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I was laid off from my full-time job awhile ago. After a lot of prayer, soul searching, and discussions with my wife, we have decided to operate this ministry entirely by faith in God's provision through the love and kindness of His people. I am not paid for doing this work, and therefore I ask you to consider supporting us. If you can help, please offer a donation or purchase some of the Hebrew study materials offered here.  Encouraging other web sites to link here also helps us become more visible on the web.  Above all, agree with us for the Lord's will to be done in our lives. Todah, chaverim.

        

Note:  My wife and I have have two young children (Josiah and Judah). The LORD has graciously provided for us as Adonai Yireh (יְהוָה יִרְאֶה), "the One who sees [our need]."  We are living one day at a time by the grace and mercy of God, and I want to publicly praise Yeshua and acknowledge His faithful love in caring for my family -- despite the trials during this time. The LORD God of Israel is faithful and true! And for those of you who have sent us a word of encouragement or donation during this difficult time, please accept our heartfelt appreciation! Your chesed and prayers truly help sustain us.

יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָךְ - "Blessed be the Name of the Lord." 





 

Jewish Holiday Calendar 

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

Spring is the start of the Biblical Year and is marked by two of the Shelosh Regalim (three annual pilgrimage festivals): Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost). The holiday of Shavuot is held seven weeks (or fifty days) following the morning after Pesach.
 

Spring Holiday Calendar

Dates for Passover 2015


The Spring Holidays:

Spring Holidays
 

The spring holidays provide a portrait of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah: Yeshua was crucified on erev Pesach, buried during Chag Hamotzi, and was resurrected on Yom Habikkurim (Firstfruits). Shavuot (i.e., the feast of Pentecost) was the day the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) fell on believers in fulfillment of the promise given by our Lord. 

Note that in accordance with tradition, the following holiday dates begin at sundown:

  1. Month of Adar (Wed., Feb. 18th, 2015)
  2. Month of Nisan (Fri., March 20th, 2015)
  3. Month of Iyyar (Sat. April 18th, 2015)
  4. Month of Sivan (Mon. May 18th, 2015)

Note:  Many Jewish calendars will list the first day of a holiday without indicating that the holiday actually begins sundown the night before... So, for example, while Passover begins Friday April 3rd at sundown, many calendars will indicate it occurs on Saturday, April 4th...
 

Dates for Passover 2015:
Dates for Passover 2015

Free Seder Guide

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March 2015 Site Updates
 


The Limping Messiah...


 

03.27.15 (Nisan 7, 5775)  The word "Passover" comes from pasach (פָּסַח), a verb that means to "pass over," though it also can mean "to limp," recalling the "heel of Messiah" that would be bruised in the battle for our deliverance (Gen. 3:15). This connection may be discovered when studying the semantic range of the root pasach throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. For instance, the related participle pise'ach (פִּסֵחַ) means "lame" or "crippled" (for example, see Lev. 21:18; Deut. 15:21; 2 Sam. 9:13, Mal. 1:8, etc.), while there are several uses of the verb pasach that explicitly mean to "limp" or "be lame."  For example, in 2 Sam. 4:4 it says: "and he (Mephibosheth) fell and 'became lame" (וַיִּפָּסֵחַ); in 1 Kings 18:21, we read: "how long will you limp (פּסְחִים) between two opinions?" and in 1 Kings 18:26 it is written: "and they (the priests of Baal) 'limped upon the altar" (וַיְפַסְּחוּ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ) in a pagan ritual dance. In other words there is a connection between Passover and becoming wounded, and this alludes to the Savior whose heel was bruised during the battle for our deliverance. Yeshua is "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29).

For more on this subject, see "The Gospel in the Garden." Shabbat Gadol Shalom!
 




The Life is in the Blood...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Friday April 3rd this year... There is no Passover without the blood of the Lamb... ]

03.27.15 (Nisan 7, 5775)  The very first time the word "blood" (דָּם) occurs in the Scriptures concerns the death of Abel, the son of Adam and Eve who was murdered by his brother Cain. After Abel's blood was shed, the LORD confronted Cain and said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood (קוֹל דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ) is crying to me from the ground" (Gen. 4:10). Since blood is the carrier of life, it bears the energy and vitality of life: it has its own spiritual "voice." Likewise, the blood of Yeshua (דְּמֵי יֵשׁוּעַ), the true Lamb of God who died upon the cross, speaks on our behalf, and reverses the power of death by creating a barrier that death can no longer cross, since the death of the sacrificial victim "exchanges" the merit and power of life. Unlike the blood of Abel that "cries out" for justice, the blood of Yeshua cries out for life and mercy (Heb. 12:24). Putting our trust in the provision of God's sacrifice causes His wrath (or righteous judgment) to pass over while simultaneously extending eternal life and blessing to the sinner.... This is the essential message of the gospel itself, that we have atonement through the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua our Savior, the great Lamb of God. As Yeshua said, "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). Just as God's judgment passes over from life to death on my behalf; so His love passes over from death to life on my behalf...

For more on this subject, see "Parashat Bo: The Life is in the Blood."
 




The Sign of the Blood...



[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Friday April 3rd... ]

03.27.15 (Nisan 7, 5775)  "The blood shall be a sign for you... And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt" (Exod. 12:13). The blood would be a sign for the eye of faith, i.e., "for you," and not for the unbelieving world at large. During the afternoon of the 14th, the korban Pesach (Passover lamb) was slaughtered and its blood smeared on all three sides of the doorframe, top, right and left, that is, in the form of the letter Chet (ח). This letter is connected with the word chai (חי), "alive," and chayim (חיים), "life," signifying that atoning life is in the sacrificial blood (Lev. 17:11). Note that some say that the letters of the YHVH (יהוה) – the Name of Divine Compassion - were daubed on the doorposts: The Yod (י) was written on the top beam, the Vav (ו) on the right doorpost, and the Hey (ה) on the left. In other words, since Yeshua is YHVH, His Name was written on the doorposts of the faithful.

The original Passover sacrifice was not given to the Levitical priesthood as a sin offering since it preceded Sinai and the giving of the various laws concerning the sacrificial rites... Therefore the blessing, "You are blessed, LORD our God, King of the universe, who releases the captives" (i.e., matir asurim: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֶינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם מַתִּיר אֲסוּרִים), is for all people who are trusting in the blood of the Lamb for life. Indeed, in the world to come all the redeemed will sing of the Great Passover of Messiah that was foretold by Moses and fulfilled by the outstretched hands of Yeshua our LORD:
 

רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה

ra·uy · ha·seh · ha·ta·vu·ach · le·ka·bel · ge·vu·rah
o·sher · ve·chokh·mah · ve·ko·ach · vi·kar · ve·kha·vod · uv·ra·kha
 

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and might and honor and glory and blessing"
(Rev. 5:12)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Concerning the observance of the Passover Seder the Torah states, "When your son asks you in time to come, 'What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?' then you shall say to your son, 'We were slaves (עֲבָדִים הָיִינוּ) to Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes" (Deut. 6:20-23). We are instructed to "remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out" (Deut. 7:19). And where it is written in the Shema, "You shall teach them diligently to your children," we ask, what do we teach? And we answer: Everything – the whole story of our deliverance... So to help fulfill our great obligation to keep educating our children, I am again updating "Worthy is the Lamb - A Messianic Passover Haggadah" for this year.... Please feel free to download this succinct guide for your own study or Passover celebration.

Note:  If you wish to print and bind the H4C Seder Guide for use at your Passover seder, contact me for a link to a high-quality printer download verion!
 




Priests to one another...


 

03.26.15 (Nisan 6, 5775)  Since we are called to be a kingdom of priests (Exod. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:9), each of us has the responsibility to draw near to God, to make our heart his sanctuary, and to "incarnate" his healing love to others... Our Torah portion this week (Tzav) begins with instructions that priests were to keep the fire burning on the altar, which symbolizes the inner passion that is to mark and sustain our heavenly service. This is our very first responsibility: to keep the fire burning... If this inner fire goes out, we will be unable to serve as God's priests, and our worship will be of no effect. Therefore we must "ignite" the divine spark, that is, find reasons to celebrate life. We must use the good eye (עַיִן טוֹבָה) to see God's glory; we must walk in the Spirit that "brings up the flame," and we must practice expressing gratitude, which is the essence of all sacrifice (Heb. 13:15). Note further that our priesthood is consecrated by the blood of the lamb placed on our ear, our hand, and our foot: The ear to hear (shema) the Word of God; the hand to bring forth beauty and healing, and the foot ready to walk the way of the Righteous One.
 




Cleanse out the old leaven...


 

03.26.15 (Nisan 6, 5775)  The Torah states that during the days of Passover, sometimes called the Festival of Unleavened Bread, no chametz (i.e., leavened food) may be eaten for a full seven days - from the 15th of Nisan through the 22nd of Nisan (Exod. 12:15-18; 34:18). Every trace of leavening must be purged from our homes, and no leavened products of any kind may be consumed during this time (Exod. 12:15). Spiritually speaking, leaven represents decay, rotting influences, bitterness, unforgiveness, and so on. "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Test me and know my thoughts. And see if there be any idolatrous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).
 

חָקְרֵנִי אֵל וְדַע לְבָבִי בְּחָנֵנִי וְדַע שַׂרְעַפָּי
וּרְאֵה אִם־דֶּרֶךְ־עצֶב בִּי וּנְחֵנִי בְּדֶרֶךְ עוֹלָם

chok·rei·ni · el · ve'da · le·va·vi · be·cha·nei·ni · ve'da · sar·a·pai
u·reh · im · de·rekh · o·tzev · bi · u'ne·chei·ni · be'de·rekh · o·lam
 

"Search me, O God, and know my heart! Test me and know my thoughts;
and see if there be any idolatrous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting"
(Psalm 139:23-34)



Hebrew Study Card
 


"Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new batch of dough, since you really are unleavened. For Messiah, our Passover lamb (הַשֵׁה פִסְחֵנוּ), has been sacrificed" (1 Cor. 5:7). For more on this subject, a brief audio discussion is available here.
 




The New Pharaoh's Dream...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Friday, April 3rd... ]

03.26.15 (Nisan 6, 5775)  According to midrash, just as the Pharaoh during the time of Joseph was troubled by his dreams (Gen. 41:1-7), so was the "new king" that arose during the time of Moses. In the new Pharaoh's dream, an old man was standing before him as he sat on his throne, holding a balance in his hand. The old man placed all the nobles and governors of Egypt on one side of the balance, and on the other side, he placed one small lamb. To Pharaoh's astonishment, however, the lamb outweighed all the leaders of Egypt! When the king asked his advisors to interpret the dream, they said it foretold of a coming king who would overthrow the kingdom of Egypt and set the Israelites free. This coming one would excel in wisdom and his name would be remembered forever as the Savior of Israel.

Of course the rest of the Book of Exodus is essentially God's interpretation of the new Pharaoh's dream, as the great events of the Exodus would reveal. The LORD God of Israel forewarned this king that Egypt would come into judgment by the Lamb of God... Indeed, the only way to escape this judgment and the wrath of God was by being covered by the sacrificial blood of the lamb... The Lamb of God is central to Israel's deliverance and becomes the focal point of the revelation of the sanctuary later given at Sinai.

Israel was redeemed from Egypt by trusting in the promise of their deliverance, as it is written, "and the people believed" (וַיַּאֲמֵן הָעָם) ... and bowed their heads and worshiped" (Exod. 4:31). Recall that the blood of the korban Pesach - the Passover lamb - was to be smeared on the two sides and top of the doorway, resembling the shape of the letter Chet (ח). This letter, signifying the number 8, is connected with the word חי (chai), short for chayim (life). The blood of the lamb (דַּם הַשֶּׂה) not only saves from the judgment of death, but it also is the means of imparting divine life and power...
 




Root of the Righteous...


 

03.25.15 (Nisan 5, 5775)  It is written, "No one is established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will never be moved" (Prov. 12:3). A person's heart is revealed by his core convictions and desires. Wealth and the pleasures of this world do nothing good for the eternal soul. Although the wicked of this world may appear to prosper, it is only temporary and will not last (Psalm 37:1-2); on the other hand, though the righteous may appear to fall, it is only temporary, and they will rise again, since the Root of the Righteous (שׁרֶשׁ צַדִּיקִים) is God's own power (Psalm 37:23-24). The sages note that the word translated "established" (in Prov. 12:3) comes from a word (כֵּן) meaning a "base" or a "stand" – that is, something external that supports something, but the word "root" (שׁרֶשׁ) refers to the inner essence of the plant. The Malbim said that man is like an inverted tree with its roots on top, drawing life from heaven that provides him with spiritual sustenance. The wicked cut themselves off from the root and base their lives on the material and transitory foundation of this world. Yeshua likened the immovability of the righteous as those who build their house on the rock: when the tempest comes, the house will not fall, because it is founded upon the rock. Those who build their house on the sands of this world are foolish: when the tempest comes, the house will collapse and its fall will be great (Matt. 7:24-27). In the midst of life's storms and trials, the righteous (הצדיקים) have an inner support that keeps them from being destroyed, and that is the Rock of our Salvation (צוּר יִשְׁעֵנוּ), Yeshua our Lord!
 

לא־יִכּוֹן אָדָם בְּרֶשַׁע
וְשׁרֶשׁ צַדִּיקִים בַּל־יִמּוֹט

lo · yi·kon · a·dam · be're·sha'
ve'sho·resh · tzad·di·kim · bal · yi·mot
 

"No one is established by wickedness,
but the root of the righteous will never be moved."
(Proverbs 16:2)


 


The Scriptures state twice: שׁרֶשׁ לְמָטָּה וְעָשָׂה פְרִי לְמָעְלָה / "Take root downward and bear fruit upward" (2 Kings 19:30; Isa. 37:31). As Yeshua said, "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it produces a big harvest (John 12:24). The inner life goes into the earth - it dies and then is re-opened to yield fruit. We pray we might surrender ourselves to the Lord fully, being immersed in His passion, "bearing fruit in every good work (ἐν παντὶ ἔργῳ ἀγαθῷ καρποφοροῦντες) and growing in da'at HaShem (דַעַת אֱלהִים) - the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10). The "fruit of the righteous is a Tree of Life" lit., etz chayim (עֵץ חַיִּים), "the Tree of lives" (Prov. 11:30). It is the fruit of Yeshua, the Righteous One, who bears fruits of healing for the lives of those who turn to Him in trust...

"I can do all things through the Messiah who strengthens me," not "some things," or a "few things," but ALL things (Phil. 4:13). Yeshua is the Tree of Life, the Source of all our strength. "May you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being" (Eph. 3:16). Let's remember to pray for one another and ask the LORD to help make each of us fruitful to the glory of our Heavenly Father (John 15:8).
 




Warfare through Praise...


 

03.25.15 (Nisan 5, 5775)  When you are feeling oppressed or troubled, use the weapon of praise... Satan and the powers of darkness simply cannot stand before someone who is offering up genuine praise to the LORD for their personal deliverance. Especially in times of darkness - when your heart is tested - affirm the unseen reality that God is working all things together for your good (Rom. 8:28). "As you call upon the LORD - who is worthy to be praised - so are you delivered from your enemies."
 

מְהֻלָּל אֶקְרָא יְהוָה
 וּמִן־איְבַי אִוָּשֵׁעַ

me·hul·lal · ek·ra · Adonai
u·min · oy·ye·vai · iv·va·she·a
 

"I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies"
(Psalm 18:3)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Calling upon the LORD means more than simply keeping a positive attitude, though having a positive attitude (i.e., hope) and using ayin tovah (the good eye) is part of the arsenal we can use to "fight the good fight of faith." Victory over the dark powers comes through verbally affirming (confessing) your hope in God's Presence and powerful Deliverance given in Yeshua the Savior (Rom. 10:9)... From prison to praise: As you call upon the LORD - who is worthy to be praised - so are you delivered from your enemies.

It is written that the LORD is enthroned among the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3), and therefore offering heartfelt and genuine praise is your direct line to the Divine Presence. Praising the LORD also causes the power of the evil one to be cut off, his eyes blinded, and his malice thwarted... Use the weapon of praise!  When Israel went to battle, the shofar was sounded and great cries of praise went up to heaven. "So on they went, ahead of the army chanting, Hodu ladonai, ki leolam chasdo - 'Praise the Lord, for His mercy endureth forever!' And the scripture says, "...when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten" (2 Chron. 20:22). Your victory over darkness is found in praise and hope, even when hope is tested in the midst of the battle.

"Though the fig tree does not blossom, nor fruit be found on the vines, though the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, and though the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation" (Hab. 3:17-18). The targum translates "I will rejoice in the LORD" as "I will rejoice in the Word of the LORD." The Source of such joy comes to the heart of faith that sees Elohei Yishi (אֱלהֵי יִשְׁעִי), the "God of my salvation," namely, the One who was and is and is to come (הַהוֶה וְהָיָה וְיָבוֹא) – the LORD our God Yeshua (Rev. 1:4;8; Isa 41:4). Augustine rendered Elohei Yishi as "God my Jesus," since "Jesus" (i.e., Yeshua) means YHVH saves. Yeshua is the One who breathed life into the first Adam just as He is the One who breathes eternal life into those who are descended from Him, the great "second Adam."
 




The Question of Passover...


 

03.24.15 (Nisan 4, 5775)  During the Passover seder we begin our retelling the story of the Exodus when the question is sung: "Mah nistanah ha-lailah ha-zeh mikol ha-leilot?" - How does this night differ from all other nights? This is the central question of Passover, asked for thousands of years, and the answer is always the same: "We were slaves, but God redeemed us from our bondage by the blood of the lamb (דַּם הַשֶּׂה)." Note again that there were not many lambs, but the LORD told Israel: "You shall keep it [i.e., the Passover lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter him (אתוֹ) at twilight (Exod. 12:6). Each family put their trust in God's uniquely appointed sacrifice to be delivered from the plague of death (מכת המוות).
 




In Every Generation...


 

03.24.15 (Nisan 4, 5775)  "In each and every generation an individual should look upon him or herself as if he or she (personally) had left Egypt... not only our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt, but we with them" (from the traditional Passover Haggadah). Every year we relive the story of the Exodus. The sages say that each person has to go through certain trials to know God. You may accept God intellectually, but the test of faith goes beyond mere cognitive assent, as it did for our father Abraham (see Gen. 22:1-14). "The trial means that your sense of personal connection to God, which had been based on intellect, is taken away from you, and all you have left is the power to choose" (Me'or Enayim). Without this removal of understanding, this "suspension of the universal" (Kierkegaard), there would be no genuine test, since all that happens may be habitually (or religiously) rationalized. The test of faith is to affirm God's love and promise despite apparent abandonment, darkness, unheeded prayer, incomprehensible suffering, and so on. This is why at the Seder the wicked son asks, "What does this service mean to you?" making himself an outsider to the trials of faith. He has yet to see the Exodus as a challenge to come out of the "narrow places" of Egypt to take part in God's salvation.

Note:  I realize this entry is a bit complicated, but essentially it means that the journey of faith involves testing, and sometimes that means experiencing a darkness that calls us to trust in God's plan, even when we do not understand it intellectually.... Of course the LORD our God always hears our cries and never leaves us; He is always Present and walks with us in "the valley of the shadow of death" itself, though in moments of severe testing we may lose sight of this, and holding on to God then constitutes the test itself.

It is written: "Fear not, for I am with you..." אַל־תִּירָא כִּי עִמְּךָ־אָנִי.  What we need most of all is right here, present in this hour, whether we're conscious of it or not. God is with you, even if you feel alone, lost in darkness, unclean, afraid... "Dear Lord Jesus, I don't know who I am, I don't know where I am, and I don't know what I am, but please love me" (prayer of a sufferer from Alzheimer's disease). That's what we need most, to trust that we are safe in God's love, and that's the ultimate message of our redemption in Messiah.
 




Words of Life and Light...


 

03.24.15 (Nisan 4, 5775)  From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Tzav) we read: "The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not be extinguished" (Lev. 6:12). The sages say do not read "burning on it" but rather "burning in him" (בּוֹ), referring to the heart of the priest. And where it says "it shall not be extinguished" (לא תִכְבֶּה), read instead "the negative (לא) you shall extinguish (תִכְבֶּה)" by trusting God's promise for your good, despite any temporary setbacks or apparent failures. The Holy Spirit imparts the fire of faith that fills our hearts with hope, speaking with "tongues of fire" words of life and light that vanquish darkness. As it is written: "Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; He is gracious, merciful, and righteous" (Psalm 112:4).
 

זָרַח בַּחשֶׁךְ אוֹר לַיְשָׁרִים
חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם וְצַדִּיק

za·rach · ba·cho·shekh · ohr · lai·sha·rim
chan·nun · ve·ra·chum · ve·tzad·dik
 

"Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;
He is gracious, merciful, and righteous."
(Psalm 112:4)



Download Study Card

 




Word Became Flesh...


 

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

03.23.15 (Nisan 3, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week begins, "The Eternal (יהוה) spoke to Moses" (Lev. 6:8), which paradoxically refers to God as if He is a man... Theologians may call this sort of language "anthropomorphism," though it clearly anticipates the great Incarnation itself, when the Timeless and Infinite One became embodied in time and space in the person of Yeshua. Indeed Yeshua is called the "Word of God" who became flesh and "tabernacled" in our midst (John 1:1,14). And just as the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) mediates the Divine Presence to heavenly host, so Yeshua mediates the Divine Presence to humanity as the "Son of Man" (בֶּן־הָאָדָם). "For the Eternal One who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Cor. 4:6). In the Book of Hebrews we read that "in these last days God has spoken to us ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ," which literally means God speaks in the language "of Son" (Heb. 1:2). The Eternal speaks as the One who emptied Himself to become one of us, who clothed himself in our humanity, so that he could touch us, empathize with us, and to ultimately die for our atonement as the "Lamb of God."
 

