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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....

The Jewish civil year begins in the fall, though the Biblical year begins in spring (Exod. 12:2). Preparations for the fall holidays begin with a thirty day period of teshuvah (repentance) during the (late summer) month of Elul. The following ten days begin with the Feast of Trumpets (i.e., Rosh Hashanah, on Tishri 1) and end with the Day of Atonement (i.e., Yom Kippur, on Tishri 10). These first ten days of the new year are called the "Ten Days of Awe" (i.e., aseret ye'mei teshuvah: עֲשֶׁרֶת יְמֵי תְּשׁוּבָה), or simply the Jewish "High Holidays." Just five days after the solemn time of Yom Kippur begins the joyous week-long festival of Sukkot ("Tabernacles"), which is immediately followed by the celebration of Simchat Torah.
 

Fall Holiday Calendar

The Fall Holidays:

Rosh Hashanah
 

The fall festivals prophetically indicate the Day of the LORD, the second coming of Yeshua, the great national turning of the Jewish people, and the establishment of the reign of the Messiah upon the earth during the Millennial Kingdom in the world to come.

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

  1. Month of Elul (begins Mon., Aug. 25th, 2014)
  2. Month of Tishri (begins Wed., Sept. 24th, 2014)
  3. Month of Cheshvan (begins Thurs., Oct. 23rd, 2014)
  4. Month of Kislev (begins Sat., Nov. 22nd, 2014)
    • Four Sabbaths: Vayetzei, Vayishlach, Vayeshev, Miketz
    • Dates for Chanukah 2014:
      • 1st candle Teus., Dec. 16th [Kislev 25]
      • 2nd candle Wed., Dec. 17th
      • 3rd candle: Thurs., Dec. 18th
      • 4th candle: Fri., Dec. 19th [Shabbat Miketz]
      • 5th candle: Sat., Dec. 20th
      • 6th candle: Sun., Dec. 21st
      • 7th candle: Mon., Dec. 22nd (Tevet 1)
      • 8th candle: Teus., Dec. 23rd [Zot Chanukah]
         


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November 2014 Site Updates
 


Isaac's Troubled Family...


 

11.21.14  (Cheshvan 28, 5775)   It is quite clear that the families of the patriarchs had serious struggles and were often quite "dysfunctional." When we idealize these people, however, we tend to forget their humanity, and they may appear disconnected from us - on a higher spiritual level. The story of Isaac's troubled family is ultimately one of hope for us all. Isaac was deeply wounded but ultimately found healing, just as his son Jacob later wrestled through his family issues to be renamed "Israel." Take heart, chaverim: God can use us for His kingdom purposes despite whatever wounds and troubles might be in our family backgrounds. The Spirit speaks: "I AM the LORD your healer" (אֲנִי יְהוָה רפְאֶךָ).

Note: For more on this see, "Isaac's Troubled Family: Further thoughts on Toldot."
Shabbat shalom and thank you for helping Hebrew for Christians continue as a ministry!
 




Hebrew Wordplay...


 

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

11.21.14  (Cheshvan 28, 5775)   The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with various kinds of wordplay. In addition to some humorous play on words (i.e., puns), you will discover alliteration, acrostics, parables, similes, metaphors, hyperboles, gematria, and other literary devices used in the Hebrew text. Many examples appear on the surface-level of the texts.  For example, "Adam" (אָדָם) is a play on the word adamah (אֲדָמָה, "ground"); Chavah (חַוָּה, "Eve") is a play on the word chai (חַי, "life"); Kayin (קַיִן, "Cain") is a play on the verb kanah (קָנָה, "to get"), Yitzchak (יִצְחָק, "Isaac"), plays on the verb tzachak (צָחַק, "to laugh"), and so on (see Gen. 2:7, 3:20, 4:1). Of course, many other examples could be cited.

Of interest to our Torah for this week (parashat Toldot), we note that wordplay was applied to Isaac's two sons. When the twins were born, the first came out hairy and was named Esau (עֵשָׂו), perhaps from the word esev (עֵשֶׂב), "grass" or "weed" of the field), whereas the second came out with his hand on his brother's heel, and was named Ya'akov (יַעֲקב, "grappler," from the word עָקֵב, "heel"). Later, when Esau learned that Jacob had taken away his blessing, he exclaimed, "Is he not rightly named "heel holder" (i.e., יַעֲקב)? For he has taken me by the heel (יַּעְקְבֵנִי) these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing" (Gen. 27:36).

For more on this subject, see "Hebrew Wordplay: Further Thoughts on Vayera."
 




Shekhinah of Humility...

Georges Rouault - Jesus
 

11.21.14  (Cheshvan 28, 5775)   "Let your tongue acquire the habit of saying, 'I do not know,' so that you are not led to lie" (Berachot 4a). We have to learn that we don't always know the answer, and that often enough we don't even know the meaning of the question being asked... Accepting our limitations enables us to humbly ask God for help as we walk by faith. "The Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know (οὐκ οἴδαμεν) what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Rom. 8:26). We groan in hope... It is a blessedness to be free from the need to be seen, to be approved by others, to feel like we always have to be "right," to manage appearances, and so on. God opposes the proud, but his Spirit (רוּחַ) rests upon the lowly, the humble of heart. Therefore humility (עֲנָוָה) is considered one of the greatest of middot ha-lev (heart qualities). As it is written, the high and lifted up One dwells with the broken and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the crushed:
 

כִּי כה אָמַר רָם וְנִשָּׂא שׁכֵן עַד וְקָדוֹשׁ שְׁמוֹ
מָרוֹם וְקָדוֹשׁ אֶשְׁכּוֹן וְאֶת־דַּכָּא וּשְׁפַל־רוּחַ
לְהַחֲיוֹת רוּחַ שְׁפָלִים וּלְהַחֲיוֹת לֵב נִדְכָּאִים

 ki · kho · a·mar · ram · ve·nis·sa · sho·khen · ad · ve·ka·dosh · she·mo,
ma·rom · ve·ka·dosh · esh·kon · ve·et · dak·ka · ush·fal · ru·ach
le·ha·cha·yot · ru·ach · she·fa·lim · u·le·ha·cha·lot · lev · nid·ka·im
 

"For this is what the high and lifted up One says, the One who abides forever,
whose Name is Holy: "I dwell in a high and holy place, but also with the broken
and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the crushed."
(Isa. 57:15)



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God reveals Himself to the "lowly in spirit" (שְׁפַל־רוּחַ), that is, to those who understand their own nothingness and complete dependence on Him.... Notice that the word dakka (דַּכָּא) refers to being crushed to the very dust, the very same word used to describe how Yeshua was crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:10). William James called this deep work of the spiritual life Zerrissenheit, a term that can be translated as "torn-to-pieces-hood," or a state of being utterly broken and in disarray... From the point of view of our dependence on God for salvation, dakka refers to humility and contrition we express in light of God's unmerited favor and love for our souls...  We identify with the death of Messiah offered on our behalf; we find healing and acceptance in the Presence of the One who was torn to pieces and made dust for our merit. Humility is essential to awareness of God in the truth.

Note: Thank you all so much for remembering this ministry in your prayers, for without your help, I couldn't do this work. Thank you again, and may God's blessing be upon you!
 




Rosh Chodesh Kislev...


 

11.20.14  (Cheshvan 27, 5775)   On the Biblical calendar the month of Kislev (כִּסְלֵו) is the ninth of the year (counting from Nisan), and it is also one of the "darkest" of the year, with the days progressively getting shorter and the nights getting longer. Indeed, the Winter Solstice generally occurs during the last week of Kislev, and therefore the week of Chanukah (which straddles the months of Kislev and Tevet) often contains the longest night of the year (and even during "leap years," when the solstice occurs a bit later, there is always a new moon during the season of Chanukah). It is no wonder that, among other things, Chanukah represents an appropriate time to kindle the lights of faith  - and to remember the Light of the World in the Messiah's advent to earth...
 

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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This year the month of Kislev begins Saturday, November 22nd after sundown, which means that the eight-day festival of Chanukah begins on Tuesday, Decemeber 16th at sundown (1st candle) and runs through Teusday, December 23rd.  Chodesh tov, chaverim.
 




Bartering with Vanity...


 

11.19.14  (Cheshvan 26, 5775)  From our Torah portion (i.e., Toldot) we read: "And Esau said to Jacob, 'Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!' Therefore his name was called Edom (אֱדוֹם)." The Hebrew text more forcefully reports Esau's words: 'Let me gulp down (הַלְעִיטֵנִי) some of that "red-red stuff" (הָאָדם הָאָדם), picturing how eagerly he bartered away the blessing of heaven for a momentary and fleeting pleasure... The Maharal of Prague said that when Esau called the stew that "red-red stuff," he was acting like an animal that relates to things without restraint, in the immediacy of the moment, and without regard to their "form," that is, their higher purposes or end...
 

נִבְחָר שֵׁם מֵעשֶׁר רָב
מִכֶּסֶף וּמִזָּהָב חֵן טוֹב

niv·char · shem · me'osher · rav
mi'kesef · u'mizahav ·chen · tov
 

"A good name is to be chosen rather than great wealth,
grace is better than silver or gold."
(Prov. 22:1)
 


"See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; and that no one is sexually immoral or profane (i.e., βέβηλος, worldly, ungodly) like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal" (Heb. 12:15-16). Surely this is the deeper meaning of "profanity" - to deny reality, to live in willful ignorance, and to miss the glory of God's presence.
 




Seeing with Wonder...


 

11.19.14  (Cheshvan 26, 5775)  The commandment not to take the Name of the LORD "in vain" (Exod. 20:7) implies that we must affirm the sanctity, meaning, significance, and worth of life itself.  We must never live as though God does not exist, or, to state this positively, we must "set the LORD" always before us (Psalm 16:8). It is therefore forbidden to ignore the miracle of existence, to scoff at the value of life, or to debase ourselves by refusing to receive the truth. We are to take every thought "captive" to the reality of the Messiah ((2 Cor. 10:5). Everything belongs to God, and every moment we have is beholden to Him...
 

שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

"We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Messiah" (2 Cor. 5:10). We are instructed to "bring down reasonings" (λογισμοὺς καθαιροῦντες) and every high thing that is lifted up against the knowledge of God (κατὰ τῆς γνώσεως τοῦ θεου) and to bring every thought "as a captive" to the obedience (ὑπακοὴν, from ὑπό: by, under, + ἀκούω: hear, obey) of Messiah. We can do this negatively by fighting against evil thoughts and censoring the inner evil of our hearts, or we can do this positively by being "captivated" by the words and love of Yeshua, and often we have to do both!  This is the deeper meaning of "profanity" - to deny reality, to live in willful ignorance, and to miss the wonder of God's presence.  If we sanctify God in our hearts, we will be far less likely to use God's name in vain, of course.

God invites you to come to Him for relationship... Since God is a Person, He wants to know you as a person. He is not interested in formulaic prayers, religious rituals, or your membership at a particular religious organization. God wants to know your inmost thoughts and heart. Drawing near to God is God's way of drawing near to you... In other words, as you draw near to God, He will draw near and touch you. (more here)
 




Two Blessings for Jacob...


 

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

11.19.14  (Cheshvan 26, 5775)  When we think of Jacob, we naturally tend to recall the dramatic episode when he surreptitiously disguised himself as Esau to "steal" the blessing from his father Isaac. In this week's Torah reading, however, we discover that Jacob actually received two blessings from his father. The first blessing -- given to a disguised Jacob -- focused on material blessings: the "dew of heaven," the "fatness of the earth," "plenty of grain and wine," political power and hegemony (Gen. 27:28-29), whereas the second blessing -- given to an undisguised Jacob -- focused on his role as God's chosen patriarch of Israel (Gen. 28:3-4). The difference between these blessings turned on Isaac's restored vision.  His first blessing was tailored to the character of Esau as his "natural choice," whereas his second blessing looked beyond mere appearances to behold the vision that was originally given to his father Abraham:
 

וְאֵל שַׁדַּי יְבָרֵךְ אתְךָ
וְיַפְרְךָ וְיַרְבֶּךָ וְהָיִיתָ לִקְהַל עַמִּים
וְיִתֶּן־לְךָ אֶת־בִּרְכַּת אַבְרָהָם
לְךָ וּלְזַרְעֲךָ אִתָּךְ

ve'el · Shad·dai · ye·va·rekh · ot·kha
ve'yaf·re·kha · ve'yar·be·kha · ve'ha·yi·ta · lik·hal · a·mim
ve'yit·ten · le·kha · et · bir·kat · Avraham
le·kha · ul·zar·a·kha · i·takh
 

"May El Shaddai bless you,
make you fertile and numerous to become an assembly of peoples.
And may He grant the blessing of Abraham
to you and your offspring"
(Gen. 28:3-4)



- Isaac's second blessing to Jacob


In a sense, the self-effacing, disciplined, and strong-willed Isaac abandoned his "natural vision" (i.e., to install Esau as the next patriarch, despite the assumed remonstration of his wife Rebekah) by finally surrendering to the vision of his father Abraham. Isaac's entire life was a sort of overreaction to his father - an "antithesis to Abraham's thesis."  By choosing to bless Jacob a second time, this time with his eyes wide open, Isaac revealed that he had finally accepted the grace of God that was revealed to his father Abraham. 

Recall that after Esau discovered that the blessing was given to Jacob, he lamented and pleaded with his father to bestow upon him a blessing as well. It is interesting to note that the "residual" blessing that Isaac gave to Esau was the inverse of that given to Jacob: the "fatness of the earth" was put before the "dew of heaven" (compare Gen. 27:39 with Gen. 27:28). Receiving sustenance from heaven is of greater value than finding earthly prosperity.  And indeed, Jacob was "blessed" with trouble his whole life, which caused him to rely on the "dew from heaven," whereas Esau was "blessed" with prosperity that came from trafficking in this world.

Note: The metaphors the "dew of the heavens" and the "fatness of the earth" suggest focus, the former alluding to spiritual blessing and the latter to worldly good... Hence Jacob was later vexed and sent into exile, whereas Esau inhabited Mount Seir and embedded himself in the land. Isaac's first blessing (to a disguised Jacob), does not contradict this comment, since Isaac was speaking prophetically about Jacob and Esau, and only later did he reaffirm the prophecy by bestowing upon Jacob the blessing of his father Abraham...
 




Pouring out of Heart...


 

11.18.14  (Cheshvan 25, 5775)  A pious man once complained to the Kotzer Rebbe that it was difficult for him to earn a living. The rebbe counseled him to pray to God to have mercy upon him. The man replied that he didn't think his prayer would avail with the Almighty. The rebbe then said, 'If that is your feeling, then you have a much greater problem than lack of livelihood! You should be more upset that you do not know how to pour your heart out before God!" Indeed our Scriptures teach us to come "boldly" before the Throne of Grace (παρρησίας τῷ θρόνῳ τῆς χάριτος) that we may receive mercy (רַחֲמִים) and find grace (חֶסֶד) to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16). Note that the Greek word translated "boldly" in this verse (παρρησίας) comes from πᾶς (all) + ῥέω (to utter), suggesting that we can speak freely to God and share everything within our heart without fear or shame.
 

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

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

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


 


Pouring out your heart to God in an honest, transparent, and earnest way is sometimes called hitbodedut (הִתְבּוֹדְדוּת). After we "talk our hearts out" before the Lord, in our emptiness we can begin to truly listen, as it says, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength" (Isa. 30:15). Only after we sigh deeply and surrender are we receptive to the voice of the Spirit's whisper. "Blessed are all those who wait for Him" (Isa. 30:18). We wait, we abide, even when God takes his time or does not immediately intervene. We do not lose heart, for we find strength when we trust in God's love... The Light of the world still shines: Yeshua, be my inner word, my heart, and my groaning for life today, and forevermore, amen.

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




Barrenness and Prayer...

Marc Chagall
 

11.18.14  (Cheshvan 25, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week (Toldot) explains that Isaac and Rebekah were still childless after 20 years of marriage. "And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren" (Gen. 25:21). The midrash (בראשית רבה) on this verse says that the patriarchs and matriarchs (Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel) were childless for so long because God wanted them to stretch their hearts in earnest prayer... The commentator Rashi says the Hebrew word for "prayer," tefillah (תְּפִלָּה), implies bonding, communion, and cleaving to God, and the times of barrenness were meant to draw the heart closer to God for help... We may know some things of Torah; we may suppose we understand truth from Scripture, but prayer from the heart unites us to the LORD our God. "Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your Name" (Psalm 86:11).
 

הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה דַּרְכֶּךָ אֲהַלֵּךְ בַּאֲמִתֶּךָ
 יַחֵד לְבָבִי לְיִרְאָה שְׁמֶךָ

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

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


 

Note: For more on this subject, see "Barrenness and Prayer."
 




Blessings and Bean Soup...


 

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

11.18.14  (Cheshvan 25, 5775)  From our Torah this week (Toldot) we read: "Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew (לֶחֶם וּנְזִיד), and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised (בָּזָה) his birthright (בְּכרָה)" (Gen. 25:34). Esau esteemed the honor of being the firstborn son (i.e, bechor: בְּכוֹר) – the high priest of the family – as worth a "bowl of beans" when compared with the imperious lusts of his lower nature, and so he tragically forfeited the blessing of God...  Far from regarding service to God as a divine privilege and wonderful opportunity, Esau wanted to be free of such responsibilities and therefore discredited the meaning and promise of faith.  Note that the Hebrew word for "lentil stew" (or pottage) is nazid (נָזִיד), which comes from a Hebrew word that means "to boil up" in pride (i.e., zid: זִיד). Sadly, Esau was consumed with his own interests and regarded them as more important than the things of God.

Note: "Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright" (Gen. 25:34). Most translations of the Hebrew text suggest that because he bartered his birthright Esau disparaged it, but the text also implies continuity: after he ate, drank, and went his way, then Esau rationalized his bad decision by denying its importance...
 




The Oath of Blessing...


 

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

11.17.14  (Cheshvan 24, 5775)  In our Torah for this week (Toldot) we learn that the great oath of blessing that God gave to Abraham was extended (exclusively) to his beloved son Isaac (Gen 26:3-4; Rom. 9:7). Recall that it was only after the Akedah (the sacrifice of Isaac) that the LORD God swore the oath (שְׁבוּעָה) that through Abraham would all the families of the earth be blessed: "By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son (ben yachid), I will surely bless you... and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice" (Gen. 22:16-18; cp. Gal. 3:9,16). The phrase, "by myself have I sworn" is the most solemn oath God could make and must be regarded as an inviolable vow (Heb. 6:13-18). It is nothing short of astounding to realize that the very existence of Israel and the Jewish people - and therefore the advent of the Messiah himself - derives from the Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his "only begotten son," an act of faith that constituted a "deeper Torah" than the law of Moses that was given at Sinai...

The "Gospel of Moses" revealed in the Akedah foretells the cross of our Savior. For more on this subject, see "Israel and the Akedah" here.
 




God's Word of Love...


 

11.17.14  (Cheshvan 24, 5775)  In moments of testing, and especially in your failures, heed the voice of God's compassion (מילות רחומות). Use the "good eye" (עַיִן טוֹבָה) to see how the Spirit draws you close in your weakness, gently urging you to return from your self-imposed exile, and welcoming you back to the Divine Presence. Note that the good eye (ayin tovah) is also called the "beautiful eye" (עין יפה), since it sees beauty even in ashes... Do not turn away from God's plea for your comfort; know that God is love (Exod. 34:6; 1 John 4:16); He is light (1 John 1:5), and He is forever with you as your Savior (Isa. 41:10; Matt. 28:20). Using the "beautiful eye" means refusing to think evil about others (including yourself); it "does not impute the bad" - οὐ λογίζεται τὸ κακόν (1 Cor. 13:5) but rejoices in the truth – even if that truth is found only in the hope of a future and seemingly distant good (1 Cor. 13:7; Rom. 8:24). Yeshua told us, "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is good (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, clearly focused, heartfelt, compassionate), then your whole body will be full of light" (Matt. 6:22).
 

כִּי־טוֹב חַסְדְּךָ מֵחַיִּים
שְׂפָתַי יְשַׁבְּחוּנְךָ

ki · tov · chasdekha · me'chayim
sefatai · yeshabechunkha

 

"Because your lovingkindness is better than life,
my lips will praise you."
(Psalm 63:3)



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Parashat Toldot - תולדת


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Toldot (the "generations [of Isaac]"). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

11.16.14  (Cheshvan 23, 5775)  Last week's Torah (Chayei Sarah) told how Abraham's faithful servant Eliezer sought a bride for Isaac from among Abraham's relatives living in Mesopotamia. In response to his prayer to the LORD, Eliezer was shown that Abraham's nephew's daughter Rebekah was chosen to be one of the great matriarchs of Israel.

This week's reading (Toldot) continues the story by revealing that Isaac and Rebekah had been married for twenty years but were still without an heir to carry on the family line.  Finally their prayers were answered and Rebekah conceived, though not without complications. When she inquired of the LORD about her travail, God told her that she was carrying twins that would be heads of two rival nations, but the younger child would in fact become the promised heir of the chosen people. When the day came for Rebekah to give birth, the first child came out "red and covered with hair," so they called his name Esau ("hairy"); then his brother came out with his hand grasping Esau's heel, so they named him Jacob ("supplanter," from the Hebrew root meaning "heel").

