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

        

Note:  My wife and I have have three young children (Josiah, Judah, and Emanuel David - born Jan. 17, 2016). The LORD has graciously provided for us as Adonai Yireh (יְהוָה יִרְאֶה), "the One who sees [our need]." We are living one day at a time by the grace and mercy of God, and I want to publicly praise Yeshua and acknowledge His faithful love in caring for my family -- despite the trials during this time. The LORD God of Israel is faithful and true! And to those of you who have sent us a word of encouragement or donation during this difficult time, please accept our heartfelt appreciation! Your chesed truly help sustain us.

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





 

Jewish Holiday Calendar

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

In the summer there occurs a three week period of mourning that begins with the Fast of Tammuz and ends with Tishah B'Av. The last nine days of this three week period (i.e., from Av 1 until Av 9th) are days of increased mourning. However, after this somber time, the romantic holiday of Tu B'Av, the 15th of Av occurs. Summer ends with the 30 days of the month of Elul, a yearly season of teshuvah (repentance) that anticipates Rosh Hashanah and the fall holidays. The 30 days of Elul are combined with the first 10 days of the month of Tishri to create the "Forty Days of Teshuvah" that culminate with Yom Kippur.

Because they occur between the spring and fall holidays, the summer holidays help us prepare for the second coming of the Messiah:
 

Spring Holiday Calendar

The Summer Holidays:

Summer Holidays
 

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

  1. Month of Tammuz (begins Tuesday, July 5th, 2016)
  2. Month of Av (begins Thursday, Aug. 4th, 2016)
  3. Month of Elul (begins Friday Sept. 2nd, 2016)
  4. Month of Tishri (begins Sunday, Oct. 2nd, 2016)

Note:  Many Jewish calendars will list the first day of a holiday without indicating that the holiday actually begins sundown the night before... So, for example, while Tishah B'Av begins Saturday, August 13th at sundown, many calendars will indicate it occurs on Monday, August 14th... 

 



 

July 2016 Site Updates
 


First Step of Torah...


 

07.28.16 (Tamuz 22, 5776)   I sometimes feel concern for people who are obsessed over technical questions regarding "Torah observance" (i.e., dietary law, Sabbath observance, ritual practices, etc.). Whenever the question of moral obedience comes up (as it invariably does in such discussions), it is helpful to recall the first and most basic commandment of all, i.e., the commandment to love the LORD with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. THAT is the starting point. Indeed, the very first of the Ten Commandments is אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ - Anochi Adonai Eloheykha: "I AM the Lord your God." Without this personal acceptance of the LORD as your God (i.e., your willingness to trust and to love Him), you simply cannot fulfill any of the commandments with the right inward intent. We must begin with the duty to love the LORD, and that means regarding him as lovable, wonderful, and the healer of all that is broken within us. The LORD heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3). The "work of God" is to trust in the miracle of his love for you (John 6:29).

There are not two different spiritual paths here: one for the Jew and another for the rest of the world... The LORD God is One, and the duty to receive and walk truth is for all people, just as Yeshua died for the sins of the whole world.
 




The Breath of Life...


 

07.27.16 (Tamuz 21, 5776)   A verse from this week's Torah (i.e., parashat Pinchas) reveals yet another great Name of God: Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), which can be translated "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 27:16). This Name reveals that God is the Source of your breath, the One who exhales to you nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" that enables you to live (see Job 12:10). The sages use the analogy of a glassblower who creates a glass vessel. Just as the glassblower blows into a tube to form a vessel from molten glass, so the "breath" (i.e., neshamah: נְשָׁמָה) that comes from the LORD functions as spirit (i.e., ruach: רוּחַ) that forms and fills the human soul (i.e., nefesh: נֶפֶשׁ). Note especially that the Name YHVH (יהוה) first appears in this connection (Gen. 2:7), a Name that also means "God is Present" (Exod. 3:14) and "God is Mercy" (Exod. 34:6-7). And also consider that each letter of the Name YHVH represents a vowel sound (i.e., breath), suggesting that God's Spirit is as close as your very next breath. Like the wind that cannot be seen, so is the spirit the essential part of your identity. Truly in God we "live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).

Note that Elohei ha'ruchot lekhol basar can also be translated as the "God of the breath for all flesh..." 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.
 




The Gift of Desperation...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah for this week, Parashat Pinchas, which describes the daily offering of the lamb as God's "food" (Num. 28:1-8)... ]

07.27.16 (Tamuz 21, 5776)   Many of us have been given the "gift of holy desperation." That's the special blessing of needing God so viscerally that you will fall apart or even self-destruct apart from His daily intervention in your life... "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3). We groan in hope... Our Torah says that the fire on the altar was to be kept burning at all times (Lev. 6:12-13), which symbolizes esh tamid (אֵשׁ תָּמִיד), or the inner fire of the heart... How blessed it is to be full of the fire of this inner need, this relentless groaning, this constant hunger to be set free. Even more wonderful is how the korban tamid - the daily whole burnt sacrifice of the lamb - represents Yeshua's ongoing and wholehearted passion for you to come alive to God's love...
 




Rich Toward Heaven...


 

07.27.16 (Tamuz 21, 5776)   From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Pinchas) we read: "For the many you shall make much his inheritance (לָרַב תַּרְבֶּה נַחֲלָתוֹ), and for the few you shall make small his inheritance: each according to his number will be given his inheritance" (Num. 26:54). The sages comment this refers not only to the population of the tribes and their allotment in the land, but also to one's individual share in the world to come (אִישׁ לְפִי פְקֻדָיו יֻתַּן נַחֲלָתוֹ). The "many" refers to one who attends to the Divine Presence and is rich toward heaven, whereas the "few" refers to those who cheat themselves out of their eternal future by making themselves poor toward heaven. Life in the world to come is therefore determined by the investment you are making here, today (1 Cor. 3:8-15; Col. 3:24). The fool lays up treasure for himself on earth and neglects his heavenly calling, but the wise soul is "rich toward God" (Luke 12:16-21). "Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward" (Heb. 10:35).
 




Center of the Torah...


 

07.26.16 (Tamuz 20, 5776)   According to a fascinating midrash cited by Rabbi Yaakov ibn Chaviv, several of the sages of the Mishnah (i.e., Tannaim) attempted to choose the central verse that summarized the meaning of the entire Torah. Ben Zoma said, "We have found the most all-inclusive verse to be, 'Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is One'" (Deut. 6:4). Ben Nanas said, "We have found the most all-inclusive verse to be, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Lev. 19:18). Shimon ben Pazi said, "We have found the most all-inclusive verse to be, 'The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight'" (Num. 28:4). Then one of the sages stood up and said, "It is ben Pazi who is correct," and the assembly concurred...

In other words, the key idea of the Torah centers on sacrifice, and in particular, the continual sacrifice of the lamb. According to the early sages, the daily sacrifice of the lamb is more important than either the Shema or even the duty to love others... The continual (i.e., tamid: תָּמִיד) sacrifice of the lamb is central to the meaning of the Torah. It is the Torah's most all-inclusive idea; tt is the core idea of true Torah, and it reveals Yeshua!

For more on this, see "The Central Idea of Torah: Further thoughts on Parashat Pinchas."
 




The Three Weeks...



 

07.26.16 (Tamuz 20, 5776)  We are in the midst of the "Three Weeks of Sorrow" that began with the Fast of Tammuz and ends with the solemn fast of Tishah B'Av. Spiritually, these three weeks are marked by a call for teshuvah (repentance), and the weekly readings from the prophets all warn about judgment from heaven. Now when it comes to teshuvah (turning to God), we need not only to remember and account for the past, but even more do we need to remember the future... "This world is like a corridor before the World to Come; prepare yourself in the corridor, that you may enter into the hall." God tests us along the way, disciplining and correcting us, so that we are no longer "two-souled" but rather strong of faith, with singleness of vision and purpose. So do not forget the future; always remember your true home with God and anticipate the reunion that awaits you...


Three Weeks of SorrowThree Weeks of Sorrow
 





Keeping your Focus...


 

07.26.16 (Tamuz 20, 5776)   One of the main strategies of the devil is to induce a sense of forgetfulness, apathy, and hopelessness... The devil wants you to ignore what is real and who you really are. The truth is your weapon against the cascade of lies that pours forth from the world and its princes. The entire venture of teshuvah (repentance) presupposes that you are created "in the image of God," that you are related to him, and therefore you have infinite value and dignity. This is all the more evident in light of the awesome ransom that Yeshua gave to reconcile your soul with God. Therefore hold fast to the truth, friends; da lifnei mi attah omed - "know before Whom you stand." Turn to what is real, refuse the lies and despair of this world, and review what will abide the test of Eternity.
 

כִּי־חַסְדְּךָ לְנֶגֶד עֵינָי
וְהִתְהַלַּכְתִּי בַּאֲמִתֶּךָ

ki · chas·de·kha · le·ne·ged · ei·nai
ve·hit·hal·lakh·ti · ba·a·mi·te·kha
 

"For your steadfast love is before my eyes
and I walk in your truth."
(Psalm 26:3)


 


Note that the verb "I walk" (הִתְהַלַּכְתִּי) is "hithpael," a verb pattern used to express reflexive, intensive action done to oneself. Therefore we could translate this as "I earnestly choose to walk" in the truth, indicating decisiveness of intent, focus, purpose... As King Shlomo said: בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ - "know Him in all your ways" (Prov. 3:6).
 




Feeding God's Heart...


 

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

07.25.16 (Tamuz 19, 5776)   As I've discussed elsewhere on the site, the climax of the revelation of the Torah at Sinai was not the giving of the Ten Commandments to Israel but was instead the vision of the Altar of the Sanctuary... However -- as our Torah portion this week makes clear -- the central sacrifice upon this altar was the daily sacrifice (i.e., korban tamid: קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד) of a defect-free male lamb with unleavened bread and wine. The LORD calls this "my offering" (קָרְבָּנִי) and "my bread" (לַחְמִי) [Num. 28:1-8]. In other words, the service and ministry of the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle) constantly foretold the coming of the great Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) who would be offered upon the altar of the cross to secure our eternal redemption (John 1:29; Heb. 9:11-12).

The sacrifice of the lamb represents "God's food," a pleasing aroma (רֵיחַ נִיחוֹחַ), for it most satisfied the hunger of God's heart (Eph. 5:2). Indeed, Yeshua's offering upon the cross represents God's hunger for our atonement, our healing from the sickness of death, since it restored what was lost to Him through sin, namely, communion with his children. God could never be satisfied until He was able to let truth and love meet (Psalm 85:10).

Note: For more on this subject, see "The Hunger of God's Heart."
 




Wounded Shepherd...


 

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

07.25.16 (Tamuz 19, 5776)   From our Torah this week we read Moses' appeal for his successor: "Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh (אלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd" (Num. 27:16-17). The Koznitzer rebbe commented here that Moses asked God to appoint a leader "for all flesh," lekhol basar (לְכָל־בָּשָׂר). Rearranging the letters of basar (בָּשָׂר), he formed the word shavar (שָׁבָר), which means "to break in pieces," and concluded that a true leader should be one with a broken heart (לב שבור), that is, one who can sympathize and have pity on his people (Heb. 2:8; 4:15; 5:1-ff). Indeed, the true successor to Moses, the Shepherd of Israel, was to be broken in pieces for all people..
 




Our Very Present Help...


 

07.25.16 (Tamuz 19, 5776)   "For the very hairs of your head are all numbered" (Matt. 10:30). Yeshua was not using "poetic exaggeration" here, but instead affirmed that God's wisdom and knowledge is so vast that it pervades and encompasses all things (including things about ourselves we do not see or understand). God's providence descends to the subatomic dust and ascends to the massive orbs and stars that sweep through the heavens. There is no realm – no possible world – nothing above, below, or around you – that is beyond God's sustaining power and will. All that was, is, and ever shall be is forever under God's sovereign authority, and he rules over all things for his glory and good. There is no "chance" or "coincidence" in God's universe; nothing is beyond his reach and purposive design. Therefore we can remain at peace even in the midst of the world's turmoil and storms: God is always here, always working for your ultimate healing and good. God is "your refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah."
 

אֱלהִים לָנוּ מַחֲסֶה וָעז
 עֶזְרָה בְצָרוֹת נִמְצָא מְאד
 עַל־כֵּן לא־נִירָא בְּהָמִיר אָרֶץ
 וּבְמוֹט הָרִים בְּלֵב יַמִּים

E·lo·him  la·nu  ma·cha·seh  va·oz
ez·rah  ve·tza·rot  nim·tza  me·od
al  ken  lo  ni·ra  be·cha·mir  a·retz
u·ve·mot  ha·rim  be·lev  ya·mim
 

"God is our refuge and strength,
an everpresent help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.
(Psalm 46:1-2)


 

According to many of the Jewish sages, Psalm 46 concerns the "birth pangs" of the Messianic Age and the prophetic war of Gog and Magog (Ezek. 38-39) that will usher in the Kingdom of God during the End of Days. This is hinted at in the opening of the psalm, where it is written, "Of the sons of Korach: according to alamot (עֲלָמוֹת)," i.e., the "hidden things" or "ages" to come.  Recall that the sons of Korach were miraculously delivered from the rebellion of Korach in the desert and therefore they foreshadow the community of Israel delivered at the end of the present age. God is our refuge and strength during perilous days - so "hide yourself for a little moment, until the indignation will have passed" (Isa. 26:20).

God is a very present help in times of trouble, so "if from there [i.e., the trouble of the latter days] you shall seek the LORD your God with all your heart, you will find him, if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 4:29-31). The sages say that machaseh (refuge) implies being protected by God, while 'oz (strength) implies being empowered by God to withstand afflictions that originate from the hand of man. During the time of tribulation, God will grant both to His people. God is our help during distress, "very available," that is, very much present both in quality (i.e., His full Presence) and in quantity (i.e., He is ever-present, or always present).  Fear is not an option for the heart of faith, since God gives providential help during time of our need (Heb. 4:16).

Ultimately any true help comes from the LORD Yeshua, of course, who will deliver Israel from all her enemies at the end of the great tribulation period (i.e., at His second coming). It is interesting that the sages say that the word "very" (i.e., me'od: מְאד) in the phrase, "a very present help" is thought to be an acronym for Messiah, Adam, David (מָשִׁיחַ אָדָם דָוִד) - that is, to the "Messiah, son of man and son of David," who will wield the authority of both the first man as well as God's chosen regent upon the earth...

We will not fear - even though the earth will change due to the mighty wars between the nations - and even if the mountains themselves are moved into the heart of the sea -- a prophetic allusion to the return of Yeshua upon the Mount of Olives at the end of the tribulation (Zech. 14:4). Despite the "rage and foam" of the nations, the LORD will break their godless pride as our Messiah returns with the multitude of His servants to exact vengeance upon the enemies of God (Zech. 14:5). "And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one" (Zech. 14:9).

Amen, and may that great Day come soon!
 




Echoes from the Future...


 

07.24.16 (Tamuz 18, 5776)  Yeshua forewarned of the alienation and moral sickness that would pervade mankind just before the time of his return: "Because lawlessness (i.e., ἀνομία, from -α ('not') + νομος, 'torah') will be increased," he said, "the love of many will grow cold (i.e., ψύχομαι, 'be extinguished')" (Matt. 24:12). Note the link between Torah and love: true love requires respect for God's authority, for without that the divine image is disfigured and desecrated. Likewise the Apostle Paul foresaw that the "End of Days" (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) would be a time of peril (καιροὶ χαλεποί) because people would become increasingly narcissistic, self-absorbed, infatuated with their own sense of self-importance, abusive toward others, disrespectful to elders, ungrateful, heartless, unforgiving, without self-control, brutal, treacherous, and so on (2 Tim. 3:1-4). Therefore, in light of the spiritual war that rages all around us, it is vital that we remain firmly rooted in what is real by taking hold of our identity and provision as children 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), i.e., a "delivered" mind -- centered and "healed" from inner chaos (2 Tim. 1:7). The name of the LORD (יהוה) means "Presence," and in Him "we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). He is as close as our heart and our very breath (Rom. 10:8). We are not to be troubled like the world that lives in terror of man, nor are we to crave security from the vain devices of mere men. No - we must look to God Almighty, the Master of the Universe. He alone is our Refuge and Defense, the One who gives us steadfast love in the midst of these storms. "Let not your heart be troubled" - God is in control of the whirlwind, friends...

According to orthodox Jewish eschatological tradition, the period of time immediately before the Messiah's arrival is sometimes called ikvot meshicha (עִקְּבוֹת מְשִׁיחַ), the time when the "footsteps of the Messiah" can be heard. Some of the "signs" of this period include the rise of various false prophets, numerous wars and "rumors of wars" (including the rise of Magog), famines, earthquakes, worldwide apostasy from the faith, persecution, and a globalized sort of godlessness that is revealed in unbridled selfishness, greed, chutzpah (audacity), shamelessness, and a general lack of hakarat ha-tov (gratitude). The greatest sign, however, will be that Israel will exist once again as a sovereign nation, despite the prophesied exile among the nations (Deut. 4:27-31; Jer. 30:1-3). For more on this fascinating subect, see the article "Birthpangs of Messiah."
 




Parashat Pinchas - פינחס


 

07.24.16 (Tamuz 18, 5776)  Last week's Torah portion (i.e., parashat Balak) first introduced us to Phinehas (i.e., Pinchas), the son of Eleazar the priest (and grandson of Aaron), who, during the tragic rebellion at Baal Peor, zealously removed evil from Israel by driving a spear through a tribal prince who was brazenly cavorting with a Midianite princess in definace of God's law. On account of Pinchas' zeal for the truth of Torah, God stopped the plague and Israel was delivered from destruction...

This week's Torah portion (i.e., parashat Pinchas) begins with the LORD rewarding Pinchas by granting him a "covenant of peace" (בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם) and officially promising to incorporate him into the priestly line of Israel. This promise was remarkable because Pinchas was technically not qualified to be a priest, since he had already been born when the original promise was given to Aaron and his sons, and since his father Eleazar was married to an "outsider" – namely, the daughter of Jethro (also called Putiel, Exod. 6:25).

After Pinchas was honored before the people of Israel, the LORD commanded Moses and Eleazar to conduct another census of the people (this was 39 years after the Exodus from Egypt), with the result of 601,730 men between the ages of twenty and sixty (1,820 less that the original census taken at the start of the journey). Moses was then instructed on how the land was to be divided by lottery among the tribes and families of Israel. The daughters of Zelophehad then petitioned Moses that they be granted the portion of the land belonging to their father, who died without sons, and God accepted their claim and incorporated it into the laws of inheritance.

The LORD then commanded Moses to climb mount Abarim to "see the land which I have given to the children of Israel," though he was forbidden to enter it because he struck the rock twice at Kadesh. God then told Moses to formally appoint Joshua bin Nun as his successor who would lead the Jewish people into the Promised Land.

Parashat Pinchas (like parashat Emor in the Book of Leviticus) also includes mention of all of the (sacrifices of the) mo'edim (holidays) given to Israel (Num. 28). These include the daily (tamid), weekly (Shabbat), monthly (Rosh Chodesh) sacrifices, as well as the sacrifices assigned to the special holidays: Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hoshannah (Terumah), Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret.  Remembering the joys of the Temple and the special celebrations of the Jewish people are thought to add a contrast to the otherwise somber time of reflection during the Three Weeks of Sorrow.
 

 




The Three Weeks of Sorrow...


 

07.24.16 (Tamuz 18, 5776)   According to Jewish tradition Moses shattered the tablets on the 17th day of the 4th month, after he came down from Mount Sinai and found the people worshipping the golden calf. Today, this tragic date is commemorated as a fast day (i.e., the "Fast of Tammuz"), which marks the beginning of a three week period of mourning that culminates on the 9th of Av, the date the Israelites were sent into exile from the promised land because they believed the evil report of the spies (Num. 14:20-35).

During this three week period of national mourning, the weekly readings from the prophets are all "Haftarahs of Rebuke" that warn the people about imminent judgment from heaven, and therefore the theme of most Jewish religious services is teshuvah (repentance). In addition, weddings or other joyous events are usually not held during this time of year. Indeed, among the very Orthodox, the last nine days of the three weeks are the most rigorous and solemn. Beginning on the first day of the month of Av, traditional mourning customs are practiced in anticipation of the most solemn fast day of Tishah B'Av, when the Book of Lamentations (Megillat Eichah) is plaintively recited during the evening service.

Three Weeks of SorrowThree Weeks of Sorrow
 

Dates During the Three Weeks of Sorrow: 

This year the Fast of Tammuz begins at dawn on Sunday, July 24th and lasts until sunset. Tishah B'Av begins Saturday, August 13th and ends Sunday, July 14th at sunset.
 




Abiding in Him...