כִּי כּה אָהַב אֱלהִים אֶת־הָעוֹלָם
 עַד כִּי נָתַן אֶת־בְּנוֹ יְחִידוֹ
 לְמַעַן לא־יאבַד כָּל־הַמַּאֲמִין בּוֹ
 אֵלָּא יִנְחַל חַיֵּי עוֹלָם

ki · ko · a·hav · E·lo·him · et · ha·o·lam
ad · ki · na·tan · et · be·no · ye·chi·do
le·ma·an · lo · yo·vad · kol · ha·ma·a·min · bo
el·lah · yin·chal · chai·yei · o·lam
 

"For this is the way God loved the world:
He gave his one and only Son,
so that everyone who trusts in him will not perish
but have eternal life."
(John 3:16)

 




Passover and Soul Searching...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Friday, April 3rd... ]

03.23.15 (Nisan 3, 5775)  The search for chametz is not unlike the soul searching we do before the fall High Holidays, when we perform chesbon hanefesh (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ) by taking inventory of our spiritual condition before the LORD. In other words, we are instructed to search and remove sources of inner impurity so that we might experience the truth that we are a "new lump" - that is, a new substance that is purged from the sour and rotting influences of our past lives. Since Yeshua has been sacrificed as your Passover Lamb, you are indeed a new creation (בְּרִיָּה חֲדָשָׁה) and are made "unleavened" by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 5:17). Therefore we are likewise commanded put away the "old nature" - the yetzer ha'ra - and purge from your life the old influences that inwardly canker you and make you sick. Walk without hypocrisy in the truth of the love of God for your soul.
 

חָקְרֵנִי אֵל וְדַע לְבָבִי בְּחָנֵנִי וְדַע שַׂרְעַפָּי
וּרְאֵה אִם־דֶּרֶךְ־עצֶב בִּי וּנְחֵנִי בְּדֶרֶךְ עוֹלָם

chok·rei·ni · el · ve'da · le·va·vi · be·cha·nei·ni · ve'da · sar·a·pai
u·reh · im · de·rekh · o·tzev · bi · u'ne·chei·ni · be·de·rekh · o·lam
 

"Search me, O God, and know my heart! Test me and know my thoughts.
 And see if there be any idolatrous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!"
(Psalm 139:23-24)

Bedikat Chametz
 
Hebrew Study Card
 
 




Law of the Guilt Offering...


 

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

03.23.15 (Nisan 3, 5775)  "This is the law of the guilt offering. It is most holy" (Lev. 7:1). Like the sin offering (חַטַּאת), the guilt offering (אָשָׁם) is also described as "most sacred," kodesh kodashim (קדֶשׁ קָדָשִׁים), because it prefigures how the sinner is restored to a place fellowship with God... Some of the ancient Torah sages read this verse differently, however: "This is the Torah - i.e., the hashkafah (הַשׁקָפָה) or perspective - of the one who is guilty: his own will and desire are elevated to be "most holy." In other words, sin idolatrously elevates the will to reign supreme, and it is this self-exaltation that creates guilt within the soul.
 




The Chosen Lamb of God...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Friday, April 3rd... ]

03.22.15 (Nisan 2, 5775)  The Sabbath that occurs immediately before Passover is called Shabbat HaGadol (שבת הגדול), which is associated with the selection of the sacrificial lamb four days before the time of Passover (Exod. 12:1-6). The New Testament notes that it was four days before Passover (Nisan 10) when Yeshua made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, signifying His Messiahship, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zech. 9:9). During this time, when the pilgrims had come to select a lamb for their Passover sacrifice at the Temple - they saw Yeshua and cried out: hoshiah na (הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא), meaning "please save" or "save now" (in English this phrase was translated from the Latin to form "Hosanna!"). The people spontaneously began singing Psalm 118:25-26 in anticipation of the great Messianic hope:
 

אָנָּא יְהוָה הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא אָנָּא יְהוָה הַצְלִיחָה נָּא
בָּרוּךְ הַבָּא בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה בֵּרַכְנוּכֶם מִבֵּית יְהוָה

an·na · Adonai · ho·shi·ah · na  / an·na · Adonai · hatz·li·cha · na
ba·rukh · ha·ba · be·shem · Adonai / be·rakh·nu·khem · mi·bet · Adonai
 

"Please, LORD save us! Please, LORD rescue us!
Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD
We bless you from the house of the LORD."
(Psalm 118:25-26)


 
Hebrew Study Card

 

Though he came in humility, riding upon a lowly donkey, it is striking to note that once he arrived in Jerusalem for Passover, Yeshua immediately went to the Temple and drove out all who sold there, overturning the tables of the "moneychangers" and the seats of those who sold pigeons (Matt. 21:1-16). The true Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) had come! At the Temple he then healed the blind and castigated the religious authorities by stating that the praise of children overruled their objections (Psalm 8:2). Over the next two days, he was accosted by priests, scribes, Pharisees, etc. - the whole religious establishment - which culminated in his utter denunciation of them beginning in Matthew 23 ("Woe unto you..."). He then left the Temple and foretold its destruction to the disciples, going on to explain the signs of the End of the Age (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) that would precede the advent of the Messianic Kingdom (Matt. 24). Yeshua was later crucified (before sundown) on Nisan 14, prophetically corresponding with the time when the Passover lambs were sacrificed at the Temple.

Note: For more on the prophetic aspects of the selection of the Passover lamb, see the Shabbat Hagadol pages. For a tentative chronology of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah, see "Reshit Katzir: Messiah as the Beginning of the Harvest."
 




The Ram of Ordination...


 

03.22.15 (Nisan 2, 5775)  In our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Tzav) we learn how the first priests of Israel were consecrated for service by the blood of the lamb. First Aaron and his sons were washed with water, arrayed in priestly garments, and anointed with holy oil. During this ordination ceremony, a sin offering and burnt offering were offered on their behalf, and then a special "ram of ordination" (i.e., eil ha-milu'im: אֵיל הַמִּלֻּאִים, lit. "ram of abundance [מָלֵא]") was slaughtered. Some of this ram's blood was applied to the right ear, right thumb, and big toe of the Aaron and his sons (a picture of Yeshua as our suffering High Priest), and the rest of the blood was dashed upon the sides of the altar. After its slaughter, Moses took some unleavened bread and put it in the hands of the priests to perform tenufah (a wave offering) before the altar (a picture of the resurrection).

 

As believers in Yeshua, we too have been anointed with the blood from the "Ram of Ordination" -- Yeshua as our Kohen Gadol of the better covenant (Heb. 8:6). And we too have been anointed with the sacred shemen (oil) that symbolizes the presence and aroma of the LORD in our lives. As followers of Yeshua we are therefore truly "...a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). As Yeshua said: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you" (John 15:16). May the LORD God of Israel be pleased to help you serve Him in the truth...

Please see the quick summary for Tzav for more information. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for this portion here:
 


 




Thinking about Passover...


 

[ Tonight begins Rosh Chodashim, and that means Passover begins in just two weeks... ]

03.20.15 (Adar 29, 5775)  Generally speaking there are two "New Years" in the Biblical calendar and Jewish tradition. The first occurs two weeks before Passover (on the new moon of Nisan) and the second occurs during Rosh Hashanah (on the new moon of Tishri). The first New Year marks the month of the redemption of the Israelites from Egypt by the blood of the lamb (דַּם הַשֶּׂה) -- and it is also the month in which Yeshua was sacrificed upon the cross at Moriah to redeem us from our sins. The second New Year marks the month of Israels' corporate salvation that will be fulfilled in the prophesied End of Days.

Passover is really a month long celebration. Over and over it is referred to as the "month of spring" (חדֶשׁ הָאָבִיב), the "month of redemption," the month of Nisan, and so on. The word Nisan (נִיסָן) itself might come from either the word nitzan (נִצָּן), meaning "bud" (Song 2:12), or the word nissim (נִסִּים) meaning "miracles," both of which suggest physical and spiritual resurrection in our lives.

We understand Passover to center on the victory of God over the powers of darkness for the sake of our deliverance (יְשׁוּעָה). "Let my people go!" Indeed, the month of Nisan is called Chodesh ha-yeshuah (חדֶשׁ הַיְשׁוּעָה), the "month of the salvation," both in terms of remembering the physical deliverance from the political powers of Egypt, but more profoundly in terms of our spiritual deliverance given at Zion/Moriah through the Messiah. Chodesh ha-yeshuah can also be read as chadash ha-yeshuah, "the new (חָדָשׁ) salvation," suggesting the new covenant power we are given in the Messiah. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, chaverim, but against hidden powers of darkness that seek to enslave us as Pharaoh did of old (Eph. 6:12). But thanks be to God who gives us the victory (netzach, salvation) through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah (1 Cor. 15:57).

In our Haggadah (i.e., Passover Seder guide), we read: "In every generation each of us is obliged to view himself as though he has gone out of Egypt. Not only did the Holy One, blessed be He, redeem our ancestors, but he redeemed us, too, with them..." And this is even more so regarding the great Lamb of God, Yeshua our LORD!

Ultimately the season of Passover is about experiencing the deliverance of God from our fears, despite the appearance of rampant wickedness in this world. During this season - and always - may He help us walk by faith (באמונה שלמה), not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). May He give you comfort and reassure you of His strong arm of deliverance at this time...
 




Made Alive with Him...


 

03.20.15 (Adar 29, 5775)  Our journey is about life and death. "I have been crucified with Messiah, nevertheless I live..." (Gal. 2:20). God wants your old life to die, or rather, for you to understand that you have been set free from its hold over you, so that your new life can now live. "The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Cor. 5:17). "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing (i.e., καταργέω, made powerless) so we would no longer be enslaved to sin" (Rom. 6:6). You not only die to your former life, identifying with Yeshua's death for you, but you also come alive, reborn and set free, identifying with His life for you. Yeshua came to set us free from the power of sin so that we can live life in abundance (John 10:10).

May this New Year be a season of tremendous growth and blessing for you, my friend... May you be who you are in Yeshua!  SHANAH TOVAH B'Yeshua and Shabbat Chodesh shalom!
 




Korban of Heart...


 

03.20.15 (Adar 29, 5775)  From our Torah portion for Shabbat Chodesh (i.e., Vayikra) we read: "If any brings an offering (korban) of you..." (Lev. 1:2). The sages comment that since korban (קָרְבָּן) means "drawing near" (קָרֵב), we learn that to draw near to God requires a sacrifice from the depths of the heart, an "offering of you." We then meet with God in our mutual giving, since God Himself always gives to us from the depths of his heart in Yeshua.

Amen. Draw near by the Lamb! "May it be your will, LORD our God and God of our fathers, that you renew for us a good and sweet year in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah." [Amen] L'shanah tovah u'metukah (שָׁנָה טוֹבָה וּמְתוּקָה) -- to a good and sweet new year, friends!
 




Struggles of Faith...


 

03.20.15 (Adar 29, 5775)  Do you sometimes have trouble believing? Do you wrestle with fear, anxiety, or worry? We should not be scandalized that we struggle with our faith. After all, Yeshua constantly tested his disciples: "Do you now believe?" (John 16:31). Of course it's quite easy to "believe" when things are going well, when faith "makes sense" or provides you with a sense of community, etc., but when things are difficult, when there are disappointments, pain, grief, losses, etc., then you need to trust in the unseen good, the "hidden hand" of God's love, despite the trouble of your present circumstances. This is part of faith's journey: leaning on God's care, despite the "valley of the shadow of death," despite the tests... The way may sometimes be difficult, but "the tested genuineness of your faith -- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire -- will be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Pet. 1:7).

Faith is the "substance" of hope; the "conviction" of the unseen miracle (Heb. 11:1). May the LORD our God grant you comfort and courage as you put your complete trust in him.
 




Shabbat HaChodesh...


 

[ The last Sabbath of the year is a "wake up call" to begin preparing for Passover... ]

03.19.15 (Adar 28, 5775)  This coming Sabbath is called "HaChodesh" (the "Sabbath of the Month" [of Nisan]), which means it is the very last Sabbath of the Biblical year. We honor this event by "sanctifying" the new moon (Exod. 12:1-20), and we spiritually prepare for this season by taking some time to review the meaning and importance of the season of Passover. For instance, Passover has four traditional names: Chag Ha-Pesach (the holiday of the Passover [Num. 9:2]); Chag HaMatzot (the holiday of Unleavened Bread [Exod. 12:17-20]); Chag Ha-Aviv (the holiday of Spring [Deut. 16:1]), and Z'man Cheiruteinu (the Season of our Freedom). The Torah also uses four expressions of freedom to tell the Jewish people how He will take them out of Egypt ("I will bring you out"; "I will free you"; "I will redeem you"; and "I will take you as my own"), each expression of which is associated with one of the four cups of the traditional Seder. Above all, however, Passover marks the yahrzeit (anniversary of the death) of Yeshua as our Passover Lamb.
 




The Fear of the LORD...



 

03.19.15 (Adar 28, 5775)  Some people are afraid that God will punish them for their sins, but the true fear of God, yirat ha'shamayim (יראת השמים), may better be understood as the fear of losing our closeness to Him... The sages say that where it is written, "What does the LORD ask of you except to fear the LORD" (Deut. 10:12), we should read instead, "fear with the LORD" (לְיִרְאָה אֶת־יְהוָה), that is, we share his concern that we could forfeit the sanctity of a heart-relationship with Him due to carelessness and sin (Heb. 3:13). We fear our sin because it blinds us from awareness of God's care and love. The fear of God can therefore be understood as God's fear that we will miss the blessing of intimately knowing him.

The LORD has promised to never leave nor forsake us, though we can choose to turn away from his love and care for our lives... We are not permitted to fear other than that we have no fear of God, for that indeed is a fearful state of soul.  May it please God to help each us never to leave nor forsake ourselves by getting lost, by forgetting what is real, and by abandoning hope in the miracle for our lives... May the LORD help us not be grieved, not to hurt ourselves, and never to abandon our hearts to the despair of shame...
 




A Consuming Fire...


 

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

03.19.15 (Adar 28, 5775)  From our Torah portion this week we read: "it (i.e., the burnt offering) shall be "a fire-offering of sweet fragrance to the LORD" (Lev. 1:9). Here the sages connect the desire to serve God with holy fire, and where it says "The LORD your God is a consuming fire" (Deut. 4:24), read instead, "The LORD is a God who consumes your fire," that is, he feeds on the passion and faithfulness of your heart in response to His love. That is what is meant by re'ach nicho'ach ladonai (רֵיחַ־נִיחוֹחַ לַיהוָה), a "sweet fragrance to the LORD." Ultimately, however, the fragrant fire, or "the spirit of the comfort of the LORD," is the passion of Yeshua, the great Lamb of God who died in intercession upon the "fiery altar of the cross" to bring us peace with God...
 




Messiah and Sacrifice...


 

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

03.18.15 (Adar 27, 5775)  The very first prophecy of Torah concerns the promise of the coming "seed of the woman" who would vanquish the serpent (nachash) that had originally tempted and deceived Eve (Gen. 3:15), and the very first sacrifice of the Torah was offered by God Himself, when He slaughtered a lamb to cover the shame of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21). The New Testament teaches that Yeshua came as the Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) to die "for our sins" (John 1:29). Sin separates us from God, but korban (sacrifice) draws us near. The message of the gospel is that the Voice of the LORD - the very Word spoken from between the cherubim above the kapporet (mercy seat) - "became flesh" (ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο) and "tabernacled among us" (ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν) for the purpose of becoming our substitutionary sacrifice for the guilt and defilement caused by our sin (John 1:1,14). Yeshua was "born to die" (Heb. 10:5-7), and his life was lived in relation to His sacrificial death (Mark 8:27-33). As the Apostle Paul put it: This is of "first importance": Messiah was born to die for our sins, to make us right with God, and was raised from the dead to vindicate the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 15:3-5).

"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14-15; Num. 21:5-9). Humanity as a whole has been "bitten by the snake" and needs to be delivered from its lethal venom. Just as the image made in the likeness of the destroying snake was lifted up for Israel's healing, so the One made in the likeness of sinful flesh was to be lifted up to forever be the Healer of the world (Rom. 8:3). Bless His Holy Name.

For more on this subject, see "Parashat Vayikra: Why the Sacrifices?"
 




Hope, despite ourselves...


 

03.18.15 (Adar 27, 5775)  We must give our secret pain to God, even if we don't understand it, and even if it refuses to go away... Our hearts are often vexed; we are a mess of mixed motives; we are strong to be made weak, weak to be made strong. We bless and curse from the same mouth... And yet, despite all this, despite our inner contradictions, the dance between the "old man" and "new," the divided house of our lives - our present sorrows, our troubles, our fears – we must endure ourselves, we must press on, and we must never let go of hope in God's love. Therefore we must not hide ourselves from God's presence, nor pretend to be what we are not. We are invited to come boldly before the Lord to help in our hour of need. O Lord my God, be Thou my healer, the One who makes me whole... Refa'eini Adonai, ve'eiafei: "Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed."
 

רְפָאֵנִי יְהוָה וְאֵרָפֵא
הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי וְאִוָּשֵׁעָה כִּי תְהִלָּתִי אָתָּה

 re·fa·ei·ni · Adonai · ve·ei·ra·fei
ho·shi·ei·ni · ve·iv·va·shei·ah, · ki · te·hil·la·ti · at·tah
 

"Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise."
(Jer. 17:14)



Hebrew Study Card
 

The fact that God knows the number of hairs on your head means that he knows you better than you know yourself... Your heavenly Father "sees in secret," and that also means that he can and will save you from whatever is hidden within you that still resists his love and touch... We have to trust in God's power to heal us, even when it seems that healing is not forthcoming, even when we still find ourselves divided, troubled, and anxious. We have to believe that God's help is always present. "Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who hope for the LORD."

God sees what He does within us, His "it-is-finished" work, the effect of His great salvation within our hearts, even if at this present hour this may be hidden from our eyes... There is appearance, and there is reality; and only God sees what is ultimately real. We have to trust in His promise to be transformed into the divine nature, even if today we find ourselves sinful, needy, and in disrepair... By God's grace we are what we are. So don't give up. We are saved by hope (ἐλπίδι ἐσώθημεν, Rom. 8:24), a hope for you today.
 




Reckoning our Days...


 

03.17.15 (Adar 26, 5775)  Moses prayed to God: "teach us to number our days," that is, help us understand how to make our days count for eternity, to have a weight of glory that will shine in the world to come... The sages say on the day of death, one considers one's life as if it had been but a single day... Life goes by so quickly, and we never know when our personal Rosh Hashanah will come. "No one knows the day or hour..." Test yourself by looking at the clock: As each hour passes, ask whether you have accomplished any good for your soul. Where are you going, today? That's why it is so vital to be healed and to turn to God while there is still time. So turn to him today and bacharta ba'chayim (בָּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים) – "choose life!" "For this commandment (of turning to God in teshuvah) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away. It is not in heaven... nor across the sea.... Rather, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and heart - so you can do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; cp. Rom. 10:8-13).
 

לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע
 וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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




Leviticus and the Lamb...


 

03.17.15 (Adar 26, 5775)  The Book of Leviticus (i.e., sefer Vayikra) is the third of the Torah, representing another stage in our spiritual journey. Genesis reveals both our divine origin but also our tragic fallenness, and the book ends with our need for deliverance from bondage to Egypt. Exodus reveals that we are liberated from slavery by trusting in the provision of God demonstrated by the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, and the book ends with the climax of the revelation of Torah given at Sinai, namely, the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) where the the need for blood atonement was enshrined. Indeed blood atonement is the central theme of the central book of Torah, i.e., Leviticus, where we are called to draw near to God through sacrificial rites, the foremost of which was the ongoing offering (i.e., korban tamid: קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד) of a defect-free male lamb, together with unleavened bread and wine. The LORD called this "My offering, My bread" (Num. 28:1-8). In other words, the center of the Torah is the altar that constantly prefigured the Lamb of God who would be offered up to secure our eternal redemption (John 1:29; Heb. 9:11-12).
 

רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה

ra·uy · ha·seh · ha·ta·vu·ach · le·ka·bel · ge·vu·rah
o·sher · ve·chokh·mah · ve·ko·ach · vi·kar · ve·kha·vod · uv·ra·kha
 

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and might and honor and glory and blessing"
(Rev. 5:12)



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Though God instructed each household to select its own defect-free lamb for the family Passover, the Torah refers to "the" Lamb of God, as if there was only one: "You shall keep it [i.e., the Passover lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter him (אתוֹ) at twilight (Exod. 12:6). From the lamb offered in the Garden of Eden to the daily offering of the lamb at the Temple, to the cross at Calvary, Torah centers on the great Lamb of God....
 




Teshuvah of Despair...


 

03.16.15 (Adar 25, 5775)  There are moments – dark, gnawing, raw – when you may lose sight of hope, when you might even fear that you have lost your faith – not in God or his promises – but rather in yourself, in your own strength to continue, to stay focused, to keep pressing on "hope against hope..." The remedy here is always the same: to remember that within you – that is, in your flesh - "there is no good thing" and that the miracle of salvation is made secure by God's passion for you, not your own power or desire. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the LORD of Hosts." We don't trust in ourselves nor in the strength of our inner resolve, but solely in the power of God to make the way. We must turn away from ourselves to regain the message of God's unfailing love; only when we lose sight of ourselves do we find ourselves. God redeems you from your lost estate and touches you in your uncleanness; He clothes himself in your pain so that you may be clothed in his love. That never changes, despite dark moments, and to that we must always return...

Where it says, "I can do all things through Messiah who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13), that includes being healed of the inner pain of rejection, abandonment, and even abuse suffered from childhood. It means being set free from disillusionment, despair, and the oppression of relentless fear. "I can do all things through Messiah" means no longer accepting messages of self-hatred, no longer heeding the malicious whispers that say: "I am of no value," "I am unlovable," "my life is hopeless." No, "I can do all things through Messiah" means learning to be accepted, honored, and esteemed by God; it means opening your heart to God's love and blessing for your life; it means allowing your heart to be made right, to have inner peace... After all, Yeshua's great prayer was that we would know the truth of God's love for us (John 17), and this is the central need our lives...

