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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 Jewish civil year begins in the fall, though the Biblical year begins in spring (Exod. 12:2). Preparations for the fall holidays begin with a thirty day period of teshuvah (repentance) during the (late summer) month of Elul. The following ten days begin with the Feast of Trumpets (i.e., Rosh Hashanah, on Tishri 1) and end with the Day of Atonement (i.e., Yom Kippur, on Tishri 10). These first ten days of the new year are called the "Ten Days of Awe" (i.e., aseret ye'mei teshuvah: עֲשֶׁרֶת יְמֵי תְּשׁוּבָה), or simply the Jewish "High Holidays." Just five days after the solemn time of Yom Kippur begins the joyous week-long festival of Sukkot ("Tabernacles"), which is immediately followed by the celebration of Simchat Torah. The holiday of Chanukah occurs in late fall and carries over to the winter season:
 

Fall Holiday Calendar
 

The Fall Holidays:

Fall Holidays
 

The fall festivals prophetically indicate the Day of the LORD, the second coming of Yeshua, the great national turning of the Jewish people, and the establishment of the reign of the Messiah upon the earth during the Millennial Kingdom in the world to come.

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

  1. Month of Elul (Friday Sept. 2nd, 2016 [eve] - Sun. Oct. 2nd, 2016)
  2. Month of Tishri (Sun. Oct. 2nd [eve] - Tues. Nov. 1st [day])
  3. Month of Cheshvan (Mon. Oct. 31st [eve] - Wed. Nov. 30th [day])
    • Four Sabbaths: Noach, Lekh-Lekha, Vayera, Chayei Sarah
    • Yom Ha'Aliyah - A modern holiday that honors honor the contributions of olim (immigrants) to Israeli society (Cheshvan 7 - Thurs., Oct. 26)
    • Sigd - 50th day after Yom Kippur; Ethiopian Jewish holiday (Tues., Nov. 29)
  4. Month of Kislev (Wed. Nov. 30th [eve] - Fri. Dec. 29th [day])
  5. Month of Tevet (Thurs., Dec. 29th [eve] - Fri. Jan. 27th [day])


 

Note:  Some calendars will list the first day of a holiday without indicating that the holiday actually begins sundown the night before... So, for example, while Chanukah begins Saturday, Dec. 24th at sundown, many calendars may indicate that it occurs on Sunday, December 25th.

 



 

December 2016 Site Updates
 


Torah of Faith, Hope, Love...


 

12.02.16  (Kislev 2, 5777)  "And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). Here note the distinction between the promise of God and the commandments of God. The promise of God is rooted in God's heart - his desire and will, his character and passion - but the commandments of God are rooted in man's heart, in his desire and will to obey (or not). Receiving God's love is not based on imperative and the language of conditional acceptance, but is based on the promise of love and grace. The "work of faith" (מַעֲשֶׂה הָאֱמוּנָה) is to believe that God accepts you despite your unacceptability, and that you are esteemed righteous for believing the truth of God's heart. Faith justifies the ungodly because faith accepts the promise, just as Abraham was justified because he trusted in the promise of the seed to come. Therefore, as Rabbi Paul taught, we maintain that a person is justified apart from the law (Rom. 3:28), which is to affirm that eternal life is found exclusively in the grace and promises of God. This is the Torah of "faith, hope, and love," and it is a lifelong discipline to know it in the truth. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God's righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6).
 




King of the Weak...

Marc Chagall
 

12.02.16  (Kislev 2, 5777)  In our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Toldot) Isaac repeated the failure of his father Abraham by fearfully saying his wife Rebekah was his "sister" (Gen. 26:7, cp. Gen. 12:13, 20:2). In his weakness Isaac thought, "I'll say she's my sister lest the people there kill me." This story is recounted in Torah to comfort us. If so great a man as the patriarch Isaac lapsed into fearful thinking, we should understand how merciful, patient, and kind God really is. Even though we are sinful and weak people, God still loves and cares for us. He is the King of the weak, the needy, and the "ragamuffins" of this world. He extends his compassion to those who are burdened by their sinfulness and who hunger and thirst for God's righteousness. "Blessed are the pure in heart," that is, those who yearn for God's great love, "for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8).
 




Finding Inner Peace...


 

12.02.16  (Kislev 2, 5777)  The ultimate question is whether you feel "safe" with the truth of who you really are... When you are all alone, in a moment of still silence, when the entire world is asleep and suspended, what is the message of your heart's cry?  Are you okay? Do you trust who you are or what is happening to you, or do you experience anxiety, a sense of lostness, inner pain?  Comfort is found in God's grace. His promise is given to the sick at heart, to those who understand their need for a physician (Matt. 9:12). Since there is nothing about you to commend before God, you are made free to abandon yourself to the divine love. This is the "Name of the LORD," after all, and your heart's cry for love is a "prayer" uttered in that Name. Your heavenly Father sees in secret (Matt. 6:6). Consider the birds of the air; they are unreflective, alive in the atmosphere of God's care. What a great blessing to let go of your fear; what a relief! Surrender to the truth of your helplessness; rejoice that you are "poor in spirit," for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 5:3). So don't give up your faith, my friend. God promises to be with you to the end, leading you to the place where your heart will forever be satisfied in his love.

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




Not in Vain...


 

12.02.16  (Kislev 2, 5777)  "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness could come through the law, then Messiah died for nothing" (Gal. 2:21). Now while the law is holy, and the commandments are "holy, just and good" (Rom. 7:12), we cannot be justified by our own good works at the bar of divine judgment, and therefore we rely on God's grace – the promise that God justifies the helpless and the ungodly (see Rom. 4:5). Trying to justify yourself apart from the miracle throws away God's grace and regards Messiah's sacrifice as insufficient, and therefore is the greatest affront before heaven. Because Yeshua's death is essential, however, the law must be understood provisionally, or as a "tutor" that reveals our inner condition (Gal. 3:24). Recall that when the Ten Commandments were first uttered at Sinai, the people drew back in dread because the truth of their inner condition was exposed (Deut. 5:5-6). Paradoxically, the first great lesson of the law is that we are lawbreakers who are in lethal need for deliverance (1 Tim. 1:8-10). For this the miracle of regeneration is needed, as Yeshua clearly taught us (John 3:3-7). We do not find life apart from the Savior, the Way of Life, and therefore it is a grave mistake to regard Yeshua's ministry as a "second coming of Moses." No, Moses himself pointed to the coming of Messiah who would redeem Israel and make all things new (John 5:46; Luke 24:27; Gen. 22, etc.). Ironically, those who continue to establish their own righteousness by attempting to adhere to the law are regarded as slaves, the "children of Hagar," whereas those who trust in the promise of God are regarded as free, the "children of Sarah," inhabitants of Jerusalem that is above (see Gal. 4:21-5:1). The "works of the law," here understood to mean actions performed with the intent of commending the self before heaven, do not effect real righteousness, since Yeshua is the "end of the law" – the goal, purpose, and inner meaning – of eternal righteousness. Therefore Yeshua is Adonai Tzidkenu (יְהוָה צִדְקֵנוּ) – the LORD our Righteousness!

Note:  The obedience of faith (ὑπακοὴν πίστεως), which Yeshua called the work of God (John 6:28-29), is the Torah "written upon the heart" so that we fulfill the heart of the law by means of the heart of God given to us... I am not advocating "anti-nomialism," or moral anarchy, of course: those who are truly people of faith walk in the law of God's love, which is the fulfillment or goal of the law (Rom. 13:10). People who think that we are set "free" from the law do not fully understand either what the law means nor what freedom means. The "work" of faith is real work, though it is the "work" of believing or trusting the promise of God, surrendering the heart to God's love, "accepting that you are accepted despite your unacceptability," and so on. The "work of faith" (מַעֲשֶׂה הָאֱמוּנָה) is the practice of receiving the blessing that you are a child of God by means of our Savior Yeshua's avodah for us... Yes, it's a balance to understand how the law and faith are related, though the power to obey the Shema (i.e., to love God in the truth) comes by receiving the promise of God's heart, not by adherence to a lawcode... The Torah is eternally true; the covenant is truly new.
 




Helmet of Salvation...


 

12.02.16  (Kislev 2, 5777)  "O GOD the Lord, the strength of my salvation, you have covered my head in the day of battle" (Psalm 140:7). We are in the midst of a great war for the sanctity of our souls, and the enemy is always fear. Fear amplifies our anxieties and magnifies our problems, since it heeds messages of unbelief and justifies despair. We must understand that fear is a false witness - an emissary that gainsays the truth and denies the power of God. In the midst of your struggle with fearful thoughts, resolutely put your trust in the Lord, and he will cover your head in the midst of the battle.
 

יְהוִה אֲדנָי עז יְשׁוּעָתִי
סַכּתָה לְראשִׁי בְּיוֹם נָשֶׁק

E·lo·him · Adonai · oz · ye·shu·a·ti
sa·ko·tah · le·ro·shi · be·yom · na·shek
 

"O GOD the Lord, the strength of my salvation,
you have covered my head in the day of battle"
(Psalm 140:7)

 

 




Esau and Rome...


 

12.02.16  (Kislev 2, 5777)  From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Toldot) we read: "And the LORD said to her [i.e., Rebekah], 'Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger'" (Gen. 25:23). Here Jewish tradition associates the progeny of Esau with Rome, and by extension, western "Christendom," even though this association is generally unwarranted except perhaps symbolically. The physical descendants of Esau were called "Edomites" (a term derived from the Hebrew word "red" (אָדם) that first referred to Esau's color at birth (Gen. 25:25) and later with the red stew he ate in exchange for the right of being the firstborn son and heir of his father Isaac (Gen. 25:30)). Historically and geographically speaking, the Edomites settled in Seir in the land south of the Dead Sea. When Israel escaped from Egypt during the time of the great Exodus, the kingdom of Edom refused them safe passage (Num. 20:17-18). Later, after Israel had gained control of the land of Canaan, both King Saul and King David fought against the Edomites. Later still, during the time of the Maccabean Revolt, many Edomites were forced to convert to Judaism, and during the rise of the Roman Empire and the institution of the Judean Province, these converted Edomites (called "Idumaeans") were treated with suspicion because they were sympathetic to the Romans, and indeed many of them were appointed to high places of government at the behest of Rome (e.g., Herod the Great). Perhaps for this reason the sages identified "Edom" with "Rome," regarding the oppression by the Roman Empire (and later by western Christianity) to be the result of the original enmity between Esau and Jacob.
 




The Reward of Faith...


 

12.01.16  (Kislev 1, 5777)  It is written in our Scriptures: "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). Note that the word translated "impossible" in this verse (ἀδύνατος) means powerless, incapable, and so on, which implies that faith is the key that opens the door to God's presence. It is not possible to please God, after all, if you do not believe in his Reality and concern for your life.  Indeed confidence in God's promises is the foundation of everything; it is the source of your inner life connection and the answer to your prayer for healing. As our LORD Yeshua said: "Take heart; your faith has made you whole" (Matt. 9:22). God rewards those who earnestly seek him. This hearkens to the promise made to our father Abraham: אל־תִּירָא אַבְרָם - "Fear not, Abram," אָנכִי מָגֵן לָךְ – "I am your Shield," שְׂכָרְךָ הַרְבֵּה מְאד - your reward shall be very great" (Gen. 15:1). "For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk in trust" (Psalm 84:11). God imparts favor to those who honestly seek Him, as it is written: "and you shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me bekhol levavkha - with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13). That is the teshuvah (answer) to God's haunting question regarding your life; you find "all your heart" as you seek God's presence  in all your ways (Prov. 3:6). Faith is its own reward since it imparts the blessing of Reality. The Greek word used to translate "those who seek" is a present active participle (ἐκζητοῦσιν) that refers to those who continue to search for God's Presence and truth. Like the great prophet Enoch, this is the way to "walk with God." So do not lose heart or throw away your confidence, dear friend, because it has great reward (Heb. 10:35).
 




Broken and Remade...


 

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

12.01.16  (Kislev 1, 5777)  "See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is immoral or profane like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it (the blessing) with tears" (Heb. 12:15-17; Gen. 27:38). "For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters (מְקוֹר מַיִם חַיִּים), and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13). Spiritually speaking, there are two basic sorts of breaking. One is to be broken by the inevitable sin and ruin of this world, and the other is to be made lev-nishbar (לֵב־נִשְׁבָּר), a broken heart, before the LORD. The former breaking comes from the vain attempt to find life in the broken vessels of this world, and "repentance" is expressed as remorse over perceived temporal loss. This sorrow eventually leads the soul to death (2 Cor. 7:10). To be inwardly broken, on the other hand, requires mourning over your life and returning to God for deliverance (Matt. 5:4). In hunger and thirst for God's righteousness the soul finds eternal satisfaction, since God alone provides the vessel of "living water" we need to live (John 4:14; 7:38). We all must drink from God's fountain of life (מְקוֹר חַיִּים), lest we suffer spiritual dehydration and death....

Are you haunted by an inner ache for love, joy, peace, and life? "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6). Our inner poverty and need is a disguised grace; our desire for healing reveals the Spirit's invitation. Faith begins with the recognition of our need, since only then will we come to Yeshua for the "Bread of Life" (לֶחֶם הַחַיִּים) and the "Living Water" (מַיִם חַיִּים). Everything we need is found in him, though we must reach out in faith: "For without faith (אֱמוּנָה) it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who seek him" (Heb. 11:6). God rewards those who seek him; he answers the heart's cry; he responds to all who trust in his love and salvation. Therefore "ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened" (Matt. 7:7-8). We are not saved by faith in our own faith, but in the Reality and Power of the LORD God who alone can raise the dead to new life....
 



 

November 2016 Site Updates
 


Israel and the Akedah...


 

[ In our Torah portion this week (parashat Toldot) we learn that the oath of blessing that God gave to Abraham was extended (exclusively) to his son Isaac... ]

11.30.16  (Cheshvan 29, 5777)  Consider the connection between the oath of blessing and Abraham's beloved son Isaac. The Jewish people are alive today because Abraham was willing to sacrifice his "only begotten son" in faithful obedience before God.... The phrase, "by myself have I sworn" is the most solemn oath God could make and must be regarded as an inviolable vow (Gen. 26:16-17, cp. Heb. 6:13-18). The Targum Yonatan reads, "By my Word have I sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not spared your only son... that all the peoples of the earth shall be blessed through the righteousness of your son, because you have obeyed My word."

What was the reason for this tremendous promise and blessing given to Abraham? In a word: his faithful obedience to the Word of the LORD. When the LORD extended the oath of blessing to Isaac, He said: "And in your offspring (זַרְעֲךָ) shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws" (Gen. 26:2-5). In other words, it was Abraham's obedience - supremely tested by the decree to sacrifice his own son - that led to the irrevocable oath of the LORD God Almighty (אֵל שַׁדַּי).

It is interesting that the sages of the Talmud understood the merit of Abraham in terms of his obedience to the Sinai covenant (i.e., the law of Moses) rather than through the Torah of faith. They interpret the verse: "Because Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my decrees, and my laws" to mean that Abraham obeyed all "613 laws of the Torah" -- even before they were revealed at Sinai 400 years later (Yoma 28b).

Strictly speaking their conclusion is unwarranted, of course, since it is preposterous to think that Abraham literally observed all 613 laws of the Torah given at Sinai.  After all, many of these laws pertained exclusively to women (e.g., laws of niddah), to slaves (laws of redemption), to lepers (laws of tza'arat), to priests (laws of sacrifice), to Levites (laws of the Tabernacle), to farmers (laws of ma'aser), to judges (laws of justice), to soldiers (laws of warfare), and so on. It is better to read the verse in context and to bear in mind that the word Torah refers to God's instruction or revealed will, which obviously predated the law given at Sinai (more here). Nevertheless Abraham heard (שָׁמַע) the Voice of the LORD and obeyed all of God's instructions, commandments and "decrees" (i.e., those commandments that defied his rational understanding).  Indeed, the consummate example of a decree (chok) was God's request that Abraham sacrifice his exclusively appointed and promised heir as a burnt offering on Mount Moriah, and yet it is precisely because Abraham obeyed this decree that the oath of blessing was given.  In other words, it was the sacrifice of the promised seed that brought about God's unchanging oath - not the pledge to keep covenantal laws later given at Sinai. Put the other way around, all the "commandments, decrees, and laws" were fulfilled by Abraham because he heard God's voice and trusted in the sacrificial death and resurrection of his "only begotten" son, and this is surely a prefigurement of the justification imparted by faith in the gospel message itself (Heb. 11:17-19; Gal. 3:8,16-18; John 3:16).
 

The very existence of Israel and of the Jewish people derives from
nothing less than the sacrifice of the Promised Seed...


As I have mentioned elsewhere, the first occurrence of the word "love" in the Bible (אַהֲבָה) concerns Abraham's love for his "only begotten" son Isaac, whom he willingly offered as a sacrifice on Moriah. Abraham "built the altar," "laid the wood in order," "bound his son," and "laid him on top of the wood" to foreshadow the sacrifice of the Promised Seed to come... The Akedah is truly the "Gospel according to Moses."

Jewish tradition completely misunderstands the significance of the Akedah. The story of Abraham's supreme test of faith is recited every morning as a prelude to Shacharit (morning) services and at the start of every Jewish year (i.e., Rosh Hashanah). Perhaps the motivation for doing so is to connect the passion of Abraham's sacrifice with the passion to live a characteristically Jewish life.  Nonetheless it is nothing short of astounding to realize that the very existence of the Jewish people - and the coming of the Messiah himself - derives from Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his "only begotten son."  Abraham's faith in God's promise constitutes a "deeper Torah" than that given at Sinai....

The ultimate message of the Akedah is that the sacrifice of the Promised Seed gives life to Israel - and to all who likewise share the faith of Abraham, the father of all who trust in God's promises (Rom. 4:11-22). Israel did not become a nation at Sinai but rather was born out of the sacrifice of the promised seed. This is why Paul made the point that the promise of blessing - received by faith - predated the giving of the law:
 

    For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring -- not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations" -- in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. (Rom. 4:13-17)
     

Just as Abraham was declared righteous by trusting in the promises of God (symbolized by the sacrifice of his son), so are we made partakers of his blessings by trusting in the One who sacrificed His only begotten Son and raised Him from the dead.

For more on this see, "Israel and the Akedah: Further thoughts on parashat Toldot."
 




Seeing with Wonder...


 

11.29.16  (Cheshvan 28, 5777)  The commandment not to take the Name of the LORD "in vain" (Exod. 20:7) implies that we must affirm the sanctity, meaning, significance, and worth of life itself.  We must never live as though God does not exist, or, to state this positively, we must "set the LORD" always before us (Psalm 16:8). It is therefore forbidden to ignore the miracle of existence, to scoff at the value of life, or to debase ourselves by refusing to receive the truth. We are to take every thought "captive" to the reality of the Messiah (2 Cor. 10:5). Everything belongs to God, and every moment we have is beholden to Him...
 

שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

Finding deliverance from profane thinking requires concentrated focus, or "kavanah" (כַּוָנָּה). As it is written: "We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Messiah" (2 Cor. 5:10). We are instructed to "bring down reasonings" (λογισμοὺς καθαιροῦντες) and every high thing that is lifted up against the knowledge of God (κατὰ τῆς γνώσεως τοῦ θεου) and to bring every thought "as a captive" to the obedience (ὑπακοὴν, from ὑπό: by, under, + ἀκούω: hear, obey) of Messiah. We can do this negatively by fighting against evil thoughts and censoring the inner evil of our hearts, or we can do this positively by being "captivated" by the words and love of Yeshua,  and often we have to do both! This is the deeper meaning of "profanity" - to deny reality, to live in willful ignorance, and to miss the wonder of God's presence. If we sanctify God in our hearts, we will be far less likely to use God's name in vain, of course.

God invites you to come to Him for relationship... Since God is a Person, He wants to know you as a person. He is not interested in formulaic prayers, religious rituals, or your membership at a particular religious organization. God wants to know your inmost thoughts and heart. Drawing near to God is God's way of drawing near to you... In other words, as you draw near to God, He will draw near and touch you.  (more here)
 




Bartering with Vanity...


 

11.29.16  (Cheshvan 28, 5777)  From our Torah portion (i.e., parashat Toldot) we read: "And Esau said to Jacob, 'Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!' Therefore his name was called Edom (אֱדוֹם)." The Hebrew text more forcefully reports Esau's words: 'Let me gulp down (הַלְעִיטֵנִי) some of that "red-red stuff" (הָאָדם הָאָדם), picturing how eagerly he bartered away the blessing of heaven for a momentary and fleeting pleasure... The Maharal of Prague said that when Esau called the stew that "red-red stuff," he was acting like an animal that relates to things without restraint, in the immediacy of the moment, and without regard to their "form," that is, their higher purposes or end...
 

