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Jewish Holiday Calendar 

Note: For July 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 Saturday, August 13th at sundown, many calendars will indicate it occurs on Monday, August 14th...
 




July 2017 Updates


The "Tone" of Tishah B'Av...


 

[ The tragic holiday of Tishah B'Av begins this evening at sundown... ]

07.31.17 (Av 8, 5777)   The Scroll of Lamentations (מגילת איכה) is traditionally recited during Tishah B'Av to remember the destruction of the Holy Temple and other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. Lamentations is an acrostic poem that begins with the Hebrew letter Aleph in the word "eichah" (אֵיכָה): "How (eichah) lonely sits the city that once was full of people!" (Lam. 1:1). The sages note that this word "how (eichah)" could also be read as "where are you?" (אַיֶּכָּה, ayekah), God's first question to Adam after he broke covenant in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:9). The midrash draws a connection between the lamentation of the LORD over Adam's banishment from Eden and Israel's banishment from Zion (Hos. 6:7). In both cases the problem centers on the failure to ask where God is.

During the Tishah B'Av service at the synagogue, when the cantor reaches the second to last verse of the book, "Hashivenu," he pauses and the congregation recites the verse in unison: Hashivenu Adonai, elekha vena-shuvah; chadesh yamenu kekedem: "Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21).  Often this verse is repeated and sung to a haunting melody as the scroll is returned to the Ark.
 

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
 

"Turn us back to yourself, O LORD, so that we may return to you;
renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21)



Hebrew Study Card
 

How many people today live in a state of self-imposed exile from the LORD? How lonely... God uses our loneliness and alienation to question our hearts, asking each of us, ayekah – "Where are you?" "Why have you turned away from me and chosen a state of exile?" Our inner pain is meant to provoke us to seek His face. He awaits our only possible response, "Hashivenu!" -- an imperative (demand) for the grace to repent: "You return us (i.e., you cause us to return) so that we may be reunited with you and healed!" We do not appeal to our own resources or strength to undergo this return, but rather trust that God's sovereign grace is sufficient to restore us to His presence. As Yeshua said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up" (John 6:44).

The tears of the prophet Jeremiah represent God's compassionate love for the Jewish people; the Book of Lamentations is really God's cry... God cares about the suffering of His people: b'khol tzaratam lo tzar (בְּכָל־צָרָתָם לוֹ צָר) - "In all their affliction he was afflicted" (Isa. 63:9). Even after all the horrors that befell the people of Judah due to God's disciplinary judgment, the LORD still encouraged them to seek Him again. "The faithful love of the LORD (חַסְדֵי יהוה) never ceases, and his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness" (Lam. 3:22-23). Our response to the faithful love of the LORD is teshuvah (i.e., תְּשׁוּבָה, "turning [shuv] to God"). In Modern Hebrew teshuvah means an "answer" to a shelah (שְׁאֵלָה), or a question.  God's love for us is the question, and our teshuvah – our turning of the heart toward Him – is the answer.  We return to the LORD when we truly acknowledge that He is our Father and our King. May we so turn today...
 




Return to your heart...


 

07.31.17 (Av 8, 5777)   In parashat Vaetchanan we read, "Know therefore today and return to your heart (וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ), for the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). Here again we see the centrality of the heart as the mode to encounter God (Luke 17:21). Savor the phrase, "Know therefore today and return to your heart..." It the heart that is the place of connection with God... As Yeshua said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20). Today is the day to "return to your heart" and receive again God's love for your soul...
 




Tishah B'Av - July 31st - Aug. 1st



 

[ The following is related to the fast of Tishah B'Av, which begins Monday, July 31st.... ]

07.30.17 (Av 7, 5777)   Tishah B'Av (תשעה באב, the "ninth [day] of [the month of] Av") is an annual day of mourning that recalls the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people over the centuries, but most especially the destruction of the Holy Temple and the ongoing galut (exile) of Israel. This year Tishah B'Av begins Sunday July 31st at sundown and runs 25 hours until Monday, August 1st, one hour after sundown. The customs for observing the holiday are similar to those of Yom Kippur.

Tishah B'Av is generally regarded as the saddest day of the Jewish year (and even sadder than Yom Kippur) since it was on this date that both the First and the Second Temples were destroyed and the Jewish people were forced into exile.  The root of these tragedies is said to go back to the Exodus from Egypt, when the LORD decreed a 40 year exile from the Promised Land because of the Sin of the Spies on the ninth of Av. In addition, Aaron died on Av 1 (Num. 33:38), and this was said to foreshadow the destruction of the Temple. The sages call this prophetic principle: ma'aseh avot siman labanim (מַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹת סִימָן לַבָּנִים): "The deeds of the fathers are signs for the children."

The ninth of Av is the lowest point of a three week period of mourning that began with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz (which was undertaken to recall the first breach in the walls of Jerusalem by the Babylonians before the First Temple was destroyed three weeks later). The period of the "Three Weeks of Sorrow" is intended to instill a sense of teshuvah (repentance) and to prepare for the Messianic redemption to come.
 

Three Weeks of SorrowThree Weeks of Sorrow
 

Tishah B'Av allows us to express heartfelt grief over the loss of Zion and therefore over the fraility of our human condition. During this time it is appropriate to lament and grieve over our sins and to shed tears that attest to lev nishbar v'nikdeh, a "broken and crushed heart" (Psalm 51:17). Indeed, during the entire "Three Weeks of Sorrow" we read selections from the prophets that forewarn of the coming destruction of the Temple (churban) and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people (galut). During this time of the year, we listen to the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah crying out for our repentance...

During Tishah B'Av synagogue services, the lights are dimmed and the Aron Hakodesh (Holy Ark) is draped in black (in some synagogues the parochet (curtain) is removed as a sign of mourning). The crowns with tinkling bells are removed from Torah scrolls. Congregants remove their leather shoes and do not greet each other.  The cantor leads the prayers readings in a low, mournful voice, and the cantillation (Hebrew chanting style) for the Scripture reading is set to elegiac, sorrowful melodies.
 

 




Pleading with God...


 

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

07.30.17 (Av 7, 5777)   Our Torah portion for this week (i.e., Vaetchanan) begins: "And I pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying..." (Deut. 3:23). The Torah does not mention any specific time here, though we know from the context that it was just before Moses' death. The sages comment on this verse by saying that when a person is praying, regardless of the prayer, it is the heart attitude that matters most. If your prayer is devoid of the depth of feeling, it is as if you are not praying at all. That is what is meant when the Scriptures states, "Trust in Him at all times, people; pour out your heart to Him" (Psalm 62:8), and elekha Adonai nafshi essa (אֵלֶיךָ יְהוָה נַפְשִׁי אֶשָּׂא) "To you, LORD, do I lift up my soul" (Psalm 25:1).
 

בִּטְחוּ בוֹ בְכָל־עֵת עָם
שִׁפְכוּ־לְפָנָיו לְבַבְכֶם
אֱלהִים מַחֲסֶה־לָּנוּ סֶלָה

bit·chu · vo · ve·khol-et · am
shif·khu · le·fa·nav · le·vav·khem
E·lo·him · ma·cha·seh-la·nu · se·lah
 

"Trust in Him at all times, people;
pour out your heart before Him
God is a refuge for us: Selah" (Psalm 62:8)



 

Pouring out your heart to God in an honest, transparent, and earnest way is called hitbodedut (הִתְבּוֹדְדוּת). After we "talk our hearts out" before the Lord, in our emptiness we can begin to truly listen, as it says, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength" (Isa. 30:15). Only after we sigh deeply and surrender are we receptive to the voice of the Spirit's whisper. "Blessed are all those who wait for Him" (Isa. 30:18). We wait, we abide, even when God takes his time or does not immediately intervene. We do not lose heart, for we believe that no prayer goes unanswered, and we find strength as we trust in God's love... The Light of the world still shines: Yeshua, be my inner word, my heart, and my groaning for life today, and forevermore, amen.

Therefore remember the One who poured out his heart for our healing before the Father, in the agony of his passion and in his heart's suffering unto death for our sake... Few words were spoken, but groans, cries, gasps for breath, and the steadfast resolution to offer up the last drop of his blood for our healing and life... Pouring out of heart is not about the words we use, but the fullness of heart being presented: "When you pray, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words be without heart" (Bunyan).
 




Parashat Vaetchanan - ואתחנן


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av (i.e., Shabbat Nachamu, see entry below). ]

07.30.17 (Av 7, 5777)   Our Torah portion this week (Vaetchanan) includes some of the most foundational texts of the Jewish Scriptures, including the Ten Commandments, the Shema (the duty to love God and study His Torah), and the commandments of tefillin and mezuzot. In addition, in this portion Moses predicts the worldwide exile and the eventual redemption of the Jewish people in acharit hayamim (the prophesied "End of Days").

The portion begins with Moses' plea to the LORD to be allowed entry into the Promised Land, despite God's earlier decree (see Num. 20:8-12; 27:12-14). The Hebrew word va'etchanan (וָאֶתְחַנַּן) comes from the verb chanan (חָנַן), which means to beseech or implore. It derives from the noun chen (חֵן), grace, implying that the supplication appeals to God's favor, not to any idea of personal merit (in Jewish tradition, tachanun (תַּחֲנוּן) are prayers recited after the Amidah begging for God's grace and mercy). Moses was asking God to show him grace by reversing the decree that forbade him to enter the Promised Land.

Note that in Jewish tradition, the idea of appealing to God's grace is not without expending personal effort. The gematria of vaetchanan is 515 -- the same as the word for prayer (i.e., tefillah, תְּפִלָּה) - which suggests that while grace is "free," it is something precious that must be sought after with the whole heart. Despite his repeated appeals, however, God finally said to Moses: רַב־לָך, "enough from you" (Deut. 3:26) and reaffirmed His decree that he would not be allowed to lead Israel into the land. That privilege was given to Yehoshua bin Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן), i.e., "Joshua the son of Nun," who foreshadowed Yeshua the Messiah.

Moses was prophetically forbidden into the land because the covenant made at Sinai was insufficient to fulfill the promise of God. This insufficiency, however, was not the fault of God's Torah, which of course is "holy, just, and good" (Rom. 7:12), but rather because of the weakness of the human condition (i.e., the "law of sin and death" - תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת). "For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3-4). The New Covenant was needed to bring people to Zion, and this required a "change in the Torah" and the offices of a new priesthood (see Heb. 7:12). "The former commandment was set aside because of its weakness and uselessness - for the law made nothing perfect - but a better hope is introduced, and that is how we now draw near to God" (Heb. 7:18-19). The Love of God is our remedy, chaverim... 

 




Shabbat Nachamu (שַׁבַּת נַחֲמוּ)


 

[ With the advent of this Sabbath, we have seven weeks to prepare for the new year (Rosh Hashanah) and the High Holidays - a "jubilee" season that heralds the return of Yeshua... ]

07.30.17 (Av 7, 5777)   The prophet Zechariah (זְכַרְיָה) foresaw the future Messianic Era when the various fast days of the Jewish year will be transformed into to appointed times of great joy (Zech. 8:19): "Thus says Adonai Tzeva'ot (יהוה צְבָאוֹת): The fast of the fourth month (Tzom Tammuz), and the fast of the fifth month (Tishah B'Av), and the fast of the seventh month (Tzom 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, and the truth and the peace they have loved (וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָבוּ)."

Because the great vision of Zion is promised such future consolation by God, Jewish tradition named the Sabbath immediately following Tishah B'Av as the "Sabbath of Comfort, that is, Shabbat Nachamu: שַׁבַּת נַחֲמוּ, and assigned to it the prophetic portion from the Book of Isaiah that begins: נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי - Nachamu, Nachamu ami - "be comforted, be comforted, my people..." (Isa. 40:1). The sages reasoned that the word nachamu was repeated to offer consolation for both Temples that were destroyed. Thematically, this Shabbat marks a time of joy over anticipated comfort: Despite present tribulations, the LORD will vindicate His glory and completely ransom His people.
 

נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי יאמַר אֱלהֵיכֶם

na·cha·mu · na·cha·mu · am·mi · yo·mar · E·lo·hey·khem
 

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God"
(Isa. 40:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 


Seven Weeks Until Rosh Hashanah...

Shabbat Nachamu marks the start of a series of seven weekly readings related to the final redemption of the Jewish people (and indeed the entire world) called "The Seven Haftarot of Consolation."  From the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av until Rosh Hashanah, we read words of comfort from the prophets. These selections foretell the the restoration of the Jewish people to their land (the ingathering of the exiles), the future redemption of Israel, and the coming of the Messianic Era. In other words, we have seven weeks  - 49 days - to prepare for the start of the new year (Rosh Hashanah) and the High Holidays - a prophetic "jubilee" season that concerns the return of Yeshua (and may He return soon, chaverim).

Note:  Parashat Vaetchanan is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av.
 




Close in all our Calling...


 

07.28.17 (Av 5, 5777)   The Torah states that the LORD is close to us "in all our calling to Him" (Deut. 7:7). He listens to all of our heart's cry - our yearning, our lament, as well as our praise, and attends to our daily needs. Our part is to turn to God for help in all that we do: we are to "know Him in all our ways" (בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ) by trusting in his nearness (Prov. 3:5-6). Even if we feel our prayer is unanswered, we trust despite our temporary darkness, believing that God sees our need and knows what is best for us. God is close "in all our calling to Him" (בְּכָּל־קָרְאֵנוּ אֵלָיו), and therefore we are often brought to a place of need. We can endure suffering and find acceptance as we call upon God for help in all that we do.
 

בְּטַח אֶל־יְהוָה בְּכָל־לִבֶּךָ
וְאֶל־בִּינָתְךָ אַל־תִּשָּׁעֵן
בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ וְהוּא יְיַשֵּׁר ארְחתֶיךָ

be·tach · el · Adonai · be·khol · lib·be·kha
ve'el · bi·na·te·kha · al · tish·a·en
be·khol · de·ra·khe·kha · da·ei·hu · ve·hu · ye·ya·sher · or·cho·te·kha

 

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
Know Him in all your ways, and He will straighten your paths."
(Prov. 3:5-6)



Hebrew Study Card
 

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart... know Him in all your ways." The Hebrew word for trust is "bittachon" (בִּטָחוֹן), from a root word (בָּטָח) that means "to lean upon," to feel safe and secure.... Bittachon describes emotional acceptance of the goodness of the LORD. Some of the sages have said that while emunah (אֱמוּנָה), or "faith," represents a state of cognitive understanding (בִּינָה) that God is involved in all the events of the universe, bittachon means emotionally trusting that the Lord is present in every situation for your good.... Rabbi Bechaya put the distinction this way: "Everyone who trusts has faith, but not everyone with faith trusts." Bittachon is an intuitive awareness of the personal love of God for your life, coupled with complete trust that He deeply cares for you (Rom. 8:28). It is an expectation that the love of God is "I-AM-always-with-you," too.

Shabbat Shalom, dear friends... Thank you for praying for Hebrew for Christians.
 




Your greatest need...


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.28.17 (Av 5, 5777)   From our Torah this week we read: "For the LORD your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing" (Deut. 2:7). With God you have everything you need; without Him, you will never be truly satisfied. "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee," which is to say that the merry-go-round of desire for things of this world is ultimately vain and unfulfilling. Indeed, it is slavery to be attached to unslakeable desire; it is madness to restlessly desire more and more. God has set eternity within our hearts (Eccl. 3:11), a hunger that only heaven can fulfill, but we try to find happiness with the trinkets and junk of this passing realm.... When the LORD is with us – and when we dwell in the simplicity of that reality – we lack nothing: "For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you" (Psalm 84:11-12).
 

כִּי שֶׁמֶשׁ וּמָגֵן יְהוָה אֱלהִים
חֵן וְכָבוֹד יִתֵּן יְהוָה
לא יִמְנַע־טוֹב לַהלְכִים בְּתָמִים
יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם בּטֵחַ בָּךְ

ki · she·mesh · u'ma·gen · Adonai · Elohim
chen · ve'kha·vod · yit·ten · Adonai
lo · yim·na · tov · la·cho·le·khim · be'ta·mim
Adonai · Tze·va·ot · ash·rei · a·dam · bo·te·ach · bakh
 

"For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you."
(Psalm 84:11-12)

 




Moses' Miraculous Words...



 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.28.17 (Av 5, 5777)   The midrash says that even though Moses "stammered" and was "kevad peh" (heavy of mouth), he was empowered to speak fluently whenever the Holy Spirit moved him.  Sefer Devarim (the Book of Deuteronomy) is unique among the five books of Torah because it represents Moses' great farewell appeal to follow the LORD bekhol levavkha, "with all of your heart" (Deut. 6:5). In this final book of Torah, Moses - who once described himself as lo ish devarim (לא אִישׁ דְּבָרִים) "a man of no words" (Exod. 4:10), speaks some of the moving words of all of the Holy Scriptures, eloquently calling us to embrace the truth of Torah, to walk in God's love, and to await the final redemption...
 




Moving Toward the Center...


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.28.17 (Av 5, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week we read: "'You have been traveling around this mountain country long enough. Turn northward" (Deut. 2:3). Around and around, covering the same ground; learning the rules of behavior, focusing more on "the what" than on "the how." The sages say that "turning north" (צָפוֹן) means turning to that which is deeper, hidden (צָפוּןֵ). Look within and attend to the secret sins, the unconscious ways that prompt us to revisit old patterns of behavior: "Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me" (Psalm 19:13). Examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith: ἑαυτοὺς δοκιμάζετε - test yourselves (2 Cor. 13:5). Consider what gives life to your everyday choices and attitudes. God calls us to love Him in wholeness, and that means in the hidden recesses of the heart (Matt. 6:6).

There is a tension between self-acceptance, the unconditional love of God, and the duty to consecrate ourselves: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13). The sages say that every desire is ultimately rooted in a hunger for life, for God, and for holiness – though it is our responsibility to uplift the desire, to sanctify it, and to order our affections by making them express the hunger for heaven (1 Cor. 10:31).
 




Living in Worldly Exile...


 

07.28.17 (Av 5, 5777)   One consequence of the self-policing mindset of a culture indoctrinated with political correctness ideology is that the "big questions of life" are often regarded as inflammatory, radical, challenging (or at least impolite), and therefore they are carefully avoided and even censored... The failure to seriously discuss the "big questions" of life, however (for example, "Who are we?" "Where did we come from?" "Why are we here?" "Where are we going?" and "What does it all mean?") is to abandon the deepest need of the human heart... Pop culture abandons our existential plight by exchanging our need to find meaning, purpose, and healing with chatty comments or mindless sound bites about externalities, superficialities, fads, and vanity. The result is the despair of exile, a thoughtless mode of existence that "lives" in ignorance of its ultimate concern.
 




The City of the King...


 

[ The following is related to the fast of Tishah B'Av, which begins Monday, July 31st.... ]

07.28.17 (Av 5, 5777)   Jerusalem is central to the Jewish heart. When religious Jews pray three times a day, they always turn toward the Holy City (i.e., mizrach: מזרח "east"). Synagogues likewise place the holy ark (the place where Torah scrolls are kept) on the wall closest to Jerusalem. Many observant Jews keep small section of an eastern wall of their house unpainted as a sign of mourning for the destruction of the Temple. Every year we close the Passover Seder with the words, La-Shanah Haba'ah Bi Yerushalayim! ("Next year in Jerusalem"). These same words are invoked to conclude the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur. Indeed Yeshua called Jerusalem the "City of the great King" (Psalm 48:2; Matt 5:35): It is the place where He was crucified, buried, resurrected, and from where He ascended to heaven. It is also the birthplace of the true church (כלה של משיח) and the focal point of humanity's eschatological future. At the Second Coming, Yeshua will physically return to Jerusalem to restore the throne of King David. Then all the New Covenant promises given to Israel will be fulfilled as the Kingdom of God is manifest upon the earth.

For more on this, see "The Significance of Zion and the Tragedy of Tishah B'Av."
 




Transience and Tishah B'Av...


 

[ Today we are observing the holiday of Tishah B'Av... ]

07.28.17 (Av 5, 5777)   In the Book of Isaiah it is written: "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8), which sets up a great contrast between olam ha-zeh and olam haba – between this present world and the heavenly realm. Unlike the grass of the field that dries up or flowers that soon fade, the word of God stands forever. And despite the frailty of man and the inevitability of physical death, God's truth endures, which is a foundation upon which we can rest.

But how are metaphors that our lives are "like dried up grass" or a "withered flower" intended to comfort us? Do they not, on the contrary, lead us to regard our lives as vain and perhaps meaningless? Yes indeed. Our lives are empty and vain apart from God and His truth. If we find ourselves wincing over such images, it is perhaps time to reexamine the state of our faith: To the extent that we regard this world as our "home" we will find the transience of life to be tragic... For those who are seeking a heavenly habitation, the "City of God" and the fulfillment of the promise of Zion, the fleeting nature of this evil world is ultimately a form of consolation... 
 

הוֹדִיעֵנִי יְהוָה קִצִּי
וּמִדַּת יָמַי מַה־הִיא
אֵדְעָה מֶה־חָדֵל אָנִי

ho·di·e·ni  · Adonai ·  kitz·tzi,
u·mid·dat ·  ya·mai ·  mah ·  hi,
e·de· ah ·  meh ·  cha·del ·  a·ni
 

"O LORD, make me to know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how quickly my life will pass"
(Psalm 39:4)



Hebrew Study Card
 

The theme of the transience of life is part of the message of Tishah B'Av. The Holy Temple, despite being the pride and joy of the Jewish people during the time of King Solomon, went up in smoke, and the place (i.e., ha-makom: הַמָּקוֹם) where the LORD chose to "put His Name" vanished as if it had never been... Understand, then, that the expression of your highest ideals, your most celebrated achievements, likewise can be turned to smoke in an instant. This, then, is the sober message of Tishah B'Av, a "holiday" that teaches that all things will be "tossed into the oven" (Matt. 6:30), though the truth of God endures forever.

