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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....

In the summer there occurs a three week period of mourning that begins with the Fast of Tammuz and ends with Tishah B'Av. The last nine days of this three week period (i.e., from Av 1 until Av 9th) are days of increased mourning. However, after this somber time, the romantic holiday of Tu B'Av, the 15th of Av occurs. Summer ends with the 30 days of the month of Elul, a yearly season of teshuvah (repentance) that anticipates Rosh Hashanah and the fall holidays. The 30 days of Elul are combined with the first 10 days of the month of Tishri to create the "Forty Days of Teshuvah" that culminate with Yom Kippur.
 

Summer Holiday Calendar

The Summer Holidays:

Spring Holidays
 

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

  1. Month of Tammuz (begins Friday, June 27th, 2014)
  2. Month of Av (begins Sunday, July 27th, 2014)
  3. Month of Elul (begins Monday, August 25th, 2014)

Photo by John J Parsons

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September 2014 Site Updates
 



Fighting Spiritual Blindness...


 

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

09.01.14  (Elul 6 5774)  Our Torah portion this week (Ki Teitzei) commands us to remember what the Amalekites did to the Jewish people just after they left Egypt during the time of the Exodus (Exod. 17:8-16; Deut. 25:17-19). Paradoxically God commanded the Israelites to "blot out the remembrance" of Amalek while swearing to fight Amalek "from generation to generation" (Deut. 17:16). In this connection note that the name "Amalek" (עֲמָלֵק) begins with the letter Ayin (symbolizing the eye) and equals  240 in gematria -- the same value for safek (סָפֵק), the Hebrew word for doubt.  Amalek therefore symbolizes "the eye of doubt," or even "the severed eye" (the Hebrew verb מָלָק means "to chop" or "sever" in reference to the "eye" of Ayin). The power of Amalek therefore represents spiritual blindness as it acts in the world. We are never to forget that the light of God overcomes the darkness of this world, and that light is found in Yeshua our LORD....

Note:  For more on this important topic, see "Warfare with Amalek."
 




God There and Here...


 

09.01.14  (Elul 6 5774)  "If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in the lowest depths, you are here" (Psalm 139:8) The sages note the use of the adverbs "there" and "here" in this verse, saying that when a person feels like he has ascended to great heights, the LORD will be "there" (שָׁם), that is, distant from him, but when he is humble and low, the LORD will be "here" (הִנֵּה), that is, right at his side (Isa. 57:15). This is the "upside-down" way of beholding the Kingdom of Heaven. Can a camel go through the eye of a needle? No more than a 'rich man' can find life through his own ventures (Matt. 19:23-24). The only way to enter life is to disown your riches (i.e., your self-sufficiency) by becoming "impoverished in spirit." This is the narrow way that leads to life (Matt. 7:14). You have to let go of the "baggage" of your worldly ego... Yeshua teaches that only by emptying ourselves can we be made full; only by mourning ourselves can we find comfort, and only by hungering and thirsting for God's righteousness can we find inner satisfaction...
 

אִם־אֶסַּק שָׁמַיִם שָׁם אָתָּה
וְאַצִּיעָה שְּׁאוֹל הִנֶּךָּ

im · es·sak · sha·ma·yim · sham · at·tah
ve·a·tzi·ah · she·ol · hin·ne·ka
 

"If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
if I descend to the lowest depths, You are here."
 (Psalm 139:8)


Personal Note:  My family and I are taking an old-fashioned road trip, and I am updating the site away from home... Thank you for your patience!
 




The Law of Faith...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Teitzei, which contains more commandments than any other Torah portion... ]

09.01.14  (Elul 6 5774)  When asked how many commandments are in the Torah, most Jews will answer 613, based on Jewish tradition (the number 613 is sometimes called "taryag" (תריג), an abbreviation for the letters Tav (400) + Resh (200) + Yod (10) + Gimmel (3) = 613).  Despite several attempts made over the centuries, however, there has never been a definitive list of these commandments, and of those who tried to compile such, no two agree... Some say the number 613 comes from a fanciful midrash that teaches that since there are 365 days in a year (corresponding to the 365 negative commandments) and 248 "parts" of the body (corresponding to the positive commandments), each day we should use our body to serve God. Regardless of the exact count, however, the Talmud followed the Apostle Paul by understanding all the Torah's commandments to be derived from the Ten Commandments given at Sinai, the most basic of which is the very First Commandment, namely, "I AM the LORD your God (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ) who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). This foundational commandment was later restated by the prophet Habbakuk as: וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה / "The righteous person will live by faith in God" (Hab. 2:4; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38).

Note:  I stated that the sages of the Talmud "followed" the Apostle Paul's line of thinking on this subject since Paul wrote centuries before the Talmud was compiled...
 



 

August 2014 Site Updates
 


Parashat Ki Teitzei - כי־תצא


 

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

08.31.14  (Elul 5 5774)  In last week's Torah reading (Shoftim), Moses defined an extensive system of justice for the Israelites and pointed to the coming Messiah who would be the rightful King of Israel. In this week's portion (Ki Teitzei), Moses returns to the immediate concern of life in the promised land by providing further laws to be enforced regarding civil life in Israel. In fact, Jewish tradition identifies no less than 74 of the Torah's 613 commandments in this portion (more than any other), covering a wide assortment of rules related to ethical warfare, family life, burial of the deceased, property laws, the humane treatment of animals, fair labor practices, and honest economic transactions.

Of particular interest to us is the statement that a man who was executed and "hanged on a tree" (עַל־עֵץ) is under the curse of God (Deut. 21:22-23). According to the Talmud (Nezakim: Sanhedrin 6:4:3), the Great Sanhedrin (סַנְהֶדְרִין גְדוֹלָה) decided that "a man must be hanged with his face towards the spectators" upon a wooden stake, with his arms slung over a horizontal beam. It should be noted that while this is technically not the same thing as the gruesome practice of Roman crucifixion, the reasoning based on this verse was apparently used to justify the execution of Yeshua (Mark 15:9-15; John 19:5-7; 15). The exposed body was required to be buried before sundown to keep the land from being defiled. Besides the shame and degradation of this manner of death, the one so executed would be unable to fall to their knees as a final act of repentance before God, thereby implying that they were under the irrevocable curse of God (קִלְלַת אֱלהִים).

In this connection, we should note that Yeshua was falsely charged with blasphemy before the corrupt Sanhedrin of His day (Matt. 26:65; Mark 14:64; John 10:33) - an offence that was punishable by stoning (Lev. 24:11-16). However, since the Imperial Roman government then exercised legal hegemony over the region of Palestine, all capital cases were required to be submitted to the Roman proconsul for adjudication, and therefore we understand why the Jewish court remanded Yeshua and brought him to be interrogated by Pontius Pilate. Because Roman law was indifferent to cases concerning Jewish religious practices (i.e., charges of blasphemy), however, the priests further slandered Yeshua by illegitimately switching the original charge of blasphemy to that of sedition against Rome. The Sanhedrin undoubtedly rationalized their duplicity because the Torah allowed for an offender to impaled or "hung on a tree" (Num. 25:4), and since they were unable to do carry out this judgment because of Roman rule in the area, they needed Pilate to condemn him to death by crucifixion (Matt. 27:31; Mark 15:13-4; Luke 23:21; John 19:6,15). Note that crucifixion is mentioned elsewhere in the Talmud (Nashim: Yevamot 120b) regarding whether a widow can remarry if her husband had been crucified, as well as by the Jewish historian Josephus. The Talmud furthermore alludes to the death of Yeshua where Yeshua is said to have been crucified on "eve of Passover" (Nezekin: Sanhedrin 43a).
 




Shabbat Rani Akarah - רָנִּי עֲקָרָה


 

08.31.14  (Elul 5 5774)  The haftarah for parashat Ki Teitzei (i.e., Isa. 54:1-10) is the fifth of seven readings from the prophets that are consecutively read before Rosh Hashanah. These "haftarot of comfort" foretell of the restoration of the Jewish people and of the coming of the Messianic Era. In this week's reading, the LORD compares the children of Israel to a wife who has long been barren. According to the sages, God tells the "Wife of His youth" to sing out with joy, for soon she will have a hard time keeping track of all her children! Many will return by means of a mighty wave of repentance that will sweep over the world when Jerusalem is finally redeemed and the Mashiach reigns in Israel.

Though the LORD hardened Israel for a season (Rom. 11:25-29), His love for her is sure, and all His promises will be established. In the End of Days all Israel will be saved, in times "like the days of Noah." But just I God swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so He has sworn that Israel will be regathered and restored.
 

רָנִּי עֲקָרָה לא יָלָדָה פִּצְחִי רִנָּה וְצַהֲלִי לא־חָלָה
כִּי־רַבִּים בְּנֵי־שׁוֹמֵמָה מִבְּנֵי בְעוּלָה אָמַר יְהוָה

ran·ni · ak·a·rah · lo · ya·la·dah · pitz·chi · rin·nah · ve·tza·ha·li · lo · cha·lah
ki · rab·bim · be·nei · sho·me·mah · mi·be·nei · ve·o·lah · a·mar · Adonai

 

"Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one
will be more than the children of her who is married," says the LORD."
(Isa. 54:1)

 




Our Duty to Truth...


 

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

08.29.14  (Elul 3 5774)  Our Torah portion this week includes the famous statement: tzedek, tzedek tirdorf (צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף): "Righteousness, righteousness, you shall pursue" (Deut. 16:20). The sages infer that the double mention of the word "righteousness" means that the pursuit of righteousness must itself be righteous. In other words, the end never justifies the means. God is not a pragmatist, and there are no "noble lies" for sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. The truth is gained only by truth, and therefore we may not use unjust methods even to promote a supposedly just cause.
 

צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף
לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה וְיָרַשְׁתָּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ
אֲשֶׁר־יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נתֵן לָךְ

tze·dek · tze·dek · tir·dof
le·ma·an · ti·che·yeh · ve·ya·rash·ta · et-ha·a·retz
a·sher · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · no·ten · lakh
 

"Righteousness, righteousness, you must pursue;
so that you will live and inherit the land
that the LORD your God gives you."
(Deut. 16:20)


 

We derive restrictions against spying on others from Torah principles (עקרונות תורה). For example, we are not to "uncover the nakedness" of our neighbor (airport scanners), nor are we to listen to their private conversations (wireless phone tapping) or to engage in lashon hara (recording private conversations). Moreover, the priests were required to wear undergarments when serving at the altar, and whenever they traveled in the desert, Israel's tents did not face one another, to afford personal privacy and respect... The Torah is clear: you shall not uncover the nakedness of others (לא תְגַלֵּה עֶרְוָה).

A related implication is that we should never be deceptive about promoting faith in God. We shouldn't flatter people, cajole them into believing, offer them vain hope, or misrepresent the truth of the message of the gospel. We should never promise people worldly happiness, prosperity, unending health, etc., in the name of religion, since this also is "means-to-end" reasoning. We must be clear about the demands of faith and the costs involved. And of course it is entirely forbidden to endorse violence of any kind (verbal or physical) to promote the cause of religion. Indeed, a sure mark of a false religion is to teach people to hate or even murder others "for God's sake..." Any religion that is based on "jihad-mentality" is therefore false and subject to fearful judgment from Almighty God.

"Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, and who does not turn to the proud or turn aside to lies" (Psalm 40:4); "no one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes" (Psalm 101:7; Rev. 21:27).
 

לא־יֵשֵׁב בְּקֶרֶב בֵּיתִי עשֵׂה רְמִיָּה
דּבֵר שְׁקָרִים לא־יִכּוֹן לְנֶגֶד עֵינָי

lo · ye·shev · be·ke·rev · be·ti · o·seh · re·mi·yah
do·ver · she·ka·rim · lo · yi·kon · le·ne·ged · ei·nai
 

"No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house;
no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes."
(Psalm 101:7)
 




Freedom and Fear...


 

08.29.14  (Elul 3 5774)  Those who surrender every breath and moment of their lives to God, abiding in the refuge of the Eternal, are set free from common fears. The world is crucified to them; they are no longer swayed by the praises or threats of men, but seek only to know and honor the LORD in all their ways... As it says, "The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to turn away from the snares of death."
 

יִרְאַת יְהוָה מְקוֹר חַיִּים
לָסוּר מִמּקְשֵׁי מָוֶת

yir·at · Adonai · me·kor · chai·yim
la·sur · mi·mo·ke·shei · ma·vet

 

"The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life,
to turn away from the snares of death."
(Prov. 14:27)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)


The fear of the LORD, or "yirat Adonai" (יִרְאַת יְהוָה), is reverential wonder over the sacredness of our lives; it is an apprehension of the infinite value of who were are and what we do... It is a holy hush of the heart, an immense respect for the glory and sanctity of life, and an abiding sense of awe over the worth, beauty, and overmastering glory of God. The fear of the LORD is life-affirming and healing, turning us away from the snares of death...

God is ever-present and leads the way back home: "Now to the One who is able to keep you from falling, and to cause you to stand, rejoicing, without blemish before His glorious presence, to the only God our Savior through Yeshua the Messiah, our Lord and great Lamb of God, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time, and now, and for all eternity. Amen." Shabbat Shalom and great peace, love, and happiness to you all...
 




Choosing to See...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

08.28.14  (Elul 2 5774)  Teshuvah, or turning to God, means learning to see with new eyes, from a radically new perspective. As we change our focus, we see that "everything is new" (2 Cor. 5:17). Perception is a matter of heart, and therefore we choose to see and hear what we want to see and hear (Isa. 6:10; John 12:40). If we do not see God, it is because we have decided to turn away from his presence (Rom. 1:18-22). Our desires determine what we see and how we focus; we choose to interpret reality by an act of will, not by merely seeing with the physical eyes. We believe in order to see, not the other way around, and what we see is therefore disclosed by faith (Matt. 9:29). Often we do not see things as they are, but how we want to see them. We see as we are in our hearts: "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he" (Prov. 23:7).

How you choose to see defines the world you will inhabit (Prov. 4:23). The eyes follow the heart, and therefore seeing is a matter of inner attitude (Matt. 6:22-23). Yeshua said that our problem comes from within: "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts," and these thoughts show up in our actions (Matt. 15:19; Prov. 11:27). The Spirit of God indeed creates a new heart and spirit within us (Ezek. 36:26), but the "eyes of the heart" (ὀφθαλμοὺς τῆς καρδίας) must be enlightened by constantly turning to God (Eph. 1:18). We set the LORD always before us. We need the "good eye" of the Spirit to impart purity of heart, thereby enabling us to see the Presence of God all around us (Matt. 5:8; Isa 6:3).

Yeshua said, "Seek and you will find" (Luke 11:4). You will find what you seek. Look for the good and the good will be disclosed; look for evil, and you will discover it, too. The optimist believes this is the best of all possible worlds; the pessimist is afraid the optimist is right. Both look at the same world, but both have two radically different visions...

"Dear LORD God, help me change my thinking; correct my faulty vision, heal my distorted focus... Open my eyes to behold your beauty, your truth, and your glory in my life. Help me seek your love and goodness -- and to find it, even here, in this passing world of shadows. Do not let the pain of the past blind me to the healing of this present hour. Help me to "spy out" the land about me and report that it is good - flowing with milk and honey - rather than as a place of fear and inevitable pain... Dear Yeshua, Lord of all that is worthy and good, help me not overlook the everyday miracles and wonders that surround my way. Amen."

We can either put all our energy into not falling, or we can focus on the walk before us... Changing your vision means no longer looking at the hell of your past, but looking to the promise of a glorious future. Focus on God and his great love for you; do not return to the house of bondage, the prison house of fear. Keep the "eyes of your heart" on Yeshua who is the Light, the Compassion, and the Healing touch of the LORD our God. May you hear him say, "Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear (Matt. 13:16).
 




The Season of Teshuvah...


 

08.28.14  (Elul 2 5774)  Soren Kierkegaard said that life must be lived forward, but it can only be understood backward, and therefore the present hour provides the only real opportunity you have to examine your soul... Therefore "repent one day before you die," and that day is today, since no one knows the day or the hour of his death. The midrash notes that the word Elul (אֶלוּל), when read backward, spells lulei (לוּלֵא), meaning "if not" or "were it not for...", which suggests that the last month of the Jewish year serves as a season to examine ourselves, to confess our sins, and to resolve to more completely turn toward the Divine Presence before the coming new year... Indeed the gematria (letter value) of the name Elul (1+30+6+30) is the same as the word binah (בִּינָה), "understanding," or the ability to discern between (בֵּין) truth and error. During this season of teshuvah, then, we ask the Lord to impart to us greater understanding about how to return to him bekhol levavkha, with all our hearts...
 




The LORD my Yeshua...


 

08.27.14  (Elul 1 5774)  As we draw close to God and cleave to his heart, we will be delivered from the pain of our fears. The LORD becomes our Light and our Salvation, illuminating our steps despite the darkness and evil of olam ha'zeh, this present age (Psalm 119:105). As David said, Adonai ori v'yishi: "The LORD is my light and my salvation" – literally, my Jesus, my Yeshua – "whom shall I fear? The LORD is the refuge of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1). Yeshua is the Light of Life (אוֹר הַחַיִּים), the Healer of the fearful heart, the I-AM-WITH-YOU-ALWAYS One. His love overcomes all our fears. As the apostle Paul asked, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31).

And as we hear the "footsteps of the Messiah" approaching nearer, let us heed the words of our Savior: "when you see these things taking place, you know that the time is near, right at the door" (Mark 13:29), and let us then encourage one another to wake up and come alive: "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Messiah will shine on you!" (Eph. 5:14). The message of teshuvah is always, "Wake up - you are living a nightmare..." There is only one remedy, and that is discovered by coming to the Divine Light. As David said, Adonai ori v'yishi: "The LORD is my light and my salvation" – literally, my Jesus, my Yeshua – "whom shall I fear? The LORD is the refuge of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1)
 

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָ

Adonai  o·ri  ve·yish·i,  mi·mi  i·ra
Adonai  ma·oz  chai·yai,  mi·mi  ef·chad

 

"The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?"
(Psalm 27:1)



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"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).

Note: The midrash Shocher Tov states that the word ori (אוֹרִי), "my light," refers to Rosh Hashanah (based on Psalm 37:6) whereas the word yishi (יִשְׁעִי), "my salvation," refers to the atonement given on Yom Kippur. King David also mentions that God would hide him in his sukkah (בְּסֻכּה), referring to the holiday of Sukkot (Psalm 27:5). Since all three holidays are alluded to in this Psalm (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot), Psalm 27 is regarded as the thematic hymn for the Fall Holidays of the Jewish year. Yeshua is our Light and our Salvation, the One who says, "It is I; be not afraid" (John 8:12; Mark 14:27; etc.).
 




Teshuvah of the Mind...


 

08.27.14  (Elul 1 5774)  We are responsible to walk in 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 to abuse our minds (Phil. 4:8; Rom. 12:2). The LORD our God will help us to do this, as Yeshua said: "I will ask the Father, and he will give you a Helper (παράκλητος, someone "called to one's side"), to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth (רוּחַ הָאֱמֶת), whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him" (John 14:16-17). The Spirit of Truth helps us "discern what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable, and perfect" (Rom. 12:2) and empowers us to take "every thought captive" to the reality of the Divine Presence (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Truth is connected to memory - both in our personal histories as well as the history of God's redemptive actions performed on our behalf. Hence we are constantly commanded to remember what God has done for us and to "diligently repeat" the truth to our children (Deut. 6:4-9). Similarly, the Spirit of Truth brings to remembrance the words of Yeshua to our hearts (John 14:26).

