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

        

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

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





 

Jewish Holiday Calendar

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

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

Spring Holiday Calendar

Dates for Passover 2017


The Spring Holidays:

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:

  1. Month of Adar (Sat., Feb. 25th [eve] - Mon., March 27th [day])
  2. Month of Nisan (Mon. March 27th [eve] - Tues. April 25th [day])
  3. Month of Iyyar (Tues. April 25th [eve] - Thurs. May 25th [day])
  4. Month of Sivan (Thurs. May 25th [eve] - Fri. June 23rd [day])

Note:  The holiday of Passover -- and particularly the Festival of Firstfruits -- will not coincide with 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 2017:
 

Dates for Passover 2017

Free Passover Haggadah
 
 



 

April 2017 Site Updates
 


The Blessing of Shalom...


 

04.28.17 (Iyar 2, 5777)   Rejoice and be happy dear friends who are trusting in Yeshua for life.  There is a promised new world coming, a new reality, a heaven prepared for you! Keep hope alive within your heart: "All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well...." Receive the blessing of God by faith: "May the LORD lift up his face upon you and give you peace" (Num. 6:26). May the LORD "lift up his face" (יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו) toward you in welcome, and may his countenance be radiant with joy over you. May his face be "toward you," not turned away or hidden... When God turns toward you, he imparts the blessing without which all other blessings are beholden, namely, his peace (i.e., shalom). After all, what good is worldly prosperity or temporal pleasure apart from God's blessing of peace?  To have shalom (שָׁלוֹם) is to be made shalem (שָׁלֵם) – made whole, complete, secure, happy – and therefore the peace of God (שְׁלוֹם הָאֱלהִים) is assuredly the most essential blessing....

Rejoice in the LORD always; the fruit of the Spirit is love and joy! May it please God to help us all walk in the blessing of Yeshua, the Price of Peace. Shabbat Shalom to you all.

Personal Note: Please keep this ministry in your prayers, friends.  Things have been very difficult for us lately and our support has dropped considerably...  If you have been blessed and encouraged by this work, please consider supporting us. Most of all your prayers for us are deeply appreciated.  Shabbat Shalom.
 




God's "Super Sign" of Israel...


 

[ The following is related to Yom HaAtzma'ut (יוֹם הָעַצְמָאוּת) - Israel's Independence Day - which begins May 1st at sundown this year. Am Yisrael Chai! Happy 69th Birthday, Israel! ]

04.28.17 (Iyar 2, 5777)   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"
(Psalm 135:13)

 




Prophetic Significance of Israel...


 

[ The following is related to Yom HaAtzma'ut (יוֹם הָעַצְמָאוּת) - Israel's Independence Day - which begins May 1st at sundown this year. Happy 69th Birthday, Israel! ]

04.28.17 (Iyar 2, 5777)   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־שָׁמַע כָּזאת
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?"
(Isa. 66:8)



 

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).

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 should we live each day as if it were our last and pray that God will help us 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.


 




Affliction and Teshuvah...


 

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

04.28.17 (Iyar 2, 5777)   In one of his comments on tzara'at, Rashi says that affliction comes from haughtiness, and to be healed requires teshuvah (repentance). However, there is no genuine teshuvah until a person truly understands the greatness of God.  After all, a person can be humbled from a broken heart, from serious illness, from poverty, and so on, but were these conditions different there may be a return to haughtiness, as we see in the case of Pharaoh. True humility is unconditioned and is based on the recognition and acceptance of the awe of God. Yes, there is godly sorrow that leads to repentance, but ultimately repentance resolves upon the goodness and greatness of God, and without keeping that greater end in view, there is little practical difference between repentance and regret, despair, and shame.  May the awe of the LORD be upon us...
 

אֱלהִים יְחָנֵּנוּ וִיבָרְכֵנוּ
יָאֵר פָּנָיו אִתָּנוּ סֶלָה

E·lo·him · ye·chon·nei·nu · vi·va·re·khei·nu
ya·eir · pa·nav · i·ta·nu · se·lah
 

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



 




Words of Inner Healing...


 

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

04.28.17 (Iyar 2, 5777)   The prohibition against speaking lashon ha'ra (evil speech) includes the prohibition against saying critical or demeaning things about yourself... Critical and disparaging self-talk damages your soul and leads to other types of profane speech, including expressions of despair, cynical comments, spiteful or angry utterances, curse words, and so on. If you "tune in" to the inner conversation you are having with yourself, listen carefully whether you sometimes use words of self-reproach or even self-hatred.  Be wary when castigating or reviling yourself, since true confession of sin is healing, not damning (James 5:16; 1 John 1:9). You are forbidden to forsake the language of hope and the words of love spoken to you from the heart of God. This is the other side of the duty to guard our speech (shemirat lashon), namely, to use words to confess the good, to affirm truth, to offer encouragement, and to give thanks to God for the gift of life. "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things, and the God of peace will be with you" (Phil. 4:8-9).
 




Anticipating Revelation...


 

04.27.17 (Iyar 1, 5777)   Today is Rosh Chodesh Iyyar - the first day of the new Hebrew month, Iyyar. The sages say that the name Iyyar (אייר) can be read as an acronym for the Hebrew words, "I AM the LORD your Healer" (אֲנִי יי רפְאֶךָ, Exod. 15:26). And since each day of the month of Iyyar falls within the "countdown" to the revelation represented by Shavuot (Pentecost), we ask the Lord to deliver us from all that spiritually weakens us, so that we can be blessed with "hitgalut shlemah" (הִתְגָּלוּת שְׁלֵמָה), complete revelation, and an unhindered sense of God's Presence in our hearts. To a good month in Yeshua, friends!
 




Words and Judgments...


 

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

04.27.17 (Iyar 1, 5777)   Some people think that the prohibition against lashon ha'ra (evil speech) refers primarily to defaming another person's reputation or impugning someone's character, but it actually refers to saying anything negative or critical of others at all – even if what is said is factually true... The Chofetz Chaim explained the commandment this way: "You are forbidden to relate anything negative about others.  If a negative statement is true, it is still considered to be lashon ha'ra (except in very specific circumstances, such as testifying in a criminal court case); and if a negative statement is false, even partly false, it is motzi shem ra (מוֹצִיא שֵׁם רָע), that is, defamation of character, and is therefore a much more serious offense. It cannot be repeated enough that true negative statements are considered lashon ha'ra. The most common defense to a criticism for speaking lashon ha'ra is, "But it is true!" However that is exactly what categorizes the statement as being lashon ha'ra" (Sefer Shemirat Lashon). We must exercise great care, chaverim, for "death and life are in the power of the tongue" (Prov. 18:21). A midrash states that if someone speaks well of another, the angels above will then speak well of him before the Holy One, but if he speaks evil of another, the accusing angel will then accuse him before the Holy One.

Likewise Yeshua taught us that whatever is spoken in this life is "echoed" throughout eternity and will be reheard upon the day of judgment: "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless (ἀργὸν) word they utter, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). We are especially warned against making promises we might break: "Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil" (Matt. 5:37). Therefore the Holy Spirit says through David: "What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit."
 

    "Why is the tongue called a slaughtering arrow? (i.e., חֵץ שׁוֹחֵט לְשׁוֹנָם, Jer. 9:8). Because if a person draws a sword to kill a neighbor, and the neighbor begs for mercy, the person's mind can change, and the sword can be returned unused. However, once an arrow is loosed, it can never be called back, even if the person who shot it has a change of mind" (Midrash Shocher Tov).
     

Note:  In Lev. 14:2 we read, "this is the law of the leper (תּוֹרַת הַמְּצרָע), where the word "leper" (i.e, ha'metzora: הַמְּצרָע) was homiletically read by the sages as ha'motzi ra, "one who brings forth evil." Spiritually speaking, the one who speaks evil becomes a leper... Note also that there are cases when we are duty bound to speak the truth, even if it is "negative," such as in criminal matters, though that is not the point of the general prohibition against lashon ha'ra... We must pursue justice and reprove evil, but we must do so in love and with the aim at true restoration.
 




Priests and Lepers...


 

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

04.27.17 (Iyar 1, 5777)  "When a person (i.e., adam: אָדָם) has on the skin of his body a swelling (שְׂאֵת) or a scab (סַפַּחַת) or a bright spot (בְּהֶרֶת)... he shall be brought to the priest" (Lev. 13:2). Here the sages note three common afflictions that befall the "children of Adam": swelling (arrogance), scabs (worldly vanity, from a word that means to join togther), and  bright spots (representing the light of carnal reasoning to understand the ways of God). When we see only the affliction, we must go to the priest – to one who helps mediate the Divine Presence – to see how deep the affliction is... Symbolically, since we are all priests to one another (see Exod. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6), we share our afflictions with one another, allowing ourselves to be seen, and to confess our need for healing. "Therefore, disclose (ἐξομολογέω, lit. 'confess out') your sins to one another and pray (εὔχομαι) for one another, that you may be healed..." (James 5:16).

Followers of Yeshua are called to be healers (Luke 9:1). The most common word for healing in the New Testament is therapeuo (θεραπεύω), a word that means to serve, to care for, and to restore to health. Unlike some ministers who draw crowds to demonstrate the power of miraculous "faith healing," true spiritual healers take the time to listen to others, to hear their inward pain, and to extend compassion and grace to them. They help open the inner eyes of the heart by extending hope and a new vision about what is real... Indeed, lasting healing focuses less on being cured than on finding hope that will never die.
 




Finding Inner Peace...


 

"Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it..." ]

04.27.17 (Iyar 1, 5777)   "Am I now trying to gain the approval of people, or of God?" (Gal. 1:10). Some of us seem far more concerned with how others see than how God sees us... We strive to manage a public image crafted for others but lose the substance of what is real.  Trying to control how we are seen by others is exhausting, however, since it implies that we must find our value in their (conditional) approval rather than from a deeper source. The emotional need for approval is a form of cruel bondage: We take ourselves too seriously, we deny who we really are, and we believe we are never good enough. Over time we become anxious and easily offended people... For every reaction there is a counter reaction. As the Kotzker Rebbe wisely said, "If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you; but if I am I because you are you and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you." The remedy for this anxious confusion of heart is to turn to God and to find your value in God's love and blessing. As we come to believe that we are accepted and loved despite our many imperfections, inadequacies, and character defects, we find courage to accept ourselves, to "let go" and relax. As Yeshua said, "whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it" (Luke 18:17).
 

    "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with but REALLY loves you, then you become Real. It doesn't happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time.... Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand." (Margary Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit)
     

In light of the Velveteen Rabbit imagery, it is God Himself who is the Child who loves us into the state of reality...  Sometimes, in darker moments of the soul, the Spirit announces this to the heart of faith as "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him" (Job 13:15), while at other times, we are able to hear the words of the wise Skin Horse as words meant for us...
 




The Fear of the LORD...



 

04.27.17 (Iyar 1, 5777)   Some people are afraid that God will punish them for their sins, but the true fear of God, yirat shamayim (יִרְאָת שָׁמַיִם), is the tragedy of losing our closeness to Him... This is the fear of the Lord. The sages note that where it is written, "What does the LORD ask of you except to fear the LORD" (Deut. 10:12), we should read instead, "fear with the LORD" (לְיִרְאָה אֶת־יְהוָה), that is, we share his concern that we could forfeit the sanctity of a heart-relationship with Him due to carelessness and sin... We fear our sin because it blinds us from awareness of God's care and love. The fear of God can therefore be understood as God's fear that we will miss the blessing of intimately knowing him.

Similarly, where we read: "You shall be holy, for I, the LORD your God am holy" (Lev. 11:44; 19:2; 20:7; 20:26; 1 Pet. 1:15-16), understand that the Lord is grieved when we do not esteem ourselves and our lives as sacred, as "set apart" and of infinite importance... How else can we even begin to apprehend the sanctity of God and others if we do not simultaneously realize that we are set apart to be sacred? This is not ego-worship but the sober truth of the Spirit: we are to respect our lives and esteem them as sacred, since God has elevated us to be his children by means of the gift of Yeshua our Messiah...

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




Matters of Life and Death...


 

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

04.26.17 (Nisan 30, 5777)   Just as the body can become sick with illness, so can the soul: "I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me; heal my soul (רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי), for I have sinned against you'" (Psalm 41:4). Likewise we understand that fear influences the way the brain processes images and messages. And since the mind and body are intricately interconnected, fear is often the root cause of many physiological problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, clinical depression, and other ailments. Left unchecked, fear can be deadly. Note the connection between fear, lashon hara (evil thoughts/words), and sickness (tzara'at), which are themes of this week's Torah portion...

The targum Onkelos states that God breathed into Adam the ability to think and to speak. In other words, thought and speech are two primary characteristics of the image (tzelem) and likeness (demut) of God. Since our use of words is directly linked to the "breath of God" within us, lashon hara (לָשׁוֹן הָרָה) defaces God's image within us.... Using words to inflict pain therefore perverts the image of God, since God created man to use language to "build up" others in love. This is part of the reason the metzora (i.e., one afflicted with tzara'at) was regarded as "dead" and in need of rebirth.

Lashon hara (evil speech) is really a symptom of the "evil eye" (ayin hara). "Evil comes to one who searches (דָּרַשׁ) for it" (Prov. 11:27). We must train ourselves to use the "good eye" (ayin tovah) and extend kaf zechut (כַּף זְכוּת) - the "hand of merit" to others. Genuine faith is optimistic and involves hakarat tovah, that is, recognizing the good in others and in life's circumstances. Gam zu l'tovah: "This too is for the good" (Rom. 8:28). The Midrash states that God afflicted houses with tzara'at so that treasure hidden within the walls would be discovered. The good eye finds "hidden treasure" in every person and experience.

King David said (Psalm 35:13): "May what I prayed for happen to me!" (literally, tefillati al-cheki tashuv - "may it return upon my own breast").  Some of our prayers are conscious words spoken to God, whereas others are unconscious expressions of our inner heart attitudes. When we harbor indifference, ill will, or unforgiveness toward others, we are only hurting ourselves. It is very sobering to realize that our thoughts are essentially prayers being offered up to God... When we seek the good of others we find God's favor, healing and life. Yeshua spoke of "good and evil treasures of the heart" that produce actions that are expressed in our words (Luke 6:45). A midrash states that if someone speaks well of another, the angels above will then speak well of him before the Holy One.