נִבְחָר שֵׁם מֵעשֶׁר רָב
מִכֶּסֶף וּמִזָּהָב חֵן טוֹב

niv·char · shem · me'osher · rav
mi'kesef · u'mizahav ·chen · tov
 

"A good name is to be chosen rather than great wealth,
grace is better than silver or gold."
(Prov. 22:1)
 


"See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; and that no one is sexually immoral or profane (i.e., βέβηλος, worldly, ungodly) like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal" (Heb. 12:15-16). Surely this is the deeper meaning of "profanity" - to deny reality, to live in willful ignorance, and to miss the glory of God's presence.
 




Blessings of Bean Soup...


 

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

11.29.16  (Cheshvan 28, 5777)  From our Torah this week (Toldot) we read: "Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew (לֶחֶם וּנְזִיד), and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised (בָּזָה) his birthright (בְּכרָה)" (Gen. 25:34). Esau esteemed the honor of being the firstborn son (i.e, bechor: בְּכוֹר) – the high priest of the family – as worth a "bowl of beans" when compared with the drive of his lower nature, and so he tragically forfeited the blessing of God... Far from regarding service to God as a divine privilege and wonderful opportunity to benefit his family, Esau wanted to be free of such responsibilities and therefore discredited the meaning and promise of faith. Note that the Hebrew word for "lentil stew" (or pottage) is nazid (נָזִיד), which comes from a Hebrew word that means "to boil up" in pride (i.e., zid: זִיד). Sadly, Esau was consumed with his own interests and regarded them as more important than the things of God.

Note: "Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright" (Gen. 25:34). Most translations of the Hebrew text suggest that because he bartered his birthright Esau disparaged it, but the text also implies continuity: after he ate, drank, and went his way, then Esau rationalized his bad decision by denying its importance...
 




Barrenness and Prayer...

Marc Chagall
 

11.28.16  (Cheshvan 27, 5777)  Our Torah portion this week (Toldot) explains that Isaac and Rebekah were still childless after 20 years of marriage. "And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren" (Gen. 25:21). The midrash (בראשית רבה) on this verse says that the patriarchs and matriarchs (Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel) were childless for so long because God wanted them to stretch their hearts in earnest prayer... The commentator Rashi says the Hebrew word for "prayer," tefillah (תְּפִלָּה), implies bonding, communion, and cleaving to God, and the times of barrenness were meant to draw the heart closer to God for help... We may know some things of Torah; we may suppose we understand truth from Scripture, but prayer from the heart unites us to the LORD our God. "Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your Name" (Psalm 86:11).
 

הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה דַּרְכֶּךָ אֲהַלֵּךְ בַּאֲמִתֶּךָ
 יַחֵד לְבָבִי לְיִרְאָה שְׁמֶךָ

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

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


 
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Note: For more on this subject, see "Barrenness and Prayer."
 




Isaac's Troubled Family...


 

11.28.16  (Cheshvan 27, 5777)  It is quite clear that the families of the patriarchs had serious struggles and were often quite "dysfunctional." If we idealize these people, however, we tend to forget their humanity, and they may appear disconnected from us - on a much higher spiritual level. The story of Isaac's troubled family is ultimately one of hope for us all. Isaac was deeply wounded but ultimately found healing, just as his son Jacob later wrestled through his family issues to be renamed "Israel." Take heart, chaverim: God can use us for His kingdom purposes despite whatever wounds and troubles might be in our family backgrounds. The Spirit speaks: "I AM the LORD your healer" (אֲנִי יְהוָה רפְאֶךָ).

Note: For more on this see, "Isaac's Troubled Family: Further thoughts on Toldot."
 




Our Future Hope...

Photo by John J Parsons
 

11.28.16  (Cheshvan 27, 5777)  It's been said that the will of God will never lead us to a place where the love of God will not keep us... Indeed the very Name of the LORD (יהוה) means "Presence" (Exod. 3:14) and "Compassion" (Exod. 34:6-7). Yeshua said, "I go to prepare a place for you," which means that his love and presence are waiting for you in whatever lies ahead. Heed the message of the Spirit: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for healing and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."
 

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

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

 

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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

    "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 [regenerated] soul there is ultimately no between." - Julian of Norwich

 




Hebrew Wordplay...


 

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

11.28.16  (Cheshvan 27, 5777)  The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with various kinds of wordplay. In addition to some humorous play on words (i.e., puns), you will discover alliteration, acrostics, parables, similes, metaphors, hyperboles, gematria, and other literary devices used in the Hebrew text. Many examples appear on the surface-level of the texts.  For example, "Adam" (אָדָם) is a play on the word adamah (אֲדָמָה, "ground"); Chavah (חַוָּה, "Eve") is a play on the word chai (חַי, "life"); Kayin (קַיִן, "Cain") is a play on the verb kanah (קָנָה, "to get"), Yitzchak (יִצְחָק, "Isaac"), plays on the verb tzachak (צָחַק, "to laugh"), and even the name "Jesus" (i.e., Yeshua: יֵשׁוּעַ) plays on the Hebrew word for deliverance or salvation (i.e., yeshuah: יְשׁוּעָה). Of course, many other examples could be cited...

Of interest to our Torah for this week (parashat Toldot), we note that wordplay was applied to Isaac's two sons. When the twins were born, the first came out hairy and was named Esau (עֵשָׂו), perhaps from the word esev (עֵשֶׂב), "grass" or "weed" of the field), whereas the second came out with his hand on his brother's heel, and was named Ya'akov (יַעֲקב, "grappler," from the word עָקֵב, "heel"). Later, when Esau learned that Jacob had taken away his blessing, he exclaimed, "Is he not rightly named "heel holder" (i.e., יַעֲקב)? For he has taken me by the heel (יַּעְקְבֵנִי) these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing" (Gen. 27:36).
 




The Prerogative of God...


 

11.27.16  (Cheshvan 26, 5777)  The Haftarah for parashat Toldot begins: "I have loved you," says the LORD. But you say, "How have you loved us?" "Is not Esau Jacob's brother?" declares the LORD. "Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert" (Mal. 1:1-3; cp. Rom. 9:9-13). Some people may find God's sovereign choice objectionable, though we know there is no unrighteousness in God's decrees and ways (Deut. 32:4; Psalm 18:30; James 1:17, etc.). Therefore Yeshua told his followers, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go forth and bear fruit..." (John 15:16). Religious pride recoils at these words, thinking, "I don't want to be chosen by God; I want to be in control; I want to choose God first." The ego seeks some reason for revelation, some merit that commends the self to God. It's hidden assumption is, "thank you, God, that I am not like other men" (Luke 18:11). The choice of God is scandalous because it is based on God's love, not our own (1 John 4:19). We were spiritually reborn, not as the result of anything in the realm of nature, nor even through our personal decision, but solely on account of God's sovereign prerogative (John 1:13). This is the message of the choice of Jacob over Esau in our Torah portion this week.  Regarding this the New Testament comments: "Though they (i.e., Jacob and Esau) were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad -- in order that God's purpose of election might stand (ἵνα ἡ κατ᾽ ἐκλογὴν πρόθεσις τοῦ θεοῦ μένῃ), not because of works but because of the One who calls, Rebekah was told, "the older will serve the younger" (Rom. 9:11-12). The carnal ego is quick to look for reasons that God chooses people, looking for merit or considering their worldly potential, though it is idolatrous to elevate the self this way. "Not by might nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of Hosts" (Zech. 4:6). We don't seek to please God so that we can be chosen; we are chosen so that we can seek to please him... God's grace and love for us is always the starting point: "Lord, teach us to pray," that is, choose the words for us, the groaning of your Spirit, in accordance with your perfect will...

Over the years I have repeatedly affirmed the "salvation is of the LORD" (לַיהוָה הַיְשׁוּעָה), and therefore 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 (helpless) 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. Dear friend, if God has chosen you to be in covenant with him, then you are indeed one of the "chosen people."

Therefore we can affirm the great benediction given in our Scriptures: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Adonai, Yeshua the Messiah, who has blessed us in Messiah with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world (καθὼς ἐξελέξατο ἡμᾶς ἐν αὐτῷ πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου), that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us (προορίσας ἡμᾶς) for adoption as sons through Yeshua the Messiah, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved; in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight..." (Eph. 1:3-8).

It is the fruit of his Spirit, not the fruit of our own that matters (Gal. 5:22-23). As Yeshua said, "it is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all" (John 6:63). We are God's workmanship, created in the Messiah for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). We are able to live for God through the agency of His love and sustaining grace, all for the sake of the glory of His Name. "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).
 




Parashat Toldot - תולדת


 

11.27.16  (Cheshvan 26, 5777)  Last week's Torah (i.e., Chayei Sarah) told how Abraham's faithful servant Eliezer sought a bride for Isaac from among Abraham's relatives living in Mesopotamia. In response to his prayer to the LORD, Eliezer was shown that Abraham's nephew's daughter Rebekah was chosen to be one of the great matriarchs of Israel.

This week's reading (Toldot) continues the story by revealing that Isaac and Rebekah had been married for twenty years but were still without an heir to carry on the family line.  Finally their prayers were answered and Rebekah conceived, though not without complications. When she inquired of the LORD about her travail, God told her that she was carrying twins that would be heads of two rival nations, but the younger child would in fact become the promised heir of the chosen people. When the day arrived for Rebekah to give birth, the first child came out "red and covered with hair," so they called his name "Esav" (i.e., עֵשָׂו, "hairy"); then his brother came out with his hand grasping Esau's heel (i.e., akev: עָקֵב), so they named him "Ya'akov" (יַעֲקב) from the Hebrew verb (i.e., akav: עָקַב), meaning "to take by the heel; to displace; to supplant."

The Torah describes that Esau became a hunter, "a man of the field," while Jacob was ish tam yoshev ohalim, "a wholesome man, who lived in tents." Isaac favored Esau; but Rebekah, believing the promise of the LORD, favored Jacob...

The portion then gives us a look at the spiritual life of the two boys. According to Jewish tradition, on the day of the funeral of their grandfather Abraham, Jacob was cooking lentil soup for Isaac, the traditional mourner's meal. Esau rushed in from a hunting expedition, exhausted and hungry. He then begged Jacob to give him some of "that red stuff" (i.e, ha'dom hazeh), but Jacob answered that he would give him some only if he would sell him his birthright. Esau agreed to the terms and discounted his birthright as being worth only a bowl of beans (on account of this incident, Esau was given the additional name of Edom ("red"). In this manner the Torah describes how Esau "spurned the birthright."

 

Years later, when Isaac was old and blind, Jacob (with his mother Rebekah's help) tricked Isaac into conferring the blessing of the firstborn upon him, thereby making Jacob the heir of the family, and not Esau. When the ruse was discovered, however, Esau sought to kill his brother, and Jacob was forced to flee his home, never to see his mother again...
 

 




Rosh Chodesh Kislev...


 

11.27.16  (Cheshvan 26, 5777)  This coming Wednesday, November 30th (after sundown) marks "Rosh Chodesh Kislev." On the Biblical calendar the month of Kislev (כִּסְלֵו) is the ninth of the year (counting from Nisan), and it is also one of the "darkest," with the days progressively getting shorter and the nights getting progressively longer. Kislev is perhaps best known for the eight day holiday of Chanukah (חג החנוכה) which begins on the 25th of the month and runs through the third day of the following month (of Tevet). Since there is always a new moon during the season of Chanukah, it is no wonder that this holiday represents an appropriate time to kindle the lights of faith, and especially to recall the advent of Yeshua the Messiah, the Light of the World (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם).
 

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

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

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



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Chodesh Kislev is sometimes called the "month of dreams" because the weekly Torah portions for this month contain more dreams than any other in the Scriptures. No less than nine dreams (of the ten in the Torah) appear in the four portions of Vayetzei, Vayishlach, Vayeshev, and Miketz - all of which are usually read during the month of Kislev. In the Torah, the primary figure connected with dreams is Jacob's son Joseph, who was nicknamed by his brothers as "that dreamer" and who was later named "Decipherer of Secrets" (Tzofnat Paneach) by Pharaoh (Gen. 41:45). Joseph was able to authentically mediate the spiritual and the physical realms through the Spirit of God within him (Gen. 41:38). Prophetically Joseph represents Yeshua the "disguised Egyptian" who likewise was rejected and hated by his brothers but who later became their savior (for more see "Mashiach ben Yosef").

For more on this subject, see "Chodesh Kislev."
 




Finding Perfect Peace...


 

11.25.16  (Cheshvan 24, 5777)  When we lose sight of the truth that God is in complete control of all things, we tend to grow anxious... Feeling worried comes from focusing on ourselves, a perspective that can make us feel alone, forgotten, and even victimized in this world. Worry moves us to defend ourselves, to seek refuge in our own devices, and to forfeit the will of God according to the dictates of lesser fears... Indeed worry is a place of inner exile and pain. The sages say it is not permitted to worry: "To worry is a sin; only one sort of worry is permissible; to worry because one worries." We should worry that we worry because this indicates our hardness of heart and our unbelief. God's name YHVH (יהוה) means "Presence," "Breath," "Life," and "Love." So why be anxious for "tomorrow"? We really only have this moment, but this moment is entirely sufficient when we walk in the light of God and seek to know him in all our ways (Prov. 3:5-6).

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

The Name of the LORD is "I-AM-WITH-YOU-ALWAYS," which implies that we always live within His Presence and are sustained by his care, even if we are sometimes unconscious of this truth (Matt. 28:20). As it is written in the prophets, hen al kapayim ha'chotikh: "Behold I have engraved you on the palms of my hands" (הֵן עַל־כַּפַּיִם חַקּתִיךְ; Isa. 49:16). Remember the One who stretched out his hands and died for your healing; remember that he said, "Do not be anxious about tomorrow... sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matt. 6:34). Again, "do not be anxious for any reason, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, and the healing peace of God (שְׁלוֹם אֱלהִים) - the very shalom of heaven which surpasses all understanding - will guard your hearts and your minds in Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil. 4:6-7). "He's got the whole world in his hands," and we experience inner peace when our minds are settled on Him (Isa. 26:3).
 

יֵצֶר סָמוּךְ תִּצּר שָׁלוֹם שָׁלוֹם כִּי בְךָ בָּטוּחַ
 בִּטְחוּ בַיהוָה עֲדֵי־עַד כִּי בְּיָהּ יְהוָה צוּר עוֹלָמִים

ye·tzer · sa·mukh · titz·tzor · sha·lom · sha·lom · ki · ve·kha · ba·tu·ach
bit·chu · vadonai · a·di-ad · ki · be·Yah · Adonai · tzur · o·la·mim
 

You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, for he trusts in you.
Trust in the LORD forever, for Yah the LORD is the Rock of Ages.
(Isa. 26:3-4)
 



Hebrew Study Card
 

The LORD is Tzur Olamim - the "Rock of Ages" - the very foundation of all possible worlds and the eternal Source of existence. He is the solid ground of all reality!

Shabbat shalom, friends, and thank you for helping this ministry remain "on the air" to serve as a resource for those seeking the truth about the Torah and our Messiah Yeshua...
 




Words of Life and Light...


 

11.25.16  (Cheshvan 24, 5777)  In our holy Scriptures we read: "The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not be extinguished" (Lev. 6:12). The sages say do not read "burning on it" but rather "burning in him" (בּוֹ), referring to the heart of the priest.  And where it says "it shall not be extinguished" (לא תִכְבֶּה), read instead "negativity (לא) you shall extinguish (תִכְבֶּה)" by trusting in God's promise for your good, despite any temporary setbacks or apparent failures you may encounter in this life. The Holy Spirit imparts the fire of faith that fills our hearts with hope, speaking with "tongues of fire" words of life and light that vanquish darkness. As it is written: "Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; He is gracious, merciful, and righteous" (Psalm 112:4).
 

זָרַח בַּחשֶׁךְ אוֹר לַיְשָׁרִים
חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם וְצַדִּיק

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

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



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Made Alive with Him...


 

11.25.16  (Cheshvan 24, 5777)  Our journey is about life and death. "I have been crucified with Messiah, nevertheless I live..." (Gal. 2:20). God wants your old life to die, or rather, for you to understand that you have been set free from its hold over you, so that your new life may now live: "The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Cor. 5:17). "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing (i.e., καταργέω, made powerless) so we would no longer be enslaved to sin" (Rom. 6:6). You not only die to your former life, identifying with Yeshua's death for you, but you also come alive, reborn and set free, identifying with His life for you.  Yeshua came to set us free from the power of sin so that we can live life in abundance (John 10:10).
 




The Great Blessing of Peace...


 

11.25.16  (Cheshvan 24, 5777)  "May the LORD lift up his face upon you and give you peace" (Num. 6:26). May the LORD "lift up his face" (יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו) toward you in welcome, and may his countenance be radiant with joy over you. May his face be "toward you," not turned away or hidden... When God turns toward you, he imparts the blessing without which all other blessings are beholden, namely, his peace (i.e., shalom). After all, what good is worldly prosperity or temporal pleasure apart from God's blessing of peace?  To have shalom (שָׁלוֹם) is to be made shalem (שָׁלֵם) – that is, to be made whole, complete, secure, happy – and therefore the peace of God (שְׁלוֹם הָאֱלהִים) is assuredly the most essential blessing....

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

Shabbat Shalom to you in our beloved Lord's Name...
 




Thanksgiving to God...


 

[ From our family to you - חג הודיה שמח - Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends... ]

11.24.16  (Cheshvan 23, 5777)  "We give thanks to You, O God; we give thanks, for Your Name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds" (Psalm 75:1). Amen, we give thanks to God because He has graciously given us salvation (יְשׁוּעָה) through His Son Yeshua: for His Name is near. Note that the Hebrew adverb "near" (i.e., karov: קָרְבָּן) means "close enough to touch," and indeed the noun form means "a near kinsman" (i.e., kinsman redeemer). Our Messiah is "God made Near," the One who clothes Himself in the frailty of our humanity to become our "close relative." Because of Yeshua, God Himself has become our "close relative." Confession (i.e., todah: תּוֹדָה) and trust (i.e., emunah: אֱמוּנָה) are central here. As it is written: "The word is very near you [כִּי־קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאד] - as close as your mouth and your heart (Deut. 30:14). You must "confess with your mouth" and believe "in your heart" that God loves you with an everlasting love. The miracle comes to the heart that will receive the blessing.  Whoever calls upon the Name of the LORD will not be disappointed (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:9-13; Psalms 86:5; Rev. 3:20).
 

הוֹדִינוּ לְּךָ אֱלהִים הוֹדִינוּ וְקָרוֹב שְׁמֶךָ
סִפְּרוּ נִפְלְאוֹתֶיךָ

ho·di·nu · le·kha · E·lo·him · ho·di·nu · ve·ka·rov · she·me·kha,
sip·pe·ru · ni·fle·o·te·kha
 

"We give thanks to You, O God; we give thanks, for Your Name is near.
We recount your wondrous deeds" (Psalm 75:1)



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Priests for one another...


 

11.23.16  (Cheshvan 22, 5777)  Since we are called to be a kingdom of priests (see Exod. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:9), each of us has the responsibility to draw near to God, to make our heart his sanctuary, and to "incarnate" his healing love to others... The Torah teaches us that the priests were required to keep the fire burning on the altar, which symbolizes the inner passion that must mark and sustain our heavenly service. This is our very first responsibility: to keep the fire burning... If this inner fire goes out, we will be unable to serve as God's priests, and our worship will be of no effect. Therefore we must "ignite" the divine spark, that is, find reasons to celebrate life. We must use the good eye (עַיִן טוֹבָה) to see God's glory; we must walk in the Spirit that "brings up the flame," and we must practice expressing gratitude, which is the essence of all sacrifice (Heb. 13:15). Note further that our priesthood is consecrated by the blood of the Lamb placed on our ear, our hand, and our foot -- the ear to hear (shema) the Word of God, the hand to bring forth beauty and healing, and the foot ready to walk the way of the Righteous One (Exod. 29:20; Lev. 8:23).

Δι᾽ αὐτοῦ οὖν ἀναφέρωμεν θυσίαν αἰνέσεως διὰ παντὸς τῷ θεῷ, τοῦτ᾽ ἔστιν καρπὸν χειλέων ὁμολογούντων τῷ ὀνόματι αὐτοῦ: "Through Him (i.e., Yeshua, our Messiah) then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his Name" (Heb 13:15).
 




Blessed in all things...


 

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

11.23.16  (Cheshvan 22, 5777)  In the same verse that Abraham is described as "old and come into days" (זָקֵן בָּא בַּיָּמִים), he is also described to have been blessed bakol (בַּכּל) - "in everything" (Gen. 24:1). Contrary to the ideals of youth-obsessed culture, Torah regards aging as a process of construction, of upbuilding, of perfection -- not of decay. The sages say that the elderly "wear the days of their life as a garment," that is, as an accumulated "presence of days" that attends to the soul of the person. Indeed, the Talmud notes that the word zaken ("elder") can be read as zeh kana, "this one has it."  Maturity and wisdom are qualities that should be honored in our culture -- not abhorred or disregarded. As the proverb puts it, עֲטֶרֶת תִּפְאֶרֶת שֵׂיבָה / aseret tiferet sevah: "Gray hair is a crown of glory" (Prov. 16:31). That God blessed Abraham "bakol" means that He revealed his presence to him in all things. This is the meaning of "Abraham was come into days." The days of his life were filled with the Divine Presence, and that is why he died content (Gen. 25:8).

