Shaddai

Learn Hebrew

Learn Torah

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

Mah Nishmah?

Hebrew4Christians.com Site Updates

More
Updates

 

Verse of the moment:


 

Can You Help?

Can you help?

  Search the Site

We're on Facebook

Online Forum

Calendar

Prayer Request (for site updates, see below)

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

        

Note:  My wife and I have have three young children (Josiah, Judah, and Emanuel David - born Jan. 17, 2016). 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 to 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....

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

Spring Holiday Calendar

Dates for Passover 2016


The Spring Holidays:

Spring Holidays
 

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

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

  1. Month of Adar II (Wed., March 9th [eve] - Fri. April 8th [day])
  2. Month of Nisan (Fri. April 8th [eve] - Sat. May 7th [day])
  3. Month of Iyyar (Sat. May 7th [eve] - Mon. June 6th [day])
  4. Month of Sivan (Mon. June 6th [eve] - Tues. July 5th [day])

Note:  Because this is a Jewish leap year, the holiday of Passover -- and particularly the Festival of Firstfruits -- will not occur near the traditional date of "Easter" or "Resurrection Sunday" as it is often called in the Gregorian calendar... For more information, see the Calendar Pages....
 

Dates for Passover 2016:
Dates for Passover 2016

Free Seder Guide
 
 



 

April 2016 Site Updates
 


Confession of our Hope...


 

04.29.16 (Nisan 21, 5776)  It is written: "Faith is the foundation (i.e., ὑπόστασις: the "substance," reality, being, etc.) of hope, the conviction of the unseen... Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near must believe that God exists and rewards (μισθαποδότης) those who seek him" (Heb. 11:1,6). Note that God is pleased when we seek his presence, that is, when we when we look past the ephemera and ambiguity of the phenomenal world for the truth about spiritual reality. For our part, faith depends on confession. We must say that we believe, and affirm it with all our heart (Rom. 10:9). As it says, "I will make Your faithfulness known with my mouth" (Psalm 89:2). When you encounter tribulation, or experience some crisis of faith, reaffirm aloud: "I believe in God's promise..." Physically expressing your faith is itself an act of faith, and this encourages your soul to trust in God's healing reward even in the present struggle or darkness.

One of the more difficult tests of faith is learning to "endure yourself" as your inner character is being transformed by the mercy of God... To do so, you must receive the miracle of life in Yeshua (1 John 5:12). You must look beyond the realm of appearance, where the "outward man" perishes, to the realm of ultimate healing, where the "inward man" is finally liberated from the ravages of sin and death. This is the comfort we have in our affliction: God's promise revives our hearts to say, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth" (Job 19:25). Even in the "shadow of the valley of death" (i.e., this moribund and broken world), the LORD is with us and comforts us with His Presence (Psalm 23:4). We are given this great promise: "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).

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

שְׁמַע־יְהוָה קוֹלִי אֶקְרָא
וְחָנֵּנִי וַעֲנֵנִי

she·ma · Adonai · ko·li · ek·ra
ve'chon·nei·ni · va'a·nei·ni
 

"Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me"
(Psalm 27:7)


 
 

Of course it's not always easy to wait for God, especially when we are in pain or anxiety, but we must never, ever, give up; we must never ever, abandon our heart's longing for ultimate healing. Therefore the Spirit cries out: come alive and trust in the promise of God; receive the heavenly gift. Ve'yesh tikvah le'acharitekh (וְיֵשׁ־תִּקְוָה לְאַחֲרִיתֵךְ): "There is hope for your future," declares the LORD (Jer. 31:17). "Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, who makes us prisoners of hope" (אֲסִירֵי הַתִּקְוָה). Friends, Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful" (Heb. 10:23).

"The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Yeshua our Messiah" (Phil. 4:7). Shabbat Shalom chaverim!
 




Root of the Righteous...


 

04.29.16 (Nisan 21, 5776)  It is written, "No one is established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will never be moved" (Prov. 12:3). A person's heart is revealed by his core convictions and desires. Wealth and the pleasures of this world do no good for the eternal soul. Although the wicked of this world may appear to prosper, it is only temporary and will not last (Psalm 37:1-2); on the other hand, though the righteous may appear to fall, it is only temporary, and they will rise again, since the Root of the Righteous (שׁרֶשׁ צַדִּיקִים) is God's own power: "The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast down, for the Lord holds his hand" (Psalm 37:23-24).
 

לא־יִכּוֹן אָדָם בְּרֶשַׁע
וְשׁרֶשׁ צַדִּיקִים בַּל־יִמּוֹט

lo · yi·kon · a·dam · be're·sha'
ve'sho·resh · tzad·di·kim · bal · yi·mot
 

"No one is established by wickedness,
but the root of the righteous will never be moved."
(Proverbs 16:2)


 


The sages note that the word translated "established" (in Prov. 12:3) comes from a word (כֵּן) meaning a "base" or a "stand" – that is, something external that supports something, but the word "root" (שׁרֶשׁ) refers to the inner essence of the plant. The Malbim said that man is like an inverted tree with its roots on top, drawing life from heaven that provides him with spiritual sustenance. The wicked cut themselves off from the root and base their lives on the material and transitory foundation of this world. Yeshua likened the immovability of the righteous as those who build their house on the rock: when the tempest comes, the house will not fall, because it is founded upon the rock. Those who build their house on the sands of this world are foolish: when the tempest comes, the house will collapse and its fall will be great (Matt. 7:24-27). In the midst of life's storms and trials, the righteous (הצדיקים) have an inner support that keeps them from being destroyed, and that is the Rock of our Salvation (צוּר יִשְׁעֵנוּ), Yeshua our Lord!

The Scriptures state twice: שׁרֶשׁ לְמָטָּה וְעָשָׂה פְרִי לְמָעְלָה / "Take root downward and bear fruit upward" (2 Kings 19:30; Isa. 37:31). As Yeshua said, "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it produces a harvest (John 12:24). The inner life goes into the earth - it dies and then is re-opened to yield fruit. We pray we might surrender ourselves to the Lord fully, being immersed in His passion, "bearing fruit in every good work (ἐν παντὶ ἔργῳ ἀγαθῷ καρποφοροῦντες) and growing in da'at HaShem (דַעַת אֱלהִים) - the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10). The "fruit of the righteous is a Tree of Life" lit., etz chayim (עֵץ חַיִּים), "the Tree of lives" (Prov. 11:30). It is the fruit of Yeshua, the Righteous One, who bears fruits of healing for the lives of those who turn to Him in trust...

"I can do all things through the Messiah who strengthens me," not "some things," or a "few things," but ALL things (Phil. 4:13). Yeshua is the Tree of Life, the Source of all our strength. "May you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being" (Eph. 3:16). Let's remember to pray for one another and ask the LORD to help make each of us fruitful to the glory of our Heavenly Father (John 15:8).
 




How to "Count the Omer"


 

[ The following is related to the Torah's commandment to count exactly 49 days after the feast of Firstfruits until the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost).  ]

04.28.16 (Nisan 20, 5776)  The Hebrew word "omer" (עמֶר) generally refers to a measure of grain. The Torah commands that an omer of new grain (called chadash) must be "waved" by the priests before the altar on each of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot (Lev. 23:15-21). This ritual act is called omer ha-tenufah (עמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה), or the "waving of the omer." Prior to the offering of such "new grain," only the produce from earlier harvests could be eaten (which is called yashan, "old"). This is the "firstfruits" connection. Only crops that have been first dedicated to God are kosher for use by God's people...


 

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

For more on this subject, see: "Sefirat HaOmer: Should we Count the Omer?"
 




The Overmastering Light...


 

04.28.16 (Nisan 20, 5776)  There is a lot of cunningly engineered fear (and outrage) "in the air," and the enemy of our souls seeks first of all to lead us into a place of exile, worry, and pain. We are able to resist him by submitting to the truth about reality (James 4:7). God's Name YHVH (יהוה) means "Presence" and "Love," and there is no power in heaven or earth that can overrule His hand. Therefore even if the prophesied "End of Days" were to begin this very hour, our responsibility is to focus on the Divine Presence and to walk in His truth and love. As King David said, "I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken" (Psalm 16:8).
 

שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
 כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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

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

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

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




Anger and Idolatry...


 

04.27.16 (Nisan 19, 5776)  It is written "the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God" (James 1:20). Indeed, being filled with anger or rage is a form of idolatry: "MY will be done..." It is a common struggle to let go of our need to be "right" all the time, but ask God for the great gift of true humility... The Hebrew word for sin (i.e., chet: חֵטְא) means "missing the mark," though that essentially means missing the revelation of God's glory because lesser fears consume the heart and obscure passion of the truth...
 

אַל־תְּבַהֵל בְּרוּחֲךָ לִכְעוֹס
כִּי כַעַס בְּחֵיק כְּסִילִים יָנוּחַ

al · te·va·hel · be·ru·cha·kha · likh·os
ki · ka·as · be·chek · ke·si·lim · ya·nu·ach
 

"Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
for anger lodges in the heart of fools"
(Eccl. 7:9)
  


The sages consider sins of speech to be indicative, first of all, of the condition of the heart that marks evil and unbelief (see Luke 6:45; Matt. 12:37). Unreflective, impulsive talk is profoundly revelatory. Complaining against God's providential care of your life is a serious issue, and if left uncorrected, can lead to outright apostasy. Indeed refusing to accept life on God's terms – including your shortcomings, problems, tests, hang-ups, and other things -- is idolatry that elevates your will as supremely important. We must be very careful here. Inordinate anger is always a problem, though if it surfaces you may use it as an opportunity to examine the lies you are believing and the false assumptions you hold to be true.

A simple (and effective) antidote to anger is gratitude... Understand the sheer gratuity of your life and its manifold blessings. Meditate on Psalm 103 and contemplate on how life itself is a tremendous gift and that every day you are given is a sacred opportunity... Pray to be delivered of your anger, too. By all means do not allow it to become a settled disposition within you -- a scowl of the heart, a cynical and suspicious way of seeing everything! Ask God to soften your heart and to awaken you to his heart expressed in all things.
 

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

 




Do you now believe?


 

04.27.16 (Nisan 19, 5776)  "Do you now believe?" (John 16:31). Some people are scandalized by what they call "easy believism," or the idea that we only need to believe in Yeshua to be saved. Sometimes they malign this teaching as "cheap grace" or "sloppy agape," though in fairness it must be stressed there is nothing easy about truly believing. What is easy, however, is professing that you believe without undergoing a miraculous heart transformation. Anyone can say, "I believe in Jesus," but the test is whether he lives within you. Is he the source of your life?  Do you draw life from Him?  Anyone can claim they are saved, but it is a miracle greater than splitting the sea to undergo divine metamorphosis, to be given a heart that loves unconditionally, that dies to pride, and that lives as the servant of all. Yeshua asks, "Do you really believe? Many will say to me in that day, 'Lord, Lord...' but I will say to them, 'I never knew you...' (Matt. 7:22-23). It's not just hard to believe (obey), it's impossible apart from God's radical intervention. It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is no help at all (John 6:33).

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

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

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




Fear and Trembling...


 

[ During the Sabbath of Passover week it is customary to read the ancient "love song" of King Solomon called Shir Ha-Shirim (שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים), or the "Song of Songs." ]

04.27.16 (Nisan 19, 5776)  The gospel reveals God's passion for us, the call of his heart, his desire to elevate us to the role of the beloved, and we respond by accepting Him as the great Lover of our souls, the "ultimate concern" of our life. Sin threatens to seduce us away from God's love, to interfere with our relationship, which evokes God's "jealousy" to protect love from loss. It is written that "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18), but perfect love (τελεία ἀγάπη) must be "perfect," that is, reciprocal, complete, consummated, and alive with passion. In Hebrew, perfect love is "shalem" - that is, whole, healed, and unified (אַהֲבָה שְׁלֵמָה). Perfect love is both given and received... It is not "perfect love" to objectively accept that God loves you in Jesus. No, you must receive this as an inward passion, you must live within it, must embrace it, take possession of it, and let it fill your heart to abundance. This love, this "perfect love," then will cast away your fear of being unwanted, rejected, and abandoned. But to know this love, you have to open your heart and accept it as your own; you have to accept yourself as the beloved of God:
 

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְעָלַי תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ

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

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


  


I realize the analogy of God as the great "Lover of our Souls" is ideal for us, and yet it is vital that we understand ourselves as the "beloved" of the Lord... May the LORD help us walk in the truth of his love. Amen...
 




Countdown to Pentecost...


 

04.26.16 (Nisan 18, 5776)  In Jewish tradition, forty nine days – seven weeks of days – are carefully counted between the second day of Unleavened Bread and Shavuot (Pentecost or "Weeks"). This period of time is called Sefirat HaOmer (סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר), or the "counting the [barley] sheaves." In abstract terms, it's almost as if there is a dotted line pointing directly from Passover to Shavuot - a "Jubilee" of days - representing the climax of Passover itself. The early sages identified this climax as the revelation of the Torah at Sinai, but the New Testament identifies it as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) that confirmed the reality of the New Covenant of God. The redemption process that began at Passover was therefore completed at Shavuot, and that "completion" was the revelation of God's love and deliverance for the entire world. And though the Jewish sages did not fathom the use of the otherwise forbidden leaven in the offering (see Eph. 2:14). The countdown to Shavuot therefore goes beyond the giving of Torah at Sinai and points to the greater revelation of Zion. Shavuot is the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit's advent to those who are trusting in Messiah (Acts 2:1-4). "Counting the Omer," then, is about receiving the Holy Spirit to experience and know the resurrected LORD of Glory. You can "count" on that, chaverim!


 

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

For more on this subject, see: "Sefirat HaOmer: Counting the Sheaves to Shavuot."
 




Passover's Love Song...


 

04.26.16 (Nisan 18, 5776)  During the Sabbath of Passover week it is customary to read the ancient "love song" of King Solomon called Shir Ha-Shirim (שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים), or the "Song of Songs."  In Jewish tradition, since Passover marks the time when our "romance" with God officially began, the sages chose this song to celebrate God's love for his people. And since Passover is also called Chag Ha-Aviv, the festival of spring, the Song is also associated with creativity and hope associated with springtime (Song 2:11-12). One way to read this poem is to see the king, who had disguised himself as a lowly shepherd to win the heart of the Shulamite woman, as a picture of Yeshua who took the form of a lowly servant to demonstrate his eternal love for those who are trusting in him... Indeed, the Song of Songs is linked to the "lilies" (i.e., shoshanim: שׁשַׁנִּים) mentioned in Psalm 45, which presents a Messianic vision of the Divine Bridegroom and offers an "ode" for a forthcoming wedding.
 

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי
הָרעֶה בַּשׁוֹשַׁנִּים

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

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


 
Download Study Card
 


The meaning of Passover is of course rooted in the greatest love story ever told - about God, creation, the loss of Adam and Eve, the call of Israel, and the coming of the Messiah who would sanctify us as His own people, deliver us from the plague of death, and redeem us from the penalty of sin. Yeshua's mesirat nefesh ("giving over of soul" in sacrifice) and his triumph at the cross made the new covenant with God possible. As our Suffering Servant, He gave up His life for ours in exchange, redeeming us from the sickness unto death and making the way for our everlasting healing.

Whether or not you were able to attend a Passover Seder this year, please understand that there is always a place for you at His table.  After all, Yeshua made a place for you within His heart when he died for you on the cross, and that is what Passover is really all about anyway.  Shalom chaverim.

Note:  For more on the connection between Passover and the Song of Songs, see the article Shir Hashirim: Passover and the Song of Solomon.
 




Why the Resurrection Matters...


 

[ The following entry is related to the great holiday of Firstfruits... ]

04.25.16 (Nisan 17, 5776)  The Scriptures make clear that Yeshua is the true Passover Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) whose sacrificial death and shed blood causes the wrath of God to "pass over" (pasach) those who are trusting in Him (John 1:29, 3:36; Acts 8:32-36; 1 Cor. 5:7-8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20, etc.). Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! (Rev. 5:12). But while the sacrifice of Yeshua gives us atonement (כַּפָּרָה) with God, the resurrection of the Messiah (i.e., techiyat ha-Mashiach: תְּחִיַּת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) justifies His work of salvation on behalf of the sinner and forever vindicates the righteousness of God.

The resurrection of Yeshua is not an "academic" or speculative question to be considered in purely rational terms, but rather is a matter of eternal life or death. How we choose to respond to its message determines our destiny. Everything turns on whether we awaken to the risen reality and Presence of Yeshua in our lives. Without Him we are hopeless; with Him we are more than conquerors (1 Cor. 15:14; Rom. 8:37).
 

Everything turns on whether we awaken to
the risen Reality and Presence of Yeshua in our lives...

 


Yeshua completely atoned for our sins and His resurrection validated that God the Father accepted His sacrifice. It was God the Father (i.e., Reality) who raised Yeshua in victory (Gal. 1:1, Rom. 10:9), and those who put their trust trust in Him are declared righteous on account of their faith.  Yeshua "was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25).  As Jesus Himself said, "Because I am alive, you also will live" (John 14:19).

Note:  
For more on the tremendously important subject of why the resurrection of Yeshua matters, please see this article.
 




The Mysterious Shroud of Turin


 

[ The following entry is related to the holiday of Firstfruits. Some people contend that the famous Shroud of Turin is the authentic burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth, whereas others claim it is an sophisticated forgery. Regardless, the study of the shroud surely is provocative and provides a remarkable reminder of both the suffering and the resurrection of our Messiah.... ]

04.25.16 (Nisan 17, 5776)  A few years ago I read fascinating article that reported that one of the leading scientists of the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STRP) later confessed that the sample taken from cloth was flawed (i.e., it came from a piece of the Shroud that was repaired in the Middle Ages, not from the original cloth). The scientist -- Ray Rogers, a chemist from the Los Alamos National Laboratory -- later acknowledged that it's now entirely reasonable to conclude that the cloth was none other than the burial shroud of Jesus of Nazareth. And today I read that the most recent experiments conducted by scientists at the University of Padua (in northern Italy) have dated the shroud to the time of Christ....

Even though the controversy regarding the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin gets technical and involved, I tend to regard the Shroud as authentic, primarily because there are no known means for a medieval artist to have created a "negative" (holographic) image of a body (especially an image with such anatomical detail that only a modern pathologist would appreciate), and there is simply no motive for someone to have done so, anyway. After all, what can it possibly mean to call an utterly unique item a "forgery" anyway?  Both the "how" and the "why" questions of the Shroud are troubling to those who (a priori) reject the possibility of the miraculous, and therefore the idea that the Shroud is a forgery or a hoax has become the standard biased response for many who reject the historical resurrection of Yeshua from the dead. 

On the hypothesis that the Shroud of Turin is an elaborate and sophisticated forgery, however, we must suppose there once was a medieval artist who was so talented that he or she could paint the "negative" image of a body, that is, an image with the full spectrum of light reversed. Moreover, this artist would have to paint in obverse -- somewhat like a minting impression.  This painter also would have to be intimately familiar with the customs of crucifixion that were unknown during the Middle Ages. For instance, he or she would have to know that the Romans crucified their victims entirely naked, that they pounded the nails through the wrists (not through the hands, as is usually depicted by stigmata paintings of the period), that the victim wore Palestinian style "earlocks" (i.e. peyot ha-rosh) and so on. This fantastic artist also would have to paint in an incredibly realistic and detailed style (again, unlike all other artists of the period), noting such things as the presence of a coin located under the right eyelid and the presence of various blood stains in physiologically correct locations on the cloth.... Finally, this medieval artist would have to paint from the perspective of a negative exposure -- a concept that was unknown until nearly 600 years later. In short, it seems that our hypothetical artist would have to something of a miracle worker.... If it's a fake, it's a seemingly miraculous fake; but if it's true, it's astoundingly true.... Either way, the Shroud testifies of something...


