Jewish Holiday Calendar
Note: For June 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:
The Summer Holidays:
Note that in accordance with tradition, holiday dates begin at sundown. Moreover, some holidays may be postponed one day if they happen to fall on the weekly Sabbath:
Month of Av (Sun., July 23rd [eve] - Mon., Aug. 21st [day])
Month of Elul (Mon., Aug. 21st [eve] - Wed. Sept. 20th [day])
Month of Tishri (Wed. Sept. 20th [eve]) - Thur. Oct. 19th [day]
- Month of Tammuz (Fri., June 23rd [eve] - Sat., July 23rd [day])
- Rosh Hashanah / Yom Teru'ah - Tishri 1 5778 (Wed. Sept. 20th) - Seder
- The Ten Days of Teshuvah: Wed. Sept 20th - Fri. Sept. 29th
- Shabbat Shuvah - the Shabbat that occurs during the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Fri., Sept. 22)
Note: Some calendars will list the first day of a holiday without indicating that the holiday actually begins sundown the night before... So, for example, while Tishah B'Av begins Monday, July 31st at sundown, some calendars will indicate it occurs on Tuesday, August 1st...
June 2017 Updates
Shadow of Shaddai...
06.30.17 (Tammuz 6, 5777) One of the great Hebrew names of God is El Elyon (אֵל עֶלְיוֹן), often translated as "God Most High." The name first appears in the Torah regarding the mysterious figure of Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק), the timeless king and priest of Zion who served "bread and wine" to our father Abraham – alluding to the sacraments later used to commemorate our redemption (Gen. 14:18). As the timeless king and priest of God, Malki-Tzedek is a "theophany," or a revelation of the LORD our God Yeshua before He emptied Himself and made his descent to this world (Phil. 2:7; Heb. 7:3). Yeshua is our great King of Kings and High Priest of the New Covenant, a better covenant that restores the kingship and priesthood back to God Himself (Heb. 7:12).
Now the Hebrew term "Elyon" itself (עֶלְיוֹן) comes from a root word (עָלָה) that means "to ascend" or "to lift up." For instance, an "olah offering" (עלָה) is a whole burnt offering that ascends upward to heaven, and "aliyah" (עֲלִיָּה) means "going up" to the land of Israel. The word "Elyon," then, expresses the truth that the LORD is the Resurrected One who overcame all the powers of hell and utterly vanquished death's power. In other words, Elyon is a name for the LORD our God Yeshua.
ישֵׁב בְּסֵתֶר עֶלְיוֹן
בְּצֵל שַׁדַּי יִתְלוֹנָן
אמַר לַיהוָה מַחְסִי וּמְצוּדָתִי
yo·shev · be·se·ter · El·yon
be·tzel · Shad·dai · yit·lo·nan
o·mar · ladonai · mach·si · u·me·tzu·da·ti
E·lo·hai · ev·tach · bo
"He who dwells in the secret of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust."
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The sages say that Moses wrote Psalm 91 as he dwelt in the secret place (סֵתֶר) of the Most High God, in the "midst of the dark cloud" (Exod. 24:18), a place of sacred and holy concealment. The thick clouds are a "hiding place" for him (Job 22:14). Notice that the one who "abides" in the secret of the Most High dwells in an ascended place of rest – being lifted up above the surrounding madness of this fallen world of flux and shadows. The Hebrew word means to lodge or to "sleep" (לִין), connecting it metaphorically with death and resurrection. By dwelling in the death and resurrection of Yeshua, God will shield you with His Presence and make evil powerless before you.
Since God hides Himself in this world (Isa. 45:15), we must humbly seek His face to enter into the place of His holy concealment in all things. God is Elyon – High above - but He dwells "with the lowly and the broken of heart" (Isa. 57:15). Therefore the LORD our God is called Shaddai (שַׁדַּי) – our Sustainer, Provider, Refuge, and Home. Just as we can be surrounded by the "shadow of death" (tzal mavet), so we can be surrounded by the "shadow of Shaddai" (tzal Shaddai). Like a powerful eagle brooding over her chicks, so Shaddai covers you with wings of protection (Psalm 91:4).
When you "abide" in the secret of Elyon - the Ascended One - you are concealed by the dark clouds of His Glory, and the Presence of Shaddai overshadows you... The LORD will save you from the ensnaring trap and from the devastating pestilence (Psalm 91:3). By abiding in the truth that God's Presence pervades all things at all times - you become a "stranger" (גֵּר) with the LORD in this world, a "sojourner" (תּוֹשָׁב) who awaits the recompense of the wicked and the healing of the world at the end of the age. "You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot" (Psalm 91:13).
Personal Note: Shabbat shalom friends. We have been enduing a lot of testing lately, and we deeply appreciate your prayers for this ministry to continue. Thank you so much. - John
Assured by Love's Promise...
06.30.17 (Tammuz 6, 5777) Regarding the assurance of our salvation Yeshua declared: "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes in the One who sent me has (i.e., present active indicative) eternal life and will not be condemned, but has passed over (literally, "crossed over") from death to life" (John 5:24). Note that the verb translated "has passed over" is "perfect active" that expresses completed action: "this one has already crossed over from death to life." In other words, the gift of eternal life is a "done deal," though it is only experienced as we truly surrender to the love and grace of God from a heart of faith. The "basis" of life is now radically new and of a different order. As the apostle Paul later summarized: "For it is by grace you have been saved (i.e., a perfect passive participle that denotes completed action done on your behalf with effects that continue to the present) through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:9-10). I'm so glad it's not the strength of my grip that keeps me holding on to God, but the strength of His.....
Our Lord does not want us uncertain or unsure of His great love for us. A fearful believer explained that he was anxious about his acceptance before heaven. When he was asked to define "salvation," he answered, "freedom, deliverance, rest, peace." So you think fear will help you do away with your fear? You are fearful of the idea of freedom from fear?
So "be strong and of good courage" – chazak ve'ematz! The Lord our God promises "never to leave you nor forsake you," and to be with you wherever you go (see Josh. 1:5,9; Heb. 13:5, Psalm 139; Matt. 28:20). In the Greek New Testament, the wording of Hebrews 13:5 is highly emphatic: οὐ μή σε ἀνῶ οὐδ᾽ οὐ μή σε ἐγκαταλίπω: "Not ever will I give up on you; no, not ever will I leave you behind." May you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd calling you, and may He forever keep you under His watchful care. Amen.
Doing to Know...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat... ]
06.29.17 (Tammuz 5, 5777) The commandments of God are usually divided between the rational laws (i.e., mishpatim) and the divine decrees (i.e., chukkim), though this distinction is somewhat artificial, since all of the commandments of Torah (and that includes the Torah of the New Covenant) are grounded in the mystery of God's will, which is to say that we are to obey them simply because they derive from the Divine Authority itself... When the people gathered before Moses to receive the covenant at Mount Sinai, they said: "All the LORD has spoken we will do and we will hear" (na'aseh ve'nishmah: נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע). Note the order: first comes the decision to obey (na'aseh), and then comes understanding (ve'nishmah). As Yeshua said, "If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will understand" (John 7:17). The heart of faith is willing to do what God asks before hearing what exactly is required. Many people operate the other way round, sitting in judgment of God's word, demanding to understand why they should obey. You cannot understand apart from faith, however, and that is categorically true of all forms of knowledge, which is usually defined as "justified true belief." We are to be "doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves" (James 1:22). The Greek verb used in this verse is emphatic: "Be doers!" (γίνεσθε) means "be born! come alive! do, live, exist before God! This is a call to creative action, to newness of life!
The Scriptures state that "if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like" (James 1:23-24). If we just hear the truth but do not act upon it, we are comically likened to someone who carefully looks at his face in a mirror but then promptly forgets what he looks like after he steps away... Likewise those who only hear the word but do not "bring it to life" in their deeds forget who they are and why they were created (Eph. 2:10; Titus 2:14; Col. 1:10). When we look into the mirror of truth we see our need for teshuvah and turn to God for the healing miracle he provides (Heb. 4:12). It's not about doing but being, though being is revealed in doing... If your actions do not align with your values, then back up and recover who you really are in Messiah, understand what your new nature truly is. That is what it means to "take up the yoke" of Messiah, for his yoke is easy (kal) and burden is light, and the task is to repeatedly practice allowing Him to carry your pain, shame, and sin far, far away from your heart.
There is a deeper law, however, a "mirror" that reveals something beyond our passing image. When we look intently into the "perfect law of liberty" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵרוּת וּמַחֲזִיק) - the law of faith, hope, and love for our Savior - we find blessing in our deeds (James 1:25). Note that the verb translated "look into" the law of liberty is the same used when John stooped down to "look inside" the empty tomb of Yeshua (John 20:5). The deeper law reveals the resurrection power of God's invincible love. The Torah of the New Covenant also has many mitzvot, though these are based on the love God gives to us in Yeshua: "This is my Torah: that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34).
Cleansing from Death...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat, though the mysterious themes of purity and impurity were first described in parashat Tzav... ]
06.29.17 (Tammuz 5, 5777) Contact with the dead causes spiritual impurity (i.e., tumah) because death, as the separation from life, is the ultimate expression and consequence of sin. People routinely deny the meaning of death, explaining it away as the result of some cause from which one might escape ("he worked too hard," "she got sick," "it was an accident," etc.). People rationalize death because they refuse to see it as the effect of sin, the consequence of the original transgression of Adam and Eve that humanity as a whole has "inherited" (Gen. 2:17; 3:19; Rom. 5:12). Therefore the Torah states that the birth of a child results in impurity (Lev. 12:2,7). Full atonement comes from "digging up the root of sin" by being purified from its source, namely, the curse of death itself. The Red Heifer alludes to the sin of the Golden Calf, which finds its source in the original idolatry of Adam and Eve. Even the blood of the sacrifice was burned to ash "outside the camp," putting a complete end to the "life of death" and its power to corrupt. The Red Heifer is therefore a special sort of "sin offering" (chatat) that cleanses from contact with death itself (Num. 19:9).
Note: The "fall" of man implies that we have contact with death - both inwardly and outwardly. The sacrifice of Yeshua as our "Red Heifer" cleanses us from all tumah and lovingly makes us clean (tahor) before the Father. The "water and the blood" is part of the "olah sacrifice" of Yeshua for our redemption and purification before God offered at Calvary (John 19:34, 1 John 5:6). The water and blood flowing from His wounds are the means by which we are purified from sin and death... All this comes from the love (chesed) of God given in our Messiah and Savior. Just as the sacrifice of the Red Heifer cleansed from the effects of physical death, so the sacrifice of Yeshua cleanses us from the effects of spiritual death. For more on this subject, see the "Gospel of the Red Cow."
Life Worth Living...
[ The following is a topic for seekers, chaverim. If it confuses you, please ignore it... ]
06.28.17 (Tammuz 4, 5777) It is common to encounter people today who refuse to believe that God exists, not because there are compelling reasons to do so, but simply because they do not want God to exist, and therefore they willfully suppress the intuitions of logic, the apprehension of value, the awareness of glory in creation, and the sentiments of conscience, since all these experiences point to the realm of moral and spiritual reality. As it is stated in our Scriptures: "For that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has revealed it to them. For the invisible attributes of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and divinity; so that they are without excuse" (Rom. 1:19-20). Indeed, atheists and agnostics dogmatically pontificate that there is no transcendental "moral law" or Moral Lawgiver before whom all moral agents will give account, again, not because reason indicates that this is so, but on the contrary, merely because they wish to be "free" to do whatever they want and to pursue their own selfish desires. In this regard the atheist merely chooses to close his mind because he does not want to see. As the Baal Shem Tov once said, "The world is full of wonders and miracles but man takes his little hand and covers his eyes and sees nothing." Indeed the deification of the self makes the soul a stranger to God and blind to moral and spiritual reality. The modern man will split hairs and fastidiously object to questions of truth and meaning all for the sake of living life as he pleases, on his own terms, without recognizing any moral authority beyond himself....
Socrates famously said that "the unexamined life is not worth living," which of course implies that a life worth living is discovered by asking questions, searching for meaning, pursuing truth, celebrating wonder, and living with integrity. "Seek the LORD while He may be found..." Contrary to the ideals of worldly culture, the meaning of life is not found in the pursuit of personal happiness (or pleasure) but rather in the pursuit of truth and meaning. Apathy about such matters is a symptom of lifelessness: it is to be spiritually dead while seemingly "alive." Indifferent people are likened to those who go through the outward motions of life without ever making inner traction with it... The righteous, even in death, are called "living"; the wicked, even while alive, are called "dead" (Berachot 18a).
"Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it." - Bliase Pascal
Why is there something rather than nothing at all? Such a fundamental question strikes at the heart of our assumptions and habitual ways of thinking, jolting us from our sleepy "cave-like" consciousness to face the glaring light of the sun... The natural instinct is to turn away, to pull the covers over our head, and try to go back to sleep. However if pressed, the simple question "why" irresistibly leads to a concatenation of explanations and a regress of causes that quickly points to metaphysical properties and realities. For instance, if a child asks her parent, "Why do people die?" the parent might answer, "Because people get sick or injured or they might grow very old." "But why do people have to grow old?" the child continues. "Because they are born, live for awhile, and eventually pass away... All things change, and that means they come into being, exist for a while, and then pass away. Look around you; everything you see – the people, the animals, the plants, rocks, mountains and seas, the earth and sky, the stars and galaxies, and indeed the whole universe – is constantly changing, coming into being, existing for awhile, and then passing away..." "But why does everything have to pass away?" the child persists... In this imaginary dialog we see how quickly "why questions" begin pointing to deep metaphysical mysteries such as the nature of being, the phenomenon of time, the ubiquity of change and its existential relationship to human consciousness. The dialectic of asking and answering questions helps us detect the assumptions that underlie our everyday thinking, often revealing wonders that pervade our lives. The failure to seriously ask the "big questions" of life, for instance, "What am I?" "Where did I come from?" "Why am I here?" "Where am I going?" and "What does it all mean?" is to abandon what makes life itself worth living... It is to give up the quest to find meaning, purpose, hope, and a sense of destiny.
"How did I get into the world? Why was I not asked about it and why was I not informed of the rules and regulations but just thrust into the ranks as if I had been bought by a peddling shanghaier of human beings? How did I get involved in this big enterprise called actuality? Why should I be involved? Isn't it a matter of choice? And if I am compelled to be involved, where is the manager—I have something to say about this. Is there no manager? To whom shall I make my complaint?"- Søren Kierkegaard
The Sin of Moses...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat... ]
06.28.17 (Tammuz 4, 5777) And God said, "Speak to the rock..." but Moses struck the rock twice with his staff" (Num. 20:8,11). This was apparently Moses' sin for which his punishment was exile from the Promised Land. The punishment might seem severe, but in light of God's Redemptive Plan given in Messiah, Moses' actions were intended to be prophetic (1 Cor. 10:11; Rom. 15:4). When the people first demanded water at Rephidim, Moses was told to strike the rock with his staff (Exod. 17:6). The Hebrew word used to describe how Moses "struck" the rock is the same used to describe how Yeshua was "smitten by God" (Isa. 53:4). The Rock symbolized the Messiah, the One stricken for His people to give them waters of life (Isa 55:1; 1 Cor. 10:4). Moses' act of disobedience implied that rock needed to be stricken again to give life, instead of speaking to it as the "Living Rock." In his frustration, Moses lost sight of the LORD by suggesting that he and Aaron were responsible for the miracle of the water ("listen, you rebels, shall we bring forth water for you?"[Num. 20:10]), and God could not leave those words unanswered before the people. That is why God told Moses that his exile from the land was the result of his sin not sanctifying (i.e., honoring) the LORD before the people of Israel (Num. 20:12).
"The Rock is Messiah" - הַצּוּר הַהוּא הַמָּשִׁיחַ... the Source of the waters of life (1 Cor.10:4).
Mother of the Golden Calf...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat... ]
06.28.17 (Tammuz 4, 5777) Some of the sages have said that the elaborate ritual of the Red Heifer (פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה) was originally intended to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf (egel ha-zahav). The Golden Calf represents seeking for life in this finite world, losing sight of the invisible, unnamable, and mysterious Creator and Redeemer. Idolatry expresses our fear of being abandoned in the desert, and impels us to seek for security and comfort in the immediacy of the moment. The ritual of the Red Heifer brings us face to face with our contact with death and offers us purification and healing. The cow itself symbolizes our impulse to idolatry, which must be turned entirely to dust and ash in the fires of God's truth. To this are added cedar, representing our pride, and hyssop, representing our lowliness. A crimson string is added that symbolizes our blood connection and lower nature (דּם). All these are burned together and the ashes mixed with living water to create a holy admixture that heals us from the perversity of death. Ironically, we are cleansed from the "dust and ashes" of death by being sacrificially covered with God's "dust and ashes" given in our place.
The Meaning of Life...
[ You can't die "in him" if you have never lived in him; and if you live in him, nothing can separate you from his love and life... ]
06.28.17 (Tammuz 4, 5777) The Hebrew word for "life" is chayim (חַיִּים), which is written in the plural to imply that life cannot be lived alone... Embedded within the word itself are two consecutive Yods (יי), representing unity in plurality (Yod-Yod is also a Name of God). Therefore the LORD is called Elohim Chayim (אֱלהִים חַיִּים), "the Living God," and we only come to life through our union with Him. Chayim may be formed from the word chai (חי), "alive" combined with the particle im (אם), "if," suggesting that being alive is conditional on our union with God in the truth. "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם); whoever refuses the Son shall not see life, but the separation of God remains" (John 3:36). Life and peace are therefore inextricably connected, and those who refuse Yeshua, the Prince of Peace (שַׂר־שָׁלוֹם), therefore separate themselves from unity with God. Yeshua alone is the means of receiving the divine life: "Whoever has the Son has the life (הַחַיִּים); but whoever does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:12).
God has "made us alive together with Messiah" (Eph. 2:5). The two Yods in the word "life" (חַיִּים) can also be seen as the two outstretched arms of Yeshua, or one Yod can represent our spirit and the other the Spirit of God. God's life is such that it is never diminished as it shared but instead grows in miraculous ways. This is alluded to by the Hebrew word for love (i.e., ahavah: אהבה), the gematria of which is thirteen (1+5+2+5=13), but when shared with another it is multiplied: 13 x 2 = 26 - the same value for the Sacred Name (יהוה), i.e., (10+5+6+5=26). The love of God given in Yeshua is the very life of the universe...