In light of the enigma of "spiritual impurity" (i.e., tumah) and its ultimate expression revealed in the corruption of death, it is all the more telling that we should heed the cry of the Spirit: "Choose Life!" (Deut. 30:19). מָוֶת וְחַיִּים בְּיַד־לָשׁוֹן - "Death and life are in the power of the tongue" (Prov. 18:21). Sin is a type of "spiritual suicide" that seduces us to exchange eternal good for the petty and trivial. The nachash (serpent) in the garden of Eden was the first to speak lashon hara. He slandered God and lied to Eve about how to discern between good and evil. He is a murderer and the father of lies. Resist his wiles with the truth of God...

May it please the LORD to help each of us be entirely mindful of the power and sanctity of our words... May it please Him to help us use our words for the purpose of strengthening and upbuilding (οἰκοδομὴν) one another (Eph. 4:29). May God help us take every thought "captive" to the obedience of the Messiah, thereby enabling us to always behold and express the truth of God's unfailing love.
 




Purification and Healing...


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah, parashiyot Tazria-Metzora.... ]

04.26.17 (Nisan 30, 5777)   The cleansing of a metzora (i.e., "leper") corresponded with other significant sacrificial rituals given in the Torah. The sprinkling of the hyssop by the priest recalled the blood of Passover; 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 (a pool of fresh water) recalled the birth of the Jewish people at the Sea of Reeds. Finally, the blood of the guilt offering sprinkled on 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 re-identified as a redeemed child of God.  In a spiritual sense, then, we see how the metzora was "reborn" by water and by the blood (John 3:5; 19:34; Heb. 9:19).

Of the Messiah it is written: "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). 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.

Notice that the word translated "blow" (i.e., חַבּוּרָה, "wound" or "stripe") comes from the same root as the word "friend" (חָבֵר), and therefore we can read this as "in His friendship we are healed." Yeshua gave up His life for us so that we could become his friends... As He later told us regarding his sacrifice: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Indeed of Yeshua it may truly be said, Yesh ohev davek me'ach – "there is a friend who sticks (davek) closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24).

Note: For more on this subject, see the article: "Thoughts on Holiness."
 




Cleansing of the Leper...


 

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

04.25.17 (Nisan 29, 5777)   Although the priest needed to go "outside the camp" to examine a metzora (i.e., "leper"), the person still needed to "be brought" to the priest to meet him there, while he or she was in a state of exile (Lev. 14:2-3). In other words, the afflicted one was required to meet the priest "half-way." Like the prodigal son who returns home, God lovingly waits for us at the "edge" of the camp to meet us half-way... Hashivenu (הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ): "Return us to You, LORD, and we shall return" (Lam. 5:21).

The case of the metzora reveals that God sometimes disciplines his child with "exile" in order to awaken teshuvah within the heart. God imparted the spiritual disease of tzara'at to "remind" us of our sin and need for atonement, and the purification ritual was meant to illustrate our need for spiritual rebirth.... The gracious aim of affliction, then, is to "wake us from our slumbers" in order to reveal the way of life.

The love of God is so great that He reached out and touched us - becoming a "leper" for us - and even chose to die "in exile" upon the cross to eternally purify us from our sins... In that sense, Yeshua surely meets us more than "half-way," since He "emptied Himself" (κενόω) of His heavenly glory and power in order to willingly bear our sickness, shame, and even death itself on our behalf... "But [He] made himself nothing (εκενωσεν), taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men; and being found in human form, he brought himself low by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:7-8).
 




The Month of Iyyar...


 

[ Tonight at sundown is Rosh Chodesh Iyyar... Chodesh tov b'Yeshua chaverim! ]

04.25.17 (Nisan 29, 5777)   On the Torah's calendar, the month of Iyyar falls between the great month of redemption (i.e., Nisan) and the third month of revelation (Sivan), and is therefore primarily regarded as a "month of passage" to help us prepare for the revelation given at Sinai (i.e., mattan Torah). Later, the agricultural aspect of this "passage" was enshrined in terms of Sefirat HaOmer (סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר), or the "counting the sheaves," when a sheaf of barley was waved before the altar each day for 49 days before the arrival of the great jubilee of Shavuot (Lev. 23:15-16). In Rabbinical tradition, each passing day of the month of Iyyar is an opportunity to awaken to the importance of the Torah. For followers of Yeshua, each day anticipates the giving of the Holy Spirit and how the inner meaning of the Torah is written upon the heart by the power of God (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4; Jer. 31:33).


 

Rosh Chodesh Blessing

The following (simplified) blessing can be recited to ask the LORD to help you for the coming new month of Iyyar:
 

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

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

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

Download Study Card
 

The month of Iyyar has become very important in more recent Jewish history and tradition. On the modern Jewish calendar, a number of newer holidays are observed, including Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day), Yom HaAtzma'ut (Israel's Independence Day), Lag B'Omer (Iyyar 18), and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day).  By far the greatest of these modern holidays is Yom Ha'atzmaut, or Israel's Independence Day, which was originally announced on before sunset on Friday, May 14th (i.e., Iyyar 5, 5708). And of course the liberation of the Temple Mount on June 7th, 1967 (i.e., Iyyar 28, 5727) is also highly prophetic as well!
 




Atonement and Blood...


 

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

04.25.17 (Nisan 29, 5777)   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 (see 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: For more on this subject, see the "Atonement and Blood" article.
 




Endurance and Healing...


 

04.25.17 (Nisan 29, 5777)   Though our healing will assuredly come to us, it remains the prerogative of God to allow trials in our lives for our ultimate good. Some people will tell you that faith is the key here: Steadfastly affirm that you are healed even in the midst of your anguish, because your suffering is a test designed to teach you to trust God and receive the blessing apart from any empirical evidence (2 Cor. 4:18). As the Torah declares of our father Abraham: וְהֶאֱמִן בַּיהוָה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ צְדָקָה -- "And he believed in the LORD, and He counted it to him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:6); and also of Job's faith in the midst of his agonizing struggle: הֵן יִקְטְלֵנִי לוֹ אֲיַחֵל -- "Though he slay me, I will hope in him" (Job 13:15). Sometimes all we can do is cry out to the LORD for deliverance...  Our heart's cry does not question God's goodness to us, though we may silently wonder about the extent to which affliction may be used to mend our hearts. As C.S. Lewis once said, "We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be" (Letters of C.S. Lewis, 1964). There is a trust issue in suffering, and an intimacy that comes through its fires. As Kierkegaard reminds us, "It is one thing to conquer in the hardship, to overcome the hardship as one overcomes an enemy, while continuing in the idea that the hardship is one's enemy; but it is more than conquering to believe that the hardship is one's friend, that it is not the opposition but the road, is not what obstructs but what develops, is not what disheartens but ennobles" (Four Upbuilding Discourses, 1844).

The difficulty of intense personal suffering is deeply existential: how do you keep hope in the midst of this tension? "Lord I believe; help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24). How do you affirm that your heavenly Father will heal you but at the present hour you must continue to endure suffering? Do you then devise a "soul-building theodicy" to explain your struggle – providing a narrative to answer the "why" of your suffering -- or do you attempt to sanctify suffering as a means of healing others by the grace of the Messiah (Col. 1:24)? When Yeshua victoriously proclaimed, "It is finished" just before he died on the cross, he foreknew that his followers would experience a "purging process," a "refining fire," and time on the "potter's wheel" to perfect their sanctification. At the cross of Yeshua death itself was overcome – and all that it implies – and yet it is nevertheless true that we will suffer and die ourselves and that death persists an enemy (see 1 Cor. 15:26). While we celebrate the reality of the final redemption, the "instrumentality of our sanctification" needs to be willingly accepted and endured.  I say "endured" here because I don't think we will ever have a complete answer to the question of "why" we undergo the various tests we face in this life. Our disposition in the midst of this ambiguity, in the midst of seemingly unanswered prayers, is where our faith is disclosed: will we despair of all temporal hope or not? Will we console ourselves with the vision of a future without tears and loss - a heaven prepared for us -- or will we resist the present darkness and seek to find deliverance in this hour? Do we trust God with our pain and submit to his will, or will we "curse God and die" inside – losing hope and despairing of all remedy?

As King David once wrote, "At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness. Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me. Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me" (Psalm 69:13-16).
 

עֲנֵנִי יְהוָה כִּי־טוֹב חַסְדֶּךָ
 כְּרב רַחֲמֶיךָ פְּנֵה אֵלָי

nei·ni · Adonai · ki · tov · chas·de·kha
ke·rov · ra·cha·me·kha · pe·neh · e·lai
 

"Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good;
 according to your abundant mercy, turn to me."
(Psalm 69:16)



 

"But You, O GOD my Lord, do Thou for me for your own Name's sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me" (Psalm 109:21). "Do thou for me" is the confession that God alone has the power to help. Asking God to bring glory to His own Name -- to honor and magnify His Name -- is the theme of all true intercession.

Suffering has a way of focusing the heart and mind, reminding us that "today is the tomorrow of yesterday." Life is short, and our need is great to turn to the LORD and take hold His promises. We take comfort that God is for us the God of salvation: "Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is for us our salvation. Selah. Our God is a God of salvation (יְשׁוּעָה), and to GOD, the Lord, belong deliverances from death" (Psalm 68:19-20).
 

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 to yourself, O LORD, and we shall be turned.
 Renew our days as of old"
(Lam. 5:21)


  

All those who are "fathered by God" conquer the world, since God imparts to us the victory of faith by means of His powerful Spirit (1 John 5:4). Therefore the heart of faith says, "In all these things [afflictions, tribulations, etc.] we are 'more than conquerors' (lit., "hyper-conquerors," i.e., ὑπερνικῶμενfromὑπέρ, "hyper" + νικάω, "to overcome") through Him that loved us (Rom. 8:37).
 




Shemirat Ha-Lashon - שְׁמִירַת הַלָּשׁוֹן


 

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

04.24.17 (Nisan 28, 5777)   According to the sages, tzara'at ("leprosy") was a punishment for evil speech, or "lashon hara" (לָשׁוֹן הָרָה). In midrashic literature, lashon hara is regarded as equal to idol worship, sexual immorality, and murder, and the one who indulges in it defiles his mouth so that even words of Torah and prayer are corrupted. "From the same mouth come blessing and cursing; brothers, these things ought not to be so" (James 3:10). The sages even go further: "Lashon Hara is worse than murder. One who murders, murders but one; however, one who speaks lashon hara kills three: the one who speaks it, the one who hears it, and the one of whom it is spoken." Lashon hara is likened to "emotional homicide" caused by publicly shaming another. According to the Talmud, the shamed person's face is drained of blood and turns white, and therefore humiliation is called halbanat panim, "whitening the face." Therefore the sages identify the metzora (i.e., leper) with hamotzi ra, "one who brings forth evil," and they stress shemirat ha-lashon, the "guarding of the tongue," as a cardinal virtue of the righteous.

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

Note:  For more on this important topic, click here.
 




Parashat Tazria-Metzora...


 

04.24.17 (Nisan 28, 5777)   This week we have a "double portion" of Torah to read, namely parashat Tazria and parashat Metzora, both of which focus on the concept of being "clean" (טָהוֹר) and obtaining purification from a state of "uncleanness" (טָמֵא). Of particular importance is the healing and purification of the metzora (i.e., "leper"), which is similar to the ritual performed for cleansing during Yom Kippur, the great Day of Atonement.

A midrash states that when the Israelites first heard about the divinely imparted affliction of tzara'at, sometimes (inaccurately) translated as "leprosy," they despaired and became fearful. Moses reassured them by telling them that tzara'at was a sign from God that they were a chosen nation, and this was his way of encouraging them to do teshuvah in to be in fellowship with Him. Likewise God sometimes disciplines us for our sins (Heb 12:7-8) for the purpose of granting us the gift of teshuvah (2 Cor. 7:10). We must therefore strive to make our conversation and the inmost intent of our hearts "captive to the obedience of the Messiah," blessed be He (Matt. 5:37; Eph. 4:29; Col. 3:8; 2 Cor. 10:5; 1 Tim 4:2; etc.).

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

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

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

For Further Study:

 




Kaddish and Providence...


 

[ Tonight begins Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day... ]

04.23.17 (Nisan 27, 5777)  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."
(Psalm 139:16)


 


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."
 




Being Wholehearted...


 

04.21.17 (Nisan 25, 5777)  We are admonished in our Torah: תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ - "You shall be wholehearted (i.e., tamim: תָּמִים) with the LORD your God" (Deut. 18:13). When we study Scripture or things of "religion," we must be  careful not to lose sight of what is important.  We should serve God with "simplicity" (תֻּמָּה), that is, sincerely, with our whole heart and with straightforward intent. We should use a "single eye" and resist the temptation to "read into things" (Matt. 6:22-23). Indeed, God knows that we can evade the truth by means of being overly "sophisticated" when we read the Scriptures. The essential truth is plain enough, but we want to split hairs, consult a variety of commentaries, engage in mystical speculations, and so on, all in an attempt to defend ourselves against hearing from the Spirit of God! But as it says in Scriptures: holekh batom yelekh betach, "Whoever walks in simplicity (בַּתּם) walks securely" (Prov. 10:9).

Kierkegaard once lamented: "The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly." Indeed - there is a real danger of merely "thinking about" truth rather than living it... For instance, you might study the Psalms as literature and attempt to understand the nuances of Hebrew poetry, but that is altogether different than reading them with inner passion, with simple faith and the earnest desire to unite your heart's cry with the devotion that originally gave life to the sacred words... Likewise you might study Torah, pronounce the Name YHVH, carefully observe the festivals, and hope to "correct" Christians regarding their religion, and still be a lost soul... We must read with a heart of faith to unlock the truth that speaks to the heart. If you believe only what you understand, your faith is actually grounded in your own reasoning, not in the Divine Voice of Love.
 




Using the Good Eye...


