Jewish Holiday Calendar
Note: For September 2017 site updates, please scroll past this entry....
The Jewish civil year begins in the fall, though the Biblical year begins in spring (Exod. 12:2). Preparations for the fall holidays begin with a thirty day period of teshuvah (repentance) during the (late summer) month of Elul. The following ten days begin with the Feast of Trumpets (i.e., Rosh Hashanah, on Tishri 1) and end with the Day of Atonement (i.e., Yom Kippur, on Tishri 10). These first ten days of the new year are called the "Ten Days of Awe" (i.e., aseret ye'mei teshuvah: עֲשֶׁרֶת יְמֵי תְּשׁוּבָה), or simply the Jewish "High Holidays." Just five days after the solemn time of Yom Kippur begins the joyous week-long festival of Sukkot ("Tabernacles"), which is immediately followed by the celebration of Simchat Torah. The holiday of Chanukah occurs in late fall and carries over to the winter season:
The Fall Holidays:
The fall festivals prophetically indicate the Day of the LORD, the second coming of Yeshua, the great national turning of the Jewish people, and the establishment of the reign of the Messiah upon the earth during the Millennial Kingdom in the world to come.
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 Tishri (Wed. Sept. 20th [eve]) - Thur. Oct. 19th [day]
- Month of Elul (Mon., Aug. 21st [eve] - Wed. Sept. 20th [day])
Month of Cheshvan (Thur. Oct. 19th [eve] - Sat. Nov. 18th [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)
- Tzom Gedaliah - Sun. Sept. 24 (sunrise to sunset fast)
- Yom Kippur - Fri. Sept. 29th, a Sabbath (the fast begins an hour before sunset and runs 25 hours until after sunset Sat. Sept. 30th).
- Sukkot - Wed. Oct 4th at sundown through Wed. Oct. 11th at sundown.
- Hoshana Rabba - Climactic last day of Sukkot, Wed. Oct. 11th.
- Shemini Atzeret - The "eighth day" assembly after Sukkot. Thurs. Oct 12th.
- Simchat Torah - Celebration of the conclusion of the completion of the yearly Torah Reading Cycle. Thurs. Oct 12th - Friday Oct. 13th.
- Shabbat Bereshit - The beginning of the Torah Reading Cycle for the new year (Friday, Oct. 13th after sundown through the following Sabbath day).
Month of Kislev Sat. Nov. 18th [eve] - Sun. Dec. 17th [day])
- Five Sabbaths: Noach, Lekh-Lekha, Vayera, Chayei Sarah, Toldot
- Yom HaAliyah - a modern holiday established to acknowledge the contibution of olim (Jewish immigrants) to the Jewish state (Thur. Oct 26th; Cheshvan 7).
- Sigd - 50th day after Yom Kippur; Ethiopian Jewish holiday (Fri., Nov. 17th)
Month of Tevet (Sun., Dec. 17th [eve] - Tues. Jan. 16th [day])
- Four Sabbaths: Vayetzei, Vayishlach, Vayeshev, Miketz
- Dates for Chanukah 2017 (5778):
- 1st Chanukah candle - Tues. Dec. 12th [i.e., Kislev 25]
- 2nd Chanukah candle - Wed. Dec. 13th
- 3rd Chanukah candle: Thur. Dec. 14th
- 4th Chanukah candle: Fri. Dec. 15th
- 5th Chanukah candle: Sat. Dec. 16th
- Four Sabbaths: Vayigash, Vayechi, Shemot, Vaera
- Dates for Chanukah (continued):
- 6th Chanukah candle: Sun. Dec. 17th (Rosh Chodesh Chanukah)
- 7th Chanukah candle: Mon. Dec. 18th
- 8th Chanukah candle: Tues. Dec. 19th [Zot Chanukah]
- Winter Solstice: Wed. Dec. 20th (Kislev 20)
- Christmas: Sunday, Dec. 24th at sundown (Tevet 7)
- Tenth of Tevet - Thur. Dec. 28th; daytime fast over the seige of Jerusalem
- Secular New Year: Sun. Dec. 31st, 2018 (Tevet 14)
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 Chanukah begins Tuesday, Dec. 12th at sundown, some calendars may indicate that it occurs on the following day...
September 2017 Updates
Yom Kippur and the Gospel...
[ The following is related to Yom Kippur which begins an hour before sundown this evening... ]
09.29.17 (Tishri 9, 5778) It is vital to remember that the detailed instructions for constructing the Tabernacle were "according to the pattern" (תַּבְנִית) given to Moses at Sinai (Exod. 25:9). In other words, the tent (Mishkan), the furnishings such as the Table of the Bread of Presence (הַשֻּׁלְחָן לֶחֶם פָּנִים), the golden Menorah (מְנוֹרָה), the Bronze Altar for sacrifices (מִזְבֵּחַ הַנְחשֶׁת), the vessels, and so on, were first shown to Moses before they were created. They were copies or "shadows" that were intended to prefigure the eternal reality of the Heavenly Tabernacle itself. The entire sacrificial system was metaphorical, if you will, and pointed to a deeper reality that transcended the earthly sphere. Even the yearly Yom Kippur ritual was never intended to remain into perpetuity but pointed to something more profound -- namely, the greater avodah (ministry) of Yeshua, the Kohen Gadol of the New Covenant (Heb. 9). Indeed, if the older covenant had been sufficient to provide a permanent solution to the problem of our sin, there never would have been need for a new covenant to supersede it (see Hebrews 8:7). Dear friend, beware those who would entice you to abandon your faith in Messiah by appealing to the terms of the covenant at Sinai (Gal. 3:1).
We honor Yom Kippur because it commemorates the truth that our deliverance from sin is eternally secured (Heb. 9:12). Therefore, because of the finished work of Yeshua on our behalf, we do not offer the customary Jewish blessing to be "sealed for a good year" (i.e., g'mar chatimah tovah: גמר חתימה טובה)... No, in light of the great atoning sacrifice of our Savior, this is chillul Hashem - a desecration of the Name of the LORD. Instead we trust that our names are written and sealed for good because of Messiah's sacrifice given on our behalf... Likewise you are at liberty to fast so that you might identify with the Jewish people and to intercede on their behalf, but you should not fast in an attempt to atone for your sins or to appeal to God for grace apart from the finished work of Yeshua on the cross.
Dear friends, I wish you all great joy and happiness in the precious atonement secured for you through the sacrifice of Yeshua our Messiah. May you feel "at-one" with the Father's heart for you; may you know the great truth of God's profound passion for you. And may the LORD our God bless you with an ever-increasing awareness of his love as you consider the great price he paid for your everlasting healing! "Now may the God of peace who by the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead the Great Shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, equip you with every good thing to do his will, working in you what is pleasing before Him through Yeshua the Messiah, to whom be glory forever. Amen" (Heb. 13:20-21). Shabbat Shalom and thank God for our eternal atonement in Messiah!
God's Prayer for us...
09.29.17 (Tishri 9, 5778) Man prays to God, but to whom does God pray? For what does He pray? Or do you think that the Almighty has no desires of His own, no yearning of heart? The sages of the Talmud believed that God indeed addresses himself: Yehi ratzon milfanai, "May it be acceptable before me, may it be My will, that my compassion overcome my anger, and that it may prevail over my justice when my children appeal to me, so that I may deal with them in mercy and in love" (Berachot 6a). This is the deeper unity of the Name YHVH (יהוה), the Savior and LORD, revealed to Moses after the sin of the Golden Calf (Exod. 34:6-7), and this is the essential meaning of the cross of Yeshua, where the LORD passionately "prayed within Himself" so that His compassion would overcome His fearful judgment for our sins. "... that they may be one, even as we are one" (John 17:22).
Only the cross allows God's righteousness and mercy to "kiss" (Psalm 85:10; 89:14); only the cross reveals the true Holy of Holies where the blood was placed over the Ark of the Law; only the cross intimates the Inner Sanctum of God's heart. Because of the cross, a holy God is able to truly love and help the trusting sinner (Rom. 3:26). It is written: "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne (צֶדֶק וּמִשְׁפָּט מְכוֹן כִּסְאֶךָ); steadfast love and faithfulness go before you" (Psalm 89:14). Because of Yeshua, God is vindicated as entirely just - and the Justifier of those who trust in His redemptive love (Rom. 3:24-26). Yeshua is the prayer of God the Father's on behalf of His children...
חֶסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ
che·sed ve·e·met nif·ga·shu, tze·dek ve·sha·lom na·sha·ku
"Love and truth have met, righteousness and peace have kissed."
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The prayer of God - His heart's yearning and desire - is for his children to receive his love (2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4; John 3:16; Ezek. 18:23). As Yeshua prayed, "Holy Father, keep them in your Name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one... I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me" (John 17:11,23). Yeshua died on the cross to bear the shame for your sins, to be sure, but he did this so that you could be accepted and securely loved forever.... It is the love of God that is the goal of all things, after all. 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.
"What precisely is profound in Christianity is that Christ is both our Atoner and our Judge, not that one is our Atoner and another our Judge, for then we would nevertheless come to be judged, but that the Atoner and the Judge are the same…" – Kierkegaard (Journals)
Blood of a Better Kind...
09.29.17 (Tishri 9, 5778) The Torah of Moses reveals that the very first "priest" (i.e., kohen: כּהֵן) was neither a Jew nor a Levite nor a descendant of Aaron, but rather Someone who is said to have "neither beginning of days nor end of life" but is made like (ἀφωμοιωμένος) the Son of God, a priest continually (Heb. 7:3). This priest, of course, was Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק), the King of Salem (מֶלֶךְ שָׁלֵם) to whom Abraham offered tithes after his victory over the kings (Gen. 14:18). The author of the Book of Hebrews makes the point that the priesthood of Malki-Tzedek is greater than the Levitical priesthood and is therefore superior to the rites and services of the Tabernacle (Heb. 7:9-11). It was to Malki-Tzedek that Abram (and by extension, the Levitical system instituted by his descendant Moses) gave tithes and homage -- and rightly so, since Yeshua the Messiah is the great High Priest (הַכּהֵן הַגָּדל) of the better covenant based on better promises (Heb. 8:6).
נִשְׁבַּע יְהוָה וְלא יִנָּחֵם
nish·ba' · Adonai · ve·lo · yin·na·chem
at·tah · kho·hen · le·o·lam
al · div·ra·ti · mal·ki-tze·dek
The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind,
"You are a priest forever
after the cause of Malki-Tzedek."
Indeed, Yeshua is Himself the Promised Seed of Abraham who saves the world from the kelalah (curse) caused by Adam's transgression (Gen. 3:15). It is profoundly prophetic how Abraham was met by the Coming One as the Priest of the Most High God in the City of Zion, and how he gave him the tokens of bread and wine - the very commemorative emblems Yeshua gave to His disciples as a witness of His mediation for their sins (1 Cor. 11:23-26). It is also highly prophetic that Abraham himself was commanded by the LORD to offer human sacrifice when he bound his "only begotten son" Isaac upon the altar at Moriah (see The Gospel of Moses). Many midrashim state that Isaac actually was killed but came back to life, and that agrees with the Book of Hebrews description that Abraham expected the resurrection of his son (Heb. 11:17-19). It is incorrect, then, to claim that the Torah categorically forbade human sacrifice. On the contrary, it was proclaimed to Adam and Eve, prefigured in the Akedah, and later spoken about directly by the Hebrew prophets, including King David. "Then he [Messiah] said, 'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book'. I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart" (Heb. 10:7; Psalm 40:8). As the prophet Isaiah also attested:
He is despised and rejected of men, a man of pains (אִישׁ מַכְאבוֹת) and acquainted with sickness (וִידוּעַ חלִי), and we hid as it were our faces from him. He was despised and we esteemed him not. Surely he has carried our sicknesses (חֳלָיֵנוּ) and borne our pains (מַכְאבֵינוּ), yet we esteemed him as plagued (נָגַע), smitten of God (מֻכֵּה אֱלהִים) and oppressed. But he was pierced (מְחלָל) for our transgressions (פְּשָׁעֵנוּ), he was crushed for our iniquities (עֲוֹנתֵינוּ): the discipline for our peace was upon him (מוּסַר שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ עָלָיו); and in his blows we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, but the LORD has attacked in him (הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:3-6).
The LORD has "attacked in him (הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all..." Through the substitutionary sacrifice of the righteous Suffering Servant, Yeshua, we are both forgiven and made free from the power of sin and death. Because of Him we are no longer "lepers" or outcasts from the community of God but are made clean through His loving touch.
For more on this topic see: "Blood of a Better Kind: Further thoughts on Yom Kippur."
Atonement and Healing...
09.29.17 (Tishri 9, 5778) Atonement is about righting the wrong that separates us from God, repairing the breach caused by our sin, and being healed from the curse of death. We all desperately need this healing, yet our own hearts are the source of the trouble (Matt. 15:19-20). The holiness and justice of God (אלהִים) requires that sin be punished by death, but God is also merciful and gracious (יהוה), and therefore He instituted a system of animal sacrifices and blood rituals to provisionally "atone" for sin (i.e., restore the broken relationship with God). Since the life of the flesh is in the blood (Lev. 17:11), and the penalty for sin is death, the shedding of blood represents atonement (כַּפָּרָה) for sin. With regard to the chatat ("sin offering") or asham ("guilt offering"), a person would bring a kosher animal (korban) to the entrance of the Tabernacle and place both hands on the animal's head to identify with it (Lev. 4:29). This act of "semikhah" (סְמִיכָה) symbolically (i.e., ritually) transferred the penalty of sin and guilt to the sacrificial animal. Then, the person would slay the animal and confess that his sin caused the innocent to be slain in his place (Menachot 110a). The elaborate sacrificial system was intended to depict this "life-for-life" principle: God accepted the blood of a sacrifice in exchange for the life of the sinner...
Beware those who would entice you to return to the terms of the covenant at Sinai (Gal. 3:1). The sacrificial system of the Tabernacle was a temporary arrangement until the coming of Messiah, the Promised Deliverer (Gal. 3:24-25; Rom. 10:4; Heb. 9:1-12). The redemption obtained by animal sacrifices was merely provisional and symbolic, "for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Heb. 10:4). For eternal remedy, for the spiritual life of the soul, something far greater was needed, namely, the sacrifice of God Himself. Consequently, when Yeshua came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me," and "'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book" (Heb. 10:5,7). All this is profoundly mysterious, of course. After all, if the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) could enter the Holy of Holies only once a year to present sacrificial blood upon the kapporet, invoking the Divine Name YHVH, and interceding for God's mercy on behalf of the people, how much more mysterious is Messiah's intercession for us as he willingly shed his own blood and died in exchange for the curse of our sins (Gal. 3:13)? It was there - in the true Holy of Holies, the "greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands" (Heb. 9:11), where the blood of Yeshua was poured out to pay the penalty for our sins, and it was there that we are given eternal life and healing (2 Cor. 5:21). Yeshua is the true Temple of God and the Central Sacrifice of God given on our behalf. In ways we simply cannot fathom, the sacrificial death of Yeshua redeems us from the curse of death and makes us alive together with God. We draw near to God through Him alone; he alone is the true High Priest of God, the One who finishes the work of redemption on our behalf in the Temple of his body...
The New Testament teaches that Yeshua came to die "for our sins," to heal us from the plague of death (Heb. 7:27, 9:26; 1 John 3:5). Our sin separates us from God, but Messiah's sacrifice draws us near (Heb. 7:19). The message of the gospel is that the Voice of the LORD - the very Word spoken from between the cherubim above the kapporet (mercy seat) - "became flesh" (ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο) and "tabernacled among us" (ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν) for the purpose of becoming our substitutionary sacrifice for the guilt and defilement caused by our sins (John 1:1,14). Yeshua was "born to die" (Heb. 10:5-7), and his life was lived in relation to His sacrificial death (Mark 8:27-33). As the Apostle Paul put it: This is of "first importance": Yeshua was born to die for our sins, to make us right with God, and was raised from the dead to vindicate the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 15:3-4). His sacrificial death eternally draws us near to God, and we can come boldly before God's Presence on the basis of His shed blood for our sins...
The sacrificial system of Torah functions as a parable for us, or a metaphor of God's great redemptive plan revealed in the life and death of Yeshua. The Mercy Seat (kapporet) represents both the Throne of God (Heb. 4:16; 2 Kings 19:15) as well as the cross of Yeshua, where propitiation for our sins was made (Rom. 3:25). The glory of the Torah of Moses was destined to fade away (2 Cor. 3:3-11), just as its ritual center (i.e., the Tabernacle/Temple) was a shadow (σκιά) to be replaced by the greater priesthood of Malki-Tzedek (Heb. 10:1; 13:10). Yeshua is the Goal and the "Goel" (i.e., גּאֵל, Redeemer) from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13). "For the law made nothing perfect, but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, and that is how we draw near (karov) to God" (Heb. 7:19). The sacrificial death of Yeshua caused the parochet of the Temple to be torn asunder, revealing that access to the Presence of God is now available for all who come to God trusting in the finished work of God's Son. For more, see "Why the Sacrifices?" and "Yom Kippur and the Gospel."
Our Need for Atonement...
09.29.17 (Tishri 9, 5778) Humanity's greatest need is to be loved and accepted by God, but this requires a solution to the problem of sin. A "good judgment" from heaven, however, cannot be obtained through self-justification or through "works of righteousness which we have done" (Titus 3:5). The "books" are opened in heaven with a detailed record of all our sinful acts (Rev. 20:12). The LORD is called El Emet, the God of Truth, and the violation of God's law therefore requires atonement. Yeshua is God's exclusively appointed Sin Bearer, and only by means of trusting in his sacrificial death on the cross are we are declared not guilty (or "justified") by faith. Only God can justify the ungodly (Rom. 4:5) and "clothes" us with His own righteousness (see Zech. 3:1-5). Salvation is of the Lord. In the end, the only righteousness that really matters is the righteousness of God... We must renounce all hope of other approaches or defenses. None of us is righteous, "no, not one" (Psalm 14:2-3; Rom. 3:10). All our righteousness is as "filthy rags" before the throne of Heaven: "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away" (Isa. 64:6).
Yom Kippur and Jonah...
[ The following is related to Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement"... ]
09.29.17 (Tishri 9, 5778) During the afternoon service of Yom Kippur, the Book of Jonah is recited to awaken the heart to "Arise, call out to your God" (1:6). 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!
It is noteworthy that Yeshua mentioned the "sign of Jonah the prophet," that is, Jonah's miraculous deliverance after being entombed in the belly of the fish for three days, to authenticate his own claim to be Israel's Redeemer. "Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth" (Matt. 12:40). "This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet (אוֹת יוֹנָה הַנָּבִיא). For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation" (Luke 11:29-30). In other words, the story of Jonah foreshadowed the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah, that is, his death, burial and especially his miraculous resurrection on the third day. Just as God brought Jonah back to life after three days in the belly of the earth, so the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead would vindicate his claim to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world. In this way the "Sign of Jonah" and the sacrificial and atoning work of Yeshua as our High Priest of the new covenant are connected.
"We we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself, yes, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead" (2 Cor 1:8-9). This marks the end of carnal hope, when we realize we are but "dead men walking," and from this extremity of inner desperation and clarity we learn to rely solely on God for what we need. Here we abandon ourselves to God's care, despite the despair, darkness, and fear. We rely on "God who raises the dead," because all other remedies have been vanquished. It is a great gift to be so afflicted, for these "troubles of love" teach us to trust God alone for all we need. The only way out is through. We don't seek an easy way of life, but only that the LORD our God be with us throughout our troubles...
Note: According to Jewish tradition, Jonah ben Amittai (יוֹנָה בֶן־אֲמִתַּי) was a student of the prophet Elisha, who was himself the student of the prophet Elijah... The mother of Jonah was said to the poor widow of Lebanon who offered Elijah hospitality and her last bite of food. When her son Jonah later unexpectedly died, Elijah miraculously revived him (1 Kings 17:8-24). The midrash says that Nineveh was called to repent based on the merit of Asshur who separated from Nimrod before the time of the great rebellion (Gen. 10:22). Later, however, Nineveh was nevertheless destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II (c. 605–562 BC).
Teshuvah and Remedy...
09.28.17 (Tishri 8, 5778) The teshuvah (repentance) called for by Yeshua is not like that of the traditional rabbis... The rabbis want you to be sorry for your sins, to confess "every sin in the book," and to find "atonement" in religious rituals, but this is not "good news," but rather "stale news." The teshuvah of Yeshua is the miracle of new life; Messiah sets you free from the power of sin and death itself. The repentance of Yeshua is to trust in God's remedy for your sin: "This is the work of God, to believe in the One whom God sent" (John 6:29). "He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then His own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him" (Isa. 59:16). We must turn away from the idea that God demands anything from us other than trust in his love. "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). Stop trying to measure up to his standards. You simply cannot give more than you have the love to give, so you must begin by getting your heart needs met by accepting God's unconditional love. It's not about what you do for God, after all, but about what he does for you. That's the message of the gospel. Trust that you are rightly related to God because of the salvation of Yeshua, not because of your own efforts at self-improvement. "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the One who sent me has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and will not be condemned, but has passed over (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24).
Torah of Blood Atonement...
[ The following is related to Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement"... ]
09.28.17 (Tishri 8, 5778) "The Life is in the blood..." (Lev. 17:11). The "Day of Atonement" is the English translation for Yom Kippurim (יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים). The shoresh (root) for the word "kippur" is kafar (כָּפַר), which probably derives from the word kofer, meaning "ransom." This word is parallel to the word "redeem" (Psalm 49:7) and means "to exchange by offering a substitute." The great majority of usages in the Tanakh concern "making an atonement" by the priestly ritual of sprinkling of sacrificial blood to cleanse from sin or defilement (i.e., tahora). The blood of the sacrifice was given in exchange for the life of the worshiper (the "life-for-life" principle). This symbolism is clarified when the worshiper leaned his hands on the head of the sacrifice (semichah) while confessing sin (Lev. 16:21; 1:4; 4:4, etc.). The shoresh also appears in the term kapporet [the "Mercy Seat," but better rendered as simply the place of blood covering]. The kapporet was the golden cover of the sacred chest in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle (or Temple) where the sacrificial blood was presented to cleanse the people from their sins.
