Prayer Request (for site updates, see below)
I was laid off from my full-time job awhile ago. After a lot of prayer, soul searching, and discussions with my wife, we have decided to operate this ministry entirely by faith in God's provision through the love and kindness of His people. I am not paid for doing this work, and therefore I ask you to consider supporting us. If you can help, please offer a donation or purchase some of the Hebrew study materials offered here. Encouraging other web sites to link here also helps us become more visible on the web. Above all, agree with us for the Lord's will to be done in our lives. Todah, chaverim.
Note: My wife and I have have three young children (Josiah, Judah, and Emanuel David - born Jan. 17, 2016). The LORD has graciously provided for us as Adonai Yireh (יְהוָה יִרְאֶה), "the One who sees [our need]." We are living one day at a time by the grace and mercy of God, and I want to publicly praise Yeshua and acknowledge His faithful love in caring for my family -- despite the trials during this time. The LORD God of Israel is faithful and true! And to those of you who have sent us a word of encouragement or donation during this difficult time, please accept our heartfelt appreciation! Your chesed truly help sustain us.
יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָךְ - "Blessed be the Name of the Lord."
Jewish Holiday Calendar
Note: For site updates, please scroll past this entry....
Spring is the start of the Biblical Year and is marked by two of the Shelosh Regalim (three annual pilgrimage festivals): Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost). The holiday of Shavuot is held seven weeks (or fifty days) following the morning after Pesach.
The Spring Holidays:
The spring holidays provide a portrait of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah: Yeshua was crucified on erev Pesach, buried during Chag Hamotzi, and was resurrected on Yom Habikkurim (Firstfruits). Shavuot (i.e., the feast of Pentecost) was the day the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) fell on believers in fulfillment of the promise given by our Lord.
Note that in accordance with tradition, the following holiday dates begin at sundown:
Month of Nisan (Fri. April 8th [eve] - Sat. May 7th [day])
Month of Iyyar (Sat. May 7th [eve] - Mon. June 6th [day])
Month of Sivan (Mon. June 6th [eve] - Tues. July 5th [day])
- Month of Adar II (Wed., March 9th [eve] - Fri. April 8th [day])
Note: Because this is a Jewish leap year, the holiday of Passover -- and particularly the Festival of Firstfruits -- will not occur near the traditional date of "Easter" or "Resurrection Sunday" as it is often called in the Gregorian calendar... For more information, see the Calendar Pages....
Dates for Passover 2016:
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May 2016 Site Updates
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Behar.... ]
05.24.16 (Iyyar 16, 5776) Our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Behar) includes two laws that were intended to radically affect the social, economic, and spiritual well-being of Jews in ancient Israel. Regarding the laws of the sabbatical year (shemittah) and the Jubilee (yovel), the LORD states: "The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine, for you are strangers (גֵּרִים) and settlers (תּוֹשָׁבִים) with me" (Lev. 25:23). This is a paradoxical phrase, since a ger is one who is just passing through, like a visitor or tourist, whereas a toshav is one who is a resident, like a settler or citizen. But how can someone be both a visitor and a resident of a place, or a stranger and a citizen at the same time? How can one "pass through" a place he is said to dwell?
Concerning this paradox the Maggid of Dubna comments: "If you see yourselves in this world as strangers and remember that you are here only for a short visit, passing through the hallway of this world, then I will settle among you. However, should you see yourselves as settlers on this world, "owners" who are here to stay, then I am but a stranger among you. Either you are the settlers and I the stranger, or you the stranger and I the settler."
In other words, God "settles" among those who are exiles in this world... Those who "settle" here, who lay claim to this world, therefore make God their stranger. As James the Righteous warned, "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). Likewise the Apostle John admonished: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him... For the world is passing away along with its lusts, but whoever does the will of God shall abide forever" (1 John 2:15,17). Those who walk in faith invariably regard themselves as gerim v'toshavim (גֵּרִים וְתוֹשָׁבִים) - "strangers and exiles" upon the earth (Heb. 11:13).
Note: For more on this see "Strange Settlers: Further thoughts on parashat Behar."
Bones of Reality...
05.23.16 (Iyyar 15, 5776) From our Torah this week (Behar) we read: "For you are strangers and sojourners (גֵרִים וְתוֹשָׁבִים) with me" (Lev. 25:23). When we are strangers to this world, we reside with God: we are called residents of heaven. To be a stranger to this world is a great blessing, since it means we identify our home in the heart of God. By extension, reality is measured by proximity to the Eternal, and the material world - when regarded as an end in itself - is nothing but an illusion, since it cannot exist apart from the sustaining power of God (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:16-17; Rev. 4:11). The sages note that in Hebrew there is no language of categorical ownership, since all things are conditioned by time. We say yesh li (יש לי) - "there is to me" (for this time) rather than "I have" or own. Ownership is related to the "bone" (עֶצֶם) of something, its inner structure and essence. God alone is koneh shamayim va'aretz (קנֵה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ), the Owner of Reality (Gen. 14:9). "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).
לְךָ יָאֶה אֲדנֵינוּ וֵאלהֵינוּ
לְקַבֵּל אֶת הַכָּבוֹד וְהַיְקָר וְהַגְּבוּרָה
כִּי אתָּא בָּרָאתָ הַכּל
וּבִרְצוֹנְךָ הָיוּ וְנִבְרְאוֹ
le·kha · ya·eh · a·do·nei·nu · ve·lo·hei·nu
le·ka·bel · et · hak-ka·vod · ve'ha-ye·kar · ve'ha-ge·vu·rah
ki · at·tah · ba·ra·ta · ha-kol
u·vir·tzon·kha · hai·yu · ve'niv·re·u
"You are worthy, O Lord and our God,
to receive the glory and the honor and the power:
for You have created all things,
and for thy pleasure they are and were created."
Hebrew Study Card
Shekhinah of Humility...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, parashat Behar... ]
05.23.16 (Iyyar 15, 5776) Why is it, the sages asked, that God bypassed all of the world's great and lofty mountains and chose to give the Torah behar Sinai - on the humble mountain of Sinai? Because God's Spirit (רוּחַ) rests with the lowly, the humble of heart. Therefore humility (עֲנָוָה) is considered one of the greatest of middot ha-lev (heart qualities). "For this is what the high and exalted one says, the one who rules forever, whose Name is Holy: "I dwell in an exalted and holy place, but also with the crushed and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the crushed" (Isa. 57:15).
כִּי כה אָמַר רָם וְנִשָּׂא שׁכֵן עַד וְקָדוֹשׁ שְׁמוֹ
מָרוֹם וְקָדוֹשׁ אֶשְׁכּוֹן וְאֶת־דַּכָּא וּשְׁפַל־רוּחַ
לְהַחֲיוֹת רוּחַ שְׁפָלִים וּלְהַחֲיוֹת לֵב נִדְכָּאִים
ki · kho · a·mar · ram · ve·nis·sa · sho·khen · ad · ve·ka·dosh · she·mo,
ma·rom · ve·ka·dosh · esh·kon · ve·et · dak·ka · ush·fal · ru·ach
le·ha·cha·yot · ru·ach · she·fa·lim · u·le·ha·cha·lot · lev · nid·ka·im
"For this is what the high and lifted up One says, the One who abides forever,
whose Name is Holy: "I dwell in a high and holy place, but also with the broken
and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the crushed."
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God reveals Himself to the "lowly in spirit" (שְׁפַל־רוּחַ), that is, to those who understand their own nothingness and complete dependence on Him.... Notice that the word dakka (דַּכָּא) refers to being crushed to the very dust, the very same word used to describe how Yeshua was crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:10). William James called this deep work of the spiritual life Zerrissenheit, a term that can be translated as "torn-to-pieces-hood," or a state of being utterly broken and in disarray... From the point of view of our dependence on God for salvation, dakka refers to humility and contrition we express in light of God's unmerited favor and love for our souls... We identify with the death of Messiah offered on our behalf; we find healing and acceptance in the Presence of the One who was torn to pieces and made dust for our merit. Humility is essential to awareness of God in the truth.
Note: Suffering is ultimately a mystery... Some people experience a deeper sort of breaking, for reasons we cannot fathom, though all people who come to the Lord will experience breaking, an abandonment of self-reliance, and a yearning for deliverance. As Yeshua said of our relationship to the Rock of God's Salvation: "Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed to the dust" (Matt. 21:44).
The "Jubilee" Year...
05.22.16 (Iyyar 14, 5776) Our Torah portion this week (parashat Behar) begins with the commandment that an Israelite farmer must let his land remain fallow every seventh year. This is called the "Sabbatical year" (i.e., shemittah: שמיטה), and the inhabitants of the land were permitted to glean whatever the farmland produced naturally. In addition, the people were told to count seven cycles of seven years – a total of 49 years – and to mark the arrival of the fiftieth year with blasts of the shofar on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). This fiftieth year would be a time of "Jubilee" (i.e., yovel: יוֹבֵל) – a year of "release" for the land and all its inhabitants. All slaves would be set free, debts would be canceled, and the stewardship of the land would revert to its original titleholders.
In this connection, how might you determine whether a given year is a Sabbatical year (i.e., shemittah)? We take the current Jewish year and divide by seven; if there is no remainder, it is a shemittah year; otherwise it is not. For example year 5775 is a Sabbatical Year, whereas year 5776 is not (note that the Jewish year begins on Rosh Hashanah, on Tishri 1, in the fall). The Jubilee year (yovel) of course follows the seventh of the seven year cycles (i.e., 7 x 7 + 1), though there are some questions about which iteration (1st, 2nd, ... 7th) is currently active. According to some authorities, the last Jubilee year was in 5727, which means the next would be Yom Kippur 5776, that is, Tues. Oct. 11th, 2016...
Shavuah tov, friends... Please keep me in your prayers, as I've been feverish and covered with body aches for the last week now... Thank you so much.
Miracle of Heart...
[ The great holiday of Shavuot ("Pentecost") begins sundown, Saturday June 11th... ]
05.20.16 (Iyyar 12, 5776) In the Ethics of the Fathers (Avot 2), the sages debated what was the most important attribute to become a suitable bearer of God's message on earth. One sage answered, having a good eye (ayin tovah); another said being a good neighbor, and another said being wise in one's deeds. Rabbi Elazar, however, said having a "good heart" was most important, which was agreed to be the best answer. Having a good heart is the foundation for spiritual life, but it is impossible to have such a heart apart from the miracle of the Holy Spirit. Note that the gematria of a "good heart," or lev tov (לֵב טוֹב), is 49, the number of days between Passover and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. May God pour out His Spirit upon us so that we have the heart of Yeshua within us!
Shabbat Shalom and may all blessings in Messiah Yeshua be yours, dear friends! May you be made strong and be strengthened. Amen.
Substance of Hope...
05.20.16 (Iyyar 12, 5776) There are moments – dark, gnawing, raw – when you may lose sight of hope, when you might even fear that you have lost your faith – not in God or his promises – but rather in yourself, in your own strength to continue, to stay focused, to keep pressing on "hope against hope..." The remedy here is always the same: to remember that within you – that is, in your flesh - "there is no good thing" and that the miracle of salvation is made secure by God's passion for you, not your own power or desire. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the LORD of Hosts." We don't trust in ourselves nor in the strength of our inner resolve, but solely in the power of God to make the way. We must turn away from ourselves to regain the message of God's unfailing love; only when we lose sight of ourselves do we find ourselves. God redeems you from your lost estate and touches you in your uncleanness; He clothes himself in your pain so that you may be clothed in his love. That never changes, despite dark moments, and to that we must always return...
Where it says, "I can do all things through Messiah who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13), that includes being healed of the inner pain of rejection, abandonment, and even abuse suffered from childhood. It means being set free from disillusionment, despair, and the oppression of relentless fear. "I can do all things through Messiah" means no longer accepting messages of self-hatred, no longer heeding the malicious whispers that say: "I am of no value," "I am unlovable," "my life is hopeless." No, "I can do all things through Messiah" means learning to be accepted, honored, and esteemed by God; it means opening your heart to God's love and blessing for your life; it means allowing your heart to be made right, to rest and enjoy inner peace... After all, Yeshua's great prayer was that we would know the truth of God's love for us (John 17), and this is the central need our lives...
Hallowed be Thy Name...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Emor.... ]
05.20.16 (Iyyar 12, 5776) There may come a severe test of your faith, when it would be better to give up your life than to deny God's will, since God's truth is so valuable that to repudiate it would be worse than death itself... A verse from our Torah portion reads: "You shall not profane my holy name, that I may be made sacred among the people of Israel" (Lev. 22:32), which the early sages said provides the basis for "kiddush HaShem" (קִדּוּשׁ הַשֵּׁם), a phrase that means honoring God's truth even if that might require giving up your life to do so. (On the other hand, denying God's truth is "chillul HaShem," a phrase that means disregarding God's authority over our lives.) Sanctifying God's name means we regard our relationship to God to be an end in itself - our ultimate concern - and there is therefore nothing higher that may challenge our duty before heaven. "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness" (Matt. 6:33). Indeed our mortal life in this fleeting world is a means to the end of reaching our eternal destiny, and esteeming the means above the end is therefore idolatry. In other words, we exist only because of God, and when we live according to God's truth, we take a firm stand against corrupt culture by denying its its godless ideology, its benighted value system, its phony relativism, its arrogant skepticism, and so on. Our faith leads us into collision with the world and its power structures: "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Taking a stand for transcendental truth will make you an outsider to the "crowd" and its endless idols and vanities. Indeed a person of genuine moral conviction may be labeled an "enemy of the state," may be persecuted as a "terrorist," and may even suffer martyrdom. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego rightfully defied the king's decree to bow down before the "golden image," and they confessed that they were willing to die rather than betray the truth of the LORD of Israel (see Dan 3). This is a prime example of kiddush HaShem, of honoring the truth of God even at the risk of losing our lives. For many Jews, reciting the Shema is a solemn declaration that we esteem the truth of God above all things, that God alone is our ultimate good, and that we must be willing to surrender our lives rather than to deny the greatness and glory of His Name.
כִּי־טוֹב חַסְדְּךָ מֵחַיִּים
ki · tov · chas·de·kha · me'chai·yim
se·fa·tai · ye·sha·be·chun·kha
"Because your lovingkindness is better than life,
my lips will praise you."
Hebrew Study Card
Kiddush HaShem may be understand both literally and metaphorically. Literally understood, kiddush HaShem (i.e., martyrdom) is a possibility, one of the severest tests that may be given to the soul, and the temptation is to shrink back from the threat of death by denying the faith... Metaphorically understood, kiddush HaShem is a necessity, an essential act of the will that decides to "take up the cross" and follow Yeshua, and the temptation is to minimize the truth, to compromise the faith, and to slowly fade away... Yeshua asks, "What will it profit a person if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?" (Mark 8:36). Indeed, finding your life, value, and "place" here is to exile yourself from the promise of heaven. As Yeshua said, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 10:39). What is required, in other words, is categorically everything, with nothing left over...
We see an example of both chillul HaShem and kiddush HaShem in the life of the Apostle Peter. On the one hand, though he had boldly professed that he would be willing to die for Yeshua, he later denied that he even knew his Savior and friend (Luke 22:33-34)... After his teshuvah (i.e., repentance) however, Peter became wholehearted and fearless, and Christian tradition says he eventually died as a martyr under the tyranny of the Roman Emperor Nero... Likewise, in our effort to relate to people of different faith, we may be tempted to soften the demands of the gospel or to minimize the deity of Messiah. Sadly I've seen this happen a lot among Gentiles who get so enamored with the Jewish roots of the Christian faith that they begin to question, then outright deny the central Torah of our Messiah. We do not confuse the covenants of God, for this leads to double-mindedness and is regarded as spiritual adultery (see Rom. 7:1-4). It is chillul HaShem - the desecration of the Name above all Names - to turn away from the meaning and message of the cross of Messiah (Gal. 6:14; 1 Cor. 2:2). The price of being loyal to Messiah is mesirut nefesh (מְסִירוּת נֶפֶשׁ) -- surrendering your life by "taking up the cross." The cross is a scandal to religion and all other attempts to whitewash the truth about the human condition (Gal. 5:11).
Appearance and Reality...
05.19.16 (Iyyar 11, 5776) The Hebrew word for "world" or "age" is olam (עוֹלָם), which is derived from a root verb (עָלַם) that means "to conceal" or "to hide." God "hides" His face from us so that we will seek Him, and that means we must press through ambiguity to earnestly take hold of divine truth. Long before the time of the philosopher Plato, King David proclaimed that there was a "divided line" between the realm of the temporal world and realm of the hidden and eternal world. The temporal world is finite, subject to change, yet pointed beyond itself to an eternal world, which was the source of real significance, meaning, and life itself (2 Cor. 4:18). Therefore King David said, בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָיו תָּמִיד/ bakeshu fanav tamid: "Seek His face continually" (Psalm 105:4). Note that the numerical value for the word "fanav" (i.e., "His face") is the same as that for the word "olam." When we truly seek God's face (i.e., His Presence) we are able to discern the underlying purpose for our lives.
דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה וְעֻזּוֹ
בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָיו תָּמִיד
dir·shu · Adonai · ve·u·zo
ba·ke·shu · fa·nav · ta·mid
"Seek the LORD and his strength;
seek his presence continually."
ζητήσατε τὸν κύριον καὶ κραταιώθητε
ζητήσατε τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ διὰ παντός
Note that the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Torah (i.e., the Septuagint) renders this verse as, "Seek the LORD and be strengthened; seek His face through everything (διὰ παντός)." Unlike Plato, however, who "saw through" the temporal world and regarded it as less than real, King David understood that how we live within the intersection of these two realms revealed our inner character of faith -- and therefore our ultimate destiny....
Shelter through the changes...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Emor.... ]
05.19.16 (Iyyar 11, 5776) Our Torah portion for this week (Emor) lists the yearly cycle of Sabbaths and festivals for the people of God (see Lev. 23). The sages say that of all the festivals listed, however, the festival of Sukkot (i.e., "Tabernacles") is associated with joy: "On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD (חַג־יְהוָה) seven days... and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God" (Lev. 23:39-40). Likewise it is written of Sukkot: "You shall rejoice in your feast... you will be altogether joyful" (Deut. 16:13-15). The festival of Sukkot is associated with joy not only because it celebrates the harvest at the end of the year, but because it celebrates God's care for our lives as we sojourn through this world, and ultimately, celebrates our salvation in the world to come (Zech. 14:16; Isa. 33:20; Ezek 37:27; Rev. 21:3). In this life the sukkah represents our temporary dwelling as we walk through the flux, shadows, and decay of this world, and therefore it symbolizes our mortality, and yet we are to regard the festival as z'man simchateinu (זְמַן שִׂמְחָתֵנוּ), the "season of our joy." We joyfully cry out, "L'Chayim! To Life," as we reflect on the days and seasons that have passed, and especially about the great homecoming we have in the world to come.
The festival of Sukkot teaches us not to deny death, but to rejoice in God's ongoing care for our lives. "For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Cor. 4:17-5:1).
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Emor.... ]
05.19.16 (Iyyar 11, 5776) In our Torah portion this week we read, "whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him" (Lev. 24:20). Some of the sages comment that this is not so much about "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" retributive justice as it is about reciprocity of the will. As you see others, so you will see yourself; as you cause a defect in another, so it will be given to you. Therefore the Baal Shem Tov observed, "Other people are like mirrors: the faults we see in others our own." Indeed Yeshua taught us: "condemn not and you will not be condemned; release, and you will be released" (Luke 6:37). As we forgive others, so we find our own forgiveness. "Love covers a multitude of sins" (Prov. 10:12).
Seeking the Given...
05.18.16 (Iyyar 10, 5776) "Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in hell, you are there" (Psalm 139:7-8). Since the LORD is everywhere present, we do not seek for Him beyond our hearts, though we must turn so that we can realize the place where the Divine Presence is.... Therefore "seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually" (Psalm 105:4). Why do we need to seek, though, if God's Presence fills the heavens and the earth? We must seek God because His presence is often hidden from us. "I will hide my face... because you have turned..." (Deut. 31:17-18). Put another way, the "hiding of God's face" comes from our own hiding from God. When we turn to God in confession, however, we discover the truth that God is everywhere present, right in the center of our very heart...
From our Torah we read, "But you shall seek the place (הַמָּקוֹם) that the LORD your God will choose ... there you shall go" (Deut. 12:5). If you love God and God loves you, what need do you have of the world to come, of rewards, accolades, recognition, and so on? The love of God is all you need, and whatever else heaven might mean is surely found in that. If we do not live today - now - are we really living? As it is said, "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand, today - if we hear his voice" (Psalm 95:7).
True and False Worship...
05.18.16 (Iyyar 10, 5776) Asks the Savior: "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?" (Luke 6:46). Regarding this question Kierkegaard comments: "True worship quite simply consists in doing God's will. But that kind of worship was never to people's liking. What occupies people in every age is to arrange another kind of worship that consists of doing their own will, but in such a way that God's name, calling upon God, is connected with it, whereby people think themselves protected against being ungodly – alas, although precisely this is the most definite kind of ungodliness" (The Moment: 1854). It is easy to go wrong here. The will of God is forever to trust in his Son, and indeed, this is the "work of God" (John 6:28-29). Yet this means suffering for God, needing him, yearning for his daily blessing, being abandoned to his care for your life... When out of the depth of our need – without pretense and in despair over ourselves – we cry out to the LORD, he will surely help us. As it is written: "If we ask according to his will, he hears us" (1 John 5:14), and therefore it is the heart's need for Him that is the will of God...