[ The following is a topic for seekers, chaverim. If it confuses you, please ignore it... ]
06.27.17 (Tammuz 3, 5777) Our postmodern age exhibits a devout faith in the values of "tolerance" and "open-mindedness," though the way these words are used barely conceals a cynical indifference and even hostility to the view that objective truth – that is, a metaphysical, moral and spiritual order to reality – is transcendentally knowable and logically necessary. Many intellectual poseurs of our time claim that all worldviews and religious perspectives "should be" deconstructed, qualified, minimized, homogenized, and reduced to equal (in)significance; and, since there is no impartial way to arbitrate such pluralistic convictions about reality, all respective truth claims "should be" understood as relative, subjective, and a form of political exploitation or manipulation. Of course this epistemologically skeptical view is "magically" immune from its own criticism, since to know that skepticism is true is to transcendentally claim to know something true about reality, and yet this reductio ad absurdum doesn't seem to bother the "intellectuals" of our day. Indeed, postmodern thought often extols "tolerance" as the preeminent intellectual value, which essentially means it commends apathy and cowardice as the guiding intellectual virtues of thinking. The so-called "tolerant" person is functionally a person without conviction, that is, a coward who is more afraid of being wrong than risking commitment for his or her beliefs. It is intuitively obvious, however, that the human mind is "hard-wired" to make logical inferences and to draw conclusions, and the desire to "suspend" the use of reason (by ironically arguing that reason itself is a tool of oppression) really amounts to opting out of serious thought altogether. Despite its squawking rhetoric and empty bluster, postmodern thinking is on the wrong side of truth and reality, just as the its parasitical use of words such as "justice," "human rights," "bias," "entitlement," and so on, tacitly appeal to transcendental moral categories that provide the semantic and logical ground for the idea of truth itself.
"Those who do not love truth excuse themselves on the grounds that it is disputed and that very many people deny it. Thus their error is solely die to the fact that they neither love truth nor charity, and so they have no excuse" (Blaise Pascal, Pensees). Many people today opt out of the mandate to search for (and to live by) the truth, because, they claim, not everybody agrees on what the truth is, and therefore they are "excused" from the duty... Such people want to be "innocent" of taking sides in the issue, pretending to be "neutral" parties in the debate, and thereby they suppress their judgment rather than risk a commitment. Of course this amounts to the decision not to decide and therefore expresses evasion and indifference to moral and spiritual reality.
"There are only three types of people; those who have found God and serve him; those who have not found God and seek him, and those who live not seeking, or finding him. The first are rational and happy; the second unhappy and rational, and the third foolish and unhappy." - Blaise Pascal
A Perfected Strength...
06.27.17 (Tammuz 3, 5777) "Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Eternal One, the LORD, is the Creator of the ends of the earth (בּוֹרֵא קְצוֹת הָאָרֶץ). He does not faint nor grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength" (Isa. 40:28-29). Human reason has no objection that God can impart strength, but it objects that strength is found in those who are broken and weary – that is, to those mortally wounded in the battle against evil. The principle of the self-life, the ego, religious observance, "doing the law," etc., is a spiritual dead-end. The word is this: God gives strength to the weary, to the faint, to those who are without potency or power. But this means that we first must be emptied, broken, and stripped of our self-sufficiency before the strength of God is manifest in us: "My power is made perfect (τελειοῦται) in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). God's way is first to break us, to make us weaker and weaker, so that he can then fill us with the miraculous divine nature. Like all sacrifices that were brought to the altar, we must pass through death to life by means of our union with the Messiah at the cross... It is only after the cross that it may be said, "It is no longer 'I' who lives; now it is Messiah who lives His life in me." There is indeed strength, power, and victory – but such comes after the cross, after we reckon carnal energy as useless. Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says Adonai Tzeva'ot.
נתֵן לַיָּעֵף כּחַ
וּלְאֵין אוֹנִים עָצְמָה יַרְבֶּה
no·tein · la·ya·ef · ko·ach
u·le·ein · o·nim · otz·mah · yar·beh
"He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength"
Righteousness of God...
06.27.17 (Tammuz 3, 5777) "For many walk (πολλοὶ γὰρ περιπατοῦσιν) ... as the enemies of the cross of Messiah (τοὺς ἐχθροὺς τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῦ χριστοῦ)." Paul's statement is directed to those who profess faith in Yeshua. Those who minimize the need for the cross invariably stress the importance of "religion," of good works, and even of the supposed virtue of faith... The cross, however, scandalizes the aspirations of human pride by presenting the righteousness of God (צִדְקַת אֱלהִים), not the righteousness of men. The message of deliverance is not about how good you are, but about how good God is. Test yourself: In what are you trusting for eternal life? Salvation is "of the LORD," which means that it is His work done for the glory of the Name above all Names. As Jonah the prophet testified: "Those who cling to empty vanities forsake their own mercy..."
מְשַׁמְּרִים הַבְלֵי־שָׁוְא חַסְדָּם יַעֲזבוּ
וַאֲנִי בְּקוֹל תּוֹדָה אֶזְבְּחָה־לָּךְ
אֲשֶׁר נָדַרְתִּי אֲשַׁלֵּמָה יְשׁוּעָתָה לַיהוָה
me·sha·me·rim · hav·lei · shav' · chas·dam · ya·a·zo·vu
va·a·ni · be·kol · to·dah · ez·be·chah-lakh
a·sher · ne·dar·ti · a·sha·lei·mah · ye·shu·a·tah · la·do·nai
"Those who cling to empty vanities forsake their own mercy;
but I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay: Salvation belongs to the LORD!"
Like Jonah we first must be "swallowed up" in consciousness of our own rebellion before we realize we are undone, that we are without remedy apart from God's direct intervention and deliverance. We start there - in the "belly of the fish" - and later are resurrected to go forth by God's mercy and grace. Likewise we first see ourselves as undone and go to the cross, finding pardon and given the power of the ruach HaKodesh to live unto God according to the truth. But note that the imperatives of the New Testament are directed to the new nature given to us by God, and not to the old nature that has been crucified and done away. We are admonished to live in accordance with the truth of what God has done for us through the Moshia', the Savior. You are a new creation, therefore be who you are in the Messiah!
Thus says the LORD: "Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit" (Jer. 17:5-8).
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21). And what is the will of the Father but to trust in Messiah for life (John 6:40)? "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" Yeshua answers: "This is the work of God, that you believe in the One whom he has sent" (John 6:28-29). The Torah of God centers on Messiah. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not ... do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I say to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness' (Matt. 7:22-23). From this we see that works - even those done in the name of Messiah - are insufficient for life, and that something more is needed. And how you understand what that "something more" is makes all the difference....
Purge me with hyssop....
06.26.17 (Tammuz 2, 5777) It is noteworthy that cedarwood, hyssop, and scarlet thread were used not only for cleansing the leper (Lev. 14) and for cleansing from contact with death (Num. 19), but also during the ratification of the covenant at Sinai (Exod. 24:8; Heb. 9:19-20) and indeed during the crucifixion of our Lord. Of course hyssop (אֵזוֹב) is first mentioned regarding the application of the blood of the lamb upon the doorposts during the Passover (Exod. 12:22), and King David later appealed to God for cleansing saying, "purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean" (Psalm 51:7). A hyssop branch was also used to offer vinegar to Messiah during the time of his crucifixion (John 19:29). Likewise the wood from a cedar tree (עֵץ אֶרֶז) was used to purify both the leper and those contaminated with death, and it is likely the type of wood used for the cross of Messiah. Finally, scarlet (שָׁנִי) thread symbolizes both blood and royalty, and appears in the birth of Judah's children Zerach and Peretz (Gen. 38:28), in the coverings of the Tabernacle, as a sign of Rahab's faith (Josh 2:8,21), and as the color of the robe of Messiah during his crucifixion (Matt. 27:28).
Beauty for Ashes...
[ The following entry also concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat... ]
06.26.17 (Tammuz 2, 5777) The ashes of the red heifer represented the death and sacrifice of something extremely rare, valuable, and precious. The ashes were mixed with "living water" (מַיִם חַיִּים) to reveal the truth that though the end of all flesh is but dust and ashes, the Spirit gives cleansing and life. Indeed the word ashes (אֵפֶר) may be rearranged to spell both cure (רַפֵא) and beauty (פְאֵר). The author of the book of Hebrews argues from the lesser to the greater: If the sprinkling of water mixed with the ashes of a red heifer purify the flesh from contamination with physical death, how much more does the blood of Messiah purify the soul from the deeds that cause spiritual death? (Heb. 9:13-14). Indeed, because of Yeshua's sacrifice we are given "beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness," that we may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified (Isa. 61:3).
Personal Note: Keep me in your prayers, friends... I have received some more hate mail from various people recently, slandering this ministry, accusing me of misleading people, etc. God knows. Please offer a prayer of protection as I continue to press forward, sharing the truth of the Scriptures to all who are willing to hear. Shalom and thank you.
Paradox and Faith...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat (i.e., Num. 19:1-22:1). ]
06.26.17 (Tammuz 2, 5777) The paradox of the red heifer sacrifice is precisely this: it purified those defiled by contact with death, yet it defiled all those who were connected in any way with its preparation... And though it was a prescribed sacrifice, it was offered "outside the camp," that is, on an altar that was not part of the Temple.... Likewise Yeshua suffered outside the gate to sanctify the people through his own blood.
Commandments (mitzvot) that defy reason are called "chok" (חק). The Jewish sages tend to focus on the Red Heifer as the "mother of all mystery mitzvas," but surely we must go back to the Akedah - that is, to the sacrifice of Isaac at the hand of his father Abraham - as the greatest of God's decrees that defy human reason. The willingness of both Abraham and Isaac to obey - despite their inability to understand - was a direct result of their unwavering faith in God's love and promises. Therefore the sacrifice of the ram caught in the thicket represented the "ashes of Isaac" that foretold of the great Lamb of God to come...
The heart of our faith says simply: "Jesus saves." His sacrifice saves us from sin and death, yet this also is "chok" - a matter of faith - since like the decree of the red heifer or the offering of Isaac, it does not make rational sense. We are not able to logically understand how or why this is needed, yet we believe anyway; we may seek reasons or explanations, but ultimately it is a matter of divine mystery, just as the darkness covered the earth while the Savior suffered for us on the cross at Calvary (Mark 15:22). "Jesus saves" is the mystery of our confession. We are cleansed by our contact with sin and death through him, just as he bears our sin and defilement on our behalf: "God made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21).
"But when Messiah appeared as a High Priest (כּהֵן גָּדוֹל) of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he alone entered once for all into the Holy Places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (גְּאוּלַּת עוֹלָם). For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer (אֵפֶר הַפָּרָה), sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Messiah (דַּם הַמָּשִׁיחַ), who through the eternal Spirit (בְּרוּחַ עוֹלָם) offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God (אֱלהִים חַיִּים)?" – Heb. 9:11-14
The Torah of the new covenant is inner, deeper, and eternal, whereas the Torah of the older covenant is outer, limited, and subject to obsolescence (Heb. 7:12; 8:13). The older covenant foretold of the coming Substance by means of the "ashes that purify the impure yet make the pure, impure." Only after we have been "sprinkled with the ashes" are we made clean from death; only when we make contact with the "ashes of Yeshua" offered on our behalf are we cleansed from sin and death (1 Pet. 1:2; Heb. 10:22).
Saved from Death's Sting...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat... ]
06.26.17 (Tammuz 2, 5777) From our Torah portion this week (i.e., Chukat), which discusses the central decree of the Torah, we read: "Everyone who is bitten (by the serpent), when he sees it (the slain serpent upon the stake), shall live" (Num. 21:8). The fiery serpent – the very sting of which brings death – is what must be looked upon, confronted, and confessed. We must look at that which kills us, and by seeing it, we can then see God's miracle (נֵּס) that delivers us... Therefore we look to the cross – the place where Yeshua clothed himself with our sickness and sin – to realize God's remedy for our eternal healing. As Yeshua explained to Nicodemus, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14-15). Humanity as a whole has been "bitten by the snake" and needs to be delivered from its lethal venom. Just as the image made in the likeness of the destroying snake was lifted up for Israel's healing, so the One made in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3) was to be lifted up as the Healer of the world. In Yeshua the miraculous exchange takes place: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָךְ - Blessed is the Name forever!
אֵלֶיךָ נָשָׂאתִי אֶת־עֵינַי הַיּשְׁבִי בַּשָּׁמָיִם
e·le·kha · na·sa·ti · et · ei·nai · hai-yo·she·vi · ba·sha·ma·yim
"To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned [for me] in the heavens!"
Notice in the verse above the spelling for ha-yoshevi (הַיּשְׁבִי), "the one enthroned," is unusual, since it contains a Yod (י) suffix. The normal spelling would be simply ha-yoshev (הַיּשֵׁב) meaning "the Enthroned One." The sages say that the Yod (י), the smallest of letters, represents the heart of prayer, the inner realm of spirit. God is enthroned "for me," that is, within my heart; O LORD, put your Spirit (י) within me as I look to you in prayer!
The psalm continues with an appeal for God's merciful deliverance: "Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that he have mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us (חָנֵּנוּ יְהוָה חָנֵּנוּ): for we are exceedingly filled with contempt" (Psalm 123:2-3). As we lift up our eyes to behold God's miracle – his nes gadol (נֵס גָדוֹל) given in Yeshua our Messiah – we overcome by the power of God.
It is said that "God creates the cure before the plague." Yeshua is the Lamb slain "from the foundation of the world." He is the promised "Serpent Slayer" who would redeem humanity from the curse of death. The serpent that had deceived Eve in the paradise of Eden has been overcome (Gen. 3:15). The sacrificial death of the Savior upon the cross is the Tree of Life for those who take hold of Him. For more on this, see "The Gospel in the Garden."
Faith and Reason...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat... ]
06.26.17 (Tammuz 2, 5777) The divine decrees, that is, the "chukkim" (חֻקִּים), test how we understand our faith, since they are not based on rational criteria. By way of contrast, the commandment that we should not steal, for example, makes logical sense, since if no one observed it, society itself would be impossible. Therefore this commandment, like many others, does not test how we comprehend our faith as much as it tests our obedience. The divine decrees, however, require bittachon - that is, abandoning our need to understand so that we can completely cling to God's wisdom: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding."
בְּטַח אֶל־יְהוָה בְּכָל־לִבֶּךָ
be·tach · el-Adonai · be·khol · lib·be·kha
ve·el · bi·na·te·kha · tish·a·ein
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding"
Hebrew Study Card
Bittachon requires that we renounce reliance upon ourselves, upon our ego's ability to understand reality, and instead trust the LORD be'khol levavkha, "with all our heart." Any other supposed source of security than that from the LORD God Almighty is sheer folly. The Greek Septuagint never translates batach (בָּטָח) with the idea of "believing in," but rather as "to hope" or to be persuaded (πείθω) that God alone is your real security and help...
Exercising bittachon does not imply that we should abandon reason or the pursuit of wisdom, of course, but it does require that we keep in mind that all thinking is to be conditioned upon the truth that God is the Sovereign Power that orders and defines all substance and reality... We still form our plans, but we add the thought: im yirtzeh HaShem, "if it pleases God may this come to pass" (James 4:15). We have to keep our balance between "blind faith" and faithful rationalizations: We trust in God, even when it doesn't make sense, and we trust in God, even when it does...
This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD (Jer. 9:23-24).
Letting Go of Anger...
[ The chasidic rebbes would argue with heaven and pull their beards out in lamentation over the exile... They would wail and fight and complain to heaven that they could not be happy apart from God's promises being fulfilled. Today, alas, many laugh at such an idea, to their shame... ]
06.26.17 (Tammuz 2, 5777) Why are we so angry? Does some of our anger arise from the conflict between the ideal and the real we experience? We seek the eternal, for perfection, and for the manifestation of love and grace for our lives, yet we encounter brokenness and depravity – both within our own hearts and in the world at large. We hunger to be transformed, to walk in the light of truth, yet we find ourselves weighed down in our "fallenness," battling selfishness, fear, and pride. What can we do? Shall we scorn the inner condition of our hearts or rail against the world? How do we reconcile the rift between our present reality and all that we pray will be true of us? Shall we deny the real for the sake of the ideal? Shall we seek solace in heaven, far away from the traction of our daily struggles? If so, how are we to share the message of hope with a lost and dying world? A better approach, it seems to me, is to first of all accept that which cannot be changed, that is, to let go and surrender both the "is" and the "ought" of our lives, both the past and the future of our reality, to God's care. Whenever we attempt to "play God" we become frustrated and bitter people; but when we let go and trust God for our lives – for both what we are and what we ought to be – we find the blessing of inner peace. "Thy will be done" is not an expression of resignation as much as it is an affirmation that God is working all things together for our good, and therefore we can relax and be carried by the Spirit, sanctified by the truth of God's love.
יֵצֶר סָמוּךְ תִּצּר שָׁלוֹם שָׁלוֹם כִּי בְךָ בָּטוּחַ
בִּטְחוּ בַיהוָה עֲדֵי־עַד כִּי בְּיָהּ יְהוָה צוּר עוֹלָמִים
ye·tzer · sa·mukh · titz·tzor · sha·lom · sha·lom · ki · ve·kha · ba·tu·ach
bit·chu · vadonai · a·di-ad · ki · be·Yah · Adonai · tzur · o·la·mim
You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, for he trusts in you.
Trust in the LORD forever, for Yah the LORD is an everlasting rock.
Hebrew Study Card
The Decree of Torah...
[ The following entry concerns our Torah reading for this week, parashat Chukat... ]
06.25.17 (Tammuz 1, 5777) Our Torah portion this week (Chukat) begins, zot chukat ha-Torah (זאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה), "this is the decree of Torah" (Num. 19:2). The language here is both striking and unique, suggesting that what follows, namely, the ritual of the parah adumah or "red heifer," is nothing less than "the seminal decree" of the entire Torah... If we think about the meaning of the mysterious decree of the red heifer, however, we will realize that its ashes were used to create the "waters of separation" (i.e., mei niddah: מֵי נִדָּה) to cleanse people from contact with death (i.e., separation). To fulfill God's vital decree, however, required sacrificial love, since the priest who offered this service would become defiled (separated) for the sake of the healing of others... The Hebrew word for love is ahavah (אַהֲבָה), from a root verb (יָהַב) that means "to give." Love means giving of yourself to benefit another person (John 15:13). The central decree of Torah, then, beyond our ability to rationally understand, is that God's love is so great that it is willing to become dust and ashes on our behalf so that we might find blessing and life...
The mitzvah of parah adamah (i.e., the red heifer) represents the suspension of logic in deference to the Divine Will. This attitude is not restricted to this mitzvah. Scripture introduces the mitzvah of the parah adamah with the words "this is the law of the Torah." Surrendering one's own reasoning and accepting the superior reasoning of Hashem is the law of the entire Torah... To the extent that we let go of our own will, we can understand the Divine will. Our ancestors at Sinai understood this ideal when they proclaimed, "we will do and then we will understand." Torah is not beyond our understanding, but we must be willing to make the sacrifices that true Torah understanding demands. - Living Each Day, Rabbi Abraham Twerski
Yeshua willingly became unclean on our behalf - through contact with our sin and death - so that we could become clean (Isa. 53:4, 2 Cor. 5:21, Gal. 3:3, Eph. 5:2, Titus 2:14). The pure became impure through His sacrificial offering. Because of Him, we have been cleansed from our sins "by a better sprinkling" than that which the Tabernacle of Moses could afford (Matt. 26:28, Heb. 9:14, 12:24, Eph. 1:7, 1 Pet. 1:2,18-19, Rom. 5:9; Col. 1:14, 1 John 1:7, etc.).