Note:  Please remember this ministry in your prayers, friends. Passover season always seems a bit overwhelming over here, plus I am dealing with some health-related concerns. Thank you so much, and shalom.
 




The Call of Vayikra...


 

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

03.16.15 (Adar 25, 5775)  The first verse of Leviticus is usually translated: "And the LORD called to Moses and spoke to him," where the subject of the verb vayikra (וַיִּקְרָא), "and he called," has an implied antecedent, which if expressed would read: "And the LORD called to Moses and the LORD spoke..." The Hebrew text of the Torah scroll is written with a small Aleph (א) at the end of the verb vayikra, however, indicating something of textual and grammatical interest. Note that the Hebrew letter Aleph is constructed from two Yods (each that represent a yad, or "hand") joined by a diagonal Vav (that represents a man). One Yod (י) reaches upward while the other reaches downward, and both extend from the "fallen" Vav (ו), picturing Yeshua, the humble One who was "wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities" as our Mediator between heaven and earth (Isa. 53:5; 1 Tim. 2:5). The implied subject, then, of vayikra can be seen to be the "small Aleph," the Humble One who calls out from the Tent of Meeting...

"And he called" is written anonymously but once you understand that this is the Word of the LORD speaking, you will turn back to the Creator and then YHVH will speak to you from within the Tent of Meeting...
 




A New Beginning...


 

[ The Biblical Year (Rosh Chodashim) begins Friday, March 20th at sundown (i.e., Nisan 1, 5775),  which means that Passover begins in just two weeks - on Friday, April 3rd at sundown. ]

03.16.15 (Adar 25, 5775)  The very first word of the Torah indicates the significance of time, namely, bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית) - "in the beginning..." (Gen. 1:1), and according to tradition, the very first commandment given to the children of Israel (as a whole) was that of Rosh Chodesh (ראש חודש), or the declaration of the beginning (i.e., rosh) of the "new month," and particularly the very first month of their redemption (see Exod. 12:2). In other words, Passover month was to begin Israel's year, and indeed the sacrificial system itself (i.e., the Tabernacle) was consecrated precisely on the new moon of the first month (Exod. 40:2). Note that the Hebrew word for month (i.e., chodesh) comes from the root chadash (חָדָש), meaning "new," and therefore the Passover redemption was intended to mark a "new beginning" for the Jewish people. And indeed, God marks the start of our personal redemption as the beginning of our life as a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), just as Yeshua is the "first of the firstfruits" of God's redeemed humanity (1 Cor. 15:45-49).
 




The Biblical New Year...


 

[ The advent of the month of Nisan portends that Passover will be here in just two short weeks, with the first Seder held on Friday evening, April 3rd... Note that this year the Biblical New Year falls on the Spring Equinox, and there will also be a solar eclipse on this day! ]

03.15.15 (Adar 24, 5775)  The beginning of the Biblical Year (called Rosh Chodashim) begins Friday, March 20th at sundown (i.e., Nisan 1, 5775). Look for the first sign of the waxing crescent later this week, chaverim.  Spring is in the air! Now is the time to prepare for Passover which begins in just two weeks (i.e., on Friday, 3rd at sundown):


 

The new month of Nisan is most significant because it initiates the first month of the Biblical Calendar - and therefore represents the Biblical "New Year's Day." Of all the various Rosh Chodesh celebrations, then, Rosh Chodesh Nisan is foundational, since it presents the starting point for the cycle of the yearly festivals (mo'edim) that reveal prophetic truths about the LORD God of Israel and His beloved Son, Yeshua the Messiah, blessed be He.
 

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

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

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



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According to the Jewish sages, there are two orders of creation, the natural and the supernatural, both of which mirror each other in the biblical calendar. The natural order refers to the physical creation of the heavens and the earth, whereas the supernatural refers to re-creation, or rebirth. On the traditional calendar, the natural order of creation is commemorated in the fall, during Rosh Hashanah (i.e., Tishri 1), whereas the supernatural is celebrated in the spring, during Rosh Chodashim (i.e., Nisan 1).

The following prayer is customarily said during Rosh Hashanah (in the fall), but it is equally applicable for the New Year of Nisan and the great Season of Passover:
 

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ
וֵאלהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ
שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ שָׁנָה טוֹבָה וּמְתוּקָה
בַּאֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ אמן

ye·hi · ra·tzon · mil·fa·ne·kha, · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu
ve·lo·hei · a·vo·tei·nu,
she·te·cha·desh · a·lei·nu · sha·nah · to·vah · u·me·tu·kah
ba·A·do·nei·nu · Ye·shu·a · ha·Ma·shi·ach  [a·men]
 

"May it be your will, LORD our God
and God of our fathers,
that you renew for us a good and sweet year
in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah." [Amen]



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May it please the Lord our God to help us attune our hearts to the theme of this coming Passover season, and to prepare ourselves to "keep the feast" (1 Cor. 5:7-8). May He help us all get rid of the spiritual "chametz" (leaven) that sours our soul and to grant us sincerity and the keenness of concentration needed for this time.  Amen.
 




The LORD Calls Out - ויקרא


 

[ This week we begin a new book of Torah, sefer Vayikra (i.e., the book of Leviticus)... ]
 
03.13.15 (Adar 24, 5775)  Our Torah portion for this week is Vayikra ("and he called"), the very first section from the Book of Leviticus. In Jewish tradition, Leviticus is sometimes called the "Book of Sacrifices" since it deals largely with the various sacrificial offerings brought to the altar at the Tabernacle. Indeed, over 40 percent of all the Torah's commandments are found in this central book of the Scriptures, highlighting that blood atonement is essential to the Torah. After all, since the revelation of the Tabernacle was the climax of the revelation given at Sinai, the Book of Leviticus serves as its ritual expression, as it is written: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement (kapparah) by the life" (Lev. 17:11).

Unlike narrative portions of other books of the Torah, the Book of Leviticus begins with the LORD "calling out" (i.e., vayikra) to Moses to explain that the way to draw near to Him is by means of atoning sacrifice. It is noteworthy that throughout the book, only the sacred name of the LORD (יהוה) is used in connection with sacrificial offerings, and never the name Elohim (אֱלהִים). This suggests that sacrificial offerings were given to draw us near to experience God's mercy and compassion rather than to simply appease His anger.... In other words, the Name of the LORD represents salvation (i.e., yeshuah: יְשׁוּעָה) and healing for the sinner, not God's judgment (John 3:17). Indeed, the word korban (קָרְבָּן), often translated as "sacrifice" or "offering," comes from a root word karov (קָרַב) that means to "draw close" or "to come near" (James 4:8). The sinner who approached the LORD trusting in the efficacy of the sacrificial blood shed on his or her behalf would find healing and life...

Note that the word in the ancient Greek translation of the Torah (called the Septuagint) that was selected to translate the Hebrew word kapporet (i.e., "mercy seat") is hilasterion (ἱλαστήριον), sometimes translated "propitiation." The New Testament picks up this usage in Romans 3:25: "God put forward Yeshua as a propitiation (ἱλαστήριον) through faith in His blood." In other words, the shedding of Yeshua's blood - represented by His Passion upon the cross - was "presented" upon the Heavenly Kapporet, before the very Throne of God Himself for our atoning sacrifice (i.e., kapparah: כַּפָּרָה) before God.

Please see the summary for parashat Vayikra for more information. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for this portion here:
 

 




Finding Sabbath Peace...


 

03.13.15 (Adar 22, 5775)  The name YHVH (יהוה), means "God is Present" and "God is near" - as close as your own heart. The LORD is near, even should you feel lost and far away.... We can attune ourselves to hear God's "still, small voice" (קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה) when we are quieted, not when we are surrounded by the crowd and its cheers and its murmurings... God cannot be found in noise and restlessness, much less in the fear-mongering and propaganda of this world. "God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls."
 

הַרְפּוּ וּדְעוּ כִּי־אָנכִי אֱלהִים
 אָרוּם בַּגּוֹיִם אָרוּם בָּאָרֶץ

har·pu · u·de·u · ki · a·no·khi · E·lo·him
a·rum · ba·go·yim · a·rum · ba·a·retz
 

"Be still and know that I am God,
 I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."
(Psalm 46:10)



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

Of course it is hard to be still, to rest, and to quiet the heart... The Hebrew verb "be still" (i.e., rapha: רָפָה) means to let go, to stop striving, to relinquish control, and to surrender your life and the fate of the world to the care of God... Being still means finding serenity and inner peace in the midst of God's providential plans for good... "Stand still, and see the salvation of God" (Exod. 14:13). As Blaise Pascal once noted, "All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone." This is because many people cannot live with themselves and seek escape; they therefore are compelled to seek release through the buzz and noise of what lies outside of themselves.... We experience God by receiving his peace: "Stop your striving and know that I am God."

One of the Ten Commandments is to rest in the LORD your God (Exod. 20:8-11), which is a picture of the "set table" the LORD provides for us as his children. The deepest principle of Sabbath is that we are set free from our striving and can open our hearts to God's gracious love... "Salvation is of the LORD," and we rest in the what the Lord has done for us. "If you call the Sabbath a delight; if you honor it, then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken" (Isa. 58:13-14).

Shabbat Shalom and may we all experience the rest of Messiah for our souls!  Amen.
 




Sabbath Blessings...


 

03.13.15 (Adar 22, 5775)  After reciting the candle lighting blessing to usher in the Sabbath, it is customary for the woman of the house to bless her family. First the blessing itself is recited: "May you be blessed, LORD our God, King of the world, for having sanctified us with His commandments, and for teaching us to kindle the lights of Sabbath. Amen." Then she continues: "My God and God of Israel, may it be your will to bestow grace upon me (and my husband) and all my relatives. Grant good and long lives to us and to all the people of Israel. Think of us constantly to bring upon us goodness and blessing. Bring us your salvation and mercy and grant us great blessings. Bring peace into our household, and may your presence dwell among us. Grant us the ability to raise our children and grandchildren to be wise and understanding people who love God, who are God-fearing, and of holy stock. May they cleave unto God and may they light up the world with their Torah, good deeds, and service of the Almighty. Please, listen to my plea in the merit of our Matriarchs, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah. Kindle our light so that it will never be extinguished. Shine Your Face upon us now, LORD, in our beloved Messiah Yeshua's Name. Amen."
 




The Spiritual Light of Faith...


 

03.13.15 (Adar 22, 5775)  Spiritually speaking, the very first step is to find hope... The Divine Light is seen by means of the eye of faith (עַיִן שֶׁל אֱמוּנָה), as it is written, "Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; He is gracious, merciful, and righteous" (Psalm 112:4). Therefore we find life by trusting in God's Presence, even though we cannot presently see Him (2 Cor. 4:18; 5:7). "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Know Him in all your ways, and He will straighten your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil" (Prov. 3:5-7).
 

בְּטַח אֶל־יְהוָה בְּכָל־לִבֶּךָ וְאֶל־בִּינָתְךָ אַל־תִּשָּׁעֵן
בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ וְהוּא יְיַשֵּׁר ארְחתֶיךָ
אַל־תְּהִי חָכָם בְּעֵינֶיךָ יְרָא אֶת־יְהוָה וְסוּר מֵרָע

be·tach · el · Adonai · be·khol · lib·be·kha · ve·el · bi·na·te·kha · al · tish·a·en
be·khol · de·ra·khe·kha · da·ei·hu · ve·hu · ye·ya·sher · or·cho·te·kha
al · te·hi · cha·kham · be·ei·ne·kha · ye·ra · et · Adonai · ve·sur · me·ra
 

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
Know Him in all your ways, and He will straighten your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil."
(Prov. 3:5-7)

Shiviti

Hebrew Study Card
 

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

יְהוָה עז לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן
יְהוָה יְבָרֵךְ אֶת־עַמּוֹ בַשָּׁלוֹם

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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




Meta-Themes of Exodus...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Pekudei...  ]

03.13.15 (Adar 22, 5775)  The theme of the Book of Exodus essentially turns on two great events, namely, the deliverance of the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt (yetzi'at Mitzraim) and the subsequent revelation given at Sinai (mattan Torah). Both of these events, however, are grounded in the deeper theme of God's faithful love combined with the need for blood atonement. With regard to the former, the blood of the Passover lamb was required to cause death to "pass over" the houses of the Israelites; with regard to the latter, the sacrificial system (i.e., the Mishkan) was required to draw near to God.

Jewish tradition tends to regard the giving of the law at Sinai to be the goal of the entire redemptive process, a sort of "return from Exile" to the full stature of God's chosen people. Some of the sages have taken this a step further by saying that God created the very universe so that Israel would accept the Torah. Such traditions, it should be understood, derive more from Jewish rabbinical thinking codified after the destruction of the Second Temple than from the narrative presented in the written Torah itself, since is clear that the climax of the revelation at Sinai was to impart the pattern of the Mishkan to Moses. In other words, the goal of revelation was not primarily to impart a set of moral or social laws, but rather to accommodate the Divine Presence in the midst of the people. This is not to suggest that the various laws and decrees given to Israel were unimportant, of course, since they reflected the holy character and moral will of God. Nonetheless, it is without question that the Torah was revealed concurrently with the revelation of the Sanctuary itself, and the two cannot be separated apart from "special pleading" and the suppression of the revelation given in the Torah itself... The meticulous account of the Mishkan is given twice in the Torah to emphasize its importance to God. This further explains why Leviticus is the central book of the Torah of Moses. (For more on this, see "The Eight Aliyot of Moses.")

As we consider these things, however, it is important to realize that underlying the events surrounding deliverance and revelation is something even more fundamental, namely, the great theme of faith (אֱמוּנָה). This theme is our response to God's redemptive love. God's love is the question, and our response - our teshuvah - is the answer.  The great command is always to "Choose life!" We must chose to turn away from the darkness to behold the Light... Jewish tradition states there were many Jews who perished in Egypt during the Plague of Darkness because they refused to believe in God's love. Likewise, the revelation at Sinai failed to transform the hearts of many Jews because they despaired of finding hope...

As glorious as the redemption and revelation was, then, there was something even more foundational that gave "inward life" to God's gracious intervention. You must first believe that God loves you and regards you as worthy of His love; you must "accept that you are accepted." It is your faith that brings you near...  This is the "Cinderella Story" of Exodus.

The themes of Exodus will mean little to you unless you identify with the journey of the people, and that implies that you reckon yourself as worth saving... You must see yourself as the recipient of divine affection and love. After all, without this as a first step, how will you make the rest of the journey? This is similar to the very First Commandment revealed at Sinai: "I AM the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt..." Notice that the statement, "I AM the LORD your God" (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ) was uttered in the second person singular, rather than in the plural.  In other words, you (personally) must be willing to accept the love of the LORD into your heart, since the rest of the Torah is merely commentary to this step of faith. Therefore the Book of Exodus is called Shemot (שְׁמוֹת), "names," because it sees every person as worthy of God's redeeming love and revelation. "For God so loved the world..." (John 3:16).

Note:  For more on this subject, see "Choosing to Belong: Further thoughts on Pekudei."
 




God Draws Near...


 

03.13.15 (Adar 22, 5775)  The Book of Exodus ends with these words: "The cloud of the LORD was on the Tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys" (Exod. 40:38), which again demonstrates that our redemption from Egypt led to the revelation at Sinai, and particularly to the sanctuary that manifested God's Presence in our midst. The climactic moment of service in the Tabernacle occurred during Yom Kippur, when the High Priest would draw near to offer sacrificial blood upon the cover the Ark of the Covenant to atone for the sins of the people. Prophetically, the High Priest's service signified God's great passion for us as He drew near to us in the sacrificial life of Yeshua.  In the end, we can make a place for God to dwell only because God has made a place for us to dwell (1 John 4:19). As Moses attested: Adonai ma'on atah hayita lanu be'dor va'dor: "Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations" (Psalm 90:1). The tabernacle we become, then, is God's handiwork, just as the true Tabernacle is made "without hands," that is, beyond our finite concepts, designs, and "religion" (Heb. 9:11-12). The revelation, then, is that God draws near, and His great love heals us and returns us to life... We are brought to a place of humility, trusting in God's healing beauty to be our eternal dwelling. Amen, let it be so of us.
 




Advent of the Lamb...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Pekudei...  ]

03.12.15 (Adar 21, 5775)  In our Torah portion this week (Pekudei) we learn that Moses consecrated the Mishkan (Tabernacle) on Rosh Chodashim, "the first day of the first month of the second year [since the Exodus]" (Exod. 40:17). Note that this date (i.e., Nisan 1) marks the start of the Biblical year and the month of the Passover redemption (see Exod. 12:1-12). The Torah's calendar therefore begins with the advent of the lamb of God, just as the central sacrifice of the Tabernacle was the daily sacrifice (i.e., korban tamid: קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד) of a lamb offered with unleavened bread and wine. The LORD calls this "My offering, My bread..." (see Num. 28:1-8). In other words, the service and ministry of the Tabernacle constantly foreshadowed the coming Lamb of God who would be offered upon the altar "made without hands" to secure our eternal redemption (Heb. 9:11-12).

As mentioned before, the climax of the Torah given at Sinai was the revelation of the Tabernacle. The tablets of the law, summarizing the Ten Commandments, were stored inside the Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן בְּרִית־יְהוָה), the innermost place of the Tabernacle, a sacred "three-in-one" box.  As such, the ark served as a symbol of kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), the Throne of Glory. It stood entirely apart as the only furnishing placed in the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). Upon the cover of the Ark (i.e., the kapporet) were fashioned two cherubim (i.e., angel-like figures) that faced one another (Exod. 25:17-18). According to the Talmud (Succah 5b), each cherub had the face of a child - one boy and one girl - and their wings spread heavenward as their eyes gazed upon the cover (Exod. 25:20). God's voice would be heard only in the midst of innocence, humility, purity, and hope... Each year during Yom Kippur, sacrificial blood was sprinkled seven times over the cover of the Ark to symbolize the covering of the law's demand and the atonement of sin secured through Messiah.
 




Seeing your New Face...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Vayakhel...  ]

03.12.15 (Adar 21, 5775)  At the entrance of the Tabernacle a bronze "laver" was built, the place where we wash and prepare ourselves to come before the Divine Presence (Exod. 30:18). The Torah says the basin was made from the mirrors of women who offered them to help build the sanctuary (see Exod. 38:8). Spiritually understood, the mirror was transformed from a place where we encounter our own appearance to a place where we encounter God. Instead of focusing on our superficial face – how it looks and how we esteem ourselves, we now see ourselves in light of God's love, with our former self-image "sacrificed" or surrendered for the gift of a deeper self (2 Cor. 5:16). This is the "new self" cleansed by the Word of God, reflecting back the radiance of His Presence, as it says: "put on the new self (הָאָדָם הֶחָדָשׁ) created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:24). The sacrificed mirror represents turning to face reality, to see ourselves as God see us... Because of Yeshua, we have access to the inner heart of God (Heb. 4:16). Know who you are in Messiah: "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18).
 




The Beginning and End...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Pekudei...  ]

03.1.15 (Adar 21, 5775)  The final portion of the Book of Exodus (i.e., Pekudei) provides details about the construction of the Tabernacle (מִשְׁכָּן) and its furnishings as well as the special clothing of the priests. At the end of the portion we read, וַיְכַל משֶׁה אֶת־הַמְּלָאכָה / "Moses finished all the work" (Exod. 40:33), a phrase that has the same gematria (numeric value) as bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית, "in the beginning"), the very first word of the Torah (Gen. 1:1). This suggests that the very creation of the universe was for the sake of the building of the Tabernacle, and by extension, for the sake of the sacrificial love of God to be demonstrated to all of creation. The Talmud states, "All the world was created for the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b) and indeed, Yeshua is called "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" in the New Testament (Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9). "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 therefore begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Messiah, the great Lamb of God... He is the Center of Creation - the Aleph and Tav - the Beginning and the End (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:17).

Some of the sages have said that "the seal of God is truth," since the final letters of the three words that conclude the account of creation -- bara Elohim la'asot ("God created to do" [Gen. 2:3]) -- spell the Hebrew word for truth (i.e., emet: אֱמֶת):
 
 

The idea that God created the world "to do" implies that He had finished all His work of creation (and redemption) after the sixth day (Heb. 4:3), which is another way of saying that Yeshua is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. "All the world was created for the Messiah." Salvation is not an afterthought or "plan B" of God's purpose for creation. "Before Abraham was, I AM." Our LORD Yeshua always is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life for us (John 14:6). As it is written of Messiah: "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created" (Rev. 4:11). Blessed is the Name of the LORD forever and ever....
 




Wisdom of the Heart...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Vayakhel...  ]

03.12.15 (Adar 21, 5775)  From our Torah portion this week we read: "Let every wise-hearted (חֲכַם־לֵב) among you come and make all that the LORD has commanded" (Exod. 35:10). The sages comment that none of the people actually had the skills to fashion the glorious things of the sanctuary, but they had something even better – a passionate desire to do God's will, and this enabled them to access God's help to do what was needed. The purpose of the commandment was to involve the heart, to refine the character: "And everyone whose heart moved him brought what was needed…" (Exod. 35:22). God could have created the sanctuary "yesh me'ayin," out of nothing, but he wanted the heart of his people to express their desire for his presence in their midst.

The beginning of wisdom is the awe of the LORD (Psalm 111:10), that is, relating to reality with reverence and learning to distinguish what is sacred. Note that God does not build the mishkan directly, but allows us to bring our heart and creativity to the task. Practically speaking being chacham-lev, "wise of heart," means knowing what you must do to help reveal divine beauty in the world.
 

רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה יִרְאַת יְהוָה
שֵׂכֶל טוֹב לְכָל־עשֵׂיהֶם
תְּהִלָּתוֹ עמֶדֶת לָעַד

reishit · chokh·mah · yir·at · Adonai
se·khel · tov · le'khol · o·se·hem
te·hil·la·to · o·me·det · la'ad
 

"The awe of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding:
His praise stands forever."
(Psalm 111:10)



 




The Power of God...


 

03.12.15 (Adar 21, 5775)  People confuse morality with religion, saying things like, "if I do good, the rest will take care of itself," but Yeshua did not come to simply teach (or reinforce) moral truth, but to die for our sins and to transform our nature. The message of the cross is not that we should reform ourselves with renewed hope, but rather that our old nature must die and be replaced with something far greater... When King David cried out to the Lord, "Create in me a clean heart, O God," he did not use the Hebrew word yatzar (יָצַר), which means to "fashion" or "form" something from pre-existing material (Gen. 2:7), but he instead used the word bara (בָּרָא), a verb exclusively used in the Torah to refer to God's direct creation of the cosmos (Gen. 1:1). In other words, King David understood that no amount of reformation of his character would be enough, and therefore he appealed to that very power of God that alone could create yesh me'ayin, or "out of nothing." Such was the nature of the remedy required that was fulfilled in the cross of Messiah...
 

לֵב טָהוֹר בְּרָא־לִי אֱלהִים
וְרוּחַ נָכוֹן חַדֵּשׁ בְּקִרְבִּי

lev · ta·hor · be·ra·li · E·lo·him,
ve·ru·ach · na·khon · cha·desh · be·kir·bi
 

"Create for me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me"
(Psalm 51:10)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Yeshua taught, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). The Greek word translated "pure" is katharos (καθαρός), sometimes used describe the cleansing of a wound (catharsis), or to describe the unalloyed quality of a substance revealed through refining fire. Metaphorically, then, purity of heart refers to separation from the profane - singleness of vision, wholeheartedness, passion, and focused desire for the sacred. Faith is a great trembling of love: "With this ring I do worship thee..." As we center our affections on Yeshua, we become pure in heart -- i.e., unified, made whole, and healed of our inner fragmentation. We see the Lord both in this world, through his effects, and then panim el panim (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), "face to face," in the world to come. Our hope purifies us for that coming great day of full disclosure (1 John 3:2-3; Heb. 12:14).

Being "saved" by God is first of all ontological - it is about your being, identity, reality, and so on. You are briah chadasha - a new creation. The realm of conscience, law, morality, etc., while valid, is not the ultimate goal of redemption. Sinai was always meant to lead to Zion, which means that salvation ultimately is about who you are as a beloved child of God more than what you do as a moral or religious person...
 




Seeing Everyday Miracles...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Pekudei...  ]

03.11.15 (Adar 20, 5775)  A verse from our Torah portion (Pekudei) suggests that we should recite at least 100 blessings a day: "... a hundred sockets for a hundred talents of silver, one talent per socket" (Exod. 38:27). The Gerer Rebbe comments, "Just as a hundred sockets served as the foundation for the sanctuary, so the daily blessings represent the soul's foundation in holiness." In Jewish thinking, we "bless" God by offering our thanks, and thereby our awareness of life is elevated and sanctified. The Hebrew term for gratitude is hakarat tovah (הַכָּרַת טוֹבָה), a phrase that means "recognizing the good." The heart looks through the eye, and therefore how we choose to see is a spiritual decision: "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). When we see rightly, we behold the radiance of God shining within us, even in the midst of our everyday affairs. A grateful heart is awake to God's Presence in the little things of life, those small miracles and glories that constantly surround us. The good eye of faith sees hundreds of reasons to bless God for the precious gift of life.
 

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"
(Psalm 103:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 




Hunger for God...


 

03.11.15 (Adar 20, 5775)  "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food" (Isa. 55:2). If you "make space" within your heart to genuinely listen for God -- letting go of your worries, distractions, and quieting your heart, you will hear the "still, small voice" of God speaking word of life to you at this very moment. As it says,  הַרְפּוּ וּדְעוּ כִּי־אָנכִי אֱלהִים - "Be still and know that I AM God..."
 

שִׁמְעוּ שָׁמוֹעַ אֵלַי וְאִכְלוּ־טוֹב
וְתִתְעַנַּג בַּדֶּשֶׁן נַפְשְׁכֶם

shim·u · sha·mo'ah · elai · ve'ikh·lu · tov
ve'tit·a·nag · ba·de·shen · naf·she·khem
 

"Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good;
delight yourself in rich food."
(Isa. 55:2)
 


 

Spiritually-speaking we must always shema, "listen," because sincere listening requires that we surrender our self-centered perspective and immerse ourselves within the meaning of others.. Listening opens us to God's heart in all things, and therefore is essential for the "conversation" between our soul and the LORD. The very first step, then, is to listen to God. We must turn and "choose Life!" (Deut. 30:19) by existing in a loving relationship with our Heavenly Father through our Yeshua our Savior, blessed be He (1 John 5:12).
 




Way of Perfect Peace...


 

03.11.15 (Adar 20, 5775)  When we lose sight of the truth that God is in complete control of all things, we tend to grow anxious... Feeling worried comes from focusing on ourselves, a perspective that can make us feel alone, forgotten, and even victimized in this world. Worry moves us to defend ourselves, to seek refuge in our own devices, and to forfeit the will of God according to the dictates of lesser fears... Indeed worry is a place of inner exile and pain. The sages say it is not permitted to worry: "To worry is a sin; only one sort of worry is permissible; to worry because one worries." We should worry that we worry because this indicates our hardness of heart and our unbelief. God's name YHVH (יהוה) means "Presence," "Breath," "Life," and "Love." So why be anxious for "tomorrow"? We really only have this moment, but this moment is entirely sufficient when we walk in the light of God and seek to know him in all our ways (Prov. 3:5-6).

The first part of the Shema (i.e., Deut. 6:4-9) admonishes us to remember the truth of God "when you sit in your house, when you walk in your ways, when you lie down, and when you rise up." "In all your ways know Him," that is, in all that you put your hand to do look for the God's Presence and guidance (1 Cor. 10:31). This is something you must do: As King David stated, "I have set the Lord always before me, because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8). "Let the peace of God rule in you" (Col. 3:15).

The Name of the LORD is "I-AM-WITH-YOU-ALWAYS," which implies that we always live within His Presence and care, even if we are sometimes unconscious of this truth (Matt. 28:20). As it is written in the prophets, hen al kapayim ha'chotikh: "Behold I have engraved you on the palms of my hands" (הֵן עַל־כַּפַּיִם חַקּתִיךְ; Isa. 49:16). Remember the One who stretched out his hands and died for your healing; remember that he said, "Do not be anxious about tomorrow... sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matt. 6:34). Again, "do not be anxious for any reason, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, and the healing peace of God (שְׁלוֹם אֱלהִים) - the very shalom of heaven which surpasses all understanding - will guard your hearts and your minds in Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil. 4:6-7). "He's got the whole world in his hand," and we experience inner peace when our minds are settled on Him (Isa. 26:3).
 

יֵצֶר סָמוּךְ תִּצּר שָׁלוֹם שָׁלוֹם כִּי בְךָ בָּטוּחַ
 בִּטְחוּ בַיהוָה עֲדֵי־עַד כִּי בְּיָהּ יְהוָה צוּר עוֹלָמִים

ye·tzer · sa·mukh · titz·tzor · sha·lom · sha·lom · ki · ve·kha · ba·tu·ach
bit·chu · vadonai · a·di-ad · ki · be·Yah · Adonai · tzur · o·la·mim
 

You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, for he trusts in you.
Trust in the LORD forever, for Yah the LORD is an everlasting rock.
(Isa. 26:3-4)
 



Hebrew Study Card
 

The LORD is Tzur Olamim - the "Rock of Ages" - the very foundation of all possible worlds and the eternal Source of existence. He is the solid ground of all reality!
 




David's Divided Line...


 

03.10.15 (Adar 19, 5775)  Long before the time of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, King David understood that there was a "divided line" between the realm of the temporal and the realm of the eternal, between olam hazeh and olam haba. The temporal world was finite, subject to change, and pointed beyond itself to an eternal world -- which was the true source of real significance, meaning, and life itself. Unlike Plato, however, who generally relegated the importance of the finite, King David affirmed that temporal world was indeed full of significance, since how each of us lives within the intersection of these two realms defines our posture of faith -- and therefore our ultimate destiny.
 




Drawn into His love...


 

03.10.15 (Adar 19, 5775)  Where it is written, "The LORD appeared to me from far away: 'I have loved you with an everlasting love (אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם); therefore with love (חֶסֶד) have I drawn you'" (Jer. 31:3), note that the word translated "I have drawn you" (i.e., מְשַׁכְתִּיךְ) comes from mashakh (מָשַׁךְ), meaning to "seize" or "drag away" (the ancient Greek translation used the verb helko (ἕλκω) to express the same idea). As Yeshua said, "No one is able to come to me unless he is "dragged away" (ἑλκύσῃ, same word) by the Father" (John 6:44). God's chesed seizes us, takes us captive, and leads us to the Savior... And may the love of the LORD indeed be upon us, even as we put our hope in Him (Psalm 32:22).
 

יְהִי־חַסְדְּךָ יְהוָה עָלֵינוּ
 כַּאֲשֶׁר יִחַלְנוּ לָךְ

ye·hi · chas·de·kha · Adonai · a·lei·nu
ka·a·sher · yi·chal·nu · lakh
 

"May your love, O LORD, be upon us,
 as we hope in You"
(Psalm 33:22)



Hebrew Study Card
  

We must train our minds to see beyond mere appearances, to ignore the (fearmongering) messages of this dark world, and to search for God's loving Presence in everything. Walking in trust of God's care for our lives casts out our fears...  And (again) may the love of the LORD indeed be upon us, even as we put our hope in Him.
 




Prayer for Focus...


 

03.09.15 (Adar 18, 5775)  In the busyness of the day, in anxious murmurings of the heart, Lord, I have missed you... in my haste, I have lost sight of you; I have heeded voices of fear; I have sought after my own way; I have become distracted, unfocused, unclear... O God, leave me not, neither forsake me - despite my wandering, despite the ambivalence of my soul, for "whom have I in heaven but you," and to whom shall I turn for life? I have no good apart from You. Help me escape the vanity and deceit of my own heart; help me to re-focus on what is real. Let not this day be lost to triviality; let it not be marked by unuttered prayer or by lost passion for heaven! "As a deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. I thirst for God, for the living God" (Psalm 42:1-2). Grant me blessed hunger and thirst for you; impart holy desperation and longing for you alone; turn my heart to seek you bekhol levavkha, with all my heart... 
 




Shabbat Parah - שבת פרה


 

03.09.15 (Adar 18, 5775)  The Sabbath that immediately follows Purim is called Shabbat Parah - the "Sabbath of the Cow," when the chapter of the parah adumah (פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה), or the "Red Heifer" (Num. 19:1-22), is recited following the regular Torah service. The early sages chose this additional portion of Scripture to be reviewed at this time to help prepare for the coming New Year (i.e., Rosh Chodashim) and because the people were required to purify themselves before coming to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festival of Passover.

The Red Heifer offering is considered a paradox to most Jewish thinkers, since the one who offers the sacrifice becomes unclean, while the sprinkling of the ashes of the sacrifice makes people clean... The ritual is considered "chok" within the Jewish tradition, meaning that it makes no rational sense. In fact, the Talmud states that of all the taryag mitzvot (613 commandments), this is the only one that King Solomon could not fathom, since this sacrifice was regarded as the most paradoxical of all the sacrifices found in the Torah. The sacrifice of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah is the fulfillment of the symbolism of the red cow (i.e., parah adumah). Both were entirely rare and without defect (sin); both were sacrificed outside the camp; both made the one who offered the sacrifice unclean but made the one who was sprinkled by it clean; and finally, both sacrifices cleanse people for priestly service.

The parah adumah had to be a perfect specimen that was completely red, "without blemish, in which there is no defect (mum)." The rabbis interpreted "without blemish" as referring to the color, that is, without having so much as a single white or black hair.  This is the only sacrifice in the Torah where the color of the animal is explicitly required. Moreover, the parah adumah was never to have had a yoke upon it, meaning that it must never have been used for any profane purposes.

Unlike all other sacrifices offered at the mizbeach (the altar at the Mishkan), the parah adumah was taken outside the camp and there slaughtered before the priest (in this case, Elazar, Aaron's son), who then took some of its blood and sprinkled it seven times before the Mishkan (thereby designating it as a purification offering). [During the Second Temple period, the High Priest performed this ceremony facing the Temple while atop the Mount of Olives.] Then the red heifer would be burned in its entirety: its hide, flesh, blood, and even dung were to be burned (unlike other Levitical korbanot). Unlike other offerings, all the blood of the sacrifice was to be burned in the fire.

Hyssop, scarlet yarn, and a cedar stick would then be thrown upon the burning parah adumah (these same items were used to cleanse from tzara'at, skin disease). In other words, the blood was assimilated into the ashes of the sacrifice, which were then gathered and mixed with water to create the "water of separation" (mei niddah) for the Israelite community. Note that the word "separation" (niddah) refers to menstrual impurity and harkens to Zech. 13:1: "On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and from niddah."

Anyone (or anything) that came into contact with a corpse (the embodiment of sin and death) was required to be purified using the mei niddah. The purification procedure took seven days, using stalks of hyssop dipped into the water and shaken over the ritually defiled person on the third day and then again on the seventh day. After the second sprinkling, the person undergoing the purification process would be immersed in a mikvah and then be unclean until the following evening.


The Uniqueness of the Sacrifice

The Parah Adumah sacrifice was entirely unique, for the following reasons:

  1. It was the only sacrifice that specifically required an animal of a particular color. This animal was extremely rare and unique of its kind (in fact, Maimonides wrote, "Nine Parot Adumot were prepared from the time the Commandment was given until the destruction of the Second Temple. Moses our Teacher prepared one, Ezra prepared one and seven more were prepared until the Destruction of the Temple. The tenth will prepared by the Mashiach." (We would say "was prepared" by Yeshua our Messiah, blessed be He.)
  2. It was the only sacrifice where all the rituals were carried out outside of the camp (and later, outside the Temple precincts). That is, the "blood applications" of this sacrifice occurred in a location apart from the altar (the Talmud recounts that the High Priest performed the blood applications of the Red Heifer while gazing at the Temple and at the Holy of Holies from a mountain opposite the Temple mount).
  3. It was the only sacrifice that ritually contaminated the priest who offered it, but made the one who was sprinkled by it clean.
  4. It was the only sacrifice where the ashes were preserved and used (other sacrifices required the ashes be disposed outside of the camp).
     

According to Jewish tradition, this sacrifice was to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf, though the Torah itself does not make this association. The LORD Yeshua, our Messiah, is the perfect fulfillment of the Parah Adumah, since He was completely without sin or defect (2 Cor 5:21; John 8:46); He was sacrificed outside the camp (Heb 13:13); He made Himself sin for us (2 Cor 5:21); His sprinkling makes us clean (1 Pet 1:2; Heb 12:24; Rev 1:5); and the "water of separation" that His sacrifice created is the means by which we are made clean from the impurity of sin (Eph 5:25-6; Heb 10:22).


The Haftarah for Shabbat Parah

The Haftarah read for Shabbat Parah (Ezek. 36:16-38) is ostensibly linked to the sacrifice of the Red Heifer, though on a deeper level it relates to Israel's national salvation and return to the promised land after the Great Tribulation period....  Despite the horrors of the worldwide Diaspora of the Jewish people and their faithlessness before the nations, God will be true to His promises by causing the Jews to finally accept His salvation (i.e., Yeshua) and to both return to the land of Israel and to be reinstated as God's covenant people.  At that time, "all Israel will be saved," as the Apostle Paul also foretold (Rom. 11:26).

For more information about this Haftarah, see the Shabbat Parah page here.
 




Vayakhel-Pekudei (ויקהל־פקודי)


 

[ This week we have a "double portion" of Torah: parashat Vayakhel and Pekudei. Please read the Torah portions to "find your place" here. ]

03.09.15 (Adar 18, 5775)  This week we have a "double portion" of Torah: parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei (ויקהל־פקודי). Much of this material is repeated from the earlier description of the Tabernacle (מִשְׁכָּן) to underscore the importance of the sacrificial system (the altar) and to portend the two advents of Messiah Yeshua.  Note that God commanded Moses to assemble the Tabernacle on "the first month in the second year [from the date of the Exodus], on the first day of the month" (i.e., Nisan 1, or Rosh Chodashim, see Exod. 40:17). The new moon of Nisan, then, marks the beginning of month of redemption, both regarding the Exodus from Egypt (and the establishment of the altar at the Tabernacle), as well as the greater Exodus given through the altar of Messiah at the cross (Luke 9:30-31).
 


Once the Tabernacle was completed and all its components were fully accounted for and inspected, Moses assembled it and anointed all its components with the sacred anointing oil, called shemen ha-mishchah (note that the word "mishchah" (מִשְׁחָה) comes from the same root as "Messiah" (מָשִׁיחַ), indicating that the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle) would foreshadow God's plan of redemption given in Yeshua). Moses then formally initiated Aaron and his four sons into the priesthood, marking their hands and feet with sacrificial blood and "waving them" before the Lord to picture resurrection. The Divine Presence - manifest as the Shekhinah Cloud of Glory – then filled the Holy of Holies in the Tent of Meeting.

The Book of Exodus ends: "And Moses was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the Glory of the LORD (כְּבוֹד יְהוָה) filled the Mishkan (הַמִּשְׁכָּן). Throughout all their journeys, whenever the Cloud was taken up from over the Mishkan, the people of Israel would set out. But if the Cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the Cloud of the LORD (עֲנַן יְהוָה) was on the Mishkan by day, and Fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys" (Exod. 30:35-38).

The Presence of the Glory of God that descended from Sinai upon the newly dedicated Mishkan represented a climactic moment for the fledgling nation, since the Sin of the Golden Calf had jeopardized whether the God would indeed dwell within the midst of the camp of Israel...  Recall that it was only after Moses had returned from Sinai bearing the second set of Tablets (on Yom Kippur) that the glow of the LORD's redeeming love radiated from his face, and new hope was given to Israel (prefiguring the New Covenant). The King of Glory would accompany the people from Sinai to the Promised Land! (The narrative continues in the Book of Numbers, beginning exactly one month after the Mishkan was assembled.) 

Note:  The Shabbat that immediately follows Purim is called Shabbat Parah - the "Sabbath of the Cow," when the chapter of the parah adumah (פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה), or the "Red Heifer" (Num. 19:1-22), is recited following the regular Torah service. The early sages chose this additional portion of Scripture to be reviewed at this time to help prepare for the coming New Year (i.e., Rosh Chodashim) and because the people were required to purify themselves before coming to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festival of Passover.
 




Torah of Brokenness...


 

03.08.15 (Adar 17, 5775)  It was only after Moses experienced brokenness and confession (prefigured by the shattering of the first set of tablets and the 40 days of teshuvah) that the inner meaning of God's Name was revealed as "mercy, grace, longsuffering, faithfulness, compassion," and so on (Exod. 34:6-7). The passion of Moses prefigures the inner breaking necessary before the law of God can be "written upon the heart." As it is written of the New Covenant, "I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts" (Jer. 31:33).
 

הָרפֵא לִשְׁבוּרֵי לֵב
 וּמְחַבֵּשׁ לְעַצְּבוֹתָם

ha-ro·fei · lish·vu·rei ·lev
u'me·cha·besh · le'atz·tze·vo·tam
 

"He is the healer of the brokenhearted
 and the One who binds up their sorrows."
(Psalm 147:3)

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Law of the Half-Shekel...



[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Ki Tisa... ]

03.06.15 (Adar 15, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week begins with the law of the "half-shekel" (מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל), which teaches that each of us must contribute to establish the bounds of the Holy Place (Exod. 30:11-16). The Sanctuary is not only to be within us, but is to be built between us, in our connection with one another: God in the "midst of the camp." This is symbolized by the collection of coins given by every person – rich or poor – which was then melted down to make "sockets" for the Tabernacle, holding it all together.... The half-shekel is also called a "ransom for the soul to the LORD" (כּפֶר נַפְשׁוֹ לַיהוָה), since each soul is needed to build the holy place together: Each person is redeemed by God's love so that He dwells in the "midst of the camp" (1 Pet. 2:5; Eph. 2:20).

It has been noted that you cannot hear the sound of one grain of sand falling, though you can hear the sound when a bucket of sand is being poured out. Though each of us is a "half-shekel," only a small amount in light of the whole, we are not invisible or unimportant to God, and our contribution is part of his habitation, his kingdom.

Shabbat shalom and love to you all!  Thank you for being part of Hebrew for Chrisitans!
 




Theology and Art...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Ki Tisa... ]

03.06.15 (Adar 15, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week includes the tragic account of the "Golden Calf," a molten image of gold that was forged into the shape of a calf, which was created by Aaron to pacify the people who feared they were abandoned by the LORD in the desert (see Exod. 32). The creation of the Golden Calf was a direct violation of the Second Commandment not to have any other gods before the LORD: not to make an idol or "carved image" (פֶסֶל) of "any likeness (תְּמוּנָה) of anything in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth" (Exod. 20:3-6). The Torah's language here seems to forbid making any concrete expression of the Divine Presence, a general prohibition against "finitizing" the infinite or identifying God with any aspect of creation. In other words, while God sustains all things, He is not fully present in any particular thing we experience: He is beyond all the predications of finite reality, and therefore we know him through a process of negation, or by denying that he can be categorized, identified, explained, and so on. This is part of the meaning of the Name YHVH (יהוה) after all: the ineffable, unutterable mystery and wonder of the Divine Presence (Gen. 32:29; Exod. 3:14; Judges 13:18; Isa. 9:6).