The sages add that God blessed Abraham bakol because it reflected Abraham's own desire to be a blessing to others. This is the "like-for-like" nature of love: when it is shared and given away, it is returned to the heart by the hand of heaven....
 




Thanksgiving is Jewish...


 

[ Do you know about the Jewish roots of Thanksgiving, chaverim? ]

11.23.16  (Cheshvan 22, 5777)  The American holiday of Thanksgiving (חַג הַהוֹדָיָה) undoubtedly has its roots in the Jewish tradition of giving thanks to God, and some historians believe that the early "pilgrims" actually derived the idea for the holiday from the Biblical festival of Sukkot (i.e., "the feast of Tabernacles"). Before fleeing to the "New World," the pilgrims lived for a decade among the Sephardic Jews in Holland, since Holland was considered a safe haven from religious persecution at the time. Since the pilgrims were devout Calvinists and Puritans, their religious idealism led them to regard themselves as "new Israel," and it is likely that they learned that Sukkot commemorated the people of Israel's deliverance from their religious persecution in ancient Egypt at that time. After they emigrated to the "Promised Land" of America, it is not surprising that these pilgrims may have chosen the festival of Sukkot as the paradigm for their own celebration. As the Torah commands: "Celebrate the feast so that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God" (Lev. 23:39-43). The highly devout pilgrims regarded their perilous journey to the new world as a type of "Exodus event" and therefore sought the appropriate Biblical holiday to commemorate their safe arrival in a land full of new promise...

It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for "turkey" is tarnegol hodu (תַּרְנְגוֹל הוֹדו), literally, "Indian chicken," which is often shortened to hodu (הוֹדוּ). It is a happy coincidence that we customarily eat turkey on Thanksgiving, and this reminds us of the "thanks" connection: "Give thanks (hodu) to the Lord for he is good" (הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי־טוֹב), for His steadfast love endures forever."
 

הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי־טוֹב
כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ

ho·du  la·Adonai  ki  tov
ki  le·o·lam  chas·do
 

"Give thanks to the LORD for He is good;
for His steadfast love endures forever."
(Psalm 136:1)



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Note: For more on this subject, see "Thanksgiving and Sukkot."
 




Alongside the Fleeting...


 

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

11.22.16  (Cheshvan 21, 5777)  God's people are people of truth, and for this reason are "strangers" in this world. They are "e-stranged" and live as both here and yet not here. As Yeshua taught, living by emunah (אֱמוּנָה, faith) will invariably lead to collision with worldly culture and its deceptive values. Faith affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life is a deeper reality that is ultimately real and abiding. It "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31). The life of faith therefore calls us to live as gerim (גֵּרִים) - "strangers" - who are put at an infinite "distance" from the world of appearances. We ache with a divine "homesickness." We lament over the state of this world and its delusions. We gnaw with hunger for love and truth to prevail in the world. And yet this loneliness, this dissonance, this place of suffering "outside the camp" is not without an overarching comfort, as is written in our Scriptures: "But this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory (αἰώνιον βάρος δόξης) beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent (σκηνος), which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling" (2 Cor. 4:17-5:2).

Like his father Abraham before him, King David confessed: "we are strangers with You, mere transients like our fathers (כִּי־גֵרִים אֲנַחְנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ וְתוֹשָׁבִים כְּכָל־אֲבתֵינוּ); our days on earth are like a shadow, without abiding substance":
 

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

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

 

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


For more on this see: "Strangers and Sojourners: Further thoughts on Chayei Sarah."
 




Ephemera and Substance...


 

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

11.22.16  (Cheshvan 21, 5777)  When Abraham sought a place to bury his beloved wife Sarah, he said to the Hittites chieftains: "I am a strange resident among you..." (Gen. 23:4). The righteous invariably feel like strangers to this world, since they are here only temporarily, and their focus is on the invisible "city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10). Therefore the people of the LORD are called sojourners, people not at home in this world, and their faith expresses both a "protest" against any interpretation of reality that excludes, suppresses, denies, or minimizes the Divine Presence, as well as a heartfelt yearning for the place of truth and holiness where they truly belong. The wicked, on the other hand, regard life in this world as all that exists, and therefore they "absolutize" the moment and forfeit the blessing of the eternal (Matt. 16:26). Abraham regarded himself as a "strange resident" (גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב) because the people of the world regarded themselves as "owners" and "permanent residents," settlers who sought their inheritance in the here and now. Abraham was a "resident" of someplace higher, however, and understood this world to be a corridor to the next. The sages comment on this paradox: God says to man, 'If you see yourself as a permanent resident in this world, then I will be a stranger to you; if, however, you see yourself as a stranger to this world, then I will be a Dwelling Place for you."
 




Come just as you are...


 

11.22.16  (Cheshvan 21, 5777)  Since God knows the number of hairs on our heads (Matt. 10:30), he also knows those character defects that we do not see in ourselves... Nevertheless we must come to God "just as we are," since what we are is ultimately unknowable by us. This implies that we can't wait to turn to God until we have already confessed our sins, since we often do not know what they are. "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick" (Mark 2:17), which means that we come in a state of unknowing blindness to find healing. We don't see so we can turn; we turn so we can see. Confession turns to see God's remedy for our sin, and true teshuvah must begin with hope, with the vision that the LORD is our Helper and the Healer of our souls.
 

אֶשָּׂא עֵינַי אֶל־הֶהָרִים מֵאַיִן יָבא עֶזְרִי
עֶזְרִי מֵעִם יְהוָה עשֵׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ

 es·sa · ei·nai · el · he·ha·rim · me·a·yin · ya·vo · ez·ri
e·zri · me·im · Adonai · o·seh · sha·ma·yim · va·a·retz
 

"I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth."
(Psalm 121:1-2)



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"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9). Therefore David prayed, שְׁגִיאוֹת מִי־יָבִין מִנִּסְתָּרוֹת נַקֵּנִי, "who can understand his errors; cleanse me from nistarot chata'ot, secret sins" (Psalm 19:12). Likewise we trust that God's remedy for our sin heal even that which remains hidden from our own awareness.

God has to help us come to terms with ourselves in ways that will not cause us to destroy ourselves or to lose hope... He touches us in our sinful condition and slowly begins the process of both revealing to us who we really are and how we are really being healed.
 




Good Fight of Faith...


 

11.22.16  (Cheshvan 21, 5777)  Never yield to utter despair, since that leads to further darkness and fear. Even if you feel like you've "blown it," press on and keep fighting the "good fight" of faith (1 Tim. 6:12). Remember that you infinitely matter to heaven; your life has great value; you are significant and you are truly loved by our Heavenly Father... Yes, there is a "future and a hope" reserved for you (Jer. 29:11); there is "a white stone, and on that stone will be written a new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it" (Rev. 2:17). This promise is given to the "one who conquers" (Τῷ νικῶντι) by means of the love and grace of our God. Indeed, by faith we are made "more than conquerors" (lit. "hyper conquerors," ὑπερνικῶμεν) through our Messiah Yeshua and his great love for us (Rom. 8:37). So do not lose heart; help is on the way!
 

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

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

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



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Have you put your trust in the LORD and the Messiah? If so, take comfort in the exceedingly precious divine promises: "I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion (ἐπιτελέω) at the Day of Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil 1:6). The LORD is able to guard you (φυλάξαι) from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy (Jude 1:24). "The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down" (Psalm 145:14). "He will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the Day of our Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Cor. 1:8). He who calls you is forever faithful; He will surely do it (1 Thess. 5:24). Yea, "the Lord is faithful (נֶאֱמָן הוּא): He will establish you and guard you against the evil one" (2 Thess. 3:3). The Spirit says, "Fear not, for I AM with you always.
 




Heart of the Matter...


 

11.21.16  (Cheshvan 20, 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?

"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" (Matt. 7:21). Yet what is the will of the Father but to trust in Messiah for life (John 6:40)? "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" Yeshua answers: "This is the work of God, that you believe in the One whom he has sent" (John 6:28-29). The Torah of God centers on trusting the Messiah (Titus 3:5-7). Existentially, this is the core idea: πᾶν δὲ ὃ οὐκ ἐκ πίστεως ἁμαρτία ἐστίν, "whatever is not of faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23).
 

    "This fact, that the opposite of sin is by no means virtue, has been overlooked. The latter is partly a pagan view, which is content with a merely human standard, and which for that very reason does not know what sin is, that all sin is before God. No, the opposite of sin is faith." - Kierkegaard
     


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 ma'asim tovim (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."

Some people feel frightened when they 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 "from the LORD," that is, comes as a result of 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.
 

    "And this is the simple truth - that to live is to feel oneself lost. He who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look around for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce." - Kierkegaard
     


The gospel is "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16). It is a miracle of being in a right relationship with God. We are pursued by his love, and he haunts us until we surrender to his will... Like Jonah we first must be "swallowed up" in consciousness of our own rebellion before we realize we are undone, that we are without remedy apart from God's intervention and deliverance. We start there - in the "belly of the fish" - and later are resurrected to go forth by God's mercy and grace. As we look to Yeshua, as we lean on him, he reveals more of himself to us. He gives us the grace and strength we need; he is always enough...
 




Finding a Bride for Isaac...


 

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

11.21.16  (Cheshvan 20, 5777)  Though he is not explicitly named in the account, the "elder servant" commissioned to find a bride for Isaac was undoubtedly Eliezer of Damascus (Gen. 15:2). Eliezer (אֱלִיעֶזֶר), whose name means "my God will help," is regarded as a consummate example of a godly servant, a picture of the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) sent on a mission to find a bride for the Sacrificed Seed of Abraham (i.e., the Messiah Yeshua). Eliezer dutifully departs on his mission and waits by the "well of water," interceding on behalf of righteousness... He asks for a witness from heaven: "Let the young woman to whom I shall say, 'Please let down your jar that I may drink,' and who shall say, 'Drink, and I will water your camels' -- let her be the one whom you have appointed" (Gen. 24:13-14). Rebekah's response of kindness and generosity (i.e., chesed: חֶסֶד) to a tired wayfarer demonstrated God's choice. Note that the test concerned the inward character of the woman, not her status or beauty or other worldly factors. And since a single camel needs about 25 gallons of water and requires 10 minutes to drink, watering ten camels would require 250 gallons and at least a couple hours of work running back and forth to the well - no small task for anyone! Rebekah possessed Abraham's qualities of gracious hospitality and diligence...

Eliezer's prayer to find a bride for Isaac (the very first recorded prayer of the Torah) appealed for a miracle such as splitting the sea, but instead relied on the providential and "hidden hand" of God that governs the affairs of everyday life... His prayer at the well relied on God to direct him to a woman who, like Abraham, would extend compassion to a person in need (חֶסֶד). The Torah therefore reveals that far from being a coincidence or chance encounter, then, "before he had finished speaking, behold Rebekah..." (Gen. 24:15). "Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear" (Isa. 65:24).

Rebekah was willing to leave her family - all that she knew - based on an "otherworldly" promise. Her response to the invitation was simply: "I will go"(Gen. 24:58). This courageous willingness was likewise a characteristic of Abraham who was willing to leave his homeland in search of the greater things of God. Like Abraham, Rebekah was ger ve'toshav (גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב) - a "stranger and a sojourner" - who left everything behind in order to become part of God's chosen family...

Note again that the Divine Presence is revealed in this story as an effect of both Eliezer and Rebekah's inner life and character...  God was present in the story through the concrete actions of people that discerned his touch (more here).
 




Our Daily Teshuvah...


 

11.21.16  (Cheshvan 20, 5777)  There are first things without which nothing else follows... For instance teshuvah (i.e., "repentance") means letting go of those desires that block or impede our reception of God's grace... This may include letting go of the supposed need to find our self-worth based on our performance rather than by accepting God's love. Therefore the very first commandment is always, Anochi Adonai Elohekha: "I AM the LORD thy God," since this is the invitation to know God's heart.  Finding God's heart for you is basic to the rest of the adventure of faith.

We must find focus to escape the distractions of the hour. Keep coming back! Keep turning! Teshuvah is a daily decision of the heart to seek what is real... abiding... true.
 




The Torah of Sarah...

Marc Chagall Detail
 

11.20.16  (Cheshvan 19, 5777)  Our Torah reading for last week (i.e., Vayera) told how God was faithful to Abraham and Sarah by miraculously giving them a son (Isaac) in their old age. Nonetheless, Abraham faced his greatest test of all by being asked to offer up his promised child as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah, the place of the future Temple. On account of his willingness to obey, God promised He would multiply Abraham's offspring as the stars of heaven and that in his seed (singular) all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

This week's Torah portion is called Chayei Sarah (חיי שרה), the "life of Sarah," though it begins (paradoxically) with the account of her death, and tells how the first great matriarch of the Jewish people was buried in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron, a burial site which Abraham had purchased from Ephron the Hittite (Gen. 23:1-20). Since the account of Sarah's death is given just after the account of the near-sacrifice of Isaac (i.e., the Akedah), some of the sages link the events together, suggesting that the shock of the loss of her beloved son at the hand of her husband was just too much for her to bear...

After Sarah was buried in Hebron, Abraham sought a wife for his son by commissioning his faithful servant Eliezer (whom Abraham had originally thought would be his heir), to go among his relatives living in Mesopotamia to seek for a bride for Isaac. Eliezer (i.e., אֱלִיעֶזֶר, lit., "My God will help") then set out on the 550 mile journey to Haran (also called the City of Nahor and the place where Abraham's father died), taking ten camels laden with gifts in search of a suitable bride. Providentially, and in answer to his prayer, as soon as Eliezer reached the city of Nahor he encountered Abraham's grand niece Rebekah drawing water at a well, where she graciously provided water for him and for his ten camels, thereby confirming that she was God's choice for Isaac.
 


L'SHAVUAH TOV, CHAVERIM! To a good week, friends!  Let's endeavor to make this week a time of growth and blessing in our Messiah Yeshua!
 




Forsake Self-hatred...


 

11.18.16  (Cheshvan 17, 5777)  Allow God to love you. There is nothing left for you to do other than to open your heart and receive the blessing "It is finished," were Yeshua's last words from the cross, meaning, "It has been perfected - it is complete and present for you; there is nothing left to add." Never, ever, give up hope; never believe that you are beyond the reach of God's love. Even in your worst moments, and despite your character defects and your many sins, God's sees what is beautiful and worthy of redemption in you. Yeshua stands at the door and knocks, asking for you to open the door of your heart to receive his love...

When we open our hearts to God's love and Presence, we are set free from the need to justify ourselves or to be admired by others; we let go of our fear of rejection and our hopeless perfectionism because we no longer need the acceptance or approval of others to understand our worth. God's love sets us free from the trap of comparing ourselves to others, and we are free to accept that we are accepted for who we are.

It is a terrifying possibility that we can disallow what we need most of all, and that we can choose the self-imposed exile of a loveless and tragic existence.  Above all, then, we must repent of our self-hatred, of self-abuse, and we must forever repudiate the lie that we are unable to be truly loved and accepted by God... We must begin first of all with God's unconditional love for us revealed at the cross of Messiah, and only then we can move forward spiritually speaking... 
 

      "Repentance specifically expresses that evil essentially belongs to me, and at the same time expresses that it does not essentially belong to me" (Kierkegaard: Either/Or)


God sees what He does within us, His "it-is-finished" work, the effect of His great salvation within our heart, even if at this present moment that may be hidden from our eyes... There is appearance, and there is reality; and only God sees what is ultimately real. We have to trust in His promise to be transformed into the divine nature, even if today we find ourselves sinful, needy, and in disrepair... By God's grace we are what we are. So don't give up. We are saved by hope (ἐλπίδι ἐσώθημεν, Rom. 8:24), and that hope is for you today.

Shabbat Shalom - may you find your inner peace and healing in Yeshua our Beloved One.
 




The Narrow Door...


 

11.18.16  (Cheshvan 17, 5777)  "Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (Luke 13:24). The narrow door is the way of humility, assuming a low position, crawling, if you will, and making yourself small... The large, wide-open door is designed for the crowd and its idols. Beware of the world that seeks to assimilate the soul: beware of becoming part of the crowd! The individual is lost and overwhelmed in the midst of the crowd and its momentum. The crowd assimilates the soul, laughs at the notion of individual responsibility, and abandons itself to the gravity of purely natural forces... The life of faith, on the other hand, refuses to regard the individual human heart as a triviality, a joke. Faith is an individual struggle, a walk into unknowing; it is the way of the sojourner who feels uneasy in this world of shadows... God is always with us and helps us stay strong and resolute, even as we struggle through the darkness of this age. Press on, chaverim! Do not lose sight of your high calling in Yeshua.
 




Prayer and Humility...

Georges Rouault - Jesus
 

11.18.16  (Cheshvan 17, 5777)  "Abraham answered and said, "Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes" (עָפָר וָאֵפֶר, Gen. 18:27). This teaches that we cannot draw near to God apart from profound humility, since God's truth is revealed to the meek and lowly of heart but remains hidden from the proud (James 4:6). As it is written: "For this is what the high and lifted up One says, the One who abides forever, whose Name is Holy (קָדוֹשׁ): "I dwell in a high and holy place, but also with the broken and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly (i.e., ruach shefalim: רוּחַ שְׁפָלִים), and to revive the heart of the crushed" (i.e., lev nidka'im: לֵב נִדְכָּאִים) [Isa. 57:15]. Here we learn that God gives life (revives) to those who are "lowly in spirit" (שְׁפַל־רוּחַ), that is, to those who understand their own nothingness and complete dependence on Him for life... Indeed, the "heart of the crushed" (לֵב נִדכֶּה) refers to being crushed "to the dust" -- the same word (dakka: דַּכָּא) is used to describe how Yeshua was "crushed for our iniquities" (see Isa. 53:10). William James called this deep work of the spiritual life "Zerrissenheit," a term that can be translated as "torn-to-pieces-hood," or a state of being utterly broken and in disarray... From the point of view of our dependence on God for salvation, "dakka" refers to humility and contrition we express in light of God's unmerited favor and love for our souls. We humbly identify with the death of Messiah offered on our behalf; we find healing and acceptance in the Presence of the One who was torn to pieces and made dust for our merit. Humility (עֲנָוָה) is essential to awareness of God in the truth. Shuvah Yisrael!
 

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

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

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



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Note: Thank you all so much for remembering this ministry in your prayers, for without your help, I couldn't do this work. May the LORD our God's blessing be upon you...
 




Blessing of Inner Peace...


 

11.18.16  (Cheshvan 17, 5777)  "Blessed are the peacemakers (אַשְׁרֵי עשֵׂי שָׁלוֹם), for they shall be called the children of God" (Matt. 5:9). We might think this verse refers to the mitzvah of making peace between two parties that quarrel, though it is an even greater mitzvah to make peace within our own hearts – to forgive, to surrender, and to let go of our need to be "right" or in control. Finding inner peace (שַׁלוָה) means letting God be God, and thereby we are made free to serve as the children of God.
 




Kosher Cheesburgers...


 

11.18.16  (Cheshvan 17, 5777) There is Torah observance and there is Torah observance.. The kosher law as advocated by the rabbis, for instance (i.e., kashrut), forbids the mixture of meat and dairy products, though the Torah itself clearly states that Abraham - the one who obeyed all of God's Torah 400 years before the revelation at Sinai (Gen. 26:5) - "took butter, and milk, and the calf (meat) which he had dressed, and set it before them" (Gen. 18:8). The deepest truth of Torah centers not on the language of imperative, but the language of grace and love. Paul understood this when he identified the source of the promise the covenant God made with Abraham, not the covenant God (provisionally) made with Israel at Sinai.

For more on this see "Sarah and Hagar: Paul's Allegory of Flesh and Spirit."
 




The Temptation of Grace...


11.18.16  (Cheshvan 17, 5777)  I've written extensively about the question of "Torah observance" in numerous articles elsewhere on this site. "Torah triflers" (i.e., those who advocate legalism but have yet to seriously think through its implications) are often unaware of the deeper function of Sinai and its provisions.  Two things should immediately be said regarding this: 1) Olam ("everlasting") doesn't necessarily mean unchanging (at least in the Greek sense of the term), especially since Moses, David, and Ezra all changed the Torah, and most of the later Jewish sages acknowledged that Torah would be changed in yemot ha-Mashiach (the days of the Messiah); and 2) the New Covenant is an entirely new covenant -- not a renewed version of the sefer ha-brit sprinkled with the blood of bulls at Mt. Sinai. Paul goes back to the Abrahamic covenant -- not to the "blessings and curses" issued from the mountains of Gerizim and Eval as the foundation underlying the deeper covenantal message of God's chesed.  Of course you are "free" to attempt to justify yourself using the terms given at Sinai, but then you are constrained by the conditions of that agreement (Deut. 27:26), and you are thereby implicitly denigrating the need for a radically New Covenant.  Be forewarned: Persisting in such a project ultimately outrages the Spirit of Grace (רוּחַ הֶחָסֶד) that broods over the Cross of Mashiach (Heb. 10:29). We are furthermore cautioned that hardening our hearts on this matters can lead to eternal loss (Heb. 6:4-8). God is not mocked. He did not sacrifice His Son for the sake of creating disciples of Moses and the rabbis... We are called to follow the Messiah and submit to His authority alone (Matt. 23:8). Anything else is chillul HaShem and a betrayal of the Messiah!

