Shaddai

Learn Hebrew

Learn Torah

Hebrew for Christians
BS''D
Hebrew for Christians Site Updates

Mah Nishmah?

Hebrew4Christians.com Site Updates

More
Updates

 

Verse of the moment:


 

Can You Help?

Can you help?

New Window  Search the Site

We're on Facebook

Online Forum

Prayer Request (for site updates, see below)

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]
         


Press F5 to refresh this page...

 



 

December 2014 Site Updates
 


His Star Still Shines...


 

12.21.14 (Kislev 20, 5775)  Though the promised birth of Yeshua may have occurred during the holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles), with the incarnation occurring during Chanukah (the Festival of Light), many people of good faith observe the traditional date of December 25th. Regardless of your particular conviction surrounding the date of Messiah's birth, however, the most important point is that he was born to die (Heb. 10:5-7). Indeed, the story of his birth is only significant in relation to His sacrificial death (Mark 8:27-33). The "manger" scene leads directly to the cross. That's the old "gospel story" itself, that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). This matter is of "first importance," namely that Yeshua was born to die for our sins, to make us right with God, and was raised from the dead to vindicate the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 15:3-5). His birth (or rather His incarnation) was the "first step" toward His sacrifice for our deliverance (Heb. 2:9-18).

And while "Christmas" is customarily the time that many people observe the birth of the Savior, it is surely appropriate to celebrate Yeshua's glory as our risen King and Lord every day of our lives.... Therefore I sincerely wish each and every one of you a wonderful Christmas Season.  May we all take time to reflect upon the profound gift of the One who was so great that He emptied Himself (κένωσις) of all His regal glory and power to be clothed in human flesh in order to die as our sin offering before the Father.

Note: For some (hopefully peaceful) discussion about possible birth dates for Yeshua, see "Was Jesus born on December 25th?" For traditional Christmas readings from the New Testament, see Matt. 1:18-2:12, Luke 1:26-2:20.
 




The Revelation of Joseph...


 

[ Our Torah reading for Christmas week is parashat Vayigash... ]

12.21.14 (Kislev 20, 5775)  In our Torah portion this week, Benjamin stood before Joseph accused of the theft of a chalice, while Judah "drew near" (vayigash) and offered to bear the penalty for his brother, pleading with Joseph to spare his father the loss of yet another son. Joseph was so moved by Judah's act of mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice) that he decided the time had finally come for him to reveal his identity to his brothers. After clearing the room, he began speaking in Hebrew and said, אֲנִי יוֹסֵף הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי, "I am Joseph, is my father still alive?" When the brothers drew back in shock and dismay, Joseph said, "Draw near to me, please" (from the same verb nagash) and then explained how God providentially brought him to Egypt to save the family's life....

The revelation of Joseph and his reconciliation with his brothers is a prophetic picture of the acharit hayamim (end of days) when the Jewish people will come to understand that Yeshua is indeed the One seated at the right hand of the majesty on high as Israel's Deliverer. At that time Yeshua will speak comforting words to His long lost brothers and restore their place of blessing upon the earth.  Indeed, the entire story of Joseph is rich in prophetic insight regarding our Lord and Savior.  Vayigash (וַיִּגַּשׁ) means "and he drew near," referring first to Judah's intercession for the sins of his brothers, and then to Joseph's reciprocal desire for the brothers to draw near to him (Gen. 44:18, 45:4). Joseph initiated the reconciliation by saying, גְּשׁוּ־נָא אֵלַי / g'shu na elai - "Please draw near to me," and indeed there is a play on the verb nagash (נָגַשׁ), "draw near," throughout this story. Yeshua is depicted both in Judah's intercession (as the greater Son of Judah who interceded on behalf of the sins of Israel) and in Joseph's role as the exalted Savior of the Jewish people in time of tribulation.  When Joseph disclosed himself and asked, "Is my father alive," we hear Yeshua evoking the confession of faith from the Jewish people: "I am Yeshua: do you now understand that My Father is alive?" Upon His coming revelation, all Israel will confess that indeed God the Father is "alive" and has vindicated the glory of His Son.

Note:  For more information, please read the Torah summary page for Vayigash and its related articles. You can also download the Shabbat "Table Talk" for the portion here:
 


Rosh Chodesh and Winter Solstice...

Note:
Tonight at sundown is Rosh Chodesh Tevet, the Winter Solstice, and the shortest day of the year... Chodesh Tevet marks the 10th month of the Torah's calendar (counting from the first month of Nisan). This was the fateful month that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon besieged Jerusalem before the Temple was destroyed in 586 BC (2 Kings 25:1; Jer. 39:1; Ezek. 24:1-2). The name of the tenth month is explicitly called Tevet (טֵ'ֵת) in the Scriptures (see Esther 2:16). Rosh Chodesh Tevet is sometimes observed as one day and sometimes as two, because the preceding month (Kislev) is sometimes "full" (consisting of 30 days) and sometimes deficient (consisting of only 29 days). With a two-day Rosh Chodesh, the first day is the 30th day of the preceding month (i.e., Kislev 30th), and its second day is the first day of the following month. Chodesh Tov, chaverim!


 




A Great Miracle Happened...


 

[ This evening at sunset begins the Sabbath of Chanukah week... Shabbat shalom friends! ]

12.19.14 (Kislev 27, 5775)  Each side of a dreidel (a four-sided spinning top used for Chanukah) has a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet: Nun (נ), Gimmel (ג), Hey (ה), and Shin (שׁ), which together form the acronym, Nes Gadol Hayah Sham (נֵס גָדוֹל הָיָה שָׁם) "a great miracle happened there," referring to the victory of the Macabees. In Israel, however, the letter Shin is replaced with the letter Pey (פּ) to form the acronym, Nes Gadol Hayah Poh (נֵס גָדוֹל הָיָה פּה), meaning "a great miracle happened here," referring to Temple and the land of Israel.  Because Chanukah represents Yeshua, the true Light of the World, we likewise can say: Nes Gadol Hayah Poh, "a great miracle happened here," referring to the Temple of our hearts, when the Light of the LORD overcame our darkness and gave us everlasting hope and consolation...

Thank God that after Yeshua was crucified and died for our transgressions, the parochet in the Temple (i.e, the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple) was torn from top to bottom, thereby opening the way of access to the Divine Presence for all who are willing to come in faith...  The light of God's love now shines for us all!
 




Waking Up to the Light...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Chanukah... ]

12.19.14 (Kislev 27, 5775)  Some people seem to sleepwalk through their days, without ever waking up... They miss life's wonder; they close their eyes to the Divine Presence; they shun asking the "big questions" because this disturbs their prejudices; indeed, they would rather be entertained, mesmerized, and rendered unconscious. Many people prefer to be put under a hypnotic spell than to be brought back to reality; they actually want their illusions and virtual lives! The first step of deliverance is to confess that we are asleep, and that we prefer sleep to opening our eyes to the truth. As it is written, "it is light that makes everything visible; therefore it says, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and the Messiah will shine on you" (Eph. 5:14). Arise and shine, for your light has come:
 

קוּמִי אוֹרִי כִּי בָא אוֹרֵךְ
 וּכְבוֹד יְהוָה עָלַיִךְ זָרָח

kumi  ori  ki  va  orrekh
ukhvod  Adonai  alayikh  zarach
 

"Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you."
(Isa. 60:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 

It is not easy to wake up, to rouse ourselves, to find focus, concentration, "kavanah," - and yet spiritually speaking it is essential. Hence Yeshua repeatedly asked his disciples: "Do you now believe?" May God have mercy upon us and help us arise to behold His glorious light!
 

Chanukah 5775 Collage - Day 3

Chanukah Day 3
 




Teshuvah's Like-for-Like...


 

[ Our Torah reading for the Shabbat of Chanukah is parashat Miketz, i.e., Gen. 41:1-44:17. ]

12.19.14 (Kislev 27, 5775)  It is said that genuine teshuvah (repentance) is evident when a person is confronted with the same temptation to which he previously succumbed, but successfully withstands the test and resists.  Joseph's brothers demonstrated teshuvah when they refused to abandon their father's favorite son to the "pit" of an Egyptian prison cell (Gen. 44:16-17). Once the brothers offered to suffer the same fate as falsely accused Benjamin, Joseph knew they had repented and were no longer the same people who had betrayed him when he was a young man...

Note that next week we will read how Judah offered to sacrifice his life for his brother, and this act led to the revelation of Joseph...
 




God's Healing Light...


 

12.18.14 (Kislev 26, 5775)  Happy Chanukah, friends! The Torah records that God's first words were: "Let there be light" (i.e., yehi or: יְהִי אוֹר) and then states that "God separated (וַיַּבְדֵּל) the light from the darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). It is this "separation," or distinction, that is foundational to the concept of kedushah (קְדֻשָּׁה), or "holiness," a word that first appears regarding the distinction between ordinary and sacred time: "God blessed the seventh day and made it holy" (יְקַדֵּשׁ) because on it God rested from all his work that he had created to do" (Gen. 2:3). Likewise we are called away from the darkness to come into the divine light. Indeed the very purpose of salvation is "to turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God" (Acts 26:18). Hashivenu, Adonai...

When the darkness seems to enshroud your way, pray for God's light to be rekindled within your soul. Keep faith that your gloom will soon pass, and that darkness and despair will not be your final end. Your mourning will find its comfort, your tears will be wiped away, and your grief will find its solace... Ask God to transform your heartache into the holy resolve to live and die for the truth of His great love.

Chanukah 5775 Collage - Day 2

Chanukah Day 2
 




The Light Still Shines...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Chanukah, which began last night at sundown... ]

12.17.14 (Kislev 25, 5775)  Chanukah is important because it stands in opposition to the propaganda of humanism and its ongoing attempt to deny the reality of the Divine Presence in our lives... It makes bold the statement that reality is not reducible to merely natural categories, and it repudiates the "Hellenistic" conceit that all religions are true, and it especially rejects the arrogant notion that the LORD God of Israel is just "one more member" of some globalist pantheon... Chanukah adamantly denies the politically correct dogma that despair is the universal condition of humanity and that darkness will finally extinguish the light. Like the gospel message, Chanukah scandalizes human rationalism and the solipsism that affirms that "man is the measure of all things." "For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world (νικᾷ τὸν κόσμον); and this is the victory that has overcome the world- our faith" (1 John 5:4).

Think counterculturally. It is written: Do not let your mind be conformed (lit., "squeezed into the mold") of this world, but be transformed (μεταμορφόω, i.e., metamorphosized like a caterpillar is changed into a butterfly) by the renewal of your mind (Rom. 12:2). The Greek word translated "renewal" is ἀνακαίνωσις,  from ἀνά, meaning "into the midst," and καινός, meaning "newness." The idea here is that we are inwardly transfigured as we take hold of the truth of the new covenant and make it central to our lives. For this we must "put on the mind of Messiah" and repudiate the world's values and vain philosophy (1 Cor. 2:16). "When the devil is called the god of this world, it is not because he made it, but because people serve him with worldliness." The "god of this world" blinds the eyes of those who do not believe so they cannot see the truth of the gospel of Messiah (2 Cor. 4:4). The philosophy of this world is always based on lies, propaganda, fear, lust, pride, anger, appeals to vanity, and so on.  We must be vigilant, friends, and use discernment by testing the world's assumptions against the truth of the Scriptures.

Chanukah 5775 Collage - Day 1

Chanukah Day 1

Left-to-right (top): 1. John with Judah and Josiah; 2. Day One; 3. Shine; 4. Gelt and dreidels;
(bottom): 1. Window Decoration; 2. Olga and Josiah; 3. Judah joy; 4. Chanukah glow
 

The darkness of this world is forever swept back before the overmastering radiance and power of Yeshua, the King of Glory, the Root and Descendant of David, and the Bright Morning Star (Rev. 22:16). Those who believe in Him are given the "light of life" that overcomes the darkness of this world (John 8:12). Chag Urim Sameach!
 




