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

Winter Holiday Calendar

The Winter Holidays:

Chagall Menorah - stained glass detail
 

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

  1. Month of Kislev (begins Sat., Nov. 22nd, 2014)
    • Four Sabbaths: Vayetzei, Vayishlach, Vayeshev, Miketz
    • Dates for Chanukah 2014:
      • 1st candle Tues., 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
  2. Month of Tevet (Sun., Dec. 21st, 2014)
  3. Month of Shevat (Tues., Jan. 20th, 2015)
  4. Month of Adar (Wed., Feb. 18th, 2015)



 

March 2015 Site Updates
 


Theology, Paradox, and Purim...


 

[ Today is the festival of Purim: am Yisrael Chai - עם ישראל חי - the people of Israel live! ]

03.05.15 (Adar 14, 5775)  The theme of the holiday of Purim (פּוּרִים) is the providential survival of the Jewish people despite various attempts by their enemies to destroy them. As such, Purim (like Passover) is a celebration of the deliverance and faithfulness of the LORD God of Israel. The terrible irony of the anti-Semite is that he hangs himself using his own rope.  The tragic character of Haman, then, represents the Biblical archetype of all those who refuse to acknowledge God's faithful love for the Jewish people....

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

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


 

HAPPY PURIM CHAVERIM!
 




The Purim Prophecies...


 

[ The following is related to the festival of Purim, which begins at sundown this evening... ]

03.04.15 (Adar 13, 5775)  Both Chanukah and Purim are holidays that celebrate God's victory over the forces of darkness... Just as the prophet Daniel foresaw the events of Chanukah, that is, the rise of "Epihpanes," the "Messiah of Evil" who will one day attempt to "assimilate" all of humanity into a "New World Order" (Dan. 9:27, 2 Thess. 2:3; Rev. 13:7-9, etc.), so Purim foretells how this wicked one will attempt to destroy the Jewish people during the End of Days (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים), though he will be destroyed by his own wicked devices. The Midrash Esther says that Purim, unlike many of the other holidays, will be celebrated even after the final redemption after the End of Days. This is because the story of Purim -- i.e., God's covenantal faithfulness and defense of His people -- will be magnified in the deliverance that leads to the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom upon the earth. Indeed, the Second Coming of the Messiah will be regarded as the final fulfillment of Purim! So while it is a often seen as time of unbridled celebration in Israel (ad lo yoda), the holiday of Purim has a very sober prophetic message that foretells the glorious end of this age.

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

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

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


 

HAPPY PURIM CHAVERIM!
 




The Armor of Light...


 

03.03.15 (Adar 12, 5775)  We are in the midst of a great spiritual war -- the war for the truth. This has been the battle from the beginning. The very first recorded words of Satan (הַנָּחָשׁ) questioned God's truth: "Did God really say...?" (Gen. 3:1). In the end there will be found two types of people: those who love the truth and those who love the lie; these are children of light (בְּנֵי הָאוֹר) and children of darkness (בְּנֵי הַחשֶׁךְ), respectively. Followers of Yeshua the Messiah are told to "walk as children of light" / ὡς τέκνα φωτὸς περιπατεῖτε (Eph. 5:8). Children of light are called to be am kadosh - a holy people - separate from the evil engendered by the fallen world and its forces, just as the very first creative expression of God was the separation of light from darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). The children of light "hate evil and love the good," and conversely, the children of darkness "hate the good and love evil" (Psalm 34:21, Prov. 8:13, Amos 5:15, John 3:20-21). Yes, we hate sin, because it separates people from healing; we hate sin because we love others. We are to walk in the peace and love of God; to do acts of justice and lovingkindness (Psalm 97:10). As Yeshua said, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other" (Matt. 6:24).

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

Fear is the primary tool of the devil and the underlying motive behind sin itself (Rom. 14:23). Beloved, "do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom 12:21).

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

"Where your treasure is, there will be your heart also" (Matt. 6:21). Your heart, your soul, your inmost being: What you value most defines and "locates" you. We cannot not "treasure;" we cannot desire not to desire; we are inherently valuing beings. It's not a question of whether you will worship, but what you indeed are worshiping. Where is your heart? What are you seeking? Our heart, our core, our meaning is revealed by what we value most... And May God give you the grace to find true treasure!
 




Trusting His Heart...


 

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

03.03.15 (Adar 12, 5775)  If you can't detect God's hand in your circumstances, then trust His heart... Gam zu l'tovah (גַּם זוּ לְטוֹבָה): "This too is for the good." Whenever I am confused about life (which is often), I try to remember what God said to Moses after the tragic sin of the Golden Calf: "I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my Name, 'The LORD' (יהוה). And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy" (Exod. 33:19). God's character does not change: the LORD is the same "yesterday, today, and forever." The meaning of the Name, however, cannot be known apart from understanding the heart's need:
 

יְהוָה יְהוָה אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן
 אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב־חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת

Adonai  Adonai  El  Ra·chum  ve·chan·nun
e·rekh  ap·pa·yim  ve·rav  che·sed  ve·e·met
 

"The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness."
(Exod. 34:6)

Download Study Card
 

Earlier God had revealed to Moses that the Name YHVH (יהוה) means: "He is Present" (i.e., the word is a play on the Hebrew verb hayah [הָיָה], "to be"), and therefore God is "always there" (Exod. 3:14). The great I AM (אֶהְיֶה) means God stands outside of the constraints of time, "one day is as a thousand years" and "a thousand years as one day" before Him (2 Pet. 3:8). Just as a thousand years is but "a watch in the night" (Psalm 90:4), so one day is as a thousand years. God's Spirit broods over all things and sustains the entire universe. God is "necessary being," the Source of Life, and foundation for all other existence. God's creative love and power sustain all things in creation...

Now while the idea that God is the Source of all life in the universe is surely important, it is not entirely comforting, especially in light of man's guilt and anxiety over death. After all, we do not stand before the "god of the philosophers," but rather the personal God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The meaning of the Name YHVH - that He is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and truth, and so on - therefore presents additional revelation in face of man's inherent brokenness and spiritual need. Some things in life are only known in the passion of faith... things like love, beauty, honor, and so on. The Name of the LORD as the Compassionate One is only known in humility, when all human pretense is stripped away and the inner life is laid bare in its desperate need. The Name YHVH is God's response to the heart's cry for deliverance, for compassion, for mercy....

What is God like - what is His heart - is the first question, and how we answer that will determine how we deal with all the other questions that come up in theology... What do you feel inside when you stare up at the ceiling before you go to bed? In light of the ambiguity and heartaches of life we might wonder if God is there for us. Does God care? Is He angry at me? Does He really love me? This is the raw place of faith, where we live in the midst of our questions. The Name YHVH (יהוה) means "He is present," even when we are unconscious of His Presence in the hour of our greatest need; and the Name YHVH (יהוה) also means "God is Love," the Breath of life and the essence of all our hope...

For more on this topic, see "Trusting God's Heart: Further thoughts on Ki Tisa."
 




Sound of the Bells...


 

03.02.15 (Adar 11, 5775)  From our Torah portion last week (Vayetzeh) we read: "And it (the robe with golden bells) shall be on Aaron when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard (v'nishma kolo) when he goes into the Holy Place (הַקּדֶשׁ) before the LORD, and when he comes out, so that he does not die" (Exod. 28:35). Note that the Hebrew phrase "so it shall be heard" (וְנִשְׁמַע קוֹלוֹ) can refer not only to the ringing of the bells but to the Voice of the LORD (קוֹל יְהוָה), as Adam and Eve experienced (Gen. 3:8). The priests served barefoot in the sanctuary, so a holy hush was regularly observed. It was God's voice that was to be heard through the bells, a soft call to hear and to return...

 

The sound of the bells teaches us that we need quietness, especially within the heart, to properly hear God speaking "kol demamah dakkah" (קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה) - in a "still small voice," "the sound of a low whisper" (1 Kings. 19:12).
 

כִּי כה־אָמַר אֲדנָי יְהוִה קְדוֹשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל
בְּשׁוּבָה וָנַחַת תִּוָּשֵׁעוּן
בְּהַשְׁקֵט וּבְבִטְחָה תִּהְיֶה גְּבוּרַתְכֶם

ki · khoh · a·mar · Adonai · Elohim · ke·dosh · Yisrael
be'shu·vah · va'na·chat · tiv·va·shei·un
be'hash·ket · u·ve·vit·chah · tihyeh · ge·vu·rat·khem
 

"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."
(Isa. 30:15)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

 




The Good Eye of Faith...




[ Note that the following entry is related to the festival of Purim, which begins at sundown Wednesday March 4th this year. For more information, see the Purim pages.]

03.02.15 (Adar 11, 5775)  The arch villain of the Book of Esther is an unsavory character named Haman, who was a descendant of the wicked tribe of Amalek that attacked the people of Israel just after the great exodus from Egypt (Exod. 17:8). Rashi states that God allowed the Amalekites to attack because the people doubted whether the Lord was with them or not (Exod. 17:7). The sages note that the name "Haman" (המן) has a numeric value of 95, the same as ha'melekh (המלך), "the king," and therefore they draw the inference that when we question whether God is present with us or not, evil rulers like Haman are given king-like powers in this world... On the other hand, when we trust in God we are clothed with divine power and protection from the rulers of this world...

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


HAPPY PURIM CHAVERIM!
 


Note: Purim is celebrated somewhat like Halloween and Mardi Gras combined, with masquerade parties, revelry, and sending baskets of goodies to friends (mishloach manot). Eating "hamentaschen" (the traditional holiday cookies made to resemble "Haman's ears") are also part of the fun. It is customary to attend services to hear Megillat Esther chanted and to watch the children of the synagogue put on an endearing "Purim Play" (with an all-star cast of characters, including the evil Haman, the good guy Mordecai, and the heroine Esther!) If you've never seen a children's Purim play, you're missing a great simchah!
 




Builder of the House...


 

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

03.02.15 (Adar 11, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week (Ki Tisa) states that God endowed a man named "Betzalel" with the Spirit of God (רוּחַ אֱלהִים), and with wisdom (חָכְמָה), understanding (תְּבוּנָה), and knowledge (דַּעַת) - the same attributes used to describe God as the Creator of the Universe (Exod. 35:31; Prov. 3:19-20). Indeed, the name Betzalel (בְּצַלְאֵל) means "in the shadow of God" (from בְּ [in] + tzel [צֵל], "shadow" + El [אֵל], "God") who "foreshadowed" Messiah in that 1) he was from the kingly tribe of Judah, 2) he was a young carpenter, 3) he was unusually "filled with the Spirit of God," 4) his father's name (Uri) means "my light" (James 1:17), 4) his assistant was called Oholiav (אָהֳלִיאָב), a name that means "my Father's tent," and 5) it was Betzalel (rather than Moses) who actually built the Mishkan, which was the pattern for the spiritual House of God (Heb. 3:3-6; 1 Pet. 2:5). Indeed, as the one who fashioned the "Ark of the covenant" where the blood would be presented for our atonement, Betzalel foresaw the message of the redemption of Messiah.

 

Note:  For more on this topic, see the "Betzalel and the Messiah" article.
 




Why Purim Matters...


 

[ The holiday of Purim begins Wednesday, March 4th at sundown this year... ]

03.02.15 (Adar 11, 5775)  Over the past centuries, virtually no other book of the Tanakh ("Old Testament") has received more mixed reviews than the Book of Esther, especially among mainstream theologians and denominational church leaders. After all, the basic point of the book centers on God's providential care for the Jewish people (ethnic Israel), and some Christian theologians find this conclusion problematic to their theological biases. Indeed, story of Esther leads inescapably to the celebration of Jewish identity and survival despite the evil plans and designs of anti-Semites, and therefore those who believe that the church replaces Israel will tend to regard the message of the book with suspicion (likewise some Christian denominations openly express indifference (and even hostility) to the miracle of the modern State of Israel today). For those who understand that followers of the Jewish Messiah partake in the covenantal blessings given to Israel, however, the Book of Esther is a beautiful story about God's faithful love and care for His people...

In this connection, let me remind you that the term "new covenant" (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) is mentioned in only one place in the entire Old Testament. Here is the relevant passage:
 

    Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD (יהוה), when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my Torah (תּוֹרָה) into their inmost being and inscribe it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they need to teach one another and say to one another, "Heed the LORD"; for all of them, from the least of them to the greatest, shall heed Me -- declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquities, And remember their sins no more. (Jer. 31:31-4)
     

Many Christian theologians stop here and ignore the surrounding context of this passage, namely, the remarkable promise that ethnic Israel would continue to exist as a unique people as long as the laws of nature are in operation:
 

    Thus saith the LORD (יהוה) who gives the sun for a light by day and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, Who stirs up the sea into roaring waves, Whose name is LORD of Hosts (יהוה צְבָאוֹת שְׁמוֹ): If these laws should ever be annulled by Me -- declares the LORD -- only then would the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) cease to be a nation (גּוֹי) before Me for all time (כָּל־הַיָּמִים). Thus said the LORD: If the heavens above could be measured, and the foundations of the earth below could be fathomed, only then would I reject all the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) for all that they have done -- declares the LORD. (Jer. 31:35-37)
     

From this passage -- the only in the entire Old Testament that explicitly mentions the New Covenant of Yeshua -- it's clear that the continuation and perpetuity of the physical descendants of Israel (zera' Yisrael) is to be reckoned as sure as the very "laws of nature" that are upholding the physical universe.  In other words, so long as there is a sun shining during the day and moon and stars during the night, Israel will continue to be a nation (goy) before the LORD for all time (kol-hayamim). Using another analogy, it is as likely for someone to accurately measure the extent of the heavens and earth than it is to suppose that the LORD will cast off all of the seed of Israel. Note especially the last qualifying clause of this verse, "for all they have done," indicating that the unconditional faithfulness of the LORD is not based on the conditional behavior of national Israel.

The implications of this are staggering. Have you seen the sun, or the moon or the stars today? If so, then you can be assured that the ethnic nation of Israel retains a place in God's great plan for the ages. The gift and the calling of God is irrevocable (Rom. 11:29).

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




Parashat Ki Tisa - כי תשא


 

03.01.15 (Adar 10, 5775)  In our last two Torah readings (Terumah / Tetzaveh), Moses was upon Mount Sinai receiving the vision of the Sanctuary (i.e., the Mishkan or "Tabernacle") and its various furnishings. In this week's portion, God commanded that all Israelite men over the age of twenty were required to pay a tax for the upkeep of the Sanctuary: "each shall give (וְנָתְנוּ) a ransom (i.e., kofer: כּפֶר) for his life to the LORD" (Exod. 30:12). After this tax was defined, the LORD described some additional elements that would be required for the priestly service at the Sanctuary, namely, a copper washstand, sacred anointing oil, and incense for the Golden Altar in the Holy Place. The Lord then named Betzalel, a man "filled with the Spirit of God" to be the chief architect of the Mishkan. Before the construction would begin, however, the Lord warned the people to be careful to observe the Sabbath day. Immediately following this admonition, God gave Moses the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, which were inscribed directly by the hand of God.
 
Before Moses returned to the camp, however, the certain people had talked his brother Aaron into making a golden idol which they began to worship as their "god." The LORD then told Moses of their treachery and threatened to destroy all the Israelites, but Moses interceded on their behalf. As he rushed down the mountain, with the tablets in hand, he saw the people dancing about the idol and smashed the Tablets in anger. Moses then destroyed the idol and led the Levites in slaying 3,000 of the ringleaders.

The following day, Moses returned up the mountain and begged God to reaffirm the covenant. After a 40 day period of intercession, the Lord finally told Moses to carve a second set of Tablets and to meet him again at the summit of Sinai, where He would show Moses his glory and reveal to him the meaning of His Name (יהוה). When Moses encountered the LORD in a state of brokenness and forgiveness, his face began to shine with glory - a glory that foretold of the New Covenant of God's mercy and grace to come in Yeshua.

When the people saw Moses coming down the mountain with the second set of Tablets, they understood they were forgiven and that the Covenant had been renewed.  When they approached him, however, they drew back in fear, because his face was radiant with the glory of God. Moses reassured them, however, and then told them all that the Lord had commanded while he was on the mountain. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil (מַסְוֶה) over his face. From that time on, Moses wore a veil in the camp, though he removed it whenever he went before the Lord for further instructions.

Please see the Summary Page for parashat Ki Tisa for more information. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for this portion here:
 

 



 

February 2015 Site Updates
 



Priests of His Light...


 

02.27.15 (Adar 8, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week (Tetzaveh) describes the ceremony of consecration to the priesthood. We are chosen to be a "kingdom of priests," a set-apart people, and a light to the nations (Exod. 19:6; Isa. 42:6; 1 Pet. 2:9). Note the very first responsibility given to the priests was to care for the ner tamid (נר התמיד), the light of the Menorah (Exod. 27:20-21), which represents our consciousness of the Divine Presence (Psalm 18:28; 36:9). The challenge we all face is to remain "in the light as God is in the light" and not to be seduced by the world of fleeting appearances (Isa. 2:5; 1 John 1:7, 2:17). God's eternal light radiates through all things (Isa. 6:3; Psalm 139:11-12), just as the great "yehi ohr" (יְהִי אוֹר) - "Let there be light" - is the first word spoken to creation (Gen. 1:3). To be a priest means being so filled with the truth that you radiate peace; your inner light shines and you glorify your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16). That is how we draw others to the truth, by receiving the beauty of the LORD (Psalm 27:4).

Of course being a "witness to the light," that is, being a "priest," does not mean you are a "perfect person" who walks about with a blissed-out attitude despite the various trials and tests we all face in this life. No, we all still sin, and we therefore need to confess the truth of our condition to abide in the light (1 John 1:9; James 5:16). Like everything else in Scripture, here we encounter paradox, as Yeshua taught: "Blessed are the impoverished in spirit (πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; blessed are the ones who mourn (οἱ πενθοῦντες), for they shall be comforted; blessed are the meek (οἱ πραεῖς), for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:3-5). Yea, "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God" (1 Cor. 1:27-29).

The Hebrew word for priest (i.e., kohen: כּהֵן) may come from the word ken (כֵּן) meaning "yes" and the word kivun (כִּווּן) meaning to "direct" or "lead," implying that a priest helps direct a person toward God.  The role of a priest is to draw us to God, then, but how is that possible if the mediator cannot genuinely understand our sorrows and struggles? What draws others to God is his love, but how can we come to believe in that love were it not for the priesthood of the leper, the priesthood of the outcast, the priesthood of the reject? Even so Yeshua was afflicted with our infirmities and therefore sympathizes with our brokenness and frailty (see Heb. 4:16).

As a priest of brokenness, you are called to be a wounded healer, and you can testify of God's saving grace and love for you despite your sorrow, anger, weaknesses, and failures... Accepting God's compassion for you - just as you are - allows you to show grace and kindness to others who are also hurting, and therefore you can serve as a priest of God.
 

אֱלהִים יְחָנֵּנוּ וִיבָרְכֵנוּ
יָאֵר פָּנָיו אִתָּנוּ סֶלָה

E·lo·him · ye·cho·nei·nu · vi·va·re·khei·nu
ya'eir · pa·nav · it·ta·nu · se·lah
 

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

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)


Be encouraged, friends... "For the commandment is a lamp and Torah is light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life" (Prov. 6:23). Here we may understand the "reproofs of discipline" as the (ongoing) process of consciously turning away from darkness (of fear, anger, etc.) to the behold the divine light. We have to start here, after all... The way of life is teshuvah (repentance, turning to God), which is a painful process to the lower nature, but is necessary to walk in the light. Confession brings light into our hearts (James 5:16; 1 John 1:5-9), and the end of our struggle is healing and life.  Shabbat Shalom!
 




The Words of Light...


 

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

02.26.15 (Adar 7, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week (Tetzaveh) begins with commandment to "keep the light burning" (Exod. 27:20). God's first words of creation were yehi ohr: "let there be light!" (Gen 1:3), just as the Menorah served as a picture of the radiant Tree of Life.  The heart looks through the eye, and how we choose to see is ultimately a spiritual decision: "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). In other words, when we see rightly, we will behold the radiance of God shining within us (Isa. 6:3). We are enabled to see by means of the revelation of the Word: "The entrance of your words give light (Psalm 119:130). But we must kindle the light within our hearts; we must open our eyes its brilliance, we must choose to see the Divine Presence with "eyes of the heart" that are being enlightened (Eph. 1:8). For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Yeshua the Messiah (2 Cor. 4:6). Torah ohr (תורה אור). May our "light so shine!"
 