 

04.21.17 (Nisan 25, 5777)  "For offences will come..." We must be careful, friends, to learn to interpret our experiences in the light of God's presence and love, rather by means of our own finite and carnal thinking... We must learn to use the "good eye" (ayin tovah) to believe and behold the hidden blessing. Choosing to interpret the words of others in a negative light is a choice to be wounded, to be a victim, and to judge others with painful suspicion.  Slow down; do not jump to conclusions or be unjust in your thinking. Carefully test and examine the biases and attitudes you bring to your judgments: "test the spirits to see whether they are of God" (1 John 4:1; 1 Thess. 5:21). Are you quick to judge? Prone to take offence? How do you generally interpret the intentions of others?  Do you understand that God designs all things for your ultimate healing and good (Rom. 8:28)? Do you believe that God uses difficulties in our lives to mold and shape us into "vessels of mercy" (σκεύη ἐλέους)? Let go of those prejudices and biases that lead you to anger, frustration, fear, and pain. "Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land" (Psalm 37:8-9). Trust that the Lord is at work in your life and rest in his care. Shabbat Shalom chaverim.
 




Amen: Let it Be...


 

04.21.17 (Nisan 25, 5777)  Since the circumstances of life are beyond our control, we are naturally tempted to yield to anxiety about the future. The Scriptures make clear, however, that we are to trust in the LORD bekhol libekha (בְּכָל־לִבֶּךָ) – "with all our heart" (Prov. 3:5). "Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us" (Psalm 62:8). Therefore - הַשְׁלֵךְ עַל־יְהוָה יְהָבְךָ וְהוּא יְכַלְכְּלֶךָ - "cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you" (Psalm 55:22).  Note that the word translated "burden" (i.e., yehav) in this verse comes from a verb meaning "to give," which suggests that our burden is "that which is given to us," that is, the "lot" or circumstances of our lives. Figuratively speaking, we "cast our lot" upon the LORD and trust that he will sustain us... The ancient Greek translation of the Bible (i.e., LXX / Septuagint) translates the Hebrew word yehav as merimna (μέριμνα) meaning "anxiety" or "care," which is the word Peter used when he quoted this verse in his epistle (see 1 Pet. 5:7). The Greek verb (meridzo) means to be fragmented or divided into parts and pieces. We bring our brokenness to God - including those fearful distractions that tear us away from Him and that make us inwardly fragmented - in order to receive God's care for us. The Lord reassures us in light of future uncertainty: "Throw upon the Lord everything in your life that tempts you to fear. God will hold you up and sustain your way. He will never allow the righteous to be shaken apart..." (Psalm 55:22).

Yeshua says, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matt. 11:28-29). When he said, "Live in me, and I will live in you" (John 15:4), he didn't insist you first be found worthy or good; no, he set no other condition than that of trust: "Now are you clean through the word which I speak" (John 15:3). The separation is gone; God has made the way past your shame. You are invited to come, so come just as you are, come without delay, but come trusting that you are entirely welcome because of who Yeshua is and what he has done for you...

O Lord, help us to be in that life you so freely give.... help us to come.
 




Remembering Every Day...


 

04.21.17 (Nisan 25, 5777)  Though the holiday of Passover is now technically over, it is best to understand it in connection with 49 day countdown leading to the holiday of Shavuot (i.e., "Pentecost") as its culmination, called Atzaret Pesach, the "Conclusion of Passover." Shavuot is therefore the end (τέλος) or goal of the redemption experience for believers.

Just as the redemption by the blood of the lambs led to Israel's deliverance and the giving of the Torah at Sinai (סִינַי), so the redemption by the blood of Yeshua led to the world's deliverance and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Zion (צִיּוֹן). And just as the covenant at Sinai created the nation of Israel, so the new covenant at Zion created the worldwide people of God, redeemed from "every tribe and tongue" (Rev. 5:9).

Moreover the commandment to remember our redemption from Egypt is explicitly and repeatedly stated in the Scriptures: תִּזְכּר אֶת־יוֹם צֵאתְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם כּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ - "You shall remember the day you came out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life" (Deut. 16:3). In fact, the Exodus from Egypt is mentioned over 50 times in the Torah, and is associated with the very first of the Ten Commandments: אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים - "I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt" (Exod. 20:2), and it is also recalled every Sabbath (Deut. 5:12-15). The festivals of Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles) likewise both derive from it (the former recalling the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the latter recalling God's care as the Exodus generation journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land), as does the Season of Teshuvah (repentance) that culminates in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).

Indeed, nearly every commandment of the Torah (including the laws of the laws of the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system) may be traced back to the story of the Exodus, and in some ways, the entire Bible is an extended interpretation of its significance. Most important of all, the Exodus prefigures and exemplifies the work of redemption given through the sacrificial life of Yeshua the Messiah, the King of the Jews and the Lamb of God (Rev. 5:12).
 

 




Strength for the Weary...


 

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

04.21.17 (Nisan 25, 5777)  The sages ask, "Why does the Torah use a repetitious expression, "Sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy" (הִתְקַדִּשְׁתֶּם וִהְיִיתֶם קְדשִׁים) (Lev. 11:44)? Because when we make an effort - no matter how feeble at times - to draw near to God, He will draw near to us.  As we sanctify ourselves, so God sanctifies us. Therefore "let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." (Gal. 6:9). So focus and draw near to God, and you will find that he has drawn near to you (James 4:4; Heb. 11:6). Blessed are You LORD our God, who gives strength to the weary:
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵנוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
הַנּוֹתֵן לַיָּעֵף כּהַ

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

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



 




Meaning in Suffering...

Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial
 

[ Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day, is observed April 23-24 this year... ]

04.21.17 (Nisan 25, 5777)  It has been noted that the survivors of the concentration camps were not necessarily the physically strongest, but they were people able to find meaning in their suffering and who never lost sight of hope. As survivor Viktor Frankl once said, "In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice" (Frankl: Man's Search for Meaning). In light of this, let's resolve now to live each day full of concentrated hope - full of conviction - that even should this be the last day of our earthly existence, we will stand for God, we will hold on to the truth of God's salvation, and we will die in the everlasting hope of God's victorious love.
 

    We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way...

    Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. - Viktor E. Frankl
     




Trust in the Darkness...


 

04.21.17 (Nisan 25, 5777)  From our Torah this week (i.e., Shemini) we read how Aaron "was silent" before the death of his sons (Lev. 10:3). Here the sages connect surrender to God with humility, for surely the death of Aaron's two son's evoked his cry of protest, his objection before the LORD... The reason for what happens in our lives is often (always?) beyond our understanding, yet the righteousness of God's plan – even if undisclosed to us - must be accepted by faith. As it says: "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:9). The refusal to accept what cannot be understood is to worship the powers of the mind, and to elevate the role of human reason above even God Himself. Faith accepts God's goodness and trusts in his care, even if that means we find ourselves walking in the dark: "Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God" (Isa. 50:10).

Personal Note:  Please remember Hebrew for Christians in your prayers, friends. In nearly two decades of ministry I have never encountered the level of spiritual opposition and warfare I am now experiencing. I am asking for all those who are prayer warriors to pray so that we can continue to minister in the days ahead. Thank you so much. - John
 




Deliver Us from Evil...


 

[ Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day, is observed April 23-24 this year... ]

04.21.17 (Nisan 25, 5777)   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" (Frankl: 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). Plato asked (the Republic 2:359, "Ring of Gyges," cp. J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings) that 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
מִי יֵדָעֶנּוּ

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...
 




Cowardice and Atrocities...


 

[ Yom HaShoah is observed Sunday, April 23rd at sundown this year... ]

04.21.17 (Nisan 25, 5777)   Yom HaShoah, or "Holocaust Remembrance Day," marks Israel's time of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews -- including over a million children -- who perished as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany and its accomplices. It was inaugurated in 1953 and is annually observed on (or about) the 27th day of the month of Nisan, just a few days after Passover Week in the spring.  In stark contrast to the celebration of freedom commemorated during Passover, Yom HaShoah marks a very difficult time when we revisit specters of absolute evil and again ask haunting questions about the power and presence of malevolence in our world. Often we are left speechless over the cruelty and depravity of human beings. It all seems so inexplicable, so needlessly horrible, so senseless, so vile... We may feel powerless, despondent, or full of indignation, but still we ask ourselves, how could this have happened? How was all of this possible?

Simply put, the Holocaust was the result of cowardice and self-deception... The systematic, institutionalized, and "politically correct" genocide of the Jewish people was made possible solely because so many others - including nominal "Christians" - forfeited their God-given responsibility to live as authentic individuals by passively surrendering their will to "the crowd." But giving up your identity to join a gang inevitably leads to fragmentation of the soul, potentially inviting in a "legion of demons..." Regardless of whether it's a gang of thugs running an inner city neighborhood, or the pressure to keep quiet over ethical misconduct at your place of work, or the desire to feel "approved" as a good citizen of the state, or even the pressure to conform to a particular religious group, in either case, "losing yourself" in the midst of the crowd is an evasion, a cop-out, and a desecration of the image of God within you. Indeed following the crowd is a form of slavery where you surrender your freedom for the sake of a supposed sense of security... You become self-deceived because you no longer "own" yourself but became the ward of "another." Becoming a member of a crowd makes you into a copy or similitude, a shadow rather than a person of substance.

We must never forget what happened to the Jewish people under Hitler. The Holocaust was made possible because people timidly refused to stand apart from the group to serve as bold witnesses of the truth. And the great risk of our age is the revival of political fascism that attempts to again control, disarm, and violate people's freedom all for the supposed greater good of the "state." We must remember that silence in the face of evil is itself evil: "First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me" (Martin Niemöller).

Soldiers are often told chazak v'amatz ("be strong and courageous") before they encounter the dangers of the battlefield, but it's vital to remember that each of us is engaged in a spiritual war every day of our lives. This war is essentially a battle for truth. If we accept false ideas about the nature of reality, we will live in a state of weakness and fear, even if our reasoning otherwise seems sound...

For more on this, see: Cowardice of the Crowd: Further Thoughts on the Shoah.
 




The Sacred Center....


 

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

04.21.17 (Nisan 25, 5777)   It has been rightly observed that the theme of the Book of Leviticus is kedushah (קְדֻשָּׁה), "holiness," and indeed the Hebrew root kadosh (קדשׁ) occurs over 150 times in the book. Since God is kadosh (i.e., holy, sacred) we must be kadosh in our lives as well (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pet. 1:16), and this means first of all being conscious of the distinction between the sacred and the profane, the "clean" and the unclean, and so on. As it is written, "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). Note that the Hebrew word translated "distinguish" (וּלֲהַבְדִּיל) comes from the same verb used to describe how God separated the light from the darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). We are to separate between (בֵּין) the holy and the profane, which means we need understanding (i.e., binah: בִּינָה), or the ability to discern between realms of reality. There is no other way to approach God apart from the consciousness of His infinite glory and unsurpassable and incomparable worth. Infinite Value is the Heart of all Reality.
 

וּלֲהַבְדִּיל בֵּין הַקּדֶשׁ וּבֵין הַחל
וּבֵין הַטָּמֵא וּבֵין הַטָּהוֹר

u'la·hav·dil · bein · ha'ko·desh · u'vein · ha'chol
u'vein · ha'ta·mei · u'vein · ha'ta·hor
 

"You are to distinguish between the holy and the common,
and between the unclean and the clean."
(Lev. 10:10)



 

Note the link between our duty to discern the sacred with the immediately preceding commandment not to drink strong drink when approaching the Divine Presence: "Drink no wine or strong drink... when you enter the Tent of Meeting lest you die..." (Lev. 10:9). Just as alcohol (and drugs) can pull you away from reality, so they can remove you from the Divine Presence as well... Indeed, the New Testament states: "Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery (i.e., ἀσωτία, literally, α- (not), + σῴζω (safe/whole/saved)), but be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18; Prov. 20:1; 1 Thess. 5:7, etc.).
 

    "O blessed Jesus, you know the impurity of our affection, the narrowness of our sympathy, and the coldness of our love; take possession of our souls and fill our minds with the image of yourself; break the stubbornness of our selfish wills and mold us in the likeness of your unchanging love, O you who alone can do this, our Savior, our Lord, and our God." - William Temple (1881-1944)
     




A Consuming Fire...


 

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

04.20.17 (Nisan 24, 5777)   "Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron ... brought strange fire before the LORD" (Lev. 10:1). The sages interpret "strange fire" (i.e., esh zarah: אֵשׁ זָרָה) as alien passion or illicit zeal stimulated by artificial means (in this case, drinking wine before their service). The experience of intoxication may seem to elevate the soul, but in reality it muddles the ability to discern spiritual realities: "Drink no wine or strong drink ... when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean" (Lev. 10:9-10). Nadab and Abihu were highly honored in Israel, the first priests of God, and if they drank wine before entering the sanctuary it was surely not for crass purposes, but rather to "sanctify" their experience, or so they thought... They were severely judged, however, because they presumptuously sought to sanctify themselves by means of an artificial influence, and this made them "strange" before God. Likewise many people today seek "spiritual highs" and "signs" without undergoing the discipline of Torah study, prayer, meditation, and so on. God wants our hearts in service, but our hearts must be honest and reverent before Him.

"Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron ... brought strange fire ... and they died before the LORD" (Lev. 10:1-2). It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God who is "a Consuming Fire, a jealous God (Deut. 4:24). Indeed, though atonement was provided under the law for every kind of sin and transgression, there was one exception: "But the soul that sins presumptuously (בְּיָד רָמָה) shall be out off from the midst of my people" (Num. 15:30). We must be careful not to casually regard God's truth with undue familiarity, lest we find ourselves under the influence of strange passions that lead to presumption....

"Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Cor. 10:11). Respect precedes Torah, which is to say, without reverence, Torah cannot be heard. It is astounding that during the very time that the Tabernacle was inaugurated, tragedy struck and Aaron's two sons were killed. This should warn those teachers who speak casually of God from the pulpit, since they act profanely and encroach upon the Divine Presence. Let us be admonished, friends and honor the Living God: Da lifne mi attah omed: "Know before Whom you stand!"
 




Doing the Words...


 

04.20.17 (Nisan 24, 5777)   Some of the most essential truths are known only as they are lived out in our daily lives.  It is easy enough to be a "hearer" of the words of Scripture, that is, to passively assent to the message of regeneration, and yet to remain fundamentally unchanged within our hearts... We must practice our faith – to express its reality in our daily decisions, valuations, and actions. By yielding ourselves to the truth of reality and resisting the deceptive impulses of the lower nature, we will become a healing and light-giving influence to those around us, ohr la'goyim, "a light to the nations," and bearers of truth. As we give our hearts to God, yielding to the Torah of the Spirit, our faith will "speak" for itself (2 Cor. 3:3), and our life and influence will be full of blessing for the good of others. "Go into the world and preach the gospel – and sometimes use words."

