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

        

Note:  My wife and I have have 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....

The winter holidays (חגי החורף) remember special times when God acted on behalf of His people so that they would triumph over their enemies, and therefore they prophetically picture the final victory in the world to come.
 

Winter Holiday Calendar

The Winter Holidays:

Chagall Menorah - stained glass detail
 

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

  1. Month of Tevet (Thurs., Dec. 29th [eve] - Fri. Jan. 27th [day])
  2. Month of Shevat (Fri., Jan. 27th [eve] - Sat. Feb. 25th [day])
  3. Month of Adar (Sat., Feb. 25th [eve] - Mon., March 27th [day])


Note:  Many Jewish calendars will list the first day of a holiday without indicating that the holiday actually begins sundown the night before.  So, for example, while Purim begins Saturday, March 11th at sundown, some calendars may indicate that it occurs on Sunday, March 12th...
 



 

January 2017 Site Updates
 


Mystery and God's Name...


 

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

1.18.17 (Tevet 20, 5777)   When Moses asked why he was chosen to be God's emissary, the LORD did not explain His choice in natural terms; nor did not appeal to Moses' past experiences, his potential, or even his great humility... Instead God simply said that whatever inadequacies Moses might have, being in relationship "with Him" was sufficient: ki ehyeh imakh: "for I will be with you" (Exod. 3:12). That is all that Moses would need...

When Moses further sought to justify his calling as a true prophet sent from God, however, he asked to know God's "name" (see Exod. 3:13). God's response to the request was enigmatic: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה - ehyeh asher ehyeh: "I will be what I will be" (or I am what I am), which may be understood as, "It doesn't matter what my Name is - I will be what I will be - all that matters is that I will be with you (ehyeh imakh), and that is enough! Indeed, the meaning of God's name is פִּלְאִי- "wonderful and incomprehensible" (Judges 13:18), since He is infinite and beyond all comparison to finite things (Psalm 147:5). God is the great "I AM" that pervades all of Reality (אָנכִי), the glorious Eternal Personal Presence (i.e., hayah, hoveh, ve'yihyeh) whose power constantly sustains all things. Most of all, He is declared and expressed as our Savior, the One who reveals the face of God to us all (2 Cor. 4:6).
 

וַיּאמֶר אֱלהִים אֶל־משֶׁה אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה
וַיּאמֶר כּה תאמַר לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
אֶהְיֶה שְׁלָחַנִי אֲלֵיכֶם

va·yo·mer · E·lo·him · el · Mo·she · eh·yeh · a·sher · eh·yeh
va·yo·mer · koh · to·mar · liv·nei · Yis·ra·el
eh·yeh · she·la·cha·ni · a·le·khem
 

"God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM."
And he said, "Say this to the sons of Israel,
'I AM has sent me to you'" (Exod. 3:14)


 
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Concerning the Name of God, we read the following vision: "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 (שֵׁם כָּתוּב אֲשֶׁר לא־יָדַע אִישׁ כִּי אִם־הוּא לְבַדּוֹ). 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, 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).

Notice that in this passage the LORD both has a Name that no one knows but Himself and also that is He is called 'Faithful and True,' 'the Word of God,' and so on... In other words, within Himself God's Name is something that only He can truly understand, though we can know what He is called based on the revelation and analogical language of the Scriptures.
 




Man of Sorrows...


 

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

1.18.17 (Tevet 20, 5777)   The LORD said, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry... I know their sorrows" (Exod. 3:7). The grammar here is intense: "seeing I have seen" (רָאה רָאִיתִי). Understand, then, that God surely sees your struggles, friend.  Second, know that God heeds the outcry (צְעָקָה) of your heart, and indeed, he interprets your groaning as if it were for the sake of serving him. Your heart's cry is transformed by grace to be the cry for God himself, for relationship with Him. "The cry of the people has come to me," he told Moses (Exod 3:9), which means all the sufferings, the wrongs, the hopes, the fears, the groans, the despair, the prayers, were present before him, as if he counted every word and sigh. Third, realize that God knows your sorrows; he gathers all your tears into his bottle (Psalm 56:8). The word translated "sorrows" (מַכְאב) is the same used to describe the "Man of sorrows" (אישׁ מַכְאבוֹת), Yeshua our Suffering Servant, who gave up his life to deliver you from darkness, sorrow, and fear (Isa. 53:3-5).
 

    "If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe from falling, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown - that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love. Between God and the soul there is ultimately no between." - Julian of Norwich

 




Empathy of Moses...


 

1.17.17 (Tevet 19, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week (Shemot) we read: "when Moses grew up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens" (Exod. 2:11). The sages say, "do not read, 'grew up,' but rather 'became great'" (וַיִּגְדַּל), since Moses exiled himself by opening his eyes to his people's suffering. Indeed Moses was made great as he emptied himself of his royal privilege and identified with the pain and misfortunes of others (Phil. 2:7). As is written: "By faith Moses was made great (μέγας γενόμενος) by refusing to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin" (Heb. 11:24-25).

"When Moses grew up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens" (Exod. 2:11). Regarding this verse the great Torah commentator Rashi wrote, "Moses set his eyes and heart to feel their anguish." The midrash says that when Moses saw the hard labor of the people, he took their yoke upon him. Indeed some of the earlier sages said that sharing the burden of another is the essence of Torah, the very foundation of all heavenly obligation (Avot 6:6). Therefore the Apostle Paul wrote (Gal. 6:2): "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the Torah of the Messiah (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ)." Expressing empathy by identifying with the pains of others requires bittul hayesh (בִּטּוּל הַיֵּשׁ), or the setting aside of the ego, which is also the essential requirement for revelation from heaven. Hence Moses was given direct encounter with the Divine Presence because of his great humility.

In order to say, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done" you must let go of your own agenda; your ego must be deposed from its petty little kingdom... Likewise, you can't say, "Come, Lord Jesus" by putting your fear first, or by otherwise demanding that your life should center on your own personal "advent." No, you must consciously choose to live in exile to this world (Gal. 6:14). How can we ever expect the LORD to live out His life through us if we do not genuinely offer our lives to Him?  And yet this is exactly the problem of the ego...

A principle of spiritual life is that we descend in order to ascend, or the "the way up is the way down." As Yeshua said, "Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all" (Mark 10:44). Becoming nothing (i.e., ayin) in this world is the condition for seeing something in the world to come. But we become nothing by trusting in the miracle, not by trying to efface ourselves... This is not another venture of the ego. Life in the Spirit means trusting that God will do within you what you cannot do for yourself... We can only take hold of what God has done for us by "letting go" of our own devices (Phil. 2:13). When we really let go and trust, we will become nothing (i.e., klume: כְּלוּם), carried by the Torah of the Spirit of life. The way is not trying but trusting; not struggling but resting; not of clinging to life, but of letting go...
 

    "So-called pious people are unfree. They too lack the authentic certitude of inwardness. That is why they are so pious! And the world is surely justified in laughing at them. If, for example, a bowlegged man wants to be a dancing master but is not able to execute a single step, he is comical. So it is also with the multitudes who are so religious. Often you can hear the pious beating time, as it were, exactly like one who cannot dance but nevertheless knows enough to beat time, yet who are never fortunate enough to get in step. In order to reassure themselves, the pious seize upon grandiose ideas that the world hates. They battle ideas, but not with their lives. Such is the life of those who lack inwardness." - Kierkegaard (Journals)

     

Note:  This is another example of the difficulty of truly trusting God for the miracle, of receiving the miracle... Some people scorn the idea of "easy believism," though of course there is nothing at all "easy" about exercising true faith in the LORD and living the truth in our lives. We need the miracle; we need grace from heaven to impart real passion for us to walk according to God's heart.
 




Casting your care upon him...


 

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

1.16.17 (Tevet 18, 5777)  "And when she (Yocheved) could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of reeds (תֵּבַת גּמֶא) and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank" (Exod. 2:3). The sages note that what distinguishes this makeshift "ark" (i.e., teivah: תֵּבָה) from a boat is the absence of a sail or rudder: There is no way to control its direction or outcome... Like Noah's ark, it is a vehicle completely surrendered to God's care.  Likewise we must cast ourselves upon the waters of God's mercy and trust that he will guide our way (1 Pet. 5:7).
 




Being and Truth...


 

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

1.16.17 (Tevet 18, 5777)   In our Torah portion this week, Moses asked for God's Name, and God then said ehyeh asher ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה), "I AM that I AM" (or "I will be what I will be"), abbreviated simply as ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה), "I AM" (Exod. 3:14). Note that God identifies himself with being itself, since ehyeh is the Qal imperfect form of the verb hayah (הָיָה), meaning "to be." Indeed, the Name YHVH (יהוה) essentially means "Presence," since God is called ha-hoveh, ve'hayah, ve'yavo (הַהוֶה וְהָיָה וְיָבוֹא) - "the One who is, and was, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8). This "threefold Name" of the LORD of Hosts encompasses all possible states of being, indicating that God is LORD over all possible worlds...
 

וַיּאמֶר אֱלהִים אֶל־משֶׁה אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה
וַיּאמֶר כּה תאמַר לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
אֶהְיֶה שְׁלָחַנִי אֲלֵיכֶם

va·yo·mer · E·lo·him · el · Mo·she · eh·yeh · a·sher · eh·yeh
va·yo·mer · koh · to·mar · liv·nei · Yis·ra·el
eh·yeh · she·la·cha·ni · a·le·khem
 

"God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM."
And he said, "Say this to the sons of Israel,
'I AM has sent me to you'" (Exod. 3:14)


 
Download Study Card

 
Note further that the Name YHVH (יהוה) is to be forever identified as "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (אֱלהֵי אַבְרָהָם אֱלהֵי יִצְחָק וֵאלהֵי יַעֲקב), as clearly stated by God in the immediately following verse (see Exod. 3:15). This should quiet the minds of those who are troubled with determining or pronouncing "YHVH," since the Source of Life, the Creator and Redeemer of life, is clearly to be known as "the God of the fathers" of the Jewish people, as Yeshua our LORD also taught (John 4:22).
 




The Book of Exodus...


 

1.15.17 (Tevet 17, 5777)   Over the next several weeks (until the end of March) we will be reading and studying the Book of Exodus (סֵפֶר שְׁמוֹת) and considering its message in light of revelation of Yeshua our Messiah (there are forty chapters in this book that are traditionally divided into eleven weekly Torah readings). Some of the greatest narratives of all the Scriptures are found in this amazing book, including the Israelites' enslavement and subsequent deliverance with the ten plagues by the hand of the LORD. After the great Passover, Moses led the people out of the land Egypt, crossing the Sea of Reeds, and arriving at Sinai to receive the Torah exactly 49 day later. While Moses was on the mountain, however, the people worshipped a Golden Calf, and a long period of repentance occurred until the covenant was reestablished. The remainder of the book describes the vision and construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) -- the great Altar upon which a defect-free lamb was offered every day and every night...

In English the word "Exodus" ("going out") comes from the title of the ancient Greek translation of the phrase Sefer Yetziat Mitzraim ("the book of the going out from Egypt"). Hence the Greek word ἔξοδος became "Exodus" in Latin which later was adopted into English. In the Hebrew Bible this book is called Shemot ("names"), following the custom of naming a book according to its first significant word.
 




Parashat Shemot - שמות


 

1.15.17 (Tevet 17, 5777)   Our Torah reading for this week is the very first of the Book of Exodus, called parashat Shemot (שְׁמוֹת). This portion begins directly where the Book of Genesis left off, namely by listing the various "names" (shemot) of the descendants of Jacob who came to Egypt to live in the land of Goshen. Over time Jacob's family flourished and multiplied so greatly that the new king of Egypt – who did not "remember" Joseph - regarded them as a political threat and decided to enslave them. When the king's oppression did not curb their growth, however, he cruelly commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill all newborn Jewish boys. When the midwives bravely refused to obey, however, the Pharaoh commanded that all newborn boys were to be drowned in the Nile river (the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim (מִצְרַיִם), can be rearranged to form the phrase tzar mayim (צַר מַיִם), meaning "torture through water," which was the plan of the nefarious Pharaoh).

During this time of terrible and appalling oppression, a family from the tribe of Levi bore a son and hid him for three months. When the baby could no longer be concealed, however, his mother Yocheved (יוֹכֶבֶד) set him afloat in the Nile River inside a basket, praying that he might somehow escape death. Miriam (מִרְיָם), the baby's sister, watched what would happen, and soon the basket was discovered by the daughter of Pharaoh, who decided to save the baby and adopt him as her own son. Miriam then cleverly offered to have her mother become the baby's wet-nurse for the princess. After the child was duly weaned, he was brought to Pharaoh's palace to live as the princess' son. The princess named him "Moses" (משֶׁה), meaning "drawn out" (מָשָׁה) of the water.

Later, when Moses was a full-grown man, he "went out to his people and looked on their burdens." When he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite slave, he killed the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand. The following day he tried to reconcile two Israelites who were fighting, but the one in the wrong prophetically objected: "And who made you a prince and judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?" Upon hearing this Moses decided to flee from Egypt to Midian. There he rescued Zipporah (צִפּרָה), the daughter of Jethro (יִתְרוֹ), a Midianite priest. Soon afterward, Moses decided to work for Jethro and married Zipporah. They had a son named Gershom (גֵּרְשׁם).

After nearly 40 years living in Midian as a shepherd, God called out to Moses from the midst of a burning bush (סְנֶה בּוֹעֵר) to commission him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt back to the land He promised to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Moses protested that he was inadequate for this task, God gave him three "signs" to authenticate his message. God also appointed his brother Aaron to be his spokesperson. Moses and Aaron then went to the Pharaoh and demanded that the Israelites be permitted to leave Egypt to worship the LORD in the wilderness.  The Pharaoh, however, dismissed Moses and his God, and increased the workload of the slaves by forcing them to make bricks without straw.
 

Shalom and good upon you... May we all have great joy and strength as we begin reading a new book of Torah this week. SHAVUAH TOV!
 




The Fear of the LORD...



 

1.13.17 (Tevet 15, 5777)   Some people are afraid that God will punish them for their sins, but the true fear of God, yirat shamayim (יִרְאָת שָׁמַיִם), is the tragedy of losing our closeness to Him... This is the fear of the Lord. The sages say that where it is written, "What does the LORD ask of you except to fear the LORD" (Deut. 10:12), we should read instead, "fear with the LORD" (לְיִרְאָה אֶת־יְהוָה), that is, we share his concern that we could forfeit the sanctity of a heart-relationship with Him due to carelessness and sin... We fear our sin because it blinds us from awareness of God's care and love. The fear of God can therefore be understood as God's fear that we will miss the blessing of intimately knowing him...

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




Loving the Stranger...


 

1.13.17 (Tevet 15, 5777)   "You shall love the stranger as yourself" (Lev. 19:34). This mitzvah applies not only to someone whom we regard as an "outsider," but more radically to the "stranger within ourselves," that is, to those aspects of ourselves we censor, deny, or reject.  Like the prodigal son, we have to "come to ourselves" to return home (Luke 15:17), yet we won't know that we are unconditionally loved until we venture complete disclosure. That is the great risk of trusting in God's love for your soul: You must accept that you are accepted despite your own unacceptability... Those parts of ourselves that we "hide" need to be brought to the light, atoned for, healed, and reconciled. If we don't love and accept ourselves, then how can we hope to love and accept others? May God grant us his healing peace in Yeshua our Beloved, chaverim. Amen and Shabbat Shalom!
 




Blessings of Israel...


 

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

1.13.17 (Tevet 15, 5777)   "Then Jacob called his sons and said, "Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in the end of days (בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים). Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob (בְּנֵי יַעֲקב), listen to Israel your father (יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲבִיכֶם)" (Gen. 49:1-2). Here Jacob used both his names before blessing his sons. His name "Jacob" represented his natural life – his birth as the "heel-holder" of Esau; his hunger for his earthly father's blessing; and his self-doubt as he pretended to be someone other than himself... His name "Israel," on the other hand, was given to him after he grappled with the mysterious Angel, refusing to relent until he found his blessing despite the pain of his past. "Israel" represents Jacob's rebirth, his God-given ability to father his children, and the grace to impart the appropriate blessing to each child as needed (Gen. 49:28).
 




The Shiloh Prophecy...



 

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

1.12.17 (Tevet 14, 5777)   When the time came for Jacob (i.e., Israel) to die, he called all his sons together to bless them (Gen. 49:1-28). According to midrash, Jacob wanted to tell his sons about the "End of Days" (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) when the Messiah would come, but was prevented by the Holy Spirit. According to Rashi, God prevented Jacob because He does not want anyone to know the "day or the hour" when the great King of Israel would appear. Jacob did, however, foretell that from the tribe of Judah (יְהוּדָה) would come the Messiah: "The scepter (שֵׁבֶט) will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until Shiloh (שִׁילוֹ) comes, and to him shall be the obedience (יקְהָה) of the people" (Gen. 49:10). Interestingly, the name "Judah" (יְהוּדָה) is spelled using all the letters of the Name YHVH (יהוה), with the addition of the letter Dalet (ד). Just as the tribe of Judah later was directly stationed in the front of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the camp formation in the wilderness, so the Holy Temple (i.e., Moriah) would later become part of Judah's territory in the promised land. Likewise, Yeshua Himself - a descendant of King David - was crucified and resurrected in the land of Judah. Truly the promised "Seed of Judah" represents the "doorway of the LORD" and is rightly named "the One whom his brethren would praise."

Like most prophecies in Scripture, the prophecy of Shiloh has a "dual aspect" or "double fulfillment."  Shiloh, or the "King of the Jews" (a synonym for the Messiah, called "Christ" by Gentile Christendom) had indeed come "before the scepter departed from Judah," but he went unrecognized since he came to fulfill the role of the Suffering Servant (Mashiach ben Yosef). The second part of the prophecy, "and to him shall be the obedience of the people," is yet to be fulfilled. It will become a visible reality only after his Second Coming, at the end of olam ha-zeh (this present age), when Yeshua comes to judge the nations (the "sheep and the goats") and establish the Kingdom of God from David's throne in Jerusalem.

For more on this topic, see: "The Promise of Shiloh: Further thoughts on Vayechi."
 




Created for Love...


 

1.12.17 (Tevet 14, 5777)   One of the great questions of life is: "What does it mean to be human?" or put another way, "Who or what am I?" This question is important because how we think of ourselves will form our vision of our greatest good and how we should live our lives. The Torah teaches that human beings are directly created by God; each of us is unique and has been imparted nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the sacred "breath of life." Every human being therefore owes his or her existence to the creative (and sustaining) power of God (Gen. 1:27, 2:4; Col. 1:16-17; John 1:3; Heb. 1:2). God made you in the "secret places" of the depths -- yesh me'ayin (יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן), "out of nothing" -- for His own sovereign will and purposes (Psalm 139:15, Rev. 4:11). This is implied in the name YHVH (יהוה) itself, the One who is the Source and Ground of all that exists. Unlike concepts derived from classical Greek philosophy, however, God is not an abstract and indifferent power behind the phenomenal realm, but is revealed as אֱלהֵי אַבְרָהָם אֱלהֵי יִצְחָק וֵאלהֵי יַעֲקב - "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," the One who calls people to be in a relationship of trust with Him (Exod. 3:15). Ultimately you can only know yourself and why you exist as you embrace the truth of God and his love for you...

We are created for relationship with God, to know God and to love Him forever, but until our lives find their substance in that relationship, we remain existentially anxious and in secret dread... This relationship is more than that of knowing God as the Creator, but further as the source of your own heart, the center of your dreams, and the vision of your purpose for existence. The language of love goes beyond that of imperative: it seeks to "upbuild" the person and to elevate them to be the beloved...

Therefore people are free to accept the love God, or free to reject it, because love does not coerce but honors the individual's choice. Nevertheless - and paradoxically enough - a choice must be made, and there is no way to opt out of the call to freedom. Not choosing to receive the love of God is tantamount to rejecting that love. This is the side of the relationship that God reserves as your Creator: you are free to choose, but choose you must....

Of course the "choice" to trust is a dynamic process, an "education for eternity," wherein we learn to be healed of our divided hearts and to focus wholeheartedly on the blessing of God's personal love for us. The process is a humbling one, requiring a lifetime of teshuvah... God "demands" that you choose the good so that you can freely choose his love. We are being disciplined by heaven to learn how to order our affections and to freely exercise our will. Therefore "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13).

