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

        

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

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





 

Jewish Holiday Calendar 

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

Spring is the start of the Biblical Year and is marked by two of the Shelosh Regalim (three annual pilgrimage festivals): Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost). The holiday of Shavuot is held seven weeks (or fifty days) following the morning after Pesach.
 

Spring Holiday Calendar

Dates for Passover 2014


The Spring Holidays:

Spring Holidays
 

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

  1. Month of Adar II (Sun., March 2nd, 2014)
    • Four Sabbaths: Vayikra, Tzav (Zachor), Shemini (Parah), Tazria (Ha'Chodesh)
    • Ta'anit Esther - the fast of Esther (Thur. March 13th)
    • Shabbat Zachor - Fri. March 14th; Erev Purim
    • Purim - The Festival of Lots (Sat. March 15th) [14th of Adar II]
    • Shushan Purim - Purim in Israel (Sun. March 16th) [15th of Adar II]
    • Vernal Equinox - Thurs. March 20th (17th of Adar II)
    • Shabbat Parah - Fri. March 21st; purification for Passover
    • Shabbat Ha'Chodesh - Fri. March 28th; preparation for Nisan
       
  2. Month of Nisan (Mon., March 31st, 2014)
  3. Month of Iyyar (Tues., April 29th, 2014)
  4. Month of Sivan (Thur., May 29th, 2014)

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 Passover begins Monday, April 14th at sundown, many calendars will indicate it occurs on Tuesday, April 15th...
 

Dates for Passover 2014:
Dates for Passover 2014

Free Seder Guide
 
 



 

April 2014 Site Updates
 



Passover Seder Pictures


 

[ The eight day festival of Passover began April 14th at sundown this year...  ]

04.18.14 (Nisan 18, 5774)  Chag Pesach Sam'each (חג פסח שמח), Happy festival of Passover, chaverim. We held our annual Passover Seder over at our home last Monday evening and had a wonderful time. We started the seder before sundown and ended some time after midnight. After that I stayed up late to watch the lunar eclipse and the appearance of the "blood moon."  Here are a few pictures from the event:
 

Passover 5774 - collage 1

[Left-to-right, top]:  1) Our matzah tosh; 2) Elijah's Cup; 3) Handwashing basin;
4) the ceremonial seder plate; 5) printed and bound H4C Seder Guides.
[Left-to-right, bottom]: 1) Judah gets ready; 2) the table setting; 3) Lighting Yom Tov candles;
4) Josiah listening; 5) Reciting Kiddush for Passover.


 

Passover 5774 - collage 2

[Left-to-right, top]:  1) Vadim and Irina; 2) Seder hand washing; 3) dipping karpas;
4) The three matzot; 5) Yachatz - Breaking the middle matzah.
[Left-to-right, bottom]: 1) Tasting the Matzah; 2) eating Maror; 3) the Hillel sandwich;
4) Singing Dayenu; 5) Next year in the New Jerusalem!

 

It is written: "Be holy as I am holy" (Lev. 19:2). This doesn't mean wrapping yourself up in some protective cloak of religious rituals as much as it means accepting your own atonement: reconciling who you are with your past, finding healing and love, and walking in genuine hope... Holiness isn't as much "separation" from the profane as it is "consecration" to the sacred, and in that sense it is a kind of teshuvah, a turning of the heart back to reality.... Negatively put, "being holy" means turning away from fear, despair, and anger; positively put, it is embracing the worth and value of life, respecting the Divine Presence, and walking in the radiance of God's love. May God open our hearts for Him!

Shabbat Shalom!
 




The Passover 2014 Eclipse...


 

04.18.14 (Nisan 18, 5774)  After our Passover Seder last Monday night, I spent some time taking pictures of the spectacular lunar eclipse, which occurred from around 1:30 am until 4:00 am in our time zone. Here are a few pictures of the eclipse progression (there are some larger pictures on the Hebrew for Christians Facebook page, if interested):

 

Praise God for His awesome work of creation! Seeing the Passover lunar eclipse was both a humbling and a profoundly sacred experience. The following blessing is customarily recited when you witness a remarkable event in God's creation, for instance, when you see an eclipse, a shooting star, or beautiful mountain vista, or some other natural wonder:
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
עשֶׂה מַעֲשֶׂה בְרֵאשִׁית

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

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

 

 




Should We "Count the Omer"?


 

[ The following is related to the Torah's commandment to count exactly 49 days after the feast of Firstfruits until the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost).  ]

04.18.14 (Nisan 18, 5774)  The word "omer" (עמֶר) generally refers to a measure of grain. The Torah commands that an omer of new grain (called chadash) must be "waved" by the priests before the altar on each of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot (Lev. 23:15-21). This ritual act is called omer ha-tenufah (עמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה), or the "waving of the omer." Prior to the offering of such "new grain," only the produce from earlier harvests could be eaten (which is called yashan, "old"). This is the "firstfruits" connection. Only crops that have been first dedicated to God are kosher for use by God's people...

In post-Exilic Jewish tradition, the priestly ritual of waving the omer was replaced with the custom of simply counting down 49 days, beginning with the second day of Passover, until the 50th day is reached... This countdown period is called Sefirat HaOmer (סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר), or the "counting the sheaves." In abstract terms, it's almost as if there is a dotted line pointing directly from Passover to Shavuot - a "Jubilee" of days - representing the climax of Passover itself.  The early sages identified this climax as the revelation of the Torah at Sinai, but the New Testament identifies it as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) that confirmed the reality of the New Covenant of God. The redemption process that began at Passover was therefore completed at Shavuot, and that "completion" was the revelation of God's love and deliverance for the entire world. Though the Jewish sages did not fathom the use of the otherwise forbidden leaven in the offering (Lev. 2:11), prophetically the waving of shtei ha-lechem (two loaves) during Shavuot pictured the "one new man" (composed of both Jew and Gentile) standing before the altar of the LORD (Eph. 2:14). The countdown to Shavuot therefore goes beyond the giving of Torah at Sinai and points to the greater revelation of Zion. Shavuot is the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit's advent to those who are trusting in Messiah (Acts 2:1-4). "Counting the Omer," then, is about receiving the Holy Spirit to experience and know the resurrected LORD of Glory. You can "count" on that, chaverim!


 

Again, from a Messianic point of view, the climax of the 49 days was not the giving of the lawcode at Sinai, but rather the revelation of the altar (i.e., the Tabernacle) and its subsequent fulfillment in the sacrificial death of Yeshua as our Lamb of God.  Moreover, it was during this time that Yeshua made His post-resurrection appearances to His disciples - and indeed ascended to heaven during this 49 day period... Of particular importance is the holiday of Shavuot, day 7x7 of the count, when the Holy Spirit (Ruach ha-Kodesh) was given to the disciples in fulfillment of the promise of Yeshua that we would not be left comfortless... Shavuot, then, marks the time of "Jubilee" of the Spirit, when are clothed with power from on high to serve the LORD without fear...
 




Trusting His Heart...


 

04.18.14 (Nisan 18, 5774)  If you can't detect God's hand in your circumstances, then trust His heart... Gam zu l'tovah (גַּם זוּ לְטוֹבָה): "This too is for the good." Whenever I am confused about life (which is often), I try to remember what God said to Moses after the tragic sin of the Golden Calf: "I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my Name, 'The LORD' (יהוה). And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy" (Exod. 33:19). God's character does not change: the LORD is the same "yesterday, today, and forever." The meaning of the Name, however, cannot be known apart from understanding the heart's need:
 

יְהוָה יְהוָה אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן
 אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב־חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת

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

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

Download Study Card
 

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

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

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

The legalist is actually enslaved to the idea of God's conditional acceptance: "If you obey, then you belong." There is still some faith that the right religious scruples, the affirmation of a particular creed, and the practice of certain rituals will gain us access to His heart. The message of the cross scandalizes the religious because it boldly states, "if you believe, then you belong." As Kierkegaard rightly observed, "And this is the simple truth - that to live is to feel oneself lost. He who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look around for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce." For Kierkegaard, religious rituals devoid of a sense of crisis within the heart are little more than a sham. "I think of the times I tried to use him to make my life secure, and undisturbed, and painless. Also the times I was enslaved by fear of him, and by the need to protect myself against him through rites and circumstances" (de Mello). Ritualistic behavior is a tawdry substitute for trusting that His heart is forever present for you.
 




Anticipating Shavuot ("Pentecost")


 

[ The holiday of Shavuot serves as the climax of the Passover Season... ]

04.18.14 (Nisan 18, 5774)  A week is called shavu'a (שָׁבוּעַ) in Hebrew, from a root word sheva (שֶׁבַע) that means seven. Seven is the number of holiness and completion, and the first verse of Torah has seven words (בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ). In six days God created the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and set it apart as sacred (Gen. 2:3). The holiday of Shavuot (שָׁבוּעוֹת), or "weeks," marks the "Jubilee of Passover," which occurs after we count 7x7 (49) days from the day following Passover until we reach Sivan 6 (which this year begins Tuesday, May 14th at sundown). Since Shavuot occurs on the 50th day after Passover, the Greek translators of the Torah called it "Pentecost" (πεντηκοστή).  Shavuot marks the goal or climax of Passover season, commemorating both the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Sinai as well as the giving of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Messiah (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4).


 

The holiday of Shavuot is one of the shelosh regalim (three pilgrimage festivals) given in the Torah (Exod. 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16) and therefore reveals profound spiritual truth for followers of Yeshua (Luke 24:44; 2 Tim. 3:16). God did not want us to miss the significance of this holiday, since it expresses the freedom and truth of the New Covenant of Zion.

Note:  For a bit more to help you "attune" yourself to the holiday of Shavuot, see the articles "Preparing for Shavuot" and "The Law of Liberty."
 




The Central Fact of Life...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Firstfruits and the resurrection of Jesus... ]

04.17.14 (Nisan 17, 5774)  The most important fact of all history - and that which radically transforms everything else - is the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead (תחייתו של משיח). Spiritual life means being awake to the risen reality and saving Presence of Yeshua, the One who Overcame and vanquished the power of death. Without Him we are hopeless; with Him we are more than conquerors (1 Cor. 15:14; Rom. 8:37). The resurrection means Yeshua is forever alive, and that today he hears your heart's cry. He is surely able to help you, and nothing can overthrow his invincible will. Our Lord suffered and died for your inner peace and healing, but now death has no hold over him, and he "ever lives to make intercession for you" (Rom. 6:9, Heb. 7:25). He is your compassionate Advocate (παράκλητος, lit. "one called alongside") who gives you heavenly comfort (1 John 2:1). Even more: The very power that raised Yeshua from the dead now dwells in you (Rom. 8:11). The miracle of new life is "Messiah in you - the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). The Lord will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5): He "sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24); He sustains your way, and he will perfect the work of salvation on your behalf (Jude 1:24). In short, there simply is no "gospel" message apart from the resurrection! The resurrection is the victory of God's plan of salvation - His everlasting vindication over the powers of darkness - for your life.

The Talmud says "All the world was created for the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b). The New Testament had earlier said the same thing: "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Indeed, all of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of the Messiah's power (Heb. 1:3). Creation begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our LORD... The Messiah is the Center of Creation - its beginning and end.  As it is written: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the 'Aleph' and the 'Tav,' the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36). Yeshua our Messiah is called מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים / Melech Malchei Hamelachim: The "King of kings of kings." He is LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest celestial glory to the dust of death upon a cross. Yehi shem Adonai mevorakh (יְהִי שֵׁם יהוה מְברָךְ): "Let the Name of the LORD be blessed" forever and ever (Psalm 113:2). So while we can agree with the Talmud's general statement that the world was created "for the Messiah," we would insist that the name of the Messiah is none other than Yeshua, God's Son, and indeed, there is no other (Acts 4:12).
 

מִי עָלָה־שָׁמַיִם וַיֵּרַד
מִי אָסַף־רוּחַ בְּחָפְנָיו
מִי צָרַר־מַיִם בַּשִּׂמְלָה
מִי הֵקִים כָּל־אַפְסֵי־אָרֶץ
מַה־שְּׁמוֹ וּמַה־שֶּׁם־בְּנוֹ כִּי תֵדָע

mi  a·lah  sha·ma·yim  vai·ye·rad?
mi  a·saf  ru·ach  be·chof·nav?
mi  tza·rar  ma·yim  ba·sim·lah?
mi  he·kim  kol  af·sei  a·retz?
mah  she·mo  u·mah  shem  be·no,  ki  tei·da?

"Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son's name? Surely you know!"
(Prov. 30:4)



Hebrew Study Card
 




Why the Resurrection Matters...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Firstfruits, which began yesterday at sundown... ]

04.17.14 (Nisan 17, 5774)  The Scriptures make clear that Yeshua is the true Passover Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) whose sacrificial death and shed blood causes the wrath of God to "pass over" (pasach) those who are trusting in Him (John 1:29, 3:36; Acts 8:32-36; 1 Cor. 5:7-8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20, etc.). Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! (Rev. 5:12). But while the sacrifice of Yeshua gives us atonement (כַּפָּרָה) with God, the resurrection of the Messiah (i.e., techiyat ha-Mashiach: תְּחִיַּת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) justifies His work of salvation on behalf of the sinner and forever vindicates the righteousness of God.

The resurrection of Yeshua is not an "academic" or speculative question to be considered in purely rational terms, but rather is a matter of eternal life or death. How we choose to respond to its message determines our destiny. Everything turns on whether we awaken to the risen reality and Presence of Yeshua in our lives. Without Him we are hopeless; with Him we are more than conquerors (1 Cor. 15:14; Rom. 8:37).

Yeshua completely atoned for our sins and His resurrection validated that God the Father accepted His sacrifice. It was God the Father (i.e., Reality) who raised Yeshua in victory (Gal. 1:1, Rom. 10:9), and those who put their trust trust in Him are declared righteous on account of their faith.  Yeshua "was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25).  As Jesus Himself said, "Because I am alive, you also will live" -
שֶׁכֵּן אֲנִי חַי וְגַם אַתֶּם תִּחְיו / ὅτι ἐγὼ ζῶ καὶ ὑμεῖς ζήσετε (John 14:19).

For more on the tremendously important subject of why the resurrection of Yeshua matters, please see this article.
 




The Mysterious Shroud of Turin...


 

[ The following entry is related to the holiday of Firstfruits. Some people contend that the famous Shroud of Turin is the authentic burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth, whereas others claim it is an sophisticated forgery. Regardless, the study of the shroud surely is provocative and provides a remarkable reminder of both the suffering and the resurrection of our Messiah.... ]

04.16.14 (Nisan 16, 5774)  A few years ago I read fascinating article that reported that one of the leading scientists of the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STRP) later confessed that the sample taken from cloth was flawed (i.e., it came from a piece of the Shroud that was repaired in the Middle Ages, not from the original cloth). The scientist -- Ray Rogers, a chemist from the Los Alamos National Laboratory -- later acknowledged that it's now entirely reasonable to conclude that the cloth was none other than the burial shroud of Jesus of Nazareth. And today I read that the most recent experiments conducted by scientists at the University of Padua (in northern Italy) have dated the shroud to the time of Christ....

Even though the controversy regarding the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin gets technical and involved, I tend to regard the Shroud as authentic, primarily because there are no known means for a medieval artist to have created a "negative" (holographic) image of a body (especially an image with such anatomical detail that only a modern pathologist would appreciate), and there is simply no motive for someone to have done so, anyway. After all, what can it possibly mean to call an utterly unique item a "forgery" anyway?  Both the "how" and the "why" questions of the Shroud are troubling to those who (a priori) reject the possibility of the miraculous, and therefore the idea that the Shroud is a forgery or a hoax has become the standard biased response for many who reject the historical resurrection of Yeshua from the dead.

On the hypothesis that the Shroud of Turin is a sophisticated forgery, however, we must suppose there once was a medieval artist who was so talented that he or she could paint the "negative" image of a body, that is, an image with the full spectrum of light reversed. Moreover, this artist would have to paint in obverse -- somewhat like a minting impression.  This painter also would have to be intimately familiar with the customs of crucifixion that were unknown during the Middle Ages. For instance, he or she would have to know that the Romans crucified their victims entirely naked, that they pounded the nails through the wrists (not through the hands, as is usually depicted by stigmata paintings of the period), that the victim wore Palestinian style "earlocks" (i.e. peyot ha-rosh) and so on. This fantastic artist also would have to paint in an incredibly realistic and detailed style (again, unlike all other artists of the period), noting such things as the presence of a coin located under the right eyelid and the presence of various blood stains in physiologically correct locations on the cloth....  Finally, this medieval artist would have to paint from the perspective of a negative exposure -- a concept that was unknown until nearly 600 years later. In short, it seems that our hypothetical artist would have to something of a miracle worker.  If it's a fake, it's a seemingly miraculous fake; but if it's true, it's astoundingly true; either way, then, the Shroud testifies of something very remarkable, and indeed, something astonishing.

In addition to the lack of technology in the Middle Ages to create such an image, the question must be asked about why such a invisible image would be produced in the first place. What possible motive would be at work in this case?  Why would our supposed artist go through all this trouble, especially during the relatively superstitious Middle Ages? What point would there have been in creating such a fantastic duplicity?  The inference to the best explanation suggests that the Shroud of Turin, whatever else it might be, certainly is not the result of human ingenuity and forgery....  Occam's Razor applies in this case: we do not need to multiply miracles in order to explain something that could be explained through the attested historical accounts of the resurrection of Yeshua.

So should the Shroud of Turin be cited as evidence of the resurrection of Yeshua?  Is it a valid "apologetic" device, an empirical "proof" of the resurrection? Well, since we cannot say for certain that the image is that of Yeshua ha-Notzri (Jesus of Nazareth), we cannot make a dogmatic claim that this is direct evidence of His resurrection, though it's surely consistent with it. The shocking image -- revealed through negative spectrum light -- is that of a 1st century Jewish man who was beaten, whipped, and crucified. Pollen samples taken from the cloth also indicate a Middle East provenance.  Though we cannot offer a scientific "proof" that this is the burial shroud of Yeshua, we might make a "legal" case that it is.... In other words, the imprinted image of the Shroud is consistent with the testimony of the New Testament and the theistic worldview, but certainly not with "naturalism" or other worldviews. The Shroud is a "problem" for those who are unbelievers, not believers...  If it were later debunked as some sort of a forgery, our faith would remain unshaken, since we believe in order to understand, not conversely. Empirical evidences are never conclusive for skeptics anyway. As Yeshua said, "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31).  And perhaps that's the allure and beauty of the Shroud -- like so many other matters of faith, what you see is what you ultimately choose to see....  Like a looking glass, it reveals more about the person looking at it than it does of the thing itself...


 


Addendum: Please understand that I am not advocating venerating relics or any such nonsense. Such things are always insufficient for a heart change from God.  As Yeshua said, "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31). Nonetheless, I find it fascinating that if the Shroud of Turin is a forgery, it's entirely amazing and unlike any other seen before, but if it's authentic, it's evidence of the resurrection itself (1 Cor. 2:2). I also see no sense in claiming (as some have) that the Shroud is some form of "satanic deception."  After all -- forgery or not -- the Shroud points to something the devil certainly doesn't want to be published, namely, the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua... "In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe, and enough shadows to blind those who don't" (Blaise Pascal).
 




Passover Love Song...


 

[ Happy Passover, friends! We enjoyed our seder Monday evening, and I stayed up quite late to watch the lunar eclipse, too.  I hope to post some pictures soon... ]

04.16.14 (Nisan 16, 5774)  During the Shabbat of Passover week it is customary to read the ancient "love song" of King Solomon called Shir Ha-Shirim (שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים), or the "Song of Songs."  In Jewish tradition, since Passover marks the time when our "romance" with God officially began, the sages chose this song to celebrate God's love for his people. And since Passover is also called Chag Ha-Aviv, the festival of spring, the Song is also associated with creativity and hope associated with springtime (Song 2:11-12). One way to read this poem is to see the king, who had disguised himself as a lowly shepherd to win the heart of the Shulamite woman, as a picture of Yeshua who took the form of a lowly servant to demonstrate his eternal love for those who are trusting in him... Indeed, the Song of Songs is linked to the "lilies" (i.e., shoshanim: שׁשַׁנִּים) mentioned in Psalm 45, which presents a Messianic vision of the Divine Bridegroom and offers an "ode" for a forthcoming wedding.
 

