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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 the Hebrew for Christians 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 2018


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) came to 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  (Wed., Feb. 14th [eve] - Fri. March 16th [day])
  2. Month of Nisan (Fri., March 16th [eve] - Sat. April 14th [day])
  3. Month of Iyyar (Sat. April 14th [eve] - Mon. May 14th [day])
  4. Month of Sivan (Mon. May 14th [eve] - Tues. June 12th [day])

Note:  The holiday of Passover -- and particularly the Festival of Firstfruits -- does not occur contemporaneously 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 2018:
 

Dates for Passover 2018

Free Seder Guide
 
  



 

February 2018 Site Updates
 


Priests of His Light...


 

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

02.18.18 (Adar 3, 5778)   Last week's Torah reading (Terumah) explained that God had asked for a "donation" (i.e., terumah) from the people for the sake of creating a portable, tent-like sanctuary called the Tabernacle. God then showed Moses the pattern according to which the Tabernacle and its furnishings were to be made. First the Ark of the Covenant (and its cover called the kapporet) would occupy an inner chamber called the Holy of Holies. Within an adjoining chamber (called the Holy place) a Table would hold twelve loaves of matzah and a seven-branched Menorah (מְנוֹרָה) would illuminate the tent. God gave precise dimensions of the tent with the added instruction to separate the Holy of Holies by a veil called the parochet. The entire tent was to have a wooden frame covered by colored fabric and the hide of rams and goats. Outside the tent an outer court was defined that would include a copper sacrificial altar and water basin. The outer court was to be enclosed by a fence made with fine linen on silver poles with hooks of silver and sockets of brass.

Our Torah reading for this week, parashat Tetzaveh, continues the description of the Tabernacle, though the focus shifts to those who will serve within it, namely the kohanim (i.e., priests of Israel). First Moses was instructed to tell the Israelites to bring pure olive oil for the lamps of the Menorah, which the High Priest was to light every evening in the Holy Place. Next God commanded Moses to ordain Aaron and his sons as priests and described the priestly garments they would wear while serving in the Tabernacle.
 

כִּי־טוֹב יְהוָה לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ
וְעַד־דּר וָדר אֱמוּנָתוֹ

ki · tov · Adonai · le·o·lam · chas·do
ve·ad · dor · va·dor · e·mu·na·to
 

"For the LORD is good; His steadfast love is eternal;
His faithfulness is for all generations."
(Psalm 100:5)



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All priests were required to wear four garments – linen breeches, tunics, sashes, and turbans, but in addition to these the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) was to wear a blue robe that was decorated with pomegranates and golden bells. Over this robe, an ephod – an "apron" woven of gold, blue, purple, and crimson – was to be worn, upon which was attached a "breastplate" (choshen mishpat) inlaid with precious stones inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. The ephod also contained a pouch holding two unique gemstones called the urim v'tummin (אוּרִים וְתוּמִּים), usually translated as "lights and perfections." According to the Targum Jonathan, when a matter was brought to the High Priest for settlement, he would sometimes hold the urim (from אוֹר, "light") and tummin (from תָּם, "integrity" or "completeness") before the menorah and the Shekhinah would irradiate various letters inscribed on the gemstones to reveal the will of God. Finally, the High Priest would wear a golden plate (called a "tzitz") engraved with the words, "Holy to the LORD" (קדֶשׁ לַיהוָה) upon the front of his turban.


 

The priests were to be ordained in a seven-day consecration ceremony that involved washing, dressing, and anointing them with oil and blood, followed by the offering of sacrifices. The priests were further instructed to present burnt offerings twice a day upon the copper altar. The portion ends with a description of the Golden Altar (i.e., Altar of Incense) upon which incense was offered twice a day by the priests when the Menorah lamps were serviced. In addition, the blood of atonement was to be placed on its corners once a year, during the Yom Kippur ritual.
 

 




The Sabbath before Purim...
 

 

[ The holiday of Purim begins Wednesday, February 28th at sundown this year... ]

02.18.18 (Adar 3, 5778)   The Sabbath that precedes the holiday of Purim is called Shabbat Zakhor - the "Sabbath of Remembrance." The maftir (additional reading) instructs us to "remember" (זָכוֹר) how the nation of Amalek attacked the Jews at Rephidim immediately following the Exodus from Egypt (see Exod. 17:8-16). After Israel routed the attack, God told Moses, "Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" (Exod. 17:14). Moses later explained that Amalek did not fight using conventional methods of war but rather attacked and killed the weakest members of Israel, "those who were lagging behind" in the camp (Deut. 25:17-19). This cowardly approach represented the first attack of God's newly redeemed people, a Satanic assault that God vowed never to forget.... Amalek therefore embodies satanic forces arrayed against the people of God.

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

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

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




Blessing for the Thirsting...


 

02.18.18 (Adar 3, 5778)   "Let them make for me a sanctuary (i.e., mikdash: מִקְדָּשׁ) that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8). Each of us has an inner void, a place where only God belongs. Substituting the things of this world – money, power, fame, pleasures, etc. – never satisfies our deepest thirst for life. Indeed the Lord laments: "My people have committed a double wrong: they have rejected me, the fountain of life-giving water (מְקוֹר מַיִם חַיִּים), and they have dug cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13). God is found by the thirsty soul; he is revealed wherever the heart permits him to speak. As Yeshua said: "If you had known the gift of God, and the one speaking to you, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water" (John 4:10). Ask today.
 




Withstanding the Evil Days...


 

02.16.18 (Adar 1, 5778)   When we ebncounter horrific evil, it is natural for us to groan and lament, to feel indignation and outrage, and to cry out for divine justice and even retribution... As people of faith in the LORD, we profoundly feel the tension between affirming both that our loving Creator sustains all things by the word of his power (Deut. 32:4; Psalm 33:4; Col. 1:16-17, Heb. 1:3, etc.) and yet acknowledging that the ongoing depravity of human beings yields untold suffering, heartache, and pain in this world. Some people attempt to reconcile God's sovereignty despite the presence of evil by saying that while everything God does is indeed for the best (without exception), human free will is beyond God's control, and therefore God produces the best outcomes, ceteris paribus, that is, given the circumstances... "Everything is in the hands of heaven" (הכל ביד השׁמים), the sages say, "except the fear of heaven" (חוץ יראת השמים). That is, everything that happens to us is supervised by Heaven, but the choices we make are in our own hands. One implication of this view is that even though God is all-powerful or "omnipotent" (i.e., kol-yakhol: כל-יכול), he cannot literally do everything, since (for example) he cannot create a rock so large that he cannot lift it, nor can he make 2+2=5, nor can he sin, and (using similar reasoning) neither can God create a human being without giving him or her the real ability to choose both good and evil. Indeed were God to eradicate the ability for people to make genuine moral choices (by overruling their will) then he would destroy what a human being essentially is... The imperative language of Scripture assumes personal responsibility: "ought" implies "can."

Nevertheless taking this view seriously appears to leave everything of eternal significance up to human beings and their willingness to choose to be good rather than be evil – a desperate hope if ever there was one!  Moreover to say that God "permits" or "allows" the free choice of moral evil seems to suggest a sort of "divine passivity" or even a withdrawal from creation, and in fact some of the sages have said that God necessarily "empties himself" or "contracts" his presence (i.e., tzitzum: צִמצוּם) since otherwise nothing could withstand his will. So which is it?  How do we resolve these sorts of dialectical tensions?  Does God infallibly work all things together for good - even working through the sinful choices and depravity of humans, so that everything is in some sense "perfect" ("all is well and all manner of thing shall be well," Rom. 8:2) - or does God, who is indeed infinite in perfection (אין סוף), all-powerful and all good, "withdraw" from creation so that human beings can affect their world and shape their own destiny? Can we reasonably expect God to miraculously intervene in situations over which we have no control, such as overruling the evil choices made by others, or by overruling natural evil and its consequences (such as sickness and mortal death), or is this expecting too much?  When we affirm that everything God does is good we must be careful not to imply that evil doesn't "really" exist, nor may we ever impugn God's sovereign reign over all of creation, since he is indeed the Master of the Universe...

Obviously we are not going to settle the philosophical "problem of evil" here, though we need to acknowledge that we indeed do have a real problem of evil – first within our own hearts and then as a matter of theology... The blindness of the moribund postmodern world is that it refuses to see the reality of human sin and evil, choosing other "narratives" to explain away depravity and wickedness in "natural" terms, and therefore it is ineffectual and powerless to account for the radical tragedy that besets human existence.  For the believer in God, however, for the person who genuinely believes in and affirms the transcendental moral and spiritual order of existence, the dialectic between God and human evil must be navigated throughout the life of faith. For instance, people are beloved and made in the image of God, yet they are fallen, ruined, and under the divine judgment; God is both infinitely transcendent, high above the ways of man, and yet infinitely immanent, intimately concerned with every hair on our heads and every breath we take... The LORD is both here and yet not here, salvation is both complete and yet to be fulfilled, we have eternal life yet we will die; we live in a shadowy world of flux, seeking the "real world" in a heavenly realm, and so on. In other words we live in an "already-not-yet" state of redemption. Our best moments are beset with shadows; our darkest are limned with hope of the new eternal day to come. Holding fast to God in the midst of this ambiguity is a soul-building venture that helps us acquire the precious middah (quality) of patience.  As Yeshua said, "In your patience (ὑπομονή) possess your souls" (Luke 21:19). In light of this great existential need, James the Righteous admonished us to ask God for wisdom grounded in faith: "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith (τὸ δοκίμιον ὑμῶν τῆς πίστεως) produces endurance. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given. But ask in faith, without doubting, for the person who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; a double-minded soul (δίψυχος) is unstable in all his ways" (James 1:5-8).

As I've mentioned before over the years, what's important regarding these harrowing matters is finding consolation and strength. In times of severe testing people often do not need further teaching, but rather "endurance," or what the New Testament calls hupomone (ὑπομονή), a word that means "remaining [μένω] under [ὑπο]" the Divine Presence while being tested. Hurting people do not need moral platitudes from others, but only the will to believe, the resolution to stay constant, and to ability breathe out simple prayers for help to the LORD: "God have mercy..." "Help me, O God..." "I need Thee, O Lord..." When we receive grace to faithfully suffer, we hear the Spirit whispering back to us: "Be not afraid..." "Live in me..." "Walk in the light..." "I am with you always..." "You are loved..."

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).
 

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

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

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



 

Trusting in God (in Hebrew, bittachon - בִּטָּחוֹן) does not mean that we are obligated to affirm that this is "the best of all possible worlds," though it does mean we believe that eventually God will wipe away every tear and make all things right... Bittachon is a word for this world, which says, "Though he slay me, I will trust in him..." Those who call upon the LORD can trust not only in concealed good behind ambiguous appearances ("all things work together for good") but also in a future, real, substantive good that will one day be clearly manifest for us all... We fight the "good fight" of faith, which is a worthy struggle that eventually is realized for blessing.  Meanwhile, may the LORD our God keep us from such depth of sorrow that leads to sickness, darkness and despair.

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

I once heard the following statement: "The optimist believes that this is the best of all possible worlds; the pessimist believes the optimist is right..."  The facts remain the same for both, but what is different is something within the heart, something that moves the will to no longer recoil from the world but rather to accept it.... Faith is a type of courage, a willingness to take risks, even in the midst of ambiguity. It surrenders to God's plan and will, even if that plan makes no rational sense at the moment.  Of course it is intellectually "safer" to abstain from such trust and to yield to a "hermeneutic of suspicion."  It is woefully easy to play the skeptic, to toy with ultimate questions, to affect intellectual superiority -- but at what cost? Is the supposed "defense" against being mistaken more important the risk of commitment?  But such an approach to life is a essentially a form of cowardice. Without risk, we would never marry, have children, or take hold of our dreams.  Some people might dismiss the dream of God's love as nonsense and futility, but the Scriptures make it clear that such hope represents the very substance (ὑπόστασις) of our faith (Heb 11:1).

Dear friends, may you be strong in the LORD and in the power of His might, taking the "whole armor of God" so that you can withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand (Eph. 6:11-18). Shabbat Shalom and may you have peace in the truth of God.
 




The Place of God...


 

02.16.18 (Adar 1, 5778)   "Let the people make me a sacred place (מִקְדָּשׁ) that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8). But what is this other than heartfelt and earnest prayer? The materials of the sanctuary come from "freewill offerings" (נְדָבוֹת), which derive from the inner yearning of the soul...  We offer our hearts up to God, and the Lord, in his great mercy, fills us with faith, hope, and love. Our spiritual need for God is his habitation with us; our hunger and thirst for healing and life is a gift from heaven (Matt. 5:6). Our blessed desperation impels us to pray because we cannot help praying.  As Abraham Heschel once said, "prayer is more than a light before us; it is a light within us." At its deepest level, prayer is not about asking but receiving; it is not so much appealing to God as it is allowing God to appeal to us. As John Bunyan once wrote, "Rather let thy heart be without words than they words be without heart." Amen. Adonai sefatai tiftach (אֲדנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח) "O Lord, open my lips," ufi yaggid tehilatekah (וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶךָ), "and my mouth will declare your praise" (Psalm 51:15).
 

אֲדנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח
וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶךָ

Adonai · se·fa·tai · tif·tach
u'fi · yag·gid · te·hil·la·te·kha
 

"O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise"
(Psalm 51:15)


 


Amen.  "For You are holy, dwelling among the praises of Israel" (Psalm 22:3).
 




Being Rich toward Heaven...


 

02.16.18 (Adar 1, 5778)   In the Torah we read: "Take for Me an offering…" (Exod. 25:2). The midrash says that this teaches that if you give tzedakah (charity) to those in need, you take God to yourself, as it is written: "For the LORD stands to the right of the needy" (Psalm 109:31), and "Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed" (Prov. 19:17). It may seem counter-intuitive to carnal and worldly reasoning, but when you give to others, you will receive even more in return (Mal. 3:10). Indeed the person who seeks treasure for himself is not rich toward God, since we can only keep what we give away in kindness (Luke 12:21). As our Lord taught: "Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:38).
 

מַלְוֵה יְהוָה חוֹנֵן דָּל
וּגְמֻלוֹ יְשַׁלֶּם־לוֹ

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

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


 


"Take for me an offering..." (Exod. 25:2). The Torah here indicates that the LORD is our great Kohen Gadol (High Priest), for He asked for terumah (an offering or contribution) just as the earthly kohen was given terumah from the yearly yields of the farmers. Shabbat shalom!
 




Gift of the Heart...


 

02.16.18 (Adar 1, 5778)   The Hebrew word "terumah" (תְּרוּמָה) means "a gift" which the Israelites were asked to give for the building of the Tabernacle (i.e., the Mishkan, or the symbolic presence of God revealed at Sinai). The gifts needed for "building a dwelling place" were to be given out of love, not from a grim sense of duty...

A maxim in the Mishnah (Avot 1:2) affirms that the practice of benevolence is an integral part of spiritual life: "Simon the Righteous was from the remnant of the Great Assembly. He used to say: 'On three things the world stands: On the Torah; on service to God (avodah); and on acts of lovingkindness (gemilut chasadim).'" According to Jewish tradition, just as a chair requires at least three legs to function, so we must engage in the study of Scripture, serve the LORD "with all our hearts," and truly love another.  Please notice that each of these "pillars" may be found in the (earlier) writings of the New Testament. For example, we are called to study the Scriptures (Acts 17:11, 2 Tim. 2:15); we are called to serve and love God (Matt. 4:10, 6:24, 1 Thess. 1:9, 2 Tim 1:3), and we are called to love one another (John 13:34-35, John 15:17, Rom. 12:10, 13:8, etc.). Indeed the Torah of Messiah (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) is the path of sacrificial love and gemilut chasidim (Rom. 13:8-10, Gal. 5:14, 6:2).

Practicing compassion is the underlying motivation for adherence to all of God's commandments, for without the inner motivation of love, there is little point to anything else the Torah might say. After all, the two great commandments of Scripture center on loving God and loving others as ourselves (see Deut. 6:4-6; Lev. 19:18; Mark 12:29-31). The underlying problem, however, is not understanding our obligation to love, but rather finding the will to truly do so.... If we have trouble keeping the central and greatest commandment, we need to first confess the truth seek Divine Help (Heb. 4:16).

For more on this topic see: "Gemilut Chasadim: Further thoughts on Terumah."
 




Mystery and Mercy...


 

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

02.16.18 (Adar 1, 5778)   In our Torah portion for this Shabbat (i.e., parashat Terumah), God provides instructions about creating the great "Ark of the Covenant" (אֲרוֹן בְּרִית־יְהוָה). Note that the Hebrew text says "they shall make an ark of acacia wood" (Exod. 25:10). Unlike other furnishings of the Tabernacle that were made by Betzalel, the text uses the plural verb here: "they shall make an ark" (וְעָשׂוּ אֲרוֹן), which implies that every person had a part in upholding the Torah. More - each person had a part in the place of blood atonement offered upon the kapporet - the cover of the Ark - which again symbolizes that Yeshua offered his life for the sins of all who would trust in him (1 John 2:2).

Note further that the Ark's dimensions were given in fractional measurements, "half-cubits" used to describe its length, width, and height, as we read: "They shall make an ark of acacia wood (עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים); two cubits and a half (וָחֵצִי) shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height" (Exod. 25:10). The sages comment that the "half-cubit" is symbolic of our fractional understanding, alluding to mystery and even paradox. "You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a crown of gold (זֵר זָהָב) around it" (Exod. 25:11). The heart of the Tabernacle held the law of God, a picture of Yeshua who bore the law of God within his heart (Matt. 5:17-18). And though the Ark was made of wood from the common thorntree, it was covered inside and out with pure gold and bore a "crown" where the sacrificial blood was offered for atonement, a picture of Yeshua who clothed himself in our humanity, bore the crown of thorns, and shed his blood for our eternal atonement (Heb. 9:12).
 