Note: The Hebrew word "chok" means a "divine decree," related to a verb meaning "to engrave" (חָקַק). The sages say that the word is directed to a desire to do God's will that is "engraved" upon the heart rather than simply understood with the intellect (2 Cor. 3:3). The first time "chok" (חוֹק) appears in the Torah concerns Abraham's obedience of faith as demonstrated by the sacrifice of his beloved son (Gen. 26:5), and the second time concerns the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb of God: "This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as an eternal decree (חֻקַּת עוֹלָם), you shall keep it as a feast (Exod. 12:12-13). Because both the Akedah and the sacrifice of the Passover lamb reveal God's yeshuah, his salvation, we are to engrave the significance of our deliverance by the Lamb of God within our hearts forever... Amen, just as God Himself has so engraved us upon his own heart, it is written, "behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands" (הֵן עַל־כַּפַּיִם חַקּתִיךְ) - Isa. 49:16a.
Lamentation and Loneliness...
06.23.17 (Sivan 29, 5777) Ah Lord, you have given me an incurable wound, a pain that refuses to leave my heart; for mi li va'shamayim? "Whom have I in heaven but you?" And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you" (Psalm 73:25). I whisper to Thy heart, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you," and yet I am bound in this place of lonely exile, pining away in grief... My heart cries, ad-anah Adonai, "How long, O Lord, forever?" Nevertheless I affirm: "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." There is nothing I seek apart from your "with me" Presence, O beloved Savior; therefore be true to your love and bear my way through these hours...
וְעִמְּךָ לא־חָפַצְתִּי בָאָרֶץ
mi · li · va·sha·ma·yim
ve·im·me·kha · lo · cha·fatz·ti · va·a·retz
"Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you."
The Berditchever rebbe was asked if his ongoing debate with heaven - protesting that God was not dealing correctly with his people - was a sin of lashon hara (evil speech), to which he replied that the spies slandered God when they said, "We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than us (Num. 13:31), yet his burden was rather, ad-anah Adonai, "How long, O Lord, will you forget us, forever?" (Psalm 13:1), and, "You who put the LORD in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth" (Isa. 62:6-7).
"For we know that the whole creation groans (συστενάζει) and suffers together until now. Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved" (Rom. 8:22-24).
The Warning of Korah...
06.23.17 (Sivan 29, 5777) Our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Korach) centers on the rebellion of Korach, a man who questioned God's authority and arrogantly sought to "intrude" into the office of the priesthood. It is noteworthy that his rebellion is explicitly mentioned only once in the New Testament - in the Book of Jude - as an example of the fate that awaits those false teachers who likewise despise God's law. Unfortunately, Jude's warning is often neglected today, probably because people feel uncomfortable over the prospect of God's judgment. After all, in our "politically correct" age, people have been indoctrinated to regard "tolerance" as the greatest of virtues and "intolerance" (even of evil) as the greatest of vices.... Most unbelievers don't mind hearing the "good news" of God's love, but they take exception when they are confronted with their personal duty to live according to the moral truth revealed in the Torah. False teachers within the church are dangerous because they feed on this sense of discomfort and attempt to rationalize it away. Jude identifies them as spiritual impostors who "work from the inside" to confound or obscure the truth of God. Such charlatans may appear to be "true believers," but their hidden agenda is to sow confusion and sin among God's children. They are proverbial "wolves in sheep's clothing" (Matt. 7:15). Jude's warning is especially important for us to heed in this present hour, because in the time immediately preceding the coming of the Messiah, spiritual deception and unbridled godlessness will greatly increase (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
Note: For more on this very important subject, see "The Message of Jude." Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov, chaverim. Thank you for being part of Hebrew for Christians!
06.23.17 (Sivan 29, 5777) Those who deny that objective truth exists (or those who deny that something may be known about reality) are themselves making a truth claim, namely the claim that there is no such thing as objective truth (or that knowledge of the world is not possible). This self-inflicted incoherence is a sign of irrationalism, of course, the abandonment of reason, which perhaps is the ulterior motive for such manner of thinking, after all. The person who denies truth does so to escape the demands of truth – to flee from personal responsibility before moral and spiritual Reality. It is a form of "wish-fulfillment" to deny that people are not responsible for what they believe and how they live their lives. Hence our culture's obsessive "busyness," its craving for ongoing diversion, entertainment, fantasy, escapism, and so on. Our generation finds evil in "boredom" and finds nothing of lasting interest because it has forsaken the big questions of life and the pursuit of truth. Popular culture encourages apathy, indifference, and seeks to enslave people to thrills and titillations of the moment... The ancient pagan world at least esteemed honor and believed in the pursuit of virtue and truth, but today's post-Christian world is nihilistic, anarchist, and therefore marks a return to barbarism.
The absurd claim that truth does not exist is not unlike the the absurd claim that there is no God, no Supreme Being, and no Primordial Intelligent Cause for all that exists. For an atheist to seriously claim there is no being in any possible world that fits the description of "God," he or she would have to be omniscient, omnipotent, and indeed exercise the very attributes of the Being which is denied to anywhere exist...
The Seeming Way...
06.23.17 (Sivan 29, 5777) "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death" (Prov. 14:12). Our postmodern culture celebrates "relativism," or the spurious notion that that there is no such thing as objectively knowable truth... Apart from the self-contradiction that arises by saying that it is (objectively) true that there is no objective truth, the unthinking acceptance of this sophistical perspective leads to mindlessness, the lack of creativity, moral stupidity and apathy, and delusional thinking. Popular culture inculcates and preaches there are no moral absolutes and therefore terms like "right" and "wrong," "just" and "unjust," "true" and "untrue" should (ahem) be translated as expressions of preference without any reference to moral categories or structures that extend beyond the individual (or sometimes collective) will. According to this dimwitted view, Mother Theresa was no better a person than was Adolf Hitler; and therefore genocide, slavery, murder, and so on, are "lifestyle choices" that express individual or collective preference, but nothing else. Indeed such a viewpoint claims there is no way to infer an "ought" from an "is" (no "prescription" from "description") and therefore assigning moral praise, blame or responsibility is ultimately meaningless. Understand, then, that the uncritical acceptance of this sort of relativism stifles the life of the mind by implying that there is no difference between truth and error, between good and evil, between beauty and ugliness, between logical and illogical thinking, and so on. However, since language and meaning are necessarily grounded in logic, naive relativism is ultimately unintelligible and incommunicable, since logic assumes that meaning and rules of inference serve as the conditions of any expression of thought. I share this to point out that the thinking of our culture is not based on careful reflection or reasoning but is essentially a matter of brute force, and therefore it is rightly to be regarded as irrationalism, an implied appeal to violence, and depraved thinking. Of course this sort of relativism is a very useful indoctrination technique regularly used by political agitators, the mass media, by government propagandists, con artists, and by all those who rely on dimwitted people to manipulate and control. Therefore the thoughtful person of truth, that is, the person of genuine moral conviction derived from intuitive axioms of reasoning, will always be regarded as an enemy to those who live and practice the lie.
יֵשׁ דֶּרֶךְ יָשָׁר לִפְנֵי־אִיש
yesh · de·rekh · ya·shar · lif·nei-ish
ve·a·char·i·tah · dar·khei-ma·vet
"There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death"
Martin Buber once said, "What is accomplished through lies can assume the mask of truth; what is accomplished through violence can go in the guise of justice, and for a while the hoax may be successful. But soon people realize that lies are lies at bottom, that violence is violence - and that both lies and violence will suffer the destiny history has in store for all that is false." As Yeshua himself said, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world -- to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37). "Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the Tree of Life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are all those who love and practice the lie..." (Rev. 22:14-15).
The Faces of Life...
06.23.17 (Sivan 29, 5777) The Hebrew word for "face" is panim (פָּנִים), a term that is grammatically plural, which suggests that there is no single "face" or appearance that can fully define or express the essence of a person. Just as your soul (נְשָׁמָה) is a unity that contains a multiplicity of changes yet remains a distinct identity, so there is an "inward face" that abides the outer expressions. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "inside" is penim (פְּנִים), which is spelled exactly the same as the word for "face."
The word panim itself comes from panah (פָּנָה), a verb meaning "to turn." The Hebrew preposition "before" is lifnei (לִפְנֵי), from the same root, which literally means "turning toward" or "facing" something. This suggests that we have to consider different angles or perspectives and be careful not to jump to conclusions or to make superficial judgments about others. We have to turn in empathy toward others. The Torah says we are to judge be'tzedek (בְּצֶדֶק), that is, with righteousness, by using a "good eye," by giving the benefit of the doubt to others, and by exercising kindness (Lev. 19:15). As Yeshua said, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24).
"Why do you see the speck in your brother's eye, but you don't notice the log in your own?" (Matt. 7:4). The Baal Shem Tov is reported to have said, "It is not good to be alone, for one cannot know one's own defects. Other people are mirrors, in which you can discover your own flaws by observing the acts you dislike in them. In fact, it is only because you share them yourself in some degree that you are able to see another person's flaws." May it be Thy will, Lord and God of our fathers, to remove all barriers between us, and endow us with the vision to see the good in all people, and overlook their defects. Amen.
In the great "three-in-one blessing" known as birkat kohanim (Num. 6:24-26), the LORD is asked to shine the light of His face upon us (פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ), and to lift up His face to behold us in love... The two "faces" here represent the loving countenance of the Divine Presence and our own face turned toward His loving gaze. Therefore the most intimate connection with the LORD is described as being panim el panim (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), being "face to face" with God. The LORD is the One who sees the "face beneath the face" in our hearts, and that face ultimately is that of Yeshua Himself: "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18). "For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Cor. 4:6). Let us therefore come boldly (i.e., without pretense) before the Throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in our time of need" (Heb. 4:16).
Echoes from the Future...
06.22.17 (Sivan 28, 5777) Yeshua forewarned of the alienation and moral sickness that would pervade mankind just before the time of his return: "Because lawlessness (i.e., ἀνομία, from -α ('not') + νομος, 'torah') will be increased," he said, "the love of many will grow cold (i.e., ψύχομαι, 'be extinguished')" (Matt. 24:12). Note the link between Torah and love: true love requires respect for God's authority, for without that the divine image is disfigured and desecrated. Likewise the Apostle Paul foresaw that the "End of Days" (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) would be a time of peril (καιροὶ χαλεποί) because people would become increasingly narcissistic, self-absorbed, infatuated with their own sense of self-importance, abusive toward others, disrespectful to elders, ungrateful, heartless, unforgiving, without self-control, brutal, treacherous, and so on (2 Tim. 3:1-4). Therefore, in light of the spiritual war that rages all around us, it is vital that we remain firmly rooted in what is real by taking hold of our identity and provision as children of God. "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (גְּבוּרָה / δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός), i.e., a "delivered" mind -- centered and "healed" from inner chaos (2 Tim. 1:7). The name of the LORD (יהוה) means "Presence," and in Him "we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). He is as close as our heart and our very breath (Rom. 10:8). We are not to be troubled like the world that lives in terror of man, nor are we to crave security from the vain devices of mere men. No - we must look to God Almighty, the Master of the Universe. He alone is our Refuge and Defense, the One who gives us steadfast love in the midst of these storms. "Let not your heart be troubled" - God is in control of the whirlwind, friends...
According to orthodox Jewish eschatological tradition, the period of time immediately before the Messiah's arrival is sometimes called ikvot meshicha (עִקְּבוֹת מְשִׁיחַ), the time when the "footsteps of the Messiah" can be heard. Some of the "signs" of this period include the rise of various false prophets, numerous wars and "rumors of wars" (including the rise of Magog), famines, earthquakes, worldwide apostasy from the faith, persecution, and a globalized sort of godlessness that is revealed in unbridled selfishness, greed, chutzpah (audacity), shamelessness, and a general lack of hakarat ha-tov (gratitude). The greatest sign, however, will be that Israel will exist once again as a sovereign nation, despite the prophesied exile among the nations (Deut. 4:27-31; Jer. 30:1-3). For more on this fascinating subect, see the article "Birthpangs of Messiah."
Redeeming the Time...
06.22.17 (Sivan 28, 5777) Our life in this world will end far sooner than we expect, and then what will become of us? I am not here thinking of the end of "the" world, but rather the end of your world - when you will die and face the light of eternity. Today, this moment, you are on the way, going someplace; your "latter days" are already come... If you are not prepared today, how will you be better prepared tomorrow? Today is the day of salvation, the hour that matters most (Psalm 95:7; Heb. 3:13). Learn to die to the world now, to let go of what presently holds you captive, so that you are free to meet that which forever shall come. Don't put off genuine teshuvah: turn while there is still time (Eph. 5:15-16). And may God give us mercy to say from the heart: "For me to live is Messiah, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21).
"Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light is throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so." - Blaise Pascal
Our Daily Teshuvah...
[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]
06.22.17 (Sivan 28, 5777) Teshuvah ("repentance") is described as "turning" to God, though practically speaking it is a repeated turning, that is, a turning to God in moments of ambiguity, pain, distress, as well as in moments of happiness, elation, celebration... It is in the midst of the ego's clamor, before the parade of worldly desire or pressure, in the crucible of "everydayness" that we must "come to ourselves" and find true wonder. In that sense, teshuvah is a sort of focus, a direction, a seeking, and a center of life -- the place of constant repair for the inner breach we constantly feel. Therefore our LORD directed us to pray, ten-lanu ha'yom lechem chukeinu: תֶּן־לָנוּ הַיּוֹם לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ - "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matt. 6:11), which is to say, give to our hearts the nourishment we truly need, namely, the ongoing willingness to see "the LORD who is always before us" (Psalm 16:8).
Making the Dead Alive...
06.22.17 (Sivan 28, 5777) We must be careful not to confuse cause and effect in the realm of the spiritual. After the original transgression of Adam and Eve, death became the root problem of the human condition, so to speak, with indwelling sin as its fruit (i.e., the "works of the flesh"). It is this inherited "spiritual death" that causes sin. To focus on outward behavior without first of all dealing with the underlying problem of spiritual death is therefore a misstep. It is to clean the outside of the cup or to wash the outside of a tomb in a vain attempt to disguise the truth about our unclean and dead condition. The good news is not that God wants to make bad people good, but rather wants to make dead people alive... The cure for spiritual death is to be reborn and to partake of the resurrected life of Yeshua.
Following Yeshua is not a sort of "moral reformation" or self-improvement program to make us acceptable to God. Yeshua did not die on the cross so that we would become entangled in the old ways of being... No! He is Lord and Master and we find new life in His acts of deliverance done on our behalf and for our benefit. The temptation is always to go back to the law of sin and death (i.e., the principle of self-justification), but as Luther once said: "The sin underneath all our sins is the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and that we must take matters into our own hands."
"LORD, I need Thee every hour..." There never will be a time when we "get past" the need for God's grace given in Yeshua, since the only antidote to power of indwelling sin is the greater power of God's redeeming love within our hearts (1 John 3:8). The gospel is - not was - "the power of God for salvation (δύναμις θεοῦ ἐστιν εἰς σωτηρίαν) for everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16); it is an ongoing source of power for our lives... Our identity is made secure in the finished work of the Messiah - we trust in His strength, not our own; it is "Messiah in you" that is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). Just as we are given a new life entirely by means of God's grace, so we are also sanctified as we walk in that newness of life... "As you received Yeshua the Messiah the LORD, so walk in Him" (Col. 2:6). The focus is always on Yeshua and His righteousness and obedience... Every step of the way is a miracle and a wonder when we walk "in Messiah."
We walk "in Him," that is, in His strength, in His power, in His love... we don't walk "to" Him or attempt to climb the "stairway to heaven." Yeshua is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the Bridge - sha'ar hashamayim (שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם) and the Divine Ladder upon whom the angels of God ascend and descend. We look to Him, not to ourselves for life. Because of the life of Yeshua within us, we are now able to bear fruit of the Holy Spirit as the Torah is written upon our hearts (Jer. 31:31). We are enabled to keep the Torah of Yeshua (תּוֹרָה יֵשׁוּעַ) because the life of Yeshua empowers us to do so...
Beware False Prophets...
06.21.17 (Sivan 27, 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 hand, we must beware those who deny or minimize words of the Torah, and who falsely claim that the way to heaven is "broad," and that we therefore have licence to walk after the desires of our own hearts (antinomianists). We must use discernment, chaverim. The LORD allows false teachers in our midst to test our hearts: "For there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized" (1 Cor. 11:19). Therefore we must "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 Ruach HaKodesh always centers the heart on the glory of God revealed in Yeshua (John 16:14; 1 Cor. 2:2, etc.).
So many people want to argue about law vs. grace; faith vs. works, and so on. These are "antinomies" of reason; they serve as another test for you to surrender to the tension of unknowing, paradox, and therefore they will make you vulnerable to misunderstanding (and even slander) from others... False teachers like to appeal to what "makes sense" or that which flatters the ego (pride); false teaching often stresses one side of the paradox at the expense of the other... Hence we see legalism and libertinism in various churches.... Please understand that I am not anti-Torah and indeed I have written more about the value and meaning of Torah than any other Christian ministry of which I am aware. I use the word "Torah" correctly, however, understanding it to be in harmony with the idea of God's grace, and I do not make the common mistake of understanding it as "law." To the legalist I will stress grace, unconditional love, etc.; to the grace-based I will stress personal responsibility, the need to do works of righteousness, etc. The heart of the law is the law of the gospel; God is One and Torah is One. Do not confuse the idea of "brit" or covenant with the deeper idea of Torah, which refers to direction, vision, focus, kavanah, purpose, passion, and so on.
For more see the role of Torah pages.