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'" (Matt. 7:21-23). Despite the profession and practice of their faith, these people were strangers to God... They had a false sense of assurance, believing that they were "serving God" while they really were not... Therefore the essential question here is whether Yeshua truly knows you and the need of your heart. You may know a lot about God, religion, spirituality, and yet you may remain unknown by him... Where do you find life? What are you loving? Where are you going?
"On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not ... do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you" (Matt. 7:22-23). From this we understand that good works - even those done in the name of Messiah - are insufficient for life, and that something more is needed... That "something more" is the reality of relationship with him. However, even Yeshua's sacrifice on the cross can't bring you into relationship with him apart from personally receiving it for your healing... By faith you encounter Yeshua clothed in your flesh, your sin, and suffering death for you. "As long as Christ remains outside of us we are separated from him."
Torah of Brokenness...
05.17.16 (Iyyar 9, 5776) It was only after Moses experienced brokenness and confession (prefigured by the shattering of the first set of tablets and the 40 days of teshuvah) that the inner meaning of God's Name was revealed as "mercy, grace, longsuffering, faithfulness, compassion," and so on (Exod. 34:6-7). The passion of Moses prefigures the inner breaking necessary before the law of God can be "written upon the heart." As it is written of the New Covenant, "I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts" (Jer. 31:33).
הָרפֵא לִשְׁבוּרֵי לֵב
ha-ro·fei · lish·vu·rei ·lev
u'me·cha·besh · le'atz·tze·vo·tam
"He is the healer of the brokenhearted
and the One who binds up their sorrows."
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Patience and Healing...
05.17.16 (Iyyar 9, 5776) "Should pain and suffering, sorrow, and grief, rise up like clouds and overshadow for a time the Sun of Righteousness and hide Him from your view, do not be dismayed, for in the end this cloud of woe will descend in showers of blessing on your head, and the Sun of Righteousness rise upon you to set no more for ever" (Sadhu Singh). The Sun of Righteousness (שֶׁמֶשׁ צְדָקָה) does forever shine, even in the dark hours. "Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise."
רְפָאֵנִי יְהוָה וְאֵרָפֵא
הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי וְאִוָּשֵׁעָה כִּי תְהִלָּתִי אָתָּה
re·fa·ei·ni · Adonai · ve·ei·ra·fei
ho·shi·ei·ni · ve·iv·va·shei·ah, · ki · te·hil·la·ti · at·tah
"Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise."
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Personal Note: I have not slept much for several days on account of ongoing pain issues. Today I am running a fever and feel very tired doing the simplest of things. Please pray that I am strengthened to continue serving here. Thank you so much, friends...
You always Speak Twice...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Emor.... ]
05.16.16 (Iyyar 8, 5776) Our Torah portion this week begins, "And the LORD said to Moses, "Speak (אמר) to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say (וְאָמַרְתָּ) to them..." (Lev. 21:1). Rashi noted that the repeated verb emor (אמר) has a softer tone than the verb dibber (i.e., "speak," as in a command), suggesting almost a pleading quality: "Speak softly again and again..." The repetition suggests that the priests (i.e., teachers who would serve as examples to Israel) shouldn't simply tell people what to do/believe, but rather they should both tell and gently demonstrate Torah truth in their daily lives. When teaching, we are always speaking twice: once to explain and a second time to ignite a passion.... Likewise we study the "Living Torah" by first learning from Yeshua (Matt. 23:8) and only afterward are we commissioned to go "to all the nations and teach" (Matt. 28:19). Such education for eternity impels us to make fellow-learners (disciples), not simply by imparting intellectual doctrine, but by kiddush HaShem -- by sanctifying the LORD in our lives. In this way we are made a "living letter" that is sent into the world that shares the living message of salvation (2 Cor. 3:2-3). But we must first learn the meaning of what we say before we say it...
Note: For more on this subject, see Parashat Emor: Speaking Twice.
Perfection and Holiness...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Emor.... ]
05.16.16 (Iyyar 8, 5776) Our Torah portion this week begins by explaining special requirements for Israel's priests, and then goes on to list the yearly cycle of Sabbaths and the seasonal festivals. First of all the priests (kohanim) were required to be "perfect," without any physical defect or uncleanness that might render them unfit for service. Everything about the priests – their clothing, hair style, skin condition, and especially their adherence to the meticulous steps required to offer the daily sacrifice (לֶחֶם אֱלהָיו) - was to be "defect free," and any deviation might incur the penalty of death itself (Lev. 10:2; Num. 4:15, 2 Sam. 6:6-7). On the other hand, what sometimes disqualified a priest were things simply beyond his control, for instance, a variety of physical disabilities such as blindness, having a limp or disfigured limb, and so on (see Lev. 21:16-21).
Thinking about these requirements raises some provocative questions concerning the meaning of "perfection" in our lives, and particularly how we, as a deeply flawed people, can possibly be "perfect." The question is radical and affects how we are to understand practical holiness or the idea of "sanctification": Are we to seek to be perfect people, and if so, how do we understand what this means? Is our spirituality bound up with perfectionism, with flawless performance, and with always being and doing what is right?
In the Sermon on the Mount Yeshua warned that our righteousness should exceed that of the religious leaders of his day (Matt. 5:20), and went on to say: "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). Here we note that the Greek word translated "perfect" (τέλειος) may mean "mature" or "fully developed" more than morally flawless, though regarding moral and spiritual practice this distinction is not clear cut, especially if by "mature" we mean godly in character, as the context of Yeshua's statement clearly implies (see Matt. 5:1-48). The Hebrew word translated as "perfect" (תָּמִים) can also mean "complete," but it can connote being "wholehearted," "sound," or even healed (שָׁלֵם). So the question arises, does the word "perfect" mean "flawless" or "healed" -- or perhaps both?
Of course we affirm that God alone is truly perfect (Deut. 32:4; Psalm 18:30), completely good (Matt. 19:17), flawlessly righteous (Psalm 145:17), entirely holy (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 15:4), and peerlessly unique (Exod. 15:11; Jer. 10:6-7), but how can we relate to God's overmastering perfection in the midst of our daily flaws and chronic imperfections? How dare we approach "to offer the bread of God" (Lev. 21:17)?
Followers of the LORD are called to be a nation of priests, a "select people," set apart to serve God in holiness (Exod. 19:5-6; 1 Pet. 2:9; Lev. 11:45), but it is clear we are blemished, imperfect, blind, halt, needy, and unclean... This is common to the human condition: all of us, Jew or non-Jew alike, are broken, flawed, and in the midst of the inevitable flow of life that leads to death and decay (Rom. 3:23). We are sick with sin and unable to heal ourselves, and therefore we need a radical transformation - "deliverance from ourselves" – that must come through divine intervention and the miracle of spiritual rebirth (John 3:3,7).
Nevertheless in this world the paradox still remains: we are finite yet long for the undying, the infinite; we are in flux yet anchored in hope; we are a "new creation" yet still saddled with the old nature; we are made holy yet we live in the midst of the profane; we are purified yet still need cleansing; we are healed yet are still wounded; we are redeemed of God yet still need to turn to God in teshuvah; we die daily yet have eternal life. Our hearts are to be a divine sanctuary, yet we are powerless to make God appear in our midst...
Perfection haunts us; we often confuse the ideal and the real. Our romantic visions fail us; all of us are strangers, wanderers, in lonely exile. And the question then becomes – how do we embrace the "already-not-yet," the process, the fleeting days with their poignant moments – within the context of real hope, a vision that heals and brings us real comfort? How do we make peace with our imperfections, our present darkness, and our hunger for deliverance? How do we envision healing in the midst of our brokenness?
For more see: "Perfection and Holiness: Further thoughts on parashat Emor."
Parashat Emor - אמור
[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Emor.... ]
05.15.16 (Iyyar 7, 5776) Our Torah portion for this week (parashat Emor) lists the eight main holidays revealed in the Jewish Scriptures. In the Torah, these "holidays" are called "appointed times" (i.e., mo'edim: מוֹעֲדִים), a word which comes from the Hebrew root meaning "witness" (עֵד). Other words from this root include edah (עֵדָה), a "congregation," edut (עֵדוּת), a "testimony," and so on. The related verb ya'ad (יָעַד) means "to meet," "to assemble," or even "to betroth." The significance of the holy days, then, is for the covenant people of the LORD to bear witness to God's love and faithfulness. As it is written:
כָּל־אָרְחוֹת יְהוָה חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת
לְנצְרֵי בְרִיתוֹ וְעֵדתָיו
kol · or·chot · Adonai · che·sed · ve·e·met
le·no·tze·rei · ve·ri·to · ve·e·do·tav
"All the paths of the LORD are love and truth
to the ones guarding His covenant and His testimonies."
Hebrew Study Card
Metaphorically the paths of the Lord (orechot Adonai) are likened to ruts or grooves created by the wheels of a caravan (i.e., orechah: ארְחָה) passing repeatedly over the same ground. These paths signify the Divine Presence journeying with God's children in this world. In temporal terms, we are able to discern the path by means of the divine calendar. God's love and faithfulness attend to His covenant (brit) and to the commemorations of the yearly "appointed times" that testify of God's faithful love. Keeping God's testimonies, then, means that we will be careful to observe the holidays in order to witness to God's truth...
"Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, 'These are the appointed times of the LORD (מוֹעֲדֵי יְהוָה) that you shall proclaim as holy convocations (מִקְרָאֵי קדֶשׁ); they are My appointed times'" (Lev. 23:2). Note that these hallowed times - the very first of which is the weekly Sabbath - are "of the LORD," and that means they should be regarded as appointments given by God Himself to help draw us closer to Him, to reveal His prophetic truth, and to remind ourselves of His great plan for our lives.
Please see the quick summary for Emor for more information. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for this portion here:
Words of Listening...
05.13.16 (Iyyar 5, 5776) In heaven there is only the language of truth, and truth is the language of heaven. "If we ask according to his will, he hears us..." (1 John 5:14). This means that words find their traction only in honesty of the heart, in the midst of our deepest need. Only in "fear and trembling" can we talk with God, though when we pray fervently, our words may trail off until we become silent.... But it is there, in the silence of the soul, that we may learn to listen to the Spirit and hear God's voice. When we seek first the kingdom of God, we will lay aside everything else, quiet our hearts, and focus our will. Seeking God in this way is an end in itself, for whatever else we may seek must be subordinated to this greater seeking. "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13).
Soren Kierkegaard wrote, "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty." Confession means "saying the same thing" about ourselves that God says - and that means not only acknowledging our sins, but also affirming that we are loved by God. "Love hopes all things" (1 Cor. 13:7), and therefore the language of truth is always heard in hope.... Shabbat Shalom Chaverim!
Loving our Friend...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (i.e., parashat Kedoshim) and our duty to love our friend (i.e., "neighbor") as we love ourselves... ]
05.13.16 (Iyyar 5, 5776) From our Torah portion this week we read, "You shall not cheat your friend" (Lev. 19:13). Apart from the obvious sins of defrauding your friend or taking your friend for granted, the sages comment that the failure to see goodness in your friend is considered cheating. Likewise, when you fail to pray for your friend, that too is cheating, as Samuel said, "God forbid (חָלִילָה) that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you" (1 Sam. 12:23). Moreover, where it says "You shall not go about gossiping among your people" (Lev. 19:16), this means we should not seek the faults of others but instead use ayin tovah, the "good eye." "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:10). Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God (1 John 4:7).
"Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy... O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life."
- Francis of Assisi
Torah of the Heart...
05.13.16 (Iyyar 5, 5776) The sages said that "the laws of the Torah were given that people should live by them and not that they should die by them" (Lev. 18:5). This is true, though it is not true without qualification. Legalists and spiritual perfectionists are often depressed because they never feel like they've done enough or have fulfilled their duty. They feel inadequate, and this leads to severity and even to hardness of heart. However, such spiritual failure serves as a "halfway house" to the truth, since the law was intended to reveal our sinful condition and to lead us to a state of brokenness and surrender (Gal. 3:24-25). As is is written, "For from the law comes the knowledge of sin" (διὰ γὰρ νόμου ἐπίγνωσις ἁμαρτίας), but now the righteousness of God (צִדְקַת אֱלהִים) apart from the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets" (Rom. 3:20-21, Gal. 3:19). The phrase "apart from the law" means from an entirely different sphere from that which says, "do this and live." It is the "righteousness" (δικαιοσύνη) that comes from God, not from man. Now the law by itself - though "holy, just, and good" - is powerless to give life, even as it reveals our need for life "outside of itself," so to speak. Therefore we "die to the law" that we might live to God (Gal. 2:19). God's love, then, is the miracle that alone gives us life and power so that we keep the truth of the law -- its heart or inner meaning -- though we transcend the legal idea of justification by trusting in the healing reality of Yeshua our Savior (ישוע מושיענו).
First and last Word...
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Kedoshim (Lev. 19:18)... ]
05.13.16 (Iyyar 5, 5776) The classical Jewish sages often divide the Ten Commandments as those primarily between man and God (לָמָקוֹם) and those between man and his neighbor (לְחֲבֵרוֹ), but these categories resolve to one and the same thing. To see this, note that the Commandments begin with the word anochi ("I AM") and end with le're'kha ("to/for your neighbor"). Joining these together says "I AM your neighbor," indicating that the LORD Himself is found in your neighbor. The first and last word of the law of Moses, then, is simply "I AM your neighbor." Every social transgression is therefore a transgression against God, and vice-versa. As our Scriptures teach, "If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar," and "love fulfills the law" (1 John 4:20; Rom. 13:8). When we love our neighbor as ourselves (אָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ), we are in effect showing love for the LORD.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" (Matt. 5:7). This is the "like-for-like" principle of our judgments: As we forgive, so we are forgiven; as we give, so is given unto us, and so on. How we regard others reflects who we are... The Moishe Leib of Sassov commented on the verse, "You shall not bear a grudge against your friend" (Lev. 19:18) by saying that when you show mercy to others, this awakens the heavens and divine mercy is shown to you as well. Indeed, your forgiveness is your forgiveness. "Middah keneged middah," as you measure, so it will be measured back to you as well...
God's Heart for Zion...
[ Today is Yom HaAtzma'ut (יוֹם הָעַצְמָאוּת), Israel's Independence Day. Am Yisrael Chai! The people of Israel live! We will not forget you, O Jerusalem (Psalm 137:5). ]
05.12.16 (Iyyar 4, 5776) Often it is not what is said that matters, but what is left unsaid... There is an unspoken assumption in the "theological culture" of many churches that Israel and the Jewish people are relatively unimportant for Christians today. There is little passion for the vision of Zion, and meager heeding the words of the prophets who repeatedly promised Israel consolation and a future and a hope. This is the proverbial "white elephant" in the room of institutionalized Christian churches. As I've said before, what you believe about ethnic Israel and Zion will affect ALL other areas of your theology.
Just the other day I met a pastor of a church in my area who believes that the "true Israel" are churchgoers (presumably like himself), and that ancient Israel belongs to the dustbin of history... According to him, Israel represents a sort of "object lesson" of what it means to be "cast off" and "forsaken" by the LORD! When I gently reminded him that God Himself chose to reveal Himself to the world as a Jewish man who spoke Hebrew and who read the Torah in synagogues, he was unmoved and even began to regard me with "theological suspicion." Oy vey. How can Christian pastors and teachers dogmatically assume that the Torah is no longer applicable to Christians when they don't even study Torah or bother to learn the meaning of the Hebrew texts? Indeed, how can they truly apprehend the language of the New Testament when they clearly suppress and disregard its God-given context? What are we to make of such cocksure ignorance, such institutionalized prejudice? Sadly, as the American philosopher William James astutely observed, most people believe they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices...
"To the Jew first..." and this especially means that the message of the Messiah's love is for the Jewish people. Christians who ignore their spiritual debt to the Jewish people and write them off as "unreachable" because of "God's sovereign purposes" are like Pontius Pilate who vainly washed his hands of the guilt he richly warranted... So-called pastors or teachers who deny God's unconditional promises given to ethnic Israel need to rethink whether they are serving the LORD God of Israel - or mere men (Gal. 1:10).
For more on this subject see, "To the Jew First..."
Redirection and Rebuke...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Kedoshim... ]
05.12.16 (Iyyar 4, 5776) We must ask God for great wisdom whenever we seek to correct others... For example, when Nathan the prophet went to King David to confront him about his sin with Bathsheba, he told David the story of the poor man who was robbed of the only lamb he had by a rich man. David's sense of justice was outraged and he instinctively ordered the perpetrator to be put to death. Only after David had pronounced judgment on the offender did Nathan reveal his parable: Attah ha-ish! "You are that man!" (2 Sam. 12:7). As the Baal Shem Tov remarked, God proceeds similarly with anyone due to be punished for a transgression - by retelling the story of his or her sin in a slightly disguised form, as if it had been committed by someone else. When the person condemns the fictitious sinner, he therefore comes to terms with his own sinfulness and culpability... Therefore we are instructed to judge others with awareness of our own frailty and with kaf zechut - the benefit of doubt extended toward the other person. As Yeshua reminded us, "Do not judge by appearances," but "be'tzedek tishpot amitekha" (בְּצֶדֶק תִּשְׁפּט עֲמִיתֶךָ), in righteousness judge your neighbor (John 7:24, Lev. 19:14).
We all have a proverbial "log" in our own eye whenever we attempt to remove the "speck" we see in someone else's (Luke 6:42)... Using an "indirect method" method of communication requires a good deal of wisdom, however, and in general it is a good to refrain from a direct form of rebuke, unless the other person truly understands that you value and care for them. Above all it must be remembered that it is God's job to convict the heart of sin (John 16:18).
Forgiveness and Love...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Kedoshim... ]
05.12.16 (Iyyar 4, 5776) Notice that the great commandment to love your neighbor "kamocha" (i.e., "as yourself") is given in connection with forgiveness. Leviticus 19:18 reads, Lo tikom, ve'lo titor (לא־תִקּם וְלא־תִטּר): "You must not take vengeance nor bear a grudge ... but you must love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD." This means, among other things, that we must learn to forgive ourselves if we are to find hope... As an aside, let me ask why the oft-repeated phrase, "I am the LORD" appears after so many of the Torah's commandments (i.e., "You shall do x... I am the LORD")? The sages reply, to remind us that God sees everything and nothing is hidden from His eyes... God knows our hearts, chaverim, and perfectly understands our inner intentions. Yeshua, the Word of the LORD, is "sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart" (Heb. 4:12).
The King of Truth...
05.12.16 (Iyyar 4, 5776) Yeshua attested to Pontius Pilate, "For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world - to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:38). Our Torah portion this week (Kedoshim) includes the statement, Lo ta'amod al dam re'ekha: "You must not stand idly by when your neighbor's life is at stake" (Lev. 19:16). The principle of lo ta'amod (לא תַעֲמד) means that we have a moral duty to speak the truth when others are victimized. "Standing idly by" can therefore mean refusing to come forward with the truth about a situation from fear of the consequences, but it can also mean excusing the sin of our culture and of our friends. "A truthful witness (עֵד אֱמֶת) rescues lives, but the one who breathes lies (יָפִחַ כְּזָבִים) brings deception" (Prov. 14:25). As it is written, "You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness (עֵד חָמָס)" (Exod. 23:1). It is the truth that sets people free to serve God, but this presupposes the ability to discern how we all become enslaved to deception. "You are to distinguish between the holy (i.e., ha-kadosh: הַקּדֶשׁ) and the common (i.e., ha-chol: הַחל), and between the unclean (i.e., ha-tamei: הַטָּמֵא) and the clean (i.e., ha-tahor: הַטָּהוֹר)" (Lev. 10:10, see also Ezek. 44:23). Just as God separated the light from the darkness (Gen. 1:4), so we are called to discern between (בֵּין) the realms of the holy and the profane, the sacred and the common, and the clean and the unclean. Indeed, the Torah states "God called the light Day, and the darkness he called night," thereby associating His Name with the light but not with the darkness (Gen. 1:5). "For you all are sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness" (1 Thess. 5:5). We are instructed therefore to wear the "armor of light" (τὰ ὅπλα τοῦ φωτός, Rom. 13:12) and to be equipped to wage spiritual warfare in God's Name (Eph. 6:11-18).
Central Idea of Torah...
05.11.16 (Iyyar 3, 5776) The focal point and the very heart of what practical holiness means is stated as the duty: ve'ahavta le're'akha kamokha (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ) - "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18). Note that the direct object of the verb (i.e., ahav - to love) is your "neighbor" (רֵעַ). But who, exactly, is your neighbor? Some have claimed that the word re'a (neighbor) refers only to one's fellow Jew or friend, and not to others at large in the world. However this is certainly false, since the "stranger" (ger) is explicitly identified to be an object of our love (see Lev. 19:34). And note that when Yeshua was asked this very question, he turned it around. Instead of attempting to find someone worthy of neighborly love, we are asked to be worthy and loving neighbors ourselves (Luke 10:29-37).
וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ אֲנִי יְהוָה
ve·a·hav·ta · le·re·a·kha · ka·mo·kha · a·ni · Adonai
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD."
