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

        

Note:  My wife and I have have two young children (Josiah and Judah). The LORD has graciously provided for us as Adonai Yireh (יְהוָה יִרְאֶה), "the One who sees [our need]."  We are living one day at a time by the grace and mercy of God, and I want to publicly praise Yeshua and acknowledge His faithful love in caring for my family -- despite the trials during this time. The LORD God of Israel is faithful and true! And for those of you who have sent us a word of encouragement or donation during this difficult time, please accept our heartfelt appreciation! Your chesed and prayers truly help sustain us.

יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָךְ - "Blessed be the Name of the Lord." 





 

Jewish Holiday Calendar 

Note: For site updates, please scroll past this entry....

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.
 

Fall Holiday Calendar

The Fall Holidays:

Rosh Hashanah
 

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, the following holiday dates begin at sundown:

  1. Month of Elul (begins Mon., Aug. 25th, 2014)
  2. Month of Tishri (begins Wed., Sept. 24th, 2014)
  3. Month of Cheshvan (begins Thurs., Oct. 23rd, 2014)
  4. Month of Kislev (begins Sat., Nov. 22nd, 2014)
    • Four Sabbaths: Vayetzei, Vayishlach, Vayeshev, Miketz
    • Dates for Chanukah 2014:
      • 1st candle Teus., Dec. 16th [Kislev 25]
      • 2nd candle Wed., Dec. 17th
      • 3rd candle: Thurs., Dec. 18th
      • 4th candle: Fri., Dec. 19th [Shabbat Miketz]
      • 5th candle: Sat., Dec. 20th
      • 6th candle: Sun., Dec. 21st
      • 7th candle: Mon., Dec. 22nd (Tevet 1)
      • 8th candle: Teus., Dec. 23rd [Zot Chanukah]
         


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October 2014 Site Updates
 



Broken and Remade...


 

10.20.14  (Tishri 26, 5775)  "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....
 




Return to your Heart...


 

10.20.14  (Tishri 26, 5775)  In the Torah we read, "Know therefore today and return to your heart (וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ), for the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). Here again we see the centrality of the heart as the mode to encounter God (Luke 17:21). Savor the phrase, "Know therefore today and return to your heart..." It the heart that is the place of connection with God... As Yeshua said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20). Today is the day to "return to your heart" and receive again God's love for your soul...
 




Parashat Noach (פרשת נח)


 

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

10.19.14  (Tishri 26, 5775)  In last week's Torah portion (Bereshit), we read about the tragic and disheartening history of earliest humanity. After just ten generations, from Adam to Noah, the LORD had grown so weary of humanity that he "regretted" (yinchem, יִּנָּחֶם) creating man in the first place and "his heart was saddened" (Gen. 6:6). It is interesting to note that the word translated "regretted" comes from the root nacham (נָחַם) -- the same root for the name "Noah" (נחַ) himself. Other Hebrew words that use this root include nichum (compassion), nu'ach (rest), nacham (repent/console), menuchah (rest from work), and so on. Though God "regretted" (נָחַם) that He had made mankind (Gen. 6:7), he "consoled himself" by finding a means to comfort lost humanity...

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 from the toil and vexation of life. Indeed, Noah was a "type" of savior 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 was forever broken (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" are 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 October 23rd (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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All-Surrounding Presence...



[ The first occurrence of the Name YHVH (יהוה) concerns the creation of Adam (Gen. 2:4)... ]
 

10.19.14  (Tishri 26, 5775)  The Name of God, YHVH (יהוה), means "Presence" (Exod. 3:13-14), "Breath" (Gen. 2:7; Num. 16:22), "Life" (Deut. 30:20), and "abundant Love and Truth" (Exod. 34:6-7), but it also means the "I-AM-WITH-YOU One" who keeps His promises. The Name YHVH means that "God was (i.e., hayah: היה), God is (i.e., hoveh: הוֶה), and God always will be (i.e., veyihyeh: וְיִהְיֶה)," which implies that He is ever present and not restricted by time or space. Moreover, God is called havayah (הֲוָיָה), which means He is continually sustaining creation by the Word of His power: "In Him we live, move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28; Heb. 1:3). As it is poetically expressed in the Psalms, "Behind and before you besiege me; You lay your hand upon me."
 

אָחוֹר וָקֶדֶם צַרְתָּנִי
וַתָּשֶׁת עָלַי כַּפֶּכָה

a·chor · va·ke·dem · tzar·ta·ni
va·ta·shet · a·lai · ka·pe·khah
 

"Behind and before You besiege (cover) me;
You lay your hand upon me."
(Psalm 139:5)



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"Behind and before you besiege me." The word "behind" is the preposition achor (אָחוֹר), a word related to the word acharon (אַחֲרוֹן), "west," though it also refers to something later (אַחֲרֵי), such as a later place or time (אַחֲרִית). In Hebrew, the preposition generally means "backward" (לאחור) or "behind" (מאחור). God's got your back, friend... Note further that the word translated "before" is kedem (קֶדֶם), a preposition that means "east" but also refers to the primordial beginning, the dawn. The root verb kadam (קָדַם) means to "meet" in initial contact. God is always present for you, friend, and that includes times and days that lie ahead, in the distant future...  As far as the east is from the west, so far does God's compassion and love cover you, surround you, and sustain you (Psalm 103:12).

"You besiege me." The verb tzartani (צַרְתָּנִי) comes from the root tzur (צור) that means to encircle, to press upon, to "pressurize," as by relentlessly attacking a stronghold. The image is that God "hems us in," that is, He surrounds us and shelters us with His Presence – so that we cannot escape: You are under God's supervision and protection, friend... And while the root tzur can imply tzuris (trouble, affliction), in this context it is used to picture the Lord securing our station, preserving, protecting, and defending our way. "You lay your hand upon me." God's personal and providential hand is at work in your life – He is HaMashgiach hagadol (הַמָּשְׁגִיחַ הַגָּדוֹל) - the Great Overseer of the universe, and that means your way is as sure and secure as the very power that God's own will affords.
 

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

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

Thank God for His providential and all-pervasive care for your soul. He is the LORD of all time and space, and that means He is an ever-present help to bring you safely back home...
 




Hope and Testing...


 

10.17.14  (Tishri 24, 5775)   Our suffering is easier to bear when we know it has a purpose, an answer to the question "why?" Where endurance (ὑπομονή) is needed, however, is precisely when we cannot discern such a purpose, and our troubles seem pointless, gratuitous, and meaningless... If we have faith to contextualize our testing as part of God's providential plan, then we can learn to accept it as bearing a hidden good, even if at the present we do not detect its salubrious effect and eternal purpose. It is difficult to underestimate the importance of the hope that our lives – such as they are – have a divine reason and eternal validity. The temptation is to seek relief from our haunting emptiness through various forms of distraction, yet the question of our meaning, our value, our very "reason for being," is ultimately inescapable. The Torah begins here: by investing all of reality – from the grand motions of the cosmic spheres to the smallest subatomic particles – with purpose, direction, destiny... and hope.  "In the beginning God created..."

"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) – made whole, complete, secure, happy – and therefore the peace of God (שְׁלוֹם הָאֱלהִים) is assuredly the most essential blessing... 

Shabbat Shalom to you, chaverim!
 




Turn Away from Fear...


 

10.17.14  (Tishri 24, 5775)   The "world" (κόσμος) is a place of fearful exile from the Lord. To find healing, turn away from its faithless messages of terror and manipulation and consciously listen (shema) to the promises of God. "He who abides in the secret of the Most High will dwell in the shadow of Shaddai" - ישֵׁב בְּסֵתֶר עֶלְיוֹן בְּצֵל שַׁדַּי יִתְלוֹנָן (Psalm 91:1). The "midst of the dark cloud" (Exod. 24:18) is a place of sacred and holy concealment. The LORD will save you from the ensnaring trap and from the devastating pestilence: "Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place-- the Most High (עֶלְיוֹן) who is my refuge, no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways" (Psalm 91:9-11).
 

כִּי־אַתָּה יְהוָה מַחְסִי עֶלְיוֹן שַׂמְתָּ מְעוֹנֶךָ
לא־תְאֻנֶּה אֵלֶיךָ רָעָה וְנֶגַע לא־יִקְרַב בְּאָהֳלֶךָ
כִּי מַלְאָכָיו יְצַוֶּה־לָּךְ לִשְׁמָרְךָ בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ

ki · at·tah · Adonai · mach·si · Elyon · sam·ta · me'o·ne·kha
lo · te'u·neh · e·le·kha · ra'ah · ve'ne·ga · lo · yik·rav · be'o·ho·le·kha
ki · mal·akh·av · yetz·a·veh · lakh · lish·mor·kha · be'khol · de·ra·khe·kha
 

"Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place -- the Most High who is my refuge, no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways."


  


Faith brings to life the prophecy: "You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday... because you have made the LORD your dwelling place."

The so-called "security" of man is an illusion. Turn away from the fears common to the faithless denizens of this world. Rise above the lies and violence of men! God's truth is your strength and your shield (Psalm 91:4). Repent of your fear and ask the LORD Most High, the Ascended One, to cover you with the glory of his presence. And may He shelter you under His wings, and may you find refuge in His truth - his sword and shield!

Note:  Of course we sometimes get sick and physically die, as it says, "You return man to dust and say, 'Return, you sons of man'" (Psalm 90:3). Indeed, the "outer man perishes." Our trust in God's care, however, enables us to rise above the fears common to the worldly of this age and to overcome the power of the lie that seeks to enslave people... No matter what befalls us, with God, there is no plague, no death, and no end to his love.

Addendum:  Someone asked why I put quotes around the word "world," at the start of this entry. By "world" I mean the idea of κόσμος, that is, the political and economic sphere, the realm of ideology, propaganda, fake news, fashion, fads, pop culture and its idolatry, mass educational indoctrination, etc. We are delivered from this evil world to become members of God's kingdom of light and love (Col. 1:13). We turn away from the clamor of man's illusions to focus on God's sovereign power: For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength."
 




The Delight of Torah...


 

[ This evening Jews observe Simchat Torah, the festival celebrating both the completion of the year's Torah Reading cycle as well as the start of a new cycle... ]

10.17.14  (Tishri 24, 5775)   God is not the "author of confusion," and that means that rational intelligibility is foundational to divine revelation. "The Torah was written in the language of men," which is to say, it expresses ideas people can understand. The Scriptures declare: "Blessed is the man who ... delights in the Torah of the LORD (בְּתוֹרַת יְהוָה); all that he does shall prosper" (Psalm 1:1-3). And while it is true that we are no longer 'under' the terms of the covenant given at Sinai (Rom. 3:23), we still delight 'in' the Torah and meditate on its precepts day and night (Psalm 1:2; 19:8; 119:15, 47, 97; Neh. 8:12, etc.). After all, Torah "written upon the heart" is a mark of the New Covenant believer (Jer. 31:31-33). As it is written in Proverbs: "If you seek it [i.e., the wisdom revealed in the Torah] like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God" (Prov. 2:4-5). If worldly men seek money and riches for life in this world, should we be less earnest in our pursuit of true and eternal riches?

Furthermore, where it is written, "all Scripture is breathed out by God (θεόπνευστος) and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:16-17), it is evident that the Scriptures referred to here are the Jewish Scriptures (i.e., the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings), since they are the foundation, the context, and the overarching matrix for the later New Covenant revelation... These were the Scriptures Yeshua used to contextualize and explain his ministry to his followers: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27; John 1:45). In other words, the Torah has both a logical, a linguistic, and a theological priority regarding our understanding of the New Testament Scriptures, and the failure to read in context invariably leads to faulty interpretations and doctrinal errors of various kinds. "To the Jew first, and [then] to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16) is a principle not only of how the gospel message would transcend ethnic Israel to be offered to all the nations, but also about how we should approach the subject of Biblical hermeneutics.... God "breathed out" (θεόπνευστος) his revelation in order, and the message itself must be understood in light of that order (John 4:22).

Since Yeshua the Messiah is Torah Ha'Emet - the True Torah - we should likewise celebrate the "Joy of Torah" in our lives. He is the Living Torah, the Living Word, written upon our hearts so that we can truly dance and embrace the Truth given from God. Indeed, Yeshua did not come to destroy the Torah but rather to fulfill it in our lives (Matt. 5:17-20).
 




Torah's First Day...


 

10.17.14  (Tishri 24, 5775)   Concerning the account of creation of the first day (i.e., Gen. 1:3-5), the midrash notes the word light (אוֹר) appears five times, one for each of the five books of Torah: "Let there be light" (יְהִי אוֹר) refers to the Book of Genesis (Bereshit) and how God created the world with light; "and there was light" (וַיְהִי־אוֹר) refers to the Book of Exodus (Shemot), the light of redemption from the darkness of exile; "God saw that the light was good" (וַיַּרְא אֱלהִים אֶת־הָאוֹר כִּי־טוֹב) refers to the book of Leviticus (Vayikra) and the sacrifices at the altar; "God separated the light from the darkness" (וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלהִים בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחשֶׁךְ) refers to the Book of Numbers (Bamidbar), and how Israel separated themselves from their past and how the clouds of glory illuminated their way; and finally, "God called the light day" (וַיִּקְרָא אֱלהִים לָאוֹר יוֹם) refers to the Book of Deuteronomy (Devarim), the retelling of the Torah, which distills the commandments that enlighten the heart of faith, as it says, "the commandment is a lamp and the Torah is light" (Prov. 6:23).
 




The Rejoicing of Torah...


 

[ Today is Simchat Torah, the festival celebrating both the completion of the year's Torah Reading cycle as well as the start of a new cycle... ]

10.17.14  (Tishri 24, 5775)  The overall purpose of the fall holidays - regarded as the climax of the Jewish calendar year - is to prepare our hearts to rejoice in the awesome revelation of the Word of God: "To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him" (Deut. 4:35). Again it is written, "there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me... "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:17-18). "By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: 'To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance'" (Isa. 45:23; Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:9-11). All the festivals of the calendar lead up to this great truth: the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth (John 1:1,14). The celebration of Simchat Torah, then, is the celebration of the Messiah, the Living Torah.

The holiday is called Simchat Torah, the "rejoicing of Torah," and not Simchat Ba'Torah, "rejoicing in the Torah," because the Word is spoken so that we will receive (shema) its message. It is not enough to rejoice over Torah, we need to know that the Torah rejoices over us! Therefore we rejoice during this season, just after Sukkot, because this recalls how the Torah made flesh among us. Messiah came to speak the truth of God's love to our hearts, and it is his delight when we receive his message!
 

אַתָּה הָרְאֵתָ לָדַעַת כִּי יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלהִים
אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּוֹ

at·tah · hor·ei·ta · la·da·at · ki · Adonai · hu · ha·e·lo·him
ein · od · mi·le·va·do
 

"To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD is God;
there is no other besides him" (Deut. 4:35)



Hebrew Study Card
  

Despite some of the ambiguity surrounding the themes of the festival of Sukkot (e.g., does it recall God's protective clouds, or rather the frailty of the desert experience after the Exodus? Does it recall the historical Exodus or is it an agricultural celebration?), the focus is the same, namely, to know the revelation of the Word of the LORD and his salvation! The final and great rejoicing of the Biblical year centers on the disclosure of the Word of God. And during the coming Millennial Kingdom, when the Word of God is again disclosed directly from Zion, all the nations of the earth will celebrate the revelation of God (Zech. 14:16-19).
 




Through the Shadows...


 

10.17.14  (Tishri 24, 5775)  "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)


 
Hebrew Study Card
 

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).

Those who rely on mere appearances will invariably find themselves confounded. The LORD therefore commissioned the prophet: "Go, and say to this people: 'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive'" (Isa. 6:9). Where it is written, "God gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own devices" (Psalm 81:12; Rom. 1:24); and "they went backward and not forward" (Jer. 7:24), we learn there is no place of "neutrality" or indifference toward God. The Lord will give to you according to your faith...

The Spirit cries out, "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8). This verse sets up a great contrast between olam ha-zeh and olam haba – between this present world and the heavenly realm. King David states, "Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you (וְחֶלְדִּי כְאַיִן נֶגְדֶּךָ). Surely all mankind stands as a mere vanity" (Psalm 39:5). Yet we hunger and ache for love that fulfills the infinite depth of our hearts: "My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you (Isa. 26:9). I say to the LORD, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you" (Psalm 16:2). Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God, the Eternal, the abiding, and true...
 




In the Beginning...


 

10.16.14  (Tishri 23, 5775)  "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). The word translated as "beginning," however (i.e., bereshit: בְּרֵאשִׁיתּ), logically does not mean a point in chronological time, since time, regarded as the measurement of motion, is inextricably connected to existence and came into being with creation itself. Time and being are linked. Therefore, it is better to understand bereshit to mean "with wisdom," since the word is based on the root idea of rosh (ראשׁ, "head," or "chief"), which suggests what is most important, i.e., "at the head of (all things)," etc.

Another way to read this statement is to notice the direct object marker (אֵת) of the verb bara (בָּרָא) in the first verse. Read literally, it would say, "With wisdom (or "within his own mind or counsel") God created all things - Aleph through Tav - namely, the heavens and the earth." Some have said the direct object marker here refers to Yeshua, and while it is indeed true that He is the Aleph and Tav (Rev 1:8), "the One who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty," in this verse he is Elohim (אֱלהִים), our Creator, which agrees with many other Scriptures such as Col. 1:15-17, Heb. 1:1-3; John 1:1-14; Eph 1:21; Phil. 2:9-11, Rom. 14:11 (with Isa. 45:22-24); Rom. 11:36, etc. Others have said "Aleph-Tav" here refers to the holy alphabet, the power from the Word.

 




Mystery of Creation...


 

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

10.16.14  (Tishri 23, 5775)  Why is there something rather than nothing? Why does anything exist at all? These are basic questions about the meaning of life. Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? "God created the universe," you say, yes, but exactly why did He do so? What purpose did he have in mind? In particular, why were you created? What is the purpose of your life? What do you hope to achieve with the limited amount of time you have on this earth? Such questions brood within the soul, even if they are hidden from consciousness by various forms of busyness and distraction. At the outset of serious thinking about anything at all we are confronted with such ultimate questions. What is real? Why are we here? Where are we going? What does God want from us?

The Torah begins: "In the beginning God created..." (Gen. 1:1). No explanation is given, simply the mysterious declaration that God's eternal power is behind the realm of the world of appearances. We only begin to get some idea of God's hidden purposes as he reveals his design in Scripture. There we learn that God chose to create the universe yesh me'ayin, "out of nothing," in order to share his wisdom, glory, and love with other beings He created. "You created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created" (Rev. 4:11). All this was for the sake of the Messiah, who built the world in chesed (חֶסֶד) and who forever reigns as the King of eternal life and love. "For from him and through him and to him are all things." The purpose of your life is to learn that you are beloved by God, to know and receive the infinite worth you have in his eyes, and to share that love with others. You were created to be made part of God's great family, the Kingdom of Love.
 