כִּי נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם הִוא
וַאֲנִי נְתַתִּיו לָכֶם עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ
כִּי־הַדָּם הוּא בַּנֶּפֶשׁ יְכַפֵּר
ki · ne·fesh · ha·ba·sar · ba·dam · hi
va·a·ni · ne·ta·tiv · la·khem · al · ha·miz·bei·ach
le·kha·peir · al · naf·sho·tei·khem
ki · ha·dam · hu · ba·ne·fesh · ye·kha·peir
"For the life of the flesh is in the blood,
and I have given it for you on the altar
to atone for your souls,
for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life."
Hebrew Study Card
The blood of Messiah ransoms our souls from death, brings us near to the Divine Presence, and cleanses us from all sin (Lev. 17:11; Rom. 3:25; Heb. 9:22; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; 1 John 2:2). The voice of his blood cries out on our behalf (Heb. 12:24), and his life was given in exchange for ours: "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. 5:12). We "lean into" Yeshua, confessing our sins, and are cleansed from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). In the New Testament Yeshua is called the "atonement" (ἱλασμός) for our sins (1 John 2:2), a Greek word that was used in the Septuagint (i.e., LXX) to translate the Hebrew word kippurim in the Torah (Lev. 25:9). The Septuagint uses the same word (ἱλασμός) to translate the Hebrew word for selichah (forgiveness), for example: "But with you there is forgiveness (הַסְּלִיחָה), that you may be held in awe" (Psalm 130:4). Just as the blood was sprinkled upon the kapporet (cover of the Ark of the Covenant) in the Holy of Holies during the Yom Kippur ritual, so the blood of Messiah was sprinkled the heavenly kapporet, the very altar of Almighty God, to secure for us everlasting redemption and healing...
"Come now and reason with the LORD. Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (Isa. 1:18). The blood of bulls and goats could never fully remove our sins since they did not represent the very life of God poured out on our behalf (Heb. 10:4). God chose the ultimate "cleansing agent" for sin by shedding the precious blood of His own Son for the sake of our atonement (1 Cor. 15:3-4; Rom. 5:11). The blood of Yeshua truly cleanses us from the stain of our sins (Heb. 10:12-14). We make "spiritual contact" with the sacrificial blood of Yeshua through faith -- by being "baptized into His death" and identifying with Him as our Sin-Bearer before God. We then are delivered from the law's verdict against us and accepted into the Kingdom of God (Rom. 4:25; 2 Cor. 5:21; Col. 1:13-14, 2:10-15).
לְכוּ־נָא וְנִוָּכְחָה יאמַר יְהוָה
אִם־יִהְיוּ חֲטָאֵיכֶם כַּשָּׁנִים כַּשֶּׁלֶג יַלְבִּינוּ
אִם־יַאְדִּימוּ כַתּוֹלָע כַּצֶּמֶר יִהְיוּ
lekhu · na · venivakhechah · yomar · Adonai
im · yihehu · chata'eikhem · kashanim · kasheleg · yalbinu
im · ya'adinu · khatolah · katzemer · yiheyu
"Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."
Hebrew Study Card
For more see: "Rabbis who deny blood Atonement..."
Yom Kippur Miracles....
09.28.17 (Tishri 8, 5778) The Talmud relates fascinating information about various miracles that began occurring some 40 years before the destruction of the Temple (i.e., 30 AD). These miracles are ascribed to the zechut (merit) of a certain Shimon HaTzaddik, who was a highly respected High Priest of Israel. However, since these signs began just after the time of Yeshua's crucifixion, they further indicate that the parochet of the Holy of Holies has been rent asunder, and now, by means of His avodah and zechut for those who trust in Him, the way to the throne of grace has been made accessible to all. Here's the quote from 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 western most light shine; and the doors of the Hekel [Temple] would open by themselves" (Soncino version, Yoma 39b).
According to this passage, the lot for Azazel, contrary to all the laws of probability, came up 40 times in a row in the left hand.... This was considered a dire event and signified something had fundamentally changed in the Yom Kippur avodah.
The second miracle concerns a crimson strap that was tied to the Azazel goat. The custom was to cut a portion of this strap and tie it to the Temple door. After the Azazel goat was killed, the strap on the Temple door turned white to signify the successful atonement of Israel. However, beginning around 30 AD, the strap remained crimson each year to the time of the Temple's destruction.
The third miracle was that the ner ma'aravi, the westernmost ight of the menorah in the Holy Place, was found extinguished before the next morning. This was highly unusual because before this time the ma'aravi remained lit throughout the night and was normally used by the priests to rekindle the other branches of the menorah. After 30 AD, however, this light -- the shamash -- was no longer found burning, even despite various attempts to ensure that it remained lit through the night.
The fourth miracle was that beginning around 30 AD the Temple doors swung open every night of their own accord. Yochanan ben Zakkai declared that this was a sign of impending doom (Sotah 6:3) that foreshadowed that the Temple itself would be destroyed.
The Power of Mercy...
09.28.17 (Tishri 8, 5778) I mentioned the other day that there were two revelations of the Name YHVH (יְהוָה) given to Moses. The first revelation occurred when he asked for God's Name while he encountered the burning bush and was commissioned to lead Israel out of Egypt: "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God then replied: ehyeh asher ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה), "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM (אֶהְיֶה) has sent me to you'" (Exod. 3:13-14). Apparently Moses did not regard the historical description of God as the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" to be sufficient to attest to his mission before the elders of Israel, so he pressed the issue, though the LORD clearly linked His Name with the patriarchs nonetheless: "Say this to the people of Israel, 'The LORD (יְהוָה), the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations" (Exod. 3:15). It should be noted here that God's initial response, namely, "I AM" (אֶהְיֶה), is the Qal imperfect, first person singular of the verb hayah (הָיָה), "I will be," and therefore is thought to be a form of word play on this verb "to be." The LORD (יְהוָה) is the Source of all being and has being inherent in Himself (i.e., He is necessary Being). Everything else is contingent being that derives existence from Him. Notice further that the power of this Name was subsequently revealed to Israel through the saving acts of the Exodus from Egypt, something the earlier patriarchs had never directly experienced (Exod. 6:1-8).
The second revelation of the Name occurred later, after the sin of the Golden Calf, when Moses was instructed to re-ascend Sinai to behold God's glory (Exod. 33:17-34:8). During this revelation, "the LORD descended in the cloud and proclaimed the name of the LORD" saying, "Adonai, Adonai... (יְהוָה יְהוָה)." The sages note that first utterance of "Adonai" was intended to indicate that everything that exists is an expression of God's loving will and kindness: עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה / olam chesed yibaneh: "The world is built with chesed (חֶסֶד)" (Psalm 89:3[h]). God is unqualifiedly good, and the existence of the universe itself is a demonstration of His love and kindness. God did not "need" to create anything, and the fact that anything exists at all is an expression of his gratuitous chesed, or lovingkindness. The second utterance of "Adonai," on the other hand, was intended to express that the LORD continues to sustain and uphold the universe despite the presence of rebellion and sin. In this connection, I noted that even though God "wills" evil (in the sense of allowing or permitting the actions of the wicked to occur), he never desires it, and he therefore calls us to return - to do teshuvah - in order to be restored to life and blessing. Note that it is this second utterance of "Adonai" that is associated with the LORD's saving relationship with alienated and fallen creation. Just as the first set of tablets, based as they were on the justice and holiness of God, were broken, so a second set was given based on the middot (attributes) of the LORD's forgiveness and mercy. The poignant intercession of Moses - his "passion experience" - was a picture of the heart of the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה), the revelation of the LORD's attributes of grace embodied in Yeshua our Savior...
יְהוָה יְהוָה אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן
אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב־חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת
נצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים
נשֵׂא עָוֹן וָפֶשַׁע וְחַטָּאָה וְנַקֵּה לא יְנַקֶּה
פּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבוֹת עַל־בָּנִים
וְעַל־בְּנֵי בָנִים עַל־שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִים
Adonai Adonai El Ra·chum ve·chan·nun
e·rekh ap·pa·yim ve·rav che·sed ve·e·met
no·tzeir che·sed la·a·la·fim
no·sei a·von va·fesh·a ve·cha·ta·ah ve·nak·keh lo ye·nak·keh
po·keid a·von a·vot al ba·nim
ve·al be·nei va·nim al shil·le·shim ve·al rib·bei·im
"The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
keeping steadfast love for thousands,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children
and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation."
Let's continue looking at this additional revelation of the Name YHVH to see how it reveals the glory of Yeshua our Savior who is the embodiment of YHVH Himself. After we read "Adonai, Adonai," the name El (אֵל) appears as the third word, which is understood to be a general term associated with the attributes of divine strength (i.e., koach: כּחַ) and power (i.e., gevurah: גְּבוּרָה). After the parting of the Sea of Reeds, Moses sang, "Who is like You, O LORD, among the gods (elim)?" Among the pagan cultures of the world, the various "gods" (i.e., elim: אֵלִם) were natural forces such as rain, wind, storms, and so on. The LORD God of Israel demonstrated His power over all the idols and forces of nature during the Exodus from Egypt and therefore the He is rightly called Elohei ha-Elohim (אֱלהֵי הָאֱלהִים), the "God of all gods," and Adonai Ha'Adonim (אֲדנֵי הָאֲדנִים), the "Lord of all lords."
But why is the idea of God's strength connected with His mercy (i.e., rachamim: רַחֲמִים)? Recall that when Moses interceded for Israel regarding the Sin of the Spies, he began by saying, "And now, may the strength (koach) of the LORD be increased" (Num. 14:17-18). Why did Moses appeal to God's strength in his appeal for forgiveness, especially since God's strength is usually associated with his justice and absolute power over creation?
The sages answer that forgiveness requires more strength than does justice. God established the world by the word of His power, and the intrinsic quality of moral reality is that of "karma," or moral cause and effect (Gal. 6:7-8, Job 4:8; Hos. 10:12). Sin is an alienation from the Source of God's life and plan, disrupting the connection between the order God originally intended and the issuance and gift of spiritual life. In other words, death is a natural consequence of sin (Ezek. 18:4, Rom 6:23; James 1:15).
When Israel sinned with the Golden Calf, the LORD threatened to "destroy them in an instant" (Exod. 32:10; Deut. 9:14). He likewise threatened Israel with complete destruction after the Sin of the Spies (Num. 14:12) and after Korach's rebellion (Num. 16:21, 45). This response of God followed "automatically," or even necessarily, from His role as the Holy Lawgiver and King of the universe. And while the immediate annihilation of people would indeed demonstrate God's power of utter holiness, it required even greater strength from God to "suspend" his verdict of justice, since that would imply sustaining their evil, or "carrying" it, or "bearing under" it, or suffering for their sin on their behalf. Therefore God's power is clearly manifest through divine forgiveness more so than through the immediate death of the sinner, and this explains why Moses appealed to God saying, yigdal na koach Adonai: "may the strength of the LORD be increased."
God's power of mercy is most clearly demonstrated in the sacrificial death of Yeshua upon the cross, since it was there that He overcame the power of His justice by means of the power of His compassion for the sinner. It was at the cross that "steadfast love and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed each other" (Psalm 85:10), though it must be stressed that this reconciliation came at an enormous price to God Himself... It took unimaginable strength for Yeshua to willingly offer himself up as our substitutionary sacrifice, to become sin for us, and to suffer and die in our place; just as it took unimaginable strength for God the Father to "suspend" the power of His justice by giving up His son for the sake of our salvation. God's "immediate" response to sin is always, "I shall annihilate them in an instant," which is the expression of His righteous anger for sin. However, it takes even greater strength for God's compassion to overcome His anger – to bear the brunt of His justice – and to suffer for the sake of the sinner's healing. God's chesed, His love, "suffers long and is kind," though it should be emphasized that God suffers because of our sin, and therefore we must be careful not regard God as being in any way indifferent to its presence in our lives. "For you were bought at a great price. Therefore glorify God with your body" (1 Cor. 6:20; 1 Pet. 1:18-19).
When we experience conviction for our sins, when we despair over their weight and feel like they are crushing us down, we understand that it is the righteousness of God that itself weighs down upon us, and yet we appeal to that very power of righteousness to come and save us. The heart's cry appeals to God's mercy for us over against his justice... When we appeal to God's strength, then, we appeal to His strength of forgiveness, to His suffering on our behalf... We ask for his love to sustain us, despite our sin, and to help us turn away and to be filled with new life - the true life that comes from heaven... In short, we ask God for the miracle of rebirth by means of his Holy Spirit, and thereby to understand his power on an entirely different level. We appeal to God not only as our Creator and the Lawgiver, but also as the one who victoriously overcomes the power of sin and death on our behalf and therefore makes everything new. We appeal to God's chesed, his love and compassion, which overcomes his attribute of justice. In short, we appeal to Yeshua as our Strong Savior who saves us from sin and death.
Yom Kippur Prophecies....
09.28.17 (Tishri 8, 5778) Some people might feel a certain amount of ambivalence about the holiday of Yom Kippur since it focuses on the purification of the sanctuary of the Temple, and this seems to have little to do with Yeshua and His sacrifice for our sins. After all, the Levitical form of worship is described as "a shadow (σκιά) of the good things to come, instead of the true form (εἰκών) of these matters, and it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near" (Heb. 10:1). Since the blood of bulls and goats cannot truly take away sins (Heb. 10:3), the sacrificial system was intended to foreshadow the coming work of Messiah, who was born to die, in accordance with God's will, and to offer his own body as a sacrifice for sin "once for all" (Heb. 10:5-10). "For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified" (Heb. 10:14).
Now while it is gloriously true that Yeshua functioned as our great High priest after the order of Malki-Tzedek by offering his blood upon the heavenly kapporet in the holy of holies "made without hands," there still is a prophetic component to this holiday that applies to ethnic Israel regarding the prophesied End of Days. After all, the realm of "shadows" still applies in the case of unbelieving Israel, who has yet to behold the unveiled glory that awaits her... Therefore the psalmist prophetically cries out, "Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your Name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for the sake of your Name" (Psalm 79:9), and this refers to the hour when Israel will call upon the LORD for salvation during the End of Days, otherwise called the great Day of the LORD. This event is prefigured in the blast of the "great shofar" which will be sounded to announce Yeshua as Israel's true Redeemer and King. Indeed, our the Messiah will one day return to Israel, cleanse her Temple, restore her to Himself, and set up His glorious kingdom.
Since prophetically speaking Yom Kippur signifies ethic Israel's atonement secured through Yeshua's sacrificial avodah as Israel's true High Priest and King, there is still a sense of longing and affliction connected to this holiday that will not be removed until finally "all Israel is saved" (Rom. 11:26). So, on the one hand we celebrate Yom Kippur because it acknowledges Yeshua as our High Priest of the New Covenant, but on the other hand, we "have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in our hearts" for the redemption of the Jewish people and the atonement of their sins (Rom. 9:1-5; 10:1-4; 11:1-2, 11-15, 25-27). In the meantime, we are in a period of "mysterious grace" wherein we have opportunity to offer the terms of the New Covenant to people of every nation, tribe and tongue. After the "fullness of the Gentiles" is come in, however, God will turn His full attention to fulfilling His promises given to ethnic Israel. That great Day of the LORD is coming soon, chaverim...
Essence of Yom Kippur...
09.27.17 (Tishri 7, 5778) The earthy Tabernacle (i.e., Mishkan) and its furnishings were "copies" of the heavenly Temple and the Throne of God Himself. Moses was commanded to make the Sanctuary according to the "pattern" revealed at Sinai (Exod. 25:9). As it is written in our Scriptures, "For Messiah has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are representations (ἀντίτυπος) of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf" (Heb. 9:24). The centermost point of the earthly Tabernacle was the Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן־הַקּדֶשׁ), a "three-in-one" box that contained God's Holy Word (i.e., the tablets of the Torah). As such, the Ark served as a symbol of kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), the Throne of Glory. The Ark stood entirely apart as the only furnishing placed in the "three-in-one" space called the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). Upon the cover of the Ark (i.e., the kapporet) were fashioned two cherubim (i.e., angel-like figures) that faced one another (Exod. 25:17-18). According to the Talmud (Succah 5b), each cherub had the face of a child - one boy and one girl - and their wings spread heavenward as their eyes gazed upon the cover (Exod. 25:20). This was the sacred place where the blood of purification was sprinkled during Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and this is the Place (הַמָּקוֹם) that prefigured the offering of the blood of the Messiah, our eternal Mediator of the New Covenant. "For I will appear in the cloud over the kapporet" (Lev. 16:2; Exod. 25:22). As it is written, "I have blotted out your transgressions like a thick cloud and your sins like heavy mist; return to me (שׁוּבָה אֵלַי), for I have redeemed you (Isa. 44:22).
The central ritual of atonement given in the Torah is that of the anointed High Priest sprinkling sacrificial blood over the tablets of the law upon the kapporet (the "mercy seat") of the Ark of the Covenant - the Place where "Love and truth meet, where righteousness and peace kiss" (Psalm 85:10). It was from the midst of the surrounding cloud in the Holy of Holies that the Voice of the LORD was heard, just as it was in the midst of the surrounding cloud of darkness upon the cross that Yeshua cried out in intercession for our sins...
צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ
che·sed ve·e·met nif·ga·shu
tzedek ve·sha·lom na·sha·ku
"Love and truth have met,
justice and peace have kissed."
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Note further that the High Priest was required to perform the Yom Kippur avodah (service) alone, while wearing humble attire, divested of his glory, and in complete solitude: "No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out" (Lev. 16:17). The Hebrew text literally says, "no adam (אָדָם) shall be in the tent," which suggests that something more than the natural man is needed for divine intercession. And just as Moses alone approached God in the thick clouds at Sinai to receive the revelation of the Altar as mediator of the older covenant (Exod. 24:15), so Yeshua, the Mediator of the New Covenant, went through his severest agony on the cross as the darkness covered the earth (Luke 23:44; Matt. 27:45).
"What precisely is profound in Christianity is that Christ is both our Atoner and our Judge, not that one is our Atoner and another our Judge, for then we would nevertheless come to be judged, but that the Atoner and the Judge are the same..." – Soren Kierkegaard (Journals)
Wholehearted with God...
09.27.17 (Tishri 7, 5778) We are admonished in the Torah: תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ - "You shall be wholehearted (i.e., tamim: תָּמִים) with the LORD your God" (Deut. 18:13). When we study Scripture or things of "religion," we must be careful not to lose sight of what is important. We should serve God with "simplicity" (תֻּמָּה), that is, sincerely, with our whole heart and with straightforward intent. We should use a "single eye" and resist the temptation to "read into things" (Matt. 6:22-23). Indeed, God knows that we can evade the truth by means of being overly "sophisticated" when we read the Scriptures. The essential truth is plain enough, but we want to split hairs, consult a variety of commentaries, engage in mystical speculations, and so on, all in an attempt to defend ourselves against hearing from the Spirit of God! But as it says in Scriptures: holekh batom yelekh betach, "Whoever walks in simplicity (בַּתּם) will walk securely" (Prov. 10:9).
Kierkegaard once lamented: "The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly." Indeed - there is a real danger of merely "thinking about" truth rather than living it... For instance, you might study the Psalms as literature and attempt to understand the nuances of Hebrew poetry, but that is altogether different than reading them with inner passion, with simple faith and the earnest desire to unite your heart's cry with the devotion that originally gave life to the sacred words... Likewise you might study Torah, pronounce the Name YHVH, carefully observe the festivals, and hope to "correct" Christians regarding their religion, and still be a lost soul... We must read with a heart of faith to unlock the truth that speaks to the heart. If you believe only what you understand, your faith is actually grounded in your own reasoning, not in the Divine Voice of Love.
Behold the Goat of God!
[ The solemn holiday of Yom Kippur begins Friday (Sept. 29th) an hour before sundown... ]
09.27.17 (Tishri 7, 5778) The original Passover sacrifice (korban Pesach) was not given to the Levitical priesthood as a sin offering, since it preceded Sinai and the giving of the laws concerning the sacrificial rites. In the same way, Yeshua's sacrifice was directed from Heaven itself by means of the prophetic office of Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק) - a higher order of priesthood (Gen. 14:18; Psalm 110:4; Heb. 7). Yeshua both offered Himself up as the "Lamb of God" that causes the wrath of God to (eternally) pass over those who personally trust in Him, and He also offered himself as the "Goat of God" whose blood was sprinkled in the Holy of Holies to cleanse us from sin and give us (everlasting) atonement. (Other metaphors are also given in Scripture, of course. For example, Yeshua offered Himself as the Snake lifted up (John 3:14-15; cp. Num. 21:4-9), as a Red Cow (parah adumah), and so on).
Yeshua as the "Lamb of God" pictures personal redemption from slavery to Satan and freedom from the wrath of God. This is the greater Passover/Exodus connection. By means of Yeshua's shed blood and broken body, the wrath of God passes over us and we are set free to serve God.... Yeshua as the "Goat of God" pictures both personal cleansing (i.e., "propitiation" or "expiation" for our sins: the Greek word (ἱλαστήριον) is used in the LXX for the kapporet (Mercy Seat) in the Holy of Holies which was sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice on Yom Kippur) as well as national teshuvah and cleansing for ethnic Israel at the end of the Great Tribulation period. At that time Yeshua will function as Israel's true High Priest whose sacrifice is applied for Israel's Atonement. This is the Yom Kippur connection. Moreover, since Yom Kippur points to the removal of the sin-laden goat (representing Satan), the Millennial reign of Messiah will be one unmolested by the powers of evil.
Just as Rosh Hashanah reveals the coming time of Judgment and the rapture of the kehillat Mashiach (Bride of Messiah), Yom Kippur prophetically pictures the Day of the LORD or the Day of Judgment in Acharit HaYamim [the last days]. After the judgment of the nations during the Great Tribulation, national Israel will be fully restored to the LORD and their sins will be purged (see Matthew 24). Indeed, our beloved Mashiach will one day return to Israel, cleanse her Temple, restore her to Himself, and set up His glorious kingdom.
Confession and Hope...
09.27.17 (Tishri 7, 5778) It is written: "Faith is the foundation (i.e., ὑπόστασις: the "substance," reality, being, etc.) of hope, the conviction of the unseen... Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near must believe that God exists and rewards (μισθαποδότης) those who seek him" (Heb. 11:1,6). Note that God is pleased when we seek his presence, that is, when we when we look past the ephemera and ambiguity of the phenomenal world for the truth about spiritual reality. For our part, faith depends on confession. We must say that we believe, and affirm it with all our heart (Rom. 10:9). As it says, "I will make Your faithfulness known with my mouth" (Psalm 89:2). When you encounter tribulation, or experience some crisis of faith, reaffirm aloud: "I believe in God's promise..." Physically expressing your faith is itself an act of faith, and this encourages your soul to trust in God's healing reward even in the present struggle or darkness...