On the Torah's calendar, Tishah B'Av is "sandwiched" between the two times Moses received the tablets of the covenant, first during Shavuot and later, after a period of repentance, during Yom Kippur. This means that just two months after celebrating the Sinai revelation, we mourn for the destruction of the Temple and the beginning of our long exile; and two months later still, we celebrate national atonement and the restoration of the covenant during Yom Kippur.  All this is prophetic, of course, since Shavuot recalls the ascension of our LORD and the giving of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit); Tishah B'Av foretells of Israel's long exile and the "age of grace" extended to the Gentiles; and Yom Kippur foretells the coming atonement of the Jewish people at the end of the age, when Israel accepts Yeshua as their great High Priest of the New Covenant (Jer. 30:24).

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

Ultimately, the loss of "the place where God put His Name" was a deliberate affliction of His love for his people. 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 first occurrence of the 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...
 




Weeping and Exile...


 

[ The somber fast of Tishah B'Av begins this coming Monday at sundown.... ]

07.28.17 (Av 5, 5777)   The somber time of Tishah B'Av allows us to express heartfelt grief over the loss of Zion and therefore over the frailty of our human condition. During this appointed time it is appropriate to grieve over our sins and to shed tears that attest to lev nishbar ve'nikdeh, a "broken and crushed heart" (Psalm 51:17). Indeed, during the entire "Three Weeks of Sorrow" we have read selections from the prophets that forewarn of the coming destruction of the Temple (i.e., churban: חֻרְבָּן) and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people (i.e., galut: גָּלוּת). During this time of the year, we listen to the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah crying out for our repentance...

During the two Tishah B'Av synagogue services, the lights are dimmed and the Aron Hakodesh (Holy Ark) is draped in black (in some synagogues the parochet (curtain) is removed as a sign of mourning). The crowns with tinkling bells are removed from Torah scrolls. Congregants remove their leather shoes and do not greet each other. The cantor leads the prayers readings in a low, mournful voice. The cantillation for the Scripture readings are set to elegiac, sorrowful melodies (for more on this click here).
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵנוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂנוּ אֲסִירֵי תִּקְוָה

ba·rukh · at·tah · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · me·lekh · ha·o·lam,
a·sher · a·sa·nu · a·si·rei · tik·vah
 

"Blessed art You, LORD our God, King of the universe,
who has made us captives of hope."


 
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Words and Consequences...


 

07.28.17 (Av 5, 5777)   The midrash notes the morphological similarity between the word devarim (דְּבָרִים), "words," and devorim (דְּבוֹרִים), "bees." The words of Torah can give joy and sweetness to those who heed them (Psalm 19:10), but they are a deadly poison to those who do not: "Just as the honey of the bee is sweet and its sting is sharp, so, too, are the words of Torah." Likewise, our words can either be used to build up, edify, and comfort others, or they can be used to tear down, deliver poison, and cause pain.  As it is written in the Book of Proverbs, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue."
 

מָוֶת וְחַיִּים בְּיַד־לָשׁוֹן
וְאהֲבֶיהָ יאכַל פִּרְיָהּ

ma·vet · ve·chai·yim · be·yad · la·shon
ve·o·ha·ve·ha · yo·khal · pir·yah
 

"Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits" (Prov. 18:21)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Our ability to use language is perhaps what most differentiates us from animals -- and what most closely links us to God Himself. Indeed, words (devarim) and rationality (הִגָּיוֹן) are central to tzelem Elohim, the image of God, even as Yeshua represents this image most perfectly as devar Elohim (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים), the "Word (λόγος) of God" (Heb. 1:3, John 1:1). Just as the Word of God resounded, "Let there be Light, and there was Light (Gen. 1:3), so our words are the medium of how we experience and understand reality.  Words, then, can bring forth light and life, though tragically, they can cause darkness and death, too.

Life and death are be'yad lashon - in the "hand of the tongue," an idiom meaning under the control of the tongue.. Our words (and the thoughts they express) have vast spiritual significance and repercussion... Because we are made in the image and likeness of God, words wield spiritual power. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "word" (דָּבָר) also means "thing." When we bless others, we are invoking grace and good will to be manifest in the world, but when we curse others, the opposite effect is intended. The phrase, "those who love it will eat its fruits," suggests that as we speak, think, and imagine, so will come to us: we will eat the fruit of our words and their consequences....

Note: For more on this, see the parashah article, "These are the Bees."
 




Counting Stars...


 

07.28.17 (Av 5, 5777)   He took him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them..." then he added, "so shall your offspring be… And he believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:5-6). It takes more faith to believe the innumerable stars in the night sky were created for you than to believe that you were created for them… The stars light up the night sky to reveal the wonder and mystery that bespeaks your life (John 1:4). On the other hand, our lives are likened to vapors that quickly dissipate and are soon forgotten: "What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes" (James 4:14). In light of this antinomy, the sages reasoned that each person should walk through life with two notes, one in each pocket.  On one note should be the words bishvili nivra ha'olam (בִּשְׁבִילִי נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם) -- "For my sake was this world created," and on the other note the words should read, anokhi afar ve'efer (אָנכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר) -- "I am but dust and ashes."


 




Jeremiah and Jesus...


 

[ The following relates to Tishah B'Av, which begins sunset on Monday, July 31st... ]

07.27.17 (Av 4, 5777)   The prophet Jeremiah (ירמיהו הנביא) clearly foreshadowed the prophetic ministry of Yeshua our Messiah. Both Jeremiah and Yeshua were called to deliver the judgment of God upon sinful man. Both lived in a time of political upheaval and unrest for Judah. In a sense, both were "prophets of doom" who became "enemies of the Jewish state."  Both condemned hypocrisy and foretold disaster unless the people turned to God with all their hearts (Matt. 15:8; Jer. 7:9-15). Both were "weeping prophets" who lamented over the City of Jerusalem (Jer. 9:1; Luke 19:41). Both were misunderstood and persecuted by the people of their day. Both prophets were plotted against by the citizens of their own hometowns (Jer. 11:21; Luke 4:28-30), and both were rejected by the religious and political leaders of their day (Jer. 20:1-2; John 18:13, 24). Both rejected the Temple worship as corrupt and beyond repair. Both condemned the "religious" reinterpretation of the Torah (Jer. 8:8; Matt. 23:2-3;23; Mark 7:5). Both were forcibly taken into Egypt because of political persecution (Matt. 2:13; Jer. 44). Both were falsely accused, arrested, and unjustly beaten (Jer. 37:12-15; Matt. 26:61; 27:26). Both were rejected by the secular Jewish king of the Jews (Jer. 32:2-4; Luke 23:8-11), and yet both never abandoned the Jewish people and ultimately offered God's comfort and hope (Lam. 3:22-25, John 14:1,27).

Jeremiah and Yeshua both preached the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) of God that would transform a heart of stone into a heart of flesh (Jer. 31:31-34; Luke 22:20; Heb. 8:6-13; 9:15, etc.). Both foresaw that the true Temple of God was made without hands, built from material of hearts of those who truly serve God in Spirit and in truth... The destruction of the First Temple was the central catastrophe of the older covenant, just as the destruction of the Second Temple was the central catastrophe of the New Covenant. Because of the suffering and sacrificial death of Yeshua, the inner veil of the Temple has forever been rent asunder, and access to the Presence of God has been made available to all who trust in Him....

Yeshua warned us about the "leaven" (i.e., doctrine - διδαχή) of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and politicians of his day (Matt. 16:6-12; Mark 8:15). In Luke's Gospel, this leaven is defined as hypocrisy (ὑπόκρισις): "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy" (Luke 12:1). But what is hypocrisy? The word might come from the Greek prefix ὑπὸ (under) combined with the verb κρίνω (to judge), and hence refers to the inability to come to a decision and exercise genuine conviction. It is a state of being "double minded," duplicitous, and insincere... Later the word connoted playing a part, "putting on a show," feigning righteousness, acting with insincerity, reusing "canned answers" or repeating the party line.  Hypocrisy is therefore a form of self-deception. It is institutionalized prejudice dressed up as religion; it is counterfeit thinking that cheats the truth; it is ethnocentric nonsense that despises others as unworthy, inferior, etc.  The "leaven of the Pharisees" is like old sourdough added to the community -- it "puffs people up" and is therefore based on human pride. The message of both Jeremiah and Yeshua was marked by repentance, humility, and the sincere desire to love and serve God. 
 




The Cry of Jeremiah...


 

[ The Fast of Av (i.e., Tishah B'Av) begins Monday, July 31st at sundown this year... ]

07.27.17 (Av 4, 5777)   When he saw the Jews so crazed with the fires of their idolatry, Jeremiah asked them, "Why do you pursue idols? What attracts you to such emptiness? The Jews replied, "We have forsaken the LORD and He is angry with us. That is why we seek comfort in our idols..." (Jer. 8:14). This midrash reveals the profound connection between our faith in God's love for us and our tendency toward sin.  Despair over oneself can lead to shame, and shame leads to shameful actions (Prov. 13:5; 23:7). A person who abandons hope in the LORD and His love becomes a prey to the devil himself. If he no longer believes God can give him comfort, he will turn to the grossest forms of immorality to assuage his sense of abandonment.

According to Devarim Rabbah, "The Holy One, blessed be He, sent Jeremiah to the people when they sinned and said to them, 'Go tell my sons to repent.' The people said to Jeremiah, 'Should we return to the Holy One, blessed be He, with these faces? [i.e., we are ashamed to show our faces to Him].' The Holy One, blessed be He, sent Jeremiah again to tell them, 'My sons, if you return, is it not to your Father in heaven that you are returning? For He has never rejected you... By your lives, I will not deny my relationship with you. '  Nonetheless, despite such appeals, the people mocked Jeremiah and clung to their shame. It was the shame of sin that led to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, just as it was the shame of sin that led to the death of the exiles in Egypt....
 




Jeremiah and Moses...


 

07.27.17 (Av 4, 5777)   The sages sometimes compare Moses and Jeremiah. "Everything that is written about Moses is written about Jeremiah. As Moses was a prophet for forty years, so was Jeremiah; as Moses prophesied concerning Judah and Benjamin, so did Jeremiah; as Moses' own tribe (the Levites under Korach) rose up against him, so did Jeremiah's tribe revolt against him (Jeremiah was a kohen); Moses was cast into the water, Jeremiah into a watery pit; as Moses was saved by a female slave (the slave of Pharaoh's daughter), so Jeremiah was rescued by a male slave (Jer. 38:7-13); Moses reprimanded the people in discourses, so did Jeremiah (Pesikta d'Rav Kahana). We may add that Jeremiah expressed the same reluctance as Moses to become a prophet and offered the same kind of excuses (God gave Aaron to be Moses' mouthpiece but directly put words into Jeremiah's mouth (Exod. 4:14-16, Jer. 1:8-9). Some scholars have said that Jeremiah might have even regarded himself as the coming prophet whom Moses foretold (Deut. 18:18).

As a young man, the LORD appeared to him and said, "Listen closely, Jeremiah. While you were still in your mother's womb, I sanctified you to be a prophet for My people. The time has now come for you to go forth and prophecy." Deeply moved and afraid of this responsibility, he replied: "Master of the universe, how can You send me to rebuke the Jews? They will kill me! They even threatened to kill Moses and Aaron, who led them from Egypt, and they mocked Elijah and Elisha. Who am I to deliver your message to them?  I am young - only a child. Who will listen to me?" (Jer. 1:6). The LORD reassured Jeremiah: "Be not afraid. You shall indeed go wherever I send you. I have chosen you precisely because you are so young and innocent. Go to them and pour out my wrath upon them (Jer. 1:7-10).

Jeremiah was dismayed that he must be the "prophet of doom." "He said, 'Master of the Universe, what sins have I done that in the days of all the prophets who preceded me and those who will follow me, you did not destroy Your House, but only through me?' The LORD answered, 'Even before I created the world, you were prepared for this mission'" (Pesikta Rabati 27:5). Nonetheless, Jeremiah begged the LORD not to send him: "The day on which I was born was an evil one (Jer. 20:14); May this day never be blessed (Tishah B'Av)" He continued to protest. "Consider the differences between Moses and me. In his time, the Jews were told, 'May the LORD bless you (Num. 6:24),' but I must bring them a curse (Jer. 29:22). In Moses' day, You promised to protect your people and give them peace (Num. 6:26), but I must bring them news of evil days which will come to pass, days of darkness and death, of war and great tragedy (Jer. 16:5). Woe is me to be destined for such a bitter task!  I am like a priest who discovers in the course of punishing the unfaithful woman that she is none other than my own mother! So I am consigned to deliver the news of exile and destruction to my people, who are as dear to me as my own mother!"
 




The Plea of Moses...


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.27.17 (Av 4, 5777)   Various commentators regard Sefer Devarim (i.e., the Book of Deuteronomy) as Moses' final warning to Israel in light of their repeated failures and setbacks.  Some (primarily Christian) commentators even go so far as to say that the book represents an indictment against the Jewish people that warrants regarding them as a cursed people. (This is essentially the odious doctrine of "replacement theology" that denies ethnic Israel has a future and a hope in God's plan of salvation.) Even many Jewish commentators, among them Rashi, seem to focus on Moses' rebuke (i.e., tochachah: תּוֹכָחָה) of Israel and regard the book in a negative light. Because of this, it should be stressed at the outset that Moses' correction of Israel - including his review of the unseemly history of the desert generation - was primarily intended to remind the Jews of their high calling, their new identity, and their preciousness as God's people.  As will be seen, Moses wanted Israel to remember its identity as am segulah (עַם סְגֻלָּה), God's "treasured possession among all peoples" (Exod. 19:5). Moses' admonition (מוּסָר) functions more like the plea of a father to his children to walk in a manner that is worthy of his name than a stinging rebuke of the sins of his children. "My son, despise not the discipline (musar) of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction (tochachah). For whom the Lord loves he corrects; even as a father the son in whom he delights" (Prov. 3:11; cp. Heb. 12:5-6). Therefore we read, "Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son (כַּאֲשֶׁר יְיַסֵּר אִישׁ אֶת־בְּנוֹ), the LORD your God disciplines you (הוה אֱלהֶיךָ מְיַסְּרֶךָּ)" (Deut. 8:5).

To underscore this point, notice that just before Moses began his reproof of Israel, he declared his love and faith in the people. "The LORD your God has multiplied you until you are today as numerous as the stars in the sky (כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם). May the LORD, the God of your fathers, make you a thousand times more as you are (כָּכֶם), and bless you, as He promised you" (Deut. 1:10-11). Moses first brought up God's love for the Jews before he began his admonition.  Notice he used the word kachem (כָּכֶם, "as you are") in this blessing.  May the LORD multiply you - as you are - a thousand times! You are beloved; you are worthy: may the LORD bless you a thousand times over! (How different is this picture of Moses than the typical cartoon made of him by many in Christianity, who envision him smashing the tablets as if that were his "last word" on the subject of the Torah to Israel!)

Were the people perfect then?  Obviously not, as would be clear through Moses' later admonition to them. Nonetheless, Moses used a "good eye" to see their potential as God's chosen people. Here was this ragtag group of of desert wanderers, descendants of slaves from the "house of slavery," whom the LORD God Almighty personally redeemed to be His own treasured possession.  Despite their failures in the past and all that went before, Moses reminded them that they were esteemed as mamlechet kohanim v'goy kadosh (מַמְלֶכֶת כּהֲנִים וְגוֹי קָדוֹש), a "kingdom of priests and a holy people" (Exod. 19:6).
 




Using the Good Eye...


 

07.27.17 (Av 4, 5777)   If you look for flaws or defects in others, you will find them (Prov. 11:27). "A bitter person makes himself miserable." In this connection, recall that when the Jews came to Marah, they "could not drink the water because it was bitter" (Exod. 15:23). The Hebrew, however, could be read, "they could not drink the water because they (i.e., the people) were bitter (כִּי מָרִים הֵם). The problem is often not "out there" but within the heart (Matt. 15:19-20). How we choose to see, in other words, says more about us than it does the external world. If you read the daily news and see only ugliness, you run the risk of becoming hardhearted.  Your despair can eclipse the Presence of God....

Instead of refusing to judge others (in the name of supposed tolerance), we are commanded judge people favorably by using a "good eye" (עַיִן טוֹבָה). As it is written in the Torah, "in righteousness judge your neighbor (בְּצֶדֶק תִּשְׁפּט עֲמִיתֶךָ)" (Lev. 19:15). Notice that the word translated "righteousness" is tzedek (צֶדֶק), a word that includes the heart motive of "charity" and love.  We are commanded to give tzedakah (צְדָקָה, "charity") not just because it is "right," but it is right because it is based on God's love and care for others.  Something is righteous, in other words, because it expresses the truth about God's love. We could read this commandment as "in love judge your neighbor." Our judgments should be based on compassion, empathy, and care for others - never as a verdict about someone's worth and status before God. We see with a redemptive eye, and that means seeing the potential of others and their inherent worth as God's children.

Similarly, Yeshua warned us not to judge by appearances, but to "judge with righteous (צֶדֶק) judgment" (John 7:24). In the context in which he spoke (i.e., teaching the crowd during the festival of Sukkot in Jerusalem), Yeshua justified healing someone on the Sabbath day as an example of understanding the "weightier matters" of the Torah. He appealed to the crowd to use their sense of charity (צְדָקָה) before coming to a decision. He was grieved that people often "turned off their hearts" by disregarding the pain of others (Mark 3:5). Yeshua warned us not to "judge by appearances," which was the very mistake Job's friends made when they regarded Job's suffering as deserved because of some hidden sin... Certainly such indifference to personal suffering is an implication of a merit-based religious system that was endorsed by some of the religious authorities of Yeshua's day. Even some of Yeshua's disciples mistakenly correlated suffering with sin (John 9:1-3).

We are to "master the art of seeing good in others." Soren Kierkegaard tells the story of two young portrait artists who both sought to capture the essence of beauty in their paintings. One artist looked high and low for the "perfect face of beauty" but never found it. Tragically, he later gave up painting and lived in despair. The other artist, however, simply painted every face he saw and found beauty in each one. Now which of the two mastered the art of seeing the good in others?  Which of the two had a good eye?

For more see on this see, "Righteous Judgment: Further thoughts on Devarim."
 




Shabbat Chazon....



 

07.27.17 (Av 4, 5777)   Parashat Devarim is always read on the Sabbath before the 9th of Av, the traditional date on which both the First and Second Temples were destroyed. This Sabbath is called "Shabbat Chazon" (שַׁבַּת חַזוֹן), the "Sabbath of Vision," so named from the opening verse of the Haftarah: "Chazon Yeshayahu ven-Amotz" (חֲזוֹן יְשַׁעְיָהוּ בֶן־אָמוֹץ), the "Vision of Isaiah, the son of Amoz" (Isa. 1:1). When it was first recorded, Isaiah's vision of the destruction of the Temple was still future, and the Jews still had a chance to repent before the great tragedy befell them. However, since they did not repent, calamity finally overtook the inhabitants of Judah....  Despite this devastation, however, the Berditchever Rebbe saw in Shabbat Chazon a distant "vision" of the Third Temple of Messianic times, as indicated by Moses' farewell address as a "second Torah" (i.e., mishneh ha'torah: מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה), that is, a prophetic retelling given to the generation that finally would enter the Promised Land. Despite a long period of exile and mourning, the Sabbath before Tishah B'Av foretells the World to Come, a time when our redemption will be complete and all traces of the pain of our past forgotten, as was spoken by Moses himself (Deut. 32:43) and later by the prophet Zechariah: "Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'The fast of the fourth month (i.e., Tammuz) and the fast of the fifth (i.e., Tishah B'Av) and the fast of the seventh (Gedaliah) and the fast of the tenth (Asarah B'Tevet) shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore love truth and peace'" (Zech. 8:19). The sorrows of our exile will be turned into the joys of redemption!

For more on this topic see: "Fast Days of the Jewish Year" and "Vision of Destruction: Further Thought on Shabbat Chazon."
 




Righteous Judgment...


 

07.26.17 (Av 3, 5777)   "Judge others as you would want to be judged." As Yeshua said, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge be'tzekdek (בְּצֶדֶק),' that is, with merciful judgment (John 7:24). Truth is classically understood as "correspondence with reality," however since reality is not static, the truth of something is bound up with its past, present, and future. To "walk in truth," then, means being mindful of the complexities of something, and consequently refusing to rush to judgment or to be prejudiced in our thinking... Since truth includes possibilities for the future, it uses the good eye and "hopes all things" (1 Cor. 13:7). Notice that the word tzedek (צֶדֶק) includes the decision to act in "charity" and love. We are commanded to give tzedakah (צְדָקָה, "charity") not only because it is "right," but because it expresses God's love and care for others. A judgment is righteous, in other words, because it decisively affirms faith in God's love...
 

    "Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind... Pride always means enmity - it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good - above all, better than someone else - I think we may be sure we are being acted upon, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is either that you forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether. "- C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity)

 




Words and Peace...


 

07.26.17 (Av 3, 5777)   According to the sages, tzara'at (i.e., "spiritual disease") is punishment for evil talk, or "lashon hara" (לָשׁוֹן הָרָה). Using deceitful speech is spiritually dangerous, and therefore a key virtue of the healthy soul is the practice of shemirat ha-lashon (שְׁמִירַת הַלָּשׁוֹן), or the "guarding of the tongue." As the Spirit attests: "Come, children, listen to me: I will teach you the awe of the LORD (יִרְאַת יְהוָה): What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:11-14). This implies that our inner peace is connected with our intention and use of words: Consciously refraining from evil speech expresses reverence and wonder before the Divine Presence, whereas the contrary indicates spiritual dis-ease, a divided heart, and inner grief: "From the same mouth come blessing and cursing; brothers, these things ought not to be so" (James 3:10). We are healed by turning to God in the truth. The one who respects the LORD will "see good," that is, he will see the goodness of his surroundings in the light of God's Presence. Seeing the good in others, using a good eye (ayin tovah), is therefore the contrary of lashon hara and slander. Our words should be used to upbuild, edify, and esteem others, never to accuse or tear them down. May God help us speak so that we "give grace to those who hear" (Eph. 4:29).