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי
הָרעֶה בַּשׁוֹשַׁנִּים

a·ni · le·do·di · ve·do·di · li
ha·ro·eh · ba·sho·sha·nim

"I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine;
he grazes among the lilies."
(Song 6:3)


 
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The meaning of Passover is of course rooted in the greatest love story ever told - about God, creation, the estrangement of Adam and Eve, the call of Israel, and the coming of the Messiah who would sanctify us as His own people, deliver us from the plague of death, and redeem us from the penalty of sin. Yeshua's mesirat nefesh ("giving over of soul" in sacrifice) and his triumph at the cross made the new covenant with God possible. As our Suffering Servant, He gave up His life for ours in exchange, redeeming us from the sickness unto death and making the way for our everlasting healing.

Whether or not you were able to attend a Passover Seder this year, please understand that there is always a place for you at His table.  After all, Yeshua made a place for you within His heart when he died for you on the cross, and that is what Passover is really all about anyway.  Shalom chaverim.


Note: For more on the connection between Passover and the Song of Songs, see the article Shir Hashirim: Passover and the Song of Solomon.
 




Eating Unleavened Bread....


 

04.15.14 (Nisan 15, 5774)  The Torah states that during the days of Passover, sometimes called the Festival of Unleavened Bread, no chametz (i.e., leavened food) may be eaten for a full seven days - from the 15th of Nisan through the 22nd of Nisan (Exod. 12:15-18; 34:18). Every trace of leavening must be purged from our homes, and no leavened products of any kind may be consumed during this time (Exod. 12:15). For more information about this aspect of the Holiday of Passover, click here....

 




A Night to be Guarded...


 

04.13.14 (Nisan 13, 5774)  The Torah refers to Passover as leil shimurim (לֵיל שִׁמֻּרִים), a "night to be guarded" (from the verb shamar (שָׁמַר) which means "to watch" or "to guard"). "It is a night that is guarded (leil shimurim) by the LORD to take them [Israel] out of Egypt; this night remains a night to be guarded (שִׁמֻּרִים) by the people of Israel throughout their generations" (Exod. 12:42). Since "this night" - ha-lailah hazeh (הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה) - was guarded by God from the beginning to be the time of redemption, Israel must therefore "guard this night" (i.e., keep a vigil) by means of the Passover Seder (Exod. 13:10; Deut. 16:1), recalling and celebrating God's faithfulness and redemptive love... Note further that the phrase leil shimurim literally means "night of the watches" (shimurim is plural), and therefore it refers not only to the original redemption in Egypt (i.e., the Passover), but also to the time of future redemption by the Messiah (Shemot Rabbah 18). This explains why this night is a regarded as a vigil for all generations (Matt. 24:42).

Note: For more on this subject see, "Leil Shimurim  - A Night to be Guarded."
 




The Life is in the Blood...


 

[ The following is related to holiday of Passover, which begins Monday evening, April 14th... There is no Passover without the blood of the Lamb... ]

04.11.14 (Nisan 11, 5774)  The very first time the word "blood" (דָּם) occurs in the Scriptures concerns the death of Abel, the son of Adam and Eve who was murdered by his brother Cain. After Abel's blood was shed, the LORD confronted Cain and said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood (קוֹל דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ) is crying to me from the ground" (Gen. 4:10). Since blood is the carrier of life, it bears the energy and vitality of life: it has its own spiritual "voice." Likewise, the blood of Yeshua (דְּמֵי יֵשׁוּעַ), the true Lamb of God who died upon the cross, speaks on our behalf, and reverses the power of death by creating a barrier that death can no longer cross, since the death of the sacrificial victim "exchanges" the merit and power of life. Unlike the blood of Abel that "cries out" for justice, the blood of Yeshua cries out for mercy (Heb. 12:24). Putting our trust in the provision of God's sacrifice causes His wrath (or righteous judgment) to pass over while simultaneously extending love to the sinner.... This is the essential message of the gospel itself, that we have atonement through the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua our Savior, the great Lamb of God. As Yeshua said, "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the One who sent me has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and will not be condemned, but has passed over (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24). Just as God's judgment passes over from life to death on my behalf; so His love passes over from death to life on my behalf...

For more on this subject, see "Parashat Bo: The Life is in the Blood."
 




The Very First Passover...

Marc Chagall  Tree over Village
 

[ The following is related to holiday of Passover, which begins Monday evening, April 14th... ]

04.11.14 (Nisan 11, 5774)  The story of Passover goes all the way back to the beginning, to the very orchard of Eden itself, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate from the forbidden tree. Because of their transgression, our original ancestors incurred the plague of death and were exiled from the Divine Presence, though God graciously promised to heal them through the coming Seed of the woman – the Savior who would crush the head of the serpent and break the fangs of his venomous sting (Gen. 3:15). Soon after making this great promise, God clothed our original parents with the skin of a sacrificed lamb (Gen. 3:21), linking their coming deliverance with the "Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world" (1 Pet. 1:18-20). The very first "Passover" was in the garden. And the story of Passover extends to the world to come, where in the redeemed paradise of God we will celebrate the victory of the Lamb who was slain for our redemption (Rev. 5:12-13).

The great story of our redemption is revealed on two levels in Scripture - one that concerns the paradise of Eden (the universal level), and the other that concerns the paradise of Israel (the particular level). Therefore Yeshua is both rightly called the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29) and "the Messiah our Passover Lamb who has been sacrificed for us" (1 Cor. 5:7). Likewise he is both called the "Seed of the woman," and "the Son of David"; the "Second Adam," and the "King of the Jews," and so on. The story of Israel's redemption in Egypt therefore serves as an allegory of both the universal salvation promised in Eden (i.e., the lamb slain from the foundation of the world) as well as the revelation of the sacrificial ministry of Yeshua as Israel's promised Messiah. Yeshua is both the Savior of the world as well as Israel's true King and Deliverer.

Note:  For more on this subject, please see the articles, "The Very First Passover" and "The Gospel in the Garden."
 




The Bridge of Faith...


 

04.11.14 (Nisan 11, 5774)  There is always a gap between what we are and what we could be, between the "is" and the "ought," and between the real and the ideal in our lives... Our conversion imparts to us a new spiritual nature, but we still must struggle through our deep inadequacies so that we might learn to truly love God and others (Shema). God graciously saves us by faith, and he sanctifies us the selfsame way, though in the latter case this means learning to keep focus, to persevere, and persist in hope - despite the shortfall of our lives. So where are you going today? Are you keeping faith in God's promises for your life? Are you catching up with the miracle of what God has done for you?
 

הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה דֶּרֶךְ חֻקֶּיךָ
וְאֶצְּרֶנָּה עֵקֶב

ho·rei·ni · Adonai · de·rekh · chuk·ke·kha
ve·e·tze·ren·nah · e·kev
 

"Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes;
and I will keep it to the end"
(Psalm 119:33)

Bedikat Chametz
 
 

Often the only prayer we have is "Help, LORD" (עזור לי יהוה), I use this one on a daily basis, that is, whenever I am confronted with the truth of my condition... Living in the "already-not-yet" state of redemption is a soul-building venture that helps us to acquire the precious middah (quality) of patience: "In your patience possess ye your souls" (Luke 21:19). Testing produces endurance (Rom. 5:3), but God surely is faithful "to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 1:24). May He come speedily, and in our day. Amen.
 




The Broken Matzah...


04.11.14 (Nisan 11, 5774)  During the Passover Seder, we place three matzahs on the table, said to represent Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, respectively. During the Yachatz step of the seder, the middle matzah (representing Isaac) will be broken to recall how Isaac was sacrificed in obedience to his father, foreshadowing the sacrifice of Yeshua by God the Father. Indeed, the Talmud states, "We break the middle matzah in tribute to Yitzchak (Isaac), who accepted the sins of the people upon himself" (Shabbos 89b). The smaller half of this broken matzah will be eaten later during the Motzi Matzah step, while the larger half will be eaten during the Afikomen step, near the end of the night...

In Hebrew, the middle of something is it's heart - the heart of the heavens, the heart of the earth, the heart of the sea, the heart of a person... Since the offering of Isaac by Abraham foretold of the greater offering of Yeshua by God Himself, when we break the middle matzah, then, we recall the broken heart of God over the pain Yeshua endured by taking our sins upon Him at the cross...."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).

During his Passover seder with his disciples, Yeshua "took matzah, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body" (Matt. 26:26). Since Yeshua did this while they were eating dinner, the matzah he broke would have been the Afikomen, thereby making the connection between the hidden bread (lechem ha-nistar) that would be broken given for our deliverance. The matzah we eat during Passover is called lechem oni (לֶחֶם ענִי) - "the bread of [His] suffering" - and eating the Bread of Life that was "broken for us" remembers the great suffering of our LORD...


Personal Update:  My son Judah is sick with the flu and I recently pulled a muscle in my back which is hampering me. Your prayers for us are appreciated. Thank you, chaverim.
 




Passing Over to You...


 

04.10.14 (Nisan 10, 5774)  In the Torah we read about the institution of Passover and the final plague that would befall the Egyptians on the Passover night.  When we think of this ominous time, we may imagine God "passing over" those houses that had the blood of the lamb smeared on their doorposts, though it might better be said that God passed into the homes of those who trusted him, while he withdrew His Presence from those that did not...

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

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

For more on this subject, see "Parashat Bo: The Life is in the Blood."
 

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Passover Soul Searching...


 

04.09.14 (Nisan 9, 5774)  The search for chametz (leaven) is not unlike the soul searching we do before the fall High Holidays, when we perform chesbon hanefesh (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ) by taking inventory of our spiritual condition before the LORD. In other words, we are instructed to search and remove sources of inner impurity so that we might experience the truth that we have been made into a "new substance" that is purged from the sour and rotting influences of our past lives... Since Yeshua has been sacrificed as your Passover Lamb, you are indeed a new creation (בְּרִיָּה חֲדָשָׁה), made "unleavened" by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 5:17). Therefore we are likewise commanded put away the "old nature" - the yetzer ha'ra - and purge from your life the old influences that inwardly canker you and make you sick. May you walk in the truth of the love of God for your soul....
 

חָקְרֵנִי אֵל וְדַע לְבָבִי בְּחָנֵנִי וְדַע שַׂרְעַפָּי
וּרְאֵה אִם־דֶּרֶךְ־עצֶב בִּי וּנְחֵנִי בְּדֶרֶךְ עוֹלָם

chok·rei·ni · el · ve'da · le·va·vi · be·cha·nei·ni · ve'da · sar·a·pai
u·reh · im · de·rekh · o·tzev · bi · u'ne·chei·ni · be·de·rekh · o·lam
 

"Search me, O God, and know my heart! Test me and know my thoughts.
 And see if there be any idolatrous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!"
(Psalm 139:23-24)

Bedikat Chametz
 
Hebrew Study Card
 




Great Lamb of God...


 

[ The following is related to holiday of Passover, which begins Monday evening, April 14th... ]

04.09.14 (Nisan 9, 5774)  Though the LORD instructed each household to select its own defect-free lamb for the family Passover, the Torah refers to "the" Lamb of God, as if there was only one: "You shall keep it [i.e., the Passover lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter him (אתוֹ) at twilight (Exod. 12:6). Note that the direct object "him" (i.e., oto) can be read as Aleph-Tav (את) combined with the letter Vav (ו), signifying the Son of Man who is First and Last... Indeed there is only one "Lamb of God" that takes away the sins of the world, and that is our Savior, Yeshua the Messiah...
 

רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 




Freedom to Serve God...


 

[ The great holiday of Passover begins Monday, April 14th, at sundown... ]

04.09.14 (Nisan 9, 5774)  Passover is sometimes called z'man cheruteinu (זְמָן חֵרוּתֵנוּ), the "Season of our Freedom." Some people think that "freedom" means "licentiousness," or the ability to do what they want to do whenever they want to do it. However, simply doing whatever you want to do is not the Torah's idea of freedom. Indeed, Yeshua told us "whoever commits sin is the slave (δουλος) of sin," and went on to say "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:34-36). True freedom (i.e., cherut: חרוּת) is therefore moral and spiritual rather than merely physical. Real freedom has to do with the power to choose what is right and good, not to simply get your own way or to practice your lusts... Where it is written, "The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets" (Exod. 32:16), the midrash says do not read "engraved (חָרוּת) on the tablets" but rather as "freedom (חֵרוּת) on tablets," since only those who obey God's will may rightly be called "free" people (Rom. 6:8).
 




Strangers and Sojourners...


 

04.08.14 (Nisan 8, 5774)  God's people are always "strangers" in this world; they are literally "e-stranged" -- living here, yet not here. We are outsiders and pilgrims, not at home in this world, and our faith therefore is both a type of "protest" against any interpretation of reality that excludes, suppresses, denies, or minimizes the Divine Presence as well as a longing for the place where we truly belong.... If you feel crazy in an insane situation, then you are really quite sane... The world will feel oppressive and strange once you have been awakened from its madness and refuse to be moved by the delusions of the crowd...  Life in olam hazeh (this world) is a place of passing that leads to the world to come. Our faith affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life is a deeper reality that is ultimately real and abiding. It "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31).
 

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

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

 

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



 

The Apostle Paul taught that we to be "conformed" (σύμμορφος) to the Messiah (Rom. 8:29), but not "conformed" (συσχηματίζω) to the pattern of this fallen world (Rom. 12:2). The former word means to resemble or be made similar in form (μορφή), whereas the latter means to accept the world's scheme (σχῆμα) of understanding things, to passively go along with the world's lies, wishful thinking, fearmongering, propaganda, etc. Of course we need God's help to escape the "programming" of our age, and therefore the Holy Spirit helps us to become transfigured – "changed from the inside out" - by the renewal of our minds, enabling us to see things in light of the reality of our identity in the Messiah. So refuse to let the world system get you down, but focus on God and His great glory. Take heart, friends: being exiled by the world is an indication that you belong to the Kingdom of God...
 




Preparing for Passover...


 

04.07.14 (Nisan 7, 5774)  Passover begins in just one week, on Monday, April 14th at sundown! We prepare for the holiday by consciously removing the "chametz" from our lives: "Cleanse out the old leaven (חָמֵץ) that you may be a new lump, since you really are unleavened; for Messiah, our Passover lamb (משיח השה הפסח שלנו), has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread (matzah) of sincerity and truth" (1 Cor. 5:7-8).

Leaven (i.e., yeast) produces fermentation, especially in bread dough, and is the result of natural processes of decay. We therefore vacuum the house, wipe down cupboards, and physically remove all bread stuffs from our dwelling places. This is in obedience to the commandment to "remove all leaven from our dwellings" (Exod. 12:5, 13:7, Deut. 16:4). On the night before Passover, we perform a ceremony called "bedikat chametz," and symbolically remove the last vestiges of bread crumbs from our homes.

Chametz is metaphorically regarded a corrupting influence, a hidden source of uncleanness that manipulates purer elements. Like the influence of a lump of leaven in a batch of dough, "spiritual" leaven functions as an evil impulse within us (i.e., yetzer ra: יֵצֶר רָע) that corrupts and "sours" our soul.  This "yeast in the soul" is essentially pride that manifests itself in idolatrous desires and lusts. That is why unleavened bread is called the "bread of affliction" (i.e., lechem oni, literally, "bread of humiliation" or the "bread of humility").

"Cleanse out the old leaven." Ultimately the problem we have with "holiness" is that we are decidedly unholy people. This is similar to the idea that the Law is "holy, just, and good," but we are "sold into slavery to sin" (Rom. 7:12-14). But thank God for our Savior Yeshua, who imparts holiness to us and sets us free from the attempt to please God through the principle of "self-effort" (1 Cor. 1:30; Titus 3:5; Rom. 8:1-2). You already are unleavened (καθώς ἐστε ἄζυμοι) by the gift of God given in Yeshua our Savior (1 Cor. 5:7). Because of Him, we do not work toward a place of victory, but rather from the place of His victory (1 Cor. 15:57).

1st Quarter Moon of Nisan 5774
 




The Limping Messiah...


 

[ The great holiday of Passover begins Monday April 14th... ]

04.07.14 (Nisan 7, 5774)  The word "Passover" comes from pasach (פָּסַח), a verb that means to "pass over," though it also can mean "to limp," recalling the "heel of Messiah" that would be bruised in the battle for our deliverance (Gen. 3:15). This connection may be discovered when studying the semantic range of the root pasach throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. For instance, the related participle pise'ach (פִּסֵחַ) means "lame" or "crippled" (for example, see Lev. 21:18; Deut. 15:21; 2 Sam. 9:13, Mal. 1:8, etc.), while there are several uses of the verb pasach that explicitly mean to "limp" or "be lame."  For example, in 2 Sam. 4:4 it says: "and he (Mephibosheth) fell and 'became lame" (וַיִּפָּסֵחַ); in 1 Kings 18:21, we read: "how long will you limp (פּסְחִים) between two opinions?" and in 1 Kings 18:26 it is written: "and they (the priests of Baal) 'limped upon the altar" (וַיְפַסְּחוּ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ) in a pagan ritual dance. In other words there is a connection between Passover and becoming wounded, and this alludes to the Savior whose heel was bruised during the battle for our deliverance. Yeshua is "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29).

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




The Chosen Lamb of God...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Monday April 14th... ]

04.07.14 (Nisan 7, 5774)  The Sabbath that occurs immediately before Passover is called Shabbat HaGadol (שבת הגדול), which is associated with the selection of the sacrificial lamb four days before the time of Passover (Exod. 12:1-6). The New Testament notes that it was four days before Passover (Nisan 10) when Yeshua made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, signifying His Messiahship, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zech. 9:9). During this time, when the pilgrims had come to select a lamb for their Passover sacrifice at the Temple - they saw Yeshua and cried out: hoshiah na (הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא), meaning "please save" or "save now" (in English this phrase was translated from the Latin to form "Hosanna!"). The people spontaneously began singing Psalm 118:25-26 in anticipation of the great Messianic hope:
 

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

an·na · Adonai · ho·shi·ah · na  / an·na · Adonai · hatz·li·cha · na
ba·rukh · ha·ba · be·shem · Adonai / be·rakh·nu·khem · mi·bet · Adonai

"Please, LORD save us! Please, LORD rescue us!
Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD
We bless you from the house of the LORD."
(Psalm 118:25-26)


 
Hebrew Study Card

 

Though he came in humility, riding upon a lowly donkey, it is striking to note that once he arrived in Jerusalem for Passover, Yeshua immediately went to the Temple and drove out all who sold there, overturning the tables of the "moneychangers" and the seats of those who sold pigeons (Matt. 21:1-16). The true Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) had come! At the Temple he then healed the blind and castigated the religious authorities by stating that the praise of children overruled their objections (Psalm 8:2). Over the next two days, he was accosted by priests, scribes, Pharisees, etc. - the whole religious establishment - which culminated in his utter denunciation of them beginning in Matthew 23 ("Woe unto you..."). He then left the Temple and foretold its destruction to the disciples, going on to explain the signs of the End of the Age (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) that would precede the advent of the Messianic Kingdom (Matt. 24). Yeshua was later crucified (before sundown) on Nisan 14, prophetically corresponding with the time when the Passover lambs were sacrificed at the Temple.

Note: For more on the prophetic aspects of the selection of the Passover lamb, see the Shabbat Hagadol pages. For a tentative chronology of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah, see "Reshit Katzir: Messiah as the Beginning of the Harvest."
 




Parashat Acharei Mot...


 

04.06.14 (Nisan 6, 5774)  Our Torah portion for this week is called Acharei Mot (אַחֲרֵי מוֹת). This portion transitions from the preceding instructions regarding ritual purity (tahora) to recall the tragic incident of Nadab and Abihu, the two sons of Aaron who were killed when they offered "strange fire" upon the Altar of Incense during the dedication of the Tabernacle (Lev. 10:1-2). Because these priests came close to the Holy of Holies in an incorrect manner, the LORD further commanded Moses to instruct Aaron that he should enter the innermost chamber only in a carefully prescribed manner once a year - on the tenth day of the seventh month - during the sacred time called Yom Kippur (i.e., the "Day of Atonement").

On this most solemn day, Aaron was commanded to immerse himself in a mikveh (pool of fresh water) and to dress in all-white linen. He then was instructed to slaughter a bull as a personal sin offering. Aaron then brought some ketoret (incense) to burn within the Holy of Holies before returning to sprinkle the blood of the sin offering seven times before the Ark of the Covenant (i.e., the kapporet or "Mercy Seat"). Aaron repeated this procedure using the blood of one of two goats that was selected (by lot) to be slaughtered as a sin offering on behalf of the people. After this, Aaron took more of the sacrificial blood and purified the Altar of Incense and the other furnishings of the Tabernacle. Later, the fat of these sacrifices was burned on the Copper Altar in the courtyard, though the hide and the flesh were to be entirely burned outside the camp.

