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

        

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

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





 

Jewish Holiday Calendar 

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

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

Fall Holiday Calendar

The Fall Holidays:

Rosh Hashanah
 

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

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

  1. Month of Elul (begins Mon., Aug. 25th, 2014)
  2. Month of Tishri (begins Wed., Sept. 24th, 2014)
  3. Month of Cheshvan (begins Thurs., Oct. 23rd, 2014)
  4. Month of Kislev (begins Sat., Nov. 22nd, 2014)
    • Four Sabbaths: Vayetzei, Vayishlach, Vayeshev, Miketz
    • Dates for Chanukah 2014:
      • 1st candle Teus., Dec. 16th [Kislev 25]
      • 2nd candle Wed., Dec. 17th
      • 3rd candle: Thurs., Dec. 18th
      • 4th candle: Fri., Dec. 19th [Shabbat Miketz]
      • 5th candle: Sat., Dec. 20th
      • 6th candle: Sun., Dec. 21st
  5. Month of Tevet (Sun., Dec. 21st)
      • 7th candle: Mon., Dec. 22nd (Tevet 1)
      • 8th candle: Teus., Dec. 23rd [Zot Chanukah]
      • Christmas: Thur. Dec. 25th (Tevet 3)
      • Secular New Year (Tevet 10; Thur. Jan. 1st)
      • Tenth of Tevet - Fast over seige of Jerusalem (Tevet 10; Thur. Jan. 1)
         


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January 2015 Site Updates
 



The Meaning of Passover...


 

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

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

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

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

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

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




Facing our Pharaohs...


 

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

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




Pride and Destruction...


 

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

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

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




A Blessed Hunger...


 

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

כִּי כה אָמַר יְהוָה לְבֵית יִשְׂרָאֵל
דִּרְשׁוּנִי וִחְיוּ

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

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



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El Gibbor: The Mighty God...


 

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

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




A Holy Suspense...


 

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

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




Da Lifnei Mi Attah Omed...


 

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

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

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

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

 




Truth and Inner Healing...


 

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

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

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָד

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

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



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Naming and Reality...


 

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

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

304,805 letters in Torah
 

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

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




The Great Lamb of God...


 

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

רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 




The Limping Messiah...


 

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

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

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




The Purging Process...


 

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

טוֹב־לִי כִי־עֻנֵּיתִי לְמַעַן אֶלְמַד חֻקֶּיך

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

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


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




New Beginnings...


 

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

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

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




The Torah of Passover...


 

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

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

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




Retelling the Story...


 

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

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

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




Exodus and Tradition...


 

01.18.15 (Tevet 27, 5775)  How important is tradition in our lives? So important that we could not understand even the first word of the Scriptures without it ... There is a story that illustrates this point. A pagan came to Hillel seeking to convert but was troubled with the idea of tradition, though he accepted the idea of the written Scriptures. Since the man did not know how to read Hebrew, however, Hillel began pointing to the letters in the written Torah to teach him the alphabet: "This is Aleph... this is Bet... this is Gimmel," and so on, until the man began to understand the letters of the Aleph-Bet. "Now come tomorrow, and I will teach you more." The next day, Hillel pointed to the exact same letters but reversed their names, "This is Gimmel... this is Aleph... this is Bet," and so on. The convert was confused: "But yesterday you said just the opposite!" Hillel replied, "Now you have had your first lesson. You see that the written word alone is insufficient, and we need the tradition to explain God's Word." Another way to make this point is to say that the Torah was not revealed along with a dictionary that defines the meaning of its words....

All this is said to remind us that the transmission of Torah "from generation to generation" demands that we trust. Indeed the very concept of "Torah" (or Scripture) is bound up with trust and community... This is true of the written word (i.e., trusting in scribal traditions that preserved the Scriptures for us), as well as the oral word (i.e., the customs, interpretations, translations, and wisdom that explain the meaning of the words themselves). Knowledge has been defined as "justified true belief," which implies that there can never be knowledge without trust. It is ludicrous to think that we can translate or comprehend the Scriptures in a vacuum - without any help from others... We must humble ourselves and become "like little children" to learn from those who have gone before us, and this is why the Jewish value of Talmud Torah - teaching children the words and values of Torah - is regarded as so important. As the Talmud puts it, "The world exists because of the breath of the schoolchildren who study Torah" (Shabbat 119b).

In Hebrew the word chinukh (חִנּוּךְ) means "education," a word that shares the same root as "chanukah" (חֲנֻכָּה, "dedication"). Unlike the Greek ideal that regards education as some sort of Platonic "enlightenment" (i.e., being "led out" of the cave of ignorance), the Jewish ideal implies dedication to God and His concrete purposes on the earth.  This ideal goes beyond the process of merely transmitting factual information, since dedication must be modeled (lived) as well as intellectually taught. Maimonides noted that the Hebrew word chinukh comes from the Torah's description of dedicating a tool for use at the Holy Altar, "habituating the tool for its work." In other words, godly education is a process of modeling how to be made into a "fit vessel" for the service of God in this world. All other ends of knowledge ultimately exist for this purpose, and rightly understood, then, education may be regarded as a form of worship.

Disciples of Yeshua are called talmidim (תַּלְמִידִים) - a word that comes from lamad (לָמַד) meaning "to learn" (the Hebrew word for teacher is melamad (מְלַמֵּד) from the same root). Education is therefore foundational to being a disciple of the Messiah, and the great commission is for each of us to share His teaching with others (Matt. 28:19-20). May God help each of us to be students who are dedicated to living for the sake of Yeshua's Name.
 




The Exodus Parable...


 

01.18.15 (Tevet 27, 5775)  The great exodus from Egypt (יציאת מצרים) is the central parable of the Torah. The bondage of the Israelites to Pharaoh represents humanity's slavery to sin; God's deliverance from bondage is effected by trusting in the blood of the sacrificial lamb of God; the passage from death to life symbolically comes through baptism into the Sea of Reeds; the journey to truth represents the pilgrimage to Sinai, and so on. Indeed, the redemption in Egypt led directly to revelation given at Sinai, and when the LORD God gave the Ten Commandments, he did not begin by saying he was our Creator, but rather our Redeemer: "I am the LORD your God (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ), who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). This is because the purpose of the creation itself is to demonstrate God's redemptive love and to be known as our Savior and Redeemer, just as Yeshua is the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9). "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). Creation therefore begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Mashiach, the great Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) and our Savior (מוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ)... He is the Center of Creation - the Aleph and Tav - the Beginning and the End (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:17). All the world was created for the Messiah: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).

Note: For more on this, see the article, "Love Story Exodus."
 




Parashat Bo - בא


 

01.18.15 (Tevet 27, 5775)  Our Torah reading for this week begins with God commanding Moses "to go" (i.e., bo: בּא) before Pharaoh to announce further apocalyptic judgments upon Egypt. The purpose of this power encounter was to vindicate God's justice and glory (deliverance/salvation) by overthrowing the tyranny of unjust human oppression. Pharaoh's nightmare of "one little lamb" outweighing all the firstborn of Egypt was about to be fulfilled.

Recall that last week's Torah (Va'era) reported how Pharaoh defiantly refused to listen to Moses' pleas for Israel's freedom, despite seven devastating plagues that came upon Egypt in God's Name (יהוה). In this week's portion (Bo), the battle between the LORD and Pharaoh comes to a dramatic conclusion. The last three of the ten plagues are unleashed upon Egypt: a swarm of locusts devoured all the crops and greenery; a palpable darkness enveloped the land for three days and nights; and all the firstborn of Egypt were killed precisely at the stroke of midnight of the 15th of the month of Nisan... In this connection note that the word בּא ("go") and פרעה ("Pharoah") added together equal the gematria of משׁיח ("mashiach"), providing a hint of the Messianic redemption that was foreshadowed in Egypt. Every jot and tittle, chaverim!

Before the final plague, God instructed the Jewish people to establish a new calendar based on the sighting of the new moon of spring. On the tenth day of that month, God told the people to acquire a "Passover offering" to Him, namely an unblemished lamb (or goat), one for each household. On the 14th of that month ("between the evenings") the animal would be slaughtered and its blood sprinkled on the doorposts and lintel of every Israelite home, so that God would "pass over" these dwellings when He came to kill the Egyptian firstborn that night. The roasted meat of the offering was to be eaten that night with unleavened bread (matzah) and bitter herbs (maror). God then commanded the Israelites to observe a seven-day "festival of matzah" to commemorate the Exodus for all subsequent generations.

Because of this, our corporate identity begins with a shared consciousness of time from a Divine perspective. The mo'edim (festivals of the LORD) all are reckoned based on the sacred calendar given to the redeemed Israelite nation. As it is also written in the Book of Psalms: "He made the moon for the appointed times" / עָשָׂה יָרֵחַ לְמוֹעֲדִים (Psalm 104:19). Undoubtedly Yeshua followed this calendar, as did His first followers (Gal. 4:4).

Just before the dreadful final plague befell, God instructed the Israelites to ask their Egyptian neighbors for gold, silver and jewelry, thereby plundering Egypt of its wealth (this was regarded as "uncollected wages" for hundreds of years of forced labor and bondage - not to mention for the services of Joseph, whose ingenuity brought the world's wealth to Egypt in the first place). Moses then instructed the people to prepare the Passover sacrifice, that is, the korban Pesach (קָרְבָּן פֶּסַה) - the Passover lamb - and to smear its blood on the two sides and top of the doorway, resembling the shape of the Hebrew letter Chet (ח). This Hebrew letter, signifying the number eight, is connected with the word חי (chai), short for chayim (חַיִּים), "life." The blood of the lamb (דַּם הַשֶּׂה) not only saves from the judgment of death, but also is a symbol of divine life given for our redemption. The "life is in the blood."


 

The dreadful final plague - the death of the firstborn - at last broke Pharaoh's resistance and he not only allowed the Israelites to depart without any conditions, he urged them to go. Because they left in great haste there was no time for their dough to rise. The Torah states that there were 600,000 adult men who left Egypt, along with the women, children, and a "mixed multitude" of other Egyptian slaves who tagged along.

The Israelites were commanded to consecrate all the firstborn to God and to commemorate the anniversary of the Exodus each year by celebrating the LORD's Passover in conjunction with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. During this time they were to remove all leaven from their homes for seven days, eat matzah, and retell the story of their redemption to their children. The portion ends with the commandment to wear tefillin (phylacteries) on the arm and head as a reminder of how the LORD saved the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt.
 

 




The Month of Shevat...


 

01.18.15 (Tevet 27, 5775)  Whenever I can, I try to catch a glimpse of the moon, since it serves as the timepiece of the Jewish calendar (counting from the month of Nisan). This Tuesday, January 20th, marks Rosh Chodesh Shevat (חדש שבט), that is, the eleventh month of the calendar (counting from the month of Nisan).  Shevat is important because Moses began his summary of the Torah (i.e., Mishneh Torah, or the sermon recorded in Book of Deuteronomy) on the first day of this month (Deut. 1:1,3). Because of this, the sages have long associated the Rosh Chodesh Shevat with the holiday of Shavuot (i.e., the sixth of Sivan), since on both these dates God appealed to Israel to receive the message of the Torah. The month of Shevat is also important because the "Rosh Hashanah for Trees" occurs on the 15th of the month (i.e., Tu B'Shevat).

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

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

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

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



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Exodus and Freedom...


 

01.17.15 (Tevet 26, 5775)  God's redemption is both "out of" and "into." The LORD takes us out of hell, bondage, and death into heaven, liberty, and eternal life. But note that he takes us out only to bring us back in; he redeems us to bring us to Sinai; he writes Torah upon our hearts; he makes us "in but not of" the world (John 17:15-16). Every Passover we retell the story of our redemption. We remember how we bitterly cried because of our bondage and how God graciously delivered us by the blood of the lamb. We rejoice that we are called am segulah - God's own treasured people. Because of God's love demonstrated at the cross, we are transferred (μεθίστημι) from the realm of darkness into the kingdom of the Divine Presence (Col. 1:13). Today may we live as salt and light to a perverse world, sharing the message of God's great liberation from the power of sin, death, and evil...



 




The Meaning of Holiness...


 

01.16.15 (Tevet 25, 5775)  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.

It needs to be remembered that the essence of sin is found in 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. It is a type of chosen hopelessness. 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. With God's help, let us be bold to take our place at the banqueting table, friends. Shabbat Shalom!
 




I am my Beloved's...


 

01.16.15 (Tevet 25, 5775)  The Pharaoh embodies the principle of the selfish ego, and therefore each of us has a "little Pharaoh" inside seeking to control the world. Martin Buber comments: "In the Scriptures we read, 'I stood between the LORD and you' (Deut. 5:5). The 'I' stands between God and us. When a man says 'I am' [as if he were sufficient unto himself] he shuts himself off from Him. But there is no dividing wall before the one who sacrifices his 'I,' for of him it is said, 'I am my beloved's and his desire is for me' (Song 7:10). When 'I' belongs to the Beloved, then His desire is for me" (Collected Sayings).
 

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְעָלַי תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ

ani · le'do·di · ve·a·lai · te·shu·ka·to
 

"I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me."
(Song 7:10)


 




First things First...


 

01.16.15 (Tevet 25, 5775)  Why did the Eternal One create a solitary man upon the earth, and not a group of people? To teach that each of us is esteemed by our Creator as as "olam malei" (עוֹלָם מָלֵא), an entire world, just as every hair on your head is indeed numbered (Luke 12:7). In other words, we must first find our identity and presence in relationship with God before we can truly relate to others in the world (Matt. 6:33).

And this explains why God Himself must take our place for the alienation we have caused by our sin. The cross is God's means of "turning back" to the sinner. Only God can save us because God created us b'tzelem Elohim, to be like Him, with the significance of "an entire world."  The Love of God doesn't deny pain, brokenness, or evil but finds its remedy...
 




Spiritual Cardiopathy...


 

01.16.15 (Tevet 25, 5775)  One symptom of "sklerocardia," that is, the condition of having a "hard heart," is unwillingness to be grateful for the gift of life and its various blessings. Such inner hardness desensitizes the soul, making us feel numb inside... People today tend to be thankless, intolerant, self-willed, and so "full of themselves" that they suppose they are doing God a big favor just by being alive. They proudly assume they are always right, and therefore they convince themselves that life "owes" them something. Such thinking resembles the arrogant character of Pharaoh, who took for granted all that he had as if it somehow was his "by right." In Hebrew, gratitude is called hakarat tovah (הַכָּרַת טוֹבָה), or the "recognition of the good." It is an openhearted attitude that appreciates each moment of life as a gift to be valued. Hardness of heart can make us "forget" to see, understand, hear, and remember the truth of God in our lives (Mark 8:17-19). When we are filled with anxiety or fear, for example, we are forgetting the truth and risk hardening our hearts.

Of course it is often a struggle to be a "joyful sojourner" in this dark and tragic world, and the temptation is to make ourselves numb inside. We must first of all be honest with ourselves. If we wrestle with our own hardness of heart, we must be careful to refuse despair, since despair hardens the heart even further... Instead, we must consciously recall that the LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Psalm 103:8; 116:3-5). Keep faith that God alone can (and will) change our hearts to more resemble the inner life and character of Yeshua. Let's keep trusting for that and ask God to do this miracle for each of us, for the sake of the glory of His Name.
 




What Pharaoh can teach us...



 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Parashat Va'era) and the theme of freedom. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.16.15 (Tevet 25, 5775)  Though he sometimes appeared to change his mind in light of the intervention of God, Pharaoh nevertheless reverted to his older thinking after the danger seemed to pass.  Such is the way of the wicked: their remorse over evil is short-lived, and as soon as their difficulty eases, they revert once again to their perverse ways. Therefore the Torah states that after each of the first five plagues, Pharaoh hardened (lit., "strengthened") his heart. It was only after five successive opportunities to face reality, to give up his claim to be god, to turn to the LORD in humility, however, that God ratified Pharaoh's will by "helping him" become the person he decided to be. Therefore after the sixth plague the Torah states, "And the LORD strengthened Pharaoh's heart" (Exod. 9:12). As C.S. Lewis once said, ultimately 'there are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, Thy will be done."

Pharaoh teaches us that God will never force a sinner to turn away from their sin, but if they willfully continue to sin, they may become unable to turn, trapped in a very difficult place.... The Shemot Rabbah states: "The Holy One, blessed be He, gives someone a chance to repent, and not only one opportunity but several chances: once, twice, three times. But then, if the person still has not repented, God locks the person's heart altogether, cutting off the possibility of repentance in the future." There is a very real risk that those who choose to be at war with God, who flatly refuse repeated appeals to turn to the LORD, will become progressively "strengthened" in their resolution to defy reality...
 




The Name El Shaddai...


 

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

01.16.15 (Tevet 25, 5775)  "I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as El Shaddai..." (Exod. 6:3). The name El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדָּי) is often translated "God Almighty," probably because the translators of the Septuagint (i.e., the Greek translation of the Old Testament) thought shaddai came from a root verb (shadad) that meant "to overpower" or "to destroy." The Latin Vulgate likewise translated Shaddai as "Omnipotens" (from which we get our English word omnipotent). In other words, God is so overpowering that He is considered "Almighty." It is more likely, however, that the name Shaddai is connected to shadayim (שָׁדַיִם) the Hebrew word for "breasts," indicating sufficiency and nourishment (i.e., the breasts of a mother who shows rachamim, compassion). And indeed, a survey of the name in Scripture connects it with the fertility and growth of the original families of Israel.

Note: The puzzling statement that God "did not make His Name YHVH (יהוה) known" to the original patriarchs (i.e., Exod. 6:3) is discussed here.  For more on the Hebrew name El Shaddai, see the article, "God as El Shaddai."
 




The Power of Truth...


 

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

01.16.15 (Tevet 25, 5775)  In this week's Torah reading (Va'era), the LORD sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh with the timeless message: shelach et ami (שׁלַּח אֶת־עַמִּי), "let my people go!" Because of Pharaoh's hardness of heart, however, God began the sequence of plagues that would demonstrate his sovereignty over all the powers and so-called "gods" of Egypt (Exod. 12:12). The ten plagues (i.e, eser ha'makot: עֶשֶׂר הַמָּכּוֹת) were given not just to vanquish the pride of Pharaoh, however, but to awaken the people of Israel. After hundreds of years of slavery, the people had forgotten who they really were and had passively accepted that all real power was vested in humans. Among other things, God's intervention was meant to deliver the people from the fallacy of ascribing greatness to worldly powers. Ultimately the people of Israel - and indeed the entire world - would come to understand ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו), "there is no power apart from Him" (Deut. 4:35).
 




The Fruit of the Spirit...