The Torah describes that Esau became a hunter, "a man of the field," while Jacob was ish tam yoshev ohalim, "a wholesome man, who lived in tents." Isaac favored Esau; but Rebekah, believing the promise of the LORD, favored Jacob...

The portion then gives us a look at the spiritual life of the two boys. According to Jewish tradition, on the day of the funeral of their grandfather Abraham, Jacob was cooking lentil soup for Isaac, the traditional mourner's meal. Esau rushed in from a hunting expedition, exhausted and hungry. He then begged Jacob to give him some of "that red stuff" (i.e, ha'dom hazeh), but Jacob answered that he would give him some only if he would sell him his birthright. Esau agreed to the terms and discounted his birthright as being worth only a bowl of beans (on account of this incident, Esau was given the additional name of Edom ("red"). In this manner the Torah describes how Esau "spurned the birthright."

 

Years later, when Isaac was old and blind, Jacob (with his mother Rebekah's help) tricked Isaac into conferring the blessing of the firstborn upon him, thereby making Jacob the heir of the family, and not Esau. When the ruse was discovered, however, Esau sought to kill his brother, and Jacob was forced to flee his home, never to see his mother again...
 

 




Love Stronger than Death...


 

11.14.14  (Cheshvan 21, 5775)  "And Abraham stood up from before the dead ... saying, 'I am an outsider and sojourner (גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב)...'" (Gen. 23:2-4). He regarded himself as "a stranger in a strange land," despite being exactly where God had directed him. Abraham felt outside this world, bereft of an abiding place, and yet he was strong in faith. Just as he did not stagger over the promise that from him would come a multitude of descendants, so he did not stagger as he stood up from before the lifeless body of his beloved wife Sarah. Surely he foresaw Sarah with him again, raised from the dead by the hand of God; surely he believed that love was stronger than death... "By faith he [Abraham] went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Heb. 11:9-10).

The message of the gospel is that the love of God is indeed stronger than the power of sin and death... Thank God for Yeshua, our Savior and Healer! Shabbat Shalom, chaverim.
 




Affliction and Comfort...


 

11.14.14  (Cheshvan 21, 5775)  Some of us carry a deep and stubborn inner pain that refuses to leave us, even after we have poured out our hearts before heaven for deliverance... Perhaps this pain comes from wounds inflicted early in life that have left us feeling betrayed, victimized, and wary of the promise love. God knows our struggle... We can find healing when we learn to "own" the pain and make it part of our story, trusting that God will use it to draw us close to him for our good. After all, God is called "the Father of Mercies and God of all comfort" (אַב הָרַחֲמִים וֵאלהֵי כָּל־נֶחָמָה), and the Lord "comforts us" (lit., "calls us to His side," παρακαλέω) in our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are afflicted with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Take comfort, then, that your Heavenly Father sees when the sparrow falls; he arrays the flower in its hidden valley; he calls each star by name. More importantly, the Lord sees you and understands your struggle. He will never leave you nor forsake you...
 

הָרפֵא לִשְׁבוּרֵי לֵב וּמְחַבֵּשׁ לְעַצְּבוֹתָם
מוֹנֶה מִסְפָּר לַכּוֹכָבִים לְכֻלָּם שֵׁמוֹת יִקְרָא

ha-ro·fei · lish·vu·rei ·lev · u'me·cha·besh · le'atz·tze·vo·tam
mo·neh · mis·par · la·ko·kha·vim · le·khu·lam · she·mot · yik·ra

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"He is the healer of the brokenhearted and the One who binds up their sorrows.
 He counts the number of the stars, to all of them He assigns names."
(Psalm 147:3-4)

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Brokenness distills the intentions of the heart by helping us to be more honest with ourselves. We begin to realize that we are more vulnerable than at first we thought; that our faith is not as strong as we imagined, and that our motives are often mixed and unconscious. Illusions are striped away; idols crumble; deeper levels of selfishness are uncovered; the gap between our words and our deeds is exposed... It is one thing, after all, to intellectually think about faith or to idealize spirituality, but it is quite another to walk out faith in darkness. Yet it is only there, in the rawness of heart, that we discover what we really believe and how our faith makes traction with reality...
 

    I do not see the road ahead of me, I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean I am actually doing so. But I believe the desire to please you does in fact please you, and I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for your are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. - Thomas Merton

 
Take hope, struggling friend... It is surely the will of God for you to find strength in weakness and comfort in affliction. As our Scriptures say, God is "the Father of Mercies and God of all comfort." The Lord calls us to His side to receive his comfort and love.
 




Our Need for Vigilance...


 

11.14.14  (Cheshvan 21, 5775)  Yeshua forewarned of the moral depravity that would pervade mankind just before the time of his return: "Because lawlessness (i.e., ἀνομία, from -α ('not') + νομος, 'torah') will be increased," he said, "the love of many will grow cold (i.e., ψύχομαι, 'be extinguished')" (Matt. 24:12). Note the link between Torah and love: true love requires respect for God's authority, for without that the divine image is disfigured and desecrated.  Likewise the Apostle Paul said the "End of Days" (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) would be marked by "times of peril" (καιροὶ χαλεποί) because people would become increasingly narcissistic, self-absorbed, infatuated with their own self-importance, abusive toward others, disrespectful to elders, ungrateful, heartless, unforgiving, without self-control, brutal, treacherous, and so on (2 Tim. 3:1-4). When Paul said "times of peril," he used the same word (χαλεποί) that described the character of the demonaics mentioned in Matthew 8:28.  Therefore, in light of the spiritual war that rages all around us, it is vital that we remain firmly rooted in what is real by taking hold of our identity and provision as children of God. "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (גְּבוּרָה / δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός), i.e., a "delivered" mind, "healed" from carnal fears (2 Tim. 1:7). We are not to be troubled like the world that lives in terror of man, nor are we to crave "security" from the vain devices of mere men (Jer. 17:5). No - we must look to God Almighty, the Master of the Universe. He alone is our Refuge and Defense, the One who gives us steadfast love in the midst of these storms.

"For you yourselves are fully aware (i.e., ἀκριβῶς οἴδατε, "you carefully know") that the Day of the LORD (יוֹם־יְהוָה) will come like a thief in the night" (see Matt. 24:42; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 3:3; 16:15). While people are saying, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman (i.e., the birthpangs of Mashiach: חֶבְלֵי מָשִׁיח), and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief" (1 Thess. 5:2-4). Note that a characteristic of this season will be a emphasis on peace and "security," that is, setting up a ubiquitous security grid that will monitor people... In light of this, "let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.. having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation (ἐλπίδα σωτηρίας). For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain deliverance through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Thess. 5:6-9). 
 




Healing a Divided Heart...


 

11.14.14  (Cheshvan 21, 5775)  We need to awaken to reality... The walk of faith involves kavanah (כַּוָנָה), or focus; we are to "press on" to hear the upward call of God (Phil. 3:14). The problem for many of us is that we are irresolute, indecisive, and therefore we hesitate... A divided heart is at war within itself, "two-souled" (δίψυχος) and unstable in all its ways (James 1:8). If "purity of heart is to will one thing," then impurity of heart is the result of simultaneously willing two things... It is therefore a state of inner contradiction, of having two separate "minds" or "wills" that hold contrary thoughts or desires. Yeshua said that "a divided house cannot stand." May it please God to heal us of such ambivalence by making our hearts whole, resolute, steadfast, full of conviction, and entirely awake to the glory of His Presence at our right hand (Psalm 16:8). The LORD is always near; he is not far from each one of us. "Draw near to God (ἐγγίσατε τῷ Θεῷ) and he will draw near to you; purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8). As it is written: "The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth" (Psalm 145:18). May we be set free from lesser fears that divide the heart and rob the soul of shalom shelemah, God's perfect peace...
 

הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה דַּרְכֶּךָ אֲהַלֵּךְ בַּאֲמִתֶּךָ
 יַחֵד לְבָבִי לְיִרְאָה שְׁמֶךָ

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

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



 

The heart looks through the eye, and therefore how we see is ultimately a spiritual decision: "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). The source of our problem, then, is the will, which serves as a gatekeeper of what we admit to ourselves, and the healing comes when we are honest before God and ask Him to be delivered from our ambivalence: "Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your Name" (Psalm 86:11).
 




What We Really Need...


 

11.13.14  (Cheshvan 20, 5775)  "Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matt. 6:8). We sometimes pray for what we think we need but overlook what we really need. For instance, we may pray for health, material blessing, and opportunity, but what we really need is the ability to trust, the willingness to surrender our lives to God without qualification, and the grace to see the good in others and not their faults. These needs are just as real as our need for food and clothing, since apart from grace to extend empathy and love toward others, we will never be truly happy. Love "overlooks" a multitude of sins; it looks beyond the present moment to see with compassion, of kindness, of empathy... What we really need, then, is to be after God's own heart, to see other people as God sees them, and to overlook matters that offend or feed our sense of pride. This is what we truly need, and therefore we trust that the Lord our God mercifully "decodes" our apparent petitions to express what the Spirit of God groans on our behalf (Rom. 8:26).
 

מְכַסֶּה־פֶּשַׁע מְבַקֵּשׁ אַהֲבָה
וְשׁנֶה בְדָבָר מַפְרִיד אַלּוּף

me·kha·seh · pe·sha' · me·va·kesh · a·ha·vah
ve·sho·neh · ve·da·var · ma·frid · a·luf
 

"Whoever covers an offense seeks love,
but he who repeats a matter separates close friends."
(Prov. 17:9)

 




The Law of Faith...


 

11.13.14  (Cheshvan 20, 5775)  "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21). And what is the will of the Father but to trust in Messiah for life (John 6:40)? "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" Yeshua answers: "This is the work of God, that you believe in the One whom he has sent" (John 6:28-29). The Torah of God centers on the Messiah. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not ... do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I say to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness' (Matt. 7:22-23). From this we see that works - even those done in the name of Messiah - are insufficient for life, and that something more is needed. Yeshua wasn't questioning their theology, nor was he denying deeds done "in his name." What he was questioning was their heart, how they knew him, whether they trusted in his love. "As long as Christ remains outside of us we are separated from him." Paradoxically, those who appealed to their good deeds were those who practiced "lawlessness," since they did not keep the law of faith (תורה של אמונה) in God's love...
 

יְהוָה תִּשְׁפּת שָׁלוֹם לָנוּ
 כִּי גַּם כָּל־מַעֲשֵׂינוּ פָּעַלְתָּ לָּנוּ

Adonai · tishpot · shalom · lanu
 ki · gam · kol · ma'asenu · pa'alta · lanu

"O LORD, you will establish peace for us,
for You have indeed done for us all our works."
(Isa. 26:12



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Note that God does the work "for us" (לָּנוּ) and we are His witnesses... Salvation is "of the LORD," and is not the result of our own efforts. Anything of eternal value comes from God alone, who is the beginning and end of grace. "Not by (human) might, nor by (human) power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts (Zech. 4:6). If we lose sight of this truth, we are again made subject to the "law of sin and death" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת), that is, the futile principle of self-justification that constitutes the "wheel of suffering." We can escape this cycle only when we accept the truth about our condition and trust God for our deliverance. It is the "law of the Spirit of Life" (תוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים), that is, the inner reign of the Holy Spirit, that sets us free from the reign of sin that leads to death...

It is written: "And the work of the Righteousness One will be peace, and the service of Righteousness One will be quietness and assurance forever" (Isa. 32:17). Note that it is the "work" (singular) of righteousness that is in view here – not the "works" (plural) of righteousness that we might perform (Titus 3:5). In other words, it is the work of the LORD alone, that is, the righteousness and glory of the Messiah, blessed be He, that gives us true peace (Psalm 37:39). Likewise the "service of righteousness" refers to the singular "avodah" of the great High Priest "after the order of Malki-Tzedek," which is the eternal service of intercession established by the inviolable will and counsel of Almighty God (Heb. 7:20-21). This avodah does not refer to acts of service performed by human beings in their religious ceremonies (i.e., the Levitical priesthood with its various forms of sacrificial worship), but rather the perfect act of service and sacrifice of Yeshua given upon the cross -- the everlasting atonement and eternal redemption secured by the greater priesthood of Yeshua (Heb. 9:12). "For our sake He made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ)." Only God through Yeshua can give us true inner peace and security forever; only Yeshua gives us peace with God.
 




Our Daily Teshuvah...


 

11.12.14  (Cheshvan 19, 5775)  There are first things without which nothing else follows... For instance teshuvah (i.e., "repentance") means letting go of those desires that block or impede our reception of God's grace... This may include letting go of the supposed need to find our self-worth based on our performance rather than by accepting God's love. Therefore the very first commandment is always, Anochi Adonai Elohekha: "I AM the LORD thy God," since this is the invitation to know God's heart.  Finding God's heart for you is basic to the rest of the adventure of faith.

We must find focus to escape the distractions of the hour. Keep coming back! Keep turning! Teshuvah is a daily decision of the heart to seek what is real... abiding... true.
 




Hold Fast to Hope...


 

11.12.14  (Cheshvan 19, 5775)  "Never despair! Never! It is forbidden to give up hope" (Nachman). Hope is the affirmation that your life has profound meaning, eternal significance, and ultimate healing; it is the expectation that all shall be made well, even if the present hour is darkness. "Be of good courage," said Yeshua, "don't be afraid, for I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). The message of the gospel is that God's love is the healing center of all reality; the cross (and resurrection) of Messiah overrules all sin, sickness, and even the power of death. Let not your heart be troubled: God is light and His light overcomes the darkness (Psalm 27:1; 1 John 1:5; James 1:7). The Hebrew word for hope is tikvah (תִּקְוָה), from a verb (קוָה) that means to stretch (as a line) in tension, to twine around like strands in a rope. It glorifies God to hope in the LORD, looking for him with eager anticipation, steadfast in your conviction, tightly "bound up" in the message of his salvation (יְשׁוּעָה). Those who wait upon the LORD are renewed in strength (וְקוֹיֵ יְהוָה יַחֲלִיפוּ כחַ) so that they can continue to "press on" in faith despite appearances of loss or failure (Gen. 49:18; Isa. 40:31; Phil. 3:4). Therefore the Spirit cries out: "Hope to the LORD; be strong and strengthen your heart; and (again) hope to the LORD" (Psalm 27:14).
 

קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה חֲזַק וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּךָ
וְקַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה

ka·veh · el · Adonai · cha·zak · ve'ya·metz · lib·be·kha,
ve-ka·veh · el · Adonai
 

"Hope to the LORD; be strong and let your heart be strengthened;
and (again) hope to the LORD"
(Psalm 27:14)


 
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Note that the verb ve'yametz is a causal active stem (i.e., Hiphal) in the "jussive mood," which means it is imperative – "command your heart to be strengthened," or "let your heart be made strong!" Make the decision to be strong in the LORD, and the LORD will give you strength to bear your present suffering: "Look to the LORD (קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה) and find hope." Amen. God will help us, and he will help us before he will help us!
 




Finding a Bride for Isaac...


 

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

11.11.14  (Cheshvan 18, 5775)  Though he is not explicitly named in the account, the "elder servant" commissioned to find a bride for Isaac was undoubtedly Eliezer of Damascus (Gen. 15:2). Eliezer (אֱלִיעֶזֶר), whose name means "my God will help," is regarded as a consummate example of a godly servant, a picture of the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) sent on a mission to find a bride for the Sacrificed Seed of Abraham (i.e., the Messiah Yeshua). Eliezer dutifully departs on his mission and waits by the "well of water," interceding on behalf of righteousness... He asks for a witness from heaven: "Let the young woman to whom I shall say, 'Please let down your jar that I may drink,' and who shall say, 'Drink, and I will water your camels' -- let her be the one whom you have appointed" (Gen. 24:13-14). Rebekah's response of kindness and generosity (i.e., chesed: חֶסֶד) to a tired wayfarer demonstrated God's choice. Note that the test concerned the inward character of the woman, not her status or beauty or other worldly factors. And since a single camel needs about 25 gallons of water and requires 10 minutes to drink, watering ten camels would require 250 gallons and at least a couple hours of work running back and forth to the well - no small task for anyone! Rebekah possessed Abraham's qualities of gracious hospitality and diligence...

Eliezer's prayer to find a bride for Isaac (the very first recorded prayer of the Torah) appealed for a miracle such as splitting the sea, but instead relied on the providential and "hidden hand" of God that governs the affairs of everyday life... His prayer at the well relied on God to direct him to a woman who, like Abraham, would extend compassion to a person in need (חֶסֶד). The Torah therefore reveals that far from being a coincidence or chance encounter, then, "before he had finished speaking, behold Rebekah..." (Gen. 24:15). "Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear" (Isa. 65:24).

Rebekah was willing to leave her family - all that she knew - based on an "otherworldly" promise. Her response to the invitation was simply: "I will go"(Gen. 24:58). This courageous willingness was likewise a characteristic of Abraham who was willing to leave his homeland in search of the greater things of God. Like Abraham, Rebekah was ger ve'toshav (גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב) - a "stranger and a sojourner" - who left everything behind in order to become part of God's chosen family...

Note again that the Divine Presence is revealed in this story as an effect of both Eliezer and Rebekah's inner life and character...  God was present in the story through the concrete actions of people that discerned his touch (more here).
 




The Akedah of Sarah...


 

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

11.10.14  (Cheshvan 17, 5775)  Recall that Sarah gave birth to Isaac when she was 91 years old (Gen. 17:17, 21), and she later died when Isaac was 36 years old, at the age 127 (Gen. 23:1). And while the Torah does not explicitly state the cause of her death, we are told about her death following the dramatic episode of the sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. 22), and the midrash Tanchuma therefore links the two together by saying Sarah died from shock after learning about the ordeal of her son at Moriah.  It was just too much for her heart to bear: "And a sword will pierce through your own soul also..." (Luke 2:35). Therefore Jewish tradition associates the cries of Sarah with the blasts of the shofar during Rosh Hashanah. The broken notes of the shofar are thought to recall her crying for her son...

Isaac was the first "Jewish baby" born to the world, the promised son, the miracle child and the heir of Abraham. As the firstborn son of God's promise, without him the whole world would fall apart, and there would be no salvation to come... So when Sarah heard that Isaac was offered at Moriah, her soul departed from her and she thought the world was falling apart. She prayed to God: "Let me die for my son; let me die in place of my son..." Sarah's love was so great it brought Isaac back to life from the dead.

Note:  We study these things, bring them again to our hearts, because it is part of our great yerushah (יְרוּשָׁה), our heritage, in Messiah Yeshua... The Torah tells our story as the people of God; it is the context and framework of the entire Bible: "Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him" (Isa. 51:1-2). For more on this topic, see "The Akedah of Sarah," by clicking here.
 




The Decision to Love...


 

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

11.09.14  (Cheshvan 16, 5775)  From our Torah portion this week we read, "Then he (Isaac) took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her..." (Gen. 24:67). The sages note the sequence -- first he took her to be his wife, and then he loved her - to highlight that marriage is based on a spiritual decision to love rather than a feeling based on passion or self-interest. Feelings of passion and personal satisfaction may develop from the decision to love, but these by themselves cannot form the love's foundation. Meaningful love is grounded in a decision to honor and cherish the other person, and therefore is spiritual in nature. As C.S. Lewis said, don't let your happiness depend on something you may lose. "Aim at heaven, and you get earth thrown in; aim at earth, and you get neither." Rebekah was willing to leave her family - all that she knew - based on an "otherworldly" promise. Her response to the invitation was simply: "I will go"(Gen. 24:58); Isaac, on the other hand, "took her to be his wife," that is, he pledged to be family for her...

Of course the world gets all this backward and thinks that selfish satisfaction is the basis of a marriage relationship, and therefore, as soon as one (or the other) person feels unsatisfied, the relationship is jeopardized. The truth, however, is that marriage is above all the duty to honor and revere the beloved, regardless of matters of personal self-interest.

Note:  The very first time the word "love" occurs in the Torah (i.e., ahav: אַהַב) concerns Abraham's love for his son Isaac (Gen. 22:2), and the second time concerns Isaac's love for Rebekah (Gen. 24:67) – a picture of Yeshua's love for his chosen bride (kallat mashiach).
 




Parashat Chayei Sarah...

Marc Chagall Detail
 

11.09.14  (Cheshvan 16, 5775)  Our Torah reading for last week (i.e., Vayera) told how God was faithful to Abraham and Sarah by miraculously giving them a son (Isaac) in their old age. Nonetheless, Abraham faced his greatest test of all by being asked to offer up his promised child as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah, the place of the future Temple. On account of his willingness to obey, God promised He would multiply Abraham's offspring as the stars of heaven and that in his seed (singular) all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

This week's Torah portion is called Chayei Sarah (חיי שרה), the "life of Sarah," though it begins (paradoxically) with the account of her death, and tells how the first great matriarch of the Jewish people was buried in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron, a burial site which Abraham had purchased from Ephron the Hittite for four hundred shekels of silver.

After Sarah was buried, Abraham sought a wife for his son by commissioning his faithful servant Eliezer (whom Abraham had originally thought would be his heir), to go among his relatives living in Mesopotamia to seek for a bride for Isaac. Eliezer (i.e., אֱלִיעֶזֶר, lit., "My God will help") then set out on the 550 mile journey to Haran (also called the City of Nahor and the place where Abraham's father died), taking ten camels laden with gifts in search of a suitable bride. Providentially, and in answer to his prayer, as soon as Eliezer reached the city of Nahor he encountered Abraham's grand niece Rebekah drawing water at a well, where she graciously provided water for him and for his ten camels, thereby confirming that she was God's choice for Isaac.