פֵּתַח דְּבָרֶיךָ יָאִיר מֵבִין פְּתָיִים

pe·tach · de·va·re·kha · ya·ir · mei·vin · pe·ta·im
 

"The entrance of your words give light,
giving insight to the simple."
(Psalm 119:130)


 

Note that the verse is often translated, "The entrance of your words give light," though it may better be rendered as "the opening up (פֵּתַח) of your words releases light." In other words, as we realize the true intent of the words - their context, usage, application, exposition, etc. - we will experience the light of revelation.
 




Ten Sons of Haman...


 

02.26.15 (Adar 7, 5775)  Above see a photograph of a beautifully decorated Scroll of Esther (Megillat Esther) sewn together on three parchment membranes, recounting the story of Queen Esther in thirty illustrations. The Hebrew calligraphy is written in 15 columns of text separated by columns of various kinds of textual decorations. The scroll, dating from the 1700's, is presently on display at the U. Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art in Jerusalem.

Notice the enlarged text in the middle panel... This section lists the names of Haman's ten sons (see Esther 9:7-9). Scribal tradition prescribes that the names of each of these sons be written in a perpendicular column on the right-hand side of the page, with the Vav, i.e., "and," on the left-hand side. "This is probably derived from the tradition that the ten sons were hanged on a tall gallows, one above the other" (Soncino Commentary: The Five Megilloth, p. 179). Homiletically, each of Haman's sons is said to represent a negative character trait (middah ra') that we overcome with God's help. For example:
 

  • Parshandata (פַּרְשַׁנְדָּתָא) - represents what "distances" (מפריש) us from faith (דתא)
  • Dalphon (דַּלְפוֹן) represents a "door" (דלת) to bad intentions (פניות רעות)
  • Aspata (אַסְפָּתָא) represents the "gathering" of ungodly desires
  • and so on...
     

The victory over Haman and his "ten sons" represents our victory over the powers of darkness... "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Cor. 15:57).
 




The Substance of Hope...


 

02.26.15 (Adar 7, 5775)  Have you ever wondered why the exercise of your faith is so important to heaven? The Scriptures say that faith is the "substance" (ὑπόστασις) of hope, the conviction of unseen blessing, and "without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Heb. 11:6). Faith is its own reward, since believing the truth brings you into alignment with reality. Teshuvah is the response to God's love... Faith confesses that God is your Ultimate Concern, your Supreme Good, the goal and end of all that matters to your heart. Your faith is "more precious than gold," because its heart is your highest blessing, namely, the Divine Presence, the beatific reality, and heaven itself.... God tests our faith to draw our attention to Him (Psalm 119:71); to teach us endurance (Rom. 5:3-5; James 1:4); to upbuild our soul (Jude 1:20); to purify our affections (1 Pet. 1:7), and to glorify God's Name (kiddush HaShem). Life in this world is likened to a school wherein we learn how great God is and how much we are loved, valued, and esteemed precious in His eyes.

Believe that God is your healer, that he makes your crooked things straight, and that you are forever his beloved child... Faith sees the end in God's unfailing love, and it trusts that He will "turn dark places into light."
 

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

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

 

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




Hebrew Study Card
 




Moses and Messiah...


 

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

02.25.15 (Adar 6, 5775)  Though Moses is of course a central character in the Book of Exodus, and indeed of the entire Torah, it is noteworthy that he is not mentioned even once in our Torah portion this week – a conspicuous absence! The focus shifts away from the social laws of Israel to the realm of the priests: how they should dress, how they should serve God, and so on. Notice how the great vision of the altar extends beyond the legislative laws of the Torah... Therefore Yeshua said that Abraham rejoiced to see his day, and that Moses wrote of him (see John 8:56; John 5:46, Luke 24:27). Moses wrote of the Messiah directly, of course (e.g., Gen. 22:8, 49:10; Deut 18:15; etc.), though more often he wrote of him indirectly, in the "white spaces of the scroll," so to speak. For instance, God ordained that the sacrifice of the Passover lamb was to be commemorated every evening and morning, along with matzah and wine, as the central sacrifice of the Tabernacle (Num. 28:1-6), a ritual which foreshadowed the coming of the Great Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) who would provide our everlasting atonement (John 1:29).

Note:  If the law represents the "Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil" (note, not just knowledge of evil, but of both good and evil), then the remedy is found by partaking of the Tree of Life (עֵץ הַחַיִּים), which was also "in the midst" of the garden (בְּתוֹךְ הַגָּן) but was separate from it (Gen. 2:9). Likewise God gave the moral law at Sinai and at the same time gave the vision of the altar, the "life-for-life" exchange that overcame the demands of the moral law by sacrifical love... The Tree of Life is Messiah, who fulfills the demands of the law on our behalf and heals us from our separation from God (Rev. 22:2).
 




Hiddenness and Disclosure...


 

[ The holiday of Purim begins Wed. March 4th at sundown this year... ]

02.25.15 (Adar 6, 5775)  The sages extol the importance of the holiday of Purim because it reveals the hidden hand of God, despite his apparent absence in the affairs of this world... On the surface, each turn of the story could be explained naturally, or as simple "coincidence," yet in the end we realize that God was at work behind the scenes, carefully putting together the Jew's deliverance. The eye of faith trusts in God's providential plan, despite appearances to the contrary. Indeed, the phrase hester panim (הֶסְתֵר פָּנִים) means "hiding of the face" and is often used when discussing the Book of Esther. Understood as hidden providence, hester panim is somewhat like the sun on an overcast day: Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there. God's great love is at work at all times, in all affairs of the universe, whether we perceive it or not.  As Pascal once said, "there is enough light for those who want to believe, and enough shadows to blind those who don't."

The holiday of Purim occurs this coming Thursday, March 5th. As with all Jewish holidays, however, the day begins the night before, and therefore Purim officially begins on Wednesday night. In anticipation of the coming holiday, then, let me wish you and your family Purim Sameach (פורים שמח) -- with the prayer that you will stand true to your faith, despite this wicked world and its syncretizing influences. Hooray for Mordecai! -- may the LORD raise up many like him! Amen.
 




Names upon his heart...


 

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

02.24.15 (Adar 5, 5775)  Both the two onxy stones attached to the shoulder pieces of the High Priest's vest (i.e., ephod: אֵפד) and the 12 precious stones arrayed on his breastplate (i.e., choshen: חשֶׁן) were inscribed with the names of the tribes of Israel. "And Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders for remembrance" (Exod. 28:12). "So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment (i.e., choshen ha'mishpat: חשֶׁן הַמִּשְׁפָּט) upon his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the LORD (Exod. 28:29). The sages comment that just as a father carries his young child on his shoulders, or a shepherd his lamb, so the High Priest carried his people before the LORD in intercession. Similarly, at the cross Yeshua carried our names on his shoulders, bearing the burden of our sins as he cried out before the Father. As our great High Priest of the New Covenant, Yeshua "bore the judgment of the people upon his heart" as he made intercession for them (Isa. 53:12; Rom. 8:34).

"Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands" (Isa. 49:16); "set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm" (Song 8:6).
 




The Fight for Sanity...


 

02.24.15 (Adar 5, 5775)  We are surely living in stressful times, friends... The Scriptures say the time just before the prophesied "end of days" would be "perilous" (χαλεπός) and full of human depravity (2 Tim. 3:1-5). In light of the raging spiritual war all around us, the following needs to be restated: "The important thing is to not lose your mind..."

The mind is the "gateway" to your heart, and it is therefore essential to guard your thinking by immersing yourself in the truth... Fear is often the result of believing the lie that God is not in control or is unable/unwilling to help you... "Not losing your mind" means being grounded in what is real, and it therefore means understanding your identity and provision as a child of God. "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (גְּבוּרָה / δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός), literally a "delivered" mind, "healed" from fragmentation (2 Tim. 1:7). The Greek word "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός) comes from the word saos (σάος), meaning "safe" in the sense of being under restraining influence and care of the Spirit of God... The closest Hebrew word might be musar (מוּסָר), moral "discipline." Test your thinking: God does not lead us into fearful craziness or self-destruction, but instead leads us to trust and to genuine inner peace.

Part of the task of "guarding your mind" is being able to discern between good and evil. "The fear of the LORD is to hate evil (יִרְאַת יְהוָה שְׂנאת רָע); I hate arrogant pride and the evil way and perverse utterances" (Prov. 8:13). As Amos cried out, "Hate what is wrong, love what is right" (שִׂנְאוּ־רָע וְאֶהֱבוּ טוֹב). We are called to love the truth and abhor the lie. Tolerating sin in a world ripe for judgment is a tacit form of "collaboration" with the enemy... Indeed, the only thing regarded as intolerable in the devil's world is the objection that people have a supposed "liberty" to sin. But the LORD is clear on this point: "Those who call evil good and good evil are as good as dead, who turn darkness into light and light into darkness, who turn bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter. Those who think they are wise in their own sight are as good as dead, those who think they possess understanding" (Isa. 5:20-21). If you feel crazy in an insane world, then you are likely quite sane, and the world will indeed feel strange once you have been awakened from its madness and refuse to be moved by the delusions of the crowd...

Yeshua said to Pontius Pilate, "For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world - to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:38). Our Torah portion this week includes the statement, Lo ta'amod al dam re'ekha: "You must not stand idly by when your neighbor's life is at stake" (Lev. 19:16). The principle of lo ta'amod (לא תַעֲמד) means that we have a moral duty to speak the truth when others are victimized. "Standing idly by" can therefore mean refusing to come forward with the truth about a situation from fear of the consequences, but it can also mean excusing the sin of our culture and of our friends. "A truthful witness (עֵד אֱמֶת) rescues lives, but the one who breathes lies (יָפִחַ כְּזָבִים) brings deception" (Prov. 14:25). ‎As it is written, "You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness (עֵד חָמָס)" (Exod. 23:1). It is the truth that sets people free to serve God, but this presupposes the ability to discern how we all become enslaved to deception. "You are to distinguish between the holy (i.e., ha-kadosh: הַקּדֶשׁ) and the common (i.e., ha-chol: הַחל), and between the unclean (i.e., ha-tamei: הַטָּמֵא) and the clean (i.e., ha-tahor: הַטָּהוֹר)" (Lev. 10:10, see also Ezek. 44:23). Just as God separated the light from the darkness (Gen. 1:4), so we are called to discern between (בֵּין) the realms of the holy and the profane, the sacred and the common, and the clean and the unclean. Indeed, the Torah states "God called the light Day, and the darkness he called night," thereby associating His Name with the light but not with the darkness (Gen. 1:5). "For you all are sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness" (1 Thess. 5:5). We are instructed therefore to wear the "armor of light" (Rom. 13:12) and to be equipped to wage spiritual warfare in God's Name (Eph. 6:11-18). The victory is ours in Yeshua, friends (1 Cor. 15:57).
 




Purim and Yom Kippur...


 

[ The holiday of Purim begins Wed. March 4th at sundown this year... ]

02.23.15 (Adar 4, 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.
 

הִנֵּה לְשָׁלוֹם מַר־לִי מָר
 וְאַתָּה חָשַׁקְתָּ נַפְשִׁי מִשַּׁחַת בְּלִי
 כִּי הִשְׁלַכְתָּ אַחֲרֵי גֵוְךָ כָּל־חֲטָאָי

hin·nei · le·sha·lom · mar · li · mar
ve·at·tah · cha·shak·ta · naf·shi · mi·sha·chat · be·li
ki · hish·lakh·ta · a·cha·rei · gev·kha · kol · cha·ta·ai
 

"Behold, for shalom - bitterness to me; bitterness;
 but You have loved my soul from the pit of nothingness,
 for You have cast all my sins behind Your back."
(Isa. 38:17

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

 

In the verse quoted above, we read that God loves the soul "from the pit of nothingness," which pictures a loving father running to rescue his child from being swallowed alive by the earth (the Hebrew verb chashak (חָשַׁק) suggests pulling someone up out of a hopeless pit). That God casts all our sins behind His back figuratively denotes oblivion – and sins of the forgiven soul can are not brought to remembrance ever again. This is similar to the image given by Micah: "He will turn again, and have mercy on us: he will put away our iniquities: and he will cast all our sins into the bottom of the sea" (Micah 7:19).

The "ultimate" meaning of Purim is to be forgiven and accepted by God on account of the winning performance, the impeccable works of righteousness, and the victory of love over judgment 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) on our behalf. 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, who kept the law perfectly and ransomed us from its righteous judgment.... Because of Yeshua we have grace and peace (shalom) with God.

We must be careful not to confuse cause and effect in the realm of the spiritual. After the original transgression of Adam and Eve, death became the root problem of the human condition, so to speak, with indwelling sin as its fruit (i.e., the "works of the flesh"). It is this inherited "spiritual death" that causes sin. To focus on outward behavior without first of all dealing with the underlying problem of death is therefore a spiritual misstep. It is to clean the outside of the cup or to wash the outside of a tomb in a vain attempt to disguise the truth about our unclean and dead condition. The good news is not that God wants to make bad people good, but rather wants to make dead people alive... The cure for spiritual death is to be reborn and to partake of the resurrected life of Yeshua.

Following Yeshua is not a sort of "moral reformation" or self-improvement program to make us acceptable to God. Yeshua did not die on the cross so that we would become entangled in the old ways of being... No! He is Lord and Master and we find (really) new life in His acts of deliverance done on our behalf and for our benefit. The temptation is always to go back to the law of sin and death (i.e., the principle of self-justification), but as Martin Luther once truly said: "The sin underneath all our sins is the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and that we must take matters into our own hands."

"LORD, I need Thee every hour..." There never will be a time when we "get past" the need for God's grace given in Yeshua, since the only antidote to power of indwelling sin is the greater power of God's redeeming love within our hearts (1 John 3:8). The gospel is - not was - "the power of God for salvation (δύναμις θεοῦ ἐστιν εἰς σωτηρίαν) for everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16); it is an ongoing source of power for our lives... Our identity is made secure in the finished work of the Messiah - we trust in His strength, not our own; it is "Messiah in you" that is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). Just as we are given a new life entirely by means of God's grace, so we are also sanctified as we walk in that newness of life... "As you received Yeshua the Messiah the LORD, so walk in Him" (Col. 2:6). The focus is always on Yeshua and His righteousness and obedience... Every step of the way is a miracle and a wonder when we walk "in Messiah."

We walk "in Him," that is, in His strength, in His power, in His love... we don't walk "to" Him or attempt to climb the "stairway to heaven." Yeshua is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the Bridge - sha'ar hashamayim (שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם) and the Divine Ladder upon whom the angels of God ascend and descend. We look to Him, not to ourselves for life. Because of the life of Yeshua within us, we are now able to bear fruit of the Holy Spirit as the Torah is written upon our hearts (Jer. 31:31). We are able to keep the Torah because the life of Yeshua empowers us to do so...
 




Tending the Flame...


 

02.23.15 (Adar 4, 5775)  From our Torah portion this week (Tetzaveh) we are instructed to "keep the lamp (of the menorah) always burning" (Exod. 20:27). The source of that light was the holy flame itself, of course, though the flame was to be sustained by the hand of faith... The sages say, "Add oil to the lamp before the light dies, for if it does, the oil will do no good." In other words, the divine Light forever shines, but it is our responsibility to tend the flame and its illumination in our "mishkan" (Lev. 24:4). Likewise the Torah commanded that the fire on the altar was to be kept burning at all times (Lev. 6:12-13), which symbolizes esh tamid (אֵשׁ תָּמִיד), or the inner fire of the heart... How blessed it is to be full of the fire of this need for God, this groaning of heart, this constant hunger to be set free. Even more wonderful is how the korban tamid (קָרְבָּן תָּמִיד) - the daily whole burnt sacrifice of the lamb - represents God's ongoing and wholehearted passion for you to come and receive his love.
 




Hidden in Plain Sight...


 

[ Note that the following entry is related to the festival of Purim, which begins Wed. March 4th at sundown this year. For more information, see the Purim pages. ]

02.23.15 (Adar 4, 5775)  Although the Name of God is not explicitly mentioned in the Book of Esther, the story is essentially about revelation, that is, the disclosure of God's Presence despite His apparent concealment. The phrase hester panim (הֶסְתֵר פָּנִים) means "hiding of face" and is often used when discussing the divine providence. God's plan is being fulfilled, step-by-step, even if it is hidden within the "natural" world of human beings and their choices (Jer. 10:23; Prov. 21:1). The LORD is Ha'mashgiach (i.e., הַמַּשְׁגִיחַ, the supervisor) of all things - from the motions of subatomic particles to the great events of the cosmos. He not only calls each star by its own name (Psalm 147:4), but knows each particular lily and sparrow (Matt. 6:28-30, 10:29). Indeed, each person is under the direct, personal supervision of God Himself (הַשְׁגָּחָה פְּרָטִית) -- whether he or she is conscious of this or not. As Yeshua said, even the hairs on your head are all numbered (Matt. 10:30).
 

גָּדוֹל יְהוָה וּמְהֻלָּל מְאד
וְלִגְדֻלָּתוֹ אֵין חֵקֶר

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

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

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

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

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




Tetzaveh and Purim...


 

02.23.15 (Adar 4, 5775)  Our Torah reading this week (Tetzaveh) begins with instructions for kindling the holy lampstand: "command the people of Israel to bring to you pure beaten olive oil for illumination (לַמָּאוֹר) to offer up (olah) a continual lamp (נֵר תָּמִיד)."  Note that the word translated "lampstand" is menorah (מְנוֹרָה), from the word for lamp, ner (נֵר). What's interesting about this verse is that the commandment to "offer up a continual lamp" occurs before the Tabernacle - and the menorah - was even made. God's Light must shine first -- even before we can direct our worship to Him.... The Light of His Presence precedes even the "tent of meeting" itself.

There is a Purim connection here.  Perhaps you are familiar with the "Urim and Thummim," the "lights and perfections" that the High Priest sometimes used to discern messages from the LORD?  Some scholars believe these were like lots (purim) that were used to get "yes/no" responses from the LORD (e.g., 1 Sam. 14:41, 28:6, Ezr. 2:63; Neh. 7:65). When Haman the Agagite kept "rolling the dice" until he found the "propitious" time to seek the destruction of the Jews (Esther 3:7), God was indeed watching. After Haman "divined" the twelfth month (Adar), he appealed to the King to put his hateful plan into action... He slandered the Jews and sought to incite the King's anger against them as traitors who pledged allegiance to a different King...  All this was foreseen by the LORD and under His sovereign control. Little did Haman know that the dice he cast was for the appointed day of his own death. And so it goes for all those who "cast the lot" without understanding the overarching sovereignty of God...

Note:  For more on this subject see the article: "Parashat Tetzaveh and Purim."
 




Purim and Amalek...
 

 

[ The holiday of Purim begins Wed. March 4th at sundown this year... ]

02.22.15 (Adar 3, 5775)  The Sabbath that precedes the holiday of Purim is called Shabbat Zakhor - the "Sabbath of Remembrance." The maftir (additional reading) instructs us to "remember" (זָכוֹר) how the nation of Amalek functioned as Satan's emissary by attacking the Jews at Rephidim, immediately following the Exodus from Egypt (see Exod. 17:8-16). After Israel routed the attack, God told Moses, "Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" (Exod. 17:14). Moses later explained that Amalek did not fight using conventional methods of war but rather attacked and killed the weakest members of Israel, "those who were lagging behind" in the camp (Deut. 25:17-19). This cowardly approach represented the first attack of God's newly redeemed people, a Satanic assault that God vowed never to forget.... Amalek therefore embodies satanic forces arrayed against the people of God.

Note that the name "Amalek" (עֲמָלֵק) begins with the letter Ayin (symbolizing the eye) and equals 240 in gematria -- the same value for safek (סָפֵק), the Hebrew word for doubt. Amalek therefore suggests "the eye of doubt," or even "the severed eye" (the Hebrew verb מָלָק means "to chop" or "sever" in reference to the "eye" of Ayin). Amalek therefore represents spiritual blindness as it acts in the world...