 

01.16.15 (Tevet 25, 5775)  Regarding the "new heart" that informs the follower of Yeshua, the Apostle Paul wrote, "the fruit of the Spirit (פְּרִי הָרוּחַ) is love, joy, peace; long-suffering, generosity, acts of kindness; faithfulness, humility, and modesty - against such there is no law" (Gal. 5:22-23). Notice that while there is "one fruit" of the Spirit (i.e., "fruit" [καρπὸς] is singular), God produces a manifold yield, just as the one Tree of Life (עֵץ הַחַיִּים) produces twelve different kinds of fruit, one for each month of the Jewish year (see Rev. 22:1-2). We are told, however, that spiritual fruit does not immediately crop up but requires time and its own "season" (Psalm 1:3). Moreover the process of spiritual growth is mysterious and divine: "The Kingdom of God is like someone who spreads seed on the ground. He goes to sleep and gets up, night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. By itself (αὐτομάτη, "automatically") the soil produces a crop, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. And when the grain is ripe, he comes in with his sickle because the harvest has come" (Mark 4:26-29).

In the list of the fruit of the Spirit, it is important to see what is not listed.... What is not listed are "signs," "wonders," or the trappings of worldly success or power. Though spiritual impostors may simulate the exercise of spiritual gifts, they can never "fake" the real fruit of the Holy Spirit.... Yeshua did not say that you shall know them by their flash, but "you shall know them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:16-20). It is the fruit of the Spirit of God - not the fruit of your best efforts, your devotion, your desire. We "follow" Yeshua by accepting his vision, hope, and love... By faith we receive his heart and spirit as our own, and identify with his mission to bring healing to the world. For more see "The Fruit of the Spirit."
 




Pride's Hard Lessons...

blackbird in branches - photo by j parsons
 

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

01.15.15 (Tevet 24, 5775)  The tragic story of Pharaoh reminds us how pride can blind the heart. As Abraham Heschel said, "In a controversy, the instant we feel anger, we have already ceased striving for truth and have begun striving for ourselves." The truth needs no defense. If we find ourselves getting defensive or hostile, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves what we really believe... If we seek to use truth as a weapon, or as a means to rationalize our self-will, then we are not "in the truth," even if our facts in the matter may be correct. We must be careful not to find ourselves using the truth for our own agenda. Yeshua's words haunt the heart: "Without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

Kierkegaard notes: "The proud person always wants to do the right thing, the great thing. But because he wants to do it in his own strength, he is fighting not with man, but with God." Indeed, how many people seek visions, dreams, and private prophecies while they forsake the Spirit as it broods over the hearts of those around him or her?  How many seek to "know God" as a matter of the pride of heart?
 

לִפְנֵי־שֶׁבֶר גָּאוֹן
וְלִפְנֵי כִשָּׁלוֹן גּבַהּ רוּחַ

lif·nei · she·ver · ga'on
ve·lif·nei · khi·sha·lon · go·vah · ru·ach
 

"Before destruction there is pride;
and before stumbling there is a haughty spirit."
(Prov. 16:18)



Hebrew Study Card
 

The Koretzer Rebbe was asked for instruction how to avoid sin. He replied, "Were you able to avoid offences, I fear you would fall into a still greater sin - that of pride" (Hasidic). The antidote to pride is the "fall of the soul," that is, those besetting sins and painful failures that (hopefully) bring us back to reality - namely, to the place of brokenness and our need for divine intervention... When we get "sick of our sickness" we enter into holy despair, and then the cry of the heart for lasting deliverance can be truly offered.
 




Arms Opened Wide...


 

01.14.15 (Tevet 23, 5775)  "Not being welcome is your greatest fear. It connects with your birth fear, your fear of not being welcome in this life, and your death fear, your fear of not being welcome in the life after this. It is the deep-seated fear that it would have been better if you had not lived" (Nouwen). The central message of the cross of Messiah is that God regards you as personally worth dying for, and indeed, that your life is worth the exchange of His own... You are treasured; you are loved. This is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3-5). The Word of Life is - above all else - an invitation, a cry of welcome, that sings out to you in your loneliness and shame. The core of the battle is here - whether you will decide to trust in God's love or shrink back into the places of darkness, isolation, and pain. Yeshua says, "Come to me; I love you, I accept you; I receive you; please, be welcome with me; I will take your hand, I will be with you..."


Personal Note: I've been pretty sick the last week or so, and earnestly appreciate your prayers for my healing. And why do we need to ask others for such help except that the Lord wants us to pray for one another and to care for one another? An axiom of prayer is that asking for the need of someone else of which you also have need will return the prayer of blessing to your own good. Give and it shall be given unto you... Shalom chaverim.
 




The Madness of Pharaoh...


 

01.13.15 (Tevet 22, 5775)  In parashat Va'era, Moses confronts Pharaoh and repeatedly demands that the Israelites be set free to serve the LORD. Over and over Pharaoh refuses, with the Torah commenting "vayechezak lev" (וַיֶּחֱזַק לֵב), that he "hardened his heart." Note, however, that this phrase contains the word chazak (חָזָק), "strong," which indicates that Pharaoh "strengthened" his heart, or steeled his resolve not to question his convictions -- a decision that led him to increasingly deny reality. We can learn from Pharaoh here. Sometimes our habitual decisions and self-assured opinions can blind us to what is really happening, and the momentum of such repeated decisions can begin to enslave our thinking. After each of the first five plagues, Pharaoh "hardened his heart," but thereafter the Torah states that the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh (וַיְחַזֵּק יְהוָה אֶת־לֵב פַּרְעה). In other words, God "gave him up" by ratifying his arrogant decisions, and Pharaoh then lost control of his own fate. In the end he destroyed himself because he was unwilling to humble himself by honestly questioning the assumptions he used to justify his life...
 




The Spirit of Hope...


 

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

01.13.15 (Tevet 22, 5775)  When Moses proclaimed the good news of God's forthcoming redemption for Israel, the Torah states that the people could not listen because they were "short of breath" (Exod. 6:9). Interestingly, this phrase (i.e., mi'kotzer ru'ach: מִקּצֶר רוּחַ) can also mean "lacking in spirit," as if in a paralyzed state of hopelessness. But how did the people become so downhearted?  Had they forgotten the promise given to Abraham (Gen. 15:12-14)? Had they disregarded Joseph's final words (Gen. 50:24-25)?

According to some of the sages, part of the reason for their "shortness of breath" (besides the cruel bondage and hard labor imposed on them) was that the Israelites miscalculated the duration of their 400 year exile, and therefore they began to lose hope. When members of the tribe of Ephraim tried to escape from Egypt some 30 years before the time of the redemption, they were all killed by the Philistines, and many of the Israelites began to believe that they would remain as perpetual slaves (Shemot Rabbah, 20:11). They became "short of breath" and could no longer receive the message of the Holy Spirit...

Indeed, life in this evil world can be suffocating at times. And though we may not be under the oppression of a cruel Pharaoh, we are affected by the "princes of this age" who spurn the message of the Messiah's redemption and love, and we are still subjected to bondage imposed by taskmasters who defy the LORD and who seek to enslave us by means of lies, propaganda, and threats of violence... The devil is still at work in the hearts and minds of many of his "little Pharaohs" that govern the world system... The Scriptures make it clear that we are engaged in genuine spiritual warfare: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12).

It is evident that one of the central purposes of God's redemption is to bestow freedom and dignity upon his people. As the story of Pharaoh reveals, God does not take kindly to oppressors, dictators, and other megalomaniacal world leaders who deny the truth and who therefore seek to enslave (or kill) human beings created in His image and likeness. Just as God judged Egypt for its oppression and violence, so He will one day break the "rulers of this world" with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel (Psalm 2:9-10).

To help us "catch our breath" during this time of waiting, it is important to remember that the LORD redeems us so that we may become His children and therefore be clothed with everlasting dignity... Our redemption makes us heirs of the Kingdom of God and citizens of heaven. We must never regard ourselves as slaves - not to the State, not to the bankers, not to fear, and not to religion (Gal. 5:1). God gave up His Son for us so that we could be made free to live with honor as his dearly loved children.... All the threats of the world system - economic, political, religious, social, etc. - are ultimately made empty and vain by the glorious redemption promised to us in Yeshua our Savior.

There is an 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 humiliate 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...

The Scriptures declare that "we are saved by hope" (ελπιδι εσωθημεν), that is, we are saved through an earnest expectation of good to come on account of the promises of the LORD God of Israel. The LORD is called "The God of Hope" (אֱלהֵי הַתִּקְוָה), indicating that He is its Author and its End (Rom. 15:13). God both gives birth to our hope (tikvah) and is the satisfaction of our heart's deepest longings. For those with God-given hope, gam zu l'tovah – all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28).

Many of us can quote that we are "saved by grace through faith" (Eph. 2:8), yet we are also clearly told that we are saved by hope (Rom. 8:24). In light of God's promises, hope is the one "work" that we are called to vigorously perform: "What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?" Yeshua answered, "This is the work of God, that you trust (i.e. hope) in the one whom He sent" (John 6:28-29).

Don't let the world system destroy or impugn your hope, chaverim... If the devil can't seduce you with illusory hope or counterfeit joy, he will attempt to oppress you with fear and doubt. Fight the good fight of faith and refuse to succumb to despair. Run the race before you with endurance (Heb. 12:1). Look up, for the time of your deliverance draws near... God redeems us for the sake of His love and honor... It is the "breath of God" that gives us life and courage to face this dark and perverse world (John 20:22). May you be filled with the hope and strength that comes from the Holy Spirit.
 

אֵלֶיךָ יְהוָה נַפְשִׁי אֶשָּׂא אֱלהַי בְּךָ בָטַחְתִּי
אַל־אֵבוֹשָׁה אַל־יַעַלְצוּ איְבַי לִי

ley·kha  A·do·nai  naf·shi  es·sa,  E·lo·hai  be·kha  va·tach·ti,
al–e·vo·shah,  al–ya·al·tzu  oy·vai  li
 

"Unto thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in thee:
let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me."
(Psalm 25:1-2)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)
 
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The Purpose of Freedom...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Parashat Va'era) and the theme of freedom. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.13.15 (Tevet 22, 5775)  Freedom apart from purpose is a delusion. Slavery is horribly evil because it restricts the good use of our power - it negates who we are, denies our means for living, and thereby disfigures the image of God Himself. Freedom, however, is a means to an end, namely, the right use of power to serve God as His children. God saves us from bondage so that we can demonstrate His power and glory, not so that we might cast off restraint... Real freedom means the power to choose the good, not to do whatever lust desires or dictates. Freedom implies accountability as its necessary condition, because without responsibility, we are still enslaved to our lower nature. "I have on my table a violin string. It is free to move in any direction I like. If I twist one end, it responds; it is free. But it is not free to sing. So I take it, and fix it into my violin. I bind it, and when it is bound, it is free for the first time to sing." (Rabindranath Tagore)

The story of the exodus from Egypt is the story about the struggle for human dignity and freedom. God abhors slavery and oppression, and indeed the First Commandment reminds us that the LORD delivered us from the "house of bondage" (Exod. 20:2). Indeed the gospel is about the greater exodus (ἔξοδος) of God's people given through Yeshua (Luke 9:30-31). God's message to the Pharaoh of old is also for all the world's dictators and their henchmen: "Thus says the Eternal One, the God of the Hebrews: 'Let my people go that they may serve Me' (Exod. 7:16). The Kings of the earth may "set themselves" in defiance of the LORD, but in the end will come a rod of iron that will surely dash their rule to pieces (Dan. 2:31-35).

In our Torah portion this week we read: "I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brings you out..." (Exod. 6:7). God takes us to Himself so that we may know Him as our personal deliverer... This is the ultimate goal of redemption - to be known and loved by God. Freedom from bondage is important because it lets us cleave to the LORD as our God...
 




Slavery and Passivity...


 

01.12.15 (Tevet 21, 5775)  From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Va'era) we read, "I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians" (Exod. 6:6). The sages say the Hebrew word for "burdens" (סִבְלת) used in this verse can also be read as passivity (סְבִילוּת): "I will deliver you from passivity toward your slavery...."  So long as the people regarded their enslavement as tolerable, they could excuse it, rationalize it, and even defend it. Therefore God allowed  tribulation to progressively increase so that the people would understand their great need. Likewise we cannot even begin to understand our need for deliverance as long as we are comfortable, numb, and dead inside... Indeed the very worst kind of slavery is to be unaware that you are, indeed, in bondage. The first step toward moral freedom, then, is to be set free from our denial, to wake up, to resist evil, and to find faith that God desires something better for our lives.
 




Deliverance from Ourselves...


 

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

01.12.15 (Tevet 21, 5775)  From our Torah portion for this week (Va'era) we read, "Pharaoh's heart was hardened (וַיֶּחֱזַק) so he would not listen..." (Exod. 8:19). The worst kind of bondage is when you are oppressed by yourself - when you are so enslaved by your inner urges that you are no longer able to think outside of your desire or to choose to do otherwise... It might be greed, the desire for pleasure, fear, anger, or the "need" to be right (i.e., pride), but whatever controls you is ultimately your taskmaster.  Ironically, Pharaoh's will to enslave the Israelites made him into a slave...

Self-deception can entice us to deny the consequences of our passions or to rationalize them by pretending we are victims. Because of this, we may become further enslaved to our own sense of self-importance, and we become ensnared within the prison house of the all-demanding ego. We can only be delivered from the "tyranny of ourselves" by God's power, as Yeshua said: "you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). This is the truth of God's power of deliverance given in Yeshua our Lord (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18). The truth sets you free not merely in some intellectual sense (i.e., being made free from error), but in a volitional sense, in the core of your being, when your will is no longer enslaved to the power and inner darkness of sin... May God help us be free!
 




Knowing the Name...


 

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

01.12.15 (Tevet 21, 5775)  When God said to Moses: "I appeared (וָאֵרָא) to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדָּי), but by my name the LORD (יהוה) I did not make myself known to them" (Exod. 6:3), he was stating that the patriarchs had not directly experienced His mastery over creation through the signs and wonders He would perform as Israel's Redeemer. The patriarchs understood God as El Shaddai, the all-sufficient One who nurtured the fledgling nation and who foretold Israel's future, but Moses (and the Israelites) would now understand God's attributes of covenantal faithfulness (chesed) as the "Promise Keeper" by directly witnessing his revelation and great saving acts. The great Torah commentator Rashi states that the Name YHVH implies that there is no power that can prevent God from keeping His word and fulfilling His promise of redemption. God is the Lord of lords and King of kings, and therefore His word can never fail (Deut. 10:17; Dan. 2:47). Ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו): "there is no power apart from Him" (Deut. 4:35,9).

The name "ehyeh asher ehyeh" (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה) means "I shall be as I shall be," that is, "I shall be with those who desire that I shall be with them. I reveal myself to those who seek for me, and as I am sought, so I will be found. According to your faith be it done unto you: Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled..."

For more on this subject, see the article: Yeshua and YHVH.
 




Parashat Va'era - וארא


 

01.11.15 (Tevet 20, 5775)  Last week's Torah portion (Shemot) told how Moses and Aaron were commissioned to go before Pharaoh and deliver the LORD's message: "Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness." Not only did Pharaoh reject the request, but he imposed even harsher decrees against the Israelites and caused them to suffer miserably. Moses then appealed to the LORD, who reassured him that Pharaoh would eventually relent because of "the greater might" of God's power to deliver His people.

In this week's portion (Va'era), the LORD told Moses that He was going to fulfill His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by giving the Israelites the land of Canaan, and that he had heard the "groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians held as slaves" (Exod. 6:5). God therefore instructed Moses to say to the people, "I am the LORD and I will bring you out (וְהוֹצֵאתִי) from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you (וְהִצַּלְתִּי) from their bondage, and I will redeem you (וְגָאַלְתִּי) with an outstretched arm and with great judgment; and I will take you (וְלָקַחְתִּי) to me for a people and I will be to you a God" (these are the "four expressions of redemption" we recite during the Passover Seder every year).

Despite these great promises, however, the people were unable to listen because of their "shortness of breath" (מִקּצֶר רוּחַ) on account of their harsh slavery. The LORD then instructed Moses: "Go in, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the people of Israel go out of his land" -- and the great showdown between the LORD and the gods of Egypt began...

Note: Please see the Summary Page for parashat Va'era for more information. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for this Torah portion here: 
 

 




From the Midst of the Thorns...


 

01.09.15 (Tevet 18, 5775)  Why did the LORD, the Holy One, reveal Himself to Moses out of the midst of a lowly thorn bush, and not some grand tree? God lowered himself to speak from within the bush, as it is written: "For though the LORD be high, he regards the lowly" (Psalm 138:6); and "I will be with him in trouble" (Psalm 91:15). The midrash imagines God saying to Moses: "Don't you feel that I suffer anguish whenever Israel does? Know, therefore, from the character of the place from which I speak, out of the thorn bush, that I, as it were share their suffering" (Shemot Rabbah 2:7). God speaks to us from the place of thorns – even those about his own head – words of great comfort and deliverance. From the midst of the fire (בְּלַבַּת־אֵשׁ מִתּוֹךְ הַסְּנֶה), within the lowliest of places, covered in the thorns of our sin and shame, Yeshua speaks words of healing love. Bless his name forever!
 




Cast your care upon him...


 

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

01.09.15 (Tevet 18, 5775)  "And when she (Yocheved) could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of reeds and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank" (Exod. 2:3). The sages note that what distinguishes this makeshift "ark" (תֵּבָה) from a boat is the absence of a sail or rudder: There is no way to control its direction or outcome... Like Noah's ark, it is a vehicle completely surrendered to God's care. Likewise we must cast ourselves upon the waters of God's mercy and trust that he will guide our way (1 Pet. 5:7).
 




Visions of Hope...


 

01.09.15 (Tevet 18, 5775)  It has been said that there is never any reason for despair, since hopelessness literally does not exist. Hopelessness is the state of being without hope, but hope is itself grounded in ultimate reality. You may feel hopeless at times, but this feeling is not grounded in ultimate reality, since God works all things together for our good, and Yeshua our Lord has overcome all that would keep us back from receiving true love.... Before the Presence of God there is glorious light, unspeakable beauty, the triumph of love, and unending fullness of joy. When we are tempted to despair over our lives, may the LORD help us remember and return to what is real. Shabbat Shalom to you, friends...
 




Man of Sorrows...


 

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

01.09.15 (Tevet 18, 5775)  The LORD said, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry... I know their sorrows" (Exod. 3:7). The grammar here is intense: "seeing I have seen" (רָאה רָאִיתִי). Understand, then, that God surely sees your struggles, friend.  Second, know that God heeds the outcry (צְעָקָה) of your heart, and indeed, he interprets your groaning as if it were for the sake of serving him. Your heart's cry is transformed by grace to be the cry for God himself, for relationship with Him. "The cry of the people has come to me," he told Moses (Exod 3:9), which means all the sufferings, the wrongs, the hopes, the fears, the groans, the despair, the prayers, were present before him, as if he counted every word and sigh. Third, realize that God knows your sorrows; he gathers all your tears into his bottle (Psalm 56:8). The word translated "sorrows" (מַכְאב) is the same used to describe the "Man of sorrows" (אישׁ מַכְאבוֹת), Yeshua our Suffering Servant, who gave up his life to deliver you from darkness, sorrow, and fear (Isa. 53:3-5)...
 