Be Strong, Be Strengthened...
09.26.17 (Tishri 6, 5778) Your Heavenly Father sees in secret... "The deepest thing in our nature is this region of heart in which we dwell alone with our willingnesses and our unwillingnesses, our faiths and our fears" (William James). It is there, in the secret place of the heart, that the sound of the "knock" is either heard or disregarded (Rev 3:20). May the Lord give us the willingness to do His will and the courage to believe in His love. And may God deliver us from doubt and from every other fear. May we all be strong in faith, not staggering over the promises, but giving glory to God for the miracle of Yeshua our LORD. May we all be rooted and grounded in love so that we are empowered to apprehend the very "breadth and length and height and depth" of the love of God given to us in Messiah, so that we shall all be filled with all the fullness of God.
Yom Kippur and the Messiah...
[ The solemn holiday of Yom Kippur begins this Friday at sundown... ]
09.26.17 (Tishri 6, 5778) How are we to understand the apparent contradiction that Yom Kippur is to be observed as a "statute forever" (Lev. 16:29) while the New Testament emphatically states that Yeshua puts an end to animal sacrifice and now is our eternal atonement (Heb. 9:12; 24-26)? To begin we must note that this contradiction only arises when we make the (false) assumption that the Sinai covenant could never be abrogated, which would imply that a new covenant is logically impossible. If we can only relate to God through the covenantal terms given at Sinai, in other words, then the Levitical priesthood (alone) serves to mediate us before God, and there would be no need for a covenant based on the better priesthood and promises of the Messiah (Heb. 8:6). Nevertheless, the new covenant was clearly foretold throughout the Torah, the writings, and the prophets, and the rabbinical assumption that the Torah is "immutable" is therefore false. We can understand this by an analogy: If an employer makes a contract with an employee with certain provisions and conditional benefits that are subject to annual review, but later rescinds that contact and offers a new one with far better benefits, there is no contradiction involved. In our case a real contradiction would be, "you must observe Yom Kippur forever," and then - in the very same contract - later read, "you no longer need observe Yom Kippur forever."
Since the Torah says of the Yom Kippur ritual, "this shall be a statute forever (חֻקַּת עוֹלָם) for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins" (Lev. 16:34), it is urgent for us to explore what "forever" might mean in this case, especially in light of the atonement given in Yeshua. First, we note that the Hebrew word translated "forever" is olam (עוֹלָם), which is derived from a root verb alam (עָלַם) that means "to conceal" or "to hide." Olam may have its origins using spatial imagery, a distance so vast that it is unseen, beyond the horizon, and therefore it can also mean "world." When it is applied to the terms of the Sinai covenant (and the Tabernacle represents the "ritual expression" of that covenant), the word means perpetual, ongoing, etc., in that domain or "world." It is interesting to note that the Jewish sages never regarded "olam" as unchangeable, since in the world to come Torah from Zion (Isa. 2:3). For more on this important point, see the article "Olam HaTorah: The World of the Torah."
Second, we must remember that Torah (תּוֹרָה) is a "function word" that expresses our responsibility in light of the covenantal acts of God, and if you choose to relate to God by means of the Sinai covenant, you are liable to the terms and provisions of that contract (e.g., niddah laws, blood ritual laws, tithing laws, agricultural laws, etc.), and this includes being liable to the enumerated curses for disobedience. The covenant at Sinai is indeed eternal and never can change - it is brit olam, a perpetual covenant - but if you choose to abide by its terms, you are responsible for your side of the contract... The Book of Hebrews states: "When there is a change in the priesthood (הַכְּהוּנָּה), there is necessarily (ἀνάγκη) a change in the Torah as well" (Heb. 7:12). The Levitical priesthood expresses the Torah of the Covenant of Sinai (בְּרִית יְשָׁנָה), just as the greater priesthood of Yeshua expresses the Torah of the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה).
Third, Yeshua our Messiah came to deliver us from sin and to establish the new covenant with God, which both transcends the moral law of Sinai and provides an entirely new way to be in relationship with God by the power of the Holy Spirit. The new covenant sets us free from the terms of Sinai (by the death of the Testator, Heb. 9:15) so that we might serve God in a new and better way (see Jer. 31:33; Rom. 7:1-6; Heb. 8:6; Rom. 9:31-32; Acts 13:39; Gal. 4:21-5:1). We "die" to the terms of the former contract to serve God in a new and powerful way (Rom. 7:1-4), with the inner intent of the law written upon our hearts (Jer. 31:31-33). This is the "deeper Torah" that goes back to the original covenant made in the Garden of Eden (for more on this, see "The Gospel in the Garden").
Fourth, Yeshua is the King, the Lawgiver of Torah, and its Substance: he did not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill their message and meaning (Matt. 5:17-18; Rom. 10:4). As the King, he has the authority to annul contracts with his subjects, and he has the authority to implement new agreements based on his sovereign will... The Torah of Moses commanded, "Thou shalt not kill..." but the King of Torah (מלך התורה) went to the heart of the matter, explaining that murder was a symptom of the deeper sin of anger...
Finally, those who follow the law of Moses simply cannot keep the Day of Atonement as clearly commanded in the Book of Leviticus, nor have Jews been able to do so since 70 AD, after the destruction of the Second Temple as foretold by Yeshua (Matt. 24:2; Luke 19:41-4). Note that this was by divine design, since the way into the Holy of Holies (i.e., kodesh hakodashim: קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים) was not yet open for all as long as the "outer tent" still stood (i.e., the Levitical priesthood as the ritualistic expression of the covenant made at Sinai), since that was symbolic of "the present age," or the "dispensation that was passing away" (Heb. 8:13, 9:8-9; for more, see "The Parochet Rent in Two"). Despite the later invention of "Judaism without the Temple," the life is indeed "in the blood" (Lev. 17:11) and in Messiah we are given fulness of life! Only Yeshua gives us true atonement, and that's the true Torah of the LORD! The redemption obtained by animal sacrifices was merely provisional and symbolic, "for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Heb. 10:4). For eternal remedy something far greater was needed, namely, the sacrifice of God Himself. Consequently, when Yeshua came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me," and "'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book" (Heb. 10:5,7). As the Book of Hebrew states: "We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat who serve the Tabernacle" (i.e., the Levitical system of worship). We are cleansed from our sins and made eternally right with God because of the cross of Yeshua...
The bottom line is this. We have a greater High Priest who intercedes for us by means of his own shed blood within the true Holy of Holies, "made without hands," in the olam of reality. We do not mix the covenants of God, for this leads to double-mindedness and is regarded as spiritual adultery (Rom. 7:1-4). It is chillul HaShem - the desecration of the Name above all Names - to turn away from the meaning and message of the cross of Messiah.
Note: We study the Yom Kippur avodah and the various rituals of blood atonement to better understand the meaning of Yeshua's sacrificial death for us as God's High Priest of the New Covenant. Moreover, as I've explained elsewhere on this site, Yom Kippur prophetically pictures the "Day of the LORD" or the Day of Judgment in Acharit Ha-Yamim (the End of Days). The heavenly shofar blasts heard at Mount Sinai will be reissued from Zion for all the world to hear. First will be the gathering together of those who follow the Messiah (i.e., those declared tzaddikim because of the merit of Yeshua's sacrifice), and then God's war against Satan and the world system will begin, culminating in the long-awaited coronation of the King of King of Kings. After the judgment of the nations after the Great Tribulation, ethnic Israel will be fully restored to the LORD and their sins will be completely purged (Matt. 24). "All Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26). Yeshua will then physically return to Israel to establish His glorious millennial kingdom in Zion. Then all the promises given to ethnic Israel through the prophets will finally be fulfilled.
Yom Kippur and the Name....
09.26.17 (Tishri 6, 5778) Yom Kippur was the only time when the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and call upon the Name of YHVH / YHVH (i.e., יהוה) to offer blood sacrifice for the sins of the people. This "life for a life" principle is the foundation of the sacrificial system and marked the great day of intercession made by the High Priest on behalf of Israel. For this reason it was also called the "Day of God's Mercy," or the "Day of God's Name." This alludes to the revelation of the attributes of God's Compassion after the sin of the Golden Calf (see Exod. 34:6-7) -- a disclosure that foreshadowed the New Covenant. How much more, then, is Yom Kippur the "Day of Yeshua's Name" since He secured for all of humanity everlasting kapparah (atonement)? Yeshua the Messiah is Moshia ha'olam (מוֹשִׁיעַ הָעוֹלָם), the Savior of the world; He alone possesses the "Name above all other Names" (Phil. 2:9-10; Acts 4:12). It is altogether fitting, then, that God's "hidden Name" (i.e., shem ha-meforash: שֵׁם הַמְּפרָשׁ) was proclaimed before the kapporet (the cover of the Ark of the Covenant) in the Holy of Holies while atonement for our sins was made through the sacrificial blood.
This gives us a whole new perspective on Paul's words (Rom. 10:9): "if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is LORD (יהוה) and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead (i.e., that his blood was shed and presented on your behalf upon the heavenly kapporet), then you will be saved (that is, you will be reconciled to God and made a partaker of the atoning work of Yeshua). Surely the Apostle Paul, a zealous rabbi who diligently studied Torah in Jerusalem under Rabbi Gamaliel (who was himself the grandson of the renowned Rabbi Hillel the Elder), understood the theological implications when he stated that the prophecy: "And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the Name of the LORD (בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה) shall be saved" (Joel 2:32) applied directly to Yeshua (Rom. 10:10).
Yom Kippur and Chesed...
09.26.17 (Tishri 6, 5778) The ten days from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur are known as Aseret Yemei Teshuvah (עֲשֶׂרֶת יְמֵי תְּשׁוּבָה), "the Ten Days of repentance," otherwise called the "Days of Awe" (yamim nora'im) in Jewish tradition. Since man was created for the sake of teshuvah, Yom Kippur, or the Day of "at-one-ment," is considered the holiest day of the year, called "Yom ha-kadosh" (יוֹם הַקָּדוֹשׁ). It is the climax of the 40 day "Season of Teshuvah."
The "Day of Atonement," or Yom Kippur, is actually described in the plural: Yom Ha-Kippurim (יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים), perhaps because the purification process cleansed from a multitude of transgressions, iniquities, and sins. However, the name also alludes to the two great atonements given by the LORD God of Israel - the first for those among all of the nations who turn to Yeshua for cleansing and forgiveness, and the second for the purification of ethnic Israel during Yom Adonai, the great Day of the LORD (יוֹם־יְהוָה הַגָּדוֹל) at the end of days. There is a connection with the holiday of Purim, too, since Kippurim can be read as Yom Ke-Purim, a "day like Purim." Thus the day on which Yeshua sacrificed Himself on the cross is the greatest Purim of all, since through His loving intervention we are eternally delivered from the hands of our enemies...
The Torah refers to Yom Kippur as "shabbat shabbaton" (שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן), a time when all profane work is set aside so the soul could focus on the holiness of the LORD. The first occurrence of this phrase is found in Exodus 16:23, regarding the restriction of collecting manna in the desert during the seventh day. This restriction was later incorporated into the law code for the Sabbath day (Exod. 31:15; 35:2). The phrase also occurs regarding Rosh Hashanah (Lev. 23:24), Yom Kippur (Lev. 16:31; 23:32), two days of Sukkot (Lev. 23:39; Num. 25:35), two days of Passover (Lev. 23:7-8), and the day of Shavuot (Num. 28:26).
If you add up these days, you will find there are seven prescribed days of "complete rest" before the LORD, and the sages identified Yom Kippur as the Sabbath of these other special Sabbath days, that is, "Yom ha-kadosh" (יוֹם הַקָּדוֹשׁ). Indeed, the Talmud notes that "seven days before Yom Kippur, we separate the High Priest," corresponding to the seven-day seclusion of Aaron and his sons before the inauguration of the Tabernacle (Lev. 8:33).
All of the Jewish holidays find their origin in the events of the Exodus, which were later commemorated as rituals at the Tabernacle. On the first of Nisan, two weeks before the Exodus, the LORD showed Moses the new moon and commenced the divine lunar calendar. This is called Rosh Chodashim. Two weeks later, God was ready to deliver the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt. Earlier that evening the Israelites kept the Passover Seder and sprinkled the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. At the stroke of midnight of Nisan 15 the LORD sent the last of the ten plagues on the Egyptians, killing all their firstborn. On the 6th of Sivan, exactly seven weeks after the Exodus (49 days), Moses first ascended Sinai to receive the Torah (Shavuot). Just forty days later, on the 17th of Tammuz, the tablets were broken. Moses then interceded for Israel for another forty days until he was called back up to Sinai on Elul 1 and received the revelation of Name YHVH (Exod. 34:4-8). After this, he was given the Second Tablets and returned to the camp on Tishri 10, which later was called Yom Kippur. Moses' face was shining with radiance in wonder of the coming New Covenant which was prefigured in the rituals of the Day of Atonement (Exod. 34:10).
Note there were two revelations of the Name YHVH, first as "I AM WHO I AM" (a play on the Hebrew verb hayah [הָיָה] given to Moses in Exodus 3:14-15 which was later "incarnated" during the intervention of the Exodus (Exod. 6:1-8)) and the later revelation of YHVH's mercy disclosed after the sin of the Golden Calf (Exod. 34:6-7). It is the later revelation that foretold God's Name of the new covenant, just as the second tablets took the place of the former tablets that were shattered. Ultimately Yeshua is the "wonder" of the covenant of the LORD (Exod. 34:10), the manifestation of the attributes of God's mercy (middot rachamim). For more on this, see the article, "The Surpassing Glory: Paul's Midrash of the Veil."
For more on this topic see that article, "Yom Kippur and Chesed."
Thy Kingdom Come...
09.25.17 (Tishri 5, 5778) Since our political age is marked more than ever by syncretism and politically correct forms of coercion (i.e., violence), we must understand and value the life of the authentic individual - the person who is marked by moral courage and integrity that transcends the "sound bites" and stupidity of the mass media and its propaganda.... It is as common as a coin of the realm to see the schemes of various "change agents" fabricating problems in order to move the social order according their agendas. Indeed this is the age of engineered terror, the antithesis of which is not some nebulous "freedom" as suggested from the princes of this world, but rather a new form of slavery unlike anything before seen on this earth. It behooves us not to look to the usual suspects... and to never forget the role of the crowd in Nazi Germany...
Find comfort, friend of Jesus. Of this evil world it is written, "Why do the people rage and the nations devise schemes that will fail? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Messiah saying, 'Let us tear off the shackles of their yoke, and throw off their ropes from us!' But the enthroned LORD laughs at their insolence and holds them in derision, until the appointed hour when He will speak to them in his wrath and terrify them in his fury" (Psalm 2:1-5). Amen, amen!
The LORD God Almighty will surely break the pride of the "kings of the earth" with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel, and the shattering will be so ruthless that among its fragments not a shard will be found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern (Psalm 2:9; Isa. 30:14). For from His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (Rev. 19:15). "As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, breaking them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth" (Dan. 2:34-35). "And the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed ... and it shall stand forever" (Dan. 2:44). One day the edifice of man's godless pride will come crashing down, and there will be no trace left of its rubble... The day and the hour draws near.
The prophet Isaiah foresaw the glory of the Coming Kingdom: "It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD (הַר־יְהוָה), to the house of the God of Jacob (בֵּית אֱלהֵי יַעֲקב), that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isa. 2:2-4; see also Jer. 3:17, Micah 4:1, etc.).
Before this glorious time of the Millennial Kingdom, however, the great "Day of the LORD" will come - a time of worldwide, catastrophic judgment that will befall the kings and princes of this world... "The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man will cry loud there" (Zech. 1:14).
In light of all this, we must be be careful not to love this world or the things of this world (1 John 2:15). The kingdom of man is at war with the kingdom of God, and whoever wishes to be a "friend" of this evil world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4). Regarding this doomed world the LORD speaks thus to His children: "Come out of the midst of her and be ye separate, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues." This call to be separate may be more difficult for those who live in the midst of present-day "Babylon" than in other places of the world, because in Babylon it is far too easy to coddle the flesh and to avoid taking a costly stand for the truth... However, the reign of Babylon is spreading like a cancer throughout the world, consolidating power, and soon it will demand complete allegiance of all who dwell upon the earth. During that time of tribulation, all the peoples of the world will be forced to chose whether to accept the "mark of the beast" (i.e., citizenship in world order) or to face persecution, etc. Adonai oz le'amo yiten (יְהוָה עז לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן) - May the LORD protect and strengthen His people.
יְהוָה עז לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן
יְהוָה יְבָרֵךְ אֶת־עַמּוֹ בַשָּׁלוֹם
Adonai · oz · le·am·mo · yit·ten
Adonai · ye·va·rekh · et · am·mo · va·sha·lom
"The LORD will give strength to his people;
The LORD will bless his people with peace."
Hebrew Study Card
Significance of the Shofar...
09.25.17 (Tishri 5, 5778) The shofar first brings to mind the ram caught in the thicket by its horns which Abraham sacrificed in place of his son Isaac at Mount Moriah (Gen. 22:13). By extension, this "Ram of God" -- prepared from the "foundation of the world" -- is a picture of substitutionary sacrifice of the God's Son for the sins of the world. Indeed, the first occurrence of the word love in the Torah (אהבה, ahavah, in Gen. 22:2) refers to a father's love for his "only" son who was offered as a sacrifice, a clear foreshadowing of the greater "Akedah message" of the Gospel (John 3:16). Note in this connection that the sacrificial redemption involved violent spiritual warfare between God and the Satan (Gen. 3:15). For the believer in Yeshua, the blast of the shofar represents the shout of God's victory (נִצָּחוֹן) over the power of sin and death.
Though it is first associated with the Akedah, the word shofar (שׁוֹפָר) first occurs in Exodus 19:16 when the Torah was first given to Israel during Shavuot (i.e., "Pentecost"): "On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud shofar blast (קל שׁפָר חָזָק מְאד), so that all the people in the camp trembled.... And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder." This shofar blast is sometimes called the "first trumpet" of God.
The shofar is also mentioned in connection with both Rosh Hashanah (Lev. 23:24, Num. 29:1) and the Yom Kippur Jubilee: "Then, on the tenth day of the seventh month, on Yom Kippur, you are to sound a blast on the shofar; you are to sound the shofar all through your land" (Lev. 25:9). In later Jewish history, since the shofar was sounded throughout the preceding month of Elul, the blowing of the shofar on the first of Tishri (i.e., Rosh Hashanah) was sometimes called "the last trumpet," while the shofar blast on Yom Kippur was called the "great trumpet," since at that time judgment was sealed.
Yeshua spoke of the shofar blast from the angels who would "gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matt. 24:31). Indeed, Yeshua Himself will blow a shofar on the day of rapture: "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a rousing cry, with a call from one of the ruling angels, and with God's shofar; those who died united with the Messiah will be the first to rise" (1 Thess. 4:16). Moreover, at the sound of the "great shofar" (shofar hagadol), the dead will be raised and death itself will be "swallowed up" in victory (1 Cor. 15:51-57).
יוֹם אִירָא אֲנִי אֵלֶיךָ אֶבְטָח / "When I am afraid, I put my trust in you" (Psalm 56:4). This world - olam ha-zeh - is soon coming to an end, chaverim... Although we are tempted to fear the days of testing and tribulation to come, we must find a deeper reason to rejoice. We can anticipate the sound of the heavenly shofar signaling the victory of the LORD over the princes of this age: "The seventh angel sounded his shofar; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and his Messiah, and he will rule forever and ever!" (Rev. 11:15).
Teshuvah and Sanity...
09.24.17 (Tishri 4, 5778) It is written in our Scriptures (2 Tim. 1:7) that "God has not given us the spirit of fear (πνεῦμα δειλίας), but of power, and love, and a sound mind" (note that the term "sound mind" comes from the word saos (σάος) "safe," or under the protective restraining influence of the Spirit of God). Understand the connection between fear and confusion, then, and note further the connection between having a sound mind and a heart of peace and courage (Isa. 32:17)... A fearful or shameful attitude, then, enervates your resolve, quells your love, and introduces pain to your thinking. It is the old ruse of the enemy of our souls to lead us to despair, the exile of shame, and cruel bondage to untruth. As always the answer is the same: namely, teshuvah, turning to God and embracing the grace and love given in Yeshua as our deepest reality, our power, our heart, and our mind.
אֵלֶיךָ יְהוָה נַפְשִׁי אֶשָּׂא
אֱלהַי בְּךָ בָטַחְתִּי אַל־אֵבוֹשָׁה
אַל־יַעַלְצוּ איְבַי לִי
elekha Adonai nafshi essa
Elohai bekha vatachti al-evoshah
al-ya'aletzu oyvai li
"Unto thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul.
O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed,
let not mine enemies triumph over me."
The Goal of Holiness...
[ The following is related to Yom Kippur and the Days of Awe... ]
09.24.17 (Tishri 4, 5778) "Be holy as I am holy" (Lev. 19:2). This doesn't mean wrapping yourself up in some protective cloak of religious rituals as much as it means accepting your own atonement: reconciling who you are with your past, finding healing and love, and walking in genuine hope... Holiness isn't as much "separation" from the profane as it is "consecration" to the sacred, and in that sense it is a kind of teshuvah, a turning of the heart back to reality.... Negatively put, "being holy" is turning away from fear, despair, and anger; positively put, it is embracing the worth and value of life, respecting the Divine Presence, and walking before the radiance of God's love. Hashivenu Adonai....
Yom Kippur Torah Readings: Our Torah for this Shabbat is for Yom Kippur, though it's a good idea to read the final portion of Deuteronomy at this time (i.e., Zot Haberkahah), since Simchat Torah comes quickly and often we are so rushed during the week of Sukkot that we don't have time to dig into the last part of Deuteronomy and the first part of Bereshit...
L'Shanah Tovah, friends!
09.22.17 (Tishri 2, 5778) Happy New Year - Shanah Tovah - friends! May this coming year be "good and sweet" for you. Here are a few pictures taken during our celebration for Rosh Hashanah 5778. As you can see, our kids are growing: Josiah is now 12 and Judah is 8, and Emanuel David is now 20 months old! Thank you for so much praying for our children.