Love Believes all things...


 

12.17.14 (Kislev 25, 5775)  "I would have fainted unless I believed to see the goodness of the LORD..." (Psalm 27:13). Faith is therefore self-authenticating: as you trust in the good, the good will be revealed. As Yeshua said, "According to your faith be it done unto you" (Matt. 9:29). And if it is faith that makes you whole, then its lack makes you sick... As you doubt, so you will lose sight of what is real, true, and abiding.  Being cynical is cowardly: "There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true" (Kierkegaard). A cynic refuses the possibility of truth because he is afraid of being fooled, and for this fear he willingly closes his eyes to the good. "Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact" (William James). When we trust God's promises, we affirm an unseen good even if the present hour is shrouded in darkness. Faith sees beyond "the seen" to the unseen (2 Cor. 4:18). The "seen" is not ultimately real, and consequently faith is exiled from the vanity of the present hour. Therefore affirm your faith, friend. Refuse the darkness of fear by choosing to believe in the reality of God's love for your soul, despite the mess you've made of your life. Affirm that God's love is more real, more substantive, and more valuable than anything disclosed in this world that fades away.
 




Heeding the Call of Hope...

Tochelet - by J Parsons
 

[ The Festival of Chanukah begins tonight after sundown... ]

12.16.14 (Kislev 24, 5775)  The only way out of the painful ambiguity of life is to hear a message from the higher world, the Heavenly Voice, that brings hope to our aching and troubled hearts: "Faith comes by hearing the word of Messiah - ῥῆμα Χριστοῦ" (Rom. 10:17). And yet what is the meaning of this message if it is not that all shall be made well by heaven's hand? There is hope, there is hope, and all your fears will one day be cast into outer darkness, swallowed up by God's unending comfort... "Go into all the world and make students (תַּלְמִידִים) of all nations" (Matt 28:19), and that means sharing the hope that what makes us sick - our depravity and despair - has been healed by Jesus, and that we escape the gravity of our own fallenness if we accept his invitation to receive life in him. "For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God outshines my darkness."
 

כִּי־אַתָּה תָּאִיר נֵרִי
 יְהוָה אֱלהַי יַגִּיהַּ חָשְׁכִּי

ki attah tair neri
Adonai Elohai yagiah choshki
 

"For it is you who light my lamp;
 the LORD my God outshines my darkness."
(Psalm 18:28)
 


Hebrew Study Card
 

Exercising faith means actively listening to the Eternal Voice, the Word of the LORD that calls out in love in search of your heart's trust... To have faith means justifying God's faith in you, that is, understanding that you are worthy of salvation, that you truly matter to God, and that the Voice calls out your name, too.... Living in faith means consciously accepting that you are accepted by God's love and grace. Trusting God means that you bear ambiguity, heartache, and darkness, yet you still allow hope to enlighten your way.

The Rizhiner Rebbe once said, "Let your light penetrate the darkness until the darkness itself becomes the light and there is no longer a division between the two. As it is written, "And there was evening and there was morning, one day." Yea, the darkness and the light are both alike unto Thee, O LORD, as it is written: "If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you" (Psalm 139:11-12).
 

    "To have faith is to perceive the wonder that is here, and to be stirred by the desire to integrate the self into the holy order of being. Faith does not spring out of nothing. It comes with the discovery of the holy dimension of our existence. Faith means to hold small things great, to take light matters seriously, to distinguish between the common and the passing from the aspect of the lasting. It is from faith from which we draw the sweetness of life, the taste of the sacred, the joy of the imperishably dear. It is faith that offers us a share in eternity." - Abraham Heschel
     

We walk by faith, not by sight - by hearing the Word of God, heeding what the Spirit of God is saying to the heart... For now we "see through a glass darkly," which literally means "in a riddle" (ἐν αἰνίγματι).  A riddle is an analogy given through some resemblance to the truth, though quite often the correspondences are puzzling and obscure. Hence, "seeing through a glass darkly" means perceiving obscurely or imperfectly, looking "through" something else instead of directly apprehending reality. This is contrasted with the "face to face" (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים) vision and clarity given in the world to come, when our knowledge will be clear and distinct, and the truth of God will no longer be hidden. Being "face to face" with reality means being free of the riddles, the analogies, the semblances, etc., which cause us to languish in uncertainty... Now we know in part, but then shall we know in whole.

In light of the obscurity of life in this temporary age, we are encouraged not to lose heart, since though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being raised into newness (ἀνακαινόω) day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). "For our light and transient troubles are achieving for us an everlasting glory whose weight is beyond description, because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17).

Therefore we "walk by faith, not by sight," as if the invisible is indeed visible. We must stay strong and keep hope, for through hope we are saved (Rom. 8:24). Faith is the conviction (ἔλεγχος) of things unseen (Heb. 11:1). Do not be seduced by mere appearances; do not allow yourself to be bewitched into thinking that this world should ever be your home. No, we are strangers and pilgrims here; we are on the journey to the reach "the City of Living God, to heavenly Jerusalem, to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven" (Heb. 12:22-23). Therefore do not lose heart. Keep to the narrow path. Set your affections on things above since your real life is "hidden with God" (Col. 3:1-4). Do not yield to the temptation of despair. Look beyond the "giants of the land" and reckon them as already fallen. Keep pressing on. Chazak, chazak, ve-nit chazek - "Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!" Fight the good fight of the faith. May the LORD our God help you take hold of the eternal life to which you were called (1 Tim. 6:12).
 




Light in our Darkness...


 

[ The following entry is related to parashat Vayishlach... ]

12.16.14 (Kislev 24, 5775)  "Jacob called the name of the place "the Face of God" (i.e., Peniel: פְּנִיאֵל) saying, "For I have seen God face to face (פּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), and yet my life has been delivered" (Gen. 32:30). And where did Jacob see God "face to face" except in the struggle of faith, while seeking the blessing, even in the midst of his own inner conflict? And here too may we find the Shining Presence, the Face of God, even in the midst of our troubled lives, as we struggle, refusing to let go until we are taken hold by God's love...

The "name of the place" (שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם) here refers to the heart, the place of God, the inner sanctuary. Where it says, "let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8), the text literally reads, let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell within them (בְּתוֹכָם), that is, within their hearts. Hamakom is the holy ground of the heart; the Place within where He is known in awe...

Note that even after he was renamed "Israel," the Torah continues to call Jacob by his old name... The sages note that if we drop the Yod from the name Jacob (i.e., Ya'akov: יַעֲקב), we have ekev (עקב), the word "heel," symbolically referring to the lowest level of existence. Adding Yod (י) to the heel is to have the Spirit lead you, even in the lowest of places.
 




Chanukah and Prophecy...


 

12.15.14 (Kislev 23, 5775)  Many Bible scholars say that the prophet Daniel (6th Century BC) foresaw the rise of Alexander the Great centuries beforehand in the vision of a "male goat running from the west" that had a conspicuous horn between its eyes (see Dan. 8:1-12; 21-22). This goat destroyed the power of the kings of Media and Persia (symbolized by two horns on a ram, Dan. 8:20). Though the "goat" (Alexander) became exceedingly great, eventually its horn was "broken into four [kingdoms]," and out of these four horns arose a "little horn" (i.e., the Seleucid king Antiochus "Epiphanes," c. 175-163 BC) who had authority over "the glorious land" (i.e., Israel). This "little horn" (קֶרֶן מִצְּעִירָה) greatly magnified itself, cast down some of the stars (i.e., righteous souls), took away the sacrifices, and defiled the very Sanctuary in Jerusalem.

Antiochus is perhaps most notorious for setting up an altar to Zeus over the altar of burnt offering in Temple compound and sacrificing a pig within the Sanctuary of the Temple itself. This sacrilege is otherwise known as the "abomination of desolation" (שִׁקּוּץ מְשׁמֵם) that was decreed to occur 2,300 days into Antiochus' reign (Dan. 8:13-14). Notice, however, that Daniel's prophecy has a "dual aspect" to it, and the description of the rise of the "little horn" (in Dan. 8:9-10) suggested something far more portentous than the reign of a local tyrant.  This horn "grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the glorious land. It grew great, even to the host of heaven. And some of the host and some of the stars it threw down to the ground and trampled on them."

In light of other New Testament scriptures, it is clear that this "exceedingly great horn" refers to future world leader (sometimes called the "Antichrist") who would one day attempt to "assimilate" all of humanity into a "New World Order" (Dan. 9:26-27, 2 Thess. 2:3; Rev. 13:7-9, etc.). It is likely that it was this sense of the "abomination that makes desolation" that Yeshua referred to in Matt. 24:15 and Mark 13:14, and it is this "abomination that makes desolation" that will be overthrown by Yeshua at the end of the Great Tribulation period (Dan. 8:23-25; Matt. 24:30; Rev. 19:11-16; 20:2, etc.).

 

The intertestamental Book of Maccabees (c. 2nd Century BC) tell us more about this "little horn" and his vicious oppression of the Jewish people. Antiochus installed Hellenistic Jews to the priesthood and demanded the adherence to Hellenistic cultural ideals. He established edicts that prohibited observing the weekly Sabbath and the other biblical festivals. The reading of the Torah was outlawed and all copies of it were ordered to be burned. Temple sacrifices were forbidden; circumcision was outlawed and the penalty for disobedience was death. Women who disobeyed the edict by circumcising their sons were paraded about the city with their babies hanging at their breasts and then thrown down from the top of the city wall (2 Macc. 6:1-11). Many Jews fled and hid in the wilderness and caves and many died kiddush HaShem - as martyrs (see Heb. 11:36-39). Eventually Jewish resistance to this imposed Hellenization meant war. In 164 BC, in Modin, a small town about 17 miles from Jerusalem, Mattityahu (Matthias), a Hasmonean priest, and his five sons took refuge. When Antiochus' soldiers arrived at Modim to erect an altar to Zeus and force the sacrifice of a pig, Mattityahu and his sons rose up and killed the Syrians. They then fled to the Judean wilderness and were joined by other freedom fighters.  After some organizing, they soon engaged in successful guerrilla warfare against their Syrian/Greek oppressors. The three-year campaign culminated in the cleansing and rededication of the Temple (for more on this subject, see Chanukah and Spiritual Warfare).

Note:  For more on this subject, see "Why Christians should celebate Chanukah."
 




Inner Light of Love...


 

12.15.14 (Kislev 23, 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." Ultimately Chanukah is about salvation and transformation - beauty from ashes - and the love of God...
 




The Miketz Prophecies...


 

[ Our Torah reading for the Shabbat of Chanukah is parashat Miketz, i.e., Gen. 41:1-44:17. ]

12.15.14 (Kislev 23, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week is miketz (מקץ), a word that means "at the end," and therefore it points to the prophetic future (i.e., the "end of days" or acharit ha-yamim). Just as Joseph was a "dreamer" who was betrayed by his brothers but was promoted to a place of glory by the hidden hand of God, so Yeshua was betrayed by his people yet was exalted over all the nations (מֶלֶךְ הַגּוֹיִם). And just as Joseph later disguised himself as a "stranger" and an "Egyptian" to his brothers but was finally revealed to be their savior, so will the Jewish people eventually come to see that Yeshua is the true Savior of Israel. Then will come true the hope of Rav Sha'ul (the Apostle Paul) who wrote, "And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, 'There shall come out of Zion the Redeemer (גּוֹאֵל) who shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob'" (Rom. 11:26).

Note: For more on this important topic, see "Joseph and his brothers."
 