 

07.22.16 (Tamuz 16, 5776)  Yeshua used the allegory of a vine and its branches to illustrate how we are to be spiritually connected to Him: "I am the true Vine, and you are the branches," he said (John 15:1-6). The purpose of the branch is to be a conduit of the life of the vine. We derive our identity, life and strength from being made part of Yeshua's 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..." Cleaving to God is the essence of the great commandment to love the Lord given in the Shema. We are able to so cleave to God in Yeshua because God does a miracle and gives us lev chadash, 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 ultimately depends. He appeals to each heart of faith: "Live in me, and I will live in you" (John 15:4).

Shabbat Shalom and thank you for being a part of Hebrew for Christians, friends...
 




Wounds of a Friend...


 

07.22.16 (Tamuz 16, 5776)  "Surely he has taken up our sicknesses and has carried our sorrows; yet we regarded him as stricken, beaten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced (profaned) for our transgressions; he was crushed for our perversions; upon him was the correction that brought our peace, and by his blows we are healed" (Isa. 53:4-5). In this famous passage that foretold the suffering of Yeshua as Mashiach ben Yosef, note that the word translated "blow" (i.e., chaburah: חַבּוּרָה, "wound" or "stripe") comes from the same root as the word for "friend" (i.e., chaver: חָבֵר), and therefore we can read "in His friendship we are healed." Yeshua gave up His life for us so that we could become his friends... As he later said regarding his sacrifice: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Indeed of Yeshua it may truly be said, Yesh ohev davek me'ach – "there is a friend who sticks (davek) closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24).
 




Practice the Presence...


 

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

07.22.16 (Tamuz 16, 5776)  "I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me" (Num. 22:34). The sages comment that ignorance of the Divine Presence is not a legitimate excuse. The whole world is filled with God's glory, though this awareness is suppressed because of sin. Ignorance (literally the "state of ignoring" moral and spiritual truth) is a choice for which we are responsible (Rom. 1:18-20). Sin blinds us to our eternal responsibility. The antidote to ignorance is to become mindful, awake, and aware... We must choose to attend to God's Presence, as David said, "I have set the LORD always before me" (Psalm 16:8). King David knew, of course, that God was always present, all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful, yet he consciously turned to God in heartfelt humility. David "practiced the presence" of the LORD by realizing that all taht he said, did, and even thought was before the Presence of the Master of the Universe.
 

שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
 כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט

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

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



Hebrew Study Card

 

To repair the breach between "faith" and "practice," to unify his heart and its affections, David determined to "set" the LORD before him. Note that the verb "set" here is piel, that is, intensive... We must intently focus our mind and heart to regard ourselves as in the Presence of God; we must sense His eye upon us and "know before Whom we stand." The sages say that when David wrote these words, he was referring to the scroll of Torah which he kept tied to his arm (shel yad). King David literally "set" the Word of the LORD upon his right hand to help him keep focused.
 




Blessing of the Good Eye...


 

07.22.16 (Tamuz 16, 5776)  "The one who utters a blessing is blessed; the one who utters a curse is cursed" (Ruth Rabbah). This does not mean that we should walk about blessing others in a formulaic (i.e., insincere) way as much as it expresses the great truth that as we are within, so we are without: as we forgive, so we are forgiven; as we give, so we receive... But we can't give to others what we have not received, and that means first of all learning to see how we are loved by God, despite ourselves. We must use ayin tovah, the "good eye" for the sake of our own inner peace. We must extend to ourselves "good will" and compassion before we can offer it to others.  If you can't yet love yourself, ask the Lord to help you begin by not hating yourself, by turning away from the fear that hides behind your anger.  As Rashi wisely said, "hatred causes a person to forget his identity."
 




Life from the Dead...


 

07.21.16 (Tamuz 15, 5776)  "Though the outer man perishes..." yet we must not judge by external appearances, since our faith is based on an unseen good: "I am the resurrection and the life (אֲנכִי הַתְּקוּמָה וְהַחַיִּים); whoever believes in me - though he die - yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26). Your faith in God's promise allows you to transcend moments of testing: sickness, perils, even death itself, to establish the reality of your trust. Yes, the physcial body will die (Heb. 9:27), but this too is yet another moment to receive the promise of eternal life. Live in God's name; die in God's name: He is on the other side of the veil, preparing a place for you (John 14:3). "For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's" (Rom. 14:8).
 

    "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer man perishes, our inner man is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.... So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the physical body, we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 4:16–5:7).
     


It is no small thing to believe the message of Yeshua, and indeed, it involves a passionate inwardness that scandalizes the rational mind. Our father Abraham is extolled as the model of righteous faith, but he was tested to sacrifice the moral law (e.g., "thou shalt not murder") when he lifted up the knife to slay his beloved son Isaac. Faith requires you to change your everyday thinking, to go beyond natural expectations, to "walk on water." In the case of Yeshua, we are confronted with the "Absolute Paradox," namely, the God-Man, the Infinite-made-Finite, the Holy-made-Profane, the Sinless-made-Sin, who says to you: "I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26). You will never die; you will never hunger; you are made whole through my brokenness; you will be cleansed by my defilement, and so on. It's not just hard to believe, it's impossible, which is why it is a miracle of God to be saved (Matt. 19:26). "It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is no help at all" (John 6:33). The difference is Yeshua: Salvation is of the LORD. We are enabled to love and know God by means of his inner life and spirit, not by means of good intentions or religious zeal. Faith itself is a miracle, the power of God....

"The thoughts of your heart are disclosed as you choose whether you will believe or not."
- Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813-1855).

 




Curses turned to Blessings...


 

[ In our Torah portion this week (Balak), we read how Balaam intended to curse the Israelites, but God "took hold of his tongue" and made him bless the people instead... ]

07.21.16 (Tamuz 15, 5776)  God can turn curses into blessings...  For example, Joseph was blessed despite the ill-will of his brothers: "You devised evil against me, but God devised it for good" (Gen. 50:20). Note that the same verb for "devised" (i.e., chashav: חשׁב) is used to describe both the evil intent of the brothers and the good intent of the Lord. This teaches us that God overrules the malice of men to effect his own good purposes, and therefore we can rightfully affirm gam zu l'tovah (גַּם זוּ לְטוֹבָה), "this too is for good" (Rom. 8:28). Underlying the surface appearance of life (chayei sha'ah) is a deeper reality (chayei olam) that is ultimately real, abiding, and designed for God's redemptive love to be fully expressed. Resist the temptation, therefore, to judge by mere appearances. Forbid your troubles to darken the eye of faith. Do not unjustly judge God's purposes or try to understand His ways. As the story of Balaam shows, God makes even the wrath of man praise Him (Psalm 76:10). "Then God opened Balaam's eyes, and he saw the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down..." (Num. 22:31). Indeed, every knee will bow to the LORD our God and Savior (Isa. 45:22-23; Phil. 2:10-11).

We find comfort that the schemes of the wicked are subject to the sovereign purposes of the LORD our God. Ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו) - there is no power that can be exercised apart from God's consent and overarching will... Indeed all authority on heaven and earth belongs to Yeshua, the "the Ruler of the Kings of the earth" (עֶלְיוֹן לְמַלְכֵי־אָרֶץ). As it is written, "All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name" (Psalm 86:9).
 




Blessing of Inner Peace...

Photo by John J Parsons
 

07.21.16 (Tamuz 15, 5776)  It is remarkable that the traditional morning blessing recited at synagogues around the world begins with words attributed to Balaam, the enigmatic and self-styled prophet: Mah Tovu: "How lovely are your tents, O Jacob; your dwelling places, O Israel!" (Num. 24:5). The sages say that the word "tent" (אהֶל) refers to the inner life – how we really feel inside – whereas the word "dwelling" (מִשְׁכָּן) refers to the outer life - our place or circumstances.  Together, the inner and the outer mark the quality of our lives, but the inner is the starting point, since we must first learn to live in peace with ourselves. This is vital: we must first tolerate our shortcomings and practice compassion toward our frail humanity... This is sometimes called shalom ba'bayit, "peace in the home" (of the self). Such inner peace is the greatest of blessings, since without it we will cling to pain, fear, and anger, thereby making us unable to find our place at the table in God's kingdom of love.
 

מַה־טּבוּ אהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקב
מִשְׁכְּנתֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל

mah · to·vu · o·ha·le·kha · Ya·a·kov
mish·ke·no·te·kha · Yis·ra·el
 

"How lovely are your tents, O Jacob,
your dwellings, O Israel"
(Num. 24:5)



  

Note: For more on this, see the Mah Tovu Blessing pages.
 




Righteous Judgment...


 

07.21.16 (Tamuz 15, 5776)  "Judge others as you would want to be judged." As Yeshua said, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge be'tzekdek (בְּצֶדֶק),' that is, with merciful judgment (John 7:24). Truth is classically understood as "correspondence with reality," however since reality is not static, the truth of something is bound up with its past, present, and future. To "walk in truth," then, means being mindful of the complexities of something, and consequently refusing to rush to judgment or to be prejudiced in our thinking... Since truth includes possibilities for the future, it uses the good eye and "hopes all things" (1 Cor. 13:7). Notice that the word tzedek (צֶדֶק) includes the decision to act in "charity" and love. We are commanded to give tzedakah (צְדָקָה, "charity") not only because it is "right," but because it expresses God's love and care for others. A judgment is righteous, in other words, because it decisively affirms faith in God's love...
 

    "Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind... Pride always means enmity - it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good - above all, better than someone else - I think we may be sure we are being acted upon, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is either that you forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether. "- C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity)


Note:  I should mention here that the eternal verities are not subject to temporal qualifications, and discernment of other people's doctrine might lead to the (warranted) conclusion that they are trafficking in falsehood (e.g., think of secular humanists, hedonists, cultists, and so on). Understand this entry as a word spoken to someone who is inside the ambit of the basic truths of Scripture, who walks with Yeshua, but who at times may struggle with their own "dogmas" that lead them to anger, fear, etc.  In other words, "hope for all things" must be grounded in Reality... However, there is always hope even for enemies of the truth, as the Apostle Paul shows, and we can still believe and pray for eternal healing for those who are presently in darkness.
 




Uncovering of Eyes...



 

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

07.20.16 (Tamuz 14, 5776)  "Then the LORD uncovered Balaam's eyes and he saw..." (Num. 22:31). This implies that the great "seer" had been walking "sightlessly" – blind to reality, closed off, unable to get past his own narrow perspective... Indeed the Hebrew verb for "uncovered" (i.e., galah: גָּלָה) implies captivity and exile (i.e., galut: גָּלוּת). Seeing is essentially a spiritual act – a decision of the will - though to see the truth about reality requires the miracle from God... Just "as the hand held before the eye conceals the greatest mountain," so we hide from view the mysteries and glories that surround our way. Like the man born blind who needed a miracle to see the world around him, so we are delivered from our blindness only when God reaches down and touches us so we can see (John 9). "Amazing grace... I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see."
 

אַל־תַּסְתֵּר פָּנֶיךָ מִמֶּנִּי

al · tas·teir · pa·ne·kha · mi·me·ni
 

"Do not hide your face from me" - Psalm 27:9
 

This is such an important appeal – to be enabled by the miracle to see God's face in all things, in every person we encounter, and in every experience we have... Amen.
 




Judgment and Projection...


 

07.20.16 (Tamuz 14, 5776)  How easy it is to see the faults of others but to overlook our own; how effortless it is to fool ourselves! But suppose, right when we were judging another, we we to catch glimpse of ourselves? What reflection might we see? Would we see a face of concern, expressing compassion, or a face of anger, expressing fear? Notice that how we see others reveals how we see ourselves: "For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you" (Matt. 7:2). If we see character flaws in others, it is likely we have these very defects ourselves, and the more visceral our reaction, the more likely we share them with those whom we judge...
 



The Faces of Life...


 

07.20.16 (Tamuz 14, 5776)  The Hebrew word for "face" is panim (פָּנִים), a term that is grammatically plural, which suggests that there is no single "face" or appearance that can fully define or express the essence of a person. Just as your soul (נְשָׁמָה) is a unity that contains a multiplicity of changes yet remains a distinct identity, so there is an "inward face" that abides the outer expressions. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "inside" is penim (פְּנִים), which is spelled exactly the same as the word for "face."

The word panim itself comes from panah (פָּנָה), a verb meaning "to turn." The Hebrew preposition "before" is lifnei (לִפְנֵי), from the same root, which literally means "turning toward" or facing something. This suggests that we have to consider different angles or perspectives and be careful not to jump to conclusions or to make superficial judgments about others. We have to turn in empathy toward others. The Torah says we are to judge be'tzedek (בְּצֶדֶק), that is, with righteousness, by using a "good eye," by giving the benefit of the doubt to others, and by exercising kindness (Lev. 19:15). As Yeshua said, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24).

"Why do you see the speck in your brother's eye, but you don't notice the log in your own?" (Matt. 7:4). The Baal Shem Tov is reported to have said, "It is not good to be alone, for one cannot know one's own defects. Other people are mirrors, in which you can discover your own flaws by observing the acts you dislike in them. In fact, it is only because you share them yourself in some degree that you are able to see another person's flaws." May it be Thy will, Lord and God of our fathers, to remove all barriers between us, and endow us with the vision to see the good in all people, and overlook their defects. Amen.

In the great "three-in-one blessing" known as birkat kohanim (Num. 6:24-26), the LORD is asked to shine the light of His face upon us (פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ), and to lift up His face to behold us in love... The two "faces" here represent the loving countenance of the Divine Presence and our own face turned toward His loving gaze. Therefore the most intimate connection with the LORD is described as being panim el panim (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), being "face to face" with God. The LORD is the One who sees the "face beneath the face" in our hearts, and that face ultimately is that of Yeshua Himself: "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18). "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). Let us therefore come boldly (i.e., without pretense) before the Throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in our time of need" (Heb. 4:16).
 




Overcoming the Darkness...


 

07.19.16 (Tamuz 13, 5776)  As a seed planted within soil seeks life by "reaching" for the sun, so our souls are drawn upward by the desire for God. The Lord calls us "out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9); he calls us to awaken, to grow, and to come to the fullness of his life (John 10:10). Being called "out of darkness" means being set free of those spiritual forces that have held us captive. When we turn to the Divine Light for our sustenance and healing, we are set free from the pain of our fears and the insanity of evil (Acts 26:18). As it is written: "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7). The Greek word "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός) comes from the verb sodzo (σῴζω), meaning "to save," from saos (σάος) "safe," in the sense of being under care and influence of the Spirit of God. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Heeding the truth of Yeshua grounds you in what is real and reveals your identity and provision as a child of God, as it is written: "For you are my lamp (כִּי־אַתָּה תָּאִיר נֵרִי), O LORD, and my God lightens my darkness" (Psalm 18:28).
 




Thou Shalt be Satisfied...


 

07.19.16 (Tamuz 13, 5776)  In the Torah we read the rather remarkable commandment: "And you shall eat and be satisfied" (Deut. 8:10), which implies that God desires for us to receive the goodness of life itself. "Taste and see that the LORD is good." Addictions, cravings, lusts, etc., arise from a refusal to be satisfied, by hungering for more than the blessing of the present 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 present for us, but we will only find them if we open our hearts to the wonder of God in this moment. We can "break the spell" of continual dissatisfaction, of the power of greed, ambition, and so on, when we discover that our constant hunger is really a cry for God and His blessing. This is the blessed "hunger and thirst" given by the Spirit (Matt. 5:6). Our sense of inner emptiness is an invitation to come to the waters and drink life. So let us all come to God's table and ask the Lord Yeshua to give us the water that will satisfy our heart's true thirst for life... Amen.
 

וְהִתְעַנַּג עַל־יְהוָה וְיִתֶּן־לְךָ מִשְׁאֲלת לִבֶּךָ
גּוֹל עַל־יְהוָה דַּרְכֶּךָ וּבְטַח עָלָיו וְהוּא יַעֲשֶׂה

ve·hit·a·nag · al · Adonai · ve·yit·ten · le·kha · mish·a·lot · lib·be·kha
gol · al · Adonai · dar·ke·kha · u·ve·tach · a·lav · ve·hu · ya·a·seh

 

"Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act."
(Psalm 34:18)



Hebrew Study Card

 




Refuge of Teshuvah...


 

07.19.16 (Tamuz 13, 5776)  The message of teshuvah (repentance) is one of healing. As is written in our Torah, "Guard well your souls..." (וְנִשְׁמַרְתֶּם מְאד לְנַפְשׁתֵיכֶם) [Deut. 4:15]. The Hebrew grammar of this verse is a bit unusual, since the verb shamar (שָׁמַר), meaning to "guard" or to "keep," is written in the passive voice (niphal), i.e., "Let yourselves be guarded well..." If we open our hearts to heed or listen to the truth of God - if we let go and surrender to God's will for our lives - we will be protected from the snares of idolatry. "Know therefore today, and lay it to your heart (וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ), that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath -- there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). When you surrender from the heart you will understand that "the LORD is your Guard" (יְהוָה שׁמְרֶךָ); the LORD is yishmor et nafshekha - "the One who guards your life" (Psalm 121:5,7).

Thank you all for your prayers for my health...
 




Near the Brokenhearted...


 

07.19.16 (Tamuz 13, 5776)  Spirituality often enough involves a sense of irremediable brokenness, a feeling that you are not whole, that you are a mess, and that your need for God's healing is constant and relentless... Contrary to the ideals of proud humanism, spirituality is a state of "blessed neediness," of being "poor in spirit," that aches with inner desperation for God's power of healing. Those who humbly cry out to the LORD understand their great need for deliverance. Our Lord Yeshua testified: "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10), and therefore He is found in the midst of the leper colonies of the hurting, the forgotten, and the rejected.  As the "Man of Sorrows" (i.e., ish makhovot: אִישׁ מַכְאבוֹת) he understands the language of our pain (Isa. 53:3).
 

קָרוֹב יְהוָה לְנִשְׁבְּרֵי־לֵב
וְאֶת־דַּכְּאֵי־רוּחַ יוֹשִׁיעַ

ka·rov · Adonai · le·nish·be·rei · lev
ve·et · dak·ei · ru·ach · yo·shi·a

 

"The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit"
(Psalm 34:18)



Hebrew Study Card
 

The question may be asked, how can we live with our brokenness? Yeshua asks us not to see it as a curse from God that reminds us of our wretched condition but to yield it to Him for our sanctification and ultimate healing... In this way, brokenness can be a gateway to a deeper walk with God, going "through the wound" to find life and blessing...
 




The Doctrine of Balaam...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Balak.  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here... Shavuah tov, chaverim. ]

07.19.16 (Tamuz 13, 5776)  The "doctrine of Balaam" (ἡ διδαχή Βαλαάμ) is the wicked strategy of enticing others to sin by encouraging them to "eat food offered to idols" and to engage in sexual immorality (Rev. 2:14). This was how Balaam was able finally to curse the Israelites at Baal Peor, after all (see Num. 25:1-10; 31:16). In short, Balaam's doctrine was one of "syncretism," advocating a mindless "tolerance" that arrogantly claimed that all religions are equally true, and therefore all are equally false... Such "tolerance" is a charade for moral and spiritual nihilism that lends itself well to political fascism. In ancient Rome, official "tolerance" led to the brutal intolerance of the "Imperial Cult" where the power of the State (represented by the Emperor) was worshiped. In our age, the doctrine of Balaam first entices people to "eat food offered to idols," that is, to partake of the irrational dogma of "absolute tolerance" and unthinking universalism. After opening the heart to accept such idolatry, sexual immorality is the natural expression, a consequence of debasing doctrinal promiscuity. God sets us free from the slavery of surrounding culture to become a witness of the truth. Assimilating with this world and its political ideals is spiritual adultery. Do not fool yourself: Whoever makes himself a friend of the world is an enemy of God (James 4:4).
 

כִּיּ בְּרב חָכְמָה רָב־כָּעַס
וְיוֹסִיף דַּעַת יוֹסִיף מַכְאוֹב

ki · be'rov · choch·mah · rov-ka·as
ve·yo·sif · da'at · yo·sif · makh·ov
 

"For in much wisdom is much vexation,
and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow"
(Eccl. 1:18)

 




Keep on Trusting...


 

07.18.16 (Tamuz 12, 5776)  When Yeshua said, "Let not your heart be troubled... I go to prepare a place for you," he was assuring his friends that he had matters well under his control, and therefore they did not need to worry, since his passion rendered their salvation completely secure... The future is a "prepared place" for you, even if life in this world is often marked by testing and various refining fires. God has not promised to rescue us according to our own schedule, however, so if it appears that your prayers are not immediately answered, keep waiting in faith: "Rejoice, even if you have been grieved by various trials, because the tested genuineness of your faith -- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire -- may result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Pet. 1:6-7). God works "all things together for good," and since the exercise of faith is your good, he engineers all things to build your faith. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD" (Isa. 55:8).