 "Unless you turn (shuv) and become like children, you will never (οὐ μὴ) enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). Such is the importance of simple trust in God... Indeed Yeshua repeatedly taught us to trust God as "Abba," our Father (אַבָּא אָבִינוּ). He taught that we are warmly accepted as part of his family; that we are under his constant care; and that we live within his household as beloved children... And even though God is utterly transcendent, the Infinite One (אין סוף) and Creator of all worlds, he humbles himself to feed the birds of the air, to water lilies of the field, and to count the number of hairs on your head (Psalm 113:5-6). He is as close as your next breath; he leans upon your bosom at the table; he anticipates what you need before you ask him... The "fear of the Lord" is that you might fail knowing his great love for you -- that you will forget your true identity and lose yourself in lesser things. Therefore affirm the truth that you are loved with an unending and everlasting love, that you are safe, that you are surely accepted, and that nothing can ever separate you from the power of love. God your Father hears you, he knows you, and he loves you bekhol levavo (בְּכָל־לְבָבוֹ) - "with all his heart."
 




Walk in the Spirit...


 

1.11.17 (Tevet 13, 5777)   Our theology teaches that God is "omnipresent," or always present everywhere (בְּכָּל מָקוֹם), but much of the time we seem disconnected and lose touch with spiritual Reality. After all, it's one thing to "know about" God, and quite another to experience the sacred in our daily experience... Perhaps we miss detecting the Divine Presence because we are not seeing correctly (2 Cor. 5:7). We tend to "objectify" the natural world and thereby distance ourselves from the atmosphere of the Spirit and the flow of grace (i.e., ruach: "wind," "spirit"). Instead of understanding that we "live, move, and have our being" in God (Acts 17:28), we regard God as "out there," far away, and inaccessible to our reach... The Hebrew word "teshuvah" (תְּשׁוּבָה), often translated as "repentance," really means accepting the heavenly invitation to turn away from ourselves to receive God's love and grace. The Greek word "metanoia" (μετάνοια) conveys a similar idea - going "beyond" (i.e., meta: μετά) our everyday thinking (i.e., nous: νοῦς) to apprehend the realm of miracle, wonder, and love (John 6:33). We then become attuned to the Divine Presence as we turn or elevate our thinking from the realm of "this world" (olam ha'zeh) and its objectivity to one of spiritual receptivity, wholeness, and blessing (olam ha'ba). Teshuvah therefore is an (ongoing) awakening to the Reality of God, and knowing ourselves through our connectedness to the Spirit rather than objectifying ourselves and experiencing alienation and distance.  Therefore הִתְהַלְּכוּ בָּרוּחַ - "walk in the Spirit" and you will be free (Gal. 5:16).
 




Cleaving to God...


 

1.11.17 (Tevet 13, 5777)   Some religious traditions speak of "detachment," by which is meant "letting go" of what your ego desires... However, detachment can also mean letting go of what makes you sick – your anger, your fear, your pride, and so on. In either case, however, detachment is not an end in itself according to Torah, but a means to cleaving to a higher good. The practice of "cleaving" or "holding fast" to God is called devakut (דְּבָקוּת) in Jewish tradition, a word that derives from the root davak (דבק), meaning to "cling" or "stick" (the Modern Hebrew word for glue comes from the same root). Davak is used to describe how a man cleaves to his wife so that they become basar echad – "one flesh" (see Gen. 2:24), and is related to the word for bodily joint (debek), the bond of our bones to our skin (Job 19:20). Some have described devakut as "God consciousness imbued with love." "To cleave to Him - that means the cleaving of the mind to Him, for there is no devakut except that of the mind and the meditation of the heart" (Sh'ar ha-ahavah). Yesh ohev davek me'ach: "There is a Friend who sticks (davek) closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:4). We are able to cleave to God because He first clung to the cross in love for us (1 John 4:19; John 15:13).

For more on this topic, see "Devakut - Cleaving to the LORD."
 




Believing the Miracle...


 

1.11.17 (Tevet 13, 5777)   How can you receive the blessing apart from believing in the miracle? You hunger for God's love but you hold back because you esteem yourself as unworthy, unclean, unacceptable... When you become aware of your sin and are frightened by it, you must understand it in connection with the cross of Yeshua and the divine remedy for your life. וַיהוה הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ אֵת עֲוֹן כֻּלָּנוּ - "The LORD has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all" (Isa. 53:6; 2 Cor. 5:21). Cast your burden upon the LORD to discover how he will take your hand, lift you up, and say "It is I; do not be afraid." Dare to surrender your fears to God and believe in the miracle of his heart for you, friend. I realize that it might sound strange to say that you should only know your sin before the presence of the cross, but that is the truth, or rather, the Truth that expresses the heart of God our Savior. The accuser likes to use "truth" as a weapon; he pronounces condemnation upon you, usurping the truth of God as Judge but denying the greater Truth of God as Deliverer. The miracle is found at the cross, where "love and truth meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other" (Psalm 85:10).
 

    "True repentance has a distinct and constant reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. If you repent of sin without looking to Christ, away with your repentance! If you are so lamenting your sin as to forget the Savior, you have need to begin all this work over again. Whenever we repent of sin we must have one eye upon sin and another upon the Cross. Or, better still, let us have both eyes upon Christ, seeing our sin punished in Him and by no means let us look at sin except as we look at Jesus." - C.H. Spurgeon

    "If there be anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe from falling, I know nothing of it - for it was not shown me.  But this was shown - that in falling and rising again we are always kept in the same precious love." - Julian of Norwich

    "We cannot fall beneath the arms of God. However low we fall, they are underneath us still." - William Penn

 




Torah of Mercy...


 

1.10.17 (Tevet 12, 5777)  It's been said that grace is getting what you don't deserve, whereas mercy is not getting what you do... Yeshua said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" (Matt. 5:7). This is not a reciprocal law like karma, i.e., you get in return what you first give, since we cannot obtain God's mercy as reward for our own supposed merit (Rom. 4:4). No, we are able to extend mercy to others when we are made merciful ("full of mercy"), that is, when we first receive mercy from God. After all, you can't give away what you don't have, and if we have no mercy for others, it is likely that we have not received it ourselves, as the parable of the Good Samaritan reveals (Luke 10:25-8). Your forgiveness is your forgiveness: as you forgive, so you reveal your heart. What you do comes from what you are, not the other way around. We are first transformed by God's grace and then come works of love. We are able to judge others mercifully, with the "good eye," because we come to believe that we are beloved by God.

The pattern therefore abides: First you realize you are broken, impoverished of heart, and you therefore mourn over your sinful condition. Then you hunger and thirst for God's righteousness, for his healing and deliverance, and you learn to trust the mercy of God, that is, you come to accept that you are accepted despite your unacceptability. You begin to show yourself mercy; you learn to "suffer yourself" and forgive your own evil, and then you extend this mercy to others who are hurting around you... The failure to extend mercy, to demand your "rights" or hold on to grudges, implies that you are relating to God as Judge rather than as Savior (James 2:13). If we condemn what we see in others, we have yet to truly see what is within our own hearts; we have yet to see our desperate need for God's mercy for our lives. If you don't own your own sin, your sin will own you. Being merciful is a response to God's love and therefore is essential to genuine teshuvah... Ask the LORD to help you let go of the pain of the past by being full of mercy toward yourself and others.
 




Scandal of God's Love...


 

1.10.17 (Tevet 12, 5777)  The message of the cross scandalizes human pride because it unconditionally declares there is nothing we can do to justify ourselves before God apart from the work of the Messiah rendered on our behalf.  Human pride naturally wants to add something to the mix - by esteeming our will or our obedience to be determinative, but the Scriptures attest that we are declared righteous by trusting in the sacrifice of God for our souls, and not because of any merit of our own (Gal. 3:11). In other words, salvation is "of the LORD," and we are entirely hopeless apart the direct intervention of God for healing.... The Lord saves us, not because of works of righteousness (מַעֲשֵׂי הַצְּדָקָה) we might do, but solely on account of His mercy offered to us in Messiah our Savior (Titus 3:5).

In general, human pride has no quarrel with the theology of a transcendent, all-powerful, and holy God to whom we all owe obedience, and therefore religious systems based on "karma" are invariably amenable to human pride...  A "First Cause" or a Source of Moral Law may present a religious demand upon the soul, but it presents no scandal to human reason. After all, the law of religion is simply "do what is good and you will be rewarded; do what is evil and you will be punished," and karma-based religions aim to effect a favorable "disposition" in the eyes of heaven. What is scandalous, however, and what is therefore entirely paradoxical to human reason, is that the Infinite One Himself became Finite and embodied as a human being, and that the infinitely transcendent One is also the entirely immanent One, pervading every possible world and every realm of creation -- including the "fallen" realm of humanity -- to become manifest in visage of Yeshua of Nazareth....

Again, it is relatively easy for human reason to concede awareness of a transcendental power that created the universe and who is the Source of Moral reality, but it cannot fathom how such Supreme Power could be made manifest in a state of weakness, identifying with what is most broken, most perverse, and most sick in the human soul and condition. The cross of Messiah is a scandal because human pride wants to deny the reality that humanity is incurably wounded, sick and without hope apart from divine intervention. Religious pride imagines that mankind is able to ascend the heights of heaven in its own strength, but the message of the cross is that God's love is so great that He is willing to descend - to willingly empty Himself to undergo shame, disgrace, condemnation - and indeed the horror of execution by crucifixion - all for the sake of our everlasting healing and salvation.

Do you want Torah that cuts to the bone? Do you want the raw, unvarnished truth? Then look to the cross of Messiah, the hallowed place (הַמָּקוֹם) where the transcendent, the all-powerful, and the holy are surrendered to become an object of horror, grief, and despair; where God's own glorious holiness and righteousness are exchanged for our sin...  We must turn away from the urge to deny reality, by pretending that the salvation could be gained by some sort of self-improvement project, or by assuming that there exists some form of repentance that can take the place of the awful divine remedy given in our place. Turn to the cross and receive the death benefits of Messiah! "For I decided to know nothing among you except Yeshua the Messiah and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2).

Some people are reluctant to accept the truth of God's unconditional love because they fearfully imagine that doing so will lead to "lawlessness," or to a lax attitude that tolerates or even justifies sin. "Why not do evil that good may come?" they reason (Rom. 3:8). Such thinking grievously misunderstands the purpose of Torah, however, and fails to see that the "deeper Torah" allows us to walk in the light of God's truth. The goal (or "end") of the Torah is love - the divine love revealed in Messiah - and if we really love God, we will not seek an excuse to gratify our lower nature at the expense of our relationship with Him.

For more on this vital topic, see: "Pride and Paradox: Finding God in the Ego's Ashes..."
 




Ahavat Olam - Everlasting Love...


 

1.09.17 (Tevet 11, 5777)  It is repeatedly and emphatically stated in our Scriptures that "salvation is "of the LORD" (לַיהוָה הַיְשׁוּעָה); and that we are not saved "by works of righteousness (מַעֲשֵׂי הַצְּדָקָה) that we have done, but solely on account of the mercy given to us in God our Savior (אֱלהִים מוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ; Titus 3:4-5). Grace excludes all boasting (Eph. 2:9; Rom. 4:4). We believe that God justifies the ungodly (i.e., the powerless) by trusting in his heart of compassion (Rom. 4:1-8). God loves us with "an everlasting love" (i.e., ahavat olam: אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם) and draws us in chesed (חֶסֶד, i.e., His faithful love and kindness). As it is written: "I love you with an everlasting love; therefore in chesed I draw you to me" (Jer. 31:3). Note that the word translated "I draw you" comes from the Hebrew word mashakh (מָשַׁךְ), meaning to "seize" or "drag away" (the ancient Greek translation used the verb helko (ἕλκω) to express the same idea). As Yeshua said, "No one is able to come to me unless he is "dragged away" (ἑλκύσῃ) by the Father (John 6:44). God's chesed seizes us, scandalizes us, takes us captive, and leads us to the Savior... Spiritual rebirth is a divine act, "not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). In everything - including human reason itself - the LORD God Almighty is preeminent.
 

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

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

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



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There is only One who offers you life, peace, and eternal healing, but it is offered on his terms, not your own. He makes you lay down in pastures of tender grass, he leads you beside the place of quiet waters (עַל־מֵי מְנֻחוֹת). He calls to your heart: "Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am gentle and humble in heart: and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (כִּי עֻלִּי רַךְ וּמַשָּׂאִי קָל) [Matt. 11:28-30]. Thank God for the gracious love of our Savior Yeshua!
 




Prayer for this hour...


 

1.09.17 (Tevet 11, 5777)  Many of us are hurting, Lord, and we sometimes feel alone in our struggle... This world seems so senseless, so brutal, and so evil at times; we feel powerless, overwhelmed, and even sick inside... We look to You, O God, and for your mercy and your power. Help us to accept what we cannot change and to completely trust in Your great healing to come, despite the depravity of the world around us. Remind us that though we cannot change the world, we are given grace to sustain our trust in You, our glorious and merciful Healer. And may we never be ashamed; may we never grow bitter; may our sorrows lead us from strength to strength. And may this time of testing lead us to greater wisdom, to deeper compassion, and finally back to You. Amen.

"The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day." From the first glimmer of heaven-sent faith we detect the divine light, "the light of dawn," which continues to grow more and more until it becomes as radiant as the midday, an image of the full light of the World to Come. Praise God that more light is coming to you who are trusting in the LORD, even in your present darkness: "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Yeshua our Messiah" (Phil. 1:6).
 

וְארַח צַדִּיקִים כְּאוֹר נגַהּ
הוֹלֵךְ וָאוֹר עַד־נְכוֹן הַיּוֹם

ve'o·rach · tzad·di·kim · ke'or · no·gah
ho·lekh · va'or · ad · ne·khon · hai'yom
 

"The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
which shines brighter and brighter until full day."
(Prov. 4:18)



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Vayechi - "And He Lived"


 

[ Our Torah reading for this week is Parashat Vayechi, the final portion from the Book of Genesis, which includes Jacob's great prophecy of the coming Messiah... ]

1.08.17 (Tevet 10, 5777)  Our Torah reading for this week, parashat Vayechi (ויחי), recounts how the great patriarch Jacob adopted Joseph's two sons (Ephraim and Manasseh) as his own children. When Jacob blessed the boys, however, he intentionally reversed the birth order by putting the younger before the older, signifying that the old struggle he had faced as a child was over, and he now understood things differently. And note Ephraim and Manasseh's reaction: the older did not envy the younger, nor did the younger boast over the older. The family had apparently learned that blessing from God is for the good of all, and that there is no real blessing apart from genuine humility that esteems the welfare of others. Jacob was now ready to summon his family to hear his final words.  Among other things, he foretold how the Messiah would come from the line of Judah and then instructed his sons to bury him only in the promised land, and not in Egypt.

After his death, Joseph and his brothers, with various dignitaries of Egypt, formed a funeral procession and returned to Canaan to bury Jacob in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. After the funeral, they returned to Egypt, but Joseph's brothers feared that he would now repay them for their former betrayal and threw themselves on his mercy. Joseph reassured them that they had no reason to fear him and reminded them that God had overruled their earlier intent by intending him to be a blessing to the whole world.

The portion ends with the account of the death of Joseph, who made the sons of Israel promise to take his bones with them when the LORD would bring them back to the land of Canaan (alluding to the great Exodus to come). Joseph's faith in the Jewish people's return to the Promised Land is summarized by his statement: "God will surely remember you." He died at age 110, was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt, full of faith that he would be raised from the dead in the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
 


Note:  This Shabbat we will finish reading the Book of Genesis (סֵפֶר בְּרֵאשִׁית) for the current Jewish year... This inestimably great book begins with an account of the creation of the universe by the LORD and ends with Joseph being put into a coffin in Egypt. Note that the word translated "coffin" is the Hebrew word aron (אֲרוֹן), a word used elsewhere in the Torah to refer exclusively to the Ark of the Covenant (the ark that Noah built and the ark that Moses was placed in are both called "teivah"). Throughout their desert wanderings after the Sinai revelation, the Israelites actually carried two special arks - one holding the bones of Joseph and the other holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments.
 




The Fast of Tevet...


 

1.08.17 (Tevet 10, 5777)  Today at sunrise marked Asarah B'Tevet ("the Tenth of Tevet"), traditionally recognized as day of mourning for the loss of the Jewish Temple (Bet Ha-mikdash). Orthodox Jews will fast from sunrise to sunset to commemorate the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon (in 587 BC) -- an event that eventually led to the destruction of the First Temple and the 70-year Babylonian Exile of the Jewish people.

In Israel, Asarah B'Tevet also marks the day Kaddish (memorial prayer) is recited for people whose date or place of death is unknown. This has resulted in a day of mourning for the many Jews who perished during the Holocaust (in addition to the formal commemoration of Yom HaShoah). Synagogue services normally include prayers of repentance (selichot) and the Torah portion recalls the story of the idolatry of the Golden Calf (i.e., Exod. 32:11-34:10).

With the terror attacks by Islamic radicals in Jerusalem today (know them by their fruits), please remember to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, chaverim...
 




A Blessed Hunger...


 

1.06.17 (Tevet 8, 5777)  The first words of Yeshua recorded in John's Gospel are a question: "What are you seeking?" And the second express an invitation: "Come and see..." (John 1:38-39). The problem with many of us is not that we are so hungry, but rather that we are not hungry enough... We settle for junk food when God spreads out his banqueting table before us. There is a "deeper hunger" for life, and I pray we are all touched by such hunger pangs; there is a "blessed hunger and thirst" that feeds our heart's cry for God (Matt. 5:6); there is a "divine discontent" that leads to a deeper sense of contentment for the heart... If you are feeling empty today, ask God to feed you with His life-giving food. The Spirit of the Living God calls out, "Seek Me and live" (Amos 5:4).
 

כִּי כה אָמַר יְהוָה לְבֵית יִשְׂרָאֵל
דִּרְשׁוּנִי וִחְיוּ

ki · kho · a·mar · Adonai · le·veit · Yis·ra·el:
dir·shu·ni · vi·che·yu
 

For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel:
"Seek me and live"
 (Amos 5:4)



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Personal Note: Shabbat Shalom friends... Please offer a prayer up for me (John, Hebrew for Christians). I have not been feeling well the last couple weeks, very exhausted, with some health concerns. Thank you so much. I send you all my love.
 




No Other Savior...


 

1.06.17 (Tevet 8, 5777)  Though the message is for all peoples without exception, the message is exclusive in its claim and in its power: "Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I AM God and there is no other (כִּי אֲנִי־אֵל וְאֵין עוֹד). By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance" (Isa. 45:22-23). The Scriptures clearly state that "it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Heb. 9:27), and they further warn that on the Day of Judgment, anyone's name not written "in the Book of Life of the Lamb who was slain" (בְּסֵפֶר חַיֵּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ) will suffer eternal loss (Rev. 13:8, 20:15). Indeed, Yeshua Himself is the none other than the Judge of mankind to whom every knee shall one day bow (Isa. 45:22-23; Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10). Yeshua is the Judge of all the earth (John 5:22; 12:48; Acts 10:42, 17:31; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; Rev. 20:11-15), including the judge of all those who profess to obey Him (Rom. 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:1; Matt. 7:22-23). As Messianic believers, we maintain that our personal "Judgment Day" has come and justice has been served through the sacrificial offering of Yeshua for our sins (2 Cor. 5:21). He is the perfect fulfillment of the Akedah of Isaac, and the sound of the shofar recalls the sacrifice of the promised seed.  However, even though we believe that we are made acceptable in God's sight solely by the finished work of the Messiah (Titus 3:5-6), we understand that we will one day face our own personal judgment. Even in the glorious light of the cross, we all must give account for our lives (2 Cor. 5:10): "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; the fire will test (δοκιμάζω) what kind of work each has done" (1 Cor. 3:13). Yeshua is the Judge of all people, both for those who are trusting in Him and for those who spurn his salvation. Turn to Him and be saved: There is no other Name, and no other Savior...
 

