show forth your praise" (Psalm 51:15).

The need to pray with the proper focus, intention, and heart is surely one of our greatest needs... "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). The disciples were not asking for a formula or recipe prayer (such as might be recited from a prayer book), but for the right motivation, direction, and "Torah" of prayer... If we ask according to his will, God hears us (1 John 5:14), since we are speaking heaven's "language" of truth and humility. Therefore pray for the ability to pray effectively, to commune in trust with your heavenly Father. The prayer of a righteous person has great power (James 5:16).

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"
(Psalm 51:15)


I am my Beloved's...


[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan... ]

08.04.17 (Av 12, 5777)   From our Torah this week we read: "I stood between the LORD and you at that time .. for you were afraid..." (Deut. 5:5). Martin Buber comments: The 'I' stands between God and us. When a man says 'I am' [as if he were sufficient unto himself] he shuts himself off from Him. But there is no dividing wall before the one who sacrifices his 'I,' for of him it is said, 'I am my beloved's and his desire is for me' (Song 7:10). When 'I' belongs to the Beloved, then His desire is for me" (Collected Sayings).

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְעָלַי תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ

ani · le'do·di · ve·a·lai · te·shu·ka·to

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


Spiritual Heliotropism...


08.03.17 (Av 11, 5777)   As a seed planted within soil seeks life by "reaching" for the sun, so our souls are drawn upward by the desire for God. The Lord calls us "out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9); he calls us to awaken, to grow, and to come to the fullness of his life (John 10:10). Being called "out of darkness" means being set free of those spiritual forces that have held us captive. When we turn to the Divine Light for our sustenance and healing, we are set free from the pain of our fears and the insanity of evil (Acts 26:18). As it is written: "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7). The Greek word "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός) comes from the verb sodzo (σῴζω), meaning "to save," from saos (σάος) "safe," in the sense of being under care and influence of the Spirit of God. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Heeding the truth of Yeshua grounds you in what is real and reveals your identity and provision as a child of God. "For you are my lamp (כִּי־אַתָּה תָּאִיר נֵרִי), O LORD, and my God lightens my darkness" (Psalm 18:28).

כִּי־אַתָּה תָּאִיר נֵרִי
 יְהוָה אֱלהַי יַגִּיהַּ חָשְׁכִּי

ki · at·tah · ta·ir · ne·ri
Adonai · E·lo·hai · ya·gi·ah · chosh·ki

"For it is you who light my lamp;
 the LORD my God outshines my darkness."
(Psalm 18:28)

Hebrew Study Card

The Heart of Heaven...


[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av... "Nachamu, nachamu..." ]

08.03.17 (Av 11, 5777)   In our Torah for this week (Vaetchanan), Moses recalled the awesome revelation of the Torah at Sinai, describing how the mountain "burned with fire unto the heart of heaven" (בּעֵר בָּאֵשׁ עַד־לֵב הַשָּׁמַיִם) when the Ten Commandments were inscribed upon the two tablets of testimony (Deut. 4:11-13). The sages say that the tablets represented a heart, as it says, "write them on the tablet of your heart" (Prov. 3:3), and God's word is likened to a fire that reveals the great passion of God's heart for us (Jer. 23:29; Deut. 4:24). Tragically, the two tablets were smashed after the people lost sight of the heart of heaven (לב שמים), and therefore God requires a broken heart - teshuvah - to behold his glory once again. Therefore we see that Yeshua died of a broken heart upon the cross for our return to God, when the fire of his passion burned unto the very heart of heaven, and in his mesirat ha'nefesh we see the greater glory of God...

חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת אַל־יַעַזְבֻךָ
קָשְׁרֵם עַל־גַּרְגְּרוֹתֶיךָ
כָּתְבֵם עַל־לוּחַ לִבֶּךָ

che·sed ve·e·met al ya·az·vu·kha
kosh·rem al  gar·ge·ro·tey·kha
kot·vem  al  lu·ach lib·be·kha

"Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart."
(Prov. 3:3)

Hebrew Study Card

Healing in Exile...