Download Study Card
In this connection, it is interesting to note that the gematria for the Hebrew commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (i.e., וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹך) equals 820, the same value as the word yekidashti (וְקִדַּשְׁתִּי), "And I [the LORD] will sanctify" (Exod. 29:44). When God commands us to "love your neighbor as yourself," he graciously includes the addendum: "I am the LORD," which the sages understood to mean, "I will help you to do this," or (in this case) "I will sanctify you through your acts of lovingkindness."
Love is the central idea of all true Torah. Though there are some slight language differences between the Exodus and Deuteronomy versions of the Ten Commandments, both begin with "I AM" (אָנכִי) and both end with "[for] your neighbor" (לְרֵעֶךָ). Joining these together says "I am your neighbor," indicating that the LORD Himself is found in your neighbor. When we love our neighbor as ourselves (אָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ), we are in effect demonstrating our love for the LORD. We must learn to disregard the claims of our ego and cling to the idea of chesed. So who is your neighbor? You are -- to every other soul you may encounter this day.
Spelling out "Repentance"
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (i.e., parashat Kedoshim) and our duty to love our neighbor as we love ourselves... ]
05.11.16 (Iyyar 3, 5776) Rabbi Sussya of Anipol once said: "There are five verses in the bible that constitute the essence of the Torah. These verses begin in Hebrew with one of these letters: Tav (תּ), Shin (שׁ), Vav (ו), Bet (בּ), and Hey (ה), which form the word for repentance, "teshuvah" (תְּשׁובָה). The five verses are 1) Tamim tiheyeh (תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה): "Be wholehearted before God" (Deut. 18:13); 2) Shiviti Adonai (שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה): "I have set the LORD always before me" (Psalm 16:8); 3) Va'ahavta lere'akha (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ): "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18); 4) Bekhol derakekha (בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ): "In all your ways know Him" (Prov. 3:6); and 5) Higid lekha (הִגִּיד לְךָ): "Walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). In other words, the way of teshuvah, of answering God's call for you to return to Him, is to sincerely set the LORD before you, to love others, and to walk out your days in heartfelt gratitude.
הִגִּיד לְךָ אָדָם מַה־טּוֹב
וּמָה־יְהוָה דּוֹרֵשׁ מִמְּךָ
כִּי אִם־עֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד
וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת עִם־אֱלהֶיךָ
hig·gid · le·kha · a·dam · mah · tov
u'mah · Adonai · do·resh · mi·me·kha
ki · im · a·sot · mish·pat · ve·a·ha·vat · che·sed
ve·hatz·ne·a · le·chet · im · e·lo·hey·kha
"He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you:
Only to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk modestly with your God"
Hebrew Study Card
In other words, "teshuvah" (repentance) may be seen as an acronym that stands for being wholehearted, seeking God, loving others, knowing God in all your journey, and walking in humility. May the LORD our God impart the miracle of teshuvah to each of us today....
Sensing the Sacred...
05.11.16 (Iyyar 3, 5776) The Torah records God's first act of creation with the imperative utterance: "Let there be light" (i.e., yehi or: יְהִי אוֹר), and then goes on to say that "God separated (וַיַּבְדֵּל) the light from the darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). It is this "separation," or distinction, that is foundational to the concept of kedushah (קְדֻשָּׁה), or "holiness." Holiness is also expressed in the distinction between ordinary and sacred time: "God blessed the seventh day and made it holy" (יְקַדֵּשׁ) because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation" (Gen. 2:3). Therefore we are repeatedly told to "distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean" (Lev. 10:10). Note that the word translated "distinguish" (וּלֲהַבְדִּיל) comes from the same verb used to describe how God separated the light from the darkness. In order to do this, we need understanding (i.e., binah: בִּינָה), or the ability to distinguish between (בֵּין) realms of reality. As it is written, "You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and I have separated you (וָאַבְדִּל) from other people that you should be mine" (Lev. 20:26).
וִהְיִיתֶם לִי קְדשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי יְהוָה
וָאַבְדִּל אֶתְכֶם מִן־הָעַמִּים לִהְיוֹת לִי
vi·yi·tem · li · ke·do·shim · ki · ka·dosh · a·ni · Adonai
va·av·dil · et·khem · min-ha·a·mim · li·he·yot · li
"You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy
and I have separated you from the peoples to be mine"
There is no other way to approach the Holy One apart from consciousness of His infinite glory and unsurpassable worth. "I will lift up my eyes to the hills" (Psalm 121:1). As the Holy One (i.e., ha-kadosh: הַקָּדוֹשׁ), the LORD (יהוה) is utterly unique, distinct, sacred, and set apart as the only One of its kind. He alone is worthy of true worship and adoration, since He alone is utterly peerless, without rival, and stands in relation to the world as Creator, Redeemer, and Lord. To affirm the LORD is holy is to be conscious that He is utterly sacred.
Note: Being "holy" does not mean being sanctimonious or having a sour face about the world and its carnal pleasures. It has nothing at all to do with affected spirituality, angry pride, or the fear of becoming unclean... Indeed, some of the most holy moments are those of love, joy, peace, as well as times of struggle, sorrow, affliction, and fiery temptation. Holiness is ultimately "ontological," which means it has to do with reality... A person can be holy and yet sinful; he can be holy and yet feel lost or abandoned. On the other hand, a person can be seemingly sinless, morally upright, and yet be completely unholy.
05.10.16 (Iyyar 2, 5776) Our Torah portion this week (Kedoshim) reveals that the "appointed times" (i.e., mo'edim: מוֹעֲדִים) were given by God to help us turn away from the omnipresent urge within the human heart to embrace vanity: "Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father and guard (שָׁמַר) my Sabbaths (שַׁבְּתתַי)... Do not turn to worthlessness (i.e., אֱלִיל) or make for yourselves any molten gods" (Lev. 19:3-4). In other words, the Biblical holidays - including weekly Shabbat, monthly Rosh Chodesh, and so on - were intended to help us to sanctify ("set apart," "make holy") the times and seasons in order to remind us of God's Presence (Psalm 104:19). Therefore they are called mikra'ei kodesh (מִקְרָאֵי קדֶשׁ), "times in which holiness is proclaimed" (Lev. 23:2). The Torah's declaration that these days are holy implies that they are set apart for special activities, such as commemorating God as our Creator (Shabbat), our Redeemer (Passover), our Resurrection (Firstfruits), our Law Giver (Shavuot), our King (Rosh Hashanah), our High Priest (Yom Kippur), our Shelter (Sukkot), and so on. In this connection it should be noted that it is a mistake to assume that the divine calendar was somehow abrogated with the cross of Yeshua, since all of the Jewish holidays center on Him, and indeed the advent of the Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit) occurred precisely after the prescribed 49 day countdown to Shavuot (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4).
Presently our lives "suspended" between two worlds - this phenomenal world with its illusions (olam hazeh), and the real world of spiritual substance and meaning (olam haba). We exist in an "already-not-yet" state of expectation and yearning where we must consciously mediate the truth of heaven by bringing it "down to earth." This is a truth war, and by truth I do not mean intellectual knowledge as much as the living truth that marks the lifestyle and vision of a follower of Messiah. We consciously remember Torah truth; we choose to always "set the LORD before us," and take "every thought captive to the passion of Messiah..." May God help us heed the call to walk in holiness by the power of His love and grace. Amen.
For more on this subject, see "Practical Holiness: Further thoughts on Kedoshim."
God's "Super Sign" of Israel...
[ The following is related to Yom HaAtzma'ut (יוֹם הָעַצְמָאוּת) - Israel's Independence Day - which begins May 11th at sundown this year. Happy 68th Birthday, Israel! ]
05.10.16 (Iyyar 2, 5776) After the Jewish people had suffered for nearly 2,000 years of exile as clearly foretold by Moses (see Lev. 26:38, 44; Deut. 28:64-64) and the other Hebrew prophets (Isa. 43:5-6; Jer. 30:11; Joel 3:2; Ezek. 36:8-10; Hos. 9:1-10, etc.), Israel was miraculously reborn as a nation in their ancient homeland on May 14, 1948 (Iyyar 5, 5708). Today Jews across the world celebrate Iyyar 5 as Israeli Independence Day, which this year will be observed a day earlier, on Wednesday May 11th at sundown.
Israel's Independence Day is called Yom Ha'atzma'ut (יוֹם הָעַצְמָאוּת), the "day of independence." In Hebrew, the word independence (atzma'ut) comes from atzmi - "my bones" (i.e., etzem: עֶצֶם), so the name itself alludes to God's glorious promise to revive the "dry bones" (עֲצָמוֹת) of Israel by bringing the Jewish people back from their long exile during the End of Days (Ezek. 37:1-6). "Son of man, can these bones live?"
But why should Christians care about ethnic Israel? After all, many Christian denominations advocate some version of "Replacement Theology" and regard the promises God made to the Jewish people as belonging exclusively to their church... The existence of the modern State of Israel therefore evokes little thanks to God from these groups, and some of their ranks even regard Israel's revived presence on the world stage as an embarrassment to their typically "liberal" theology. Hence we see the (remarkably bad) phenomena of so-called "Christian" church denominations that express anti-Israel sentiment, even asking their followers to divest investments in Israel on behalf of the "Palestinians," etc.
The title "Christ" refers to the anointed King of Israel, the Mashiach (מָשִׁיחַ)... To say "Jesus Christ" is therefore to affirm that Yeshua is none other than the Messiah, the rightful King of Israel (מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל). Followers of Jesus, the One born "King of the Jews" (Matt. 2:2), should therefore care deeply about Israel because the existence of Jewish people - and of the nation of Israel in particular - demonstrates that the LORD (יהוה) is completely faithful to the covenant promises He made to our patriarchs (e.g., Gen. 15:9-21). Indeed, the Name of God is forever designated as "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Exod. 3:15), just as it is also the "LORD God of Israel" (יְהוָה אֱלהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל). The perpetuity of the Jewish people - despite so much worldwide and satanic hatred over the millennia - is an awesome testimony of God's loyal love (Jer. 31:35-37). עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי / am Yisrael chai: "The people of Israel live!" Israel is a sign of the "sure mercies of David" (חַסְדֵי דָוִד הַנֶּאֱמָנִים) that are revealed in Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah (Isa. 55:1-6). Moreover, the New Covenant itself, as foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, explicitly promises the perpetuity of the Jewish people throughout the ages (Jer. 31:31-37):
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD (יהוה), when I will make a new covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law (תּוֹרָה) within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar– the LORD of hosts is his Name: "If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) cease from being a nation before me forever." Thus says the LORD: "If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israelfor all that they have done, declares the LORD. – Jer. 31:35-36
According to this theologically critical passage, if you saw the sun shine today or the stars in the night sky, you can be assured that God's promise to preserve the "offspring of Israel" -- (i.e., zera Yisrael: זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) -- is in effect. Indeed, in the world to come, heavenly Jerusalem will have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel engraved upon its gates (Rev. 21:12). Note well that this is the only occurrence in the entire Tanakh (i.e., "Old Testament") that the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) is explicitly mentioned... It is a foundational passage of Scripture for those who claim to be followers of the Jewish Messiah.
All the blessings Christians enjoy ultimately come from the root of God's covenants with Israel... Yeshua our Savior was born the King of the Jews, and plainly said salvation is "from the Jews" (Matt. 2:2; 27:11; John 4:22). The Apostle Paul clearly warned those who think the church has "replaced" Israel: "Remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you" (Rom. 11:18). This doctrine is so foundational that it may be rightly said that how you think about Israel will affect every other area of your theology. Indeed, the nation of Israel is God's "super sign" that He is faithful to His covenant promises (Jer. 31:35-37). Celebrating Israel's existence acknowledges God's loyal love for us all! For more on this subject, see the article, "Is Christianity Anti-Jewish?"
In the holy Torah we read how God said to Moses, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (אֱלהֵי אַבְרָהָם אֱלהֵי יִצְחָק 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). "Your Name, O LORD, endures forever, your renown, O LORD, throughout all ages" (Psalm 135:13). Therefore the prophet cries: "in the east give glory to the LORD; in the coastlands of the sea, give glory to the Name of the LORD, the God of Israel" (אֱלהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל).
יְהוָה שִׁמְךָ לְעוֹלָם
יְהוָה זִכְרְךָ לְדר־וָדר
Adonai · shim·kha · le'o·lam
Adonai · zikh·re·kha · le'dor · va'dor
"Your Name, O LORD, endures forever,
your renown, O LORD, throughout all ages"
Being the Beloved...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Kedoshim... ]
05.09.16 (Iyyar 1, 5776) Our Torah portion this week (Kedoshim) begins: "The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 'Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy (קדשִׁים תִּהְיוּ), for I the LORD your God am holy'" (Lev. 19:1-2). Because we are chosen to be God's people, his redeemed children, we should be holy, just as God is holy (see 1 Pet. 1:15-16). Holiness, however, is not a matter of what you do (such as wrapping yourself in religious rituals) but is instead a matter of who you are. You are someone beloved who has been rescued and taken up from the "depths of Egypt" to be united with God. Holiness is something you receive within your heart; it is a gift of being "set apart" to be sacred and beloved by God. Genuine holiness (i.e., kedushah) is connected with love and grace. "Being holy" therefore means coming alive and looking away from that which deadens the spirit (Col. 3:1-4); it means accepting yourself as the Beloved of the LORD...
As I've said before, the word kedushah (קְדוּשָׁה) means sanctity or "set-apartness" (other Hebrew words that use this root include kadosh (holy), Kiddush (sanctifying the wine), Kaddish (sanctifying the Name), kiddushin (the ring ceremony at a marriage), and so on). Kadosh connotes the sphere of the sacred that is radically separate from all that is sinful and profane. As such, it is lofty and elevated (Isa. 57:15), beyond all comparison and utterly unique (Isa. 40:25), entirely righteous (Isa. 5:16), glorious and awesome (Psalm 99:3), full of light and power (Isa. 10:7), and is chosen and favored as God's own (Ezek. 22:26).
Prophetic Significance of Israel...
[ The following is related to Yom HaAtzma'ut (יוֹם הָעַצְמָאוּת) - Israel's Independence Day - which begins Wednesday, May 11th at sundown this year. Happy 68th Birthday, Israel! ]
05.08.16 (Nisan 30, 5776) Can a case be made that we among the "terminal generation" before the return of Yeshua? The Torah predicted that the "End of Days" would occur sometime after the return of the Jewish people from their worldwide dispersion back to the land of Israel (Deut. 30:1-3), and indeed the theme of exile and return is repeated in the prophets (Jer. 23:3; 32:37-38; Ezek. 37:21, etc.). Therefore it is surely extraordinary that Israel was reborn as a nation in their ancient homeland on May 14, 1948 (Iyyar 5, 5708), after nearly 2,000 years of exile... Moreover, the existence of the modern State of Israel is entirely consonant with New Testament prophecies regarding the advent of the Messiah, since Yeshua taught that the Jewish people would be in the land of Israel at the time of his second coming, and that the city of Jerusalem would be surrounded by enemies of the Jewish state (see Matt. 24-25; Mark 13, Luke 21). Furthermore, if we understand a "generation" to mean 70-80 years in duration (as stated in Psalm 90:10), then when Yeshua said, "this generation (ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη) shall not pass until all these things take place" (Matt. 24:34), he was referring to the generation that would originate with the restoration of the modern State of Israel, which further implies that Daniel's 70th Week (i.e., the Great Tribulation) could begin very soon. And while it is true that "no one knows the day or hour" of Yom Adonai haGadol (יוֹם־יְהוָה הַגָּדוֹל), the "great day of the LORD," Yeshua faulted the scribes and the Pharisees for failing to discern "the signs of the times" (Matt. 16:3) and for missing the "time of their visitation" (Luke 19:44).
מִי רָאָה כָּאֵלֶּה
הֲיוּחַל אֶרֶץ בְּיוֹם אֶחָד
אִם־יִוָּלֵד גּוֹי פַּעַם אֶחָת
mi · sha·ma · ka'zot
mi · ra'ah · ka'e·leh
hai·yu·chal · e·retz · be·yom · e·chad
im · yiv·va·led · goy · pa·am · e·chat
"Who has heard such a thing?
Who has seen such things?
Shall a land be born in one day?
Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?"
Like many other prophetic statements found in the Jewish Scriptures, this verse from the prophet Isaiah is "dual aspect," since it was both partially fulfilled when the Jewish people reestablished the State of Israel, but it will be entirely fulfilled at the outset of the Millennial Kingdom after the return of Messiah (see Isa. 66:7-16; Rom. 11:26). Meanwhile we behold the restoration of the "Fig Tree," and understand that the great harvest draws near, friends... May God help each one of us be awake, ready, with hearts full of steadfast faith (1 John 3:2-3; Titus 2:11-14; Matt. 24:32). Amen.
Regardless of how you may regard the prophetic events that herald the "end of the world," however, know this: Today might be your last in this world - your very own Rosh Hashanah when you will appear before the Judge and Creator of your life... Therefore live each day as if it might be your last and pray that God will help you to serve Him in the truth....
Note: Let me add that while we may discern that the time is indeed short, I do not believe in "date setting" or predicting the return of the LORD, since that is חוכמה אטומה, "sealed wisdom" known only to the Father (Matt. 24:36, Acts 1:7; 1 Thess. 5:2, etc.). Shalom.
Parashat Kedoshim - קדשים
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Kedoshim... ]
05.08.16 (Nisan 30, 5776) Last week's Torah portion (Acharei Mot) concerned the yearly Yom Kippur ritual that purged the uncleanness and sin of the people and restored the Sanctuary to a state of purity. This week's Torah portion (Kedoshim) continues the theme of purity with the LORD saying to "the whole assembly of Israel" (כָּל־עֲדַת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל), "You must be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy" (Lev. 19:2). Note that the commandment to speak to the "whole assembly" differs from earlier instructions ("Speak to the Israelites, and say to them..."), which has led some of the commentators to say that these instructions were to be taught to Israel in a more public way (i.e., be'hakel - "in full assembly"). At any rate, this portion lists more mitzvot (commandments) regarding practical ethics (musar) than any other of the Torah, thereby directly connecting the holiness of the community with obedience to God's moral truth...
After stating the foundational requirement to be holy, the LORD begins to explain, "Each of you must respect (i.e., yirah: יִרְאָה) his mother and his father, and you must keep my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God" (Lev. 19:3). The duty to revere (or honor) one's parents recalls the Fifth Commandment (Exod. 20:12), which is the starting point of learning to respect other people in our lives. Notice that the word for "my Sabbaths" (שַׁבְּתתַי) implies both the keeping of the weekly Sabbath as well as the "appointed times" of the LORD. As we will see, sanctifying time is a way we can express practical holiness in our lives...
Various practical commandments are given in this Torah portion through which a Jew is sanctified, or set apart to be kadosh - holy - and therefore fit for relationship with God. God is not only "wholly Other" (i.e., transcendent) but also pervades all of creation (i.e., "immanent"), and those who are called into His Presence must therefore be holy themselves. Such practical holiness results in sanctification obtained through the observance of commandments (mitzvot). These commandments include both mitzvot aseh (commandments to do something) and mitzvot lo ta'aseh (commandments to refrain from doing something). In addition, chukkim, or "statutes" are given that further separate the Jew from the customs and profanity of the surrounding nations.
For example, though it is inevitable (and psychologically necessary) that we make judgments about other people, the Torah states, be'tzedek tishpot amitekha, "in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor" (see also John 7:24), which implies that we must use the "good eye" (ayin tovah) when we think of other people. Indeed, the focal point and the very heart of what practical holiness represents is stated as ve'ahavta le're'akha kamokha - "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Note that the direct object of the verb (ahav - to love) is your neighbor. But who, exactly, is my neighbor? Some have claimed that the word rea (neighbor) refers only to one's fellow Jew - not to others at large in the world. However this is obviously false, since the "stranger" (ger) is explicitly identified to be an object of our love (Lev 19:34). And note that Yeshua the Mashiach answered this question by turning it around. Instead of attempting to find someone worthy of neighborly love, I am asked to be a worthy and loving neighbor myself (Luke 10:29-37).
The phrase ve'ahavta le're'akha kamokha (Lev. 19:18) is considered the most comprehensive rule of conduct toward others found in the entire Torah. The Talmud (Shabbat 31a) tells the story of how Rabbi Hillel, a contemporary of Yeshua, was once challenged by a pagan: "Make me a proselyte, on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel agreed, and while standing on one foot said, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah and the rest is commentary; go and learn it." Yeshua likewise said, "In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this is the point of the law and the prophets" (Matt 7:12). The apostle Paul - who was a student of Hillel's grandson Gamaliel - likewise wrote: "Love (ἡ ἀγάπη) does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment (πλήρωμα) of the law" (see Rom. 13:10, Gal. 5:14).
Notice that the commandment to love our neighbor is given in connection with forgiveness. Leviticus 19:18 reads, Lo tikom, ve'lo titor (לא־תִקּם וְלא־תִטּר): "You must not take vengeance nor bear a grudge ... but you must love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD." In Jewish tradition, "Yom Kippur does not atone until we have made peace with one another." In light of the greater glory of the New Covenant, this may be stated, "the Cross of Yeshua will not avail you unless you are willing to forgive others for their sins against you" (Matt. 6:14-15).