פְּנוּ־אֵלַי וְהִוָּשְׁעוּ כָּל־אַפְסֵי־אָרֶץ
כִּי אֲנִי־אֵל וְאֵין עוֹד

pe·nu  e·lai  vi·hiv·va·shu  kol  af·sei  a·retz
ki  a·ni  El  ve·ein  od
 

"Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other
."
(Isa. 45:22)

 




Out of the Depths - ממעמקים


 

1.06.17 (Tevet 8, 5777)  In the midst of his struggle, King David asked the LORD: "How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily?" (Psalm 13:2). There may be times when we lack eitzah (עֵצָה), or clear counsel to follow, and this can make us feel uncertain, alone, and even desperate. The sages advise in this case that you must cry out to God over and over, casting your burden upon him, and relying on Him alone... Cast your "fate" (גּוֹרָל) before the LORD, trusting in his care; unclench your fists and let go of all your desires and fears – those dark forces that hold you captive – by opening your heart to the Holy Spirit. There is no fear in God's love (1 John 4:18), and that means you are set free to confess the truth of your struggle before the One who heals and delivers you. As long as you think your own counsel will effect deliverance (יְשׁוּעָה), however, there will be "sorrow in your heart daily," since there is no salvation apart from the grace and power of God. That is why David finally affirmed, "My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation" (Psalm 13:5) rather than "my heart shall rejoice in my salvation," since salvation is of the LORD (לַיהוָה הַיְשׁוּעָה) and not from the counsel of the soul...
 




Glory in the LORD...


 

1.06.17 (Tevet 8, 5777)  While on the one hand we rightly esteem and revere the Messiah as our incomparable LORD and only Savior who is entirely without any rival or equal, on the other hand we should remember that He willingly made himself "equal" with the worst of sinners by taking their place on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21). Other world religions may have some idea about the transcendence of God, but only our faith regards God's love and power as so great that it extends to all possible worlds, even touching and entering into the world of human pain, shame, guilt, abandonment, and the grief of death itself. Only our faith gives glory to God for actually entering the realm of humanity, for willingly touching the leper, for choosing to become a stranger, an outcast, a slave, for the sake of genuinely interceding for sinners and outcasts... Other religions may talk about God's compassion and immanent Presence, but only Yeshua our LORD expresses the heart and love of God for the lost soul based on divine mesirat nefesh - complete empathy and self-sacrifice.
 

אֲבָרֲכָה אֶת־יְהוָה בְּכָל־עֵת
תָּמִיד תְּהִלָּתוֹ בְּפִי
בַּיהוָה תִּתְהַלֵּל נַפְשִׁי
יִשְׁמְעוּ עֲנָוִים וְיִשְׂמָחוּ

a·va·ra·kha · et · Adonai · be·khol · et
ta·mid · te·hil·la·to · be·fi
badonai · tit·hal·lel · naf·shi
yish·me·u · a·na·vim · ve·yis·ma·hu
 

"I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the humble hear and be glad."
(Psalm 34:1-2)


 


"I will bless the LORD" (אֲבָרֲכָה אֶת־יְהוָה) – this is cohortative, meaning that it is based on a decision; it comes as a result of inwardly directing or commanding the focus of the heart... "At all times" (בְּכָל־עֵת) refers to every situation, in both prosperity and in testing; in safety and in danger; in joy and in sorrow. As it is said, gam zu l'tovah: "this too is for the good..." There is no time when God should not to be praised for the gift of life – even in the darkest of hours - and therefore an attitude of gratitude is fitting for the chasid, a person of piety and real faith. As the Bratzlover Rebbe once rightly said, "You live in paradise when you know that whatever happens to you happens for your good" (Rom. 8:28). Perfect peace comes to one whose mind is "stayed" upon the LORD in trust (Isa. 26:3).

Every moment of life is a gift given to you from above, and therefore we are indebted to the Lord for our every breath. We must learn to be mindful and awake before the Divine Presence. "At all times" means you are to consciously "know Him" in all your ways (Prov. 3:6). Like king David, "set the LORD" before your eyes (Psalm 16:8) and become alive to the wonder and glory that surrounds and upholds your very life...

The words "praise" and "boast" in this passage come from a root word (i.e., hallal: הָלַל) that means to "shine" (like a "halo"), that is, to become radiant over the goodness of God. The Targum renders, "my soul makes its boast in the LORD" (בַּיהוָה תִּתְהַלֵּל נַפְשִׁי) as "my soul boasts in the Word of the Lord," the Memra or Logos of God. The Apostle Paul undoubtedly had this in mind when he wrote of the "disguised" wisdom of the gospel message: "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord" (2 Cor. 1:31).
 




Trust in Darker Hours...


 

1.05.17 (Tevet 7, 5777)  "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."  Spiritual darkness is permitted by God for his own sovereign purposes, perhaps as a means to teach us to abandon ourselves to his care. Trusting in God (i.e., bittachon - בִּטָּחוֹן) does not mean that we are obligated to affirm that this is "the best of all possible worlds," though it does mean we believe that eventually God will wipe away every tear and make all things right. Bittachon is a word for this world, which says, "Though he slay me, I will trust in him..."  We do not need to trust for what we is seen in this world, but for an unseen good (Rom. 8:24). 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, we pray to God to be kept from such depth of sorrow that leads to sickness, darkness and despair.
 

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
 

If you ask for bread, your heavenly Father will not give you a stone... 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, despite our losses... And we often revisit our sins over and over until we become "sick of our sickness," that is, until we begin to understand what our heart really needs. It's as if we are constantly being asked, "Is this what you want?" and our choices confess the truth... Only God does the miracle of real change within the human heart - only God can give life from the dead!
 




Waking Up to the Light...

Photo by John Parsons
 

1.05.17 (Tevet 7, 5777)  Most people seem to sleepwalk through their days, without ever waking up... They miss life's wonder; they close their eyes to the Divine Presence; they shun asking the "big questions" because this disturbs their prejudices; indeed, they would rather be entertained, mesmerized, and rendered unconscious. Many people prefer to be put under a hypnotic spell than to be brought back to reality; they actually want their illusions and virtual lives! The first step of deliverance is to confess that we are asleep, and that we prefer sleep to opening our eyes to the truth. As it is written, "it is light that makes everything visible; therefore it says, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and the Messiah will shine on you" (Eph. 5:14). Arise and shine, for your light has come!
 

קוּמִי אוֹרִי כִּי בָא אוֹרֵךְ
 וּכְבוֹד יְהוָה עָלַיִךְ זָרָח

ku·mi  o·ri  ki  va  or·rekh
ukh·vod  Adonai  a·la·yikh  za·rach
 

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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




Suffering and God's Plans...



 

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

1.04.17 (Tevet 6, 5777)  Jacob's son Benjamin (בִּנְיָמִין) served as a living link to his beloved wife Rachel (who had died earlier while giving him birth). If Jacob had initially regarded Joseph as the bechor (firstborn) of the family, Benjamin surely assumed his "coat of many colors" after his older brother was assumed to be dead.  Indeed, Benjamin represented the last thread of Jacob's original vision and hope in this world. The children from Leah and the concubines were of course important to him, but Rachel always remained his first love, and after she died giving birth to Benjamin, Jacob could not help but hold him close...

In Hebrew, Benjamin means "son of my right hand" (from בֵּן, "son" + יָמִין, "right hand"), though in the Samaritan Torah the name is written as Benjamim (from בֵּן, "son" + יָמִים, "days"), meaning "son of days," perhaps alluding to the age of Jacob when Benjamin was born (Rabbinic tradition says he was 100 years old). As the last link to Jacob's deceased wife Rachel, Benjamin had taken Joseph's place as Jacob's favorite son, and Jacob was unwilling to part from him.  Perhaps Jacob secretly feared that God would command him to sacrifice his "only begotten son," just as He had earlier tested his grandfather Abraham regarding his father Isaac.  But wasn't the loss of Joseph enough of a sacrifice?  Would he also be required to "offer up" Benjamin?  Whatever he was thinking, it is clear that Jacob was unwilling to let go of his son - and his lack of trust created an abiding insecurity and heartache within him.

In last week's Torah portion (Miketz), we read that when Jacob asked the brothers to return to Egypt for more food, they said they could not do so without taking Benjamin.  Jacob then replied, "Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?" (Gen. 43:6). The Midrash Rabbah (Bereshit 91:10) states that Jacob never spoke inappropriately except for here. God said, "I am busy establishing a kingdom over Egypt and Ya'akov is asking why he was treated so badly?" The LORD was busy putting all the pieces together, though Jacob could not see beyond his own personal fear and pain...

The nisayon (test) of Jacob reminds us of the principle: gam zu l'tovah (גַּם זוּ לְטוֹבָה), "this too is for good" (cp. Rom. 8:28). Notice, however, that the principle is not stated, gam zu tovah - "this is good," but rather gam zu l'tovah - "this, too, is for good."  The little Hebrew preposition here (-ל) is crucial. The heart of faith does not affirm that "whatever happens, happens" and therefore we should passively accept the injustices and pain of life without any form of protest. Unlike some other religions, the LORD God of Israel does not demand slavish "submission" to His will, much less does He desire "karma-like" indifference to the suffering we see in the world (Phil. 2:4; 1 Pet. 5:7; Heb. 4:16, James 4:9, etc.). Having faith that God will one day "wipe away every tear" does not deny the existence of evil nor does it suppress real tears from being shed; however, genuine faith affirms that real (existential) comfort is coming, and that sadness, pain, and suffering will not be given the last word....

Faith (i.e., emunah: אֱמוּנָה) is a "double movement" of the heart. It both "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31). Faith rests in God's providential hand over the chaos and flux of creation. The eye of faith beholds the Presence of God and His reign over all the mundane affairs of this world. Indeed, it is only by fixing our hope upon the eternal that we are enabled to rightly apprehend the nature of the temporal world itself.  In fact, the word emunah shares the same root as the Hebrew word for truth (אֱמֶת). In that sense, "seeing what is invisible" (τὰ μὴ βλεπόμενα) is a more fundamental type of "seeing," since the truth of hope ultimately interprets all other ways of seeing...

Emunah therefore understands temporal suffering as part of the greater purposes of God in the world. It sees beyond the painful moment and trusts that God is "busy putting all the pieces together." Everything has a reason, and that includes the seemingly trivial as well as the obviously tragic.  The life of emunah calls us to live as toshavim (תוֹשָׁבִים) - sojourners - who are put at a "distance" from the world of appearances. Faith leads to a form of divine "homesickness," a cry of protest over the state of this world and its evils, and a gnawing hunger for love and truth to prevail in the world. By itself, emunah would die of intolerable heartache were it not for the gift of God's comfort. Indeed, the Scriptures describe God as Av Ha-Rachamim (the Father of mercies) and the God of all comfort:
 

בָּרוּךְ הוּא הָאֱלהִים אֲבִי אֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ
אֲבִי הָרַחֲמִים וֵאלהֵי כָל־נֶחָמָה

ba·rukh  hu  ha·E·lo·him  A·vi  A·do·nei·nu  Ye·shu·a  ha·ma·shi·ach,
A·vi  ha·ra·cha·mim  ve·lo·hei  khol  ne·cha·mah
 

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Mashiach,
the Father of mercies and God of all comfort" (2 Cor. 1:3)
 


Hebrew Study Card

The blessing continues: "who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Cor. 1:4). Note that Paul links our present suffering (πάθος, pathos) with a divinely imparted comfort (παράκλησις, "paraklesis"), which he regards as a state of blessedness. God Himself "calls us to His side" (from παρά + καλέω) in the midst of our afflictions and pain.... The Greek text reads, ὁ παρακαλῶν ἡμᾶς ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ θλίψει ἡμῶν, and might be better rendered as, "The one calling to us [to His side] in all our tribulations" (2 Cor. 1:4). God doesn't want us to go through pain by ourselves, all alone.  He invites us to come to His side for comfort...  Yesh ohev davek me'ach: "There is a lover who sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24b).

The purpose of our afflictions is to learn to let go of what we value in the world in order to attain to a better hope. טוֹב־לִי כִי־עֻנֵּיתִי לְמַעַן אֶלְמַד חֻקֶּיךָ / "It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes" (Psalm 119:71). God calls out to us in our tribulations so that we may turn away from our illusions and seek refuge in His Presence.  Suffering is a tool that only God has the wisdom to use as a means of blessing in our lives. As A.W Tozer once wrote, "It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He's hurt him deeply," and as Charles Spurgeon likewise affirmed:
 

    Trials make more room for consolation. There is nothing that makes a man have a big heart like a great trial. I always find that little, miserable people, whose hearts are about the size of a grain of mustard-seed, never have had much to try them. I have found that those people who have no sympathy for their fellows -- who never weep for the sorrows of others -- very seldom have had any woes of their own. Great hearts can only be made by great troubles. The spade of trouble digs the reservoir of comfort deeper, and makes more room for consolation. God comes into our heart -- He finds it full -- He begins to break our comforts and to make it empty; then there is more room for grace. The humbler a man lies, the more comfort he will always have. (Spurgeon, Consolation Proportionate to Spiritual Sufferings, 1855).


There is an "eschatological" aspect to suffering for the person of faith. Present suffering will ultimately be redeemed as soul-building, but this does not mean that we should act Stoically or admonish others to suppress their heartache.  If one of us hurts, so does the rest of the body (1 Cor. 12:26). This isn't sanctimonious humbug; there's no "double talk" going on here. The most succinct verse in the New Testament on this subject is but two words: "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). Nonetheless, we can find great comfort by heeding the voice of pain as a disguised message from God.  God calls to us in all our tribulations so that we might make our refuge in Him.

We all suffer and therefore we all exhibit some degree of self-pity in our lives.  May God give us the courage to share our hearts with Him and to find abiding comfort in His Presence, chaverim. May it please the Lord to impart to us greater trust in His providential care and love - even in the midst of the challenges and heartaches of this life.
 




A Chosen Ignorance...


 

1.04.17 (Tevet 6, 5777)  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was surrounded by the atrocious evil of Nazi Germany, regarded stupidity as more dangerous than outright evil, since stupidity is a type of irrationality, a chosen ignorance of what is real and true. Against such willed ignorance we are often defenseless, since any reasoning that appeals to transcendental moral truth finds no traction, carries no weight, and has no effect. The devil, then, seeks first of all to stupefy people, that is, to flatter and persuade them that there is no need for them to engage in serious thinking or to humbly question their assumptions... As William James observed: "A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." The antidote to unthinkingly accepting the biases and inculcated prejudices of the world is to be awakened to the reality of God: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; but fools despise wisdom and correction" (Prov. 1:7).
 

יִרְאַת יְהוָה רֵאשִׁית דָּעַת
חָכְמָה וּמוּסָר אֱוִילִים בָּזוּ

yir·at · Adonai · rei·shit · da·at
chokh·mah · u'mu·sar · e·vi·lim · ba·zu
 

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
but fools despise wisdom and correction."
(Prov. 1:7)



The ground of all right thinking about reality is "wonder," or the sense that life itself is something mysteriously beautiful, amazing, and therefore inherently sacred. This is sometimes called yirat Adonai (יִרְאַת יְהוָה), "the fear of the LORD" that leads to wisdom. Right thinking therefore begins with consciousness of the good (הַכָּרַת טוֹבָה), that is, with an awareness that life itself a gift, a mystery, and a hallowed question... We seek our origin, our essence, and our purpose -- and in our seeking we seek the LORD. We long for deliverance from what keeps us from healing, from love, from real hope. And as we seek, the wonder of the LORD God never ends. As Yeshua said, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Matt. 7:7).
 




Good Eye of Faith...


 

1.04.17 (Tevet 6, 5777)  Among other things, the story of Joseph reveals how God's hidden hand moves for good in our lives. Despite the terrible betrayal of the pit, and the unjust suffering of the prison house, there was light, exaltation, and joy to come forth. God knows how to take our emptiness to yield "storehouses in Egypt..." As Joseph later told his brothers, "you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Gen. 50:20). Resist the temptation to judge by mere appearances. Forbid your sorrow to blind the eyes of faith.  Do not unjustly judge God's purposes or try to understand His ways; accept that He works all things together (συνεργέω) for good -- making even the very wrath of man to praise Him...

Faith "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" for purposes that are good (1 Cor. 7:31). It affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life (chayei sha'ah) is a deeper reality (chayei olam) that is ultimately real, abiding, and ultimately designed for God's redemptive love to be fully expressed. In this world we must "see through" a mirror (i.e., indirectly) to begin to see the dawn of our eternal home; but one day we will behold God panim el panim (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), "face to face" (1 Cor. 13:12). In the meantime, faith beholds the invisible light, the truth of God's 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).
 

    "Faith in divine providence is the faith that nothing can prevent us from fulfilling the meaning of our existence. Providence does not mean a divine plan by which everything is predetermined, as in an efficient machine. Rather, providence means that there is a creative and saving possibility implied in every situation, which cannot be destroyed by any event. Providence means that the demonic and destructive forces within ourselves and our world can never have an unbreakable grasp upon us, and that the bind which connects us with the fulfilling love can never be disrupted." - Paul Tillich


For more on this important topic, see "Joseph and the Good Eye."

Chanukah 5777

Chanukah Sameach!

 




Prophecy and Providence...


 

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

1.04.17 (Tevet 6, 5777)  Though Jacob's son Joseph was given great prophetic wisdom to interpret Pharaoh's dreams and to serve as Egypt's regent, his foresight did not prevent the famine from coming in the first place, and the testing that came was part of God's hidden plan. The role of the true prophet is to bear witness to God's truth and to shepherd God's people through the unfolding vision. Joseph could not control the outcome, though he worked within the context of revelation to bring about deliverance. In both the "fat times and the lean" we look to God for comfort and strength: We "show up" every day to ready ourselves for what is coming, even if we currently find ourselves in darkness. We refuse fear because we trust that the LORD our God is guiding our way...

The term hashgachah pratit (הַשְׁגָּחָה פְּרָטִית) refers to God's personal supervision of our lives (hashgachah means "supervision," and pratit means "individual" or "particular"). Since He is the Master of the Universe, God's supervision and providence reaches to the smallest of details of creation - from subatomic particles to the great motions of the cosmos. God not only calls each star by its own name (Psalm 147:4), but knows each particular wildflower and sparrow (Matt. 6:28-30, 10:29). Each person created in the likeness of God is also under the personal supervision of God, and even the hairs on your head are all numbered (Matt. 10:30). The God of Israel is also called אלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר / Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol-basar: "The God of the spirits of all flesh" (Num. 16:22), and that means that he has providential purposes for every human being brought into this world (John 1:4).

 




The Revelation of Joseph...


 

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

1.03.17 (Tevet 5, 5777)  According to midrash (i.e., ancient Jewish commentary), just before Joseph revealed his true identity he turned to his brothers and said, "You told me that your brother Joseph died. Are you sure?" "Yes, we are; he's dead," the brothers replied.  Joseph then became angry and said, "How can you lie? You sold him as a slave. I bought him myself and can call him right now." Joseph then called out, "Joseph, son of Jacob, come here right now to speak to your brothers." Terrified, the brothers turned to see if Joseph was coming....

When he overheard his brothers contritely preparing to meet their brother and to humbly ask for his forgiveness, Joseph then looked at them and said in a loud voice: "Who are you looking for? אֲנִי יוֹסֵף הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי - I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?" (Notice that Joseph revealed himself to his brothers using Hebrew speech as the token of his identity.) When he saw his brothers draw back in fear at his shocking disclosure, Joseph reassured them by saying, ge'shu na elai - "Please come near to me; come and see..."

On a p'shat level (i.e., literal sense), when Joseph revealed his identity he was asking his brothers if his father Jacob was still physically alive (ani Yosef - ha'od avi chai: "I am Joseph; is my father still alive?"). This is puzzling, since in earlier encounters the brothers attested that Jacob was very much alive... On a sod level (i.e., in a mysterious sense), since Joseph is a picture of Yeshua (Mashiach ben Yosef), the question can be phrased, "I am Yeshua - is My father alive?," that is, do you now understand the righteousness of God the Father in raising me from the dead and promoting me to His right hand? Yeshua therefore evokes the confession of faith from the beloved Jewish people: "I am your brother Yeshua: do you now understand that My Father is alive?"

