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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) and are expecting our third child early next year. 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 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.

Because they occur between the spring and fall holidays, the summer holidays help us prepare for the second coming of the Messiah:
 

Spring Holiday Calendar

The Summer Holidays:

Summer Holidays
 

Note that in accordance with tradition, holiday dates begin at sundown. Moreover, some holidays may be postponed one day if they happen to fall on the weekly Sabbath:

  1. Month of Tammuz (begins Tuesday, June 16th, 2015)
  2. Month of Av (begins Thursday, July 16th, 2015)
  3. Month of Elul (begins Friday August 14th, 2015)

Note:  Many Jewish calendars will list the first day of a holiday without indicating that the holiday actually begins sundown the night before... So, for example, while Tishah B'Av begins Saturday, July 25th at sundown, many calendars will indicate it occurs on Sunday, July 26th...

 



 

August 2015 Site Updates
 


Seeing the Sacred...


 

08.05.15 (Av 20, 5775)  From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Eikev) we read: "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God..." (Deut. 10:12). Every moment of life is an opportunity to ask the question: "How may I see the sacred here?" How may I revere and esteem the gift of life? How may I perceive the awe of God? Seize the moment and walk in God's way, today, now, and in this hour. Open your heart; renew your mind; turn to the light; find the sacred in your midst...
 

הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה דַּרְכֶּךָ
אֲהַלֵּךְ בַּאֲמִתֶּךָ
יַחֵד לְבָבִי לְיִרְאָה שְׁמֶךָ

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

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



 

King David understood the great need for focus, for passion, for surrender: "One thing I ask of the Lord; that is what I will seek" (Psalm 27:4). Therefore he prayed for deep healing: "Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your Name" (Psalm 86:11). David understood that walking in the truth required "uniting his heart," or "repairing the breach" within his inner affections so that he could experience God's Presence... He needed emotional healing from inner wounds that split him off from reality. In effect, David prayed: "After You have healed my ambivalent heart, I will thank You with all my heart - entirely, wholly, completely - and I will glorify Your Name forever. My healing comes from Your great love (chesed) toward me, and through your love I am delivered free from the depths of hell" (Psalm 86:12-13).

Where it says, "Ve'ahavta – you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart," that includes both your "good heart" and your "bad heart" – that is, all of you, all of your being, the whole person. Come as you are - broken, fragmented, divided within - and ask God to unify your heart by the miracle of his grace...

Note that the fear of the LORD, or "yirat Adonai" (יִרְאַת יְהוָה), is not the fear of punishment but rather the awe of God's love and intimate concern for your life... It is "reishit chokhah" (רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה), "the beginning of wisdom," imparting awareness of the sacred gift of your life, your destiny, and your true end before heaven... If there is a negative side to the "fear of the LORD," it may be regarded as the fear of damage to your heart and soul – that is, the fear that sin will blind you to God's passion for you.
 




Idolatry and Rage...


 

08.04.15 (Av 19, 5775)  We are warned 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). The sages of the Mishnah said that yielding to rage is equivalent to idol worship and 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 with God's help" (1 Cor. 10:13), and we are invited to come boldly before the Divine Presence to find just such 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 and human arrogance cannot coexist - since the inner world of the arrogant person denies God's rightful place as King. As it is written in our Scriptures: "The wrath of man (קֶצֶף אָדָם) does not work the righteousness of God" (James 1:20). God will indeed help us if we ask according to his will (1 John 5:14-15). Thank you, God. "Blessed is the LORD who delivers us from self-destruction" (ברוך יהוה מספק אותנו מהרס עצמי).
 




Remembering all the way...


 

08.04.15 (Av 19, 5775)  From our Torah reading this week (i.e., parashat Eikev) it is written: "Remember all the way (אֶת־כָּל־הַדֶּרֶךְ) that the Lord your God has led you..." (Deut. 8:2). We learn what is in our hearts by being tested in the dry places. "From the day you left Egypt... you have been rebellious against God" (Deut. 9:7). Moses' rebuke was meant to awaken the people, to encourage them to search their hearts and confess who they were. Self-examination is essential for us to return to God, for otherwise we continue the cycle of pride-shame that binds us. We can't learn to walk as children of God until we are free of the need to defend ourselves. We come to the cross "just as we are," full of brokenness and need, confessing "salvation is of the LORD." Ve'zakharta et kol ha'derekh - remember this "all the way" of our sojourn... God knows the whole way that you have come, and he is refining your heart for your ultimate good (Jer. 29:11).
 




A Circumcised Heart...


 

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

08.04.15 (Av 19, 5775)  Our Torah for this week (Eikev) appeals to our need to forgive: "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer hardened" (Deut. 10:16). The metaphor of a "circumcised heart" (ברית מילה של הלב) symbolizes cutting away the outer covering of the heart so that it is "opened up" to feel once again. God wants us to let go of "hard feelings" so we can experience compassion (i.e., com+passion: "feeling-with") and sympathy for other people... Heart circumcision represents a radical turning away from the insular realm of the self toward the emotional realm of others and God. When our hearts are open, we are able to receive the flow of the Spirit of God and obey the "law of the Messiah" (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) to bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2).
 

וּמַלְתֶּם אֵת עָרְלַת לְבַבְכֶם
וְעָרְפְּכֶם לא תַקְשׁוּ עוֹדָ

u·mal·tem · et · or·lat · le·vav·khem
ve·or·pe·khem · lo · tak·shu · od
 

"Circumcise the foreskin of your heart,
and be no longer hardened"
(Deut. 10:16)



 

Physical circumcision represents a sign or mark of inclusion; it is a token that you are one of God's family, a Jew, though it is only a sign or token. Spiritual circumcision is an inner operation of the heart that marks you a true child of heaven. It is about your identity and purpose. Therefore we see the paradox that some physical Jews are not spiritual Jews, and some spiritual Jews are not physical Jews (though some are both), as the Apostle Paul said: For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God (Rom. 2:28-29).

Spiritually speaking, a heart that is insensitive, indifferent, unfeeling, and callous toward the needs of others is regarded as "hard." Sometimes such hardness comes as a result of living in a fallen world. Many wounded people live with "scar tissue" that surrounds their heart, making them feel numb and unwilling to open up and trust others. Their affections have become disordered and their ego rationalizes blaming others or seeking various forms of entitlement. "Turning off your heart" can mean suppressing any positive regard for others (empathy) while nurturing anger and self-righteousness, or it may mean withdrawing from others as a lifeless shell (both approaches vainly attempt to defend the heart from hurt). Although Yeshua always showed great compassion, especially to the wounded and broken in spirit (Isa. 42:3), He regularly condemned the "hardness of heart" ("sclero-cardia," σκληροκαρδία) of those who opposed his message of healing and love.

A hard heart is closed off and impermeable to love from others, and especially from God. It is a "difficult" (קָשֶׁה) heart, inflexible and even cruel.  Scripture uses various images to picture this condition, including a "heart of stone" (Ezek. 36:26, Zech. 7:12), an "uncircumcised heart" (Jer. 9:26), a "stiff neck" (Deut. 31:27), and so on. Stubbornness is really a form of idolatry, an exaltation of self-will that refuses to surrender to God. If you are wounded and afraid to open your heart in trust to others, ask God for healing...

Hardness of heart is something all of us deal with, even those who trust in Yeshua. After all, New Covenant believers are commanded to "put off the old self with its practices" (Col. 3:9) and are urged not to harden their hearts (μὴ σκληρύνητε τὰς καρδίας) through unbelief (Heb. 3:8,15, 4:7). May God's love help us keep our hearts soft and open toward others... May He give us a new heart, and put a new spirit within us. May He remove the heart of stone (לֵב הָאֶבֶן) from us and give us a heart of flesh (לֵב בָּשָׂר). May we be lev echad - "one heart" - with one another and with the Father (Ezek. 11:19). May we be so sensitized to the Presence of God that we detect the slightest touch from His hand upon us. Amen.
 




Always Here and Now...


 

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

08.03.15 (Av 18, 5775)  "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), that is, 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 the LORD (יהוה), who is the Source of light, life, love, and healing.  "Come just as you are," but please, come...
 




Gratitude and Seeing...


 

08.03.15 (Av 18, 5775)  From our Torah this week (i.e., parashat Eikev) we read: "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. Indeed 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 "signs and wonders" 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).
 

אַתָּה קָדוֹשׁ
יוֹשֵׁב תְּהִלּוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל

ve·at·tah · ka·dosh · yo·shev · te·hil·lot · yis·ra·el
 

"You are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel."
(Psalm 22:3)


The thank offering mentioned in the Torah (i.e., zevach ha-todah: זֶבַח הַתּוֹדָד) reappears in the New Testament. In the Book of Hebrews were are instructed to "continually offer up a sacrifice of thanks (זֶבַח תּוֹדָה) to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his Name" (Heb. 13:15). It is interesting to note that the Greek verb used to "offer up" (i.e., ἀναφέρω) is used to translate the Hebrew verb "to draw near" (karov) in Leviticus. In other words, the "offering up of thanks" for the sacrifice of Yeshua functions as "korban" and draws us near to God. Thanking God for personal deliverance constitutes "right sacrifices" (זִבְחֵי־צֶדֶק) as we draw near to God in the hope of His love (Psalm 4:5; Heb. 7:19).

"Give thanks to the LORD for He is good; his love endures forever" (Psalm 136:1); "give thanks to the LORD always" (Col. 3:17; Eph. 5:20; 1 Thess. 5:18)... Gratitude is foundational to our lives as followers of Yeshua. Indeed there are really only two prayers we ever offer to God, namely "Help, LORD!" and "Thank you, LORD." Meister Eckhart once remarked that if the only prayer you said in your entire life was, "thank you," that would suffice... Genuine prayer ultimately resolves to an expression of thanks. We are to "praise the Bridge that carries us over" into the Presence and Love of God, and that Bridge is Yeshua our Lord.
 




Close in all our Calling...


 

08.03.15 (Av 18, 5775)  The 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.
 




Cleaving to God...


 

08.03.15 (Av 18, 5775)  Faith perseveres in the way of life... "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 davak (דָּבַק), meaning to "cling" or "stick" (the Modern Hebrew word for "glue" is devek (דֶבֶק) which also comes from the same root). Devakut, then, implies being intimately connected with God in an earnest and passionate relationship.... The sages comment that we can cleave to God only one day at a time, since our future is conditioned upon this present day and its challenges. 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; he feeds us with hunger to teach us to rely on alone him for true life (Deut. 8:3). "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
 




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. ]

08.02.15 (Av 17, 5775)  In our Torah reading for this week (i.e., parashat 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), often translated "because," 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)... And like Jacob, we must grapple to believe that the covenant of God's love and acceptance is for us, too... The Sassover rebbe interpreted 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 begin to walk with God, you will come to know yourself as a child of the great King.  Likewise regarding the related verse in the Torah, "Because Abraham heard my voice" (עֵקֶב אֲשֶׁר־שָׁמַע אַבְרָהָם בְּקלִי), the sages read, "Abraham heard the word 'down to his heel'" (Gen. 26:5). Like Abraham, we will hear God's voice as we walk with him by faith...
 

עֵץ־חַיִּים הִיא לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ
וְתמְכֶיהָ מְאֻשָּׁר

etz · cha·yim · hi · la·ma·cha·zi·kim · bah
ve·to·me·khe·ha · me·u·shar
 

"Torah is a tree of life to those who lay hold of it;
and those who hold it fast are called blessed"
(Prov. 3:18)



Hebrew Study Card
 


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

 




Shabbat Va'tomer Tzion...


 

08.02.15 (Av 17, 5775)  The weekly haftarah portion (i.e., reading from the Prophets) is usually thematically connected with the weekly Torah portion; however, after the fast of Tishah B'Av, and for the next seven weeks (49 days) leading up Rosh Hashanah (i.e., the new year), we will read selections of comfort that foretell of the future redemption of the Jewish people and the coming Messianic Era. In other words, we have a seven-week period of consolation, encouraging us to keep our hope alive, culminating in the "jubilee" of the Jewish new year. May God prepare our hears, chaverim....

Seven Weeks of Comfort: 

  1. Nachamu, Nachamu Ammi ("Comfort, comfort, my people") - Isa. 40:1-26
  2. Va'tomer Tziyon ("But Zion said...") - Isa. 49:14-51:3 (this week)
  3. Aniyah So'arah ("O afflicted and storm-tossed") - Isa. 54:11–55:5
  4. Anochi, Anochi hu ("I, even I am He...") - Isa. 51:12–52:12
  5. Rani Akarah ("Sing, O Barren one...") - Isa. 54:1–10
  6. Kumi Ori ("Arise and shine..." - Isa. 60:1–22
  7. Sos Asis ("I will greatly rejoice...") - Isa. 61:10–63:9  

 

 


The second of the "Seven Weeks of Comfort" leading up to Rosh Hashanah is called Va'tomer Tzioyn (וַתּאמֶר צִיּוֹן, "But Tzion said..."), which reminds us to never to lose hope for the heavenly future of Zion (Jerusalem).... "Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me" (Isa. 49:15-16). The Haftarah concludes by Isaiah saying that the LORD will comfort the Mountain of Zion by making it like the Garden of Eden, with joy and happiness within her, along with thanksgiving and the sound of song.

Note: The month of Elul begins in just a couple of weeks (i.e., on Friday, August 14th this year), which initiates the 40 day period of preparation for the Jewish High Holidays. This means that Rosh Hashanah will begin in about six weeks (i.e., Sept. 13th at sundown). During the time leading up to the High Holidays, it is customary to engage in cheshbon ha-nefesh ("soul searching") and to derive comfort that God is forgiving and loving to those who sincerely 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.
 




 

July 2015 Site Updates
 



Ten Matters of Heart...


 

07.31.15 (Av 15, 5775)  Our Torah for this week (Va'etchanan) reviews the Ten Commandments (עשרה הדיברות), which may be summarized this way: 1) "I AM your only deliverer, the One who loves and chooses you; 2) love me exclusively; 3) regard my love as sacred; 4) rest in me; 5) honor your life and its history. Do no harm to others: 6) forsake anger, 7) abandon lust, 8) renounce greed, and 9) abhor lying. 10) Refuse envy. Know that you belong to me and that you are accepted. Love others as you are also loved.

The "heart of the law" is the Torah of love, just as the "law of love" is the Torah of the Gospel (John 15:12). "Teach me the whole Torah, a heathen said, while I stand on one foot. Shammai cursed and drove the man away. He went to Hillel. Hillel said, What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else: that is the whole Torah. The rest will follow – go now and learn it." As the Apostle Paul taught: "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: Ve'ahavta: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Gal. 5:14). Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:10).

Rabbi Levi said, "When the Holy One spoke to the people of Israel, each one felt personally spoken to by God, and thus it says in the singular, 'I am the Eternal One, your God.'" Indeed the very first commandment given at Sinai was to accept the reality of our personal deliverance by the LORD: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you (singular) out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). In fact, God used the second person singular (not plural) for all the verbs throughout the Ten Commandments: "you (singular) shall have no other gods beside me"; "you (singular) shall not take the Name of the LORD your God in vain," and so on. The very first commandment, however, is the starting point for all that follows. Until you accept the LORD as your God and to trust Him as your own Deliverer, the rest of the commandments are not likely to be heeded.

Personal Update: Please keep the Hebrew for Christians ministry in your prayers. Olga's pregnancy has been physically hard for her, and we have been experiencing many tests (financial, health-related, and so on).  Your prayers mean so much. Shabbat Shalom!
 




The Reason for Creation...


 

[ Our Torah portion this week (Va'etchanan) reiterates the Ten Commandments to the generation that was ready to enter into the promised land... ]

07.31.15 (Av 15, 5775)  When the LORD gave the Ten Commandments (עשרה הדיברות), He did not begin by saying he was our Creator, but rather our Redeemer:  "I AM the LORD your God (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ), who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of slavery" (Deut. 5:6), rather than saying, "I AM the LORD your God, Creator of heaven and earth" (Gen. 1:1). The LORD refers to himself as our Savior first, since creation is designed to demonstrate His redemptive love given through Yeshua, the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9). "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Creation therefore begins and ends with the love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Messiah, the great Lamb of God... He is the Center of Creation - the Aleph and Tav - the Beginning and the End (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:17). All the world was created for the Messiah: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).
 




Faith of the Heart...


 

07.31.15 (Av 15, 5775)  Those who refuse the truth of God are described as those who "walk in the futility (ματαιότης) of their minds" (Eph. 4:17). "They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance (i.e., ἄγνοια - "agnosticism") that is in them, due to their hardness of heart" (Eph. 4:18). This hardness of heart (σκληροκαρδία) leads to a cynical state of callousness or apathy (ἀπαλγέω, lit. "numbness," the "inability to feel"), which is the very opposite of empathy or compassion (Eph. 4:19). Notice the progression of this process. People close their eyes to the light and become estranged from the life of God because they choose to have a hard heart (לב קשה). Put the other way around, hardening the heart leads to willed ignorance, alienation from the life of God, darkened understanding, and a "futile" mind... But notice that the heart of man is central because it determines the "contours of life" (Prov. 4:23). It is the heart (לֵבָב), or the "inner man," that that focuses the will to believe, determining what we acknowledge and what we ignore. Indeed, salvation itself is a matter of turning to see (teshuvah) and believing from the heart (πιστεύσῃς ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ σου) the Reality of God's great love and healing given to us in Yeshua (Rom. 10:9).
 




Love's Long Passion...