08.03.17 (Av 11, 5777)   From this week's Torah (i.e., parashat Va'etchanan) we read: "if you seek for the LORD your God from there, you will find him, if you search for him with all your heart (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ) and with all your soul" (Deut. 4:29). From where do we search, from what place, except while we are in exile, after hardship, testing, and tribulation? If you seek for the LORD your God from there - in the midst of your exile, in the midst of your heart's cry - you will find him there, in your heart. This message is a prophecy, so that even after testing befalls you, in the end you will belong to the LORD and will hear his voice.

וּבִקַּשְׁתֶּם מִשָּׁם אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ וּמָצָאתָ
 כִּי תִדְרְשֶׁנּוּ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶׁךָ

u·vik·kash·tem · mi·sham · et · Adonai · E·lo·hey·kha · u·ma·tza·ta
ki · tid·re·she·nu · be·khol · le·va·ve·kha · u·ve·khol · naf·she·kha

"But you will seek the LORD your God from there and you will find Him,
if you search for Him with all your heart and with all your soul."
(Deut. 4:29)


Note that the word "you will seek" is in the plural, whereas the rest of the verse is in the singular. "Where is God to be found?" asks the Kotzker Rebbe, but "in the place where He is given entry!" As the Apostle Paul wrote, "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is LORD and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same LORD is LORD of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For "everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved" (Rom. 10:8-13).

The Heart of Love...


[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av... "Comfort ye My people...." ]

08.02.17 (Av 10, 5777)   Our Torah for this week (Vaetchanan) includes the first part of the Shema (שמע): "Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is One, and you shall love (וְאָהַבְתָּ) the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might..." (Deut. 6:4-5). During its recitation we attempt to concentrate our attention to the utmost, pronouncing each word carefully and covering our eyes with our right hand, focusing on the Kingship of God and our primary need to love Him with our whole being.  Yeshua said that the Shema was "the great commandment of Torah" (see Mark 12:28-31). Note that the opening declaration of the Shema includes three Divine Names: Lord (יהוה), God (אלהים), and Lord (יהוה) again, which suggests the multiplicity-in-oneness (unity) that the word "echad" implies (see below). In the Torah scroll, the two letters Ayin (ע) and Dalet (ד) are enlarged in the opening verse of the Shema. Together, these letters form the word 'ed (עֵד), which means "witness," suggesting that we recite the Shema to testify of the sovereignty of God and our great need to love Him bekhol levavkha, (בּכָל־לְבָבְךָ) with all our hearts...

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד

she·ma · Yis·ra·el · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · Adonai · e·chad

"Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD."
(Deut. 6:4)

Hebrew Study Card / Shema Reader Page

The Shema affirmation says: "The LORD our God is one LORD" (יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד). Interestingly, the word echad (אֶחָד) in Hebrew, translated as "one," implies unity in diversity, not absolute numerical identity (the word for one and only one, i.e., "unique," is yachid (יָחִיד)). For example, in Exodus 26:6 the parts of the Tabernacle (Mishkan) are to be constructed so that "it shall be one (echad) tabernacle," and Ezekiel spoke of two "sticks" (representing fragmented Israel) as being reunited into one: "and they shall be one (echad) stick in My hand" (Ezek. 37:19). Moses also uses echad in Genesis 2:24 when he says: "And they (husband and wife) will become one flesh (basar echad)." God's attributes as Compassionate Source of life, Eternal Judge, and Savior, are unified and affirmed in this verse. Ultimate Reality is multidimensional, personal and loving, and that is part of the very essence of God. There is no such thing as a "Person" - either human or Divine - that exists in an absolute vacuum, outside of relationship. Absolute monism is inconsistent with the idea of Divine Personhood, just as Aristotle's "Unmoved Mover" is a logical absurdity.

There is a "three-in-one" sacred place of the heart (represented by the inmost chamber of the Mishkan called the Holy of Holies) which contains the "three-in-one" sacred Throne of the Divine Presence (represented by the Ark of the Covenant covered by sacrificial blood that signifies the cross of Messiah), before which the "three-in-one" blessing of God is heard (represented by the the priestly benediction when the Sacred Name YHVH was uttered), as we affirm the great "three-in-one" affirmation of faith known as the Shema: "Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is One LORD," which declares our duty to love God with the "three-in-one existence" he has given us: with all our heart (be'khol levavkha), with all our soul (be'khol nafshekha), and with all our strength (be'khol me'odekha).