Note:  For more on this fascinating topic, see "The Disguised Egyptian." Also consider the Purim pages and the relationship between "hiding" and "revealing" in our lives.
 




A Providential Passion...


 

1.03.17 (Tevet 5, 5777)  "The LORD will perfect that which concerns me: your love, O LORD, endures for ever: forsake not the works of your own hands" (Psalm 138:8). Here is the confession that all that I am or ever hope to be comes entirely from God, and therefore we can take heart. The LORD will finish the work he has begun in you: "Fear thou not, for I AM with you; be not dismayed, for I AM thy God; I will help you; yea, I will strengthen you, yea, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness" (Isa. 40:10). Understand that the LORD's purposes are sure and his promises will invincibly be fulfilled, "for his lovingkindness is infinite" (כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּו). God will never forsake you nor abandon the work of his hands, but will providentially preserve his handiwork and consummate his vision of love (John 17:22; Eph. 1:10). Amen, "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion for the Day of Yeshua the Messiah" (יוֹם יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ, Phil. 1:6). "Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only wise God our Savior (μόνῳ σοφῷ θεῷ σωτῆρι ἡμῶν), be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen" (Jude 1:24-25).
 

יְהוָה יִגְמר בַּעֲדִי
יְהוָה חַסְדְּךָ לְעוֹלָם
מַעֲשֵׂי יָדֶיךָ אַל־תֶּרֶף

Adonai · yig·mor · ba'adi
Adonai · chas·de·kha · le'olam
ma'a·sei · ya·de·kha · al-te·ref
 

"The LORD will perfect that which concerns me:
Your love, O LORD, endures forever:
forsake not the works of thine own hands"
(Psalm 138:8)


 


From our Torah portion this week we read: "God sent me before you to preserve you..."  (Gen. 45:7). The mercy of God goes ahead of you to prepare a place for you (John 14:2). We may not know the details of our journey, but the "how" and the "way" is promised to us, as is our ultimate destination – the heavenly place of God, the Presence of our Beloved...
 




The Kingdom of Love...


 

1.03.17 (Tevet 5, 5777)  While it is vital to understand and appreciate the Jewish roots from which the gospel message sprang up and was delivered to us (Gal. 4:4-5; John 4:22; Rom. 3:1-2; 9:1-5), we must be careful not to lose sight of the central message itself as we endeavor to do so! The Jewish Scriptures – the Torah of Moses, the sacred writings, and the witness of the Hebrew prophets -- were intended to be the means to the greater end of the revelation of God in Yeshua, the promised Seed of Abraham and Jewish Messiah (Luke 24:25-27; 24:44; John 5:46; Heb. 1:1-2, Rom. 10:4). And just as it is an exegetical and logical error to read the New Testament without first understanding its Jewish theological context given in the Torah, so it is an exegetical error to read the Torah without bearing in mind the ultimate goal and point of the redemption of God, namely, that deliverance and healing from the lethal disease of spiritual death was to secured for all nations, tongues, and tribes, as Abraham was promised: וְהָיִיתָ לְאַב הֲמוֹן גּוֹיִם – "You shall be a father to a multitude of nations" (Gen. 17:4). We are warned not to be "arrogant toward the (original) branches; since it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you" (Rom. 11:18), and yet we must humbly affirm the truth that God's love and mission is greater than tribal interests, and that the LORD God of Israel is the Savior and Healer of the whole world.
 

פְּנוּ־אֵלַי וְהִוָּשְׁעוּ כָּל־אַפְסֵי־אָרֶץ
כִּי אֲנִי־אֵל וְאֵין עוֹד

pe·nu  e·lai  vi·hiv·va·shu  kol  af·sei  a·retz
ki  a·ni  El  ve·ein  od
 

"Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other
."
(Isa. 45:22)

 




The Beauty of Truth...


 

1.02.17 (Tevet 4, 5777)  It has been said that the Greek mindset regards what is beautiful as what is good, whereas the Hebraic mindset regards what is good as what is beautiful.  The difference is one of orientation.  Doing our duty before God, in other words, is what is truly beautiful, not merely appreciating the appearance of symmetry, order, and so on.  This explains why moral discipline (i.e., musar, מוּסָר) is so prominent in Hebrew wisdom literature. True beauty cannot exist apart from moral truth.

Some of the Jewish sages have said that "the seal of God is truth," since the final letters of the three words that conclude the account of creation: בָּרָא אֱלהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת / bara Elohim la'asot: "God created to do" (Gen. 2:3) -- spell the word for truth (i.e., emet, אֱמֶת):


In other words, God created reality "to do" (לַעֲשׂוֹת), which means that it is our responsibility, as God's creatures, to participate in the "doing" of His work. Truth is about doing, not being; God's Name is the Loving One, which is means that works of love are essential to his nature.

Note that the "Seal of God" (i.e., truth) is not just a matter of sincerity. It is rather a matter of being true in the sense that you are living it, you are "being with it," you are part of it. Truth is a passion that informs all of the decisions you make in your life. You therefore embody the truth and follow it in all your endeavors. In this sense Yeshua the Messiah is the Truth, since in Him there was no mismatch between who He is and what He says. He is utterly trustworthy. His actions and speech are one and are entirely reliable. Yeshua is the "Seal of God," the one who authoritatively names of all creation, and His followers likewise should evidence this in their lives. (For more, click here.)
 




Love and "True" Truth...


 

1.02.17 (Tevet 4, 5777)  Though we love and honor truth, we must be careful not to use it as a weapon to judge or wound others...  If God has given you insight and understanding, you will be held to account for how you use this gift (James 3:1; Luke 12:48). If you attempt to "lord your knowledge" over others, however, being "puffed up" in your conceits, then be assured you will be humbled in the end (1 Cor. 3:18). The LORD God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6;1 Cor. 8:1). Truth is the means to the greater end of love, since love heals untruth and embraces the deeper meaning of what is real.  Truth devoid of compassion is untruth, even if were to account for all the facts. However, no "fact" can be known apart from a context, and for the believer in God's healing love, that context is always known in hope (1 Cor. 13:7). Faith is the primary category, and faith is expressed in the anticipation of the unseen good ("eschatological" truth) that is conditioned and known by God's blessing and love. As it is written: "For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away" (1 Cor. 13:9-10).

None of this is to remotely suggest that truth is unimportant for us, of course, since we are "epistemologically" responsible to know and love the truth, just as Yeshua is the King of Truth, the "Great Amen" of Reality (Rev. 3:14; 2 Cor. 1:20). The LORD is the God of Truth (Deut. 32:4). We are to seek the truth of God and walk in the divine light (John 8:32; Isa. 2:5). However, a common tactic of the evil one is to divide what God intends to bring together, and therefore it is a shame that the pride of man creates enmity and distance for the sake of petty (and often specious) differences in faith. I realize it is not easy to bear witness to your passionate convictions and yet be tolerant of others' misconceptions, false theologies, and so on, and yet what choice do we have as followers of the LORD?  Loving others is not optional for us as children of God... When we humble ourselves in God's sight, he will lift us up so that can then testify of his love and grace within our own lives. The focus must always be directed away from the ego to that of the LORD and his beauty. Truth in our hearts serves the end of worship – it enshrines God's glory within us, enabling us to share the blessing of his compassion to others. Truth is all-powerful when it is expressed "truthfully," but when it is expressed untruthfully it is empty of any real significance.

True words and actions performed in an unloving or spiteful manner are morally blameworthy, and are therefore "untruth" before the bar of heaven... Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945) tells the story about how a teacher once humiliated one of her students by standing him up in front of the class to ask whether his father -- notoriously known as the town drunk -- had been out drinking the night before.  The little boy knew the accusation was true but bravely announced "No." When the teacher mockingly asked him again, pressing him for "the truth," the boy was adamant: "NO!" Bonhoeffer's comment was that this little boy spoke more truth by his lie than if he had merely reported the "facts" to the class -- and thereby betrayed the dignity of his father... The truth is not some objective state of affairs that can be reported dispassionately. Indeed, without love as its context, such "truth" becomes a lie. Satan keeps his own books.
 




Sacralizing our Days...


 

1.02.17 (Tevet 4, 5777)  "Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). Each soul is given a finite amount of time in this world, and therefore Moses asked God to teach us how to live in light of our ultimate end... For this we need wisdom, which primarily consists of knowledge of the holy (דַעַת קְדשִׁים) and the experience of the awe of the LORD (יִרְאַת יְהוָה, Prov. 9:10). Note then the connection between learning to "number our days" and apprehending the sacredness of life. As we learn to esteem our days, so we discover wisdom for our sojourn to eternity. Reflecting on the brevity of life awakens us to consciously reflect upon the course of our lives and to distill the ultimate concerns of our hearts. After Adam sinned in the Garden, he vainly tried to hide himself until he heard the Voice of God calling out: אַיֶּכָּה - ayeka? – "Where are you?" That is the question for each soul as we learn to discern the direction of our lives. Where are you today, and where are going? Our days are numbered, friend, and it is of utmost importance to apply our hearts unto wisdom while we still have the time and strength to do so. "No one knows the day or hour..."  May God help us to learn how to make our days count for eternity, to have a weight of glory that will shine in the world to come. Amen.
 

לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע
 וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה

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

"Teach us to number our days
 that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."
(Psalm 90:12)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Notwithstanding the frailty and brevity of our days, may it please God to shine the power of His radiance upon us and to establish our works for His praise: "May the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands" (Psalm 90:17). May the LORD our God teach us to "number our days" so that we may obtain levav chokhmah (לְבַב חָכְמָה) - a heart of wisdom to live according to His will (James 1:5). And above all else, may the "God of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of Glory (אֲבִי הַכָּבוֹד), impart to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the "eyes of your hearts" (ὀφθαλμοὺς τῆς καρδίας) enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you" (Eph. 1:17-18). May you be strong, resolute, and fully focused on our LORD, chaverim. Amen.
 




The Revelation of Joseph...


 

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

1.01.17 (Tevet 3, 5777)  In our Torah portion this week, Benjamin stood before Joseph accused of the theft of a chalice, while Judah "drew near" (vayigash) and vicariously offered to bear the penalty for his brother, pleading with Joseph to spare his father the loss of yet another son. Joseph was so moved by Judah's act of mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice) that he decided the time had finally come for him to reveal his identity to his brothers. After clearing the room, he began speaking in Hebrew and said, אֲנִי יוֹסֵף הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי, "I am Joseph, is my father still alive?" When the brothers drew back in shock and dismay, Joseph said, "Draw near to me, please" (from the same verb nagash) and then explained how God providentially brought him to Egypt to save the family's life....

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



Rosh Chodesh Tevet...

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

 



 

December 2016 Site Updates
 


My Lord and My God...


 

12.30.16 (Kislev 30, 5777)  God's power is present in all things, in every world, every soul. Yeshua is the Source of all life in the universe: כָּל־הַמַּעֲשִׂים נִהְיוּ עַל־יָדוֹ / "All things were made by Him (John 1:3). God is Light, and Yeshua reveals the Light of God (John 8:12). The "Word made flesh" is the "image of the invisible God" and the "radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint (χαρακτήρ, 'character') of his nature" (Col. 1:15). All of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3): "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 begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Mashiach... He is the Center of Creation - it's beginning and end. As it says: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the 'A' and the 'Z,' the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). Indeed, Yeshua is the "King of kings of kings" (מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים), the LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest celestial glory to the shame of bearing our sin and guilt upon a cross... All Reality centers upon Him.
 

יְהוָה אֲדנֵינוּ מָה־אַדִּיר שִׁמְךָ בְּכָל־הָאָרֶץ
אֲשֶׁר תְּנָה הוֹדְךָ עַל־הַשָּׁמָיִם

Adonai · a·do·nei·nu · mah · ad·dir · shim·kha · be·khol · ha·a·retz
a·sher · te·nah · ho·de·kha · al · ha·sha·ma·yim
 

"O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your Name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens."
(Psalm 8:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 

God's abiding provision for our need is revealed in the "face of Messiah" (בִּפְנֵי הַמָּשִׁיחַ), not in the fading glory of the former covenant (2 Cor 3:4-18). Unlike Moses - who veiled his face to hide the fact that the glory of the former covenant of Sinai was indeed fading away - "we all, with unveiled face, reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. This comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:12-4:1). Each of us, like Moses, must ascend the mountain of Zion to behold the Glory of God: "And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Yeshua only" (Matt. 17:8). "The face of Yeshua the Messiah" is therefore the radiance and glory of God Himself.

 

"Stand up and bless the LORD your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be His glorious Name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise" (Neh. 9:5; Psalm 138:2; Phil. 2:9-11; Isa. 45:23). We have to stand for the truth, because the truth is what sets us free (John 8:32). As Yeshua said, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world -- to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37). The way of life is found in Yeshua: "Whoever has the Son has the life (הַחַיִּים); whoever does not have the Son does not have the life" (1 John 5:12).

Therefore, as Yeshua said: "Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you... As you have the light, believe in the light. Then the light will be within you, and shining through your lives. You'll be children of light (בְּנֵי הָאוֹר). I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness" (John 12:35-6, 46).
 




The Miketz Prophecies...


 

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

12.30.16 (Kislev 30, 5777)  Our Torah portion this week is "Miketz" (מקץ), a word that means "at the end," and therefore it points to the prophetic future (i.e., the "end of days" or acharit ha-yamim). Just as Joseph was a "dreamer" who was betrayed by his brothers but was promoted to a place of glory by the hidden hand of God, so Yeshua was betrayed by his people yet was exalted over all the nations (מֶלֶךְ הַגּוֹיִם). And just as Joseph later disguised himself as a "stranger" and an "Egyptian" to his brothers but was finally revealed to be their savior, so will the Jewish people eventually come to see that Yeshua is the true Savior of Israel. Then will come true the hope of Rav Sha'ul (the Apostle Paul) who wrote, "And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, 'There shall come out of Zion the Redeemer (גּוֹאֵל) who shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob'" (Rom. 11:26).

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




Chanukah and Prophecy...


 

12.30.16 (Kislev 30, 5777)  Many Bible scholars say that the prophet Daniel (6th Century BC) foresaw the rise of Alexander the Great centuries beforehand in the vision of a "male goat running from the west" that had a conspicuous horn between its eyes (see Dan. 8:1-12; 21-22). This goat destroyed the power of the kings of Media and Persia (symbolized by two horns on a ram, Dan. 8:20). Though the "goat" (Alexander) became exceedingly great, eventually its horn was "broken into four [kingdoms]," and out of these four horns arose a "little horn" (i.e., the Seleucid king Antiochus "Epiphanes," c. 175-163 BC) who had authority over "the glorious land" (i.e., Israel). This "little horn" (קֶרֶן מִצְּעִירָה) greatly magnified itself, cast down some of the stars (i.e., righteous souls), took away the sacrifices, and defiled the very Sanctuary in Jerusalem. As we will see, Chanukah ultimately is a prophetic message regarding the End of Days and the victory of our Messiah...

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

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

 

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

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




Teshuvah's Like-for-Like...


 

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

12.30.16 (Kislev 30, 5777)  It is said that genuine teshuvah (repentance) is evident when a person is confronted with the same temptation to which he previously succumbed, but successfully withstands the test and resists.  Joseph's brothers demonstrated teshuvah when they refused to abandon their father's favorite son to the "pit" of an Egyptian prison cell (Gen. 44:16-17). Once the brothers offered to suffer the same fate as falsely accused Benjamin, Joseph knew they had repented and were no longer the same people who had betrayed him when he was a young man...

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




A Great Miracle Happened...


 

[ Tomorrow evening at sunset begins Zot Chanunkah, the conclusion of Chanukah... ]

12.30.16 (Kislev 30, 5777)  Each side of a dreidel (a four-sided spinning top used for Chanukah) has a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet: Nun (נ), Gimmel (ג), Hey (ה), and Shin (שׁ), which together form the acronym, Nes Gadol Hayah Sham (נֵס גָדוֹל הָיָה שָׁם) – "a great miracle happened there," referring to the victory of the Macabees. In Israel, however, the letter Shin is replaced with the letter Pey (פּ) to form the acronym, Nes Gadol Hayah Poh (נֵס גָדוֹל הָיָה פּה), meaning "a great miracle happened here," referring to Temple and the land of Israel.  Because Chanukah represents Yeshua, the true Light of the World, we likewise can say: Nes Gadol Hayah Poh, "a great miracle happened here," referring to the Temple of our hearts, when the Light of the LORD overcame our darkness and gave us everlasting hope and consolation...

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




Source of Light...


 

12.29.16 (Kislev 29, 5777)  "God is Light; in Him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). "I AM come a light into the world, that whoever believes in me should not abide in darkness" (John 12:46). The ultimate message of Chanukah is eschatological and full of hope. This world is passing away and the Kingdom of Heaven will one day be established upon the earth. We live in light of this blessed hope (Titus 2:11-13). The world's rulers are "on notice" from God Almighty: their days are numbered and they will surely face the judgment of the LORD God of Israel (Psalm 2). We must stand against evil by refusing to conform to the world around us (Eph. 6:11-18). Now is the time. "Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). Followers of Yeshua are part of His Dwelling - extensions of His Presence in this dark world - and during this season may we remember the call to rededicate our lives to Him! May your light shine!

More Chanukah Pictures (click for larger):
 
Chanukah 5777 Collage

Left-to-right (top): 1. Window decorations; 2. Vadim and Irina; 3. Latkes with apple sauce;
4. John with his sons; 5. Yasha lights the menorah.
(bottom): 1. Judah lights the menorah; 2. Peter lights the menorah; 3. Third Day of Chanukah;
4. Josiah and Judah; 5. Lit menorah at the window

 




New Year Assumptions...


 

12.28.16 (Kislev 28, 5777)  Often we don't realize what is not being said because of what is being said. In other words, hidden or unspoken assumptions are always at work in communication, though we rarely take the time to examine these assumptions for ourselves.  Advertisers, politicians, and others who wish to control your thinking implicitly understand this and therefore regularly employ various techniques to distract you from examining their assumptions. They understand that the louder (or more frequently or more threateningly) something is said, the less likely you will question its truth status or engage in reasonable thinking of your own.... In other words, "truth" for such pragmatists is little more than persuasion. Get the crowd to believe you and you've got the "truth."

For example, in most countries of the world, "New Year's Day" is usually celebrated on January 1st, though this date comes from the arbitrary decree of the consuls of ancient (and pagan) Rome -- certainly not from anything taught in the Torah and the Hebrew Scriptures. According to Torah, however, there are two mirroring "New Years" observed during the year. The first occurs two weeks before Passover (Nisan 1) and the second occurs ten days before Yom Kippur (Tishri 1). The first is called Rosh Chodashim (see Exod. 12:2), which commemorates the month of the redemption of the Jewish people (i.e., the month Yeshua was sacrificed for our sins), whereas the second is called Yom Teru'ah that is associated with the "Feast of Ingathering" at the "end of the year" (Exod. 23:16, 34:22). Later Yom Terua'h became known as Rosh Hashanah ("the head of the year") which began a ten-day "trial" of humanity climaxing on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

The two "new years" of the Jewish calendar mirror each other and reveal the two advents of Messiah. For more on the secular New Year and its relationship to the calendar of Torah, see the page, "The Gregorian Calendar and Pagan Assumptions."
 




Turning to See...

Photography by John J Parsons
 

[ The holiday of Chanukah runs from Dec. 24 through Jan. 1st... Happy Chanukah! ]

12.27.16 (Kislev 27, 5776)  During the holiday of Chanukah we kindle lights, but we do not to use these lights for profane purposes: We are simply to behold them, to see something amazing, and to be touched by the light... There is no place where God is not present, and indeed the name YHVH (יהוה) means "Presence" (הָיָה וְהוֶה וְיָבוֹא). God showed himself in the midst of a common thornbush as a fire that does not burn. Moses "turned aside" to see the bush, which means he looked past the layer of the common, the profane, and the ordinary, to see the uncommon, the sacred, and the extraordinary. We light our menorah; we see the flames rise upward - like thorns on a thornbush - and we may catch a glimpse of God's radiance, if we "turn aside" to see... When we slow down, when we make room within our hearts for God - a sanctuary within - we will often see what is commonly overlooked.