Followers of Yeshua are commanded to love the truth and to think clearly about their faith. The ministry of reconciliation itself is defined as "the word of truth, by the power of God, through weapons of righteousness" (2 Cor. 6:7). Indeed, the word of truth (τὸν λόγον τῆς ἀληθείας) is a synonym for the "gospel of salvation" itself (Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5; James 1:18). We are saved by Yeshua, who is the "way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). God commands all people to believe this truth (Acts 17:30-31; 1 Tim. 2:4). People perish because "they refuse to love the truth and so be saved" (2 Thess. 2:10-12). Therefore we see that the issue of truth is central to salvation itself....

Genuine teshuvah (repentance) implies that we will change our thinking in order to be transformed by God's truth. The follower of Messiah "cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth" (2 Cor. 13:8). During this Season of Teshuvah, may God help us all to think clearly and to turn our thoughts to Him.  May He protect us from the vanity of a darkened mind and from all distractions that attempt to seduce us away from Him. May the LORD give us the purity of heart to know and do His will in the truth. Amen.

Note:  For more on this subject, see "Teshuvah of the Mind."
 




Clear Thinking and Teshuvah...


 

08.26.14  (Av 30 5774)  "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he" (Prov. 23:7). Consider for a moment how your thinking defines your inner reality and the quality of your spiritual life. Thinking is inextricably linked to faith, and therefore we are responsible not only for what we believe, but for how we think (Acts 17:30-31). Sinful thinking creates "negative energy" that brings pain to yourself and others. Left unchallenged, such impaired cognitive function leads to slavery of the mind, hopeless addictions of thought, and distressing captivity. The first step to freedom is to confess our sin, acknowledging the reality of our own negativity – and bringing that truth to the light. Therefore teshuvah – turning to God – involves cheshbon hanefesh (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ), accounting for our soul and yielding it to the love of God for rectification: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). For freedom we have been set free, and that means freedom from the power of the lie. If we are blind to our own sin, we cannot confess the truth to find lasting healing (James 5:16).
 




Holy Introspection...


 

[ The following entry is related to the month of Elul and the "Season of Repentance..." ]

08.26.14  (Av 30 5774)  We are all on a spiritual journey, writing the "Book of our Life." To help us in the "writing" process, the sages decided that the month of Elul should be set aside as a season for 'making an account of the soul" (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ). This means that we take some time to ask some pointed questions, such as: "How did I get to this place in my life?" "Where am I now?" "Am I where I should be?" We engage in this process of self-examination with an aim to grow -- to let go of the pain of the past and move forward. Confession (ὁμολογία) means bringing yourself naked before the Divine Light to agree with the truth about who you are. Indeed, the Greek word homologeo literally means "saying the same thing" - from ὁμός (same) and λόγος (word). When King David wrote, "The LORD is my Light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?" (Psalm 27:1), he implied that he should even be free of fear of himself and of his past...
 




The Month of Elul...


 

08.26.14  (Av 30 5774)  Today is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the first day of the 6th Hebrew month of the Torah's calendar. The word "Elul" (אֱלוּל) is said to be an acronym for the phrase, ani le'dodi ve'dodi li (אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי), "I am my beloved's, and my beloved in mine" (Song 6:3), to encourage us to return to God, to become full of desire for the Beloved of our soul. We are likened to empty vessels in need of oil, and the call to teshuvah moves us to seek to be filled with the Spirit of God's love and kindness. Indeed, the Spirit takes us into the desert places to reveal to us our need (Deut. 8:3; Jer. 2:2; Luke 4:1). "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled" (Matt. 5:6).
 

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי
הָרעֶה בַּשׁוֹשַׁנִּים

a·ni · le·do·di · ve·do·di · li
ha·ro·eh · ba·sho·sha·nim

 

"I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine;
he grazes among the lilies."
(Song 6:3)

Shiviti

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This verse is sometimes linked to the "lilies" (i.e., shoshanim: שׁשַׁנִּים) mentioned in Psalm 45, which presents a Messianic vision of the Divine Bridegroom and offers an "ode" for a forthcoming heavenly wedding: "Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father's house, and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him" (Psalm 45:10-11). Soon the LORD will return for His betrothed, and then we will finally celebrate the great "marriage" with our King!

God wants us to seek him, to yearn for him, and to desire him... he sings out to our hearts in love. Interestingly, where it says: אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי הָרעֶה בַּשׁוֹשַׁנִּים, we can read, "I am for my beloved, and my beloved is for me, the Shepherd (הָרעֶה) among the lilies." Where is your Shepherd? Among the flowers... in a place of love and beauty set for you.
 




Return to your heart...


 

08.25.14 (Av 29, 5774)  In parashat Vaetchanan we read, "Know therefore today and return to your heart (וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ), for the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). Here again we see the centrality of the heart as the mode to encounter God (Luke 17:21). Savor the phrase, "Know therefore today and return to your heart..." It the heart that is the place of connection with God... As Yeshua said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20). Today is the day to "return to your heart" and receive again God's love for your soul...
 




A Call to Teshuvah...


 

[ The following entry is related to the month of Elul and the "Season of Repentance..." ]

08.25.14 (Av 29, 5774)  All of us have unhealed parts, "hidden faults" of which we are not fully aware. Therefore king David prayed, "Who can discern his errors? cleanse me from secret faults" (Psalm 19:12). We are cleansed by confession, that is, by looking within our hearts to uncover deeper motivations...  If we are honest with ourselves we may discover, for example, that we are angry or fearful people, despite how we otherwise wish to regard ourselves. If you find yourself unable to let something go, for instance, some pain or failure of the past, remind yourself that you must do so if you want to move on with your life. Focusing on how things could have been different is to be enslaved to the past. The goal of teshuvah (repentance) is to turn us back to God for life, but to do this, we must be be willing to let go of what makes us sick.
 

שְׁגִיאוֹת מִי־יָבִין מִנִּסְתָּרוֹת נַקֵּנִי
גַּם מִזֵּדִים חֲשׂךְ עַבְדֶּךָ
אַל־יִמְשְׁלוּ־בִי אָז אֵיתָם
וְנִקֵּיתִי מִפֶּשַׁע רָב

she·gi·ot · mi-ya·vin · min·nis·ta·rot · nak·kei·ni
gam · mi·ze·dim · cha·sokh · av·de·kha
al-yim·she·lu-vi · az · e·tam
ve·ni·ke·ti · mi·pe·sha · rav

 

"Who can discern his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults;
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression." (Psalm 19:12-13)

Chagall Angel (glass detail)

 

Note that the Hebrew word translated "errors" (i.e., shegi'ot: שְׁגִיאוֹת) comes from a root word (שָׁגָה) that means to wander, stray, or transgress. The question raised by David is rhetorical: "Who can discern his errors?" No one – apart from divine intervention... David asked to be cleansed from his "secret faults," which are not those that were performed by him "in secret," but rather those that were unknown, unseen, and unconscious to his own sense of awareness. These are "mindless" sins, unthinking offenses, hidden dispositions, character traits and actions that a person unwittingly performs, perhaps because of deep forces of which he was oblivious. These are the "secret sins" set in the light of God's face (Psalm 90:8); the "sluggish darkness" of the human heart that leads to death and ruin: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and incurably sick; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9). How many of us, after all, are fully aware of what we are doing when we are doing something? How many of us are completely transparent both to ourselves and before God, with no unclear motives, etc.? We must always be vigilant... There is always the force of habit, or the subconscious desires or conflicts of the inner life, that work on us, not to mention the trauma of our past and the present devices from the enemy of our souls.  May the LORD give us the willingness to be healed, even if there are parts of ourselves that seem to resist that healing.

Note further that "presumptuous" sins (מִזֵּדִים) are not necessarily flagrant sins as much as those that arise from self-reliance or pride (זָדוֹן). Only the humble of heart can be truly free from the dominance of presumption and sin. "Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me" (Psalm 119:133). May God make us humble of heart, free from presumption and the illusion that we do not need God for every step we take.  Therefore may it please the Lord to heal those parts of ourselves that don't even know they need to be healed... Amen.
 

בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה הַמְּרָפֵא אֵת חֲטָאֵנוּ הַנִּסְתָּרִים

ba·rukh · Adonai · ha·me·ra·fei · et · cha·ta·ei·nu · ha·nis·ta·rim
 

"Blessed is the LORD who heals our hidden sins."

 




Rosh Chodesh Elul...


 

[ The following entry is meant to help us get ready for the month of Elul and the "Forty days of Teshuvah," which begins Monday, August 25th at sundown this year... L'chodesh Tov! ]

08.24.14 (Av 28, 5774)  This coming Monday evening marks Rosh Chodesh Elul (the "new moon" of the Hebrew month of Elul), which, according to Jewish tradition, was the time when Moses reascended Mount Sinai (the third time) to receive the second set of Tablets from the LORD. Since the tablets were not inscribed until 40 days later (on the 10th of Tishri, the date of Yom Kippur), the 29 days of Elul are considered a time of selichot (prayers for forgiveness) in anticipation of the Ten High Holy Days (Tishri 1-10). For more, see this page.

Beginning on the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul (and continuing until Erev Rosh Hashanah) the custom is to blow the shofar every day (except on Shabbat). Psalm 27 is often recited every day during this time as well...


 

Nachman of Breslov once said that "The whole earth is a very narrow bridge (kol ha'olam kulo), and the important thing is never to be afraid." Yeshua is the Bridge to the Father, the narrow way of passage that leads to life. He calls out to us in the storm of this world, "Take heart. It is I; be not afraid" (Matt. 14:27). Yeshua our Messiah is "the Voice of the Living God (קוֹל אֱלהִים חַיִּים) speaking from the midst of the fire" who understands our need: "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry... I know their sufferings" (Exod. 3:7; Heb. 4:15).

"All the world was created for the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b), and since that is so, we can have confidence that all things work together for good.  God repeatedly tells us not to be afraid - al-tirah – not of man, nor of war, nor of tribulation, nor even of death itself (Rom. 8:35-39). Indeed, Yeshua came to die to destroy the power of death, "and to release all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (Heb. 2:14-15). The resurrection of the Messiah is the focal point of history - not the "dust of death." Death does not have the final word. Indeed, because Yeshua is alive, we also shall live (John 14:19). Because of Yeshua's victory, we can now live without fear: al-tirah, "Be not afraid, it is I."
 

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָ

Adonai  o·ri  ve·yish·i,  mi·mi  i·ra
Adonai  ma·oz  chai·yai,  mi·mi  ef·chad

 

"The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?"
(Psalm 27:1)

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The following Hebrew blessing can be recited to ask the LORD to help you prepare for the month of Elul and the forty day "Season of Repentance":
 

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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Parashat Shoftim - שופטים


 

08.24.14 (Av 28, 5774)  Our Torah for this week (Shoftim) begins with the commandment that the people of Israel should appoint judges (i.e., shoftim: שׁפְטִים) and officers (i.e., shoterim: שׁוֹטְרִים) so that justice would be enforced throughout the promised land (Deut. 16:18). The call for justice is famously stated as, "tzedek, tzedek tirdof" (צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף): "Justice, Justice you shall pursue" (Deut. 16:20). The word tzedek means "righteousness" and involves the duty to adhere to moral truth. Throughout the Torah portion the theme of social justice predominates, as the ethical characteristics for judges are defined, as well as for elders, kings, prophets, and priests, all of whom are responsible for maintaining a just and healthful society. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: "The work of righteousness (tzedakah) shall be peace" (וְהָיָה מַעֲשֵׂה הַצְּדָקָה שָׁלוֹם), and added that "the service of righteousness (וַעֲבדַת הַצְּדָקָה) shall be quietness and security forever" (Isa. 32:17).

Regarding making judgments about others we should try to always extend the benefit of the doubt (i.e., kaf zechut, "the hand of merit"). When we judge mercifully and in accord with the truth, the Divine Presence joins us, but if we act corruptly, we "push" the Presence away and create a sense of exile. Yeshua told us to "whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 7:12). In other words, as we judge others, so we are judged ourselves. We must be careful to avoid rationalizations... Looking at others from a selfish perspective is therefore a form of "bribery" that blinds us to the truth about righteousness (see Deut. 16:19).

Tzedek, tzedek tirdof also means that justice must be pursued in a just manner. The methods used to obtain justice must themselves be just. The Scriptures therefore do not advocate pragmatism or utilitarian thinking. There are no "noble lies" in the Kingdom of Heaven. Violence (verbal or physical) or deception done in the name of God is always a bad idea. We must execute great restraint and caution when we confront oppression in the world. If you want to change the world around you, begin with yourself....
 

 




Returning Back Home...


 

[ The following entry is related to the month of Elul and the "Season of Repentance..." ]

08.22.14 (Av 26, 5774)  The following parable speaks of the season of teshuvah: A king's son was at a far distance from his father. Said his friends to him, "Return to your father." He said, "I can't: the way is too far. His father sent word to him and said, "Go as far as you are able, and I will come the rest of the way to you. Thus says the Holy One, blessed be He, to his faraway children: "Return to Me, and I will return to you."
 

שׁוּבוּ אֵלַי וְאָשׁוּבָה אֲלֵיכֶם
 אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת

shu·vu · e·lai · ve·a·shuv·ah · a·lei·khem
a·mar · Adonai · tze·va·ot

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"Return to me, and I will return to you,
says the LORD of hosts" (Mal. 3:7)

Hebrew

 

It is never too late to turn to God... there is always hope. The prophet Jeremiah spoke in the Name of the LORD: "Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD. I will not look on you in anger, for I am kind (כִּי־חָסִיד אֲנִי), declares the LORD" (Jer. 3:12). When the people drew back in shame, however, God encouraged them by saying "My children, if you return, will you not be returning to your Father? Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness. "Behold, we come to you, for you are the LORD our God."

Our Messiah Yeshua illustrated the idea of teshuvah (i.e., תְּשׁוּבָה, "returning to God") by telling the great story of the "prodigal son" (Luke 15:11-32). After squandering his father's inheritance, a wayward son "came to himself" and decided to return home, full of shame and self-reproach. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." The father then ordered a celebratory meal in honor of his lost son's homecoming. When his older brother objected, the father said, "We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."

God sees you while you are still "a long way off" (Rom. 5:8). He runs to you with affection when you first begin to turn your heart toward Him.  Indeed, God's compassion is so great that He willingly embraces the shame of your sins and then adorns you with "a fine robe, a ring, and sandals." Your Heavenly Father even slaughters the "fattened calf" (Yeshua) so that a meal that celebrates your life may be served.
 




For its own sake...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Re'eh: "See!" ]

08.22.14 (Av 26, 5774)  "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse..." (Deut 11:26). The sages comment that Moses was actually reprimanding the people: "After forty years of teaching you Torah I still need to talk to you as a child! Surely by now you should understand that doing righteousness is good for its own sake (i.e., lishma), without appeal to rewards." Indeed appealing to rewards and punishments is an immature spirituality: the righteous understand that there is no reward or blessing apart from serving and loving others, and that all genuine piety is a gift from God himself. The only real reward is pleasing the Lord and enjoying his love forever.

"Now to the One who is able to keep you from falling, and to cause you to stand, rejoicing, without blemish before His glorious presence, to the only God our Savior (μόνῳ θεῷ σωτῆρι) through Yeshua the Messiah, our Lord and great Lamb of God, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time, and now, and for all eternity. Amen" (Jude 1:24-25). Shabbat Shalom and great peace, love, healing, and happiness to you all...
 




Heavenly Yields...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Re'eh: "See!" ]

08.22.14 (Av 26, 5774)  "You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year" (Deut.14:22). The Talmud (Shabbat 119) interprets "you shall tithe" (תְּעַשֵּׂר) to mean "you shall accrue wealth" (תְּעַשֵׁר), which suggests that giving tzedakah ("charity") produces the yield of spiritual blessing in your life... As Yeshua said, "Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:28). May God give us the wisdom and courage to be rich toward heaven!
 




Sanctuary of Heart...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Re'eh: "See!" ]

08.21.14 (Av 25, 5774)  From our Torah portion this week we read, "But you shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose ... there you shall go" (Deut. 12:5). The sages note that the gematria for this verse is the same as "You shall therefore lay up these words of Mine in your heart and in your soul..." (Deut. 11:18), which therefore shows that the Divine Presence, Hamakom (הַמָּקוֹם), the Holy Sanctuary, was always meant to be manifested within your heart... As Yeshua said, "the kingdom of heaven is within you."

The sages note that the phrase, "that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8) could be translated as "that I may dwell within them," suggesting that the point of the Tabernacle was to bring God within the hearts of His people... We must create a place within our hearts, in other words, for God to dwell within us.  Yeshua likewise told us that we would experience peace and joy when we "abide in Him." Note that the numeric value of the word mishkan (מִשְׁכָּן) is the same as the word shema (שְׁמַע), "hear" or "listen" (Deut. 6:4). When we really stop to listen to the LORD, we will find His glorious and loving Presence...
 




Breath Prayers...


 

08.21.14 (Av 25, 5774)  In times of severe testing people often do not need further teaching, but rather "endurance," or what the New Testament calls hupomone (ὑπομονή), a word that means "remaining [μένω] under [ὑπο]" the Divine Presence while being tested. Suffering people do not need moral platitudes from others, but only the will to believe, the resolution to stay constant, and to ability breathe out simple prayers for help to the LORD: "God have mercy..." "Help me, O God..." "I need Thee, O Lord..." When we receive grace to faithfully suffer, we hear the Spirit whispering back to us: "Be not afraid..." "Live in me..." "Walk in the light..." "I am with you always..." "You are loved..."
 

רְפָאֵנִי יְהוָה וְאֵרָפֵא
הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי וְאִוָּשֵׁעָה כִּי תְהִלָּתִי אָתָּה

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

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



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Yeshua taught us to abstain from using "vain repetitions" in our prayers, since our Father knows what we need before we ask Him (Matt. 6:7-8). Don't worry about the verbiage of your prayers, then, but attend to the inner groan of your heart (Rom. 8:26). "When you pray, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words be without heart" (John Bunyan). Ultimately prayer is a kind of teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה), a word often translated as "repentance," though it's more accurately understood as turning (shuv) to God in response to His call. Sometimes you just come and present yourself in God's presence, without words, without requests... The point, of course, is that you come to the Lord to do real business with Him, not to play games or to offer "lip service." Are we really "showing up" when we pray?
 




Faith and Works...


 

08.21.14 (Av 25, 5774)  Regarding the mystifying relationship between "faith" and "works" Soren Kierkegaard wrote: "God cannot stand good works in the sense of earning merit. Yet good works are indeed required. They shall be and yet shall not be. They are necessary and yet one ought humbly to ignore their significance or at least forget that they are supposed to be of any significance. Good works are like a child giving his parents a present, purchased, however, with what the child has received from his parents. All the pretentiousness which otherwise is associated with giving a present disappears when the child understands that he has received from his parents the gift which he gives to them."