At the revelation at Sinai, "the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven" (בָּאֵשׁ עַד־לֵב הַשָּׁמַיִם), wrapped in darkness, cloud, and heavy mist" (Deut. 4:11). Yet what is this divine Fire if it is not the very passion of God - a passion that descends from the "heart of heaven" to the place of revelation within the human heart? Indeed the fire is none other than the Word of God, "the Voice that speaks from the midst of the fire" (קוֹל אֱלהִים מְדַבֵּר מִתּוֹךְ־הָאֵשׁ) the truth revelation (see Exod. 3:2, Deut. 4:33). As the Spirit asks: "Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his Son's name? Surely you know" (Prov. 30:4).


מִי עָלָה־שָׁמַיִם וַיֵּרַד
מִי אָסַף־רוּחַ בְּחָפְנָיו
מִי צָרַר־מַיִם בַּשִּׂמְלָה
מִי הֵקִים כָּל־אַפְסֵי־אָרֶץ
מַה־שְּׁמוֹ וּמַה־שֶּׁם־בְּנוֹ כִּי תֵדָע

mi  a·lah  sha·ma·yim  vai·ye·rad?
mi  a·saf  ru·ach  be·chof·nav?
mi  tza·rar  ma·yim  ba·sim·lah?
mi  he·kim  kol  af·sei  a·retz?
mah  she·mo  u·mah  shem  be·no,  ki  tei·da?

"Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son's name? Surely you know!"
(Prov. 30:4)

Hebrew Study Card

Yeshua 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). Indeed he is called מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים / Melech Malchei Hamelachim: The "King of kings of kings" and the LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest celestial glory to the dust of death upon a cross. Yehi shem Adonai mevorakh (יְהִי שֵׁם יהוה מְברָךְ): "Let the Name of the LORD be blessed" forever and ever (Psalm 113:2).

Note:  In Hebrew, the "heart" of something represents its core. center, and essence. Revelation is a matter of the heart, written by the God's Spirit, yielding a life of praise and thanks to the Lord. For more information about the Shema and its blessings, or to download Shema study pages, please see the Shema section of the site. Shalom.

Return to your heart...


08.02.17 (Av 10, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week (Vaetchanan) we read: "Take good heed for your souls..." (Deut. 4:15). The Hebrew grammar here is a bit unusual, since the verb shamar (שָׁמַר), meaning to "keep" or to "guard," is written in the passive (niphal), i.e., "Let yourselves be guarded well..." (וְנִשְׁמַרְתֶּם מְאד לְנַפְשׁתֵיכֶם). If we open our hearts to heed or listen to the truth of God - if we surrender to God's will for our lives - we will be protected from the snares of idolatry. "Know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). When you surrender from the heart you will understand that "the LORD is your keeper (יְהוָה שׁמְרֶךָ)... and yishmor et nafshekha - the LORD will guard your life" (Psalm 121:5,7).

Note that the phrase "lay it to your heart" (in Deut. 4:39) may better be rendered as "return to your heart" (וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ), suggesting that the truth of the LORD is found there – within the heart that truly seeks him (Deut. 4:29). Hashivenu! In other words, the truth is found in the heart's seeking for the LORD and His love. Know this truth today... "The most important part of teaching is to teach what it is to know," that is, to know "in your heart."

Cleaving to God...


08.02.17 (Av 10, 5777)   "But you who have clung to the LORD your God are all alive today" (Deut. 4:4). The Hebrew word devakut (דְּבָקוּת) means "cleaving" and refers to communion with God. This word comes from the root word davak (דָּבַק), meaning to "cling" or "stick" (the Modern Hebrew word for "glue" is devek (דֶבֶק) which also comes from the same root). The sages comment that we can cleave to God only one day at a time. As Yeshua said: "Take therefore no thought for tomorrow: for tomorrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient for the day its own trouble" (Matt. 6:34). One day at a time. The LORD gives us daily bread (לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ) so that we may persevere for this day. "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand today -- if you hear his voice" (Psalm 95:7). Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart (Heb. 3:15). "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God, but encourage one another every day, as long as it is called "today," so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:12-13).

דָּבְקָה נַפְשִׁי אַחֲרֶיךָ
בִּי תָּמְכָה יְמִינֶךָ

da·ve·kah · naf·shi · a·cha·re·kha
bi · tam·khah · ye·mi·ne·kha


"My soul clings to you;
Your right hand upholds me."
(Psalm 63:8)

Hebrew Study Card


Centrality of the Heart...