Recall the words: "Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God" (Isa. 50:10). Trusting in God (i.e., bittachon - בִּטָּחוֹן) doesn't mean that we are obligated to say this is "the best of all possible worlds," though it does mean we believe that eventually God will wipe away every tear and make all things right... Bittachon is a word for this world, which says, "Though he slay me, I will trust in him..." Those who call upon the LORD can trust not only in concealed good behind ambiguous appearances ("all things work together for good") but also in a future, real, substantive good that will one day be clearly manifest for us all... We fight the "good fight" of faith, which is a worthy struggle that eventually is realized for blessing. Meanwhile, may the LORD our God keep us from such depth of sorrow that leads to sickness, darkness and despair.

The very last promise of Scripture is "I come quickly" (אֲנִי בָא מַהֵר) and the last prayer is, "Amen, come, Lord Yeshua" (אָמֵן בּאָה־נָּא הָאָדוֹן יֵשׁוּעַ) [Rev. 22:20]. Meanwhile we "inwardly groan" for the fulfillment of our redemption; since presently we are suspended between worlds, walking in hope yet subject to the vanities that befall all flesh. And though God may tarry, He declares, "I am the LORD; in its time I will hasten it" (Isa. 60:22). So we are made captives to hope, clinging to the promise of our ultimate healing and redemption. Our hearts therefore affirm that God is faithful "to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 1:24). Amen. God will help us before He will help us, and may He come speedily, and in our day....
 




He is Faithful and True...


 

[ In our Torah portion this week (Balak), we read how Balaam intended to curse the Israelites, but God "took hold of his tongue" and made him bless the people instead... ]

07.18.16 (Tamuz 12, 5776)  It is encouraging to understand that despite the repeated failures of the Israelites in the desert, the LORD never let go of his people... Indeed, as the story of Balaam reveals, if a spiritual enemy would secretly arise to curse Israel, God would take the sorcerer "by the tongue" to evoke God's blessing instead (Deut. 23:4-5). As Balaam himself attested: "there is no sorcery (i.e., nachash: נַחַשׁ) against Jacob, no divination (i.e, kesem: קֶסֶם) against Israel" (Num. 23:23). Unlike scheming Balaam, who was willing to say whatever people wanted to gain temporal reward, God is "not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind" (Num. 23:19). What the LORD has promised he will invincibly perform: His word is full of integrity and truth: "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8). The God of Israel is forever faithful in his love, and no one can overrule his desire (Num. 23:20; Rom. 11:29).

Personal Update:  This week I am going to a surgeon for a consulation; your prayers for me are deeply appreciated. Meanwhile, let's keep our hearts directed toward the Lord and seek after him "b'khol levavkha," with all our being. Amen.
 




Overruling the Wicked...


 

07.17.16 (Tamuz 11, 5776)  Our Torah portion for this week (Balak) is named after a fretful Moabite king (בָּלָק) who sought to curse the Jewish people by hiring the services of a wicked Midianite "prophet" named Balaam (בִּלְעָם). King Balak's plan was to employ Balaam's sorcery (כַּשָׁפוּת) against the Israelites to prevent them from entering the Promised Land.  Similar to the delicious irony that befell the villain Haman in the Book of Esther, however, King Balak's scheme was upended, and the curse he sought to put on the Jewish people was repeatedly pronounced as a blessing by Balaam instead.  After several foiled attempts, Balak fretfully dismissed the prophet, but before departing from the dejected king, Balaam ironically prophesied the destruction of the Moabites and the victorious establishment of Israel. The shameful story of Balaam reveals that "there is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel" (Num. 23:23). Ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו) - no weapon or scheme devised against God will ever prosper (Isa. 54:15-17).

But who was this mysterious prophet named Balaam?  According to Jewish tradition, Jacob's wicked uncle Laban had a son named Beor (בְּעוֹר), who became the father of Balaam.  In other words, the "cursing prophet" Balaam was none other than the grandson of Laban:


 

Note that the name "Beor" first appears in connection with a king of Edom (Gen. 36:32), which suggests that Balaam might have once been a king of the Edomites (i.e., the descendants of Esau). Further note the phonetic similarity to Peor. If Beor and Peor are the same, then Balaam was actually a prophet of Baal Peor, a local Semitic god.

Balaam was regarded as a great seer, magician and an adept in the occult. He had an "evil eye" and drew the spirit of demons to anything he gazed upon (Avot 5:22).  His notoriety made him famous, and powerful people asked him to invoke curses on their enemies. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 106a) states that Balaam became so famous as a magician that he later became a chief advisor to Pharaoh. It was Balaam who advised the new Pharaoh to enslave the Israelites and to afflict them with brutal taskmasters (Exod. 1:8-11). For more information about the identity of Balaam, see the entry entitled, "The Curses of Balaam."
 

 




Doing to Know...


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat. Shabbat Shalom friends! ]

07.15.16 (Tamuz 9, 5776)   The distinction between rational laws (i.e., mishpatim) and divine decrees (i.e., chukkim) is ultimately artificial, however, since all the commandments of the Torah (and that includes the Torah of the New Covenant) are grounded in the mystery of God's will, which is to say that they are to be obeyed simply because they derive from the Divine Authority itself... When the people gathered before Moses to receive the covenant at Sinai, they said: "All the LORD has spoken we will do and we will hear" (na'aseh ve'nishmah: נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע). Note the order: first comes the decision to obey (na'aseh), and then comes understanding (ve'nishmah). As Yeshua said, "If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will understand" (John 7:17). 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). The Greek verb used in this verse 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). It's not about doing but being, though being is revealed in doing...  If your actions do not align with your values, then back up and recover who you really are in Messiah, understand what your new nature truly is. That is what it means to "take up the yoke" of Messiah, for his yoke is easy (kal) and burden is light, and the task is to repeatedly practice allowing Him to carry your pain, shame, and sin far, far away from your heart.

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).
 




Decrees of the Heart...


 

07.15.16 (Tamuz 9, 5776)   The classical sages say that the "chukkim," or the divine decrees whose rationale defy human understanding, are necessary for the practice of faith since otherwise people would attempt to rationalize spirituality into merely ethical concerns... The sacrifice of the red heifer transcends human comprehension, just as the divine exchange makes the pure impure and the impure pure. That is the message of the cross, after all. The deeper aspects of revelation go beyond human reason since they are bound up in the heart and passion of God. The cross of Yeshua reveals the Center of God's Mysterious Love for us.
 

וַאֲנִי עָלֶיךָ בָטַחְתִּי יְהוָה
אָמַרְתִּי אֱלהַי אָתָּה

va·a·ni · a·le·kha · va·tach·ti · Adonai
mar·ti · e·lo·hai · at·tah
 

But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, "You are my God."
(Psalm 31:14)
 

 




Substance and Faith...


 

07.15.16 (Tamuz 9, 5776)   Do we understand in order to believe, or do we believe in order to understand? Faith sees what is possible; it "reifies" hope and abides in the realm of promise (Heb. 11:1). Therefore we believe in order to see; we do not see in order to believe... As Blaise Pascal once said, "The heart has its reasons that reason knows not of." We don't look to the scientific method to discover meaning, value, purpose, and so on, since science presupposes these things. Science cannot validate itself using its own methodology, nor can it explain why there is an external world, why the future should resemble the past, or why there is something rather than nothing at all... Nor can science explain the heart's hunger for life, for meaning, for love, beauty, and for deliverance from alienation, guilt, and death. Science "explains" music in terms of sound waves, but the human heart hears melody, longing, hope... Faith requires you to go beyond the sensible world of the human mind, with its causes and effects, to descry the deeper world of the Spirit.
 




Shadows and Reality...


 

07.15.16 (Tamuz 9, 5776)   Sometimes we lose sight of our true and abiding end...  The ancient thinker Socrates argued that philosophy, when done correctly, was "practice for death," since the passing shadows of this world pointed to unchanging good, our true end. Likewise Yeshua our Messiah taught us to take up the cross and die daily (Luke 9:23). It is difficult for us to die and "let go," however, often because we are deeply attached to this world, and we often abide under the worldly illusion that we will live forever, that tomorrow will resemble today, and that heaven can wait... History is littered with crumbling monuments offered to the idols of this world. The Scriptures are clear, however: "The present form (τὸ σχῆμα) of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31), and the heart of faith seeks a city whose Designer and Builder is God Himself (Heb. 11:10). "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day... For the things that are seen are turning to dust, but the things that are unseen endure forever (2 Cor. 4:16-18). Because of our sin, creation was made "subject to vanity," though God has overcome the dust of death by giving us an unshakable hope (Rom. 8:20).
 

אָדָם לַהֶבֶל דָּמָה
 יָמָיו כְּצֵל עוֹבֵר

a·dam · la·he·vel · da·mah
ya·mav · ke·tzel · o·veir
 

"Man is like a breath;
 his days are like a passing shadow."
(Psalm 144:4)

 

The truth that ha'kol oveir (הַכּל עוֹבֵר), "everything passes" like a shadow, should help us keep our perspective regarding the various moments of testing we all face in this life. As Nachman of Breslov once said, "The whole earth is a very narrow bridge, and the important thing is never to be afraid" (כָּל־הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ גֶּשֶׁר צַר מְאד וְהָעִקָּר לא לְפַחֵד כְּלָל). Yeshua is the Bridge to the Father, the narrow way of passage that leads to life. He has overcome the meretricious world and its vanities. He calls out to us in the storm saying, "Take heart. It is I; be not afraid" (Matt. 14:27). When Peter answered the call and attempted to walk across the stormy waters, he lost courage and began to sink, but Yeshua immediately took hold of him, saying, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt (lit., think twice)?"
 




Loving God's Torah...


 

07.15.16 (Tamuz 9, 5776)   "Oh how I love your Torah! It is my meditation all the day long" (Psalm 119:97). The sages note that the evil inclination (יֵצֶר הָרָע) can fool a person into thinking he fears God and loves Torah, when such is not case (we can so identify with what we "ought" to be that we deny what we really are). The test is this: What do you talk about? What occupies your passion? What is your ultimate concern? What is your chief delight? King David put aside concerns of ambition and worldy success and made God's truth the focus of his attention: "One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple" (Psalm 27:4).
 

מָה־אָהַבְתִּי תוֹרָתֶךָ
 כָּל־הַיּוֹם הִיא שִׂיחָתִי

mah · a·hav·ti · to·ra·te·kha
kol · ha·yom · hi · si·cha·ti
 

"Oh how I love your Torah;
 It is my meditation all the day."
(Psalm 119:97)


 
Hebrew Study Card
 

This verse begins the "Mem section" of the Psalm 119 acrostic. Mem is the letter of "water" (mayim), symbolizing the "spring" of the Torah. In traditional soferut (scribal arts), the letter Mem (מ) is formed from two parts: a Vav (ו) and a Kaf (כ), the gematria of which equals 26, the same value for the sacred Name YHVH (יהוה). The Torah (תּוֹרָה) is central to the revelation of the LORD, just as Yeshua is forever "the Voice of the Living God speaking from the midst of the fire" (Deut. 5:26, Matt. 17:1-3).

Note that the phrase "my meditation" (שִׂיחָתִי) comes from the Hebrew word siyach (שִׂיחַ), meaning to meditate, ponder, to rehearse or "go over in one's mind," to talk about, etc. In Proverbs 6:20-22, this word is used to refer to the inward voice heard by a son who has bound his parent's teachings to his heart: "When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you (תְשִׂיחֶךָ)." Indeed the same root is used to describe God's thought (שֵׂחַ) in Amos 4:13 (cp. 1 Cor. 2:16).

The Hebrew word "Torah" (תּוֹרָה) is often rendered as "law" in many English translations, but this is unfortunate, since the word comes from the root word yarah (יָרָה), which means "to shoot an arrow" or "to hit the mark." Understood in light of this, Torah does not so much denote a set of rules that (legalistically) prescribe behavior, as it reveals a sense of direction or aim in the way of life (הַדְרָכָה). Loving Torah, then, means earnestly appreciating the gracious revelation of the Lord as He instructs us regarding who we are and how we are to live before Him as His beloved children...

Note: For more on this important topic, see "Delighting in Torah."
 




Purging from Sin...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

07.14.16 (Tamuz 8, 5776)   It is noteworthy that cedarwood, hyssop, and scarlet thread were used not only for cleansing the leper (Lev. 14) and for cleansing from contact with death (Num. 19), but also during the ratification of the covenant at Sinai (Exod. 24:8; Heb. 9:19-20) and indeed during the crucifixion of our Lord. Of course hyssop (אֵזוֹב) is first mentioned regarding the application of the blood of the lamb upon the doorposts during the Passover (Exod. 12:22), and King David later appealed to God for cleansing saying, "purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean" (Psalm 51:7). A hyssop branch was also used to offer vinegar to Messiah during the time of his crucifixion (John 19:29). Likewise the wood from a cedar tree (עֵץ אֶרֶז) was used to purify both the leper and those contaminated with death, and it is likely the type of wood used for the cross of Messiah. Finally, scarlet (שָׁנִי) thread symbolizes both blood and royalty, and appears in the birth of Judah's children Zerach and Peretz (Gen. 38:28), in the coverings of the Tabernacle, as a sign of Rahab's faith (Josh 2:8,21), and as the color of the robe of Messiah during his crucifixion (Matt. 27:28).
 




The Scarlet Thread...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat (Num. 19:1-22:1). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

07.14.16 (Tamuz 8, 5776)   Among other things this week's Torah portion (chukat: חֻקַּת) describes the highly unusual ritual law of the Red Heifer (parah adumah) whose ashes purify those contaminated by contact with death...  This ritual is considered chok (חק) within the Jewish tradition, meaning that it makes no apparent rational sense. The Talmud states that of all the various commandments, judgments, and decrees found in the Torah, this is the only one that King Solomon could not fathom, causing him to exclaim: "I said I would be wise, but it is far from me" (אָמַרְתִּי אֶחְכָּמָה וְהִיא רְחוֹקָה מִמֶּנִּ, Eccl. 7:23). However, as I hope you will see, the symbolism of the red heifer clearly foreshadows the sacrifice of the Messiah that delivers us from the uncleanness of death... "You are far, farther than the heavens and near, nearer than my own body" (ben Asher).

It has been said that we are not punished for our sins, but by means of them, which is to say that the act of sinning itself is to suffer spiritual separation, loss, and even death itself... King David understood that because of his sin he became "unclean" through his contact with death, and therefore he used the imagery of being sprinkled with the waters of the red heifer in his appeal to the LORD: "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."
 

תְּחַטְּאֵנִי בְאֵזוֹב וְאֶטְהָר
 תְּכַבְּסֵנִי וּמִשֶּׁלֶג אַלְבִּין

te·cha·te·ei·ni · ve·e·zov · ve·et·har
te·kha·be·sei·ni · u·mi·she·leg · al·bin
 

"Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
 wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow"
(Psalm 51:7)



  

We find cleansing and healing from the LORD: "Come, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins have stained you like scarlet, you can become white like snow; even though they are red as crimson, they will be like wool" (Isa. 1:18). As our Torah portion this week explains, scarlet was one element added to the fire of the red cow to create the purifying waters that were applied by hyssop branches. The Hebrew word for "scarlet" (שני) means "double-dyed," from shanah (שנה), to repeat or double, suggesting the deep stain of sin within the human heart... Scarlet was also added to the running water when the metzora ("leper") was cleansed. 

Indeed, you can follow the "scarlet thread" throughout the Scriptures, from the very first sacrifice in the garden to the cross of Messiah. In connection with our Torah portion, it is noteworthy that scarlet was the color of Yeshua's robe when bearing our sins (Matt. 27:28), and Yeshua indeed is the perfect fulfillment of the red heifer, the Substance of all its symbolism (Heb. 9:13-14). Like the heifer, Yeshua was completely without sin or defect (2 Cor 5:21; John 8:46); He was sacrificed outside the camp (Heb 13:13); He made Himself sin for us (2 Cor 5:21); His sprinkling makes us clean (1 Pet 1:2; Heb 12:24; Rev 1:5); and the "water of separation" that His sacrifice created is the means by which we are made clean from the impurity of sin (Eph 5:25-6; Heb 10:22). Thank the LORD God of Israel for the eternal cleansing we have in Yeshua our Messiah!

Note:  When we consider the symbolism and relevance of the red heifer sacrifice, it is important to clarify our terms... It is overly simplistic for Christians to regard the Torah (תּוֹרָה) using the general term "law." The writings of Moses include a wide range of material, including sacred history, poetry, songs, prophecies, traditions, rituals, commandments, and covenants. In general, the ancient sages divide the Torah into aggadah (stories) and halakhah (legal material), though the legal material is subdivided into chukkim (חֻקִּים), that is, "divine decrees" given without a specified reason, and mishpatim (מִשְׁפָּטִים), or "moral laws" given for a clearly specified reason (an example of the former is the decree of the Red Cow; of the latter, the commandment against stealing). In addition, the Torah includes eidot (עֵדוֹת) or "testimonials" (from the root word, 'ed, "witness") that commemorate events in redemptive history, such as Shabbat, the Passover seder, and the other holidays of the Torah's calendar (i.e., the mo'edim [מוֹעֲדִים], lit. "the appointed witnesses").  For more on this fascinating subject, see "Taryag Mitzvot: A List of the 613 Commandments."
 




Courage in Affliction...



 

07.13.16 (Tamuz 7, 5776)   There are some well-meaning souls who seem to think that the life of faith in Yeshua should be relatively pain-free and without the normal sorts of infirmities that affect all people.  These people seem to reason that since Yeshua died on the cross as a ransom for our sins, being bruised for our iniquities, we should therefore be set free from pain and sickness of every kind (based on their reading of Isa. 53:5, and in particular the Hebrew phrase וּבַחֲבֻרָתוֹ נִרְפָּא־לָנוּ, "by his wounds we are healed").  This implies that if a Christian gets sick or experiences loss in their life, then he/she must somehow be deficient either in their understanding of the power of the atonement or in the exercise of their faith... Such a viewpoint seems to suggest that followers of Messiah are supposed to lead lives of (American-style) "prosperity," with papier-mâché smiles and an undying "can do" attitude -- even in the face of the most heart-rending adversity, injustice and pain in the world.

For more on this topic see: "Courage in Sickness: Dealing with pain, loss, and illness."
 




The Source of Help...


 

07.13.16 (Tamuz 7, 5776)   Where it is written, "I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come?" (Psalm 121:1), the Hebrew interrogative applies to the verb of the first clause: "Will I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where my help comes?" The answer to the rhetorical question immediately follows: "No! My help comes from the LORD – oseh shamayim va'aretz – the One who makes heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:2). Every moment of the present hour is subject to God's creative and providential rule, and therefore the godly look to heaven for the help they need, not to the high places of men with their worldly powers.
 

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

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

 

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



Hebrew Study Card
 




Suffering's Voice...


 

07.12.16 (Tamuz 6, 5776)   If you receive no solace for your suffering; if you find no ready comfort despite repeated appeals to heaven; then you must surrender your heartache, your grief, and your troubles to God in complete trust of his overarching will: "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done" (Matt. 26:42). In this way you sanctify your suffering, trusting in God's care, even if you have been grieved by various trials (1 Pet. 1:6). Suffering for the sake of love ultimately provides healing for that which is broken, and indeed such suffering "fills up what is lacking in Messiah's afflictions" (Col. 1:24).
 

יְהוָה נָתַן וַיהוָה לָקָח
 יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָך

Adonai · na·tan · vadonai · la·kach
ye·hi · shem · Adonai · me·vo·rakh
 

"The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the Name of the LORD be blessed."
(Job 1:21)



Hebrew Study Card
 


Job questioned the meaning of his life in light of his relentless suffering: "Cursed is the day that I was born... Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire? ... Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul?" (Job 3). Job's friends, so full of "piety" and religious wisdom, were quick to offer "God's answer" for his pain, though of course they did not really speak for God at all, but simply sought to protect themselves from facing their own fears... They needed an explanation to justify their own life, and therefore they sought to rationalize Job's torment. "God is perfect and never unjust," they insisted, and therefore Job's suffering was punitive, the result of his hidden sin, and ultimately intended to be corrective... Job rejected such religious platitudes and the notion of a "karma-based" theodicy, and instead directly appealed for heaven's vindication. Finally God allowed Job to voice his lament and to vent his pain and outrage, and only then - after Job had finished his case - was the revelation of God's mystery and love disclosed...

What Job didn't need were glib answers, cheap talk, shallow certainties, and sanctimonious mumbo-jumbo... To be truly healed, Job needed to give voice to his pain, to question God's care, and to rediscover the meaning and wonder of the Divine Presence despite his afflictions... Job needed someone safe to share his burden with, a friend who "sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24). Thank God for Yeshua, who feels the pain of our infirmities and intercedes for us with heaven's own sympathy (Heb. 4:15-16).
 




The Gift of Life...