Note:  The prohibition against lashon hara does not imply that we are excused from making righteous judgments (John 7:24). Sometimes it is the mark of a coward to refrain from speaking the truth. As Albert Einstein once said, "The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing." We must "speak the truth in love," even if that means sometimes offending those who wish to excuse or overlook evil behavior. For more, see "Shemirat Ha'Lashon: Guarding your tongue."
 




The Crucified Life...


 

07.26.17 (Av 3, 5777)   Some people seem to think that to be "crucified with Messiah" means that we must totally surrender our lives to God by denying ourselves and mortifying every passion apart from the Spirit of Messiah living within us (Gal. 2:20). However, if we could do this - if we really could crucify ourselves, deny ourselves, and completely yield our hearts to God in absolute surrender, we wouldn't need the miracle of salvation, would we? We'd be back at the religious game, attempting to please God through our own "best efforts," and endeavoring to affect spirituality by means of our own merit. On the contrary, Yeshua said that no one is able to come (οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐλθεῖν) to him for life unless God Himself "drags him" (John 6:44). The flesh is scandalized by this, of course, since the ego plays no part. Eternal life is found in the righteousness of Yeshua, and self-denial means to quit thinking about yourself (from α-, "not," + ῥέω, "to speak") by accepting what he has done for you. We have been (already) crucified with Messiah (the verb συνεσταύρωμαι is a perfect passive form), and just as we are identified with him in his death, so we are identified with him in his resurrected life. This is a matter of faith, trusting that God's love for your soul overcomes the law's powerlessness and your own inability to save yourself...

The first duty of the heart is to believe in the miracle of God's love for your soul. Surrender of the heart is deeper than outward obedience, since it is possible to obey God for the wrong reasons. Our motivation must be grounded in God's love first of all (1 John 4:19). This is what it means to "die to yourself" or to be "crucified" with Messiah: you let go; you relinquish control; you trust God to accept you, sustain you, and bless you -- even in your weakest moment.  That is the nature of trusting in God's love for you.

The moral law of God is a perfect mirror, revealing the truth about our inward condition. The reality of our sin leads to brokenness and the confession of our need for God's power to change our hearts. But we can only get to that place by means of the cross: We first die to all hope in ourselves and our religious aspirations, and then God does the miracle. The cross demonstrates that any attempt of the flesh to please God (i.e., "religion") is useless and needs to be laid to rest.  True obedience, then, means surrendering to the LORD who heals your heart (forgives your sin) and sets you free to know Him. This is the "end of the law," after all - to walk as God's free child who pleases Him out of a relationship of love, trust, and blessing. We can obey God, in other words, only if we first surrender our hearts to his love.

All who surrender obey, but not all who obey surrender... While we are not saved by obeying rules of conduct but solely by trusting in God's love (Eph. 2:9; 2 Tim. 1:9, Titus 3:5, Rom. 11:6, etc.), we will find ourselves willing to obey God from the heart only if we are really convinced that he loves and accepts us, despite our sins... The love of God is not without discipline, structure, and order, after all. Love is polite; it listens; it seeks to serve and worship with reverence and gratitude. So, after unconditionally surrendering our hearts to God, we will desire to do his will, that is, we will want to know and to do his Torah (Psalm 1:2), and the Holy Spirit will therefore lead us to a place of order, faithfulness, and peace - not to disorder and confusion (1 Cor. 14:33,40). There are disciplines to the life of faith that are instilled within our hearts to help us "work out" the inner transformation of God's love into our daily lives.  And that is part of the rationale for liturgy, ritual, observing the moedim (biblical holidays), reading the weekly Torah portions, giving tzedakah, performing acts of chesed, and so on.  Ideally such things are meant to provide "form" to the inner content of the heart. May we follow the path of peace. Shalom, dear chaverim...
 




Blessing of Surrender...


 

07.25.17 (Av 2, 5777)   "And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying... "Blessed are the lowly and humble, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5). Those conscious of their inner poverty, who mourn over their sinful condition, and who are afflicted with themselves, can let go of the need to "manage appearances," to be in control, or to seek validation from others, and therefore they are free to surrender their lives to God's care. They "flow" with the Father's will as a "gentle breeze," no longer resisting or striving, but simply trusting in God's care. When they are wronged, they seek neither revenge nor vindication, but only healing and restoration (1 Pet. 2:23). Paradoxically, it takes strength to be genuinely "lowly of heart," but such is found in the Spirit of God (Zech. 4:6). Indeed, the Spirit leads us to our inheritance: "the humble shall inherit the land and delight themselves in great peace" (Psalm 37:11). The fruit of the Spirit is the outgrowth of God's miraculous life with us, and we partake of that life when we live in Yeshua (John 15:1-5; Gal. 5:22-23).
 

וַעֲנָוִים יִירְשׁוּ־אָרֶץ
וְהִתְעַנְּגוּ עַל־רב שָׁלוֹם

va·a·na·vim · yir·shu · a·retz
ve·hit·a·ne·gu · al · rov · sha·lom

 

"But the humble shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace."
 (
Psalm 37:11)


 
 

God "opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." The LORD our God dwells with those "of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite" (Isa. 57:15). True greatness is found in outside of the self, beyond the instincts of the carnal ego. Those who seek to exalt themselves and to "gain the world" do not understand that the very reason for their life is to be sacrificed for the sake of love. Obeying God's call to love is not a burden, but rather sets the heart free. As Yeshua said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:28-30).
 




Weeping and Exile...


 

[ The Fast of Av (i.e., Tishah B'Av) begins Monday, July 31st at sundown this year... ]

07.25.17 (Av 2, 5777)   The somber time of Tishah B'Av allows us to express heartfelt grief over the loss of Zion and therefore over the frailty of our human condition. During this appointed time it is appropriate to grieve over our sins and to shed tears that attest to lev nishbar ve'nikdeh, a "broken and crushed heart" (Psalm 51:17). Indeed, during the entire "Three Weeks of Sorrow" we have read selections from the prophets that forewarn of the coming destruction of the Temple (i.e., churban: חֻרְבָּן) and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people (i.e., galut: גָּלוּת). During this time of the year, we listen to the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah crying out for our repentance...

During the two Tishah B'Av synagogue services, the lights are dimmed and the Aron Hakodesh (Holy Ark) is draped in black (in some synagogues the parochet (curtain) is removed as a sign of mourning). The crowns with tinkling bells are removed from Torah scrolls. Congregants remove their leather shoes and do not greet each other. The cantor leads the prayers readings in a low, mournful voice. The cantillation for the Scripture readings are set to elegiac, sorrowful melodies (for more on this click here).
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵנוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂנוּ אֲסִירֵי תִּקְוָה

ba·rukh · at·tah · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · me·lekh · ha·o·lam,
a·sher · a·sa·nu · a·si·rei · tik·vah
 

"Blessed art You, LORD our God, King of the universe,
who has made us captives of hope."


 
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Zion's Indefatigable Vision...


 

[ The Fast of Av (i.e., Tishah B'Av) begins Monday, July 31st at sundown this year... ]

07.25.17 (Av 2, 5777)   The solemn holiday of Tishah B'Av represents the yearning of the heart for the establishment of the Kingdom of God upon the earth... As Yeshua taught his disciples to pray: tavo malkhutekha (תָּבא מַלְכוּתֶךָ): "Thy Kingdom come"; ye'aseh retzonkha (יֵעָשֶׂה רְצוֹנְךָ): "Thy will be done," ba'aretz ka'asher na'asah va'shamayim (בָּאָרֶץ כַּאֲשֶׁר נַעֲשָׂה בַשָּׁמָיִם) "on earth, as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10). Now if you say that the King of the Jews lives inside your heart by faith (Matt. 2:2), and if the King of the Jews calls Jerusalem the "City of the Great King" (Psalm 48:2, Matt. 5:35), then heed the Spirit's call to "pray for the healing of Jerusalem" and the final redemption to come. At the End of the Age, the Messiah will indeed return to establish Zion as a praise upon the earth (Isa. 62:7).
 

שַׁאֲלוּ שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלָםִ
יִשְׁלָיוּ אהֲבָיִךְ

sha·a·lu · she·lom · ye·ru·sha·la·yim
yish·la·yu · o·ha·va·yikh
 

"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem;
May those who love you be at peace" (Psalm 122:6)



Hebrew Study Card

 




He Carries us Through...


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.25.17 (Av 2, 5777)   From our Torah this week (Devarim) we read: "The LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place" (Deut. 1:31). Part of the miracle of faith is coming to believe that you matter – that your thoughts, words, and deeds are of interest to God. You may be tempted to regard yourself as unseen and powerless before the Creator of the universe. How is it possible for anyone to serve the Infinite One, since "even the heavens, and the heaven of heavens, cannot sustain You" (1 Kings 8:27)? Are we not made of clay, whose foundation is but dust? (Job 4:19). Here the miracle of faith believes that God, the LORD and Source of all life, seeks relationship with us, and that He makes place within Himself to hear us, to engage our lives, and to walk with us... God is LORD over all possible worlds, and his infinite concern reaches to the uttermost. Indeed, "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us:" God emptied himself (κενόω) and clothed himself with human dust so that we could be touched by His love. The LORD carries us through our exile so that we might know and trust him...

"And just as we have borne the image of the man of dust,
so we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven"
(1 Cor. 15:49).

 




Redeemer of Waste Places...


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.24.17 (Av 1, 5777)   Though it would have taken just two weeks to march directly to the promised land from Egypt, the people were not ready and needed to wander from one dry place to another. Therefore we are told to remember the "whole way" (כָּל־הַדֶּרֶךְ) of our journey: "And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the the desert that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart - לָדַעַת אֶת־אֲשֶׁר בִּלְבָבְךָ ..." (Deut. 8:2). Yea, God works "all things together for good" - even tragic events such as the destruction of the Temple and the exile of His people, and therefore we are commanded to remember the "whole way" of our journey. "Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost" (John 6:12). We "press on to the goal" but also trust that God is able to redeem even the seasons of our lives lived in the waste places. Because of Yeshua, nothing of our lives will be be entirely lost. Amen. ברוך יהוה שגואל את הצער שלנו - "Blessed is the LORD who redeems our sorrows."  Chodesh tov, chaverim....
 




Suffering and Bitterness...


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.24.17 (Av 1, 5777)   How do we suffer gracefully, without becoming hardhearted and bitter? How do we cope with the disappointment of unanswered prayer? How do we bear with the inevitable grief and loss of those whom we love?  How do we understand some of the promises of God such as "ask whatever you will and I will do it" in relation to life in this world? Does God really listen to our prayers? Does he really care what happens to us?

Our options are somewhat limited regarding the existential question of why we suffer.  We can either ignore the question altogether or face it directly. If we seek to earnestly answer the question, however, we again only have a couple of "live" theological options. First, if we affirm that God is both all-powerful and all loving but will not remove our personal suffering on the basis of some sort of "principle" (for example, because he will not overrule the consequences of our free will), then he may seem indifferent to our pathos, since this would seem to imply that God values the ideals of justice more than those of mercy and compassion. It should be clear that this option is not viable for believers in our Lord Yeshua, who clearly taught us that God desires "mercy and not sacrifice" and taught us to show compassion to all people (Matt. 9:13; 12:7; Matt. 6:15, etc.). Another approach is to affirm that God is indeed all-loving but not all-powerful. God simply can't intervene to end our suffering because he is unable to do so. God wants to bless us and take away our pain, but he's limited in his means to do so. In other words, evil exists independently of God's control as a powerful force that contends with and undermines creation. It should also be clear that this option is also not viable for believers in our Lord, since God is repeatedly affirmed to be "omnipotent" or all-powerful throughout the Scriptures (e.g., Job 42:1-2; Isa. 14:27, 43:13; Jer. 32:27; Dan. 4:35; Matt. 19:26; Psalm 147:5, etc.). This leaves us with the option that indeed God is all-loving, all-powerful, and therefore pain and suffering are "tools" in his hands, intended to work for his glory and for our ultimate good (Rom. 8:28). In other words, God uses suffering as a means of transformation of the soul (soul-building theodicy).  In short, if we have trouble accepting God as our "Heavenly Father" who may use trouble in our lives to transform us in love, then we run the risk of becoming bitter and resentful people.  Much more can be said on this subject, of course, but this will suffice for the moment...

In light of such profound questions that so intimately affect our lives, it is important that we are "real" and honest with God... From our Torah portion this week (Devarim) we read: "You were not willing to go up but rebelled at the word of the LORD your God. And you murmured in your tents and said, 'Because the LORD hates us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt...'" (Deut. 1:26-27). We may decry the childish insolence of the people, we lament their lack of faith, and yet God was still speaking through Moses to Israel...  The sages ask whether we can ever be justifiably angry at God, and answer that yes we can, because otherwise we could never love Him "bekhol levavkha," with all our heart (Deut. 6:5). Indeed, how can we claim to love God if we withhold the truth, lie to ourselves, and attempt to hide who we really are from Him?  If you are angry at God, he already knows, so why the pretense? Being angry with God is part of being a real person in a real relationship with Him, and allowing yourself to express the truth of your heart to him is a sign of trust. God can "handle" the darker storms of your heart: trust Him to heal you this hour. Chodesh tov, chaverim....
 




Are you Willing to Ascend?


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.23.17 (Tammuz 29, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week (i.e., Devarim) we read: "But you were not willing to ascend (וְלא אֲבִיתֶם לַעֲלת), but became bitter (מָרָה) against the Word of the LORD your God" (Deut. 1:26). Moses' rebuke was not that the people were afraid to conquer the land as much as that they had lost heart and no longer desired to take hold of God's promise. The people gave up their dream; they forsook their hope; and they had lost the "devotion of their youth, their love as a bride, how they followed the LORD in the desert, into a land not sown" (Jer. 2:2). The people's failure was on two levels: First they lapsed in faith by abdicating trust in God's word, and second, they had lost the passion of their first love. In light of this, the sages say that the greater problem was that of losing heart, since the heart directs the will to believe in the miracle of God, or not...

Moses' rebuke of the people's heart condition recalls the sober warning Yeshua gave to the Ephesian believers: "I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your menorah from its place, unless you repent" (Rev. 2:2-5). Likewise the author of the Book of Hebrews commented: "And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief" (Heb. 3:17-19). The question of our faith is essential: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31).
 




Shabbat Chazon...


 

07.23.17 (Tammuz 29, 5777)   We are in the midst of the "Three Weeks of Sorrow" that began with the Fast of Tammuz and ends with the solemn fast of Tishah B'Av. Spiritually, these three weeks are marked by a renewed called for teshuvah (repentance), and the weekly readings from the prophets all warn about imminent judgment from heaven.  Among the Orthodox, the last nine days of the Three Weeks are very solemn. Beginning on the first day of the month of Av, traditional mourning customs are practiced in anticipation of the doleful fast of Tishah B'Av, when the Book of Lamentations (Megillat Eichah) will be plaintively chanted during the evening service.  The Sabbath that immediately precedes the fast of Tishah B'Av is called Shabbat Chazon (the "Sabbath of Vision") because the Haftarah that is read (i.e., Isa. 1:1-25) describes the terrible vision of the prophet Isaiah regarding the imminent destruction of the Temple:
 

    "Hear, O heavens and give ear, O earth,
    For the LORD has spoken;
    Though I brought up and raised My children,
    They have rebelled against me." (Isa. 1:2)
     

When it was first recorded, Isaiah's vision of the destruction was still future, and the Jews still had a chance to repent before the great tragedy befell them. However, since they refused to turn back to God, calamity overtook them. Today the Haftarah is traditionally chanted to the same haunting melody as Megilat Eichah (Lamentations), written by the prophet Jeremiah, who was an eyewitness to the destruction and fall of Jerusalem.

 

During the last nine days of the Three Weeks of Sorrow it is common to confess the sins in our lives that likewise contribute to the lack of God's Presence in our midst. Hashivenu Adonai, elecha vena-shuvah; chadesh yamenu kekedem: "Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21).

Though Shabbat Chazon is a time of mourning, it is also a time for hope. The Torah reading for this Sabbath is always parashat Devarim, the first portion of the Book of Deuteronomy. In this reading, Moses details the victorious battles with Sihon the king of Amorites and Og the king of Bashan. Because it speaks of God's victory, the sages recommended envisioning the future Temple that will be built by the Messiah at this time. According to Jewish tradition, after the Messiah comes and restores Israel, Tishah B'Av will become one of the happiest days of the year (and may He arrive soon and in our days).
 




Parashat Devarim...



 

07.23.17 (Tammuz 29, 5777)   Our Torah reading for this week is the very first portion from the Book of Deuteronomy (i.e., Devarim: דְּבָרִים), which is always read on the Sabbath that immediately precedes the doleful holiday of Tishah B'Av (תשעה באב). In Jewish tradition, this special Sabbath is called "Shabbat Chazon" (שַׁבַּת חַזוֹן), "the Sabbath of Vision," since the Haftarah that is read (i.e., Isa. 1:1-25) comes from the vision of the prophet Isaiah regarding the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In both Jewish tradition and liturgy, teshuvah (repentance) and viduy (confession of sin) are the themes of this preparatory Sabbath.
 


In our English Bibles, Devarim is known as Deuteronomy, a Greek word that means "repetition of the Torah," derived from the Hebrew phrase מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה, mishneh ha'Torah (Deut. 17:18). The Book of Devarim has 34 chapters divided into 11 weekly Torah readings.

Thank you for your prayers for this ministry, friends... Shavuah tov!
 




The Work of Faith...


 

07.21.17 (Tammuz 27, 5777)   You are invited to come before the Divine Presence - 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: learning to believe that Yeshua was given for your sake, because you are redeemable and have infinite value in the eyes of heaven.  Faith finds courage to accept God's love, despite whatever tempts 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).

Shabbat Shalom ahuvim, love and peace to each one of you... I thank the LORD God for you and esteem you as part of my extended spiritual family. May you be strong in the LORD and the power of his might; may you be happy and blessed and know God's great peace; may you be filled to overflowing with God's healing love and grace and kindness and beauty and wonder... And may Yeshua, our Beloved One, come speedily, and in our days. Amen.
 




A Blessed Reverence...


 

07.21.17 (Tammuz 27, 5777)   The sages say the verse, "Blessed is the person who fears always" (Prov. 28:14), means that whenever you want to do something, you should first seriously consider the consequences... If you do not think clearly, you will not fear, and such carelessness invariably leads to sin. The sacred is bound up with care; it sets boundaries between the profane and the holy.  The "fear of the LORD" is expressed as vigilance against the lusts of the lower nature (yetzer ha'ra)... We "tremble" before God when we are awake to His holiness and wonder (Phil. 2:12). The Temple was destroyed because of our forefathers did not think about their actions; they first exiled themselves from the Divine Presence and then they "caught up with" the pain of their exile for themselves.
 

אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם מְפַחֵד תָּמִיד
וּמַקְשֶׁה לִבּוֹ יִפּוֹל בְּרָעָה

ash·rei · a·dam · me·fa·ched · ta·mid
u·mak·sheh · lib·bo · yi·pol · be·ra·ah
 

"Blessed is the one who fears the LORD always,
but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity."
(Prov. 28:14)

 




The Bond of Our Words...


 

[ Our Torah this week (Mattot) discusses various laws regarding vows and oaths... ]

07.21.17 (Tammuz 27, 5777)   "If a man vows a vow (i.e., neder: נֶדֶר) to the LORD, or swears an oath (i.e., shevuah: שְׁבוּעָה) to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth" (Num. 30:2). In effect, when an individual makes a vow, he subjects himself to a new Torah prohibition (איסור התורה). If he keeps the vow, all will be well; however, if he breaks the vow, he will be subject to punishment. The Kol Dodi notes that in Hebrew the word for "prohibition" is esar (אֱסָר), which uses the same Hebrew letters to spell the word eres (אֶרֶס), meaning "venom" or "poison." A self-inflicted prohibition can be a dangerous source of toxicity for the soul, and therefore we should abstain from making vows or oaths, as our Lord Yeshua clearly taught us: "Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil" (Matt. 5:34-37).
 




The Journey of journeys...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah portion for this week, parashat Masei... ]

07.21.17 (Tammuz 27, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week (i.e., Masei) we read: "These are the journeys of the people of Israel (מַסְעֵי בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל) who went out of the land of Egypt..." (Num. 33:1). The sages ask why the word "journeys" (plural) was used here, since only the first journey – from Rameses to Sukkot – literally marked "yetziat mitzrayim," the going out of Egypt – and the other journeys were outside of Egypt, in the desert.  They answer that the journey out of Egypt goes beyond the physical land to the spiritual realm - an exodus from captivity to the secular world itself.  As has been said, it took the LORD 40 days to get Israel out of Egypt, but it took 40 years to get Egypt out of Israel... The "journey out of Egypt" is therefore a journey of smaller journeys that leads to deliverance.

The Torah uses a repetitious expression, "Sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy" (הִתְקַדִּשְׁתֶּם וִהְיִיתֶם קְדשִׁים) (Lev. 11:44) because when we make an effort -- no matter how feeble at times -- to draw near to the LORD, He will draw near to us... Indeed the walk of faith is one of ascent and descent and ascent again: It's often "two steps forward, one step back..." It is a long road, a process, as we learn to obey and seek to grow closer to God. Authentic repentance doesn't imply that we will never sin or make any mistakes, of course, but rather means that the oscillating pattern of "up, then down, then up" is the basic way we walk. Our direction has changed for good; we have turned to God for life and hope. We now understand our sins in light of a greater love that bears them for us even as we draw ever closer to the One who calls us home...
 