    "If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe from falling, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown - that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love. Between God and the soul there is ultimately no between." - Julian of Norwich

 




Revelation of Wonder...


 

01.09.15 (Tevet 18, 5775)  "Now Moses led the flock to the far side of the desert. And the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a thorn bush... And God called to him from the midst of the bush (מִתּוֹךְ הַסְּנֶה), "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." Then he said, "... the place on which you are standing is holy ground" (Exod. 3:1-5). Like Moses, every day we walk within the ordinary landscape of our lives until, by a miracle from heaven, we cross over to the "far side of the desert" (אַחַר הַמִּדְבָּר) and where our eyes may perceive the light of the divine fire... At that moment God calls us by name twice – first drawing us apart, and then revealing unseen wonder. The ground before us then becomes holy, and we hear the Voice of the Lord commissioning us to go forth in the light of his Presence, trusting that the awesome vision has revealed what is most real, true, and forever sacred about reality...
 




Providential Impediments...


 

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

01.08.15 (Tevet 17, 5775)  The midrash says Moses had a speech impediment and that is why he described himself as "heavy of mouth and of tongue" (כְּבַד־פֶּה וּכְבַד לָשׁוֹן), unfit to speak on behalf of God (Exod. 4:10). God reassured him, however, by reminding him that his limitation was by divine providence: "Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak" (Exod. 4:11-12). The sages comment that God did not cure Moses of his stuttering because He wanted the Israelites to know Moses as his chosen messenger. When he spoke in the Name of the LORD, the stuttering disappeared and Moses spoke with fluent ease. This was to teach the people not to trust in human oratory or wisdom, but rather in the power of God (see 1 Cor. 2:1-5). Just as the Apostle Paul, the "Moses of the New Covenant," was given a "thorn in the flesh" (σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί) to keep him humbly relying upon God for his sufficiency to serve (2 Cor. 12:7-10), so Moses was rendered entirely dependent upon the LORD to speak as his mediator.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness" (δύναμις ἐν ἀσθενείᾳ τελεῖται). Therefore I will boast most gladly of my weaknesses, that the power of Messiah may tabernacle (ἐπισκηνόω) within me (2 Cor. 12:9).
 




Our Ever-Present Help...


 

01.08.15 (Tevet 17, 5775)  God told Moses that his Name means that He is Present in every moment - past, present, and future. The Name God is "shorthand" for "I AM with you always" (Isa. 41:10; Matt. 28:20). There is no moment, just as there is no place, where God is not "there" for you. He will never leave you nor forsake you (Deut. 31:6; Heb. 13:5). His presence includes times of testing, darkness, and even death itself (Rom. 8:31). The LORD our God does not abandon us, even when He seems hidden, powerless, or apparently unwilling to intervene. Faith trusts that He is always there, especially in moments when we are vulnerable, weak, afraid, and seemingly all alone... Faith receives God as ever-present, the substance of our hope and the dream of our eternal healing and life.
 

אֱלהִים לָנוּ מַחֲסֶה וָעז
 עֶזְרָה בְצָרוֹת נִמְצָא מְאד

E·lo·him · la·nu · ma·cha·seh · va·oz
ez·rah · ve·tza·rot · nim·tza · me·od
 

"God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble."
(Psalm 46:10)


 
Hebrew Study Card

 

Note: The function of a name is to point to or signify reality... When we are in the hardest of moments, we don't worry about the morphology, phonetics, or linguistics of God's Name, but we rather call out and hunger for His Presence, Love, and Light. We are like little kids crying for our father. The Spirit of God speaks words of life to those who need to hear them.
 




Being and Truth...


 

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

01.08.15 (Tevet 17, 5775)  In our Torah portion this week, Moses asked for God's Name, and God then said ehyeh asher ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה), "I AM that I AM" (or "I will be what I will be"), abbreviated simply as ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה), "I AM" (Exod. 3:14). Note that God identifies himself with being itself, since ehyeh is the Qal imperfect form of the verb hayah (הָיָה), meaning "to be." Indeed, the Name YHVH (יהוה) essentially means "Presence," since God is called ha-hoveh, ve'hayah, ve'yavo (הַהוֶה וְהָיָה וְיָבוֹא) - "the One who is, and was, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8). This "threefold Name" of the LORD of Hosts encompasses all possible states of being, indicating that God is LORD over all possible worlds...
 

וַיּאמֶר אֱלהִים אֶל־משֶׁה אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה
וַיּאמֶר כּה תאמַר לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
אֶהְיֶה שְׁלָחַנִי אֲלֵיכֶם

va·yo·mer · E·lo·him · el · Mo·she · eh·yeh · a·sher · eh·yeh
va·yo·mer · koh · to·mar · liv·nei · Yis·ra·el
eh·yeh · she·la·cha·ni · a·le·khem
 

"God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM."
And he said, "Say this to the sons of Israel,
'I AM has sent me to you'" (Exod. 3:14)


 
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Focus and Simplicity...


 

01.08.15 (Tevet 17, 5775)  Some people tend to "overthink" matters and make things more difficult than necessary. For example, someone once asked Nachman of Breslov, a great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, "When I am praying and I mention HaShem's holy name, what profound thoughts, what deep intentions, should I have in mind?" Rabbi Nachman answered, "Isn't the simple meaning - God - enough for you?" Indeed, we must be careful not to lose sight of what is really important. We should serve God with "simplicity" (תֻּמָּה), that is, sincerely, with all our hearts and with straightforward intent. We should use a "single eye" and resist the temptation to "read into things" (Matt. 6:22-23). As it is written in the Torah, "be simple (תָּמִים) with the LORD your God."
 

תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ

ta·mim · ti·he·yeh · im · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha
 

"You shall be wholehearted with the LORD your God"
(Deut. 18:13)
 



 

In the Sefer Torah (i.e., the handwritten Torah scroll), the first letter of the word tamim ("simple, wholehearted") is written extra LARGE in order to emphasize its importance. Notice also the little word im (עִם), "with," that follows in this verse. This hearkens to the simplicity spoken of by the prophet: "What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness (chesed), and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8). Having a humble heart walks "with" the LORD. Genuine humility begins with the awareness that 1) there is a God and 2) you are not Him.... It is the practice of "knowing before whom you stand" and living your life in light of this fundamental truth.

Again, we must exercise caution. We can evade the truth by means of being overly "sophisticated" when we read the Scriptures. The essential truth is plain enough, but we want to split hairs, consult a variety of commentaries, engage in mystical speculations, and so on, all in an attempt to defend ourselves against hearing from the Spirit of God! But as it says in Scriptures: holekh batom yelekh betach, "Whoever walks in simplicity (בַּתּם) walks securely" (Prov. 10:9).

Kierkegaard once lamented: "The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly." There is a very real danger of "thinking about" truth rather than living it. For instance, you might study the Psalms as literature and attempt to understand the nuances of Hebrew poetry, but that is altogether different than reciting the psalms with inner passion, with simple conviction and the earnest desire to unite our heart's cry with the devotion that gave life to the words... We must read with a heart of faith to unlock the truth that speaks to the heart.  If you believe only what you understand, your faith is actually grounded in your own reasoning, not in the Divine Voice of Love...

It is written that "God protects the simple" (Psalm 116:6). "Love believes everything" (1 Cor. 13:7), even if that may make the lover appear to be a fool (Prov. 14:15). Rabbi Nachman comments, "This is because, while you will believe in that which is false and foolish, you will also believe the truth. In this you are better off than the person who is sophisticated and skeptical of everything. He begins by ridiculing foolishness and falsehood, but eventually ends up ridiculing everything – including the truth!" The skeptic ultimately is a coward who is more afraid of being deceived than he is willing to risk living in the truth.
 




Source of our Breath...


 

01.07.15 (Tevet 16, 5775)  Though the meaning of God's Name (YHVH) was initially revealed to Moses as simply ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה), "I AM," or "I WILL BE" (Exod. 3:14), it is wonderful to realize that His Name was also revealed as ehyeh imakh (אהְיֶה עִמָּךְ), "I WILL BE WITH YOU" (Josh. 1:5,9; Isa. 41:10,13; John 10:28; Matt. 28:20, etc.). Just as the LORD is called Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 16:22), so He is the Source of your breath, the One who exhales to you nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" that enables you to live (Job 12:10). Indeed the Name YHVH (יהוה) first appears in the Torah in regarding imparting the breath of life to Adam (Gen. 2:7). Note further that each of the letters of the Name YHVH represent vowel sounds (i.e., breath), suggesting again that God's Spirit is as close as your very next breath. Like the wind that cannot be seen, so is the spirit the essential part of your identity. Yeshua breathed on his followers and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22).
 




Naming the Sacred...


 

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

01.07.15 (Tevet 16, 5775)  In our Torah portion this week (Shemot), Moses encountered God in the form of a Paradox – a bush that burned but was not consumed – and from the midst of this fire a Voice was heard, summoning him to lead his people out of Egypt (Exod. 3:2-4). At first Moses protested the call, offering various excuses why he was unfit for the mission, but when he finally began to relent, he asked: "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God's answer is mysteriously wonderful: "Ehyeh asher ehyeh" (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה). And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'Ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה) has sent me to you'" (Exod 3:13-14). The sages have said that this phrase could mean "I AM who I am," or "I will be who I will be," based on the Hebrew verb hayah (הָיָה), which alludes to the name YHVH (יהוה). However, since the name YHVH is not written with vowels and the transliteration is uncertain, focusing on the phonetics misses the point that God is the Source or Ground of all Being, the Sacred Essence of all that is real – the One who is and was and is to come" (Rev. 1:8). God is "ein sof" (אֵין סוֹף), the Infinite, the Unfathomable, the holy mystery of all. Every predication of existence is bound up in His power (Acts 17:28).

The LORD (YHVH) is ultimately "unrepresentable," and therefore we are forbidden to make idols, icons, "graven images," or "likenesses" that attempt to "finitize" his reality (Exod. 20:4; Lev. 26:1). God is always greater than which you can think or imagine (Isa. 55:8-9; 64:4; 1 Cor. 2:9). Paradoxically, our language and knowledge of God is incapable of adequate correspondence, and therefore we must "see through a glass darkly," relying on analogies, allusions, figurative speech, indirect modes of communication, and so on.

Despite all this – despite our inability to fully express or represent our intuitions, experiences, dreams, and imaginations of the divine – we nevertheless can (and do) "dialog" with God in personal terms, using everyday language of the heart. Moses, for example, talked with God throughout his experience at the burning bush – both before he asks for God's name and after. Indeed, YHVH continues: "Say this to the people of Israel, 'The LORD (יהוה), the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham (אֱלהֵי אַבְרָהָם), the God of Isaac (אלהֵי יִצְחָק), and the God of Jacob (וֵאלהֵי יַעֲקב), has sent me to you.' This is my name forever (זֶה־שְּׁמִי לְעלָם), and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations" (Exod. 3:15). In other words, though God's essence is mysteriously transcendent, and his name is "ineffable," he is immanent within human history and is revealed in the lives of the Hebrew patriarchs, in the history of the Jewish people, and in the ongoing conversation of those who are of genuine faith in Him. Indeed, even in olam haba, the world to come, the LORD God will be known in the face of Yeshua (בִּפְנֵי יֵשׁוּעַ), the anointed King of the Jews, in heavenly Zion, where the names of the tribes of Israel will all be remembered (Rev. 21:12).

Note:  Despite all this "theological talk," we simply trust in the love and kindness of God revealed to us in the face and name of Yeshua, our Lord. We call God our "Abba," our Father, and we look to him to shepherd us every step of our sojourn here on earth...
 




God Knows your Name...


 

01.06.15 (Tevet 15, 5775)  The Book of Exodus begins, ve'eleh shemot (וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת), "and these are the names" (of the sons of Israel). God call each person by name to make the journey... Indeed, God calls each star by its own name (Gen. 22:17, Psalm 147:4) and yet He also knows each lily of the field and sparrow that flutters its wings (Matt. 6:28-30, 10:29). As Yeshua said, even the hairs on your head are all numbered (Matt. 10:30). In Jewish theology, the term hashgachah pratit (הַשְׁגָּחָה פְּרָטִית) refers to God's personal supervision of our lives (hashgachah means "supervision," and pratit means "individual" or "particular"). Since God is the Master of the Universe, His supervision and providence reaches to the smallest of details of creation - from subatomic particles to the great motions of the cosmos. Of particular interest, however, are those whom He created b'tzelem Elohim: in His image and likeness. The God of Israel is called אלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר / Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol-basar: "The God of the spirits of all flesh" (Num. 16:22), and that means that every spirit ultimately answers to Him....
 

אִם־יִסָּתֵר אִישׁ בַּמִּסְתָּרִים וַאֲנִי לא־אֶרְאֶנּוּ נְאֻם־יְהוָה
 הֲלוֹא אֶת־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת־הָאָרֶץ אֲנִי מָלֵא נְאֻם־יְהוָה

im · yis·sa·ter · ish · ba·mis·ta·rim · va·ani · lo · er·en·nu · ne·um · Adonai
ha·lo · et · ha·sha·ma·yim · ve·et · ha·a·retz · a·ni · ma·lei · ne·um · Adonai
 

"Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD.
Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD." (Jer. 23:24)


 

We find great comfort when we understand that God has complete authority over categorically everything in the universe -- including our ultimate welfare (John 10:27-28). When we pray to the LORD God of Israel, we intuitively understand that He is completely sovereign and Lord over all things... All power, glory, authority, and dominion is His alone, and all that is in the heaven and in the earth is His (1 Chron. 29:11-12). We do not worry that He is incapable of handling our troubles or that He is unable to help us. No, we acknowledge that the God most High (אֵל עֶלְיוֹן) sustains all things by the Word of His power (Col. 1:17). He is "the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings (מֶלֶךְ הַמְּלָכִים) and the Lord of lords" (1 Tim. 6:15). Whenever we think clearly in light of the revelation of Scripture, we apprehend the truth about God's sovereign glory and power...
 




The Centrality of Exodus...


 

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

01.05.15 (Tevet 14, 5775)  The Exodus is perhaps the most fundamental event of Jewish history; it is "the" miracle of the Torah. In addition to being celebrated every year during Passover (Exod. 12:24-27; 13:3; Num. 9:2-3; Deut. 16:1), it is explicitly mentioned in the first of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:2; Deut. 5:6), and it is recalled every Sabbath day (Deut. 5:12-15). Both the festivals of Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles) derive from it (the former recalling the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the latter recalling God's care as the Exodus generation journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land), as does the Season of Teshuvah (repentance) that culminates in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Indeed, nearly every commandment of the Torah (including the laws of the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system) may be traced back to the story of the Exodus, and in some ways, the entire Bible is an extended interpretation of its significance. Most important of all, the Exodus both prefigures and exemplifies the work of redemption given through the sacrificial life of Yeshua the Messiah, the true King of the Jews and the blessed Lamb of God.

The deeper meaning of exile concerns awareness of the divine presence. The worst kind of exile is not to know that you are away from home... That is why Egypt (i.e., Mitzraim) is called metzar yam - a "suffering sea."  Egypt represents bondage and death in this world, and the exodus represents salvation and freedom. God splits the sea and we cross over from death to life. Since Torah represents awareness of God's truth, Israel was led into a place of difficulty to learn and receive revelation (Gen. 46:1-7). Out of the depths of darkness God's voice would call his people forth. Likewise we understand our "blessed fault," the trouble that moves us to cry out for God's miracle in Yeshua... 
 




Moses and the Messiah...


 

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

01.05.15 (Tevet 14, 5775)  There are strong parallels between Joseph and Moses. For example, both were "princes of Egypt" that were educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22); both were God's chosen deliverers; both were initially rejected by their own people and then lived among the Gentiles; and both married "foreign" brides. Moreover, after being severely tested, both were empowered by God's Spirit to become divine saviors during the hour of great tribulation... Most importantly, both foreshadowed the coming Messiah of Israel: Joseph was the rejected brother, "despised and rejected of men," cast into the pit, yet raised up by God's power to reign as Israel's savior; Moses was sent from a "mountain of God" to free his people; the chosen man who revealed the meaning of God's Name, mediated the Torah to Israel, and who spoke to God "face to face." Indeed Moses was sent from (physical) Mount Sinai in Midian, though Yeshua was sent from a spiritual "Mount Zion" in Heaven (Heb. 12:22). The great exodus under Moses was a parable of something far greater: The New Testament relates that Moses and Elijah later met with Yeshua to discuss His "departure," literally, "His Exodus" (τὴν ἔξοδον αὐτοῦ) that he would accomplish at Jerusalem to redeem the entire world (Luke 9:30-31).

Note: For a more comprehensive list of the various correspondences between Moses and Yeshua, see the article, "Moses' Prophecy of the Messiah."
 




The Book of Exodus...


 

01.04.15 (Tevet 13, 5775)  Over the next ten weeks (until the third week of March) we will be reading and studying the Book of Exodus and considering its message in light of revelation of Yeshua our Messiah.... There are forty chapters in this book (16,723 words, 63,529 letters) that are traditionally divided into eleven weekly Torah readings.

Some of the greatest narratives of all the Scriptures are found in this book, including the Israelites' enslavement and subsequent deliverance with the ten plagues by the hand of the LORD.  After the very first Passover, Moses led the people out of the land Egypt, crossing the Sea of Reeds, and arriving at Sinai to receive the Torah exactly 49 day later.... While Moses was on the mountain, however, the people worshipped a Golden Calf, and a long period of repentance occurred until the covenant was reestablished. The remainder of the book describes the vision and construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) -- the great Altar upon which a defect-free lamb was offered every day and every night...

In English the word "Exodus" ("going out") comes from the title of the ancient Greek translation of the phrase Sefer Yetziat Mitzraim ("the book of the going out from Egypt"). Hence the Greek word ἔξοδος became "Exodus" in Latin which later was adopted into English. In the Hebrew Bible this book is called Shemot ("names"), following the custom of naming a book according to its first significant word.

Personal Update: A gentle request to remember me, John, in your prayers, my friends... This has been an especially difficult season of my life and I need your prayers for this ministry to continue, and for God's will to be done. Thank you so much.
 




Wounded for Love...

Photo by John J Parsons

 

01.04.15 (Tevet 13, 5775)  "Surely he has taken up our sicknesses and has carried our sorrowful pains; yet we regarded him as stricken, beaten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our perversions; upon him was the correction that brought our peace, and by his blows we are healed" (Isa. 53:4-5). Notice that the Hebrew word translated "blow" (i.e., חַבּוּרָה, "wound" or "stripe") comes from the same root as the word "friend" (חָבֵר), and therefore we can read this as "in His friendship we are healed." Yeshua gave up His life for us so that we could become his friends... As He later told us regarding his sacrifice as the Lamb of God: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). The goal of our atonement is to be in a loving relationship with God.... Indeed of Yeshua it may truly be said, yesh ohev davek me'ach – "there is a friend who sticks (davek) closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24).
 