For more about this week's Torah, please read the summary page for Chayei Sarah and its related articles. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for the Torah portion here:
 

 




Whisper of the Spirit...


 

11.07.14  (Cheshvan 14, 5775)  The Spirit speaks to the heart using a "still and gentle whisper" which will be nearly inaudible unless we "make room within ourselves" to listen... If we entertain negative thoughts or messages, however, our spiritual receptivity will be impaired or damaged. For example, if we listen to the news of this world and believe its messages of fear or anger, we will squelch the whispering of the Holy Spirit. The Name YHVH (יהוה) means "God is Present" and near, as close as your heart. The LORD is near, even when you might feel lost and far away... We attune ourselves to hear kol demamah dakkah (קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה), God's "still, small voice," only when we are quieted, not when we are listening to the propaganda and nonsense of this world.  When the world offers you its visions to entice you to lust or be afraid, remind yourself once again of what is real, true, and abiding... There is peace for you: "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength" (Isa. 30:15).

"Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but the one who keeps Torah is made happy" (Prov. 28:19). Without hope, we begin to die inside… We keep our focus by consciously recalling the goal, purpose, and true end of life. We find the will to live as we immerse ourselves in the truth revealed by the Hebrew prophets. "You have said, "Seek my face." My heart says to you, "Your face, LORD, do I seek" (Psalm 27:8), "With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments" (Psalm 119:10). Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! Shabbat Shalom to you, friends...
 




Testimony of the Sabbath...


 

11.07.14  (Cheshvan 14, 5775)  Every Shabbat we testify that the LORD is both our Creator and our Redeemer (Gen. 1:31-22; Deut. 5:15). It is a "sign" (אוֹת) that God has set us apart as His own treasured people (Exod. 31:13; 1 Pet. 2:9). The story of creation connects us to what is universal and godly in the universe, and it accounts for our sense of transcendence and the sacred value of all of life... The story of our redemption (both the story of the Exodus and the story of the cross) reveals that God's passion for us is everlasting, and that he gives all of Himself for the sake of relationship with us... By reason of our creation by God, we are connected to the original man Adam, adam ha-rishon (אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן), called the "son of God" (Luke 3:38), who was a pattern or "typw" (τύπος) of the One to come (Rom. 5:14), just as we are connected by our redemption to the second Adam, adam ha-sheni (הָאָדָם הַשֵּׁנִי), the "son of Man," Yeshua our Lord.

Just as there is a deeper sense of Torah that Paul appealed to make his case that he was not teaching "against the law" (e.g., Gal. 3:16-18), so there is a deeper sense of rest (שָׁבַת) that God promised those who are trusting in Him (מְנוּחַת שַׁבָּת, Heb.4:9). This rest comes from relying upon the finished work of Yeshua as our Torah righteousness before the Father. The principle of Sabbath is valid, just as the principle of adhering to faithful love is (i.e., the positive expression of the commandment not to commit adultery). "There is a rest for the people of God" (Heb. 4:9-10) therefore refers to the deeper sense of peace that comes from resting in the Lord's provision given in the Messiah, blessed be He.

The Mishnah (Avot 3:1) says: "Reflect upon three things and you will not come to the hands of transgression. Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgement and accounting." "I shall walk before the LORD in the land of the living" (Psalm 116:9).

Note: For more on this subject, see "The Sign of the Sabbath."
 




Mercy over Judgment...


 

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

11.07.14  (Cheshvan 14, 5775)  Some of the traditional Jewish commentators have argued that Abraham's greatness was not that he took his son to Mount Moriah to sacrifice him, but rather that he didn't go through with it – and that constituted the real test. At first Abraham was tempted to unthinkingly obey the voice of Elohim (אֱלהִים) – to hear the voice of judgment – rather than to hear the voice of the LORD (יְהוָה) saying, "Let him go and do him no harm..." It was only after this revelation of the LORD that Abraham's eyes were opened and he saw the ram caught in the thicket to be offered up instead. God indeed provided the lamb to offer up in place of his own destruction, just as Yeshua became the "Lamb of God" (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) who delivered us from the judgment and death (2 Cor. 5:21).

The sacrifice of Abraham's dream was the first step – which instilled within his heart a receptivity he could never produced by himself.... It was only after he faced God's impossible demand that he was able to see God's great heart.
 

חֶסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ

che·sed  ve·e·met  nif·ga·shu,  tze·dek  ve·sha·lom  na·sha·ku
 

"Love and truth have met, righteousness and peace have kissed."
(Psalm 85:10)

The cross, not the scales

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Man prays to God, but to whom does God pray? For what does He pray? Or do you think that the Almighty has no desires of His own, no yearning of heart? The sages of the Talmud believed that God indeed addresses himself: Yehi ratzon milfanai, "May it be acceptable before me, may it be My will, that my compassion overcome my anger, and that it may prevail over my justice when my children appeal to me, so that I may deal with them in mercy and in love" (Berachot 6a). This is the deeper unity of the Name YHVH (יהוה), the Savior and LORD, revealed to Moses after the sin of the Golden Calf (Exod. 34:6-7), and this is the essential meaning of the cross of Yeshua, where the LORD passionately "prayed within Himself" so that His compassion would overcome His fearful judgment for our sins.

Only the cross allows God's righteousness and mercy to "kiss" (Psalm 85:10; 89:14); only the cross reveals the true Holy of Holies where the blood was placed over the Ark of the Law; only the cross intimates the Inner Sanctum of God's heart.  Because of the cross, a holy God is able to truly love and help the trusting sinner (Rom. 3:26). It is written: "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you" (Psalm 89:14). Because of Yeshua, God is vindicated as entirely just - and the Justifier of those who trust in His redemptive love (Rom. 3:24-26). Yeshua is the prayer of God the Father's on behalf of His children...

The will of God - His heart's yearning and desire - is for his children to receive his love (2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4; John 3:16; Ezek. 18:23). As Yeshua prayed, "Holy Father, keep them in your Name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one... I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me" (John 17:11,23). Yeshua died on the cross to bear the shame for your sins, to be sure, but he did this so that you could be accepted and securely loved forever.... It is the love of God that is the goal of all things, after all.  When Yeshua cried out, "It is finished" and breathed his last breath as He died for our sins upon the cross, the greatest exhalation of the Spirit occurred, the greatest sigh, the greatest utterance was ever declared. The sacrifice of Yeshua for our deliverance was God's final word of love breathed out to a lost and sinful humanity. Mercy triumphed over judgment.

Note:
 For more on this see subject, see the "Temptation of Grace."
 




The Spirit Makes Alive...


 

11.06.14  (Cheshvan 13, 5775)  The Akedah of Isaac – Abraham's binding of his son in obedience to God's command – represents an impossible demand, and yet Abraham's passion leads us to ask what we are prepared to sacrifice? Our Lord Yeshua calls us to die to ourselves, to leave everything behind to follow him, and yet how can we honestly do this apart from a radical heart change, a transforming touch from heaven, the miracle of the Spirit making all things new for us? As Yeshua said: "It is the Spirit that makes life (ὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν τὸ ζῳοποιοῦν); the flesh is no help at all" (John 6:63).

We tend to think of the "flesh" as the lower nature, revealed in the hunger of the alienated soul, etc., but it is also manifested in the aspiration of "religion" and other attempts to outwardly manage appearances or to control the soul itself. The Spirit of God gives us cherut (חֵרוּת), or the power to walk in real newness of life. οὗ δὲ τὸ πνεῦμα κυρίου, ἐλευθερία - "Where the Spirit of the LORD is present, there is liberty" (2 Cor. 3:17).
 




Response of the Heart...


 

11.06.14  (Cheshvan 13, 5775)  King David wrote, "You have said, 'Seek my face,' and my heart says to you, 'Your face, LORD, do I seek'" (Psalm 27:8). This is the "antiphon" of the great Shema: God calls us to hear His Voice, so we are right to earnestly ask Him to be divinely enabled to hear what the Spirit is saying...
 

הַשְׁמִיעֵנִי בַבּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ
 כִּי־בְךָ בָטָחְתִּי
 הוֹדִיעֵנִי דֶּרֶךְ־זוּ אֵלֵךְ
 כִּי־אֵלֶיךָ נָשָׂאתִי נַפְשִׁי

hashmieini · vaboker · chasdekha
 ki · vekha · vatachti
 hodieini · derekh · zu · elekh
 ki · eleykha · nasati · nafshi

"Cause me to me hear your lovingkindness in the morning,
 for in You do I trust.
 Cause me to know the way I should go,
 for I lift up my heart to you"
(Psalm 143:8)



 

David's request is to be empowered to hear God's loving voice call at the start the day; to be assured of God's kindness and favor (chesed). Note that the Hebrew verbs used in this verse are both Hiphal imperatives, implying that God is the agent or cause of the action. We lift up our heart in expectation, understanding that the LORD alone is the One who is able to draw us near to Him: "You [God] cause me to hear... You [God] cause me to know..."
 




Held in the Dark...


 

11.06.14  (Cheshvan 13, 5775)  The chasidic teacher Rabbi Bunim told his students that they should always carry two scrolls with them, one in each pocket. On one it should read, "I am dust and ashes" (אָנכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר) and the other it should read, "the world was created for me" (בִּשְׁבִילִי נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם). This is to remind us that we must live in the tension that sees both the brokenness of life as well as its ultimate healing. Yea, though we walk through "the valley of the shadow of death" (גֵּיא צַלְמָוֶת), that is, the present world of transience and decay, we will fear no evil, for LORD is our Shepherd (הרועה אדוננו) who loves us and is guiding our way back home...
 




Reasons of Faith...


 

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

11.05.14  (Cheshvan 12, 5775)  It is no small thing to believe the message of Yeshua, and indeed, it involves a passionate inwardness that scandalizes the rational mind. Our father Abraham is extolled as the model of righteous faith, but he was tested to sacrifice the moral law (e.g., "thou shalt not murder") when he lifted up the knife to slay his beloved son Isaac. Faith requires you to change your everyday thinking, to go beyond natural expectations, to "walk on water." In the case of Yeshua, we are confronted with the "Absolute Paradox," namely, the God-Man, the Infinite-made-Finite, the Holy-made-Profane, the Sinless-made-Sin, who says to you: "I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26). Yeshua promies: You will never die; you will never hunger; you are made whole through my brokenness; you will be cleansed by my defilement, and so on. It's not just hard to believe, it's impossible, which is why it is a miracle of God to be saved (Matt. 19:26). "It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is no help at all" (John 6:33). The difference is Yeshua: Salvation is of the LORD. We are enabled to love and know God by means of his inner life and spirit, not by means of good intentions or religious zeal. As Pascal once said, "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing," and yet faith is a miracle, the power of God....
 

    "Faith's conflict with the world is not a battle of thought with doubt, thought with thought. It is a battle of character. The person of faith is a person of character who does not insist upon comprehending everything. Now comes the conflict. The world insists that to believe what you cannot comprehend is not only blind obedience but obscurantism, stupidity, and so on. The world wants to alarm the believer against such foolishness. This is precisely why faith is a task for the person of character." (Soren Kierkegaard)
     

An honest theology must find a place for mystery, for "seeing through a glass darkly," and for the apprehension of awe and wonder. Philosophy (not science) asks the question: "Why is there something rather than nothing at all?" This is a question regarding the "why" of existence itself, the profusion of life as it surrounds us. Is there a reason for existence, a purpose, a direction, a radical meaning? Faith "sees what is invisible" by experiencing reality as revelation: the mystery of life points beyond itself to God's creative and sustaining presence: "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28; Rom. 1:20). Cut open a seed and what do you see, but "the hidden power that makes the fruit grow toward the sky." Likewise what is most real about us is shrouded in profound mystery. We are finite, our lives are short and bounded by darkness, yet we sense God's Spirit, the hidden power that upholds our souls, and we trust that we will indeed live forever because of God's love. As theologian Paul Tillich wrote: "The question of being is not the question of any specific being, its existence and nature, but it is the question of what it means to be. It is the simplest, most profound, and absolutely inexhaustible question – the question of what it means to say something is. The word "is" hides the riddle of all riddles, the mystery that there is anything at all." Though we might try to explain God by way of logic and doctrine, in the end it is the mystery of "Messiah in you - the hope of glory."

Note: For more on this vital topic, see "Faith Surpasses Reason."
 




The Way of the LORD...


 

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

11.05.14  (Cheshvan 12, 5775)  From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Vayera) we note that after delivering the announcement of the coming heir to both Abraham and Sarah, the three angels set out to finish their mission (Gen. 18:1-16). Abraham escorted them on their way. The chief Angel (i.e., the Angel of the LORD) then rhetorically asked his two angelic companions, "Should I hide from Abraham what I am about to do (i.e., go to Sodom), seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him (כִּי יְדַעְתִּיו), that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD (דֶּרֶךְ יהוה), to do charity and justice (לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט); that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he has spoken of him" (Gen. 18:17-19). Notice here that the LORD commends Abraham because he would instruct his family in the way of the LORD, namely, to do tzedakah (i.e., charity, righteous giving) and to promote justice in the earth...

When we recite the Shema, we repeat the admonition to follow Abraham's example: "these words that I command you today shall be on your heart, and you shall teach them diligently to your children (וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ), and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise..." (Deut. 6:5-7). We know however, that though Abraham had several sons, we call upon the the God of Isaac (Gen. 28:13), and likewise, though Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau, but we call upon the God of Jacob (Exod. 3:6). We are responsible to instruct our children to keep the way of the LORD, though we must entrust the spiritual results to God's hands....
 




The Sacrificed Seed...


 

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

11.04.14  (Cheshvan 11, 5775)  "And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together" (Gen. 22:6). Isaac was about 37 years old at this time and needed to understand what was being asked of him: "And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said, "Here am I, my son." And he said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" (Gen. 22:7). This is the first word of dialog recorded over the three day journey... It is hard to imagine Isaac's pathos during this exchange. Abraham replied, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together (Gen. 22:8). Notice that the Hebrew could be read: "God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering -- my son!" (ירְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה לְעלָה בְּנִי) - making it plain that Isaac would be offered upon the altar. The Torah then repeats the phrase, "and they both walked on together," indicating that Isaac had accepted his sacrificial death in obedience to his father's will...

"And when they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son (וַיַּעֲקד אֶת־יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ) and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood" (Gen. 22:9). According to the Talmud, Isaac asked his father to make the knots on his hands and feet tighter - not out of fear that he would change his mind and begin to resist - but in order to encourage his father to offer the sacrifice properly (Bereshit Rabbah 56:8). Like the Suffering Servant who would come after him, Isaac "set his face like a flint" to fulfill God's will (Isa. 50:7).

Isaac kept his eyes directed toward heaven as he lay tightly bound and motionless upon the altar. He awaited the final blow and wanted it to fall with trust and obedience within his heart. It was to be a shared sacrifice between the beloved son and his father. Finally "Abraham stretched out (שׁלח) his hand and took the knife to slaughter (i.e., לִשְׁחט, from shechitah) his son" (Gen. 22:10). The Talmud says that when Abraham "stretched out" his hand, he briefly looked at the knife to determine if it was ritually fit, and this delay was the precise moment when the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יהוה) called out to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" (Gen. 22:11). (Note the repetition of the name "Abraham" during this second call.) According to various midrashim, when Abraham put his knife to his son's neck, Isaac's soul departed from him, but it returned when the Angel of the LORD said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me" (Gen. 22:12). Abraham then immediately released Isaac and recited the blessing, "Blessed are You, LORD, who revives the dead" (בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה מְחַיֶּה הַמֵּתִים).

"I believe in You, O Holy One, though at times there no longer seems any reason for believing..." Here is Abraham, who counted the stars in hope, who trusted God for an heir, a promised son - and from this son another, and from that another, and another, until he envisioned his descendants "as the dust of earth" (Gen. 13:16; 15:5-6), and yet here is Abraham lifting up his knife to sacrifice his son, his beloved child, his promise, his future, his dream. Remember that Abraham did not know the end of the story before it began, and therefore his faith attested: "Though he slay me, I will trust in him."

Some people tend to "explain away" the passion of Abraham and Isaac by quoting the New Testament verse: "He [Abraham] considered that God was able even to raise him [Isaac] from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back" (Heb. 11:19) -- as if this would make the sacrificial act any easier! Again we must bear in mind that neither Abraham nor Isaac knew "the end of the story" before they chose to obey God. As I've mentioned before, simply "knowing about" God is not the same thing as personally trusting Him with your life... This is the distinction between emunah (אֱמוּנָה) and bittachon (בִּטָּחוֹן). Simply knowing about God can lead to a sense of "distance," to theological abstractions, to dogmas and creedal formulas. Rabbi Bechaya put the distinction this way: "Everyone who trusts has faith, but not everyone with faith trusts." Bittachon is an intuitive awareness of the personal love of God for your life, coupled with complete trust that He cares for you (Rom. 8:28). It is an expectation that the love of God is for you, too, despite the test.

Note: For more on this crucial subject, see, "The Sacrificed Seed: Further thoughts about the Akedah," by clicking here.
 




Beware of False Prophets...


 

11.04.14  (Cheshvan 11, 5775)  "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from a thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Therefore you will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:16,20). From a distance berries on bramble could be mistaken for grapes, or flowering thistles could be mistaken for growing figs, but not for long... Similarly the "fruit" of a person's life – his words and deeds – will eventually reveal the "root" of what he is. Sooner or later the soul discloses its nature, regardless of how it may be disguised through outward forms of behavior or controlled through carnal desire. A false prophet (נביא שקר) sows unbelief, confusion, divisiveness, and bitterness (Luke 6:45; 1 Tim. 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 2:17-18; 2 Pet. 2:1-22; etc.). Such a "prophet" might be able to fake spiritual power, to put on a show of sanctity, or to manage appearances, but he or she cannot "manufacture" the fruit of the Spirit (פְּרִי הָרוּחַ), since such fruit is the outgrowth of God's miraculous life implanted within us as we live in Yeshua (John 15:1-5; Gal. 5:22-23). "It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is no help at all" (John 6:33).

 




Hidden Life in God...


 

11.03.14  (Cheshvan 10, 5775)  It is said that the tzaddikim (righteous) are "doubly called" by God: "Abraham, Abraham" (Gen. 22:11), "Jacob, Jacob" (Gen. 46:2), "Moses, Moses" (Exod. 3:4), "Samuel, Samuel" (1 Sam. 3:10), "Saul, Saul" (Acts 9:4), and so on, because the LORD calls to both the soul in this world but also to the soul in heaven. When God told Abram to "get out of your land," he called him to focus on heavenly places – to find his identity there. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God..." (Matt. 6:33). Thus David says, "I shall walk before the LORD in the land of the living" (Psalm 116:9), which means all his deeds would be done for the sake of heaven. The earth then becomes the "land of the living," or "the land that I will show you," as Abram was told (Gen. 12:1). Likewise, followers of Yeshua no longer find their identity in this world but rather through their spiritual union with the resurrected LORD (Gal. 2:20; 6:14; Eph. 1:3; 2:6)... Therefore we are told to "seek the things that are above (τὰ ἄνω ζητεῖτε) where the Messiah is seated at the right hand of God; focus your thoughts on the things above - not on things here on earth - for you have died, and your life has been hidden (κέκρυπται) with Messiah in God. Then when the Messiah, who is your life, appears, you too will appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4).

So have you heard the "upward call of God in Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil. 3:14)? This "upward call" (τῆς ἄνω κλήσεως) is the invitation from above, the sound of the heavenly Voice, beckoning you to enter the "high country" of the world to come. As Yeshua said, "I am from above (ἐγὼ ἐκ τῶν ἄνω)." Our true identity is not found in this world and its vain philosophy. The cross brings these things to an end, as we "cross over" from the realm of the dead to the realm of life (Gal. 6:14). Can you say: "I have been crucified with Messiah. It is no longer I who live, but Messiah who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20)?

The great commandment is always Shema - listen - and heed God's Voice: "And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left (Isa. 30:21). At any given moment of our day, then, we can attune ourselves to hear the "upward call" and come "boldly before the Throne of Grace" (Heb. 4:16). The world knows nothing of this realm and is enslaved by appearances and the delusions of this realm, olam hazeh. As Yeshua said, "To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given" (Matt. 13:11). The Spirit always says, "Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you" (Isa. 26:20). The LORD beckons: "Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known" (Jer. 33:3). And I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, "Come up here, and I will show you..." (Rev 4:1). The repeated or "double call" of heaven is the voice of love. The Beloved calls out to the beloved: "Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away" (Song 2:10, 2:13).
 




In the Name of Love...

 

11.03.14  (Cheshvan 10, 5775)  The word used in the ancient Greek Torah (i.e., the Septuagint) to translate the original Hebrew word kapporet (i.e., the "cover" or "crown" of the Ark of the Covenant) is hilasterios (ἱλαστριος), the very same word used to describe the atonement secured at the cross of the Savior: "God put forward Yeshua as a propitiation (ἱλαστήριον) through faith in His blood" (Rom. 3:25). In other words, the shedding of Yeshua's blood - represented by His Passion upon the cross - was "presented" upon the Heavenly Kapporet, that is, before the Throne of God Himself, to make eternal atonement for our souls  (Heb. 9:12). Yeshua is our great High Priest after the order of Malki-Tzedek (i.e., Melchizedek), the One who provides everlasting forgiveness for our sins (see Heb. 9:7-10:10). Because of His sacrifice, the parochet - the wall-like covering separating the Holy of Holies - was rent asunder and God's love was let loose upon the world!
 