The additional Haftarah portion (1 Sam. 15:2-34) speaks of how King Saul later failed to "devote to destruction" the evil tribe of Amalek -- a mistake which cost him the kingship of Israel.  Samuel's rebuke of Saul's compromise is always timely: "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.... Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king."

These two readings were selected before Purim because Haman was an "Agagite" (Esther 3:1), i.e., a direct descendant of Agag, the king of Amalek (whom Saul nearly spared, see 1 Sam. 15:32-33), and we should therefore link the 'wiping-out' of Haman with the 'wiping-out' of Amalek. The spiritual war between the light and the darkness admits of no compromise.  For more information about this Sabbath, click here.
 




Ordination of Israel's Priests...


 

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

02.22.15 (Adar 3, 5775)  Last week's Torah portion (Terumah) explained that God had asked for a "donation" (i.e., terumah) from the people for the sake of creating a portable, tent-like sanctuary called the Tabernacle. God then showed Moses the pattern according to which the Tabernacle and its furnishings were to be made. First the Ark of the Covenant (and its cover called the kapporet) would occupy an inner chamber called the Holy of Holies. Within an adjoining chamber (called the Holy place) a Table would hold twelve loaves of matzah and a seven-branched Menorah (מְנוֹרָה) would illuminate the tent. God gave precise dimensions of the tent with the added instruction to separate the Holy of Holies by a veil called the parochet. The entire tent was to have a wooden frame covered by colored fabric and the hide of rams and goats. Outside the tent an outer court was defined that would include a copper sacrificial altar and water basin. The outer court was to be enclosed by a fence made with fine linen on silver poles with hooks of silver and sockets of brass.

This week's Torah portion (Tetzaveh) continues the description of the Tabernacle, though the focus shifts to those who will serve within it, namely the kohanim (i.e., priests of Israel). First Moses was instructed to tell the Israelites to bring pure olive oil for the lamps of the Menorah, which the High Priest was to light every evening in the Holy Place. Next God commanded Moses to ordain Aaron and his sons as priests and described the priestly garments they would wear while serving in the Tabernacle.
 

כִּי־טוֹב יְהוָה לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ
וְעַד־דּר וָדר אֱמוּנָתוֹ

ki · tov · Adonai · le·o·lam · chas·do
ve·ad · dor · va·dor · e·mu·na·to
 

"For the LORD is good; His steadfast love is eternal;
His faithfulness is for all generations."
(Psalm 100:5)



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All priests were required to wear four garments – linen breeches, tunics, sashes, and turbans, but in addition to these the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) was to wear a blue robe that was decorated with pomegranates and golden bells. Over this robe, an ephod – an "apron" woven of gold, blue, purple, and crimson – was to be worn, upon which was attached a "breastplate" (choshen mishpat) inlaid with precious stones inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. The ephod also contained a pouch holding two unique gemstones called the urim v'tummin (אוּרִים וְתוּמִּים), usually translated as "lights and perfections." According to the Targum Jonathan, when a matter was brought to the High Priest for settlement, he would sometimes hold the urim (from אוֹר, "light") and tummin (from תָּם, "integrity" or "completeness") before the menorah and the Shekhinah would irradiate various letters inscribed on the gemstones to reveal the will of God. Finally, the High Priest would wear a golden plate (called a "tzitz") engraved with the words, "Holy to the LORD" (קדֶשׁ לַיהוָה) upon the front of his turban.


 

The priests were to be ordained in a seven-day consecration ceremony that involved washing, dressing, and anointing them with oil and blood, followed by the offering of sacrifices. The priests were further instructed to present burnt offerings twice a day upon the copper altar. The portion ends with a description of the Golden Altar (i.e., Altar of Incense) upon which incense was offered twice a day by the priests when the Menorah lamps were serviced. In addition, the blood of atonement was to be placed on its corners once a year, during the Yom Kippur ritual.
 

 




Shrine of the Heart...


 

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

02.20.15 (Adar 1, 5775)  The sages have said that salvation may be likened to rebirth that delivers us from the "narrow places of Egypt" (i.e., from mitzrayim: , "from," and צַר, "narrow") into newness of life... The first step of lasting deliverance (יְשׁוּעָה) is to receive the great revelation: "I AM the Lord your God," which begins our healing process (Exod. 20:2). We are set free from our bonds to surface appearances when we are made fully conscious of God's Presence, since we then understand everything in holy relationship with Ultimate Reality, the Ground and Source of all life (Acts 17:28). As it says in our Scriptures: "We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen: For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). Therefore God says in our Torah, "Make for me a sacred place (מִקְדָּשׁ) so I can dwell within you" (Exod. 25:8). Each of us is created to be a "mishkan," that is, a dwelling place for God. Making a sanctuary of the heart means choosing to stay connected with reality, attuning the heart to hear the Voice of the Spirit, and consciously walking before the Divine Presence.

The Hebrew word terumah (תּרוּמָה), the name of our Torah portion, means "gift" or "contribution," which first of all refers to the decision to give of our hearts to enshrine God's Presence. We "set the LORD always before us"; we abide in the Vine and remain connected to Him (Psalm 16:8; John 15:5). It two-way partnership: we seek a home for God within our heart, we invite his Presence, so to speak, to dwell within us, and then we listen for God's invitation to come, to abide within his house and live as his beloved child (Rev. 3:20).

King David wrote, עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה / olam chesed yibaneh: "The world is built with love" (Psalm 89:2), and so indeed is God's place within our hearts... We make God lovely and beautiful and wonderful and precious to us; we enshrine him and lift up our souls unto him in adoration and thanks. When we are willing to take part in the building of the sanctuary, God reveals to us "the pattern," that is, the inspiration that evidences His presence in our lives. As Yeshua said, "Let your light so shine" (Matt. 5:16).

Shabbat shalom and chodesh tov, dear one.  May God's presence fill your heart always!
 




The Torah of Love...


 

02.20.15 (Adar 1, 5775)  God does not love you based on your obedience, but his love for you will lead you to obedience... It is only after accepting that you are accepted despite yourself -- despite your inherent inability to please God, despite your incurably sick heart, despite your disobedience, sin, and so on -- it is only then that earnest, Spirit-enabled obedience may spontaneously arise within your heart. In that sense "obedience" is like falling in love with someone. It is your love that moves you to act and to express your heart, and were you prevented from doing so, you would undoubtedly grieve over your loss... Therefore the "law of the Spirit of Life in Messiah" is first of all empowered by God's grace and love. We walk by faith, hope, and love - these three.  And this explains why the very first step of teshuvah (repentance) is to love God: Shema! Va'ahavta et Adonai... The first work of faith is to believe in the miracle that God's love is "for-you-love..."

If you still find yourself operating from a sense of God's conditional acceptance, you will undoubtedly need to repeat the same sins over and over until your heart is finally convinced of its incurably wretched state. You must first be utterly sick of yourself to believe in the miracle of God's deliverance. Only after this does the good news of the gospel find its opportunity to speak...
 




Chodesh Tov, Chaverim...


 

02.19.15 (Shevat 30, 5775)  Today is Rosh Chodesh Adar, that is, the beginning of the month of Adar for the year 5773. On the Biblical calendar Adar (אֲדָר) is the last month of the year (counting from the month of Nisan), and is known as the month of Purim, a festive holiday that always occurs exactly 30 days before Passover. This year Purim begins under the full moon of the month of Adar (i.e., Wed., March. 4th), and therefore Passover begins one lunar month later, under the full moon of Nisan, on Friday, April 3rd (at sundown).

The following (simplified) blessing can be recited to celebrate the new month and to ask the LORD God Almighty to help you for this coming season:
 

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 · amen

 

"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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Hidden Treasures...


 

02.18.15 (Shevat 29, 5775)  The message of the gospel is that God sees the hidden beauty, worth, and value of your life. "The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it" (Matt. 13:45-46). You may be tempted to identify with the merchant and regard this parable as a challenge for you to give up everything to obtain the surpassing worth of the kingdom of heaven, but another way to understand it is to see God as the merchant, the central character of the story.... Instead of you paying the great price for the pearl, turn the story around: God pays the price - and you are regarded as His choice pearl! You are a treasured possession, the "apple of God's eye..." 
 




Heart of the Sanctuary...


 

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

02.18.15 (Shevat 29, 5775)  The earthy Tabernacle and its furnishings were designed to be "signs" and "shadows" of heavenly realities (Heb. 8:5). Moses was repeatedly commanded to make the Sanctuary according to the "pattern" revealed at Sinai (Exod. 25:9,40). At the inmost center of the earthly Tabernacle, the place symbolizing utmost holiness, was the Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן־הַקּדֶשׁ), a "three-in-one" box that held the tablets of the covenant. The Ark served as a symbol of kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), God's Throne of Glory, since it stood entirely apart as the only furnishing in the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). Upon the crown or 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; 1 Pet. 1:12). It was here - in the midst of sacred innocence, humility, purity, and hope - that the sacrificial blood was offered to make atonement for our sins, and it was here where God's Voice would be heard (Exod. 25:22; Num. 7:89). In the very heart of the Sanctuary, then, we see the Word of God and the sacrficial blood, foreshadowing the glory of the eternal redemption secured by Yeshua. As 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).

 

Note:  The Ark is described as a "three-in-one" box because it was a wooden one set inside a gold one, with another gold one set inside the wooden one -- three boxes made one. Metaphorically this symbolizes Yeshua's humanity (the wood, the Tree of Life) surrounded above and within by God the Father and the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit).
 




Life from the Dead...


 

02.18.15 (Shevat 29, 5775)  When Yeshua told his students to "raise the dead" (Matt. 10:8), he also meant to bring life to the dying souls of others - to give them comfort, hope, and life-giving, resurrecting vision... As the parable of the "Prodigal Son" teaches, the father's heart longs to receive those who have wasted their lives and failed miserably (Luke 15:11-32). The person who genuinely turns to God, even after a lifetime of failure and sin, may be able to experience a deeper sense of God's grace than someone who unthinkingly obeyed the rules for purposes of self protection. This is the reversal of parable: the younger son finds acceptance whereas the older son finds himself struggling... If you are a returning son, the memory of your wasted life can help you to remain honest about your teshuvah; if you are a "dutiful son," the grace of the father can help you learn to accept yourself.
 

    "You may call God love; you may call God goodness. But the best name for God is compassion" - Meister Eckhart 
     


Addendum:  Some people feel the need to "recover" the name of God as YHVH, YHWH, etc., using a "hermeneutic of suspicion" about religious traditions, Bible translations and versions, etc., but this concern may mask a deeper wound of the heart that results from a sense of being rejected by certain religious groups or communities... They therefore "politicize" the reading of the Bible to see what has been suppressed or withheld, rather than accepting the words of truth as a means to heal their hearts. How sad. God's name is centered on his heart to us as our heavenly Father, as Yeshua taught, and therefore we must begin there, realizing God's welcome of us and our return to his love...

Note:  Someone wrote in response to this entry and succinctly said: "I think He meant raise the dead," implying that my suggestion that Yeshua meant something other than literally raising people from the dead is mistaken...  This is a little bit like Yeshua saying to his disciples, "You feed them" (i.e., the multitude of people) when they had only five loaves and two fish... Yeshua himself certainly raised the dead, but Lazarus later died, so something more is meant here... "Raising the dead" means something even if you die (John 11:25).
 




Light of the Servant...


 

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

02.18.15 (Shevat 29, 5775)  The menorah (מְנוֹרָה) symbolizes light, growth, unity, and the Tree of Life (עֵץ הַחַיִּים). All its intricate parts (i.e., its seven branches with seven lamps, nine flower blooms, eleven fruits, and twenty two cups) were formed from a single piece of pure gold (זָהָב טָהוֹר) that was "beaten" or "hammered" into shape (Exod. 25:36). This is a symbol of the divine substance (gold has a hint of the color of blood combined with the pure white). Note further that the menorah sat upon a three-legged base - a hint of hashilush ha-kadosh (the triune nature of the Godhead that is the Root of all reality). This is another image of the concept of echdut - unity in plurality found in the Torah. Just as the many parts of the Mishkan were put together to form "one Tabernacle" (הַמִּשְׁכָּן אֶחָד), and the prophet Ezekiel was told to join together two sticks to form "one tree" (עֵץ אֶחָד, see Ezek. 37:17), so the many parts of the menorah were likewise fashioned to form "one menorah" (Exod. 25:36). Moreover, the Torah itself is made up of five separate Books, but it is nevertheless one Torah, just as the children of Israel were divided into Kohanim (priests), Levites, and Israelites, though together they form one nation... Yeshua likewise taught us there would be one flock formed from both Jews and Gentiles, having one Shepherd (John 10:16).

 

The seven lamps of the menorah were lit daily, "from evening until morning," starting from the central lamp (the shamash) and then moving right to left (Exod. 27:21). According to the Talmud (Shabbat 22b), while all the lamps received the same amount of olive oil, the "westernmost" lamp (according to Rashi, the center lamp, due to its orientation) miraculously never ran out of oil, even though it was kindled first in the sequence. In other words, when Aaron would rekindle the lamps every evening, he found the shamash still burning, so he simply refilled it with oil and trimmed its wick. This miracle is also said to have occurred during the Temple period, though it abruptly ended about 40 years before the destruction of the Second Temple (c. 30 AD), after the death of Yeshua the Messiah, the true Servant and Branch of the LORD. As it is attested in the Talmud: "Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot ['For the Lord'] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white; nor did the westernmost light shine" (Yoma 39a).

The Scriptures declare that God is light, and Yeshua is the true Light of God (1 John 1:5; John 1:9). The light from the menorah reveals spiritual light. It was not seen from the outside of the Tabernacle, but only while inside the holy chamber, before the holy place of sacrificial atonement. The light itself came from the burning of pure and beaten olive oil - a symbol of anointing and the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ). It enabled service to God to be performed, though it was not a light to be used for profane purposes. Notice that the six lamps faced the central lamp -- a picture of Yeshua, the Light of the World whose arms and legs were "hammered" for our sins....  He is the suffering servant (shamash) who lightens everyone in the world; He is the center, the supporting trunk for the other branches (John 15:5).
 

Personal update: Please remember me (John) in your prayers.... I have been dealing with a lot of spiritual attacks recently and I have also been sick for the last week or so. Thank you for caring and praying, chaverim.
 




Half-Cubits and Mystery...


 

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

02.17.15 (Shevat 28, 5775)  The Ark's dimensions were given in fractional measurements, "half-cubits" used to describe its length, width, and height: "They shall make an ark of acacia wood (עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים). Two cubits and a half (וָחֵצִי) shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height" (Exod. 25:10). The sages comment that the "half-cubit" is symbolic of our fractional understanding, alluding to mystery and even paradox. "You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a crown of gold (זֵר זָהָב) around it" (Exod. 25:11). The heart of the Tabernacle held the law of God, a picture of Yeshua who bore the law of God within his heart (Matt. 5:17-18). And though the Ark was made of wood from the common thorntree, it was covered inside and out with pure gold and bore a "crown" where the sacrificial blood was offered for atonement, a picture of Yeshua who clothed himself in our humanity, bore the crown of thorns, and shed his blood for our eternal atonement (Heb. 9:12).

Note that the Hebrew text says "they shall make an ark of acacia wood" (Exod. 25:10). Unlike other furnishings of the Tabernacle that were made by Betzalel, the text uses the plural verb here: "they shall make an ark" (וְעָשׂוּ אֲרוֹן), which implies that every person had a part in upholding the Torah. More - each person had a part in the place of blood atonement offered upon the kapporet - the cover of the Ark - which again symbolizes that Yeshua offered his life for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).




More Perfect Tabernacle...


 

02.17.15 (Shevat 28, 5775)  In our Torah portion this week (Terumah) instructions for building the Mishkan (משׁכּן), or "tabernacle," are provided. Here we read the description of the mysterious Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן בְּרִית) with its golden rings and poles, the Ark's golden cover (i.e., kapporet) with its two cherubim facing each another, spreading their wings while gazing upon the crown of the cover. We also read about two of the "furnishings" inside the Holy Place: the Shulchan, or the table for bread of presence (הַשֻּׁלְחָן לֶחֶם פָּנִים), and the Menorah, or the golden lampstand (מְנרַת זָהָב). The tent and curtains of the Mishkan are then described, as well as the sacrificial altar. Line after line of details are given, and while we are given a "pattern" (i.e., tavnit: תַּבְנִית) or "representation" of the sacred structure, a lot remains unclear. For instance, we are not told how the furnishings and various ritual utensils were made, nor how the wooden frame bars were sawed and arranged to hold up the roof of the tent. Some of the materials for the roof are simply unknown to this day (i.e., תַּחַשׁ, tachash). Indeed all of the Tabernacle's measurements are expressed in terms of "fingersbreadths" (etzbachim), "palms" (tefachim) and "cubits" (amot) -- units of measure that are inexact, since people's hand and finger sizes certainly vary... All of this, however, was by divine design. We are given enough of a description to make sense of the meaning of the sanctuary, and to envision it as a symbol, if you will, that would serve as a pointer to something greater and more mysterious to come... The Torah describes the mishkan at length, giving us a sense of its appearance and sacrificial function, but it glosses over some of the finer details, which teaches us that the pattern was not an end in itself, but a means to apprehending the Substance. The New Testament comments by saying "They (i.e., the various items of the Tabernacle) served as a sign and shadow (ὑποδείγματι καὶ σκιᾷ) of the heavenly things... But when Messiah appeared as high priest (kohen gadol) of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tabernacle (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Heb. 8:5; 9:11).
 




Shadows and Substance....


 

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

02.17.15 (Shevat 28, 5775)  Though Moses was instructed to make the Tabernacle according to the "pattern" revealed at Sinai (Exod. 25:9,40), King David -- by direct revelation of the Holy Spirit -- later changed the size of the Tabernacle and its vessels, made additions to the original design, and even changed the priestly order of service itself (see 1 Chron. 28:11-20). King David's vision shows us that both the structure and service of the Tabernacle were provisionally intended to give physical expression to a deeper spiritual reality, and indeed the New Testament calls the service of the Temple "a copy and shadow (ὑποδείγματι καὶ σκιᾷ) of the heavenly things" (Heb. 8:5). But what were these heavenly things if not the ministry of Yeshua as our High Priest of the New Covenant? The New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) is called a "better covenant based on better promises" (Heb. 8:6), that was "not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt" (see Jer. 31:31-33). Our Scriptures comment: "In speaking of a new covenant, he has made the first one obsolete, and what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away" (Heb. 8:13). Likewise we read, "When Messiah appeared as high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tabernacle (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Heb. 9:11-12). The earlier Levitical priesthood and its sacrificial system was "a shadow (σκιᾷ) of the good things to come, and not the true form (i.e., substance) of these realities" (Heb. 10:1).

Note:  For more on this, see "Shadows and Substance: Further Thoughts on Terumah."
 




The "Mercy Seat"...


 

02.17.15 (Shevat 28, 5775)  Our Torah portion for this week is called Terumah (תְּרוּמָה), a word that means "contribution," "gift," or "freewill offering."  It begins with the LORD asking for gifts "from every man whose heart moves him" to provide materials for the Mishkan Kodesh (Holy Tabernacle), a tent-like structure that would symbolize His Presence among the Israelites during their sojourn to the land of Canaan. Gold, silver, brass, red and purple yarns, fine linens, oils, spices, precious stones, etc., all were needed. No gift was considered too small, and whoever felt prompted by the LORD to give did so freely, without compulsion. God's house is always built by love freely given....

The word mishkan (מִשְׁכָּן) comes from a root (שָׁכַן) meaning "to dwell." This holy tent/compound was intended to provide a place of sacrifice and fellowship with the LORD God of Israel. Since the Mishkan represented God's dwelling place, it became associated with the Shekhinah (שְׁכִינָה), or manifest Presence of God Himself.  This is particularly the case regarding the famous Ark of the Covenant (i.e., aron ha-brit, אָרוֹן הָבְרִית) and its sacred cover called the Kapporet (כַּפּרֶת) located within the inner sanctum of the Mishkan called the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). (Note that the term "Mercy Seat" comes from Martin Luther's translation of the Bible into German, where he added to the meaning of kapporet by translating it as a location or "seat" of mercy.)  Upon the Kapporet were set two cherubim (כְּרֻבִים) -- angel-like figures with open wings and "baby faces."  It was from between these faces that the LORD later directly spoke to Moses, it was here that sprinkled sacrificial blood would appeal to God's forgiveness during the appointed time of Yom Kippur.