Note:  Some people seem to get offended  by the simplicity of believing as the means of finding eternal life. Such offence may arise from the unwitting desire to locate warrant and justification within the self, that is, from the ego's own religious project of reformation. The work of faith, however, trusts solely in God for the miracle of deliverance and transformation.
 




Love's Deeper Healing...


 

04.19.17 (Nisan 23, 5777)  The deepest existential question is whether you believe that you are ultimately abandoned, with no remedy for your suffering, no consolation for your heartache and inner pain, and with no lasting hope that you will be delivered from your loneliness, sadness, rage, and helplessness, or whether you believe there is "a place prepared for you," an astonishing reason for your existence, a "heaven" that is your true dwelling place, where all your tears will be wiped away... As the late Henri Nouwen once poignantly said: "Not being welcome is your greatest fear. It connects with your birth fear, your fear of not being welcome in this life, and your death fear, your fear of not being welcome in the life after this. It is the deep-seated fear that it would have been better if you had not lived." Often we detach emotionally to protect ourselves from what we fear; we numb our pain through addictions, compulsions, and obsessions, seeking to escape from ourselves, attempting to flee from what's buried inside: our grief, our anger, and our sorrows. We may learn to hide behind smiles; we may try to console ourselves by becoming "religious," by seeking to assuage our angst by means of theology (intellectualism), by seeking various signs or wonders (sensationalism) or by engaging in rituals (traditionalism), though such business can become the means to denying the message of our pain, squelching the voice of our heart's need – our cry for love, for healing, and for acceptance. Unless we find real hope, we may get depressed and abandon ourselves altogether: our fear of abandonment then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as we give up on ourselves... Ironically, this stage of reflection is spiritually necessary, however, since it results in the next step – the step of teshuvah - of turning to God for life. Healing comes from receiving love that is unconditional – that will "never leave us nor forsake us," and that embraces and unreservedly accepts the wounded "child" within... Only God's unconditional love can restore us to life, bringing us back from the dead, allowing us to feel safe to connect with others. The message of the cross is precisely this: that God is faithful and utterly committed to your healing; he will never abandon you and loves you with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3).
 

הָרפֵא לִשְׁבוּרֵי לֵב וּמְחַבֵּשׁ לְעַצְּבוֹתָם
מוֹנֶה מִסְפָּר לַכּוֹכָבִים לְכֻלָּם שֵׁמוֹת יִקְרָא

ha-ro·fei · lish·vu·rei ·lev · u'me·cha·besh · le'atz·tze·vo·tam
mo·neh · mis·par · la·ko·kha·vim · le·khu·lam · she·mot · yik·ra

 

"He is the healer of the broken in heart and the One who binds up their wounds.
He counts the number of the stars, to all of them He assigns names."
(Psalm 147:3-4)

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Brokenness and Service...


 

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

04.19.17 (Nisan 23, 5777)  The service of God requires the death of the ego (Luke 9:23). Rashi says that Aaron was still deeply ashamed over the Sin of the Calf, and that is why Moses urged his brother forward: "Draw near to the altar" (Lev. 9:7). And though Aaron felt inadequate and unworthy to be the High Priest of Israel, Rashi comments that he was chosen precisely because of this. His reluctance and sense of utter unworthiness was the very reason why he was granted the role of Israel's High Priest.  Likewise you might feel unworthy of your high calling in the Messiah and yet you are called to come before the Divine Presence and function as God's holy priest, no less than Aaron... You are chosen in your weakness; you are beloved because of your lowly standing; you are made "pure in heart" because you realize your own inner nothingness and need before the Savior.... Your brokenness is a gift that magnifies God's unending love and grace (1 Cor. 1:26-29).

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




Holocaust Memorial Day...


 

[ Yom HaShoah begins Sunday, April 23rd (at sundown) and runs through the following day. ]

04.19.17 (Nisan 23, 5777)  The Hebrew word "shoah" (שׁוֹאֵב) means "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 Sunday April 23rd at sundown and runs through the following day.
 

    "You may know that the last few nights have been bad... Those who had been bombed out came to me the next morning for a bit of comfort. But I am afraid I am bad at comforting; I can listen all right, but I can hardly find anything to say. But it seems to me more important to share someone's distress than to offer smooth words about it... I've no sympathy with some wrong-headed attempts to explain away distress, because instead of being comfort, they are the exact opposite. So I don't try to explain it, and I think that is the right way to begin, though it's only a beginning, and I very seldom get beyond it. I sometimes think that real comfort must break in just as unexpectedly as the distress." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer (martyred April 9, 1945, at the Flossenbürg concentration camp)


Note:  In the modern State of Israel, Yom HaShoah is called Yom HaZikaron la'Shoah ve-la'Gevurah (יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה), "Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day."
 




Parashat Shemini - פרשת שמיני


 

04.19.17 (Nisan 23, 5777)   This week's Torah reading, called Shemini ("eighth"), continues the account of the seven-day ordination ceremony for the priests that was described earlier in Parashat Tzav.  During each of these "seven days of consecration," Moses served as the first High Priest of Israel by offering sacrifices and training the priests regarding their duties. On the eighth day however, (i.e., Nisan 1), and just before the anniversary of the Passover, Aaron and his sons began their official responsibilities as Israel's priests. It is no coincidence that the inauguration of the sanctuary is directly connected to the Passover, since the daily sacrifice of the Lamb served as an ongoing memorial of the Exodus from Egypt -- and indeed the laws of sacrifice form the central teaching of the Torah itself. In this connection, we again note that the central sacrifice of the Tabernacle was that of a defect-free lamb offered every evening and morning upon the altar in the outer court, along with matzah and a wine offering, signifying the coming of the true Passover Lamb of God and his great sacrifice for us (Exod. 29:38-42; Num. 28:4-10; John 1:29).
 

 




Reality and Eternal Life...


 

04.18.17 (Nisan 22, 5777)   Regarding the certainty of our healing Yeshua declared: "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes in the One who sent me has (i.e., present active indicative) eternal life and will not be condemned, but has passed over (μεταβέβηκεν, literally, "crossed over") from death to life" (John 5:24). Note that the verb translated "has passed over" is "perfect active" that expresses completed action: "this one has already passed over from death to life." In other words, the gift of eternal life is a "done deal" though it is only existentially experienced as we surrender to the love and grace of God from the heart. Regardless of how you might feel at the present moment, then, rest assured that the ontological "basis" of your life is now radically new and of a different order... As the apostle Paul later summarized: "For it is by grace you have been saved (i.e., a perfect passive participle that again denotes completed action done on your behalf with effects that continue to the present) through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:9-10). I'm so glad it's not the strength of my grip that keeps me holding on to God, but the strength of His.....
 

אָמֵן אָמֵן אֲנִי אמֵר לָכֶם
הַשּׁמֵעַ דְּבָרַי וּמַאֲמִין לְשׁלְחִי
יֶשׁ־לוֹ חַיֵּי עוֹלָם וְלא יָבא בַּמִּשְׁפָּט
כִּי־עָבַר מִמָּוֶת לַחַיִּים

amen · amen · ani · omer · lakhem:
ha'shome'a · devarai · u'ma'amin · le'sholechi
yes-lo · chayei · olam · ve'lo · yavo · ba'mishpat
ki-avar · mi'mavet · la'chayim
 

""Truly, truly I say to you,
whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me
has eternal life and does not come into judgment,
for he has passed over from death to life." (John 5:24)


 
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Our Lord does not want us uncertain or unsure of His great love for us. A fearful believer explained that he was anxious about his acceptance before heaven. When he was asked to define "salvation," he answered, "freedom, deliverance, rest, peace." So you think fear will help you do away with your fear? You are fearful of the idea of freedom from fear?

So "be strong and of good courage" - chazak ve'ematz! The Lord our God promises "never to leave you nor forsake you," and to be with you wherever you go (Heb. 13:15, see also Josh. 1:5,9; Psalm 139; Matt. 28:20). In the Greek New Testament, the wording of Hebrews 13:15 is highly emphatic: "Not ever will I give up on you; no, not ever will I leave you behind..." Praise God for his "chesed," that is, his faithful love, friends. May you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd calling out to you, the One who is called "Faithful and True," and may He forever keep you under His watchful care. Amen.
 




Alongside the Fleeting...


 

04.17.17 (Nisan 21, 5777)   God's people are always "strangers" in this world; they are literally "e-stranged" -- living here, yet not here. We are outsiders and pilgrims, not at home in this world, and our faith therefore is both a type of "protest" against any interpretation of reality that excludes, suppresses, denies, or minimizes the Divine Presence as well as a longing for the place where we truly belong.... If you feel crazy in an insane situation, then you are really quite sane... The world will feel oppressive and strange once you have been awakened from its madness and refuse to be moved by the delusions of the crowd...  Life in olam hazeh (this world) is a place of passing that leads to the world to come. Our faith affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life is a deeper reality that is ultimately real and abiding. It "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31).
 

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

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

 

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



 

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




The Shroud of Turin...


 

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

04.16.17 (Nisan 20, 5777)   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, the image on the Shroud is invisible to the unaided human eye. Both the "how" and the "why" questions of the Shroud are troubling to those who deny 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 assume 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 the development of modern photography.  In short, it seems that our hypothetical artist would have to be something of a miracle worker: If the Shroud is fake, then it's a "miraculous" fake; but if it's true, then it's astoundingly true; either way, however, the Shroud testifies of something - or rather Someone - amazing...

Continue reading here: "The Shroud of Turin: Further thoughts on Firstfruits of Messiah."
 




Passover Seder Pictures...


 

[ The eight day festival of Passover began April 10th at sundown this year...  ]

04.14.17 (Nisan 18, 5777)  Happy Passover, dear friends! We held our annual Passover Seder at our home last Monday evening and enjoyed a wonderful time together. We started the seder before sundown and ended just after midnight. My son Josiah helped set up the seder tables and Judah sang the mah nishtanah (the "Four Questions"). Our baby Emanuel David (now 14 months) had his first taste of maror. Here are a few pictures (more here):
 

Passover 5777 - collage 1

[Left-to-right, top]:  1) The kiddush cup; 2) set table with pillows; 3) three matzah in tosh;
4) netilat yadayim vessel; 5) Judah washes grandma's hands.
[Left-to-right, bottom]: 1) Judah with cup; 2) matzah; 3) Olga's charoset;
4) Horseradish bowl; 5) Our Passover Plate (ke'arah).

 

Passover 5777 - collage 2

[Left-to-right, top]:  1) Cup of salvation; 2) matzah; 3) seder plate with charoset;
4) items for the table; 5) Judah and Emanuel David
[Left-to-right, bottom]: 1) Chag Hamatzot; 2) John with Emanuel David;
3) Ani L'Dodi for Shir Hashirim; 4) Olga at the table; 5) Cup of Redemption.
 



 




Salvation and Hope...


 

04.14.17 (Nisan 18, 5777)   Many people want healing apart from the cure. How many settle for half-measures? While you might find respite for your suffering in temporary measures, you cannot have lasting healing apart from the divine remedy... 

God gives us special graces, especially in light of the passing of days, with thwarted hope, aching bones, and inner keening for lasting deliverance. This gift of despondency helps us to awaken and to reach out to find the Real, the True, the Eternal. Learn to wait; ask God for the wisdom of patience. Between acceptance and anxiety, always choose acceptance. Find hope while waiting... "For we are saved by hope (τῇ γὰρ ἐλπίδι ἐσώθημεν), but hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience" (Rom. 8:24-25).

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.  Faith excercises hope in the Reality, Substance, and Being (ὑπόστασις) of the Invisible and is made captive to undying hope (Heb. 11:1). Therefore the Spirit cries out: "Hope to the LORD; be strong and strengthen your heart; and (again) hope to the LORD."
 

קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה חֲזַק וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּךָ
וְקַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה

ka·veh · el · Adonai · cha·zak · ve'ya·metz · lib·be·kha,
ve-ka·veh · el · Adonai
 

"Hope to the LORD; be strong and let your heart be strengthened;
and (again) hope to the LORD"
(Psalm 27:14)


 
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In this verse, the imperative verb translated "wait" is the Hebrew word kaveh (קַוֵּה), which might better be rendered as "look for with anticipation!" or "hope!" (the same root appears in the Hebrew word for hope, i.e., tikvah: תִּקְוָה). Therefore hope in the Lord and "chazak!" - be strong! Note that ve'ametz is a causal active stem (i.e., Hiphal) in the "jussive mood," which means it is imperative – "command your heart to be strengthened," or "let your heart be made strong!" Make the decision to be strong in the LORD, and the LORD will give you strength to bear your present suffering: "Look to the LORD (קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה) and find hope."
 




Love's 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." ]

04.14.17 (Nisan 18, 5777)   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"
(Song 7:10)


  


I realize the analogy of God as the great "Lover of our Souls" is ideal for most of us, and yet it is vital that we understand ourselves as the "beloved" of the Lord... Shabbat Shalom!
 




Passover's Love Song...


 

04.13.17 (Nisan 17, 5777)   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
הָרעֶה בַּשׁוֹשַׁנִּים

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

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


 
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The meaning of Passover is of course rooted in the greatest love story ever told - about God, creation, the 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.  And 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... ]

04.12.17 (Nisan 17, 5777)   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.). Amen! Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! (Rev. 5:12). But while the sacrifice of Yeshua gives us forgiveness (סְלִיחָה) and atonement (כַּפָּרָה) with God (Eph. 1:7; Rom. 5:11; Heb. 9:12, etc.), 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 (Rom. 4:20-5:1; Rom. 10:9; Heb. 13:20-21).

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:  
As Yeshua said: "Fear not; I am the first and the last: I AM the One that lives, and was dead; and, behold, I AM alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death" (Rev. 1:17-18).   For more on the tremendously important subject of why the resurrection of Yeshua matters, please see this article.
 




He is Forever Alive...