 

In addition to the lack of technology in the Middle Ages to create such an image, the question must be asked about why such a invisible image would be produced in the first place.  What possible motive would be at work in this case?  Why would our supposed artist go through all this trouble, especially during the relatively superstitious Middle Ages? What point would there have been in creating such a fantastic duplicity?  The inference to the best explanation suggests that the Shroud of Turin, whatever else it might be, certainly is not the result of human ingenuity and forgery....  Occam's Razor applies in this case: we do not need to multiply miracles in order to explain something that could be explained through the attested historical accounts of the resurrection of Yeshua.

So should the Shroud of Turin be cited as evidence of the resurrection of Yeshua?  Is it a valid "apologetic" device, an empirical "proof" of the resurrection? Well, since we cannot say for certain that the image is that of Yeshua ha-Notzri (Jesus of Nazareth), we cannot make a dogmatic claim that this is direct evidence of His resurrection, though it's surely consistent with it. The shocking image -- revealed through negative spectrum light -- is that of a 1st century Jewish man who was beaten, whipped, and crucified. Pollen samples taken from the cloth also indicate a Middle East provenance.  Though we cannot offer a scientific "proof" that this is the burial shroud of Yeshua, we might make a "legal" case that it is.... In other words, the imprinted image of the Shroud is consistent with the testimony of the New Testament and the theistic worldview, but certainly not with "naturalism" or other worldviews. The Shroud is a "problem" for those who are unbelievers, not believers...  If it were later debunked as some sort of a forgery, our faith would remain unshaken, since we believe in order to understand, not conversely. Empirical evidences are never conclusive for skeptics anyway. As Yeshua said, "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31).  And perhaps that's the allure and beauty of the Shroud -- like so many other matters of faith, what you see is what you ultimately choose to see....  Like a looking glass, it reveals more about the person looking at it than it does of the thing itself...


Addendum: Please note that I am not advocating venerating relics or chasing visions of "bleeding icons," etc. Such things are always insufficient for a heart change from God.  As Yeshua said, "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31). Nonetheless, I find it fascinating that if the Shroud of Turin is a forgery, it's entirely amazing and unlike any other seen before, but if it's authentic, it's evidence of the resurrection itself (1 Cor. 2:2). I also see no sense in claiming (as some have) that the Shroud is some form of "satanic deception."  After all -- forgery or not -- the Shroud points to something the powers of darkness and deception certainly do not want to be published, namely, the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua...

Some current books and research on the shroud can be found here.
 




He is Forever Alive...


[ The following is related to holiday of First Fruits which began last night at sundown... ]

04.25.16
 (Nisan 17, 5776)  The most important fact of all history - and that which radically transforms everything else - is the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead (תחייתו של משיח). Spiritual life means being awake to the risen reality and saving Presence of Yeshua, the One who Overcame and vanquished the power of death. Without Him we are hopeless; with Him we are more than conquerors (1 Cor. 15:14; Rom. 8:37). The resurrection means Yeshua is forever alive, and that today he hears your heart's cry. He is surely able to help you, and nothing can overthrow his invincible will. Our Lord suffered and died for your inner peace and healing, but now death has no hold over him, and he "ever lives to make intercession for you" (Rom. 6:9, Heb. 7:25). He is your compassionate Advocate (παράκλητος, lit. "one called alongside") who gives you heavenly comfort (1 John 2:1). Even more: The very power that raised Yeshua from the dead now dwells in you (Rom. 8:11). The miracle of new life is "Messiah in you - the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). The Lord will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5): He "sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24); He sustains your way, and he will perfect the work of salvation on your behalf (Jude 1:24). In short, there simply is no "gospel" message apart from the resurrection! The resurrection is the victory of God's plan of salvation - His everlasting vindication over the powers of darkness - for your life.

The Talmud says "All the world was created for the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b). The New Testament had earlier said the same thing: "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Indeed, all of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of the Messiah's power (Heb. 1:3). Creation begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our LORD... The Messiah is the Center of Creation - its beginning and end. As it is written: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the 'Aleph' and the 'Tav,' the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36). Yeshua our Messiah is called מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים / Melech Malchei Hamelachim: The "King of kings of kings." He is LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest celestial glory to the dust of death upon a cross. Yehi shem Adonai mevorakh (יְהִי שֵׁם יהוה מְברָךְ): "Let the Name of the LORD be blessed" forever and ever (Psalm 113:2). So while we can agree with the Talmud's general statement that the world was created "for the Messiah," we would insist that the name of the Messiah is none other than Yeshua, God's Son, and indeed, there is no other (Acts 4:12).
 

חַי־יְהוָה וּבָרוּךְ צוּרִי
וְיָרוּם אֱלוֹהֵי יִשְׁעִי

chai-Adonai · u·va·rukh · tzur·i
ve'ya·rum · e·lo·hei · yish·i
 

"The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock,
and exalted be the God of my salvation."
(Psalm 18:46)


 
Hebrew Study Card

 

The heart of faith sees Elohei Yishi (אֱלהֵי יִשְׁעִי), the "God of my salvation," namely, the One who was and is and is to come (הַהוֶה וְהָיָה וְיָבוֹא) – the LORD our God Yeshua (Rev. 1:4;8; Isa 41:4). The early Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) rendered Elohei Yishi as "God my Jesus," since "Jesus" (i.e., Yeshua) rightly means YHVH saves. Yeshua is the One who breathed life into the first Adam just as He is the One who breathes eternal life into those who are descended from Him, the great "second Adam."


Note: For more on the First Fruits of Messiah, see the article: "Reishit Katzir."
 




The Life is in the Blood...


 

[ The following concerns the holiday of Passover, which begins this evening... We must always remember that there is no Passover without the blood of the Lamb... Chag Pesach Samea'ch! ]

04.22.16
 (Nisan 14, 5776)  The very first time the word "blood" (דָּם) occurs in the Scriptures concerns the death of Abel, the son of Adam and Eve who was murdered by his brother Cain. After Abel's blood was shed, the LORD confronted Cain and said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood (קוֹל דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ) is crying to me from the ground" (Gen. 4:10). Since blood is the carrier of life, it bears the energy and vitality of life: it has its own spiritual "voice." Likewise, the blood of Yeshua (דְּמֵי יֵשׁוּעַ), the true Lamb of God who died upon the cross, speaks on our behalf, and reverses the power of death by creating a barrier that death can no longer cross, since the death of the sacrificial victim "exchanges" the merit and power of life. Unlike the blood of Abel that "cries out" for justice, the blood of Yeshua cries out for life and mercy (Heb. 12:24). Putting our trust in the provision of God's sacrifice causes His wrath (or righteous judgment) to pass over while simultaneously extending eternal life and blessing to the sinner.... This is the essential message of the gospel itself, that we have atonement through the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua our Savior, the great Lamb of God. As Yeshua said, "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the One who sent me has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and will not be condemned, but has passed over (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24). Just as God's judgment passes over from life to death on my behalf; so His love passes over from death to life on my behalf...

For more on this subject, see "Parashat Bo: The Life is in the Blood."
 




Passover: Who knows 15?


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Friday, April 22 this year.... ]

04.21.16 (Nisan 13, 5776)  Many of us are familiar with the connection between Passover and the number four. There are four "special Sabbaths" that precede the festival, and the holiday itself has four names: Chag Ha-Pesach (the holiday of the Passover [Num. 9:2]); Chag HaMatzot (the holiday of Unleavened Bread [Exod. 12:17-20]); Chag Ha-Aviv (the holiday of spring [Deut. 16:1]), and Z'man Cheiruteinu (the Season of our Freedom). During the seder, we partake of arba kosot ("four cups"), ask arba kushiyot ("four questions"), discuss arba Banim ("four sons"), and so on. However, it has been noted by various sages that the number fifteen is also connected to this holiday. There are 15 Steps to the traditional Passover Seder, which is held exactly 15 days into the first month of the Jewish year (i.e., Nisan). The famous "Song of the Sea" (i.e., Shirat Hayam: שִׁירַת הַיָּם) - which thanks God for the Exodus from Egypt - is found in the 15th chapter of the Book of Exodus, which was crafted by the scribes so that its center column has exactly 15 "steps" of text:


 

The Divine Name YAH (יה) - which first occurs in the Scriptures in the "Song of the Sea" (Exod. 15:2) - equals 15 in Hebrew gematria, and during the seder meal there are 15 things for which we sing Dayenu (i.e., דַּיֵּנוּ: "it would have been enough").  Furthermore, there were 15 steps on the south side of the Temple Mount, leading up to the Temple, and 15 psalms (120-134) that sung by the Levites as "Songs of the Steps." There are also 15 words uttered in the Priestly Blessing (Birkat Kohanim).... 15 is also the number of completion (7) combined with the number of grace (8), indicating the plan of God's redemption for the ages.
 




Celebrate God's Love...


 

04.20.16 (Nisan 12, 5776)  Yeshua said the kingdom of heaven could be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his beloved son. Those who were invited made one excuse after another why they could not attend, so the disappointed king then instructed his servants to "go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame... and compel everyone you find to come in, so my house may be filled." God loves people and implores them to personally join in the celebration of his love, to partake of the marriage feast of Lamb (Rev. 19:7). But note that this means that we are to bring all the lame, broken, and fearful parts of ourselves to the banqueting table of God's love... The courage to "come to the table" only comes from a sense of being welcomed and accepted, that is, by trusting that you are truly made safe by God's love....

Perhaps we are afraid of God's unconditional love for us because we've experienced rejection or abandonment in our lives. We silently wonder, "What if God lets me down and I get hurt again?" We prefer the "comfort" of our fears to the risk of letting go and trusting in God's love for us, just as we are... This fear shows up in a lot of ways, for instance, by thinking we have to be "religious," or by attempting to clean ourselves up before we can accept God's love, On the other hand, we might entertain a sense of false humility that considers our sin to be too much for God to bear, and thereby excuse ourselves from the celebration.... In every case the problem is the need to control. We want to define the terms of love before we will let go and trust. We are offended at the idea of divine grace because we want to esteem ourselves as worthy of God's love based on who we are, rather than on who God is... The message of God's love, however, is scandalous, precisely because it gives wholeheartedly to those who are undeserving and unworthy, to the tax collectors, the sinners, the crippled and blind and lame... So come just as you are; sit at the table; know that you are welcome.
 

    The sages sometimes say that God is closer to sinners than to saints.  "God in heaven holds each person by a string. When you sin, you cut the string; but then God ties it up again, making a knot - and thereby you are brought a little closer to him. Again and again your sins cut the string - and with each further knot God keeps drawing you closer and closer." (Anthony de Mello in One Minute Wisdom)

 




Blood on the Doorposts...


 

04.20.16 (Nisan 12, 5776)  The Torah describes how the Israelites were commanded to slaughter the Passover and daub its blood on the two sides and top of the doorway of their houses (Exod. 12:7). The LORD would then see the blood and "pass over" their dwellings during the plague of the death of the firstborn. Based on this description, we might assume the blood was put on the outside of the door, though Rashi reasoned that it was placed on the inside, where they themselves could see it as a sign for them (i.e., הָיָה הַדָּם לָכֶם לְאוֹת [Exod. 12:13]). Indeed, after the blood was applied, the doors were shut and no one was permitted to leave the house until the following morning (Exod. 12:22). The blood of the sacrifice was intended to be seen as a sign for those who were trusting in the redemption of God. Likewise, by faith we apply the blood of the lamb to the "inside" of our hearts...

Note:  For more on this, see the parashat Bo article: "Blood on the Doorposts."
 




The Very First Passover...


 

04.19.16 (Nisan 11, 5776)  The story of Passover goes all the way back to the beginning, to the very orchard of Eden itself, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate from the forbidden tree. Because of their transgression, our original ancestors incurred the plague of death and were exiled from the Divine Presence, though God graciously promised to heal them through the coming Seed of the woman – the Savior who would crush the head of the serpent and break the fangs of his venomous sting (Gen. 3:15). Soon after making this great promise, God clothed our original parents with the skin of a sacrificed lamb (Gen. 3:21), linking their coming deliverance with the "Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world" (1 Pet. 1:18-20). The very first "Passover" was in the garden. And the story of Passover extends to the world to come, where in the redeemed paradise of God we will celebrate the victory of the Lamb who was slain for our redemption (Rev. 5:12-13).

The great story of our redemption is revealed on two levels in Scripture - one that concerns the paradise of Eden (the universal level), and the other that concerns the paradise of Israel (the particular level). Therefore Yeshua is both rightly called the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29) and "the Messiah our Passover Lamb who has been sacrificed for us" (1 Cor. 5:7). Likewise he is both called the "Seed of the woman," and "the Son of David"; the "Second Adam," and the "King of the Jews," and so on. The story of Israel's redemption in Egypt therefore serves as an allegory of both the universal salvation promised in Eden (i.e., the lamb slain from the foundation of the world) as well as the revelation of the sacrificial ministry of Yeshua as Israel's promised Messiah. Yeshua is both the Savior of the world as well as Israel's true King and Deliverer.

Note:  For more on this subject, please see the articles, "The Very First Passover" and "The Gospel in the Garden."
 




Our Broken Matzah...


04.19.16 (Nisan 11, 5776)  During our Passover Seder, we will place three matzahs on the table, said to represent Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, respectively. During the Yachatz step of the seder, the middle matzah (representing Isaac) will be broken to recall how Isaac was sacrificed in obedience to his father, foreshadowing the sacrifice of Yeshua by God the Father. Indeed, the Talmud states, "We break the middle matzah in tribute to Yitzchak (Isaac), who accepted the sins of the people upon himself" (Shabbos 89b). The smaller half of this broken matzah will be eaten later during the Motzi Matzah step, while the larger half will be eaten during the Afikomen step, near the end of the night...

In Hebrew, the middle of something is it's heart - the heart of the heavens, the heart of the earth, the heart of the sea, the heart of a person... Since the offering of Isaac by Abraham foretold of the greater offering of Yeshua by God Himself, when we break the middle matzah, then, we recall the broken heart of God over the pain Yeshua endured by taking our sins upon Him at the cross...."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).

During his Passover seder with his disciples, Yeshua "took matzah, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body" (Matt. 26:26). Since Yeshua did this while they were eating dinner, the matzah he broke would have been the Afikomen, thereby making the connection between the hidden bread (lechem ha-nistar) that would be broken given for our deliverance. The matzah we eat during Passover is called lechem oni (לֶחֶם ענִי) - "the bread of [His] suffering" - and eating the Bread of Life that was "broken for us" remembers the great suffering of our LORD...
 




The Question of Passover...


 

04.18.16 (Nisan 10, 5776)  During the Passover seder we begin our retelling the story of the Exodus when the question is sung: "Mah nistanah ha-lailah ha-zeh mikol ha-leilot?" - How does this night differ from all other nights? This is the central question of Passover, asked for thousands of years, and the answer is always the same: "We were slaves, but God redeemed us from our bondage by the blood of the lamb (דַּם הַשֶּׂה)." Note again that there were not many lambs, but the LORD told Israel: "You shall keep it [i.e., the Passover lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter him (אתוֹ) at twilight (Exod. 12:6). Each family put their trust in God's uniquely appointed sacrifice to be delivered from the plague of death (מכת המוות).
 




Cleanse out the old leaven...


 

04.17.16 (Nisan 9, 5776)  The Torah states that during the days of Passover, sometimes called the Festival of Unleavened Bread, no chametz (i.e., leavened food) may be eaten for a full seven days - from the 15th of Nisan through the 22nd of Nisan (Exod. 12:15-18; 34:18). Every trace of leavening must be purged from our homes, and no leavened products of any kind may be consumed during this time (Exod. 12:15). Spiritually speaking, leaven represents decay, rotting influences, bitterness, unforgiveness, and so on. "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Test me and know my thoughts. And see if there be any idolatrous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).
 

חָקְרֵנִי אֵל וְדַע לְבָבִי בְּחָנֵנִי וְדַע שַׂרְעַפָּי
וּרְאֵה אִם־דֶּרֶךְ־עצֶב בִּי וּנְחֵנִי בְּדֶרֶךְ עוֹלָם

chok·rei·ni · el · ve'da · le·va·vi · be·cha·nei·ni · ve'da · sar·a·pai
u·reh · im · de·rekh · o·tzev · bi · u'ne·chei·ni · be'de·rekh · o·lam
 

"Search me, O God, and know my heart! Test me and know my thoughts;
and see if there be any idolatrous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting"
(Psalm 139:23-34)



Hebrew Study Card
 


The search for chametz is not unlike the soul searching we do before the fall High Holidays, when we perform chesbon hanefesh (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ) by taking inventory of our spiritual condition before the LORD. In other words, we are instructed to search and remove sources of inner impurity so that we might experience the truth that we are a "new lump" - that is, a new substance that is purged from the sour and rotting influences of our past lives (1 Cor. 5:7). Since Yeshua has been sacrificed as our Passover Lamb (הַשֵׁה פִסְחֵנוּ), understand that you are a "new creation" (בְּרִיָּה חֲדָשָׁה) and are made "unleavened" by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 5:17). Therefore we are likewise commanded put away the "old nature" - the yetzer ha'ra - and purge from your life the old influences that inwardly canker you and make you sick. Walk without hypocrisy in the truth of the love of God for your soul.

Note:  For more on this subject, a brief audio discussion is available here.
 




Abraham and the Exodus...


 

[ The following entry summarizes a portion of the story of Passover, which we hope to retell during the Passover Seder on Friday, April 22 this year... ]

04.15.16 (Nisan 7, 5776)  Our father Abraham had personally experienced his own "Exodus from Egypt" when he left the Promised Land during a time of famine, and his beloved wife Sarah was subsequently abducted into Pharaoh's harem. In a state of helplessness, God then intervened on Abraham's behalf and "plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues" (Gen. 12:10-20). Later, when Abraham sought reassurance that his progeny would indeed inherit the promised land, the LORD made an unconditional "Covenant between the Parts" (בְּרִית בֵּין הבְּתָרִים) where He solemnly vowed to give the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants forever (Gen. 15). However, during that time, Abraham was also given a "dark vision" and foresaw both the 400 year slavery of his family and their deliverance during the time of the great Exodus (Gen. 15:12-14). When Abraham's grandson Jacob later was told by God to go to Egypt to be reunited with his son Joseph, he was assured that God would make his family into "a great nation" there (גוֹי גָּדוֹל אֲשִׂימְךָ שָׁם), and he was further promised: va'anochi a'alekha (ואָנכִי אַעַלְךָ), "and I will bring you back up" to the promised land (Gen. 46:2-4). When the time finally came for Jacob to die, he said to his Joseph: "Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers" (Gen. 48:21). Jacob went to his grave trusting that God's promises would come true, as his son Joseph did when he insisted that his brothers solemnly swear to take his bones with them when God would later rescue Israel (Gen. 50:24-25). The Book of Genesis ends with the embalmed body of Joseph put into a coffin, awaiting the advent of Moses and the promised Exodus of the Jewish people...
 