The problem, of course, is not that we don't know what our duty before God is, but rather finding the means to truly live a life of love and forgiveness toward others in this fallen world... But thanks be to God - the Holy Spirit enables us to do the impossible...
Happy Mother's Day note: I want to express my heartfelt thanks to God for all the mothers out there, and particularly for my own mom, my mother in law, and for my dear wife Olga, who is such a loving and kind mother to our three sons... Thank you so much, and happy Mother's Day, dear ladies.... What would we be without you?
The Torah of Love...
05.06.16 (Nisan 28, 5776) "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." Dear Lord, Light of Salvation, shine your light upon us!
And may God's love shine within your heart, friend... Shabbat Shalom.
The Heart of Atonement...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot... ]
05.06.16 (Nisan 28, 5776) Most of our deepest anxieties come from the fear of death, whether we are conscious of this or not... Death represents fear of the unknown, fear of being abandoned, fear of being rejected, fear of being separated from others, and so on. I am so glad Yeshua gives us eternal life, which for me is not so much about immortality of the soul as it is being loved and accepted by God... That is what "at-one-ment" means, after all (John 17:22-23). Because God loves and accepts us, we trust Him to be present for us, even in the darkest of hours, on the other side of the veil, where he there "prepares a place for us" (John 14:2). As Yeshua said, "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the One who sent me has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and will not be condemned, but has passed (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24). God's love "crosses over" from death to life and now forever sustains me.
Our Torah reading for this week (Acharei Mot) provides details about Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement," a special service that gave ritual expression of God's love by making purification for our sins. As I've explained before, the word for love (i.e., ahavah: אהבה) equals the number thirteen (1+5+2+5=13), but when shared it is multiplied: 13 x 2 = 26, which is the same value for the Sacred Name (יהוה), i.e., (10+5+6+5=26). Likewise the Hebrew word for "life" is chayim (חַיִּים), is written in the plural to emphasize that life cannot be lived alone but must be shared. Notice that within the word itself are embedded two consecutive Yods (יי), representing unity in plurality (Yod-Yod is an abbreviation for YHVH, also indicating the "deep Akedah" of Father and Son). God gave up His life so that we can be in relationship with Him, that is, so that we can be "at-one" with His heart for us. Whatever else it may mean, then, the Hebrew word for "atonement" (i.e., kapparah, "covering," "protection," "purification," "forgivenenss") is about accepting God's heart for you - being unified in his love - and if you miss that, you've missed the point of the Torah's teaching....
Humility and Presence...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot... ]
05.06.16 (Nisan 28, 5776) We read in our Torah for this week (i.e., Acharei Mot): "in this way (בְּזאת) Aaron shall come into the Holy place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering" (Lev. 16:3). Here the sages note the word b'zot (בְּזאת), meaning "in this way," is numerically equivalent to the Hebrew word shafal (שָׁפָל), meaning "fallen," "broken," "made low," or "humble," which suggests that the way to enter the holy place is by means of humility... On the other hand it is written: "the arrogant cannot stand in God's presence" (Psalm 5:5) because pride blinds the heart from apprehending Reality. Indeed the word translated "arrogant" in Psalm 5:5 is hollelim (הוֹלְלִים), literally, the "shining ones" who praise themselves but are spiritually regarded as לֹא שָׁפוּי, or "insane." Our Torah verse teaches that we can only come before the Divine Presence with "fear and trembling," that is, by understanding the truth of our radical need for deliverance and healing...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot... ]
05.06.16 (Nisan 28, 5776) From our Torah portion this week we read: "You shall keep my decrees and my judgments, the pursuit of which man shall live: I am the LORD" (Lev. 18:5). The Kotzker Rebbe advised reading this verse as "You shall keep my decrees and judgments to bring life into them," meaning that we should bring all our heart, soul, and strength into the teaching of Torah. The commandments nourish the soul as food does the body. Just as we seek to make our food flavorful, so we seek to observe the truth with conviction and joy. "And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands" (Psalm 90:17).
וִיהִי נעַם אֲדנָי אֱלהֵינוּ עָלֵינוּ
וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדֵינוּ כּוֹנְנָה עָלֵינוּ
וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדֵינוּ כּוֹנְנֵהוּ
ye·hi · no·am · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · a·lei·nu,
u·ma·a·seh · ya·dei·nu · ko·ne·nah · a·lei·nu,
u·ma·a·seh · ya·dei·nu · ko·ne·nei·hu
"May the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yea, establish the work of our hands!"
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God in your Midst...
05.06.16 (Nisan 28, 5776) In our Torah for this week (Acharei Mot) is a wonderful verse (Lev. 16:16) which states that the LORD "dwells with them in the midst of their contamination" (הַשּׁכֵן אִתָּם בְּתוֹךְ טֻמְאתָם). Even though the people were unclean (i.e., defiled by tumah), the Divine Presence (Shekhinah) was not removed, and the means for reconciliation were provided... This verse should encourage us to do teshuvah and find hope, even in the midst of our own struggle with evil. To those who lament over their sins, feeling as if they are beyond redemption, the LORD says: "I am with you there – in the midst of your suffering." Amen, God never leaves nor forsakes us, and even if were to "make our bed in hell," He is present with us (Psalm 139:8). As the Berditchever Rebbe once said: "You can be for God, and you can be against God, but you cannot be without God." Amen! The One who named Faithful and True can never deny the reality of his passion and care for you...
אַל־תִּירָא כִּי עִמְּךָ־אָנִי אַל־תִּשְׁתָּע כִּי־אֲנִי אֱלהֶיךָ
אִמַּצְתִּיךָ אַף־עֲזַרְתִּיךָ אַף־תְּמַכְתִּיךָ בִּימִין צִדְקִי
al ti·ra ki im·me·kha a·ni; al tish·ta ki a·ni E·lo·he·kha
im·matz·ti·kha af a·zar·ti·kha, af te·makh·ti·kha bi·min tzid·ki
"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
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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 is for us, then who is able to stand against us? "In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? (Psalm 56:11). Indeed, Yeshua came to die to destroy both the works of the devil and the power of death itself, in order to "release all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (1 John 3:8; 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, but rather life, peace, and love. Because Yeshua is alive, we also shall live (John 14:19); because of Yeshua's victory, we can now walk without fear: al-tirah, "Fear not, for I Am with you."
"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.
Our Need for Atonement...
[ Our Torah this week (Acharei Mot) explains the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) ritual... ]
05.05.16 (Nisan 27, 5776) Yeshua's first words of public ministry were "Repent and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). The word "repent" is metanao (μετανοέω), meaning "change your thinking" (i.e., transcend your fears and prejudices) and the word "gospel" means "good news" (i.e., εὐαγγέλιον, from , εὖ- "good," and ἄγγελος, "message"). We could therefore translate the verse as: "Change your thinking and believe the message of God's good will toward you." When the Apostle Paul later testified of his dramatic conversion experience on the Road to Damascus, the resurrected Messiah commissioned him to go to the Gentiles in order to "open their eyes, so that they may turn (ἐπιστρέφω) from darkness to light and from the power (i.e., ἐξουσία) of Satan to the power of God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me" (Acts 26:18).
Humanity's greatest need is to be loved and accepted by God, but this requires a solution to the problem of sin. A "good judgment" from heaven, however, cannot be obtained through self-justification or through "works of righteousness which we have done" (Titus 3:5). The "books" are opened in heaven with a detailed record of all our sinful acts (Rev. 20:12). The violation of God's law requires atonement. Yeshua is God's exclusively appointed Sin Bearer, and only by means of trusting in his sacrificial death on the cross are we are declared not guilty (or "justified") by faith. Only God can justify the ungodly (Rom. 4:5) and "clothes" us with His own righteousness (see Zech. 3:1-5). Salvation is of the Lord. In the end, the only righteousness that really matters is the righteousness of God... We must renounce all hope of other approaches or defenses. None of us is righteous, "no, not one" (Psalm 14:2-3; Rom. 3:10). All our righteousness is as "filthy rags" before the throne of Heaven: "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away" (Isa. 64:6).
For more on this great topic see, "Yom Kippur and the Gospel..."
Behold the Goat of God...
[ Our Torah this week (Acharei Mot) explains the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) ritual... ]
05.05.16 (Nisan 27, 5776) The original Passover sacrifice (korban Pesach) was not given to the Levitical priesthood as a sin offering since it preceded Sinai and the giving of the laws concerning the sacrificial rites. In the same way, Yeshua's sacrifice was directed from Heaven itself by means of the prophetic office of Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק) - a higher order of priesthood (Gen. 14:18; Psalm 110:4; Heb. 7).
And while we are perhaps more familiar with the Biblical imagery of Messiah as "the Lamb of God" (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), it is nonetheless true that he is also depicted as "the Goat of God" (עֵז הַאֱלהִים) who purifies us from iniquity and offers his blood for our everlasting atonement... As the "Lamb of God" Yeshua provides redemption from slavery to Satan and freedom from the wrath of God. By means of his shed blood and broken body, the plague of death passes over us and we are set free to serve God (this is the Passover connection). As the "Goat of God," Yeshua provides both personal cleansing (i.e., "atonement" for sin: the Greek word (ἱλαστήριον) is used in the LXX for the kapporet (i.e., mercy seat) in the Holy of Holies that was sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice on Yom Kippur) as our personal Mediator before the Father, as well as corporate cleansing for ethnic Israel at the end of the Great Tribulation period. At that time Yeshua will function as Israel's true High Priest whose sacrifice is applied for Israel's purification, and so "all Israel shall be saved" (this is the Yom Kippur connection).
Note: For more on this see, "Yom Kippur and the Gospel" and "Behold, the Goat of God."
Kaddish and Providence...
05.05.16 (Nisan 27, 5776) Since we trust that "all things work together for good" (Rom. 8:28), we bless God for perceived evil as well as for perceived good, since all circumstances of life come from the hand of the LORD our God. We believe in an all-powerful, supreme LORD who has not abandoned the world, but who actively sustains and upholds it with benevolent intent. When bad things happen to the righteous, we trust in God's personal care for their ultimate good, despite their present troubles. "Though he slay me, I will trust in Him" (Job 13:15). This is the heart behind the Kaddish, the mourner's prayer, that expresses acceptance of God's world, despite the pain, sorrow, loss, and so on.
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 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 lily 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). Indeed, 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. "Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth?" (Jer. 23:24).
The Talmud says that when Moses asked God, "Please show me your glory" (Exod. 33:18), he was asking for God's vindication in the light of the gnawing question: "Why do the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper?" Moses was not given an explicit answer, and some of the sages said he wrote the enigmatic Book of Job to demonstrate that the question can only be reduced to God's inscrutable will: "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?" (Job 38:4). In other words, the question can only be answered by the One who knows the beginning from the end, the Infinite One who sees the implications and concatenation of all things. As finite beings, we see only a fraction of the big picture, and therefore we must yield our trust to the Wisdom and Power of Almighty God (Deut. 32:4).
It is written, "Your eyes saw me when I was inside the womb. All the days ordained for me were recorded in your scroll before one of them came into existence" (Psalm 139:16). 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 orphans, lost in a fatherless world... All our days are recorded in God's scroll...
גָּלְמִי רָאוּ עֵינֶיךָ וְעַל־סִפְרְךָ כֻּלָּם יִכָּתֵבוּ
יָמִים יֻצָּרוּ וְלא אֶחָד בָּהֶם
gol·mi · ra'u · ei·ne·kha · vw'al-sif·re·kha · kul·lam · yik·ka·tei·vu
ya·mim · yutz·tza·ru · ve·lo · e·chad · ba·hem
"Your eyes saw me when I was inside the womb. All the days ordained for me
were recorded in your scroll before one of them came into existence."
Therefore may God "teach us to number our days to get a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). The sages say on the day of death, one considers one's life as if it had been a single day... Life goes by so quickly, and we never know when our personal Rosh Hashanah will come. "No one knows the day or hour..." That's why it is so vital to be healed and to turn to God while there is still time. So turn to him today and bacharta ba'chayim (בָּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים) - "choose life!" "For this commandment (of turning to God in teshuvah) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away. It is not in heaven... nor across the sea.... Rather, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; Rom. 10:8-13).
For more on this, see the meditation entitled "Paradox and Presence."
The Narrow Door...
05.05.16 (Nisan 27, 5776) "Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (Luke 13:24). The narrow door is the way of humility, assuming a low position, crawling, if you will, and making yourself small... The large, wide-open door is designed for the crowd and its idols. Beware of the world that seeks to assimilate the soul: beware of becoming part of the crowd! The individual is lost and overwhelmed in the midst of the crowd and its momentum. The crowd assimilates the soul, laughs at the notion of individual responsibility, and abandons itself to the gravity of purely natural forces... The life of faith, on the other hand, refuses to regard the individual human heart as a triviality, a joke. Faith is an individual struggle, a walk into unknowing; it is the way of the sojourner who feels uneasy in this world of shadows... God is always with us and helps us stay strong and resolute, even as we struggle through the darkness of this age. Press on, chaverim! Do not lose sight of your high calling in Yeshua.
Beauty for Ashes...
[ Yom HaShoah, or "Holocaust Remembrance Day," begins this evening at sundown... ]
05.04.16 (Nisan 26, 5776) Some people mark the date of November 9, 1938 as the start of the Jewish Holocaust. On that dreadful night - called Kristallnacht, "the Night of Broken Glass" - thousands of Germans, organized by the Nazis, destroyed over 1,000 synagogues, burned precious Torah scrolls and prayer books in town squares, ransacked and looted over 7,000 Jewish businesses, and invaded and terrorized many Jewish homes. Many Jews were killed during the attacks, and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken away to the concentration camps. Kristallnacht was followed by further persecution of the Jews and is viewed by most historians as the pogram that initiated the infamous "Final Solution."
To readily identify who was a Jew to the authorities, Hitler ordered all subjugated peoples of Jewish descent to wear yellow stars of David on their clothing. Hitler relied on non-Jews to spy on and identify all those who did not comply. When the order to wear the star was issued in Holland, however, an underground newspaper made 300,000 yellow stars that said, "Jews and non-Jews stand united in their struggle," and distributed them to the public to express their solidarity with the plight of the Jewish people. In Denmark, too, the "yellow star law" was rebuffed, and King Christian X was reported to have said that if the law were to be enforced by the Nazis, he pledged to wear one himself, as would all the other people of Denmark. Later, the Danish resistance movement (with the help of ordinary Danish citizens) opposed the Nazis by safely evacuating the Jews to nearby neutral Sweden.
By far the largest act of civil resistance against Hitler and the Nazis occurred during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which took place in Poland on the eve of Passover, April 19, 1943. Unfortunately most Jews were unable to defend themselves because oppressive gun control laws had disarmed the population; nevertheless, it still took the Nazi war machine nearly a month to vanquish the ghetto - longer than it took for Hitler to overcome the entire country of Poland. Because the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising symbolized Jewish resistance against the Nazis, in 1953, after the State of Israel was formed, it was proposed to observe Yom HaShoah on the anniversary of the uprising -- on the 14th of Nisan -- but this date was rejected because it marked the start of Passover. After considerable debate, the memorial was postponed until after the Passover holiday week was over, on the 27th of Nisan, eight days before Yom Ha'atzma'ut, or Israeli Independence Day.
While there is no official "haggadah" for the Yom HaShoah memorial, it is traditional to light a yellow yahrzeit candle for those who died, to attend a Yom HaShoah memorial service, and to recite kaddish. Some people prepare a lavish meal using recipes written from memory by the starving women of Theresienstadt (salvaged after the war). Many of these recipes are for rich desserts and cakes, recalling days of joy before the women and their families were rounded up and brought to the concentration camps. During the memorial meal, stories of Jews who died are told, as well of those of survivors. Many survivors tell stories about the "hidden children" who were saved by righteous Gentiles (חֲסִידֵי אוּמוֹת הָעוֹלָם). These young survivors were either hidden in secret places (like Anne Frank) or were "adopted" by Christian families who pretended they were their own children.
What does the Holocaust mean to you? How do you do "theology after Auschwitz?" Does the Shoah rouse you to be vigilant against the rise of political evil in the world? Does its warn you how about how easy it is for you to "tune out" - to close your eyes, ears, and nose to the presence of evil and the practice of social injustice and crimes against humanity? As Elie Wiesel said, "Indifference to evil is evil." Hitler not only murdered millions of Jews (including over a million Jewish children), but he also murdered millions of non-Jews whom he regarded as a threat to his political ideology and to "homeland security." We must never forget the horrors of Holocaust because it could happen again - and to believe otherwise is to forget the radical evil lurking within human nature. Germany was perhaps the greatest nation of Europe, cultured, brilliant, "Christian," enlightened, with a rich history of intellectual and artistic genius -- and yet it nevertheless practiced unspeakable barbarity and tolerated massive and heartless genocide against the Jewish people...
קוּמִי רנִּי בַלַּיְלָה לְראשׁ אַשְׁמֻרוֹת
שִׁפְכִי כַמַּיִם לִבֵּךְ נכַח פְּנֵי אֲדנָי
שְׂאִי אֵלָיו כַּפַּיִךְ עַל־נֶפֶשׁ עוֹלָלַיִךְ
ku·mi · ro·ni · va·lai·lah · le·rosh · ash·mu·rot
shif·khi · kha·ma·yim · lib·bekh · no·khach · pe·nei · a·do·nai
se·i · e·lav · ka·pa·yikh · al · ne·fesh · o·la·lai·yikh
"Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches!
Pour out your heart like water before the face of the LORD!
Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children."
"I believe. I believe in the sun even when it is not shining; I believe in love even when feeling it not; and I believe in God, even when God is silent" (from an anonymous poem found on the wall of a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where some Jews hid from the Nazis).
"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference." - Elie Weisel
"Do you know what hurts so very much? It's love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill that love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel." - Holocaust Survivor and Righteous Gentile, Corrie ten Boom
Though we can't control what happens in this dangerous world, we can trust that God is working all things together for good, even during times of severe testing, and even in things that are blatantly evil (Rom. 8:28; Gen. 50:20). And while we instinctively recoil at the prospect of physical death, there are decidedly things worse than death itself, namely, losing hope in life, walking in the darkness of despair, living a joyless existence because of fear. As much as we abhor evil - and we must resist it with all our hearts - even more must we love the good - and cling to God (וּלְדָבְקָה־בוֹ) with all that is within us.
During the evening of Yom HaShoah we watched the 1975 movie, "The Hiding Place," which retells the story of Corrie ten Boom's life. The movie ends with a quote from her sister Betsie, who died at the Ravensbrück concentration camp: "There is no pit so deep that He [God] is not deeper still. For more on this, see "Beauty for Ashes: Further thoughts on the Shoah..."
Humility and Love...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot... ]
05.04.16 (Nisan 26, 5776) Regarding the verse from our Torah portion, "The LORD spoke to Moses after the death (אַחֲרֵי מוֹת) of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the LORD and died" (Lev 16:1), the sages note the principle "to whom much is given, much is required" (Luke 12:48), particularly regarding service to God and living its consequence... Loving God requires both yearning for connection with him combined with a commitment to express his will in the mundane affairs of life. The sin of Aaron's sons was not that they sought closeness to God, but that their desire did not bear fruit in their practical experience. And such is the danger of those who zealously offer "strange fire" by seeking God at the expense of the lowliness of everyday experience. Some people seek for visions, signs and wonders, mystical revelations, prosperity, and so on, but they do so at the cost of their duty to make a Sanctuary for God in the midst of their everyday existence. May the LORD protect us and help us draw near to Him in the truth.
Yom HaShoah - יוֹם הַשּׁוֹאָה
[ Yom HaShoah, or "Holocaust Remembrance Day," begins this evening at sunset... ]
05.04.16 (Nisan 26, 5776) Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, takes place on the 27th of Nisan, which this year begins Wednesday, May 4th (at sundown) and runs until after sundown the following day. Shoah is the Hebrew word for "disaster" and is another name used to refer to the European Holocaust, when six million Jews - including one and a half million children - were systematically murdered by the Nazis during World War II.
Yom HaShoah was established as a national holiday by the Israeli Knesset on August 19, 1953, though at first there were many rabbis who objected to its establishment because Tishah B'Av already commemorated the multiple tragedies of the Jewish people. These rabbis further reasoned that were it not for the exile caused by the destruction of the Second Temple (commemorated during Tishah B'Av), the European Holocaust itself would not have occurred, and therefore an additional holiday was superfluous. Nevertheless, the emotional pain of the Holocaust was so great that the objection of the rabbis was rejected by the people, and the only question left was when Yom HaShoah should be observed. Many people called for a Nisan 15 date, since that marked the time of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but since Nisan 15 marks the second day of Passover, it was rejected. After various dates were suggested, the date of Nisan 27 was finally accepted -- after Passover Week but still during the time of the uprising in Warsaw.
Despite being universally recognized as a holiday by Jews around the world, there is no official liturgy to observe Yom HaShoah... In Israel, during the morning of Nisan 27, a siren sounds, all activity stops, and people stand in honor of those who died. Memorials and vigils are observed, often with a candle lighting ceremony in honor of the six million Holocaust victims. Many hold name-reading ceremonies to memorialize those who were murdered.