 

07.31.15 (Av 15, 5775)  Newness of life is a miracle, since it is a gift from heaven (John 3:3-8; Eph. 2:8-9). Only God can give to us the love for Him that he fully knows we so desperately need; only God can deliver us from our "disordered loves" to take hold of what is truly essential. All we can do is ask, and keep on asking - even as we struggle on, despite ourselves - until we begin to understand what we really need. It's as if we are constantly being asked, "Is this what you want?" and our choices confess the truth of what we believe... Only God does the miracle of real change within the human heart - only God can give life from the dead. Create in me a pure heart, O God, make new within me a spirit that says 'Yes!'" (Psalm 51:10). Amen. Hashivenu, Adonai!

Meanwhile let us persevere in hope... Where it is written, love "suffers long..." (1 Cor. 13:4), the Greek word μακροθύμως (long-suffering) is derived from μακρός (long, great) + θυμός (passion), which indicates that love is a "long passion," that is, a passion that stays true despite the challenges it may encounter. God gives His comfort, chaverim.
 




The Holiday of Tu B'Av...


 

[ The 15th of Av - otherwise called Tu B'Av - begins at twilight this evening...... ]

07.30.15 (Av 14, 5775)  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 of course).  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., Friday, August 14th this year), and the entire month is set apart to prepare us for the coming High Holidays that begin mid 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.
 




Return to your heart...


 

07.30.15 (Av 14, 5775)  In our holy Torah we read, "Know therefore today and return to your heart (וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ), for the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). Here again we see the centrality of the heart as the mode to encounter God (Luke 17:21). Savor the phrase, "Know therefore today and return to your heart..." It the heart that is the place of connection with God... As Yeshua said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20). Today is the day to "return to your heart" and receive again God's love for your soul...
 

וְיָדַעְתָּ הַיּוֹם וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ
כִּי יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלהִים בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל
וְעַל־הָאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת אֵין עוֹד

ve·ya·da·ta · ha·yom · va·ha·she·vo·tai · el · le·va·ve·kha
ki · Adonai · hu · ha·E·lo·him · ba·sha·ma·yim · mi·ma·al
ve·al · ha·a·retz · mi·ta·chat · ein ·od
 

"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
  

 




The Unity of Love...


 

07.29.15 (Av 13, 5775)  Our Torah for this week (Va'etchanan) includes the first part of the Shema (שמע): "Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is One, and you shall love (וְאָהַבְתָּ) the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:4-5). During its recitation we pronounce each word very carefully and cover our eyes with our right hand, focusing on the sovereignty of God and our primary need to love Him with our whole being. Yeshua said that the Shema was the great commandment of Torah (see Mark 12:28-31). Note that the opening declaration of the Shema 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 written 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 great need to love Him bekhol levavkha, (בּכָל־לְבָבְךָ) with all our hearts...
 

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד

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

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



Hebrew Study Card / Shema Reader Page
 


The Shema says "The LORD our God is one LORD" (יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד). Interestingly, the word echad (אֶחָד) in Hebrew, translated as "one," 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..." ]
 

07.28.15 (Av 12, 5775)  In our Torah for 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 inscribed upon the two tablets of testimony (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 (לב שמים), 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, when the fire of his passion burned unto the very heart of heaven, and in his mesirat ha'nefesh we see the greater glory of God...
 

חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת אַל־יַעַזְבֻךָ
קָשְׁרֵם עַל־גַּרְגְּרוֹתֶיךָ
כָּתְבֵם עַל־לוּחַ לִבֶּךָ

che·sed ve·e·met al ya·az·vu·kha
kosh·rem al  gar·ge·ro·tey·kha
kot·vem  al  lu·ach lib·be·kha
 

"Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart."
(Prov. 3:3)



Hebrew Study Card
 




Praying to Pray...


 

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

07.28.15 (Av 12, 5775)  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).

The need to pray with the proper focus, intention, and heart is surely one of our greatest 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 heaven's "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).
 

אֲדנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח
וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶךָ

Adonai · se·fa·tai · tif·tach
u'fi · yag·gid · te·hil·la·te·kha
 

"O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise"
(Psalm 51:15)

 




I am my Beloved's...


 

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

07.27.15 (Av 11, 5775)  From our Torah this week we read: "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)

 




My LORD my God...


 

07.27.15 (Av 11, 5775)  As we draw close to God and learn how to cleave to his heart, we will be delivered from the pain of our fears, despite the ongoing darkness of ha'olam ha'zeh (הָעוֹלָם הַזֶּה), this present age (Psalm 119:105). As King David said, Adonai ori v'yishi, mimi ira: "The LORD is my light and my salvation" – literally, "my Jesus," my Yeshua – "whom shall I fear?  Adonai ma'oz chayai, mimi efchad: "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).
 

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)



Hebrew Study Card

 

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 (repentance, "turning back to God") is always, "Wake up - you are living a nightmare." There is only one remedy, and that is discovered by coming to the Divine Light by opening your heart to the love and very real presence of God.
 



 

New Book offering:
God's Secrets Only Hebrew Can Reveal
 


 

07.27.15 (Av 11, 5775)  My Israeli friend and Hebrew professor, Dr. Danny ben-Gigi, just wrote a new book called "God's Secrets only Hebrew Can Reveal" that you can now order from Hebrew for Christians.  Discover how the prophet Daniel deciphered the "writing on the wall," what Jesus meant by a "jot and tittle" of the Holy Torah, what the term "the Son of Man" really means, and much more!

The book is printed in full color and includes 145 fascinating topics explaining various heavenly secrets that are embedded into the Hebrew scriptures. Two companion audio CDs are also included. No formal knowledge of Hebrew is required to use this book - all Hebrew terms and phrases are clearly explained. For more information, click here!
 




Finding God in Exile...


 

07.27.15 (Av 11, 5775)   From this week's Torah (i.e., parashat Va'etchanan) 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 we are 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).
 




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). ]

07.26.15 (Av 10, 5775)  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 "jubilee" season that heralds the return of Yeshua... ]

07.26.15 (Av 10, 5775)  The prophet Zechariah (זְכַרְיָה) foresaw the future Messianic Era when the various fast days of the Jewish year will be transformed into to appointed times of great joy (Zech. 8:19): "Thus says Adonai Tzeva'ot (יהוה צְבָאוֹת): The fast of the fourth month (Tzom Tammuz), and the fast of the fifth month (Tishah B'Av), and the fast of the seventh month (Tzom Gedaliah), 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, and the truth and the peace they have loved (וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָבוּ)."

Because Zion is promised such future consolation by God, Jewish tradition named the Sabbath immediately following Tishah B'Av as the "Sabbath of Comfort" (i.e., shabbat Nachamu: שַׁבַּת נַחֲמוּ) and assigned 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. Thematically, this Shabbat marks a time of joy over anticipated comfort: Despite present tribulations, the LORD will vindicate His glory and completely ransom His people.
 

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 entire world) called "The Seven Haftarot of Consolation."  From the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av until Rosh Hashanah, we read words of comfort from the 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. In other words, we have seven weeks  - 49 days - to prepare for the start of the new year (Rosh Hashanah) and the High Holidays - a prophetic "jubilee" season that concerns the return of Yeshua (and may He return soon, chaverim).

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




A Tishah B'Av Parable...


 

[ The following is related to Tishah B'Av, the traditional date of the destruction of the Temple...]

07.24.15 (Av 8, 5775)  The theme of the fragility of life is part of the sober message of Tishah B'Av. After all, the great symbol of God's manifest presence on the earth, the Holy Temple, went up in smoke, and the very place (i.e., ha-makom: הַמָּקוֹם) where the LORD chose to "put His Name" was utterly destroyed. As the people were taken captive and led into exile, the great vision of Zion appeared to be forever lost (Psalm 137:1-4).

The LORD had forewarned that exile, persecution and progressively worse punishments would befall the people if they would break faith with Him (Lev. 26:14-46). But how could all this have happened? Notice that the "rebuke" portion of the tochachah begins with v'im lo tishme'u li (וְאִם־לא תִשְׁמְעוּ לִי), "if you do not listen to me" (Lev. 26:14), which recalls the Shema and the duty to love the Lord bekhol levavkha, "with all your heart." The sages point out that the refrain "if you walk contrary to me" (וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי) - which occurs several times during the rebuke - really means "if you walk carelessly (i.e., keri: קְרִי) with me." The commentator Rashi notes that the verb karah (קָרָה) means "to befall" or "to happen" and therefore suggests a sense of randomness (the related word mikreh [מִקְרֶה] means "coincidence"). In other words, if the people regarded the events of life as "random," then God would make (seemingly) random trouble arise in their midst. For this reason a careless attitude about the things of God is the first step toward apostasy...

It's been said that the opposite of love isn't hate, but rather indifference, and that explains why punishments came when the people "left their first love." If you walk carelessly with God, then you may be afflicted with "troubles of love" (i.e., yissurei ahavah: יִסּוּרֵי אַהֲבָה), that is, with various difficulties, intended to help you "come to your senses," to help you wake up, and to cause you return to the LORD for healing... This is a severe mercy of God.

A parable attempts to explain the heart behind Tishah B'Av and the tragic destruction of the Temple: Once a great artist desire to paint his greatest masterpiece, and journeyed with his companion to the top of a high mountain to find the perfect view.  After several days, the painting was complete, though the artist began to view his work at different angles to see what improvements might be made. He started walking backward, admiring his work. He continued to pace backward, focusing only on his painting, when he approached the edge of a cliff. When his friend realized the danger, he called out for him to stop, but the artist took no heed to his words. At the last moment, when he was about to plunge to his certain death, however, his friend picked up a knife, ran to the picture, and began slashing it to pieces, destroying the masterpiece before the artist's eyes. "What are you doing!" the artist cried out, having finally come to his senses. "Look behind you and you'll see why I did it" replied the friend. Similarly with God. He tried to warn the people to turn back to Him lest they perish, but they refused to heed His words, so finally He allowed the Temple to be destroyed so that the people themselves could come to their senses and many would escape with their lives....

The daily sacrifice at the Temple was a defect-free lamb that was offered both in the evening and in the morning - a continual sacrifice by fire to God... Ultimately the Temple itself was a means to the greater end of revealing Yeshua as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.... And just as the Sacred Name (יהוה) transcends temporal things - even things as wonderful as the Holy Temple itself - so the Holy Temple was meant to point to Messiah - and to the innermost chamber of our heart that receives Him (1 Cor. 6:19).

The idea of tochachah is not simply something for ethnic Israel, of course, since the New Testament likewise warns us that God will punish those who likewise walk carelessly (i.e., keri: קְרִי) with Him. Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as God's children? "My son, do not regard lightly (ὀλιγώρει) the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary by his reproof (תּוֹכֵחָה). For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and reproves (יוֹכִיחַ) every child whom he receives" (Heb. 12:5-6; Prov. 3:11-12). The Lord charged the assembly at Ephesus that they had let go of their first love. Yeshua therefore urged them: "Remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds (ἔργα) you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your menorah from its place – unless you repent" (Rev. 2:4-5). "God is not mocked (μυκτηρίζω - lit., "to turn up the nose at"), and what a man sows, he also reaps" (Gal. 6:7; Psalm 39:11). There are abiding consequences for the choices we make in our lives. "For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Messiah and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 5:6-7).
 

אַשְׁרֵי הַגֶּבֶר אֲשֶׁר־שָׂם יְהוָה מִבְטַחוֹ
ְלא־פָנָה אֶל־רְהָבִים וְשָׂטֵי כָזָב

ash·rei · ha·ge·ver · a·sher · sam · Adonai · miv·ta·cho
ve·lo · fe·nah · el · re·ha·vin · ve·sa·tei · kha·zav

 

"Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust,
who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie."
(Psalm 40:4)

 

Note that the language of tochachah may seem severe, but this bespeaks the severe mercy of God, and his great passion that we do not turn away and lose relationship with him.... Understand, then, the imperatives of Scripture as appeals to seek life... Realize they are impassioned appeals of the Lover of your soul to walk with him in love.  As C.S. Lewis once said, God cannot give us peace apart from Him, since there literally is no such thing. God's voice of imperative is a reminder that we can only find what we really need with Him.

Note: The 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 disciples to pray: tavo malkhutekha (תָּבא מַלְכוּתֶךָ): "Thy Kingdom come"; ye'aseh retzonkha (יֵעָשֶׂה רְצוֹנְךָ): "Thy will be done," ba'aretz ka'asher na'asah va'shamayim (בָּאָרֶץ כַּאֲשֶׁר נַעֲשָׂה בַשָּׁמָיִם) "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 healing of Jerusalem" and the final redemption to come. At the End of the Age, the Messiah will indeed return to establish Zion as a praise upon the earth (Isa. 62:7).
 




Redeemer of Waste Places...


 

07.24.15 (Av 8, 5775)  Though it would have taken just two weeks to march directly to the promised land from Egypt, the people were not ready and needed to wander from one dry place to another. Therefore we are told to remember the "whole way" (כָּל־הַדֶּרֶךְ) of our journey: "God led you these forty years in the desert that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart - לָדַעַת אֶת־אֲשֶׁר בִּלְבָבְךָ..." (Deut. 8:2). Yea, God works "all things together for good" - even tragic events such as the destruction of the Temple and the exile of His people, and therefore we are commanded to remember the "whole way" of our journey. "Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost" (John 6:12). We "press on to the goal" but also trust that God is able to redeem even the seasons of our lives lived in the waste places. Because of Yeshua, nothing of our lives will be be entirely lost. ברוך יהוה שגואל את הצער שלנו - "Blessed is the LORD who redeems our sorrows."

Shabbat Shalom v'yom tov chaverim! May the peace of God be with you, even if you are temporarily beset by various troubles.... May you experience the balm of his comfort and the gentle touch of his hand as you rest in his perfect love.  Amen.
 




The Voice of Our Words....


 

07.24.15 (Av 8, 5775)  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...

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...  

Note:  But what if you cannot help but feel pain behind your words? What if you struggle with unhappy feelings at times? Then get alone with God and pour out your heart: "Cast your burden upon the LORD (הַשְׁלֵךְ עַל־יְהוָה יְהָבְךָ) and He will sustain you" (Psalm 55:22).
 




Eyes of the Heart...


 

07.23.15 (Av 7, 5775)  The Hebrew word for "seeing" (ra'ah) is related to the word for "fear" (yirah), suggesting that when we really see life as it is, we will be filled with wonder and awe over the glory of it all.  Every bush will be aflame with the Presence of God and the ground we walk upon shall suddenly be perceived as holy (Exod. 3:2-5). Nothing will seem small, trivial, or insignificant. It is in this sense that we are to serve the LORD with "fear and trembling" (φόβοv καὶ τρόμοv), that is, with an inner awareness of the sanctity and sacredness of life itself (Phil. 2:12-13). Da lifnei mi atah omed. 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.
 




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


 

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

07.23.15 (Av 7, 5775)  The Book of Lamentations (מגילה איכה) 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...

Note: I will be at a funeral all day today; thank you for your prayers for my family....
 




Shema of Wisdom...



 

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

07.23.15 (Av 7, 5775)  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....
 




Seeking Things Above...


 

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

07.22.15 (Av 6, 5775)  "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?

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"). Therefore "if 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). 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 that God has killed its power over you through Yeshua...

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.

By faith resolve to understand that 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).
 




Your greatest need...


 

07.22.15 (Av 6, 5775)  From our Torah this week (i.e., Devarim) 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; but without Him you will never be truly satisfied - no matter what things you might have... "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 and fading realm.... When the LORD is "with us" – and when we dwell in the simplicity of that reality – we lack nothing: Adonai Ro'i, lo echsar (יְהוָה רעִי לא אֶחְסָר) - "The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not lack" (Psalm 23:1). "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 בּטֵחַ 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 a Mountain...


 

07.22.15 (Av 6, 5775)  From our Torah this week (i.e., Devarim) we read: "The LORD our God said to us in Horeb, 'You have stayed long enough at this mountain; turn and take your journey... See, I have set the land before you; go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their offspring after them" (Deut. 1:6-8). Here the sages comment that the righteous can overcome every obstacle – even if it is as big as a mountain – for to them it is "like a hair," but the wicked withdraw from even the smallest obstacle, because to them it is like a mountain. In the world to come, God will show the righteous the yetzer ha'ra (evil inclination) as a mountain, and they will exclaim, "How were we able to move such a mountain?" But to the wicked God will show the evil inclination as a hair, and they will exclaim, "Why couldn't we overcome such a trifle as this hair?" It is faith in God's love that enables us cast away the imposing darkness of fear to take possession of the heavenly promise. "For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you" (Matt. 17:20).

καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ νίκη ἡ νικήσασα τὸν κόσμον, ἡ πίστις ἡμῶν. – "And this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith" (1 John 5:4).
 




He Carries us Through...


 

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

07.21.15 (Av 5, 5775)  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 all matter – that your thoughts, words, and deeds 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).
 




Are you Willing to Ascend?


 

07.21.15 (Av 5, 5775)  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).
 




Moses' Miraculous Words...


 

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

07.20.15 (Av 4, 5775)  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...


 

[ Note that Tishah B'Av is postponed one day this year because the 9th of Av falls on the weekly Sabbath... The fast will begin, then, on Saturday July 25th at sundown... ]

07.20.15 (Av 4, 5775)  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. Indeed, the Sabbath that immediately precedes the fast of Tishah B'Av is called Shabbat Chazon (the "Sabbath of Vision") because the Haftarah that is read (i.e., Isa. 1:1-25) describes the vision of the prophet Isaiah regarding the imminent destruction of the Temple:
 

    "Hear, O heavens and give ear, O earth,
    For the LORD has spoken;
    Though I brought up and raised My children,
    They have rebelled against me." (Isa. 1:2)
     

When it was first recorded, Isaiah's vision of the destruction was still future, and the Jews still had a chance to repent before the great tragedy befell them. However, since they refused to turn back to God, calamity overtook them. Today the Haftarah is traditionally chanted to the same haunting melody as Megilat Eichah (Lamentations), written by the prophet Jeremiah, who was an eyewitness to the destruction and fall of Jerusalem.