Left-to-right (top): 1. Kiddush Cup; 2. pomegranate (rimon); 3. Emanuel David; 4. Judah;
(middle): 1. Josiah sounds shofar; 2. Olga kindles yom tov; 3. Simanim Plate; John blows shofar;
(bottom): 1) apples and honey; 2) yom tov table; 3) Almonds; 4) Round Challah; 5) dates; 6) love!
בַּחֲצצְרוֹת וְקוֹל שׁוֹפָר
הָרִיעוּ לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ יְהוָה
ba·cha·tzotz·rot · ve·kol · sho·far
ha·ri·u · lif·nei · ha·me·lekh · Adonai
"With trumpets and the sound of the shofar
shout for joy before the King, the LORD!"
Listen to the Shofar:
From my family to yours: L'shanah tovah u'metukah lekha ba'Adoneinu Yeshua ha-Mashiach - "to a good and sweet year for you in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah." May the LORD God heal you, body and soul; may He ease your pain, increase your strength, and release you from all your fears. May the divine blessing, love, joy, and true shalom surround you and fill you with ongoing wonder and thanks. In the Name above all Names we pray: Amen.
The Days of Awe...
09.22.17 (Tishri 2, 5778) According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashanah (i.e., Tishri 1) the destiny of the righteous, the tzaddikim, are written in the Book of Life (סֵפֶר הַחַיִּים), and the destiny of the wicked, the resha'im, are written in the Book of Death (סֶפֶר הַמָּוֵת). However, most people will not be inscribed in either book, but have ten days -- from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur -- to repent before "sealing their fate." On Yom Kippur, then, everyone's name will be written in one of the books. The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are therefore called Aseret Yemei Teshuvah (עֲשֶׂרֶת יְמֵי תְּשׁוּבָה) - the "Ten Days of Repentance" - because personal repentance can affect the divine decree for good:
So how are we to understand this vision in light of the intercession and deliverance of Yeshua our Messiah? Followers of Yeshua are not legalists, of course, nor do we agree with the rabbis who claim that Rosh Hashanah is a day of our judgment, since that has judicially been taken care of at the cross of Messiah -- "Judgment Day" happened when Messiah was crucified for our sins. "He declared us not guilty because of his gracious love; and now we know that we are heirs of eternal life" (Titus 3:7). Our faith in Yeshua forever seals us in the Lamb's Book of Life (סֵפֶר הַחַיִּים)! Nevertheless we must turn to Him every day, we must walk in the light of his heart, and therefore the call to teshuvah (repentance) is always timely. Moreover there is a prophetic aspect to this season, as Yom Teruah (i.e., Rosh Hashanah) represents the "Day of the LORD" (יוֹם יְהוָה) and the imminent apocalyptic judgment of the present world... Just as the spring festivals foretold Messiah's first advent, so the fall festivals foretell his second coming... Moreover, "teruah" (תְּרוּעָה) is the blast of a shofar, the "calling up" signal for those who belong to Messiah; the "opening of the gate" to the Wedding of the Lamb! May God help us be ready to soon see our King!
Note: For more on this important subject, including the trust that we are forever "sealed for good" in the Lamb of God's Book of Life, see "Getting Ready for the Days of Awe."
Faith Comes from Hearing...
[ Our Torah portion for this week (Ha'azinu) is always read during the High Holidays... ]
09.22.17 (Tishri 2, 5778) Every year near the solemn time of Yom Kippur we read parashat Ha'azinu, the great prophetic song that Moses was commanded to teach the Jewish people before he died. Ha'azinu reminds us that who we listen to ultimately decides our fate. It begins, הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וַאֲדַבֵּרָה - "Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak" (Deut. 32:1). The song is didactic, intended to teach us something. It begins quietly: "like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb...." The Spirit here appeals to the humble to drink in the message given from above. Heed first the kol demamah dakkah, the "still small voice" (קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה) and receive the proclamation of the Name of the LORD and His greatness (Deut. 32:3, also Exod. 34:6-7). Understand His attributes (middot): the LORD is the Rock (הַצּוּר), his deeds are perfect, and all His ways are just. He is the Faithful God (אֵל אֱמוּנָה), without iniquity, forever true and upright (צַדִּיק וְיָשָׁר הוּא) (Deut. 32:3-4).
The world has its message or its "song," chaverim, which is invariably focused on fear, anger, and self-preservation. We are tempted, are we not, to listen and accept such propaganda without serious reflection.... After all, we are always listening to someone, but the all-important question is to whom? The inner voice of your soul gets its messages from somewhere. Tragically, many of our opinions are formed by heeding to the "voice of the world," i.e., the crowd, the songs and movies of pop culture, and especially the propaganda (i.e., mainstream "news") that is designed to manipulate and enslave the masses...
So to whom are you listening? The Midrash Rabbah says that the ear (אזֶן) gives life to all the organs of the body. How so? By listening (שׁמע, shema) to the Torah. This idea is repeated in the New Testament: "Faith comes from listening to the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17). The Word of God (דְּבַר־אֱלהִים) is our very life, chaverim. Listening to other voices (regardless of how seemingly well-intended) means cutting yourself off from the Source of life itself.... Hearing and obeying are linked, and "hearing" the messages of this corrupt world can eventually make you into an enemy of God Himself (James 4:4). The world always speaks its message to members of its "crooked and twisted generation" (Deut. 32:5).
For more on this subject, see the article: "You're always listening to someone..."
King Messiah and LORD...
09.21.17 (Tishri 1, 5778) Both the Torah of Moses and the New Testament attest that Yeshua is Elohim (אֱלהִים) -- the Creator of the cosmos: בְּרֵאשִׁית הָיָה הַדָּבָר / "in the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1,14). The Divine Word and Voice cannot be separated from God any more than the Spirit of God can be separated. Yeshua is the Source of all life in the universe: כָּל־הַמַּעֲשִׂים נִהְיוּ עַל־יָדוֹ / "All things were made by Him (John 1:3). The "Word made flesh" is the "image of the invisible God" and the "radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint (χαρακτήρ, 'character') of his nature" (Col. 1:15). All of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3): "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). As our Creator and Master of the Universe, Yeshua is our King and our Judge, and therefore Rosh Hashanah centers on Him.
For more see the article: "Our Creator and King."
Identifying with the Lamb...
[ During Rosh Hashanah we blow shofars to recall the lamb of God... ]
09.21.17 (Tishri 1, 5778) The near sacrifice of Isaac establishes that God does not want us to sacrifice ourselves on the altar, but rather to identify with the appointed sacrifice of the lamb given on our behalf... Isaac pictures the identification process. First he completely submitted himself to God's will by being bound as a sacrifice. Once that decision was made, God intervened by providing the ram caught in the thicket, which represented the "binding" or identification of God's sacrifice for him (Gen. 22:13). Just as the lamb was identified with Isaac, so Isaac was identified with the lamb. Likewise, Yeshua died in your place so you can identify with his death for you, trusting it as your atonement provided by your Heavenly Father. Your union with Yeshua means that his death was your death: "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Messiah in God" (Col. 3:3). Likewise, his "life after death" (resurrection) is your eternal life: "When Messiah who is your life appears, you also will appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:4). Baptism symbolizes your identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua as the Lamb of God sacrificed on your behalf (Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:4). Just as Isaac descended from the altar in newness of life, so we are made new creations because of the sacrifice of Messiah: "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). Rosh Hashanah, like all the Torah holidays, centers on the great Lamb of God....
Rosh Hashanah Prophecies...
[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins this evening at sundown... L'Shanah tovah chaverim! ]
09.20.17 (Elul 29, 5777) The spring festivals (Passover, Firstfruits, and Shavuot) have been perfectly fulfilled in the first coming of Yeshua as Mashiach ben Yosef, and the fall festivals (Teruah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot) will be fulfilled in His second coming as Mashiach ben David. Since the first advent fulfilled all of the spring mo'edim to the smallest of details, we believe that His second advent portends similar fulfillment as revealed in the fall mo'edim.
After the summer of harvest (John 4:35), the very first fall festival on the Jewish calendar is Yom Teruah, which is a picture of the "catching away" of kallat Mashiach (the bride of Messiah) for the time of Sheva Berachot (the seven "days" of blessing that follows the traditional marriage ceremony). Then will come the Great Tribulation and Yom Adonai - the Day of the LORD (יוֹם יְהוָה). The heavenly shofar blasts heard at Sinai will be reissued from Zion. First will be the gathering together of those who follow the Messiah (i.e., those declared tzaddikim because they trust in the merit of Yeshua's sacrifice), and then God's war against Satan and the world system will begin, culminating in the long-awaited coronation of the King of King of Kings - Melech Malchei Ha-Melachim (מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים).
Rosh Hashanah (or better, Yom Teruah) is therefore a sacred time that has prophetic significance for the Messianic believer, since it commemorates both the creation of the mankind by Adonai as well as the "calling up" of the new creation at the behest of Yeshua, when the sound of the heavenly shofar inaugurates the anticipated End of Days (1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:15-18). Indeed, "teruah" (תְּרוּעָה) is a "calling up" signal for those who belong to Messiah, sounded during the opening of the "Gate to the Wedding" of the great Lamb of God. It also prefigures the coming Day of the LORD and Great Tribulation period that marks God's judgment on an unbelieving world...
Lift up your heads...
[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins this evening at sundown... ]
09.20.17 (Elul 29, 5777) Rosh Hashanah literally means the "head of the year," and it traditionally marks the anniversary of the creation of mankind. The sages note that where it is written, "When you take a census of the children of Israel" (Exod. 30:12), the Hebrew reads, "When you lift up the heads (כִּי תִשָּׂא אֶת־ראשׁ) of the children of Israel," which implies that each person should be encouraged to understand that they "count" in the eyes of Heaven. The sages also not that the word "Israel" (יִשְׂרָאֵל) contains the letters that form the phrase li rosh (לִי ראשׁ), "there is to me a head," that is, a soul created in the image of God.
יְהוָה בְּהֵיכַל קָדְשׁוֹ יְהוָה בַּשָּׁמַיִם כִּסְאוֹ
עֵינָיו יֶחֱזוּ עַפְעַפָּיו יִבְחֲנוּ בְּנֵי אָדָם
Adonai · be·he·khal · kod·sho · Adonai · ba·sha·ma·yim · ki·so
ei·nav · ye·che·zu · af·a·pav · yiv·cha·nu · be·nei · a·dam
"The LORD is in his holy palace; the LORD's throne is in heaven.
His eyes watch; his eyes examine all people"
During Rosh Hashanah we affirm our faith that the LORD our God is the great King over all the earth (מֶלֶךְ גָּדוֹל עַל־כָּל־הָאָרֶץ). The Hebrew word "king" is melekh (מֶלֶךְ), the value of which is 90, the same as the Hebrew letter Tzadi (צ), meaning "Righteous One." Indeed some of the sages say that the word "amen" (אמן) is an acronym for the phrase El Melekh Ne'eman (אֵל מֶלְךְ נֶאֱמָן) - "God is a Righteous King." The LORD is a God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he (Deut. 32:4). The LORD God, the Righteous One has "ascended with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a shofar" (Psalm 47:5). This refers to the ascension and glorification of our Savior Yeshua, who ascended in triumph over sin and death our behalf. As is written: "Sing praises unto our King, sing praises!" (Psalm 47:6). L'Chayim b'Yeshua - to Life in Yeshua, friends!
Call to Life and Joy...
09.20.17 (Elul 29, 5777) The call to teshuvah is a call to wonder, to the life of eternal verities and possibilities, to the way of love, joy, and peace that passes merely human understanding... "Who would wish to dwell among the nations and be numbered among them? The Lord would have His people follow a separate path. No, we walk the narrow way where all genuine pilgrims must go to follow the Lord" (Charles Spurgeon). Amen. "If then you have been raised with Messiah, seek the things that are above, where Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Messiah in God" (Col. 3:1-3). We are kedoshim - a "set apart people" - awakened to the sacred nature of life, alive to God's great passion, and undergoing the divine process of our eternal healing. Let us press on!
The Narrow Door...
09.20.17 (Elul 29, 5777) "Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (Luke 13:24). The narrow door is the way of humility, assuming a low position, crawling, if you will, and making yourself small... It is the way of the cross of Messiah, confessing the truth of our condition and trusting in God alone for deliverance.. The narrow door is the way of faith - trusting in God's compassion and righteousness on your behalf. The large, wide-open door is designed for the crowd and its various idols. Beware of the world that seeks to assimilate the soul: beware of becoming part of the crowd! The individual is lost and overwhelmed in the midst of the crowd and its momentum. The crowd assimilates the soul, laughs at the notion of individual responsibility, and abandons itself to the gravity of purely natural forces... The life of faith, on the other hand, refuses to regard the individual human heart as a triviality. Faith is an individual struggle, a walk into unknowing; it is the way of the sojourner who feels uneasy in this world of shadows... God is always with us and helps us stay strong and resolute, even as we struggle through the darkness of this age. Press on, chaverim! Do not lose sight of your high calling in Yeshua. The day and the hour draw near!
Walk in the Spirit...
09.20.17 (Elul 29, 5777) Our hashkafah (Torah outlook) teaches that God is "omnipresent," or always present everywhere (בְּכָּל מָקוֹם), but much of the time we seem disconnected and lose touch with spiritual Reality. After all, it's one thing to "know about" God, and quite another to experience the sacred in our daily experience... Perhaps we miss detecting the Divine Presence because we are not seeing correctly (2 Cor. 5:7). We tend to "objectify" the natural world and thereby distance ourselves from the atmosphere of the Spirit and the flow of grace (i.e., ruach: "wind," "spirit"). Instead of understanding that we "live, move, and have our being" in God (Acts 17:28), we regard God as "out there," far away, and inaccessible to our reach... The Hebrew word "teshuvah" (תְּשׁוּבָה), often translated as "repentance," really means accepting the heavenly invitation to turn away from ourselves to receive God's love and grace. The Greek word "metanoia" (μετάνοια) conveys a similar idea - going "beyond" (i.e., meta: μετά) our everyday thinking (i.e., nous: νοῦς) to apprehend the realm of miracle, wonder, and love (John 6:33). We then become attuned to the Divine Presence as we turn or elevate our thinking from the realm of "this world" (olam ha'zeh) and its objectivity to one of spiritual receptivity, wholeness, and blessing (olam ha'ba). Teshuvah therefore is an (ongoing) awakening to the Reality of God, and knowing ourselves through our connectedness to the Spirit rather than objectifying ourselves and experiencing alienation and distance. Therefore הִתְהַלְּכוּ בָּרוּחַ - "walk in the Spirit" and you will be free (Gal. 5:16).
Cleaving to Hope...
09.20.17 (Elul 29, 5777) "Love suffers long and is kind..." (1 Cor. 13:4). Have patience with all things, but most of all with yourself. We must "endure ourselves" along the way, often learning hard lessons about our own insufficiency. Have faith that despite all your imperfections, all your defects of character, and your overall weakness of heart, God is indeed at work in your darkness, molding and shaping you to bear witness of His glorious power to save the soul. The LORD holds your hand; his grace and love will help you persevere, giving you the will to press on in hope. Never give up, friends!
דָּבְקָה נַפְשִׁי אַחֲרֶיךָ
בִּי תָּמְכָה יְמִינֶךָ
da·ve·kah · naf·shi · a·cha·re·kha
bi · tam·khah · ye·mi·ne·kha
"My soul cleaves to you;
Your right hand upholds me."
Hebrew Study Card
The concept of "cleaving" or "holding fast" to God is called devakut (דְּבָקוּת) in Jewish tradition, a word that derives from the root davak (דבק), meaning to "cling" or "stick" (the Modern Hebrew word for glue comes from the same root). Davak is used to describe how a man cleaves to his wife so that they become basar echad – "one flesh" (see Gen. 2:24), and is related to the word for bodily joint (debek), the bond of our bones to our skin (Job 19:20). Some have described devakut as "God consciousness imbued with love." "To cleave to Him - that means the cleaving of the mind to Him, for there is no devakut except that of the mind and the meditation of the heart" (Sh'ar ha-ahavah). We are able to cling or cleave to God because He first clung to the cross in love for us (1 John 4:19).
King of the Universe...
[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins this evening at sundown... ]
09.20.17 (Elul 29, 5777) When Adam first opened his eyes and human consciousness was born, he immediately understood that the LORD created all things, including himself. According to midrash, Adam's first words were, יהוה מֶלֶךְ עוֹלָם וָעֶד / Adonai malakh olam va'ed: "The LORD is King for ever and ever." God then said, "Now the whole world will know that I am King," and He was very pleased. This was the "tov me'od" (טוֹב מְאד) moment of creation, when God saw all that He had made "and found it very good" (Gen. 1:31). The birthday of humanity is therefore the Coronation Day for the King of the Universe. According to Jewish tradition, this date represents Rosh Hashanah, or the "head of the year" for humanity, when God began to rule as King over the universe He created.
The implication that God is our Creator is enormous and pervades everything else in our lives. God's creative power is witnessed by all conscious life. The Divine Light that was created before the sun and the stars represents God's immanent presence that "lights up" all of creation - including our minds (Gen. 1:3). Since we were created b'tzelem Elohim, "in the image of God," the witness of God's truth is foundational to all of our thinking as well. The revelation (not the invention) of logical first principles is part of God's "signature," if you will, of how the mind is wired to reality. Likewise we have intuitive awareness regarding the existence of moral truth (i.e., the standard of justice and moral law), aesthetic truth (i.e., ideals of beauty, goodness, worth, and love), and metaphysical truth (i.e., cause and effect relationships). "The heavens are recounting the glory of God, and the expanse is proclaiming his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). God's power and presence can be clearly inferred from the tremendous effect of the universe itself. As Paul stated, "the invisible things of Him (τά ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ) from the creation of the world are clearly seen (καθοράω), so that people are without excuse" (Rom. 1:19-20). It is the fear of the LORD (יִרְאַת יהוה) that is truly the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10). The Hebrew word for fearing (ירא) and seeing (ראה) share the same root. We cannot truly see reality apart from reverencing God as the Lord and King of Creation.
It is important to emphasize that God is not some impersonal "First Cause" or "Unmoved Mover" of the universe. He is not some "cosmic big bang" that started the universe only to be indifferent to its functioning, nor is God a "Cosmic Egg" or "Self-Absorbed Mind" that contemplates the navel of reality... No, God is an entirely awake and morally perfect Being who created everything "very good" and who actively engages and sustains His creation. God is a personal Creator and Ruler of all that exists. In theological jargon, God is both "immanent" (sustaining and upholding creation) and "transcendent" (exalted over creation). This God has a Name (YHVH), a mind, and a moral, purposive will that imbues all of creation. God is LORD over all time and space, the King of Glory, who is Master of all possible worlds. He is therefore intimately concerned with the rule of His law, expressed both in the "natural" world (i.e., the laws of physics, chemistry, etc.), the mental world (i.e., the laws of logic, mathematics, etc.), the ethical world (i.e., the laws of morality, ethics, etc.), and the spiritual world (the laws of spirit and of spiritual beings).
For more on this see: "High Holidays and the Gospel."
Our Creator and Judge...
09.20.17 (Elul 29, 5777) During Rosh Hashanah we remember that God is our Creator and Judge, and both of these attributes refer to Yeshua our Savior. The New Testament identifies the Voice of the Creator as the all-powerful Word of God: בְּרֵאשִׁית הָיָה הַדָּבָר / "in the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1,14). Yeshua is the Source of all life in the universe: כָּל־הַמַּעֲשִׂים נִהְיוּ עַל־יָדוֹ / "All things were made by Him (John 1:3). The "Word made flesh" is the "image of the invisible God" and the "radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint (χαρακτήρ, 'character') of his nature" (John 1:14, Col. 1:15). All of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3): "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Creation begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Mashiach... He is the Center of Creation - it's beginning and end. As it is written: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the 'Aleph' and the 'Tav,' the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). Indeed, Yeshua is מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים / Melech Malchei Hamelachim: The "King of kings of kings." He is LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest celestial glory to the dust of death upon a cross... יְהִי שֵׁם יהוה מְברָךְ / yehi shem Adonai mevorakh: "Let the Name of the LORD be blessed" forever (Psalm 113:2).
09.20.17 (Elul 29, 5777) Abraham Heschel once wrote, "God is of no importance unless he is of supreme importance," and while that is undoubtedly true, what is of supreme importance to God is the salvation of the lost sinner (John 3:16; Luke 19:10; 2 Pet. 3:9). But God has entrusted you and me to help others come into the Kingdom. He wants us to help bring in the great harvest (John 4:35)! God could use angels to issue the call to "repent and believe" the gospel, or He could put great signs in the heavens, but in His infinite wisdom He has chosen to use the "foolishness" of proclaiming the truth of the cross of Yeshua to save those who are lost. But note that the cross is the central focus. As Paul wrote, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Yeshua the Messiah and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). This is of first importance to God (1 Cor. 15:3). The sacrificial death of Yeshua is a scandal to the proud, but it is the method God uses to save people from eternal death (1 Cor. 1:22-23). There is no gospel message apart from offense - first, the offense of the ego's deflation (i.e., being convicted as a rebel deserving of judgment), and second, the offense of the sross (i.e., that no human merit can effect the salvation given through Yeshua alone). The offense of the gospel is the proclamation that there is no other way to heaven than through the cross of Yeshua, and there is no other name than the Name of Yeshua for the salvation of human beings (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor. 1:23).
Our first duty as followers of Yeshua is to make much of His salvation... The Ruach HaKodesh always glorifies our Messiah, the Son of Man (John 16:13-14). But as Paul asked, "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching (i.e., κηρύσσω, "publishing, or "proclaiming openly") the message (Rom. 10:14)? Likewise Yeshua commanded his followers to "go and make disciples (i.e., talmidim: students) from among all the nations, immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son and the Ruach HaKodesh, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:18-19). The proclamation of the gospel is one of your greatest responsibilities as a follower of the Lord.
Teshuvah and True Love...
[ The following discusses the nature of repentance. It's my hope that this will encourage you to "return to the LORD and listen to His Voice" (Deut. 30:2). ]
09.20.17 (Elul 29, 5777) Repentance means changing how you understand yourself, and therefore it is intimately connected with how you understand God. As A.W. Tozer once said, "What I believe about God is the most important thing about me." Understanding the goodness and glory of God leads to self-respect, a sense of dignity, and so on. This works the other way around, too. If you regard yourself as small, insignificant, and unworthy, you will tend to consider God that way, too. "According to your faith be it done unto you." As you see God, so you will see yourself; as you see yourself, so you will see God. "With the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Mark 4:24).