 

07.12.16 (Tamuz 6, 5776)   "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly discerned, being understood by the things that are made…" (Rom. 1:20). The very first kindness that God bestows upon you is the miracle of your existence itself, namely, that he "wove you together" in your mother's womb (תְּסֻכֵּנִי בְּבֶטֶן אִמִּי) and brought you into being from nonexistence (Psalm 139:13). In Him you "live and move and have your being" (Acts 17:28). You were created b'ahavat olam (בְּאַהֲבַת עוֹלָם), in everlasting love, and indeed God knew you before you were born (בְּטֶרֶם אֶצּוֹרְךָ בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ) (Jer. 1:5; 31:3). You are "fearfully and wonderfully made," a unique soul that bears the handiwork of heaven itself. God's love and mercy sustains your days; the LORD compasses you "behind and before" and lays his hand upon you; He knows all your ways (Psalm 139:1-5). Indeed, God prepares a place for you and calls you to join him at the celebration of his love given in Yeshua.
 

בְּטֶרֶם אֶצּוֹרְךָ בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ
וּבְטֶרֶם תֵּצֵא מֵרֶחֶם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּיךָ
נָבִיא לַגּוֹיִם נְתַתִּיךָ

be·te·rem · e·tzor·kha · va·be·ten · ye·da·ti·kha
u·ve·te·rem · tei·tzei · me·re·chem · hik·dash·ti·kha
na·vi · la·goy·im · ne·ta·ti·kha
 

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
(Jer. 1:5)

 




Mother of the Golden Calf...


 

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

07.12.16 (Tamuz 6, 5776)   Some of the sages, such as Rashi, have said that the ritual of the Red Heifer (פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה) was intended to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf (egel ha-zahav). The Golden Calf represents seeking for life in this finite world, losing sight of the invisible, unnamable, and mysterious Creator and Redeemer. Idolatry expresses our fear of being abandoned in the desert, and impels us to seek for security and comfort in the immediacy of the moment. The ritual of the Red Heifer brings us face to face with our contact with death and offers us purification and healing. The cow itself symbolizes our impulse to idolatry, which must be turned entirely to dust and ash in the fires of God's truth. To this are added cedar, representing our pride, and hyssop, representing our lowliness. A crimson string is added that symbolizes our blood connection and lower nature (דּם). All these are burned together and the ashes mixed with living water to create a holy admixture that heals us from the perversity of death. Ironically, we are cleansed from the "dust and ashes" of death by being sacrificially covered with God's "dust and ashes" given in our place.
 




Kiddush and Comfort...


 

07.11.16 (Tamuz 5, 5776)   "And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying... 'Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted' (Matt. 5:4). Mourning is the expression of care, the voice of pain, the sorrow of a broken heart. Those who mourn care deeply; they feel the weight of loss; they grieve over sin. Such sorrow expresses the longing to be released from inner sickness of evil, as Yeshua said: "from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts..." (Mark 7:21). Our own evil desires convict us of the truth... Here there is no place left to hide, no rationalization, no vain hope for self-reformation - just the raw revelation of our fatal condition and the sincere appeal for God's mercy in Yeshua. Mourning over our sins draws us to God, to the Comforter (παράκλητος) who "comes alongside" to bind up the broken heart. The danger remains, however, for those who deny their sin and refuse to mourn, since they are made blind to God's forgiveness and comfort (John 9:41). How shall God be able in heaven to dry up your tears when you haven't wept?
 

זאת נֶחָמָתִי בְעָנְיִי
כִּי אִמְרָתְךָ חִיָּתְנִי

zot · ne·cha·ma·ti · ve'·on·yi
ki · im·ra·te·kha · chi·yat·ni

 

"This is my comfort in my affliction,
that your word gives me life."
(Psalm 119:50)



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

One of the great tests of our faith is "enduring ourselves" as we learn to love as God loves us... To do so, we must receive the miracle of Jesus... We must look beyond the realm of appearance, where the "outward man" perishes, to the realm of ultimate healing, where the "inward man" is finally liberated from the ravages of sin and death. This is comfort we have in affliction: God's promise revives our hearts to say, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth" (Job 19:25). Even in the "shadow of the valley of death" (i.e., this moribund and broken world), the LORD is with us and comforts us with His Presence (Psalm 23:4). We are given this great promise: "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:49).
 




Saved from Death's Sting...


 

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

07.11.16 (Tamuz 5, 5776)   "Everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live" (Num. 21:8). The fiery serpent – the very sting of which brings death – is what must be looked upon, confronted, and confessed. We must look at that which kills us, and by seeing it, we can then see God's miracle (נֵּס) that delivers us... Therefore we look to the cross – the place where Yeshua clothed himself with our sickness and sin – to realize God's remedy for our eternal healing. As Yeshua explained to Nicodemus, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14-15). Humanity as a whole has been "bitten by the snake" and needs to be delivered from its lethal venom. Just as the image made in the likeness of the destroying snake was lifted up for Israel's healing, so the One made in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3) was to be lifted up as the Healer of the world. In Yeshua the miraculous exchange takes place: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). Bless His holy name!
 




Beauty for Ashes...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Chukat. Please read the Torah summary to "find your place" here. ]

07.10.16 (Tamuz 4, 5776)   The ashes of the red heifer represented the death and sacrifice of something extremely rare, valuable, and precious. The ashes were mixed with "living water" (מַיִם חַיִּים) to reveal the truth that though the end of all flesh is but dust and ashes, the Spirit gives cleansing and life. Indeed the word ashes (אֵפֶר) may be rearranged to spell both cure (רַפֵא) and beauty (פְאֵר). The author of the book of Hebrews argues from the lesser to the greater: If the sprinkling of water mixed with the ashes of a red heifer purify the flesh from contamination with physical death, how much more does the blood of Messiah purify the soul from the deeds that cause spiritual death? (Heb. 9:13-14). Indeed, because of Yeshua's sacrifice we are given "beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness," that we may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified (Isa. 61:3).
 




Our Wounded Healer...


 

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

07.10.16 (Tamuz 4, 5776)   Our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Chukat) begins with the words: zot chukat ha-Torah (זאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה), "this is the decree of Torah" (Num. 19:2). The language here is both striking and unique, suggesting that what follows (i.e., the mysterious ritual of the red heifer) is "the seminal decree" of the entire Torah... If we think about the meaning of the red heifer, however, we will understand that its ashes were used to create the "waters of separation" (i.e., mei niddah: מֵי נִדָּה) to cleanse people from contact with death (i.e., separation). To fulfill this vital decree, however, required sacrificial love, since the priest who performed this service would become defiled (separated) for the sake of the healing of others... In this connection note that the Hebrew word for love is ahavah (אַהֲבָה), which comes from a root verb (יָהַב) that means "to give." Love means giving of yourself to benefit another person (John 15:13). The central decree of Torah, then, which is reckoned beyond our ability to rationally understand, is that God's love is so great that it is willing to become dust and ashes on our behalf so that we might find blessing and life...
 

    The mitzvah of parah adamah (i.e., the red heifer) represents the suspension of logic in deference to the Divine Will. This attitude is not restricted to this mitzvah. Scripture introduces the mitzvah of the parah adamah with the words "this is the law of the Torah." Surrendering one's own reasoning and accepting the superior reasoning of Hashem is the law of the entire Torah... To the extent that we let go of our own will, we can understand the Divine will. Our ancestors at Sinai understood this ideal when they proclaimed, "we will do and then we will understand." Torah is not beyond our understanding, but we must be willing to make the sacrifices that true Torah understanding demands.   - Living Each Day, Rabbi Abraham Twerski
     

Yeshua willingly became unclean on our behalf - through contact with our sin and death - so that we could become clean (Isa. 53:4, 2 Cor. 5:21, Gal. 3:3, Eph. 5:2, Titus 2:14). The pure became impure through His sacrificial offering.  Because of Him, we have been cleansed from our sins "by a better sprinkling" than that which the Tabernacle of Moses could afford (Matt. 26:28, Heb. 9:14, 12:24, Eph. 1:7, 1 Pet. 1:2,18-19, Rom. 5:9; Col. 1:14, 1 John 1:7, etc.).
 

 




Decision and Revelation...


 

07.08.16 (Tamuz 2, 5776)   Every one of us is a teacher of sorts, proclaiming through our personal choices what we believe to be true. False teachers are those whose choices "teach" that there is no God, no eternal life, no meaning to life, and ultimately, no real hope... It cannot be any other way, for we all teach by our choices; we communicate by our assumptions of what we regard is of "ultimate concern."  Postmodern philosophy never answered any of the haunting existential questions of life, such as: What is reality? Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the purpose of life? What happens when we die? Who am I? Do moral choices matter? and so on, but instead merely reinterpreted the hunger for meaning to be about power and control... Nonsense! People may evade the great questions of life by pretending they are unknowable, but Scripture attests that all people are created in God's image and are intuitively aware of God's reality and power: "For His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made; so they are without excuse" (Rom. 1:20). We have a sacred duty to honor God's truth and that implies we bear a sacred animosity toward lies and false teaching. "Do not be deceived: associating with false teaching corrupts good character" (1 Cor. 15:33). We hate sin because it wounds and kills the soul. Think straight; awaken to the holiness of life; turn away from vain thoughts and lies; embrace the truth of God's salvation.

Every day we make decisions regarding good and evil, and therefore every day we are deciding (i.e., proclaiming, teaching, and attesting) our faith to others. The issue is not whether we love or whether we hate, but what we love and what we hate....
 

יִרְאַת יְהוָה שְׂנאת רָע
 גֵּאָה וְגָאוֹן וְדֶרֶךְ רָע
 וּפִי תַהְפֻּכוֹת שָׂנֵאתִי

yir·at · Adonai · se·not · ra,
ge·ah · ve·ga·on · ve·de·rekh · ra
u·fi · tah·pu·khot · sa·nei·ti
 

"The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil.
 Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
 and perverted speech I hate."
(Prov. 8:13)


Followers of Yeshua must 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 doomed. Therefore we are enjoined: "O you who love the LORD, hate evil" (Psalm 97:10). Yes, hate what is evil and love what is good (Amos 5:15). The connection between loving God and hating evil is repeated in the New Testament: "Let your love be genuine (ἀνυπόκριτος, without a "mask" put on): abhor what is evil; cling to what is good (Rom. 12:9). If we truly love the LORD, let us walk in the awe of His great Name by hating what is evil.
 




The Way of Truth...


 

07.08.16 (Tamuz 2, 5776)   The Hebrew idea of "truth" (i.e., emet: אֱמֶת) is richer than factual description or "correspondence" between language and reality, since it contains moral implications and possibilities: what is true is also right, good, reliable (honest), beautiful, and sacred. The Hebrew word comes from a verb (aman) that means to "confirm" or establish, and the noun form (i.e, emunah: אֱמוּנָה, "faithfulness" or "trustworthiness") expresses the will to live by what is ratified, the "amen" of decision. The Hebrew concept is therefore existential: truth that is not lived is not really truth at all. Speaking the truth (dibbur emet) and abhoring dishonesty are considered foundational to moral life, as it is written: "Speak the truth (דַּבְּרוּ אֱמֶת) to one another; render true and perfect justice in your gates" (Zech. 8:16). Yeshua said, "Amen, amen I say to you...." throughout his ministry to stress the reliability and certainty of God's truth (Matt. 5:18, 26, etc.). Indeed, the Savior is called "the Amen, the faithful and true witness" (Rev. 3:14).

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

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




Ahavat Olam - Everlasting Love


 

07.08.16 (Tamuz 2, 5776)   Salvation is "of the LORD" (לַיהוָה הַיְשׁוּעָה); we are not saved "by works of righteousness (מַעֲשֵׂי הַצְּדָקָה) that we have done, but solely on account of the mercy given to us in God our Savior (אֱלהִים מוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ; Titus 3:4-5). Grace excludes all boasting (Eph. 2:9; Rom. 4:4). We believe that God justifies the ungodly by trusting in his heart of compassion (Rom. 4:1-8). God loves us with "an everlasting love" (i.e., ahavat olam: אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם) and draws us in chesed (חֶסֶד, i.e., His faithful love and kindness). As it is written: "I love you with an everlasting love; therefore in chesed I draw you to me" (Jer. 31:3). Note that the word translated "I draw you" comes from the Hebrew word mashakh (מָשַׁךְ), meaning to "seize" or "drag away" (the ancient Greek translation used the verb helko (ἕλκω) to express the same idea). As Yeshua said, "No one is able to come to me unless he is "dragged away" (ἑλκύσῃ) by the Father (John 6:44). God's chesed seizes us, scandalizes us, takes us captive, and leads us to the Savior... Spiritual rebirth is a divine act, "not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). In everything - including human reason itself - the LORD God Almighty is preeminent.
 

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

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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




Making the Dead Alive...


 

07.08.16 (Tamuz 2, 5776)   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 new life in His acts of deliverance done on our behalf and for our benefit. The temptation is always to go back to the law of sin and death (i.e., the principle of self-justification), but as Luther once said: "The sin underneath all our sins is the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and that we must take matters into our own hands."

"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 enabled to keep the Torah of Yeshua (תּוֹרָה יֵשׁוּעַ) because the life of Yeshua empowers us to do so...

Note:  The coming of Messiah should not be regarded as the "second coming of Moses," friends... Something so radically new, powerful, and cosmic has happened in the miracle of "God with us" in Yeshua. Our LORD makes all things new! Abraham saw his day and rejoiced; Moses wrote of Him; the prophets testified of Him -- and the One who is greater than the earthly Temple is forevermore the healing Center of Reality.
 




Chief Seats at Synagogue...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Korach.  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

07.07.16 (Tamuz 1, 5776)   Our Torah this week begins, "And Korah took" (וַיִּקַּח קרַח), which immediately suggests something about the character of the man. Though he was wealthy, esteemed among his tribe, and honored with the task of caring for the Ark of the Covenant, none of this was enough for Korah... There was an insatiable hunger, a "black hole" in his soul, an unrelenting envy, that drove him to madness and self-destruction. Korah was imprisoned by his own jealousy, arrogance, and spite. When he compared himself to Moses and Aaron, he felt overlooked, deprived, and therefore he justified in his desire to be honored. As an archetypal figure, Korach warns us against being swallowed up with egotistical envy or seeking the praises of men (Matt. 23:6-7). In the Kingdom of heaven, worldly success is sheer delusion. There are open and hidden riches. There is a pearl of great price, a treasure "hidden in a field." These riches are regarded as "fool's gold" to those who love this world and trust only in the realm of the phenomenal, but to those who trust in the LORD, they represent all that the heart needs...
 

    The son of Zoma said: "Who is wise? He who learns from all people, as it is said: 'From all those who taught me I gained understanding' (Psalm 119:99). Who is strong? He who conquers his evil inclination, as it is said: 'Better is one slow to anger than a strong man, and one who rules over his spirit than a conqueror of a city' (Prov. 16:32). Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot, as it is said: 'When you eat the toil of your hands you are fortunate and it is good for you' (Psalm 128:2). 'You are fortunate' - in this world; 'and it is good for you' - in the World to Come. Who is honored? He who honors others, as it is said: 'For those who honor Me will I honor, and those who scorn Me will be degraded'" (1 Sam. 2:30). – Avot 4:1


Note: For more on this topic, see the article, "The Madness of Korah."
 




Madness and Envy...


 

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

07.07.16 (Tamuz 1, 5776)   The sages asked how it was possible that Korah could have seriously questioned Moses' role as God's appointed leader, and they answered that he became jealous because his cousin was chosen to be the chief of the Levites instead of him. Korah's envy so possessed him that he impugned Moses' leadership, even though he directly witnessed how Moses had miraculously delivered the Israelites from Egypt by the power of the LORD. Such is the terrible, blinding power of envy, a force that is said to "remove a person from the world" (Avot 4:28) into a realm of grandiosity, delusional thinking, and even insanity. Envy derives from the secret fear that you are inadequate, invisible, and unworthy of love, and therefore it often "overcompensates" as preening grandiosity. This explains the psychological "need" to be better than others – making comparisons that alienate and cause suffering. Everyone wants to feel chosen, special, and unique, though God's love is never expressed at the expense of others... "By the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). When you begin to understand that God loves you with an everlasting love (אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם), you will no longer want to compare yourself to others...
 




Beware of False Teachers...


 

07.06.16 (Sivan 30, 5776)  Our Torah portion this week (Korach) centers on the rebellion of Korah, a man who questioned God's authority and arrogantly sought to "intrude" into the office of the priesthood.  It is noteworthy that his rebellion is explicitly mentioned only once in the New Testament - in the Book of Jude - as an example of the fate that awaits those false teachers who likewise despise God's law. Unfortunately, Jude's warning is often neglected today, probably because people feel uncomfortable over the prospect of God's judgment. After all, in our "politically correct" age, people have been indoctrinated to regard "tolerance" as the greatest of virtues and "intolerance" (even of evil) as the greatest of vices.... Most unbelievers don't mind hearing the "good news" of God's love, but they take exception when they are confronted with their personal duty to live according to the moral truth revealed in the Torah. False teachers within the church are dangerous because they feed on this sense of discomfort and attempt to rationalize it away. Jude identifies them as spiritual impostors who "work from the inside" to confound or obscure the truth of God. Such charlatans may appear to be "true believers," but their hidden agenda is to sow confusion and sin among God's children. They are proverbial "wolves in sheep's clothing" (Matt. 7:15). Jude's warning is especially important for us to heed in this present hour, because in the time immediately preceding the coming of the Messiah, spiritual deception and unbridled godlessness will greatly increase (2 Tim. 3:1-5).

Note:  For more on this very important subject, see "The Message of Jude."
 




The Projection of Korah...


 

07.06.16 (Sivan 30, 5776)  In our Torah reading this week (i.e., parashat Korach), Moses' cousin Korah accused Moses of self-aggrandizement and superiority by saying, "Why do you exalt yourself above the assembly of the LORD? ... Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert, that you also make yourself a prince over us?" (Num. 16:3,13). The Talmud comments: "One who seeks to disqualify another projects his own defects upon him." Korah's own self-exaltation and vanity led him to suppose that Moses was likewise proud and vain. His envy so twisted his perspective that he saw good as bad and bad as good. For him Egypt was the land "flowing with milk and honey" and Moses - not Pharaoh - was the real tyrant!  In this connection the Baal Shem Tov said that other people serve as mirrors, and the defects we see in them reflect our own. Korah needed to see that his envy of Moses was rooted in fear, and that healing would come if he would let go and trust that God was in control of his life.

We can learn from the madness of Korah -- as well as his terrible end... "As you judge another you condemn yourself, for you that judge do the same things" (Rom. 2:1). How you react to another person reveals what is within your own heart, and this provides the opportunity to find healing by doing teshuvah and extending compassion to yourself. When you condemn another you are hurting yourself, after all. It is not a matter of factual truth as much as it is of the truth of hope and love. As we forgive others, so we find our own forgiveness (Luke 6:37), but if we insist on our rights, we find ourselves in hell... Fire offered falsely will be answered by the fire of God's judgment. 

Note:  For much more on this subject, see "The Madness of Korah."
 




Matters of Life and Death...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Korach.  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

07.06.16 (Sivan 30, 5776)  We read in our Torah portion the terrible fate of Korah and his co-conspirators: "And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up" (Num. 16:32), which the sages say metaphorically refers to being consumed by this world and its desires. Life is a serious business, an irrepeatable opportunity. Many trifle their way to the grave, fully unprepared for the shock of the world to come... How few make it the great business of life to prepare themselves "until their change comes" (Job 14:14); how few consciously number their days to obtain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12)? We mustn't fool ourselves by thinking we have a long road ahead before we face who we are at the time of our death (Luke 12:19-21). "No one knows the day or hour," yet it is certain to come, and wisdom bids us be prepared. All must die; there is no escape (Heb. 9:27; Eccl. 8:8). In light of this somber truth, do you reflect on its significance? Have you taken time to see how it will be for you at your death? Allow such thoughts to awaken you from your careless and unwatchful state, and admonish you to lay up treasure in heaven (Matt. 6:20). Considering the vastness of eternity, human life is likened to a mere vapor that quickly passes away (Psalm 103:15-16). It is madness to put off that which is of ultimate concern until the last moment.
 

אֵין אָדָם שַׁלִּיט בָּרוּחַ לִכְלוֹא אֶת־הָרוּחַ
וְאֵין שִׁלְטוֹן בְּיוֹם הַמָּוֶת
וְאֵין מִשְׁלַחַת בַּמִּלְחָמָה
וְלא־יְמַלֵּט רֶשַׁע אֶת־בְּעָלָיו

ein · a·dam · sha·lit · ba·ru·ach · likh·lo · et · ha·ru·ach
ve·ein · shil·ton · be·yom · ha·ma·vet
ve·ein · mish·la·chat · ba·mil·cha·mah
ve·lo · ye·ma·leit · re·sha · et · be·a·lav
 

"No man has power to retain the spirit,
or power over the day of death.
There is no discharge from this war,
nor will wickedness deliver those who are given over to it."
(Eccl. 8:8)


 
 

Of course dying in the LORD assumes you are really "in Him," that is, that you are a person whose heart is known by Him (1 Cor. 8:3). You can't die in him if you have never lived in him. In this world we learn to die, and as we die in Him, so we will live in him. Resolve this within your heart: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord" (Rev. 14:15).