Now since there are various "Messianic" ministries that regularly teach false doctrine, it is vital to remind ourselves that the righteousness of God is manifested apart from the law (χωρὶς νόμου), and that this righteousness was clearly witnessed by the law and the prophets (Rom. 3:21). The Apostle Paul warns that those who attempt to mix the old and new covenants are spiritual adulterers (Rom. 7:4-ff). After all, the goal of the Torah was the advent of the New Covenant given in Messiah (Gal. 3:17-19). The law was given to lead us to the Messiah and His Kingdom rule (Gal. 3:23-26), and indeed, the glory of the Torah of Moses was destined to fade away (2 Cor. 3:3-11), just as its ritual center (i.e., the Tabernacle/Temple) foreshadowed the greater Substance of the priesthood of God (Heb. 10:1; 13:10). There is really no ambiguity here:  "Now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code (Rom. 7:6). "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3-4). "Let it be known to you therefore, brothers and sisters, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by Him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about: "'Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you'" (Acts 13:38-41).

For more on this see, "The Temptation of Grace: Further thoughts on Vayera."
 




The Work of Faith...


 

11.18.16  (Cheshvan 17, 5777)  James the Righteous says that Abraham was "justified by works" (James 2:21), but surely this refers to the work of faith (τό ἔργον τῆς πίστεως) and not to the works of the law (מַעֲשֵׂי הַתּוֹרָה) - since the Torah explicitly prohibited human sacrifice (Gen. 9:5), and likewise the Angel of the LORD restrained Abraham's hand during the great test of faith (Gen. 22:12). When James therefore stated that Abraham was justified by his works, he implied that our actions ultimately reveal the inner life of faith.  On the other hand, the apostle Paul's seemingly contrary statement that Abraham was not justified by works (Rom. 4:1-3) refers to his unwavering confidence in God's promise that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens (Gen. 15:1-6). There is no real contradiction, then, since the two apostles were referring to two different episodes in their discussion of justification... As Yeshua said, "This is the work of God, that you believe in the One whom He has sent" (John 6:29).

The life of faith is inherently paradoxical, as Kierkegaard noted: "Ethically speaking, what Abraham planned to do was to murder Isaac; religiously, however, he was willing to sacrifice Isaac. In this contradiction lies the very anguish that can indeed make anyone sleepless. And yet without that anguish Abraham is not the one he is. Neither would faith be what it is." Although Abraham understood that God must be obeyed, he also understood that human sacrifice was immoral, and hence his struggle represented the collision between the imperative of reason and the imperative of faith. Choosing to heed the voice of reason (i.e., the "ethical," the "universal") over the personal voice of God created a state of "fear and trembling" and a sense of being unable to communicate his passion and mission to others.

As Kierkegaard further commented: "Faith's conflict with the world is not a battle of thought with doubt, thought with thought. It is a battle of character. The person of faith is a person of character who does not insist upon comprehending everything. Now comes the conflict. The world insists that to believe what you cannot comprehend is not only blind obedience but obscurantism, stupidity, and so on. The world wants to alarm the believer against such foolishness. This is precisely why faith is a task for the person of character."

For more on this see, "The Sins of Sodom: Further thoughts on Parashat Vayera."
 




The Ram of God...


 

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

11.18.16  (Cheshvan 17, 5777)  There is an old midrash about the white ram Abraham sacrificed in place of his son (Gen. 22:13). After its sacrificial death, the ram's soul returned to heaven, but it wanted to do more in the world of people, so God sent him back to earth. God then gave the ram horns so long that they reached all the way to heaven. In this way, the ram could be in both worlds at once: with its feet on earth and its horns in heaven. Similarly, Yeshua is called the "lamb (ram) slain from the foundation of the world" (1 Pet. 1:20; Eph. 1:4; Rev. 13:8) whom God sent to satisfy His requirements for justice (as Elohim) and to demonstrate His great love (as Compassionate LORD). His descent was for our ascent; his death was given for our life. Yeshua now spans heaven and earth as our substitutionary atonement, intercessor, and heavenly advocate. In Him "steadfast love (chesed) and truth (emet) meet; justice (tzedek) and peace (shalom) kiss" (Psalm 85:10). His merit alone is our Bridge to the Father: יְשׁוּעָתָה לַיהוָה - "Salvation is from the LORD."
 




God's Way of Deliverance...


 

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

11.17.16  (Cheshvan 16, 5777)  We read in our Torah portion this week, "Escape for your life. Do not look back..." (Gen. 19:17). You must turn away from what once defined you and never look back... This includes not only turning away from your former sins, but turning away from the guilt and shame of your sins... Living in the past, wallowing in your sin and regretting your mistakes, can cause you to feel worthless and even hopeless. If you feel compelled to revisit your former life, then be sure to do so before the foot of the cross, in light and presence of God's redemptive love for you. You can't change the past, but you can leave it behind by turning it over to God for healing. Teshuvah (repentance) means accepting who you are in light of God's love and salvation for your soul. "Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this, though I am single-minded: I forget the things that are behind and reach out for the things that are ahead ... heeding the upward call of God in Yeshua our Messiah" (Phil. 3:13-14). May you "find yourself in Him, not having a righteousness of your own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Messiah, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Phil. 3:9).

God's way of deliverance is entirely different than man's way. Man tries to suppress the flesh, to cover it up, to justify its failings, or to enlist its power in the battle against sin (i.e., religion), but God's way is to remove the flesh from the equation. The goal is not to make us stronger and stronger, but rather weaker and weaker, until the flesh is "crucified" and only the sufficiency of the Messiah remains.  Then we can truly say, "I have been crucified with Messiah. It is no longer I who live, but the Messiah who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20). The word "Hebrew" (עִבְרִי) means one who has "crossed over" (עָבַר) to the other side, as our father Abraham did (Gen. 14:13). It is on the other side of the cross that we experience the very power that created the universe "out of nothing" (i.e., yesh me'ayin: יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן) and that raised Yeshua the Messiah from the dead.
 




Sins of Sodom and Gomorrah...


 

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

11.17.16  (Cheshvan 16, 5777)  From our Torah portion this week we read: "And the LORD said, 'The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave...'" (Gen. 18:20). But what was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah? Why did God destroy the two cities? Was it because the people there refused to show hospitality to the angelic visitors (as is claimed by some), or was it because of some ongoing sin of the people?

Now while many people tend to regard this verse to be about homosexuality, that is an oversimplification of a far deeper problem.  Any culture that glorifies violence, despises moral authority and spiritual truth, and that tolerates injustice is under divine judgment. Indeed, throughout the Scriptures "Sodom" symbolically represents gross immorality, depravity, and therefore ineluctable self-destruction. For example, the prophet Ezekiel later wrote of Judah: "Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abomination (תּוֹעֵבָה) before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it" (Ezek. 16:49-50). The New Testament refers to the fate of Sodom as "a fearful example of the everlasting fire of retribution" (Jude 1:7) -- the destructive result of spiritual anarchy, lawlessness, sexual perversion, and trauma (2 Pet. 2:6-10). Thankfully there is real hope for those who seek to escape from the wrath to come by turning to God and trusting in his healing power of salvation, though it is only a "remnant" that find true deliverance (Matt. 7:14). Speaking of the final salvation of Israel, the Apostle Paul quotes Isaiah: "If the LORD of Hosts hadn't left us a few survivors, we'd be as desolate as Sodom, doomed just like Gomorrah" (Isa 1:9; Rom. 9:29).

In this connection it should be noted that homosexuality is not the same as "sodomy," since technically speaking "sodomy" involves any form of violence, perversion, exploitation, or lawless expression of sexuality regardless of gender... In general, it is more helpful to think of "sodomy" as a code word for egregious sin, "in-your-face" spite toward God, defiant immorality that celebrates spiritual anarchy, moral nihilism, and death... Yes, homosexuality is sin, but so is adultery, fornication, viewing pornography (i.e., the lust of the eyes), covetousness, gluttony, arrogance (idolatry), unbridled anger (rage), sloth, worshiping the things of this world (i.e., fads, trendy TV shows, sports idols, the world's value system), and so on and on. Whenever we consider such things, it is better to look at how we are healed rather than what makes us sick.... The answer in every case to the trauma of the sinful heart is to turn to God and ask for deliverance in the name of Yeshua.

For more on this see, "The Sins of Sodom: Further thoughts on Parashat Vayera."
 




Identifying with the Lamb...

Chagall - Sacrifice of Isaac
 

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

11.17.16  (Cheshvan 16, 5777)  The near-sacrifice of Isaac establishes that God does not want us to sacrifice ourselves on the altar, but rather to identify with the appointed sacrifice of the lamb given on our behalf... Isaac pictures the identification process. First he completely submitted himself to God's will by being bound as a sacrifice. Once that decision was made, God intervened by providing the ram caught in the thicket, which represented the "binding" or identification of God's sacrifice for him (Gen. 22:13). Just as the lamb was identified with Isaac, so Isaac was identified with the lamb. Likewise, Yeshua died in your place so you can identify with his death for you, trusting it as your atonement provided by your Heavenly Father. Your union with Yeshua means that his death was your death: "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Messiah in God" (Col. 3:3). Likewise, his "life after death" (resurrection) is your eternal life: "When Messiah who is your life appears, you also will appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:4). Baptism symbolizes your identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua as the Lamb of God sacrificed on your behalf (Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:4). Just as Isaac descended from the altar in newness of life, so we are made new creations because of the sacrifice of Messiah: "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).

Of course we cannot crucify ourselves, but we trust that God finishes the work of Yeshua on our behalf... We "reckon" ourselves crucified with Messiah and trust in his work of salvation performed for our personal blessing. As it says: "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Yeshua the Messiah" (Rom. 6:11). Only after this can you present yourself as korban chai (קָרְבָּן חַי) - a living sacrifice - for God (Rom. 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:5).

There aren't two gospel messages: one for the sinner and the other for the saint... The message of salvation is always "good news" to those who are sin-sick and riddled with guilt and shame, and it is always "bad news" for those who deny their inner condition before God and believe that they can justify themselves. We never get beyond the call to "repent and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). We don't "get saved" in order to follow the path of self-righteousness; we get saved to be witnesses of God's righteousness... We love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
 




Being a true Jew...


 

11.16.16  (Cheshvan 16, 5777)  The word "Hebrew" means "boundary crosser," though the word "Jew" means one who praises the LORD (יְהוּדָה). The word "Jew" (יְהוּדִי) comes from a root (יָדָה) which means to "thank" or to "praise" (Gen. 29:35). The Apostle Paul alluded to this by saying that one whose heart has been circumcised by the Spirit is "one who is praised by God -- not by men" (Rom. 2:29). Being a Jew therefore means you are "chosen" to receive blessings and grace to live in holiness for the glory of God and for the healing of the world. The performance of various commandments are for the greater purpose of tikkun olam, the "repair of the world," in order to reveal God's goodness and love (Eph. 2:8-10). Doing so makes someone a Jew, since his praise comes not from man, but from the LORD. God is the source and the power of what makes a true tzaddik (righteous person). After all, Israel was meant to be a "light to the nations" (Isa. 42:6; 60:3), and God had always planned for all the families of the earth to come to know Him and give Him glory through his chosen servant Abraham (Gen. 12:3; 22:18). "Jewishness" is therefore not an end in itself but rather a means to bring healing to the nations... Indeed, the entire redemptive story of the Scriptures centers on the cosmic conflict to deliver humanity from the "curse" by means of the "Seed of the woman" who would come. The gospel is Jewish because it concerns God's great redemptive plan for the whole world (John 3:16; 4:22).

Note:  For more on this see "The Father of all who Believe."
 




Inner Ache of Loneliness...


 

11.15.16  (Cheshvan 15, 5777)  A.W. Tozer once wrote: "The loneliness of the Christian results from his walk with God in an ungodly world, a walk that must often take him away from the fellowship of good Christians as well as from that of the unregenerate world. His God-given instincts cry out for companionship with others of his kind, others who can understand his longings, his aspirations, his absorptions in the love of Christ; and because with his circle of friends there are few who share his inner experiences, he's forced to walk alone. The unsatisfied longings of the prophets for human understanding caused them to cry out in their complaint, and even our Lord himself suffered in the same way.

"The man (or woman) who has passed on into the divine Presence in actual inner experience will not find many who understand him. He finds few who care to talk about that which is the supreme object of his interest, so he is often silent and preoccupied in the midst of noisy religious shoptalk. For this he earns the reputation of being dull and over-serious, so he is avoided, and the gulf between him and society widens. He searches for the friends upon whose garments he can detect the smell of myrrh and aloes and cassia out of the ivory palaces, and finding few or none, he, like Mary of old, keeps these things in his heart. It is this very loneliness that throws him back upon God. His inability to find human companionship drives him to seek in God what he can find nowhere else."

Such was Abraham's test, as he had no way to communicate his burden regarding the sacrifice of his beloved son Isaac.  And there is also a loneliness that arises when you must wrestle through disappointment in your walk with God... This is an empty place where you realize that you're request has been denied, and yet you must continue to walk on in trust. That is a hard place, too.

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Matt. 5:6). Yes, blessed are those who suffer such desperate need, who know inner emptiness, who are not made numb to the ache, and who cry from the heart for deliverance. Blessed are those who are in dread over themselves, who fall as one dead before the Divine Presence, who know they are undone, ruined, and dying for life... The great danger, spiritually speaking, is to become complacent, untouched by poverty of heart, to be lulled asleep, lost within a dream, made comatose, living-yet-dead. The gift of faith first reveals our own lostness and then imparts courage to live with ourselves despite ourselves as we seek God's healing and life...
 




The Sacrificed Seed...


 

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

11.15.16  (Cheshvan 14, 5777)  "And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together" (Gen. 22:6). Isaac was about 37 years old at this time and needed to understand what was being asked of him: "And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said, "Here am I, my son." And he said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" (Gen. 22:7). This is the first word of dialog recorded over the three day journey... It is hard to imagine Isaac's pathos during this exchange. Abraham replied, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together (Gen. 22:8). Notice that the Hebrew could be read: "God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering -- my son!" (ירְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה לְעלָה בְּנִי) - making it plain that Isaac would be offered upon the altar. The Torah then repeats, "and they both walked on together," indicating that Isaac accepted his sacrificial death in obedience to his father's will.

"And when they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son (וַיַּעֲקד אֶת־יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ) and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood" (Gen. 22:9). According to the Talmud, Isaac asked his father to make the knots on his hands and feet tighter - not out of fear that he would change his mind and begin to resist - but in order to encourage his father to offer the sacrifice properly (Bereshit Rabbah 56:8). Like the Suffering Servant who would come after him, Isaac "set his face like a flint" to fulfill God's will (Isa. 50:7).

Isaac kept his eyes directed toward heaven as he lay tightly bound and motionless upon the altar. He awaited the final blow and wanted it to fall with trust and obedience within his heart. It was to be a shared sacrifice between the beloved son and his father. Finally "Abraham stretched out (שׁלח) his hand and took the knife to slaughter (i.e., לִשְׁחט, from shechitah) his son" (Gen. 22:10). The Talmud says that when Abraham "stretched out" his hand, he briefly looked at the knife to determine if it was ritually fit, and this delay was the precise moment when the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יהוה) called out to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" (Gen. 22:11). (Note the repetition of the name "Abraham" during this second call.) According to various midrashim, when Abraham put his knife to his son's neck, Isaac's soul departed from him, but it returned when the Angel of the LORD said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me" (Gen. 22:12). Abraham then immediately released Isaac and recited the blessing, "Blessed are You, LORD, who revives the dead" (בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה מְחַיֶּה הַמֵּתִים).

"I believe in You, O Holy One, though at times there no longer seems any reason for believing..." Here is Abraham, who counted the stars in hope, who trusted God for an heir, a promised son - and from this son another, and from that another, and another, until he envisioned his descendants "as the dust of earth" (Gen. 13:16; 15:5-6), and yet here is Abraham lifting up his knife to sacrifice his son, his beloved child, his promise, his future, his dream. Remember that Abraham did not know the end of the story before it began, and therefore his faith attested: "Though he slay me, I will trust in him."

Some people tend to "explain away" the passion of Abraham and Isaac by quoting the New Testament verse: "He [Abraham] considered that God was able even to raise him [Isaac] from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back" (Heb. 11:19) -- as if this would make the sacrificial act any easier! Again we must bear in mind that neither Abraham nor Isaac knew "the end of the story" before they chose to obey God. As I've mentioned before, simply "knowing about" God is not the same thing as personally trusting Him with your life... This is the distinction between emunah (אֱמוּנָה) and bittachon (בִּטָּחוֹן). Simply knowing about God can lead to a sense of "distance," to theological abstractions, to dogmas and creedal formulas. Rabbi Bechaya put the distinction this way: "Everyone who trusts has faith, but not everyone with faith trusts." Bittachon is an intuitive awareness of the personal love of God for your life, coupled with complete trust that He cares for you (Rom. 8:28). It is an expectation that the love of God is for you, too, despite the test.

Note:  For more see, "The Sacrificed Seed: Further thoughts about the Akedah."
 




The Way of the LORD...


 

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

11.15.16  (Cheshvan 14, 5777)  From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Vayera) we note that after delivering the announcement of the coming heir to both Abraham and Sarah, the three angels set out to finish their mission (Gen. 18:1-16). Abraham escorted them on their way. The chief Angel (i.e., the Angel of the LORD) then rhetorically asked his two angelic companions, "Should I hide from Abraham what I am about to do (i.e., go to Sodom), seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him (כִּי יְדַעְתִּיו), that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD (דֶּרֶךְ יהוה), to do charity and justice (לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט); that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he has spoken of him" (Gen. 18:17-19). Notice here that the LORD commends Abraham because he would instruct his family in the way of the LORD, namely, to do tzedakah (i.e., charity, righteous giving) and to promote justice in the earth...

When we recite the Shema, we repeat the admonition to follow Abraham's example: "these words that I command you today shall be on your heart, and you shall teach them diligently to your children (וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ), and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise..." (Deut. 6:5-7). We know however, that though Abraham had several sons, we call upon the the God of Isaac (Gen. 28:13), and likewise, though Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau, but we call upon the God of Jacob (Exod. 3:6). We are responsible to instruct our children to keep the way of the LORD, though we must entrust the spiritual results to God's hands....
 




Abraham and the Lamb...


 

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

11.15.16  (Cheshvan 14, 5777)  The word "love" (אָהַב) first appears in the Torah regarding Abraham's passion for his son: "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you" (Gen. 22:2). After journeying to the place, Abraham bound Isaac, laid him upon an altar, and raised his knife to slay him. At the very last moment, the Angel of the Lord called out: "Abraham! Abraham! Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me" (Gen. 22:11-12). Abraham then "lifted up his eyes" and saw a ram "caught in a thicket" which he offered the place of his beloved son. Abraham named the altar Adonai-Yireh, "the LORD who provides" (Gen. 22:14). The sacrifice of the lamb for Isaac portrayed the sacrifice of Yeshua, the great 'Lamb of God' (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) who would offer up his life in exchange for the trusting sinner (John 1:29). Indeed the story of how God provided the lamb - both at Moriah and later during the Passover in Egypt - may be understood as the "Gospel according to Moses" (Luke 24:27; John 5:46).

Isaac not only pictures the sinner who trusts in God's sacrificial substitute, but also the One who offered himself in obedience to his heavenly Father. The Promised Seed illustrates how Yeshua "humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:7), and in that sense he is a type of Messiah. For instance, both Isaac and Yeshua were born miraculously; both were called "only begotten sons"; both were to be sacrificed by their fathers at Moriah; both experienced a "passion"; both willingly took up the means of his own execution; both were to be resurrected on the third day (Gen. 22:5, Heb. 11:17-19); and both demonstrate that one life can be sacrificed for another – the ram for Isaac, and Yeshua for all of mankind...

The first time the word "Torah" (תּוֹרָה) occurs in the Bible refers to the faith of Abraham (see Gen. 26:5), and the second time refers to the law of Passover: "There shall be one teaching (Torah) for the native and for the stranger" (Exod. 12:49). There is a link here. Abraham lived before the time of the Exodus, of course, and therefore he observed Passover by offering the lamb in place of his son (Gen. 26:5). Abraham revealed that the inner meaning of Torah is that the "righteous shall live by faith" (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17) and that God justifies the sinner who trusts in him (Heb. 11:17-19; Rom. 4:5). During the Exodus from Egypt, Moses declared that the blood of the Passover lamb would be a "sign" of imputed righteousness secured by faith - with no "leaven," or human works, added. This is the "life-for-life" principle that underlies the sacrificial system of the Tabernacle revealed at Sinai as well. Ultimately all true Torah points to Yeshua, the Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים), who died upon the cross for our offenses and was raised again for our justification (Rom. 4:25).