Suffering and Healing...


 

07.21.17 (Tammuz 27, 5777)   I've written about the problem of suffering in more or less intellectual terms over the years, though I think the real problem, when reflected upon emotionally, is the fear of being lost, abandoned, and made an orphan forever and ever. It is the child's cry for his father's touch or his mother's warm embrace denied and left ungiven... Is that not something of the fear, after all?  As the late Henri Nouwen once said: "Not being welcome is your greatest fear. It connects with your birth fear, your fear of not being welcome in this life, and your death fear, your fear of not being welcome in the life after this. It is the deep-seated fear that it would have been better if you had not lived." The central message of the cross of Messiah is that God regards you as personally worth dying for, and indeed, that your life is worth the exchange of His own... You are treasured; you are loved. This is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3-5). The Word of Life is - above all else - an invitation, a cry of welcome, that sings out to you in your loneliness and shame. The core of the battle is here - whether you will decide to trust in God's love or shrink back into the places of darkness, isolation, and pain. Yeshua says, "Come to me; I love you, I accept you; I receive you; please, be welcome with me; I will take your hand, I will be with you..."
 

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

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

 

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



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The Way of Escape...


 

07.21.17 (Tammuz 27, 5777)   Where it is written, "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (1 Cor. 10:13), we note that the Greek text says that God will actively "make with the temptation the way of escape" (ποιήσει σὺν τῷ πειρασμῷ καὶ τὴν ἔκβασιν) so that you may be able to bear it.... When I was younger, I tended to think of temptation as the appeal to gratify my flesh, to impulsively seek hedonistic pleasure, and so on, but now I understand "temptation" (πειρασμό) to encompass far more than just that. For instance, whenever I am inclined to regard my experience in human or "natural" terms, apart from the consciousness of God's all-pervading and sustaining presence, then I am surely under temptation. This encouraging verse, then, assures us of the Divine Presence in every moment, at every turn of our journey, and in every circumstance. God is always present to help you as you turn to him in faith. The sages state in this regard: "God creates the cure before the plague," meaning that His love is the foundation of all things: עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה / olam chesed yibaneh: "steadfast love built the world" (Psalm 89:2). Just as God created mankind only after He created the pathway of repentance (i.e., the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world": Eph. 1:4, Heb. 4:4, Rev 13:8), so the escape from temptation was likewise foreseen and provided. In all things, then, may we humble ourselves and seek God's face, understanding our radical dependence upon Him for our deliverance. Amen.
 




Every Jot and Tittle...


 

07.20.17 (Tammuz 26, 5777)   The language of the Torah is sometimes called "lashon Ha'kodesh" (לשון הקודש), the holy language, or "lashon Adonai" (לשון יהוה), the language of the LORD, since it was revealed with the first divine utterance of creation, yehi ohr (יְהִי אוֹר) "let there be light" (Gen. 1:3). And when God created Adam (אָדָם) from the dust of the ground (i.e., adamah: אֲדָמָה), human consciousness was born, and Adam immediately understood that the LORD created all things, including himself. According to midrash, Adam's first words were, יהוה מֶלֶךְ עוֹלָם וָעֶד / Adonai malakh olam va'ed: "The LORD is King for ever and ever" (Exod. 15:18). God then said, "Now the whole world will know that I am King," and He was very pleased. This was the "tov me'od" (טוֹב מְאד) moment of creation, when God saw all that He had made "and found it very good" (Gen. 1:31). The Torah states that Adam was created be'tzelem Elohim (בְּצֶלֶם אֱלהִים), in the "likeness" (or shadow) of God, with the divinely imparted ability to use language and logic. As it is written: "In the beginning was the Logic (᾽Εν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος)... and without Logos was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of humankind" (John 1:1,3-4).

Upon the creation of the first woman, created ezer kenegdo (עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ), a "help before him," Adam exclaimed, under divine inspiration, "This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman (i.e., isha: אִשָּׁה), for she was taken out of man" (i.e., ish: אישׁ). The original man understood himself as "ish," an "individual," and saw the woman as something sacred extracted from himself (the letter Hey (ה) was appended to signify the divine spirit). Later Adam called the woman "Eve" (i.e., chavah: חַוָּה), the "mother of all living" (אֵם כָּל־חָי) which again is wordplay on the Hebrew verb "to live" (i.e., chayah: חָיַה). Since the LORD spoke lashon ha'kodesh to create the world, it only makes sense that Adam, the pinnacle of divine creation, spoke Hebrew as well (Gen. 2:19-20). Likewise Yeshua, the Word of God (דְּבַר אֱלהִים), the One born the King of the Jews, assuredly spoke Hebrew (see Luke 2:39-42; 4:16; Matt. 5:17-19; Acts 26:14), and therefore it is no overstatement to say that Hebrew is the most important of all languages, both logically and spiritually understood.
 

 


Note:  Some people claim Aramaic was the original language of Adam, though in the Torah a distinction is made between Hebrew and Aramaic throughout. Abraham's ancestors lived in Padan Aram, of course, and from there came the matriarchs Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah (Gen. 10:22; 11:27-28; Gen. 25:30; 28:2, etc.), so Abraham knew Aramaic as the language of the "old country." Nevertheless "Abram the Hebrew" (אַבְרָם הָעִבְרִי) understood the original lashon ha'kodesh that was passed down from Adam through the godly line of Seth, through Noah and his son Shem, and which he then taught to Isaac and Jacob. Indeed after Jacob fled Padan Aram and made a treaty with his evil uncle Laban the "Syrian" (הַאָרַמִּי), the Torah records, "Laban called it (i.e., the witness mound) Jegar-sahadutha (Aramaic), but Jacob called it (in Hebrew) Galed (גַּלְעֵד)" (Gen. 31:47). Upon successful entry to the promised land, Jacob changed the name of his last born son from Ben-oni (בֶּן־אוֹנִי), "son of my sorrow," to the Benyamin (בִּנְיָמִין), "son of my strength." The midrash says as she was dying Rachel reverted back to using Aramaic, her mother tongue, to name her child, but Jacob changed the name to refer to the land of Israel: Benjamin can also be read as "son of the right" or "son of the south," referring to the promised land. Other examples may be given in Scripture, and interested readers might want to see the article: "Did Jesus Speak Hebrew?"
 




Awake, O my soul...


 

07.20.17 (Tammuz 26, 5777)   We are living in perilous times, and for all the more reason we must "pay more careful attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away" (Heb. 2:1). Spiritually speaking, the greater danger is often not some spectacular sin but rather the imperceptible drifting away of the heart, a cooling of passion, a failure to tend the fire of our inner altar.... I would much prefer a heaven-sent affliction and chastisement than to fade away in deathly repose, a state of unconscious exile, comfortably numb... "Awake, my glory! Awake!" (עוּרָה כְבוֹדִי עוּרָה). Break the spell of lethal habit.

We must be anchored to the truth lest we become shipwrecked in our faith. Drifting is often imperceptible, and occurs slowly, though the end result is as deadly as openly turning away from God in outright apostasy. The grave danger today is to quietly and invisibly give up hope, to unconsciously "go with the flow," to become comfortably numb, to fall asleep, and therefore to die inside... It is far more dangerous to ignore God's mercy, or to make a pretense of knowing God's grace, than it is to blatantly break his law. Therefore the urgent need is to remember, to hear, and to awaken the soul to face the truth about reality. We must focus the heart, concentrate the will, and consciously "set" the Lord always before us (Psalm 16:8). Each day we must awaken from our emptiness to reaffirm the central truth: "Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:4-5). "Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Messiah will give you light" (Eph. 5:14).

We must press on to secure our high calling in Messiah: "Let us know; let us press on to know (i.e., נִרְדְּפָה, "pursue after") the LORD; His going out is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth" (Hos. 6:3). May God help us pursue him be'khol levavkha - with all our heart - because He has promised, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13).
 




Prophecy of Healing...


 

07.19.17 (Tammuz 25, 5777)   Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad: "Listen, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is one." Instead of thinking of the Shema (שְׁמַע) as a commandment to be externally obeyed, you can trust it as a prophecy about your inner life: "You shall love (וְאָהַבְתָּ) the LORD your God with all your heart (בּכָל־לְבָבְךָ), and with all your soul (וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ), and with all your might" (Deut. 6:5). Only God can quicken a dead heart, after all, and fill the soul with holy affections; only the LORD can impart to us strength needed to take hold of promises as He writes His Torah upon our heart. As it is written, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever" (Rom. 11:36).
 

וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ
וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל־מְאדֶךָ

ve·a·hav·ta · et · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · be·khol · le·vav·kha
u·ve·khol · naf·she·kha · u·ve·khol · me·o·de·kha

 

"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart
 and with all your soul and with all your might"
(Deut. 6:5)



Hebrew Study Card
 

God will take away your stony heart and give you a new heart, along with a new spirit to be willing to know His love, as it is written, "I will give you a new heart (lev chadash), and a new spirit (ruach chadashah) I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezek. 36:26). Your new heart will be like Yeshua's own: open, accessible, flexible, trusting, sharing, emotionally alive, able to feel, pulsating with God's energy and power...

The great promise is this: "you shall love," since love is what is most true about who you are... You shall love the LORD, since He is the Source and End of all real love. You will love the LORD more and more, as you grow ever closer to Him and one day will behold Him panim-el-panim, "face to face." You shall love the LORD with all your heart, which implies God has indeed given you a new heart to love Him with; and with all your soul, which implies that you are enabled to truly feel, and that your heart is made tender and sensitized; and with all your might - that is, with all your "muchness," your "substance," or that reality that makes you who you really are in the LORD... May the LORD fulfill this prophecy in you, friend. 
 




Every thought Captive...



 

07.19.17 (Tammuz 25, 5777)   "Speak to the children of Israel, and say unto them, 'When ye are passed over into the land of promise… drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you; destroy all their carved images, all their molten images, and demolish their high places'" (Num. 33:51-52). The Hebrew word for idolatry is "avodah zarah" (עֲבוֹדָה זַרָה), which literally means strange or "foreign" worship...  The worship of anything other than the true God, whether it is pleasure, money, fame, control, security, self-improvement, health, religion, etc., is regarded as foreign, since it alienates us from the truth of reality. We were created to be in relationship with God but we lose sight of this truth whenever elevate 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. Since our greatest good is found in the eternal verities of the divine communion, the Lord cannot give us an absolute good apart from Him, since there literally is no such thing. "No one can serve two masters," Yeshua said, and "a divided house cannot stand." For our own good, then, God necessarily is the Ultimate Concern of our life, and he wants to spare us the pain, disappointment, and trauma of being double-minded, disintegrated, and full of inner conflict. Spiritual warfare therefore means taking every thought captive before the bar of God's truth, rooting out and destroying all our inner idols so that we can be delivered from the anguish of uncertainty and ambivalence.

What is at stake here is your inner life, or rather the threat of the disintegration of your deepest essence into a fragmented multiplicity without center... The soul must be grounded in Reality or it is lost, dissipated in existential dread and despair. Yeshua said that when your eye is "single" (ἁπλοῦς), your whole being will be full of light (Matt. 6:22), which means that being single-minded and wholehearted unifies and heals the soul.... Being pulled in opposite directions is both painful and debilitating, for there is no overarching reason to direct the will in its decisions. Hating and loving the good is the ambivalence of despair. Being both willing and unwilling weakens the soul, but seeking the good and making God your ultimate concern binds up the broken heart and centers the will. "Your faith has made you whole..."

"Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life" (Prov. 4:23). The heart, that is, the willing and desiring center of the self, is to be proactively guarded, and for this sacred task God offers us heavenly comfort and resolve.  Courage does not chase away or deny fear and despair, but instead gives us determination to persevere despite these feelings. "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope thou in God" (Psalm 42:11). Courage expresses hope in the midst of the struggle; it finds strength to confront pain, danger, or grief with God's help. Courage is grounded in the decision to trust that God is with us, despite our circumstances or feelings of abandonment. How you choose to guard your heart from the corruption and hardness of the world will determine the "road" of your life. If you do not care to keep your heart soft, you will become cynical, weary, and more and more selfish. Your way will be lonely, suspicious, and dangerous. If, however, you keep yourself from the hardness of unbelief, you will experience compassion, encouragement, and the joy of loving others.

May God help you guard your heart and walk in the way of true life...
 




Beware of False Prophets...


 

07.19.17 (Tammuz 25, 5777)  "Beware of false prophets," Yeshua warned, "who come to you in sheep's clothing (literally, "the skins of sheep," ἐν ἐνδύμασι προβάτων), but who inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:15; cp. 2 Pet. 2:1). However, because they come in disguise, pretending to be "children of light," we must be all the more vigilant. On the one hand, we must beware of those who "wrap themselves in a tallit" (legalists) and teach that we should come under the yoke of the law (Matt. 23:15), and on the other, we must beware those who minimize words of the holy Torah, who falsely claim that the way to heaven is "broad," and that we therefore are "free" to walk after the desires of our own hearts (antinomianists). 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.).
 




The Matter of Words...


Marc Chagall - The Dream 1978
 

07.18.17 (Tammuz 24, 5777)   People sometimes demand "freedom of speech" but they want nothing of the responsibility to speak truthfully. The Torah, however, states that we are accountable for every word we speak, and there is no license to use language to harm or to abuse others (Matt. 12:36-37). "If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not break his word (לא יַחֵל דְּבָרוֹ), but he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth" (Num. 30:2). We are not permitted to break the sanctity of our word. The Hebrew word translated "break" (i.e., yachel: יַחֵל) means to regard what is said as "chol" (חל), – that is, something common, insignificant, or "profane." "Dibbur emet" is the Torah value that says we have the duty to speak truth. Only true words can have significance, power, and real meaning; untrue words are consigned to the realm of the unintelligible, the "lost," and the meaningless. Our postmodern world equivocates at every turn, devaluing the significance of speech, using language as a political or social tool to manipulate others and manage appearances. As such it is utterly bromidic, narcissistic, and violent in its deepest linguistic structures, expressing a vacuum of the human spirit. True speech is "kadosh," holy, unique, sacred, pointing to the extraordinary, the wonderful, the hidden, the mysterious, the beautiful. True speech serves as the means of expressing love.

The targum Onkelos states that God breathed into Adam the ability to think and to speak. In other words, thought and speech are two primary characteristics of the image (tzelem) and likeness (demut) of God. Since our use of words is directly linked to the "breath of God" within us, lashon hara (לָשׁוֹן הָרָה) defaces God's image within us.... Using words to inflict pain therefore perverts the image of God, since God created man to use language to "build up" others in love. This is part of the reason the metzora (i.e., one afflicted with tzara'at) was regarded as "dead" and in need of rebirth.

Lashon hara (evil speech) is really a symptom of the "evil eye" (ayin hara). "Evil comes to one who searches (דָּרַשׁ) for it" (Prov. 11:27). We must train ourselves to use the "good eye" (ayin tovah) and extend kaf zechut - the "hand of merit" to others. Genuine faith is optimistic and involves hakarat tovah, that is, recognizing the good in others and in life's circumstances. Gam zu l'tovah: "This too is for the good" (Rom. 8:28). The Midrash states that God afflicted houses with tzara'at so that treasure hidden within the walls would be discovered. The good eye finds "hidden treasure" in every person and experience.

The words we say, whether good or bad, call for a response in the realm of spirit. This is hinted at by the Hebrew word for "thing," i.e., devar, which also means "word." King David said (Psalm 35:13): "May what I prayed for happen to me!" (literally, tefillati al-cheki tashuv - "may it return upon my own breast"). Some of our prayers are conscious words spoken to God, whereas others are unconscious expressions of our inner heart attitudes. When we harbor indifference, ill will, or unforgiveness toward others, we are only hurting ourselves.  It is very sobering to realize that our thoughts are essentially prayers being offered up to God...Listen to the words of your heart and understand that they are devarim, "things" that are defining the course of your life right now.  When we seek the good of others we find God's favor, healing and life. Yeshua spoke of "good and evil treasures of the heart" that produce actions expressed in our words (Luke 6:45). A midrash states that if someone speaks well of another, the angels above will then speak well of him before the Holy One.

In light of the enigma of "spiritual impurity" (i.e., tumah) and its ultimate expression revealed in the corruption of death, it is all the more telling that we should heed the cry of the Spirit: "Choose Life!" (Deut. 30:19). Sin is a type of "spiritual suicide" that seduces us to exchange eternal good for the petty and the trivial. The nachash (serpent) in the garden was the first to speak lashon hara. He slandered God and lied to Eve about how to discern between good and evil. He is a murderer and the father of lies. Resist his wiles with the truth of God...

May it please the LORD to help each of us be entirely mindful of the power and sanctity of our words... May it please Him to help us use our words for the purpose of strengthening and upbuilding (οἰκοδομὴν) one another (Eph. 4:29). May God help us take every thought "captive" to the obedience of the Messiah, thereby enabling us to always behold and express the truth of God's unfailing love.
 




The Struggle of Faith...


 

07.18.17 (Tammuz 24, 5777)   I know many of you are in pain, struggling to hang on to hope, waiting for the fulfillment of the promise of your salvation in Yeshua.  Keep the fire of your heart burning, friend...  Rabbi Nachman once told a person who was struggling with his faith: "It is written that all creation was brought into being because of people like you. God saw there would be people who would cling to our holy faith, suffering greatly because confusion and doubt would plague them. God perceived that such would overcome these doubts and troubles of heart and remain strong in their belief. It was because of this that God brought forth all creation." Good words... Never yield to despair, since that leads to further darkness and fear. Press on and keep fighting the "good fight" of faith (1 Tim. 6:12). Remember that you infinitely matter to heaven; your life has great value; you are significant and you are truly loved by our Heavenly Father.  There is a "future and a hope" reserved for you; there is "a white stone, and on that stone will be written a new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it" (Rev. 2:17). May "the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tested with fire, be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Pet. 1:7).
 

כִּי אָנכִי יָדַעְתִּי אֶת־הַמַּחֲשָׁבת
אֲשֶׁר אָנכִי חשֵׁב עֲלֵיכֶם נְאֻם־יְהוָה
מַחְשְׁבוֹת שָׁלוֹם וְלא לְרָעָה
 לָתֵת לָכֶם אַחֲרִית וְתִקְוָה

ki · a·no·khi · ya·da·ti · et · ha·ma·cha·sha·vot
a·sher · a·no·khi · cho·shev · a·lei·khem · ne·um · Adonai
mach·she·vot · sha·lom · ve·lo · le·ra·ah
la·teit · la·khem · a·cha·rit · ve·tik·vah
 

"For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD,
plans for blessing and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."
(Jer. 29:11)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

Hebrew Study Card
 

The heart of the cross of Messiah is that God regards you as personally worth dying for, and indeed, that your life is worth the exchange of His own... You are treasured; you are loved. This matter is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3-5). "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). We must begin here, first, always...  Chazak chaverim.
 




Dialog of the Heart...


 

07.18.17 (Tammuz 24, 5777)   During his lectures on Jewish values, Joseph Telushkin used to ask his audience if they could go 24 hours without saying any unkind words about, or to, anybody. Most people admitted that no, they couldn't.  Rabbi Telushkin then commended them for their honesty, but then pointed out that if he had asked them if they could go 24 hours without drinking alcohol and they likewise said they couldn't, wouldn't that mean they have a serious drinking problem? (Words that Hurt). His point is that if you can't go 24 hours without saying unkind words about others, you have lost control of your tongue. As Yeshua explained, the tongue expresses the condition of the heart, since "from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45). Therefore the root issue concerns the heart (לֵב), the "midst of the self" that wills, desires, and chooses how to interpret and describe the world. If we choose to see from a heart of fear, we will tend to use our words as a weapon; but if we see with a heart of faith, we will extend compassion and seek to build others up....

Since words represent thoughts, the use of our tongues has to do with how we choose to think... "Think on these things..." We are instructed to "take every thought captive" (αἰχμαλωτίζω, i.e., lead away as a prisoner) to the obedience of Messiah... It is wise to restrain our speech, because, after all, we often have no idea what we are talking about, and therefore our words can become unruly and even dangerous. Whenever we open our mouth to speak, Heaven is listening (Matt. 12:36-37).
 




The Fruit of our Words...


 

07.18.17 (Tammuz 24, 5777)   Yeshua said that as a tree is to its fruit, so is a person's heart is to his speech. Our words arise from an underlying source and root: "I tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will give account for every careless word (πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργὸν) they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). First note that the phrase translated "every careless word" can be understood as "every 'workless' word," that is, every vain or empty word spoken, every broken promise, every insincere utterance, and so on. Second, note that there is a relationship between naming and being in Hebrew thought, and indeed the Hebrew word davar (דּבר), usually translated as "word," can also mean "thing." This suggests that our words define reality - not in an absolute sense, of course - but in terms of our perspective and attitude, and for that we are held responsible before the LORD. Since our words express our thoughts, Yeshua wants us to make up our minds: "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit."

And may it please our gracious and long-suffering LORD to answer the cry of our heart: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer" (Psalm 19:14). Amen...
 




Inner and the Outer...


 

07.18.17 (Tammuz 24, 5777)   Our Torah portion this week (Mattot) begins with Moses instructing the leaders of the tribes, saying: "If a person makes a vow (נֶדֶר) ... he shall not break his word; but he shall do according to all he has said" (Num. 30:2). Notice that the phrase "break his word" literally means to profane (חָלַל) his word, which implies that breaking a promise is a type of spiritual defilement... If we do not honor and respect our words, we lose a sense of meaning, and the substance of what we say and think becomes unstable. Such double-mindedness leads to shame, since without inner conviction we become inwardly divided and fragmented, so that we no longer trust ourselves... Being honest (יָשָׁר) implies that what we say and what we mean are unified. An honest person doesn't play games with words but understands that communication is a sacred trust...