Parashat Miketz - מקץ

Tzofnat Pane'ach -
 

[ The eight days of Chanukah run from Tues. Dec. 16th (i.e., Kislev 25) through Tues. Dec. 23rd this year. The weekly Torah reading is not suspended for Chanukah (as it is for Passover and Sukkot), though additional Torah readings are read for each of the eight days of the holiday. ]

12.14.14 (Kislev 22, 5775)  In our Torah portion for Chanukah week, we read how Joseph successfully interpreted Pharaoh's dreams and quickly rose to power in Egypt. Because of a famine in the land of Canaan, however, his brothers came to Egypt in search of food. A disguised Joseph then tested his brothers to see whether they were the same people who had callously sold him into slavery, or whether they had undergone teshuvah (repentance).

The eventual revelation of Joseph and his reconciliation with his brothers is a prophetic picture of acharit ha-yamim (the "End of Days") when Israel, in Great Tribulation, will come to accept Yeshua as Israel's true deliverer.  Presently, the veil is still over the eyes of the Jewish people and they collectively regard Yeshua as an "Egyptian" of sorts. In this connection, I list some of the ways that Joseph is a "type" or foreshadowing of the coming Yeshua as the Suffering Servant (see "Mashiach ben Yosef").

For more information, please read the Torah summary page for Miketz and its related articles. You can also download the Shabbat "Table Talk" for the portion here:
 

Note:  This year the eight days of Chanukah begin on Tuesday, December 16th at sundown (1st candle) and will run through Tuesday, December 23rd. The tradition is that on the first night of Chanukah one flame is lit, on the second night two, and so on until the eighth night when eight flames are lit. In this way we remember the 'growth' of the miracle. We also read a small section of Torah for each of the days of Chanukah. See the Parashat hashavu'ah page for more information.

 




Let your light shine...



 

12.12.14 (Kislev 20, 5775)  Shabbat Shalom, dear friends of the Messiah... When God said, "Let there be light, and there was light" (Gen. 1:3), He seemed to put on light as a robe of the Divine Majesty and Kingship: He wrapped Himself with infinite radiance and power... Therefore: Da lifnei mi attah omed (דַּע לִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עוֹמֵד) "Know before whom you stand." The whole earth is lit up with God's glory, and every bush of the field is aflame before us -- if we have eyes to see (Isa. 6:3). May it please the LORD to open our spiritual eyes so that we can behold more of His glory and majesty in this hour... Amen.
 

בָּרַכִי נַפְשִׁי אֶת־יְהוָה
יְהוָה אֱלהַי גָּדַלְתָּ מְּאד הוֹד וְהָדָר לָבָשְׁתָּ
 עטֶה־אוֹר כַּשַּׂלְמָה נוֹטֶה שָׁמַיִם כַּיְרִיעָה

barakhi nafshi et Adonai
Adonai Elohai gadalta meod hod vehadar lavashta;
oteh ohr kasalmah noteh shamayim kayeriah
 

"Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
 covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out
the heavens like a curtain." (Psalm 104:1-2)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

Hebrew Study Card
 

The whole earth is lit up with God's radiant glory, and every bush of the field is aflame before us -- if we have eyes to see (Isa. 6:3). May it please the LORD to open our spiritual eyes so that we can behold more of His glory and majesty in this hour... Stay strong and be of good courage, chaverim. You are loved and appreciated. Amen.
 




Flowers of Providence...


 

12.12.14 (Kislev 20, 5775)  "Why are you so anxious? Take a lesson from the wildflowers... They neither toil nor spin, yet even Solomon in all his royal glory was not arrayed like one of these ... And if your heavenly Father gives such attention to the appearance of flowers, many of which grow in unseen places, surely he will attend to you, too" (Matt. 6:28-30). So relax; do not let worry blind you to God's ongoing care; do not live as those without faith. As his child, you have a place in your Father's heart; you have a share in his house above. See the Lord as your Dwelling Place "in all generations"; behold his unchanging glory despite the fleeting shadows of this world.
 

אֲדנָי מָעוֹן אַתָּה הָיִיתָ לָּנוּ בְּדר וָדר

Adonai maon attah hayita lanu bedor vador
 

"O Lord, you have been our dwelling place in every generation"
(Psalm 90:1)



 

The Eternal is our refuge, our "dwelling place," in all generations, and that means in the present generation as well, on the other side of fleeting appearances of this world. When we pray to God as Avinu She-bashamayim, "Our Father in Heaven," we are calling to the One (שֶׁ) who is in (בּ) the midst of the waters (שָׁמָיִם) of Life. As we contemplate God's Eternality and power, may we realize the wonder and sanctity of our short time here.

The bloom of every flower is by eternal purpose, and not one common sparrow is forgotten by your Heavenly Father (Luke 12:6). God's irresistible providence comprehends and orders all things, in every possible world -- from the realm of the subatomic to the cosmic motions of the heavenly bodies. The LORD is the Center: "All things were created by Him, and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "hold together") (Col. 1:16-17). In light of God's providential ordering of our lives, 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." The Mishnah says it this way: "Do His will as if it was your will that He may do your will as if it was His will" (Avot 2:4). In other words, what else can we do but learn to trust, accept, and to say "yes" to life -- even if at times we may feel like strangers in exile... All our days are ordained; recorded in God's scroll. Therefore may God "teach us to number our days to get a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).
 




That which God fears...


 

12.12.14 (Kislev 20, 5775)  From our holy Torah we read: "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God..." (Deut. 10:12). Notice that "fear of the LORD," yirat Adonai (יִרְאַת יהוה), comes first. The sages say that to fear the LORD means that your fear should be like God's fear. But what could God possibly fear, you ask? Only this: that you will turn away from his love. To fear God doesn't mean fearing his punishment as much as it means fearing that which breaches the relationship He desires with you. That is the wound of God's heart, and that is what God "fears." One of the greatest of sins is to forget who you really are: a beloved child of God. To fear the LORD means you understand how dear you are to His heart...

It is written that the fear of the LORD is "the beginning of wisdom (רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה)," but it also the beginning of the inner experience of God's love... Without the fear of the LORD, you will walk in darkness and be unable to turn away from evil (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10; 10:27; 14:27, 15:33; 16:6); you will find yourself alone, in a place of sadness and vexation, of despair and inner pain. The Spirit of God's love plainly declares that "the fear of the LORD leads to life (יִרְאַת יְהוָה לְחַיִּים, lit. "is for life"):
 

יִרְאַת יהוה לְחַיִּים וְשָׂבֵעַ יָלִין בַּל־יִפָּקֶד רָע

yirat  Adonai  lechayim,  vesave'a  yalin  bal  yippaked  ra
 

"The fear of the LORD leads to life, and the one who has it rests satisfied
and is untouched by evil" (Prov. 19:23)


 


Some people tend to get this backwards, or they may underestimate the seriousness of the issue. The problem is not that people sometimes sin and therefore risk being sent to hell, but rather that people are incorrigible sinners that presently exist in state of hell... Human nature is incurably sick; the wound of our mortality is indeed fatal (Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21-23). As Yeshua taught, the way out of bondage to sinful human nature is through the miracle of spiritual rebirth (John 3:3-8; 8:44). When we accept God's love we are delivered from the guilt that justly condemns our souls (Col. 1:13). As it is says "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (John 3:18). In other words, unless you truly repent by accepting God's love, you risk an eternally loveless existence...  It must be remembered that God does not want any one to perish but for all to be in loving relationship with Him (2 Peter 3:9). "God our Savior desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4). However, "hell is a room locked from the inside," and if you steadfastly refuse to be loved, God Himself will respect your decision...

All this resolves to a sober question about your spiritual identity... Do you believe you are a redeemed child of God? Are you spiritually reborn? Do you accept His love and deliverance, or do you make it conditional, based on your performance? This is not about mere ethics, friends - the world is filled with various kinds of ethical philosophy, after all. No, this is a question about ontology - about who you really are; it's a question about what you are trusting, and it centers on the presence of the miracle within your heart.

We are saved by hope (Rom. 8:24). May you fall before the cross in fear of your sins, but may you be raised up by the reality of God's love for your soul... May you then walk in the awe of God's glorious mercy, "to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul." Amen.
 




Chanukah and Vigilance...

John (Hebrew for Christians)
 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah runs from Dec. 16th - Dec. 23rd this year... ]

12.11.14 (Kislev 19, 5775)   A central message of Chanukah is to resist being "assimilated" into this dark world and its benighted culture.  As it says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed (i.e., transfigured by the light) through the renewal (ἀνακαίνωσις) of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God" (Rom. 12:2). Notice that the Greek word translated "conformed" is a passive verb (συσχηματίζω, derived from σύν, "with," + σχῆμα, "matrix") which means that we must consciously resist being lulled into accepting this world's various ideologies (matrix) that are crafted to ignore Divine the Presence and Truth. In the realm of the spiritual, there is simply no place of neutrality, and if we are not going forward, then it's likely we are going backward... Therefore we are repeatedly commanded to test the spirits (including our own!) and to examine truth claims. We ask God for wisdom and use the discernment from the Holy Spirit.
 

הַשְׁלִיכוּ מֵעֲלֵיכֶם אֶת־כָּל־פִּשְׁעֵיכֶם
אֲשֶׁר פְּשַׁעְתֶּם בָּם
וַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה

hashlikhu mealekhem et kol pishekhem
asher peshaetem bam
vaasu lakhem lev chadash veruach chadashah
 

"Cast away from you all the transgressions
 that you have committed,
and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit."
(Ezek. 18:31)


 
Hebrew Study Card
 

We must exercise diligence to ensure we are taken captive by the world and its seductive deceptions.  Both Passover and Chanukah celebrate spiritual freedom, and indeed the very first word given at Sinai was "I AM the LORD thy God who brought you out (הוֹצֵאתִיךָ)... of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). God's first concern is to be known as your Deliverer, the God of your freedom. Therefore the Spirit of God says, "Thou shalt be free" (2 Cor. 3:17; Gal. 5:1). Set your focus, then, on the Divine Presence and refuse to live in fear of mere men and their political schemes. God has an appointment scheduled with the princes of this world, though we trust he is our Good Shepherd who will keep us from the wrath to come...
 




Receiving the Light...


 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah runs from Dec. 16th - Dec. 23rd this year... ]

12.11.14 (Kislev 19, 5775)   The essence of Chanukah is simply to receive the light, to bear witness of the radiance of God's victory. We celebrate the work of God, his salvation (יְשׁוּעָה), and the triumph of his love. Therefore its message is "wake up, open your eyes, and believe" the good news: darkness and despair will not prevail; your mourning will find comfort, your grief its solace. Your heart's deepest longing shines brightly, even now, if you will but believe... With God's help, fight the darkness of fear...
 

קוּמִי אוֹרִי כִּי בָא אוֹרֵךְ
 וּכְבוֹד יְהוָה עָלַיִךְ זָרָח

kumi  ori  ki  va  orrekh
ukhvod  Adonai  alayikh  zarach
 

"Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you."
(Isa. 60:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 


The LORD said to Moses from the midst of the shining flame: 'Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy' (Exod. 3:5). The Chofetz Chaim comments: "We all need to rise higher... Never say, I will be able to lift myself up at another time or different place. By faith see that this place, right now, is holy ground, and awaits your response." May God open the "eyes of our heart" to help us see (Eph. 1:18-19).


Related Chanukah Topics:

 




Gospel in Few Words...


 

[ I wrote this entry last year but it is worth repeating now, just before the holiday season... ]

12.10.14 (Kislev 18, 5775)   Can you expound the essential meaning of the gospel in a single (and preferably short) sentence? How about "Yeshua the Messiah came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim 1:15), or perhaps, "For our sake he made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21)? Of course "unpacking" the meaning of these sentences is where things get more difficult, but a succinct expression of faith can often provide us with a starting point...

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed" (וּבַחֲבֻרָתוֹ נִרְפָּא־לָנוּ). "For in him all the fullness (πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα) of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the message (εὐαγγέλιον) that you heard" (Col 1:19-23).