Personal repentance implies encountering the revelation of God at "first hand." God does not love you at a distance, nor does he call you to embrace him at "second hand." This is a matter of existential encounter. Repentance, or teshuvah, is the "like for like" measure of God's love; it is your answer to God's question and call....
The message of the gospel requires that you regard yourself as worth dying for, that you are God's friend... "There is no greater love than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). God demands that you regard yourself as worth the sacrifice of his beloved son Yeshua in your place; he demands that you understand how dear you are to his heart. God sees something of such great value in you that he was willing to suffer and die to redeem it from loss... Just as the kingdom of God is a "pearl of great price," so you are a pearl of great price to God. What grieves and angers God is the refusal to believe that you are someone of infinite importance to him... Only God can rightfully make such a demand because He knows that loving other things more than Him leads to "disordered love," darkness, and eventual madness. We were made for God's love, but substituting finite things for this infinite need will never suffice to bring lasting healing to our souls...
We must "choose life," and that means choosing to welcome God's love into your heart. The only sin that can keep you from God's everlasting love is the denial that his love is personally for you. You must forsake seeing yourself "in the flesh" and take hold of God's spirit, his passion, and his grace for your soul. You are worthy to be loved because God is worthy to make you so. For more on this topic see: "Teshuvah and God's Love."
Shanah Tovah, friends!
[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, Sept. 20th at sundown... ]
09.19.17 (Elul 28, 5777) God is both infinitely loving and infinitely just, and both of these "attributes" are inseparably a part of who he is. God is One. Nonetheless, the cross of Yeshua proves that "love is stronger than death, passion fiercer than the grave; its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame, the very flame of the Lord" (Song. 8:6). It is at the cross that "love and truth have met, righteousness and peace have kissed" (Psalm 85:10). This implies that we must drop our defenses – even those supposed objections and pretenses voiced by our shame – and "accept that we are accepted." It is God's great love for you that leads you to turn to him. Allow yourself to be embraced by his "everlasting arms."
מֵרָחוֹק יְהוָה נִרְאָה לִי
וְאַהֲבַת עוֹלָם אֲהַבְתִּיךְ
עַל־כֵּן מְשַׁכְתִּיךְ חָסֶד
me·ra·chok Adonai nir·ah li
ve·a·ha·vat o·lam a·hav·tikh
al ken me·shakh·tikh cha·sed
"The LORD appeared to me from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn you."
Hebrew Study Card
Genuine teshuvah (i.e., repentance) will entirely change you. It is an act of profound respect over what God has done on your behalf. You say, but I am a miserable wretch! Indeed that is so, but the consciousness of your wretched state is the heart's cry for love... God goes "outside the camp" to meet with you. He enters the leper colony to join you there, in your wretchedness, and even takes upon your fatal disease. He sees you in your desperate estate and joins you there. God enters into the dust of your death and says, "Live!"
Teshuvah means changing your thinking, turning around to face the truth, and returning to embrace God's love. It does not identify the whole person with sin, but rather regards all people as redeemable, worthy, and valuable to God. Conviction of sin is not the end, but rather the means to newness of life. God saved us so that we could be in a love relationship with Him. We must "choose life," and that means choosing to welcome God's love into your heart. The only sin that can keep you from God's everlasting love is the denial that his love is personally for you. You must forsake seeing yourself "in the flesh" and take hold of God's spirit, his passion, and his grace for your soul. You are worthy to be loved because God is worthy to make you so. Therefore as our wonderful Savior appealed, "Repent and believe the good news" (Mark 1:5). God is love, and that love is for you.
We sincerely wish you "shanah tovah u'metukah ba'Adoneinu Yeshua ha-Mashiach" - a good and sweet year in our Lord Jesus the Messiah! May the LORD God heal you, body and soul; may He ease your pain, increase your strength, and release you from all your fears... May blessing, love, joy, and true shalom surround you and fill you with ongoing wonder and thanks. In the Name above all Names we pray: Amen.
Teshuvah of Brokenness...
09.19.17 (Elul 28, 5777) Regarding the call to repentance we read: "Rend your hearts and not your garments and return to the LORD your God (וְשׁוּבוּ אֶל־יְהוָה אֱלהֵיכֶם), for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in love..." (Joel 2:13). Genuine teshuvah (repentance) is not about the "outer layers" of life, but engages the deepest depths of heart; it is not expressed in religious practices or rituals but in personal brokenness and utter desperation... As King David said, "the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit (רוּחַ נִשְׁבָּרָה); a broken and contrite heart (לֵב־נִשְׁבָּר וְנִדְכֶּה), O God, you will not despise" (Psalm 51:17). As is written in our Haftarah portion for Shabbat Shuvah: "Return O Israel (שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל), to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity; take with you words and return to the LORD (וְשׁוּבוּ אֶל־יְהוָה) and say to him, 'Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips'" (Hos. 14:1-2).
Note that the appeal to the LORD as "gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love" (חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם הוּא אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב־חֶסֶד) recalls the meaning of YHVH (יהוה) revealed to Moses in his state of brokenness over the sin of the Golden Calf (Exod. 34:6-7).
Teshuvah of Messiah...
09.18.17 (Elul 27, 5777) "I have been crucified with Messiah..." (Gal. 2:20). During this "season of teshuvah," it is vital to understand exactly how we are to turn to God to find life. Some religious people understand "repentance" to mean focusing on themselves, lamenting their sins, and making resolutions to improve their behavior, though this is not the meaning of teshuvah as Yeshua taught, which is turning of the heart in trust of God's love. "It is no longer 'I' who live but Messiah who lives in me" (ibid.), which means we find life and righteousness in the LORD and not in ourselves -- neither in our resolutions to change, nor our religious rituals, nor even our acts of repentance. We are "crucified with" Messiah, and that means the self-life comes to an end (Col. 3:3). Regarding yourself as separated from God's acceptance will inevitably lead you to the "works of the law" and therefore to the "wheel of sin and death" -- and to despair. Rightly understood, teshuvah cannot be separated from the salvation of the LORD (יְשׁוּעַת יְהוָה), nor can we ignore God's righteousness in the vain attempt to establish our own. Teshuvah receives the miracle of divine exchange: "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). We do not "ignore the grace of God" (Οὐκ ἀθετῶ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ) by seeking justification apart from the truth and blessing of Messiah, for He is the one "who loves me and gave himself for me." The sickness of sin is lethal, and there is no remedy apart from turning to behold Yeshua, the "fiery serpent" lifted upon a stake, the One crucified for our deliverance (Num. 21:8; John 3:14; Gal. 3:13). The teshuvah of God is to turn away from yourself to behold the miracle of God's righteousness given for your sake, and therefore it is a matter of radical faith. "We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead" (2 Cor. 1:9). "Therefore, if anyone is in Messiah, he is briah chadashah (בְּרִיאָה חֲדָשָׁה), a new creation; the old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Cor. 5:17).
We are told that we must "receive" the life of Yeshua into our hearts, and that is certainly true, but we must also receive his death as well... This is the meaning of "taking up your cross." It is the death of Yeshua in your place that releases you from the curse of the law (מִקִּלְלַת הַתּוֹרָה), that is, spiritual death, as it says, "the Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree" (Gal. 3:13).
The teshuvah of Yeshua is the miracle of new life; Messiah sets you free from the power of sin and death itself. The repentance of Yeshua is to trust in God's remedy for your sin: "This is the work of God, to believe in the One whom God sent" (John 6:29). "He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then His own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him" (Isa. 59:16). We must turn away from the idea that God demands anything from us other than trust in his love. "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). Stop trying to measure up to his standards. You simply cannot give more than you have the love to give, so you must begin by getting your heart needs met by accepting God's unconditional love. It's not about what you do for God, after all, but about what he does for you. That's the message of the gospel. Trust that you are rightly related to God because of the salvation of Yeshua, not because of your own efforts at self-improvement. "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the One who sent me has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and will not be condemned, but has passed over (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24).
We must be careful not to worship an idol, that is, a false concept of God! It is possible to read the Bible, to go to church or synagogue, and yet worship a pagan god. How so? By not knowing the heart of the Father; by not honoring the One who passionately seeks our healing. We know the Father by the Son, that is, in "the language of Son" (Heb. 1:2; Luke 10:21-24). Our heavenly Father is eager to forgive and embrace all of his children. In Yeshua's famous parable of the "prodigal son," the father saw his child a "long way off" and ran to embrace and kiss him - no questions asked, no explanations needed about his past. When the son nevertheless began reciting his carefully prepared speech of repentance, the father barely listened, and in his overwhelming joy instructed his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found...' (Luke 15:20-25).
Rosh Hashanah and the Lamb...
[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins this Wednesday, Sept. 20th at sundown... ]
09.18.17 (Elul 27, 5777) In the Torah we find that the word "love" (i.e., ahavah) first appears regarding Abraham's passion for his son: "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love (אֲשֶׁר־אָהַבְתָּ), and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you" (Gen. 22:2). After journeying to the place, Abraham told his child that God would provide a lamb (אֱלהִים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה), and then bound Isaac, laid him upon an altar, and raised his knife to slay him (Gen. 22:8-10). At the very last moment, the Angel of the Lord called out: "Abraham! Abraham! Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son (בֵּן יָחִיד), from me" (Gen. 22:11-12). Abraham then "lifted up his eyes" and saw a ram "caught in a thicket" which he offered in place of his son. Abraham then named the place Adonai-Yireh (יהוה יִרְאֶה), "the LORD who provides" (Gen. 22:14). The sacrifice of the lamb for Isaac portrayed the coming sacrifice of Yeshua, the great "Lamb of God" (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) who would be offered in exchange for the trusting sinner (John 1:29). Indeed the story of how God provided the lamb at Moriah (and later during the Passover in Egypt) foreshadowed the greater redemption given in Messiah at the "Passover cross," and may be understood as the "Gospel according to Moses" (Luke 24:27; John 5:46). Therefore, during Rosh Hashanah, also called the Day of Judgment (יוֹם הַדִּין), we listen to the sound of the shofar (ram's horn) to remind us of the provision of Lamb of God given in place of Isaac.
Rosh Hashanah Torah Readings
The Torah portion for the first day of Rosh HaShanah is about the birth of Issac, and the portion for the second day is on the Akedah, or the sacrifice of Isaac at Moriah. The Musaf (additional service) includes extra benedictions added to the normal Amidah, emphasizing God's Kingship, the remembrance of our days, and the call of the shofar to usher in the Messianic Kingdom at the end of days.
Shabbat Shuvah - שַׁבַּת שׁוּבָה
[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, Sept. 20th at sundown... ]
09.17.17 (Elul 26, 5777) The Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and the solemn fast of Yom Kippur is the very first of the new year, called Shabbat Shuvah (שַׁבַּת שׁוּבָה) - that is, "the Sabbath of Return." It is called "shuvah" because the Haftarah (i.e., Hosea 14:1) begins, Shuvah Yisrael ad Adonai Elohekha (שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ): "Return, O Israel, unto the LORD your God!" As the very first Shabbat of the new year, Shabbat Shuvah is intended to "set the tone" for the "Days of Awe" leading up to the great Day of Atonement.
שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ
כִּי כָשַׁלְתָּ בַּעֲוֹנֶךָ
shu·vah · Yis·ra·el · ad · Adonai · E·lo·hey·kha,
ki · kha·shal·ta · ba·a·vo·ne·kha
"Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity."
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Note the Hebrew grammar in this verse: "Return (שׁוּבָה), O Israel, until (עַד) the LORD is your God" (Hos. 14:1). We are called to repent until the LORD becomes "your God," that is, until you completely surrender yourself to His presence and love. You return as you "set the Lord always before you" and know him in all your ways (Psalm 16:8; Prov. 3:6).
Shanah Tovah, and may you be inscribed in the Lamb's book of life (סֵפֶר הַחַיִּים אֲשֶׁר לַשֶּׂה) for good, friends! Shalom in Yeshua our Lord.
Parashat Ha'Azinu (האזינו)
[ Our Torah portion for this week (Ha'azinu) is always read during the High Holidays... ]
09.17.17 (Elul 26, 5777) In last week's Torah reading (i.e., Nitzavim-Vayeleich), the LORD told Moses that after his death the Israelites would "go after foreign gods" and break covenant with Him. Because of this, God instructed Moses to teach the people a prophetic song (שיר נבואי) called the "Ha'azinu" that foretold Israel's history (past, present, and the future redemption) and warned the people not to stray from the path that the LORD had clearly instructed them (Deut. 31:19-22). Structured in the style of an "oracle," parashat Ha'azinu (הַאֲזִינוּ) contains Moses' final words of prophecy given to the Israelites before he ascended Mount Nebo to die...
We read the Ha'azinu every year during the High Holidays. In the Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll), the song is written in a stylized two-column format with extra spaces. Each line of the shirah (song) is matched by a second, parallel unit (see picture, below).
The Ha'azinu reminds us that who we listen to ultimately decides our fate. It begins, "Give ear, O heavens (הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם), and I will speak, and let the earth hear (וְתִשְׁמַע הָאָרֶץ) the words of my mouth" (Deut. 32:1). The word ha'azinu (הַאֲזִינוּ) comes from verb azan (אָזַנ), as does the Hebrew word for "ear" (i.e., ozen: אזֶן). The Midrash Rabbah says that the ear (אזֶן) gives life to all the organs of the body. How so? By listening (שׁמע, shema) to the Torah. This idea is repeated in the New Testament: "Faith comes from listening to the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17). The Word of God (דְּבַר־אֱלהִים) is our very life, friends...
The Day of Creation...
[ Tonight at sundown marks Elul 25, the Day of Creation... ]
09.15.17 (Elul 24, 5777) In Jewish tradition, Yom Teruah / Rosh Hashanah marks the creation Adam and the birth of human consciousness in the universe, though the primordial yehi ohr (יְהִי אוֹר) of creation actually began six days earlier, on Elul 25th (the anniversary of which begins this evening at sunset). Nevertheless the Redemption and our teshuvah (return) was the plan of God before the world was conceived, as it says, "Before the mountains were born, or you brought the world into being, you were the Eternal God who says "Return (שׁוּבוּ), O sons of man" (Psalm 90:2-3). The Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world (καταβολῆς κόσμου), and God clothed humanity in divine sacrifice from the very beginning (Gen. 3:15,21; Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:20). The Waters of Life (מַיִם חַיִּים) flow from the original orchard of Eden to the world to come (Gen. 2:10; Rev. 22:1). God subjected creation "to vanity" to reveal his greatness as he descended into its depths to return and restore all things to himself (Rom. 8:20; Eph. 1:10). The LORD entered space-time as the Son of Man, the "Ultimate Adam" (ὁ ἔσχατος ᾽Αδὰμ) to become our Savior and Healer (1 Cor. 15:22, 1 Cor. 15:45-49). He came to reveal "the face of God" to us in Messiah (2 Cor. 4:6). God's first question to lost man is "ayeka" (אַיֶּכָּה), "Where are you?" (Gen. 3:9). Yeshua "descended in order to ascend" so that we may find God's compassion, love and healing through his mesirat nefesh (מְסִירַת נֶפֵשׁ) – his total sacrifice of body and soul – for the sake of returning us to God.
Personal Note: Let me wish you all "Shabbat Shalom" and "L'Shanah Tovah b'shem Yeshua Adoneinu," dear friends. Please remember me in your prayers, too, as I make every effort to keep you up to date with the prophetic calendar and the themes of Torah as they reveal our Savior and LORD Yeshua. Thank you so much.
Rosh Hashanah Home Celebration...
[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins Wed. September 20th at sundown... ]
09.15.17 (Elul 24, 5777) To prepare for a Rosh Hashanah home evening celebration, you will need a few basic things. Minimally you will need a couple holiday candles, a kiddush cup, some grape juice, challah (holiday bread), a few apples and honey, and a pomegranate... You will also need a shofar to sound at the end of the meal. For best results you should plan your meal, arrange your table, and decide which order things should go.... Here is a very general overview of the steps for our Rosh Hashanah Seder:
- Recite the blessing over the candles (usually 18 mins before sundown)
- Do kiddush over the wine/grape juice
- Recite the Shehecheyanu blessing
- Recite the Mo'edim blessing
- Recite the Hamotzi blessing over the (round) challah
- Recite the Shema (together, under a tallit)
- Recite Birkat Kohanim (blessing the children)
- Wish one another L'shanah tovah! Sing some holiday songs
- Sit at the table for the holiday meal
- Follow the simanim service (blessings over selected foods)
- Serve and eat the holiday meal together
- Recite (an abbreviated) Birkat Hamazon - giving thanks to God for the meal
- Recite blessings for the new year; taste apples and honey; pomegranate
- Recite the Shofar blessing and hear the shofar (at least 100 blasts for the evening)
- Tekiah [1 blast]
- Shevarim [3 wailing blasts]
- Teruah [at least 9 staccato blasts]
- Tekiah Gedolah [1 very long blast]
Listen to the Shofar
We usually serve matzah ball soup or tzimmes, fresh salad, and a main course such as pomegranate chicken over rice with some green beans. During the holiday meal we also eat some "ceremonial foods" (i.e., simanim) and recite Hebrew blessings over these "first tastes" of the new year... For example we will eat a few almonds, some beets, a bite of fish, a nosh of star fruit, and of course apple and honey (tapu'ach udvash) for dessert. Please understand that you don't "have" to do any of this (though it is a blessing if it's done in the right spirit). If you are new to all this or feeling anxious, my heartfelt advice is to follow the path of peace - our Lord doesn't lay heavy burdens on us but lightness and grace... Shalom.
For more information, see the Hebrew for Christians Rosh Hashanah Seder Guide.
High Holiday Mercies...
09.15.17 (Elul 24, 5777) Rosh Hashanah is called Yom Ha-Din (יוֹם הַדִּין), the Day of Judgment, whereas Yom Kippur is called Yom Ha-Rachamim (יוֹם הָרַחֲמִים), or the Day of Mercies, which suggests that God is first revealed as our Creator and Judge before He is known as our merciful Savior. This is hinted in the two accounts of creation, where God is first revealed as Elohim (Gen. 1:1), but later is revealed as YHVH (יהוה) when He breathed life into man nishmat chayim, the breath of life (Gen. 2:4). As believers in Yeshua, we have all the more reason to rejoice on Rosh Hashanah, since at the cross Yeshua took upon Himself our judgment to give us everlasting mercy from God!
Note: This is why we must hear the verdict of the law before we are able to understand God's mercy and grace... Without holiness and a sense of our own need for deliverance from sin, the message of salvation makes little traction in our lives. Therefore teachers like Charles Spurgeon said preach 90% law and 10% grace. The cross makes no sense apart from the law; blood was applied to the Kapporet on the Ark that held the Ten Commandments, etc.
Your Own Judgment Day...
09.15.17 (Elul 24, 5777) The central theme of Rosh Hashanah is to recall that God is our Creator, our King, and therefore our righteous Judge. And since our souls were created by God, each of us has the duty to serve Him as our King and live before Him as our Judge. Since the LORD is the God of Truth (יהוה אֵל אֱמֶת) who cannot attest to a lie, every person who has ever lived will necessarily face judgment one day (Heb. 9:27).
There is a midrash about a dialog between Adam and God after Adam's banishment from the Garden of Eden. Adam feared that all humans would later blame him for their mortality, but God replied, "Don't worry about the others. From now on, each soul will be responsible for giving account of his or her life. Each person is required to write his or her own 'Book of Life.' On the Day of Judgment, I simply ratify what has been written."
Indeed, the Scriptures reveal that there are heavenly "books" that contain detailed records of all that we did (or did not do) during our time here on earth: "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the Book of Life (סֵפֶר הַחַיִּים). And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done" (Rev. 20:12).
Today you are writing the "Book of your Life." Every action you make - every thought, every decision, every deed - is being "recorded" in the archives of Heaven itself. When your soul returns to account for itself before God one day, this "book" will be opened before the Judge of the Universe. As Yeshua said, "on the Day of Judgment (יוֹם הַדִּין) people will give account (ἀποδίδωμι, lit. "give back") every idle word they speak (Matt 12:36). The story of your life will be replayed before all of heaven itself...
Every one of us will give account of our lives. In Matthew 25:14-30, Yeshua used a parable to indicate what this reckoning will be like. After distributing "talents" to three different servants, a certain "employer" left on a long journey. When he finally returned, he wanted his servants to account for the use of their talents, so he called them to "settle accounts with them" (Matt. 25:19). This phrase "settle accounts" (συναίρει λόγον) means to compare things, to look closely at the records to determine profit or loss to a business, and is therefore similar to the idea of a financial audit. In the parable, the employer considered the state of his business and then called each of his servants in to stand before him for a summary review. Likewise, each of us will be called to stand before the Lord to give account for his or her life. Those who used their talent for the promotion of the Kingdom will be rewarded, but those who wasted their opportunities will not (1 Cor. 3:12-15).
Life is a serious business, friends, and it is also a test. It is "God who tests our hearts" (1 Thess. 2:4). Yeshua said, "I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds" (Rev. 2:23). We have one opportunity to live for Yeshua in this life, and the fact that we will each face a day of judgment before the LORD should sober us to sanctity. God holds us responsible for what we think and believe (Acts 17:30-31), and this implies that we have a moral and spiritual duty to think clearly and not abuse our minds (Phil. 4:8; Rom. 12:2). It is the fear of the LORD (יִרְאַת יהוה) that is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10). "By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil" (Prov. 16:16). The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil (Prov. 8:13; Psalm 97:10). Sin always cheats us of the good. "Blessed is the man that endures testing: for when he has been approved (δόκιμος), he shall receive the crown of life (τὸν στέφανον τῆς ζωῆς) that the Lord has promised to those who love him" (James 1:12).
Are you living in conscious awareness that life is a test and that you will one day stand before Yeshua to give account for every detail of your life? Are you mindful of eternity and of the inevitability of your own personal judgement day? If this causes you anxiety, what do you need to do differently in your life so that you may have confidence for that day? "Therefore we labor... to be well pleasing to Him" (2 Cor. 5:9). We must strive to "lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us" in order to be unhindered in our walk with God (Heb. 12:1). May God bless you and help you, dear friend...