The Month of Adar...



 

02.15.18 (Shevat 30, 5778)   Today marks Rosh Chodesh Adar (חודש אדר), the twelfth month of the Biblical calendar (counting from the month of Nisan). The 14th day of Adar marks the festive holiday of Purim, which is always celebrated exactly 30 days before Passover (Megillah 1:4). During both Purim and Passover we celebrate God's deliverance of His people, and therefore Adar is considered one of the happiest of the months of the Jewish year. As it is written in the Talmud, "When Adar comes, joy is increased" (Ta'anit 29a). Since it is the last month of the year, Adar also marks a season of teshuvah (repentance) for us. Just as the month of Elul (i.e., the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah and the New Year in the fall [Exod. 23:16]), so the month of Adar is a time set apart to reexamine the quality our spiritual life before the start of the new year of spring.
 

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

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

 

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



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Vision and Exile...


 

02.15.18 (Shevat 30, 5778)   There is a distinction between appearance and reality, between what seems to be real and what really is real. Indeed people are often mistaken in their perceptions, believing something is true when it is later determined to be false.  In the realm of everyday physical objects, for example, we regularly make assumptions about things that, upon closer inspection, are shown to be less certain. For example, we might describe a billiard ball as having a certain color or a smooth texture, but if we look through a microscope at the ball, we would see irregularities in the surface and variations in color. The ball, as we initially perceived it, does not match the new information we obtained after we've taken a closer look. Similarly, a crime might be "explained away" by appealing to socioeconomic causes or psychological categories, though upon closer inspection we begin to discern other motives, such as selfishness, malice, vindictiveness, and indeed ontological (i.e., demonic) evil.... Yesh derekh yashar lifnei ish, ve'acharitah darkhei mavet: "There is a way that seems right to a person, but in the end it is a way of death (Prov. 14:12). Wisdom bears in mind the distinction between seeming and reality, and thereby avoids quick judgments.

How we choose to see and how we interpret what we see often says more about us than it does the thing we're looking at. To those without faith in its words, the Scriptures appear as the product of a human hand, devoid of any special sanctity, and fully explainable using a set of "natural" assumptions.  But to those whose eyes are "uncovered," the words of Scripture are full of glorious (and sometimes dreadful) wonders about the unseen world. The veil is pulled back and we are given a glimpse of reality and truth. In every case, however, each person is fully responsible before Eternity for what he or she chooses to believe about what is of ultimate concern and significance. No one can opt out of their answer before the bar of heaven; no one is free to disown what they choose to believe... 

The Scriptures reveal that the natural world of appearance, subject as it is to constant change and decay, is ultimately unreal: "For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). There is a spiritual world that overrules this world and to which this world will one day give account.  This is the vision of the great "City of God," heavenly Jerusalem, and the final reckoning of human history. The reality of God will ultimately overmaster all other interpretations of life.
 

גַּל־עֵינַי וְאַבִּיטָה נִפְלָאוֹת מִתּוֹרָתֶךָ

gal · ei·nai · ve·a·bi·tah · nif·la·'ot mi·to·ra·te·kha
 

"Uncover my eyes that I may behold wonders from your Torah."
(Psalm 119:18)


 


"Uncover my eyes, that I may behold wonders from your Torah" (Psalm 119:18). We might expect our verse to read, "Uncover my eyes and I will behold wonders in your Torah," but the text actually says "from your Torah" (מִתּוֹרָתֶךָ). We read the Scriptures in order to discern God's wonders in the world around us.  This is sometimes called da'at Torah (דאת תורה) – the "knowledge of Torah" that gives the correct "hashkafah" (הַשׁקָפָה) or outlook on life.  Emunah (faith) reveals the hidden hand of God in all things and discloses the deceptive nature of the world of appearances.  Indeed, the verb "uncover" (galah) is related to the word "captivity" (galut), suggesting that the uncovering of our eyes reveals our state of exile from our true home in heaven. "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come" (Heb. 13:14).

Today's religious atheists are a militant bunch (a dangerous combination), going so far as to imply that if you believe in Living God, it's a form of mental illness. "You're out of your mind! You're crazy!" The Apostle Paul answers: "If we are insane, it's for God's sake; and if we are sane, it's for yours" (2 Cor. 5:13). Those who believe in the Scriptures – whose eyes are "uncovered" – sometimes feel (and often appear) "crazy" before an insane world.  After all, the world traffics in images, sound bites, fleeting sensations, and various illusions, but we testify that all such appearances ultimately answer to a higher reality. This collision is part of the "normal" life of the person who "walks by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7).
 




Humility and Surrender...


 

02.14.18 (Shevat 29, 5778)   What does "putting off the old self" (Eph. 4:22) mean if not walking in humility by confessing our need for deliverance from ourselves? We trust in God, but the life of the flesh ends with the cross. How can prayer be genuine if it focuses on the self-life rather than on newness of life? Surrender to God is a miracle, since apart from God's direct intervention, no one would ever be willing to turn to Him for life...

King David wrote, "It is good that I was afflicted (עֻנֵּיתִי), that I might learn your decrees" (Psalm 119:71). It is a great blessing to be reduced to state of weakness, of reckoning our own inner poverty, since the ego would otherwise refuse to submit to God's will. As long as any self-confidence remains, the pressure must remain. However, when God in His mercy delivers the "death blow," He strikes at the root by revealing the powerlessness of the idol to which we still cling. The sages sometimes read Psalm 118:21 as, "I thank you that you have pained me (עֲנִיתָנִי) and have become my salvation (יְשׁוּעָה)."  This "mortification" of the flesh is the only way we can let go of the selfishness that makes us sick.
 

טוֹב־לִי כִי־עֻנֵּיתִי לְמַעַן אֶלְמַד חֻקֶּיךָ

tov · li · khi · u·ne·ti · le·ma·an · el·mad · chu·ke·kha
 

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


 


People sometimes seek healing for what needs to be slain.  You don't need a cure, you need let go and allow yourself to die.... But how do we let go of our need to be in control apart from seeing ourselves in the truth? The truth shall set you free, but the truth requires that you confess your own inner poverty and brokenness (John 8:32-36). Once you see your ego for what it is - incurably weak, sinful, selfish, and so on - then you will become willing to leave its old devices in the grave (Rom. 6:6).

Dying to the self is painful, but attempting to alleviate the suffering by offering comfort to the flesh simply prolongs the agony. Being "poor in spirit" doesn't mean begging for one more taste from the "fleshpots of Egypt." The "release" from slavery to the flesh comes by the severe mercy of the LORD, as He works the miracle within us to yield to His truth. This is the "law of the Spirit of life" and comfort we are given by putting our trust in Yeshua.

The carnal life may indeed scandalized, but the point of life is not how to find healing, strength, sustenance, happiness, and so on, but rather how to give up and die. Flesh and blood can never inherit the kingdom of God. As Yeshua repeatedly taught, "Take up your cross and follow me." For "whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 10:39; 16:35; John 12:25). The crucified life is ultimately the way of joyful self-forgetfulness. We are set free from the self because our hearts are focused on the surpassing love, wonder and greatness of the LORD.

You can't give away what you don't have... Life in the Spirit means trusting that God does in you what you cannot do for yourself.  We can only take hold of what God has done for us by "letting go" of our own devices (Phil. 2:13). When we let go and trust, we will be carried by the "law of the Spirit of life." The way up is down, and vice-versa. The way is not trying but trusting; not struggling but resting; not clinging to life, but letting it go. We trust God for the miraculous life we have in Yeshua; we don't try to "make it happen." Trusting God means that we believe that He will take care of all that we really need...

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




Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness...


 

02.14.18 (Shevat 29, 5778)   Surely the self is the prison that binds the soul... And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself (ἀρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν), take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:23-24). Note that the Greek verb translated "deny" in this verse means to forget yourself, or to quit thinking about yourself (from α-, "not," +ῥέω, "to speak"). Rather than abstaining from your carnal desires, then, denying yourself really means joyful self-forgetfulness. You are set free from the clamor of the self because your heart is focused on something so much greater and wonderful...

In light of this, we must soberly assess how much of our suffering is caused because the self, or the ego, refuses to let go and die? How much pain is produced because we do not deny ourselves but instead "remember" ourselves, thinking of ourselves first, putting our fear of loss or our desire for comfort above everything else?  Is not such selfishness the essence of sin? Yeshua tells us to take up the cross and die daily because that which is dead no longer suffers from ambivalence and selfish inner conflict... There are no "half-measures" in this approach to life. If we really take up the cross and die to ourselves, our struggle with the flesh would be over. All spiritual truth leads us to this place, to the constant practice of dying to the flesh. The pain we sometimes feel is from the flesh that still clings to this life.

We need courage to let go and trust. 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." In light of that concern we are asked: "Do you fear that He may not be able to supply from Himself that help which He may have taken away on a human level? And why does He take human help away, except to supply you with Himself?" (Fenelon). God has to remove all that we rely upon other than Himself so that we understand that He alone is all we need. As Kierkegaard wrote, "It is terrifying when God takes out the instruments for the surgery for which no human being has the strength: to take away a person's human zest for life, to slay him – in order that he can live as one who has died to the world and to the flesh. It cannot  be otherwise, for in no other way can a human being love God..."  May it please the LORD to help us deny ourselves and take up the cross daily... Amen.
 




Light of the Servant...


 

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

02.13.18 (Shevat 28, 5778)   The menorah (מְנוֹרָה) symbolizes light, growth, unity, and the Tree of Life (עֵץ הַחַיִּים). All its intricate parts (i.e., its seven branches with seven lamps, nine flower blooms, eleven fruits, and twenty two cups) were formed from a single piece of pure gold (זָהָב טָהוֹר) that was "beaten" or "hammered" into shape (Exod. 25:36). This is a symbol of the divine substance (gold has a hint of the color of blood combined with the pure white). Note further that the menorah sat upon a three-legged base - a hint of hashilush ha-kadosh (the triune nature of the Godhead that is the Root of all reality). This is another image of the concept of echdut - unity in plurality found in the Torah. Just as the many parts of the Mishkan were put together to form "one Tabernacle" (הַמִּשְׁכָּן אֶחָד), and the prophet Ezekiel was told to join together two sticks to form "one tree" (עֵץ אֶחָד, see Ezek. 37:17), so the many parts of the menorah were likewise fashioned to form "one menorah" (Exod. 25:36). Moreover, the Torah itself is made up of five separate Books, but it is nevertheless one Torah, just as the children of Israel were divided into Kohanim (priests), Levites, and Israelites, though together they form one nation... Yeshua likewise taught us there would be one flock formed from both Jews and Gentiles, having one Shepherd (John 10:16).

 

The seven lamps of the menorah were lit daily, "from evening until morning," starting from the central lamp (the shamash) and then moving right to left (Exod. 27:21). According to the Talmud (Shabbat 22b), while all the lamps received the same amount of olive oil, the "westernmost" lamp (according to Rashi, the center lamp) miraculously never ran out of oil, even though it was kindled first in the sequence.  In other words, when Aaron would rekindle the lamps every evening, he found the shamash still burning, so he simply refilled it with oil and trimmed its wick. This miracle is also said to have occurred during the Temple period, though it abruptly ended about 40 years before the destruction of the Second Temple (c. 30 AD), after the death of Yeshua the Messiah, the true Servant and Branch of the LORD. As it is attested in the Talmud: "Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot ['For the Lord'] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white; nor did the westernmost light shine" (Yoma 39a).

The Scriptures declare that God is light, and Yeshua is the true Light of God (1 John 1:5; John 1:9). The light from the menorah reveals spiritual light. It was not seen from the outside of the Tabernacle, but only while inside the holy chamber, before the holy place of sacrificial atonement. The light itself came from the burning of pure and beaten olive oil - a symbol of anointing and the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ). It enabled service to God to be performed, though it was not a light to be used for profane purposes. Notice that the six lamps faced the central lamp -- a picture of Yeshua, the Light of the World whose arms and legs were "hammered" for our sins.... He is the suffering servant (shamash) who lightens everyone in the world; He is the center, the supporting trunk for the other branches (John 15:5).
 

 




Hashilush HaKodesh...


 

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

02.12.18 (Shevat 27, 5778)   The earthy Tabernacle and its furnishings were designed to be "signs" and "shadows" of heavenly realities (Heb. 8:5). Moses was repeatedly commanded to make the Sanctuary according to the "pattern" revealed at Sinai (Exod. 25:9,40). At the inmost center of the earthly Tabernacle, the place symbolizing utmost holiness, was the Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן־הַקּדֶשׁ), a "three-in-one" box that held the tablets of the covenant. The Ark served as a symbol of kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), God's Throne of Glory, since it stood entirely apart as the only furnishing in the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). Upon the crown or cover of the Ark (i.e., the kapporet) were fashioned two cherubim (i.e., angel-like figures) that faced one another (Exod. 25:17-18). According to the Talmud (Succah 5b), each cherub had the face of a child - one boy and one girl - and their wings spread heavenward as their eyes gazed upon the cover (Exod. 25:20; 1 Pet. 1:12). It was here - in the midst of sacred innocence, humility, purity, and hope - that the sacrificial blood was offered to make atonement for our sins, and it was here where God's Voice would be heard (Exod. 25:22; Num. 7:89). In the very heart of the Sanctuary, then, we see the Word of God and the sacrficial blood, foreshadowing the glory of the eternal redemption secured by Yeshua. As is written in our Scriptures: "For Messiah has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are representations (ἀντίτυπος) of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf" (Heb. 9:24).


 




Shrine of the Heart...


 

02.12.18 (Shevat 27, 5778)   The sages have said that salvation may be likened to rebirth that delivers us from the "narrow places of Egypt" (i.e., from mitzrayim: , "from," and צַר, "narrow") into newness of life... The first step of lasting deliverance (יְשׁוּעָה) is to receive the great revelation: "I AM the Lord your God," which begins our healing process (Exod. 20:2). We are set free from our bonds to surface appearances when we are made fully conscious of God's Presence, since we then understand everything in holy relationship with Ultimate Reality, the Ground and Source of all life (Acts 17:28). As it says in our Scriptures: "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. 4:18). Therefore God says in our Torah, "Make for me a sacred place (מִקְדָּשׁ) so I can dwell within you" (Exod. 25:8). Each of us is created to be a "mishkan," that is, a dwelling place for God. Making a sanctuary of the heart means choosing to stay connected with reality, attuning the heart to hear the Voice of the Spirit, and consciously walking before the Divine Presence.

The Hebrew word terumah (תּרוּמָה), the name of our Torah portion, means "gift" or "contribution," which first of all refers to the decision to give of our hearts to enshrine God's Presence. We "set the LORD always before us"; we abide in the Vine and remain connected to Him (Psalm 16:8; John 15:5). It two-way partnership: we seek a home for God within our heart, we invite his Presence, so to speak, to dwell within us, and then we listen for God's invitation to come, to abide within his house and live as his beloved child (Rev. 3:20).

King David wrote, עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה / olam chesed yibaneh: "The world is built with love" (Psalm 89:2), and so indeed is God's place within our hearts... We esteem God as lovely and beautiful and wonderful and precious to us; we enshrine him and lift up our souls unto him in adoration and thanks.  When we are willing to take part in the building of the sanctuary, God reveals to us "the pattern," that is, the inspiration that evidences His presence in our lives. As Yeshua said, "Let your light so shine" (Matt. 5:16).
 

    "Knowing God is the condition for the sanctification of a human being by God's assistance and according to His intention. Wherever God is, there He is always creating... He wants to create a new human being. To need God is to become new. And to know God is the crucial thing." - Kierkegaard

 




Terumah - Enshrining the Presence...


 

[ Please note that I have created a brand new parashat Terumah audio discussion that you can download below.  I hope you might find it helpful! Shavuah tov, chaverim! ]

02.11.18 (Shevat 26, 5778)   The goal of the Sinai revelation was not only the giving of the Ten Commandments to the Israelites but enshrining the Divine Presence within their hearts... In our Torah portion for this week (i.e., Parashat Terumah), we read how God asked the people to offer "gifts from the heart" to create a "place" for Him: "Let them make for me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8). The Hebrew word for "sanctuary" is mikdash (מִקְדָּשׁ), which comes from the root word kadash (קָדַשׁ), "to be set apart as sacred." A mikdash is therefore a "set apart space," or a "holy place" that represents something profoundly treasured - a place of beauty and worship, a refuge, a place of rest. Other words that share this root idea include kedushah (holiness), kiddushin (betrothal), kaddish (sanctification), kiddush (marking sacred time), and so on. When God said, "Let them make for me a mikdash," then, he was inviting the people to make a sacred place within their hearts for His Presence to be manifest.... The "materials" required to make this place - gold, silver, brass, red and purple yarns, fine linens, oils, spices, precious stones, etc. - were ultimately from the heart, expressed in free-will offerings given to God.