After purifying the Tabernacle, Aaron went to the gate of the courtyard and laid both hands upon the head of the other goat (designated "for Azazel," a name for the accusing angel) while confessing all of the sins and transgressions of the people. This "scapegoat" was not slaughtered, however, but was driven away into the wilderness, carrying "all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited." Finally, Aaron returned to the Tent, washed and changed his clothes, and offered two more burnt offerings – one for himself and one for the people – to complete the purification process.

This elaborate ritual was ordained to be a decree for Israel, and the day of Yom Kippur was to be observed every year as a time of "affliction and mourning" for all the people. The portion ends with further instructions about making sacrifices, including the prohibition against offering sacrifices apart from the rites of the Tabernacle. The consumption of blood is explicitly forbidden, since blood was reserved for sacrificial purposes upon the altar.
 

 




Light of Revelation...


 

04.04.14 (Nisan 4, 5774)  We do not directly see light but by means of the light; the light is the medium by which we receive revelation... The heart looks through the eye, and therefore how we choose to see is a spiritual decision: "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). When we see rightly, we behold the radiance of God shining within us, even in the midst of our everyday affairs. A grateful heart is awake to God's Presence in the little things of life, those small miracles and glories that constantly surround us.
 

כִּי־עִמְּךָ מְקוֹר חַיִּים
בְּאוֹרְךָ נִרְאֶה־אוֹר

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
  
 

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

Shabbat shalom and love to you all, dear friends... Thank you for encouraging me to continue this ministry, despite the constant challenges we face.
 




Weight of Our Words...


 

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

04.04.14 (Nisan 4, 5774)  Just as a body can become sick with illness, so can a soul: "I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me; heal my soul (רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי), for I have sinned against you'" (Psalm 41:4). Evil or negative speech, called lashon hara (לָשׁוֹן הָרָה), is toxic for the soul, and is often the source of much pain and suffering in our lives. Indeed, Satan first spoke lashon hara about the LORD, seducing Eve to doubt God's goodness (Gen. 3:1-6). The sages say that when we engage in lashon hara, we reconnect with the serpent and spiritual darkness. Our Lord Yeshua particularly warned us that our words carry an eternal weight of significance: "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless (ἀργὸν) word they utter, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). Therefore the Holy Spirit says through David: "What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit."
 

מִי־הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים
 אהֵב יָמִים לִרְאוֹת טוֹב
נְצר לְשׁוֹנְךָ מֵרָע וּשְׂפָתֶיךָ מִדַּבֵּר מִרְמָה

mi · ha·ish · he·cha·fetz · chai·yim
o·hev · ya·mim · lir·ot · tov
ne·tzor · le·shon·kha · me·ra  · us·fa·te·kha · mi·da·ber · mir·mah

 

"What man is there who desires life
 and loves many days, that he may see good?
 Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit"
(Psalm 34:12-13)



Hebrew Study Card 
 

Sometimes it's not what we say that may be harmful, but what we don't say... We may avoid saying hurtful things about ourselves or others, and while that is commendable, we must also use the "good tongue" (לָשׁוֹן הַטּוֹב) to affirm and respect ourselves and others. And while we must shun evil speaking, gossip, and lying, we should be mindful to comfort and encourage others for the benefit of their healing...

Those who think it easy to control the tongue have likely never really tried to do so. "The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell" (James 3:5-6). Ultimately, controlling your tongue is a matter of controlling your thoughts, your attitude, and your heart (i.e., shemirat ha-lev: שמירת הלב). Therefore we are admonished to be "quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger," since the anger of man never works the righteousness of God (James 1:19). May the LORD our God help us always to speak with grace, "seasoned with salt" (Col. 4:6); and may we all "speak the truth in love to grow up in every way" (Eph. 4:15).
 




Passover's Bread...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Monday April 14th... ]

04.04.14 (Nisan 4, 5774)  The question is asked why the Torah also refers to the Passover as "Chag HaMatzot" (חַג הַמַּצּוֹת), or the holiday of Unleavened Bread (Exod. 12:17-20). The sages answer that while Passover (i.e., Pesach: פֶּסַח) recalls the great miracle that God performed for us by passing over (פָּסַח) the homes of our ancestors and redeeming us from slavery, we nevertheless remember the poor man's bread, lechem oni (לֶחֶם ענִי), that our ancestors ate during the time of their slavery so that we do not lose sight of our lowly origin and our great need for God's grace and deliverance...
 




Jesus our Healer...


 

04.03.14 (Nisan 3, 5774)  An anxious father repeatedly sought healing for his troubled son. Finally he came to Yeshua and said, "If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." Yeshua answered, "What do you mean, 'If you can'? All things are possible for one who believes" (Mark 9:22-23). Though this man's faith was small -- indeed, nearly non-existent -- he finally encountered the One who was both willing and able to help, and therefore the miracle took place...  As Yeshua taught in another place, all that's needed is  faith in him "like a grain of mustard seed" to move a mountain or to otherwise do the impossible (Matt. 17:20). That's because it's not up to your little faith to do the miracle, but rather your trust in the One who has "all power in heaven and on earth" (Matt. 28:18).
 




The Meaning of Life...


 

04.03.14 (Nisan 3, 5774)  The Hebrew word for "life" is chayim (חַיִּים), a plural noun that contains two consecutive letter yods (יי) that picture two "hands held together" (the Hebrew word yad [יָד] means "hand"), or the union of our spirit with God's Spirit. The word itself reveals that there is no life apart from union with God, who extends his hand to you and says, "Live in me" (John 15:4). Live in God, who is your life, your love, your light, your truth, your healing, your beauty, your breath, and your salvation. Yeshua is the Source of all life, and we find nourishment, strength, and fullness of joy as we connect with his life. The Lord is our light and our salvation, the Mediator of divine life (Psalm 27:1; John 1:4). The Voice of the LORD still speaks: "Take heart. It is I; be not afraid."

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

The Divine Life is such that it is never diminished as it shared but instead grows and multiplies in miraculous ways. This is alluded to by the Hebrew word for love (i.e., ahavah: אהבה), the gematria of which is thirteen (1+5+2+5=13), but when shared with another it is multiplied: 13 x 2 = 26 - the same value for the Sacred Name (יהוה), i.e., (10+5+6+5=26). The love of God given in Yeshua is the very life of the universe...

The word chayim is also written in the plural to indicate that each person potentially contains a "universe of lives" within him or her. Spiritually, your soul is a unity that contains a multiplicity of changes, yet remains a distinct identity. Physically, when Cain murdered his brother Abel, it is written, "the voice of your brother's bloods (plural) cries out from the ground" (Gen. 4:10), indicating that Abel's descendants also cried out. In light of this the Talmud states, "Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world; and whoever saves a life, it is as if he saved an entire world" (Sanhedrin 37a).
 




Desire and Revelation...


 

[ "Nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away..." ]

04.02.14 (Nisan 2, 5774)  I mentioned recently that our own evil inclination, the yetzer hara, needs to be acknowledged so that we may find inner peace... Often our true motives are hidden - even from ourselves - so that we are unaware of how we are controlled by them.  For example, if we are gripped by an unacknowledged hunger to find approval and validation from other people, we may often lose sight of God Himself (Gal. 1:10). The enemy within is usually in hiding, and we need special wisdom from God not to be ruled by fear, anger, and so on.  It has been said that "we are only as sick as the secrets we keep," though the secrets we keep from ourselves are surely the most dangerous.

"If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you" (Prov. 25:21-22). Some of the sages have said that the "enemy" here refers to the yetzer hara, the "evil impulse," and that by proactively attending to the inner emptiness and neediness we sometimes feel - by feeding ourselves the "bread of Torah" and the "water of the Spirit" - we will overcome the evil with good (Rom. 12:21). If you feel yourself lacking, the evil impulse will offer to fill the void. The only defense against inner emptiness is to be filled with the Spirit of God. Study the truth of Scripture, pray, develop hakarat hatov (gratitude), and perform acts of gemilut chassidim. Again, overcome the evil impulse with good. The LORD will see to it that your cup will overflow in the presence of your enemy (Psalm 23:5). Thus it is written, "From my enemies You teach me wisdom in doing your commandments" (Psalm 119:98), meaning that the yetzer hara can teach us if we submit to God's will... Therefore Yeshua said, "Be wise as serpents but harmless as doves" (Matt. 10:16).

The essence of sin is unbelief. Sin is not so much disobedience to an external code of behavior as much as it is abandoning your trust, your identity, and your hope as a beloved child of God.  As you believe so you will behave, and as you behave so you believe... Therefore one of the greatest of sins is to forget the truth of who you really are – a prince or princess of God! The great temptation of sin is rooted in the lie that we are unworthy people, that God does not really loves us (just the way we are), that He is disappointed in us, and so on. This perspicacious quote by Henri Nouwen speaks to my heart:
 

    Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection.... Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, "Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody." ... [My dark side says,] I am no good... I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence."
     


Ultimately sin seduces people to destroy themselves, since it first of all seeks to disown, impugn, and reject what is most important for spiritual life. The devil seeks to murder and destroy all that we need to be eternally healed... And though we might want to escape from this conflict (or to pretend that it's not really here), the battle is intractably real and must be fully engaged until our redemption is complete (1 Pet. 5:8-9). Meanwhile, spiritual struggles can be downright ugly. Would any one deny that the cross of Messiah was a sacred space - and yet it was precisely from there, from the place of blood and suffering and pain and terror, that the grace, beauty, and strength of God for us would shine forth.

To effectively combat the devil, let us first of all pray to the LORD God Almighty and ask for His power, wisdom, and grace to deal with the evil one's devices and strategies used against us (Eph. 6:11-18; Rom. 13:12, 1 Thess. 5:8; 2 Cor. 10:4-5). Since we are not to be ignorant of the devil and his devices (2 Cor. 2:11), let us particularly ask God to remind us of who we really are in the Messiah, and to give us the power of the Holy Spirit to genuine walk in the truth of our sacred identity. Let's ask God to help us practically apply the victory given to us in the resurrection of Yeshua. With God's help, may we be bold to take our place at His banqueting table, assured that we are indeed His dear children. Shalom.
 




The Sign of the Blood...



[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Monday April 14th... ]

04.02.14 (Nisan 2, 5774)   "The blood shall be a sign for you... And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt" (Exod. 12:13). The blood would be a sign for the eye of faith, i.e., "for you," and not for the unbelieving world at large. During the afternoon of the 14th, the korban Pesach (Passover lamb) was slaughtered and its blood smeared on all three sides of the doorframe, top, right and left, that is, in the form of the letter Chet (ח). This letter is connected with the word chai (חי), "alive," and chayim (חיים), "life," signifying that atoning life is in the sacrificial blood (Lev. 17:11). Note that some say that the letters of the YHVH (יהוה) – the Name of Divine Compassion - were daubed on the doorposts: The Yod (י) was written on the top beam, the Vav (ו) on the right doorpost, and the Hey (ה) on the left. In other words, since Yeshua is YHVH, His Name was written on the doorposts of the faithful.

The original Passover sacrifice was not given to the Levitical priesthood as a sin offering since it preceded Sinai and the giving of the various laws concerning the sacrificial rites... Therefore the blessing, "Blessed art Thou, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who releases the captives" (i.e., matir asurim: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֶינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם מַתִּיר אֲסוּרִים), is for all people who are trusting in the blood of the Lamb for life. Indeed, in the world to come all the redeemed will sing of the Great Passover of Messiah that was foretold by Moses and fulfilled by the outstretched hands of Yeshua our LORD:
 

רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה

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

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


Hebrew Study Card
 

Concerning the observance of the Passover Seder the Torah states, "When your son asks you in time to come, 'What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?' then you shall say to your son, 'We were slaves (עֲבָדִים הָיִינוּ) to Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes" (Deut. 6:20-23). We are instructed to "remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out" (Deut. 7:19). And where it is written in the Shema, "You shall teach them diligently to your children," we ask, what do we teach? And we answer: Everything – the whole story of our deliverance... So to help fulfill our great obligation to keep educating our children, I just finished updating "Worthy is the Lamb - A Messianic Passover Haggadah" for this year. Please feel free to download this succinct guide for your own study or Passover celebration.
 




The Power to Change...


 

04.01.14 (Nisan 1, 5774)  Authentic spirituality trusts in God's power to change the heart, and never in the power of "magic." Magic willfully attempts to control God (or other things) through some kind of technique: a special formula, a shibboleth, a ritual, a custom, or some other contrivance. Magical thinking is common to all religions that believe that they can influence spirits through their own merits or ritual actions. Trusting in the miraculous power of God, however, is precisely the opposite of such magical thinking. It acknowledges that we are not in control, that we cannot manage our own lives, and that we must completely let go in trust...  Turning to God represents a shock to the soul -- the confession that all we've ever known was vanity and emptiness; it is the antithesis of pride which pretends to understand, control, and manage appearances. We are transformed by God's power when we accept His love as our only remedy, and renounce our magical thinking.

This is why Yeshua explained that we must be "born again" (John 3:3). There is nothing of the old life that can bring about new creation... This is as mysterious as the movement of the winds (John 3:8). It would be comical were it not so tragic that religious people think they can somehow manipulate God into accepting them based on their own demands, their own "script," their own religion.... The message of grace is that everything has been done for you, and the only thing you need to do is "show up," to have faith, and to accept your place at the table. Human pride always stumbles over the idea of God's unconditional love.
 




Purification and Blood...


 

[ This is related to our Torah portion this week (Metzora), and our need to be purified from the "leprosy" of our sinful condition... Shanah Tovah, chaverim! ]

04.01.14 (Nisan 1, 5774)  The Bible has been described as a "book of blood and a bloody book." In the Torah, just as in the New Testament, sacrificial blood is connected to atonement (כַּפָּרָה) and the forgiveness of sin (Heb. 9:22). Blood is the means by which spiritual uncleanness (tumah) - the defilement caused by sin and death - is removed from us.  However, unlike the blood rituals of the Tabernacle which functioned as "a copy and shadow of the heavenly things" (Heb. 8:5), the sacrifice of Yeshua has "perfected for all time" those who are being sanctified (Heb. 10:4, 11-14). All the sacrifices offered in the Mishkan (and Temple) anticipated the greater sacrifice of Yeshua Himself (Heb. 9:23-26). We go "outside the camp" to the Cross and there confess our sin, understanding that we are "spiritual lepers" under sentence of death. By faith we "lean our hands" upon the head of Yeshua, accenting that He is our sacrificial substitute before the Father. We trust in the divine "life-for-life" principle of Yehua's life given for us... We "lean into Him," meaning we trust in His sacrifice and abandon our sins with Him...

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

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

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

 

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



Hebrew Study Card

 

"The law made nothing perfect, but through a better hope we now draw near to God" (Heb. 7:19). The blood of our Messiah Yeshua is called the "the blood of the everlasting covenant" (דַם בְּרִית עוֹלָם) that cleanses us from our sins (Heb. 13:20, 1 John 1:7). The Cross represents the "Mercy Seat" (Kapporet) that covered the ark in the Holy of Holies made without hands. It is interesting to note that the word used in the Greek Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word kapporet ("cover") is hilasterion (ἱλαστήριον). The New Testament picks up this usage in Romans 3:25: "God put forward Yeshua as a propitiation (ἱλαστήριον) through faith in His blood." In other words, the sprinkling of Yeshua's blood - represented by His Passion upon the cross - was "presented" upon the Heavenly Kapporet, before the very Throne of God Himself.

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



 

February 2014 Site Updates
 


The Wounded Healer...


 

03.31.14 (II Adar 29, 5774)  The Jewish sages were unwilling to unify the various Messianic prophecies in the Tanakh and therefore chose to "divide the visions." Ironically, while they longed for the ideal of Zion to be finally realized, they missed the means by which Zion itself would be established. They did not comprehend that the prophecies concerning the one Messiah would be fulfilled in two distinct ways: Yeshua is both Ben Yosef (the Suffering Servant - at His first coming) and Ben David (the Reigning King - at His second coming). Yeshua is both the "leper Messiah" and also the anointed Prophet, Priest, and King foreshadowed by other me'shichim (משיחים) in the Tanakh.

"The Messiah, what is his name? The sages say, the learned leper (מלומד מצורע) (Sanhedrin 98b). How was it that Yeshua was able to touch the metzora ("leper") and yet remain clean himself (Matt 8:1-4) unless he the LORD our Healer, the "the learned leper"? Just as Yeshua spoke with greater authority than Moses (Matt. 5:21-48), so He was able to do what Moses (and those under the Levitical system of worship) could not do -- namely, reach down in compassion and take away the uncleanness from our lives.... Yeshua's blood creates the "waters of separation" (מֵי נִדָּה). He is the fulfillment of the "Red Heifer" sacrifice. Only Yeshua enters the "leper colony" of humanity and takes away our tzara'at (sin) by becoming ish machovot (אישׁ מַכְאבוֹת), a leper Himself, the Just for the Unjust, that He might make us acceptable before the LORD.

As the prophet Isaiah wrote of Messiah:
 

    "He is despised and rejected of men, a man of pains (אִישׁ מַכְאבוֹת) and acquainted with sickness (וִידוּעַ חלִי), and we hid as it were our faces from him. He was despised and we esteemed him not. Surely he has carried our sicknesses (חֳלָיֵנוּ) and borne our pains (מַכְאבֵינוּ), yet we esteemed him as plagued (נָגַע), smitten of God (מֻכֵּה אֱלהִים) and oppressed. But he was pierced (מְחלָל) for our transgressions (פְּשָׁעֵנוּ), he was crushed for our iniquities (עֲוֹנתֵינוּ): the discipline for our peace was upon him (מוּסַר שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ עָלָיו); and in his blows we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, but the LORD has attacked in him (הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:3-6)


"The LORD has "attacked in him (הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all..." (Isa. 53:6). Through the substitutionary sacrifice of the righteous Suffering Servant, Yeshua, we are both forgiven and made free from the power of sin and death. Because of Him we are no longer "lepers" or outcasts from the community of God but are made clean through His loving touch.

For more on this subject, see "The Leper Messiah: Further Thoughts on parashat Metzora."
 




The Biblical New Year...


 

[ The advent of the month of Nisan portends that Passover will be here in just two short weeks, with the first Seder held on Monday evening, April 14th... ]

03.31.14 (II Adar 29, 5774)  The Biblical New Year (called Rosh Chodashim) begins tonight at sundown (i.e., Nisan 1, 5774). Look for the first sign of the waxing crescent moon later this week, chaverim. Spring is in the air! It is time to prepare for Passover which begins in just two weeks (i.e., on Monday, April 14th at sundown):


 

The new moon of Nisan is most significant because it initiates the first month of the Biblical Calendar - and therefore represents the Biblical "New Year's Day." Of all the various Rosh Chodesh celebrations, then, Rosh Chodesh Nisan is foundational, since it presents the starting point for the cycle of the yearly festivals (mo'edim) that reveal prophetic truths about the LORD God of Israel and His beloved Son, Yeshua the Mashiach, blessed be He.
 

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

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

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



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According to the Jewish sages, there are two orders of creation, the natural and the supernatural, both of which mirror each other in the biblical calendar. The natural order refers to the physical creation of the heavens and the earth, whereas the supernatural refers to re-creation, or rebirth. On the traditional calendar, the natural order of creation is commemorated in the fall, during Rosh Hashanah (i.e., Tishri 1), whereas the supernatural is celebrated in the spring, during Rosh Chodashim (i.e., Nisan 1).

The following prayer is customarily said during Rosh Hashanah (in the fall), but it is equally applicable for the New Year of Nisan and the great Season of Passover:
 

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ
וֵאלהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ
שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ שָׁנָה טוֹבָה וּמְתוּקָה
בַּאֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ אמן

ye·hi · ra·tzon · mil·fa·ne·kha, · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu
ve·lo·hei · a·vo·tei·nu,
she·te·cha·desh · a·lei·nu · sha·nah · to·vah · u·me·tu·kah
ba·A·do·nei·nu · Ye·shu·a · ha·Ma·shi·ach  [a·men]
 

"May it be your will, LORD our God
and God of our fathers,
that you renew for us a good and sweet year
in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah." [Amen]



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May it please the Lord our God to help us attune our hearts to the theme of this great Passover season, and to prepare ourselves to "keep the feast" (1 Cor. 5:7-8). May He help us all get rid of the spiritual "chametz" (leaven) that sours our soul and to grant us sincerity and the keenness of concentration needed for this time....