וְהוּא מְחלָל מִפְּשָׁעֵנוּ מְדֻכָּא מֵעֲוֹנתֵינוּ
מוּסַר שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ עָלָיו וּבַחֲבֻרָתוֹ נִרְפָּא־לָנוּ

ve·hu  me·cho·lal  mi·pe·sha·ei·nu, me·duk·ka  me·a·vo·no·tei·nu
mu·sar she·lo·mei·nu  a·lav,  u·va·cha·vu·ra·to nir·pa-la·nu
 

"But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastening that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed."
(Isa. 53:5)


 
 

Note that the verb mecholal ("was pierced") comes from the root (חָלַל) that means to defile, profane, become unclean, desecrate, and so. Yeshua became our "leper" to save us from our alienation from God's love...
 




Parashat Shemot - שמות


 

01.04.15 (Tevet 13, 5775)  Our Torah reading for this week is the very first of the Book of Exodus, called parashat Shemot (שְׁמוֹת). This portion begins directly where the Book of Genesis left off, namely by listing the "names" (shemot) of the descendants of Jacob who came to Egypt to live in the land of Goshen. Over time Jacob's family flourished and multiplied so greatly that the new king of Egypt – who did not "remember" Joseph - regarded them as a political threat and decided to enslave them. When the king's oppression did not curb their growth, however, he cruelly commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill all newborn Jewish boys. When the midwives refused to obey, however, the Pharaoh commanded that all newborn boys were to be drowned in the Nile river (the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim (מִצְרַיִם), can be rearranged to form the phrase tzar mayim (צַר מַיִם), meaning "torture through water," which was the plan of the nefarious Pharaoh).

During this time of grave oppression, a family from the tribe of Levi bore a son and hid him for three months. When the baby could no longer be concealed, however, his mother Yocheved (יוֹכֶבֶד) set him afloat in the Nile River inside a basket, praying that he might somehow escape death. Miriam (מִרְיָם), the baby's sister, watched what would happen, and soon the basket was discovered by the daughter of Pharaoh, who decided to save the baby and adopt him as her own son. Miriam then cleverly offered to have her mother become the baby's wet-nurse for the princess. After the child was duly weaned, he was brought to Pharaoh's palace to live as the princess' son. The princess named him "Moses" (משֶׁה), meaning "drawn out" (מָשָׁה) of the water.

Later, when Moses was a full-grown man, he "went out to his people and looked on their burdens." When he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite slave, he killed the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand. The following day he tried to reconcile two Israelites who were fighting, but the one in the wrong prophetically objected: "And who made you a prince and judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?" Upon hearing this Moses decided to flee from Egypt to Midian. There he rescued Zipporah (צִפּרָה), the daughter of Jethro (יִתְרוֹ), a Midianite priest. Soon afterward, Moses decided to work for Jethro and married Zipporah. They had a son named Gershom (גֵּרְשׁם).

After nearly 40 years living in Midian as a shepherd, God called out to Moses from the midst of a burning bush to commission him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt back to the Promised Land. When Moses protested that he was inadequate for this task, God gave him three "signs" to authenticate his message. God also appointed his brother Aaron to be his spokesperson. Moses and Aaron then went to the Pharaoh and demanded that the Israelites be permitted to leave Egypt to worship the LORD in the wilderness.  The Pharaoh, however, dismissed Moses and his God, and increased the workload of the slaves by forcing them to make bricks without straw.

Note: For more about this reading, please read the Torah summary page for Shemot and its related articles. You can also download the Shabbat "Table Talk" for the portion here:
 

Shalom and good upon you...  And may we all have great joy and strength as we begin reading a new book of Torah this week, friends!
 




Seeing Inside Out...


 

01.02.15 (Tevet 11, 5775)  We tend to look on the outside of others, forgetting that their inner life is undoubtedly much like our own. But if we objectify people, if we regard them as "outsiders," we exile a large part of ourselves, and thereby risk losing something our own hearts... In this fallen and dark world, people fumble along searching for meaning, purpose, and redemption, hoping to find some warmth, kindness, and inner peace. Often they are seeking for spirituality where it cannot be found... Our salvation in Yeshua gives us access to the "inside," to a place of divine consolation, where we are given the means to take hold of the compassion, comfort, and love from the Real World. Therefore let us recognize the hurting among us and offer them courage as they walk the way of faith (Gal. 6:2).
 




God of the Living...


 

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

01.02.15 (Tevet 11, 5775)  From our Torah for this Shabbat (Vayechi) we read that after he blessed his children, Jacob breathed his last and "was gathered" to his people (Gen. 49:33). The Talmud comments about life in olam ha'zeh, this world: "Act while you can; while you have the chance, the means, and the strength" (Shab. 151b). What if Jacob had waited to bless his sons? The word vayechi (וַיְחִי) means "and he lived," referring to the "days of the years of Jacob's life." The Torah here states that Jacob did not die, but lived. As Yeshua said concerning the physical death of the patriarchs, "Now He is not God of the dead, but of the living - כֻלָּם חַיִּים לְפָנָיו - for all live before Him" (Luke 20:38). "If we live, we live for the Lord; if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's."
 




Awakening to Love...


 

01.02.15 (Tevet 11, 5775)  How do we change? How are we made new? Is it through self-effort, for example, by making moral resolutions or performing religious acts, or is it by the miracle of God's intervention in our lives? When Yeshua invites us to turn and come to Him, he wants us to awaken to something so valuable that we would be willing to give up everything in the world to take hold of it (Matt. 13:45-46). True spiritual transformation is not just about leaving your sin behind you (as good as that is), but is rather about discovering the glory of true and infinite life. It's about being the beloved. May the Lord help us see...

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

We are changed by the power of unconditional love, but this means that we must allow ourselves to be loved without attempting to earn it (Rom. 4). If we are willing to receive love only if we regard ourselves as worthy or deserving of it, then we will reinforce the illusion that love can be bought, explained, or owed to us based on our merit.

Have you discovered the glory and wonder of God's unconditional love, despite the many sins and the shame of your life? Do you know "in your gut" that his love means no longer having to defend or explain yourself? God's love enables you to quit hiding what you really are from Him; you can give up the pretense of being something you're not. When you turn to the Lord in the transparency of your brokenness, weakness, and neediness, you will find Him there, accepting you for who you really are...

That's the message of gospel, after all. The cross of Yeshua is the end of "self improvement" projects, and that includes the "end of the law" as the means of attempting to find our acceptance before God (Rom. 10:4). We come to know God's love and acceptance "apart from the law," that is, despite our repeated failures, pain, and loss of the false self.  We are truly changed as we disclose more and more of what we really are to God, that is, when we come "out of the shadows" to be made visible and healed before His glorious Presence. Then we discover the "lightness" of being united to the risen Messiah and the "law of the Spirit of life in Yeshua (תּוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים בְּיֵשׁוּעַ). May God work within us all such a miracle!
 




Insatiable Discontent...


 

01.02.15 (Tevet 11, 5775)  "The eye is never satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing..." Perhaps some of us are angry because we are never satisfied, we never feel "full," or content within our heart of hearts... It is a paradox that the more we eat, the more we want to eat; the more we have, the more we want, and so on. The answer to the torment of discontent is simple -- though difficult: Let go of what you desire and learn to be content (Heb. 13:5). As Yeshua counseled: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:19-21). So where is your treasure? What are you seeking? Where is your heart's desire?
 

כָּל־הַדְּבָרִים יְגֵעִים לא־יוּכַל אִישׁ לְדַבֵּר
לא־תִשְׂבַּע עַיִן לִרְאוֹת וְלא־תִמָּלֵא אזֶן מִשְּׁמֹעַ

kol · ha·de·ba·rim · ye·ge·im · lo-yu·chal · ish · le·da·ber
lo-tis·ba' · a·yin · lir·ot · ve·lo-tim·ma·lei · o·zen · mi·she·mo·a
 

"All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing."
(Eccl. 1:8)


  


The Scriptures warn that a "double-minded man is unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8). The word translated "double-minded" is dipsuchos (δίψυχος), which literally means having "two souls" or wills. A double-minded man is full of inner conflict and indecision. He is like the proverbial "divided house" that cannot stand. Indeed, the word translated "unstable" (ἀκατάστατος) means "storm-tossed," like a ship buffeted by waves at sea. When Peter attempted to walk across the stormy waters, he lost courage and began to sink, but Yeshua took hold of him, saying, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" (i.e., διστάζω, literally, "think twice"). The way to be healed of a fractured or divided heart is by earnestly making a decision: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (ἐγγίσατε τῷ θεῷ καὶ ἐγγιεῖ ὑμῖν)... purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8). Note that the verb used in this verse (i.e., ἐγγίζω, "draw near") means to come close enough to touch someone or something. Understood in this light, we are encouraged to come so close to God that we are able to "touch" Him -- and to be touched by Him as well.

May we "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness," friends. Shabbat Shalom!
 




Outshining the Darkness...


 

01.02.15 (Tevet 11, 5775)  As a seed planted within soil seeks life by "reaching" for the sun, so our souls are drawn upward by the desire for God. The Lord calls us "out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9); he calls us to awaken, to grow, and to come to the fullness of his life (John 10:10). Being called "out of darkness" means being set free of those spiritual forces that have held us captive. When we turn to the Divine Light for our sustenance and healing, we are set free from the pain of our fears and the insanity of evil (Acts 26:18). As it is written: "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7). The Greek word "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός) comes from the verb sodzo (σῴζω), meaning "to save," from saos (σάος) "safe," in the sense of being under care and influence of the Spirit of God. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Heeding the truth of Yeshua grounds you in what is real and reveals your identity and provision as a child of God. "For you are my lamp (כִּי־אַתָּה תָּאִיר נֵרִי), O LORD, and my God lightens my darkness" (Psalm 18:28).
 

כִּי־אַתָּה תָּאִיר נֵרִי
 יְהוָה אֱלהַי יַגִּיהַּ חָשְׁכִּי

ki · at·tah · ta·ir · ne·ri
Adonai · E·lo·hai · ya·gi·ah · chosh·ki
 

"For it is you who light my lamp;
 the LORD my God outshines my darkness."
(Psalm 18:28)
 


Hebrew Study Card
 

 

Sometimes the holidays can be rough on us, emotionally. If you are feeling overwhelmed by irresistible waves of sadness, anger, loneliness, anxiety, or some other pain, then cry out to the One who calms the waves of the storm with His word, saying, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid" (Mark 6:50). Only God can calm the storms within us and give peace within our hearts. The Lord is our refuge; He is always near to help in times of trouble.
 




The Desire of Faith...


 

01.02.15 (Tevet 11, 5775)  "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness..." (Matt. 5:6). What good would it do to have an angel reveal all mysteries and knowledge to you apart from the struggle to learn, to labor, and to make the truth of love your own? The sages say there is something more precious than even wisdom, and that is holy desire, the holy struggle to take hold of the heavenly blessing and to accept your new name (Gen. 32:27-28). When you experience holy desire, you feel a great longing and yearning for God, and this feeling becomes so intense that you do not know what to do, you do not know what to say, you do not know how to pray, and so you simply cry out to God, you cling to him in desperate hope and plead to know his heart directly...
 

רְצוֹן־יְרֵאָיו יַעֲשֶׂה
וְאֶת־שַׁוְעָתָם יִשְׁמַע וְיוֹשִׁיעֵם

re·tzon-ye·rei·av  ya·a·seh
ve·et · shav·a·tam · yish·ma · ve·yo·shi·eim
 

"He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them."
(Psalm 145:19)



Hebrew Study Card
 




Through the Straights...


 

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

01.01.15 (Tevet 10, 5775)  The name for ancient Egypt in Hebrew is "mitzrayim," a word that can be translated as "narrow places" (i.e., -מ, "from," and צַר, "narrow"), suggesting that "Egypt" represents a place of constriction, tribulation, oppression, slavery, and despair. The Hebrew word for salvation, on the other hand, is "yeshuah" (יְשׁוּעָה), a word that means deliverance from restriction, that is, freedom and peace. As it is written: "From my distress (מִן־הַמֵּצַר), i.e., from "my Egypt," I called to the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me in a wide open place" (Psalm 118:5). But why, it may be asked, did God tell Jacob: "Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt" (Gen. 46:3)? Why did God allow this excursion into "heavy darkness" that Abraham clearly foresaw (Gen. 15:12-13)? What is there about Egypt that prepares us to take hold of our promised inheritance? Joseph become a prince of Egypt; however, he was still a captive to Pharaoh, and later, after Joseph died, a "new Pharaoh arose" that did not acknowledge his contribution to Egyptian history (Exod. 1:8). All that remained of Joseph were his bones – a chest of bones that were carried out by Moses (and later buried by Joshua in Shechem). These "bare bones" of Joseph represented the essence of his faith, as he foresaw the time when God would rescue the family from Egypt and raise him up in the land of promise (Gen. 50:24-26; Heb. 11:22).

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 promise of God, not by trying to do it 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 be transformed, 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...

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




The Fast of Tevet...


 

01.01.15 (Tevet 10, 5775)  Today is Asarah B'Tevet ("the Tenth of Tevet"), the traditional date of Nebuchadnezzar's attack on Jerusalem (in 587 BC) that led to the destruction of the Holy Temple and the eventual exile of the Jewish people. Religious Jews observe this date as a "minor" fast day (i.e., a fast observed from sunrise to sunset) to recall the tragedy and to afflict their souls.  In modern Israel, Asarah B'Tevet also marks the day Kaddish (memorial prayer) is traditionally recited for people whose date or place of death is unknown. This has resulted in a general day of mourning for the many Jews who perished during the Holocaust (in addition to the formal commemoration during Yom HaShoah). Synagogue services normally include prayers of repentance (selichot) and the Torah portion for Asarah B'Tevet recalls the story of the idolatry of the Golden Calf (i.e., Exod. 32:11-34:10).

Note:  Except for Yom Kippur, the fast days of the Jewish year center on the lost vision of Zion, the destruction of the Holy Temple...
 




Trusting God's Heart...


 

01.01.15 (Tevet 10, 5775)  There is no fear in love, and therefore over and over the Spirit of God says, "don't be afraid..." When we are afraid, we are believing the lie there is something beyond God's control or reach, and therefore God is "not enough"... In times of testing you must remind yourself of what is real. God formed you in your mother's womb, breathed into you nishmat chayim, the breath of life, and numbers all your days... Every breath you take, every heartbeat in your chest is ordained from heaven, and indeed, there is not a moment of your life apart from God's sovereign and sustaining grace. So what, then, are you afraid of? Dying? Judgment in the world to come? Being left unloved, bereft of home, abandoned, consigned to outer darkness? King David said, "If I make my bed in Hell, behold, you are there" (Psalm 139:8). Look, the LORD God is not only present in your "happy moments," when you feel "put together" and respectable, but he is present in your desperate moments, in your hunger, your thirst, and in your secrets. May we never lose sight of God's love, especially in times of distress and trouble, since we trust that he is always working all things together for our ultimate good (Rom. 8:28).

The Name of the LORD (יהוה) means "Presence" and "Love" (Exod. 3:14; 34:6-7). Yeshua said, "I go to prepare a place for you," which means that his presence and love are waiting for you in whatever lies ahead (Rom. 8:35-39). To worry is "practicing the absence" of God instead of practicing His Presence... Trust the word of the Holy Spirit: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for healing peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11). The Word always speaks hope.

Take comfort that your Heavenly Father sees when the sparrow falls; he arrays the flower in its hidden valley; and he calls each star by name. More importantly, the Lord sees you and knows your struggle with fear. Come to him with your needy heart and trust him to deliver you from the burdens of your soul (Matt. 11:28). Shalom means being free from fear.
 

יוֹם אִירָא אֲנִי אֵלֶיךָ אֶבְטָח

yom · i·ra · a·ni · e·ley·kha · ev·tach
 

"When I am afraid, I put my trust in you."
(Psalm 56:3)



This is a word for the exiles of every age: Be not afraid - al-tirah – not of man, nor of war, nor of tribulation, nor even of death itself (Rom. 8:35-39). If God be for us, who can be against us? Indeed, Yeshua came to die to destroy the power of death "and to release all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (Heb. 2:14-15). The resurrection of the Messiah is the focal point of history - not the "dust of death." Death does not have the final word. Indeed, because Yeshua is alive, we also shall live (John 14:19). May your chesed, O LORD, be upon us, as we wait for You (Psalm 33:22).
 



 

December 2014 Site Updates
 


Sufficient this day...


 

12.31.14 (Tevet 10, 5775)  In the Gospel of Matthew we read these words of our LORD Yeshua the Messiah: "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matt. 6:34). Soren Kierkegaard comments: "If there is no next day for you, then all earthly care is annihilated. When the next day comes, it loses its enchantment and its disquieting insecurity. If there is no next day for you, then either you are dying or you are one who by dying to temporality has grasped the Eternal, either one who is actually dying or one who is really living... The one who rows a boat turns his back to the goal toward which he is working. So it is with the next day. When, with the help of the Eternal, a person lives absorbed in today, he turns his back to the next day. The more he is eternally absorbed in today, the more decisively he turns his back to the next day." Amen. May God help us live for Him today. Today is the day of salvation; today may we hear His voice...

"Fear not, for I am with you..." אַל־תִּירָא כִּי עִמְּךָ־אָנִי. What we need most of all is right here, present in this hour, whether we're conscious of it or not. God is with you, even if you feel alone, lost in darkness, unclean, afraid... "Dear Lord Jesus, I don't know who I am, I don't know where I am, and I don't know what I am, but please love me" (prayer of a sufferer from Alzheimer's disease). That's what we need most, to trust that we are safe in God's love, and that's the ultimate message of our atonement in Messiah.
 




Blessings of Israel...


 

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

12.31.14 (Tevet 10, 5775)  "Then Jacob called his sons and said, "Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in the end of days (בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים). Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob (בְּנֵי יַעֲקב), listen to Israel your father (יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲבִיכֶם)" (Gen. 49:1-2). Here Jacob used both his names before blessing his sons. His name "Jacob" represented his natural life – his birth as the "heel-holder" of Esau; his hunger for his earthly father's blessing; and his self-doubt as he pretended to be someone other than himself... His name "Israel," on the other hand, was given to him after he grappled with the mysterious Angel, refusing to relent until he found his blessing despite the pain of his past. "Israel" represents Jacob's rebirth, his God-given ability to father his children, and the grace to impart the appropriate blessing to each child as needed (Gen. 49:28).
 




Turning to a "New Year"...