Note:  For more on this topic, see "The Mercy Seat: Further thoughts on Terumah."
 




Water for the Thirsting...


 

02.16.15 (Shevat 27, 5775)  "Let them make for me a sanctuary (מִקְדָּשׁ) that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8). Each of us has an inner void, a place where only God belongs. Substituting the things of this world – money, power, fame, pleasures, etc. – never satisfies our deepest thirst for life. Indeed the Lord laments: "My people have committed a double wrong: they have rejected me, the fountain of life-giving water (מְקוֹר מַיִם חַיִּים), and they have dug cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13). God is found by the thirsty soul; he is revealed wherever the heart permits him to speak. As Yeshua said: "If you had known the gift of God, and the one speaking to you, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water" (John 4:10).
 




Sanctuary of the Heart...


 

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

02.16.15 (Shevat 27, 5775)  "Let them make for me a sanctuary (מִקְדָּשׁ) that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8). The sages note that the phrase, "that I may dwell in their midst" could be translated as "that I may dwell within them" (וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָ), suggesting that the point of the Tabernacle was to bring God within the hearts of His people... We must create a place within our hearts, in other words, for God to dwell within us... Yeshua likewise told us that we would experience God's abundant peace and joy when we would "abide in Him." Note that the gematria of the word Tabernacle (i.e., mishkan: מִשְׁכָּן) is 401, which is the same value as the word shema (שְׁמַע), "hear!" or "listen" (Deut. 6:4). When we really stop to listen to the LORD, we will find His glorious and loving Presence in our midst (Isa. 6:3).

The deepest message of the sanctuary, however, reveals God's sacrificial love, just as the purpose for the sacrificial system itself was to draw us close to God. The symbolic "life-for-life" exchange of the innocent for the sake the guilty provided tangible hope that a holy and perfectly righteous God would make a way for his love and acceptance to triumph over his righteous judgment (Psalm 85:10). Indeed the idea of "sacrifice" is korban (קרְבָּן), a word that means to draw near (karov) to God. The New Testament states that the various sacrificial rituals were "examples" (ὑπόδειγματα) and "shadows" (σκιάς) of the heavenly Reality that would be given in the sacrifice of Yeshua, the great Lamb of God (Heb. 8:5; 10:1), and indeed the central sacrifice at the sanctuary was the daily sacrifice (i.e., korban tamid) of a defect-free male lamb with matzah and wine (Num. 28:1-8).

Through Yeshua God draws near to us so that we can draw near to Him.... He is the "it-is-finished" offering that brings us eternal life. Yeshua is the Father's "gift of the heart" (i.e., terumah) given for you. It was the love of God that provided the provisional altar at the Tabernacle, just as his love put the blood of his Son on the cross.  Both in the sacrificial rites of the brazen altar and in their later fulfillment in the crucifixion of Yeshua, the heart needs to trust in God's personal love. Yeshua stands at the door and knocks, ready to eat a "covenant ratification meal" with all who are trust in Him (Rev. 3:20).

May you find courage to open your heart to Him now...
 




Offerings for Sanctuary...


 

02.15.15 (Shevat 26, 5775)  In our Torah portion for this week (i.e., Parashat Terumah), God asked the people to offer "gifts from the heart" to create a "place" for Him: "Let them make for me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8). The Hebrew word for "sanctuary" is mikdash (מִקְדָּשׁ), which comes from the root word kadash (קָדַשׁ), "to be set apart as sacred." A mikdash is therefore a "set apart space," or a "holy place" that represents something profoundly treasured - a place of beauty and worship, a refuge, a place of rest. Other words that share this root idea include kedushah (holiness), kiddushin (betrothal), kaddish (sanctification), kiddush (marking sacred time), and so on. When God said, "Let them make for me a mikdash," then, he was inviting the people to make a sacred place within their hearts for His Presence to be manifest.... The "materials" required to make this place - gold, silver, brass, red and purple yarns, fine linens, oils, spices, precious stones, etc. - were ultimately from the heart, expressed in free-will offerings given to God.

The LORD then showed Moses the pattern (תַּבְנִית) according to which the Tabernacle and its contents were to be constructed. First an ark of acacia wood was to be overlaid with pure gold inside and out. The ark was to be fitted with gold rings and gold covered poles to make it portable. The two tablets of the law were to be stored inside the ark. Two cherubim (angel-like figures) were to placed facing each other over a cover of the ark called the kapporet (i.e., "Mercy Seat"). The ark was to be housed within an inner chamber of the tent called the Holy of Holies. Adjacent to the Holy of Holies was a second chamber called the Holy Place. This chamber would contain a table overlaid with pure gold that held twelve loaves of bread along with a golden, seven-branched menorah. The Holy of Holies was separated from the Holy Place by an ornamental veil called the parochet.

The design (or pattern) of the tent along with its exact dimensions was then given. The tent was intended to be portable, with a wooden frame covered by richly colored fabric and the hide of rams and goats. The outer courtyard was to include a sacrificial altar with horns of copper set at each corner. The portion ends with a description of the outer court, which was to be entirely enclosed by an ornamental fence made with fine linen on silver poles with hooks of silver and sockets of brass.
 

 




Being Present before God...


 

02.13.15 (Shevat 24, 5775)  It is easy enough to hurry past words of Scripture without slowing down to reflect on what is being said. For instance, in our Torah portion for this week (Mishpatim) we read: "The LORD said to Moses, "Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction" (Exod. 24:12). The Hebrew words vehyei sham (וֶהְיֵה־שָׁם), usually translated as "and wait there," can also be translated as "and be there." But why -- if every jot and tittle of Torah is indeed significant (Matt. 5:18) -- does the text say "come up to the mountain" and then add the phrase "and be there"? The sages answer that God is asking Moses to be present, be awake, and to be utterly focused – "with all your heart, soul, and might." This is to teach us that to receive God's revelation, we need to show up – "to be there" – earnestly seeking his heart.

Shabbat shalom and I wish you all the love, grace, and blessings of our beloved Lord and Mashiach! Thank you for standing with this ministry, dear chaverim.
 




The Works of Faith...


 

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

02.13.15 (Shevat 24, 5775)  In our Torah portion we read that when the people gathered before Moses to receive the covenant, they said: "All that the LORD has spoken we will do and we will hear (נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע)." Note the order: first comes the decision to obey, and then comes understanding... As Yeshua said, "If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know," and "if you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 7:17; 13:17). The heart of faith is willing to do what God asks before hearing what exactly is required. Many people operate the other way round, sitting in judgment of God's word, demanding to understand why they should obey. You cannot understand apart from trust, however, and that is categorically true of all forms of knowledge. We are to be "doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves" (James 1:22). We don't audit the words of Scripture since we ourselves are under examination! The Scriptures demand us to respond, choose, decide. The word is like a shofar blast rousing us to action. We are to be doers, not just passive hearers. The Greek verb is emphatic: "Be doers!" (γίνεσθε) means "be born! come alive! do, live, exist before God! This is a call to creative action, to newness of life!

The Scriptures state that "if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like" (James 1:23-24). If we just hear the truth but do not act upon it, we are comically likened to someone who carefully looks at his face in a mirror but then promptly forgets what he looks like after he steps away... Likewise those who only hear the word but do not bring it to life in their deeds forget who they are and why they were created (Eph. 2:10; Titus 2:14; Col. 1:10). When we look into the mirror of truth we see our need for teshuvah and turn to God for the healing miracle he provides (Heb. 4:12).

There is a deeper law, however, a "mirror" that reveals something beyond our passing image. When we look intently into the "perfect law of liberty" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵרוּת וּמַחֲזִיק) - the law of faith, hope, and love for our Savior - we find blessing in our deeds (James 1:25). Note that the verb translated "look into" the law of liberty is the same used when John stooped down to "look inside" the empty tomb of Yeshua (John 20:5). The deeper law reveals the resurrection power of God's invincible love. The Torah of the New Covenant also has many mitzvot, though these are based on the love God gives to us in Yeshua: "This is my Torah: that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34).

We are set free from the verdict of the law to serve God without fear, on the basis of his saving love and grace given in Yeshua (Gal. 5:1), but our freedom is not meant to violate the Ten Commandments or to engage in licentiousness (Gal. 5:13; Matt. 7:21). The moral law speaks, as it were, to young children who need a guardian until they can attain to their place as hiers (Gal. 3:24). Mature sons and daughters do not not need the law but operate on a different level, and enjoy a different relationship with the Master of the house. Serving God this way results in holy passion. The verse, "the appearance (i.e., mareh: מַרְאֵה) of God's glory was like a consuming fire" (Exod. 24:17) may be read, "the mirror (or reflection) of God's glory..." When we act as God's children, full of faith in his love, and walking before the power of his presence, our hearts reflect his passion, too.

As a brief addendum, let me ask how you can "do the word" and live in harmony with the divine commandments... The dividing line between faith and works is often difficult to discern, after all, and indeed Yeshua told us that faith in Him is itself a type of "work" (John 6:29). Studying the Scriptures, praying, trusting God in the midst of our pains and struggles, and worshiping are all in a sense "works," yet they express the inner reality of faith.... Here is the conundrum: Do we "do the word" by means of our own resolution (i.e., will) to act, or is a deeper miracle of transformation first necessary? If the latter, is the miracle entirely sufficient, or do we need to add something else for it to come into being? The Scriptures command us to be "slow to anger" and "put away wrath," and yet how is that possible apart from God's help, after all?  How can we manage destructive emotions that sometimes arise within the heart?  How do we "put away" fear? On the other hand, how can we be commanded to love? to be joyful? full of faith? These considerations reveal the divine-human partnership: We "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13). In the end we are faced with paradox: We are utterly dependent upon God to work within our hearts for salvation, yet we are also entirely responsible for working out that salvation in our daily lives. "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Mark 10:27).
 




The Torah of Love...


 

02.13.15 (Shevat 24, 5775)  The heart of God will never lead us into a place of exile – to a place outside of his will (Gal. 5:22-23); neither is it removed from us, but instead reaches into the darkness of our fear to deliver us from our sin. Love is the greatest of the spiritual virtues, since its passion reaches "beyond the law" and its moral perfections to embrace the unworthy, the broken, and the defiled (Rom. 3:21; 2 Cor. 5:21). This is the Torah of love, which sees beyond the imperative to the "optative," from the realm of "ought" to the realm of passionate and holy desire. How else can we explain the cross? That God would sacrifice his purity for our sakes - to go beyond the law's own word and verdict - to rescue us from the curse of law.... Hallelujah! "And now abides faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13). Dear Lord God, please guide our way into your heart and love; give us a desire to truly know you; and impart to us the spirit of your love so that we may know ourselves as your love also knows us. Amen.
 




Shadow and Substance...


 

02.12.15 (Shevat 23, 5775)  The Baal Shem Tov is reported to have once said, "What matters is not the number of commandments we obey, but how, and in what spirit, we obey them." In other words, when our hearts are full of simple passion to express our love for God, we lose sight of the issue of "keeping the commandments," since they are regarded as a mere "outer form" or the appearance of something far more basic and important... How much more is this true for those of us trusting in Yeshua our Messiah! We focus on the Substance of the law and no longer its shadow (Heb. 10:1). We seek the Presence of God's heart and direction in all we do...

The law is holy, just, and good (Rom. 7:12), and the commandments of God are vital for our well-being and formation of our character, of course. However, as we walk in God's love, empowered by the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), the consciousness of the commandments are "transcended" in the sense that they are no regarded as "outside" of us, but are now found within, as part of how we walk by faith: Torah is written within (Jer. 31:33). In other words, we lose sight of the law as a means of "self-improvement" and instead rely entirely on God's love to transform our nature... It is one thing to act as a child who is under the explicit guidance of a set of rules that govern behavior in the house, and it is another to act as a full-grown heir who is empowered to serve the needs of the house (Gal. 3:24-25).
 




Love's Promised Healing...


 

[ Related to our Torah portion for this week (i.e., Mishpatim) is the great prophecy of the transformation of our inner life by God's Spirit... ]

02.12.15 (Shevat 23, 5775)  In his famous "Sermon on the Mount," Yeshua revealed the inner condition of the heart, despite the (religious) pretenses that people may contrive... "You have heard that it was said, "Do no murder," but I say to you, harbor no anger; you have heard "do no adultery," but I say to you harbor no lust..." You have heard it said, "Do not break an oath," but I say to you swear no oath at all, but let your word be enough.  Yeshua brings the Torah inside, to the heart, to reveal our great need.  A person who makes an oath assumes he can keep the law, that he can control the impulses and sickness of his own deceptive heart. That is the source of the problem (Jer. 17:9; Eccl. 9:3; Mark 7:21). The Lord reveals what we are inside so that we may realize our need for deliverance from ourselves. What we really need is a miracle on the order of splitting the sea or raising the dead, namely, a new heart (לֵב חָדָשׁ) and a new spirit (רוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה) put within us. For those of you who might struggle with pride, fear, anger, lust, and hardness of heart, please take hold of hope. God can turn "stone to flesh" and make you fully alive by His power.
 

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

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

 

"And I will give you a new heart (לֵב חָדָשׁ),
and a new spirit (רוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה) I will put within you.
And I will remove the heart of stone (לֵב הָאֶבֶן) from your flesh
and give you a heart of flesh (לֵב בָּשָׂר)."
(Ezek. 36:26)

heart of stone

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

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

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

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

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




Torah within the Heart...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Mishpatim). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

02.11.15 (Shevat 22, 5775)  It has been said that a holy life requires rules, just as art needs form to shape its content... When rules are regarded abstractly, however, they may seem like arbitrary imperatives; when they are regarded as internal principles, on the other hand, they express a pattern of life. Looked at positively, the "law" is not so much a "gilded cage" as a set of "directions" for the way of life. Living the way of Torah is a mark of being a child of the Father of the House. Believers of Yeshua will love the Torah, since it is "written inwardly," on the heart, as it says: "I will put my Torah (תּוֹרָה) within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer. 31:33, Heb. 10:16-17). "For we are his workmanship, created in Yeshua the Messiah for good works (ma'asim tovim), which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph.2:20).
 

נָתַתִּי אֶת־תּוֹרָתִי בְּקִרְבָּם וְעַל־לִבָּם אֶכְתֲּבֶנָּה
וְהָיִיתִי לָהֶם לֵאלהִים וְהֵמָּה יִהְיוּ־לִי לְעָם

na·ta·ti · et · to·ra·ti · be·kir·bam · va·al · lib·bam · ekh·ta·ve·nah
ve·ha·yi·ti · la·hem · le·lo·him · ve·hem·mah · yi·yu-li · le·am
 

"I will put my Torah within them, and I will write it on their hearts.
And I will be their God, and they shall be my people."
(Jer. 31:33b)
 


Hebrew Study Card
 

Although this prophecy will be completely fulfilled when the Jewish people accept Yeshua as Messiah during the time of the coming kingdom, it has obvious application for believers in the present age (e.g., see Heb. 8:8-12; 10:16-17). As it is written, "Blessed is the man whose delight is the Torah of the LORD, and who meditates upon the Torah day and night" (Psalm 1:2). Indeed, the Torah of the LORD is perfect (Psalm 19:7). "Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119:97).

Here are a few verses from the New Testament that speak of Torah acts of gemilut chassidim (acts of lovingkindness): "He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14); "The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people" (Titus 3:8); "What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but has no good works (i.e., ma'asim tovim) to prove it? Is such "faith" able to save him? (James 2:14); "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Messiah, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Cor. 5:10); therefore, "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works" (Heb. 10:24).
 




Glory as Consuming Fire...


 

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

02.11.15 (Shevat 22, 5775)  From our Torah portion this week (Mishpatim) we read: "Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel" (Exod. 24:17). Now some people regard this fire as a threat, even a sign of God's judgment, though it is better to regard it as a sign of God's glorious passion. After all, the pillar of fire had led the people out of bondage, just as it later dwelt between the cherubim upon the Ark of the Covenant. Indeed the fire that fell upon followers of Yeshua at Pentecost was the same manifestation of the glory of God's passionate love that was revealed at Sinai. Our God is a "consuming fire" (אֵשׁ אכְלָה), which means that He is full of passion and zeal that your heart fully belongs to Him...
 

כִּי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ אֵשׁ אכְלָה הוּא אֵל קַנָּא

ki · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · esh · o·khe·lah · hu · El · kan·na
 

"For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a zealous God."
(Deut. 4:24)
 


Hebrew Study Card
 
 

The metaphor that God is a Consuming Fire suggests that He is both indescribable and passionately concerned with our devotion to Him. "Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:28-29). We are promised a kingdom that cannot be shaken, wherein the Fire that consumes will consume all things that are not established by our Heavenly Father... "Know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today..." (Deut. 4:39-40). Our lives on the altar ascend to God in praise. 
 




Torah of the Stranger...


 

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

02.10.15 (Shevat 21, 5775)  From our Torah portion this week we are reminded not to wrong or oppress the "stranger," because we were also once strangers in Egypt (Exod. 22:21). The unspoken assumption here is that since we can understand how it feels to be oppressed and wounded, our suffering can be transformed into compassion for others. But how? How are we set free from our inner pain so that it no longer is a destructive force but rather a means of healing? By understanding our pain is carried by others, too. To acknowledge the pain of others means we also acknowledge our own. We let go of the weapons of blame and retribution when we give voice to the "stranger" within ourselves, when we realize that others share in our suffering: "Do not oppress a sojourner, for you know the soul of a stranger (וְאַתֶּם יְדַעְתֶּם אֶת־נֶפֶשׁ הַגֵּר), for you were strangers..." (Exod. 23:9). The Hebrew verb used here (i.e., yada, to know), implies intimacy, personal and direct understanding. You "know the soul" of the stranger by reliving their place, and by using the "good eye" to see how they share common our pain, joy, hope, and so on. Being awake to the suffering of others helps us find our own healing: We are brought out of the captivity of our inner Egypt into freedom and wholeness. Remembering what it was like to be a stranger helps us extend compassion to ourselves, and that brings healing to our hearts...
 




Deeper Torah of Love...


 

02.10.15 (Shevat 21, 5775)  The Kotzker Rebbe once said, "The prohibition against making idols includes the prohibition against making idols out of the commandments. We should never imagine that the whole purpose of the Torah is its outer form, but rather the inward meaning." Indeed, sacrificial blood was placed over the tablets of the law (i.e., the blood sprinkled on the kapporet, or the "crown" of the Ark) that represented God's forgiveness and atonement for sin. The life is "in the blood," which represents God's passion, the deepest truth of Torah. And this is the message of the gospel itself, of course, since the blood of Yeshua passionately shed for our sake has opened up a new and everlasting way for us to be rightly related to God (Heb. 9:12). As C.S. Lewis fictionally portrayed in the Chronicles of Narnia, after Aslan was slain on the Stone Table, it broke in two "from end to end," symbolizing the deeper Torah of God's love had rightfully satisfied the Torah of His justice.
 

חֶסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ

che·sed  ve·e·met  nif·ga·shu,  tze·dek  ve·sha·lom  na·sha·ku
 

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



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Man prays to God, but to whom does God pray? For what does He pray? Or do you think that the Almighty has no desires of His own, no yearning of heart? The sages of the Talmud believed that God indeed addresses himself: Yehi ratzon milfanai, "May it be acceptable before me, may it be My will, that my compassion overcome my anger, and that it may prevail over my justice when my children appeal to me, so that I may deal with them in mercy and in love" (Berachot 6a). This is the deeper unity of the Name YHVH (יהוה), the Savior and LORD, revealed to Moses after the sin of the Golden Calf (Exod. 34:6-7), and this is the essential meaning of the cross of Yeshua, where the LORD passionately "prayed within Himself" so that His compassion would overcome His fearful judgment for our sins.