06.21.17 (Sivan 27, 5777) It is written in our Scriptures: "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God' (אָמַר נָבָל בְּלִבּוֹ אֵין אֱלהִים). Indeed Psalm 14 teaches us that the willful denial of reality is an affront to heaven, contempt shown for the gift of life, and sacrilege of all that is worthy. It is sheer folly to regard life apart from the fear of the LORD, for that is reishit chokhmah - the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10). The existence of God is the First Principle of all sound reasoning regarding reality. The so-called "postmodern world" is notorious for failing to explain anything of substantive meaning. Everything is left unexplained; no narrative is permitted (except the narrative that there is no narrative, of course); no logical connections to a "real world" are sound; there is no "story" to our lives, and therefore postmodernism fatuously misses the essential point of everything. King David asked, "Who shall abide before the Presence of the LORD?" and the Spirit replied: "the one who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart" (Psalm 15:2). It is the one who is honest – "the one who speaks truth within his heart" (דבֵר אֱמֶת בִּלְבָבוֹ) that dwells in the "tent of the LORD," for God is called the God of Truth (אֵל אֱמֶת), the Faithful God (אֵל אֱמוּנָה). In heaven there is only the language of truth, and truth is the language of heaven. The "pure in heart" – that is, those who accept the truth of their inner condition, who acknowledge their lost condition, mourning over their lives, and who humbly find themselves starving for God's deliverance – these are the ones who shall behold God (Matt. 5:2-6). Blaise Pascal once wrote: "I can feel nothing but compassion for those who sincerely lament their doubt, who regard it as the ultimate misfortune, and who, sparing no effort to escape from it, make their search their principal and most serious business. But as for those who spend their lives without a thought for this final end, I view differently. This negligence in the matter where they themselves, their eternity, their all are at stake, fills me more with irritation than pity: yea, it astounds and appalls me..." (Pascal: Pensees).
The Projection of Korah...
06.21.17 (Sivan 27, 5777) In our Torah reading this week (Korach), Moses' cousin Korah accused Moses of self-aggrandizement and superiority by saying, "Why do you exalt yourself above the assembly of the LORD? ... Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert, that you also make yourself a prince over us?" (Num. 16:3,13). The Talmud comments: "One who seeks to disqualify another projects his own defects upon him." Korah's own self-exaltation and vanity led him to suppose that Moses was likewise proud and vain. His envy so twisted his perspective that he saw good as bad and bad as good. For him Egypt was the land "flowing with milk and honey" and Moses - not Pharaoh - was the real tyrant! In this connection the Baal Shem Tov said that other people serve as mirrors, and the defects we see in them reflect our own. Korah needed to see that his envy of Moses was rooted in fear, and that healing would come if he would let go and trust that God was in control of his life.
We can learn from the madness of Korah -- as well as his terrible end... "As you judge another you condemn yourself, for you that judge do the same things" (Rom. 2:1). How you react to another person reveals what is within your own heart, and this provides the opportunity to find healing by doing teshuvah and extending compassion to yourself. When you condemn another you are hurting yourself, after all. It is not a matter of factual truth as much as it is of the truth of hope and love. As we forgive others, so we find our own forgiveness (Luke 6:37), but if we insist on our rights, we find ourselves in hell... Fire offered falsely will be answered by the fire of God's judgment.
For much more on this subject, see "The Madness of Korah."
Marks of False Teachers...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Korach. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
06.21.17 (Sivan 27, 5777) False teachers tend to be "people pleasers." They desire the esteem of the crowd, the praises of men, and therefore appeal to the murmurings of the unregenerate heart: "Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits" (Isa. 30:10). They flatter people by "tickling their ears"; they offer either platitudes or "new revelation" based on their own imagination. Consequently, they tend to be grandiose and quick to disparage God's faithful servants. Thus Korah accused Moses of wanting to exalt himself, when this only disclosed the evil lurking within his own heart (Num. 16:3). False teachers speak in their own name and presume to be something when they are nothing (Gal. 6:3). "The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not... they are prophesying to you a lying vision, the deceit of their own minds" (Jer. 14:14). They secretly deny that Yeshua is LORD (יהוה), though they may offer "lip service" about his importance (2 Pet. 2:1). Instead of focusing on the message of the gospel and the greatness of salvation found in Messiah, they "major in minors," passing over the weightier matters for the sake of various divisive doctrines (Matt. 23:23). They desire to be teachers of the law, but they have no idea what they are talking about (1 Tim. 1:7). Often such deceivers have natural charisma, charm, "good hair," and an ability to bewitch people through buttery oratory or clever presentation (Col. 2:4,8). Often they focus on the truth of the head rather than the truth of the heart; they are more concerned with being vindicated than healing broken hearts. Finally, they tend to exploit people to promote their own self-serving agenda (1 Pet. 2:1-3). They make "merchandise" out of the gullible, regarding them as the means to support their "ministry" rather than as precious souls in need of God's love and care...
False teachers inevitably "twist the Scriptures" by offering unsound interpretations contrary to the ruach, or spirit of the Hebrew prophets, and by evading the commandment to "rightly divide" the word of Truth according to basic logic and clear thinking (2 Tim. 2:15; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; 3:16). In Christian circles, they often come in the name of the law (legalism) or in the name of grace (licentiousness), but rarely do they take the trouble to carefully (and equitably) work through the paradoxical tensions. False teachers are uncomfortable humbly confessing they don't know something, and therefore they are quick to style themselves as an infallible prophet or source of authoritative wisdom...
There is no substitute for taking the time and energy to humbly study Torah, friends, and we should be suspicious of those who claim special insight when it is evident that they have not really labored working through the Scriptures... All disciples of Yeshua are called "students," or talmidim (תַּלְמִידִים), a word that comes from lamad (לָמַד) meaning "to learn" (the study of Scripture is called talmud Torah (תַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה) from the same root). Among other things, then, following Yeshua means becoming a student of the Jewish Scriptures that he both loved and perfectly fulfilled (Matt. 5:17-18; Luke 24:44-45). Only after learning the truth of the Scriptures will you be equipped to "go to all the nations and teach" others (Matt. 28:19). This is accomplished not merely by explaining (propositional) doctrine but by kiddush HaShem -- sanctifying the LORD in our lives (1 Pet. 1:15-16). "You shall know them by their fruits..."
Yeshua brings the kingdom of God "at hand," that is, into the realm of this fallen world. False teachers are emissaries of evil, commissioned by the devil to seduce, deceive, and ensnare souls; they disguise themselves as an "angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14). God allows false teachers to justify the desires of the unregenerated heart, for such teachers find their audience among those who want to be deceived (Matt. 13:24-30; 15:14). In other words, there can be no false teachers apart from false believers who go along with the ruse. In light of this possibility, we should be careful to honestly examine our hearts. What are your motives for faith? What draws you to Yeshua? Do you accept the message of the gospel or are you trusting in something else? Are you really one of his "sheep"? Do you hear his voice, or are you heeding something contrary to the truth of the Holy Spirit?
Just as the easiest way to spot a counterfeit dollar bill is to know the various details of the original, so our best defence against false teaching is to know the details of doctrine and to use discernment as the LORD helps us "test the spirits" (1 John 4:1). This implies that we "build ourselves up in the most holy faith" by carefully (i.e., humbly) studying the word of God - especially the Torah, since the Torah is the foundation of all that follows (Jude 1:20). In this way we will be able to accurately wield the Sword of the Spirit (2 Tim. 2:15-16, 2 Pet. 1:19-20). In order to grow, we must have "good soil" for the seed of the word to take root. We "get rooted by knowing the roots" of our faith! Studying the Scriptures and praying in the Spirit of Truth keeps us securely in the love of God as we wait for the mercy of Yeshua who gives us eternal life (Jude 1:21).
Breath of Life...
06.20.17 (Sivan 26, 5777) A verse from this week's Torah (Korach) reveals another great Name of God: Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), which can be translated "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 16:22). The LORD is the Source of your breath, the One who exhales to you nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" that enables you to live (Job 12:10). The sages use the analogy of a glassblower who creates a glass vessel. Just as the glassblower blows into a tube to form a vessel from molten glass, so the breath (i.e., neshamah: נְשָׁמָה) that comes from the LORD functions as spirit (i.e., ruach: רוּחַ) that forms and fills the human soul (i.e., nefesh: נֶפֶשׁ). Note that the Name YHVH (יהוה) first appears in this connection (Gen. 2:7), a Name that means "God is Present" (Exod. 3:14) and "God is Mercy" (Exod. 34:6-7). Note also that each letter of the Name YHVH represents a vowel sound (i.e., breath), suggesting that God's Spirit is as close as your very next breath. Like the wind that cannot be seen, so is the spirit the essential part of your identity. Yeshua breathed on his followers and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22).
The special Name Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar appears only one other place in the Torah. After accepting the fact that he would soon die and therefore be unable to finally lead the people into the promised land, Moses prayed: "Let the LORD (יהוה), "the God of the spirits of all flesh" (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd." So the LORD said to Moses, "Take Joshua the son of Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן, lit. "son of life"), a man in whom is the Spirit (רוּח), and lay your hand on him" (Num. 27:16-18).
The Talmud notes that the word Nun (נוּן) means "fish," a symbol of activity and life. Joshua, the chosen one who succeeded Moses and led the people into the Promised Land, was the "Son of Life" - a clear picture of Yeshua our Messiah, the "spirit-filled good Shepherd" who would lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). The LORD is indeed the "God of the breath of all flesh." When Yeshua cried out, "It is finished" and breathed his last breath as He died for our sins upon the cross, the greatest exhalation of the Spirit occurred, the greatest sigh, the greatest utterance was ever declared. The sacrificial death of Yeshua for our deliverance was God's final word of love breathed out to those who are trusting in Him.
Cleaving to the Unseen...
06.20.17 (Sivan 26, 5777) There is an inherent dualism in our spiritual consciousness wherein we are seeking an eternal happiness and ultimate good that transcends anything that may be found in this temporal world. Our faith confesses that reality itself is "two-tiered," corresponding to two different realms of existence, namely, an "upper realm" of the immaterial and spiritual (i.e., heaven) and a "lower realm" of the material and physical (i.e., the natural universe). Upon reflection we may feel lost in this duality, not knowing where we belong or who we really are. Ancient Greek philosophy regarded the soul (i.e., consciousness) as "imprisoned" within the body, and therefore it advised meditating on intellectual ideals, "forms," and "essences," to transcend the chaos of fate and our natural passions. Philosophy is a sort of "recollection" whereby we return to the original Good that has been lost and is presently concealed by the illusion of mere appearances.
Now ancient Greek philosophy understood the dualistic nature of reality (as far it goes), though of course the Torah had implied these matters long before the advent of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle... This present world is fading away, and finitude, dissolution, and the "dust of death" seem omnipresent. Nevertheless our hearts yearn for eternity, for life, and for the ideal of everlasting significance. We long for meaning, wonder, greatness, and the peace and peace of unconditional love, yet we find ourselves trapped within a diseased and moribund world that is filled with thwarted dreams, painful losses, harrowing vexations, and death... We hunger and thirst for real life, for salvation from our misery, but the cosmological visions of mechanistic science reveal an immense emptiness that has no goal or end, no explanation for its existence, and therefore no meaning or genuine hope.
"Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light is throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so." - Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
The experience of dualism and ambiguity is by divine design, of course... Upon earnest reflection, the human heart begins to cry out for something more (Eccl. 3:11). Though we understand that we are creatures formed of the dust of the earth, we sense something of the divine within us; we inwardly hear an "echo from Eden" that reminds us of paradise lost... We shrink before our own powerlessness and insignificance yet we dare to believe in the eternal glories of love, beauty, justice, and everlasting life. We simultaneously see ourselves as both physical beings, restricted by time, history, and culture, as well as spiritual beings, transcending the fate of the natural by visions and dreams of the ideal, thereby sensing the glorious and the sacred. Neither of these "polarities" of the soul can be blended or synthesized, however, which leaves us in a state of existential tension wherein we cling to the vision of the Eternal in the midst of the fleeting shadows of this present realm (Rom. 8:4, Gal. 5:16-17). Faith refuses to "reduce" the significance, value, worth, and aspirations of the human heart into purely natural categories and terms, and therefore spiritual life constitutes a "protest" against any interpretation of reality that excludes, suppresses, denies, or minimizes the Divine Presence. Life in olam hazeh (this world) is corridor leading to the world to come. Our faith affirms that underlying "natural" phenomena is a deeper and higher reality that is ultimately real and abiding. There is an end or "telos" (goal) that sets the direction or Torah of our dualistic existence. Faith "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form (τὸ σχῆμα) of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31). The heart of faith looks beyond this realm to behold a city whose designer and builder is God Himself (Heb. 11:10). "So we do not lose heart... For the things that are seen are turning to dust, but the things that are unseen endure forever" (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
It has been said that God "hides" so that we may learn to seek Him. This seeking involves all our hearts, since we will not seek God until we understand the inner crisis. It is not enough to know right words of theology, since we must learn to think the right way, and this comes at the cost of struggle, wrestling, and testing. We cannot rely on reason alone to guide us, for that relegates beauty, mystery, and hope into oblivion; nor can we dismiss reason, for then faith becomes absurd and ridiculous. We must find a delicate balance: "faith seeking understanding," knowing when it is right to question, to doubt, and to analyze, and when it is right to affirm, to submit, and to surrender. Reason is a servant of something more fundamental, namely the heart or the will; it is activated at the stir of the soul's desire.
The dualism of life shows up within our hearts as well, as we wrestle with our own faith and with "double-mindedness," that is, the ambivalence that results from not having our minds made up. On the one hand, we need to confess the truth of our radical sinfulness, our depravity, our brokenness, and so on, while on the other we must endure ourselves and find faith that God's blessing nevertheless belongs to us, and that Yeshua gave his life for us and loves us -- despite ourselves. We have to be willing to take God's new name for us and believe that God has transformed our deepest nature for eternal good. We have to be renamed from Jacob to Israel, and yet we know ourselves as both... In other words, we must learn to "put on" the new nature and to "put off" the carnal reasoning of our former life. The answer for us is found in the word "miracle," as God in great mercy and compassion regenerates us, comforts us, and then guides our way back to the truth of his salvation.
הֵן־אֱמֶת חָפַצְתָּ בַטֻּחוֹת
וּבְסָתֻם חָכְמָה תוֹדִיעֵנִי
hen · e·met · cha·fatz·ta · va·tu·chot
uv·sa·tum · chokh·mah · to·di·ei·ni
"Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you will teach me wisdom in the secret heart"
Honesty and Faith..
06.19.17 (Sivan 25, 5777) In the Torah we read that the LORD said to Moses, "Send for yourself (שְׁלַח־לְךָ) men to spy out the land" (Num. 13:2), which the sages traditionally interpreted to mean that it was not God's decision to send the spies, and indeed later we learn that it was the people who had persuaded Moses to send the scouts ahead: "Then all of you came near me and said, 'Let us send men before us, that they may explore the land for us and bring us word again of the way by which we must go up and the cities into which we shall come.' The thing seemed good to me, and I took twelve men from you, one man from each tribe" (see Deut. 1:22-23). Moses consented with the people's request because he (mistakenly) believed they were sincere in their desire to discover the best way to ascend to the land. The people were dishonest with themselves, however, and merely pretended to be concerned about logistics and strategy. Their real motive was not to discover the way of ascent, but rather to discover whether God could be trusted... Had the people been honest with themselves, confessing their fear, they might have found opportunity to repent, but because they denied the truth and hid it from themselves, they were unable to go forward. Without honesty faith is impossible. We must trust, but if we cannot do that, then we need to confess our brokenness there - in the midst of our fears... God is so good that he runs to us, as the prodigal's father in the story, to meet us in our weakness...
"Those who do not love truth excuse themselves on the grounds that it is disputed and that very many people deny it. Thus their error is solely die to the fact that they neither love truth nor charity, and so they have no excuse." - Blaise Pascal (Pensees)
Madness and Envy...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Korach... ]
06.19.17 (Sivan 25, 5777) The sages asked how it was possible that Korach could have seriously questioned Moses' role as God's appointed leader, and they answered that he became jealous because his cousin was chosen to be the chief of the Levites instead of him. Korach's envy so possessed him that he impugned Moses' leadership, even though he directly witnessed how Moses had miraculously delivered the Israelites from Egypt by the power of the LORD. Such is the terrible, blinding power of envy, a force that is said to "remove a person from the world" (Avot 4:28) into a realm of grandiosity, delusional thinking, and even insanity. Envy derives from the secret fear that you are inadequate, invisible, and unworthy of love, and therefore it often "overcompensates" as preening grandiosity. This explains the psychological "need" to be better than others – making comparisons that alienate and cause suffering. Everyone wants to feel chosen, special, and unique, though God's love is never expressed at the expense of others... "By the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). When you begin to understand that God loves you with an everlasting love (אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם), you will no longer want to compare yourself to others...
Yes, by all means run the race to win the prize, but understand the prize to mean profound humility, service to others, renunciation of the ego, the loss of all that carnal reason and this senseless world esteems as valuable...
"There is nothing everyone is so afraid of as being told how vastly much he is capable of. You are capable of - do you want to know? - you are capable of living in poverty; you are capable of standing almost any kind of maltreatment, abuse, etc. But you do not wish to know about it, isn't that so? You would be furious with him who told you so, and only call that person your friend who bolsters you in saying: 'No, this I cannot bear, this is beyond my strength, etc." (Kierkegaard: Journals).
Chief Seats at Synagogue...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Korach. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
06.19.17 (Sivan 25, 5777) Our Torah this week begins, "And Korach took" (וַיִּקַּח קרַח), which immediately suggests something about the character of the man. Though he was wealthy, esteemed among his tribe, and honored with the task of caring for the Ark of the Covenant, none of this was enough for Korach... There was an insatiable hunger, a "black hole" in his soul, an unrelenting envy, that drove him to madness and self-destruction. Korach was imprisoned by his own jealousy, arrogance, and spite. When he compared himself to Moses and Aaron, he felt overlooked, deprived, and therefore he rationalized and justified his desire to be honored. As an archetypal figure, Korach warns us against being swallowed up with egotistical envy or seeking the praises of men (Matt. 23:6-7). In the Kingdom of heaven, worldly success is sheer delusion. There are open and hidden riches. There is a pearl of great price, a treasure "hidden in a field." These riches are regarded as "fool's gold" to those who love this world and trust only in the realm of the phenomenal, but to those who trust in the LORD, they represent all that the heart needs...
The son of Zoma said: "Who is wise? He who learns from all people, as it is said: 'From all those who taught me I gained understanding' (Psalm 119:99). Who is strong? He who conquers his evil inclination, as it is said: 'Better is one slow to anger than a strong man, and one who rules over his spirit than a conqueror of a city' (Prov. 16:32). Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot, as it is said: 'When you eat the toil of your hands you are fortunate and it is good for you' (Psalm 128:2). 'You are fortunate' - in this world; 'and it is good for you' - in the World to Come. Who is honored? He who honors others, as it is said: 'For those who honor Me will I honor, and those who scorn Me will be degraded'" (1 Sam. 2:30). – Avot 4:1
Note: For more on this topic, see the article, "The Madness of Korah."
The Rebellion of Korah...