    "Dear Lord our God, we plead your solution, your remedy, to the problem of our sin; we appeal to your compassion as the way to overcome our frailty, our self-imposed exile, our fear, and our inner sense of loss... Deliver us from whatever remains within us that hides, that denies, and that turns away from you.... For the sake of your love - your very passion that willingly bore our sin and shame so that we would be covered with your robes of belonging and acceptance - heal us, help us, and yield our hearts to you. We pray to You, trusting that your salvation, your yeshuah, is all we shall ever need. O LORD our God, see the life of Yeshua you put within us; hear the voice of the Spirit you breathe into our hearts. Amen...."

 




The Law of Faith...


 

11.03.14  (Cheshvan 10, 5775)  "The righteous shall live by faith" in the promise of God's unconditional love (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17). The Torah of faith (תּוֹרַת הָאֱמוּנָה) therefore includes these additional commandments from the heart of Yeshua: 1) "Thou shalt believe thou are my beloved - entirely accepted and entirely forgiven"; 2) "Thou shalt forget the shame of thy past"; 3) "Thou shalt stop thinking of your sin but rather of My great remedy for you"; 4) "Thou shalt let me carry your woundedness far away, yea, to the bottom of the sea"; 5) "Thou shalt live in My love and be filled with its spirit," and 6) "Thou shalt be made new." We are to know ourselves as "dead to sin but alive to God" (Rom. 6:11), which means we die to despair, we die to fear of abandonment, yea, we die to death itself, and now we are alive to hope, alive to healing, yea, we alive to love that endures forever.
 

הִנֵּה עֻפְּלָה לא־יָשְׁרָה נַפְשׁוֹ בּוֹ
 וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה

hin·nei  u·pe·lah  lo  ya·she·rah  naf·sho   bo
ve·tzad·dik  be·e·mu·na·to   yich·yeh

"Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
 but the righteous shall find life by means of his trust."
(Hab. 2:4)
 
Hebrew Study Card

 




Parashat Vayera - וירא


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Vayera. Please read the Torah portion to find your place here. ]

11.02.14  (Cheshvan 9, 5775)  In last week's Torah (Lekh Lekha), we saw how the LORD spoke to Abram and invited him to forsake his ancestral home for the promise of God. In obedience to the call of the Word of the LORD, Abram left his homeland, his family, and his father's house to seek a better life - "for he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10). But notice that it was only after Abram made the long journey into the unknown land of Canaan that God appeared to him saying, "To your offspring I will give this land" (Gen. 12:1-7). In other words, Abraham did not believe the promise because he saw God; but he was able to see God after he had walked in faith.... His faith in God enabled him to see God's hand, not the other way around. The principle of believing in order to understand is central to the walk of faith in this world.

Our Torah reading for this week (Vayera) includes what I call the "Gospel according to Moses," or rather Moses' account of how Abraham was tested by God to offer his "only begotten son" (בֵּן יָחִיד) as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah -- the place of the future Temple. This famous story is referred to as the Akedah (עֲקֵדָה), or Akedat Yitzchak (עֲקֵידָת יִצְחָק) - the "binding of Isaac" (Gen. 22:1-18). At the very last moment, the Angel of the LORD stopped Abraham from going through with the sacrifice and provided a ram as a substitute.  Abraham then named the location Adonai-Yireh (יהוה יִרְאֶה), "the LORD will provide/see" (from the 3p impf. of the verb ra'ah (רָאָה), "to see"). The binding of Isaac perfectly illustrates both the principle of sacrificial love and the principle that we must first unreservedly believe in that love in order to understand the ways of the LORD.

As Messianic believers, we understand the Akedah as a foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice the heavenly Father would give on our behalf. Unlike Abraham, God the Father actually offered His only begotten Son (בֵּן יָחִיד) Yeshua upon Moriah in order to make salvation available to all who believe (John 3:16-18; 1 John 4:9). As Abraham himself believed: אֱלהִים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה / Elohim yireh-lo haseh ("God Himself will provide a lamb").
 

אֱלהִים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה לְעלָה בְּנִי

E·lo·him · yir·eh-lo · has·seh · le·o·lah · be·ni

"God will see for himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son."
(Gen. 22:8)



 

Indeed, the very first occurrence of the word love in the Scriptures (i.e., ahavah: אַהֲבָה) refers to Abraham's love for his "only" son who was to be sacrificed as a burnt offering on Moriah (the very place of the crucifixion of Yeshua), a clear reference to the gospel message (Gen. 22:2; John 3:16). Some scholars have noted that the word ahavah comes from a two-letter root (הב) with Aleph (א) as a modifier. The root means "to give" and the Aleph indicates agency: "I" give (i.e., the Father gives). Love is essentially an act of sacrificial giving... The quintessential passage of Scripture regarding love (αγαπη) in the life of a Christian is found 1 Corinthians 13: "Love seeks not its own..."

Whereas the Akedat Yitzchak foreshadowed God's provision for the coming Temple, the Akedat Yeshua (i.e., the crucifixion of Yeshua at Moriah) was the altar where the justice and chesed (love) of the Father fully met. For more on this incredibly rich subject, please see the articles, "The Passion of Isaac" and "The Sacrificed Seed."
 

 




 

October 2014 Site Updates
 


The Armor of Light...


 

10.31.14  (Cheshvan 7, 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). "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other."

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

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" (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. We always find what we seek, and our heart, our core, is revealed by what we value most...  Shabbat shlaom chaverim sheli. And may God impart to you grace to take hold of heaven's true treasure. Amen.
 




Love's Fear and Trembling...


 

10.31.14  (Cheshvan 7, 5775)  The gospel reveals God's passion for us, the call of his heart, his desire to elevate us to the role of the beloved, and we respond by accepting Him as the great Lover of our souls, the "ultimate concern" of our life. Sin threatens to seduce us away from God's love, to interfere with our relationship, which evokes God's "jealousy" to protect love from loss. It is written that "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18), but perfect love (τελεία ἀγάπη) must be "perfect," that is, reciprocal, complete, consummated, and alive with passion. In Hebrew, perfect love is "shalem" - that is, whole, healed, and unified (אַהֲבָה שְׁלֵמָה). Perfect love is both given and received... It is not "perfect love" to objectively accept that God loves you in Jesus. No, you must receive this as an inward passion, you must live within it, must embrace it, take possession of it, and let it fill your heart to abundance. This love, this "perfect love," then will cast away your fear of being unwanted, rejected, and abandoned. But to know this love, you have to open your heart and accept it as your own, the essential reality of who you are:
 

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְעָלַי תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ

a·ni · le·do·di · ve·a·lai · te·shu·ka·to
 

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


  


I realize the analogy of God as the great "Lover of our Souls" is ideal for most of us, and yet how important it is that we understand ourselves as the "beloved"!
 




Eyes of the Heart...


 

10.31.14  (Cheshvan 7, 5775)  The Hebrew word for "seeing" (ra'ah) is related to the word for "fear" (yirah), suggesting that when we really see life as it is, we will be filled with wonder and awe over the glory of it all. Every bush will be aflame with the Presence of God and the ground we walk upon shall suddenly be perceived as holy (Exod. 3:2-5). Nothing will seem small, trivial, or insignificant. It is in this sense that we are to serve the LORD with "fear and trembling" (φόβοv καὶ τρόμοv), that is, with an inner awareness of the sanctity and sacredness of life itself (Phil. 2:12-13). Da lifnei mi atah omed: "Know before whom you stand!" We must rouse ourselves and become aware... Sin puts us to sleep, numbs our minds and hearts, and blinds us to the radiance of divine revelation. When we see life as it is, with the "eyes of the heart" (Eph. 1:18), we will be filled with wonder and awe over the mystery of life itself. "Fearing" (יִרְאָה) and "seeing" (רָאָה) will be linked and unified.
 




Fret Not Thyself...


 

10.31.14  (Cheshvan 7, 5775)  It is written in our holy Scriptures: "Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday" (Psalm 37:1-6). Here are a few brief comments on this great passage that I hope might encourage you...

 

"Fret not thyself because of evildoers,
neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity" (v1)
 

אַל־תִּתְחַר בַּמְּרֵעִים
אַל־תְּקַנֵּא בְּעשֵׂי עַוְלָה

al · titchar · ba'merei'im
al · tekanei · be'osei · avlah
 


Note that the phrase translated "fret not" (אַל־תִּתְחַר) comes from the verb charah (חָרָה), meaning to burn in anger, to fume in indignation or resentment, to become vexed or disturbed, or to take offense... We are admonished not to allow the seeming prosperity of evildoers inspire you to question the power and rule of God, as it says: "Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD (יִרְאַת־יְהוָה) all the day" (Prov. 23:17). Worldly prosperity is devoid of real hope: "the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out" (Prov. 24:20). Likewise do not envy (אַל־תְּקַנֵּא) the workers of iniquity (עשֵׂי עַוְלָה), that is, those who practice injustice by the power of the lie.  Do not desire their power, for it is a trap that leads them to destruction, as David prayed: "Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap.  Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see" (Psalm 69:22-23; cp. Rom. 11:9-10).

 

"For they shall soon be cut down like the grass,
and wither as the green herb" (v2)
 

כִּי כֶחָצִיר מְהֵרָה יִמָּלוּ
וּכְיֶרֶק דֶּשֶׁא יִבּוֹלוּן

ki · khe'chatzir · me'heirah · yimalu
ukh'yerek · deshe · yibbolun
 


The Hebrew word for "grass" used in this verse (i.e., חָצִיר) refers to a hay-like variety that sprouts quickly but does not put down deep roots, so that it withers and fades in the sustained presence of the sun. By analogy, the wicked enjoy a short season of growth that ultimately is insubstantial, superficial, and spiritually spurious...

By extension this implies that we should not fret or envy the wicked of this world, for their prosperity is transitory and finally unreal, and the heart of faith desires what is everlastingly true and righteous. As is written: "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold" (Prov. 22:1; Eccl. 7:1). The wicked are likened to grass that will soon be razed, and to green herb that withers away, as it also says: "Though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever" (Psalm 92:7), and they "conceive chaff; they give birth to stubble; their breath is a fire that will consume them" (Isa. 32:12). The righteous are considered alive even in death; the wicked are considered "dead" even while alive (Berachot 18a-b).

 

"Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land,
and verily thou shalt be fed" (v3)
 

בְּטַח בַּיהוָה וַעֲשֵׂה־טוֹב
שְׁכָן־אֶרֶץ וּרְעֵה אֱמוּנָה

be'tach · badonai · va'aseh · tov
shekhon · eretz · ure'eh · emunah
 


Unlike the wicked who will dry up and blow away like chaff (Psalm 1:4), the righteous who trust in the LORD (בְּטַח בַּיהוָה) feed on (or "befriend") His faithfulness (רְעֵה אֱמוּנָה), and they indeed shall be truly fed. Note that we are to trust in the LORD and to do (or make) good (ועֲשֵׂה־טוֹב). Trust by itself is not sufficient but must be lived out in righteousness (Matt. 7:21; 1 John 2:29; James 1:22). It is easy to be self-deceived, to fool yourself into believing that you are doing "God's work" when in fact you are acting in carnal pride (Micah 3:11).

Genuine trust shows itself in the visible world (Matt 5:16). The all-essential commandment of Torah is to trust in the LORD with all your heart (Prov. 3:5) for divine righteousness and life (Hab. 2:4). "So shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed," literally, and you shall "befriend faithfulness" (וּרְעֵה אֱמוּנָה); you shall be watched over like a sheep that grazes in lush pasture land, secure in the presence of the good shepherd (Psalm 23:1-3). Trust God to nurture you in the wonders of his faithful love.

"Trust in the LORD ... and "befriend faithfulness." The sages teach this verse begins with "trust" (i.e., betach) and ends with "faith" (i.e., emunah) to teach that faith is subordinate to trust. Faith refers to intellectual assent that God controls the world, that he is righteous, holy, etc., but trust involves translating such faith to the realm of action and doing... As the sage Ramban put it: "Everyone who trusts has faith but not everyone who has faith trusts."

 

"Delight thyself also in the LORD;
and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart" (v4)
 

וְהִתְעַנַּג עַל־יְהוָה
וְיִתֶּן־לְךָ מִשְׁאֲלת לִבֶּךָ

ve'hitanag · al · Adonai
ve'yitten · lekha · mishalot · libbekha
 


When we delight in the LORD by seeking to make His will our highest good and desire, then our requests will be fulfilled.  As Blaise Pascal asked, "What is left for us but to unite our will to that of God himself, to will in him, with him, and for him the thing that he has eternally willed in us and for us." We will not be consumed with the vain desires of the wicked of this world, and we will be free to pursue the treasures of heaven. "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. 58:14). "This is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us" (1 John 5:14). God heeds the language of his love and passion, and when we delight in him, he fulfills the deepest yearning of our hearts...

 

"Commit thy way unto the LORD;
trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass" (v5)
 

גּוֹל עַל־יְהוָה דַּרְכֶּךָ
וּבְטַח עָלָיו וְהוּא יַעֲשֶׂה

gol · al · Adonai · darkekha
u'vetach · alav · ve'hu · ya'aseh
 


The Hebrew here is stronger: "Roll your way upon the LORD" (גּוֹל עַל־יְהוָה) by confessing your burdens of resentment, fear, envy, etc., and bringing your heart before God for deliverance. Note that the Hebrew word for "commit" (i.e., גּוֹל) can also mean to "reveal" or "heap upon" and therefore we can read: "Reveal (or unload) your way to the LORD; trust in Him and He will act (וְהוּא יַעֲשֶׂה), that is, he will assuredly intervene on your behalf.

 

"And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light,
and thy judgment as the noonday" (v6)
 

וְהוֹצִיא כָאוֹר צִדְקֶךָ
וּמִשְׁפָּטֶךָ כַּצָּהֳרָיִם

ve'hotzi · kha'or · tzidkekha
u'mishpatekha · katzahorayim
 


When the LORD acts on our behalf He graciously will bring forth your righteousness "as the light" (וְהוֹצִיא כָאוֹר צִדְקֶךָ) and your justice "as the noonday" (וּמִשְׁפָּטֶךָ כַּצָּהֳרָיִם). The way of trusting in God will finally be vindicated as the LORD manifests the Divine Presence at the restoration of all things after the End of Days...

"Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God." (1 Cor. 4:5).
 




Prevenient Hope...


 

10.30.14  (Cheshvan 6, 5775)  An old Jewish prayer, uttered somewhat wistfully, begins, "O Lord, I know that You will help us; but will You help us before You will help us?" It's not always easy to wait for God, especially when we are in pain or anxiety, but we must never, ever, give up; we must never forget the promise and reality of our ultimate healing in Jesus. Faith expresses hope in the Reality, Substance, and Being (ὑπόστασις) of the Invisible and is made captive to undying hope (Heb. 11:1). Therefore the Spirit cries out: "Hope to the LORD; be strong and strengthen your heart; and (again) hope to the LORD."
 

קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה חֲזַק וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּךָ
וְקַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה

ka·veh · el · Adonai · cha·zak · ve'ya·metz · lib·be·kha,
ve-ka·veh · el · Adonai
 

"Hope to the LORD; be strong and let your heart be strengthened;
and (again) hope to the LORD"
(Psalm 27:14)


 
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In this verse, the imperative verb translated "wait" is the Hebrew word kaveh (קַוֵּה), which might better be rendered as "look for with anticipation!" or "hope!" (the same root appears in the Hebrew word for hope, i.e., tikvah: תִּקְוָה). Therefore hope in the Lord and "chazak!" - be strong! (the Septuagint translates chazak as "andridzou" (ἀνδρίζου - act like a man!). Note that the verb ve'ametz is a causal active stem (i.e., Hiphal) in the "jussive mood," which means it is imperative – "command your heart to be strengthened," or "let your heart be made strong!"  Make the decision to be strong in the LORD, and the LORD will give you strength to bear your present suffering: "Look to the LORD (קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה) and find hope." Amen. God will help us, and he will help us before he will help us!

Each of us is still upon the "Potter's wheel," though we keep faith that God is molding us and shaping us to reach our end... "Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the Universe, who walks with the wounded" (שֶׁהוֹלֵךְ עִם הַפְצוּעִים). Amen. "Blessed art You, LORD our God, King of the universe, who makes us captives of hope."
 




His Overcoming Light...


 

10.29.14  (Cheshvan 5, 5775)  There is a lot of engineered fear "in the air," and the enemy of our souls seeks first of all to lead us into a place of exile, worry, and pain. We are able to resist him by submitting to the truth about reality (James 4:7). God's Name YHVH (יהוה) means "Presence" and "Love," and there is no power in heaven or earth that can overrule His hand. Therefore even if the prophesied "End of Days" were to begin this very hour, our responsibility is to focus on the Divine Presence and to walk in His truth and love. As King David said, "I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8).
 

שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
 כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט

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

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



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The devil's strategy is as banal as it is tedious, namely, to entice us to forget the truth of God and to live in a state of virtual exile and pain. Therefore Shema - listen and remember - is the basic commandment. Since the LORD is the Center of all that is real, to become anxious is to "practice the absence" of God's presence instead of practicing His Presence. We have to remember the future, as well as the present and past....

There is a future time of healing and deliverance coming to us, though we must abide in the shadow of its substance for a bit longer: "For behold, the Day is coming (הַיּוֹם בָּא), burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The Day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my Name, the Sun of Righteousness (שֶׁמֶשׁ צְדָקָה) shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out skipping like calves released from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts" (Mal. 4:1-3).

This awesome passage from the Book of Malachi primarily applies to the Second Coming of Yeshua and the great "Day of the LORD" (יוֹם יהוה). The "Sun of Righteousness," shemesh tzaddik (שֶׁמֶשׁ צְדָקָה), refers to Messiah son of David, the risen life-giving Healer of God. Of Him it is said, "The LORD God is a sun and a shield" (Psalm 84:11) and "the LORD shall be to thee an everlasting Light (אוֹר עוֹלָם), and thy God thy glory; thy sun shall no more go down, for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light" (Isa. 60:19-20). The Divine Light will shine on those who receive God's righteousness, that is, on those who put their trust in the One who said, 'I am the Light of the world' (John 8:12). Shine Your Light upon us, O LORD!

The sages say, "in the world to come (עוֹלָם הַבָּא), God will bring the sun out of its sheath to burn the wicked; they will be judged by it, but the righteous will be healed by it' (Shemot Rabbah). Yeshua is compared to the "Sun" because as the Sun is the central luminous body of our world, so Yeshua is called the "Light of Life" (אוֹר הַחַיִּים). Yeshua is melech ha-kavod (מֶלֶךְ הַכָּבוֹד), "the King of Glory" -- and no one can stand before the blinding power of His countenance (Psalm 27:4; Rev. 1:8-19). His is the "Fountain of Light" for all of creation, the Source and End of all life: "For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things were created through Him and for Him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together... that in everything He might be preeminent" (Col. 1:16-18). Yeshua will come "with healing in his wings" -- that is, in healing radiance, with rays and beams, which metaphorically describe His influence over the hearts of men... Note that the word for "wings" used in this passage (i.e., kanaf: כָּנָף) pictures the image of a heavenly tallit (טַלִּית), or the heavenly firmament (רָקִיעַ) of the LORD's sheltering Presence.

It is always God's will for you to to know His love and to walk in the power of His deliverance for your soul... Nothing can overturn His will or separate you from the Presence of His Love.
 




Revival of Heart...


 

10.29.14  (Cheshvan 5, 5775)  "O Lord, all my desire is before you; my groaning is not hidden from you." Until the Master of the Universe helps, the Master of the Universe will help... Amen. God will help us, and he will help us before we know that he helps us! Therefore do not be anxious; fear not: your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask Him. God will make everything new, in the name and for the sake of his love...
 

אֲדנָי נֶגְדְּךָ כָל־תַּאֲוָתִי
וְאַנְחָתִי מִמְּךָ לא־נִסְתָּרָה

Adonai · neg·de·kha · khol-ta·a·va·ti
ve·an·cha·ti · mi·me·kha · lo-nis·ta·rah
 

"O Lord, all my desire is before you;
my groaning is not hidden from you."
(Psalm 38:9)


  
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"The world is built in chesed," olam chesed yibaneh (עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה), which means that our inner life is being built by God's love... "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as 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. 4:16-19).

It is written for our edification: "Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the Name of the LORD (יִבְטַח בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה) and rely on his God" (Isa. 50:10). Trusting in God (i.e., bittachon - בִּטָּחוֹן) does not mean that we are obligated to affirm that this is "the best of all possible worlds," though it does mean we believe that eventually God will wipe away every tear and make all things right.. O Lord, make everything new, revive the hurting, in the name and for the sake of thy love, Amen...
 




The Power to Change...