The problem arises, however, when we try to reconcile this abstract conception of God as "not [anything] finite" (i.e., ein sof [אֵין סוֹף], the Endless One) with the particulars of our daily experience as human beings. Indeed, how can we adequately express worship for God apart from concrete rituals and language that are bound up with finite references? We seek to represent God's beauty and truth through words, art, music, theater, and so on, yet our expressions are bound to particular things, and we are therefore unsure how our worship connects to ultimate reality...  This is a problem inherent in the Torah itself, since the artistry required of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) involved devising and creating various pieces of art, and even creating molten images (e.g., the cherubim upon the kapporet of the Ark), yet this surely did not violate the deeper meaning and end of Torah! The same made be said of the rituals of the priests which foreshadowed a deeper reality -- the deeper atonement of God, the "Substance and not the shadow" (Heb. 8:5). So how do we make art that does not idolize or idealize the finite? How can we do our rituals, speak theology, preach, teach, create visual art or music, that does not distract or mislead the truth of God?

The Hebrew word for "idol" in the Second Commandment is pesel (פֶּסֶל), a noun which comes from a root verb meaning to cut or hew. By implication, a pesel refers to the effect of cutting, that is, a fragmentary or broken piece or outcome.... Some have said that the context of the prohibition of creating graven images constitutes a prohibition of use - a caution about how we are to relate to artwork in general... We are not to worship the creature rather than the creator (Rom. 1:25), mistaking the part for the whole, and this further implies we are not to worship the technology or skill of a particular artist.

In light of this, some visual artists influenced by the Torah, such as Marc Chagall, have approached their art by indirection, "messing with" or distorting representational or habitual ways of seeing, so that we may "stay awake" to the truth and seek a deeper experience within the heart. This is a prophetic function of art - to encounter the unexpected, the mysterious, and the "numinous." Surrealism and other non-representational forms of art move us away from the concrete to the abstract, away from the particular to the universal.

The Bible, of course, is itself a physical work of art – its hand-sewn parchments, its meticulous calligraphy, its "jots and tittles," it scroll adornment and decorations, and so on - all are exquisitely beautiful, just as it is a spiritual work of art, including visions, dreams, prophecies, images, symbols, metaphors, poems, and so on...  The language of Scripture, especially poetry, parables, symbols, similes, metaphors, prophetic narratives, and so on, allow us to participate in the Divine Reality through concrete and particular expressions. Like a multi-faceted diamond, words of Scripture emit flashes of insight within the heart of faith.

Moreover creation itself is God's art, as it says: "The heavens are retelling the glory of God, the expanse of the skies declare the work of his hands" (Psalm 19:1). If art is a means of representation intended to reveal something deeper, then we can look at God's art - the sky and the cosmos - with such awe that it will lead us to an even greater sense of awe over the design, the cause, and the presence of it all. The beauty of nature, and indeed the cosmos itself, points beyond itself to the beauty of transcendental design and wonder.

One implication of the Second Commandment, then, seems to be that art should not be static or turned into "graven images." Art, even including the rhetoric of theology, may give us false assurance that can lead us away from genuine awe, wonder, and worship. In this way godly art can be prophetic, a jolt to awaken us from dead and habitual ways of seeing or experiencing life. Perhaps the intent of the Second Commandment is to warn us that whatever art we create - visual, verbal, auditory, etc. - must be understood to be indirect, symbolic, and incomplete: a mere pointer to the Source and Creator of all genuine beauty. Our hunger and desire for beauty is expressed in our need to adore, to love, and to worship. Art can help us connect to God in a healthy way or it can lead us into idolatry, that is, manufacturing a substitute for God in the erotic, the sensual, in pop art, in fast food, worldly propaganda, humanistic fantasy, and so on. Indeed, idolatry is such a grave concern because it seduces people to surrender themselves to false desires, addictions, and cravings for things that "moth and rust does corrupt" and where thieves break through and steal (Matt. 6:19). "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21). Amen.

Note:  An idol is dangerous because it confuses form with reality... It is "molten," or "filled up with itself" leaving no space set apart. Likewise the forms of our faith - our rituals, habits, prejudices - can become idols that harden our hearts... Sadly, we can make a "Golden Calf" out of our religion, our politics, our theology, ourselves, and even our Jewishness!
 




Surrounding Presence...


 

03.06.15 (Adar 15, 5775)  The Name of God, YHVH (יהוה), means "Presence" (Exod. 3:13-14), "Breath" (Gen. 2:7; Num. 16:22), "Life" (Deut. 30:20), and "Love" (Exod. 34:6-7), but it also means the "I-AM-WITH-YOU One" who keeps His promises. The Name YHVH means that "God was (i.e., hayah: היה), God is (i.e., hoveh: הוֶה), and God always will be (i.e., veyihyeh: וְיִהְיֶה)," which implies that He is ever present and not restricted by time or space. Moreover, God is called havayah (הֲוָיָה), which means He is continually sustaining creation by the Word of His power: "In Him we live, move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28; Heb. 1:3). As it is poetically expressed in the Psalms, "Behind and before you besiege me; You lay your hand upon me" (Psalm 139:5):
 

אָחוֹר וָקֶדֶם צַרְתָּנִי
וַתָּשֶׁת עָלַי כַּפֶּכָה

a·chor · va·ke·dem · tzar·ta·ni
va·ta·shet · a·lai · ka·pe·khah
 

"Behind and before You besiege (cover) me;
You lay your hand upon me."
(Psalm 139:5)



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"Behind and before you besiege me." The word "behind" is the preposition achor (אָחוֹר), a word related to the word acharon (אַחֲרוֹן), "west," though it also refers to something later (אַחֲרֵי), such as a later place or time (אַחֲרִית). In Hebrew, the preposition generally means "backward" (לאחור) or "behind" (מאחור). God's got your back, friend... Note further that the word translated "before" is kedem (קֶדֶם), a preposition that means "east" but also refers to the primordial beginning, the dawn. The root verb kadam (קָדַם) means to "meet" in initial contact. God is always present for you, friend, and that includes times and days that lie ahead, in the distant future...  "As far as the east is from the west," so far does God's compassion and love cover you, surround you, and sustain you (Psalm 103:12).

"You besiege me." The verb tzartani (צַרְתָּנִי) comes from the root tzur (צור) that means to encircle, to press upon, to "pressurize," as by relentlessly attacking a stronghold. The image is that God "hems us in," that is, He surrounds us and shelters us with His Presence – so that we cannot escape: You are under God's supervision and protection, friend... And while the root tzur can imply tzuris (trouble, affliction), in this context it is used to picture the Lord securing our station, preserving, protecting, and defending our way. "You lay your hand upon me." God's personal and providential hand is at work in your life – He is HaMashgiach hagadol (הַמָּשְׁגִיחַ הַגָּדוֹל) - the Great Overseer of the universe, and that means your way is as sure and secure as the very power that God's own will affords.
 

    "If there be anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe from falling, I know nothing of it - for it was not shown me.  But this was shown - that in falling and rising again we are always kept in the same precious love." - Julian of Norwich

    "We cannot fall beneath the arms of God. However low we fall, they are underneath us still." - William Penn
     

Thank God for His providential and all-pervasive care for your soul. He is the LORD of all time and space, and that means He is an ever-present help to bring you safely back home...
 




Mitzvah Chadashah - מִצְוָה חֲדָשָׁה


 

03.06.15 (Adar 15, 5775)  "A new commandment (מִצְוָה חֲדָשָׁה) I give to you, that you love one another (ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους): just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another" (John 13:34). What's new about this mitzvah is assuredly not the duty to love God and one's neighbor, since Yeshua had already affirmed the Shema and directly linked the love of God with our duty to care for others (see Matt. 22:37-39). No, what's new here is Yeshua Himself - his sacrificial grace, his unconditional acceptance, his "reckless" mercy, his everlasting atonement, and the abounding favor of God we find exclusively in him. The Torah of Yeshua is the absolute reverence of human life itself, where each soul is understood as being of infinite significance before the very Throne of God Himself.

This also explains why God even commands us to love our enemies (Luke 6:27-36). We love our enemies not because we hope they will eventually change (i.e., not by pretending they are not really our enemies), nor by contriving mawkish sentimentality, but solely because love is an ongoing decision to bestow dignity and respect to all people...
 




Gospel at Sinai...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Tisa...  ]

03.05.15 (Adar 14, 5775)  The tragic episode of the Golden Calf revealed that the Israelites were unable to keep the law, even though they had personally experienced the power of God's deliverance from Egypt and had heard God's Voice directly speaking the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. The presence of the idol demonstrated that something more was needed, and that the law by itself was insufficient to change the heart (Rom. 3:20). The poignant intercession of Moses on behalf of Israel - his willingness to die on behalf of the people - foreshadowed the need for a New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה), a deeper revelation of the righteousness of God in terms of mercy and grace (Exod. 34:6-7; John 1:17; Rom. 3:21). The (second) revelation of the Name YHVH (יהוה) therefore represented a "gospel" moment for Israel. 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 graciously restored based on God's forgiveness and love. Likewise, Yeshua was broken on behalf of the law but was raised again so that all who trust in Him can understand that God is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and truth" (Exod. 34:6, Psalm 86:15, 103:8). Only at the cross of Yeshua are God's justice and love forever reconciled (Prov. 16:6; Psalm 85:10; Rom. 3:26).

Note: For more on this subject, see the Ki Tisa article, "God's Stubborn Love."
 




Theology, Paradox, and Purim...


 

[ Today is the festival of Purim: am Yisrael Chai - עם ישראל חי - the people of Israel live! ]

03.05.15 (Adar 14, 5775)  The theme of the holiday of Purim (פּוּרִים) is the providential survival of the Jewish people despite various attempts by their enemies to destroy them. As such, Purim (like Passover) is a celebration of the deliverance and faithfulness of the LORD God of Israel. The terrible irony of the anti-Semite is that he hangs himself using his own rope.  The tragic character of Haman, then, represents the Biblical archetype of all those who refuse to acknowledge God's faithful love for the Jewish people....

On the Torah's calendar, both the last month of the year (Adar) and the first month (Nisan) center on the theme of God's salvation.  In Adar we celebrate Purim, and 30 days later we celebrate Passover... However Purim, unlike Passover, celebrates the "hiddenness" of God's actions. There is no dramatic power encounter; no parting of the Red Sea, no cataclysmic judgments regarding Purim. This is suggested  by the name of the Book of Esther itself, Megillat Ester (מְגִלַּת אֶסְתֵּר), since the word megillah ("scroll") is related to the word giluy (גִּלּוּי), "revelation," and the name Esther is related to the word hester (הֶסְתֵר), meaning "hiddenness."  The phrase hester panim (הֶסְתֵר פָּנִים) means "hiding of face" and is often used when discussing the role of God in the Book of Esther.  God's plan is being fulfilled, step-by-step, even if it is hidden within the "natural" world of human beings and their choices (Jer. 10:23; Prov. 21:1).

For more on this subject, see "Theology, Paradox, and Purim."


 

HAPPY PURIM CHAVERIM!
 




The Purim Prophecies...


 

[ The following is related to the festival of Purim, which begins at sundown this evening... ]

03.04.15 (Adar 13, 5775)  Both Chanukah and Purim are holidays that celebrate God's victory over the forces of darkness... Just as the prophet Daniel foresaw the events of Chanukah, that is, the rise of "Epihpanes," the "Messiah of Evil" who will one day attempt to "assimilate" all of humanity into a "New World Order" (Dan. 9:27, 2 Thess. 2:3; Rev. 13:7-9, etc.), so Purim foretells how this wicked one will attempt to destroy the Jewish people during the End of Days (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים), though he will be destroyed by his own wicked devices. The Midrash Esther says that Purim, unlike many of the other holidays, will be celebrated even after the final redemption after the End of Days. This is because the story of Purim -- i.e., God's covenantal faithfulness and defense of His people -- will be magnified in the deliverance that leads to the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom upon the earth. Indeed, the Second Coming of the Messiah will be regarded as the final fulfillment of Purim! So while it is a often seen as time of unbridled celebration in Israel (ad lo yoda), the holiday of Purim has a very sober prophetic message that foretells the glorious end of this age.

Here is a vision of the coming "Purim haGadol," the great deliverance:
 

    Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True (נֶאֱמָן וְיָשָׁר), and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a Name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the Name by which he is called is the Word of God (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים). And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. And He will tread the winepress of the fierce fury of the wrath of God, the Ruler over All (παντοκράτωρ), the LORD God Almighty (יְהוָה אֱלהֵי צְבָאוֹת). On his robe and on his thigh he has a Name written, the King of kings (מֶלֶךְ הַמְּלָכִים) and the Lord of lords (אֲדנֵי הָאֲדנִים). And with the breath of his lips He will slay the wicked. - Rev. 19:11-16
     

May that day come speedily, and in our time...


 

HAPPY PURIM CHAVERIM!
 




The Armor of Light...


 

03.03.15 (Adar 12, 5775)  We are in the midst of a great spiritual war -- the war for the truth. This has been the battle from the beginning. The very first recorded words of Satan (הַנָּחָשׁ) questioned God's truth: "Did God really say...?" (Gen. 3:1). In the end there will be found two types of people: those who love the truth and those who love the lie; these are children of light (בְּנֵי הָאוֹר) and children of darkness (בְּנֵי הַחשֶׁךְ), respectively. Followers of Yeshua the Messiah are told to "walk as children of light" / ὡς τέκνα φωτὸς περιπατεῖτε (Eph. 5:8). Children of light are called to be am kadosh - a holy people - separate from the evil engendered by the fallen world and its forces, just as the very first creative expression of God was the separation of light from darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). The children of light "hate evil and love the good," and conversely, the children of darkness "hate the good and love evil" (Psalm 34:21, Prov. 8:13, Amos 5:15, John 3:20-21). Yes, we hate sin, because it separates people from healing; we hate sin because we love others. We are to walk in the peace and love of God; to do acts of justice and lovingkindness (Psalm 97:10). As Yeshua said, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other" (Matt. 6:24).

Surely our great need is to have heart, to find strength, resolution, and steadfast endurance to walk through these heartless and depraved days (2 Tim. 3:1-5). We are not without God's help, of course. Yeshua told us that the Ruach HaKodesh (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) would be "called alongside" (παράκλητος) to comfort us on the journey. The English verb "comfort" literally means "to give strength" (from com- ["with"] and fortis ["strong"]), an idea similarly expressed by the verb "encourage," that is, to "put heart [i.e., 'core'] within the soul." In Hebrew, the word courage is expressed by the phrase ometz lev (אמֶץ לֵב), meaning "strong of heart," denoting an inner quality of the will rather than of the intellect. Our faith is the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 4:4, 5:4).

Fear is the primary tool of the devil and the underlying motive behind sin itself (Rom. 14:23). Beloved, "do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom 12:21).

May we always focus on Yeshua, the Light of Torah and the true Wisdom of God: "Whoever has My commandments (מִצְוֹתַי) and keeps them, that is the one who loves me. And the one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will manifest (lit., "shine within" from ἐν, "in" + φαίνω, "shine") myself to him" (John 14:21). There it is - the Source of the Light that overcomes all darkness; the Power that is behind the armor of God... Yeshua is the Beginning, the Center, and the End of all true meaning from God.

"Where your treasure is, there will be your heart also" (Matt. 6:21). Your heart, your soul, your inmost being: What you value most defines and "locates" you. We cannot not "treasure;" we cannot desire not to desire; we are inherently valuing beings. It's not a question of whether you will worship, but what you indeed are worshiping. Where is your heart? What are you seeking? Our heart, our core, our meaning is revealed by what we value most... And May God give you the grace to find true treasure!
 




Trusting His Heart...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Ki Tisa... ]

03.03.15 (Adar 12, 5775)  If you can't detect God's hand in your circumstances, then trust His heart... Gam zu l'tovah (גַּם זוּ לְטוֹבָה): "This too is for the good." Whenever I am confused about life (which is often), I try to remember what God said to Moses after the tragic sin of the Golden Calf: "I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my Name, 'The LORD' (יהוה). And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy" (Exod. 33:19). God's character does not change: the LORD is the same "yesterday, today, and forever." The meaning of the Name, however, cannot be known apart from understanding the heart's need:
 

יְהוָה יְהוָה אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן
 אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב־חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת

Adonai  Adonai  El  Ra·chum  ve·chan·nun
e·rekh  ap·pa·yim  ve·rav  che·sed  ve·e·met
 

"The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness."
(Exod. 34:6)

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Earlier God had revealed to Moses that the Name YHVH (יהוה) means: "He is Present" (i.e., the word is a play on the Hebrew verb hayah [הָיָה], "to be"), and therefore God is "always there" (Exod. 3:14). The great I AM (אֶהְיֶה) means God stands outside of the constraints of time, "one day is as a thousand years" and "a thousand years as one day" before Him (2 Pet. 3:8). Just as a thousand years is but "a watch in the night" (Psalm 90:4), so one day is as a thousand years. God's Spirit broods over all things and sustains the entire universe. God is "necessary being," the Source of Life, and foundation for all other existence. God's creative love and power sustain all things in creation...

Now while the idea that God is the Source of all life in the universe is surely important, it is not entirely comforting, especially in light of man's guilt and anxiety over death. After all, we do not stand before the "god of the philosophers," but rather the personal God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The meaning of the Name YHVH - that He is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and truth, and so on - therefore presents additional revelation in face of man's inherent brokenness and spiritual need. Some things in life are only known in the passion of faith... things like love, beauty, honor, and so on. The Name of the LORD as the Compassionate One is only known in humility, when all human pretense is stripped away and the inner life is laid bare in its desperate need. The Name YHVH is God's response to the heart's cry for deliverance, for compassion, for mercy....

What is God like - what is His heart - is the first question, and how we answer that will determine how we deal with all the other questions that come up in theology... What do you feel inside when you stare up at the ceiling before you go to bed? In light of the ambiguity and heartaches of life we might wonder if God is there for us. Does God care? Is He angry at me? Does He really love me? This is the raw place of faith, where we live in the midst of our questions. The Name YHVH (יהוה) means "He is present," even when we are unconscious of His Presence in the hour of our greatest need; and the Name YHVH (יהוה) also means "God is Love," the Breath of life and the essence of all our hope...

For more on this topic, see "Trusting God's Heart: Further thoughts on Ki Tisa."
 




Sound of the Bells...


 

03.02.15 (Adar 11, 5775)  From our Torah portion last week (Vayetzeh) we read: "And it (the robe with golden bells) shall be on Aaron when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard (v'nishma kolo) when he goes into the Holy Place (הַקּדֶשׁ) before the LORD, and when he comes out, so that he does not die" (Exod. 28:35). Note that the Hebrew phrase "so it shall be heard" (וְנִשְׁמַע קוֹלוֹ) can refer not only to the ringing of the bells but to the Voice of the LORD (קוֹל יְהוָה), as Adam and Eve experienced (Gen. 3:8). The priests served barefoot in the sanctuary, so a holy hush was regularly observed. It was God's voice that was to be heard through the bells, a soft call to hear and to return...

 

The sound of the bells teaches us that we need quietness, especially within the heart, to properly hear God speaking "kol demamah dakkah" (קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה) - in a "still small voice," "the sound of a low whisper" (1 Kings. 19:12).
 

כִּי כה־אָמַר אֲדנָי יְהוִה קְדוֹשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל
בְּשׁוּבָה וָנַחַת תִּוָּשֵׁעוּן
בְּהַשְׁקֵט וּבְבִטְחָה תִּהְיֶה גְּבוּרַתְכֶם

ki · khoh · a·mar · Adonai · Elohim · ke·dosh · Yisrael
be'shu·vah · va'na·chat · tiv·va·shei·un
be'hash·ket · u·ve·vit·chah · tihyeh · ge·vu·rat·khem
 

"For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,
"In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength."
(Isa. 30:15)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

 




The Good Eye of Faith...




[ Note that the following entry is related to the festival of Purim, which begins at sundown Wednesday March 4th this year. For more information, see the Purim pages.]

03.02.15 (Adar 11, 5775)  The arch villain of the Book of Esther is an unsavory character named Haman, who was a descendant of the wicked tribe of Amalek that attacked the people of Israel just after the great exodus from Egypt (Exod. 17:8). Rashi states that God allowed the Amalekites to attack because the people doubted whether the Lord was with them or not (Exod. 17:7). The sages note that the name "Haman" (המן) has a numeric value of 95, the same as ha'melekh (המלך), "the king," and therefore they draw the inference that when we question whether God is present with us or not, evil rulers like Haman are given king-like powers in this world... On the other hand, when we trust in God we are clothed with divine power and protection from the rulers of this world...

Purim is a prophetic holiday, foretelling of the ultimate victory to come. On the great Day of the LORD (יוֹם־יְהוָה הַגָּדוֹל), the wicked will become "ashes under the feet of the righteous," hearkening to the promise of in the New Testament: "The God of peace (אלהֵי הַשָּׁלוֹם) will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah be with you" (Rom. 16:20). Meanwhile, of course, we must fight the "good fight of faith" and be strong in the LORD and the power of His might. "Wondrously show Your steadfast love, O Savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at Your right hand" (Psalm 17:7). As King Asa once prayed, "LORD, there is no one besides Thee to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O LORD our God, for we trust in Thee, and in Thy name have come against this multitude. O LORD, Thou art our God; let not man prevail against Thee" (2 Chron. 14:11). We offer praise in anticipation of the great deliverance to come: "Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip" (Psalm 66:8-9). The LORD is surely able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy (Jude 1:24).


HAPPY PURIM CHAVERIM!
 