[ Our Torah reading this week, parashat Korach, which falls on Rosh Chodesh Tammuz... ]
06.18.17 (Sivan 24, 5777) Last week's Torah portion (Shelach Lekha) told the tragic story about the "sin of the spies" and the divine decree that the generation rescued from Egypt was sentenced to die in the exile of the desert. In this week's portion (Korach), the hard truth of their condition began to sink in, and the people bemoaned their fate and rebelled further by attempting to overthrow God's designated leadership and return to Egypt. This rebellion was instigated and organized by Moses' cousin Korach, who – along with a band of co-conspirators – was swiftly judged and put to death, thereby vindicating the Aaronic priesthood and Moses' leadership of Israel.
Korach was the cousin of Moses and a well-respected Kohathite who was honored to be one of the carriers of the Holy Ark. He was a wealthy man of influence - a nassi (prince) of the people. Despite all this privilege, however, Korach rationalized that he should be the head of the Kohathite clan (instead of his cousin Elzaphan), since he was the firstborn of Kohath's second son, whereas Elzaphan was not even a firstborn son. Indeed, because he felt slighted by Moses' choice, Korach went even further and brazenly questioned whether the office of the High Priest should not have been given to him – rather than to Aaron.
Korach's co-conspirators were two brothers named Dathan and Abiram from the tribe of Reuben, Israel's firstborn son. Together, they put together a force of 250 men to confront Moses and to challenge his exclusive claim to leadership: "You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?"
In response to their challenge, Moses proposed that Korach and his followers bring firepans to offer incense at the Tabernacle to determine whether they were indeed chosen to serve as priests. The following morning, when Korach and his 250 followers assembled at the gate of the Tabernacle to offer incense, God threatened to destroy them all instantly. Moses begged God not to destroy all the people, but only the rebels. He then warned the congregation to stand clear of the dwellings of Korach, Dathan, and Abiram. The earth then opened up and swallowed them alive, and a fire consumed the 250 men who illegitimately offered the incense...
Korach's rebellion introduced outright mutiny and chaos within the leadership of the camp that brought swift and terrible rebuke from the LORD. Nevertheless, the very next day the entire congregation of Israel audaciously began to accuse Moses and Aaron, saying: "You have killed the people of the Lord." When the people looked toward the Tabernacle, however, the Glory of the LORD appeared, where God descended to tell Moses and Aaron that he was going to destroy the Israelites for their treason. Despite Moses and Aaron's fervent intercession, however, a deadly plague broke out among the people. Moses then instructed Aaron to take his firepan with incense and to bring it in the midst of the congregation to make atonement for them. Aaron did so, "and he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed." The Torah tells us that 14,700 Israelites died because of the plague, not including the deaths of those involved in the rebellion of Korach.
As a final test to vindicate Aaron as God's chosen priest, each of the twelve tribal heads of Israel, as well as Aaron himself, were instructed to bring their staffs to Moses. Moses then inscribed their names on each staff and brought them into the sanctuary before the ark of the testimony. "And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you." The following day Moses went into the Tabernacle and "behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds." He then brought out all the staffs and gave them back to each of the tribal leaders. God then told Moses to return Aaron's staff to the Tabernacle as a testimony for generations to come.
After all this transpired, the people began to dread the Presence of the LORD and the Tabernacle. To allay their fears, Moses gave them assurance that the sons of Aaron (i.e., the priests) and the Levites alone would bear responsibility for the sanctuary. But since the Levites and priests would receive no portion in the Promised Land, the people were instructed to generously support them by means of various gifts that are listed at the end of the Torah reading.
Finding Real Treasure...
06.16.17 (Sivan 22, 5777) For what do you hope? What are your dreams? Your deepest desires? Where is your treasure? Yeshua cautioned those who sought their happiness in this world: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures upon earth... be rich toward God" (Matt. 6:19-20; Luke 12:21). When we treasure God, our focus is directed toward the eternal reality, and our interest in this world is minimal. We trust God to meet our daily needs and surrender our future to His care. The only worry we face concerns our own deficiencies in our obligations to the Savior. Our duty is to love God in the truth - bekhol levavkha - with all our heart, having no thought of ourselves. Indeed, self-denial means to quit thinking about yourself (from α-, "not," + ῥέω, "to speak") by accepting what God has done for you. "It is not my business to think about myself. My business is to think about God. It is for God to think about me" (Simone Weil).
וְעִמְּךָ לא־חָפַצְתִּי בָאָרֶץ
mi · li · va·sha·ma·yim
ve·im·me·kha · lo · cha·fatz·ti · va·a·retz
"Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you."
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[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shelach Lekha... ]
06.16.17 (Sivan 22, 5777) The spies said, "we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them" (Num. 13:33). Here the sages note the subtle - yet profound - connection between how we see ourselves and how we imagine that others see us... This sort of "projection" is common enough in everyday life. However, while it may be valid for you to sometimes feel small, inadequate, and even "grasshoppery," it is not valid to claim that this is how you are regarded by others. After all, how do you know how you appear to others? And, moreover, what difference does that make in light of who God says you are? Who or what defines you? Do you need the approval of men to exist, or the approval of God? Worrying about how others see you, seeking your self worth among the fickle passions of men, is simply carnal and self-centered. When the spies said that "the land devours it inhabitants" (Num. 13:32), they projected their own hidden fears. Instead of seeing God at work, preparing the way for the Israelites to more easily conquer the land, the spies saw only themselves, and that led to their sin of unbelief...
"To defend something is always to discredit it. Let a man have a warehouse full of gold, let him be willing to give away a ducat to every one of the poor - but let him also be stupid enough to begin this charitable undertaking of his with a defense in which he offers three good reasons in justification; and it will almost come to the point of people finding it doubtful whether indeed he is doing something good. But now for Christianity. Yes, the person who defends that has never believed in it." — Kierkegaard (The Sickness Unto Death)
Small in our Eyes...
06.16.17 (Sivan 22, 5777) Our Torah portion this week (Shelach) is a "heavy one" since it focuses on the Sin of the Spies and the subsequent failure of the people to trust that God would care for them. The people's lack of bittachon in God is the most serious sin recorded in all the Torah, even more serious than the sin of the Golden Calf. This is confirmed by the testimony of the New Testament, which presents the fate of the Exodus generation as the dire warning of apostasy for those who claim to follow the Messiah (Heb. 3:7-4:2).
Notice, however, that in order to trust God, you must believe that you are valuable to Him and that He genuinely desires relationship with you. God redeemed you so you could know and love Him. In this connection it is important to notice that the spies said, "we were in our eyes like grasshoppers" (Num. 13:33). They felt small because they had forgotten the reason for their redemption - they had forgotten how much they meant to God. Their lack of self-respect made them feel unworthy of the inheritance. The sin of the spies was not just that they doubted they could overcome the "giants in the land," but rather that they were worthy people in God's eyes... Sadly the spies view of themselves was more real to them than God's view of them, and that is why they added, "and so we were (like grasshoppers) in their eyes." From a spiritual point of view, this was profoundly tragic...
One lesson we can learn from the unbelief of the spies is that we must be careful to esteem ourselves properly. We are created b'tzelem Elohim (in the image of God), and that is the starting point for everything else revealed in the Torah. This foundational idea may be expressed as "respect precedes Torah." Self-esteem and self-worth are very important characteristics because they enable the soul to receive the Word of God. This isn't a selfish, narcissistic type of love. If you have no self-worth, then it is likely you will believe the promises of Scripture are for other people, but not for you. You will regard yourself as an "outsider" or "alien" who is without promise of inheritance. So we have to begin there, with the fact that God created you in His image and therefore you are of infinite value. You matter to God - and therefore you must respect yourself. It is no mark of holiness to shame or belittle yourself - notwithstanding your sinful nature - since you have a duty to honor yourself as one of God's created children. Dishonoring yourself violates the central ethical commandment of the Torah: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18). How can you respect others if you don't respect yourself? You will regard yourself as "insect like" and will tend to view others as "gigantic" threats; you will act defensively and walk in fear of other people.... This is the path of a person living in a prison of fear, and it is a type of hell. Trusting in God's personal love for you presupposes that you are worthy to be loved and that there is a divine inheritance for you. This gives you real courage to go take possession of the land as its rightful heir. Trusting in God means regarding God's view of you as more real than your own. It means allowing yourself to be elevated to honor so that you can be in a genuine love relationship with your Heavenly Father. "From now on, therefore, we regard no one (including ourselves) according to the flesh..." (2 Cor. 5:16).
We "walk by faith, not by sight," which means we must take hold of the promise of God, even in a world that "devours its inhabitants" and that is filled of seemingly invincible giants... Faith believes the possible, even in moments of testing and struggle. As Yeshua said, "All things are possible for the one who believes" (Mark 9:23).
"Lord, I believe: help thou my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24). "God is able to make all grace overflow to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may overflow in every good work" (2 Cor. 9:8). May it please God our Heavenly Father to help us esteem ourselves properly so that we can receive, abide in, and walk in the reality and presence of His overflowing love. And may the LORD keep us all from the terrible sin of unbelief by always remembering that we infinitely matter to Him. Amen.
Thank you for praying for us, friends, since we have encountered several tribulations recently. Of course God is faithful, though we ask you to pray for this ministry to continue.
Gift of your Life...
06.16.17 (Sivan 22, 5777) "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly discerned, being understood by the things that are made…" (Rom. 1:20). The very first kindness that God bestows upon you is the miracle of your existence itself, namely, that he "wove you together" in your mother's womb (תְּסֻכֵּנִי בְּבֶטֶן אִמִּי) and brought you into being from nonexistence (Psalm 139:13). This is the gift of life (מַתַּת הַחַיִּים מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם). In Him you "live and move and have your being" (Acts 17:28). You were personally created b'ahavat olam (בְּאַהֲבַת עוֹלָם), in everlasting love, and indeed God knew you before you were born (בְּטֶרֶם אֶצּוֹרְךָ בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ) (Jer. 1:5; 31:3). You are "fearfully and wonderfully made," a unique soul that bears the handiwork of heaven itself. God's love and mercy sustains your days; the LORD compasses you "behind and before" and lays his hand upon you; He knows all your ways (Psalm 139:1-5). Indeed, God prepares a place for you and calls you to join him at the celebration of his love given in Yeshua.
בְּטֶרֶם אֶצּוֹרְךָ בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ
וּבְטֶרֶם תֵּצֵא מֵרֶחֶם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּיךָ
נָבִיא לַגּוֹיִם נְתַתִּיךָ
be·te·rem · e·tzor·kha · va·be·ten · ye·da·ti·kha
u·ve·te·rem · tei·tzei · me·re·chem · hik·dash·ti·kha
na·vi · la·goy·im · ne·ta·ti·kha
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
Shepherd in Darkness....
06.15.17 (Sivan 21, 5777) "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil..." (Psalm 23:4). O God of Light, Light of the world, surely You know my need for light as I look to You, especially when darkness tries to extinguish my hope. Despite my inability to see you now, help me to know that you are with me; let "thy rod and thy staff comfort me" and lead me closer to you. Lord, when I am afraid, quicken the faith you have put within my heart. Be Thou my Shepherd in my darkness, O Lord my God...
גַּם כִּי־אֵלֵךְ בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת
לא־אִירָא רָע כִּי־אַתָּה עִמָּדִי
שִׁבְטְךָ וּמִשְׁעַנְתֶּךָ הֵמָּה יְנַחֲמֻנִי
gam · ki · e·lekh · be·gei · tzal·ma·vet
lo · i·ra · ra, · ki · at·tah · im·ma·di
shiv·te·kha · u·mish·an·te·kha · hem·mah · ye·na·cha·mu·ni
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me"
"Be not afraid." Over and over again in the Scriptures we hear the LORD saying to those who trust in Him, al-tirah, "be not afraid." Nachman of Breslov is reported to have once said, "All the earth is a very narrow bridge (כָּל־הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ גֶּשֶׁר צַר מְאד), and the point of life is never to be afraid." Likewise we trust Yeshua to be the Bridge to the Father, the narrow way of passage that leads to everlasting life. He calls out to us in the storms of this world, "Take heart. It is I; be not afraid" (Matt. 14:27). The heart of faith senses the LORD's presence, even in the darkness, and hears the Spirit saying, "I am with you..."
"I do not see the road ahead of me, I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean I am actually doing so. But I believe the desire to please you does in fact please you, and I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for your are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone." - Thomas Merton
In times of testing, how desperately we need a sense of companionship and intimacy with the Lord! When you feel abandoned, ashamed, or alone; or when you are afraid and unsure of yourself; or when pain distances you from others, nudging you to isolation or loneliness, then may God's Spirit brood over you, whispering your name, reminding you that you are never alone, and that God Himself is forever for you, despite yourself. Therefore "fear no evil," because God is with you in the midst of your present darkness. As it is written: "Surely goodness and love shall pursue you all the days of your life, and you shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever" (Psalm 23:6). Come alive, O heart of faith!
Logic and Seeing...
06.15.17 (Sivan 21, 5777) Our faith says human beings are created b'tzelem Elohim - in the image of God. "In the beginning was the Logos" (John 1:1). Logic itself is "hard-wired" into us and any attempt to deny its validity presupposes its existence. Logic also presupposes any form of experience, since we cannot even identify something without its categories at work. Similarly, the sense of value is hard-wired into us. We cannot know anything without valuing (and willing) knowledge itself, and therefore our sense of value (and goodness) precedes all experience. So both empirical and moral truth is inescapable for self-conscious individuals. Now since faith is always faith in something, it is evident that it points to something "outside" of itself, namely, to reality. In matters of fact (rather than tautological statements such as a=a), the "belief that p" is an existential statement that "p exists." A particular belief can be mistaken, of course, but if it is a true belief then (by definition) it must proximally correspond to reality. In other words, our beliefs (and the inferences made from our beliefs) are nothing less than confessions of faith concerning what is ultimately real.
For more on this subject, see "Faith and Collision."
The Purpose of Tzitzit...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shelach Lekha and the commandment of tzitzit fringes. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
06.15.17 (Sivan 21, 5777) After the people rebelled by heeding the report of the spies and were forbidden to enter the Promised Land, the LORD commanded that tzitzit, or "tassels," were to be put on the "corners" (כנפים) of their garments to warn them of the danger of unbelief: "Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels (צִיצִת) on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue (תְּכֵלֶת) on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after" (Num. 15:38-39). In other words, the tzitzit were intended to remind the people of the terrible sin of unbelief that prevented them from obtaining their inheritance. Note that there is Hebrew wordplay used in this passage of Torah, since the verb translated not to "follow after" your own heart and your own eyes (i.e., תּוּר) is the same verb used to describe "spying out" the land of Canaan (Num. 13:2).
Note that donning tzitzit is traditionally performed daily (during morning prayers) by Orthodox Jews as a visual reminder of the duty to keep the commandments of God and to warn of the tragic consequences of unbelief. In a sense, tzitzit serve as a "confession" of weakness since they acknowledge we are prone to be carnally minded and people of little faith...
Spying the Unseen Good...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shelach Lekha. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
06.14.17 (Sivan 20, 5777) In our Torah portion this week, the people had trekked across the desert of Paran for several days, with their camps ordered in military precision. The Ark of the Covenant was in their midst and the Shekhinah Glory filled the desert skies. Now the people were at Kadesh Barnea (קָדֵשׁ בַּרְנֵעַ), about 11 days out from Sinai and about three days to the border of the promised land... The great promise of Zion was finally within reach! But then a dark misgiving arose within the heart of the people... fear ... the old whisper of the enemy was heard in the desert wind: "has God really said...?" (Gen. 3:1). In light of the events of the great Exodus, the mistrust of the people demonstrates that miracles are insufficient to sustain our faith. "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign." Seeing isn't believing, but rather the other way around. Yeshua made this point in His parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Even if a person should encounter someone literally risen from the dead it wouldn't suffice to impart true faith (Luke 16:31). The great sin that so angered God to declare: "I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter into My rest..." was not that of the Golden Calf, as dreadful as that was, but rather the sin of unbelief.... "So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Let us, therefore, fear lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it" (Heb. 3:7-4:2).
So which will you choose to believe - the "spying eyes" of the flesh, or the Word and promise of the LORD God Almighty? The choice is yours... The "eyes of the flesh" focus on this world and its possibilities (חַיֵּי שָׁעָה) and are therefore unable to discern beyond mere surface appearances. They are easily seduced by superficialities and glitter of this world and its vanities (עוֹלָם הַשֶּׁקֶר). The eyes of faith, on the other hand, "look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). Faith sees the realm of the invisible (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם): For we "walk by faith, not by sight." We are "saved by hope," but hope that is seen is not hope (Rom. 8:24-25). Faith is the foundation (ὑπόστασις) of things hoped for, the conviction (ἔλεγχος) of things (πρᾶγμα) not seen" (Heb. 11:1).
Note: As I've mentioned before, the Hebrew word for "seeing" (ra'ah) is related to the word for "fear" (yirah), suggesting that when we really see life as it is, we will be filled with wonder and awe over the glory of it all. Every bush will be aflame with the Presence of God and the ground we walk upon shall suddenly be perceived as holy (Exod. 3:2-5). Nothing will seem small, trivial, or insignificant. It is in this sense that we are to serve the LORD with "fear and trembling" (φόβοv καὶ τρόμοv), that is, with an inner awareness of the sanctity and sacredness of life itself (Phil. 2:12-13). Da lifnei mi atah omed. Sin puts us to sleep, numbs our minds and hearts, and blinds us to the radiance of divine revelation. When we see life as it is, with the "eyes of the heart" (Eph. 1:18), we will be filled with wonder and awe over the glory of it all. "Fearing" (יִרְאָה) and "seeing" (רָאָה) will be unified within our hearts...
For more on this topic, see "Spying Eyes: Further Thoughts on Shelach."
The Fear of the LORD...
06.14.17 (Sivan 20, 5777) When the people heard the Voice of the LORD (קוֹל יְהוָה) thunder at Sinai, they drew back in fear and appealed to Moses to be their mediator: "You speak with us and we will listen, but let not God speak with us, for we might die" (Exod. 20:19). Moses paradoxically replied, "Do not fear, for God came in this way to test you and in order that His fear should remain before you, so that you do not sin" (Exod. 20:20). The point of fearing God, then, is to keep us from what separates us from the love of God. The Kotzker Rebbe astutely commented: "When Moses exhorted the people not to be afraid, he meant that the fear "for we might die" was not what God wants from us. Rather, God desires that the fear of Him should remain before you so that you do not sin. That is the only true fear of heaven." The "fear of the LORD" is that we might lose sight of what we really need for life... Sin entices us to fear the "lesser gods"; it seduces us to live in arrogance, pride, anger, envy, lust, despair, and so on. A sinful attitude expresses the opposite of godly reverence and seeks to justify its lesser fears so that soul begins to "love" and defend what enslaves it... Indeed, this is what the "fear of the LORD" (יִרְאַת יְהוָה) most radically means: God's own passion that we would not lose sight of our great need for his healing love.