 

During the last nine days of the Three Weeks of Sorrow it is common to confess the sins in our lives that likewise contribute to the lack of God's Presence in our midst. Hashivenu Adonai, elecha 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).

Though Shabbat Chazon is a time of mourning, it is also a time for hope. The Torah reading for this Sabbath is always parashat Devarim, the first portion of the Book of Deuteronomy. In this reading, Moses details the victorious battles with Sihon the king of Amorites and Og the king of Bashan. Because it speaks of God's victory, the sages recommended envisioning the future Temple that will be built by the Messiah at this time. According to Jewish tradition, after the Messiah comes and restores Israel, Tishah B'Av will become one of the happiest days of the year (and may He arrive soon and in our days).

Three Weeks of SorrowThree Weeks of Sorrow
 




Parashat Devarim...



 

07.19.15 (Av 3, 5775)  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.
 


Thank you for your prayers for this ministry, friends... Now more than ever.
 




Walking by Faith....


 

07.17.15 (Av 1, 5775)  The Hebrew word for "faith" is emunah (אֱמוּנָה), which comes from the verb aman (אָמַן), meaning to uphold, support, to make steady and sure. The Hebrew word for "truth" (אֱמֶת) comes from the same root, as does the word "amen" (אָמֵן), implying that reality is upheld and subsists by the Word of God's power (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:17). Faith enables the soul to perceive the eternal within the transitory, the invisible within the visible, and the Divine Presence in the midst of the whirlwind. When applied to the heart, "faith" is better understood as "faithfulness," since it implies integrity and trustworthiness, and so on. God's faithfulness is bound with His love (חֶסֶד), which means that He can be relied upon to uphold you as you sojourn through this world to world to come...

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

Note: We had a death in our family today... though she died in pain, grandma Anastasia called upon the LORD as she crossed over. She was an amazing prayer warrior, and this world is surely lessened by her absence. יְהוָה נָתַן וַיהוָה לָקָח יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָךְ
 




The Journey of Torah...


 

07.17.15 (Av 1, 5775)  "Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by the 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).

For more, see "The Most Important Mitzvah..."
 




Journey of Renewal...


 

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

07.16.15 (Tammuz 29, 5774)  Eleh masei v'nei Yisrael: "these are the journeys of the children of Israel..." (Num. 33:1). At the Word of the LORD (עַל־פִּי יְהוָה) the people camped, and at the Word of the LORD they journeyed (9:23). When the Ark of the Covenant was dispatched to follow the Shekhinah Cloud (שכינה ענן), Moses would say: ""Arise, O LORD, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you. And when it rested, he said, "Return, O LORD, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel" (10:35-36). The Torah lists the various stations of the desert not only to document God's care for his people, but because the various journeys signified constant renewal – dismantling and reassembling the Mishkan (Tabernacle); approaching again before the Divine Presence; and keeping the vision of Zion alive in the midst of a barren wasteland...
 

קוּמָה יְהוָה וְיָפֻצוּ איְבֶיךָ
וְיָנֻסוּ מְשַׂנְאֶיךָ מִפָּנֶיךָ

ku·mah · Adonai · ve·ya·fu·tzu · o·ye·ve·kha
ve·ya·nu·su · me·sa·ne·kha · mi·pa·ne·kha

 

"Arise, O LORD, and let your enemies be scattered,
and let those who hate you flee before you"
(Num. 10:35)

 




The Journey of journeys...


 

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

07.16.15 (Tammuz 29, 5774)  From our Torah portion this week (i.e., Masei) we read: "These are the journeys of the people of Israel (מַסְעֵי בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל) who went out of the land of Egypt..." (Num. 33:1). The sages ask why the word "journeys" (plural) was used here, since only the first journey – from Rameses to Sukkot – literally marked "yetziat mitzrayim," the going out of Egypt – and the other journeys were outside of Egypt, in the desert.  They answer that the journey out of Egypt goes beyond the physical land to the spiritual realm - an exodus from captivity to the secular world itself.  As has been said, it took the LORD 40 days to get Israel out of Egypt, but it took 40 years to get Egypt out of Israel... The "journey out of Egypt" is therefore a journey of smaller journeys that leads to deliverance.

The Torah uses a repetitious expression, "Sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy" (הִתְקַדִּשְׁתֶּם וִהְיִיתֶם קְדשִׁים) (Lev. 11:44) because when we make an effort -- no matter how feeble at times -- to draw near to the LORD, He will draw near to us... Indeed the walk of faith is one of ascent and descent and ascent again: It's often "two steps forward, one step back..." It is a long road, a process, as we learn to obey and seek to grow closer to God. Authentic repentance doesn't imply that we will never sin or make any mistakes, of course, but rather means that the oscillating pattern of "up, then down, then up" is the basic way we walk. Our direction has changed for good; we have turned to God for life and hope. We now understand our sins in light of a greater love that bears them for us even as we draw ever closer to the One who calls us home...
 




The Central Thing...


 

07.15.15 (Tammuz 28, 5774)  From our Torah this week we read: zeh ha'davar asher tzivah Adonai: "This is the thing the LORD has commanded" (Num. 30:1). The language here seems to suggest that there is only one matter that God has commanded, namely, to speak truth and to be faithful in our promises (Num. 30:2). This is because the sacredness of our word is the foundation for all our other responsibilities. After all, if our word is equivocal, it is unclear, unreliable, undecided, and ultimately meaningless.... Insincere words are without genuine commitment, and the lack of decisiveness undermines all Torah. "This is the thing the LORD has commanded," namely, to accept your duty to honor the truth; to keep your faith in God's word; and to hold sacred your commitment before God.  !זֶה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה
 

כִּי־אֱמֶת יֶהְגֶּה חִכִּי
וְתוֹעֲבַת שְׂפָתַי רֶשַׁע

ke-e·met · ye·he·geh · chi·ki
ve·to·a·vat · se·fa·tai · re·sha

 

"For my mouth will utter truth;
wickedness is an abomination to my lips"
(Prov. 8:7)


A politician was once chided for not keeping his promises, to which he slyly replied, "Yes, but I never promised to keep my promises..." Later, the same politician actually "promised to keep his promises," but was again proven false to his word. When he was confronted over his latest treachery, he replied, "Yes, but I never promised to promise to keep my promises..." And so it goes with many of the "double-tongued" political leaders of our day.
 

    "What you say about the present state of mankind is true: indeed it is even worse than you say. For they neglect not only the Law of Christ, but even the Law of Nature as known by the Pagans. For now they do not blush at adultery, treachery, perjury, theft and other crimes, which I will not say Christian doctors, but the Pagans and Barbarians have themselves denounced. They err who say: "The world is turning pagan again." Would that it were! The truth is, we are falling into a much worse state. Post-Christian man is not the same as pre-Christian man. He is as far removed as a virgin from a widow... there is a great difference between a spouse-to-come and a spouse sent away." – C.S. Lewis (letter to Don Giovanni Calabria)

 




The Struggle of Faith...

Photo by John J. Parsons
 

07.15.15 (Tammuz 28, 5774)  I know many of you are in pain, struggling to hang on to hope, waiting for the fulfillment of the promise of your salvation in Yeshua.  Keep the fire of your heart burning, friend...  Rabbi Nachman once told a person who was struggling with his faith: "It is written that all creation was brought into being because of people like you. God saw there would be people who would cling to our holy faith, suffering greatly because confusion and doubt would plague them. God perceived that such would overcome these doubts and troubles of heart and remain strong in their belief. It was because of this that God brought forth all creation." Good words... Never yield to despair, since that leads to further darkness and fear. Press on and keep fighting the "good fight" of faith (1 Tim. 6:12). Remember that 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; there is "a white stone, and on that stone will be written a new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it" (Rev. 2:17). May "the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tested with fire, be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Pet. 1:7).
 

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

ki · a·no·khi · ya·da·ti · et · ha·ma·cha·sha·vot
a·sher · a·no·khi · cho·shev · a·lei·khem · ne·um · Adonai
mach·she·vot · sha·lom · ve·lo · le·ra·ah
la·teit · la·khem · a·cha·rit · ve·tik·vah
 

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

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

Hebrew Study Card
 

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




True Leaders...


 

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

07.15.15 (Tammuz 28, 5774)  The Hebrew word translated "tribe" (מַטֶּה) literally means "staff" or stick, which is related to a root that means to "bend" or "incline." For example: "Because he has inclined his ear to me (כִּי־הִטָּה אָזְנוֹ), therefore I will call on Him as long as I live" (Psalm 16:2). A true leader of the people, one who holds the staff of godly authority, turns his attention to the needs of his people; he will "incline his ear" and seek to encourage them to turn their hearts to God, their true King and Shepherd....
 




Needing a New Heart...


 

07.14.15  (Tammuz 27, 5775)  Yeshua always reveals the inner condition of the heart, despite the rationalizations we may contrive... "You have heard that it was said, "Do no murder," but I say to you, harbor no anger; you have heard "do no adultery," but I say to you harbor no lust..." You have heard it said, "Do not break an oath," but I say to you swear no oath at all, but let your word be enough. Yeshua writes the Torah inwardly to reveal our great need. A person who makes an oath assumes he can keep the law, that he can control the impulses and sickness of his own divided heart. That is the source of the problem... The Lord reveals what we are inside so that we may realize our need for healing from ourselves. What we really need is a miracle on the order of splitting the sea or raising the dead, namely, a new heart (לֵב חָדָשׁ) and a new spirit (רוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה) put within us. For those of you who might struggle with pride, fear, anger, and hardness of heart, please take hold of hope. God can turn "stone to flesh" and make you fully alive by His power.
 

וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ
 וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה אֶתֵּן בְּקִרְבְּכֶם
 וַהֲסִרתִי אֶת־לֵב הָאֶבֶן מִבְּשַׂרְכֶם
 וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב בָּשָׂר

ve·na·ta·ti · la·khem · lev · cha·dash
ve·ru·ach · cha·da·shah · e·ten · be·kir·be·khem
va·cha·si·ro·ti · et · lev · ha·e·ven · mi·be·sar·khem
ve·na·ta·ti · la·khem · lev · ba·sar

 

"And 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 (לֵב בָּשָׂר)."
(Ezek. 36:26)



 

The heart (lev) is the inner person, the seat of the emotions, thought, and will. A new heart (lev chadash) represents the transformation of the whole of your inner nature - with the impartation of new appetites, new passions, new desires, etc.  (Psalm 51:10). A new spirit (ruach chadashah) implies the renewal of your inner life – the rebirth of your will. This is the "law of the Spirit" (תוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים) and the new principle of eternal life (Rom. 8:2).

The "stony heart" (lev ha'even) represents unfeeling, self-serving numbness of being. This heart is the locus of yetzer hara, the inner selfish impulse that is the common heritage of the "natural man." The Targum renders this as, "I will break the heart of the wicked, which is hard as a stone.'' A hard heart has a form of "sclerosis" that makes it closed off and impermeable to love from others, and especially from God. Scripture uses various images to picture this condition, including a "heart of stone" (Ezek. 36:26, Zech. 7:12), an "uncircumcised heart" (Jer. 9:26), a "stiff neck" (Deut. 31:27), and so on. Stubbornness is really a form of idolatry, an exaltation of self-will that refuses to surrender to God.

The heart of flesh (lev basar) represents an inner life of genuine feeling and joy that makes a fit habitation for the radiance of the Divine Presence. After all, the word for "grace" (χάρις) is directly linked to the word for "joy" (χαρά).  This heart is soft and tender - a spiritual and sanctified heart - that is submissive to the will of God. It is upon the inner "tablets" of this heart that the Torah of God truly written (Jer. 31:33).

There aren't two gospel messages: one for the sinner and the other for the saint... The message of the gospel is always "good news" to those who are sin-sick and riddled with guilt and shame, and it is always "bad news" for those who deny their inner condition before God and believe that they can justify themselves. In other words, there's no "gospel" message apart from the message of the cross of Yeshua, and the cross represents the end of the ego and its devices. We don't get saved in order to follow the path of self-righteousness; we get saved to be witnesses of God's righteousness... We love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

May it please God to give us all soft hearts and renewed spirits that are empowered to love in the truth and to walk before His Presence... May He perform a divine "heart transplant" so that we may feel the heartbeat of the Spirit within us.  Amen.
 




Righteous Judgment...


 

07.14.15  (Tammuz 27, 5775)  "Judge others as you would want to be judged." As Yeshua said, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge be'tzekdek (בְּצֶדֶק),' that is, with merciful judgment (John 7:24). Truth is classically understood as "correspondence with reality," however since reality is not static, the truth of something is bound up with its past, present, and future. To "walk in truth," then, means being mindful of the complexities of something, and consequently refusing to rush to judgment or to be prejudiced in our thinking... Since truth includes possibilities for the future, it uses the good eye and "hopes all things" (1 Cor. 13:7). Notice that the word tzedek (צֶדֶק) includes the decision to act in "charity" and love. We are commanded to give tzedakah (צְדָקָה, "charity") not only because it is "right," but because it expresses God's love and care for others. A judgment is righteous, in other words, because it decisively affirms faith in God's love...
 

    "Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind... Pride always means enmity - it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good - above all, better than someone else - I think we may be sure we are being acted upon, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is either that you forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether. "- C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity)

 




Prophecy of Healing...


 

07.14.15  (Tammuz 27, 5775)  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 (בּכָל־לְבָבְךָ), and with all your soul (וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ), 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 (lev chadash), and a new spirit (ruach chadashah) 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 great 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. 
 




Guarding Your Heart...


 

07.13.15  (Tammuz 26, 5775)  In our Torah for this week (Mattot) we are told to keep our word and not to break our promises (Num. 30:1-2). Yeshua went well beyond these basic requirements, however, and warned us that whatever is spoken in this life is "echoed" throughout eternity and will be reheard upon the day of judgment. He taught: "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless (ἀργὸν) word they utter, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). We are especially warned against making false promises or promises we might break: "Do not make an oath at all ... but let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil" (Matt. 5:34-37). Therefore the Holy Spirit says through David: "What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit" (Psalm 34:12-13).
 

מִי־הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים
 אהֵב יָמִים לִרְאוֹת טוֹב
נְצר לְשׁוֹנְךָ מֵרָע וּשְׂפָתֶיךָ מִדַּבֵּר מִרְמָה

mi · ha·ish · he·cha·fetz · chai·yim
o·hev · ya·mim · lir·ot · tov
ne·tzor · le·shon·kha · me·ra  · us·fa·te·kha · mi·da·ber · mir·mah

 

"What man is there who desires life
 and loves many days, that he may see good?
 Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit"
(Psalm 34:12-13)



Hebrew Study Card 
 

The words we say, 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, your murmuring thoughts, and understand that they are devarim (דְּבָרִים) "things," that are shaping and defining the course of your life right now. Therefore we read, "more than all else, guard your heart, because from it are the bounds of your life (תּוֹצְאוֹת חַיִּים). Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you" (Prov. 4:23-24). Our thoughts and words are ultimately "prayers" we are constantly offering; indeed, how you are thinking determines the "habitation" of your life.

Our words define reality - not in an absolute sense, of course - but in terms of our perspective and attitude, and for that we are held responsible before the LORD. In other words, we are "epistemologically" responsible for what we think. And since our words express our thoughts, Yeshua wants us to make up our minds: "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit."

Yeshua spoke of "good and evil treasures of the heart" that produce actions formed in our words (Luke 6:45). The focus here is not so much on the externals (for example, the use of profanity), but rather on the underlying condition of the human heart. Our inward motive determines our thinking, which in turn affects the way we act and use words. We must be on guard to keep away from lashon hara (evil speech) by focusing on what is worthy, lovely, and of good report (Phil. 4:8). Amen: "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).

For more on this topic, see "The Sanctity of our Words: Further thoughts on Mattot."
 




Words and Peace...


 

07.13.15  (Tammuz 26, 5775)  According to the sages, tzara'at (i.e., "spiritual disease") is punishment for evil talk, or "lashon hara" (לָשׁוֹן הָרָה). Using deceitful speech is spiritually dangerous, and therefore a key virtue of the healthy soul is the practice of shemirat ha-lashon (שְׁמִירַת הַלָּשׁוֹן), or the "guarding of the tongue." As the Spirit attests: "Come, children, listen to me: I will teach you the awe of the LORD (יִרְאַת יְהוָה): What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:11-14). This implies that our inner peace is connected with our intention and use of words: Consciously refraining from evil speech expresses reverence and wonder before the Divine Presence, whereas the contrary indicates spiritual dis-ease, a divided heart, and inner grief: "From the same mouth come blessing and cursing; brothers, these things ought not to be so" (James 3:10). We are healed by turning to God in the truth. The one who respects the LORD will "see good," that is, he will see the goodness of his surroundings in the light of God's Presence. Seeing the good in others, using a good eye (ayin tovah), is therefore the contrary of lashon hara and slander. Our words should be used to upbuild, edify, and esteem others, never to accuse or tear them down. May God help us speak so that we "give grace to those who hear" (Eph. 4:29).

Note: The prohibition against lashon hara does not imply that we are excused from making righteous judgments (John 7:24). Sometimes it is the mark of a coward to refrain from speaking the truth. As Albert Einstein once said, "The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing." We must "speak the truth in love," even if that means sometimes offending those who wish to excuse or overlook evil behavior. For more, see "Shemirat Ha'Lashon: Guarding your tongue."
 




Wholeness and Words...


 

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

07.13.15  (Tammuz 26, 5775)  "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.
 




Mourning for Zion...