לְךָ יָאֶה אֲדנֵינוּ וֵאלהֵינוּ
 לְקַבֵּל אֶת הַכָּבוֹד וְהַיְקָר וְהַגְּבוּרָה
 כִּי אתָּא בָּרָאתָ הַכּל
 וּבִרְצוֹנְךָ הָיוּ וְנִבְרְאוֹ

le·kha · ya·eh · a·do·nei·nu · ve·lo·hei·nu
le·ka·bel · et · hak-ka·vod · ve'ha-ye·kar · ve'ha-ge·vu·rah
ki · at·tah · ba·ra·ta · ha-kol
u·vir·tzon·kha · ha·yu · ve'niv·re·u
 

"You are worthy, O Lord and our God,
 to receive the glory and the honor and the power:
 for You have created all things,
 and for thy pleasure they are and were created"
(Rev. 4:11)


 
Hebrew Study Card

 

The purpose of God's creative activity was the building of a kingdom based on divine love (מַלְכוּת הָאֱלהִים). As King David wrote, עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה / olam chesed yibaneh: "The world is built with chesed" (Psalm 89:2). The world itself is to built on the foundation of God's love (חֶסֶד, chesed) as it is expressed in the life Yeshua the Messiah (1 Cor. 3:11). Indeed, the very first mitzvah (commandment) given to mankind was simply פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ / p'ru ur'vu: "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28). Ideally speaking, the family, then, is a picture of a nurturing community based on chesed. For the Christian, this "family building" is centered on Yeshua the Messiah, the true King of the kingdom and the rosh pinnah (ראשׁ פִּנָּה), or "corner stone" of the Temple of God (see Heb. 3:1-6).

For more, click here: "Creation and the Kingdom of Love."


Addendum: Asking Questions

A good teacher doesn't feed students answers but rather provokes them to ask their own questions and to think for themselves... In that sense, a good teacher is like an "intellectual midwife," there to assist the one who explores the meaning of questions. This is especially true regarding matters of spiritual life: "There are many people who arrive at conclusions in life much the way schoolboys do; they cheat their teachers by copying the answer book without having worked the problem themselves." Merely "having the answer" does little spiritual good if the weight of the question that it proposes to address is not fully understood.  As Kierkegaard said regarding all the so-called "Bible answer men" -- "The most fatal thing of all is to satisfy a want which is not yet felt, so that without waiting till the want is present, one anticipates it, likely also using stimulants to bring about something which is supposed to be a want, and then satisfies it. And this is shocking! And yet this is what so many clergy do, whereby they really are cheating people out of what constitutes the significance of life, and instead helping them to waste it."

There is a temptation, then, for those who regard themselves as teachers or preachers to get ahead of the need, to over-anticipate, and therefore mislead those they hope to help. On the other hand, many are too busy (or too proud) to marvel over the sheer wonder of existence itself and grow impatient (or even threatened) with questions like these. They don't take the time to reflect about why they were born, what purpose is connected with their life, or where they are going, until they are confronted with suffering and trouble. Sometimes we must "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

Instead of regarding the Bible as a "Book of Answers" for our questions, it is worthwhile to think of it as a "Book of Questions" for our answers. As we listen, God questions us so that we can know him by means of the dialog within our hearts. As any good teacher knows, when a student earnestly wrestles with a question he learns more than if he were given a straightforward answer. Similarly, the Lord gives us permission to be without answers so that we will be free to seek, to struggle, and to "own" what we come to understand through our relationship with him... That way our learning will be real, substantive, and born from the urgency our own inner need. Indeed, God's very first question to man is always, ayekah: "Where are you?" (Gen. 3:9), which appeals for us to acknowledge how we hide from the truth. "Where are you?" is the poignant call of the Seeking Father for his lost child, and the question only becomes "our own" when we are willing to look at how we've come to be at this place in our lives. God's question to our heart is meant to lead us out of hiding to respond to his loving call...

Everything is inherently mysterious, since everything ultimately expresses the inscrutable will and decrees of God.... Ask yourself with earnestness of heart: Where do I come from? Who am I? Where am I going? For what reason was I created? The first step is to wonder, to ask the searching questions, and to seek God's wisdom... The LORD is faithful and will reveal truth to the heart that seeks.. It is too easy to be preoccupied with everyday concerns and to miss the marvel and sheer wonder of existence itself. If you will approach these questions with humility and reverence, you will be filled with wonder, your heart will be filled with greater fervor, and you will hunger more than ever for God's Presence.
 




Vanity and Creation...


 

10.16.14  (Tishri 23, 5775)  This week's Torah portion (Bereshit) describes some of the dire consequences of the "Fall of Man," as Adam and Eve (Chavah) are exiled from the garden, and the very first family of the earth is shown to be tragically and catastrophically dysfunctional. In a fit of jealous rage, Adam's firstborn son Kayin (Cain) murders his younger brother Hevel (Abel) and becomes an alienated vagabond, banished from his family.  God then gave mankind ten generations to return to Him but nothing inherently changed. Finally "the LORD saw how great was man's wickedness on earth, and how every thought devised within his heart was nothing but evil every day. And the LORD regretted that He had made man on earth, and His heart was saddened. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth" (Gen. 6:5-7).

The Talmud states that even after the great Flood (הַמַּבּוּל) humanity refused to truly turn back to God (as the present state of this world also attests). In light of the ongoing 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).

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




The Gospel in the Garden...


 

[ The following is related to Simchat Torah and parashat Bereshit... ]

10.15.14  (Tishri 22, 5775)  The very first prophecy of the Bible was spoken to the serpent, namely, God's promise that through the "seed of the woman" would come One who would battle the serpent and ultimately crush the kingdom of Satan (Gen. 3:15). Notice that the promise of the coming "Serpent Slayer" was given to Adam and Eve before their judgment was announced. And even after their judgment was given, "the LORD God made tunics of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them" - a clear picture of being compassionately "robed in righteousness" imparted by an innocent sacrifice. The very first sacrifice recorded in the Torah - performed by God Himself - prefigured the coming redemption by the "seed of the woman" who would die as a substitutionary sacrifice for their sins.

"God creates the cure before the plague."  Just as God created mankind only after He created the pathway of repentance (i.e., Yeshua is called the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world": 1 Pet. 1:20, Eph. 1:4, Rev. 13:8), so purification from death and the nullification of the curse was also foreseen and provided by the cross of the Messiah. Yeshua is the antidote to the venom delivered through the serpent's bite (John 3:14-15). "For as in Adam all die, so also in Messiah shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22). The "new seed" of life given to us in Yeshua makes us into a "new creation" (בְּרִיאָה חֲדָשָׁה) that fully restores the defaced image of God within us: "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:49).

Note: For more on this, please see "The Gospel in the Garden."
 




Creation for the Messiah...


 

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

10.15.14  (Tishri 22, 5775)  The Talmud says "All the world was created for the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b). The New Testament had earlier said the same thing: "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). The first word uttered by God, "Let there be light" (Gen. 1:3), was uttered on behalf of all who would behold His glory, as it is written, "Arise, shine forth, for your light has come" (Isa. 60:1). When Adam first opened his eyes and human consciousness was born, he immediately understood that the LORD created all things, including himself. According to midrash, Adam's first words were, יהוה מֶלֶךְ עוֹלָם וָעֶד / Adonai malakh olam va'ed: "The LORD is King for ever and ever." God then said, "Now the whole world will know that I am King," and He was very pleased. This was the "tov me'od" (טוֹב מְאד) moment of creation, when God saw all that He had made "and found it very good" (Gen. 1:31). Therefore the name for man (i.e., adam: אָדָם) is connected with the word for "very" (i.e., me'od: מְאד): the birthday of humanity is therefore the Coronation Day for the King of the Universe.

The implication that God is our Creator is enormous and pervades everything else in our lives. God's creative power is witnessed by all conscious life.  The Divine Light that was created before the sun and the stars represents God's immanent presence that "lights up" all of creation  - including our minds (Gen. 1:3). Since we were created b'tzelem Elohim, "in the image of God," the witness of God's truth is foundational to all of our thinking as well.  The revelation (not the invention) of logical first principles is part of God's "signature," if you will, of how the mind is wired to reality. Likewise we have intuitive awareness regarding the existence of moral truth (i.e., the standard of justice and moral law), aesthetic truth (i.e., ideals of beauty, goodness, worth, and love), and metaphysical truth (i.e., cause and effect relationships). "The heavens are recounting the glory of God, and the expanse is proclaiming his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). God's power and presence can be clearly inferred from the tremendous effect of the universe itself.  As Paul stated, "the invisible things of Him (τά ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ) from the creation of the world are clearly seen (καθορω), so that people are without excuse" (Rom. 1:19-20). It is the fear of the LORD (יִרְאַת יהוה) that is truly the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10). The Hebrew word for fearing (ירא) and seeing (ראה) share the same root. We cannot truly see reality apart from reverencing God as the Lord and King of Creation.

It was asked for what purpose mankind was created. One said to purify the soul; another said to gain wisdom; another to serve God. Nay, but understand that man was created to elevate the heavens, to celebrate the heart of the Father, and to be needed by heaven's embrace... To focus on ourselves, on our purification, our "religion," misses the greater point that it is God's love that makes true life possible.

Note: For more on this, see "High Holidays and the Gospel."
 




Covenant of Fire...


 

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

10.15.14  (Tishri 22, 5775)  The six letters of the very first word of the Bible, namely, the word bereshit (בראשׁית), are sometimes compared to the six days of creation. The first and last two letters form the word "covenant" (i.e., brit: ברית) while the remaining (inner) letters form the word "fire" (i.e., esh: אשׁ), suggesting that the act of creation itself is a "Covenant of Fire." Here's a simple diagram to show the relationship:



Words created the universe -- or rather, the Word of God did (בְּרֵאשִׁית הָיָה הַדָּבָר). When the Divine Voice (i.e., the Word of God) spoke cosmic Light into existence (Gen. 1:3), God was not creating the physical light of the Sun or the Moon, since the heavenly bodies were created later (Gen. 1:14). This supernal light was the first expression of God's handiwork outside of Himself, His first revelation of contingent existence (i.e., existence that owes its source, continuance, and end to God's transcendent power and will). The Divine Light forms the canvass, if you will, of God's portraiture of creation (in three-dimensional terms, the Divine Light forms a sort of "container" that becomes the "house" of Creation).  Among other things, this means that ultimate reality is grounded in the Source of Light, Love, and Truth -- regardless of how dark the present hour may appear.... God's Name YHVH means He is always present, and therefore we call upon Him in our time of need (Heb. 4:16).

Note: For more on this subject, see "Covenant of Fire."
 




Creation and Revelation...


 

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

10.15.14  (Tishri 22, 5775)  If you were walking through the woods one day and suddenly found an exquisitely crafted pocket watch lying on the ground, you wouldn't think it had magically "just appeared out of thin air," with no cause or explanation for its presence, much less would you think that the watch was produced by random forces operating in an entirely material universe. On the contrary, as you look closely at the watch and observe its intricacies of design, you marvel over the precisely machined, interlocking gears, calibrated springs, and a beautifully fashioned faceplate that marks motion in meticulous increments. And so it is, with our experience of creation and its complexities and wonders. The existence of a world in all its intricate detail forces a thinking person to recognize the Divine Presence that brought all things into being and sustains them for a greater end. Thus the Kol Dodi rearranges the letters of the word bara (בָּרָא), "to create," to form ba'er (בַּאֵר), "to clarify," since creation clarifies the role of the design and glory of the Creator: "In the beginning, God clarified the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1).
 




The Waters of Life...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, the "Feast of Tabernacles."  ]

10.15.14  (Tishri 22, 5775)  The seventh (and last) day of the festival of Sukkot is called Hoshana Rabba (הוֹשַׁנָא רַבָּא). Hoshana (sometimes transliterated as "Hosanna") comes from the Hebrew phrase hoshia na (הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא), meaning "save us now," combined with "rabbah," meaning "great," to refer to a great corporate plea for salvation. It was on this climactic day of the festival that the people gathered at the Temple for the water ceremony, waving lulavs and circling the courtyard seven times (hakafot) while chanting "Ana Adonai - Hosiah na" (Psalm 118:25), "save us, we pray O LORD!"  The New Testament records that it was also on the last day of Sukkot (i.e., "the great day") - perhaps during the water libation ceremony itself - that Yeshua stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his inmost being will flow rivers of living water'" (John 7:37-38).
 

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

an·na  Adonai  ho·shi·ah  na / an·na  Adonai  hatz·li·chah  na
ba·rukh  hab·bah  be·shem  Adonai / be·rakh·nu·khem  mi·beit  Adonai

 

"Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, let us thrive!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
We bless you from the house of the LORD."
(Psalm 118:25-26)



Hebrew Study Card
 

The early sages had taught "at the feast of Sukkot judgment is made concerning the waters," referring to the rain needed for the forthcoming planting season. The historian Josephus calls the ceremonial drawing of water from the Pool of Siloam "the very sacred close (συμπέρασμα) of the year," since the amount of rainfall over the next few months would directly impact the harvest in the spring. The need for rain over the winter months in Israel was an ongoing need for the welfare of the people...

"With joy shall you draw water out of the wells of salvation" (Isa. 12:3). Yeshua once encountered a woman who had come to draw water from a well and said, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:13-14). Likewise he taught earlier in his ministry, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6). Just as the people understood they needed physical rain to sustain their physical lives, so Yeshua pointed to himself as the source of "spiritual rain," or "living water" that would sustain their spiritual lives. The "rain of blessing," then, referred to the refreshing power of the Holy Spirit that would become an inner source of life for those who believe... As Yeshua said, "out of his inmost being will flow rivers of living water," which some have thought refers back to the miraculous waters that were given in the desert: "Each soul will be a rock smitten in the thirsty land, from which crystal rivers of life-giving grace shall flow." Indeed the Hallel that is recited during the festival includes the verse: "He turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters" (Psalm 114:8).
 




Irrepressible Creation...


 

[ Parashat Bereshit is always read on the Sabbath following Simchat Torah, and therefore is the very first portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading... ]

10.14.14  (Tishri 21, 5775)  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 realm of the invisible (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם), the underlying substance (ὑπόστασις) of hope, the conviction of unseen and everlasting good (Heb. 11:1).

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




Seedbed of Creation...


 

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

10.14.14  (Tishri 21, 5775)  The Book of Genesis (בְּרֵאשִׁית) is truly the "beginning," the "root," and the "seedbed" of all the subsequent Scriptures - including the message of the gospel 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....

Everything begins with the foundational truth that Almighty God is our personal Creator (הַבּוֹרֵא). This is the first principle of all rational thinking: "In the beginning (בְּרֵאשִׁית), God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). Notice that the word "beginning," i.e., bereshit, comes from the word reishit (רֵאשִׁית), meaning first or best (Psalm 111:10), which does not necessarily mean "the beginning" in a temporal sense (הַרִאשׁוֹן), but rather primacy or rulership over all that exists. Indeed, the word includes the root idea of "head" (ראשׁ), which suggests the "head of all things," that is, to the Messiah, the Creative Word of God who is the "head of all beginning and authority" and through Whom and for Whom all things were created (Col. 1:16; 2:10).

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




Beginning Again, Again...


 

[ The following is related to Simchat Torah and the great value of Torah study for our lives... ]

10.13.14  (Tishri 20, 5775)  Each week in synagogues across the world a portion from the Torah (called a parashah) is studied, discussed, and chanted. Jewish tradition has divided the Torah into 54 of these portions - roughly one for each week of the year - so that in the course of a year the entire Torah has been recited during services. The final reading of this cycle occurs on the holiday of Simchat Torah ("Joy of the Torah"), a festival celebrating both the completion of the year's Torah Reading cycle as well as the start of a brand new cycle. Each year, then, we "rewind" the scroll and begin again. The sages have wisely said that you cannot compare studying Torah for the 49th time to studying it for the 50th time....

Our spiritual inheritance is bound up with the Torah: it is part of our story, our history, our heritage (Gal. 3:7; Rom. 4:16; Luke 24:27). The stories of Torah serve as parables and allegories that inform the deeper meaning of the ministry of Messiah: "Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come (1 Cor. 10:11). "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom.15:4). You are no longer a stranger or outsider to the heritage of the LORD (Eph. 2:19). Disciples of Yeshua are called talmidim (תַּלְמִידִים) -- a word that comes from lamad (לָמַד) meaning "to learn." Among other things, then, following the Messiah means becoming a student of the  Scriptures He loved and fulfilled (Matt. 5:17-18; Luke 24:44-45). Only after learning from Yeshua as your Teacher will you be equipped to "go to all the nations and teach" others (Matt. 28:19).
 




Torah First and Last...


 

[ We read the last -- and first -- portion of Torah for the holiday of Simchat Torah... ]

10.13.14  (Tishri 20, 5775)  Our Torah reading for this week is a bit complicated. In addition to the passages we read for the holiday of Sukkot, we will read both the last portion of the Torah (i.e., V'zot HaBerakhah: Deut. 33:1-34:12) as well as the first chapter of Bereshit (i.e., Gen. 1:1-2:3) for the holiday of "Simchat Torah" (which immediately follows Sukkot). Then, on the Sabbath that immediately follows Simchat Torah, we will read the entire portion of Bereshit (i.e., Gen. 1:1-6:8). The upshot is that we have a "double portion" of Torah for this week, friends, as we read the end of the scroll and then "rewind" it to the beginning...

Every year we read the Torah from beginning to end... We do this every year because Talmud Torah - the study of Torah - is an ongoing venture in the life of a Jew.  In this connection, it is interesting to note that the very first letter of the Torah is the Bet (בּ) in the word bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית), and the very last letter of the Torah is the Lamed (ל) in the word Israel (יִשְׂרָאֵל). Putting these letters together we get the word lev (לֵב), "heart," suggesting that the entire Torah - from the first letter to the last - reveals the heart and love of God for us... Moreover, the first letter of Scripture is a Bet (בּ), as explained above, and the last letter is a Nun (ן) in the word "Amen" (אָמֵן), so the whole Bible - from beginning to end - reveals the Person of God the Son (בֶּן) for us...
 

Note:  For more on this subject, see "Every Letter of Torah."
 




Dwelling in the Presence...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, the "Feast of Tabernacles."  ]

10.12.14  (Tishri 19, 5775)  During the holiday of Sukkot we construct a sukkah, a "booth" or temporary structure, that we will "live in" for the holiday week. Living in a sukkah is meant to recall God's surrounding love and care for us as we make our journey through the desert of this world on our way to Zion... It is an attempt to make visible the invisible, to give a glimpse of God's abiding glory. On a spiritual level, however, the essence of Sukkot is "dwelling" or "abiding" in the Divine Presence.  And though the LORD is forever enthroned in heaven as our Creator, our King, and our loving Deliverer, and though indeed the whole earth is filled with His glory (Isa. 6:3), nevertheless we must make a dwelling within our hearts. He stands at the door and knocks (Rev. 3:20). "Where does God dwell," it is asked, "but where He is given a place, a sanctuary, a throne within the heart."
 