Only the cross allows God's righteousness and mercy to "kiss" (Psalm 85:10; 89:14); only the cross reveals the true Holy of Holies where the blood was placed over the Ark of the Law; only the cross intimates the Inner Sanctum of God's heart.  Because of the cross, a holy God is able to truly love and help the trusting sinner (Rom. 3:26). It is written: "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne (צֶדֶק וּמִשְׁפָּט מְכוֹן כִּסְאֶךָ); steadfast love and faithfulness go before you" (Psalm 89:14). Because of Yeshua, God is vindicated as entirely just - and the Justifier of those who trust in His redemptive love (Rom. 3:24-26). Yeshua is the prayer of God the Father's on behalf of His children...

The will of God - His heart's yearning and desire - is for his children to receive his love (2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4; John 3:16; Ezek. 18:23). As Yeshua prayed, "Holy Father, keep them in your Name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one... I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me" (John 17:11,23). Yeshua died on the cross to bear the shame for your sins, to be sure, but he did this so that you could be accepted and securely loved forever.... It is the love of God that is the goal of all things, after all.  When Yeshua cried out, "It is finished" and breathed his last breath as He died for our sins upon the cross, the greatest exhalation of the Spirit occurred, the greatest sigh, the greatest utterance was ever declared. The sacrificial death of Yeshua for our deliverance was God's final word of love breathed out to those who are trusting in Him.
 




Navigating Moral Reality...


 

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

02.10.15 (Shevat 21, 5775)  In general, people don't like to be told what to do but would rather make their own judgments... However the moral rules of Torah may be likened to guideposts along the way, warning us about dangers up ahead. And just as a physical law like gravity describes material reality, so a moral law describes spiritual reality. We can no more deny moral reality than we can deny physical reality, though the effect of violating moral truth is not physical but spiritual - affecting our inner life, our conscience, our sense of value, and so on. In either case, however, we deny reality at our own peril.

Laws of any kind are generalizations, of course. In science, for instance, we inductively sample phenomena and then universalize that experience as a law applicable in all similarly controlled conditions, until proven otherwise. In the case of moral reality, we may have revealed and intuitive awareness of value, but we still must wrestle to discover how to apply such truth to our lives. For example, a moral rule is to always "speak truth," but in some cases this rule can be "broken" for the sake of a more important truth. For instance, we are forbidden to gossip because it hurts other people, and the law of truth-telling may be suspended if we were hiding Jews in our attic and the Nazis asked if we were doing so, and so on (פיקוח נפש). Moral and social rules speak to our need for boundaries, for sacred space, safety, and provide means to show respect to one another. That's the "spirit of the law," the deeper reason for its expression. The "role of the rule" is to promote and upbuild life; a righteous rule helps us discern how to limit and redirect our impulses to express godly character. As is also written in our Scriptures: "You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I AM the LORD" (Lev. 18:5).

Note: A somewhat mixed case, involving both physical and spiritual reality, is given in our Torah reading this week: "You shall be sacred to me (קדֶשׁ תִּהְיוּן לִי); therefore you shall not eat any flesh that is torn by beasts in the field" (Exod. 22:31). Why not eat such meat? Because it may both cause physical sickness (i.e., disease) while it also violates the dignity of our life, causing spiritual sickness, too.
 




Rule of Compassion...


 

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

02.10.15 (Shevat 21, 5775)  In our Torah for this week we read: "If you take your neighbor's cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, כִּי־חַנּוּן אָנִי -- for I AM compassionate" (Exod. 22:26-27). Here we see the "weightier matter" that compassion supersedes the rules (mishpatim) for lending to others. Empathy for one who might shiver through the night is more important to God than the letter of the law. Torah rules were given to test our responsibility to others. Hypocritically hiding behind the "letter of the law" is not the way of true Torah (Matt. 23:23). As Rabbi Paul said, "the goal (τέλος) of the commandment is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim. 1:5).

Note: This goes to show you that you can be technically right -- you can argue for the "truth" of your interest -- but you can be spiritually wrong.  Spiritual truth cannot be separated from goodness and mercy...
 




Torah Of Empathy...


 

02.09.15 (Shevat 20, 5775)  The "silver rule" of Torah may be stated as, "Do not do to others as you would not have them do to you," (i.e., "do no harm"), whereas the "golden rule" may be stated positively as, "Do to others as they would have done to them" (i.e., "do the good"). Both principles are based on the concept of reciprocity: How you treat others affects who you are, and vice-versa, and therefore we see the centrality of respecting ourselves, of regarding ourselves as redeemable, lovable, and so on. "You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Exod. 22:20), and this includes the stranger you make of yourself; the parts of yourself you hide away from consciousness. Moral reality is grounded in empathy, or the exercise of sympathetic imagination... "Give and it shall be given back to you." Put yourself in the place of the other - the stranger, the outsider, the lost child - and remember the pain you experienced when you were an outsider, isolated and excluded... As we recognize the value, dignity, and worth of others, so we will find it within our own hearts, and this enables us to see more of the good. The measure you use will be measured back to you (Luke 6:38).
 




First Word of Revelation...


 

02.09.15 (Shevat 20, 5775)  The Ten Commandments were given in the singular, not in the plural: "I AM the LORD your (singular) God" – to emphasize that each person must hear the message and receive it for themselves. Read and understand the statement: "I AM the LORD your God" (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ) as the starting point of all Torah, the very first commandment, and the foundation for all that follows. Revelation begins with the apprehension of "I AM" for you – I AM your God who brings you out of slavery to your fear and your captivity to vanity. When you receive the Torah of "I AM the LORD your God," you are made a child of eternal promise, and even if heaven and earth should melt away in fervent heat, nothing can keep you from the care of your heavenly Father (Rom. 8:31-39). Perfect love casts out fear. Make yourself bold, then, to receive God's love for your soul. Abide in God's love; make it your own. Loving God is the beginning and end of all of reality.
 




Trust to Understand...


 

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

02.09.15 (Shevat 20, 5775)  From our Torah portion this week we read: "all the people answered with one voice and said, כָּל־הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּר יְהוָה נַעֲשֶׂה / "All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do" (Exod. 19:8; 24:3). It is paradoxical that we must first "do" and then "hear," but in matters of the spirit, we don't really "hear" apart from acting in faith, which is another way of saying that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:17). In other words, our deeds will bring to life our creed, and we will be given light as we act in confidence and trust. As Yeshua said, "If you know these things, happy (μακάριος) are you if you do them" (John 13:17). And may God show us the mercy we need to be "doers" of the word and not hearers only, "deceiving our own selves" (James 1:22). Amen.
 




Moses Receives the Law...


 

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

02.08.15 (Shevat 19, 5775)  Last week we read in our Torah that exactly seven weeks after the Exodus from Egypt (i.e., 49 days after the first Passover), Moses gathered the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai to enter into covenant with the LORD. In a dramatic display of thunder, lightning, billowing smoke and fire, the LORD descended upon the mountain and recited the Ten Commandments to the people. Upon hearing the awesome Voice of God, however, the people shrank back in fear and begged Moses to be their mediator before God. The people then stood far off, while Moses alone drew near to the thick darkness to receive further instructions from the LORD.

This week we learn about these additional instructions Moses received on the mountain. The Jewish sages traditionally count 53 distinct commandments in this portion of the Torah, easily making it one of the most "legalistic" (i.e., law-focused) sections of the entire Bible. Civil laws, liability laws, criminal laws, agricultural laws, financial laws, family purity laws, Sabbath laws, and holiday laws are all given in this portion. These various social and civil laws are called "mishpatim" (מִשְׁפָּטִים), a plural word that means "rules" or "judgments."

After receiving these additional rules, Moses descended Sinai and went before the people to reveal to them the words of the LORD. Upon hearing the details, the people responded in unison, "all the words which the LORD has said we will do" (i.e., na'aseh: נַעֲשֶׂה). Moses then wrote down the words of the covenant into a separate scroll (sefer habrit), built an altar at the foot of Sinai, and ordered sacrifices to the LORD to be made.  He then took the sacrificial blood from the offerings, threw half upon the altar, and read the scroll of the covenant to the people. The people ratified the covenant by saying, "all that the LORD says we will do and obey" (i.e., na'aseh ve'nishmah: נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע). Upon hearing this, Moses took the other half of the sacrificial blood and threw it on the people saying, "Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words" (Heb. 9:18). After this ceremony, Moses, Aaron, and seventy of the elders of Israel ascended Mount Sinai to eat a "covenant affirmation meal" between Israel and the LORD.

After returning from the mountain with the elders, the LORD commanded Moses to go back up to receive the tablets of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments. On the seventh day there, he heard the Voice of the LORD calling to him from the midst of the cloud of glory, and then entered into the Presence of the LORD. He remained on the mountain for a total of forty days and forty nights receiving further revelation about the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle) while the Israelites waited for him at the camp down below.
 

 




Shabbat Shekalim - שבת שקלים


 

[ This coming Sabbath is called "Shabbat Shekalim," anticipating the advent of spring... ]

02.08.15 (Shevat 19, 5775)  Four "special Sabbaths" occur just before the start of spring: two before the holiday of Purim and two before the holiday of Passover. Collectively, these Sabbaths are called "The Four Shabbatot" and four additional Torah readings (called Arba Parashiyot, or the "four portions") are read on each of these Sabbaths in preparation for the holidays, particularly for the central holiday of Passover. The names of these Sabbaths are Shabbat Shekalim, Shabbat Zakhor, Shabbat Parah, and Shabbat HaChodesh, respectively.

 

The first of the four Sabbaths is called Shabbat Shekalim (שבת שקלים), "the Sabbath of the Shekels," which occurs just before the month of Adar begins. An additional reading (Exod. 30:11-16) is appended to the regular Torah reading that describes the contribution of a half-shekel for the construction and upkeep of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). According to a midrash in the Talmud (Bavli, Shekalim 1), the half-shekel represents a "fiery coin" that the LORD brought from underneath the Throne of His Glory to symbolically "atone" for the sin of the Golden Calf. Since every Jew was required to give this "widow's mite," repentance is accepted for all who come in true humility before the LORD. For us, it might be a time to remember those who offer personal sacrifices so that we also might draw closer to God.
 




The "Problem" of Obedience...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Yitro) and the relationship between surrendering to God (trust) and acts of obedience (works)... ]

02.06.15 (Shevat 17, 5775)  The very first duty of the heart is to surrender to God's love for your soul. Surrender of the heart is deeper than outward obedience, since it is possible to obey God for the wrong reasons. Our motivation must be grounded in God's love first of all. This is what it means to "die to yourself" or to be "crucified" with Messiah: you let go; you relinquish control; you trust God to sustain you, even in your weakest moment. That is the nature of trusting in God's love for you. 

Some people seem to think that the way of salvation depends on our obedience. But those who say things like we must "trust and obey," or "believe and repent" either do not understand the radical nature of what it means to truly trust God, or they confuse the idea of surrender with obedience. After all, if we seriously think that we are delivered by our obedience, the focus will be on our will, our "works," our performance, and our religious life will become self-centered, driven, and insecure. Moreover, this willful approach assumes we can obey, that we are capable of attaining some kind of spiritual perfection, and so on. No one denies the requirement to obey God, of course, but the question centers on the means to do just that. What is the source of our power to obey God?  To remedy matters of self-deception, it is helpful to review the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus interprets the Ten Commandments to show us what really lurks within the unregenerated heart.

For more on this topic, see "The Problem of Obedience: Further thoughts on Yitro."
 




The Divine "Law School"...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Yitro). Shabbat Shalom, friends! ]

02.06.15 (Shevat 17, 5775)  The sages said that "the laws of the Torah were given that people should live by them and not that they should die by them" (Lev. 18:5). This is true, though it is not true without qualification. Legalists and spiritual perfectionists are constantly depressed because they never feel like they've done enough or have fulfilled their duty. They feel inadequate, and this leads to severity and hardness of heart. However, such spiritual failure serves as a "halfway house" to the truth, since the law was intended to reveal our sinful condition and to lead us to a state of brokenness and surrender (Gal. 3:24-25). As is is written, "For from the law comes the knowledge of sin" (διὰ γὰρ νόμου ἐπίγνωσις ἁμαρτίας), but now the righteousness of God (צִדְקַת אֱלהִים) apart from the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets" (Rom. 3:20-21, Gal. 3:19). The phrase "apart from the law" means from an entirely different sphere from that which says, "do this and live." It is the "righteousness" (δικαιοσύνη) that comes from God, not from man. The law by itself, though holy, just, and good, is powerless to give life, though it indeed reveals our need for life that graciously is given apart from the law.
 




Lawful Use of the Law...


 

02.06.15 (Shevat 17, 5775)  "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God" (Rom. 8:14). Are you led by the heart of God in your daily life, in the midst of your joys, sorrows, and tribulations? This is essential, after all. Do you live in the freedom of Messiah? If you are led by the Spirit, you no longer labor under the law of sin and death but you are set free to experience a new order of reality (Rom. 8:2). The law is holy, righteous, and good, of course, but it also reveals our lethal spiritual condition (Rom. 7:7-25) and therefore it reveals our great need for a Savior, the Messiah who is the end (τέλος) of the law (Rom. 10:4; Gal. 3:21-24, 4:4-5). Those who advocate "Torah observance" do not understand the divine purpose of the law itself (1 Tim. 1:7), and those who teach the law as the means of finding life "frustrate the grace of God" (Gal. 2:19-21). The "lawful use of the law" demonstrates the holiness of God and serves as a mirror of our sinful condition, but the "unlawful use of the law" seeks righteousness apart from the saving agency of Messiah who (alone) is the "righteousness of God." The end of the commandment is "love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim. 2:5). And just as Yeshua came not for the righteous but for sinners (Mark 2:17), so the law was not given for the righteous, but for those who know they need deliverance from the power of indwelling sin (Rom. 3:20, 7:7).

Note:  For more on this essential topic, see "The Lawful Use of the Law."
 




Love Informs Law...


 

02.06.15 (Shevat 17, 5775)  Living by the commandments is a byproduct of revelation... The Torah was revealed only after the people encountered God on the mountain. When we experience God's presence, and personally receive the message of his love, the commandments are secondary, since they derive from something more basic, namely, our relationship with the heart of God. When we are understand what is most important, it becomes obvious that he is the Source of all reality, and bowing down to our illusions is futile; we come to understand that we cannot harm others without harming ourselves; we no longer covet what others have because we have all we truly need from the hand of our heavenly Father, and so on. In other words, "love fulfills the law" and the Spirit (heart of God) empowers us to walk in liberty as the children of God (see Rom. 13:3; Gal. 5:13).

Looked at another way, the commandments speak to our "lower nature," to those parts of ourselves that desire evil and hide from the light. As rabbi Paul said: "Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane..." (2 Tim. 1:8-9). Paul also wrote that the law code reveals our sinful condition: "for from the law comes the knowledge of sin" (διὰ γὰρ νόμου ἐπίγνωσις ἁμαρτίας). "But now the righteousness of God (צִדְקַת אֱלהִים) apart from the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets" (Rom. 3:20-21, see also Gal. 3:19). The phrase "apart from the law" means from an entirely different sphere from that which says, "do this and live." It is the "righteousness" (δικαιοσύνη) that comes from God, not from man.... Yeshua is Adonai Tzidkenu - the LORD our Righteousness.

Note:  Please understand here the "law" does not mean "Torah," and if you are confused about this distinction, read some of the Role of Torah articles on this site...
 




In Every Generation...


 

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

02.05.15 (Shevat 16, 5775)  Jewish tradition says all Jews were present at Sinai – not just the Israelites who had come from Egypt – but all subsequent generations as well (Deut. 29:14-15). Covenant unites us as a people, since the words of revelation were given to all gathered at the mountain, and yet the words themselves are spoken directly to the individual: "I AM the LORD your God" is heard in the singular (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ), and therefore the first commandment is to receive God's "I AM" into your consciousness and heart... So while we all have a shared experience of Sinai – the awe of transcendence, the inner conviction of moral truth, the affirmation of values, and so on – what each person does with these intuitions is unique, and therefore each soul is bound to search out the meaning of the words and to choose how to live. We are, each of us, in this process together, and therefore we can share our wisdom along the way, though ultimately we are personally responsible for the hope we carry. Each of us is given a unique place in the heart of God, though we are part of a community that together hears the Voice "from the midst of the fire." We are each connected to God our Source, to one another, and to all of creation.

The story of Exodus is not the story of "other people." You must choose to belong. Your faith draws you near. That is why the sages teach: b'chol dor vador - in each and every generation an individual should look upon him or herself as if he or she (personally) had left Egypt. It's not enough to recall, in some abstract sense, the deliverance of the Jewish people in ancient Egypt, but each Jew is responsible to personally view Passover as a time to commemorate their own personal deliverance from the bondage of Pharaoh. The same must be said regarding Shavuot. Each person should consider himself as having personally received revelation at Sinai. The altar of the Mishkan was set up for you to draw near to God - you, not some people who lived long ago... This is why non-Jews who turn to the God of Israel by putting their trust in the Messiah are regarded equal members in the covenants and promises given to ethnic Israel. It is a brit milah (בְּרִית מִילָה) - literally, a "covenant of the word" - that makes us partakers of the covenantal blessings given to Abraham (Eph. 2:12-19; Gal. 3:7; Col. 2:11, etc.)...
 




Denying the Evident...


 

02.05.15 (Shevat 16, 5775)  Sin is a sickness of heart, to be sure, though its ongoing lethality derives from the willful suppression and denial of the truth of God. It is written, "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress (i.e., "hold down," κατέχω) the truth by their unrighteousness, because that which can be known about God is evident within them, for God has revealed it to them" (Rom. 1:18-19). People "suppress the truth in unrighteousness," which means they choose to deny reality for the sake of their selfish illusions (John 3:19-20). Tragically, the natural state of the soul prefers selfish inner darkness than the light of God's righteousness (Rom. 8:7). In this connection we note that Paul states that the Ten Commandments do not reveal "new" moral truth, since sacred reality is "imprinted" within every created soul (John 1:9; Acts 17:24-28). Where Paul says, "against all ungodliness" he refers to our universal duty before the Living God (בֵּין אָדָם לָמָקוֹם); and we he says "all unrighteousness," he refers to our universal duty toward other people (בֵּין אָדָם לְחֲבֵרוֹ). The "invisible things of God" are seen so vividly that people are quite literally "without excuse" (ἀναπολόγητος) for their evasion and rejection of the Divine Presence - a disposition that constitutes rebellion, treason, and chillul Hashem (Rom. 1:20). Ultimately, then, willfully refusing to turn to God in teshuvah results in spiritual death, since the soul remains under the wrath of God (ὀργὴ θεοῦ) - a desolate condition devoid life, light, truth, meaning, purpose, and eternal love (John 3:36). May God help us turn to him today.
 




Torah of the Neighbor...


 

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

02.05.15 (Shevat 16, 5775)  The Ten Commandments are often divided into two basic groups or categories. The first five commandments are said to be "between man and God" (i.e., ben adam lechavero: בֵּין אָדָם לְחֲבֵרוֹ), and contain 146 words; whereas the second five are said to be "between man and other people" (i.e., ben adam la-Makom: בֵּין אָדָם לְמָקוֹם), and contain 26 words, the same value as the Name of God, YHVH (יהוה). In this connection we note that the Ten Commandments begin with "I AM" (אָנכִי) and end with "[for] your neighbor" (לְרֵעֶךָ), which when joined together says, "I AM your neighbor."  In other words, the LORD Himself is also found in your neighbor... When we love our neighbor as ourselves (אָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ), we are demonstrate our love for God. But who, then, is your neighbor? You are -- to every other soul you may encounter this day (Luke 10:36).

Note: I should add that loving others is impossible without first receiving (inwardly accepting and making your reality) who you are as the "beloved of the Lord..." You have to start there, since you can't give away what you don't have. If you struggle with loving others, or are a cynic, a misanthrope, a jaded soul, or are wounded or bitter of heart, then first find your heart's healing and then simply live honestly before others... May God help each of us!
 




THESE are the words...