For more on this, see "Testing of Heart: Remembering your own Day of Judgment."
Why Celebrate Rosh Hashanah?
[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins Wed. September 20th at sundown... ]
09.15.17 (Elul 24, 5777) We celebrate Rosh Hashanah because the LORD God is the great King over all -- our Creator and Redeemer. As the psalmist puts it, God is Melech Gadol al-kol-ha'aretz, (מֶלֶךְ גָּדוֹל עַל־כָּל־הָאָרֶץ), a "great King over all the earth" (Psalm 47:2). Indeed Rosh Hashanah is a "sanctified reminder" of God's creative authority in our lives. Yeshua (Jesus) is called the Mashiach (מָשִׁיחַ), a term that denotes His Kingly dignity and royalty (this idea is unfortunately obscured by the Greek word "Christ"). Yeshua is also borei Olam - the Creator and Sustainer of all creation (Col. 1:16). He is coming to rule and reign from Jerusalem (Zion) in the near future. His followers will be judged according to their deeds of service (2 Cor. 5:10) and the world system (and Satan) will be judged during the Great Tribulation period that precedes the Second Coming. Just as the heavenly shofar was sounded from Sinai, so it will be one day sounded from Zion (Isa. 27:13).
As the only true King and Judge, God indeed has a Sefer HaChayim (Book of Life) as well as a Sefer Ha-Metim (Book of Death). The Scriptures clearly warn that on the Day of Judgment to come, anyone's name not found written in the Book of Life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). The Kingship of our LORD should be of great interest to those who regard themselves as citizens of heaven, the dominion of our Savior and Lord (Phil. 3:20).
The New Testament links teshuvah with salvation (יְשׁוּעָה) itself. Yeshua's first message was "Repent and believe the gospel (בְּשׂוֹרָה)" (Mark 1:15), and Paul linked teshuvah with confession and trust in the saving work of the Messiah on our behalf (Rom. 10:8-13). Teshuvah implies a response to the Person of Yeshua that is demonstrated through confession that He is none other than YHVH, the LORD of Compassion and grace. The sound of the shofar is meant to awaken our hearts and to prepare for coming judgment.
As I've mentioned before, the Akedat Yitzchak ("Binding of Isaac") is a major theme of Rosh Hashanah. As he went to sacrifice his beloved son upon the altar at Moriah, Abraham prophetically said: "God will provide for himself the lamb" (אֱלהִים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה). After binding Isaac and raising the knife, however, the Angel of the LORD intervened and Abraham was given a ram as substitute. According to Jewish tradition, God told Abraham that the ram's horn (shofar) should be blown on Rosh Hashanah to remind the people of the substitutionary sacrifice provided by the LORD Himself -- an echo of the very First Sacrifice offered in Eden. How much more then should we remember the sacrifice of Yeshua the Great Lamb of God during this time? (For more information, see the article, "The Gospel in the Garden.")
Ultimately we anticipate the prophetic fulfillment of the LORD's covenant faithfulness to Israel when we understand that Rosh Hashanah and the Yamim Nora'im ("Days of Awe") foreshadow the future salvation of Israel in the days to come. This pictures the Great Tribulation and Yom Adonai - the great Day of the LORD - that arrives just before national Israel's ultimate shuvah (return). Yom Kippur is the Holiday that pictures the full restoration of Israel to all her covenant promises with Yeshua as the recognized Kohen Gadol (High Priest) of the New Covenant. The new covenant will be embraced and Yeshua will be revealed as Israel's Savior and Redeemer. Then "all Israel shall be saved" (Rom. 11:26).
For more on this subject, see Should Christians Celebrate Rosh Hashanah?
As Close as your Breath...
[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the "Season of Repentance"... ]
09.15.17 (Elul 24, 5777) Teshuvah is our answer to God's invitation to be his beloved people... Were it not for this great gift, no one could ever withstand the force of the divine attribute of Justice. Our Torah portion for this week (i.e., Nitzvavim) describes the process of turning: "This commandment (i.e., of turning to the LORD) is not too hard for you, neither is it far off." Indeed, it is not a matter of striving to ascend to heaven, nor of fathoming the depths of the sea. No, "the word is very near to you" (כִּי־קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאד) - as close as your mouth and heart so that you can do it. If we confess the truth with our mouth and turn to God with all our heart, we find blessing and life:
כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזּאת אֲשֶׁר אָנכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם
לא־נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ וְלא רְחקָה הִוא
כִּי־קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאד
בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשׂתוֹ
ki · ha·mitz·vah · haz·zot · a·sher · a·no·khi · me·tza·ve·kha · ha·yom
lo · nif·let · hi · mi·me·kha · ve·lo · re·cho·kah · hi
ki · ka·rov · e·le·kha · ha·da·var · me·od
be·fi·kha · u·vil·vav·kha · la·a·so·to
"For this commandment that I command you today
is not too hard for you, neither is it far off...
For the word is very near you -
it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it"
It is interesting to consider how the Apostle Paul interprets Deut. 30:11-14 in Romans 10:5-8 and uses it to contrast the "righteousness which is from the law" with the "righteousness which is of faith." Paul first quotes Lev. 18:5 as a summary of the meaning of the law (you must keep the commandments in order "to live by them," i.e., you must entirely obey them to find life). He then contrasts the "righteousness which is from the law" with the "righteousness which is of faith." Only God can bridge the gap between heaven and earth. When Paul quotes Deut. 30:14, i.e., "But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart," he deliberately omits the last clause (i.e., "so that you can do it") precisely because we cannot "do it," i.e., keep the commandments. The "word of faith" is the message that God's righteousness now comes through Messiah's work for us, and the confession of faith ascribes salvation to be "of the LORD," not based on our own works of righteousness. "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim) because, if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is LORD and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved" (Rom. 10:8-10).
Circumcision of Heart....
[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Nitzavim... ]
09.15.17 (Elul 24, 5777) Our Torah portion this week (Nitzavim) says "the LORD your God will circumcise your heart (וּמָל יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ אֶת־לְבָבְךָ) and the heart of your offspring" (Deut. 30:6), and yet earlier Moses had admonished, "you shall circumcise the block of your heart" (Deut. 10:6). So which is it? Does God circumcise the heart or do we? The answer is of course both: you must make a beginning by opening your heart to God's word, though only God has the power to enable you to "love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." When you turn to God and open your heart to Him, God will remove the blockage of your heart so that your other relationships might be healed as well. Therefore "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13).
"It is enough to open your heart the smallest amount - even the width of a pin head - to repent, so that you feel a prick within your heart, like a piercing sting in living tissue, not like a needle thrust into dead flesh" (Menachem Mendel of Kotzk).
The Wisdom of Teshuvah...
[ Our Torah portion this week, parashat Nitzavim, is always read on the last Shabbat of the year, since it describes the process of repentance (i.e., teshuvah)... ]
09.15.17 (Elul 24, 5777) It is written in Kohelet: הֶחָכָם עֵינָיו בְּראשׁוֹ - "the wise person's eyes are in his head," וְהַכְּסִיל בַּחשֶׁךְ הוֹלֵךְ- "but the arrogant person walks in darkness" (Eccl. 2:14). The sages here comment that the wise one always looks to the Divine Presence, taking heed to "know what is above: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds being inscribed in a book" (Avot 2:1). The wise person keeps God in his thoughts and the light of Truth illuminates his understanding. This is the way of teshuvah – turning our affections and thoughts heavenward at all times. Our Torah portion this week (Nitzavim) says, "You are standing this day before the Lord your God" (Deut. 29:10), and therefore may we know before Whom we stand and may we be filled with the light of divine truth. Amen.
זָרַח בַּחשֶׁךְ אוֹר לַיְשָׁרִים
חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם וְצַדִּיק
za·rach · ba·cho·shekh · ohr · lai·sha·rim
chan·nun · ve·ra·chum · ve·tzad·dik
"Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;
He is gracious, merciful, and righteous."
Hebrew Study Card
The Shepherd's Call...
09.15.17 (Elul 24, 5777) "What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray" (Matt. 18:12-13). Though it involves sorrow, and the pain of being lost, repentance is ultimately about finding joy, and when we return to God, we have reason to rejoice. The Good Shepherd says, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:6-7). The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost: "For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out... I myself will be the Shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the banished, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the sick..." (Ezek. 34:11,15-16).
Despite the struggles we sometimes face, let me wish you the peace of God that passes all understanding, that inner peace that comes when we surrender ourselves to the love of God given in Yeshua our LORD. Shabbat Shalom, friends!
[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Nitzavim... ]
09.15.17 (Elul 24, 5777) From our Torah portion this week we read: "The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it" (Deut. 30: 14). What "word" is this other than the confession of faith in the LORD? Faith is the key, since it responds to God's voice and receives the message of hope within the heart... Faith is a matter of the will: of choosing to receive the blessing, accepting that you are accepted, and trusting God's passion for your life. "Consider Abraham; he believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness" (Gal. 3:6). Faith itself is the obedience of Torah, the necessary precondition for all that follows. "I am the LORD your God" (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ) is the very First Commandment. When we turn to the LORD, we esteem him as truthful, just, wise, compassionate, and worthy of our trust. "Let us then with confidence (μετὰ παρρησίας) draw near to the throne of grace (כִּסֵּא הֶחָסֶד), that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16).
The students of the maggid of Zlotchov once asked him, "In the Torah we read that our father Abraham kept all the laws (Gen. 26:5), but how could this be, since they had not yet been given to him?" The maggid replied, "All that is needed is to love God. If you are about to do something and you think it might lessen your love, then you know it's a sin; but if you think it will increase your love, then you know it's in keeping with God's will. That's what Abraham did." Amen. Faith is the confession of God's love. Abraham was justified by faith because he trusted in God's love more than anything else, and that is the essence of Torah. "Now abide faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13).
Is Rosh Hashanah Biblical?
[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, Septemeber 20th at sundown... ]
09.14.17 (Elul 23, 5777) Though the term "Rosh Hashanah" (lit., "the head of the year") does not occur in the written Torah, the first day of the 7th month (i.e., Tishri 1) is specifically to be set apart by special shofar blowing (see Lev. 23:24-25, Num. 29:1-2). Furthermore, the Torah calls the end of the harvest year (in the fall) tzeit ha'shanah (צֵאת הַשָּׁנָה), or the "end of the year" (see Exod. 23:16), which likewise suggests the start of a coming new year. Notice, then, the symmetry of the calendar: the fall festivals "mirror" the spring festivals and spiritually correspond to one another. Just as there is a "new year" in the spring, during the new moon of Nisan, so there is a "new year" in the fall, during the new moon of Tishri, the seventh month... In other words, on the calendar Rosh Chodashim corresponds with Yom Teruah (יוֹם תְּרוּעָה). That is why we make teruot (תְּרוּעוֹת), or "shouts of thanks" to God in anticipation of the fulfillment of the final redemption during the End of Days.
It may be wondered why we focus so much on repentance (i.e., teshuvah) during this time of year, since repentance is an ongoing lifestyle for the follower of Messiah. Now while it is certainly true that confession of sin and teshuvah are commanded by God throughout the Scriptures (see Lam. 3:40; Haggai 1:5; Psalm 119:59; Matt. 7:3-5, Gal. 6:3-4, 1 Cor. 11:28, 2 Cor. 13:5, James 5:16, 1 John 1:8-9, etc.), the custom of setting aside 40 days each year recalls how Moses ascended Sinai on Elul 1 and came down forty days later, on Tishri 10, a date later commemorated as "Yom Kippur" or the Day of Atonement. And since Moses ascended in brokenness and the covenant was renewed during this time, the forty days are considered an appointed time or season to likewise confess our sins and turn to God, especially if we understand all this in light of truth of the gospel message. Rosh Hashanah reminds us of the Kingship of God and how we will stand before the Throne of Judgment (kisei ha-din) to give account for our lives to God (see 2 Cor. 5:10), just as Yom Kippur reminds us of the Priesthood of God and how our atonement is eternally secured by Yeshua as the Kohen Gadol of the New Covenant (Heb. 9:12). The Akedat Yitzchak ("Binding of Isaac") is a major theme of the High Holidays. As he went to sacrifice his beloved son upon the altar at Moriah, Abraham prophetically said: "God will provide for himself the lamb" (אֱלהִים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה). After binding Isaac and raising the knife, however, the Angel of the LORD intervened and Abraham was given a ram as substitute. According to Jewish tradition, God told Abraham that the ram's horn (shofar) should be blown on Rosh Hashanah (and also on Yom Kippur) to remind the people of the substitutionary sacrifice provided by the LORD Himself at Moriah (i.e., the lamb offered Isaac's place), an event which would foretell the coming the great Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) who would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).
For more on this subject, see Is Rosh Hashanah Biblical?
Root of Bitterness...
09.14.17 (Elul 23, 5777) From our Torah this week (Nitzavim) we read, "perhaps there is among you a root that bears poison and bitterness" (Deut. 29:18). The Kotzker rebbe commented here that much bitterness comes precisely from this "perhaps" (פֶּן־יֵשׁ). When you stand back from the word of Torah and question whether it is something you should heed, you are halfhearted and ambivalent, and this may lead to bitterness regarding serving God. On the other hand, when Israel was asked whether they would accept the Torah, they replied "na'aseh v'nishmah," we will do and (then) we will understand, recognizing that the act of will is central for understanding (Exod. 24:7). Carnal human nature wants to know the reason for obedience - the pragmatic payoff, if you will - but that is not the way of faith. It is written: הַנִּסְתָּרת לַיהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ - "the hidden things are for the LORD our God" (Deut. 29:29), meaning such are not disclosed by reasoning but are revealed to the heart. God sees in secret and knows the inner workings of our affections (Prov. 17:3; Psalm 66:10, etc.).
אֲנִי יְהוָה חקֵר לֵב בּחֵן כְּלָיוֹת
וְלָתֵת לְאִישׁ כִּדְרָכָיו כִּפְרִי מַעֲלָלָיו
a·ni · Adonai · cho·ker · lev · bo·chen · ke·la·yot
ve·la·tet · le·ish · kid·ra·khav · kif·ri · ma·a·la·lav
"I the LORD search the heart and test the mind,
to give every man as to his ways, as to the fruit of his deeds."
A Stubborn Faith...
09.14.17 (Elul 23, 5777) During the "Season of Repentance" we read from the Torah of how Moses appealed to God: "If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance" (Exod. 34:9). Note the "holy audacity" of Moses' request as he seems to say that because the people were "stiff-necked" (קְשֵׁה־ערֶף), God should draw close to them and forgive their sin. Of course stubborn rebellion against God is always wrong, but here Moses points to a different aspect of stubbornness – the solemn determination of the will that refuses to let go of hope in God. This the "strong hold" Jacob put upon the Angel of the LORD that moved God to impart to him the name "Israel" (Gen. 32:26-28). A persevering hope refuses to let go of God until it receives the blessing... Indeed, such earnest faith pleases God: it holds firmly to the conviction of things unseen and refuses to let go of the substance of hope (Heb. 11:1,6). As David, a man "after" God's heart once said: echat sha'alti me'at Adonai (אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת־יְהוָה) "one thing have I asked of the LORD," otah avakesh (אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ) that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple" (Psalm 27:4). Therefore make it the refrain of your heart to affirm, "LORD, I am yours..."
Kuma Na - Please arise!
09.14.17 (Elul 23, 5777) It was an old custom that on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah, just a few minutes before midnight, the town shamash would go through the neighborhood, rapping three times on each door shouting, Kuma na! - "Please arise to serve the Creator!" And everyone would quickly assemble for selichot (i.e., penitential) prayers. The appeal to the revelation of the Name YHVH (יהוה) and the 13 attributes of God's mercy is the central theme of the midnight prayer service...
Contrary to what you might expect, the recitation of the traditional selichot (i.e., the 'A' to 'Z' confession of sins) is recited with joy, based on a passage from the Torah which says that we are punished "because we do not serve God with rejoicing and a full heart" (Deut. 28:47). The essence of joy is a sense of well-being and gratitude that comes from trusting in God's love. This is implied in the bikkurim (firstfruits) ceremony that we read about last week. We are commanded to take our "first fruits," go to the Temple, and express our thanks: ve'samachta bekhol ha-tov asher natan lekha (וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְכָל־הַטּוֹב אֲשֶׁר נָתַן־לְךָ) - "you will celebrate for all the good God has given you" (Deut. 26:11). Ultimately we find lasting joy when we trust that we are truly loved, forgiven, and accepted -- despite the long litany of our sins... Therefore we find consolation and joy in the salvation given in Yeshua our LORD, who gave up His life so that we could be accepted by God.
[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]
09.14.17 (Elul 23, 5777) While it's true that we express sorrow and regret for our sins - we mourn over our lives - this is part of the healing process, with the end result of obtaining comfort from God (Matt. 5:4). Mere regret over sin is not enough, however, since the motive may be from shame (pride) or disappointment over some selfish loss. Esau repented with tears, but his wasn't true repentance since he didn't lament the loss of his heart to God's love... True repentance leads to healing and life. When the woman from Magdala wept and washed Jesus' feet with her tears, he said to those present, "I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven -- for she loved much" (Luke 7:44-48). In other words, she was lavish in her love because she deeply regretted that she had missed what was most important, what she desperately needed all along... She saw her sin as blindness to God's love... After all, why would she weep over her sins unless she loved him? And how could she love him unless he first revealed his love to her? (1 John 4:19)
"For grief (λύπη) as intended by God produces a repentance (תְּשׁוּעָה) that leads to salvation, leaving no regret, but worldly grief produces death" (2 Cor. 7:10). Ultimately, however, there is great consolation to the sinner who turns to God in the truth: "A person reposes in the forgiveness of sins when the thought of God no longer reminds him of the sin, but of the fact that it is forgiven, so that what is past is not a recollection of how much he offended, but of how much he has been forgiven.... Eternal justice can and will forget in only one way - through forgiveness in Christ - but then, of course, the believer must not forget and must steadfastly recollect that it is forgiven him." (Kierkegaard, Journals)
[ Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, September 20th at sundown this year... ]
09.14.17 (Elul 23, 5777) The Book of Lamentations is an "acrostic"(i.e., alphabetical) poem that begins with the Hebrew letter Aleph (א) in the word "eichah" (אֵיכָה), a word which also identifies the Hebrew name for the book. "How (eichah) lonely sits the city that once was full of people!" (Lam. 1:1). The classical sages note that this word "how (i.e., eichah) could also be read as "where are you?" (i.e., ayeka: אַיֶּכָּה), God's first word spoken to Adam after he broke covenant in the Garden of Eden. Our heart's problem centers on the failure to respond to God's question, that is, our failure to return to Him... The Hebrew word hashivenu (הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ) comes from the verb shuv (שׁוּב), "turn," from which the word teshuvah is derived. When the reader reaches the second to last verse of the scroll, "Hashivenu," he or she pauses and the congregation recites the verse in unison: Hashivenu Adonai, eleykha vena-shuvah; chadesh yamenu ke'kedem: "Return us to you, O LORD, and we shall return; renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21). Amen, and may we turn our hearts this day...
הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה
חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם
ha·shi·ve·nu · Adonai · e·ley·kha · ve·na·shu·vah,
cha·desh · ya·me·nu · ke·ke·dem
"Return us to you, O LORD, and we shall return;
renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21)
Hebrew Study Card
How many people today live in a state of self-imposed exile from the LORD? God uses our loneliness ("how lonely...") to search our hearts, asking each of us, ayeka – "Where are you?" "Why have you turned away from me and chosen a state of exile?" Our inner pain is meant to provoke us to seek His face. He awaits our only possible response, "Hashivenu!" -- an imperative (demand) for the grace to repent: "You return us (i.e., you cause us to return) so that we may be reunited with you and healed!" We do not appeal to our own resources or strength to undergo this return, but rather trust that God's sovereign grace is sufficient to restore us to His presence. As Yeshua said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up" (John 6:44).
"Repentance specifically expresses that evil essentially belongs to me, and at the same time expresses that it does not essentially belong to me" (Kierkegaard: Either/Or)
Teshuvah and Humility...
[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]
09.14.17 (Elul 23, 5777) Concerning the theme of teshuvah, or "repentance," we read: "For this is what the high and lifted up One says, the One who abides forever, whose Name is Holy (קָדוֹשׁ): "I dwell in a high and holy place, but also with the broken and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly (i.e., ruach shefalim: רוּחַ שְׁפָלִים), and to revive the heart of the crushed" (i.e., lev nidka'im: לֵב נִדְכָּאִים) [Isa. 57:15]. Here we learn that God gives life (revives) to those who are "lowly in spirit" (שְׁפַל־רוּחַ), that is, to those who understand their own nothingness and complete dependence on God for life... Indeed, the "heart of the crushed" (לֵב נִדכֶּה) refers to being crushed "to the dust" -- the same word (dakka: דַּכָּא) is used to describe how Yeshua was "crushed for our iniquities" (see Isa. 53:10). William James called this deep work of the spiritual life "Zerrissenheit," a term that can be translated as "torn-to-pieces-hood," or a state of being utterly broken and in disarray... From the point of view of our dependence on God for salvation, "dakka" refers to humility and contrition we express in light of God's unmerited favor and love for our souls. We humbly identify with the death of Messiah offered on our behalf; we find healing and acceptance in the Presence of the One who was torn to pieces and made dust for our merit. Humility (עֲנָוָה) is essential to awareness of God in the truth. Shuvah Yisrael!
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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Note: Thank you all so much for remembering this ministry in your prayers, for without your help, I couldn't do this work. May the LORD our God's blessing be upon you...
Sweeter than Honey...
09.13.17 (Elul 22, 5777) The sages connect the joy of offering first fruits with the study of Torah (לימוד תורה), since the phrase "You shall take from the first" (i.e., וְלָקַחְתָּ מֵרֵאשִׁית, Deut. 26:2) alludes to the Torah, which is called "the first part" (רֵאשִׁית) of our wisdom (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7, Prov. 9:10). In the world to come, the first thing you will be asked is if you had learned the wisdom and truth of Torah, especially as it is revealed in Yeshua.... "Blessed ("happy") is the person who ... delights in the Torah of the LORD and meditates upon it day and night" (Psalm 1:1-2). If you find studying and living the truth of Scripture joyless, then be careful that you don't drift into spiritual exile. Rightly understanding Torah leads to joy: "Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts" (Jer. 15:16).