"For the Messiah also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous (δίκαιος ὑπὲρ ἀδίκων), that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit" (1 Pet. 3:18). "And God is so rich in mercy (מָלֵא רַחֲמִים) and who loves us with such intense love (בְּרב אַהֲבָתוֹ אֲשֶׁר אָהַב אתָנוּ), even when we were dead because of our acts of disobedience, he brought us to life along with the Messiah- it is by grace that you have been delivered (בַּחֶסֶד נוֹשַׁעְתֶּם). That is, God raised us up with the Messiah Yeshua and seated us with him in heaven, in order to exhibit in the ages to come how infinitely rich is his grace, how great is his kindness toward us who are united with the Messiah Yeshua. For you have been delivered by grace through trusting, and even this is not your accomplishment but God's gift" (Eph. 2:4-8).

And of course there is always the old "stand by" verse of John 3:16:
 

כִּי־כֵן אהֵב אֱלהִים אֶת־הָעוֹלָם
עַד־אֲשֶׁר נָתַן בַּעֲדוֹ אֶת־בְּנוֹ אֶת־יְחִידוֹ
וְכָל־הַמַּאֲמִין בּוֹ לא־יאבַד
כִּי בוֹ יִמְצָא חַיֵּי עוֹלָם׃

ki-khen  ohev  Elohim  et-haolam,
ad-asher  natan  baado  et-beno  et-yechido,
vekhol-hamaamin  bo,  lo-yovad
ki  vo  yimtza  chayei  olam
 

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only and unique Son,
so that whoever trusts in Him should not be destroyed, but have eternal life"
(John 3:16)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Here are a few other simplified expressions of our faith (I am sure you can come up with some others, chaverim): "He has freed us from our sins by his blood" (Rev. 1:5); "he that has the Son has life" (1 John 5:12); "Yeshua died for our sins, was buried, rose again on the third day, and forever reigns" (1 Cor. 15:3-4,25).

Let's push this approach a bit further.  How about just four words?


Three words?


Can we find two words?

  • "Messiah Crucified" (המָּשִׁיחַ הַנִּצְלָב);
  • "Jesus Saves"
  • "My help" (בְּעֶזְרָתִי)
     

Or how about just one word:

  • Chesed / love (חֶסֶד)
  • Abba (Father)
  • Spirit (הָרוּחַ)
  • Truth (הָאֱמֶת)
  • Hope (תִקוָה)
  • Messiah (הַמָּשִׁיחַ)
  • Moshia - Savior (מוֹשִׁיעַ)
  • King (הַמֶּלֶךְ)
  • Jesus / Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ) - because whatever your need, the answer is found in Him.
     

Finally - dare I suggest it? - how about no words at all? To paraphrase Francis of Assisi, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel - and sometimes use words." Of course words are important, but by themselves they are never enough, and very often they are unnecessary (James 2:18)... There is a language of love ("the works of love") that goes beyond any diction the tongue may express.  This is why the Name of the LORD always is something more than a mere word, concept, or idea... The Name of the LORD is God's love and power and glory and grace and kindness and mercy and passion as He Himself knows it to be real, true, and utterly invincible in all things...
  

חֶסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ
צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ

chesed  veemet  nifgashu,
tzedek  veshalom  nashaku
 

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

The cross, not the scales

Hebrew Study Card

 




Prophecy for every day...


 

12.10.14 (Kislev 18, 5775)   "Listen, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is one." Instead of thinking of the Shema (שְׁמַע) as a commandment to be externally obeyed, you can regard it as a prophecy about your inner life: "You shall love (וְאָהַבְתָּ) the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deut. 6:5). Only God can quicken a dead heart, after all, and fill the soul with holy affections. Only the LORD can impart to us strength needed to take hold of promises as He writes His Torah upon our heart. As it is written, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever" (Rom. 11:36).
 

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

veahavta et Adonai Elohekha bekhol levavkha
uvekhol nafshekha uvekhol meodekha
 

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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

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




The Spices of Mercy...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Parashat Vayeshev... ]

12.10.14 (Kislev 18, 5775)   From our Torah portion this week we read: "And they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing spices, balm, and myrrh, to be taken down to Egypt" (Gen. 37:25). Regarding this verse the sages ask why the Torah includes details about the merchandise of the caravan, and they infer that while God, in his inscrutable plan, decreed that Joseph would indeed be sold into slavery, he nevertheless provided him a measure of comfort during his journey down into Egypt. Therefore we likewise trust that God will season our suffering according to his will with the "spice of his mercies," and with the healing balm of Gilead (1 Cor. 10:13).
 




Lonesome Visions...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Parashat Vayeshev... ]

12.09.14 (Kislev 17, 5775)   People often resist when they are asked to face reality, and therefore a true prophet is often misunderstood... We see this, for instance, in the case of Joseph, the family's prophet, who, after he related his visions, found the contempt of his brothers and the incredulity of his father (Gen. 37:10-11). This is the heartache of the prophet who is so impassioned about truth that it may lead him to lonely places, set apart from others, yet burdened to share his vision with those who are willing to hear. What good is prophecy, after all, apart from love? Or what good is knowledge, and even faith? (1 Cor. 13:2). The prophet "crosses over" and then is burdened with his vision. Rarely does he gain acceptance, since he asks us to see differently; unsettling our convictions, challenging our certainties. To a culture immersed in its delusions (including religious delusions) the prophet will always be marginalized, since the "world" constantly seeks to escape from reality and therefore cannot tolerate voices of real conviction.

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident" (Arthur Shopenhauer).
 




From the Depths of Hebron...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Parashat Vayeshev... ]

12.09.14 (Kislev 17, 5775) As a child, Joseph was adorned with a "coat of many colors" (כְּתנֶת פַּסִּים) and lived in the glory of his father's house as the favored son. He was an innocent dreamer who was given visions of greatness by God Himself. Despite being despised and rejected by his brothers, however, his father commissioned him "from the depth of Hebron" (מֵעֵמֶק חֶבְרוֹן) to look into their welfare (Gen. 37:14). Notice that the word Hebron (חֶבְרוֹן) comes from a root that means "union" or "fellowship," suggesting that Jacob sent out his beloved son "from the depth their fellowship" to search for his missing children.... Similarly, Yeshua existed in glory with His Father yet chose to divest himself of his splendor to reach out to his brothers. His incarnation was an infinite descent from the "depth of Hebron" (i.e., communion with the Father) into the realm of "no reputation" (i.e., kenosis, "emptying") in search of his brothers' love (Phil. 2:6-7; Luke 19:10).
 




Israel's Rejected Prince...



 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Parashat Vayeshev... ]

12.09.14 (Kislev 17, 5775) From the beginning of this week's Torah portion (Vayeshev) until the end of Sefer Bereshit (the Book of Genesis), the focus shifts from the patriarch Jacob to his twelve sons, and particularly to his beloved son Joseph (יוֹסֵף). Recall that Joseph's jealous brothers had stripped him of his "coat of many colors" and then mercilessly threw him into a pit -- a providential event that eventually led to the deliverance of the Jewish people by the hand of a "disguised savior." Indeed, story of Joseph's ordeal is a story of divine hashgachah (providential supervision) that foretells the glory of Yeshua our Messiah, both as the Suffering Servant and as a national deliverer of Israel.

The Torah reading begins, "Jacob settled (vayeshev Ya'akov) in the land of his father's sojourning, in the land of Canaan" (Gen. 37:1), but then immediately turns to the story of Joseph, who was seventeen years old at the time: "And these were the generations of Jacob: Joseph being seventeen years old..." (Gen. 37:2). Why does the toldot (genealogy) of Jacob begin with Joseph rather than Reuben (the firstborn son of Leah) here? Was the Torah suggesting that Joseph was regarded by Jacob as his (chosen) "firstborn" son?


 

Jacob and Joseph undoubtedly shared a lot in common, and this surely caused Jacob to prefer his firstborn son (of Rachel) over his other sons. For instance, both men had infertile mothers who had difficulty in childbirth; both mothers bore two sons; and both were hated by their brothers. In addition, the Torah states that Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other sons since he was the son of his old age, and was the firstborn son (bechor) of his beloved wife Rachel. Indeed, Jacob made him an ornamented tunic (ketonet passim) to indicate his special status in the family.

At any rate, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 106a) notes that whenever the word vayeshev (וַיֵּשֶׁב) is mentioned in Torah, it introduces a painful episode.  Immediately following the statement that "Jacob settled (vayeshev Ya'akov) in the land of his father's sojourning," the Torah states that Joseph brought an "evil report" about his brothers to his father. This act ultimately led to the selling of Joseph into slavery and to further heartache for Israel. The Jewish sage Rashi notes that whenever someone called by God wants to "settle down" and live at ease, God orchestrates events to keep him free from complacency. This certainly happened in the case of Jacob, where sibling rivalry and baseless hatred (called sinat chinam: שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם) so disrupted the peace of the family that his children were eventually led into exile and slavery.

But there is redemption and healing, even in the midst of betray and loss... We note that Joseph was sent by his father from the "depth of Hebron" (מֵעֵמֶק חֶבְרוֹן) to seek the welfare of his brothers (Gen. 37:14). Hebron (חֶבְרוֹן) is one of the very first places Abraham lived after he entered the Promised Land (Gen. 13:18). The word itself comes from a root (ח.ב.ר) that means "union," or "friendship," suggesting that from the depth of family union would come struggle but eventual deliverance. The "depths of Hebron" therefore suggests that Joseph's assignment was ultimately redemptive in nature - to restore love to the family by means of God's providential salvation...
 




Why Celebrate Chanukah?


 

12.09.14 (Kislev 17, 5775) The word chanukah (חֲנֻכָּה) means "dedication," a word that shares the same root as the Hebrew the word chinukh (חִנּוּךְ), meaning "education." Just as the Maccabees fought and died for the sake of Torah truth, so we must wage war within ourselves and break the stronghold of apathy and indifference that the present world system engenders (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 6:11-18). We must take time to educate ourselves by studying the Torah and New Testament, for by so doing we will be rededicated to the service of the truth and enabled to resist assimilation into the corrupt world. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world..." (1 John 2:15).

During this time of year -- and especially during this dark hour of history near the prophesied "end of days" -- it is imperative to remember that we are in the midst of the great "war of the ages," where people's souls and destinies are at stake... This world is likened to the "Valley of Decision," the corridor to the world to come... We cannot afford to be indifferent to the darkness that continues to blind the eyes of so many people. We must take a stand for God's truth and be fully equipped to give an account for the hope we have in Yeshua. Ultimately the "cleansing of the Temple" is a matter of the heart, chaverim....

We are all called to "fight the good fight of faith" and to take hold of the eternal life given to us in Yeshua our LORD (1 Tim. 6:12). Among other things this means refusing to assimilate with the corrupt world system (Κόσμος) and forfeiting our identity in Yeshua.... Chanukah is a "fighting holiday" -- a call to resist the oppression of this world and to rededicate our lives entirely to God....  Indeed, of all the people in the world, Christians who love Yeshua should should understand the true meaning of Chanukah and to rejoice that the Yeshua our Messiah overcame this world.

For those who want some additional information about why Chanukah is so important, please see the article, "Let your light shine - Why Christians should celebrate Chanukah." I hope you will find it encouraging, chaverim.
 