 

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

02.04.15 (Shevat 15, 5775)  From our Torah portion this week we read: "You shall be treasured and set apart; you shall be a child of the King; you shall be one who helps others draw near to God... these are the words (אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים) that you shall speak" (Exod. 19:5-6). These are the words of love: "And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your substance. Set these words (הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה), which I command you this day, upon your heart" (Deut. 6:5-6). We store up these words so that, in a holy moment, they are quickened within us and we are able to hear the Voice of the LORD speaking from the midst of the fire that burns within our hearts.  As Simone Weil said, "love is revelation, and revelation comes only with love."
 




The Divine Connection...


 

02.04.15 (Shevat 15, 5775)  Yeshua used the allegory of a vine and its branches to illustrate how we are to be spiritually connected to Him. The purpose of the branch is to be a conduit of the life of the vine. Vine branches by themselves are of little value, apart from the manifestation of fruit; they cannot be used for building things and otherwise are regarded as bramble (Ezek. 15:2-4). Notice further that the vine branch cannot bear good fruit while it remains on the ground: it must "climb" upward and be elevated. And if you look closely at a vine, it is often difficult to see where the vine ends and the branches begin; the life of the branch becomes "entangled" in that of the vine. So it is when we "abide in," or are truly "connected with," Yeshua as the Source of divine life, we will bear the fragrance and sweet-smelling savor of heaven itself...
 

אֲנִי הַגֶּפֶן אַתֶּם הַשָּׂרִיגִים
 הָעוֹמֵד בִּי וַאֲנִי בּוֹ
 עוֹשֶׂה הַרְבֵּה פִּרִי
 שֶׁכֵּן בִּלְעֲדַי אֵינְכֶם יְכוֹלִים לַעֲשׂוֹת דָּבָר

a·ni · ha·ge·fen · at·tem · ha·sa·ri·gim
ha·o·med · bi · va·ani · bo
o·seh · har·beh · pe·ri
she·ken · bil·a·dai · ey·ne·khem · ye·kho·lim · la·a·sot · da·var
 

"I am the vine; you are the branches.
Whoever lives in me and I in him,
he it is that bears much fruit,
for apart from me you can do nothing.
(John 15:5)



 

The expression "apart from me" (χωρὶς ἐμοῦ) means being in a state of separation from Yeshua, which is likened to spiritual death... It is the death of possibility, the absence of power to yield true good to the world, and so on. This is what is meant by "you can do nothing" (οὐ δύνασθε ποιεῖν οὐδέν), that is, you can do nothing of any eternal significance or worth... There is simply no true life apart from the Savior. "The fruit of the righteous is like the Tree of Life (עֵץ חַיִּים), and whoever captures souls is wise (Prov. 11:30). "God is the gift of love; God is both the offering and the fire of the altar, and through God's hand is the sacrifice rendered true."

Living in vital union with Yeshua is all-important, friends. Those who do not continue "abiding" in Him are mere professors or spiritual impostors who have never really known real connection with him (1 John 2:19). Similarly, the prophet Ezekiel described apostate Judah as a "useless vine" that was ready to be finally devastated in God's judgment: Jerusalem would be burned, the Temple razed, and its inhabitants destroyed by God's agent of retribution named Nebuchadnezzar (Ezek. 15:1-8).

God is the "Vine Dresser," and the vine branches require a lot of ongoing care and maintenance for the vine to produce genuine fruit... For instance, they must be pruned lest they become wild grapes or useless "sucker" branches...  Yeshua described himself as the "true vine," which means that His connection with the Father is entirely trustworthy because it is grounded in reality and truth. Abiding in Yeshua is the means by which we are connected to God, and through our relationship with Him God produces genuine spiritual fruit in our lives: "Only God gives the growth" (1 Cor. 3:7).

Yeshua said, "I am the true Vine (הַגֶּפֶן הָאֲמִתִּית), and you are the branches" (John 15:1). We derive our identity, life and strength from being made part of His life, His vision, and His purposes... In Hebrew, this idea is called devakut (דְּבָקוּת) which means "cleaving" to God bekhol-levavkha (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ), "with all your heart," and bekhol-nafshekha (בְּכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ), "with all your soul," and bekhol-me'odekha (בְּכָל־מְאדֶךָ), "with all your being..."  It is the essence of the great commandment to love God given in the Shema.  We are able to so cleave to God in Yeshua because God does a miracle and gives us a new heart to serve Him. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

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?" Indeed, He is present right now -- for you -- in this very moment... Are you connected with Him in the truth? Are you drawing life from His life?  Do you really live in Yeshua?

Of course it is a struggle to keep our focus along the way, and there are various tests we all will experience, including the tests of apathy, weariness, confusion, and so on... We must ask the LORD God of Israel to help us stay connected with the life, truth, and vision of Yeshua. May he impart faith so we may take hold of hope with wonder, praise, and great joy.... And may it please God to help each of us "put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:24). Amen.
 




Olive Tree Israel...


 

[ Today is Tu B'Shevat, the "New Year for Trees..." Tu B'Shevat Sameach, chaverim! ]

02.04.15 (Shevat 15, 5775)  In 1948 the vision of an independent State of Israel miraculously came to pass, and one of the first things the settlers did when they came back to their land was to plant trees and develop moshavim (collective farms). Reforesting the land by planting trees during Tu B'Shevat eventually became national custom. Today Israeli children plant trees in special ceremonies (neti'at etzim), and people living in the Diaspora often donate money to plant trees in Israel through the services of the Jewish National Fund. Tu B'Shevat therefore resembles an "Israeli Arbor Day" when trees are planted and the rebirth of the Jewish homeland is celebrated.  It is also customary to eat "first fruits" from the Land of Israel on this date, to recite various Hebrew blessings, and to discuss Jewish values such as tikkun olam ("repairing the world"), tza'ar ba'alei chayim (alleviating "the suffering of living creatures"), ahavat Yisrael ("love of Israel"), bal taschit ("do not destroy," environmentalism), and so on. 

You may wish to recite the following blessing during Tu B'Shevat:
 

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ
שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ טוֹב וּפוֹרֶה שָּׁנָה
בַּאֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ, אָמֵן

ye·hi  ra·tzon  mil·fa·ne·kha  Adonai  E·lo·hey·nu  ve·lo·hey  a·vo·tey·nu
she·te·cha·desh  a·ley·nu  tov  u·fo·reh  sha·nah,
ba'a·do·ney·nu  Ye·shu·ah  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 and fruitful year
in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah.  Amen."



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Ten Matters of Heart...


 

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

02.03.15 (Shevat 14, 5775)  The Ten Commandments of Torah may be summarized this way: 1) "I am your only deliverer, the One who loves and choses you; 2) love me exclusively; 3) regard my love as sacred; 4) rest in me; 5) honor your life and its history. Do no harm to others: 6) forsake anger, 7) abandon lust, 8) renounce greed, and 9) abhor lying, and 10) refuse envy. Know that you belong to me and that you are accepted. Love others as you are also loved."

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

Note: For more on this subject, click here.
 




The Torah of Trees...


 

[ The following is related to Tu B'Shevat, the "New Year for Trees..." ]

02.03.15 (Shevat 14, 5775)  The Torah alludes that human life is like "the tree of the field," i.e., כִּי הָאָדָם עֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה, Deut. 20:19), and many people therefore observe Tu B'Shevat as time to assess man's place within creation as well.  Since God created the world for a habitation (Isa. 45:18), some have pictured the world itself as a "great tree" with human beings as its fruit. Indeed, Yeshua often used such agricultural images in his parables. For example, he explained that people are known by the "fruits" of their lives (Matt. 7:16-20). He likened the spread of his message in terms of "sowing and reaping" (Matt. 13:3-23) and compared the Kingdom of Heaven to the secret working of a mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32). Yeshua regarded the world as a "field" for planting with different "types of soil" (Matt. 13:38-43), and warned of the "great harvest" of souls at the end of the age (Luke 10:2; Matt. 13:30). He pointed to signs from a fig tree to indicate the nearness of the prophesied End of Days (Matt. 24:32-33). Yeshua also used the metaphor of a "vine and its branches" to explain how his followers are to be connected to Him (John 15:1-6).

Note: For more on this subject, click here.
 




Fruit of our Words...


 

02.03.15 (Shevat 14, 5775)  Yeshua said that as a tree is to its fruit, so is a person's heart is to his speech. Our words arise from an underlying source and root: "I tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will give account for every careless word (πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργὸν) they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). First note that the phrase translated "every careless word" can be understood as "every 'workless' word," that is, every vain or empty word spoken, every broken promise, every insincere utterance, and so on. Second, note that there is a relationship between naming and being in Hebrew thought, and indeed the Hebrew word davar (דּבר), usually translated as "word," can also mean "thing." This suggests that our words define reality - not in an absolute sense, of course - but in terms of our perspective and attitude, and for that we are held responsible before the LORD. Since our words express our thoughts, Yeshua wants us to make up our minds: "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit."

Listen to the words of your heart and understand that they are devarim, "things" that are defining the course of your life right now. Our thoughts and words "exhale" the breath of God that was given to each of us. In a very real sense they serve as "prayers" we are constantly offering.... And may it please our gracious and long-suffering LORD to answer the cry of our heart: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer." Amen.
 

יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי־פִי
וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי לְפָנֶיךָ יְהוָה צוּרִי וְגאֲלִי

yi·he·yu · le·ra·tzon · im·rei · fi
ve·heg·yon · lib·bi · le·fa·ne·kha · Adonai · tzu·ri · ve·go·a·li
 

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to You, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
(Psalm 19:14)


  
Hebrew Study Card
 




Torah of Willingness...


 

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

02.02.15 (Shevat 13, 5775)  Do you need to understand before you will believe? The midrash says that God offered the Torah to each the 70 nations, but each nation first asked to understand what was required, and then rejected the offer... Finally God approached Israel and asked: "Will you accept my Torah?" And they replied, kol asher dibber Adonai na'aseh (כּל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּר יְהוָה נַעֲשֶׂה), "all that the LORD has spoken we will do" (Exod. 19:8). In other words, Israel was willing to accept the Torah even before they understood what was required of them. Later they reaffirmed their simplicity of heart by saying na'aseh ve'nishma: "We will do and then we will understand" (Exod. 24:7). Faith is first of all a matter of heart, of gratitude, and responding to God's invitation. All the "externals" of the Sinai experience - the fire, the smoke, the blasts of the shofar - were known in the deeper fire, smoke, and soundings of the heart of faith.

First we learn to trust Him, and then we learn to walk with Him... in that order.
 




Eyes of the Heart...


 

02.02.15 (Shevat 13, 5775)  The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) told the story of two young portrait artists who both sought to capture the essence of beauty in their paintings. One artist looked high and low for the "perfect face of beauty" but never found it. Tragically, he later gave up painting and lived in despair. The other artist, however, simply painted every face he saw and found beauty in each one. Now here's your question: Which of the two was the sincere artist?

The heart looks through the eye.... The good eye (i.e., ayin tovah: עַיִן טוֹבָה) - sometimes called the "beautiful eye" (עין יפה) - refuses to think evil about others (it "does not impute the bad" - οὐ λογίζεται τὸ κακόν - in 1 Cor. 13:5), but it rejoices in the truth – even if such truth is found only in the hope of a future good (1 Cor. 13:7). The good eye is the instrument of a giving heart that looks upon the needs and pains of others with genuine compassion. The "evil eye" (i.e., ayin hara: עַיִן רָעָה), on the other hand, is cynical, jaded, envious, and unsympathetic to other people and their struggles... Using a good eye takes from the treasure within the heart and gives it out freely to others: "The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil" (Matt. 12:35). There never is a risk that love may be given away without warrant from heaven. In the future judgment to come, I'd rather be found guilty of "casting pearls before swine" than to be found guilty of withholding love from others...
 

טוֹב־עַיִן הוּא יְברָךְ
 כִּי־נָתַן מִלַּחְמוֹ לַדָּל

tov · a·yin · hu · ye·vo·rakh
ki · na·tan · mil·lach·mo · la-dal
 

"Whoever has a good eye will be blessed,
 for he shares his bread with the poor."
(Prov. 22:9)


 


A person with a "good eye" looks at things from the perspective of love. Ayin hatovah looks at circumstances -- and especially at other people -- and finds something beautiful.... "Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully" (2 Cor. 9:6). As we give, so we are given...

Yeshua told us, "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is good (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, heartfelt, compassionate), then your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is evil (i.e., πονηρὸς, wicked, malicious, ungracious), your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness" (Matt. 6:22-23). May it please God to make each of us shocher tov (שׁחֵר טוֹב), "a seeker of good." May the Lord give us new hearts to behold the good in all things... 
 




Rosh Hashanah for Trees...


 

02.02.15 (Shevat 13, 5775)  Tu B'Shevat, or the 15th of the month of Shevat (שְׁבָט), is the traditional date that marks the beginning of a "New Year for Trees." Though it occurs in January/February on the Gregorian calendar, Tu B'Shevat is associated with the start of spring in Israel (since the earliest-blooming trees begin a new fruit-bearing cycle). In the modern State of Israel, Tu B'Shevat is observed as sort of national "Arbor Day." This year, Tu B'Shevat occurs Tuesday, February 3rd at sundown.

The Hebrew name Tu B'Shevat (ט"וּ בִּשְׁבָט) can be understood to mean "the fifteenth [day in the month] of Shevat" (שְׁבָט). The word Tu (ט"וּ) is an acronym for the number 15, which is formed using the letters Tet (9) and Vav (6) in combination to form Tet-Vav (15).  Note that Yod (10) and Hey (5) are not used because this combination results in YAH (יָהּ), one of the Hebrew Names of God. For more information the "Rosh Hashanah for trees," click here...
 




The Law and the Spirit...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Yitro). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

02.01.15 (Shevat 12, 5775)  "On the first day of the third month after leaving Egypt, the people of Israel came to the desert of Sinai" (Exod. 19:1). The revelation at Sinai is celebrated each year during the festival of Shavuot ("Weeks"), which occurs exactly seven weeks (49 days) after the Passover (because of this, Shavuot is sometimes called "Pentecost," meaning "the 50th day"). The 49 day countdown from the day after Passover was later commemorated as the period of "counting the omer." In Jewish tradition, Shavuot is called the "time of the giving of our Torah," the culmination of the Passover deliverance, though it is also the time when the Holy Spirit) was poured out to the followers of Yeshua in fulfillment of the promised New Covenant (Acts 2, Jer. 31:31-33). Indeed, the New Covenant imparts the revelation of Torah within the heart, as it says: "I will give my Torah within them (נָתַתִּי אֶת־תּוֹרָתִי בְּקִרְבָּם) and on their hearts I will write it" (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10; 10:16).
 




New Year for Trees...


 

[ Tu B'Shevat, the "New Year for Trees" begins Tuesday, February 3rd at sundown... ]

02.01.15 (Shevat 12, 5775)  The Bible begins and ends with the great Tree of Life -- first in the orchard of Eden, and later in the midst of the paradise of heaven. ‎"The Tree of Life (i.e., etz ha' chayim: עֵץ הַחַיִּים) was in the midst of the garden..." (Gen. 2:9); "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the Tree of Life (etz ha-chayim) with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month" (Rev. 22:1-2). Notice that the "twelve fruits" (καρποὺς δώδεκα) from the Tree of Life are directly linked to the "twelve months" of the Jewish year (κατὰ μῆνα ἕκαστον ἀποδιδοῦν τὸν καρπὸν αὐτοῦ: "each month rendering its fruit"). Twelve months; twelve fruits.... This teaches us that the sequence of the holidays (moedim) was intended to teach us revelation about God. That is why God created the Sun and the Moon for signs and for "appointed times" (Gen. 1:14), as it also says: "He made the moon to mark the appointed times (לְמוֹעֲדִים); the sun knows its time for setting" (Psalm 104:19).

For more on this subject, see "Tu B'Shevat: Rosh Hashanah for Trees."
 




Parashat Yitro - יתרו


 

02.01.15 (Shevat 12, 5775)  In our Torah this week (Yitro), we read how the Israelites reached the region of Mount Sinai where Moses told them that if they were willing to be God's treasured people (עַם סְגֻלָּה) they would become a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation." The people accepted the invitation and proclaimed, "All that God has spoken, we shall do" (Exod. 19:3-8). A few days later - on the 49th day after the Exodus (i.e., Sivan 6) - the LORD descended amidst thunder, lightning, billowing smoke, fire, and the blast of the heavenly shofar, proclaiming "I AM" and the Ten Commandments (עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדִּבְּרוֹת). Because this vision was so overwhelming, the terrified Israelites began beseeching Moses to be their mediator lest they die before the Presence of God. The portion ends as "the people stood far off, while Moses (alone) drew near to the thick darkness where God was" (Exod. 20:21).

Please see the Summary Page for parashat Yitro for more information about this important Torah reading. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for this portion here:
 

 



 

January 2015 Site Updates
 


Keeping your Focus...


 

01.30.15 (Shevat 9, 5775)  The important thing is to remain focused on what is ultimately real... We do this by learning to pray "without ceasing," which means centering our thoughts and desires in light of the Divine Presence. King David always "set" the LORD before him and he was unmoved in times of testing (Psalm 16:8). To know the truth means choosing before the audience of God's reality, before the holy witnesses of heaven and the sacredness that inheres in all things. We know this truth as we do - as we trust - as we "live, move, and have our being." Most especially we must learn the truth of God's love for our souls in Jesus, for he is the one who has promises never to leave nor forsake us.
 

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

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

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



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Here is an encouraging quote from Julian of Norwich I read recently: "Every soul who has willingly served God in any degree on earth, shall possess three degrees of happiness in heaven. First, our Lord will honor and thank them; Second, all the creatures in Heaven will see this honor and thanks; and Third, this will last forever...."  Shabbat shalom.
 




Celebrate God's Love...


 

01.30.15 (Shevat 9, 5775)  Yeshua said the kingdom of heaven could be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his beloved son. Those who were invited made one excuse after another why they could not attend, so the disappointed king then instructed his servants to "go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame... and compel everyone you find to come in, so my house may be filled." God loves people and implores them to personally join in the celebration of his love, to partake of the marriage feast of Lamb (Rev. 19:7). But note that this means that we are to bring all the lame, broken, and fearful parts of ourselves to the banqueting table of God's love... The courage to "come to the table" only comes from a sense of being welcomed and accepted, that is, by trusting that you are truly made safe by God's love....

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

Shabbat Shalom friends! Let's rejoice that we are always welcome in God's Presence because of Yeshua our Lord.
 




The Fight of Faith...


 

01.30.15 (Shevat 9, 5775)  Our Torah this week (Beshalach) begins with the battle against Pharaoh and ends with the battle against Amalek... The sages note that while just a few weeks separate these confrontations, each is different in character. In the former case, the Israelites panicked and God directly intervened on their behalf, splitting the sea and overthrowing Egypt's army; in the latter case, the people seem ready for the fight, led by Joshua. One common feature of both struggles is the hand of Moses grasping the staff of God, though in the former case the staff is lifted up before all the people, whereas in the latter case it is held up when no one is watching, and Aaron and Hur are needed to help steady Moses' grip... The battle with Amalek resulted from the question the people asked: "Is God in our midst or not?" (Exod. 17:17). The fight that came centered on the people's need to find their trust in God's promises -- even if God did not directly manifest his presence "in their midst" as he did when he threw Pharaoh's army into the sea.

The battle with Amalek symbolizes the "good fight of faith" we must wage every day, as we consciously decide to trust that God is indeed "in our midst," even if our present circumstances appear desolate and forsaken...
 




Our Spiritual Warfare...


 

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

01.30.15 (Shevat 9, 5775)  In our Torah for this week (Beshalach) we read how "Amalek" attacked the Israelites after they had miraculously crossed over the sea into a new life of freedom (Exod. 17:8). Spiritually speaking the Amalekites aligned themselves with the wicked Pharaoh of Egypt and therefore they sought to continue the war against God's people. Apparently the Amalekite clan in Canaan was founded by a grandson of Esau (Gen. 36:12,16), though Amalek is also listed as the "first among the nations," a man who even predated the time of Abraham (Num. 24:20, Gen. 14:7). In Augustine's terms, Amalek represents the "City of the World," whereas Israel represents the "City of God."