The LORD then showed Moses the pattern (i.e., tavnit: תַּבְנִית) according to which the Mishkan (tabernacle) and its contents were to be constructed. First an ark of acacia wood was to be overlaid with pure gold inside and out. The ark was to be fitted with gold rings and gold covered poles to make it portable. The two tablets of the law were to be stored inside the ark. Two cherubim (angel-like figures) were to placed facing each other over a cover of the ark called the kapporet (i.e., "Mercy Seat"). The ark was to be housed within an inner chamber of the tent called the Holy of Holies. Adjacent to the Holy of Holies was a second chamber called the Holy Place. This chamber would contain a table overlaid with pure gold that held twelve loaves of bread along with a golden, seven-branched menorah. The Holy of Holies was separated from the Holy Place by an ornamental veil called the parochet.

The design (or pattern) of the tent along with its exact dimensions was then given. The tent was intended to be portable, with a wooden frame covered by richly colored fabric and the hide of rams and goats. The outer courtyard was to include a sacrificial altar with horns of copper set at each corner. The portion ends with a description of the outer court, which was to be entirely enclosed by an ornamental fence made with fine linen on silver poles with hooks of silver and sockets of brass.
 

 




Joy in the Valley...


 

02.09.18 (Shevat 24, 5778)   We all need encouragement to face these difficult days... We all need "simchah" (שִׂמְחָה), that is an inner happiness or joy that comes from knowing the truth about God. Being joyful is a matter of faith for us: we must choose to believe in it and exercise emunah (אֱמוּנָה). So essential is this sense of joy that the sages have said that without it we cannot truly do teshuvah, since the goal or end of our repentance is healing and blessing and love from heaven. Yes, there is godly sorrow, but nevertheless we rejoice (שָׂמֵחַ) because the LORD God is faithful to his promises (John 14:1-3; Deut. 7:9). If you believe that, really believe that, you will experience joy, regardless of your present cicrcunstances.... In Hebrew the letters of the word "with joy" (בְּשִׂמְחָה) can also spell the word "thought" (מַחֲשָׁבָה), indicating a connection between the inner life of our thoughts and our joy and well-being. Happiness or joy comes from being conscious of reality – understanding the truth – and trusting in God's love regardless of our circumstances. Gratitude is the product of joy (χαρα) obtained from the gift of being conscious of God's grace (χαρις). "Faith, hope, love: these three..." As it is written in the prophets: "For you shall go out [from your misery, your bondage, etc.] with joy (בּשִׂמְחָה), and you shall be led forth with peace" (Isa. 55:12). Our struggles are used by God to lead us to higher ground: yeridah l'tzorich aliyah (ירידה לצורך עלייה): "Descent is for the purpose of ascent." Therefore do we die daily (καθ᾽ ἡμέραν ἀποθνῄσκω). As Yeshua taught us: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24), which means a higher realm of existence breaks forth from the extinction of the lower form that preceded it. It's by means of his being the Seed that died that we are then taken up into the bloom and life and being of His resurrection power. The life of Messiah triumphs over death, and we share in that life as we walk in the truth of his love for us. It is a mitzvah to always think the best, to trust that God works all things together for good as we make our pilgrimage through this life (Rom. 8:28). Dear friends, for the sake of your joy and strength, "think on these things" (Phil. 4:8). Amen.
 

כִּי־בְשִׂמְחָה תֵצֵאוּ וּבְשָׁלוֹם תּוּבָלוּן
הֶהָרִים וְהַגְּבָעוֹת יִפְצְחוּ לִפְנֵיכֶם רִנָּה
וְכָל־עֲצֵי הַשָּׂדֶה יִמְחֲאוּ־כָף

ki · ve·sim·chah · te·tzei·u · uv'sha·lom · tu·va·lun
he·ha·rim · ve·ha·ge·va·ot · yif·tze·hu · lif·nei·khem · rin·nah
ve·khol · a·tzei · ha·sa·deh · yim·cha·u · khaf
 

"For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands."
(Isa. 55:12)

 




Torah of the Heart...


 

The aim of the inner meaning of Torah (παραγγελίας) is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Tim. 1:5)...  ]

02.09.18 (Shevat 24, 5778)   Our Torah reading this week begins: "Now these are the rules (mishpatim) that you shall set before them" - וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם (Exod. 21:1) - which the sages say implies that the giving of the Torah is the very reason for creation of the world. God created the universe because he wanted a "dwelling place" in the hearts of people (Exod. 25:8). Indeed the climax of Torah revelation is that of the Mishkan (מִשְׁכָּן) and its altar which prefigured the incarnation of the Divine Presence in Messiah. The goal of creation was for people to know the Divine Presence, the Living Torah (התורה החיה), and to know that the LORD your God redeems you from destruction. That is why it says at the outset 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, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). The cross of Yeshua is the central message of Torah: our redemption leads to sanctification as God's beloved, enabled by the Spirit of God to know the truth and to dwell before the Divine Presence.

Shabbat shalom and love to you all...
 




Compassionate Eating...


 

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

02.09.18 (Shevat 24, 5778)   "You must not eat a young animal cooked in its mother's milk" (Exod. 23:19). Apart from the rather dubious claim of the later rabbis that this verse identifies a principle of kosher law, namely, that meat and milk products should not be eaten together (something our father Abraham himself did not observe, see Gen. 18:8), the sages point out that this commandment was intended to admonish us to be humane in the way we treat animals. After all, cooking a baby animal in its mother's milk is surely a cruel thing to do, and this teaches that our diet should be centered on compassion and life, with an awareness of how our food choices affect God's creation.

The Torah states that various dietary laws were intended to sanctify the Israelites by separating them for holiness: "For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy (וִהְיִיתֶם קְדשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אָנִי)... 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. 11:44-45). The realm of the holy was to be applied to the daily and routine sustenance of life. You are "to distinguish (לְהַבְדִּיל) between the unclean and the clean and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten" (Lev. 11:47). In other words, since eating is necessarily a sacrificial act, there is a connection between holiness and what goes in (and out) of our mouths. Whenever we eat food, we incorporate other life as a means of nourishment for our own. Physical food temporarily sustains our physical life, but after it is digested we find ourselves in need of it once again. Just as God has designed the human body so that it requires ongoing sacrifice to live, so he has designed the human spirit to require lechem ha-chayim, the "Bread of Life" in order to live (Deut. 8:3).
 




The Name in Vain...


 

02.09.18 (Shevat 24, 5778)   The Third Commandment states: lo tissa et shem Adonai Elohekha lashav, "You shall not lift up (lit. "carry") the Name of the LORD your God in vain" (Exod. 20:7). Note that the Hebrew word lashav (לַשָּׁוְא), usually translated "in vain" in English, means in an empty or thoughtless manner (the LXX translates it as ἐπὶ ματαίῳ, "worthlessly" or "thoughtlessly"), though the word might also be rendered as "for show," that is, insincerely or for sake of others.  Obviously "lifting up the Name" of God 'lashav' includes invoking the Divine Presence in profane and vulgar ways, but it also includes "lip-service" expressions of faith, mechanical confessions, heartless acts of service, and so on.  "Lifting up the Name" should never be used as a "weapon" against others, nor should it ever be used to justify or practice violence. You cannot "call upon God's Name" in the truth without first exercising genuine reverence by recognizing the sacredness of life and the LORD's all-consuming glory, love, and power...

Knowing the Name of the LORD means being in a personal, vital, and all-important relationship with the truth. The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth (רוּחַ הָאֱמֶת). This means understanding God's character as "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin" (Exod. 34:6-7). Since the Hebrew idea of word (דָּבָר) is coextensive with truth (i.e., "thing"), Yeshua is called the Word of God (דְּבַר אֱלהִים) who represents the Name of God to all who trust in Him (John 17:26, Heb. 1:3). Indeed Yeshua is the true Name of God, the "substance" (being) of God, the "exact imprint and representation of His nature," and so on. "His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is 'The Word of God" (Rev. 19:12-13).
 




Snare of Self-Love...


 

02.09.18 (Shevat 24, 5778)   Regarding the commandment: "You shall have no other gods besides me; you shall not make for yourself an idol" (Exod. 20:3-4), the sages remark that we should never regard ourselves as an idol; we should never regard ourselves to be of ultimate concern...  When Moses later told the people: "I stood between the LORD and you at that time for you were afraid..." (Deut. 5:5), Martin Buber commented: The 'I' stands between God and us. When a man says 'I am' [as if he were sufficient unto himself] he shuts himself off from Him. But there is no dividing wall before the one who sacrifices his 'I,' for of him it is said, 'I am my beloved's and his desire is for me' (Song 7:10). When 'I' belongs to the Beloved, then His desire is for me" (Collected Sayings).
 

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְעָלַי תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ

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

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

 




Divine Discontent...


 

02.08.18 (Shevat 23, 5778)   "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). The life of faith represents collision with the world (κόσμος) and its philosophy of the "good life"; it protests any interpretation of "reality" that deposes or suppresses or negates the heart's need for the Divine Presence. Happy are those who "hunger and thirst" for righteousness, who refrain from this world and make themselves its exiles because of their inner heartache. For them no amount of the world's pleasures can obscure the difference between what is and what ought to be... This world is at best a corridor to the world to come, a "valley of decision" about what we ultimately choose to believe and to love... The heart of faith looks forward to "the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10).
 

צָמְאָה נַפְשִׁי לֵאלהִים לְאֵל חָי
 מָתַי אָבוֹא וְאֵרָאֶה פְּנֵי אֱלהִים

tza·me·ah · naf·shi · le·lo·him · le·el · chai
ma·tai · a·vo · ve·e·ra·eh · pe·nei · e·lo·him
 

"My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
 When shall I come and appear before God?"
(Psalm 42:2)



  

There is a great danger to become so assimilated into this world that there is no longer any collision, no longer any protest, but merely the whimper of the soul that begs to be left alone from the general toil and troubles of this age... Conscience is seared; natural affections have been abandoned; and the "life" of the soul becomes a mere cipher, a phantom, a ghost... This is the scheme of the worldly dialectic that traps the human soul into living and dying for the sake of sheer vanity. May God help us not to so waste our days... The core prayer of the godly soul is always, "Help me, O LORD my God! Save me according to your steadfast love" (Psalm 109:26). Empty our hearts from vanity, O LORD, and afflict us with hunger and thirst for You, for you alone are what we really need....
 




The Decrees of Torah...


 

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

02.08.18 (Shevat 23, 5778)   The Hebrew word mitzvah (מִצְוָה) generally means "divine commandment" or "blessing" (mitzvot is the plural form). The various mitzvot found in the Torah may be further divided into the subcategories of "chukkim u'mishpatim" (Deut. 4:5). Chukkim (חֻקִּים) are statutes given without a reason (i.e., divine decrees). The classic example is the decree of the Red Heifer, which, legend has it, defied even the wisdom of King Solomon. Mishpatim (מִשְׁפָּטִים), on the other hand, are laws given for a discernible reason (i.e., logical laws). An example would be the commandment to give charity or prohibitions against theft and murder. These mitzvot are inherently rational and appeal to the need for civil and moral order. The relationship between chukkim and mishpatim -- or between "faith and reason" -- is highly interdependent, however, and the sages ultimately concluded that every commandment (regardless of type) may be regarded as if it were a decree given without a reason (i.e., all "mishpatim" may be reduced to the status of "chukkim"). This is because the merely rational acceptance of "religion" is insufficient to touch the heart of faith. We do not "understand to believe," but the other way around.

A person who adjudges that it is "reasonable" to obey one commandment might later change his or her mind if their passion sways them to suddenly regard it as "irrational." No, we should obey God simply because God asks us to trust in him. We believe to understand... The great example here is the Akedah (עֲקֵדָה, "binding"), when Abraham willingly offered up his beloved son Isaac upon the altar as a sacrifice (Gen. 22:1-14). Abraham surely understood all the "commandments, decrees, and laws" of God (Gen. 26:5), but his faith led him to surrender his need to understand in devotion to the LORD. Abraham's Torah was that of faith: "And he believed in the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). Surrendering our ego's reasoning (as absolute) by yielding to the wisdom of the LORD is the essential decree of the entire Torah....
 




Surrendering to God...


 

02.07.18 (Shevat 22, 5778)   When our Lord Yeshua was asked, "What shall we do to do the works of God?" he replied, "Here is good news: God himself will do the work for you; you only need to believe and receive the grace and love that he gives" (John 6:29; Isa. 26:12; Psalm 68:28). The Spirit of God is called ruach (רוּחַ), the "wind" or the "breath" of God.  We must learn to surrender, to relax, and to let go of our desire to control things, by trusting in God's loving presence and care (Job 12:10; Matt. 6:8; Acts 17:28, Psalm 103, Psalm 139, etc.). "The wind (ruach) blows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). What then shall we do to do "the works of God"? Nothing but opening your heart to his Presence, listening for the whispering wind, so that you might receive the Spirit of God (John 20:22; Zech. 4:6; Ezek. 36:26). Sin is ignoring spiritual reality, withdrawing from the touch of the Spirit, and refusing to receive God's passion for your soul...
 

יְהוָה תִּשְׁפּת שָׁלוֹם לָנוּ
 כִּי גַּם כָּל־מַעֲשֵׂינוּ פָּעַלְתָּ לָּנוּ

Adonai · tish·pot · sha·lom · la·nu
ki · gam · kol · ma·a·sey·nu · pa·al·ta · la·nu
 

"O LORD, you will establish peace for us,
for You have indeed done for us all our works."
(Isa. 26:12



Hebrew Study Card
 

Note that God does the work "for us" (לָּנוּ) and we are His witnesses... Salvation is "of the LORD," and is not the result of our own efforts. Anything of eternal value comes from God alone, who is the beginning and end of grace. "Not by (human) might, nor by (human) power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts (Zech. 4:6). If we lose sight of this truth, we are again made subject to the "law of sin and death" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת), that is, the futile principle of self-justification that constitutes the "wheel of suffering." We can escape this cycle only when we accept the truth about our condition and trust God for our deliverance. It is the "law of the Spirit of Life" (תוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים), that is, the inner reign of the Holy Spirit, that sets us free from the reign of sin that leads to death...
 

    וְהָיָה מַעֲשֵׂה הַצְּדָקָה שָׁלוֹם
    וַעֲבדַת הַצְּדָקָה הַשְׁקֵט
    וָבֶטַח עַד־עוֹלָם

    ve·ha·ya · ma·a·seh · ha·tze·da·kah · sha·lom
    va·a·vo·dat · ha·tze·da·kah · hash·ket
    va·ve·tach · ad · o·lam

     

"And the work of righteousness One shall be peace;
and the service of righteousness One shall be quietness
and assurance for ever."
(Isa. 32:17)
 


It is written: "And the work of the Righteousness One will be peace, and the service of Righteousness One will be quietness and assurance forever" (Isa. 32:17). Note that it is the "work" (singular) of righteousness that is in view here – not the "works" (plural) of righteousness that we might perform (Titus 3:5). In other words, it is the work of the LORD alone, that is, the righteousness and glory of the Messiah, blessed be He, that gives us true peace (Psalm 37:39). Likewise the "service of righteousness" refers to the singular "avodah" of the great High Priest "after the order of Malki-Tzedek," which is the eternal service of intercession established by the inviolable will and counsel of Almighty God (Heb. 7:20-21). This avodah does not refer to acts of service performed by human beings in their religious ceremonies (i.e., the Levitical priesthood with its various forms of sacrificial worship), but rather the perfect act of service and sacrifice of Yeshua given upon the cross -- the everlasting atonement and eternal redemption secured by the greater priesthood of Yeshua (Heb. 9:12). "For our sake He made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ)."  Only God through Yeshua can give us true inner peace and security forever; only Yeshua gives us peace with God.
 




Rules of Compassion...


 

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

02.07.18 (Shevat 22, 5778)   "If you take your neighbor's cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, כִּי־חַנּוּן אָנִי -- for I AM compassionate" (Exod. 22:26-27). From our Torah reading this week we are told that the "weightier matter" of compassion supersedes the rules (mishpatim) for lending to others. Expressing empathy for one who might shiver through the night is more important to God than the "letter of the law." The various Torah rules were given to test our responsibility to others. Hypocritically hiding behind the "letter of the law" is not the way of true Torah (Matt. 23:23). As Rabbi Paul said, "the goal (τέλος) of the commandment is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim. 1:5).

Note: This goes to show you that you can be "technically right" -- you can argue for the "truth" of your interest -- but you can be spiritually wrong.  Spiritual truth cannot be separated from goodness and mercy...
 




God's Healing Truth...


 

02.07.18 (Shevat 22, 5778)   I mentioned below that it is written in our Torah for this week (Mishpatim) to "keep far from a falsehood"" (Exod. 23:7). The Shlomo Chanoch commented: "One of the things the Messiah will do is to bring those who are far closer, and those who are close farther." This is seen in the Hebrew word for truth (i.e., emet: אֱמֶת), where the letters are far apart (i.e., Aleph [א] at the beginning, Mem [מ] in the middle, and Tav [ת] at the end), whereas the letters of the word for falsehood, (i.e., sheker: שֶׁקֶר), are all in sequence (Shin [שׁ], Qof [ק], Resh [ר]). "The first shall be last and the last shall be first." When the Messiah returns, untruth will be undone and driven apart, but the truth of God's love will bring all things together in complete healing (see Eph. 1:10).
 

כִּי־הִנְנִי בוֹרֵא שָׁמַיִם חֲדָשִׁים וָאָרֶץ חֲדָשָׁה
וְלא תִזָּכַרְנָה הָרִאשׁנוֹת
וְלא תַעֲלֶינָה עַל־לֵב


ki · hi·nei·ni · vo·rei · sha·ma·yim · cha·da·shim · va'a·retz · cha·da·shah
ve'lo · ti·za·char·nah · ha'rish·o·not
ve'lo · ta·a·le·nah · al · lev
 

"For behold! I am creating a new heaven and a new earth;
The former things shall not be remembered,
they shall not rise within the heart"
(Isa. 65:17)

 




Being Present before God...