Concerning the prospect of death we are not without hope, of course, since Yeshua has overcome death for us and secured our place in heaven (John 11:25; Heb. 2:9-10). "We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast" (2 Sam. 14:14). Though physical life inevitably returns us to dust (Heb. 9:27), death does not have the final word, since God wonderfully "devises the means by which the banished are brought back home." If you belong to the Lord, your death is the day of precious homecoming to be with your beloved Savior: "For me to live is Messiah, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21). As it is written, "just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:49).

Abraham Heschel once wrote, "God is of no importance unless he is of supreme importance." Stated differently, it is impossible to be indifferent toward God. Today we are on the way to face our destiny, even if we suppress this truth through busyness and other distractions. Again, life is a vapor; no one knows the day or hour of death; so we must endeavor to make our peace with God, to serve him in readiness, and so be prepared for whatever may come. Should we deny the reality of our death, we risk wasting our days, being seduced into the mere semblance of life. After all, what is life apart from life in Jesus?

Blaise Pascal once wrote: "I can feel nothing but compassion for those who sincerely lament their doubt, who regard it as the ultimate misfortune, and who, sparing no effort to escape from it, make their search their principal and most serious business. But as for those who spend their lives without a thought for this final end, I view differently. This negligence in the matter where they themselves, their eternity, their all are at stake, fills me more with irritation than pity: yea, it astounds and appalls me... (Pensees, 427). Regarding such need for spiritual sobriety, Kierkegaard comments: "Listen to the cry of a woman in labor at the hour of giving birth - look at the dying man's struggle at his last extremity, and then tell me whether something that begins and ends thus could be intended for enjoyment."

The sages advise: "Repent one day before you die." But who knows the day of one's death in advance? Therefore live each day as if it were to be your last, and may God help you make the decision to "seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near" (Isa. 55:6). Amen. May the LORD quicken these matters to our hearts...
 




Marks of False Teachers...


 

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

07.05.16 (Sivan 29, 5776)  False teachers tend to be "people pleasers." They desire the esteem of the crowd, the praises of men, and therefore appeal to the murmurings of the unregenerate heart: "Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits" (Isa. 30:10). They flatter people by "tickling their ears"; they offer either platitudes or "new revelation" based on their own imagination. Consequently, they tend to be grandiose and quick to disparage God's faithful servants. Thus Korah accused Moses of wanting to exalt himself, when this only disclosed the evil lurking within his own heart (Num. 16:3). False teachers speak in their own name and presume to be something when they are nothing (Gal. 6:3). "The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not... they are prophesying to you a lying vision, the deceit of their own minds" (Jer. 14:14). They secretly deny that Yeshua is LORD (יהוה), though they may offer "lip service" about his importance (2 Pet. 2:1). Instead of focusing on the message of the gospel and the greatness of salvation found in Messiah, they "major in minors," passing over the weightier matters for the sake of various divisive doctrines (Matt. 23:23). They desire to be teachers of the law, but they have no idea what they are talking about (1 Tim. 1:7). Often such deceivers have natural charisma, charm, "good hair," and an ability to bewitch people through buttery oratory or clever presentation (Col. 2:4,8). Often they focus on the truth of the head rather than the truth of the heart; they are more concerned with being vindicated than healing broken hearts. Finally, they tend to exploit people to promote their own self-serving agenda (1 Pet. 2:1-3). They make "merchandise" out of the gullible, regarding them as the means to support their "ministry" rather than as precious souls in need of God's love and care...

False teachers inevitably "twist the Scriptures" by offering unsound interpretations contrary to the ruach, or spirit of the Hebrew prophets, and by evading the commandment to "rightly divide" the word of Truth according to basic logic and clear thinking (2 Tim. 2:15; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; 3:16). In Christian circles, they often come in the name of the law (legalism) or in the name of grace (licentiousness), but rarely do they take the trouble to carefully (and equitably) work through the paradoxical tensions. False teachers are uncomfortable humbly confessing they don't know something, and therefore they are quick to style themselves as an infallible prophet or source of authoritative wisdom...

There is no substitute for taking the time and energy to humbly study Torah, friends, and we should be suspicious of those who claim special insight when it is evident that they have not really labored working through the Scriptures... All disciples of Yeshua are called "students," or talmidim (תַּלְמִידִים), a word that comes from lamad (לָמַד) meaning "to learn" (the study of Scripture is called talmud Torah (תַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה) from the same root). Among other things, then, following Yeshua means becoming a student of the Jewish Scriptures that he both loved and perfectly fulfilled (Matt. 5:17-18; Luke 24:44-45). Only after learning the truth of the Scriptures will you be equipped to "go to all the nations and teach" others (Matt. 28:19). This is accomplished not merely by explaining (propositional) doctrine but by kiddush HaShem -- sanctifying the LORD in our lives (1 Pet. 1:15-16). "You shall know them by their fruits..."

Note:  For more on this, see "Marks of False Teachers: Further thoughts on Korach."
 




Breath of Life...


 

07.04.16 (Sivan 28, 5776)   A verse from this week's Torah (i.e., Korach) reveals another great Name of God: Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), which can be translated "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 16:22). The LORD is the Source of your breath, the One who exhales to you nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" that enables you to live (Job 12:10). The sages use the analogy of a glassblower who creates a glass vessel. Just as the glassblower blows into a tube to form a vessel from molten glass, so the breath (i.e., neshamah: נְשָׁמָה) that comes from the LORD functions as spirit (i.e., ruach: רוּחַ) that forms and fills the human soul (i.e., nefesh: נֶפֶשׁ). Note that the Name YHVH (יהוה) first appears in this connection (Gen. 2:7), a Name that means "God is Present" (Exod. 3:14) and "God is Mercy" (Exod. 34:6-7). Note also that each letter of the Name YHVH represents a vowel sound (i.e., breath), suggesting that God's Spirit is as close as your very next breath. Like the wind that cannot be seen, so is the spirit the essential part of your identity. Yeshua breathed on his followers and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22).

The special Name Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar appears only one other place in the Torah. After accepting the fact that he would soon die and therefore be unable to finally lead the people into the promised land, Moses prayed: "Let the LORD (יהוה), "the God of the spirits of all flesh" (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd." So the LORD said to Moses, "Take Joshua the son of Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן, lit. "son of life"), a man in whom is the Spirit (רוּח), and lay your hand on him" (Num. 27:16-18).

The Talmud notes that the word Nun (נוּן) means "fish," a symbol of activity and life. Joshua, the chosen one who succeeded Moses and led the people into the Promised Land, was the "Son of Life" - a clear picture of Yeshua our Messiah, the "spirit-filled good Shepherd" who would lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). The LORD is indeed the "God of the breath of all flesh." 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.
 




The Rebellion of Korah...


 

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

07.03.16 (Sivan 27, 5776)   Last week's Torah portion (Shelach) told the tragic story about the "sin of the spies" and the divine decree that the generation rescued from Egypt was sentenced to die in the exile of the desert. In this week's portion (Korach), the hard truth of their condition began to sink in, and the people bemoaned their fate and rebelled further by attempting to overthrow God's designated leadership and return to Egypt. This rebellion was instigated and organized by Moses' cousin Korach, who – along with a band of co-conspirators – was swiftly judged and put to death, thereby vindicating the Aaronic priesthood and Moses' leadership of Israel.

Korach was the cousin of Moses and a well-respected Kohathite who was honored to be one of the carriers of the Holy Ark. He was a wealthy man of influence - a nassi (prince) of the people. Despite all this privilege, however, Korach rationalized that he should be the head of the Kohathite clan (instead of his cousin Elzaphan), since he was the firstborn of Kohath's second son, whereas Elzaphan was not even a firstborn son. Indeed, because he felt slighted by Moses' choice, Korach went even further and brazenly questioned whether the office of the High Priest should not have been given to him – rather than to Aaron.

Chart by John J Parsons
 

Korach's co-conspirators were two brothers named Dathan and Abiram from the tribe of Reuben, Israel's firstborn son. Together, they put together a force of 250 men to confront Moses and to challenge his exclusive claim to leadership: "You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?"

In response to their challenge, Moses proposed that Korach and his followers bring firepans to offer incense at the Tabernacle to determine whether they were indeed chosen to serve as priests. The following morning, when Korach and his 250 followers assembled at the gate of the Tabernacle to offer incense, God threatened to destroy them all instantly. Moses begged God not to destroy all the people, but only the rebels. He then warned the congregation to stand clear of the dwellings of Korach, Dathan, and Abiram. The earth then opened up and swallowed them alive, and a fire consumed the 250 men who illegitimately offered the incense...

Korach's rebellion introduced outright mutiny and chaos within the leadership of the camp that brought swift and terrible rebuke from the LORD. Nevertheless, the very next day the entire congregation of Israel audaciously began to accuse Moses and Aaron, saying: "You have killed the people of the Lord." When the people looked toward the Tabernacle, however, the Glory of the LORD appeared, where God descended to tell Moses and Aaron that he was going to destroy the Israelites for their treason. Despite Moses and Aaron's fervent intercession, however, a deadly plague broke out among the people. Moses then instructed Aaron to take his firepan with incense and to bring it in the midst of the congregation to make atonement for them. Aaron did so, "and he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed." The Torah tells us that 14,700 Israelites died because of the plague, not including the deaths of those involved in the rebellion of Korach.

As a final test to vindicate Aaron as God's chosen priest, each of the twelve tribal heads of Israel, as well as Aaron himself, were instructed to bring their staffs to Moses. Moses then inscribed their names on each staff and brought them into the sanctuary before the ark of the testimony. "And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you." The following day Moses went into the Tabernacle and "behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds." He then brought out all the staffs and gave them back to each of the tribal leaders. God then told Moses to return Aaron's staff to the Tabernacle as a testimony for generations to come.

After all this transpired, the people began to dread the Presence of the LORD and the Tabernacle. To allay their fears, Moses gave them assurance that the sons of Aaron (i.e., the priests) and the Levites alone would bear responsibility for the sanctuary. But since the Levites and priests would receive no portion in the Promised Land, the people were instructed to generously support them by means of various gifts that are listed at the end of the Torah reading.
 

 




Honesty and Faith..


 

07.01.16 (Sivan 25, 5776)   In our Torah for this week (Shelach) the LORD said to Moses, "Send for yourself (שְׁלַח־לְךָ) men to spy out the land" (Num. 13:2), which the sages interpreted to mean that it was not God's decision to send the spies, and indeed later we learn that it was the people who had persuaded Moses to send the scouts ahead: "Then all of you came near me and said, 'Let us send men before us, that they may explore the land for us and bring us word again of the way by which we must go up and the cities into which we shall come.' The thing seemed good to me, and I took twelve men from you, one man from each tribe" (Deut. 1:22-23). Moses approved the people's request because he (mistakenly) believed they were sincere in their desire to discover the best way to ascend to the land. The people were dishonest with themselves, however, and merely pretended to be concerned about logistics and strategy. Their real motive was not to discover the way of ascent, but rather to discover whether God could be trusted... Had the people been honest with themselves, confessing their fear, they might have found opportunity to repent, but because they denied the truth and hid it from themselves, they were unable to go forward. Without honesty faith is impossible. As Kierkegaard said, "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty."

We trust, but if we cannot do that, we need to confess our brokenness even there - in the midst of our fears... God is so good that he runs to us, as the prodigal's father in the story, to meet us in our weakness...

Personal Update:  As some of you know, I have been struggling with chronic pain and illness for quite some time now. After seeing a doctor yesterday, it has become evident that I will require some major surgery, which is scheduled in the middle of July.... Your prayers for my health and especially for my family are sincerely appreciated. Thank you. - John
 




Joshua and Jesus...


 

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

07.01.16 (Sivan 25, 5776)   Before sending out the leaders of the tribes to spy out the land, Moses renamed his trusted servant Hoshea (הוֹשֵׁעַ) to Yehoshua (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ), appending the letter Yod (י) to make his name begin with a divine prefixive (יָהּ־). The Talmud (Sotah 34b) states that Moses foresaw the treachery and faithlessness of the spies and appended the Yod to remind Hoshea that YHVH (יהוה) must come first. This renaming of Hoshea, however, was certainly prophetic, since Joshua was chosen to be the successor of Moses who would finally lead the people into the promised land. Notice that the name Yehoshua (i.e., Joshua) and Yeshua (i.e., Jesus) come from the same root (i.e., yasha: ישׁע) meaning "salvation" or deliverance (in the Greek LXX, Joshua is spelled Ιησους, the same spelling for Jesus in the New Testament). Indeed, in the Book of Nehemiah, Yehoshua is explicitly called Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ), the name often transliterated as "Jesus" (Neh. 8:17).

Of course there are a number of fascinating similarities between Joshua and Jesus given in the Torah. For example, Joshua was a descendent of Joseph from Ephraim (lit., "double fruit"), and Yeshua came as Messiah ben Yosef, the "son of Joseph" who would come from Bethlehem of Ephrata (אֶפְרָתָה), a term that also means "fruifulness." Joshua was Moses' faithful companion at Sinai (Exod. 24:13) and overseer of the "Tent of Meeting" (אהל מועד), taking every opportunity to be near God's presence (Exod. 33:11). He was a capable commander of the armies of Israel who regularly routed the enemy in battle (Exod. 17:9, etc.). Joshua was truly humble and of impeccable moral character, a true servant of Israel filled with Holy Spirit of God (Num. 27:18). Therefore both Joshua and Yeshua loved God's house (Exod. 33:11; Luke 2:49), both were faithful leaders of Israel (Deut. 1:37-38; Matt. 2:6); and both were directly ordained by God. Moreover, Joshua was tested and found steadfast in his faith (Num. 32:12); he was willing to be "despised and rejected of men" rather than appease the mob, just as was Yeshua.

For more on this, see: "Joshua and Jesus: Further thoughts on Shelach Lekha."
 




 

June 2016 Site Updates
 



Finding Perfect Peace...

Photo by John J Parsons
 

06.30.16 (Sivan 24, 5776)   Fear (and it's offspring, anger) create a sense of exile within the heart. This was true of the spies who refused to trust in God's promises but instead relied on human reason to consider the world. As we focus on the LORD and spiritual reality, however, we are delivered from fear, since God's light and love overcome all our darkness (John 1:5; 1 John 4:18; 5:3). The Spirit of God calls out: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine" (Isa. 43:1). God has personally redeemed you, friend; He calls you by name, and you belong to Him. The Lord loves you with an "everlasting love" and draws you close (Jer. 31:3). He will never forsake you, even if you might face waters that seem to overwhelm or fires that seem to devour (Isa. 43:2). The LORD will keep you in "perfect peace" - the "peace of peace" (שָׁלוֹם שָׁלוֹם), when you set your mind on Him.
 

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

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

When we forget that God is in complete control of all things, we tend to grow anxious... Feeling worried comes from focusing on ourselves, a perspective that can make us feel alone, forgotten, and even victimized in this world. Worry moves us to defend ourselves, to seek refuge in our own devices, and to forfeit the will of God according to the dictates of lesser fears... The sages say it is not permitted to worry: "To worry is a sin; only one sort of worry is permissible; to worry because one worries." We should worry that we worry because this indicates our hardness of heart and our unbelief! God's name YHVH (יהוה) means "Presence," "Breath," "Life," and "Love." So why be anxious for "tomorrow"? We really only have this moment, but this moment is entirely sufficient when we walk in the light of God and seek to know him in all our ways. "Let the peace of God rule in you" (Col. 3:15).
 




The Father of Lights...


 

06.30.16 (Sivan 24, 5776)   It is written in our Scriptures: "God is light and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Our Savior is "the Light of the world," the overarching Reality that gives light to every soul who is born (John 1:9). As the Source of all light, his power is irrepressible, invincible, and overcomes every shade of darkness. Yeshua is the Logos (Λόγος), the underlying "logic" of all of creation. Unlike the transient radiance of the heavenly bodies, the Divine Light remains constant and supreme over all of creation, without any diminution or variation: God is the "Father of Lights" (James 1:17). And just as we know that the sun still shines even on the most overcast of days, so we understand that the Divine Presence is always there -- always giving, always shining, always loving us... We can trust in the power of our God to help us, since His radiance and truth pervade the darkness to enlighten our way (Psalm 112:4). As Yeshua said of his mission, "I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness" (John 12:46). O precious LORD our God, let your light shine upon us...
 

אֱלהִים יְחָנֵּנוּ וִיבָרְכֵנוּ
יָאֵר פָּנָיו אִתָּנוּ סֶלָה

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

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



 

Allow the light of God's love to shine in you brightly. As Yeshua our Savior said, "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, such is the one who loves me. And the one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him" (John 14:21). Note that the Greek word for "manifest" means to "shine inside" (i.e., ἐμφανίζω, from ἐν, "in" and φαίνω, "shine"), indicating that the revelation would be inward light of the Divine Presence. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "praise" (i.e., tehillah: תְּהִלָּה) comes from a verb that means "to shine" (i.e., halal: הָלַל), from which we derive the word "halo." Similarly, the word "aura" comes from the Hebrew word "ohr" (אוֹר), meaning "light." Let your inner light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give honor to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).
 




Beholding Promised Good...


 

06.29.16 (Sivan 23, 5776)   How we see is a spiritual decision... From our Torah portion this week (i.e., Shelach Lekha) we read: "See the land, what it is ... whether it be good or bad ... and strengthen yourselves" (Num. 13:18-20). Here note that right seeing – even the negative aspects of the land such as the presence of "giants" – can only be achieved by the courage derived from faith. When you see things that appear bad, you are to "strengthen yourselves," a Hebrew verb (i.e., וְהִתְחַזַּקְתֶּם) that means to intently decide to see the good despite the present veil of appearances. When we encounter things that are bad, we must refuse to be overwhelmed by carnal reasoning and fear by looking beyond the moment to behold a promised good (2 Cor. 4:18).
 




Finding Real Treasure...


 

06.29.16 (Sivan 23, 5776)   For what do you hope?  What are your dreams? Your deepest desires? Where is your treasure? Yeshua cautioned those who sought their happiness in this world: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures upon earth... be rich toward God" (Matt. 6:19-20; Luke 12:21). When we treasure God, our focus is directed toward the eternal reality, and our interest in this world is minimal. We trust God to meet our daily needs and surrender our future to His care. The only worry we face concerns our own deficiencies in our obligations to the Savior. Our duty is to love God in the truth - bekhol levavkha - with all our heart, having no thought of ourselves. Indeed, self-denial means to quit thinking about yourself (from α-, "not," + ῥέω, "to speak") by accepting what God has done for you. "It is not my business to think about myself. My business is to think about God. It is for God to think about me" (Simone Weil).
 

מִי־לִי בַשָּׁמָיִם
וְעִמְּךָ לא־חָפַצְתִּי בָאָרֶץ

mi · li · va·sha·ma·yim
ve·im·me·kha · lo · cha·fatz·ti · va·a·retz
 

"Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you."
(Psalm 73:25)



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Spying with little eye...


 

06.28.16 (Sivan 22, 5776)   Which will you choose to believe - the "spying eyes" of the flesh, or the Word and promise of the LORD God Almighty? The "eyes of the flesh" focus on this world and its possibilities (חַיֵּי שָׁעָה) and are therefore unable to discern beyond mere surface appearances. They are easily seduced by superficialities and glitter of this world and its vanities (עוֹלָם הַשֶּׁקֶר). The eyes of faith, on the other hand, "look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). Faith sees the realm of the invisible (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם): For we "walk by faith, not by sight." We are "saved by hope," but hope that is seen is not hope (Rom. 8:24-25). Faith is the foundation (ὑπόστασις) of things hoped for, the conviction (ἔλεγχος) of things (πρᾶγμα) not seen" (Heb. 11:1).

In our Torah portion this week, the people had trekked across the desert of Paran for several days, with their camps ordered in military precision. The Ark of the Covenant was in their midst and the Shekhinah Glory filled the desert skies. Now the people were at Kadesh Barnea (קָדֵשׁ בַּרְנֵעַ), about 11 days out from Sinai and about three days to the border of the promised land... The great promise of Zion was finally within reach! But then a dark misgiving arose within the heart of the people... fear ... the old whisper of the enemy was heard in the desert wind: "has God really said...?" (Gen. 3:1). In light of the events of the great Exodus, the mistrust of the people demonstrates that miracles are insufficient to sustain our faith. "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign." Seeing isn't believing, but rather the other way around.  Yeshua made this point in His parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Even if a person should encounter someone literally risen from the dead it wouldn't suffice to impart true faith (Luke 16:31). The great sin that so angered God to declare: "I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter into My rest..." was not that of the Golden Calf, as dreadful as that was, but rather the sin of unbelief.... "So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Let us, therefore, fear lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it" (Heb. 3:7-4:2).
 