Note: Purim is celebrated somewhat like Halloween and Mardi Gras combined, with masquerade parties, revelry, and sending baskets of goodies to friends (mishloach manot). Eating "hamentaschen" (the traditional holiday cookies made to resemble "Haman's ears") are also part of the fun. It is customary to attend services to hear Megillat Esther chanted and to watch the children of the synagogue put on an endearing "Purim Play" (with an all-star cast of characters, including the evil Haman, the good guy Mordecai, and the heroine Esther!) If you've never seen a children's Purim play, you're missing a great simchah!
 




Builder of the House...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Ki Tisa... ]

03.02.15 (Adar 11, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week (Ki Tisa) states that God endowed a man named "Betzalel" with the Spirit of God (רוּחַ אֱלהִים), and with wisdom (חָכְמָה), understanding (תְּבוּנָה), and knowledge (דַּעַת) - the same attributes used to describe God as the Creator of the Universe (Exod. 35:31; Prov. 3:19-20). Indeed, the name Betzalel (בְּצַלְאֵל) means "in the shadow of God" (from בְּ [in] + tzel [צֵל], "shadow" + El [אֵל], "God") who "foreshadowed" Messiah in that 1) he was from the kingly tribe of Judah, 2) he was a young carpenter, 3) he was unusually "filled with the Spirit of God," 4) his father's name (Uri) means "my light" (James 1:17), 4) his assistant was called Oholiav (אָהֳלִיאָב), a name that means "my Father's tent," and 5) it was Betzalel (rather than Moses) who actually built the Mishkan, which was the pattern for the spiritual House of God (Heb. 3:3-6; 1 Pet. 2:5). Indeed, as the one who fashioned the "Ark of the covenant" where the blood would be presented for our atonement, Betzalel foresaw the message of the redemption of Messiah.

 

Note:  For more on this topic, see the "Betzalel and the Messiah" article.
 




Why Purim Matters...


 

[ The holiday of Purim begins Wednesday, March 4th at sundown this year... ]

03.02.15 (Adar 11, 5775)  Over the past centuries, virtually no other book of the Tanakh ("Old Testament") has received more mixed reviews than the Book of Esther, especially among mainstream theologians and denominational church leaders. After all, the basic point of the book centers on God's providential care for the Jewish people (ethnic Israel), and some Christian theologians find this conclusion problematic to their theological biases. Indeed, story of Esther leads inescapably to the celebration of Jewish identity and survival despite the evil plans and designs of anti-Semites, and therefore those who believe that the church replaces Israel will tend to regard the message of the book with suspicion (likewise some Christian denominations openly express indifference (and even hostility) to the miracle of the modern State of Israel today). For those who understand that followers of the Jewish Messiah partake in the covenantal blessings given to Israel, however, the Book of Esther is a beautiful story about God's faithful love and care for His people...

In this connection, let me remind you that the term "new covenant" (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) is mentioned in only one place in the entire Old Testament. Here is the relevant passage:
 

    Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD (יהוה), when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my Torah (תּוֹרָה) into their inmost being and inscribe it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they need to teach one another and say to one another, "Heed the LORD"; for all of them, from the least of them to the greatest, shall heed Me -- declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquities, And remember their sins no more. (Jer. 31:31-4)
     

Many Christian theologians stop here and ignore the surrounding context of this passage, namely, the remarkable promise that ethnic Israel would continue to exist as a unique people as long as the laws of nature are in operation:
 

    Thus saith the LORD (יהוה) who gives the sun for a light by day and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, Who stirs up the sea into roaring waves, Whose name is LORD of Hosts (יהוה צְבָאוֹת שְׁמוֹ): If these laws should ever be annulled by Me -- declares the LORD -- only then would the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) cease to be a nation (גּוֹי) before Me for all time (כָּל־הַיָּמִים). Thus said the LORD: If the heavens above could be measured, and the foundations of the earth below could be fathomed, only then would I reject all the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) for all that they have done -- declares the LORD. (Jer. 31:35-37)
     

From this passage -- the only in the entire Old Testament that explicitly mentions the New Covenant of Yeshua -- it's clear that the continuation and perpetuity of the physical descendants of Israel (zera' Yisrael) is to be reckoned as sure as the very "laws of nature" that are upholding the physical universe.  In other words, so long as there is a sun shining during the day and moon and stars during the night, Israel will continue to be a nation (goy) before the LORD for all time (kol-hayamim). Using another analogy, it is as likely for someone to accurately measure the extent of the heavens and earth than it is to suppose that the LORD will cast off all of the seed of Israel. Note especially the last qualifying clause of this verse, "for all they have done," indicating that the unconditional faithfulness of the LORD is not based on the conditional behavior of national Israel.

The implications of this are staggering. Have you seen the sun, or the moon or the stars today? If so, then you can be assured that the ethnic nation of Israel retains a place in God's great plan for the ages. The gift and the calling of God is irrevocable (Rom. 11:29).

For more on this subject, see the "Scandal of Esther," here.
 




Parashat Ki Tisa - כי תשא


 

03.01.15 (Adar 10, 5775)  In our last two Torah readings (Terumah / Tetzaveh), Moses was upon Mount Sinai receiving the vision of the Sanctuary (i.e., the Mishkan or "Tabernacle") and its various furnishings. In this week's portion, God commanded that all Israelite men over the age of twenty were required to pay a tax for the upkeep of the Sanctuary: "each shall give (וְנָתְנוּ) a ransom (i.e., kofer: כּפֶר) for his life to the LORD" (Exod. 30:12). After this tax was defined, the LORD described some additional elements that would be required for the priestly service at the Sanctuary, namely, a copper washstand, sacred anointing oil, and incense for the Golden Altar in the Holy Place. The Lord then named Betzalel, a man "filled with the Spirit of God" to be the chief architect of the Mishkan. Before the construction would begin, however, the Lord warned the people to be careful to observe the Sabbath day. Immediately following this admonition, God gave Moses the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, which were inscribed directly by the hand of God.
 
Before Moses returned to the camp, however, the certain people had talked his brother Aaron into making a golden idol which they began to worship as their "god." The LORD then told Moses of their treachery and threatened to destroy all the Israelites, but Moses interceded on their behalf. As he rushed down the mountain, with the tablets in hand, he saw the people dancing about the idol and smashed the Tablets in anger. Moses then destroyed the idol and led the Levites in slaying 3,000 of the ringleaders.

The following day, Moses returned up the mountain and begged God to reaffirm the covenant. After a 40 day period of intercession, the Lord finally told Moses to carve a second set of Tablets and to meet him again at the summit of Sinai, where He would show Moses his glory and reveal to him the meaning of His Name (יהוה). When Moses encountered the LORD in a state of brokenness and forgiveness, his face began to shine with glory - a glory that foretold of the New Covenant of God's mercy and grace to come in Yeshua.

When the people saw Moses coming down the mountain with the second set of Tablets, they understood they were forgiven and that the Covenant had been renewed.  When they approached him, however, they drew back in fear, because his face was radiant with the glory of God. Moses reassured them, however, and then told them all that the Lord had commanded while he was on the mountain. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil (מַסְוֶה) over his face. From that time on, Moses wore a veil in the camp, though he removed it whenever he went before the Lord for further instructions.

Please see the Summary Page for parashat Ki Tisa for more information. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for this portion here:
 

 



 

February 2015 Site Updates
 



Priests of His Light...


 

02.27.15 (Adar 8, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week (Tetzaveh) describes the ceremony of consecration to the priesthood. We are chosen to be a "kingdom of priests," a set-apart people, and a light to the nations (Exod. 19:6; Isa. 42:6; 1 Pet. 2:9). Note the very first responsibility given to the priests was to care for the ner tamid (נר התמיד), the light of the Menorah (Exod. 27:20-21), which represents our consciousness of the Divine Presence (Psalm 18:28; 36:9). The challenge we all face is to remain "in the light as God is in the light" and not to be seduced by the world of fleeting appearances (Isa. 2:5; 1 John 1:7, 2:17). God's eternal light radiates through all things (Isa. 6:3; Psalm 139:11-12), just as the great "yehi ohr" (יְהִי אוֹר) - "Let there be light" - is the first word spoken to creation (Gen. 1:3). To be a priest means being so filled with the truth that you radiate peace; your inner light shines and you glorify your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16). That is how we draw others to the truth, by receiving the beauty of the LORD (Psalm 27:4).

Of course being a "witness to the light," that is, being a "priest," does not mean you are a "perfect person" who walks about with a blissed-out attitude despite the various trials and tests we all face in this life. No, we all still sin, and we therefore need to confess the truth of our condition to abide in the light (1 John 1:9; James 5:16). Like everything else in Scripture, here we encounter paradox, as Yeshua taught: "Blessed are the impoverished in spirit (πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; blessed are the ones who mourn (οἱ πενθοῦντες), for they shall be comforted; blessed are the meek (οἱ πραεῖς), for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:3-5). Yea, "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God" (1 Cor. 1:27-29).

The Hebrew word for priest (i.e., kohen: כּהֵן) may come from the word ken (כֵּן) meaning "yes" and the word kivun (כִּווּן) meaning to "direct" or "lead," implying that a priest helps direct a person toward God.  The role of a priest is to draw us to God, then, but how is that possible if the mediator cannot genuinely understand our sorrows and struggles? What draws others to God is his love, but how can we come to believe in that love were it not for the priesthood of the leper, the priesthood of the outcast, the priesthood of the reject? Even so Yeshua was afflicted with our infirmities and therefore sympathizes with our brokenness and frailty (see Heb. 4:16).

As a priest of brokenness, you are called to be a wounded healer, and you can testify of God's saving grace and love for you despite your sorrow, anger, weaknesses, and failures... Accepting God's compassion for you - just as you are - allows you to show grace and kindness to others who are also hurting, and therefore you can serve as a priest of God.
 

אֱלהִים יְחָנֵּנוּ וִיבָרְכֵנוּ
יָאֵר פָּנָיו אִתָּנוּ סֶלָה

E·lo·him · ye·cho·nei·nu · vi·va·re·khei·nu
ya'eir · pa·nav · it·ta·nu · se·lah
 

"May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us, Selah"
(Psalm 67:1)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)


Be encouraged, friends... "For the commandment is a lamp and Torah is light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life" (Prov. 6:23). Here we may understand the "reproofs of discipline" as the (ongoing) process of consciously turning away from darkness (of fear, anger, etc.) to the behold the divine light. We have to start here, after all... The way of life is teshuvah (repentance, turning to God), which is a painful process to the lower nature, but is necessary to walk in the light. Confession brings light into our hearts (James 5:16; 1 John 1:5-9), and the end of our struggle is healing and life.  Shabbat Shalom!
 




The Words of Light...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Tetzaveh... ]

02.26.15 (Adar 7, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week (Tetzaveh) begins with commandment to "keep the light burning" (Exod. 27:20). God's first words of creation were yehi ohr: "let there be light!" (Gen 1:3), just as the Menorah served as a picture of the radiant Tree of Life.  The heart looks through the eye, and how we choose to see is ultimately a spiritual decision: "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). In other words, when we see rightly, we will behold the radiance of God shining within us (Isa. 6:3). We are enabled to see by means of the revelation of the Word: "The entrance of your words give light (Psalm 119:130). But we must kindle the light within our hearts; we must open our eyes its brilliance, we must choose to see the Divine Presence with "eyes of the heart" that are being enlightened (Eph. 1:8). For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Yeshua the Messiah (2 Cor. 4:6). Torah ohr (תורה אור). May our "light so shine!"
 

פֵּתַח דְּבָרֶיךָ יָאִיר מֵבִין פְּתָיִים

pe·tach · de·va·re·kha · ya·ir · mei·vin · pe·ta·im
 

"The entrance of your words give light,
giving insight to the simple."
(Psalm 119:130)


 

Note that the verse is often translated, "The entrance of your words give light," though it may better be rendered as "the opening up (פֵּתַח) of your words releases light." In other words, as we realize the true intent of the words - their context, usage, application, exposition, etc. - we will experience the light of revelation.
 




Ten Sons of Haman...


 

02.26.15 (Adar 7, 5775)  Above see a photograph of a beautifully decorated Scroll of Esther (Megillat Esther) sewn together on three parchment membranes, recounting the story of Queen Esther in thirty illustrations. The Hebrew calligraphy is written in 15 columns of text separated by columns of various kinds of textual decorations. The scroll, dating from the 1700's, is presently on display at the U. Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art in Jerusalem.

Notice the enlarged text in the middle panel... This section lists the names of Haman's ten sons (see Esther 9:7-9). Scribal tradition prescribes that the names of each of these sons be written in a perpendicular column on the right-hand side of the page, with the Vav, i.e., "and," on the left-hand side. "This is probably derived from the tradition that the ten sons were hanged on a tall gallows, one above the other" (Soncino Commentary: The Five Megilloth, p. 179). Homiletically, each of Haman's sons is said to represent a negative character trait (middah ra') that we overcome with God's help. For example:
 

  • Parshandata (פַּרְשַׁנְדָּתָא) - represents what "distances" (מפריש) us from faith (דתא)
  • Dalphon (דַּלְפוֹן) represents a "door" (דלת) to bad intentions (פניות רעות)
  • Aspata (אַסְפָּתָא) represents the "gathering" of ungodly desires
  • and so on...
     

The victory over Haman and his "ten sons" represents our victory over the powers of darkness... "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Cor. 15:57).
 




The Substance of Hope...


 

02.26.15 (Adar 7, 5775)  Have you ever wondered why the exercise of your faith is so important to heaven? The Scriptures say that faith is the "substance" (ὑπόστασις) of hope, the conviction of unseen blessing, and "without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Heb. 11:6). Faith is its own reward, since believing the truth brings you into alignment with reality. Teshuvah is the response to God's love... Faith confesses that God is your Ultimate Concern, your Supreme Good, the goal and end of all that matters to your heart. Your faith is "more precious than gold," because its heart is your highest blessing, namely, the Divine Presence, the beatific reality, and heaven itself.... God tests our faith to draw our attention to Him (Psalm 119:71); to teach us endurance (Rom. 5:3-5; James 1:4); to upbuild our soul (Jude 1:20); to purify our affections (1 Pet. 1:7), and to glorify God's Name (kiddush HaShem). Life in this world is likened to a school wherein we learn how great God is and how much we are loved, valued, and esteemed precious in His eyes.

Believe that God is your healer, that he makes your crooked things straight, and that you are forever his beloved child... Faith sees the end in God's unfailing love, and it trusts that He will "turn dark places into light."
 

וְהוֹלַכְתִּי עִוְרִים בְּדֶרֶךְ לא יָדָעוּ
 בִּנְתִיבוֹת לא־יָדְעוּ אַדְרִיכֵם
 אָשִׂים מַחְשָׁךְ לִפְנֵיהֶם לָאוֹר
 וּמַעֲקַשִּׁים לְמִישׁוֹר
 אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים עֲשִׂיתִם וְלא עֲזַבְתִּים

ve·ho·lakh·ti · iv·rim · be·de·rekh · lo · ya·da·u
bin·ti·vot · lo · ya·du · ad·ri·khem
a·sim · mach·shakh · lif·ne·hem · la·or
u·ma·a·ka·shim · le·mi·shor
el·lah · ha·de·va·rim · a·si·tim · ve·lo · a·zav·tim

 

"And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know,
 in paths that they have not known I will guide them.
 I will make dark places before them turn to light,
 and perverse things into uprightness.
 These things I will do, and I will not forsake them."
(Isa. 42:16)




Hebrew Study Card
 




Moses and Messiah...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Tetzaveh...  ]

02.25.15 (Adar 6, 5775)  Though Moses is of course a central character in the Book of Exodus, and indeed of the entire Torah, it is noteworthy that he is not mentioned even once in our Torah portion this week – a conspicuous absence! The focus shifts away from the social laws of Israel to the realm of the priests: how they should dress, how they should serve God, and so on. Notice how the great vision of the altar extends beyond the legislative laws of the Torah... Therefore Yeshua said that Abraham rejoiced to see his day, and that Moses wrote of him (see John 8:56; John 5:46, Luke 24:27). Moses wrote of the Messiah directly, of course (e.g., Gen. 22:8, 49:10; Deut 18:15; etc.), though more often he wrote of him indirectly, in the "white spaces of the scroll," so to speak. For instance, God ordained that the sacrifice of the Passover lamb was to be commemorated every evening and morning, along with matzah and wine, as the central sacrifice of the Tabernacle (Num. 28:1-6), a ritual which foreshadowed the coming of the Great Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) who would provide our everlasting atonement (John 1:29).

Note:  If the law represents the "Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil" (note, not just knowledge of evil, but of both good and evil), then the remedy is found by partaking of the Tree of Life (עֵץ הַחַיִּים), which was also "in the midst" of the garden (בְּתוֹךְ הַגָּן) but was separate from it (Gen. 2:9). Likewise God gave the moral law at Sinai and at the same time gave the vision of the altar, the "life-for-life" exchange that overcame the demands of the moral law by sacrifical love... The Tree of Life is Messiah, who fulfills the demands of the law on our behalf and heals us from our separation from God (Rev. 22:2).
 




Hiddenness and Disclosure...


 

[ The holiday of Purim begins Wed. March 4th at sundown this year... ]

02.25.15 (Adar 6, 5775)  The sages extol the importance of the holiday of Purim because it reveals the hidden hand of God, despite his apparent absence in the affairs of this world... On the surface, each turn of the story could be explained naturally, or as simple "coincidence," yet in the end we realize that God was at work behind the scenes, carefully putting together the Jew's deliverance. The eye of faith trusts in God's providential plan, despite appearances to the contrary. Indeed, the phrase hester panim (הֶסְתֵר פָּנִים) means "hiding of the face" and is often used when discussing the Book of Esther. Understood as hidden providence, hester panim is somewhat like the sun on an overcast day: Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there. God's great love is at work at all times, in all affairs of the universe, whether we perceive it or not.  As Pascal once said, "there is enough light for those who want to believe, and enough shadows to blind those who don't."

The holiday of Purim occurs this coming Thursday, March 5th. As with all Jewish holidays, however, the day begins the night before, and therefore Purim officially begins on Wednesday night. In anticipation of the coming holiday, then, let me wish you and your family Purim Sameach (פורים שמח) -- with the prayer that you will stand true to your faith, despite this wicked world and its syncretizing influences. Hooray for Mordecai! -- may the LORD raise up many like him! Amen.
 




Names upon his heart...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Tetzaveh...  ]

02.24.15 (Adar 5, 5775)  Both the two onxy stones attached to the shoulder pieces of the High Priest's vest (i.e., ephod: אֵפד) and the 12 precious stones arrayed on his breastplate (i.e., choshen: חשֶׁן) were inscribed with the names of the tribes of Israel. "And Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders for remembrance" (Exod. 28:12). "So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment (i.e., choshen ha'mishpat: חשֶׁן הַמִּשְׁפָּט) upon his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the LORD (Exod. 28:29). The sages comment that just as a father carries his young child on his shoulders, or a shepherd his lamb, so the High Priest carried his people before the LORD in intercession. Similarly, at the cross Yeshua carried our names on his shoulders, bearing the burden of our sins as he cried out before the Father. As our great High Priest of the New Covenant, Yeshua "bore the judgment of the people upon his heart" as he made intercession for them (Isa. 53:12; Rom. 8:34).

"Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands" (Isa. 49:16); "set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm" (Song 8:6).
 




The Fight for Sanity...


 

02.24.15 (Adar 5, 5775)  We are surely living in stressful times, friends... The Scriptures say the time just before the prophesied "end of days" would be "perilous" (χαλεπός) and full of human depravity (2 Tim. 3:1-5). In light of the raging spiritual war all around us, the following needs to be restated: "The important thing is to not lose your mind..."

The mind is the "gateway" to your heart, and it is therefore essential to guard your thinking by immersing yourself in the truth... Fear is often the result of believing the lie that God is not in control or is unable/unwilling to help you... "Not losing your mind" means being grounded in what is real, and it therefore means understanding your identity and provision as a child of God. "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (גְּבוּרָה / δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός), literally a "delivered" mind, "healed" from fragmentation (2 Tim. 1:7). The Greek word "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός) comes from the word saos (σάος), meaning "safe" in the sense of being under restraining influence and care of the Spirit of God... The closest Hebrew word might be musar (מוּסָר), moral "discipline." Test your thinking: God does not lead us into fearful craziness or self-destruction, but instead leads us to trust and to genuine inner peace.

Part of the task of "guarding your mind" is being able to discern between good and evil. "The fear of the LORD is to hate evil (יִרְאַת יְהוָה שְׂנאת רָע); I hate arrogant pride and the evil way and perverse utterances" (Prov. 8:13). As Amos cried out, "Hate what is wrong, love what is right" (שִׂנְאוּ־רָע וְאֶהֱבוּ טוֹב). We are called to love the truth and abhor the lie. Tolerating sin in a world ripe for judgment is a tacit form of "collaboration" with the enemy... Indeed, the only thing regarded as intolerable in the devil's world is the objection that people have a supposed "liberty" to sin. But the LORD is clear on this point: "Those who call evil good and good evil are as good as dead, who turn darkness into light and light into darkness, who turn bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter. Those who think they are wise in their own sight are as good as dead, those who think they possess understanding" (Isa. 5:20-21). If you feel crazy in an insane world, then you are likely quite sane, and the world will indeed feel strange once you have been awakened from its madness and refuse to be moved by the delusions of the crowd...