כָּךְ יָאֵר נָא אוֹרְכֶם לִפְנֵי בְּנֵי אָדָם
 לְמַעַן יִרְאוּ אֶת מַעֲשֵׂיכֶם הַטּוֹבִים
 וִיכַבְּדוּ אֶת־אֲבִיכֶם שֶׁבַּשָׁמָיִם

kakh yaer na orekhem lifnei benei adam
lemaan yiru et maasekhem hattovim
vikhabedu et avikhem shebashamayim
 

"Let your light so shine before men,
that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father in heaven"
(Matt. 5:16)

Οὕτως λαμψάτω τὸ φῶς ὑμῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων,
ὅπως ἴδωσιν ὑμῶν τὰ καλὰ ἔργα,
καὶ δοξάσωσιν τὸν πατέρα ὑμῶν τὸν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς

Shiviti

 

During this holiday season and forever: "May the God of hope (אלהֵי הַתִּקְוָה) fill you with all joy and peace in believing (שִׂמְחָה וְשָׁלוֹם בָּאֱמוּנָה), so that by the power of the Holy Spirit (עז רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) you may abound in hope" (Rom. 15:13). May you be filled with the light of hope. Chag Urim Same'ach - "Happy Festival of Lights!"

Note:  It is somewhat ironic that the only Scriptural reference to the Festival of Chanukah occurs in the New Testament, not in the Tanakh or the intertestamental literature (i.e., the Jewish Apocrypha). In the Gospel of John we read that Yeshua was at the Temple in Jerusalem during the "Feast of Dedication" (חַג חֲנוּכָּה), that is, Chanukah (John 10:22). During a season of remembering miracles (nissim), Yeshua pointed out that the works that He did attested to His claim to be the long-awaited Messiah of the Jewish people (John 10:37-38). His works and character clearly displayed the true Light of who He was, and these works still shine to us today. Again, for more on this topic see: "Let your Light Shine: Why Christians Should Celebrate Chanukah."
 




What are you seeking?


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Parashat Vayeshev... ]

12.08.14 (Kislev 16, 5775) From our Torah this week we read: "And a man found him [Joseph] wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, "What are you seeking?" (Gen. 37:15). The sages say this was not an ordinary man but rather an angel sent to encourage Joseph to keep focused despite his forthcoming trials. Note that the Hebrew text literally says the man asked Joseph "to say (i.e., lemor: לֵאמר), 'What will you seek?'" (i.e., mah-tevakesh: מַה־תְּבַקֵּשׁ). In other words, the man asked Joseph to discover what motivated him by asking himself, "What do I seek? What am I looking for?" Indeed, we are often unconscious of what really matters to us. What does your heart seek first of all? Yeshua said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matt. 6:33). Because Joseph never lost sight of what mattered, he was able to withstand temptation and tribulation for the sake of God's greater blessing.

So what are you seeking today? (John 1:38) The Spirit of the Living God calls out, "Seek Me and live" (Amos 5:4). If you are feeling empty today, ask God to feed you with His life-giving food.  Ask Him for energy, power, and strength... Seek the LORD and His goodness. He is faithful and true and will surely answer the sincere cry of the heart: "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart."
 

וּבִקַּשְׁתֶּם אתִי וּמְצָאתֶם
 כִּי תִדְרְשֻׁנִי בְּכָל־לְבַבְכֶם

u'vikkashtem oti umetzatem
ki tidreshuni bekhol levavkhem
 

"You will seek me and find me
 if you search for me with all your heart"
(Jer. 29:13

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

Hebrew Study Card
 
 

Note that this verse includes the implication that we will discover that the LORD is the answer to our heart's cry for love, significance, purpose, etc., when we search for Him bekhol levavkhem - with all our hearts (but not the other way around). In other words, if we do not search for God authentically - with the full passion of our hearts - then we will not find Him, since God only reveals Himself in the truth of reality.  Some things in life are only known in the passion of faith... things like love, beauty, honor, and so on. As Pascal once said, "The heart has its reasons that reason knows not of..."

The problem with many of us is not that we are so hungry, but rather that we are not hungry enough... We settle for junk food when God spreads out his banqueting table before us; we hanker after cheap thrills instead of experiencing the very love of God... There is a "deeper hunger" for life, a more urgent desire, and I pray we are all touched by such yearning; there is a "blessed need" that expresses our soul's cry for God - a "divine discontent" that leads us to a deeper sense of contentment for the heart (Matt. 5:6).

"Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (בַּקְּשׁוּ רִאשֹׁנָה מַלְכוּת אֱלהִים), and all these things will be added to you" (Matt. 6:33). In the end, if we cannot say we have lived well, then nothing else matters... Seeking God is an ongoing journey, a "how" of life, not a recipe or formula, no matter how venerated. Seeking God is the very aim of life, and in the world to come, I am afraid that most of us will regret that we did not pursue the Lord with all our hearts while we had the opportunity to do so. May God help each of us wake up and put first things first in our lives. Amen.
 




Treasures of the Heart...


 

12.08.14 (Kislev 16, 5775) Our Lord appealed to us: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:19-21). This teaches us that the good of the heavenly world is not subject to the decay of this world, and that God invites our hearts to find abiding treasure in His Presence.

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

Note: My mother Jocelyn collapsed yesterday and is now in the hospital getting some tests done. Please pray for her healing dear friends. Thank you so much.
 




Love not the World...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Chanukah, which begins Dec. 16th at sundown... ]

12.0.14 (Kislev 15, 5775) Regarding the foundational verse, "And the earth was without form and void (תהוּ וָבהוּ), and darkness was upon the surface of the deep" (Gen. 1:2), the midrash comments: "Darkness -- these are the Greeks who darkened the eyes of the Jewish nation with their evil decrees." The utter darkness of Hellenistic thought came disguised as an angel of light, as "enlightened" thinking, but whenever such humanism usurps the authority of divine revelation, the result is exile and disorder.  Indeed, 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 that darkness!" (Matt. 6:23); and "be careful lest the light in you be darkness" (Luke 11:35). 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).

The realm of this "fallen world" -- understood in terms of the "fellowship" (κοινωνία) of darkness -- is something from which we are delivered and of which we are no longer to be enslaved. As it is written, "God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son" (Col. 1:13). Likewise Yeshua said, "If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own" (John 15:19). In other words, we are "in" but not "of" this world (John 17:15), and though we physically coexist with others in this time-space, we are no longer citizens of this fallen world and its underlying value system. We are not to love this world, nor the things this world values, since doing so embraces a philosophy of life that is at war with the Father and contrary to the truth of eternity (1 John 2:16; James 4:4). The fallen world values "the flesh" and the "desire of the eyes" that is patterned according to the "arrogance of life." In other words, it is a "beauty pageant" that esteems others based on their accidental qualities instead of their inner and essential qualities. In this connection, let me quote from Henri Nouwen regarding slavery to the world and its perverse value system:
 

    At issue here is the question: "To whom do I belong? God or to the world?"...  As long as I keep running about asking: "Do you love me? Do you really love me?" I give all power to the voices of the world and put myself in bondage because the world is filled with "ifs." The world says: "Yes, I love you if you are good-looking, intelligent, and wealthy. I love you if you have a good education, a good job, and good connections. I love you if you produce much, sell much, and buy much." There are endless "ifs" hidden in the world's love. These "ifs" enslave me, since it is impossible to respond adequately to all of them. The world's love is and always will be conditional. As long as I keep looking for my true self in the world of conditional love, I will remain "hooked" to the world - trying, failing, and trying again. It is a world that fosters addictions because what it offers cannot satisfy the deepest craving of my heart." (Nouwen: Return of The Prodigal Son; p42-43)
     

We see then the connection between worldliness and idolatry, since idolatry essentially involves trying to find your identity, your worth, your satisfaction, and your ultimate fulfillment in the realm of the transitory and the finite rather than in God.... We are (rightly) warned against the vices of "worldliness" and are admonished to abstain from popular culture and its spurious values, but note well that worldliness extends well beyond all this, since it concerns understanding the identity and nature of the person as a whole. The fruit of worldliness is the result of being rooted in this world rather than in God's kingdom. The various desires of the human heart - even the desire for "normal things" like personal happiness in this world - may be regarded as entirely "worldly" if they are devoid of submission to God and His rule....

A principle of spiritual life is that the "inner is not the outer," and vice-versa. People are quite easily deceived by mere appearances, yet the eye of faith must be trained to look beyond surface phenomena to discern the underlying Reality that upholds the world. This is perhaps most evident in the case of the cross of Yeshua, which the carnal eye regards as a matter of shame and defeat, but the eye of faith regards as the very wisdom, power, and love of Almighty God Himself... Of Yeshua it is said, "he [Messiah] grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him."

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 studied indifference toward God... We are either going forward with Him or going backward; we are either drawing near or pulling our hearts away (Rev. 3:16).
 




Parashat Vayeshev - וישב


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Parashat Vayeshev. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

12.07.14 (Kislev 15, 5775) In our Torah portion for this week (Vayeshev), we read that Joseph's jealous brothers stripped him of his "coat of many colors" and mercilessly threw him into a pit -- a providential event that eventually led to the deliverance of the Jewish people by the hand of a "disguised savior." Indeed, the life of Israel's chosen son Joseph foreshadowed the two advents of Yeshua our Messiah: first as Israel's Suffering Servant, and second as the national deliverer of the Jewish people during tribulation...

Note:  For more information, please read the Torah summary page for Vayeshev and its related articles. You can also download the Shabbat "Table Talk" for the portion here:
 

 




Our Common Struggle...



 

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

12.05.14 (Kislev 13, 5775) Jacob's struggle to find healing is also our own. Each of us must resolve the pain of our past by knowing ourselves as accepted in the present; each of us must "struggle with the Angel" to overcome the voices of doubt and condemnation that may haunt our thinking. We may be wounded in our fight to take hold of God's love, but truth of that love will never be vanquished! If God has called to your heart, keep pressing on! Take hold of your high calling! Endure the "dungeons of life." Keep believing that your deliverance will come! There is a future and a hope for you (Jer. 29:11).
 

וְיָדַעְתָּ כִּי־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ הוּא הָאֱלהִים
הָאֵל הַנֶּאֱמָן שׁמֵר הַבְּרִית וְהַחֶסֶד לְאהֲבָיו
וּלְשׁמְרֵי מִצְוֹתָיו לְאֶלֶף דּוֹר

vayadata ki Adonai elohekha hu haelohim
hael haneeman shomer haberit vehachesed leohavav
ulshomrei mitzvotav leelef dor
 

"Know therefore that the LORD your God is God,
the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him
and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations."
(Deut. 7:9)



 

Recall that Jacob testified to his brother Esau: "God has dealt graciously with me, and I have enough" (Gen. 33:11), literally, "I have everything" (יֶשׁ־לִי־כל). However even after Jacob was renamed "Israel" by the Angel, the Torah still often calls him "Jacob," which suggests that our spiritual transformation is often three steps forward, two steps back...
 




Be Strong, Be Strengthened...


 

12.05.14 (Kislev 13, 5775) The central message of the cross of Messiah is that God regards you as personally worth dying for, and indeed, that your life is worth the exchange of His own... You are treasured; you are loved. This is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3-5). "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16)

Your Heavenly Father sees in secret... "The deepest thing in our nature is this region of heart in which we dwell alone with our willingnesses and our unwillingnesses, our faiths and our fears" (William James).  It is there, in the secret place of the heart, that the sound of the "knock" is either heard or disregarded (Rev 3:20). May the Lord give us the willingness to do His will and the courage to believe in His love.  And may God deliver us from doubt and from every other fear. May we all be strong in faith, not staggering over the promises, but giving glory to God for the miracle of Yeshua our LORD.  May we all be rooted and grounded in love so that we are empowered to apprehend the very "breadth and length and height and depth" of the love of God given to us in Messiah, so that we shall all be filled with all the fullness of God. Shabbat Shalom, chaverim!
 




Inner Light of Faith...