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

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




Torah's Weightier Matters...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Re'eh: "See!" ]

08.21.14 (Av 25, 5774)  From our Torah this week we read: "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing (הַבְּרָכָה), if you obey (שָׁמַע) the commandments of the LORD your God... and the curse (הַקְּלָלָה), if you turn aside (סוּר, "withdraw," "draw back") from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known" (Deut. 11:26-28). Presupposed here, of course, is knowing what the commandments of the Lord are, which is why we are further commanded neither add nor to subtract from Torah (Deut. 4:2). We are neither to go back to passivity and slavery by making Torah another "taskmaster" (i.e., "adding" to Torah), nor are we to erect "private altars" by exalting our own interpretation as exclusionary and divine (i.e., "subtracting" from Torah) (Deut. 12:1-7). Instead, we must face up to our responsibilities by making difficult life choices: we must discern the "weightier matters of Torah" (Matt. 23:23). When we were enslaved in Egypt, we were free from responsibility; we could play the victim by blaming others for our sins, our sorrows, our troubles. When were set free to serve God, however, we were given the power to choose to live outside of the realm of the curse by accepting God's blessing. Therefore bacharta ba'chayim: choose life so you may live!
 




Sorrowful yet Rejoicing...


 

08.21.14 (Av 25, 5774)  It is written that "a joyful heart (לֵב שָׂמֵחַ) is good medicine" (Prov. 17:22). Where it says, "Serve the LORD with gladness" (Psalm 100:2), the sages note that "with gladness" (בְּשִׂמְחָה) contains the same letters as the word "thought" (מַחֲשָׁבָה), which suggests that happiness is found by thinking worthy thoughts. As the apostle admonished: "Think on these things" (Phil. 4:8). We find spiritual happiness when we choose to be thankful. This is called hakarat tovah (הַכָּרַת טוֹבָה), a phrase that means recognizing or being aware of the good. Cultivate a sense of wonder. Look at the sky often, for it is the "daily bread of the eyes." Albert Einstein once said, "There are two ways to live your life; one is as though nothing is a miracle, and the other is as though everything is." Happiness is a choice, a decision to see the good, to open your eyes to wonder, and to turn away from negative, fearful visions. The Torah of the LORD rejoices the heart (Psalm 19:8); let the heart of those who seek the LORD be glad (Psalm 105:3).
 

עִבְדוּ אֶת־יְהוָה בְּשִׂמְחָה בּאוּ לְפָנָיו בִּרְנָנָה
דְּעוּ כִּי־יְהוָה הוּא אֱלהִים הוּא־עָשָׂנוּ
וְלוֹ אֲנַחְנוּ עַמּוֹ וְצאן מַרְעִיתוֹ

iv·du · et · Adonai · be·sim·chah · bo·u · le·fa·nav · bir·na·nah,
de·u · ki · Adonai · hu · E·lo·him · hu · a·sa·nu
ve·lo · a·nach·nu · am·mo · ve·tzon · mar·i·to
Listen!
 

"Serve the LORD with happiness, come before His Presence with singing
Know that the LORD is God; it is He who has made us,
and we belong to him: we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture."
(Psalm 100:2-3)


 


The LORD gives us daily bread (לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ) so that we may persevere for this day. "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand today -- if you hear his voice" (Psalm 95:7). Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart (Heb. 3:15). "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God, but encourage one another every day, as long as it is called "today," so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:12-13).

In this age of widespread political propaganda and fear mongering, more than ever we must turn away from fearful visions and affirm the reality that God is good, that truth matters, and so on... "Therefore love truth and peace" (וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָבוּ) - Zech 8:19.

Note:  Please keep this ministry in your prayers. I have spent a lot of time the last couple of days dealing with technical problems concerning the operation of the site, as well as other untimely distractions... Thank you so much, chaverim.
 




Forty Days of Teshuvah...


 

08.20.14 (Av 24, 5774)  The last month of the Jewish calendar (counting from Tishri) is called Elul (אֱלוּל), which begins Monday, Aug. 25th (at sundown) this year. Traditionally, Rosh Chodesh Elul marks the beginning of a forty day "Season of Teshuvah" that culminates on the solemn holiday of Yom Kippur. The month of Elul is therefore a time set aside each year to prepare for the "Days of Awe," by getting our spiritual house in order.

During this time we make additional effort to repent, or "turn [shuv] toward God." In Jewish tradition, these 40 days are sometimes called Yemei Ratzon (יְמֵי רָצוֹן) - "Days of Favor," since it was during this time that the LORD forgave the Jewish nation after the sin of the Golden Calf (Pirke d'Reb Eliezar). Some of the sages liken these 40 days to the number of days it takes for the human fetus to be formed within the womb.

Rosh Hashanah will begin in about five weeks. During the time leading up to the High Holidays, it is customary to engage in cheshbon ha-nefesh ("soul searching") and to derive special comfort that God is forgiving and loving to those who sincerely turn to Him. The Jewish sages chose the seven "Haftarot of comfort" to encourage us to make our hearts ready for the upcoming High Holiday Season.



Shuvah Yisrael ad Adonai Elohekha: "Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God..." (Hos. 14:1). The sages say you must return to the place where the LORD is your God -- that you receive his acceptance and love, and that you reclaim your status as his beloved child...
 




Affliction and Comfort...


 

08.19.14 (Av 23, 5774)  Some of us carry a deep and stubborn inner pain that refuses to leave us, even after we have poured out our hearts before heaven for deliverance... Perhaps this pain comes from wounds inflicted early in life that have left us feeling betrayed, victimized, and wary of the promise love. God knows our struggle... We can find healing when we learn to "own" the pain and make it part of our story, trusting that God will use it to draw us close to him for our good. After all, God is called "the Father of Mercies and God of all comfort" (אַב הָרַחֲמִים וֵאלהֵי כָּל־נֶחָמָה), and the Lord "comforts us" (lit., "calls us to His side," παρακαλέω) in our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are afflicted with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Take comfort, then, that your Heavenly Father sees when the sparrow falls; he arrays the flower in its hidden valley; he calls each star by name. More importantly, the Lord sees you and understands your struggle. He will never leave you nor forsake you...
 

הָרפֵא לִשְׁבוּרֵי לֵב וּמְחַבֵּשׁ לְעַצְּבוֹתָם
מוֹנֶה מִסְפָּר לַכּוֹכָבִים לְכֻלָּם שֵׁמוֹת יִקְרָא

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

Click to listen 

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

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

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

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

Note: Due to technical problems, the web site was down yesterday...
 




The Choice is Yours...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Re'eh: "See!" ]

08.18.14 (Av 22, 5774)  Our Torah portion begins, "See (רְאֵה), I give before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing (הַבְּרָכָה), if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse (הַקְּלָלָה), if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known" (Deut. 11:26-28). We obtain God's blessing (i.e., berakhah: בְּרָכָה) when we obey Him, and our decision to obey manifests the blessed state of walking before the Divine Presence (the direct object marker et (את) before the word "the blessing" alludes to the blessings from "Aleph to Tav," that is from Yeshua, as described in Lev. 26:3-13). As King David said, "I have set (שִׁוִּיתִי) the LORD always before me..." (Psalm 16:8). David made a choice to "set" the LORD before his eyes, for he understood that opening his eyes to Reality was the only path of real blessing.

On the other hand, we obtain God's curse (i.e., kelalah: קְלָלָה) when we close our eyes and "forget" that the LORD is always present.... Suppressing God's truth invariably leads to idolatry, that is, to self exaltation. Note that the root word for the word "curse" (kalal) means to be treated as of little account, and therefore "ratifies" the rebellious heart's attitude toward God. This is middah keneged middah - we are ignored by the LORD as we ignore Him, just as we seen by Him when we truly seek His face (Isa. 55:6-7). So we see that the blessing or the curse really comes from our own inward decision, and God establishes the path we have chosen. As King David said, "God supports my lot" (Psalm 16:5), and Solomon wrote, "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps" (Prov. 16:9).

For more on this subject, see "The Choice is Yours: Further thoughts on Re'eh."
 




Remember who you are...


 

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

08.18.14 (Av 22, 5774)  One of the greatest mistakes is to forget 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...

"You are children of the LORD your God (בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַיהוָה אֱלהֵיכֶם). You shall not cut yourselves for the dead" (Deut. 14:1). In this verse, Moses reminds the people that they are children of the Eternal (יהוה) and therefore they were not to mourn for the dead like those without hope of life beyond the grave... Our God, the Father of Israel, is the Source of Life, and even if our earthly fathers die, we will never be orphans, because the LORD, the Everlasting God who is the "God of the spirits of all flesh" (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), always watches over us: "He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber" (Psalm 121:3). But if we forget who we are, if we lose sight of our place in the Heavenly Father's heart, then we are likely to fall into a state of excessive and self-destructive mourning over the losses we experience in this world. In the most tragic cases, this can lead to the darkness of unremedied despair, "living among the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones" (Mark 5:5). On the other hand, if remember our place at the Father's table as his children, if we take hold that we are beloved of God - his very own "treasured people" - then we will regard the difficulties we encounter in this world as a test of faith intended for our good (Deut. 8:3,16, Jer. 29:11).

God regards us as his beloved children, and therefore we trust him as a child trusts his father. We may not always understand all that our father does, but we have complete faith in his good will toward us, even in the face of death itself. We do not engage in self-destructive mourning, then, because we are treasured by God and we trust in God's promises for eternal life (John 11:25). Because of this, Jewish halachah (legal custom) puts limits to grieving practices.  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 where it says "God works all things together for good," for 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).

For more on this very important topic, please see the article "Am Segulah."
 




Parashat Re'eh - ראה


 

08.17.14 (Av 21, 5774)  In our Torah portion for this week (Re'eh), Moses continues his great farewell address, telling the people that surrendering to the will of the LORD will bring them great blessing, whereas refusing to yield will bring them loss... It begins: "See (רְאֵה), I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse (בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָה): the blessing when you heed the commandments (מִצְוֹת) of the Lord your God which I command you today, and the curse, when you refuse to heed the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known" (Deut. 11:26-28). In the Hebrew text we notice that the word re'eh is singular ("you see!"), whereas the following pronoun is plural ("before you today"), which stresses that though the Torah is freely given to everyone "who has ears to hear," it's our own personal responsibility to "choose life" and walk its message out in our lives (Deut. 30:19).

A widely accepted maxim of the Talmud is: "All is in the hands of God except the fear of heaven (yirat shamayim)" (Berachot 33b; Niddah 16b). In other words, though God constantly showers the world with grace and light, He does not "force" us to revere His Presence but rather leaves that choice with us.  God could overwhelm us all so that we had no choice but to see and fear Him, but He "withdraws" Himself and restrains His influence in our lives so that we can exercise faith. As Blaise Pascal said, "there is enough light for those who want to believe, and enough shadows to blind those who don't." The Hebrew word for seeing (ראה) and the word for fearing (ירא) share the same root. We cannot genuinely "choose life" apart from personally seeing it, but we cannot see it apart from the reverence of God. The reverence of God sanctifies our perception and enables us to see clearly. Therefore we understand that the righteous "walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7).

In this connection, our Torah portion also teaches the importance of helping others who are in need: "If there be among you a needy person ... you shall not harden your heart, nor shut your hand" (Deut. 15:7). Indeed practicing compassion evokes compassion from Heaven for your own life, as it is said, "whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his deed."
 

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 deed" (Prov. 19:17)


 


When we give without any hope of repayment it is reckoned as if our gift was given directly to the LORD Himself, and the gracious One Himself promises to completely repay the act of chesed. The Lord offers "collateral on the loan," so to speak, which will be repaid either in this world or assuredly in the world to come... This is another example of love's "like-for-like" and the reciprocity of faith: "Give, and it will be given to you: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use will be the measure you receive" (Luke 6:38; also 2 Cor. 9:6).

We never lose what we give away by faith, as it is counted as treasure in heaven; and indeed only what we give to others will abide in the world to come. Therefore we are commanded to give tzedakah (צְדָקָה, "charity") not because it is "right," but it is right because it is based on God's love and care for others. Something is righteous, in other words, because it expresses the truth about God's love. As it is said, "the world is built in chesed (חֶסֶד)" (Psalm 89:3[h]). Practicing compassion is the underlying motivation for adherence to all of God's commandments, for without the inner motivation of love, there is little point to anything else the Torah might say.
 

 




The Fear of the LORD...



 

08.15.14 (Av 19, 5774)  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... 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...

Note:  I will be out of town on Friday and Saturday to attend my sister's wedding...
 




Grappling with Grace...


 

08.15.14 (Av 19, 5774)  I sometimes feel concern for people who are obsessed over technical questions regarding "Torah observance" (i.e., dietary law, Sabbath observance, ritual practices, etc.). Whenever the question of moral obedience comes up (as it invariably does in such discussions), it is helpful to recall the first and most basic commandment of all, i.e., the commandment to love the LORD with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. THAT is the starting point. Indeed, the very first of the Ten Commandments is אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ - Anochi Adonai Eloheykha: "I AM the Lord your God." Without this personal acceptance of the LORD as your God (i.e., your willingness to trust and to love Him), you simply cannot fulfill any of the commandments with the right inward intent. We must begin with the duty to love the LORD, and that means regarding him as lovable, wonderful, and the healer of all that is broken within us. The LORD heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3). The "work of God" is to trust in the miracle of his love for you (John 6:29).

Note:  For more on this, see "Grappling with Grace: Further thoughts on Eikev."
 




Idolatry and Rage...


 

08.15.14 (Av 19, 5774)  We are commanded not to destroy ourselves by allowing bitterness, anger, or fear to consume our hearts. In our Torah portion this week we read: "And you shall not bring an abominable thing (תּוֹעֵבָה) into your house and become devoted to destruction like it" (Deut. 7:26). In his comment on this verse, Abraham Twerski quotes the Mishnah that says if someone goes into a rage, it is equivalent to idol worship, and therefore such should never be brought into the home. Indeed, rage is linked with avodah zarah - idolatry - because it exalts the ego and claims that the Lord can't (or won't) help you in your moment of testing or need. The Scriptures are clear, however, that "there is no test given to you that you cannot handle without God's help" (1 Cor. 10:13), and we are invited to come boldly before the Divine Presence to find help in our time of need (Heb. 4:16). Believing that you can't overcome your fear or anger problem is therefore a form of idolatry. As is written: Lo yiheyeh vekha el zar (לא־יִהְיֶה בְךָ אֵל זָר) -- "there shall be no foreign god within you" (Psalm 81:9), which means that we must expressly deny the ego's demand to have its will be done. Being full of a sense of self-importance is to be enslaved to vanity and to have a foreign god "within you." God will indeed help us if we ask according to his will (1 John 5:14-15). Blessed are You, Lord our God, who delivers us from self-destruction.
 




Victory in Brokenness...


 

08.14.14 (Av 18, 5774)  Rashi states that the "wooden ark" mentioned in this week's Torah portion (see Deut. 10:1) was later used in Israel's wars. At the outset of a battle, the kohanim (priests) would accompany this "war ark" ahead of the army while the Levites would blast shofars and sing praises to the LORD. The midrash states that the war ark held the tablets that were shattered after the sin of the Golden Calf, whereas the second ark, made by Betzalel, held the unbroken tablets in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle (Exod. 37:1). Perhaps the purpose of bringing the broken tablets to the battle was to remind us that even as we battle against evil, we must do so in humility, conscious of our own inner brokenness, and relying solely upon God's power for the victory...

Note:  I will be out of town on Friday and Saturday to attend my sister's wedding...
 




A Hidden Disclosure...


 

08.14.14 (Av 18, 5774)  Paradoxically we are to "let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works" (Matt. 5:16), and yet we are to be careful not to "let our left hand know what our right hand is doing" (Matt. 6:3). Good works (ma'asim tovim) are to be seen by others, but not as a result of our own hand or merit. Indeed, we are to be unmindful of ourselves - our left hand not knowing what our right hand does - thereby practicing hidden righteousness (נִסתָר צַדקָנוּת). We deny ourselves by forgetting ourselves, and we then overlook any desire for recognition or reward. This happens "unconsciously" as we focus on the LORD and bear witness to the miracle of his transformation of our hearts and lives. The great commandment is always Shema - listen - and heed God's voice: "And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left (Isa. 30:21).
 




Thou Shalt be Satisfied...


 

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

08.14.14 (Av 18, 5774)  Our Torah portion this week includes the rather remarkable commandment: "And you shall eat and be satisfied" (Deut. 8:10), which means that God desires for us to receive the goodness of life itself. "Taste and see that the LORD is good." Addictions, cravings, lusts, etc., arise from a refusal to be satisfied, by hungering for more than the blessing of the present moment. "My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13). The living waters are present for us, but we will only find them if we open our hearts to the wonder of God in this moment. We can "break the spell" of continual dissatisfaction, of the power of greed, ambition, and so on, when we discover that our constant hunger is really a cry for God and His blessing. This is the blessed "hunger and thirst" given by the Spirit (Matt. 5:6). Our sense of inner emptiness is an invitation to come to the waters and drink life. So come to God's table and ask the Lord Yeshua to give you the water that will satisfy your heart's true thirst for life...
 

וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ
עַל־הָאָרֶץ הַטּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַן־לָךְ

ve·a·khal·ta · ve·sa·va·ta · u·ve·rakh·ta · et · Adonai · e·lo·he·kha
al · ha·a·retz · ha·to·vah · a·sher · na·tan · lakh
 

"And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the LORD your God
for the good land he has given you."
(Deut. 8:10)



 

"Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack" (Psalm 34:8-9). We can only "taste and see" when we are earnest however, when we seek God with passion... When you pray, lift up your heart and soul to God, asking for the miracle to surrender to Him in the truth. Where it says, "with all your heart" (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ), present before him all your passion and desires; your hopes and your needs, your fears and your anger; and where it says, "with all your soul" (וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ), offer before him your very soul, as if to be sacrificed in his service; and where it says, "with all your muchness" (וּבְכָל־מְאדֶךָ) offer to him all your strength, all your means, and all your dreams. Ask to be filled with the Ruach HaKodesh to be enabled to apprehend the glory of God in the face of the Messiah (בִּפְנֵי הַמָּשִׁיחַ), through whom we are being transformed for the glory of God.
 




Gratitude and Seeing...


 

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

08.14.14 (Av 18, 5774)  We are commanded to see small miracles, everyday "signs and wonders..." "And you shall bless the LORD your God for the good..." (Deut. 8:10). Whenever we derive benefit or enjoyment from something we are to bless (i.e., thank) God for his goodness.  Jewish tradition says that if one eats or drinks without saying a blessing, it is as if he has stolen from God. From the verse, "What does the LORD ask of you..." (Deut. 10:12), the sages infer that a person should say at least 100 blessings a day, since the word מה, "what," alludes to the word מאה, a "hundred." The Hebrew term for gratitude is hakarat tovah (הַכָּרַת טוֹבָה), a phrase that means "recognizing the good." The heart looks through the eye, and therefore how we see is ultimately a spiritual decision: "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). When we see rightly, we are awakened to God's Presence in the little things of life, those small miracles and glories that constantly surround us. The good eye of faith sees hundreds of reasons to bless God for the precious gift of life (1 Cor. 10:31). Open your eyes... The LORD is "enthroned among the blessings of His people" (Psalm 22:3).
 




Love and Discipline...