[ The following is related to holiday of First Fruits which begins after sundown today... ]

04.12.17
 (Nisan 16, 5777)   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."
(Psalm 18:46)


 
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: I understand the dates of Passover can sometimes be confusing, and therefore we must be careful to heed the central idea and axiom given in our Scriptures: "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Messiah died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:4-5). The focus should be on the Reality, not on the minutiae of how the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars correspond. The Hebrew date of Nisan 17 is the traditional time for Firstfuits, so we can honor the resurrection of our Messiah then: Νυνὶ δὲ Χριστὸς ἐγήγερται ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀπαρχὴ τῶν κεκοιμημένων, "But now Messiah has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have died" (1 Cor. 15:20). And to all our Christian brothers and sisters who celebrate the resurrection of Yeshua on Sunday, peace to you... He is Risen! For more on the First Fruits of Messiah, see the article: "Reishit Katzir."
 




The Torah of Passover...


 

04.12.17 (Nisan 17, 5777)   The first time the word "Torah" occurs in the Bible refers to the faith of Abraham (Gen. 26:5), and the second time refers to the law of Passover: "There shall be one teaching (Torah) for the native and for the stranger" (Exod. 12:49). There is a link here. Abraham lived before the time of the Exodus, of course, and therefore he observed Passover by offering the lamb in place of his son (Gen. 26:5). Abraham revealed that the inner meaning of Torah is that the "righteous shall live by faith" (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17) and that God justifies the sinner who trusts in him (Heb. 11:17-19; Rom. 4:5). During the Exodus from Egypt, Moses declared that the blood of the Passover lamb would be a "sign" of imputed righteousness secured by faith - with no "leaven," or human works, added. This is the "life-for-life" principle that underlies the sacrificial system of the Tabernacle revealed at Sinai as well. Ultimately all true Torah points to Yeshua, the Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים), who died upon the cross for our offenses and was raised again for our justification (Rom. 4:25).

For more on this see, "The Lamb of God: The Gospel According to Moses."
 




Countdown to Shavuot...


 

[ Today is the second day of the countdown leading from Passover to Shavuot ("Pentecost")... ]

04.12.17 (Nisan 16, 5777)   In the Torah we are instructed to count forty nine days – seven weeks of days – from the day following Passover until Shavuot (i.e., Weeks or "Pentecost"). This period of time is called Sefirat HaOmer (סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר), or the "counting the [barley] sheaves" (Lev. 23:15-16). In abstract terms, it's 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 ratified 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, it is important to understand that the climax of the 49 days was not the giving of the law at Sinai (i.e., matan Torah), 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 climactic 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."
 




The Appointed Times...



 

[ Happy Passover, dear friends... ]

04.12.17 (Nisan 16, 5777)   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 such as Passover were intended to help us to sanctify ("set apart," "make holy") the times and seasons in order to remind us of the Divine 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 promised Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit) occurred precisely after the prescribed 49 day countdown to Shavuot (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4), that is, after Yeshua was raised from the dead...

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.
 




Returning Back Home...


 

[ Passover begins this evening at sundown... Happy Holidays, dear friends... ]

04.10.17 (Nisan 14, 5777)   We must be careful not to worship an idol, that is, a false concept of God! It is entirely possible to study the Bible, to go to church or synagogue, and yet worship a pagan god. How so? By not knowing the heart of the Father; by not honoring the One who passionately seeks our healing. We know the Father by the Son, that is, in "the language of Son" (Heb. 1:2; Luke 10:21-24) and in the truth of his passion. Our heavenly Father is eager to forgive and embrace all of his children (John 3:16-17). In Yeshua's famous parable of the "prodigal son," the father saw his wayward child a "long way off" and ran to embrace and kiss him - no questions asked, no explanations needed about his past.  When the son nevertheless began reciting his carefully prepared speech of regret and repentance, the father barely listened, and in his overwhelming joy instructed his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found...' (see Luke 15:20-25).

Know the heart of the Father... God sees you while you are still "a long way off" (Rom. 5:8). He runs to you with affection when you first begin to turn your heart toward Him.  Indeed, God's compassion is so great that He willingly embraces the shame of your sins and then adorns you with "a fine robe, a ring, and sandals." Your Heavenly Father even slaughters the "fattened calf" (Yeshua) so that a meal that celebrates your life may be served.

It is never too late to turn to God... The prophet Jeremiah spoke in the Name of the LORD: "Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD. I will not look on you in anger, for I am kind (כִּי־חָסִיד אֲנִי), declares the LORD" (Jer. 3:12). When the people drew back in shame, however, God encouraged them by saying "My children, if you return, will you not be returning to your Father? Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness. "Behold, we come to you, for you are the LORD our God."
 




Celebrate God's Love...


 

04.09.17 (Nisan 13, 5777)   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." (De Mello)
     




Intimacy of Passover...


 

[ Passover begins Monday, April 10th at sundown this year. Happy Holidays, friends...  ]

04.07.17 (Nisan 11, 5777)   Unlike the rituals and practices of organized "religion," the Passover Seder takes place at home, not in a sanctuary, and may be conducted by anyone, not by professional clergy or a rabbi... The heart of the seder is shared meal celebrating our connection with family, our friends, the "called out" people of God who take refuge in his promises. Such intimacy is altogether fitting, since Passover was foreshadowed in the original paradise, was prophetically and poignantly re-enacted by Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, and was later affirmed by Israel at the time of the Exodus. In each case the blood of the lamb is central: to cover the shame of Adam and Eve's transgression; to express the heart of God's compassion in the substitution of the lamb for Isaac, and for the redemption of the families of Israel during the Passover. Most of all, however, the Passover Seder foretells and recalls the sacrifice of Yeshua on our behalf as the great Lamb of God who delivers us from our slavery to sin. Therefore heed the Torah's general rule about the holidays: "You shall rejoice in your festival" (Deut. 16:14) by delighting in the salvation of God, by embracing our family and friends in the sure hope of eternal life. Shabbat Gadol Shalom, chaverim.
 




Bread of Affliction...


 

04.07.17 (Nisan 11, 5777)   Among other things, matzah is called lechem oni (לֶחֶם ענִי), the "bread of affliction," symbolizing subjection and oppression. It was this bread, not the bread of the rich, that was to be offered to God for sacrifice: "You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread" (Exod. 23:18). Matzah represents our complete dependence on God, symbolizing that we renounce any notion of being independent from him. Our time is not in our hands; we cannot add "a single cubit unto our stature"; our powers are not at our disposal. Matzah is a sign of servitude and humility, that we owe our existence and destiny to God alone...  The last cup of the Passover seder is prophetic: ve'lakachti etkhem li le'am (וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם לִי לְעָם): "I will take you to be my people," which signifies that we will belong to God as his beloved children forever and ever. This is the cup we shall share with Messiah in the world to come, when our redemption will be complete (Matt. 26:29).
 




Messiah Our Passover...


 

04.07.17 (Nisan 11, 5777)  Once in awhile I get emails from people claiming that Yeshua didn't celebrate Passover with his disciples, but instead performed some other sort of "ceremony" that included leavened (not unleavened) bread, and so on. Wow... It amazes me (and troubles me) to realize that that some Christian people seem to have a "problem" associating the life, death, burial and resurrection of Yeshua with the great themes of the Passover, since that constitutes a gross misunderstanding of the truth and themes of the holy Scriptures. The Lamb of God was clearly prefigured by the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham (the Akedah), was central to the redemption during the Exodus from Egypt, and was later offered daily upon the altar at the Tabernacle (קָרְבָּן תָּמִיד) as the "pattern" or vision of sacrifice given to Moses during the great revelation at Sinai. Indeed Yeshua is explicitly called the Passover Lamb of God; He is also called the King of the Jews, the Holy One of Israel, and the Voice of the Fire spoken at Sinai to Israel. To imagine that the Savior of Israel, the King of the Jews, would have not celebrated the Passover in the upper room before his sacrificial death offered up for us is unthinkable, and betrays a profound ignorance of the Jewish roots of our faith.... Indeed Passover is all about the Lamb of God and our redemption as God's people (John 3:16; Luke 9:30-31). As it is written in the New Testament, "'The Master says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.' And the disciples did as Yeshua had directed them, and they prepared the Passover" (Matt. 26:18-19, see also Mark 14:16, Luke 22:13).

It is written, "Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Messiah, our Passover lamb (מָשִׁיחַ פִּסְחֵנוּ) has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Cor. 5:7-8). "Let the people of Israel keep the Passover at its appointed time (וְיַעֲשׂוּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת־הַפָּסַח בְּמוֹעֲדוֹ); on the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall keep it at its appointed time" (Num. 9:2-3). Again, "keep the Passover to the LORD your God [עָשִׂיתָ פֶּסַח לַיהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ]" (Deut. 16:1). Therefore "conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed ... with the precious blood of Messiah (דַם הַמָּשִׁיחַ), who was offered up like that of a lamb without blemish (שֶׂה תָמִים) or defect" (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Yes, "behold the Lamb of God (הִנֵּה שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29); sing the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb (שִׁיר הַשֶּׂה), saying, "Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!" (Rev. 15:3). There is no Passover apart from the Lamb of God, blessed be He forever and ever! Amen. Therefore give the honor to Yeshua, the great "Lamb of God" who offered himself up for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father (Gal. 1:3-4). In Messiah our Passover Lamb we have "redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of his grace" (Eph. 1:7).

"And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself... Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled" (Luke 24:27,44).
 




The Limping Messiah...


 

[ Passover begins Monday, April 10th at sundown. Let's keep the feast, friends! (1 Cor. 5:7-8) ]

04.07.17 (Nisan 11, 5777)   As we prepare our hearts for Passover, understand that the Hebrew verb "pasach" (פָּסַח) can mean not only "to pass over," but also "to limp," suggesting the heel of Messiah that was "bruised" in the battle for our salvation (Gen. 3:15). As it is written, "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם). For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:14-17). Humanity as a whole has been "bitten by the snake" and needs to be delivered from its deadly venom. Just as the image made in the likeness of the destroying snake was lifted up for Israel's healing, so the One made in the likeness of sinful flesh was to be lifted up as the Healer of the world (Rom. 8:3). All we need to do is look up and believe...

For more on the meaning of the word "passover," see: "Passover and the Limping Messiah." You may also want to read "The Gospel in the Garden." Shabbat Gadol Shalom!
 




Suffering and Deliverance...



 

04.07.17 (Nisan 11, 5777)   Sometimes suffering comes not from any lack of faith, but in the midst of faith, or even because of faith, since the LORD often uses affliction as the means of upbuilding the soul and developing spiritual resilience and maturity (Prov. 3:1-2). In light of God's sovereign power over all things, and God's great love for you, regard your suffering a gift from your heavenly Father to help you grow (Job 5:17; Psalm 94:12; 119:71). Persevering in the midst of your struggle develops patience and humility, teaching you to know your own nothingness and to utterly rely upon the goodness and mercy of God. Over time, suffering strips away your illusions, so that nothing remains except the naked heart and the treasures of faith. Only then does the heart find its blessing in God alone.

People tend to believe whatever they want to believe until they are faced with reality, and therefore God orchestrates tests and challenges to awaken people from their illusions and to help them realize their need for deliverance. Such afflictions are called the "troubles of love" (יִסּוּרֵי אַהֲבָה). Thus we read in the Torah how the people groaned because of their slavery and then cried out to heaven for help: "And God heard their groaning; he remembered his covenant ... and God saw the people of Israel, and God knew" (Exod. 2:24-25). God knows our profound need for Him. Affliction teaches us that wishful thinking is unable to sustain the weight of reality, and only God Himself can truly save us...

I am amazed that pagans cling to the idea that their lives have real value despite their rejection of transcendent worth and beauty and goodness as revealed in the Jewish Scriptures.  Their everyday assumptions are stolen from the Judeo-Christian tradition, yet their underlying logical and semantic foundation is quite simply an illusion…. I'd like to listen to them justify the reason for getting out of bed in the morning using just the language that is entailed by their metaphysical assumptions. If seriously questioned, especially in light of the traction of their own personal heartache and disappointments, it is doubtless that they, like Nietzsche, would find themselves going insane as they attempt to (re)define the most meaningful aspects of life....

Where it is written, "The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses" (Psalm 25:17), we understand that it is God who hems us in and limits us (the word "troubles" (צָרוֹת) derives from a root (צַר) that means to limit or constrict), for the purpose of "bringing us out" of our distresses, just as God brought our ancestors out of "Egypt" (i.e., from mitzrayim: , "from," and צַר, "narrow places") so they could experience freedom and newness of life..  The first step of lasting deliverance (יְשׁוּעָה) is to believe the revelation: "I AM the Lord your God," which begins the healing (Exod. 20:2). We are then set free from our bonds to surface appearances as we trust in God's Presence, since we now understand everything in relationship with the sacred Ground and Source of all life (Acts 17:28).

Regarding the cry of the heart: "How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily" (Psalm 13:2), the sages remark that just as long as we take counsel in our own soul there will be despair, since only after we realize that no further counsel can help us do we give up and confess our need for God's salvation. Therefore deliverance comes as we trust in the LORD with all our heart, and do not lean on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5).
 




Heaven's Love Story...


 

04.07.17 (Nisan 11, 5777)   The Scriptures reveal that ultimate reality is a divine love story with a "happy ending," despite the struggles we face in this world. We see this in connection with the great deliverance of the Passover, when we read the story of our redemption in a book called a "haggadah." Note that the Hebrew word "haggadah" (הַגָּדָה) means "retelling," which of course refers to the story of our journey from slavery to freedom by the hand of God's love. With regard to the sanctity of this story, the Torah commands us: "You shall tell (i.e., ve'higadta: וְהִגַּדְתָּ, from which "haggadah" comes) your child on that day, 'It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.' And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the Torah of the LORD may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt" (Exod. 13:8-8). The sages note that the numeric value of the word "haggadah" (הַגָּדָה) is the same as the Hebrew word for "good" (i.e., tov: טוֹב), which again indicates that the story of our redemption in the Messiah is truly good – indeed, the greatest story ever told...
 

מָה־אָשִׁיב לַיהוָה כָּל־תַּגְמוּלוֹהִי עָלָי
כּוֹס־יְשׁוּעוֹת אֶשָּׂא וּבְשֵׁם יְהוָה אֶקְרָא

mah · a·shiv · la'donai · kol-tag·mu·lo·hi · a·lai
kos · ye·shu·ot · es·sa · uv·shem · Adonai · ek·ra
 

"What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me?
I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD."
(Psalm 116:12-13)



Hebrew Study Card
  




Bondage and Freedom...


