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

        

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

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





 

Jewish Holiday Calendar 

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

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

Spring Holiday Calendar

Dates for Passover 2015


The Spring Holidays:

Spring Holidays
 

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

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

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

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

Dates for Passover 2015:
Dates for Passover 2015

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May 2015 Site Updates
 


Loving the Stranger...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Naso ("lift up!")... ]

05.26.15 (Sivan 8, 5775)  In our Torah portion this week (Naso), God instructed that anyone who had wronged another was to confess their sin, make restitution for the full amount (plus one-fifth), and to offer an guilt offering for atonement (Num. 5:5-7). Notice, however, that this "law of restitution" applied not only to one's fellow Jew, but also to "strangers" (i.e., gerim: גֵּרִים) as is indicated by the immediately following verse: "But if the man has no next of kin to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution shall go to the LORD..." (Num. 5:8). The sages asked, "Is there anyone in Israel who has no next of kin - no brother, no nephew, no distant relation going back to Jacob? This can only refer, therefore, to a stranger, since he has no heirs" (Sifrei).  If for some reason the stranger could not be compensated for his loss, restitution must be made to the LORD, which implies that stealing from the stranger is to steal from God Himself.

So even at the very beginning of Israel's national history we see God's care for the "stranger" who dwelled among his people. Regarding the law of Passover, the LORD stated, "There shall be one law (תּוֹרָה אַחַת) for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you" (Exod. 12:49). "You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself" (Lev. 19:34). The sages ask, why does God love the stranger? Because they have no hereditary or family title. If someone truly wants to become a righteous person, God honors them as if they were the very priests of Israel. Proselytes are what they are simply out of love for God, just as Ruth was made a mother of the Messiah by means of her love for God alone. As it is written, "The LORD loves the righteous; He protects the stranger."
 

יְהוָה אהֵב צַדִּיקִים יְהוָה שׁמֵר אֶת־גֵּרִים
יָתוֹם וְאַלְמָנָה יְעוֹדֵד וְדֶרֶךְ רְשָׁעִים יְעַוֵּת

Adonai · o·hev · tzad·di·kim, · Adonai · sho·mer · et · ge·rim
ya·tom · ve·al·ma·nah · ye·o·ded, · ve·de·rekh · re·sha·im · ye·av·vet

 

"The LORD loves the righteous; the LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he turns upside down"
(Psalm 146:8-9)



 

Concerning the obligation to love the stranger and treat him with righteousness, Rabbi Jeremiah said: "How can you know that the Gentile that practices the law is equal to the high priest? Because it is said, "which, if a man do, he shall live through them" (Lev. 18:5). And it says, "This is the Torah of man" (2 Sam. 7:19). It does not say, "the law of the priests, Levites, Israelites," but "This is the law of man (תּוֹרַת הָאָדָם), O Lord God." And it does not say, "Open the gates and let the priests and Levites and Israel enter," but it says: "Open the gates that the righteous may enter" (Isa. 26:2). And it says, "This is the gate of the Lord, the righteous shall enter it." It does not say, "The priests and the Levites and Israel shall enter it" (Psalm 118:20). And it does not say, "Rejoice you, priests, Levites, and Israelites," but it says,"Rejoice you righteous" (Psalm 33:1). And it does not say, "Do good, O Lord, to the priests and the Levites and the Israelites," but it says "Do good, O Lord, to the good" (Psalm 125:4). So even a Gentile, if he practices the Torah, is equal to the high priest (Sifra 86b; Baba Kamma 38a).

Did you know that one of the most frequently occurring commandments is for the Jew to love the stranger?  The commandment is repeated in various forms over 30 times in the Jewish Scriptures, for instance "You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD" (Lev. 19:18); "You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God" (Lev. 19:34); "Love the stranger, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt" (Deut. 10:19); "You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt" (Exod. 22:21); "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong" (Lev. 19:33); "Do not oppress the stranger" (Zech. 7:10); "Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due the stranger" (Deut. 24:19); "The stranger shall be as the native born children of Israel among you" (Ezek. 47:22), and so on.  Clearly the LORD does not want people to feel ostracized, excluded, or otherwise left out of His providential and loving plans...
 




The Blessing of Shalom...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Naso ("lift up!")... ]

05.26.15 (Sivan 8, 5775)  "May the LORD lift up his face upon you and give you peace" (Num. 6:26). That is, may the LORD "lift up his face" (יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו) toward you in welcome, and may his countenance be radiant with joy over you. May his face be "toward you," not turned away or hidden... When God turns toward you, he imparts the blessing without which all other blessings are beholden, namely, his peace (i.e., shalom). After all, what good is worldly prosperity or temporal pleasure apart from God's blessing of peace? To have shalom (שָׁלוֹם) is to be made shalem (שָׁלֵם) – made whole, complete, secure, happy – and therefore the peace of God (שְׁלוֹם הָאֱלהִים) is assuredly the most essential blessing.

Let me add that there is objective, God-established peace found in our Savior: "since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through Adoneinu Yeshua Mashiach" (Rom. 5:1). This is the reconciliation that God effected through the cross of Yeshua for our atonement (Rom. 5:11). God's love makes our eternal peace real, secure, and finished... There is also a subjective side of peace, however, that is a fruit of the Spirit of God: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace..." (Gal. 5:22). This is the inner peace that we experience by trusting in God's care for our lives, despite our struggles; such peace comes when we allow the Spirit of God to reign within our hearts by faith (Phil. 4:7; Col. 3:15).

Of course there is the reality of spiritual warfare, depression, anxiety, etc. that many of us face.  Please let us pray for one another - that the peace of God, the blessing of God, would inwardly and genuinely be manifested within the hearts of all who call on the name of Yeshua for life... Let us seek, ask, and knock on heaven's door for help, chaverim yakarim.
 




Parashat Naso - נשא


 

05.25.15 (Sivan 7, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week (parashat Naso) includes the famous blessing that Aaron and his sons (i.e., the priests) were instructed to recite over the people of Israel. The text of the blessing (Num. 6:24-26) begins with three words, is comprised of three parts, invokes the divine Name three times, and is therefore appropriately called "the three-in-one blessing." Notice that the words are spoken in the grammatical singular rather than plural because they are meant to have personal application, not to be a general benediction over a crowd of people. The phrase, "The LORD lift up His face toward you..." (יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ) pictures the beaming face of a parent as he lifts up his beloved child in joy... The repetitive construction of God "lifting up His face" (יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיך) suggests that God's justice has been fully satisfied and His compassion now flows outward to the child in loving grace. Undoubtedly Yeshua recited this very blessing over his disciples when he ascended back to heaven, though of course He would have spoken it in the grammatical first person: "I will bless you and keep you (אני אברך אותך ואשמור לך); I will shine upon you and will be gracious to you; I will lift up my countenance upon you, and give you my shalom" (Luke 24:50-51).
 

יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

ye·va·re·khe·kha · Adonai · ve·yish·me·re·kha
ya·eir · Adonai · pa·nav · e·ley·kha · vi·chun·ne·ka
yis·sa · Adonai · pa·nav · e·ley·kha · ve·ya·sem · le·kha · sha·lom
 

"The LORD bless you and guard you;
The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace."
(Num. 6:24-26)



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Note: To learn more about this wonderful blessing, click here (you can also listen to it chanted by clicking here).
 

 




Memorial Day...


 

05.25.15 (Sivan 7, 5775)  In the United States, "Memorial Day" is a national holiday observed on the last Monday of the month of May, that commemorates the sacrifice of those men and women who died in military service for their country. For those who have lost a loved one during their military service, please accept our heartfelt condolences and appreciation for your great sacrifice... And may the LORD God Almighty have mercy upon all the nations of the world - including the United States - by imparting the revelation of His Living Torah, Yeshua, as it says, "Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint, but the one who keeps Torah is made happy" (Prov. 29:18). If there is no vision, there is no direction, and this can lead to  moral and spiritual disorder, chaos, and bondage.
 

בְּאֵין חָזוֹן יִפָּרַע עָם
וְשׁמֵר תּוֹרָה אַשְׁרֵהוּ

b'ein · cha·zon · yip·pa·ra' · am
ve·sho·mer · to·rah · ash·rei·hu

 

"Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint,
but the one who keeps Torah is made happy" (Prov. 29:18).



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Heart of Goodness...


 

[ The great holiday of Shavuot ("Pentecost") begins sundown, Saturday May 23rd... ]

05.22.15 (Sivan 4, 5775)  In the Ethics of the Fathers (Avot 2), the sages debated what was the most important attribute to become a suitable bearer of God's message on earth. One sage answered, having a good eye (ayin tovah); another said being a good neighbor, and another said being wise in one's deeds. Rabbi Elazar, however, said having a "good heart" was most important, which was agreed to be the best answer. Having a good heart is the foundation for spiritual life, but it is impossible to have such a heart apart from the miracle of the Holy Spirit. Note that the gematria of a "good heart," or lev tov (לֵב טוֹב), is 49, the number of days between Passover and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. May God pour out His Spirit upon us so that we have the heart of Yeshua within us!
 




The Book of God...


 

05.22.15 (Sivan 4, 5775)  "You shall count seven weeks... then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God" (Deut. 16:9-11). The 49 days between the great Exodus and the revelation at Sinai are called yamim shel sefirah (יָמִים שֶׁל סְפִירָה), the "days of counting." As soon as Israel departed from Egypt they began to count the days until they would encounter God, as Moses had earlier promised, and their excitement climaxed when they arrived at Sinai on the third month after the Exodus (Exod. 19:1) -- just a few days before the anticipated 50th day ("Pentecost"). Note that the word "sefirah" ("counting") is composed of two separate words, "sefer" (סֵפֶר), meaning "book," and Yah (יָהּ), a name for God. During the 49 days we count down to the revelation of Torah, the Book of God, the Word of God, given to us on Shavuot.


 

Note that Shavuot is also called Yom Habikkurim (יוֹם הַבִּכּוּרִים), the "day of first fruits" , a time when the first crops of the land were to be offered at the Temple (Num. 28:26; Deut. 8:8). God calls Israel "my son, my first born son" (Exod. 4:22), which alludes to the idea of first fruits, since the word bechor (בְּכוֹר), "first born" and bikkurim (בְּכּוּרִים), "first fruits" share the same Hebrew root. Israel was to represent the first fruits of a redeemed humanity. The bechor (first born) was blessed to help others draw near to God for salvation. Likewise Yeshua is called "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation," indicating his role as the leader of a redeemed and re-created humanity (Col. 1:15).

Recall that the climax of the 49 days countdown was not the giving of the lawcode at Sinai, but rather the revelation of the altar (i.e., the Tabernacle) and its subsequent fulfillment in the sacrificial death of Yeshua as our Lamb of God.  Moreover, it was during this time that Yeshua made His post-resurrection appearances to His disciples - and indeed ascended to heaven during this 49 day period... Of particular importance is the holiday of Shavuot, day 7x7 of the count, when the Holy Spirit (Ruach ha-Kodesh) was given to the disciples in fulfillment of the promise of Yeshua that we would not be left comfortless... Shavuot, then, marks the time of "Jubilee" of the Spirit, when are clothed with power from on high to serve the LORD without fear. We are new creations in our Messiah!
 




Remember who you are...


 

05.22.15 (Sivan 4, 5775)  The haftarah for this coming Shabbat (i.e., Hosea 2:1-23) likens the Lord to a "jilted lover" who refuses to give up his passion for us. He loves us even in the filth of our depravity and redeems us from a life of shame; he zealously seeks us, takes us back, and restores us to a place of honor and joy... It is vital to understand that sin does not mean breaking God's law as much as it means breaking God's heart.

One of the greatest mistakes is to forget the message of who you really are and your beloved status before the LORD... "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine" (Isa. 43:1). Forgetting who you are leads to forgetting who the LORD is, just as forgetting who the LORD is leads to forgetting who you are... 

A verse from the Torah speaks to us along these lines: "You are children of the LORD your God (בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַיהוָה אֱלהֵיכֶם). You shall not cut yourselves for the dead. For the LORD has chosen you to be for him a treasured people (עַם סְגֻלָּה) out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth" (Deut. 14:1-2). God regards us as his beloved children, and therefore we must trust him as a child trusts his father. We may not always understand all that our father does, but we believe in his good will toward us, even in the face of death itself. We must not engage in self-destructive mourning (or self-destructive habits based on mourning), because we are treasured by God and we trust in God's promises for eternal life (John 11:25). Because of this, excessive mourning, interminable gloom, self-destructive anger, or the refusal to let go of our fear may indicate a lack of faith in God's care as our Father. Remember that where it says "God works all things together for good," that includes even physical death... Let us therefore "hope to the LORD (קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה); be strong and strengthen our heart; and (again) let us hope to the LORD" (Psalm 27:14).

Shabbat Shalom dear friends...
 




Moving Heaven and Earth...


 

05.22.15 (Sivan 4, 5775)  Act as if your choices have eternal significance; they do; pray as if your life depends on it; it does. Praying in accordance with the will of God - to know Him, to walk in the light of his love and to be filled with wisdom, patience, kindness, and so on, will assuredly move heaven and earth (1 John 5:14). God is faithful and always hears those who call out to him with sincerity of heart: "The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth" (Psalm 145:18). Rouse then your heart! Boldly draw near to the throne of Grace to find help in your present hour of need (Heb. 4:16). Cry out to God Most High (לֵאלהִים עֶלְיוֹן), to the very One who will fulfill his purpose for you (Psalm 57:2).
 

קָרוֹב יְהוָה לְכָל־קרְאָיו
לְכל אֲשֶׁר יִקְרָאֻהוּ בֶאֱמֶת

ka·rov · Adonai · le'khol · ko·re·av
le·khol · a·sher · yik·ra·u·hu · ve·e·met
 

"The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth."
(Psalm 145:18)



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

"The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth" (Psalm 145:18), which implies that honesty and truthfulness mark the very language of heaven.  The language of heaven is truth spoken from a heart of trust...
 




Accounted by God...


 

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

05.22.15 (Sivan 4, 5775)  Parashat Bamidbar is always read immediately before the great holiday of Shavuot (i.e., Pentecost), which is the time we celebrate "mattan Torah" -- the giving of the Torah of the LORD (first at Mount Sinai, later at Mount Zion). Central to Bamidbar is the counting of the person, identifying his "place" within Israel (Num. 1:52), and therefore the sages link the idea of being counted with the revelation of God itself. In other words, as we come to know who we are as God's redeemed people, as we learn to reckon ourselves as his beloved, so we will receive Torah and be accounted among his people. Our heads will be "lifted up," and we will receive the first blessing of Torah, namely: anokhi Adonai Elohekha (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ), "I AM the LORD your (singular) God" (Exod. 20:2).

"The LORD spoke to Moses in the desert of Sinai... saying 'Lift up the head' (i.e., count) of the children of Israel (Num. 1:1). The Torah commentator Rashi insightfully noted that as we are counted, so we are lifted up and beheld by God.  In other words your life matters to heaven, and you are counted worthy because of God's great redeeming love.  The sages say that each of us is as a letter of Torah; each of us counts in God's book. Indeed our beloved Savior Yeshua said, "Even the hairs on your head are numbered" (Matt. 10:30).

May you lift up your head and be counted as one of God's own, friend....
 




The Center of our Journey...


 

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

05.21.15 (Sivan 3, 5775)  Just as the Jews encamped in the desert around the holy Ark of the Covenant, which held the word of God and was sprinkled with sacrificial blood for atonement, so we sojourn our days focused on the Living Word of God, who offered up his own blood upon the heavenly kapporet for our eternal atonement. "For by a single offering (קָרְבָּן אֶחָד) he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified" (Heb. 10:14). The sacrificial love of God is the central truth of reality: "For I decided to know nothing among you except Yeshua the Messiah and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2).
 




Celebrating our Need...



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

05.21.15 (Sivan 3, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week begins: "The LORD spoke to Moses in the desert of Sinai, in the tent of meeting (ohel mo'ed), on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt" (Num. 1:1). Note again that the LORD spoke in the desert (ba-midbar) of Sinai, and that the Hebrew word for "desert" (i.e., midbar: מִדְבָּר) shares the same root as the "word" (i.e., davar: דָּבָר), which suggests that we hear the Word of God in a place of emptiness, brokenness and ongoing need. But note further that the LORD spoke in the "tent of meeting" (אהֶל מוֹעֵד), which may be read as the tent of "mo'ed" (מוֹעֵד), or "holiday." We celebrate our need for God's healing and turn to him in a state of gratitude, even despite our sinful condition (Psalm 119:71). We take courage and draw near, renewed in trust. That is why the verse says it was "the first day of the second month" (חדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי בַּשָּׁנָה) -- the word "month" (chodesh) can be read as "new" (chadash), suggesting it was a time of renewal, a time to celebrate a new beginning (Acts 2:1-4). When David prayed in his need: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10), the Hebrew may be read: "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew within me ruach nachon (רוּחַ נָכוֹן) - a spirit of "Yes!" As Paul said of Messiah our Healer: "For all the promises of God find their Yes in him" (2 Cor. 1:20).
 




Lessons in Waste Places...


 

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

05.20.15 (Sivan 2, 5775)  How much energy is wasted going backward, returning to the same empty places? Yet we are creatures of habit; we tend to be lazy and we avoid examining our convictions and underlying assumptions; we are apt to ignore or explain way evidence that might challenge us, or - if we can no longer avoid the truth - we procrastinate and later "forget" the resolve to turn our heart to God in the truth. This way we can "hear" a commandment and yet postpone our action until later; we can agree to follow Messiah, but only in our own terms. Like Augustine, we pray: "Grant me chastity and continence -- only not yet..." And so we are turned back to emptiness because we refuse to go forward.
 

    "We like to continue to believe what we have been accustomed to accept as true, and the resentment aroused when doubt is cast upon any of our assumptions leads us to seek every manner of excuse for clinging to them. The result is that most of our so-called reasoning consists in finding arguments for going on believing as we already do." - James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936)


Between slavery and the promised land lies the desert - a transitional place where we learn to depend on God's sustenance alone to bring us through... The "desert experience" can help liberate the soul from its past slavery, or it can reveal that the soul really does not want to be free. Hardship and testing reveal to us what we really believe, after all. It's one thing to be set free from what has once enslaved you, but it is quite another thing to live as a free person, conscious of your own liberty and dignity as a beloved child of God. And yet we are warned that if we don't turn away from what has enslaved us in the first place, if we don't learn to truly see ourselves as a new creation (בְּרִיאָה חֲדָשָׁה), it is likely we will be led back to a place of slavery once again.

Be encouraged, friends. If you feel lost in the desert, remember that it was there that God revealed himself to broken Moses... As it is written, "Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God" (Isa. 50:10). Yeshua is our Good Shepherd who promises to guide our way to the high country of Zion (Psalm 23; John 10:14-16).
 




Beatitudes of Humility...


 

05.20.15 (Sivan 2, 5775)   "Blessed are those who weep while the world goes on laughing, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; blessed are the meek, for they shall overcome; blessed are those who realize they know little, for they shall find treasure; blessed are those who realize they are unrighteous, for they shall find healing; blessed are the misfits who are disowned by the world as fools, for they shall find mansions in heaven; blessed are the weak, for they shall be made strong; blessed are those who weep, for they shall obtain eternal consolation; blessed are those who refuse to assimilate into this world and its idols, for they shall be called victors in the world to come..."

God turns everything "upside down," for what is esteemed in this world is regarded as vanity in the world to come, and vice-versa. Indeed, the wisdom of this world is based on what I have called the "devil's logic," that is, the cynical notion that "truth" is nothing more than a political tool used to exploit others.  The devil's logic is devoid of transcendental reality and therefore relies on compromise and "tolerance" to define truth as a form of "consensus" and "group think." Invariably this approach leads to ambiguity, confusion, cowardice, absurdism, madness, and cruelty...

The Scriptures teach, "Light is sown for the righteous (tzaddikim), and joy for the upright (yashar) in heart" (Psalm 97:11). May it please the LORD God to renew our courage to live wholeheartedly according to His truth, and to resist the pressure to conform to the idolatry of this world. Amen.
 




Revelation and Study...


 

05.20.15 (Sivan 2, 5775)  Some of the sages have made a connection between the Ten Days of Repentance (the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) and the seven weeks of the Omer Count (the time between Passover and Shavuot). Studying God's revelation is a prelude to re-experiencing the joy of His Presence, though this of course requires diligence and hard work. In order to understand what God requires of us, then, we must make an honest effort to study the truth of Torah and to practice it in our lives...