When we look at something, we often do not see it because we are looking somewhere else – looking past the present moment by reliving the past or by anticipating the future. This is why we must learn to sanctify the moments of our lives by offering blessings and prayers, observing the mo'edim (holidays), and so on, because doing so helps us "pause" to see what is right before us, right now...

Some Chanukah Pictures (click for larger):
 
Chanukah 5777 Collage

Left-to-right (top): 1. Window decoration; 2. Chocolate gelt jar; 3. Chanukah cookies we made;
4. Emanuel's first Chanukah; 5. Judah lights the menorah.
(bottom): 1. Josiah lights the menorah; 2. Judah, Josiah, Emanuel; 3. Olga with her sons;
4. John holds Emanuel David; 5. colors and textures of the season


 


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

And should the darkness attempt to enshroud your way, we pray for God's light to be rekindled within your soul.. Keep faith that the light still shines and that despair will not be your final end. Your mourning will find its comfort, your tears will be wiped away, and your grief will find its solace... May God transform your heartache into the holy resolve to know the truth of His great love. Amen.
 




Inner Light of Love...

Photography by John J Parsons
 

12.27.16 (Kislev 27, 5776)  "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, such is the one who loves me. And the one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him" (John 14:21). Note that the Greek word translated "manifest" means to "shine inside" (i.e., ἐμφανίζω, from ἐν, "in" and φαίνω, "shine"), indicating that the revelation would be inward light of the Presence of Messiah himself (Χριστὸς ἐν ὑμῖν, ἡ ἐλπὶς τῆς δόξης, Col. 1:27). As we receive God's love, as we embrace it as our own, the love of Messiah will become inwardly visible to you. This comes from a place of surrender and acceptance.  As Paul Tillich said, "Sometimes in a moment of weakness light breaks into darkness, and it is as though a voice says, 'You are accepted; you are accepted... Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.' If that happens to you, then you experience grace, and everything will be transformed." Ultimately Chanukah is about salvation and transformation - beauty from ashes - and the love of God...
 




Yom Kippur and Christmas...


 

12.27.16 (Kislev 27, 5776)  If the priest Zechariah was performing the Yom Kippur avodah when he was visited by the angel Gabriel (as seems to be the case given the context, see Luke 1:8-23), and his wife Elizabeth conceived about that time (see Luke 1:24, that is, sometime in the middle of the month of Tishri), and her cousin Mary was then told of the incarnation six months later, during Passover season (Luke 1:26, 36), then the birth of Yeshua would have been sometime during the middle of the month of Tevet, which is indeed close to the traditional December 25th date observed by the majority of Christians...

After all, as you read the the prophetic announcement of the birth of John given in Luke, it certainly seems that Zechariah was performing the Yom Kippur ritual at the Temple, offering incense before the parochet before he entered the sacred chamber of the Holy of Holies. Indeed, one implication of this interpretation is that the Lamb of God (שׂה הָאֱלהִים) was conceived during Passover, which seems appropriate as the time of the Incarnation...

ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν -- "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14) -- which of course is the essence of the gospel message. As it is written concerning the birth of Messiah: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6).

Of course the exact date of Yeshua's birth is existentially irrelevant, apart from the fact that he indeed was born into this world as our Savior, and indeed, the New Testament stresses the significance of his death more than his birth (1 Cor. 2:2; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Nevertheless, we use the "good eye" to regard our Christian friends who honor this time to remember the birth of Yeshua, even if we have convictions that may lead us to think Messiah was born during Sukkot. For some hopefully peaceful discussion about the birth date of the Messiah Yeshua, see the article, "Christmas: Was Jesus really born on December 25th?"

Note:  The point of this entry was to explore the traditional date as a possibility, not to be dogmatic and intolerant. You certainly do not have to agree with the traditional date, though if you disagree, then you should at least address the pertinent question of what Zechariah was doing in his service when the prophecy of the birth of John was made. Above all, follow your own convictions and walk in peace toward all people (Heb. 12:14). Shalom.
 




Parashat Miketz - מקץ

Tzofnat Pane'ach -
 

[ The eight days of Chanukah run from Sat. Dec. 24th (i.e., Kislev 25) through Sun. Jan. 1st this year. The weekly Torah reading is not suspended for Chanukah (as it is for Passover and Sukkot), though additional Torah readings are read for each of the eight days of the holiday... ]

12.26.16  (Kislev 26, 5777)  In our Torah portion for Chanukah week, we will read how Joseph successfully interpreted Pharaoh's dreams and rose to power in Egypt. Because of a famine in the land of Canaan, however, his brothers came to Egypt in search of food. A disguised Joseph then tested his brothers to see whether they were the same people who had callously sold him into slavery, or whether they had undergone teshuvah (repentance).

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

Note:  This year the eight days of Chanukah began on Sunday, December 24th at sundown (1st candle) and will run through the daylight hours of Monday, January 1st. The tradition is that on the first night of Chanukah one flame is lit, on the second night two, and so on until the eighth night when eight flames are lit. In this way we remember the 'growth' of the miracle. We also read a small section of Torah for each of the days of Chanukah. See the Parashat hashavu'ah page for more information.

 




Receiving the Light...



 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah runs from Dec. 24th through Jan. 1st this year... ]

12.24.16  (Kislev 24, 5777)  The essence of Chanukah is simply to receive the light, to bear witness of the radiance of God's victory. We celebrate the work of God, his salvation (יְשׁוּעָה), and the triumph of his love. Therefore its message is "wake up, open your eyes, and believe" the good news: darkness and despair will not prevail; your mourning will find comfort, your grief its solace. Your heart's deepest longing shines brightly, even now, if you will but believe... With God's help, fight the darkness of fear...
 

קוּמִי אוֹרִי כִּי בָא אוֹרֵךְ
 וּכְבוֹד יְהוָה עָלַיִךְ זָרָח

ku·mi  o·ri  ki  va  or·rekh
ukh·vod  Adonai  a·la·yikh  za·rach
 

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



Hebrew Study Card
 


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

FROM OUR FAMILY TO YOU --  SHABBAT SHALOM, CHAG CHANUKAH SAME'ACH, and a JOYFUL CHRISTMAS SEASON TO YOU ALL!!!  Amen!
 




Unto us a Child is Born...


 

12.24.16  (Kislev 24, 5777)  Regarding the birth of Messiah it is written in our Scriptures: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called: the Wonderful Counselor (פֶּלֶא יוֹעֵץ), the Mighty God (אֵל גִּבּוֹר), the Father of Eternity (אֲבִיעַד), the Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6). "Unto us a child is born" - this is the first advent - when the Messiah would be rejected, suffer, and die for our sins; and "unto us a son is given" - this is the second advent - when the Messiah will reign as David's greater regent in the kingdom promised to Zion.
 

כִּי־יֶלֶד יֻלַּד־לָנוּ בֵּן נִתַּן־לָנוּ
וַתְּהִי הַמִּשְׂרָה עַל־שִׁכְמוֹ
וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ פֶּלֶא יוֹעֵץ
אֵל גִּבּוֹר אֲבִיעַד שַׂר־שָׁלוֹם

ki · ye·led · yu·lad · la·nu, · ben · nit·tan · la·nu
va·te·hi · ham·mis·rah · al · shikh·mo
va·yi·kra · she·mo · pe·le · yo·etz
El · gib·bor,  a·vi · ad,  sar · shalom
 

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
 and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
 and his name shall be called: the Wonderful Counselor,
the Mighty God, the Father of Eternity, the Prince of Peace."
(Isa. 9:6)

Shiviti

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Notice that the four terms used to describe this coming King clearly transcend the historical figure of any earthly king of Israel. For example, the word "pele" in pele yo'etz (wonderful counselor) is used in Judges 13:18 regarding the name of the Angel of the LORD (who in verse 22 is identified as God). El Gibbor (Mighty God) is clearly a title for the Holy One of Israel (Isa. 10:20-21; Psalm 24:8). Avi'ad (Father of Eternity) refers to God as Avinu Malkenu (see Isaiah 63:16, 1 Chron. 29:10; Psalm 68:5; Mal. 2:10). And as for Sar Shalom (Prince of Peace), both the Talmud and Scripture refer to "the Name of God as Peace" (Shab. 10b, Judges 6:24). It is clear, therefore, that these terms are designations for the LORD God of Israel and not merely that of a human being (for more on this, see this page).

Many Christians focus on Isaiah 9:6 and rightly link it to the nativity account of the gospels, but it is important to understand that the promise is also linked to the eschatological future: "Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this" (Isa. 9:7; Luke 1:32-33). Notice that the phrase "his rule will be increased" (לְםַרְבֵּה הַמִּשְׂרָה) is spelled using a closed Mem (ם) instead of the usual open Mem (מ), which suggests that the authority of the One to whom the rule will be given is final and complete. The "child that was born" will be soon be revealed as "the Son that is given" to Israel. One day soon Yeshua will return to Zion (i.e., Jerusalem) to establish His kingdom and fulfill God's promises to Israel. That day and hour are close... Come quickly, LORD!
 




Humanism and Darkness...


 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah begins sundown on Saturday, Dec. 24th this year... ]

12.24.16  (Kislev 24, 5777)  Regarding the verse, "And the earth was without form and void (תהוּ וָבהוּ), and darkness was upon the surface of the deep" (Gen. 1:2), the midrash comments: "Darkness – these are the Greeks who darkened the eyes of the Jewish nation with their evil decrees." The utter darkness of Hellenistic thought (i.e., ancient Greek "universalism") came disguised as an angel of light, as "enlightened" thinking, but whenever such humanism usurps the authority of divine revelation, the result is exile and darkness. Indeed, the very worst kind of exile is to be unaware that you are in exile, to be so blinded that you do not see that you do not see... As Yeshua said, "If the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Matt. 6:23); and "be careful lest the light in you be darkness" (Luke 11:35). In the end, the world and its blind lusts will pass away, for it is "tohu" (תּהוּ) - confusion and unreality - but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).
 




Irrational Humanism...


 

12.23.16  (Kislev 23, 5777)  Skeptics often object to the existence of God because there appears to be so much gratuitous evil in the universe. They maintain that the three propositions: 1) God is all-loving; 2) God is all-powerful; and 3) evil exists; are semantically incompatible and therefore logically inconsistent. You can choose any two of the three propositions to believe, they pontificate, though you cannot consistently believe all three without becoming irrational. To avoid a lot of boring discussion about the unsoundness of this old argument, suffice it to say that it has long been shown that there is no logical contradiction by affirming all three propositions, and therefore the so-called "problem of evil" is not a deal-breaker for a rational person of faith. Because of this, the skeptic will then try a different approach by saying that while the existence of evil may not prove there is no Supreme Being, it nevertheless makes it "improbable" that such a being exists, and therefore the rational person will not believe in God as all-loving, all-powerful, etc.  However, I want to point to a linguistic dilemma the skeptic encounters by arguing this way, since it is impossible to define "evil," "good," or to make the value claim that one state of affairs is "better" than another state of affairs without appealing to transcendental standards of goodness and justice. This fact demonstrates that many skeptics are parasites and abusers of religious language, pilfering metaphysical assumptions without providing any justification of their own. They can only complain about God and evil by assuming ideas that are derive from theological concepts of truth, justice, goodness, and so on. The skeptic needs to be told to back up and clarify their terms. They should not be allowed to smuggle in appeals to transcendental values in their attempt to say there are no transcendent values.

Have you ever heard someone utter the supposed axiom, "Everything is relative"? This is an example of sloppy and even absurd thinking, since if everything is relative, then the statement "everything is relative" is relative, which of course is a contradiction in terms. Did you know that Albert Einstein's famous "Theory of Relativity" was at first going to be called the "Theory of Invariance"? That's because the theory assumes the constancy of the speed of light to interpret states of energy/matter based on unchanging "laws" of physics (i.e., the measured velocity of light is the same (invariant) regardless of any relative motion). Don't be fooled by slick talkers who make a pretense of knowledge. If everything were relative, then nothing could be known, including the idea that anything is relative to another thing.
 




The Reality of God...


 

[ I realize the following topic is a bit "philosophical," but during this time of year we may encounter people who regard faith in God as "humbug" or nonsense, and we should be equipped to give an answer for the hope we hold.  Please skip this, however, if you do not find it helpful. ]

12.23.16  (Kislev 23, 5777)  Can people really know that God exists and what God is like by means of reason? The Scriptures emphatically declare that indeed they can: "For the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even the Eternal Power and Divinity; so that people are without excuse" (Rom. 1:20). The unseen is seen - discerned by the "eye" of logical inference  - so that the phenomenal effect of the universe itself reveals intelligent design and divine agency. Moreover, since it is impossible to traverse an infinite number of causal connections to arrive at a present effect, people may rationally know that the universe itself is not eternal but has a determinate beginning as well. However, an even greater witness to the reality of God is found within the intuitions of the human heart. Intuitively we have an impression or idea of the "Supreme Being," that is, a being than which no greater can be conceived (Eccl. 3:11). Now if this idea were merely a fantasy, however, it is possible to conceive of something greater, namely the reality of the Supreme Being, and therefore, since something that exists is greater than something merely imaginary, the Supreme Being necessarily exists. This "ontological" argument turns on the question of whether the idea of existence should be regarded as a "predicate" or "quality" that can be ascribed to something, though it seems clear it can, since we regularly distinguish between the real verses the illusory, between truth and fiction, and so on. Are such everyday distinctions valid when applied to the concept of God, however? Yes of course. Those who knowingly trifle with the meaning of what the word "is" is are prevaricators who seek to undermine meaningful connections that allow us to navigate and interpret our experiences. In light of the foregoing, then, it is evident that we indeed know the universe had a beginning and that the Source of the universe is the Supreme Being who is One (there can only be one "supreme" being, after all), who is also all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, morally perfect, personal and fully conscious, entirely holy (i.e., one of a kind and unique), and so on. These superlative attributes (or "predicates") logically follow and are maximally present from the logical realization of what a "Supreme Being" must be like. For instance, a Supreme Being must logically be present (i.e., "exist") in all possible worlds, since there can be no logically possible world where there is no source or agency that does not provide the conditions for that world to exist. Likewise, a Supreme Being must be all-knowing, since any deficiency in knowledge would designate a being less than the Supreme Being, that is, the One than which no greater may be conceived...

The secular "world" has its own religious mythologies, of course. For instance, the paradigms of western science have gone through various refining transformations or "shifts" over the centuries, and today the prevailing myth is that the universe is the effect of a cosmologically unknown (though supposedly) transcendental event called the "big bang" -- "from which, and through which, and to which are all things..." If you dare to question this dogma today, or to inquire about the "first cause" of this inexplicably and primordially determinative beginning, however, contemporary agnostic cosmology is essentially silent, though its proponents often find their voice denying that a personal God is the Creator of all things. In light of this intolerance, then, the "world" offers nothing but the present moment and must despair over both the beginning and end for anything that exists – from the realm of subatomic particles to the motions of great heavenly bodies. There is no existentially relevant "telos" or goal for anything other than the sheer immediacy of the moment (i.e., "survival"), and any thought of transcendental beauty or goodness is regarded as an illusion. Nevertheless, if the universe is the effect of a power greater than itself, that power is the answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing, and the next step is to inquire about the possibility of knowing anything about this transcendental power itself.

God created us so that we could discern truth about reality. The mind functions according to intuitive logical laws because it is made in the image and likeness of God Himself... God Himself is the Source of all logic, since He created reality and structured the world to be intelligible according to its laws. As it is written: "In the beginning was the Word (i.e., ὁ λόγος - the Logic), and the λόγος was with God, and the λόγος was God... All things were made by Him (כָּל־הַמַּעֲשִׂים נִהְיוּ עַל־יָדוֹ); and without him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:1-3). The LORD created a world that exhibits order and great beauty. And since human beings were created b'tzelem Elohim (בְּצֶלֶם אֱלהִים), in the image of God, our thoughts (and the words used to formulate our thoughts) as well as our actions are likewise intended to exhibit order and beauty.  As it is written in our Scriptures: "For the fruit of light (καρπὸς τοῦ πνεύματος) is found in all that is good and right and true" - כִּי־פְרִי הָאוֹר כָּל־מַעֲשֵׂי חֶסֶד וְצֶדֶק וֶאֱמֶת (Eph. 5:9).

As a matter of perception and the interpretation of experience, it is important to remember that we do not directly see light but by means of the light; the light is the medium by which we receive revelation... The heart looks through the eye, and therefore how we choose to see is a spiritual decision: "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). When we see rightly, we behold the radiance of God shining within us, even in the midst of our everyday affairs. A grateful heart is awake to God's Presence in the little things of life, those small miracles and glories that constantly surround us.
 

כִּי־עִמְּךָ מְקוֹר חַיִּים
בְּאוֹרְךָ נִרְאֶה־אוֹר

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
  
 

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




Love's Great Humility...


 

12.23.16  (Kislev 23, 5777)  "Unless you turn (shuv) and become like children, you will never (οὐ μὴ) enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). Such is the importance of simple trust in God... Indeed Yeshua repeatedly taught us to trust God as "Abba," our Father (אַבָּא אָבִינוּ). He taught that we are warmly accepted as part of his family; that we are under his constant care; and that we live within his household as beloved children... And even though God is utterly transcendent, the Infinite One (אין סוף) and Creator of all worlds, he humbles himself to feed the birds of the air, to water lilies of the field, and to count the number of hairs on your head (Psalm 113:5-6). He is as close as your next breath; he leans upon your bosom at the table; he anticipates what you need before you ask him... The "fear of the Lord" is that you might fail knowing his great love for you -- that you will forget your true identity in lesser things. Therefore affirm the truth that you are loved with an unending and everlasting love, that you are safe, that you are surely accepted, and that nothing can ever separate you from the power of love. God your Father hears you, he knows you, and he loves you bekhol levavo (בְּכָל־לְבָבוֹ) - "with all his heart."

May we know God as our beloved Abba. "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and fellow heirs with Messiah - even if we may suffer together with him to the end that we may also be glorified together with him" (Rom. 8:15-17).
 




Substance of Hope...


 

12.23.16  (Kislev 23, 5777)  It is written that faith is the "substance" (ὑπόστασις) of hope, the conviction of unseen blessing, and "without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Heb. 11:6). Life in this world is likened to a school wherein we learn how great God is and how much we are loved, valued, and esteemed precious in His eyes. You must believe that God is your healer, that he will make the crooked things straight, and that you are his beloved child... Faith sees the end in God's unfailing love: The LORD God of Israel says: "And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them."
 

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

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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




All-Pervasive Radiance...


 

12.23.16  (Kislev 23, 5777)  Many people go through the day oblivious to the miracle of existence... If you carefully consider even the most common of things, however, such as a piece of bread, for instance, you will soon realize that it represents a series of causes leading back to transcendental power, and finally, to the Creator and Sustainer of all things. A piece of bread comes from flour, which is milled from seed grown in topsoil through an amazing synthesis of light, air, minerals, and water. However, photosynthesis is a secondary effect of more fundamental forces such as the energy of the sun, the elements of earth, water, and atmosphere, the pull of gravity, and the marvelous inner "form" or intelligence of the seed itself... The "germination" of a seed is really quite miraculous, replicating the body and energy of a plant in miniature form ("this acorn I hold in my hand contains a thousand oak trees"). My point here is simple. Life is full of mysteries, though we can suppress consciousness of its wonders by means of ingratitude for our existence. God is never silent, however, since "The heavens tell the story of the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims the work of his hands; Day after day it speaks out; night after night it reveals His greatness" (Psalm 19:1-2).
 

הַשָּׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד־אֵל
וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו מַגִּיד הָרָקִיעַ
יוֹם לְיוֹם יַבִּיעַ אמֶר
וְלַיְלָה לְּלַיְלָה יְחַוֶּה־דָּעַת

ha-sha·ma·yim · me·sa·pe·rim · ke·vod · El,
u·ma·a·seh · ya·dav · mag·gid · ha·ra·ki·a;
yom · le·yom · ya·bi·a · o·mer,
ve·lai·la · le·lai·la · ye·cha·veh · da·at
 

"The heavens recount the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims the work of His hands.
Day after day it speaks out;
night after night it reveals His greatness."
(Psalm 19:1-2)



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A sense of wonder and mystery is central to faith, since "the last step of human reason is the confession that there are an infinite number of things that are beyond it" (Blaise Pascal).  Just as human reason and logical principles ultimately point beyond itself, so faith points beyond itself to the Lord as the Source and the End of all mystery, beauty, goodness, love, and truth... The idea of mystery is not a confession of ignorance as much as it is an awareness of the inherent sanctity of life and of the ultimate triumph of love.... Faith believes that everything will ultimately be healed by God's overarching will, through which the universe is sustained and made intelligible to us. Therefore, Da lifnei mi attah omed: "Know before whom you stand!" We are constantly surrounded by an ongoing procession of the glory of God (Isa. 6:3). May the Lord our God help us open our eyes to see...
 