We must be careful with our words so that we do not mislead others. This is called shemirat ha'lashon (שְׁמִירַת הַלָּשׁוֹן), or "guarding of the tongue." Yeshua warned us not make formal oaths, but instead to be trustworthy in our words: let your "yes" mean yes, and your "no" mean no... The Talmud agrees by saying that 'no' is an oath and 'yes' is an oath." Our words are to be regarded as sacred, as an expression of truth. God has made us inviolable promises, and we are never to play games with that.  Just as His word is sacred, so we should strive to be sacred in our speech, too....

The Torah states, "You shall not put a stumbling block (מִכְשׁוֹל) before the blind" (Lev. 19:14). In addition to its literal meaning, the word "blind" figuratively refers to a person unaware of all the facts and who is therefore made vulnerable. Someone who misdirects the blind deceives them, and this violates the 9th commandment not to bear false witness (Exod. 20:16; 23:1). Such deception is called genevat da'at (גְּנֵבַת דַעַת), or "stealing the mind," since it defrauds the other person's trust. For example, it is common practice for politicians to disclose only what they think others need to know, and therefore they offer incomplete versions of truth for the sake of their own self-serving interests. Lying to others is a violation, then, of both the commandment not to steal and the commandment not to bear false witness. "The righteous person hates lies" - דְּבַר־שֶׁקֶר יִשְׂנָא צַדִּיק (Prov. 13:5).

"Deliver me, O LORD, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue" (Psalm 120:2). The sages say that the virtue of eminut (אֲמִינוּת), or trustworthiness, begins with learning to trust others... Parents are therefore responsible to fulfill their commitments to their children. Rabbi Zera said, "One should not say to a child, 'I will give you something' and then not do so, since that teaches the child to lie" (Sukka 46b). People learn to lie from a sense of betrayal, from the mismatch between professed words and reality. The breakdown of trust leads to the evasive use of words to protect ourselves. We tell others what we think they want to hear or we mislead them to keep ourselves safe. Breaking promises wounds others, and children can learn to become hardhearted, untrusting, and fearful of intimacy as a result.
 




Spiritual Direction...


 

07.17.17 (Tammuz 23, 5777)   "Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in His holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to vanity nor sworn deceitfully" (Psalm 24:3-4). Here King David likens spiritual elevation to ascending a mountain... To succeed we must be free of our heavy burdens, as it says, "my sins are too heavy for me" (Psalm 38:4). To successfully ascend the mountain of the LORD we must let go of those things that weigh us down by practicing moderation, by performing acts of righteousness and kindness, and by keeping our affections free from the pain and ambivalence of evil thoughts (2 Cor. 10:4-5). "Clean hands" is a metaphor for doing righteous deeds, and a "pure heart" symbolizes the will refined by suffering. "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8). Doing these things will enable us to stand before the holy presence with confidence and joy (1 John 3:21-22). "For we are God's workmanship, created in Yeshua the Messiah for good works (לְמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים), which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). "If you know that he is righteous (צַדִּיק), you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him" (1 John 2:29).
 

מִי־יַעֲלֶה בְהַר־יְהוָה
וּמִי־יָקוּם בִּמְקוֹם קָדְשׁוֹ
נְקִי כַפַּיִם וּבַר־לֵבָב
אֲשֶׁר לא־נָשָׂא לַשָּׁוְא נַפְשִׁי
וְלא נִשְׁבַּע לְמִרְמָה
יִשָּׂא בְרָכָה מֵאֵת יְהוָה
וּצְדָקָה מֵאֱלהֵי יִשְׁעוֹ

 


"Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in His holy place? – The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to vanity nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation" (Psalm 24:3-5). The one who knows that his soul belongs to God will not cleave to that which is transitory, empty, or vain (לַשָּׁוְא). The tzaddik understands that each person was created to honor God and to follow the paths of love and truth (חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת). Note that the Hebrew text for the phrase, "who has not lifted up his soul to vanity" is actually written as "who has not lifted My Soul to vanity" (לא־נָשָׂא לַשָּׁוְא נַפְשִׁי), referring to God, which means the righteous one recognizes God as his greatest Blessing and Ultimate Concern. The person of faith guards the covenant, flees from personal honors, nullifies his worldly aspirations, and seeks to magnify the glory of LORD God of Israel in all that he does..
 




Integrity of our Words...


 

[ Our Torah this week (Mattot) discusses various laws regarding vows and oaths... ]

07.17.17 (Tammuz 23, 5777)   "If a man vows a vow (i.e., neder: נֶדֶר) to the LORD, or swears an oath (i.e., shevuah: שְׁבוּעָה) to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth" (Num. 30:2). The Hebrew expression "break his word" literally means "profane his word" (יַחֵל דְּבָרוֹ), that is, to defile the soul by causing it to be inwardly divided, irresolute, and cowardly. After all, breaking your word means violating the integrity of who you are, showing that what you say and what you do are not unified, and this leads to feelings of shame.  Your words confess your reality and bring it to life... If you cannot keep your word, your word becomes profane, empty, and lost -- you become a "stranger to yourself," unsure of what you intend. "Let your "yes" be yes and your "no" be no; learn to say what you mean and mean what you say.
 




The Central Thing...


 

07.17.17 (Tammuz 23, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Mattot) we read: zeh ha'davar asher tzivah Adonai: "This is the thing the LORD has commanded" (Num. 30:1). The language here seems to suggest that there is only one matter that God has commanded, namely, to speak truth and to be faithful in our promises (Num. 30:2). This is because the sacredness of our word is the foundation for all our other responsibilities. After all, if our word is equivocal, it is unclear, unreliable, undecided, and therefore ultimately meaningless.... Insincere words are without genuine commitment, and the lack of decisiveness undermines all Torah. "This is the thing the LORD has commanded," namely, to accept your duty to honor the truth; to keep your faith in God's word; and to hold sacred your commitment before God.  !זֶה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה
 

כִּי־אֱמֶת יֶהְגֶּה חִכִּי
וְתוֹעֲבַת שְׂפָתַי רֶשַׁע

ke-e·met · ye·he·geh · chi·ki
ve·to·a·vat · se·fa·tai · re·sha

 

"For my mouth will utter truth;
wickedness is an abomination to my lips"
(Prov. 8:7)

 




Born of the Spirit...


 

07.16.17 (Tammuz 22, 5777)   The word "spirit" points to wonder, to something extraordinary and beyond our expectation, that is, to the mysterious Divine Presence that pervades all things yet rises above all things. Yeshua likened the Ruach (רוּחַ) with the inscrutable motions of the wind: "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). We can see the effect of the wind, but not the wind itself, which illustrates that the wind is ultimately beyond our grasp and control. To be "born of the Spirit" (נולד מן הרוח) therefore points to a mysteriously creative and regenerative event from heaven (John 1:13), just as being "led by the Spirit" implies living differently, that is, by sensing and encountering the Divine Presence in the mysterious motions of life. 
 

אָנָה אֵלֵךְ מֵרוּחֶךָ
וְאָנָה מִפָּנֶיךָ אֶבְרָח

a·na · e·lekh · me·ru·che·kha
ve·a·na ·  mi·fa·ne·kha ·  ev·rach
 

"Where shall I go from your Spirit?
 Or where shall I flee from your presence?"
(Psalm 139:7)


 


"The wind blows where it will; you are aware of its soughing, but no one knows whence it comes or whither it goes. So also with longing, the longing for God and the eternal, the longing for our Savior and Redeemer. Comprehend it you cannot, nor should you; indeed, you dare not even want to attempt - but you are to use the longing. Would the merchant be responsible if he does not use the opportune moment; would the sailor be responsible if he does not use the favorable winds - how much more, then, is the one who does not use the occasion of longing when it is offered" (Kierkegaard: Discourses).
 




Double Portion of Torah...


 

07.16.17 (Tammuz 22, 5777)   Shavuah Tov, chaverim! This week we have a "double portion" of Torah to read as we conclude Sefer Bamidbar, or "the Book of Numbers." Our first Torah portion, parashat Mattot (מַטּוֹת, "tribes"), begins with the LORD giving laws regarding the making of vows (nedarim). After this, the Israelites were commanded to wage war against the Midianites for seducing the people to sin at the incident of "Baal Peor." During the ensuing battle, the wicked sorcerer Balaam was killed, as well as five tribal kings of the land of Midian. Our second Torah portion, parashat Masei (מַסְעֵי, "journeys"), provides the boundaries of the land of Canaan that were to be initially occupied by the Israelites. Note that these borders are not the same as those described earlier to Abraham (see Gen. 15:18-21), since that area will be given to Israel only after our Messiah returns to establish Zion during the Millennial Kingdom (see Ezek. 47:15-48:35). During that coming time, Jerusalem (i.e., Zion) will be the center of the earth and renamed as "Adonai Shammah" (יְהוָה שָׁמָּה), "the LORD is there."

You can download the "Table Talk" for each of these portions here:

Since the Book of Deuteronomy is called "mishneh Torah" (מִשְׁנֶה תוֹרָה) - a sermon "retelling the Torah," it may be said that the Torah of Moses ends with these final portions from the Book of Numbers, and by extension, with the ongoing yearning for Zion... Therefore let us recite the three special words of encouragement: Chazak, chazak, ve'nitchazek, meaning "be strong, be strong, and we will get stronger."  Shavuah tov, chaverim!
 




The Bread of God...


 

07.14.17 (Tammuz 20, 5777)   Our Master said: "For the bread of God (לֶחֶם אֱלהִים) is the One who comes down from heaven to give life to the world" (John 6:33). This is the Bread of Presence, literally, the "Bread of [his] Face" (לֶחֶם פָּנִים) that was prefigured in the manna that fell in the desert and in the rituals of the Tabernacle (Exod. 25:30). It was in the Holy Place, in the light of the Menorah, that the "bread of his face" was to be eaten... At his last Passover Seder with his students, Yeshua said "this is my body" (τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου), and made analogy between physical and the spiritual. We metaphorically "eat his flesh and drink his blood," by seeing Him as our altar, our bridge before the Father. Just as the heart is the means by which blood is distributed to the body, so with the love of God expressed in our Lord Yeshua. He is the Divine Center of all of life: the true Tabernacle, the Word made flesh. He is the true Bread of Life (לחֶם הַחַיִּים), and we receive spiritual strength when we abide in his Torah (תּוֹרָה) and his life (John 15:5).

May you always abide in Him, chaverim.... Shabbat Shalom and thank you for remembering the Hebrew for Christians ministry in your prayers.
 




Center of the Torah...


 

07.14.17 (Tammuz 20, 5777)   According to a fascinating midrash cited by Rabbi Yaakov ibn Chaviv, several of the sages of the Mishnah (i.e., Tannaim) attempted to choose the central verse that summarized the meaning of the entire Torah. Ben Zoma said, "We have found the most all-inclusive verse to be, 'Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is One'" (Deut. 6:4). Ben Nanas said, "We have found the most all-inclusive verse to be, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Lev. 19:18). Shimon ben Pazi said, "We have found the most all-inclusive verse to be, 'The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight'" (Num. 28:4). Then one of the sages stood up and said, "It is ben Pazi who is correct," and the assembly concurred...

In other words, the key idea of the Torah centers on sacrifice, and in particular, the continual sacrifice of the lamb. According to the early sages, the daily sacrifice of the lamb is more important than either the Shema or even the duty to love others... The continual (i.e., tamid: תָּמִיד) sacrifice of the lamb is central to the meaning of the Torah. It is the Torah's most all-inclusive idea; it's the core idea of true Torah, and it reveals Yeshua!

For more on this, see "The Central Idea of Torah: Further thoughts on Parashat Pinchas."
 




Beloved Wretch...


 

07.14.17 (Tammuz 20, 5777)   Sometimes you may feel a bit like that lost dog whose owner posted a sign that said: "Lost Dog with three legs, blind in left eye, missing right ear, tail broken, and recently neutered. Breed unknown. Answers to the name of Lucky." Remember, friend, that afflictions make us "lucky," though most of us begin to understand this only in hindsight, after we've been humbled by our many failures in this life. Thank God that that he seeks and saves the lost, the broken, and the unruly... Thank God for Jesus, the one called "the friend of sinners" (Matt. 11:19). As Margary Williams wrote: "Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand" (Velveteen Rabbit). Amazing Grace. Thank God he makes us real, chaverim...
 




Love's Hope and Zeal...


 

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

07.14.17 (Tammuz 20, 5777)   The zeal of Pinchas reminds us that sometimes we must act decisively and fearlessly for the sake of the truth, even if our passion may be misunderstood... Indeed, the failure to honor our ideals leads to apathy, despair, and a state of inner contradiction.  The sages ask: When the Beloved knocks, do we hesitate and say, "I have already taken off my robe – must I put it on again? I have already washed my feet – must I soil them again?" (Song 5:3). When she finally rouses herself to answer the door, alas! he is gone...  With God all things are possible, but that includes the risk of loss, the real choice of betraying our heart's desire and losing the highest.  May God help each of us set our affections above, eagerly awaiting the promised time of consummation. Amen.
 




Reaffirming the Appointed Times...


 

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

07.14.17 (Tammuz 20, 5777)   Our Torah portion this week (i.e., Pinchas) lists eight of the main mo'edim (מוֹעֲדִים), or the "appointed times" of the LORD, given in the Jewish Scriptures. Note that this is the second time that the Torah provides a description of the festivals of the year, including the following special times: 1) The daily offering of the Lamb of God (Num. 28:1-8); 2) the weekly Sabbath offering (Num. 28:9-10, Lev. 23:1-3); 3) the monthly or Rosh Chodesh offering (Num. 28:11-15); 4) the Passover and Unleavened Bread offering, including Shavuot (Num. 28:16-25; Lev 23:15-21); 5) the Firstfruits offering (Num. 28:26-31; Lev. 9:14); 6) the Yom Teru'ah or "Trumpets" offering (Num. 29:1-6; Lev. 23:23-25); 7) the Yom Kippur offering (Num. 29:7-11; Lev 23:26-32); and 8) the Sukkot (Tabernacles) offering (Num. 29:12-38; Lev. 23:33-43). These appointed times were given by God to help us turn away from the omnipresent urge within the human heart to embrace vanity: "Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father and guard (שָׁמַר) my Sabbaths (שַׁבְּתתַי)... Do not turn to worthlessness (i.e., אֱלִיל) or make for yourselves any molten gods" (Lev. 19:3-4). In other words, the Biblical holidays - including Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and so on - were intended to help us to sanctify ("set apart," "make holy") the times and seasons in order to remind us of God's Presence (Psalm 104:19). Therefore they are called mikra'ei kodesh (מִקְרָאֵי קדֶשׁ), "times in which holiness is proclaimed" (Lev. 23:2). The Torah's declaration that these days are holy implies that they are set apart for special activities, such as commemorating God as our daily Savior (the tamid offering), our Creator (Shabbat), our Redeemer (Passover), our Resurrection (Firstfruits), our Law Giver (Shavuot), our King (Rosh Hashanah), our High Priest (Yom Kippur), and so on. In this connection it should be noted that it is a mistake to assume that the divine calendar was somehow abrogated with the cross of Yeshua, since all of the Jewish holidays center on Him, and indeed the advent of the Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit) occurred precisely after the prescribed 49 day countdown to Shavuot (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4).
 




Finding True Riches...



 

07.14.17 (Tammuz 20, 5777)   The Torah appeals, in the Name of the Lord, that we should be charitable people, reflecting his heart of kindness. Indeed giving to others imparts the blessing of God: "Take for Me an offering" (וְיִקְחוּ־לִי תְּרוּמָה), the Scripture states, rather than "Give for Me an offering," since we receive more than we give through acts of charity (Exod. 25:1-2). The early sages explained that 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). Likewise he said, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" (Matt. 25:40). "Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed" (Prov. 19:17). The sages consider the act of giving to others as one of the greatest of the commandments, since it is the essence of God to give to His creation, and it is through analogous giving that we are enabled to see the Divine Presence, as it is written in the Scripture, אֲנִי בְּצֶדֶק אֶחֱזֶה פָנֶיךָ  - "I will see your face in tzedakah" (Psalm 17:15).

It is written that "God loves a compassionate (ἵλεως) giver" (2 Cor. 9:7). Followers of the Messiah Yeshua are to be marked by goodness (טוֹבָה) expressed in generosity (נְדִיבוּת). The fruit of the Spirit (פְּרִי הָרוּחַ) listed in Galatians 5:22-23 fulfills the requirements of the Law, but they constitute the supernatural outgrowth of the grace and love of God in the heart of one who trusts in Yeshua as Messiah (see John 15:1-8). Our lives are sanctified in the manner in which they were initially justified: wholly by faith in the love and grace of God.
 

לא־יוֹעִילוּ אוֹצְרוֹת רֶשַׁע
וּצְדָקָה תַּצִּיל מִמָּוֶת

lo-yo·i·lu · otz·rot · re·sha'
utz·de·kah · tatz·zil · mi·ma·vet
 

"Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit,
but tzedakah delivers from death."
(Prov. 10:2)


 


One of the middot ha-lev (qualities of heart) of the righteous soul is to be giving to others. This is simply part of the ethos of the Jewish soul. Rabbi Asi says, "Charity equals in importance to all other mitzvot combined." And Rabbi Yehudah likewise says, "Ten hard things have been created in the world. The rock is hard, but iron shatters it. Iron is hard, but fire softens it. Fire is powerful, but water extinguishes it. Water is heavy, but clouds carry it. Clouds are thick, but wind scatters them. Wind is strong, but a body resists it. The body is strong, but fear crushes it. Fear is powerful, but wine banishes it. Wine is strong, but sleep works it off. Death is stronger than all, yet tzedakah (charity) delivers from death, as is written, צְדָקָה תַּצִּיל מִמָּוֶת - "Charity delivers from death" (Prov. 10:2).
 




The Torah of Life...


 

07.13.17 (Tammuz 19, 5777)   It is always good to review the message of the gospel of Messiah (בְּשׂוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ). The way of the carnal ego and its religion is to attempt to reform (or rationalize) its nature, to appear to follow the law, to create "good karma," to beautify itself, and so on, whereas God's way is not to make us stronger and stronger, but rather to crucify the old nature and impart newness of life... Messiah "in me" abolishes the law (understood here as the principle of self-justification, not the Torah), condemns sin in the flesh (by dying on the cross), and kills the spiritual power of death itself (by means of the resurrection)... Like all sacrifices brought to the altar, we must pass through death to life by means of our union with the Messiah at the cross. It is only after the cross that it may be said, "It is no longer 'I' who lives; now it is Messiah who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). But note that the Torah of the New Testament (תורת הברית החדשה) is spoken to the new nature given to us by God, and not to the old nature that is to be reckoned as crucified and done away. By faith we receive "lev chadash ve'ruach chadashah" (לֵב חָדָשׁ וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה) - a new heart and spirit - that empowers us to live the truth of what God has done for us in our beloved Savior. You are a new creation; therefore be who you are in the Messiah!

The Torah says: "Look, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse" (Deut. 11:26). The Hebrew grammar of this verse begins with the imperative singular "you look!" (רְאֵה) but shifts to the plural, "before you" (לִפְנֵיכֶם), which suggests that though the Word is freely given to everyone "who has ears to hear," it's our personal responsibility to "choose life" and wrestle its message out in our lives... In other words, God offers his blessing to all, but it must be personally received to be your own. "According to your faith, let it be for you" (Matt. 9:29). Yeshua died for your sins so that you can receive everlasting spiritual life, but that blessing has no effect unless and until you open your heart. What does it mean to say that Yeshua is "in you" except to say he lives within the heart of faith? "As long as Messiah remains outside of us we are separated from him."

Note:  Someone wrote me to ask what it means to "open your heart." My answer is that this metaphorical phrase means choosing to feel again, surrendering your "difficulties" to God's care, and learning to see beyond the scope of your everyday selfishness....
 




The Courage of Pinchas...


 

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

07.13.17 (Tammuz 19, 5777)   Pinchas is sometimes (unjustly) regarded as a "fanatic" who took the law into his own hands, but it must be remembered that he acted in the midst of a terrible crisis – a mutiny of Israel's leaders who had abandoned God's authority – and he acted courageously, in accordance with God's will, and for the welfare of his people (see Num. 25:1-8). Superficially Pinchas' zeal may appear "dangerous" to those without moral conviction, and his action may seem outrageous to those who are faithless, but God rewarded him with a covenant of peace (בְּרִיתִי שָׁלוֹם) and a covenant of eternal priesthood (בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם) for his courage (see Num. 25:10-13). Understood in context, Pinchas' actions were justified, and it would be a mistake to confuse his conviction with angry and unthinking "fanaticism." Indeed, the real danger of fanaticism in our world may be found in political movements led by those who lust after worldly power. In fact, political demagogues, in the name of their godless philosophies of communism, socialism, and fascism, have murdered more people in the last 100 years than all the religious conflicts in the history of the world combined... Tragically, the 20th century was the bloodiest in human history, with over 260 million people murdered by political movements that suppressed the truth of Scripture and that regarded human beings as mere "animals" to be exploited. Contrary to the zeal of the fascists of today's world, the zeal of Pinchas was of an entirely different order. Where is says, Pinchas "was jealous with my jealousy among them" (Num. 25:11) the S'fat Emet noted that he instilled "among them," that is, the people, a sense of God's passion and truth, and for this he was commended by heaven...
 




Purity of Heart...