Sukkot 5775 - Collage

Left-to-right (top): 1. John with his sons; 2. Judah in the sukkah; 2. Josiah waves lulav;
4. lights on the sukkah roof; 5. Judah holds the etrog
(bottom): 1. faith and Sukkot; 2. beautiful Olga; 3. the Sukkot full moon (and eclipse);
4) the reason for the season; 5) John waves the lulav.
 

Sukkot 5775 - Collage

Left-to-right (top): 1. John reciting kiddush; 2. family in the sukkah; 2. Vadim ha'motzi;
4. Olga lights yom tov candles; 5. the lulav and etrog for Sukkot
(bottom): 1. Peter waves lulav; 2. Judah with lulav; 3. holding up the shofar;
4) one of our ushpizin; 5) hora dance inside the sukkah.
 


 

There are two great questions God always is asking us. The first is "who do you say that I am?" and the second is "will you make a place for me?" Being in a love relationship with God is the goal of life, the "end of the law," and the reason we were created. But we cannot love God apart from understanding his passion for us. The LORD is the "Jealous God," a Consuming Fire, the One who desires all of our heart on the altar (Luke 9:23). Therefore the very first commandment is simply אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ, "I AM the LORD your God" (Exod. 20:2), because without "making a place" God's love within your heart, nothing else will follow.

Note: To see some larger pictures of our Sukkot celebrations, click here.
 




Sukkah of the Heart...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, the "Feast of Tabernacles." Chag Sameach! ]

10.10.14  (Tishri 16, 5775)  The word sukkot (סֻכּוֹת) is the plural of the Hebrew word sukkah (סֻכָּה), meaning a "booth" or "hut." In traditional Judaism, a sukkah is a temporary structure used for "living in" (i.e., primarily eating meals or entertaining guests) throughout the week-long holiday. The purpose of the sukkah is to remind us of how God tenderly cared for the Israelites as they made their trek through the dangers of the desert. God spoke endearingly to Israel: "Follow me into the wilderness, into an unsown land" (Jer. 2:2).

The Scriptures state, "The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down" (Psalm 145:14). It has been said that the word sukkah can be understood as an acronym formed from the words somekh Adonai (סוֹמֵךְ יְהוָה), "the LORD upholds," kol (כָּל), "all," and ha'noflim (הַנּפְלִים), "the ones who fall." This suggests that those who make a sanctuary within their hearts, trusting in God's indwelling Presence, will be upheld and kept from falling (Jude 1:24). God knows I need this truth to be made real in this hour...
 

סוֹמֵךְ יְהוָה לְכָל־הַנּפְלִים
וְזוֹקֵף לְכָל־הַכְּפוּפִים

so·mekh · Adonai · le·khol · ha·no·fe·lim
ve·zo·kef · le·khol · ha·ke·fu·fim

"The LORD upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down"
(Psalm 145:14)



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

The Kotzer Rebbe said that the verse, "this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him" (Exod. 15:2), may be understood as, "this is my God, and I will make a dwelling for Him within me." Though the LORD is forever enthroned in heaven as our Creator, King, and Deliverer, we still make a dwelling within us. He stands at the door and knocks. "Where does God dwell," it is asked, "but where He is given a dwelling place, a sanctuary, a throne within the heart?"
 




Yeshua the Hidden Guest...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles... ]

10.10.14  (Tishri 16, 5775)  The Aramaic word "ushpizin" (אוּשְׁפִּיזִין) refers to the seven "mystical guests" who are said to (metaphorically) visit us during the festival of Sukkot, namely: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David, respectively. According to Jewish tradition, on each night a different guest (i.e., ushpiz: אוּשְׁפִּיז) enters the sukkah, and we are to symbolically welcome them by offering them a place at our table (this is similar to the tradition of Elijah's Cup during Passover). On the first night comes Abraham; on the second, Isaac, and so on. In the Gospel of John we read that Yeshua said he go up to the Feast of Tabernacles "in secret" (ἐν κρυπτῷ), like an ushpiz (John 7:10). During the "middle of the festival," perhaps on the fourth day (the "Day of Joseph"), Yeshua went to the Temple and began teaching the people (John 7:14), and on the last great day, called Hoshana Rabbah, when the High Priest led a parade to the pool of Siloam during the water libation ritual, Yeshua stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink" (John 7:38). Finally, on the morning following the festival, called Shemini Atzeret, Yeshua returned to the Temple and said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12), recalling the words of the prophet: "On that day there shall be no light... and living waters shall flow out of Jerusalem; And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one" (Zech. 14:6,9; Isa. 13:10; 30:26).

Note: For more on this see, "The Seven Ushpizin: Yeshua as the Hidden Guest."
 




Wholeness and Faith..


 

10.09.14  (Tishri 15, 5775)  The Book of Ecclesiastes (megillat Kohelet) is read during the holiday of Sukkot, though you might be surprised to learn that many of the early sages did not want it included as part of the Jewish Scriptures. After all, the philosophy of Kohelet - that we are incapable of fully understanding the purposes of the world, and therefore much of what we think is important is really havel havalim (הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים), "vanity of vanities" - is contrary to a theology of reward and punishment found in the writings of Moses. This question is not unlike the Book of Job and the mysterious question as to why the righteous suffer...  It is to their credit that the sages finally decided to include the scroll as part of the accepted canon, however, since it takes great humility to admit that we must continue to seek God, despite uncertainty and transience of this world. Indeed, we read this book to remind us that lasting meaning and purpose is not found in life lived "under the sun" but rather in knowing and serving God. Solomon therefore concludes his existential reflection as follows: "Fear God and keep his commandments: ki zeh kol-ha'adam (כִּי־זֶה כָּל־הָאָדָם), "for this is the whole man" (Eccl. 12:13), which suggests that those who revere the LORD and obey His Word will be healed of despair and inner vanity...
 

סוֹף דָּבָר הַכּל נִשְׁמָע אֶת־הָאֱלהִים יְרָא
וְאֶת־מִצְוֹתָיו שְׁמוֹר כִּי־זֶה כָּל־הָאָדָם

sof · da·var · ha·kol · nish·ma ·  et · ha-E·lo·him · yir·a
ve·et · mitz·vo·tav · she·mor · ki · zeh · kol · ha·a·dam

 

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God
and keep his commandments: for this is the whole man."
(
Eccl. 12:13)



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

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

Note: For more on this subject, see "Sukkot and Vanity" and "Everlasting Consolation."
 




The Lulav Bouquet...


 

10.09.14  (Tishri 15, 5775)  During Sukkot we use "four species" that symbolize the fruit of the land (Lev. 23:40). The etrog (אֶתְרג), a lemon-like citron, is used as "the fruit of goodly trees," and is often regarded as a symbol of the heart.  The sages say the word "etrog" can be seen as an acronym for "faith (אֱמוּנָה), repentance (תְּשׁוּבָה), healing (רְפֻאָה), and redemption (גְּאֻלָּה)."  The lulav (date palm branch) is said to represent the spine or backbone of a person. Notice that the word lulav (לוּלָב) can be broken down as לוֹ ("to him") and לֵב ("heart"). A person who loves the LORD bekhol levavkha, with all his heart, will be given "spiritual backbone," real conviction and strength.

The Torah states, "On the first day [of Sukkot] you shall take to yourselves the fruit of the goodly tree, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days" (Lev. 23:40). In Jewish tradition, after reciting the Hebrew blessing and shaking the lulav around, it is customary to recite (or sing) the following antiphon from Psalm 136: "Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever."

Shalom and blessings to you all in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah - the One who "tabernacles" with us in the Holy Spirit and who graciously invites all to come within the shelter of His everlasting love.  וַיְהִי בְשָׁלֵם סֻכּוֹ וּמְעוֹנָתוֹ בְצִיּוֹן / vayehi v'shalem sukko, u'me'onato v'Tzion: "His sukkah is in Shalem; His place in Zion" (Psalm 76:3). Though this world is surely under divine judgment, may those who trust in the LORD say: יִצְפְּנֵנִי בְּסֻכּה בְּיוֹם רָעָה / yitzpeneni be'sukkoh be'yom ra'ah, "He will conceal me in His sukkah in the day of trouble" (Psalm 27:5).

Whether you have the opportunity to wave the lulav in a Sukkah or not this year, we sincerely wish you a season of joy as you celebrate the sheltering presence of the LORD Yeshua in your life, chaverim... Chag Sukkot Sameach!




A Prophetic Rejoicing...

Erev Sukkot 5775 - Click larger
 

10.08.14  (Tishri 15, 5775)  Regarding the holiday of Sukkot the Torah states, ve'samchta be'chagekha - "you shall rejoice in your holiday" and ve'hayita akh same'ach - "you shall have nothing but joy" (Deut. 16:14-15). But how can Torah command us to rejoice? Can we be forced to dance, sing, and make merry? Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote, "The Gaon of Vilna said that ve'samchta be'chagekha (וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְּחַגֶּךָ) is the most difficult commandment of Torah, and I could never understand why. Only during the war did I understand. Those Jews who, in the course their journey to the end of hope, managed to dance on Simchat Torah ... taught us how Jews should behave in the face of adversity. For them, ve'samchta be'chagekha was one commandment impossible to observe -- yet they observed it." In this connection, let me add that these words of Torah are ultimately prophetic: "you shall rejoice; you shall have nothing but joy...." That day is coming, when our tears are wiped away and our wounds are forever healed. Amen. Chag Sukkot Same'ach, friends...




Note:  Please remember me, John, in your prayers, dear friends... This has been a difficult season of my life and I need your prayers for this ministry to continue and for God's will to be done. Thank you so much.
 




The Sukkot 2014 Eclipse...


 

10.07.14  (Tishri 14, 5775)  After decorating our Sukkah last night, I spent some time taking pictures of the spectacular lunar eclipse, which occurred from around 2:30 am until 6:00 am in our time zone. Here are a few pictures of the eclipse progression:

Sukkot 5775 Lunar Eclipse
 

Like the Passover eclipse we saw last April, seeing the Sukkot lunar eclipse was both a humbling and a profoundly sacred experience. The following blessing is customarily recited when you witness a remarkable event in God's creation, for instance, when you see an eclipse, a shooting star, or beautiful mountain vista, or some other natural wonder:
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
עשֶׂה מַעֲשֶׂה בְרֵאשִׁית

ba·rukh · at·ta · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · me·lekh · ha·o·lam
o·seh · ma·a·seh · ve·rei·shit

"Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe,
who makes the works of creation."

 

 




Sukkot and the Birth of Isaac...


 

10.07.14  (Tishri 13, 5775)  An ancient midrash dating from the 2nd century BC says that we are to be joyful during Sukkot because it was at this time that Isaac was born: "And we returned in the seventh month, and found Sarah with child before us, and we blessed him, and we announced to him all the things which had been decreed concerning him (Jubilees 16:16). Moved by gratitude to God, Abraham established a festival of joy to celebrate the birth of his long-awaited son by decorating booths (i.e., sukkot) and thanking God for the miracle of his heir. The midrash reads: "And Abraham took branches of palm trees, and the fruit of goodly trees, and every day going round the altar with the branches seven times [a day] in the morning, he praised and gave thanks for all things in joy" (Jubilees 16:31). In other words, Sukkot originally celebrates the birth of Isaac - and by extension, the birth of Yeshua our Messiah, the very Akedah of God!

Note:  For more on this subject, see "Was Jesus born on December 25th?"
 




Sukkot and God's Name...


 

10.07.14  (Tishri 13, 5775)  According to Rashi, Moses gathered the people to assemble the Tabernacle the day following Yom Kippur, that is, the day after he came down from the mountain upon learning the meaning of the name YHVH (Exod. 34:6-7; 35:1-35). For this reason it is traditional to begin building your sukkah on the day following Yom Kippur, recalling the revelation of the covenant of God's mercy: "The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation (my Yeshua); this is my God and I will enshrine Him.
 

עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ וַיְהִי־לִי לִישׁוּעָה
זֶה אֵלִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ אֱלהֵי אָבִי וַאֲרמְמֶנְהוּ

o·zi · ve·zim·rat · Yah · vai·hi · li · li·shu·ah
zeh · E·li · ve·an·ve·hu · E·lo·hei · a·vi · va·a·ro·me·men·hu

 

"The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation;
this is my God and I will enshrine Him, God my Father, and I will exalt Him"
(Exod. 15:2)



 

Yeshua is the inner meaning of the Name YHVH, our song and our salvation!
 




Surrounded by His Sukkah...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles... ]

10.07.14  (Tishri 13, 5775)  The root idea of the word "sukkah" means to cover or surround, as in hedge of protection. The Hebrew root is used when Moses asked to behold God's glory and the meaning of the name YHVH (יהוה), and God said, "Behold there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory overtakes you I will cover you with my hand (וְשַׂכּתִי כַפִּי עָלֶיךָ) until I have passed by (Exod. 33:21-21). The hand of God (יַד־יְהוָה) is our sukkah, and indeed the LORD writes our names upon his palms and sets us as a seal upon his heart (Isa. 49:16; Sol. 8:6). Likewise David affirmed that God would treasured you within his sukkah and elevate you upon the Rock that is Messiah:
 

כִּי יִצְפְּנֵנִי בְּסֻכּה
בְּיוֹם רָעָה יַסְתִּרֵנִי בְּסֵתֶר אָהֳלוֹ
בְּצוּר יְרוֹמְמֵנִי

ki · yitz·pe·nei·ni · be·suk·koh
be·yom · ra·ah · yas·ti·rei·ni · be·se·ter · a·ho·lo
be·tzur · ye·ro·me·mei·ni

 

"For he will cover me in his sukkah
in the day of trouble he will hides me in the secret place of his tent;
on the Rock he elevates me"
(Psalm 27:5)
 


The LORD will "store you" as a treasured person (the word tzafan [צָפַן] means to treasure) in his sukkah, a symbol of his protection of your soul... in the day of trouble he will hide you in his tent, that is, within his dwelling place, under the shadow of his wings he makes you refuge; he will elevate you upon the Rock which is Messiah (1 Cor. 10:4).

Since God's Name (יהוה) means "Presence," "Breath," "Compassion," "Love," "Healing," and so on, we are surrounded by his Sukkah at all times... In other words, you don't have to be in a physical sukkah to be in His sukkah! May God open our eyes to see his glory!

Sukkot Same'ach be'Yeshua (סוכות שמחה בישוע) - Happy Sukkot in Yeshua!
 




Building our Sukkah...

Inside the Sukkah
 

[ The week-long holiday of Sukkot begins Wednesday, Oct. 8th at sundown this year... ]

10.06.14  (Tishri 12, 5775)  Since Sukkot begins just a few days after Yom Kippur, it's always a challenge to put up our sukkah in time. Since the weather yesterday was amenable, we got everything out of the garage, cleaned up the yard, and got to work. After assembling the frame, we laid the supporting beams for the ceiling and covered them with a bamboo schach (roof). Then we put seasonal lights around the beams and began gathering our wall hangings and other things to decorate inside the tent.  Here are a few pictures:
 
Sukkot 5775 - Building the Sukkah

Left-to-right (top): 1. Olga and the boys; 2. etrog with lulav; 2. Judah helping out;
4. the roof beams in place; 5. Israeli flags and lights
(bottom): 1. getting things ready; 2. Judah; 3. winding lights on the roof beams;
4) John looks at the etrog; 5) Josiah's birthday is during Sukkot!
 


 

Hiddur mitzvah (הִדּוּר מִצְוָה) is a phrase that means "making a commandment beautiful," and we want to make our sukkah a place of beauty, a personal mishkan or "tabernacle." The sages note that the idea behind hiddur mitzvah comes from the great Song of Moses: "This is my God and I will enshrine (נָוָה) Him" (Exod. 15:2). Since we are surrounded by God's clouds of glory - and also by a "great cloud of witnesses" who watch as we walk in faith (Heb. 12:1) - it is only fitting to do our best to "enshrine" the LORD!

We have yet to assemble our lulav -- i.e., the fragrant "boquet" made by binding together one date palm branch (lulav), two willow branches (aravot), and three myrtle branches (hadasim), but plan to do so on erev Sukkot. According to midrash, the fruit that Adam and Eve ate was actually the etrog, and yet this fruit is considered most precious as we celebrate Sukkot. But how would etrog, a symbol of our downfall, be made part of our rejoicing unless we celebrate how God brings blessing out of a curse because of Yeshua our Lord... Only Yeshua is able to redeem us from our past and make all things new!

It is written in Psalm 27, "for he will hide me in his Sukkah in the day of trouble ... and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts (teruah) of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD" (Psalm 27:5-6). If all goes well, we will have some "ushpizin" (guests) for the first night of Sukkot on Wednesday evening.  Chag Sukkot Same'ach, friends!

Note:  You can view more Sukkot 5775 pictures here.
 




Strangers to this World...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles... ]

10.05.14  (Tishri 11, 5775)  God's people are "strangers" in this world; they are literally estranged and live as "resident aliens" -- here, yet not here.... Thus Abraham said to the sons of Chet: "I am a 'stranger and sojourner' (גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב) among you; sell me a burial site..." (Gen. 23:4), and likewise King David confessed: "For we are strangers with You, mere transients like our fathers; our days on earth are like a shadow without abiding (1 Chron. 29:15). 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 toshavim - sojourners - who are at an infinite "distance" from the world of appearances and who seek the Eternal. Sukkot means we ache with a divine "homesickness" as we look forward to our real home in heaven (Heb. 11:9-10). "O You who are at home deep within my heart, enable me to join you deep in my heart."
 




Quick Sukkot Seder Guide

Shake Your Lulav!
 

[ The week-long holiday of Sukkot begins Wed. Oct. 8th at sundown this year... ]

10.05.14  (Tishri 11, 5775)  Sukkot is just around the corner! To make things a bit easier to celebrate the upcoming holiday, I consolidated the traditional blessings and steps into a single (double-sided) page that you can print to use with your celebrations:
 

Since it follows Yom Kippur (i.e., the Day of Atonement), Sukkot represents a time of renewed fellowship with God, an prophetic time when we gratefully acknowledge the Lord's sheltering provision and ongoing care for our lives... In this connection the sages note that the numerical equivalent (gematria) of sukkah (סוכּה) is 91, the same as the sum of two of the Divine Names: Adonai (אדני) and YHVH (יהוה).

Originally, the Mishkan (and later, the Temple) represented God's Shekhinah Presence among His redeemed people (Exod. 29:44-45). The New Testament reveals that God Himself "tabernacled" with us by coming in the disguised form of lowly servant in order to function as the great High Priest of the New Covenant (see Phil. 2:7, John 1:14). Because of Yeshua's priestly avodah and sacrifice, we now have access to the Heavenly Throne of God's Grace (Heb. 4:16). We are confident of the eternal atonement that our beloved Messiah has secured for us all (Heb. 10:14), and we trust that our names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life (Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5). We rejoice that we are members of the greater Temple of His body: we are now part of His Heavenly Sukkah (Eph. 5:30)!