Taking Passover Personally...


 

[ The great holiday of Passover begins Friday evening, April 22nd... ]

04.15.16
 (Nisan 7, 5776)  The message of Passover applies to each of us: "In each and every generation an individual should look upon him or herself as if he or she (personally) had left Egypt." Indeed the very First Commandment is to accept the reality of our personal deliverance by the LORD: "I AM the LORD your God (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ ), who brought you (singular) out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). Note that the Hebrew word "Egypt" is mitzraim (מִצְרַיִם), a word that means "prison, enclosure, or straights," from the verb tzur (צוּר) meaning "to bind or confine" (the Yiddish word tsuris, "trouble," comes from the same root). On the other hand, the Hebrew word for salvation is yeshuah (יְשׁוּעָה), from a root that means to "make wide," to "release from constraint," to deliver or set free. It is noteworthy that God began the Ten Commandments by identifying Himself as our Redeemer and Deliverer rather than as our Creator, because the purpose of creation is to be set free by means of God's 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).
 




Passover and Freedom...


 

04.15.16 (Nisan 7, 5776)  Passover is sometimes called z'man cheruteinu (זְמָן חֵרוּתֵנוּ), the "Season of our Freedom." Our postmodern culture today is wicked and lawless, afflicted with the cowardice that comes from having a bad conscience. In that sense it is decidedly unfree and enslaved to its own self-destructive impulses. Tragically, many people today interpret "freedom" to mean the ability to do whatever they want to do whenever they want to do it.  However, simply "doing your own thing" is not the Torah's idea of freedom. Yeshua told us "whoever commits sin is the slave (δουλος) of sin," and went on to say "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:34-36).   True freedom (i.e., cherut: חרוּת) is therefore moral and spiritual rather than merely physical. Real freedom has to do with the power to choose what is right and good, not to simply get your own way or to practice your lusts... Our deliverance is meant to clothe us with divine power to walk in righteousness and truth.

Where it is written, "The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets" (Exod. 32:16), the midrash says do not read "engraved (חָרוּת) on the tablets" but rather as "freedom (חֵרוּת) on tablets," since only those who obey God's will may rightly be called "free" people...
 




Truth and Freedom...


 

04.15.16 (Nisan 7, 5776)  When Yeshua said that the truth would "make us free" (ἐλευθερώσει), he was referring to the acceptance of the Witness of Divine Reality (i.e., the Word, Breath, Spirit, Voice, Message, Meaning, and Love of God) that delivers us from the lies we habitually tell ourselves.  If you "persevere in my word" (μείνητε ἐν τῷ λόγῳ τῷ ἐμῷ) he said, "then you are my disciples indeed, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (ἡ ἀλήθεια ἐλευθερώσει ὑμᾶς, John 8:31-32). In other words, as we identify with his vision and redemptive mission, we will "be free indeed" from the tohu va'vohu (Gen. 1:2) – the "chaos and unreality" – that inescapably besets the way of the lie...  We will be delivered from vanity and delusions of this world and its diseased affections; we will be set free from the need to justify ourselves by religion (perfectionism); we will no longer crave other people's approval; we will not be moved by the crowd and its pressures; we will find courage to face our challenges without resorting to escapism; and we will learn how to experience peace even when we encounter frustrations.  Despite our daily struggles and tests, we will be released from bondage to anger and resentment as we yield our will in trust that God is working all things together for our ultimate good (Rom. 8:28). Genuine freedom is not an "accidental property" of the heart, depending on "luck" or "fortune," but instead is a decision to believe in the Reality of the salvation of God given in Yeshua our LORD.
 




The Leper Messiah...


 

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

04.14.16 (Nisan 6, 5776)  It is tragic that traditional Judaism does not include Isaiah 53 as part of its yearly Haftarah readings.  Perhaps the sages got confused about how to interpret the prophet. This shouldn't surprise us, however, since the prophets were regularly misunderstood and persecuted by various "religious authorities" in Jewish history (see Luke 11:47-51). Still, the sages might have missed the coming of Yeshua because there are two distinct pictures of the Messiah revealed in the visions of the prophets.  On the one hand, Messiah is portrayed as a great king, deliverer, and savior of the Jewish people who comes in triumph "in the clouds" (Dan. 7:13), but on the other he is depicted as riding a donkey, lowly and humble, a suffering servant, born in lowliness, despised and rejected of men (Zech. 9:9). These two visions of Messiah eventually led to various oral traditions that there would be two Messiahs: a Messiah ben Joseph (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־יוֹסֵף) and a Messiah ben David (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־דָוִד). In other words, the sages split the concept of Messiah in two, "dividing the visions," by regarding one Messiah as a sufferer and the other Messiah as a conqueror.

Messiah ben Yosef is identified with the Suffering Servant, of whom the patriarch Joseph prefigured (and of whom Isaiah plainly spoke in his four "Servant Songs"). In some traditions of Judaism, Messiah ben Yosef is recognized as a forerunner and harbinger of the final deliverer, Messiah ben David. Ben Yosef suffers for the sins of Israel and ends up getting killed in the battle against evil for the benefit of ben David (in this way, the two ideas of Messiah were attempted to be "connected" - though not unified).  In the Talmud it is written, "When will the Messiah come?" And "By what sign may I recognize him?" Elijah tells the rabbi to go to the gate of the city where he will find the Messiah sitting among the poor lepers (Sanhedrin 98a). ‎"The Messiah -- what is his name?... The sages say, the Leper Scholar, as it is said, 'surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God and afflicted...'" (Sanhedrin 98b). These statements concern the idea of Messiah ben Yosef...

Messiah ben David, on the other hand, is identified as the great military ruler and King of Israel of whom King David prefigures.  This greater "son of David" will regather the exiles, set up the (Third) Temple, and deliver Israel from all her enemies. This is the "Shiloh" version of Messiah that the sages of Judaism (such as Maimonides) have long been expecting (for more on the vision of Zion, see "As the Day Draws Near"). We believe Yeshua the Messiah in His second coming will completely fulfill this description of Messiah ben David.

The sages apparently were unwilling to unify the various Messianic prophecies in the Tanakh and therefore chose to "divide the visions." Ironically, while they longed for the ideal of Zion to be finally realized, they missed the means by which Zion itself would be established.  They did not comprehend that the prophecies concerning the one Messiah would be fulfilled in two distinct ways: Yeshua is both Ben Yosef (the Suffering Servant - at His first coming) and Ben David (the Reigning King - at His second coming).  He is also the Anointed Prophet, Priest, and King as foreshadowed by other me'shichim (משיחים) in the Tanakh.

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

As the prophet Isaiah wrote of Messiah:
 

    "He is despised and rejected of men, a man of pains (אִישׁ מַכְאבוֹת) and acquainted with sickness (וִידוּעַ חלִי), and we hid as it were our faces from him. He was despised and we esteemed him not. Surely he has carried our sicknesses (חֳלָיֵנוּ) and borne our pains (מַכְאבֵינוּ), yet we esteemed him as plagued (נָגַע), smitten of God (מֻכֵּה אֱלהִים) and oppressed. But he was pierced (מְחלָל) for our transgressions (פְּשָׁעֵנוּ), he was crushed for our iniquities (עֲוֹנתֵינוּ): the discipline for our peace was upon him (מוּסַר שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ עָלָיו); and in his blows we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, but the LORD has attacked in him (הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:3-6)


"The LORD has "attacked in him (הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all..." (Isa. 53:6).  Through the substitutionary sacrifice of the righteous Suffering Servant, Yeshua, we are both forgiven and made free from the power of sin and death. Because of Him we are no longer "lepers" or outcasts from the community of God but are made clean through His loving touch.

For more on this see: "The Leper Messiah: Further Thoughts on parashat Metzora."
 




The LORD our Savior...


 

04.14.16 (Nisan 6, 5776)  Why is there no reference to Moses as we read from the traditional Haggadah during our Passover Seder? Because as important as Moses is to the exodus from Egypt (יציאת מצרים), only God Himself may be rightly called the Deliverer (הַמּוֹשִׁיעַ) and the Redeemer (הַגּוֹאֵל) of Israel. God - not Moses - is the Central Character and focus of the story. Indeed when Moses acted in his own initiative, thinking that he was to become Israel's deliverer, he became a "failed Messiah," a fugitive living in exile and a wanderer in the desolate places of Midian (Exod. 2:11-15). The "prince of Egypt" needed to be humbled in the desert before he could learn to recognize the Divine Presence... It was only after meeting Yeshua - the "Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) speaking out of the midst of the fire" - that he was enabled to function as God's servant and mediator.

Note:  For more on this see "The Call of Moses..."
 




Truth and Inner Healing...


 

04.14.16 (Nisan 6, 5776)  "Truth is heavy, therefore few wear it" (Midrash Shmuel). This is about inner honesty, about "owning" who you are are being willing to endure yourself as you learn to walk with God. Where it is written "You shall love the stranger as yourself" (Lev. 19:34), understand that this also applies to the "stranger within ourselves," that is, to those aspects of ourselves we hide, deny, or reject. Like the prodigal son, we have to "come to ourselves" to return home (Luke 15:17), yet we can't do that without trusting that love is somehow available to us, even with the hidden parts of ourselves we seek to escape. That is the great risk of trusting in God's love for your soul. The secret parts of ourselves that we "hide" need to be brought to the light, confessed, healed, and reconciled.

Begin by asking God for courage and strength...  Ask for the grace to discover the truth about who we really are -- about what we've done, what we've thought, about who we've allowed ourselves to become. Confession (ὁμολογία) means bringing yourself naked before the Divine Light to agree with the truth about who you are. Indeed, the word homologeo literally means "saying the same thing" - from ὁμός (same) and λόγος (word). We need to confess the truth if we are to be free from the pain of the past. When King David wrote, "The LORD is my Light and my salvation (my yeshua; my "Jesus," my truth); whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1), he implied that he should even be free of fear of his secrets. Likewise focus on the truth and reality that extends beyond the pain of your past. Trust God for healing.
 

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָד

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 refuge of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?"
(Psalm 27:1)



Download Study Card
 

See your sin only in relation to the cross of the Savior; know his heart despite your wretchedness. Accept that you are accepted despite your unacceptability...
 




The Exodus Parable...


 

04.13.16 (Nisan 5, 5776)  The great exodus from Egypt (יציאת מצרים) is the central parable of the Torah. The bondage of the Israelites to Pharaoh represents humanity's slavery to sin; God's deliverance from bondage is effected by trusting in the blood of the sacrificial lamb of God; the passage from death to life symbolically comes through baptism into the Sea of Reeds; the journey to truth represents the pilgrimage to Sinai, and so on. Indeed, the redemption in Egypt led directly to revelation given at Sinai, and when the LORD God gave the Ten Commandments, 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, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). This is because the purpose of the creation itself is to demonstrate God's redemptive love and to be known as our Savior and Redeemer, just as Yeshua is 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 redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Mashiach, the great Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) and our Savior (מוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ)... 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).

Note: For more on this, see the article, "Love Story Exodus."
 




Exodus and Tradition...


 

04.13.16 (Nisan 5, 5776)  How important is tradition in our lives? So important that we could not understand even the first word of the Scriptures without it ... There is a story that illustrates this point. A pagan came to Hillel seeking to convert but was troubled with the idea of tradition, though he accepted the idea of the written Scriptures. Since the man did not know how to read Hebrew, however, Hillel began pointing to the letters in the written Torah to teach him the alphabet: "This is Aleph... this is Bet... this is Gimmel," and so on, until the man began to understand the letters of the Aleph-Bet. "Now come tomorrow, and I will teach you more." The next day, Hillel pointed to the exact same letters but reversed their names, "This is Gimmel... this is Aleph... this is Bet," and so on. The convert was confused: "But yesterday you said just the opposite!" Hillel replied, "Now you have had your first lesson. You see that the written word alone is insufficient, and we need the tradition to explain God's Word." Another way to make this point is to say that the Torah was not revealed along with a dictionary that defines the meaning of its words....

All this is said to remind us that the transmission of Torah "from generation to generation" demands that we trust. Indeed the very concept of "Torah" (or Scripture) is bound up with trust and community... This is true of the written word (i.e., trusting in scribal traditions that preserved the Scriptures for us), as well as the oral word (i.e., the customs, interpretations, translations, and wisdom that explain the meaning of the words themselves). Knowledge has been defined as "justified true belief," which implies that there can never be knowledge without trust. It is ludicrous to think that we can translate or comprehend the Scriptures in a vacuum - without any help from others... We must humble ourselves and become "like little children" to learn from those who have gone before us, and this is why the Jewish value of Talmud Torah - teaching children the words and values of Torah - is regarded as so important. As the Talmud puts it, "The world exists because of the breath of the schoolchildren who study Torah" (Shabbat 119b).

In Hebrew the word chinukh (חִנּוּךְ) means "education," a word that shares the same root as "chanukah" (חֲנֻכָּה, "dedication"). Unlike the classical Greek ideal that regards education as some sort of Platonic "enlightenment" (i.e., being "led out" of the cave of ignorance), the classical Jewish ideal implies dedication to God and living out faith in His promises.  This ideal goes beyond the process of merely transmitting "factual" information, since dedication (faith) must be lived as well as intellectually taught.  The truth of faith is therfore existential, meaning it is known only in so far as it is lived and experienced in this world... All other ends of knowledge ultimately exist for this purpose, and rightly understood, then, education may be regarded as a form of worship.

Disciples of Yeshua are called talmidim (תַּלְמִידִים) - a word that comes from lamad (לָמַד) meaning "to learn" (the Hebrew word for teacher is melamad (מְלַמֵּד) from the same root). Education of the heart and the head are therefore foundational to being a disciple of the Messiah, and the great commission is for each of us to share His teaching and heart with others (Matt. 28:19-20). May the LORD our God help each of us to be students who are dedicated to living for the sake of Yeshua's Name.

Note:  I wrote this entry because some people question my use of Jewish "midrash," which is nothing more than traditional Jewish commentary passed down for hundreds and even thousands of years... Please be aware that Christians use their own "midrash," however, whenever they read a Bible commentary, recite a church creed, or study a book of theology. Commentary, and even careful Biblical exegesis, are not divinely inspired, of course, which is why we must test the spirits, use discernment, and ask God for wisdom....

Be assured, friend, that I completely trust the Scriptures and rely on them daily to help me know the truth about God and to walk in his light. That said, I don't believe we should ignore what is obvious in this case, namely, that our Bibles have been preserved and handed down (by the grace of and power of God) to us over time, though much of this process is both mysterious to us and certainly beyond our control. It is the Spirit that gives life, after all... We do not look up the answers in the book without needing to think through the meaning of the words, the ideas and concepts being expressed, and especially by asking for the Holy Spirit to help us discern the true intent of the original authors and how that applies to us today.

God miraculously preserved the Scriptures, this is true; though in every generation we must interpret the words, understand its context and meaning, and apply it to our time in history... False teachers love to pretend they are immune from their own biases, but they are assuredly the first in line to tell what the text "really" means - and how others are all wrong.
 

    "To a visitor who described himself as a seeker after Truth, the Rebbe said, 'If what you seek is Truth, there is one thing you must have above all else.' 'I know,' said the seeker, 'an overwhelming passion for it.' 'No,' replied the rebbe, 'an unremitting readiness to admit that you may be wrong." (quoted by Anthony de Mello but the story goes back to earlier Chassidic sources)

 




The New Pharaoh's Dream...


 

04.13.16 (Nisan 5, 5776)  According to midrash, just as the Pharaoh during the time of Joseph was troubled by his dreams (Gen. 41:1-7), so was the "new king" that arose during the time of Moses. In the new Pharaoh's dream, an old man was standing before him as he sat on his throne, holding a balance in his hand. The old man placed all the nobles and governors of Egypt on one side of the balance, and on the other side, he placed one small lamb. To Pharaoh's astonishment, however, the lamb outweighed all the leaders of Egypt! When the king asked his advisors to interpret the dream, they said it foretold of a coming king who would overthrow the kingdom of Egypt and set the Israelites free. This coming one would excel in wisdom and his name would be remembered forever as the Savior of Israel.

Of course the rest of the Book of Exodus is essentially God's interpretation of the new Pharaoh's dream, as the great events of the Exodus would reveal. The LORD God of Israel forewarned this king that Egypt would come into judgment by the Lamb of God... Indeed, the only way to escape this judgment and the wrath of God was by being covered by the sacrificial blood of the lamb... The Lamb of God is central to Israel's deliverance and becomes the focal point of the revelation of the sanctuary later given at Sinai.

Israel was redeemed from Egypt by trusting in the promise of their deliverance, as it is written, "and the people believed" (וַיַּאֲמֵן הָעָם) ... and bowed their heads and worshiped" (Exod. 4:31). Recall that the blood of the korban Pesach - the Passover lamb - was to be smeared on the two sides and top of the doorway, resembling the shape of the letter Chet (ח). This letter, signifying the number 8, is connected with the word חי (chai), short for chayim (life). The blood of the lamb (דַּם הַשֶּׂה) not only saves from the judgment of death, but it also is the means of imparting divine life and power (John 1:29).
 




The Limping Messiah...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Friday April 22nd... ]

04.12.16
 (Nisan 4, 5776)  The word "Passover" comes from pasach (פָּסַח), a verb that means to "pass over," though it also can mean "to limp," recalling the "heel of Messiah" that would be bruised in the battle for our deliverance (Gen. 3:15). This connection may be discovered when studying the semantic range of the root pasach throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. For instance, the related participle pise'ach (פִּסֵחַ) means "lame" or "crippled" (for example, see Lev. 21:18; Deut. 15:21; 2 Sam. 9:13, Mal. 1:8, etc.), while there are several uses of the verb pasach that explicitly mean to "limp" or "be lame."  For example, in 2 Sam. 4:4 it says: "and he (Mephibosheth) fell and 'became lame" (וַיִּפָּסֵחַ); in 1 Kings 18:21, we read: "how long will you limp (פּסְחִים) between two opinions?" and in 1 Kings 18:26 it is written: "and they (the priests of Baal) 'limped upon the altar" (וַיְפַסְּחוּ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ) in a pagan ritual dance. In other words there is a connection between Passover and becoming wounded, and this alludes to the Savior whose heel was bruised during the battle for our deliverance. Yeshua is "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29).

For more on this subject, see "The Gospel in the Garden."
 




The Sign of Life...



[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Friday April 22nd... ]

04.12.16
 (Nisan 4, 5776)  "The blood shall be a sign for you (וְהָיָה הַדָּם לָכֶם לְאת)... And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt" (Exod. 12:13). The blood would be a sign for the eye of faith, i.e., "for you," and not for the unbelieving world at large. During the afternoon of the 14th, the korban Pesach (Passover lamb) was slaughtered and its blood smeared on all three sides of the doorframe, top, right and left, that is, in the form of the letter Chet (ח). This letter is connected with the word chai (חי), "alive," and chayim (חיים), "life," signifying that atoning life is in the sacrificial blood (Lev. 17:11). Note that some say that the letters of the YHVH (יהוה) – the Name of Divine Compassion - were daubed on the doorposts: The Yod (י) was written on the top beam, the Vav (ו) on the right doorpost, and the Hey (ה) on the left. In other words, since Yeshua is YHVH, His Name was written on the doorposts of the faithful.
 