 

07.13.17 (Tammuz 19, 5777)   "Who shall ascend to the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to vanity (לא־נָשָׂא לַשָּׁוְא) and who does not swear deceitfully" (Psalm 24:3-4). Yeshua expounded: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God'" (Matt. 5:8). The Greek word translated "pure" is katharos (καθαρός), sometimes used describe the cleansing of a wound (catharsis), or to describe the unalloyed quality of a substance revealed through refining fire (the corresponding Hebrew word for the "pure of heart" (בַּר־לֵבָב), used in Psalm 24:4, comes from a root (בָּרַר) that likewise means to purify by fire). Metaphorically, then, purity of heart refers to separation from the profane - singleness of vision, wholeheartedness, passion, and focused desire for the sacred. As the Beatitudes reveal (Matt. 5:3-8), only those who are impoverished in spirit, who mourn over themselves and hunger for God's mercy, are refined by their struggle to see God (the Greek text implies these will see God now – with inward vision – and in the world to come). Because the pure in heart use ayin tovah, the good eye, they walk "in the light, as He is in the light" (Matt. 6:22). When we are undivided in heart, the Spirit imparts to us a hidden wisdom (1 Cor. 2:6-7) and we are able to discern hidden realities that others do not see (1 Cor. 2:14). As we center our affections on Yeshua, we become unified, made whole, and healed of our inner fragmentation. We see the Lord both in this world, through his effects, and then panim el panim (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), "face to face," in the world to come. Our hope purifies us for that coming great day of full disclosure (1 John 3:2-3; Heb. 12:14).

The heart is a miracle, an "engine" that distributes life, and the heartbeat is a great mystery, inexplicably pulsing with energy, contracting the muscles. The pulse of the heart, then, is the "center of the center" of a person's physical life...   If we are impure of heart, we will be inwardly divided, unfocused, fragmented, filled with destabilizing anxiety, envy, anger, and so on. More tragically, because we seek to escape ourselves, we will be devoid of a true center, without a focal point or abiding purpose, and therefore we will be lost to ourselves, wandering and without rest....

Some people tend to think of "purity of heart" in moral terms, such as not looking with lust on others, not coveting, etc., though these are symptoms of disordered love... Genuine purity is a matter of focus, of finding the "good portion" and the "one thing necessary" (Luke 10:42). Such purity heals you of ambivalence, settling the heart's inner decision. Purity of heart realizes that all that you've ever longed for is found in God alone. It is a great, great gift from heaven to know God as your heart's true desire - to fully understand that your relationship with Him is the ultimate concern and treasure of your existence.

As below, so above. It is the Spirit that gives life (John 6:63). The Holy Spirit imparts the "pulse" of the Divine Life, and we gain newness of life when we trust God for purification from our sins through Yeshua our LORD. As King David further attested: Lev tahor bara li Elohim – "Create in me a clean heart, O God" and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10). Only the new heart (lev chadash) created by power of God's Spirit can possibly yield the life of the Spirit within us. The creation of a new heart represents the transformation of your whole inner nature - with the impartation of new appetites, new passions, new desires, and the rebirth of your will. If you struggle with being inwardly divided, fervently ask the LORD to give you the blessing of purity of heart...
 




Turning to the Real...


 

07.12.17 (Tammuz 18, 5777)   "I the LORD search the heart, I test the affections, to give to every person according to their ways, and according to the fruit of their doings" (Jer. 17:10). Among other things, repentance (i.e., teshuvah: תְּשׁוּבָה) means unlearning the messages and propaganda of this fallen world by turning to receive the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). For this courage is needed, namely, the courage of honestly facing who and what we are, and therefore the refusal to repent amounts to a form of cowardice and a denial of reality... The world stridently proclaims its nonsense in order to quell the "still small voice" that is whispering over all of creation (Psalm 19:1-4). The constant clamor of this world is symptomatic of its disregard of the truth, and its "need" for noise is designed to keep the soul from confronting the ultimate questions of life.
 

הַשָּׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד־אֵל וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו מַגִּיד הָרָקִיעַ
וֹם לְיוֹם יַבִּיעַ אמֶר וְלַיְלָה לְּלַיְלָה יְחַוֶּה־דָּעַת
אֵין־אמֶר וְאֵין דְּבָרִים בְּלִי נִשְׁמָע קוֹלָם
בְּכָל־הָאָרֶץ יָצָא קַוָּם וּבִקְצֵה תֵבֵל מִלֵּיהֶם

ha-shamayim · me'saperim · kevod · El, · u'ma'aseh · yadav · maggid · haraki'a
yom · le'yom · yabi'a · omer, · ve'laila · le'laila · yechaveh · da'at
ein · omer · v'ein · devarim · beli · nishma · kolam
bekhol · ha'aretz · yatza · kavam · uviktzel · tevel · mileihem
 

"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the canopy of the sky proclaims the artwork of His hands. Day after day it speaks forth; night after night reveals His knowledge. There is no speech, nor words that are heard, yet God's truth is manifest to the ends of the earth;
His glory is on display in all realms." (Psalm 19:1-4)



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Reality testifies to God's Presence. There is rational, intuitive, and empirical evidence to believe that the universe was created in time by a transcendental power that is the source of all value, meaning, purpose, and so on. To ask, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is not to ask about a possible cause for an observed effect, but to ask about the underlying cause or "ground" of any possible existence at all. The Scriptures reply: "For God's invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature from the creation of the world, have been clearly perceived, because they are understood through what has been made, so people are without excuse" (Rom 1:20).

Reality has a purpose, a goal, and is therefore "going someplace." And just as the LORD our God freely chose to create the universe yesh me'ayin, "out of nothing," so He freely sustains it, keeping us alive to this hour: "For in Him we live, move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Yeshua, the radiance of the glory of God, upholds all things by his power (Heb. 1:3); through Him all things are "arranged in order" (συνίστημι) and are bound together (Col. 1:17). God is in the world continually creating in and all around us; He is not a static "first cause" of the universe but rather the creative Power and reigning Source of all life... "The LORD owns the earth and all it contains, the world and all who live in it" (Psalm 24:1).

It is never too late to turn to God... The prophet Jeremiah spoke in the Name of the LORD: "Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD. I will not look on you in anger, for I am kind (כִּי־חָסִיד אֲנִי), declares the LORD" (Jer. 3:12). When the people drew back in shame, however, God encouraged them by saying "My children, if you return, will you not be returning to your Father? Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness. "Behold, we come to you, for you are the LORD our God."
 




Rich Toward Heaven...


 

07.12.17 (Tammuz 18, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week (i.e., Pinchas) we read: "For the many you shall make much his inheritance, and for the few you shall make small his inheritance: each according to his number will be given his inheritance" (Num. 26:54). The sages comment this refers not only to the tribes and their allotment in the land, but also to one's individual share in the world to come (אִישׁ לְפִי פְקֻדָיו יֻתַּן נַחֲלָתוֹ). The "many" refers to one who attends to the Divine Presence and is rich toward heaven, whereas the "few" refers to those who cheat themselves out of their eternal future by making themselves poor toward heaven. Life in the world to come is therefore determined by the investment you are making here, today (1 Cor. 3:8-15; Col. 3:24). The fool lays up treasure for himself on earth and neglects his heavenly calling, but the wise one is "rich toward God" (Luke 12:16-21). "Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward" (Heb. 10:35).
 




Inner to Outer Reality...


 

07.12.17 (Tammuz 18, 5777)   In the Shema we recite: "these words that I command you this day shall be 'on your heart (עַל־לְבָבֶךָ),' and you shall repeat them diligently to your children (וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ)," which reveals the necessary order: When the words of Torah are made a part of your heart, your children will be taught in the truth. The same approach must be used regarding the message of the Messiah, too: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel, and sometimes use words."

Note: "And you shall repeat them" i.e., וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם comes from שָׁנָה, "repeat," do again, and from which the Hebrew word shanah, "year" also derives.. As we live our faith, observing the mo'edim year after year, the word is made more and more a part of our hearts.
 




Beloved Shepherd...


 

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

07.12.17 (Tammuz 18, 5777)   The Hebrew word for "beloved" is yedid (יְדִיד), which comes from the word dod (דּוֹד), as used in the verse ani le'dodi ve'dodi li (אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי), "I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me" (Song 6:3). The name "David" (דָוִד) likewise comes from this same root. It is interesting to see that the word yedid is formed by combining or joining the Hebrew word for "hand" (i.e., yad: יָד) together (i.e., יָד+יָד), which pictures two friends walking together while holding hands...

According to midrash, when Moses realized that his son Gershom would not be his successor, he asked God for a shepherd to lead the people, and the LORD told him ve'samakhta et yadkha alav - "put your hand on Joshua" (Num. 27:18). Moses, however, not only placed one hand on Joshua, but both hands (Num. 27:23), which suggests that he was wholehearted for the things of God, and to symbolically regard Joshua as yedid (יְדִיד), that is, "hand-in-hand" with Moses' heart for the welfare people...
 




The Hunger of God...


 

07.12.17 (Tammuz 18, 5777)   It is written in our Torah portion for this week (i.e., Pinchas), "My offering, my food for my food offerings, my pleasing aroma, you shall be careful to offer to me at its appointed time" (Num. 28:2). Food for God? What need has the LORD for food? But by this is meant "as you have done it to least of these my brethren, you have done it unto Me" (Matt. 25:40). The offerings you make to tzedakah (giving charity, your time, your kindness, etc.) constitute food presented before the secret place of God's altar...

For more on this, see "Olam Katan - Small World."
 




Escaping the Legalism Trap...


 

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

07.11.17 (Tammuz 17, 5777)   The world is full of zealots. By default, everyone believes they are justified in their reasoning and in their passions. The "natural man" thus lives by this simple creed: I have a right to think or feel whatever I want. Morality is a matter of individual, subjective, and personal preference. There is no "objective standard" of moral truth in the universe: Values are relative to time and place...  If it's true for me, that's all that suffices... In this way, the natural man assumes the posture of a self-styled "free agent" that is answerable only to himself. The zeal of the natural man says, "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul" (Henley: Invictus).

Note that the only abiding "offense" to the "natural man" is that there is a moral law that pervades the universe, and therefore he is morally accountable to the Lawgiver for his life. The idea that our actions are "under divine examination" is threatening to the supposed liberty of the natural man, who gladly tolerates all manner of sin and willful ignorance but refuses to tolerate anger against sin... The natural man hates the very idea of the moral law of God and all that it implies.  It's no wonder that the true prophets of God were often murdered for speaking the truth.

The encounter (or collision) with moral reality (i.e., conscience) leads the natural man to become impassioned and even zealous, though usually this is expressed in some form of self-justification. The world's religions are filled with untold millions of people who seek to assuage their consciences by practicing various rituals or pledging allegiance to some creedal formula. What's common in most of these religions is the centrality of the ego, or the need to "save face" by making excuses of some sort.  The ego is either advised to become "elevated" through religious practices or rituals (i.e., legalism, including the justification for "jihad" found in Islam), or else is encouraged to practice various techniques for "escaping" the world (i.e., mysticism, divine unity, etc.). Hence we see the dialectic between legalism and mysticism in so many of the world's religions. 

Yeshua, on the other hand, spoke plainly of man's hopeless condition and the need for spiritual regeneration, or "rebirth." The natural man is spiritually dead and without hope apart from a miracle imparted directly from God Himself. As Yeshua said, "Unless you are born again, it is impossible (οὐ δύναται) see the Kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Rebirth comes by means of the Holy Spirit and leads to a new order of creation for the soul (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15). Yeshua did not come to extinguish our egos as much as He came to resurrect and recreate us in His image (Rom. 8:29). "For we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18). Indeed, since the self is ultimately defined by relationship, it is only after we are reborn in the Spirit that we can be said to have a spiritually real "self" at all. God gives the gift of a true, resurrected self to those whom He regenerates.

But what about those who receive the message of the gospel?  How do they please God? After coming to Yeshua for life, some people tragically revert to the concept of the law once again. They attempt to "try harder" to please God and saddle themselves with various religious obligations (prescribed prayers, church services, rituals, etc.). They seem to forget that the law is powerless to save. Their logic goes something like this.  I was condemned by the law, but because of God's mercy revealed in Yeshua, I am now forgiven. Therefore I am enabled by God's Spirit to keep the law, and therefore I should strive to be kosher, to observe various rituals, etc.  This reasoning assumes that the law (i.e., the legal aspects of the covenant made at Sinai) with its verdict against us was not really done away with at the Cross of Yeshua (Col. 2:13-15). The "New Covenant," in other words, is not really all that new, and should be regarded as a "renewed covenant" instead. The upshot of this thinking is that Yeshua died on the cross so that we could all become followers of Moses!

I have written about this subject before, but I'll say it again here. There is indeed a "Torah" for followers of Yeshua, but this is His teaching... Indeed, the word Torah (תּוֹרָה) simply means teaching. But what did Yeshua teach about doing the "works of God?" Here's his explicit answer: "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent" (John 6:29). Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6) since we are literally saved by hope, not by works of righteousness (Rom. 8:24, Titus 3:5). What God requires is authentic faith in His Son (אֱמוּנַת יֵשׁוּעַ). The single most important mitzvah is trusting in Yeshua for life... This is THE central commandment of Scripture.  Legalism attempts to find the "key" to open the door into the Presence of God through various forms of self effort ("don't touch this," "don't eat that," etc. Col. 2:20-23). It's underlying hope is that if I do such and such (or abstain from such and so), God will be propitiated and I will be accepted. It is therefore a mode of relating to God based on His conditional acceptance and approval.... But faith is the key that opens the door to true freedom. It is the miracle that makes blind eyes see. When we truly "live in the Presence of the LORD" by faith, we are set free from the trap of legalism.  We receive the love of God; we accept that we are accepted; and then we walk in God's zeal and care for our souls (in that order). We do not relate to God as Judge but as our Heavenly Father, our Abba, our loving Savior.

Guilt, shame, and spiritual death come from relating to God on the basis of our own zeal and supposed merits, but forgiveness, justification, and spiritual life come from trusting in God's zeal and passion for you.... Again, it's not so much a matter of finding the zeal within your heart, but rather receiving the zeal that comes from the LORD. We are sanctified by faith alone, just as we are justified by faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9; 1 Cor. 6:11). There is no "catch" in the contract, no loophole, and no exception to the "Torah of the Spirit of Life" (תּוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים). If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. This is the scandal of grace. Trying to please God through self-effort leads to exhaustion and frustration. Accepting that you are accepted and loved leads to peace and joy. God's love for you is the end of the law for righteousness (Rom. 10:4). In all things Yeshua is preeminent.
 

    "In those who rest on their unshakable faith, pharisaism and fanaticism are the unmistakable symptoms of doubt which has been repressed. Doubt is not overcome by repression but by courage. Courage does not deny that there is doubt, but it takes the doubt into itself as an expression of its own finitude and affirms the content of an ultimate concern. Courage does not need the safety of an unquestionable conviction. It includes the risk without which no creative life is possible." - Paul Tillich
     

In closing, there is man's zeal, and there is God's zeal. The zeal of the LORD (קִנְאַת יהוה) represents His passion and eagerness to help those who are trusting in Him.  Man's zeal is always insufficient, since self-justification - of any sort - invariably leads to the "Torah of sin and death" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת). This is precisely why legalism leads us to shame. As long as you think you can merit eternal life by means of your own efforts, you are relating to God as Judge (אֱלהִים) rather than as compassionate Savior (יהוה). You have yet to experience inner brokenness and therefore believe you can "justify yourself."   It is the Spirit that gives us life - though always at the price of the death and resurrection of the ego. As Yeshua said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24).

None of what I've shared here implies that we are to be passive in our affections and in the exercise of our will.  No, but the principle that governs our passion is to be derived from the "Torah of the Spirit of Life" and no longer from the "Torah of Law and Death." Because of Yeshua, we are free to trust in the zealous, passionate, and irrepressible love of God for our lives. The same passion that led Yeshua to die upon the cross is present to you today, if you have faith enough to receive it... God is the beginning and the end of our salvation: Kinat Adonai Tzeva'ot ta'aseh zot: "The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this" (Isa. 9:7).

For more thoughts about this vital subject, please see God's Greater Zeal.
 




Feeding God's Heart...


 

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

07.11.17 (Tammuz 17, 5777)   As I've discussed elsewhere on the site over the years, the climax of the revelation of the Torah at Sinai was not the giving of the Ten Commandments to Israel but was instead the vision of the Altar of the sanctuary...  However -- as our Torah portion this week makes clear -- the central sacrifice upon this altar was the daily sacrifice (i.e., korban tamid: קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד) of a defect-free male lamb with unleavened bread and wine. The LORD calls this "my offering" (קָרְבָּנִי) and "my bread" (לַחְמִי) [Num. 28:1-8]. In other words, the service and ministry of the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle) constantly foretold the coming of the great Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) who would be offered upon the altar of the cross to secure our eternal redemption (John 1:29; Heb. 9:11-12).

The sacrifice of the lamb represents "God's food," a pleasing aroma (רֵיחַ נִיחוֹחַ), for it most satisfied the hunger of God's heart (Eph. 5:2). Indeed, Yeshua's offering upon the cross represents God's hunger for our atonement, our healing from the sickness of death, since it restored what was lost to Him through sin, namely, communion with his children. God could never be satisfied until He was able to let truth and love meet (Psalm 85:10).

Sometimes we say that we "hunger for God," but it is vital to remember that it is God who first hungers for us. God desires our love and fellowship. He comes to seek fruit among the trees - but does He find any? He walks in the cool of the day, calling out to us, but are we attuned to hear His voice? Do we accept the invitation to be in His Presence?  When God "knocks on the door of your heart" to commune with you, what "food" will you be serving? (Rev. 3:20). Every day we are given an opportunity to "feed God" through expressing faith, hope, and love. Ultimately it is our obedience to the truth is what "feeds" Him: "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 Sam. 15:22).

For more on this subject, see "The Hunger of God's Heart."
 




Keep on Trusting...


 

07.11.17 (Tammuz 17, 5777)   When Yeshua said, "Let not your heart be troubled... I go to prepare a place for you," he was assuring his friends that he had matters well under his control, and therefore they did not need to worry, since his passion rendered their salvation completely secure... The future is a "prepared place" for you, even if life in this world is often marked by testing and various refining fires. God has not promised to rescue us according to our own schedule, however, so if it appears that your prayers are not immediately answered, keep waiting in faith: "Rejoice, even if you have been grieved by various trials, because the tested genuineness of your faith -- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire -- may result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Pet. 1:6-7). God works "all things together for good," and since the exercise of faith is your good, he engineers all things to build your faith. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD" (Isa. 55:8).

Recall the words: "Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God" (Isa. 50:10). Trusting in God (i.e., bittachon - בִּטָּחוֹן) doesn't mean that we are obligated to say this is "the best of all possible worlds," though it does mean we believe that eventually God will wipe away every tear and make all things right... Bittachon is a word for this world, which says, "Though he slay me, I will trust in him..." Those who call upon the LORD can trust not only in concealed good behind ambiguous appearances ("all things work together for good") but also in a future, real, substantive good that will one day be clearly manifest for us all... We fight the "good fight" of faith, which is a worthy struggle that eventually is realized for blessing. Meanwhile, may the LORD our God keep us from such depth of sorrow that leads to sickness, darkness and despair.

The very last promise of Scripture is "I come quickly" (אֲנִי בָא מַהֵר) and the last prayer is, "Amen, come, Lord Yeshua" (אָמֵן בּאָה־נָּא הָאָדוֹן יֵשׁוּעַ) [Rev. 22:20]. Meanwhile we "inwardly groan" for the fulfillment of our redemption; since presently we are suspended between worlds, walking in hope yet subject to the vanities that befall all flesh. And though God may tarry, He declares, "I am the LORD; in its time I will hasten it" (Isa. 60:22). So we are made captives to hope, clinging to the promise of our ultimate healing and redemption. Our hearts therefore affirm that God is faithful "to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 1:24). Amen. God will help us before He will help us, and may He come speedily, and in our day....
 




True and False Zeal...


 

[ The following entry concerns our Torah reading for this week, parashat Pinchas... ]

07.11.17 (Tammuz 17, 5777)   You may be entirely sincere in your convictions, but you may be sincerely wrong... In the time of the Second Temple, for instance, the Zealots despised the rule of Rome. Their political hatred caused them to blindly regard anyone who didn't share their passion as a personal enemy. In one of the great tragedies of Jewish history, these Jewish zealots actually killed more Jews than did the Romans themselves! And how many Christians these days "kill" relationships with other believers because of their particular zeal regarding some doctrinal question? I am not suggesting that doctrine is unimportant, of course, but before you pick up that sword to do the business of Pinchas, you might do well to consider your heart's attitude...
 

    "In this respect fundamentalism has demonic traits. It destroys the humble honesty of the search for truth, it splits the conscience of its thoughtful adherents, and it makes them fanatical because they are forced to suppress elements of truth of which they are dimly aware." - Paul Tillich
     

We need to be careful with our passions. There is a "false zeal" that leads to estrangement and confusion. Withholding love from others is ultimately grounded in an appeal to God as the administrator of Justice.  It is an appeal to God as Elohim (אֱלהִים), not as YHVH (יהוה), the Compassionate Source of Life.  If we insist on our rights, we appeal to principles of justice, i.e., to God as the Lawgiver. But if we intend to have God be the Judge of others, we must appeal to Him to be our own Judge as well. If we have an unforgiving spirit toward others, we will not be forgiven (Matt. 6:15); if we are judgmental toward them, we ourselves will be put on trial; if we are cruel and ungiving toward them, we will experience life as hellish, miserable and mean. This reciprocal principle of Kingdom life appears throughout Jesus' teaching. According to your faith, be it done unto you (Matt. 9:29).

Note:  For more on this important topic, see "Parashat Pinchas: God's Greater Zeal."
 




Hold Fast to Truth...