In Hebrew the word chinukh (חִנּוּךְ) means "education," a word that shares the same root as the word "chanukah" (חֲנֻכָּה, dedication). Unlike the ancient Greek view that pragmatically saw education as a humanistic means of escaping from "the cave of ignorance" to better one's personal power or happiness (Plato), the Jewish idea of education implies dedication to God and His concrete purposes on the earth. For example, the Rambam notes that the word chinukh is borrowed from the Torah's description of dedicating a tool for use with the Holy Altar, "habituating the tool for its work." In other words, godly education is a process of being made a "fit vessel" for the service of God in the world. All other ends of knowledge ultimately exist for this purpose, and rightly understood, education is a form of worship.
 

בְּאֵין חָזוֹן יִפָּרַע עָם
וְשׁמֵר תּוֹרָה אַשְׁרֵהוּ

b'ein · cha·zon · yip·pa·ra' · am
ve·sho·mer · to·rah · ash·rei·hu

 

"Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint,
but the one who keeps Torah is made happy" (Prov. 29:18).



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May God make Torah sweet on our tongues and to help us be "engrossed" in the words of the Scriptures.  There is no real blessedness apart from the truth of the Holy One...
 




I Need Thee Every Hour...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Shavuot, which begins in less than a week... ]

05.19.15 (Sivan 1, 5775)  Today is Rosh Chodesh Sivan, which means that the countdown from Passover to the climactic 50th day of Shavuot is nearly complete. The great Torah sage Moses Maimonides once wrote: "The counting from Passover to Shavuot is carried out as one who waits for the coming of the human being he loves best, counting the days and hours."  If the Passover redemption is incomplete without the giving of the Torah at Sinai, how much more is redemption given by the Messiah, the true Lamb of God, incomplete without the advent of the Spirit? The cross leads to the revelation of "deeper Torah," imbued by the inward power of the Holy Spirit that quickens our hearts to long for the coming of our Beloved Savior and the establishment of his kingdom over all the earth...

Just as the giving of the Torah happened at one specified time, but the receiving of it happens all the time, "in every generation," the same may be said regarding the ruach, the Spirit: every day we must open our hearts to the Divine Presence... "I need Thee every hour." The study of Torah never ends, since we are never without need for the Teacher.

The commandment to sanctify the new moon of Sivan reveals that it is our responsibility to sanctify (i.e., observe) Biblical time in general. In other words, when we observe the month in which the Torah was revealed to Israel, we are acknowledging that time itself is rooted in the Biblical calendar with its divinely inspired cycle of festivals (i.e., the moedim). Since Rosh Chodesh Sivan historically marks the beginning of a month of great revelation, we humbly ask the LORD to help us prepare for the coming season of Shavuot:
 

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

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

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



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Prelude to the Desert...


 

[ The following is a brief survey of the Torah as a "prelude" to our study of the Book of Numbers. Hopefully this will provide some overall context to the book as we read it again this year... ]

05.19.15 (Sivan 1, 5775)  The Book of Genesis (i.e., Sefer Bereshit [סֵפֶר בְּרֵאשִׁית]) describes the creation of the world, the transgression of Adam and Eve, the promise of the coming Savior, and the subsequent lapse of the human race into godlessness and depravity. The wicked generations of Cain caused the world to be entirely steeped in anarchy and bloodlust, so that "every intention of the thoughts of man's heart was only evil continually." After ten generations, the LORD "had enough" and destroyed the human race by means of the great flood. Only Noah and his immediate family were spared. Noah had three sons, of whom God chose Shem to be the high priest of the remnant of the human race. From Shem's line would ultimately come Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Of course Abraham had a son named Isaac, and Isaac later had a son named Jacob. From Jacob (who was renamed "Israel") were born twelve sons, each of whom became patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. Jacob's treasured son Joseph, however, was sold into slavery by his envious brothers, but later God promoted him to great power in the land of Egypt. The Book of Genesis ends with Joseph's dramatic reconciliation with his family, who then emigrated to Egypt to escape a devastating famine in the land of Canaan. Before his death, Jacob blessed his sons and confirmed the coming of the Savior through the tribe of Judah.

The Book of Exodus (i.e., Sefer Shemot [סֵפֶר שְׁמוֹת]) describes how the family of Jacob (i.e., the twelve tribes of Israel) multiplied into a great nation while dwelling in the land Egypt. Eventually, however, the Egyptians came to regard these "outsiders" as a political threat and convinced the Pharaoh to enslave and to grievously oppress them. The book describes how God intervened on behalf of Israel and chose Moses (and Aaron) to confront the Pharaoh and to demand that the Israelites be set free. Pharaoh refused Moses' repeated appeals, however, despite plagues of warning visited upon the Egyptians. As a final act of judgment, God instituted the Passover and killed all the firstborn sons of the land of Egypt.  Moses and the Israelites then fled from Egypt, crossing the Red Sea into the Midian desert as directed by the Pillar of Cloud and Fire. When the people finally convened at Mount Sinai 49 days later, they received the Ten Commandments, and Moses was called up the mountain to receive the vision of the Tabernacle. While Moses was on the mountain, however, the Israelites forged a Golden Calf and worshipped it, and God threatened to destroy the people. Moses successfully interceded on their behalf, however, and after a period of national teshuvah (repentance), the covenant was renewed.  The remainder of the book describes the architectural details and the construction of the Tabernacle, which was finally assembled and consecrated a year after the Exodus from Egypt (i.e., on Nisan 1). The Book of Exodus ends with the Shekhinah Glory of the LORD filling the newly built sanctuary: "For the cloud of the LORD was on the Tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys."

Moses' brother Aaron had been selected to be the first High Priest of the Jewish people, and Aaron's sons were designated as Israel's priests. Since the Tabernacle was intended to symbolize God's Presence among the people, Moses undoubtedly instructed Aaron and his sons (along with the other Levites) about their forthcoming responsibilities. The Book of Leviticus (i.e., Sefer Vayikra [סֵפֶר וַיִּקְרָא]) is therefore called Torat Kohanim - the Law of the Priests - since it deals largely with the service of the priests in the Tabernacle (the book was probably originally written during the six months when the Tabernacle and its furnishings were being made). The laws of sacrificial offerings are therefore detailed, as well dietary laws, laws regarding purity and impurity, and specific rituals for purifying the sanctuary. Throughout the book the holiness of God is stressed, with the corresponding duty for the priests and the people to be holy themselves. Apart from the narrative concerning the days of the Tabernacle's consecration (i.e., the death of Aaron's sons), the book itself is somewhat "timeless," with an emphasis on the need for blood atonement and sacrificial rituals to draw near to God. Leviticus is the center, or "heart" of the Torah, and therefore is positioned the "midst" of the scroll, and in the midst of the scroll is the korban tamid -- the daily sacrifice of the lamb with wine and matzah.  And in the midst of all that symbolism is very the heart of God who offers us his love, his healing, his atonement... The Book ends with a list of blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience to God's law.

Although it appears after the Book of Leviticus in the Torah scroll, the Book of Numbers (i.e., Sefer Bemidbar [סֵפֶר בְּמִדְבַּר]) picks up precisely where the Book of Exodus left off, with the Glory of the LORD hovering over Tabernacle as the Israelites camped at Sinai. The book opens: "The LORD spoke to Moses in the desert of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head" (Num. 1:1-2). After the adult men were counted (the result of 603,550 is identical to earlier number in the Book of Exodus (cp. Num. 1:45-46; Exod. 38:26-27)) - the tribes were meticulously arranged into military camp formation around the Tabernacle. It should be noted, however, that the narrative in the book is not presented in entirely chronological order, since later it is stated that Israel celebrated the Passover before this census was taken (cp. Num. 1:1-2; 9:1-5), and the commencement of the journey to the promised land began when the Divine cloud lifted from the Tabernacle and began moving towards the wilderness of Paran (Num. 10:11-12). Besides, very little is told us about the 38 years of wandering in the desert, though certain spiritually significant episodes are described in the text... At any rate, the purpose of the census appears to be military, and only true Israelites were allowed to fight in God's battles (i.e., the "mixed multitude" were eligible). However, despite being personally led by the Shekhinah cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night - with the Divine Presence encamping in their midst and protecting them on all sides - the Israelites repeatedly rebelled against the LORD. When the camp of Israel finally drew near to the promised land, the people lapsed in their faith and succumbed to the fears expressed by the faithless spies. This grave sin led to God's judgment that Israel's entry into the land would be delayed for an additional 38 years, during which time every person 20 years of age and older was fated to die in the wilderness (except for Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, the two spies who trusted in God). Truly it's been said that it was easier for the LORD to take the people out of Egypt than for Him to take Egypt out of the people.

Following this tragic judgment, God turned the people back to the desert and restated various laws regarding the Tabernacle. Moses' cousin Korach - joined by other prominent leaders of Israel - then rebelled by challenging God's designated leadership and calling for the people to return to Egypt. After God destroyed the rebels and vindicated the priesthood of Aaron and his sons, the people wandered in the desert for several more years. After further tests and failures of the people - including Moses' own lapse at Kadesh Barnea which led to his banishment from the promised land - the 38 year period of exile finally drew to a close. Another census was taken, and Joshua was commissioned to lead the people into the land. The Book of Numbers ends with the next generation of Israel beginning to conquer the region of Canaan east of the Promised Land. 

Technically speaking, the Book of Numbers marks the end of the historical narrative of the Torah, since it briefly describes the Israelites arrival at the end of their journey, the impending death of Moses, and the appointment of Joshua as the new leader of the people (the Book of Deuteronomy presents Moses' final sermon before he died). In Jewish tradition, the book is generally not regarded as a book of law, though the sages discover various forms of "case law" in its pages (e.g., the case of the inheritance of the daughters of Zelophehad). Instead, the book functions as a warning of the need to adhere to God's Torah and to exercise faith in His provision for the people. It ends with a note of hope, as the surviving generation begins to take hold of God's promise and enter into the land...

On a "macro level," the Torah tells the story of our pilgrimage to Zion, the mountain of the LORD that will one day fill the whole earth.... Genesis describes our creation and fall; Exodus describes our bondage and deliverance; Leviticus describes the walk of holiness; and Numbers describes the test and refinement of our faith (Deuteronomy is "mishneh Torah," the retelling and review of the inner meaning of the first four books).

It has been rightly said that the Book of Numbers displays both the "goodness and the severity of God" (Rom. 11:22). The New Testament cites various acts of rebellion mentioned in the book as "parables" or examples that were recorded so that we might be warned to keep our faith resolute (1 Cor. 10:1-12; Rom. 15:4). The Apostle Paul wrote, "Now these things took place as examples (i.e., τύποι, "types") for us, that we might not desire evil as they did... they were written down for our warning (νουθεσία) on whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Cor. 10:6, 11). Part of the wonder of the story of the Exodus generation is that "the deeds of the fathers are signs for the children" (מַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹת סִימָן לַבָּנִים), which means that the stories recorded in the Torah are "immortal" patterns intended to teach us spiritual truth. The faithlessness of the Exodus generation is therefore an eternal warning of failing to genuinely possess the promises of God... As Paul further states in this connection, "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12). We stand by trusting in the goodness of God and therefore we are warned about the severe consequences of unbelief.

Likewise, the author of the Book of Hebrews warns that "Exodus generation" was forbidden to enter into God's rest because of their unbelief. "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Messiah, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is written, 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion;" (Heb. 3:12-15). And again, "Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened" (Heb. 4:1-2).

May the Living God (אֵל חַי) give you the grace to trust in Him... May He forever keep you! May He guard you from the seduction of unbelief.... May you forever resist the temptation to lose your heart. Walk strong, chaverim! Be strong in the LORD and the power of His might!
 




Revelation of the Torah...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Shavuot, which begins Sat., May 23 at sundown... ]

05.19.15 (Sivan 1, 5775)  During the holiday of Shavuot ("Weeks") we remember how the LORD graciously condescended to meet with the Jewish people at Sinai, and how all the people heard the Voice of God (קוֹל אֱלהִים) speaking from the midst of the fire (Deut. 4:33). This awesome event foreshadowed the great advent of the King and Lawgiver Himself, when the Eternal Word (דְבַר־יְהוָה) became flesh to dwell with us (Phil. 2:6-7; John 1:1,14), and it further foreshadowed the advent of the Spirit of Truth given to the disciples of Messiah (Acts 2:1-4). Any theology that regards God as entirely transcendent will have a problem with divine immanence, since the highness, holiness, and perfection of God will make him seem distant, outside of us, far away, and even unknown... Incarnational theology, on the other hand, manifests the nearness of God to disclose the divine empathy. Indeed, the LORD became Immanuel (עִמָּנוּ אֵל), "one with us," to share our mortal condition, to know our pain, and to experience what it means to be wounded by sin, to be abandoned, alienated, forsaken. The "Eternal made flesh" bridges the gap between the realm of Ein Sof (אין סוף), the Infinitely transcendent One, and the finite world of people lost within their sinful frailty. Of course we believe Adonai Echad (יְהוָה אֶחָד) - that the "LORD is One" - both in the sense of being exalted over all things but also in the sense of being compassionately involved in all things (Rom. 11:36). During Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah both at Sinai, at Bethlehem (בֵּית לֶחֶם), and within our hearts. We celebrate that God is indeed the King and Ruler over all, but we further affirm that God's authority and rule extends to all possible worlds - including the realm of finitude and even death itself.
 

כִּי יְהוָה שׁפְטֵנוּ יְהוָה מְחקְקֵנוּ
יְהוָה מַלְכֵּנוּ הוּא יוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ

ki · Adonai · sho·fe·tei·nu · Adonai · me·cho·ke·kei·nu
Adonai · mal·kei·nu · hu · yo·shi·ei·nu

 

"For the LORD is our judge; the LORD is our lawgiver;
the LORD is our king; He will save us."
(Isa. 33:22)



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Always the First Step...

Tochelet - by J Parsons
 

05.19.15 (Sivan 1, 5775)  There is a core element of your spiritual life that is all-determinative, that affects everything else, and that is the decision of whether you will choose to "show up," whether you will engage it's hope; and whether you will open your eyes and yield yourself to the light... And this is an ongoing decision. Therefore we read in the Torah: "If you walk in my statutes (אִם־בְּחֻקּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ) and observe my commandments and do them..." (Lev. 26:3). The sages note that unlike the holy angels, we must "walk out" the faith of our days, and therefore we are always moving either forward or backward. God's sun shines on the just and unjust alike (Matt. 5:45). Every human being lives by faith of some kind, and it is therefore impossible to opt out of the decision to "choose this day whom we shall serve" (Josh. 24:15). Indifference or apathy is as much a spiritual decision as is outright rebellion, and if we do nothing today to draw us near to the Lord, we will eventually regress and slip backward. This is all very sobering. "No one knows the day or hour," and that's why it is so vital to turn to God and be healed while there is still time. So turn today and bacharta ba'chayim (בָּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים) - "choose life!" "For this commandment (of turning to God) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away... No, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; Rom. 10:8-13).
 




Hearing the Whisper...


 

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

05.18.15 (Iyyar 29, 5775)  The Hebrew word midbar ("desert") shares the same root as davar (דּבר) which means "word." We often need to be alone to hear God speaking kol demamah dakkah (קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה) - "the sound of a low whisper" (1 Kings. 19:12), and the journey into the desert was God's way of separating His people to speak with them "privately," so to speak (Jer. 2:2). But to hear the word we must humble ourselves, and the desert (i.e., "word") of Sinai is therefore first of all the word of humility (עֲנָוָה). When God spoke Torah to Israel, it was from a nondescript mountain - a place of emptiness, brokenness and need. Indeed, another word for Sinai is "chorev" (חרֵב), a word that means dryness and desolation. That is the starting point -- not the lush places of a future paradise. We receive Torah "bamidbar" because we can only hear God's davar in a place of lowliness and inner quiet. God brings us to an arid place -- inhospitable, and dangerous -- to reveal our need for Him, to show Himself as our Sustainer. The way to Sinai is a necessary excursion to prepare us to look for the greater hope of Zion. May God help us heed the whisper of His Spirit...
 




Preparing for Revelation...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Shavuot, which begins May 23rd at sundown... ]

05.18.15 (Iyyar 29, 5775)  A week is called shavu'a (שָׁבוּעַ) in Hebrew, from a root word sheva (שֶׁבַע) that means seven. Seven is the number of holiness and completion, and the first verse of Torah has seven words (בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ). Moreover, in six days God created the heavens and the earth, but on the seventh day he rested and set it apart as sacred (Gen. 2:3). The holiday of Shavuot (שָׁבוּעוֹת), or "weeks," marks the "Jubilee of Passover," which occurs after we count 7x7 (49) days from the day following Passover until we reach Sivan 6 (which this year begins May 23rd at sundown). Since Shavuot occurs on the 50th day after Passover, the Greek translators of the Torah called it "Pentecost" (πεντηκοστή).  Shavuot marks the goal or climax of Passover season, commemorating both the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Sinai as well as the giving of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Messiah (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4).



 

According to the sages, Shavuot marks the culmination of the experience of redemption, sometimes called Atzaret Pesach, the "conclusion" of Passover. Since the Exodus from Egypt led to the revelation given at Sinai, the goal of Passover was the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. In other words, the LORD took the Jews out of Egypt so that they would be His own treasured people, holy and separated from the pagan cultures around them.  Indeed, all of the mo'edim (holidays) of the biblical calendar are connected with this event, including the fall festivals of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.

It is an old custom to attend services during erev Shavuot and to stay the entire night listening to poems and reading selections from the Torah and from the Talmud (this custom is called tikkun leil shavu'ot: תִּקּוּן לֵיל שָׁבוּעוֹת, "rectification for Shavuot night"). This custom is observed to "repair" the night of Shavuot from the error of sleeping so soundly before the Torah was revealed at Sinai that God had to awaken the Jews with piercing shofar blasts, thunder, and lightning the following morning.  After this all-night vigil, morning prayers are recited thanking God for the revelation at Sinai.



 

Jewish tradition teaches be'chol dor vador - that in every generation each person should consider him or herself as having personally received the Torah at Sinai. The climax of the Shavuot morning service is the recitation of the famous Akdamut poem followed by the reading of the Ten Commandments, when all the congregation stands to "relive" the experience at Sinai. A second Torah scroll is then taken out of the ark and the portion is read (Num. 28:26-31) that describes the sacrificial offerings made at the Temple during Shavuot, and the Haftarah (Ezek. 1:1-28; 3:12) concerns the amazing revelation of God in the form of the Throne/Chariot.

The holiday of Shavuot is one of the shelosh regalim (three major "pilgrimage festivals") commanded in the Torah (Exod. 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16) and therefore it reveals profound spiritual truth for followers of Yeshua (Luke 24:44; 2 Tim. 3:16). God did not want us to miss the significance of this holiday, since it expresses the freedom and truth of the New Covenant of Zion. From my family to you: Shavuot Sameach - "Happy Shavuot!"  May this be a time of renewal and great joy in your lives....

Note:  I am aware that some people insist that Shavuot must occur on a Sunday, following the Sadducee's interpretation that "the day after the Sabbath" (Lev. 23:15) refers to the first day of the week, rather than to the day following the Sabbath of Passover. This has been the historical position of most "mainline" Christian churches...  Everyone can (and should) follow their own earnest conviction on this subject (Rom. 14:5). I follow the traditional Jewish interpretation to identify with the worldwide Jewish community, whereas others might begin the omer count starting on the first Sunday after Passover. I would urge everyone to exercise humility here, because there are genuine differences of opinion among people of good will on this subject. As it is written: "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by God" (1 Cor. 8:1-3).
 




Parashat Bamidbar - במדבר


 

05.18.15 (Iyyar 29, 5775)  Our Torah portion for this week, parashat Bamidbar (בְּמִדְבַּר), begins the Book of Numbers, where the narrative begins precisely where the Book of Exodus left off, with the glory of the LORD hovering over the Mishkan (Tabernacle) as the Israelites were stationed at Sinai. On the first day of the thirteenth month following the Exodus from Egypt – exactly thirty days after the Tabernacle was first consecrated – God commanded Moses to take a census of all Israelite males over 20 years of age who would bear arms. Moses and the heads of each tribe recorded the results, with 603,550 men in all. This number did not include the Levites, however, since they were designated to take care of the Tabernacle and its furnishings during the journeys.

God then gave instructions about how the Israelite camp was to be arranged. The Tabernacle would occupy the central location, with three clans of the Levites surrounding it on the north, south, and west (Moses and Aaron's tents were placed before the entrance on the east). The twelve other tribes were divided into four groups of three, each of which had its own flag and tribal leader's tent. All of the tents of the Israelites were to face the Tabernacle on every side. This camp formation was to be strictly maintained while traveling throughout the desert.

 

Each tribe had its own prince (nassi) and its own unique flag (degel), and each tribe's flag color corresponded with the color of its respective stone in Aaron's breastplate (Exod. 28:15-21). For example, Judah's stone was a sky-blue carbuncle and therefore the color of his flag was like the color of the sky with a "fiery lion" embroidered upon it (Gen. 49:9).