"Oh, let us hear the voice crying in the wilderness of our own hearts..."  Ufros Aleinu Sukkat Shelomekha - "Spread over us Your Sukkah of Peace."
 




The Holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles)


 

[ The week-long holiday of Sukkot begins Wed. Oct. 8th at sundown this year... ]

10.05.14  (Tishri 11, 5775)  On the Jewish calendar, there is a quick transition from the somber time of the Jewish High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur) to the week-long festival of Sukkot (called "Tabernacles" in the Christian tradition). If the High Holidays focus on the LORD as our Creator, our Judge, and the One who atones for our sins, then Sukkot is the time when we joyously celebrate all that He has done for us. Prophetically understood, the seven days of Sukkot picture olam haba, the world to come, and the Millennial Kingdom reign of Mashiach ben David. If Yeshua was born during Sukkot (i.e., conceived during Chanukah, the festival of lights), then another meaning of the "word became flesh and 'tabernacled with us" (John 1:14) extends to the coming kingdom age, when He will again "sukkah" with his people during the time of his reign from Zion.

Since it represents the time of ingathering of the harvest, Sukkot prophetically prefigures the joyous redemption and gathering of the Jewish people during the days of the Messiah's reign on earth (Isa. 27:12-13; Jer. 23:7-8). Indeed all of the nations that survived the Great Tribulation will come together to worship the LORD in Jerusalem during the Feast of Sukkot (Zech. 14:16-17). The holiday season therefore provides a vision of the coming Kingdom of God upon the earth, when the Word will again "tabernacle with us."
 

 

This year Sukkot begins just after sundown on Wednesday, Oct. 8th (i.e., Tishri 15 on the Jewish calendar). The festival is celebrated for seven days (i.e., from Tishri 15-21) during which we "dwell" in a sukkah -- a hut of temporary construction, with a roof covering (schach) of raw vegetable matter (i.e., branches, bamboo, etc.). The sukkah represents our dependence upon God's shelter for our protection and divine providence. We eat our meals in the sukkah and recite a special blessing (leshev Ba-Sukkah) at this time.

In addition to the Sukkah, the most prominent symbol of Sukkot is the Arba'at Ha-minim (אַרְבַּעַת הַמִּינִים) - "the Four Species," or four kinds of plants explicitly mentioned in the Torah regarding the festival of Sukkot: "On the first day you shall take: 1) the product of goodly trees (etrog), 2) branches of palm trees (lulav), 3) boughs of leafy trees (hadas), and 4) willows of the brook (aravot), and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days" (Lev. 23:40). We wave the "four species" (held together as a bouquet with the etrog) and recite a blessing (netilat lulav) to ask God for a fruitful and blessed year.


 

Note:  The weekly Torah readings are suspended for the week of Sukkot, though we will finish reading the Torah (and begin reading it anew) on the holiday of Simchat Torah, immediately following the holiday. For more information about Sukkot, including how you can observe it as a follower of Yeshua, see the Sukkot pages and their links.
 




Torah of the Heart...


 

10.03.14  (Tishri 9, 5775)  Isaiah the prophet said two thousand years ago, in the name of God: "This people draw near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" (Isa. 29:13, Matt. 15:8). The sages comment: "Nothing has changed from that day to this. Therefore, when you go to pray, leave yourself outside – go in only with your heart."  Amen, the language of the heart is what is most important. "When you pray, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words be without heart" (Bunyan).
 




Yom Kippur and the Gospel...


 

[ The following is related to Yom Kippur which begins sundown this evening... ]

10.03.14  (Tishri 9, 5775)  It is vital to remember that the detailed instructions for constructing the Tabernacle were "according to the pattern" (תַּבְנִית) given to Moses at Sinai (Exod. 25:9). In other words, the tent (Mishkan), the furnishings such as the Table of the Bread of Presence (הַשֻּׁלְחָן לֶחֶם פָּנִים), the golden Menorah (מְנוֹרָה), the Bronze Altar for sacrifices (מִזְבֵּחַ הַנְחשֶׁת), the vessels, and so on, were first shown to Moses before they were created. They were copies or "shadows" that were intended to prefigure the eternal reality of the Heavenly Tabernacle itself. The entire sacrificial system was metaphorical, if you will, and pointed to a deeper reality that transcended the earthly sphere. Even the yearly Yom Kippur ritual was never intended to remain into perpetuity but pointed to something more profound -- namely, the greater avodah (ministry) of Yeshua, the Kohen Gadol of the New Covenant (Heb. 9). Indeed, if the older covenant had been sufficient to provide a permanent solution to the problem of our sin, there never would have been need for a new covenant to supersede it (see Hebrews 8:7). For more on this very important topic, please see "Yom Kippur and the Gospel."

Note:  In light of the finished work of Yeshua on our behalf, we do not wish to be "sealed for a good year" (i.e., g'mar chatimah tovah) in the book of life during this season... In light of the sacrifice of Yeshua this is chillul Hashem - a desecration of the Name of the LORD. Instead we trust that our names are written and sealed for good because of His sacrifice on our behalf...  Likewise you are at liberty to fast so that you might identify with the Jewish people and to intercede on their behalf, but you should not fast in an attempt to atone for your sins or to appeal to God for grace apart from the finished work of Yeshua on the cross.

Dear friends, I wish you all great joy and happiness in the precious atonement secured for you through the sacrifice of Yeshua our Messiah. May you feel "at-one" with the Father's heart for you; may you know the great truth of God's profound passion for you. May the LORD our God bless you with a deeper awareness of his love as you consider the great price he paid for your everlasting healing! Amen.
 




Yom Kippur and Jonah...


 

[ The following is related to Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement"... ]

10.03.14  (Tishri 9, 5775)  During the afternoon service of Yom Kippur, the Book of Jonah is recited to awaken the heart to "Arise, call out to your God" (1:6). 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 direct 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. Likewise we first see ourselves as undone and go to the cross, finding pardon and given the power of the ruach HaKodesh to live unto God according to the truth. But note that the imperatives of the New Testament are directed to the new nature given to us by God, and not to the old nature that has been crucified and done away. We are admonished to live in accordance with the truth of what God has done for us through the Moshia', the Savior. You are a new creation, therefore be who you are in the Messiah!

It is noteworthy that Yeshua mentioned the "sign of Jonah the prophet," that is, Jonah's miraculous deliverance after being entombed in the belly of the fish for three days, to authenticate his own claim to be Israel's Redeemer. "Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth" (Matt. 12:40). "This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet (אוֹת יוֹנָה הַנָּבִיא). For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation" (Luke 11:29-30). In other words, the story of Jonah foreshadowed the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah, that is, his death, burial and especially his miraculous resurrection on the third day. Just as God brought Jonah back to life after three days in the belly of the earth, so the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead would vindicate his claim to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world. In this way the "Sign of Jonah" and the sacrificial and atoning work of Yeshua as our High Priest of the new covenant are connected.

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




Torah of Blood Atonement...


 

[ The following is related to Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement"... ]

10.02.14  (Tishri 8, 5775) "The Life is in the blood..." (Lev. 17:11). The "Day of Atonement" is the English translation for Yom Kippur (יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים). The shoresh (root) for the word "kippur" is kafar (כָּפַר), which probably derives from the word kofer, meaning "ransom." This word is parallel to the word "redeem" (Psalm 49:7) and means "to exchange by offering a substitute." The great majority of usages in the Tanakh concern "making an atonement" by the priestly ritual of sprinkling of sacrificial blood to cleanse from sin or defilement (i.e., tahora). The blood of the sacrifice was given in exchange for the life of the worshiper (the "life-for-life" principle). This symbolism is clarified when the worshiper leaned his hands on the head of the sacrifice (semichah) while confessing sin (Lev. 16:21; 1:4; 4:4, etc.). The shoresh also appears in the term kapporet [the "Mercy Seat," but better rendered as simply the place of blood covering]. The kapporet was the golden cover of the sacred chest in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle (or Temple) where the sacrificial blood was presented.
 

כִּי נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם הִוא
וַאֲנִי נְתַתִּיו לָכֶם עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ
לְכַפֵּר עַל־נַפְשׁתֵיכֶם
כִּי־הַדָּם הוּא בַּנֶּפֶשׁ יְכַפֵּר

ki · ne·fesh · ha·ba·sar · ba·dam · hi
va·a·ni · ne·ta·tiv · la·khem · al · ha·miz·bei·ach
le·kha·peir · al · naf·sho·tei·khem
ki · ha·dam · hu · ba·ne·fesh · ye·kha·peir

 

"For the life of the flesh is in the blood,
and I have given it for you on the altar
to atone for your souls,
for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life."
(
Lev. 17:11)



Hebrew Study Card
 

The blood of Messiah ransoms our souls from death, brings us near to the Divine Presence, and cleanses us from all sin... The voice of his blood cries out on our behalf (Heb. 12:24), and his life was given in exchange for ours: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:12). We "lean into" Yeshua, confessing our sins, and are cleansed from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Indeed Yeshua is called the "propitiation" (ἱλασμός) for our sins (1 John 2:2), a word that can be rendered as both the place of our forgiveness, or simply as forgiveness itself. The Septuagint uses the same word (ἱλασμός) to translate the Hebrew word for forgiveness, for example: "But with you there is forgiveness (הַסְּלִיחָה), that you may be held in awe" (Psalm 130:4). Just as the blood was sprinkled upon the kapporet in the Holy of Holies during the Yom Kippur ritual, so the blood of Messiah was sprinkled the heavenly kapporet, the very Altar, of Almighty God to secure for us everlasting redemption and healing...

"Come now and reason with the LORD. Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (Isa. 1:18). The blood of bulls and goats could never fully remove our sins since they did not represent the very life of God poured out on our behalf (Heb. 10:4). God chose the ultimate "cleansing agent" for sin by shedding the precious blood of His own Son for the sake of our atonement (1 Cor. 15:3-4; Rom. 5:11). The blood of Yeshua truly cleanses us from the stain of our sins (Heb. 10:12-14). We make "spiritual contact" with the sacrificial blood of Yeshua through faith -- by being "baptized into His death" and identifying with Him as our Sin-Bearer before God. We then are delivered from the law's verdict against us and accepted into the Kingdom of God (Rom. 4:25; 2 Cor. 5:21; Col. 1:13-14, 2:10-15).
 

לְכוּ־נָא וְנִוָּכְחָה יאמַר יְהוָה
אִם־יִהְיוּ חֲטָאֵיכֶם כַּשָּׁנִים כַּשֶּׁלֶג יַלְבִּינוּ
אִם־יַאְדִּימוּ כַתּוֹלָע כַּצֶּמֶר יִהְיוּ

lekhu · na · venivakhechah · yomar · Adonai
im · yihehu · chata'eikhem · kashanim · kasheleg · yalbinu
im · ya'adinu · khatolah · katzemer · yiheyu

 

"Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."
(
Isa. 1:18)



Hebrew Study Card

 




Our Great Need to Wake Up...


 

10.02.14  (Tishri 8, 5775)  We are living in perilous times, and for all the more reason we must "pay more careful attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away" (Heb. 2:1). We must be anchored to the truth lest we become shipwrecked in our faith. Drifting is often imperceptible, and occurs slowly, though the end result is as deadly as openly turning away from God in outright apostasy. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, "The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts." The grave danger today is to quietly and invisibly give up hope, to unconsciously "go with the flow," to become comfortably numb, to fall asleep, and therefore to die inside... It is far more dangerous to ignore God's mercy, or to make a pretense of knowing God's grace, than it is to blatantly break his law. Therefore the urgent need is to remember, to hear, and to awaken the soul to face the truth about reality. We must focus the heart, concentrate the will, and consciously "set" the Lord always before us (Psalm 16:8). Each day we must awaken from our emptiness to reaffirm the central truth: "Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:4-5). "Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light" (Eph. 5:14).

We must press on to secure our high calling in Messiah: "Let us know; let us press on to know (i.e., נִרְדְּפָה, "pursue after") the LORD; His going out is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth" (Hos. 6:3). May God help us pursue him be'khol levavkha - with all our heart - because He has promised, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13). And may the love of the LORD indeed be upon us, even as we put our hope in Him (Psalm 32:22).
 

יְהִי־חַסְדְּךָ יְהוָה עָלֵינוּ
 כַּאֲשֶׁר יִחַלְנוּ לָךְ

ye·hi · chas·de·kha · Adonai · a·lei·nu
ka·a·sher · yi·chal·nu · lakh
 

"May your love, O LORD, be upon us,
 as we hope in You"
(Psalm 33:22)



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

Whatever the heart genuinely seeks, it will find. We are constantly "asking, seeking, and knocking" (Matt. 7:7), even if we are often unaware of our heart's search. What are you looking for, friend? What do you want? It is impossible to be neutral regarding these questions, and we are either walking in faith or drifting away. "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Messiah, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end" (Heb. 3:12-14).
 




Blood Over the Tablets...


 

[ The following concerns Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement..." ]

10.02.14  (Tishri 8, 5775)  The earthy Tabernacle (i.e., Mishkan) and its furnishings were "copies" of the heavenly Temple and the Throne of God Himself. Moses was commanded to make the Sanctuary according to the "pattern" revealed at Sinai (Exod. 25:9). As it is written in our Scriptures, "For Messiah has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are representations (ἀντίτυπος) of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf" (Heb. 9:24). The centermost point of the earthly Tabernacle was the Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן־הַקּדֶשׁ), a "three-in-one" box that contained God's Holy Word (i.e., the tablets of the Torah). As such, the Ark served as a symbol of kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), the Throne of Glory. The Ark stood entirely apart as the only furnishing placed in the "three-in-one" space called the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). Upon the cover of the Ark (i.e., the kapporet) were fashioned two cherubim (i.e., angel-like figures) that faced one another (Exod. 25:17-18). According to the Talmud (Succah 5b), each cherub had the face of a child - one boy and one girl - and their wings spread heavenward as their eyes gazed upon the cover (Exod. 25:20). This was the sacred place where the blood of purification was sprinkled during Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and this is the Place (הַמָּקוֹם) that prefigured the offering of the blood of the Messiah, our eternal Mediator of the New Covenant. "For I will appear in the cloud over the kapporet" (Lev. 16:2; Exod. 25:22). As it is written, "I have blotted out your transgressions like a thick cloud and your sins like heavy mist; return to me (שׁוּבָה אֵלַי), for I have redeemed you (Isa. 44:22).

The central ritual of atonement given in the Torah is that of the anointed High Priest sprinkling sacrificial blood over the tablets of the law upon the kapporet (the "mercy seat") of the Ark of the Covenant - the Place where "Love and truth meet, where righteousness and peace kiss" (Psalm 85:10). It was from the midst of the surrounding cloud in the Holy of Holies that the Voice of the LORD was heard, just as it was in the midst of the surrounding cloud of darkness upon the cross that Yeshua cried out in intercession for our sins...
 

חֶסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ
צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ

che·sed  ve·e·met  nif·ga·shu
tzedek  ve·sha·lom  na·sha·ku

 

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

The cross, not the scales

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Note further that the High Priest was required to perform the Yom Kippur avodah (service) alone, while wearing humble attire, divested of his glory, and in complete solitude: "No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out" (Lev. 16:17). The Hebrew text literally says, "no adam (אָדָם) shall be in the tent," which suggests that something more than the natural man is needed for divine intercession. And just as Moses alone approached God in the thick clouds at Sinai to receive the revelation of the Altar as mediator of the older covenant (Exod. 24:15), so Yeshua, the Mediator of the New Covenant, went through his severest agony on the cross as the darkness covered the earth (Luke 23:44; Matt. 27:45).
 




The Heart of Atonement...


 

[ Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement," begins Friday, October 3rd at sunset... ]

10.02.14  (Tishri 8, 5775)  Most of our deepest anxieties come from the fear of death, whether we are conscious of this or not... Death represents fear of the unknown, fear of being abandoned, fear of being rejected, fear of being separated from others, and so on. I am so glad Yeshua gives us eternal life, which for me is not so much about immortality of the soul as it is being loved and accepted by God... That is what "at-one-ment" means, after all (John 17:22-23). Because God loves and accepts us, we trust Him to be present for us, even in the darkest of hours, on the other side of the veil, where he "prepares a place for us" (John 14:2). As Yeshua said, "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the One who sent me has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and will not be condemned, but has passed (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24). God's love "crosses over" from death to life and now forever sustains me.

Ultimately, Yom Kippur is about God's love and acceptance, that is, His way of making purification for our sins. As I've explained before, the word for love (i.e., ahavah: אהבה) equals the number thirteen (1+5+2+5=13), but when shared it is multiplied: 13 x 2 = 26, which is the same value for the Sacred Name (יהוה), i.e., (10+5+6+5=26). Likewise the Hebrew word for "life" is chayim (חַיִּים), is written in the plural to emphasize that life cannot be lived alone but must be shared. Notice that within the word itself are embedded two consecutive Yods (יי), representing unity in plurality (Yod-Yod is an abbreviation for YHVH, also indicating the "deep Akedah" of Father and Son). God gave up His life so that we can be in relationship with Him, that is, so that we can be "at-one" with His heart for us.  Whatever else it may mean, then, the word "atonement" (i.e., kapparah, "covering," "protection," "purification," "forgivenenss") is about accepting God's heart for you - being unified in his love - and if you miss that, you've missed the entire point of the high holiday season. Yom Kippur, then, is a time to celebrate God's great love for us.
 




Heart of Repentance...


 

10.02.14  (Tishri 8, 5775)  The teshuvah (repentance) called for by Yeshua is not that of the rabbis... The rabbis want you to be sorry for your sins, to confess "every sin in the book," and to find "atonement" in religious rituals, but this is not "good news," but rather "stale news." The teshuvah of Yeshua is the miracle of new life; Messiah sets you free from the power of sin and death itself. The repentance of Yeshua is to trust in God's remedy for your sin: "This is the work of God, to believe in the One whom God sent" (John 6:29). "He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then His own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him" (Isa. 59:16). We must turn away from the idea that God demands anything from us other than trust in his love. "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). Stop trying to measure up to his standards. You simply cannot give more than you have the love to give, so you must begin by getting your heart needs met by accepting God's unconditional love. It's not about what you do for God, after all, but about what he does for you. That's the message of the gospel. Trust that you are rightly related to God because of the salvation of Yeshua, not because of your own efforts at self-improvement. "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the One who sent me has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and will not be condemned, but has passed over (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24).

Do you believe that God loves you right now - just as you are - and that you don't have to change or improve yourself to be loved by him? Do you believe that, whatever your present condition, God loves you with the very passion that put Yeshua on the cross? The LORD is present for you now, if you will believe, not some time later, after you've attempted to remedy yourself... If we come to God in utter poverty of spirit, confessing our need for deliverance from the misery of ourselves, why do we think that, after so coming, we should later relate to God on a different basis? You are delivered by trusting in God's grace, by accepting his love for your soul, and likewise are you sanctified. We never get beyond our need for the cross, which is to say that we always need God's compassion and mercy...