 

[ A heart cry for this "new year" and always... ]

12.31.14 (Tevet 10, 5775)  The Book of Lamentations is an acrostic poem that begins with the Hebrew letter Aleph (א) in the word "eichah" (אֵיכָה), which also marks the Hebrew name of the book. "How (eichah) lonely sits the city that once was full of people!" (Lam. 1:1). The sages note that this word "how" (i.e., eichah) could also be read as "where are you?" (i.e., ayeka: אַיֶּכָּה), God's first word spoken to Adam after he broke covenant in the Garden (Gen. 3:9). Note that God's question is often our own: "Where are you? Where are you, God? Are you here, in the midst of this tedious moment? Do you know my loneliness, my ache for love?" Yet how many people today live in a state of self-imposed exile from the LORD?  God uses our loneliness ("how lonely...") to search our hearts, asking each of us, ayeka – "Where are you?" "Why have you turned away from me and chosen a state of exile?" Our haunting sense of God's absence impels us to seek for him... God awaits our only possible response, "Hashivenu!" -- an imperative (demand) for the grace to repent: "You return us (i.e., you cause us to return) so that we may be reunited with you and healed!"
 

הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה
חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם

ha·shi·ve·nu · Adonai · e·ley·kha · ve·na·shu·vah
cha·desh · ya·mei·nu · ke·ke·dem
 

"Turn us back to yourself, O LORD, so that we may return to you;
renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Our response to the questioning love of the LORD is called teshuvah ("turning [shuv] to God"). Teshuvah is an "answer" to a shelah, or a question. God's love for us is the question, and our teshuvah – our turning of the heart toward Him – is the answer.
 




Blessing without Envy...


 

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

12.31.14 (Tevet 10, 5775)  "I know my son, I know" (Gen. 48:19). Jacob's distinctive blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh was intended to serve as a parable to warn of the dangers of fraternal envy. The blessing of God is for the whole family, regardless of whoever may be regarded as "the favored son."  And since both Ephraim and Manasseh had accepted God's decree without protest, Jacob ordained that these two brothers should serve as examples for all Israel to follow. Therefore he blessed them that day, saying, "By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying, יְשִׂמְךָ אֱלהִים כְּאֶפְרַיִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה - yesimkha Elohim ke'efraim ve'khimnasheh: 'May God make you like Ephraim and as Manasseh'" (Gen. 48:20).
 




The Grave of Jacob...


 

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

12.30.14 (Tevet 9, 5775)   In our Torah for this week (Vayechi), Jacob said: "I am about to die; in my grave that I hewed out for myself... there you shall bury me" (Gen. 50:5). Though Abraham had purchased the Cave of Machpelah as a family burial site, Jacob personally dug his own grave there so it would serve as a reminder of the day of his death. In this way Jacob regarded himself dead to this world yet retained hope in the world to come. As Moses later wrote, "Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom."
 

לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע
 וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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




The Word Made Flesh...


 

12.30.14 (Tevet 9, 5775)   At Sinai the Jewish people heard the Voice of God (קוֹל אֱלהִים) speaking from the midst of the fire (Deut. 4:33), an event that foreshadowed the great advent of the King and Lawgiver Himself, when the Eternal Word (דְבַר־יְהוָה) became flesh and dwelt with us (Phil. 2:6-7; John 1:1,14). Any theology that regards God as entirely transcendent will have a problem with divine immanence, since the highness, holiness, and perfection of God will make him seem distant, outside of us, far away, and unknown... Incarnational theology, on the other hand, manifests the nearness of God to disclose the divine empathy. Indeed, the LORD became Immanuel (עִמָּנוּ אֵל), "one with us," to share our mortal condition, to know our pain, and to experience what it means to be wounded by sin, to be abandoned, alienated, forsaken. It is God's own bittul hayesh (בִּטּוּל הַיֵּשׁ) - his self-nullification for the sake of love and truth. The "Eternal made flesh" bridges the gap between the realm of Ein Sof (אין סוף), the infinitely transcendent One, and the finite world of people lost within their sinful frailty. Of course we believe Adonai Echad (יְהוָה אֶחָד) - that the "LORD is One" - both in the sense of being exalted over all things but also in the sense of being compassionately involved in all things (Rom. 11:36). We therefore celebrate the giving of the Torah both at Sinai and especially at Bethlehem with the birth of Messiah. We celebrate that God is indeed the King and Ruler over all, but we further affirm that God's authority and rule extends to all worlds - including the realm of our finitude and need...

As I've mentioned elsewhere, the climax of Sinai was the revelation of the Sanctuary. The two tablets of the law, summarizing the Ten Commandments, were stored inside the famous Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן בְּרִית־יְהוָה), a sacred "three-in-one" box placed in the innermost chamber of the Tabernacle called the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). As such, the Ark served as kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), the Throne of Glory itself. Upon the cover (or crown) of the Ark (i.e., the kapporet) were fashioned two cherubim (i.e., angel-like figures) that faced one another (Exod. 25:17-18). According to the Talmud (Succah 5b), each cherub had the face of a child - one boy and one girl - and their wings spread heavenward as their eyes gazed upon the cover (Exod. 25:20). It was here that God's Voice would be heard during the Yom Kippur service, when sacrificial blood was sprinkled upon the crown to symbolize the atonement of sin secured through Messiah, the Word that became flesh for us... In the very heart of the Sanctuary, then, we see the Word of God and the sacrficial blood.

God Himself was clothed with human skin: our flesh, our bones... The incarnation is the "Absolute Paradox," as Kierkegaard once said, wherein the infinite and the finite meet in mystery of the Divine Presence. Here God "touches a leper," eats with sinners and prostitutes, sheds human tears, and suffers heartache like all other men... The gloriously great God, the very Creator of the cosmos, has "emptied Himself" to come in the form of a lowly servant  (δοῦλος) - disguised to the eyes of the proud and hardhearted, but is revealed as High Priest to those who are genuinely broken and in profound need.  The LORD God is God over all possible worlds, and that includes both the celestial realms of the heavens but also the world of the fallen, the ashamed, the alienated, and the lost... God's infinite condescension reveals and augments the majesty of His infinite transcendence. There is no world - nor ever shall there be such - where the LORD God Almighty does not reign and have preeminence.

Do not suppose for a moment that the Torah of Moses does not teach "incarnational" theology. Since God created human beings in his image and likeness, the "anthropomorphic language" of Scripture is meaningful. The LORD reveals himself in human terms - using human language, expressing human emotions, and so on, as it says: Moses spoke to God panim el panim - "face to face" (Deut. 34:10). The Torah always has to take on human form - the Word made flesh - for the sake of human beings who live in flesh and blood reality...

The greatest expression of God's word is found in the Presence of Yeshua. This is the Word of God that "tabernacles" with us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Yeshua is the "Living Torah," Immanuel (עִמָּנוּ אֵל), "God with us," who enters our world to rescue us from death. Our Scriptures state that "in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son, whom He appointed the Heir of all things, through whom also He created the worlds" (Heb 1:2). Note that the Greek construction for the phrase translated, "by his son" is ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ, which literally means "he spoke to us in Son" -- that is, in the language or voice of the Son of God Himself... God speaks the language "of Son" from the midst of the fire revealed at Zion. "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe (μετὰ αἰδοῦς καὶ εὐλαβείας) - for our God is Esh Okhelah - a Consuming Fire" (Heb. 12:28-29).
 




Through a Glass Darkly...


 

12.30.14 (Tevet 9, 5775)   We walk by faith, not by sight -  by hearing the Word of God, heeding what the Spirit of God is saying to the heart... For now we "see through a glass darkly," which literally means "in a riddle" (ἐν αἰνίγματι). A riddle is an analogy given through some resemblance to the truth, though quite often the correspondences are puzzling and obscure. Hence, "seeing through a glass darkly" means perceiving obscurely or imperfectly, looking "through" something else instead of directly apprehending reality. We see only a reflection of reality, and our knowledge in this life is indirect and imperfect. This is contrasted with the "face to face" (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים) vision and clarity given in the world to come, when our knowledge will be clear and distinct, and the truth of God will be fully manifest and no longer hidden. Being "face to face" with reality means being free of the riddles, the analogies, the semblances, etc., which at best adumbrate our way.. Such reflection should make us humble whenever we share our faith. "Now we know in part, but then shall we know in whole" (1 Cor. 13:12). An honest theology must find a place for mystery, for "seeing through a glass darkly," and for the apprehension of awe and wonder.

Since God is the Infinite One (אֵין סוֹף) whose understanding is without limit (Psalm 147:5), we must use analogies, metaphors, symbols, allusions, parables, poetry, and other linguistic devices to convey spiritual truth and meaning. We compare (συγκρίνω) spiritual things with spiritual (1 Cor. 2:13). Some mystics have said the way to God is through the transcendence of words altogether, though most use imagery and poetry about "ineffable" reality. Others, like Soren Kierkegaard, use "indirect communication" to evoke the decision to believe, to find hope, and to walk by faith. Yeshua himself regularly used parables and stories to communicate deeper truths about ultimate reality. He likened the human heart to "soil" into which the Heavenly Farmer plants seed; he wanted his followers to know God as "heavenly Father," the idealization of family love, and so on. Often he was surprised at how dull his own disciples were regarding his use of spiritual analogies (Matt. 15:16, 16:9-11; Mark 8:17; John 6:22-66). Furthermore 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." Yeshua will forever be the Face of God to us, our Mediator and Savior, blessed be He (2 Cor. 3:18).

Just as there are hundreds of Names of God given in Scripture, so there are many analogies to help us understand His heart. For instance, God is likened to a farmer, a shepherd, a caring neighbor, a tenant, a king, an impartial judge, a pottery maker, an investor, an employer, a jilted husband, a passionate lover, and so on. However, the analogy Yeshua used the most was that the LORD God is our Heavenly Father, and we are His children. As it is written in the Psalms, "Like a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him" (Psalm 103:13). The most intimate Name of God is simply Abba (אבּא), a term of endearment for a child uses for his father. For those who can believe, the eyes of the LORD are like those of a loving father who greatly rejoices over the presence of his child.
 




Courage and Forgiveness...


 

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

12.29.14 (Tevet 8, 5775)   After the burial of their father Jacob, the brothers said, "perhaps Joseph will repay us the evil we did him" (Gen. 50:15). The commentator Rashi notes the word translated "perhaps" (לוּ) expresses an "if only" wish: "We wish Joseph would repay us the evil we did him." The brothers could not accept Joseph's forgiveness because they clung to their guilt and shame... It would have been easier for them to tolerate retribution for their wrongs than to accept such unmerited grace and kindness. And such is the case with some of us, too. We might find it easier to trust in God's disapproval of us more than his welcoming love, since that agrees with our sense of self-contempt. We must be careful, however, since such "humility" may really cloak the proud demand of the flesh not to feel indebted to God. The carnal life understands the idea of "karma," payback, like-for-like and "eye for eye" justice, but it stumbles over sheer grace. Faith in God's love is the courage to accept that you are accepted despite your own sense of unacceptability...

Note that after learning of his brother's fears, Joseph comforted them וַיְדַבֵּר עַל־לִבָּם - "and spoke to their heart" (Gen. 50:21). These words of comfort are not recorded in the Torah, though undoubtedly they were spoken with tenderness and compassion. Oftentimes it is not what we say but how we say it that reveals the truth...
 




The Seeming Way...


 

12.29.14 (Tevet 8, 5775)   It is a characteristic of our fallen human nature to believe our own "propaganda" – to convince ourselves that we are "right" or "know the truth," when in fact we are fooling ourselves. "Anyone who thinks he is something when he is nothing," said the Apostle Paul, "deceives himself" (Gal. 6:3). We must be vigilant because "the heart is deceitful above all things, and incurably wicked" (Jer. 17:9), and there is a way that "seems right to the heart," but its end is the way that leads to death (Prov. 16:25). We must regularly test our motivations and ask God for the light we need to truly understand the desire of our hearts and to set the direction of our wills. It is written: "Test the spirits (δοκιμάζετε τὰ πνεύματα) to see whether they are of God" (1 John 4:1), and that begins first of all with discerning the truth of our own heart's desire.
 

יֵשׁ דֶּרֶךְ יָשָׁר לִפְנֵי־אִישׁ
וְאַחֲרִיתָהּ דַּרְכֵי־מָוֶת

yesh · de·rekh · ya·shar · lif·nei · ish
ve'a·cha·ri·tah · dar·khei · ma·vet
 

"There is a way that seems right to a person,
but its end is the way that leads to death"
(Prov. 16:25)



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We pray for all our needs, but the need to pray with the proper focus, intention, and heart is surely one of our most pressing needs... "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). The disciples were not asking for a formula or a "recipe prayer" (such as might be recited from a prayerbook), but for the right motivation, direction, or the "Torah" of prayer... We are given confidence that if we ask according to his will, God hears us (1 John 5:14), since we are speaking his "language" of truth and humility (the Torah of honesty). Therefore pray for the ability to pray effectively, to commune in trust with your heavenly Father. The prayer of a righteous person has great power (James 5:16).

Note: The emphasis on truth, the Spirit of Truth (רוּחַ הָאֱמֶת), is on relationship with God... We are "in the truth" as we are in relationship with Yeshua, and all that we are is mediated by His presence within our hearts... As we relate to ourselves, to others, to the world around us, even to our enemies, so we relate through Him.... He is the Center of truth, and without him we exist in untruth. For more on this topic see "Derekh HaYashar."
 




The Desire of Love...


 

12.28.14 (Tevet 7, 5775)   "If you love me, you will keep my commandments..." (John 14:15). The logical contrapositive statement is, "if you do not keep my commandments, you do not love me." Our struggle to obey is really a struggle of the heart to love, or to trust that we are beloved. We can read Yeshua's words with prophetic hope, however: "When you love me, you will keep my commandments." In other words, as you love Yeshua and know his heart, you will fulfill his Torah, since the love of God is the gateway of all true obedience.

Your Heavenly Father sees in secret... "The deepest thing in our nature is this region of heart in which we dwell alone with our willingnesses and our unwillingnesses, our faiths and our fears" (William James). It is there, in the secret place of the heart, where the sound of the "knock" is either heard or disregarded (Rev 3:20). May the Lord give us the willingness to do His will and the courage to believe in His love; may he deliver us from doubt and from every other fear. And may we all be strong in faith, not staggering over the promises, but giving glory to God for the miracle of Yeshua our LORD.

"Lord, when I feel lost, remind me again how you have found me, how you have prepared a place for me, and that your love is all I really need to be home... If I must suffer, please let it neither embitter nor shatter me. If I cry out in protest or despair, accept my heartache and grant me your compassion and comfort. When my faith falters, reveal to me that you are always near. Help me, Yeshua, to chose life this day. Amen."
 




New Year Assumptions...


 

12.28.14 (Tevet 7, 5775)   Often we don't realize what is not being said because of what is being said. In other words, hidden or unspoken assumptions are always at work in communication, though we rarely take the time to examine these assumptions for ourselves.  Advertisers, politicians, and others who wish to control your thinking implicitly understand this and therefore regularly employ various techniques to distract you from examining their assumptions. They understand that the louder (or more frequently or more threateningly) something is said, the less likely you will question its truth status or engage in reasonable thinking of your own.... In other words, "truth" for such pragmatists is little more than persuasion. Get the crowd to believe you and you've got the "truth."

For example, in most countries of the world, "New Year's Day" is usually celebrated on January 1st, though this date comes from the arbitrary decree of the consuls of ancient (and pagan) Rome -- certainly not from anything taught in the Torah and the Hebrew Scriptures. According to Torah, however, there are two mirroring "New Years" observed during the year. The first occurs two weeks before Passover (Nisan 1) and the second occurs ten days before Yom Kippur (Tishri 1). The first is called Rosh Chodashim (see Exod. 12:2), which commemorates the month of the redemption of the Jewish people (i.e., the month Yeshua was sacrificed for our sins), whereas the second is called Yom Teru'ah that is associated with the "Feast of Ingathering" at the "end of the year" (Exod. 23:16, 34:22). Later Yom Terua'h became known as Rosh Hashanah ("the head of the year") which began a ten-day "trial" of humanity climaxing on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

 

The two "new years" of the Jewish calendar mirror each other and reveal the two advents of Messiah. For more on the secular New Year and its relationship to the calendar of Torah, see the page, "The Gregorian Calendar and Pagan Assumptions."
 




Vayechi - "And He Lived"


 

[ Happy Holidays, friends... Our Torah reading for this week is Parashat Vayechi, the final portion from the Book of Genesis, which includes Jacob's great prophecy of the coming Messiah. ]

12.28.14 (Tevet 7, 5775)   Our Torah reading for this week (ויחי) recounts how the great patriarch Jacob adopted Joseph's two sons (Ephraim and Manasseh) as his own children. When Jacob blessed the boys, however, he intentionally reversed the birth order by putting the younger before the older, signifying that the old struggle he had faced as a child was over, and he now understood things differently. And note Ephraim and Manasseh's reaction: the older did not envy the younger, nor did the younger boast over the older. The family had apprently learned that blessing from God is for the good of all, and that there is no real blessing apart from genuine humility that esteems the welfare of others. Jacob was now ready to summon his family to hear his final words.  Among other things, he foretold how the Messiah would come from the line of Judah and then instructed his sons to bury him in the promised land, and not in Egypt.

After his death, Joseph and his brothers, with various dignitaries of Egypt, formed a funeral procession and returned to Canaan to bury Jacob in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. After the funeral, they returned to Egypt, but Joseph's brothers feared that he would now repay them for their former betrayal and threw themselves on his mercy. Joseph reassured them that they had no reason to fear him and reminded them that God had overruled their earlier intent by intending him to be a blessing to the whole world.

The portion ends with the account of the death of Joseph, who made the sons of Israel promise to take his bones with them when the LORD would bring them back to the land of Canaan (alluding to the great Exodus to come). Joseph's faith in the Jewish people's return to the Promised Land is summarized by his statement: "God will surely remember you." He died at age 110, was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt, full of faith that he would be raised from the dead in the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

For more information, please read the Torah summary page for Vayechi and its related articles. You can also download the Shabbat "Table Talk" for the portion here:
 


Note:  This Shabbat we finish reading the Book of Genesis (סֵפֶר בְּרֵאשִׁית) for the current Jewish year... This inestimably great book begins with an account of the creation of the universe by the LORD and ends with Joseph being put into a coffin in Egypt. Note that the word translated "coffin" is the Hebrew word aron (אֲרוֹן), a word used elsewhere in the Torah to refer exclusively to the Ark of the Covenant (the ark that Noah built and the ark that Moses was placed in are both called "teivah"). Throughout their desert wanderings after the Sinai revelation, the Israelites actually carried two special arks - one holding the bones of Joseph and the other holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments.
 




The Blessing of Shalom...