Led by the Shekhinah (שְׁכִינָה) cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, at first the Israelites were en route to the Promised Land - the land of Canaan - which the LORD swore to give to Abraham and his descendants forever.  However, the people rebelled (i.e., their complicity in the "Sin of the Spies") and were therefore condemned to wander for 40 years in the desert. This 40 year period is often thought of as a time of punishment, though it was also a time of refinement for the nation, and it was during this time that God demonstrated great love for Israel by feeding the people with manna, giving them water from rock (i.e., the so-called Well of Miriam), protecting them with the Clouds of Glory, instructing them through the teaching of Moses, and so on. God loves his people -- even when they are faithless -- and his punishments are ultimately healing and redemptive.
 


Note:  Saturday, May 23rd (at sundown, i.e., after Shabbat) marks the end of the 49 days of counting and the beginning of the "Jubilee" of Shavuot (i.e., "Weeks" or "Pentecost").
 




Why Jerusalem Matters...

Yom Yerushalayim
 

05.17.15 (Iyyar 28, 5775)  Today is Iyyar 28, the anniversary of the date when Jerusalem was miraculously restored to the Jewish people after thousands of years of being under foreign control. This is significant to people of the LORD God of Israel (יהוָה אֱלהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל) because Jerusalem is central to the Jewish heart. When religious Jews pray three times a day, they always turn toward Jerusalem (they also keep a small section of an eastern wall in their house unplastered and unpainted (mizrach) as a sign of mourning for the destruction of the Temple). Yeshua called Jerusalem the "City of the great King" (Psalm 48:2; Matt 5:35). It is the place where He was crucified, buried, resurrected, and from whence He ascended to heaven. One day (soon) Yeshua will physically return to Jerusalem as Mashiach ben David to restore the throne of King David. At that time, all the New Covenant promises given to ethnic Israel will be literally fulfilled as the Kingdom of God is manifest upon the earth.

In Jerusalem itself, thousands of people march around the city and walk through the liberated Old City, where Jews were denied access from 1948-1967. The march ends at the Kotel (Western Wall), one of the remaining retaining walls surrounding the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism. At the Kotel, there are speeches and concerts and celebratory dancing to mark the day.

Friends, how can we forget Zion, "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22)? Is she not "our mother" (Gal. 4:26)? Are we not her citizens, indeed, her exiles in this age?  As the psalmist said, "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!" (Psalm 137:5-6).
 

אִם־אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ יְרוּשָׁלָםִ
תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי

im · esh·ka·chek · ye·ru·sha·la·yim
tish·kach · ye·mi·ni

 

"If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget [its skill]"
(Psalm 137:5)



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

Some have said this verse should be read, "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, forget my right hand!" meaning that whatever good we might have (as symbolized by the right hand) should be lost apart from God Himself and the great vision of Zion. As King David had said, "I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8), so the loss of the right hand means the loss of the Divine Presence.

Note: Please click here to review 25 reasons why Jerusalem matters...
 




The Fear of the LORD...


 

05.15.15 (Iyyar 26, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week includes a litany of woes assured to befall those who spurn God's Torah or break covenant with Him (Lev. 26:14-46). The deeper intent of this admonition (tochechah) is to warn us of the danger of forfeiting our relationship with God – that is, of refusing to be healed of our illusions... Chastisement is a blessing from heaven, the "troubles of love," since its goal is to bring us back to God and to deliver us from loss. This is why Yeshua spoke about the dangers of hell: if we do not heed the Voice of divine love, we risk literally everything, and that loss is eternal... God's warning about hell expresses the great passion of his heart for us; his love calls us to receive eternal life and blessing, but if we refuse to come, we will suffer the loss of the only thing that ultimately matters. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God" (אֱלהִים חַיִּים).

The fear of losing love evokes a healthy zeal to protect it from loss... The same may be said of God's relationship with us. The gospel represents 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 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.  This is what the "fear of the LORD" (יִרְאַת יְהוָה) most radically means: God's own fear that we would lose sight of our great need for his healing love...

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 intellectually accept that God loves you in Yeshua our Savior.  No, you must receive this as an inward passion, you must live within it, must embrace it, take possession of it, and let it fill your heart to abundance. This love, this "perfect love," then will cast away your fear of being unwanted, rejected, and abandoned. But to know this love, you have to open your heart and accept it as your own, the essential reality of who you are:
 

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְעָלַי תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ

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

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


  


We are told to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" (μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου) since the love of God appeals to all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.

Shabbat Shalom to you all... May you fully accept that you are accepted; may you receive the blessing of God's passion for your soul; may you walk (i.e., live, move, and have your being) in the abundance of God's unfailing and everlasting love.  Amen.
 




Faith and Action...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Behar-Bechukotai.... ]

05.15.15 (Iyyar 26, 5775)  "If you walk in my decrees and heed my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit" (Lev. 26:3-4). Note how doing and blessing are linked, and therefore the tzaddik (righteous person) becomes a conduit of goodness to the world itself: the rains will come in their season, the land will yield its increase, and the trees shall yield fruit... The contrapositive also holds however, since there is no real blessing apart from the realm of doing (John 13:17; Matt. 7:21; James 1:5). Simply learning (or "hearing") about Torah but not doing it is mere intellectualism, "head knowledge" but not "heart knowledge." We  are to be "doers" of the truth, and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves (παραλογιζόμενοι, literally, "reasoning around the truth") (James 1:22). The truth of the heart is expressed by desire, by choosing, by passion; it is known in the struggle for good, for love, and for healing. We study and learn Torah to do Torah, and all our learning is for the sake of doing (Eph. 2:10). Note the order of the opening verse: "If you walk in my decrees (אִם־בְּחֻקּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ), and heed my commandments (וְאֶת־מִצְוֹתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ) and do them (וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אתָם)."  "Walking" here refers to the life of faith, since the decrees of God (chukkim) are "beyond reason," observed only by a heart that trusts. Faith is therefore the first step of all godly action, the foundation for the commandments. "This is the work of God, to believe in the One whom God has sent" (John 6:29). In other words, the very first work of God is to believe in the reality of His love as manifested in Yeshua our Savior, blessed is He.
 




The Troubles of Love...


 


[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Behar-Bechukotai.... ]

05.15.15 (Iyyar 26, 5775)  Parashat Bechukotai is the concluding portion of the Book of Leviticus (וַיִּקְרָא), which is the the central book of the Torah. In light of all that God had done for the Jewish people - from their great deliverance in Egypt to the ordination of the priesthood in the Tabernacle - God expected them to live up to their high calling as His chosen people: "You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy" (Lev. 19:2). Therefore, some of the sages say that the central point of this concluding portion is tochachah (i.e., the warning of punishment) rather than nechamah (i.e., comfort). The focus is not, "If you walk in my laws" (Lev. 26:3), but rather, "if you do not listen (shema) to me" (Lev. 26:14).

It has been said that the opposite of love is not hate, but rather indifference, and that explains why the punishments would come if the people "left their first love." Indeed, the "rebuke" portion of the tochachah begins with v'im lo tishme'u li (וְאִם־לא תִשְׁמְעוּ לִי), "if you do not listen to me" (Lev. 26:14), which recalls the Shema and the duty to love the Lord bekhol levavkha, "with all your heart." If the people walk carelessly (i.e., keri: קְרִי) with God, then God will afflict them with "the troubles of love" (i.e., yissurei ahavah: יִסּוּרֵי אַהֲבָה). A student once asked his rebbe: "Do we get punished for our sins in this world?" His succinct response was, "Only if we are made fortunate..." The worst possible fate is for God to be indifferent to someone! Can anything be more tragic than to be forgotten or to go unnoticed by God?  It is far better that He afflict you with yissurim shel ahavah - the "troubles of love!"

The tochachah of Bechukotai begins with 11 verses that promise blessings for obedience to God's laws, but three times as many (i.e., 33 verses) that promise punishment for disobedience. To help "offset" this discrepancy, the midrash notes that blessing section begins with the letter Aleph (in the word אִם) and ends with the letter Tav (in the word קוֹמְמִיּוּת), which suggests that the blessings encompass all other possible blessings (from Aleph to Tav). On the other hand, the punishment section begins with the letter the Vav (in the word וְאִם) and ends with the letter Hey (in the word משֶׁה), the last two letters found in the Sacred Name (יהוה), which suggests that God's compassion would be present even in the suffering to come in the latter days. Another way to look at this is to regard the letter Vav as the symbol of man, and the letter Hey as the symbol of the Spirit: in the end - after the punishments were complete - God's compassion would prevail over His judgment for sin, and the Spirit of God would rest upon Israel. The midrash further states during the days of the Messiah, Israel will keep the Torah, "from Aleph to Tav" (i.e., from beginning to end), and at that time all the blessings God promised to them would finally be fulfilled.

The idea of tochachah is not simply something for ethnic Israel, of course, since the New Testament likewise warns us that God will punish those who likewise walk carelessly (i.e., keri: קְרִי) with Him. Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as God's children? "My son, do not regard lightly (ὀλιγώρει) the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary by his reproof (תּוֹכֵחָה). For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and reproves (יוֹכִיחַ) every child whom he receives" (Heb. 12:5-6; Prov. 3:11-12). The Lord charged the assembly at Ephesus that they had let go of their first love. Yeshua therefore urged them: "Remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds (ἔργα) you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your menorah from its place – unless you repent" (Rev. 2:4-5). Because God is never indifferent toward those who are trusting in His salvation, he will discipline and correct us to keep close to Him. He will afflict us with the "troubles of love." As it is written, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God" (Heb. 10:30).

Regarding the list of punishments in this section, I'd like to relate a beautiful story I once read. The child of a famous Torah sage was used to hearing his father read the weekly Torah portion at synagogue, but on the Shabbat of Bechukotai his father happened to be out of town, and the boy listened intently as a substitute Torah reader recited the various punishments listed in the parashah. Startled and appalled at the severity of the curses of the tochechah (Lev. 26:14-39), he literally fainted in the middle of the reading. Afterwards, the boy was so emotionally distraught that he fell into a deep depression that lasted for over a month. The child was later asked, "Why were you not disturbed this way when the admonition was read in past years?" The boy replied, "When father reads it, no curses are heard." Yes, when "father reads," namely, the Father that sees our hearts in the darkest of places, we will hear His voice of blessing....

The Hebrew phrase gam zu l'tovah (גַּם זוּ לְטוֹבָה), translated as "this too is for good," expresses the idea that all things – including the various tribulations in our lives – ultimately can help us return to the Lord for healing and life (Rom. 8:28). The "tochechah," or the dreadful litany of curses, ends with the message of hope and ultimate redemption:
 

    "But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies -- if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.  But the land shall be abandoned by them and enjoy its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them, and they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they spurned my rules and their soul abhorred my statutes. Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the LORD their God (כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלהֵיהֶם). But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD" (Lev. 26:40-46).
     

At the end of this parashah, as with every other parashah that concludes a book of the Torah, we say, Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek - "Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened!" Despite the "heaviness" associated with the idea of God's judgment and punishment, we must press on in faith.... The great commandment is always "Choose Life!" (Deut. 30:19), and that life comes from being in a loving relationship with our Heavenly Father through our Yeshua our Savior, blessed be He (1 John 5:12). May God help us return to our first love for Him b'khol levavkha - with all our hearts. "I love those who love me; and those who seek me will find me" (Prov. 8:17). "The LORD is good to those who hope (קוה) for him, to the soul who seeks him" (Lam. 3:25).
 




The Great Rebuke...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Behar-Bechukotai.... ]

05.15.15 (Iyyar 26, 5775)  This week's Torah portion (Bechukotai) includes the first great "rebuke" (i.e., tochachah: תּוֹכָחָה) of the community of Israel given in the Scriptures (the second is found in Ki Tavo, i.e., Deut. 28:15-68). In this sober and ominous section, God promises the people great blessing if they would obey Him (Lev. 26:3-13), but forewarns that exile, persecution and other progressively worse punishments would befall them if they would break faith with Him (Lev. 26:14-46). The sages note that divine censure would come if the people "forgot" about God or otherwise became careless in their observance of His laws. They point out that the refrain "if you walk contrary to me" (וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי) - which occurs several times during the great rebuke - really means "if you walk carelessly (i.e., keri: קְרִי) with me." Rashi notes that the verb karah (קָרָה) means "to befall" or "to happen" and therefore suggests a sense of randomness (the related word mikreh [מִקְרֶה] means "coincidence"). If the people began to regard the events of life as "random," then God would reciprocate by bringing senseless trouble into their lives...  For this reason the sages regard a careless attitude about God's will as the very first step to inevitable apostasy. In other words, regarding whatever happens in life as mere "coincidence" essentially denies God's Presence, and this attitude will eventually call for God's corrective intervention. People can be "hot or cold" regarding their relationship with Him, but God will never give the option of affecting indifference toward Him... Indeed, God often brings hardship into our lives to regain our attention and cause us to return to Him. As C.S. Lewis once said, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

Blaise Pascal once wrote: "I can feel nothing but compassion for those who sincerely lament their doubt, who regard it as the ultimate misfortune, and who, sparing no effort to escape from it, make their search their principal and most serious business. But as for those who spend their lives without a thought for this final end, I view differently. This negligence in the matter where they themselves, their eternity, their all are at stake, fills me more with irritation than pity: yea, it astounds and appalls me..." (Pensees, 427).

For more on this topic see, "The Tochachah: Further thoughts on Parashat Bechukotai."
 




Owner of Reality...


 

05.14.15 (Iyyar 25, 5775)  From our Torah this week (Behar) we read: "For you are strangers and sojourners (גֵרִים וְתוֹשָׁבִים) with me" (Lev. 25:23). When we are strangers to this world, we reside with God: we are called residents of heaven. To be a stranger to this world is a great blessing, since it means we identify our home in the heart of God.  By extension, reality is measured by proximity to the Eternal, and the material world - when regarded as an end in itself - is nothing but an illusion, since it cannot exist apart from the sustaining power of God (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:16-17; Rev. 4:11). The sages note that in Hebrew there is no language of categorical ownership, since all things are conditioned by time. We say yesh li (יש לי) - "there is to me" (for this time) rather than "I have" or own.  Ownership is related to the "bone" (עֶצֶם) of something, its inner structure and essence. God alone is koneh shamayim va'aretz (קנֵה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ), the Owner of Reality (Gen. 14:9). "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).
 

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

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

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

The cross, not the scales
 
Hebrew Study Card
 




Rest and Creativity...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Behar-Bechukotai.... ]

05.14.15 (Iyyar 25, 5775)  In our Torah portion for this week (i.e., Behar-Bechukotai), the LORD gave the people instructions about how they were to manage the promised land once they finally entered it. Instead of commanding the people to work hard to sustain themselves, however, God gave them laws of rest – of releasing their hold on the land (see Lev. 25:1-7). During the "Sabbatical years" (shemittah) the land was to lie fallow, and the people could eat only what was produced naturally, without any farming or organized harvesting. Letting go of the land required the people to trust that God was in control of nature's creative processes, and to acknowledge that the process of growth is mysterious and divine. As Yeshua said: "The Kingdom of God (מַלְכוּת הָאֱלהִים) is like someone who spreads seed on the ground. He goes to sleep and gets up, night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. By itself (αὐτομάτη, i.e., "automatically") the soil produces a crop, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. And when the grain is ripe, he comes in with his sickle because the harvest has come" (Mark 4:26-29). In other words, the "ordinary" process of the growth of a seed is miraculous and is a gift from above. The Torah of the Sabbatical Year teaches us that creativity and fruitfulness requires that we let go and leave the outcome to God. 
 




Keeping our Focus...


 

05.13.15 (Iyyar 24, 5775)  The life of faith requires "kavanah" (כַּוָנָה), or concentrated focus: we "press on" (διώκω) 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 comes from 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," since it is not aligned with reality.... Ultimately 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). Lord, heal my divided heart; shine your light upon me so I can behold you... "Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; unite my heart in awe of your Name" (Psalm 86:11).
 

הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה דַּרְכֶּךָ אֲהַלֵּךְ בַּאֲמִתֶּךָ
 יַחֵד לְבָבִי לְיִרְאָה שְׁמֶךָ

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

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



 

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...

It is written in our holy Scriptures: "The darkness is passing away and the true light now is shining" - ἡ σκοτία παράγεται καὶ τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινὸν ἤδη φαίνει (1 John 1:7). Abide in light as God is in the light... Understand that a primary stratagem of the devil is to tempt you to look anywhere else but to heaven for what you really need.  "May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah" (Psalm 67:1).
 




Strange Settlers...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Behar-Bechukotai.... ]

05.13.15 (Iyyar 24, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Behar) includes two laws that were intended to radically affect the social, economic, and spiritual well-being of Jews in ancient Israel. Regarding the laws of the sabbatical year (shemittah) and the Jubilee (yovel), the LORD states: "The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine, for you are strangers (גֵּרִים) and settlers (תּוֹשָׁבִים) with me" (Lev. 25:23). This is a paradoxical phrase, since a ger is one who is just passing through, like a visitor or tourist, whereas a toshav is one who is a resident, like a settler or citizen. But how can someone be both a visitor and a resident of a place, or a stranger and a citizen at the same time? How can one "pass through" a place he is said to dwell?

Concerning this paradox the Maggid of Dubna comments: "If you see yourselves in this world as strangers and remember that you are here only for a short visit, passing through the hallway of this world, then I will settle among you. However, should you see yourselves as settlers on this world, "owners" who are here to stay, then I am but a stranger among you. Either you are the settlers and I the stranger, or you the stranger and I the settler."

In other words, God "settles" among those who are exiles in this world...  Those who "settle" here, who lay claim to this world, therefore make God their stranger. As James the Righteous warned, "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). Likewise the Apostle John admonished: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him... For the world is passing away along with its lusts, but whoever does the will of God shall abide forever" (1 John 2:15,17). Those who walk in faith invariably regard themselves as gerim v'toshavim (גֵּרִים וְתוֹשָׁבִים) - "strangers and exiles" upon the earth (Heb. 11:13).

Note:  For more on this see "Strange Settlers: Further thoughts on parashat Behar."
 




Come just as you are...


 

05.12.15 (Iyyar 23, 5775)   Since God our heavenly Father knows the number of hairs on our heads, he also knows those character defects that we do not see in ourselves... Nevertheless we must come to God "just as we are," since what we are is ultimately unknowable by us. This implies that we can't wait to turn to God until we have already confessed our sins, since we often do not know what they are. "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick" (Mark 2:17), which means that we come in a state of unknowing blindness to find healing. We don't see so we can turn; we turn so we can see. Confession turns to see God's remedy for our sin, and true teshuvah must begin with hope, with the vision that the LORD is our Helper and the Healer of our souls.

Just as King David prayed, שְׁגִיאוֹת מִי־יָבִין מִנִּסְתָּרוֹת נַקֵּנִי, "who can understand his errors; cleanse me from nistarot chata'ot, secret sins" (Psalm 19:12), so we likewise trust that God's remedy for our sin will heal even that which is hidden from our own awareness...

Yeshua taught us of this teshuvah: "And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him..." (Luke 15:20). Note the father saw him "a long way off" and ran to meet him as his child made the first steps back home. Come just as you are, but please, come...
 




Seeking What is Above...


 

05.12.15 (Iyyar 23, 5775)   "If then you have been raised with Messiah, seek the things that are above, where the Messiah is seated at the right hand of God (לִימִין הָאֱלהִים); focus your thoughts on the things above - not on things here on earth - for you have died, and your life has been hidden with Messiah in God" (Col. 3:1-3). Note that the verb translated "you have died" (ἀπεθάνετε) indicates that your death is a spiritual reality you must accept by faith. You don't "try to die" to the flesh, since that is the fool's errand of man's "religion."  No, you trust that God has killed the power of sin and death on your behalf and imparted to you a new kind of life power (John 1:12; Eph 2:5). Because you partake of an entirely greater dimension of reality, namely, the spiritual reality hidden from the vanity of this age, your life is likewise hidden from this world (Col. 3:4). Therefore we are instructed to consciously focus our thoughts (φρονέω) on the hidden reality of God rather than on the superficial and temporal world that is passing away: "For we are looking not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient (i.e., "just for a season," καιρός), but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18).

Just as you must trust and accept that Yeshua was crucified for you, identifying with you, taking your place in judgment, exchanging his life for your own, so you must trust and accept that you have been crucified with him, and that your old life was taken away and replaced with a new, indestructible nature. In other words, a union is created where his "for me" is answered by my "with him." Χριστῷ συνεσταύρωμαι– "I already have been crucified in Messiah" (Gal. 2:20). Indeed the two go together: to trust in the finished work of Messiah for you is to trust in his finished work within you... When he died on the cross for you, which sins didn't he bear on your behalf? which remedy did he leave unfulfilled?