Elohim yireh-lo ha'seh le'olah b'ni: "God will provide Himself a Lamb for the burnt offering - my son..."  The cross itself speaks to the question of "faith vs. works." At the time of the crucifixion of the Messiah, man was "shut out" because of the darkness and utter sanctity of the sacrifice of Yeshua as the Lamb of God who bore all the sins of the world... At the time of utmost darkness, man was on the "other side of the cloud," put into a "deep sleep" not unlike what Abraham had earlier experienced at the covenant of the parts (Gen. 15:12). Every human being stood helplessly on the other side of the cross; no one else participated to make us right with God: It was all Yeshua and the Father, and the Father and Yeshua alone... In that inner sanctum, that holy of holies, shammah! atonement was made.
 




Father of the faithful...


 

11.15.16  (Cheshvan 14, 5777)  Abraham is the "father of all who believe" in the miracle of the Promised Seed (הזרע הבטיח), that is, in the Coming Deliver who would bring redemption and healing to the whole world (see Gal. 3:16; Rom. 4:1-5:1). The Torah states that God chose Abraham because he would faithfully teach his children to guard "the way of the LORD" (דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה), by trusting in God's acts of "righteousness and justice" (צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט) that He would perform according to his promise (Gen. 18:19). God regarded Abraham as faithful to retain His promise, and therefore He would manifest salvation (יְשׁוּעָה) through his descendants. The "way of the LORD" refers to Yeshua, "the way and the truth and the life" (הַדֶּרֶךְ וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַחַיִּים), the Promised Seed that would crush the head of the serpent in the battle for our redemption. Abraham's faith was directed toward the Deliverer to come, as Yeshua said: "Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56). Likewise we guard the way of the LORD as our father Abraham did – by trusting in God's promises given to us in Yeshua our Messiah.

We are chosen to embody the same heart, vision, and mission of Yeshua our LORD, to exist as "extensions of his presence" in this world, and therefore we are also called to walk uprightly, as he walked... Indeed, the Hebrew word derekh (דֶּרֶךְ), usually translated as "way," metaphorically refers to the journey, manner, or course of your life. Because God is tov v'yashar (good and upright), he teaches his children to be yesharim (יְשָׁרִים), i.e., those who walk uprightly. Indeed, the way of the LORD (דֶּרֶךְ יהוה) is "to do acts of charity and justice" (לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט) (Gen. 18:19). This is the "straight way" (derekh ha-yashar), or the "narrow path" that leads to life (Matt. 7:14).
 

טוֹב־וְיָשָׁר יְהוָה
עַל־כֵּן יוֹרֶה חַטָּאִים בַּדָּרֶךְ

tov · ve·ya·shar · Adonai
al · ken · yo·reh · cha·ta·im · ba·da·rekh

 



"Good and upright is the LORD
therefore will he teach sinners in the way."
(Psalm 25:8)
 

Note that the verbal clause "he will teach" (i.e., יוֹרֶה) used in this verse comes from the root yarah (ירה) -- the same root used in the word Torah (תּוֹרָה). Because the LORD is good and upright, He gives us Torah (direction) for our lives. God educates us for eternity by imparting to us moral and spiritual truth. As King David taught, "Happy is the man who delights in the Torah of the LORD and meditates upon it day and night" (Psalm 1:1-2).
 




Praying in the Name of Love...


 

11.14.16  (Cheshvan 14, 5777)  Our Messiah Yeshua assured us, "If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it" (John 14:14). Please understand that asking for something "in the name of Yeshua" is not some "recipe" or magic formula that grants you authority before heaven. No, Yeshua warned us that many false prophets would come "in his name" to deceive others (Jer. 14:14; Mark 13:6, etc.). When he instructed his disciples to ask God for something using in his name, Yeshua meant for his sake, on his behalf, as his proxy, and as his appointed emissary entrusted to fulfill his will.  Praying in Yeshua's name therefore is a means of expressing the heart, vision, and redemptive mission of God (1 John 5:14-15).

Of course it requires rigorous honesty to pray according to the will of God, since many of our prayers are self-serving at heart. When we pray in the Name of God, however, we pray in the Name of everything that really and essentially matters before heaven. We pray in the Name of all that is Holy; we ask in the Name of Love; we appeal on behalf of hallowed Truth, and we plead in the Name of all that imparts meaning and purpose and sanctity to life itself...  The Hebrew word shem (שֵׁם) means "name," though it is related to the word sham (שָׁם), a demonstrative pronoun meaning "there," the shammah (שַׁמָּה) or "place" of God, the "Now" of the Divine Presence (יְהוָה שָׁמָּה). The Name of God therefore evokes the eternal truth and love of heaven. As I've mentioned many times before, the Name YHVH (יהוה) is wordplay on the Hebrew verb "to be" (היה), and therefore denotes the Truth and Reality of all existence. Indeed, since the Name of God means Being itself (i.e., "what was, and what is, and what will be": הָיָה וְהֹוֶה וְיָבוֹא), we can be assured that God is always present for us, always "I-AM-with-you" in the time of our need (Heb. 4:16).
 




Parashat Vayera - וירא


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Vayera. Please read the Torah portion to find your place here. ]

11.13.16  (Cheshvan 13, 5777)  Our Torah reading for this week (Vayera) is very dramatic and extraordinarily prophetic. Among other things it includes what I have called the "Gospel according to Moses," or rather Moses' account of how Abraham was tested by God to offer his "only begotten son" (בֵּן יָחִיד) as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah -- the place of the future Temple. This famous story is referred to as the Akedah (עֲקֵדָה), or Akedat Yitzchak (עֲקֵידָת יִצְחָק) - the "binding of Isaac" (Gen. 22:1-18). At the very last moment, the Angel of the LORD stopped Abraham from going through with the sacrifice and provided a ram as a substitute.  Abraham then named the location Adonai-Yireh (יהוה יִרְאֶה), "the LORD will provide/see" (from the 3p impf. of the verb ra'ah (רָאָה), "to see"). The binding of Isaac perfectly illustrates both the principle of sacrificial love and the principle that we must first unreservedly believe in that love in order to understand the ways of the LORD.

As Messianic believers, we understand the Akedah as a foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice the heavenly Father would give on our behalf. Unlike Abraham, God the Father actually offered His only begotten Son (בֵּן יָחִיד) Yeshua upon Moriah in order to make salvation available to all who believe (John 3:16-18; 1 John 4:9). As Abraham himself believed: אֱלהִים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה / Elohim yireh-lo haseh ("God Himself will provide a lamb").
 

אֱלהִים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה לְעלָה בְּנִי

E·lo·him · yir·eh-lo · has·seh · le·o·lah · be·ni
 

"God will see for himself the lamb for the burnt offering -- my son."
(Gen. 22:8)



 

Indeed, the very first occurrence of the word love in the Scriptures (i.e., ahavah: אַהֲבָה) refers to Abraham's love for his "only" son who was to be sacrificed as a burnt offering on Moriah (the very place of the crucifixion of Yeshua), a clear reference to the gospel message (Gen. 22:2; John 3:16). Some scholars have noted that the word ahavah comes from a two-letter root (הב) with Aleph (א) as a modifier. The root means "to give" and the Aleph indicates agency: "I" give (i.e., the Father gives). Love is essentially an act of sacrificial giving... The quintessential passage of Scripture regarding love (αγαπη) in the life of a Christian is found 1 Corinthians 13: "Love seeks not its own..."

Whereas the Akedat Yitzchak foreshadowed God's provision for the coming Temple, the Akedat Yeshua (i.e., the crucifixion of Yeshua at Moriah) was the altar where the justice and chesed (love) of the Father fully met. For more on this incredibly rich subject, please see the articles, "The Passion of Isaac" and "The Sacrificed Seed."
 

 




The Name El Shaddai...


 

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

11.11.16  (Cheshvan 10, 5777)  When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to him and said, "I am El Shaddai (אֲנִי־אֵל שַׁדַּי); walk before me, and be made whole" (Gen. 17:1). Since the compound name "El Shaddai" depicts the image of a nursing mother (i.e., the word shadayim (שדיים) means "breasts," symbolizing sufficiency and nourishment, e.g., Gen. 49:25), perhaps this revelation was meant to remind Abram and Sarai that the LORD would be the Womb, the Sustenance, and the Substance of the coming promised Seed. Only God can bring life out of death - even life from the deadness of Sarai's womb (see Rom. 4:19). For this reason, both Sarai and Abram were renamed by adding the letter Hey (ה) to their original names, symbolizing the Holy Spirit of God. The promised Seed was to be born miraculously, not unlike the virgin birth of the Messiah reported in the Gospels (i.e., just as Sarai was "without a womb" yet enabled to bear the promised seed (of Isaac), so was Mary, a virgin who was enabled to bear God's promised Seed - the Messiah).
 

וַיּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִי־אֵל שַׁדַּי
הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי וֶהְיֵה תָמִים

vai·yo·mer · e·lav · a·ni · El · Shad·dai
hit·ha·lekh · le·fa·nai · ye·he·yeh · ta·mim
 

And He said to him: "I am El Shaddai,
walk before Me and be made whole" (Gen. 17:1)


 
 

In connection with the name El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדַּי), we note that Abraham has more identifiable descendants than any other person in history... From the line of Isaac would come the twelve tribes of the Jewish people (as well as all those Gentiles who have been grafted into the covenantal blessings of Israel, i.e., the "church"), and from Ishmael would come the twelve tribes of the Ishmaelite people. Abraham also later married Keturah who bore him six more sons that became founders of six other nations of the Arab world, including the Midianites. To signify Abram's status, God changed his name from Avram ("exalted father" [from אָב, "father," + רָם, "exalted"]) to Avraham ("father of a multitude," a homonymic wordplay from אָב, "father" + המוֹן, "crowd").  Notice that some regard Avraham's name to mean "father of mercy" (from אָב, "father" + רחם, "womb").

Note:  Most English translations render El Shaddai as "God Almighty," probably because the translators of the Septuagint (i.e., the ancient Greek translation of the Torah) thought that shaddai came from a root verb (shadad: שָׁדַד) that meant "to overpower" or "to destroy." The Latin Vulgate likewise translated shaddai as "Omnipotens," from which we get our English word "omnipotent." or "all-powerful." In other words, the translators regarded this term to suggest that God is so overpowering that He is considered "Almighty." For more on this topic, please see "God as El Shaddai."
 




The Very First Priest...


 

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

11.11.16  (Cheshvan 10, 5777)  The Torah of Moses reveals that the very first "priest" (i.e., kohen: כּהֵן) was neither a Jew nor a Levite nor a descendant of Aaron, but rather Someone who is said to have "neither beginning of days nor end of life" but is made like (ἀφωμοιωμένος) the Son of God, a priest continually (Heb. 7:3). This priest, of course, was Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק), the King of Salem (מֶלֶךְ שָׁלֵם) to whom Abraham offered tithes after his victory over the kings (Gen. 14:18). The author of the Book of Hebrews makes the point that the priesthood of Malki-Tzedek is greater than the Levitical priesthood and is therefore superior to the rites and services of the Tabernacle (Heb. 7:9-11). It was to Malki-Tzedek that Abram (and by extension, the Levitical system instituted by his descendant Moses) gave tithes and homage -- and rightly so, since Yeshua is the great High Priest of the better covenant based on better promises (Heb. 8:6).

For more on this subject, see the article, "Exploring the Identity of Malki-Tzedek."
 




Righteousness and Faith...


 

11.11.16  (Cheshvan 10, 5777)  Our Torah portion this week (Lekh-Lekha) describes how Abram was declared righteous because he trusted in God's promise for his life. The Hebrew word emunah (אֱמוּנָה), often rendered as "faith" in many English translations, comes from the root word aman (אָמַן), which means to rest securely or rely upon (and from which we also get the word "amen"). The root occurs for the first time in the Torah in connection with Abraham: "And he believed (וְהֶאֱמִן) in the LORD, and He regarded it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). But what was the nature of Abraham's faith that caused God to regard it as tzedakah (צְדָקָה) or "righteousness"? What was the "object" or "content" of his faith? Was it not that Abram knew the character and will of God so intimately that he unconditionally put his trust in Him? Abraham was declared tzaddik (righteous) because he believed and understood that the LORD would fulfill His promise to him, despite his advanced age and the seeming impossibility of becoming the father of a multitude of nations (for more on this, click here). Abraham affirmed God's promise by saying the first "amen."

Now while emunah has an intellectual aspect that understands God's attributes and character, it certainly goes beyond mere intellectual apprehension and assent (i.e., the idea of believing certain ideas or doctrines), since the "object" of faith is the Person of the Living God Himself. Therefore it is not inaccurate to say that emunah is more "belief in" than "belief that." The root word (aman) later appears when the Torah describes how Moses' arms were "steadied" by Aaron and Chur during the battle against Amalek (Exod. 17:12). Genuine faith is a settled conviction (ἔλεγχος) that what God has promised will indeed come to pass (Heb. 11:1). It accepts that God's verbal promise of our future good is entirely reliable and sure - regardless of the present circumstances (it is telling, is it not, that Abram's faith was tested when God asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac on the altar; the obedience of Abram went beyond the evidence, or rather persisted in spite of contrary evidence, and yet remained steadfast). Abraham believed in a future state of affairs (a future-tense proposition) as expressed in his present faith in the Person and Promise of God. He foresaw the redemption of the world (the Messiah) and understood God's promise of salvation (John 8:56).

Note:  For more on this subject, see the article, "Emunah and Bittachon."
 




Heart of Righteousness...


 

11.11.16  (Cheshvan 10, 5777)  From our Torah reading for this week (Lekh-Lekha) we learn about the resolute faith of Abram who, despite his old age, trusted that God would make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the night sky: "And the LORD brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be. And he trusted in the LORD, and He reckoned it to him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). Abram "staggered not" at the promise of God, and therefore God imputed to him righteousness (צְדָקָה), a term understood here to be divine charity and grace. After all, what could Abram do in the face of seeming impossibility? There was nothing he could do to effect the miracle. The New Testament comments: "He 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), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb" (Rom. 4:19). It was in a state of utter powerlessness and complete helplessness that Abram retained hope and thereby received the promise by faith. "For he was beyond hope, yet in hope he trusted that he would indeed become a father to many nations, in keeping with what he had been promised, 'so shall your offspring be'" (Rom. 4:18).

Understand that 400 years before the law was given at Sinai, the LORD regarded the faith of Abram as the heart of the righteousness later prescribed by the law. Therefore the very First Commandment of the Decalogue is simply: Anochi Adonai Elohekha (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ): "I AM the LORD your God" (Exod. 20:2), which repeats the call to trust God before everything else, since it is complete surrender to the love and grace of God that justifies us, as it is written: "to the one who does not work but trusts in the One who justifies the ungodly (i.e. the helpless), his faith is counted as righteousness" (Rom. 4:5).

Where the LORD says "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to number them," we note the Hebrew word "count" (סָפַר) may also mean "recount," "interpret," or explain... This is the same word used in the famous verse, "The heavens declare (מְסַפְּרִים) the glory of God" (Psalm 19:1). The idea here would be not merely that Abram would have lots of descendants, but they would shine in brilliance against the backdrop of the darkness. Abram's children would be lights upon the earth, declaring the truth of God and enlightening the darkness of mankind. "And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever" (Dan. 12:3). In the same way, "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16; 13:43).
 




Supernatural Faith...


 

11.10.16  (Cheshvan 9, 5777)  In our Torah portion for this week (i.e., parashat Lekh-Lekha) we read how the LORD comforted Abram saying, "Fear not, Abram, I AM your shield and your very great reward" (Gen. 15:1). Likewise God comforts and protects the hearts of those who trust in the promises of Messiah, so that their light will never be extinguished (John 8:12). "Count the stars, if you are able: so shall your offspring be" (Gen. 15:5). Faith in God's promise transcends the realm of the natural. Though Abram and Sarai were not physically able to have children, God supernaturally enabled them to do so, and this is the legacy of their offspring – that their lives will attest to the miraculous grace and power of God...
 

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

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

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


 


Note:  Please remember Hebrew for Christians in your prayers, friends... My kids have been sick lately, and the ministry has been facing some tough challenges, including spiritual attacks, etc. Thank you so much.
 




Seek First the Kingdom...


 

11.10.16  (Cheshvan 9, 5777)  Concerning our Torah portion this week (i.e., Lekh-Lekha) the sages comment that the word lekh (לֶךְ) can be understood to mean "proceed," as from the starting point of a journey. Spiritually understood, lekh-lekha implies "forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead … pursuing the reward of the upward call of God in Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil. 3:13-14). Therefore "go out for yourself (לֶךְ־לְךָ) -- from your land, your kindred, and your father's house" to discover your inheritance in the "land where the LORD will show you" (Gen. 12:1). As Yeshua counseled us: seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33). Amen, as followers of Messiah we have obtained a heavenly inheritance: "If then you have been raised with the Messiah, seek the things that are above, where Messiah is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth" (Col. 3:1-2).
 

    "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going (καὶ ἐξῆλθεν μὴ ἐπιστάμενος ποῦ ἔρχεται). By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as an outsider (ὡς ἀλλοτρίαν), living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has firm foundations, whose Architect and Builder is God." (Heb. 11:8-10)
     




Blessing of Holy Desperation...


 

11.10.16  (Cheshvan 9, 5777)  Do you have the "gift of holy desperation"? That's the great blessing of needing God so viscerally that you otherwise will fall apart or even self-destruct apart from His ongoing intervention in your life... You pray because your very life depends on it; you believe because without God, you would be swallowed up in darkness... The fire on the altar was to be kept burning at all times (Lev. 6:12-13), which symbolizes esh tamid (אֵשׁ תָּמִיד), or the inner fire of the heart... How blessed it is to be full of the fire of this inner need, this relentless groaning, this constant hunger to be set free: As Job wistfully yearned: "All the days of my warfare I hope, until my change will come."
 

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

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

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


 
 

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




Justification by Faith...


 

[ The doctrine of "justification by faith" predates Martin Luther by thousands of years... ]

11.09.16  (Cheshvan 8, 5777)  From our Torah for this week (Lekh-Lekha) we read: "And he believed in the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). Like our father Abraham, we are made right with God (i.e., "justified") by trusting in God's promises (Rom. 4:20-25). In the Talmud (Makkot 23b-24a) it says, "Moses gave Israel 613 commandments, David reduced them to eleven (Psalm 15), Isaiah to six (Isaiah 33:15-16), Micah to three (Micah 6:8), Isaiah reduced them again to two (Isaiah 56:1); but it was Habakkuk who gave the one essential commandment: ve'tzaddik be'emunato yich'yeh (וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה), literally, "the righteous one, by his trust, shall find life" (Hab. 2:4). The New Testament likewise distilled the various commandments to the principle that we find life by trusting in God (see Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11, and Heb. 10:38). Spiritual life is the blessing of faith, since apart from faith we are spiritually dead and "powerless (ἀδύνατος) to please God" (Heb. 11:6). As King David said, "The LORD is near to all who call upon Him - to all who call upon Him in the truth" (Psalm 145:18). God is near to the honest soul who confesses the truth about his need, just as God distances himself from the proud and puffed up soul:
 

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
 
 

Note:  For more see, "Justification by Faith: Further thoughts on Lekh-Lekha."
 




The Armor of Light...


 

11.09.16  (Cheshvan 8, 5777)  We are in the midst of a great spiritual war -- the war for the truth. This has been the battle from the beginning. The very first recorded words of Satan (הַנָּחָשׁ) questioned God's truth: "Did God really say...?" (Gen. 3:1). In the end there will be found two types of people: those who love the truth and those who love the lie; these are children of light (בְּנֵי הָאוֹר) and children of darkness (בְּנֵי הַחשֶׁךְ), respectively. Followers of Yeshua the Messiah are told to "walk as children of light" / ὡς τέκνα φωτὸς περιπατεῖτε (Eph. 5:8). Children of light are called to be am kadosh - a holy people - separate from the evil engendered by the fallen world and its forces, just as the very first creative expression of God was the separation of light from darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). The children of light "hate evil and love the good," and conversely, the children of darkness "hate the good and love evil" (Psalm 34:21, Prov. 8:13, Amos 5:15, John 3:20-21). Yes, we hate sin, because it separates people from healing; we hate sin because we love others. We are to walk in the peace and love of God; to do acts of justice and lovingkindness (Psalm 97:10). "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other."