Happy Birthday, Judah!

Note:
 In addition to the New Year, this evening also marks the birthday of my precious son Judah Abraham... Please offer a prayer for him, friends (as well as for mom and dad to raise him in the fear and love of the LORD). Thank you!

 




Cleansing of the Leper...

Art by Bill Hoover, 2013
 

03.30.14 (II Adar 28, 5774)  Recall from last week's Torah (Tazria) that if someone was diagnosed with tzara'at ("leprosy"), they were forced to live in a state of exile. The afflicted person (called a metzora) tore his clothes like a mourner, put a shroud over his face, and remained alone. If anyone came near, the person would cry out: "Unclean! Stay away! Do not become impure because of me!" While so isolated, the person would have opportunity to perform teshuvah (repentance) and to reexamine his relationship with God.

In our Torah portion this week (Metzora), we learn about the laws for cleansing "lepers." If the one suffering from tzara'at (i.e., the metzora) had apparently been healed, he would first call for the priest to be officially reexamined. If the priest saw no sign of tumah (uncleanness), a second examination was scheduled seven days later, and if at that time there was no further sign of disease, the process of tahara (purification) would begin.

The purification process was somewhat elaborate: After the second examination, the priest required that the metzora bring the following items for his cleansing:

  1. An earthenware bowl filled with spring water (mayim chayim)
  2. Two birds of the same type (whether turtledoves or pigeons)
  3. A stick of cedar wood
  4. A hyssop branch
  5. A scarlet thread
     

The priest then commanded that one of the birds should be slaughtered over the earthen vessel filled with fresh water, with its blood mixing with the water. The living bird, the piece of cedar, and the hyssop branch were then tied together using the scarlet thread, and the entire bundle was dipped into the earthen vessel. The blood and water mixture was then sprinkled seven times on the healed metzora, and the living bird was then set free.

Next, the healed person washed his clothes, shaved off all his hair (including his eyebrows), and bathed in a mikveh (ritual pool for cleansing).  After that he could return to the camp - but he could not return to his home for another seven days. On the eighth day he would bathe again and offer several offerings (a chatat, an asham, an olah, and a minchah), but the blood from the asham (guilt) offering was mixed with oil and applied to his earlobe, thumb and foot, similar to the blood applied to the priests during their ordination. Oil from a meal offering was sprinkled seven times in the direction of the Sanctuary. Only after all this was he pronounced tahor (clean) by the priest. His life of uncleanness would be over, and he would be like a man who was brought back from the dead to new life.

This purification ritual corresponded with other rituals revealed in the Torah. The sprinkling of the hyssop by the priest recalled both the blood of the Passover lamb and the sprinkling of the ashes of the Red Heifer that cleanse from contact with death; the offering made of the two birds - one which was sacrificed and the other set free - recalled the scapegoat of the Yom Kippur ritual. The washing of garments, the shaving of all hair, and the immersion in a mikveh recalled the birth of the Jewish people at the Sea of Reeds. The blood of the guilt offering applied to the earlobe, thumb and foot, recalled the dedication of Aaron and his sons as the priests of Israel
(Lev. 14:14). In other words, the individual purification process mirrored the purification of the community of Israel, and healing ultimately meant being reidentified as a redeemed child of God. In a very literal sense, then, we see how the metzora was "reborn" by water and by the blood (John 3:5; 19:34; Heb. 9:19).
 

 




Awake, my Glory...


 

03.28.14 (II Adar 26, 5774)  There is a "secret door" that you can enter at any time... This is the door of faith that leads to the realm of the Divine Presence, as King David said: shiviti - "I have set the LORD always before me - because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken" (Psalm 16:8). But how did King David "set the LORD" before Him if He did not choose to rouse himself to behold God's hidden Glory?
 

שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט

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

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



Hebrew Study Card

 

At any given moment of the day, regardless of our present circumstances, we too can awaken to the reality of the Divine Presence and come "boldly before the Throne of Grace" (Heb. 4:16). As Yeshua said, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven..." (Matt. 13:11). Your Father sees in secret. The Spirit of God always says, "Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you" (Isa. 26:20). In the secret places of your heart - your "prayer closet" - appeal to God to be manifest in the midst of the circumstances of your life... Let us draw near now, chaverim! Shabbat Shalom.
 




Struggles of Faith...


 

03.28.14 (II Adar 26, 5774)  Do you sometimes have trouble believing? Do you wrestle with fear, anxiety, or worry? Does an inexplicable dread or sense of hopelessness sometimes oppress you? Do you secretly wonder what's wrong with you - and whether you are truly saved, after all? Please hang on. Doubting and questioning are often a part of the journey of faith, and we don't have to be afraid of our questions, concerns, and difficulties... Being full of "certainty" is not the same as being full of faith, after all, since many sincere people are sincerely self-deceived, and many people experience fear and trembling despite their faith. There is so much we simply do not know, and it is dishonest to pretend otherwise. God knows your heart, and he knows your secret fears. Thankfully, there is a special prayer included in the Scriptures for those times when we feel especially insecure: "Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief..." (Mark 9:24) Here we bring our (lack of) faith to God for healing.

We should not be scandalized that we sometimes struggle with our faith. After all, Yeshua constantly tested his disciples: "Do you now believe?" (John 16:31). And that's why we are commanded to "put off" the old nature and to "put on" the new nature -- because God knows we are fickle admixtures, contradictions, carnal-yet-spiritual, inwardly divided souls that need to learn to trust in the miracle of God with all our hearts....

Of course it's easy to believe when things are going well, when faith "makes sense" or provides you with a sense of community, etc., but when things are difficult, when there are disappointments, pain, grief, losses, etc., then you need to trust in the unseen good, the "hidden hand" of God's love, despite the trouble of your present circumstances. This is part of faith's journey: leaning on God's care, despite the "valley of the shadow of death," despite the tests... The way may sometimes be difficult, but "the tested genuineness of your faith -- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire -- will be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Pet. 1:7).

May God grant you comfort and courage as you walk in faith...
 




Breath Prayers...


 

03.28.14 (II Adar 26, 5774)  In times of severe testing people often do not need further teaching, but rather "endurance," or what the New Testament calls hupomone (ὑπομονή), a word that means "remaining [μένω] by [ὑπο]" the Divine Presence while being tested. Suffering people do not need moral platitudes from others, but only the will to believe, the resolution to stay constant, and to ability breathe out simple prayers for help to the LORD: "God have mercy..." "Help me, O God..." "I need Thee, O Lord..." When we receive grace to faithfully suffer, we hear the Spirit whispering back to us: "Be not afraid..." "Live in me..." "Walk in the light..." "I am with you always..." "You are loved..."
 

רְפָאֵנִי יְהוָה וְאֵרָפֵא
הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי וְאִוָּשֵׁעָה כִּי תְהִלָּתִי אָתָּה

 re·fa·ei·ni · Adonai · ve·ei·ra·fei
ho·shi·ei·ni · ve·iv·va·shei·ah, · ki · te·hil·la·ti · at·tah
 

"Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise."
(Jer. 17:14)



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Yeshua taught us to abstain from using "vain repetitions" in our prayers, since our Father knows what we need before we ask Him (Matt. 6:7-8). Don't worry about the verbiage of your prayers, then, but attend to the inner groan of your heart (Rom. 8:26). "When you pray, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words be without heart" (John Bunyan). Ultimately prayer is a kind of teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה), a word often translated as "repentance," though it's more accurately understood as turning (shuv) to God in response to His call. Sometimes you just come and present yourself in God's presence, without words, without requests... The point, of course, is that you come to the Lord to do real business with Him, not to play games or to offer "lip service." Are we really "showing up" when we pray?
 




The Fear of the LORD...



 

03.28.14 (II Adar 26, 5774)  Some people are afraid that God will punish them for their sins, but the true fear of God, yirat ha'shamayim, is rather the fear of losing our closeness to Him... The sages say that where it is written, "What does the LORD ask of you except to fear the LORD" (Deut. 10:12), we should read instead, "fear with the LORD" (לְיִרְאָה אֶת־יְהוָה), that is, we share his concern that we could forfeit the sanctity of a heart-relationship with Him due to carelessness and sin... We fear our sin because it blinds us from awareness of God's care and love. The fear of God can therefore be understood as God's fear that we will miss the blessing of intimately knowing him.

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




Hope in Lament...


 

03.27.14 (II Adar 25, 5774)  Dear Lord, in the worst of our moments, thank you for seeing the Savior within us; thank you for heeding the hope that the Spirit imparts.... "When my heart was embittered, when I was pierced in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; You hold my right hand" (Psalm 73:21-23). Despite the lament, however, the psalmist affirmed that he was always with God - notwithstanding his ignorance, his complaint of heart, his doubts, fears, and so on... God is not driven away by our pain and confusion, but on the contrary, he takes us by the hand and will not let go: "It was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them" (Hos. 11:3).
 

כִּי יִתְחַמֵּץ לְבָבִי וְכִלְיוֹתַי אֶשְׁתּוֹנָן
וַאֲנִי־בַעַר וְלא אֵדָע בְּהֵמוֹת הָיִיתִי עִמָּךְ
וַאֲנִי תָמִיד עִמָּךְ אָחַזְתָּ בְּיַד־יְמִינִי

ki · yit·cha·metz · le·va·vi · ve·khil·yo·tai · esh·to·nan
va·a·ni · va·ar · ve·lo · e·da · be·he·mot · ha·yi·ti · i·makh
va·ani · ta·mid · i·makh · a·chaz·ta · be·yad · ye·mi·ni

"When my heart was embittered, when I was pierced in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; You hold my right hand."
(Psalm 73:21-23)



 

The heart of the psalmist was embittered or "soured" (literally "leavened" with chametz) over the thought that the wicked flourish in this world while the righteous often are afflicted and gravely suffer... Such (envious) thoughts hurt like a sword that penetrated the heart, "a shtuken nisht in hartz," in Yiddish. Note, however, that the pain came because the mind was focused on temporal things, and therefore the psalmist judged himself as being ignorant, "like a beast" that has no consciousness of eternity.
 

    "On Judgment Day, I like everyone else, will be allowed to hang all my unhappiness and suffering on a branch of the great Tree of Sorrows. Then, when I have found a limb from which my sorrows can dangle, I will walk slowly around that tree. Do you know what I will do on that walk? I will search for a set of sufferings I might prefer to those I have hung on the tree. But search as I may, I will not find any, and in the end, I will freely choose to reclaim my own personal set of sorrows rather than that of another. I will leave that tree wiser than when I got there, and I will be ready to walk toward the Tree of Life." (Hasidic Tales: Martin Buber).
     

Again, dear Lord, in the worst of my moments, thank you for seeing the Savior within me; thank you for heeding the hope that the Spirit imparts...
 




Healing our Sicknesses...


 

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

03.26.14 (II Adar 24, 5774)  The Hebrew word tzara'at ("leprosy") may be read as "tzar ayin" (צַר עַיִן), meaning a mingy or arrogant eye... And just as our words reveal what is within our hearts (Luke 6:45), so do our eyes (Luke 11:34; Matt. 15:19). How we look upon others is a function of how we see ourselves; and therefore we all share in the disease of our fellows. "The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, 'Unclean, unclean.' The sages interpret, "Unclean, unclean!" (Lev. 13:45) to mean that the one who is unclean calls others "unclean," which is to say, he projects his own defects onto others. Healing comes when we understand that we all are affected by sin and sickness, and when we criticize others, we condemn ourselves (Rom. 2:1). There is much in all of us that remains broken, unclean, and in need of God's touch. Love uses the "good eye" to believe in the good, even if that good is yet unseen (Heb. 11:1). "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things" (1 Cor. 13:7), and that includes for our healing...
 




God Provides the Lamb...


 

[ The great holiday of Passover begins Monday, April 14th at sundown...  ]

03.25.14 (II Adar 23, 5774)   "God will provide Himself a Lamb - my son" (Gen. 22:8). The cross itself speaks to the question of "faith vs. works." At the time of the crucifixion of the Messiah, man was "shut out" because of the darkness and utter sanctity of the sacrifice of Yeshua as the Lamb of God who bore all the sins of the world...  At the time of utmost darkness, man was shut out, put into a "deep sleep" not unlike what Abraham had earlier experienced at the covenant of the parts (Gen. 15:12). Every human being stood helplessly on the other side of the cross; no one else participated to make us right with God: It was all Yeshua and the Father, and the Father and Yeshua alone...

Friend, there is nothing left for you to do other than to open your heart and receive. "It is finished," were Yeshua's last words from the cross, meaning, "It has been perfected - it is complete and present for you; there is nothing left to add." May you find rest and peace in what God has done for you...
 




Words of Healing...


 

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

03.25.14 (II Adar 23, 5774)  Just as a body can become sick with illness, so can a soul: "I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me; heal my soul (רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי), for I have sinned against you!'" (Psalm 41:4). Jewish tradition links tzara'at ("leprosy") with the sin of lashon hara ("evil talk"), suggesting that the word metzora ("leper") is word play from the Hebrew phrase, motzi ra: "one who brings forth [speaks] evil." As it is written: mavet ve'chaim be'yad lashon (מָוֶת וְחַיִּים בְּיַד־לָשׁוֹן) - "Death and life and in the power of the tongue" (Prov. 18:21). Because we are made in the image and likeness of God, our words matter -- and they wield power. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "word" (דָּבָר) also means "thing." When we bless others, we are invoking grace and good will to be manifest in the world, but when we curse others, the opposite effect is intended...

Yeshua soberly warned us, ‎"I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account (ἀποδίδωμι) for every careless word they speak (i.e., πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργόν, all "empty" or "thoughtless" words), for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). Every word we utter reaches up to the highest places of heaven and echoes there. The sages say, "my words - not a soul knows." But the Holy One, blessed be He, says, "I am sending an angel who will stand near you and record every word you say about your neighbor." Every word we speak is recorded in the "heavenly scrolls" (Rev. 20:12). Therefore David admonishes us, ‎"Who desires life (מִי־הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים) and loves many days that bring forth good? Guard your tongue from evil and keep your lips from using deceptive speech. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:13-14). Notice the connection between our words and our deeds here, which again suggests the connection between "words" and "things" (i.e., devarim: דְּבָרִים). It is very sobering to realize that our thoughts are essentially prayers being offered up to God...

Because the metzora was put into exile because of his sinful thinking (i.e., words), so he came back to the "edge of the camp" only with words... This first step back was crucial, as the prophet later said, "Return to the LORD and repent! Say to him: 'Completely forgive our iniquity; accept our penitential prayer, that we may offer the praise of our lips'" (Hos. 14:2). When we sincerely return to the LORD, He will take care of the problem of our impurity, uncleanness, and sin. That's the message of the cross of Yeshua, too. We can add nothing to His finished work but simply accept it as performed on our behalf through faith...
 




Made Alive with Him...


 

03.25.14 (II Adar 23, 5774)  Our journey is about life and death. "I have been crucified with Messiah, nevertheless I live..." (Gal. 2:20). God wants your old life to die, or rather, for you to understand that you have been set free from its hold over you, so that your new life can now live. "The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Cor. 5:17). "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing (i.e., καταργέω, made powerless) so we would no longer be enslaved to sin" (Rom. 6:6). You not only die to your former life, identifying with Yeshua's death for you, but you also come alive, reborn and set free, identifying with His life for you. Yeshua came to set us free from the power of sin so that we can live life in abundance (John 10:10).
 




Shemirat Ha'Lashon...


 

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

03.25.14 (II Adar 23, 5774)  According to the sages, tzara'at (i.e., "leprosy") was punishment for evil talk, or "lashon hara" (לָשׁוֹן הָרָה). In midrashic literature, lashon hara is regarded as bad as idol worship, sexual immorality, and murder, and the one who indulges in it defiles his mouth so that even words of Torah and prayer are corrupted. "From the same mouth come blessing and cursing; brothers, these things ought not to be so" (James 3:10). The sages of the Talmud go even further: "Lashon hara is worse than murder. One who murders, murders but one; however, one who speaks lashon hara kills three: the one who speaks it, the one who hears it, and the one of whom it is spoken."  Lashon hara is likened to "emotional homicide" caused by publicly shaming another. According to the Talmud, the shamed person's face is drained of blood and turns white, and therefore humiliation is called halbanat panim, "whitening the face." Therefore the sages warn of the danger of speaking badly about others, and they stress the importance of shemirat ha-lashon (שְׁמִירַת הַלָּשׁוֹן), "guarding of the tongue," as a central virtue of the righteous.
 

מִי־הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים
 אהֵב יָמִים לִרְאוֹת טוֹב
נְצר לְשׁוֹנְךָ מֵרָע וּשְׂפָתֶיךָ מִדַּבֵּר מִרְמָה

mi · ha·ish · he·cha·fetz · chai·yim
o·hev · ya·mim · lir·ot · tov
ne·tzor · le·shon·kha · me·ra  · us·fa·te·kha · mi·da·ber · mir·mah

 

"What man is there who desires life
 and loves many days, that he may see good?
 Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit"
(Psalm 34:12-13)



Hebrew Study Card 
 

Guarding your tongue is evidence that you are truly fearing the LORD, since the passage is preceded with the statement: "Come, children, listen to me: I will teach you the fear of the LORD" (Psalm 34:11). Fearing the LORD means being filled with the wonder of the Divine Presence. The one who fears the LORD will "see good," that is, he will see the goodness of his surroundings in the light of God's Presence. Seeing the good in others, using ayin tovah (a good eye), is therefore the contrary of lashon hara, or slander. Our words should be used to upbuild, edify, and esteem others, not to tear them down. Lashon hara is evidence, then, of a critical spirit, an evil eye, and a suspicious heart. We must look to God for the miracle of seeing the truth of His goodness in all things.

Note: The prohibition against speaking lashon hara does not imply that we are excused from making righteous judgments (John 7:24). Sometimes it is the mark of a coward to refrain from speaking the truth. As Albert Einstein once said, "The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing." We must "speak the truth in love," even if that means sometimes offending those who wish to excuse or overlook evil behavior. For more, see "Shemirat Ha'Lashon: Guarding your tongue."
 




Thinking about Passover...


 

[ The great holiday of Passover begins three weeks from today, friends...  ]

03.24.14 (II Adar 22, 5774)  Generally speaking there are two "New Years" in the Biblical calendar and Jewish tradition. The first occurs two weeks before Passover (on the new moon of Nisan) and the second occurs during Rosh Hashanah (on the new moon of Tishri). The first New Year marks the month of the redemption of the Israelites from Egypt by the blood of the lamb (דַּם הַשֶּׂה) -- and it is also the month in which Yeshua was sacrificed upon the cross at Moriah to redeem us from our sins. The second New Year marks the month of Israels' corporate salvation that will be fulfilled in the prophesied End of Days.

Passover is really a month long celebration. Over and over it is referred to as the "month of spring" (חדֶשׁ הָאָבִיב), the "month of redemption," the month of Nisan, and so on. The word Nisan (נִיסָן) itself might come from either the word nitzan (נִצָּן), meaning "bud" (Song 2:12), or the word nissim (נִסִּים) meaning "miracles," both of which suggest physical and spiritual resurrection in our lives.

Passover is all about the victory of God over the powers of darkness for the sake of our deliverance (יְשׁוּעָה). "Let my people go!" Indeed, the month of Nisan is called Chodesh ha-yeshuah (חדֶשׁ הַיְשׁוּעָה), the "month of the salvation," both in terms of remembering the physical deliverance from the political powers of Egypt, but more profoundly in terms of our spiritual deliverance given at Zion/Moriah through the Messiah. Chodesh ha-yeshuah can also be read as chadash ha-yeshuah, "the new (חָדָשׁ) salvation," suggesting the new covenant power we are given in the Messiah. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, chaverim, but against hidden powers of darkness that seek to enslave us as Pharaoh did of old (Eph. 6:12). But thanks be to God who gives us the victory (netzach, salvation) through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah (1 Cor. 15:57).

In our Haggadah (i.e., Passover Seder guide), we read: "In every generation each of us is obliged to view himself as though he has gone out of Egypt. Not only did the Holy One, blessed be He, redeem our ancestors, but he redeemed us, too, with them..." And this is even more so regarding the great Lamb of God, Yeshua our LORD!