 

07.12.15  (Tammuz 25, 5775)  We are in the midst of a three week period of mourning that culminates on Tishah B'Av (תשעה באב). During this three week period, the scheduled readings from the prophets are all "Haftarahs of Rebuke" (תוֹכֵחָה) that warn of imminent judgment from heaven, and therefore the theme of most Jewish religious services is teshuvah (repentance). Among the Orthodox, the last nine days of the three weeks are the most solemn. Beginning on the first day of the month of Av, traditional mourning customs are practiced in anticipation of the somber fast day of the Ninth of Av, when the Book of Lamentations (Megillat Eichah) is dolefully recited during the evening service..

Three Weeks of SorrowThree Weeks of Sorrow
 

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.
 




Parashiyot Mattot-Masei (מטות־מסעי)


 

07.12.15  (Tammuz 24, 5775)  We have a "double portion" of Torah for this week, friends, as we conclude Sefer Bamidbar, or "the Book of Numbers." Our first portion, parashat Mattot (מַטּוֹת), begins with the LORD giving laws regarding the making of vows (nedarim). After this, the Israelites were commanded to wage war against the Midianites for seducing the people to sin at the incident of "Baal Peor." During the ensuing battle, the wicked sorcerer Balaam was killed, as well as five tribal kings of the land of Midian. Our second portion, parashat Masei (מַסְעֵי), provides the boundaries of the land of Canaan that were to be initially occupied by the Israelites. Note that these borders are not the same as those described earlier to Abraham (see Gen. 15:18-21), since that area will be given to Israel only after our Messiah returns to establish Zion during the Millennial Kingdom (see Ezek. 47:15-48:35). During that coming time, Jerusalem will be the center of the earth and renamed as "Adonai Shammah" (יְהוָה שָׁמָּה), "the LORD is there." Since the Book of Deuteronomy is "mishneh Torah" (מִשְׁנֶה תוֹרָה) - a "retelling of Torah," it may be said that the Torah of Moses ends with these final portions, and by extension, with the ongoing yearning for Zion...

You can download the "Table Talk" for each of these portions here:

Since this week's Torah portions conclude the "Book of Numbers," we traditionally recite three special words of encouragement: Chazak, chazak, ve'nitchazek, meaning "be strong, be strong, and we will get stronger." Shavuah tov, chaverim!
 




The Beloved of Life...


 

07.10.15  (Tammuz 22, 5775)  The Hebrew word for "life" is chayim (חַיִּים), a plural noun that contains two consecutive letter yods (יי) that picture two "hands held together" (the Hebrew word yad [יָד] means "hand"), or the union of our spirit with God's Spirit. The word itself reveals that there is no life apart from union with God, who extends his hand to you and says, "Live in me" (John 15:4). Yes - live in God, who is your life, your Beloved, your light, your truth, your healing, your beauty, your breath, and your salvation. Yeshua is the Source of all life, and we find nourishment, strength, and fullness of joy as we connect with his life. The Lord is our light and our salvation, the Mediator of divine life (Psalm 27:1; John 1:4). The Voice of the LORD still speaks: "Take heart. It is I; be not afraid."

Note further that the Hebrew word for "beloved" is yedid (יְדִיד), which comes from the word dod (דּוֹד), as used in the verse ani le'dodi ve'dodi li (אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי), "I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me" (Song 6:3). The name "David" (דָוִד) also comes from this root. It is interesting to see that the word yedid is similarly formed by combining or joining the Hebrew word for "hand" (i.e., yad: יָד) together (i.e., יָד+יָד), which pictures two lovers walking together and holding hands. Your life with God is bound up in knowing him as your Beloved one, and understanding that you are His beloved...

"Where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there I AM in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). The Divine Life is such that it is never diminished as it shared but instead grows and multiplies in miraculous ways. This is alluded to by the Hebrew word for love (i.e., ahavah: אהבה), the gematria of which is thirteen (1+5+2+5=13), but when shared with another it is multiplied: 13 x 2 = 26 - the same value for the Sacred Name (יהוה), i.e., (10+5+6+5=26). The love of God given in Yeshua our Lord is the very heart and life of reality for us, dear friends...

Personal Note: Please remember this ministry in your prayers, friends: I have been in the refining fires lately, and it's been hard on many levels. Thank you, and SHABBAT SHALOM!
 




Our Daily Deliverance...


 

07.10.15  (Tammuz 22, 5775)  Just as we ask God for daily bread (לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ), so we ask him for our daily deliverance: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one" (Matt 6:13). Note that the term translated "evil" in many translations ("deliver us from evil") is a substantive rather than an adjective: τοῦ πονηροῦ, the evil one... "Give us this day our daily deliverance from the evil one...." Our daily bread and our daily deliverance are connected with our decision to "choose life" (בַּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים) -- and to always choose life -- even in moments we find difficult, distressing, and even when we might wish that we were no longer living... Choosing life means refusing to escape reality by evading the significance of our choices; it means finding the will to regard life as worthy; it implies that we will eat our bread in trust that the Lord is at work even in the darkest of hours (Passover occurred at midnight)... Choosing life means refusing to eat the fruit of death and to seek Yeshua, the Tree of Life. We live one day at a time; we only have today. We are given daily bread for this hour of our need. Today is the day of your deliverance - if you are willing to walk in it. Therefore, the Spirit of the Living God cries out, "Choose life and live!"

"Do not be grieved [even over yourself], for the joy of the LORD (חֶדְוַת יְהוָה) is your strength" (Neh. 8:10). Gratefully affirming the love, faithfulness, compassion, and salvation of God is a powerful way to defeat the enemy of our souls, who regularly entices us to despair and fear. King David regularly 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 (תִּתְעַטֵּף עָלַי רוּחִי); my heart within me is appalled" (Psalm 143:2-3). Despite whatever struggle we may face, "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 its effect, presence, and influence... Amen.
 

בְּהִתְעַטֵּף עָלַי רוּחִי
וְאַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ נְתִיבָתִי

be·hit·a·teif · a·lai · ru·chi,
ve·at·ta · ya·da·ta · ne·ti·va·ti
 

"When my spirit faints within me,
you know my way"
(Psalm 142:3)

 

 




The Breath of Life...


 

07.09.15  (Tammuz 21, 5775)  A verse from this week's Torah (i.e., parashat Pinchas) reveals another great Name of God: Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), which can be translated "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 27:16). This Name reveals that the LORD is the Source of your breath, the One who exhales to you nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" that enables you to live (Job 12:10). The sages use the analogy of a glassblower who creates a glass vessel. Just as the glassblower blows into a tube to form a vessel from molten glass, so the "breath" (i.e., neshamah: נְשָׁמָה) that comes from the LORD functions as spirit (i.e., ruach: רוּחַ) that forms and fills the human soul (i.e., nefesh: נֶפֶשׁ). Note especially that the Name YHVH (יהוה) first appears in this connection (Gen. 2:7), a Name that also means "God is Present" (Exod. 3:14) and "God is Mercy" (Exod. 34:6-7). Note also that each letter of the Name YHVH represents a vowel sound (i.e., breath), suggesting that God's Spirit is as close as your very next breath. Like the wind that cannot be seen, so is the spirit the essential part of your identity. Truly in God we "live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).
 




The Breath of God...


 

07.09.15  (Tammuz 21, 5775)  After accepting that he would soon die and therefore be unable to finally lead the people into the promised land, Moses prayed: "Let the LORD (יהוה), "the God of the spirits of all flesh" (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd." So the LORD said to Moses, "Take Joshua the son of Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן, lit. "son of life"), a man in whom is the Spirit (רוּח), and lay your hand on him" (Num. 27:16-18).

The Talmud notes that the word Nun (נוּן) means "fish," a symbol of activity and life. Joshua, the chosen one who succeeded Moses and led the people into the Promised Land, was the "Son of Life" - a clear picture of Yeshua our Messiah, the "spirit-filled good Shepherd" who would lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). The LORD is indeed the "God of the breath of all flesh." 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.
 




Wounded Shepherd...


 

07.09.15  (Tammuz 21, 5775)  From our Torah this week we read Moses' appeal for his successor: "Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh (אלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd" (Num. 27:16-17). The Koznitzer rebbe commented here that Moses asked God to appoint a leader "for all flesh," lekhol basar (לְכָל־בָּשָׂר). Rearranging the letters of basar (בָּשָׂר), he formed the word shavar (שָׁבָר), which means "to break in pieces," and concluded that a true leader should be one with a broken heart (לב שבור), that is, one who can sympathize and have pity on his people (Heb. 2:8; 4:15; 5:1-ff). He should not be proud or aristocratic, but like a shepherd, a plain and simple person, who guides his people to observe the ways of the LORD.
 




The Courage of Pinchas...


 

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

07.09.15  (Tammuz 21, 5775)  Pinchas is sometimes (unjustly) regarded as a "fanatic" who took the law into his own hands, but it must be remembered that he acted in the midst of a terrible crisis – a mutiny of Israel's leaders who had abandoned God's authority – and he acted courageously, in accordance with God's will, and for the welfare of his people (see Num. 25:1-8). Superficially Pinchas' zeal may appear "dangerous" to those without moral conviction, and his action may seem outrageous to those who are faithless, but God rewarded him with a covenant of peace (בְּרִיתִי שָׁלוֹם) and a covenant of eternal priesthood (בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם) for his courage (see Num. 25:10-13). Understood in context, Pinchas' actions were justified, and it would be a mistake to confuse his conviction with angry and unthinking "fanaticism." Indeed, the real danger of fanaticism in our world may be found in political movements led by those who lust after worldly power. In fact, political demagogues, in the name of their godless philosophies of communism, socialism, and fascism, have murdered more people in the last 100 years than all the religious conflicts in the history of the world combined... Tragically, the 20th century was the bloodiest in human history, with over 260 million people murdered by political movements that suppressed the truth of Scripture and that regarded human beings as mere "animals" to be exploited. Contrary to the zeal of the fascists of today's world, the zeal of Pinchas was of an entirely different order. Where is says, Pinchas "was jealous with my jealousy among them" (Num. 25:11) the S'fat Emet noted that he instilled "among them," that is, the people, a sense of God's passion and truth, and for this he was commended by heaven...
 




Feeding God's Heart...


 

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

07.09.15  (Tammuz 21, 5775)  As I've discussed elsewhere on the site, the climax of the revelation of the Torah at Sinai was not the giving of the Ten Commandments to Israel but was instead the vision of the Altar of the sanctuary...  However -- as our Torah portion this week makes clear -- the central sacrifice upon this altar was the daily sacrifice (i.e., korban tamid: קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד) of a defect-free male lamb with unleavened bread and wine. The LORD calls this "my offering" (קָרְבָּנִי) and "my bread" (לַחְמִי) [Num. 28:1-8]. In other words, the service and ministry of the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle) constantly foreshadowed the coming of the great Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) who would be offered upon the altar of the cross to secure our eternal redemption (John 1:29; Heb. 9:11-12).

The sacrifice of the lamb represents "God's food," a pleasing aroma (רֵיחַ נִיחוֹחַ), for it most satisfied the hunger of God's heart (Eph. 5:2). Indeed, Yeshua's offering upon the cross represents God's hunger for our atonement, our healing from the sickness of death, since it restored what was lost to Him through sin, namely, communion with his children. God could never be satisfied until He was able to let truth and love meet (Psalm 85:10).

Note: For more on this subject, see "The Hunger of God's Heart."
 




The Torah of Life...


 

07.08.15  (Tammuz 20, 5775)  It is always good to review the message of the gospel of Messiah (בְּשׂוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ). The way of the carnal ego and its religion is to attempt to reform (or rationalize) its nature, to appear to follow the law, to create "good karma," to beautify itself, and so on, whereas God's way is not to make us stronger and stronger, but rather to crucify the old nature and impart newness of life... Messiah "in me" abolishes the law (understood here as the principle of self-justification), condemns sin in the flesh (by dying on the cross), and kills the spiritual power of death itself (by means of the resurrection)... Like all sacrifices brought to the altar, we must pass through death to life by means of our union with the Messiah at the cross. It is only after the cross that it may be said, "It is no longer 'I' who lives; now it is Messiah who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). But note that the Torah of the New Testament (תורת הברית החדשה) is spoken to the new nature given to us by God, and not to the old nature that is to be reckoned as crucified and done away. By faith we receive "lev chadash ve'ruach chadashah" (לֵב חָדָשׁ וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה) - a new heart and spirit - that empowers us to live the truth of what God has done for us in our beloved Savior. You are a new creation; therefore be who you are in the Messiah!

The Torah says: "Look, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse" (Deut. 11:26). The Hebrew grammar of this verse begins with the imperative singular "you look!" (רְאֵה) but shifts to the plural, "before you" (לִפְנֵיכֶם), which suggests that though the Word is freely given to everyone "who has ears to hear," it's our personal responsibility to "choose life" and wrestle its message out in our lives... In other words, God offers his blessing to all, but it must be personally received to be your own. "According to your faith, let it be for you" (Matt. 9:29). Yeshua died for your sins so that you can receive everlasting spiritual life, but that blessing has no effect unless and until you open your heart. What does it mean to say that Yeshua is "in you" except to say he lives within the heart of faith? "As long as Messiah remains outside of us we are separated from him."
 




Hold Fast to Truth...


 

07.08.15  (Tammuz 20, 5775)  One of the main strategies of the devil is to induce a sense of forgetfulness, apathy, and hopelessness... The devil wants you to ignore what is real and who you really are. The truth is your weapon against the cascade of lies that pours forth from the world and its princes. The entire venture of teshuvah (repentance) presupposes that you are created "in the image of God," that you are related to him, and therefore you have infinite value and dignity. This is all the more evident in light of the awesome ransom that Yeshua gave to reconcile your soul with God. Therefore hold fast to the truth, friends; da lifnei mi attah omed - "know before Whom you stand." Turn to what is real, refuse the lies and despair of this world, and review what will abide the test of Eternity.
 

כִּי־חַסְדְּךָ לְנֶגֶד עֵינָי
וְהִתְהַלַּכְתִּי בַּאֲמִתֶּךָ

ki · chas·de·kha · le·ne·ged · ei·nai
ve·hit·hal·lakh·ti · ba·a·mi·te·kha
 

"For your steadfast love is before my eyes
and I walk in your truth."
(Psalm 26:3)


 


Note that the verb "I walk" (הִתְהַלַּכְתִּי) is "hithpael," a verb pattern used to express reflexive, intensive action done to oneself. Therefore we could translate this as "I earnestly choose to walk" in the truth, indicating decisiveness of intent, focus, purpose... As King Shlomo said: בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ - "know Him in all your ways" (Prov. 3:6).
 




Pinchas and Isaac...


 

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

07.07.15  (Tammuz 19, 5775)  The name "Phinehas" (i.e., Pinchas: פִּינְחָס) shares the same numeric value (gematria) as the name "Isaac" (i.e., Yitzchak: יִצְחָק), which suggests that just as Isaac was willing to be sacrificed in obedience to God (i.e., during the Akedah at Moriah), so Pinchas was willing to die for his zeal. Note further that Pinchas' passion turned away the wrath of God and established a covenant of an "eternal priesthood" (כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם), a phrase that shares the letter value as the word be'acharit (בְּאַחֲרִית), a term that means at the "end of days" (Gen. 49:1; 1 John 2:18). To string this together, we see a connection between Isaac and Pinchas, both of whom picture Yeshua our Messiah. Isaac is a picture of the Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים), of course, and Pinchas pictures the zeal that grafts the heart into the everlasting priesthood of God. The Hebrew gematria affirms that the priesthood of Yeshua that brings everlasting peace is the "end of days" priesthood for humanity, and there is no other. Just as Pinchas was "grafted in" to the priesthood of Israel, so those who belong to Messiah are "grafted in" priests for the end of days...
 

כִּי־קִנְאַת בֵּיתְךָ אֲכָלָתְנִי
וְחֶרְפּוֹת חוֹרְפֶיךָ נָפְלוּ עָלָי

ki · ki·nat · be·te·kha ·a·cha·la·tni
ve·cher·pot · cho·re·fe·kha · na·fe·lu · a·lai
 

"For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.
(Psalm 69:9)


 

So pray with the wholehearted conviction that God has called you to intercede on behalf of the world... Your prayers in the Name above all Names move heaven and earth!
 




True and False Zeal...


 

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

07.07.15  (Tammuz 19, 5775)  You may be entirely sincere in your convictions, but you may be sincerely wrong... In the time of the Second Temple, for instance, the Zealots despised the rule of Rome. Their political hatred caused them to blindly regard anyone who didn't share their passion as a personal enemy. In one of the great tragedies of Jewish history, these zealots actually killed more Jews than did the Romans themselves!  And how many Christians these days "kill" relationships with other believers because of their particular zeal regarding some doctrinal question? I am not suggesting that doctrine is unimportant, of course, but before you pick up that sword to do the business of Pinchas, you might do well to consider your heart's attitude...

We need to be careful with our passions. There is a "false zeal" that leads to estrangement and confusion. Withholding love from others is ultimately grounded in an appeal to God as the administrator of Justice.  It is an appeal to God as Elohim (אֱלהִים), not as YHVH (יהוה), the Compassionate Source of Life.  If we insist on our rights, we appeal to principles of justice, i.e., to God as the Lawgiver. But if we intend to have God be the Judge of others, we must appeal to Him to be our own Judge as well. If we have an unforgiving spirit toward others, we will not be forgiven (Matt. 6:15); if we are judgmental toward them, we ourselves will be put on trial; if we are cruel and ungiving toward them, we will experience life as hellish, miserable and mean. This reciprocal principle of Kingdom life appears throughout Jesus' teaching. According to your faith, be it done unto you (Matt. 9:29).

Note:  For more on this important topic, see "Parashat Pinchas: God's Greater Zeal."
 




Near the Brokenhearted...