 

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

08.13.14 (Av 17, 5774)  "Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you" (Deut. 8:5). The troubles God sends your way indicate that you are his child, since his correction (i.e., musar: מוּסָר) reveals heavenly concern for your life (Heb. 12:6-8; Prov. 3:12). A student once asked his rebbe if we get punished for our sins in this world, and was told "only if we are fortunate..." It is no sign of God's favor to be without testing and trials; even less should we always get what we want! (Psalm 69:22). God offers "education for eternity" (חִנוּךְ לְשֵׁם הַנֵצַח) so that you can "know in your heart" (וְיָדַעְתָּ עִם־לְבָבֶךָ) that he is your Heavenly Father... "It is for the sake of discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons... for if you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons" (Heb. 12:7-8).
 

וְיָדַעְתָּ עִם־לְבָבֶךָ
כִּי כַּאֲשֶׁר יְיַסֵּר אִישׁ אֶת־בְּנוֹ
יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ מְיַסְּרֶךּ

ve·ya·da·ta · im · le·va·ve·kha
ki · ka·a·sher · ye·ya·ser · ish · et · be·no
Adonai · e·lo·he·kha · me·ya·se·re·ka
 

"Know then in your heart
that as a man disciplines his son
so the LORD your God disciplines you." (Deut. 8:5)



 

Not everyone is blessed with being disciplined by God. Many are called, but few are chosen. The righteous person - the tzaddik - is always under God's scrutiny, both in order to refine his character and to bring about further correction. This scrutiny is a sure sign of God's love, for if we endure chastisement, we are being received as his sons...  Purity of the heart is to will one thing, and divine testing functions as a "refining fire" that removes the dross of ambivalence from our hearts. For the righteous, the various trials of life ask a divine question addressed to the heart of faith: Do you love me? Will you trust me now - in this place? with this trouble? in this darkness? As we believe, we are given more revelation, and that, in turn, further vindicates God's faithfulness and love.

Remaining steadfast during testing is the way we express love to God: "Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life (עֲטֶרֶת הַחַיִּים) that God promised to those who love him" (James 1:12). The "tested genuineness of your faith" is precious to God and will bring praise and glory and honor when the Messiah's righteousness is vindicated upon the earth (1 Pet. 1:7). May you stay strong in faith and be strengthened in all the tests God sends your way!
 




Always Here and Now...


 

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

08.13.14 (Av 17, 5774)  From our Torah portion this week (Eikev) we read: "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you..?" (Deut. 10:12). This is the unending question for the heart of faith: it is always here and it is always "now." The midrash says that the word "and now" (וְעַתָּה) implies the "what" of repentance (תְּשׁוּבָה), turning to God in this hour, regardless of whatever has happened in your past. True repentance turns you away from the darkness of fear to become present before God, wherever you might be...
 




Love and Truth Meet...


 

08.12.14 (Av 16, 5774)  "Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is one" (Deut. 6:4). In this central affirmation of faith, we note that the name of the LORD (יהוה) - who is the Source of life (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים) and compassion (Gen. 2:7; Exod. 34:6-7) - is identified with the name Elohim (אלהים), the Creator, King, and Judge (יהוָה הוּא הָאֱלהִים). Though we affirm there is one true God, the sages say that name LORD (יהוה) is repeated because God's judgment is corrective, and therefore the suffering and discipline we experience ultimately work for our comfort and good. The unity of God is the expression of his attributes of justice, truth, and righteousness, along with his attributes of love, mercy, and compassion -- a unity that is revealed in the cross of Messiah (Psalm 85:10). The redemption in Yeshua the Messiah demonstrates God's righteous judgment of sin while it justifies his compassion for the trusting sinner (Rom. 3:21-26). הַלְלוּ יָהּ
 

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד

she·ma · Yis·ra·el · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · Adonai · e·chad
 

"Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is One."
(Deut. 6:4)



Shema Reader Page

 




I am my Beloved's...


 

08.12.14 (Av 16, 5774)  "I stood between the LORD and you at that time .. for you were afraid..." (Deut. 5:5). Martin Buber comments: The 'I' stands between God and us. When a man says 'I am' [as if he were sufficient unto himself] he shuts himself off from Him. But there is no dividing wall before the one who sacrifices his 'I,' for of him it is said, 'I am my beloved's and his desire is for me' (Song 7:10). When 'I' belongs to the Beloved, then His desire is for me" (Collected Sayings).
 

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְעָלַי תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ

ani · le'do·di · ve·a·lai · te·shu·ka·to
 

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


 




Avodah Zarah...


 

08.12.14 (Av 16, 5774)  "Beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them..." (Deut. 4:19). God's creation is surely magnificent and mysterious, but it is a means to the end of displaying his glory, and is not to be regarded as an end in itself (Psalm 19:1-3). The sages wonder, however, why the Torah condemns venerating the heavenly powers, and ask, "Would not a king be pleased when his people honor his officers?" They reply that since we are partakers of God's nature and direct witnesses of his Reality (Rom. 1:19-20), bowing to the creature rather than the Creator violates the sanctity of the soul. Idolatry is forbidden because it denies that you are a bearer of God within your heart, and that outrages the Divine Presence by desecrating his handiwork. On the other hand, if the soul knows that he is joined with God, his godly esteem will strengthen him to walk according to his true identity as a child of the Most High God.
 




Everything you need...



 

08.11.14 (Av 15, 5774)  "Know therefore this day, and return (shuv) to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; ein od (אֵין עוֹד) - there is nothing else" (Deut. 4:39). The sages say the meaning of "ein od" is not simply that there is no other God than the LORD, since that has already been established, but rather that there is no existence in the universe apart from God, and that God alone sustains and upholds all things by the Word of his Power (Heb. 1:3). As the Spirit attests: "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created" (Rev. 4:11). Mi li vashamayim? "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the Rock of my heart (צוּר־לְבָבִי) and my portion forever."
 

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

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

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


 
Hebrew Study Card
 

With God's love we have everything we need - even should we experience temporal lack; but without it we are truly destitute - even should we gain everything the world affords. "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?" (Matt. 16:26).

Note:  Some of the sages interpret "know therefore this day... "there is no one else." In other words, ein od (אֵין עוֹד) means  "there is no other" than you -- there is no other person than yourself upon whom this responsibility falls... God created Adam alone because his image rested upon one for whom he created the world, and yet Adam was to "guard and work" the garden. Likewise each individual must take responsibility to "know therefore this day that the LORD is God" by working out his faith in the world (Phil. 2:12-13).
 




Shema of Holy Listening...



 

08.11.14 (Av 15, 5774)  Which commandment of Torah is the most important of all? Or, to put it another way, what is it that God requires of us? What is the purpose of our lives, and how can we fulfill that purpose? Yeshua began to answer this question by declaring the Shema: "Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is one" (Mark 12:29).

The great commandment is always shema (שְׁמַע), "listen," because real listening requires that we forget our self-centered perspective and immerse ourselves within the meaning and needs of another. Listening opens us to God's heart in all things, and therefore is essential for the "conversation" between our soul and the LORD. The act of listening is a sign of love, and that's why we feel so lonely when we have no one willing to hear our words.  Many people are quick to speak but precious few sacrifice themselves through selfless listening. The spiritual life, however, ultimately is shared life: We can do together what we cannot do individually. Yeshua prayed that we would know how much we need one another (John 17:21-23). The very first step is to listen to God....

Genuine listening creates a sense of trust and openness between people. When real listening is going on, there is no need to "talk over" the other person, because the listener "speaks" through his or her respectful silence... Nonetheless we must set godly boundaries. It is not loving to listen to someone gossip, slander, abuse themselves, or chatter about vanities – unless this somehow leads to honest self-disclosure. Spiritual listening is "set apart," holy, and hears the words spoken from the heart in a place of refuge.

God never asks of us what He does not do... If He urges us to listen to Him, to heed the voice of His love, then we can trust that He likewise listens to us and will answer the call of our hearts for Him. Regarding the Shema, "holy listening" involves more than just hearing with the physical ear, of course, but hearing with heart: "You shall love... you shall talk of God's love at all times, in all places, and know Him in all you do (Deut. 6:5-9).

We are able to listen to God by the agency of God's Spirit. God's words are breathed out and made alive to us in a mysterious way (John 3:8; 6:33). And just as God breathed into us the "breath of life" to become a living soul, so Yeshua breathes into us the Holy Spirit to quicken eternal life within us (John 20:22). Communing with God and others means breathing out the words of life that were first breathed into us.
 




Witness of the Spirit...


 

08.11.14 (Av 15, 5774)  "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one" (Deut. 6:4). The sages say that the Shema (שְׁמַע) is our central affirmation because it expresses our acceptance to sanctify the LORD God within our hearts so that others will see that He is the one and only God. Likewise, where it says וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ - "You shall love the LORD your God" (Deut. 6:5), this means you shall make the LORD beloved – first to your own heart and then before the eyes of others... The Shema testifies of our faith in God, and we "hear" the truth when we live in the love and grace of the Lord.
 

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד

she·ma · Yis·ra·el · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · Adonai · e·chad
 

"Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is One."
(Deut. 6:4)



Shema Reader Page

 

"You shall love (וְאָהַבְתָּ) the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deut. 6:5). Only God can quicken a dead heart, after all, and fill the soul with holy affections. Only the LORD can impart to us strength needed to take hold of promises as He writes His Torah upon our heart. As it is written, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever" (Rom. 11:36).
 




An Everlasting Love...


 

[ The 15th of the month of Av, otherwise called Tu B'Av, occurs tonight at sundown... ]

08.10.14
(Av 14, 5774)  This evening begins Tu B'Av, the 15th day of the month of Av, a time associated with love in Jewish tradition. An old Jewish legend says that 40 days before a person is conceived in the womb, God decrees who that person's life partner will be (Talmud: Mo'ed Katan 18b). The sages calculate that Tu B'Av falls 40 days before Elul 25, the traditional date of the creation of the universe, and infer that at that time - before the foundation of the world - God "chose us to be His beloved (Eph. 1:4). At any rate, Tu B'Av reminds us of the deeper truth that you were created to be in a love relationship with God! 
 

מֵרָחוֹק יְהוָה נִרְאָה לִי
וְאַהֲבַת עוֹלָם אֲהַבְתִּיךְ
עַל־כֵּן מְשַׁכְתִּיךְ חָסֶד

me·ra·chok · Adonai · nir·ah · li
ve·a·ha·vat · o·lam · a·hav·tikh
al · ken · me·shakh·tikh · cha·sed
 

"The LORD appeared to me from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn you."
(Jer. 31:3)



Hebrew Study Card 
 

Note that the word translated "I have drawn you" (i.e., מְשַׁכְתִּיךְ) comes from the Hebrew word mashakh (מָשַׁךְ), meaning to "seize" or "drag away," even to "ravish" (the ancient Greek translation used the verb helko (ἕλκω) to express the same idea). As Yeshua said, "No one is able to come to me unless he is "dragged away" (ἑλκύσῃ, same word) by the Father" (John 6:44). God's chesed seizes us, takes us captive, and leads us to the Savior...
 




The Holiday of Tu B'Av...


 

[ The 15th of Av - otherwise called Tu B'Av - begins at twilight on Sunday, Aug. 10th... ]

08.10.14 (Av 14, 5774)  The 15th of Av (i.e., Tu B'Av) begins after sundown tonight and runs through the following day. Just as Yom Kippur originally celebrated the reconciliation of Israel to the LORD after the sin of the Golden Calf, so Tu B'Av originally celebrated the reconciliation of Israel for the Sin of the Spies. Therefore both the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur became joyous times celebrating forgiveness and restoration to the LORD. The Babylonian Talmud (Ta'anit 31a) quotes Shimon ben Gamliel as saying, "Israel had no holidays as joyous as the fifteenth of Av and the Day of Atonement, when the maidens of Israel would go out and dance in the vineyards... What were they saying: Young man, consider whom you choose to be your wife..."

In modern Israel, Tu B'Av is observed as an annual holiday of love and affection (i.e., chag ha-ahavah: חַג הָאַהֲבָה) that is celebrated like "Valentine's Day" (though it is a much older holiday).  However, since it is the "last" festival of the Jewish year, Tu B'Av prophetically pictures our marriage to the Lamb of God (Seh Elohim), Yeshua our beloved Messiah. On a soon-coming day those who belong to him and are faithful to follow his ways will be blessed with the unspeakable joy as their "wedding day" finally has come. This is heaven itself - to be in the Presence of the LORD and to be His beloved (Rev. 19:6-9).

With the advent of the holiday of Tu B'Av, we are reminded of the beautiful phrase, ani l'dodi ve'dodi li (אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי), "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine" (Song. 6:3), a phrase the sages say is an acronym for the name Elul (אלול). Now the month of Elul begins in just a couple of weeks (i.e., Monday, August 5th this year), and the entire month is set apart to prepare us for the coming High Holidays in early September. During this time it we engage in cheshbon ha-nefesh ("soul searching") and to derive comfort that God is forgiving and loving to those who turn to Him. The sages chose the seven "Haftarot of comfort" to encourage us to make our hearts ready for the upcoming High Holiday Season.

Note: Why is the 15th of Av called Tu B'Av? Well, as you perhaps know, Hebrew letters can be used to express numbers.  Joining the letters Tet (9) and Vav (6), for example, equals the number 15, sometimes written as the acronym "Tu" (ט"ו). The phrase "Tu B'Av" (ט"ו באב) indicates the 15th day of the month of Av (אָב), a "full-moon" holiday that has been celebrated as a day of love and affection since the First Temple period.
 




Parashat Eikev - עקב


 

[ The Torah reading for this week is parashat Eikev, traditionally read during Shabbat Va'tomer, the second "Sabbath of consolation" after Tishah B'Av. ]

08.10.14 (Av 14, 5774)  In our Torah reading for this week (i.e., parshat Eikev), Moses continues his farewell address to Israel by saying, "And because (עֵקֶב) you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the  love that he swore to your fathers" (Deut. 7:12). Note that the word eikev (עֵקֶב) is often translated "because," though it literally means "heel," which recalls Jacob (יעקב) the "heel-holder" who wrestled with the pain of his past to learn to bear the name Israel (יִשְׂרָאֵל), the "prince of God" (Gen. 32:28)... Like Jacob, we must grapple to believe that the covenant of God's love and acceptance is for us, too... The Sassover rebbe reads the opening verse of our Torah portion, "And because you will listen..." (וְהָיָה עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן) as, "and it shall be when your heel is ready to take a step, you will listen to your heart." This is the step of faith. As you walk with God, you will come to know yourself as a child of the great King.  Regarding the related verse, "Because Abraham heard my voice" (עֵקֶב אֲשֶׁר־שָׁמַע אַבְרָהָם בְּקלִי), the sages read, "Abraham heard the word 'down to his heel.'" Like Abraham, we will hear God's voice as we walk with him by faith...

Note:  For more on this important Torah portion, see the parashah summary page. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for Eikev here:
 

 




Centrality of the Heart...



 

08.08.14 (Av 12, 5774)  During Shavuot (Pentecost) we recall the revelation at Sinai, but our Torah portion this week (Vaetchanan) urges us to remember the holiness of God and to sanctify our lives as sacred every day of our lives: "Only take care, and guard your soul very diligently (רַק הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ וּשְׁמר נַפְשְׁךָ מְאד), lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, 'Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so'" (Deut. 4:9-10). We must never forget that the LORD is our Righteous Judge and that we will give account for everything we have done in our lives (Matt. 12:36). Indeed the message of the cross – of salvation itself – is unintelligible apart from the justice and righteousness of God. The suffering of Yeshua for our sake attests to God's judgment for sin, and this is understood in relation to the revelation given at Sinai. God does not "wink" at evil or pretend it doesn't matter to his heart; on the contrary, he endured horrific suffering and died so that we could be delivered from the verdict that our sin demands. Only at the cross of Messiah may it be said: "Love and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed" (Psalm 85:10). "Above everything else guard your heart, for from it are the contours of life."
 

מִכָּל־מִשְׁמָר נְצר לִבֶּךָ
 כִּי־מִמֶּנּוּ תּוֹצְאוֹת חַיִּים

mik·kol · mish·mar · ne·tzor · li·be·kha,
ki · mi·me·nu · to·tze·ot · cha·yim

 

"Above everything else guard your heart,
 for from it are the contours of life"
(Prov. 4:23)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Notice that the word mishmar (מִשְׁמָר) refers to the act of guarding someone closely, just as an prison guard or warden might keep watch over a prisoner. The phrase translated "with all diligence" (mikkol-mishmar) literally means "more than anything that might be guarded," and is used here to intensify the command to exercise vigilance. Plainly put, this verse commands us to watch over our heart more than anything else.

And yet "the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint" (Isa. 1:5). We understand how apt we are to go astray in our affections, and therefore the heart is easily divided, obstructed, and liable to failure... Despite its frailty, however, the heart determines totze'ot chayim, or the "issues" or "contours" of life. In the Tanakh, the word totza'ot is often used to refer to the borders of territories or the boundaries of a city. This verse is saying that from the heart of a person (lev) a "map" or "chart" to life is drawn. As the heart is either pure or corrupt, so will be the course of one's life...  Purity of heart represents healing, which means being single-minded in our affections and attention before the LORD.

How you choose to guard your heart from inner corruption and hardness will determine the "road" of your life. Concerning this verse the Metzudos commentary says, "Above all – more than anything else – a person must be careful to guard his heart from improper thoughts, for one cannot contemplate using the heart – the very vortex of life – to harbor thoughts that are inimical to life." Because the flesh is weak, we must be vigilant lest we become cynical, weary, and unfeelingly selfish. An unguarded heart soon becomes troubled, lonely, suspicious, and unstable. If, however, we keep ourselves from the obstruction of sin, we will experience the free flow of compassion, encouragement, and joy. The faithful heart is open - it believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Cor. 13:7).

It is your personal responsibility to guard your heart from negative influences -- a duty that is connected with yielding yourself as a vessel or "steward" of the kingdom of God.  We must regularly ask God to enlighten "the eyes of the heart" according to His wisdom and power (i.e., truth revealed in Scripture), and to impart the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our desires and affections so that they conform to the character of the Messiah.

Note: For more on this, see "The Centrality of Heart: Further thoughts on Vaetchanan."
 




Close in all our Calling...


 

08.08.14 (Av 12, 5774)  Our Torah states that the LORD is close to us "in all our calling to Him" (Deut. 7:7). He listens to all of our heart's cry - our yearning, our lament, as well as our praise, and attends to our daily needs. Our part is to turn to God for help in all that we do: we are to "know Him in all our ways" (בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ) by trusting in his nearness (Prov. 3:5-6). Even if we feel our prayer is unanswered, we trust despite our temporary darkness, believing that God sees our need and knows what is best for us. God is close "in all our calling to Him" (בְּכָּל־קָרְאֵנוּ אֵלָיו), and therefore we are often brought to a place of need. We can endure suffering and find acceptance as we call upon God for help in all that we do.
 

בְּטַח אֶל־יְהוָה בְּכָל־לִבֶּךָ
וְאֶל־בִּינָתְךָ אַל־תִּשָּׁעֵן
בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ וְהוּא יְיַשֵּׁר ארְחתֶיךָ

be·tach · el · Adonai · be·khol · lib·be·kha
ve'el · bi·na·te·kha · al · tish·a·en
be·khol · de·ra·khe·kha · da·ei·hu · ve·hu · ye·ya·sher · or·cho·te·kha

 

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
Know Him in all your ways, and He will straighten your paths."
(Prov. 3:5-6)



Hebrew Study Card
 

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart... know Him in all your ways." The Hebrew word for trust is "bittachon" (בִּטָחוֹן), from a root word (בָּטָח) that means "to lean upon," to feel safe and secure.... Bittachon describes emotional acceptance of the goodness of the LORD. Some of the sages have said that while emunah (אֱמוּנָה), or "faith," represents a state of cognitive understanding (בִּינָה) that God is involved in all the events of the universe, bittachon means emotionally trusting that the Lord is present in every situation for your good.... Rabbi Bechaya put the distinction this way: "Everyone who trusts has faith, but not everyone with faith trusts." Bittachon is an intuitive awareness of the personal love of God for your life, coupled with complete trust that He deeply cares for you (Rom. 8:28). It is an expectation that the love of God is "I-AM-always-with-you," too.
 