Note: I am surely not suggesting any "perfectibilty" of the flesh, of course (that's just more religion, after all) but rather perfectibilty of our relationship with God because of the merit of the only true Tzaddik of God, Yeshua our Savior. What God has done will stand forever; his seed is indestructible, and what he calls us to be and to do will therefore never ultimately fail... We overcome because of his perfect love, not by means of our own strength.
 




Heeding the Call of Hope...

Tochelet - by J Parsons
 

05.11.15 (Iyyar 22, 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 Yeshua, 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 · at·tah · ta·ir · ne·ri
Adonai · E·lo·hai · ya·gi·ah · chosh·ki
 

"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 (2 Cor. 5:7). 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 even 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). Amen.
 




The Jubilee Year...


 

05.11.15 (Iyyar 22, 5775)   Our Torah portion this week (parashat Behar) begins with the commandment that an Israelite farmer must let his land remain fallow every seventh year. This is called the "Sabbatical year" (shemittah), and the inhabitants of the land were permitted to glean whatever the farmland produced naturally. In addition, the people were told to count seven cycles of seven years - a total of 49 years - and to mark the arrival of the fiftieth year with blasts of the shofar on the Day of Atonement (i.e., Yom Kippur). This fiftieth year would be a time of "Jubilee" (yovel) – a year of "release" for the land and all its inhabitants. All slaves would be set free, debts would be canceled, and the stewardship of the land would revert to its original titleholders.

In this connection, how do you determine whether a given year is a Sabbatical year (i.e., shemittah)? We take the current Jewish year and divide by seven; if there is no remainder, it is a shemittah year; otherwise it is not (note that the Jewish year begins on Rosh Hashanah, on Tishri 1, in the fall). For example this year (5775) is a Sabbatical Year since 5775 divided by 7 is 825.  The Jubilee year (yovel) of course follows the seventh of the seven year cycles (i.e., 7 x 7 + 1), though there are some questions about which iteration (1st, 2nd, ... 7th) is currently active. According to some authorities, the last Jubilee year was in 5727, which means the next would be Yom Kippur 5776, that is, September 22, 2015...
 




Remembering Jerusalem...


 

[  Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Day, is observed May 16th and 17th this year.... ]

05.11.15 (Iyyar 22, 5775)   In Israel, "Jerusalem Day" (יום ירושלים) commemorates the re-unification of old city of Jerusalem on June 7th, 1967 during the Six Day War. In 1968 the Chief Rabbinate of Israel declared Iyyar 28 to be a minor holiday to thank God for answering the 2,000-year-old prayer of "Next Year in Jerusalem" (לשנה הבאה בירושלים). On March 23, 1998, the Knesset passed the Jerusalem Day Law, making it a national holiday. This year, "Jerusalem Day" runs from Tuesday, May 27th (after sundown) through Wednesday, May 28th (until sundown). Sha'alu shelom Yerushalayim (Psalm 122:6).

The Hebrew word "Zion" (i.e., tzion: צִיּוֹן) is mentioned over 160 times in the Scriptures. That's more than the words faith, hope, love, and countless other key words of our faith... And since Zion is a poetic form of the word "Jerusalem" (יְרוּשָׁלַםִ), the number of occurrences swells to nearly 1,000!  Since it's the most frequently occurring place name in all the Scriptures, it's no overstatement to say that God himself is a Zionist: "Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth" (Psalm 50:2). "The LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are said of you, O City of God" (Psalm 87:2-3). Indeed, Yeshua called Jerusalem the "City of the great King" (Psalm 48:2; Matt 5:35): It is the place (הַמָּקוֹם) where He was crucified, buried, resurrected, and ascended to heaven; and is it furthermore the place where He will return to earth (Zech. 14:1-9).

In Psalm 122:6 it is written, שַׁאֲלוּ שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלָםִ - sha'alu shelom Yerushalayim - "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem," a phrase that reveals prophetic truth about our Savior and Messiah. The word sha'alu (שַׁאֲלוּ) means "you ask" (as in ask a sheilah, a question), shalom (שׁלוֹם) is the name of Yeshua, the Prince of Peace (i.e., Sar Shalom: שַׂר־שָׁלוֹם), and Jerusalem means "the teaching of peace" (Jeru- comes from the same root as the word Torah [ירה], which means "teaching"). The phrase sha'alu shelom Yerushalayim can therefore be construed, "ask about the Prince of Peace and His Teaching." Yeshua is indeed the rightful King of Jerusalem (Matt. 5:35) who is coming soon to reign over all the earth.
 

שַׁאֲלוּ שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלָםִ
יִשְׁלָיוּ אהֲבָיִךְ

sha·a·lu · she·lom · ye·ru·sha·la·yim
yish·
la·yu  · o·ha·va·yikh

 

"Ask for the well-being of Jerusalem;
May those who love you be at peace" (Psalm 122:6).



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The Ascension of Messiah...


 

[ Wednesday, May 13th after sundown marks the 40th day of the Omer Count... ]

05.10.15 (Iyyar 21, 5775)   We are in the midst of Sefirat Ha-Omer (the "Counting of the Omer"), a 49 day countdown that runs from Nisan 16 through Sivan 5. The first day of the omer count began on the second night of Passover, and the last day occurs the day before the great jubilee of Shavuot ("Pentecost"). On our Gregorian calendars, these dates run from April 4th until May 23rd this year. This is a "countdown period" leading to the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the giving of the Holy Spirit to Yeshua's disciples...


 

Wednesday May 13th after sundown (Iyyar 25) marks the 40th day of the Omer Count (i.e., Mem B'Omer), the time associated with the ascension of Yeshua back to the heavenly realm (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:9-11; Eph. 4:8). A thousand years before the birth of our Moshiah (מוֹשִׁיעַ), David prophesied of the ascension when he announced the Lord's enthronement at the right hand of God (Psalm 110:1; Matt. 22:41-46; 26:64). Recall that Yeshua told His followers that it was good that he would leave them, so that the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ), the "Comforter" or "Advocate" (παράκλητος), would be given to them. "But I tell you the truth, it is for your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate (ὁ παράκλητος) will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7). Notice that the word translated as "advantage" here is the Greek word συμφέρω (from σύν, "with" and φέρω, "to carry"), which suggests that we would be given power that "carries us" with the Lord during the trials of this life... Bo, Ruach Elohim: "Come, Holy Spirit..."

Note:  For more on this, see "Mem B'Omer and the Ascension of Yeshua."
 




Parashat Behar-Bechukotai...


 

05.10.15 (Iyyar 21, 5775)   This week we will read the final two portions of the Book of Leviticus (i.e., sefer Vayikra), namely, parashat Behar and Bechukotai (בהר־בחקתי). Like a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him. Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek - "Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened!"
 


Why is it, the sages asked, that God bypassed all of the world's great and lofty mountains and chose to give His Torah on the obscure mountain of Sinai? Because God's Spirit (רוח) rests with the lowly, the humble of heart, as it says: "For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit (דַּכָּא וּשְׁפַל־רוּחַ), to revive the spirit of the lowly (רוּחַ שְׁפָלִים), and to revive the heart of the contrite (לֵב נִדְכָּאִים)" (Isa. 57:15). Humility (ענוה) is therefore one of the greatest of middot ha-lev (heart qualities).

The LORD reveals Himself to the contrite and the lowly of spirit, that is, to those who understand their own nothingness and live in utter dependence on Him.  Notice that the word dakka ("contrite") refers to being crushed to the very dust, as Yeshua was verily crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:10). From the point of view of our dependence on God for salvation, dakka refers to our contrition as we turn to God in genuine teshuvah... Pride, arrogance, and self-righteousness are antithetical to the awareness of God in the truth.

Note:  Shalom friends. Please pray for this ministry... Things have been hard for me lately, so please ask our Lord for his favor and grace for this work to continue. Thank you.
 




All things made new...


 

05.08.15 (Iyyar 19, 5775)   Only God can help us die to ourselves - to let go of the "self life" and to be set free from the tyranny of what we naturally are... The old nature is never "reformed" by religion but is put to death by a supernatural act of God, as it says: "I have been crucified (συνεσταύρωμαι) 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). By faith we trust that we already have been crucified with him, just as by faith we trust that we already have newness of life, though all this is only "theoretical" unless and until the Spirit of God makes it real in our lives: "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). Only the LORD can put a new heart within us; only God can make the new "I" walk in the flesh; only the Spirit can breathe upon dry bones raised from the dust to make them live (Ezek. 37:5).
 

עֵינַי תָּמִיד אֶל־יְהוָה
כִּי הוּא־יוֹצִיא מֵרֶשֶׁת רַגְלָי

ei·nai · ta·mid · el · Adonai
ki · hu · yotz·i · me·re·shet · rag·lai

 

"My eyes are ever toward the LORD,
for he will pluck my feet out of the net."
(Psalm 25:15)



We believe not only that Yeshua died as our substitute for sin - saving us from its penalty - but also that our old nature has died with him - delivering us from its power: "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin" (Rom. 6:6). "For as many of you as were baptized into Messiah have put on the Messiah" (Gal. 3:27) [by "baptism" think identification, not some ritual act].  May the LORD our God make the truth of what He has done for us alive and breathing freely within us -- by the power of his salvation in Yeshua!

Shabbat shalom dear friends. Please remember this ministry in your prayers. Thank you!
 




Mercy's Like-for-Like...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Emor.... ]

05.08.15 (Iyyar 20, 5775)  In our Torah portion this week we read, "whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him" (Lev. 24:20). Some of the sages comment that this is not so much about "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" retributive justice as it is about reciprocity of the will. As you see others, so you will see yourself; as you cause a defect in another, so it will be given to you. Therefore the Baal Shem Tov said, "Other people are like mirrors: the faults we see in others our own." Indeed Yeshua taught us: "condemn not and you will not be condemned; release, and you will be released" (Luke 6:37). As we forgive others, so we find our own forgiveness. "Love covers a multitude of sins" (Prov. 10:12).
 




Love Believes all things...


 

05.08.15 (Iyyar 20, 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: believe to see! 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). The 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" (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, dear friend; do not allow your heart to waver. 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. Amen.
 




Shelter through the changes...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Emor.... ]

05.08.15 (Iyyar 20, 5775)  Our Torah portion for this week (Emor) lists the yearly cycle of Sabbaths and festivals for the people of God (Lev. 23). The sages say that of all the festivals listed, however, the festival of Sukkot (i.e., "Tabernacles") is associated with joy: "On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD (חַג־יְהוָה) seven days... and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God" (Lev. 23:39-40). Likewise it is written of Sukkot: "You shall rejoice in your feast... you will be altogether joyful" (Deut. 16:13-15). The festival of Sukkot is associated with joy not only because it celebrates the harvest at the end of the year, but because it celebrates God's care for our lives as we sojourn through this world, and ultimately, celebrates our salvation in the world to come (Zech. 14:16; Isa. 33:20; Ezek 37:27; Rev. 21:3). In this life the sukkah represents our temporary dwelling as we walk through the flux, shadows, and decay of this world, and therefore it symbolizes our mortality, and yet we are to regard the festival as z'man simchateinu (זְמַן שִׂמְחָתֵנוּ), the "season of our joy." We joyfully cry out, "L'Chayim! To Life," as we reflect on the days and seasons that have passed, and especially about the great homecoming we have in the world to come.

The festival of Sukkot teaches us not to deny death, but to rejoice in God's ongoing care for our lives. "For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Cor. 4:17-5:1).
 




Good Shepherd's Care...


 

05.08.15 (Iyyar 20, 5775)  Where it is written, "the LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want" (Psalm 23:1), we note that "I shall not want" (לא אֶחְסָר) does not mean "I shall not desire," but rather "I shall not lack." When the Lord is your Shepherd, you can trust that you have all that you need. Note that David uses the future tense here (אֶחְסָר) because God is ahead of your next moment, so to speak: "Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Matt. 6:8). God's Name means Presence, Life, Love, and "I-AM-with-you-always." Yeshua is our Good Shepherd (הָרעֶה הַטּוֹב) who makes us lie down in green pastures, a place of abundant life, and then leads us to still waters, literally "waters of rest" (מֵי מְנֻחוֹת), that will restore your soul (the verb translated "restore" is an intensive passive of the verb shuv, "to turn" (שׁוּב), indicating that the Shepherd causes your soul to return to the Divine Presence). Yeshua said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:27-28). Yeshua is the one who makes for us the paths of righteousness; He leads us on the way to the Father (John 14:6).
 

יְהוָה רעִי לא אֶחְסָר
בִּנְאוֹת דֶּשֶׁא יַרְבִּיצֵנִי עַל־מֵי מְנֻחוֹת יְנַהֲלֵנִי
נַפְשִׁי יְשׁוֹבֵב יַנְחֵנִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי־צֶדֶק לְמַעַן שְׁמוֹ

Adonai · ro·i · lo · ech·sar
bi·not · de·she · yar·bi·tzei·ni · al · mei · me·nu·chot · ye·na·cha·lei·ni
naf·shi  · ye·sho·vev · yan·chei·ni · ve·ma·a·ge·lei · tze·dek · le·ma·an · she·mo

 

"The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not lack.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake."
(Psalm 23:1-3)



Hebrew Study Card
 

"Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). "Be strong and of good courage" - chazak ve'ematz (חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ). The LORD God promises "never to leave you nor forsake you," and to be with you wherever you go (Josh. 1:5,9; Heb. 13:15, Psalm 139; Matt. 28:20). In the Greek New Testament the wording of Hebrews 13:15 is highly emphatic: "Not ever will I give up on you (οὐ μή σε ἀνῶ); no, not ever will I leave you behind (οὐδ᾽ οὐ μή σε ἐγκαταλίπω)." May you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd calling you, and may He forever keep you under His watchful care. Amen.
 




Honoring the Sacred...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Emor.... ]

05.07.15 (Iyyar 19, 5775)  From our Torah this week we read: לא תְחַלְּלוּ אֶת־שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי- "You shall not desecrate my holy name" (Lev. 22:32), which the sages say is the basis for "kiddush hashem" (קידוש השם), or the duty to always honor God, even if that might mean accepting martyrdom for your faith.  Jewish halakhah (law) furthermore says we are to think of kiddush hashem whenever we recite the Shema, that our inmost intent should be self-sacrifice (mesirat nefesh), or the willingness to give up your life to God in complete surrender. After all, if we are not willing to give up our lives for God, how can we be willing to genuinely live for him? The purpose or goal of our existence is to know and love God, to be sanctified in truth, but if we value our carnal lives on earth as more important, we exist in a state of contradiction. Therefore people obsessed with their own physical safety, health, pleasure, happiness, well-being, etc., do not know the true meaning of life. Our lives on this earth were not meant to be an end in themselves, but rather a means to the greater end of knowing and loving the Eternal God. The walk of faith is education for eternity...
 

כִּי־טוֹב חַסְדְּךָ מֵחַיִּים
שְׂפָתַי יְשַׁבְּחוּנְךָ

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

 

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



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Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the LORD (1 Cor. 10:31; Rom. 14:8).
 




The Center of Torah...


 

05.07.15 (Iyyar 19, 5775)  The midrash discusses which is the most important and all-encompassing concept of the Torah. One opinion proposes the Shema (הַשְּׁמַע): "Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is One" (Deut. 6:4). Another opinion argues that the Ve'ahavta (וְאָהַבְתָּ) – "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18) is even more important. The last opinion rather surprisingly argues that the most important is: "One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight" (Exod. 29:39). The reason this verse is most important is because it represents the continual sacrifice of the Lamb of God offered up on our behalf, called "God's food" and "God's Bread" (Num. 28:2-9). Indeed, the offering of the Lamb of God (שׂה הָאֱלהִים), Yeshua our LORD, is the Center of all Torah, the foundation and focal point of our healing...
 




What We Really Need...


 

05.07.15 (Iyyar 19, 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).
 

כִּי־עָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן אָנכִי
וְלִבִּי חָלַל בְּקִרְבִּי

ki · a·ni · ve·ev·yon · a·no·khi
ve·lib·bi · chal·lal · be·kir·bi
 

"For I am poor and needy,
and my heart is stricken within me."
(Psalm 109:22)


 
 

The word translated as "stricken" is challal (חָלַל), meaning "wounded, pierced, polluted, defiled, or brokenhearted." This is the condition of heart that is prerequisite for doing real business with heaven. "God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.... I need Christ, not something that resembles Him." (C.S. Lewis: A Grief Observed)
 




The Purging Process...


 

05.06.15 (Iyyar 18, 5775)  "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He purges (καθαίρει), that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:1-2). If you bear fruit you will experience the "purging process," and that means suffering affliction... This might seem to you backward: Why does the fruitful branch need to be cut back?  Indeed, the promise of suffering is not meant for an evil person, but for the righteous soul who trusts in God. Purging is painful but it is also purifying, yielding new growth within our hearts. Yeshua taught, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). The Greek word translated "pure" is katharos (καθαρός), sometimes used describe the cleansing of a wound (catharsis), or to describe the unalloyed quality of a substance revealed through refining fire. We "rejoice" in testing because that is the way of real growth, sustained hope, and the revelation of God's deep love (Rom. 5:3-4). In our afflictions we are given heavenly consolation that helps us to persevere (2 Cor. 1:3-5). We are being weaned from this present age to be made ready for heavenly glory, for things unimaginably wonderful, soon to be revealed to you. Chazak – stay strong in the Lord, friends.
 

טוֹב־לִי כִי־עֻנֵּיתִי לְמַעַן אֶלְמַד חֻקֶּיך

tov  li  khi-u·nei·ti, le·ma·an el·mad chu·ke·kha
 

"It is good for me that I was afflicted,
that I might learn your decrees." (Psalm 119:71)

 




Perfection and Holiness...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Emor.... ]

05.06.15 (Iyyar 18, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week begins by explaining special requirements for Israel's priests, and then goes on to list the yearly cycle of Sabbaths and the seasonal festivals. First of all the priests (kohanim) were required to be "perfect," without any physical defect or uncleanness that might render them unfit for service. Everything about the priests – their clothing, hair style, skin condition, and especially their adherence to the meticulous steps required to offer the daily sacrifice (לֶחֶם אֱלהָיו) - was to be "defect free," and any deviation might incur the penalty of death itself (Lev. 10:2; Num. 4:15, 2 Sam. 6:6-7). On the other hand, what sometimes disqualified a priest were things simply beyond his control, for instance, a variety of physical disabilities such as blindness, having a limp or disfigured limb, and so on (see Lev. 21:16-21).

Thinking about these requirements raises some provocative questions concerning the meaning of "perfection" in our lives, and particularly how we, as a deeply flawed people, can possibly be "perfect." The question is radical and affects how we are to understand practical holiness or the idea of "sanctification": Are we to seek to be perfect people, and if so, how do we understand what this means? Is our spirituality bound up with perfectionism, with flawless performance, and with always being and doing what is right?

In the Sermon on the Mount Yeshua warned that our righteousness should exceed that of the religious leaders of his day (Matt. 5:20), and went on to say: "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). Here we note that the Greek word translated "perfect" (τέλειος) may mean "mature" or "fully developed" more than morally flawless, though regarding moral and spiritual practice this distinction is not clear cut, especially if by "mature" we mean godly in character, as the context of Yeshua's statement clearly implies (see Matt. 5:1-48). The Hebrew word translated as "perfect" (תָּמִים) can also mean "complete," but it can connote being "wholehearted," "sound," or even healed (שָׁלֵם). So the question arises, does the word "perfect" mean "flawless" or "healed" -- or perhaps both?

Of course we affirm that God alone is truly perfect (Deut. 32:4; Psalm 18:30), completely good (Matt. 19:17), flawlessly righteous (Psalm 145:17), entirely holy (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 15:4), and peerlessly unique (Exod. 15:11; Jer. 10:6-7), but how can we relate to God's overmastering perfection in the midst of our daily flaws and chronic imperfections? How dare we approach "to offer the bread of God" (Lev. 21:17)?

Followers of the LORD are called to be a nation of priests, a "select people," set apart to serve God in holiness (Exod. 19:5-6; 1 Pet. 2:9; Lev. 11:45), but it is clear we are blemished, imperfect, blind, halt, needy, and unclean... This is common to the human condition: all of us, Jew or non-Jew alike, are broken, flawed, and in the midst of the inevitable flow of life that leads to death and decay (Rom. 3:23). We are sick with sin and unable to heal ourselves, and therefore we need a radical transformation - "deliverance from ourselves" – that must come through divine intervention and the miracle of spiritual rebirth (John 3:3,7).