 

04.06.17 (Nisan 10, 5777)   Real freedom isn't the power to do whatever you want, but instead is the power to do what is sacred and right.  As the Apostle James used this term, authentic liberty is the power to act on the basis of moral and spiritual truth (תּוֹרַת הַחֵרוּת). Freedom is therefore not idealistic but intensely practical: We are to be "doers" of the word by making choices that demonstrate our integrity, since any other form of "freedom" amounts to self-deception (lit., "reasoning around" the truth, i.e., παραλογίζομαι, from παρά, "around, beside" and λογίζομαι, "to reason").  Only those who follow through and live their faith will be blessed in their actions (James 1:25). Freedom, then, is not the lack of boundaries or the absence of responsibility, but rather is the power to respond to life and its challenges from a higher place – from a place of real wisdom and peace.  We are truly free when we no longer are victimized by inner voices that oppress and enslave us to fear.  Five times Pharaoh hardened his heart, and five times God ratified his decision. Ironically it was his self-will that revealed his own fearful exile and prison... There can be no freedom apart from letting go of the ego's desire to control the world by surrendering to God's guidance and direction. "I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). When we submit ourselves to the care of God, the miracle of transformation begins, and we learn to walk the truth that sets us free (John 8:36).

Note: The later sages said that the Hebrew word for freedom (i.e., cherut: חֵרוּת) numerically equals the phrase "the LORD took us out of Egypt," i.e., hotzianu Adonai mi'mitzrayim, which again emphasizes that we were redeemed in order to become people of truth. And 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...
 




Our Broken Matzah...


04.06.17 (Nisan 10, 5777)   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" (Mishnah: Mo'ed; 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 LORD our Savior...


 

04.06.17 (Nisan 10, 5777)   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..."
 




Blood on the Doorposts...


 

[ There is no Passover apart from the blood of the lamb... ]

04.06.17
 (Nisan 10, 5777)   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."
 




Passover: Who knows 15?


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Monday, April 10th this year.... ]

04.06.17 (Nisan 10, 5777)   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.
 




Passover and Matzah...


 

04.05.17 (Nisan 9, 5777)   "Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory" (Exod. 13:7). Some of the sages have noted that the word matzot (מַצּוֹת), "unleavened bread," can be read as mitzvot (מִצְוָה), "commandments," which suggests a connection between them. In other words,"Chag Ha'Matzot" can also be read as "Chag Ha'Mitzvot," which is to say that our redemption is intended to lead to receiving of the truth of Torah... When we partake of the unleavened bread during Passover week, we incorporate the humility and purity of our Messiah within us, identifying with the afflictions he suffered as the Bread of Life (לֶחֶם הַחַיִּים). During Passover we are commanded to eat matzah and to become what we really are – "a new substance" (φύραμα) re-created, purified, and set apart by the grace of God (1 Cor. 5:7). "All who are hungry, let them come and eat; all who are needy, let them come and share the Passover with us."

Note that the difference between matzah (unleavened bread) and chametz (leavened bread) is not one of ingredients, but if the batch of dough is allowed to rise and leaven, it becomes unsuitable...  By analogy this teaches us to eat the bread in haste, without adding anything of our own to the mix, if you will... The bread is holy because it comes from a different source than that bound by time and human intervention. We eat this bread by faith, chaverim.

"Cleanse out the old leaven (הַשְּׂאר הַיָּשָׁן) that you may be a new substance, as you really are unleavened. For Messiah our Passover lamb (מָשִׁיחַ זֶבַח פִּסְחֵנוּ) has been sacrificed" (1 Cor. 5:7).
 




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 ]

04.05.17 (Nisan 9, 5777)   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.

Note:  The early sages taught that Hebrew word "Pesach" (פֶּסַח) can be read as peh (פֶּה), "mouth," and sach (סַח), "speaks," indicating that Passover is a confession of the truth of God's redemption, testifying to the truth of the LORD's faithful love. On Pesach we thank God for the revelation and the wonder of the great Lamb of God that was slain...
 




Worthy is the Lamb...


 

04.05.17 (Nisan 9, 5777)   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"
(Rev. 5:12)



Hebrew Study Card
 




The Sign of Life...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Monday evening, April 10th... ]

04.05.17
 (Nisan 9, 5777)   "The blood shall be a sign for you... And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt" (Exod. 12:13). The blood would be a sign for the eye of faith, i.e., "for you," and not for the unbelieving world at large. During the afternoon of the 14th, the korban Pesach (Passover lamb) was slaughtered and its blood smeared on all three sides of the doorframe, top, right and left, that is, in the form of the letter Chet (ח). This letter is connected with the word chai (חי), "alive," and chayim (חיים), "life," signifying that atoning life is in the sacrificial blood (Lev. 17:11). Note that some say that the letters of the YHVH (יהוה) – the Name of Divine Compassion - were daubed on the doorposts: The Yod (י) was written on the top beam, the Vav (ו) on the right doorpost, and the Hey (ה) on the left. In other words, since Yeshua is YHVH, His Name was written on the doorposts of the faithful.
 




Truth and Freedom...


 

04.05.17 (Nisan 9, 5777)   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 Very First Passover...


 

04.05.17 (Nisan 9, 5777)   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 primordial 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."
 




Cleanse out the old leaven...


 

04.05.17 (Nisan 9, 5777)   The Torah states that during the days of Passover, also 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, sourness, 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"
(Psalm 139:23-34)



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.
 




Taking Passover Personally...


 

[ The great holiday of Passover begins Monday evening, April 10th... ]

04.04.17
 (Nisan 8, 5777)   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).

Are you preparing a place for the Lamb of God within your heart, friend?
 




The Question of Passover...


 

04.04.17 (Nisan 8, 5777)   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).
 

מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה מִכָּל הַלֵּילוֹת

mah · nish·ta·nah · hal·lai·lah · haz·zeh · mik·kol · ha·lei·lot
 

"Why is this night different from all the other nights?"
 


Each of us must answer this question posed to the heart...

 




Seeing the Invisible...


 

04.03.17 (Nisan 7, 5777)   Faith believes in the invisible light and accepts the truth of love that overcomes all darkness, hate, and fear. "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 heart of faith testifies that there is "unfinished business," that there is more than meets the eye, that evil will not have the last word, and that tears will one day forever be wiped away. Despite the ambiguity, faith "hopes against hope" that the LORD God will intervene and bring everlasting healing to us all. As it says, "Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the Name of the LORD (יִבְטַח בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה) and rely on his God."
 

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

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
  

Faith is a sort of "holy protest" over the state of the world: "How long, O LORD, forever?" Eventually God will wipe away every tear and make all things right... Bittachon (trust) is a word for this world, which says, "Though he slay me, I will trust in him..." Those who call upon the LORD can trust not only in concealed good behind ambiguous appearances ("all things work together for good") but also in a future, real, substantive good that will one day be clearly manifest for us all. Meanwhile, may God keep us from such depth of sorrow that leads to sickness, darkness and despair. Amen.
 




Your Reason for Being...


 

04.03.17 (Nisan 7, 5777)   "This is the thing that the LORD commanded you to do, so that the glory of the LORD may appear to you: Draw near to the altar and offer your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself" (Lev. 9:6-7). Have you considered why you were born into this world? What is your purpose, destiny, and end?  The Torah states that you were personally created by Almighty God, who breathed out the breath of life (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים) into you, and then redeemed your life so you could know the glory of God and spiritual reality. As it is written: "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your desire they existed and were created" (Rev. 4:11). God creates all things for his glory and purposes, which indeed is the first blessing recited over the bride and groom in a traditional Jewish wedding: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלם שֶׁהַכּל בָּרָא לִכְבוֹדו / "Blessed are you Lord our God king of the universe, who has created all things for his glory." The purpose of life is to know and love God, to walk in His light and truth, and to glorify his compassion and grace forever...

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




Torah of the Guilt Offering...


 

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

04.03.17 (Nisan 7, 5777)   "This is the Torah of the guilt offering (תּוֹרַת הָאָשָׁם): it is most holy" (Lev. 7:1). Like the sin offering (חַטַּאת), the guilt offering (i.e., asham: אָשָׁם) is described as "most holy," that is, kodesh kodashim (קדֶשׁ קָדָשִׁים), because it prefigures how the sinner is restored to a place of sacred fellowship with God...  Some of the Torah sages read this verse differently, however, saying: "This is the Torah - i.e., the hashkafah (הַשׁקָפָה) or "perspective" - of the one who is guilty: his own will and desire are exalted to be "most holy...." In other words, sin idolatrously elevates the human will to be supreme, and this self-exaltation creates guilt within the soul.
 




Word Became Flesh...


 

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

04.03.17 (Nisan 7, 5777)   Our Torah portion this week begins, "The Eternal (יהוה) spoke to Moses" (Lev. 6:8), which paradoxically refers to God as if He is a man... Theologians sometimes call this sort of language "anthropomorphism," though it clearly anticipates the great Incarnation itself, when the Timeless and Infinite One became embodied in time and space in the person of Yeshua. Indeed Yeshua is called the "Word of God" who became flesh and "tabernacled" in our midst (John 1:1,14). And just as the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) mediates the Divine Presence to the heavenly host, so Yeshua mediates the Divine Presence to humanity as the "Son of Man" (בֶּן־הָאָדָם). "For the Eternal One who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Cor. 4:6). In the Book of Hebrews we read that "in these last days God has spoken to us ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ," which literally means God speaks in the language "of Son" (Heb. 1:2). The Eternal speaks as the One who emptied Himself to become one of us, who clothed himself in our humanity, so that he could touch us, empathize with us, and to ultimately die for our atonement as the "Lamb of God."
 




The Chosen Lamb of God...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Monday, April 10th... ]

04.03.17
 (Nisan 7, 5777)   The Sabbath that occurs immediately before Passover is called Shabbat HaGadol (שבת הגדול), which historically is associated with the selection of the sacrificial lamb four days before the Passover (Exod. 12:1-6). The New Testament notes that it was four days before Passover (Nisan 10) when Yeshua made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, signifying His Messiahship, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zech. 9:9). During this time, when the pilgrims had come to select a lamb for their Passover sacrifice at the Temple - they saw Yeshua and cried out: hoshiah na (הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא), meaning "please save" or "save now" (in English this phrase was translated from the Latin to form "Hosanna!"). The people spontaneously began singing Psalm 118:25-26 in anticipation of the great Messianic hope:
 

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

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

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


 
Hebrew Study Card

 

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

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




Parashat Tzav - פרשת צו


 

04.02.17 (Nisan 6, 5777)  In our Torah reading for this week (i.e., parashat Tzav) we learn how the first priests of Israel were consecrated for service by the blood of the lamb. First Aaron and his sons were washed with water, arrayed in priestly garments, and anointed with holy oil.  During this ordination ceremony, a sin offering and burnt offering were offered on their behalf, and then a special "ram of ordination" (i.e., eil ha-milu'im: אֵיל הַמִּלֻּאִים, lit. "ram of abundance [מָלֵא]") was slaughtered. Some of this ram's blood was applied to the right ear, right thumb, and big toe of the Aaron and his sons (a picture of Yeshua as our suffering High Priest), and the rest of the blood was dashed upon the sides of the altar. After its slaughter, Moses took some unleavened bread and put it in the hands of the priests to perform tenufah (a wave offering) before the altar (a picture of the resurrection).

 

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

 



 

March 2017 Site Updates
 


The Torah of Faith...


 

03.31.17 (Nisan 5, 5777)   Regarding the question of faith, Soren Kierkegaard once wrote, "The easiness of Christianity is distinguished by one thing only: by the difficulty. Thus the Master's yoke it easy and its burden light -- for the person who has cast off all his burdens, all of them, the burdens of hope and of fear and of despondency and of despair -- yet it is difficult."  Yes, the difficult thing is to truly believe (John 16:31). 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). It is "easy" to understand this, but it is difficult to live it.
 

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

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

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


 
Hebrew Study Card
 

The message of the cross is scandalous to human pride because it reveals that we are powerless to save ourselves. We trust Yeshua's finished work performed on our behalf, not our own works of righteousness (John 6:29). The Torah of Yeshua (תּוֹרַת יֵשׁוּעַ), however, does indeed include some very specific commandments, including the following:

  1. "Thou shalt believe thou are my beloved - entirely accepted and entirely forgiven"
  2. "Thou shalt forget the shame of thy past"
  3. "Thou shalt stop thinking of your sin but rather of My great remedy for you"
  4. "Thou shalt let me carry your woundedness far away, yea, to the bottom of the sea"
  5. "Thou shalt live in My love and be filled with its spirit"
  6. "Thou shalt believe in a happy ending, and that love is stronger than justice"
  7. "Thou shalt fear nothing but that which causes you to lose hope in My love..."
     

(Kindly note that these are implications derived from various Scriptures. For example, see Isa. 54:8; Jer. 31:3; Isa 54:4; Jer. 31:34; Heb. 8:12; Isa. 41:10; 45:22; Rom. 4:25; Psalm 103:10-14; John 14:1,27; Mic. 7:19; Isa. 38:17; John 14:21; 15:5,10; Gal. 5:22-23; 1 Cor. 13; 1 John 3:1; Rom. 8:28-39; Psalm 89:14; 85:10; Luke 11:42; 1 John 4:18, etc.)

The Shema, First Part
 

The difficulty, I repeat, is to genuinely believe that the love's miracle is for you - and that therefore you really are a "new creation" in the Messiah (2 Cor. 5:17). The reason this is difficult is because we are still living in an "already-not-yet" place of exile, the "two-souled" state of being that only is able to "see through a glass darkly." We are trusting in God, yet we must "work out" our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). But notice that we "work out" what God has already "worked in," since it is "God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). Please do not miss this - God first works His love into our hearts, and then we are able to express that in works of love... From start to finish, only genuine faith in Yeshua performs the "work of God" (John 6:28-29), and never our own ludicrous efforts of affecting self-righteousness (Titus 3:5). If you are lacking in the fruit of the Spirit (i.e., the works of God), then the right approach is to turn around and confess your faithlessness: "Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief..." (Mark 9:24). Our LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).

May we all draw near to the LORD and call upon His Name for life this very hour, this very moment, and at this time... Amen.
 




Gratitude and Spirituality....