Surely our great need is to have heart, to find strength, resolution, and steadfast determination to walk boldly during these heartless and depraved days (2 Tim. 3:1-5). We are not without God's help, of course. Yeshua told us that the Ruach HaKodesh (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) would be "called alongside" (παράκλητος) to comfort us on the journey. The English verb "comfort" literally means "to give strength" (from com- ["with"] and fortis ["strong"]), an idea similarly expressed by the verb "encourage," that is, to "put heart [i.e., 'core'] within the soul." In Hebrew, the word courage is expressed by the phrase ometz lev (אמֶץ לֵב), meaning "strong of heart," denoting an inner quality of the will rather than of the intellect. Our faith is the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 4:4, 5:4).

May we always focus on Yeshua, the Light of Torah and the true Wisdom of God: "Whoever has My commandments (מִצְוֹתַי) and keeps them, that 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 (lit., "shine within" from ἐν, "in" + φαίνω, "shine") myself to him" (John 14:21). There it is - the Source of the Light that overcomes all darkness; the Power that is behind the armor of God... Yeshua is the Beginning, the Center, and the End of all true meaning from God.

"Where your treasure is, there will be your heart" (Matt. 6:21). Your heart, your soul, your inmost being: What you value most defines and "locates" you. We cannot not treasure; we cannot desire not to desire; we are inherently valuing beings. It's not a question of whether you will worship, but what you indeed are worshiping. We always find what we seek, and our heart, our core, is revealed by what we value most...  May the LORD God of Israel impart to us grace to take hold of heaven's true treasure. Amen.
 




By Faith, not by Sight...


 

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

11.08.16  (Cheshvan 7, 5777)  In our Torah portion for this week we read, "And the LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land" (Gen. 12:7). Note that this was the first time God actually appeared to Abram, since earlier he had only "heard" God say to him, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you" (Gen. 12:1). In other words, it was only later - after Abram had obeyed God's voice by making the move to Canaan, that the LORD appeared to him and an altar was established (Gen. 12:7-8). As long as he remained with his father in the City of Haran (the last outpost of Mesopotamia), he was in a place of delay, unable to behold the Divine Presence.  Abram first had to act on what he knew before he was given confirmation by God (John 13:17). Perhaps that is why the very first place Abram came to in the promised land was the "Oak of Moreh" (אֵלוֹן מוֹרֶה), or the "Teaching Tree." Abram was taught that to believe in order to understand, not to understand in order to believe....

Notice, however, that Abram was immediately tested once he arrived in the promised land. After building another altar and calling upon the name of the LORD (Gen. 12:8), a severe famine tempted him to look for food in the land of Egypt. After leaving the land of promise, Abram willingly forfeited his identity (i.e., he denied he was Sarai's husband) and found himself powerless as his wife was abducted into Pharaoh's harem. The LORD intervened on his behalf, however, and plagued Pharaoh and his household with great plagues, which surely prefigured the future time of the great Exodus during the time of Moses...

In this connection we further note that the next time the Torah states that the LORD appeared to Abram was after he had returned from Egypt, after rescuing Lot from the kings of the east, when he encountered the mysterious Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק) in Salem. After this dramatic encounter, Abram separated his clan from his nephew Lot and returned to the first altar he built in the promised land (Gen. 13:4).
 




Thy Kingdom Come...


 

11.08.16  (Cheshvan 7, 5777)  Of this evil world it is written, "Why do the people rage and the nations devise schemes that will fail? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Messiah saying, 'Let us tear off the shackles of their yoke, and throw off their ropes from us!' But the enthroned LORD laughs at their insolence and holds them in derision, until the appointed hour when He will speak to them in his wrath and terrify them in his fury" (Psalm 2:1-5). Amen, amen!

The LORD God Almighty will surely break the pride of the "kings of the earth" with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel, and the shattering will be so ruthless that among its fragments not a shard will be found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern (Psalm 2:9; Isa. 30:14). For from His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (Rev. 19:15). "As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, breaking them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth" (Dan. 2:34-35). "And the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed ... and it shall stand forever" (Dan. 2:44). One day the edifice of man's godless pride will come crashing down, and there will be no trace left of its rubble... The day and the hour draws near.

The prophet Isaiah foresaw the glory of the Coming Kingdom: "It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD (הַר־יְהוָה), to the house of the God of Jacob (בֵּית אֱלהֵי יַעֲקב), that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isa. 2:2-4; see also Jer. 3:17, Micah 4:1, etc.).
 

כִּי מִצִּיּוֹן תֵּצֵא תוֹרָה
וּדְבַר־יְהוָה מִירוּשָׁלָםִ

ki · mi·tzi·yon · tei·tzei · to·rah
ud·var · Adonai · mi·ru·sha·la·yim
 

"For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the Word of the LORD from Jerusalem" (Isa. 2:3)


 


Before this glorious time of the Millennial Kingdom, however, the great "Day of the LORD" will come - a time of worldwide, catastrophic judgment that will befall the kings and princes of this world... "The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man will cry loud there" (Zech. 1:14).

In light of all this, we must be be careful not to love this world or the things of this world (1 John 2:15). The kingdom of man is at war with the kingdom of God, and whoever wishes to be a "friend" of this evil world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4). Regarding this doomed world the LORD speaks thus to His children: "Come out of the midst of her and be ye separate, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues."  This call to be separate may be more difficult for those who live in the midst of present-day "Babylon" than in other places of the world, because in Babylon it is far too easy to coddle the flesh and to avoid taking a costly stand for the truth... However, the reign of Babylon is spreading like a cancer throughout the world, consolidating power, and soon it will demand complete allegiance of all who dwell upon the earth. During that time of tribulation, all the peoples of the world will be forced to chose whether to accept the "mark of the beast" (i.e., citizenship in world order) or to face persecution, etc. Adonai oz le'amo yiten (יְהוָה עז לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן) - May the LORD protect and strengthen His people. 
 

יְהוָה עז לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן
יְהוָה יְבָרֵךְ אֶת־עַמּוֹ בַשָּׁלוֹם

Adonai · oz · le·am·mo · yit·ten
Adonai · ye·va·rekh · et · am·mo · va·sha·lom
 

"The LORD will give strength to his people;
The LORD will bless his people with peace."
(Psalm 29:11)



Hebrew Study Card

 




Crossing Over to Life...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh-Lekha... ]

11.08.16  (Cheshvan 7, 5777)  Our Torah portion this week begins: "Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go (לֶךְ־לְךָ) from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land I will show you" (Gen. 12:1). The Book of Hebrews comments, "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance, and he went out, not knowing where he was going... for he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Heb. 11:8,10). The Sefat Emet says that every person of faith is likewise commanded daily to "lekh-lekha," to "go for yourself" by crossing over from the world and its deadening habits to live as an exile with God. Paradoxically, we find ourselves when we lose ourselves - when we leave behind the labels, roles, and identities this world foists upon us and instead resolve to seek the promise of God's Kingdom. As Yeshua said, "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 16:25).

Note:  In a sefer Torah (i.e., a handwritten Torah scroll), Hebrew words are written without vowels, so "lekh lekha" (לך־לך), often translated as "go forth," could be read as "go, go!" - emphasizing the importance of the mitzvah: Get moving! Start walking! Begin your journey!
 




The Meaning of "Hebrew"


 

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

11.08.16  (Cheshvan 7, 5777)  In parashat Lekh Lekha Abram is called ha-ivri (הָעִבְרִי) - "the Hebrew," a term that means "one who has crossed over" (עָבַר) from another place.  Rashi identifies this "other place" as Ur of the Chaldees (אוּר כַּשְׂדִים), located east of the Euphrates River, though the midrash (Genesis Rabbah) symbolically identifies it as the realm of idolatry: "The whole world stood on one side, but Abram crossed over to the other."  Abram separated himself from a world steeped in idolatry and polytheism by worshiping the One LORD God who is the sole Creator of all things.... Understood in this way, being "Hebrew" means being regarded as an "other," a "stranger," or an "outsider" to idolatrous world culture. Similarly, all those who "cross over" from the realm of death to life because of Yeshua our Savior are rightly called "Hebrews" (John 5:24).

To Abram came to divine invitation: "Go forth ... I will show you" (Gen. 12:1). It was only after Abram made the long journey to the unknown land of Canaan that God appeared to him to him by the Oaks of Mamre saying, "To your offspring I will give this land" (Gen. 18:1). Abram did not believe the promise because he saw God; he was only able to see God after he had walked in faith. First Abram heard the message, and later - after he acted on his faith - was he enabled to see more. This is the deeper meaning of being "Hebrew," one who crosses over from the realm of the dead to the realm of the Living God...

Therefore we note that hearing (shema) is more important than simply seeing... When we hear the truth and accept it into our understanding, it informs our perceptions, not the other way around. Truth is something revealed to the heart first, and only later to the senses.
 




The Third Creation...


 

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

11.08.16  (Cheshvan 7, 5777)  The sages say that the departure of Abraham from his country, kindred, and his father's house represented a sort of "third creation," after the first account given in Genesis and the rebirth of the world after the flood. The midrash says that the world itself was created for the sake of Abraham's progeny: Where is is written, "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created" (Gen. 2:4), the letters of the word translated "when they were created" (i.e., be'hibaram: בְּהִבָּרְאָם) can be rearranged to spell "in Abraham" (i.e., בְּאַבְרָהָם), which suggests that the world was created for the sake of Abraham's seed, that is, the Messiah.
 




The Hidden Palace...


 

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

11.07.16  (Cheshvan 6, 5777)  The midrash says Abraham first encountered God by contemplating nature, likening it to a brilliantly lit palace that must have an owner. As he considered nature's wonder, a voice called out saying, "I am the owner of this palace..." The sages discuss the various preoccupations that commonly distract us from similarly detecting God's presence in nature for ourselves. Rabbi Shlomo asked, "God's greatness is inestimable; the entire cosmos is but a mustard seed when compared to him. How can so small a world block out so tremendous a God?" When we seek the truth of God, the eyes of faith will detect the "hidden palace," and everything around us will seem miraculous.
 

קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יהוה צְבָאוֹת
מְלא כָל־הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ

ka·dosh  ka·dosh  ka·dosh,  Adonai  Tze·va·ot,
me·lo  khol  ha·a·retz  ke·vo·do
 

"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!"
(Isa. 6:3)


 
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"For his invisible attributes (τὰ γὰρ ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ), namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made..." (Rom. 1:20). "For by him (King Messiah) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things were created through him and for him" (Col. 1:16). "To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God ( μόνῳ σοφῷ θεῷ), be honor and glory forever and ever" (1 Tim. 1:17). "He (Moses) endured as seeing him who is invisible" (Heb. 11:27). "We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:18).

Moses "endured as seeing Him who is invisible." It is this "as seeing Him" that is the essence of faith -- seeing God's hand and presence through the throes of temptation, stormy clouds, and darkness. Faith does not give the last word to despair.
 




Hidden Life in God...


 

11.07.16  (Cheshvan 6, 5777)  It is said that the tzaddikim (righteous ones) are "doubly called" by God: "Abraham, Abraham" (Gen. 22:11), "Jacob, Jacob" (Gen. 46:2), "Moses, Moses" (Exod. 3:4), "Samuel, Samuel" (1 Sam. 3:10), "Saul, Saul" (Acts 9:4), and so on, to indicate that the LORD calls once to each soul in this world (olam hazeh) but a second time to each soul who will in the world to come (olam haba) by means of his grace... When God told Abram to "get out of your land," he called him to focus on heavenly places – to find his identity there. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God..." (Matt. 6:33). Thus David says, "I shall walk before the LORD in the land of the living" (Psalm 116:9), which means all his deeds would be done for the sake of heaven. The earth then becomes the "land of the living," or "the land that I will show you," as Abram was told (Gen. 12:1). Likewise, followers of Yeshua no longer find their identity in this world but rather through their spiritual union with the resurrected LORD (Gal. 2:20; 6:14; Eph. 1:3; 2:6)... Therefore we are told to "seek the things that are above (τὰ ἄνω ζητεῖτε) where the Messiah is seated at the right hand of God; focus your thoughts on the things above - not on things here on earth - for you have died, and your life has been hidden (κέκρυπται) with Messiah in God. Then when the Messiah, who is your life, appears, you too will appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4).

So have you heard the "upward call of God in Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil. 3:14)? This "upward call" (τῆς ἄνω κλήσεως) is the invitation from above, the sound of the heavenly Voice, beckoning you to enter the "high country" of the world to come. As Yeshua said, "I am from above (ἐγὼ ἐκ τῶν ἄνω)." Our true identity is not found in this world and its vain philosophy. The cross brings these things to an end, as we "cross over" from the realm of the dead to the realm of life (Gal. 6:14). Can you say: "I have been crucified with Messiah. It is no longer I who live, but Messiah who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20)?

The great commandment is always Shema - listen - and heed God's Voice: "And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left (Isa. 30:21). At any given moment of our day, then, we can attune ourselves to hear the "upward call" and come "boldly before the Throne of Grace" (Heb. 4:16). The world knows nothing of this realm and is enslaved by appearances and the delusions of this realm, olam hazeh. As Yeshua said, "To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given" (Matt. 13:11). The Spirit always says, "Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you" (Isa. 26:20). The LORD beckons: "Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known" (Jer. 33:3). And I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, "Come up here, and I will show you..." (Rev 4:1). The repeated or "double call" of heaven is the voice of love. The Beloved calls out to the beloved: "Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away" (Song 2:10, 2:13).
 

וְאָזְנֶיךָ תִּשְׁמַעְנָה דָבָר מֵאַחֲרֶיךָ לֵאמר
זֶה הַדֶּרֶךְ לְכוּ בוֹ
כִּי תַאֲמִינוּ וְכִי תַשְׂמְאִילוּ

ve·oz·ne·kha · tish·ma·nah · da·var · me·a·cha·re·kha · le·mor:
zeh · ha·de·rekh · le·khu · vo
ki · ta·a·mi·nu · ve·khi · tas·me·i·lu
 

"Your ears will hear a word behind you saying:
'This is the way; follow it,'
when you turn to the right or to the left."
(Isa. 30:21)

 




Parashat Lekh-Lekha - לך־לך


 

11.06.16  (Cheshvan 5, 5777)  Last week's Torah portion (i.e., parashat Noach) introduced us to Abram (אַבְרָם), the descendant of Noah's son Shem, who was the great-grandson of the patriarch Methuselah - a man who who personally knew Adam and Eve and upheld the original promise of redemption given in the Garden of Eden.  Just as there were ten generations from Adam to Noah, so there were also ten generations from Noah to Abram (see Gen. 11:10-32). And just as Noah became the father of 70 nations, so Abram (through Shem) would become the father of the Jewish people, through whom the Promised Seed - the Messiah and Savior of the world - would eventually come.

In our Torah portion this week (Lekh-Lekha), we read that Abram was 75 years old, married to (his half-sister) Sarai, and guardian of his nephew Lot (his deceased brother Haran's son) when he received the promise of divine inheritance: "And the LORD said to Abram, "Go from (i.e., lekh-lekha: לך־לך) your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.  In Hebrew, the phrase lekh lekha means "go for yourself" (lit. "walk [הָלַךְ] for yourself [לְךָ]"), though it can be interpreted it to mean "go to yourself," that is, "look within yourself" in order to begin walking out your own journey into the promises. The realm of divine promise is only attained when we venture out in faith. Like our father Abraham, we are called to "cross over," leave everything behind, and take hold of God's glorious promise for our lives.
 

 

 




Life in the Spirit...


 

11.04.16  (Cheshvan 3, 5777)   "If we live in the Spirit, let us also live as spiritual people..." (Gal. 5:25). To do so we must heed the call to live on an altogether higher and divine level of existence – experiencing the life of the new nature, the "new self" that God created for us in our spiritual rebirth (John 1:12). We are being educated for eternity, and that means we must learn to know our true self according to the truth of eternity. This is the "eternal-life self" or the "higher self" created in righteousness and true holiness (Eph. 4:24) according to the image and will of the Creator (Col. 3:10-15). As Yeshua said, "It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63). We must "clothe ourselves" with the truth of God like armor of light, affirming by faith that our true self is of heavenly design and origin, and that our end is the blessed state of being a child of God.  As it is written in our Scriptures, "As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:47-48).

Note:  Have you ever seen those old cartoons that depict a character with a devil sitting on one shoulder and an angel sitting on the other, each one "tempting" the character make a decision?  The lower nature seeks to gratify itself by seeking pleasure, power, etc., in the present, "absolutizing" the moment and ignoring the truth (and consequences) of the future. The new nature is clothed by means of the Word of God living within us, as we engage the truth and walk in the light of God's Presence and Love. By faith we mediate the eternal in the present and transform it to be part of the story of redemption.

Shabbat shalom, dear friends.  Thank you for being a part of this ministry...
 




Communion in Truth...



 

11.04.16  (Cheshvan 3, 5777)  "If you live in me, and my words live in you, you may ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you" (John 15:7). Note then the connection between living in union with Yeshua – that is, receiving divine life through faith in God's love – and the words of the Messiah that are made alive within you. The Word of God living within you is the inner awareness and expression of your communion with the truth and reality of God. It is the voice of your redeemed and regenerated self (your godly nature) speaking in harmony with the Holy Spirit. If you truly live in this communion, your heart's petition will be fulfilled, because you will become one with Yeshua's heart, vision, message, and passion. "And this is the confidence that we have before him: that whenever we ask anything according to his will, he hears us" (1 John 5:14). God hears us because He hears the language of truth, just as the heart of heaven is expressed only in the language of truth.
 




Torah of the Vine...



 

11.04.16  (Cheshvan 3, 5777)  The Word of God speaks: "If anyone does not live in Me, he is cast off as a branch, and withers..." (John 15:6). We find life only as we remain connected to the Source and Conduit of life, who is the Messiah, the Savior and LORD. True life grows out a heart connection with Yeshua, and without that connection our lives become vain and yield no eternal significance (John 15:5). Be forewarned: it is Torah of the Messiah that if you do not live in the Vine you will be destroyed, since life is found in no other Source (John 14:6; Luke 3:9). Be encouraged, trusting friend: the yoke of Messiah is easy, and His burden is light: we cannot create new life by our own efforts nor effect regeneration by means of our own "good works." No, the work of salvation is God's alone, and we partake of that work as we abandon our self-efforts and religious conceits (see Isa. 32:17). There remains, therefore, a Sabbath for the people of God, "for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his" (Heb. 4:9-10). This "deep Sabbath" of rest is a matter of trusting that the finished work of salvation has been given on your behalf.  Therefore relax, for the LORD always effects what is best for you, and nothing is under your control anyway. The path of peace is to surrender to God's care for your life and let the evils and drama of this world flow past you. Look to heavenly reality and not to the shadows and deceits of this world (Col. 3:1-4). Live in Yeshua's Presence, drawing strength and vitality from your relationship with Him. The conditional statement, "If you live in Me and my words live in you" (John 15:7), means that we will know His heart as we heed the message of his truth (i.e., his word) within our hearts.. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is produced as we yield ourselves to the love and presence of God.
 

    וְהָיָה מַעֲשֵׂה הַצְּדָקָה שָׁלוֹם
    וַעֲבדַת הַצְּדָקָה הַשְׁקֵט
    וָבֶטַח עַד־עוֹלָם

    ve'haya ma'aseh ha'tezdakah shalom
    va'avodat ha'tzedakah hashket
    va'vetach ad olam

     

"And the work of righteousness shall be peace;
and the service of righteousness shall be quietness
and assurance for ever." - Isa. 32:17
 


The "Torah of the Vine" (תּוֹרַת הַּגֶּפֶּן) further teaches us that "every branch that bears fruit will be pruned so that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:2). Note first that it is the healthy branch that will be cut back - not the withered one that will be altogether removed – and this purging process may be painful at times. The heavenly Vinedresser's goal is for the fruitful branch to yield more fruit, to reveal more and more the connection to the Heart of the Vine, so that God is glorified (see John 15:8). The end here is the beatific vision: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). Note that the Greek word translated "pure" is katharos (καθαρός), sometimes used describe the cleansing of a wound (catharsis), or to describe the unalloyed quality of a substance revealed through refining fire. Sanctification involves "catharisis" of the ego – the exile of carnal desire, the frustration of our will, the release of truth in the inward parts. A faith that thinks God will make us immune to suffering, challenges, and tribulation is an immature and imperfect faith, friends. The goal of "purging" is fruitfulness and blessing, but the agency is not the will of man but the power of God. You are made "clean" through the word of God spoken within your own heart (John 15:3). Your sanctification, however, depends on your communion with God, staying connected to what is real, central, vital, the core truth of God's Presence and love, the ultimate Reality of Life itself.

"If anyone does not live in Me, he is cast off and and withers...." Yeshua here teaches that shared life is the goal of our relationship with him, but if that does not occur, destructive consequences follow. This has been called the "dark side" of God by some mystics, by which they mean that God will destroy everything in us that is not fit to exist and that does not yield true blessedness (Luke 3:9). Of course this "destruction" (or correction) is really a great blessing, since it purges us from worthlessness that brings pain, disease, and sorrow (this in distinction to the devil, who seeks to destroy what is healthy and good). The upshot here is that we must carefully attend to our inner life and our connection with God, understanding that to be the utmost good for our lives, seeking God's Presence in all our ways. Therefore we read, "Above all else guard your heart, for from it are the contours of life" (Prov. 4:23).