 

[ Happy Holidays, chaverim!  And may God give you the great blessing of His peace! ]

12.26.14 (Tevet 5, 5775)   "May the LORD lift up his face upon you and give you peace" (Num. 6:26). May the LORD "lift up his face" (יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו) toward you in welcome, and may his countenance be radiant with joy over you. May his face be "toward you," not turned away or hidden... When God turns toward you, he imparts the blessing without which all other blessings are beholden, namely, his peace (i.e., shalom). After all, what good is worldly prosperity or temporal pleasure apart from God's blessing of peace?  To have shalom (שָׁלוֹם) is to be made shalem (שָׁלֵם) – made whole, complete, secure, happy – and therefore the peace of God (שְׁלוֹם הָאֱלהִים) is assuredly the most essential blessing.
 

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

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

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



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As I've mentioned before, the text of the great priestly blessing (Num. 6:24-26) begins with three words, is comprised of three parts, invokes the divine Name three times, and is therefore quite appropriately called "the three-in-one blessing." Notice that it is phrased in the singular rather than plural because it is meant to have personal application, not to be a general benediction over a crowd of people. The blessing, in other words, is directed toward the individual heart of faith.

Those who trust in God's salvation are given objective shalom, as it is written: "since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah" (Rom. 5:1). This is the reconciliation that God effected through the cross of Yeshua for our atonement (Rom. 5:11). God's love makes our eternal peace real, secure, and finished... There is also a subjective side of peace, however, that is a fruit of the Spirit of God: "But the fruit of the Spirit is peace..." (Gal. 5:22). This is the inner peace that we experience by trusting in God's care for our lives, despite our struggles; such peace comes when we allow the Spirit of God to reign within our hearts by faith (Phil. 4:7; Col. 3:15).

Shabbat shalom, chaverim, and "may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Yeshua our Messiah" (Phil. 4:7).
 




Return from Captivity...


 

12.26.14 (Tevet 5, 5775)   "The LORD your God will return as you return, and will have mercy upon you, turning to gather you back..." (Deut 30:3). This has both a present and prophetic application. First, in the present hour, if you turn to God, he will show you compassion, and he will "gather back" all those distant and fragmented parts of yourself into shalom and wholeness. He will restore your lost days; he will bring you out of exile and give you comfort in Yeshua: "Draw near, therefore to God, and he will draw near to you" (James 4:8). Second, the LORD will return to earth as the Jewish people return from their captivity, and he will restore Zion during the time of the final redemption. The LORD will turn captivity into mercy; he will turn in his compassion to his people. As it is written: "I will be found by you, declares the LORD... and I will bring you back..." (Jer. 29:14).

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

Note:  I am grateful the holidays are finally over, since they can be exhausting and even distracting! Shalom and love to you all!
 




The Humility of God...


 

12.24.14 (Tevet 3, 5775)  Consider the absolute humility of God as He chose to enter into this world as "baby Jesus." Meditate on the glory and sheer paradox of God's love! "Baby Jesus" is the perfect disguise to hide the truth from the proud eyes of the flesh, though the humble of heart can see... What would do without the gift of God, friends? What hope would we have? Regardless of the exact date of his birth, thank God that our LORD and Messiah was willing to be born into this dark world to offer Himself as our sacrificial Redeemer! Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas, chaverim!
 

    "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." - Mark 10:14-15

    "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn (στραφῆτε) and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." - Matt. 18:3

 




Zot Chanukah...

Picture by John J Parsons
 

From our family to you - may you be filled with peace, love, and the true light that only the Messiah Yeshua can give... Happy Chanukah! ]

12.23.14
 (Tevet 2, 5775)  Tonight is called "zot Chanukah," the last night of the festival when we will light all nine of the candles in the Chanukah menorah. Zot chanukah derives its name from the Torah reading for the 8th day, which sums up the gifts given to dedicate the Tabernacle (Num. 7:84). The Hebrew reads, זאת חֲנֻכַּת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ בְּיוֹם הִמָּשַׁח אתוֹ / "This is the dedication (chanukah) of the altar, in the day of its being anointed..." Notice that the Hebrew words for dedication, altar, and mashiach (messiah) all appear in this verse.
 

Chanukah 5775 Collage - Zot Chanukah

Zot Chanukah (click for larger)
 




Turning to See...


 

12.23.14 (Tevet 2, 5775)  During the holiday of Chanukah we kindle lights, but we do not to use these lights for profane purposes: We are simply to behold them, to see something amazing, and to be touched by the light... There is no place where God is not present, and indeed the name YHVH (יהוה) means "Presence" (הָיָה וְהוֶה וְיָבוֹא). God showed himself in the midst of a common thornbush as a fire that does not burn. Moses "turned aside" to see the bush, which means he looked past the layer of the common, the profane, and the ordinary, to see the uncommon, the sacred, and the extraordinary. We light our menorah; we see the flames rise upward - like thorns on a thornbush - and we may catch a glimpse of God's radiance, if we "turn aside" to see... When we slow down, when we make room within our hearts for God - a sanctuary within - we will often see what is commonly overlooked.

When we look at something, we often do not see it because we are looking somewhere else – looking past the present moment by reliving the past or by anticipating the future. This is why we must learn to sanctify the moments of our lives by offering blessings and prayers, observing the mo'edim, and so on, because doing so helps us "pause" to see what is right before us, right now...  May God help us turn and see, chaverim. Happy Chanukah!

Personal note:  Please keep Hebrew for Christians in your prayers, friends, as this has been an especially difficult time for this ministry. Thank you so much.
 





Joseph as a picture of Messiah


 

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

12.23.14 (Tevet 2, 5775)  More chapters of Torah are devoted to the life of Joseph than to the account of creation, the story of Adam and Eve, the flood of Noah, the call of Abram to the promised land, the miraculous birth and (near) sacrifice of Isaac, the transformation of Jacob into Israel, and so on. Joseph is given such prominence in Scripture because his life depicted both the Suffering Servant (Yeshua's first advent) and the One who reigns at the right hand of the power on high and delivers Israel (Yeshua's second advent). The life of Joseph provides a "prophetic outline" of Yeshua the Messiah.

Jewish tradition sometimes refers to two redeemers, each being called "Messiah" (i.e., Mashiach: מָשִׁיחַ). Both of these redeemers are involved in delivering the Jewish people from galut (exile) and ushering in the long-awaited Messianic era. These two Messiahs are called Mashiach ben David (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־דָוִד), "the Messiah the descendant of David," and Mashiach ben Yosef (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־יוֹסֵף), "the Messiah the descendant of Joseph," respectively.

When (rabbinically-trained) Jews typically think of "the" Messiah (i.e., ha-mashiach: הַמָּשִׁיחַ), however, they generally have in mind Mashiach ben David of the tribe of Judah who shall rule in the Messianic age. Mashiach ben Yosef is said to be of the tribe of Ephraim (son of Joseph), and is also sometimes called Mashiach ben Ephraim (Bavli Sukah 52b). Mashiach ben Yosef will come first, before the advent of Mashiach ben David, to prepare the world for the coming of the kingdom of the LORD. He will fight God's wars (against "Edom," collectively understood as the enemies of Israel) in a time preceding the fulfillment of the Messianic Kingdom (this is sometimes referred to as Ikvot Mashiach, the "footsteps of the Messiah").

The rabbis derive this understanding of Mashiach ben Yosef from their exegesis of Obadiah 1:18: "The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble; they shall burn them and consume them, and there shall be no survivor for the house of Esau, for the LORD has spoken." Moreover, they understand the confrontation between the "house" of Joseph and the "house" of Esau to be prefigured in the birth of Joseph himself, where Rachel indicated that God would "add a son" (i.e., ben acher: בֵּן אַחֵר) who would be anointed for battle in the End of Days (midrash on Gen. 30:24).

Note:  For more on this subject, including 60 ways in which Joseph prefigured the advent of Yeshua the Messiah, see "Mashiach ben Yosef."
 




The Substance of Hope...


 

12.23.14 (Tevet 2, 5775)  It is written that faith is the "substance" (ὑπόστασις) of hope, the conviction of unseen blessing, and "without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Heb. 11:6). Life in this world is likened to a school wherein we learn how great God is and how much we are loved, valued, and esteemed precious in His eyes. You must believe that God is your healer, that he will make the crooked things straight, and that you are his beloved child... Faith sees the end in God's unfailing love: The LORD God of Israel says: "And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them" (Isa. 42:16).
 

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

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

Faith is its own reward, since believing the truth brings you into alignment with reality. Teshuvah is the response to God's love... Faith confesses that God is your Ultimate Concern, your Supreme Good, the goal and end of all that matters to your heart. Your faith is "more precious than gold," because its heart is your highest blessing, namely, the Divine Presence, the beatific reality, and heaven itself.... God tests our faith to draw our attention to Him (Psalm 119:71); to teach us endurance (Rom. 5:3-5; James 1:4); to upbuild our soul (Jude 1:20); to purify our affections (1 Pet. 1:7), and to glorify God's Name (kiddush HaShem). May God help each of us hold the substance of real hope within our hearts. Amen.
 




Yeshua our Light...


 

12.23.14 (Tevet 2, 5775)  In the Gospel of John it is recorded that Yeshua said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). The Greek word translated "truth" in this verse is aletheia (ἀλήθεια), a compound formed from an alpha prefix (α-) meaning "not," and lethei (λήθη), meaning "forgetfulness." Truth is therefore a kind of "remembering" of something forgotten; a recollecting of what is essentially real. Etymologically, the word aletheia suggests that truth is also "unforgettable" (i.e., not lethei), that is, it has its own irresistible "witness" to reality. People may lie to themselves, but ultimately the truth has the final word. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5).

Greek scholars have noted that the word lethei itself is derived from the verb lanthano (λανθάνω), which means "to be hidden," so the general idea is that a-letheia (i.e., truth) is non-concealment, non-hiddenness, or to put it positively, revelation or evident disclosure.  Thus the word of Yeshua - His message, logos (λόγος), revelation, and presence - is both "unforgettable" and irrepressible. Yeshua is the Unforgettable One that has been manifest as the express Word of God (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים). He is the Light of the world (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם) and the one who gives us the "light of life" (John 8:12). Though God's message may be suppressed by willful ignorance and darkened thinking, the truth is regarded as self-evident and full of intuitive validation (see Rom. 1:18-21).

The Hebrew word for truth (i.e., emet: אֱמֶת) comes from a verb (aman) that means to "support" or "make firm."  There are a number of derived nouns that connote the sense of reliability or assurance (e.g., pillars of support). The noun emunah (i.e, אֱמוּנָה, "faithfulness" or "trustworthiness") comes from this root, as does the word for the "faithful ones" (אֱמוּנִים) who are "established" in God's way (Psalm 12:1). A play on words regarding truth occurs in the prophet Isaiah: אִם לא תַאֲמִינוּ כִּי לא תֵאָמֵנוּ / im lo ta'aminu, ki lo tei'amenu: "If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all" (Isa. 7:9; see Faith Establishes the Sign). Without trust in the LORD, there is no stability... Truth is something trustworthy, reliable, firm, or sure. In colloquial English, for example, this idea is conveyed when we say, "He's a true friend...", indicating that the loyalty and love of the person is certain. The familiar word "amen" likewise comes from this root.  Speaking the truth (dibbur emet) is considered foundational to moral life: "Speak the truth (דַּבְּרוּ אֱמֶת) to one another; render true and perfect justice in your gates" (Zech. 8:16). Yeshua repeatedly said, "Amen, Amen I say to you...." throughout his teaching ministry to stress the reliability of God's truth (Matt. 5:18, 26, etc.). Indeed, Yeshua is called "the Amen, the faithful and true witness" (Rev. 3:14).

The relationship between the Hebrew and the Greek ideas seems to be that the revelation of God - the aletheia - is reliable and strong. The source for all truth is found in the Person and character of the LORD God of Israel, blessed be He... The self-disclosure of the LORD is both unforgettable - both in the factual and moral sense - as well as entirely trustworthy.  Aletheia implies that truth is something that should never be forgotten. Hence we are regularly commanded and encouraged not to "forget" the LORD (Deut. 8:11, Psalm 103:2, etc.), to "remember" his covenants, to "keep" his ways, to "guard" His precepts, and so on.

So, do you have ohr ha-chayim (אוֹר הַחַיִּים), "the light of Life," shining within your heart? For this Chanukah season - and always - may we find courage and remember what is written: "The LORD is my light and my salvation (i.e., my Yeshua); whom shall I fear? The LORD is the refuge of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?"
 

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָד

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

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



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Note: Tertullian asked: "What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?" Chanukah is about the age-old conflict between darkness and light, the struggle between a "worldview" that worships humanity and a worldview that worships transcendental, moral, purposive Reality that is revealed as the LORD, the Source, Savior, and Redeemer of the world. The ancient Greeks defined the good in terms of the humanly beautiful, whereas the Hebrews understood the humanly beautiful in terms of God's revealed good. 
 




Trust Despite Darkness...


 

12.22.14 (Tevet 1, 5775)  Despite the horrendous evils that we regularly see in this fallen world - both the moral wickedness of depraved sinners as well as the physical tragedies of natural disasters, of sicknesses, and of physical death itself - there is something within the human heart - the cry of love's protest - that appeals to God's love and justice despite our pain... The soul testifies that there is "unfinished business," that there is more than meets the eye, that evil will not have the last word, and that tears will one day forever be wiped away. Despite the ambiguity, faith "hopes against hope" that the LORD God will intervene and bring everlasting healing to us all. As it says, "Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the Name of the LORD (יִבְטַח בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה) and rely on his God."
 

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)



Hebrew Study Card
  

Faith is a sort of "holy protest" over the state of the world: "How long, O LORD, forever?" Eventually God will wipe away every tear and make all things right... Bittachon (trust) 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. Meanwhile, may God keep us from such depth of sorrow that leads to sickness, darkness and despair. Chanukah Sameach v'Chodesh Tov, chaverim.
 




The Birth of Messiah...


 

12.22.14 (Tevet 1, 5775)  Though the world corrupts the message of the birth of Messiah for the sake of its greed, take a moment to reflect on its ongoing spiritual significance, namely, that God empties Himself of His regal glory and power to become your High Priest, able to fully sympathize with your weakness, frailty, shame, and chronic sinfulness (Heb. 4:15-16; Phil 2:7-8). Almighty God, the Presence of Love, the Heart of God, clothed himself in human flesh and bone to become Immanuel (עִמָּנוּ אֵל) - "one with us" - so that we could be touched by Him, healed by Him, saved by Him... Therefore let's join the refrain of heavenly host: "Glory to God in the highest, and upon earth peace, among men - good will."
 

כָּבוֹד לֵאלהִים בַּמְּרוֹמִים
וְשָׁלוֹם עֲלֵי אֲדָמוֹת בְּקֵרֵב אַנְשֵׁי רְצוֹנוֹ

ka·vod · le·lo·him · ba·me·ro·mim
ve·sha·lom · a·lei · a·da·mot · be·ke·rev · an·shei · re·tzo·no
 

"Glory to God in the highest,
and upon earth peace, among men - good will."
(Luke 2:14)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Consider the absolute humility of God by choosing to enter into this world as "baby Jesus." Meditate on the glory and sheer paradox of God's love! "Baby Jesus" is the perfect disguise to hide the truth from the proud eyes of the flesh, though the humble of heart can see... What would do without the gift of God, friends? What hope would we have? Regardless of the exact date of his birth of His birth, thank God that our LORD and Messiah was willing to be born into this dark world to offer Himself as our sacrificial Redeemer!

What do we do, then, if we sincerely seek to follow the Torah's calendar in light of entrenched Christian customs? Well, we certainly may commemorate the birth of Messiah during the holiday of Sukkot (or Passover, etc.), though we must be careful to show charity and use the "good eye" toward those who may adhere to the traditional date for "Christmas." Likewise we commemorate the death and resurrection of Messiah during Passover and Firstfruits, respectively, though we do not begrudge those of good faith who honor these great events of salvation during what they call the "Easter" season. Often we are tested in exactly this way, chaverim! We must not miss the "weightier matters" of extending love to others, as Yeshua clearly taught (Matt. 23:23). Moreover it is written, "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5; Col. 2:16). Friends, we must test the spirits -- and that includes our own! How do we treat the "stranger" among us? How do we regard the "weaker brother?" Do we demand that our doctrine be esteemed, or do we allow room for others to seek the Lord and his wisdom? Ask yourself: Does this person (or group) honor Yeshua as God the Son, the Redeemer of Humanity who died for our sins and rose from the dead? If so, then keep your heart warm and soft toward him, even if he has yet to discover the Jewish roots of their faith. "Strive for peace with everyone" (Heb. 12:14). "Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you" (Phil. 3:15). Though we desire unity with one another (John 17:11), we cannot insist on doctrinal uniformity. The truth is known in humility and love.
 

Chanukah 5775 Collage - Days 4-5

Chanukah Days 4-5 (click for larger)
 




The Providential Prince...


 

[ Our Torah reading for Christmas week is parashat Vayigash... ]

12.22.14 (Tevet 1, 5775)  Though Joseph was given great wisdom to interpret Pharaoh's dreams and to serve as Egypt's steward, his foresight did not prevent the famine from coming in the first place, and the testing that came was part of God's hidden plan. The role of the true prophet is to bear witness to God's truth and to shepherd God's people through the unfolding vision. Joseph could not control the outcome, though he worked within the context of revelation to bring about deliverance. In both the "fat times and the lean" we look to God for comfort and strength: We "show up" every day to ready ourselves for what is coming, even if we currently find ourselves in darkness. We refuse fear because we trust that the LORD our God is guiding our way...

The term hashgachah pratit (הַשְׁגָּחָה פְּרָטִית) refers to God's personal supervision of our lives (hashgachah means "supervision," and pratit means "individual" or "particular"). Since He is the Master of the Universe, God's supervision and providence reaches to the smallest of details of creation - from subatomic particles to the great motions of the cosmos. God not only calls each star by its own name (Psalm 147:4), but knows each particular wildflower and sparrow (Matt. 6:28-30, 10:29). Each person created in the likeness of God is therefore under the direct, personal supervision of God Himself -- whether that soul is conscious of that fact or not. As Yeshua said, even the hairs on your head are all numbered (Matt. 10:30). The God of Israel is called אלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר / Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol-basar: "The God of the spirits of all flesh" (Num. 16:22), and that means He is LORD even over those who vainly attempt to suppress His Presence and reality (Rom. 1-19-20).

Note: For more on this see "Joseph and the Good Eye."
 




His Star Still Shines...


 

12.21.14 (Kislev 30, 5775)  Though the promised birth of Yeshua may have occurred during the holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles), with the incarnation occurring during Chanukah (the Festival of Light), many people of good faith observe the traditional date of December 25th. Regardless of your particular conviction surrounding the date of Messiah's birth, however, the most important point is that he was born to die (Heb. 10:5-7). Indeed, the story of his birth is only significant in relation to His sacrificial death (Mark 8:27-33). The "manger" scene leads directly to the cross. That's the old "gospel story" itself, that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). This matter is of "first importance," namely that Yeshua was born to die for our sins, to make us right with God, and was raised from the dead to vindicate the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 15:3-5). His birth (or rather His incarnation) was the "first step" toward His sacrifice for our deliverance (Heb. 2:9-18).