 

07.06.15  (Tammuz 18, 5775)  Spirituality often enough involves a sense of irremediable brokenness, a feeling that you are not whole, that you are a mess, and that your need for God's healing is constant and relentless... Contrary to the ideals of proud humanism, spirituality is a state of "blessed neediness," of being "poor in spirit," that aches with inner desperation for God's power of healing. Those who humbly cry out to the LORD understand their great need for deliverance. Our Lord Yeshua testified: "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10), and therefore He is found in the midst of the leper colonies of the hurting, the forgotten, and the rejected.  As the "Man of Sorrows" (i.e., ish makhovot: אִישׁ מַכְאבוֹת) he understands the language of our pain (Isa. 53:3).
 

קָרוֹב יְהוָה לְנִשְׁבְּרֵי־לֵב
וְאֶת־דַּכְּאֵי־רוּחַ יוֹשִׁיעַ

ka·rov · Adonai · le·nish·be·rei · lev
ve·et · dak·ei · ru·ach · yo·shi·a

 

"The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit"
(Psalm 34:18)



Hebrew Study Card
 

The question may be asked, how can we live with our brokenness? Yeshua asks us not to see it as a curse from God that reminds us of our wretched condition but to yield it to Him for our sanctification and ultimate healing... In this way, brokenness can be a gateway to a deeper walk with God, going "through the wound" to find life and blessing...
 




Keep on Trusting...


 

07.06.15  (Tammuz 18, 5775)  When Yeshua said, "Let not your heart be troubled... I go to prepare a place for you," he was assuring his friends that he had matters well under his control, and therefore they did not need to worry, since his passion rendered their salvation completely secure... The future is a "prepared place" for you, even if life in this world is often marked by testing and various refining fires. God has not promised to rescue us according to our own schedule, however, so if it appears that your prayers are not immediately answered, keep waiting in faith: "Rejoice, even if you have been grieved by various trials, because the tested genuineness of your faith -- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire -- may result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Pet. 1:6-7). God works "all things together for good," and since the exercise of faith is your good, he engineers all things to build your faith. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD" (Isa. 55:8).

Recall the words: "Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God" (Isa. 50:10). Trusting in God (i.e., bittachon - בִּטָּחוֹן) doesn't mean that we are obligated to say this is "the best of all possible worlds," though it does mean we believe that eventually God will wipe away every tear and make all things right... Bittachon is a word for this world, which says, "Though he slay me, I will trust in him..." Those who call upon the LORD can trust not only in concealed good behind ambiguous appearances ("all things work together for good") but also in a future, real, substantive good that will one day be clearly manifest for us all... We fight the "good fight" of faith, which is a worthy struggle that eventually is realized for blessing. Meanwhile, may the LORD our God keep us from such depth of sorrow that leads to sickness, darkness and despair.

The very last promise of Scripture is "I come quickly" (אֲנִי בָא מַהֵר) and the last prayer is, "Amen, come, Lord Yeshua" (אָמֵן בּאָה־נָּא הָאָדוֹן יֵשׁוּעַ) [Rev. 22:20]. Meanwhile we "inwardly groan" for the fulfillment of our redemption; since presently we are suspended between worlds, walking in hope yet subject to the vanities that befall all flesh. And though God may tarry, He declares, "I am the LORD; in its time I will hasten it" (Isa. 60:22). So we are made captives to hope, clinging to the promise of our ultimate healing and redemption. Our hearts therefore affirm that God is faithful "to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 1:24). Amen. God will help us before He will help us, and may He come speedily, and in our day....
 




Parashat Pinchas - פינחס


 

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

07.05.15  (Tammuz 17, 5775)  Last week's Torah portion (i.e., parashat Balak) introduced us to Phinehas (i.e., Pinchas), the son of Eleazar the priest (and grandson of Aaron), who, during the rebellion at Baal Peor, zealously removed evil from Israel by driving a spear through a tribal prince who was brazenly cavorting with a Midianite princess in definace of God's law. On account of Pinchas' zeal for the Torah, God stopped the plague and Israel was delivered from destruction...

This week's Torah portion begins with the LORD rewarding Pinchas by granting him a "covenant of peace" (בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם) and officially promising to incorporate him into the priestly line of Israel. This promise was remarkable because Pinchas was technically not qualified to be a priest, since he was already born when the original promise was given to Aaron and his sons, and since his father Eleazar was married to an "outsider" – namely, the daughter of Jethro (also called Putiel, Exod. 6:25).

After Pinchas was honored before the people of Israel, the LORD commanded Moses and Eleazar to conduct another census of the people (this was 39 years after the Exodus from Egypt), with the result of 601,730 men between the ages of twenty and sixty (1,820 less that the original census taken at the start of the journey). Moses was then instructed on how the land was to be divided by lottery among the tribes and families of Israel. The daughters of Zelophehad then petitioned Moses that they be granted the portion of the land belonging to their father, who died without sons, and God accepted their claim and incorporated it into the laws of inheritance.

The LORD then commanded Moses to climb mount Abarim to "see the land which I have given to the children of Israel," though he was forbidden to enter it because he struck the rock twice at Kadesh. God then told Moses to appoint Joshua bin Nun as his successor who would lead the Jewish people into the Promised Land.

Parashat Pinchas (like parashat Emor in Leviticus) also includes mention of all of the (sacrifices of the) mo'edim (holidays) given to Israel (Num. 28). These include the daily (tamid), weekly (Shabbat), monthly (Rosh Chodesh) sacrifices, as well as the sacrifices assigned to the special holidays: Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hoshannah (Terumah), Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret.  Remembering the joys of the Temple and the special celebrations of the Jewish people are thought to add a contrast to the otherwise somber time of reflection during the Three Weeks of Sorrow.
 

 




The Three Weeks of Sorrow...


 

07.05.15  (Tammuz 17, 5775)  According to Jewish tradition Moses shattered the tablets on the 17th day of the 4th month, after he came down from Mount Sinai and found the people worshipping the golden calf. Today, this tragic date is commemorated as a fast day (i.e., the "Fast of Tammuz"), which marks the beginning of a three week period of mourning that culminates on the 9th of Av, the date the Israelites were sent into exile from the promised land because they believed the evil report of the spies (Num. 14:20-35).

During this three week period of national mourning, the weekly readings from the prophets are all "Haftarahs of Rebuke" that warn the people about imminent judgment from heaven, and therefore the theme of most Jewish religious services is teshuvah (repentance). In addition, weddings or other joyous events are usually not held 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 most solemn fast day of Tishah B'Av, when the Book of Lamentations (Megillat Eichah) is plaintively recited during the evening service.

Three Weeks of SorrowThree Weeks of Sorrow
 

Dates During the Three Weeks of Sorrow: 

This year the fast of Tammuz began at dawn on Tuesday, July 5th and lasted until sunset (Tishah B'Av begins Saturday, July 25th and ends Sunday, July 26th at sunset).
 




Relying on God Alone...


 

07.03.15  (Tammuz 16, 5775)  "We we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself, yes, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead" (2 Cor 1:8-9). This marks the end of carnal hope, when we realize we are but "dead men walking," and from this extremity of inner desperation and clarity we learn to rely solely on God for what we need. Here we abandon ourselves to God's care, despite the despair, darkness, and fear. We rely on "God who raises the dead," because all other remedies have been vanquished. It is a great gift to be so afflicted, for these "troubles of love" teach us to trust God alone for all we need. The only way out is through. We don't seek an easy way of life, but only that the LORD our God be with us throughout our troubles.

Shabbat shalom dear friends. Thank you for standing with this ministry...
 




Affliction and Comfort...


 

07.02.15  (Tammuz 15, 5775)  Some of us carry a deep and stubborn inner pain that refuses to leave us, even after we have poured out our hearts before heaven for deliverance... Perhaps this pain comes from wounds inflicted early in life that have left us feeling betrayed, victimized, and wary of the promise love. God knows our struggle... We can find healing when we learn to "own" the pain and make it part of our story, trusting that God will use it to draw us close to him for our good. After all, God is called "the Father of Mercies and God of all comfort" (אַב הָרַחֲמִים וֵאלהֵי כָּל־נֶחָמָה), and the Lord "comforts us" (lit., "calls us to His side," παρακαλέω) in our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are afflicted with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Take comfort, then, that your Heavenly Father sees when the sparrow falls; he arrays the flower in its hidden valley; he calls each star by name. More importantly, the Lord sees you and understands your struggle. He will never leave you nor forsake you...
 

הָרפֵא לִשְׁבוּרֵי לֵב וּמְחַבֵּשׁ לְעַצְּבוֹתָם
מוֹנֶה מִסְפָּר לַכּוֹכָבִים לְכֻלָּם שֵׁמוֹת יִקְרָא

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

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

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




Presence in Prayer...


 

07.01.15  (Tammuz 14, 5775)  We often need to pray before we can pray... "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). The sages say that when you so pray, your focus should be so concentrated that you are ready to die during the prayer. Regard yourself as a living sacrifice (korban chai) and offer your blood, your body, your soul, your will upon the altar before God (Rom. 12:1). Say, "Lord, I offer myself to Thee, to do with me as Thou will. Relieve me of the bondage of myself, that I might do Thy will..."  Ask for the Holy Spirit to breath out the words of God's heart; cleave to God as if you had ascended before the Throne of Grace. "O LORD, open Thou my lips and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise."
 

אֲדנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶךָ

Adonai · se·fa·tai · tif·tach · u·fi · yag·gid · te·hil·la·te·kha
 

"O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise"
(Psalm 51:15)


 

Yeshua taught us to abstain from using "vain repetitions" in our prayers, since our Heavenly Father knows what we need before we ask Him (Matt. 6:7-8). Don't worry about the verbiage of your prayers, then, since the Holy Spirit will groan on your behalf (Rom. 8:26). 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. "When you pray, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words be without heart" (John Bunyan). The point, of course, is that we come to God to do real business with Him, not to play games or to offer "lip service." Are we really "showing up" when we pray?
 




Awake, O my soul...


 

07.01.15  (Tammuz 14, 5775)  We are living in perilous times, and for all the more reason we must "pay more careful attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away" (Heb. 2:1). Spiritually speaking, the greater danger is often not some spectacular sin but rather the imperceptible drifting away of the heart, a cooling of passion, a failure to tend the fire of our inner altar.... I would much prefer a heaven-sent affliction and chastisement than to fade away in deathly repose, a state of unconscious exile... "Awake, my glory! Awake!" (עוּרָה כְבוֹדִי עוּרָה). Break the spell of lethal habit.

We must be anchored to the truth lest we become shipwrecked in our faith. Drifting is often imperceptible, and occurs slowly, though the end result is as deadly as openly turning away from God in outright apostasy. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, "The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts." The grave danger today is to quietly and invisibly give up hope, to unconsciously "go with the flow," to become comfortably numb, to fall asleep, and therefore to die inside... It is far more dangerous to ignore God's mercy, or to make a pretense of knowing God's grace, than it is to blatantly break his law. Therefore the urgent need is to remember, to hear, and to awaken the soul to face the truth about reality. We must focus the heart, concentrate the will, and consciously "set" the Lord always before us (Psalm 16:8). Each day we must awaken from our emptiness to reaffirm the central truth: "Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:4-5). "Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light" (Eph. 5:14).

We must press on to secure our high calling in Messiah: "Let us know; let us press on to know (i.e., נִרְדְּפָה, "pursue after") the LORD; His going out is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth" (Hos. 6:3). May God help us pursue him be'khol levavkha - with all our heart - because He has promised, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13).
 




He is Faithful and True...


 

[ In our Torah portion this week (Balak), we read how Balaam intended to curse the Israelites, but God "took hold of his tongue" and made him bless the people instead... ]

07.01.15  (Tammuz 14, 5775)  It is encouraging to understand that despite the repeated failures of the Israelites in the desert, the LORD never let go of his people... Indeed, as the story of Balaam reveals, if a spiritual enemy would secretly arise to curse Israel, God would take the sorcerer "by the tongue" to evoke God's blessing instead (Deut. 23:4-5). As Balaam himself attested: "there is no sorcery (i.e., nachash: נַחַשׁ) against Jacob, no divination (i.e, kesem: קֶסֶם) against Israel" (Num. 23:23). Unlike scheming Balaam, who was willing to say whatever people wanted to gain temporal reward, God is "not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind" (Num. 23:19). What the LORD has promised he will invincibly perform: His word is full of integrity and truth: "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8). The God of Israel is forever faithful in his love, and no one can overrule his desire (Num. 23:20; Rom. 11:29).
 




Blessing of Inner Peace...


 

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

07.01.15  (Tammuz 14, 5775)  It is remarkable that the traditional morning blessing recited at synagogues around the world begins with words attributed to Balaam, the enigmatic and self-styled prophet: Mah Tovu: "How lovely are your tents, O Jacob; your dwelling places, O Israel!" (Num. 24:5). The sages say that the word "tent" (אהֶל) refers to the inner life – how we really feel inside – whereas the word "dwelling" (מִשְׁכָּן) refers to the outer life - our place or circumstances.  Together, the inner and the outer mark the quality of our lives, but the inner is the starting point, since we must first learn to live in peace with ourselves. This is vital: we must first tolerate our shortcomings and practice compassion toward our frail humanity... This is sometimes called shalom ba'bayit, "peace in the home" (of the self). Such inner peace is the greatest of blessings, since without it we will cling to pain, fear, and anger, thereby making us unable to find our place at the table in God's kingdom of love.
 

מַה־טּבוּ אהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקב
מִשְׁכְּנתֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל

mah · to·vu · o·ha·le·kha · Ya·a·kov
mish·ke·no·te·kha · Yis·ra·el
 

"How lovely are your tents, O Jacob,
your dwellings, O Israel"
(Num. 24:5)



  

Note: For more on this, see the Mah Tovu Blessing pages.
 




 

June 2015 Site Updates
 



Lord of the Center...


 

06.30.15  (Tammuz 13, 5775)  God's Name is "I-AM-with-you-always," Immanuel (עִמָּנוּ אֵל) - always in the midst of you, your heart, your Center... The LORD is named this way because he is never without his own, and we are who we are in relation to his presence in our lives. Yeshua is not simply the Lord of the past or the Lord of the future, but the Lord of this moment, this "here" and this "now." He is the same yesterday, today, and forever - the breath of life, our sustaining hope, the Shepherd of our souls... Whatever else may come of this day, this is the day that the LORD has made, and we can find peace in God's Presence.
 

זֶה־הַיּוֹם עָשָׂה יְהוָה
נָגִילָה וְנִשְׂמְחָה בוֹ

zeh · ha·yom · a·sah · Adonai
na·gi·lah · ve·nis·me·chah ·vo

 

"This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it."
(Psalm 118:24)

 




Faith and Collision...


 

06.30.15  (Tammuz 13, 5775)  The theology of Messiah insists that truth matters, and that knowing the truth about God is absolutely essential for life itself. Nothing is more important; nothing is more vital. As Yeshua solemnly affirmed: "This is eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם), that they may know you, the only true God (אֶל־אֱמֶת), and Yeshua the Messiah (יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ) whom you have sent (John 17:3). Note that the Hebrew word for knowledge is da'at (דַּעַת), a word that implies intimate cognitive differentiation and the apprehension of spiritual reality. Your life is a venture of faith, an irrepeatable, infinitely costly venture. Faith both affirms and negates at the same time. Like falling in love with someone, the cost of passionately believing that Yeshua (alone) is the "way and the truth and the life" comes at the expense of other faith possibilities -- and thereby incurs the risk of offense (Rom. 9:33, 1 Pet. 2:7-8; Gal. 5:11, Matt. 24:8-11; etc.). Does this make faith in Messiah intolerant then? Not at all... All faith expressions - including skepticism, universalism, or "politically correct" humanism - are exclusivistic commitments to whatever the believer embraces as his or her "ground of ultimate concern." Each person has their own "narrow gate" -- though this gate does not necessarily lead to life.  Yeshua taught that the "narrow gateway of life" (שַּׁעַר אֶל־הַחַיִּים) is found only by the few (Matt. 7:13-14), and this doubtlessly was said to reprove the mob mentality that regards "tolerance" as the greatest of all virtues and fanaticism as the greatest of all evils. There is safety in numbers, the mob reasons, and the life of genuine conviction makes you an outcast of the group, since it exposes the "groupthink" and its inevitable moral evasions.... Public enemy number one is the person of real conviction. This was true in the days of the Hebrew prophets as it is today. "The voice crying in the wilderness" often cries alone.

Our faith says humans are created b'tzelem Elohim - in the image of God.  "In the beginning was the Logos" (John 1:1). Logic itself is "hard-wired" into us and any attempt to deny its validity presupposes its existence.  Logic also presupposes any form of experience, since we cannot even identify something without its categories at work. Similarly, the sense of value is hard-wired into us. We cannot know anything without valuing (and willing) knowledge itself, and therefore our sense of value (and goodness) precedes all experience. So both empirical and moral truth is inescapable for self-conscious individuals. Now since faith is always faith in something, it is evident that it points to something "outside" of itself, namely, to reality. In matters of fact (rather than tautological statements such as a=a), the "belief that p" is an existential statement that "p exists." A particular belief can be mistaken, of course, but if it is a true belief then (by definition) it must proximally correspond to reality. In other words, our beliefs are confessions of faith concerning what is ultimately real. 

Note: For more on this subject, see "Faith and Collision."
 




Shepherd in Darkness....


 

06.30.15  (Tammuz 13, 5775)  "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil..." (Psalm 23:4). O God of Light, Light of the world, surely You know my need for light as I look to You, especially when darkness tries to extinguish my hope. Despite my inability to see you now, help me to know that you are with me; let "thy rod and thy staff comfort me" and lead me closer to you. Lord, when I am afraid, quicken the faith you have put within my heart.  Be Thou my Shepherd in my darkness, O Lord my God...
 