Ultimately the season of Passover is about experiencing the deliverance of God from our fears, despite the appearance of rampant wickedness in this world. During this season - and always - may He help us walk by faith (באמונה שלמה), not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). May He give you comfort and reassure you of His strong arm of deliverance at this time...
 




Shabbat HaChodesh - שַׁבַּת הַחדֶשׁ


 

[ It's time to begin preparing for Passover this year, chaverim... ]

03.24.14 (II Adar 22, 5774)  The Sabbath that immediately precedes (or sometimes falls on) the Biblical New Year is called Shabbat HaChodesh (שַׁבַּת הַקּדֶשׁ), the "Sabbath of the Month" (of Nisan). This Sabbath is significant because it marks the start of the month of Redemption (i.e., the first month called Nisan) which God called "the beginning of months" (i.e., Rosh Chodashim). We honor this event by reading an additional passage from the Torah concerning the sanctification of the new moon (Exod. 12:1-20), and we spiritually prepare for this month by studying about Passover and the coming spring holidays:


 

The commandment to sanctify the first new moon of the year (i.e., Rosh Chodashim) reveals that it is our responsibility to sanctify (i.e., observe) Biblical time in general. In other words, when we observe "the beginning of months," we are acknowledging that time itself is rooted in the Biblical calendar with its divinely inspired cycle of festivals (i.e., the moedim). Note that this year the Biblical New Year begins on Monday, March 31st at sundown, and therefore Passover begins exactly two week weeks later, Monday, April 14th at sundown:


Purim-Pesach
 

Originally Rosh Chodashim was simply called the "first month" because it marked the month of the Exodus and the other months were named in relation to it, similar to the days of the week in the Hebrew calendar (i.e., the first day, the second day...).  Later it was called Chodesh Ha-Aviv (חדֶשׁ הָאָבִיב) - "the springtime month" (because the calendar is reset in the spring) and later still as Nisan (נִיסָן), to recall God's faithfulness after the Babylonian Exile (Neh. 2:1; Esther 3:7). So important is this month that the Jewish sage Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban) wrote regarding the commandment to observe Rosh Chodashim:
 

    "The verses (Exod. 12:1-2) mean that this month should be counted first, and beginning with it, the count should proceed to the second, the third, and so on, till the end of the sequence with the twelfth month. In this way, this month should be a commemoration of the Great Miracle (i.e., our Redemption), and every time we mention the months, the Miracle will be alluded to. It is for that reason that the months do not have names in the Torah, but rather they are identified by number."
     

The word Nisan might come from either the word nitzan (נִצָּן), meaning "bud" (Song 2:12), or the word nissim (נִסִּים) meaning "miracles," both of which suggest physical and spiritual resurrection in our lives. Others think the word comes from the verb nus (נוּס), meaning "to flee," both in relation to Israel's flight from Egypt and Egypt's flight from Israel (i.e., when the pursuing Egyptian cavalry fled (נָסִים) before the sea closed upon them (Exod. 14:25, 27). We also see this usage in the verse: "The wicked flee (נָסוּ) when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion" (Prov. 28:1). The devil's power is found in the lie.  If he can make you afraid, you will not think clearly. Establishing your faith in the truth will embolden you to deal with the lies and distortions that are intended to enslave you in fear. As Yeshua said, the truth will set you free (John 8:32).


 




Parashat Tazria - תזריע


 

03.23.14 (II Adar 21, 5774)  Our Torah portion this week (Tazria) concerns cleansing from "uncleanness" (טָמֵא), as symbolized by the healing and purification of the metzora (i.e., "leper") in a ritual similar to that performed during the Day of Atonement. The sages note that the spiritual disease of tzara'at was a sign from God that the Israelites were indeed a chosen nation, since the affliction moved them to do teshuvah to be in fellowship with Him. Likewise God sometimes disciplines us for our sins (Heb 12:7-8) for the purpose of granting us the gift of teshuvah (2 Cor. 7:10). We must therefore strive to make our conversation and the inmost intent of our hearts "captive to the obedience of the Messiah," blessed be He (Matt. 5:37; Eph. 4:29; Col. 3:8; 2 Cor. 10:5; 1 Tim 4:2; etc.).

A student once asked his rebbe: "Do we get punished for our sins in this world?" His succinct response was, "Only if we are fortunate..." Indeed, correction from God is a blessing in disguise, since there is no worse state in this life than to be untouched or overlooked by God (Rom. 1:28). God is teaching us through our failures; he is training us to persevere, to endure, and to become strong. As it is written, "If you are left without discipline (מוּסָר), then you are illegitimate children and not sons" (Heb. 12:8).

The rabbis say that tza'arat comes from lashon hara (i.e., gossip or the abuse of our words). Yeshua clearly warned us, "I tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will give account (ἀποδίδωμι) for every careless word they speak (i.e., πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργόν, all "empty" or "thoughtless" words), for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). Every word we utter reaches up to the highest places of heaven and echoes there. The sages say that the Holy One, blessed be He, sends an angel who records every word you say about your neighbor in the "heavenly scrolls" (Rev. 20:12). Therefore David admonishes, "Who desires life (מִי־הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים) and loves many days that bring forth good? Guard your tongue from evil and keep your lips from using deceptive speech. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:13-14).

In the Gospels we read how Yeshua healed various "lepers" and even touched them (e.g., Matt. 8:2-3, Mark 1:40-41). But how could He do this without Himself becoming tamei (unclean)? We must remember that it was the prerogative of the LORD God of Israel to "touch" those afflicted with tzara'at and heal them based on their teshuvah, and in like measure, Yeshua entered the "leper colony" of humanity to heal those who cried out to Him. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and His love reaches down to those who are afflicted and oppressed on account of their uncleanness. If you call upon Him, He will likewise touch you and restore you to fellowship with God.


For Further Study:

 




Catching up with the Miracle...


 

03.21.14 (II Adar 19, 5774)  The miracle of conversion first awakens us to the reality of God's love, but it inevitably leads to the task of coming to terms with our own profound inability as well. The way of the flesh centers on self-will, on the imperious demands of the ego and selfish desire, but the way of the spirit must go through the cross... From our initial conversion experience to the genuine practice of love (i.e., the "shema" of surrender), there are many lessons to learn about inner poverty of spirit, when we mourn over our lives and repeatedly experience the process of becoming "sick of our sickness." And while conversion indeed results in the birth of a new nature, such is imparted seed-like and in embryonic form, and it takes time for the new life to develop so that it is expressed without hindrance or hypocrisy. We should be wary of those who say they are "born again" and yet do not struggle in their faith. The life of the flesh dies hard, and the old nature continues to murmur and clamor for its way. A large part of spiritual maturity, then, is "catching up" with the miracle of what God has already done within you. It is learning to be who you are, according to your new self, your new identity in God's love (Col. 3:10-11). We turn away from old ways of seeing and knowing ourselves; we consciously affirm that we have been crucified and radically re-made in Messiah, that we are now children of light, citizens of heaven, and God's treasured tzaddikim (1 Pet. 2:9-10; 2 Cor. 5:17).

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




Teshuvah of Despair...


 

03.21.14 (II Adar 19, 5774)  There are moments – dark, gnawing, raw – when you may lose sight of hope, when you might even fear that you have lost your faith – not in God or his promises – but rather in yourself, in your own strength to continue, to stay focused, to keep pressing on "hope against hope..." The remedy here is always the same: to remember that within you – that is, in your flesh - "there is no good thing" and that the miracle of salvation is made secure by God's passion for you, not your own power or desire. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the LORD of Hosts." We don't trust in ourselves nor in the strength of our inner resolve, but solely in the power of God to make the way. We must turn away from ourselves to regain the message of God's unfailing love; only when we lose sight of ourselves do we find ourselves. God redeems you from your lost estate and touches you in your uncleanness; He clothes himself in your pain so that you may be clothed in his love. That never changes, despite dark moments, and to that we must always return...

Where it says, "I can do all things through Messiah who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13), that includes being healed of the inner pain of rejection, abandonment, and even abuse suffered from childhood. It means being set free from disillusionment, despair, and the oppression of relentless fear. "I can do all things through Messiah" means no longer accepting messages of self-hatred, no longer heeding the malicious whispers that say: "I am of no value," "I am unlovable," "my life is hopeless." No, "I can do all things through Messiah" means learning to be accepted, honored, and esteemed by God; it means opening your heart to God's love and blessing for your life; it means allowing your heart to be made right, to have inner peace... After all, Yeshua's great prayer was that we would know the truth of God's love for us (John 17), and this is the central need our lives...
 




Theology of Flowers...


 

03.20.14 (II Adar 18, 5774)  "Why are you so anxious? Take a lesson from the wildflowers... They neither toil nor spin, yet even Solomon in all his royal glory was not arrayed like one of these ... And if your heavenly Father gives such attention to the appearance of flowers, many of which grow in unseen places, surely he will attend to you, too" (Matt. 6:28-30). So relax; do not let worry blind you to God's ongoing care; do not live as those without faith. As his child, you have a place in your Father's heart; you have a share in his house above. See the Lord as your Dwelling Place "in all generations"; behold his unchanging glory despite the fleeting shadows of this world.
 

אֲדנָי מָעוֹן אַתָּה הָיִיתָ לָּנוּ בְּדר וָדר

Adonai · ma·on · at·tah · ha·yi·ta · la·nu · be·dor · va·dor
 

"O Lord, you have been our dwelling place in every generation"
(Psalm 90:1)



 

The Eternal is our refuge, our "dwelling place," in all generations, and that means in the present generation as well, on the other side of fleeting appearances of this world. When we pray to God as Avinu She-bashamayim, "Our Father in Heaven," we are calling to the One (שֶׁ) who is in (בּ) the midst of the waters (שָׁמָיִם) of Life. As we contemplate God's Eternality and power, may we realize the wonder and sanctity of our short time here.

Some people experience anxiety because they feel powerless in the face of life's changes, so they "compensate" by trying to hold on to what cannot be held: "All the desires of this world are like rays of light. You try to catch them in your hand only to find there is nothing in your grasp." Nonetheless, the heart wants life to be both real and yet unchangingly ideal, and the soul yearns for loving relationships that will not be drowned by the inevitable flow of time. In light of this deep inner conflict, the existential question we must face is whether we will "agree" to let go and trust the flow of life, or whether we will protest by demanding our own "heaven" in the here and now. Will we accept life on life's terms, or on our own?  Honoring the flow of life is to honor the Father's will for us, to let go of our dread (i.e., our craving for temporal security) by trusting in His sovereign plan for all of life. We overcome anxiety by trusting that God is in the "midst of the whirlwind" of change and is supervising the end of all things according to his good and perfect purposes (Rom. 8:28).

The bloom of every flower is by eternal purpose, and not one common sparrow is forgotten by your Heavenly Father (Luke 12:6). God's irresistible providence comprehends and orders all things, in every possible world -- from the realm of the subatomic to the cosmic motions of the heavenly bodies. The LORD is the Center: "All things were created by Him, and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "hold together") (Col. 1:16-17). In light of God's providential ordering of our lives, Blaise Pascal asked, "What is left for us but to unite our will to that of God himself, to will in him, with him, and for him the thing that he has eternally willed in us and for us." The Mishnah says it this way: "Do His will as if it was your will that He may do your will as if it was His will" (Avot 2:4). In other words, what else can we do but learn to trust, accept, and to say "yes" to life -- even if at times we may feel like strangers in exile... All our days are ordained; recorded in God's scroll. Therefore may God "teach us to number our days to get a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).
 




Reason for Being...


 

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

03.20.14 (II Adar 18, 5774)  "This is the thing that the LORD commanded you to do, that the glory of the LORD may appear to you" (Lev. 9:6). Have you considered why you were born into this world? What is your purpose, destiny, and end? The Torah states that you were personally created by God, who breathed out the breath of life (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים) into you, so that you could know God and spiritual reality. As it is written: "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your desire they existed and were created" (Rev. 4:11). God creates all things for his glory, which indeed is the first blessing recited over the bride and groom of a traditional Jewish wedding: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלם שֶׁהַכּל בָּרָא לִכְבוֹדו / "Blessed are you Lord our God king of the universe, who has created all things for his glory." The purpose of life is to know and love God, to walk in His light and truth, and to glorify his compassion and grace forever...
 




Do you now believe?


 

03.19.14 (II Adar 17, 5774)  "Do you now believe?" (John 16:31). Some people are scandalized by what they call "easy believism," or the idea that we only need to believe in Yeshua to be saved. Sometimes they malign this teaching as "cheap grace" or "sloppy agape," though in fairness it must be stressed there is nothing easy about truly believing. What is easy, however, is professing that you believe without undergoing a miraculous heart transformation. Anyone can say, "I believe in Jesus," but the test is whether he lives within you. Is he the source of your life? Do you draw life from Him? Anyone can claim they are saved, but it is a miracle greater than splitting the sea to undergo divine metamorphosis, to be given a heart that loves unconditionally, that dies to pride, and that lives as the servant of all. Yeshua asks, "Do you really believe? Many will say to me in that day, 'Lord, Lord...' but I will say to them, 'I never knew you...' (Matt. 7:22-23). It's not just hard to believe (obey), it's impossible apart from God's radical intervention. It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is no help at all (John 6:33).

Living by faith does not mean we profess Christianity or "talk theology" like some college professor. It's one thing to believe that, and another to believe in... Human reason can rightly infer that a morally good, all-powerful Creator exists, for example (Rom. 1:20), but it is unable to know God's love that way... Love requires trust, "taking to the heart." We are to "know this day and turn to your heart (והֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ) that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). We need to know truth (cognitive) and to be moved by the heart (emotional); we need both Spirit and Truth (John 4:24). "For all things come from You (כִּי־מִמְּךָ הַכּל), and from your hand we give to you" (1 Chron. 29:14). Teshuvah centers on Yeshua our Savior: turn to believe in Him!

Regarding the question of faith, Soren Kierkegaard once wrote, "The easiness of Christianity is distinguished by one thing only: by the difficulty. Thus the Master's yoke it easy and its burden light -- for the person who has cast off all his burdens, all of them, the burdens of hope and of fear and of despondency and of despair -- yet it is difficult."  Yes, the difficult thing is to truly believe in the "for-you miracle" of God's love.  Sins can be like great possessions that are difficult to give up. Among other things, we must forgive ("give away") our sins (both our own and those against us), and that means trusting God enough to bear our wounds for us. Forgiveness allows us to move on with our lives by letting go of the pain of the past (2 Cor. 5:16). The atonement cost God everything, and yet is of no spiritual value until it is accepted into the heart. It is "easy" to understand this, but it is difficult to live it.
 




Trust in the Darkness...


 

03.19.14 (II Adar 17, 5774)  "And Aaron was silent" (Lev. 10:3). Here the sages connect surrender to God with humility, for surely the death of Aaron's two son's evoked his cry of protest, his objection before the LORD... The reason for what happens in our lives is often (always?) beyond our understanding, yet the righteousness of God's will – even if undisclosed to us - must be accepted by faith. As it says: "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:9). The refusal to accept what cannot be understood is to worship the powers of the mind, and to elevate the role of human reason above even God Himself. Faith accepts God's goodness and trusts in his care, even if that means we find ourselves walking in the dark: "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).
 

מִי בָכֶם יְרֵא יְהוָה שׁמֵעַ בְּקוֹל עַבְדּוֹ
 אֲשֶׁר הָלַךְ חֲשֵׁכִים וְאֵין נגַהּ לוֹ
 יִבְטַח בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה וְיִשָּׁעֵן בֵּאלהָיו

mi · va·khem · ye·rei · Adonai · sho·mei·a · be·kol · av·do?
a·sher · ha·lakh · cha·she·khim · ve·ein · no·gah · lo?
yiv·tach · be·Shem · Adonai · ve·yi·sha·en · be·lo·hav

"Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness and has no light
trust in the Name of the LORD and rely on his God."
(Isa. 50:10)



 

Trusting in God (i.e., bittachon - בִּטָּחוֹן) does not mean that we are obligated to affirm that this is "the best of all possible worlds," though it does mean we believe that eventually God will wipe away every tear and make all things right... Bittachon is a word for this world, which says, "Though he slay me, I will trust in him..." 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.

If you ask for bread, your heavenly Father will not give you a stone... The sages call this a kal va'chomer inference (i.e., קַל וְחמר, "light and weighty"), namely, that if a light condition is true, then a heavier one is certainly true... Yeshua used this kind of reasoning all the time: If God cares for the needs of the birds of the air, how much more (kal va'chomer) will he care for your needs? (Matt. 6:26). If God so clothes the grass of the field, how much more (kal va'chomer) will he clothe you (Matt. 6:30)? If your heavenly Father knows the number of hairs on your head, surely he knows the state of your soul.  And if God wants us to walk in righteousness, kal va'chomer does he want us to know his love... Only God can give to us the love for him that he fully knows we so desperately need; only God can deliver us from our "disordered loves" to take hold of what is truly essential.  All we can do is ask, and keep on asking - even as we struggle on, despite ourselves - until we begin to understand what we really need. It's as if we are constantly being asked, "Is this what you want?" and our choices confess the truth of what we believe... Only God does the miracle of real change within the human heart - only God can give life from the dead!
 




Consuming Fire...


 

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

03.18.14 (II Adar 16, 5774)  "Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron ... brought strange fire before the LORD" (Lev. 10:1). The sages interpret "strange fire" (i.e., esh zarah: אֵשׁ זָרָה) as alien passion or illicit zeal stimulated by artificial means (in this case, drinking wine before the service). The experience of intoxication may seem to elevate the soul, but in reality it muddles the ability to discern spiritual realities: "Drink no wine or strong drink ... when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean" (Lev. 10:9-10). Nadab and Abihu were highly honored in Israel, the first priests of God, and if they drank wine before entering the sanctuary it was surely not for crass purposes, but rather to "sanctify" their experience, or so they thought... They were severely judged, however, because they presumptuously sought to sanctify themselves by means of an artificial influence, and this made them "strange" before God. Likewise many people today seek "spiritual highs" and "signs" without undergoing the discipline of Torah study, prayer, meditation, and so on. God wants our hearts in service, but our hearts must be honest and reverent before Him.

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God who is "a Consuming Fire, a jealous God (Deut. 4:24). Indeed, though atonement was provided under the law for every kind of sin and transgression, there was one exception: "But the soul that sins presumptuously (בְּיָד רָמָה) shall be out off from the midst of my people" (Num. 15:30). We must be careful not to casually regard God's love with undue familiarity, lest we find ourselves under the influence of strange passions that lead to presumption....
 




Made Alive to Life...


 

03.18.14 (II Adar 16, 5774)  There is a great danger to walk through life asleep only to be jolted awake upon the day of death. As a thought experiment, imagine that you had just discovered you had only one month left to live... How would you face your imminent death? What would plan to do? How would you spend your remaining time on earth? ... And if, upon reaching the moment of death itself, you heard a heavenly voice granting you reprieve, sparing you from death, how then would you go on with your life? What would be different for you? What might change? Now consider these questions in light of the truth that "you have already died with Messiah (συνετάφημεν, aorist passive) by baptism into death, so that, just as Messiah was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too would walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4-5). If you were united with Yeshua as he died, you were also united with him as he invincibly overcame the power of death (Rom. 6:8). Your identification with Yeshua has made you dead to death and alive to life...

We are not talking about putting new wine into old wineskins, here, but an entirely different "container," a whole new realm of reality that is opened up to you in Yeshua.... When you were regenerated, you were given a radically new nature, chayei olam - which does not mean "everlasting life" as much as a new kind of being, reality, and relationship... This new nature is the "I" in relationship with the resurrected Messiah, and by means of that relationship you are made  both "dead to death" and "alive to life..."
 




Brokenness and Service...


 

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

03.17.14 (II Adar 15, 5774)  The service of God requires the death of the ego. Rashi says that Aaron was still deeply ashamed over the Sin of the Calf, and that is why Moses urged his brother forward: "Draw near to the altar" (Lev. 9:7). And though Aaron felt inadequate and unworthy to be the High Priest of Israel, Rashi comments that he was chosen precisely because of this. His reluctance and sense of utter unworthiness was the very reason why he was granted the role of Israel's High Priest.  Likewise you might feel unworthy of your high calling in the Messiah and yet you are called to come before the Divine Presence and function as God's holy priest, no less than Aaron... You are chosen in your weakness; you are beloved because of your lowly standing; you are made "pure in heart" because you realize your own inner nothingness and need before the Savior.... Your brokenness is a gift that magnifies God's unending love and grace (1 Cor. 1:26-29).