The Shoah forces us to deal with the moral problem of evil in the world - that is, how could an all-loving and all-powerful God permit the rise of Nazi Germany and the murder of the Jewish people? Post-Holocaust theology is a difficult subject, and we must be careful to tread softly and with due reverence... But it is imperative that we never forget what happened to the Jewish people, just as we must always be vigilant for political power that seeks to impose fascist control or that seeks to "scapegoat" other people for political purposes... Tragically, the underying spirit of Nazi ideology is still operational in this twisted world, as evidenced by the spurious idea of "homeland security" and other police state tactics that are now routinely used to control people for political and economic purposes....
Love and Reproof...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot... ]
05.04.16 (Nisan 26, 5776) In our Torah portion this week there is a wonderful verse (Lev. 16:16) that states that the LORD "dwells with them in the midst of their contamination" (הַשּׁכֵן אִתָּם בְּתוֹךְ טֻמְאתָם). Even though the people were unclean (i.e., defiled by sin and tumah), the Divine Presence was not removed and the means for reconciliation were provided... Aren't you glad that the love of God doesn't "stop there" (i.e., with a verdict about our sinful condition) but goes beyond the offense to provide remedy and hope?
Yeshua said, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I AM in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). This is expressed by the Hebrew word for love (i.e., ahavah: אהבה), the gematria of which is thirteen, but when shared with another is multiplied: 13 x 2 = 26 -- the same value for the name of the LORD (יהוה). The commandment, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ) thus awakens in the other the same kind of love for you -- and the result will be a "double love" -- or the love of God (אַהֲבַת הָאֱלהִים). Of course this isn't easy, but immediately after giving the commandment, God declares: "I AM the LORD" (אֲנִי יְהוָה), which the sages traditionally interpret to mean, "I, the LORD, will help you fulfill this commandment if you sincerely wish to do so."
Our Lord Yeshua extended the "like-for-like" nature of love (with its implicit appeal to self-interest) by commanding us to (literally) love our enemies. Most of us find rationalizations to excuse ourselves from this duty, of course, and we are only too glad to accept the propaganda of the world that wars are "patriotic," that vengeance is "just," that people who are different from us are to be held in suspicion, and so on. Yeshua, however, says: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:44-45). Love is more important than even truth, or rather, love is the ground or foundation of the truth... Love is truth, in other words, at least from the perspective of Heaven. God doesn't call out people to become "professors" as much as He calls people to become lovers... It is better to love than to be "right." Love is willing to embrace the wrong in others in redemptive hope. If we find ourselves unwilling to extend such grace, perhaps it's because we are struggling to accept it as our own....
For more on this topic, see the Torah article "Love and Reproof."
[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Acharei Mot... ]
05.03.16 (Nisan 25, 5776) We "sanctify" our hearts whenever we consciously focus on what is sacred, awesome, wonderful, and glorious about Reality, and in particular, on the Living God, oseh shamayim va'aretz (עשֵׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ), the Maker of Heaven and Earth, and the great salvation we have in Yeshua. In our Torah portion this week (Acharei Mot) we read: "You shall not do as they do (לא תַעֲשׂוּ) in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do (לא תַעֲשׂוּ) in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes" (Lev. 18:3). In other words, we are not to follow the crowd, to appeal to the status quo, or to mimic the customs of the world because we are a visionary people. Being in a vital relationship with God means separating from the ordinary and mundane, leaving our "original homeland" behind us and crossing over to the realm of blessing. Abraham had to leave the land of his father before he could receive the promise; the Israelites had to trek far into the desert before they received the vision at Sinai, and we have to leave our old lives behind to partake of newness of life. There is a radical break from the past -- we are transformed, reborn, and made into new creations by the miracle of God (2 Cor. 5:17). "Being holy" therefore means coming alive and looking away from that which deadens the spirit (Col. 3:1-4). Behold, the LORD God of Israel makes all things new.
The call to be holy is radical and completely contrary to the world and its messages of conditional approval. Worldly culture flatters itself by making a pretense of true originality and genuine love. It imagines itself to be "cool," unconventional, creative, sophisticated, artistic, and so on, but really it is often trite, uninspired, boring, and stupidly tragic. To be truly original means encountering God in your daily experience, struggling through the day in faith, disregarding the clamor and demands of popular culture and its idolatry (i.e., fads, fashions, trends, etc.). God calls his people to come alive, to be new, and to experience abundant life; we are to treasure the unseen, the possible, and to keep faith in the healing good that will overwhelm all darkness. Now that's radical; that's original; that's powerful; but the world and its fads, idols, political heroes and pop stars are nothing but vanity and folly...
Note the connection between worldliness and idolatry, since idolatry essentially involves trying to find your identity, your worth, your satisfaction, and your ultimate fulfillment in the realm of the transitory and the finite (i.e., the world) rather than in God.... We are (rightly) warned against the vices of "worldliness" and are admonished to abstain from popular culture and its spurious values, but note well that worldliness extends well beyond all this, since it concerns understanding the identity and nature of the person as a whole. The fruit of worldliness is the result of being rooted in this world rather than in God's kingdom. The various desires of the human heart - even the desire for "normal things" like personal happiness in this world - may be regarded as "worldly" if they are devoid of submission to God and His rule. Conversely, even Christian workers may be "worldly" if they base their identity in what they do rather than who they are in the Messiah...
We are "in" but not "of" the world; we are embedded within our culture to be salt and light, and that means we stay true to our vision and relationship with the LORD our God... We don't have to reinvent the wheel, however, since we learn from one another and especially from the testimony of our holy Scriptures, but nevertheless we must personally venture out and encounter God within our own hearts, trusting in his love for our everlasting healing. B'chol dor va'dor: in each generation an individual should look upon himself or herself as having been personally delivered from Egypt. To be efficacious, the message of the Passover Lamb must be personally received by the heart of faith.
Renew the affirmation of faith and know who you are: "If then you have been raised with Messiah, seek the things that are above (τὰ ἄνω ζητεῖτε), where the Messiah is seated at the right hand of God; focus your thoughts on the things above - not on things here on earth - for you have died, and your life has been hidden with Messiah in God. Then when the Messiah, who is your life, appears, you too will appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4).
Deliver Us from Evil...
[ Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day, is observed May 4th (and 5th) this year... ]
05.02.16 (Nisan 24, 5776) In hindsight of his harrowing experience at the death camps, Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl wrote: "No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same" (Man's Search for Meaning, 1984 edition). There is a "shadow" or darker side to ourselves that we normally keep hidden from view, even from ourselves. Yeshua said "out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander, and these are what defile a person" (Matt. 15:19-20). If you were given a magic ring which when placed on your finger made you invisible, would your behavior change? Would you be moral if you were entirely sure that you wouldn't be held accountable? Why is it difficult to understand our true motives, to "own" the darker impulses that sometimes rise within us? Each of us can act like a petty Pharaoh, and - dare I say it - even like a cruel Nazi at times, blaming others to excuse our own evil ways... When we come to the light to confess the truth, we become more aware of what we really need, and we can ask God for healing; we then can forgive ourselves and begin to "lift off" our stuff from others.
עָקב הַלֵּב מִכּל וְאָנֻשׁ הוּא
a·kov · ha·lev · mi·kol · ve·a·nush · hu
mi · ye·dei·nu?
"The heart is deceitful above all things and incurably sick
- who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9)
The heart is deceitful above all things, and incurably sick - mi yadeinu? - who can know it? But how is the heart sick? By seeking excuses to evade the truth of its great need; by denying its own inner poverty... "No person is saved except by grace, yes; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must unconditionally require, and that is honesty" (Kierkegaard).
Julian of Norwich said, "All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well," and yet the darkest pitch of depression is precisely the inability to take hold of such hope... Faith in the midst of darkness must yet affirm that despite own sin, our own wretchedness, nothing will hinder nor overcome the working of God's goodness...
Holocaust Memorial Day...
[ Yom HaShoah begins Wednesday May 4th (at sundown) and runs through the following day. ]
05.01.16 (Nisan 23, 5776) Shoah (שׁוֹאֵב) is the Hebrew word for "ruin" or "destruction" and is another name used to refer to the European Holocaust, when six million Jews - including one and a half million children - were systematically murdered by the Nazis during World War II. After much impassioned debate, in 1953 the Israeli Knesset designated Nisan 27 as Yom HaShoah (יוֹם הַשּׁוֹאַה), or Holocaust Remembrance Day.
During this day, in Israel, a morning siren sounds, all activity stops, and people stand in honor of those who died during the atrocities of those years. Jews around the world hold memorials and vigils, often lighting six candles in honor of the six million Holocaust victims. Many hold name-reading ceremonies to memorialize those who were murdered. This year, Yom HaShoah begins Wed, May 4th at sundown and runs through the following day.
Parashat Acharei Mot...
05.01.16 (Nisan 23, 5776) Our Torah for this week is called Acharei Mot (אַחֲרֵי מוֹת). This portion transitions from the preceding instructions regarding ritual purity (tahora) to recall the tragic incident of Nadab and Abihu, the two sons of Aaron who were killed when they offered "strange fire" upon the Altar of Incense during the dedication of the Tabernacle (see Lev. 10:1-2). Because these priests came close to the Holy of Holies in an incorrect manner, the LORD further commanded Moses to instruct Aaron that he should enter the innermost chamber only in a carefully prescribed manner once a year - on the tenth day of the seventh month - during the sacred time called Yom Kippur (i.e., the "Day of Atonement").
On this most solemn day, Aaron was commanded to immerse himself in a mikveh (pool of fresh water) and to dress in all-white linen. He then was instructed to slaughter a bull as a personal sin offering. Aaron then brought some ketoret (incense) to burn within the Holy of Holies before returning to sprinkle the blood of the sin offering seven times before the Ark of the Covenant (i.e., the kapporet or "Mercy Seat"). Aaron repeated this procedure using the blood of one of two goats that was selected (by lot) to be slaughtered as a sin offering on behalf of the people. After this, Aaron took more of the sacrificial blood and purified the Altar of Incense and the other furnishings of the Tabernacle. Later, the fat of these sacrifices was burned on the Copper Altar in the courtyard, though the hide and the flesh were to be entirely burned outside the camp.
After purifying the Tabernacle, Aaron went to the gate of the courtyard and laid both hands upon the head of the other goat (designated "for Azazel," a name for the accusing angel) while confessing all of the sins and transgressions of the people. This "scapegoat" was not slaughtered, however, but was driven away into the wilderness, carrying "all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited." Finally, Aaron returned to the Tent, washed and changed his clothes, and offered two more burnt offerings – one for himself and one for the people – to complete the purification process.
This elaborate ritual was ordained to be a decree for Israel, and the day of Yom Kippur was to be observed every year as a time of "affliction and mourning" for all the people. The portion ends with further instructions about making sacrifices, including the prohibition against offering sacrifices apart from the rites of the Tabernacle. The consumption of blood is explicitly forbidden, since blood was reserved for sacrificial purposes upon the altar.
April 2016 Site Updates
Confession of our Hope...
04.29.16 (Nisan 21, 5776) It is written: "Faith is the foundation (i.e., ὑπόστασις: the "substance," reality, being, etc.) of hope, the conviction of the unseen... Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near must believe that God exists and rewards (μισθαποδότης) those who seek him" (Heb. 11:1,6). Note that God is pleased when we seek his presence, that is, when we when we look past the ephemera and ambiguity of the phenomenal world for the truth about spiritual reality. For our part, faith depends on confession. We must say that we believe, and affirm it with all our heart (Rom. 10:9). As it says, "I will make Your faithfulness known with my mouth" (Psalm 89:2). When you encounter tribulation, or experience some crisis of faith, reaffirm aloud: "I believe in God's promise..." Physically expressing your faith is itself an act of faith, and this encourages your soul to trust in God's healing reward even in the present struggle or darkness.
One of the more difficult tests of faith is learning to "endure yourself" as your inner character is being transformed by the mercy of God... To do so, you must receive the miracle of life in Yeshua (1 John 5:12). You must look beyond the realm of appearance, where the "outward man" perishes, to the realm of ultimate healing, where the "inward man" is finally liberated from the ravages of sin and death. This is the comfort we have in our affliction: God's promise revives our hearts to say, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth" (Job 19:25). Even in the "shadow of the valley of death" (i.e., this moribund and broken world), the LORD is with us and comforts us with His Presence (Psalm 23:4). We are given this great promise: "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:49).
Dear Lord, in the worst of our moments, thank you for seeing the Savior within us; thank you for heeding the groaning of hope that your Spirit of compassion imparts.... "When my heart was embittered, when I was pierced in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am always with you; You hold my right hand" (Psalm 73:21-23). Despite this lament, however, the psalmist affirmed that he was always with God - notwithstanding his ignorance, his complaint of heart, his doubts, fears, and so on... God is not driven away by our pain and confusion, but on the contrary, he takes us by the hand and will not let go: "It was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them" (Hos. 11:3).
שְׁמַע־יְהוָה קוֹלִי אֶקְרָא
she·ma · Adonai · ko·li · ek·ra
ve'chon·nei·ni · va'a·nei·ni
"Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me"
Of course it's not always easy to wait for God, especially when we are in pain or anxiety, but we must never, ever, give up; we must never ever, abandon our heart's longing for ultimate healing. Therefore the Spirit cries out: come alive and trust in the promise of God; receive the heavenly gift. Ve'yesh tikvah le'acharitekh (וְיֵשׁ־תִּקְוָה לְאַחֲרִיתֵךְ): "There is hope for your future," declares the LORD (Jer. 31:17). "Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, who makes us prisoners of hope" (אֲסִירֵי הַתִּקְוָה). Friends, Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful" (Heb. 10:23).
"The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Yeshua our Messiah" (Phil. 4:7). Shabbat Shalom chaverim!
Root of the Righteous...
04.29.16 (Nisan 21, 5776) It is written, "No one is established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will never be moved" (Prov. 12:3). A person's heart is revealed by his core convictions and desires. Wealth and the pleasures of this world do no good for the eternal soul. Although the wicked of this world may appear to prosper, it is only temporary and will not last (Psalm 37:1-2); on the other hand, though the righteous may appear to fall, it is only temporary, and they will rise again, since the Root of the Righteous (שׁרֶשׁ צַדִּיקִים) is God's own power: "The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast down, for the Lord holds his hand" (Psalm 37:23-24).
לא־יִכּוֹן אָדָם בְּרֶשַׁע
וְשׁרֶשׁ צַדִּיקִים בַּל־יִמּוֹט
lo · yi·kon · a·dam · be're·sha'
ve'sho·resh · tzad·di·kim · bal · yi·mot
"No one is established by wickedness,
but the root of the righteous will never be moved."
The sages note that the word translated "established" (in Prov. 12:3) comes from a word (כֵּן) meaning a "base" or a "stand" – that is, something external that supports something, but the word "root" (שׁרֶשׁ) refers to the inner essence of the plant. The Malbim said that man is like an inverted tree with its roots on top, drawing life from heaven that provides him with spiritual sustenance. The wicked cut themselves off from the root and base their lives on the material and transitory foundation of this world. Yeshua likened the immovability of the righteous as those who build their house on the rock: when the tempest comes, the house will not fall, because it is founded upon the rock. Those who build their house on the sands of this world are foolish: when the tempest comes, the house will collapse and its fall will be great (Matt. 7:24-27). In the midst of life's storms and trials, the righteous (הצדיקים) have an inner support that keeps them from being destroyed, and that is the Rock of our Salvation (צוּר יִשְׁעֵנוּ), Yeshua our Lord!
The Scriptures state twice: שׁרֶשׁ לְמָטָּה וְעָשָׂה פְרִי לְמָעְלָה / "Take root downward and bear fruit upward" (2 Kings 19:30; Isa. 37:31). As Yeshua said, "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it produces a harvest (John 12:24). The inner life goes into the earth - it dies and then is re-opened to yield fruit. We pray we might surrender ourselves to the Lord fully, being immersed in His passion, "bearing fruit in every good work (ἐν παντὶ ἔργῳ ἀγαθῷ καρποφοροῦντες) and growing in da'at HaShem (דַעַת אֱלהִים) - the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10). The "fruit of the righteous is a Tree of Life" lit., etz chayim (עֵץ חַיִּים), "the Tree of lives" (Prov. 11:30). It is the fruit of Yeshua, the Righteous One, who bears fruits of healing for the lives of those who turn to Him in trust...
"I can do all things through the Messiah who strengthens me," not "some things," or a "few things," but ALL things (Phil. 4:13). Yeshua is the Tree of Life, the Source of all our strength. "May you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being" (Eph. 3:16). Let's remember to pray for one another and ask the LORD to help make each of us fruitful to the glory of our Heavenly Father (John 15:8).
How to "Count the Omer"
[ The following is related to the Torah's commandment to count exactly 49 days after the feast of Firstfruits until the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost). ]
04.28.16 (Nisan 20, 5776) The Hebrew word "omer" (עמֶר) generally refers to a measure of grain. The Torah commands that an omer of new grain (called chadash) must be "waved" by the priests before the altar on each of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot (Lev. 23:15-21). This ritual act is called omer ha-tenufah (עמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה), or the "waving of the omer." Prior to the offering of such "new grain," only the produce from earlier harvests could be eaten (which is called yashan, "old"). This is the "firstfruits" connection. Only crops that have been first dedicated to God are kosher for use by God's people...
The climax of the 49 days of counting (from the day after Passover to Pentecost) was not the giving of the lawcode at Sinai, but rather the revelation of the altar (i.e., the Tabernacle) and its subsequent fulfillment in the sacrificial death of Yeshua as our Lamb of God. Moreover, it was during this time that Yeshua made His post-resurrection appearances to His disciples - and indeed ascended to heaven during this 49 day period... Of particular importance is the holiday of Shavuot, day 7x7 of the count, when the Holy Spirit (Ruach ha-Kodesh) was given to the disciples in fulfillment of the promise of Yeshua that we would not be left comfortless... Shavuot, then, marks the time of "Jubilee" of the Spirit, when are clothed with power from on high to serve the LORD without fear...
For more on this subject, see: "Sefirat HaOmer: Should we Count the Omer?"
The Overmastering Light...
04.28.16 (Nisan 20, 5776) There is a lot of cunningly engineered fear (and outrage) "in the air," and the enemy of our souls seeks first of all to lead us into a place of exile, worry, and pain. We are able to resist him by submitting to the truth about reality (James 4:7). God's Name YHVH (יהוה) means "Presence" and "Love," and there is no power in heaven or earth that can overrule His hand. Therefore even if the prophesied "End of Days" were to begin this very hour, our responsibility is to focus on the Divine Presence and to walk in His truth and love. As King David said, "I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken" (Psalm 16:8).
שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט
shiv·vi·ti · Adonai · le·neg·di · ta·mid
ki · mi·mi·ni · bal · e·mot
"I have set the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken"
Hebrew Study Card
The devil's strategy is as banal as it is tedious, namely, to entice us to forget the truth of God and to live in a state of virtual exile and pain. Therefore Shema - listen and remember - is the basic commandment. Since the LORD is the Center of all that is real, to become anxious is to "practice the absence" of God's presence instead of practicing His Presence. We have to remember the future, as well as the present and past....
There is a future time of healing and deliverance coming to us, though we must abide in the shadow of its substance for a bit longer: "For behold, the Day is coming (הַיּוֹם בָּא), burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The Day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my Name, the Sun of Righteousness (שֶׁמֶשׁ צְדָקָה) shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out skipping like calves released from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts" (Mal. 4:1-3).
This awesome passage from the Book of Malachi primarily applies to the Second Coming of Yeshua and the great "Day of the LORD" (יוֹם יהוה). The "Sun of Righteousness," shemesh tzaddik (שֶׁמֶשׁ צְדָקָה), refers to Messiah son of David, the risen life-giving Healer of God. Of Him it is said, "The LORD God is a sun and a shield" (Psalm 84:11) and "the LORD shall be to thee an everlasting Light (אוֹר עוֹלָם), and thy God thy glory; thy sun shall no more go down, for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light" (Isa. 60:19-20). The Divine Light will shine on those who receive God's righteousness, that is, on those who put their trust in the One who said, 'I am the Light of the world' (John 8:12). Shine Your Light upon us, O LORD!
The sages say, "in the world to come (עוֹלָם הַבָּא), God will bring the sun out of its sheath to burn the wicked; they will be judged by it, but the righteous will be healed by it' (Shemot Rabbah). Yeshua is compared to the "Sun" because as the Sun is the central luminous body of our world, so Yeshua is called the "Light of Life" (אוֹר הַחַיִּים). Yeshua is melech ha-kavod (מֶלֶךְ הַכָּבוֹד), "the King of Glory" -- and no one can stand before the blinding power of His countenance (Psalm 27:4; Rev. 1:8-19). His is the "Fountain of Light" for all of creation, the Source and End of all life: "For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things were created through Him and for Him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together... that in everything He might be preeminent" (Col. 1:16-18). Yeshua will come "with healing in his wings" -- that is, in healing radiance, with rays and beams, which metaphorically describe His influence over the hearts of men... Note that the word for "wings" used in this passage (i.e., kanaf: כָּנָף) pictures the image of a heavenly tallit (טַלִּית), or the heavenly firmament (רָקִיעַ) of the LORD's sheltering Presence.
Anger and Idolatry...
04.27.16 (Nisan 19, 5776) It is written "the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God" (James 1:20). Indeed, being filled with anger or rage is a form of idolatry: "MY will be done..." It is a common struggle to let go of our need to be "right" all the time, but ask God for the great gift of true humility... The Hebrew word for sin (i.e., chet: חֵטְא) means "missing the mark," though that essentially means missing the revelation of God's glory because lesser fears consume the heart and obscure passion of the truth...