In Every Generation...


 

[ "In every generation, each of us is obligated to see himself or herself [lirot et atzmo] as though he or she personally came forth from Egypt." - Traditional Hagadah ]

04.12.16 (Nisan 4, 5776)  Concerning the observance of the Passover Seder the Torah states, "When your son asks you in time to come, 'What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?' then you shall say to your son, 'We were slaves (עֲבָדִים הָיִינוּ) to Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes" (Deut. 6:20-23). We are instructed to "remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out" (Deut. 7:19). And where it is written in the Shema, "You shall teach them diligently to your children," we ask, what do we teach? And we answer: Everything – the whole story of our deliverance... So to help fulfill our great obligation to keep educating our children, I am again updating "Worthy is the Lamb - A Messianic Passover Haggadah" for this year.... Please feel free to download this succinct guide for your own study or Passover celebration.
 




The Great Lamb of God...


 

04.11.16 (Nisan 3, 5776)  From the Torah (parashat Bo) we learn that though God instructed each household to select its own lamb for the Passover, the Torah refers to "the" Lamb of God, as if there was only one: "You shall keep it [i.e., the Passover lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter him (אתוֹ) at twilight (Exod. 12:6). Note that the direct object "him" (i.e., oto) can be read as Aleph-Tav (את) combined with the letter Vav (ו), signifying the Son of Man who is First and Last... Indeed there is only one "Lamb of God" that takes away the sins of the world, and that is our Savior, Yeshua the Messiah...

Note that the original Passover sacrifice was not given to the Levitical priesthood as a sin offering since it preceded Sinai and the giving of the various laws concerning the sacrificial rites... Therefore the blessing, "You are blessed, LORD our God, King of the universe, who releases the captives" (i.e., matir asurim: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֶינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם מַתִּיר אֲסוּרִים), is for all people who are trusting in the blood of the Lamb for life. Indeed, in the world to come all the redeemed will sing of the Great Passover of Messiah that was foretold by Moses and fulfilled by the outstretched hands of Yeshua our LORD:
 

רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה

ra·uy · ha·seh · ha·ta·vu·ach · le·ka·bel · ge·vu·rah
o·sher · ve·chokh·mah · ve·ko·ach · vi·kar · ve·kha·vod · uv·ra·kha
 

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and might and honor and glory and blessing"
(Rev. 5:12)



Hebrew Study Card
 




The Chosen Lamb of God...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Friday, April 22nd... ]

04.11.16
 (Nisan 3, 5776)  The Sabbath that occurs immediately before Passover is called Shabbat HaGadol (שבת הגדול), which is associated with the selection of the sacrificial lamb four days before the time of Passover (Exod. 12:1-6). The New Testament notes that it was four days before Passover (Nisan 10) when Yeshua made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, signifying His Messiahship, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zech. 9:9). During this time, when the pilgrims had come to select a lamb for their Passover sacrifice at the Temple - they saw Yeshua and cried out: hoshiah na (הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא), meaning "please save" or "save now" (in English this phrase was translated from the Latin to form "Hosanna!"). The people spontaneously began singing Psalm 118:25-26 in anticipation of the great Messianic hope:
 

אָנָּא יְהוָה הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא אָנָּא יְהוָה הַצְלִיחָה נָּא
בָּרוּךְ הַבָּא בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה בֵּרַכְנוּכֶם מִבֵּית יְהוָה

an·na · Adonai · ho·shi·ah · na  / an·na · Adonai · hatz·li·cha · na
ba·rukh · ha·ba · be·shem · Adonai / be·rakh·nu·khem · mi·bet · Adonai
 

"Please, LORD save us! Please, LORD rescue us!
Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD
We bless you from the house of the LORD."
(Psalm 118:25-26)


 
Hebrew Study Card

 

Though he came in humility, riding upon a lowly donkey, it is striking to note that once he arrived in Jerusalem for Passover, Yeshua immediately went to the Temple and drove out all who sold there, overturning the tables of the "moneychangers" and the seats of those who sold pigeons (Matt. 21:1-16). The true Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) had come! At the Temple he then healed the blind and castigated the religious authorities by stating that the praise of children overruled their objections (Psalm 8:2). Over the next two days, he was accosted by priests, scribes, Pharisees, etc. - the whole religious establishment - which culminated in his utter denunciation of them beginning in Matthew 23 ("Woe unto you..."). He then left the Temple and foretold its destruction to the disciples, going on to explain the signs of the End of the Age (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) that would precede the advent of the Messianic Kingdom (Matt. 24). Yeshua was later crucified (before sundown) on Nisan 14, prophetically corresponding with the time when the Passover lambs were sacrificed at the Temple.

Note: For more on the prophetic aspects of the selection of the Passover lamb, see the Shabbat Hagadol pages. For a tentative chronology of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah, see "Reshit Katzir: Messiah as the Beginning of the Harvest."
 




Cleansing of the Leper...

Art by Bill Hoover, 2013
 

04.10.16 (Nisan 2, 5776)  Recall from last week's Torah (Tazria) that if someone was diagnosed with tzara'at ("leprosy"), they were forced to live in a state of exile. The afflicted person (called a metzora) tore his clothes like a mourner, put a shroud over his face, and remained alone. If anyone came near, the person would cry out: "Unclean! Stay away! Do not become impure because of me!" While so isolated, the person would have opportunity to perform teshuvah (repentance) and to reexamine his relationship with God.

In our Torah portion this week (Metzora), we learn about the laws for cleansing "lepers" (i.e., metzorim). If the one suffering from tzara'at (i.e., the metzora) had apparently been healed, he would first call for the priest to be officially reexamined. If the priest saw no sign of tumah (uncleanness), a second examination was scheduled seven days later, and if at that time there was no further sign of disease, the process of tahara (purification) would begin.

The purification process was somewhat elaborate: After the second examination, the priest required that the metzora bring the following items for his cleansing:

  1. An earthenware bowl filled with spring water (mayim chayim)
  2. Two birds of the same type (whether turtledoves or pigeons)
  3. A stick of cedar wood
  4. A hyssop branch
  5. A scarlet thread
     

The priest then commanded that one of the birds should be slaughtered over the earthen vessel filled with fresh water, with its blood mixing with the water. The living bird, the piece of cedar, and the hyssop branch were then tied together using the scarlet thread, and the entire bundle was dipped into the earthen vessel. The blood and water mixture was then sprinkled seven times on the healed metzora, and the living bird was then set free.

Next, the healed person washed his clothes, shaved off all his hair (including his eyebrows), and bathed in a mikveh (ritual pool for cleansing).  After that he could return to the camp - but he could not return to his home for another seven days. On the eighth day he would bathe again and offer several offerings (a chatat, an asham, an olah, and a minchah), but the blood from the asham (guilt) offering was mixed with oil and applied to his earlobe, thumb and foot, similar to the blood applied to the priests during their ordination. Oil from a meal offering was sprinkled seven times in the direction of the Sanctuary. Only after all this was he pronounced tahor (clean) by the priest. His life of uncleanness would be over, and he would be like a man who was brought back from the dead to new life.

This purification ritual corresponded with other rituals revealed in the Torah. The sprinkling of the hyssop by the priest recalled both the blood of the Passover lamb and the sprinkling of the ashes of the Red Heifer that cleanse from contact with death; the offering made of the two birds - one which was sacrificed and the other set free - recalled the scapegoat of the Yom Kippur ritual. The washing of garments, the shaving of all hair, and the immersion in a mikveh recalled the birth of the Jewish people at the Sea of Reeds. The blood of the guilt offering applied to the earlobe, thumb and foot, recalled the dedication of Aaron and his sons as the priests of Israel
(Lev. 14:14). In other words, the individual purification process mirrored the purification of the community of Israel, and healing ultimately meant being reidentified as a redeemed child of God. In a very literal sense, then, we see how the metzora was "reborn" by water and by the blood (John 3:5; 19:34; Heb. 9:19).
 

 




Rosh Hashanah of Spring...


 

[ The following is related to the Biblical New Year and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]

04.08.16 (Nisan 1, 5776)  Spiritual danger is just as real as physical danger, though most people pretend it isn't because it isn't easily seen. The real dangers of life are not vulnerability to crime or some accident, however, but rather susceptibility to despair, the tendency to put off repentance, and the possibility of not dying well.... It is a great danger to walk through life asleep only to be jolted awake upon the day of death. "The greatest danger is that one does not discover, that one is not always discovering, that one is in danger" (Kierkegaard). Danger of what? Of wasting your life with trifles and vanities; of never learning how to truly love or to be loved; of becoming numb, unfeeling, and therefore unmoved by your need for God.  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."  Hashivenu Adonai elecha vena-shuvah: "Turn us to You, O LORD, and we shall be turned..." (Lam. 5:21).
 

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
 

Note:  Generally speaking there are two "New Years" in the Biblical calendar and Jewish tradition. The first occurs two weeks before Passover (on the new moon of Nisan) and the second occurs during Rosh Hashanah (on the new moon of Tishri). The first marks the month of the redemption of the Israelites from Egypt by the blood of the lamb (דַּם הַשֶּׂה) -- and it is also the month in which Yeshua was sacrificed upon the cross at Moriah to redeem us from our sins. The second marks the month of Israels' corporate salvation that will be fulfilled in the prophesied End of Days...

The Sabbath that immediately precedes (and sometimes falls on) the Biblical New Year is called Shabbat HaChodesh (שַׁבַּת הַחדֶש), the "Sabbath of the Month" (of Nisan). This Sabbath is significant because it marks the start of the month of Redemption (i.e., the first month called Nisan) which the LORD Himself called "the beginning of months" (Exod. 12:1-2). The instruction to sanctify the first new moon of the year (i.e., Rosh Chodashim) indicates that it is our responsibility to sanctify (i.e., observe) Biblical time in general. In other words, when we observe "the beginning of months," we are acknowledging that time itself is rooted in the Biblical calendar with its divinely inspired cycle of festivals (i.e., the moedim). Among other things, the advent of Rosh Chodashim reminds us that Passover begins 14 days later, under the full moon of the first month (i.e., Friday April 22nd at sunset this year).

L'shanah Tovah u'metuka Yeshua Adoneinu, chaverim! "To a good and sweet year in Yeshua our LORD, friends!" Amen!  Shabbat shalom and may the peace of God be with you.
 




Walk in the Light...


 

04.08.16 (Nisan 1, 5776)  Fear profoundly affects the way the brain processes images and messages, influencing the way we see and hear things. And since the mind and body are intricately interconnected, fear is a root cause of many physiological problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, clinical depression, and many other ailments. Left unchecked, fear can be deadly.... Most of our negative emotions come from fear, including anger, frustration, and rage. On a spiritual level, fear and worry can cause people to question God's love, to doubt His promises, and to succumb to despair. The devil knows that frightening people causes them to be unsettled, off-balance, and vulnerable to all sorts of manipulation and deception. Living in fear is a form of slavery (Heb. 2:15), but where the Spirit of the LORD is there is liberty and peace (2 Cor. 3:17). Therefore "fear no evil," for God is with you (Psalm 23:4). There is no fear in God's love, but perfect love (אַהֲבָה שְׁלֵמָה) throws out fear (1 John 4:18). The LORD repeatedly tells us not to be afraid – not of man, nor of war, nor of tribulation, nor even death itself (Rom. 8:35-39). Indeed, one of the most frequent commandments in Scripture is simply al-tirah (אַל־תִּירָא), "Be not afraid."
 

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)



Download Study Card
 
  

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, our fears will begin to melt away...
 




Peace in the Storm...


 

04.08.16 (II Adar 29, 5776)  Politicians, advertisers, social activists, and other manipulators understand that when people are afraid, their thinking is compromised, and therefore the propaganda of the world inevitably seeks to incite anxiety, dread, terror, division, and confusion by means of disinformation delivered up through pop culture. The way of healing is therefore to refuse to be bullied by the carefully crafted messages of deception regularly broadcast by the various "princes of this world..."  We are not to be ignorant of Satan and his strategies to foment resentment, mistrust, and hatred. We must overcome the power of the lie by consciously focusing on the truth of God and the abiding Reality of the Divine Presence. As King David resolved within his heart: shiviti - "I have set the LORD always before me - because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken."
 

שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט

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

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



Hebrew Study Card

 

The Hebrew word shiviti comes from the verb shavah (שָׁוָה) which means "to set" or place, referring to focus of the heart required to truly apprehend the Divine Presence. In this connection, we note the "korban tamid" (תָּמִידקָרְבַּן) was the sacrifice of a lamb every evening and morning upon the copper altar in the outer court -- the central sacrifice of the Tabernacle. Along with it, matzah and wine offering were required, thereby revealing the true Passover Lamb of God and his sacrifice for us (Exod. 29:38-42). That the lamb was offered twice daily hints at its two applications - the first concerning the great deliverance from Egypt by the blood of the Lamb, and the second concerning the even greater deliverance given through Yeshua, the true Lamb of God (John 1:29). Note also that the constant sacrifice of the lamb required that the fire at the altar would never be extinguished, and by extension, the duty to "care for the inner fire" of the soul. Thank God that the fire that daily needs tending comes from the Spirit of God within us!

But how are we able overcome our fears apart from trusting that God is truly "with us"? The LORD is our Good Shepherd (הָרעֶה הַטּוֹב) who leads us on our way and meets our daily needs; He promises to never leave nor forsake us, especially when we are faced with difficult circumstances. The antidote to our fear is to find comfort in God's abiding love (1 John 4:18): God saves us from our fears (Psalm 34:4, 2 Tim. 1:7). When we trust that God personally cares for us, we find courage to face whatever may come our way...
 




Words of Heart...


 

[ Spiritual truth is a heart language, not just a head language... Ask for wisdom; your heavenly Father will not refuse you... ]

04.08.16 (II Adar 29, 5776)  "If we ask anything according to God's will, he hears us," which is to say that in heaven there is only the language of truth, and truth is the language of heaven. Those who pray insincerely abuse the gift of speech, and such language is not understood in heaven... God speaks to us "in son," which is forever the language of faithfulness, hope, and love (1 Cor. 13:13). Kierkegaard wrote, "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty." Confession means "saying the same thing" about ourselves that God says - and that means not only acknowledging our sins, but also affirming that we are loved by God. "Love hopes all things" (1 Cor. 13:7), and therefore the language of truth is always spoken in hope. No truth about your sin is known apart from the love of God revealed in Yeshua our Messiah.
 




Atonement and Blood...


 

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

04.07.16 (II Adar 29, 5776)  Though the creation of human life (i.e., birth) is regarded as one of the greatest events in the world, the Torah states that it begins in impurity (טֻמְאָה), indicating that natural life by itself is insufficient for attaining spiritual life (John 3:7). Hence we read in our Torah portion that the birth of a child results in impurity for the mother that required blood atonement (Lev. 12:2,7). A new mother is treated as a niddah (a menstruent woman) and is considered impure (i.e., tamei, טָמֵא) for 40 days (if a boy) or 80 days (if a girl). Only after making an offering of blood (e.g., a lamb, a young pigeon, or a turtledove) was she declared "clean" (טָהֵר) by the priests.  This was also true of Miriam (i.e., Mary, the mother of Yeshua) who fulfilled her "days of purification" and offered the prescribed sacrifices according to the law (Luke 2:22-24).

The Torah makes it clear that blood (דָּם) is used as a means of consecration as well as a means of obtaining atonement (כַּפָּרָה) with God.  Blood was used on the doorposts of the houses in Egypt to ward off judgment and was later used to ratify the covenant given at Sinai (Exod. 24:8). All the elements of Mishkan (Tabernacle) were likewise "separated" by its use: The altar, the various furnishings of the Temple, the vestments of the priests, and even the priests themselves were sanctified by blood (Exod. 29:20-21, Heb. 9:21). But ultimately blood was used to "make atonement" for the soul upon the altar. As the Torah (Lev. 17:11) plainly states: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood (כִּי נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם), and I have given it for you on the altar to atone (לְכַפֵּר) for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life (כִּי־הַדָּם הוּא בַּנֶּפֶשׁ יְכַפֵּר)." Blood is therefore connected to the holiness of life through sacrificial death...

Note:  The concept of "unclean" has connotations that are negative and alien to the Hebrew concept of tumah (טָמְאָה), the noun, or tamei (טָמֵא), the adjective. The word tumah derives from the root word "atum" (אָטוּם) which means "impenetrable," "set apart," or "sealed off." There are a lot of opinions why the period of being set apart is 40 days for the birth of a boy but is doubled to 80 days for the birth of a girl, some quite esoteric (e.g., since a woman's separation is 40 days, a second woman's separation, i.e., that of the baby girl, is also taken into account). The important thing to note, however, is that the time of "impurity" is a "hands-off" time, set apart, intended for sacred purposes. Thus birth and death are times of tumah where people are released from the ordinary to encounter the extraordinary.

For more on this subject, see the "Atonement and Blood" article.
 




More than Half-Way...


 

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

04.07.16 (II Adar 28, 5776)  Although the priest needed to go "outside the camp" to examine a metzora (i.e., "leper"), the person still needed to "be brought" to the priest to meet him there, while he or she was in a state of exile (Lev. 14:2-3). In other words, the afflicted one was required to meet the priest "half-way." However, the love of God is so great that He reached out and touched us by becoming a "leper" for us, choosing even to die in exile - "outside the camp" - to eternally purify us from our sins... In that sense, our great High Priest Yeshua surely meets us far more than "half-way," since He "emptied Himself" (κενόω) of his heavenly glory and willingly descend into the "leper colony" of humanity, bearing our sickness, shame, and the sting of death itself on our behalf.  As it is written: "But [He] made himself nothing (εκενωσεν), taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men; and being found in human form, he brought himself low by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:7-8).
 




Our Daily Deliverance...


 

04.06.16 (II Adar 27, 5776)  As we ask God for our "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). 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. King David constantly asked God to help him in his spiritual struggles. "Though I walk in the midst of trouble (בְּקֶרֶב צָרָה), you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me" (Psalm 138:7). "For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled" (Psalm 143:2-3). 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 sin's effect and influence. Amen.
 




Trust despite darkness...


 

04.06.16 (II Adar 27, 5776)  The reason for what happens in our lives is often (always?) beyond our understanding, yet the righteousness of God's plan – even if undisclosed to us - must be accepted by faith. As it says: "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:9). The refusal to accept what cannot be understood is to worship the powers of the mind, and to elevate the role of human reason above even God Himself. Faith accepts God's goodness and trusts in his care, even if that means we find ourselves walking in the dark: "Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God" (Isa. 50:10).
 

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

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

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



 

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

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




Words and Healing...


 

[ The following is related this week's Torah (parashat Tazria), and in particular the spiritual sickness (tzara'at) that results from abusing our language (and therefore our thinking). ]

04.05.16 (II Adar 26, 5776)  Just as a body can become sick with illness, so can a soul: "I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me; heal my soul (רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי), for I have sinned against you!'" (Psalm 41:4). Jewish tradition links tzara'at ("leprosy") with the sin of lashon hara ("evil talk"), suggesting that the word metzora ("leper") is word play from the Hebrew phrase, motzi ra: "one who brings forth [speaks] evil." As it is written in Scripture: mavet ve'chaim be'yad lashon (מָוֶת וְחַיִּים בְּיַד־לָשׁוֹן) - "Death and life and in the power of the tongue" (Prov. 18:21). Because we are made in the image and likeness of God, our words matter -- and they wield power. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "word" (דָּבָר) also means "thing." When we bless others, we are invoking grace and good will to be manifest in the world, but when we curse others, the opposite effect is realized. Note, however, that both the blessing and the curse returns to the one who utters it...