גַּם כִּי־אֵלֵךְ בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת
 לא־אִירָא רָע כִּי־אַתָּה עִמָּדִי
 שִׁבְטְךָ וּמִשְׁעַנְתֶּךָ הֵמָּה יְנַחֲמֻנִי

gam · ki · e·lekh · be·gei · tzal·ma·vet
lo · i·ra · ra, · ki · at·tah · im·ma·di
shiv·te·kha · u·mish·an·te·kha · hem·mah · ye·na·cha·mu·ni

 

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
 I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
 Your rod and your staff, they comfort me"
(Psalm 23:4)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

 

"Be not afraid." Over and over again in the Scriptures we hear the LORD saying to those who trust in Him, al-tirah, "be not afraid." Nachman of Breslov is reported to have once said, "All the earth is a very narrow bridge (כָּל־הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ גֶּשֶׁר צַר מְאד), and the point of life is never to be afraid." Likewise we trust Yeshua to be the Bridge to the Father, the narrow way of passage that leads to everlasting life. He calls out to us in the storms of this world, "Take heart. It is I; be not afraid" (Matt. 14:27). The heart of faith senses the LORD's presence, even in the darkness, and hears the Spirit saying, "I am with you..."
 

    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
     

In times of testing, how we desperately do we need a sense of companionship and intimacy with the Lord! When you feel abandoned, ashamed, or alone; or when you are afraid and unsure of yourself; or when pain distances you from others, nudging you to isolation or loneliness, then may God's Spirit brood over you, whispering your name, reminding you that you are never alone, and that God Himself is forever for you, despite yourself. Therefore "fear no evil," because God is with you in the midst of your present darkness. As it is written: "Surely goodness and love shall pursue you all the days of your life, and you shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever" (Psalm 23:6). Come alive, O heart of faith!

Note: You prayers for this ministry are deeply and sincerely appreciated, friends...
 




The Doctrine of Balaam...


 

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

06.29.15  (Tammuz 12, 5775)  The "doctrine of Balaam" (ἡ διδαχή Βαλαάμ) is the wicked strategy of enticing others to sin by encouraging them to "eat food offered to idols" and to engage in sexual immorality (Rev. 2:14). This was how Balaam was able finally to curse the Israelites at Baal Peor, after all (see Num. 25:1-10; 31:16). In short, Balaam's doctrine was one of "syncretism," advocating a mindless "tolerance" that arrogantly claimed that all religions are equally true, and therefore all are equally false... Such "tolerance" is a charade for moral and spiritual nihilism that lends itself well to political fascism. In ancient Rome, official "tolerance" led to the brutal intolerance of the "Imperial Cult" where the power of the State (represented by the Emperor) was worshiped. In our age, the doctrine of Balaam first entices people to "eat food offered to idols," that is, to partake of the irrational dogma of "absolute tolerance" and unthinking universalism. After opening the heart to accept such idolatry, sexual immorality is the natural expression, a consequence of debasing doctrinal promiscuity. God sets us free from the slavery of surrounding culture to become a witness of the truth. Assimilating with this world and its political ideals is spiritual adultery. Do not fool yourself: Whoever makes himself a friend of the world is an enemy of God (James 4:4).
 

כִּיּ בְּרב חָכְמָה רָב־כָּעַס
וְיוֹסִיף דַּעַת יוֹסִיף מַכְאוֹב

ki · be'rov · choch·mah · rov-ka·as
ve·yo·sif · da'at · yo·sif · makh·ov
 

"For in much wisdom is much vexation,
and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow"
(Eccl. 1:18)

 




Resisting the Darkness...


 

06.29.15  (Tammuz 12, 5775)  The Spirit states that in acharit ha'yamim (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים), the latter days, people will have "seared consciences," that is, a moral sense that is rendered unresponsive, numb, and unfeeling... People will be unable to discern the significance of moral and spiritual reality, thereby silencing any qualm of moral protest. We see this today in our scandal-saturated culture, as politicians brazenly lie with impunity and moral anarchy is openly celebrated. We must be careful not to heed the devil's logic of compromise, that "dialectic" that denies transcendental moral reality by pretending that truth can only be defined by the exigencies of the hour and its desire. "The world passes away and the lusts thereof..." (1 John 2:17). We must consciously remind ourselves that the LORD God of Israel does not endorse sin, regardless of any supposed political benefit given to the world at large, and that the end never justifies the means. God is not a pragmatist, and there are no "noble lies" for sake of the Kingdom of Heaven...

Martin Buber once said, "What is accomplished through lies can assume the mask of truth; what is accomplished through violence can go in the guise of justice, and for a while the hoax may be successful. But soon people realize that lies are lies at bottom, that violence is violence - and that both lies and violence will suffer the destiny history has in store for all that is false." As Yeshua himself 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). "Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the Tree of Life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are all those who love and practice the lie..." (Rev. 22:14-15).

Does the End Justify the Means? 

In the realm of ethics, a basic problem with "means-to-end reasoning" is defining what is meant by "the good." It simply begs the question to say that what is "right" is that which brings about the desired outcome, since we must still explain why one outcome is more "desirable" than another. Political zealots have always defended their barbarity by claiming that it was for the sake of "a better world" or for a "greater good."  Indeed the Antichrist will be a big believer that the "ends justify the means" as he employs global deception and global enslavement for the sake of his perverted vision of utopia.

The Scriptures reveal that we do not "discover" what is right by means of experience, but we bring to experience an intuitive sense of moral value and truth (Rom. 2:15). The Apostle Paul condemned the pragmatic thought, "let us do evil that good may come" (Rom. 3:8), which means he rejected the supposition that we can disregard the moral quality of our methods for the sake of a good end.  Tragically people may think they are doing "many wonderful works" in God's name, and their goals may indeed be good, but the Lord will say to them, "Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness," because they are not doing according the will of the Father (Matt. 7:22-23). Even when the end is good, we must still walk out everything else God specified. We don't lie or sugarcoat the demands of the gospel, even if by employing such methods we were seemingly able to "convert" the entire world.
 




Perfected Strength...


 

06.29.15  (Tammuz 12, 5775)  "Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Eternal One, the LORD, is the Creator of the ends of the earth (בּוֹרֵא קְצוֹת הָאָרֶץ). He does not faint nor grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength" (Isa. 40:28-29). Human reason has no objection that God can impart strength, but it objects that strength is found in those who are broken and weary, that is, to the "poor in spirit" who mourn over their lives... And yet it is so: God gives strength to the weary, to the faint, to those who are at the end of themselves: "My power is made perfect (τελειοῦται) in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). Man's way is to seek charisma, to esteem those who have natural beauty, charm, or special talents, whereas God's way is first to break us, to make us weaker and weaker, so that he can then fill us with the miraculous divine nature (2 Cor. 4:7). Like all sacrifices that were brought to the altar, we must pass through death to life by means of our union with the Messiah at the cross... It is only after the cross that it may be said, "It is no longer 'I' who lives; now it is Messiah who lives His life in me." There is indeed strength, power, and victory – but such comes after we reckon carnal energy as useless. Indeed, the word "Hebrew" (עִבְרִי) means one who has "crossed over" (עָבַר) to the other side, as our father Abraham did (Gen. 14:13). It is on the other side of the cross that we experience the very power that created the universe "out of nothing" (i.e., yesh me'ayin: יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן) and that raised Yeshua the Messiah from the dead. "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says Adonai Tzeva'ot."
 

נתֵן לַיָּעֵף כּחַ
וּלְאֵין אוֹנִים עָצְמָה יַרְבֶּה

no·tein · la·ya·ef · ko·ach
u·le·ein · o·nim · otz·mah · yar·beh

 

"He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength"
(Isa. 40:29)



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Note that the word translated "strength" in this verse (otzmah) comes from the same root for "bones" (עֲצָמוֹת). This alludes to the vision of the "dry bones" being clothed with life at the time of resurrection. "Thus says the Lord God to these bones: 'Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live'" (Ezek. 37:5). If God has the power to give life to dessicated bones, surely his resurrection power can "quicken us" through the life of our beloved Savior Yeshua who said, "You will receive power (i.e., koach: כּחַ) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses" (Acts 1:7). Indeed you can do "all things" through Messiah who strengthens you (Phil. 4:13).
 




Overruling the Wicked...


 

06.28.15  (Tammuz 11, 5775)  Our Torah portion for this week (Balak) is named after a fearful Moabite king (בָּלָק) who sought to curse the Jewish people by hiring the services of a wicked Midianite "prophet" named Balaam (בִּלְעָם). King Balak's plan was to employ Balaam's sorcery (כַּשָׁפוּת) against the Israelites to prevent them from entering the Promised Land.  Similar to the delicious irony that befell the villain Haman in the Book of Esther, however, King Balak's scheme was upended, and the curse he sought to put on the Jewish people was repeatedly pronounced as a blessing by Balaam instead.  After several foiled attempts, Balak fretfully dismissed the prophet, but before departing from the dejected king, Balaam ironically prophesied the destruction of the Moabites and the victorious establishment of Israel. The shameful story of Balaam reveals that "there is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel" (Num. 23:23). Ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו) - no weapon or scheme devised against God will ever prosper (Isa. 54:15-17).

But who was this mysterious prophet named Balaam?  According to Jewish tradition, Jacob's wicked uncle Laban had a son named Beor (בְּעוֹר), who became the father of Balaam.  In other words, the "cursing prophet" Balaam was none other than the grandson of Laban:


 

Note that the name "Beor" first appears in connection with a king of Edom (Gen. 36:32), which suggests that Balaam might have once been a king of the Edomites (i.e., the descendants of Esau). Further note the phonetic similarity to Peor. If Beor and Peor are the same, then Balaam was actually a prophet of Baal Peor, a local Semitic god.

Balaam was regarded as a great seer, magician and an adept in the occult. He had an "evil eye" and drew the spirit of demons to anything he gazed upon (Avot 5:22).  His notoriety made him famous, and powerful people asked him to invoke curses on their enemies. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 106a) states that Balaam became so famous as a magician that he later became a chief advisor to Pharaoh. It was Balaam who advised the new Pharaoh to enslave the Israelites and to afflict them with brutal taskmasters (Exod. 1:8-11). For more information about the identity of Balaam, see the entry entitled, "The Curses of Balaam."
 

 




The Decree of Faith...


 

06.26.15  (Tammuz 9, 5775)  "This is the decree of the Torah... take a red cow" (Num. 19:2). The mitzvah of the red cow is called "the" decree of Torah (חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה), as if it were the central mitzvah, thereby highlighting the necessity of faith, and in particular, faith that believes healing from death is obtained by a divine exchange of the pure for the impure. The idea of God's substitutionary atonement, his love that empathizes and heals you of sin - is therefore the heart of faith, the central decree of true Torah. And this, of course, is the message of the cross itself: Jesus "saves people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). Yeshua was willing to become unclean, cut off, and the bearer of your sin so that you could be made pure, clean, and accepted in exchange (2 Cor. 5:21). May He "purge you with hyssop" so that you are made whiter than snow (Psalm 51:7).
 




Purging with Hyssop....


 

06.26.15  (Tammuz 9, 5775)  It is noteworthy that cedarwood, hyssop, and scarlet thread were used not only for cleansing the leper (Lev. 14) and for cleansing from contact with death (Num. 19), but also during the ratification of the covenant at Sinai (Exod. 24:8; Heb. 9:19-20) and indeed during the crucifixion of our Lord. Of course hyssop (אֵזוֹב) is first mentioned regarding the application of the blood of the lamb upon the doorposts during the Passover (Exod. 12:22), and King David later appealed to God for cleansing saying, "purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean" (Psalm 51:7). A hyssop branch was also used to offer vinegar to Messiah during the time of his crucifixion (John 19:29). Likewise the wood from a cedar tree (עֵץ אֶרֶז) was used to purify both the leper and those contaminated with death, and it is likely the type of wood used for the cross of Messiah. Finally, scarlet (שָׁנִי) thread symbolizes both blood and royalty, and appears in the birth of Judah's children Zerach and Peretz (Gen. 38:28), in the coverings of the Tabernacle, as a sign of Rahab's faith (Josh 2:8,21), and as the color of the robe of Messiah during his crucifixion (Matt. 27:28).
 




Saved from Death's Sting...


 

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

06.26.15  (Tammuz 9, 5775)  "Everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live" (Num. 21:8). The fiery serpent – the very sting of which brings death – is what must be looked upon, confronted, and confessed. We must look at that which kills us, and by seeing it, we can then see God's miracle (נֵּס) that delivers us... Therefore we look to the cross – the place where Yeshua clothed himself with our sickness and sin – to realize God's remedy for our eternal healing. As Yeshua explained to Nicodemus, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14-15). Humanity as a whole has been "bitten by the snake" and needs to be delivered from its lethal venom. Just as the image made in the likeness of the destroying snake was lifted up for Israel's healing, so the One made in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3) was to be lifted up as the Healer of the world. In Yeshua the miraculous exchange takes place: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). Bless His holy name!
 




The Sin of Moses...


 

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

06.26.15  (Tammuz 9, 5775)  And God said, "Speak to the rock..." but Moses struck the rock twice with his staff" (Num. 20:8,11). This was apparently Moses' sin for which his punishment was exile from the Promised Land. The punishment might seem severe, but in light of God's Redemptive Plan given in Messiah, Moses' actions were intended to be prophetic (1 Cor. 10:11; Rom. 15:4). When the people first demanded water at Rephidim, Moses was told to strike the rock with his staff (Exod. 17:6). The Hebrew word used to describe how Moses "struck" the rock is the same used to describe how Yeshua was "smitten by God" (Isa. 53:4). The Rock symbolized the Messiah, the One stricken for His people to give them waters of life (Isa 55:1; 1 Cor. 10:4). Moses' act of disobedience implied that rock needed to be stricken again to give life, instead of speaking to it as the "Living Rock." In his frustration, Moses lost sight of the LORD by suggesting that he and Aaron were responsible for the miracle of the water ("listen, you rebels, shall we bring forth water for you?"[Num. 20:10]), and God could not leave those words unanswered before the people. That is why God told Moses that his exile from the land was the result of his sin not sanctifying (i.e., honoring) the LORD before the people of Israel (Num. 20:12).

"The Rock is Messiah" - הַצּוּר הַהוּא הַמָּשִׁיחַ... he is the Living Source of the waters of life!
 




Awakening to Truth...


 

06.26.15  (Tammuz 9, 5775)  "The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of man to see if there are any who have sense and seek God" (Psalm 14:2). God breathed into us a living soul that hungers for divine connection (Gen. 2:7), and yet so many are turned to vanity and emptiness... When, by a miracle of grace we receive the truth and abide in it, we understand that God created the heaven and earth and all that exists (Psalm 115:15; 146:6). We awaken to the truth of reality, the "invisible things of Him are clearly seen," and we are filled with yirat shamayim (יראת שמים), the fear and wonder of God. In this way our lives are set apart and sanctified. We recognize that God brought our soul into existence from nonexistence, creating us in love, giving us life, breath, hunger, dreams, and the need for healing. God prepares a place for you; He welcomes you before His presence; He gives you a future and an eternal good because of your trust in his salvation.
 

בְּרוּכִים אַתֶּם לַיהוָה עשֵׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ

be·ru·khim · a·tem · ladonai · o·seh · sha·ma·yim · va·a·retz
 

"May you be blessed by the LORD,
who made heaven and earth"
(Psalm 115:15)

 




The Gift of Life...


 

06.26.15  (Tammuz 9, 5775)  "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly discerned, being understood by the things that are made…" (Rom. 1:20). The very first kindness that God bestows upon you is the miracle of your existence itself, namely, that he "wove you together" in your mother's womb (תְּסֻכֵּנִי בְּבֶטֶן אִמִּי) and brought you into being from nonexistence (Psalm 139:13). In Him you "live and move and have your being" (Acts 17:28). You were created b'ahavat olam (בְּאַהֲבַת עוֹלָם), in everlasting love, and indeed God knew you before you were born (בְּטֶרֶם אֶצּוֹרְךָ בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ) (Jer. 1:5; 31:3). You are "fearfully and wonderfully made," a unique soul that bears the handiwork of heaven itself. God's love and mercy sustains your days; the LORD compasses you "behind and before" and lays his hand upon you; He knows all your ways (Psalm 139:1-5). Indeed, God prepares a place for you and calls you to join him at the celebration of his love given in Yeshua.
 

בְּטֶרֶם אֶצּוֹרְךָ בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ
וּבְטֶרֶם תֵּצֵא מֵרֶחֶם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּיךָ
נָבִיא לַגּוֹיִם נְתַתִּיךָ

be·te·rem · e·tzor·kha · va·be·ten · ye·da·ti·kha
u·ve·te·rem · tei·tzei · me·re·chem · hik·dash·ti·kha
na·vi · la·goy·im · ne·ta·ti·kha
 

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
(Jer. 1:5)


 




The Breaking of Moses...


 

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

06.25.15  (Tammuz 8, 5775)  In our Torah for this week (i.e., Chukat), we read that after Miriam had died, the people again complained about the lack of water, and God instructed Moses to "speak to the rock" to satisfy their thirst.  However Moses - perhaps still grieving over the death of his sister - then rebuked the people, saying: "Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock? And he lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock" (Num. 20:10-11). The LORD, however, was not pleased by this representation and said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not believe in me (יַעַן לא־הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי), to reveal me as sacred in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them" (Num. 20:12). ... Stunned silence ...