Cleaving to God...


 

08.08.14 (Av 12, 5774)  "But you who have clung to the LORD your God are all alive today" (Deut. 4:4). The Hebrew word devakut (דְּבָקוּת) means "cleaving" and refers to communion with God. This word comes from the root word davak (דָּבַק), meaning to "cling" or "stick" (the Modern Hebrew word for "glue" is devek (דֶבֶק) which also comes from the same root). The sages comment that we can cleave to God only one day at a time. As Yeshua said: "Take therefore no thought for tomorrow: for tomorrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient for the day its own trouble" (Matt. 6:34). One day at a time. The LORD gives us daily bread (לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ) so that we may persevere for this day. "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand today -- if you hear his voice" (Psalm 95:7). Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart (Heb. 3:15). "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God, but encourage one another every day, as long as it is called "today," so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:12-13).
 

דָּבְקָה נַפְשִׁי אַחֲרֶיךָ
בִּי תָּמְכָה יְמִינֶךָ

da·ve·kah · naf·shi · a·cha·re·kha
bi · tam·khah · ye·mi·ne·kha

 

"My soul clings to you;
Your right hand upholds me."
(Psalm 63:8)



Hebrew Study Card
 




The Desire of Faith...


 

08.08.14 (Av 12, 5774)  "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness..." What good would it do to have an angel reveal all mysteries and knowledge to you apart from the struggle to learn, to labor, and to make the truth of love your own? The sages say there is something more precious than even wisdom, and that is holy desire, the holy struggle to take hold of the heavenly blessing and to accept your new name (Gen. 32:27-28). When you experience holy desire, you feel a great longing and yearning for God, and this feeling becomes so intense that you do not know what to do, you do not know what to say, you do not know how to pray, and so you simply cry out to God, you cling to him in desperate hope and plead to know his heart directly...
 




Overcoming the Darkness...


 

08.07.14 (Av 11, 5774)  As a seed planted within soil seeks life by "reaching" for the sun, so our souls are drawn upward by the desire for God. The Lord calls us "out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9); he calls us to awaken, to grow, and to come to the fullness of his life (John 10:10). Being called "out of darkness" means being set free of those spiritual forces that have held us captive. When we turn to the Divine Light for our sustenance and healing, we are set free from the pain of our fears and the insanity of evil (Acts 26:18). As it is written: "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (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 care and influence of the Spirit of God. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Heeding the truth of Yeshua grounds you in what is real and reveals your identity and provision as a child of God. "For you are my lamp (כִּי־אַתָּה תָּאִיר נֵרִי), O LORD, and my God lightens my darkness" (Psalm 18:28).
 




Return to your heart...



 

08.07.14 (Av 11, 5774)  From our Torah portion this week (Vaetchanan) we read: "Take good heed for your souls..." (Deut. 4:15). The Hebrew grammar here is a bit unusual, since the verb shamar (שָׁמַר), meaning to "keep" or to "guard," is written in the passive (niphal), i.e., "Let yourselves be guarded well..." (וְנִשְׁמַרְתֶּם מְאד לְנַפְשׁתֵיכֶם). If we open our hearts to heed or listen to the truth of God - if we surrender to God's will for our lives - we will be protected from the snares of idolatry. "Know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). When you surrender from the heart you will understand that "the LORD is your keeper (יְהוָה שׁמְרֶךָ)... and yishmor et nafshekha - the LORD will guard your life" (Psalm 121:5,7).

Note that the phrase "lay it to your heart" (in Deut. 4:39) may better be rendered as "return to your heart" (וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ), suggesting that the truth of the LORD is found there – within the heart that truly seeks him (Deut. 4:29). Hashivenu! In other words, the truth is found in the heart's seeking for the LORD and His love. Know this truth today... "The most important part of teaching is to teach what it is to know," that is, to know "in your heart."
 




The Unity of Love...


 

08.06.14 (Av 10, 5774)  Our Torah portion this week (Vaetchanan) includes the first part of the Shema: "Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is One" (Deut. 6:4). During its recitation we pronounce each word very carefully and cover our eyes with our right hand, testifying of the sovereignty of God and our primary duty to love Him with our whole being. Yeshua said that the Shema was the great commandment of Torah (see Mark 12:29-30).
 

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד

she·ma · Yis·ra·el · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · Adonai · e·chad
 

"Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is One."
(Deut. 6:4)



Hebrew Study Card / Shema Reader Page
  

Note that this verse includes three Divine Names: Lord (יהוה), God (אלהים), and Lord (יהוה) again, which suggests the multiplicity-in-oneness (unity) that the word "echad" implies (see below). The two letters Ayin (ע) and Dalet (ד) are enlarged in the opening verse of the Shema. Together, these letters form the word 'ed (עֵד), which means "witness," suggesting that we recite the Shema to testify of the sovereignty of God and our primary duty to love Him bekhol levavkha, with all our hearts...

Interestingly, the word echad (אֶחָד) in Hebrew implies unity in diversity, not absolute numerical identity (the word for one and only one, i.e., "unique," is yachid (יָחִיד). For example, in Exodus 26:6 the parts of the Tabernacle (Mishkan) are to be constructed so that "it shall be one (echad) tabernacle," and Ezekiel spoke of two "sticks" (representing fragmented Israel) as being reunited into one: "and they shall be one (echad) stick in My hand" (Ezek. 37:19). Moses also uses echad in Genesis 2:24 when he says: "And they (husband and wife) will become one flesh (basar echad)." God's attributes as Compassionate Source of life, Eternal Judge, and Savior, are unified and affirmed in this verse. Ultimate Reality is multidimensional, personal and loving, and that is part of the very essence of God. There is no such thing as a "Person" - either human or Divine - that exists in an absolute vacuum, outside of relationship. Absolute monism is inconsistent with the idea of Divine Personhood, just as Aristotle's "Unmoved Mover" is a logical absurdity.

Note:  For more information about the Shema and its blessings, or to download Shema study pages, please see the Shema section of the site. Shalom.
 




The Heart of Heaven...


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av... Nachamu, nachamu... ]

08.06.14 (Av 10, 5774)  In our Torah portion this week (Vaetchanan), Moses recalled the awesome revelation of the Torah at Sinai, describing how the mountain "burned with fire unto the heart of heaven" (בּעֵר בָּאֵשׁ עַד־לֵב הַשָּׁמַיִם) when the Ten Commandments were uttered and were written upon the two tablets (Deut. 4:11-13). The sages say that the tablets represented a heart, as it says, "write them on the tablet of your heart" (Prov. 3:3), and God's word is likened to a fire that reveals the great passion of God's heart for us (Jer. 23:29; Deut. 4:24). Tragically, the two tablets were smashed after the people lost sight of the heart of heaven, and therefore God requires a broken heart - teshuvah - to behold his glory once again.  Therefore we see that Yeshua died of a broken heart upon the cross for our return to God, and the fire of his passion burned unto the very heart of heaven....
 




Finding God in Exile...


 

08.06.14 (Av 10, 5774)  From this week's Torah we read: "if you seek for the LORD your God from there, you will find him, if you search for him with all your heart (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ) and with all your soul" (Deut. 4:29). From where do we search, from what place, except while in exile, after hardship, testing, and tribulation? If you seek for the LORD your God from there - in the midst of your exile, in the midst of your heart's cry - you will find him there, in your heart. This message is a prophecy, so that even after testing befalls you, in the end you will belong to the LORD and will hear his voice.
 

וּבִקַּשְׁתֶּם מִשָּׁם אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ וּמָצָאתָ
 כִּי תִדְרְשֶׁנּוּ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶׁךָ

u·vik·kash·tem · mi·sham · et · Adonai · E·lo·hey·kha · u·ma·tza·ta
ki · tid·re·she·nu · be·khol · le·va·ve·kha · u·ve·khol · naf·she·kha
 

"But you will seek the LORD your God from there and you will find Him,
if you search for Him with all your heart and with all your soul."
(Deut. 4:29)


 
 

Note that the word "you will seek" is in the plural, whereas the rest of the verse is in the singular. "Where is God to be found?" asks the Kotzker Rebbe, but "in the place where He is given entry!" As the Apostle Paul wrote, "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is LORD and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same LORD is LORD of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For "everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved" (Rom. 10:8-13).
 




Praying to Pray...


 

08.06.14 (Av 10, 5774)  Our Torah portion for this week begins, "And I pleaded (ואתחנן) with the LORD at that time, to say..." (Deut. 3:23), which implies that we must first pray in order to be able to pray, that is, we make ourselves ready to pray by finding the inner freedom and grace to groan before the LORD.... If you can't find the words to pray, then plead with the LORD and ask for the Holy Spirit to groan on your behalf (Rom. 8:26). "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Matt. 7:7). "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will show forth your praise" (Psalm 51:15).

We pray for all our needs, but the need to pray with the proper focus, intention, and heart is surely one of our needs... "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). The disciples were not asking for a formula or recipe prayer (such as might be recited from a prayer book), but for the right motivation, direction, and "Torah" of prayer... If we ask according to his will, God hears us (1 John 5:14), since we are speaking his "language" of truth and humility. Therefore pray for the ability to pray effectively, to commune in trust with your heavenly Father. The prayer of a righteous person has great power (James 5:16).
 




Parashat Vaetchanan - ואתחנן


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av (i.e., Shabbat Nachamu, see below). ]

08.06.14 (Av 10, 5774)  Our Torah portion this week (Va'etchanan) includes some of the most foundational texts of the Jewish Scriptures, including the Ten Commandments, the Shema (the duty to love God and study His Torah), and the commandments of tefillin and mezuzot. In addition, in this portion Moses predicts the worldwide exile and the eventual redemption of the Jewish people in acharit hayamim (the prophesied "End of Days").

The portion begins with Moses' plea to the LORD to be allowed entry into the Promised Land, despite God's earlier decree (see Num. 20:8-12; 27:12-14). The Hebrew word va'etchanan (וָאֶתְחַנַּן) comes from the verb chanan (חָנַן), which means to beseech or implore. It derives from the noun chen (חֵן), grace, implying that the supplication appeals to God's favor, not to any idea of personal merit (in Jewish tradition, tachanun (תַּחֲנוּן) are prayers recited after the Amidah begging for God's grace and mercy). Moses was asking God to show him grace by reversing the decree that forbade him to enter the Promised Land.

Note that in Jewish tradition, the idea of appealing to God's grace is not without expending personal effort. The gematria of vaetchanan is 515 -- the same as the word for prayer (i.e., tefillah, תְּפִלָּה) - which suggests that while grace is "free," it is something precious that must be sought after with the whole heart. Despite his repeated appeals, however, God finally said to Moses: רַב־לָך, "enough from you" (Deut. 3:26) and reaffirmed His decree that he would not be allowed to lead Israel into the land. That privilege was given to Yehoshua bin Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן), i.e., "Joshua the son of Nun," who foreshadowed Yeshua the Messiah.

Moses was forbidden into the land because symbolically the covenant made at Sinai was insufficient to fulfill the promise of God. This insufficiency, however, was not the fault of God's Torah, which is "holy, just, and good" (Rom. 7:12), but rather because of the weakness of the human condition (i.e., the "law of sin and death" - תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת). "For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3-4). The New Covenant was needed to bring people to Zion, and this required a "change in the Torah" and the offices of a new priesthood (Heb. 7:12). "The former commandment was set aside because of its weakness and uselessness - for the law made nothing perfect - but a better hope is introduced, and that is how we now draw near to God" (Heb. 7:18-19).
 

חַסְדֵי יְהוָה כִּי לא־תָמְנוּ כִּי לא־כָלוּ רַחֲמָיו
חֲדָשִׁים לַבְּקָרִים רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ

chas·dei · Adonai · ki · lo-ta·me·nu, · ki · lo-kha·lu · ra·cha·mav,
cha·da·shim · la·be·ka·rim · rab·bah · e·mu·na·te·kha
 

"The faithful love (חֶסֶד) of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies (רַחֲמִים) never come to an end;
they are new every morning (חֲדָשִׁים לַבְּקָרִים);
great is your faithfulness (אֱמוּנָה)"
(Lam. 3:22-23)



Hebrew Study Card
 




Shabbat Nachamu - שַׁבַּת נַחֲמוּ


 

[ With the advent of this Sabbath, we have seven weeks to prepare for the new year (Rosh Hashanah) and the High Holidays - a prophetic season that heralds the return of Yeshua... ]

08.06.14 (Av 10, 5774)  The prophet Zechariah foresaw that the various fast days of the Jewish year would be transformed into times of great joy (Zech. 8:19): "Thus says Adonai Tzeva'ot (יהוה צְבָאוֹת): 'The fast of the fourth month (Tammuz), and the fast of the fifth month (Tishah B'Av), and the fast of the seventh month (Yom Kippur), and the fast of the tenth month (Asarah b'Tevet), will be to the house of Judah for joy and rejoicing, and for pleasant appointed seasons...'" Because of the promise of coming consolation for Israel, the Sabbath immediately following the Fast of Av (i.e., Tishah B'Av), is called the "Sabbath of Comfort" (i.e., Shabbat Nachamu: שַׁבַּת נַחֲמוּ), and we read the prophetic portion from the Book of Isaiah that begins: נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי - Nachamu, Nachamu ami - "be comforted, be comforted, my people..." (Isa. 40:1). The sages reasoned that the word "nachamu" was repeated to offer consolation for both Temples that were destroyed.
 

נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי יאמַר אֱלהֵיכֶם

na·cha·mu · na·cha·mu · am·mi · yo·mar · E·lo·hey·khem
 

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God"
(Isa. 40:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 


Shabbat Nachamu marks the start of a series of seven weekly readings related to the final redemption of the Jewish people - and indeed the redemption of the entire world (these readings are sometimes called "The Seven Haftarot of Consolation"). Among other things, this means we have seven weeks to prepare for the start of the new year (Rosh Hashanah) and the High Holidays - a prophetic season that concerns the return of Yeshua. From the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av until Rosh Hashanah, we read words of comfort from the Hebrew prophets. These selections foretell the the restoration of the Jewish people to their land (the ingathering of the exiles), the future redemption of Israel, and the coming of the Messianic Era. May our Messiah Yeshua return soon, friends!

Note: Parashat Vaetchanan is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av...
 




Zion's Indefatigable Vision...


 

[ Today we are observing the holiday of Tishah B'Av... ]

08.05.14 (Av 9, 5774)  The somber holiday of Tishah B'Av represents the yearning of the heart for the establishment of the Kingdom of God upon the earth... As Yeshua taught his students to pray: "Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10). Now if you say that the King of the Jews lives inside your heart by faith (Matt. 2:2), and if the King of the Jews calls Jerusalem the "City of the Great King" (Psalm 48:2, Matt 5:35), then heed the Spirit's call to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem..." At the End of the Age, the Messiah will indeed return to establish Zion as a praise upon 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)



Hebrew Study Card
 

 




Measure of our Days...


 

[ Today we are observing the holiday of Tishah B'Av... ]

08.05.14 (Av 9, 5774)  In the Book of Isaiah we read: "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8), which sets up a great contrast between olam ha-zeh and olam haba – between this present world and the heavenly realm. Unlike the grass of the field that dries up or flowers that soon fade, the word of God stands forever. And despite the frailty of man and the inevitability of physical death, God's truth endures, which is a foundation upon which we can rest.

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

הוֹדִיעֵנִי יְהוָה קִצִּי
וּמִדַּת יָמַי מַה־הִיא
אֵדְעָה מֶה־חָדֵל אָנִי

ho·di·e·ni  · Adonai ·  kitz·tzi,
u·mid·dat ·  ya·mai ·  mah ·  hi,
e·de· ah ·  meh ·  cha·del ·  a·ni

"O LORD, make me to know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how quickly my life will pass"
(Psalm 39:4)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Note that the Hebrew word chadel (חָדֵל) means "lacking" in the sense of being contingent, non-necessary, fleeting, impermanent, and so on. The KJV renders this word as "frail," since the word implies that compared to eternity, our lives are but a vapor or a shadow that quickly passes away. Therefore King David continues, "Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you (וְחֶלְדִּי כְאַיִן נֶגְדֶּךָ). Surely all mankind stands as a mere vanity (הֶבֶל)! Selah" (Psalm 39:5).

The theme of the transience of life is part of the message of Tishah B'Av. The Holy Temple, despite being the pride and joy of the Jewish people during the time of Solomon, went up in smoke, and the place (i.e., ha-makom: הַמָּקוֹם) where the LORD chose to "put His Name" vanished as if it had never been... Understand, then, that the expression of your highest ideals, your most celebrated achievements, likewise can be turned to smoke in an instant. This, then, is the sober message of Tishah B'Av, a "holiday" that teaches that all things will be "tossed into the oven" (Matt. 6:30), though the truth of God endures forever.

On the Jewish calendar, Tishah B'Av is "sandwiched" between the two times Moses received the tablets of the covenant, first during Shavuot and later, after a period of repentance, during Yom Kippur. This means that just two months after celebrating the Sinai revelation, we mourn for the destruction of the Temple and the beginning of our long exile; and two months later still, we celebrate national atonement and the restoration of the covenant during Yom Kippur.  All this is prophetic, of course, since Shavuot recalls the ascension of our LORD and the giving of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit); Tishah B'Av foretells of Israel's long exile and the "age of grace" extended to the Gentiles; and Yom Kippur foretells the coming atonement of the Jewish people at the end of the age, when Israel accepts Yeshua as their great High Priest of the New Covenant (Jer. 30:24).

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

Ultimately, the loss of "the place where God put His Name" was a deliberate affliction of His love for his people. The Sacred Name of God [יהוה] is formed from the words hayah ("He was"), hoveh ("He is"), and yihyeh ("He will be"): הָיָה הוֶה וְיִהְיֶה, indicating that the LORD is always present, despite momentary appearances. Note that all the letters of the Name are "vowel letters," which mean they evoke breath and life. Indeed the first occurrence of the Name in Torah regards the inspiration of nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" in Adam (Gen. 2:4). The LORD is always present for you, breathing out life and hope...
 




The "Tone" of Tishah B'Av...


 

[ The tragic holiday of Tishah B'Av begins this evening at sundown... ]

08.04.14 (Av 8, 5774)  The Book of Lamentations is traditionally recited during Tishah B'Av to remember the destruction of the Holy Temple and other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. Lamentations is an acrostic poem that begins with the Hebrew letter Aleph in the word "eichah" (אֵיכָה): "How (eichah) lonely sits the city that once was full of people!" (Lam. 1:1). The sages note that this word "how (eichah)" could also be read as "where are you?" (אַיֶּכָּה, ayekah), God's first question to Adam after he broke covenant in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:9). The midrash draws a connection between the lamentation of the LORD over Adam's banishment from Eden and Israel's banishment from Zion (Hos. 6:7). In both cases the problem centers on the failure to ask where God is.