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

"Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given..." (Luke 8:18). Those who curse others, who practice hate, feed the hatred of their own souls and will reap the fruit of their lips... Those who bless others, on the other hand, who practice love, feed grace to their souls and will likewise reap the fruit of their lips. "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45).

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

Note:  There is a larger principle here that involves our responsibility to be truth-bearers, to not abuse or slander others, to not abuse our minds, etc.  Evil thought brings evil into verbalized consciousness which is ultimately released into the world, and this is something for which we shall give account. The corollary notion that "good talk" is always blessed must be qualified to carefully define what "good" means.  For instance, some people might regard "good" talk as "nice" or "politically correct" talk, but that certainly is not true; since people routinely flatter and manipulate others using nice-sounding words. Still other people may think they are doing heaven a favor by arguing and beating people over the head with their vision of the truth. Humility is a necessary ingredient for dibbur emet, truth telling, and those who lack it speak falsely even if they technically they are telling the truth.
 




Healing our Sicknesses...


 

04.05.16 (II Adar 26, 5776)  Our Torah portion for this week (Tazria) discusses purification from a spiritual disease called tzara'at (צָרַעַת), often inaccurately translated as "leprosy." The early sages noted that the Hebrew word tzara'at may be read as "tzar ayin" (צַר עַיִן), meaning a stingy or arrogant eye... And just as our words reveal what is within our hearts (Luke 6:45), so do our eyes (Luke 11:34; Matt. 15:19). How we look upon others is a function of how we see ourselves; and therefore we all share in the disease of our fellows. The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, 'Unclean, unclean.' The sages interpret, "Unclean, unclean!" (Lev. 13:45) to mean that the one who is unclean calls others "unclean," which is to say, he projects his own defects onto others. Healing comes when we understand that we all are affected by sin and sickness, and when we criticize others, we condemn ourselves (Rom. 2:1). There is much in all of us that remains broken, unclean, and in need of God's touch. Love uses the "good eye" (ayin tovah) to believe in the good, even if that good is yet unseen (Heb. 11:1). "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things" (1 Cor. 13:7), and that includes for our healing. 

May the LORD heal our sicknesses by teaching us to see from the perspective of His love...
 




Purification and Healing...


 

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

04.04.16 (II Adar 25, 5776)  The cleansing of a metzora (i.e., "leper") corresponded with other significant sacrificial rituals given in the Torah. The sprinkling of the hyssop by the priest recalled the blood of Passover; the offering made of the two birds - one which was sacrificed and the other set free - recalled the scapegoat of the Yom Kippur ritual. The washing of garments, the shaving of all hair, and the immersion in a mikveh (a pool of fresh water) recalled the birth of the Jewish people at the Sea of Reeds. Finally, the blood of the guilt offering sprinkled on the earlobe, thumb and foot, recalled the dedication of Aaron and his sons as the priests of Israel (Lev. 14:14). In other words, the individual purification process mirrored the purification of the community of Israel, and healing ultimately meant being re-identified as a redeemed child of God.  In a very literal sense, then, we see how the metzora was "reborn" by water and by the blood (John 3:5; 19:34; Heb. 9:19).

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

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

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




Happy New Year?


 

[ The central holiday of Passover begins Friday, April 22nd at sundown this year... ]

04.03.16 (II Adar 24, 5776)  Did you know that the Biblical Year begins this coming Friday, April 8th at sundown (i.e., Nisan 1, 5776)? Indeed, the LORD set apart this day as the beginning of the months of the calendar (called Rosh Chodashim), the start of the calendar year itself (Exod. 12:1-2). This may seem odd to you, though remember that the world runs on a "clock" that operates under assumptions that are different than those revealed in the Scriptures.... The "wisdom of this world" (σοφία τοῦ κόσμου τούτου) is the prevailing cultural spirit that suppresses the reality of God's Presence and truth. Such "wisdom" is regarded as foolishness before God, and God has promised to "seize the so-called wise in their own craftiness" (1 Cor. 3:19). The life of faith, on the other hand, sees what is invisible. Faith (emunah) apprehends "the substance (ὑπόστασις) of things hoped for, the assurance (ἔλεγχος, conviction, "correction," "argument," i.e., tokhachat: תוֹכַחַת) of things not seen" (Heb 11:1). As the Scripture says, the heart of faith "looks not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18).

The Sabbath that immediately precedes (and sometimes falls on) the Biblical New Year is called Shabbat HaChodesh (שַׁבַּת הַקּדֶשׁ), the "Sabbath of the Month" (of Nisan). This Sabbath is significant because it commemorates the start of the month of Redemption (i.e., the first month called Nisan) which God called "the beginning of months."  We remember this special event by reading an additional passage from the Torah (i.e., maftir) concerning the sanctification of the new moon (Exod. 12:1-20), and we spiritually prepare for this month by studying about Passover and the coming spring holidays:

 

The commandment to sanctify the first new moon of the year (i.e., Rosh Chodashim) reveals that it is our responsibility to sanctify (i.e., observe) Biblical time in general. In other words, when we observe "the beginning of months," we are acknowledging that time itself is rooted in the Biblical calendar with its divinely inspired cycle of festivals (i.e., the moedim). Note that this year the Biblical New Year begins on Friday April 8th at sundown (i.e., Shabbat), and therefore Passover begins exactly two week weeks later, Friday, April 22nd at sundown.

Note:  For more about the Torah's New Year, see the "Rosh Chodashim" pages...
 




Parashat Tazria - תזריע


 

04.03.16 (II Adar 24, 5776)  Our Torah portion for this week (i.e., parashat Tazria) concerns cleansing from "uncleanness" (טָמֵא), as symbolized by the healing and purification of the metzora (i.e., "leper") in a ritual similar to that performed during the Day of Atonement. The sages note that the spiritual disease of tzara'at was a sign from God that the Israelites were indeed a chosen nation, since the affliction moved them to do teshuvah to be in fellowship with Him. Likewise God sometimes disciplines us for our sins (Heb 12:7-8) for the purpose of granting us the gift of teshuvah (2 Cor. 7:10). We must therefore strive to make our conversation and the inmost intent of our hearts "captive to the obedience of the Messiah," blessed be He (Matt. 5:37; Eph. 4:29; Col. 3:8; 2 Cor. 10:5; 1 Tim 4:2; etc.).

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

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

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

 




Theology of Flowers...


 

04.01.16 (II Adar 22, 5776)  "Why are you so anxious? Take a lesson from the wildflowers... They neither toil nor spin, yet even Solomon in all his royal glory was not arrayed like one of these ... And if your heavenly Father gives such attention to the appearance of flowers, many of which grow in unseen places, surely he will attend to you, too" (Matt. 6:28-30). So take a deep breath. Don't let worry blind you to God's ongoing care; don't live as those without faith. You have a place in your Father's heart; you have a share in his house above. See the Lord as your Dwelling Place "in all generations"; behold his unchanging glory despite the fleeting shadows of this world.

We must first look to the Eternal to rightly see the finite; we must look upward before we look downward. As we contemplate God's Eternality and power, we realize the wonder and sanctity of our short time here. The Eternal is our refuge, our "dwelling place," in all generations, and that means in the present generation as well, on the other side of fleeting appearances of this world. When we pray to God as Avinu She-bashamayim, "Our Father in Heaven," we are calling to the One who (ש) is in the midst of the waters (מים) of Life.

The psalmist says (Psalm 118:17): "I shall not die but live." In order to live you must give yourself to death, but when you have done so, you discover that you are not to die, but live. "Giving yourself to death" means surrendering to God's will, accepting the yoke of heaven, and trusting in His governing "flow" over all of creation. This is the deeper meaning of "baptism" as we are immersed into God's care for us. Yeshua gives us abundant life.

The bloom of every flower is by eternal purpose, and not one common sparrow is forgotten by your Heavenly Father (Luke 12:6). God's irresistible providence comprehends and orders all things, from the realm of the subatomic to the cosmic motions of the heavenly bodies. The Lord is the Center of reality: "All things were created by Him, and for Him, and in Him all things hold together" (Col. 1:16-17). In light of this, Blaise Pascal asked, "What is left for us but to unite our will to that of God himself, to will in him, with him, and for him the thing that he has eternally willed in us and for us." In other words, what else can we do but learn to trust, accept, and to say "yes" to life – even if at times we may feel like strangers in exile... All our days are ordained; recorded in God's scroll. Therefore may God "teach us to number our days to get a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). So don't lose heart, friend; He who cares for you is a good shepherd, and you shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Amen!
 




Always the First Step...

Tochelet - by J Parsons
 

04.01.16 (II Adar 22, 5776)  There is a core element of your spiritual life that is all-determinative, that effects everything else, and that is the decision of whether you will choose to "show up," whether you will engage it's hope; and whether you will open your eyes and yield yourself to the light... And this is an ongoing decision. Therefore we read in the Torah: "If you walk in my statutes (אִם־בְּחֻקּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ) and observe my commandments and do them..." (Lev. 26:3). The sages note that unlike the holy angels, we must "walk out" the faith of our days, and therefore we are always moving either forward or backward. In this world, God's sun shines on the just and unjust alike (Matt. 5:45). Every human being lives by faith of some kind, and it is therefore impossible to opt out of the decision to "choose this day whom we shall serve" (Josh. 24:15). Indifference or apathy is as much a spiritual decision as is outright rebellion, and if we do nothing today to draw us near to the Lord, we will eventually regress and slip backward. This is all very sobering. "No one knows the day or hour," and that's why it is so vital to turn to God and be healed while there is still time. So turn today and bacharta ba'chayim (בָּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים) - "choose life!" "For this commandment (of turning to God) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away... No, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; Rom. 10:8-13).
 




 

March 2016 Site Updates
 


Separated for Love...


 

03.31.16 (II Adar 21, 5776)  From our Torah we read: "For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy" (Lev. 11:45). Because we are God's people, his redeemed children, we should be holy, just as God is holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16). Holiness, however, is not a matter of what you do (such as wrapping yourself in religious rituals) but instead is a matter of what you "allow" to happen: You let go and allow yourself to be rescued and taken up from the "depths of Egypt" to be with God. Holiness is something you receive; it is a gift of being "set apart" to be sacred and beloved by God.  Genuine holiness (i.e., kedushah) is connected with love and grace.

In Hebrew, the word kedushah (קְדוּשָׁה) means sanctity or "set-apartness" (other Hebrew words that use this root include kadosh (holy), Kiddush (sanctifying the wine), Kaddish (sanctifying the Name), kiddushin (the ring ceremony at a marriage), and so on). Kadosh connotes the sphere of the sacred that is radically separate from all that is sinful and profane. As such, it is lofty and elevated (Isa. 57:15), beyond all comparison and utterly unique (Isa. 40:25), entirely righteous (Isa. 5:16), glorious and awesome (Psalm 99:3), full of light and power (Isa. 10:7), and is chosen and favored as God's own (Ezek. 22:26).

After the LORD split the sea and led his people across, Israel sang a song of praise to Him. Shirat Hayam (the Song of the Sea) is an "antiphon", or song of response to the loving deliverance given by the LORD (Exod. 15:1-21). "The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him..."  "Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?  You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode... You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established."

Note further that the opening statement, "Then they sang" is actually in the future tense: "Then they will sing," which refers to the coming of Messiah. Indeed, in Revelation 15:3 we read that the song will indeed be sung to the Heavenly Bridegroom in the coming New Jerusalem... Note also that in the closing phrase of the song, "the LORD will reign forever" (Exod. 15:18), the word "will reign" (יִמְלךְ) is spelled with a missing Vav, which suggests the Messiah Yeshua. The LORD will indeed reign when the rightful heir to the throne of David and the true King of Israel soon appears. Then shall we be with our Beloved forever and ever.

Note: Today is our beloved son Judah's seventh birthday! Please offer up a prayer for this boy to become a man of God who will serve the LORD our God.  Thank you!


 




Hearing the Unsaid...


 

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

03.31.16 (II Adar 21, 5776)  From our Torah portion this week we read: "Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered strange fire (אֵשׁ זָרָה) before the LORD, that He had not commanded them" (Lev. 10:1). The sages note that while Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu were godly people, they did not understand the phrase, "that He had not commanded them" (אֲשֶׁר לא צִוָּה אתָם), because they had assumed that since God did not explicitly tell them not to do something (i.e., not to burn incense in the Holy Place), then it was permissible to go ahead and do that thing. However, just because God does not say that we should not to do something does not mean that we are therefore at liberty to do it. All we can infer from silence is silence, not that the silence somehow communicates agreement with our desires.... Remember that it is not what God has not said that should be our concern, but rather what he has said (Deut. 29:29).

This sort of presumption is common today, where many make a pretense of ignorance, suppressing what they don't want to hear to justify their own religious perspectives and ideologies...  It takes a genuine humility to confess that we often don't know why we are doing what we are doing, and then to back up and ask for God's help and direction.
 




Seeing the Sacred...

Photography by John J Parsons
 

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

03.31.16 (II Adar 21, 5776)  Regarding the verse: "This is the thing that the LORD commanded you to do, so that the glory of the LORD may appear to you" (Lev. 9:6), the sages comment that if you wish to know if your action is something God wills, then see if leads to the revelation of the glory of God... In other words, "the thing" (זֶה הַדָּבָר) that God wants for us is to behold the Sacred Presence that pervades and upholds all things. Indeed the Hebrew word for seeing, ra'ah (רָאָה) is connected with the word "awe," yarah (יִרְאָה). When we really see life as it is, we will be filled with wonder 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.
 




Love Believes all things...


 

03.30.16 (II Adar 20, 5776)  "I would have fainted unless I believed to see the goodness of the LORD..." (Psalm 27:13). Faith is therefore self-authenticating: as you trust in the good, the good will be revealed: believe to see! As Yeshua said, "According to your faith be it done unto you" (Matt. 9:29). And if it is faith that makes you whole, then its lack makes you sick... As you doubt, so you will lose sight of what is real, true, and abiding. Being cynical is cowardly: "There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true" (Kierkegaard). The cynic refuses the possibility of truth because he is afraid of being fooled, and for this fear he willingly closes his eyes to the good. "Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact" (James). When we trust God's promises, we affirm an unseen good even if the present hour is shrouded in darkness. Faith sees beyond "the seen" to the unseen (2 Cor. 4:18). The "seen" is not ultimately real, and consequently faith is exiled from the vanity of the present hour. Therefore affirm your faith, dear friend; do not allow your heart to waver. Refuse the darkness of fear by choosing to believe in the reality of God's love for your soul, despite the mess you've made of your life. Affirm that God's love is more real, more substantive, and more valuable than anything disclosed in this world that fades away. Amen.
 




Torah of Shame...


 

03.30.16 (II Adar 20, 5776)  If we fail to see goodness and beauty all around us, it is likely we do not see it within ourselves, either (Matt. 6:22). Therefore we should be especially careful not to do violence to our souls by means of shame. We you are ashamed, it is not your sin you hate, but you yourself, and that is a grievous condition indeed. Self-hatred repels your heart from love, from forgiveness, and from healing. Yes, we can indeed hate and lament our sin, but we must be careful to first know who we are and what our beloved Lord has done for us. We must, therefore, repudiate voices that damn us and call us to despair. The Word of the LORD is love, grace, and peace spoken to the heart of faith (Rom. 8:1).

Note: There is guilt over sin -- real, objective, and grievous -- and then there is shame over ourselves. The conviction of sin leads us to the remedy of Messiah; shame leads us to hell.
 




A Consuming Fire...


 

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

03.29.16 (II Adar 19, 5776)  "Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron ... brought strange fire before the LORD" (Lev. 10:1). The sages interpret "strange fire" (i.e., esh zarah: אֵשׁ זָרָה) as alien passion or illicit zeal stimulated by artificial means (in this case, drinking wine before their service). The experience of intoxication may seem to elevate the soul, but in reality it muddles the ability to discern spiritual realities: "Drink no wine or strong drink ... when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean" (Lev. 10:9-10). Nadab and Abihu were highly honored in Israel, the first priests of God, and if they drank wine before entering the sanctuary it was surely not for crass purposes, but rather to "sanctify" their experience, or so they thought... They were severely judged, however, because they presumptuously sought to sanctify themselves by means of an artificial influence, and this made them "strange" before God. Likewise many people today seek "spiritual highs" and "signs" without undergoing the discipline of Torah study, prayer, meditation, and so on. God wants our hearts in service, but our hearts must be honest and reverent before Him.

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

Note:  "Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Cor. 10:11). It is astounding that during the very time that the Tabernacle was inaugurated, tragedy struck and Aaron's two sons were killed. This should warn those teachers who speak casually of God from the pulpit, since they act profanely and encroach upon the Divine Presence. Let us be admonished, friends and honor the Living God: Da lifne mi attah omed: "Know before Whom you stand!"
 




The Decree of Love...


 

[ The following is related to our (additional) Torah reading for Shabbat Parah (Num. 19:1-22)... ]

03.29.16 (II Adar 19, 5776)  Our Torah for this week includes an additional reading (i.e., maftir) about the famous "Red Heifer" sacrifice and its meaning. The additional portion begins: "Now the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 'This is the decree of the Torah... take a red cow" (Num. 19:1-2). Notice that the LORD called the red heifer sacrifice "the" decree of Torah (חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה), as if it were the Torah's central commandment, thereby highlighting the necessity of faith, and in particular, faith that believes that God provides healing from death by means of 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).
 




Brokenness and Service...


 

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

03.28.16 (II Adar 18, 5776)  The service of God requires the death of the ego (Luke 9:23). Rashi says that Aaron was still deeply ashamed over the Sin of the Calf, and that is why Moses urged his brother forward: "Draw near to the altar" (Lev. 9:7). And though Aaron felt inadequate and unworthy to be the High Priest of Israel, Rashi comments that he was chosen precisely because of this. His reluctance and sense of utter unworthiness was the very reason why he was granted the role of Israel's High Priest.  Likewise you might feel unworthy of your high calling in the Messiah and yet you are called to come before the Divine Presence and function as God's holy priest, no less than Aaron... You are chosen in your weakness; you are beloved because of your lowly standing; you are made "pure in heart" because you realize your own inner nothingness and need before the Savior.... Your brokenness is a gift that magnifies God's unending love and grace (1 Cor. 1:26-29).

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




Signs and Wonders...


 

03.28.16 (II Adar 18, 5776)  Regarding those who seek the services of "miracle workers," the Kotzker Rebbe is reported to have said, "There are miracles and then there are miracles... Some people regard as a miracle if God does someone's will; we regard as a miracle if someone does God's will." Amen, a true miracle, and one greater than the splitting of the sea, is that of a transformed heart that loves God and seeks to do God's will.  Similarly, some people seek signs of the times and the End of the World, though the true "end of the world" arrives the moment you surrender your life to God's care...
 




Reason for Being...