Faith and Persecution...



 

06.28.16 (Sivan 22, 5776)   Did you know that Christianity is by far the most persecuted religion in all the world? It has been estimated that every five minutes a Christian is imprisoned, tortured, or even martyred for their faith. Indeed, as the appointed time draws near -- acharit hayamim and the Day of the LORD (יוֹם יְהוָה) -- more and more of our brothers and sisters in the faith will undergo the ultimate test of their loyalty, as was foretold by our Lord (John 15:20; 16:2; Matt. 24:9). As for the "Babylon" of this world, God has appointed great tribulation and catastrophic judgments that were foreshadowed in Egypt of old -- only this time they will befall the entire world order (Joel 1:15; Isa. 13:6, Ezek. 30:3, etc.). In contemporary America (and Europe, of course), many churches are flagrantly apostate, denying the truth of Scripture while openly celebrating a "gospel of political correctness" and "cheap grace." Syncretism has always been a seductive danger to those of genuine faith, as the Torah plainly forewarned and the New Testament clearly teaches (1 John 2:15; Rom. 12:2, James 4:4). In our Torah where it says "the Egyptians mistreated and afflicted us..." (Deut. 26:6), the sages note that the word translated "they afflicted" (וַיָּרֵעוּ) could be translated either as "they made us bad (רַע)" or "they befriended us" (רֵעַ), though the two meanings may be related, since befriending the ideals and values of the world corrupts us so that we lose our identity and our spiritual sensitivity. As it is written, "whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4), and, "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15).

Note:  In many ways it is far more difficult to follow Yeshua in the "Babylon wasteland" of America than in many other places of the world... Here the danger is to fall asleep, to be seduced by worldly comfort and godless entertainment, while the soul fades away and dies. In this connection understand the grave danger of those false teachers who preach the so-called "prosperity" gospel -- as if following Jesus will guarantee you a fat bank account along with a new Mercedes Benz.... Those who teach such things are enemies of God.
 




Faith's "Projection"....


 

06.28.16 (Sivan 22, 5776)   The spies said, "we were in our own eyes like grasshoppers, and so we were (וְכֵן הָיִינוּ) to them" (Num. 13:33). Here the sages note the subtle - yet profound - connection between how we see ourselves and how we imagine that others see us... This sort of "projection" is common enough in everyday life. However, while it may be valid for you to sometimes feel small, inadequate, and even "grasshoppery," it is not valid to say that this is indeed how you are regarded by others.  After all, how do you know how you appear to others?  And, moreover, what difference does that make in light of who God says you are? Who or what defines you? Do you need the approval of men to exist, or the approval of God? Worrying about how others see you, seeking your self worth among the fickle passions of men, is simply carnal and self-centered. When the spies said that "the land devours it inhabitants" (Num. 13:32), they projected their own hidden fears.  Instead of seeing God at work, preparing the way for the Israelites to more easily conquer the land, the spies saw only themselves, and that led to their sin of unbelief...
 




Small in our Eyes...


 

06.28.16 (Sivan 22, 5776)   Our Torah portion this week (i.e., Shelach) is a "heavy one" since it focuses on the Sin of the Spies and the subsequent failure of the people to trust that God would care for them. The people's lack of bittachon in God is the most serious sin recorded in all the Torah, even more serious than the sin of the Golden Calf. This is confirmed by the testimony of the New Testament, which presents the fate of the Exodus generation as the dire warning of apostasy for those who claim to follow the Messiah (Heb. 3:7-4:2).

Notice, however, that in order to trust God, you must believe that you are valuable to Him and that He genuinely desires relationship with you. God redeemed you so you could know and love Him. In this connection it is important to notice that the spies said, "we were in our eyes like grasshoppers" (Num. 13:33). They felt small because they had forgotten the reason for their redemption - they had forgotten how much they meant to God. Their lack of self-respect made them feel unworthy of the inheritance. The sin of the spies was not simply that they doubted they could overcome the "giants in the land," but rather that they were worthy people in God's eyes... Sadly the spies view of themselves was more real to them than God's view of them, and that is why they added, "and so we were (like grasshoppers) in their eyes." From a spiritual point of view, this was profoundly tragic...

One lesson we can learn from the unbelief of the spies is that we must be careful to esteem ourselves properly. We are created b'tzelem Elohim (in the image of God), and that is the starting point for everything else revealed in the Torah. This foundational idea may be expressed as "respect precedes Torah." Self-esteem and self-worth are very important characteristics because they enable the soul to receive the Word of God. This isn't a selfish, narcissistic type of love. If you have no self-worth, then it is likely you will believe the promises of Scripture are for other people, but not for you. You will regard yourself as an "outsider" or "alien" who is without promise of inheritance. So we have to begin there, with the fact that God created you in His image and therefore you are of infinite value. You matter to God - and therefore you must respect yourself. It is no mark of holiness to shame or belittle yourself - notwithstanding your sinful nature - since you have a duty to honor yourself as one of God's created children. Dishonoring yourself violates the central ethical commandment of the Torah: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18). How can you respect others if you don't respect yourself? You will regard yourself as "insect like" and will tend to view others as "gigantic" threats; you will act defensively and walk in fear of other people.... This is the path of a person living in a prison of fear, and it is a type of hell. Trusting in God's personal love for you presupposes that you are worthy to be loved and that there is a divine inheritance for you. This gives you real courage to go take possession of the land as its rightful heir. Trusting in God means regarding God's view of you as more real than your own. It means allowing yourself to be "drawn close" so that you can be in a genuine love relationship with your Heavenly Father. "From now on, therefore, we regard no one (including ourselves) according to the flesh..." (2 Cor. 5:16).

We "walk by faith, not by sight," which means we must take hold of the promise of God, even in a world that "devours its inhabitants" and that is filled of seemingly invincible giants... Faith believes the possible, even in moments of testing and struggle. As Yeshua said, "All things are possible for the one who believes" (Mark 9:23).

For more see: "Small in our Eyes: Further thoughts on parashat Shelach Lekha."
 




Seeing with Heart...


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shelach Lekha. Please read the Torah portion to follow the discussion here... ]

06.27.16 (Sivan 21, 5776)   "We walk by faith, not by sight." This is true for all people, since every soul lives by faith of some kind or another. Our Torah portion this week (Shelach) begins with the episode of the spies and concludes with the warning not to "spy after your heart and after your eyes" (Num. 15:39). The Torah mentions the heart first and then the eyes to indicate that the eyes follow the heart. We see as we believe with our heart: "According to your faith be it done unto you." When the spies said, "We are not able to go up (לא נוּכַל לַעֲלוֹת)... for they are stronger than us" (Num. 13:31), they revealed their unwillingness to believe in God's promise, or, to put it another way, they revealed their faith in God's inability to deliver on his word.... Indeed, the Hebrew word for "than us" (מִמֶּנּוּ) can also mean "than Him," suggesting that the spies believed that even God would be unable to uproot the Canaanites. According to their faith, so it was done; by believing that it was impossible, they lost the possibility of God's promise...

Faith sees what is possible and refuses to yield to the artificiality of mere appearance. Indeed, appearances are often a test of our courage. We may never know how often a test was given and - just before victory was manifest - the heart grew faint and was lost to fear. "According to your faith be it done to you" is a spiritual principle that applies to everyone. In that sense, it is not that we have faith that matters (since we all do), but whether our faith is grounded in the promises and power of the LORD God of Israel, or something else....
 

אָמַרְתְּ לַיהוָה אֲדנָי אָתָּה
טוֹבָתִי בַּל־עָלֶיךָ

a·mart · la·do·nai: ·  A·do·nai · at·tah
tov·va·ti ·  bal - a·ley·kha
 

"I say to the LORD, "You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you."
(Psalm 16:2)


 
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Faith and Testing....


 

06.26.16 (Sivan 20, 5776)   From our Torah this week (Shelach Lekha) we read: "They (the spies) returned... and brought word and showed them the land's bounty. And they said, "We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey (זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבַשׁ), and this is its fruit. Nevertheless the people who inhabit the land are powerful; the cities are greatly fortified, and we also saw the (giant) people of Anak there... We are unable to go up against the people there, for they are stronger than we are ... and moreover the land itself consumes its inhabitants" (Num. 13:25-32). The Kotzer rebbe asked, "Did the spies lie? Did they invent words that were untrue? Behold, they spoke as they saw it, so how did they sin?"  Yet not everything that is not a lie is truth: you may have all the facts "correct" and yet still speak untruth. Truth is therefore more than the description of appearances, since what appears is constrained by what is ultimately real. Our Torah portion again illustrates the responsibility we have to trust in the good, regardless of whatever momentary obstacles and troubles we may be presently encountering...

The knowledge of God is not like that obtained by laboratory science.  Empirical data is based on logical induction, repeatability, and assumes that cause and effect relationships hold. However, the scientific method itself assumes (without empirical proof) far more basic things, for example, that  the external world exists; that the future will resemble the past; that measurement is possible and "maps" to an external reality; that causal connections are valid, and so on. The scientific method further assumes other philosophical axioms that transcend the paradigms of the laboratory, for instance, that is better to know than to not know, that knowledge itself is possible, that beauty (i.e., symmetry, elegance, and deduction) are "good" aspects of theory, and so on. God gives witness by means of "argumentum spiritus sancti," the witness of the Holy Spirit, inner revelation that comes to the heart of faith.

But what about the trouble, testing, pain, hardship in our lives?  How do we deal with these without losing heart?  Only God can help us, friend... In this life, where our "outer man perishes" we will experience the "existential pathos" of the life of faith. That is the test.  We may feel abandoned by God, or forgotten, or of complete insignificance, or sinful, vile, hopeless confused, and so on, and yet the heart of faith cries out: "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15). Faith is able to see beyond the temporal to the eternal... It finds comfort in God's blessing to endure the ambiguities of this world. May the LORD God Israel, Yeshua our Messiah, strengthen our faith in Him. Amen.
 




The Great Warning...


 

06.26.16 (Sivan 20, 5776)   Our Torah reading for this week, Shelach Lekha (שלח־לך), recounts how Moses sent twelve spies from the region of Kadesh into the land of Canaan to search it out and give a report of its condition. The spies returned 40 days later extolling the land, saying that was indeed fruitful and zevat chalav u'devash (זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבַשׁ), "flowing with milk and honey." However, ten of the spies also gave a discouraging report, indicating their lack of confidence that the people could conquer the land. Only Joshua (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ) and Caleb (כָּלֵב) kept faith in God's promise. Upon hearing the report of the ten spies, however, the people rebelled and cried out to return to Egypt. Angered by their lack of faith, God sought to destroy the people, but Moses interceded on their behalf.  The LORD then decreed to lengthen the Israelites' wandering in the desert to 40 years -- one year for each day the spies were in the land. All of the faithless generation of the Exodus over the age of 20 would die in the desert, except for Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who kept faith with the LORD.  After hearing the judgment of God, a group of remorseful Israelites decided to "repent" by taking matters into their own hands. Without either the "Ark of the Covenant of the LORD" or Moses' leadership, they presumptuously decided to storm a mountain on the border of land, but were decisively routed by the Amalekites and Canaanites.

If last week's Torah was "sefer kvetch" (the book of complaint), this week's Torah reveals the fateful outcome... The people's lapse of faith in God's power serves as a profound and very sober warning, and indeed is a primary warning regarding the dreadful sin of unbelief in the New Testament (see Heb. 3:7-4:11). Indeed, Jewish tradition states that the decree that "none of the men who had seen my glorious Presence and my signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert will see the land that I swore to give to their fathers" (Num. 14:22-23) was given on the Ninth of Av (i.e., Tishah B'Av), and was prophetic of the destruction of the Temple and the worldwide exile of the people from the Promised Land.

Note: The tragedy of the sin at Kadesh ultimately has a happy ending, however, since the LORD is never thwarted by man's sin and weaknesses.  After the 38 years of exile were complete, Moses' successor Joshua sent a second spying expedition to the promised land, though this time God led the spies to a prostitute named Rahab (רָחָב), a direct ancestor of Yeshua the Messiah, who later identified her faith in the LORD's victory by displaying the scarlet cord (חוּט הַשָּׁנִי) during the fall of Jericho (Joshua 2). Rahab was the (grand)mother of Boaz, who later married Ruth, the great grandmother of King David. May God likewise give us courage to walk in the power of His promises, even if our present circumstances seem daunting. May the LORD clothe each of us with the "spirit of David" to stand before all the giants of the land who defy the LORD and His power.
 

 




Contentment's Great Gain...



 

06.24.16 (Sivan 18, 5776)   Friends, let us ask the LORD to give us hearts that are full of godly contentment, which is "of great gain" (1 Tim. 6:6). May we be walking in true spirituality (רוּחָנִיּוּת) - in the power of the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶש) - by practicing emotional honesty with ourselves and with God (James 5:16). Trials and tribulations - the "squeezing of grapes" - are part of the walk of faith, but we are invited to come "boldly" before the Throne of Grace (παρρησίας τῷ θρόνῳ τῆς χάριτος) to find help for our lives (Heb. 4:16). Note that the word translated "boldly" in this verse (παρρησίας) means that we can speak honestly and freely to God from the center of the chaos of our hearts -- without fear or shame. We don't need to conceal ourselves from the Divine Light, since this is the very Light that overcomes the hidden darkness within us. Those who accept that God is in complete control of their lives are set free from the terrible burdens of fear and anger.  Abiding in the truth of ahavah shlemah (אַהֲבָה שְׁלֵמָה, God's "perfect love") means that you can let go...
 

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

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

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



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




Seeking what Matters...


 

06.24.16 (Sivan 18, 5776)  Our Torah portion this week (Beha'alotekha) recounts the rebellion of the people during the desert sojourn... Instead of joyfully anticipating the promise of their inheritance, the people grew dissatisfied and bored. The Sefat Emet noted that just after we read how the people complained bitterly to the LORD, they had a "strong craving" (הִתְאַוּוּ תַּאֲוָה), which in Hebrew literally means they "craved a craving."  Moses could tolerate the people's desire for food and water, but when they began to actively cultivate their cravings, lusting after the imaginary "free fish" they enjoyed in Egypt, he began to realize that the problem was deeper, a matter of the heart... Moses understood that what the people really wanted was impossible, since it involved denying who they were as God's redeemed people. The issue was not about wanting "meat" to eat, after all, but rather hungering after the forbidden, desiring to desire, etc. Creating desires, fomenting a sense of deprivation, and choosing to see yourself as a victim, is a lethal sickness of spirit, a disease of the soul. It is a "burning" (i.e., Taberah: תַּבְעֵרָה) that destroys inner peace. May God help us understand and seek what truly matters; may he deliver us from self-destruction; and may he help us to be satisfied with the manna he provides! Amen.

Note:  For more on this topic, see "Graves of Craving: Further thoughts on Beha'alotekha."
 




The Way of Suffering...


 

06.23.16 (Sivan 17, 5776)  "For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my Name" (Acts 9:16). Far from offering wealth, prosperity, and a life of happy ease, following Yeshua is the way of suffering and struggle in this world. As it is attested in our Scriptures: "We must suffer many tribulations to enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:23). Indeed suffering is the way of the prophets, the psalmists, and especially the way of the Lord our Savior, who endured the agony of death upon the cross to redeem us to eternal hope (Heb. 2:10). Persecution – being ostracized, "despised and rejected of men," and experiencing the pain of rejection - is inextricably bound to the truth of the gospel (2 Tim. 3:12). The message of the cross is an offense to the world's pride and therefore the devices of the carnal ego will always seek to silence it. Indeed, even our own inner struggle with evil is a suffering wherein we learn despair over ourselves, teaching that only God can truly save us from ourselves. Nevertheless "in all these things" we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us (Rom. 8:37). But what things are these except tribulation, distress, persecution, suffering, and inner struggle? Suffering is part of God's plan – the "loss of all things" so that we may come to know the power of the resurrection (Phil. 3:10). There is a "shared cup" of suffering for those who will walk in the redemptive mission of Yeshua (Col. 1:24).

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

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

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

Yes, we are given consolation and comfort from heaven, since the Scriptures describe God as Av Ha-Rachamim (the Father of mercies) and the God of all comfort: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Note that Paul links our present suffering (πάθος, pathos) with a divinely imparted comfort (παράκλησις, "paraklesis"), which he regards as a state of blessedness. God Himself "calls us to His side" (from παρά + καλέω) in the midst of our afflictions and pain....  The Greek text reads, ὁ παρακαλῶν ἡμᾶς ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ θλίψει ἡμῶν, and might be better rendered as, "The one calling to us [to His side] in all our tribulations" (2 Cor. 1:4). God doesn't want us to go through pain by ourselves, all alone.  He invites us to come to His side for comfort...  Yesh ohev davek me'ach: "There is a lover who sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24b).

The purpose of our afflictions is to learn to let go of what we value in the world in order to attain to a better hope. טוֹב־לִי כִי־עֻנֵּיתִי לְמַעַן אֶלְמַד חֻקֶּיךָ / "It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes" (Psalm 119:71). God calls out to us in our tribulations so that we may turn away from our illusions and seek refuge in His Presence.  Suffering is a tool that only God has the wisdom to use as a means of blessing in our lives.

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




Bread of Affliction...


 

06.23.16 (Sivan 17, 5776)  Just as God humbled Israel with manna in the desert, so He humbles us. "Give us this day our daily bread and deliver us..." The purpose of affliction is ultimately good and healing: God humbles us with manna, the "bread of affliction, so "that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD" (Deut. 8:3). In other words, God uses tzuris to lead us to do teshuvah and accept the truth. We often pray that our problems be taken away, but God sometimes ordains these very problems so that we will turn and draw near to Him... We are being weaned from this present age to be readied for heavenly glory, for things unimaginably wonderful, soon to be revealed to you. Stay strong in the Lord, friends.
 




Resurrection and the Life...


 

06.23.16 (Sivan 17, 5776)  Despite this shadowy world of constant change, decay, heartache, and physical death, Yeshua made the astounding claim: "I AM the resurrection and the life (אֲנִי הַתְּחִיָּה וְהַחַיִּים); whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
 

אֲנִי הַתְּחִיָּה וְהַחַיִּים
הַמַּאֲמִין בִּי יִחְיֶה גַּם אִם יָמוּת
 וְכָל מִי שֶׁחַי וּמַאֲמִין בִּי לא־יָמוּת לְעוֹלָם
הַאִם מַאֲמִינָה אַתְּ בָּזֶה

ni · ha'te·chi·yah · ve'ha·chai·yim
ha·ma·a·mim · bi · yich·yeh · gam · im · ya·mut
ve'khol · mi · she'chai · u·ma·a·min · bi · lo · ya·mut · le'olam
ha·im · ma·a·mi·nah · at · ba·zeh?
 

"I am the resurrection and the life.
Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.
Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26)


 
 

So let me ask you plainly -- and in the midst of your own struggle with suffering -- whether you do indeed believe that Yeshua is the Healer of your existence, even in the face of your own physical death? If not, then what are you hoping for when your hour of inevitability comes? Are you looking to your own merit to secure favor in heaven?  Are you hoping your soul will be absorbed into the universal, delivered from the pain of the ego? Or are you hoping for a "good verdict" before God on the day of judgment? Are you looking to Moses or some other prophet or saint to intercede on your behalf? Who are you trusting to be there for you on the other side of the veil? Who do you say that Yeshua is? (Luke 9:20)?
 




Faith in the Unseen Good...



 

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

06.22.16 (Sivan 16, 5776)   From our Torah portion this week (i.e., Beha'alotekha) we read: "At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out" (Num. 9:23). This teaches us that God's Name is to be heeded every step of the way. Whenever we journey someplace, near or far, we say, "be'ezrat Hashem ('with God's help') I am going to this place, and I will stay for so long, im yirtzeh Hashem ('if it pleases God')." As James the Righteous reminds us, "You do not know what tomorrow will bring. For what is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes (James 4:14-15). "Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow" (Psalm 144:4). We share exile with the LORD in this age, as strangers and sojourners with Him; indeed, our lives are hidden with Him, waiting to be revealed (Col. 3:1-4). "The present form (τὸ σχῆμα) of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31), and the heart of faith looks for a city whose designer and builder is God Himself (Heb. 11:10). "So we do not lose heart... For the things that are seen are turning to dust, but the things that are unseen endure forever" (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
 

בְּטַח אֶל־יְהוָה בְּכָל־לִבֶּךָ
וְאֶל־בִּינָתְךָ אַל־תִּשָּׁעֵן
בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ וְהוּא יְיַשֵּׁר ארְחתֶיךָ

be·tach · el · Adonai · be·khol · lib·be·kha
ve'el · bi·na·te·kha · al · tish·a·en
be·khol · de·ra·khe·kha · da·ei·hu · ve·hu · ye·ya·sher · or·cho·te·kha
 

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
Know Him in all your ways, and He will straighten your paths."
(Prov. 3:5-6)



Hebrew Study Card
 

"Know Him in all your ways," that is, in all that you put your hand to do look for the Divine Presence and guidance (1 Cor. 10:31). As King David stated, "I have set the Lord always before me, because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8). The very first step of the journey is to find hope...
 