 

מִכָּל־מִשְׁמָר נְצר לִבֶּךָ
 כִּי־מִמֶּנּוּ תּוֹצְאוֹת חַיִּים

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 


Here is a "sanity check." Since Yeshua is the Center, the Heart, and the Source of all beauty, meaning, love, grace, and life for you, test all other truth claims based on that relationship… The devil trafficks the lie and seeks to entice you to bite his hook. We overcome the power of the lie by means of truth, and the various affairs of this world – its drama, it's "news," its fads, fashions, and so on – must be mediated by the word of Messiah within you. Take every thought captive to the truth of God; bring it before the bar of the Divine Presence and coerce it to bend the knee. Friend, the stakes are high. People live their lives in unstable and pain-filled ways because they refuse to "come to themselves" and understand the Ground of existence, the Heart of God that overarches and sustains all things... Shalom..
 




Torah of Forgiveness...



 

11.04.16  (Cheshvan 3, 5777)  Since God cares for our inner life, being merciful is essential for experiencing genuine communion with God. The refusal to forgive others is a symptom of being spiritually alienated, hardhearted, consumed with feelings of pain, fear, bitterness, anger, and so on. The Torah of forgiveness insists that we must let go of our "need to be right" so we might find inner peace and healing: "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:14-15). Whatever troubles may befall our relationships at times, we must be quick to forgive (and to be forgiven), even if our brother offends us to "seventy times seven" (Matt. 18:22). To attain such a merciful and compassionate attitude requires that we return to the Heart of Reality, confessing our own brokenness and receiving anew the mercy of God. How else can we forgive others, after all, if we do not first take hold our own radical need for forgiveness?

The Torah of Yeshua directs us to "forgive as we forgive others," which implies that our forgiveness (of others) is the measure of our own forgiveness. This is another example of the principle of "reciprocity," namely the principle that as we sow, so we reap; as we seek, so we will find; as we judge, so we are judged; and so on (Matt. 7:2). When we let go of hurt, anger, and fear, we are no longer driven by our pain, and we can begin to break the cycle and heal.  But to forgive others you must first forgive yourself, and that means accepting God's love for you despite your many sins and transgressions. Accepting yourself as forgiven means that you acknowledge that you act just like other people, that you are human, and that you are in need of reconciliation and healing, too.

We are strongly forbidden to bear grudges against others: "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses" (Mark 11:25). Again this teaches that our forgiveness of others constitutes our own experience of forgiveness. In the Gates of Repentance it is written: "I hereby forgive all who have hurt me, all who have wronged me, whether deliberately or inadvertently, whether by word or by deed. May no one be punished on my account. And as I forgive and pardon those who have wronged me, may those whom I have harmed forgive me, whether I acted deliberately or inadvertently, whether by word or by deed." Amen.
 




Heart of Reality…


 

11.03.16  (Cheshvan 3, 5777)  The Scriptures teach us that the most essential truth about life, the "core" of Reality, the very essence of Being itself, is not something objective to be studied (a "what") but Someone intimately to be known (a "Who"), experienced by the revelation of the Heart of God, the Divine Love that is willing to be wounded, to suffer, and even to die for your sake so that you may know that you are beloved, chosen, and treasured of heaven... There are innumerable attributes, names, and titles ascribed to the LORD God in Scripture, but His essence is described as Love itself (1 John 4:16). Indeed, God's heart is the beginning, middle, and end of Reality (אֱמֶת), but if your theology somehow leads you away from this all-encompassing and great truth, you've missed the point of it all...
 




Irrepressible Creation...


 

11.02.16  (Cheshvan 2, 5777)  The cosmological dogma that the universe somehow was caused by an enormous (and yet inexplicable) explosion several billions of years ago (i.e., the "big bang") is routinely accepted by people today, though such a theory cannot explain what caused the big bang itself, nor can it explainwhy is there something rather than nothing at all... Moreover, whereas scientific cosmology "omnisciently" claims that the universe came into existence without a discernible reason, that is, groundlessly or without rational warrant, it is somehow considered "irrational" to believe that a personal and holy God created the world for the sake of revealing his love and glory to mankind. In light of this, it is helpful to remember that genuine science involves observation and measurement, and whenever cosmologists extrapolate beyond empirical evidence to explain the origin of the universe, they are creating a myth or a model that is every bit as religious as those who believe God created the universe yesh me'ayin, "out of nothing."
 

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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Simple logic reveals that the universe had a beginning, since it is impossible to traverse an infinite number of moments to arrive at a present moment... Since the universe is indeed present, therefore it necessarily had a beginning. The question of the origin of the universe therefore leads to "inference to the best explanation." On the assumption that the Torah is true, what would we expect to see in light of human history and its values, of good and evil, of love, beauty and truth, and so on... The objections raised to a personal Creator and King are moral more than they are intellectual. It is a matter of the will, not of the evidence itself. There is plenty of "junk science" in the world today that purports to substantiate godlessness. The LORD is revealed intuitively within each human soul, and the impression of the Divine nature is indelibly written on the human heart. As it is written, "God's eternal power and divine nature from the creation of the world are understood through what has been made, so people are without excuse" (Rom 1:20).

If the devil can't kill you, he will try to make you insane... He will lie to you about who you really are... He will harass you and vex your soul; he will whisper fearful things in your ear... He will make what is small seem big and what is big seem small. He will raise dark suspicion within your soul, causing you to draw back in worry. He will remind you of your sins to make you feel ashamed, dirty, and unwelcome. He will hiss that you are unlovable and unworthy. He will argue on behalf of your flesh that you deserve better than this... He will tempt you to seek relief in cisterns of emptiness and futility. Most of all, he will try to cast a spell to make you forget that you are truly a prince or princess of God Almighty... The devil seeks to drive you into the exile of loneliness and despair. Resist him in the Name of the LORD!

Faith affirms that meaning is real, from God, and that each of us has eternal significance in the eyes of heaven... Faith sees the hidden beauty and truth of the invisible (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם), the underlying substance (ὑπόστασις) of hope, and the conviction of unseen and everlasting good (Heb. 11:1). Faith overcomes the power of the lie as light vanquishes darkness.

Note: For more on this, see the article, "Irrepressible Creation."
 




Torah of the Ark...


 

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

11.02.16  (Cheshvan 2, 5777)  In our Torah portion for this week (i.e., parashat Noach) we note that Hebrew word translated "ark" is teivah (תֵּבָה), a word that first occurs to name the huge box-shaped vessel that Noah, his family, and the animals entered to escape the judgment of the great flood (Gen. 6:14), though later the word occurs to name to the small vessel ("basket") that Moses' mother made to hide her son among the reeds of the Nile river to escape the wrath of Pharaoh: "And when she (Yocheved) could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket (i.e., teivah) 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). In both cases, however, we note that what distinguishes a "teivah" (i.e., ark) from a boat or ship (אֳנִיָּה) is the absence of a sail or rudder: there is no way to control its direction, speed, or destination. Spiritually understood, then, an "ark" represents a vessel completely surrendered to God's care, and the "Torah of the Ark" (תּוֹרַת הַתֵּבָה) teaches that we must cast ourselves upon the waters of the Father's great mercy (אֲבִי הָרַחֲמִים) and completely trust that He will guide our passage through the storms of this life (1 Pet. 5:7).

Note:  A more common Hebrew word often translated "ark" is aron (אֲרוֹן), a term that means a "chest" (i.e., the Ark of the Covenant) or even a "coffin" (Gen. 50:26).
 




Endurance to Hope...


 

11.02.16  (Cheshvan 2, 5777)  Though we are optimistic about the purpose and end of reality, and though we believe "gamzu l'tovah" (גַּם זוּ לְטוֹבָה), that God "works all things together for good" (Rom. 8:28), we are not therefore "monistic idealists," that is, those who say that evil is not real or who even claim that it is "part of God."  We are given "exceedingly great and precious promises," yet in this world we suffer and experience pain, heartache, and troubles. Yeshua said "in this world you will have tribulation," though that is not the end of the story, of course, for there is the cheer of God's' victory, even if we must repeatedly ask God for grace to endure our troubles without murmuring (John 16:33; Heb. 4:16). I realize that is often difficult, and some of you might be within the fiery furnace even now. You might be asking, "Where are you, Lord, in all of this? Why don't you bring me out of these troubles?" In such testing you need endurance (ὑπομονή) to hold on to hope, remembering that God uses affliction to refine you for good. As Paul said, "We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces refined character, and refined character produces hope" (Rom. 5:3-4). Each of us is still upon the "Potter's wheel," and God's hand continues to shape us into vessels that one day will reveal his glory and honor. For Yeshua's people, "all is well and all manner of thing shall be well." "May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace" (Psalm 29:11).
 

יְהוָה עז לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן
יְהוָה יְבָרֵךְ אֶת־עַמּוֹ בַשָּׁלוֹם

Adonai · oz · le·am·mo · yit·ten
Adonai · ye·va·rekh · et · am·mo · va·sha·lom
 

"The LORD will give strength to his people;
The LORD will bless his people with peace."
(Psalm 29:11)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Keep holding on, dear friends! The Lord our God is faithful and true. He gives us acharit v'tikvah (אַחֲרִית וְתִקְוָה), "a future and a hope" (Jer. 29:11).
 




Perseverance and Focus...


 

11.02.16  (Cheshvan 2, 5777)  The walk of faith involves kavanah (כַּוָנָה), or focus; we are to "press on" (διώκω) to hear the upward call of God (Phil. 3:14). The problem for many of us is that we are irresolute, indecisive, and therefore we hesitate... A divided heart is at war within itself, "two-souled" (δίψυχος) and unstable in all its ways (James 1:8). If "purity of heart is to will one thing," then impurity of heart is the result of simultaneously willing two things... It is therefore a state of inner contradiction, of having two separate "minds" or "wills" that hold contrary thoughts or desires. Yeshua said that "a divided house cannot stand." May it please God to heal us of such ambivalence by making our hearts whole, resolute, steadfast, full of conviction, and entirely awake to the glory of His Presence at our right hand (Psalm 16:8). The LORD is always near; he is not far from each one of us. "Draw near to God (ἐγγίσατε τῷ Θεῷ) and he will draw near to you; purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8). As it is written: "The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth" (Psalm 145:18). May we be set free from lesser fears that divide the heart and rob the soul of shalom shelemah, God's perfect peace... Amen.
 




Find Life in God's Love...


 

11.01.16  (Cheshvan 1, 5777)  I've said this for years, but it bears repeating.  The Hebrew word for "life" is chayim (חַיִּים), a plural noun that contains two consecutive letter yods (יי) that picture two "hands held together" (the Hebrew word yad [יָד] means "hand"), or the union of our spirit with God's Spirit. The word itself reveals that there is no life apart from union with God, who extends his hand to you and says, "Live in me" (John 15:4). Yes, live in God, who is your life, your Beloved, your light, your truth, your healing, your beauty, your breath, the Center of Reality and your very salvation. Yeshua is the Source of all life, and we find nourishment, strength, and fullness of joy as we connect with his life. The Lord is our Light and our Salvation (i.e., יִשְׁעֵנוּ, our "Jesus"), the Mediator of divine life (Psalm 27:1; John 1:4). The Voice of the LORD still speaks: "Take heart. It is I; be not afraid" (Matt. 14:27).

The Hebrew word chayim can also be read as chai (חי), "alive," combined with the particle im (אם), "if," suggesting that being alive is conditional on our connection with God in the truth.  "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם); whoever refuses the Son shall not see life, but the separation of God remains" (John 3:36). Life and peace are therefore inextricably connected, and those who refuse Yeshua, the Prince of Peace (שַׂר־שָׁלוֹם), therefore separate themselves from unity with God. Yeshua alone is the means of receiving the divine life: "Whoever has the Son has the life (הַחַיִּים); but whoever does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:12).
 




Noah and the Messiah...


 

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

11.01.16  (Cheshvan 1, 5777)  Among other things, we understand Noah to "foreshadow" or picture the greater deliverance of Yeshua, the Savior of the world (i.e., moshia ha'olam: מוֹשִׁיעַ הָעוֹלָם). Of Noah it was said that he was ish tzaddik (a righteous man) who was tamim (blameless) in his generation: אֶת־הָאֱלהִים הִתְהַלֶּךְ־נחַ - et-ha'Elohim hithalekh-noach - "Noah walked with God" (Gen. 6:9). Likewise Yeshua was entirely tzaddik (Rom. 5:19, Heb. 4:15, 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 John 2:1), completely blameless (Heb. 4:15, 1 Pet. 3:18), and One who walked with God (John 5:19, John 8:28, etc.). And just as Noah's obedience to God saved a remnant from all the earth, so did Yeshua's obedience result in "the saving of His house" (Heb. 11:7). Moreover, just as God "blessed Noah and his sons" (Gen. 9:1) and with them established His covenant, so in greater measure is this fulfilled in the Person of Yeshua, who provides all spiritual (i.e., real, enduring, truth-based) blessings to those whom He calls his brethren (Eph. 1:3, Heb. 13:20; Heb 2:11). Yeshua is indeed the "Righteous Man" who saves us in the true teivah (ark), the shelter of God's sustaining grace....

Noah's ark had God Himself as its designer (Gen. 6:14-16), and salvation in Yeshua is by God's design (Jonah 2:9; Eph. 1:9, 1:11). Noah's ark contained only one door (Gen. 6:16), just as Yeshua is the only door to salvation (John 10:9). Noah's ark contained three levels (Gen. 6:16) and salvation has three own experiential levels (2 Cor. 1:10): past, present, and future. In the past (at Moriah) Yeshua delivered us from the penalty of sin; in the present, He is delivering us from the power of sin; and in the future He will deliver us from the very presence of sin. From Noah's hand was given the sign of the dove, a symbol of peace and the abiding presence of the Spirit of God...

For more on this subject, see "Noah and Jesus: Further thoughts on parashat Noach."
 




Seeing the Invisible...


 

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

11.01.16  (Cheshvan 1, 5777)  Just as Noah foresaw the great cataclysm to come, so we are to understand that the world above our heads and under our feet is destined to destruction, as we likewise await the promised world to come: "Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever (וישׁוּעָתִי לְעוֹלָם תִּהְיֶה), and my righteousness will never be dismayed" (Isa. 51:6).

This idea is restated in the New Testament: "For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man" (Matt. 24:37). "But the Day of the LORD will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the Day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn? But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish and at peace" (2 Pet. 3:10-14).
 

שְׂאוּ לַשָּׁמַיִם עֵינֵיכֶם וְהַבִּיטוּ אֶל־הָאָרֶץ
מִתַּחַת כִּי־שָׁמַיִם כֶּעָשָׁן נִמְלָחוּ וְהָאָרֶץ כַּבֶּגֶד תִּבְלֶה
וְיֹשְׁבֶיהָ כְּמוֹ־כֵן יְמוּתוּן וִישׁוּעָתִי לְעוֹלָם תִּהְיֶה
וְצִדְקָתִי לא תֵחָת

she·u · la·sha·ma·yim · ei·ne·khem · ve·ha·bi·tu · el-ha·a·retz
mi·ta·chat · ki-sha·ma·yim · ke·a·shan · nim·la·chu · ve·ha·a·retz · ka·be·ged · tiv·leh
ve·yo·she·vah · ke·mo-khen · ye·mu·tun · vish·u·a·ti · le'·o·lam · tih'·yeh
ve·tzid·ka·ti · lo · te·chat
 

"Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment,
and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever,
and my righteousness will never be dismayed." (Isa. 51:6)


 


In light of all this, we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. "For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal... For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead. Therefore we are strangers and exiles on the earth, looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (2 Cor. 4:18; Rom. 1:20; Heb. 11:10,13).

Faith sees the invisible... Our father Abraham was promised descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky or sand on the seashore, despite the fact that he was an old man and his wife had long past the age of bearing children. Abraham believed in the One who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist: "He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform: And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness" (Rom. 4:19-22).
 



 

October 2016 Site Updates
 


The Primacy of Truth...


 

10.31.16  (Tishri 29, 5777)  In Hebrew, the word for truth, i.e., emet (אֱמֶת), contains the first, middle, and the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, indicating that truth encompasses all things and endures from the beginning (א) to the end (ת). The sages sometimes say "the seal of God is truth," since the final letters of the three words that conclude the account of creation, namely, bara Elohim la'asot ("God created to do" [Gen. 2:3]), spell the word emet. The word for falsehood, on the other hand, is sheker (שֶׁקֶר), composed of letters near the end of the alphabet, suggesting instability, impermanence, and distance from God. Indeed the letter Aleph represents the preeminent and ineffable glory of God, but if we remove Aleph from the word emet, we are left with the word "dead" (i.e., met: מֵת), the opposite of life (i.e., chayim: חַיִּים). Therefore, if we attempt to ignore or suppress God in our understanding of truth, we end up with death. And since Yeshua told us, "I am the way (הַדֶּרֶךְ), the truth (הָאֱמֶת), and the life (הַחַיִּים); no one comes to Father apart from me" (John 14:6), those who deny His reality are in a state of spiritual death.
 

אָנכִי הַדֶּרֶךְ וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַחַיִּים
וְאִישׁ לא־יָבא אֶל־הָאָב בִּלְתִּי עַל־יָדִי

a·no·khi · ha·de·rekh · ve·ha·e·met · ve·ha·chai·yim
ve'ish · lo · ya·vo · el · ha·av · bil·ti · al · ya·di
 

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father apart from my hand."
(John 14:6)

Hebrew Study Card
 

Of the thirteen attributes revealed to Moses that defined the Name י־ה־ו־ה (Exod. 34:6-7), two are joined together. The LORD is rav chesed ve-emet (רַב־חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת), abundant in lovingkindness and truth, indicating that his love is always the Center of Reality... In other words, just as God's Name means "Presence" and "Breath," it also means "Compassion," "Love," "Life," and "Faithfulness." As Yeshua testified: "I AM Aleph and Tav, the beginning and the ending," says the LORD God (יְהוָה אֱלהִים), "the One Who is, and Who was, and Who is to come (הַהוֶה וְהָיָה וְיָבוֹא), the LORD of Hosts" (Rev. 1:8).

It's been said that the ancient Greek mindset regarded what is beautiful as what is good, whereas the Hebraic mindset regarded what is good as what is beautiful. The difference is radical. Doing our duty before God, in other words, is what is truly beautiful, not merely appreciating the appearance of symmetry, order, balance, and so on. This explains why moral discipline (i.e., musar, מוּסָר) is so prominent in Hebrew wisdom literature. In the spiritual sense, beauty cannot exist apart from moral truth, and moral truth cannot exist apart from "doing the truth" through acts of righteousness...
 




Stages of Judgment...


 

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

10.31.16  (Tishri 29, 5777)  Some of the sages think that God's judgment comes in stages.  The Great Flood was preceded by four successive generations of prophets that warned of the coming cataclysmic judgment: Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, and finally Noah.  It is fascinating to understand that Adam himself was alive when Noah's grandfather Methuselah was born, so the original message of teshuvah (repentance) was an echo that came from Eden itself; moreover, consider that Abraham personally knew of Noah (Abraham was 58 years old when Noah died), and undoubtedly Noah's son Shem told him of his grandfather Lamech, who had seen and spoken with Adam who was directly created by God alone. Later, Abraham's son Isaac also came to know Shem, Noah's firstborn son, and the legacy of the "gospel of the garden" was thereby passed on...


 

The first stage was the abandonment of the inherent dignity of others as people created in the image and likeness of God. This negation of the divine characteristics of people led to sexual promiscuity that became rampant upon the earth: "The sons of God saw the daughters of man that they were fair, and they took for themselves wives, whomsoever they chose" (one midrash claims that the Dor HaMabul, the generation of the flood, would regularly exchange marital partners). God then gave mankind 120 years to repent from his sexual corruption or be faced with apocalyptic destruction (Gen. 6:3). Despite Noah's 120 year public building project and the preaching of his grandfather Methuselah, God's patience finally ran out (1 Pet. 3:20). God then "saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5). Mankind refused to repent and turn to God....

There is a tragic progression at work here. The practice of "casual" acts of lawlessness eventually led to the acceptance and practice of sexual promiscuity. This, in turn, resulted in the loss of mankind's sanctity (kedushah), since this comes from man's ability to subordinate his instinctual/emotional desires to his intellectual/spiritual life.  Genuine sanctity refuses to exploit others as means to an end. Disregarding this truth cheapens and impairs the sense of self, causing disintegration of the spiritual life. As humanity became more and more fractured and stupefied, God's "like for like" judgment resulted in "giving them over" (paradidomi) to the lusts of their hearts (Rom. 1:26). (In our culture of unbridled pornographic expression and sexual immorality, we mirror such an antediluvian world view. Indeed, it is a mark of our age to be enamored with "degrading passions," with gender confusion and regularly practiced idolatry (i.e., fornication, adultery, homosexual relationships, and so on)).  The final verdict of this practiced chamas (lawlessness) was the bestowal of a "depraved mind" (αδοκιμον νουν), a condition of being unable to reason properly at all. Since truth is essentially grounded in a sense of value, and value is a function of conscience, a depraved mind is literally insane from a spiritual perspective... People who are devoid of conscience are unable to reason along the lines of ethical truth at all.  This promoted a cultural collusion to suppress the truth, to silence the truth-tellers, to kill the prophets, and to gag advocates for justice. Lawlessness squelches the inward voice of right and wrong within the human heart.