 

[ Chanukah begins in less than two weeks -- at sundown on Teusday, Dec. 16th... ]

12.04.14 (Kislev 12, 5775) Allow the light of God's love to shine in you brightly. As Yeshua our Moshia' said, "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 for "manifest" means to "shine inside" (i.e., ἐμφανίζω, from ἐν, "in" and φαίνω, "shine"), indicating that the revelation would be inward light of the Divine Presence. The Hebrew word for "praise" (i.e., tehillah: תְּהִלָּה) comes from a verb that means "to shine" (i.e., halal: הָלַל), from which we derive the word "halo." Similarly, the word "aura" comes from the Hebrew word "ohr" (אוֹר), meaning "light." Let your inner light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give honor to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).
 

אֱלהִים יְחָנֵּנוּ וִיבָרְכֵנוּ
יָאֵר פָּנָיו אִתָּנוּ סֶלָה

Elohim yechonneinu vivarkheinu
yaer panav ittanu selah
 

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



 

Inner light comes from God: "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." We "walk in the light," experiencing inner peace and joy in the Holy Spirit when we heed and obey the Voice of God's love and abide in the secret place of His Love. The people of God are united to one another by the power of God's love. O LORD God, "light up my eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death" (Psalm 13:3). May the light and love of our God shine within you, friends!
 




Jacob's Surrender...


 

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

12.03.14 (Kislev 11, 5775) Our Torah portion this week tells the story of how Jacob fled from the land of Haran to return home, but this forced him to directly face the pain of his past.  Jacob was especially anxious about seeing his aggrieved brother again, and therefore he prayed to God in humility for deliverance (Gen. 32:9-11). He then sent messengers ahead with gifts for Esau, and when he finally approached him, Jacob humbly bowed down seven times in deep respect. The sages comment that Jacob realized the only hope he had of protecting himself and his family was to diminish himself... His long-standing battle with Esau had really been an inner struggle with his own ego - his own insatiable desire to be first, to secure his father's favor, and so on. Because of this, Jacob realized he could only find peace with his brother if he first found peace within himself, and therefore he let go of his need to be first and surrendered himself.  Paradoxically, we must descend in order to ascend, and the "the way up is the way down." As Yeshua said, "The first shall be last and the last shall be first," and "Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all" (Mark 9:35; 10:44). Becoming "nothing" (i.e., ayin) in this world is the condition for life in the world to come (Gal. 6:3). When you are "not there," you are no longer under the influence of the ego, and therefore you are set free to be yourself and to serve God (Col. 3:1-3).

Now this is not pious talk that is ideal but practically unattainable; no, we are enabled to extinguish the demands of the ego by trusting in the miracle of God, not by trying to efface ourselves... Surrender is not another venture of the ego. Life in the Spirit means trusting that God will do for you what you cannot do for yourself... We can only take hold of what God has done for us by "letting go" of our own devices (Phil. 2:13). When we really let go and trust, we will be lifted up by the "Torah of the Spirit of life" (Rom. 8:2). The way is not trying but trusting; not struggling but resting; not of clinging to life, but of letting go...

Note:  While it's true Esau was profane and wicked, it is also true that Jacob wrongfully deceived his father, stole the blessing from his brother, and even used the Name of God in vain (Gen. 27:20). However, whereas Jacob lied to obtain the blessing, Esau lived a lie with his life... Moreover Jacob was punished by being sent into exile for his sin, whereas Esau lived off the "fat of the land" and enjoyed worldly prosperity. Jacob grew into a small clan of eleven sons and a daughter, whereas Esau had many children and an entire army at his disposal. It is dangerous to judge the brothers based on appearances, especially since the tzaddik will be tested in ways that the wicked is not... God let go of Esau because Esau had let go of God; but Jacob held on for dear life and was wounded in the process. In the end, God chose Jacob because he loved him - and for no other reason (Rom. 9:10-18).
 




Wresting the Blessing...


 

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

12.03.14 (Kislev 11, 5775) In our Torah portion for this week (i.e., parashat Vayishlach), we read how Jacob wrestled with a mysterious "Man" until the break of dawn, but refused to let go until he had secured God's blessing (Gen. 32:24-26). This climactic moment marked a "rebirth" experience for Jacob as signified by his new name "Israel" (יִשְׂרָאֵל), meaning "one who has striven (שָׂרָה) with God (אֱלהִים) and prevailed" (Gen. 32:28). It is fascinating to notice that Jacob was not renamed "God-fearer," or "God-lover," or even "Man of faith," but rather "God-wrestler" one who struggles with God until the blessing comes... As Yeshua said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" that is, for those who struggle and search for truth "for they shall be filled" (Matt. 5:6). The blessing comes with a wound, however: The limp that Jacob acquired constantly reminded him of his ongoing need for God's help as he walked through this life.  "The one who falls on this Stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on anyone, it will crush him" (Matt. 21:44).

So how are you struggling? How does that feed your hunger for God? The characteristically Jewish approach to life is to struggle, to fight, and to ask hard questions until we find out who we really are and what we call ourselves...  We can change what has happened in our past by changing what is happening in our present: "For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel: dirshuni vichyu (דִּרְשׁוּנִי וִחְיוּ) - "Seek me and live" (Amos 5:4).


 




The Torah of Wrestling...


 

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

12.02.14 (Kislev 10, 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. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'" (Matt. 7:21-23). Despite the practice and profession of their faith, these people were strangers to God... They had a false sense of assurance, believing that they were "serving God" while they really were not...  So the essential question here is whether Yeshua truly knows you. You may know a lot about God, religion, spirituality, and yet you may remain unknown by him... Where do you find life? What are you loving? Where are you going?

"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). Yet 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 trusting the Messiah (Titus 3:5-7).

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 good works - even those done in the name of Messiah - are insufficient for life, and that something more is needed... That "something more" is the reality of relationship with him. However, even Yeshua's sacrifice on the cross can't bring you into relationship with him apart from receiving it for your healing... By faith you encounter Yeshua clothed in your flesh, your sin, and suffering death for you.  "As long as Christ remains outside of us we are separated from him."

Some people feel frightened when they consider all this, but fear arises only if we miss Yeshua's point... Good works can't save you, even those performed in the Savior's name... What saves you is trusting in God's great love for your life: "This is the work of God, to trust in the One whom God has sent [for you]" (John 6:28-29). Genuine salvation is "from the LORD," that is, comes as a result of his loving intervention on your behalf (Titus 3:5-7; Eph. 2:8-10). This is the will of the Father, the true Torah of the LORD, namely, to honor the Messiah and know him by faith... You trust him for eternal life, you believe that he bears your sins, you seek to know his heart, and you desire to share your life with him. It is lawlessness to reject the Torah of the LORD that commands us to follow Messiah and know him in all our ways - including the ways of our struggles, our fears, and so on... Each of us must wrestle alone, in the dark places of fear, to find our new name from God (Gen. 32:24). Is the blessing for you or not? The essential thing is to know (and more importantly) to be known by Yeshua.... It is a matter of trust, of sharing your heart, being real with him, walking with him, loving him... "This is the work of God, to trust in the One whom God has sent [for you]." Trusting God means accepting that you are loved (and safe) because of who God is.

The gospel is "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16). It is a miracle of being in a right relationship with God. We are pursued by his love, and he haunts us until we surrender to his will... Like Jonah we first must be "swallowed up" in consciousness of our own rebellion before we realize we are undone, that we are without remedy apart from God's intervention and deliverance. We start there - in the "belly of the fish" - and later are resurrected to go forth by God's mercy and grace. As we look to Yeshua, as we lean on him, he reveals more of himself to us. He gives us the grace and strength we need; he is always enough...

Whether Yeshua is living in you (and you are living in Him) is the most important question of your life upon which everything else turns. The great mystery is "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). As Ravenhill once said, "I don't ask people if they're saved anymore; I look them straight in the eye and say, "Does Christ live inside you?" Indeed, He is present right now -- for you -- in this very moment... Are you connected with Him in the truth? Are you drawing life from His life?  Do you really live in Yeshua? "God is making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Messiah, be reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20).

Each of us must wrestle alone, in the dark places of fear, to receive our new name from God (see Gen. 32:24). Again I ask: Is the blessing for you or not? Are you willing to be loved and accepted by him? What is your name? What do you call yourself? You cannot know God apart from his love, yet for some people that is exactly where the struggle lies... Look within your heart; test yourself; do you believe God cares for you? Take hold of the promise and do not let go until you know who you are in his love. "To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it" (Rev. 2:17).

Repeat these affirmations of faith:

The blessing is there for you, though you might need to wrestle in faith to fully take hold of your identity in Messiah. May God help you answer to the new name he calls out to you...
 

בָּרוּךְ הוּא הָאֱלהִים אֲבִי אֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ
אֲשֶׁר בֵּרַךְ אתָנוּ מִשְּׁמֵי מְעוֹנוֹ
בְּכָל־בִּרְכַּת הָרוּחַ בַּמָּשִׁיחַ

barukh hu haelohim avi adoneinu Yeshua hamashiach
asher berakh otanu mishemei meono
bekhol birkat haruach bamashiach
 

"Blessed be Adonai, Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah,
who has blessed us in heavenly places
with every spiritual blessing in the Messiah." (Eph. 1:3)



Download Study Card
 




Anticipating Chanukah...



[ Note: Chanukah begins Tuesday Dec. 16th this year. Let me encourage you to purchase a Chanukah menorah and light the candles along with us this year. Step by step instructions are provided on the Chanukah pages on the site, friends... ]

12.02.14 (Kislev 10, 5775)   We are getting excited about the upcoming holiday of Chanukah (which begins in just two weeks), so our family made some cookies and decorated them to help us get into the festive mood of the season. We are also listening to some traditional Chanukah music, singing songs like "Ma'oz Tzur" (מעוז צור), "I Have A Little Dreidel," "Chanukah Oh Chanukah," and so on.

Chanukah Cookies for 5775
 

Note:  The Chanukah Blessings page includes some free "Hebrew Study Cards" you can use for your Chanukah celebrations. Each card includes the Hebrew text, phonetic transliteration, and English translation for the blessing. In addition I have recorded Hebrew audio clips for the Chanukah blessings as well, so you can listen to the Hebrew as your learn to recite the blessings... I have also created a handy one page summary of the Hebrew blessings you can download here. I hope you find this material helpful, chaverim! Chag Chanukah Sameach (חַג חֲנֻכָּה שָׂמֵחַ)!
 

אַתָּה הִצַּבְתָּ כָּל־גְּבוּלוֹת אָרֶץ
קַיִץ וָחרֶף אַתָּה יְצַרְתָּם

attah hitztzavta kol gevulot aretz
kayitz vachoref attah yetzartam
 

"You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;
you have made summer and winter." (Psalm 74:17)

Photo by John J Parsons

 




Telling God your name...


 

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

12.01.14 (Kislev 9, 5775)  Some people make it the business of theology to know God's Name, but God begins by first asking for our name instead. Recall that Jacob had disguised who he really was in the hope of obtaining the blessing (Gen. 27), though his duplicity forced him into an exile that lasted until he was finally willing to be honest with himself. And like Jacob, each of us must answer God's question: "What is your name?" (Gen. 32:27). When we "wrestle through" this question to face who we really are, we encounter God and find our blessing, that is, our true identity. Each of us has to go through the process of being renamed from "manipulator" (i.e., Yaakov) to "one in whom God rules" (i.e., Israel). But note the order: it is only when we "tell God our name," that is, own who we really are, that He meets with us "face to face" (Gen. 32:30). You will not be able to say, "I will not let you go unless you bless me," until you are willing tell God your name (Gen. 32:26-27).

I should add that while "telling God your name" can be painful and even frightening, it is not the last word about who you really are. We are faced with an inner dualism as we struggle to take account of our lives. On the one hand, we need to confess the truth of our sinfulness, brokenness, and so on, while on the other we must endure ourselves and find faith that God's blessing nevertheless belongs to us, despite the mess we've made of our lives.... We have to be willing to accept God's new name for us and to believe that God will miraculously transform our inner nature for good. We are renamed from Yaakov to Israel, though we still know ourselves as both. Jacob was renamed "Israel" but afterward he walked with a limp, seeing both the new and the old natures within him. Jacob still struggled, though his struggle was now focused on walking as God's beloved child in this world: the limp was given to help him lean on the Lord for support.