Refusing Offense...


 

06.22.16 (Sivan 16, 5776)   People today are quick to take offense, made prisoners of their own insecurities... Ironically, the more you seek your own honor, the less you'll find. Turn yourself around; get out of yourself: "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." "If anyone would be first, he must be servant of all" (Mark 9:35). "And blessed is the man who is not offended" (וְאַשְׁרֵי הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לא־יִכָּשֵׁל).

The devil (and his political advocates in this world) seeks to "divide and conquer" people by emphasizing what makes them different. He creates fear to manipulate and terrify others. He seeks to sow seeds of mistrust, suspicion, and hatred based on fear and ignorance. We must fight the power of the lie by means of the truth of the LORD God Almighty. All people are created be'tzelem Elohim (בְּצֶלֶם אֱלהִים), intended to be image-bearers of the Divine, and each soul will give account for its life – for every careless thought, word, and deed. As it is written, "No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Heb. 4:13). Refuse, therefore, to take offense over anything - over perceived insults, over attacks on your character, and especially over the news (i.e., propaganda) of this evil world, friends. All things come from the hand of God to test you; to refine what is in your heart... Give up your personal "rights" and surrender yourself to the providential care of your Heavenly Father. But regarding the affairs of this world, understand that the nations are tohu (תהוּ), "confusion and unreality" (Isa. 40:17), and the schemes of worldly men are ultimately doomed (Psalm 1:6). Ein od milvado: Understand that the LORD God Almighty is the great King over all the earth (Psalm 47:7).
 




The Armor of Light...


 

06.22.16 (Sivan 16, 5776)  At the risk of repeating myself, let me remind you that 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 the nachash (הַנָּחָשׁ) questioned God's truth: "Did God really say...?" (Gen. 3:1). In the end there will be found two types of people: those who love the truth and those who love the lie; these are children of light (בְּנֵי הָאוֹר) and children of darkness (בְּנֵי הַחשֶׁךְ), respectively. Followers of Yeshua the Messiah are told to "walk as children of light" / ὡς τέκνα φωτὸς περιπατεῖτε (Eph. 5:8). Children of light are called to be am kadosh - a holy people - separate from the evil engendered by the fallen world and its forces, just as the very first creative expression of God was the separation of light from darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). The children of light "hate evil and love the good," and conversely, the children of darkness "hate the good and love evil" (Psalm 34:21, Prov. 8:13, Amos 5:15, John 3:20-21). Yes, we hate sin, because it separates people from healing; we hate sin because we love others. We are to walk in the peace and love of God; to do acts of justice and lovingkindness (Psalm 97:10). "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other."

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

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




Tending to the Light...


 

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

06.21.16 (Sivan 15, 5776)  In our Torah for this week (i.e., Beha'alotekha), God gave instructions about how Aaron was to light the lamps of the menorah within the inner chamber of the Tabernacle. Each day Aaron was to clean each of the seven lamps and to refill them with the very purest olive oil. The wicks were then to be bent or positioned so that the six outer lamps projected their lights toward the seventh (and central) shaft. The lamps of the menorah were to be lit daily, "from evening until morning," in a specific sequence - starting from the central lamp (the shamash) and then moving right to left (Exod. 27:21).

The Hebrew word beha'alotekha (בְּהַעֲלתְךָ) literally means "when you raise up" (from alah: עָלָה, "to ascend"), which in this context refers to the flames of the menorah kindled by God's priest. The sages say that the Torah uses this Hebrew word to imply that the daily lighting and tending of the menorah was an act of sacrificial worship (like an olah offering). Indeed, Aaron's service of lighting the menorah was entirely spiritual, symbolizing how the light of the heavenly realm is manifest in this world. By extension, we also "raise up the lamps" by acting in faith, that is, by opening our eyes to believe in and to receive the Divine Light of the World. We "tend to the flame" by caring for God's light and honoring the Shekhinah Presence. As we serve God by faith, we bear witness to the light of truth before others. As Yeshua said: "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16).
 




The Inner Torah...


 

06.21.16 (Sivan 15, 5776)  Strictly speaking the content of the Ten Commandments, from a moral perspective, presented no new revelation, since sacred Reality is intuitively understood within every created soul (see Gen. 1:27; John 1:9; Acts 17:24-28). As 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). Where Paul says, "against all ungodliness" he refers to our universal duty before the Living God (בֵּין אָדָם לָמָקוֹם); and likewise "all unrighteousness," refers to our universal duty toward other people (בֵּין אָדָם לְחֲבֵרוֹ). The "invisible things of God are seen" so vividly that people are "without excuse" (ἀναπολόγητος) for their evasion and rejection of the Divine Presence, which constitutes a disposition of rebellion, treason, and willful desecration of the sanctity of life (Rom. 1:20). The deeper revelation given at Sinai, however, was not an elaborate lawcode but something else, namely, the solution for the problem of spiritual death as prefigured in the Altar of the Tabernacle and the daily sacrifice of the lamb (i.e., korban tamid: קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד; Num. 28:1-8). "The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was" (Exod. 20:21). The onlookers saw the outer, the imposing, the threatening, and this made them distant, but Moses entered the inner region and was given the vision of the altar (Exod. 25:9; John 5:46-47; Heb. 8:6). Likewise Yeshua did not come to be a moral teacher of the law but to bear the penalty of our lawlessness (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13). Our Savior died upon the cross shrouded in complete darkness, yet entering the inner region reveals God's passion offered up for you (Luke 23:44-45).
 




Delighting in Torah...


 

06.21.16 (Sivan 15, 5776)  The Scriptures declare: "Blessed is the man who ... delights in the Torah of the LORD (בְּתוֹרַת יְהוָה); all that he does shall prosper" (Psalm 1:1-3). And while it is true that we are no longer 'under' the constraints of the former covenant given at Sinai (Rom. 3:20-28), we are repeatedly instructed to delight in the Torah and to meditate on its precepts day and night (Josh 1:8, Psalm 1:2; 19:8; 119:15, 47, 97; Neh. 8:12, etc.). As it is written in Proverbs: "If you seek it [i.e., the wisdom revealed in the Torah] like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God" (Prov. 2:4-5). Indeed, the New Testament says that the "the Torah is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good" (Rom. 7:2), and where it is written, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Tim 3:16-17), it is evident that the Jewish Scriptures (i.e., the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings) are meant, since they provide the foundation, context, and the overarching matrix for the later New Covenant revelation... And of course these were the Scriptures Yeshua used to explain his ministry to his followers: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27; John 1:45). In other words, the Torah has both a logical, a linguistic, and a theological priority for understanding the New Testament Scriptures, and the failure to read in context invariably leads to faulty interpretations and doctrinal errors of various kinds. God "breathed out" (θεόπνευστος) his revelation in order, and the message itself must be understood in light of that order (Gal. 4:4-5).
 

מָה־אָהַבְתִּי תוֹרָתֶךָ
 כָּל־הַיּוֹם הִיא שִׂיחָתִי

mah · a·hav·ti · to·ra·te·kha
kol · ha·yom · hi · si·cha·ti
 

"Oh how I love your Torah;
 It is my meditation all the day."
(Psalm 119:97)


 
Hebrew Study Card
 

This verse begins the "Mem section" of the Psalm 119 acrostic. Mem is the letter of "water" (mayim), symbolizing the "spring" of the Torah. In traditional soferut (scribal arts), the letter Mem (מ) is formed from two parts: a Vav (ו) and a Kaf (כ), the gematria of which equals 26, the same value for the sacred Name YHVH (יהוה). The Torah (תּוֹרָה) is central to the revelation of the LORD, just as Yeshua is forever "the Voice of the Living God speaking from the midst of the fire" (Deut. 5:26, Matt. 17:1-3).
 




Walk in the Light...


 

06.21.16 (Sivan 15, 5776)  The emotion of fear profoundly affects the way the brain processes images, experiences, and messages. Fear colors the way we see and hear things. And since the mind and body are intricately interconnected, fear is a root cause of many physiological problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, clinical depression, and many other ailments. Indeed, left unchecked, fear can be deadly....

Most of our negative emotions come from fear, including anger, frustration, and rage.  On a spiritual level, fear and worry can cause people to question God's love, to doubt His promises, and to succumb to despair. The devil knows that frightening people causes them to be unsettled, off-balance, and vulnerable to all sorts of manipulation and deception. Indeed logicians call illegitimate appeals to fear the "appeal to the stick" (argumentum ad baculum). When someone plays on your fears, it's wise to discern whether there's any basis in Reality for the supposed threat, or if the appeal is simply a rhetorical "scare tactic" intended to persuade you to accept some sort of conclusion.  Unscrupulous people (such as advertisers and especially politicians) regularly use fear to manipulate public opinion, of course, and they're only too glad to tell you exactly what you should fear. They are delighted to prey upon your anxieties and then offer you a supposed "remedy."

Living in fear is a form of slavery (Heb. 2:15), but where the Spirit of the LORD is there is liberty and peace (2 Cor. 3:17). Therefore "fear no evil," for God is with you (Psalm 23:4). There is no fear in God's love, but perfect love (אַהֲבָה שְׁלֵמָה) throws out fear (1 John 4:18). The LORD repeatedly tells us not to be afraid – not of man, nor of war, nor of tribulation, nor even death itself (Rom. 8:35-39). Indeed, one of the most frequent commandments in Scripture is simply al-tirah (אַל־תִּירָא), "Be not afraid."
 

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

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

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



Download Study Card
 
  

Take comfort that your Heavenly Father sees when the sparrow falls; he arrays the flower in its hidden valley; and he calls each star by name. More importantly, the Lord sees you and understands your struggle with fear... Bring to Him your needy heart and trust in His provision and care...  As we look to Him, our fears will begin to melt away...
 




Light of the Servant...


 

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

06.20.16 (Sivan 14, 5776)  Our Torah portion this week begins with the LORD instructing Aaron to kindle the seven lamps of the menorah (מְנוֹרָה) so that the light from each would be "turned" toward its central shaft (Exod. 25:37; Num. 8:4). The entire menorah was formed mikshah (מִקְשָׁה), that is, beaten from a single piece of pure gold (זָהָב טָהוֹר), and its base, shaft, branches, cups, fruits, and flowers were all "one" with its substance (Exod. 25:31). The central shaft upheld the light of the shamash (servant or helper lamp) which also served as the trunk for the other branches. The radiance of the menorah symbolized the Divine light (shamash can also be read shemesh, "sun"), which is the radiance of Yeshua, the Tree of Light and the great Servant of the LORD (John 8:12; 1 John 1:5). Yeshua is the light that gives light to every person created in the image of God (John 1:9). Our spiritual life stems from our connection with Him, since he provides us with support, sustenance, and illumination from the oil of the Holy Spirit (John 15:1-5)..

Yeshua is the Light of the LORD (אוֹר יי). As it is written, "God is our light and our yeshuah, our salvation" (Psalm 27:1; 1 John 1:5). He alone is the Light of the world (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם), the Shamash (שַׁמָּשׁ) who descends to ignite the "light of life" (אוֹר הַחַיִּים) within all who will believe. Our Savior is the Radiance (זוֹהַר) of the glory of God (Heb. 1:3), the Fire of God's holy countenance. The one who has the Son has life, but the one who refuses this life is spiritually dead. May we all walk in the Light of His countenance; "O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD" (Isa. 2:5).
 

בֵּית יַעֲקב לְכוּ וְנֵלְכָה בְּאוֹר יְהוָה

bet · Ya·a·kov · le·khu · ve·nel·khah · be·or · Adonai
 

"O house of Jacob, come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD"
(Isa. 2:5)



 

Note:  For more on the mystery of the menorah, see "The Menorah and the Tree of Life."
 




The Divine Light...


 

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

06.20.16 (Sivan 14, 5776)  "If I say, surely darkness covers me ... the night shines as the day; nothing hides from your radiance" (Psalm 139:11-12). We have to trust that God is in our darkness, in the silence, in the unknown... You come out of the shadows when you admit that you act just like other people, that you are human, in need of reconciliation yourself... Above all you need God. You need help. You need a miracle to help you to truly love. You may find excuses for many things, but you cannot escape the "wretched man that I am" reality that is grounded in your fears. God sees in the darkness and is present there, too. When you feel alone, like an unbridgeable gulf lay between you and all that is good; when you feel like you want to scream but are afraid that even then no one would hear, may the LORD shine His light upon you... Amen, may His light shine upon you.
 

גַּם־חשֶׁךְ לא־יַחְשִׁיךְ מִמֶּךָ
וְלַיְלָה כַּיּוֹם יָאִיר
כַּחֲשֵׁיכָה כָּאוֹרָה

gam · cho·shekh · lo · yach·shikh · mi·me·ka
ve·lai·lah · ka·yom · ya·ir
ka·cha·she·khah · ka·o·rah
 

"The darkness is not made dark to you;
but the night shines as the day:
as the darkness so is the light...
(Psalm 139:11)



  

"For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God outshines my darkness" (Psalm 18:28). There is "depression," and there is the dark night of the soul, and these are different matters, though they may overlap... "Hope deferred makes the heart sick."  The dark night of the soul is an experience of trusting God in the darkness yet has a spiritual direction and end. We walk through this darkness with God and learn from him even there..
 




Parashat Beha'alotekha - בהעלתך


 

[ The Torah reading for this coming Shabbat is parashat Beha'alotekha... ]

06.19.16 (Sivan 13, 5776)  Our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Beha'alotekha) begins with God giving instructions about how Aaron was to service the lamps of the Menorah within the Holy Place of the Tabernacle (Num. 8:1-4). Each day Aaron was to clean each of the seven lamps and to refill them with the very purest olive oil. The wicks were then to be bent so that the six outer lamps shined toward the seventh (and central) shaft. The lamps were to be lit daily, "from evening until morning," in a specific sequence - 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 central lamp miraculously never ran out of oil, even though it was kindled first in the sequence. This miracle is also reported 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 centermost light shine" (Yoma 39a).

The portion then describes how the Levites were to be set apart for service at the Mishkan (Num. 8:5-12). In a ceremony that signified a sort of "rebirth," they were first sprinkled with mei hachatat (מֵי חַטָּאת), literally, "the waters of sin" (Num. 8:7), that is, the water mixed with the ashes of the red heifer that purified from contamination with death (Num. 19:13). Next they shaved off all their hair and were completely immersed in a mikveh (a bath containing flowing water). The steps of being sprinkled with purifying water, shaving off of all the hair, and being completely immersed in a mikveh are similar to the ritual for the cleansing of the metzora, or "leper" (Lev. 14:2-32). Rashi notes that each member of the community was required to place their hands on the Levites' heads, just as the hands were placed on the head of a sacrificial animal as it was slaughtered before the altar (Num. 8:10; Lev. 1:4, 3:2). The "waving" of the Levites by the High Priest likewise simulated the ritual of "tenufah" (תְּנוּפָה), that is, the waving of the guilt sacrifice (asham) offered by the leper after his cleansing (Lev. 14:12). Finally, the Levites themselves were to lay their hands on sin and whole burnt offerings to make atonement before the LORD (Num. 8:12).

For more on this Torah reading, see the Beha'alotekha study pages and the related links.  You can download the Shabbat Table talk for this week's reading here:
 

Shavuah tov, chaverim! May we all make strides to grow in grace and the knowledge of Yeshua our Messiah this week! Amen. And happy Father's Day to all you dads out there!
 




The Breath of Life....


 

06.17.16 (Sivan 11, 5776)  Torah without Spirit is like a body without soul... As I've mentioned elsewhere on this site, the Name YHVH (יְהוָה) is connected with life-giving Spirit. Before man first came alive, the LORD breathed into him nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" (Gen. 2:7; Job 12:10). Later, Moses called the LORD Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), which can be translated "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 16:22). Indeed, the name YHVH is unutterable apart from breath, from ruach (רוּח), since each letter represents a vowel or breathing sound. Yeshua breathes out to his followers and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22). It is the breath of God that breathes into us to make us truly alive. When we open our hearts to receive the life-giving Spirit, we find comfort and help. God's spirit breathes out prayers within us (Rom. 8:26), reveals the truth about Yeshua (John 15:26), transforms our inner character (Gal. 5:22-23), imparts spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12), and gives us the life from heaven (John 3:8). Bo ru'ach Yeshua (בּא רוּח ישׁוּע), "Come, spirit of Yeshua!"

Shabbat Shalom! From my family to you -- may you be filled with love, joy, peace, and heartfelt confidence in God's passion for you. Thank you for being part of Hebrew for Christians!
 

Emanuel David - 24 weeks old

Emanuel David is now 20 weeks old!

 




Receiving the Blessing...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Naso ("lift up!")... ]

06.17.16 (Sivan 11, 5776)  The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, 'Thus you shall bless the people of Israel, saying: "May Adonai bless you and keep you from illusions; may Adonai shine divine light upon you; may Adonai reveal his faces to you.' So shall they set my Name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them" (Num. 6:22-27). The question is asked why the priests were needed to confer God's blessing, and what is meant by the idea of God "setting his Name" upon the people. The sages reply that the blessing is bestowed by a mediator to show that all things flow from the Holy One, and there is no one who can rightly say, "by my strength and my power alone has this come to pass" (Deut. 8:17). Therefore the blessing is graciously given to those who simply open their hearts to receive it: "May Adonai bless you; may Adonai shine divine light upon you; may Adonai reveal his faces to you..." Everything that comes to us comes in God's Name, as it is written: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights (אֲבִי הָאוֹרוֹת) with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17). The blessing of God (בִּרְכַּת יָהּ) is to "bear His Name" by being filled with the strength of His Presence, walking in the flow of His power, completely in union with His will...

For more on this subject, see "The Hebrew Priestly Blessing."
 




Draw near in your need...


 

06.17.16 (Sivan 11, 5776)  "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you" (James 4:8). There are no conditions given here -- other than your raw need to connect with God for help. "Purify your hearts, you double-minded ones" (δίψυχοι, lit. "two-souled ones"); make up your mind and be unified within your heart: "How long will you go limping between two different opinions?" (1 Kings 18:21). You are invited to come; God has made the way; your place at the table has been set and prepared. "Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith (ἐν πληροφορίᾳ πίστεως), with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful" (Heb. 10-22-23).
 




Receiving what you give...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Naso ("lift up!")... ]

06.17.16 (Sivan 11, 5776)  From our Torah portion this week we read: "Each one shall keep his holy donations: whatever anyone gives to the priest shall be his" (Num. 5:10). This is the spiritual principle that what we give away is what we possess, and as we measure, so will be measured back to us again (Luke 6:38). The sages comment that being selfish, acquisitive, and power-hungry are drives common among the animals, but what makes a man unique is his ability to sacrifice himself for others. Giving tzedakah, then, is an inherently spiritual act, and ultimately only that which we give to others in love will be kept as holy. "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:21).
 

מַלְוֵה יְהוָה חוֹנֵן דָּל
וּגְמֻלוֹ יְשַׁלֶּם־לוֹ

mal·veh · Adonai · cho·nein · dal
u·ge·mu·lo · ye·sha·lem · lo

 

"Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD,
and He will repay him for his kindness."
(Prov. 19:17)



Hebrew Study Card
  




The Prophet like Moses...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Naso ("lift up!")... ]

06.17.16 (Sivan 11, 5776)  Our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Naso) concludes, "And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with the LORD, he heard the Voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat (i.e., kapporet: כַּפּרֶת) that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him" (Num. 7:89).

Now Moses was truly an extraordinary and wonderful person -- Israel's first great prophet, priest, and king. His life can be divided into three great distinct periods of 40 years each. First, he was raised as an Egyptian and lived as a prince of Egypt (the Egyptian period); second, he fled to the land of Midian where he became a shepherd and encountered God in the desert (the Midianite period); and third, after the great deliverance from Egypt, Moses led the people back to Sinai where he 1) became the mediator (priest) of the covenant between God and Israel, 2) legislated the various laws of the Torah, and 3) received the prophetic vision of the Tabernacle, the future exile, and the ultimate glory of Zion.