In Jewish tradition, Amalek represents pure evil, or those who have "given themselves over" to Sitra Achra, the side of impurity. Indeed the name Amalek (עֲמָלֵק) begins with the letter Ayin (symbolizing the eye) and equals 240 in gematria -- the same value for safek (סָפֵק), meaning "doubt," and for rahm (רָם), meaning "haughty." Amalek therefore represents "the evil eye of doubt," or even "the severed eye" (i.e., when you remove Ayin from "Amalek," you are left with malak (מָלָק), a verb that means "to chop off" or to sever). Understood in this way, Amalek represents spiritual blindness acting arrogantly in the world, and therefore the LORD vowed perpetual warfare against Amalek: "The Hand is on God's throne. God shall be at war with Amalek for all generations" (Exod. 17:16).

The Torah reveals that we must "go out and fight" Amalek, which is a call to ongoing spiritual warfare in our lives (Deut. 25:17-19). When Moses raised his hands in battle against the Amalekites, the Israelites prevailed, but if he lowered them, they suffered defeat (Exod. 17:11). Eventually Moses grew weary and needed Aaron and Hur to help him hold his arms steady to ensure victory (Exod. 17:12). Note that the Hebrew word translated "steady" is emunah (אֱמוּנָה), the word for faith... It was Moses' steady faith in God's power that gave Israel the victory over the powers of darkness, just as we lift up our faith in God's power demonstrated at the cross gives us the victory over Satan and his schemes.

For more on what Amalek represents, see the article, "Warfare with Amalek."
 




No Free Fish...


 

01.30.15 (Shevat 9, 5775)  The Divine promise was "I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt" (Exod. 6:6), though later the people "romanticized" their captivity and wanted to return there to eat their "free fish" (Num. 11:5). The sages note the word "burdens" (סִבְלת) can also mean "tolerance," which suggests that the people had tolerated their enslavement and made it "work" for them... And are we not likewise at risk to be enslaved by the sumptuous comforts and amenities offered by this world? Have we not tolerated our own slavery -- our addictions to comfort, pleasures, a life of ease and "free fish"? Are we really ready to leave all that we know behind to experience the glory of Zion? People may profess that they want to know God, that they "hunger and thirst for righteousness" and earnestly desire that the kingdom of heaven be manifest, and yet they can't get away from their favorite television shows, super bowls, political intrigues, pop idols, and other the fads of the day... We must be careful not to become comfortable in our exile – to become "friends of this world" – by losing faith's voice of protest; we must be careful not to be distracted from beholding spiritual reality and the ultimate healing to come. We are away from home, friends! When the hour comes and we hear "gemar ha'tikkun" – the sound of the shofar of Messiah summoning us all to follow him to the Holy Land -- will we be ready to leave everything behind?

The story is told (by Abraham Twerski in his book, "Rebbes and Chassidim") how Rabbi Nachum of Chernobyl once stayed at an inn, and as was his custom, he arose at midnight to recite lamentations over the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the people... The innkeeper, hearing his wailing, arose to see what the trouble was, and could not understand why the rabbi was sitting on the ground, mourning and praying... Nachum explained that we continually mourn the loss of our land and our exile, and that we cry out to God to hasten the ultimate redemption, when Mashiach will take us out of exile and lead us back to Jerusalem, our beloved Zion....

The innkeeper asked, "Will we all go to Jerusalem?" "Of course," Rabbi Nachum said. "But what will become of my little farm, my cows and chickens?" the innkeeper asked. "What account are these compared to our being in exile? Nachum replied. "We are repeatedly attacked by the Tartars, they carry out pogroms, killing and pillaging our people! In Jerusalem we will be free of such persecutions!"

The innkeeper was still not satisfied. "I must talk to my wife about this," he said. When he later told his wife what Rabbi Nachum said about the redemption by Mashiach, she said, "And how can we leave our farm and the cows and chickens that we worked so hard to get?" The innkeeper then explained how we would be free of the pogroms and persecutions of the bands of Tartars. The wife thought a bit and then said, "Go tell the rabbi that when Mashiach comes, he should take the Tartars to Jerusalem, and we can live here in peace."
 




The Longer Road Home...


 

01.29.15 (Shevat 8, 5775)  God chose to take the people along the "longer road" to the promised land, just as we find ourselves still awaiting our redemption in the world to come. And like the Israelites, we must be on guard, since when things get difficult, our tendency is to go back to what is familiar, even if it is painful. Thank God we have a Good Shepherd who teaches us and guides us in the way to go: "And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher (מוֹרֶה) will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. Your ears will hear a word behind you, saying: 'This is the way; follow it,' when you turn to the right or to the left" (Isa. 30:20-21).
 

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

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

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

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

 

What a beautiful image of our LORD as our Teacher and Good Shepherd, who guides us in the paths of life and delivers us from "right-hand and left-hand errors." And may God keep us upon the path, free from the seductions of the tempter who wants to distract our souls and lead us into fruitless byways and trouble. May we be given grace to behold His face, even in the midst of adversity or affliction, learning from Him the way to go... Amen.

Update: Please pray for Hebrew for Christians. This ministry is facing some tough challenges, including spiritual attacks, etc. Thank you for your concern and kindness, friends.
 




Believing and Seeing...


 

01.29.15 (Shevat 8, 5775)  Despite all the miracles and wonders performed on behalf of the Israelites, the people soon seemed to "forget" about their great redemption. Indeed, it was just a few days after the awe-inspiring deliverance from Egypt that the people began to murmur, complain, and "kvetch" (Exod. 16:1-3). Such discontent warns us that miracles are never enough to sustain faith: Seeing isn't believing, but rather the other way around (Rom. 8:24; Heb. 11:1; 2 Cor. 4:18). This explains why groups that emphasis "signs and wonders" often contain so many exhausted people. Miracles are insufficient for faith; people get excited about them while they occur, but they soon forget them and return to a state of desperation and despair. Necessarily the cycle must repeat itself, with ever-increasing claims of the miraculous, in order to keep the movement going. In light of this, it is wise to regard the desire for "signs and wonders" as a counterfeit of the real need to surrender and serve God. After all, to truly love the LORD with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength - now that is a miracle of a greater kind than that of splitting the sea!

For more on this, see "Believing and Seeing: Further Thoughts on Parashat Beshalach."
 




Appearance and Reality...


 

01.29.15 (Shevat 8, 5775)  The Hebrew word for "world" or "age" is olam (עוֹלָם), which is derived from a root verb (עָלַם) that means "to conceal" or "to hide." God "hides" His face from us so that we will seek Him, and that means we must press through ambiguity to earnestly take hold of divine truth. Centuries before the time of the philosopher Plato, King David proclaimed that there was a "divided line" between the realm of the temporal world and realm of the hidden and eternal world. The temporal world is finite, subject to change, yet pointed beyond itself to an eternal world, which was the source of real significance, meaning, and life itself (2 Cor. 4:18). Therefore King David said, בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָיו תָּמִיד/ bakeshu fanav tamid: "Seek His face continually" (Psalm 105:4). Note that the numerical value for the word "fanav" (i.e., "His face") is the same as that for the word "olam." When we truly seek God's face (i.e., His Presence) we are able to discern the underlying purpose for our lives.
 

דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה וְעֻזּוֹ
 בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָיו תָּמִיד

dir·shu · Adonai · ve·u·zo
ba·ke·shu · fa·nav · ta·mid
 

"Seek the LORD and his strength;
 seek his presence continually."
(Psalm 105:4)

ζητήσατε τὸν κύριον καὶ κραταιώθητε
ζητήσατε τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ διὰ παντός



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Note that the ancient Greek version of the Torah (i.e., the Septuagint) translates this verse as, "Seek the LORD and be strengthened; seek His face through everything (διὰ παντός)." Unlike Plato, however, who "saw through" the temporal world and regarded it as less than real, King David understood that how we live within the intersection of these two realms revealed our inner character of faith -- and therefore our ultimate destiny....

Note: The sages point out that the word for "forever," "le'olam," is spelled so that it can be read "to conceal" (in Hebrew, "le'aleim"), meaning that the Name of God is "hidden," too. "This is my name - forever!" meaning, my Name YHVH is forever a mystery...
 




The Torah of Manna...


 

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

01.28.15 (Shevat 8, 5775)  Jewish tradition counts 49 days from the Passover/Exodus to the revelation at Sinai, a seven week period of purification and preparation... During this time the Israelites carried the bones of Joseph (עַצְמוֹת יוֹסֵף) -- the Hebrew word for "bones" (i.e., etzem: עֶצֶם) also refers to his "essence," or the deep conviction Joseph had in God's promise (Gen. 50:25; Heb. 11:1). The journey into the desert is meant to test us – to reveal our strengths and weaknesses. We cross over from the "comfort of slavery" to a barren place that exposes what lurks within our hearts. Yeshua likewise was tempted in the desert and overcame the devil there (Matt. 4:1-11).

The sages say that the verse: "The LORD is my strength and my song (עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ), and he has become my salvation (וַיְהִי־לִי לִישׁוּעָה)," refers to two aspects of the life of faith (Exod. 15:2). "My strength and song" refers to the decision we make to desire freedom, truth, righteousness, and so on, whereas "he has become my salvation" refers God's power, our surrender to his love, and our rest in him...  It is the balance (and tension) of these two – the willingness to choose and the decision to surrender – that marks the walk in the desert (Phil. 2:13-14). We are both totally responsible yet utterly unable to help ourselves, and stressing either our own freedom or God's sovereignty disrupts the partnership and unity of our journey. It is not a matter of resolute willing nor a matter of passivity: We exercise our strength by trusting God through the darkness and emptiness of the desert.

This balance may be illustrated in the commandment concerning the manna, the miraculous sustenance given to us each day (Exod. 16:1-30). We can only rightfully gather what we can eat for the day, and if we try to gather more, the gift itself will rot... This teaches us to appreciate the present without fear of the future. The "Torah of Manna" (תּוֹרַת הַמָּן) is that we must gather only what the moment requires and no more: "Give us this day our daily bread," as Yeshua taught us to pray. On the sixth day we are able to gather a double portion so that we are free to focus on God's presence and provision on Shabbat.

Despite the miracle of crossing the sea, we journey until hunger and thirst arrest our way -- when the bread we carry is exhausted and the water we find tastes bitter. This "bitter water" represents the pain of our past, the reflux of our wounded heart, and our need for "sweet water," the healing waters of life (מַיִם חַיִּים). The mysterious tree that Moses used to sweeten the bitter wates stands for the Tree of Life (עֵץ הַחַיִּים), which itself foreshadows the tree (cross) of our Savior. Bitterness is overcome when touched by this tree. And this tree represents the sacred ground where heaven and earth intersect, the place of atonement, where the heart of God pours our his heart for our eternal good.
 




Heaven's Alphabet...


 

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

01.28.15 (Shevat 8, 5775)  A verse from our Torah portion this week (Exod. 16:16) contains all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (i.e., aleph (א), bet (בּ), gimmel (ג), etc.).  The special verse reads, "This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer (עמֶר), according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.'" Since this refers to the manna the Israelites were to collect for their daily bread, and this verse contains all the letters of the alphabet, we may poetically infer that if we immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, "from Aleph (א) to Tav (ת)," God will provide us with the "daily bread" (לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ) we need, just as He did when the bread from heaven (לֶחֶם מִן־הַשָּׁמָיִם) was miraculously given to feed the Israelites in the desert. Therefore Yeshua, who is the Aleph and Tav, taught us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," which surely refers to the spiritual food (i.e., encouragement, hope, life) that we receive from the Word of Life (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4).

Yeshua taught us: "Don't be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow has its own troubles. Live one day at a time" (Matt. 6:34). It makes no sense to worry about the future if the LORD is the Good Shepherd who tenderly watches over your way (Psalm 23:1). Every day we are given daily bread, but we must remember that manna could not be stored up without becoming rotten (Exod. 16:20).

Isn't it amazing how studying the Hebrew text reveals further insights into the Scriptures?  And may you rest in the promise: "My God will supply every need of yours - "from A to Z" - according to his riches in glory in Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil. 4:19). He is lechem ha'chaim - the Living Bread from heaven (John 6:51)!


 




The Taste of Gratitude...


 

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

01.27.15 (Shevat 7, 5775)  The LORD said to Moses, "'Look I am going to rain down bread from heaven (לֶחֶם מִן־הַשָּׁמָיִם) for you. The people will go out and gather a portion for that day so that I might test whether they will walk in my Torah (תּוֹרָה) or not" (Exod. 16:4). This miraculous bread was called manna (מָן) because when the people first saw it they asked one other, "mann hu" (מָן הוּא), "what is it?" Although the Torah describes its taste as like "honey cakes" (Exod. 16:31), the midrash says that its taste was a function of a person's sense of gratitude. For those who were thankful for God's care, manna tasted delicious (like a good cookie?), but to those who murmured, it tasted bland and unsatisfying (like stale matzah?). "According to your faith, be it done unto you" (Matt. 9:29).
 

טַעֲמוּ וּרְאוּ כִּי־טוֹב יְהוָה
אַשְׁרֵי הַגֶּבֶר יֶחֱסֶה־בּוֹ

ta·a·mu · ur·u · ki · tov · Adonai
ash·rei · ha·ge·ver · ye·che·seh · bo
 

"Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!"
(Psalm 34:8)



 

Addictions, cravings, lusts, etc., often arise from refusing to be satisfied, by hungering for more than the blessing of the moment. "My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13). The living waters are always present for us, but we will only find them if we open our hearts to the wonder of God in this moment.  We must slow down, savor the moment, and see God's hand in everything around us: "Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD God of Hosts: The whole earth is filled with His glory" (Isa. 6:3). Opening our spiritual eyes will break the cycle of unthinking habit, of "mindless eating," and so on. Ultimately this is another aspect of shema, or listening to your body, your heart, your soul – and especially listening for God's word spoken to your inward being. We can "break the spell" of continual dissatisfaction, of the power of greed, pride, and so on, when we discover that our constant hunger is really a cry for God and His blessing. Our sense of inner emptiness is an invitation to come to the waters and drink life... May God help us come!
 




Baptism into Moses...


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading (Beshalach) and the Exodus from Egypt... ]

01.27.15 (Shevat 7, 5775)  The Apostle Paul likened the crossing of the sea as a metaphor of baptism: "All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Cor. 10:1-2,11). In the New Testament, baptism symbolizes our identification with Yeshua's death, burial, and resurrection (Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:3-5). The Israelites were facing death and were therefore at the "end of themselves." They had no other appeal or hope than God's gracious intervention on their behalf (i.e., salvation). Still, they needed to act and move forward. After they took the step of faith, they could see the Shekhinah Glory lighting up the way of deliverance, though this meant being "buried" within the midst of the sea. Their earlier fear of death was replaced with a song of God's great deliverance (shirat hayam). The other side of the sea represents new life in the Messiah, the life that comes from above, by the power and agency of the Holy Spirit... The Israelites died to their old life, were symbolically buried in the waters, but arose to new freedom by the grace and power of God...

 

Note that this "baptism into Moses" (1 Cor. 10:1-2) was not a water baptism, since even though the people went through the water, they crossed over the sea on dry ground... No, it was a baptism or "immersion" into the Shekhinah Cloud, an identification with Moses and his mission (Heb. 11:29). At Sinai Moses would later ascend into the midst of that Cloud to behold the vision of the altar of Messiah (i.e., the Mishkan, or Tabernacle). Ultimately baptism is about identifying with the redemptive mission of God through Yeshua our Savior. The meaning of baptism is to be immersed by the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to be made part of the greater redemptive mission of God's people.
 




Stepping out in Faith...


 

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

01.27.15 (Shevat 7, 5775)  From our Torah this week (i.e., parashat Beshalach) we read how Israel was trapped before the sea with no way of escape... Moses then cried out to God who told him to march forward -- right into the waters -- as the Pillar of Cloud settled between the people and Pharaoh's advancing army. According to a well-known midrash, when Moses lifted his staff to divide the sea, at first nothing happened. The people waited anxiously at the seashore, wondering what to do. Finally, Nachshon ben Aminadav, a descendant of Judah (Num. 1:7), waded into the water "up to his nose," and then the winds began blowing to divide the waters (Shemot Rabbah). The great miracle of kriat yam suf - the splitting of the sea - therefore resulted because someone took a step of faith: "And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall (חוֹמָה) to them on their right hand and on their left" (Exod. 14:22). They marched across the sea all that night (i.e., Nisan 21), under the light of the Shekhinah Glory...

The Talmud says "kasheh le'zavgom ke'kriat yam suf," which means it is more difficult for God to create a marriage than to split the sea.  They reason this way because each person needs to take individual action to trust the other. Likewise with God. It is more difficult for God to get us to be in a genuine, trusting relationship with Him than it is for Him to split a sea. Of course the problem is not with God, who is the perfect "husband," but with our adulterous inner nature. It took the LORD a year to deliver Israel from Egypt, but it took Him 40 years to teach Israel to trust in His promises of love. God always awaits our teshuvah - our "answer" - to His invitation before He will reveal more to us. As Yeshua once said to his followers, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now" (John 16:12). Some things about God can only be known by stepping out in faith and surrendering ourselves entirely to Him.

For more on this subject, see "Stepping out in Faith..."
 




Holocaust Remembrance Day


 

01.26.15 (Shevat 6, 5775)  On January 27, 1945, the largest of the Nazi death camps (Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland) was liberated by Soviet troops. In October 2005, the UN General Assembly designated this date as "International Holocaust Remembrance Day" to commemorate and honor the victims of the Nazi era. Note that the UN-sponsored date is not the same thing as Yom HaShoah, which occurs after Passover in the spring (i.e., Nisan 27).

The systematic genocide of the Jewish people is one of the most heinous and barbarous crimes in the history of humanity. Reflecting on these atrocities should cause us to be vigilant to protect the individual liberties of all people from the hands of the State.  Any political ideology or religious creed that elevates the interest of the "collective" over the sanctity of the individual is inherently suspect.  For more information, see this page.
 




Shabbat Shirah - שַׁבַּת שִׁירָה


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading (Beshalach) and the crossing of the sea... ]

01.26.15 (Shevat 6, 5775)  The central event of this week's Torah portion is how the LORD split the waters of the sea to make a path for His people to escape from Egypt. This event is commemorated in the great "Song the Sea" (i.e., Shirat Hayam: שִׁירַת הַיָּם), a hymn praising God for His deliverance (see Exod. 15:1-21). Because of its critical significance for the Jewish people, the Sabbath on which this song is chanted is called Shabbat Shirah ("Sabbath of the Song"), and the custom is for all the congregation to rise while it is recited...

The Torah states that when the Israelites entered the sea, it became dry land, with the water as "a wall (חוֹמָה) to their right and to their left" (Exod. 14:29). To commemorate this miracle, the Hebrew text of the "Song of the Sea" is stylized to resemble a "wavy wall," with the words written in alternating "blocks" to suggest a wave of water, like this:
 

Shirat Hayam
 

The soferim (Torah scribes) count exactly 198 words in this song, which is the numerical value for the word tzchok (צחק), a word that means "laughter" and is the word used to describe Sarah's response when she finally gave birth to Isaac (Gen. 21:6). According to Rabbi Bachya, the laughter in Isaac's name comes from Abraham's joy (Gen. 17:17). The joy of Isaac's birth, then, is linked with the "birth" of the nation of Israel at the time of the Exodus, just as his symbolic death during the Akedah represents Israel's rebirth...

Because it marks deliverance, the Song of the Sea (i.e., the Song of Moses) as well as the "Song of the Lamb" will be sung in the world to come (Rev. 15:3). For more on this, see "The Song of the Sea: Further Thoughts on Beshalach."
 




Parashat Beshalach - בשלח


 

[ In our Torah portion this week the waters of the Red Sea divide to make a path for the Israelites, a miracle that symbolized newness of life as God's liberated people... ]

01.25.15 (Shevat 5, 5775)  Last week's Torah portion (i.e., parashat Bo) described how the Israelites were finally delivered from their bondage in Egypt after God issued the decisive plague during the time of Passover.  In this week's portion (Beshalach), the Israelites began their journey home, after 430 years of exile. Instead of leading them along a direct route to the Promised Land, however, the LORD directed them south, toward the desert, where the Glory of God appeared as a Pillar of Cloud by day and as a Pillar of Fire by night to lead them on their way. When Pharaoh heard that the Israelites were at the border of the desert, however, he perversely decided to pursue them and bring them back to Egypt. God then redirected the Israelites to camp near the edge of the Sea of Reeds, where the Egyptian army finally caught up with them. Dramatically, the Israelites were caught between the sea on one side, and Pharaoh's army on the other...