Note: For more on this topic, see "The Days of Noah."
 




As the Days of Noah...


 

10.31.16  (Tishri 29, 5777)  "For as were the Days of Noah (ימֵי נחַ), so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away" (Matt. 24:38-9). Yeshua told us that the "Days of Noah" were marked by people who were asleep, blind, and unaware (ἔγνωσαν, "agnostic") of spiritual truth. They lived their days oblivious to Reality.  They "forgot" who God was, who they were, why they existed, and where they were going. They engaged in deception, violence, theft, and rampant promiscuity. Such is our world today...

The deadening effects of sin leads to moral and spiritual blindness that leads to corruption and unthinking brutality and violence. Of Noah's generation it was written that "the whole earth was corrupt before God, and filled with violence" (Gen. 6:11). Rashi understood the word "corruption" (shachat) to primarily refer to sexual immorality (i.e., idolatry) and "violence" (chamas) to primarily refer to theft and robbery.  In general, however, the sages regarded the word chamas to refer to lawlessness, that is the denial of Torah, and consequently the benighted condition of living without yirat ha-shamayim (awe of heaven).  When people are spiritually dead, they are unconscious of the wonder of God; oblivious to what is real; and they are consequently debased into mere animals...
 




About Pagan Halloween...


 

10.31.16  (Tishri 29, 5777)  About those who regard pagan holiday of "Halloween" seriously, remember that there is sorcery (i.e., nachash: נַחַשׁ) against Jacob, there is no divination (i.e., kesem: קֶסֶם) against Israel. At this time it must be said of Jacob and of Israel, 'Look at what God has done (מַה־פָּעַל אֵל)' [Num. 23:23]. No weapon formed against God's people shall prosper (Isa. 54:17), and the curse of the wicked is powerless against the tzaddikim (Prov. 26:2). Ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו) - God is the only true Power (Deut. 4:35; 1 Chron. 29:11; Rev. 4:11). Satan is an impostor and a foiled usurper. As Yeshua told his followers, "Behold I give to you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you" (Luke 10:19). Like Balaam and Haman, all those who curse God's people or attempt to foil His plans will be upended... Amen.
 




Parashat Noach (פרשת נח)


 

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

10.30.16  (Tishri 29, 5777)  Last week's Torah portion (Bereshit) showed how the mutiny of Adam and Eve caused humanity to plunge into idolatrous chaos. The subsequent generations lost sight of the LORD and became progressively steeped in moral anarchy and bloodlust, so that "every intention of the thoughts of man's heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5). After just nine generations, the LORD had grown so weary of humanity that he "regretted" (i.e., yinchem: יִּנָּחֶם) creating man and "his heart was grieved" (Gen. 6:6). However, God recognized Noach (from the godly line of Seth) as a tzaddik (צַדִּיק), a righteous man of faith, and graciously made provision to save him from the wrath to come....

Noah's father Lamech (לֶמֶךְ, "powerful one") regarded his son as a deliverer who would comfort humanity from the ravages of the original curse (Gen. 5:29). Noach would give rest (נוּחַ) from the toil and vexation of life. Indeed, Noah was a "type" of the Savior to come who would rebirth the world by giving lasting comfort and rest (for more on this, see the page "Noah and Jesus").  In like manner it was prophesied that Yeshua would give us everlasting rest: "His rest shall be glorious" (Isa. 11:10), just as He offers rest to the weary (Matt. 11:28, Heb. 4:9). His sacrifice on the Cross at Moriah undoes the kelalah (curse of work) over the children of Adam.  Indeed, His life, sacrifice, and resurrection was like a "magic spell" that "spoke backwards" the sin of the "First Adam" - and by means of His deliverance the power of the curse is forever broken (see Gal. 3:13, John 3:14, 2 Tim.1:10; Heb. 2:14; Heb. 9:27-28; 1 John 3:8, Rev. 22:3). Yeshua is Adam ha-Sheni - the "Second Adam" - the promised Son of Man. By means of His Spirit we are given an everlasting comfort (John 14:16).

Eschatologically, the "days of Noah" present a picture of the idolatrous conditions of the world that will prevail just before the calling up of the followers of Yeshua before the time of Great Tribulation upon the earth: "As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man" (Matt. 24:37). The generation of the Flood was said to be "filled with violence" (Gen. 6:13) caused by ignorance -- literally the "state of ignoring" moral and spiritual truth. Because people willingly disregarded God from their midst, they arrogated to themselves divine prerogatives: "every man did what was right in his own eyes." The resulting moral corruption and anarchy led to divine and catastrophic judgment: when God destroyed them with water, they return the world to its original state of tohu vavohu v'choshekh: "confusion and emptiness and darkness" (Gen. 1:2). This is our world today.

The seven day warning given to Noah suggests the seven year tribulation period to come (Daniel's 70th week), and also the "rapture" of the people of God who will be carried above the prophesied worldwide cataclysm.  Just as God protected Israel during the time of judgment upon Egypt, so He will protect His people from the wrath of the "great Day of the LORD." But please note that "the LORD shut him in" (Gen. 7:16). Noah's teivah (ark) had God Himself as its designer (Gen. 6:15f), just as salvation in Messiah is by God's design (Jonah 2:9; Eph. 1:9, 1:11). It contained only one door (Gen. 6:16), just as Yeshua is the only door to salvation (John 10:9; 14:6). Noah's ark contained three levels (Gen. 6:16) and salvation has three own experiential levels (2 Cor. 1:10): past, present, and future. In the past (at Moriah) Yeshua delivered us from the penalty of sin; in the present, He is delivering us from the power of sin; and in the future He will deliver us from the very presence of sin.  Baruch Hashem - may that day come soon!
 


Calendar Note:  On the Biblical calendar, the month of Cheshvan (חֶשְׁוָן) immediately follows the "holiday month" of Tishri, and begins Monday October 31st (at sundown) this year. The Torah records that God brought down the Great Flood that destroyed the world on Cheshvan 17 (Gen. 7:10-11), which lasted until Cheshvan 27 (Gen. 8:14) - exactly one calendar year after it began (Rashi notes that the 11-day discrepancy between the 17th and 27th represents the 11-day difference between the solar and lunar calendar year). Because Noah's Flood began and ended during this month, Cheshvan is generally regarded as "mar" - a time of judgment, especially regarding water (rain). Cheshvan always has a two-day Rosh Chodesh. Because rain is central to the health of the spring crops, on the 17th of the month those living in Israel begin requesting rain by adding vetein tal u'matar librakha ("and grant dew and rain for blessing") to the Amidah prayer.
 

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

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

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



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Through the Shadows...


 

10.28.16  (Tishri 26, 5777)  "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you" (Psalm 73:25). Such is the "exile of hope" we suffer in this world... Torah begins: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was "tohu va'vohu v'choshekh" (תהוּ וָבהוּ וְחשֶׁךְ) - confusion and emptiness and darkness - which the sages interpret to mean that when we truly understand that God created the heavens and the earth, we will realize our earthy desires to be barren, empty and unreal. In their despair, Plato and the early Greek philosophers sought "timeless universals" which they believed disclosed the reality of an "upper world," a heavenly realm of unchanging goodness, beauty, and truth. The world we experience with our senses is a shadowy place of change and decay; but the real world, discerned by clear thinking, is a place of permanence, goodness and illumination. Likewise the righteous soul trusts that despite this fleeting world that turns to dust, there is an eternal realm, a place of abiding love, and a heavenly home. The land of promise is a "foreign land" to this world, but the heart of faith beholds "the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10). "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come" (Heb. 13:14). Therefore "we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient (πρόσκαιρος), but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Cor. 4:18-5:1). In this world we suffer exile, groaning to be with our Savior, the Source of all blessing: "I say to the LORD, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you" (Psalm 16:2).
 

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

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

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


 
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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). Ignorance is the willful "state of ignoring" moral and spiritual truth..  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).

For more on this see, "Through the Shadows: Further thoughts on parashat Bereshit."
 




No Other Savior...


 

10.28.16  (Tishri 26, 5777)  Philip said to him, "Show us the Father and we will be satisfied." Yeshua replied, "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How then can you ask, 'Show us the Father'? (John 14:8-9). Yeshua – and Yeshua alone – reveals the heart and truth of God to us, and looking for God "beyond" Him – up in heaven, across the sea, or in the mysteries of unnamable forces that pervade reality – is ultimately a sign of unbelief and a denial of God Himself. The Father and the Son are of one essence and trying to separate them vitiates the message of Yeshua and makes it appear unfinished.... On the contrary, the work of salvation is finished, and "Whoever has the Son has the life (הַחַיִּים); but whoever does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:12). There is no other way to access the heart of the Father than through Yeshua, and Yeshua is the Name above all other names for salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Phil. 2:9-11; John 17:3). Every knee shall bow to Him; there is no other Savior (Isa. 45:21-23). Those who honor the Son honor the Father and understand the heart of creation. To know God is to know the revelation given in the Son, for the Son is God clothed in human skin, reaching out in compassion to heal the trusting sinner from eternal alienation.  Just as the Angel of the LORD is the "King of Angels," the manifestation of God in angelic form, so the Son of Man is the manifestation of the LORD in human form. There is no other Savior; there is no further place to ascend or to seek: Yeshua is the Beginning and End of the Truth of the Compassion of the Eternal God. Let us resolve, then, that with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all that is within us, we shall express the truth of God's kingdom and the truth of His salvation. Amen.

Shabbat shalom and blessings upon you all, my friends... My prayers are with you.
 




Heavenly Concatenations...


 

10.28.16  (Tishri 26, 5777)  "Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is infinite" (Psalm 147:5). All things work according to God's sovereign purposes, from beginning to end, so that what might seem to be trivial or insignificant at the time brings in its train other events, and these events cause yet further events, and so on and on. So it is with faith: a small beginning, a quiet prayer groaned within the depths of the heart, can move the hand of God and change the world.
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
שֶׁהַכּל בָּרָא לִכְבוֹדוֹ

ba·rukh · at·tah · Adonai · E·lo·hey·nu · me·lekh · ha·o·lam
she·ko·cho · u'ge·vu·ra·to · ma·lei · o·lam
 

"Blessed are you LORD our God, King of the Universe,
whose strength and power fills the world."

 




Back to the Beginning...


 

10.28.16  (Tishri 26, 5777)  Often it seems that we take one step forward, two steps back, revisiting the waste places of our old thinking and feeling the sting our character defects... Unfortunately this experience is common enough, since we often forget that change does not come from "reforming" the old nature, but by trusting that God makes all things new, and reckoning that our old nature is dead, buried and gone in Messiah (Gal. 2:20). Should we forget this and attempt to rectify the incurable, however, it is inevitable that we will be scandalized over our old depravity and we will need to go back to the beginning. However do not despair, dear one. The first step is most decisive. A chasid once lamented to the Baal Shem Tov that though he worked hard to be observant in his faith, he was still an sinful, ordinary and ignorant man. "Not true," said the Baal Shem Tov. "You now realize that you are a sinful, ordinary, and ignorant man, and that is an improvement" (Socrates would have agreed). Likewise Yeshua came not save the so-called righteous, but sinners to repentance (Mark 5:32). The way of healing is to going back to the beginning, turning to God in our need of heart and confessing the truth that in God alone is our salvation.

Where it is written, "How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily" (Psalm 13:2), the sages remark that just as long as we take counsel in our own soul there will be such sorrow, since only after we realize that no further counsel can help us do we give up and confess our need for God's salvation. Therefore בְּטַח אֶל־יְהוָה בְּכָל־לִבֶּךָ, "trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding" (Prov. 3:5). Mammash - trust in the LORD!

Yeshua does not represent the "Second Coming of Moses"; nor did our Savior die on the cross so that we would become entangled in the old ways of thinking and being... Following Yeshua is not a religion of "moral reformation" or self-improvement designed to propitiate us before God.  No, forever no! Yeshua is LORD and Master and we find new life in His acts of deliverance done on our behalf and for our benefit. The temptation is always to go back to the "law of sin and death" (i.e., the principle of self-justification), but as Luther once said: "The sin underneath all our sins is the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and that we must take matters into our own hands." Dear friends, we never get past our need for the cross... the crucified life is the way of sanctification.

Do not lie to one another since you have "stripped off" and "disarmed" (ἀπεκδύομαι) the old nature with its practices" (Col. 3:9); but "clothe yourself with the new nature that has been created in God's image – in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth" (Eph. 4:24).
 




Vanity and Creation...


 

10.28.16  (Tishri 26, 5777)  It is written in our Scriptures: "Man is born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward" (Job 5:7), and therefore the question was raised by the sages as to whether life was worth living…  In light of the ongoing trouble and wickedness of mankind, the early sages Hillel and Shammai engaged in a protracted machlochet l'shamayim ("a debate for the sake of heaven") regarding whether it would have been better for humans not to have been created at all... Hillel argued that it was better that humans had been created, whereas Shammai argued the other way. Finally a vote was called for and the decision rendered was this: It would have been better for humans not to have been created than to have been created. However, since we do in fact exist, we must search our past deeds and carefully examine what we are about to do (Eruvin 13b).  Many people complain that they have no reason to live, though it may be better for them to complain that they have no reason to die… Paradoxically life in this world progressively diminishes in value the more we value it as our ultimate concern. Without a prophetic vision of eternal good and consummate healing, present suffering may indeed seem intolerable.

The searching and poignant debate between Hillel and Shammai is not trivial, nor should it be dismissed out of hand. After all, the great King Solomon, described in Scripture as the wisest man on earth, exclaimed, הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים הַכּל הָבֶל / havel havelim, hakol havelim ("Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," Eccl. 1:2). But is life really vain?  Is it truly empty of lasting meaning? Is it, as Shakespeare once said, a "tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"?  As William James once arsked, is life really worth living, after all?

For more on this see: "Vanity and Creation: Further thoughts on parashat Bereshit."
 




Seedbed of Creation...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah portion for this Shabbat, parashat Bereshit... ]

10.28.16  (Tishri 26, 5777)  The Scroll of Genesis (סֵפֶר בְּרֵאשִׁית) is truly the "beginning," the "root," and the "seedbed" of all the subsequent Scriptures - including the message of Yeshua and the revelation of the New Testament. In Genesis we see the creation and ruin of man through sin, but we take hold of the promise of deliverance through the coming Seed of the woman; in the Book of Exodus (שְׁמוֹת) we see God's powerful redemption secured through the blood of the Lamb; in the Book of Leviticus (וַיִּקְרָא) we encounter communion and atonement in the holy sanctuary; in the Book of Numbers (בַּמִדְבַּר) we experience the leading of God through desert places, and in the Book of Deuteronomy (הַדְּבָרִים) we are renewed by God's faithfulness before we take hold of our inheritance. Ultimately, the concluding book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, serves as a climactic "final chapter" of the story begun in Genesis, where the Tree of Life (עֵץ הַחַיִּים) is restored to the midst of the paradise of God, and the presence of sin and death have been forever eradicated....

For more on this subject, please see: Genesis and the Seedbed of Creation.
 




Olam Malei - An Entire World...


 

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

10.28.16  (Tishri 26, 5777)  God made you entirely unique, and no one else was created for the special role that you have in the overarching plan of Almighty God... Jewish tradition says that God created Adam alone as "olam malei" (עוֹלָם מָלֵא), "an entire world," to teach that each individual is of great value and significance. "Thus anyone who sustains one individual has sustained the world; and anyone who destroys one individual has destroyed an entire world" (Sanhedrin 37a). In addition, God created man as a solitary creation to remind all people that they descend from a common source: No one has a greater or better lineage or "pedigree" than anyone else. Moreover, each of us is created with a radical sense of "aloneness," a built in "hunger" for relationship and especially for God's presence. Therefore the very first commandment to Adam and Eve comes in the form of a blessing: "And God blessed them and said, פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ / pru urvu: "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28). People were created to be in fellowship with others and with God, and when this is lacking, there is a profound soul hunger and need....
 




The Nucleus of Reality...


 

10.28.16  (Tishri 26, 5777)  God is "bereshit" (בְּרֵאשִׁית), the Beginning, the Starting Point, the Head, the Will, the Source, the Ground, the Foundation, the Supreme Presence, the originating Reality, the Rock of Ages, the Truth, the Greatest and Utmost, just as He is also the Focus, the Midst, the Center, the Core, the Nucleus, the Heart (לִבָּה) and the inner Meaning and Essence of Reality... Indeed God is the End, the Goal, the Telos (τέλος), the Destiny, the Purpose, the Climax, the Direct Object and Consummation of all and everything that exists. The LORD is our Redeemer, our Healer, our Savior, our Beloved; He forever prepares a place for us. In light of this truth, Torah consciousness may be expressed in two key verses of Scripture: "I shall set the LORD always before me" (Psalm 16:8) and "Know God in all your ways" (Prov. 3:6). God is our Great Reward, the Fulfillment of all our deepest dreams. "For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither has the eye seen, a God beside You, and what He has prepared for the one who waits for Him" (Isa. 64:4; 1 Cor. 2:9), which the sages interpret to mean that God will bless those who wait for Him to know the Divine Presence in everything that exists in all worlds.

Our Lord testified that He is the Aleph and the Tav, the First (rishon) and the Last (acharon), and the Beginning (rosh) and the Ending (sof): "I am the Aleph and the Tav, the beginning and the end, the first and the last" (Rev. 22:13). When Yeshua said this, he was clearly making a direct reference to Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, and 48:12, where YHVH Himself says that He is the First and the Last, and there is no other Savior beside Him.

Yeshua also testified that He embodied the very Truth of God: "I am the way and the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father apart from me" (John 14:6). Notice that the Hebrew word for truth (i.e., emet: אֱמֶת) contains the first letter Aleph (א), the middle letter Mem (מ), and the last letter Tav (ת) of the Hebrew alphabet, which the Jewish sages say implies that the truth contains everything from Aleph to Tav. Pontius Pilate's famous question, "What is truth?" is a category mistake, since truth is not about "what" but about "Who." That is, truth is not something objective and static, a thing to be known and studied from a distance. No. Truth is essentially personal. It is personal disclosure of the character of the subject. Understood in this way, truth is a way of living, a mode of existence, a relational truth.
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
שֶׁהַכּל בָּרָא לִכְבוֹדוֹ

ba·rukh · at·tah · Adonai · E·lo·hey·nu · me·lekh · ha·o·lam
she·ha·kol · ba·ra · likh·vo·do
 

"Blessed are you LORD our God, King of the Universe,
who creates all things for his glory."

 




Providential Creation...


 

10.27.16  (Tishri 25, 5777)  When you feel depressed or anxious because of difficult times, remember how the LORD God created the world and sustains it for the sake of the revelation of his love for you... You may not understand the present moment, though you can assuredly trust that God's salvation given in the Messiah Yeshua heals you forever and ever. Declare at all times, then: "The world was created for my sake, though I am but dist and ashes." God is faithful, the great Amen of the human heart's cry.  Your inner being is redeemed by God for you to experience and know the blessing of eternal life (John 17:3).
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלם
שֶׁהַכּל נִהְיָה בִּדְּבָּרוֹ

ba·rukh · at·tah · Adonai · E·lo·hey·nu · me·lekh · ha·o·lam
she·ha·kol · ni·he·yah · bi·de·va·ro
 

"Blessed are you LORD our God, King of the Universe,
who brings about everthing by His Word."
 

Because you are made in the image of God, you are mikdash me'at, a small sanctuary or "temple" for the LORD (Luke 17:20-21; Rom. 14:17; 1 Cor. 6:19).
 




Axiom of Existence...


 

10.27.16  (Tishri 25, 5777)  The sages explain that the Torah begins with the words "in the beginning God created" (בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלהִים, Gen. 1:1) because the foundation and axiomatic starting point of all genuine knowledge begins with the Reality that God is the sole Creator of everything that exists. The Kobriner Rebbe turned to his students and said, "Do you know where God is?"  He then took a piece of bread, showed it to them all and continued, "God is in this piece of bread, for without the Lord's manifestation of His power in all of nature, this very piece of bread would have no existence."  Amen, as our Scriptures attest: "in Him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28), and "of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be the glory for ever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלם
עשֶׂה מַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית

ba·rukh · at·tah · Adonai · E·lo·hey·nu · me·lekh · ha·o·lam
o·seh · ma·a·seh · ve·rei·sheet
 

"Blessed are you LORD our God, King of the Universe,
who makes the wonders of creation."

 





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