08.02.17 (Av 10, 5777)   During Shavuot (Pentecost) we recall the revelation at Sinai, but our Torah portion this week (Vaetchanan) urges us to remember the holiness of God and to sanctify our lives as sacred every day of our lives: "Only take care, and guard your soul very diligently (רַק הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ וּשְׁמר נַפְשְׁךָ מְאד), lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, 'Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so'" (Deut. 4:9-10). We must never forget that the LORD is our Righteous Judge and that we will give account for everything we have done in our lives (Matt. 12:36). Indeed the message of the cross – of salvation itself – is unintelligible apart from the justice and righteousness of God. The suffering of Yeshua for our sake attests to God's judgment for sin, and this is understood in relation to the revelation given at Sinai. God does not "wink" at evil or pretend it doesn't matter to his heart; on the contrary, he endured horrific suffering and died so that we could be delivered from the verdict that our sin demands. Only at the cross of Messiah may it be said: "Love and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed" (Psalm 85:10). "Above everything else guard your heart, for from it are the contours of life."

מִכָּל־מִשְׁמָר נְצר לִבֶּךָ
 כִּי־מִמֶּנּוּ תּוֹצְאוֹת חַיִּים

mik·kol · mish·mar · ne·tzor · li·be·kha,
ki · mi·me·nu · to·tze·ot · cha·yim


"Above everything else guard your heart,
 for from it are the contours of life"
(Prov. 4:23)

Hebrew Study Card

Notice that the word mishmar (מִשְׁמָר) refers to the act of guarding someone closely, just as an prison guard or warden might keep watch over a prisoner. The phrase translated "with all diligence" (mikkol-mishmar) literally means "more than anything that might be guarded," and is used here to intensify the command to exercise vigilance. Plainly put, this verse commands us to watch over our heart more than anything else.

Guard your heart... and yet "the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint" (Isa. 1:5). We understand how apt we are to go astray in our affections, and therefore our heart is easily divided, obstructed, and liable to failure... Despite its frailty, however, the heart determines totze'ot chayim, or the "issues" or "contours" of life. In the Tanakh, the word totza'ot is often used to refer to the borders of territories or the boundaries of a city. This verse is saying that from the heart of a person (lev) a "map" or "chart" to life is drawn. As the heart is either pure or corrupt, so will be the course of one's life...  Purity of heart represents healing, which means being single-minded in our affections and attention before the LORD.  For all of this we need nothing less than a miracle, chaverim...

How you choose to guard your heart from inner corruption and hardness will determine the "road" of your life. Concerning this verse the Metzudos commentary says, "Above all – more than anything else – a person must be careful to guard his heart from improper thoughts, for one cannot contemplate using the heart – the very vortex of life – to harbor thoughts that are inimical to life." Because the flesh is weak, we must be vigilant lest we become cynical, weary, and unfeelingly selfish. An unguarded heart soon becomes troubled, lonely, suspicious, and unstable. If, however, we keep ourselves from the obstruction of sin, we will experience the free flow of compassion, encouragement, and joy. The faithful heart is open - it believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Cor. 13:7).

It is your personal responsibility to guard your heart from negative influences -- a duty that is connected with yielding yourself as a vessel or "steward" of the kingdom of God.  We must regularly ask God to enlighten "the eyes of the heart" according to His wisdom and power (i.e., truth revealed in Scripture), and to impart the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our desires and affections so that they conform to the character of the Messiah.

Note: For more on this, see "The Centrality of Heart: Further thoughts on Vaetchanan."

Tishah B'Av Prophecies...


08.01.17 (Av 9, 5777)   Yeshua foretold the destruction of the Second Temple when he lamented: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.  For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, Barukh Haba Ba'shem Adonai: 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'  Yeshua then left the Temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the Temple. But he answered them, "You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down." (Matt. 23:37-24:2). Note well that we are not awaiting the construction of the "Third Temple" which will be hastily erected during the time of Jacob's Trouble during the Great Tribulation, but we await the "Fourth Temple," that is, the Temple that will be built by Tzemach Tzaddik (צֶמַח צַדִּיק), namely, the Messiah the Son of David (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־דָוִד) who will come again to establish the Kingdom of Zion upon the earth in fulfillment of the promises of God (Zech. 6:12; Jer. 23:5). At that glorious time the mourning of the Jewish people will forgotten, as it is written: "Thus says Adonai Tzeva'ot (יהוה צְבָאוֹת): The fast of the fourth month (Tammuz), and the fast of the fifth month (Tishah B'Av), and the fast of the seventh month (Gedaliah), and the fast of the tenth month (Asarah b'Tevet), will be to the house of Judah for joy and rejoicing and for pleasant appointed seasons. Therefore love truth and peace" (Zech. 8:19). In that coming day, "The LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one."