The terrified people then began to blame Moses for their predicament. Moses reassured them of God's great deliverance and raised his staff to miraculously divide the waters of the sea. All that night the Shekhinah Glory enshrouded the Egyptian army but gave light to Israel as the people crossed through the sea on dry ground. Just before dawn, the dark pillar of cloud that veiled the Egyptian army lifted, and the soldiers immediately rushed after the Israelites into pathway of the sea. God then told Moses to lift his staff again so that the waters would overwhelm the Egyptians with their chariots and horsemen. By the time dawn arrived, the Israelites saw the dead bodies of Pharaoh's army lining the seashore.



 

Shabbat Shirah - שַׁבַּת שִׁירָה

Because of the critical significance of the miracle of crossing the sea, this Sabbath is called Shabbat Shirah, the "Sabbath of the Song," because it includes the song of deliverance sung by Moses and Miriam after the people made safe passage to new life. The "Song of the Sea" (i.e., shirah hayam) begins, "The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation" / עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ וַיְהִי־לִי לִישׁוּעָה (Exod. 15:2, cp. Isa. 12:2). For Orthodox Jews, singing Shirat Hayam every day is thought to fulfill the biblical commandment to "remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live" (Deut. 16:3). Note that Shirat Hayam is also sung on the 7th day of Passover, as a memorial of the deliverance by God through the waters of the Sea of Reeds.

Following their jubilation, the narrative resumes as God led the people away from the sea, into the desert of Sin (מִדְבַּר־סִין), a desolate region about midway to Mount Sinai. After traveling three days without finding any water, however, the people complained and God provided them with fresh water at Marah. Awhile later, the matzah the people had brought with them ran out and God tested their obedience by giving them "bread from heaven" (i.e., manna). The portion ends with the Amalekites' surprise attack of Israel at Rephidim, near Mount Sinai, and the introduction of Joshua as the leader of the army of Israel.
 

 




The Meaning of Passover...


 

01.23.15 (Shevat 3, 5775)  In Parashat Bo we read about the institution of Passover and the final terrible plague that would befall the Egyptians on Passover night. When we think of this time, we may imagine God "passing over" those houses that had the blood of the lamb smeared on their doorposts, though it might better be said that God passed into the homes of those who trusted him, while he withdrew His Presence from those that did not...

To see this note that two different words are used that can be translated as "pass over." First, God said, "I will pass over (i.e., avar: עֲבַר) the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments; I am the LORD" (Exod. 12:12). But directly after saying this, God promised to "pass over" (i.e., pasach: פָּסַח) the homes of those who trusted in him to impart his protection from the plague of death: "The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over to you (lit. עֲלֵכֶם, 'upon you'), and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt" (Exod. 12:13). In other words, when God would see the blood of the Passover lamb, he would pass over to enter the house and "cover" its occupants from the judgment of death.

The blood of the Passover sheltered people from the plague of death by atoning for their sin by means of a substitutionary sacrifice. The Torah states that "the life (i.e., nefesh: נֶפֶשׁ, or 'soul') of the flesh is in the blood" (Lev. 17:11), and therefore death represents the separation of the soul from the body. The life blood of a sacrificial lamb was therefore offered in exchange for the death and destruction of others. Eating the lamb "roasted by fire" meant identifying with the death offered in exchange for your own; eating matzah, or unleavened bread, signified being delivered in haste, apart from the "rise of the flesh" or human design; and eating maror, or bitter herbs, recalled the bitterness of former bondage.

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

Notice that the Hebrew verb "pasach" can also mean "to limp," suggesting the heel of Messiah that was "bruised" in the battle for our redemption (Gen. 3:15). It is the cross of Yeshua that enables the mercy of God to "overcome" his justice, or that allows "steadfast love and truth to meet; righteousness and peace to kiss" (Psalm 85:10). His attribute of Justice passes over us as His attribute of Compassion passes into us... The sacrifice of Messiah allows God to be both just and the justifier of those who trust in God's remedy and exchange for our sin (Rom. 3:26).

The idea of substitutionary atonement is surely mysterious and complicated, but ultimately the message is simple: God loves you and has made a way for you to be eternally accepted -- despite your sin... God is your healer: That's the "good news" of the cross. That's what Yeshua meant when he said, "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם). For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved" (John 3:14-17). Humanity as a whole has been "bitten by the snake" and needs to be delivered from its deadly venom. Just as the image made in the likeness of the destroying snake was lifted up for Israel's healing, so the One made in the likeness of sinful flesh was to be lifted up as the Healer of the world (Rom. 8:3). All we need to do is look and believe. Yeshua died for you so you can live. He stands at the door and knocks, offering to "pass over" to give you his life (Rev. 3:20). 
 




Facing our Pharaohs...


 

01.23.15 (Shevat 3, 5775)  The sages sometimes allegorize the Exodus into a parable about the journey of our faith. Moses represents our heart called by God whereas Pharaoh represents our sin nature and the tyranny of the ego... Like Moses you are called by God to "go to Pharaoh," that is, to confront what keeps you from experiencing your freedom. The "heart of Pharaoh" represents your cynical and hardened self – the defensive ego that is fearful and marked by unhealed grief. You must face this "Pharaoh" and courageously demand to be set free to serve the LORD. The power of Pharaoh represents the "surface" of things - the world and its burdens, its fleeting vanities, its ongoing "need" to control others, and so on. Salvation (יְשׁוּעָה) is likened to rebirth that delivers us from the "narrow places of Egypt" (i.e., from mitzrayim: , "from," and צַר, "narrow") into newness of life...

Note: None of this is meant to impugn the historical Exodus, of course, but to find a way to make it's experience felt dor va'dor - "in every generation..."
 




Pride and Destruction...


 

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

01.23.15 (Shevat 3, 5775)  Our Torah this week centers on the liberation of Israel from Egypt, and the journey from the narrow spaces of "mitzraim" into the realm of freedom. In this connection we note that freedom does not mean merely "freedom from" oppression, servitude, and so on, but "freedom to" serve God with dignity and purpose... The Passover leads directly to the revelation of the Torah, where we learn that real freedom is the power to chose the righteous path... We are never more free than when we serve God.

A tragic paradox of Pharaoh is that, despite his assumed "god-like" status, he was enslaved by his own fears...  His "hardening of heart" was a defense mechanism that prevented him from feeling compassion for others -- and particularly for the Israelites whom he ruthlessly exploited. Indeed the more he oppressed the people, the more afraid he became of his own heart (a bad conscience is always the result of cowardice). Because he was incapable of coping with his feelings, he denied them, and eventually he was enslaved by his own defenses. Ironically, the "mighty Pharaoh" lost control over himself, and that led to his destruction...
 




A Blessed Hunger...


 

01.22.15 (Shevat 2, 5775)  The first words of Yeshua recorded in John's Gospel are a question: "What are you seeking?" And the second express an invitation: "Come and see..." (John 1:38-39). The problem with many of us is not that we are so hungry, but rather that we are not hungry enough... We settle for junk food when God spreads out his banqueting table before us. There is a "deeper hunger" for life, and I pray we are all touched by such hunger pangs; there is a "blessed hunger and thirst" that feeds our heart's cry for God (Matt. 5:6); there is a "divine discontent" that leads to a deeper sense of contentment for the heart... If you are feeling empty today, ask God to feed you with His life-giving food. The Spirit of the Living God calls out, "Seek Me and live" (Amos 5:4).
 

כִּי כה אָמַר יְהוָה לְבֵית יִשְׂרָאֵל
דִּרְשׁוּנִי וִחְיוּ

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

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



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El Gibbor: The Mighty God...


 

01.22.15 (Shevat 2, 5775)  Why is there no reference to Moses as we read from the traditional Haggadah during our Passover Seder? Because as important as Moses is to the exodus from Egypt (יציאת מצרים), only God Himself may be called the Deliverer (הַמּוֹשִׁיעַ) or the Redeemer (הַגּוֹאֵל) of Israel. God - not Moses - is the focus of the story. Indeed when Moses acted in his own strength, he was made a "failed Messiah," a fugitive living in exile, a wanderer in the desolate places of the land of Midian. Moses needed to be humbled in the desert before he could learn to recognize the Divine Presence... It was only after meeting Yeshua - the "Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) speaking out of the midst of the fire" - that he was enabled to function as God's servant and mediator.

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




A Holy Suspense...


 

01.22.15 (Shevat 2, 5775)  The walk of faith is one of "holy suspense," trusting that God is on the other side of the next moment, "preparing a place for you" (John 14:3). In the present, then, we live in unknowing dependence, walking by faith, not by sight. For "hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he sees?" (Rom. 8:24). This is the existential posture of faith - walking in darkness while completely trusting in God's care. Our task at any given moment is always the same - to look to God and to accept His will. This is where time and eternity meet within us, where God's kingdom is revealed in our hearts.

"Who among you fears the LORD and hears (שָׁמַע) the voice of his Servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the Name of the LORD and rely on his God... I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them" (Isa. 50;10; 42:16). 
 




Da Lifnei Mi Attah Omed...


 

01.22.15 (Shevat 2, 5775)  In many synagogues there is a powerful phrase displayed on the doors of Aron Ha-Kodesh (the holy ark in which are kept the Torah scrolls) that says, "Know before whom you stand" (in Hebrew: דַּע לִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עוֹמֵד - da lifnei mi attah omed). This phrase is intended to remind us that we are to have a reverent and focused attitude while we are at services. Note, however, that such a distinction between the sacred and the profane is somewhat artificial, since we are always in the Presence of God (Acts 17:28) and the whole earth is filled with His glory (Isa. 6:3). But taken as a general principle of life, da lifnei mi attah omed enjoins us to be aware that everything we say, think, or do is before the divine audience of the Living God (אֵל־חָי) Himself.

Since the LORD is infinite, the distinctions we make (as finite creatures) in terms of time and space do not apply to Him. God infinitely transcends all of creation and He alone is holy (Isa. 42:8, 28:11). But understand that God's infinite Presence also means He fills the heavens and the earth (Isa. 6:3). The whole earth is lit up with God's Glory, and every bush is aflame before us, if we have eyes to see...

Though God is infinitely above us, He is not "remote" from us, nor are the very angels in heaven any "closer" to Him than you are right now. As the One who Emptied Himself said, "your Heavenly Father knows the number of hairs upon your head" (Matt. 10:30). We can draw close to Him by opening our eyes of faith.

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

 




Truth and Inner Healing...


 

01.21.15 (Shevat 1, 5775)  "Truth is heavy, therefore few wear it" (Midrash Shmuel). This is about inner honesty, about "owning" who you are are being willing to endure yourself as you learn to walk with God. Where it is written "You shall love the stranger as yourself" (Lev. 19:34), understand that this also applies to the "stranger within ourselves," that is, to those aspects of ourselves we hide, deny, or reject. Like the prodigal son, we have to "come to ourselves" to return home (Luke 15:17), yet we can't do that without trusting that love is somehow available to us, even with the hidden parts of ourselves we seek to escape. That is the great risk of trusting in God's love for your soul. The secret parts of ourselves that we "hide" need to be brought to the light, confessed, healed, and reconciled.

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

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָד

Adonai · o·ri · ve·yish·i · mi·mi · i·ra?
Adonai · ma·oz · chai·yai · mi·mi · ef·chad?
 

"The LORD is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the refuge of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?"
(Psalm 27:1)



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Naming and Reality...


 

01.21.15 (Shevat 1, 5775)  It's a wonder that some people are eager to know the phonetics of God's name far more than its meaning... They confuse the "signifier" with the "Signified." The meaning of the Name YHVH (יהוה) is Life, Being, Presence, Love, "I am that I am," ehyeh asher ehyeh - the complete conscious self-identity and awareness that is at the heart of all that exists. When God said to Moses: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, "I AM who I AM," he was not being obscurantist but rather completely straightforward: His essence and identity are One. The Talmud lists 70 names of God based on his role relative to the creation: He is Creator, King, Father, LORD of hosts, Judge, Savior, and so on. God perfectly knows who he is and therefore is entirely free to assume different roles without compromising his unique and sacred inner essence. God reveals various titles and attributes that we can (analogically) comprehend, but the inner life of God is and forever shall be an infinite sacred mystery... Knowing God's name isn't about being able to pronounce a special proper noun, after all, but is about accepting Ultimate Reality: Hayah hoveh yihyeh (היה הוה יהיה), "He was, He is, He will be" ... your loving heavenly Father.

Still, the question may be asked what is the "best" Name of God? Some of the Jewish sages have said that it is revealed by reciting all 304,805 letters of the Torah in a series. That is, string together all 304,805 letters of the Torah - from the first letter of Bereshit (Bet) through the last letter of Devarim (Lamed) - and "read" this as a single "Word."

304,805 letters in Torah
 

Of course, we should also add the letters for the Prophets (neviim) and the Writings (ketuvim) to the Torah's 304,805 letters, not to mention the 138,020 words of the Greek New Testament. When we do so, we have the million letter name of God!

Taking a different approach, we learn from the teachings of Yeshua the Mashiach that the Name of God is best understood as "Father." In fact, Yeshua used the common Aramaic word for "father" (abba) to refer to His relationship with God, and He wanted his talmidim (disciples) to do likewise.... It is well and good to understand the meaning of the various Names and Titles of God as revealed in the Scriptures, of course, but in the end we need to trust in God as a child trusts in the love of his father.
 




The Great Lamb of God...


 

01.20.15 (Tevet 29, 5775)  From our Torah portion this week (parashat Bo) we learn that though God instructed each household to select its own lamb for the Passover, the Torah refers to "the" Lamb of God, as if there was only one: "You shall keep it [i.e., the Passover lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter him (אתוֹ) at twilight (Exod. 12:6). Note that the direct object "him" (i.e., oto) can be read as Aleph-Tav (את) combined with the letter Vav (ו), signifying the Son of Man who is First and Last... Indeed there is only one "Lamb of God" that takes away the sins of the world, and that is our Savior, Yeshua the Messiah...
 

רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 




The Limping Messiah...


 

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

01.20.15 (Tevet 29, 5775)  The word "Passover" comes from pasach (פָּסַח), a verb that means to "pass over," though it also can mean "to limp," recalling the "heel of Messiah" that would be bruised in the battle for our deliverance (Gen. 3:15). This connection may be discovered when studying the semantic range of the root pasach throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. For instance, the related participle pise'ach (פִּסֵחַ) means "lame" or "crippled" (for example, see Lev. 21:18; Deut. 15:21; 2 Sam. 9:13, Mal. 1:8, etc.), while there are several uses of the verb pasach that explicitly mean to "limp" or "be lame."  For example, in 2 Sam. 4:4 it says: "and he (Mephibosheth) fell and 'became lame" (וַיִּפָּסֵחַ); in 1 Kings 18:21, we read: "how long will you limp (פּסְחִים) between two opinions?" and in 1 Kings 18:26 it is written: "and they (the priests of Baal) 'limped upon the altar" (וַיְפַסְּחוּ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ) in a pagan ritual dance. In other words there is a connection between Passover and becoming wounded, and this alludes to the Savior whose heel was bruised during the battle for our deliverance. Yeshua is "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29).

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




The Purging Process...


 

01.20.15 (Tevet 29, 5775)  "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He purges (καθαίρει), that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:1-2). If you bear fruit you will experience the "purging process," and that means suffering affliction... This might seem to you backward: Why does the fruitful branch need to be cut back?  Indeed, the promise of suffering is not meant for an evil person, but for the righteous soul who trusts in God. Purging is painful but it is also purifying, yielding new growth within our hearts. Yeshua taught, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). The Greek word translated "pure" is katharos (καθαρός), sometimes used describe the cleansing of a wound (catharsis), or to describe the unalloyed quality of a substance revealed through refining fire. We "rejoice" in testing because that is the way of real growth, sustained hope, and the revelation of God's deep love (Rom. 5:3-4). In our afflictions we are given heavenly consolation that helps us to persevere (2 Cor. 1:3-5). 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.
 

טוֹב־לִי כִי־עֻנֵּיתִי לְמַעַן אֶלְמַד חֻקֶּיך

tov  li  khi-u·nei·ti, le·ma·an el·mad chu·ke·kha
 

"It is good for me that I was afflicted,
that I might learn your decrees." (Psalm 119:71)


Note that the Hebrew word translated "I was afflicted" here (עֻנֵּיתִי) comes from the verb anah (עָנָה), which also means to "answer." It is a great blessing when God answers the call of your heart by giving you opportunity to overcome trouble by means of his grace... Thank God for the blessing of being made needy for Him!
 




New Beginnings...


 

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

01.19.15 (Tevet 28, 5775)  The very first word of the Torah indicates the awareness of the significance of time - "in the beginning..." (Gen. 1:1), and according to Jewish tradition, the very first commandment given to the children of Israel (as a whole) was that of Rosh Chodesh (ראש חודש), or the declaration of the start (or head) of the "new month," particularly concerning the first month of their redemption (Exod. 12:2). In other words, Passover month was to begin Israel's year. Note that the word for month (i.e., chodesh) comes from the root chadash (חָדָש), meaning "new," and therefore the Passover redemption was intended to mark a "new beginning" for the Jewish people. And indeed, God marks the start of our personal redemption as the beginning of our life as a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), just as Yeshua is the "first of the firstfruits" of God's redeemed humanity (1 Cor. 15:45-49).

For more on this subject, see "Parashat Bo: The Significance of the Moon."
 




The Torah of Passover...


 

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

01.19.15 (Tevet 28, 5775)  The very first occurrence of the word "Torah" in the Scriptures refers to the faith of Abraham (Gen. 26:5), and the second occurrence refers to the law of Passover: "There shall be one law (תּוֹרָה) for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you" (Exod. 12:49). There is a link here. Abraham lived before the time of the Exodus, of course, and therefore he obeyed the Torah of Passover by means of the Akedah (the sacrifice of his beloved son Isaac and the substitution of the lamb of God upon the altar). Abraham's faith revealed that the inner meaning of Torah is that the "righteous shall live by faith" (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17), that is, by trusting God's justification of the sinner (Heb. 11:17-19). The Torah of Passover likewise teaches that redemption from death is possible through the exchange of an innocent sacrificial victim. The blood of the lamb was "a sign" of imputed righteousness obtained entirely by faith - with no "leaven," or human works, added. This is the "korban" principle of "life-for-life" that underlies the sacrificial system of the Tabernacle as well. Ultimately all true Torah points to Yeshua, the Lamb of God, who is the divinely appointed Redeemer and promised Slayer of the Serpent...

"When the fullness of time (τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου) had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the Torah, to redeem those who were under the Torah, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Gal. 4:4-5).
 




Retelling the Story...


 

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

01.18.15 (Tevet 27, 5775)  In our Torah for this week we are commanded to retell "in the hearing of your son and your grandson" how the LORD made a mockery of the Egyptians and performed wonders to deliver us" (Exod. 12:2). This commandment is the basis of the Passover haggadah (i.e., הַגָּדָה, "telling"), the "oral tradition" of our faith, when we personally retell the story from generation to generation so that the spirit of the message is not lost. We participate in the seder to make it "our own story," a part of who we are. Therefore b'khol-dor vador: "Every Jew must consider himself to have been personally redeemed from Egypt." Retelling the story of the exodus enables us to "know that I am the LORD" (Exod. 10:2). We recall the words, bishvili nivra ha'olam – "For my sake was this world created," while we also recall the words, anokhi afar ve'efer – "I am but dust and ashes." When we retell the story of the great redemption, we strengthen our faith and better know the LORD.

The LORD admonishes that the story of our redemption should be "as a sign on your hand and as a memorial (זִכָּרוֹן) between your eyes, that the Torah of the LORD may be in your mouth" (Exod. 13:9). We are instructed to "remember" (זָכַר) over and over again because our disease, our sickness of heart, induces us to forget how we were enslaved in the house of bondage. We must consciously remember and never forget that only by means of God's strong hand (בְּיָד חֲזָקָה) are we ever made free (John 8:36).
 





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