 

10.29.14  (Cheshvan 5, 5775)  When King David cried out, lev tahor bera-li, Elohim: "Create in me a clean heart, O God" (Psalm 51:10), he did not use the Hebrew word yatzar (יָצַר), which means to "fashion" or "form" something from preexisting material, but he instead used the word bara (בָּרָא), a verb exclusively used to refer to God's creation of the cosmos (Gen. 1:1). David understood that no amount of reformation of his character would be enough, and instead appealed to that very power of God that created the worlds yesh me'ayin (יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן), "out of nothing." Such was the nature of the remedy required...
 

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)



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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. 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).

If we are impure of heart, we will be inwardly divided, unfocused, fragmented, filled with destabilizing anxiety, envy, unresolved hurt, anger, and so on. More tragically, because we seek to escape ourselves, we will be devoid of a true center, without a focal point or abiding purpose, and therefore we will be lost to ourselves, wandering and without rest...

May God help each of us keep our focus on what is real! Shalom.
 




The Hidden Palace...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]

10.28.14  (Cheshvan 4, 5775)  The midrash says Abraham first encountered God by contemplating nature, likening it to a brilliantly lit palace that must have an owner. As he considered nature's wonder, a voice called out saying, "I am the owner of this palace..." The sages discuss the various preoccupations that commonly distract us from similarly detecting God's presence in nature for ourselves. Rabbi Shlomo asked, "God's greatness is inestimable; the entire cosmos is but a mustard seed when compared to him. How can so small a world block out so tremendous a God?" When we seek the truth of God, the eyes of faith will detect the "hidden palace," and everything around us will seem miraculous.
 

קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יהוה צְבָאוֹת
מְלא כָל־הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ

ka·dosh  ka·dosh  ka·dosh,  Adonai  Tze·va·ot,
me·lo  khol  ha·a·retz  ke·vo·do
 

"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!"
(Isa. 6:3)


 
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"For his invisible attributes (τὰ γὰρ ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ), namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made..." (Rom. 1:20). "For by him (King Messiah) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things were created through him and for him" (Col. 1:16). "To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God ( μόνῳ σοφῷ θεῷ), be honor and glory forever and ever" (1 Tim. 1:17). "He (Moses) endured as seeing him who is invisible" (Heb. 11:27). "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).

Moses "endured as seeing Him who is invisible." It is this "as seeing Him" that is the essence of faith -- seeing God's hand and presence through the throes of temptation, stormy clouds, and darkness. Faith does not give the last word to despair.
 




The Meaning of "Hebrew"


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]

10.28.14  (Cheshvan 4, 5775)  In parashat Lekh Lekha Abram is called ha-ivri (הָעִבְרִי) - "the Hebrew," a term that means "one who has crossed over" (עָבַר) from another place.  Rashi identifies this "other place" as Ur of the Chaldees (אוּר כַּשְׂדִים), located east of the Euphrates River, though the midrash (Genesis Rabbah) symbolically identifies it as the realm of idolatry: "The whole world stood on one side, but Abram crossed over to the other." Abram separated himself from a world steeped in idolatry and polytheism by worshiping the One LORD God who is the sole Creator of all things.... Understood in this way, being "Hebrew" means being regarded as an "other," a "stranger," or an "outsider" to idolatrous world culture. Similarly, all those who "cross over" from the realm of death to life because of Yeshua our Savior are rightly called "Hebrews" (John 5:24).

To Abram came to divine invitation: "Go forth ... I will show you" (Gen. 12:1). It was only after Abram made the long journey to the unknown land of Canaan that God appeared to him to him by the Oaks of Mamre saying, "To your offspring I will give this land" (Gen. 18:1). Abram did not believe the promise because he saw God; he was only able to see God after he had walked in faith. First Abram heard the message, and later - after he acted on his faith - was he enabled to see more. This is the deeper meaning of being "Hebrew," one who crosses over from the realm of the dead to the realm of the Living God...

Therefore we note that hearing (shema) is more important than simply seeing... When we hear the truth and accept it into our understanding, it informs our perceptions, not the other way around. Truth is something revealed to the heart first, and only later to the senses.
 




Being a true Jew...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]

10.28.14  (Cheshvan 4, 5775)  The word "Hebrew" means "boundary crosser," though the word "Jew" means one who praises the LORD (יְהוּדָה). The word "Jew" (יְהוּדִי) comes from a root (יָדָה) which means to "thank" or to "praise" (Gen. 29:35). The Apostle Paul alluded to this by saying that one whose heart has been circumcised by the Spirit is "one who is praised by God -- not by men" (Rom. 2:29). Being a Jew therefore means you are "chosen" to receive blessings and grace to live in holiness for the glory of God and for the healing of the world. The performance of various commandments are for the greater purpose of tikkun olam, the "repair of the world," in order to reveal God's goodness and love (Eph. 2:8-10). Doing so makes someone a Jew, since his praise comes not from man, but from the LORD. God is the source and the power of what makes a true tzaddik (righteous person). After all, Israel was meant to be a "light to the nations" (Isa. 42:6; 60:3), and God had always planned for all the families of the earth to come to know Him and give Him glory through his chosen servant Abraham (Gen. 12:3; 22:18). "Jewishness" is therefore not an end in itself but rather a means to bring healing to the nations... Indeed, the entire redemptive story of the Scriptures centers on the cosmic conflict to deliver humanity from the "curse" by means of the "Seed of the woman" who would come. The gospel is Jewish because it concerns God's great redemptive plan for the whole world (John 3:16; 4:22).

Note:  For more on this see "The Father of all who Believe."
 




Our Good Shepherd...


 

10.28.14  (Cheshvan 4, 5775)  Where it says, "Surely goodness and mercy (טוֹב וָחֶסֶד) shall follow me all the days of my life" (Psalm 23:6), note the Hebrew verb translated "shall follow me" (i.e., יִרְדְּפוּנִי) comes from a root (i.e., radaf: רָדַף) that means "to pursue," as a hunter chases after his prey. David was sure that God's lovingkindness would "hound" him as he made his way through this world - even in the dark places, even in "the valley of the shadow of death" (בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת) - where God's rod and staff would comfort him and direct his way (Psalm 23:4). "May your love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you."
 

אַךְ טוֹב וָחֶסֶד יִרְדְּפוּנִי כָּל־יְמֵי חַיָּי
וְשַׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית־יְהוָה לְארֶךְ יָמִים

akh · tov va'che·sed · yir·de·fu·ni · kol · ye·mei · chai·yai
ve'shav·ti · be'vet · Adonai · le'o·rekh · ya·mim
 

"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever."
(Psalm 23:6)



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"Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation (הָאֵל יְשׁוּעָתֵנוּ). Selah. Our God is a God of salvation, and to GOD, the Lord, belong deliverances from death."  Amen.
 




Created for the Messiah...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]

10.27.14  (Cheshvan 3, 5775)  The sages say that the departure of Abraham from his country, kindred, and his father's house represented a sort of "third creation," after the first account given in Genesis and the rebirth of the world after the flood. The midrash says that the world itself was created for the sake of Abraham's progeny: Where is is written, "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created" (Gen. 2:4), the letters of the word translated "when they were created" (i.e., be'hibaram: בְּהִבָּרְאָם) can be rearranged to spell "in Abraham" (i.e., בְּאַבְרָהָם), which suggests that the world was created for the sake of Abraham's seed, that is, the Messiah.

The Talmud states that "all the world was created for the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b). The New Testament earlier stated the same thing: "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). Indeed, all of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of the Messiah's power (Heb. 1:3). Creation begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our LORD... The Messiah is the Center of Creation - its beginning and end. As it is written: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the 'Aleph' and the 'Tav,' the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).

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




The LORD as El Shaddai...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]

10.27.14  (Cheshvan 3, 5775)  In this week's Torah (Lekh Lekha), the LORD described Himself using the name El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדַּי), often mistranslated as "God Almighty." In Genesis 17:1, God said to Abram: "I AM El Shaddai. Walk before me and be perfect." But why did the LORD choose to reveal Himself using this distinctive name to Abram?

Most English translations render El Shaddai as "God Almighty," probably because the translators of the Septuagint (i.e., the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) thought Shaddai came from a root verb (shadad: שָׁדַד) that means "to overpower" or "to destroy." The Latin Vulgate likewise translated Shaddai as "Omnipotens" (from which we get our English word omnipotent). In other words, the translators regarded this term to suggest that God is so overpowering that He is considered "Almighty."

According to the Jewish sages, however, Shaddai is a contraction of the phrase, "I said to the world, dai (enough)" (as in the famous word used in the Passover Haggadah, Dayeinu -- "it would have been sufficient").  God created the world but "stopped" at a certain point. He left creation "unfinished" because He wanted us to complete the job by means of exercising chesed (love) in repair of the world (tikkun olam).

Jacob's blessing given in Genesis 49:25, however, indicates that Shaddai might be related to the word for breasts (shadaim), indicating sufficiency and nourishment (i.e., "blessings of the breasts and of the womb" (בִּרְכת שָׁדַיִם וָרָחַם)).  In this case, the Name might derive from the contraction of sha ("who") and dai ("enough") to indicate God's complete sufficiency to nurture the fledgling nation into fruitfulness.  Indeed, God first uses this Name when He refers to multiplying Abraham's offspring (Gen. 17:2). Understood in this light, the name El Shaddai provides a picture of God's nurturing love for our lives... God sustains us and loves us, like a mother loves her newborn child...

El Shaddai is used almost exclusively in reference to the three great patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and (according to Exodus 6:2-3) was the primary name by which God was known to the founders of Israel (the name YHVH given to Moses suggests God's absolute self-sufficiency, whereas the name Elohim suggests God's soverign power). The word "Shaddai" (by itself) was used later by the prophets (e.g., Num. 24:4; Isa. 13:6, Ezek. 1:24) as well as in the books of Job, Ruth, and in the Psalms. In modern Judaism, Shaddai is also thought to be an acronym for the phrase Shomer daltot Yisrael - "Guardian of the doors of Israel" - abbreviated as the letter Shin on most mezuzot:

 


Note: While the name El Shaddai presents a "feminine image" of the LORD, this is assuredly appropriate, since God created both genders as a reflection of His image, as it is written: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female (זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה) he created them (Gen. 1:27). However, some people have made the dubious suggestion that El Shaddai should further be translated as "the many breasted One," even though such language suggests the abominable practices and idols common in various ancient fertility cults - customs that were later subject to the most severe judgment of God upon the seven Canaanite nations. It should be clear, in light of the overall context of the revelation given in the Torah, that the name El Shaddai is directly connected with the sanctity of the promise given to Abraham regarding the future growth of his family, and ultimately of the coming of the promised Seed, the Messiah...
 




By Faith, not by Sight...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha.... ]

10.27.14  (Cheshvan 3, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week states, "And the LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land" (Gen. 12:7). Note that this was the first time God actually appeared to Abram, since earlier he had only "heard" God say to him, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you" (Gen. 12:1). In other words, it was only later - after Abram had obeyed God's voice by making the move to Canaan, that the LORD appeared to him and an altar was established (Gen. 12:7-8). As long as he remained with his father in the City of Haran (the last outpost of Mesopotamia), he was in a place of delay, unable to see the Divine Presence.  Abram first had to act on what he knew before he was given confirmation by God. Perhaps that is why the very first place Abram came to in the promised land was the "Oak of Moreh" (אֵלוֹן מוֹרֶה), or the "Teaching Tree." Abram was taught that to believe in order to understand, not to understand in order to believe....

Notice, however, that Abram was immediately tested once he arrived in the promised land. After building another altar and calling upon the name of the LORD (Gen. 12:8), a severe famine tempted him to look for food in the land of Egypt. After leaving the land of promise, Abram willingly forfeited his identity (i.e., he denied he was Sarai's husband) and found himself powerless as his wife was abducted into Pharaoh's harem. The LORD intervened on his behalf, however, and plagued Pharaoh and his household with great plagues, which surely prefigured the future time of the great Exodus during the time of Moses...

In this connection we note that the next time the LORD appeared to Abram was after he had returned from Egypt, after rescuing Lot from the kings of the east, where he encountered the mysterious Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק) in Salem. After this dramatic encounter, Abram separated his clan from his nephew Lot and returned to the first altar he built in the promised land (Gen. 13:4).
 




Crossing Over to Life...


 

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

10.26.14  (Cheshvan 2, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week begins: "Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go (לֶךְ־לְךָ) from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land I will show you" (Gen. 12:1). The Book of Hebrews comments, "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance, and he went out, not knowing where he was going... for he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Heb. 11:8,10). The Sefat Emet says that every person of faith is likewise commanded daily to "lekh-lekha," to "go for yourself" by crossing over from the world and its deadening habits to live as an exile with God. Paradoxically, we find ourselves when we lose ourselves - when we leave behind the labels, roles, and identities this world foists upon us and instead resolve to seek the promise of God's Kingdom. As Yeshua said, "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 16:25).

Note:  In a sefer Torah (i.e., a handwritten Torah scroll), Hebrew words are written without vowels, so "lekh lekha" (לך־לך), often translated as "go forth," could be read as "go, go!" - emphasizing the importance of the mitzvah: Get moving! Start walking! Begin your journey!
 




Parashat Lekha - לך־לך


 

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

10.26.14  (Cheshvan 2, 5775)  Last week's Torah portion (i.e., parashat Noach) showed how the LORD miraculously preserved Noah and his family from the cataclysmic judgment of the great flood. Just as there were ten generations from Adam to Noah, so there were also ten generations from Noah to Abram. And just as Noah became the father of 70 nations, so Abram would become the father of the Jewish people, through whom the Promised Seed - the Messiah and Savior of the world - would eventually come.

In our Torah portion this week (Lekh-Lekha), we read that Abram was 75 years old, married to (his half-sister) Sarai, and guardian of his nephew Lot (his deceased brother Haran's son) when he received the promise of divine inheritance: "And the LORD said to Abram, "Go from (i.e., lekh-lekha: לך־לך) your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.  In Hebrew, the phrase lekh lekha means "go for yourself" (lit. "walk [הָלַךְ] for yourself [לְךָ]"), though it can be interpreted it to mean "go to yourself," that is, "look within yourself" in order to begin walking out your own journey into the promises. The realm of divine promise is only attained when we venture out in faith. Like our father Abraham, we are called to "cross over," leave everything behind, and take hold of God's glorious promise for our lives.

 


Note:  The sages wonder why the Torah describes the righteousness of Noah as a prelude to his being chosen by God, and yet says nothing of Abraham's spiritual qualities before God called him... They answer that God chose Abraham because he loved him, not because of his merit or righteous deeds. The essence of covenant between God and Abraham is also inviolable, based on God's sovereign choice and unconditional love.
 




The Torah of Love...


 

10.24.14  (Tishri 30, 5775)  "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, such 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 myself to him" (John 14:21). Note that the Greek word translated "manifest" means to "shine inside" (i.e., ἐμφανίζω, from ἐν, "in" and φαίνω, "shine"), indicating that the revelation would be inward light of the Presence of Messiah himself (Χριστὸς ἐν ὑμῖν, ἡ ἐλπὶς τῆς δόξης, Col. 1:27). As we receive God's love, as we embrace it as our own, the love of Messiah will become inwardly visible to you. This comes from a place of surrender and acceptance.  As Paul Tillich said, "Sometimes in a moment of weakness light breaks into darkness, and it is as though a voice says, 'You are accepted; you are accepted... Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.' If that happens to you, then you experience grace, and everything will be transformed." Lord, shine your light upon us!

And may God's love shine within your heart, friend... Shabbat Shalom.
 




Prayer for this hour...


 

10.24.14  (Tishri 30, 5775)  Many of us are hurting, Lord, and we sometimes feel alone in our struggle... This world seems so senseless, so brutal, and so evil at times; we feel powerless, overwhelmed, and even sick inside... We look to You, O God, and for your mercy and power. Help us to accept what we cannot change and to completely trust in Your great healing, despite the sickness of the world around us. Remind us that though we cannot change the world, we are given grace to sustain our trust in You, our glorious and merciful Healer. And may we never be ashamed; may we never grow bitter; may our sorrows lead us from strength to strength. And may this time of testing lead us to greater wisdom, to deeper compassion, and finally back to You. Amen.

"The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day." From the first glimmer of heaven-sent faith we detect the divine light, "the light of dawn," which continues to grow more and more until it becomes as radiant as the midday, an image of the full light of the World to Come. Praise God that more light is coming to you who are trusting in the LORD, even in your present darkness: "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Yeshua our Messiah" (Phil. 1:6).
 

וְארַח צַדִּיקִים כְּאוֹר נגַהּ
הוֹלֵךְ וָאוֹר עַד־נְכוֹן הַיּוֹם

ve'o·rach · tzad·di·kim · ke'or · no·gah
ho·lekh · va'or · ad · ne·khon · hai'yom
 

"The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
which shines brighter and brighter until full day."
(Prov. 4:18)



Hebrew Study Card
 

 




Herald of Righteousness...


 

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

10.23.14  (Tishri 29, 5775)  It is astounding to consider that Abraham personally knew the patriarch Noah (Abraham was 58 years old when Noah died), and undoubtedly Noah told him of his father Lamech, who had seen and spoken with Adam, the very first man created by God alone.  Later, Abraham's son Isaac knew Shem, Noah's firstborn son, the first high priest of Salem who preserved the message of teshuvah (repentance) and retained the original promise of the coming Redeemer given by God. For this reason the New Testament calls Noah a "herald of righteousness" (2 Pet. 2:5).

 

It is said that the righteous have three qualities. First, they are kind and just - "tzaddik" (צדִּיק); second, they are wholehearted and loyal – "tamim" (תָּמִים); and third, they "walk with God," accepting the yoke of heaven and not questioning God's actions. Noah had all three of these qualities, as it says, "Noah was a righteous man (ish tzaddik), blameless (tamim) in his generation: Noah walked with God."

Noah's righteousness is all the more remarkable because he lived in the midst of an entirely depraved and heartless culture. The "Days of Noah" (יְמֵי־נחַ) were marked by "lawlessness" (anomie), moral anarchy, violence, corruption, and complete disregard of the transcendental truth of God. "The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart" (Gen. 6:5-6). Because people denied moral reality and regarded God as unconcerned with their behavior, the LORD brought the flood to prove that He repays both the righteous and the wicked.

Yeshua warned that as it was in the days of Noah, so it would be during the time of his second coming (Matt. 24:38-39). Regarding the character of souls living during the End of Days, the Apostle Paul foresaw that "people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power" (1 Tim 3:1-4). The Apostle Peter calls them "scoffers who walk after their own evil inner urges (1 Pet. 3:3). Note also that "pharmakeia" (φαρμακεία), or drug abuse, will also be rampant (Gal. 5:19; Rev. 9:21, 18:23).

Note: For more on this subject, see "The Days of Noah."
 




Noah and Messiah...


 

10.23.14  (Tishri 29, 5775)  The name Noah comes from the shoresh (root) nacham (נָחַם), meaning to "comfort." Other Hebrew words that use this root include nichum (compassion), nuach (rest), and menuchah (rest from work). Noah's very name foreshadowed the coming of Yeshua who brings us healing and grace. Noah's father Lamech (meaning "powerful one") regarded his son as a deliverer who would comfort humanity from the ravages of the curse (Gen. 3). In like manner it was prophesied that Yeshua would give us everlasting rest: "His rest shall be glorious" (Isa. 11:10), and He offers rest to the weary (Matt. 11:28, Heb. 4:9). His sacrifice on the cross at Moriah undoes the curse over the children of Adam. Indeed, Yeshua's life, sacrifice, and resurrection "spoke backwards" the sin of the "First Adam" - and by means of His deliverance the power of the curse was forever broken (Gal. 3:13, John 3:14, 2 Tim.1:10; Heb. 2:14; Heb. 9:27-28; 1 John 3:8, Rev. 22:3). Through him we are given an everlasting comfort (John 14:16).

Noah's teivah ("ark") had God Himself as its designer (Gen. 6:15f), and salvation in Yeshua is likewise by God's design (Jonah 2:9; Eph. 1:9, 1:11). The ark contained only one door (Gen. 6:16), just as Yeshua is the only door to salvation (John 10:9). Moreover, the ark contained three levels (Gen. 6:16) and salvation has three own experiential levels (2 Cor. 1:10): past, present, and future. In the past (at Moriah) Yeshua delivered us from the penalty of sin; in the present, He is delivering us from the power of sin; and in the future He will deliver us from the very presence of sin. From Noah's hand was given the sign of the dove, a symbol of peace and the abiding presence of the Spirit of God, just as Yeshua imparts the Holy Spirit to those who trust in him... For more on this, see "Noah and Jesus," here.
 




The Days of Noah...


 

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

10.22.14  (Tishri 28, 5775)  "For just as the days of Noah were, in the same way will be the coming of the Son of Man.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware (ἔγνωσαν) until the flood came and swept them all away. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot - they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all - so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed" (Matt. 24:38-9; Luke 17:28-30).

Note that the primary characteristic of the generation of the flood was ignorance, that is, refusing to acknowledge spiritual reality.... Yeshua told us that this generation was asleep, blind, unaware (ἔγνωσαν, "agnostic"). For ten consecutive generations -- from the creation of Adam until the generation of Noah -- people progressively became more and more "forgetful" of spiritual reality and truth. Eating and drinking, romantic intrigue and marriage, buying and selling, and other worldly affairs were the preoccupations of the day. People lived lives in abysmal ignorance of the reality around them. They "forgot" who God was, who they were, why they existed, and where they were going. In short, they were "unaware."