The Humility of God...


 

12.22.16  (Kislev 22, 5777)  Consider the absolute humility of God as He chose to enter into this world as "baby Jesus." Marvel over his humble beginnings, surrounded by obscurity, unwanted, rejected of men, and laid in a "manger" (φάτνη) - a word used in stark contrast to an "inn" (κατάλυμα), that is, a place designed for the reception of men (Luke 2:7). Meditate, then, on the glory and sheer paradox of God's love! "Baby Jesus" is the perfect disguise to hide the truth from the proud eyes of the flesh, though the humble of heart can see... "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn (στραφῆτε) and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). What would do without the gift of God, friends? What hope would we truly have?  Regardless of the exact anniversary of his birth, thank God that our LORD and Messiah was willing to be born into this dark world to offer Himself as our great High Priest, our beloved Savior, and our Eternal Redeemer!
 




The "For You" Message...


 

12.22.16  (Kislev 22, 5777)  The Name of the Promised Son is "Immanuel" (עִמָּנוּ אֵל), "God is with us," which implies for the individual heart of faith that God is with you, too. Yeshua was born into this world for your benefit – everything he did, his entire life and sacrificial death - was done for your sake. It is not some species of humility to reason that since Yeshua died for "all the world" that therefore you are of no real importance in the great story of redemption; on the contrary, there could be no "for all" without you, too; you are part of His story... "For unto you is born this day in the city of David the Savior, who is Messiah the Lord" (Luke 2:11). Yeshua is the "I AM for-you Savior," the "I AM with-you-always God," your Sacred Center, your present Comfort, your exceeding great reward and consolation. The heart can only apprehend this reality by exercising personal faith – not merely by believing certain facts or theological doctrines. The heart must receive the miracle that the message of divine love, the very heart and passion of God, has been providentially given and preserved by the Spirit of God to be delivered unto you: It is the living "unto you" message that God personally whispers to your trembling and trusting heart...
 




Do you now Believe?


 

12.21.16  (Kislev 21, 5777)  Soren Kierkegaard notes that many people read the Gospels after "skipping to the end" and pretending they know the "whole megillah," namely that love wins, and all shall be well... Nevertheless he reminds us that our LORD is completely just and there is no intrinsic advantage given to Yeshua's contemporaries over those who are living today. The same message requires the same faith to encounter the truth of the Teacher. "I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26). Or do you suppose that you would have acted in faith had you been alive when Yeshua was here on earth? Consider well. When Mary held her newborn son and changed his soiled clothing, did she then believe he was the Savior of the world? Did she fully understand the "end of the story" at that time? When the disciples watched with horror as their Master was arrested, unjustly condemned, and then brutally crucified, did they then believe God was manifest in the flesh? Did they fathom the depths of God's providential love for them?  And even after the resurrection from the dead, when Yeshua had directly appeared to his followers and they watched as he ascended on high, did they trust that eternal death was forever swallowed up by His overmastering and triumphant life?

Do you think our present generation would more readily accept the message of Yeshua more than that generation 2,000 years ago? That generation clamored: "We will not have this man rule over us!" (Luke 19:14), yet is this not the recurrent mantra of spiritual darkness spoken throughout the generations?  How many of us read the Gospels and encounter something radically challenging, only to excuse ourselves and pretend that the question is not being asked of us? How many of us "take up our cross" and follow the path of sacrificial love? "But I say to you, love your enemies and do good to them that hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you" (Luke 6:27-28). Many want to believe they are following Yeshua's Torah here but hesitate when they hear such things; they don't really want to trouble themselves by changing or denying their natural impulses... Kierkegaard laments: "The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand, but we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly."

We must listen with a heart of faith to unlock the truth that speaks to the heart. If you believe only what you can tolerate, however, your faith is actually grounded in your own interests, not in the Divine Voice of Love that seeks to heal the world. "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand today -- if you hear his voice" (Psalm 95:7). Today, if you hear his voice and do not harden your heart (Heb. 3:15). "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God, but encourage one another every day, as long as it is called "today," so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:12-13).
 




Love Believes all things...


 

12.21.16  (Kislev 21, 5777)  "I would have fainted unless I believed to see the goodness of the LORD..." (Psalm 27:13). Faith is therefore self-authenticating: as you trust in the good, the good will be revealed. As Yeshua said, "According to your faith be it done unto you" (Matt. 9:29). And if it is faith that makes you whole, then its lack makes you sick... As you doubt, so you will lose sight of what is real, true, and abiding.  Being cynical is cowardly: "There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true" (Kierkegaard). A cynic refuses the possibility of truth because he is afraid of being fooled, and for this fear he willingly closes his eyes to the good. "Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact" (William James). When we trust God's promises, we affirm an unseen good even if the present hour is shrouded in darkness. Faith sees beyond "the seen" to the unseen (2 Cor. 4:18). The "seen" is not ultimately real, and consequently faith is exiled from the vanity of the present hour. Therefore affirm your faith, friend. Refuse the darkness of fear by choosing to believe in the reality of God's love for your soul, despite the mess you've made of your life. Affirm that God's love is more real, more substantive, and more valuable than anything disclosed in this world that fades away.
 




Torah of Faith...


 

12.21.16  (Kislev 21, 5777)  "The righteous shall live by faith" in the promise of God's unconditional love (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17). The Torah of faith (תּוֹרַת הָאֱמוּנָה) therefore includes these additional commandments from the heart of Yeshua: 1) "Thou shalt believe thou are my beloved - entirely accepted and entirely forgiven"; 2) "Thou shalt forget the shame of thy past"; 3) "Thou shalt stop thinking of your sin but rather of My great remedy for you"; 4) "Thou shalt let me carry your woundedness far away, yea, to the bottom of the sea"; 5) "Thou shalt live in My love and be filled with its spirit," and 6) "Thou shalt be made new." We are to know ourselves as "dead to sin but alive to God" (Rom. 6:11), which means we die to despair, we die to fear of abandonment, yea, we die to death itself, and now we are alive to hope, alive to healing, yea, we alive to love that endures forever.
 

הִנֵּה עֻפְּלָה לא־יָשְׁרָה נַפְשׁוֹ בּוֹ
 וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה

hin·nei  u·pe·lah  lo  ya·she·rah  naf·sho   bo
ve·tzad·dik  be·e·mu·na·to   yich·yeh
 

"Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
 but the righteous shall find life by means of his trust."
(Hab. 2:4)
 
Hebrew Study Card

 




That Light Still Shines...


 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah begins sundown on Saturday, Dec. 24th this year... ]

12.20.16  (Kislev 20, 5777)  Chanukah is important because it stands in opposition to the propaganda of humanism and its ongoing attempt to deny the reality of the Divine Presence in our lives... It makes bold the statement that reality is not reducible to merely natural categories, and it repudiates the "Hellenistic" conceit that all religions are true, and it especially rejects the arrogant notion that the LORD God of Israel is just "one more member" of some globalist pantheon... Chanukah adamantly denies the politically correct dogma that despair is the universal condition of humanity and that darkness will finally extinguish the light. Like the gospel message, Chanukah scandalizes human rationalism and the solipsism that affirms that "man is the measure of all things." "For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world (νικᾷ τὸν κόσμον); and this is the victory that has overcome the world- our faith" (1 John 5:4).

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




Chanukah and Humanism...


 

12.20.16  (Kislev 20, 5777)  The holiday of Chanukah reminds us that we must remain committed to Torah truth in a godless, and therefore insane, world. After all, since reality is the "handiwork" (i.e., conscious design) of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, morally perfect, purposive, personal, and spiritual Agency who has been revealed in the Jewish Scriptures, those who deny this reality are living in a state of ongoing delusion. In a sense, the history of humanity - especially as it has been expressed philosophically and politically -- has been nothing less than the conscious design to redefine reality as something that it isn't. "The kings of the earth station themselves, and the dignitaries take counsel together against the LORD and His Messiah" (Psalm 2:1-3). Spiritual warfare is therefore the fight for sanity and truth in a world that prefers madness and self-deception.

In a prophetic sense the story of "Epihpanes" foreshadows the coming time of the "Messiah of Evil" (antichrist) 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.). At first he will appear to be a "world savior" who will broker peace for Israel and the Mideast, but after awhile, like his archetype Epiphanes, he will savagely betray the Jewish people and set up a "desolating sacrilege" in the Holy Place of the Temple (Matt. 24:15). His satanic rise will occur during acharit hayamim - the "End of Days" - otherwise called the period of the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24). The Final Victory of God will be established when Yeshua returns to destroy this Messiah of Evil at His Second Coming. The Holy Temple will then be rebuilt and dedicated by the hand of the true Mashiach of Israel.

The Gemara says that Javan, the descendant of Noah's son Japheth (Gen. 10:2), became the founding father of ancient Greece who inherited Japheth's blessing: "May God give beauty to Japheth (יַפְתְּ אֱלהִים לְיֶפֶת) and let him dwell in the tents of Shem" (Gen. 9:27). This blessing gave him the special ability to found the arts, philosophy, and science, though if these were exercised apart from the influence of Shem, that is, apart from a Torah perspective, such pursuits would ultimately become vain and even dangerous. In other words, even though "all truth is God's truth," human learning must be contextualized in light of the divine revelation. The humanistic mindset deifies knowledge and technique; it understands to believe, instead of believing to understand.  For this reason, among others, the spiritual war between Zion and the secular world rages to this hour...

Note:  For more on this, please see "Chanukah and Spiritual Warfare."
 




Chanukah and Vigilance...


 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah begins at sundown on Saturday, Dec. 24th this year... ]

12.20.16  (Kislev 20, 5777)  The message of Chanukah is to resist being "assimilated" into this dark world and its benighted culture. As it says in our Scriptures, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed (i.e., transfigured by the light) through the renewal (ἀνακαίνωσις) of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God" (Rom. 12:2). Notice that the Greek word translated "conformed" is a passive verb (συσχηματίζω, derived from σύν, "with," + σχῆμα, "matrix") which means that we must consciously resist being lulled into accepting this world's various ideologies (matrix) that are crafted to ignore Divine the Presence and Truth. In the realm of the spiritual, there is simply no place of neutrality, and if we are not going forward, then it's likely we are going backward... Therefore we are repeatedly commanded to test the spirits and to examine truth claims. We ask God for wisdom and use the discernment that comes from the Holy Spirit.
 

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

hash·li·khu · me·a·le·khem · et · kol · pish·e·khem
a·sher · pe·sha·e·tem · bam
va·a·su · la·khem · lev · cha·dash · ve·ru·ach · cha·da·shah
 

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


 
Hebrew Study Card
 




Joseph and Messiah...



 

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

12.19.16  (Kislev 19, 5777)  More chapters of the Torah are devoted to the life of Joseph than to the account of creation, the story of Adam and Eve, the flood of Noah, the call of Abram to the promised land, the miraculous birth and (near) sacrifice of Isaac, the transformation of Jacob into Israel, and so on.  Perhaps Joseph is given such prominence in Scripture because his life depicted both the Suffering Servant (Yeshua's first advent) and the One who reigns at the right hand of the power on high and delivers Israel (Yeshua's second advent). The life of Joseph provides a "prophetic outline" of Yeshua the Lord, the One who is both Mashiach ben Yosef (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־יוֹסֵף), "the Messiah son of Joseph," as well as Mashiach ben David (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־דָוִד), "the Messiah the Son of David."

For more on this subject, including 60 ways in which Joseph prefigured the advent of Yeshua the Messiah, see "Mashiach ben Yosef."
 




The Magnificat of Mary...


 

[ Mary is surely to be reckoned as the greatest of the imahot of Israel, "the mothers of Israel," with a stature like Sarah who also gave birth to the "miracle son" Isaac (Rom. 4:19)... ]

12.19.16  (Kislev 19, 5777)  "Then Mary said, 'My soul magnifies the LORD, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked up the lowliness of his servant, for behold, from this time forth all generations will count me blessed, because the Mighty One (אֵל גִּבּוֹר) has done great things for me: sacred is his Name'" (Luke 1:46-49). Unlike some Christian religious traditions, we do not worship or adore Mary, since such heart affection is reserved for God alone (Matt. 4:10; Deut. 6:5). Nevertheless we commend Mary's great faith, and we honor her as a true servant (and prophetess) of God who was entrusted to bear the promised Seed of salvation given in Yeshua... Mary's greatness was that she had complete confidence in God's promise, even though she could not tell that the promise was true by seeing or feeling anything at the time.  Mary was given the great blessing and miracle of faith in the unseen goodness and power of the LORD, and therefore she magnified the LORD (יהוה) and called Him "God my Savior" (בֵּאלהֵי יִשְׁעִי, lit. "God my Jesus"). In the case of the incarnation of the Redeemer in the womb of the virgin, Mary embodies the principle that "faith is being assured of what we hope for and being convinced of what we do not see" (Heb. 11:1). Mary trusted in God's promise and love even though it was presently hidden from her eyes...
 

    "He (Abraham) did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), nor when he considered the deadness (νέκρωσις) of Sarah's womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised." (Rom. 4:19-21)

 




The Depth of Hebron...


 

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

12.19.16  (Kislev 19, 5777)  As a child, Joseph was adorned with a "coat of many colors" (כְּתנֶת פַּסִּים) and lived in the glory of his father's house as the favored son. He was an innocent dreamer who was given visions of greatness by God Himself. Despite being despised and rejected by his brothers, however, his father commissioned him to go "from the Valley of Hebron" to check on their welfare (Gen. 37:14). Notice that the phrase translated "from the Valley of Hebron" literally reads "from the depth of Hebron" (מֵעֵמֶק חֶבְרוֹן), while the word Hebron (חֶבְרוֹן) comes from a root that means "union" or "fellowship."  Symbolically, then, the Torah teaches that Jacob sent out his beloved son "from the depth their fellowship" to search for his missing children.  Similarly, Yeshua existed in glory with His Father yet chose to divest himself of his splendor to reach out to his brothers. His incarnation was an infinite descent from the "depth of Hebron" (i.e., communion with the Father) into the realm of "no reputation" (i.e., kenosis, "emptying") in search of his brothers' love (Phil. 2:6-7; Luke 19:10).
 




Parashat Vayeshev - וישב


 

12.18.16  (Kislev 18, 5777)  In our Torah portion for this holiday week (i.e., parashat Vayeshev), we read how Joseph's jealous brothers stripped him of his "coat of many colors" and threw him into a pit -- a providential event that eventually led to the deliverance of the Jewish people by the hand of a "disguised savior." Indeed, the life of Israel's chosen son Joseph foreshadowed the two advents of Yeshua our Messiah: first as Israel's Suffering Servant, and second as the national deliverer of the Jewish people during tribulation...

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

 




The Word Made Flesh...


 

12.18.16  (Kislev 18, 5777)  At Sinai we heard the Voice of God (קוֹל אֱלהִים) speaking from the midst of the Fire (Deut. 4:33), an event that foreshadowed the great advent of the King and Lawgiver Himself, when the Eternal Word (דְבַר־יְהוָה) became flesh and dwelt with us (Phil. 2:6-7; John 1:1,14). Any theology that regards God as entirely transcendent (i.e., God is beyond any analogy with the finite) will have a problem with divine immanence (i.e., God is inherent within the finite), since the highness, holiness, and perfection of God will make Him seem distant, outside of us, far away, and unknown... Incarnational theology, on the other hand, manifests the nearness of God to disclose the divine empathy. Indeed, the LORD became Immanuel (עִמָּנוּ אֵל), "one with us," to share our mortal condition, to know our pain, and to experience what it means to be wounded by sin, to be abandoned, alienated, forsaken. It is God's own bittul hayesh (בִּטּוּל הַיֵּשׁ) - his self-nullification for the sake of love and truth. The "Eternal made flesh" bridges the gap between the realm of Ein Sof (אין סוף), the infinitely transcendent One, and the finite world of people lost within their sinful frailty. Of course we believe Adonai Echad (יְהוָה אֶחָד) - that the "LORD is One" - both in the sense of being exalted over all things but also in the sense of being compassionately involved in all things (Rom. 11:36). We therefore celebrate the giving of the Torah both at Sinai and especially at Bethlehem with the birth of Messiah. We celebrate that God is indeed the King and Ruler over all, but we further affirm that God's authority and rule extends to all worlds - including the realm of our finitude and need...

As I've mentioned elsewhere, the climax of Sinai was the revelation of the Sanctuary. The two tablets of the law, summarizing the Ten Commandments, were stored inside the famous Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן בְּרִית־יְהוָה), a sacred "three-in-one" box placed in the innermost chamber of the Tabernacle called the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). As such, the Ark served as kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), the Throne of Glory itself. Upon the cover (or crown) of the Ark (i.e., the kapporet) were fashioned two cherubim (i.e., angel-like figures) that faced one another (Exod. 25:17-18). According to the Talmud (Succah 5b), each cherub had the face of a child - one boy and one girl - and their wings spread heavenward as their eyes gazed upon the cover (Exod. 25:20). It was here that God's Voice would be heard during the Yom Kippur service, when sacrificial blood was sprinkled upon the crown to symbolize the atonement of sin secured through Messiah, the Word that became flesh for us... In the very heart of the Sanctuary, then, we see the Word of God and the sacrificial blood.

God Himself was clothed with human skin: our flesh, our bones... The incarnation is the "Absolute Paradox," as Kierkegaard once said, wherein the Infinite and the Finite meet in mystery of the Divine Presence. Here God "touches a leper," eats with sinners and prostitutes, sheds human tears, and suffers heartache like all other men... The gloriously great God, the very Creator of the cosmos, has "emptied Himself" to come in the form of a lowly servant  (δοῦλος) - disguised to the eyes of the proud and hardhearted, but is revealed as High Priest to those who are genuinely broken and in profound need.  The LORD God is God over all possible worlds, and that includes both the celestial realms of the heavens but also the world of the fallen, the ashamed, the alienated, and the lost... God's infinite condescension reveals and augments the majesty of His infinite transcendence. There is no world - nor ever shall there be such - where the LORD God Almighty does not reign and have preeminence.

Do not suppose for a moment that the Torah of Moses does not teach "incarnational" theology. Since God created human beings in his image and likeness, the "anthropomorphic language" of Scripture is meaningful. The LORD reveals himself in human terms - using human language, expressing human emotions, and so on, as it says: Moses spoke to God panim el panim - "face to face" (Deut. 34:10). The Torah always has to take on human form - the Word made flesh - for the sake of human beings who live in flesh and blood reality...

The greatest expression of God's word is found in the Presence of Yeshua. This is the Word of God that "tabernacles" with us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Yeshua is the "Living Torah," Immanuel (עִמָּנוּ אֵל), "God with us," who enters our world to rescue us from death. Our Scriptures state that "in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son, whom He appointed the Heir of all things, through whom also He created the worlds" (Heb 1:2). Note that the Greek construction for the phrase translated, "by his son" is ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ, which literally means "he spoke to us in Son" -- that is, in the language or voice of the Son of God Himself... God speaks the language "of Son" from the midst of the fire revealed at Zion. "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe (μετὰ αἰδοῦς καὶ εὐλαβείας) - for our God is Esh Okhelah - a Consuming Fire" (Heb. 12:28-29).
 




Free Chanukah Resources...


 

12.16.16  (Kislev 16, 5777)  The Chanukah Blessings page includes some free "Hebrew Study Cards" you can use for your Chanukah celebrations. Each card includes the Hebrew text, phonetic transliteration, and English translation for the blessing. In addition I have recorded Hebrew audio clips for the Chanukah blessings as well, so you can listen to the Hebrew as your learn to recite the blessings... I have also created a handy one page summary of the Hebrew blessings you can download here. I hope you find this material helpful, chaverim! Chag Chanukah Sameach (חַג חֲנֻכָּה שָׂמֵחַ)!
 