 

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

03.28.16 (II Adar 18, 5776)  "This is the thing that the LORD commanded you to do, so that the glory of the LORD may appear to you" (Lev. 9:6). Have you considered why you were born into this world? What is your purpose, destiny, and end?  The Torah states that you were personally created by God, who breathed out the breath of life (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים) into you, so you could know the glory of God and spiritual reality. As it is written: "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your desire they existed and were created" (Rev. 4:11). God creates all things for his glory, which indeed is the first blessing recited over the bride and groom of a traditional Jewish wedding: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלם שֶׁהַכּל בָּרָא לִכְבוֹדו / "Blessed are you Lord our God king of the universe, who has created all things for his glory." The purpose of life is to know and love God, to walk in His light and truth, and to glorify his compassion and grace forever...

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




Shabbat Parah - שבת פרה


 

03.27.16 (II Adar 17, 5776)  The Sabbath that immediately follows Purim is called Shabbat Parah - the "Sabbath of the Cow," when the chapter of the parah adumah (פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה), or the "Red Heifer" (Num. 19:1-22), is recited following the regular Torah service. The early sages chose this additional portion of Scripture to be reviewed at this time to help prepare for the coming New Year (i.e., Rosh Chodashim) and because the people were required to purify themselves before coming to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festival of Passover.

The Red Heifer offering is considered a paradox to most Jewish thinkers, since the one who offers the sacrifice becomes unclean, while the sprinkling of the ashes of the sacrifice makes people clean... The ritual is considered chok within the Jewish tradition, meaning that it makes no rational sense. In fact, the Talmud states that of all the taryag mitzvot (613 commandments), this is the only one that King Solomon could not fathom, since this sacrifice was regarded as the most paradoxical of all the sacrifices found in the Torah. The sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah is the fulfillment of the symbolism of the red cow (i.e., parah adumah).  Both were entirely rare and without defect (sin); both were sacrificed outside the camp; both made the one who offered the sacrifice unclean but made the one who was sprinkled by it clean; and finally, both sacrifices cleanse people for priestly service.

The parah adumah had to be a perfect specimen that was completely red, "without blemish, in which there is no defect (mum)." The rabbis interpreted "without blemish" as referring to the color, that is, without having so much as a single white or black hair.  This is the only sacrifice in the Torah where the color of the animal is explicitly required. Moreover, the parah adumah was never to have had a yoke upon it, meaning that it must never have been used for any profane purposes.

Unlike all other sacrifices offered at the mizbeach (the altar at the Mishkan), the parah adumah was taken outside the camp and there slaughtered before the priest (in this case, Elazar, Aaron's son), who then took some of its blood and sprinkled it seven times before the Mishkan (thereby designating it as a purification offering). [During the Second Temple period, the High Priest performed this ceremony facing the Temple 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 korbanot). Unlike other offerings, all the blood of the sacrifice was to be burned in the fire.

Hyssop, scarlet yarn, and a cedar stick would then be thrown upon the burning parah adumah (these same items were used to cleanse from tzara'at, skin disease). In other words, the blood was assimilated into the ashes of the sacrifice, which were then gathered and mixed with water to create the "water of separation" (mei niddah) for the Israelite community. Note that the word "separation" (niddah) refers to menstrual impurity and harkens to Zech. 13:1: "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."

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 ritually defiled 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 then be unclean until the following evening. For more about Shabbat Parah, click here.


The Haftarah for Shabbat Parah

The Haftarah read for Shabbat Parah (Ezek. 36:16-38) is ostensibly linked to the sacrifice of the Red Heifer, though on a deeper level it relates to Israel's national salvation and return to the promised land after the Great Tribulation period....  Despite the horrors of the worldwide Diaspora of the Jewish people and their faithlessness before the nations, God will be true to His promises by causing the Jews to finally accept His salvation (i.e., Yeshua) and to both return to the land of Israel and to be reinstated as God's covenant people.  At that time, "all Israel will be saved," as the Apostle Paul also foretold (Rom. 11:26). For more information about this Haftarah, see the Shabbat Parah page here.
 




Parashat Shemini - פרשת שמיני


 

03.27.16 (II Adar 17, 5776)  This week's Torah reading, Shemini ("eighth"), continues the account of the seven-day ordination ceremony for the priests that was described earlier in Parashat Tzav.  During each of these "seven days of consecration," Moses served as the first High Priest of Israel by offering sacrifices and training the priests regarding their duties. On the eighth day however, (i.e., Nisan 1), and just before the anniversary of the Passover, Aaron and his sons began their official responsibilities as Israel's priests. It is no coincidence that the inauguration of the sanctuary is directly connected to the Passover, since the daily sacrifice of the Lamb served as an ongoing memorial of the Exodus from Egypt -- and indeed the laws of sacrifice form the central teaching of the Torah itself. In this connection, we again note that the central sacrifice of the Tabernacle was that of a defect-free lamb offered every evening and morning upon the altar in the outer court, along with matzah and a wine offering, signifying the coming of the true Passover Lamb of God and his great sacrifice for us (Exod. 29:38-42; Num. 28:4-10; John 1:29).
 

 




He is Risen Indeed!


 

[ Shalom and love to all our Christian friends who are celebrating the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua at this time... We share with you the great joy of the message of God's victory in Messiah! Baruch HaShem: He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! ]

03.25.16 (II Adar 15, 5776)  The Scriptures make clear that Yeshua is the true Passover Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) whose sacrificial death and shed blood causes the wrath of God to "pass over" (pasach) those who are trusting in Him (John 1:29, 3:36; Acts 8:32-36; 1 Cor. 5:7-8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20, etc.). Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! (Rev. 5:12). But while the sacrifice of Yeshua gives us atonement (כַּפָּרָה) with God, the resurrection of the Messiah (i.e., techiyat ha-Mashiach: תְּחִיַּת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) justifies His work of salvation on behalf of the sinner and forever vindicates the righteousness of God.

The resurrection of Yeshua is not an "academic" or speculative question to be considered in purely rational terms, but rather is a matter of eternal life or death. How we choose to respond to its message determines our destiny. Everything turns on whether we awaken to the risen reality and Presence of Yeshua in our lives. Without Him we are hopeless; with Him we are more than conquerors (1 Cor. 15:14; Rom. 8:37).

Yeshua completely atoned for our sins and His resurrection validated that God the Father accepted His sacrifice. It was God the Father (i.e., Reality) who raised Yeshua in victory (Gal. 1:1, Rom. 10:9), and those who put their trust trust in Him are declared righteous on account of their faith.  Yeshua "was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25).  As Jesus Himself said, "Because I am alive, you also will live" - שֶׁכֵּן אֲנִי חַי וְגַם אַתֶּם תִּחְיו / ὅτι ἐγὼ ζῶ καὶ ὑμεῖς ζήσετε (John 14:19).

For more on this vital subject, please see "Why the resurrection of Yeshua matters."
 




Fear of the LORD...



 

03.25.16 (II Adar 15, 5776)  Some people are afraid that God will punish them for their sins, but the true fear of God, yirat shamayim, is better understood as the fear of losing our closeness to Him... The sages say that where it is written, "What does the LORD ask of you except to fear the LORD" (Deut. 10:12), we should read instead, "fear with the LORD" (לְיִרְאָה אֶת־יְהוָה), that is, we share his concern that we could forfeit the sanctity of a heart-relationship with Him due to indifference, carelessness, and sin... We fear our sin because it blinds us from awareness of God's care and love. The fear of God can therefore be understood as God's fear that we will miss the blessing of intimately knowing him...

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




A Blessed Brokenness...


 

03.25.16 (II Adar 15, 5776)  Many of us have been given the special blessing of needing God so viscerally that we will fall apart or even self-destruct apart from His daily intervention in our lives... Yeshua speaks to the desperately needy of heart: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3). We groan in hope... In our Torah portion this week (Tzav) we read that the fire on the altar was to be kept burning at all times (Lev. 6:12-13), which symbolizes esh tamid (אֵשׁ תָּמִיד), or the inner fire of the heart... How blessed it is to be full of the fire of this inner need, this relentless groaning, this constant hunger to be set free. As it is written, the high and lifted up One dwells with the broken and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the crushed:
 

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

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

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



Download Study Card

 

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

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵנוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂנוּ אֲסִירֵי תִּקְוָה

ba·rukh · at·tah · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · me·lekh · ha·o·lam,
a·sher · a·sa·nu · a·si·rei · tik·vah
 

"Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe,
who has made us captives of hope."


 
Download Study Card
  




Affirming the Light...


 

03.25.16 (II Adar 15, 5776)  From our Torah for this week (i.e., Tzav) we read: "The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not be extinguished" (Lev. 6:12). The sages say do not read "burning on it" but rather "burning in him" (בּוֹ), referring to the heart of the priest.  And where the text says "it (i.e., the fire) shall not be extinguished" (לא תִכְבֶּה), read instead "extinguish (תִכְבֶּה) the negative (לא)" by trusting in God's promise for our good, despite any temporary setbacks or apparent failures. The Holy Spirit imparts the fire of faith that fills our hearts with hope (רוּחַ נָכוֹן), affirming with "tongues of fire" words of life and light that vanquish darkness. As it is written: "Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; He is gracious, merciful, and righteous" (Psalm 112:4).
 

זָרַח בַּחשֶׁךְ אוֹר לַיְשָׁרִים
חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם וְצַדִּיק

za·rach · ba·cho·shekh · ohr · lai·sha·rim
chan·nun · ve·ra·chum · ve·tzad·dik
 

"Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;
He is gracious, merciful, and righteous."
(Psalm 112:4)



Download Study Card
 

 

Spiritually speaking, the first step is to find hope... The Divine Light is seen by means of the eye of faith (עַיִן שֶׁל אֱמוּנָה), and therefore we find strength by trusting in God's Presence, even though we cannot presently see Him (2 Cor. 4:18; 5:7). "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Know Him in all your ways, and He will straighten your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil" (Prov. 3:5-7). Wait on the LORD and He will strengthen your heart....

We must keep courage, remain steady as we fight the good fight of faith. As it is written, "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? When evil men attack me to devour my flesh, when my adversaries and enemies attack me, they totter and fall. Even if an army is deployed against me, I do not fear; even if war is rises against me, I remain full of trust" (Psalm 27:1-3).

The Midrash says, "The Holy One Himself, as it were, made light for the upright. Thus it says, "The LORD is my light and my salvation" (Psalm 27:1) and "When I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me" (Micah 7:8). While I sit in darkness in this world, during these latter days before the promised return of Yeshua, when troubles may afflict me and lawlessness may abound – then God's light will shine brighter still, for the LORD is gracious to all who put their hope in Him, and this favor and love will be manifest for me.

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

May God renew a "right spirit" (רוּחַ נָכוֹן), ruach nachon, within us (Psalm 51:10). Amen.
 




Overcoming the World...


 

03.24.16 (II Adar 14, 5776)  An old Jewish prayer, uttered somewhat wistfully, begins, "O Lord, I know that You will help us; but will You help us before You will help us?" It's not always easy to wait for God, especially when we are in pain or anxiety, but we must never, ever, give up; we must never forget the promise and reality of our ultimate healing in Jesus. Faith expresses hope in the Reality, Substance, and Being (ὑπόστασις) of the Invisible and is made captive to undying hope (Heb. 11:1). Therefore the Spirit cries out: "Hope to the LORD; be strong and strengthen your heart; and (again) hope to the LORD."
 

קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה חֲזַק וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּךָ
וְקַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה

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

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


 
Download Study Card
 
 

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

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




Our Good Shepherd...


 

03.24.16 (II Adar 14, 5776)  Where it says, "Surely goodness and mercy (טוֹב וָחֶסֶד) shall follow me all the days of my life" (Psalm 23:6), note the Hebrew verb translated "shall follow me" (i.e., יִרְדְּפוּנִי) comes from a root (i.e., radaf: רָדַף) that means "to pursue," as a hunter chases after his prey. David was sure that God's lovingkindness would "hound" him as he made his way through this world - even in the dark places, even in "the valley of the shadow of death" (בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת) - where God's rod and staff would comfort him and direct his way (Psalm 23:4). "May your love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you."
 

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

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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




The End of the Wicked..


 

[ The floowing is related to the holiday of Purim and Purim HaGadol at the end of the age... ]

03.24.16 (II Adar 14, 5776)  It is written in our holy Scriptures: "Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday" (Psalm 37:1-6). Here are a few brief comments on this great passage that I hope might encourage you...

 

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

אַל־תִּתְחַר בַּמְּרֵעִים
אַל־תְּקַנֵּא בְּעשֵׂי עַוְלָה

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


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

 

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

כִּי כֶחָצִיר מְהֵרָה יִמָּלוּ
וּכְיֶרֶק דֶּשֶׁא יִבּוֹלוּן

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


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

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

For more on this topic, see "Psalm 37 Recited in Hebrew." Purim Sameach, chaverim!
 




Yom Purim HaGadol...


 

[ The holiday of Purim begins this evening at sundown... ]

03.23.16 (II Adar 13, 5776)  Purim is a prophetic holiday, foretelling of the ultimate victory to come.  Here is a vision of the coming "Purim haGadol," that Coming Day and hour: "Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True (נֶאֱמָן וְיָשָׁר), and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a Name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the Name by which he is called is the Word of God (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים). And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. And He will tread the winepress of the fierce fury of the wrath of God, the Ruler over All (παντοκράτωρ), the LORD God Almighty (יְהוָה אֱלהֵי צְבָאוֹת). On his robe and on his thigh he has a Name written, the King of kings (מֶלֶךְ הַמְּלָכִים) and the Lord of lords (אֲדנֵי הָאֲדנִים). And with the breath of his lips He will slay the wicked" (Rev. 19:11-16).

On the great Day of the LORD (יוֹם־יְהוָה הַגָּדוֹל), the wicked will become "ashes under the feet of the righteous," hearkening to the promise of in the New Testament: "The God of peace (אלהֵי הַשָּׁלוֹם) will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah be with you" (Rom. 16:20). Meanwhile, of course, we must fight the "good fight of faith" and be strong in the LORD and the power of His might. "Wondrously show Your steadfast love, O Savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at Your right hand" (Psalm 17:7). As King Asa once prayed, "LORD, there is no one besides Thee to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O LORD our God, for we trust in Thee, and in Thy name have come against this multitude. O LORD, Thou art our God; let not man prevail against Thee" (2 Chron. 14:11). We offer praise in anticipation of the great deliverance to come: "Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip" (Psalm 66:8-9). The LORD is surely able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy (Jude 1:24).

May that day come speedily, and in our time...


 

HAPPY PURIM CHAVERIM!
 




Presence in Prayer...


 

03.23.16 (II Adar 13, 5776)  We often need to pray before we can pray... "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). Some of the sages said 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 my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise" (Psalm 51:15).
 

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).
 




Word Became Flesh...


 

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

03.23.16 (II Adar 13, 5776)  Our Torah portion this week begins, "The Eternal (יהוה) spoke to Moses" (Lev. 6:8), which paradoxically refers to God as if He is a man... Theologians may call this sort of language "anthropomorphism," though it clearly anticipates the great Incarnation itself, when the Timeless and Infinite One became embodied in time and space in the person of Yeshua.  Indeed Yeshua is called the "Word of God" who became flesh and "tabernacled" in our midst (John 1:1,14). And just as the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) mediates the Divine Presence to heavenly host, so Yeshua mediates the Divine Presence to humanity as the "Son of Man" (בֶּן־הָאָדָם). "For the Eternal One who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Cor. 4:6). In the Book of Hebrews we read that "in these last days God has spoken to us ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ," which literally means God speaks in the language "of Son" (Heb. 1:2). The Eternal speaks as the One who emptied Himself to become one of us, who clothed himself in our humanity, so that he could touch us, empathize with us, and to ultimately die for our atonement as the "Lamb of God."
 




Hidden in Plain Sight...


 

[ The holiday of Purim begins Wednesday, March 23rd at sundown this year... ]

03.22.16 (II Adar 12, 5776)  Although the Name of God is not explicitly mentioned in the Book of Esther, the story is essentially about revelation, that is, the disclosure of God's Presence despite His apparent concealment. The phrase hester panim (הֶסְתֵר פָּנִים) means "hiding of face" and is often used when discussing the divine providence. God's plan is being fulfilled, step-by-step, even if it is hidden within the "natural" world of human beings and their choices (Jer. 10:23; Prov. 21:1). The LORD is Ha'mashgiach (i.e., הַמַּשְׁגִיחַ, the supervisor) of all things - from the motions of subatomic particles to the great events of the cosmos. He not only calls each star by its own name (Psalm 147:4), but knows each particular lily and sparrow (Matt. 6:28-30, 10:29). Indeed, each person is under the direct, personal supervision of God Himself (הַשְׁגָּחָה פְּרָטִית) -- whether he or she is conscious of this or not. As Yeshua said, even the hairs on your head are all numbered (Matt. 10:30).
 

גָּדוֹל יְהוָה וּמְהֻלָּל מְאד
וְלִגְדֻלָּתוֹ אֵין חֵקֶר

ga·dol · Adonai · u·me·hul·lal · me·od
ve·lig·dul·la·to · ein · che·ker
 

"Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable"
(Psalm 145:3)



Download Study Card
 
 

The Apostle Paul taught that God "chose us [εκλεγομαι] in the Messiah before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4). God called you by name -- before He created the very universe itself. "God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth" (2 Thess. 2:13). God loves you with an "everlasting love" (אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם) and with lovingkindness (i.e., chesed, חֶסֶד) draws you to Himself (Jer. 31:3). There is no fear in God's sovereign and irresistible love for your soul (1 John 4:18). "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31).

Note:  For more on this topic, see "Theology, Paradox, and Purim."
 




Parables and Revelation...


 

03.22.16 (II Adar 12, 5776)  Yeshua often used such agricultural images in his parables. For example, he explained that people are known by the "fruits" of their lives (Matt. 7:16-20). He likened the spread of his message in terms of "sowing and reaping" (Matt. 13:3-23) and compared the Kingdom of Heaven to the secret working of a mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32). Yeshua regarded the world as a "field" for planting with different "types of soil" (Matt. 13:38-43), and warned of the "great harvest" of souls at the end of the age (Luke 10:2; Matt. 13:30). He pointed to signs from a fig tree to indicate the nearness of the prophesied End of Days (Matt. 24:32-33). Yeshua also used the metaphor of a "vine and its branches" to explain how his followers are to be connected to Him (John 15:1-6).

Undoubtedly Yeshua often taught in parables because they simultaneously conceal and reveal the truth. A parable obscures the truth to those who don't really want it; just as it reveals the truth to those who do (Luke 8:9-10). Since Yeshua's whole life was a parable of sorts - a "disguise" that led to the victory of our deliverance (Phil. 2:7) - it is not surprising that he regularly used "figures of speech" to provoke people to examine their own heart attitude and faith...  In this connection note that Yeshua never explained the "mysteries of the kingdom of God" directly to the crowds, nor did He ever pander to the crowd's clamor or interests. His message is always meant for the individual soul who was willing to follow Him -- to the one who had "ears to hear."

Reading the parables can help us take inventory of our lives. For example, whenever we hear the famous "parable of the sower" (Matt. 13:3-23) we are reminded that God is like a farmer who sows seed upon the soil of human hearts (the quality of which may be hard, shallow, choked, or good). If we are honest with ourselves, we will see our own hardness, shallowness, and selfishness in contrast to the fruitfulness marked by the good soil, and this may prompt us to seek God for help. Only the new heart (lev chadash) created by power of God's Spirit can possibly yield the fruit of the Spirit. Yeshua therefore warns us: "Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away" (Luke 8:18).