And while "Christmas" is customarily the time that many people observe the birth of the Savior, it is surely appropriate to celebrate Yeshua's glory as our risen King and Lord every day of our lives.... Therefore I sincerely wish each and every one of you a wonderful Christmas Season.  May we all take time to reflect upon the profound gift of the One who was so great that He emptied Himself (κένωσις) of all His regal glory and power to be clothed in human flesh in order to die as our sin offering before the Father.

Note: For some (hopefully peaceful) discussion about possible birth dates for Yeshua, see "Was Jesus born on December 25th?" For traditional Christmas readings from the New Testament, see Matt. 1:18-2:12, Luke 1:26-2:20.
 




The Revelation of Joseph...


 

[ Our Torah reading for Christmas week is parashat Vayigash... ]

12.21.14 (Kislev 30, 5775)  In our Torah portion this week, Benjamin stood before Joseph accused of the theft of a chalice, while Judah "drew near" (vayigash) and offered to bear the penalty for his brother, pleading with Joseph to spare his father the loss of yet another son. Joseph was so moved by Judah's act of mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice) that he decided the time had finally come for him to reveal his identity to his brothers. After clearing the room, he began speaking in Hebrew and said, אֲנִי יוֹסֵף הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי, "I am Joseph, is my father still alive?" When the brothers drew back in shock and dismay, Joseph said, "Draw near to me, please" (from the same verb nagash) and then explained how God providentially brought him to Egypt to save the family's life....

The revelation of Joseph and his reconciliation with his brothers is a prophetic picture of the acharit hayamim (end of days) when the Jewish people will come to understand that Yeshua is indeed the One seated at the right hand of the majesty on high as Israel's Deliverer. At that time Yeshua will speak comforting words to His long lost brothers and restore their place of blessing upon the earth.  Indeed, the entire story of Joseph is rich in prophetic insight regarding our Lord and Savior.  Vayigash (וַיִּגַּשׁ) means "and he drew near," referring first to Judah's intercession for the sins of his brothers, and then to Joseph's reciprocal desire for the brothers to draw near to him (Gen. 44:18, 45:4). Joseph initiated the reconciliation by saying, גְּשׁוּ־נָא אֵלַי / g'shu na elai - "Please draw near to me," and indeed there is a play on the verb nagash (נָגַשׁ), "draw near," throughout this story. Yeshua is depicted both in Judah's intercession (as the greater Son of Judah who interceded on behalf of the sins of Israel) and in Joseph's role as the exalted Savior of the Jewish people in time of tribulation.  When Joseph disclosed himself and asked, "Is my father alive," we hear Yeshua evoking the confession of faith from the Jewish people: "I am Yeshua: do you now understand that My Father is alive?" Upon His coming revelation, all Israel will confess that indeed God the Father is "alive" and has vindicated the glory of His Son.

Note:  For more information, please read the Torah summary page for Vayigash and its related articles. You can also download the Shabbat "Table Talk" for the portion here:
 


Rosh Chodesh and Winter Solstice...

Note:
Tonight at sundown is Rosh Chodesh Tevet, the Winter Solstice, and the shortest day of the year... Chodesh Tevet marks the 10th month of the Torah's calendar (counting from the first month of Nisan). This was the fateful month that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon besieged Jerusalem before the Temple was destroyed in 586 BC (2 Kings 25:1; Jer. 39:1; Ezek. 24:1-2). The name of the tenth month is explicitly called Tevet (טֵ×'ֵת) in the Scriptures (see Esther 2:16). Rosh Chodesh Tevet is sometimes observed as one day and sometimes as two, because the preceding month (Kislev) is sometimes "full" (consisting of 30 days) and sometimes deficient (consisting of only 29 days). With a two-day Rosh Chodesh, the first day is the 30th day of the preceding month (i.e., Kislev 30th), and its second day is the first day of the following month. Chodesh Tov, chaverim!


 




A Great Miracle Happened...


 

[ This evening at sunset begins the Sabbath of Chanukah week... Shabbat shalom friends! ]

12.19.14 (Kislev 27, 5775)  Each side of a dreidel (a four-sided spinning top used for Chanukah) has a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet: Nun (נ), Gimmel (ג), Hey (ה), and Shin (שׁ), which together form the acronym, Nes Gadol Hayah Sham (נֵס גָדוֹל הָיָה שָׁם) – "a great miracle happened there," referring to the victory of the Macabees. In Israel, however, the letter Shin is replaced with the letter Pey (פּ) to form the acronym, Nes Gadol Hayah Poh (נֵס גָדוֹל הָיָה פּה), meaning "a great miracle happened here," referring to Temple and the land of Israel.  Because Chanukah represents Yeshua, the true Light of the World, we likewise can say: Nes Gadol Hayah Poh, "a great miracle happened here," referring to the Temple of our hearts, when the Light of the LORD overcame our darkness and gave us everlasting hope and consolation...

Thank God that after Yeshua was crucified and died for our transgressions, the parochet in the Temple (i.e, the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple) was torn from top to bottom, thereby opening the way of access to the Divine Presence for all who are willing to come in faith...  The light of God's love now shines for us all!
 




Waking Up to the Light...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Chanukah... ]

12.19.14 (Kislev 27, 5775)  Some people seem to sleepwalk through their days, without ever waking up... They miss life's wonder; they close their eyes to the Divine Presence; they shun asking the "big questions" because this disturbs their prejudices; indeed, they would rather be entertained, mesmerized, and rendered unconscious. Many people prefer to be put under a hypnotic spell than to be brought back to reality; they actually want their illusions and virtual lives! The first step of deliverance is to confess that we are asleep, and that we prefer sleep to opening our eyes to the truth. As it is written, "it is light that makes everything visible; therefore it says, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and the Messiah will shine on you" (Eph. 5:14). Arise and shine, for your light has come:
 

קוּמִי אוֹרִי כִּי בָא אוֹרֵךְ
 וּכְבוֹד יְהוָה עָלַיִךְ זָרָח

ku·mi  o·ri  ki  va  or·rekh
ukh·vod  Adonai  a·la·yikh  za·rach
 

"Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you."
(Isa. 60:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 

It is not easy to wake up, to rouse ourselves, to find focus, concentration, "kavanah," - and yet spiritually speaking it is essential. Hence Yeshua repeatedly asked his disciples: "Do you now believe?" May God have mercy upon us and help us arise to behold His glorious light!
 

Chanukah 5775 Collage - Day 3

Chanukah Day 3 (click for larger)
 




Teshuvah's Like-for-Like...


 

[ Our Torah reading for the Shabbat of Chanukah is parashat Miketz, i.e., Gen. 41:1-44:17. ]

12.19.14 (Kislev 27, 5775)  It is said that genuine teshuvah (repentance) is evident when a person is confronted with the same temptation to which he previously succumbed, but successfully withstands the test and resists.  Joseph's brothers demonstrated teshuvah when they refused to abandon their father's favorite son to the "pit" of an Egyptian prison cell (Gen. 44:16-17). Once the brothers offered to suffer the same fate as falsely accused Benjamin, Joseph knew they had repented and were no longer the same people who had betrayed him when he was a young man...

Note that next week we will read how Judah offered to sacrifice his life for his brother, and this act led to the revelation of Joseph...
 




God's Healing Light...


 

12.18.14 (Kislev 26, 5775)  Happy Chanukah, friends! The Torah records that God's first words were: "Let there be light" (i.e., yehi or: יְהִי אוֹר) and then states 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," a word that first appears 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 created to do" (Gen. 2:3). Likewise we are called away from the darkness to come into the divine light. Indeed the very purpose of salvation is "to turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God" (Acts 26:18). Hashivenu, Adonai...

When the darkness seems to enshroud your way, pray for God's light to be rekindled within your soul. Keep faith that your gloom will soon pass, and that darkness and despair will not be your final end. Your mourning will find its comfort, your tears will be wiped away, and your grief will find its solace... Ask God to transform your heartache into the holy resolve to live and die for the truth of His great love.

Chanukah 5775 Collage - Day 2

Chanukah Day 2 (click for larger)
 




The Light Still Shines...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Chanukah, which began last night at sundown... ]

12.17.14 (Kislev 25, 5775)  Chanukah is important because it stands in opposition to the propaganda of humanism and its ongoing attempt to deny the reality of the Divine Presence in our lives... It makes bold the statement that reality is not reducible to merely natural categories, and it repudiates the "Hellenistic" conceit that all religions are true, and it especially rejects the arrogant notion that the LORD God of Israel is just "one more member" of some globalist pantheon... Chanukah adamantly denies the politically correct dogma that despair is the universal condition of humanity and that darkness will finally extinguish the light. Like the gospel message, Chanukah scandalizes human rationalism and the solipsism that affirms that "man is the measure of all things." "For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world (νικᾷ τὸν κόσμον); and this is the victory that has overcome the world- our faith" (1 John 5:4).

Think counterculturally. It is written: Do not let your mind be conformed (lit., "squeezed into the mold") of this world, but be transformed (μεταμορφόω, i.e., metamorphosized like a caterpillar is changed into a butterfly) by the renewal of your mind (Rom. 12:2). The Greek word translated "renewal" is ἀνακαίνωσις,  from ἀνά, meaning "into the midst," and καινός, meaning "newness." The idea here is that we are inwardly transfigured as we take hold of the truth of the new covenant and make it central to our lives. For this we must "put on the mind of Messiah" and repudiate the world's values and vain philosophy (1 Cor. 2:16). "When the devil is called the god of this world, it is not because he made it, but because people serve him with worldliness." The "god of this world" blinds the eyes of those who do not believe so they cannot see the truth of the gospel of Messiah (2 Cor. 4:4). The philosophy of this world is always based on lies, propaganda, fear, lust, pride, anger, appeals to vanity, and so on.  We must be vigilant, friends, and use discernment by testing the world's assumptions against the truth of the Scriptures.

Chanukah 5775 Collage - Day 1

Chanukah Day 1 (click for larger)

Left-to-right (top): 1. John with Judah and Josiah; 2. Day One; 3. Shine; 4. Gelt and dreidels;
(bottom): 1. Window Decoration; 2. Olga and Josiah; 3. Judah joy; 4. Chanukah glow
 

The darkness of this world is forever 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). Chag Urim Sameach!
 




Love Believes all things...


 

12.17.14 (Kislev 25, 5775)  "I would have fainted unless I believed to see the goodness of the LORD..." (Psalm 27:13). Faith is therefore self-authenticating: as you trust in the good, the good will be revealed. As Yeshua said, "According to your faith be it done unto you" (Matt. 9:29). And if it is faith that makes you whole, then its lack makes you sick... As you doubt, so you will lose sight of what is real, true, and abiding.  Being cynical is cowardly: "There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true" (Kierkegaard). A cynic refuses the possibility of truth because he is afraid of being fooled, and for this fear he willingly closes his eyes to the good. "Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact" (William James). When we trust God's promises, we affirm an unseen good even if the present hour is shrouded in darkness. Faith sees beyond "the seen" to the unseen (2 Cor. 4:18). The "seen" is not ultimately real, and consequently faith is exiled from the vanity of the present hour. Therefore affirm your faith, friend. Refuse the darkness of fear by choosing to believe in the reality of God's love for your soul, despite the mess you've made of your life. Affirm that God's love is more real, more substantive, and more valuable than anything disclosed in this world that fades away.
 




Heeding the Call of Hope...

Tochelet - by J Parsons
 

[ The Festival of Chanukah begins tonight after sundown... ]

12.16.14 (Kislev 24, 5775)  The only way out of the painful ambiguity of life is to hear a message from the higher world, the Heavenly Voice, that brings hope to our aching and troubled hearts: "Faith comes by hearing the word of Messiah - ῥῆμα Χριστοῦ" (Rom. 10:17). And yet what is the meaning of this message if it is not that all shall be made well by heaven's hand? There is hope, there is hope, and all your fears will one day be cast into outer darkness, swallowed up by God's unending comfort... "Go into all the world and make students (תַּלְמִידִים) of all nations" (Matt 28:19), and that means sharing the hope that what makes us sick - our depravity and despair - has been healed by Jesus, and that we escape the gravity of our own fallenness if we accept his invitation to receive life in him. "For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God outshines my darkness."
 

כִּי־אַתָּה תָּאִיר נֵרִי
 יְהוָה אֱלהַי יַגִּיהַּ חָשְׁכִּי

ki · at·tah · ta·ir · ne·ri
Adonai · E·lo·hai · ya·gi·ah · chosh·ki
 

"For it is you who light my lamp;
 the LORD my God outshines my darkness."
(Psalm 18:28)
 


Hebrew Study Card
 

Exercising faith means actively listening to the Eternal Voice, the Word of the LORD that calls out in love in search of your heart's trust... To have faith means justifying God's faith in you, that is, understanding that you are worthy of salvation, that you truly matter to God, and that the Voice calls out your name, too.... Living in faith means consciously accepting that you are accepted by God's love and grace. Trusting God means that you bear ambiguity, heartache, and darkness, yet you still allow hope to enlighten your way.

The Rizhiner Rebbe once said, "Let your light penetrate the darkness until the darkness itself becomes the light and there is no longer a division between the two. As it is written, "And there was evening and there was morning, one day." Yea, the darkness and the light are both alike unto Thee, O LORD, as it is written: "If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you" (Psalm 139:11-12).
 

    "To have faith is to perceive the wonder that is here, and to be stirred by the desire to integrate the self into the holy order of being. Faith does not spring out of nothing. It comes with the discovery of the holy dimension of our existence. Faith means to hold small things great, to take light matters seriously, to distinguish between the common and the passing from the aspect of the lasting. It is from faith from which we draw the sweetness of life, the taste of the sacred, the joy of the imperishably dear. It is faith that offers us a share in eternity." - Abraham Heschel
     

We walk by faith, not by sight - by hearing the Word of God, heeding what the Spirit of God is saying to the heart... For now we "see through a glass darkly," which literally means "in a riddle" (ἐν αἰνίγματι).  A riddle is an analogy given through some resemblance to the truth, though quite often the correspondences are puzzling and obscure. Hence, "seeing through a glass darkly" means perceiving obscurely or imperfectly, looking "through" something else instead of directly apprehending reality. This is contrasted with the "face to face" (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים) vision and clarity given in the world to come, when our knowledge will be clear and distinct, and the truth of God will no longer be hidden. Being "face to face" with reality means being free of the riddles, the analogies, the semblances, etc., which cause us to languish in uncertainty... Now we know in part, but then shall we know in whole.

In light of the obscurity of life in this temporary age, we are encouraged not to lose heart, since though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being raised into newness (ἀνακαινόω) day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). "For our light and transient troubles are achieving for us an everlasting glory whose weight is beyond description, because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17).

Therefore we "walk by faith, not by sight," as if the invisible is indeed visible. We must stay strong and keep hope, for through hope we are saved (Rom. 8:24). Faith is the conviction (ἔλεγχος) of things unseen (Heb. 11:1). Do not be seduced by mere appearances; do not allow yourself to be bewitched into thinking that this world should ever be your home. No, we are strangers and pilgrims here; we are on the journey to the reach "the City of Living God, to heavenly Jerusalem, to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven" (Heb. 12:22-23). Therefore do not lose heart. Keep to the narrow path. Set your affections on things above since your real life is "hidden with God" (Col. 3:1-4). Do not yield to the temptation of despair. Look beyond the "giants of the land" and reckon them as already fallen. Keep pressing on. Chazak, chazak, ve-nit chazek - "Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!" Fight the good fight of the faith. May the LORD our God help you take hold of the eternal life to which you were called (1 Tim. 6:12).
 




Light in our Darkness...


 

[ The following entry is related to parashat Vayishlach... ]

12.16.14 (Kislev 24, 5775)  "Jacob called the name of the place "the Face of God" (i.e., Peniel: פְּנִיאֵל) saying, "For I have seen God face to face (פּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), and yet my life has been delivered" (Gen. 32:30). And where did Jacob see God "face to face" except in the struggle of faith, while seeking the blessing, even in the midst of his own inner conflict? And here too may we find the Shining Presence, the Face of God, even in the midst of our troubled lives, as we struggle, refusing to let go until we are taken hold by God's love...

The "name of the place" (שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם) here refers to the heart, the place of God, the inner sanctuary. Where it says, "let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8), the text literally reads, let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell within them (בְּתוֹכָם), that is, within their hearts. Hamakom is the holy ground of the heart; the Place within where He is known in awe...

Note that even after he was renamed "Israel," the Torah continues to call Jacob by his old name... The sages note that if we drop the Yod from the name Jacob (i.e., Ya'akov: יַעֲקב), we have ekev (עקב), the word "heel," symbolically referring to the lowest level of existence. Adding Yod (י) to the heel is to have the Spirit lead you, even in the lowest of places.
 




Chanukah and Prophecy...


 

12.15.14 (Kislev 23, 5775)  Many Bible scholars say that the prophet Daniel (6th Century BC) foresaw the rise of Alexander the Great centuries beforehand in the vision of a "male goat running from the west" that had a conspicuous horn between its eyes (see Dan. 8:1-12; 21-22). This goat destroyed the power of the kings of Media and Persia (symbolized by two horns on a ram, Dan. 8:20). Though the "goat" (Alexander) became exceedingly great, eventually its horn was "broken into four [kingdoms]," and out of these four horns arose a "little horn" (i.e., the Seleucid king Antiochus "Epiphanes," c. 175-163 BC) who had authority over "the glorious land" (i.e., Israel). This "little horn" (קֶרֶן מִצְּעִירָה) greatly magnified itself, cast down some of the stars (i.e., righteous souls), took away the sacrifices, and defiled the very Sanctuary in Jerusalem.

Antiochus is perhaps most notorious for setting up an altar to Zeus over the altar of burnt offering in Temple compound and sacrificing a pig within the Sanctuary of the Temple itself. This sacrilege is otherwise known as the "abomination of desolation" (שִׁקּוּץ מְשׁמֵם) that was decreed to occur 2,300 days into Antiochus' reign (Dan. 8:13-14). Notice, however, that Daniel's prophecy has a "dual aspect" to it, and the description of the rise of the "little horn" (in Dan. 8:9-10) suggested something far more portentous than the reign of a local tyrant.  This horn "grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the glorious land. It grew great, even to the host of heaven. And some of the host and some of the stars it threw down to the ground and trampled on them."

In light of other New Testament scriptures, it is clear that this "exceedingly great horn" refers to future world leader (sometimes called the "Antichrist") who would one day attempt to "assimilate" all of humanity into a "New World Order" (Dan. 9:26-27, 2 Thess. 2:3; Rev. 13:7-9, etc.). It is likely that it was this sense of the "abomination that makes desolation" that Yeshua referred to in Matt. 24:15 and Mark 13:14, and it is this "abomination that makes desolation" that will be overthrown by Yeshua at the end of the Great Tribulation period (Dan. 8:23-25; Matt. 24:30; Rev. 19:11-16; 20:2, etc.).