וְהָיָה יְהוָה לְמֶלֶךְ עַל־כָּל־הָאָרֶץ
בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא יִהְיֶה יְהוָה אֶחָד וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד

ve·ha·yah · Adonai · le·me·lech · al-kol-ha·a·retz
ba·yom · ha·hu · yi·he·yeh · Adonai · e·chad · u·she·mo · e·chad

"And the LORD will be king over all the earth.
On that day the LORD will be one and his name one."
(Zech. 14:9)

As I've mentioned repeatedly over the years, the word "Zion" (i.e., tziyon: צִיּוֹן) is mentioned over 160 times in the Scriptures. That's more than the words faith, hope, love, and countless others...  And since Zion is a poetic form of the word Jerusalem, the number of occurrences swells to nearly 1,000!  It is therefore not an overstatement to say that God Himself is a Zionist.... "Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth" (Psalm 50:2)Zion represents the rule and reign of God in the earth and is therefore synonymous with the Kingdom of God. The entire redemptive plan of God -- including the coming of the Messiah Himself and our very salvation -- is wrapped up in the concept of Zion.  It is the "historiography" of God -- His philosophy of history, if you will.  

In a sense, the ideal or vision of Zion is the heart of the Gospel message and the focal point of God's salvation in this world.  Zion represents our eschatological future -- our home in olam haba (the world to come). Even the new heavens and earth will be called Jerusalem -- "Zion in her perfection" (Rev. 21). "This is what Adonai Tzeva'ot says: I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, but I am very angry with the nations that feel secure" (Zech. 1:14-15). "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch" (Isa 62:1). "The builder of Jerusalem is God, the outcasts of Israel he will gather in... Praise God, O Jerusalem, laud your God, O Zion" (Psalm 147:2-12).

It is worth noting that in the discussion from the Talmud, the 6,000 years of human history are divided into three epochs of 2,000 years each. The period of "tohu" occurred from the time of the fall of Adam until the call of Abraham; the period of "Torah" occurred from Abraham until the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, and the period of the "Messiah" refers to the time when the Messiah could appear before the Kingdom is established in Zion. The time immediately preceding the appearance of the Messiah will be a time of testing in which the world will undergo various forms of tribulation, called chevlei Mashiach (חֶבְלֵי הַמָּשִׁיחַ) - the "birth pangs of the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98a; Ketubot, Bereshit Rabbah 42:4, Matt. 24:8). Some say the birth pangs are to last for 70 years, with the last 7 years being the most intense period of tribulation -- called the "Time of Jacob's Trouble" / עֵת־צָרָה הִיא לְיַעֲקב (Jer. 30:7). The climax of the "Great Tribulation" (צָרָה גְדוֹלָה) is called the great "Day of the LORD" (יוֹם־יהוה הַגָּדוֹל) which represents God's wrath poured out upon a rebellious world system. On this fateful day, the LORD will terribly shake the entire earth (Isa. 2:19) and worldwide catastrophes will occur. "For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" (Rev. 6:17). The prophet Malachi likewise says: "'Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,' says the LORD Almighty. 'Not a root or a branch will be left to them'" (Mal. 4:1). Only after the nations of the world have been judged will the Messianic kingdom (מַלְכוּת הָאֱלהִים) be established upon the earth. The remnant of Israel will be saved and the 1000 year reign of King Messiah will then commence (Rev. 20:4).