Yet in this world the paradox still remains: we are finite yet long for the undying, the infinite; we are in flux yet anchored in hope; we are a "new creation" yet still saddled with the old nature; we are made holy yet we live in the midst of the profane; we are purified yet still need cleansing; we are healed yet are still wounded; we are redeemed of God yet still need to turn to God in teshuvah; we die daily yet have eternal life. Our hearts are to be a divine sanctuary, yet we are powerless to make God appear in our midst...

Perfection haunts us; we often confuse the ideal and the real. Our romantic visions fail us; all of us are strangers, wanderers, in lonely exile. And the question then becomes – how do we embrace the "already-not-yet," the process, the fleeting days with their poignant moments – within the context of real hope, a vision that heals and brings us real comfort? How do we make peace with our imperfections, our present darkness, and our hunger for deliverance? How do we envision healing in the midst of our brokenness?

Ironically those defects that disqualify us as priests can be transformed (by grace) into compassion for others, and this can enable us to reach out to God in the midst of our flawed existence... After all, the deepest role of the priest is to draw others near to God, but this requires empathy and awareness of the needs of others. Therefore God clothed himself with our frailty, our infirmities, and the brokenness of our sin in order to redeem us in Yeshua. As it is written, we have a high priest who is able to sympathize (συμπαθέω) with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). The priest of the New Covenant is a mediator through through poverty of spirit and mourning (Matt. 5:3-8). Just as Joshua the high priest was graciously given robes of righteousness in exchange for his filthy garments (Zech 3), so we are given an imputed righteousness that comes through trusting in "the One who justifies the ungodly" (Rom. 4:5). "For our sake God made Him (i.e., Yeshua) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). This is a righteousness that is "apart from the law, though the law and prophets testified of it; namely, the righteousness of God given through the faithfulness of Yeshua the Messiah" (Rom. 3:21-22). Our present groaning for the complete deliverance is a gift given by the Spirit of God crying out within our hearts (Rom. 8:22-23).

C.S. Lewis once remarked, "God doesn't love you because you are good, but He will make you good because He loves you." This goodness is the miraculous inner working of an imparted godliness, the divine gift of a new heart and spirit (Ezek. 36:26).
Awaken to your eternal perfection in the world to come: "You shall be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect" can be read as a prophecy. Do not give up, friends; do not succumb to despair. We must learn to endure ourselves and believe in the healing to come. "Do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:16-18). And may God help us walk in perfect faith in His unfailing love (Phil. 3:14).

Note:  This topic was meant to provoke us to do some hard thinking and to raise some questions... Yeshua is our perfect "inner priest" who mediates God's love and holiness for us, of course. In Him alone we find peace with God and a place for perfection.  Shalom.
 




Anticipating Shavuot ("Pentecost")


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Shavuot, which begins May 23rd this year... ]

05.05.15 (Iyyar 17, 5775)  A week is called shavu'a (שָׁבוּעַ) in Hebrew, from a root word sheva (שֶׁבַע) that means seven. Seven is the number of holiness and completion, and the first verse of Torah has seven words (בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ). Moreover, in six days God created the heavens and the earth, but on the seventh day he rested and set it apart as sacred (Gen. 2:3). The holiday of Shavuot (שָׁבוּעוֹת), or "weeks," marks the "Jubilee of Passover," which occurs after we count 7x7 (49) days from the day following Passover until we reach Sivan 6 (which this year begins Saturday May 23rd at sundown). Since Shavuot occurs on the 50th day after Passover, the Greek translators of the Torah called it "Pentecost" (πεντηκοστή).  Shavuot marks the goal or climax of Passover season, commemorating both the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Sinai as well as the giving of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Messiah (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4).


 

The holiday of Shavuot is one of the shelosh regalim (three pilgrimage festivals) given in the Torah (Exod. 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16) and therefore reveals profound spiritual truth for followers of Yeshua (Luke 24:44; 2 Tim. 3:16). God did not want us to miss the significance of this holiday, since it expresses the freedom and truth of the New Covenant of Zion.

Note:  For a bit more to help you "attune" yourself to the holiday of Shavuot, see the articles "Preparing for Shavuot" and "The Law of Liberty."
 




You always Speak Twice...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Emor.... ]

05.05.15 (Iyyar 17, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week begins, "And the LORD said to Moses, "Speak (אמר) to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say (וְאָמַרְתָּ) to them..." (Lev. 21:1). Rashi noted that the repeated verb emor (אמר) has a softer tone than the verb dibber (i.e., "speak," as in a command), suggesting almost a pleading quality: "Speak softly again and again..." The repetition suggests that the priests (i.e., teachers who would serve as examples to Israel) shouldn't simply tell people what to do/believe, but rather they should both tell and gently demonstrate Torah truth in their daily lives. When teaching, we are always speaking twice: once to explain and a second time to ignite a passion.... Likewise we study the "Living Torah" by first learning from Yeshua (Matt. 23:8) and only afterward are we commissioned to go "to all the nations and teach" (Matt. 28:19). Such education for eternity impels us to make fellow-learners (disciples), not simply by imparting intellectual doctrine, but by kiddush HaShem -- by sanctifying the LORD in our lives.  In this way we are made a "living letter" that is sent into the world that shares the living message of salvation (2 Cor. 3:2-3). But we must first learn the meaning of what we say before we say it...

Note:  For more on this subject, see Parashat Emor: Speaking Twice.
 




Giving and Receiving...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Emor.... ]

05.04.15 (Iyyar 16, 5775)  Parashat Emor contains more mitzvot (commandments) regarding holiness than any other Torah portion (the sages identify no less than 63). In addition, the portion provides a list of the eight main holidays, or "appointed times" (i.e., mo'edim: מוֹעֲדִים), found in the Jewish Scriptures. These "festivals of life" are sometimes called mikra'ei kodesh (מִקְרָאֵי קדֶשׁ), "times in which holiness is proclaimed" (Lev. 23:2). Note that this is the first time that the Torah reveals a comprehensive description of the festivals of the year, which include the following:
 

  1. The Sabbath - weekly observance of Shabbat that commemorates God as the Creator of the world. According to the sages, Shabbat is the most important of the appointed times, even more important than Yom Kippur and the Ten Days of Awe. There are 54 weekly Sabbaths in a "leap year" and 50 for regular years...
  2. Pesach (Nisan 15), also called Passover.
  3. Unleavened Bread (Nisan 15-22); note that the Counting of the Omer is first mentioned in this section of Torah (Lev. 23:9-16).
  4. Firstfruits (Nisan 17), also called Reishit Katzir.
  5. Shavuot (Sivan 6), also called Pentecost.
  6. Yom Teru'ah (Tishri 1), also called Rosh Hashanah (note that this is the first time this is revealed in Torah).
  7. Yom Kippur (Tishri 10) also called the Day of Atonement.
  8. Sukkot (Tishri 15-22) also called Tabernacles (note that this is the first time the commandments to dwell in a Sukkah and to wave the arba minim (four species) are mentioned in the Torah).
     

Notice that there is a restatement of the commandment to leave food for the poor and the stranger (pe'ah, leket, etc.) that appears right in the midst of the list of the Biblical holidays (see Lev. 23:22), which the sages said was intended to remind us to help those in need, especially during these times. Hence the giving of tzedakah is a regular part of the Jewish holidays (e.g., giving ma'ot chittim [מַעוֹת חִטִּים] "money for wheat" during Passover, matanot la'evyonim [מַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיוֹנִים] for Purim, and so on). The sages ask, "Why did the Torah place the mitzvah of helping the poor while speaking about the holidays and their particular sacrifices? To teach us the greatness of charity: 'God credits whoever gives charity to the poor as if they built the Holy Temple and presented offerings therein to God.'  Indeed, Yeshua taught us that giving a gift to the poor is giving a gift to God Himself (Matt. 25:40).
 

מַלְוֵה יְהוָה חוֹנֵן דָּל
וּגְמֻלוֹ יְשַׁלֶּם־לוֹ

mal·veh · Adonai · cho·nein · dal
u·ge·mu·lo · ye·sha·lem · lo

 

"Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD,
and He will repay him for his kindness."
(Prov. 19:17)



Hebrew Study Card
  

Since there are at least 50 weekly Sabbaths in a Jewish year in addition to the seven prescribed holidays (not to mention Rosh Chodesh and the other holidays such as Purim, Chanukah, Israel Independence Day, etc.), it is no wonder that the Scriptures declare: "A person with a cheerful heart has a continual celebration" (Prov. 15:15). The moedim are times to cheerfully give thanks to the LORD for all He has done....

For more on this subject, see "Appointed Times: Further thoughts on Parashat Emor."
 




Parashat Emor - אמור


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Emor.... ]

05.03.15 (Iyyar 15, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week (parashat Emor) lists the eight main holidays revealed in the Jewish Scriptures. In the Torah, these "holidays" are called "appointed times" (i.e., mo'edim: מוֹעֲדִים), a word which comes from a root meaning witness (עֵד). Other words formed from this root include edah (עֵדָה), a congregation, edut (עֵדוּת), a testimony, and so on. The related verb ya'ad (יָעַד) means to meet, assemble, or even to betroth. The significance of the holy days, then, is for the covenant people of the LORD to bear witness to God's love and faithfulness. As it is written:
 

כָּל־אָרְחוֹת יְהוָה חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת
 לְנצְרֵי בְרִיתוֹ וְעֵדתָיו

kol · or·chot · Adonai · che·sed · ve·e·met
le·no·tze·rei  · ve·ri·to · ve·e·do·tav

 

"All the paths of the LORD are love and truth
 to the ones guarding His covenant and His testimonies."
(Psalm 25:10)



Hebrew Study Card
  

Metaphorically the paths of the Lord (orechot Adonai) are likened to ruts or grooves created by the wheels of a caravan (i.e., orechah: ארְחָה) passing repeatedly over the same ground. These paths signify the Divine Presence journeying with God's children in this world. In temporal terms, we are able to discern the path by means of the divine calendar. God's love and faithfulness attend to His covenant (brit) and to the commemorations of the yearly "appointed times" that testify of God's faithful love. Keeping God's testimonies, then, means that we will be careful to observe the holidays in order to witness to God's truth...

"Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, 'These are the appointed times of the LORD (מוֹעֲדֵי יְהוָה) that you shall proclaim as holy convocations (מִקְרָאֵי קדֶשׁ); they are My appointed times'" (Lev. 23:2). Note that these hallowed times - the very first of which is the weekly Sabbath - are "of the LORD," and that means they should be regarded as appointments given by God Himself to help draw us closer to Him, to reveal His prophetic truth, and to remind ourselves of His great plan for our lives.

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

 




Second-Chances and Passover...


 

05.03.15 (Iyyar 15, 5775)  Last night we observed a "second Passover" seder at our home because my brother-on-law missed the seder held on Nisan 14. Indeed, Passover is the only festival that the LORD made special provision so that if someone missed the occasion (on account of illness or some other valid reason), he or she could make it up 30 days later on Iyyar 14 (see Num. 9:9-12), which this year fell on Saturday, May 2nd at sundown. This "second chance Passover" is called Pesach Sheni (פֶּסַח שֵׁנִי) or Pesach Katan ("little Passover"). For some pictures, see the Facebook page.

Prophetically and homiletically, Pesach Sheni reveals God as our urgent Lover, calling us to his table, beckoning to us even if we had somehow overlooked His love of love in the past. Pesach Sheni Samea'ch, chaverim!

 




Heart of the Sanctuary...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah this week, Acharei Mot, which concerns the tragic death of the first priests of Israel, Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu, as they offered "strange fire" before the LORD in the Tabernacle... In response, God gave the avodah of Yom Kippur to stress the sanctity of his provision to provide sacrificial blood before the Throne of Glory represented by the Ark. ]

05.01.15 (Iyyar 12, 5775)  The earthy Tabernacle and its furnishings were designed to be "signs" and "shadows" of heavenly realities (Heb. 8:5). Moses was repeatedly commanded to make the Sanctuary according to the "pattern" revealed at Sinai (Exod. 25:9,40). At the inmost center of the earthly Tabernacle, the place symbolizing utmost holiness, was the Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן־הַקּדֶשׁ), a "three-in-one" box that held the tablets of the covenant. The Ark served as a symbol of kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), God's Throne of Glory, since it stood entirely apart as the only furnishing in the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). Upon the crown or cover of the Ark (i.e., the kapporet) were fashioned two cherubim (i.e., angel-like figures) that faced one another (Exod. 25:17-18). According to the Talmud (Succah 5b), each cherub had the face of a child - one boy and one girl - and their wings spread heavenward as their eyes gazed upon the cover (Exod. 25:20; 1 Pet. 1:12). It was here - in the midst of sacred innocence, humility, purity, and hope - that the sacrificial blood was offered to make atonement for our sins, and it was here where God's Voice would be heard (Exod. 25:22; Num. 7:89). In the very heart of the Sanctuary, then, we see the Word of God and the sacrficial blood, foreshadowing the glory of the eternal redemption secured by Yeshua. As is written in our Scriptures: "For Messiah has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are representations (ἀντίτυπος) of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf" (Heb. 9:24).

 

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

Shabbat Shalom, chaverim... Thank you for praying for this ministry.
 




Sensing the Sacred...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim... ]

05.01.15 (Iyyar 12, 5775)  The Torah records God's first act of creation with the imperative utterance: "Let there be light" (i.e., yehi or: יְהִי אוֹר), and then goes on to say 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." Holiness is also expressed in 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 done in creation" (Gen. 2:3). Therefore we are repeatedly told to "distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean" (Lev. 10:10). Note that the word translated "distinguish" (וּלֲהַבְדִּיל) comes from the same verb used to describe how God separated the light from the darkness. In order to do this, we need understanding (i.e., binah: בִּינָה), or the ability to distinguish between (בֵּין) realms of reality. As it is written, "You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and I have separated you (וָאַבְדִּל) from other people that you should be mine" (Lev. 20:26).
 

וִהְיִיתֶם לִי קְדשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי יְהוָה
וָאַבְדִּל אֶתְכֶם מִן־הָעַמִּים לִהְיוֹת לִי

vi·yi·tem · li · ke·do·shim · ki · ka·dosh · a·ni · Adonai
va·av·dil · et·khem · min-ha·a·mim · li·he·yot · li

 

"You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy
and I have separated you from the peoples to be mine"
(
Lev. 20:26)



 

There is no other way to approach the Holy One apart from consciousness of His infinite glory and unsurpassable worth. "I will lift up my eyes to the hills" (Psalm 121:1). As the Holy One (i.e., ha-kadosh: הַקָּדוֹשׁ), the LORD (יהוה) is utterly unique, distinct, sacred, and set apart as the only One of its kind. He alone is worthy of true worship and adoration, since He alone is utterly peerless, without rival, and stands in relation to the world as Creator, Redeemer, and Lord. To affirm the LORD is holy is to be conscious that He is utterly sacred.

Note: Being "holy" does not mean being sanctimonious or having a sour face about the world and its carnal pleasures. It has nothing at all to do with affected spirituality, angry pride, or the fear of becoming unclean... Indeed, some of the most holy moments are those of love, joy, peace, as well as times of struggle, sorrow, affliction, and fiery temptation. Holiness is ultimately "ontological," which means it has to do with reality... A person can be holy and yet sinful; he can be holy and yet feel lost or abandoned. On the other hand, a person can be seemingly sinless, morally upright, and yet be completely unholy.
 




 

April 2015 Site Updates
 



Alongside the Fleeting...


 

04.30.15 (Iyyar 11, 5775)  God's people are always "strangers" in this world; they are literally "e-stranged" -- living here, yet not here. We are outsiders and pilgrims, not at home in this world, and our faith therefore is both a type of "protest" against any interpretation of reality that excludes, suppresses, denies, or minimizes the Divine Presence as well as a longing for the place where we truly belong.... If you feel crazy in an insane situation, then you are really quite sane... The world will feel oppressive and strange once you have been awakened from its madness and refuse to be moved by the delusions of the crowd...  Life in olam hazeh (this world) is a place of passing that leads to the world to come. Our faith affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life is a deeper reality that is ultimately real and abiding. It "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31).
 

כִּי־גֵרִים אֲנַחְנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ
וְתוֹשָׁבִים כְּכָל־אֲבתֵינוּ
כַּצֵּל יָמֵינוּ עַל־הָאָרֶץ וְאֵין מִקְוֶה

ki  ge·rim  a·nach·nu  le·fa·ne·kha,
ve·to·sha·vim  ke·khol  a·vo·tei·nu,
katz·tzel  ya·mei·nu  al  ha·a·retz · ve·ein  mik·veh

 

"For we are strangers before you
and sojourners, as all our fathers were.
As a shadow are our days on the earth, and there is nothing that abides"
(1 Chron. 29:15)



 

The Apostle Paul taught that we to be "conformed" (σύμμορφος) to the Messiah (Rom. 8:29), but not "conformed" (συσχηματίζω) to the pattern of this fallen world (Rom. 12:2). The former word means to resemble or be made similar in form (μορφή), whereas the latter means to accept the world's scheme (σχῆμα) of understanding things, to passively go along with the world's lies, wishful thinking, fearmongering, propaganda, etc. Of course we need God's help to escape the "programming" of our age, and therefore the Holy Spirit helps us to become transfigured – "changed from the inside out" - by the renewal of our minds, enabling us to see things in light of the reality of our identity in the Messiah. So refuse to let the world system get you down, but focus on God and His great glory. Take heart, friends: being exiled by the world is an indication that you belong to the Kingdom of God...
 




Passion and Truth....


 

04.30.15 (Iyyar 11, 5775)  Revelation is unknowable apart from passion... It is common enough to draw near to God with lips while the heart is far away from Him (Isa. 29:13). God doesn't care about your "religion" if your heart is withheld, nor is He impressed that you are a member of a particular denomination (i.e., the commandments of men). Spiritually speaking, the place of utmost danger is indifference toward God, and this danger constitutes the burden of a true prophet of God. "To listen (shema) is better than sacrifice... I desire love (chesed) and the knowledge of God (da'at Elohim) more than burnt offerings" (1 Sam. 15:22, Hos. 6:6). During the End of Days people will have a "form" (μόρφωσιν) of godliness but will deny its power, since their hearts will be obstinately turned away from the truth. "And because lawlessness (i.e., ἀνομία, lit. a=without; nomos=Torah) will be increased, the love of many will grow cold (Matt. 24:12). In this connection we note that the Hebrew word for "falsehood" (or "lie") is sheker (שֶׁקֶר), which can also be read as she-kar (שֶׁקַר), meaning "that which" (-שׁ) makes you cold (קַר). The truth of God can't be known apart from passion. What sort of a lover is he who is feckless or half-hearted in his devotion? Can you know the truth about true love without yearning, longing, and desire?

The Hebrew word for sin (חֵטְא) means "missing the mark," though that essentially means missing the revelation of God's glory because lesser fears consume the heart and obscure passion of the truth... When we really see life as it is, we will be filled with wonder and awe over the glory of it all. "Fearing" (יִרְאָה) and "seeing" (רָאָה) will be linked and unified.
 

    "There is much to drag us back, O Lord: empty pursuits, trivial pleasures, unworthy cares. There is much to frighten us away: pride that makes us reluctant to accept help; cowardice that recoils from sharing your suffering; anguish at the prospect of confessing our sins. But You are stronger than all these forces. We call you our Redeemer and Savior because you redeem us from our empty, trivial existence, you save us from our foolish fears. This is your work which you have completed and will continue to complete in us every moment." - Kierkegaard

 




Extraordinary Encounters...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim... ]

04.30.15 (Iyyar 11, 5775)  We "sanctify" our hearts whenever we consciously focus on what is sacred, awesome, wonderful, and glorious about Reality, and in particular, on the Living God, oseh shamayim va'aretz (עשֵׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ), the Maker of Heaven and Earth, and the great salvation we have in Yeshua. In our Torah portion this week (Acharei Mot) we read: "You shall not do as they do (לא תַעֲשׂוּ) in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do (לא תַעֲשׂוּ) in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes" (Lev. 18:3). In other words, we are not to follow the crowd, to appeal to the status quo, or to mimic the customs of the world because we are a visionary people. Being in a vital relationship with God means separating from the ordinary and mundane, leaving our "original homeland" behind us and crossing over to the realm of blessing. Abraham had to leave the land of his father before he could receive the promise; the Israelites had to trek far into the desert before they received the vision at Sinai, and we have to leave our old lives behind to partake of newness of life. There is a radical break from the past -- we are transformed, reborn, and made into new creations by the miracle of God (2 Cor. 5:17). "Being holy" therefore means coming alive and looking away from that which deadens the spirit (Col. 3:1-4). Behold, the LORD God of Israel makes all things new.