 

02.06.18 (Shevat 21, 5778)   It is easy enough to hurry past words of Scripture without slowing down to reflect on what is being said. For instance, in our Torah portion for this week (Mishpatim) we read: "The LORD said to Moses, "Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction" (Exod. 24:12). The Hebrew words vehyei sham (וֶהְיֵה־שָׁם), usually translated as "and wait there," can also be translated as "and be there." But why -- if every jot and tittle of Torah is indeed significant (Matt. 5:18) -- does the text say "come up to the mountain" and then add the superfluous phrase "and be there"? The sages answer that God is asking Moses to be present, be awake, and to be utterly focused – "with all your heart, soul, and might." This is to teach us that to receive God's revelation, we need to show up – "to be there" – earnestly seeking his heart."
 

    "One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important." - C.S. Lewis (God in the Dock) 

 




Lies and Distance...


 

02.06.18 (Shevat 21, 5778)   In our Torah reading this week (i.e., parashat Mishpatim) it is written, midvar sheker tirchak (מִדְּבַר־שֶׁקֶר תִּרְחָק), which means "keep far from a falsehood" (Exod. 23:7). This is the prescription for a good life, for being at peace with yourself. The lie is a type of violence, just as believing the lie leads to spiritual dissonance and conflict with reality. The godly soul abhors lying, since it loves the truth and understands that the LORD is the God of Truth (אֵל אֱמֶת). Indeed the Torah is called "Torat Emet," the way of truth (Psalm 119:142), and those who walk in truth practice the Divine Presence... Truth is the essence of God's Word (Psalm 119:160). As Yeshua , our Living Torah (חי תורתנו) said, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world -- to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37).
 

ראשׁ־דְּבָרְךָ אֱמֶת
וּלְעוֹלָם כָּל־מִשְׁפַּט צִדְקֶךָ

rosh · de·var·ke·kha · e·met
u·le·o·lam · kol · mish·pat · tzid·ke·kha
 

"The sum of your word is truth,
and every one of your judgments endures forever"
(Psalm 119:160)

 




The Work of Faith...


 

02.06.18 (Shevat 21, 5778)   In our Torah portion for this week (i.e., Mishpatim) we read that when the people gathered before Moses to receive the covenant, they said: "All that the LORD has spoken we will do and we will hear (נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע)." Note the order: first comes the decision to obey, and then comes understanding...  As Yeshua said, "If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know," and "if you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 7:17; 13:17). The heart of faith is willing to do what God asks before hearing what exactly is required. Many people operate the other way round, sitting in judgment of God's word, demanding to understand why they should obey. You cannot understand apart from trust, however, and that is categorically true of all forms of knowledge. We are to be "doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves" (James 1:22). We don't audit the words of Scripture since we ourselves are under examination! The Scriptures demand us to respond, choose, decide. The word is like a shofar blast rousing us to action. We are to be doers, not just passive hearers. The Greek verb is emphatic: "Be doers!" (γίνεσθε) means "be born! come alive! do, live, exist before God! This is a call to creative action, to newness of life!

The Scriptures state that "if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like" (James 1:23-24). If we just hear the truth but do not act upon it, we are comically likened to someone who carefully looks at his face in a mirror but then promptly forgets what he looks like after he steps away... Likewise those who only hear the word but do not bring it to life in their deeds forget who they are and why they were created (Eph. 2:10; Titus 2:14; Col. 1:10). When we look into the mirror of truth we see our need for teshuvah and turn to God for the healing miracle he provides (Heb. 4:12).

For more on this, see: "The Work of Faith: Further Thoughts on Mishpatim."
 




You shall be Sacred to Me...


 

02.05.18 (Shevat 20, 5778)   A prophecy from our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Mishpatim) reads: "You shall be holy to me" (Exod. 22:31). That is, you shall be "set apart" to know and live in God's love; you shall dwell in the secret place of the Most High, a place prepared especially for you (Psalm 91:1; John 14:2). Properly understood, holiness (קְדֻשָּׁה) expresses the realm of being loved, cared for, and watched over. It is an intimacy that is exclusively hallowed and made sacred. God calls you to his closed off chamber, the "holy of holies" where He dwells; there he invites you in, he welcomes you, he desires to see you (Heb. 4:16). The deeper meaning of holiness is to be spiritually intimate with God. Hence the Spirit of Holiness uses romantic and even sexual imagery in the Song of Songs to express the deepest yearnings we have for connection with God...
 




Walking Uprightly...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Mishpatim)... ]

02.05.18 (Shevat 20, 5778)   In our Torah portion this week we read, "Keep yourselves away from a false matter" (Exod. 23:7). In this connection note that the Hebrew word for falsehood (or lie) is sheker (שֶׁקֶר), which can be rearranged to spell kesher (קֶשֶׁר), meaning a band, gang, or group of people... The power of the lie is often found in the "group" rather than in the individual, and if enough people in a group repeat something untrue, eventually the individual's conscience will be overruled and the truth will be lost... This is a common methodology regularly employed by mass media for purposes of political propaganda.

Regarding this commandment Abraham Twerski comments that it means we should act in a way that will not move us to "hide," and that includes hiding within the anonymity of the crowd. "Think about what you are about to do. Is there a possibility that you may at some time have to deny that you did it? If so, then do not do it" (Twerski on Chumash).

Each of us must individually strive to be yashar (יָשָׁר) - upright and honest, and free from the complications and devious speech that attends to lies. We are to be "simple" (תָּמִים) with the LORD our God (Deut. 18:13), which requires that we are first willing to be rigorously honest with ourselves. "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty" (Kierkegaard).

In this connection we note that the midrash teaches that the Hebrew word for "truth" (i.e., emet: אֱמֶת) is composed of the first, middle, and last letters of the alphabet, whereas the three letters that spell "falsehood" (i.e., sheker: שֶׁקֶר) all stand next to one another. Truth creates a firm foundation, secure, strong, and trustworthy, while falsehood is unstable. As it is written, "truth stands forever, falsehood has no legs." In other words, the way of truth is "self-authenticating" and made secure, whereas the way of falsehood is "unlivewithable" and made unsteady...
 




Glory as Consuming Fire...


 

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

02.05.18 (Shevat 20, 5778)   From our Torah for this week we read: "And the appearance of the glory of the LORD (וּמַרְאֵה כְּבוֹד יהוה) was like a consuming fire (אֵשׁ אכְלָה) on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel" (Exod. 24:17). Now some people regard this fire as a threat, even a sign of God's judgment, though it is better to regard it as a sign of God's glorious passion. After all, the pillar of fire had led the people out of bondage, just as it later dwelt between the cherubim upon the Ark of the Covenant. Indeed the fire that fell upon followers of Yeshua at Pentecost was the same manifestation of the glory of God's passionate love that was revealed at Sinai. Our God is a "consuming fire" (אֵשׁ אכְלָה), which means that He is full of passion and zeal that your heart fully belongs to Him...
 

כִּי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ אֵשׁ אכְלָה הוּא אֵל קַנָּא

ki · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · esh · o·khe·lah · hu · El · kan·na
 

"For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a zealous God."
(Deut. 4:24)
 

Hebrew Study Card
 
 

The metaphor of God as a "Consuming Fire" (אֵשׁ אכְלָה) connotes that He is passionately concerned with our relationship to the truth. "Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:28-29). We are promised a kingdom that cannot be shaken, wherein the Fire that consumes will consume all things that are not established by our Heavenly Father... "Know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today..." (Deut. 4:39-40). Our lives on the altar ascend to God in praise.


Note:  I was recently reading John Bunyan's classic allegory called The Pilgrim's Progress about how a character named "Worldly Wise man" attempted to seduce Christian off the path by directing him to the "Village of Morality" to seek guidance from a man named "Mr. Legality."  After Christian went to the Village of Morality and there realized his mistake, "Evangelist" appeared on the scene to chastise him for thinking that his burden could be relieved by means of the law. Though I understand Bunyan's point that we cannot find salvation by means of keeping the law, his belief that the "Law" represents only a curse is surely misleading, since it is evident that the Torah means far more mere legality and rule-following. However, a greater problem comes from Bunyan's mistaken theology of the law itself, and that is that it invites Christian to disregard the meaning and message of the Torah – indeed to flee from it – despite the fact that apart from the Torah we could have no "narrow gate" nor the righteousness of God, no salvation nor even the Cross of Messiah, since all these derive from the message of the Torah itself and not from the Sinai Covenant and its "Sefer Ha'Brit" as I explain elsewhere on this site.  Moreover – and this is significant – the giving of the law does not end with the covenant to obey its terms by the people but rather with the vision of the altar – that is, with the Mishkan or Tabernacle – which enshrined the sacrificial Lamb of God who would come.  By derogating the "law," as Bunyan and other Christian thinkers have done, this point is lost and the full counsel of God's word is therefore obscured. For more on this subject listen to the Shavuah Tov broadcast on parashat Mishpatim.
 




The Mystery of Aleph....


 

02.05.18 (Shevat 20, 5778)   Have you considered how the Hebrew letters reveal truth about God? For example, the Hebrew letter Aleph (א) is the "father" or "king" of the Aleph-Bet, whose original pictograph represents an ox, strength, and leader. 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...
 




Mishpatim - Details of the Law...


 

[ After the revelation of the Ten Commandments God called Moses up to Sinai again, this time for 40 days and 40 nights, to teach him the details of the commandments and how they were to be applied. The 6th section of the Book of Exodus provides a sampling of these various rules and laws (called "mishpatim" in Hebrew) that God instructed Moses during this time. ]

02.04.18 (Shevat 19, 5778)   Last week we read in our Torah that exactly seven weeks after the Exodus from Egypt (i.e., 49 days after the first Passover), Moses gathered the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai to enter into covenant with the LORD. In a dramatic display of thunder, lightning, billowing smoke and fire, the LORD descended upon the mountain and recited the Ten Commandments to the people. Upon hearing the awesome Voice of God, however, the people shrank back in fear and begged Moses to be their mediator before God. The people then stood far off, while Moses alone drew near to the thick darkness to receive further instructions from the LORD.

In this week's Torah portion (i.e., Mishpatim) we learn about these additional instructions Moses received on the mountain.  The Jewish sages traditionally count 53 distinct commandments in this portion of the Torah, easily making it one of the most "legalistic" (i.e., law-focused) sections of the entire Bible. Civil laws, liability laws, criminal laws, agricultural laws, financial laws, family purity laws, Sabbath laws, and holiday laws are all given in this portion. These various social and civil laws are called "mishpatim" (מִשְׁפָּטִים), a plural word that means "rules" or "judgments."

After receiving these additional rules, Moses descended Sinai and went before the people to reveal to them the words of the LORD. Upon hearing the details, the people responded in unison, "all the words which the LORD has said we will do" (i.e., na'aseh: נַעֲשֶׂה). Moses then wrote down the words of the covenant into a separate scroll (sefer habrit), built an altar at the foot of Sinai, and ordered sacrifices to the LORD to be made.  He then took the sacrificial blood from the offerings, threw half upon the altar, and read the scroll of the covenant to the people. The people ratified the covenant by saying, "all that the LORD says we will do and obey" (i.e., na'aseh ve'nishmah: נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע). Upon hearing this, Moses took the other half of the sacrificial blood and threw it on the people saying, "Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words" (Heb. 9:18). After this ceremony, Moses, Aaron, and seventy of the elders of Israel ascended Mount Sinai to eat a "covenant affirmation meal" between Israel and the LORD.

Upon returning from the mountain with the elders, the LORD commanded Moses to go back up to receive the tablets of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments. On the seventh day there, he heard the Voice of the LORD calling to him from the midst of the cloud of glory, and then entered into the Presence of the LORD. He remained on the mountain for a total of forty days and forty nights receiving further revelation about the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle) while the Israelites waited for him at the camp down below.
 

 




Shabbat Shekalim - שבת שקלים


 

[ This coming Sabbath is called "Shabbat Shekalim" which signals the advent of spring... ]

02.04.18 (Shevat 19, 5778)   Four "special Sabbaths" occur just before the start of spring: two before the holiday of Purim and two before the holiday of Passover. Collectively, these Sabbaths are called "The Four Shabbatot" and four additional Torah readings (called Arba Parashiyot, or the "four portions") are read on each of these Sabbaths in preparation for the holidays, particularly for the central holiday of Passover. The names of these Sabbaths are Shabbat Shekalim, Shabbat Zakhor, Shabbat Parah, and Shabbat HaChodesh, respectively.

 

The first of the four Sabbaths is called Shabbat Shekalim (שבת שקלים), "the Sabbath of the Shekels," which is the last Sabbath before the month of Adar begins. An additional reading (Exod. 30:11-16) is appended to the regular Torah reading that describes the contribution of a half-shekel for the construction and upkeep of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). According to a midrash in the Talmud (Bavli, Shekalim 1), the half-shekel represents a "fiery coin" that the LORD brought from underneath the Throne of His Glory to symbolically "atone" for the sin of the Golden Calf. Since every Jew was required to give this "widow's mite," repentance is accepted for all who come in true humility before the LORD. For us, it might be a time to remember those who offer personal sacrifices so that we also might draw closer to God.

Note:  Wednesday February 14th (at sundown) marks Rosh Chodesh Adar (חודש אדר), the twelfth month of the Jewish calendar (counting from the month of Nisan).
 




The Deeper Torah...


 

02.02.18 (Shevat 17, 5778)   Strictly speaking the content of the Ten Commandments, from a moral perspective, presented no new revelation, since sacred Reality is intuitively understood within every created soul (see Gen. 1:27; John 1:9; Acts 17:24-28). As it is written, "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress (i.e., hold down: κατέχω) the truth by their unrighteousness, because that which can be known about God is evident within them, for God has revealed it to them" (Rom. 1:18-19). Where Paul says, "against all ungodliness" he refers to our universal duty before the Living God (בֵּין אָדָם לָמָקוֹם); and likewise "all unrighteousness," refers to our universal duty toward other people (בֵּין אָדָם לְחֲבֵרוֹ). The "invisible things of God are seen" so vividly that people are "without excuse" (ἀναπολόγητος) for their evasion and rejection of the Divine Presence, which constitutes a disposition of rebellion, treason, and willful desecration of the sanctity of life (Rom. 1:20). The deeper revelation given at Sinai, however, was not an elaborate lawcode but something else, namely, the solution for the problem of spiritual death as prefigured in the Altar of the Tabernacle and the daily sacrifice of the lamb (i.e., korban tamid: קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד; Num. 28:1-8). "The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was" (Exod. 20:21). The onlookers saw the outer, the imposing, the threatening, and this made them distant, but Moses entered the inner region and was given the vision of the altar (Exod. 25:9; John 5:46-47; Heb. 8:6). Likewise Yeshua did not come to be a moral teacher of the law but to bear the penalty of our lawlessness (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13). Our Savior died upon the cross shrouded in complete darkness, yet entering the inner region reveals God's passion offered up for you (Luke 23:44-45).

Personal Update:  I've been sick the last few days with a bloody nose and a lot of sinus pain, stomach and body aches, etc. Today I have begun to feel a bit better, thank the LORD, though our children are still sick over here. Thank you for your prayers for us. We send you our love and our prayers are with you all. Shabbat Shalom.
 




Everyday Revelation...


 

02.02.18 (Shevat 17, 5778)   The Kotzker rebbe asked, "Why is Shavuot (i.e., Pentecost) called 'zman mattan torateinu,' the time of the giving of our Torah, rather than 'zman kabbalat torateinu,' the time of the receiving of our Torah? The reason is that on that momentous day at Sinai, only the giving of the Torah occurred, whereas the receiving of the Torah must take place each and every day, as it says, "Trust in the LORD 'bekhol libbekha' (בְּכָל־לִבֶּךָ) - with all your heart; and know Him 'bekol derakhekha' (בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ), in all your ways" (Prov. 3:5-6). The giving of the Torah is described as a "loud and never-ending voice" (Deut. 5:19), though it is our constant responsibility to shema – to receive the invitation of God's heart.

The Passover haggadah states, "Each person in every generation must regard himself or herself as having been personally set free from Egypt," and that liberation includes being present at the revelation of Torah at Sinai....
 




Faith and Loneliness...


 

02.02.18 (Shevat 17, 5778)   There is an inherent "dualism" in our spiritual consciousness wherein we are seeking an eternal happiness and ultimate good that transcends anything that may be found in this temporal world. Our faith confesses that reality itself is "two-tiered," corresponding to two different realms of existence, namely, an "upper realm" of the immaterial and spiritual (i.e., heaven) and a "lower realm" of the material and physical (i.e., the natural universe). Upon reflection we may sometimes feel lonely and bewildered in this duality, not knowing how to "mediate" or bring together the opposite poles of our experience.  On the one hand life in this present world is surely fading away, and finitude, dissolution, and the "dust of death" seem omnipresent to our physical senses, nevertheless our hearts yearn for eternity, for unending life, and for the ideal of everlasting significance. We long for meaning, wonder, greatness, and the peace and peace of unconditional love, yet we find ourselves trapped within a diseased and moribund world that is filled with thwarted dreams, painful losses, harrowing vexations, and death... We hunger and thirst for real life, for salvation from our misery, but the cosmological visions of mechanistic science reveal an immense emptiness that has no goal or end, no explanation for its existence, and therefore no meaning or genuine hope..
 