Jewish commentators have long struggled to understand this tragic episode, wondering whether it was because Moses had lost his temper with the people, or whether he had arrogantly claimed to be able to bring forth water by himself, or whether he had simply failed to obey God's explicit instruction to speak to (rather than to strike) the rock...  We desire a straightforward explanation, a clear reason why God punished Moses and Aaron, but we are left wondering, questioning, struggling... And yet perhaps this is the point of the narrative – that there are reasons known only to God, and we must surrender our need to resolve the ambiguity of the outcome by means of trust. We might resist this solution, this great "cloud of unknowing," and we may continue searching, asking questions, and wondering; and yet often enough we discover there are no definitive answers, and even if we should accept a tentative one, our solution will inevitably lead to even further questions. As it is written: "One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard" (Psalm 62:11), which means that the Torah leads us to think, to enter into dialog, to search for truth. With one word, we often hear two things, which suggests the process of understanding in light of trust. Indeed we often hear and only later are able to listen to what was heard.

The Scriptures do not command us to believe "on cue," but rather reveal a world of questions for our hearts to ponder.  Indeed, instead of regarding the Bible as a "Book of Answers" for our questions, it is worthwhile to think of it as a "Book of Questions" for our answers. As we listen, God questions us so that we can know him by means of the dialog within our hearts. As any good teacher knows, when a student earnestly wrestles with a question he learns more than if he were given a straightforward answer. Similarly, the Lord gives us permission to be without answers so that we will be free to seek, to struggle, and to "own" what we come to understand through our relationship with him... That way our learning will be real, substantive, and born from the urgency our own inner need. Indeed, God's very first question to man is always, ayekah: "Where are you?" (Gen. 3:9), which appeals for us to acknowledge how we hide from the truth. "Where are you?" is the poignant call of the Seeking Father for his lost child, and the question only becomes "our own" when we are willing to look at how we've come to be at this place in our lives. God's question to our heart is meant to lead us out of hiding to respond to his loving call...

Note:  Of course Moses eventually made it into the Promised Land, as revealed in the account of the "transfiguration" of Messiah given in the Gospels (Matt. 17:3-4; Mk 9:4-5), and therefore the prophetic reason he was forbidden to enter the land after the Exodus from Egypt may have been to symbolize the need for Yehoshua (Joshua) to arise for Israel.
 




Mother of the Golden Calf...


 

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

06.25.15  (Tammuz 8, 5775)  Some of the sages, such as Rashi, have said that the ritual of the Red Heifer (פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה) was intended to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf (egel ha-zahav). The Golden Calf represents seeking for life in this finite world, losing sight of the invisible, unnamable, and mysterious Creator and Redeemer. Idolatry expresses our fear of being abandoned in the desert, and impels us to seek for security and comfort in the immediacy of the moment. The ritual of the Red Heifer brings us face to face with our contact with death and offers us purification and healing. The cow itself symbolizes our impulse to idolatry, which must be turned entirely to dust and ash in the fires of God's truth. To this are added cedar, representing our pride, and hyssop, representing our lowliness. A crimson string is added that symbolizes our blood connection and lower nature (דּם). All these are burned together and the ashes mixed with living water to create a holy admixture that heals us from the perversity of death. Ironically, we are cleansed from the "dust and ashes" of death by being sacrificially covered with God's "dust and ashes" given in our place.
 




Torah of Hope...


 

06.25.15  (Tammuz 8, 5775)  Some people seem to think that we first must repent and then we will encounter the Lord, but it's actually the other way around: we first encounter the Savior and then we learn the meaning of repentance. Thus Paul's eyes were opened after he was first blinded by the light (Acts 9:3-6). Likewise, it is only after we have met the Lord that we begin to understand our blindness of heart, but as learn to see more clearly, we encounter more and more of his love (Rom. 5:20). As Yeshua said, "My yoke is pleasant (χρηστὸς) and my burden is light (Matt. 11:30). Repentance, then, is a progressive and ongoing process of awakening, as we learn to love God and to accept ourselves, despite our struggle with sin. As Anselm prayed: "O Lord, grant us grace to desire thee with all our hearts, that so desiring, we may seek and find thee, and so finding thee, may love thee, and loving thee may hate those things from which you have redeemed us."

A prayer to the One calling you to come: "I come to you just as I am - needy, sick within, weary, and broken... I come seeking your love; I come because you invited me to come: I open my heart, such as it is, to you; please join me here, in this place of my need, in this place of pain, and wrap me your comfort. I can only love you as I know your love, Lord Yeshua, so please help me to know your love in the truth.  Amen."
 




Today if you hear...


 

06.24.15  (Tammuz 7, 5775)  Think of today, this immediate hour... Now is the time we have to turn to God for life. Do not delay until the next day; do not say, "Tomorrow I will turn with all my heart." We only have this day, this hour to make our stand: tomorrow is a different world. As it is said, "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand, today -- if we hear his voice and do not harden our hearts" (Psalm 95:7-9). We are warned not to "harden our hearts," that is, not to lose sight of real hope by refusing to trust in the promises of God's love...

"Teach us to number our days..." (Psalm 90:12). The sages say on the day of death, one considers one's life as if it had been a single day... Life goes by so quickly, and we never know when our personal "Rosh Hashanah" will come. "No one knows the day or hour..." That's why it is so vital to be healed and to turn to God while there is still time. So turn to him today and bacharta ba'chayim (בָּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים) - "choose life!" "For this commandment (of turning to God in teshuvah) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away. It is not in heaven... nor across the sea.... Rather, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; Rom. 10:8-13).
 

לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע
 וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה

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

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



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

Note:  Where it is written, "God gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own devices" (Psalm 81:12; Rom. 1:24); and "they went backward and not forward" (Jer. 7:24), we learn there is no place of "neutrality" or indifference toward God... We are either going forward with Him or going backward from Him; we are either drawing near or pulling our hearts away... (Rev. 3:16). As Heschel once rightly said, "God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance" (Man is Not Alone). As it is said, "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand, today -- if we hear his voice and do not harden our hearts" (Psalm 95:7-9). We are warned not to "harden our hearts," that is, not to lose sight of real hope by refusing to trust in the promises of God's love.
 




God's Radiant Light...


 

06.24.15  (Tammuz 7, 5775)  In the Gospel of John it is recorded that Yeshua said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (i.e., ᾽Εγώ εἰμι ἡ ὁδὸς καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια καὶ ἡ ζωή), no one can come to the Father apart from my hand" (John 14:6). The Greek word translated "truth" in this verse is aletheia (ἀλήθεια), a compound word formed from an alpha prefix (α-) meaning "not," and lethei (λήθη), meaning "forgetfulness." Truth is therefore a kind of "remembering" something forgotten, or a recollecting of what is essentially real. Etymologically, the word aletheia suggests that truth is also "unforgettable" (i.e., not lethei), that is, it has its own inherent and irresistible "witness" to reality. People may pretend or even lie to themselves, but ultimately the truth has the final word... "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5).
 

כִּי־עִמְּךָ מְקוֹר חַיִּים
בְּאוֹרְךָ נִרְאֶה־אוֹר

ki · im·me·kha · me·kor · chai·yim
be·or·kha · nir·eh · ohr
 

"For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light."
(Psalm 36:9)



Hebrew Study Card
 


"In Your light we see light..."  When you enter a dark room with a lamp, the darkness flees and is overcome by the light. So also with teshuvah: When we turn to the Lord spiritual darkness is overcome by the Divine Radiance. In Yeshua is life, the light of the world; those who receive Him behold ohr ha'chayim (אוֹר הַחַיִּים) - the "light of life."
 




Gospel of Red Cow...


 

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

06.23.15  (Tammuz 6, 5775)  Unlike all other sacrifices offered at the mizbeach (altar at the Mishkan), the Red Heifer (פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה) was taken outside the camp and there slaughtered before the priest, who then took some of its blood and sprinkled it seven times before the Tabernacle (thereby designating it as a purification offering). During the Second Temple period, the High Priest performed this ceremony while facing the Holy of Holies while atop the Mount of Olives. Then the red heifer would be burned in its entirety: its hide, flesh, blood, and even dung were to be burned (unlike other Levitical sacrifices). Also unlike other offerings, the blood of the sacrifice was to be burned in the fire. This is extremely noteworthy, since blood was otherwise required to be poured beside the altar before being offered.... Hyssop, scarlet yarn, and a cedar stick would then be thrown upon the burning red heifer, the same items used to cleanse from tzara'at ("leprosy"). In other words, the blood was assimilated into the ashes of the sacrifice, which were then mixed with water to create the "waters of separation" (i.e., mei niddah: מֵי נִדָּה) for the Israelite community. Note that the word "separation" (niddah) harkens to the prophecy of Zechariah: "On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and from niddah" (Zech. 13:1).

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


 

The paradox of the red heifer sacrifice suggests profound truth about the sacrificial death of Yeshua our Savior. The kohen (priest) who sprinkled the ashes of the red heifer became tamei (unclean) himself, even though the defiled person became tahor (pure). The picture of the priest here is one of sacrificial love - the giving up of one's own spiritual purity so that another person can regain his purity...  "Sprinkle me with hyssop, and I will be clean" (Psalm 51:7). Just so, Yeshua willingly became unclean on our behalf - through our contact with sin and death - so that we could become clean (Isa. 53:4, 2 Cor. 5:21, Gal. 3:3, Eph. 5:2, Titus 2:14). Because of Yeshua, the impure become pure, even though He became impure through His offering.  Because of Him, we have been cleansed from our sins "by a better sprinkling" than that which the Tabernacle of Moses could afford (Matt. 26:28, Heb. 9:14, 12:24, Eph. 1:7, 1 Pet. 1:2,18-19, Rom. 5:9; Col. 1:14, 1 John 1:7, etc.).

The "fall" of man implies that we have contact with death - both inwardly and outwardly. The sacrifice of Yeshua as our "Red Heifer" cleanses us from all tumah and lovingly makes us clean before the Father. The "water and the blood" is part of the "olah sacrifice" of Yeshua for our redemption and purification before God at Moriah (John 19:34, 1 John 5:6). The water and blood flowing from His wounds are the means by which we are purified from sin and death... All this comes from the love (chesed) of God given in our Messiah and Savior.

Note:  For more on this see the article, "The Gospel of Red Cow."
 




Refuse the lies of fear...


 

[ Since this world's propaganda constantly seeks to weaken us through fear, let me again urge you to always remember what is Real... ]

06.23.15  (Tammuz 6, 5775)  Worry is a place of exile and pain. Since God's Name YHVH means "Presence" and "Love," to be troubled or anxious is to practice the absence of God's presence instead of practicing His Presence... We must "set the LORD" always before us (Psalm 16:8). Where it is written, "cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Pet. 5:7), the word translated "anxiety" (μέριμνα) comes from a Greek verb (μερίζω) that means to be fragmented or divided into parts and pieces. Fear divides the soul and weakens the resolve to be healed... To be made whole, to find inner peace, we must confess our brokenness and receive again God's love and care for our lives.
 

אַל־תִּירָא כִּי עִמְּךָ־אָנִי אַל־תִּשְׁתָּע כִּי־אֲנִי אֱלהֶיךָ
אִמַּצְתִּיךָ אַף־עֲזַרְתִּיךָ אַף־תְּמַכְתִּיךָ בִּימִין צִדְקִי

al  ti·ra  ki  im·me·kha  a·ni;  al  tish·ta  ki  a·ni  E·lo·he·kha
im·matz·ti·kha  af  a·zar·ti·kha,  af  te·makh·ti·kha  bi·min  tzid·ki

 

"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
(Isa. 41:10)



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Take comfort that your Heavenly Father sees when the sparrow falls; he arrays the flower in its hidden valley; and he calls each star by name. More importantly, the Lord sees you and understands your struggle with fear... Bring to Him your needy heart and trust in His provision and care...  As we look to Him, we will be seen -- and our dread of being invisible, irrelevant, and insignificant will itself vanish.

Note that the meaning of God's Name (YHVH) was initially revealed to Moses as simply ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה), "I AM," or "I WILL BE" (Exod. 3:14), though it is wonderful to understand that His Name is also revealed as ehyeh imakh (אהְיֶה עִמָּךְ), "I WILL BE WITH YOU" (Josh. 1:5,9; Isa. 41:10,13; John 10:28; Matt. 28:20, etc.). Just as the LORD is called Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 16:22), so He is the Source of your breath, the One who exhales to you nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" that enables you to live (Job 12:10). Indeed the Name YHVH (יהוה) first appears in the Torah in regarding imparting the breath of life to Adam (Gen. 2:7). Note further that each of the letters of the Name YHVH represent vowel sounds (i.e., breath), suggesting again that God's Spirit is as close as your very next breath. Like the wind that cannot be seen, so is the spirit the essential part of your identity. Yeshua breathed on his followers and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22).

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




Engraved Upon His Hands...


 

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

06.22.15  (Tammuz 5, 5775)  The Hebrew word "chok" means a "divine decree," derived from a verb meaning "to engrave" (חָקַק). The sages say that the word is directed to a desire to do God's will that is "engraved" upon the heart rather than simply understood with the intellect (2 Cor. 3:3). The first time "chok" (חוֹק) appears in the Torah concerns Abraham's obedience of faith as demonstrated by the sacrifice of his beloved son (Gen. 26:5), and the second time concerns the sacrifice of the Passover: "This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as an eternal decree (חֻקַּת עוֹלָם), you shall keep it as a feast (Exod. 12:12-13). Because both the Akedah and the sacrifice of the Passover lamb reveal God's yeshuah (יְשׁוּעָה), his salvation, we are to engrave the significance of our deliverance within our hearts forever... Amen, just as God Himself has so engraved us upon his own heart, it is written, "behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands" (הֵן עַל־כַּפַּיִם חַקּתִיךְ) - Isa. 49:16a.
 




Beauty for Ashes...



 

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

06.22.15  (Tammuz 5, 5775)  The ashes of the red heifer represented the death and sacrifice of something extremely rare, valuable, and precious. The ashes were mixed with "living water" (מַיִם חַיִּים) to reveal the truth that though the end of all flesh is but dust and ashes, the Spirit gives cleansing and life. Indeed the word ashes (אֵפֶר) may be rearranged to spell both cure (רַפֵא) and beauty (פְאֵר). The author of the book of Hebrews argues from the lesser to the greater: If the sprinkling of water mixed with the ashes of a red heifer purify the flesh from contamination with physical death, how much more does the blood of Messiah purify the soul from the deeds that cause spiritual death? (Heb. 9:13-14). Indeed, because of Yeshua's sacrifice we are given "beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness," that we may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified (Isa. 61:3).
 




Our Wounded Healer...


 

[ The following entry concerns our Torah reading for this week, parashat Chukat... ]

06.21.15  (Tammuz 4, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week (Chukat) begins, zot chukat ha-Torah (זאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה), "this is the decree of Torah" (Num. 19:2). The language here is both striking and unique, suggesting that what follows is "the seminal decree" of the entire Torah... If we think about the meaning of the mysterious decree of the red heifer, however, we will realize that its ashes were used to create the "waters of separation" (i.e., mei niddah: מֵי נִדָּה) to cleanse people from contact with death (i.e., separation). To fulfill God's vital decree, however, required sacrificial love, since the priest who offered this service would become defiled (separated) for the sake of the healing of others... The Hebrew word for love is ahavah (אַהֲבָה), from a root verb (יָהַב) that means "to give." Love means giving of yourself to benefit another person (John 15:13). The central decree of Torah, then, beyond our ability to rationally understand, is that God's love is so great that it is willing to become dust and ashes on our behalf so that we might find blessing and life...
 

    The mitzvah of parah adamah (i.e., the red heifer) represents the suspension of logic in deference to the Divine Will. This attitude is not restricted to this mitzvah. Scripture introduces the mitzvah of the parah adamah with the words "this is the law of the Torah." Surrendering one's own reasoning and accepting the superior reasoning of Hashem is the law of the entire Torah... To the extent that we let go of our own will, we can understand the Divine will. Our ancestors at Sinai understood this ideal when they proclaimed, "we will do and then we will understand." Torah is not beyond our understanding, but we must be willing to make the sacrifices that true Torah understanding demands.   - Living Each Day, Rabbi Abraham Twerski
     

Yeshua willingly became unclean on our behalf - through contact with our sin and death - so that we could become clean (Isa. 53:4, 2 Cor. 5:21, Gal. 3:3, Eph. 5:2, Titus 2:14). The pure became impure through His sacrificial offering.  Because of Him, we have been cleansed from our sins "by a better sprinkling" than that which the Tabernacle of Moses could afford (Matt. 26:28, Heb. 9:14, 12:24, Eph. 1:7, 1 Pet. 1:2,18-19, Rom. 5:9; Col. 1:14, 1 John 1:7, etc.).
 




Suffering Hope...


 

06.20.15  (Tammuz 3, 5775)  If you receive no solace for your suffering; if you find no ready comfort despite repeated appeals to heaven; then you must surrender your heartache, your grief, and your troubles to God in complete trust of his overarching will: "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done" (Matt. 26:42). In this way you sanctify your suffering, trusting in God's care, even if you have been grieved by various trials (1 Pet. 1:6). Do not second-guess your trust; ask God for help and firmly believe that the One who knows the number of the hairs on your head also intimately knows this matter as well...
 

יְהוָה נָתַן וַיהוָה לָקָח
 יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָך

Adonai · na·tan · vadonai · la·kach
ye·hi · shem · Adonai · me·vo·rakh

 

"The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the Name of the LORD be blessed."
(Job 1:21)



Hebrew Study Card
 


Job questioned the meaning of his life in light of his relentless suffering: "Cursed is the day that I was born... Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire? ... Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul?" (Job 3). Job's friends, so full of "piety" and religious wisdom, were quick to offer "God's answer" for his pain, though of course they did not really speak for God at all, but simply sought to protect themselves from facing their own fears... They needed an explanation to justify their own life, and therefore they sought to rationalize Job's torment. "God is perfect and never unjust," they insisted, and therefore Job's suffering was punitive, the result of his hidden sin, and ultimately intended to be corrective... Job rejected such religious platitudes and the notion of a "karma-based" theodicy, and instead directly appealed for heaven's vindication. Finally God allowed Job to voice his lament and to vent his pain and outrage, and only then - after Job had finished his case - was the revelation of God's mystery and love disclosed...