Note: For more on this, see "Brokenness and Service: Further thoughts on Shemini."
 




Strength for the Weary...


 

03.17.14 (II Adar 15, 5774)  The sages ask, "Why does the Torah use a repetitious expression, "Sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy" (הִתְקַדִּשְׁתֶּם וִהְיִיתֶם קְדשִׁים) (Lev. 11:44)? Because when we make an effort - no matter how feeble at times - to draw near to the LORD, He will draw near to us. As we sanctify ourselves, so God sanctifies us...

There is a story (told in the midrash) that wonderfully illustrates this idea: An old sage once saw a beautifully shaped rock which he very much wanted to bring as a gift to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. However, the rock was too heavy for him to carry and he couldn't afford to pay porters to bring it to Jerusalem.  The man prayed and asked God for help, and soon five angels (disguised as men) appeared to offer the man help. The sage told them that he would like them to carry the stone to Jerusalem, but he couldn't pay them. The five angels immediately offered to carry the rock on his behalf, but only if the man put his finger to the rock to "help" them carry it. The midrash states that although the angels didn't need man's help, the man was required to do what he could.... God then took care of the rest.

In this connection, the Dubner Maggid once told this parable: A tourist once checked into a hotel and asked the porter to bring his suitcase to the top floor, where he had rented a room. After an hour or so the porter knocked on his door and brought in the suitcase, sweating and breathing heavily. "What did you put into your suitcase, stones?", the porter asked, "it is extremely heavy!" The tourist looked at him in surprise: "My suitcase is heavy? Not at all! Mine is very light. You must have mistakenly brought up someone else's suitcase!"

Do you feel "weary" about serving the LORD? Then maybe you have "picked up" some other agenda along the way.  The Lord says, "You have not worshiped Me .. that you should be weary of Me... (Isa. 43:22). In other words, serving the LORD leads to freedom and joy. Indeed, the NT Greek word for the word for "joy" (χαρά) is directly related to the word "grace" (χάρις). If you find yourself "weighed down" in your service of God, something may be wrong - and the burden you are carrying might be coming from a source other than God. Where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is liberty... God is not a "slave driver," and indeed the purpose of our redemption was to set us free to serve Him. Yeshua's burden is kal - light.

People necessarily value things, and therefore every person alive is a "worshipper" (i.e., a person who finds "worth" in something). The question that matters is what is your ultimate concern? What moves you to get out of bed in the morning, to go through your day, to have hope in your heart? What do you really want? Where are you really going? Each of us will stand before God for judgment one day and give account of his or her life... One day all that is hidden will be fully disclosed to the light...

"Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." (Gal. 6:9). So let is draw near to God, and we will find that he has drawn near to you (James 4:4; Heb. 11:6). Blessed are You LORD our God, who gives strength to the weary....
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵנוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
הַנּוֹתֵן לַיָּעֵף כּהַ

ba·rukh  at·tah  Adonai  E·lo·hei·nu  me·lekh  ha'o·lam
ha·no·tein  lai·ya·ef  ko·ach

"Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe,
who gives strength to the weary."



Of course sometimes we indeed become weary in life - from sickness, from the world and its oppression, from heartache of life in a fallen world, from the battle with the devil, and so on, though there is consolation in the Messiah, and heavenly food is given to strengthen us. I believe the LORD allows oppression to sometimes chasten us -- that is, to help us remember Him and our profound need for His love to reign within our hearts... As long as that is not settled, there is an ongoing lesson.
 




Shabbat Parah - שבת פרה


 

03.17.14 (II Adar 15, 5774)  The Shabbat that immediately follows Purim is called Shabbat Parah - the "Sabbath of the Cow," when the chapter of the parah adumah (פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה), or the "Red Heifer" (Num. 19:1-22), is recited following the regular Torah service. The early sages chose this additional portion of Scripture to be reviewed at this time to help prepare for the coming New Year (i.e., Rosh Chodashim) and because the people were required to purify themselves before coming to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festival of Passover.

The Red Heifer offering is considered a paradox to most Jewish thinkers, since the one who offers the sacrifice becomes unclean, while the sprinkling of the ashes of the sacrifice makes people clean... The ritual is considered chok within the Jewish tradition, meaning that it makes no rational sense. In fact, the Talmud states that of all the taryag mitzvot (613 commandments), this is the only one that King Solomon could not fathom, since this sacrifice was regarded as the most paradoxical of all the sacrifices found in the Torah. The sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah is the fulfillment of the symbolism of the red cow (i.e., parah adumah).  Both were entirely rare and without defect (sin); both were sacrificed outside the camp; both made the one who offered the sacrifice unclean but made the one who was sprinkled by it clean; and finally, both sacrifices cleanse people for priestly service.

The parah adumah had to be a perfect specimen that was completely red, "without blemish, in which there is no defect (mum)." The rabbis interpreted "without blemish" as referring to the color, that is, without having so much as a single white or black hair.  This is the only sacrifice in the Torah where the color of the animal is explicitly required. Moreover, the parah adumah was never to have had a yoke upon it, meaning that it must never have been used for any profane purposes.

Unlike all other sacrifices offered at the mizbeach (the altar at the Mishkan), the parah adumah was taken outside the camp and there slaughtered before the priest (in this case, Elazar, Aaron's son), who then took some of its blood and sprinkled it seven times before the Mishkan (thereby designating it as a purification offering). [During the Second Temple period, the High Priest performed this ceremony facing the Temple while atop the Mount of Olives.] Then the red heifer would be burned in its entirety: its hide, flesh, blood, and even dung were to be burned (unlike other Levitical korbanot). Unlike other offerings, all the blood of the sacrifice was to be burned in the fire.

Hyssop, scarlet yarn, and a cedar stick would then be thrown upon the burning parah adumah (these same items were used to cleanse from tzara'at, skin disease). In other words, the blood was assimilated into the ashes of the sacrifice, which were then gathered and mixed with water to create the "water of separation" (mei niddah) for the Israelite community. Note that the word "separation" (niddah) refers to menstrual impurity and harkens to Zech. 13:1: "On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and from niddah."

Anyone (or anything) that came into contact with a corpse (the embodiment of sin and death) was required to be purified using the mei niddah. The purification procedure took seven days, using stalks of hyssop dipped into the water and shaken over the ritually defiled person on the third day and then again on the seventh day. After the second sprinkling, the person undergoing the purification process would be immersed in a mikvah and then be unclean until the following evening.


The Uniqueness of the Sacrifice

The Parah Adumah sacrifice was entirely unique, for the following reasons:

  1. It was the only sacrifice that specifically required an animal of a particular color. This animal was extremely rare and unique of its kind (in fact, Maimonides wrote, "Nine Parot Adumot were prepared from the time the Commandment was given until the destruction of the Second Temple. Moses our Teacher prepared one, Ezra prepared one and seven more were prepared until the Destruction of the Temple. The tenth will prepared by the Mashiach." (We would say "was prepared" by Yeshua our Messiah, blessed be He.)
  2. It was the only sacrifice where all the rituals were carried out outside of the camp (and later, outside the Temple precincts). That is, the "blood applications" of this sacrifice occurred in a location apart from the altar (the Talmud recounts that the High Priest performed the blood applications of the Red Heifer while gazing at the Temple and at the Holy of Holies from a mountain opposite the Temple mount).
  3. It was the only sacrifice that ritually contaminated the priest who offered it, but made the one who was sprinkled by it clean.
  4. It was the only sacrifice where the ashes were preserved and used (other sacrifices required the ashes be disposed outside of the camp).
     

According to Jewish tradition, this sacrifice was to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf, though the Torah itself does not make this association.  The LORD Yeshua, our Messiah, is the perfect fulfillment of the Parah Adumah, since He 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).


The Haftarah for Shabbat Parah

The Haftarah read for Shabbat Parah (Ezek. 36:16-38) is ostensibly linked to the sacrifice of the Red Heifer, though on a deeper level it relates to Israel's national salvation and return to the promised land after the Great Tribulation period....  Despite the horrors of the worldwide Diaspora of the Jewish people and their faithlessness before the nations, God will be true to His promises by causing the Jews to finally accept His salvation (i.e., Yeshua) and to both return to the land of Israel and to be reinstated as God's covenant people.  At that time, "all Israel will be saved," as the Apostle Paul also foretold (Rom. 11:26). For more information about this Haftarah, see the Shabbat Parah page here.


Purim Sameach 5774
 




Parashat Shemini - פרשת שמיני


 

03.16.14 (II Adar 14, 5774)  This week's Torah reading, Shemini ("eighth"), continues the account of the seven-day ordination ceremony for the priests that was described earlier in Parashat Tzav.  During each of these "seven days of consecration," Moses served as the first High Priest of Israel by offering  sacrifices and training the priests regarding their duties. On the eighth day however, (i.e., Nisan 1), and just before the anniversary of the Passover, God commissioned Aaron and his sons to officially begin their responsibilities as Israel's priests. It is no coincidence that the inauguration of the sanctuary is directly connected to the Passover, since the daily sacrifice of the Lamb served as an ongoing memorial of the Exodus from Egypt -- and indeed the laws of sacrifice form the central teaching of the Torah itself. In this connection, we note that the central sacrifice of the Tabernacle was that of a lamb offered every evening and morning upon the altar in the outer court, along with matzah and a wine offering, signifying the coming of the true Passover Lamb of God and his sacrifice for us (Exod. 29:38-42; Num. 28:4-10; John 1:29).

Note: You can download the Shabbat Table Talk for our Torah reading here:
 

Josiah - Purim 5774
 




A Whisper not a Roar...


 

03.14.14 (II Adar 12, 5774)  Many of us need to learn to let go, to rest, and to surrender to God's care for us. Some of us need to stop our religious activities to be able to hear the voice of the Spirit. When the prophet Elijah became exhausted, he fled to Mount Horeb – the very place of the Sinai revelation – to find refuge. When the Word of the LORD came to him, Elijah was asked "What are you doing here?" and then explained how his zeal had led him to the cave of fear and fatigue. God then told Elijah to stand on the mount, just as he had earlier told Moses to do so (Exod. 33:21-22). "And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a still and gentle whisper (דְּמָמָה דַקָּה). And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (1 Kings 19:11-13). Note how God repeated his initial question: "What are you doing here?" The Word speaks in a whisper so we will move closer to hear; He invites us to express our disappointment, exhaustion, frustration, and fear to him. Elijah wanted to lay down and die, but God wanted to strengthen his hope...

Shema: The Spirit speaks with a "still and gentle whisper" which will be inaudible unless we make room within ourselves to listen... If we entertain negative thoughts or messages, however, our spiritual receptivity will be impaired or damaged. For example, if we listen to news of this world and heed its messages of fear or anger, we squelch the whispering of the Holy Spirit. The Name YHVH (יהוה) means "God is Present" and near, as close as your heart and breath. The LORD is as near, even when I feel lost and far away. We can attune ourselves to hear kol demamah dakkah (קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה), God's "still, small voice," when we are quieted, not when we are surrounded by the crowd with its cheers and its murmurings... God cannot be heard in noise and restlessness, much less in the fear-mongering and propaganda of this world. "God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls."

Shabbat Shalom, dear friends...
 




Divine Irony and Purim...


 

[ The holiday of Purim begins Sat. March 15th at sundown this year... ]

03.14.14 (II Adar 12, 5774)  The name Purim refers to the "lots" (i.e., dice) that Haman and his magicians used to determine the "best day" to carry out their nefarious plan. Haman's dice rolled "Adar 13," but since the Jews were delivered on the following day, the holiday is celebrated on the 14th of Adar (which this year begins on Saturday, March 15th at sundown). In other words, Adar 14 was ironically transformed from a day of potential tragedy and grief into a time of great rejoicing! (In Israel, Purim is observed a day later still (i.e., on Adar 15th) and is called Shushan Purim, since the deliverance of the Jews of Shushan did not occur until the 15th.) Among other things, the delicious irony of the Book of Esther reveals that there is no "chance" in God's universe, since He is the Master of the universe and supervises all it outcomes - including the "roll of the dice" (Prov. 16:33).

Purim demonstrates the great truth that "God works all things together for good for those who are called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28).
 




The Purging Process...


 

03.14.14 (II Adar 12, 5774)  "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He purges (καθαίρει), that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:1-2). If you bear fruit you will experience the "purging process," and that means enduring affliction... Yeshua taught, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). The Greek word translated "pure" is katharos (καθαρός), sometimes used describe the cleansing of a wound (catharsis), or to describe the unalloyed quality of a substance revealed through refining fire. We "rejoice" in testing because that is the way of real growth, sustained hope, and the revelation of God's deep love (Rom. 5:3-4). In our afflictions we are given heavenly consolation that helps us to persevere (2 Cor. 1:3-5). We are being weaned from this present age to be made ready for heavenly glory, for things unimaginably wonderful, soon to be revealed to you. Chazak – stay strong in the Lord, friends.
 

טוֹב־לִי כִי־עֻנֵּיתִי לְמַעַן אֶלְמַד חֻקֶּיך

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

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


 

 

God wants us to be in a personal relationship with Him, and therefore He sometimes sends temporal affliction to remind us of our eternal need.... After all, is there anything worse than to be "forgotten" by God? Can there be any worse punishment in this life than to be untouched by need, suffering and testing? Indeed, it is curse to be devoid of need before the LORD, and affliction is a blessing in disguise. As A.W Tozer once wrote, "It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He's hurt him deeply."

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 the discipline of affliction to lead us to the truth. We often pray that our problems be taken away, but God sometimes ordains these very problems so that we will draw near to Him... Yeshua told us, "Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Matt. 6:8).
 




"Purim" in the Messiah...


 

[ The holiday of Purim begins Sat. March 15th at sundown this year... ]

03.13.14 (II Adar 11, 5774)  On Purim we remember how the Jewish people escaped from Haman's evil plot to destroy them, though any day that is marked by special deliverance by God may be regarded as a "personal" or "special" Purim. Therefore some Jewish families and communities celebrate "special purims" to commemorate the anniversary of a particular deliverance. The most important deliverance we have comes from being set free from the guilt of our sins, of course, since this gives us true peace with God (Rom. 5:1,11). In fact, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is also known as Yom Kippurim in the Tanakh, which can be read as Yom Ke-Purim (i.e., יוֹם, "a day" + כְּ, "like" + פֻּרִים, "Purim"). Thus the day on which Yeshua sacrificed Himself on the cross is the greatest Purim of all, since through His loving intervention we are eternally delivered from the hands of our enemies. Yehi shem Adonai mevorakh: "Blessed be the Name of the Lord."
 




How Long, O Lord?


 

03.13.14 (II Adar 11, 5774)  The last promise of Scripture is "I come quickly" (Rev. 22:20), and the last prayer is, "Amen, come, Lord Jesus." Meanwhile we "inwardly groan" for the fulfillment of our redemption: we are suspended between worlds, walking in hope yet subject to the same vanities that befall all flesh. This reminds me of the old story of the Maggid of Brisk who each year would bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah would come that year. Once a certain Torah student asked him, "Rabbi, every year you bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah must come that year, and yet he does not come. Why bother doing this every year, if you see that Heaven ignores you?" The Maggid replied, "The law states that if a son sees his father doing something improper, he is not permitted to rebuke him but must say to him, 'Father, the Torah states thus and so.' Therefore we must tell God, who is our Father, that by keeping us in long exile, he is, in a sense, causing injustice to us, and we must point out, "thus and so it is written in the Torah," in hope that this year he might redeem us." This same principle, of course, applies to those of us who are living in exile and who eagerly await the second coming of the Messiah Yeshua. We should continue asking God to send Him speedily, and in our day, chaverim...
 

חוּשָׁה לְעֶזְרָתִי אֲדנָי תְּשׁוּעָתִי

chu·sah  le·ez·ra·ti  Adonai  te·shu·a·ti
 

"Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation"
(Psalm 38:22)


 

 

Although God sometime tarries, He declares, "I am the LORD; in its time I will hasten it" (Isa. 60:22). But still the heart sighs, "Is it time, LORD? Will you now restore the kingdom to Israel?" But as Jesus said, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority" (Acts 1:6-7). We are left waiting for ultimate God's answer: His glorious coming to fulfill our salvation. Meanwhile 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). God will help us before He will help us. May He come speedily, and in our day. Amen.
 




Law of the Guilt Offering...


 

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

03.13.14 (II Adar 11, 5774)  "This is the law of the guilt offering. It is most holy" (Lev. 7:1). Like the sin offering (חַטַּאת), the guilt offering (אָשָׁם) is also described as "most sacred," kodesh kodashim (קדֶשׁ קָדָשִׁים), because it prefigures how the sinner is restored to a place fellowship with God... Some of the Torah sages read this verse differently, however: "This is the Torah - i.e., the hashkafah (הַשׁקָפָה) or perspective - of the one who is guilty: his own will and desire are elevated to be "most holy." In other words, sin idolatrously elevates the will to reign supreme, and it is this self-exaltation that creates guilt within the soul.
 




Parables and Revelation...


 

03.12.14 (II Adar 10, 5774)  Yeshua often used such agricultural images in his parables. For example, he explained that people are known by the "fruits" of their lives (Matt. 7:16-20). He likened the spread of his message in terms of "sowing and reaping" (Matt. 13:3-23) and compared the Kingdom of Heaven to the secret working of a mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32). Yeshua regarded the world as a "field" for planting with different "types of soil" (Matt. 13:38-43), and warned of the "great harvest" of souls at the end of the age (Luke 10:2; Matt. 13:30). He pointed to signs from a fig tree to indicate the nearness of the prophesied End of Days (Matt. 24:32-33). Yeshua also used the metaphor of a "vine and its branches" to explain how his followers are to be connected to Him (John 15:1-6).

Undoubtedly Yeshua often taught in parables because they simultaneously conceal and reveal the truth. A parable obscures the truth to those who don't really want it; just as it reveals the truth to those who do (Luke 8:9-10). Since Yeshua's whole life was a parable of sorts - a "disguise" that led to the victory of our deliverance (Phil. 2:7) - it is not surprising that he regularly used "figures of speech" to provoke people to examine their own heart attitude and faith...  In this connection note that Yeshua never explained the "mysteries of the kingdom of God" directly to the crowds, nor did He ever pander to the crowd's clamor or interests. His message is always meant for the individual soul who was willing to follow Him -- to the one who had "ears to hear."

Reading the parables can help us take inventory of our lives. For example, whenever we hear the famous "parable of the sower" (Matt. 13:3-23) we are reminded that God is like a farmer who sows seed upon the soil of human hearts (the quality of which may be hard, shallow, choked, or good). If we are honest with ourselves, we will see our own hardness, shallowness, and selfishness in contrast to the fruitfulness marked by the good soil, and this may prompt us to seek God for help. Only the new heart (lev chadash) created by power of God's Spirit can possibly yield the fruit of the Spirit. Yeshua therefore warns us: "Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away" (Luke 8:18).

Yeshua's whole life was a parable of sorts - a "disguise" that led to the victory of our deliverance (Phil. 2:7) -- and that's our Purim connection!
 




The Scandal of Esther...


 

[ The holiday of Purim begins Sat. March 15th at sundown this year... ]

03.12.14 (II Adar 10, 5774)  Over the centuries, virtually no other book of the Tanakh ("Old Testament") has received more mixed reviews than the Book of Esther. In general it may be said that the book has been well received by the Jews, but disliked by most Christian theologians and denominational church leaders. After all, the basic point of the book centers on God's providential care for the Jewish people (ethnic Israel), and some Christian theologians find this conclusion abhorrent to their theological biases. Indeed, story of Esther leads inescapably to the celebration of Jewish identity and survival despite the evil plans and designs of anti-Semites, and therefore those theologians who believe that the church replaces Israel will tend to regard the message of the book with some suspicion (likewise some Christian teachers openly express indifference to the miracle of the modern State of Israel today). For those who understand that followers of Yeshua partake in the covenantal blessings given to Israel, however, the Book of Esther is a beautiful story about God's faithful love and care for His people...

Did you know that the Brit Chadashah (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה), or the "new covenant," is described in only one place in the entire Old Testament?  Here is the relevant passage:

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

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

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

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

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

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




Words of Life and Light...