Antinomies of Faith
 

Ancient Greek philosophy regarded the soul (i.e., human consciousness) as "imprisoned" within the body, and therefore it advised meditating on intellectual ideals, "forms," and "essences," to transcend the chaos of fate and our natural passions. For them philosophy was really a kind of "recollection" whereby we return to the original Good that has been lost and is presently concealed by the illusion of mere appearances. 

Now these ancient Greek philosophers understood the dualistic nature of reality (as far it goes), though of course the Torah had implied these matters long before the advent of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle... After all, the Torah teaches the experience of dualism and ambiguity is by divine design. Upon earnest reflection the human heart begins to cry out for something more (Eccl. 3:11). Though we understand that we are creatures formed of the dust of the earth, we sense something of the divine within us; we inwardly hear an "echo from Eden" that reminds us of paradise lost... We shrink before our own powerlessness and insignificance yet we dare to believe in the eternal glories of love, beauty, justice, and everlasting life. We simultaneously see ourselves as both physical beings, restricted by time, history, and culture, as well as spiritual beings, transcending the fate of the natural by visions and dreams of the ideal, thereby sensing the glorious and the sacred. Neither of these "polarities" of the soul can be blended or synthesized, however, which leaves us in a state of existential tension wherein we cling to the vision of the Eternal in the midst of the fleeting shadows of this present realm (Rom. 8:4, Gal. 5:16-17).

Biblical faith refuses to "reduce" the significance, value, worth, and aspirations of the human heart into purely natural categories and terms, and therefore spiritual life constitutes a "protest" against any interpretation of reality that excludes, suppresses, denies, or minimizes the Divine Presence. Life in olam hazeh (this world) is corridor leading to the world to come. Our faith affirms that underlying "natural" phenomena is a deeper and higher reality that is ultimately real and abiding. There is an end or "telos" (goal) that sets the direction or Torah of our dualistic existence. Faith "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form (τὸ σχῆμα) of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31). The heart of faith looks beyond this realm to behold a city whose designer and builder is God Himself (Heb. 11:10). "So we do not lose heart... For the things that are seen are turning to dust, but the things that are unseen endure forever" (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

It has been said that God "hides" so that we may learn to seek Him. This seeking involves all our hearts, since we will not seek God until we understand the inner crisis. It is not enough to know right words of theology, since we must learn to think the right way, and this comes at the cost of struggle, wrestling, and testing. We cannot rely on reason alone to guide us, for that relegates beauty, mystery, and hope into oblivion; nor can we dismiss reason, for then faith becomes absurd and ridiculous. We must find a delicate balance: "faith seeking understanding," knowing when it is right to question, to doubt, and to analyze, and when it is right to affirm, to submit, and to surrender. Reason is a servant of something more fundamental, namely the heart or the will; it is activated at the stir of the soul's desire.
 

    "I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity." - C.S. Lewis (God in the Dock)
     

The dualism of life shows up within our hearts as well, as we wrestle with our own faith and with "double-mindedness," that is, the ambivalence that results from not having our minds made up. On the one hand, we need to confess the truth of our radical sinfulness, our depravity, our brokenness, and so on, while on the other we must learn to know ourselves as the "beloved" and to find faith that God's blessing indeed belongs to us -- that Yeshua gave his life for us -- despite ourselves.  We have to be willing to take God's new name for us and believe that God has transformed our deepest nature for eternal good. We have to be renamed from "Jacob" to "Israel," and yet we know ourselves as both... In other words, we must learn to "put on" the new nature and to "put off" the carnal reasoning of our former life. The answer for us is found in the word "miracle," as God in great mercy and compassion regenerates us, comforts us, and then guides our way back to the truth of his salvation.
 

הֵן־אֱמֶת חָפַצְתָּ בַטֻּחוֹת
 וּבְסָתֻם חָכְמָה תוֹדִיעֵנִי

hen · e·met · cha·fatz·ta · va·tu·chot
uv·sa·tum · chokh·mah · to·di·ei·ni
 

"Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
 and you will teach me wisdom in the secret heart"
(Psalm 51:6)

 




Torah of Faith...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah for this week, Parashat Yitro, and the giving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai in particular... ]

02.01.18 (Shevat 16, 5778)   When asked how many commandments are in the Torah, most Jews will answer 613, based on Jewish tradition (the number 613 is sometimes called "taryag" (תריג), an abbreviation for the letters Tav (400) + Resh (200) + Yod (10) + Gimmel (3) = 613).  Despite several attempts made over the centuries, however, there has never been a definitive list of these commandments, and of those who tried to compile such, no two agree... Some say the number 613 comes from a fanciful midrash that teaches that since there are 365 days in a year (corresponding to the 365 negative commandments) and 248 "parts" of the body (corresponding to the positive commandments), each day we should use our body to serve God. Regardless of the exact count, however, the Talmud followed the Apostle Paul by understanding all the Torah's commandments to be derived from the Ten Commandments given at Sinai, the most basic of which is the very First Commandment, namely, "I AM the LORD your God (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ) who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). This foundational commandment was later restated by the prophet Habbakuk as: וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה / "The righteous person will live by faith in God" (Hab. 2:4; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). In other words, all of the commandments of God come down to your sacred duty to receive the truth of God's love: אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ.

Note:  I stated that the sages of the Talmud "followed" the Apostle Paul's line of thinking on this subject since Paul wrote centuries before the Talmud was compiled... And incidentally, the New Covenant Scriptures are not without the imperatives of "Torah," of course, with some people counting over 1,000 distinct commandments in its pages...
 




Torah of Willingness...


 

02.01.18 (Shevat 16, 5778)   Do you need to understand before you will believe? The midrash says that God offered the Torah to each the 70 nations, but each nation first asked to understand what was required, and then rejected the offer... Finally God approached Israel and asked: "Will you accept my Torah?" And they replied, kol asher dibber Adonai na'aseh (כּל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּר יְהוָה נַעֲשֶׂה), "all that the LORD has spoken we will do" (Exod. 19:8). In other words, Israel was willing to accept the Torah even before they understood what was required of them. Later they reaffirmed their simplicity of heart by saying na'aseh ve'nishma: "We will do and then we will understand" (Exod. 24:7). Faith is first of all a matter of heart, of gratitude, and responding to God's invitation. All the "externals" of the Sinai experience - the fire, the smoke, the blasts of the shofar - were known in the deeper fire, smoke, and soundings of the heart of faith.

First we learn to trust Him, and then we learn to walk with Him... in that order.
 



 

January 2018 Site Updates
 


Seeing the Unseen...

Chagall - die Jahre des Durchbruchs
 

01.31.18 (Shevat 15, 5778)   Just as the patriarch Noah foresaw the great cataclysm to come, so we are to understand that the world above our heads and under our feet is likewise destined to destruction, as we also await the promised world to come. As it is written in our Scriptures: "Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever (וישׁוּעָתִי לְעוֹלָם תִּהְיֶה), and my righteousness will never be dismayed" (Isa. 51:6).

This idea is repeated in the New Testament: "For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man" (Matt. 24:37). "But the Day of the LORD will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the Day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn? But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish and at peace" (2 Pet. 3:10-14).

In light of all this, we choose to look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. "For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal... For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead. Therefore we are strangers and exiles on the earth, looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (2 Cor. 4:18; Rom. 1:20; Heb. 11:10,13).

Faith sees the invisible... Our father Abraham was promised descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky or sand on the seashore, despite the fact that he was an old man and his wife had long past the age of bearing children. Abraham believed in the One who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist: "He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform: And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness" (Rom. 4:19-22). Faith in God trusts in an unseen good, apprehends a future and a hope, and refuses to allow this world to have the last word of what is ultimately real. May we walk by faith, and not by sight, chaverim...
 




Torah of the Vine...


 

[ The following is related to the holiday of Tu B'Shevat, "rosh hashanah" for trees... ]

01.31.18 (Shevat 15, 5778)   The Word of God speaks: "If anyone does not live in Me, he is cast off as a branch, and withers..." (John 15:6). We find life only as we remain connected to the Source and Conduit of life, who is the Messiah, the Savior and LORD. True life grows out a heart connection with Yeshua, and without that connection our lives become vain and yield no eternal significance (John 15:5). Be forewarned: it is the truth of the Messiah that if you do not live in the Vine you will be destroyed, since life is found in no other Source (John 14:6; Luke 3:9). Be encouraged, trusting friend: the yoke of Messiah is easy, and His burden is light: we cannot create new life by our own efforts nor effect regeneration by means of our own "good works." No, the work of salvation is God's alone, and we partake of that work as we abandon our self-efforts and religious conceits (see Isa. 32:17). There remains, therefore, a Sabbath for the people of God, "for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his" (Heb. 4:9-10). This "deep Sabbath" of rest is a matter of trusting that the finished work of salvation has been given on your behalf.  Therefore "strive to enter into that rest," for the LORD always effects what is best for you, and nothing is under your control anyway. The path of peace is to surrender to God's care for your life and let the evils and drama of the world flow past you. This is "the work of faith." Look to heavenly reality and not to the vanity and deceits of this world (Col. 3:1-4). Live in Yeshua's Presence, drawing strength and vitality from your relationship with Him. The conditional statement, "If you live in Me and my words live in you" (John 15:7), means that we will know His heart as we heed the message of his truth (i.e., his word) within our hearts.. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is produced as we yield ourselves to the love and presence of God.
 

וְהָיָה מַעֲשֵׂה הַצְּדָקָה שָׁלוֹם
וַעֲבדַת הַצְּדָקָה הַשְׁקֵט
וָבֶטַח עַד־עוֹלָם

ve·ha·yah · ma·a·seh · ha·tze·da·kah · sha·lom
va·a·vo·dat · ha·tze·da·kah · hash·ket
va·ve·tach · ad · o·lam

 

"And the work of the Righteousness One shall be peace;
and the service of the Righteousness One shall be quietness
and assurance for ever." - Isa. 32:17 



Hebrew Study Card
 


The "Torah of the Vine" (תּוֹרַת הַּגֶּפֶּן) further teaches us that "every branch that bears fruit will be pruned so that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:2). Note first that it is the healthy branch that will be cut back - not the withered one that will be altogether removed – and this purging process may be painful at times. The heavenly Vinedresser's goal is for the fruitful branch to yield more fruit, to reveal more and more the connection to the Heart of the Vine, so that God is glorified (see John 15:8). The end here is the beatific vision: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). Note that the Greek word translated "pure" is katharos (καθαρός), sometimes used describe the cleansing of a wound (catharsis), or to describe the unalloyed quality of a substance revealed through refining fire. Sanctification involves "catharisis" of the ego – the exile of carnal desire, the frustration of our will, the release of truth in the inward parts. A faith that thinks God will make us immune to suffering, challenges, and tribulation is an immature and imperfect faith, friends. The goal of "purging" is fruitfulness and blessing, but the agency is not the will of man but the power of God. You are made "clean" through the word of God spoken within your own heart (John 15:3). Your sanctification, however, depends on your communion with God, staying connected to what is real, central, vital, the core truth of God's Presence and love, the ultimate Reality of Life itself.

For more on this, see "The Torah of the Vine: Living in the Divine Connection."
 




Torah of Trees...


 

[ Today we observe the holiday of Tu B'Shevat, the "rosh hashanah" for trees... ]

01.31.18 (Shevat 15, 5778)   The Torah alludes that human life is like "the tree of the field," i.e., כִּי הָאָדָם עֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה, Deut. 20:19), and many people therefore observe Tu B'Shevat as time to assess man's place within creation as well.  Since God created the world for a habitation (Isa. 45:18), some have pictured the world itself as a "great tree" with human beings as its fruit. Indeed, Yeshua often used such agricultural images in his parables. For example, he explained that people are known by the "fruits" of their lives (Matt. 7:16-20). He likened the spread of his message in terms of "sowing and reaping" (Matt. 13:3-23) and compared the Kingdom of Heaven to the secret working of a mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32). Yeshua regarded the world as a "field" for planting with different "types of soil" (Matt. 13:38-43), and warned of the "great harvest" of souls at the end of the age (Luke 10:2; Matt. 13:30). He pointed to signs from a fig tree to indicate the nearness of the prophesied End of Days (Matt. 24:32-33). Yeshua also used the metaphor of a "vine and its branches" to explain how his followers are to be connected to Him (John 15:1-6).

For more on this subject, see "The Torah of Trees: Further thoughts on Tu B'Shevat."
 




The Fruit of our Words...


 

01.31.18 (Shevat 15, 5778)   Yeshua said that as a tree is to its fruit, so is a person's heart is to his speech. Our words arise from an underlying source and root: "I tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will give account for every careless word (πᾶν ῥῆμα ἀργὸν) they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). First note that the phrase translated "every careless word" can be understood as "every 'workless' word," that is, every vain or empty word spoken, every broken promise, every insincere utterance, and so on. Second, note that there is a relationship between naming and being in Hebrew thought, and indeed the Hebrew word davar (דּבר), usually translated as "word," can also mean "thing." This suggests that our words define reality - not in an absolute sense, of course - but in terms of our perspective and attitude, and for that we are held responsible before the LORD. Since our words express our thoughts, Yeshua wants us to make up our minds: "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit." 

Listen to the words of your heart and understand that they are devarim, "things" that are defining the course of your life right now. Our thoughts and words "exhale" the breath of God that was given to each of us. In a very real sense they serve as "prayers" we are constantly offering.... And may it please our gracious and long-suffering LORD to answer the cry of our heart: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer." Amen.
 

יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי־פִי
וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי לְפָנֶיךָ יְהוָה צוּרִי וְגאֲלִי

yi·he·yu · le·ra·tzon · im·rei · fi
ve·heg·yon · lib·bi · le·fa·ne·kha · Adonai · tzu·ri · ve·go·a·li
 

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to You, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
(Psalm 19:14)


  
Hebrew Study Card

 




The First Commandment...


 

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

01.31.18 (Shevat 15, 5778)   I mentioned the other day that the Hebrew word "mitzvah" (מִצְוָה) is really about connection to God (i.e., the root צוה means to bind or unite).  Rabbi Levi said, "When the Holy One spoke to the people of Israel, each one felt personally spoken to by God, and thus it says in the singular, 'I am the Eternal One, your God.'" Indeed the first commandment at Sinai was 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). In fact, the Hebrew text of the Torah reveals that God used the second person singular (not plural) for all the verbs throughout the Ten Commandments: "you (singular) shall have no other gods beside me"; "you (singular) shall not take the Name of the LORD your God in vain," and so on. The very first commandment, however, is the starting point for all that follows. Until you are personally willing to accept the LORD as your God and to connect with Him as your own Deliverer and King, the rest of the commandments are not likely to be heeded.
 

אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ
אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם
מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים

a·no·khi · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha
a·sher · ho·tze·ti·kha · me·e·retz · mitz·ra·yim
mi·bet · a·va·dim
 

"I am the LORD your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of the house of slavery"
(Exod. 20:2)

Marc Chagall (detail)

Hebrew Study Card
 

It is noteworthy that God referred to himself using the phrase asher hotzetikha me'eretz mitzrayim ("who delivered you from the land of Egypt") instead of identifying Himself as the Creator of heaven and earth (Gen. 1:1). This is because the purpose of creation is to demonstrate God's redemptive love and to be known as our Savior and Redeemer, just as Yeshua is the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9). "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Creation therefore begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Mashiach, the great Lamb of God... He is the Center of Creation - the Aleph and Tav - the Beginning and the End (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:17). All the world was created for the Messiah: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).
 




New Year for Trees...


 

[ Tonight at sundown is "Tu B'Shevat" or the 15th of the month of Shevat (שְׁבָט), which marks the traditional date celebrating the "New Year" for Trees... ]

01.30.18 (Shevat 14, 5778)   The Bible begins and ends with the great Tree of Life -- first in the orchard of Eden, and later in the midst of the paradise of heaven. ‎"The Tree of Life (i.e., etz ha' chayim: עֵץ הַחַיִּים) was in the midst of the garden..." (Gen. 2:9); "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the Tree of Life (etz ha-chayim) with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month" (Rev. 22:1-2). Notice that the "twelve fruits" (καρποὺς δώδεκα) from the Tree of Life are directly linked to the "twelve months" of the Jewish year (κατὰ μῆνα ἕκαστον ἀποδιδοῦν τὸν καρπὸν αὐτοῦ: "each month rendering its fruit"). Twelve months; twelve fruits.... This teaches us that the sequence of the holidays (moedim) was intended to teach us revelation about God. That is why God created the Sun and the Moon for signs and for "appointed times" (Gen. 1:14), as it also says: "He made the moon to mark the appointed times (לְמוֹעֲדִים); the sun knows its time for setting" (Psalm 104:19).

The Scriptures state twice: "Take root downward and bear fruit upward" (2 Kings 19:30; Isa. 37:31). As Yeshua said, "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit (John 12:24). We pray we might surrender ourselves to the Lord fully, being immersed in His passion, "bearing fruit in every good work (ἐν παντὶ ἔργῳ ἀγαθῷ καρποφοροῦντες) and growing in da'at HaShem (דַעַת אֱלהִים) - the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10). The "fruit of the righteous is a Tree of Life" lit., etz chayim (עֵץ חַיִּים), literally, "the Tree of lives" (Prov. 11:30). It is the fruit of Yeshua, the Tzaddik of God, the Righteous One, who bears fruits of healing in the lives of those who turn to Him in trust...