יִרְאַת יְהוָה שְׂנאת רָע
גֵּאָה וְגָאוֹן וְדֶרֶךְ רָע
וּפִי תַהְפֻּכוֹת שָׂנֵאתִי
yir·at · Adonai · se·not · ra'
ge'ah · ve'ga·on · ve'de·rech · ra'
u'fi · tach·fu·chot · sa·ne·ti
"The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evi
and perverted speech I hate" (Prov. 8:13)
Joshua and Jesus...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Shelach Lekha... ]
06.13.17 (Sivan 19, 5777) Before sending out the leaders of the tribes to spy out the land, Moses renamed his trusted servant Hoshea (הוֹשֵׁעַ) to Yehoshua (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ), appending the letter Yod (י) to make his name begin with a divine prefixive (יָהּ־). The Talmud (Sotah 34b) states that Moses foresaw the treachery and faithlessness of the spies and appended the Yod to remind Hoshea that YHVH (יהוה) must come first. This renaming of Hoshea, however, was certainly prophetic, since Joshua was chosen to be the successor of Moses who would finally lead the people into the promised land. Notice that the name Yehoshua (i.e., Joshua) and Yeshua (i.e., Jesus) come from the same root (i.e., yasha: ישׁע) meaning "salvation" or deliverance (in the Greek LXX, Joshua is spelled Ιησους, the same spelling for Jesus in the New Testament). Indeed, in the Book of Nehemiah, Yehoshua is explicitly called Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ), the name often transliterated as "Jesus" (Neh. 8:17).
Note: There are a number of prophetic similarities between Joshua and Jesus revealed in the Torah. For more information see, "Joshua and Jesus: Further thoughts on Shelach..."
Faith and Fate...
06.13.17 (Sivan 19, 5777) Faith is only as real as the corresponding object of faith... Although everyone in this world has faith of some kind or another (including atheists and agnostics), that faith may be grounded in delusion, and therefore it may prove powerless to save their soul from spiritual death and the loss of the Eternal... Sincerity of conviction is not a measure of veracity, of course, since a person may be sincere in their convictions, yet sincerely wrong. This applies to the truth claims (both explicit and implicit) embraced by any of the faith systems of this world, including secular humanism, atheism, agnosticism, paganism, and nihilism, communitarianism, anarchism, pantheistic philosophy, theosophy, kabbalah, magic, nature worship, and animism, as well as more "traditional" religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Shintoism. Everyone who adheres to a belief system of any kind is existentially responsible for what they believe, and their choice is of eternal significance. In light of this, the essentially meaningful question is what do you believe and why? In what or in whom do you put your hope? Where do you find life? What are you loving? Where are you going?
For more on this see, "Emunah- Believing in / Believing that..."
The Eyes of Science...
06.13.17 (Sivan 19, 5777) The knowledge of God is not like the knowledge obtained by laboratory science. Empirical data is based on the reliability of what is called "logical induction," that is, phenomenological impressions of repeatability, continuity, and perpetuity which assume that metaphysical cause and effect event/relationships hold in "space-time." However, the intellectual act of logical induction assumes several more basic things, for instance, the instinctive faith that the future will resemble the past; the unreflective assurance that sensory experience is reliable and that measurement is possible; the mystical expectation that mathematical concepts refer to (or correspond with) "external" reality; the metaphysical supposition that causal connections exist and are valid; the quasi-religious conviction that experiences (i.e., data) can be universalized and generalized into "laws," and so on. Moreover, scientific methodology further assumes certain "intellectual virtues" and non-empirical values, for instance, the assumption that truth is important; that insistence that data should be verifiable and not deliberately falsified (or politicized); the moral axiom that it is better to know than not to know, etc. Indeed science even expresses "artistic sentiment" by poetically arguing that some scientific theories (i.e., "narratives") or models ("metaphors") are more "coherent" or "elegant" than others, that symmetry and order are important to doing research, and so on. I say all this to demonstrate that science is a faith system that depends on logical, metaphysical, philosophical, spiritual, and axiological assumptions that are not derived from nor grounded in the practice of science itself... The foundations of science are based on concepts and ideas "pilfered" from the Torah and the truth of God. Far from discovering the means of doing science through the paradigm of the "scientific method" itself, understand then that the first principles of logic, the exercise of faith, and an objective sense of transcendental value are all presupposed in order to inductively identify and infer whatever is defined as "real." The knowledge of God, on the other hand, is based on moral intuition (conscience, a sense of justice, etc.), logical reflection (e.g., why there is something rather than nothing at all), mystical awareness and a sense of the numinous, direct revelation (i.e., spiritual encounter), the veridical experiences and testimonies of others, the perpetuity of the confession of believers, and so on. For those who have encountered the Divine Presence in Yeshua, the risen and ascended Savior, God further gives witness by means of "argumentum spiritus sancti," the testimony of the Holy Spirit, the inner revelation that is imparted to comfort and assure the heart of faith.
Every belief system requires a choice, or the "will to believe," as William James put it, and that applies equally to the religion of science as it does to any other religious faith. In other words, how we see is a spiritual decision since it necessarily involves metaphysical presuppositions... The eyes see more from the heart than from the head. From our Torah portion for this week (i.e., Shelach Lekha) we read: "See the land, what it is ... whether it be good or bad ... and strengthen yourselves" (Num. 13:18-20). Here note that right seeing – even the negative aspects of the land such as the presence of "giants" – can only be achieved by the courage derived from faith. When you see things that appear bad, you are to "strengthen yourselves," a Hebrew verb (i.e., וְהִתְחַזַּקְתֶּם) that means to intently decide to see the good despite the present veil of appearances. When we encounter things that are bad, we must refuse to be overwhelmed by carnal reasoning and fear by looking beyond the moment to behold a promised good (2 Cor. 4:18).
Note: Science, when honestly done, is not bad, of course, and can be a blessing; but when science pretends to do "philosophy" (or worse, theology), incoherent thinking and fallacies inevitably follow. My experience has been that whenever scientists attempt to philosophize, they are overstepping their training and authority, so to speak, and it would be better for them to abide by the epistemological constraints imposed by the scientific method itself...
Faith and Testing....
06.12.17 (Sivan 18, 5777) From our Torah this week (Shelach Lekha) we read about the report of the spies: "They (the spies) returned... and brought word and showed them the land's bounty. And they said, "We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey (זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבַשׁ), and this is its fruit. Nevertheless the people who inhabit the land are powerful; the cities are greatly fortified, and we also saw the (giant) people of Anak there... We are unable to go up against the people there, for they are stronger than we are ... and moreover the land itself consumes its inhabitants" (Num. 13:25-32). The Kotzer rebbe asked, "Did the spies lie? Did they invent words that were untrue? Behold, they spoke as they saw it, so how did they sin?" Yet not everything that is not a lie is truth: you may have all the facts "correct" and yet still speak untruth. Truth is therefore something more than the description of appearances (correspondence) since what appears is constrained by what is ultimately real. Our Torah portion this weel again illustrates the responsibility we have to trust in the good, regardless of phenomenological appearances....
So what about the trouble, testing, pain, hardship in our lives? How do we deal with these without losing heart? Only God can help us, friend... In this life, where our "outer man perishes" we will experience the "existential pathos" of the life of faith. That is the test. We may feel abandoned by God, or forgotten, or of complete insignificance, or sinful, vile, hopeless confused, and so on, and yet the heart of faith cries out: "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15). Faith is able to see beyond the temporal to the eternal... It finds comfort in God's blessing to endure the ambiguities of this world. May the LORD God Israel, Yeshua our Messiah, strengthen us all. Amen.
Seeing with Heart...
06.12.17 (Sivan 18, 5777) "We walk by faith, not by sight." This is true for all people, since every soul lives by faith of some kind or another. Our Torah portion this week (Shelach lekha) begins with the episode of the spies and concludes with the warning not to "spy after your heart and after your eyes" (Num. 15:39). The Torah mentions the heart first and then the eyes to indicate that the eyes follow the heart. We see as we believe with our heart: "According to your faith be it done unto you." When the spies said, "We are not able to go up (לא נוּכַל לַעֲלוֹת)... for they are stronger than us" (Num. 13:31), they revealed their unwillingness to believe in God's promise, or, to put it another way, they revealed their faith in God's inability to deliver on his word.... Indeed, the Hebrew word for "than us" (מִמֶּנּוּ) can also mean "than Him," suggesting that the spies believed that even God would be unable to uproot the Canaanites. According to their faith, so it was done; by believing that it was impossible, they lost the possibility of God's promise...
Faith sees what is possible and refuses to yield to the artificiality of mere appearance. Indeed, appearances are often a test of our courage. We may never know how often a test was given and - just before victory was manifest - the heart grew faint and was lost to fear. "According to your faith be it done to you" is a spiritual principle that applies to everyone. In that sense, it is not that we have faith that matters (since we all do), but whether our faith is grounded in the promises and power of the LORD God of Israel, or something else....
אָמַרְתְּ לַיהוָה אֲדנָי אָתָּה
a·mart · la·do·nai: · A·do·nai · at·tah
tov·va·ti · bal - a·ley·kha
"I say to the LORD, "You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you."
Hebrew Study Card
The Great Warning...
06.11.17 (Sivan 17, 5777) Our Torah reading for this week, Shelach Lekha (שלח־לך), recounts how Moses sent twelve spies from the region of Kadesh into the land of Canaan to search it out and give a report of its condition. The spies returned 40 days later extolling the land, saying that was indeed fruitful and zevat chalav u'devash (זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבַשׁ), "flowing with milk and honey." However, ten of the spies also gave a discouraging report, indicating their lack of confidence that the people could conquer the land. Only Joshua (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ) and Caleb (כָּלֵב) kept faith in God's promise. Upon hearing the report of the ten spies, however, the people rebelled and cried out to return to Egypt. Angered by their lack of faith, God sought to destroy the people, but Moses interceded on their behalf. The LORD then decreed to lengthen the Israelites' wandering in the desert to 40 years -- one year for each day the spies were in the land -- until all of the faithless over the age of 20 would die in the desert, except for Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who kept faith with the LORD. After hearing the judgment of God, a group of remorseful Israelites decided to "repent" by taking matters into their own hands. Without either the "Ark of the Covenant of the LORD" or Moses' leadership, they presumptuously decided to storm a mountain on the border of land but were decisively routed by the Amalekites and Canaanites.
If last week's Torah might be called "sefer kvetch" (the book of complaint), this week's Torah reveals the fateful outcome... The people's lapse of faith in God's power serves as a profound and very sober warning, and indeed is a primary warning regarding the dreadful sin of unbelief in the New Testament (see Heb. 3:7-4:11). Indeed, Jewish tradition states that the decree that "none of the men who had seen my glorious Presence and my signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert will see the land that I swore to give to their fathers" (Num. 14:22-23) was given on the Ninth of Av (i.e., Tishah B'Av), and was prophetic of the destruction of the Temple and the worldwide exile of the people from the Promised Land. The sin of unbelief may rightly be regarded as the "unpardonable sin" of the Torah...
The tragedy of the sin at Kadesh ultimately has a happy resolution, however, since the LORD is never thwarted by man's sin and weaknesses. After the 38 years of exile were complete, Moses' successor Joshua sent a second spying expedition to the promised land, though this time God led the spies to a prostitute named Rahab (רָחָב), a direct ancestor of Yeshua the Messiah, who later identified her faith in the LORD's victory by displaying the scarlet cord (חוּט הַשָּׁנִי) during the fall of Jericho (Joshua 2). Rahab was the (grand)mother of Boaz, who later married Ruth, the great grandmother of King David. May God likewise give us courage to walk in the power of His promises, even if our present circumstances seem daunting. May the LORD clothe each of us with the "spirit of David" to stand before all the giants of the land who defy the LORD and His power.
Bread of Healing...
06.09.17 (Sivan 15, 5777) Just as God humbled Israel with manna in the desert, so He humbles us. "Give us this day our daily bread and deliver us..." The purpose of affliction is ultimately good and healing: God humbles us with manna, the "bread of affliction, so "that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD" (Deut. 8:3). In other words, God uses tzuris (trouble, suffering, etc.) to lead us to do teshuvah and accept the truth about our great need. We often pray that our problems be taken away, but God sometimes ordains these very problems so that we will turn and draw near to Him... We are being weaned from this present age to be readied for heavenly glory, for things unimaginably wonderful, soon to be revealed to you. Stay strong in the Lord, friends. Shabbat shalom and love to you.
Note: Please remember Hebrew for Christians in your prayers, friends, as we have been experiencing several challenges lately. Thank you so much.
Reason and Suffering...
06.09.17 (Sivan 15, 5777) "For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my Name" (Acts 9:16). Far from offering wealth, prosperity, and a life of happy ease, following Yeshua is the way of suffering and struggle in this world. As it is attested in our Scriptures: "We must suffer many tribulations to enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:23). Indeed suffering is the way of the prophets, the psalmists, and especially the way of the Lord our Savior, who endured the agony of death upon the cross to redeem us to eternal hope (Heb. 2:10). Persecution – being ostracized, "despised and rejected of men," and experiencing the pain of rejection - is inextricably bound to the truth of the gospel (2 Tim. 3:12). The message of the cross is an offense to the world's pride and therefore the devices of the carnal ego will always seek to silence it. Indeed, even our own inner struggle with evil is a suffering wherein we learn despair over ourselves, teaching that only God can truly save us from ourselves. Nevertheless "in all these things" we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us (Rom. 8:37). But what things are these except tribulation, distress, persecution, suffering, and inner struggle? Suffering is part of God's plan – the "loss of all things" so that we may come to know the power of the resurrection (Phil. 3:10). There is a "shared cup" of suffering for those who will walk in the redemptive mission of Yeshua (Col. 1:24).
The tests and struggles of faith remind us of the principle: gam zu l'tovah (גַּם זוּ לְטוֹבָה), "this too is for the best" (cp. Rom. 8:28). Notice, however, that the principle is not stated, gam zu tovah - "this is the best," but rather gam zu l'tovah - "this, too, is for the best." The little preposition here (-ל) is crucial. The heart of faith does not affirm that "whatever happens, happens" and therefore we should passively accept the injustices and pain of life without any form of protest. Unlike some religions, the LORD God of Israel does not demand slavish "submission" to His will, much less does He desire "karma-like" indifference to the suffering we see in the world (Phil. 2:4; 1 Pet. 5:7; Heb. 4:16, James 4:9, etc.). Having faith that God will one day "wipe away every tear" does not deny the existence of evil nor does it suppress real tears from being shed; however, genuine faith affirms that real (existential) comfort is coming, and that sadness, pain, and suffering will not be given the last word....
Faith (i.e., emunah) is a "double movement" of the heart. It both "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31). Faith rests in God's providential hand over the chaos and flux of creation. The eye of faith beholds the Presence of God and His reign over all the mundane affairs of this world. Indeed, it is only by fixing our hope upon the eternal that we are enabled to rightly apprehend the nature of the temporal world itself. In fact, the word emunah (אֱמוּנָה) shares the same root as the Hebrew word for truth (אֱמֶת). In that sense, "seeing what is invisible" (τὰ μὴ βλεπόμενα) is a more fundamental type of "seeing," since the truth of hope ultimately interprets all other ways of seeing...
Emunah therefore understands temporal suffering as part of the greater purposes of God in the world. It sees beyond the painful moment and trusts that God is "busy putting all the pieces together." Everything has a reason, and that includes the seemingly trivial as well as the obviously tragic. The life of emunah calls us to live as toshavim (תוֹשָׁבִים) - sojourners - who are put at a "distance" from the world of appearances. Faith leads to a form of divine "homesickness," a cry of protest over the state of this world and its evils, and a gnawing hunger for love and truth to prevail in the world. By itself, emunah would die of intolerable heartache were it not for the gift of God's comfort.
Yes, we are given consolation and comfort from heaven, since the Scriptures describe God as Av Ha-Rachamim (the Father of mercies) and the God of all comfort: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Note that Paul links our present suffering (πάθος, pathos) with a divinely imparted comfort (παράκλησις, "paraklesis"), which he regards as a state of blessedness. God Himself "calls us to His side" (from παρά + καλέω) in the midst of our afflictions and pain.... The Greek text reads, ὁ παρακαλῶν ἡμᾶς ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ θλίψει ἡμῶν, and might be better rendered as, "The one calling to us [to His side] in all our tribulations" (2 Cor. 1:4). God doesn't want us to go through pain by ourselves, all alone. He invites us to come to His side for comfort... Yesh ohev davek me'ach: "There is a lover who sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24b).
The purpose of our afflictions is to learn to let go of what we value in the world in order to attain to a better hope. טוֹב־לִי כִי־עֻנֵּיתִי לְמַעַן אֶלְמַד חֻקֶּיךָ / "It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes" (Psalm 119:71). God calls out to us in our tribulations so that we may turn away from our illusions and seek refuge in His Presence. Suffering is a tool that only God has the wisdom to use as a means of blessing in our lives.
There is an "eschatological" aspect to suffering for the person of genuine faith. Present suffering will ultimately be redeemed and transformed as "soul-building," but this does not mean that we should act Stoically or admonish others to suppress their heartache. If one of us hurts, so does the rest of the body (1 Cor. 12:26). This isn't sanctimonious humbug; there's no "double talk" going on here. The most succinct verse in the New Testament on this subject is but two words: "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). Nonetheless, we can find great comfort by heeding the voice of pain as a disguised message from God. God calls to us in all our tribulations so that we might make our refuge in Him.
Abide in the Light...
06.09.17 (Sivan 15, 5777) Most of our negative emotions come from fear, including anger, frustration, and rage. On a spiritual level, fear and worry can cause people to question God's love, to doubt His promises, and to succumb to despair. The devil knows that frightening people causes them to be unsettled, off-balance, and vulnerable to all sorts of manipulation and deception. Indeed logicians call illegitimate appeals to fear the "appeal to the stick" (argumentum ad baculum). When someone plays on your fears, it's wise to discern whether there's any basis in Reality for the supposed threat, or if the appeal is simply a rhetorical "scare tactic" intended to persuade you to accept some sort of conclusion. Unscrupulous people (such as advertisers and especially politicians) regularly use fear to manipulate public opinion, of course, and they're only too glad to tell you exactly what you should fear. They are delighted to prey upon your anxieties and then offer you a supposed "remedy."
Living in fear is a form of slavery (Heb. 2:15), but where the Spirit of the LORD is there is liberty and peace (2 Cor. 3:17). Therefore "fear no evil," for God is with you (Psalm 23:4). There is no fear in God's love, but perfect love (אַהֲבָה שְׁלֵמָה) throws out fear (1 John 4:18). The LORD repeatedly tells us not to be afraid – not of man, nor of war, nor of tribulation, nor even death itself (Rom. 8:35-39). Indeed, one of the most frequent commandments in Scripture is simply al-tirah (אַל־תִּירָא), "Be not afraid."