Spiritual blindness eventually leads to corruption and outright violence. Of Noah's generation it was written that "the whole earth was corrupt before God, and filled with violence" (Gen. 6:11). Rashi understood the word "corruption" (shachat) to mean sexual immorality (i.e., idolatry) and "violence" (chamas) to mean robbery.  In general, however, the sages regarded the word chamas to refer to lawlessness, that is the denial of Torah, and consequently the benighted condition of living without yirat ha-shamayim (awe of heaven).  When people are spiritually dead, they are unconscious of the wonder of God; they are oblivious to what is real; and they consequently debase themselves into animals.

Note:  For more on this see: "The Days of Noah: further thoughts on parashat Noach."
 




The Illusion of Technique...

Tower by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)
 

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

10.22.14  (Tishri 28, 5775)  From our Torah portion this week we read how the descendants of Noah eventually settled in the "land of Shinar" (i.e., the land of "two rivers" (שני נהרות) alluding the Tigris-Euphrates of ancient Babylon) saying: "Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower (עִיר וּמִגְדָּל) with its "head in the heavens," and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth" (Gen. 11:3-4). Here the sages say that after mankind developed the technology to mass produce building materials, humanity began to deify itself and to negate the authority of God. And indeed, the history of humanity – beginning at Shinar but reiterated philosophically and politically throughout the subsequent generations -- has continued the attempt to redefine reality as something that it isn't. As it is written: "The kings of the earth station themselves, and the dignitaries (רוֹזְנִים) take counsel together against (lit. "over") the LORD and His Messiah" (Psalm 2:1-3). Spiritual warfare is therefore the fight for sanity and truth in a world that prefers madness and self-deception...
 




Hope, despite ourselves...


 

10.21.14  (Tishri 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)



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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.
 




Broken and Remade...


 

10.20.14  (Tishri 26, 5775)  "See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is immoral or profane like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it (the blessing) with tears" (Heb. 12:15-17; Gen. 27:38). "For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters (מְקוֹר מַיִם חַיִּים), and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13). Spiritually speaking, there are two basic sorts of breaking. One is to be broken by the inevitable sin and ruin of this world, and the other is to be made lev-nishbar (לֵב־נִשְׁבָּר), a broken heart, before the LORD. The former breaking comes from the vain attempt to find life in the broken vessels of this world, and "repentance" is expressed as remorse over perceived temporal loss. This sorrow eventually leads the soul to death (2 Cor. 7:10). To be inwardly broken, on the other hand, requires mourning over your life and returning to God for deliverance (Matt. 5:4). In hunger and thirst for God's righteousness the soul finds eternal satisfaction, since God alone provides the vessel of "living water" we need to live (John 4:14; 7:38). We all must drink from God's fountain of life (מְקוֹר חַיִּים), lest we suffer spiritual dehydration and death....

Are you haunted by an inner ache for love, joy, peace, and life? "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6). Our inner poverty and need is a disguised grace; our desire for healing reveals the Spirit's invitation. Faith begins with the recognition of our need, since only then will we come to Yeshua for the "Bread of Life" (לֶחֶם הַחַיִּים) and the "Living Water" (מַיִם חַיִּים). Everything we need is found in him, though we must reach out in faith: "For without faith (אֱמוּנָה) it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who seek him" (Heb. 11:6). God rewards those who seek him; he answers the heart's cry; he responds to all who trust in his love and salvation. Therefore "ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened" (Matt. 7:7-8). We are not saved by faith in our own faith, but in the Reality and Power of the LORD God who alone can raise the dead to new life....
 




Return to your Heart...


 

10.20.14  (Tishri 26, 5775)  In the Torah we read, "Know therefore today and return to your heart (וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ), for the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). Here again we see the centrality of the heart as the mode to encounter God (Luke 17:21). Savor the phrase, "Know therefore today and return to your heart..." It the heart that is the place of connection with God... As Yeshua said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20). Today is the day to "return to your heart" and receive again God's love for your soul...
 




Parashat Noach (פרשת נח)


 

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

10.19.14  (Tishri 26, 5775)  In last week's Torah portion (Bereshit), we read about the tragic and disheartening history of earliest humanity. After just ten generations, from Adam to Noah, the LORD had grown so weary of humanity that he "regretted" (yinchem, יִּנָּחֶם) creating man in the first place and "his heart was saddened" (Gen. 6:6). It is interesting to note that the word translated "regretted" comes from the root nacham (נָחַם) -- the same root for the name "Noah" (נחַ) himself. Other Hebrew words that use this root include nichum (compassion), nu'ach (rest), nacham (repent/console), menuchah (rest from work), and so on. Though God "regretted" (נָחַם) that He had made mankind (Gen. 6:7), he "consoled himself" by finding a means to comfort lost humanity...

Noah's father Lamech (לֶמֶךְ, "powerful one") regarded his son as a deliverer who would comfort humanity from the ravages of the original curse (Gen. 5:29). Noach would give rest from the toil and vexation of life. Indeed, Noah was a "type" of savior who would rebirth the world by giving lasting comfort and rest (for more on this, see the page "Noah and Jesus").  In like manner it was prophesied that Yeshua would give us everlasting rest: "His rest shall be glorious" (Isa. 11:10), just as He offers rest to the weary (Matt. 11:28, Heb. 4:9). His sacrifice on the Cross at Moriah undoes the kelalah (curse of work) over the children of Adam.  Indeed, His life, sacrifice, and resurrection was like a "magic spell" that "spoke backwards" the sin of the "First Adam" - and by means of His deliverance the power of the curse was forever broken (Gal. 3:13, John 3:14, 2 Tim.1:10; Heb. 2:14; Heb. 9:27-28; 1 John 3:8, Rev. 22:3). Yeshua is Adam ha-Sheni - the "Second Adam" - the promised Son of Man. By means of His Spirit we are given an everlasting comfort (John 14:16).

Eschatologically, the "days of Noah" are a picture of the idolatrous conditions of the world that will prevail just before the calling up of the followers of Yeshua before the time of Great Tribulation upon the earth: "As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man" (Matt. 24:37). The generation of the Flood was said to be "filled with violence" (Gen. 6:13) caused by ignorance -- literally the "state of ignoring" moral and spiritual truth. Because people willingly disregarded God from their midst, they arrogated to themselves divine prerogatives: "every man did what was right in his own eyes." The resulting moral corruption and anarchy led to divine and catastrophic judgment: when God destroyed them with water, they return the world to its original state of tohu vavohu v'choshekh: "confusion and emptiness and darkness" (Gen. 1:2). This is our world today.

The seven day warning given to Noah suggests the seven year tribulation period to come (Daniel's 70th week), and also the "rapture" of the people of God who will be carried above the prophesied worldwide cataclysm.  Just as God protected Israel during the time of judgment upon Egypt, so He will protect His people from the wrath of the "great Day of the LORD." But please note that "the LORD shut him in" (Gen. 7:16). Noah's teivah (ark) had God Himself as its designer (Gen. 6:15f), just as salvation in Messiah is by God's design (Jonah 2:9; Eph. 1:9, 1:11). It contained only one door (Gen. 6:16), just as Yeshua is the only door to salvation (John 10:9; 14:6). Noah's ark contained three levels (Gen. 6:16) and salvation has three own experiential levels (2 Cor. 1:10): past, present, and future. In the past (at Moriah) Yeshua delivered us from the penalty of sin; in the present, He is delivering us from the power of sin; and in the future He will deliver us from the very presence of sin.  Baruch Hashem - may that day come soon!
 


Calendar Note:  On the Biblical calendar, the month of Cheshvan (חֶשְׁוָן) immediately follows the "holiday month" of Tishri, and begins October 23rd (at sundown) this year. The Torah records that God brought down the Great Flood that destroyed the world on Cheshvan 17 (Gen. 7:10-11), which lasted until Cheshvan 27 (Gen. 8:14) - exactly one calendar year after it began (Rashi notes that the 11-day discrepancy between the 17th and 27th represents the 11-day difference between the solar and lunar calendar year). Because Noah's Flood began and ended during this month, Cheshvan is generally regarded as "mar" - a time of judgment, especially regarding water (rain). Cheshvan always has a two-day Rosh Chodesh. Because rain is central to the health of the spring crops, on the 17th of the month those living in Israel begin requesting rain by adding vetein tal u'matar librakha ("and grant dew and rain for blessing") to the Amidah prayer.
 

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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All-Surrounding Presence...



[ The first occurrence of the Name YHVH (יהוה) concerns the creation of Adam (Gen. 2 :4)... ]
 

10.19.14  (Tishri 26, 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 "abundant Love and Truth" (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."
 

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...
 




Hope and Testing...


 

10.17.14  (Tishri 24, 5775)   Our suffering is easier to bear when we know it has a purpose, an answer to the question "why?" Where endurance (ὑπομονή) is needed, however, is precisely when we cannot discern such a purpose, and our troubles seem pointless, gratuitous, and meaningless... If we have faith to contextualize our testing as part of God's providential plan, then we can learn to accept it as bearing a hidden good, even if at the present we do not detect its salubrious effect and eternal purpose. It is difficult to underestimate the importance of the hope that our lives – such as they are – have a divine reason and eternal validity. The temptation is to seek relief from our haunting emptiness through various forms of distraction, yet the question of our meaning, our value, our very "reason for being," is ultimately inescapable. The Torah begins here: by investing all of reality – from the grand motions of the cosmic spheres to the smallest subatomic particles – with purpose, direction, destiny... and hope.  "In the beginning God created..."

"May the LORD lift up his face upon you and give you peace" (Num. 6:26). May the LORD "lift up his face" (יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו) toward you in welcome, and may his countenance be radiant with joy over you. May his face be "toward you," not turned away or hidden... When God turns toward you, he imparts the blessing without which all other blessings are beholden, namely, his peace (i.e., shalom). After all, what good is worldly prosperity or temporal pleasure apart from God's blessing of peace? To have shalom (שָׁלוֹם) is to be made shalem (שָׁלֵם) – made whole, complete, secure, happy – and therefore the peace of God (שְׁלוֹם הָאֱלהִים) is assuredly the most essential blessing... 

Shabbat Shalom to you, chaverim!
 




Turn Away from Fear...


 

10.17.14  (Tishri 24, 5775)   The "world" (κόσμος) is a place of fearful exile from the Lord. To find healing, turn away from its faithless messages of terror and manipulation and consciously listen (shema) to the promises of God. "He who abides in the secret of the Most High will dwell in the shadow of Shaddai" - ישֵׁב בְּסֵתֶר עֶלְיוֹן בְּצֵל שַׁדַּי יִתְלוֹנָן (Psalm 91:1). The "midst of the dark cloud" (Exod. 24:18) is a place of sacred and holy concealment. The LORD will save you from the ensnaring trap and from the devastating pestilence: "Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place-- the Most High (עֶלְיוֹן) who is my refuge, no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways" (Psalm 91:9-11).
 

כִּי־אַתָּה יְהוָה מַחְסִי עֶלְיוֹן שַׂמְתָּ מְעוֹנֶךָ
לא־תְאֻנֶּה אֵלֶיךָ רָעָה וְנֶגַע לא־יִקְרַב בְּאָהֳלֶךָ
כִּי מַלְאָכָיו יְצַוֶּה־לָּךְ לִשְׁמָרְךָ בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ

ki · at·tah · Adonai · mach·si · Elyon · sam·ta · me'o·ne·kha
lo · te'u·neh · e·le·kha · ra'ah · ve'ne·ga · lo · yik·rav · be'o·ho·le·kha
ki · mal·akh·av · yetz·a·veh · lakh · lish·mor·kha · be'khol · de·ra·khe·kha
 

"Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place -- the Most High who is my refuge, no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways."


  


Faith brings to life the prophecy: "You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday... because you have made the LORD your dwelling place."

The so-called "security" of man is an illusion. Turn away from the fears common to the faithless denizens of this world. Rise above the lies and violence of men! God's truth is your strength and your shield (Psalm 91:4). Repent of your fear and ask the LORD Most High, the Ascended One, to cover you with the glory of his presence. And may He shelter you under His wings, and may you find refuge in His truth - his sword and shield!

Note:  Of course we sometimes get sick and physically die, as it says, "You return man to dust and say, 'Return, you sons of man'" (Psalm 90:3). Indeed, the "outer man perishes." Our trust in God's care, however, enables us to rise above the fears common to the worldly of this age and to overcome the power of the lie that seeks to enslave people... No matter what befalls us, with God, there is no plague, no death, and no end to his love.

Addendum:  Someone asked why I put quotes around the word "world," at the start of this entry. By "world" I mean the idea of κόσμος, that is, the political and economic sphere, the realm of ideology, propaganda, fake news, fashion, fads, pop culture and its idolatry, mass educational indoctrination, etc. We are delivered from this evil world to become members of God's kingdom of light and love (Col. 1:13). We turn away from the clamor of man's illusions to focus on God's sovereign power: 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."
 




The Delight of Torah...


 

[ This evening Jews observe Simchat Torah, the festival celebrating both the completion of the year's Torah Reading cycle as well as the start of a new cycle... ]

10.17.14  (Tishri 24, 5775)   God is not the "author of confusion," and that means that rational intelligibility is foundational to divine revelation. "The Torah was written in the language of men," which is to say, it expresses ideas people can understand. The Scriptures declare: "Blessed is the man who ... delights in the Torah of the LORD (בְּתוֹרַת יְהוָה); all that he does shall prosper" (Psalm 1:1-3). And while it is true that we are no longer 'under' the terms of the covenant given at Sinai (Rom. 3:23), we still delight 'in' the Torah and meditate on its precepts day and night (Psalm 1:2; 19:8; 119:15, 47, 97; Neh. 8:12, etc.). After all, Torah "written upon the heart" is a mark of the New Covenant believer (Jer. 31:31-33). As it is written in Proverbs: "If you seek it [i.e., the wisdom revealed in the Torah] like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God" (Prov. 2:4-5). If worldly men seek money and riches for life in this world, should we be less earnest in our pursuit of true and eternal riches?

Furthermore, where it is written, "all Scripture is breathed out by God (θεόπνευστος) and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:16-17), it is evident that the Scriptures referred to here are the Jewish Scriptures (i.e., the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings), since they are the foundation, the context, and the overarching matrix for the later New Covenant revelation... These were the Scriptures Yeshua used to contextualize and explain his ministry to his followers: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27; John 1:45). In other words, the Torah has both a logical, a linguistic, and a theological priority regarding our understanding of the New Testament Scriptures, and the failure to read in context invariably leads to faulty interpretations and doctrinal errors of various kinds. "To the Jew first, and [then] to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16) is a principle not only of how the gospel message would transcend ethnic Israel to be offered to all the nations, but also about how we should approach the subject of Biblical hermeneutics.... God "breathed out" (θεόπνευστος) his revelation in order, and the message itself must be understood in light of that order (John 4:22).

Since Yeshua the Messiah is Torah Ha'Emet - the True Torah - we should likewise celebrate the "Joy of Torah" in our lives. He is the Living Torah, the Living Word, written upon our hearts so that we can truly dance and embrace the Truth given from God. Indeed, Yeshua did not come to destroy the Torah but rather to fulfill it in our lives (Matt. 5:17-20).
 




Torah's First Day...


 

10.17.14  (Tishri 24, 5775)   Concerning the account of creation of the first day (i.e., Gen. 1:3-5), the midrash notes the word light (אוֹר) appears five times, one for each of the five books of Torah: "Let there be light" (יְהִי אוֹר) refers to the Book of Genesis (Bereshit) and how God created the world with light; "and there was light" (וַיְהִי־אוֹר) refers to the Book of Exodus (Shemot), the light of redemption from the darkness of exile; "God saw that the light was good" (וַיַּרְא אֱלהִים אֶת־הָאוֹר כִּי־טוֹב) refers to the book of Leviticus (Vayikra) and the sacrifices at the altar; "God separated the light from the darkness" (וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלהִים בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחשֶׁךְ) refers to the Book of Numbers (Bamidbar), and how Israel separated themselves from their past and how the clouds of glory illuminated their way; and finally, "God called the light day" (וַיִּקְרָא אֱלהִים לָאוֹר יוֹם) refers to the Book of Deuteronomy (Devarim), the retelling of the Torah, which distills the commandments that enlighten the heart of faith, as it says, "the commandment is a lamp and the Torah is light" (Prov. 6:23).
 




The Rejoicing of Torah...


 

[ Today is Simchat Torah, the festival celebrating both the completion of the year's Torah Reading cycle as well as the start of a new cycle... ]

10.17.14  (Tishri 24, 5775)  The overall purpose of the fall holidays - regarded as the climax of the Jewish calendar year - is to prepare our hearts to rejoice in the awesome revelation of the Word of God: "To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him" (Deut. 4:35). Again it is written, "there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me... "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:17-18). "By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: 'To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance'" (Isa. 45:23; Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:9-11). All the festivals of the calendar lead up to this great truth: the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth (John 1:1,14). The celebration of Simchat Torah, then, is the celebration of the Messiah, the Living Torah.

The holiday is called Simchat Torah, the "rejoicing of Torah," and not Simchat Ba'Torah, "rejoicing in the Torah," because the Word is spoken so that we will receive (shema) its message. It is not enough to rejoice over Torah, we need to know that the Torah rejoices over us! Therefore we rejoice during this season, just after Sukkot, because this recalls how the Torah made flesh among us. Messiah came to speak the truth of God's love to our hearts, and it is his delight when we receive his message!
 

אַתָּה הָרְאֵתָ לָדַעַת כִּי יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלהִים
אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּוֹ

at·tah · hor·ei·ta · la·da·at · ki · Adonai · hu · ha·e·lo·him
ein · od · mi·le·va·do
 

"To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD is God;
there is no other besides him" (Deut. 4:35)



Hebrew Study Card
  

Despite some of the ambiguity surrounding the themes of the festival of Sukkot (e.g., does it recall God's protective clouds, or rather the frailty of the desert experience after the Exodus? Does it recall the historical Exodus or is it an agricultural celebration?), the focus is the same, namely, to know the revelation of the Word of the LORD and his salvation! The final and great rejoicing of the Biblical year centers on the disclosure of the Word of God. And during the coming Millennial Kingdom, when the Word of God is again disclosed directly from Zion, all the nations of the earth will celebrate the revelation of God (Zech. 14:16-19).
 




Through the Shadows...


 

10.17.14  (Tishri 24, 5775)  "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you" (Psalm 73:25). Such is the "exile of hope" we suffer in this world... Torah begins: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was "tohu va'vohu v'choshekh" (תהוּ וָבהוּ וְחשֶׁךְ) - confusion and emptiness and darkness - which the sages interpret to mean that when we truly understand that God created the heavens and the earth, we will realize our earthy desires to be barren, empty and unreal. In their despair, Plato and the early Greek philosophers sought "timeless universals" which they believed disclosed the reality of an "upper world," a heavenly realm of unchanging goodness, beauty, and truth. The world we experience with our senses is a shadowy place of change and decay; but the real world, discerned by clear thinking, is a place of permanence, goodness and illumination. Likewise the righteous soul trusts that despite this fleeting world that turns to dust, there is an eternal realm, a place of abiding love, and a heavenly home. The land of promise is a "foreign land" to this world, but the heart of faith beholds "the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10). "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come" (Heb. 13:14). Therefore "we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient (πρόσκαιρος), but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Cor. 4:18-5:1). In this world we suffer exile, groaning to be with our Savior, the Source of all blessing: "I say to the LORD, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you" (Psalm 16:2).
 

מִי־לִי בַשָּׁמָיִם וְעִמְּךָ לא־חָפַצְתִּי בָאָרֶץ
כָּלָה שְׁאֵרִי וּלְבָבִי צוּר־לְבָבִי וְחֶלְקִי אֱלהִים לְעוֹלָם

mi-li · va·sha·ma·yim · ve·im·me·kha · lo-cha·fatz·ti · va·a·retz
kal·lah · she·ei·ri · u·le·va·vi · tzur-le·va·vi · ve·chel·ki · E·lo·him · le·o·lam
 

"Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."
(Psalm 73:25-26)


 
Hebrew Study Card
 

The very worst kind of exile is to be unaware that you are in exile, to be so blinded that you do not see that you do not see...  As Yeshua said, "If the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Matt. 6:23); and "be careful lest the light in you be darkness" (Luke 11:35). Ignorance is the willful "state of ignoring" moral and spiritual truth..  In the end, the world and its blind lusts will pass away, for it is "tohu" (תּהוּ) - confusion and unreality - but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).

Those who rely on mere appearances will invariably find themselves confounded. The LORD therefore commissioned the prophet: "Go, and say to this people: 'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive'" (Isa. 6:9). Where it is written, "God gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own devices" (Psalm 81:12; Rom. 1:24); and "they went backward and not forward" (Jer. 7:24), we learn there is no place of "neutrality" or indifference toward God. The Lord will give to you according to your faith...

The Spirit cries out, "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8). This verse sets up a great contrast between olam ha-zeh and olam haba – between this present world and the heavenly realm. King David states, "Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you (וְחֶלְדִּי כְאַיִן נֶגְדֶּךָ). Surely all mankind stands as a mere vanity" (Psalm 39:5). Yet we hunger and ache for love that fulfills the infinite depth of our hearts: "My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you (Isa. 26:9). I say to the LORD, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you" (Psalm 16:2). Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God, the Eternal, the abiding, and true...
 