Yeshua's whole life was a parable of sorts - a "disguise" that led to the victory of our deliverance (Phil. 2:7) -- and that's our Purim connection!
 




How Long, O Lord?


 

03.21.16 (II Adar 11, 5776)  The last promise of Scripture is "I come quickly" (Rev. 22:20), and the last prayer is the antiphon: "Amen, come, Lord Yeshua." Meanwhile we "inwardly groan" for the fulfillment of our redemption: we are suspended between worlds, walking in hope yet subject to the same vanities that befall all flesh. This reminds me of the old story of the Maggid of Brisk who each year would bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah would come that year. Once a certain Torah student asked him, "Rabbi, every year you bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah must come that year, and yet he does not come. Why bother doing this every year, if you see that Heaven ignores you?" The Maggid replied, "The law states that if a son sees his father doing something improper, he is not permitted to rebuke him but must say to him, 'Father, the Torah states thus and so.' Therefore we must tell God, who is our Father, that by keeping us in long exile, he is, in a sense, causing injustice to us, and we must point out, "thus and so it is written in the Torah," in hope that this year he might redeem us." This same principle, of course, applies to those of us who are living in exile and who eagerly await the second coming of the Messiah Yeshua. We should continue asking God to send Him speedily, and in our day, chaverim...
 

חוּשָׁה לְעֶזְרָתִי אֲדנָי תְּשׁוּעָתִי

chu·sah  le·ez·ra·ti  Adonai  te·shu·a·ti
 

"Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation"
(Psalm 38:22)


 

 

Although God sometime tarries, He declares, "I am the LORD; in its time I will hasten it" (Isa. 60:22). But still the heart sighs, "Is it time, LORD? Will you now restore the kingdom to Israel?" But as Jesus said, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority" (Acts 1:6-7). We are left waiting for ultimate God's answer: His glorious coming to fulfill our salvation. Meanwhile 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). God will help us before He will help us. May He come speedily, and in our day. Amen.
 




Law of the Guilt Offering...


 

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

03.21.16 (II Adar 11, 5776)  "This is the law of the guilt offering. It is most holy" (Lev. 7:1). Like the sin offering (חַטַּאת), the guilt offering (i.e., asham: אָשָׁם) is also described as "most sacred," kodesh kodashim (קדֶשׁ קָדָשִׁים), because it prefigures how the sinner is restored to a place fellowship with God... Some of the Torah sages read this verse differently, however, saying: "This is the Torah - i.e., the hashkafah (הַשׁקָפָה) or perspective - of the one who is guilty: his own will and desire are elevated to be "most holy." In other words, sin idolatrously elevates the will to be supreme, and this self-exaltation creates guilt within the soul.
 




"Purim" in the Messiah...


 

[ The holiday of Purim begins Wednesday, March 23rd at sundown this year... ]

03.21.16 (II Adar 11, 5776)  On Purim we remember how the Jewish people escaped from Haman's evil plot to destroy them, though any day that is marked by special deliverance by God may be regarded as a "personal" or "special" Purim. Therefore some Jewish families and communities celebrate "special purims" to commemorate the anniversary of a particular deliverance. The most important deliverance we have comes from being set free from the guilt of our sins, of course, since this gives us true peace with God (Rom. 5:1,11). In fact, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is also known as Yom Kippurim in the Tanakh, which can be read as Yom Ke-Purim (i.e., יוֹם, "a day" + כְּ, "like" + פֻּרִים, "Purim"). Thus the day on which Yeshua sacrificed Himself on the cross is the greatest Purim of all, since through His loving intervention we are eternally delivered from the hands of our enemies. Yehi shem Adonai mevorakh: "Blessed be the Name of the Lord."
 




Seeing the Invisible...


 

03.21.16 (II Adar 11, 5776)  Faith sees the invisible light, the truth of love that overcomes all the powers of darkness, hate, and fear. "I believe. I believe in the sun even when it is not shining; I believe in love even when feeling it not; and I believe in God, even when God is silent" (from an anonymous poem found on the wall of a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where some Jews hid from the Nazis).

The soul testifies that there is "unfinished business," that there is more than meets the eye, that evil will not have the last word, and that tears will one day forever be wiped away. Despite the ambiguity, faith "hopes against hope" that the LORD God will intervene and bring everlasting healing to us all. As it says, "Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the Name of the LORD (יִבְטַח בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה) and rely on his God."
 

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

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
  

Faith is a sort of "holy protest" over the state of the world: "How long, O LORD, forever?" Eventually God will wipe away every tear and make all things right... Bittachon (trust) 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. Meanwhile, may God keep us from such depth of sorrow that leads to sickness, darkness and despair. Amen.
 




The Ram of Ordination...


 

03.20.16 (II Adar 10, 5776)  In our Torah portion for this week (i.e., parashat Tzav) we learn how the first priests of Israel were consecrated for service by the blood of the lamb. First Aaron and his sons were washed with water, arrayed in priestly garments, and anointed with holy oil.  During this ordination ceremony, a sin offering and burnt offering were offered on their behalf, and then a special "ram of ordination" (i.e., eil ha-milu'im: אֵיל הַמִּלֻּאִים, lit. "ram of abundance [מָלֵא]") was slaughtered. Some of this ram's blood was applied to the right ear, right thumb, and big toe of the Aaron and his sons (a picture of Yeshua as our suffering High Priest), and the rest of the blood was dashed upon the sides of the altar. After its slaughter, Moses took some unleavened bread and put it in the hands of the priests to perform tenufah (a wave offering) before the altar (a picture of the resurrection).

 

As followers of Yeshua, we too have been anointed with the blood from the "Ram of Ordination" -- Yeshua as our Kohen Gadol of the better covenant (Heb. 8:6). And we too have been anointed with the sacred shemen (oil) that symbolizes the presence and aroma of the LORD in our lives. As followers of Yeshua we are therefore truly "...a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). As Yeshua said: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you" (John 15:16). May the LORD God of Israel be pleased to help you serve Him in the truth...
 

 




Hiddenness and Disclosure...


 

03.20.16 (II Adar 9, 5776)  The sages extol the importance of the holiday of Purim because it reveals the hidden hand of God, despite his apparent absence in the affairs of this world... On the surface, each turn of the story could be explained naturally, or as simple "coincidence," yet in the end we realize that God was at work behind the scenes, carefully putting together the Jew's deliverance. The eye of faith trusts in God's providential plan, despite appearances to the contrary. Indeed, the phrase hester panim (הֶסְתֵר פָּנִים) means "hiding of the face" and is often used when discussing the Book of Esther. Understood as hidden providence, hester panim is somewhat like the sun on an overcast day: Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there. God's great love is at work at all times, in all affairs of the universe, whether we perceive it or not.

The holiday of Purim occurs this coming Wednesday, March 23 (at sundown) and runs through the following day. In anticipation of the coming holiday, then, let me wish you and your family Purim Sameach (פורים שמח) -- with the prayer that you will stand true to your faith, despite this wicked world and its syncretizing influences.  Hooray for Mordecai! -- may the LORD raise up many like him!
 




What We Really Need...


 

03.18.16 (II Adar 7, 5776)  "Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matt. 6:8). We sometimes pray for what we think we need but overlook what we really need. For instance, we may pray for health, material blessing, and opportunity, but what we really need is the ability to trust, the willingness to surrender our lives to God without qualification, and the grace to see the good in others and not their faults. These needs are just as real as our need for food and clothing, since apart from grace to extend empathy and love toward others, we will never be truly happy. Love "overlooks" a multitude of sins; it looks beyond the present moment to see with compassion, of kindness, of empathy... What we really need, then, is to be after God's own heart, to see other people as God sees them, and to overlook matters that offend or feed our sense of pride. This is what we truly need, and therefore we trust that the Lord our God mercifully "decodes" our apparent petitions to express what the Spirit of God groans on our behalf (Rom. 8:26).
 

כִּי־עָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן אָנכִי
וְלִבִּי חָלַל בְּקִרְבִּי

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

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


 
 

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

Shabbat shalom friends...
 




The Purim Prophecies...


 

[ The holiday of Purim begins Wednesday, March 23rd at sundown this year... ]

03.18.16 (II Adar 7, 5776)  Both Chanukah and Purim are holidays that celebrate God's victory over the forces of darkness... Just as the prophet Daniel foresaw the events of Chanukah, that is, the rise of "Epihpanes," the "Messiah of Evil" who will one day attempt to "assimilate" all of humanity into a "New World Order" (Dan. 9:27, 2 Thess. 2:3; Rev. 13:7-9, etc.), so Purim foretells how this wicked one will attempt to destroy the Jewish people during the End of Days (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים), though he will be destroyed by his own wicked devices. The Midrash Esther says that Purim, unlike many of the other holidays, will be celebrated even after the final redemption after the End of Days. This is because the story of Purim -- i.e., God's covenantal faithfulness and defense of His people -- will be magnified in the deliverance that leads to the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom upon the earth. Indeed, the Second Coming of the Messiah will be regarded as the final fulfillment of Purim! So while it is a often seen as time of unbridled celebration in Israel (ad lo yoda), the holiday of Purim has a very sober prophetic message that foretells the glorious end of this age.

Here is a vision of the coming "Purim haGadol," the great deliverance:
 

    Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True (נֶאֱמָן וְיָשָׁר), and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a Name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the Name by which he is called is the Word of God (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים). And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. And He will tread the winepress of the fierce fury of the wrath of God, the Ruler over All (παντοκράτωρ), the LORD God Almighty (יְהוָה אֱלהֵי צְבָאוֹת). On his robe and on his thigh he has a Name written, the King of kings (מֶלֶךְ הַמְּלָכִים) and the Lord of lords (אֲדנֵי הָאֲדנִים). And with the breath of his lips He will slay the wicked. - Rev. 19:11-16
     

May that day come speedily, and in our time...


 

HAPPY PURIM CHAVERIM!
 

 




Why Purim Matters...


 

[ The holiday of Purim begins Wednesday, March 23rd at sundown this year... ]

03.18.16 (II Adar 7, 5776)  Over the past centuries, virtually no other book of the Tanakh ("Old Testament") has received more "mixed reviews" than the Book of Esther, especially among mainstream theologians and denominational church leaders. After all, the central point of the book concerns God's providential care for the Jewish people (i.e., ethnic Israel), and historically-speaking, many Christian theologians have found this conclusion unacceptable to their theological biases and their church creeds. Indeed, the Book of Esther leads inescapably to the celebration of Jewish identity and survival despite the evil plans and designs of anti-Semites, and therefore those theologians that believe that the church replaces Israel will tend to regard the message of the book with suspicion (or they will attempt to reinterpret "Israel" to mean the "church"). For those who understand that the so-called "church" partakes of the covenantal blessings given to Israel, however, the Book of Esther recounts a thrilling and beautiful story about God's faithful love and care for His people... Despite the "Veggie-Tales" approach to the story, the message of Esther reaffirms the perpetuity and salvation of ethnic Israel. The promise of Zion will indeed be fulfilled!

For more on this subject, see the "Scandal of Esther," here.
 




Torah of Atonement...



 

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

03.18.16 (II Adar 7, 5776)  The Torah's emphasis on blood atonement confounded post-Temple Jewish thought, so that the sages of the first and second centuries created "Judaism without a Temple" by claiming that "study, prayer, and good deeds" would replace the need for sacrifices at the Temple. Nevertheless, the Torah clearly affirms the need for blood atonement, and indeed over 40% (247) of the 613 mitzvot (commandments) concern the ceremonial laws of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Book of Leviticus is the central book of the Torah, and blood atonement by an innocent, sacrificial victim is at the heart of the law given to the priests of Israel. The Torah makes it clear that blood (דָּם) is used as a means of consecration as well as a means of obtaining atonement (כַּפָּרָה) with God.  Blood was used on the doorposts of the houses in Egypt to ward off judgment and was later used to ratify the covenant given at Sinai (Exod. 24:8). All the elements of Mishkan (Tabernacle) were likewise "separated" by its use: The altar, the various furnishings of the Temple, the vestments of the priests, and even the priests themselves were sanctified by blood (Exod. 29:20-21, Heb. 9:21). But ultimately blood was used to "make atonement" for the soul upon the altar. As the Torah (Lev. 17:11) plainly states: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood (כִּי נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם), and I have given it for you on the altar to atone (לְכַפֵּר) for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life (כִּי־הַדָּם הוּא בַּנֶּפֶשׁ יְכַפֵּר)." Blood is therefore connected to the holiness of life through sacrificial death....  Despite the sage's invention of "Judaism" without the Temple, the Torah emphatically teaches that blood is connected to the holiness of life through sacrificial death...

Unlike the "rational" (i.e., Greek) approach of the post Second Temple Pharisees, the medieval Torah commentator Nachmanides (1194-1270), or the "Ramban," regarded the sacrifices as the means to express teshuvah (repentance) by trusting in God's substitutionary sacrifice given in place of the sinner. Since we all sin by means of impure thoughts, speech, and actions, God required that when a sacrifice was presented, the sinner's hands would lean into the animal, and then he would confess with his mouth before burning the innards (kidney, fat, etc., regarded as the source of thought and lust), while pouring the blood beside the altar, "thinking that he himself is worthy of having his own blood spilled and body burned, were it not for the love of God who had received a substitute for him (an exchange) - the sacrifice atoning for him, its blood shed for his blood, its life-force for his life-force" (Nachmanides' Commentary on the Torah). In other words, there is an identity between the sinner and the sacrifice, though to be efficacious, the sinner must have faith, be moved, and turn to personally receive God's mercy and love. The sacrifice is for the sinner's sake, to help us to draw close to God, to awaken within us the desire to change. The trauma of the sacrifice is meant to so deeply move the heart that we will turn away from our apathy and indifference... Participating in the sacrifice is meant to resolutely turn our hearts back to God: As you consider the blood shed and the suffering endured so that you could be forgiven, you better appreciate the terrible cost of your sin and the awesome grace given for your sake... (Were you there when they crucified my Lord?)

Note:  For more on this subject, see Parashat Vayikra: Why the Sacrifices? and "Rabbis who deny Blood Atonement."
 




Deliverance from Fear...


 

03.17.16 (II Adar 6, 5776)  Many of us need to grow up and take responsibility for our lives. Often we are full of anger and inner conflict. We rage at life and are quick to blame others, but inwardly we are really afraid, and our "outrage" is just a disguised form of fear. And yet fear itself arises from unbelief, or rather from the faith that either God doesn't exist or doesn't care for us, and therefore the voice of fear seduces us to feel alone, victimized, insecure and afraid (if you verbalize what you are afraid of, eventually you will hear yourself questioning whether God is in control or whether he is there for you). Tragically, the more we cling to fear, vainly believing that it will somehow "protect us," the more we become fearful (and angry) people. To worry is to "practice the absence" of God instead of practicing his presence, and the longer we practice that kind of "faith," the more we will experience exile. We must renounce our fears by trusting in the LORD our God and relying on his promises. Refuse, therefore, those anxious thoughts that weigh in upon you, creating pressure and "dis-ease." Call upon the LORD for help in the midst of your storm. Be still and know that God is real; listen for the holy whisper: "It is I; do not be afraid..." There is no fear in God's love. As the Spirit says, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength" (Isa. 30:15). The truth of God sets you free indeed (John 8:32).
 

דָּרַשְׁתִּי אֶת־יְהוָה וְעָנָנִי
וּמִכָּל־מְגוּרוֹתַי הִצִּילָנִי

da·rash·ti · et · Adonai · ve·a·na·ni
u·mik·kol · me·gu·ro·tai · hitz·tzi·la·ni
 

"I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
and he delivered me from all my fears."
(Psalm 34:4)



 

"The trouble with the world," sighed the teacher, "is that human beings refuse to grow up." "When can a person be said to grow up?" asked a student. "On the day he does not need to be lied to about anything" (Anthony de Mello: "One Minute Wisdom").  For more on learning to overcome anger and fear, see Psalm 37: "Fret Not Thyself..."
 




The Place of Atonement...


Semikhah - Viduy
 

03.17.16 (II Adar 6, 5776)  From our Torah portion this week (Vayikra) we read: "He shall bring it (i.e., the offering) to the entrance of the tent of meeting (אהֶל מוֹעֵד), that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on its head and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf (לְכַפֵּר עָלָיו). Then he shall slaughter it before the LORD, and Aaron's sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar. Then he shall flay the offering and cut it into pieces..." (Lev. 1:3-6). We are justified by faith, but that means we bring our hope to the appointed place where God meets with us. We have "access by faith into this grace wherein we stand" (Rom. 5:2), and that implies we trust that God gives us right standing on account of his great love. We come to the cross - the entrance of the tent - and "lean into" our Lord, identifying with his death as atonement on our behalf. As it is written: "God has ordained a place of atonement (i.e., ἱλαστήριος, or "mercy seat" [i.e., kapporet: כַּפּרֶת]), in the cross of Yeshua, accessible through faith in his blood, for the demonstration of His righteousness, so that God might be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Yeshua" (Rom. 3:25-26).

It has been noted that there were no prescriptions of words to be spoken during the semikhah/shechitah ceremony (i.e., sacrificial ceremony), no formulas or ritualized prayers. The sacrifice was performed in silence.  The worshipper would firmly lay both hands on the head of the sacrificial victim and reflect that this animal's fate should really be his -- i.e., that he deserved to die for his sin. Only because of the LORD's mercy was this animal accepted in his place, and therefore the sacrificial rite was ultimately one of healing and restoration... This is the "korban" principle of "life-for-life." When the LORD saw the shed blood and ascending smoke of the sacrifice, He forgave the sinner based on his faith and teshuvah (repentance). The "sweet savor" (i.e., re'ach nicho'ach: רֵיחַ־נִיחוֹחַ) of the sacrifice refers to the future life (and healing) of the worshipper -- not the sacrifice itself. By itself -- apart from genuine repentance -- the sacrifice holds no power to forgive sin, and indeed, forgiveness is a relational concept (Matt. 5:24, 6:12, Isa. 1:11, etc.). In the Levitical system, the offering of a sacrifice served as a "symbol and expression of man's desire to purify himself and become reconciled to God" (Nehama Leibowitz: New Studies in Vayikra).

"God put forward Yeshua as a propitiation (ἱλαστήριον) through faith in His blood" (Rom. 3:25). The sprinkling of Yeshua's blood - represented by His Passion upon the cross - was "presented" upon the Heavenly Kapporet, before the very Throne of God Himself. Yeshua here functions as the great High Priest after the order of Malki-Tzedek (i.e., Melchizedek) who provides everlasting forgiveness for our sins (Heb. 9:7-10:10). Because of His sacrifice, the parochet - the wall-like covering separating the Holy of Holies - was rent asunder and God's love was let loose upon the world! Baruch Hashem! All those who are trusting in Yeshua as their atoning sacrifice before God (i.e., kapparah: כַּפָּרָה) are able to draw near to God full of confidence in his love (Heb. 4:16; Rom. 5:2; Eph. 3:12).
 




Leviticus and Yeshua...



 

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

03.17.16 (II Adar 6, 5776)  The Book of Leviticus (ויקרא) is to the Torah what the Book of Hebrews is to the New Testament. Leviticus is both the physical and spiritual center of the Five Books of Moses and comprises its ritual expression. The sages count 246 of the 613 commandments of the Torah in this book (over 40%), and many of the Talmud's discussions regarding ritual purity and holiness are based on it. 