 

03.12.14 (II Adar 10, 5774)  From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Tzav) we read: "The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not be extinguished" (Lev. 6:12). The sages say do not read "burning on it" but rather "burning in him" (בּוֹ), referring to the heart of the priest.  And where it says "it shall not be extinguished" (לא תִכְבֶּה), read instead "the negative (לא) you shall extinguish (תִכְבֶּה)" by trusting God's promise for your good, despite any temporary setbacks or apparent failures. The Holy Spirit imparts the fire of faith that fills our hearts with hope, speaking with "tongues of fire" words of life and light that vanquish darkness. As it is written: "Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; He is gracious, merciful, and righteous" (Psalm 112:4).
 

זָרַח בַּחשֶׁךְ אוֹר לַיְשָׁרִים
חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם וְצַדִּיק

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

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



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

We must press on in courage, fighting the good fight of faith. As it is written, "The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men attack me to devour my flesh, when my adversaries and enemies attack me, they totter and fall. Even if an army is deployed against me, I do not fear; even if war is rises against me, I remain full of trust" (Psalm 27:1-3).

The Midrash says, "The Holy One Himself, as it were, made light for the upright. Thus it says, "The LORD is my light and my salvation" (Psalm 27:1) and "When I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me" (Micah 7:8). While I sit in darkness in this world, during these latter days before the promised return of Yeshua, when troubles may afflict me and lawlessness may abound – then God's light will shine brighter still, for the LORD is gracious to all who put their hope in Him, and this favor and love will be manifest for me.

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




It's Jewish to Give Thanks....


 

03.11.14 (II Adar 9, 5774)  Expressing gratitude is a core value of genuine spirituality. "Modei ani," I thank you, God... Being thankful indicates that you are trusting that God is working all things together for your good, and it confesses that all you are is a gift from heaven. Indeed, the Hebrew word todah (תּוֹדָה), usually translated "thanks," can mean both "confession" and "praise." The matriarch Leah used a play on words regarding the birth of her fourth son (Gen. 29:35) when she said she would thank the LORD (אוֹדֶה אֶת־יהוה), and therefore she named him "Judah" (יְהוּדָה), from which the word "Jew" was later derived. The Apostle Paul, the greatest of the Torah sages, alluded to this when he said that a true Jew (יְהוּדִי) is one inwardly (κρυπτός), whose circumcision is a matter of spirit, not of the flesh. A genuine Jew gives thanks to God for who He is and what He has done; his desire is not for the approval of men, but of God (Rom. 2:28-29).
 

הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי־טוֹב כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ

ho·du  La·do·nai ki tov  ki  le·o·lam  chas·do

"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his loyal love endures forever."
(Psalm 136:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 

The patriarch Judah's name eventually designated the tribe and tribal district in which Jerusalem was located, and its inhabitants (regardless of their original tribal origin) were called "Judahites," "Judeans" (יְהוּדִים) or, in the shorter form, "Jews." In the Bible, the shorter term first appears after the destruction of the First Temple, 2 Kings 25:25, and was later used in the books of Jeremiah, Ezra/Nehemiah. The term also used in the New Testament to designate any physical descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
 




Liberty in the Spirit...


 

03.11.14 (II Adar 9, 5774)  "Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?" (Eccl. 7:16). Do not be too much of a tzaddik, which is to say, do not so elevate your sense of personal purity to disregard or exclude the needs of others. We are never to be compulsively religious or enslaved to outer forms of spirituality: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27), which means that the commandment is "for life," and we find life and liberty in the direction (Torah) of the Holy Spirit. And do not be too much of a chacham - a wise person - for the way of true wisdom is found in humility and love. As it is written: "If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know" (1 Cor. 8:2), and, "if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself" (Gal. 6:3).
 

אַל־תְּהִי צַדִּיק הַרְבֵּה
וְאַל־תִּתְחַכַּם יוֹתֵר
לָמָּה תִּשּׁוֹמֵם

al · te·hi · tzad·dik · har·beh
ve·al · tit·cha·kam · yo·teir
la·mah · ti·sho·mem
 

"Be not overly righteous
and do not make yourself too wise.
Why should you destroy yourself?"
(Eccl. 7:16)
 

Note that the LXX (i.e., the ancient Greek Torah) reads "do not become much righteous," that is, in a showy way, and do not seek to be excessively (περισσά) wise, since you may be shocked to discover that you were wrong, after all...
 




Hiddenness and Disclosure...


 

[ The holiday of Purim begins Sat. March 15th at sundown this year... ]

03.11.14 (II Adar 9, 5774)  The sages extol the importance of the holiday of Purim because it reveals the hidden hand of God, despite his apparent absence in the affairs of this world... On the surface, each turn of the story could be explained naturally, or as simple "coincidence," yet in the end we realize that God was at work behind the scenes, carefully putting together the Jew's deliverance. The eye of faith trusts in God's providential plan, despite appearances to the contrary. Indeed, the phrase hester panim (הֶסְתֵר פָּנִים) means "hiding of the face" and is often used when discussing the Book of Esther. Understood as hidden providence, hester panim is somewhat like the sun on an overcast day: Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there. God's great love is at work at all times, in all affairs of the universe, whether we perceive it or not.

The holiday of Purim occurs this coming Sunday, March 16. As with all Jewish holidays, however, the day begins the night before, and therefore Purim begins Saturday night, immediately following the weekly Shabbat.  In anticipation of the coming holiday, then, let me wish you and your family Purim Sameach (פורים שמח) -- with the prayer that you will stand true to your faith, despite this wicked world and its syncretizing influences. Hooray for Mordecai! -- may the LORD raise up many like him!
 




A Blessed Desperation...


 

03.10.14 (II Adar 8, 5774)  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... In our Torah portion this week (Tzav) we read 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. As it is written, the high and lifted up One dwells with the broken and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the crushed:
 

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

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

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



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God reveals Himself to the "lowly in spirit" (שְׁפַל־רוּחַ), that is, to those who understand their own nothingness and complete dependence on Him.... Notice that the word dakka (דַּכָּא) refers to being crushed to the very dust, the very same word used to describe how Yeshua was crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:10). William James called this deep work of the spiritual life Zerrissenheit, a term that can be translated as "torn-to-pieces-hood," or a state of being utterly broken and in disarray... From the point of view of our dependence on God for salvation, dakka refers to humility and contrition we express in light of God's unmerited favor and love for our souls...  We identify with the death of Messiah offered on our behalf; we find healing and acceptance in the Presence of the One who was torn to pieces and made dust for our merit. Humility is essential to awareness of God in the truth.
 




Word Became Flesh...


 

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

03.10.14 (II Adar 8, 5774)  Our Torah portion this week begins, "The Eternal (יהוה) spoke to Moses" (Lev. 6:8), which paradoxically refers to God as if He is a man... Theologians may call this sort of language "anthropomorphism," though it clearly anticipates the great Incarnation itself, when the Timeless and Infinite One became embodied in time and space in the person of Yeshua. Indeed Yeshua is called the "Word of God" who became flesh and "tabernacled" in our midst (John 1:1,14). And just as the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) mediates the Divine Presence to heavenly host, so Yeshua mediates the Divine Presence to humanity as the "Son of Man" (בֶּן־הָאָדָם). "For the Eternal One who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Cor. 4:6). In the Book of Hebrews we read that "in these last days God has spoken to us ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ," which literally means God speaks in the language "of Son" (Heb. 1:2). The Eternal speaks as the One who emptied Himself to become one of us, who clothed himself in our humanity, so that he could touch us, empathize with us, and to ultimately die for our atonement as the "Lamb of God."
 

כִּי כּה אָהַב אֱלהִים אֶת־הָעוֹלָם
 עַד כִּי נָתַן אֶת־בְּנוֹ יְחִידוֹ
 לְמַעַן לא־יאבַד כָּל־הַמַּאֲמִין בּוֹ
 אֵלָּא יִנְחַל חַיֵּי עוֹלָם

ki · ko · a·hav · E·lo·him · et · ha·o·lam
ad · ki · na·tan · et · be·no · ye·chi·do
le·ma·an · lo · yo·vad · kol · ha·ma·a·min · bo
el·lah · yin·chal · chai·yei · o·lam
 

"For this is the way God loved the world:
He gave his one and only Son,
so that everyone who trusts in him will not perish
but have eternal life."
(John 3:16)

 




Remembering Amalek...
 

 

03.10.14 (II Adar 8, 5774)  The Sabbath that precedes the holiday of Purim is called Shabbat Zakhor - the "Sabbath of Remembrance." The maftir (additional reading) instructs us to "remember" (זָכוֹר) how the nation of Amalek functioned as Satan's emissary by attacking the Jews at Rephidim, immediately following the Exodus from Egypt (see Exod. 17:8-16). After Israel routed the attack, God told Moses, "Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" (Exod. 17:14). Moses later explained that Amalek did not fight using conventional methods of war but rather attacked and killed the weakest members of Israel, "those who were lagging behind" in the camp (Deut. 25:17-19). This cowardly approach represented the first attack of God's newly redeemed people, a Satanic assault that God vowed never to forget.... Amalek therefore embodies satanic forces arrayed against the people of God.

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

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

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




The Ram of Ordination...


 

03.09.14 (II Adar 7, 5774)  In our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Tzav) we learn how the first priests of Israel were consecrated for service by the blood of the lamb. First Aaron and his sons were washed with water, arrayed in priestly garments, and anointed with holy oil. During this ordination ceremony, a sin offering and burnt offering were offered on their behalf, and then a special "ram of ordination" (i.e., eil ha-milu'im: אֵיל הַמִּלֻּאִים, lit. "ram of abundance [מָלֵא]") was slaughtered. Some of this ram's blood was applied to the right ear, right thumb, and big toe of the Aaron and his sons (a picture of Yeshua as our suffering High Priest), and the rest of the blood was dashed upon the sides of the altar. After its slaughter, Moses took some unleavened bread and put it in the hands of the priests to perform tenufah (a wave offering) before the altar (a picture of the resurrection).

 

As believers in Yeshua, we too have been anointed with the blood from the "Ram of Ordination" -- Yeshua as our Kohen Gadol of the better covenant (Heb. 8:6). And we too have been anointed with the sacred shemen (oil) that symbolizes the presence and aroma of the LORD in our lives. As followers of Yeshua we are therefore truly "...a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). As Yeshua said: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you" (John 15:16). May the LORD God of Israel be pleased to help you serve Him in the truth...

Please see the quick summary for Tzav for more information. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for this portion here:
 

 





A Consuming Fire...


 

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

03.07.14 (II Adar 5, 5774)  From our Torah portion this week we read: "it (i.e., the burnt offering) shall be "a fire-offering of sweet fragrance to the LORD" (Lev. 1:9). Here the sages connect the desire to serve God with holy fire, and where it says "The LORD your God is a consuming fire" (Deut. 4:24), read instead, "The LORD is a God who consumes your fire," that is, he feeds on the passion and faithfulness of your heart in response to His love. That is what is meant by re'ach nicho'ach ladonai (רֵיחַ־נִיחוֹחַ לַיהוָה), a "sweet fragrance to the LORD." Ultimately, however, the fragrant fire, or "the spirit of the comfort of the LORD," is the passion of Yeshua, the great Lamb of God who died in intercession upon the "fiery altar of the cross" to bring us peace with God...

Shabbat Shalom and thank God for the passionate love of Yeshua our LORD....
 




Commandment of Heart...


 

03.07.14 (II Adar 5, 5774)  Where we read, "if a person offends and performs any of the commandments of the LORD that should not be done, and is guilty (Lev. 4:27), the sages say that the "commandment of the LORD that should not be done" is the doing of a commandment devoid of heart, without the right attitude of desperate focus before God. This incurs guilt because the LORD desires first of all sacrifice of the heart, a "broken and contrite heart, O LORD, you will not despise" (Psalm 51:17).
 

כִּי לא־תַחְפּץ זֶבַח וְאֶתֵּנָה עוֹלָה לא תִרְצֶה
זִבְחֵי אֱלהִים רוּחַ נִשְׁבָּרָה
לֵב־נִשְׁבָּר וְנִדְכֶּה אֱלהִים לא תִבְזֶה

ki · lo · tachpotz · ze·vach · ve·et·te·nah, o·lah · lo · tir·tzeh
ziv·chei · Elohim · ru·ach · nish·ba·rah
lev · nish·bar · ve·nid·keh · Elohim · lo · tiv·zeh
 

"For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not
be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."
(Psalm 51:16-17)



 




Leviticus and the Lamb...


 

03.07.14 (II Adar 5, 5774)  The Book of Leviticus is the third of the Torah, representing another stage in our spiritual journey. Genesis reveals both our divine origin but also our tragic fallenness, and the book ends with our need for deliverance from bondage to Egypt. Exodus reveals that we are liberated from slavery by trusting in the provision of God demonstrated by the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, and the book ends with the climax of the revelation of Torah given at Sinai, namely, the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) where the the need for blood atonement was enshrined. Indeed blood atonement is the central theme of the central book of Torah, i.e., Leviticus, where we are called to draw near to God through sacrificial rites, the foremost of which was the ongoing offering (i.e., korban tamid: קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד) of a defect-free male lamb, together with unleavened bread and wine. The LORD called this "My offering, My bread" (Num. 28:1-8). In other words, the center of the Torah is the altar that constantly prefigured the Lamb of God who would be offered up to secure our eternal redemption (John 1:29; Heb. 9:11-12).
 

רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה

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

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



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Though God instructed each household to select its own defect-free lamb for the family Passover, the Torah refers to "the" Lamb of God, as if there was only one: "You shall keep it [i.e., the Passover lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter him (אתוֹ) at twilight (Exod. 12:6). From the lamb offered in the Garden of Eden to the daily offering of the lamb at the Temple, to the cross at Calvary, Torah centers on the great Lamb of God....
 




Drawing Near by Sacrifice....

Semikhah - Viduy
 

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

03.07.14 (II Adar 5, 5774)  Some of the sages say that the word vayikra (וַיִּקְרָא) expresses a sort of ambivalence about how we are able to connect with God. Rashi says the verb can be interpreted to derive from the root yakar (יָקָר), meaning "costly" or "dear," so we read: "And he was dear, and the LORD spoke to Moses." On the other hand, the verb may be related to the word mikreh (מִקרֶה), a chance meeting, so we read: "And he happened to encounter God, and the LORD spoke to Moses..." The very first word of the Book of Leviticus, then, raises questions about closeness and distance, of drawing near yet remaining outside. There is the call to draw near from above, yet it calls out to us in our separation...

Sin causes separation from God, and the way this separation is overcome is by means of sacrifice, or "korban," which may be defined as that which is given up to draw us near (קָרַב) to God. The quintessential archetype of sacrifice is given in the Akedah, where Abraham offered his beloved son on an altar, and where God provided a lamb to take his place. The Torah states that Abraham saw "another ram" (אַיִל אַחַר), which means he clearly regarded his son as a type of sacrificial lamb (Gen. 22:13). Isaac was made like a lamb yet afterward God provided a divine exchange.  The offering up of what was most dear to Abraham drew him near to God, just as the offering up of what was most dear to God, namely, His only begotten Son, drew God to man...   (more)
 




God's Atoning Love...



 

03.07.14 (II Adar 5, 5774)  The message of the gospel requires that you regard yourself as worth dying for, that you are God's friend... "There is no greater love than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). God demands that you regard yourself as worth the sacrifice of his beloved son Yeshua in your place; he demands that you understand how dear you are to his heart. The LORD sees something of such great value in you that he was willing to suffer and die to redeem it from loss... Just as the kingdom of God is a "pearl of great price," so you are a pearl of great price to God. What grieves and angers God is the refusal to believe that you are someone of infinite importance to him.

Of course this does not mean that we are "perfect" people, and indeed the test of faith means learning to "accept that you are accepted" despite who you are, despite your sins, and to patiently "endure yourself" while God continues his transformation of your inner life.  Meanwhile regard your sins and defects of character in light of the cross of Messiah, and never despair over yourself apart from seeing God's outstretched arms for you... When you understand that your sin was accepted into the stricken heart of Yeshua on your behalf, you see it rightly - and the wonder and glory of God's love for us is magnified....

The mere conviction of sin is not the same thing as repentance. We have to step beyond a troubled conscience and have our sin crucified by God's love and grace... Grace is therefore essential to genuine repentance, since moral reformation is never enough. We must be humbled so that we can receive. God gives us bitter experience of our inadequacy to call us to return to him. Only God can kill the power of sin within our hearts. We speak of teshuvah, but there is something on the "other side of return" that is the goal of it all. Conviction of sin is not an end in itself, but rather newness of life...
 




The Call of Vayikra...


 

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

03.06.14 (II Adar 4, 5774)  The first verse of Leviticus is usually translated: "And the LORD called to Moses and spoke to him," where the subject of the verb vayikra (וַיִּקְרָא), "and he called," has an implied antecedent, which if expressed would read: "And the LORD called to Moses and the LORD spoke..." The Hebrew text of the Torah scroll is written with a small Aleph (א) at the end of the verb vayikra, however, indicating something of textual and grammatical interest. Note that the Hebrew letter Aleph is constructed from two Yods (each that represent a yad, or "hand") joined by a diagonal Vav (that represents a man). One Yod (י) reaches upward while the other reaches downward, and both extend from the "fallen" Vav (ו), picturing Yeshua, the humble One who was "wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities" as our Mediator between heaven and earth (Isa. 53:5; 1 Tim. 2:5). The implied subject, then, of vayikra can be seen to be the "small Aleph," the Humble One who calls out from the Tent of Meeting...

"And he called" is written anonymously but once you understand that this is the Word of the LORD speaking, you will turn back to the Creator and then YHVH will speak to you from within the Tent of Meeting...
 




Messiah and Sacrifice...


 

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

03.06.14 (II Adar 4, 5774)  The very first prophecy of Torah concerns the promise of the coming "seed of the woman" who would vanquish the serpent (nachash) that had originally tempted and deceived Eve (Gen. 3:15), and the very first sacrifice of the Torah was offered by God Himself, when He slaughtered a lamb to cover the shame of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21). The New Testament teaches that Yeshua came as the Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) to die "for our sins" (John 1:29). Sin separates us from God, but korban (sacrifice) draws us near. The message of the gospel is that the Voice of the LORD - the very Word spoken from between the cherubim above the kapporet (mercy seat) - "became flesh" (ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο) and "tabernacled among us" (ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν) for the purpose of becoming our substitutionary sacrifice for the guilt and defilement caused by our sin (John 1:1,14). Yeshua was "born to die" (Heb. 10:5-7), and his life was lived in relation to His sacrificial death (Mark 8:27-33). As the Apostle Paul put it: This is of "first importance": Messiah was born to die for our sins, to make us right with God, and was raised from the dead to vindicate the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 15:3-5).

"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; Num. 21:5-9). 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 was to be lifted up to forever be the Healer of the world (Rom. 8:3). Bless His Holy Name.

For more on this subject, see Parashat Vayikra: Why the Sacrifices?
 




Trust with the Heart...


 

03.05.14 (II Adar 3, 5774)  "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 personally 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.
 

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
 

The Hebrew word emunah (אֱמוּנָה), often rendered as "faith" in many English translations, comes from the root word aman (אָמַן), which means to rest securely or rely upon (and from which we get the word "amen"). The root word occurs for the first time in the Torah in connection with Abraham: "And he believed (וְהֶאֱמִן) the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). Abraham was declared tzaddik (righteous) because he believed and understood that the LORD would fulfill His promise to him to become the father of a multitude, despite his old age.  Abraham's faith was cognitive in the sense that he knew the character of God and relied upon God's promise.

If emunah describes the cognitive dimension of faith, the word bittachon (בִּטָּחוֹן) describes its emotional dimension. "In all your ways know Him," that is, in all that you put your hand to do trust in God's I-AM-always-with-you 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). Recall the words of Yeshua who encouraged us: "he that seeks will find, and the door will be opened to the one who knocks" (Matt. 7:7-8).
 




Waking up to Holiness...


 

03.05.14 (II Adar 3, 5774)  The Torah records that God's first words were "Let there be light" (i.e., yehi or: יְהִי אוֹר) and then goes on to say that "God separated (וַיַּבְדֵּל) the light from the darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). It is this "separation," or distinction, that is foundational to the concept of kedushah (קְדֻשָּׁה), or "holiness," which first appears in the Scriptures regarding the distinction between ordinary and sacred time: "God blessed the seventh day and made it holy" (יְקַדֵּשׁ) because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation" (Gen. 2:3). The idea of "set-apartness," or holiness, is affirmed during kiddush on every Shabbat, when we affirm that God alone is our Creator and Redeemer... God's first creative act was to enable creation to shine out His radiant glory.