אַל־תְּבַהֵל בְּרוּחֲךָ לִכְעוֹס
כִּי כַעַס בְּחֵיק כְּסִילִים יָנוּחַ
al · te·va·hel · be·ru·cha·kha · likh·os
ki · ka·as · be·chek · ke·si·lim · ya·nu·ach
"Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
for anger lodges in the heart of fools"
The sages consider sins of speech to be indicative, first of all, of the condition of the heart that marks evil and unbelief (see Luke 6:45; Matt. 12:37). Unreflective, impulsive talk is profoundly revelatory. Complaining against God's providential care of your life is a serious issue, and if left uncorrected, can lead to outright apostasy. Indeed refusing to accept life on God's terms – including your shortcomings, problems, tests, hang-ups, and other things -- is idolatry that elevates your will as supremely important. We must be very careful here. Inordinate anger is always a problem, though if it surfaces you may use it as an opportunity to examine the lies you are believing and the false assumptions you hold to be true.
A simple (and effective) antidote to anger is gratitude... Understand the sheer gratuity of your life and its manifold blessings. Meditate on Psalm 103 and contemplate on how life itself is a tremendous gift and that every day you are given is a sacred opportunity... Pray to be delivered of your anger, too. By all means do not allow it to become a settled disposition within you -- a scowl of the heart, a cynical and suspicious way of seeing everything! Ask God to soften your heart and to awaken you to his heart expressed in all things.
"There is much to drag us back, O Lord: empty pursuits, trivial pleasures, unworthy cares. There is much to frighten us away: pride that makes us reluctant to accept help; cowardice that recoils from sharing your suffering; anguish at the prospect of confessing our sins. But You are stronger than all these forces. We call you our Redeemer and Savior because you redeem us from our empty, trivial existence, you save us from our foolish fears. This is your work which you have completed and will continue to complete in us every moment." - Kierkegaard
Do you now believe?
04.27.16 (Nisan 19, 5776) "Do you now believe?" (John 16:31). Some people are scandalized by what they call "easy believism," or the idea that we only need to believe in Yeshua to be saved. Sometimes they malign this teaching as "cheap grace" or "sloppy agape," though in fairness it must be stressed there is nothing easy about truly believing. What is easy, however, is professing that you believe without undergoing a miraculous heart transformation. Anyone can say, "I believe in Jesus," but the test is whether he lives within you. Is he the source of your life? Do you draw life from Him? Anyone can claim they are saved, but it is a miracle greater than splitting the sea to undergo divine metamorphosis, to be given a heart that loves unconditionally, that dies to pride, and that lives as the servant of all. Yeshua asks, "Do you really believe? Many will say to me in that day, 'Lord, Lord...' but I will say to them, 'I never knew you...' (Matt. 7:22-23). It's not just hard to believe (obey), it's impossible apart from God's radical intervention. It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is no help at all (John 6:33).
Living by faith does not mean we profess Christianity or "talk theology" like some college professor. It's one thing to believe that, and another to believe in... Human reason can rightly infer that a morally good, all-powerful Creator exists, for example (Rom. 1:20), but it is unable to know God's love that way... Love requires trust, "taking to the heart." We are to "know this day and turn to your heart (והֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ) that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). We need to know truth (cognitive) and to be moved by the heart (emotional); we need both Spirit and Truth (John 4:24). "For all things come from You (כִּי־מִמְּךָ הַכּל), and from your hand we give to you" (1 Chron. 29:14). Teshuvah centers on Yeshua our Savior: turn to believe in Him!
Regarding the question of faith, Kierkegaard once wrote, "The easiness of Christianity is distinguished by one thing only: by the difficulty. Thus the Master's yoke it easy and its burden light -- for the person who has cast off all his burdens, all of them, the burdens of hope and of fear and of despondency and of despair -- yet it is difficult." Yes, the difficult thing is to truly believe in the "for-you miracle" of God's love. Sins can be like great possessions that are difficult to give up. Among other things, we must forgive ("give away") our sins (both our own and those against us), and that means trusting God enough to bear our wounds for us. Forgiveness allows us to move on with our lives by letting go of the pain of the past (2 Cor. 5:16). The atonement cost God everything, and yet is of no spiritual value until it is accepted into the heart. It is "easy" to understand this, but it is difficult to live it.
πιστεύω· βοήθει μου τῇ ἀπιστίᾳ - "I believe, help thou my unbelief" (Mark 9:24).
Fear and Trembling...
[ During the Sabbath of Passover week it is customary to read the ancient "love song" of King Solomon called Shir Ha-Shirim (שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים), or the "Song of Songs." ]
04.27.16 (Nisan 19, 5776) The gospel reveals God's passion for us, the call of his heart, his desire to elevate us to the role of the beloved, and we respond by accepting Him as the great Lover of our souls, the "ultimate concern" of our life. Sin threatens to seduce us away from God's love, to interfere with our relationship, which evokes God's "jealousy" to protect love from loss. It is written that "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18), but perfect love (τελεία ἀγάπη) must be "perfect," that is, reciprocal, complete, consummated, and alive with passion. In Hebrew, perfect love is "shalem" - that is, whole, healed, and unified (אַהֲבָה שְׁלֵמָה). Perfect love is both given and received... It is not "perfect love" to objectively accept that God loves you in Jesus. No, you must receive this as an inward passion, you must live within it, must embrace it, take possession of it, and let it fill your heart to abundance. This love, this "perfect love," then will cast away your fear of being unwanted, rejected, and abandoned. But to know this love, you have to open your heart and accept it as your own; you have to accept yourself as the beloved of God:
אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְעָלַי תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ
a·ni · le·do·di · ve·a·lai · te·shu·ka·to
"I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me"
I realize the analogy of God as the great "Lover of our Souls" is ideal for us, and yet it is vital that we understand ourselves as the "beloved" of the Lord... May the LORD help us walk in the truth of his love. Amen...
Countdown to Pentecost...
04.26.16 (Nisan 18, 5776) In Jewish tradition, forty nine days – seven weeks of days – are carefully counted between the second day of Unleavened Bread and Shavuot (Pentecost or "Weeks"). This period of time is called Sefirat HaOmer (סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר), or the "counting the [barley] sheaves." In abstract terms, it's almost as if there is a dotted line pointing directly from Passover to Shavuot - a "Jubilee" of days - representing the climax of Passover itself. The early sages identified this climax as the revelation of the Torah at Sinai, but the New Testament identifies it as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) that confirmed the reality of the New Covenant of God. The redemption process that began at Passover was therefore completed at Shavuot, and that "completion" was the revelation of God's love and deliverance for the entire world. And though the Jewish sages did not fathom the use of the otherwise forbidden leaven in the offering (see Eph. 2:14). The countdown to Shavuot therefore goes beyond the giving of Torah at Sinai and points to the greater revelation of Zion. Shavuot is the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit's advent to those who are trusting in Messiah (Acts 2:1-4). "Counting the Omer," then, is about receiving the Holy Spirit to experience and know the resurrected LORD of Glory. You can "count" on that, chaverim!
From a Messianic point of view, the climax of the 49 days was not the giving of the lawcode at Sinai, but rather the revelation of the altar (i.e., the Tabernacle) and its subsequent fulfillment in the sacrificial death of Yeshua as our Lamb of God. Moreover, it was during this time that Yeshua made His post-resurrection appearances to His disciples - and indeed ascended to heaven during this 49 day period... Of particular importance is the holiday of Shavuot, day 7x7 of the count, when the Holy Spirit (Ruach ha-Kodesh) was given to the disciples in fulfillment of the promise of Yeshua that we would not be left comfortless... Shavuot, then, marks the time of "Jubilee" of the Spirit, when are clothed with power from on high to serve the LORD without fear...
For more on this subject, see: "Sefirat HaOmer: Counting the Sheaves to Shavuot."
Passover's Love Song...
04.26.16 (Nisan 18, 5776) During the Sabbath of Passover week it is customary to read the ancient "love song" of King Solomon called Shir Ha-Shirim (שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים), or the "Song of Songs." In Jewish tradition, since Passover marks the time when our "romance" with God officially began, the sages chose this song to celebrate God's love for his people. And since Passover is also called Chag Ha-Aviv, the festival of spring, the Song is also associated with creativity and hope associated with springtime (Song 2:11-12). One way to read this poem is to see the king, who had disguised himself as a lowly shepherd to win the heart of the Shulamite woman, as a picture of Yeshua who took the form of a lowly servant to demonstrate his eternal love for those who are trusting in him... Indeed, the Song of Songs is linked to the "lilies" (i.e., shoshanim: שׁשַׁנִּים) mentioned in Psalm 45, which presents a Messianic vision of the Divine Bridegroom and offers an "ode" for a forthcoming wedding.
אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי
a·ni · le·do·di · ve·do·di · li
ha·ro·eh · ba·sho·sha·nim
"I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine;
he grazes among the lilies."
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The meaning of Passover is of course rooted in the greatest love story ever told - about God, creation, the loss of Adam and Eve, the call of Israel, and the coming of the Messiah who would sanctify us as His own people, deliver us from the plague of death, and redeem us from the penalty of sin. Yeshua's mesirat nefesh ("giving over of soul" in sacrifice) and his triumph at the cross made the new covenant with God possible. As our Suffering Servant, He gave up His life for ours in exchange, redeeming us from the sickness unto death and making the way for our everlasting healing.
Whether or not you were able to attend a Passover Seder this year, please understand that there is always a place for you at His table. After all, Yeshua made a place for you within His heart when he died for you on the cross, and that is what Passover is really all about anyway. Shalom chaverim.
Note: For more on the connection between Passover and the Song of Songs, see the article Shir Hashirim: Passover and the Song of Solomon.
Why the Resurrection Matters...
[ The following entry is related to the great holiday of Firstfruits... ]
04.25.16 (Nisan 17, 5776) The Scriptures make clear that Yeshua is the true Passover Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) whose sacrificial death and shed blood causes the wrath of God to "pass over" (pasach) those who are trusting in Him (John 1:29, 3:36; Acts 8:32-36; 1 Cor. 5:7-8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20, etc.). Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! (Rev. 5:12). But while the sacrifice of Yeshua gives us atonement (כַּפָּרָה) with God, the resurrection of the Messiah (i.e., techiyat ha-Mashiach: תְּחִיַּת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) justifies His work of salvation on behalf of the sinner and forever vindicates the righteousness of God.
The resurrection of Yeshua is not an "academic" or speculative question to be considered in purely rational terms, but rather is a matter of eternal life or death. How we choose to respond to its message determines our destiny. Everything turns on whether we awaken to the risen reality and Presence of Yeshua in our lives. Without Him we are hopeless; with Him we are more than conquerors (1 Cor. 15:14; Rom. 8:37).
Everything turns on whether we awaken to
the risen Reality and Presence of Yeshua in our lives...
Yeshua completely atoned for our sins and His resurrection validated that God the Father accepted His sacrifice. It was God the Father (i.e., Reality) who raised Yeshua in victory (Gal. 1:1, Rom. 10:9), and those who put their trust trust in Him are declared righteous on account of their faith. Yeshua "was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25). As Jesus Himself said, "Because I am alive, you also will live" (John 14:19).
Note: For more on the tremendously important subject of why the resurrection of Yeshua matters, please see this article.
The Mysterious Shroud of Turin
[ The following entry is related to the holiday of Firstfruits. Some people contend that the famous Shroud of Turin is the authentic burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth, whereas others claim it is an sophisticated forgery. Regardless, the study of the shroud surely is provocative and provides a remarkable reminder of both the suffering and the resurrection of our Messiah.... ]
04.25.16 (Nisan 17, 5776) A few years ago I read fascinating article that reported that one of the leading scientists of the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STRP) later confessed that the sample taken from cloth was flawed (i.e., it came from a piece of the Shroud that was repaired in the Middle Ages, not from the original cloth). The scientist -- Ray Rogers, a chemist from the Los Alamos National Laboratory -- later acknowledged that it's now entirely reasonable to conclude that the cloth was none other than the burial shroud of Jesus of Nazareth. And today I read that the most recent experiments conducted by scientists at the University of Padua (in northern Italy) have dated the shroud to the time of Christ....
Even though the controversy regarding the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin gets technical and involved, I tend to regard the Shroud as authentic, primarily because there are no known means for a medieval artist to have created a "negative" (holographic) image of a body (especially an image with such anatomical detail that only a modern pathologist would appreciate), and there is simply no motive for someone to have done so, anyway. After all, what can it possibly mean to call an utterly unique item a "forgery" anyway? Both the "how" and the "why" questions of the Shroud are troubling to those who (a priori) reject the possibility of the miraculous, and therefore the idea that the Shroud is a forgery or a hoax has become the standard biased response for many who reject the historical resurrection of Yeshua from the dead.
On the hypothesis that the Shroud of Turin is an elaborate and sophisticated forgery, however, we must suppose there once was a medieval artist who was so talented that he or she could paint the "negative" image of a body, that is, an image with the full spectrum of light reversed. Moreover, this artist would have to paint in obverse -- somewhat like a minting impression. This painter also would have to be intimately familiar with the customs of crucifixion that were unknown during the Middle Ages. For instance, he or she would have to know that the Romans crucified their victims entirely naked, that they pounded the nails through the wrists (not through the hands, as is usually depicted by stigmata paintings of the period), that the victim wore Palestinian style "earlocks" (i.e. peyot ha-rosh) and so on. This fantastic artist also would have to paint in an incredibly realistic and detailed style (again, unlike all other artists of the period), noting such things as the presence of a coin located under the right eyelid and the presence of various blood stains in physiologically correct locations on the cloth.... Finally, this medieval artist would have to paint from the perspective of a negative exposure -- a concept that was unknown until nearly 600 years later. In short, it seems that our hypothetical artist would have to something of a miracle worker.... If it's a fake, it's a seemingly miraculous fake; but if it's true, it's astoundingly true.... Either way, the Shroud testifies of something...
In addition to the lack of technology in the Middle Ages to create such an image, the question must be asked about why such a invisible image would be produced in the first place. What possible motive would be at work in this case? Why would our supposed artist go through all this trouble, especially during the relatively superstitious Middle Ages? What point would there have been in creating such a fantastic duplicity? The inference to the best explanation suggests that the Shroud of Turin, whatever else it might be, certainly is not the result of human ingenuity and forgery.... Occam's Razor applies in this case: we do not need to multiply miracles in order to explain something that could be explained through the attested historical accounts of the resurrection of Yeshua.
So should the Shroud of Turin be cited as evidence of the resurrection of Yeshua? Is it a valid "apologetic" device, an empirical "proof" of the resurrection? Well, since we cannot say for certain that the image is that of Yeshua ha-Notzri (Jesus of Nazareth), we cannot make a dogmatic claim that this is direct evidence of His resurrection, though it's surely consistent with it. The shocking image -- revealed through negative spectrum light -- is that of a 1st century Jewish man who was beaten, whipped, and crucified. Pollen samples taken from the cloth also indicate a Middle East provenance. Though we cannot offer a scientific "proof" that this is the burial shroud of Yeshua, we might make a "legal" case that it is.... In other words, the imprinted image of the Shroud is consistent with the testimony of the New Testament and the theistic worldview, but certainly not with "naturalism" or other worldviews. The Shroud is a "problem" for those who are unbelievers, not believers... If it were later debunked as some sort of a forgery, our faith would remain unshaken, since we believe in order to understand, not conversely. Empirical evidences are never conclusive for skeptics anyway. As Yeshua said, "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31). And perhaps that's the allure and beauty of the Shroud -- like so many other matters of faith, what you see is what you ultimately choose to see.... Like a looking glass, it reveals more about the person looking at it than it does of the thing itself...
Addendum: Please note that I am not advocating venerating relics or chasing visions of "bleeding icons," etc. Such things are always insufficient for a heart change from God. As Yeshua said, "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31). Nonetheless, I find it fascinating that if the Shroud of Turin is a forgery, it's entirely amazing and unlike any other seen before, but if it's authentic, it's evidence of the resurrection itself (1 Cor. 2:2). I also see no sense in claiming (as some have) that the Shroud is some form of "satanic deception." After all -- forgery or not -- the Shroud points to something the powers of darkness and deception certainly do not want to be published, namely, the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua...
Some current books and research on the shroud can be found here.
He is Forever Alive...
[ The following is related to holiday of First Fruits which began last night at sundown... ]
04.25.16 (Nisan 17, 5776) The most important fact of all history - and that which radically transforms everything else - is the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead (תחייתו של משיח). Spiritual life means being awake to the risen reality and saving Presence of Yeshua, the One who Overcame and vanquished the power of death. Without Him we are hopeless; with Him we are more than conquerors (1 Cor. 15:14; Rom. 8:37). The resurrection means Yeshua is forever alive, and that today he hears your heart's cry. He is surely able to help you, and nothing can overthrow his invincible will. Our Lord suffered and died for your inner peace and healing, but now death has no hold over him, and he "ever lives to make intercession for you" (Rom. 6:9, Heb. 7:25). He is your compassionate Advocate (παράκλητος, lit. "one called alongside") who gives you heavenly comfort (1 John 2:1). Even more: The very power that raised Yeshua from the dead now dwells in you (Rom. 8:11). The miracle of new life is "Messiah in you - the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). The Lord will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5): He "sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24); He sustains your way, and he will perfect the work of salvation on your behalf (Jude 1:24). In short, there simply is no "gospel" message apart from the resurrection! The resurrection is the victory of God's plan of salvation - His everlasting vindication over the powers of darkness - for your life.
The Talmud says "All the world was created for the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b). The New Testament had earlier said the same thing: "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Indeed, all of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of the Messiah's power (Heb. 1:3). Creation begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our LORD... The Messiah is the Center of Creation - its beginning and end. As it is written: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the 'Aleph' and the 'Tav,' the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36). Yeshua our Messiah is called מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים / Melech Malchei Hamelachim: The "King of kings of kings." He is LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest celestial glory to the dust of death upon a cross. Yehi shem Adonai mevorakh (יְהִי שֵׁם יהוה מְברָךְ): "Let the Name of the LORD be blessed" forever and ever (Psalm 113:2). So while we can agree with the Talmud's general statement that the world was created "for the Messiah," we would insist that the name of the Messiah is none other than Yeshua, God's Son, and indeed, there is no other (Acts 4:12).
חַי־יְהוָה וּבָרוּךְ צוּרִי
וְיָרוּם אֱלוֹהֵי יִשְׁעִי
chai-Adonai · u·va·rukh · tzur·i
ve'ya·rum · e·lo·hei · yish·i
"The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock,
and exalted be the God of my salvation."
Hebrew Study Card
The heart of faith sees Elohei Yishi (אֱלהֵי יִשְׁעִי), the "God of my salvation," namely, the One who was and is and is to come (הַהוֶה וְהָיָה וְיָבוֹא) – the LORD our God Yeshua (Rev. 1:4;8; Isa 41:4). The early Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) rendered Elohei Yishi as "God my Jesus," since "Jesus" (i.e., Yeshua) rightly means YHVH saves. Yeshua is the One who breathed life into the first Adam just as He is the One who breathes eternal life into those who are descended from Him, the great "second Adam."
Note: For more on the First Fruits of Messiah, see the article: "Reishit Katzir."
The Life is in the Blood...
[ The following concerns the holiday of Passover, which begins this evening... We must always remember that there is no Passover without the blood of the Lamb... Chag Pesach Samea'ch! ]
04.22.16 (Nisan 14, 5776) The very first time the word "blood" (דָּם) occurs in the Scriptures concerns the death of Abel, the son of Adam and Eve who was murdered by his brother Cain. After Abel's blood was shed, the LORD confronted Cain and said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood (קוֹל דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ) is crying to me from the ground" (Gen. 4:10). Since blood is the carrier of life, it bears the energy and vitality of life: it has its own spiritual "voice." Likewise, the blood of Yeshua (דְּמֵי יֵשׁוּעַ), the true Lamb of God who died upon the cross, speaks on our behalf, and reverses the power of death by creating a barrier that death can no longer cross, since the death of the sacrificial victim "exchanges" the merit and power of life. Unlike the blood of Abel that "cries out" for justice, the blood of Yeshua cries out for life and 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 eternal life and blessing to the sinner.... This is the essential message of the gospel itself, that we have atonement through the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua our Savior, the great Lamb of God. As Yeshua said, "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the One who sent me has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and will not be condemned, but has passed over (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24). Just as God's judgment passes over from life to death on my behalf; so His love passes over from death to life on my behalf...
For more on this subject, see "Parashat Bo: The Life is in the Blood."
Passover: Who knows 15?