Yeshua said to Pontius Pilate, "For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world - to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:38). Our Torah portion this week includes the statement, Lo ta'amod al dam re'ekha: "You must not stand idly by when your neighbor's life is at stake" (Lev. 19:16). The principle of lo ta'amod (לא תַעֲמד) means that we have a moral duty to speak the truth when others are victimized. "Standing idly by" can therefore mean refusing to come forward with the truth about a situation from fear of the consequences, but it can also mean excusing the sin of our culture and of our friends. "A truthful witness (עֵד אֱמֶת) rescues lives, but the one who breathes lies (יָפִחַ כְּזָבִים) brings deception" (Prov. 14:25). ‎As it is written, "You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness (עֵד חָמָס)" (Exod. 23:1). It is the truth that sets people free to serve God, but this presupposes the ability to discern how we all become enslaved to deception. "You are to distinguish between the holy (i.e., ha-kadosh: הַקּדֶשׁ) and the common (i.e., ha-chol: הַחל), and between the unclean (i.e., ha-tamei: הַטָּמֵא) and the clean (i.e., ha-tahor: הַטָּהוֹר)" (Lev. 10:10, see also Ezek. 44:23). Just as God separated the light from the darkness (Gen. 1:4), so we are called to discern between (בֵּין) the realms of the holy and the profane, the sacred and the common, and the clean and the unclean. Indeed, the Torah states "God called the light Day, and the darkness he called night," thereby associating His Name with the light but not with the darkness (Gen. 1:5). "For you all are sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness" (1 Thess. 5:5). We are instructed therefore to wear the "armor of light" (Rom. 13:12) and to be equipped to wage spiritual warfare in God's Name (Eph. 6:11-18). The victory is ours in Yeshua, friends (1 Cor. 15:57).
 




Purim and Yom Kippur...


 

[ The holiday of Purim begins Wed. March 4th at sundown this year... ]

02.23.15 (Adar 4, 5775)  The holiday of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is also known as Yom Kippurim in the Torah (יוֹם כִּפֻּרִים, see Lev. 23:28), which can be read as Yom Ke-Purim, a 'day like Purim' (i.e., יוֹם, "day" + כְּ, "like" + פֻּרִים, "purim").  Both Purim and Yom Kippur celebrate our deliverance from the great enemies of sin and death, and both holidays foreshadow the great purim (deliverance) we have in Yeshua our LORD.
 

הִנֵּה לְשָׁלוֹם מַר־לִי מָר
 וְאַתָּה חָשַׁקְתָּ נַפְשִׁי מִשַּׁחַת בְּלִי
 כִּי הִשְׁלַכְתָּ אַחֲרֵי גֵוְךָ כָּל־חֲטָאָי

hin·nei · le·sha·lom · mar · li · mar
ve·at·tah · cha·shak·ta · naf·shi · mi·sha·chat · be·li
ki · hish·lakh·ta · a·cha·rei · gev·kha · kol · cha·ta·ai
 

"Behold, for shalom - bitterness to me; bitterness;
 but You have loved my soul from the pit of nothingness,
 for You have cast all my sins behind Your back."
(Isa. 38:17

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

 

In the verse quoted above, we read that God loves the soul "from the pit of nothingness," which pictures a loving father running to rescue his child from being swallowed alive by the earth (the Hebrew verb chashak (חָשַׁק) suggests pulling someone up out of a hopeless pit). That God casts all our sins behind His back figuratively denotes oblivion – and sins of the forgiven soul can are not brought to remembrance ever again. This is similar to the image given by Micah: "He will turn again, and have mercy on us: he will put away our iniquities: and he will cast all our sins into the bottom of the sea" (Micah 7:19).

The "ultimate" meaning of Purim is to be forgiven and accepted by God on account of the winning performance, the impeccable works of righteousness, and the victory of love over judgment secured by Yeshua the Messiah at the cross... Our deliverance depends not only on the substitutionary death of Yeshua as our kapparah (atonement), but also on the substitutionary life He lived (and still lives) on our behalf. Yeshua fulfills the Torah on our behalf. The cure for our lawlessness is not more laws but a deeper sense of God's grace given to us in Yeshua, who kept the law perfectly and ransomed us from its righteous judgment.... Because of Yeshua we have grace and peace (shalom) with God.

We must be careful not to confuse cause and effect in the realm of the spiritual. After the original transgression of Adam and Eve, death became the root problem of the human condition, so to speak, with indwelling sin as its fruit (i.e., the "works of the flesh"). It is this inherited "spiritual death" that causes sin. To focus on outward behavior without first of all dealing with the underlying problem of death is therefore a spiritual misstep. It is to clean the outside of the cup or to wash the outside of a tomb in a vain attempt to disguise the truth about our unclean and dead condition. The good news is not that God wants to make bad people good, but rather wants to make dead people alive... The cure for spiritual death is to be reborn and to partake of the resurrected life of Yeshua.

Following Yeshua is not a sort of "moral reformation" or self-improvement program to make us acceptable to God. Yeshua did not die on the cross so that we would become entangled in the old ways of being... No! He is Lord and Master and we find (really) new life in His acts of deliverance done on our behalf and for our benefit. The temptation is always to go back to the law of sin and death (i.e., the principle of self-justification), but as Martin Luther once truly said: "The sin underneath all our sins is the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and that we must take matters into our own hands."

"LORD, I need Thee every hour..." There never will be a time when we "get past" the need for God's grace given in Yeshua, since the only antidote to power of indwelling sin is the greater power of God's redeeming love within our hearts (1 John 3:8). The gospel is - not was - "the power of God for salvation (δύναμις θεοῦ ἐστιν εἰς σωτηρίαν) for everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16); it is an ongoing source of power for our lives... Our identity is made secure in the finished work of the Messiah - we trust in His strength, not our own; it is "Messiah in you" that is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). Just as we are given a new life entirely by means of God's grace, so we are also sanctified as we walk in that newness of life... "As you received Yeshua the Messiah the LORD, so walk in Him" (Col. 2:6). The focus is always on Yeshua and His righteousness and obedience... Every step of the way is a miracle and a wonder when we walk "in Messiah."

We walk "in Him," that is, in His strength, in His power, in His love... we don't walk "to" Him or attempt to climb the "stairway to heaven." Yeshua is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the Bridge - sha'ar hashamayim (שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם) and the Divine Ladder upon whom the angels of God ascend and descend. We look to Him, not to ourselves for life. Because of the life of Yeshua within us, we are now able to bear fruit of the Holy Spirit as the Torah is written upon our hearts (Jer. 31:31). We are able to keep the Torah because the life of Yeshua empowers us to do so...
 




Tending the Flame...


 

02.23.15 (Adar 4, 5775)  From our Torah portion this week (Tetzaveh) we are instructed to "keep the lamp (of the menorah) always burning" (Exod. 20:27). The source of that light was the holy flame itself, of course, though the flame was to be sustained by the hand of faith... The sages say, "Add oil to the lamp before the light dies, for if it does, the oil will do no good." In other words, the divine Light forever shines, but it is our responsibility to tend the flame and its illumination in our "mishkan" (Lev. 24:4). Likewise the Torah commanded that the fire on the altar was to be kept burning at all times (Lev. 6:12-13), which symbolizes esh tamid (אֵשׁ תָּמִיד), or the inner fire of the heart... How blessed it is to be full of the fire of this need for God, this groaning of heart, this constant hunger to be set free. Even more wonderful is how the korban tamid (קָרְבָּן תָּמִיד) - the daily whole burnt sacrifice of the lamb - represents God's ongoing and wholehearted passion for you to come and receive his love.
 




Hidden in Plain Sight...


 

[ Note that the following entry is related to the festival of Purim, which begins Wed. March 4th at sundown this year. For more information, see the Purim pages. ]

02.23.15 (Adar 4, 5775)  Although the Name of God is not explicitly mentioned in the Book of Esther, the story is essentially about revelation, that is, the disclosure of God's Presence despite His apparent concealment. The phrase hester panim (הֶסְתֵר פָּנִים) means "hiding of face" and is often used when discussing the divine providence. God's plan is being fulfilled, step-by-step, even if it is hidden within the "natural" world of human beings and their choices (Jer. 10:23; Prov. 21:1). The LORD is Ha'mashgiach (i.e., הַמַּשְׁגִיחַ, the supervisor) of all things - from the motions of subatomic particles to the great events of the cosmos. He not only calls each star by its own name (Psalm 147:4), but knows each particular lily and sparrow (Matt. 6:28-30, 10:29). Indeed, each person is under the direct, personal supervision of God Himself (הַשְׁגָּחָה פְּרָטִית) -- whether he or she is conscious of this or not. As Yeshua said, even the hairs on your head are all numbered (Matt. 10:30).
 

גָּדוֹל יְהוָה וּמְהֻלָּל מְאד
וְלִגְדֻלָּתוֹ אֵין חֵקֶר

ga·dol · Adonai · u·me·hul·lal · me·od
ve·lig·dul·la·to · ein · che·ker
 

"Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable"
(Psalm 145:3)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

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The Apostle Paul taught that God "chose us [εκλεγομαι] in the Messiah before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4). God called you by name -- before He created the very universe itself. "God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth" (2 Thess. 2:13). God loves you with an "everlasting love" (אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם) and with lovingkindness (i.e., chesed, חֶסֶד) draws you to Himself (Jer. 31:3). There is no fear in God's sovereign and irresistible love for your soul (1 John 4:18). "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31).

Note:  For more on this topic, see "Theology, Paradox, and Purim."
 




Tetzaveh and Purim...


 

02.23.15 (Adar 4, 5775)  Our Torah reading this week (Tetzaveh) begins with instructions for kindling the holy lampstand: "command the people of Israel to bring to you pure beaten olive oil for illumination (לַמָּאוֹר) to offer up (olah) a continual lamp (נֵר תָּמִיד)."  Note that the word translated "lampstand" is menorah (מְנוֹרָה), from the word for lamp, ner (נֵר). What's interesting about this verse is that the commandment to "offer up a continual lamp" occurs before the Tabernacle - and the menorah - was even made. God's Light must shine first -- even before we can direct our worship to Him.... The Light of His Presence precedes even the "tent of meeting" itself.

There is a Purim connection here.  Perhaps you are familiar with the "Urim and Thummim," the "lights and perfections" that the High Priest sometimes used to discern messages from the LORD?  Some scholars believe these were like lots (purim) that were used to get "yes/no" responses from the LORD (e.g., 1 Sam. 14:41, 28:6, Ezr. 2:63; Neh. 7:65). When Haman the Agagite kept "rolling the dice" until he found the "propitious" time to seek the destruction of the Jews (Esther 3:7), God was indeed watching. After Haman "divined" the twelfth month (Adar), he appealed to the King to put his hateful plan into action... He slandered the Jews and sought to incite the King's anger against them as traitors who pledged allegiance to a different King...  All this was foreseen by the LORD and under His sovereign control. Little did Haman know that the dice he cast was for the appointed day of his own death. And so it goes for all those who "cast the lot" without understanding the overarching sovereignty of God...

Note:  For more on this subject see the article: "Parashat Tetzaveh and Purim."
 




Purim and Amalek...
 

 

[ The holiday of Purim begins Wed. March 4th at sundown this year... ]

02.22.15 (Adar 3, 5775)  The Sabbath that precedes the holiday of Purim is called Shabbat Zakhor - the "Sabbath of Remembrance." The maftir (additional reading) instructs us to "remember" (זָכוֹר) how the nation of Amalek functioned as Satan's emissary by attacking the Jews at Rephidim, immediately following the Exodus from Egypt (see Exod. 17:8-16). After Israel routed the attack, God told Moses, "Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" (Exod. 17:14). Moses later explained that Amalek did not fight using conventional methods of war but rather attacked and killed the weakest members of Israel, "those who were lagging behind" in the camp (Deut. 25:17-19). This cowardly approach represented the first attack of God's newly redeemed people, a Satanic assault that God vowed never to forget.... Amalek therefore embodies satanic forces arrayed against the people of God.

Note that the name "Amalek" (עֲמָלֵק) begins with the letter Ayin (symbolizing the eye) and equals 240 in gematria -- the same value for safek (סָפֵק), the Hebrew word for doubt. Amalek therefore suggests "the eye of doubt," or even "the severed eye" (the Hebrew verb מָלָק means "to chop" or "sever" in reference to the "eye" of Ayin). Amalek therefore represents spiritual blindness as it acts in the world...

The additional Haftarah portion (1 Sam. 15:2-34) speaks of how King Saul later failed to "devote to destruction" the evil tribe of Amalek -- a mistake which cost him the kingship of Israel.  Samuel's rebuke of Saul's compromise is always timely: "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.... Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king."

These two readings were selected before Purim because Haman was an "Agagite" (Esther 3:1), i.e., a direct descendant of Agag, the king of Amalek (whom Saul nearly spared, see 1 Sam. 15:32-33), and we should therefore link the 'wiping-out' of Haman with the 'wiping-out' of Amalek. The spiritual war between the light and the darkness admits of no compromise.  For more information about this Sabbath, click here.
 




Ordination of Israel's Priests...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Tetzaveh...  ]

02.22.15 (Adar 3, 5775)  Last week's Torah portion (Terumah) explained that God had asked for a "donation" (i.e., terumah) from the people for the sake of creating a portable, tent-like sanctuary called the Tabernacle. God then showed Moses the pattern according to which the Tabernacle and its furnishings were to be made. First the Ark of the Covenant (and its cover called the kapporet) would occupy an inner chamber called the Holy of Holies. Within an adjoining chamber (called the Holy place) a Table would hold twelve loaves of matzah and a seven-branched Menorah (מְנוֹרָה) would illuminate the tent. God gave precise dimensions of the tent with the added instruction to separate the Holy of Holies by a veil called the parochet. The entire tent was to have a wooden frame covered by colored fabric and the hide of rams and goats. Outside the tent an outer court was defined that would include a copper sacrificial altar and water basin. The outer court was to be enclosed by a fence made with fine linen on silver poles with hooks of silver and sockets of brass.

This week's Torah portion (Tetzaveh) continues the description of the Tabernacle, though the focus shifts to those who will serve within it, namely the kohanim (i.e., priests of Israel). First Moses was instructed to tell the Israelites to bring pure olive oil for the lamps of the Menorah, which the High Priest was to light every evening in the Holy Place. Next God commanded Moses to ordain Aaron and his sons as priests and described the priestly garments they would wear while serving in the Tabernacle.
 

כִּי־טוֹב יְהוָה לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ
וְעַד־דּר וָדר אֱמוּנָתוֹ

ki · tov · Adonai · le·o·lam · chas·do
ve·ad · dor · va·dor · e·mu·na·to
 

"For the LORD is good; His steadfast love is eternal;
His faithfulness is for all generations."
(Psalm 100:5)



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All priests were required to wear four garments – linen breeches, tunics, sashes, and turbans, but in addition to these the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) was to wear a blue robe that was decorated with pomegranates and golden bells. Over this robe, an ephod – an "apron" woven of gold, blue, purple, and crimson – was to be worn, upon which was attached a "breastplate" (choshen mishpat) inlaid with precious stones inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. The ephod also contained a pouch holding two unique gemstones called the urim v'tummin (אוּרִים וְתוּמִּים), usually translated as "lights and perfections." According to the Targum Jonathan, when a matter was brought to the High Priest for settlement, he would sometimes hold the urim (from אוֹר, "light") and tummin (from תָּם, "integrity" or "completeness") before the menorah and the Shekhinah would irradiate various letters inscribed on the gemstones to reveal the will of God. Finally, the High Priest would wear a golden plate (called a "tzitz") engraved with the words, "Holy to the LORD" (קדֶשׁ לַיהוָה) upon the front of his turban.


 

The priests were to be ordained in a seven-day consecration ceremony that involved washing, dressing, and anointing them with oil and blood, followed by the offering of sacrifices. The priests were further instructed to present burnt offerings twice a day upon the copper altar. The portion ends with a description of the Golden Altar (i.e., Altar of Incense) upon which incense was offered twice a day by the priests when the Menorah lamps were serviced. In addition, the blood of atonement was to be placed on its corners once a year, during the Yom Kippur ritual.
 

 




Shrine of the Heart...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Terumah...  ]

02.20.15 (Adar 1, 5775)  The sages have said that salvation may be likened to rebirth that delivers us from the "narrow places of Egypt" (i.e., from mitzrayim: , "from," and צַר, "narrow") into newness of life... The first step of lasting deliverance (יְשׁוּעָה) is to receive the great revelation: "I AM the Lord your God," which begins our healing process (Exod. 20:2). We are set free from our bonds to surface appearances when we are made fully conscious of God's Presence, since we then understand everything in holy relationship with Ultimate Reality, the Ground and Source of all life (Acts 17:28). As it says in our Scriptures: "We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen: For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). Therefore God says in our Torah, "Make for me a sacred place (מִקְדָּשׁ) so I can dwell within you" (Exod. 25:8). Each of us is created to be a "mishkan," that is, a dwelling place for God. Making a sanctuary of the heart means choosing to stay connected with reality, attuning the heart to hear the Voice of the Spirit, and consciously walking before the Divine Presence.

The Hebrew word terumah (תּרוּמָה), the name of our Torah portion, means "gift" or "contribution," which first of all refers to the decision to give of our hearts to enshrine God's Presence. We "set the LORD always before us"; we abide in the Vine and remain connected to Him (Psalm 16:8; John 15:5). It two-way partnership: we seek a home for God within our heart, we invite his Presence, so to speak, to dwell within us, and then we listen for God's invitation to come, to abide within his house and live as his beloved child (Rev. 3:20).

King David wrote, עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה / olam chesed yibaneh: "The world is built with love" (Psalm 89:2), and so indeed is God's place within our hearts... We make God lovely and beautiful and wonderful and precious to us; we enshrine him and lift up our souls unto him in adoration and thanks. When we are willing to take part in the building of the sanctuary, God reveals to us "the pattern," that is, the inspiration that evidences His presence in our lives. As Yeshua said, "Let your light so shine" (Matt. 5:16).

Shabbat shalom and chodesh tov, dear one.  May God's presence fill your heart always!
 




The Torah of Love...


 

02.20.15 (Adar 1, 5775)  God does not love you based on your obedience, but his love for you will lead you to obedience... It is only after accepting that you are accepted despite yourself -- despite your inherent inability to please God, despite your incurably sick heart, despite your disobedience, sin, and so on -- it is only then that earnest, Spirit-enabled obedience may spontaneously arise within your heart. In that sense "obedience" is like falling in love with someone. It is your love that moves you to act and to express your heart, and were you prevented from doing so, you would undoubtedly grieve over your loss... Therefore the "law of the Spirit of Life in Messiah" is first of all empowered by God's grace and love. We walk by faith, hope, and love - these three.  And this explains why the very first step of teshuvah (repentance) is to love God: Shema! Va'ahavta et Adonai... The first work of faith is to believe in the miracle that God's love is "for-you-love..."

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




Chodesh Tov, Chaverim...


 

02.19.15 (Shevat 30, 5775)  Today is Rosh Chodesh Adar, that is, the beginning of the month of Adar for the year 5773. On the Biblical calendar Adar (אֲדָר) is the last month of the year (counting from the month of Nisan), and is known as the month of Purim, a festive holiday that always occurs exactly 30 days before Passover. This year Purim begins under the full moon of the month of Adar (i.e., Wed., March. 4th), and therefore Passover begins one lunar month later, under the full moon of Nisan, on Friday, April 3rd (at sundown).

The following (simplified) blessing can be recited to celebrate the new month and to ask the LORD God Almighty to help you for this coming season:
 

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

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

 

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



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Hidden Treasures...


 

02.18.15 (Shevat 29, 5775)  The message of the gospel is that God sees the hidden beauty, worth, and value of your life. "The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it" (Matt. 13:45-46). You may be tempted to identify with the merchant and regard this parable as a challenge for you to give up everything to obtain the surpassing worth of the kingdom of heaven, but another way to understand it is to see God as the merchant, the central character of the story.... Instead of you paying the great price for the pearl, turn the story around: God pays the price - and you are regarded as His choice pearl! You are a treasured possession, the "apple of God's eye..." 
 




Heart of the Sanctuary...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Terumah...  ]

02.18.15 (Shevat 29, 5775)  The earthy Tabernacle and its furnishings were designed to be "signs" and "shadows" of heavenly realities (Heb. 8:5). Moses was repeatedly commanded to make the Sanctuary according to the "pattern" revealed at Sinai (Exod. 25:9,40). At the inmost center of the earthly Tabernacle, the place symbolizing utmost holiness, was the Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן־הַקּדֶשׁ), a "three-in-one" box that held the tablets of the covenant. The Ark served as a symbol of kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), God's Throne of Glory, since it stood entirely apart as the only furnishing in the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). Upon the crown or 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; 1 Pet. 1:12). It was here - in the midst of sacred innocence, humility, purity, and hope - that the sacrificial blood was offered to make atonement for our sins, and it was here where God's Voice would be heard (Exod. 25:22; Num. 7:89). In the very heart of the Sanctuary, then, we see the Word of God and the sacrficial blood, foreshadowing the glory of the eternal redemption secured by Yeshua. As 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).

 

Note:  The Ark is described as a "three-in-one" box because it was a wooden one set inside a gold one, with another gold one set inside the wooden one -- three boxes made one. Metaphorically this symbolizes Yeshua's humanity (the wood, the Tree of Life) surrounded above and within by God the Father and the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit).
 




Life from the Dead...


 

02.18.15 (Shevat 29, 5775)  When Yeshua told his students to "raise the dead" (Matt. 10:8), he also meant to bring life to the dying souls of others - to give them comfort, hope, and life-giving, resurrecting vision... As the parable of the "Prodigal Son" teaches, the father's heart longs to receive those who have wasted their lives and failed miserably (Luke 15:11-32). The person who genuinely turns to God, even after a lifetime of failure and sin, may be able to experience a deeper sense of God's grace than someone who unthinkingly obeyed the rules for purposes of self protection. This is the reversal of parable: the younger son finds acceptance whereas the older son finds himself struggling... If you are a returning son, the memory of your wasted life can help you to remain honest about your teshuvah; if you are a "dutiful son," the grace of the father can help you learn to accept yourself.
 