It has been said that the theme of the Book of Leviticus is kedushah, and indeed the Hebrew root (קדשׁ) occurs over 150 times in the book. Since God is kadosh (קדשׁ), we must be kadosh in our lives as well, and this means first of all being conscious of the distinction between the sacred and the profane, the "clean" and the unclean, and so on. "You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean" (Lev. 10:10). Note that the word translated "distinguish" (וּלֲהַבְדִּיל) comes from the same verb used to describe how God separated the light from the darkness. We are to separate between (בֵּין) the light and the dark, the holy and the profane, and that implies we need understanding (i.e., binah: בִּינָה), or the ability to discern between realms of reality... There is no other way to approach God apart from the consciousness of His infinite glory and unsurpassable worth. "I will lift up my eyes to the hills" (Psalm 121:1). As the Holy One (i.e., ha-kadosh: הַקָּדוֹשׁ), the LORD (יהוה) is utterly unique, distinct, sacred, and set apart as the only One of its kind. He alone is worthy of true worship and adoration, since He alone is utterly peerless, without rival, and stands in relation to the world as Creator, Redeemer, and Lord. To affirm that the LORD is holy is to be conscious that He is utterly sacred. As our Lord Yeshua taught us to pray, אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם יִתְקַדַּשׁ שְׁמֶךָ - "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name" (Matt. 6:9).

Holiness involves first of all the awareness or consciousness that there is a realm of reality "higher than" the material world (the light God created and separated from darkness was not physical), and this realm of reality is centered on Person and Will of God. A denial of this leads to the idolatrous view that material (i.e., profane) reality is absolute and therefore ascribed eternal worth. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom." However, the LORD does not want us to merely recognize His holiness (in some abstract or intellectual sense) but calls us to be in relationship with Him, and this implies personal sanctity and separation: "You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and I have separated you (וָאַבְדִּל) from other people that you should be mine" (Lev. 20:26). The purpose of the sacrificial system was to draw near to God, and this "drawing near" required a separation from the profane world and its habitual uncleanness. The call to be holy is therefore the call to wake up and become alive to God's Presence in this world.
 

כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה הַמַּעֲלֶה אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם
לִהְית לָכֶם לֵאלהִים
וִהְיִיתֶם קְדשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אָנִי

ki  a·ni  Adonai  ha·ma·a·leh  et·khem  me·e·retz  mitz·ra·im
lih·yot  la·khem  le·lo·him
vi·yit·tem  ke·do·shim  ki  ka·dosh  a·ni

"For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt
to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy."
(Lev. 11:45)
 

 


Harei, at mekudeshet li: "Behold, you are betrothed to me."  Love and holiness are interconnected, since the beloved is set apart as sacred and treasured.  May God help us see the wonder of His love for our lives: "Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (1 Pet. 1:14-16).
 




The Law of Faith...


 

03.05.14 (II Adar 3, 5774)  "The righteous shall live by faith" in the promise of God's unconditional love (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17). The Torah of faith (תּוֹרַת הָאֱמוּנָה) therefore includes these additional commandments from the heart of Yeshua: 1) "Thou shalt believe thou are my beloved - entirely accepted and entirely forgiven"; 2) "Thou shalt forget the shame of thy past"; 3) "Thou shalt stop thinking of your sin but rather of My great remedy for you"; 4) "Thou shalt let me carry your woundedness far away, yea, to the bottom of the sea"; 5) "Thou shalt live in My love and be filled with its spirit," and 6) "Thou shalt be made new." We are to know ourselves as "dead to sin but alive to God" (Rom. 6:11), which means we die to despair, we die to fear of abandonment, yea, we die to death itself, and now we are alive to hope, alive to healing, yea, we alive to love that endures forever.
 

הִנֵּה עֻפְּלָה לא־יָשְׁרָה נַפְשׁוֹ בּוֹ
 וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה

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

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




Anxiety and Healing...


 

03.05.14 (II Adar 3, 5774)  Where it is written, "cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Pet. 5:7), the word translated "anxiety" (μέριμνα) comes from a Greek verb (μερίζω) that means to be fragmented or divided into parts and pieces. We bring our brokenness to God - including even those distractions that tear us away from Him and that tend to make us inwardly fragmented - in order to receive God's healing care for us. Therefore choose to regard your brokenness as an invitation to come before God for healing; never let it keep you from coming to the LORD for help! We are not to be ignorant of Satan and his devices... Despite our many sins, frailties, and even our own inner ambivalence, we know that God alone makes us whole and is the true lover of our souls. The Spirit always cries out for you come...
 

הַשְׁלֵךְ עַל־יְהוָה יְהָבְךָ
 וְהוּא יְכַלְכְּלֶךָ
 לא־יִתֵּן לְעוֹלָם מוֹט לַצַּדִּיק

hash·lekh · al · Adonai · ye·hav·kha
ve·hu · ye·khal·ke·le·kha
lo · yit·ten · le·o·lam · mot · la·tzad·dik

"Cast your burden on the LORD,
 and He will sustain you;
 He will never permit the righteous to be moved."
(Psalm 55:22)


 
Hebrew Study Card
  

It is my prayer and hope that you will draw near to God for the gift of life. May the LORD God heal you, body and soul; may He ease your pain, increase your strength, and release you from all your fears. May blessing, love, joy, and true shalom surround you and fill you in the great love of Yeshua our Savior. Amen.
 




A New Beginning...


 

[ The month of Nisan begins Monday, March 31st (after sundown) this year, which means Passover occurs Monday, April 14th at sundown... ]

03.04.14 (II Adar 2, 5774)  The very first word of the Torah indicates the awareness of the significance of time - "in the beginning..." (Gen. 1:1), and according to Jewish tradition, the very first commandment given to the children of Israel (as a whole) was that of Rosh Chodesh (ראש חודש), or the declaration of the start (or head) of the "new month," particularly concerning the first month of their redemption (Exod. 12:2). In other words, Passover month was to begin Israel's year, and indeed the sacrificial system itself (i.e., the Tabernacle) was consecrated precisely on the new moon of the first month (Exod. 40:2). Note that the Hebrew word for month (i.e., chodesh) comes from the root chadash (חָדָש), meaning "new," and therefore the Passover redemption was intended to mark a "new beginning" for the Jewish people. And indeed, God marks the start of our personal redemption as the beginning of our life as a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), just as Yeshua is the "first of the firstfruits" of God's redeemed humanity (1 Cor. 15:45-49).
 




Leviticus and Yeshua...



 

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

03.04.14 (II Adar 2, 5774)  The Book of Leviticus (ויקרא) is to the Torah what the Book of Hebrews is to the New Testament. Leviticus is both the physical and spiritual center of the Five Books of Moses and comprises its ritual expression. The sages count 246 of the 613 commandments of the Torah in this book (over 40%), and many of the Talmud's discussions regarding ritual purity and holiness are based on it. 

Many Christian readers of the Bible want to skip the Book of Leviticus, however, because they find the detailed description of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the various laws of the sacrificial system to be tedious and/or irrelevant for followers of Yeshua.  This is unfortunate because in its pages the great sacrificial work of Yeshua is foreshadowed and explained for us.  Indeed, without the underlying concepts "seeded" there, various fundamental New Testament teachings concerning the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua for our sins, justification by faith, and our duty to walk in sanctification would not make much sense....

The LORD intended that the sacrificial laws given to the Levitical priests (i.e., kohanim) would foreshadow the coming atoning sacrifice offered by Yeshua, the "Lamb of God slain from the foundation (יְסוֹד) of the world" (1 Pet. 1:19-20, Rev. 13:8). This is why these laws are called torat Kohanim - the "teaching of the priests."  This instruction (i.e., torah: תּוֹרָה) was intended for all Israel to understand the need for blood atonement in order to draw near to God (Lev. 17:11). The Levitical system as a whole served as a "type" or "picture" of heavenly realities.  Moses received the "pattern" (i.e., tavnit: תַּבְנִית) of the Throne of God on Sinai, but this was a physical copy or "shadow" of the spiritual Reality he beheld in visions. The Mishkan was always intended to be moved into the Promised Land, which King David later established in Zion, the place of the Holy Temple. But it was the sacrificial death of Yeshua that is the focal point and goal of it all: Yeshua is the Substance of all that the sacrifices foreshadowed...

Note:  For more on this, see Leviticus and Yeshua.
 




The Place of Atonement...


Semikhah - Viduy
 

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

03.04.14 (II Adar 2, 5774)  From our Torah portion this week we read: "He shall bring it (i.e., the offering) to the entrance of the tent of meeting (אהֶל מוֹעֵד), that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on its head and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf (לְכַפֵּר עָלָיו). Then he shall slaughter it before the LORD, and Aaron's sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar. Then he shall flay the offering and cut it into pieces..." (Lev. 1:3-6). We are justified by faith, but that means we bring our hope to the appointed place where God meets with us. We have "access by faith into this grace wherein we stand" (Rom. 5:2), and that implies we trust that God gives us right standing on account of his great love. We come to the cross - the entrance of the tent - and "lean into" our Lord, identifying with his death as atonement on our behalf. As it is written: "God has ordained a place of atonement (i.e., ἱλαστήριος, or "mercy seat" [kapporet: כַּפּרֶת]), in the cross of Yeshua, accessible through faith in his blood, for the demonstration of His righteousness, so that God might be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Yeshua" (Rom. 3:25-26).

It has been noted that there were no prescriptions of words to be spoken during the semikhah/shechitah ceremony (i.e., sacrificial ceremony), no formulas or ritualized prayers. The sacrifice was performed in silence.  The worshipper would firmly lay both hands on the head of the sacrificial victim and reflect that this animal's fate should really be his -- i.e., that he deserved to die for his sin.  Only because of the LORD's mercy was this animal accepted in his place, and therefore the sacrificial rite was ultimately one of healing and restoration...  This is the "korban" principle of "life-for-life." When the LORD saw the shed blood and ascending smoke of the sacrifice, He forgave the sinner based on his faith and teshuvah (repentance). The "sweet savor" (i.e., re'ach nicho'ach: רֵיחַ־נִיחוֹחַ) of the sacrifice refers to the future life (and healing) of the worshipper -- not the sacrifice itself. By itself -- apart from genuine repentance -- the sacrifice holds no power to forgive sin, and indeed, forgiveness is a relational concept (Matt. 5:24, 6:12, Isa. 1:11, etc.). In the Levitical system, the offering of a sacrifice served as a "symbol and expression of man's desire to purify himself and become reconciled to God" (Leibowitz, Vayikra).

"God put forward Yeshua as a propitiation (ἱλαστήριον) through faith in His blood" (Rom. 3:25). The sprinkling of Yeshua's blood - represented by His Passion upon the cross - was "presented" upon the Heavenly Kapporet, before the very Throne of God Himself. Yeshua here functions as the great High Priest after the order of Malki-Tzedek (i.e., Melchizedek) who provides everlasting forgiveness for our sins (Heb. 9:7-10:10). Because of His sacrifice, the parochet - the wall-like covering separating the Holy of Holies - was rent asunder and God's love was let loose upon the world! Those who trust in Yeshua as their atoning sacrifice before God (i.e., kapparah: כַּפָּרָה)  are able to draw near to God full of confidence.
 




Exodus and Atonement...


 

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

03.03.14
 (II Adar 1, 5774)  The story of the Exodus reveals that Israel was "born" by means of the blood of the Passover lamb. But the Passover was a means to the revelation given at Sinai, and the revelation at Sinai found its ritual expression in a system that required the constant shedding of the blood of sacrificial animals (i.e., the Tabernacle). As it is axiomatically stated in Torah: "For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar (of the Mishkan); it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life" (Lev. 17:11).

Sometimes it seems as if there are two different sacrificial themes given in the Torah (and the New Testament, as well). First we have Passover -- and the redemption given through the blood of the Pascal lamb -- and then we have Yom Kippur, with atonement given through the blood of the goat. Passover represents the blood of redemption (i.e., freedom from slavery, deliverance, salvation, etc.) and Yom Kippur represents the blood of atonement (i.e., freedom from guilt, cleansing from sin, etc.).

Note that the original Passover sacrifice (korban Pesach) was not given to the Levitical priesthood as a sin offering, since it preceded Sinai and the giving of the various laws concerning the Mishkan/Temple sacrificial rites. In the same way, Yeshua's sacrifice was directed from Heaven itself by means of the prophetic office of Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק) - a higher order of priesthood (Gen. 14:18; Ps. 110:4; Heb. 7). Yeshua both offered Himself up as the "Lamb of God" that causes the wrath of God to (eternally) pass over those who personally trust in Him, and He also offered himself as the "Goat of God" whose blood was sprinkled in the Holy of Holies to cleanse us from sin and give us (everlasting) atonement. (Other metaphors are also given in Scripture, for example, Yeshua offered Himself as a Snake lifted up (John 3:14-15; cp. Num. 21:4-9), as a Red Cow (parah adumah), and so on).

For Yom Kippur, of course, two goats were required: one goat was for blood sacrifice in the Holy of Holies (the Goat of the LORD) and the other was used as a "scapegoat" for the sins of the community (the goat of Azazel / the devil). The Gospels seem to emphasize the connection between Yeshua as the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" with Passover/Exodus more than the connection between Yeshua as the "Goat of the LORD" whose blood was sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat with Yom Kippur - though the author of the Book of Hebrews explicitly makes this connection (Heb. 9:11-12; 24-ff).

Yeshua as the "Lamb of God" pictures personal redemption from slavery to Satan and freedom from the wrath of God. This is the greater Passover/Exodus connection.  By means of Yeshua's shed blood and broken body, the wrath of God passes over us and we are set free to serve God.... Yeshua as the "Goat of God" pictures both personal cleansing (i.e., "propitiation" or "expiation" for our sins: the Greek word (ἱλαστήριον) is used in the LXX for the kapporet (Mercy Seat) in the Holy of Holies which was sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice on Yom Kippur) as well as national teshuvah and cleansing for ethnic Israel at the end of the Great Tribulation period. At that time Yeshua will function as Israel's true High Priest whose sacrifice is applied for Israel's Atonement.  This is the Yom Kippur connection.

Note:  For more on this subject, see Sefer Vayikra: the Centrality of Leviticus...
 




The Month of Adar...



 

[ The holiday of Purim is just in a couple weeks, which means Passover is coming soon! ]

03.03.14
 (II Adar 1, 5774)  Today is Rosh Chodesh Adar II, the start of the last month of the year (this year is also a leap year, which means an extra month is inserted into the calendar, called Adar II). The holiday of Purim is always observed a month before Passover, on the 14th of the month of Adar (II), which this year occurs Saturday, March 15th at sundown. Like the month of Elul (i.e., the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah and the New Year in the fall [Exod. 23:16]), the month of Adar is a time to prepare our hearts before the start of the New Year of spring and the great holiday of Passover.

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

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

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

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

Rosh Chodesh Adar

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The Holiday of Purim

The holiday of Purim (פּוּרִים) celebrates the victory of the Jewish people over the dark forces of anti-Semitism in the world. In a sense, the holiday serves as a spoof or joke made at the expense of those who senselessly hate the Jewish people (and who therefore hate the God of Israel). Purim is therefore both a time of irony and a time to celebrate how God secretly acts on behalf of His people so that they will eventually triumph over their enemies.
 

פּוּרִים שָׂמֵחַ / Purim Sameach: "Happy Purim!
 

Throughout the centuries and in various places, many have tried to destroy the Jewish people, but none has succeeded. עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי / am Yisrael chai: "The people of Israel live!" Israel is God's "super sign" that He is faithful to His covenant promises (Jer. 31:35-37). Christians likewise can trust that God's sovereign hand works all things together for good -- even if at times things appear bleak and desperate (Rom. 8:28).

This year Purim is celebrated Saturday, March 15th (at sundown), that is, on the 14th of Adar, the day after Haman's roll of the dice indicated that the 13th of Adar was most "propitious" date to exterminate the Jews of Persia. Note that Purim is celebrated the day after since it was at that time that the Jews experienced the joy of their deliverance (in Israel, Purim is observed a day later still (i.e., on Adar 15th) and is called Shushan Purim).
 




The LORD Calls Out - ויקרא


 

03.02.14 (Adar 30, 5774)  Our Torah portion for this week is Vayikra ("and he called"), the very first section from the Book of Leviticus. In Jewish tradition, Leviticus is sometimes called the "Book of Sacrifices" since it deals largely with the various sacrificial offerings brought to the altar at the Tabernacle. Indeed, over 40 percent of all the Torah's commandments are found in this central book of the Scriptures, highlighting that blood atonement is crucial to the Torah. Indeed, since the revelation of the Tabernacle was the climax of the revelation given at Sinai, the Book of Leviticus serves as its ritual expression: As it is written: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement (kapparah) by the life" (Lev. 17:11).

Unlike narrative portions of other books of the Torah, the Book of Leviticus begins with the LORD "calling out" (i.e., vayikra) to Moses to explain that the way to draw near to Him is by means of atoning sacrifice. It is noteworthy that throughout the book, only the sacred name of the LORD (יהוה) is used in connection with sacrificial offerings, never the name Elohim (אֱלהִים). This suggests that sacrificial offerings were given to draw us near to experience God's mercy and compassion rather than to simply appease His anger.... In other words, the Name of the LORD represents salvation (i.e., yeshuah: יְשׁוּעָה) and healing for the sinner, not God's judgment (John 3:17). Indeed, the word korban (קָרְבָּן), often translated as "sacrifice" or "offering," comes from a root word karov (קָרַב) that means to "draw close" or "to come near" (James 4:8). The sinner who approached the LORD trusting in the efficacy of the sacrificial blood shed on his or her behalf would find healing and life...

Note that the word in the ancient Greek translation of the Torah (called the Septuagint) that was selected to translate the Hebrew word kapporet (i.e., "mercy seat") is hilasterion (ἱλαστήριον), sometimes translated "propitiation." The New Testament picks up this usage in Romans 3:25: "God put forward Yeshua as a propitiation (ἱλαστήριον) through faith in His blood." In other words, the shedding of Yeshua's blood - represented by His Passion upon the cross - was "presented" upon the Heavenly Kapporet, before the very Throne of God Himself for our atoning sacrifice (i.e., kapparah: כַּפָּרָה) before God.

Please see the quick summary for Vayikra for more information. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for this portion here:
 

 




Humility and Torah...


 

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

03.02.14 (Adar 30, 5774)  It is an age-old Jewish custom to begin teaching young children the Torah beginning with Vayikra because they, like the sacrifices themselves, are considered pure. The sage known as the Kli Yakar states that this is one of the reasons why the Aleph (א) in Vayikra (ויקרא) is written very small in the Torah scroll. Let these teachings be the beginning, like the letter Aleph, which is the beginning of the Aleph-Bet. When we humble ourselves as little children, God will reveal His truth to us,  just as Messiah humbled himself for the sake of touching us in our frailties...

 

Aleph is the first letter of the first word of the first commandment of God: anokhi (אָנכִי): "I AM" (Exod. 20:2), which also designates the Name ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה) first revealed to Moses (Exod. 3:14). The numerical value of Aleph is one, indicating its preeminence, and it is a silent letter, alluding to the ineffable mystery of God's sovereign will (the related word aluph (אַלּוּף) means "Master" or "Champion"). In the Hebrew script used for writing Torah scrolls (ketav Ashurit), Aleph is constructed from two Yods (that represent "hands") joined by a diagonal Vav (that represents man). One Yod (י) reaches upward while the other reaches downward, and both extend from the "fallen" Vav (ו), picturing a "wounded Man" or Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). In the Hebrew numbering system (i.e., gematria), Yod = 10 and Vav = 6, so adding up the three parts of Aleph yields 26, the same value as the Name of the LORD: YHVH (יהוה). The very first letter of the Hebrew Alphabet, then, pictures the three-in-one LORD who mediates all of life for our salvation. And just as there are three parts to Aleph, but Aleph is One (echad: אֶחָד), so there are three Persons to the Godhead, yet God is absolutely One. Indeed, the gematria of the word Aleph (אָלֶף) is 111 (Aleph=1, Lamed=30, and Pey=80). As Yeshua said, every "jot and tittle" of Scripture is significant...
 




Note: March, 2014 updates continue here.

 





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