The "Tree of Life" (i.e., etz ha'chayim: עֵץ הַחַיִּים) is mentioned ten times in Scripture, corresponding to the "ten words of God" (i.e., the Ten Commandments). In the Torah it first appears in the center of the paradise of Eden (Gen. 2:9; 3:22-4), but it is soon lost to humanity because of Adam's transgression. In the book of Revelation, it reappears in the center of the Paradise of God (Rev. 2:7, 22:2), resurrected on account of the faithful obedience of Yeshua as mankind's "last Adam" (1 Cor. 15:45). Those who have washed their robes by means of His righteousness are given access to this Tree in the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 22:14). The paradise lost by Adam has been regained by the greater ben-adam, the Son of Man, Yeshua the Messiah, the Savior of the children of men...


 




Ten Matters of Heart...


 

01.30.18 (Shevat 14, 5778)   As I discuss in the Shavuah Tov audio for parshat Yitro, the Ten Commandments of Torah (עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדִבְּרוֹת) may be summarized this way: 1) "I AM your only deliverer, the One who loves and chooses you; 2) love me exclusively; 3) regard my love as sacred; 4) rest in me; 5) honor your life and its history. Do no harm to others: 6) forsake anger, 7) abandon lust, 8) renounce greed, and 9) abhor lying, and 10) refuse envy. Know that you belong to me and that you are accepted. Love others as you are also loved..."

The "heart of the law" is the Torah of love, just as the "law of love" is the Torah of the Gospel (John 15:12). "Teach me the whole Torah, a heathen said, while I stand on one foot. Shammai cursed and drove the man away. He went to Hillel. Hillel said, What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else: that is the whole Torah. The rest will follow – go now and learn it." As the Apostle Paul taught: "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: Ve'ahavta: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Gal. 5:14). Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:10).

Note: "Now the goal of the commandment is love (τὸ δὲ τέλος τῆς παραγγελίας ἐστὶν ἀγάπη) from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith, though some people, having strayed away, have turned instead to vain talk, desiring to be teachers of the Torah but without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions" (1 Tim. 1:5-7). If your understanding of Torah and the meaning of the Ten Commandments (עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדִבְּרוֹת) doesn't lead you directly to God's love, you have made a seriously wrong turn...  For more on this subject, click here.
 




The Divine "Law School"...


 

01.30.18 (Shevat 14, 5778)   The sages said that "the laws of the Torah were given that people should live by them and not that they should die by them" (Lev. 18:5). This is true, though it is not true without qualification. Legalists and spiritual perfectionists are constantly depressed because they never feel like they've done enough or have fulfilled their duty. They feel inadequate, and this leads to severity and hardness of heart. However, such spiritual failure serves as a "halfway house" to the truth, since the law was intended to reveal our sinful condition and to lead us to a state of brokenness and surrender (Gal. 3:24-25). As is is written, "For from the law comes the knowledge of sin" (διὰ γὰρ νόμου ἐπίγνωσις ἁμαρτίας), but now the righteousness of God (צִדְקַת אֱלהִים) apart from the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets" (Rom. 3:20-21, Gal. 3:19). The phrase "apart from the law" means from an entirely different sphere from that which says, "do this and live." It is the "righteousness" (δικαιοσύνη) that comes from God, not from man. The law by itself, though holy, just, and good, is powerless to give life, though it indeed reveals our need for life that graciously is given apart from the law. Love, then, is the miracle of God that alone gives us life and power us to keep the truth of the law -- its inner meaning -- and that love is found in God the truth of Yeshua the Messiah...
 




Awaken to the Spirit...


 

01.30.18 (Shevat 14, 5778)   "You do not know what spirit you are of..." (Luke 9:55). Yeshua's words imply that each of us has the responsibility to know ourselves (γνῶθι σεαυτόν), and to learn to endure (and overcome) the natural motives and focus of our hearts. We discover the truth of our spiritual condition in the midst of our daily frustrations, as we experience conflict, opposition, and the inner groan that arises from pressure and disappointment. Spiritual growth means learning to transcend our negative reactions, to stop cursing our conflicts, and to awaken to the blessings that surround and pervade our way. God's grace enables us to open our eyes so that we may "choose life and live" (Deut. 30:19). Our daily struggle with sin reveals the contradiction between the ideals of our faith and the spontaneous reactions of our heart.... We live in between the "is" and the "ought," the real and the ideal (though often we deny one or the other). The impulse to despair, to be angry, to complain and curse our experience can be transformed into an opportunity to pray, to ask God for help, and to refocus on what is real. This is the "hidden blessing" (ברכת סוד) of our troubles. When we learn to surrender to God's Presence, we can breathe in his peace and love, despite the grief we encounter over ourselves and others. When we come to the light, and do not deny the truth about our condition, we can honestly ask the LORD for healing (Heb. 4:16). When we seek for the good - and even bless the struggle - we express our trust that God will use our sorrow to help us grow and to bring beauty from our ashes (2 Cor. 7:10). Hashivenu: "Turn us back to yourself, O LORD, so that we may return to you."
 

הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה
חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

Again, our daily struggle with sin reveals the contradiction between the ideals of our faith and the spontaneous reactions of our heart. If we are able to find the courage, our failures and brokenness may be used by God to distill the intentions of the heart by helping us to be more honest with ourselves. We begin to realize that we are more vulnerable than at first we thought; that our faith is not as strong as we imagined, and that our motives are often mixed and unconscious. Illusions are striped away; idols crumble; deeper levels of selfishness are uncovered; the gap between our words and our deeds is exposed... It is one thing, after all, to intellectually think about faith or to idealize spirituality, but it is quite another to walk out faith in darkness. Yet it is only there, in the rawness of heart, that we discover what we really believe and how our faith makes traction with reality...  May God help each of us to walk in the light of his love and truth.  Amen.
 




First and last Word...


 

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

01.30.18 (Shevat 14, 5778)   The traditional commentators often divide the Ten Commandments as those primarily between man and God (לָמָקוֹם) and those between man and his neighbor (לְחֲבֵרוֹ), but these are ultimately one and the same. To see this, note that the Commandments begin with the word anochi ("I AM") and end with le're'kha ("to/for your neighbor"). Joining these together says "I am your neighbor," indicating that the LORD Himself is found in your neighbor. The first and last word of the law of Moses, then, is simply "I AM your neighbor." Every social transgression is therefore a transgression against God, and vice-versa. As our Scriptures teach, "If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar," and "love fulfills the law" (1 John 4:20; Rom. 13:8). When we love our neighbor as ourselves (אָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ), we are in effect showing love for the LORD.

 




Destiny and Creation...


 

01.30.18 (Shevat 14, 5778)   Our faith understands creation to be "teleological," which means that it is "going someplace" and that there is an overarching order and purpose to our existence. Your life is not adrift in a random universe that is destined to ultimately fade away but is grounded in the Divine Mind and Will that personally supervises and pervades all things.  A lack of emunah (faith) has been likened to a passenger flying on an airplane who doesn't believe there is a pilot in the cockpit... Faith in the LORD believes that a single supreme, all-knowing, all-powerful and benevolent spiritual Power directs all things, and that God is the beginning, middle, and end of all conscious meaning, truth, and substance, as it is written: כִּי הַכּל מִיָּדוֹ הַכּל בּוֹ וְהַכּל לוֹ הוּא, "For from him and through him and to him are all things" (Rom. 11:36). A life of faith in the one true God imparts the blessing of shalom (inner peace) and assures the heart that all shall be made well by the love of God. Everything God does is for the very best, and there are no exceptions to this truth (Rom. 8:28).

The faith that everything God does is for the best is not some smug rationalization that denies or minimizes the suffering we encounter in life, but is an affirmation that there is an unseen (though knowable) good at work that ultimately will heal us and comfort our shattered hearts...  The phrase gam zu l'tovah (גַּם זוּ לְטוֹבָה) is an affirmation that "this too is for good," and that this "this" includes the various challenges and struggles we face during our days of sojourn here on this earth.  Every "down" in life prepares us for an "up," with the ultimate end being beatitude and everlasting joy. Challenges draw us closer to God, igniting our hearts to cry out for his Presence and blessing. Even death itself is a passageway to eternal life (Psalm 16:10; 49:15; 1 Cor. 15:12-58). בַּעֲצָתְךָ תַנְחֵנִי וְאַחַר כָּבוֹד תִּקָּחֵנִי -  "You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory" (Psalm 73:24). By faith "we know that if the 'tent' that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Cor. 5:1). God is our good Shepherd who leads us along the byways of the desert of this world (Psalm 23:4). In God's presence is total and absolute joy; at his right hand there are pleasures forever (Psalm 16:11). As it is written in the sacred testimony of the prophets: "No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him" (Isa. 64:4; 1 Cor. 2:9). The LORD "will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Rev. 21:4, Isa. 25:8). God foresees your way and prepares a place for you (John 14:1-3); he has ready a precious white stone with your "hidden" name inscribed (Rev. 2:17); the table is being set and your place has been reserved..

So be encouraged, friend. You do not need to struggle alone – bitter and afraid that you might be swallowed up in your infirmities… God knows the groan of your struggle and invites you to find solace and strength in Him. "It is enough to open your heart the smallest amount - even the width of a pin - to repent, so that you feel a stab within your heart, like a piercing sting in living tissue, not like a needle thrust into dead flesh" (Menachem Mendel of Kotzk).  Bittachon (בִּטָּחוֹן) is a Hebrew word that means trust in God...  Those who have bittachon do not worry about the future because their faith fully permeates their heart and mind, enabling them to surrender their cares and burdens to the Lord.
 




These are the Words...


 

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

01.29.18 (Shevat 13, 5778)   From our Torah portion this week we read: "You shall be treasured and set apart; you shall be a child of the King; you shall be one who helps others draw near to God... these are the words (אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים) that you shall speak" (Exod. 19:5-6). These are the words of love: "And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your substance. Set these words (הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה), which I command you this day, upon your heart" (Deut. 6:5-6). We store up these words so that, in a holy moment, they are quickened within us and we are able to hear the Voice of the LORD speaking from the midst of the fire that burns within our hearts.  As Simone Weil said, "love is revelation, and revelation comes only with love."
 




The Mitzvah Connection...


 

01.29.18 (Shevat 13, 5778)   The Hebrew word "mitzvah" (מִצְוָה) is often translated as "commandment," though its basic idea is about connection to God (i.e., the root צוה means to bind or unite).  Being connected with the Almighty means talking with him, relating to him as your heavenly Father, and trusting that he esteems you as his beloved child. Whatever else you may think about the commandments of God, this idea of a love connection is foundational and essential. The very first of the Ten Commandments is anochi Adonai Elohekha, "I am the Lord your God," which invites you to open your heart to receive the touch of the Spirit of God. There is no love like that of the Lord, but you can't feel that love if you don't speak to Him, pouring out your heart and clinging to the truth of his love for you....
 

בִּטְחוּ בוֹ בְכָל־עֵת עָם
שִׁפְכוּ־לְפָנָיו לְבַבְכֶם
אֱלהִים מַחֲסֶה־לָּנוּ סֶלָה

bit·chu · vo · ve·khol-et · am
shif·khu · le·fa·nav · le·vav·khem
E·lo·him · ma·cha·seh-la·nu · se·lah
 

"Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah."
(Psalm 62:8)


 


Pouring out your heart to God in an honest, transparent, and earnest way is sometimes called hitbodedut (הִתְבּוֹדְדוּת). After we "talk our hearts out" before the Lord, in our emptiness we can begin to truly listen, as it says, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength" (Isa. 30:15). Only after we sigh deeply and surrender are we receptive to the voice of the Spirit's whisper. "Blessed are all those who wait for Him" (Isa. 30:18). We wait, we abide, even when God takes his time or does not immediately intervene. We do not lose heart, for we find strength when we trust in God's love... The Light of the world still shines: Yeshua, be my inner word, my heart, and my groaning for life today, and forevermore, amen.

Since the essence of Torah is connection to God, the greatest blessing is to be filled with a steadfast desire to draw close to him, to experience hunger and thirst (visceral yearning) for God's presence and touch.  Holy desire – expressed in the yearning of heartfelt prayer – is therefore a state of true blessedness, and the more desperate our need for God the more blessed we are. It is our desire, our holy need, that creates a bond between our soul and its Creator, and that is the deeper meaning of mitzvah... "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6).
 




The "Problem" of Obedience...


 

01.29.18 (Shevat 13, 5778)   The very first duty of the heart is to surrender to God's love for your soul. Surrender of the heart is deeper than outward obedience, since it is possible to obey God for the wrong reasons. Our motivation must be grounded in God's love first of all. This is what it means to "die to yourself" or to be "crucified" with Messiah: you let go; you relinquish control; you trust God to sustain you, even in your weakest moment. That is the nature of trusting in God's love for you. 

Some people seem to think that the way of salvation depends on our obedience. But those who say things like we must "trust and obey," or "believe and repent" either do not understand the radical nature of what it means to truly trust God, or they confuse the idea of surrender with obedience. After all, if we seriously think that we are delivered by our obedience, the focus will be on our will, our "works," our performance, and our religious life will become self-centered, driven, and insecure. Moreover, this willful approach assumes we can obey, that we are capable of attaining some kind of spiritual perfection, and so on. No one denies the requirement to obey God, of course, but the question centers on the means to do just that. What is the source of our power to obey God?  To remedy matters of self-deception, it is helpful to review the Sermon on the Mount, where Yeshua interprets the Ten Commandments to show us what really lurks within the unregenerated heart.

For more on this topic, see "The Problem of Obedience: Further thoughts on Yitro."
 




Parashat Yitro - יתרו


 

01.28.18 (Shevat 12, 5778)   In our Torah this for this week (i.e., Yitro), we read how the Israelites reached the region of Mount Sinai where Moses told them that if they were willing to be God's treasured people (עַם סְגֻלָּה) they would become a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation." The people accepted the invitation and proclaimed, "All that God has spoken, we shall do" (Exod. 19:3-8). A few days later - on the 49th day after the Exodus (i.e., Sivan 6) - the LORD descended amidst thunder, lightning, billowing smoke, fire, and the blast of the heavenly shofar, proclaiming "I AM" and the Ten Commandments (עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדִּבְּרוֹת). Because this vision was so overwhelming, the terrified Israelites began beseeching Moses to be their mediator lest they die before the Presence of God. The portion ends as "the people stood far off, while Moses (alone) drew near to the thick darkness where God was" (Exod. 20:21).

You can download the Shabbat Table Talk for this portion below. I've also recorded an audio Summary for parashat Yitro with some discussion about this important Torah reading. Shavuah tov and may every blessing be yours in our beloved Messiah, friends.
 

 




Testing and Endurance...


 

01.26.18 (Shevat 10, 5778)   When Paul wrote, "in everything give thanks" (1 Thess. 5:18), he surely foresaw the prospect of suffering. Indeed, it is through "much tribulation" we enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). We do not ask God to insulate us from all troubles, but rather to be given courage to carry on despite whatever tests he permits in our lives. Hence one of our standard blessings is: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה הַנּוֹתֵּן לַיָּעֵף כּחַ / barukh attah Adonai ha'noten lai'ya'ef koach: "Blessed are You, LORD, who gives strength to the weak." The Lord never "breaks" before offering His blessing (Mark 6:41), and personal brokenness is the means of instilling His character within us (Gal. 2:20). Indeed in our Torah we read: "I am the LORD your Healer" (אֲנִי יְהוָה רפְאֶךָ; Exod. 15:26). The sages comment that just as someone who wishes to repair an object will need to take it apart, so with God. When we seem to be broken in pieces we cry out for deliverance and healing, but inwardly we are being conformed to the deeper image of Messiah. Like Jacob, we wrestle with God to know our wound as well as our healing. As it is written in our Scriptures: "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away (διαφθείρεται), our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction (θλῖψις) 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. 4:16-19). As our Scriptures also affirm, God is "the Father of Mercies and God of all comfort" (אַב הָרַחֲמִים וֵאלהֵי כָּל־נֶחָמָה). The Lord "comforts us" (literally, "calls us to His side," παρακαλέω) in our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are afflicted with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
 




Exile and Unbelief...


 

01.26.18 (Shevat 10, 5778)   It has been said that it was easier for the LORD to get Israel out of exile than it was for Him to get the exile out of Israel... And so it is for our spiritual journey as well. Therefore we are admonished by the Spirit: "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:13-14). This is the hour, the day of salvation: "today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts..." Amen. Shabbat Shalom!
 




Eye of Little Faith...


 

01.26.18 (Shevat 10, 5778)   When the people found no water at Rephidim they faithlessly questioned whether the Lord was truly with them (Exod. 17:1-7). In their fear they turned on Moses and said, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?" (Exod. 17:3). Moses then appealed to the LORD for help who instructed him to strike a rock with his staff to bring forth water, but the place was thereafter called "Massah and Meribah" (מַסָּה וּמְרִיבָה), "temptation and strife," because the people grieved God's heart by asking "is the LORD among us or not?" (Exod. 17:7). The sages connect the subsequent attack of Amalek (Exod. 17:8-16) with the people's faithlessness here.  Because they doubted God's presence, a "test and conflict" would force the issue of their trust in Him. The Israelites would not be able to overcome the attackers unless Moses' arms were raised in intercession, illustrating their need for God's intervention and deliverance. Just as the Exodus recurs l'dor va'dor (לדור ודור), "from generation to generation," so too does the war with Amalek; just as we remember God's deliverance "kol yemei chayekha," that is, every day of our lives (Deut. 16:3), so we need God's help in our daily struggle against evil (Exod 17:16; Deut. 25:7,19, Matt. 6:13). We receive God's Victory by faith (1 John 5:4).
 