During the Tishah B'Av service at the synagogue, when the cantor reaches the second to last verse of the book, "Hashivenu," he pauses and the congregation recites the verse in unison: Hashivenu Adonai, elekha vena-shuvah; chadesh yamenu kekedem: "Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21).  Often this verse is repeated and sung to a haunting melody as the scroll is returned to the Ark.
 

הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה
חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם

ha·shi·ve·nu  Adonai  e·ley·kha  ve·na·shu·vah,
cha·desh  ya·me·nu  ke·ke·dem

"Turn us back to yourself, O LORD, so that we may return to you;
renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21)



Hebrew Study Card
 

How many people today live in a state of self-imposed exile from the LORD? How lonely... God uses our loneliness and alienation to question our hearts, asking each of us, ayekah – "Where are you?" "Why have you turned away from me and chosen a state of exile?" Our inner pain is meant to provoke us to seek His face. He awaits our only possible response, "Hashivenu!" -- an imperative (demand) for the grace to repent: "You return us (i.e., you cause us to return) so that we may be reunited with you and healed!" We do not appeal to our own resources or strength to undergo this return, but rather trust that God's sovereign grace is sufficient to restore us to His presence. As Yeshua said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up" (John 6:44).

The tears of the prophet Jeremiah represent God's compassionate love for the Jewish people; the Book of Lamentations is really God's cry... God cares about the suffering of His people: b'khol tzaratam lo tzar (בְּכָל־צָרָתָם לוֹ צָר) - "In all their affliction he was afflicted" (Isa. 63:9). Even after all the horrors that befell the people of Judah due to God's disciplinary judgment, the LORD still encouraged them to seek Him again. "The faithful love of the LORD (חַסְדֵי יהוה) never ceases, and his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness" (Lam. 3:22-23). Our response to the faithful love of the LORD is teshuvah (i.e., תְּשׁוּבָה, "turning [shuv] to God"). In Modern Hebrew teshuvah means an "answer" to a shelah (שְׁאֵלָה), or a question.  God's love for us is the question, and our teshuvah – our turning of the heart toward Him – is the answer.  We return to the LORD when we truly acknowledge that He is our Father and our King. May we so turn today...
 




Tishah B'Av - Aug. 4th-5th


 

[ The doleful holiday of Tishah B'Av begins Monday, August 4th (at sundown) and runs 25 hours, that is, until an hour after sundown the following day... ]

08.03.14
(Av 7, 5774)  Tishah B'Av (תשעה באב, the "ninth [day] of [the month of] Av") is an annual day of mourning that recalls the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people over the centuries, but most especially the destruction of the Holy Temple and the ongoing exile of Israel. This year Tishah B'Av begins Monday August 4th (at sundown) and runs 25 hours until Tuesday, August 5th, one hour after sundown. The customs for observing the holiday are similar to those of Yom Kippur.

Tishah B'Av is generally regarded as the saddest day of the Jewish year (and even sadder than Yom Kippur) since it was on this date that both the First and the Second Temples were destroyed and the Jewish people were forced into exile. The root of these tragedies is said to go back to the Exodus from Egypt, when the LORD decreed a 40 year exile from the Promised Land because of the Sin of the Spies on the ninth of Av. In addition, Aaron died on Av 1 (Num. 33:38), and this was said to foreshadow the destruction of the Temple.  The sages call this prophetic principle: ma'aseh avot siman labanim (מַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹת סִימָן לַבָּנִים): "The deeds of the fathers are signs for the children."

The ninth of Av is the lowest point of a three week period of mourning that began with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz (which was undertaken to recall the first breach in the walls of Jerusalem by the Babylonians before the First Temple was destroyed three weeks later). The "Three Weeks of Sorrow" is intended to instill a sense of teshuvah (repentance) and to prepare for the Messianic redemption to come.

Three Weeks of SorrowThree Weeks of Sorrow
 

Tishah B'Av allows us to express heartfelt grief over the loss of Zion and therefore over the fraility of our human condition. During this time it is appropriate to grieve over our sins and to shed tears that attest to lev nishbar v'nikdeh, a "broken and crushed heart" (Psalm 51:17). Indeed, during the entire "Three Weeks of Sorrow" we read selections from the prophets that forewarn of the coming destruction of the Temple (churban) and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people (galut). During this time of the year, we listen to the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah crying out for our repentance...

During Tishah B'Av synagogue services, the lights are dimmed and the Aron Hakodesh (Holy Ark) is draped in black (in some synagogues the parochet (curtain) is removed as a sign of mourning). The crowns with tinkling bells are removed from Torah scrolls. Congregants remove their leather shoes and do not greet each other. The cantor leads the prayers in a low, mournful voice, and the cantillation (chanting style) for Scripture reading is set to elegiac, sorrowful melodies. For the Tishah B'Av evening service, the Book of Lamentations is chanted (Masechet Soferim 18:5), followed by kinnot, a series of liturgical elegies that lament the loss of the Holy Temple. For the (following) morning service, additional prayers of mourning and kinnot are recited, and the Torah reading (Deut. 4:25-40) and the Haftarah (Jer. 8:13-9:24) both concern themes of the loss and destruction of the Temple.
 




The Shema of Wisdom...



 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

08.01.14 (Av 5, 5774)  The Mishnah asks, "Who then is wise?" and answers, "one who learns from everyone" (Avot 4:1). Wisdom, then, requires that you make space and take time to listen to others. "The talkative listen to no one, for they are ever speaking. And the first evil that attends those who do not know how to be silent is that they hear nothing" (Plutarch). Therefore Moses said, "If something is too difficult for you, bring it to me and I will listen" (Deut. 1:17). The sages comment that Moses would not pontificate a decision but would quietly and intently listen – and the solution would be revealed. The same may be said regarding prayer. After you've unburdened your heart of its anxious thoughts - these being "too difficult for you" - then you are made ready to hear God's voice in your midst....

Shabbat shalom dear friends... Please remember this ministry in your prayers, especially at this time of testing. Thank you so much.  And all blessings and love to you in Yeshua!
 




He Carries us Through...


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

08.01.14 (Av 5, 5774)  From our Torah this week (Devarim) we read: "The LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place" (Deut. 1:31). Part of the miracle of faith is coming to believe that you matter – that your thoughts, words, and deeds all are of interest to God. You may be tempted to regard yourself as unseen and powerless before the Creator of the universe. How is it possible for anyone to serve the Infinite One, since "even the heavens, and the heaven of heavens, cannot sustain You" (1 Kings 8:27)? Are we not made of clay, whose foundation is but dust? (Job 4:19). Here the miracle of faith believes that God, the LORD and Source of all life, seeks relationship with us, and that He makes place within Himself to hear us, to engage our lives, and to walk with us... Indeed, "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us:" God emptied himself (κενόω) and clothed himself with human dust so that we could be touched by His love. The LORD carries us through our exile so that we might know and trust him...

"And just as we have borne the image of the man of dust,
so we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven"
(1 Cor. 15:49).
 




Shalom of Shalom...



 

08.01.14 (Av 5, 5774)  The sages say that the unbeliever lives a terribly burdensome life, for he refuses to acknowledge that his tribulations are shared by God, and therefore he bears all of life's burdens alone. Not so the person of faith, who understands that God shares his pain and who therefore finds life's burdens much easier to bear. As Yeshua said, "my yoke is good (χρηστὸς) and my burden is light (Matt. 11:30). "The very essence of trust in God (i.e., bittachon) is the serenity it imparts to the one who truly places his trust in Him."  As it is written, "You keep him in perfect peace (lit. the "shalom of shalom") whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the Yah the LORD is the Rock of Ages" (Isa. 26:3-4).

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

"You are near, O LORD, and all your commandments are true" (Psalm 119:151).
 



 

July 2014 Site Updates
 


Your greatest need...


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.31.14 (Av 4, 5774)  From our Torah this week we read: "For the LORD your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing" (Deut. 2:7). With God you have everything you need; without Him, you will never be truly satisfied. "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee," which is to say that the merry-go-round of desire for things of this world is ultimately vain and unfulfilling. Indeed, it is slavery to be attached to unslakeable desire; it is madness to restlessly desire more and more. God has set eternity within our hearts (Eccl. 3:11), a hunger that only heaven can fulfill, but we try to find happiness with the trinkets and junk of this passing realm.... When the LORD is with us – and when we dwell in the simplicity of that reality – we lack nothing: "For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you" (Psalm 84:11-12).
 

כִּי שֶׁמֶשׁ וּמָגֵן יְהוָה אֱלהִים
חֵן וְכָבוֹד יִתֵּן יְהוָה
לא יִמְנַע־טוֹב לַהלְכִים בְּתָמִים
יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם בֹּטֵחַ בָּךְ

ki · she·mesh · u'ma·gen · Adonai · Elohim
chen · ve'kha·vod · yit·ten · Adonai
lo · yim·na · tov · la·cho·le·khim · be'ta·mim
Adonai · Tze·va·ot · ash·rei · a·dam · bo·te·ach · bakh
 

"For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you"
(Psalm 84:11-12)

 




Moving Toward the Center...


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.31.14 (Av 4, 5774)  From our Torah portion this week we read: "'You have been traveling around this mountain country long enough. Turn northward" (Deut. 2:3). Around and around, covering the same ground; learning the rules of behavior, focusing more on "the what" than on "the how." The sages say that "turning north" (צָפוֹן) means turning to that which is deeper, hidden (צָפוּןֵ). Look within and attend to the secret sins, the unconscious ways that prompt us to revisit old patterns of behavior: "Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me" (Psalm 19:13). Examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith: ἑαυτοὺς δοκιμάζετε - test yourselves (2 Cor. 13:5). Consider what gives life to your everyday choices and attitudes. God calls us to love Him in wholeness, and that means in the hidden recesses of the heart (Matt. 6:6).

There is a tension between self-acceptance, the unconditional love of God, and the duty to consecrate ourselves: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13). The sages says that every desire is ultimately rooted in a hunger for life, for God, and for holiness – though it is your responsibility to uplift the desire, to sanctify it, and to order your loves by making them express your hunger for heaven (1 Cor. 10:31).
 




Secret of the Most High...



 

07.30.14 (Av 3, 5774)  One of the great Hebrew names of God is El Elyon (אֵל עֶלְיוֹן), often translated as God "Most High." Notice that the name "Elyon" (עֶלְיוֹן) comes from a root word (עָלָה) that means "to ascend." For instance, an "olah offering" (עלָה) is a whole burnt offering that ascends upward to heaven, and "aliyah" (עֲלִיָּה) means "going up" to the land of Israel. The word "Elyon," then, expresses the truth that the LORD is the Ascended One who overcame all the powers of hell and utterly vanquished death's power. In other words, Elyon is a name for the LORD our God Yeshua. It is written: "He who abides in the secret of the Most High will dwell in the shadow of the Almighty" (Psalm 91:1). The one who "abides" in the secret of the Most High dwells in an ascended place of rest – being lifted up above the surrounding madness of this fallen world of flux and shadows. The Hebrew word is related to the word to lodge or "sleep" (לִין), connecting it with death and resurrection. By dwelling in the death and resurrection of Yeshua, God will shield you with His Presence and make evil powerless before you...  When you "abide" in the secret of Elyon - the Ascended One - you are concealed by the dark clouds of His Glory, and the Presence of Shaddai (שַׁדַּי), the Sustaining One, will overshadow you... The LORD will save you from the ensnaring trap and from the devastating pestilence (Psalm 91:3).
 

ישֵׁב בְּסֵתֶר עֶלְיוֹן
 בְּצֵל שַׁדַּי יִתְלוֹנָן
 אמַר לַיהוָה מַחְסִי וּמְצוּדָתִי
 אֱלהַי אֶבְטַח־בּוֹ

yo·shev · be·se·ter · El·yon
be·tzel · Shad·dai · yit·lo·nan
o·mar · ladonai · mach·si · u·me·tzu·da·ti
E·lo·hai · ev·tach · bo
 

"He who dwells in the secret of the Most High
 will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress,
 my God, in whom I trust."
(Psalm 91:1-2)



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Since God hides Himself in this world (Isa. 45:15), we must humbly seek His face to enter into the place of His holy concealment in all things. God is Elyon – High above - but He dwells "with the lowly and the broken of heart" (Isa. 57:15). Therefore the LORD our God is called Shaddai (שַׁדַּי) – our Sustainer, Provider, Refuge, Fortress, our Home. Just as we can be surrounded by the "shadow of death" (tzal mavet), so we can be surrounded by the "shadow of Shaddai" (tzal Shaddai). Like a powerful eagle brooding over her chicks, so Shaddai covers you with wings of protection (Psalm 91:4).

We find shelter in the love and kindness of the LORD our God. The Midrash Ruth says: "See how great is the power of kindhearted and charitable persons! They do not take shelter with the dawn, nor at the ends of the earth, nor under the wings of angels, of cherubs, or of eagles, but with the One who spoke the world into being!" As it is written: "How precious is your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of mankind take refuge under the shadow of your wings" (Psalm 36:7).

Be encouraged dear friend who trusts in Yeshua...
 




Are you willing to ascend?


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.30.14 (Av 3, 5774)  From our Torah portion this week (i.e., Devarim) we read: "But you were not willing to ascend (וְלא אֲבִיתֶם לַעֲלת), but became bitter (מָרָה) against the Word of the LORD your God" (Deut. 1:26). Moses' rebuke was not that the people were afraid to conquer the land as much as that they had lost heart and no longer desired to take hold of God's promise. The people gave up their dream; they forsook their hope; and they had lost the "devotion of their youth, their love as a bride, how they followed the LORD in the desert, into a land not sown" (Jer. 2:2). The people's failure was on two levels: First they lapsed in faith by abdicating trust in God's word, and second, they had lost the passion of their first love. In light of this, the sages say that the greater problem was that of losing heart, since the heart directs the will to believe in the miracle of God...

Moses' rebuke of the people's heart condition recalls the sober warning Yeshua gave to the Ephesian believers: "I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your menorah from its place, unless you repent" (Rev. 2:2-5). Likewise the author of the Book of Hebrews commented: "And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief" (Heb. 3:17-19). The question of our faith is essential: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31).
 




Seeking Things Above...


 

[ The theme of teshuvah (repentance, turning to God) is central during the Three Weeks... ]

07.30.14 (Av 3, 5774)  "How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him" (1 Kings 18:21). These words of Eliyahu ha-navi (Elijah the prophet) are meant for us to hear today, during this season of teshuvah leading up to Tishah B'Av. We are being called to make up our minds (metanoia) and turn (shuv) to the LORD.  After all, what is more important to you than your relationship with the LORD God of Israel? Is there anything more important than this?

To de-cide means to "cut away" other options.  Yeshua tells us to take up the cross and die because that which is dead no longer suffers from ambivalence and carnal inner conflict... There are no "half-measures" here; when we accept that we have already been crucified with Messiah, we confess that our true life is not here, in this world, but is bound up in Him, and that God alone is our ultimate concern and end. In that sense, the life we now live in the flesh "catches up" with the truth and power that God has decreed for our salvation.

We are to know ourselves in terms of what God has done for us, and not as the world defines us (2 Cor. 5:16). "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" (Col. 3:1-4).

If we are spiritually identified with Yeshua, we are "dead" to this age (olam hazeh) and awakened to a realm that transcends the appeals of the flesh (olam habah). We no longer live chayei sha'ah (חַיֵּי שָׁעָה, "fleeting life") but chayei olam (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם, "eternal life"). The aorist verb "you have died" indicates "you have died once for all," that is, that this is a condition granted by the power and agency of God on your behalf. You don't "try to die" to the flesh; you accept what God has done by killing its power over you through Yeshua...

You are dead to this world; you are dead to sin's power; you are set free and no longer enslaved to the deception of the worldly matrix, etc. Now you are made alive to an entirely greater and more powerful order and dimension of reality, namely, the spiritual reality that is not disclosed to the vanity of this age. Therefore we are to consciously focus our thoughts (φρονέω) on the hidden reality of God rather than on the 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).
 




Fight the Good Fight...


 

07.29.14 (Av 2, 5774)  Now more than ever: Choose to fight (ἀγωνίζομαι - "agonize," "struggle") another day. Do not yield to despair or give place to anxiety. Press on and keep fighting the "good fight" of faith (1 Tim. 6:12). You infinitely matter to heaven; your life has great value; you are significant and you are truly loved by our Heavenly Father... There is a "future and a hope" reserved for you (Jer. 29:11); there is "a white stone, and on that stone will be written a new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it" (Rev. 2:17). This promise is given to the "one who conquers" (Τῷ νικῶντι) because of the love and grace of our God. Indeed, by faith we are made "more than conquerors" (lit. "hyper conquerors," ὑπερνικῶμεν) through the Messiah and his love for us (Rom. 8:37).

In our struggle against the darkness, there is an end coming, so don't let your heart grow numb. Never give up hope. God has promised: "I will give you a new heart (לֵב חָדָשׁ), and a new spirit (רוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה) I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone (לֵב הָאֶבֶן) from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezek. 36:26). Receive God's promise for your soul, since His healing love is what you really need...

Note: I want to publicly praise God for his healing and to express my thanks to you for your kind prayers. My foot is feeling better and I am able to walk without much pain! Baruch Attah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, ha-gomel le'chayavim tovot sheg'malani kol tov: "Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, who bestows good to the unworthy, even as He has bestowed to me every good" (traditional blessing thanking God for healing).
 




Eyes of the Heart...


 

07.29.14 (Av 2, 5774)  The Hebrew word for "seeing" (ra'ah) is related to the word for "fear" (yirah), suggesting that when we really see life as it is, we will be filled with wonder and awe over the glory of it all.  Every bush will be aflame with the Presence of God and the ground we walk upon shall suddenly be perceived as holy (Exod. 3:2-5). Nothing will seem small, trivial, or insignificant. It is in this sense that we are to serve the LORD with "fear and trembling" (φόβοv καὶ τρόμοv), that is, with an inner awareness of the sanctity and sacredness of life itself (Phil. 2:12-13). Da lifnei mi atah omed. Sin puts us to sleep, numbs our minds and hearts, and blinds us to the radiance of divine revelation. When we see life as it is, with the "eyes of the heart" (Eph. 1:18), we will be filled with wonder and awe over the glory of it all. "Fearing" (יִרְאָה) and "seeing" (רָאָה) will be linked and unified.
 




Blessing for Darkness...


 

07.29.14 (Av 2, 5774)  "If I say, surely darkness covers me ... the night shines as the day; nothing hides from your radiance" (Psalm 139:11-12). We have to trust that God is in our darkness, in the silence, in the unknown... God sees in your darkness and is present there, too. When you feel alone, when you feel abandoned, like an unbridgeable gulf lay between you and all that is good; when you feel like you want to scream but are afraid that even then no one would hear, may the LORD shine His light upon you...
 

גַּם־חשֶׁךְ לא־יַחְשִׁיךְ מִמֶּךָ
וְלַיְלָה כַּיּוֹם יָאִיר
כַּחֲשֵׁיכָה כָּאוֹרָה

gam · cho·shekh · lo · yach·shikh · mi·me·ka
ve·lai·lah · ka·yom · ya·ir
ka·cha·she·khah · ka·o·rah
 

"The darkness is not made dark to you;
but the night shines as the day:
as the darkness so is the light...
(Psalm 139:11)



  

"For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God outshines my darkness" (Psalm 18:28). There is "depression," and there is the dark night of the soul, and these are different matters, though they may overlap... "Hope deferred makes the heart sick."  The dark night of the soul is an experience of trusting God in the darkness yet has a spiritual direction and end. We walk through this darkness with God and learn from him even there....
 