[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Friday, April 22 this year.... ]
04.21.16 (Nisan 13, 5776) Many of us are familiar with the connection between Passover and the number four. There are four "special Sabbaths" that precede the festival, and the holiday itself has four names: Chag Ha-Pesach (the holiday of the Passover [Num. 9:2]); Chag HaMatzot (the holiday of Unleavened Bread [Exod. 12:17-20]); Chag Ha-Aviv (the holiday of spring [Deut. 16:1]), and Z'man Cheiruteinu (the Season of our Freedom). During the seder, we partake of arba kosot ("four cups"), ask arba kushiyot ("four questions"), discuss arba Banim ("four sons"), and so on. However, it has been noted by various sages that the number fifteen is also connected to this holiday. There are 15 Steps to the traditional Passover Seder, which is held exactly 15 days into the first month of the Jewish year (i.e., Nisan). The famous "Song of the Sea" (i.e., Shirat Hayam: שִׁירַת הַיָּם) - which thanks God for the Exodus from Egypt - is found in the 15th chapter of the Book of Exodus, which was crafted by the scribes so that its center column has exactly 15 "steps" of text:
The Divine Name YAH (יה) - which first occurs in the Scriptures in the "Song of the Sea" (Exod. 15:2) - equals 15 in Hebrew gematria, and during the seder meal there are 15 things for which we sing Dayenu (i.e., דַּיֵּנוּ: "it would have been enough"). Furthermore, there were 15 steps on the south side of the Temple Mount, leading up to the Temple, and 15 psalms (120-134) that sung by the Levites as "Songs of the Steps." There are also 15 words uttered in the Priestly Blessing (Birkat Kohanim).... 15 is also the number of completion (7) combined with the number of grace (8), indicating the plan of God's redemption for the ages.
Celebrate God's Love...
04.20.16 (Nisan 12, 5776) Yeshua said the kingdom of heaven could be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his beloved son. Those who were invited made one excuse after another why they could not attend, so the disappointed king then instructed his servants to "go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame... and compel everyone you find to come in, so my house may be filled." God loves people and implores them to personally join in the celebration of his love, to partake of the marriage feast of Lamb (Rev. 19:7). But note that this means that we are to bring all the lame, broken, and fearful parts of ourselves to the banqueting table of God's love... The courage to "come to the table" only comes from a sense of being welcomed and accepted, that is, by trusting that you are truly made safe by God's love....
Perhaps we are afraid of God's unconditional love for us because we've experienced rejection or abandonment in our lives. We silently wonder, "What if God lets me down and I get hurt again?" We prefer the "comfort" of our fears to the risk of letting go and trusting in God's love for us, just as we are... This fear shows up in a lot of ways, for instance, by thinking we have to be "religious," or by attempting to clean ourselves up before we can accept God's love, On the other hand, we might entertain a sense of false humility that considers our sin to be too much for God to bear, and thereby excuse ourselves from the celebration.... In every case the problem is the need to control. We want to define the terms of love before we will let go and trust. We are offended at the idea of divine grace because we want to esteem ourselves as worthy of God's love based on who we are, rather than on who God is... The message of God's love, however, is scandalous, precisely because it gives wholeheartedly to those who are undeserving and unworthy, to the tax collectors, the sinners, the crippled and blind and lame... So come just as you are; sit at the table; know that you are welcome.
The sages sometimes say that God is closer to sinners than to saints. "God in heaven holds each person by a string. When you sin, you cut the string; but then God ties it up again, making a knot - and thereby you are brought a little closer to him. Again and again your sins cut the string - and with each further knot God keeps drawing you closer and closer." (Anthony de Mello in One Minute Wisdom)
Blood on the Doorposts...
04.20.16 (Nisan 12, 5776) The Torah describes how the Israelites were commanded to slaughter the Passover and daub its blood on the two sides and top of the doorway of their houses (Exod. 12:7). The LORD would then see the blood and "pass over" their dwellings during the plague of the death of the firstborn. Based on this description, we might assume the blood was put on the outside of the door, though Rashi reasoned that it was placed on the inside, where they themselves could see it as a sign for them (i.e., הָיָה הַדָּם לָכֶם לְאוֹת [Exod. 12:13]). Indeed, after the blood was applied, the doors were shut and no one was permitted to leave the house until the following morning (Exod. 12:22). The blood of the sacrifice was intended to be seen as a sign for those who were trusting in the redemption of God. Likewise, by faith we apply the blood of the lamb to the "inside" of our hearts...
Note: For more on this, see the parashat Bo article: "Blood on the Doorposts."
The Very First Passover...
04.19.16 (Nisan 11, 5776) The story of Passover goes all the way back to the beginning, to the very orchard of Eden itself, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate from the forbidden tree. Because of their transgression, our original ancestors incurred the plague of death and were exiled from the Divine Presence, though God graciously promised to heal them through the coming Seed of the woman – the Savior who would crush the head of the serpent and break the fangs of his venomous sting (Gen. 3:15). Soon after making this great promise, God clothed our original parents with the skin of a sacrificed lamb (Gen. 3:21), linking their coming deliverance with the "Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world" (1 Pet. 1:18-20). The very first "Passover" was in the garden. And the story of Passover extends to the world to come, where in the redeemed paradise of God we will celebrate the victory of the Lamb who was slain for our redemption (Rev. 5:12-13).
The great story of our redemption is revealed on two levels in Scripture - one that concerns the paradise of Eden (the universal level), and the other that concerns the paradise of Israel (the particular level). Therefore Yeshua is both rightly called the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29) and "the Messiah our Passover Lamb who has been sacrificed for us" (1 Cor. 5:7). Likewise he is both called the "Seed of the woman," and "the Son of David"; the "Second Adam," and the "King of the Jews," and so on. The story of Israel's redemption in Egypt therefore serves as an allegory of both the universal salvation promised in Eden (i.e., the lamb slain from the foundation of the world) as well as the revelation of the sacrificial ministry of Yeshua as Israel's promised Messiah. Yeshua is both the Savior of the world as well as Israel's true King and Deliverer.
Note: For more on this subject, please see the articles, "The Very First Passover" and "The Gospel in the Garden."
Our Broken Matzah...
04.19.16 (Nisan 11, 5776) During our Passover Seder, we will place three matzahs on the table, said to represent Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, respectively. During the Yachatz step of the seder, the middle matzah (representing Isaac) will be broken to recall how Isaac was sacrificed in obedience to his father, foreshadowing the sacrifice of Yeshua by God the Father. Indeed, the Talmud states, "We break the middle matzah in tribute to Yitzchak (Isaac), who accepted the sins of the people upon himself" (Shabbos 89b). The smaller half of this broken matzah will be eaten later during the Motzi Matzah step, while the larger half will be eaten during the Afikomen step, near the end of the night...
In Hebrew, the middle of something is it's heart - the heart of the heavens, the heart of the earth, the heart of the sea, the heart of a person... Since the offering of Isaac by Abraham foretold of the greater offering of Yeshua by God Himself, when we break the middle matzah, then, we recall the broken heart of God over the pain Yeshua endured by taking our sins upon Him at the cross...."For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21).
During his Passover seder with his disciples, Yeshua "took matzah, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body" (Matt. 26:26). Since Yeshua did this while they were eating dinner, the matzah he broke would have been the Afikomen, thereby making the connection between the hidden bread (lechem ha-nistar) that would be broken given for our deliverance. The matzah we eat during Passover is called lechem oni (לֶחֶם ענִי) - "the bread of [His] suffering" - and eating the Bread of Life that was "broken for us" remembers the great suffering of our LORD...
The Question of Passover...
04.18.16 (Nisan 10, 5776) During the Passover seder we begin our retelling the story of the Exodus when the question is sung: "Mah nistanah ha-lailah ha-zeh mikol ha-leilot?" - How does this night differ from all other nights? This is the central question of Passover, asked for thousands of years, and the answer is always the same: "We were slaves, but God redeemed us from our bondage by the blood of the lamb (דַּם הַשֶּׂה)." Note again that there were not many lambs, but the LORD told Israel: "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). Each family put their trust in God's uniquely appointed sacrifice to be delivered from the plague of death (מכת המוות).
Cleanse out the old leaven...
04.17.16 (Nisan 9, 5776) The Torah states that during the days of Passover, sometimes called the Festival of Unleavened Bread, no chametz (i.e., leavened food) may be eaten for a full seven days - from the 15th of Nisan through the 22nd of Nisan (Exod. 12:15-18; 34:18). Every trace of leavening must be purged from our homes, and no leavened products of any kind may be consumed during this time (Exod. 12:15). Spiritually speaking, leaven represents decay, rotting influences, bitterness, unforgiveness, and so on. "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Test me and know my thoughts. And see if there be any idolatrous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).
חָקְרֵנִי אֵל וְדַע לְבָבִי בְּחָנֵנִי וְדַע שַׂרְעַפָּי
וּרְאֵה אִם־דֶּרֶךְ־עצֶב בִּי וּנְחֵנִי בְּדֶרֶךְ עוֹלָם
chok·rei·ni · el · ve'da · le·va·vi · be·cha·nei·ni · ve'da · sar·a·pai
u·reh · im · de·rekh · o·tzev · bi · u'ne·chei·ni · be'de·rekh · o·lam
"Search me, O God, and know my heart! Test me and know my thoughts;
and see if there be any idolatrous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting"
Hebrew Study Card
The search for chametz is not unlike the soul searching we do before the fall High Holidays, when we perform chesbon hanefesh (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ) by taking inventory of our spiritual condition before the LORD. In other words, we are instructed to search and remove sources of inner impurity so that we might experience the truth that we are a "new lump" - that is, a new substance that is purged from the sour and rotting influences of our past lives (1 Cor. 5:7). Since Yeshua has been sacrificed as our Passover Lamb (הַשֵׁה פִסְחֵנוּ), understand that you are a "new creation" (בְּרִיָּה חֲדָשָׁה) and are made "unleavened" by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 5:17). Therefore we are likewise commanded put away the "old nature" - the yetzer ha'ra - and purge from your life the old influences that inwardly canker you and make you sick. Walk without hypocrisy in the truth of the love of God for your soul.
Note: For more on this subject, a brief audio discussion is available here.
Abraham and the Exodus...
[ The following entry summarizes a portion of the story of Passover, which we hope to retell during the Passover Seder on Friday, April 22 this year... ]
04.15.16 (Nisan 7, 5776) Our father Abraham had personally experienced his own "Exodus from Egypt" when he left the Promised Land during a time of famine, and his beloved wife Sarah was subsequently abducted into Pharaoh's harem. In a state of helplessness, God then intervened on Abraham's behalf and "plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues" (Gen. 12:10-20). Later, when Abraham sought reassurance that his progeny would indeed inherit the promised land, the LORD made an unconditional "Covenant between the Parts" (בְּרִית בֵּין הבְּתָרִים) where He solemnly vowed to give the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants forever (Gen. 15). However, during that time, Abraham was also given a "dark vision" and foresaw both the 400 year slavery of his family and their deliverance during the time of the great Exodus (Gen. 15:12-14). When Abraham's grandson Jacob later was told by God to go to Egypt to be reunited with his son Joseph, he was assured that God would make his family into "a great nation" there (גוֹי גָּדוֹל אֲשִׂימְךָ שָׁם), and he was further promised: va'anochi a'alekha (ואָנכִי אַעַלְךָ), "and I will bring you back up" to the promised land (Gen. 46:2-4). When the time finally came for Jacob to die, he said to his Joseph: "Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers" (Gen. 48:21). Jacob went to his grave trusting that God's promises would come true, as his son Joseph did when he insisted that his brothers solemnly swear to take his bones with them when God would later rescue Israel (Gen. 50:24-25). The Book of Genesis ends with the embalmed body of Joseph put into a coffin, awaiting the advent of Moses and the promised Exodus of the Jewish people...
Taking Passover Personally...
[ The great holiday of Passover begins Friday evening, April 22nd... ]
04.15.16 (Nisan 7, 5776) The message of Passover applies to each of us: "In each and every generation an individual should look upon him or herself as if he or she (personally) had left Egypt." Indeed the very First Commandment is to accept the reality of our personal deliverance by the LORD: "I AM the LORD your God (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ ), who brought you (singular) out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). Note that the Hebrew word "Egypt" is mitzraim (מִצְרַיִם), a word that means "prison, enclosure, or straights," from the verb tzur (צוּר) meaning "to bind or confine" (the Yiddish word tsuris, "trouble," comes from the same root). On the other hand, the Hebrew word for salvation is yeshuah (יְשׁוּעָה), from a root that means to "make wide," to "release from constraint," to deliver or set free. It is noteworthy that God began the Ten Commandments by identifying Himself as our Redeemer and Deliverer rather than as our Creator, because the purpose of creation is to be set free by means of God's redemptive love given through Yeshua, the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Eph. 1:4).
Passover and Freedom...
04.15.16 (Nisan 7, 5776) Passover is sometimes called z'man cheruteinu (זְמָן חֵרוּתֵנוּ), the "Season of our Freedom." Our postmodern culture today is wicked and lawless, afflicted with the cowardice that comes from having a bad conscience. In that sense it is decidedly unfree and enslaved to its own self-destructive impulses. Tragically, many people today interpret "freedom" to mean the ability to do whatever they want to do whenever they want to do it. However, simply "doing your own thing" is not the Torah's idea of freedom. Yeshua told us "whoever commits sin is the slave (δουλος) of sin," and went on to say "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:34-36). True freedom (i.e., cherut: חרוּת) is therefore moral and spiritual rather than merely physical. Real freedom has to do with the power to choose what is right and good, not to simply get your own way or to practice your lusts... Our deliverance is meant to clothe us with divine power to walk in righteousness and truth.
Where it is written, "The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets" (Exod. 32:16), the midrash says do not read "engraved (חָרוּת) on the tablets" but rather as "freedom (חֵרוּת) on tablets," since only those who obey God's will may rightly be called "free" people...
Truth and Freedom...
04.15.16 (Nisan 7, 5776) When Yeshua said that the truth would "make us free" (ἐλευθερώσει), he was referring to the acceptance of the Witness of Divine Reality (i.e., the Word, Breath, Spirit, Voice, Message, Meaning, and Love of God) that delivers us from the lies we habitually tell ourselves. If you "persevere in my word" (μείνητε ἐν τῷ λόγῳ τῷ ἐμῷ) he said, "then you are my disciples indeed, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (ἡ ἀλήθεια ἐλευθερώσει ὑμᾶς, John 8:31-32). In other words, as we identify with his vision and redemptive mission, we will "be free indeed" from the tohu va'vohu (Gen. 1:2) – the "chaos and unreality" – that inescapably besets the way of the lie... We will be delivered from vanity and delusions of this world and its diseased affections; we will be set free from the need to justify ourselves by religion (perfectionism); we will no longer crave other people's approval; we will not be moved by the crowd and its pressures; we will find courage to face our challenges without resorting to escapism; and we will learn how to experience peace even when we encounter frustrations. Despite our daily struggles and tests, we will be released from bondage to anger and resentment as we yield our will in trust that God is working all things together for our ultimate good (Rom. 8:28). Genuine freedom is not an "accidental property" of the heart, depending on "luck" or "fortune," but instead is a decision to believe in the Reality of the salvation of God given in Yeshua our LORD.
The Leper Messiah...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Metzora... ]
04.14.16 (Nisan 6, 5776) It is tragic that traditional Judaism does not include Isaiah 53 as part of its yearly Haftarah readings. Perhaps the sages got confused about how to interpret the prophet. This shouldn't surprise us, however, since the prophets were regularly misunderstood and persecuted by various "religious authorities" in Jewish history (see Luke 11:47-51). Still, the sages might have missed the coming of Yeshua because there are two distinct pictures of the Messiah revealed in the visions of the prophets. On the one hand, Messiah is portrayed as a great king, deliverer, and savior of the Jewish people who comes in triumph "in the clouds" (Dan. 7:13), but on the other he is depicted as riding a donkey, lowly and humble, a suffering servant, born in lowliness, despised and rejected of men (Zech. 9:9). These two visions of Messiah eventually led to various oral traditions that there would be two Messiahs: a Messiah ben Joseph (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־יוֹסֵף) and a Messiah ben David (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־דָוִד). In other words, the sages split the concept of Messiah in two, "dividing the visions," by regarding one Messiah as a sufferer and the other Messiah as a conqueror.
Messiah ben Yosef is identified with the Suffering Servant, of whom the patriarch Joseph prefigured (and of whom Isaiah plainly spoke in his four "Servant Songs"). In some traditions of Judaism, Messiah ben Yosef is recognized as a forerunner and harbinger of the final deliverer, Messiah ben David. Ben Yosef suffers for the sins of Israel and ends up getting killed in the battle against evil for the benefit of ben David (in this way, the two ideas of Messiah were attempted to be "connected" - though not unified). In the Talmud it is written, "When will the Messiah come?" And "By what sign may I recognize him?" Elijah tells the rabbi to go to the gate of the city where he will find the Messiah sitting among the poor lepers (Sanhedrin 98a). "The Messiah -- what is his name?... The sages say, the Leper Scholar, as it is said, 'surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God and afflicted...'" (Sanhedrin 98b). These statements concern the idea of Messiah ben Yosef...
Messiah ben David, on the other hand, is identified as the great military ruler and King of Israel of whom King David prefigures. This greater "son of David" will regather the exiles, set up the (Third) Temple, and deliver Israel from all her enemies. This is the "Shiloh" version of Messiah that the sages of Judaism (such as Maimonides) have long been expecting (for more on the vision of Zion, see "As the Day Draws Near"). We believe Yeshua the Messiah in His second coming will completely fulfill this description of Messiah ben David.
The sages apparently were unwilling to unify the various Messianic prophecies in the Tanakh and therefore chose to "divide the visions." Ironically, while they longed for the ideal of Zion to be finally realized, they missed the means by which Zion itself would be established. They did not comprehend that the prophecies concerning the one Messiah would be fulfilled in two distinct ways: Yeshua is both Ben Yosef (the Suffering Servant - at His first coming) and Ben David (the Reigning King - at His second coming). He is also the Anointed Prophet, Priest, and King as foreshadowed by other me'shichim (משיחים) in the Tanakh.
"And of the Messiah -- what is his name?... The early sages answer, the "Leper Scholar" (מלומד מצורע)..." (Sanhedrin 98b). How was it that Yeshua was able to touch the metzora ("leper") and yet remain clean himself (Matt 8:1-4) unless he the LORD our Healer, the "the learned leper"? Just as Yeshua spoke with greater authority than Moses (Matt. 5:21-48), so He was able to do what Moses (and those under the Levitical system of worship) could not do -- namely, reach down in compassion and take away the uncleanness from our lives.... Yeshua's blood creates the "waters of separation" (מֵי נִדָּה). He is the fulfillment of the "Red Heifer" sacrifice. Only Yeshua enters the "leper colony" of humanity and takes away our tzara'at (sin) by becoming ish machovot (אישׁ מַכְאבוֹת), a leper Himself, the Just for the Unjust, that He might make us acceptable before the LORD.
As the prophet Isaiah wrote of Messiah:
"He is despised and rejected of men, a man of pains (אִישׁ מַכְאבוֹת) and acquainted with sickness (וִידוּעַ חלִי), and we hid as it were our faces from him. He was despised and we esteemed him not. Surely he has carried our sicknesses (חֳלָיֵנוּ) and borne our pains (מַכְאבֵינוּ), yet we esteemed him as plagued (נָגַע), smitten of God (מֻכֵּה אֱלהִים) and oppressed. But he was pierced (מְחלָל) for our transgressions (פְּשָׁעֵנוּ), he was crushed for our iniquities (עֲוֹנתֵינוּ): the discipline for our peace was upon him (מוּסַר שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ עָלָיו); and in his blows we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, but the LORD has attacked in him (הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:3-6)
"The LORD has "attacked in him (הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all..." (Isa. 53:6). Through the substitutionary sacrifice of the righteous Suffering Servant, Yeshua, we are both forgiven and made free from the power of sin and death. Because of Him we are no longer "lepers" or outcasts from the community of God but are made clean through His loving touch.
For more on this see: "The Leper Messiah: Further Thoughts on parashat Metzora."
The LORD our Savior...
04.14.16 (Nisan 6, 5776) 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 rightly called the Deliverer (הַמּוֹשִׁיעַ) and the Redeemer (הַגּוֹאֵל) of Israel. God - not Moses - is the Central Character and focus of the story. Indeed when Moses acted in his own initiative, thinking that he was to become Israel's deliverer, he became a "failed Messiah," a fugitive living in exile and a wanderer in the desolate places of Midian (Exod. 2:11-15). The "prince of Egypt" 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..."
Truth and Inner Healing...
04.14.16 (Nisan 6, 5776) "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.
Begin by asking God for courage and strength... Ask for the grace to 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 his secrets. Likewise focus on the truth and reality that extends beyond the pain of your past. Trust God for healing.
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?"
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See your sin only in relation to the cross of the Savior; know his heart despite your wretchedness. Accept that you are accepted despite your unacceptability...
The Exodus Parable...
04.13.16 (Nisan 5, 5776) 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."
Exodus and Tradition...
04.13.16 (Nisan 5, 5776) 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 classical Greek ideal that regards education as some sort of Platonic "enlightenment" (i.e., being "led out" of the cave of ignorance), the classical Jewish ideal implies dedication to God and living out faith in His promises. This ideal goes beyond the process of merely transmitting "factual" information, since dedication (faith) must be lived as well as intellectually taught. The truth of faith is therfore existential, meaning it is known only in so far as it is lived and experienced 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 of the heart and the head are therefore foundational to being a disciple of the Messiah, and the great commission is for each of us to share His teaching and heart with others (Matt. 28:19-20). May the LORD our God help each of us to be students who are dedicated to living for the sake of Yeshua's Name.