 




Bitterness for Shalom...


 

01.26.18 (Shevat 10, 5778)   From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Beshalach) we read that when the Israelites came to Marah, "they could not drink the water because it was bitter" (Exod. 15:23). Note that the Hebrew text allows us to read that it was the Israelites themselves who were bitter – ki marim hem (כִּי מָרִים הֵם) – "for they (i.e., the Israelites) were bitter," and their bitterness made the water seem so as well.... After the people complained, God showed Moses a tree and threw it into the water, making it drinkable. Interestingly the Hebrew text literally reads, "the LORD taught him a tree" (וַיּוֹרֵהוּ יְהוָה עֵץ), suggesting elon moreh (אֵלוֹן מוֹרֶה), the "teaching tree of Abraham" (Gen. 12:6). The sages say this tree symbolized Torah, the tree of life (etz chaim), which brings happiness to those who take hold of it (Prov. 3:18), though we see Yeshua, the fallen tree that yields mayim chayim - living water - to revive the hearts of mankind...
 

הִנֵּה לְשָׁלוֹם מַר־לִי מָר
וְאַתָּה חָשַׁקְתָּ נַפְשִׁי מִשַּׁחַת בְּלִי
כִּי הִשְׁלַכְתָּ אַחֲרֵי גֵוְךָ כָּל־חֲטָאָי

hi·nei · le·sha·lom · mar · li · mar
ve·at·tah · cha·shak·ta · naf·shi · mi·sha·chat · be·li
ki · hish·lakh·ta · a·cha·rei · gev·kha · kol · cha·ta·ai
 

"Behold, it was for my healing that I had great bitterness;
but You in love have delivered my life from the pit of destruction,
for you have cast all my sins behind your back."
(Isa. 38:17)



 

In this verse note that the term "pit of destruction" (מִשַּׁחַת בְּלִי) might better be understood as the "pit of wearing out," that is, the pit of nothingness, consumption, vanity, or worthlessness (i.e., belial: בְּלִיַּעַל). The idea is that the LORD loves us "from the pit of nothingness."  The word "loved" used here (i.e., chashak: חָשַׁק) means to be attached in devotion or affection, to embrace in kindness... God's great love is like that – it descends into the pit of shame and draws us out from it, just as Yeshua went down to the pit for that purpose – to deliver those trapped in throes of death (Psalm 88:4-6; Zech. 9:11, 12; Heb. 13:20, 2 Cor. 5:12, etc.).
 




Confession and Hope...


 

01.26.18 (Shevat 10, 5778)   "Faith is the foundation (i.e., ὑπόστασις: the "substance," reality, being, etc.) of hope, the conviction of the unseen... Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near must believe that God exists and rewards (μισθαποδότης) those who seek him" (Heb. 11:1,6). Note that God is pleased when we seek his presence, that is, when we when we look past the ephemera and ambiguity of the phenomenal world for the truth about spiritual reality. For our part, faith depends on confession. We must say that we believe, and affirm it with all our heart (Rom. 10:9). As it says, "I will make Your faithfulness known with my mouth" (Psalm 89:2). When you encounter tribulation, or experience some crisis of faith, reaffirm aloud: "I believe in God's promise..." Physically expressing your faith is itself an act of faith, and this encourages your soul to trust in God's healing reward even in the present struggle or darkness...
 




Our Daily Bread...


 

01.25.18 (Shevat 9, 5778)  "I am about to rain bread from heaven (לֶחֶם מִן־הַשָּׁמָיִם) for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my Torah or not" (Exod. 16:4). Note that though God graciously provided the miracle of manna, the people were required to receive it for themselves.  Note further that a portion was given for just that day, and storing it up for later use (except for the Sabbath) resulted in rottenness and decay (Exod. 16:20). By being required to collect their daily bread the people learned that God's blessing and their efforts worked together. Our sustenance is a gift from heaven, though we must reach out to take hold of it...

"Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD" (Exod. 16:23). Here is the first mention of the obligation to observe the Sabbath, which is introduced in connection with the requirement for the people to collect a double portion of manna on Friday for the following day. The sages here note that the Sabbath and the manna both underscore our complete dependency on God as the source of our sustenance.

"I will test them to see whether they will walk in my Torah or not" (Exod. 16:4). This is the test to see whether we will trust God to meet our needs... After all, it is one thing to believe God can help you and yet another to trust that it is so. Peace comes when belief and trust are unified within the heart - when the one who firmly believes completely trusts as well. God gave bread from heaven to test us: "And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD" (Deut. 8:3). God humbles us, which is really the greatest of blessings, since we then learn to rely on God's strength and love to meet all our needs.
 




Conduit of Blessing...


 

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

01.25.18 (Shevat 9, 5778)  "The LORD said to Moses, "Why do you cry out to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward" (Exod. 14:15). There are times when enough prayer has been offered and all that's left is to act. "Tell the people to go forward!" Note well that only after the people began walking in faith was Moses instructed to lift up his staff to divide the waters of the sea so they could pass through...

God then said: "Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground" (Exod. 14:16). The midrash says that at first nothing happened but then Nachshon stepped forward into the waters and the east wind began to blow. The sages comment that though the splitting of the sea was a miracle, there had to be a step of faith to "ignite" the miracle and give it life. This is because events that occur without our hearts do not truly affect us. Asking for the miracle is not sufficient: we must believe and step out to become a conduit of the heavenly blessing. Stepping out "incarnates" the Spirit to work wonders.  ὥσπερ γὰρ τὸ σῶμα χωρὶς πνεύματος νεκρόν ἐστιν, οὕτως καὶ ἡ πίστις χωρὶς ἔργων νεκρά ἐστιν: "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead" (James 2:26).
 




Our Spiritual Warfare...


 

01.25.18 (Shevat 9, 5778)   In our Torah for this week (Beshalach) we read how "Amalek" attacked the Israelites after they had miraculously crossed over the sea into a new life of freedom (Exod. 17:8). Spiritually speaking the Amalekites aligned themselves with the wicked Pharaoh of Egypt and therefore they sought to continue the war against God's people. Apparently the Amalekite clan in Canaan was founded by a grandson of Esau (Gen. 36:12,16), though Amalek is also listed as the "first among the nations," a man who even predated the time of Abraham (Num. 24:20, Gen. 14:7). In Augustine's terms, Amalek represents the "City of the World," whereas Israel represents the "City of God."

In Jewish tradition, Amalek represents pure evil, or those who have "given themselves over" to Sitra Achra, the side of impurity. Indeed the name Amalek (עֲמָלֵק) begins with the letter Ayin (symbolizing the eye) and equals 240 in gematria -- the same value for safek (סָפֵק), meaning "doubt," and for rahm (רָם), meaning "haughty." Amalek therefore represents "the evil eye of doubt," or even "the severed eye" (i.e., when you remove Ayin from "Amalek," you are left with malak (מָלָק), a verb that means "to chop off" or to sever). Understood in this way, Amalek represents spiritual blindness acting arrogantly in the world, and therefore the LORD vowed perpetual warfare against Amalek: "The Hand is on God's throne. God shall be at war with Amalek for all generations" (Exod. 17:16).

The Torah reveals that we must "go out and fight" Amalek, which is a call to ongoing spiritual warfare in our lives (Deut. 25:17-19). When Moses raised his hands in battle against the Amalekites, the Israelites prevailed, but if he lowered them, they suffered defeat (Exod. 17:11). Eventually Moses grew weary and needed Aaron and Hur to help him hold his arms steady to ensure victory (Exod. 17:12). Note that the Hebrew word translated "steady" is emunah (אֱמוּנָה), the word for faith... It was Moses' steady faith in God's power that gave Israel the victory over the powers of darkness, just as we lift up our faith in God's power demonstrated at the cross gives us the victory over Satan and his schemes.

For a bit more about what Amalek represents, see the article, "Warfare with Amalek."
 




Good Taste of Gratitude...


 

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

01.25.18 (Shevat 9, 5778)   The LORD said to Moses, "'Look I am going to rain down bread from heaven for you (לֶחֶם מִן־הַשָּׁמָיִם). The people will go out and gather a portion for that day so that I might test whether they will walk in my Torah (תּוֹרָה) or not" (Exod. 16:4). This miraculous bread was called manna (מָן) because when the people first saw it they asked one other, "mann hu" (מָן הוּא), "what is it?" Although the Torah describes its taste as like "honey cakes" (Exod. 16:31), the midrash says that its taste was a function of a person's sense of gratitude. For those who were thankful for God's care, manna tasted delicious (like a good cookie?), but to those who murmured, it tasted bland and unsatisfying (like stale matzah?). "According to your faith, be it done unto you" (Matt. 9:29).
 

טַעֲמוּ וּרְאוּ כִּי־טוֹב יְהוָה
אַשְׁרֵי הַגֶּבֶר יֶחֱסֶה־בּוֹ

ta·a·mu · ur·u · ki · tov · Adonai
ash·rei · ha·ge·ver · ye·che·seh · bo
 

"Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!"
(Psalm 34:8)



 

Addictions, cravings, lusts, etc., often arise from refusing to be satisfied, by hungering for more than the blessing of the present moment. "My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13). The living waters are always present for us, but we will only find them if we open our hearts to the wonder of God in this moment.  We must slow down, savor the moment, and see God's hand in everything around us: "Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD God of Hosts: The whole earth is filled with His glory" (Isa. 6:3). Opening our spiritual eyes will break the cycle of unthinking habit, of "mindless eating," and so on. Ultimately this is another aspect of shema, or listening to your body, your heart, your soul – and especially listening for God's word spoken to your inward being. We can "break the spell" of continual dissatisfaction, of the power of greed, pride, and so on, when we discover that our constant hunger is really a cry for God and His blessing. Our sense of inner emptiness is an invitation to come to the waters and drink life...  May God help us to come!
 




The Torah of Manna...


 

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

01.24.18 (Shevat 8, 5778)   Jewish tradition counts 49 days from the Passover/Exodus to the revelation at Sinai, a seven week period of purification and preparation... During this time the Israelites carried the bones of Joseph (עַצְמוֹת יוֹסֵף) -- the Hebrew word for "bones" (i.e., etzem: עֶצֶם) also refers to his "essence," or the deep conviction Joseph had in God's promise (Gen. 50:25; Heb. 11:1). The journey into the desert is meant to test us – to reveal our strengths and weaknesses. We cross over from the "comfort of slavery" to a barren place that exposes what lurks within our hearts. Yeshua likewise was tempted in the desert and overcame the devil there (Matt. 4:1-11).

The sages say that the verse: "The LORD is my strength and my song (עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ), and he has become my salvation (וַיְהִי־לִי לִישׁוּעָה)," refers to two aspects of the life of faith (Exod. 15:2). "My strength and song" refers to the decision we make to desire freedom, truth, righteousness, and so on, whereas "he has become my salvation" refers God's power, our surrender to his love, and our rest in him...  It is the balance (and tension) of these two – the willingness to choose and the decision to surrender – that marks the walk in the desert (Phil. 2:13-14). We are both totally responsible yet utterly unable to help ourselves, and stressing either our own freedom or God's sovereignty disrupts the partnership and unity of our journey. It is not a matter of resolute willing nor a matter of passivity: We exercise our strength by trusting God through the darkness and emptiness of the desert.

This balance may be illustrated in the commandment concerning the manna, the miraculous sustenance given to us each day (Exod. 16:1-30). We can only rightfully gather what we can eat for the day, and if we try to gather more, the gift itself will rot... This teaches us to appreciate the present without fear of the future. The "Torah of Manna" (תּוֹרַת הַמָּן) is that we must gather only what the moment requires and no more: "Give us this day our daily bread," as Yeshua taught us to pray. On the sixth day we are able to gather a double portion so that we are free to focus on God's presence and provision on Shabbat.

Notwithstanding the miracle of our redemption and crossing the sea into newness of life, we journey until hunger and thirst arrest our way -- when the bread we carry is exhausted and the water we find tastes bitter. This "bitter water" represents the pain of our past, the reflux of our wounded heart, and our need for "sweet water," the healing waters of life (מַיִם חַיִּים). The mysterious tree that Moses used to sweeten the bitter wates stands for the Tree of Life (עֵץ הַחַיִּים), which itself foreshadows the tree (cross) of our Savior. Bitterness is overcome when touched by this tree. And this tree represents the sacred ground where heaven and earth intersect, the place of atonement, where the heart of God pours our his heart for our eternal good.
 




Believing and Seeing...


 

01.24.18 (Shevat 8, 5778)   Despite all the miracles and wonders performed on behalf of the Israelites, the people soon seemed to "forget" about their great redemption. Indeed, it was just a few days after the awe-inspiring deliverance from Egypt that the people began to murmur, complain, and "kvetch" (Exod. 16:1-3). Such discontent warns us that miracles are never enough to sustain faith: Seeing isn't believing, but rather the other way around (Rom. 8:24; Heb. 11:1; 2 Cor. 4:18). This explains why groups that emphasis "signs and wonders" often contain so many exhausted people. Miracles are insufficient for faith; people get excited about them while they occur, but they soon forget them and return to a state of desperation and despair. Necessarily the cycle must repeat itself, with ever-increasing claims of the miraculous, in order to keep the movement going. In light of this, it is wise to regard the desire for "signs and wonders" as a counterfeit of the real need to surrender and serve God. After all, to truly love the LORD with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength - now that is a miracle of a greater kind than that of splitting the sea!

For more on this, see "Believing and Seeing: Further Thoughts on Parashat Beshalach."
 




Slavery and Tolerance...


 

01.24.18 (Shevat 8, 5778)   The Divine promise was "I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt" (Exod. 6:6), though later the people "romanticized" their captivity and wanted to return there to eat their "free fish" (see Num. 11:5). The sages note the word "burdens" (סִבְלת) can also mean "tolerance," which suggests that the people had tolerated their enslavement and made it "work" for them... And are we not likewise at risk to be enslaved by the sumptuous comforts and amenities offered by this world? Have we not tolerated our own slavery -- our addictions to comfort, pleasures, a life of ease and "free fish"? Are we really ready to leave all that we know behind to experience the glory of Zion? People may profess that they want to know God, that they "hunger and thirst for righteousness" and earnestly desire that the kingdom of heaven be manifest, and yet they can't get away from their favorite television shows, super bowls, political intrigues, pop idols, and other the fads of the day... We must be careful not to become comfortable in our exile – to become "friends of this world" – by losing faith's voice of protest; we must be careful not to be distracted from beholding spiritual reality and the ultimate healing to come. We are away from home, friends! When the hour comes and we hear "gemar ha'tikkun" – the sound of the shofar of Messiah summoning us all to follow him to the Holy Land -- will we be ready to leave everything behind us? (Luke 9:62)

The story is told (by Abraham Twerski in his book, "Rebbes and Chassidim") how Rabbi Nachum of Chernobyl once stayed at an inn, and as was his custom, he arose at midnight to recite lamentations over the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the people... The innkeeper, hearing his wailing, arose to see what the trouble was, and could not understand why the rabbi was sitting on the ground, mourning and praying... Rabbi Nachum explained that we continually mourn the loss of our land and our exile, and that we cry out to God to hasten the ultimate redemption, when Messiah will take us out of exile and lead us back to Jerusalem, our beloved Zion....

The innkeeper asked, "Will we all go to Jerusalem?" "Of course," Rabbi Nachum said. "But what will become of my little farm, my cows and chickens?" the innkeeper asked. "What account are these compared to our being in exile? Nachum replied. "We are repeatedly attacked by the Tartars, they carry out pogroms, killing and pillaging our people! In Jerusalem we will be free of such persecutions!"

The innkeeper was still not satisfied. "I must talk to my wife about this," he said. When he later told his wife what Rabbi Nachum said about the redemption by Mashiach, she said, "And how can we leave our farm and the cows and chickens that we worked so hard to get?" The innkeeper then explained how we would be free of the pogroms and persecutions of the bands of Tartars. The wife thought a bit and then said, "Go tell the rabbi that when Mashiach comes, he should take the Tartars to Jerusalem, and we can live here in peace."
 




Baptism into Moses...


 

01.24.18 (Shevat 8, 5778)   The Apostle Paul likened the crossing of the sea as a metaphor of baptism (טְבִילָה): "All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Cor. 10:1-2,11). In the New Testament, baptism symbolizes our identification with Yeshua's death, burial, and resurrection (Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:3-5). The Israelites were facing death and were therefore at the "end of themselves." They had no other appeal or hope than God's gracious intervention on their behalf (i.e., salvation). Still, they needed to act and move forward.  After they took the step of faith, they could see the Shekhinah Glory lighting up the way of deliverance, though this meant being "buried" within the midst of the sea. Their earlier fear of death was replaced with a song of God's great deliverance (shirat hayam). The other side of the sea represents new life in the Messiah, the life that comes from above, by the power and agency of the Holy Spirit... The Israelites died to their old life, were symbolically buried in the waters, but arose to new freedom by the grace and power of God... Shifting the analogy somewhat, the crossing of the sea represented a sort of "birth canal" into the realm of true freedom as God's redeemed children.
 

Baptism of Moses
  




Stepping out in Faith...