We must be careful not to worship an idol, that is, a false concept of God! It is possible to read the Bible, to go to church or synagogue, and yet worship a pagan god. How so? By not knowing the heart of the Father; by not honoring the One who passionately seeks our healing. We know the Father by the Son, that is, in "the language of Son" (Heb. 1:2; Luke 10:21-24). Our heavenly Father is eager to forgive and embrace all of his children. In Yeshua's famous parable of the "prodigal son," the father saw his child a "long way off" and ran to embrace and kiss him - no questions asked, no explanations needed about his past. When the son nevertheless began reciting his carefully prepared speech of repentance, the father barely listened, and in his overwhelming joy instructed his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found...' (Luke 15:20-25).
 




What God Asks of You...


 

10.01.14  (Tishri 7, 5775)  In our Torah it is written: "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you, but to revere the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 10:12). Abraham Heschel wrote, "Awe is an intuition for the dignity of all things, a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something supreme. Awe is a sense for transcendence, for the mystery beyond all things. It is "the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10). We start with awe and that leads us to wisdom. First we must learn to properly revere the LORD and only then will we be able to walk (לָלֶכֶת) in His ways, to love (לְאַהֲבָה) Him, and to serve (לַעֲבד) Him with all our heart and soul. The awesome love of God for us is the end or goal of Torah as revealed in our Messiah. We were both created and redeemed in order to know, love, and worship God forever.

In another place it is written: "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD ask of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8), which again presupposes that we fear the LORD. Indeed, "the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה)." Without awe of God, you will walk in darkness and be unable to turn away from evil (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10; 10:27; etc.), as it says: "the fear of the LORD leads to life" (יִרְאַת יְהוָה לְחַיִּים, lit. "is for life").
 




Today if you hear...


 

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

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

לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע
 וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה

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

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

The cross, not the scales

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




No Place of Neutrality...


 

10.01.14  (Tishri 7, 5775)  Where it is written, "God gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own devices" (Psalm 81:12; Rom. 1:24); and "they went backward and not forward" (Jer. 7:24), we learn there is no place of "neutrality" or indifference toward God... We are either going forward with Him or going backward from Him; we are either drawing near or pulling our hearts away... (Rev. 3:16). As Heschel once rightly said, "God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance" (Man is Not Alone). As it is said, "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand, today -- if we hear his voice and do not harden our hearts" (Psalm 95:7-9). We are warned not to "harden our hearts," that is, not to lose sight of real hope by refusing to trust in the promises of God's love... Thank God for the gracious miracle of teshuvah (turning back to God), since without that gift, there would be no abiding hope.
 




The Shepherd's Call...

SadaoWatanabe
 

10.01.14  (Tishri 7, 5775)  "What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray" (Matt. 18:12-13). Though it involves sorrow, and the pain of being lost, repentance is ultimately about finding joy, and when we return to God, we have reason to rejoice. The Good Shepherd says, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:6-7). The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost: "For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out... I myself will be the Shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the banished, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the sick" (Ezek. 34:11,5-16).
 

אֲנִי אֶרְעֶה צאנִי וַאֲנִי אַרְבִּיצֵם נְאֻם אֲדנָי יְהוִה
אֶת־הָאבֶדֶת אֲבַקֵּשׁ וְאֶת־הַנִּדַּחַת אָשִׁיב
וְלַנִּשְׁבֶּרֶת אֶחֱבשׁ וְאֶת־הַחוֹלָה אֲחַזֵּק

ani · er·eh · tzo·ni · va·a·ni · ar·bi·tzem · ne·um · Adonai · E·lo·him
et · ha·o·ve·det · a·va·kesh · ve·et  · ha·nid·da·chat  · a·shiv
ve·la·nish·be·ret · e·che·vosh · ve·et · ha·cho·lah · a·cha·zek

 

"I myself will be the Shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down,
declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the banished,
and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the sick..."
(Ezek. 34:15-16)
 


Despite the struggles we sometimes face, let me wish you the peace of God that passes all understanding, that inner peace that comes when we surrender ourselves to the love of God given in Yeshua our LORD.  Amen v'chazak.
 




Yom Kippur - Day of Atonement


 

[ The following reviews the basics of Yom Kippur, the climax of the Season of Repentance, which  begins Friday, October 3rd this year... ]

10.01.14  (Tishri 7, 5775)  Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement," is regarded as the holiest day of the Jewish year, and provides prophetic insight regarding the Second Coming of the Messiah, the restoration of national Israel, and the final judgment of the world. It is also a day that reveals the High-Priestly work of Yeshua as our Kohen Gadol (High Priest) after the order of Malki-Tzedek (Heb. 5:10, 6:20). The term Yom Kippur is written in the plural in the Torah, Yom Ha-Kippurim (יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים), which alludes to the two great atonements given by the LORD - the first for those among all the nations who turn to Yeshua for cleansing and forgiveness, and the second for the purification of ethnic Israel during Yom Adonai, the great Day of the LORD (יוֹם־יְהוָה הַגָּדוֹל) at the end of days.

This year the Yom Kippur fast begins an hour before sundown on Friday, October 3rd, and lasts for 25 hours, until an hour past sundown on Saturday, October 4th. The sages state that "afflicting the soul" (Lev. 23:32), or fasting, is not undertaken to punish ourselves for our sins, but rather to help us focus entirely on our spiritual side. It is customary to light the holiday candles, recite Shehecheyanu, and eat a late afternoon meal with loved ones (called Seudat Mafseket, a meal of cessation) an hour or so before the fast begins. It is also traditional to wear white clothing as a symbol of purity during Yom Kippur religious services, and some married men wear a kittel, or white robe, as well. Because of the sanctity of the holiday, the tallit is worn for evening services as well. Dressing in this way is intended to make us appear pure, like the angels.


Traditional Yom Kippur Services

In traditional Judaism, Yom Kippur consists of several interwoven "services" that are held throughout the 25 hour period of fasting:
 

  1. The "Kol Nidrei" (כָּל נִדְרֵי) service begins before sundown on Tishri 9 and functions as a legal declaration (recited in Aramaic) that annuls "all vows" made in the previous year (or the following year, depending on tradition). Because this is intended to be a "legal" declaration, it is repeated three times during the Kol Nidrei service.
  2. The Maariv (evening) service consists of the recitation of Kaddish, the Shema, the Amidah (standing prayer), along with the confession of sins (viduy) and additional prayers (selichot) recited only on the night of Yom Kippur. In addition, liturgical poems (piyyutim) are recited as well. Most of this service is spent reading from a machzor (High Holiday prayerbook). During viduy (וִדּוּי) section called "al chet," the custom is to lightly beat the chest for each transgression as it is recited.
  3. The Shacharit (morning) service is not unlike other services for festivals during the Jewish year. The traditional morning prayers, the recitation of the Shema and Amidah, and the Torah reading are all part of the service. During Torah reading service there are six aliyot (i.e., separate readings by different people), one more than on other holidays (though if Yom Kippur occurs on Shabbat, there are still seven aliyot).

    The Torah's name for the Day of Atonement is Yom Kippurim (יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים), meaning "the day of covering, canceling, pardon, reconciling." Under the Levitical system of worship, the High Priest would sprinkle sacrificial blood upon the Kapporet (כַּפּרֶת) - the covering of the Ark of the Covenant -  to effect purification (i.e., kapparah: כַּפָּרָה) for the previous year's sins. Notice that Yom Kippur was the only time when the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and invoke the sacred Name of YHVH (יהוה) to offer blood sacrifice for the sins of the Jewish people. This "life for a life" principle is the foundation of the sacrificial system and marked the great day of intercession made by the High Priest on behalf of Israel.
     
  4. The Yizkor (יִזְכּר) service functions as a memorial service for family members who have died. Traditionally it is recited following the Torah reading of the Shacharit service, though some communities do it in the early afternoon.
  5. The Musaf (additional) service immediately follows the morning service and is divided into two parts: the repetition of the Amidah (by the cantor) and the "Avodah" service, which recounts the priestly service for Yom Kippur in ancient times. The Musaf service ends with the "Aaronic benediction" (i.e., birkat kohanim).
  6. The Minchah (afternoon) service includes a Torah reading service (Lev. 18), another repetition of the Amidah, and the recitation of the "Avinu Malkenu" poem. In addition, since it focuses on the importance of teshuvah (repentance) and prayer, the entire Book of Jonah is recited as the Haftarah portion of the Torah service.
  7. The Neilah (closing) service is the final service of Yom Kippur. The word "Neilah" (נְעִילָה) means "locking" and in rabbinical tradition this portion of the Yom Kippur service is intended to symbolize that the Book of Life has now been "closed and sealed" at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. The Shema is again recited and the phrase "the LORD He is God (i.e., Adonai hu ha-Elohim: יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלהִים) is repeated seven times (1 Kings 18:39). This declaration is followed by a long blast of the shofar (i.e., tekiah gedolah), the "great shofar," to remind us how the shofar was sounded to proclaim the Year of Jubilee Year (יוֹבֵל) of freedom throughout the land (Lev. 25:9-10).  After Yom Kippur ends, we are required to recite (or hear) Havdalah over wine before we eat anything.
     

Yom Ha-Din - Judgment Day

Yom Kippur marks the climax of the Jewish High Holidays and holds tremendous prophetic significance regarding the Second Coming of Messiah, the restoration of national Israel, and the final judgment of the world. It is also a day that reveals the High-Priestly work of Yeshua as our Kohen Gadol (High Priest) after the order of Malki-Tzedek (Heb. 5:10, 6:20).

According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashanah the destiny of the righteous, the tzaddikim, are written in the Book of Life, and the destiny of the wicked, the resha'im, are written in the Book of Death. Most people, however, won't be inscribed in either book, but are given ten days -- until Yom Kippur -- to repent before sealing their fate. On Yom Kippur, then, everyone's name will be sealed in one of the two books.  The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are therefore called Aseret Yemei Teshuvah - the "Ten Days of Repentance" - because personal repentance can affect the divine decree for good, though on Yom Kippur each person's judgment is decided.


 

As Messianic believers, we maintain that Judgment Day has come and justice was served through the sacrificial offering of Yeshua for our sins (2 Cor. 5:21). He is the perfect fulfillment of the Akedah of Isaac. Our names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life, or Sefer HaChayim (Rev. 13:8). We do not believe that we are made acceptable in God's sight by means of our own works of righteousness (Titus 3:5-6), though that does not excuse us from being without such works (Gal. 5:22-23). The Scriptures clearly warn that on the Day of Judgment to come, anyone's name not found written in the Book of Life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). Moreover, all Christians will stand before the Throne of Judgment to give account for their lives (2 Cor. 5:10). "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (1 Cor. 3:13). Life is an examination, a test, and every moment is irrepeatable.  Every "careless" word we utter will be echoed on the Day of Judgment (Matt. 12:36-37). Our future is actually being decided today....

The Spring Festivals (Passover, Firstfruits, and Shavuot) have been perfectly fulfilled in the first coming of Yeshua as Mashiach ben Yosef, and the Fall Festivals (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot) will be fulfilled in His second coming as Mashiach ben David. Since the first advent fulfilled all of the spring holidays to the smallest of details, we believe that His second advent portends similar fulfillment as revealed in the fall holidays

After the summer of harvest (John 4:35), the very first fall festival on the Jewish calendar is Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashanah), which is a picture of the "catching away" of kallat Mashiach (the Bride of Messiah) for the time of Sheva Berachot (seven "days" of blessing that follows the marriage ceremony). Then will come the Great Tribulation and Yom Adonai (יוֹם יְהוָה) - the great "Day of the LORD.  Yom Kippur prophetically pictures the "Day of the LORD" or the Day of Judgment in Acharit Ha-Yamim (the End of Days). The heavenly shofar blasts heard at Sinai will be reissued from Zion. First will be the gathering together of those who follow the Messiah (i.e., those declared tzaddikim because of the merit of Yeshua's sacrifice), and then God's war against Satan and the world system will begin, culminating in the long-awaited coronation of the King of King of Kings - Melech Malchei Ha-Melachim (מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים).

Just as Rosh Hashanah reveals the coming time of Judgment and the rapture of the kehillat Mashiach (bride of Messiah), Yom Kippur prophetically pictures the Day of the LORD or the Day of Judgment in Acharit HaYamim [last days] for all the nations.  After the judgment of the nations during the Great Tribulation, ethnic Israel will be fully restored to the LORD and their sins will be purged (Matt. 24). "All Israel will be saved." Yeshua will then physically return to Israel to establish His glorious millennial kingdom in Zion. Then all the promises given to ethnic Israel through the prophets will finally be fulfilled.
 

דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה בְּהִמָּצְאוֹ קְרָאֻהוּ בִּהְיוֹתוֹ קָרוֹב

dir·shu · Adonai · be·him·ma·tzo, · ke·ra·u·hu · bih·yo·to · ka·rov

"Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near."
(Isa. 55:6)



Hebrew Study Card 


Yom Kippur - Happy or Sad?

In post-Temple Judaism (i.e., rabbinical Judaism) it is customary for Jews to wish one another g'mar chatimah tovah (גְּמַר חַתִימָה טוֹבָה), "a good final sealing" during the Ten Days of Awe (i.e., the ten days running from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur). The reason for this is that according to Jewish tradition the "writing of God's verdict" (for your life) occurs on Rosh Hashanah, but the "sealing of the verdict" occurs on Yom Kippur.  In other words, God in His Mercy gives us ten days to do "teshuvah" before sealing our fate.... But it's up to us -- and our teshuvah -- to "save ourselves" from God's decree of death.  Our personal merits (mitzvot) are the key: וּתְשׁוּבָה וּתְפִלָּה וּצְדָקָה מַעֲבִירִין אֶת רעַ הַגְּזֵרָה / "Teshuvah, prayer, and charity deliver us from the evil decree."

Of course as Messianic Jews (and Christians) we have a permanent "sealing" for good by the grace and love of God given to us in Yeshua our Messiah (see Eph. 1:13, 4:30; 2 Cor. 1:21-22). The Torah's statement that sacrificial blood was offered upon the altar to make atonement (כַּפָּרָה) for our souls (Lev. 17:11) finds its final application in the "blood work" of Yeshua upon the cross at Moriah (Rom. 5:11). The substitutionary shedding of blood, the "life-for-life" principle, is essential to the true "at-one-ment" with God.  The ordinances of the Levitical priesthood were just "types and shadows" of the coming Substance that would give us everlasting atonement with God (Heb. 8-10). Because of Yeshua, we have a Kohen Gadol (High Priest) of the better Covenant, based on better promises (Heb. 8:6). For this reason it is entirely appropriate to celebrate Yom Kippur and give thanks to the LORD for the permanent "chatimah tovah" given to us through the salvation of His Son.

It must always be remembered that Torah (תּוֹרָה) is a "function word" that expresses our responsibility in light of the covenantal acts of God. As the author of the Book of Hebrews makes clear: "When there is a change in the priesthood (הַכְּהוּנָּה), there is necessarily (ἀνάγκη) a change in the Torah as well" (Heb. 7:12). The Levitical priesthood expresses the Torah of the Covenant of Sinai (בְּרִית יְשָׁנָה), just as the greater priesthood of Yeshua expresses the Torah of the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה).

Still, for the Messianic Jewish believer there is a bit of ambivalence about this holiday, perhaps more than any other of the Jewish year.  Part of this ambivalence comes from the "already-not-yet" aspect of the New Covenant itself. Already Yeshua has come and offered Himself up as kapparah (atonement/propitiation) for our sins; already He has sent the Ruach Hakodesh (Holy Spirit) to write truth upon our hearts; already He is our God and we are His people. However, the New Covenant is not yet ultimately fulfilled since we await the return of Yeshua to restore Israel and establish His kingdom upon the earth...  Since prophetically speaking Yom Kippur signifies ethic Israel's atonement secured through Yeshua's sacrificial avodah as Israel's true High Priest and King, there is still a sense of groaning and affliction connected to this holiday that will not be removed until finally "all Israel is saved" (Rom. 11:26). So, while on the one hand we celebrate Yom Kippur because it acknowledges Yeshua as our High Priest of the New Covenant, on the other hand we feel "great sorrow and unceasing anguish in our hearts" for the redemption of the Jewish people and the atonement of their sins (Rom. 9:1-5; 10:1-4; 11:1-2, 11-15, 25-27). In the meantime, we are in a period of "mysterious grace" (yemot ha-mashiach) wherein we have opportunity to offer the terms of the New Covenant to people of every nation, tribe and tongue. After the "fullness of the Gentiles" is come in, however, God will turn His full attention to fulfilling His promises given to ethnic Israel. That great Day of the LORD is drawing close and is assuredly coming soon, chaverim..

Note:  The ten days from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur are called the "Days of Awe" in Jewish tradition. When Yom Kippur falls on a Sabbath, the weekly Torah readings are suspended. For more information, see the Weekly Torah Readings page.
 




Courage to Draw Near...


 

10.01.14  (Tishri 7, 5775)  The Kotzker rebbe once said, "We read in Torah: 'He has not beheld wickedness in Jacob, nor perverseness in Israel; [when] the LORD his God is with him, and the glory of the King dwells in him' (Num. 23:21), which means that the LORD overlooks offenses when the sinner draws near to Him." Receiving the love of God in Yeshua draws you close to heaven and the glory of the King dwells within you. God no longer knows you after the perversity of your past but according to the trust you have in His promises. As it says, the LORD "does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities, for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love (i.e., chesed: חֶסֶד) toward those who revere Him" (Psalm 103:10-11).
 

כִּרְחק מִזְרָח מִמַּעֲרָב
הִרְחִיק מִמֶּנּוּ אֶת־פְּשָׁעֵינוּ

kir·chok · miz·rach · mi·ma·a·rav
hir·chik · mi·me·nu · pe·sha·ei·nu

"As far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us"
(Psalm 103:12)



 

When we draw near to the LORD in bittachon (trust), he causes our our transgressions to be banished from His presence (the hiphil form of the verb rachak [רָחַק], "to depart" is used in this verse, indicating that God's kindness is the cause of the action). This is because sin represents our separation from the heart of God, yet the Father's heart is always our home: "As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him" (Psalm 103:13). In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), there are two sons: the younger son who runs away and follows the path of unbridled lust, and the older son, who stays home yet inwardly turns away from his father's love. Both sons are lost, and the father grieves for both, because neither son truly understood the father's heart... May you know who you are in the Father's heart this day.
 



 

September 2014 Site Updates
 


Our Daily Teshuvah...


 

[ The following is related to the High Holidays and the "Season of Repentance"... ]

09.30.14  (Tishri 6, 5775)  Teshuvah ("repentance") is described as "turning" to God, though practically speaking it is a repeated turning, that is, a turning to God in the moment of ambiguity, pain, distress... It is in the midst of the ego's clamor, before the parade of worldly desire or pressure, in the crucible of "everydayness" that we must "come to ourselves" and find true wonder. In that sense, teshuvah is a sort of focus, a direction, a seeking, and a center of life, the place of constant repair for the inner breach we constantly feel.