נִמְצְאוּ דְבָרֶיךָ וָאכְלֵם
וַיְהִי דְבָרֶיךָ לִי לְשָׂשׂוֹן וּלְשִׂמְחַת לְבָבִי
כִּי־נִקְרָא שִׁמְךָ עָלַי יְהוָה אֱלהֵי צְבָאוֹת
nim·tze·u · de·va·re·kha · va·o·khe·lem
vai·hi · de·va·re·kha · li · le·sa·son · ul· sim·chat · le·va·vi
ki-nik·ra · shim·kha · a·lai · Adonai · Elohei · Tze·va·ot
"Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your Name, O LORD, God of hosts."
Amen! Study to show yourself approved before God. As it is written in the Psalms: "The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple" (Psalm 119:130).
In the Face of Yeshua...
09.13.17 (Elul 22, 5777) There is an old legend (from Midrash Tanhuma) that the Torah was written with letters of "black fire on white fire" (i.e., "the flame alphabet"). According to some, this refers to the "two Torahs" -- the white fire is the "written Torah" (she-bikhtav) whereas the black fire is the "oral Torah" (she-b'al peh). A similar point could be made about the unvoweled text of the Hebrew script found in the Tanakh. God provides the consonants, but it is the Spirit that breathes life into the text (i.e., the vowels). Likewise the Apostle Paul calls the Sinai covenant "the ministry of death (διακονία τοῦ θανάτου) carved in letters on stone" that came through the meditation of Moses (2 Cor. 3:7-8). It takes the gift of the Holy Spirit to breathe (רוּחַ) these words into our hearts (John 20:21-22). And though the Sinai covenant was indeed glorious (as evidenced by the Shekhinah glow upon Moses' face), compared with the present ministry of the Holy Spirit, it was a glory that was covered with a veil (מַסְוֶה) because it was fading away and "being brought to an end" (καταργέω). God's abiding provision for our need is revealed in the face of Jesus, not in the fading glory of the brit yashanah - the older covenant (2 Cor 3:4-18; Matt. 17:8). God now speaks from a different mountain "in Son" (ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ), that is, in the message of Yeshua the Savior of the world (Heb. 1:2). Unlike Moses -- who veiled his face to hide the fact that the glory of the former covenant of Sinai was indeed fading away - "we all, with unveiled face, reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. This comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:12-4:1). Each of us, like Moses, must ascend the mountain of Zion to behold the Glory of God: "And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Yeshua only" (Matt. 17:8).
The Law of Messiah...
09.13.17 (Elul 22, 5777) Yeshua warned, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness" (Matt. 7:21-23). Notice here that Yeshua did not rehearse the Ten Commandments or mention "halachic" aspects of the law of Moses, but instead focused on the deeds of those who claimed to be His followers. We are to be judged according to His word, His Torah, His law... The Greek word translated "lawlessness" is anomia (i.e., ἀνομία, lit. a=without; nomos=law) and refers to the condition of "freely" and consciously rejecting Gods' will. These are people of whom King David said, "Let them be ashamed who are gratuitously faithless (הַבּוֹגְדִים רֵיקָם) (Psalm 25:3). In context, then, anomia refers to those who merely give lip service to obeying the Messiah but who are spiritual impostors. It is a category mistake to think that Yeshua here referred to those who disregarded the lawcode of Moses. Surely those who "do the will of the Father" are those who put their trust in Yeshua (John 6:40; Matt. 12:50; Gal. 1:4). Attempting to refer the idea of "lawlessness" (anomia) to refer to violating the lawcode of Moses is therefore absurd and fallacious. God's will is for people to repent and believe the message of His salvation given through His Son (John 3:16; Acts 16:31; 2 Pet. 3:9, etc.). Any "Torah" that denies this great truth is therefore a false torah that leads to death.... "Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son does not have life" (1 John 5:12). "Unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins" (John 8:24).
The "law of Messiah" (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) is to humbly love others in the truth (John 14:15; 15:12, Gal. 6:2, etc.). This is not some mawkish sentimentality that is devoid of practical obedience. No, as Bonhoeffer also wrote, "Only those who obey can believe, and only those who believe can obey" (Cost of Discipleship, 80). Faith and works are really two sides of the same coin: the heart of the law is the law of the gospel. Indeed, taking up the cross and truly following Yeshua sets a higher standard than what "Torah observance" demands and can produce (e.g., Matt. 5:20). The inner is not the outer. It is the love of Yeshua that fulfills the law and its demands (Gal. 5:14; Rom. 13:8; 1 Tim. 1:5). All the various civil, moral, and religious rules of Torah were intended to help us get someplace - to be in a loving relationship with God and others - but it takes the Holy Spirit to transform the human heart. As Yeshua told us, "the kingdom of heaven is within you" (Luke 17:21). It is therefore a mistake to revert back to the lawcode of Moses since it was never intended to become an end in itself (Rom. 10:4; 1 Cor. 7:23; Col. 2:20-23). The goal of the law was to bring us into an authentic relationship with the LORD through the miracle of spiritual rebirth. Our destiny is to live as "priests and kings" before the Him forever (Rev. 1:6; 5:10). "For freedom Messiah has set us free; stand firm (στήκετε), therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1).
Walking in the Spirit...
09.12.17 (Elul 21, 5777) It is the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) that gives us life and who breathes the true meaning of Torah into our hearts. "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law" (Gal. 5:18). That is, you are no longer to be constrained by either legalism or lawlessness, since "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is power" to please God. The Spirit sets us free from the seduction of both legalism and debauchery (Gal. 3:1-2; Eph. 5:18). When we are led by the Spirit, we rely upon God's provision to walk in a way that pleases Him. On the other hand, when we rely on the "flesh," we are operating under the principle of our own (in)ability to please God, which invariably leads to pride (legalism) or profligacy (anti-legalism) - and sometimes to both. Therefore we see that role of the "law" is often connected with the "flesh," but the role of the Spirit is connected with life and power...
Walking in the Spirit (i.e., trusting in God's salvation) does not lead to lawlessness but rather fulfills the righteousness of the law in us through faith (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:16). Christians live under the "law of liberty" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵרוּת), though this obviously does not mean the supposed "freedom" to become enslaved to sin again (Gal. 5:13; 1 Pet. 2:16). On the contrary, the law of liberty implies that we are made free from the "law of sin and death" (i.e., the futile principle of self-justification) in order to serve God in newness of life. As the Apostle James uses this term, it is the power to act on the truth that has been given to you. We are to be "doers" of the Word, and not hearers only, since faith without works is dead and leads to self-deception (lit., "reasoning around" the truth, i.e., παραλογίζομαι, from παρά, "around, beside" and λογίζομαι, "to reason"). Only those who follow through and live their faith will be blessed in their actions (James 1:25). This mirrors Yeshua's statement, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 13:17). This is the "law of the Spirit of life in Yeshua (תּוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים בְּיֵשׁוּעַ). We are no longer enslaved to the power of sin but have a new principle of life that leads us to true freedom. After all, true freedom doesn't mean doing whatever you want, but rather means the power to choose contrary to the demands of your lower nature. We "put off" the old self and "put on" the new (Eph. 4:22-24). It is the divinely imparted "new nature" that gives us the power to "put to death" the old self by reckoning it crucified with Messiah (Gal. 2:19-20). Obedience to this Torah leads to further revelation, just as disobedience to it leads to further darkness (Matt. 13:12). Yeshua is only the "Author of Eternal Salvation" for those who heed and obey Him (Heb. 5:9). "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25).
The Sickness of Death...
09.12.17 (Elul 21, 5777) If we focus on the outer symptoms of sin, such as covetousness, lust, rage, pride, envy, gluttony, and so on, we may lose sight of the underlying or "root" problem, which is the lethal condition known as "spiritual death" (מָוֶת נִצחִי). Whenever I encounter someone who demands that I justify their sinful lifestyle, I don't argue the moral issues or appeal to personal righteousness as a better way to live. No, I consider all that a distraction from the real issue, namely, the question of whether the person has dealt with matters of eternity and made real his or her peace with God. After all, the thief on the cross had no time to attempt to reform his character, and all that was necessary was for him to abandon himself in trust, inwardly clinging to God's promise for life in Yeshua. The only significant issue is whether a person is reborn from above, regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit, or whether they are still living in "samsara," the "wheel of sin and death." There are many people in churches today who refrain from outward signs of sin: they forswear smoking, drinking, cussing, and sexual immorality, and so on, yet they remain spiritually dead because they have never dealt with the radical issue of their own lethal spiritual condition. Faith in God's righteousness transcends the weakness of the law (caused by the sickness of the human condition) by imparting a new principle (or law) called the law of the Spirit of Life: "For the law of the Spirit of life in Yeshua Messiah (תּוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים בְּיֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ) has set you free from the law of sin and death (תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת)" (Rom. 8:2).
Yeshua said that everyone who commits sin is a "slave" to their sin nature (the word translated "slave" is doulos (δοῦλός), from the verb δέω, "to bind"). If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed (John 8:36). This is the "exchanged life" principle. When you are spiritual free, you are no longer a slave to: 1) the eternal sickness of spiritual death itself; 2) uncontrollable lusts and the demands of the lower nature (Rom. 6:12-14; Eph. 4:22-23; Gal. 2:20), 3) untrue and harmful thoughts (John 8:32; 1 Cor. 2:16; Col. 2:8), 4) fear - even the fear of death itself (1 John 4:18; Heb. 2:15); 5) the vanity of the world system and its godless pressures (1 John 2:16-17; Col. 2:20; Rom. 12:1-2); 6) various forms of pride and cultural identity (Phil. 3:1-11; Gal. 3:28); 7) Satan's power (1 John 3:8; Luke 10:19); 8) the curse of the law and the just penalty for our sins (Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24), and so on. Being set free by Yeshua does not imply that we will be sinless (James 5:16, 1 John 1:8-9), but it does imply that the root connection we have to sin has been irreparably severed. Often maturity means "catching up" with what God has already done for you in the Holy Spirit...
Teshuvah and Sin...
09.12.17 (Elul 21, 5777) Many people minimize the idea of sin because they fail to recognize it as life-threatening, lethal, and spiritually disastrous. Sin (and its justification in our lives) cuts us off from God, however, and that invariably leads to a sense of existential dread (Isa. 59:2; Ezek. 18:4). "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23), and that means those who practice sin are considered "dead" even while alive (Berachot 18a-b). Tragically, sin can lead to the dreadful punishment of karet (כָּרֵת), being "cut off" from any awareness of the Truth. Regarding this the sages note that the Hebrew word for sin, chet (חַטְא), is written with a silent Aleph (א) because when we sin, the Master and LORD (אַלּוּף) is present, because without his power no one could lift his hand to do anything great or small. Here we note the terrible reality that our sin is witnessed by God himself, a pain that pierces his very heart.
נַחְפְּשָׂה דְרָכֵינוּ וְנַחְקרָה
nach·pe·sah de·ra·chey·nu ve·nach·ko·rah
ve·na·shu·vah ad Adonai
"Let us search and examine our ways
and turn back to the LORD!"
During Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays, we examine our lives and confess our sins (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ). Though God forgives us because of Yeshua's sacrifice, we nevertheless are called to turn away from sin and draw closer to the heart of the Father (1 John 1:9; James 4:8). The cross does not give us license to sin, of course, but should awaken within us a desire to live in godly reverence by the power of God's Spirit...
"Remember that the right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either." - C.S. Lewis
God's Sovereign Love...
09.12.17 (Elul 21, 5777) The Scriptures teach that in Messiah "we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined (προορισθέντες) according to the purpose of the One who works all things according to the counsel of his will" (Eph. 1:11), which is to say that salvation is a gift from God (יְשׁוּעָתָה לַיהוָה) and not the result of our own efforts (Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5). The LORD said to Moses, vechanoti et-asher achon, verichamti et-asher arachem, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy" (Exod. 33:19), a phrase Paul quoted from Torah when he said: "So then it (i.e., salvation) depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy" (Rom. 9:16, John 1:13). In light of these things, examine your heart. Does this offend you? Does it bother you to think that you are essentially helpless to draw near to God by your own best efforts? "It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing" (John 6:63). Our Lord plainly said that no one can come to Him - and therefore to the truth of reality – apart from divine intervention: "No one is able to come to me unless he is "dragged away" (ἑλκύσῃ) by the Father" (John 6:44; Matt. 16:17). How could it be any other way? Could we make a "stairway to heaven" to find God? No, God's love reaches out to us, seizes us, takes us captive, and then leads us to the Savior. The LORD chooses each one who are his; they are called the "elect" (ἐκλεκτός), and their faith is always a response (i.e., "teshuvah") to God's intervention. Now this may seem offensive because it seems to suggest that God chooses some people but not others, but that misses the point. You are given the real choice to believe in Yeshua to find life, and you are promised that whoever believes in Messiah will never be put to shame (Rom. 9:33; John 6:37; John 5:24, etc.). "Whoever will believe" means just that, and all who are invited may indeed come (2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4; Ezek. 18:23). Therefore the Spirit of God cries out: "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isa. 55:6-7). The Savior calls out to all who are willing to hear, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 10:28-30). Though it is a mystery, we are warned to "work out" (κατεργάζεσθε) our own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who "works in you" (ὁ ἐνεργῶν ἐν ὑμῖν) both "to will and to work" (τὸ θέλειν καὶ τὸ ἐνεργεῖν) his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13).
The gospel is "the power of God for salvation" (δύναμις γὰρ θεοῦ ἐστιν εἰς σωτηρίαν) to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16). It is a miracle of being in a right relationship with God. We are pursued by his love, and he haunts us until we surrender to his will... During the High Holidays we will again be reading the Book of Jonah, which is appropriate because like Jonah, we first must be "swallowed up" in the consciousness of our own helplessness before we realize we are undone, and that we are without remedy apart from God's gracious intervention and deliverance. We start there - in the "belly of the fish" - and later we are resurrected to go forth by God's mercy and grace. As we look to Yeshua, as we lean on him, God reveals more of himself to us. He gives us the grace and strength we need; he is always enough...
Teshuvah of Forgiveness...
09.11.17 (Elul 20, 5777) Yeshua taught us to pray "forgive us as we forgive others," which implies that our forgiveness (of others) is the measure of our own forgiveness. "For if you forgive others their trespasses," he said, "your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:14-15). This is the conclusion – and the main point – of the famous Avinu Shebashamayim that begins, "Our Father who art in heaven..." Notice that the culmination of the prayer presents a conditional of the will: if you forgive others then your heavenly Father will forgive you. There is no qualification made here, no extenuating circumstance allowed, and indeed, we are forbidden to hold a grudge or offense toward others, and - mark this - to hold offense even toward others who have not directly harmed us... In short we are categorically required to forgive others – all people, our enemies as well as our friends - for their trespasses, for who are we to judge others? Moreover, unforgiveness harms our souls, even to the point of exiling us from the presence of love itself. We see this most clearly in our close relationships. When we refuse to let go of hard feelings, our hardness of heart, then we bring judgment upon ourselves. We cannot experience the grace of forgiveness when we cling to ideas of judgment or revenge, since forgiveness means letting go of all that makes us sick inside... Forgiveness releases the hurt, the anger, and the disappointment so these feelings do not inwardly consume and exhaust our souls. And yet forgiveness must be self-directed, too, since refusing to forgive yourself denies or negates the forgiveness given from others. Forgiving yourself means admitting that you act just like other people, that you are human, and that you are in need of reconciliation too. Ultimately, forgiveness is both an act of self-acceptance and empathy -- we admit we are just like others, weak, flawed, in need of help, and so on. We can only forgive to the extent we recognize the truth about ourselves that we see in others. Yet we have to move on, past the shame, and to turn back to abiding hope. Before reaching out to God, then, affirm these powerful words found in the Gates of Repentance prayer book: "O Lord God, I hereby forgive all who have hurt me, all who have wronged me, whether deliberately or inadvertently, whether by word or by deed. May no one be punished on my account. And as I forgive and pardon those who have wronged me, may those whom I have harmed forgive me, whether I acted deliberately or inadvertently, whether by word or by deed. Amen."
09.11.17 (Elul 20, 5777) "Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matt. 6:8). Since God assuredly knows what we need before we ask him, some people question the meaning or purpose of prayer. Why should we ask God for anything since God already knows what is best and will only do the best for us anyway? And yet Yeshua continues his Torah saying, "therefore pray like this..." (Matt. 6:9), and he then begins reciting the famous "Avinu Shebashamayin" prayer ("Our Father, who art in heaven"). Note that the very first thing Yeshua says we should seek is for the revelation of the sacred. "Hallowed be Thy Name" refers to awareness of the holy, that is, the utterly unique wonder, glory, marvel, splendor, beauty, loveliness, radiance, brilliance, and mystery of God... This is the first step in genuine prayer: to become vibrantly conscious to the sacred reality of God as our Heavenly Father, the One who loves and decrees all things for our ultimate blessing and good (Rom. 8:28; Jer. 29:11). As King David, prayed: "One thing have I desired of the LORD; that will I seek after..." (Psalm 27:4). We do not pray for God's sake, using "vain repetitions" to appease or flatter, but we pray for our own sake - to become awake and alive to the vision of Yeshua. Neither do we pray to "inform" God of anything He does not perfectly know already. Therefore our Master taught us not to be anxious for such things as our material needs, "for after all these things do the Gentiles seek, but your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things" (Matt. 6:33). Prayer is a blessed opportunity to confess the truth to ourselves – to lift up our soul before God's Presence to affirm who we are and how God alone is our helper. Mi-li vashamayim? ve'imekha lo-chafatzti va'aretz: "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none I on earth I desire beside Thee. My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Psalm 73:25-26). Therefore when we ask God for our needs to be met, we align ourselves with Reality by confessing that the LORD alone is the Father of our lives, the giver of the blessing of existence. Unlike pagans, we do not believe life is a random encounter with a universe formed by chance, but rather is under the direct supervisor and direction of the Almighty. Everything that exists -- from the enormous sweep of the cosmic motions to the subatomic particles of a slice of "our daily bread" -- comes from the hand of God. So why do we pray except to have our eyes opened to the truth, to become awake and conscious to the Divine Presence, and thereby to practice the Presence in our daily lives? This is the first step to recognizing the Kingship of God: "Thy Kingdom Come..." Therefore, as our Lord Yeshua said: "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matt. 6:33).
Note: Of course this does not mean we shouldn't ask God for specific needs to be met, etc., though we are to grow up in our faith and understand that God is our Provider and LORD, and we can therefore focus on the most important things: "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matt. 6:33). Shalom.
Teshuvah and Creation...
[ This coming Friday, Sept. 16th at sundown marks Elul 25, the "date of creation..." ]
09.11.17 (Elul 20, 5777) After the LORD judged Adam and Eve, He compassionately gave them the skin of a sacrificial lamb as their covering (Gen. 3:21). This First Sacrifice, offered by the Hand of God Himself, foreshadowed the coming Sacrifice of the Lamb of God who was slain "from the foundation of the world" (1 Pet. 1:20). At the very beginning of mankind's creation, then, the LORD initiated His plan of redemption and salvation through Yeshua (Jesus) as the Divine Light of the world (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם).
The Akedat Yitzchak ("Binding of Isaac") is a major theme on Rosh Hashanah. According to Jewish tradition, God told Abraham that the ram's horn (shofar) should be blown on Rosh Hashanah to remind the people of the substitutionary sacrifice provided by the LORD Himself -- an echo of that First Sacrifice offered in Eden. How much more should we as believers in the greater sacrifice of Yeshua as our Lamb of God celebrate this day?
For more on this, see "Teshuvah and Creation: Elul 25 on the Jewish Calendar."
The Selichot Service...
[ Since this coming Shabbat is the last of the Jewish year, many congregations will hold a special late-night service to offer prayers for forgiveness (selichot) in anticipation of the High Holidays... ]
09.11.17 (Elul 20, 5777) The Hebrew word selichah (סְלִיחָה) means "excuse me!" in modern Hebrew, but in the Scriptures it refers exclusively to God's offer of pardon and forgiveness of the repentant sinner. Therefore we read in the Scriptures, "But with you there is forgiveness (selichah), that you may be feared" (Psalm 130:4):
כִּי־עִמְּךָ הַסְּלִיחָה לְמַעַן תִּוָּרֵא
ki im·me·kha ha-se·li·chah le·ma'an tiv·va·rei
"But with you there is the forgiveness,
that you may be held in awe."
The plural form of the word selichah is selichot (סְלִיחוֹת), a term used in Jewish tradition to refer to additional penitential poems (פּיּוּטִים) and prayers recited throughout the "Forty Days Teshuvah" (many of these prayers may be found in a High Holiday Machzor or prayerbook). On the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah, many congregations hold a late-night "Selichot Service" (called leil selichot, literally, "night of penitential prayers") to offer prayers for forgiveness in anticipation of the High Holidays. During this service, the chazzan (cantor) often dresses in a kittel (white burial shroud) and chants in a style similar to the liturgy for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
[ This week we have a "double portion" of Torah: parashat Nitzavim ("You are standing") and parashat Vayeilech ("and he went"). ]
09.10.17 (Elul 19, 5777) Parashat Nitzavim (with Vayeilech on leap years) is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, and therefore it is the last portion read for the current Jewish year. The portion begins: "You are standing here today, all of you, before the LORD your God (אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלהֵיכֶם) ... so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the LORD your God ... that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob" (Deut. 29:10-13). After this Moses went on to review Israel's history and prophetic future -- i.e., the great prophecy of the worldwide Exile and Return of the Jewish people -- and then he solemnly appealed for us to turn to the LORD for life:
הַעִידתִי בָכֶם הַיּוֹם אֶת־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת־הָאָרֶץ
הַחַיִּים וְהַמָּוֶת נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ הַבְּרָכָה וְהַקְּלָלָה
וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה אַתָּה וְזַרְעֶךָ
ha·i·do·ti va·khem hai·yom et ha·sha·ma·yim ve·et ha·a·retz
ha·chai·yim ve·ha·ma·vet na·ta·ti le·fa·ney·kha ha·be·ra·khah ve·ha·ke·la·lah
u·va·char·ta ba·chai·yim, le·ma·an tich·yeh at·tah ve·zar·e·kha
"I call heaven and earth to witness against you today,
that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.
Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.