Notice, however, that Moses was extraordinary in the sense that he transcended the entire system of religion that was later established as Judaism. First, as the great legislator, Moses declared the terms of the law, serving as its voice of authority. Second, as the high priest of Israel, Moses instituted various sacrificial rites before the laws of sacrifice were enacted. For example, he instituted the Passover sacrifice in Egypt (Exod. 12:1-11), and when the people later reached Sinai, he offered blood sacrifices to ratify the terms of the covenant (Exod. 24:8). Moreover, he ascended the mountain and received the prophetic vision of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) before the priesthood had been instituted in Israel (Exod. 25:8-9). And even after the laws of the priests were enacted and the Tabernacle was set up, Moses went before the very Holy of Holies to hear the Voice of the LORD, even though technically speaking this was forbidden, since he was not a kohen (i.e., descendant of Aaron).

"A prophet like unto me..." (Deut. 18:15). I mention all this because some people stumble over the fact that Yeshua, who was from the tribe of Judah, served as Israel's High Priest of the New Covenant. Of course this issue is addressed in the Book of Hebrews, where the role of the Malki-Tzedek priesthood is ascribed to King Yeshua (Heb. 5:6-11; 7:1-19), but it is important to realize that Moses himself foresaw the coming of the Messiah as Israel's great prophet, priest and King (Deut. 18:15-19; John 5:36). Indeed, just as Moses himself was "outside" the law by serving as Israel's priest but nevertheless was commissioned by God Himself, so also with Yeshua, who instituted the sacrifice of His blood as the Lamb of God and who went directly before God's Throne to intercede on our behalf.

For more on this subject, see "Moses' Prophecy of the Messiah."
 




The Sword of the Spirit...


 

06.17.16 (Sivan 11, 5776)   We are told not to fear men, who are only able to kill the body, but not the soul (Matt. 10:28). However, there is still the grave danger that the soul itself can be destroyed by means of its own apathy. In the physical realm, we can be killed by the hand of another, but in a spiritual sense, we can only be killed if we willingly destroy ourselves. Therefore my prayer is often, "LORD, save us from ourselves - from our own despair, from our own self-destructive urges. Help us to love you and turn away from all doubt; help us to affirm your promise of life given to us every day. Amen."

"We have met the enemy, and he is us," but if that is so, how are we able to overcome the deceptiveness of our own hearts? How do we defeat our own inner evil, the yetzer hara, our own subconscious "death wish"? How can we transcend the lusts of the flesh and our own natural, all-too-human desires? Yeshua gives us the answer: "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth" (John 17:17). We are able to overcome our natural tendency to deceive ourselves by staying grounded in the Word of truth, kitvei Hakodesh, the Holy Scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15). "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom. 15:4). God's promises give us life (Psalm 119:50). It is the Scriptures that "are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Tim. 3:15). Of course, the Scriptures themselves are the means to the end of encountering God Himself and partaking of the power of the Holy Spirit, but they are foundational to all experience, and all spiritual experience must be grounded in their truth (Isa. 8:20).

In Paul's description of the "armor of God," the Scriptures are called the "sword of the Spirit" (τὴν μάχαιραν τοῦ πνεύματος) which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:10-18). "For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb. 4:12). Studying God's truth is the divinely appointed means of obtaining discernment and perseverance for the spiritual warfare of this world. Note the connection between the Word and the Spirit in these verses... The way of the righteous, derekh tzaddikim (דֶּרֶךְ צַדִּיקִים), is marked by fruit of the Spirit. Therefore the beloved Book of Psalms begins, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his desire is the Torah of the LORD, and in His Torah he meditates day and night" (Psalm 1:1-2).
 

אַשְׁרֵי־הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לא הָלַךְ בַּעֲצַת רְשָׁעִים
וּבְדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים לא עָמָד
וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים לא יָשָׁב
כִּי אִם בְּתוֹרַת יְהוָה חֶפְצוֹ
וּבְתוֹרָתוֹ יֶהְגֶּה יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה

ash·rei · ha-ish · a·sher · lo · ha·lakh · ba·a·tzat · re·sha·im
uv·de·rekh · cha·ta·im · lo · a·mad
uv·mo·shav · lei·tzim · lo · ya·shav
ki · im · be·to·rat · Adonai · chef·tzo
uv·to·ra·to · ye·he·geh · yo·mam · va·lai·lah
 

"Happy is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is the Torah of the LORD,
and in His Torah he meditates day and night"
(Psalm 1:1-2)

Brief Audio Commentary



Hebrew Study Card
 
 

This man is "blessed" because the one who desires the truth of the LORD has found great treasure, and all that he puts his hand to do shall prosper (Psalm 1:3). Notice that the word "desire" (i.e., chafetz: חָפֵץ) expresses the innermost wish of the heart or soul (Matt. 15:19; Luke 6:45). Strong desire – passion – is vital to the apprehension of the truth, and it is a great gift from God to be free from the slavery of habit and unreflective, visceral bondage to worldly lusts. As David said, "my soul is consumed with longing for Your decrees at all times" (Psalm 119:20). Hunger for God, strong desire for Him, is a sign that He is indeed calling you to walk in His ways, since you would never truly seek Him unless He first called out to you (John 6:44). The word "Torah" here refers to God's wisdom, His will, His way – not exclusively to the laws (mishpatim, chukkim, etc.) written in the Bible.

Where it is written, "you shall meditate upon it day and night" (Josh 1:8), R' Yochanan said: this is no command or obligation, but a blessing, since the words of Torah - like the Tree of Life that brings forth its fruit in its season (Psalm 1:2-3) - brings prosperity and hatzlachah -- good success -- to those who delight in it.

The person who "reflects" or meditates on God's way will let the truth inform and empower his decisions in this world. The word yehegeh (יֶהְגֶּה) means that the righteous person is so filled with the truth of the Scriptures that words leave his mouth as if on their own. This person will behold and take hold of the Tree of Life (Psalm 1:3). If you find studying and living the truth of Scripture joyless, be careful that you don't drift into spiritual exile! Beware of apathy and be vigilant of the great danger of destroying yourself... God says that those who delight in the study of His word please Him, but others He allows to perish.

The one who genuinely desires God's truth and meditates upon it "day and night" will be saved from the judgment that will befall the ungodly (Psalm 1:5-6). Studying and living God's truth is therefore the means of your preservation and perseverance in this world. Living the truth of Scripture produces assurance that God knows you and will take you through the corridor of this world unharmed by the coming judgment (John13:17).

"Many are my heart's distresses; let me know Your Ways, Eternal One; teach me Your paths" (Psalm 25:4,17). "Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are He who took me from my mother's womb. My praise is continually of you. You have made me see much trouble and hardship, but You will revive me again and raise me up from the depths of the earth" (Psalm 71:6,20). Baruch atah HaShem, ha-noten la'ya'eif ko'ach - "Praised are You, LORD, who gives strength to the bowed down."

For more on this subject, please see article, "The Way of the Righteous."
 




Death and Resurrection...


 

06.16.16 (Sivan 10, 5776)   A central task of philosophy – spiritually understood – is to teach us how to face death, and how to find courage despite our losses...  The secret dread of the soul is the passing away of our relationships with others, the fear of being separated from all we hold dear.  It is self evident, however, that life in this physical world leads to its own demise, and that things eventually perish. The irrepressible passage of time, the decay and "flux" that inheres in all things of this realm, and the consciousness that our existence here is brief, all yield suffering of the heart. But because suffering is bound up with mortality and the sickness of "spiritual death," we can find peace only in a power greater than death, in a power that cannot be touched by death, and that power is found in the resurrected Reality of Yeshua, the Ascended One (אֵל עֶלְיוֹן) who triumphed over death, and the One who alone is the "key holder" of hell and death (Rev. 1:8). Unlike various pagan philosophies that sought to find consolation from suffering by thinking that the soul would be reabsorbed (or reincarnated) back into the cosmos (e.g., Stoicism, Epicureanism, Gnosticism), and unlike those religious traditions that attempt to extinguish the concept of the self by means of attaining "nirvana" (e.g., Buddhism), or that attempt to lose consciousness in the "oneness" of impersonal ultimate reality (e.g., Hinduism, monism, pantheism), faith in the resurrected reality of Yeshua confesses individual life in the world to come, with the continued real identity, consciousness, and eternal perpetuation of the person. Unlike reincarnation philosophy that regards a human life as a "karmic episode" in an repeated journey through the ongoing cycle of birth-death-rebirth (i.e., Samsara), faith in Yeshua affirms the uniqueness of every moment, life's redemptive purpose and eternal significance. Blessed is the LORD God Almighty: the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Yeshua invests each person with sacred significance that reaches beyond this world unto the world to come...
 

לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע
 וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 


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




The Good Fight of Faith...


 

06.16.16 (Sivan 10, 5776)   Our Torah teaches us the famous statement: tzedek, tzedek tirdorf (צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף): "Righteousness, righteousness, you shall pursue" (Deut. 16:20). The sages infer that the double mention of the word "righteousness" implies that the pursuit of righteousness must itself be righteous. It makes no sense to repay evil with evil for the sake of the good, after all.  And that applies to how we regard our own inner struggle with anger, lust, fear, and so on. "Whoever battles with monsters had better see to it that it does not turn him into a monster" (Nietzsche).  A God-fearing man once complained to a sage that he was tormented by evil desire and had become despondent over it. The sage listened intently and then said, "Guard yourself from such despondency above all else, for it is worse than sin. When the yetzer [evil impulse] awakens desire in us, it is not concerned with plunging us into sin, but with plunging us into despair by way of our sinning." May God help us battle against evil solely in the light of His glorious Presence and in the power of God's might.

Note:  Our world thrives on "outrage" and a victimization mentality... Blaming others for your struggle is an evil approach that will never receive heaven's blessing... "Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, and who does not turn to the proud or turn aside to lies" (Psalm 40:4); "no one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes" (Psalm 101:7; Rev. 21:27). The walk of faith is one of honesty, humility, and learning to be responsible for your choices. "The humble man will attain a place of soul rest. As he walks on in humility he will be happy to let God defend him. The old struggle to defend himself is over. He has found the peace which humility brings" (A.W. Tozer). May it please the LORD to give us all hearts of genuine humility.

Now "may the LORD our God, according to the riches of His glory, grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Messiah dwells in your heart through faith, and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the kedoshim what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Messiah, that surpasses knowledge, and that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:16-19).
 




Teshuvah and Healing...


 

06.15.16 (Sivan 9, 5776)   Repentance is an ongoing disposition of life in Messiah, since it rightly relates us to God. First we encounter our incurable sickness - the inner contradiction and bondage of soul that both loves and hates sin -  and then we seek God's saving power in Yeshua. As the Apostle Paul said: "Who can save me from the misery of myself? – God alone, through Jesus (Rom. 7:18-25). This is the first step, to know the "miserable creature that I am," that is, the slavery of your will to sin, and the second is to be willing to give this sickness of your soul to God's care in Yeshua. As he said, "Those who are well have no need of a doctor, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the 'righteous,' but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:31-32). Yeshua regarded forgiveness of your sins as essential to finding inner healing, even more important than health, prosperity, or religious observance.
 

    "It is God's nature to make something out of nothing; hence the one who is not yet nothing, out of him God cannot make anything...  and therefore God accepts only the forsaken, cures only the sick, gives sight only to the blind, restores life only to the dead, sanctifies only sinners, gives wisdom only to the unwise. In short, He has mercy only on those who are wretched" (Luther's Works, Volume 14: Selected Psalms III)
     

From the perspective of the natural life, we "descend in order to ascend," we must die to find life...  From the perspective of the spiritual life, however, repentance means finding healing by returning to the truth of love and recovering your heart's desire in God.  As Yeshua said, "Repent, for you have lost your first love..." (Rev. 2:4-5). Turn around: Look at what is missing within! He appeals to you like a lover standing outside in the cold, calling out your name, and knocking for you to open the door to let him inside (Rev. 3:19-20). Open the door of your heart! Return to him now! "Lord, help me turn to receive your love..."
 




Return to Sanity...


 

06.15.16 (Sivan 9, 5776)   Repentance is a return to sanity which begins with the resolution to question your presuppositions and to change your thinking... There are three requisites for genuine repentance, that is, for turning to God in the truth, namely: 1) seeing eyes; 2) hearing ears; and 3) an understanding heart, ready to be healed (Isa. 6:10). God alone does the miracle but it is nevertheless your responsibility to believe that the miracle is for you. Repentance is the first step of salvation, as Messiah said: "Repent and believe in the good news" (Mark 1:15), and apart from repentance man has no real existence. As Yeshua said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Repentance is the expression of trust in God's love, and by means of it we affirm: "I am ready to exist as a person of worth." Come alive, friends!
 




God's Relentless Love...


 

06.15.16 (Sivan 9, 5776)   When King David wrote "surely goodness and mercy (טוֹב וָחֶסֶד) shall follow me all the days of my life" (Psalm 23:6), the Hebrew verb translated "shall follow me" (i.e., יִרְדְּפוּנִי) comes from a root (i.e., radaf: רָדַף) that means to "to pursue" or to "chase down," as a hunter tracks his prey. King David was sure that God's lovingkindness would "hound" him as he made his way through this world - even in the dark places, even in "the valley of the shadow of death" (בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת) - for even there God's Presence would comfort him and direct his steps (Psalm 139:8-10). Praise God we have a Good Shepherd who meets all our needs and who pursues us as we walk our way through this world.  Therefore, "May your love, O LORD, be upon us, as we hope in You."
 

יְהִי־חַסְדְּךָ יְהוָה עָלֵינוּ
 כַּאֲשֶׁר יִחַלְנוּ לָךְ

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 


We are given significant choices in this life. Whatever the heart seeks, it will find. We are constantly "asking, seeking, and knocking" (Matt. 7:7), even if we are often unaware of our heart's search. The one who pursues righteousness will find it, just as evil will come to the one who searches after it (Prov. 11:27). As it is written, "Those who worship worthless idols forsake the love (i.e., chesed: חֶסֶד) that could be theirs" (Jonah 2:8). David understood that as he pursued God, God's love would pursue him; as we seek, so we are sought by God; as we draw near to God, so He will draw near to us (James 4:8).

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




Insanity and Sin...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Naso ("lift up!")... ]

06.14.16 (Sivan 8, 5776)   From our Torah reading this week (i.e., parashat Naso) we read, "If any... goes astray and breaks faith..." (Num. 5:12). The Talmud comments that "goes astray" (i.e., tisteh: תִשְׂטֶה) is written so it may be read "goes insane" (i.e., tishteh: תִשְׁטֶה), and concludes that sin is a form of insanity, that is, a denial of what is real, and therefore a state of delusion. We are required, of course, to believe that God is knowable (Rom. 1:19-20), that we are always in His presence (Prov. 15:3; Psalm 94:9; 139), that He knows all things (Psalm 147:5), and nothing can be hidden from Him (Isa. 40:28; Jer. 23:24; Heb. 4:13), but when we sin, we "break from" this reality and deny the divine Presence by a perverse act of self-exaltation. Whenever we imagine that we are unseen by God or whenever we "forget" that we live, move, and have our being in His presence, we are denying reality. Our sin causes us lose sight of what's real: we forget who God is; we forget who we are; and we exile ourselves from the Source of life... Surely sin is a form of insanity, and therefore we have a moral and spiritual obligation to think clearly and to value truth.
 




Bearers of His Peace...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Naso ("lift up!")... ]

06.14.16 (Sivan 8, 5776)  Our Torah reading for this week gives us the ancient priestly blessing, the great expression of hope and grace that transforms us into "name bearers" of God. The blessing of the LORD guards us from illusion, directing our hearts to focus on what matters most. God's radiance changes us, revealing the miracle of grace. As God "lifts up his face," he discloses his Presence within all things, and imparts to us his healing peace. God's Name is "put upon" us so that we become vessels that carry redemptive love and healing to the world. We are endowed with divine energy to be made fruitful; we are empowered to serve God in the truth. The consciousness of our blessedness touches every moment, and we begin to see all of life as sanctified, sacred, full of wonder and meaning.
 

יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

ye·va·re·khe·kha  Adonai  ve·yish·me·re·kha;
ya·eir  Adonai  pa·nav  e·ley·kha  vi·chun·ne·ka;
yis·sa  Adonai  panav  e·ley·kha  ve·ya·sem  le·kha  sha·lom
 

"The LORD bless you and guard you;
The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace."
(Num. 6:24-26)



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Addendum:  Unlike some "religions" (i.e., ideologies, philosophies of mere men) that fool themselves into believing they are doing heaven a favor by killing others in the name of their god, let it be known that the LORD God of Israel is the God of Peace (אֱלהֵי הַשָּׁלוֹם), the God of Love (אֱלהֵי הָאַהֲבָה), the God of Truth (אֱלהֵי אֱמֶת) -- the Suffering One who Carries us in our weaknesses and heals us of our loss of the Blessing of Reality.... Those hate-filled religions that dare to judge others - and even justify killing them in the name of their god - will share the destiny reserved for all those who love the violence of the lie. As Martin Buber once said, "What is accomplished through lies can assume the mask of truth; what is accomplished through violence can go in the guise of justice, and for a while the hoax may be successful. But soon people realize that lies are lies at bottom, that violence is violence - and that both lies and violence will suffer the destiny history has in store for all that is false." "Those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword" (Matt. 26:52).

On the other hand, those "religions" (i.e., ideologies, philosophies of mere men) that seek to excuse evil, to make "tolerance" their god, to be so "open-minded" that they are without any real conviction, are essentially co-conspirators in the violence of the lie... Christian denominations that follow "secular culture" by denying the truth of Scripture, that deny the Reality and Presence of the Messiah, and that downplay the importance of trusting Yeshua alone for eternal life, are in practical collusion with the world and its violence...

The Spirit states that in acharit ha'yamim (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים), the latter days, people will have "seared consciences," that is, a moral sense that is rendered unresponsive, numb, and unfeeling... People will be unable to discern the significance of moral and spiritual reality, thereby silencing any qualm of moral protest. We see this today in our scandal-saturated culture, as politicians brazenly lie with impunity and moral anarchy is openly celebrated. We must be careful not to heed the devil's logic of compromise, that "dialectic" that denies transcendental moral reality by pretending that truth can only be defined by the exigencies of the hour and its desire. "The world passes away and the lusts thereof..." (1 John 2:17). We must consciously remind ourselves that the LORD God of Israel does not endorse sin, regardless of any supposed political benefit given to the world at large, and that the end never justifies the means. God is not a pragmatist, and there are no "noble lies" for sake of the Kingdom of Heaven...
 




Everyday Revelation...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Shavuot (i.e., "Pentecost")... ]

06.13.16 (Sivan 7, 5776)  The Kotzker rebbe asked, "Why is Shavuot ("Pentecost") called 'zman mattan torateinu,' the time of the giving of our Torah, rather than 'zman kabbalat torateinu,' the time of the receiving of our Torah? The reason is that on that momentous day at Sinai, only the giving of the Torah occurred, whereas the receiving of the Torah must take place each and every day, as it says, "Trust in the LORD 'bekhol libbekha' (בְּכָל־לִבֶּךָ) - with all your heart; and know Him 'bekol derakhekha' (בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ), in all your ways" (Prov. 3:5-6). The giving of the Torah is described as a "loud and never-ending voice" (Deut. 5:19), though it is our constant responsibility to shema – to receive the invitation of God's heart.
 

בְּטַח אֶל־יְהוָה בְּכָל־לִבֶּךָ
וְאֶל־בִּינָתְךָ אַל־תִּשָּׁעֵן
בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ וְהוּא יְיַשֵּׁר ארְחתֶיךָ

be·tach · el · Adonai · be·khol · lib·be·kha
ve'el · bi·na·te·kha · al · tish·a·en
be·khol · de·ra·khe·kha · da·ei·hu · ve·hu · ye·ya·sher · or·cho·te·kha

 

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
Know Him in all your ways, and He will straighten your paths."
(Prov. 3:5-6)



Hebrew Study Card
 

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart... know Him in all your ways." The Hebrew word for trust is "bittachon" (בִּטָחוֹן), from a root word (בָּטָח) that means "to lean upon," to feel safe and secure.... Bittachon describes emotional acceptance of the goodness of the LORD. Some of the sages have said that while emunah (אֱמוּנָה), or "faith," represents a state of cognitive understanding (בִּינָה) that God is involved in all the events of the universe, bittachon means emotionally trusting that the Lord is present in every situation for your good.... Rabbi Bechaya put the distinction this way: "Everyone who trusts has faith, but not everyone with faith trusts." Bittachon is an intuitive awareness of the personal love of God for your life, coupled with complete trust that He deeply cares for you (Rom. 8:28). It is an expectation that the love of God is "I-AM-always-with-you," too.

"Know Him In all your ways," and that means whatever way you find yourself in, which of course includes the way of your struggles, your transgressions, and your heartaches, as well as the way of your deepest longing and hope...
 





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