The question may be asked, however, whether you really want God - the Living God - to be intimately present in your life. "Repentance means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into... It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death" (C.S. Lewis). Indeed, "nothing is more certain: coming close to God brings certain catastrophe [to the ego]. Everyone whose life does not bring relative catastrophe has never even once turned as a single individual to God; it is just as impossible as it is to touch the conductors of a generator without getting a shock" (Soren Kierkegaard).

Repent one day before you die... "In eternity you will not be asked how large a fortune you are leaving behind - the survivors ask about that. Nor will you be asked about how many battles you won, about how sagacious you were, how powerful your influence - that, after all, becomes your reputation for posterity.  No, eternity will not ask about what worldly goods remain behind you, but about what riches you have gathered in heaven. It will ask you about how often you have conquered your own thought, about what control you have exercised over yourself or whether you have been a slave, about how often you have mastered yourself in self-denial or whether you have never done so" (Kierkegaard).

Just as God humbled Israel with manna in the desert, so He humbles us. "Give us this day our daily bread and deliver us..." The purpose of affliction is ultimately good and healing: God humbles us with manna, the "bread of affliction, so "that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD" (Deut. 8:3). In other words, God uses tzuris to lead us to do teshuvah and accept the truth. We often pray that our problems be taken away, but God sometimes ordains these very problems so that we will turn and draw near to Him... We are being weaned from this present age to be made ready for heavenly glory, for things unimaginably wonderful, soon to be revealed to you. Chazak – stay strong in the Lord, friends.
 

    "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort (אַב הָרַחֲמִים וֵאלהֵי כָּל־נֶחָמָה), who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
     

 




Come just as you are...


 

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

We encounter the Lord "just as we are," by means of his gracious intervention in our lives, and so we continue to live by faith in God's grace (indeed, what we call "sanctification" is often just "catching up" with the miracle of his revelation to us). And we always come to God "just as we are," since we are never more than what we are in the truth: "by the grace of God I am what I am," as Paul said. "For all things come from You, and from your hand we give back to you" (1 Chron. 29:14). Therefore the Spirit says, "Come just as you are, or you may never come at all...."

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




Yom Kippur Mercies...


 

[ Yom Kippur which begins this Friday, an hour before sundown... ]

09.30.14  (Tishri 6, 5775)  Rosh Hashanah is called Yom Ha-Din (יוֹם הַדִּין), the Day of Judgment, whereas Yom Kippuris called Yom Ha-Rachamim (יוֹם הָרַחֲמִים), or the Day of Mercies, which suggests that God is first revealed as our Creator and Judge before He is known as our merciful Savior. This is hinted in the two accounts of creation, where God is first revealed as Elohim (Gen. 1:1), but later is revealed as YHVH (יהוה) when He breathed life into man nishmat chayim, the breath of life (Gen. 2:4). It is somewhat odd, however, that during Rosh Hashanah we do not approach God as our Judge, beating our breast in sorrow during confession of sin, as we do on Yom Kippur. Some say the reason we celebrate, eating special foods, rejoicing, listening to the shofar, is because we rejoice in the kingship of God as His royal children, and only later do we appeal to Him as merciful Judge in light of His revelation as YHVH, our Savior, Redeemer, and Lord. As believers in Yeshua, we have all the more reason to rejoice on Rosh Hashanah, since at the cross Yeshua took upon Himself our judgment to give us everlasting mercy from God.
 




Yom Kippur and Purim...


 

09.30.14  (Tishri 6, 5775)  The holiday of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is also known as Yom Kippurim in the Torah (יוֹם כִּפֻּרִים, see Lev. 23:28), which can be read as Yom Ke-Purim, a 'day like Purim' (i.e., יוֹם, "day" + כְּ, "like" + פֻּרִים, "purim").  Both Purim and Yom Kippur celebrate our deliverance from the great enemies of sin and death, and both holidays foreshadow the great purim (deliverance) we have in Yeshua our LORD. Note further that the Hebrew word for "year" (i.e., shanah: שׁנה) has the same letter value Yom ha'kippurim (i.e., יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים, see Lev. 23:27), which suggests that God's deliverance and atoning love extends to us every day of the year.

The "ultimate" meaning of Purim is to be forgiven and accepted by God on account of the salvation secured by Yeshua the Messiah at the cross... Our deliverance depends not only on the substitutionary death of Yeshua as our kapparah (atonement), but also on the substitutionary life He lived (and still lives) as our Mediator. Yeshua fulfills the Torah on our behalf. The cure for our lawlessness is not more laws but a deeper sense of God's grace given to us in Yeshua, the Tzaddik who kept the law perfectly and ransomed us from its righteous judgment. Because of Yeshua we have grace and peace (shalom) with God.

Note:  For more on this subect, see "The Purim - Yom Kippur Connection."
 




Yom Kippur and God's Name...


 

[ The following is related to Yom Kippur which begins this Friday, an hour before sundown... ]

09.29.14  (Tishri 5, 5775)  Yom Kippur was the only time when the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and call upon the Name of YHVH (יהוה) to offer blood sacrifice for the sins of the people. This "life for a life" principle is the foundation of the sacrificial system and marked the great day of intercession made by the High Priest on behalf of Israel. For this reason it was also called the "Day of God's Mercy," or the "Day of God's Name."  This alludes to the revelation of the Name YHVH (יהוה) and the attributes of God's Compassion after the sin of the Golden Calf (Exod. 34:6-7). How much more, then, is Yom Kippur the "Day of Yeshua's Name" since He secured for all of humanity everlasting kapparah (atonement)? Yeshua the Messiah is Moshia ha'olam (מוֹשִׁיעַ הָעוֹלָם), the Savior of the world; He alone possesses the "Name above all other Names" (Phil. 2:9-10; Acts 4:12). It is altogether fitting, then, that God's "hidden Name" (i.e., shem ha-meforash: שֵׁם הַמְּפרָשׁ) was proclaimed before the kapporet (the cover of the Ark of the Covenant) in the Holy of Holies while atonement for our sins was made through the sacrificial blood.

This gives us a whole new perspective on Paul's words (Rom. 10:9): "if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is LORD (יהוה) and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead (i.e., that his blood was shed and presented on your behalf upon the heavenly kapporet), then you will be saved (that is, you will be reconciled to God and made a partaker of the atoning work of Yeshua). Surely the Apostle Paul, a zealous rabbi who diligently studied Torah in Jerusalem under Rabbi Gamaliel (who was himself the grandson of the renowned Rabbi Hillel the Elder), understood the theological implications when he stated that the prophecy: "And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the Name of the LORD (בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה) shall be saved" (Joel 2:32) applied directly to Yeshua (Rom. 10:10).
 




Jesus in Context...


 

09.29.14  (Tishri 5, 5775)  An essential and basic principle of Bible interpretation is stated in the axiom: "a text without a context is a pretext," and therefore we must endeavor to understand the New Testament in light of the Torah, not the other way around... Without the context of Torah, the meaning and terms of the New Testament will be obscure and subject to misunderstanding. Indeed, we must remember that the Messiah was "embedded" in the Jewish culture of his day (Gal. 4:4-5), and was fluent in Torah reading and study (Luke 4:16-21; John 4:22). Moreover, Yeshua plainly said that the Jewish Scriptures testify of Him: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27; John 5:39). We study Torah to know Yeshua, the "Living Torah" better, as he said: "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old" (Matt. 13:52).
 




The Days of Awe...


 

[ The solemn holiday of Yom Kippur begins Friday, October 3rd at sundown this year... ]

09.28.14  (Tishri 4, 5775)  According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashanah (i.e., Tishri 1) the destiny of the righteous, the tzaddikim, are written in the Book of Life (סֵפֶר הַחַיִּים), and the destiny of the wicked, the resha'im, are written in the Book of Death (סֶפֶר הַמָּוֵת). However, most people will not be inscribed in either book, but have ten days -- from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur -- to repent before "sealing their fate." On Yom Kippur, then, everyone's name will be written in one of the books. The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are therefore called Aseret Yemei Teshuvah (עֲשֶׂרֶת יְמֵי תְּשׁוּבָה) - the "Ten Days of Repentance" - because personal repentance can affect the divine decree for good.

Click for ElulClick for Rosh HaShanahClick for Tzom GedaliahYom Kippur
 

Followers of Yeshua we are not legalists, of course, nor do we agree with the rabbis who claim that Rosh Hashanah is a day of our judgment, since that has judicially been taken care of at the cross of Messiah -- "Judgment Day" happened when Messiah was crucified for our sins. "He declared us not guilty because of his gracious love; and now we know that we are heirs of eternal life" (Titus 3:7). Our faith in Yeshua forever seals us in the Lamb's Book of Life (סֵפֶר הַחַיִּים)! Nevertheless we must turn to Him every day, we must walk in the light of his heart, and therefore the call to teshuvah (repentance) is always timely. Moreover there is a prophetic aspect to this season, as Yom Teruah (i.e., Rosh Hashanah) represents the "Day of the LORD" (יוֹם יְהוָה) and the imminent apocalyptic judgment of the present world... Just as the spring festivals foretold Messiah's first advent, so the fall festivals foretell his second coming... Moreover, "teruah" (תְּרוּעָה) is the blast of a shofar, the "calling up" signal for those who belong to Messiah; the "opening of the gate" to the Wedding of the Lamb! May God help us be ready to soon see our King!

Note: for more on this important subject, including the trust that we are forever "sealed for good" in the Lamb of God's Book of Life, see "Getting Ready for the Days of Awe."
 




Shanah Tovah, friends!


 

09.28.14  (Tishri 4, 5775)  Happy New Year - Shanah Tovah - friends!  And may this coming year be good and sweet for you. Here are a few pictures taken during our celebration for the new year. As you can see, the boys are getting bigger: Josiah is now nine and Judah is five!  Thank you so much for praying for these precious little guys, and for our family, too.
 

Rosh Hashanah 5775

Left-to-right (top): 1. At the apple orchard [Elul 25]; 2. Judah finds an apple; 3. pomegranates;
4. hearing the shofar: tekiah, shevarim, teruah! 5. apples and honey.
(bottom): 1. Yom Tov candles; 2. round challah; 3. Judah; 4) Josiah blows the shofar

 

בַּחֲצצְרוֹת וְקוֹל שׁוֹפָר
הָרִיעוּ לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ יְהוָה

ba·cha·tzotz·rot · ve·kol · sho·far
ha·ri·u · lif·nei · ha·me·lekh · Adonai

 

"With trumpets and the sound of the shofar
shout for joy before the King, the LORD!"
(Psalm 98:6)



  Listen to the Shofar:


We sincerely wish you "shanah tovah u'metukah ba'Adoneinu Yeshua ha-Mashiach" - a good and sweet year in our Lord Jesus the Messiah! May the LORD God heal you, body and soul; may He ease your pain, increase your strength, and release you from all your fears... May blessing, love, joy, and true shalom surround you and fill you with ongoing wonder and thanks. In the Name above all Names we pray: Amen.
 




Keep on Returning...


 

09.25.14  (Elul 30, 5774)  This coming Shabbat is called "Shuvah" because we are called to return (shuv) to God: "Return (שׁוּבָה), O Israel, until (עַד) the LORD is your God" (Hos. 14:1). Note the grammar here. We are called to repent until the LORD becomes "your God," that is, until you surrender yourself to His presence and love. You return as you "set the Lord always before you," practicing His presence, and knowing him in all your ways.
 

שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ
כִּי כָשַׁלְתָּ בַּעֲוֹנֶךָ

shu·vah · Yisrael · ad · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha
ki · kha·shal·ta · ba·a·vo·ne·kha

Click to listen... 

"Return, O Israel, until the LORD is your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity."
(Hosea 14:1)



Teshuvah and confession go hand in hand. Confession (ὁμολογία) means bringing yourself naked before the Divine Light to agree with the truth about who you are. Indeed, the word "homologeo" means "saying the same thing" - from ὁμός (same) and λόγος (word). In Modern Hebrew teshuvah means an "answer" to a shelah, or a question. God's love for us is the question, and our teshuvah – our turning of the heart toward Him – is the answer for our broken hearts. Teshuvah is one of the great gifts God gives each of us – the ability to turn back to Him and seek healing for our brokenness. May we turn to Him now...

Shanah Tovah,
and may you be inscribed in the Lamb's book of life (סֵפֶר הַחַיִּים אֲשֶׁר לַשֶּׂה) for good, friends! Shalom in Yeshua our Lord.
 




Teshuvah's Passion...


 

[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins this evening at sundown... Shana Tova chaverim! ]

09.24.14  (Elul 29, 5774)  The sages say the Hebrew word for sin, chet (חַטְא), is written with a silent Aleph (א) because when we sin, God our Lord (אַלּוּף) is present, because without his power no one could lift his hand to do anything great or small. Here we note the terrible thought that our sin is witnessed by God himself, a pain that pierces his very heart.
 

נַחְפְּשָׂה דְרָכֵינוּ וְנַחְקרָה
וְנָשׁוּבָה עַד־יְהוָה

nach·pe·sah  de·ra·chey·nu  ve·nach·ko·rah
ve·na·shu·vah  ad  Adonai

Click to listen... 

"Let us search and examine our ways
and turn back to the LORD!"
(Lam. 3:40)



During Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays, we examine our lives and confess our sins (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ). Though God forgives us because of Yeshua's sacrifice, we nevertheless are called to turn away from sin and draw closer to the heart of the Father (1 John 1:9; James 4:8). The cross does not give us license to sin, of course, but should awaken within us a desire to live in godly reverence by the power of God's Spirit...

Rabbi Bunam told the parable of how a father made a loan to his son to help him start a business. When the time for repayment came, he learned his son had used the money wisely, and therefore he made him a gift of the amount loaned. Later the father did the same for another son, but when time for repayment came, he learned that the son had used the investment unwisely, so to prevent further losses, he compelled his son to give up the business. It is the same with us. God loans us the impulse to judge ourselves and repent of our unworthy deeds. If we use this impulse wisely, he gives us further resolve to walk in righteousness. But if we disregard the impulse and do nothing, God takes it back, and we remain stuck in our present condition. May God help us turn to Him for life...
 




How to do Teshuvah...


 

09.24.14  (Elul 29, 5774)  We learn teshuvah by doing teshuvah... 'A man once approached R' Israel of Rizhin and said to him, 'Rebbe, I so wish to repent, but I don't know what to do.' 'And to sin, you knew what to do?' 'Yes, but that was easy. First I sinned, then I knew.' 'Exactly. Now do the same the other way around. Start by repenting; you'll know later.' As Yeshua said, "If anyone wants to do God's will, he will know..." (John 7:17).

The same is true about all the mo'edim (i.e., holidays). For instance, you learn about Passover by actively participating in a Seder, not just reading about it in a book... We know something with our whole heart when we engage our senses, our bodies, etc. through our participation, by making it "our own." The life of faith is not a "spectator sport."

It is often not what we see that matters, but what we don't see, what we overlook... We see our sin, our inability, our brokenness, but we overlook compassion, power, and healing from heaven. We must learn to see the "white spaces" between the letters, to train ourselves to see the good in every circumstance (even our struggle), to cultivate inner vision and awareness. Teshuvah means changing not only our thinking, but fixing our heart's attitude by bringing love, joy, and peace to our experience. In this way, re-learning to see is not unlike "getting down on your knees" within yourself as you encounter the world around you. It is a way to "practice the presence" of Messiah at all times...
 




Returning Home...


 

09.24.14  (Elul 29, 5774)  "If we confess our sins..." (1 John 1:9). The question is raised, if a man sins purposely, how can he know whether his intentional repentance can overcome his intentional sin? We must press on, and maintain our teshuvah. Even if we sin 70 x 7 times (Matt. 18:21-22), we are forbidden to regard ourselves as beyond the reach of God's healing love. The Spirit cries out: "Return to Me, and I will return to you" (Mal. 3:7).

A king's son was at a far distance from his father. Said his friends to him, "Return to your father." He said, "I can't: the way is too far. His father sent to him and said, "Go as far as you are able, and I will come the rest of the way to you. Thus says the Holy One, blessed be He: "Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts" (Mal. 3:7).
 

שׁוּבוּ אֵלַי וְאָשׁוּבָה אֲלֵיכֶם
 אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת

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

Click to listen... 

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

Hebrew
 

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




Return to Sanity...


 

09.23.14  (Elul 28, 5774)  Repentance is a return to sanity which begins with the resolution to question your presuppositions and to change your thinking... There are three requisites for genuine repentance, that is, for turning to God in the truth, namely: 1) seeing eyes; 2) hearing ears; and 3) an understanding heart, ready to be healed (Isa. 6:10). God alone does the miracle but it is nevertheless our responsibility to believe that the miracle is for us. Repentance is the first step of salvation, as Messiah said: "Repent and believe in the good news" (Mark 1:15), and apart from repentance man has no real existence. As Yeshua said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Repentance is the expression of trust in God's love, and by means of it we affirm: "I am ready to exist as a person of worth." Come alive, friends!
 




Teshuvah's Confession...


 

09.23.14  (Elul 28, 5774)  When King David repented from his sin and asked God's forgiveness, he appealed to the LORD: "Turn me to the joy of your salvation (יְשׁוּעָה) and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you" (Psalm 51:12-13). The sages comment that this is indeed the way of the LORD (דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה), namely, to confess your sin, and in brokenness and heartfelt contrition, to return to the LORD full of hope in his steadfast love. In this way, sinners will understand the truth of Torah and return to the LORD God as well.... Hashiveinu, Adonai.

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




The Shofar and Teshuvah


 

09.23.14  (Elul 28, 5774)  The shofar (ram's horn) is often used as an instrument of spiritual warfare, though it is primarily used to rouse the soul to face reality... Maimonides writes: "There is a hidden message we are supposed to infer by listening to the shofar. It suggests to say: 'Sleeping ones! Awaken from your sleep! Slumbering ones! Awaken from your slumber! Examine your deeds. Remember your Creator and do teshuvah." This idea was earlier stated in the New Testament writings: "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Messiah will shine on you" (Eph. 5:13-14). This theme of "awakening from sleep" is used elsewhere in the Scriptures (e.g., John 11:11, Rom. 13:11, 1 Thess. 5:6, Dan. 12:1-2, Psalm 78:65, etc.). The sound of the shofar calls us to return to the LORD and seek His face. And since finding God is our greatest joy, King David rightly wrote: "Happy is the people who know the teruah [i.e. the shofar blast]" (Psalm 89:16).

Indeed, the word shofar (שׁוֹפָר) comes from a root (שָׁפַר) that means to "beautify," alluding to the beautification of our ways as we turn to God in teshuvah. "In this month (i.e., the seventh month of Tishrei) you shall amend (shapperu) your deeds. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: 'If you will amend (shippartem) your deeds I shall become unto you like a horn (shofar). As the horn takes in the breath at one end and sends out at the other, so will I rise from the Throne of Judgment and sit upon the Throne of Mercy and will impart for you the Attribute of Justice (Elohim) into the Attribute of Mercy (YHVH).' (Vayikra Rabbah: 29:6)

Note:  For more on this subject see: "The Significance of the Shofar."
 