 

07.11.17 (Tammuz 17, 5777)   One of the main strategies of the devil is to induce a sense of forgetfulness, apathy, and hopelessness... The devil wants you to ignore what is real and to forget who you really are. The truth is your weapon against the cascade of lies that pours forth from the world and its princes. The entire venture of teshuvah (repentance) presupposes that you are created "in the image of God," that you are related to him, and therefore you have infinite value and dignity. This is all the more evident in light of the awesome ransom that Yeshua gave to reconcile your soul with God. Therefore hold fast to the truth, friends; da lifnei mi attah omed - "know before Whom you stand." Turn to what is real, refuse the lies and despair of this world, and review what will abide the test of Eternity.
 

כִּי־חַסְדְּךָ לְנֶגֶד עֵינָי
וְהִתְהַלַּכְתִּי בַּאֲמִתֶּךָ

ki · chas·de·kha · le·ne·ged · ei·nai
ve·hit·hal·lakh·ti · ba·a·mi·te·kha
 

"For your steadfast love is before my eyes
and I walk in your truth."
(Psalm 26:3)


 


Note that the verb "I walk" (הִתְהַלַּכְתִּי) is "hithpael," a verb pattern used to express reflexive, intensive action done to oneself. Therefore we could translate this as "I earnestly choose to walk" in the truth, indicating decisiveness of intent, focus, purpose... As King Shlomo said: בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ - "know Him in all your ways" (Prov. 3:6).
 




Wounded Shepherd...


 

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

07.11.17 (Tammuz 17, 5777)   From our Torah this week we read Moses' appeal for his successor: "Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh (אלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd" (Num. 27:16-17). The Koznitzer rebbe commented here that Moses asked God to appoint a leader "for all flesh," lekhol basar (לְכָל־בָּשָׂר). Rearranging the letters of basar (בָּשָׂר), he formed the word shavar (שָׁבָר), which means "to break in pieces," and concluded that a true leader should be one with a broken heart (לב שבור), that is, one who can sympathize and have pity on his people (Heb. 2:8; 4:15; 5:1-ff). He should not be proud or aristocratic, but like a shepherd, a plain and simple person, who guides his people to observe the ways of the LORD.
 




The Breath of God...


 

07.10.17 (Tammuz 16, 5777)   After accepting that he would soon die and therefore be unable to lead the people into the promised land, Moses prayed: "Let the LORD (יהוה), "the God of the spirits of all flesh" (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd." So the LORD said to Moses, "Take Joshua the son of Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן, lit. "son of life"), a man in whom is the Spirit (רוּח), and lay your hand on him" (Num. 27:16-18).

The Talmud notes that the word Nun (נוּן) means "fish," a symbol of activity and life. Joshua, the chosen one who succeeded Moses and led the people into the Promised Land, was the "Son of Life" - a clear picture of Yeshua our Messiah, the "spirit-filled good Shepherd" who would lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). The LORD is indeed the "God of the breath of all flesh." When Yeshua cried out, "It is finished" and breathed his last breath as He died for our sins upon the cross, the greatest exhalation of the Spirit occurred, the greatest sigh, the greatest utterance was ever declared. The sacrificial death of Yeshua for our deliverance was God's final word of love breathed out to those who are trusting in Him.
 




Safe in God's Love...


 

07.10.17 (Tammuz 16, 5777)   The Spirit of God says, Al tira ki imekha ani - "Fear not, for I am with you..." This is the way out of fear – to trust and understand that God is "with you," that he is drawing you near, and that he is as close as your next breath... Being "with" God is to bound up in his love, identified with his purposes, visions, and expectations. Knowing that God is "with you," (עִמָּנוּ אֵל) delivers you from disappointment, and you can then find courage "to be with yourself," regardless of the vexation of your past. You no longer need to defend yourself; you are free to forgive others (including yourself), you can show compassion to yourself, and even laugh at yourself. May the LORD God set you free from all your fears and grant you peace to accept who you are, and to abide in the comfort that God unconditionally loves and welcomes you in Yeshua...
 

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

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

 

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



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How do you think God regards you? Does he see your sin first? If you think he disapproves of you, it's likely you will attempt to earn his approval by doing certain things (and not doing others), which puts you "under the law," that is, the never-ending cycle of self-justification. But you will never feel safe as long as you regard God's acceptance of you as conditional, since you will only be as secure as your own best efforts, a project that will exhaust you in the end. Instead you must know yourself as truly loved by God, just as the "prodigal son" came to know his father's unconditional love and acceptance despite his many misdeeds (Luke 15:11-32). The incarnation of Yeshua means that God "runs to meet and embrace you," regardless of whatever happened in your life that made you run away from home. And whatever else it may be, sin is the separation from God's love, but Yeshua made the decision to die for your sins before you were born. Your sin cannot overrule God's surpassing and personal love for your soul, since God gave up his very life for you to find life.

The Lord is also called "the God of breath" (Gen. 2:7; Num. 16:22). The Hebrew word for breath is ruach (רוּחַ), a word that means both "spirit" and "wind." God is as close as your breath and surrounds you like the unseen yet encompassing air. Since God's name YHVH (יהוה) means "Presence" (Exod. 3:13-14), "Life" (Deut. 30:20), and "Love" (Exod. 34:6-7), he is the Beloved, the "I-am-with-you-always" lover of your soul. So fear not; you are never really alone. Yeshua breathes out to you and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22).
 




Pinchas and Isaac...


 

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

07.10.17 (Tammuz 16, 5777)   The name "Phinehas" (i.e., Pinchas: פִּינְחָס) shares the same numeric value (gematria) as the name "Isaac" (i.e., Yitzchak: יִצְחָק), which suggests that just as Isaac was willing to be sacrificed in obedience to God (i.e., during the Akedah), so Pinchas was willing to die for his zeal. Note further that Pinchas' passion turned away the wrath of God and established a covenant of an "eternal priesthood" (כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם), a phrase that shares the letter value as the word be'acharit (בְּאַחֲרִית), a term that means at the "end of days" (Gen. 49:1; 1 John 2:18). To string this together, we see a connection between Isaac and Pinchas, both of whom picture Yeshua our Messiah. Isaac is a picture of the Lamb of God, of course, and Pinchas pictures the zeal that grafts the heart into the everlasting priesthood of God. The Hebrew gematria reveals that the priesthood of Yeshua that brings everlasting peace is the "end of days" priesthood for humanity, and there is no other. Just as Pinchas was "grafted in" to the priesthood of Israel, so those who belong to Messiah are "grafted in" priests for the end of days, chaverim...
 

כִּי־קִנְאַת בֵּיתְךָ אֲכָלָתְנִי
וְחֶרְפּוֹת חוֹרְפֶיךָ נָפְלוּ עָלָי

ki · ki·nat · be·te·kha ·a·cha·la·tni
ve·cher·pot · cho·re·fe·kha · na·fe·lu · a·lai
 

"For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.
(Psalm 69:9)

 




Parashat Pinchas - פינחס


 

07.09.17 (Tammuz 15, 5777)   Last week's Torah portion (i.e., parashat Balak) first introduced us to Phinehas (i.e., Pinchas), the son of Eleazar the priest (and grandson of Aaron), who, during the tragic rebellion at Baal Peor, zealously removed evil from Israel by driving a spear through a tribal prince who was brazenly cavorting with a Midianite princess in definace of God's law. On account of Pinchas' zeal for the truth of Torah, God stopped the plague and Israel was delivered from destruction...

This week's Torah portion (i.e., parashat Pinchas) begins with the LORD rewarding Pinchas by granting him a "covenant of peace" (בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם) and officially promising to incorporate him into the priestly line of Israel. This promise was remarkable because Pinchas was technically not qualified to be a priest, since he had already been born when the original promise was given to Aaron and his sons, and since his father Eleazar was married to an "outsider" – namely, the daughter of Jethro (also called Putiel, Exod. 6:25).

After Pinchas was honored before the people of Israel, the LORD commanded Moses and Eleazar to conduct another census of the people (this was 39 years after the Exodus from Egypt), with the result of 601,730 men between the ages of twenty and sixty (1,820 less that the original census taken at the start of the journey). Moses was then instructed on how the land was to be divided by lottery among the tribes and families of Israel. The daughters of Zelophehad then petitioned Moses that they be granted the portion of the land belonging to their father, who died without sons, and God accepted their claim and incorporated it into the laws of inheritance.

The LORD then commanded Moses to climb mount Abarim to "see the land which I have given to the children of Israel," though he was forbidden to enter it because he struck the rock twice at Kadesh. God then told Moses to formally appoint Joshua bin Nun as his successor who would lead the Jewish people into the Promised Land.

Parashat Pinchas (like parashat Emor in the Book of Leviticus) also includes mention of all of the (sacrifices of the) mo'edim (holidays) given to Israel (Num. 28). These include the daily (tamid), weekly (Shabbat), monthly (Rosh Chodesh) sacrifices, as well as the sacrifices assigned to the special holidays: Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hoshannah (Terumah), Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret.  Remembering the joys of the Temple and the special celebrations of the Jewish people are thought to add a contrast to the otherwise somber time of reflection during the Three Weeks of Sorrow.
 

 




Mourning for Zion...


 

07.09.17 (Tammuz 15, 5777)   According to Jewish tradition Moses shattered the tablets on the 17th day of the 4th month, after he came down from Mount Sinai and found the people worshipping the Golden Calf. Today, this tragic date is commemorated as a fast day (i.e., the "Fast of Tammuz"), which marks the beginning of a three week period of mourning that culminates on the 9th of Av (i.e., "Tishah B'Av"), the date the Israelites were sent into exile from the promised land because they believed the evil report of the spies (Num. 14:20-35).

During this three week period of national mourning, the weekly readings from the prophets are all "Haftarahs of Rebuke" that warn the people about imminent judgment from heaven, and therefore the theme of most Jewish religious services is teshuvah (repentance). In addition, weddings or other joyous events are usually not held during this time of year. Indeed, among the very Orthodox, the last nine days of the three weeks are the most rigorous and solemn. Beginning on the first day of the month of Av, traditional mourning customs are practiced in anticipation of the most solemn fast day of Tishah B'Av, when the Book of Lamentations (Megillat Eichah) is plaintively recited during the evening service.

Three Weeks of SorrowThree Weeks of Sorrow
 

Dates During the Three Weeks of Sorrow: 

 




Our Needy Love...


 

07.07.17 (Tammuz 13, 5777)  "By the grace of God I am what I am..." (1 Cor. 15:10), which means that lovingkindness is the power that ultimately shapes whatever we are or will be. This is how we find Reality – by turning to the truth and accepting its terms. But what terms are these other than that we are a broken people who, by the mercy of God, are accepted despite our own unacceptability? As we receive God's love, as we embrace it as our own, the truth of Messiah becomes inwardly visible. This comes from a place of surrender and acceptance. As Paul Tillich said, "Sometimes in a moment of weakness light breaks into darkness, and it is as though a voice says, 'You are accepted; you are accepted... Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.' If that happens to you, then you experience grace, and everything will be transformed." Amen. The message of love is this: "Accept that you are accepted despite your own unacceptability..." We find this grace when we receive who we are in relation to the truth of who God really is.  The center of Reality is the Heart of Messiah, who upholds all of creation "bidvar gevurato" (בִּדְבַר גְּבוּרָתוֹ), that is, by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3). As it is written: "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; Rom. 11:36). There is a great simplicity in all this – a childlikeness... A healthy child accepts whatever he or she is without agonizing introspection and uncertainty. Life is viewed as a spontaneous wonder, a joyful mystery which evokes gratitude. A child feels safe in the arms of love that are extended without condition or qualification. When we come to God as his little children we are able to see the truth of who we are; we begin to understand the reality of our Father and his great heart of love for us. The Torah of Humility says: "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it" (Mark 10:15).
 

    "The courage to be is the courage to accept oneself, in spite of being unacceptable..." - Paul Tillich
     

Shabbat shalom, chaverim. Thank you for your prayers for this ministry to continue. God is good to us all, despite ourselves! Peace and blessings upon you in the Name above all names. Amen.
 




Findng your Forgiveness...


 

07.07.17 (Tammuz 13, 5777)  Yeshua taught us to pray "forgive us as we forgive others," which implies that our forgiveness (of others) is the measure of our own forgiveness. "For if you forgive others their trespasses," he said, "your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:14-15). This is the conclusion – and the main point – of the famous "Lord's Prayer" that begins, "Our Father who art in heaven..." Notice that the culmination of the prayer presents a conditional of the will: if you forgive others then your heavenly Father will forgive you.  There is no qualification made here, no extenuating circumstance allowed, and indeed, we are forbidden to hold a grudge or offense toward others, and - mark this - to hold offense even toward others who have not directly harmed us... In short we are categorically required to forgive others – all people, our enemies as well as our friends - for their trespasses, for who are we to judge others?  Moreover, unforgiveness harms our souls, even to the point of exiling us from the presence of love itself. We see this most clearly in our close relationships. When we refuse to let go of hard feelings, our hardness of heart, then we bring judgment upon ourselves. We cannot experience the grace of forgiveness when we cling to ideas of judgment or revenge, since forgiveness means letting go of all that makes us sick inside... Forgiveness releases the hurt, the anger, and the disappointment so these feelings do not inwardly consume and exhaust our souls. And yet forgiveness must be self-directed, too, since refusing to forgive yourself denies or negates the forgiveness given from others. Forgiving yourself means admitting that you act just like other people, that you are human, and that you are in need of reconciliation too. Ultimately, forgiveness is both an act of self-acceptance and empathy -- we admit we are just like others, weak, flawed, in need of help, and so on. We can only forgive to the extent we recognize the truth about ourselves that we see in others. Yet we have to move on, past the shame, and to turn back to abiding hope. Before reaching out to God, then, affirm these powerful words found in the Gates of Repentance prayer book: "O Lord God, I hereby forgive all who have hurt me, all who have wronged me, whether deliberately or inadvertently, whether by word or by deed. May no one be punished on my account. And as I forgive and pardon those who have wronged me, may those whom I have harmed forgive me, whether I acted deliberately or inadvertently, whether by word or by deed. Amen."
 




Uncovering of Eyes...



 

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

07.07.17 (Tammuz 13, 5777)  "Then the LORD uncovered Balaam's eyes and he saw..." (Num. 22:31). This implies that the great "seer" had been walking "sightlessly" – blind to reality, closed off, unable to get past his own narrow perspective...  Indeed the Hebrew verb for "uncovered" (i.e., galah: גָּלָה) implies captivity and exile (i.e., galut: גָּלוּת). Seeing is essentially a spiritual act – a decision of the will - though to see the truth about reality requires the miracle from God... Just "as the hand held before the eye conceals the greatest mountain," so we hide from view the mysteries and glories that surround our way. Like the man born blind who needed a miracle to see the world around him, so we are delivered from our blindness only when God reaches down and touches us so we can see (John 9). "Amazing grace... I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see."
 

אַל־תַּסְתֵּר פָּנֶיךָ מִמֶּנִּי

al · tas·teir · pa·ne·kha · mi·me·ni
 

"Do not hide your face from me" - Psalm 27:9
 

This is such an important appeal – to be enabled by the miracle to see God's face in all things, in every person we encounter, and in every experience we have... Amen.
 




Wounds of a Friend...


 

07.07.17 (Tammuz 13, 5777)  "Surely he has taken up our sicknesses and has carried our sorrows; yet we regarded him as stricken, beaten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced (profaned) for our transgressions; he was crushed for our perversions; upon him was the correction that brought our peace, and by his blows we are healed" (Isa. 53:4-5). In this famous passage that foretold the suffering of Yeshua as Mashiach ben Yosef, note that the word translated "blow" (i.e., chaburah: חַבּוּרָה, "wound" or "stripe") comes from the same root as the word for "friend" (i.e., chaver: חָבֵר), and therefore we can read "in His friendship we are healed." Yeshua gave up His life for us so that we could become his friends... As he later said regarding his sacrifice: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Indeed of Yeshua it may truly be said, Yesh ohev davek me'ach – "there is a friend who sticks (davek) closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24).
 




This Star Still Shines...


 

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

07.06.17 (Tammuz 12, 5777)   Darakh kokhav mi'Yaakov: "There shall come a star out of Jacob..." Amazingly, Balaam – who may have been the forebear of the "magi of the east" (Matt. 2:1-2) – foresaw the coming of the Messiah: "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob (כּוֹכָב מִיַּעֲקב), and a scepter shall rise out of Israel" (Num. 24:17). Balaam's prophecy described the coming of the Messiah and his reign in two distinct aspects: "A star from Jacob shall lead the way (i.e., דָּרַךְ)," this refers to Messiah's first coming as the way of life (John 14:6), "and a scepter shall ascend (וְקָם שֵׁבֶט) from Israel," this refers to Messiah's second coming to establish the kingdom after the final redemption. Here is the Hebrew prophecy for you to hear:
 

אֶרְאֶנּוּ וְלא עַתָּה
אֲשׁוּרֶנּוּ וְלא קָרוֹב
דָּרַךְ כּוֹכָב מִיַּעֲקב
וְקָם שֵׁבֶט מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל

er·e·nu · ve·lo · at·tah
a·shu·re·nu · ve·lo · ka·rov
da·rakh · ko·khav · mi·ya·a·kov
ve·kam · she·vet · mi·yis·ra·el
 

"I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near:
a Star shall come out of Jacob,
and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel"
(Num. 24:17)

 




The Living Truth...


 

07.06.17 (Tammuz 12, 5777)   Only the truth that is lived really matters. Students of the great sages would go to their master's home to see how he ate his soup, how he drank wine, how he treated his wife, how patient he was with his children, etc.  God does not want "lip service" or your acknowledgment of the theology that others have worked to understand. As Kierkegaard once wrote: "Truth is not something you can appropriate easily and quickly. You certainly cannot sleep or dream yourself into the truth. No, you must be tried, do battle, and suffer if you are to acquire truth for yourself. It is a sheer illusion to think that in relation to truth there is an abridgment, a short cut that dispenses with the necessity of struggling for it. With respect to acquiring truth to live by, every generation and every individual essentially begin from the beginning."

Yeshua said, "For this reason was I born... to bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37). As his followers, this provides the reason for our lives as well. Why were you born into this world? Better, why were you reborn? Was it not to participate in the redemptive mission of the Savior? God chose you to be His messenger because he foresaw your heart of faith...  It is the truth that sets people free. Freed from what? Freed from slavery to sin, from the darkness of fear, from the dread sting of death itself. This freedom is "ontological," meaning that it has real being, existence, energy, meaning, and purpose. But understand that freedom is inward, spiritual, hidden from the eyes of the world (Luke 17:21). It is Messiah "within you" that matters (Col. 1:27), a reality revealed by the Spirit through listening (shema) to the Voice of the LORD (Rom. 10:17). God's truth is immeasurably powerful enlightens the "eyes of the heart" (Eph. 1:18), releasing the power of Spirit within your inner being (Eph. 3:16). We talk sometimes about kavanah (focus) and tikkun olam (repairing the world), but such things are only meaningful with regard to the true goal of creation itself. You are given the greatest task in all the universe: to live the message of the truth so that others can be set free of their slavery and find eternal life. Your life is likened to a "living letter" from the Messiah, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God (2 Cor. 3:3). May the LORD God Almighty help us to walk in His truth always. Amen.
 




Crucified with Messiah...


 

07.06.17 (Tammuz 12, 5777)   "I have been crucified with the Messiah; it is no longer I who live, but Messiah who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). We must be careful not to be scandalized by our own lower nature; the Scriptures teach that our "flesh" is defiantly hostile to the things of God (see Rom. 8:7). Spiritual regeneration is not reformation of the lower nature but rather the creation of something amazingly new, the gift of eternal life from above... You are given a "higher self" that is created by God after the image of Messiah; you are made new by the power and grace of God.  The old "Adamic" nature draws strength from the "flesh" and is carnally-minded, whereas the higher nature of Messiah draws strength from the Spirit of God. We must "put off" the old nature by understanding that its place is death: "taking up the cross" means reckoning your former life is dead and now you are made alive to God. Practically speaking this is a matter of faith -- believing God for the miracle, even if you still are struggling with carnality. Whenever we sin and the old nature resurfaces, we need to remember the truth about who we really are; our grief over sin is a reminder of our higher identity in Yeshua. We must walk in hope -- trusting God for the miracle and turning away from the ego and its vain devices. "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. 15:45-49).

Again, we have been "crucified with" Messiah, which teaches us that God's way of deliverance is radically different than man's way. Man's way is to attempt to reform his nature, to strive to follow the law, to resist the impulse to lust and sin, to create "good karma," and so on, whereas God's way is not to make us stronger and stronger, but rather to make us weaker and weaker - by crucifying the old nature. According to the Scriptures, there is no other end for the flesh - the autonomous ego - than its repudiation and death upon the cross. The cross demonstrates that any attempt of the flesh to please God (i.e., "religion") is useless and needs to be laid to rest. The cross represents the instrumentality of the death of your religious aspirations: it is the surrender of all human effort whatsoever. Therefore the Greek verb used in Gal. 2:20 is a perfect passive, denoting action completed through the agency of another: "I have been crucified (συνεσταύρωμαι) with the Messiah." Like all sacrifices that were brought to the altar, we must pass through death to life by means of our union with the Messiah at the cross... It is only after the cross that it may be said, "It is no longer 'I' who lives; now it is Messiah who lives His life in me."

Of course since human beings worship themselves and glory in the flesh, the doctrine of the cross seems like foolishness to the carnally minded. Thus Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: "Christianity was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life's nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in 'another' or 'better' life... The Christian faith is a sacrifice: a sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of the spirit; at the same time, enslavement and self-mockery, self-mutilation." To a "natural man" like Nietzsche, the message of the cross represents the call to resignation, passivity, and weakness, and the religion of the cross is therefore regarded as the cult of the victim, the slave, the weak, etc.  Karl Marx similarly regarded religion as the "opium of the people," that is, a drug of consolation meant to assuage present suffering by escaping to another world...  But such "wisdom of this world" is regarded as folly with God (1 Cor. 3:19), who traps the wise in their own conceits but reveals Himself to the humble of heart (Matt. 11:25). From the perspective of one who has truly encountered ultimate reality, the cross represents the very power of God (1 Cor. 1:18). As Paul wrote, "God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Yeshua the Messiah our LORD, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal. 6:14).