Note:  Some people may need help learning to "endure themselves." Many are able, it seems, to receive the hope that they are forgiven for their past sins, but they are subsequently scandalized by encountering their own inner struggles, and they eventually despair over their ongoing weakness... Tragically, some are even tempted to regard the warfare within the heart as a sign of being devoid of all saving grace! We must remember, however, that there is a real struggle between the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit (Gal. 5:17). We must never move away from simple trust in the message of God's unconditional love demonstrated at the cross; we must never seek to legitimize our place in God's heart. When we walk by the Spirit, we are no longer under the law (Gal. 5:18), which is to say, we no longer need to justify ourselves but instead trust in God's power to transform us. Just as we are saved by the love of God, so are we changed, so do we grow.
 



 

November 2014 Site Updates
 



Parashat Vayishlach...


 

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

11.30.14 (Kislev 8, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week contains the famous account of how Jacob "wrestled" with the Angel of the LORD just before he encountered his estranged brother Esau. During the "grappling" session (recall the meaning of Jacob's name), the Angel injured Jacob's thigh, but Jacob refused to release his hold until he received the blessing (הַבְּרָכָה). The LORD then asked him, "What is your name (מַה־שְּׁמֶךָ)?"  And he said, "Jacob" (i.e., Ya'akov: יַעֲקב). The Angel then replied, "Your name shall no longer be Ya'akov ("heel holder" [of Esau]) but Yisrael ("contender with God"), for as a prince (i.e., sar: שַׂר) you have contended (i.e., sarita: שָׂרִיתָ) with God and with men and have prevailed" (Gen. 32:28). Jacob finally prevailed with God when he refused to let his past determine his spiritual status and destiny... He overcome the pain and shame of his past through faith...

Similarly, each of us must "go to Peniel" to wrestle with the Angel; each of us must be renamed from Ya'akov ("a supplanter") to Israel ("a prince with God").  When the Spirit of Truth asks, "What is your name," may the LORD God grant you the courage to refuse to "let go" until you receive the divine blessing of love and acceptance...

For more information, please read the Torah summary page for Vayishlach. You can also download the Shabbat "Table Talk" for the portion here:
 


Note: We always read this portion of Scripture a couple weeks before Chanukah, where we connect the vision and ministry of Joseph with that of Yeshua, the great Suffering Servant Savior of the world. יֵשׁוּעַ אוֹר הָעוֹלָם
 




Gratitude and God's Nearness...


 

11.28.14 (Kislev 6, 5775)  It is written in our Scriptures: "We give thanks to You, O God; we give thanks, for Your Name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds" (Psalm 75:1). Yes, we give thanks to God because He has graciously given us salvation (יְשׁוּעָה) through His Son Yeshua: for His Name is near. Note that the adverb "near" (i.e., karov: קָרְבָּן) means "close enough to touch," and indeed the noun form means "a near kinsman" (i.e., kinsman redeemer). Because of Yeshua, God Himself has become our "close relative." Confession (i.e., todah: תּוֹדָה) and trust (i.e., emunah: אֱמוּנָה) are central here. As it is written: "The word is very near you [כִּי־קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאד] - as close as your mouth and your heart (Deut. 30:14). You must confess with your mouth and believe "in your heart" that God loves you with an "everlasting love." Whoever calls upon the Name of the LORD will not be disappointed (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:9-13; Psalms 86:5; Rev. 3:20).
 

הוֹדִינוּ לְּךָ אֱלהִים הוֹדִינוּ וְקָרוֹב שְׁמֶךָ
סִפְּרוּ נִפְלְאוֹתֶיךָ׃

hodinu  lekha  Elohim  hodinu  vekarov  shemekha,
sipperu  nifleotekha
 

"We give thanks to You, O God; we give thanks, for Your Name is near.
We recount your wondrous deeds."
(Psalm 75:1)



Download Study Card
 




Finding Perfect Peace...

Photo by John J Parsons
 

11.27.14 (Kislev 5, 5775)  Fear (and it's offspring, anger) create a place of exile within the heart. As we focus on the LORD and spiritual reality, there is no fear, since God's light and love overcome all our darkness (John 1:5; 1 John 4:18; 5:3). The Spirit of God calls out: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, and you are mine" (Isa. 43:1). God has personally redeemed you, friend; He calls you by name, and you belong to Him. The Lord loves you with an everlasting love and draws you close (Jer. 31:3). He will never leave nor forsake you, even if you might face waters that seem to overwhelm or fires that seem to devour (Isa. 43:2). The LORD will keep you in "perfect peace" - the "peace of Peace" (שָׁלוֹם שָׁלוֹם), when you set your mind on Him (Isa. 26:3).
 

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

yetzer samukh titztzor shalom shalom ki vekha batuach
bitchu vadonai adi-ad ki beYah Adonai tzur olamim
 

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

When we forget that God is in complete control of all things, we tend to grow anxious... Feeling worried comes from focusing on ourselves, a perspective that can make us feel alone, forgotten, and even victimized in this world. Worry moves us to defend ourselves, to seek refuge in our own devices, and to forfeit the will of God according to the dictates of lesser fears... The sages say it is not permitted to worry: "To worry is a sin; only one sort of worry is permissible; to worry because one worries." We should worry that we worry because this indicates our hardness of heart and our unbelief! God's name YHVH (יהוה) means "Presence," "Breath," "Life," and "Love." So why be anxious for "tomorrow"? We really only have this moment, but this moment is entirely sufficient when we walk in the light of God and seek to know him in all our ways. "Let the peace of God rule in you" (Col. 3:15).
 




A Grateful Heart...


 

11.27.14 (Kislev 5, 5775)  In Jewish thinking, we "bless" God by offering our thanks, and thereby our awareness of life is elevated and sanctified. The Hebrew term for gratitude is hakarat tovah (הַכָּרַת טוֹבָה), a phrase that means "recognizing the good." The heart looks through the eye, and therefore how we choose to see is a spiritual decision: "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). When we see rightly, we behold the radiance of God shining within us, even in the midst of our everyday affairs. A grateful heart is awake to God's Presence in the little things of life, those small miracles and glories that constantly surround us. The good eye of faith sees countless reasons to bless God for the precious gift of life every day...
 

בָּרֲכִי נַפְשִׁי אֶת־יְהוָה
וְכָל־קְרָבַי אֶת־שֵׁם קָדְשׁוֹ

barakhi nafshi et Adonai
vekhol keravai et shem kodsho

"Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless his holy name"
(Psalm 103:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 




A Future of Hope...

Photo by John J Parsons
 

11.26.14 (Kislev 4, 5775)  It's been said that the will of God will never lead us to a place where the love of God will not keep us.... Indeed the very Name of the LORD (יהוה) means "Presence" (Exod. 3:14) and "Compassion" (Exod. 34:6-7). Yeshua said, "I go to prepare a place for you," which means that his love and presence are waiting for you in whatever lies ahead. Heed the message of the Holy Spirit: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for healing and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11).
 

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

ki anokhi yadati et hamachashavot
asher anokhi choshev aleikhem neum Adonai
machshevot shalom velo leraah
lateit lakhem acharit vetikvah

 

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

The message of the cross is that our lives matter to God. We are "am segulah," a treasured people, called to walk in the zeal of God's love (1 Pet. 2:9; Titus 2:4). Your life has great value; you are significant and you are truly loved by our Heavenly Father. There is a "future and a hope" reserved for you (Jer. 29:11); there is "a white stone, and on that stone will be written a new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it" (Rev. 2:17). May you trust in the Lord be'khol levavkha, with all your heart... Amen.
 




Thanksgiving and Sukkot...


 

11.25.14 (Kislev 3, 5775)  The American holiday of Thanksgiving (חַג הַהוֹדָיָה) certainly has its roots in the Jewish tradition of giving thanks to God, and some historians believe that the early "pilgrims" derived the idea for the holiday from the Biblical festival of Sukkot (i.e., "the feast of Tabernacles"). Before coming to the New World, the pilgrims lived for a decade among the Sephardic Jews in Holland, since Holland was considered a safe haven from religious persecution at the time. Since the pilgrims were devout Calvinists and Puritans, their religious idealism led them to regard themselves as "new Israel," and it is likely that they learned that Sukkot commemorated the people of Israel's deliverance from their religious persecution in ancient Egypt at that time. After they emigrated to the "Promised Land" of America, it is not surprising that these pilgrims may have chosen the festival of Sukkot as the paradigm for their own celebration. As the Torah commands: "Celebrate the feast so that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God" (Lev. 23:39-43). The highly devout pilgrims regarded their perilous journey to the new world as a type of "Exodus event" and therefore sought the appropriate Biblical holiday to commemorate their safe arrival in a land full of new promise...

It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for "turkey" is tarnegol hodu (תַּרְנְגוֹל הוֹדו), literally, "Indian chicken," which is often shortened to hodu (הוֹדוּ). It is a happy coincidence that we customarily eat turkey on Thanksgiving, and this reminds us of the "thanks" connection: "Give thanks (hodu) to the Lord for he is good" (הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי־טוֹב), for His steadfast love endures forever."
 

הוֹדוּ לַיהוה כִּי־טוֹב כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ

hodu  laAdonai  ki  tov,  ki  leolam  chasdo

"Give thanks to the LORD for He is good;
for His steadfast love endures forever."
(Psalm 136:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 


Note: For more on this subject, see "Thanksgiving and Sukkot."
 




The LORD your Guardian...


 

11.25.14 (Kislev 3, 5775)  Where it says, "The LORD is your Guardian; the LORD is your shade at your right hand" (Psalm 121:5), note that God's Presence is likened to the shadow (צֵל) cast by someone who walks closely beside you, holding your hand (Psalm 23:4). Your "right hand" (יְמִינֶךָ) refers to your decision to "see the unseen" by performing acts of righteousness in this world: the blessing of God is then cast upon all you do (Deut. 2:7; Psalm 1:3). Neither does God "slumber or sleep," for the LORD your Guardian (יְהוָה שׁמְרֶךָ) is fully awake, full of life, insuperable power, and divine action! Our help comes from the LORD, "oseh shamayim va'aretz" (עשֵׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ) - the Maker of heaven and earth.
 

יְהוָה שׁמְרֶךָ
יְהוָה צִלְּךָ עַל־יַד יְמִינֶךָ

Adonai shomrekha
Adonai tzillekha al-yad yeminekha

 

"The LORD is your Guardian;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand."
(Psalm 121:5)


 


Note:  Some of the sages (e.g., Baal Shem Tov, Ramban, etc.) have said that "God is your shadow" (יְהוָה צִלְּךָ) suggests that he reflects your actions back to yourself. To one who acts with cruelty, God will show himself cruel; to one who shows compassion, God will show himself compassionate, and so on. Just as a person's shadow will follow his movements, so God will pursue the soul. This idea is of course derived from the Scriptures - "according to your faith be it done unto you" (Mark 9:29): "With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the pure you will show yourself pure; and with the perverse you will show yourself perverse" (Psalm 18:25-26). Moreover we are warned: "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap" (Gal. 6:7). "Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor" (Prov. 3:34). Thankfully the "karma of reciprocity" may be overruled by God's grace, so that unmerited blessing is bestowed upon the trusting soul, despite his or her many sins (Hab. 2:4; Gal. 3:11): "He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor repayed us according to our iniquities" (Psalm 103:10).
 




The Ladder of Truth...