The call to be holy is radical and completely contrary to the world and its messages of conditional approval. Worldly culture flatters itself by making a pretense of true originality and genuine love. It imagines itself to be "cool," unconventional, creative, sophisticated, artistic, and so on, but really it is often trite, uninspired, and cloyingly tragic. To be truly original means encountering God in your daily experience, struggling through the day in faith, disregarding the clamor and demands of popular culture and its idolatry (i.e., fads, fashions, trends, etc.). God calls his people to come alive, to be new, and to experience abundant life; we are to treasure the unseen, the possible, and to keep faith in the healing good that will overwhelm all darkness. Now that's radical; that's original; that's powerful.

Note 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 (i.e., the world) 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 "worldly" if they are devoid of submission to God and His rule. Conversely, even Christian workers may be "worldly" if they base their identity in what they do rather than who they are in the Messiah...

We are "in" but not "of" the world; we are embedded within our culture to be salt and light, and that means we stay true to our vision and relationship with the LORD our God... We don't have to reinvent the wheel, however, since we learn from one another and especially from the testimony of our holy Scriptures, but nevertheless we must personally venture out and encounter God within our own hearts, trusting in his love for our everlasting healing. B'chol dor va'dor: in each generation an individual should look upon himself or herself as having been personally delivered from Egypt. To be efficacious, the message of the Passover Lamb must be personally received by the heart of faith.

Renew the affirmation of faith and know who you are: "If then you have been raised with Messiah, 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 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).
 




Loving the Stranger...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim... ]

04.29.15 (Iyyar 10, 5775)  "You shall love the stranger as yourself" (Lev. 19:34). This mitzvah applies not only to someone whom we regard as an "outsider," but more radically to the "stranger within ourselves," that is, to those aspects of ourselves we censor, deny, or reject. Like the prodigal son, we have to "come to ourselves" to return home (Luke 15:17), yet we won't know that we are unconditionally loved until we venture complete disclosure. That is the great risk of trusting in God's love for your soul: You must accept that you are accepted despite your own unacceptability... Those parts of ourselves that we "hide" need to be brought to the light, atoned for, healed, and reconciled. If we don't love and accept ourselves, then how can we hope to love and accept others?  May God grant us his healing peace in Yeshua, Amen...
 




Practical Holiness...


 

04.28.15 (Iyyar 9, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week (Kedoshim) reveals that the "appointed times" (i.e., mo'edim: מוֹעֲדִים) were given by God to help us turn away from the omnipresent urge within the human heart to embrace vanity: "Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father and guard (שָׁמַר) my Sabbaths (שַׁבְּתתַי)... Do not turn to worthlessness (i.e., אֱלִיל) or make for yourselves any molten gods" (Lev. 19:3-4). In other words, the Biblical holidays - including Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and so on - were intended to help us to sanctify ("set apart," "make holy") the times and seasons in order to remind us of God's Presence (Psalm 104:19). Therefore they are called mikra'ei kodesh (מִקְרָאֵי קדֶשׁ), "times in which holiness is proclaimed" (Lev. 23:2). The Torah's declaration that these days are holy implies that they are set apart for special activities, such as commemorating God as our Creator (Shabbat), our Redeemer (Passover), our Resurrection (Firstfruits), our Law Giver (Shavuot), our King (Rosh Hashanah), our High Priest (Yom Kippur), our Shelter (Sukkot), and so on. In this connection it should be noted that it is a mistake to assume that the divine calendar was somehow abrogated with the cross of Yeshua, since all of the Jewish holidays center on Him, and indeed the advent of the Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit) occurred precisely after the prescribed 49 day countdown to Shavuot (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4).

Presently our lives "suspended" between two worlds - this phenomenal world with its illusions (olam hazeh), and the real world of spiritual substance and meaning (olam haba). We exist in an "already-not-yet" state of expectation and yearning where we must consciously mediate the truth of heaven by bringing it "down to earth." This is a truth war, and by truth I do not mean intellectual knowledge as much as the living truth that marks the lifestyle and vision of a follower of Messiah. We consciously remember Torah truth; we choose to always "set the LORD before us," and take "every thought captive to the passion of Messiah..." May God help each of us heed the call to walk in holiness by the power of His love and grace. Amen.

For more on this subject, see "Practical Holiness: Further thoughts on Kedoshim."
 




The Goal of Holiness...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim... ]

04.28.15 (Iyyar 9, 5775)  "Be holy as I am holy" (Lev. 19:2). This doesn't mean wrapping yourself up in some protective cloak of religious rituals as much as it means accepting your own atonement: reconciling who you are with your past, finding healing and love, and walking in genuine hope... Holiness isn't as much "separation" from the profane as it is "consecration" to the sacred, and in that sense it is a kind of teshuvah, a turning of the heart back to reality.... Negatively put, "being holy" is turning away from fear, despair, and anger; positively put, it is embracing the worth and value of life, respecting the Divine Presence, and walking in the radiance of God's love. Hashivenu Adonai....
 




Seeing God's Face...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim... ]

04.27.15 (Iyyar 8, 5775)   A Roman emperor once asked Rabbi Joshua if the universe had a ruler. The sage answered, indeed, the LORD is the Creator of all things, as it is written, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." The emperor then asked, "Why is God not like the emperor of Rome, who is seen twice a year so that people may know and worship him?" Rabbi Joshua said that unlike human kings, the LORD was too powerful for people to see; as it is written in the Torah: "No person shall see Me and live." The emperor was skeptical, however, and insisted that unless he could physically see God, he would be unable to believe. Rabbi Joshua then pointed to the sun high in the sky: "Look into the sun and you will see God." The emperor tried to look into the sun, but was forced to cover his eyes to keep them from burning: "I cannot look into the sun," he said. Joshua then replied: "Listen to yourself: If you cannot look into the sun which is but one of God's creations, how can you expect to look at God?" (Sefer HaAggadah)

It is interesting to compare this story with another...  Leo Tolstoy tells the parable of an old cobbler who despaired of life and yearned to finally see God. In a dream one night a heavenly voice told that he would see God's face the very next day. The cobbler began the day on the alert, hoping to catch a glimpse of God, but he was distracted when he encountered a needy family. They were cold and desperate, so he took them in and cared for them. The day passed and as he finally laid down to sleep, the cobbler realized he had completely forgotten to look for God.  He apologized to God and once again asked to die... As he fell asleep he dreamed that he saw the family he had helped walking by when the heavenly voice then said, "Rest assured: you saw God today in the faces of those you helped." "Truly, as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me" (Matt. 25:40).
 

וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ
אֲנִי יְהוָה

ve·a·hav·ta · le·re·a·kha · ka·mo·kha
a·ni · Adonai
 

"You shall love your neighbor as yourself:
I AM the LORD."
(Lev. 19:18)



Hebrew Study Card
  

"He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen... Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever truly loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. " (1 John 4:7-8).
 




Love and Reproof...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim... ]

04.27.15 (Iyyar 8, 5775)  In our Torah portion this week there is a wonderful verse (Lev. 16:16) which states that the LORD "dwells with them in the midst of their contamination" (הַשּׁכֵן אִתָּם בְּתוֹךְ טֻמְאתָם). Even though the people were unclean (i.e., defiled by sin and tumah), the Divine Presence was not removed and the means for reconciliation were provided...  Aren't you glad that the love of God doesn't "stop there" (i.e., with a verdict about our sinful condition) but goes beyond the offense to provide remedy and hope?

Yeshua said, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I AM in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). This is expressed by the Hebrew word for love (i.e., ahavah: אהבה), the gematria of which is thirteen, but when shared with another is multiplied: 13 x 2 = 26 -- the same value for the name of the LORD (יהוה). The commandment, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ) thus awakens in the other the same kind of love for you -- and the result will be a "double love" -- or the love of God (אַהֲבַת הָאֱלהִים). Of course this isn't easy, but immediately after giving the commandment, God declares: "I AM the LORD" (אֲנִי יְהוָה), which the sages traditionally interpret to mean, "I, the LORD, will help you fulfill this commandment if you sincerely wish to do so."

For more on this topic, see the Torah article "Love and Reproof."
 




Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim


 

[ This week we have another "double portion" of Torah: Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. Please read the Torah portions to find your place here...  ]

04.26.15 (Iyyar 7, 5775)   This week we have a "double portion" of Torah. The first portion (i.e., Acharei Mot) describes the Yom Kippur ritual to purify the Tabernacle, and the second portion (i.e., Kedoshim) provides a series of commandments concerning the practical expression of holiness in daily life: "Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy (קְדשִׁים תִּהְיוּ), for I the LORD your God am holy" (Lev. 19:2). You can download the Shabbat Table Talks for both these portions here:
 

The call to live a holy, separate life before the LORD requires that we are imbued with the truth of God, and that implies that we will attend to the Torah and its meaning for our lives. We are living in stressful times, chaverim. The Apostle Paul wrote that the time before the "End of Days" would be "perilous" (χαλεπός) and full of human depravity (2 Tim. 3:1-5). In light of the raging spiritual war going on all around us, the following needs to be restated: "The important thing is to not lose your mind..."

The mind is the "gateway" to your heart, andtherefore it is essential to guard your thinking by immersing yourself in the truth.  Fear is often the result of believing the lie that God is not in control or is unable/unwilling to help you... "Not losing your mind" therefore means being grounded in what is real, and it therefore means understanding your identity and provision as a child of God. "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (גְּבוּרָה / δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός), lit. a "delivered" mind, "healed" from fragmentation (2 Tim. 1:7). The Greek word "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός) comes from the verb sodzo (σῴζω), meaning "to save," from saos (σάος) "safe," in the sense of being under restraining influence of the Spirit of God...

If you are afraid of man, understand that this comes not from the Spirit of God, but rather from the enemy of our souls... God is as close as your heart and mouth, and therefore we stand in His Presence, and we must live in awe of Him... We are not to be like the world that lives in terror of man, lusting after security from the vain devices of mere men. No - look to the LORD God Almighty, the Master of the Universe.... "What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:27-28).

Time is nearly up for this world, and the hour draws near: "The nations rage, their kingdoms totter; He utters his voice, the earth melts. Adonai Tzeva'ot imanu - the LORD of hosts is with us; our fortress is the God of Jacob. Selah" (Psalm 46:6-7). If you were to die tonight, what would happen to your eternal soul? Are you certain of your acceptance before the Father, and if so, on what basis? There is a way that seems right - even for the professing Christian. We are admonished to "enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many" (Matt. 7:14).

Among other things, a life of faith is a form of protest against any reality that excludes the Divine Presence of Yeshua, God's redemptive love... Because of this, faith expresses a kind of temporal unhappiness or longing for the ultimate healing of all.... מָרַן אֲתָא - Maranatha!

Note: For more about the relationship between Passover and Yom Kippur, see the article entitled, Yom Kippur and the Gospel.
 




Substance of Hope...


 

04.24.15 (Iyyar 5, 5775)   It is written that faith is the "substance" (ὑπόστασις) of hope, the conviction of unseen blessing, and "without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Heb. 11:6). Life in this world may be likened to a school wherein we learn how great God is and how much we are loved, valued, and esteemed precious in His eyes. You are here to learn that God is your healer, that he will make your crooked things straight, and that you are his beloved child... Faith sees the unseen end in God's unfailing love: The LORD God of Israel says: "And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them" (Isa. 42:16). Amen, and God will turn all our darkness into light...
 

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

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 


Faith is its own reward, since believing the truth brings you into alignment with reality. Teshuvah is the response to God's love... Faith confesses that God is your Ultimate Concern, your Supreme Good, the goal and end of all that matters to your heart. Your faith is "more precious than gold," because its heart is your highest blessing, namely, the Divine Presence, the beatific reality, and heaven itself.... God tests our faith to draw our attention to Him (Psalm 119:71); to teach us endurance (Rom. 5:3-5; James 1:4); to upbuild our soul (Jude 1:20); to purify our affections (1 Pet. 1:7), and to glorify God's Name (kiddush HaShem). May God help each of us hold the substance of real hope within our hearts. Amen.

Shabbat shalom and please remember this ministry in your prayers... Thank you.

 




Do you now believe?


 

04.24.15 (Iyyar 5, 5775)  "Do you now believe?" (John 16:31). Some people are scandalized by what they call "easy believism," or the idea that we only need to believe in Yeshua to be saved. Sometimes they malign this teaching as "cheap grace" or "sloppy agape," though in fairness it must be stressed there is nothing easy about truly believing. What is easy, however, is professing that you believe without undergoing a miraculous heart transformation. Anyone can say, "I believe in Jesus," but the test is whether he lives within you. Is he the source of your life? Do you draw life from Him? Anyone can claim they are saved, but it is a miracle greater than splitting the sea to undergo divine metamorphosis, to be given a heart that loves unconditionally, that dies to pride, and that lives as the servant of all. Yeshua asks, "Do you really believe? Many will say to me in that day, 'Lord, Lord...' but I will say to them, 'I never knew you...' (Matt. 7:22-23). It's not just hard to believe (obey), it's impossible apart from God's radical intervention. It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is no help at all (John 6:33).

Living by faith does not mean we profess Christianity or "talk theology" like some college professor. It's one thing to believe that, and another to believe in... Human reason can rightly infer that a morally good, all-powerful Creator exists, for example (Rom. 1:20), but it is unable to know God's love that way... Love requires trust, "taking to the heart." We are to "know this day and turn to your heart (והֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ) that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). We need to know truth (cognitive) and to be moved by the heart (emotional); we need both Spirit and Truth (John 4:24). "For all things come from You (כִּי־מִמְּךָ הַכּל), and from your hand we give to you" (1 Chron. 29:14). Teshuvah centers on Yeshua our Savior: turn to believe in Him!

Regarding the question of faith, Kierkegaard once wrote, "The easiness of Christianity is distinguished by one thing only: by the difficulty. Thus the Master's yoke it easy and its burden light -- for the person who has cast off all his burdens, all of them, the burdens of hope and of fear and of despondency and of despair -- yet it is difficult."  Yes, the difficult thing is to truly believe in the "for-you miracle" of God's love.  Sins can be like great possessions that are difficult to give up. Among other things, we must forgive ("give away") our sins (both our own and those against us), and that means trusting God enough to bear our wounds for us. Forgiveness allows us to move on with our lives by letting go of the pain of the past (2 Cor. 5:16). The atonement cost God everything, and yet is of no spiritual value until it is accepted into the heart. It is "easy" to understand this, but it is difficult to live it.

πιστεύω· βοήθει μου τῇ ἀπιστίᾳ - "I believe, help thou my unbelief" (Mark 9:24).
 




The Fear of the LORD...



 

04.24.15 (Iyyar 5, 5775)  Some people are afraid that God will punish them for their sins, but the true fear of God, yirat shamayim (יִרְאָת שָׁמַיִם), is the tragedy of losing our closeness to Him... This is the fear of the Lord. The sages say that where it is written, "What does the LORD ask of you except to fear the LORD" (Deut. 10:12), we should read instead, "fear with the LORD" (לְיִרְאָה אֶת־יְהוָה), that is, we share his concern that we could forfeit the sanctity of a heart-relationship with Him due to carelessness and sin... We fear our sin because it blinds us from awareness of God's care and love. The fear of God can therefore be understood as God's fear that we will miss the blessing of intimately knowing him.

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

Personal Update: My children have been sick all week and we're pretty exhausted over here.  Thank you for your prayers, dear friends. Shabbat Shalom.
 




Cleansing from Exile...


 

04.24.15 (Iyyar 5, 5775)  The sages point out that the concept of "unclean" (טָמֵא) is associated with matters of life and death: contact with the dead; the experience of childbirth, life-reproductive cycles, and so on. It's almost as if God warns us to be especially conscious of his prerogative over such matters. Encountering powerful forces beyond our control requires us to separate ourselves and be purified. Whether we grieve over loss or rejoice over newness of life, we need to take some time away from others, and then we come to God to be purified and restored from our contact with raw experience. Whenever we get so caught up in our experience that we feel disconnected from others, due to trauma or some intense ordeal, we especially need to return from our exile and reunite with others.

 



Words of Life...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Tazria-Metzora. Please read the Torah portion to find your place here... ]

04.24.15 (Iyyar 5, 5775)  Just as a body can become sick with illness, so can a soul: "I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me; heal my soul (רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי), for I have sinned against you'" (Psalm 41:4). Likewise we understand that fear influences the way the brain processes images and messages. And since the mind and body are intricately interconnected, fear is often the root cause of many physiological problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, clinical depression, and other ailments. Left unchecked, fear can be deadly. Note the connection between fear, lashon hara (evil thoughts/words), and sickness (tzara'at), which are themes of this week's Torah portion...

The targum Onkelos states that God breathed into Adam the ability to think and to speak. In other words, thought and speech are two primary characteristics of the image (tzelem) and likeness (demut) of God. Since our use of words is directly linked to the "breath of God" within us, lashon hara (לָשׁוֹן הָרָה) defaces God's image within us.... Using words to inflict pain therefore perverts the image of God, since God created man to use language to "build up" others in love. This is part of the reason the metzora (i.e., one afflicted with tzara'at) was regarded as "dead" and in need of rebirth.

Lashon hara is really a symptom of the "evil eye" (ayin hara). "Evil comes to one who searches (דָּרַשׁ) for it" (Prov. 11:27). We must train ourselves to use the "good eye" (ayin tovah) and extend kaf zechut - the "hand of merit" to others. Genuine faith is optimistic and involves hakarat tovah, that is, recognizing the good in others and in life's circumstances. Gam zu l'tovah: "This too is for the good" (Rom. 8:28). The Midrash states that God afflicted houses with tzara'at so that treasure hidden within the walls would be discovered. The good eye finds "hidden treasure" in every person and experience.

King David said (Psalm 35:13): "May what I prayed for happen to me!" (literally, tefillati al-cheki tashuv - "may it return upon my own breast").  Some of our prayers are conscious words spoken to God, whereas others are unconscious expressions of our inner heart attitudes. When we harbor indifference, ill will, or unforgiveness toward others, we are only hurting ourselves. It is very sobering to realize that our thoughts are essentially prayers being offered up to God... When we seek the good of others we find God's favor, healing and life. Yeshua spoke of "good and evil treasures of the heart" that produce actions that are expressed in our words (Luke 6:45). A midrash states that if someone speaks well of another, the angels above will then speak well of him before the Holy One.

In light of the enigma of "spiritual impurity" (i.e., tumah) and its ultimate expression revealed in the corruption of death, it is all the more telling that we should heed the cry of the Spirit: "Choose Life!" (Deut. 30:19). Sin is a type of "spiritual suicide" that seduces us to exchange eternal good for the petty and trivial. The nachash (serpent) in the garden of Eden was the first to speak lashon hara. He slandered God and lied to Eve about how to discern between good and evil. He is a murderer and the father of lies. Resist his wiles with the truth of God...

May it please the LORD to help each of us be entirely mindful of the power and sanctity of our words... May it please Him to help us use our words for the purpose of strengthening and upbuilding (οἰκοδομὴν) one another (Eph. 4:29). May God help us take every thought "captive" to the obedience of the Messiah, thereby enabling us to always behold and express the truth of God's unfailing love.
 




Purification and Healing...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah, parashiyot Tazria-Metzora.... ]

04.23.15 (Iyyar 4, 5775)  The cleansing of a metzora (i.e., "leper") corresponded with other significant sacrificial rituals given in the Torah. The sprinkling of the hyssop by the priest recalled the blood of Passover; the offering made of the two birds - one which was sacrificed and the other set free - recalled the scapegoat of the Yom Kippur ritual. The washing of garments, the shaving of all hair, and the immersion in a mikveh (a pool of fresh water) recalled the birth of the Jewish people at the Sea of Reeds. The blood of the guilt offering sprinkled on the earlobe, thumb and foot, recalled the dedication of Aaron and his sons as the priests of Israel (Lev. 14:14). In other words, the individual purification process mirrored the purification of the community of Israel, and healing ultimately meant being re-identified as a redeemed child of God.  In a very literal sense, then, we see how the metzora was "reborn" by water and by the blood (John 3:5; 19:34; Heb. 9:19).

Of the Messiah it is written: "He is despised and rejected of men, a man of pains (אִישׁ מַכְאבוֹת) and acquainted with sickness (וִידוּעַ חלִי), and we hid as it were our faces from him. He was despised and we esteemed him not.  Surely he has carried our sicknesses (חֳלָיֵנוּ) and borne our pains (מַכְאבֵינוּ), yet we esteemed him as plagued (נָגַע), smitten of God (מֻכֵּה אֱלהִים) and oppressed. But he was pierced (מְחלָל) for our transgressions (פְּשָׁעֵנוּ), he was crushed for our iniquities (עֲוֹנתֵינוּ): the discipline for our peace was upon him (מוּסַר שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ עָלָיו); and in his blows we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, but the LORD has attacked in him (הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:3-6). Through the substitutionary sacrifice of the righteous Suffering Servant, Yeshua, we are both forgiven and made free from the power of sin and death. Because of Him we are no longer "lepers" or outcasts from the community of God but are made clean through His loving touch.