In the Beginning...


 

10.16.14  (Tishri 23, 5775)  "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). The word translated as "beginning," however (i.e., bereshit: בְּרֵאשִׁיתּ), logically does not mean a point in chronological time, since time, regarded as the measurement of motion, is inextricably connected to existence and came into being with creation itself. Time and being are linked. Therefore, it is better to understand bereshit to mean "with wisdom," since the word is based on the root idea of rosh (ראשׁ, "head," or "chief"), which suggests what is most important, i.e., "at the head of (all things)," etc.

Another way to read this statement is to notice the direct object marker (אֵת) of the verb bara (בָּרָא) in the first verse. Read literally, it would say, "With wisdom (or "within his own mind or counsel") God created all things - Aleph through Tav - namely, the heavens and the earth." Some have said the direct object marker here refers to Yeshua, and while it is indeed true that He is the Aleph and Tav (Rev 1:8), "the One who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty," in this verse he is Elohim (אֱלהִים), our Creator, which agrees with many other Scriptures such as Col. 1:15-17, Heb. 1:1-3; John 1:1-14; Eph 1:21; Phil. 2:9-11, Rom. 14:11 (with Isa. 45:22-24); Rom. 11:36, etc. Others have said "Aleph-Tav" here refers to the holy alphabet, the power from the Word.

 




Mystery of Creation...


 

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

10.16.14  (Tishri 23, 5775)  Why is there something rather than nothing? Why does anything exist at all? These are basic questions about the meaning of life. Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? "God created the universe," you say, yes, but exactly why did He do so? What purpose did he have in mind? In particular, why were you created? What is the purpose of your life? What do you hope to achieve with the limited amount of time you have on this earth? Such questions brood within the soul, even if they are hidden from consciousness by various forms of busyness and distraction. At the outset of serious thinking about anything at all we are confronted with such ultimate questions. What is real? Why are we here? Where are we going? What does God want from us?

The Torah begins: "In the beginning God created..." (Gen. 1:1). No explanation is given, simply the mysterious declaration that God's eternal power is behind the realm of the world of appearances. We only begin to get some idea of God's hidden purposes as he reveals his design in Scripture. There we learn that God chose to create the universe yesh me'ayin, "out of nothing," in order to share his wisdom, glory, and love with other beings He created. "You created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created" (Rev. 4:11). All this was for the sake of the Messiah, who built the world in chesed (חֶסֶד) and who forever reigns as the King of eternal life and love. "For from him and through him and to him are all things." The purpose of your life is to learn that you are beloved by God, to know and receive the infinite worth you have in his eyes, and to share that love with others. You were created to be made part of God's great family, the Kingdom of Love.
 

לְךָ יָאֶה אֲדנֵינוּ וֵאלהֵינוּ
 לְקַבֵּל אֶת הַכָּבוֹד וְהַיְקָר וְהַגְּבוּרָה
 כִּי אתָּא בָּרָאתָ הַכּל
 וּבִרְצוֹנְךָ הָיוּ וְנִבְרְאוֹ

le·kha · ya·eh · a·do·nei·nu · ve·lo·hei·nu
le·ka·bel · et · hak-ka·vod · ve'ha-ye·kar · ve'ha-ge·vu·rah
ki · at·tah · ba·ra·ta · ha-kol
u·vir·tzon·kha · ha·yu · ve'niv·re·u
 

"You are worthy, O Lord and our God,
 to receive the glory and the honor and the power:
 for You have created all things,
 and for thy pleasure they are and were created"
(Rev. 4:11)


 
Hebrew Study Card

 

The purpose of God's creative activity was the building of a kingdom based on divine love (מַלְכוּת הָאֱלהִים). As King David wrote, עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה / olam chesed yibaneh: "The world is built with chesed" (Psalm 89:2). The world itself is to built on the foundation of God's love (חֶסֶד, chesed) as it is expressed in the life Yeshua the Messiah (1 Cor. 3:11). Indeed, the very first mitzvah (commandment) given to mankind was simply פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ / p'ru ur'vu: "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28). Ideally speaking, the family, then, is a picture of a nurturing community based on chesed. For the Christian, this "family building" is centered on Yeshua the Messiah, the true King of the kingdom and the rosh pinnah (ראשׁ פִּנָּה), or "corner stone" of the Temple of God (see Heb. 3:1-6).

For more, click here: "Creation and the Kingdom of Love."


Addendum: Asking Questions

A good teacher doesn't feed students answers but rather provokes them to ask their own questions and to think for themselves... In that sense, a good teacher is like an "intellectual midwife," there to assist the one who explores the meaning of questions. This is especially true regarding matters of spiritual life: "There are many people who arrive at conclusions in life much the way schoolboys do; they cheat their teachers by copying the answer book without having worked the problem themselves." Merely "having the answer" does little spiritual good if the weight of the question that it proposes to address is not fully understood.  As Kierkegaard said regarding all the so-called "Bible answer men" -- "The most fatal thing of all is to satisfy a want which is not yet felt, so that without waiting till the want is present, one anticipates it, likely also using stimulants to bring about something which is supposed to be a want, and then satisfies it. And this is shocking! And yet this is what so many clergy do, whereby they really are cheating people out of what constitutes the significance of life, and instead helping them to waste it."

There is a temptation, then, for those who regard themselves as teachers or preachers to get ahead of the need, to over-anticipate, and therefore mislead those they hope to help. On the other hand, many are too busy (or too proud) to marvel over the sheer wonder of existence itself and grow impatient (or even threatened) with questions like these. They don't take the time to reflect about why they were born, what purpose is connected with their life, or where they are going, until they are confronted with suffering and trouble. Sometimes we must "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

Instead of regarding the Bible as a "Book of Answers" for our questions, it is worthwhile to think of it as a "Book of Questions" for our answers. As we listen, God questions us so that we can know him by means of the dialog within our hearts. As any good teacher knows, when a student earnestly wrestles with a question he learns more than if he were given a straightforward answer. Similarly, the Lord gives us permission to be without answers so that we will be free to seek, to struggle, and to "own" what we come to understand through our relationship with him... That way our learning will be real, substantive, and born from the urgency our own inner need. Indeed, God's very first question to man is always, ayekah: "Where are you?" (Gen. 3:9), which appeals for us to acknowledge how we hide from the truth. "Where are you?" is the poignant call of the Seeking Father for his lost child, and the question only becomes "our own" when we are willing to look at how we've come to be at this place in our lives. God's question to our heart is meant to lead us out of hiding to respond to his loving call...

Everything is inherently mysterious, since everything ultimately expresses the inscrutable will and decrees of God.... Ask yourself with earnestness of heart: Where do I come from? Who am I? Where am I going? For what reason was I created? The first step is to wonder, to ask the searching questions, and to seek God's wisdom... The LORD is faithful and will reveal truth to the heart that seeks.. It is too easy to be preoccupied with everyday concerns and to miss the marvel and sheer wonder of existence itself. If you will approach these questions with humility and reverence, you will be filled with wonder, your heart will be filled with greater fervor, and you will hunger more than ever for God's Presence.
 




Vanity and Creation...


 

10.16.14  (Tishri 23, 5775)  This week's Torah portion (Bereshit) describes some of the dire consequences of the "Fall of Man," as Adam and Eve (Chavah) are exiled from the garden, and the very first family of the earth is shown to be tragically and catastrophically dysfunctional. In a fit of jealous rage, Adam's firstborn son Kayin (Cain) murders his younger brother Hevel (Abel) and becomes an alienated vagabond, banished from his family.  God then gave mankind ten generations to return to Him but nothing inherently changed. Finally "the LORD saw how great was man's wickedness on earth, and how every thought devised within his heart was nothing but evil every day. And the LORD regretted that He had made man on earth, and His heart was saddened. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth" (Gen. 6:5-7).

The Talmud states that even after the great Flood (הַמַּבּוּל) humanity refused to truly turn back to God (as the present state of this world also attests). In light of the ongoing wickedness of mankind, the early sages Hillel and Shammai engaged in a protracted machlochet l'shamayim ("a debate for the sake of heaven") regarding whether it would have been better for humans not to have been created at all...  Hillel argued that it was better that humans had been created, whereas Shammai argued the other way. Finally a vote was called for and the decision rendered was this: It would have been better for humans not to have been created than to have been created. However, since we do in fact exist, we must search our past deeds and carefully examine what we are about to do (Eruvin 13b).

For more on this see, "Vanity and Creation: Further thoughts on Parashat Bereshit."
 




The Gospel in the Garden...


 

[ The following is related to Simchat Torah and parashat Bereshit... ]

10.15.14  (Tishri 22, 5775)  The very first prophecy of the Bible was spoken to the serpent, namely, God's promise that through the "seed of the woman" would come One who would battle the serpent and ultimately crush the kingdom of Satan (Gen. 3:15). Notice that the promise of the coming "Serpent Slayer" was given to Adam and Eve before their judgment was announced. And even after their judgment was given, "the LORD God made tunics of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them" - a clear picture of being compassionately "robed in righteousness" imparted by an innocent sacrifice. The very first sacrifice recorded in the Torah - performed by God Himself - prefigured the coming redemption by the "seed of the woman" who would die as a substitutionary sacrifice for their sins.

"God creates the cure before the plague."  Just as God created mankind only after He created the pathway of repentance (i.e., Yeshua is called the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world": 1 Pet. 1:20, Eph. 1:4, Rev. 13:8), so purification from death and the nullification of the curse was also foreseen and provided by the cross of the Messiah. Yeshua is the antidote to the venom delivered through the serpent's bite (John 3:14-15). "For as in Adam all die, so also in Messiah shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22). The "new seed" of life given to us in Yeshua makes us into a "new creation" (בְּרִיאָה חֲדָשָׁה) that fully restores the defaced image of God within us: "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:49).

Note: For more on this, please see "The Gospel in the Garden."
 




Creation for the Messiah...


 

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

10.15.14  (Tishri 22, 5775)  The Talmud says "All the world was created for the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b). The New Testament had earlier said the same thing: "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). The first word uttered by God, "Let there be light" (Gen. 1:3), was uttered on behalf of all who would behold His glory, as it is written, "Arise, shine forth, for your light has come" (Isa. 60:1). When Adam first opened his eyes and human consciousness was born, he immediately understood that the LORD created all things, including himself. According to midrash, Adam's first words were, יהוה מֶלֶךְ עוֹלָם וָעֶד / Adonai malakh olam va'ed: "The LORD is King for ever and ever." God then said, "Now the whole world will know that I am King," and He was very pleased. This was the "tov me'od" (טוֹב מְאד) moment of creation, when God saw all that He had made "and found it very good" (Gen. 1:31). Therefore the name for man (i.e., adam: אָדָם) is connected with the word for "very" (i.e., me'od: מְאד): the birthday of humanity is therefore the Coronation Day for the King of the Universe.

The implication that God is our Creator is enormous and pervades everything else in our lives. God's creative power is witnessed by all conscious life.  The Divine Light that was created before the sun and the stars represents God's immanent presence that "lights up" all of creation  - including our minds (Gen. 1:3). Since we were created b'tzelem Elohim, "in the image of God," the witness of God's truth is foundational to all of our thinking as well.  The revelation (not the invention) of logical first principles is part of God's "signature," if you will, of how the mind is wired to reality. Likewise we have intuitive awareness regarding the existence of moral truth (i.e., the standard of justice and moral law), aesthetic truth (i.e., ideals of beauty, goodness, worth, and love), and metaphysical truth (i.e., cause and effect relationships). "The heavens are recounting the glory of God, and the expanse is proclaiming his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). God's power and presence can be clearly inferred from the tremendous effect of the universe itself.  As Paul stated, "the invisible things of Him (τά ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ) from the creation of the world are clearly seen (καθορω), so that people are without excuse" (Rom. 1:19-20). It is the fear of the LORD (יִרְאַת יהוה) that is truly the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10). The Hebrew word for fearing (ירא) and seeing (ראה) share the same root. We cannot truly see reality apart from reverencing God as the Lord and King of Creation.

It was asked for what purpose mankind was created. One said to purify the soul; another said to gain wisdom; another to serve God. Nay, but understand that man was created to elevate the heavens, to celebrate the heart of the Father, and to be needed by heaven's embrace... To focus on ourselves, on our purification, our "religion," misses the greater point that it is God's love that makes true life possible.

Note: For more on this, see "High Holidays and the Gospel."
 




Covenant of Fire...


 

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

10.15.14  (Tishri 22, 5775)  The six letters of the very first word of the Bible, namely, the word bereshit (בראשׁית), are sometimes compared to the six days of creation. The first and last two letters form the word "covenant" (i.e., brit: ברית) while the remaining (inner) letters form the word "fire" (i.e., esh: אשׁ), suggesting that the act of creation itself is a "Covenant of Fire." Here's a simple diagram to show the relationship:



Words created the universe -- or rather, the Word of God did (בְּרֵאשִׁית הָיָה הַדָּבָר). When the Divine Voice (i.e., the Word of God) spoke cosmic Light into existence (Gen. 1:3), God was not creating the physical light of the Sun or the Moon, since the heavenly bodies were created later (Gen. 1:14). This supernal light was the first expression of God's handiwork outside of Himself, His first revelation of contingent existence (i.e., existence that owes its source, continuance, and end to God's transcendent power and will). The Divine Light forms the canvass, if you will, of God's portraiture of creation (in three-dimensional terms, the Divine Light forms a sort of "container" that becomes the "house" of Creation).  Among other things, this means that ultimate reality is grounded in the Source of Light, Love, and Truth -- regardless of how dark the present hour may appear.... God's Name YHVH means He is always present, and therefore we call upon Him in our time of need (Heb. 4:16).

Note: For more on this subject, see "Covenant of Fire."
 




Creation and Revelation...


 

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

10.15.14  (Tishri 22, 5775)  If you were walking through the woods one day and suddenly found an exquisitely crafted pocket watch lying on the ground, you wouldn't think it had magically "just appeared out of thin air," with no cause or explanation for its presence, much less would you think that the watch was produced by random forces operating in an entirely material universe. On the contrary, as you look closely at the watch and observe its intricacies of design, you marvel over the precisely machined, interlocking gears, calibrated springs, and a beautifully fashioned faceplate that marks motion in meticulous increments. And so it is, with our experience of creation and its complexities and wonders. The existence of a world in all its intricate detail forces a thinking person to recognize the Divine Presence that brought all things into being and sustains them for a greater end. Thus the Kol Dodi rearranges the letters of the word bara (בָּרָא), "to create," to form ba'er (בַּאֵר), "to clarify," since creation clarifies the role of the design and glory of the Creator: "In the beginning, God clarified the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1).
 




The Waters of Life...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, the "Feast of Tabernacles."  ]

10.15.14  (Tishri 22, 5775)  The seventh (and last) day of the festival of Sukkot is called Hoshana Rabba (הוֹשַׁנָא רַבָּא). Hoshana (sometimes transliterated as "Hosanna") comes from the Hebrew phrase hoshia na (הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא), meaning "save us now," combined with "rabbah," meaning "great," to refer to a great corporate plea for salvation. It was on this climactic day of the festival that the people gathered at the Temple for the water ceremony, waving lulavs and circling the courtyard seven times (hakafot) while chanting "Ana Adonai - Hosiah na" (Psalm 118:25), "save us, we pray O LORD!"  The New Testament records that it was also on the last day of Sukkot (i.e., "the great day") - perhaps during the water libation ceremony itself - that Yeshua stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his inmost being will flow rivers of living water'" (John 7:37-38).
 

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·chah  na
ba·rukh  hab·bah  be·shem  Adonai / be·rakh·nu·khem  mi·beit  Adonai

 

"Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, let us thrive!
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
 

The early sages had taught "at the feast of Sukkot judgment is made concerning the waters," referring to the rain needed for the forthcoming planting season. The historian Josephus calls the ceremonial drawing of water from the Pool of Siloam "the very sacred close (συμπέρασμα) of the year," since the amount of rainfall over the next few months would directly impact the harvest in the spring. The need for rain over the winter months in Israel was an ongoing need for the welfare of the people...

"With joy shall you draw water out of the wells of salvation" (Isa. 12:3). Yeshua once encountered a woman who had come to draw water from a well and said, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:13-14). Likewise he taught earlier in his ministry, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6). Just as the people understood they needed physical rain to sustain their physical lives, so Yeshua pointed to himself as the source of "spiritual rain," or "living water" that would sustain their spiritual lives. The "rain of blessing," then, referred to the refreshing power of the Holy Spirit that would become an inner source of life for those who believe... As Yeshua said, "out of his inmost being will flow rivers of living water," which some have thought refers back to the miraculous waters that were given in the desert: "Each soul will be a rock smitten in the thirsty land, from which crystal rivers of life-giving grace shall flow." Indeed the Hallel that is recited during the festival includes the verse: "He turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters" (Psalm 114:8).
 




Irrepressible Creation...


 

[ Parashat Bereshit is always read on the Sabbath following Simchat Torah, and therefore is the very first portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading... ]

10.14.14  (Tishri 21, 5775)  The cosmological dogma that the universe somehow was caused by an enormous (and yet inexplicable) explosion several billions of years ago (i.e., the "big bang") is routinely accepted by people today, though such a theory cannot explain what caused the big bang itself, nor can it explainwhy is there something rather than nothing at all... Moreover, whereas scientific cosmology "omnisciently" claims that the universe came into existence without a discernible reason, that is, groundlessly or without rational warrant, it is somehow considered "irrational" to believe that a personal and holy God created the world for the sake of revealing his love and glory to mankind. In light of this, it is helpful to remember that genuine science involves observation and measurement, and whenever cosmologists extrapolate beyond empirical evidence to explain the origin of the universe, they are creating a myth or a model that is every bit as religious as those who believe God created the universe yesh me'ayin, "out of nothing."
 

הַשָּׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד־אֵל
וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו מַגִּיד הָרָקִיעַ
יוֹם לְיוֹם יַבִּיעַ אמֶר
וְלַיְלָה לְּלַיְלָה יְחַוֶּה־דָּעַת

ha-sha·ma·yim · me·sa·pe·rim · ke·vod · El,
u·ma·a·seh · ya·dav · mag·gid · ha·ra·ki·a;
yom · le·yom · ya·bi·a · o·mer,
ve·lai·la · le·lai·la · ye·cha·veh · da·at
 

"The heavens recount the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims the work of His hands.
Day after day it speaks out;
night after night it reveals His greatness."
(Psalm 19:1-2)



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Simple logic reveals that the universe had a beginning, since it is impossible to traverse an infinite number of moments to arrive at a present moment... Since the universe is indeed present, therefore it necessarily had a beginning. The question of the origin of the universe therefore leads to "inference to the best explanation." On the assumption that the Torah is true, what would we expect to see in light of human history and its values, of good and evil, of love, beauty and truth, and so on... The objections raised to a personal Creator and King are moral more than they are intellectual. It is a matter of the will, not of the evidence itself. There is plenty of "junk science" in the world today that purports to substantiate godlessness. The LORD is revealed intuitively within each human soul, and the impression of the Divine nature is indelibly written on the human heart. As it is written, "God's eternal power and divine nature from the creation of the world are understood through what has been made, so people are without excuse" (Rom 1:20).

If the devil can't kill you, he will try to make you insane... He will lie to you about who you really are... He will harass you and vex your soul; he will whisper fearful things in your ear... He will make what is small seem big and what is big seem small. He will raise dark suspicion within your soul, causing you to draw back in worry. He will remind you of your sins to make you feel ashamed, dirty, and unwelcome. He will hiss that you are unlovable and unworthy. He will argue on behalf of your flesh that you deserve better than this... He will tempt you to seek relief in cisterns of emptiness and futility. Most of all, he will try to cast a spell to make you forget that you are truly a prince or princess of God Almighty... The devil seeks to drive you into the exile of loneliness and despair. Resist him in the Name of the LORD!

Faith affirms that meaning is real, from God, and that each of us has eternal significance in the eyes of heaven... Faith sees the hidden realm of the invisible (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם), the underlying substance (ὑπόστασις) of hope, the conviction of unseen and everlasting good (Heb. 11:1).

Note: For more on this, see the article, "Irrepressible Creation."
 




Seedbed of Creation...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah portion for this Shabbat, parashat Bereshit... ]

10.14.14  (Tishri 21, 5775)  The Book of Genesis (בְּרֵאשִׁית) is truly the "beginning," the "root," and the "seedbed" of all the subsequent Scriptures - including the message of the gospel and the revelation of the New Testament. In Genesis we see the creation and ruin of man through sin, but we take hold of the promise of deliverance through the coming Seed of the woman; in the Book of Exodus (שְׁמוֹת) we see God's powerful redemption secured through the blood of the Lamb; in the Book of Leviticus (וַיִּקְרָא) we encounter communion and atonement in the holy sanctuary; in the Book of Numbers (בַּמִדְבַּר) we experience the leading of God through desert places, and in the Book of Deuteronomy (הַדְּבָרִים) we are renewed by God's faithfulness before we take hold of our inheritance. Ultimately, the concluding book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, serves as a climactic "final chapter" of the story begun in Genesis, where the Tree of Life (עֵץ הַחַיִּים) is restored to the midst of the paradise of God, and the presence of sin and death have been forever eradicated....