 

03.31.17 (Nisan 5, 5777)   Expressing gratitude is a core value of genuine spirituality. "Modei ani," I thank you, God... Being thankful indicates that you are trusting that God is working all things together for your good, and it confesses that all you are is a gift from heaven. Indeed, the Hebrew word todah (תּוֹדָה), usually translated "thanks," can mean both "confession" and "praise." The matriarch Leah used a play on words regarding the birth of her fourth son (Gen. 29:35) when she said she would thank the LORD (אוֹדֶה אֶת־יהוה), and therefore she named him "Judah" (יְהוּדָה), from which the word "Jew" was later derived. The Apostle Paul, the greatest of the Torah sages, alluded to this when he said that a true Jew (יְהוּדִי) is one inwardly (κρυπτός), whose circumcision is a matter of spirit, not of the flesh. A genuine Jew gives thanks to God for who He is and what He has done; his desire is not for the approval of men, but of God (Rom. 2:28-29).
 

הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי־טוֹב
כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

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

Note: Today is our beloved son Judah's eighth birthday! Please offer up a prayer for this boy to grow into a man of truth and integrity who will serve the LORD our God. Thank you!
 

 




Drawing Near by Sacrifice....


 

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

03.31.17 (Nisan 5, 5777)   The classical sages say that the word vayikra (וַיִּקְרָא) expresses a sort of ambivalence about how we are able to connect with God. Rashi says the verb can be interpreted to derive from the root yakar (יָקָר), meaning "costly" or "dear," so we read: "And he was dear, and the LORD spoke to Moses." On the other hand, the verb may be related to the word mikreh (מִקרֶה), a chance meeting, so we read: "And he happened to encounter God, and the LORD spoke to Moses..." The very first word of the Book of Leviticus, then, raises questions about closeness and distance, of drawing near yet remaining outside. There is the call to draw near from above, yet it calls out to us in our separation...

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

SHABBAT SHALOM AND SHANAH TOVAH CHAVERIM!
 




A Blessed Brokenness...


 

03.30.17 (Nisan 4, 5777)   Many of us have been given the special blessing of needing God so viscerally that we will fall apart or even self-destruct apart from His daily intervention in our lives... Yeshua speaks to the desperately needy of heart: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3). We groan in hope... In our Torah we read that the fire on the altar was to be kept burning at all times (Lev. 6:12-13), which symbolizes esh tamid (אֵשׁ תָּמִיד), or the inner fire of the heart... How blessed it is to be full of the fire of this inner need, this relentless groaning, this constant hunger to be set free. As it is written, the high and lifted up One dwells with the broken and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the crushed:
 

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

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

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



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God reveals Himself to the "lowly in spirit" (שְׁפַל־רוּחַ), that is, to those who understand their own nothingness and complete dependence on Him.... Notice that the word dakka (דַּכָּא) refers to being crushed to the very dust, the very same word used to describe how Yeshua was crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:10). William James called this deep work of the spiritual life Zerrissenheit, a term that can be translated as "torn-to-pieces-hood," or a state of being utterly broken and in disarray (see William James: Varieties of Religious Experience). 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. 
 




The Meaning of Holiness...


 

03.30.17 (Nisan 3, 5777)   From our Torah we read: "For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy" (Lev. 11:45). Because we are God's people, his redeemed children, we should be holy, just as God is holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16). Holiness, however, is not a matter of what you do (such as wrapping yourself in religious rituals) but instead is a matter of what you "allow" to happen: You let go and allow yourself to be rescued and taken up from the "depths of Egypt" to be with God. Holiness is something you receive by faith; 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.

In Hebrew, 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).

After the LORD split the sea and led his people across, Israel sang a song of praise to Him. Shirat Hayam (the Song of the Sea) is an "antiphon", or song of response to the loving deliverance given by the LORD (Exod. 15:1-21). "The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him..."  "Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?  You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode... You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established."

Note further that the opening statement, "Then they sang" is actually in the future tense: "Then they will sing," which refers to the coming of Messiah. Indeed, in Revelation 15:3 we read that the song will indeed be sung to the Heavenly Bridegroom in the coming New Jerusalem... Note also that in the closing phrase of the song, "the LORD will reign forever" (Exod. 15:18), the word "will reign" (יִמְלךְ) is spelled with a missing Vav, which suggests the Messiah Yeshua. The LORD will indeed reign when the rightful heir to the throne of David and the true King of Israel soon appears. Then shall we be with our Beloved forever and ever.
 




Drawing Near to God...


 

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

03.30.17 (Nisan 3, 5777)   Recall that the climax of the revelation given at Sinai was the commandment to construct the Sanctuary (מקְדָּשׁ), otherwise called the Mishkan (מִשְׁכָּן) or the "Tabernacle." In other words, the redemption secured by the blood of the lamb in Egypt led directly to the revelation of the laws of the altar revealed at Sinai. Nearly half of the Book of Exodus is focused on the Mishkan, and the book concludes with the Shekhinah Glory of God revealed at Sinai filling the Holy of Holies (Exod. 40:34-35).

The Book of Leviticus (וַיִּקְרָא) links the closing paragraph of the Book of Exodus with the religious practices within the Mishkan itself, and therefore it focuses on the various forms of offerings and sacrifices (i.e., zevachim: זְבָחִים) that were integral to the worship of God.  As the climax of God's revelation at Sinai, the Mishkan became the place of God's revelation (Exod. 25:22; 30:36) and the locus of corporate worship. Prophetically, the Mishkan represented the redemptive plan of God for Israel that culminated in the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah as the appointed Lamb of God (i.e., seh ha-Elohim: שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים). The Book of Leviticus is therefore central to the Torah and provides the basis for understanding the multifaceted meaning of the sacrifice of Yeshua for our reconciliation with God. The great doctrines of the Atonement (καταλλαγή), propitiation for sin (i.e., ἱλαστήριος / כַּפָּרָה), and the meaning of the Cross of the Messiah as revealed in the New Testament are all grounded in the sacrificial system revealed in the Mishkan.

In modern English the word "sacrifice" usually means an act of self-deprivation, when we give up something of value for the sake of a greater value. In the Torah, however, the idea of sacrifice has more to do with making an offering to God as a means of drawing near to Him. Positively put, such sacrifices were intended to express gratitude and joy; negatively put, they were intended to remove obstacles caused by defilement and sin. Indeed, the most common Hebrew word used to describe sacrifice is korban (קָרְבָּן), which comes from the root karov (קָרַב) meaning to "draw close" or "to come near." In the Mishkan, korbanot (קָרְבָּנוֹת) were various ritual acts that were used for the worshipper to draw near to God.

It should be noted that most of the sacrifices were intended to be enjoyed as part of a communal meal or to provide sustenance for the priests. A portion of the animal was symbolically sacrificed to God, while the remainder was eaten by the sacrificer and his guests. In this way, a sense of communion between the people and God was realized. (During the Temple period, sacrifices were accompanied with music and singing). Only the olah (עלָה), or "whole burnt offering," was entirely consumed upon the altar.  There are allusions that the sacrifices represented "food" for God (Lev. 1:9; Num. 28:2), though the Scriptures repeatedly warn against understanding this in anthropomorphic terms (e.g., Psalm 50:12-13), and the prophets later decried the idea that God desired sacrifices more than He demanded ethical behavior (Amos 5:22-25; Jer. 7:22-23; 1 Sam. 15:22-23; Hos. 6:6; Isa. 1:11-20; Micah 6:6-8). According to the prophets, there can be no legitimate substitution of ritual for personal moral responsibility, and their hyperbole was intended to "get the order right" in the matter of sacrifices. "To obey is better than sacrifices..." The point of the Torah sacrifices was to provide a sense genuine communion with God and others – and that implied a heartfelt commitment to justice and the ethical imperatives of the Torah. .

For more on this subject, see "Korban and Zevachim: Further thoughts on Vayikra."
 




Waking up to Holiness...


 

03.30.17 (Nisan 3, 5777)   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).

The overall theme of the Book of Leviticus is kedushah, and indeed the Hebrew root (קדשׁ) occurs over 150 times in the book. Since God is kadosh (קדשׁ), we must be kadosh in our lives as well, and this means first of all being conscious of the distinction between the sacred and the profane, the "clean" and the unclean, and so on. "You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean" (Lev. 10:10). Note that the word translated "distinguish" (וּלֲהַבְדִּיל) comes from the same verb used to describe how God separated the light from the darkness. We are to separate between (בֵּין) the holy and the profane, which means we need understanding (i.e., binah: בִּינָה), or the ability to discern between 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"
(
Lev. 20:26)



 

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.

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




Teshuvah and Despair...


 

03.30.17 (Nisan 3, 5777)   There are moments – dark, gnawing, raw – when you may lose sight of hope, when you might even fear that you have lost your faith – not in God or his promises – but rather in yourself, in your own strength to continue, to stay focused, to keep pressing on "hope against hope..." The remedy here is always the same: to remember that within you – that is, in your flesh - "there is no good thing" and that the miracle of salvation is made secure by God's passion for you, not your own power or desire. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the LORD of Hosts." We don't trust in ourselves nor in the strength of our inner resolve, but solely in the power of God to make the way. We must turn away from ourselves to regain the message of God's unfailing love; only when we lose sight of ourselves do we find ourselves. God redeems you from your lost estate and touches you in your uncleanness; He clothes himself in your pain so that you may be clothed in his love. That never changes, despite dark moments, and to that we must always return...

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




Blessing for Darkness...


 

03.29.17 (Nisan 2, 5777)   "If I say, surely darkness covers me, the darkness is not made dark to you, but the night shines as the day ... nothing hides from your radiance" (Psalm 139:11-12). Indeed, "no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Heb. 4:13). We have to trust that God is present in the midst of our darkness, in the silence, in the unknown... You come out of the shadows when you admit that you act just like other people, that you are human, in need of reconciliation yourself... Above all you need God. You need help. You need a miracle to help you to truly love. You may find excuses for many things, but you cannot escape the "wretched man that I am" reality that is grounded in your fears. God sees in the darkness and is present there, too. When you feel alone, like an unbridgeable gulf lay between you and all that is good, even then may the LORD shine His light upon you...
 

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

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

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



  

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




Humility and Torah...


 

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

03.29.17 (Nisan 2, 5777)   It is an age-old Jewish custom to begin teaching young children the Torah beginning with Vayikra because they, like the sacrifices themselves, are considered pure. The sage known as the Kli Yakar states that this is one of the reasons why the Aleph (א) in Vayikra (ויקרא) is written very small in the Torah scroll. Let these teachings be the beginning, like the letter Aleph, which is the beginning of the Aleph-Bet. When we humble ourselves as little children, God will reveal His truth to us, just as Messiah humbled himself for the sake of touching us in our frailties...

 

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




The Place of Atonement...


Semikhah - Viduy
 

03.29.17 (Nisan 2, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week (Vayikra) we read: "He shall bring it (i.e., the offering) to the entrance of the tent of meeting (אהֶל מוֹעֵד), that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on its head and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf (לְכַפֵּר עָלָיו). Then he shall slaughter it before the LORD, and Aaron's sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar. Then he shall flay the offering and cut it into pieces..." (Lev. 1:3-6). We are justified by faith, but that means we bring our hope to the appointed place where God meets with us. We have "access by faith into this grace wherein we stand" (Rom. 5:2), and that implies we trust that God gives us right standing on account of his great love. We come to the cross - the entrance of the tent - and "lean into" our Lord, identifying with his death as atonement on our behalf. As it is written: "God has ordained a place of atonement (i.e., ἱλαστήριος, or "mercy seat" [i.e., kapporet: כַּפּרֶת]), in the cross of Yeshua, accessible through faith in his blood, for the demonstration of His righteousness, so that God might be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Yeshua" (Rom. 3:25-26).

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

"God put forward Yeshua as a propitiation (ἱλαστήριον) through faith in His blood" (Rom. 3:25). The sprinkling of Yeshua's blood - represented by His Passion upon the cross - was "presented" upon the Heavenly Kapporet, before the very Throne of God Himself. Yeshua here functions as the great High Priest after the order of Malki-Tzedek (i.e., Melchizedek) who provides everlasting forgiveness for our sins (Heb. 9:7-10:10). Because of His sacrifice, the parochet - the wall-like covering separating the Holy of Holies - was rent asunder and God's love was let loose upon the world! Baruch Hashem! All those who are trusting in Yeshua as their atoning sacrifice before God (i.e., kapparah: כַּפָּרָה) are able to draw near to God full of confidence in his love (Heb. 4:16; Rom. 5:2; Eph. 3:12).
 




A New Beginning...


 

03.28.17 (Nisan 1, 5777)   The very first word of the Torah indicates the significance of time, namely, bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית) - "in the beginning..." (Gen. 1:1), and according to tradition, the very first commandment given to the children of Israel (as a whole) was that of Rosh Chodesh (ראש חודש), or the declaration of the beginning (i.e., rosh) of the "new month," and particularly the very first month of their redemption (see Exod. 12:2). In other words, Passover month was to begin Israel's year, and indeed the sacrificial system itself (i.e., the Tabernacle) was consecrated precisely on the new moon of the first month (Exod. 40:2). Note that the Hebrew word for month (i.e., chodesh) comes from the root chadash (חָדָש), meaning "new," and therefore the Passover redemption was intended to mark a "new beginning" for the Jewish people. And indeed, God marks the start of our personal redemption as the beginning of our life as a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), just as Yeshua is the "first of the firstfruits" of God's redeemed humanity (1 Cor. 15:45-49).
 




Leviticus and the Lamb...


 

[ Today is Rosh Chodashim, Biblical New Year's Day... Shanah tovah u'metukah, friends! ]

03.28.17 (Nisan 1, 5777)   The Book of Leviticus (ספר ויקרא) is the third of the Torah, representing another stage in our spiritual journey. Genesis reveals both our divine origin but also our tragic fallenness, and the book ends with our need for deliverance from bondage to Egypt. Exodus reveals that we are liberated from slavery by trusting in the provision of God demonstrated by the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, and the book ends with the climax of the revelation of Torah given at Sinai, namely, the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) where the the need for blood atonement was enshrined. Indeed blood atonement is the central theme of the central book of Torah, i.e., Leviticus, where we are called to draw near to God through sacrificial rites, the foremost of which was the ongoing offering (i.e., korban tamid: קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד) of a defect-free male lamb, together with unleavened bread and wine. The LORD called this "My offering, My bread" (Num. 28:1-8). In other words, the center of the Torah is the altar that constantly prefigured the Lamb of God who would be offered up to secure our eternal redemption (John 1:29; Heb. 9:11-12).
 

רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה

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

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



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Though God instructed each household to select its own defect-free lamb for the family Passover, the Torah refers to "the" Lamb of God, as if there was only one: "You shall keep it [i.e., the Passover lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter him (אתוֹ) at twilight (Exod. 12:6). Indeed there is only one great Lamb of God "slain from the foundation of the world," namely, the One given in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:21), sacrificed in place of Isaac during the Akedah, selected for the Passover from Egypt (and later commemorated as korban tamid (the daily offering) at the Temple (Num. 28:1-8)), later incarnated as our Savior, the great Lamb of God who offered Himself upon the cross for our sins (John 1:29), and who ascended to eternal victory to be seated upon the very Throne of God's Glory (Rev. 5:12-13; Rev. 22:1). Amen, the Torah centers on the great Lamb of God....
 




Sacrifice and Blessing...


 

[ This is related to our Torah for this week, parashat Vayikra.  Shanah tovah, friends... ]

03.28.17 (Nisan 1, 5777)   From our Torah reading this week (Vayikra) we read: "When any person of you (mikem) brings an offering to God..." (Lev. 1:2), upon which the midrash comments: "Why does the text state 'mikem," translated "of you"? Because from this we derive that whoever recites one hundred blessings a day is as if he or she offered sacrifice. And how do we know this? From the Hebrew word mikem (מִכֶּם), which has a numerical value of 100: Mem + Kaf + Mem" (Yalkut Ma'ayan Ganim). The midrash attempts to connect the practice of "making a blessing" over the various moments of our day (arising, bathing, eating, drinking, etc.) with that of sacrifice, suggesting that the essence of sacrifice is gratitude...

Some of the early sages likened "making a blessing" to requesting God for permission to partake of the goodness of His world.  Offering thanks "opens the world" to the Divine Presence, which in effect, sanctifies our experience.  When we slow down and savor the moments of life, we will become more aware, more sensitive, and more receptive to the miracle of what is given...  "The "sacrifice of praise" will flow from us spontaneously as we contemplate the peaceful glory of a sunset, listen to the song of a bird, smell the scent of a strawberry, or sit around the table with family or friends. In this way we become a "living sacrifice" as we walk in gratitude and love (Eph. 5:2; Heb. 13:15).

The Scriptures counsel us to be transformed by "renewing our minds" (Rom. 12:2), though how we are to do this remains an open question. Our perspectives and attitudes are shaped by our assumptions about life, many of which are "pre-conscious" or hidden from our awareness. Habitual thoughts, biases, prejudices, fears, etc., all affect (and distort) the way we see and understand reality. In light of this, how can we change? How can we overcome our habitual negativity, misery, and general unhappiness?  How do we develop right thinking power? How do we learn to apply our minds to perceive the good, instead of responding in unreflective and negative ways to our circumstances? How do we discipline our will so that "if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Phil. 4:8)?

There are innumerable books on the subject of logic, detecting fallacies, and using sound reasoning techniques, but there are not many that discuss the "morality" of our thinking, that is, our God-given responsibility to perceive the truth and to consistently express it in our everyday actions.  Since our thinking invariably leads to practical choices, we have a primary duty to know the truth and live out its implications in our lives. The failure to do so is not only inconsistent, logically speaking, but immoral, ethically speaking (and dangerous, spiritually speaking, since bondage is ignorance of the truth).  If the truth bears witness that there is a personal God who creates each soul in the world, for instance, this should affect how we value and respect others, and the failure to do so will result in cognitive dissonance and internal contradiction that yields mental suffering, misery, emotional pain, and insecurity in our lives. A "double-minded" person is "two-souled" (δίψυχος), unstable (i.e., ungrounded, restless, unbalanced) in all his ways (James 1:8).

Healing comes from receiving the light of truth, being "single-minded," with our eye focused on what is real. "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). Likewise the Torah commands: "You shall be made whole (i.e., tamin: תָּמִים) with the LORD your God" (Deut. 18:13). We are made "whole" or "perfect" (i.e., complete) when we resolutely turn to God for healing of our inner dividedness, as it says: "The Torah of the LORD is perfect (תָּמִים), returning the soul" (Psalm 19:8). And where it is written, "Let us hear end of the matter: Fear God and love his commandments, the text adds: ki zeh kol-ha'adam (כִּי־זֶה כָּל־הָאָדָם), "for this is the whole man," suggesting that those who return will be healed of their double-mindedness (Eccl. 12:13). Ultimately we are made whole when we are united to God in Messiah, for then we are "with the LORD our God" and the Spirit writes Torah within the heart of faith (Jer. 31:33).

The heart of truth sees beyond the present to find meaning in the Eternal, yet it refocuses on the present to endow it with sacred significance...  "Love hopes all things" (1 Cor. 13:7). To rightly see the present moment, in other words, we must first look to the Eternal, since that grounds our perspective and contextualizes our hope: "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" (2 Cor. 4:17-18).

Regard this as a prophecy for your life: "You shall be made whole with the LORD your God." God's love heals the inner brokenness of our hearts. When we accept this, we discover that surrendering to God's will truly makes us "whole." "As many as I love, I reprove and correct: be zealous therefore, and turn. Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his heart and share a meal with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:19-20). These are words of our Lord Yeshua, who speaks to those who "hear his voice." May you open the door of your heart; may you return to Him now...

Note:  The phrase "sacrifice of praise" (θυσίαν αἰνέσεως) comes from the New Covenant Scriptures (i.e., Heb. 13:15), which is the term used in the ancient Greek translation of the Torah (i.e., the Septuagint) for the "thank offering" (i.e., zevach ha'todah: זבַח הַתּוֹדָה) that expressed gratitude to God for His salvation (θυσίας τοῦ σωτηρίου).
 




Leviticus and Yeshua...



 

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

03.28.17 (Nisan 1, 5777)   The Book of Leviticus (ויקרא) is to the Torah what the Book of Hebrews is to the New Testament. Leviticus is both the physical and spiritual center of the Five Books of Moses and comprises its ritual expression. The sages count 246 of the 613 commandments of the Torah in this book (over 40%), and many of the Talmud's discussions regarding ritual purity and holiness are based on it. 

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

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

For more on this topic please see "Leviticus and Yeshua."
 




Rosh Chodashim...



 

03.27.17 (Adar 29, 5777)   Tonight at sundown marks the beginning of the "New Year" as designated by the Scriptures, called Rosh Chodashim. The Torah plainly states: "This month is for you the head of the months" (הַחדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם ראשׁ חֳדָשִׁים), and "it is the first to you of all the months of the year" (רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה) [see Exod. 12:2]. Yes, we observe Rosh Hashanah (better, Yom Teruah) in the fall, though that is connected with the end of the harvest and prophetically looks forward to the "End of Days." This month, called the month of Nisan (also called Aviv), begins with the sighting of the new moon (not the sighting of barley as claimed by some) as was taught to Moses in preparation for the great Passover and deliverance from Egypt (see Exod. 12). Indeed the month of Nisan, the First Month, is rightly called "Chodesh Yeshuah" (חדֶשׁ הַיְשׁוּעָה), "the Month of Salvation," because it centers on the redemption given in Yeshua, the true Lamb of God....

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

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

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

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


 




The Call of Vayikra...


 

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

03.27.17 (Adar 29, 5777)  The first verse of the Book of Leviticus is usually translated: "And the LORD called to Moses and spoke to him," where the subject of the verb vayikra (וַיִּקְרָא), "and he called," has an implied antecedent, which if expressed would read: "And the LORD called to Moses and the LORD spoke..." The Hebrew text of the Torah scroll is written with a small Aleph (א) at the end of the verb vayikra, however, indicating something of textual and grammatical interest.  Note that the Hebrew letter Aleph is constructed from two Yods (each that represent a yad, or "hand") joined by a diagonal Vav (that represents a man). One Yod (י) reaches upward while the other reaches downward, and both extend from the "fallen" Vav (ו), picturing Yeshua, the humble One who was "wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities" as our Mediator between heaven and earth (Isa. 53:5; 1 Tim. 2:5). The implied Subject, then, of vayikra can be seen to be the "small Aleph," the Humble One who calls out from the Tent of Meeting...

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




Happy New Year!


 

[ The central holiday of Passover begins Monday, April 10th at sundown this year... ]

03.27.17 (Adar 29, 5777)  Did you know that the Biblical Year begins this coming Monday, March 27th at sundown (i.e., Nisan 1, 5777)? Indeed, the LORD explicitly set apart this day as the beginning of the months of the calendar (called Rosh Chodashim), the start of the calendar year itself (Exod. 12:1-2). But what about Rosh Hashanah in the fall?  Isn't that the Jewish "new year"? Yes, Rosh Hashanah (or Yom Teruah) signifies a "new year" after the ingathering of crops at the end of the season (see Exod. 23:16). In light of this, we infer that there are two distinct "New Years" revealed in the Torah: the first occurs two weeks before Passover (i.e., Nisan 1) and the second occurs ten days before Yom Kippur, during Rosh Hashanah (i.e., Tishri 1). The first New Year marks the month of the redemption from Egypt by the blood of the lamb (חדֶשׁ הַיְשׁוּעָה), and it also marks the month in which Yeshua was sacrificed upon the cross at Moriah to redeem us from our sins (i.e., chodesh HaYeshuah). The second New Year marks the month of Israel's corporate salvation that will be fulfilled in the End of Days. We see that there is a symmetry in the divine calendar: the fall festivals "mirror" the spring festivals and correspond to one another. Just as there is a "new year" in the spring, on the new moon of Nisan, so there is in the fall, on the new moon of Tishri, the seventh month, and that is why we make a "teruah" shout of thanks to God in anticipation of the fulfillment of God's redemptive purposes during the End of Days.



 


The Rosh Chodesh Blessing...

The new moon of Nisan is the most significant of the "new moons" of the Jewish calendar since it initiates the first month of the Biblical Calendar. Of all the various Rosh Chodesh celebrations, then, Rosh Chodesh Nisan is foundational, since it presents the starting point for the cycle of the yearly festivals (mo'edim) that reveal prophetic truths about the LORD God of Israel and His beloved Son, Yeshua the Mashiach, blessed be He. Here is a simplified blessing you can recite to mark this special time:
 

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

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

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



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Note: The early Jewish sages also added two other new years on the calendar: Tu B'Shevat and Rosh Chodesh Elul...  The Gentile world also has many different new year days, too, the most common of which being "January 1st," which marks the "new year" for the modern secular world... For more on this see "The Gregorian Calendar and Pagan Assumptions."
 




The LORD Calls Out - ויקרא


 

[ This week we begin a new book of Torah, sefer Vayikra (i.e., the book of Leviticus)... ]
 
03.26.17 (Adar 28, 5777)  Our Torah portion for this week is Vayikra ("and he called"), the very first section from the Book of Leviticus. In Jewish tradition, Leviticus is sometimes called the "Book of Sacrifices" since it deals largely with the various sacrificial offerings brought to the altar at the Tabernacle. Indeed, over 40 percent of all the Torah's commandments are found in this central book of the Scriptures, highlighting that blood atonement is essential to the Torah. After all, since the revelation of the Tabernacle was the climax of the revelation given at Sinai, the Book of Leviticus serves as its ritual expression, as it is written: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement (kapparah) by the life" (Lev. 17:11).

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

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

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

 




Endurance and Hope...


 

03.24.17 (Adar 26, 5777)  Though we are optimistic about the purpose and end of reality, and though we believe that God "works all things together for good" (Rom. 8:28), we are not therefore monistic idealists, that is, those who say that evil is not real or who claim that it is "part of God." We are given "exceedingly great and precious promises," yet in this world we suffer and experience pain, heartache, and troubles. Yeshua said "in this world you will have tribulation," though that is not the end of the story, of course, for there is the cheer of God's' victory, even if we must repeatedly ask God for grace to endure our troubles without murmuring (John 16:33; Heb. 4:16). I realize that is often difficult, and some of you might be within the fiery furnace even now. You might be asking, "Where are you, Lord, in all of this? Why don't you bring me out of these troubles?" In such testing you need endurance (ὑπομονή) to hold on to hope, remembering that God uses affliction to refine you for good. As Paul said, "We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces refined character, and refined character produces hope" (Rom. 5:3-4). Each of us is still upon the "Potter's wheel," and God's hand continues to shape us into vessels that one day will reveal his glory and honor. "May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace" (Psalm 29:11).
 

יְהוָה עז לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן
יְהוָה יְבָרֵךְ אֶת־עַמּוֹ בַשָּׁלוֹם

Adonai · oz · le·am·mo · yit·ten
Adonai · ye·va·rekh · et · am·mo · va·sha·lom
 

"The LORD will give strength to his people;
The LORD will bless his people with peace."
(Psalm 29:11)



Hebrew Study Card
 




Torah of the New...


 

03.24.17 (Adar 26, 5777)  The moral law serves as a "mirror" that reveals our great need, but the Light of the mirror - the radiance that illuminates redemptive reality itself - is the great remedy we have in the Messiah. We are not saved by keeping the law but by trusting that God justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). And just as we are saved by trusting in the power and righteousness of God (δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ), so are we sanctified. We don't come to the cross and then go back to the former covenant of law (which is likened to adultery, see Rom. 7:1-4). No, we are "married to another," given access to an entirely new order of reality, made into a new creation with a profoundly new, supernatural identity. Teshuvah, or "repentance," is returning to God by means of God's grace. Those who so turn, those who truly believe the message of the gospel, have been crucified with Messiah, are raised to newness of life, and have a "place at the table" in the kingdom. True life is found in relationship with the Eternal, and just as Messiah's death was given for our behalf, so also was his life (John 14:6; Rom. 5:10). All the imperatives of the New Testament are directed to the new nature within you, not to the old nature that seeks to justify itself through moral reform or the practice of religion. "We do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Messiah died for no purpose" (Gal. 2:21). If the Spirit truly quickens, the soul already has become a recipient of the miracle.

Shabbat shalom and thank you for your prayers that this ministry may continue...
 





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