Moses' Miraculous Words...



 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.28.14 (Av 1, 5774)  The midrash says that though Moses "stammered" and was "kevad peh" (heavy of mouth), he was empowered to speak fluently whenever the Holy Spirit moved him.  Sefer Devarim (the Book of Deuteronomy) is unique among the five books of Torah because it represents Moses' great farewell appeal to follow the LORD bekhol levavkha, "with all of your heart" (Deut. 6:5). In this final book of Torah, Moses - who once described himself as lo ish devarim (לא אִישׁ דְּבָרִים) "a man of no words" (Exod. 4:10), speaks some of the moving words of all of the Holy Scriptures, eloquently calling us to embrace the truth of Torah, to walk in God's love, and to await the final redemption...
 




Anticipating Tishah B'Av...



 

[ The sorrowful holiday of Tishah B'Av begins Monday, August 4th (at sundown) and runs 25 hours, that is, until an hour after sundown the following day... ]

07.28.14 (Av 1, 5774)  We are in the midst of the "Three Weeks of Sorrow" that began with the Fast of Tammuz and ends with the fast of Tishah B'Av. Spiritually, these three weeks are marked by a renewed called for teshuvah (repentance), and the weekly readings from the prophets all warn about imminent judgment from heaven. Because this is a somber time for the Jewish people, it is customary not to schedule weddings or other joyous events during this time of year. Indeed, among the very Orthodox, the last nine days of the three weeks are the most rigorous and solemn. Beginning on the first day of the month of Av, traditional mourning customs are practiced in anticipation of the great fast of Tishah B'Av, when the Book of Lamentations (Megillat Eichah) is plaintively recited during the evening service.

The month of Av is traditionally regarded as the most tragic in the Jewish calendar. On the first day of this month, Aaron (the first High Priest of Israel) died (Num. 33:38), which was regarded as a prophetic omen of the future destruction of both of the Temples on the Ninth of Av.  This year the new moon of Av began Sunday, July 27th at sundown...

Since Rosh Chodesh Av marks the time of mourning for Zion, we humbly ask the LORD to help us prepare for the coming time of teshuvah:
 

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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The month of Av begins the mourning phase of the "Three Weeks of Sorrow." During the final nine days of these three weeks - beginning with Rosh Chodesh Av (i.e., Av 1) and ending on Tishah B'Av (i.e., Av 9) - observant Jews will begin emotionally preparing for the fast of Av. It is common to confess the sins in our lives that contribute to the lack of God's Presence in our midst. Typically marriages are not held during this time, and many Jews deliberately refrain from ostensibly pleasurable activities, such as listening to music, dancing, taking vacations, and sometimes even shaving. In fact, most Orthodox Jews will refrain from any activity that might require the recitation of the Shehecheyanu blessing.

Three Weeks of SorrowThree Weeks of Sorrow
 

Among observant Jews, Tishah B'Av is regarded as the saddest day of the Jewish year (even sadder than Yom Kippur) since it was on this date that the LORD tragically decreed that the original generation rescued from Egypt would be denied entrance into the Promised Land on account of the egregious Sin of the Spies. This event was considered prophetic of other tragedies of Jewish history (based on the principle: מַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹת סִימָן לַבָּנִים / ma'aseh avot siman labanim: "The deeds of the fathers are signs for the children"), and indeed on precisely this date both of the Temples were destroyed and the Jewish people suffered exile. The purpose of the nine days of mourning is to instill a sense of teshuvah (repentance) in preparation for the 25 hour fast of on the Ninth of Av.
 





Expressing Anger to God...


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.28.14 (Av 1, 5774)  From our Torah portion this week (Devarim) we read: "You were not willing to go up but rebelled at the word of the LORD your God. And you murmured in your tents and said, 'Because the LORD hates us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt...'" (Deut. 1:26-27). We may decry the childish insolence of the people, we lament their lack of faith, and yet God was still speaking through Moses to Israel...  The sages ask whether we can ever be justfiably angry at God, and answer that yes we can, because otherwise we could never love Him "bekhol levavkha," with all our heart (Deut. 6:5). Indeed, how can we claim to love God if we withhold the truth, lie to ourselves, and attempt to hide who we really are from Him? If you are angry at God, he already knows, so why the pretense? Being angry with God is part of being a real person in a real relationship with Him, and allowing yourself to express the truth of your heart to him is a sign of trust. God can "handle" the darker storms of your heart: trust Him to heal you this hour.
 

    God, you help complete strangers - so why don't you help me? - Yiddish Proverb

 




Parashat Devarim...



 

07.27.14 (Tammuz 29, 5774)  Our Torah reading for this week is the very first portion from the Book of Deuteronomy (i.e., Devarim: דְּבָרִים), which is always read on the Sabbath that immediately precedes the doleful holiday of Tishah B'Av (תשעה באב). In Jewish tradition, this special Sabbath is called "Shabbat Chazon" (שַׁבַּת חַזוֹן), "the Sabbath of Vision," since the Haftarah that is read (Isa. 1:1-25) comes from the vision of the prophet Isaiah regarding the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In Jewish tradition and liturgy, teshuvah (repentance) and viduy (confession of sin) are the themes of this preparatory Sabbath.
 


Personal update: My left foot is so swollen that I can't walk without limping, and the pain is severe... I am hoping to see a doctor for an xray this evening.
 




God's Word of Love...


 

07.25.14 (Tammuz 27, 5774)  In moments of testing, and especially in your failures, heed the voice of God's compassion (מילות רחומות). Use the "good eye" (עַיִן טוֹבָה) to see how the Spirit draws you close in your weakness, calling you to return from your self-imposed exile, welcoming you back to the Divine Presence. Note that the good eye (ayin tovah) is also called the "beautiful eye" (עין יפה), since it sees beauty even in ashes... Do not turn away from God's plea for your comfort; know that God is love (Exod. 34:6; 1 John 4:16); He is light (1 John 1:5), and He is forever with you as your Savior (Isa. 41:10; Matt. 28:20). Using the "beautiful eye" means refusing to think evil about others (including yourself); it "does not impute the bad" - οὐ λογίζεται τὸ κακόν (1 Cor. 13:5) but rejoices in the truth – even if that truth is found only in the hope of a future good (1 Cor. 13:7; Rom. 8:24). Yeshua told us, "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is good (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, heartfelt, compassionate), then your whole body will be full of light" (Matt. 6:22).
 

כִּי־טוֹב חַסְדְּךָ מֵחַיִּים
שְׂפָתַי יְשַׁבְּחוּנְךָ

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

 

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



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Loving God's Torah...


 

07.25.14 (Tammuz 27, 5774)  "Oh how I love your Torah! It is my meditation all the day long" (Psalm 119:97). The sages note that the evil inclination (יֵצֶר הָרָע) can fool a person into thinking he fears God and loves Torah, when such is not case (we can so identify with what we "ought" to be that we deny what we really are). The test is this: What do you talk about? What occupies your passion? What is your ultimate concern? What is your chief delight? King David put aside concerns of ambition and worldy success and made God's truth the focus of his attention: "One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple" (Psalm 27:4).
 

מָה־אָהַבְתִּי תוֹרָתֶךָ
 כָּל־הַיּוֹם הִיא שִׂיחָתִי

mah · a·hav·ti · to·ra·te·kha
kol · ha·yom · hi · si·cha·ti

"Oh how I love your Torah;
 It is my meditation all the day."
(Psalm 119:97)


 
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This verse begins the "Mem section" of the Psalm 119 acrostic. Mem is the letter of "water" (mayim), symbolizing the "spring" of the Torah. In traditional soferut (scribal arts), the letter Mem (מ) is formed from two parts: a Vav (ו) and a Kaf (כ), the gematria of which equals 26, the same value for the sacred Name YHVH (יהוה). The Torah (תּוֹרָה) is central to the revelation of the LORD, just as Yeshua is forever "the Voice of the Living God speaking from the midst of the fire" (Deut. 5:26, Matt. 17:1-3).

Note that the phrase "my meditation" (שִׂיחָתִי) comes from the Hebrew word siyach (שִׂיחַ), meaning to meditate, ponder, to rehearse or "go over in one's mind," to talk about, etc. In Proverbs 6:20-22, this word is used to refer to the inward voice heard by a son who has bound his parent's teachings to his heart: "When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you (תְשִׂיחֶךָ)." Indeed the same root is used to describe God's thought (שֵׂחַ) in Amos 4:13 (cp. 1 Cor. 2:16).

The Hebrew word "Torah" (תּוֹרָה) is often rendered as "law" in many English translations, but this is unfortunate, since the word comes from the root word yarah (יָרָה), which means "to shoot an arrow" or "to hit the mark." Understood in light of this, Torah does not so much denote a set of rules that (legalistically) prescribe behavior, as it reveals a sense of direction or aim in the way of life (הַדְרָכָה). Loving Torah, then, means earnestly appreciating the gracious revelation of the Lord as He instructs us regarding who we are and how we are to live before Him as His beloved children...

Note: For more on this important topic, see "Delighting in Torah."
 




Journey Back Home...


 

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

07.25.14 (Tammuz 27, 5774)  "These are the journeys..." (Num. 33:1). The midrash says that the forty two encampments listed in this Torah portion symbolize the journey from exile back to paradise.  The first four letters of the four opening words (אֵלֶּה מַסְעֵי בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל) allude to the four exiles of the Jewish people: the Aleph (א) stands for Edom, that is, Rome and the present-day exile; the Mem (מ) stands for the Medes, that is, the Persian exile under Ahasuerus; the Bet (בּ) stands for Babylonia, and the the exile under Nebuchadnezzar; and the Yod (י) stands for Yavan (Greece), that is, the assimilation and exile that happened under Alexander the Great. Our Torah portion is always read during the Three Weeks of Mourning for the destruction of the Temple (17 Tammuz - 9 Av) to remind us that despite the exiles and wanderings in this life, ultimately we are on our way back home...
 




Torah of Teshuvah...


 

07.24.14 (Tammuz 26, 5774)  Perhaps you (like me) once learned Psalm 19:7 as, "The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul." However, the Hebrew text might better be translated as, "The instruction (i.e., Torah) of the LORD is perfect, returning the soul." This is the message of teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה), or "repentance." We turn away from ourselves to discover that only the love of God given in Yeshua gives life to our dead hearts. Teshuvah is therefore first of all a matter of faith, of trusting in the miracle of God. And though it is indeed a great gift from heaven, it requires that we pass through the "narrow gate" of humility by confessing the truth about who we are (Matt. 7:13). We turn away from our pride; we acknowledge our inner poverty, our neediness, and we mourn over the loss and hurt caused by our sin. Teshuvah turns away from our attempts to defend or justify ourselves and instead turns to God to heal our separation from Him (Rom. 8:3-4). By faith God buries our old nature and transforms us into a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
 

תּוֹרַת יְהוָה תְּמִימָה מְשִׁיבַת נָפֶשׁ
עֵדוּת יְהוָה נֶאֱמָנָה מַחְכִּימַת פֶּתִי

torat · Adonai · temimat · meshivat · nafesh
eidut · Adonai · ne'emanah · machkimat · peti

 

"The instruction of the LORD is perfect, returning the soul
The testimony of the LORD is reliable, making wise the simple."
(Psalm 19:7)



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Come as you are...


 

07.24.14 (Tammuz 26, 5774)  Yeshua said: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matt. 11:28-29). When he said, "Live in me, and I will live in you" (John 15:4), he didn't insist that you first be found worthy or made good; no, he set no other condition than that of trust: "Now are you clean through the word which I speak" (John 15:3). The separation is gone; God has made the way past your shame; he has overcome all your inner lostness. You are invited to come, so come just as you are, come without delay, but come trusting that you are entirely welcome because of who Yeshua is and what he has done for you. "The LORD is good to those who trust in him, to the one who seeks him" (Lam. 3:25).
 

טוֹב יְהוָה לְקוָו לְנֶפֶשׁ תִּדְרְשֶׁנּוּ

tov · Adonai · lekovav · le'nefesh · tidreshenu
 

"The LORD is good to those who trust in Him,
to the one that seeks him"
(Lam. 3:25)

 




The Sanity of Boundaries...


 

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

07.24.14 (Tammuz 26, 5774)  "The land .. defined by its boundaries" (Num. 34:2). God knows that we all need a sense a space for ourselves, and that's why he defines limits for our lives. Boundaries - whether physical, political, or emotional - help us respect ourselves and others; they are integral to the idea of "inheritance." A city without walls is easily overrun, and so are our souls if we cannot say "no" to others or learn to restrain our impulses (Prov. 25:28). Boundaries give us a sense of place and direction; they help us stay centered, focused, and 'at home' with ourselves. Those who violate the boundaries of others violate the commandment not to steal, and therefore they deny the One who has ordained the sanctity of human life (Deut. 27:17).
 

עִיר פְּרוּצָה אֵין חוֹמָה
אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר אֵין מַעְצָר לְרוּחוֹ

'ir · pe·ru·tza · ein · cho·mah
ish · a·sher · ein · ma'e·tzar · le·ru·cho

 

"Like a city breached without walls,
is a person who lacks self-control."
(Prov. 25:28)

 

Boundaries imply mutual respect.  We not only establish our own personal boundaries, but respect and honor the boundaries of others.  Notice that the person who violates the boundaries of others is likened to a breached city without walls: a lack of self-control dissolves a sense of self.  We are to respect others as we want to be respected, and if we fail to do so, we will become victims of our own destructive impulses. As we treat others, so we treat ourselves...  Indeed, those who violate and abuse the space of other people make themselves vulnerable, weak, and are enslaved to further passions they cannot control.
 




The Heart of Truth...


 

07.24.14 (Tammuz 26, 5774)  "If we ask anything according to God's will, he hears us" (1 Jn 5:14) which is to say that in heaven there is only the language of truth, and truth is the language of heaven. Those who pray insincerely abuse the gift of speech, and such language is not understood in heaven... God speaks to us in the language of faithfulness, hope, and love (1 Cor. 13:13). Kierkegaard wrote, "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty." Confession means "saying the same thing" about ourselves that God says - and that means not only acknowledging our sins, but also affirming that we are loved by God. "Love hopes all things" (1 Cor. 13:7), and therefore the language of truth is always spoken in hope. No truth about your sin is known apart from the love of God revealed in Yeshua our Messiah.

Personal Note:  Thank you for your prayers, friends; the fever broke last night, though I am now limping because of severe pain and tendonitis in my left foot... refaeini Adonai ve'eirafei
 




The Journey of Torah...


 

07.23.14 (Tammuz 25, 5774)  "Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by Word of the LORD" (Num. 33:2). The sages here say that Moses wrote of the journey out of slavery to receive the laws of God because the people needed the various laws and rules to learn to be attached to God, though at first this was not the way. Our father Abraham received the meaning of the Torah before it was given at Sinai (Gen. 26:5), and through Abraham it was revealed that the essence of Torah is trust in God (Gen. 15:6). It was because of the harshness of the exile in Egypt that the people needed to be instructed as children to understand God's truth and moral reality (Gal. 3:24-25). The beginning and end of true Torah, however, was a matter of faith – trusting in the redemptive message of God based on sacrificial love (Gen. 3:15; 22:1-14). The Passover was offered before the Sinai revelation. In that sense, the giving of the law at Sinai was a provisional matter meant to teach the people about salvation that comes through faith in the Lamb of God (Rom. 10:4).

The later sages characteristically envision the forty-two stations of the people as a refining sequence that was designed to shape the inner character of Israel. The journey is depicted as a circular one: we are given life, breath, and Torah, and our mission is to work them out in our lives, offering them back to God as their source and end (Phil. 2:12-13).
 




Passages of Faith...


 

07.23.14 (Tammuz 25, 5774)  "These are the journeys of the children of Israel" (Num. 33:1), and what follows is a list of obscure places in the desert. The stories of Torah are parables for us, meant to provide insight into the life of faith: ma'aseh avot siman labanim: "The deeds of the fathers are signs for the children." All our journeys, even those to places of obscurity and trouble, are ultimately for the sake of heaven. We make our way through dry places, we learn to wait, to attach our hearts to God's greater vision and loving purposes... Everything that happens to us – life's burdens, struggles, tests, provide us with an opportunity to see God and learn to trust in Him (Rom. 8:28).
 




Deeper Torah of Love...


 

07.22.14 (Tammuz 24, 5774)  The Kotzker Rebbe once said, "The prohibition against making idols includes the prohibition against making idols out of the commandments. We should never imagine that the whole purpose of the Torah is its outer form, but rather the inward meaning." Amen. The law is not an end in itself, but the means to the deeper end of freedom and life... In Mishkan, the sacrificial blood was placed over the tablets of the law (i.e., the blood sprinkled on the kapporet, or the "crown" of the Ark) that represented God's atonement for sin. The life is "in the blood," which represents God's passion, the deepest truth of Torah, the love that gives us life. And this is the message of the gospel itself, of course, since the blood of Yeshua passionately shed for our sake has opened up a new and everlasting way for us come alive and be rightly related to God (Heb. 9:12).

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

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

חֶסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ

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

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



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




God's Eternal Name...


 

07.22.14 (Tammuz 24, 5774)  God's Name is YHVH (יְהוָה), which means "He is Present."  The Name is formed from the words hayah ("He was"), hoveh ("He is"), and yihyeh ("He will be"): הָיָה הוֶה וְיִהְיֶה, indicating God's omnipresence. Note that all the letters of the Name are "vowel letters," which mean they evoke breath and life.  This is the Name revealed to Moses thousands of years before the advent of other religions (Exod. 3:14), and indeed it is the Name associated with the nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life," imparted to Adam in the orchard at Eden (Gen. 2:4). It is therefore the original Name of God "breathed out" to mankind. It is the Name of the Serpent Slayer (Gen. 3:15). The Name Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ) means "YHVH saves." There is no other Savior beside Him, there is no other Name, there is no other LORD. "For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." Every knee shall bow and confess the truth (Isa. 45:23; Phil. 2:10). Only Jesus the Messiah can deliver you from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10).
 




Peace for Bitterness...


 

07.22.14 (Tammuz 24, 5774)  Recall that when the people journeyed to Marah (מָרָה), they "could not drink the water because it was bitter" (Exod. 15:23; Num. 33:9). The Hebrew text, however, could be read, "they could not drink the water because they (i.e., the people) were bitter (i.e., כִּי מָרִים הֵם). The problem is often not "out there" but within the heart (Matt. 15:19-20). How we choose to see, in other words, says more about us than whatever happens in the world. The people refused to find the good in the journey, and consequently they became bitter and complained... That's the primary test, isn't it, to receive the given circumstances of life – including those moments of pain, emptiness, loneliness, and so on, and to seek out the hidden good of God's Presence.
 

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

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

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

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

 

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

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

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

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

Personal Note:  I am fighting a high fever, friends, with body aches, a rash, and restless pain... I feel dizzy and it is difficult to write or read at this time. "Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise" (Jer. 17:9).
 




Three Weeks of Sorrow...