What Job didn't need were glib answers, cheap talk, shallow certainties, and sanctimonious mumbo-jumbo... To be truly healed, Job needed to give voice to his pain, to struggle to receive God's care, and to rediscover the meaning and wonder of the Divine Presence despite his afflictions... Job needed someone safe to share his burden with, a friend who "sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24). Thank God for Yeshua, who feels the pain of our infirmities and intercedes for us with heaven's own sympathy (Heb. 4:15-16).
 




Our First and Last Amen...


 

06.19.15  (Tammuz 2, 5775)  The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the letter Aleph (א), pictures the Word of God, the Holy Beginning. Aleph is "three-in-one," constructed from two Yods (representing "hands") joined by a diagonal Vav (representing a man). One Yod (י) reaches upward while the other reaches downward, and both extend from the "fallen" Vav (ו) that pictures a "wounded Man" or Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). In the Hebrew numbering system, Yod = 10 and Vav = 6, so adding up the three parts of Aleph yields 26, the same value as the Name of the LORD, YHVH (יהוה). All of this linked together, friends. The very first letter of the alphabet, the "king of the letters," pictures the loving Word of God who mediates heaven and earth so that we can experience and know the meaning of God's redeeming love. Similarly, the first letter of the Bible is the Bet (בּ) in bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית), and the last is the Nun (ן) in amen (אָמֵן). Put together, we have ben (בֵּן), the Hebrew word for "son." Yeshua, God the Son, therefore is rightly called "the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation" (Rev. 3:14). He is the "radiance of the glory of God" (זוֹהַר כְּבוֹדוֹ), the "exact imprint of his nature," the One who upholds (φέρων) the universe by the very word of His power (Heb. 1:3).

The Jewish sages say that "amen" serves as an declaration of the Kingship of God (often said quietly before the reciting the Shema) that may be understood as an acronym for the phrase El Melekh Ne'eman (אֵל מֶלֶךְ נֶאֱמָן): "God (אֵל) is a faithful (נֶאֱמָן) king (מֶלֶךְ)."  For all the promises of God find their "Yes" in the Messiah. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory" (2 Cor. 1:20).


 

Personal Update: Please keep me in your prayers, friends, as I make mention of you all before our LORD. After some further testing at the hospital, it turns out that I also have Campylobacteriosis," an infection by the Campylobacter bacterium, probably from food of some kind... Please pray for my healing from this dreadful (and painful) infection, friends. Thank you. Shabbat Shalom and every blessing be yours in our Beloved Messiah (Eph. 1:3).
 




The Warning of Korah...


 

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

06.19.15  (Tammuz 2, 5775)  The example of Korah is a severe warning for us not to transgress what God has ordained lest we incur severe judgment... In this connection let me remind you that the terms of the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) are non-negotiable, and those who attempt to come before God apart from the cross - that is, apart from the shed blood of Messiah for atonement - likewise encroach upon the Divine Presence. Moreover, it needs to be stated that simply believing that Yeshua is the promised Messiah is insufficient for salvation. In the Book of Galatians, Paul invoked a divine curse on anyone who denied that the work of Yeshua is all we need to be justified and declared righteous by God (Gal. 1:8-9). Those who therefore claim that "something more" is needed than the finished work of Messiah (e.g., circumcision, law-keeping, etc.) remain under the curse (חֵרֶם) demanded by the law (Gal. 3:10; John 3:36). This is not a mere difference of opinion regarding how people are "justified" before God, since Paul goes on to make the case that those who teach otherwise are not truly saved -- even if they should profess that Yeshua is the true Messiah and Savior of Israel!  Therefore Messianic teachers who falsely claim that Christians must "follow the law" to be made right with God are liable to the curse of the law. These people are not simply misinformed; according to Paul and the witness of the Holy Spirit, they are actually lost souls. "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees," chaverim...

It's been wisely said that we must "unlearn" a lot during the days of our sojourn in this world, and that is especially true for people who still assume that they know something about life. "If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he needs to know" (1 Cor. 8:2). And it is also true, I'm afraid, for religious people, that is, for those who regard spirituality as a litany of "do's and don'ts" or a recipe of rituals rather than as receiving the miracle of new life given to us by the miracle of God.
 

    "Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses (תּוֹרַת משֶׁה) dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant (דַּם הַבְּרִית) by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?" - Heb. 10:28-29

 




A Future of Hope...

Photo by John J Parsons
 

06.19.15  (Tammuz 2, 5775)  It's been said that the will of God will never lead us to a place where the love of God will not keep us.... Indeed the very Name of the LORD (יהוה) means "Presence" (Exod. 3:14) and "Compassion" (Exod. 34:6-7). Yeshua said, "I go to prepare a place for you," which means that his love and presence are waiting for you in whatever lies ahead. Heed the message of the Holy Spirit: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for healing and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11).
 

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

ki · a·no·khi · ya·da·ti · et · ha·ma·cha·sha·vot
a·sher · a·no·khi · cho·shev · a·lei·khem · ne·um · Adonai
mach·she·vot · sha·lom · ve·lo · le·ra·ah
la·teit · la·khem · a·cha·rit · ve·tik·vah

 

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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




The Projection of Korah...


 

06.18.15  (Tammuz 1, 5775)  In our Torah reading this week (Korach), Moses' cousin Korah accused Moses of self-aggrandizement and superiority by saying, "Why do you exalt yourself above the assembly of the LORD? ... Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert, that you also make yourself a prince over us?" (Num. 16:3,13). The Talmud comments: "One who seeks to disqualify another projects his own defects upon him." Korah's own self-exaltation and vanity led him to suppose that Moses was likewise proud and vain. His envy so twisted his perspective that he saw good as bad and bad as good. For him Egypt was the land "flowing with milk and honey" and Moses - not Pharaoh - was the real tyrant! In this connection the Baal Shem Tov said that other people serve as mirrors, and the defects we see in them reflect our own. Korah needed to see that his envy of Moses was rooted in fear, and that healing would come if he would let go and trust that God was in control of his life.

We can learn from the madness of Korah -- as well as his terrible end... "As you judge another you condemn yourself, for you that judge do the same things" (Rom. 2:1). How you react to another person reveals what is within your own heart, and this provides the opportunity to find healing by doing teshuvah and extending compassion to yourself. When you condemn another you are hurting yourself, after all. It is not a matter of factual truth as much as it is of the truth of hope and love. As we forgive others, so we find our own forgiveness (Luke 6:37), but if we insist on our rights, we find ourselves in hell... Fire offered falsely will be answered by the fire of God's judgment. 

Note: For much more on this subject, see "The Madness of Korah."
 




Marks of False Teachers...


 

06.18.15  (Tammuz 1, 5775)  False teachers tend to be "people pleasers." They desire the esteem of the crowd, the praises of men, and therefore appeal to the murmurings of the unregenerate heart: "Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits" (Isa. 30:10). They flatter people by "tickling their ears"; they offer either platitudes or "new revelation" based on their own imagination. Consequently, they tend to be grandiose and quick to disparage God's faithful servants. Thus Korah accused Moses of wanting to exalt himself, when this only disclosed the evil lurking within his own heart (Num. 16:3). False teachers speak in their own name and presume to be something when they are nothing (Gal. 6:3). "The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not... they are prophesying to you a lying vision, the deceit of their own minds" (Jer. 14:14). They secretly deny that Yeshua is LORD (יהוה), though they may offer "lip service" about his importance (2 Pet. 2:1). Instead of focusing on the message of the gospel and the greatness of salvation found in Messiah, they "major in minors," passing over the weightier matters for the sake of various divisive doctrines (Matt. 23:23). They desire to be teachers of the law, but they have no idea what they are talking about (1 Tim. 1:7). Often such deceivers have natural charisma, charm, "good hair," and an ability to bewitch people through buttery oratory or clever presentation (Col. 2:4,8). Often they focus on the truth of the head rather than the truth of the heart; they are more concerned with being vindicated than healing broken hearts. Finally, they tend to exploit people to promote their own self-serving agenda (1 Pet. 2:1-3). They make "merchandise" out of the gullible, regarding them as the means to support their "ministry" rather than as precious souls in need of God's love and care...

False teachers inevitably "twist the Scriptures" by offering unsound interpretations contrary to the ruach, or spirit of the Hebrew prophets, and by evading the commandment to "rightly divide" the word of Truth according to basic logic and clear thinking (2 Tim. 2:15; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; 3:16). In Christian circles, they often come in the name of the law (legalism) or in the name of grace (licentiousness), but rarely do they take the trouble to carefully (and equitably) work through the paradoxical tensions. False teachers are uncomfortable humbly confessing they don't know something, and therefore they are quick to style themselves as an infallible prophet or source of authoritative wisdom...

There is no substitute for taking the time and energy to humbly study Torah, friends, and we should be suspicious of those who claim special insight when it is evident that they have not really labored working through the Scriptures... All disciples of Yeshua are called "students," or talmidim (תַּלְמִידִים), a word that comes from lamad (לָמַד) meaning "to learn" (the study of Scripture is called talmud Torah (תַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה) from the same root). Among other things, then, following Yeshua means becoming a student of the Jewish Scriptures that he both loved and perfectly fulfilled (Matt. 5:17-18; Luke 24:44-45). Only after learning the truth of the Scriptures will you be equipped to "go to all the nations and teach" others (Matt. 28:19). This is accomplished not merely by explaining (propositional) doctrine but by kiddush HaShem -- sanctifying the LORD in our lives (1 Pet. 1:15-16). "You shall know them by their fruits..."

Note:  For more on this, see "Marks of False Teachers: Further thoughts on Korach."
 




Matters of Life and Death...


 

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

06.18.15  (Tammuz 1, 5775)  We read in our Torah portion the terrible fate of Korah and his co-conspirators: "And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up" (Num. 16:32), which the sages say metaphorically refers to being consumed by this world and its desires. Life is a serious business, an irrepeatable opportunity. Many trifle their way to the grave, fully unprepared for the shock of the world to come... How few make it the great business of life to prepare themselves "until their change comes" (Job 14:14); how few consciously number their days to obtain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12)? We mustn't fool ourselves by thinking we have a long road ahead before we face who we are at the time of our death (Luke 12:19-21). "No one knows the day or hour," yet it is certain to come, and wisdom bids us be prepared. All must die; there is no escape (Heb. 9:27; Eccl. 8:8). In light of this somber truth, do you reflect on its significance? Have you taken time to see how it will be for you at your death? Allow such thoughts to awaken you from your careless and unwatchful state, and admonish you to lay up treasure in heaven (Matt. 6:20). Considering the vastness of eternity, human life is likened to a mere vapor that quickly passes away (Psalm 103:15-16). It is madness to put off that which is of ultimate concern until the last moment.
 

אֵין אָדָם שַׁלִּיט בָּרוּחַ לִכְלוֹא אֶת־הָרוּחַ
וְאֵין שִׁלְטוֹן בְּיוֹם הַמָּוֶת
וְאֵין מִשְׁלַחַת בַּמִּלְחָמָה
וְלא־יְמַלֵּט רֶשַׁע אֶת־בְּעָלָיו

ein · a·dam · sha·lit · ba·ru·ach · likh·lo · et · ha·ru·ach
ve·ein · shil·ton · be·yom · ha·ma·vet
ve·ein · mish·la·chat · ba·mil·cha·mah
ve·lo · ye·ma·leit · re·sha · et · be·a·lav
 

"No man has power to retain the spirit,
or power over the day of death.
There is no discharge from this war,
nor will wickedness deliver those who are given over to it."
(Eccl. 8:8)


 
 

Of course dying in the LORD assumes you are really "in Him," that is, that you are a person whose heart is known by Him (1 Cor. 8:3). You can't die in him if you have never lived in him. In this world we learn to die, and as we die in Him, so we will live in him. Resolve this within your heart: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord" (Rev. 14:15).

Concerning the prospect of death we are not without hope, of course, since Yeshua has overcome death for us and secured our place in heaven (John 11:25; Heb. 2:9-10). "We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast" (2 Sam. 14:14). Though physical life inevitably returns us to dust (Heb. 9:27), death does not have the final word, since God wonderfully "devises the means by which the banished are brought back home." If you belong to the Lord, your death is the day of precious homecoming to be with your beloved Savior: "For me to live is Messiah, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21). As it is written, "just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:49).

Abraham Heschel once wrote, "God is of no importance unless he is of supreme importance." Stated differently, it is impossible to be indifferent toward God. Today we are on the way to face our destiny, even if we suppress this truth through busyness and other distractions. Again, life is a vapor; no one knows the day or hour of death; so we must endeavor to make our peace with God, to serve him in readiness, and so be prepared for whatever may come. Should we deny the reality of our death, we risk wasting our days, being seduced into the mere semblance of life. After all, what is life apart from life in Jesus?

Blaise Pascal once wrote: "I can feel nothing but compassion for those who sincerely lament their doubt, who regard it as the ultimate misfortune, and who, sparing no effort to escape from it, make their search their principal and most serious business. But as for those who spend their lives without a thought for this final end, I view differently. This negligence in the matter where they themselves, their eternity, their all are at stake, fills me more with irritation than pity: yea, it astounds and appalls me... (Pensees, 427). Regarding such need for spiritual sobriety, Kierkegaard comments: "Listen to the cry of a woman in labor at the hour of giving birth - look at the dying man's struggle at his last extremity, and then tell me whether something that begins and ends thus could be intended for enjoyment."

The sages advise: "Repent one day before you die." But who knows the day of one's death in advance? Therefore live each day as if it were to be your last, and may God help you make the decision to "seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near" (Isa. 55:6). Amen. May the LORD quicken these matters to our hearts...
 




The Warning of Korah...


 

06.17.15  (Sivan 30, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week (Korach) centers on the rebellion of Korah, a man who questioned God's authority and arrogantly sought to "intrude" into the office of the priesthood.  It is noteworthy that his rebellion is explicitly mentioned only once in the New Testament - in the Book of Jude - as an example of the fate that awaits those false teachers who likewise despise God's law. Unfortunately, Jude's warning is often neglected today, probably because people feel uncomfortable over the prospect of God's judgment.  After all, in our "politically correct" age, people have been indoctrinated to regard "tolerance" as the greatest of virtues and "intolerance" (even of evil) as the greatest of vices.... Most unbelievers don't mind hearing the "good news" of God's love, but they take exception when they are confronted with their personal duty to live according to the moral truth revealed in the Torah. False teachers within the church are dangerous because they feed on this sense of discomfort and attempt to rationalize it away. Jude identifies them as spiritual impostors who "work from the inside" to confound or obscure the truth of God. Such charlatans may appear to be "true believers," but their hidden agenda is to sow confusion and sin among God's children. They are proverbial "wolves in sheep's clothing" (Matt. 7:15). Jude's warning is especially important for us to heed in this present hour, because in the time immediately preceding the coming of the Messiah, spiritual deception and unbridled godlessness will greatly increase (2 Tim. 3:1-5).

Note: For more on this very important subject, see "The Message of Jude."
 




Lamentation and Loneliness...


 

06.17.15  (Sivan 30, 5775)  Ah Lord, you have given me an incurable wound, a pain that refuses to leave my heart; for mi li va'shamayim? "Whom have I in heaven but you?" And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you" (Psalm 73:25). I whisper to Thy heart, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you," and yet I am bound in this place of lonely exile, pining away in grief... My heart cries, ad-anah Adonai, "How long, O Lord, forever?" Nevertheless I affirm: "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." There is nothing I seek apart from your "with me" Presence, O beloved Savior; therefore be true to your love and bear my way through these hours...
 

מִי־לִי בַשָּׁמָיִם
וְעִמְּךָ לא־חָפַצְתִּי בָאָרֶץ

mi · li · va·sha·ma·yim
ve·im·me·kha · lo · cha·fatz·ti · va·a·retz
 

"Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you."
(Psalm 73:25)
 




Breath of Life...


 

06.16.15  (Sivan 29, 5775)  A verse from this week's Torah (Korach) reveals another great Name of God: Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), which can be translated "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 16:22). The LORD is the Source of your breath, the One who exhales to you nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" that enables you to live (Job 12:10). The sages use the analogy of a glassblower who creates a glass vessel. Just as the glassblower blows into a tube to form a vessel from molten glass, so the breath (i.e., neshamah: נְשָׁמָה) that comes from the LORD functions as spirit (i.e., ruach: רוּחַ) that forms and fills the human soul (i.e., nefesh: נֶפֶשׁ). Note that the Name YHVH (יהוה) first appears in this connection (Gen. 2:7), a Name that means "God is Present" (Exod. 3:14) and "God is Mercy" (Exod. 34:6-7). Note also that each letter of the Name YHVH represents a vowel sound (i.e., breath), suggesting that God's Spirit is as close as your very next breath. Like the wind that cannot be seen, so is the spirit the essential part of your identity. Yeshua breathed on his followers and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22).

The special Name Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar appears only one other place in the Torah. After accepting the fact that he would soon die and therefore be unable to finally lead the people into the promised land, Moses prayed: "Let the LORD (יהוה), "the God of the spirits of all flesh" (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd." So the LORD said to Moses, "Take Joshua the son of Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן, lit. "son of life"), a man in whom is the Spirit (רוּח), and lay your hand on him" (Num. 27:16-18).

The Talmud notes that the word Nun (נוּן) means "fish," a symbol of activity and life. Joshua, the chosen one who succeeded Moses and led the people into the Promised Land, was the "Son of Life" - a clear picture of Yeshua our Messiah, the "spirit-filled good Shepherd" who would lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). The LORD is indeed the "God of the breath of all flesh." 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.
 





Note:  June, 2015 updates continue here.

 





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