The concept of the King Messiah, the "Anointed One" who would one day come to deliver his people from oppression at the beginning of an era of world peace has been the sustaining hope of the Jewish people for generations. King Messiah is the instrument by whom God's kingdom is to be established in Israel and in the world. This hope runs throughout the entire Tanakh. According to rabbinical Judaism (following Maimonides), this Messiah figure is not divine, though he certainly has divine powers and attributes. Indeed, he functions as Israel's Savior who would be empowered by God to:

  1. Restore the Kingdom of David (Jer. 23:5, Jer 30:9, Ezek. 34:23)
  2. Restore the Temple in Zion (Isa. 2:2, Micah 4:1, Zech. 6:13, Ezek. 37:26-28)
  3. Regather the exiles (Isa. 11:12, 43:5-6, 51:11)
  4. Offer the New Covenant to Israel (Jer. 31:31-34)
  5. Usher in world peace and the knowledge of the true God (Isa. 2:4; 11:9). This will include the entire world speaking Hebrew (Zeph. 3:9).
  6. "Swallow up" death and disease (Isa. 25:8)
  7. Raise the dead to new life (Isa. 26:19)
  8. Spread Torah knowledge of the God of Israel, which will unite humanity as one. As it says: "God will be King over all the world -- on that day, God will be One and His Name will be One" (Zech. 14:9)

According to this general framework of history, we are currently living in the "days of the Messiah," just before the time of great worldwide tribulation that will lead to the prophesied acharit hayamim (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים), or the "End of Days." This is the age in which the spirit of the Messiah is available to all. These are "days of God's favor" that are ending soon. According to traditional Jewish sources (Pesachim 54b; Midrash Tehilim 9:2), no one knows the exact time when the Messiah will appear -- though there are some hints. The condition of the world during the end of days will be grossly evil (2 Pet. 3:3; 2 Thess. 2:3-4, 2 Tim. 3:1-5). The world will undergo various forms of tribulation, collectively called chevlei Mashiach (חֶבְלֵי הַמָּשִׁיחַ) - the "birth pangs of the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98a; Ketubot, Bereshit Rabbah 42:4, Matt. 24:8). Some sages say the birth pangs will last 70 years, with the last 7 years as the most intense period -- the "Time of Jacob's Trouble" / עֵת־צָרָה הִיא לְיַעֲקב (Jer. 30:7). Just before the arrival of Yeshua as Mashiach ben David, a period of tribulation and distress for Israel will occur. After this "great tribulation" period, however, Yeshua will usher in Yom YHVH, the "Day of the LORD," and the sabbatical millennium, the 1000 year reign of King Messiah will commence (Rev. 20:4). (For more click here.)

קָרוֹב יוֹם־יהוה הַגָּדוֹל קָרוֹב וּמַהֵר מְאד
קוֹל יוֹם יְהוָה מַר צרֵחַ שָׁם גִּבּוֹר

ka·rov  yom  Adonai  hag·ga·dol,  kar·ov  u'ma·her  me·od,
kol  yom  Adonai  mar  tzo·re·ach  sham  gib·bor


"The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud." (Zeph. 1:14)


Although "Day of the LORD" (i.e., yom Adonai: יוֹם יְהוָה) is often associated with Tishah B'Av and the catastrophic destruction of the Jewish Temple, the words of the prophets were only partially fulfilled, and there awaits another Day coming when God will terribly shake the entire earth (Isa. 2:19). "For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" (Rev. 6:17). The prophet Malachi likewise says: "'Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,' says the LORD Almighty. 'Not a root or a branch will be left to them'" (Mal. 4:1). For those who are godless, the great Day of the LORD is a time of horrific judgment, but for those who belong to the LORD, it represents a day of victory and great blessing. Regarding that day the prophet Malachi said, "Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things" (Mal. 4:3).

Ultimately the Great Tribulation period is redemptive and healing (called yissurim shel ahavah, "the troubles of love").  The prophets wrote that Zion will go through labor and then give birth to children (Isa. 66:8). Thus the Vilna Gaon wrote that the geulah (national redemption) is something like rebirth of the nation of Israel. This accords with the prophetic fulfillment of Yom Kippur as the Day of Judgment and time of Israel's national conversion. In the verse from prophet Jeremiah regarding the "Time of Jacob's Trouble," it's vital to see the goal in mind - "yet out of it he is saved" (וּמִמֶּנָּה יִוָּשֵׁעַ). When Yeshua returns to Zion, all Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:26). The sages note that childbirth is a time of radical transition and struggle for the baby -- from the time of relatively peaceful existence within the womb into the harsh light of day -- and therefore a similar transition between this world and the Messianic world to come is about to take place....

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