יֵצֶר סָמוּךְ תִּצּר שָׁלוֹם שָׁלוֹם כִּי בְךָ בָּטוּחַ
בִּטְחוּ בַיהוָה עֲדֵי־עַד כִּי בְּיָהּ יְהוָה צוּר עוֹלָמִים
ye·tzer · sa·mukh · titz·tzor · sha·lom · sha·lom · ki · ve·kha · ba·tu·ach
bit·chu · vadonai · a·di-ad · ki · be·Yah · Adonai · tzur · o·la·mim
You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, for he trusts in you.
Trust in the LORD forever, for Yah the LORD is an everlasting rock.
Hebrew Study Card
Trials and tribulations - the "squeezing of grapes" - are part of the walk of faith, but we are invited to come "boldly" before the Throne of Grace (παρρησίας τῷ θρόνῳ τῆς χάριτος) to find help for our lives (Heb. 4:16). Note that the Greek word translated "boldly" in this verse (i.e., παρρησίας) means that we can speak honestly and freely to God from the center of the chaos of our hearts -- without fear or shame. We don't need to conceal ourselves from the Divine Light, since this is the very Light that overcomes the hidden darkness within us. Those who accept that God is in complete control of their lives are set free from the terrible burdens of fear and overmastering anger. Abiding in the truth of ahavah shlemah (אַהֲבָה שְׁלֵמָה, God's "perfect love") means that you can let go.. Dear LORD make this real in us!
06.09.17 (Sivan 15, 5777) Our moral and spiritual convictions are weakened whenever we passively accept or tolerate the thought patterns and values of a culture that denies the truth of spiritual reality. The process is subtle and often subliminal as we read or listen to the "news" advertised by mass media, because we rarely stop to consider the godless and profane assumptions and implications being made. The same thing can happen when we partake of the world's entertainment and attend to its fads, fashions, and idolatry. We must be careful to challenge and resist the world's spurious values and to renounce its godless perspectives lest we lose ourselves and forfeit our minds and affections to utter vanity (2 Cor. 10:5). The danger of "losing ourselves" by surrendering our thinking to a group may also be found in religious communities, where peer pressure to exhibit a particular set of "virtues" is required in order to feel a sense of belonging (e.g., manner of dress, favorite doctrinal biases, preferred rituals of "worship," etc.). We must be vigilant not to engage in hypocrisy to gain the group's approval. The risk of being dishonest for the sake of pleasing others can even affect our most intimate relationships. As the Kotzker Rebbe once said, "If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you; but if I am I because you are you and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you." To escape such entanglement, we must find courage to embrace our existential aloneness and to find our value in God's love and blessing. Only after we are grounded in our identity as a child of God will we be free from the slavish need to be approved by others.
Our faith constitutes both a type of "protest" against any interpretation of reality that excludes, suppresses, denies, or minimizes the Divine Presence, and constitutes a heavenward cry for the place where we truly belong.... If you feel crazy in an insane situation, then you are really quite sane... The world will feel oppressive and strange once you have been awakened from its madness and refuse to be moved by the delusions of the crowd... Life in olam hazeh (this world) is a place of passing that leads to the world to come. Our faith affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life is a deeper reality that is ultimately real and abiding. It "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31).
The Apostle Paul (רבי פאולוס השליח) taught that we are not to be "conformed" (συσχηματίζω) to the pattern of this fallen world but rather be "transformed" (μεταμορφόω) by renewing our minds, so that by testing we may discern what is the will of God (Rom. 12:2). Note that the word translated "conformed" in this verse means to accept the world's scheme (σχῆμα) of understanding things, that is, to passively go along with the world's matrix of lies, wishful thinking, propaganda, etc. The word translated as "transformed," on the other hand, means to be metamorphosed or radically changed into a different kind of nature with a different source of being itself. Such transformation comes from having our minds "renewed" -- the word used in this verse (i.e., ἀνακαινόω) means being "made new on the inside," and therefore renewal is the gift of teshuvah (turning to God). Understand, then, that the foundation of all transformation of inner character and outward conduct comes from the miracle of having a renewed mind. I use the word "miracle" quite intentionally, since by itself "right thinking" is powerless to help the sinner truly change his ways, and therefore something more - new life and healing power from heaven, is needed. Indeed "the beginning of transformation of character is the renovation in the very centre of the being, and the communication of a new impulse and power to the inward self" (Alexander Maclaren).
The Divine Light...
06.08.17 (Sivan 14, 5777) "If I say, surely darkness covers me ... the night shines as the day; nothing hides from your radiance" (Psalm 139:11-12). We have to trust that God is in our darkness, in the silence, in the unknown... You come out of the shadows when you admit that you act just like other people, that you are human, in need of reconciliation yourself... Above all you need God. You need help. You need a miracle to help you to truly love. You may find excuses for many things, but you cannot escape the "wretched man that I am" reality that is grounded in your fears. As our verse attests, the LORD sees in the darkness and is present there, too. When you feel alone, like an unbridgeable gulf lay between you and all that is good; when you feel like you want to scream but are afraid that even then no one would hear, may the LORD our God shine His light upon you...
גַּם־חשֶׁךְ לא־יַחְשִׁיךְ מִמֶּךָ
וְלַיְלָה כַּיּוֹם יָאִיר
gam · cho·shekh · lo · yach·shikh · mi·me·ka
ve·lai·lah · ka·yom · ya·ir
ka·cha·she·khah · ka·o·rah
"The darkness is not made dark to you;
but the night shines as the day:
as the darkness so is the light...
Take heart, friends; the LORD our God outshines our darkness (Psalm 18:28).
Humility and Healing...
06.07.17 (Sivan 13, 5777) Why is humility (עֲנָוָה) so vital for spiritual life? Because it is integrally connected with honesty about our condition, that is, with the admission of our common brokenness and our difficulty as tragic and fallen human beings. There is no other way to genuinely connect with others other than through sharing our need for forgiveness, love, comfort, and for real hope. As we feel sorrow over the losses in our lives, we (re-)encounter our need for God; we begin to look away from ourselves and to seek healing from heaven. There is no way to justify our existence apart from the miracle of God's grace. Humility understands this and trusts that only God is able to help those who are undone, shattered, and mortally wounded.
Faith in Unseen Good...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Beha'alotekha... ]
06.07.17 (Sivan 13, 5777) From our Torah portion this week we read: "At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out" (Num. 9:23). This teaches us that God's Name is to be heeded every step of the way. Whenever we journey someplace, near or far, we say, "be'ezrat Hashem ('with God's help') I am going to this place, and I will stay for so long, im yirtzeh Hashem ('if it pleases God')." As James the Righteous reminds us, "You do not know what tomorrow will bring. For what is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes (James 4:14-15). "Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow" (Psalm 144:4). We share exile with the LORD in this age, as strangers and sojourners with Him; indeed, our lives are hidden with Him, waiting to be revealed (Col. 3:1-4). "The present form (τὸ σχῆμα) of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31), and the heart of faith looks for a city whose designer and builder is God Himself (Heb. 11:10). "So we do not lose heart... For the things that are seen are turning to dust, but the things that are unseen endure forever" (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
The Armor of Light...
06.06.17 (Sivan 12, 5777) At the risk of repeating myself, let me remind you that we are in the midst of a great spiritual war -- the war for the truth. This has been the battle from the beginning. The very first recorded words of the nachash (הַנָּחָשׁ) questioned God's truth: "Did God really say...?" (Gen. 3:1). In the end there will be found two types of people: those who love the truth and those who love the lie; these are children of light (בְּנֵי הָאוֹר) and children of darkness (בְּנֵי הַחשֶׁךְ), respectively. Followers of Yeshua the Messiah are told to "walk as children of light" / ὡς τέκνα φωτὸς περιπατεῖτε (Eph. 5:8). Children of light are called to be am kadosh - a holy people - separate from the evil engendered by the fallen world and its forces, just as the very first creative expression of God was the separation of light from darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). The children of light "hate evil and love the good," and conversely, the children of darkness "hate the good and love evil" (Psalm 34:21, Prov. 8:13, Amos 5:15, John 3:20-21). Yes, we hate sin, because it separates people from healing; we hate sin because we love others. We are to walk in the peace and love of God; to do acts of justice and lovingkindness (Psalm 97:10). "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other."
Surely our great need is to have heart, to find strength, resolution, and steadfast determination to walk boldly during these heartless and depraved days (2 Tim. 3:1-5). We are not without God's help, of course. Yeshua told us that the Ruach HaKodesh (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) would be "called alongside" (παράκλητος) to comfort us on the journey. The English verb "comfort" literally means "to give strength" (from com- ["with"] and fortis ["strong"]), an idea similarly expressed by the verb "encourage," that is, to "put heart [i.e., 'core'] within the soul." In Hebrew, the word courage is expressed by the phrase ometz lev (אמֶץ לֵב), meaning "strong of heart," denoting an inner quality of the will rather than of the intellect. Our faith is the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 4:4, 5:4).
May we always focus on Yeshua, the Light of Torah and the true Wisdom of God: "Whoever has My commandments (מִצְוֹתַי) and keeps them, that is the one who loves me. And the one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will manifest (lit., "shine within" from ἐν, "in" + φαίνω, "shine") myself to him" (John 14:21). There it is - the Source of the Light that overcomes all darkness; the Power that is behind the armor of God... Yeshua is the Beginning, the Center, and the End of all true meaning from God.
Teshuvah and Healing...
06.06.17 (Sivan 12, 5777) Repentance is an ongoing disposition of life in Messiah, since it rightly relates us to God. First we encounter our incurable sickness - the inner contradiction and bondage of soul that both loves and hates sin - and then we seek God's saving power in Yeshua. As the Apostle Paul said: "Who can save me from the misery of myself? – God alone, through Jesus (Rom. 7:18-25). This is the first step, to know the "miserable creature that I am," that is, the slavery of your will to sin, and the second is to be willing to give this sickness of your soul to God's care in Yeshua. As he said, "Those who are well have no need of a doctor, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the 'righteous,' but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:31-32). Yeshua regarded forgiveness of your sins as essential to finding inner healing, even more important than health, prosperity, or religious observance.
"Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 10:39). From the perspective of the natural life, we "descend in order to ascend," we must die to find life... From the perspective of the spiritual life, however, teshuvah (i.e. repentance) means finding healing by returning to the truth of love and recovering your heart's desire in God. As Yeshua said, "Repent, for you have lost your first love..." (Rev. 2:4-5). Turn around: Look at what is missing within! He appeals to you like a lover standing outside in the cold, calling out your name, and knocking for you to open the door to let him inside (Rev. 3:19-20). Open the door of your heart! Return to him now! "Lord, help me turn to receive your love..."
Seeking what Matters...
06.06.17 (Sivan 12, 5777) Our Torah portion this week (Beha'alotekha) recounts the rebellion of the people during the desert sojourn... Instead of joyfully anticipating the promise of their inheritance, the people grew dissatisfied and bored. The Sefat Emet noted that just after we read how the people complained bitterly to the LORD, they had a "strong craving" (הִתְאַוּוּ תַּאֲוָה), which in Hebrew literally means they "craved a craving." Moses could tolerate the people's desire for food and water, but when they began to actively cultivate their cravings, lusting after the imaginary "free fish" they enjoyed in Egypt, he began to realize that the problem was deeper, a matter of the heart... Moses understood that what the people really wanted was impossible, since it involved denying who they were as God's redeemed people. The issue was not about wanting "meat" to eat, after all, but rather hungering after the forbidden, desiring to desire, etc. Creating desires, fomenting a sense of deprivation, and choosing to see yourself as a victim, is a lethal sickness of spirit, a disease of the soul. It is a "burning" (i.e., Taberah: תַּבְעֵרָה) that destroys inner peace. May God help us understand and seek what truly matters; may he deliver us from self-destruction; and may he help us to be satisfied with the manna he provides! Amen.
Note: For more on this see: "Graves of Craving: Further thoughts on Beha'alotekha."
06.06.17 (Sivan 12, 5777) "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He purges (καθαίρει), that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:1-2). If you bear fruit you will experience the "purging process," and that means suffering affliction... This might seem to you backward: Why does the fruitful branch need to be cut back? Indeed, the promise of suffering is not meant for an evil person, but for the righteous soul who trusts in God. Purging is painful but it is also purifying, yielding new growth within our hearts. Yeshua taught, "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. We "rejoice" in testing because that is the way of real growth, sustained hope, and the revelation of God's deep love (Rom. 5:3-4). In our afflictions we are given heavenly consolation that helps us to persevere (2 Cor. 1:3-5). We are being weaned from this present age to be made ready for heavenly glory, for things unimaginably wonderful, soon to be revealed to you. Stay tuned, friends: the best is yet to come!
טוֹב־לִי כִי־עֻנֵּיתִי לְמַעַן אֶלְמַד חֻקֶּיך
tov li khi-u·nei·ti, le·ma·an el·mad chu·ke·kha
"It is good for me that I was afflicted,
that I might learn your decrees." (Psalm 119:71)
Judgment of God...
06.05.17 (Sivan 11, 5777) The late Abraham Heschel once said, "God is of no importance unless he is of supreme importance," which is to say that if God is not our "ultimate concern," then God is of no genuine existential importance to us, regardless of whatever else we may profess or say otherwise. In other words, God can only be related to by means of passionate desire and the struggle of hope, and therefore fecklessness, indifference, and apathy are among the greatest enemies of the spiritual life. Being indifferent to your ultimate end is a form of willful blindness, a refusal to acknowledge the truth about the way of your life. Indeed a sign of spiritual life is hunger, thirst, and desire for the things of God, whereas the absence of these drives indicates apathy and spiritual death... The great "tochechah" of Torah – the warning of judgment to come – is grounded in God's response to our indifference and apathy (see Lev. 26:14-46). The sages point out that the refrain "if you walk contrary to me" (וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי) - which occurs several times during the rebuke - really means "if you walk carelessly (i.e., keri: קְרִי) with me." Rashi notes that the verb קָרָה means "to befall" or "to happen" and therefore suggests a sense of randomness (the related word mikreh [מִקְרֶה] means "coincidence"). If the people regarded the events of life as "random," then God would reciprocate by bringing senseless trouble into their lives... For this reason the sages regard a careless attitude about God's will as the very first step to inevitable apostasy. In other words, regarding whatever happens in life as mere "coincidence" essentially denies God's Presence (hashgachah pratit), and this attitude will eventually call for God's corrective intervention. People may be "hot or cold" regarding their relationship with Him, but God will never give the option of affecting indifference toward Him... Indeed, God often brings hardship into our lives to regain our attention and cause us to return to Him.
The western world is at a crossroad today because it has confused "tolerance" with open-mindedness... Radical Islam is a problem for the "liberal" Christianized nations of the west because most of the mainline denominations have become apostate and lost a sense of conviction and spiritual strength. Western "enlightened" views regarding spirituality have inexorably led to a head-on collision with the theocratic fascism of Islam, forcing the values of west to be exposed and tested like never before. European postmodern deconstructionism, those cynical approaches to language that claims it to be little more that a linguistic "will to power," the devious political games of victimization, the propaganda of "political correctness," and so on, are all symptoms of the judgment of God upon an indifferent and apathetic world. "Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies" (Elie Weisel).
Light of the Shamash...
[ The Torah reading for this week is parashat Beha'alotekha... ]
06.05.17 (Sivan 11, 5777) Our Torah portion this week begins with the LORD instructing Aaron to kindle the seven lamps of the menorah (מְנוֹרָה) so that the light from each would be "turned" toward its central shaft (Exod. 25:37; Num. 8:4). The entire menorah was formed mik'shah (מִקְשָׁה), that is, beaten from a single piece of pure gold (זָהָב טָהוֹר), and its base, shaft, branches, cups, fruits, and flowers were all "one" with its substance (Exod. 25:31). The central shaft upheld the light of the Shamash (servant or helper lamp) which also served as the trunk for the other branches. The radiance of the menorah symbolized the Divine light (shamash can also be read shemesh, "sun"), which is the radiance of Yeshua, the Tree of Light and the great Servant of the LORD (John 8:12; 1 John 1:5). Yeshua is the light that gives light to every person created in the image of God (John 1:9). Our spiritual life stems from our connection with Him, since he provides us with support, sustenance, and illumination from the oil of the Holy Spirit (John 15:1-5)..
Yeshua is the Light of the LORD (אוֹר יי). As it is written, "God is our light and our yeshuah, our salvation" (Psalm 27:1; 1 John 1:5). He alone is the Light of the world (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם), the Shamash (שַׁמָּשׁ) who descends to ignite the "light of life" (אוֹר הַחַיִּים) within all who will believe. Our Savior is the Radiance (זוֹהַר) of the glory of God (Heb. 1:3), the Fire of God's holy countenance. The one who has the Son has life, but the one who refuses this life is spiritually dead. May we all walk in the Light of His countenance; "O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD" (Isa. 2:5).
בֵּית יַעֲקב לְכוּ וְנֵלְכָה בְּאוֹר יְהוָה
bet · Ya·a·kov · le·khu · ve·nel·khah · be·or · Adonai
"O house of Jacob, come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD"
Note: For more on this topic, see "The Menorah and the Tree of Life."
Blessing of Humility...
06.05.17 (Sivan 11, 5777) "Let your tongue acquire the habit of saying, 'I do not know,' so that you are not led to lie" (Berachot 4a). We have to learn that we don't always know the answer, and that often enough we don't even know the meaning of the question being asked... Accepting our limitations enables us to humbly ask God for help as we walk by faith. "The Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know (οὐκ οἴδαμεν) what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Rom. 8:26). We groan in hope... It is a blessedness to be free from the need to be seen, to be approved by others, to feel like we always have to be "right," to manage appearances, and so on. God opposes the proud, but his Spirit (רוּחַ) rests upon the lowly, the humble of heart. Therefore humility (עֲנָוָה) is considered one of the greatest of middot ha-lev (heart qualities). As it is written, the high and lifted up One dwells with the broken and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the crushed:
כִּי כה אָמַר רָם וְנִשָּׂא שׁכֵן עַד וְקָדוֹשׁ שְׁמוֹ
מָרוֹם וְקָדוֹשׁ אֶשְׁכּוֹן וְאֶת־דַּכָּא וּשְׁפַל־רוּחַ
לְהַחֲיוֹת רוּחַ שְׁפָלִים וּלְהַחֲיוֹת לֵב נִדְכָּאִים
ki · kho · a·mar · ram · ve·nis·sa · sho·khen · ad · ve·ka·dosh · she·mo,
ma·rom · ve·ka·dosh · esh·kon · ve·et · dak·ka · ush·fal · ru·ach
le·ha·cha·yot · ru·ach · she·fa·lim · u·le·ha·cha·lot · lev · nid·ka·im
"For this is what the high and lifted up One says, the One who abides forever,
whose Name is Holy: "I dwell in a high and holy place, but also with the broken
and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the crushed."