 

07.21.14 (Tammuz 23, 5774)  We are in the midst of the "Three Weeks of Sorrow" that began with the Fast of Tammuz... Spiritually, these three weeks are marked by a renewed called for teshuvah (repentance), and the weekly readings from the prophets all warn the people about imminent judgment from heaven. Because this is such a somber time for the Jewish people, it is customary not to schedule weddings or other joyous events during this time of year. Indeed, among the very Orthodox, the last nine days of the three weeks are the most rigorous and solemn. Beginning on the first day of the month of Av, traditional mourning customs are practiced in anticipation of the great fast day of Tishah B'Av, when the Book of Lamentations (Megillat Eichah) is plaintively recited during the evening service.

The Three Weeks of Sorrow (culminating in Tishah B'Av) undoubtedly marks the saddest and most solemn time of Jewish year, with great emphasis placed on the need for repentance and heartfelt cries for the salvation of the Jewish people.  It is a time for us to remember Israel all the more in our prayers and ask for God's revelation of the Messiah.

Three Weeks of SorrowThree Weeks of Sorrow
 

Dates During the Three Weeks of Sorrow: 

 




Parashat Masei ("Journeys")...


 

07.20.14 (Tammuz 22, 5774)  Our Torah reading for this coming Shabbat is parashat Masei ("journeys of," from masa (מַסַּע), "breaking camp," referring to a "stage" or camp site during the journey in the desert). Parashat Masei is the tenth (and final portion) of the Book of Numbers (סֵפֶר בְּמִדְבַּר). Indeed, since the Torah technically ends with the close of the Book of Numbers (Deuteronomy is mishneh Torah - a "retelling of Torah"), Masei is the final portion of the narrative of the entire Torah...
 

Note: Parashat Masei is traditionally read near the new moon of the month of Av, in anticipation of the nine days of mourning (for the lost Temple) that precede Tishah B'Av -- the saddest day of the Jewish calendar (see below for more information).
 




The Prophecy of Hope...


 

[ Words of blessing for the hope of our hearts.... Make them true, O LORD! Amen. ]

07.18.14 (Tammuz 20, 5774)  Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad: "Listen, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is one." Instead of thinking of the Shema (שְׁמַע) as a commandment to be externally obeyed, you can trust it as a prophecy about your inner life: "You shall love (וְאָהַבְתָּ) the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deut. 6:5). Only God can quicken a dead heart, after all, and fill the soul with holy affections. Only the LORD can impart to us strength needed to take hold of promises as He writes His Torah upon our heart. As it is written, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever" (Rom. 11:36).
 

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

ve·a·hav·ta · et · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · be·khol · le·vav·kha
u·ve·khol · naf·she·kha · u·ve·khol · me·o·de·kha

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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

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




Teshuvah of the Tongue...


 

07.18.14 (Tammuz 20, 5774)  Our words reveal what is hidden within our hearts, and therefore - because words and thoughts are intimately connected - we must be very careful about how we think, and especially about how we esteem others. The Chofetz Chaim wrote that the foundational principle of shemirat ha-lashon (guarding our speech) is to esteem others in the best possible light. This involves hakarat tovah, that is, recognizing the good in others, and choosing to see with ayin tovah, a "good eye." It is better to judge favorably - even if we are in error - than it is to judge critically -- even if we are telling the truth. "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).

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things... and the God of peace will be with you" (Phil. 4:7-8). Shabbat Shalom, chaverim...
 




The Voice of Our Words....


 

[ We are in the midst of the "Three Weeks of Sorrow" that culminates on Tishah B'Av... ]

07.18.14 (Tammuz 20, 5774)  According to Jewish tradition, it was on Tishah B'Av (the Ninth of Av) when the people wept over the report of the spies, a lapse of faith so serious that it provoked God to decree that the very generation He redeemed from Egypt would die in the exile of the desert (Num. 13-14). As Moses later recounted this tragic event, he says something peculiar: "The LORD heard the 'voice of your words' (קוֹל דְבַרִים) and was angry..." (Deut. 1:35). The grammar here is unusual, for the text could have simply said, "the LORD heard your words," but the Torah adds something else, the idea of "emotional tone," or the manner, the words were spoken...  Sometimes it's not so much what you say that matters, but how you say it. Words of the heart are expressed more by tone, the "voice of the words," than by the words themselves...

When we recite Shema, we do so bekhol levavkha (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ) - with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our might (Deut. 6:5). This is a cry from the heart that affirms God's truth. Our feelings are important and are given their voice, whether they are feelings of joy, gratitude, and so on, or feelings of doubt, despair, or fear.  As Yeshua Himself said: "Would that you were either cold or hot, but because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I will spit you out of my mouth" (Rev. 3:15-16).

It's been said that if you don't know how to say something, say it loudly... The heart has its own voice regardless of the words we are able to articulate. For instance, if you love someone, then really love them and abhor being halfhearted.  Being hot or being cold is better then being tepid, because then you are being honest, and honesty will always evoke a genuine response from heaven...
 




The End of Balaam...


 

07.18.14 (Tammuz 20, 5774)  In our Torah portion this week (Mattot), the evil sorcerer Balaam finally met his end by being killed by the sword on the battlefield (Num. 31:8). Part of the message of his rancid life was that God sovereignly overturns the plans of the wicked for his own good purposes. Take comfort that while wicked Balaam secretly tried to curse the Israelites, the LORD took hold of his tongue, forced him to bless the people, and utterly confounded his evil intent. Praise the Name of the LORD, the principle still applies to this day: Though the princes of this world may conspire and scheme to curse us, the LORD will likewise overrule them and bring their devices to nothing.
 

כּל פָּעַל יְהוָה לַמַּעֲנֵהו
 וְגַם־רָשָׁע לְיוֹם רָעָה

kol · pa·al · Adonai · la·ma·a·nei·hu
ve·gam · ra·sha · le·yom · ra·ah

"The LORD has made everything to answer to Him,
 even the wicked for the day of trouble."
(Proverbs 16:4)


 
 

The Scriptures declare no weapon formed against us shall prosper (Isa. 54:17), and that the curse of the wicked is entirely powerless to bring us harm (Prov. 26:2). Ein od milvado: God is the only true power, and there is no enchantment or divination that will prevail against Israel (Num. 23:23). Satan is an impostor and a foiled usurper. As Yeshua told his followers, "Behold I give to you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you" (Luke 10:19). The lesson of Balaam, like the lesson of Haman given in the Book of Esther, is that those who curse God's people or attempt to foil His plans will destroy themselves....
 




Hope in Lament...


 

07.18.14 (Tammuz 20, 5774)  Dear Lord, in the worst of our moments, thank you for seeing the Savior within us; thank you for heeding the hope that the Spirit imparts.... "When my heart was embittered, when I was pierced in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; You hold my right hand" (Psalm 73:21-23). Despite the lament, however, the psalmist affirmed that he was always with God - notwithstanding his ignorance, his complaint of heart, his doubts, fears, and so on... God is not driven away by our pain and confusion, but on the contrary, he takes us by the hand and will not let go: "It was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them" (Hos. 11:3).

Praise God that he sees the love of Yeshua for our sins...
 




The Foundation of Torah...


 

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

07.18.14 (Tammuz 20, 5774)  From our Torah this week we read: "This is the thing the LORD has commanded (זֶה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה)... a man shall not break his word" (Num. 30:1-2). Note the connection here between "word" and "thing," between what we confess and what is real... Commitment to the truth is the foundation for all Torah. As Yeshua said, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world -- to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37). We are bound by our commitment, and keeping the word authenticates its veracity. "This is the thing the LORD has commanded" – to accept Torah and to be truthful of heart.

Indeed, the sages have said that "the seal of God is truth," since the final letters of the three words that conclude the account of creation: בָּרָא אֱלהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת / bara Elohim la'asot: "God created to do" (Gen. 2:3) -- spell the word for truth (i.e., emet: אֱמֶת). Note that the "seal of God" is not just a matter of sincerity. It is rather a matter of being true in the sense that you are living it, you are "being with it," you are "one with it." Truth is a passion that informs all of the decisions you make in your life. You therefore embody truth and follow it in all your endeavors. In this sense Yeshua is the Truth, since in Him there was no mismatch between who He is and what He says. He is utterly trustworthy. His actions and speech are one and are entirely reliable. Yeshua is the "Seal of God," the one who authoritatively names of all creation, and His followers likewise should evidence this in their lives.

 




Fruit of our lips...


 

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

07.17.14 (Tammuz 19, 5774)  The sages connect the conclusion of last week's Torah portion (i.e., Pinchas), which concerns the offerings to be brought on the holy days (Num. 28-29), with the beginning of this week's Torah reading (i.e., Mattot), which concerns the sanctity of our speech, by saying that just as the offerings made to God were to be holy, so the words of our lips must be pure words expressing our heart's need for God. Indeed, the efficacy of our prayers is based on the sanctity of our speech, as it says, "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. Thus the Talmud admonishes that one who recites the Shema but does not "hear" the words he utters has not recited the Shema at all (Berachot 15a). As Kierkegaard rightly observed: "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty" (Psalm 51:6).
 

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
 


Pour out your heart (Psalm 62:8); God listens when you pray without pretense, expressing your heart's need, asking for strength to honor Him with your life... Amen. The Lord hears the cry of your heart. Act as if your choices have eternal significance; they really do; pray as if your life depends on it; it really does. Wake up; come alive! Let's boldly draw near to the throne of Grace to find help in our present hour of need (Heb. 4:16); let's cry out to God Most High (לֵאלהִים עֶלְיוֹן), to the very One who will fulfill his purpose for us (Psalm 57:2).
 




Inner to Outer Reality...


 

07.17.14 (Tammuz 19, 5774)  In the Shema we recite: "these words that I command you this day shall be 'on your heart (עַל־לְבָבֶךָ),' and you shall repeat them diligently to your children (וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ)," which reveals the necessary order: When the words of Torah are made a part of your heart, your children will be taught in the truth. The same approach must be used regarding the message of the Messiah, too: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel, and sometimes use words."

Note: "And you shall repeat them" i.e., וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם comes from שָׁנָה, "repeat," do again, and from which the Hebrew word shanah, "year" also derives.. As we live our faith, observing the mo'edim year after year, the word is made more and more a part of our hearts.
 




Centrality of Heart...


 

07.17.14 (Tammuz 19, 5774)  All life flows from the heart, whether it is physical life or spiritual life.  And just as the physical heart supplies life-giving blood through the arteries to the various organs of the body, so our faith, or the spiritual heart, supplies the means of life and grace to the organs of the spirit. And just as the physical heart can be obstructed or blocked, so faith can become constricted and hindered by sin, impeding the free flow of the Divine Presence. Therefore since the heart represents the "engine" that sustains life, it is vital that we attend to the heart's needs in order to be healthy people...
 

מִכָּל־מִשְׁמָר נְצר לִבֶּךָ
 כִּי־מִמֶּנּוּ תּוֹצְאוֹת חַיִּים

mik·kol · mish·mar · ne·tzor · li·be·kha,
ki · mi·me·nu · to·tze·ot · cha·yim

"Above all else guard your heart,
 for from it are the contours of life"
(Prov. 4:23)



Hebrew Study Card
 

In our verse, notice that the word mishmar refers to the act of guarding someone closely, like a prison guard or warden might keep watch over a prisoner. The phrase translated "with all vigilance" (mikol-mishmar) literally means "more than anything that might be guarded," and is used here to intensify the command to exercise vigilance. This is a matter of spiritual priority: God commands us to watch our heart more than anything else.

The flesh is weak, and we are quick to go astray in our affections, and therefore the heart is easily divided, obstructed, and liable to failure... Despite its frailty, however, from it are totze'ot chayim (תּוֹצְאוֹת חַיִּים), or the "issues" of life. In the Scriptures, the word totze'ot is used to refer to the borders of a territory or the boundary of a city. In other words, from the heart a "map" or "chart" of your life is being drawn that expresses the course of your life... Purity of heart represents inner healing, which means being single-minded in your affections and awake before the LORD.

How you choose to guard your heart will determine the "road" of your life. If we keep ourselves from the "artery-clogging" effects of sin, we will experience the free flow of compassion, encouragement, and joy. The faithful heart is open - it believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Cor. 13:7).

It is your personal responsibility to guard your heart from negative influences – a duty that is connected with yielding yourself as a vessel or "steward" of the kingdom of God.  We must regularly ask God to enlighten "the eyes of the heart" according to His wisdom and power (i.e., truth revealed in Scripture), and to impart the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our desires and affections so that they conform to the character of the Messiah. May God help each of us to guard our hearts... Amen.

Note: The desire to sin is also a sin, and therefore the problem originates with the heart – the locus of our will and secret longings (Matt. 15:19-20). "The deepest thing in our nature is this region of heart in which we dwell alone with our willingnesses and our unwillingnesses, our faiths and our fears" (William James). On the other hand, the desire to obey is also obedience, and "blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he is tested, he shall receive the crown of life (עֲטֶרֶת הַחַיִּים), that God has promised to them that love him" (James 1:2). Resisting sinful desire is to obey the commandment: Et Adonai Elohekha tira: "You shall fear the LORD your God (אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ תִּירָא); you shall serve him and cleave to Him" (Deut. 10:20). May God give us the willingness to do his will; May he help us fully receive his love and to unwaveringly hold fast to him... Amen.
 




Prayer and Victory...


 

07.16.14 (Tammuz 18, 5774)  "You shall send a thousand (אֶלֶף) from each of the tribes of Israel to the war [against the Midianites]" (Num. 31:4). The midrash, however, says that Moses sent 3,000 from each tribe: a thousand soldiers, a thousand to intercede for victory, and a thousand to guard those who prayed...  Those in the "prayer squadron" were stationed up at the front of the battle, along with the priests who carried the "war ark" (ארון המלחמה) and who sounded shofars, with the guardians protecting them. Moses arranged the troops this way to demonstrate that the source of Israel's power was the LORD alone. Crying out to God is the way of victory in our battles against darkness...
 




Integrity of our Words...


 

[ Our Torah this week (Mattot) discusses various laws regarding vows and oaths... ]

07.16.14 (Tammuz 18, 5774)  "If a man vows a vow (i.e., neder: נֶדֶר) to the LORD, or swears an oath (i.e., shevuah: שְׁבוּעָה) to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth" (Num. 30:2). The Hebrew expression "break his word" literally means "profane his word" (יַחֵל דְּבָרוֹ), that is, to defile the soul by causing it to be inwardly divided, irresolute, and cowardly. After all, breaking your word means violating the integrity of who you are, showing that what you say and what you do are not unified, and this leads to feelings of shame.  Your words confess your reality and bring it to life... If you cannot keep your word, your word becomes profane, empty, lost -- you become a "stranger to yourself," unsure of what you intend. "Let your "yes" be yes and your "no" be no; learn to say what you mean and mean what you say.
 

    "I accept upon myself - without a vow - not to excuse any of my actions with a falsehood. Even if this resolution will cause me great shame, I will will accept that shame and will admit to the truth." - Ahavat Meshorim
     

Note: A "vow" (neder) is a promise to do something (or to refrain from doing something), whereas an "oath" ( sheva') is a sworn testimony that something is true (or false). See the summary page for Parashat Mattot for more information.
 




Praise and Testing...


 

07.16.14 (Tammuz 18, 5774)  If you are struggling through a tough day today, or if you feel oppressed or heavy of heart, let me encourage you to praise God anyway... Offering thanks to the LORD is a powerful tool for announcing your faith in God's triumph over the darkness of the present hour. Indeed, God Himself is "enthroned" by the praises (תְּהִלּוֹת) of His people (Psalm 22:3). Therefore the heart of faith will choose to say: "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation" (Isa. 12:2).
 

הִנֵּה אֵל יְשׁוּעָתִי אֶבְטַח וְלא אֶפְחָד
כִּי־עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ יְהוָה
וַיְהִי־לִי לִישׁוּעָה

hi·nei · el · ye·shu·a·ti · ev·tach · ve·lo ·ef·chad,
ki · o·zi · ve·zim·rat · Yah · Adonai
vai·hi · li · li·shu·ah

"Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the LORD God (יָהּ יְהוָה) is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation."
(Isa. 12:2)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

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"Do not be grieved (even over yourself), for the joy of the LORD is your strength" (Neh. 8:10). Affirming the love, goodness, faithfulness, compassion, and salvation of God is a powerful way to defeat the enemy of our souls, who regularly seeks to discourage us. King David constantly asked God to help him in his spiritual struggles. "Though I walk in the midst of trouble (בְּקֶרֶב צָרָה), you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me" (Psalm 138:7). "For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled" (Psalm 143:2-3). Though we must fight through the stubborn darkness and yet endure ourselves, "the LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). Indeed, the Lord God is far greater than your heart's sin and will one day entirely deliver you of sin's effect and influence, and that's a great reason to offer thanks!
 




The Substance of Hope...


 

07.15.14 (Tammuz 17, 5774)  Have you ever wondered why the exercise of your faith is so important to heaven? The Scriptures say that faith is the "substance" (ὑπόστασις) of hope, the conviction of unseen blessing, and "without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Heb. 11:6). Faith is its own reward, since believing the truth brings you into alignment with reality. Teshuvah is the response to God's love... Faith confesses that God is your Ultimate Concern, your Supreme Good, the goal and end of all that matters to your heart. Your faith is "more precious than gold," because its heart is your highest blessing, namely, the Divine Presence, the beatific reality, and heaven itself.... God tests our faith to draw our attention to Him (Psalm 119:71); to teach us endurance (Rom. 5:3-5; James 1:4); to upbuild our soul (Jude 1:20); to purify our affections (1 Pet. 1:7), and to glorify God's Name (kiddush HaShem). Life in this world is likened to a school wherein we learn how great God is and how much we are loved, valued, and esteemed precious in His eyes. You must believe that God is your healer, that he will make the crooked things straight, and that you are his beloved child... Faith sees the 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).
 

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

 




Prayers of our Words...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah for this week, Parashat Mattot, which discusses various laws regarding vows and oaths... ]

07.15.14 (Tammuz 17, 5774)  Yeshua warned us to abstain from making any kind of vow or oath since our word alone should be enough (Matt. 5:33-37). He also spoke of "good and evil treasures of the heart" that produce actions that are expressed in our words (Luke 6:45). Our inward motive determines our thinking, which in turn affects the way we act and use words. Therefore He warned: "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless (ἀργὸν) word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). Our very salvation is based on confession of the truth, and therefore we must use our words as a means of expressing the love and grace of God (Rom. 10:9; Col. 4:6). We must be on guard to keep away from lashon hara (evil speech) by focusing on what is worthy, lovely, and of good report (Prov. 13:3, Phil. 4:8). As David prayed: "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.
(Psalm 19:14)



Hebrew Study Card
 

As image bearers of God, our words likewise are to carry deep meaning and sanctity.  Just as God's words are trustworthy, true, and lifegiving, so should be our words and communication. The sages say that the words we speak - whether good or bad - call for a response in the realm of spirit. This is hinted at by the Hebrew word for "thing" (i.e., devar: דָּבָר), which also means "word."  Listen to the words of your heart and understand that they are devarim, "things" that are defining the course of your life right now. Our thoughts and words "exhale" the breath of God that was given to each of us. In a very real sense they are "prayers" we are constantly offering... (more here)

May it please the LORD our 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). Amen. "Whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected" (1 John 2:5).
 




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