Everything begins with the foundational truth that Almighty God is our personal Creator (הַבּוֹרֵא). This is the first principle of all rational thinking: "In the beginning (בְּרֵאשִׁית), God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). Notice that the word "beginning," i.e., bereshit, comes from the word reishit (רֵאשִׁית), meaning first or best (Psalm 111:10), which does not necessarily mean "the beginning" in a temporal sense (הַרִאשׁוֹן), but rather primacy or rulership over all that exists. Indeed, the word includes the root idea of "head" (ראשׁ), which suggests the "head of all things," that is, to the Messiah, the Creative Word of God who is the "head of all beginning and authority" and through Whom and for Whom all things were created (Col. 1:16; 2:10).

For more on this subject, please see: Genesis and the Seedbed of Creation.
 




Beginning Again, Again...


 

[ The following is related to Simchat Torah and the great value of Torah study for our lives... ]

10.13.14  (Tishri 20, 5775)  Each week in synagogues across the world a portion from the Torah (called a parashah) is studied, discussed, and chanted. Jewish tradition has divided the Torah into 54 of these portions - roughly one for each week of the year - so that in the course of a year the entire Torah has been recited during services. The final reading of this cycle occurs on the holiday of Simchat Torah ("Joy of the Torah"), a festival celebrating both the completion of the year's Torah Reading cycle as well as the start of a brand new cycle. Each year, then, we "rewind" the scroll and begin again. The sages have wisely said that you cannot compare studying Torah for the 49th time to studying it for the 50th time....

Our spiritual inheritance is bound up with the Torah: it is part of our story, our history, our heritage (Gal. 3:7; Rom. 4:16; Luke 24:27). The stories of Torah serve as parables and allegories that inform the deeper meaning of the ministry of Messiah: "Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come (1 Cor. 10:11). "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom.15:4). You are no longer a stranger or outsider to the heritage of the LORD (Eph. 2:19). Disciples of Yeshua are called talmidim (תַּלְמִידִים) -- a word that comes from lamad (לָמַד) meaning "to learn." Among other things, then, following the Messiah means becoming a student of the  Scriptures He loved and fulfilled (Matt. 5:17-18; Luke 24:44-45). Only after learning from Yeshua as your Teacher will you be equipped to "go to all the nations and teach" others (Matt. 28:19).
 




Torah First and Last...


 

[ We read the last -- and first -- portion of Torah for the holiday of Simchat Torah... ]

10.13.14  (Tishri 20, 5775)  Our Torah reading for this week is a bit complicated. In addition to the passages we read for the holiday of Sukkot, we will read both the last portion of the Torah (i.e., V'zot HaBerakhah: Deut. 33:1-34:12) as well as the first chapter of Bereshit (i.e., Gen. 1:1-2:3) for the holiday of "Simchat Torah" (which immediately follows Sukkot). Then, on the Sabbath that immediately follows Simchat Torah, we will read the entire portion of Bereshit (i.e., Gen. 1:1-6:8). The upshot is that we have a "double portion" of Torah for this week, friends, as we read the end of the scroll and then "rewind" it to the beginning...

Every year we read the Torah from beginning to end... We do this every year because Talmud Torah - the study of Torah - is an ongoing venture in the life of a Jew.  In this connection, it is interesting to note that the very first letter of the Torah is the Bet (בּ) in the word bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית), and the very last letter of the Torah is the Lamed (ל) in the word Israel (יִשְׂרָאֵל). Putting these letters together we get the word lev (לֵב), "heart," suggesting that the entire Torah - from the first letter to the last - reveals the heart and love of God for us... Moreover, the first letter of Scripture is a Bet (בּ), as explained above, and the last letter is a Nun (ן) in the word "Amen" (אָמֵן), so the whole Bible - from beginning to end - reveals the Person of God the Son (בֶּן) for us...
 

Note:  For more on this subject, see "Every Letter of Torah."
 




Dwelling in the Presence...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, the "Feast of Tabernacles."  ]

10.12.14  (Tishri 19, 5775)  During the holiday of Sukkot we construct a sukkah, a "booth" or temporary structure, that we will "live in" for the holiday week. Living in a sukkah is meant to recall God's surrounding love and care for us as we make our journey through the desert of this world on our way to Zion... It is an attempt to make visible the invisible, to give a glimpse of God's abiding glory. On a spiritual level, however, the essence of Sukkot is "dwelling" or "abiding" in the Divine Presence.  And though the LORD is forever enthroned in heaven as our Creator, our King, and our loving Deliverer, and though indeed the whole earth is filled with His glory (Isa. 6:3), nevertheless we must make a dwelling within our hearts. He stands at the door and knocks (Rev. 3:20). "Where does God dwell," it is asked, "but where He is given a place, a sanctuary, a throne within the heart."
 
Sukkot 5775 - Collage

Left-to-right (top): 1. John with his sons; 2. Judah in the sukkah; 2. Josiah waves lulav;
4. lights on the sukkah roof; 5. Judah holds the etrog
(bottom): 1. faith and Sukkot; 2. beautiful Olga; 3. the Sukkot full moon (and eclipse);
4) the reason for the season; 5) John waves the lulav.
 

Sukkot 5775 - Collage

Left-to-right (top): 1. John reciting kiddush; 2. family in the sukkah; 2. Vadim ha'motzi;
4. Olga lights yom tov candles; 5. the lulav and etrog for Sukkot
(bottom): 1. Peter waves lulav; 2. Judah with lulav; 3. holding up the shofar;
4) one of our ushpizin; 5) hora dance inside the sukkah.
 


 

There are two great questions God always is asking us. The first is "who do you say that I am?" and the second is "will you make a place for me?" Being in a love relationship with God is the goal of life, the "end of the law," and the reason we were created. But we cannot love God apart from understanding his passion for us. The LORD is the "Jealous God," a Consuming Fire, the One who desires all of our heart on the altar (Luke 9:23). Therefore the very first commandment is simply אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ, "I AM the LORD your God" (Exod. 20:2), because without "making a place" God's love within your heart, nothing else will follow.

Note: To see some larger pictures of our Sukkot celebrations, click here.
 




Sukkah of the Heart...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, the "Feast of Tabernacles." Chag Sameach! ]

10.10.14  (Tishri 16, 5775)  The word sukkot (סֻכּוֹת) is the plural of the Hebrew word sukkah (סֻכָּה), meaning a "booth" or "hut." In traditional Judaism, a sukkah is a temporary structure used for "living in" (i.e., primarily eating meals or entertaining guests) throughout the week-long holiday. The purpose of the sukkah is to remind us of how God tenderly cared for the Israelites as they made their trek through the dangers of the desert. God spoke endearingly to Israel: "Follow me into the wilderness, into an unsown land" (Jer. 2:2).

The Scriptures state, "The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down" (Psalm 145:14). It has been said that the word sukkah can be understood as an acronym formed from the words somekh Adonai (סוֹמֵךְ יְהוָה), "the LORD upholds," kol (כָּל), "all," and ha'noflim (הַנּפְלִים), "the ones who fall." This suggests that those who make a sanctuary within their hearts, trusting in God's indwelling Presence, will be upheld and kept from falling (Jude 1:24). God knows I need this truth to be made real in this hour...
 

סוֹמֵךְ יְהוָה לְכָל־הַנּפְלִים
וְזוֹקֵף לְכָל־הַכְּפוּפִים

so·mekh · Adonai · le·khol · ha·no·fe·lim
ve·zo·kef · le·khol · ha·ke·fu·fim

"The LORD upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down"
(Psalm 145:14)



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

The Kotzer Rebbe said that the verse, "this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him" (Exod. 15:2), may be understood as, "this is my God, and I will make a dwelling for Him within me." Though the LORD is forever enthroned in heaven as our Creator, King, and Deliverer, we still make a dwelling within us. He stands at the door and knocks. "Where does God dwell," it is asked, "but where He is given a dwelling place, a sanctuary, a throne within the heart?"
 




Yeshua the Hidden Guest...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles... ]

10.10.14  (Tishri 16, 5775)  The Aramaic word "ushpizin" (אוּשְׁפִּיזִין) refers to the seven "mystical guests" who are said to (metaphorically) visit us during the festival of Sukkot, namely: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David, respectively. According to Jewish tradition, on each night a different guest (i.e., ushpiz: אוּשְׁפִּיז) enters the sukkah, and we are to symbolically welcome them by offering them a place at our table (this is similar to the tradition of Elijah's Cup during Passover). On the first night comes Abraham; on the second, Isaac, and so on. In the Gospel of John we read that Yeshua said he go up to the Feast of Tabernacles "in secret" (ἐν κρυπτῷ), like an ushpiz (John 7:10). During the "middle of the festival," perhaps on the fourth day (the "Day of Joseph"), Yeshua went to the Temple and began teaching the people (John 7:14), and on the last great day, called Hoshana Rabbah, when the High Priest led a parade to the pool of Siloam during the water libation ritual, Yeshua stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink" (John 7:38). Finally, on the morning following the festival, called Shemini Atzeret, Yeshua returned to the Temple and said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12), recalling the words of the prophet: "On that day there shall be no light... and living waters shall flow out of Jerusalem; And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one" (Zech. 14:6,9; Isa. 13:10; 30:26).

Note: For more on this see, "The Seven Ushpizin: Yeshua as the Hidden Guest."
 




Wholeness and Faith..


 

10.09.14  (Tishri 15, 5775)  The Book of Ecclesiastes (megillat Kohelet) is read during the holiday of Sukkot, though you might be surprised to learn that many of the early sages did not want it included as part of the Jewish Scriptures. After all, the philosophy of Kohelet - that we are incapable of fully understanding the purposes of the world, and therefore much of what we think is important is really havel havalim (הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים), "vanity of vanities" - is contrary to a theology of reward and punishment found in the writings of Moses. This question is not unlike the Book of Job and the mysterious question as to why the righteous suffer...  It is to their credit that the sages finally decided to include the scroll as part of the accepted canon, however, since it takes great humility to admit that we must continue to seek God, despite uncertainty and transience of this world. Indeed, we read this book to remind us that lasting meaning and purpose is not found in life lived "under the sun" but rather in knowing and serving God. Solomon therefore concludes his existential reflection as follows: "Fear God and keep his commandments: ki zeh kol-ha'adam (כִּי־זֶה כָּל־הָאָדָם), "for this is the whole man" (Eccl. 12:13), which suggests that those who revere the LORD and obey His Word will be healed of despair and inner vanity...
 

סוֹף דָּבָר הַכּל נִשְׁמָע אֶת־הָאֱלהִים יְרָא
וְאֶת־מִצְוֹתָיו שְׁמוֹר כִּי־זֶה כָּל־הָאָדָם

sof · da·var · ha·kol · nish·ma ·  et · ha-E·lo·him · yir·a
ve·et · mitz·vo·tav · she·mor · ki · zeh · kol · ha·a·dam

 

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God
and keep his commandments: for this is the whole man."
(
Eccl. 12:13)



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

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

Note: For more on this subject, see "Sukkot and Vanity" and "Everlasting Consolation."
 




The Lulav Bouquet...


 

10.09.14  (Tishri 15, 5775)  During Sukkot we use "four species" that symbolize the fruit of the land (Lev. 23:40). The etrog (אֶתְרג), a lemon-like citron, is used as "the fruit of goodly trees," and is often regarded as a symbol of the heart.  The sages say the word "etrog" can be seen as an acronym for "faith (אֱמוּנָה), repentance (תְּשׁוּבָה), healing (רְפֻאָה), and redemption (גְּאֻלָּה)."  The lulav (date palm branch) is said to represent the spine or backbone of a person. Notice that the word lulav (לוּלָב) can be broken down as לוֹ ("to him") and לֵב ("heart"). A person who loves the LORD bekhol levavkha, with all his heart, will be given "spiritual backbone," real conviction and strength.

The Torah states, "On the first day [of Sukkot] you shall take to yourselves the fruit of the goodly tree, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days" (Lev. 23:40). In Jewish tradition, after reciting the Hebrew blessing and shaking the lulav around, it is customary to recite (or sing) the following antiphon from Psalm 136: "Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever."

Shalom and blessings to you all in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah - the One who "tabernacles" with us in the Holy Spirit and who graciously invites all to come within the shelter of His everlasting love.  וַיְהִי בְשָׁלֵם סֻכּוֹ וּמְעוֹנָתוֹ בְצִיּוֹן / vayehi v'shalem sukko, u'me'onato v'Tzion: "His sukkah is in Shalem; His place in Zion" (Psalm 76:3). Though this world is surely under divine judgment, may those who trust in the LORD say: יִצְפְּנֵנִי בְּסֻכּה בְּיוֹם רָעָה / yitzpeneni be'sukkoh be'yom ra'ah, "He will conceal me in His sukkah in the day of trouble" (Psalm 27:5).

Whether you have the opportunity to wave the lulav in a Sukkah or not this year, we sincerely wish you a season of joy as you celebrate the sheltering presence of the LORD Yeshua in your life, chaverim... Chag Sukkot Sameach!




A Prophetic Rejoicing...

Erev Sukkot 5775 - Click larger
 

10.08.14  (Tishri 15, 5775)  Regarding the holiday of Sukkot the Torah states, ve'samchta be'chagekha - "you shall rejoice in your holiday" and ve'hayita akh same'ach - "you shall have nothing but joy" (Deut. 16:14-15). But how can Torah command us to rejoice? Can we be forced to dance, sing, and make merry? Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote, "The Gaon of Vilna said that ve'samchta be'chagekha (וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְּחַגֶּךָ) is the most difficult commandment of Torah, and I could never understand why. Only during the war did I understand. Those Jews who, in the course their journey to the end of hope, managed to dance on Simchat Torah ... taught us how Jews should behave in the face of adversity. For them, ve'samchta be'chagekha was one commandment impossible to observe -- yet they observed it." In this connection, let me add that these words of Torah are ultimately prophetic: "you shall rejoice; you shall have nothing but joy...." That day is coming, when our tears are wiped away and our wounds are forever healed. Amen. Chag Sukkot Same'ach, friends...




Note:  Please remember me, John, in your prayers, dear friends... This has been a difficult season of my life and I need your prayers for this ministry to continue and for God's will to be done. Thank you so much.
 




The Sukkot 2014 Eclipse...


 

10.07.14  (Tishri 14, 5775)  After decorating our Sukkah last night, I spent some time taking pictures of the spectacular lunar eclipse, which occurred from around 2:30 am until 6:00 am in our time zone. Here are a few pictures of the eclipse progression:

Sukkot 5775 Lunar Eclipse
 

Like the Passover eclipse we saw last April, seeing the Sukkot lunar eclipse was both a humbling and a profoundly sacred experience. The following blessing is customarily recited when you witness a remarkable event in God's creation, for instance, when you see an eclipse, a shooting star, or beautiful mountain vista, or some other natural wonder:
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
עשֶׂה מַעֲשֶׂה בְרֵאשִׁית

ba·rukh · at·ta · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · me·lekh · ha·o·lam
o·seh · ma·a·seh · ve·rei·shit

"Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe,
who makes the works of creation."

 

 




Sukkot and the Birth of Isaac...


 

10.07.14  (Tishri 13, 5775)  An ancient midrash dating from the 2nd century BC says that we are to be joyful during Sukkot because it was at this time that Isaac was born: "And we returned in the seventh month, and found Sarah with child before us, and we blessed him, and we announced to him all the things which had been decreed concerning him (Jubilees 16:16). Moved by gratitude to God, Abraham established a festival of joy to celebrate the birth of his long-awaited son by decorating booths (i.e., sukkot) and thanking God for the miracle of his heir. The midrash reads: "And Abraham took branches of palm trees, and the fruit of goodly trees, and every day going round the altar with the branches seven times [a day] in the morning, he praised and gave thanks for all things in joy" (Jubilees 16:31). In other words, Sukkot originally celebrates the birth of Isaac - and by extension, the birth of Yeshua our Messiah, the very Akedah of God!

Note:  For more on this subject, see "Was Jesus born on December 25th?"
 




Sukkot and God's Name...


 

10.07.14  (Tishri 13, 5775)  According to Rashi, Moses gathered the people to assemble the Tabernacle the day following Yom Kippur, that is, the day after he came down from the mountain upon learning the meaning of the name YHVH (Exod. 34:6-7; 35:1-35). For this reason it is traditional to begin building your sukkah on the day following Yom Kippur, recalling the revelation of the covenant of God's mercy: "The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation (my Yeshua); this is my God and I will enshrine Him.
 

עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ וַיְהִי־לִי לִישׁוּעָה
זֶה אֵלִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ אֱלהֵי אָבִי וַאֲרמְמֶנְהוּ

o·zi · ve·zim·rat · Yah · vai·hi · li · li·shu·ah
zeh · E·li · ve·an·ve·hu · E·lo·hei · a·vi · va·a·ro·me·men·hu

 

"The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation;
this is my God and I will enshrine Him, God my Father, and I will exalt Him"
(Exod. 15:2)



 

Yeshua is the inner meaning of the Name YHVH, our song and our salvation!
 




Surrounded by His Sukkah...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles... ]

10.07.14  (Tishri 13, 5775)  The root idea of the word "sukkah" means to cover or surround, as in hedge of protection. The Hebrew root is used when Moses asked to behold God's glory and the meaning of the name YHVH (יהוה), and God said, "Behold there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory overtakes you I will cover you with my hand (וְשַׂכּתִי כַפִּי עָלֶיךָ) until I have passed by (Exod. 33:21-21). The hand of God (יַד־יְהוָה) is our sukkah, and indeed the LORD writes our names upon his palms and sets us as a seal upon his heart (Isa. 49:16; Sol. 8:6). Likewise David affirmed that God would treasured you within his sukkah and elevate you upon the Rock that is Messiah:
 

כִּי יִצְפְּנֵנִי בְּסֻכּה
בְּיוֹם רָעָה יַסְתִּרֵנִי בְּסֵתֶר אָהֳלוֹ
בְּצוּר יְרוֹמְמֵנִי

ki · yitz·pe·nei·ni · be·suk·koh
be·yom · ra·ah · yas·ti·rei·ni · be·se·ter · a·ho·lo
be·tzur · ye·ro·me·mei·ni

 

"For he will cover me in his sukkah
in the day of trouble he will hides me in the secret place of his tent;
on the Rock he elevates me"
(Psalm 27:5)
 


The LORD will "store you" as a treasured person (the word tzafan [צָפַן] means to treasure) in his sukkah, a symbol of his protection of your soul... in the day of trouble he will hide you in his tent, that is, within his dwelling place, under the shadow of his wings he makes you refuge; he will elevate you upon the Rock which is Messiah (1 Cor. 10:4).

Since God's Name (יהוה) means "Presence," "Breath," "Compassion," "Love," "Healing," and so on, we are surrounded by his Sukkah at all times... In other words, you don't have to be in a physical sukkah to be in His sukkah! May God open our eyes to see his glory!

Sukkot Same'ach be'Yeshua (סוכות שמחה בישוע) - Happy Sukkot in Yeshua!
 




Building our Sukkah...

Inside the Sukkah
 

[ The week-long holiday of Sukkot begins Wednesday, Oct. 8th at sundown this year... ]

10.06.14  (Tishri 12, 5775)  Since Sukkot begins just a few days after Yom Kippur, it's always a challenge to put up our sukkah in time. Since the weather yesterday was amenable, we got everything out of the garage, cleaned up the yard, and got to work. After assembling the frame, we laid the supporting beams for the ceiling and covered them with a bamboo schach (roof). Then we put seasonal lights around the beams and began gathering our wall hangings and other things to decorate inside the tent.  Here are a few pictures:
 
Sukkot 5775 - Building the Sukkah

Left-to-right (top): 1. Olga and the boys; 2. etrog with lulav; 2. Judah helping out;
4. the roof beams in place; 5. Israeli flags and lights
(bottom): 1. getting things ready; 2. Judah; 3. winding lights on the roof beams;
4) John looks at the etrog; 5) Josiah's birthday is during Sukkot!
 


 

Hiddur mitzvah (הִדּוּר מִצְוָה) is a phrase that means "making a commandment beautiful," and we want to make our sukkah a place of beauty, a personal mishkan or "tabernacle." The sages note that the idea behind hiddur mitzvah comes from the great Song of Moses: "This is my God and I will enshrine (נָוָה) Him" (Exod. 15:2). Since we are surrounded by God's clouds of glory - and also by a "great cloud of witnesses" who watch as we walk in faith (Heb. 12:1) - it is only fitting to do our best to "enshrine" the LORD!

We have yet to assemble our lulav -- i.e., the fragrant "boquet" made by binding together one date palm branch (lulav), two willow branches (aravot), and three myrtle branches (hadasim), but plan to do so on erev Sukkot. According to midrash, the fruit that Adam and Eve ate was actually the etrog, and yet this fruit is considered most precious as we celebrate Sukkot. But how would etrog, a symbol of our downfall, be made part of our rejoicing unless we celebrate how God brings blessing out of a curse because of Yeshua our Lord... Only Yeshua is able to redeem us from our past and make all things new!

It is written in Psalm 27, "for he will hide me in his Sukkah in the day of trouble ... and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts (teruah) of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD" (Psalm 27:5-6). If all goes well, we will have some "ushpizin" (guests) for the first night of Sukkot on Wednesday evening.  Chag Sukkot Same'ach, friends!

Note:  You can view more Sukkot 5775 pictures here.
 





Note: October 2014 updates continue here.

 





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