 

The intertestamental Book of Maccabees (c. 2nd Century BC) tell us more about this "little horn" and his vicious oppression of the Jewish people. Antiochus installed Hellenistic Jews to the priesthood and demanded the adherence to Hellenistic cultural ideals. He established edicts that prohibited observing the weekly Sabbath and the other biblical festivals. The reading of the Torah was outlawed and all copies of it were ordered to be burned. Temple sacrifices were forbidden; circumcision was outlawed and the penalty for disobedience was death. Women who disobeyed the edict by circumcising their sons were paraded about the city with their babies hanging at their breasts and then thrown down from the top of the city wall (2 Macc. 6:1-11). Many Jews fled and hid in the wilderness and caves and many died kiddush HaShem - as martyrs (see Heb. 11:36-39). Eventually Jewish resistance to this imposed Hellenization meant war. In 164 BC, in Modin, a small town about 17 miles from Jerusalem, Mattityahu (Matthias), a Hasmonean priest, and his five sons took refuge. When Antiochus' soldiers arrived at Modim to erect an altar to Zeus and force the sacrifice of a pig, Mattityahu and his sons rose up and killed the Syrians. They then fled to the Judean wilderness and were joined by other freedom fighters.  After some organizing, they soon engaged in successful guerrilla warfare against their Syrian/Greek oppressors. The three-year campaign culminated in the cleansing and rededication of the Temple (for more on this subject, see Chanukah and Spiritual Warfare).

Note:  For more on this subject, see "Why Christians should celebate Chanukah."
 




Inner Light of Love...


 

12.15.14 (Kislev 23, 5775)  "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, such is the one who loves me. And the one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him" (John 14:21). Note that the Greek word translated "manifest" means to "shine inside" (i.e., ἐμφανίζω, from ἐν, "in" and φαίνω, "shine"), indicating that the revelation would be inward light of the Presence of Messiah himself (Χριστὸς ἐν ὑμῖν, ἡ ἐλπὶς τῆς δόξης, Col. 1:27). As we receive God's love, as we embrace it as our own, the love of Messiah will become inwardly visible to you. This comes from a place of surrender and acceptance.  As Paul Tillich said, "Sometimes in a moment of weakness light breaks into darkness, and it is as though a voice says, 'You are accepted; you are accepted... Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.' If that happens to you, then you experience grace, and everything will be transformed." Ultimately Chanukah is about salvation and transformation - beauty from ashes - and the love of God...
 




The Miketz Prophecies...


 

[ Our Torah reading for the Shabbat of Chanukah is parashat Miketz, i.e., Gen. 41:1-44:17. ]

12.15.14 (Kislev 23, 5775)  Our Torah portion this week is miketz (מקץ), a word that means "at the end," and therefore it points to the prophetic future (i.e., the "end of days" or acharit ha-yamim). Just as Joseph was a "dreamer" who was betrayed by his brothers but was promoted to a place of glory by the hidden hand of God, so Yeshua was betrayed by his people yet was exalted over all the nations (מֶלֶךְ הַגּוֹיִם). And just as Joseph later disguised himself as a "stranger" and an "Egyptian" to his brothers but was finally revealed to be their savior, so will the Jewish people eventually come to see that Yeshua is the true Savior of Israel. Then will come true the hope of Rav Sha'ul (the Apostle Paul) who wrote, "And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, 'There shall come out of Zion the Redeemer (גּוֹאֵל) who shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob'" (Rom. 11:26).

Note: For more on this important topic, see "Joseph and his brothers."
 




Parashat Miketz - מקץ

Tzofnat Pane'ach -
 

[ The eight days of Chanukah run from Tues. Dec. 16th (i.e., Kislev 25) through Tues. Dec. 23rd this year. The weekly Torah reading is not suspended for Chanukah (as it is for Passover and Sukkot), though additional Torah readings are read for each of the eight days of the holiday. ]

12.14.14 (Kislev 22, 5775)  In our Torah portion for Chanukah week, we read how Joseph successfully interpreted Pharaoh's dreams and quickly rose to power in Egypt. Because of a famine in the land of Canaan, however, his brothers came to Egypt in search of food. A disguised Joseph then tested his brothers to see whether they were the same people who had callously sold him into slavery, or whether they had undergone teshuvah (repentance).

The eventual revelation of Joseph and his reconciliation with his brothers is a prophetic picture of acharit ha-yamim (the "End of Days") when Israel, in Great Tribulation, will come to accept Yeshua as Israel's true deliverer.  Presently, the veil is still over the eyes of the Jewish people and they collectively regard Yeshua as an "Egyptian" of sorts. In this connection, I list some of the ways that Joseph is a "type" or foreshadowing of the coming Yeshua as the Suffering Servant (see "Mashiach ben Yosef").

For more information, please read the Torah summary page for Miketz and its related articles. You can also download the Shabbat "Table Talk" for the portion here:
 

Note:  This year the eight days of Chanukah begin on Tuesday, December 16th at sundown (1st candle) and will run through Tuesday, December 23rd. The tradition is that on the first night of Chanukah one flame is lit, on the second night two, and so on until the eighth night when eight flames are lit. In this way we remember the 'growth' of the miracle. We also read a small section of Torah for each of the days of Chanukah. See the Parashat hashavu'ah page for more information.

 




Let your light shine...



 

12.12.14 (Kislev 20, 5775)  Shabbat Shalom, dear friends of the Messiah... When God said, "Let there be light, and there was light" (Gen. 1:3), He seemed to put on light as a robe of the Divine Majesty and Kingship: He wrapped Himself with infinite radiance and power... Therefore: Da lifnei mi attah omed (דַּע לִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עוֹמֵד) – "Know before whom you stand." The whole earth is lit up with God's glory, and every bush of the field is aflame before us -- if we have eyes to see (Isa. 6:3). May it please the LORD to open our spiritual eyes so that we can behold more of His glory and majesty in this hour... Amen.
 

בָּרַכִי נַפְשִׁי אֶת־יְהוָה
יְהוָה אֱלהַי גָּדַלְתָּ מְּאד הוֹד וְהָדָר לָבָשְׁתָּ
 עטֶה־אוֹר כַּשַּׂלְמָה נוֹטֶה שָׁמַיִם כַּיְרִיעָה

ba·ra·khi · naf·shi · et · Adonai
Adonai · E·lo·hai · ga·dal·ta · me·od · hod · ve·ha·dar · la·vash·ta;
o·teh · ohr · ka·sal·mah · no·teh · sha·ma·yim · ka·ye·ri·ah
 

"Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
 covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out
the heavens like a curtain." (Psalm 104:1-2)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

Hebrew Study Card
 

The whole earth is lit up with God's radiant glory, and every bush of the field is aflame before us -- if we have eyes to see (Isa. 6:3). May it please the LORD to open our spiritual eyes so that we can behold more of His glory and majesty in this hour... Stay strong and be of good courage, chaverim. You are loved and appreciated. Amen.
 




Flowers of Providence...


 

12.12.14 (Kislev 20, 5775)  "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.

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).
 




That which God fears...


 

12.12.14 (Kislev 20, 5775)  From our holy Torah we read: "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God..." (Deut. 10:12). Notice that "fear of the LORD," yirat Adonai (יִרְאַת יהוה), comes first. The sages say that to fear the LORD means that your fear should be like God's fear. But what could God possibly fear, you ask? Only this: that you will turn away from his love. To fear God doesn't mean fearing his punishment as much as it means fearing that which breaches the relationship He desires with you. That is the wound of God's heart, and that is what God "fears." One of the greatest of sins is to forget who you really are: a beloved child of God. To fear the LORD means you understand how dear you are to His heart...

It is written that the fear of the LORD is "the beginning of wisdom (רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה)," but it also the beginning of the inner experience of God's love... Without the fear of the LORD, you will walk in darkness and be unable to turn away from evil (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10; 10:27; 14:27, 15:33; 16:6); you will find yourself alone, in a place of sadness and vexation, of despair and inner pain. The Spirit of God's love plainly declares that "the fear of the LORD leads to life (יִרְאַת יְהוָה לְחַיִּים, lit. "is for life"):
 

יִרְאַת יהוה לְחַיִּים וְשָׂבֵעַ יָלִין בַּל־יִפָּקֶד רָע

yi·rat · Adonai · le·cha·yim, · ve·sa·ve·'a · ya·lin · bal · yip·pa·ked · ra
 

"The fear of the LORD leads to life, and the one who has it rests satisfied
and is untouched by evil" (Prov. 19:23)


 


Some people tend to get this backwards, or they may underestimate the seriousness of the issue. The problem is not that people sometimes sin and therefore risk being sent to hell, but rather that people are incorrigible sinners that presently exist in state of hell... Human nature is incurably sick; the wound of our mortality is indeed fatal (Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21-23). As Yeshua taught, the way out of bondage to sinful human nature is through the miracle of spiritual rebirth (John 3:3-8; 8:44). When we accept God's love we are delivered from the guilt that justly condemns our souls (Col. 1:13). As it is says "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (John 3:18). In other words, unless you truly repent by accepting God's love, you risk an eternally loveless existence...  It must be remembered that God does not want any one to perish but for all to be in loving relationship with Him (2 Peter 3:9). "God our Savior desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4). However, "hell is a room locked from the inside," and if you steadfastly refuse to be loved, God Himself will respect your decision...

All this resolves to a sober question about your spiritual identity... Do you believe you are a redeemed child of God? Are you spiritually reborn? Do you accept His love and deliverance, or do you make it conditional, based on your performance? This is not about mere ethics, friends - the world is filled with various kinds of ethical philosophy, after all. No, this is a question about ontology - about who you really are; it's a question about what you are trusting, and it centers on the presence of the miracle within your heart.

We are saved by hope (Rom. 8:24). May you fall before the cross in fear of your sins, but may you be raised up by the reality of God's love for your soul... May you then walk in the awe of God's glorious mercy, "to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul." Amen.
 




Chanukah and Vigilance...

John (Hebrew for Christians)
 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah runs from Dec. 16th - Dec. 23rd this year... ]

12.11.14 (Kislev 19, 5775)   A central message of Chanukah is to resist being "assimilated" into this dark world and its benighted culture.  As it says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed (i.e., transfigured by the light) through the renewal (ἀνακαίνωσις) of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God" (Rom. 12:2). Notice that the Greek word translated "conformed" is a passive verb (συσχηματίζω, derived from σύν, "with," + σχῆμα, "matrix") which means that we must consciously resist being lulled into accepting this world's various ideologies (matrix) that are crafted to ignore Divine the Presence and Truth. In the realm of the spiritual, there is simply no place of neutrality, and if we are not going forward, then it's likely we are going backward... Therefore we are repeatedly commanded to test the spirits (including our own!) and to examine truth claims. We ask God for wisdom and use the discernment from the Holy Spirit.
 

הַשְׁלִיכוּ מֵעֲלֵיכֶם אֶת־כָּל־פִּשְׁעֵיכֶם
אֲשֶׁר פְּשַׁעְתֶּם בָּם
וַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה

hash·li·khu · me·a·le·khem · et · kol · pish·e·khem
a·sher · pe·sha·e·tem · bam
va·a·su · la·khem · lev · cha·dash · ve·ru·ach · cha·da·shah
 

"Cast away from you all the transgressions
 that you have committed,
and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit."
(Ezek. 18:31)


 
Hebrew Study Card
 

We must exercise diligence to ensure we are taken captive by the world and its seductive deceptions.  Both Passover and Chanukah celebrate spiritual freedom, and indeed the very first word given at Sinai was "I AM the LORD thy God who brought you out (הוֹצֵאתִיךָ)... of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). God's first concern is to be known as your Deliverer, the God of your freedom. Therefore the Spirit of God says, "Thou shalt be free" (2 Cor. 3:17; Gal. 5:1). Set your focus, then, on the Divine Presence and refuse to live in fear of mere men and their political schemes. God has an appointment scheduled with the princes of this world, though we trust he is our Good Shepherd who will keep us from the wrath to come...
 




Receiving the Light...


 

[ The eight-day Festival of Chanukah runs from Dec. 16th - Dec. 23rd this year... ]

12.11.14 (Kislev 19, 5775)   The essence of Chanukah is simply to receive the light, to bear witness of the radiance of God's victory. We celebrate the work of God, his salvation (יְשׁוּעָה), and the triumph of his love. Therefore its message is "wake up, open your eyes, and believe" the good news: darkness and despair will not prevail; your mourning will find comfort, your grief its solace. Your heart's deepest longing shines brightly, even now, if you will but believe... With God's help, fight the darkness of fear...
 

קוּמִי אוֹרִי כִּי בָא אוֹרֵךְ
 וּכְבוֹד יְהוָה עָלַיִךְ זָרָח

ku·mi  o·ri  ki  va  or·rekh
ukh·vod  Adonai  a·la·yikh  za·rach
 

"Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you."
(Isa. 60:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 


The LORD said to Moses from the midst of the shining flame: 'Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy' (Exod. 3:5). The Chofetz Chaim comments: "We all need to rise higher... Never say, I will be able to lift myself up at another time or different place. By faith see that this place, right now, is holy ground, and awaits your response." May God open the "eyes of our heart" to help us see (Eph. 1:18-19).


Related Chanukah Topics:

 




Gospel in Few Words...


 

[ I wrote this entry last year but it is worth repeating now, just before the holiday season... ]

12.10.14 (Kislev 18, 5775)   Can you expound the essential meaning of the gospel in a single (and preferably short) sentence? How about "Yeshua the Messiah came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim 1:15), or perhaps, "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)? Of course "unpacking" the meaning of these sentences is where things get more difficult, but a succinct expression of faith can often provide us with a starting point...

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed" (וּבַחֲבֻרָתוֹ נִרְפָּא־לָנוּ). "For in him all the fullness (πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα) of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the message (εὐαγγέλιον) that you heard" (Col 1:19-23).

"For the Messiah also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous (δίκαιος ὑπὲρ ἀδίκων), that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit" (1 Pet. 3:18). "And God is so rich in mercy (מָלֵא רַחֲמִים) and who loves us with such intense love (בְּרב אַהֲבָתוֹ אֲשֶׁר אָהַב אתָנוּ), even when we were dead because of our acts of disobedience, he brought us to life along with the Messiah- it is by grace that you have been delivered (בַּחֶסֶד נוֹשַׁעְתֶּם). That is, God raised us up with the Messiah Yeshua and seated us with him in heaven, in order to exhibit in the ages to come how infinitely rich is his grace, how great is his kindness toward us who are united with the Messiah Yeshua. For you have been delivered by grace through trusting, and even this is not your accomplishment but God's gift" (Eph. 2:4-8).

And of course there is always the old "stand by" verse of John 3:16:
 

כִּי־כֵן אהֵב אֱלהִים אֶת־הָעוֹלָם
עַד־אֲשֶׁר נָתַן בַּעֲדוֹ אֶת־בְּנוֹ אֶת־יְחִידוֹ
וְכָל־הַמַּאֲמִין בּוֹ לא־יאבַד
כִּי בוֹ יִמְצָא חַיֵּי עוֹלָם׃

ki-khen  o·hev  E·lo·him  et-ha·o·lam,
ad-a·sher  na·tan  ba·a·do  et-be·no  et-ye·chi·do,
ve·khol-ha·ma·a·min  bo,  lo-yo·vad
ki  vo  yim·tza  cha·yei  o·lam
 

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only and unique Son,
so that whoever trusts in Him should not be destroyed, but have eternal life"
(John 3:16)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Here are a few other simplified expressions of our faith (I am sure you can come up with some others, chaverim): "He has freed us from our sins by his blood" (Rev. 1:5); "he that has the Son has life" (1 John 5:12); "Yeshua died for our sins, was buried, rose again on the third day, and forever reigns" (1 Cor. 15:3-4,25).

Let's push this approach a bit further.  How about just four words?


Three words?


Can we find two words?

  • "Messiah Crucified" (המָּשִׁיחַ הַנִּצְלָב);
  • "Jesus Saves"
  • "My help" (בְּעֶזְרָתִי)
     

Or how about just one word:

  • Chesed / love (חֶסֶד)
  • Abba (Father)
  • Spirit (הָרוּחַ)
  • Truth (הָאֱמֶת)
  • Hope (תִקוָה)
  • Messiah (הַמָּשִׁיחַ)
  • Moshia - Savior (מוֹשִׁיעַ)
  • King (הַמֶּלֶךְ)
  • Jesus / Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ) - because whatever your need, the answer is found in Him.
     

Finally - dare I suggest it? - how about no words at all? To paraphrase Francis of Assisi, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel - and sometimes use words." Of course words are important, but by themselves they are never enough, and very often they are unnecessary (James 2:18)... There is a language of love ("the works of love") that goes beyond any diction the tongue may express.  This is why the Name of the LORD always is something more than a mere word, concept, or idea... The Name of the LORD is God's love and power and glory and grace and kindness and mercy and passion as He Himself knows it to be real, true, and utterly invincible in all things...
  

חֶסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ
צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ

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

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

The cross, not the scales

Hebrew Study Card

 




Prophecy for every day...


 

12.10.14 (Kislev 18, 5775)   "Listen, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is one." Instead of thinking of the Shema (שְׁמַע) as a commandment to be externally obeyed, you can regard it as a prophecy about your inner life: "You shall love (וְאָהַבְתָּ) the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deut. 6:5). Only God can quicken a dead heart, after all, and fill the soul with holy affections. Only the LORD can impart to us strength needed to take hold of promises as He writes His Torah upon our heart. As it is written, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever" (Rom. 11:36).
 

וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ
וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל־מְאדֶךָ

ve·a·hav·ta · et · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · be·khol · le·vav·kha
u·ve·khol · naf·she·kha · u·ve·khol · me·o·de·kha
 

"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart
 and with all your soul and with all your might"
(Deut. 6:5)



Hebrew Study Card
 

God will take away your stony heart and give you a new heart, along with a new spirit to be willing to know His love, as it is written, "I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezek. 36:26). Your new heart will be like Yeshua's own: open, accessible, flexible, trusting, sharing, emotionally alive, able to feel, pulsating with God's energy and power...

The promise is this: "you shall love," since love is what is most true about who you are... You shall love the LORD, since He is the Source and End of all real love. You will love the LORD more and more, as you grow ever closer to Him and one day will behold Him panim-el-panim, "face to face."  You shall love the LORD with all your heart, which implies God has indeed given you a new heart to love Him with; and with all your soul, which implies that you are enabled to truly feel, and that your heart is made tender and sensitized; and with all your might - that is, with all your "muchness," your "substance," or that reality that makes you who you really are in the LORD... May the LORD fulfill this prophecy in you, friend. 
 





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