 

11.25.14 (Kislev 3, 5775)  The Hebrew idea of "truth" (i.e., emet: אֱמֶת) is richer than the factual description, since it contains moral implications and possibilities: what is true is also right, good, reliable (honest), beautiful, and sacred. The Hebrew word comes from a verb (aman) that means to "confirm" or establish, and the noun form (i.e, emunah: אֱמוּנָה, "faithfulness" or "trustworthiness") expresses the will to live by what is ratified, the "amen" of decision. The Hebrew concept is therefore existential: truth that is not lived is not truth. Speaking the truth (dibbur emet) and abhoring dishonesty are considered foundational to moral life, as it says: "Speak the truth (דַּבְּרוּ אֱמֶת) to one another; render true and perfect justice in your gates" (Zech. 8:16). Yeshua repeatedly said, "Amen, amen I say to you...." throughout his ministry to stress the reliability and certainty of God's truth (Matt. 5:18, 26, etc.). Indeed, Yeshua is called "the Amen, the faithful and true witness" (Rev. 3:14).

The ancient Greek word translated "truth" is aletheia (ἀλήθεια), a compound formed from an alpha prefix (α-) meaning "not," and lethei (λήθη), meaning "forgetfulness." Greek scholars say the word lethei itself derives from the verb lanthano (λανθάνω), which means "to be hidden," so the general idea is that a-letheia (i.e., truth) is non-concealment, non-hiddenness, or (put positively) revelation or disclosure. Thus the word of Yeshua - His message, logos (λόγος), revelation, and presence - is both "unforgettable" and "irrepressible." Yeshua is the Unforgettable One that is manifest as the express Word of God (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים). He is the Light of the world (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם) who imparts the "light of life" (John 8:12). Though God's message can be supressed by evil and darkened thinking, the truth is regarded as self-evident and full of intuitive validation (see Rom. 1:18-21).

Note that the LXX (i.e., the ancient Greek translation of the Torah and OT otherwise known as the Septuagint) dates from the time of the philosopher Plato, though of course the Hebrew text dates back to the time of Moses (13th century BC) and even earlier.  About 300 BC, "Theophrastus," a student of Aristotle, wrote of the Jews that 'being philosophers by race, they converse with each other about the Divine." Abraham, who dates from about 2,000 BC, was the first avowed monotheist who openly repudiated the polytheism and idolatry of ancient Ugaritic culture (Abraham long predates the rise of Hinduism and the animistic hymns of the Vedas and their priestly commentary found in the Upanishads by a thousand years). Similarly, both David and his son Solomon (10th century BC) wrote "existential" works of philosophy, predating the modern world by nearly 3,000 years...

Regarding Jacob's famous dream, the sages ask: "When is the man lower on the ladder higher than the man who is higher on the ladder? When the lower one is climbing up and other higher one is descending down..." Or as Kierkegaard put it, the way is "how." How you focus determines the direction you are taking. So where is your focus? Are you looking to God for help, for strength, and the ability to draw close to him, or are you looking to your own strength, direction, and will?
 




Jacob's Dream of Messiah...

Albert Houthuesen detail
 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Parashat Vayetzei... ]

11.25.14 (Kislev 3, 5775)  The revelation at Sinai and Jacob's vision of the ladder share something in common. Just as Yeshua was the "Voice of the Living God (קוֹל אֱלהִים חַיִּים) speaking (davar) from the midst of the fire" at Sinai (Deut. 5:26), so He was the Ascended LORD standing above the ladder speaking the word of promise (Gen. 28:12-15). In this connection we note that the words for "ladder," (i.e., sullam: סֻלָּם), "voice" (i.e., kol: קל), and "Sinai" (סִינָי) have the same numerical value, which suggests a connection between the two great visions. Yeshua is the Ladder to God, the means by which the Living Torah both descends and ascends for the sake of our deliverance (John 1:51). The "ladder of Sinai" is not meant for us to ascend but rather is for the LORD our Savior to descend and ascend on our behalf. Yeshua is the way, the truth, and the life (הדֶּרֶךְ וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַחַיִּים): no one can draw near to the Heavenly Father apart from Him (John 14:6).

Note:  For more on this subject, see "Jacob's Dream of Messiah."
 




A Deeper Awakening...


 

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

11.24.14 (Kislev 2, 5775)  From our Torah this week we read: "Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place (אָכֵן יֵשׁ יְהוָה בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה), yet I did not know it" (Gen. 28:16). This event marked a deeper awakening for Jacob as he discovered God's Presence even in his sleep, even while in exile, and even in his ignorance... Henceforth Jacob began to understand that the whole world is filled with God's glory (Isa. 6:3), and that Torah is centered on knowing Him in all our ways (Prov. 3:6).
 

בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ
וְהוּא יְיַשֵּׁר ארְחתֶיךָ

bekhol derakhekha daeihu
vehu yeyasher orchotekha

 

"In all your ways know Him
and he will make upright your paths."
(Prov. 3:6)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)
 


Jacob had been asleep but was suddenly jarred awake. He found himself in awe, sensing the presence of the gateway to heaven. The sages note the grammar here is emphatic, suggesting that Jacob said: "Surely the LORD is in this place -- but am I (וְאָנכִי)? I do not know! (לא יָדָעְתִּי). Jacob had awakened from his dream to realize that he had been dreaming his life away, living in a fantasy world. God is present in this place but am I? Have I awakened to be present before God?
 

    All religious reality begins with what biblical religion calls the 'fear of God.' It comes when our existence between birth and death becomes incomprehensible and uncanny, when all security is shattered through the mystery. This is not the relative mystery of that which is inaccessible only to the present state of human knowledge and is hence in principle discoverable. It is the essential mystery, the inscrutableness of which belongs to its very nature... Through this dark gate (which is only a gate and not, as some theologians believe, a dwelling) the believing man steps forth into the everyday which is henceforth hallowed as the place in which he has to live with the mystery. He steps forth directed and assigned to the concrete, contextual situations of his existence. That he henceforth accepts the situation as given him by the Giver is what Biblical religion calls the 'fear of God.' - Martin Buber, Eclipse of God

     

When God said, "Let there be light, and there was light" (Gen. 1:3), He seemed to put on light as a robe of the Divine Majesty and Kingship: He wrapped Himself with radiance as a tallit gadol... Da lifnei mi attah omed (דַּע לִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עוֹמֵד) "Know before whom you stand." The whole earth is lit up with God's glory, and every bush of the field is aflame before us -- if we have eyes to see (Isa. 6:3). May it please the LORD to open our spiritual eyes so that we can behold more of His glory and majesty in this hour... Amen.

Personal Update:  Please remember me (John) in your prayers, friends... I am beset with various challenges and difficulties and covet your prayers for God's help and blessing. Thank you so much, chaverim.
 




Teshuvah of Quiet...

Photo by John J Parsons
 

11.24.14 (Kislev 2, 5775)  "Be still and know that I AM..." (Psalm 46:10). Prayer is a type of listening (shema), a turning back to heed the message of God's love and hope. Indeed, the word "teshuvah" (תְּשׁוּבָה), often translated as "repentance," also means an answer or response to a question. God's love is the question, and the heart's response is the answer. Some of us may find it difficult to trust, to open our heart to receive grace and kindness. For those of us wounded by abandonment, it can be a great struggle to hear the voice of God calling you "beloved," "worthy," "valued," and "accepted." When you find faith to receive God's word of love, however, your heart comes alive and you begin to heal. May you hear the Spirit speaking to you this hour...
 




Parashat Vayetzei - וַיֵּצֵא


 

11.23.14 (Kislev 1, 5775)   Our Torah portion this week (Vayetzei) includes Jacob's dream of a ladder (סֻלָּם) extending from earth to heaven, with the angels of God ascending and descending, and the LORD Himself standing above assuring Jacob of his safe return to the land he had fled.  Jacob awoke and responded to the dream with awe: "Surely the LORD is in this place (בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה), and I did not know it." And he was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." And he called the name of that place Bethel (בֵּית־אֵל) i.e., "the house of God."

The sages explain that ha-makom (הַמָּקוֹם), literally "the place" that Jacob saw, was actually Mount Moriah, the location where Jacob's father Isaac was bound as the "sacrificed seed" and which later became the site of the Holy Temple. The word makom comes from a verb (קוּם) meaning "to arise," suggesting resurrection and ascension. In later Rabbinical thought Ha-Makom became synonymous with the name of God Himself ("God is the place of the world, but the world is not God's only place").

Yeshua referred to Jacob's dream when he said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man" (John 1:51). Just as Jacob saw the ladder ascending to heaven with the angels of God ascending and descending upon it, so Yeshua told Nathanael that He was the Ladder to God, the sha'ar ha-shamayim (שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם) - the way into heaven (John 14:6). Indeed, Yeshua is the true Place or "house of God" and its Chief Cornerstone (Rosh Pinnah, Matt. 21:42). The LORD is the resurrection and life, the One who prepares a place for you (John 11:25; 14:2).

For more information, please read the Torah summary page for Vayetzei and its related articles. You can also download the "Table Talk" for the portion here:
 

 




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 even the name "Jesus" (i.e., Yeshua: יֵשׁוּעַ) plays on the Hebrew word for deliverance or salvation (i.e., yeshuah: יְשׁוּעָה). 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  amar  ram  venissa  shokhen  ad  vekadosh  shemo,
marom  vekadosh  eshkon  veet  dakka  ushfal  ruach
lehachayot  ruach  shefalim  ulehachalot  lev  nidkaim
 

"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)



Download Study Card

 

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

yehi  ratzon  milfanekha  Adonai  Eloheinu  velohei  avoteinu
shetechadesh  aleinu  chodesh  tov  ba'adoneinu Yeshua  hamashiach Amen

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



Download Study Card

 

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

nivchar 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

shiviti  Adonai  lenegdi  tamid
ki mimini  bal  emot
 

"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 Shaddai yevarekh otkha
ve'yafrekha ve'yarbekha ve'hayita likhal amim
ve'yitten lekha et birkat Avraham
lekha ulzarakha itakh
 

"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

bitchu vo vekhol-et am
shifkhu lefanav levavkhem
Elohim machaseh-lanu selah
 

"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

horeni  Adonai  darkekha  ahalekh  baamitekha
yached  levavi  leyirah  shemekha

"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...

Photo by John J Parsons
 

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)



Download Study Card
 




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-rofei lishvurei lev u'mechabesh le'atztzevotam
moneh mispar lakokhavim lekhulam shemot yikra

Click to listen 

"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)

Download Study Card
 

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

horeni  Adonai  darkekha  ahalekh  baamitekha
yached  levavi  leyirah  shemekha

"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

mekhaseh pesha' mevakesh ahavah
veshoneh vedavar mafrid aluf
 

"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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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

kaveh  el  Adonai  chazak  ve'yametz  libbekha,
ve-kaveh  el  Adonai
 

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


 
Download Study Card 
 

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

chesed  veemet  nifgashu,  tzedek  veshalom  nashaku
 

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

The cross, not the scales

Download Study Card
 
 

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

hinnei  upelah  lo  yasherah  nafsho   bo
vetzaddik  beemunato   yichyeh

"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

Elohim  yireh-lo  hasseh  leolah  beni

"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

ani ledodi vealai teshukato
 

"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

kaveh  el  Adonai  chazak  ve'yametz  libbekha,
ve-kaveh  el  Adonai
 

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


 
Download Study Card
 
 

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

shivviti Adonai lenegdi tamid
ki mimini bal emot
 

"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
 

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.
 




Note: Novemeber 2014 updates continue here.

 





Follow the site's progress:

Site Updates for 2015

Site Updates for 2014

Site Updates for 2013

Site Updates for 2012

Site Updates for 2011

Site Updates for 2010

Site Updates for 2009

Site Updates for 2008

Site Updates for 2007

Site Updates for 2006

Site Updates for 2005

Site Updates for 2004

 


Hebrew4Christians Forum
 

 

Hebrew for Christians
Copyright © John J. Parsons
All rights reserved.

email