Cleaving to Hope...


 

09.23.14  (Elul 28, 5774)  "Love suffers long and is kind..." (1 Cor. 13:4). Have patience with all things, but most of all with yourself. We must "endure ourselves" along the way, often learning hard lessons about our own insufficiency. Have faith that despite all your imperfections, all your defects of character, and your overall weakness of heart, God is indeed at work in your darkness, molding and shaping you to bear witness of His glorious power to save the soul. The LORD holds your hand; his grace and love will help you persevere, giving you the will to press on in hope. Never give up, friends!
 

דָּבְקָה נַפְשִׁי אַחֲרֶיךָ
בִּי תָּמְכָה יְמִינֶךָ

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

 

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



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

The concept of "cleaving" or "holding fast" to God is called devakut (דְּבָקוּת) in Jewish tradition, a word that derives from the root davak (דבק), meaning to "cling" or "stick" (the Modern Hebrew word for glue comes from the same root). Davak is used to describe how a man cleaves to his wife so that they become basar echad – "one flesh" (see Gen. 2:24), and is related to the word for bodily joint (debek), the bond of our bones to our skin (Job 19:20). Some have described devakut as "God consciousness imbued with love." "To cleave to Him - that means the cleaving of the mind to Him, for there is no devakut except that of the mind and the meditation of the heart" (Sh'ar ha-ahavah). We are able to cling or cleave to God because He first clung to the cross in love for us (1 John 4:19). 
 




Turning as a Child...


 

[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday (i.e., Sept. 24th) at sundown... ]

09.22.14  (Elul 27, 5774)  There is no teshuvah (repentance) apart from humility (Matt. 5:5). The disciples of Yeshua came asking, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn (shuv) and become like children (להְיוֹת כַּיְלָדִים), you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:2-3). Said the Kotzer Rebbe, "It is proper to weep during the High Holy Days in order to show that despite all our seeming wisdom and learning, we are as helpless as little children who weep for what they desire." "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will" (Matt 11:25-26).

The late Henri Nouwen wrote, "I am beginning to see that much of praying is grieving." Contrition, grief, and regret for our sins is at the heart of genuine teshuvah. Crying is a expression of utter humility, helplessness, and need. In this life we weep over many things, but we inwardly cry for our Abba, our heavenly Father's love...
 




Parashat Ha'Azinu (האזינו)


 

[ Our Torah portion this week (Haazinu) is always read just before the High Holidays... ]

09.22.14  (Elul 27, 5774)  In last week's Torah portion (Vayeleich), Moses finished his farewell address to the people of Israel and commissioned Joshua to be his successor. The LORD then foretold that after Moses' death the Israelites would "whore after foreign gods" and break covenant with Him. In light of this, God instructed him to teach the people a prophetic song called the "Ha'azinu" that foretold Israel's history (past, present, and the future redemption) and warned the people not to stray from the path that the LORD had commanded. Structured in the style of an "oracle," the Ha'azinu contains Moses' final words of prophecy given to the Israelites before he ascended Mount Nebo to die....

We read the Ha'azinu every year just before the advent of the High Holidays. In the Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll), the song is written in a stylized two-column format with extra spaces. Each line of the shirah (song) is matched by a second, parallel unit (Talmud: Shabbat 103b).

haazinu
 

The Ha'azinu reminds us that who we listen to ultimately decides our fate. It begins, "Give ear, O heavens (הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם), and I will speak, and let the earth hear (וְתִשְׁמַע הָאָרֶץ) the words of my mouth" (Deut. 32:1). The word ha'azinu (הַאֲזִינוּ) comes from verb azan (אָזַנ), as does the Hebrew word for "ear" (i.e., ozen: אזֶן). The Midrash Rabbah says that the ear (אזֶן) gives life to all the organs of the body.  How so? By listening (שׁמע, shema) to the Torah. This idea is repeated in the New Testament: "Faith comes from listening to the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17). The Word of God (דְּבַר־אֱלהִים) is our very life, chaverim.

Note:  You can download the free Shabbat Table Talk for Ha'azinu here....
 




Shabbat Shuvah - שַׁבַּת שׁוּבָה


 

09.22.14  (Elul 27, 5774)  The Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and the solemn fast of Yom Kippur is the very first of the new year, called Shabbat Shuvah (שַׁבַּת שׁוּבָה) - that is, "the Sabbath of Return." It is called "shuvah" because the Haftarah (i.e., Hosea 14:1) begins, Shuvah Yisrael ad Adonai Elohekha (שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ): "Return, O Israel, unto the LORD your God!" As the first Shabbat of the new year, Shabbat Shuvah is intended to "set the tone" for the rest of the year:
 

שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ
 כִּי כָשַׁלְתָּ בַּעֲוֹנֶךָ

shu·vah · Yis·ra·el · ad · Adonai · E·lo·hey·kha,
ki · kha·shal·ta · ba·a·vo·ne·kha

 

"Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity."
(Hosea 14:1)



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Teshuvah's Deep Regret...


 

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

09.22.14  (Elul 27, 5774)  While it's true that we express sorrow and regret for our sins - we mourn over our lives - this is part of the healing process, with the end result of obtaining comfort from God (Matt. 5:4). Mere regret over sin is not enough, however, since the motive may be from shame (pride) or disappointment over some selfish loss. Esau repented with tears, but his wasn't true repentance since he didn't lament the loss of his heart to God's love... True repentance leads to healing and life. When the woman from Magdala wept and washed Jesus' feet with her tears, he said, "I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven -- for she loved much" (Luke 7:44-48). In other words, she was lavish in her love because she deeply regretted that she had missed what was most important, what she desperately needed all along... She saw her sin as blindness to God's love... After all, why would she weep over her sins unless she loved him? And how could she love him unless he first revealed his love to her? (1 John 4:19)

"For grief (λύπη) as intended by God produces a repentance (תְּשׁוּעָה) that leads to salvation, leaving no regret, but worldly grief produces death" (2 Cor. 7:10).
 




Teshuvah and Healing...


 

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

09.22.14  (Elul 27, 5774)  Repentance is an ongoing disposition of life in Messiah, since it rightly relates us to God. First we encounter our incurable sickness - the inner contradiction and bondage of soul that both loves and hates sin -  and then we seek God's saving power in Yeshua. As the Apostle Paul said: "Who can save me from the misery of myself? – God alone, through Jesus (Rom. 7:18-25). This is the first step, to know the "miserable creature that I am," that is, the slavery of your will to sin, and the second is to be willing to give this sickness of your soul to God's care in Jesus. As he said, "Those who are well have no need of a doctor, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the 'righteous,' but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:31-32). Yeshua regarded forgiveness of your sins as essential to finding inner healing, even more important than health, prosperity, or religious observance.

Repentance means returning to love, finding your heart's desire in God... As Yeshua said, "Repent, for you have lost your first love..." (Rev. 2:4-5). Turn around: Look at what is missing within! He appeals to you like a lover standing outside in the cold, calling out your name, and knocking for you to open the door to let him inside (Rev. 3:19-20). Open the door of your heart! Return to him now! "Lord, help me turn to receive your love..."
 




Why Rosh Hashanah?


 

[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday (i.e., Sept. 24th) at sundown... ]

09.21.14  (Elul 26, 5774)  We celebrate Rosh Hashanah because the LORD God is the great King over all -- our Creator and Redeemer. As the psalmist puts it, God is Melech Gadol al-kol-ha'aretz, (מֶלֶךְ גָּדוֹל עַל־כָּל־הָאָרֶץ), a "great King over all the earth" (Psalm 47:2). Indeed Rosh Hashanah is a "sanctified reminder" of God's creative authority in our lives. Yeshua (Jesus) is called the Mashiach (מָשִׁיחַ), a term that denotes His Kingly dignity and royalty (this idea is unfortunately obscured by the Greek word "Christ"). Yeshua is also borei Olam - the Creator and Sustainer of all creation (Col. 1:16). He is coming to rule and reign from Jerusalem (Zion) in the near future. Christians will be judged according to their deeds of service (2 Cor. 5:10) and the world system (and Satan) will be judged during the Great Tribulation period that precedes the Second Coming. Just as the heavenly shofar was sounded from Sinai, so it will be one day sounded from Zion (Isa. 27:13).

As the only true King and Judge, God indeed has a Sefer HaChayim (Book of Life) as well as a Sefer Ha-Metim (Book of Death). The Scriptures clearly warn that on the Day of Judgment to come, anyone's name not found written in the Book of Life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). The Kingship of our LORD should be of great interest to those who regard themselves as citizens of heaven, the dominion of our Savior and Lord (Phil. 3:20).

The New Testament links teshuvah with salvation (יְשׁוּעָה) itself.  Yeshua's first message was "Repent and believe the gospel (בְּשׂוֹרָה)" (Mark 1:15), and Paul linked teshuvah with confession and trust in the saving work of the Messiah on our behalf (Rom. 10:8-13). Teshuvah implies a response to the Person of Yeshua that is demonstrated through confession that He is none other than YHVH, the LORD of Compassion and grace. The sound of the shofar is meant to awaken our hearts and to prepare for coming judgment. 

Indeed, the Akedat Yitzchak ("Binding of Isaac") is a major theme of Rosh Hashanah. As he went to sacrifice his beloved son upon the altar at Moriah, Abraham prophetically said: "God will provide for himself the lamb" (אֱלהִים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה). After binding Isaac and raising the knife, however, the Angel of the LORD intervened and Abraham was given a ram as substitute.  According to Jewish tradition, God told Abraham that the ram's horn (shofar) should be blown on Rosh Hashanah to remind the people of the substitutionary sacrifice provided by the LORD Himself -- an echo of the very First Sacrifice offered in Eden. In light of this, how much more then should we remember the sacrifice of Yeshua the Great Lamb of God during this time? (For more information, see the article, "The Gospel in the Garden.")

Finally,
we anticipate the prophetic fulfillment of the LORD's covenant faithfulness to Israel when we understand that Rosh Hashanah and the Yamim Nora'im ("Days of Awe") foreshadow the future salvation of Israel in the days to come. This pictures the Great Tribulation and Yom Adonai - the great Day of the LORD - that arrives just before national Israel's ultimate shuvah (return). Yom Kippur is the Holiday that pictures the full restoration of Israel to all her covenant promises with Yeshua as the recognized Kohen Gadol (High Priest) of the New Covenant. The new covenant will be embraced and Yeshua will be revealed as Israel's Savior and Redeemer.  Then "all Israel shall be saved" (Rom. 11:26).

 

For more on this subject, see Should Christians Celebrate Rosh Hashanah?
 




Is Rosh Hashanah Biblical?


 

[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday (i.e., Sept. 24th) at sundown... ]

09.21.14  (Elul 26, 5774)  Though the term "Rosh Hashanah" does not occur in the Torah, the start of the 7th month (i.e., Tishri 1) is set apart by special shofar blowing (see Lev. 23:24-25, Num. 29:1-2). Furthermore, the Torah calls the end of the harvest year (in the fall) the "end of the year" (Exod. 23:6), which indicates the symmetry of the calendar: the fall festivals "mirror" the spring festivals and correspond to one another. Just as there is a "new year" in the spring, on the new moon of Nisan, so there is in the fall, on the new moon of Tishri, the seventh month... That is why we make a "teruah" shout of thanks to God in anticipation of the fulfillment of God's redemptive purposes during the End of Days.

But what about the idea of focusing on repentance during this time of year? Well, undergoing self-examination and teshuvah are clearly commanded by God throughout the Scriptures, including the New Testament writings (see Lam. 3:40; Haggai 1:5; Psalm 119:59; Matt. 7:3-5, Gal. 6:3-4, 1 Cor. 11:28, 2 Cor. 13:5, James 5:16, 1 John 1:8-9, etc.). Setting aside 40 days each year to call us to turn to God is a healing custom, especially if it's done in light of truth of the gospel message.  After all, Christians will stand before the Throne of Judgment (kisei ha-din) to give account for their lives to God (see 2 Cor. 5:10). As it is written: "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (1 Cor. 3:13). The foundation of every true work of God comes from trusting in the finished work of Yeshua the Messiah, and the work of our faith will be tested and judged.

For more on this subject, see Is Rosh Hashanah Biblical?
 




Your Holy Ground...


 

09.19.14  (Elul 24, 5774)  "You are a treasured possession ... a people holy to the LORD your God " (Deut. 26:18-19). Holiness, or kedushah (קְדוּשָׁה), represents transformation, being wholly set apart and turned toward the sacred, the Divine Presence. The LORD said to Moses from the midst of the shining flame: "Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy" (Exod. 3:5). The Chofetz Chaim comments: "By faith see that this place, right now, is holy ground, and awaits your response."
 

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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Spiritually speaking, the very first step is to find hope... The Divine Light is seen by means of the eye of faith (עַיִן שֶׁל אֱמוּנָה), as it is written, "Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; He is gracious, merciful, and righteous" (Psalm 112:4). Therefore we find life by trusting in God's Presence, even as we learn to see the invisible (2 Cor. 4:18; 5:7). "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Know Him in all your ways, and He will straighten your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil" (Prov. 3:5-7).

Shabbat Shalom, friends!
 




The Work of Faith...


 

09.19.14  (Elul 24, 5774)  You are invited to come before the Divine Presence - you are welcomed with joy - because of the glory of God's love given to you in Yeshua... And while you can never "earn" God's love, of course, you must take hold of it by faith, as Yeshua said: "This is the work of God - that you believe in the One whom God sent (John 6:29). This is the great work of the heart: learning to believe that Yeshua was given for your sake, because you are redeemable and have infinite value in the eyes of heaven.  Faith finds courage to accept God's love, despite whatever tempts you to feel unworthy or unacceptable. It pushes past the superficial view that you can please God by what you do, instead of enjoying God by knowing who He is: God is love; God is Light; He is Faithfulness, the Savior of your life... Faith works through his love (Gal. 5:6).

Shabbat Shalom and love to you all, to each one of you... I thank the LORD God for you and esteem you as part of my spiritual family. May you be strong in the LORD and the power of his might; may you be happy and blessed and know God's great peace; may you be filled to overflowing with God's healing love and grace and kindness and beauty and wonder... This (again) is my prayer for the coming Jewish new year. That we will all wake up to behold the love of God in the face of Yeshua our LORD... May he come speedily, and in our days. The King is coming! Shanah Tovah! The great shofar will soon sound!
 




Torah of "First Importance"...



[ "Moses wrote of me" - Yeshua (John 5:46)... ]

09.19.14  (Elul 24, 5774)  "And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom (εἰωθὸς), he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.' And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him" (Luke 4:16-20).

It is noteworthy that the first thing Yeshua taught his disciples after he was raised from the dead was that He is the center and focus of all the Hebrew Scriptures: "And beginning with Moses (i.e., the Torah) and all the Prophets (i.e., Neviim), he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27). As he said: "Everything written about me in the Torah of Moses and the Prophets (Neviim) and the Psalms (Tehillim) must be fulfilled" (Luke 24:44). And "when he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight" (Luke 24:30-31).

"God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). This is of "first importance": Yeshua was born to die for our sins, to make us right with God, and was raised from the dead to vindicate the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 15:3-5). "For our sake God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21).
 




Teshuvah and Creation...



[ Tonight at sundown marks Elul 25, the "date of creation..." ]

09.19.14  (Elul 24, 5774)  After the LORD judged Adam and Eve, He compassionately gave them the skin of a sacrificial lamb as their covering (Gen. 3:21). This First Sacrifice, offered by the Hand of God Himself, foreshadowed the coming Sacrifice of the Lamb of God who was slain "from the foundation of the world" (1 Pet. 1:20). On the very first day of mankind's creation, then, the LORD initiated His plan of redemption and salvation through Yeshua (Jesus) as the Divine Light of the world (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם).

The Akedat Yitzchak ("Binding of Isaac") is a major theme on Rosh Hashanah. According to Jewish tradition, God told Abraham that the ram's horn (shofar) should be blown on Rosh Hashanah to remind the people of the substitutionary sacrifice provided by the LORD Himself -- an echo of the First Sacrifice offered in Eden. How much more should we as believers in the greater sacrifice of Yeshua as our Lamb of God celebrate this day?

For more on this, see "Teshuvah and Creation: Elul 25 on the Jewish Calendar."
 




Teshuvah and Love...


 

09.19.14  (Elul 24, 5774)  Repentance means changing how you understand yourself, and therefore it is intimately connected with how you understand God.  As A.W. Tozer once said, "What I believe about God is the most important thing about me." Understanding the goodness and glory of God leads to self-respect, a sense of dignity, and so on. This works the other way around, too. If you regard yourself as small, insignificant, and unworthy, you will tend to consider God that way, too. "According to your faith be it done unto you." As you see God, so you will see yourself; as you see yourself, so you will see God. "With the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Mark 4:24).

Personal repentance implies encountering the revelation of God at "first hand." God does not love you at a distance, nor does he call you to embrace him at "second hand." Repentance, or teshuvah, is the "like for like" measure of God's love; it is your answer to God's question and call....

The message of the gospel requires that you regard yourself as worth dying for, that you are God's friend... "There is no greater love than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). God demands that you regard yourself as worth the sacrifice of his beloved son Yeshua in your place; he demands that you understand how dear you are to his heart. God sees something of such great value in you that he was willing to suffer and die to redeem it from loss... Just as the kingdom of God is a "pearl of great price," so you are a pearl of great price to God. What grieves and angers God is the refusal to believe that you are someone of infinite importance to him... Only God can rightfully make such a demand because He knows that loving other things more than Him leads to "disordered love," darkness, and eventual madness. We were made for God's love, but substituting finite things for this infinite need will never suffice to bring lasting healing to our souls...

Those who are "in the flesh" cannot please God (Rom. 8:8). We must turn away from regarding ourselves as mere "flesh" and understand that we are essentially spiritual beings created and redeemed by God (2 Cor. 5:16). We must give up the distinctions in the "world of basar" - the carnal world that is known through sensuous apprehension - and accept ourselves as "new creations" in the Messiah. It is "not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring" (Rom. 9:6-8).

The mere conviction of sin is not the same thing as repentance. We have to step beyond a troubled conscience and have our sin crucified by God's love and grace.  Grace is therefore essential to genuine repentance, since moral reformation is never enough. "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." We must be humbled so that we can receive. God gives us bitter experience of our inadequacy to call us to return to him. Only God can kill the power of sin within our hearts. Conviction of sin is not the end, but rather newness of life.
 