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"It is the duty of the human understanding to understand that there are things which it cannot understand..." (Kierkegaard).
Parashat Beha'alotekha - בהעלתך
[ The Torah reading for this coming Shabbat is parashat Beha'alotekha... ]
06.04.17 (Sivan 10, 5777) Our Torah portion this week (i.e., Beha'alotekha) begins with God giving instructions about how Aaron was to service the lamps of the Menorah within the Holy Place of the Tabernacle (Num. 8:1-4). Each day Aaron was to clean each of the seven lamps and to refill them with the very purest olive oil. The wicks were then to be bent so that the six outer lamps shined toward the seventh (and central) shaft. The lamps were to be lit daily, "from evening until morning," in a specific sequence - starting from the central lamp (the shamash) and then moving right to left (Exod. 27:21). According to the Talmud (Shabbat 22b), while all the lamps received the same amount of olive oil, the central lamp miraculously never ran out of oil, even though it was kindled first in the sequence. This miracle is also reported to have occurred during the Temple period, though it abruptly ended about 40 years before the destruction of the Second Temple (c. 30 AD), after the death of Yeshua the Messiah, the true Servant and Branch of the LORD. As it is attested in the Talmud: "Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot ['For the Lord'] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white; nor did the centermost light shine" (Yoma 39a).
Our portion then describes how the Levites were to be set apart for service at the Mishkan or "Tabernacle" (Num. 8:5-12). In a ritual ceremony that signified a sort of "rebirth," the Levites were first sprinkled with mei hachatat (מֵי חַטָּאת), literally, "the waters of sin" (Num. 8:7), that is, holy water mixed with the ashes of the red heifer that was used to purify from contamination with death (Num. 19:13). Next they shaved off all their hair and were completely immersed in a mikveh (i.e., a bath containing flowing or "living" water). Notice that the steps of being sprinkled with purifying water, shaving off of all the hair, and being completely immersed in a mikveh were similar to the ritual for the cleansing of the metzora, or "leper" (Lev. 14:2-32). Rashi notes that each member of the community was then required to place their hands on the Levites' heads, just as the hands were placed on the head of a sacrificial animal as it was slaughtered before the altar (Num. 8:10; Lev. 1:4, 3:2). The "waving" of the Levites by the High Priest likewise simulated the ritual of "tenufah" (תְּנוּפָה), that is, the waving of the guilt sacrifice (asham) offered by the leper after his cleansing (Lev. 14:12). Finally, the Levites themselves laid their hands on the sin and whole burnt offerings for atonement before the LORD (Num. 8:12).
For more on this Torah reading, see the Beha'alotekha study pages and the related links. You can download the Shabbat Table talk for this week's reading here:
Agreeing with Reality...
06.02.17 (Sivan 8, 5777) The moment you sense pride or fear taking hold of your heart, stop and turn to God. Even if you must turn 70 x 7 times, there is hope, since even the desire of "being willing to do God's will" refines the heart. It is far better to be repeatedly turning to God in brokenness than it is to live under the pretense that you have no need for ongoing deliverance. It has been wisely said that "you cannot widen the narrow way of surrender." Religious people are perhaps most at risk here, since often enough they fool themselves into believing that passionate commitment requires they know everything about God, or that they are walking in joy and victory, when the truth is that they are often lonely, hurting, and sometimes unsure of themselves... God surely understands your need, and He wants all your heart, not just the parts you might think he wants.
יְהוָה עֻזִּי וּמָגִנִּי בּוֹ בָטַח לִבִּי
וְנֶעֱזָרְתִּי וַיַּעֲלז לִבִּי וּמִשִּׁירִי אֲהוֹדֶנּוּ
Adonai · uz·zi · u·ma·gin·ni · bo · va·tach · lib·bi
ve·ne·e·zar·ti · vai·ya·a·loz · lib·bi · u·mi·shir·i · a·ho·dei·nu
"The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts,
I am helped and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him."
"By the grace of God I am what I am" (χάριτι δὲ θεοῦ εἰμι ὅ εἰμι). "Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are" (Kierkegaard). And only until you can hear, "Never change! I love you just the way you are," will you be free to face who you are. "Now, with God's help, I shall become myself." The miracle belongs to God...
Shabbat Shalom and please remember this ministry in your prayers, friends. The warfare has been intense lately, and the enemy of our souls wants me to grow weary and to give up... Please pray for God's provision and strength. Thank you.
Bearers of Peace...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Naso ("lift up!")... ]
06.02.17 (Sivan 8, 5777) Our Torah reading for this week gives us the ancient priestly blessing, the great expression of hope and grace that transforms us into "name bearers" of God. The blessing of the LORD guards us from illusion, directing our hearts to focus on what matters most. God's radiance changes us, revealing the miracle of grace. As God "lifts up his face," he discloses his Presence within all things, and imparts to us his healing peace. God's Name is "put upon" us so that we become vessels that carry redemptive love and healing to the world. We are endowed with divine energy to be made fruitful; we are empowered to serve God in the truth. The consciousness of our blessedness touches every moment, and we begin to see all of life as sanctified, sacred, full of wonder and meaning.
יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם
ye·va·re·khe·kha Adonai ve·yish·me·re·kha;
ya·eir Adonai pa·nav e·ley·kha vi·chun·ne·ka;
yis·sa Adonai panav e·ley·kha ve·ya·sem le·kha sha·lom
"The LORD bless you and guard you;
The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace."
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Note that each of the three blessings that make up the "three-in-one" blessing of the priests (i.e., birkat kohanim) begins with the Hebrew letter Yod (י), suggesting the threefold hand of YHVH (יהוה) that touches you: the Father blesses you (יְבָרֶכְךָ); the Word of God shines upon you (יָאֵר), and the Spirit of God lifts you up and carries you in the way of life (יִשָּׂא). The threefold blessing is One, of course, just as Adonai echad: יְהוָה אֶחָד, the LORD is One (Deut. 6:4), and the essence of the blessing is to partake of healing and wholeness as expressed in the Hebrew word shalom (שָׁלוֹם). Amen. Without oseh shalom, without peace made within our hearts, any other blessings are only apparent and without substance...
Shabbat Shalom and may God's Name rest upon you, friend... Amen.
06.02.17 (Sivan 8, 5777) The fact that God knows the number of hairs on your head means that he knows you better than you know yourself... Your heavenly Father "sees in secret," and that also means that he can and will save you from whatever is hidden within you that still resists his love and touch... We have to trust in God's power to heal us, even when it seems that healing is not forthcoming, even when we still find ourselves divided, troubled, and anxious. We have to believe that God's help is always present. "Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who hope for the LORD."
God sees what He does within us, His "it-is-finished" work, the effect of His great salvation within our hearts, even if at this present hour this may be hidden from our eyes... There is appearance, and there is reality; and only God sees what is ultimately real. We have to trust in His promise to be transformed into the divine nature, even if today we find ourselves sinful, needy, and in disrepair... By God's grace we are what we are. So don't give up. We are saved by hope (ἐλπίδι ἐσώθημεν, Rom. 8:24), a hope for you today.
What You Really Need...
06.02.17 (Sivan 8, 5777) We don't pray to attempt to change God's mind, but rather to change our own: "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matt. 6:8). Prayer is not a means of getting your Father's attention, but rather of getting your attention fixed on reality. It is a confession of your great need to find out who you really are. And while it is indeed true that "God knows everything," He does not know anything apart from his love. God does not "know" you in some "abstract" sense, like a computer that stores data and information, but rather as a parent who loves and cares for you (Psalm 103:13). Your heavenly Father knows the number of hairs on your head; he knows the word on your tongue before you utter it, and he perfectly sees your beginning and end. He has intimate understanding of who you are and what you really need.
Hope, despite ourselves...
06.02.17 (Sivan 8, 5777) We must give our secret pain to God, even if we don't understand it, and even if it refuses to go away... Our hearts are often vexed; we are a mess of mixed motives; we are strong to be made weak, weak to be made strong. We bless and curse from the same mouth... And yet, despite all this, despite our inner contradictions, the dance between the "old man" and "new," the divided house of our lives - our present sorrows, our troubles, our fears – we must endure ourselves, we must press on, and we must never let go of hope in God's love. Therefore we must not hide ourselves from God's presence, nor pretend to be what we are not. We are invited to come boldly before the Lord to help in our hour of need (Heb. 4:16). O Lord my God, be Thou my healer, the One who makes me whole... Refa'eini Adonai, ve'eiafei: "Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed."
רְפָאֵנִי יְהוָה וְאֵרָפֵא
הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי וְאִוָּשֵׁעָה כִּי תְהִלָּתִי אָתָּה
re·fa·ei·ni · Adonai · ve·ei·ra·fei
ho·shi·ei·ni · ve·iv·va·shei·ah, · ki · te·hil·la·ti · at·tah
"Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise."
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New Book on Torah Healing
If you are interested in exploring some wisdom from the Torah regarding healing from various medical conditions, you might want to purchase Dr. Chris Greene's new book:"God's Healing Code," available on this page.
The Seal of God is Truth...
06.02.17 (Sivan 8, 5777) The sages state "the seal of God is truth," by which they mean that truth bears its own witness to reality. Spiritual truth is ultimately personal, since it is "lived truth," and therefore it is part of the inner will of the person. A true person's life will agree with his or her words; the inner and the outer will correspond and align. The apostle Paul wrote that God's firm foundation (i.e., yesod: יְסוֹד) bears this distinctive seal: on one side is imprinted, "The LORD knows those who are his" (יוֹדֵעַ יְהוָה אֵת אֲשֶׁר־לוֹ) and on the other side is imprinted, "Let everyone who names the Name of the LORD depart from iniquity" (כּל־הַקּוֹרֵא בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה יָסוּר מֵעָוֶל). People can say one thing and believe another, but ultimately no one can "fake" the truth: God bears witness to what is real, as it says, "All are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Heb. 4:13). The LORD knows who are really his own, and who are impostors. As Yeshua said: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them (וַאֲנִי יוֹדֵעַ אתָן), and they follow me" (John 10:27).
We can test whether our faith is genuine by first asking whether we are trusting Yeshua to be our only means of salvation (and sanctification) -- believing that he alone is our means of finding the righteousness of God (צִדְקַת אֱלהִים), -- and then honestly examining our actions to see whether we evidence the love of God (John 14:1; 15:9-10; 1 John 4:7-8). "Whoever says he lives in Him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked" (1 John 2:6). May the LORD help each of us to evidence in the power the "seal of truth..."
The Hebrew word for truth is emet (אֱמֶת), a word that consists of the first, middle, and last letter of the Hebrew Aleph-bet, indicating that truth encompasses all things and endures from the beginning (א) to the end (ת). But notice that if we remove the letter Aleph from the word, we are left with מֵת, (dead), the opposite of חַיִּים (life). The letter Aleph is the ineffable letter that represents oneness and God's preeminent glory. Therefore, if we attempt to ignore or suppress God in our understanding of truth, we end up with death...
Yeshua our Messiah is called the Aleph and the Tav (הָאָלֶף וְהַתָּו), "the first and the last" (הָרִאשׁוֹן וְהָאַחֲרוֹן). These are divine titles that belong exclusively to YHVH (Isa. 41:4, 44:6, 48:12; Rev. 1:1,17-18; 22:13). Pilate's famous question, "What is truth?" is a category mistake, since truth is not about "what" but about "Who." That is, truth is not something objective and static, a thing to be known and studied from a distance. No. Truth is up-close and personal.... You don't judge the truth, but the truth will reveal what is within you...
Note: For more on this subject, see the article, "What is Truth?"
The Breath of Life....
06.02.17 (Sivan 8, 5777) Torah without Spirit is like a body without soul... As I've mentioned elsewhere on this site, the Name YHVH (יְהוָה) is connected with life-giving Spirit. Before man first came alive, the LORD breathed into him nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" (Gen. 2:7; Job 12:10). Later, Moses called the LORD Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), which can be translated "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 16:22). Indeed, the name YHVH is unutterable apart from breath, from ruach (רוּח), since each letter represents a vowel or breathing sound. Yeshua breathes out to his followers and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22). It is the breath of God that breathes into us to make us truly alive. When we open our hearts to receive the life-giving Spirit, we find comfort and help. God's spirit breathes out prayers within us (Rom. 8:26), reveals the truth about Yeshua (John 15:26), transforms our inner character (Gal. 5:22-23), imparts spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12), and gives us the life from heaven (John 3:8). Bo ru'ach Yeshua (בּא רוּח ישׁוּע), "Come, spirit of Yeshua!"
Before his death, 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 lead them out and bring them in, so 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 would put their trust in Him...
Ruth and the Redeemer...
06.02.17 (Sivan 8, 5777) During Shavuot we read the Book of Ruth, which tells the story about redeeming love and the advent of King David. Recall that King David was a direct descendant of Ruth, who as a Moabitess was an outsider and "stranger" to the promises of God (Ruth 4:17; Eph. 2:12). Despite being part of an despised and rejected group of people (see Deut. 23:3), Ruth overcame the law's demand by believing in the love and acceptance of a redeemer of Israel (Ruth 3:9). Ruth's great grandson was named David (דָוִד), meaning "beloved," which has the same numerical value as the word "hand" (יָד). It is no wonder that the LORD chose David to represent God's extended hand of love for the stranger, for the convert, for the outsider, the leper, and the lost, since his descendant Yeshua the Messiah came to love and redeem the entire world by means of His outstretched hands.
Now while the narrative of the Book of Ruth is straightforward, to fully understand its spiritual implications we need to be familiar with several laws from the Torah, including the laws of redemption (Lev. 25:32-55), the laws of Shemittah and Jubilee years (Lev. 25:4, 10, 23), the laws of family inheritance (Num. 27:8-11), the laws of yibbum or "levirate marriage" (Deut. 25:5-10), and various farming laws regarding leaving food for the poor and the stranger (Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22; Deut. 24:19). In addition, we need to understand the laws of warfare for taking possession of the land, and God's repeatedly stated commandment that Israel must be holy and not assimilate with surrounding cultures (Exod. 34:12; Deut. 7:1-6; 14:2, etc.). This restriction applied not only to the seven Canaanite nations (Deut. 7:1; 20:17-18), but also to the descendants of Lot (i.e., Amnonites and the Moabites), since they showed enmity to Israel when they first came to the land (Deut. 23:4-6). Indirectly, then, the story of Ruth provides a strong message to Christians: to follow the story of redemption, you must understand the Torah and its commandments!
The Kingdom Within You...
[ We are observing the great holiday of Shavuot, the climax of Passover... ]
06.01.17 (Sivan 7, 5777) Shavuot is the culmination of Passover in another sense. Passover represents "God with us" (עִמָּנוּ אֵל), as the Word made flesh, and "God for us" (אֱלהִים לָנוּ), as the sacrificial Lamb of God, but Shavuot adds another dimension by representing "God within us" (אֱלהִים בְּתוֹכֵנוּ), the indwelling Presence, the "breath of God" that forever abides in our hearts. Yeshua was eager for us to partake of this miracle: "I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper (i.e., ὁ παράκλητος, one "called alongside to help") will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7). As it is written, "By this we know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit" (1 John 4:13). Or don't you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ בְּתוֹכֵנוּ), whom you have from God? "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God" (Rom. 8:14).
True Prophet like Moses...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Naso ("lift up!")... ]
06.01.17 (Sivan 7, 5777) "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers -- it is to him you shall listen" (Deut. 18:15). So who was this "prophet like Moses"? Islam claims it was "Muhammad," though that is certainly false, since the true prophet to come would be a Jew who would be from the people Israel, not from another nation, and particularly not from the descendants of Ishmael. So what characteristics were to mark this extraordinary Jewish prophet to come? To answer that question intelligently, we must first consider the life of Moses so that we might detect the foreshadowing of the one who would be "like" him, that is, a prophet who would serve as an analog to his mission and life. Consider, then that after being chosen by God to deliver Israel from bondage during the time of the Exodus, Moses became 1) the mediator (priest) of the covenant between God and the Jewish people, 2) the legislator the various commandments of the Torah, and 3) the prophet who received the vision of the Mishkan (the Altar), the future exile, and the ultimate destiny and glory of Zion. Moses was extraordinary because as the mediator of Israel, he instituted various sacrificial rites before the laws of sacrifice were enacted. For example, he instituted the Passover sacrifice in Egypt (Exod. 12:1-11), and when the people later reached Mount Sinai, he offered blood sacrifices to ratify the terms of the covenant (Exod. 24:8). As the great legislator of Israel, Moses declared the terms of the covenant, serving as its voice of authority. And finally, Moses ascended the mountain and received the prophetic vision of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) before the priesthood had been instituted in Israel (Exod. 25:8-9). And even after the laws of the priests were proclaimed and the Mishkan was set up, Moses went before the very Holy of Holies to hear the Voice of the LORD, even though technically speaking this was forbidden, since he was not a kohen (i.e., descendant of Aaron). Indeed our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Naso) concludes, "And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with the LORD, he heard the Voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat (i.e., kapporet: כַּפּרֶת) that was on the Ark of the Testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him" (Num. 7:89).
"A prophet like unto me..." (Deut. 18:15). I mention all this because some people stumble over the fact that Yeshua, who was from the tribe of Judah, served as Israel's High Priest of the New Covenant. Of course this issue is addressed in the Book of Hebrews, where the role of the Malki-Tzedek priesthood is ascribed to King Yeshua (Heb. 5:6-11; 7:1-19), but it is important to realize that Moses himself foresaw the coming of the Messiah as Israel's great prophet, priest and King (Deut. 18:15-19; John 5:36). Indeed, just as Moses himself was "outside" the law by serving as Israel's priest but nevertheless was commissioned by God Himself, so also with Yeshua, who instituted the sacrifice of His blood as the Lamb of God and who went directly before God's Throne to intercede on our behalf.
For more on this subject, see "Moses' Prophecy of the Messiah."
Note: As for "Islam," please use logic and understand that compared with the faith of father Abraham and the founding of the Jewish people, it is a young religion, since it arose some 2,600 years after the time of the Jewish patriarchs. Moreover, Muhammad came on the scene some 600+ years after the time of the LORD Yeshua, and the teaching of the Koran is completely contradictory to the teachings of the Messiah. Logically speaking, Christianity and Islam cannot come from the same source, and either the claims of Yeshua are true or the Koran is true, but not both... Indeed a case can be made that the author of the Koran singled out the claims of Yeshua to be God as the primary sin of a Muslim (shirk), contradicting again the claims of the Master that were made centuries before Muhammad was even born. After all, if Yeshua is who the New Testament says he is, then there is absolutely no need for another prophet or another revelation...