Notice that the word translated "blow" (i.e., חַבּוּרָה, "wound" or "stripe") comes from the same root as the word "friend" (חָבֵר), and therefore we can read this as "in His friendship we are healed." Yeshua gave up His life for us so that we could become his friends... As He later told us regarding his sacrifice: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Indeed of Yeshua it may truly be said, Yesh ohev davek me'ach – "there is a friend who sticks (davek) closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24).

Note: For more on this subject, see the article: "Thoughts on Holiness."
 




The Leper Messiah...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah, parashiyot Tazria-Metzora.... ]

04.23.15 (Iyyar 4, 5775)  "The Messiah -- what is his name?... The sages say, "the Leper Scholar..." (Sanhedrin 98b). But how was it that Yeshua was able to touch the metzora ("leper") and yet remain clean himself (Matt 8:1-4)? Only because He is the LORD (יהוה), the true Healer. Just as Yeshua spoke with greater authority than Moses (Matt. 5:21-48), so He was able to do what Moses (and those under the Levitical system of worship) could not do -- namely, reach down in compassion and take away the uncleanness from our lives.... Yeshua's blood creates the "waters of separation" (מֵי נִדָּה). He is the fulfillment of the "Red Heifer" sacrifice. Only Yeshua enters the "leper colony" of humanity and takes away our tzara'at (sin) by becoming ish machovot (אישׁ מַכְאבוֹת), a leper Himself, the Just for the Unjust, that He might make us acceptable before the LORD.
 

כִּי־אַתָּה אֲדנָי טוֹב וְסַלָּח
 וְרַב־חֶסֶד לְכָל־קרְאֶיךָ

ki · at·tah · Adonai · tov · ve·sal·lach
ve·rav · che·sed · le·khol · ko·re·e·kha

 

"For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
 abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you."
(Psalm 86:5)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Just as a body can become sick with illness, so can the soul: "I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me; heal my soul (רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי), for I have sinned against you!'" (Psalm 41:4). If you feel your sins biting you, and your heart is wavering and beginning to tremble, take your place on the outside of the camp, where the lepers are standing, for they are the ones for whom the Gospel is intended.... Yeshua enters the leper colony to touch the leper. He seeks and saves the lost.  The message of God's love and forgiveness is received only by those who understand how much they need it, to the self-confessed lepers of the soul... The gospel is sure remedy for the sick, not the healthy; it is for the sinner, not the "saint." For those who accept Yeshua as their Redeemer, sin is turned right through the pain He bore on the cross, and forgiveness is a matter of sheer grace, not merit. There is joy in heaven for one sinner who turns to God in repentance, and this implies that every time you go to the LORD in your brokenness, in the truth of your need for Him, He will receive you with divine happiness.
 

אֲנִי־אָמַרְתִּי יְהוָה חָנֵּנִי רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי
כִּי־חָטָאתִי לָךְ

a·ni · a·mar·ti · Adonai · cho·nei·ni · re·fa·ah · naf·shi
ki · cha·ta·ti · lakh

 

"I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me
heal my soul for I have sinned against you."
(Psalm 41:4)


 


Note: For more on this subject, see the article, "The Leper Messiah."
 




Cleansing of the Leper...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Tazria-Metzora. Please read the Torah portion to find your place here... ]

04.22.15 (Iyyar 3, 5775)  Although the priest needed to go "outside the camp" to examine a metzora (i.e., "leper"), the person still needed to "be brought" to the priest to meet him there, while he or she was in a state of exile (Lev. 14:2-3). In other words, the afflicted one was required to meet the priest "half-way." Like the prodigal son who returns home, God lovingly waits for us at the "edge" of the camp to meet us half-way... Hashivenu (הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ): "Return us to You, LORD, and we shall return" (Lam. 5:21).

The case of the metzora reveals that God sometimes disciplines his child with "exile" in order to awaken teshuvah within the heart. God imparted the spiritual disease of tzara'at to "remind" us of our sin and need for atonement, and the purification ritual was meant to illustrate our need for spiritual rebirth.... The gracious aim of affliction, then, is to "wake us from our slumbers" in order to reveal the way of life... As C.S. Lewis once said, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

The love of God is so great that He reached out and touched us - becoming a "leper" for us - and even chose to die "in exile" upon the cross to eternally purify us from our sins... In that sense, Yeshua surely meets us more than "half-way," since He "emptied Himself" (κενόω) of His heavenly glory and power in order to willingly bear our sickness, shame, and even death itself on our behalf... "But [He] made himself nothing (εκενωσεν), taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men; and being found in human form, he brought himself low by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:7-8).
 




Israel's Independence Day...


 

[ Yom Huledet Same'ach, Israel!  Happy 67th Birthday to the miraculous people of the miraculous promised land! May God make your numbers like the stars in heaven! ]

04.21.15 (Iyyar 2, 5775)  On Wednesday April 22nd (at sundown) we observe Israel's Independence Day, called Yom Ha'atzma'ut (יוֹם הָעַצְמָאוּת). The word atzma'ut (independence) comes from atzmi - "my bones" (i.e., etzem: עֶצֶם), so the name itself reminds us of the God's glorious promise to revive the "dry bones" (עֲצָמוֹת) of Israel by bringing the Jewish people back from their long exile (Ezek. 37:1-6). Son of man, can these bones live?

But why should Christians care about ethnic Israel?  After all, many Christian denominations advocate some version of "Replacement Theology" and regard the promises God made to the Jewish people as belonging exclusively to their church...  The existence of the modern State of Israel therefore evokes little thanks to God from these groups, and some of their ranks even regard Israel's revived presence on the world stage as an embarrassment to their typically "liberal" theology.  Hence we see the (remarkably bad) phenomena of so-called "Christian" church denominations that express anti-Israel sentiment, even asking their followers to divest investments in Israel on behalf of the "Palestinians," etc.

Briefly, we celebrate the phenomenon of Israel because the existence of Jewish people - and of the nation of Israel in particular - demonstrates that God is faithful to the covenant promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (e.g., Gen. 15:9-21; Rom. 11:28). The perpetuity of the Jewish people - despite so much worldwide persecution over the millennia - is a great testimony of God's faithful love (Jer. 31:35-37). Let us therefore gratefull affirm: ַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי / am Yisrael chai: "The people of Israel live!"  Israel is a sign of the "sure mercies of David" (חַסְדֵי דָוִד הַנֶּאֱמָנִים) that are revealed in Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah (Isa. 55:1-6). Moreover, the New Covenant itself, as foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, explicitly promises the perpetuity of the Jewish people throughout the ages (Jer. 31:31-36):
 

    Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD (יהוה), when I will make a new covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law (תּוֹרָה) within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

    Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar– the LORD of hosts is his Name: "If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) cease from being a nation before me forever." Thus says the LORD: "If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the LORD. – Jer. 31:35-36
     

According to this theologically critical passage, if you saw the sun shine today or the stars in the night sky, you can be assured that God's promise to preserve the "offspring of Israel" -- (i.e., zera Yisrael: זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) -- is in effect. Indeed, in the world to come, heavenly Jerusalem will have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel engraved upon its gates (Rev. 21:12). Note well that this is the only occurrence in the entire Tanakh (i.e., "Old Testament") that the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) is explicitly mentioned... It is a foundational passage of Scripture for those who claim to be followers of the Jewish Messiah.

In this connection, let me ask you a simple question.  If the King of the Jews is our hope and lives inside our hearts by faith, and if the King of the Jews calls Jerusalem the "City of the Great King" (Psalm 48:2, Matt 5:35), then it only makes sense that we would praise God for his love for Israel. Indeed, the LORD (יהוה) identifies Himself as "the God of Israel" over 200 times in the Jewish Scriptures. How important is this to your theology?
 

 בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה אֱלהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
מֵהָעוֹלָם וְעַד הָעוֹלָם אָמֵן וְאָמֵן

ba·rukh · Adonai · E·lo·hei · Yisrael
me·ha·o·lam · ve'ad · ha·o·lam: a·men ve·a·men

 

"Blessed be the LORD God of Israel
from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen."
(Psalm 41:13)



Download Study Card
 

All the blessings Christians enjoy ultimately come from the root of God's covenants with Israel... Yeshua our Savior was born the King of the Jews, and plainly said salvation is "from the Jews" (Matt. 2:2; 27:11; John 4:22). The Apostle Paul clearly warned those who think the church has "replaced" Israel: "Remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you" (Rom. 11:18). This doctine is so foundational that it may be righly said that how you think about Israel will affect every other area of your theology. For more on this subject, see the article, "Is Christianity Anti-Jewish?"
 




Words of Healing...


 

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

04.21.15 (Iyyar 2, 5775)  Just as a body can become sick with illness, so can a soul: "I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me; heal my soul (רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי), for I have sinned against you!'" (Psalm 41:4). Jewish tradition links tzara'at ("leprosy") with the sin of lashon hara ("evil talk"), suggesting that the word metzora ("leper") is word play from the Hebrew phrase, motzi ra: "one who brings forth [speaks] evil." As it is written: mavet ve'chaim be'yad lashon (מָוֶת וְחַיִּים בְּיַד־לָשׁוֹן) - "Death and life and in the power of the tongue" (Prov. 18:21). Because we are made in the image and likeness of God, our words matter -- and they wield power. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "word" (דָּבָר) also means "thing." When we bless others, we are invoking grace and good will to be manifest in the world, but when we curse others, the opposite effect is intended...

Yeshua soberly warned us, ‎"I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account (ἀποδίδωμι) for every careless word they speak (i.e., πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργόν, all "empty" or "thoughtless" words), for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). Every word we utter reaches up to the highest places of heaven and echoes there. The sages say, "my words - not a soul knows." But the Holy One, blessed be He, says, "I am sending an angel who will stand near you and record every word you say about your neighbor." Every word we speak is recorded in the "heavenly scrolls" (Rev. 20:12). Therefore David admonishes us, ‎"Who desires life (מִי־הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים) and loves many days that bring forth good? Guard your tongue from evil and keep your lips from using deceptive speech. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:13-14). Notice the connection between our words and our deeds here, which again suggests the connection between "words" and "things" (i.e., devarim: דְּבָרִים). It is very sobering to realize that our thoughts are essentially prayers being offered up to God...

Because the metzora was put into exile because of his sinful thinking (i.e., words), so he came back to the "edge of the camp" only with words... This first step back was crucial, as the prophet later said, "Return to the LORD and repent! Say to him: 'Completely forgive our iniquity; accept our penitential prayer, that we may offer the praise of our lips'" (Hos. 14:2). When we sincerely return to the LORD, He will take care of the problem of our impurity, uncleanness, and sin. That's the message of the cross of Yeshua, too. We can add nothing to His finished work but simply accept it as performed on our behalf through faith...
 




Healing our Sicknesses...


 

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

04.21.15 (Iyyar 2, 5775)  The Hebrew word tzara'at ("leprosy") may be read as "tzar ayin" (צַר עַיִן), meaning a mingy or arrogant eye... And just as our words reveal what is within our hearts (Luke 6:45), so do our eyes (Luke 11:34; Matt. 15:19). How we look upon others is a function of how we see ourselves; and therefore we all share in the disease of our fellows. "The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, 'Unclean, unclean.'" The sages interpret, "Unclean, unclean!" (Lev. 13:45) to mean that the one who is unclean calls others "unclean," which is to say, he projects his own defects onto others. Healing comes when we understand that we all are affected by sin and sickness, and when we criticize others, we condemn ourselves (Rom. 2:1). We are to love our enemies, and that includes the enemy we perceive within ourselves... There is much in all of us that remains broken, unclean, and in need of God's touch. Love uses the "good eye" to believe in the good, even if that good is yet unseen (Heb. 11:1). "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things" (1 Cor. 13:7), and that includes for our healing.
 




The Work of Faith...


 

04.20.15 (Iyyar 1, 5775)  You are invited to come before the Divine Presence - you are welcomed with joy - because of the glory of God's love given to you in Yeshua... And while you can never "earn" God's love, of course, you must take hold of it by faith, as Yeshua said: "This is the work of God - that you believe in the One whom God sent (John 6:29). This is the great work of the heart: learning to believe that Yeshua was given for your sake, because you are redeemable and have infinite value in the eyes of heaven.  Faith finds courage to accept God's love, despite whatever tempts you to feel unworthy or unacceptable. It pushes past the superficial view that you can please God by what you do, instead of enjoying God by knowing who He is: God is love; God is Light; He is Faithfulness, the Savior of your life... Faith works through his love (Gal. 5:6).

As it is written in our Scriptures, ἐν τῷ φωτὶ περιπατῶμεν ὡς αὐτός ἐστιν ἐν τῷ φωτι: "Walk in the light, as He is in the light" (1 John 1:7).
 




Prophetic Significance of Israel...


 

[ The following is related to Yom HaAtzma'ut (יוֹם הָעַצְמָאוּת) - Israel's Independence Day - which begins April 22nd at sundown this year.  Happy 67th Birthday, Israel! ]

04.20.15 (Iyyar 1, 5775)  Can a case be made that we among the "terminal generation" before the return of Yeshua? The Torah predicted that the "End of Days" would occur sometime after the return of the Jewish people from their worldwide dispersion back to the land of Israel (Deut. 30:1-3), and indeed the theme of exile and return is repeated in the prophets (Jer. 23:3; 32:37-38; Ezek. 37:21, etc.). Therefore it is surely extraordinary that Israel was reborn as a nation in their ancient homeland on May 14, 1948 (Iyyar 5, 5708), after nearly 2,000 years of exile... Moreover, the existence of the modern State of Israel is entirely consonant with New Testament prophecies regarding the advent of the Messiah, since Yeshua taught that the Jewish people would be in the land of Israel at the time of his second coming, and that the city of Jerusalem would be surrounded by enemies of the Jewish state (see Matt. 24-25; Mark 13, Luke 21). Furthermore, if we understand a "generation" to mean 70-80 years in duration (as stated in Psalm 90:10), then when Yeshua said, "this generation (ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη) shall not pass until all these things take place" (Matt. 24:34), he was referring to the generation that would originate with the restoration of the modern State of Israel, which further implies that Daniel's 70th Week (i.e., the Great Tribulation) could begin very soon.  And while it is true that "no one knows the day or hour" of Yom Adonai haGadol (יוֹם־יְהוָה הַגָּדוֹל), the "great day of the LORD," Yeshua faulted the scribes and the Pharisees for failing to discern "the signs of the times" (Matt. 16:3) and for missing the "time of their visitation" (Luke 19:44).
 

מִי־שָׁמַע כָּזאת
מִי רָאָה כָּאֵלֶּה
הֲיוּחַל אֶרֶץ בְּיוֹם אֶחָד
אִם־יִוָּלֵד גּוֹי פַּעַם אֶחָת

mi · sha·ma · ka'zot
mi · ra'ah · ka'
e·leh
hai
·yu·chal · e·retz · be·yom · e·chad
im · yiv·va·led · goy ·
pa·am · e·chat

 

"Who has heard such a thing?
Who has seen such things?
Shall a land be born in one day?
Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?"
(Isa. 66:8)



 

Like many other prophetic statements found in the Jewish Scriptures, this verse from the prophet Isaiah is "dual aspect," since it was both partially fulfilled when the Jewish people reestablished the State of Israel, but it will be entirely fulfilled at the outset of the Millennial Kingdom after the return of Messiah (see Isa. 66:7-16; Rom. 11:26). Meanwhile we behold the restoration of the "Fig Tree," and understand that the great harvest draws near, friends... May God help each one of us be awake, ready, with hearts full of steadfast faith (1 John 3:2-3; Titus 2:11-14; Matt. 24:32). Amen.

Regardless of how you may regard the prophetic events that herald the "end of the world," however, know this: Today might be your last in this world - your very own Rosh Hashanah when you will appear before the Judge and Creator of your life... Therefore should we live each day as if it were our last and pray that God will help us to serve Him in the truth.

Note:  Let me add that while we may discern that the time is indeed short, I do not believe in "date setting" or predicting the return of the LORD, since that is חוכמה אטומה, "sealed wisdom" known only to the Father (Matt. 24:36, Acts 1:7; 1 Thess. 5:2, etc.). Shalom.
 




Parashat Tazria-Metzora


 

04.19.15 (Nisan 30, 5775)  This week we have a "double portion" of Torah to read: parashat Tazria and Metzora, both of which focus on the concept of being "clean" (טָהוֹר) and obtaining purification from a state of "uncleanness" (טָמֵא). Of particular importance is the healing and purification of the metzora (i.e., "leper"), which is similar to the ritual performed for cleansing during the great Day of Atonement (i.e., Yom Kippur).

A midrash states that when the Israelites first heard about the divinely imparted affliction of tzara'at, sometimes (inaccurately) translated as "leprosy," they despaired and became fearful. Moses reassured them by telling them that tzara'at was a sign from God that they were a chosen nation, and this was his way of encouraging them to do teshuvah in to be in fellowship with Him. Likewise God sometimes disciplines us for our sins (Heb 12:7-8) for the purpose of granting us the gift of teshuvah (2 Cor. 7:10). We must therefore strive to make our conversation and the inmost intent of our hearts "captive to the obedience of the Messiah," blessed be He (Matt. 5:37; Eph. 4:29; Col. 3:8; 2 Cor. 10:5; 1 Tim 4:2; etc.).

A student once asked his rebbe: "Do we get punished for our sins in this world?" His succinct response was, "Only if we are fortunate..." Indeed, correction from God is a blessing in disguise, since there is no worse state in this life than to be untouched or overlooked by God (Rom. 1:28). God is teaching us through our failures; he is training us to persevere, to endure, and to become strong.  As it is written, "If you are left without discipline (מוּסָר), then you are illegitimate children and not sons" (Heb. 12:8).

The rabbis say that tza'arat comes from lashon hara (i.e., gossip or the abuse of our words). Yeshua clearly warned us, "I tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will give account (ἀποδίδωμι) for every careless word they speak (i.e., πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργόν, all "empty" or "thoughtless" words), for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). Every word we utter reaches up to the highest places of heaven and echoes there. The sages say that the Holy One, blessed be He, sends an angel who records every word you say about your neighbor in the "heavenly scrolls" (Rev. 20:12). Therefore David admonishes, "Who desires life (מִי־הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים) and loves many days that bring forth good? Guard your tongue from evil and keep your lips from using deceptive speech. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:13-14).

In the Gospels we read how Yeshua healed various "lepers" and even touched them (e.g., Matt. 8:2-3, Mark 1:40-41). But how could He do this without Himself becoming tamei (unclean)? We must remember that it was the prerogative of the LORD God of Israel to "touch" those afflicted with tzara'at and heal them based on their teshuvah, and in like measure, Yeshua entered the "leper colony" of humanity to heal those who cried out to Him. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and His love reaches down to those who are afflicted and oppressed on account of their uncleanness. If you call upon Him, He will likewise touch you and restore you to fellowship with God.


For Further Study:

 




Gift of Holy Desperation...


 

04.17.15 (Nisan 28, 5775)  Do you have the "gift of holy desperation"? That's the very special blessing of needing God so viscerally that you otherwise will fall apart or even self-destruct apart from His ongoing intervention in your life... You pray because your very life depends on it; you believe because without God, you would be swallowed up in darkness... The fire on the altar was to be kept burning at all times (Lev. 6:12-13), which symbolizes esh tamid (אֵשׁ תָּמִיד), or the inner fire of the heart... How blessed it is to be full of the fire of this inner need, this relentless groaning, this constant hunger to be set free: As Job wistfully yearned: "All the days of my warfare I hope, until my change will come."
 

אִם־יָמוּת גֶּבֶר הֲיִחְיֶה
כָּל־יְמֵי צְבָאִי אֲיַחֵל עַד־בּוֹא חֲלִיפָתִי

im · ya·mut · ge·ver · ha·yich·yeh?
kol · ye·mei · tze·va·i · a·ya·chel · ad · bo · cha·li·fa·ti
 

"If a man dies, shall he live again?
All the days of my warfare I hope, until my change should come."
(Job 14:14)


 
 

The Hebrew word for "change" (חֲלִיפָה) here refers to a change of garments, picturing the robes that Joshua the High Priest was given when he stood accused before the Angel of the LORD (Zech. 3:3-5). We want to be fully clothed with the garments of God's righteousness that are imputed to us through faith. Our groaning for complete deliverance from the affect of our sins is further evidence of the inner vision we have been given by the Holy Spirit.
 




Kosher on the Inside...