 




The Father of Lights...

Photp by John J Parsons
 

12.16.16  (Kislev 16, 5777)  It is written in our Scriptures: "God is light and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Our Savior is "the Light of the world," the Divine Message that gives light to every soul who is born (John 1:9). As the Source of all light, his power is irrepressible, invincible, and overcomes every shade of darkness. Yeshua is the Logos (Λόγος), the underlying "logic" of all of creation. Unlike the transient radiance of the heavenly bodies, the Divine Light remains constant and supreme over all of creation, without any diminution or variation: God is the "Father of Lights" (James 1:17). And just as we know that the sun still shines even on the most overcast of days, so we understand that the Divine Presence is always there -- always giving, always shining, always loving us... We can trust in the power of our God to help us, since His radiance and truth pervade the darkness to enlighten our way (Psalm 112:4). As Yeshua said of his mission, "I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness" (John 12:46). Let us believe and behold the Light!  Hashivenu! O LORD God, let your light shine upon us...
 

אֱלהִים יְחָנֵּנוּ וִיבָרְכֵנוּ
יָאֵר פָּנָיו אִתָּנוּ סֶלָה

E·lo·him · ye·chon·nei·nu · vi·var·khei·nu
ya·er · pa·nav · it·ta·nu · se·lah
 

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



 

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




Birth of the Messiah...


 

12.16.16  (Kislev 16, 5777)  Though the promised birth of Yeshua may have occurred during the holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles), with the incarnation occurring during Chanukah (the Festival of Light), many people of good faith observe the traditional "Gregorian Calendar" date of December 25th... Regardless of your particular conviction regarding the date of Yeshua's birth, the most important thing to remember is that He was born to die (Heb. 10:5-7). The story of his birth is only significant in relation to His sacrificial death (Mark 8:27-33). The "manger" scene leads directly to the cross at Moriah.  Indeed, in Jewish tradition the day of one's death is more important than the day of one's birth, since death summarizes the meaning and significance of a person's life in this world. Birth represents potential, whereas death represents inheritance... Therefore the Jewish custom is to commemorate the anniversary of a person's death (i.e., yahrzeit: יארצייט) and not the date of his or her birth. This custom is derived from the Scriptures themselves: "A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth" (Eccl. 7:1):
 

טוֹב שֵׁם מִשֶּׁמֶן טוֹב
וְיוֹם הַמָּוֶת מִיּוֹם הִוָּלְדוֹ

tov · shem · mi·she·men · tov
ve·yom · ha-ma·vet · mi·yom · hiv·va·le·do
 

"A good name is better than fragrant oil,
and the day of death than the day of birth."



Hebrew Study Card
 

The day of Yeshua's death (on Erev Pesach) represents the message of the Gospel story itself: "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). This is of "first importance": Yeshua was born to die for our sins, to make us right with God, and was raised from the dead to vindicate the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 15:3-5). "For our sake God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). The birth of the Messiah (or rather His incarnation) was the "first step" toward His sacrifice for our deliverance (Heb. 2:9-18). As Paul said, "I decided to know nothing among you except Yeshua the Messiah - and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2).

Note:  For more on this, see "He was born to Die."  For a discussion about possible birth dates for Yeshua, see "Was Jesus born on December 25th?" For traditional Christmas readings from the New Testament, see Matt. 1:18-2:12, Luke 1:26-2:20.
 




Surrender and Salvation...


 

[ A reminder of very important truth...  Grow in grace, chaverim! ]
 
12.16.16  (Kislev 16, 5777)  When we affirm that we are no longer "under the law," this means we find our identity in a different order of reality than that which says, "Do this and live" (Lev. 18:5; cp. Gal. 3:11-12; Rom. 10:5). Many of us, however, stumble here, and reintroduce conditions based on a lower level of spiritual understanding. We suppose, for instance, that we will experience the miracle based on something we do, and busy ourselves attempting to commend ourselves to God. We focus more on our life in God (religion) rather than God's life in us (miracle), and therefore we relegate spirituality as a means to reform natural character rather than the reality of encountering the Divine Presence. A true change of heart is a miracle of the highest order, though this change often consitutes a "slow-motion" transformation. The transformation begins, however, when we are assured of our welcome before God's Presence, despite the truth about who we really are...  Only then are we able to honestly surrender everything we are - both the good and the bad - to God's care. And that is what it means to "give up" your life to the Messiah. You let go of the claims you have on your own identity; you quit bargaining with your carnal nature; you "come to yourself" by confessing all your desires - the good and the evil - as being present within you; and you therefore quit denying your "shadow self," that is, those hidden parts of your self that engage in fear, anger, lust, and so on. You come out of hiding, naked and without making excuses, and present yourself to God, appealing to him for compassion, deliverance and the miracle of new life given in Yeshua. Faith lives in the work of God's miracle; the former life, defined in terms of the natural self with its aspirations and desires, passes away and we are reborn to live as beloved children of God our Father (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15).

εἰ δὲ πνεύματι ἄγεσθε, οὐκ ἐστὲ ὑπὸ νόμον - "if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law" (Gal. 5:18), which is another way of saying that when you receive the truth of God's love, you are free to live as a beloved child, no longer as a slave to a law code that was given to constrain the evil impulses of the lower nature (see 1 Tim. 1:5-11). You are given direct access to the Divine Presence as was the Kohen haGadol during the Yom Kippur avodah of the former covenant... Because of Yeshua, we are made priests of a better covenant, "not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke..." (Jer. 31:32), but a radically NEW covenant wherein "we have access by faith into this Grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Rom. 5:2; Heb. 8:6-13).
 




Torah of Trust...


 

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

12.15.16  (Kislev 15, 5777)  "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'" (Matt. 7:21-23). Despite the practice and profession of their faith, these people were strangers to God... They had a false sense of assurance, believing that they were "serving God" while they really were not... So the essential question here is whether Yeshua truly knows you. You may know a lot about God, religion, spirituality, and yet you may remain unknown by him... Where do you find life? What are you loving? Where are you going?

On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not ... do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I say to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness' (Matt. 7:22-23). From this we see that good works - even those done in the name of Messiah - are insufficient for life, and that something more is needed... That "something more" is the reality of relationship with him. However, even Yeshua's sacrifice on the cross can't bring you into relationship with him apart from receiving it for your healing... By faith you encounter Yeshua clothed in your flesh, your sin, and suffering death for you.  "As long as Christ remains outside of us we are separated from him."

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

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

Note:  For more on this topic see: "Torah of Wrestling: Further thoughts on Vayishlach."
 




Messiah and Chanukah...


 

[ The eight days of Chanukah begin Saturday, Dec. 24th at sundown this year... ]

12.15.16  (Kislev 15, 5777)  For each of the days of Chanukah we light candles, kindling one for the first day, two for the second, and so on until we reach the climactic eighth day, when all shine together. Some of the sages say the word "Messiah" (i.e., mashiach: מָשִׁיחַ) may be regarded as an acronym for the phrase "we light throughout the eight days of Chanukah," i.e., מַדְלִיקִין שְׁמוֹנָה יְמֵי חֲנוּכָּה: madlikin (מ) shemonah (שׁ) yemei (י) Chanukah (ח). Indeed, the central lamp of the Chanukah menorah is called the shamash (שַׁמָש), the "Servant" that bears the original flame that kindles all the others. The salvations, wonders, and solace that God performed for us "in those days, at this time" therefore prefigure the greater deliverance we have in Yeshua, the Suffering Servant and Light of the World...
 

 




God-Wrestling and Faith...


 

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

12.15.16  (Kislev 15, 5777)  Before he could return from his exile, Jacob had to face his fears and wrestle with God. The outcome of the struggle was a blessing, as signified by a new name, "Israel" (יִשְׂרָאֵל), meaning one who struggles (שָׂרָה) with God (אֵל). Jacob finally prevailed with God when the power of his faith overcame the pain of his past... Jacob's story teaches that before we can return from our place of exile, we have to face our fears and wrestle over who we really are. Each of us must be renamed from Jacob to Israel, from being a manipulator to one who surrenders to God's power and blessing. Just as Jacob finally prevailed with God when the power of his faith overcame the pain of his past, so we can escape from our own exile - the prison of our past - by proclaiming from the heart: "I have seen God "face to face" (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), and yet my life has been delivered" (Gen. 32:30).

The prophet Hosea adds some further insight about Jacob's great struggle of faith and how it eventually led to the revelation of God at Bethel:
 

וָיָּשַׂר אֶל־מַלְאָךְ וַיֻּכָל בָּכָה וַיִּתְחַנֶּן־לוֹ
בֵּית־אֵל יִמְצָאֶנּוּ וְשָׁם יְדַבֵּר עִמָּנוּ
וַיהוָה אֱלהֵי הַצְּבָאוֹת יְהוָה זִכְרוֹ

vai·ya·sar · el · mal·akh · vai·yu·chal · ba·khah · vai·yit·cha·nen · lo
bet · el · yim·tza·e·nu · ve·sham · ye·da·ber · im·ma·nu
va·do·nai · E·lo·hei · ha·tze·va·ot · Adonai · zikh·ro
 

"Yes, he [Jacob] fought with the Angel and won; he wept and sought his favor.
He found Him at Bethel, and there He spoke with us;
even the LORD, the God of hosts; the LORD is His memorial."
(Hosea 12:4-5)



 

Jacob "wept and made supplication" to the Angel, a fact left unmentioned by Moses' account in the Torah (Gen. 32:22-30), though perhaps hinted at in Jacob's prayer before the climactic conflict: "I am not worthy of the least of thy tender mercies..." (Gen. 32:10). This shows that the struggle was spiritual, not physical, and that Jacob finally "won" the fight by paradoxically submitting himself to God... The injured thigh was a token of Jacob's surrender to the Angel (Gen. 32:25, 31), and it was only after his flesh was wounded that Jacob's life was empowered by God to take hold of the realm of promise, as signified by his return to Bethel... The story is ultimately about death and resurrection: After his gut-wrenching struggle, Israel was wounded so that he could know that the LORD "gives power to the faint, and to them that have no might, he increases strength" (see Isa. 40:29).

Notice that Jacob continued to wrestle until he was injured by the Angel of the LORD, after which he simply "hung on" for dear life until he received the blessing directly from God. In other words, Jacob discovered that struggling and resisting God were useless for the blessing to be secured, so he simply yielded in submission.... This was the turning point of his life, the moment when his new name and identity were bestowed. The LORD surely could have overpowered Jacob, but it took far more for Jacob to freely surrender his will. In the end, the New Testament attests to change that issued from Jacob's brokenness: Despite some additional struggles he later faced with the flesh, he was finally able to die with the blessing of God to impart to his children (Heb. 11:21).

And may God help us fight the good fight of faith - and prevail!
 




Reconciliation and Atonement...


 

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

12.14.16  (Kislev 14, 5777)  During Jacob's dream of the ladder (Vayetzei) the LORD described Himself as the "God of Abraham your father" and then added, "and the God of Isaac" (Gen. 28:13). In his prayer for God's help before returning home, however, Jacob elevated his relationship to Isaac by praying to "the God of my father Abraham and the God of my father Isaac (וֵאלהֵי אָבִי יִצְחָק), the LORD who said to me, 'Return...'" (Gen. 32:9). This change is significant because Jacob was returning to confront not only his difficult past with Esau, but the wound he caused his father's heart (and to mourn the loss of his mother, too)... But notice that Jacob's attitude had undergone a profound transformation. When he was younger, Jacob was willing to deceive his own father and to "grapple" the advantage from his brother, but now he was a broken man who understood that he was entirely unworthy to receive God's blessing: "I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love (chesed) and all the faithfulness (emet) that you have shown to your servant" (Gen. 32:10). In Torah scrolls, the Hebrew word katonti (קָטנְתִּי), translated as "I am unworthy," is written with a diminished Tet (ט) to show the humility of Jacob. Jacob no longer felt "entitled" to receive God's favor, though he was conscious of it nonetheless. He was now addressing his prayer to the LORD (יהוה) rather than to God (אֱלהִים), indicating that he first sought the compassion of God instead of God's justice.

Note: For more on this subject, see "Reconciliation and Atonement" here.
 




Surrounded by Wonders...


 

12.14.16  (Kislev 14, 5777)  "The works of the LORD are great, sought out by all who desire them" (Psalm 111:2). This refers to the various "natural" phenomena that surround and pervade our existence (and indeed to the Ground of existence itself), which no finite being has the power to duplicate. Such matters are "sought out by all who desire to know them" (דְּרוּשִׁים לְכָל־חֶפְצֵיהֶם), that is, they are accessible to the observant heart and testify to the divine wisdom of the Creator (Rom. 1:20; Deut. 4:29). The works of the LORD are understood "in the secret of the upright ones" (בְּסוֹד יְשָׁרִים) and are perceived by the heart of faithful (Psalm 111:1). Hod ve'hadar pa'olo: "majestic and splendid is His work; and his righteousness endures forever" (Psalm 111:3). Many people, alas, sleepwalk through their days, oblivious to the sacred wonders about them. Even though God's gifts abound and pervade all existence, they are taken for granted and go by unseen and unnoticed. Many blandly assume the future will resemble the past, that the sun will rise tomorrow, without considering the majestic significance of the sun itself, its being and presence. Now just because something happens every day doesn't make it any less wonderful, of course. People create labels and concepts to generalize their experiences, though often this creates habits of mind that lull the soul to sleep... Indeed some people regard "boredom" to be the greatest evil in life, and they are right – being bored over the sacred gift of life is indeed a great evil!
 

גְּדלִים מַעֲשֵׂי יְהוָה
דְּרוּשִׁים לְכָל־חֶפְצֵיהֶם

ge·do·lim · ma'a·sei · Adonai
de·ru·shim · le·khol · chef·tzei·hem

Click to listen 

"The works of the LORD are great,
sought out by all who desire them"
(Psalm 111:2)

 




Raised from the Dust...



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

12.14.16  (Kislev 14, 5777)  In his poignant appeal to God for help, Jacob prayed: "I have been diminished (קָטנְתִּי) by all the kindness and all the truth you have done for your servant" (Gen. 32:10). Jacob was "made small" through the revelation of God's love and truth, and the focus shifted away from himself to God: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). Jacob's subsequent wrestling with the angel pictured birth pangs, the throes of his spiritual rebirth. Rashi notes that the word translated "wrestled" (i.e., va'ye'avak: וַיֵּאָבֵק, Gen. 32:24) is related to the idea of "raising the dust" (i.e., avak: אָבָק), which suggests resurrection from the dust. The struggle – the "death match" – was to bury old Jacob and to raise him up as "Israel," a prince of God the King.
 

קָטנְתִּי מִכּל הַחֲסָדִים וּמִכָּל־הָאֱמֶת
אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ אֶת־עַבְדֶּךָ

ke·ton·ti · mi·kol · ha·cha·sa·dim · u·mi·kol · ha·e·met
a·sher · a·si·ta · et-av·de·kha

Click to listen 

"I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of love and faithfulness
that you have done for your servant."
(Gen. 32:10)
 

Yeshua told us we must "forget ourselves" in order to discover what really matters: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 16:24-25). Note that the phrase translated "deny himself" comes from a Greek verb (ἀπαρνέομαι) that means "to affirm that you have no acquaintance or connection with someone," and is the same verb used when Peter denied the Messiah (from α-, "not," + ῥέω, "to speak"). To deny yourself, then, means to be willing to disregard your own personal interests in a given moment -- to "betray" the selfish impulse that seeks to rule the ego in your daily life.  It is a "putting off" of the old nature and a "putting on" of the new (Eph. 4:22-24). Put positively, denying yourself means "forgetting yourself" because you are overwhelmed with God's great love for your soul, and therefore you no longer "know yourself" according to the flesh but according to the Spirit of God (2 Cor. 5:16-17).
 




Jacob's Surrender...


 

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

12.13.16  (Kislev 13, 5777)  Our Torah portion this week tells the story of how Jacob fled from the land of Haran to return home, but this forced him to directly face the pain of his past.  Jacob was especially anxious about seeing his aggrieved brother again, and therefore he prayed to God in humility for deliverance (Gen. 32:9-11). He then sent messengers ahead with gifts for Esau, and when he finally approached him, Jacob humbly bowed down seven times in deep respect. The sages comment that Jacob realized the only hope he had of protecting himself and his family was to diminish himself... His long-standing battle with Esau had really been an inner struggle with his own ego - his own insatiable desire to be first, to secure his father's favor, and so on. Because of this, Jacob realized he could only find peace with his brother if he first found peace within himself, and therefore he let go of his need to be first and surrendered himself.  Paradoxically, we must descend in order to ascend, and the "the way up is the way down." As Yeshua said, "The first shall be last and the last shall be first," and "Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all" (Mark 9:35; 10:44). Becoming "nothing" (i.e., ayin) in this world is the condition for life in the world to come (Gal. 6:3). When you are "not there," you are no longer under the influence of the ego, and therefore you are set free to be yourself and to serve God (Col. 3:1-3).

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




Telling God your name...


 

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

12.13.16  (Kislev 13, 5777)  Some people make it the business of theology to know God's Name, but God begins by first asking for our name instead. Recall that Jacob had disguised who he really was in the hope of obtaining the blessing (Gen. 27), though his duplicity forced him into an exile that lasted until he was finally willing to be honest with himself.  And like Jacob, each of us must answer God's question: "What is your name?" (Gen. 32:27). When we "wrestle through" this question to face who we really are, we encounter God and find our blessing, that is, our true identity. Each of us has to go through the process of being renamed from "manipulator" (i.e., Yaakov) to "one in whom God rules" (i.e., Israel). But note the order: it is only when we "tell God our name," that is, own who we really are, that He meets with us "face to face" (Gen. 32:30). You will not be able to say, "I will not let you go unless you bless me," until you are willing tell God your name (Gen. 32:26-27).

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

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

Note: Someone asked me, "how do you know your real name"?  You do so by faith: Your new name is "beloved," "accepted," "child of God," because these accord with the truth of who God says you are, not with the labels and names ascribed to you by this world...
 




Wresting the Blessing...


 

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

12.12.16  (Kislev 12, 5777)  In our Torah portion for this week (i.e., parashat Vayishlach), we read how Jacob wrestled with a mysterious "Man" until the break of dawn, but refused to let go until he had secured God's blessing (Gen. 32:24-26). This climactic moment marked a "rebirth" experience for Jacob as signified by his new name "Israel" (יִשְׂרָאֵל), meaning "one who has striven (שָׂרָה) with God (אֱלהִים) and prevailed" (Gen. 32:28). It is fascinating to notice that Jacob was not renamed "God-fearer," or "God-lover," or even "Man of faith," but rather "God-wrestler" – one who struggles with God until the blessing comes... As Yeshua said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" – that is, for those who struggle and search for truth – "for they shall be filled" (Matt. 5:6). The blessing comes with a wound, however: The limp that Jacob acquired constantly reminded him of his ongoing need for God's help as he walked through this life. "The one who falls on this Stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on anyone, it will crush him" (Matt. 21:44).

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


 




Light in our Darkness...


 

12.11.16  (Kislev 11, 5777)  From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Vayishlach) we read: "And Jacob called the name of the place "the Face of God" (i.e., Peniel: פְּנִיאֵל) saying, "For I have seen God face to face (פּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), and yet my life has been delivered" (Gen. 32:30). And where did Jacob see God "face to face" except in the struggle of faith, while seeking the blessing, even in the midst of his own inner conflict? And here too may you find the Shining Presence, the Face of God, even in the midst of your troubled life, as you struggle, refusing to let go until you are taken hold by God's love...

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




Parashat Vayishlach...