Note: I wrote this entry because some people question my use of Jewish "midrash," which is nothing more than traditional Jewish commentary passed down for hundreds and even thousands of years... Please be aware that Christians use their own "midrash," however, whenever they read a Bible commentary, recite a church creed, or study a book of theology. Commentary, and even careful Biblical exegesis, are not divinely inspired, of course, which is why we must test the spirits, use discernment, and ask God for wisdom....
Be assured, friend, that I completely trust the Scriptures and rely on them daily to help me know the truth about God and to walk in his light. That said, I don't believe we should ignore what is obvious in this case, namely, that our Bibles have been preserved and handed down (by the grace of and power of God) to us over time, though much of this process is both mysterious to us and certainly beyond our control. It is the Spirit that gives life, after all... We do not look up the answers in the book without needing to think through the meaning of the words, the ideas and concepts being expressed, and especially by asking for the Holy Spirit to help us discern the true intent of the original authors and how that applies to us today.
God miraculously preserved the Scriptures, this is true; though in every generation we must interpret the words, understand its context and meaning, and apply it to our time in history... False teachers love to pretend they are immune from their own biases, but they are assuredly the first in line to tell what the text "really" means - and how others are all wrong.
"To a visitor who described himself as a seeker after Truth, the Rebbe said, 'If what you seek is Truth, there is one thing you must have above all else.' 'I know,' said the seeker, 'an overwhelming passion for it.' 'No,' replied the rebbe, 'an unremitting readiness to admit that you may be wrong." (quoted by Anthony de Mello but the story goes back to earlier Chassidic sources)
The New Pharaoh's Dream...
04.13.16 (Nisan 5, 5776) According to midrash, just as the Pharaoh during the time of Joseph was troubled by his dreams (Gen. 41:1-7), so was the "new king" that arose during the time of Moses. In the new Pharaoh's dream, an old man was standing before him as he sat on his throne, holding a balance in his hand. The old man placed all the nobles and governors of Egypt on one side of the balance, and on the other side, he placed one small lamb. To Pharaoh's astonishment, however, the lamb outweighed all the leaders of Egypt! When the king asked his advisors to interpret the dream, they said it foretold of a coming king who would overthrow the kingdom of Egypt and set the Israelites free. This coming one would excel in wisdom and his name would be remembered forever as the Savior of Israel.
Of course the rest of the Book of Exodus is essentially God's interpretation of the new Pharaoh's dream, as the great events of the Exodus would reveal. The LORD God of Israel forewarned this king that Egypt would come into judgment by the Lamb of God... Indeed, the only way to escape this judgment and the wrath of God was by being covered by the sacrificial blood of the lamb... The Lamb of God is central to Israel's deliverance and becomes the focal point of the revelation of the sanctuary later given at Sinai.
Israel was redeemed from Egypt by trusting in the promise of their deliverance, as it is written, "and the people believed" (וַיַּאֲמֵן הָעָם) ... and bowed their heads and worshiped" (Exod. 4:31). Recall that the blood of the korban Pesach - the Passover lamb - was to be smeared on the two sides and top of the doorway, resembling the shape of the letter Chet (ח). This letter, signifying the number 8, is connected with the word חי (chai), short for chayim (life). The blood of the lamb (דַּם הַשֶּׂה) not only saves from the judgment of death, but it also is the means of imparting divine life and power (John 1:29).
The Limping Messiah...
[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Friday April 22nd... ]
04.12.16 (Nisan 4, 5776) 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 Sign of Life...
[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Friday April 22nd... ]
04.12.16 (Nisan 4, 5776) "The blood shall be a sign for you (וְהָיָה הַדָּם לָכֶם לְאת)... And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt" (Exod. 12:13). The blood would be a sign for the eye of faith, i.e., "for you," and not for the unbelieving world at large. During the afternoon of the 14th, the korban Pesach (Passover lamb) was slaughtered and its blood smeared on all three sides of the doorframe, top, right and left, that is, in the form of the letter Chet (ח). This letter is connected with the word chai (חי), "alive," and chayim (חיים), "life," signifying that atoning life is in the sacrificial blood (Lev. 17:11). Note that some say that the letters of the YHVH (יהוה) – the Name of Divine Compassion - were daubed on the doorposts: The Yod (י) was written on the top beam, the Vav (ו) on the right doorpost, and the Hey (ה) on the left. In other words, since Yeshua is YHVH, His Name was written on the doorposts of the faithful.
In Every Generation...
[ "In every generation, each of us is obligated to see himself or herself [lirot et atzmo] as though he or she personally came forth from Egypt." - Traditional Hagadah ]
04.12.16 (Nisan 4, 5776) Concerning the observance of the Passover Seder the Torah states, "When your son asks you in time to come, 'What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?' then you shall say to your son, 'We were slaves (עֲבָדִים הָיִינוּ) to Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes" (Deut. 6:20-23). We are instructed to "remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out" (Deut. 7:19). And where it is written in the Shema, "You shall teach them diligently to your children," we ask, what do we teach? And we answer: Everything – the whole story of our deliverance... So to help fulfill our great obligation to keep educating our children, I am again updating "Worthy is the Lamb - A Messianic Passover Haggadah" for this year.... Please feel free to download this succinct guide for your own study or Passover celebration.
The Great Lamb of God...
04.11.16 (Nisan 3, 5776) From the Torah (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...
Note that the original Passover sacrifice was not given to the Levitical priesthood as a sin offering since it preceded Sinai and the giving of the various laws concerning the sacrificial rites... Therefore the blessing, "You are blessed, LORD our God, King of the universe, who releases the captives" (i.e., matir asurim: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֶינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם מַתִּיר אֲסוּרִים), is for all people who are trusting in the blood of the Lamb for life. Indeed, in the world to come all the redeemed will sing of the Great Passover of Messiah that was foretold by Moses and fulfilled by the outstretched hands of Yeshua our LORD:
רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה
ra·uy · ha·seh · ha·ta·vu·ach · le·ka·bel · ge·vu·rah
o·sher · ve·chokh·mah · ve·ko·ach · vi·kar · ve·kha·vod · uv·ra·kha
"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and might and honor and glory and blessing"
Hebrew Study Card
The Chosen Lamb of God...
[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Friday, April 22nd... ]
04.11.16 (Nisan 3, 5776) The Sabbath that occurs immediately before Passover is called Shabbat HaGadol (שבת הגדול), which is associated with the selection of the sacrificial lamb four days before the time of Passover (Exod. 12:1-6). The New Testament notes that it was four days before Passover (Nisan 10) when Yeshua made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, signifying His Messiahship, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zech. 9:9). During this time, when the pilgrims had come to select a lamb for their Passover sacrifice at the Temple - they saw Yeshua and cried out: hoshiah na (הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא), meaning "please save" or "save now" (in English this phrase was translated from the Latin to form "Hosanna!"). The people spontaneously began singing Psalm 118:25-26 in anticipation of the great Messianic hope:
אָנָּא יְהוָה הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא אָנָּא יְהוָה הַצְלִיחָה נָּא
בָּרוּךְ הַבָּא בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה בֵּרַכְנוּכֶם מִבֵּית יְהוָה
an·na · Adonai · ho·shi·ah · na / an·na · Adonai · hatz·li·cha · na
ba·rukh · ha·ba · be·shem · Adonai / be·rakh·nu·khem · mi·bet · Adonai
"Please, LORD save us! Please, LORD rescue us!
Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD
We bless you from the house of the LORD."
Hebrew Study Card
Though he came in humility, riding upon a lowly donkey, it is striking to note that once he arrived in Jerusalem for Passover, Yeshua immediately went to the Temple and drove out all who sold there, overturning the tables of the "moneychangers" and the seats of those who sold pigeons (Matt. 21:1-16). The true Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) had come! At the Temple he then healed the blind and castigated the religious authorities by stating that the praise of children overruled their objections (Psalm 8:2). Over the next two days, he was accosted by priests, scribes, Pharisees, etc. - the whole religious establishment - which culminated in his utter denunciation of them beginning in Matthew 23 ("Woe unto you..."). He then left the Temple and foretold its destruction to the disciples, going on to explain the signs of the End of the Age (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) that would precede the advent of the Messianic Kingdom (Matt. 24). Yeshua was later crucified (before sundown) on Nisan 14, prophetically corresponding with the time when the Passover lambs were sacrificed at the Temple.
Note: For more on the prophetic aspects of the selection of the Passover lamb, see the Shabbat Hagadol pages. For a tentative chronology of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah, see "Reshit Katzir: Messiah as the Beginning of the Harvest."
Cleansing of the Leper...
04.10.16 (Nisan 2, 5776) Recall from last week's Torah (Tazria) that if someone was diagnosed with tzara'at ("leprosy"), they were forced to live in a state of exile. The afflicted person (called a metzora) tore his clothes like a mourner, put a shroud over his face, and remained alone. If anyone came near, the person would cry out: "Unclean! Stay away! Do not become impure because of me!" While so isolated, the person would have opportunity to perform teshuvah (repentance) and to reexamine his relationship with God.
In our Torah portion this week (Metzora), we learn about the laws for cleansing "lepers" (i.e., metzorim). If the one suffering from tzara'at (i.e., the metzora) had apparently been healed, he would first call for the priest to be officially reexamined. If the priest saw no sign of tumah (uncleanness), a second examination was scheduled seven days later, and if at that time there was no further sign of disease, the process of tahara (purification) would begin.
The purification process was somewhat elaborate: After the second examination, the priest required that the metzora bring the following items for his cleansing:
- An earthenware bowl filled with spring water (mayim chayim)
- Two birds of the same type (whether turtledoves or pigeons)
- A stick of cedar wood
- A hyssop branch
- A scarlet thread
The priest then commanded that one of the birds should be slaughtered over the earthen vessel filled with fresh water, with its blood mixing with the water. The living bird, the piece of cedar, and the hyssop branch were then tied together using the scarlet thread, and the entire bundle was dipped into the earthen vessel. The blood and water mixture was then sprinkled seven times on the healed metzora, and the living bird was then set free.
Next, the healed person washed his clothes, shaved off all his hair (including his eyebrows), and bathed in a mikveh (ritual pool for cleansing). After that he could return to the camp - but he could not return to his home for another seven days. On the eighth day he would bathe again and offer several offerings (a chatat, an asham, an olah, and a minchah), but the blood from the asham (guilt) offering was mixed with oil and applied to his earlobe, thumb and foot, similar to the blood applied to the priests during their ordination. Oil from a meal offering was sprinkled seven times in the direction of the Sanctuary. Only after all this was he pronounced tahor (clean) by the priest. His life of uncleanness would be over, and he would be like a man who was brought back from the dead to new life.
This purification ritual corresponded with other rituals revealed in the Torah. The sprinkling of the hyssop by the priest recalled both the blood of the Passover lamb and the sprinkling of the ashes of the Red Heifer that cleanse from contact with death; the offering made of the two birds - one which was sacrificed and the other set free - recalled the scapegoat of the Yom Kippur ritual. The washing of garments, the shaving of all hair, and the immersion in a mikveh recalled the birth of the Jewish people at the Sea of Reeds. The blood of the guilt offering applied to the earlobe, thumb and foot, recalled the dedication of Aaron and his sons as the priests of Israel (Lev. 14:14). In other words, the individual purification process mirrored the purification of the community of Israel, and healing ultimately meant being reidentified as a redeemed child of God. In a very literal sense, then, we see how the metzora was "reborn" by water and by the blood (John 3:5; 19:34; Heb. 9:19).
Rosh Hashanah of Spring...
[ The following is related to the Biblical New Year and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]
04.08.16 (Nisan 1, 5776) Spiritual danger is just as real as physical danger, though most people pretend it isn't because it isn't easily seen. The real dangers of life are not vulnerability to crime or some accident, however, but rather susceptibility to despair, the tendency to put off repentance, and the possibility of not dying well.... It is a great danger to walk through life asleep only to be jolted awake upon the day of death. "The greatest danger is that one does not discover, that one is not always discovering, that one is in danger" (Kierkegaard). Danger of what? Of wasting your life with trifles and vanities; of never learning how to truly love or to be loved; of becoming numb, unfeeling, and therefore unmoved by your need for God. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, "The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts." Hashivenu Adonai elecha vena-shuvah: "Turn us to You, O LORD, and we shall be turned..." (Lam. 5:21).
הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה
חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם
ha·shi·ve·nu Adonai e·ley·kha ve·na·shu·vah,
cha·desh ya·me·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
Note: Generally speaking there are two "New Years" in the Biblical calendar and Jewish tradition. The first occurs two weeks before Passover (on the new moon of Nisan) and the second occurs during Rosh Hashanah (on the new moon of Tishri). The first marks the month of the redemption of the Israelites from Egypt by the blood of the lamb (דַּם הַשֶּׂה) -- and it is also the month in which Yeshua was sacrificed upon the cross at Moriah to redeem us from our sins. The second marks the month of Israels' corporate salvation that will be fulfilled in the prophesied End of Days...
The Sabbath that immediately precedes (and sometimes falls on) the Biblical New Year is called Shabbat HaChodesh (שַׁבַּת הַחדֶש), the "Sabbath of the Month" (of Nisan). This Sabbath is significant because it marks the start of the month of Redemption (i.e., the first month called Nisan) which the LORD Himself called "the beginning of months" (Exod. 12:1-2). The instruction to sanctify the first new moon of the year (i.e., Rosh Chodashim) indicates that it is our responsibility to sanctify (i.e., observe) Biblical time in general. In other words, when we observe "the beginning of months," we are acknowledging that time itself is rooted in the Biblical calendar with its divinely inspired cycle of festivals (i.e., the moedim). Among other things, the advent of Rosh Chodashim reminds us that Passover begins 14 days later, under the full moon of the first month (i.e., Friday April 22nd at sunset this year).
L'shanah Tovah u'metuka Yeshua Adoneinu, chaverim! "To a good and sweet year in Yeshua our LORD, friends!" Amen! Shabbat shalom and may the peace of God be with you.
Walk in the Light...
04.08.16 (Nisan 1, 5776) Fear profoundly affects the way the brain processes images and messages, influencing the way we see and hear things. And since the mind and body are intricately interconnected, fear is a root cause of many physiological problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, clinical depression, and many other ailments. Left unchecked, fear can be deadly.... Most of our negative emotions come from fear, including anger, frustration, and rage. On a spiritual level, fear and worry can cause people to question God's love, to doubt His promises, and to succumb to despair. The devil knows that frightening people causes them to be unsettled, off-balance, and vulnerable to all sorts of manipulation and deception. Living in fear is a form of slavery (Heb. 2:15), but where the Spirit of the LORD is there is liberty and peace (2 Cor. 3:17). Therefore "fear no evil," for God is with you (Psalm 23:4). There is no fear in God's love, but perfect love (אַהֲבָה שְׁלֵמָה) throws out fear (1 John 4:18). The LORD repeatedly tells us not to be afraid – not of man, nor of war, nor of tribulation, nor even death itself (Rom. 8:35-39). Indeed, one of the most frequent commandments in Scripture is simply al-tirah (אַל־תִּירָא), "Be not afraid."
אַל־תִּירָא כִּי עִמְּךָ־אָנִי אַל־תִּשְׁתָּע כִּי־אֲנִי אֱלהֶיךָ
אִמַּצְתִּיךָ אַף־עֲזַרְתִּיךָ אַף־תְּמַכְתִּיךָ בִּימִין צִדְקִי
al ti·ra ki im·me·kha a·ni; al tish·ta ki a·ni E·lo·he·kha
im·matz·ti·kha af a·zar·ti·kha, af te·makh·ti·kha bi·min tzid·ki
"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
Download Study Card
Take comfort that your Heavenly Father sees when the sparrow falls; he arrays the flower in its hidden valley; and he calls each star by name. More importantly, the Lord sees you and understands your struggle with fear... Bring to Him your needy heart and trust in His provision and care... As we look to Him, our fears will begin to melt away...
Peace in the Storm...
04.08.16 (II Adar 29, 5776) Politicians, advertisers, social activists, and other manipulators understand that when people are afraid, their thinking is compromised, and therefore the propaganda of the world inevitably seeks to incite anxiety, dread, terror, division, and confusion by means of disinformation delivered up through pop culture. The way of healing is therefore to refuse to be bullied by the carefully crafted messages of deception regularly broadcast by the various "princes of this world..." We are not to be ignorant of Satan and his strategies to foment resentment, mistrust, and hatred. We must overcome the power of the lie by consciously focusing on the truth of God and the abiding Reality of the Divine Presence. As King David resolved within his heart: shiviti - "I have set the LORD always before me - because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken."
שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט
shi·vi·ti Adonai le·neg·di ta·mid
ki mi·mi·ni bal e·mot
"I have set the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken."
Hebrew Study Card
The Hebrew word shiviti comes from the verb shavah (שָׁוָה) which means "to set" or place, referring to focus of the heart required to truly apprehend the Divine Presence. In this connection, we note the "korban tamid" (תָּמִידקָרְבַּן) was the sacrifice of a lamb every evening and morning upon the copper altar in the outer court -- the central sacrifice of the Tabernacle. Along with it, matzah and wine offering were required, thereby revealing the true Passover Lamb of God and his sacrifice for us (Exod. 29:38-42). That the lamb was offered twice daily hints at its two applications - the first concerning the great deliverance from Egypt by the blood of the Lamb, and the second concerning the even greater deliverance given through Yeshua, the true Lamb of God (John 1:29). Note also that the constant sacrifice of the lamb required that the fire at the altar would never be extinguished, and by extension, the duty to "care for the inner fire" of the soul. Thank God that the fire that daily needs tending comes from the Spirit of God within us!
But how are we able overcome our fears apart from trusting that God is truly "with us"? The LORD is our Good Shepherd (הָרעֶה הַטּוֹב) who leads us on our way and meets our daily needs; He promises to never leave nor forsake us, especially when we are faced with difficult circumstances. The antidote to our fear is to find comfort in God's abiding love (1 John 4:18): God saves us from our fears (Psalm 34:4, 2 Tim. 1:7). When we trust that God personally cares for us, we find courage to face whatever may come our way...
Words of Heart...
[ Spiritual truth is a heart language, not just a head language... Ask for wisdom; your heavenly Father will not refuse you... ]
04.08.16 (II Adar 29, 5776) "If we ask anything according to God's will, he hears us," which is to say that in heaven there is only the language of truth, and truth is the language of heaven. Those who pray insincerely abuse the gift of speech, and such language is not understood in heaven... God speaks to us "in son," which is forever the language of faithfulness, hope, and love (1 Cor. 13:13). Kierkegaard wrote, "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty." Confession means "saying the same thing" about ourselves that God says - and that means not only acknowledging our sins, but also affirming that we are loved by God. "Love hopes all things" (1 Cor. 13:7), and therefore the language of truth is always spoken in hope. No truth about your sin is known apart from the love of God revealed in Yeshua our Messiah.
Atonement and Blood...
[ The following is related to our Torah reading this week, parashat Tazria... Chodesh Tov! ]
04.07.16 (II Adar 29, 5776) Though the creation of human life (i.e., birth) is regarded as one of the greatest events in the world, the Torah states that it begins in impurity (טֻמְאָה), indicating that natural life by itself is insufficient for attaining spiritual life (John 3:7). Hence we read in our Torah portion that the birth of a child results in impurity for the mother that required blood atonement (Lev. 12:2,7). A new mother is treated as a niddah (a menstruent woman) and is considered impure (i.e., tamei, טָמֵא) for 40 days (if a boy) or 80 days (if a girl). Only after making an offering of blood (e.g., a lamb, a young pigeon, or a turtledove) was she declared "clean" (טָהֵר) by the priests. This was also true of Miriam (i.e., Mary, the mother of Yeshua) who fulfilled her "days of purification" and offered the prescribed sacrifices according to the law (Luke 2:22-24).
The Torah makes it clear that blood (דָּם) is used as a means of consecration as well as a means of obtaining atonement (כַּפָּרָה) with God. Blood was used on the doorposts of the houses in Egypt to ward off judgment and was later used to ratify the covenant given at Sinai (Exod. 24:8). All the elements of Mishkan (Tabernacle) were likewise "separated" by its use: The altar, the various furnishings of the Temple, the vestments of the priests, and even the priests themselves were sanctified by blood (Exod. 29:20-21, Heb. 9:21). But ultimately blood was used to "make atonement" for the soul upon the altar. As the Torah (Lev. 17:11) plainly states: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood (כִּי נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם), and I have given it for you on the altar to atone (לְכַפֵּר) for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life (כִּי־הַדָּם הוּא בַּנֶּפֶשׁ יְכַפֵּר)." Blood is therefore connected to the holiness of life through sacrificial death...
Note: The concept of "unclean" has connotations that are negative and alien to the Hebrew concept of tumah (טָמְאָה), the noun, or tamei (טָמֵא), the adjective. The word tumah derives from the root word "atum" (אָטוּם) which means "impenetrable," "set apart," or "sealed off." There are a lot of opinions why the period of being set apart is 40 days for the birth of a boy but is doubled to 80 days for the birth of a girl, some quite esoteric (e.g., since a woman's separation is 40 days, a second woman's separation, i.e., that of the baby girl, is also taken into account). The important thing to note, however, is that the time of "impurity" is a "hands-off" time, set apart, intended for sacred purposes. Thus birth and death are times of tumah where people are released from the ordinary to encounter the extraordinary.
For more on this subject, see the "Atonement and Blood" article.
Note: April, 2016 updates continue here.
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