 

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

04.17.15 (Nisan 28, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week includes dietary laws collectively called kashrut (כַּשְׁרוּת). The sages say that just as the Ark was overlaid with gold inside and out to signify that the inner and the outer should agree (Exod. 25:11), so a kosher animal had to have both split hooves (as an external sign) and to chew its cud (as an internal function). An animal can appear to be superficially kosher but really isn't so. For example, a pig has split hooves yet does not chew its cud. The inner and outer sign must both be present, and when we apply this as a principle of spiritual life, this means that we should be honest and sincere - that both our outer life and our heart attitude should agree, should be echad, "one." We are vessels of the Divine Presence, the Life of Yeshua is within us, therefore it is essential that we be yashar - upright, and to walk in honesty at all times...

Note: For more on Kosher Law, see Keeping Kosher - How Close a Look?
 




Trust in the Darkness...


 

04.17.15 (Nisan 28, 5775)  "And Aaron was silent" (Lev. 10:3). Here the sages connect surrender to God with humility, for surely the death of Aaron's two son's evoked his cry of protest, his objection before the LORD... The reason for what happens in our lives is often (always?) beyond our understanding, yet the righteousness of God's will – even if undisclosed to us - must be accepted by faith. As it says: "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:9). The refusal to accept what cannot be understood is to worship the powers of the mind, and to elevate the role of human reason above even God Himself. Faith accepts God's goodness and trusts in his care, even if that means we find ourselves walking in the dark: "Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God" (Isa. 50:10).
 

מִי בָכֶם יְרֵא יְהוָה שׁמֵעַ בְּקוֹל עַבְדּוֹ
 אֲשֶׁר הָלַךְ חֲשֵׁכִים וְאֵין נגַהּ לוֹ
 יִבְטַח בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה וְיִשָּׁעֵן בֵּאלהָיו

mi · va·khem · ye·rei · Adonai · sho·mei·a · be·kol · av·do?
a·sher · ha·lakh · cha·she·khim · ve·ein · no·gah · lo?
yiv·tach · be·Shem · Adonai · ve·yi·sha·en · be·lo·hav
 

"Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness and has no light
trust in the Name of the LORD and rely on his God."
(Isa. 50:10)



 

Trusting in God (i.e., bittachon - בִּטָּחוֹן) does not mean that we are obligated to affirm that this is "the best of all possible worlds," though it does mean we believe that eventually God will wipe away every tear and make all things right... Bittachon is a word for this world, which says, "Though he slay me, I will trust in him..." Those who call upon the LORD can trust not only in concealed good behind ambiguous appearances ("all things work together for good") but also in a future, real, substantive good that will one day be clearly manifest for us all... We fight the "good fight" of faith, which is a worthy struggle that eventually is realized for blessing.  Meanwhile, may the LORD our God keep us from such depth of sorrow that leads to sickness, darkness and despair.

If you ask for bread, your heavenly Father will not give you a stone... The sages call this a kal va'chomer inference (i.e., קַל וְחמר, "light and weighty"), namely, that if a light condition is true, then a heavier one is certainly true... Yeshua used this kind of reasoning all the time: If God cares for the needs of the birds of the air, how much more (kal va'chomer) will he care for your needs? (Matt. 6:26). If God so clothes the grass of the field, how much more (kal va'chomer) will he clothe you (Matt. 6:30)? If your heavenly Father knows the number of hairs on your head, surely he knows the state of your soul.  And if God wants us to walk in righteousness, kal va'chomer does he want us to know his love... Only God can give to us the love for him that he fully knows we so desperately need; only God can deliver us from our "disordered loves" to take hold of what is truly essential.  All we can do is ask, and keep on asking - even as we struggle on, despite ourselves - until we begin to understand what we really need. It's as if we are constantly being asked, "Is this what you want?" and our choices confess the truth of what we believe... Only God does the miracle of real change within the human heart - only God can give life from the dead!
 




Brokenness and Service...


 

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

04.16.15 (Nisan 27, 5775)  The service of God requires the death of the ego. Rashi says that Aaron was still deeply ashamed over the Sin of the Calf, and that is why Moses urged his brother forward: "Draw near to the altar" (Lev. 9:7). And though Aaron felt inadequate and unworthy to be the High Priest of Israel, Rashi comments that he was chosen precisely because of this. His reluctance and sense of utter unworthiness was the very reason why he was granted the role of Israel's High Priest.  Likewise you might feel unworthy of your high calling in the Messiah and yet you are called to come before the Divine Presence and function as God's holy priest, no less than Aaron... You are chosen in your weakness; you are beloved because of your lowly standing; you are made "pure in heart" because you realize your own inner nothingness and need before the Savior.... Your brokenness is a gift that magnifies God's unending love and grace (1 Cor. 1:26-29).

Note: For more on this, see "Brokenness and Service: Further thoughts on Shemini."
 




Meaning in Suffering...

Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial
 

[ Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day, is observed April 15th (and 16th) this year... ]

04.15.15 (Nisan 26, 5775)  It has been noted that the survivors of the concentration camps were not necessarily the physically strongest, but they were people able to find meaning in their suffering and who never lost sight of hope. As survivor Vicktor Frankl once said, "In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice." In light of this, let's resolve now to live each day full of concentrated hope - full of conviction - that even should this be the last day of our earthly existence, we will stand for God, we will hold on to the truth of God's salvation, and we will die in the everlasting hope of God's victorious love.
 

    We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way...

    Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. - Viktor E. Frankl

 




Deliver Us from Evil...


 

[ Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day, is observed April 15th (and 16th) this year... ]

04.15.15 (Nisan 26, 5775)  Holocaust survivor Vicktor Frankl wrote, "No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same."  There is a "shadow" or darker side to ourselves that we normally keep hidden from view, even from ourselves. Yeshua said "out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander, and these are what defile a person" (Matt. 15:19-20). If you were given a magic ring which when placed on your finger made you invisible, would your behavior change? Would you be moral if you were entirely sure that you wouldn't be held accountable? Why is it difficult to understand our true motives, to "own" the darker impulses that sometimes rise within us? Each of us can act like a petty Pharaoh, and - dare I say it - even like a cruel Nazi at times, blaming others to excuse our own evil ways... When we come to the light to confess the truth, we become more aware of what we really need, and we can ask God for healing; we then can forgive ourselves and begin to "lift off" our stuff from others.
 

עָקב הַלֵּב מִכּל וְאָנֻשׁ הוּא מִי יֵדָעֶנּוּ

a·kov · ha·lev · mi·kol · ve·a·nush · hu - mi · ye·dei·nu?
 

"The heart is deceitful above all things and incurably sick
- who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9)

 

The heart is deceitful above all things, and incurably sick - mi yadeinu? - who can know it? But how is the heart sick? By seeking excuses to evade the truth of its great need; by denying its own inner poverty... "No person is saved except by grace; the apostle, too, was accepted only by grace. But there is one sin that makes grace impossible, that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must unconditionally require, and that is honesty.

Julian of Norwich said, "All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well," and yet the darkest pitch of depression is precisely the inability to take hold of such hope... Faith in the midst of darkness must yet affirm that despite own sin, our own wretchedness, nothing will hinder nor overcome the working of God's goodness...
 




Holocaust Memorial Day...


 

[ Yom HaShoah is observed Wednesday, April 15th after sundown this year... ]

04.15.15 (Nisan 26, 5775)  Some people mark the date of November 9, 1938 as the start of the Jewish Holocaust. On that dreadful night - called Kristallnacht, "the Night of Broken Glass" - thousands of Germans, organized by the Nazis, destroyed over 1,000 synagogues, burned precious Torah scrolls and prayer books in town squares, ransacked and looted over 7,000 Jewish businesses, and invaded and terrorized many Jewish homes. Many Jews were killed during the attacks, and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken away to the concentration camps. Kristallnacht was followed by further persecution of the Jews and is viewed by most historians as the pogram that initiated the infamous "Final Solution."

To readily identify who was a Jew to the authorities, Hitler ordered all subjugated peoples of Jewish descent to wear yellow stars of David on their clothing. Hitler relied on non Jews to spy on and identify all those who did not comply. When the order to wear the star was issued in Holland, however, an underground newspaper made 300,000 yellow stars that said, "Jews and non-Jews stand united in their struggle," and distributed them to the public to express their solidarity with the plight of the Jewish people. In Denmark, too, the "yellow star law" was rebuffed, and King Christian X was reported to have said that if the law were to be enforced by the Nazis, he pledged to wear one himself, as would all the other people of Denmark. Later, the Danish resistance movement (with the help of ordinary Danish citizens) opposed the Nazis by safely evacuating the Jews to nearby neutral Sweden.

By far the largest act of civil resistance against Hitler and the Nazis occurred during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which took place in Poland on the eve of Passover, April 19, 1943. Unfortunately most Jews were unable to defend themselves because oppressive gun control laws had disarmed the population; nevertheless, it still took the Nazi war machine nearly a month to vanquish the ghetto - longer than it took for Hitler to overcome the entire country of Poland. Because the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising symbolized Jewish resistance against the Nazis, in 1953, after the State of Israel was formed, it was proposed to observe Yom HaShoah on the anniversary of the uprising -- on the 14th of Nisan -- but this date was rejected because it marked the start of Passover. After considerable debate, the memorial was postponed until after the Passover holiday week was over, on the 27th of Nisan, eight days before Yom Ha'atzma'ut, or Israeli Independence Day.

While there is no official "haggadah" for the Yom HaShoah memorial, it is traditional to light a yellow yahrzeit candle for those who died, to attend a Yom HaShoah memorial service, and to recite kaddish. Some people prepare a lavish meal using recipes written from memory by the starving women of Theresienstadt (salvaged after the war). Many of these recipes are for rich desserts and cakes, recalling days of joy before the women and their families were rounded up and brought to the concentration camps. During the memorial meal, stories of Jews who died are told, as well of those of survivors. Many survivors tell stories about the "hidden children" who were saved by righteous Gentiles (חֲסִידֵי אוּמוֹת הָעוֹלָם). These young survivors were either hidden in secret places (like Anne Frank) or were "adopted" by Christian families who pretended they were their own children.

What does the Holocaust mean to you? How do you do "theology after Auschwitz?" Does the Shoah rouse you to be vigilant against the rise of political evil in the world? Does its warn you how about how easy it is for you to "tune out" - to close your eyes, ears, and nose to the presence of evil and the practice of social injustice and crimes against humanity? As Elie Wiesel said, "Indifference to evil is evil." Hitler not only murdered millions of Jews (including over a million Jewish children), but he also murdered millions of non-Jews whom he regarded as a threat to his political ideology and to "homeland security." We must never forget the horrors of Holocaust because it could happen again - and to believe otherwise is to forget the radical evil lurking within human nature. Germany was perhaps the greatest nation of Europe, cultured, brilliant, "Christian," enlightened, with a rich history of intellectual and artistic genius -- and yet it nevertheless practiced unspeakable barbarity and tolerated massive and heartless genocide against the Jewish people...
 

קוּמִי רנִּי בַלַּיְלָה לְראשׁ אַשְׁמֻרוֹת
שִׁפְכִי כַמַּיִם לִבֵּךְ נכַח פְּנֵי אֲדנָי
שְׂאִי אֵלָיו כַּפַּיִךְ עַל־נֶפֶשׁ עוֹלָלַיִךְ

ku·mi · ro·ni · va·lai·lah · le·rosh · ash·mu·rot
shif·khi · kha·ma·yim · lib·bekh · no·khach · pe·nei · a·do·nai
se·i · e·lav · ka·pa·yikh · al · ne·fesh · o·la·lai·yikh
 

"Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches!
Pour out your heart like water before the face of the LORD!
Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children."
(Lam. 2:19)



"I believe. I believe in the sun even when it is not shining; I believe in love even when feeling it not; and I believe in God, even when God is silent" (from an anonymous poem found on the wall of a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where some Jews hid from the Nazis).
 

    "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference."  - Elie Weisel
     

Though we can't control what happens in this dangerous world, we can trust that God is working all things together for good, even during times of severe testing, and even in things that are blatantly evil (Rom. 8:28; Gen. 50:20). And while we instinctively recoil at the prospect of physical death, there are decidedly things worse than death itself, namely, losing hope in life, walking in the darkness of despair, living a joyless existence because of fear. As much as we abhor evil - and we must resist it with all our hearts - even more must we love the good - and cling to God (וּלְדָבְקָה־בוֹ) with all that is within us.
 

    "There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest."  - Elie Wiesel
     

Ultimately, the most important thing to remember regarding death is the truth about God's salvation (יְשׁוּעָה). After all, God assuredly hates death and provides each of us with its eternal remedy: By clothing himself in human flesh, Yeshua embraced mortality itself and willingly bore the penalty for your sins, exchanging his life for yours, thereby destroying the one who had the power of death, namely the devil, and by so doing, set you free from slavery to the dread of death (Heb. 2:14-15). To those who belong to belong to Messiah, death represents a passage to eternal life and the loving presence of God Himself.

Only the miracle of faith can see hope in the face of radical evil... and yet that is the very message of the cross of the Messiah... Our Lord demonstrated that He is the Killer of death itself; the Slayer of the Serpent; and the ultimate Triumph of God's Light over the realm of despair and everlasting darkness... He is the First and the Last, the Living One who died, and behold is alive forevermore, the true Keyholder of Death and Hell (Rev. 1:18). 
 




Strength for the Weary...


 

04.14.15 (Nisan 25, 5775)  The sages ask, "Why does the Torah use a repetitious expression, "Sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy" (הִתְקַדִּשְׁתֶּם וִהְיִיתֶם קְדשִׁים) (Lev. 11:44)? Because when we make an effort - no matter how feeble at times - to draw near to God, He will draw near to us.  As we sanctify ourselves, so God sanctifies us. Therefore "let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." (Gal. 6:9). So focus and draw near to God, and you will find that he has drawn near to you (James 4:4; Heb. 11:6). Blessed are You LORD our God, who gives strength to the weary:
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵנוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
הַנּוֹתֵן לַיָּעֵף כּהַ

ba·rukh  at·tah  Adonai  E·lo·hei·nu  me·lekh  ha'o·lam
ha·no·tein  lai·ya·ef  ko·ach
 

"Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe,
who gives strength to the weary."



 

People necessarily value things, and therefore every person alive is a "worshipper" (i.e., a person who finds "worth" in something). The question that matters is what is your ultimate concern? What moves you to get out of bed in the morning, to go through your day, to have hope in your heart? What do you really want? Where are you really going? Each of us will stand before God for judgment one day and give account of his or her life... One day all that is hidden will be fully disclosed to the light... 

Note: For more on this subject, click here...
 




Our Duty to Truth...


 

[ Yom HaShoah is observed Wed. April 15th at sundown through April 16th until sundown.. ]

04.14.15 (Nisan 25, 5775)  We are "epistemologically" responsible to walk in the Spirit of truth and to reject what is false (1 John 4:6). This implies that we have a moral and spiritual duty to think clearly and not abuse our minds (Phil. 4:8; Rom. 12:2). God made us so that we could discern truth about reality. The mind functions according to logical laws because it is made in the image and likeness of God Himself... God Himself is the ground of all logic, since He created reality and structured the world to be knowable according to its laws. As it is written: "In the beginning was the word/logic (ὁ λόγος), and the λόγος was with God, and the λόγος was God" (John 1:1). God created a world that exhibits order and great beauty. And since human beings were created b'tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, our thoughts (and the words used to formulate our thoughts) as well as our actions are intended to exhibit order and beauty. People perish because "they refuse to love the truth and so be saved" (2 Thess. 2:10-12). Therefore the issue of truth - physical, moral, aesthetic, spiritual, etc. - is central to salvation itself.

Since the use of language presupposes the laws of logic, every utterance we make is grounded in transcendental meaning and significance.... In the world to come you will be shocked to understand that everything you thought, everything you said, and everything you did was given to you from above, and therefore has tremendous significance. "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer" (Psalm 19:14).
 

יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי־פִי
וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי לְפָנֶיךָ יְהוָה צוּרִי וְגאֲלִי

yi·he·yu · le·ra·tzon · im·rei · fi
ve'heg·yon · lib·bi · le·fa·ne·kha · Adonai · tzu·ri · ve'go'a·li
 

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer."



Hebrew Study Card
 


May it please God to help us use our words for the purpose of strengthening and upbuilding (οἰκοδομὴν) one another (Eph. 4:29). May our words always be gracious and "seasoned with salt" (Col. 4:6). Dear Lord, awaken our hearts. As it is written: "Whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected" (1 John 2:5). For more on this see: Teshuvah of the Mind, and The Importance of Truth: Teshuvah and Moral Courage.
 




Consuming Fire...


 

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

04.13.15 (Nisan 24, 5775)  "Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron ... brought strange fire before the LORD" (Lev. 10:1). The sages interpret "strange fire" (i.e., esh zarah: אֵשׁ זָרָה) as alien passion or illicit zeal stimulated by artificial means (in this case, drinking wine before the service). The experience of intoxication may seem to elevate the soul, but in reality it muddles the ability to discern spiritual realities: "Drink no wine or strong drink ... when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean" (Lev. 10:9-10). Nadab and Abihu were highly honored in Israel, the first priests of God, and if they drank wine before entering the sanctuary it was surely not for crass purposes, but rather to "sanctify" their experience, or so they thought... They were severely judged, however, because they presumptuously sought to sanctify themselves by means of an artificial influence, and this made them "strange" before God. Likewise many people today seek "spiritual highs" and "signs" without undergoing the discipline of Torah study, prayer, meditation, and so on. God wants our hearts in service, but our hearts must be honest and reverent before Him.

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God who is "a Consuming Fire, a jealous God (Deut. 4:24). Indeed, though atonement was provided under the law for every kind of sin and transgression, there was one exception: "But the soul that sins presumptuously (בְּיָד רָמָה) shall be out off from the midst of my people" (Num. 15:30). We must be careful not to casually regard God's love with undue familiarity, lest we find ourselves under the influence of strange passions that lead to presumption....
 




Your Reason for Being...


 

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

04.13.15 (Nisan 24, 5775)  "This is the thing that the LORD commanded you to do, that the glory of the LORD may appear to you" (Lev. 9:6). Have you considered why you were born into this world? What is your purpose, destiny, and end? The Torah states that you were personally created by God, who breathed out the breath of life (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים) into you, so that you could know God and spiritual reality. As it is written: "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your desire they existed and were created" (Rev. 4:11). God creates all things for his glory, which indeed is the first blessing recited over the bride and groom of a traditional Jewish wedding: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלם שֶׁהַכּל בָּרָא לִכְבוֹדו / "Blessed are you Lord our God king of the universe, who has created all things for his glory." The purpose of life is to know and love God, to walk in His light and truth, and to glorify his compassion and grace forever...

At a traditional Jewish wedding the groom places the ring on his bride's finger and says: Harei, at mekudeshet li: "Behold, you are betrothed to me."  Love and holiness are interconnected, since the beloved is set apart as sacred and treasured.  May God help us see the wonder of His love for our lives: "Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (1 Pet. 1:14-16).
 




Parashat Shemini - פרשת שמיני


 

04.12.15 (Nisan 23, 5775)  This week's Torah reading, Shemini ("eighth"), continues the account of the seven-day ordination ceremony for the priests that was described earlier in Parashat Tzav.  During each of these "seven days of consecration," Moses served as the first High Priest of Israel by offering sacrifices and training the priests regarding their duties. On the eighth day however, (i.e., Nisan 1), and just before the anniversary of the Passover, Aaron and his sons began their official responsibilities as Israel's priests. It is no coincidence that the inauguration of the sanctuary is directly connected to the Passover, since the daily sacrifice of the Lamb served as an ongoing memorial of the Exodus from Egypt -- and indeed the laws of sacrifice form the central teaching of the Torah itself. In this connection, we again note that the central sacrifice of the Tabernacle was that of a defect-free lamb offered every evening and morning upon the altar in the outer court, along with matzah and a wine offering, signifying the coming of the true Passover Lamb of God and his great sacrifice for us (Exod. 29:38-42; Num. 28:4-10; John 1:29).
 

 




Holocaust Memorial Day...


 

[ Yom HaShoah is observed Wednesday, April 15th after sundown this year... ]

04.12.15 (Nisan 23, 5775)  Shoah is the Hebrew word for "destruction" and is another name used to refer to the  European Holocaust, when six million Jews - including one and a half million children - were systematically murdered by the Nazis during World War II. After much impassioned debate, in 1953 the Israeli Knesset designated Nisan 27 as Yom HaShoah (יום השואה), or Holocaust Remembrance Day.

During this day, in Israel, a morning siren sounds, all activity stops, and people stand in honor of those who died during the atrocities of those years. Jews around the world hold memorials and vigils, often lighting six candles in honor of the six million Holocaust victims. Many hold name-reading ceremonies to memorialize those who were murdered.  This year, Yom HaShoah begins Wed, April 15th at sundown and runs through the following day.
 





Note:  April, 2015 updates continue here.

 





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