 

[ We always read Vayishlach a couple weeks before Chanukah when we connect the vision and ministry of Joseph with that of Yeshua, the Suffering Servant Savior of the world... ]

12.11.16  (Kislev 11, 5777)  Our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Vayishlach) contains the famous account of how Jacob "wrestled" with the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) just before he encountered his estranged brother Esau. During the "grappling" session (recall the meaning of Jacob's name), the Angel injured Jacob's thigh, but Jacob refused to release his hold until he received the blessing (הַבְּרָכָה). The LORD then asked him, "What is your name (מַה־שְּׁמֶךָ)?"  And he said, "Jacob" (i.e., Ya'akov: יַעֲקב). The Angel then replied, "Your name shall no longer be Ya'akov ("heel holder" [of Esau]) but Yisrael ("contender with God"), for as a prince (i.e., sar: שַׂר) you have contended (i.e., sarita: שָׂרִיתָ) with God and with men and have prevailed" (Gen. 32:28). Jacob finally prevailed with God when he refused to let his past determine his spiritual status and destiny... This teaches that Jacob finally received the blessing when he refused to let his past determine his spiritual identity and destiny. With God's help he overcome the pain and shame of his past through faith.

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


The word vayishlach (וַיִּשְׁלַח) means "and he sent" (from shalach, שׁלח, "to send"). The sages comment that like Jacob, each person of faith is a shaliach (שָׁלִיחַ), or an "emissary" sent out to bear witness to others of the reality and true blessing of God. And may the LORD God of Israel help you, friend, serve as an extension (שְׁלוּחָה) of His loving and gracious Presence to all you may encounter this day....

May this week be a good one for you, my friend.  May you embody and express with all your heart the grace and love of God, and the great peace of God that surpasses understanding, so that your life will be meaningful and will reveal the Blessing of Heaven in all that you do.  Shavuah Tov!
 




Treasures of the Heart...


 

12.09.16  (Kislev 9, 5777)  Our Lord appealed to us: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:19-21). This teaches us that the good of the heavenly world is not subject to the decay of this world, and that God invites our hearts to find abiding treasure in His Presence.

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

Shabbat shalom, chaverim. We are traveling to see my mother for the weekend, though we remember you all in our prayers. Peace and love and good be upon you as you seek the LORD and walk in the Divine Light of Yeshua.
 




Why Celebrate Chanukah?


 

12.09.16  (Kislev 9, 5777)  The word chanukah (חֲנֻכָּה) means "dedication," a word that shares the same root as the Hebrew the word chinukh (חִנּוּךְ), meaning "education." Just as the Maccabees fought and died for the sake of Torah truth, so we must wage war within ourselves and break the stronghold of apathy and indifference that the present world system engenders (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 6:11-18). We must take time to educate ourselves by studying the Torah and New Testament, for by so doing we will be rededicated to the service of the truth and enabled to resist assimilation into the corrupt world. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world..." (1 John 2:15).

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

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

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

Note:  Some people think it's amusing to wish people a happy "Christnukah" or "Chanukahmas" (combining the words "Chanukah" and "Christmas"), though in reality these are two very different holidays. The Hebrew word chanukah means "dedication" and marks an eight day winter celebration (from Kislev 25 - Tevet 3) that celebrates the (national) rededication of the Second Temple after a small group of Jewish believers defeated the forces of assimilation at work in their world. "Christmas," on the other hand, celebrates the birth of the Messiah and the advent of his redemptive mission to save the world from the sickness of spiritual death. Chanukah is not "Jewish Christmas," nor is Christmas a Gentile substitute for Chanukah. They are different holidays that celebrate different things, friends.
 




Chanukah and Vigilance...


 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah runs from Sat. Dec. 24th - Sun. Jan. 1st this year... ]

12.09.16  (Kislev 9, 5777)  A central message of Chanukah is to resist being "assimilated" into this dark world and its benighted culture.  As it says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed (i.e., transfigured by the light) through the renewal (ἀνακαίνωσις) of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God" (Rom. 12:2). Notice that the Greek word translated "conformed" is a passive verb (συσχηματίζω, derived from σύν, "with," + σχῆμα, "matrix") which means that we must consciously resist being lulled into accepting this world's various ideologies (matrix) that are crafted to ignore Divine the Presence and Truth.  In the realm of the spiritual, there is simply no place of neutrality, and if we are not going forward, then it's likely we are going backward...  Therefore we are repeatedly commanded to test the spirits (including our own!) and to examine truth claims. We ask God for wisdom and use the discernment from the Holy Spirit.
 

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

hash·li·khu · me·a·le·khem · et · kol · pish·e·khem
a·sher · pe·sha·e·tem · bam
va·a·su · la·khem · lev · cha·dash · ve·ru·ach · cha·da·shah
 

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


 
Hebrew Study Card

 

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




Saved by Hope...



 

12.09.16  (Kislev 9, 5777)  "For we are saved by hope (τῇ γὰρ ἐλπίδι ἐσώθημεν): but hope that is seen is not hope..." (Rom. 8:24). The "eyes of the flesh" focus on this world and its possibilities (חַיֵּי שָׁעָה) and are therefore unable to discern beyond mere surface appearances. They are easily seduced by superficialities and glitter of this world and its vanities (עוֹלָם הַשֶּׁקֶר). The eyes of faith, on the other hand, "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. 4:18). In other words, faith "sees" the realm of the invisible (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם): For we "walk by faith, not by sight." We are "saved by hope," but hope that is seen is not hope.... Faith is the foundation (ὑπόστασις) of things hoped for, the conviction (ἔλεγχος) of things (πρᾶγμα) not seen" (Heb. 11:1).

By faith we have access to God's promises (Rom. 5:2), yet we do not see these treasures yet because they remain hidden in the future.  God's treasures are presently concealed and are found only by the heart of faith. Therefore we read, "Beloved, now are we the children of God, but it does not yet appear what we shall be..." (1 John 3:2). Our redemption is eternally secure yet remains to be wonderfully fulfilled, and therefore we must not lose sight of the goal. God both gives birth to our hope and is the satisfaction of our deepest longings. For those with God-given hope, gam zu l'tovah – all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28). Now "may the God of hope (אֱלהֵי הַתִּקְוָה) fill you with all joy and peace (כּל־שִׂמְחָה וְשָׁלוֹם) in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope" (Rom. 15:13).
 




The Beauty of Truth...


 

12.09.16  (Kislev 9, 5777)  It has been said that the Greek mindset regards what is beautiful as what is good, whereas the Hebraic mindset regards what is good as what is beautiful.  The difference is one of orientation.  Doing our duty before God, in other words, is what is truly beautiful, not merely appreciating the appearance of symmetry, order, and so on.  This explains why moral discipline (i.e., musar, מוּסָר) is so prominent in Hebrew wisdom literature. True beauty cannot exist apart from moral truth.

The word chinukh (חִנּוּךְ), "education," shares the same root as the word "chanukah" (חֲנֻכָּה, dedication). Unlike the Greek view that regards education as a pragmatic process of improving one's personal power or happiness, the Jewish idea implies dedication/direction to God and His concrete purposes on the earth.  Disciples of Yeshua are likewise 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). In the New Testament, the word "disciple" is μαθητής, a learner or a pupil of a διδάσκαλος, or a  teacher.  True education is therefore foundational to being a disciple of the Messiah.

Following Yeshua, then, first of all means submitting to His authority and learning from Him as your Teacher (Matt. 23:8). Only after spending time with Him are you commissioned to go "to all the nations and teach..." (Matt. 28:19). This is accomplished not only by explaining (propositional) doctrine but by kiddush HaShem -- sanctifying the LORD in our lives. We are called to be a "living letter" sent to the world to be "read" (2 Cor. 3:2-3).

During Chanukah we recall the courage and faith of Judah the "Maccabee" and his brothers. The name "Maccabee" is said to be an acronym [מ כּ בּ י] for Moses' affirmation of faith: מִי־כָמכָה בָּאֵלִם יהוה / "Who is like you, LORD, among the mighty?" (Exod. 15:11). Since God alone is the Supreme Ruler of the universe, we do not need to live in fear of man. As King David wrote: יהוה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא / "The LORD is my Light and my Salvation - of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1). Yeshua the Messiah is our true Light (ha'or ha'amiti) and our Salvation (yeshu'ah). He has said, "My peace I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 14:27, 16:33).
 

בָּרוּךְ הוּא הָאֱלהִים אֲשֶׁר נָתַן־לָנוּ תְּשׁוּעָה נִצַּחַת בְּיַד
יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ אֲדנֵינוּ
 

ba·rukh · hu · ha-E·lo·him · a·sher · na·tan-la·nu · te·shu·ah · ni·tza·chat · be·yad
Yeshua ha-Ma·shi·ach · A·do·nei·nu
 

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through
our Lord Yeshua the Messiah! (1 Cor. 15:57)



Hebrew Study Card Download

 

Note:  For more on this see, "The Beauty of Truth: A Chanukah Meditation."
 




The Blessing of Tradition...


 

[ There is tradition, and then there is tradition... Not all tradition is bad, of course, though we must be careful not to become enslaved to habitual ways of thinking that may hinder us from encountering the truth... ]

12.09.16  (Kislev 9, 5777)  Some people think they are free from the influence of "tradition" in their understanding of Scripture, but of course this is logically impossible. In fact, we could not understand even the first word of the Scriptures without the aid of tradition... 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 same 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 the Scriptures in a vacuum - all by ourselves 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).

Abraham demonstrated such unwavering trust in God's truth that he was willing to offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice, and therefore the promises of God were entrusted to him and his descendants because the LORD foresaw how they would preserve the Word of God for future generations (see Rom. 3:1-2). Part of our faith implies that we trust that God, by means of the Ruach HaKodesh, has providentially preserved the texts of Scripture over the centuries, and that he has enabled his people to discern the meaning of the texts as well...  Of course we are study to show ourselves approved before God (2 Tim. 2:15) but that means we persevere in the quest to hear God's voice and follow the leading of the Spirit...

Understand that there is much tradition embedded in our Bibles, chaverim... For example, both the earliest Hebrew and Greek manuscripts did not include any vowel markings or punctuation marks, and that means "oral tradition" was used to interpret the meaning of words and the grammar of texts. Moreover, the very concept of what constitutes "Scripture" (i.e., the development of the "canon") was the product of historical decisions beyond our control. Later, chapter divisions, verse numbers, and the arrangement of the "books" into a single codex ("book") was devised (what we now call our "Bible"), but such textual divisions and interpolations were not part of the original scrolls....  Despite all this "meddling" by tradition, we nevertheless believe that the Bible we have today is the true Word of God, but that implies that we also believe that it was handed down over the centuries to us by godly people, and that God's truth was meticulously and miraculously preserved.  We believe God preserves kotzo shel yod (קוֹצוֹ שֶׁל יוֹד) -- every Yod (י) and every stroke of the Yod! Indeed comparing manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls with medieval manuscripts proves the remarkable preservation of the words of Scripture, so that we can rest assured we have reliable texts. Where we run into differences, however, concerns interpretative factors (i.e., "hermeneutics"). Each of us interprets the words of the Bible based on historical biases and prejudices that we bring to its texts: we often read and think just what we want to read and think, instead of asking God for the wisdom and humility to study and learn...

When Yeshua said to beware of man's traditions, he was referring to those religious traditions that put a "fence" (gezerah) around the clear teaching of Torah, not the more general "tradition" to learn how to read, how to study, how to value God's truth, etc. In fact, without linguistic traditions, for example, no one could ever read anything, since the meaning of the words and sounds signified by letters, etc., would constantly be in flux...

The Torah was written in the language of human beings so that human beings could understand its message, but this presupposes reliance on our tradition.... For example, the Torah provides general instructions to build the Mishkan (tabernacle) according to the "pattern" (תַּבְנִית) given to Moses (Exod. 25:9), but it does not provide explicit details about how forge silver and gold, how to make gate "sockets," how to weave embroidery for the parochet (curtain), and so on. Units of measure such as "cubits" and "amot" can only be understood by consulting oral tradition. Likewise the Torah commanded Israel to set up a system of judges and law courts, though it did not provide explicit instructions about how the courts were to function. "Faith comes by hearing the word of God" (Rom. 10:17).

Rightly understood, Jewish "tradition" is a great blessing that recalls our heritage, our history, and our destiny as the people of God... Indeed tradition (מָסוֹרֶת) is connected to our collective memory and to our very inheritance in the world to come (Rev. 21:12). So let us not unthinkingly disparage the word "tradition," but instead honor the providential hand of God as Scripture has been miraculously preserved for us over the centuries.  And as for Christians who mistakenly insist that we are not beholden to Jewish history and tradition, we are warned not to be "arrogant toward the branches; if you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you" (Rom. 11:18). As partakers of the covenants given to Israel, you aren't feeding the root; the root is feeding you...
 




Inexplicable Suffering...


 

12.08.16  (Kislev 8, 5777)  "Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless" (Psalm 88:15). Unless your theology can accommodate the darkness expressed in Psalm 88, you are liable to be overthrown through periods of depression and anguish of heart.... Human reason naturally seeks a link between moral cause and effect, but Psalm 88, the Book of Job, the Book  of Ecclesiastes, and innumerable other Scriptures leave the soul in a voiceless state of suffering when certain evils befall us. Recall how Aaron, the first High Priest, was told he could not grieve for the death of his two sons when the Mishkan was dedicated. There sometimes is no "because," no "cause" that is forthcoming. Sometimes we are left with wordless grief, consigned to a place of darkness and inner pain.

Alan Redpath once wrote, "When God wants to do an impossible task, He takes an impossible individual -- and crushes him" (The Making of a Man of God).  This seems to be the divine pattern. Certainly Yeshua understood what it felt like to have everything good ripped away from him, all human sympathy withdrawn, with nothing left but darkness and terror, tasting even the infinite loss of divine consolation. There is a "following" of the LORD even into the dust of death. 

Sometimes suffering can be cognitive or emotional as well as physical. The presence of moral evil in the world -- including the prevalence of "war creators" and the innumerable ways human beings routinely harm one other -- can cause us to almost die of despair. This too must be part of our confession.

God is "big enough" to handle the vent of anger, the abyss of your sadness and grief; surely God knows that life in this world calls for the lament of the soul... May it please the LORD - the very Name and Meaning of all true love - to hear the anguish of our heart as a cry for his presence, for his comfort, and for heaven itself.... Amen.

The essence of divine revelation is the "Name" of God, which is the power of Love... It was the love of God that put Yeshua on the cross, and the voice of that Name is best heard in the cry of God's own broken heart expressed there. The Name of the LORD is the Reality and Meaning of all true love in the universe... 
 




Teshuvah of Quiet...

Photo by John J Parsons
 

12.07.16  (Kislev 7, 5777)  "Be still and know that I AM..." (Psalm 46:10). Prayer is a type of listening (shema), a turning back to heed the message of God's love and hope. Indeed, the word "teshuvah" (תְּשׁוּבָה), often translated as "repentance," also means an answer or response to a question. God's love is the question, and the heart's response is the answer. Some of us may find it difficult to trust, to open our heart to receive grace and kindness. For those of us wounded by abandonment, it can be a great struggle to hear the voice of God calling you "beloved," "worthy," "valued," and "accepted." When you find faith to receive God's word of love, however, your heart comes alive and you begin to heal. May you hear the Spirit speaking to you this hour...
 




Dangerous Drifting...


 

12.07.16  (Kislev 7, 5777)  Spiritually speaking, the greater danger is not some spectacular sin but rather the imperceptible drifting away of the heart, a cooling of passion, a failure to tend the fire of our inner altar.... Therefore we are earnestly admonished to "pay more careful attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away" (Heb. 2:1). The nautical metaphor is clear: we must be anchored to the truth lest we become shipwrecked in our faith. Drifting is often imperceptible, and occurs slowly, though the end result is as deadly as openly turning away from God in outright apostasy. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, "The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts." The grave danger today is to quietly and invisibly give up hope, to unconsciously "go with the flow," to become comfortably numb, to fall asleep, and therefore to die inside... It is far more dangerous to ignore God's mercy, or to make a pretense of knowing God's grace, than it is to blatantly break his law. Therefore the urgent need is to remember, to hear, and to awaken the soul to face the truth about reality. We must focus the heart, concentrate the will, and consciously "set" the Lord always before us (Psalm 16:8). Each day we must awaken from our emptiness to reaffirm the central truth: "Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:4-5). "Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light" (Eph. 5:14).
 




Healing and Honesty...



 

12.07.16  (Kislev 7, 5777)  It is written in our Scriptures: "Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed" (James 5:16)... Note the connection here between acknowledging the truth about our struggles and finding healing for our souls.  It has been wisely said that "we are only as sick as the secrets we keep." Indeed, hiding our sins and struggles may make us strangers to ourselves and prisoners to shame and fear. What remains hidden within us can become a destructive force, a "dark side" of the self that suddenly erupts in unexpected ways.  We find deliverance by becoming vulnerable and sharing our true self with a trusted friend. As Margary Williams wrote in the Velveteen Rabbit: "Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand." It's in this context that confession and healing may be found, as we share our brokenness with another and discover real hope in God's redeeming love.

The unexamined life -- especially as a follower of Yeshua -- is not worth living, and the practice of suppressing the truth about our sinful condition can lead to self-deception and even death (1 Cor. 11:30). "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:7-8). "Therefore, confess (ἐξομολογέω, lit. 'speak out') your sins to one another and pray (εὔχομαι) for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person (tzaddik) works great power" (James 5:16).
 




Affliction and Comfort...


 

12.07.16  (Kislev 7, 5777)  Some of us carry emotional pain that refuses to leave us, even after we have poured out our hearts before heaven for deliverance... Perhaps this pain comes from wounds inflicted early in life that have left us feeling betrayed, victimized, and wary of the promise love. God knows our struggle... We can find healing when we learn to "own" the pain and make it part of the story of our redemption, trusting that God will use it to draw us close to him for our good. After all, God is called "the Father of Mercies and God of all comfort" (אַב הָרַחֲמִים וֵאלהֵי כָּל־נֶחָמָה), and the Lord "comforts us" (lit., "calls us to His side," παρακαλέω) in our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are afflicted with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Take comfort, then, that your Heavenly Father sees when the sparrow falls; he arrays the flower in its hidden valley; he calls each star by name. More importantly, the Lord sees you and understands your struggle. He will never leave you nor forsake you...
 

הָרפֵא לִשְׁבוּרֵי לֵב וּמְחַבֵּשׁ לְעַצְּבוֹתָם
מוֹנֶה מִסְפָּר לַכּוֹכָבִים לְכֻלָּם שֵׁמוֹת יִקְרָא

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

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

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

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

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




The Ladder of Messiah...


 

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

12.06.16  (Kislev 6, 5777)  The revelation at Sinai and Jacob's vision of the ladder share something in common. Just as Yeshua was the "Voice of the Living God (קוֹל אֱלהִים חַיִּים) speaking (davar) from the midst of the fire" at Sinai (Deut. 5:26), so He was the Ascended LORD standing above the ladder speaking the word of promise (Gen. 28:12-15). In this connection we note that the words for "ladder," (i.e., sullam: סֻלָּם), "voice" (i.e., kol: קל), and "Sinai" (סִינָי) all have the same numerical value, which suggests a connection between the two great visions. Yeshua is the Ladder to God, the means by which the Living Torah both descends and ascends for the sake of our deliverance (John 1:51). The "ladder of Sinai" is not meant for us to ascend but rather is for the LORD our Savior to descend and ascend on our behalf. Yeshua is the way, the truth, and the life (הדֶּרֶךְ וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַחַיִּים): no one can draw near to the Heavenly Father apart from Him (John 14:6).
 




The Ladder of Truth...


 

12.06.16  (Kislev 6, 5777)  The Hebrew idea of "truth" (i.e., emet: אֱמֶת) is richer than accurate factual description, since it also contains moral implications: what is true is also right, good, reliable (honest), beautiful, and sacred. The Hebrew word itself comes from a verb (aman) that means to "confirm" or establish. The noun emunah (i.e, אֱמוּנָה, "faithfulness" or "trustworthiness") comes from this root, as does the familiar word "amen," which expresses the will to live by what is ratified, since truth that is not lived is not truth. Indeed speaking the truth (dibbur emet) is considered foundational to moral life, as it says: "Speak the truth (דַּבְּרוּ אֱמֶת) to one another; render true and perfect justice in your gates" (Zech. 8:16). Yeshua repeatedly said, "Amen, Amen I say to you...." throughout his teaching ministry to stress the reliability and certainty of God's truth (Matt. 5:18, 26, etc.). Indeed, Yeshua is called "the Amen, the faithful and true witness" (Rev. 3:14).

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

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

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





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