Many Christian readers of the Bible want to skip the Book of Leviticus, however, because they find the detailed description of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the various laws of the sacrificial system to be tedious and/or irrelevant for followers of Yeshua.  This is unfortunate because in its pages the great sacrificial work of Yeshua is foreshadowed and explained for us.  Indeed, without the underlying concepts "seeded" there, various fundamental New Testament teachings concerning the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua for our sins, justification by faith, and our duty to walk in sanctification would not make much sense....

The LORD intended that the sacrificial laws given to the Levitical priests (i.e., kohanim) would foreshadow the coming atoning sacrifice offered by Yeshua, the "Lamb of God slain from the foundation (יְסוֹד) of the world" (1 Pet. 1:19-20, Rev. 13:8). This is why these laws are called torat Kohanim - the "teaching of the priests."  This instruction (i.e., torah: תּוֹרָה) was intended for all Israel to understand the need for blood atonement in order to draw near to God (Lev. 17:11). The Levitical system as a whole served as a "type" or "picture" of heavenly realities. Moses received the "pattern" (i.e., tavnit: תַּבְנִית) of the Throne of God on Sinai, but this was a physical copy or "shadow" of the spiritual Reality he beheld in visions. The Mishkan was always intended to be moved into the Promised Land, which King David later established in Zion, the place of the Holy Temple.  But it was the sacrificial death of Yeshua that is the focal point and goal of it all: Yeshua is the Substance of all that the sacrifices foreshadowed...

For more on this topic please see "Leviticus and Yeshua."
 




Gratitude and Spirituality....


 

03.16.16 (II Adar 5, 5776)  Expressing gratitude is a core value of genuine spirituality. "Modei ani," I thank you, God... Being thankful indicates that you are trusting that God is working all things together for your good, and it confesses that all you are is a gift from heaven. Indeed, the Hebrew word todah (תּוֹדָה), usually translated "thanks," can mean both "confession" and "praise." The matriarch Leah used a play on words regarding the birth of her fourth son (Gen. 29:35) when she said she would thank the LORD (אוֹדֶה אֶת־יהוה), and therefore she named him "Judah" (יְהוּדָה), from which the word "Jew" was later derived. The Apostle Paul, the greatest of the Torah sages, alluded to this when he said that a true Jew (יְהוּדִי) is one inwardly (κρυπτός), whose circumcision is a matter of spirit, not of the flesh. A genuine Jew gives thanks to God for who He is and what He has done; his desire is not for the approval of men, but of God (Rom. 2:28-29).
 

הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי־טוֹב
כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ

ho·du  La·do·nai ki tov  ki  le·o·lam  chas·do
 

"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his loyal love endures forever."
(Psalm 136:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 

The patriarch Judah's name eventually designated the tribe and tribal district in which Jerusalem was located, and its inhabitants (regardless of their original tribal origin) were called "Judahites," "Judeans" (יְהוּדִים) or, in the shorter form, "Jews." In the Bible, the shorter term first appears after the destruction of the First Temple, 2 Kings 25:25, and was later used in the books of Jeremiah, Ezra/Nehemiah. The term also used in the New Testament to designate any physical descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
 




Theology, Paradox, and Purim...


 

[ The following concerns the holiday of Purim, which begins Wed., March 23rd at sundown... ]

03.16.16 (II Adar 5, 5776)  The theme of the holiday of Purim (פּוּרִים) is the providential survival of the Jewish people despite various attempts by their enemies to destroy them. As such, Purim (like Passover) is a celebration of the deliverance and faithfulness of the LORD God of Israel. The terrible irony of the anti-Semite is that he hangs himself using his own rope.  The tragic character of Haman, then, represents the Biblical archetype of all those who refuse to acknowledge God's faithful love for the Jewish people....

On the Torah's calendar, both the last month of the year (Adar) and the first month (Nisan) center on the theme of God's salvation.  In Adar we celebrate Purim, and 30 days later we celebrate Passover... However Purim, unlike Passover, celebrates the "hiddenness" of God's actions. There is no dramatic power encounter; no parting of the Red Sea, no cataclysmic judgments regarding Purim. This is suggested  by the name of the Book of Esther itself, Megillat Ester (מְגִלַּת אֶסְתֵּר), since the word megillah ("scroll") is related to the word giluy (גִּלּוּי), "revelation," and the name Esther is related to the word hester (הֶסְתֵר), meaning "hiddenness."  The phrase hester panim (הֶסְתֵר פָּנִים) means "hiding of face" and is often used when discussing the role of God in the Book of Esther.  God's plan is being fulfilled, step-by-step, even if it is hidden within the "natural" world of human beings and their choices (Jer. 10:23; Prov. 21:1).

For more on this subject, see "Theology, Paradox, and Purim."
 




The Spirit of Hope...


 

[ The following concerns the holiday of Purim, which begins Wed., March 23rd at sundown... ]

03.15.16 (II Adar 4, 5776)  When Moses proclaimed the good news of God's forthcoming redemption for Israel, the Torah states that the people could not listen because they were "short of breath" (Exod. 6:9). Interestingly, this phrase (i.e., mi'kotzer ru'ach: מִקּצֶר רוּחַ) can also mean "lacking in spirit," as if in a paralyzed state of hopelessness. They became "short of breath" and could no longer receive the message of the Holy Spirit...

Indeed, life in this evil world can be suffocating at times. And though we may not be under the oppression of a cruel Pharaoh, we are affected by the "princes of this age" who spurn the message of the Messiah's redemption and love, and we are still subjected to bondage imposed by taskmasters who defy the LORD and who seek to enslave us by means of lies, propaganda, and threats of violence... The devil is still at work in the hearts and minds of many of his "little Pharaohs" that govern the world system... The Scriptures make it clear that we are engaged in genuine spiritual warfare: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12).

It is evident that one of the central purposes of God's redemption is to bestow freedom and dignity upon his people. As the story of Pharaoh reveals, God does not take kindly to oppressors, dictators, and other megalomaniacal world leaders who deny the truth and who therefore seek to enslave (or kill) human beings created in His image and likeness. Just as God judged Egypt for its oppression and violence, so He will one day break the "rulers of this world" with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel (Psalm 2:9-10).

To help us "catch our breath" during this time of waiting, it is important to remember that the LORD redeems us so that we may become His children and therefore be clothed with everlasting dignity... Our redemption makes us heirs of the Kingdom of God and citizens of heaven. We must never regard ourselves as slaves - not to the State, not to the bankers, not to fear, and not to "religion" (Gal. 5:1). God gave up His Son for us so that we could be made free to live with honor as his dearly loved children.... All the threats of the world system - economic, political, religious, social, etc. - are ultimately made empty and vain by the glorious redemption promised to us in Yeshua our Savior.

There is an old story of the Maggid of Brisk who each year would bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah would come that year. Once a certain Torah student asked him, "Rabbi, every year you bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah must come that year, and yet he does not come. Why bother doing this every year, if you see that Heaven ignores you?" The Maggid replied, "The law states that if a son sees his father doing something improper, he is not permitted to humiliate him but must say to him, 'Father, the Torah states thus and so.'  Therefore we must tell God, who is our Father, that by keeping us in long exile, he is, in a sense, causing injustice to us, and we must point out, "thus and so it is written in the Torah," in hope that this year he might redeem us." This same principle, of course, applies to those of us who are living in exile and who eagerly await the second coming of the Messiah Yeshua. We should continue asking God to send Him speedily, and in our day, chaverim...

The Scriptures declare that "we are saved by hope" (ελπιδι εσωθημεν), that is, we are saved through an earnest expectation of good to come on account of the promises of the LORD God of Israel. The LORD is called "The God of Hope" (אֱלהֵי הַתִּקְוָה), indicating that He is its Author and its End (Rom. 15:13). God both gives birth to our hope (tikvah) and is the satisfaction of our heart's deepest longings. For those with God-given hope, gam zu l'tovah – all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28). In light of this, hope is the one "work" that we are called to perform: "What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?" Yeshua answered, "This is the work of God, that you trust (i.e. hope) in the one whom He sent" (John 6:28-29).

Don't let the doomed world system destroy or impugn your hope, chaverim... If the devil can't seduce you with illusory hope or counterfeit joy, he will attempt to oppress you with fear and doubt. Fight the good fight of faith and refuse to succumb to despair. Run the race before you with endurance (Heb. 12:1). Look up, for the time of your deliverance draws near... God redeems us for the sake of His love and honor... It is the "breath of God" that gives us life and courage to face this dark and perverse world (John 20:22). May you be filled with the hope and strength that comes from the Holy Spirit.
 

אֵלֶיךָ יְהוָה נַפְשִׁי אֶשָּׂא אֱלהַי בְּךָ בָטַחְתִּי
אַל־אֵבוֹשָׁה אַל־יַעַלְצוּ איְבַי לִי

ley·kha  A·do·nai  naf·shi  es·sa,  E·lo·hai  be·kha  va·tach·ti,
al–e·vo·shah,  al–ya·al·tzu  oy·vai  li
 

"Unto thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in thee:
let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me."
(Psalm 25:1-2)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)
 
Download Study Card

 




Whisper of the Spirit...


 

03.15.16 (II Adar 4, 5776)  Many of us need to learn to let go, to rest, and to surrender to God's care for us. Some of us need to stop our religious activities to be able to hear the voice of the Spirit. When the prophet Elijah became exhausted, he fled to Mount Horeb – the very place of the Sinai revelation – to find refuge. When the Word of the LORD came to him, Elijah was asked "What are you doing here?" and then explained how his zeal had led him to the cave of fear and fatigue. God then told Elijah to stand on the mount, just as he had earlier told Moses to do so (Exod. 33:21-22). "And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a still and gentle whisper (דְּמָמָה דַקָּה). And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (1 Kings 19:11-13). Note how God repeated his initial question: "What are you doing here?" The Word speaks in a whisper so we will move closer to hear; He invites us to express our disappointment, exhaustion, frustration, and fear to him. Elijah wanted to lay down and die, but God wanted to strengthen his hope...

Be admonished: If you have the audacity to think you are doing God a favor by "serving him," then learn to listen. The Spirit speaks with a "still and gentle whisper" (דְּמָמָה דַקָּה), not in the noisy clamor of the crowd and its nonsense. We can attune ourselves to hear kol demamah dakkah (קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה), God's "still and gentle voice," when we are quieted, not when we are surrounded by the crowd with its taunts, its cheers and its murmurings... If you entertain negative thoughts or messages, however, you remove yourself from the realm of the truth. If you listen to news of this world and believe its messages of fear or anger, you will be deaf to the whispering of the Holy Spirit. The Name YHVH (יהוה) means "God is Present" and near, as close as your heart and breath. The LORD God will not be heard in noise and restlessness, much less in the clamor of fear-mongering and propaganda. "God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls."

Be careful not to justify your lusts by appealing to "righteousness," which is yet another case of taking the Name of the LORD in vain.
 




Messiah and Sacrifice...


 

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

03.15.16 (II Adar 4, 5776)  The very first prophecy of Torah concerns the promise of the coming "seed of the woman" who would vanquish the serpent (nachash) that had originally tempted and deceived Eve (Gen. 3:15), and the very first sacrifice of the Torah was offered by God Himself, when He slaughtered a lamb to cover the shame of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21). The New Testament teaches that Yeshua came as the Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) to die "for our sins" (John 1:29). Sin separates us from God, but korban (sacrifice) draws us near. The message of the gospel is that the Voice of the LORD - the very Word spoken from between the cherubim above the kapporet (mercy seat) - "became flesh" (ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο) and "tabernacled among us" (ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν) for the purpose of becoming our substitutionary sacrifice for the guilt and defilement caused by our sin (John 1:1,14). Yeshua was "born to die" (Heb. 10:5-7), and his life was lived in relation to His sacrificial death (Mark 8:27-33). As the Apostle Paul put it: This is of "first importance": Messiah was born to die for our sins, to make us right with God, and was raised from the dead to vindicate the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 15:3-5).

"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; Num. 21:5-9). 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 was to be lifted up to forever be the Healer of the world (Rom. 8:3). Bless His Holy Name.

For more on this subject, see Parashat Vayikra: Why the Sacrifices?
 




Leviticus and the Lamb...


 

03.14.16 (II Adar 3, 5776)  The Book of Leviticus is the third of the Torah, representing another stage in our spiritual journey. Genesis reveals both our divine origin but also our tragic fallenness, and the book ends with our need for deliverance from bondage to Egypt. Exodus reveals that we are liberated from slavery by trusting in the provision of God demonstrated by the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, and the book ends with the climax of the revelation of Torah given at Sinai, namely, the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) where the the need for blood atonement was enshrined. Indeed blood atonement is the central theme of the central book of Torah, i.e., Leviticus, where we are called to draw near to God through sacrificial rites, the foremost of which was the ongoing offering (i.e., korban tamid: קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד) of a defect-free male lamb, together with unleavened bread and wine. The LORD called this "My offering, My bread" (Num. 28:1-8). In other words, the center of the Torah is the altar that constantly prefigured the Lamb of God who would be offered up to secure our eternal redemption (John 1:29; Heb. 9:11-12).
 

רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה

ra·uy · ha·seh · ha·ta·vu·ach · le·ka·bel · ge·vu·rah
o·sher · ve·chokh·mah · ve·ko·ach · vi·kar · ve·kha·vod · uv·ra·kha
 

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and might and honor and glory and blessing"
(Rev. 5:12)



Download Reading Card

 

Though God instructed each household to select its own defect-free lamb for the family Passover, the Torah refers to "the" Lamb of God, as if there was only one: "You shall keep it [i.e., the Passover lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter him (אתוֹ) at twilight (Exod. 12:6). Indeed there is only one great Lamb of God "slain from the foundation of the world," namely, the One given in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:21), sacrificed in place of Isaac during the Akedah, selected for the Passover from Egypt (and later commemorated as korban tamid (the daily offering) at the Temple (Num. 28:1-8)), later incarnated as our Savior, the great Lamb of God who offered Himself upon the cross for our sins (John 1:29), and who ascended to eternal victory to be seated upon the very Throne of God's Glory (Rev. 5:12-13; Rev. 22:1). Amen, the Torah centers on the great Lamb of God....
 




Sacrifice and Blessing...


 

03.14.16 (II Adar 3, 5776)  From our Torah reading this week (Vayikra) we read: "When any person of you (mikem) brings an offering to God..." (Lev. 1:2), upon which the midrash comments: "Why does the text state 'mikem," translated "of you"? Because from this we derive that whoever recites one hundred blessings a day is as if he or she offered sacrifice. And how do we know this? From the Hebrew word mikem (מִכֶּם), which has a numerical value of 100: Mem + Kaf + Mem" (Yalkut Ma'ayan Ganim). The midrash attempts to connect the practice of "making a blessing" over the various moments of our day (arising, bathing, eating, drinking, etc.) with that of sacrifice, suggesting that the essence of sacrifice is gratitude...

Some of the sages have likened "making a blessing" to requesting God for permission to partake of the goodness of His world.  Offering thanks "opens the world" to the Divine Presence, which in effect, sanctifies our experience.  When we slow down and savor the moments of life, we will become more aware, more sensitive, and more receptive to the miracle of what is given...  "The "sacrifice of praise" will flow from us spontaneously as we contemplate the peaceful glory of a sunset, listen to the song of a bird, smell the scent of a strawberry, or sit around the table with family or friends. In this way we become a "living sacrifice" as we walk in gratitude and love (Eph. 5:2; Heb. 13:15).

The Scriptures counsel us to be transformed by "renewing our minds" (Rom. 12:2), though how we are to do this remains an open question. Our perspectives and attitudes are shaped by our assumptions about life, many of which are "preconscious" or hidden from our awareness. Habitual thoughts, biases, prejudices, fears, etc., all affect (and distort) the way we see and understand reality. In light of this, how can we change? How can we overcome our habitual negativity, misery, and general unhappiness?  How do we develop right thinking power? How do we learn to apply our minds to perceive the good, instead of responding in unreflective and negative ways to our circumstances? How do we discipline our will so that "if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Phil. 4:8)?

There are innumerable books on the subject of logic, detecting fallacies, and using sound reasoning techniques, but there are not many that discuss the "morality" of our thinking, that is, our God-given responsibility to perceive the truth and to consistently express it in our everyday actions.  Since our thinking invariably leads to practical choices, we have a primary duty to know the truth and live out its implications in our lives. The failure to do so is not only inconsistent, logically speaking, but immoral, ethically speaking (and dangerous, spiritually speaking, since bondage is ignorance of the truth).  If the truth bears witness that there is a personal God who creates each soul in the world, for instance, this should affect how we value and respect others, and the failure to do so will result in cognitive dissonance and internal contradiction that yields mental suffering, misery, emotional pain, and insecurity in our lives. A "double-minded" person is "two-souled" (δίψυχος), unstable (i.e., ungrounded, restless, unbalanced) in all his ways (James 1:8).

Healing comes from receiving the light of truth, being "single-minded," with our eye focused on what is real. "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). Likewise the Torah commands: "You shall be made whole (i.e., tamin: תָּמִים) with the LORD your God" (Deut. 18:13). We are made "whole" or "perfect" (i.e., complete) when we resolutely turn to God for healing of our inner dividedness, as it says: "The Torah of the LORD is perfect (תָּמִים), returning the soul" (Psalm 19:8). And where it is written, "Let us hear end of the matter: Fear God and love his commandments, the text adds: ki zeh kol-ha'adam (כִּי־זֶה כָּל־הָאָדָם), "for this is the whole man," suggesting that those who return will be healed of their double-mindedness (Eccl. 12:13). Ultimately we are made whole when we are united to God in Messiah, for then we are "with the LORD our God" and the Spirit writes Torah within the heart of faith (Jer. 31:33).

The heart of truth sees beyond the present to find meaning in the Eternal, yet it refocuses on the present to endow it with sacred significance...  "Love hopes all things" (1 Cor. 13:7). To rightly see the present moment, in other words, we must first look to the Eternal, since that grounds our perspective and contextualizes our hope: "For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17-18).

Regard this as a prophecy for your life: "You shall be made whole with the LORD your God." God's love heals the inner brokenness of our hearts. When we accept this, we discover that surrendering to God's will truly makes us "whole." "As many as I love, I reprove and correct: be zealous therefore, and turn. Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his heart and share a meal with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:19-20). These are words of our Lord Yeshua, who speaks to those who "hear his voice." May you open the door of your heart; may you return to Him now...

Note:  The phrase "sacrifice of praise" (θυσίαν αἰνέσεως) comes from the New Covenant Scriptures (i.e., Heb. 13:15), which is the term used in the ancient Greek translation of the Torah (i.e., the Septuagint) for the "thank offering" (i.e., zevach ha'todah: זבַח הַתּוֹדָה) that expressed gratitude to God for His salvation (θυσίας τοῦ σωτηρίου).
 





Note:  March, 2016 updates continue here.

 





Follow the site's progress:

Site Updates for 2016

Site Updates for 2015

Site Updates for 2014

Site Updates for 2013

Site Updates for 2012

Site Updates for 2011

Site Updates for 2010

Site Updates for 2009

Site Updates for 2008

Site Updates for 2007

Site Updates for 2006

Site Updates for 2005

Site Updates for 2004

 


Hebrew4Christians Forum
 

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