Yeshua didn't die a painful and bloody death on the cross to save sinful flesh but rather to become sinful flesh in exchange for the sinner who trusts in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). That's the essence of the gospel, the power of God's salvation. On some mysterious level, the exchange of our sin with Messiah's righteousness is "ontological," meaning that it has real being, existence, substance, energy, and reality. Our identification with Yeshua on the cross represents the death of our old sin nature, which is forever put away and replaced by a new nature (2 Cor. 5:17). We don't come to the cross to save face, to get "cleaned up," or to become religious, but rather to die and to be reborn to eternal life. By faith there is a divine exchange, whereby the natural life is crucified and buried and the spirit is miraculously given life from heaven. The resurrected life is given only after passing through death to life. It is Messiah in you that is the hope of glory.

The miracle is the exchanged life we have in Messiah. Take comfort in the words of our Scriptures. During his earthly ministry Yeshua foresaw the cross and understood that it was his mission to die upon it for the sins of the world. Still, even after he carefully (and repeatedly) explained all this to his disciples, "they understood none of these things... and did not grasp what was said" (Luke 18:31-34). The fact that Yeshua's message regarding the cross was hidden from them (i.e., κρύπτω, "made cryptic") shows us that unaided human reason cannot fathom its eternal significance. After all, reason wants to continue in the illusion that human life is redeemable by means of self-improvement (i.e., religion), and therefore God Himself must reveal the need for the cross by means of the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately the miracle of new life comes from the power of God's Spirit:
 

לא בְחַיִל וְלא בְכחַ כִּי אִם־בְּרוּחִי
אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת

lo · ve·cha·yil · ve·lo · be·kho·ach · ki · im · be·ru·chi
a·mar · Adonai · Tze·va·ot
 

"Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,
says the LORD of the armies of heaven"
(Zech. 4:6)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Our true identity, our spiritual life, our very reason for being is no longer found in this world and its vain philosophy. The cross brings these things to an end, as we "cross over" from the realm of the dead to the realm of life... "If then you have been raised with Messiah, seek the things that are above (τὰ ἄνω ζητεῖτε), where the Messiah is seated at the right hand of God; focus your thoughts on the things above - not on things here on earth - for you have died, and your life has been hidden with Messiah in God. Then when the Messiah, who is your life, appears, you too will appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4).
 




He is Faithful and True...


 

[ In our Torah portion this week (Balak), we read how Balaam intended to curse the Israelites, but God "took hold of his tongue" and made him bless the people instead... ]

07.05.17 (Tammuz 11, 5777)   It is encouraging to understand that despite the repeated failures of the Israelites in the desert, the LORD never let go of his people... Indeed, as the story of Balaam reveals, if a spiritual enemy would secretly arise to curse Israel, God would take the sorcerer "by the tongue" to evoke God's blessing instead (Deut. 23:4-5). As Balaam himself attested: "there is no sorcery (i.e., nachash: נַחַשׁ) against Jacob, no divination (i.e, kesem: קֶסֶם) against Israel" (Num. 23:23). Unlike scheming Balaam, who was willing to say whatever people wanted to gain temporal reward, God is "not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind" (Num. 23:19). What the LORD has promised he will invincibly perform: His word is full of integrity and truth: "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8). The God of Israel is forever faithful in his love, and no one can overrule his desire (Num. 23:20; Rom. 11:29).
 




The Enigma of Balaam...


 

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

07.05.17 (Tammuz 11, 5777)   What are we to make of the enigmatic character of Balaam? Was he a prophet or a puppet of God? Nehama Leibowitz (1906-1997) notes two essential differences between Balaam and the Hebrew prophets. First, Balaam sought special visitations and visions, building altars and performing rituals to "force" the prophetic spirit. The Hebrew prophets, on the other hand, never engaged in these sorts of activities to hear from the LORD, and many were reluctant messengers, convinced of their own nothingness. Second, the Hebrew prophets cautiously spoke in the name of the LORD ("thus saith the LORD...") to authenticate their message, but Balaam took credit for his visions, flamboyantly describing himself as a great "seer" with special powers. Based on Joshua 13:22 (which describes him as a sorcerer), it is likely that Balaam was given a temporary gift of prophecy, perhaps like the "witch of Endor" was allowed to temporarily communicate with the dead (1 Sam. 28:7-20). In other words, God raised up Balaam to demonstrate his authority over the powers of darkness and to reassure Israel of God's ongoing protection of his people....

In the New Testament, Balaam is regarded as one who desired to corrupt others for his own personal gain. The Apostle Peter does not call him the "son of Beor" but "son of Bosor" (τοῦ Βοσόρ), a play on the Hebrew word basar (בָּשָׂר), the flesh, implying that he was a "son of carnality" who enticed of Israel to sin at Baal Pe'or (see 2 Pet. 2:15; Num. 31:16). Peter further described him as a spiritual hireling who loved the "wages of unrighteousness" (μισθὸν ἀδικίας ἠγάπησεν), and who was willing to sell his spiritual "services" without regard for the truth (Num. 22:7, Deut. 23:4-5, 2 Pet. 2:15). He knew he should not prophecy about Israel, but he so loved the prospect of reward and the flattery of men that he justified his venture into darkness. "An evil eye, a haughty spirit, and a lusting soul - these are signs of disciples of the wicked Balaam" (Avot 5:22).  For more on this topic, see "The Way of Balaam" in the parashah summary links.

Note:  The Hebrew word melekh (מֶלֶךְ) means "king" and shares the same letter value as the word lemech (לֶמֶךְ), a name that means "powerful," but can also mean "fool." The sages reasoned that since the letter Mem represents the brain (מוֹחַ) or thought (מַחֲשָׁבָה), and the letters Lamed-Kaf refers to the kidneys (כליות), a king is one who uses right thinking to rule the heart (מ-לך), but a fool reverses the order and makes thinking a servant of the passions and the lower nature... Therefore Balaam was properly regarded as a fool.
 




Blessing of the Good Eye...


 

07.05.17 (Tammuz 11, 5777)   "The one who utters a blessing is blessed; the one who utters a curse is cursed" (Ruth Rabbah). This expresses the great truth that as we are within, so we are without: as we forgive, so we are forgiven; as we give, so we receive... But we can't give to others what we have not received, and that means first of all learning (or remembering) to see how we are loved by God, despite ourselves. We must use ayin tovah (עין טובה), the "good eye," for the sake of our own inner peace. We must extend to ourselves "good will" and compassion before we can offer it to others. If you can't yet love yourself, ask the Lord to help you begin by not hating yourself, by turning away from the fear and pain that hides behind your anger.  As the medieval sage Rashi wisely said, "hatred causes a person to forget his identity."
 




Blessing of Inner Peace...


 

[ In our Torah portion this week (Balak), we read how Balaam intended to curse the Israelites, but God "took hold of his tongue" and made him bless the people instead... ]

07.05.17 (Tammuz 11, 5777)   It is remarkable that the traditional morning blessing recited at synagogues around the world begins with words attributed to Balaam, the enigmatic and self-styled prophet: Mah Tovu: "How lovely are your tents, O Jacob; your dwelling places, O Israel!" (Num. 24:5). The sages say that the word "tent" (אהֶל) refers to the inner life – how we really feel inside – whereas the word "dwelling" (מִשְׁכָּן) refers to the outer life - our place or circumstances.  Together, the inner and the outer mark the quality of our lives, but the inner is the starting point, since we must first learn to live in peace with ourselves. This is vital: we must first tolerate our shortcomings and practice compassion toward our frail humanity... This is sometimes called shalom ba'bayit, "peace in the home" (of the self). Such inner peace is the greatest of blessings, since without it we will cling to pain, fear, and anger, thereby making us unable to find our place at the table in God's kingdom of love.
 

מַה־טּבוּ אהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקב
מִשְׁכְּנתֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל

mah · to·vu · o·ha·le·kha · Ya·a·kov
mish·ke·no·te·kha · Yis·ra·el
 

"How lovely are your tents, O Jacob,
your dwellings, O Israel"
(Num. 24:5)



  

Note: For more on this, see the Mah Tovu Blessing pages.
 




Real Freedom...


 

07.04.17 (Tammuz 10, 5777)   Some people think that "freedom" means "licentiousness," or the ability to do what they want to do whenever they want to do it. However, simply doing whatever you want to do is not the Torah's idea of freedom. Yeshua told us "whoever commits sin is the slave (δουλος) of sin," and went on to say "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:34-36). True freedom (i.e., cherut: חרוּת) is therefore moral and spiritual rather than merely physical. Real freedom has to do with the power to choose what is right and good, not to simply get your own way or to practice your lusts... In other words, there is no freedom when people are enslaved to their own desires and ignorance. Our liberty is meant to clothe us with divine power to walk in righteousness and truth.

Many people, alas, clamor for "freedom" by which they mean want the approbation of others to engage in their own flavor of wickedness and depravity... There is no shortcut to the truth, however, and "freedom" to do wickedness is really a form of bondage. "The truth shall set ye free, but first it shall make ye miserable" (Søren Kierkegaard).

Happy Fourth of July, friends...
 




The Doctrine of Balaam...


 

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

07.04.17 (Tammuz 10, 5777)   The "doctrine of Balaam" (ἡ διδαχή Βαλαάμ) is the wicked strategy of enticing others to sin by encouraging them to "eat food offered to idols" and to engage in sexual immorality (Rev. 2:14). This was how Balaam was able finally to curse the Israelites at Baal Peor, after all (see Num. 25:1-10; 31:16). In short, Balaam's doctrine was one of "syncretism," advocating a mindless "tolerance" that arrogantly claimed that all religions are equally true, and therefore all are equally false... Such "tolerance" is a charade for moral and spiritual nihilism that lends itself well to political fascism. In ancient Rome, official "tolerance" led to the brutal intolerance of the "Imperial Cult" where the power of the State (represented by the Emperor) was worshiped. In our age, the doctrine of Balaam first entices people to "eat food offered to idols," that is, to partake of the irrational dogma of "absolute tolerance" and unthinking universalism. After opening the heart to accept such idolatry, sexual immorality is the natural expression, a consequence of debasing doctrinal promiscuity. God sets us free from the slavery of surrounding culture to become a witness of the truth. Assimilating with this world and its political ideals is spiritual adultery. Do not fool yourself: Whoever makes himself a friend of the world is an enemy of God (James 4:4).
 




Curses turned to Blessings...


 

[ In our Torah portion this week (Balak), we read how Balaam intended to curse the Israelites, but God "took hold of his tongue" and made him bless the people instead... ]

07.03.17 (Tammuz 9, 5777)   God can (and does) turn curses into blessings... For example, Joseph was blessed despite the ill-will of his brothers: "You devised evil against me, but God devised it for good" (Gen. 50:20). Note that the same verb for "devised" (i.e., chashav: חשׁב) is used to describe both the evil intent of the brothers and the good intent of the Lord. This teaches us that God overrules the malice of men to effect his own good purposes, and therefore we can rightfully affirm gam zu l'tovah (גַּם זוּ לְטוֹבָה), "this too is for good" (Rom. 8:28). Underlying the surface appearance of life (chayei sha'ah) is a deeper reality (chayei olam) that is ultimately real, abiding, and designed for God's redemptive love to be fully expressed. Resist the temptation, therefore, to judge by mere appearances. Forbid your troubles (or the troubles of this world) to darken the eye of faith. Do not unjustly judge God's purposes or try to understand His ways. As the story of Balaam shows, God makes even the wrath of man praise Him (see Psalm 76:10). "Then God opened Balaam's eyes, and he saw the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down..." (Num. 22:31). Indeed, every knee will bow to the LORD our God and Savior (Isa. 45:22-23; Phil. 2:10-11).

We find comfort that the schemes of the wicked are subject to the sovereign purposes of the LORD our God. Ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו) - there is no power that can be exercised apart from God's consent and overarching will... Indeed all authority on heaven and earth belongs to Yeshua, the "the Ruler of the Kings of the earth" (עֶלְיוֹן לְמַלְכֵי־אָרֶץ). As it is written, "All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name" (Psalm 86:9).
 




Practice the Presence...


 

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

07.03.17 (Tammuz 9, 5777)   In our Torah portion we read: "I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me" (Num. 22:34). The sages comment that ignorance of the Divine Presence is not a legitimate excuse. The whole world is filled with God's glory, though this awareness is suppressed because of sin. Ignorance (literally the "state of ignoring" moral and spiritual truth) is a choice for which we are responsible (Rom. 1:18-20). Sin blinds us to our eternal responsibility. The antidote to ignorance is to become mindful, awake, and aware... We must choose to attend to God's Presence, as David said, "I have set the LORD always before me" (Psalm 16:8). King David knew, of course, that God was always present, all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful, yet he consciously turned to God in heartfelt humility. David "practiced the presence" of the LORD by realizing that all he said, did, and even thought was before the Presence of the Master of the Universe.
 

שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
 כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט

shiv·vi·ti · Adonai · le·neg·di · ta·mid
ki · mi·mi·ni · bal · e·mot
 

"I have set the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken."
(Psalm 16:8)



Hebrew Study Card

 

To repair the breach between "faith" and "practice," to unify his heart and its affections, David Ha'Melech determined to "set" the LORD before him. Note that the verb "set" here is piel, that is, intensive... We must intently focus our mind and heart to regard ourselves as in the Presence of God; we must sense His eye upon us and "know before Whom we stand." The sages say that when David wrote these words, he was referring to the scroll of Torah which he kept tied to his arm (shel yad). King David literally "set" the Word of the LORD upon his right hand to help him keep focused.
 




Deliverance from Slavery..


 

07.03.17 (Tammuz 9, 5777)   No one can give reasons why reason is irrelevant to life; no one can say it's an absolute truth that there is no absolute truth... People are free to choose what to believe but they are not free to ignore reality with everlasting impunity. Life is not infinitely plastic; there is inevitability in the end; and every conscious life represents an expression of faith. Worldly culture invents innumerable ways to evade questions of truth, creating endless distractions designed to keep us enslaved and numb. Freedom implies that we are responsible for how we choose to live our lives. People cannot escape from themselves, and the decision to be distracted is an ultimate decision to become a slave... Agnosticism, or the viewpoint that you cannot know what to believe, implies that you don't care enough to make a conscious decision, and therefore it amounts to the "careful" decision to be indifferent. Since everyone has "ultimate concerns," agnosticism expresses the concern that there is no ultimate truth, and therefore it teaches that whatever a person believes is essentially unimportant. Our feckless age has abandoned the ideals of moral and spiritual truth and therefore lives in chosen ignorance of the most important questions of life, refusing to honestly seek answers to the most haunting questions of all.
 

    "Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for miseries and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries." - Blaise Pascal
     

To disregard questions about reality – who we are, where we came from, why we are here, where we are going, what is real, etc. – amounts to an existential decision to become willfully blind, and to resign yourself to the darkness of fatalism... Human life is incomprehensible apart from God, since otherwise both our wretchedness (our sin) and our dignity (our hope) are inexplicable and vain. Natural science attempts to reduce human beings to the realm of animality, to define the human being in terms of natural processes and impersonal forces. Spirituality, on the other hand, is evidenced in various ways, including art, music, poetry, and other creative expressions, friendship, human and family love, the intuitive use of language, logic and rationality, the mystical experiences of sacred awe, the inner apprehension of moral and spiritual reality, the yearning to worship and to give thanks to the Creator for the gift of life, the need for deliverance from our guilt combined with the hunger for eternal connection, for undying love, and so on, all of which indicate the human being's transcendental nature, the person's consciousness of time and the ability to engage in introspective and refection... We are all on a journey that ultimately leads to death.  Do you know yourself? Do you know what you really believe? Are you unaware of what you think about life in general or the world that surrounds you? Can you explain the reason for your existence? Why you were born? What gives your life direction and focus? γνῶθι σεαυτόν – "Know thyself!"

Spiritual danger is just as real as physical danger, though most people pretend it isn't because it isn't easily seen. The real dangers of life are not vulnerability to crime, sickness or some accident, however, but rather susceptibility to despair, the tendency to put off repentance, and the possibility of not dying well.... It is a great danger to walk through life asleep only to be jolted awake upon the day of death. "The greatest danger is that one does not discover, that one is not always discovering, that one is in danger" (Kierkegaard). Danger of what? Of wasting your life with trifles and vanities; of never learning how to truly love or to be loved; of becoming numb, unfeeling, and therefore unmoved by your need for God.

Despite the depravity of our age, the LORD God rules and reigns over all, and therefore nothing is beyond heaven's supervision... All things work together for good (Rom. 8:28). "The world we see that seems so insane is the result of a belief system that is not working. To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, let the past slip away, expand our sense of now, and dissolve the fear in our minds" (William James). Faith sees beyond the madness of our world to behold the truth and glory of God -- an invincible reality and kingdom that is the Foundation Stone of truth. Reality centers on God's Presence and Love. "I believe. I believe in the sun even when it is not shining; I believe in love even when feeling it not; and I believe in God, even when God is silent" (from an anonymous poem found on the wall of a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where some Jews hid from the Nazis). Faith sees the invisible and trusts in an unseen good; faith finds peace in the storms of life by abiding in the Divine Presence.
 




Abiding in Him...


 

07.02.17 (Tammuz 8, 5777)   Yeshua used the allegory of a vine and its branches to illustrate how we are to be spiritually connected to Him: "I am the true Vine, and you are the branches," he said (John 15:1-6). The purpose of the branch is to be a conduit of the life of the vine. We derive our identity, life and strength from being made part of Yeshua's life, His vision, and His purposes... In Hebrew, this idea is called devakut (דְּבָקוּת) which means "cleaving" to God bekhol-levavkha (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ), "with all your heart," and bekhol-nafshekha (בְּכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ), "with all your soul," and bekhol-me'odekha (בְּכָל־מְאדֶךָ), "with all your being..." Cleaving to God is the essence of the great commandment to love the Lord given in the Shema. We are able to so cleave to God in Yeshua because God does a miracle and gives us lev chadash, a new heart to serve Him. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Whether Yeshua is living in you (and you are living in Him) is the most important question of your life upon which everything else ultimately depends. He appeals to each heart of faith: "Live in me, and I will live in you" (John 15:4).

Shavuah Tov and thank you for being a part of Hebrew for Christians, friends...
 




The Fast of Tammuz...


 

07.02.17 (Tammuz 8, 5777)   According to Jewish tradition Moses shattered the tablets on the 17th day of the 4th month, after he came down from Mount Sinai and found the people worshipping the Golden Calf. Today, this tragic date is commemorated as a fast day (i.e., the "Fast of Tammuz"), which marks the beginning of a three week period of mourning that culminates on the 9th of Av (i.e., "Tishah B'Av"), the date the Israelites were sent into exile from the promised land because they believed the evil report of the spies (Num. 14:20-35).

During this three week period of national mourning, the weekly readings from the prophets are all "Haftarahs of Rebuke" that warn the people about imminent judgment from heaven, and therefore the theme of most Jewish religious services is teshuvah (repentance). In addition, weddings or other joyous events are usually not held during this time of year. Indeed, among the very Orthodox, the last nine days of the three weeks are the most rigorous and solemn. Beginning on the first day of the month of Av, traditional mourning customs are practiced in anticipation of the most solemn fast day of Tishah B'Av, when the Book of Lamentations (Megillat Eichah) is plaintively recited during the evening service.

Three Weeks of SorrowThree Weeks of Sorrow
 

Dates During the Three Weeks of Sorrow: 

 




Overruling the Wicked...


 

07.02.17 (Tammuz 8, 5777)   Our Torah portion for this week (Balak) is named after a fretful Moabite king (בָּלָק) who sought to curse the Jewish people by hiring the services of a wicked Midianite "prophet" named Balaam (i.e., bil'am: בִּלְעָם). King Balak's plan was to employ Balaam's sorcery (i.e., kashafut: כַּשָׁפוּת) against the Israelites to prevent them from entering the Promised Land.  Similar to the delicious irony that befell the villain Haman in the Book of Esther, however, King Balak's scheme was upended, and the curse he sought to put on the Jewish people was repeatedly pronounced as a blessing by Balaam instead.  After several foiled attempts, Balak fretfully dismissed the prophet, but before departing from the dejected king, Balaam ironically prophesied the destruction of the Moabites and the victorious establishment of Israel. The shameful story of Balaam reveals that "there is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel" (Num. 23:23). Ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו) - no weapon or scheme devised against God will ever prosper (Isa. 54:15-17).

But who was this mysterious prophet named Balaam?  According to Jewish tradition, Jacob's wicked uncle Laban had a son named Beor (בְּעוֹר), who became the father of Balaam.  In other words, the "cursing prophet" Balaam was none other than the grandson of Laban:


 

Note that the name "Beor" first appears in connection with a king of Edom (Gen. 36:32), which suggests that Balaam might have once been a king of the Edomites (i.e., the descendants of Esau). Further note the phonetic similarity to Peor. If Beor and Peor are the same, then Balaam was actually a prophet of Baal Peor, a local Semitic god.

Balaam was regarded as a great seer, magician and an adept in the occult. He had an "evil eye" and drew the spirit of demons to anything he gazed upon (Avot 5:22).  His notoriety made him famous, and powerful people asked him to invoke curses on their enemies. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 106a) states that Balaam became so famous as a magician that he later became a chief advisor to Pharaoh. It was Balaam who advised the new Pharaoh to enslave the Israelites and to afflict them with brutal taskmasters (Exod. 1:8-11). For more information about the identity of Balaam, see the entry entitled, "The Curses of Balaam."
 

 







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