    "You may call God love; you may call God goodness. But the best name for God is compassion" - Meister Eckhart 
     


Addendum:  Some people feel the need to "recover" the name of God as YHVH, YHWH, etc., using a "hermeneutic of suspicion" about religious traditions, Bible translations and versions, etc., but this concern may mask a deeper wound of the heart that results from a sense of being rejected by certain religious groups or communities... They therefore "politicize" the reading of the Bible to see what has been suppressed or withheld, rather than accepting the words of truth as a means to heal their hearts. How sad. God's name is centered on his heart to us as our heavenly Father, as Yeshua taught, and therefore we must begin there, realizing God's welcome of us and our return to his love...

Note:  Someone wrote in response to this entry and succinctly said: "I think He meant raise the dead," implying that my suggestion that Yeshua meant something other than literally raising people from the dead is mistaken...  This is a little bit like Yeshua saying to his disciples, "You feed them" (i.e., the multitude of people) when they had only five loaves and two fish... Yeshua himself certainly raised the dead, but Lazarus later died, so something more is meant here... "Raising the dead" means something even if you die (John 11:25).
 




Light of the Servant...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Terumah...  ]

02.18.15 (Shevat 29, 5775)  The menorah (מְנוֹרָה) symbolizes light, growth, unity, and the Tree of Life (עֵץ הַחַיִּים). All its intricate parts (i.e., its seven branches with seven lamps, nine flower blooms, eleven fruits, and twenty two cups) were formed from a single piece of pure gold (זָהָב טָהוֹר) that was "beaten" or "hammered" into shape (Exod. 25:36). This is a symbol of the divine substance (gold has a hint of the color of blood combined with the pure white). Note further that the menorah sat upon a three-legged base - a hint of hashilush ha-kadosh (the triune nature of the Godhead that is the Root of all reality). This is another image of the concept of echdut - unity in plurality found in the Torah. Just as the many parts of the Mishkan were put together to form "one Tabernacle" (הַמִּשְׁכָּן אֶחָד), and the prophet Ezekiel was told to join together two sticks to form "one tree" (עֵץ אֶחָד, see Ezek. 37:17), so the many parts of the menorah were likewise fashioned to form "one menorah" (Exod. 25:36). Moreover, the Torah itself is made up of five separate Books, but it is nevertheless one Torah, just as the children of Israel were divided into Kohanim (priests), Levites, and Israelites, though together they form one nation... Yeshua likewise taught us there would be one flock formed from both Jews and Gentiles, having one Shepherd (John 10:16).

 

The seven lamps of the menorah were lit daily, "from evening until morning," starting from the central lamp (the shamash) and then moving right to left (Exod. 27:21). According to the Talmud (Shabbat 22b), while all the lamps received the same amount of olive oil, the "westernmost" lamp (according to Rashi, the center lamp, due to its orientation) miraculously never ran out of oil, even though it was kindled first in the sequence. In other words, when Aaron would rekindle the lamps every evening, he found the shamash still burning, so he simply refilled it with oil and trimmed its wick. This miracle is also said to have occurred during the Temple period, though it abruptly ended about 40 years before the destruction of the Second Temple (c. 30 AD), after the death of Yeshua the Messiah, the true Servant and Branch of the LORD. As it is attested in the Talmud: "Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot ['For the Lord'] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white; nor did the westernmost light shine" (Yoma 39a).

The Scriptures declare that God is light, and Yeshua is the true Light of God (1 John 1:5; John 1:9). The light from the menorah reveals spiritual light. It was not seen from the outside of the Tabernacle, but only while inside the holy chamber, before the holy place of sacrificial atonement. The light itself came from the burning of pure and beaten olive oil - a symbol of anointing and the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ). It enabled service to God to be performed, though it was not a light to be used for profane purposes. Notice that the six lamps faced the central lamp -- a picture of Yeshua, the Light of the World whose arms and legs were "hammered" for our sins....  He is the suffering servant (shamash) who lightens everyone in the world; He is the center, the supporting trunk for the other branches (John 15:5).
 

Personal update: Please remember me (John) in your prayers.... I have been dealing with a lot of spiritual attacks recently and I have also been sick for the last week or so. Thank you for caring and praying, chaverim.
 




Half-Cubits and Mystery...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Terumah...  ]

02.17.15 (Shevat 28, 5775)  The Ark's dimensions were given in fractional measurements, "half-cubits" used to describe its length, width, and height: "They shall make an ark of acacia wood (עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים). Two cubits and a half (וָחֵצִי) shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height" (Exod. 25:10). The sages comment that the "half-cubit" is symbolic of our fractional understanding, alluding to mystery and even paradox. "You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a crown of gold (זֵר זָהָב) around it" (Exod. 25:11). The heart of the Tabernacle held the law of God, a picture of Yeshua who bore the law of God within his heart (Matt. 5:17-18). And though the Ark was made of wood from the common thorntree, it was covered inside and out with pure gold and bore a "crown" where the sacrificial blood was offered for atonement, a picture of Yeshua who clothed himself in our humanity, bore the crown of thorns, and shed his blood for our eternal atonement (Heb. 9:12).

Note that the Hebrew text says "they shall make an ark of acacia wood" (Exod. 25:10). Unlike other furnishings of the Tabernacle that were made by Betzalel, the text uses the plural verb here: "they shall make an ark" (וְעָשׂוּ אֲרוֹן), which implies that every person had a part in upholding the Torah. More - each person had a part in the place of blood atonement offered upon the kapporet - the cover of the Ark - which again symbolizes that Yeshua offered his life for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).




More Perfect Tabernacle...


 

02.17.15 (Shevat 28, 5775)  In our Torah portion this week (Terumah) instructions for building the Mishkan (משׁכּן), or "tabernacle," are provided. Here we read the description of the mysterious Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן בְּרִית) with its golden rings and poles, the Ark's golden cover (i.e., kapporet) with its two cherubim facing each another, spreading their wings while gazing upon the crown of the cover. We also read about two of the "furnishings" inside the Holy Place: the Shulchan, or the table for bread of presence (הַשֻּׁלְחָן לֶחֶם פָּנִים), and the Menorah, or the golden lampstand (מְנרַת זָהָב). The tent and curtains of the Mishkan are then described, as well as the sacrificial altar. Line after line of details are given, and while we are given a "pattern" (i.e., tavnit: תַּבְנִית) or "representation" of the sacred structure, a lot remains unclear. For instance, we are not told how the furnishings and various ritual utensils were made, nor how the wooden frame bars were sawed and arranged to hold up the roof of the tent. Some of the materials for the roof are simply unknown to this day (i.e., תַּחַשׁ, tachash). Indeed all of the Tabernacle's measurements are expressed in terms of "fingersbreadths" (etzbachim), "palms" (tefachim) and "cubits" (amot) -- units of measure that are inexact, since people's hand and finger sizes certainly vary... All of this, however, was by divine design. We are given enough of a description to make sense of the meaning of the sanctuary, and to envision it as a symbol, if you will, that would serve as a pointer to something greater and more mysterious to come... The Torah describes the mishkan at length, giving us a sense of its appearance and sacrificial function, but it glosses over some of the finer details, which teaches us that the pattern was not an end in itself, but a means to apprehending the Substance. The New Testament comments by saying "They (i.e., the various items of the Tabernacle) served as a sign and shadow (ὑποδείγματι καὶ σκιᾷ) of the heavenly things... But when Messiah appeared as high priest (kohen gadol) of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tabernacle (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Heb. 8:5; 9:11).
 




Shadows and Substance....


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Terumah...  ]

02.17.15 (Shevat 28, 5775)  Though Moses was instructed to make the Tabernacle according to the "pattern" revealed at Sinai (Exod. 25:9,40), King David -- by direct revelation of the Holy Spirit -- later changed the size of the Tabernacle and its vessels, made additions to the original design, and even changed the priestly order of service itself (see 1 Chron. 28:11-20). King David's vision shows us that both the structure and service of the Tabernacle were provisionally intended to give physical expression to a deeper spiritual reality, and indeed the New Testament calls the service of the Temple "a copy and shadow (ὑποδείγματι καὶ σκιᾷ) of the heavenly things" (Heb. 8:5). But what were these heavenly things if not the ministry of Yeshua as our High Priest of the New Covenant? The New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) is called a "better covenant based on better promises" (Heb. 8:6), that was "not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt" (see Jer. 31:31-33). Our Scriptures comment: "In speaking of a new covenant, he has made the first one obsolete, and what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away" (Heb. 8:13). Likewise we read, "When Messiah appeared as high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tabernacle (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Heb. 9:11-12). The earlier Levitical priesthood and its sacrificial system was "a shadow (σκιᾷ) of the good things to come, and not the true form (i.e., substance) of these realities" (Heb. 10:1).

Note:  For more on this, see "Shadows and Substance: Further Thoughts on Terumah."
 




The "Mercy Seat"...


 

02.17.15 (Shevat 28, 5775)  Our Torah portion for this week is called Terumah (תְּרוּמָה), a word that means "contribution," "gift," or "freewill offering."  It begins with the LORD asking for gifts "from every man whose heart moves him" to provide materials for the Mishkan Kodesh (Holy Tabernacle), a tent-like structure that would symbolize His Presence among the Israelites during their sojourn to the land of Canaan. Gold, silver, brass, red and purple yarns, fine linens, oils, spices, precious stones, etc., all were needed. No gift was considered too small, and whoever felt prompted by the LORD to give did so freely, without compulsion. God's house is always built by love freely given....

The word mishkan (מִשְׁכָּן) comes from a root (שָׁכַן) meaning "to dwell." This holy tent/compound was intended to provide a place of sacrifice and fellowship with the LORD God of Israel. Since the Mishkan represented God's dwelling place, it became associated with the Shekhinah (שְׁכִינָה), or manifest Presence of God Himself.  This is particularly the case regarding the famous Ark of the Covenant (i.e., aron ha-brit, אָרוֹן הָבְרִית) and its sacred cover called the Kapporet (כַּפּרֶת) located within the inner sanctum of the Mishkan called the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). (Note that the term "Mercy Seat" comes from Martin Luther's translation of the Bible into German, where he added to the meaning of kapporet by translating it as a location or "seat" of mercy.)  Upon the Kapporet were set two cherubim (כְּרֻבִים) -- angel-like figures with open wings and "baby faces."  It was from between these faces that the LORD later directly spoke to Moses, it was here that sprinkled sacrificial blood would appeal to God's forgiveness during the appointed time of Yom Kippur.

Note:  For more on this topic, see "The Mercy Seat: Further thoughts on Terumah."
 




Water for the Thirsting...


 

02.16.15 (Shevat 27, 5775)  "Let them make for me a sanctuary (מִקְדָּשׁ) that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8). Each of us has an inner void, a place where only God belongs. Substituting the things of this world – money, power, fame, pleasures, etc. – never satisfies our deepest thirst for life. Indeed the Lord laments: "My people have committed a double wrong: they have rejected me, the fountain of life-giving water (מְקוֹר מַיִם חַיִּים), and they have dug cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13). God is found by the thirsty soul; he is revealed wherever the heart permits him to speak. As Yeshua said: "If you had known the gift of God, and the one speaking to you, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water" (John 4:10).
 




Sanctuary of the Heart...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Terumah...  ]

02.16.15 (Shevat 27, 5775)  "Let them make for me a sanctuary (מִקְדָּשׁ) that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8). The sages note that the phrase, "that I may dwell in their midst" could be translated as "that I may dwell within them" (וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָ), suggesting that the point of the Tabernacle was to bring God within the hearts of His people... We must create a place within our hearts, in other words, for God to dwell within us... Yeshua likewise told us that we would experience God's abundant peace and joy when we would "abide in Him." Note that the gematria of the word Tabernacle (i.e., mishkan: מִשְׁכָּן) is 401, which is the same value as the word shema (שְׁמַע), "hear!" or "listen" (Deut. 6:4). When we really stop to listen to the LORD, we will find His glorious and loving Presence in our midst (Isa. 6:3).

The deepest message of the sanctuary, however, reveals God's sacrificial love, just as the purpose for the sacrificial system itself was to draw us close to God. The symbolic "life-for-life" exchange of the innocent for the sake the guilty provided tangible hope that a holy and perfectly righteous God would make a way for his love and acceptance to triumph over his righteous judgment (Psalm 85:10). Indeed the idea of "sacrifice" is korban (קרְבָּן), a word that means to draw near (karov) to God. The New Testament states that the various sacrificial rituals were "examples" (ὑπόδειγματα) and "shadows" (σκιάς) of the heavenly Reality that would be given in the sacrifice of Yeshua, the great Lamb of God (Heb. 8:5; 10:1), and indeed the central sacrifice at the sanctuary was the daily sacrifice (i.e., korban tamid) of a defect-free male lamb with matzah and wine (Num. 28:1-8).

Through Yeshua God draws near to us so that we can draw near to Him.... He is the "it-is-finished" offering that brings us eternal life. Yeshua is the Father's "gift of the heart" (i.e., terumah) given for you. It was the love of God that provided the provisional altar at the Tabernacle, just as his love put the blood of his Son on the cross.  Both in the sacrificial rites of the brazen altar and in their later fulfillment in the crucifixion of Yeshua, the heart needs to trust in God's personal love. Yeshua stands at the door and knocks, ready to eat a "covenant ratification meal" with all who are trust in Him (Rev. 3:20).

May you find courage to open your heart to Him now...
 




Offerings for Sanctuary...


 

02.15.15 (Shevat 26, 5775)  In our Torah portion for this week (i.e., Parashat Terumah), God asked the people to offer "gifts from the heart" to create a "place" for Him: "Let them make for me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8). The Hebrew word for "sanctuary" is mikdash (מִקְדָּשׁ), which comes from the root word kadash (קָדַשׁ), "to be set apart as sacred." A mikdash is therefore a "set apart space," or a "holy place" that represents something profoundly treasured - a place of beauty and worship, a refuge, a place of rest. Other words that share this root idea include kedushah (holiness), kiddushin (betrothal), kaddish (sanctification), kiddush (marking sacred time), and so on. When God said, "Let them make for me a mikdash," then, he was inviting the people to make a sacred place within their hearts for His Presence to be manifest.... The "materials" required to make this place - gold, silver, brass, red and purple yarns, fine linens, oils, spices, precious stones, etc. - were ultimately from the heart, expressed in free-will offerings given to God.

The LORD then showed Moses the pattern (תַּבְנִית) according to which the Tabernacle and its contents were to be constructed. First an ark of acacia wood was to be overlaid with pure gold inside and out. The ark was to be fitted with gold rings and gold covered poles to make it portable. The two tablets of the law were to be stored inside the ark. Two cherubim (angel-like figures) were to placed facing each other over a cover of the ark called the kapporet (i.e., "Mercy Seat"). The ark was to be housed within an inner chamber of the tent called the Holy of Holies. Adjacent to the Holy of Holies was a second chamber called the Holy Place. This chamber would contain a table overlaid with pure gold that held twelve loaves of bread along with a golden, seven-branched menorah. The Holy of Holies was separated from the Holy Place by an ornamental veil called the parochet.

The design (or pattern) of the tent along with its exact dimensions was then given. The tent was intended to be portable, with a wooden frame covered by richly colored fabric and the hide of rams and goats. The outer courtyard was to include a sacrificial altar with horns of copper set at each corner. The portion ends with a description of the outer court, which was to be entirely enclosed by an ornamental fence made with fine linen on silver poles with hooks of silver and sockets of brass.
 

 




Being Present before God...


 

02.13.15 (Shevat 24, 5775)  It is easy enough to hurry past words of Scripture without slowing down to reflect on what is being said. For instance, in our Torah portion for this week (Mishpatim) we read: "The LORD said to Moses, "Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction" (Exod. 24:12). The Hebrew words vehyei sham (וֶהְיֵה־שָׁם), usually translated as "and wait there," can also be translated as "and be there." But why -- if every jot and tittle of Torah is indeed significant (Matt. 5:18) -- does the text say "come up to the mountain" and then add the phrase "and be there"? The sages answer that God is asking Moses to be present, be awake, and to be utterly focused – "with all your heart, soul, and might." This is to teach us that to receive God's revelation, we need to show up – "to be there" – earnestly seeking his heart.

Shabbat shalom and I wish you all the love, grace, and blessings of our beloved Lord and Mashiach! Thank you for standing with this ministry, dear chaverim.
 




The Works of Faith...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Mishpatim...  ]

02.13.15 (Shevat 24, 5775)  In our Torah portion we read that when the people gathered before Moses to receive the covenant, they said: "All that the LORD has spoken we will do and we will hear (נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע)." Note the order: first comes the decision to obey, and then comes understanding... As Yeshua said, "If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know," and "if you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 7:17; 13:17). The heart of faith is willing to do what God asks before hearing what exactly is required. Many people operate the other way round, sitting in judgment of God's word, demanding to understand why they should obey. You cannot understand apart from trust, however, and that is categorically true of all forms of knowledge. We are to be "doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves" (James 1:22). We don't audit the words of Scripture since we ourselves are under examination! The Scriptures demand us to respond, choose, decide. The word is like a shofar blast rousing us to action. We are to be doers, not just passive hearers. The Greek verb is emphatic: "Be doers!" (γίνεσθε) means "be born! come alive! do, live, exist before God! This is a call to creative action, to newness of life!

The Scriptures state that "if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like" (James 1:23-24). If we just hear the truth but do not act upon it, we are comically likened to someone who carefully looks at his face in a mirror but then promptly forgets what he looks like after he steps away... Likewise those who only hear the word but do not bring it to life in their deeds forget who they are and why they were created (Eph. 2:10; Titus 2:14; Col. 1:10). When we look into the mirror of truth we see our need for teshuvah and turn to God for the healing miracle he provides (Heb. 4:12).

There is a deeper law, however, a "mirror" that reveals something beyond our passing image. When we look intently into the "perfect law of liberty" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵרוּת וּמַחֲזִיק) - the law of faith, hope, and love for our Savior - we find blessing in our deeds (James 1:25). Note that the verb translated "look into" the law of liberty is the same used when John stooped down to "look inside" the empty tomb of Yeshua (John 20:5). The deeper law reveals the resurrection power of God's invincible love. The Torah of the New Covenant also has many mitzvot, though these are based on the love God gives to us in Yeshua: "This is my Torah: that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34).

We are set free from the verdict of the law to serve God without fear, on the basis of his saving love and grace given in Yeshua (Gal. 5:1), but our freedom is not meant to violate the Ten Commandments or to engage in licentiousness (Gal. 5:13; Matt. 7:21). The moral law speaks, as it were, to young children who need a guardian until they can attain to their place as hiers (Gal. 3:24). Mature sons and daughters do not not need the law but operate on a different level, and enjoy a different relationship with the Master of the house. Serving God this way results in holy passion. The verse, "the appearance (i.e., mareh: מַרְאֵה) of God's glory was like a consuming fire" (Exod. 24:17) may be read, "the mirror (or reflection) of God's glory..." When we act as God's children, full of faith in his love, and walking before the power of his presence, our hearts reflect his passion, too.

As a brief addendum, let me ask how you can "do the word" and live in harmony with the divine commandments... The dividing line between faith and works is often difficult to discern, after all, and indeed Yeshua told us that faith in Him is itself a type of "work" (John 6:29). Studying the Scriptures, praying, trusting God in the midst of our pains and struggles, and worshiping are all in a sense "works," yet they express the inner reality of faith.... Here is the conundrum: Do we "do the word" by means of our own resolution (i.e., will) to act, or is a deeper miracle of transformation first necessary? If the latter, is the miracle entirely sufficient, or do we need to add something else for it to come into being? The Scriptures command us to be "slow to anger" and "put away wrath," and yet how is that possible apart from God's help, after all?  How can we manage destructive emotions that sometimes arise within the heart?  How do we "put away" fear? On the other hand, how can we be commanded to love? to be joyful? full of faith? These considerations reveal the divine-human partnership: We "work out our 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). In the end we are faced with paradox: We are utterly dependent upon God to work within our hearts for salvation, yet we are also entirely responsible for working out that salvation in our daily lives. "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Mark 10:27).
 




The Torah of Love...


 

02.13.15 (Shevat 24, 5775)  The heart of God will never lead us into a place of exile – to a place outside of his will (Gal. 5:22-23); neither is it removed from us, but instead reaches into the darkness of our fear to deliver us from our sin. Love is the greatest of the spiritual virtues, since its passion reaches "beyond the law" and its moral perfections to embrace the unworthy, the broken, and the defiled (Rom. 3:21; 2 Cor. 5:21). This is the Torah of love, which sees beyond the imperative to the "optative," from the realm of "ought" to the realm of passionate and holy desire. How else can we explain the cross? That God would sacrifice his purity for our sakes - to go beyond the law's own word and verdict - to rescue us from the curse of law.... Hallelujah! "And now abides faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13). Dear Lord God, please guide our way into your heart and love; give us a desire to truly know you; and impart to us the spirit of your love so that we may know ourselves as your love also knows us. Amen.
 




Shadow and Substance...


 

02.12.15 (Shevat 23, 5775)  The Baal Shem Tov is reported to have once said, "What matters is not the number of commandments we obey, but how, and in what spirit, we obey them." In other words, when our hearts are full of simple passion to express our love for God, we lose sight of the issue of "keeping the commandments," since they are regarded as a mere "outer form" or the appearance of something far more basic and important... How much more is this true for those of us trusting in Yeshua our Messiah! We focus on the Substance of the law and no longer its shadow (Heb. 10:1). We seek the Presence of God's heart and direction in all we do...

The law is holy, just, and good (Rom. 7:12), and the commandments of God are vital for our well-being and formation of our character, of course. However, as we walk in God's love, empowered by the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), the consciousness of the commandments are "transcended" in the sense that they are no regarded as "outside" of us, but are now found within, as part of how we walk by faith: Torah is written within (Jer. 31:33). In other words, we lose sight of the law as a means of "self-improvement" and instead rely entirely on God's love to transform our nature... It is one thing to act as a child who is under the explicit guidance of a set of rules that govern behavior in the house, and it is another to act as a full-grown heir who is empowered to serve the needs of the house (Gal. 3:24-25).
 





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