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

    If I hate sin because of the punishment, I have not repented of sin – I merely regret that God is just. But if I can see sin as an offense against Jesus Christ and loathe myself because I have wounded Him, then I have a true brokenness of heart... Only under the Cross can you repent. Repentance elsewhere is remorse which clings to the sin and only dreads the punishment. Let us then seek, under God, to have a hatred of sin caused by a sight of Christ's love. -  C.H. Spurgeon
     


There is a place for godly sorrow, of course, and for genuine remorse over our sins. As we understand God's desire and love for us, we begin to realize that the essence of sin is the refusal of God's heart for us. The underlying issue with sin concerns the question of God's love. Simply abstaining from certain actions does not address the deepest need of the heart. It is not turning away from sin that matters as much as turning toward God. The death of sin is meant to lead us to the life of love.

God is both infinitely loving and infinitely just, and both of these "attributes" are inseparably a part of who he is. God is One. Nonetheless, the cross of Yeshua proves that "love is stronger than death, passion fiercer than the grave; its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame, the very flame of the Lord" (Song. 8:6). It is at the cross that "love and truth have met, righteousness and peace have kissed" (Psalm 85:10). This implies that we must drop our defenses – even those supposed objections and pretenses voiced by our shame – and "accept that we are accepted." It is God's great love for you that leads you to repent and to turn to him. Allow yourself to be embraced by his "everlasting arms."
 

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

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

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

 

Genuine repentance will entirely change you. It is an act of profound respect over what God has done on your behalf. You say, but I am a miserable wretch! Indeed that is so, but the consciousness of your wretched state is the heart's cry for love... God goes "outside the camp" to meet with you. He enters the leper colony to join you there, in your wretchedness, and even takes upon your fatal disease. He sees you in your desperate estate and joins you there. God enters into the dust of your death and says, "Live!"

But what about hell? If God so loves the world, how is it possible for someone to be sent to hell? In answer we must remember that God doesn't send people to hell, they choose to go there on their own... One of the greatest of sins is to forget who you really are, since that leads back to the hellish waste places of Egypt... God's redemption leads us to deliverance, freedom, and peace, but "a twisted heart does not discover good" (Prov. 17:20). Indeed, the idea of hell and God's wrath turns on the rejection of love. Hell is the state of soul that denies and refuses the truth of God's love. It is a terrible state of being both unwilling or unable to love and be loved.

Repentance means changing your thinking, turning around to face the truth, and returning to embrace God's love. It does not identify the whole person with sin, but rather regards all people as redeemable, worthy, and valuable to God. Conviction of sin is not the end, but rather the means to newness of life. God saved us so that we could be in a love relationship with Him. We must "choose life," and that means choosing to welcome God's love into your heart. The only sin that can keep you from God's everlasting love is the denial that his love is personally for you. You must forsake seeing yourself "in the flesh" and take hold of God's spirit, his passion, and his grace for your soul. You are worthy to be loved because God is worthy to make you so.

Repent and believe the good news: God is love, and that love is for you.
 




Testing and Teshuvah...


 

09.18.14  (Elul 23, 5774)  The sages say, shuv yom echad lifnei mitatakh: "Repent one day before you die." But who knows the day of one's death in advance?  Perhaps your name will be called today, ending your lease on life in this world.  Are you ready?  Are you prepared to appear before God your Creator and Redeemer? The apostle Paul urges us to undergo self-examination: "Put yourselves to the test (ἑαυτοὺς πειράζετε) to see if you are in the faith; prove yourselves (ἑαυτοὺς δοκιμάζετε) to see whether Yeshua the Messiah lives within you - lest you fail the test and be disapproved (ἀδόκιμος)" (1 Cor. 13:5).

Whether Yeshua is living in you (and you are living in Him) is the most important question of your life upon which everything else turns. The great mystery is "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). As Ravenhill once said, "I don't ask people if they're saved anymore; I look them straight in the eye and say, "Does Christ live inside you?" Are you connected with Him in the truth? Are you drawing life from His life? Do you really live in Yeshua?

Paul said we were to both "test ourselves" with regard to the intellectual content of our faith and also to "prove ourselves" with regard to the veracity of our spiritual life. Notice that the verb "to prove" (dokimadzo: δοκιμάζω) means to test something by fire (like a precious metal) to discover its quality and purity. The analogy here is straightforward. The quality of our faith will be revealed during times of testing and hard circumstance. Do we walk in love, joy, and peace - despite the testing of this life? If our faith regularly fails in the crucible of testing, we may need to reexamine its authenticity (Prov. 24:10).

Note: For more on this challenging topic see, "Proving of the Heart."
 




Spelling out "Teshuvah"


 

09.18.14  (Elul 23, 5774)  Rabbi Sussya once said: "There are five verses in the bible that constitute the essence of the Torah. These verses begin in Hebrew with one of these letters: Tav (תּ), Shin (שׁ), Vav (ו), Bet (בּ), and Hey (ה), which form the word for repentance, "teshuvah" (תְּשׁובָה). The five verses are 1) Tamim tiheyeh (תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה): "Be wholehearted before God" (Deut. 18:13); 2) Shiviti Adonai (שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה): "I have set the LORD always before me" (Psalm 16:8); 3) Va'ahavta lere'akha (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ): "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18); 4) Bekhol derakekha (בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ): "In all your ways know Him" (Prov. 3:6); and 5) Higid lekha (הִגִּיד לְךָ): "Walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). In other words, the way of teshuvah, of answering God's call for you to return to Him, is to sincerely set the LORD before you, to love others, and to walk out your days in heartfelt gratitude.
 

הִגִּיד לְךָ אָדָם מַה־טּוֹב
 וּמָה־יְהוָה דּוֹרֵשׁ מִמְּךָ
 כִּי אִם־עֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד
 וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת עִם־אֱלהֶיךָ

hig·gid · le·kha · a·dam · mah · tov
u'mah · Adonai · do·resh · mi·me·kha
ki · im · a·sot · mish·pat · ve·a·ha·vat · che·sed
ve·hatz·ne·a · le·chet · im · e·lo·hey·kha
 

"He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you:
 Only to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk modestly with your God"
(Micah 6:8)



Hebrew Study Card
 

In other words, "teshuvah" (repentance) is an acronym that stands for being whole, seeing God, loving others, knowing God in all your journey, and walking in humility...
 




Words of Heart...


 

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

09.18.14  (Elul 23, 5774)  "If we ask anything according to God's will, he hears us," which is to say that in heaven there is only the language of truth, and truth is the language of heaven. Those who pray insincerely abuse the gift of speech, and such language is not understood in heaven... God speaks to us "in son," which is forever the language of faithfulness, hope, and love (1 Cor. 13:13). Kierkegaard wrote, "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty." Confession means "saying the same thing" about ourselves that God says - and that means not only acknowledging our sins, but also affirming that we are loved by God. "Love hopes all things" (1 Cor. 13:7), and therefore the language of truth is always spoken in hope. No truth about your sin is known apart from the love of God revealed in Yeshua our Messiah.
 




Miracles and Trust...


 

09.18.14  (Elul 23, 5774)  It's been said that the LORD our God delivered Israel with ten great wonders rather than just one to demonstrate his power over all the realms, and yet the ongoing miracles through the desert – the manna, the miraculous well, the clouds of glory – actually may have prevented the people from learning to fully trust in Him. "You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt ... the signs and those great wonders. But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear" (Deut. 29:2-4). But did not the Exodus generation know, see, and hear the power of God? Did they not witness the great Passover redemption, walk across the sea, and later behold God's glory at Sinai? Did they not drink water from the rock and eat bread that fell from the sky? Yes, they experienced God's power, but only as a child might... Moses explained that after they entered the promised land, these miracles would cease, and that meant they needed to remember who they were, and to trust in God's love, presence and power without proof. At first the people did not understand that God is the LORD over all the earth, and He provided signs, wonders, and miracles; but when they matured, they were to know, see and hear the LORD in all things (1 Cor. 13:11).
 




Personal Rosh Hashanah...


 

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

09.17.14  (Elul 22, 5774)  Spiritual danger is just as real as physical danger, though most people pretend it isn't because it isn't easily seen. The real dangers of life are not vulnerability to crime or some accident, however, but rather susceptibility to despair, the tendency to put off repentance, and the possibility of not dying well.... It is a great danger to walk through life asleep only to be jolted awake upon the day of death. "The greatest danger is that one does not discover, that one is not always discovering, that one is in danger" (Kierkegaard). Danger of what? Of wasting your life with trifles and vanities; of never learning how to truly love or to be loved; of becoming numb, unfeeling, and therefore unmoved by your need for God.  As C.S. Lewis once wrote, "The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."  Hashivenu Adonai elecha vena-shuvah: "Turn us to You, O LORD, and we shall be turned..." (Lam. 5:21).

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

לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע
 וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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




Season of Renewal...


 

09.16.14  (Elul 21, 5774)  Though it's a difficult and sometimes painful process, the primary goal of teshuvah is healing from the oppression of our sins and the restoration of our relationships. Someone once said that great sins are like great possessions -- both are difficult to give up.  We have to be willing to "give up our sins" in order to find inner healing (and "giving up our sins" also may mean breaking free of the "pride-shame" cycle). Often we can only get to this point when we are afflicted and weary of our soul's sickness.  Looked at this way, our afflictions are a really gift from the LORD to help us turn and surrender to Him.  As the psalmist wrote: טוֹב־לִי כִי־עֻנֵּיתִי לְמַעַן אֶלְמַד חֻקֶּיךָ / "It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes" (Psalm 119:71).

It's important to remember that one of the main goals of the enemy of your soul is to induce a sense of forgetfulness and apathy. The devil wants you to forget that you are ben melech (or bat melech) - a son (or daughter) of the King. The entire venture of teshuvah presupposes that you are created b'tzelem Elohim - in the image of God - and therefore you have infinite value and dignity. This is all the more evident in light of the awesome ransom that Yeshua our Lord paid in order to reconcile your soul with God.  What is the greatest sin you can commit in your life? To forget (or disregard) what God has done for you... Remaining asleep, unmindful of your true identity is one of the most tragic things of life.... Therefore Rosh Hashanah is sometimes called Yom Ha-Zikaron - the "Day of Remembrance" (Lev. 23:24). The blast of the shofar is meant to jolt us from our sleep... We are to remember who we really are -- and to remember that God is our King. The person who says, "Tomorrow I will do teshuvah" really is saying, "Not now." And then tomorrow comes and he says, "Not now." And in this way his entire life passes by, saying, "Not now."  Finally one day he wakes up only to find himself already dead....

According to some of the sages past events are not fixed in stone; rather they -- like our relationship to them -- can change.  We do not have to live with childhood trauma or bitterness from the past.  Teshuvah means "putting away childish things" and growing up (1 Cor. 13:11). Only our personal future is unknown and therefore seemingly "static."  The forgiveness given through Yeshua redeems all of our sins -- including those that might haunt us from our past.  Our present response to the LORD has the potential to transform everything in our lives -- both our past, present, and future... His love transforms every aspect of our lives, from cradle to grave. God is always present whenever we let Him in.

The sages point out that the gematria for the word Elul (אלוּל) equals binah (בּינה), suggesting that teshuvah is a matter of the heart's understanding of itself.  Of course this is not to suggest that we should do teshuvah only during the 40 days before Yom Kippur. On the contrary, teshuvah is a lifelong and ongoing process -- a daily struggle to retain our focus and faith. Repentance is often "slow motion," involving lots of smaller decisions we make throughout the days of the year...  This is the normal course of genuine transformation (or "sanctification"). The process of seeking the LORD is an ongoing process of discovery about God's love and forgiveness.  For this reason the confession of sin should be a regular part of our fellowship with one another (James 5:16).

The essence of Torah is to love your neighbor as yourself. Teshuvah means, among other things, understanding how far we are removed from this ideal and how we might move to remedy the breach. This is a daily task, an ongoing duty... But we cannot give away what we don't have, so if we're deficient in self-love, we will be unable to genuinely love others, too. Part of loving others is the obligation to forgive yourself for your sins. For some people, this might mean "accepting that they are accepted" by God... Real change is difficult -- some would even say impossible -- though with God all things are possible -- including the miracle of a heart of stone turning to flesh.

Note: For more on this topic see, "Teshuvah and Renewal."
 




Teshuvah of the Heart...


 

[ The following concerns the "Season of Repentance" leading up to the High Holidays... ]

09.16.14  (Elul 21, 5774)  The month of Elul (אֱלוּל) is sometimes called "the month of love and compassion" (based on the acronym formed from אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי / "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine," Song 6:3). This poignant verse alludes to the mystery that God is our Heavenly Groom and we are His betrothed. God is the great Lover of our souls, and the greatest mitzvah of all is to keep faith in His covenant promise of love (Rom. 8:24). Our Beloved is Coming! Yeshua will soon be here, chaverim. Don't miss the Bridegroom's call! Return to the passion of your first love (Rev. 2:4).



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


 

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

Why did Yeshua come? He was like the father in the parable who was actively looking for his lost son... He came to "seek and save the lost" (Luke 19:10). Yeshua likened Himself to a shepherd who left his flock to search for one lost sheep, and after finding it, laid the sheep on his shoulders rejoicing (Luke 15:3-7). He also likened Himself to a woman who lost a coin but diligently searched for it.  After she found it, she called together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the lost coin!' (Luke 15:8-10).

Note: For more on this see: "Teshuvah of the Heart: Returning to your first love."
 




Return of the Captives...


 

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

09.16.14  (Elul 21, 5774)  "The LORD your God will return as you return, and will have mercy upon you, turning to gather you back..." (Deut 30:3). This has both a present and prophetic application. First, in the present hour, if you turn to God, he will show you compassion, and he will "gather back" all those distant and fragmented parts of yourself into shalom and wholeness. He will restore your lost days; he will bring you out of exile and give you comfort in Yeshua. He makes all things new. "Draw near, therefore to God, and he will draw near to you" (James 4:8). Second, the LORD will return to earth as the Jewish people return from their captivity, and he will restore Zion during the time of the final redemption. The LORD will turn captivity into mercy; he will turn in his compassion to his people. As it is written: "I will be found by you, declares the LORD... and I will bring you back..." (Jer. 29:14).

 

The language of the Torah here is emphatic: "even if your exile is at the farthest edge of heaven (בִּקְצֵה הַשָּׁמָיִם), from there the LORD your God will gather you..." (Deut. 30:4). Note that this prophecy is written in the singular and therefore pertains to each individual exile. God will "gather you," that is, he bring you back to make you whole. Even if your exile (singular) is to the uttermost, the LORD will take you and deliver you, as it is written, "He is able to save to the uttermost (σῴζειν εἰς τὸ παντελὲς) those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25).

Note that it appears that the prophesied war between Israel and Syria may be drawing near, the outcome of which will be catastrophic for Damascus and injurious to the northern cities of Israel (Isa. 17:1-3). "Behold, Damascus will cease to be a city and will become a heap of ruins." This war from the north will cause a worldwide escalation of political tension that may invite the advent of the Messiah of Evil to arise as a worldwide "peacemaker."
 




Turn from the Beginning...


 

09.16.14  (Elul 21, 5774)  The sages say that teshuvah (return) was created before the world itself, as it says, "Before the mountains were born, or you brought the world into being, you were the Eternal God who says "Return (שׁוּבוּ), O sons of man" (Psalm 90:2-3). The Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world, and God clothed humanity in divine sacrifice from the very beginning (Gen. 3:15,21; Rev. 13:8). The river of life flows from the original orchard of Eden to the world to come (Gen. 2:10; Rev. 22:1). The LORD subjected creation to vanity for the sake of hope (Rom. 8:20), for the revelation of his greatness, as he descended into its depths to return and restore all things to himself. God decreed to enter space-time as the Son of Man, the "Second Adam," to become our Savior and healer. He came to reveal the face of God to us (2 Cor. 4:6). Yeshua "descended in order to ascend;" we are able to know God's compassion, love and healing through his mesirat nefesh – his total sacrifice of body and soul – for the sake of returning us to God.
 




We're Running Out of Time...


 

09.15.14  (Elul 20, 5774)  The prophetic spirit always asks: "How long will you go limping between two different opinions?" (1 Kings 18:21). This urgent question is meant for us to hear today, since the day and hour is assuredly drawing near....  We are being called to make up our minds and turn (shuv) to the LORD. After all, what is more important to you than your relationship with God? Is there anything more important than this?

Abraham Heschel once wrote, "God is of no importance unless he is of supreme importance." Stated differently, it is impossible to be indifferent toward God. You cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:24). Ultimately you will either hate or love him, but he will never let you be half-hearted toward him (Rev. 3:16). Yeshua always forced the issue. Consider how often people were offended by his message. The gospel is always offensive to those who make much of themselves. Accepting the cross of Yeshua means abandoning the whole religious game. As Bonhoeffer said, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die."

The Scriptures warn that a "double-minded man is unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8). The word translated "double-minded" is dipsuchos (δίψυχος), which literally means having "two souls." A double-minded man is full of inner conflict and indecision; he's like the proverbial "divided house" that cannot stand. The way to be healed of a divided heart is to earnestly make a decision: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (ἐγγίσατε τῷ θεῷ καὶ ἐγγιεῖ ὑμῖν), cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8). Note that the verb used in this verse (i.e., ἐγγίζω, "draw near") means to come close enough to touch. Understood in this light, we are invited to come so close to God that we are able to "touch" Him -- and to be touched by Him as well. Therefore today is the day for you to "seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near" (Isa. 55:6).
 

דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה בְּהִמָּצְאו
קְרָאֻהוּ בִּהְיוֹתוֹ קָרוֹב

dir·shu · Adonai · be·hi·matz·o
ke·ra·u·hu · bi·yo·to · ka·rov
 

"Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near."
(Isa. 55:6)



Hebrew Study Card
 

God responds to those who sincerely cry out to him (Psalm 145:18). He is "near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18). Indeed, salvation is as close as your own mouth and heart (Rom. 10:8-13). But how many are the days of your life? How many opportunities for you to make up your mind? "How long will you go limping between two opinions?" Therefore choose this day whom you will serve. Make the first step; open your heart, and the LORD will then help you make the wholehearted decision to "seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near." Amen.
 




Anniversary of Creation...


 

[ Note that Elul 25 begins this coming Shabbat - Friday, Sept. 19th at sundown... ]

09.15.14  (Elul 20, 5774)  Popular Judaism regards Rosh Hashanah as the date of the Creation of the universe by God (Talmud: Rosh Hashanah 27a), but the Midrash (rightly) notes that it occurred six days earlier, on the 25th of Elul, when God created the Divine light yesh me'ayin by saying, "Let there be light" (Gen. 1:3-5). This is called ma'asei bereshit (מַעֲשֵׂה-בְּרִאשִׁית), the very first work of creation, which is the revelation of His Word: "And God said..." Indeed, the first "red letters" of the Scriptures pertain the Divine Light of God:
 

וַיּאמֶר אֱלהִים יְהִי אוֹר וַיְהִי־אוֹר

vai·yo·mer · E·lo·him · ye·hi · ohr · vai·hi · ohr
 

And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.
(Gen. 1:3)


 


Note:  For more on this subject, see "Teshuvah and Creation."
 





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