The way of return (teshuvah) is always a matter of the heart and will: bacharta ba'chayim: "Choose Life!" "For this commandment (of teshuvah) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away. It is not in heaven...nor across the sea.... Rather, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; cp. Rom. 10:8-13). In the end of days (acharit hayamin), the LORD will remove the "partial hardening" of the Jewish people so that they will turn to Him with all their heart and soul (Deut. 30:6, Rom. 11:25-26).
But why this seemingly topsy-turvy process of teshuvah? Why do the Jewish people have to go through this long period of suffering, tribulation, and scattering, only to be finally regathered one day in the future? Moses himself gives us the answer (as does the Apostle Paul in the Book of Romans): "The secret things (ha-nistarot) belong to the LORD our God (הַנִּסְתָּרת לַיהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ), but the things that are revealed (ha-niglot) belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deut. 29:29). Part of the "secret things" concerns the mystery the suffering of the Jewish people, since it is clear that God particularly afflicts those whom he loves through testing, and indeed part of the meaning of being am segulah (a "select people") implies dealing with God - by means of blessing or by curse (Heb. 10:31). In the end, however, God's plan for Israel will decisively demonstrate His wisdom, power, and glory, so much so that that Paul commented on ethnic Israel's future by exclaiming, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways" (Rom. 11:33).
Now more than ever, chaverim. We must not put our trust in man or in this moribund world system (κοσμος). We are undoubtedly living close to the "end of days." God's judgment has begun in earnest. It is time for us to choose whether we will be shaken or if we will walk in the trust of the LORD God of Israel. Choose this day.
09.10.17 (Elul 19, 5777) "And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you hear (shema) the Voice of the LORD your God" (Deut. 28:2). The language here is unusual, as if these blessings would seize you like an army takes an enemy stronghold. The sages comment that God's blessings can "overtake" you in a way that may hide their true purpose for your good (Rom. 8:28). At such times we do not understand they are a concealed mercy (רַחֲמִים נִסְתָר) designed for our benefit. Therefore king David affirmed his confidence despite being surrounded by trouble. Where it is written, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life" (Psalm 23:6), the verb translated "shall follow me" (i.e., יִרְדְּפוּנִי) comes from a root word that means "to pursue," as a hunter chases after his prey. King David was sure that God's lovingkindness would "hound" him as he made his way through this world - even in the dark places, even in "the valley of the shadow of death" (בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת) - where God's rod and staff would there comfort him and shepherd his way (Psalm 23:4). Amen... And "may your love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in You."
יְהִי־חַסְדְּךָ יְהוָה עָלֵינוּ
כַּאֲשֶׁר יִחַלְנוּ לָךְ
ye·hi · chas·de·kha · Adonai · a·lei·nu
ka·a·sher · yi·chal·nu · lakh
"May your love, O LORD, be upon us,
even as we hope in You"
Hebrew Study Card
Whatever the heart genuinely seeks, it will find. We are constantly "asking, seeking, and knocking" (Matt. 7:7), even if we are often unaware of our heart's search. The one who pursues righteousness will find it, just as evil will come to the one who searches after it (see Prov. 11:27). As it is written, "Those who worship worthless idols forsake the love (i.e., chesed: חֶסֶד) that could be theirs" (Jonah 2:8). David understood that as he pursued God, God's love would pursue him; as we seek, so we are sought by God; as we draw near to God, so He will draw near to us (James 4:8).
The prophet Hosea expresses hope: "Let us know; let us press on to know (i.e., נִרְדְּפָה, "pursue after") the LORD; His going out is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth" (Hos. 6:3). May God help us pursue him be'khol levavkha - with all our heart - because He has promised, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13). And may the love of the LORD indeed be upon us, even as we put our hope in Him. Amen.
Firstfruits and Blessing...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Tavo.... ]
09.08.17 (Elul 17, 5777) From our Torah portion this week we read: "You shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there" (Deut. 26:2). This is called the mitzvah of "bikkurim" (בִּכּוּרִים), or "firstfruits," in which a thank offering (זֶבַח הַתּוֹדָה) was given to the priests in recognition of God's faithful love. In a special Shavuot ceremony, a basket filled with the first samples of the spring harvest was presented before the altar at the Temple as the worshiper recited a passage from Torah (Deut. 26:5-12) that retold the basic story of Exodus from Egypt and how the LORD had faithfully brought the people into the Promised Land, "a land flowing with milk and honey" (i.e., eretz zavat chalav u'devash). The point of the yearly bikkurim ritual was to instill a sense of gratitude, or "hakarat tovah" (הַכָּרַת טוֹבָה), a phrase that means "recognizing or being conscious of the good" (indeed, the word "Jew" (יְהוּדִי) comes from wordplay on the verb yadah (יָדָה), meaning to acknowledge and give thanks). Therefore, the firstfruits offering teaches us to use the "good eye" to appreciate God's kindness and love. Doing so will yield a harvest of blessing in our lives, as it says: "Honor the LORD with your substance and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine" (Prov. 3:9-10). "Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name; Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits" (Psalm 103:1-2).
בָּרֲכִי נַפְשִׁי אֶת־יְהוָה
וְכָל־קְרָבַי אֶת־שֵׁם קָדְשׁוֹ
ba·ra·khi · naf·shi · et · Adonai
ve·khol · ke·ra·vai · et · shem · kod·sho
"Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless his holy name"
Hebrew Study Card
The bikkurim ritual testifies that God has redeemed us so that we will produce fruit in our lives to His glory (John 15:7-8).
The LORD our Mashgiach...
[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]
09.08.17 (Elul 17, 5777) Avinu Malkeinu: "Our Father, Our King...." During the Season of Teshuvah we make extra effort to remind ourselves of the kingship of the LORD and of our responsibility to live before his Presence in the truth, as his royal children. We remember that we are responsible to God for the gift of our lives, and that we shall render account for all we have done (Matt. 12:36-37). The Scriptures declare that each of us passes before the gaze of the Eternal, one by one, as it says: "The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds."
מִשָּׁמַיִם הִבִּיט יְהוָה רָאָה אֶת־כָּל־בְּנֵי הָאָדָם
מִמְּכוֹן־שִׁבְתּוֹ הִשְׁגִּיחַ אֶל כָּל־ישְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ
הַיּצֵר יַחַד לִבָּם הַמֵּבִין אֶל־כָּל־מַעֲשֵׂיהֶם
mi·sha·ma·yim · hib·bit · Adonai · ra·ah · et · kol · be·nei · ha·a·dam
mi·me·khon · shiv·to · hish·gi·ah · el · kol · yo·she·vei · ha·a·retz
hai·yotz·er · ya·chad · lib·bam · ha·me·vin · el · kol · ma·a·sey·hem
"The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man;
from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth,
he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds."
The LORD "looks down from heaven," not in some general way, but He "beholds" each person individually – he looks directly and personally upon each soul. God discerns each person's actions and inner intentions with perfect clarity; He completely comprehends every outcome of every action in the entire universe, simultaneously and in all possible states. The LORD is the Mashgiach (מַשְׁגִּיחַ), the personal Supervisor and Overseer of each human soul. And though our God truly is the great King over all, the Master of the Universe and Sovereign on High, his greatness reaches down to the lowest of depths, humbly appealing for any who are willing to turn to him, to choose life, to receive his love and grace. Shabbat Shalom...
Find God or Die...
09.08.17 (Elul 17, 5777) Those who evade the truth about reality – those who willingly suppress the truth and choose to ignore the ultimate existential pathos of the human condition – must "steal" meaning and a sense of value from the heart of faith. "If a human being did not have an eternal consciousness, if underlying everything there was only a wild, fermenting power that writhing in dark passions produced everything, be it significant or insignificant, if a vast, never appeased emptiness hid beneath everything, what would life be but despair?" (Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling). The hidden source of anxiety is to be lost to real meaning – to sense the dread of the inevitable and the unknown and to be utterly confounded and devoid of direction in the face of it. The Torah of Yeshua is heeded by the "impoverished of spirit" who know they must "find God or die." It is first a word spoken to the shattered of heart and crushed of spirit. As Augustine said, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." We all desperately need God, and it is a profound tragedy to be unresponsive to real hope. If you sense the invitation of the Spirit, which moves unseen as the wind, then draw near while there is still time! "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near" (Isa. 55:6).
Teshuvah of Vigilance...
09.08.17 (Elul 17, 5777) We are living in perilous times, and therefore for all the more reason we must "pay more careful attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away" (Heb. 2:1). We must be anchored to the truth lest we become shipwrecked in our faith. Drifting occurs slowly and almost imperceptibly, though the end result is as deadly as openly turning away from God in outright apostasy. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, "The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts." The devil seeks to lull you to sleep...
Spiritual danger is just as real as physical danger, though most people pretend it isn't because it isn't as easily seen. The danger today is to give up hope, to "go with the flow," to become numb, to drift off asleep, and to die inside... It is far more dangerous to tranquilly ignore God's mercy, or to make a pretense of knowing God's grace, than it is to blatantly break his law. Therefore the urgent need is to remember, to hear, and to awaken the soul to face the truth about reality. We must focus the heart, concentrate the will, and consciously "set" the Lord always before us (Psalm 16:8). Each day we must awaken from our emptiness to reaffirm the central truth: "Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is one; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:4-5). As the Apostle Paul said, "Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light" (Eph. 5:14).
The great commandment is always "shema," listen -- listen to the voice of God's love for you; listen to the message of God's good will for you; listen to the call of the Spirit. But to truly listen you must quiet yourself, you must "make space" within your heart, and you must consciously attend to God's Presence by "setting" the LORD before you...
Therefore we must be viligant to secure our high calling in Messiah: "Let us know; let us press on (i.e., נִרְדְּפָה, "pursue after") to know the LORD; His going out is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth" (Hosea 6:3). The day is drawing near, and now - more than ever - we must remain steadfast. May God help you pursue him be'khol levavkha – "with all your heart" – because He has promised, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13). And may the love of the LORD be upon you, even as you put your hope in him (Psalm 33:22).
Evil and Ignorance...
09.08.17 (Elul 17, 5777) There is the great danger of squandering and dissipating our lives... Examine yourself; consider what really moves you. Be careful not to deceive yourself by "reasoning around the truth" (i.e., παρα + λογίζομαι), as James the Righteous puts it (James 1:22). Many people fool themselves by assuming they know or understand what is good, but they confine this ideal to a matter of opinion rather than experiencing it as a matter of the will (or they confuse their opinion of the ideal with what is real). Some of the ancient Greek philosophers assumed that moral evil was the result of ignorance, and that simply knowing the good would lead to doing the good. For example Socrates states in the Protagoras that no one knowingly does the wrong thing, and therefore all evil is the result of ignorance. He argues this way because he assumes that doing wrong harms the soul, and since no one willingly acts against his own interests, wrongdoing must be result of ignorance. This optimistic view implies that the answer to the problem of moral evil is "education," or leading people out of the dark cave of their lower nature to experience the light of reason. If we just really understood why doing this or that sinful thing hurts us, we would change our ways and repent, or so the theory goes... Alas, human experience proves that such "head knowledge" often does not change the way we choose, and we all know people who have habits they realize are harmful but continue to indulge in them anyway.
There may be some truth to the idea that evil is a matter of ignorance however, since ignoring what is good, being indifferent, apathetic, and cynical is a defect of character (ἀκρασία), and learning to be honest, upright, courageous, unselfish, and so on, requires personal struggle to make the "ought" of moral reality an expression of the "is" of inner life. What is often most shocking about moral evil is that it expresses apathy or indifference toward the pangs of conscience. Moral evil is essentially heartless and devoid of empathy. According to the Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt, the lack of moral thought and reflection creates what she called the "banality of evil," that is, the unthinking acceptance of evil so that it is no longer regarded as outrageous or strange. People deaden their conscience by refusing to honestly engage questions such as: "What is goodness?" "Is there an obligation to observe moral truth?" "What is the good life?" "How should we live?" "Do our actions really matter?" "Will God judge my life?" and so on. We must be careful, however, not to become evil by despising what is evil. For instance, we may feel so outraged and threatened by the evil actions of others that we deny their humanity, thereby becoming the very thing we hate.
The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9). "Oh there is nothing as deceitful and as cunning as a human heart, resourceful in seeking escapes and finding excuses; and there surely is nothing as difficult and as rare as genuine honesty before God." (Kierkegaard: Discourses). Therefore we pray: "Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved.. Be not a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of evil" (Jer. 17:14, 17).
The spiritual danger here is being "pulled apart" in opposite directions, dissipated the soul so that it will not be unified, focused and directed. Both loving and hating the good is a state of painful inner conflict, ambivalence, and self-contradiction. "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? there is not one" (Job 14:4), yet this is our starting point: "I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand" (Rom. 7:21). We are often willing and unwilling, or neither willing nor unwilling, and this makes us inwardly divided, weak, fragmented, anxious, and "soulless." An honest faith that "wills one thing" binds the soul into a unity, or an authentic "self." As King David said, "One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple" (Psalm 27:4).
The Scriptures warn that a "double-minded man is unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8). The word translated "double-minded" is dipsuchos (δίψυχος), which literally means having "two souls." A double-minded man is full of inner conflict and indecision; he's like the proverbial "divided house" that cannot stand. The way to be healed of a divided heart is to earnestly make a decision: "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you" (James 4:8). There are no conditions given here -- other than your raw need to connect with God for help. "Purify your hearts, you double-minded ones" (δίψυχοι, lit. "two-souled ones"); make up your mind and be unified within your heart: "How long will you go limping between two different opinions?" (1 Kings 18:21). You are invited to come; God has made the way; your place at the table has been set and prepared. "Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith (ἐν πληροφορίᾳ πίστεως), with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful" (Heb. 10-22-23).
דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה בְּהִמָּצְאו
קְרָאֻהוּ בִּהְיוֹתוֹ קָרוֹב
dir·shu · Adonai · be·hi·matz·o
ke·ra·u·hu · bi·yo·to · ka·rov
"Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near."
Hebrew Study Card
God responds to those who sincerely cry out to him (Psalm 145:18). He is "near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18). Indeed, salvation is as close as your own mouth and heart (Rom. 10:8-13). But how many are the days of your life? How many opportunities for you to make up your mind? "How long will you go limping between two opinions?" Therefore choose this day whom you will serve. Make the first step; open your heart, and the LORD will then help you make the wholehearted decision to "seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near." Amen.
A Great Rebuke...
09.08.17 (Elul 17, 5777) This week's Torah portion (parashat Ki Tavo) includes the second great "rebuke" (i.e., tochachah: תּוֹכָחָה) addressed to the community of Israel given in the Torah (the first rebuke was given earlier in parashat Bechukotai). In this sober and ominous section, the Lord promises the people great blessing if they would obey Him (Deut. 28:1-14), but forewarns that exile, persecution and other progressively worse punishments would befall them if they would break faith with Him (Deut. 28:15-68). The sages note that divine censure would come if the people "forgot their first love" for God and relaxed the observance of His laws due to indulgence: "Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore [all these curses will come upon you]..." (Deut. 28:47-48). Gratitude is prerequisite for serving the LORD, and gladness of heart is found in the grace He supplies us to do His will. Indeed, the Greek word for "joy" used in the New Testament (χαρα) is related to the word for "grace" (χαρις), so there is a profound connection between apprehending grace and experiencing joy (Phil. 4:4). When we say, "Blessed are You, LORD our God," we affirm the blessedness and joy that is part of God's essence and heart.
Sometimes, of course, it is difficult to express joy, especially when we feel oppressed, saddened, or wounded. The Scriptures never disavow our emotional states (read Psalm 13 or Psalm 88, for example), but an underlying note of grace is always sounded, even in painful moments and times. This is our consolation in suffering.... "sorrowful yet ever rejoicing" (2 Cor. 6:10). And this works the other way, too. Even in our most joyous occasions, such as the great simcha (happiness) of a wedding, the "glass is shattered" to remind ourselves that our eternal joy is not yet fulfilled... We live in an "already-not-yet" state of existence. Our best moments are beset with shadows; our darkest are limned with hope of the new eternal day to come. As Paul said, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom. 8:18). Nevertheless we are instructed to "serve the LORD with gladness" (Psalm 100:2), which moved the sages to say, "It is a great mitzvah to be happy always." We can experience joy even in the midst of our struggles because the love of God overcomes the darkness within us....
Regarding the first tochachah given earlier in the Book of Leviticus (i.e., Lev. 26:14-46), the sages point out that the phrase "if you walk contrary to me" (וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי) - which occurs several times during the great rebuke - really means "if you walk carelessly (i.e., keri: קְרִי) with me." Rashi notes that the verb karah (קָרָה) means "to befall" or "to happen" and therefore suggests a sense of randomness (the related word mikreh [מִקְרֶה] means "coincidence"). Once the people would begin to regard the events of life as "random," then God would reciprocate by bringing senseless trouble into their lives... For this reason an indifferent or careless attitude about God's will is often the very first step to eventual apostasy. In other words, regarding whatever happens in life as mere "coincidence" effectively denies God's Presence, and this attitude will eventually call for God's corrective intervention. People can 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. As C.S. Lewis once said, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."
Blaise Pascal once wrote: "I can feel nothing but compassion for those who sincerely lament their doubt, who regard it as the ultimate misfortune, and who, sparing no effort to escape from it, make their search their principal and most serious business. But as for those who spend their lives without a thought for this final end, I view differently. This negligence in the matter where they themselves, their eternity, their all are at stake, fills me more with irritation than pity: yea, it astounds and appalls me..." (Pensees, 427).
For more on this topic see the article, "Curses of the Law: Further thoughts on Ki Tavo."
The Hell of Apathy...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Tavo.... ]
09.07.17 (Elul 16, 5777) "Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this Torah to do them" (Deut. 27:26). This is because God is God, ultimate reality is non-negotiable, and we are entirely and eternally accountable for all that we do (Matt. 12:36; Heb. 4:13). "Each person's deeds will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of deeds each one has done" (1 Cor. 3:13). There is a Scroll that attests the reality of all truth, and the life of every soul created by God is recorded therein (Rev. 20:12). We are forbidden to add or subtract from Torah, since that is to refashion God's message into one of our own understanding. Reading the tochachah (i.e., rebuke) in our Torah portion is difficult and painful, though it serves as a bitter medicine to wake us up from our lethal coma. In that sense the tochechah is a great blessing, since it shocks us into experiencing the "gravity of God's grace." This is why Yeshua proclaimed grave warnings about the dangers of forfeiting life and thereby "receiving" hell... Sin is a lethal problem, and we must turn to God for healing or we will die. The Lord does not allow us to trifle with the truth, neither will he offer us a good that excludes Divine Reality since there simply is no such thing. God does not give us the option of affecting existential indifference toward Him, since apathy is as much a spiritual decision as is outright rebellion and apostasy. "If anyone thinks he has faith yet is indifferent toward this possession, is neither hot nor cold, he can be certain that he does not have faith. If anyone thinks he is a Christian and yet is indifferent toward being that, then he is not really one at all. Indeed what would we think of a person who gave assurances that he was in love and also that it was a matter of indifference to him?" (Kierkegaard: Works of Love). "Guard me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you" (Psalm 16:1-2).
My Light, My Yeshua...
[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]
09.07.17 (Elul 16, 5777) Psalm 27 (תְּהִלִּים כז) is the third psalm in which only David's name is mentioned, indicating that it is his personal prayer, asking God to strengthen his resolve in the face of battle. It begins, "The LORD is my Light and my Salvation, whom shall I fear? The LORD is the Strength of my life, of whom should I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1). Here are a few brief notes about this opening verse. 1) "The LORD is my Light" (יְהוָה אוֹרִי), the Divine Light that overcomes the darkness and provides guidance and illumination (Gen 1:3; John 1:5,9). God's mysterious light is apprehended within, revealing where we are, delivering us from being lost, and enabling us to understand the way to go. David calls this light his own, since he trusts the LORD to provide the revelation he needs for this hour. 2) "The LORD is my Salvation" (יְהוָה יִשְׁעִי), that is, my yeshuah (יְשׁוּעָה), which refers to divine intervention and deliverance. Our Messiah is both the Light of the Eternal (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם) who opens our eyes to experience the "light of the Living One" (אוֹר הַחַיִּים), and also the great Deliverer of Israel (מושיע ישראל) (Matt. 1:21; John 8:12). In the consciousness of God's salvation, then, David rhetorically asks, "Whom shall I fear?"(מִמִּי אִירָא), implying there is no greater power than the LORD, since there is salvation in no other, and nothing therefore can befall David apart from the Divine Supervision (Rom. 8:28). As the Song of Moses says, "The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation (עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ וַיְהִי־לִי לִישׁוּעָה); this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him" (Exod. 15:2). Likewise Isaiah exclaimed, "Behold, God is my salvation (הִנֵּה אֵל יְשׁוּעָתִי); I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation" (Isa. 12:2). Therefore David affirms that "the LORD is the Strength of my life" (יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי), that is, the One who makes a refuge for me on all sides. Since God's Spirit is within him, there is no dread of phenomenal appearances or temporal outer circumstances. Here David refers to spiritual danger and takes comfort in the awareness that all the trials he might face were designed by God to help him reach higher goals. The LORD is the Source of our enlightenment and happiness... He lifts us up from the "gates of death" (מִשַּׁעֲרֵי מָוֶת) so that we may recount all His praises and to rejoice in Yeshua, the Light of Life and our Salvation (Psalm 9:14).
יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָד
Adonai · o·ri · ve·yish·i · mi·mi · i·ra?
Adonai · ma·oz · chai·yai · mi·mi · ef·chad?
"The LORD is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the Strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?"
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Note: The Hebrew word for "fear" (i.e., yirah: יִרְאָה) and "be afraid (i.e., pachad: פַּחַד) are parallel in this passage, a usage also found in Deut. 2:25: "Today I will begin to put the dread and fear of you (פַּחְדְּךָ וְיִרְאָתְךָ) on the peoples who are under the whole heaven."
The Teshuvah of Seeing...
09.07.17 (Elul 16, 5777) Love covers a multitude of sins (Prov. 10:12; 1 Pet. 4:8)... Love sees beyond the present moment to behold the redeemable, the made whole, the beloved. Such love "believes all things" and yet is never deceived. "Just as one by faith believes the unseen into what is seen, so the one who loves by forgiveness believes away what is seen. Both are faith. Blessed is the believer, he believes what he cannot see; blessed is the one who loves, he believes away that which he indeed can see" (Kierkegaard: Works of Love).
For more on this subject, see the Elul and High Holiday pages...
Note: Earlier September, 2017 updates continue here...