 

01.24.18 (Shevat 8, 5778)   From our Torah this week (i.e., Beshalach) we read how the children of Israel were trapped before the sea with no way of escape... Moses then cried out to God who told him to march forward -- right into the waters -- as the Pillar of Cloud settled between the people and Pharaoh's advancing army. According to a well-known midrash, when Moses lifted his staff to divide the sea, at first nothing happened. The people waited anxiously at the seashore, wondering what to do. Finally, Nachshon ben Aminadav, a descendant of Judah (Num. 1:7), waded into the water "up to his nose," and then the winds began blowing to divide the waters (Shemot Rabbah). The great miracle of kiryat yam suf (קרית ים סוף)- the splitting of the sea of reeds (the word "suf" means "reed,"see Exod. 2:3) therefore resulted because someone found real courage and took a step of faith: "And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall (חוֹמָה) to them on their right hand and on their left" (Exod. 14:22). They marched across the sea all that night (i.e., Nisan 21), under the light of the Shekhinah Glory...

The Talmud says "kasheh le'zavgom ke'kriat yam suf," which means it is more difficult for God to create a marriage than to split the sea.  They reason this way because each person needs to take individual action to trust the other. Likewise with God. It is more difficult for God to get us to be in a genuine, trusting relationship with Him than it is for Him to split a sea. Of course the problem is not with God, who is the perfect "husband," but with our adulterous inner nature. It took the LORD a year to deliver Israel from Egypt, but it took Him 40 years to teach Israel to trust in His promises of love. God always awaits our teshuvah - our "answer" - to His invitation before He will reveal more to us. As Yeshua once said to his followers, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now" (John 16:12). Some things about God can only be known by stepping out in faith and surrendering ourselves to Him.

For more on this subject, see "Stepping out in Faith..."
 




Heaven's Alphabet...


 

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

01.23.18 (Shevat 7, 5778)   A verse from our Torah portion this week (i.e., Beshalach) contains all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (i.e., aleph (א), bet (בּ), gimmel (ג), etc.).  The special verse reads, "This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer (עמֶר), according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent'" (Exod. 16:16). Since this refers to the manna the Israelites were to collect for their daily bread, and this verse contains all the letters of the alphabet, we may poetically infer that if we immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, "from Aleph (א) to Tav (ת)," God will provide us with the "daily bread" (לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ) we need, just as He did when the bread from heaven (לֶחֶם מִן־הַשָּׁמָיִם) was miraculously given to feed the Israelites in the desert. Therefore Yeshua, who is the Aleph and Tav, taught us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," which surely refers to the spiritual food (i.e., encouragement, hope, life) that we receive from the Word of Life (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4).

Yeshua taught us: "Don't be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow has its own troubles. Live one day at a time" (Matt. 6:34). It makes no sense to worry about the future if the LORD is the Good Shepherd who tenderly watches over your way (Psalm 23:1). Every day we are given daily bread, but we must remember that manna could not be stored up without becoming rotten (Exod. 16:20). God's provision is "sufficient unto the day...."

Isn't it amazing how studying the Hebrew text reveals further insights into the Scriptures?  And may you rest in the promise: "My God will supply every need of yours - "from A to Z" - according to his riches in glory in Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil. 4:19). He is lechem ha'chaim - the Living Bread from heaven (John 6:51)!

 




Blessing of Adversity...


 

01.23.18 (Shevat 7, 5778)   After the people finally left Egypt during the great Passover redemption, God hardened Pharaoh's heart yet again, inspiring him to entrap the Israelites before the shore of the Sea of Reeds. We read in our Torah: "When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes ... and cried out to the LORD" (Exod. 14:10). The sages comment that by pursuing them Pharaoh inspired the people to pursue the Presence of God, as evidenced by their heartfelt cry for deliverance. Indeed does not spiritual opposition and adversity inspire us to likewise call upon the Divine Presence?  Therefore whenever we encounter oppression or hardship we should regard it as an invitation to come closer to God, as it says: "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16). God rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6). Therefore "draw near to God and God will draw near to you" (James 4:8). The battle belongs to the Lord but our eyes must look to him for the victory. Remember that it is a blessing to fight the good fight of faith, since adversity shocks us out our lethal indifference and apathy, empowering us to call upon the Lord and overcome in His Name.
 

קָרְבָה אֶל־נַפְשִׁי גְאָלָהּ
לְמַעַן איְבַי פְּדֵנִי

ka·re·vah · el-naf·shi · ge·a·lah
le·ma·an · oy·vai · pe·dei·ni
 

"Draw near to my soul, redeem me;
deliver me because of my enemies." (Psalm 69:18)


 




The Bones of Joseph....


 

01.23.18 (Shevat 7, 5778)   From our Torah portion for this week (i.e., parashat Beshalach) we read: "And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him..." (Exod. 13:19). Note the Hebrew word for "bone" is etzem (עֶצֶם) which can also mean "strength," "substance" or "essence." The journey from exile back to the realm of promise passes through various desolate places and perils. To persevere we must remember the struggle of those who have gone before us, like Joseph, who remained faithful to God even in the midst of tribulation and suffering...
 




The Call of Freedom...


 

01.23.18 (Shevat 7, 5778)   Regarding the account of the plagues we read the repeated caution issued to Pharaoh: "If you refuse to let my people go, behold, I will bring [a particular plague]" (e.g., Exod. 10:4). Here the sages note that though the LORD warned Pharaoh he would be punished for refusing Moses' request, the door of repentance was still open for him. Even though God had hardened Pharaoh's heart, this did not preclude the possibility of teshuvah, for had the Pharaoh listened to his conscience he could have let the people go and spared himself further disaster. This implies that regardless of how far away we may feel from God we can always turn back to Him. Indeed by grace our own hardness of heart can yield a deeper resolve to draw close to God for deliverance. Therefore refuse to abandon yourself to despair, since God is always willing to help those who sincerely seek him.
 

פְּנוּ־אֵלַי וְהִוָּשְׁעוּ כָּל־אַפְסֵי־אָרֶץ
כִּי אֲנִי־אֵל וְאֵין עוֹד

pe·nu-e·lai · ve'hiv·va·sh'u · kol-af·sei · a·retz
ki · a·ni-El · ve·ein · od
 

"Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other." (Isa. 45:22)



 




The Longer Road Home...


 

01.22.18 (Shevat 6, 5778)   God chose to take the people along the "longer road" to the promised land, just as we find ourselves still awaiting our redemption in the world to come. And like the Israelites, we must be on guard, since when things get difficult, our tendency is to go back to what is familiar, even if it is painful. Thank God we have a Good Shepherd who teaches us and guides us in the way to go: "And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher (מוֹרֶה) will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. Your ears will hear a word behind you, saying: 'This is the way; follow it,' when you turn to the right or to the left" (Isa. 30:20-21).
 

וְאָזְנֶיךָ תִּשְׁמַעְנָה דָבָר מֵאַחֲרֶיךָ לֵאמר
זֶה הַדֶּרֶךְ לְכוּ בוֹ
כִּי תַאֲמִינוּ וְכִי תַשְׂמְאִילוּ

ve·oz·ne·kha · tish·ma·nah · da·var · me·a·cha·re·kha · le·mor:
zeh · ha·de·rekh · le·khu · vo
ki · ta·a·mi·nu · ve·khi · tas·me·i·lu
 

"Your ears will hear a word behind you saying:
'This is the way; follow it,'
when you turn to the right or to the left."
(Isa. 30:21)



 

What a beautiful image of our LORD as our Teacher and Good Shepherd, who guides us in the paths of life and delivers us from "right-hand and left-hand errors." And may God keep us upon the path, free from the seductions of the tempter who wants to distract our souls and lead us into fruitless byways and trouble. May we be given grace to behold His face, even in the midst of adversity or affliction, learning from Him the way to go... Amen.
 




Refusing Despair...


 

01.22.18 (Shevat 6, 5778)   An old Jewish prayer, uttered somewhat wistfully, begins, "O Lord, I know that You will help us; but will You help us before You will help us?" 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 forget the promise and reality of our ultimate healing in Jesus. Faith expresses 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! (the Septuagint translates chazak as "andridzou" (ἀνδρίζου - act like a man!). Note that the verb ve'yametz 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." Amen. God will help us, and he will help us before he will help us!

Each of us is still upon the "Potter's wheel," though we keep faith that God is molding us and shaping us to reach our end... "Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the Universe, who walks with the wounded" (שֶׁהוֹלֵךְ עִם הַפְצוּעִים). Amen. "Blessed art You, LORD our God, King of the universe, who makes us captives of hope."
 




Love Story of Exodus...


 

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

01.22.18 (Shevat 6, 5778)   When God delivered Israel from Egypt, He did not take them on the fast track to the Promised Land (though He certainly could have done so). No, there was a circuitous route to take, a divinely appointed wandering, a "Divine Stroll of betrothal," if you will. In order to reveal Himself to the Israelites, God had to led them directly into the desert. He embittered waters to make them sweet once again; He let stomachs growl to provide the Bread of life; He parched mouths to give Living Water from the "Rock that was struck" (1 Cor. 10:4). God did all this to reveal to his newly redeemed people that He is the satisfaction of all their longings.  For more on this wonderful topic, see "Love Story Exodus."
 




Shabbat Shirah - שַׁבַּת שִׁירָה


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading (Beshalach) and the crossing of the sea... ]

01.22.18 (Shevat 6, 5778)   Perhaps the central event of this week's Torah portion is how the LORD split the waters of the sea to make a path for His people to escape from Egypt. This event is commemorated in the great "Song the Sea" (i.e., Shirat Hayam: שִׁירַת הַיָּם), a hymn praising God for His deliverance (see Exod. 15:1-21). Because of its critical significance for the Jewish people, the Sabbath on which this song is chanted is called Shabbat Shirah ("Sabbath of the Song"), and the custom is for all the congregation to rise while it is recited...

The Torah states that when the Israelites entered the sea, it became dry land, with the water as "a wall (חוֹמָה) to their right and to their left" (Exod. 14:29). To commemorate this miracle, the Hebrew text of the "Song of the Sea" is stylized to resemble a "wavy wall," with the words written in alternating "blocks" to suggest a wave of water, like this:
 

Shirat Hayam
 

The soferim (Torah scribes) count exactly 198 words in this song, which is the numerical value for the word tzchok (צחק), a word that means "laughter" and is the word used to describe Sarah's response when she finally gave birth to Isaac (Gen. 21:6). According to Rabbi Bachya, the laughter in Isaac's name comes from Abraham's joy (Gen. 17:17). The joy of Isaac's birth, then, is linked with the "birth" of the nation of Israel at the time of the Exodus, just as his symbolic death during the Akedah represents Israel's rebirth...

Because it marks deliverance, the Song of the Sea (i.e., the Song of Moses) as well as the "Song of the Lamb" will be sung in the world to come (Rev. 15:3). For more on this, see "The Song of the Sea: Further Thoughts on Beshalach."
 




Parashat Beshalach - בשלח


 

[ In our Torah portion this week, the waters of the Red Sea divide to make a path for the Israelites, a miracle that symbolized newness of life as God's liberated people... ]

01.21.18 (Shevat 5, 5778)  Last week's Torah portion (i.e., parashat Bo) described how the Israelites were finally delivered from their cruel bondage in Egypt after God issued the decisive plague during the time of Passover. In this week's portion (i.e., parashat Beshalach), the Israelites began their journey home, after 430 years of exile. Instead of leading them along a direct route to the Promised Land, however, the LORD directed them south, toward the desert, where the Glory of God appeared as a Pillar of Cloud by day and as a Pillar of Fire by night to lead them on their way. When Pharaoh heard that the Israelites were at the border of the desert, however, he perversely decided to pursue them and bring them back to Egypt. God then redirected the Israelites to camp near the edge of the Sea of Reeds, where the Egyptian army finally caught up with them. Dramatically, the Israelites were caught between the sea on one side, and Pharaoh's army on the other...

The terrified people then began to blame Moses for their predicament. Moses reassured them of God's great deliverance and raised his staff to miraculously divide the waters of the sea. All that night the Shekhinah Glory enshrouded the Egyptian army but gave light to Israel as the people crossed through the sea on dry ground. Just before dawn, the dark pillar of cloud that veiled the Egyptian army lifted, and the soldiers immediately rushed after the Israelites into pathway of the sea. God then told Moses to lift his staff again so that the waters would overwhelm the Egyptians with their chariots and horsemen. By the time dawn arrived, the Israelites saw the dead bodies of Pharaoh's army lining the seashore.



 

Shabbat Shirah - שַׁבַּת שִׁירָה

Because of the critical significance of the miracle of crossing the sea, this Sabbath is called Shabbat Shirah, the "Sabbath of the Song," because it includes the song of deliverance sung by Moses and Miriam after the people made safe passage to new life. The "Song of the Sea" (i.e., shirah hayam) begins, "The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation" / עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ וַיְהִי־לִי לִישׁוּעָה (Exod. 15:2, cp. Isa. 12:2). For Orthodox Jews, singing Shirat Hayam every day is thought to fulfill the biblical commandment to "remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live" (Deut. 16:3). Note that Shirat Hayam is also sung on the 7th day of Passover, as a memorial of the deliverance by God through the waters of the Sea of Reeds.

The great message of our deliverance resounds throughout Jewish history, and indeed it is regarded as a theme of the faithful love of LORD for His people:
 

הִנֵּה אֵל יְשׁוּעָתִי אֶבְטַח וְלא אֶפְחָד
כִּי־עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ יְהוָה
וַיְהִי־לִי לִישׁוּעָה

hi·nei · el · ye·shu·a·ti · ev·tach · ve·lo ·ef·chad
ki · o·zi · ve·zim·rat · Yah · Adonai
vai·hi · li · li·shu·ah
 

"Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the LORD God (יָהּ יְהוָה) is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation."
(Isaiah 12:2)

 

Following their jubilation, the narrative resumes as God led the people away from the sea, into the desert of Sin (מִדְבַּר־סִין), a desolate region about midway to Mount Sinai. After traveling three days without finding any water, however, the people complained and God provided them with fresh water at Marah. Awhile later, the matzah the people had brought with them ran out and God tested their obedience by giving them "bread from heaven" (i.e., manna). The portion ends with the Amalekites' surprise attack of Israel at Rephidim, near Mount Sinai, and the introduction of Joshua as the leader of the army of Israel.
 

 




The Duty of Right Thinking...


 

01.21.18 (Shevat 5, 5778)  The Scriptures counsel us to be transformed (μεταμορφόω) by "renewing our minds" (Rom. 12:2), though just 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 "preconscious" 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)?

While there are many books on the subject of logic, detecting fallacies, and using sound reasoning techniques, there are not many that discuss the "morality" of our thinking, that is, exercising 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 eyes 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). We are to "renew" (ἀνακαινόω) our minds, which means elevating our thinking by focusing on God. 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 Eye of Faith...


 

01.19.18 (Shevat 3, 5778)  "The optimist believes that this is the best of all possible worlds; the pessimist believes the optimist is right..." The facts remain the same for both, but what is different is something within the heart, something that moves the will to no longer recoil from the world but rather to accept it.... Faith is a type of courage, a willingness to take risks, even in the midst of ambiguity. It surrenders to God's plan and will, even if that plan makes no rational sense at the moment.  Of course it is intellectually "safer" to abstain from such trust and to yield to a "hermeneutic of suspicion."  It is woefully easy to play the skeptic, to toy with ultimate questions, to affect intellectual superiority -- but at what cost? Is the supposed "defense" against being mistaken more important the risk of commitment?  But such an approach to life is a essentially a form of cowardice. Without risk, we would never marry, have children, or take hold of our dreams. Some people might dismiss the dream of God's love as nonsense and futility, but the Scriptures make it clear that such hope represents the very substance (ὑπόστασις) of our faith (Heb 11:1).

Ayin Tovah
 

There is a "false zeal" that leads people to estrangement and confusion. Withholding acceptance of the universe (or worse - withholding acceptance of others) is ultimately grounded in an abstract sense of "justice." However, justice itself cannot stand alone, since God Himself is the Source and Standard of all true justice. Those who invoke the ideal of justice therefore implicitly call upon the God of Justice and Truth as their ally. Among other things this implies that blaming "God" or accusing Him of being unjust is a "category" mistake. God cannot be unjust - by definition - and therefore an accusation that God is unjust is really an accusation against an idol of the mind.  There is no "higher court of appeal" in the case of the LORD, and ultimately, how we choose to see is our own responsibility. We cannot "suspend" judgment indefinitely. As Yeshua taught us: "Forgive us...as we forgive...", which means that our forgiveness of others (including God) is the measure of our own state of forgiveness, "for with the measure you use it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:38). This is the principle of middah keneged middah ("like for like") - the very essence of justice itself.  "According to your faith, be it done unto you." Passion is often the determiner of reason, and the carnal mind will invariably find itself at odds with spiritual truth and reality.

In C.S. Lewis' book The Silver Chair, the "White Witch" cast an evil spell on Prince Rilian, Eustace, Jill, and Puddleglum who had bravely faced the risks involved in rescuing the deposed prince.  "There is no Narnia; there is no Aslan," she kept chanting as she sprinkled the seducing incense, attempting to cause them to doubt the message of hope within their own heart. It took the burning of Puddleglum's flesh to awaken their hope once again. It is a mystery, but the LORD uses suffering in our lives to rouse us from our deathly slumbers.

Necessarily every human being is a theologian of sorts, since thinking about what is ultimately real is inescapable, especially when we are confronted with questions regarding life and death.... The issue often isn't whether a person will believe in God, but rather how he or she will approach the question of God's Presence in light of suffering. Part of the difference between a "theology of rebellion" and a "theology of hope" is that rebellion is a mode of the intellectual (i.e., a deification of logic, a demand for temporal and this-worldly justice, and so on), whereas hope is a mode of personal trust (i.e., a "letting go" of the demand for answers in order to surrender to love).  When you encounter God as the lover of your soul, you begin to apprehend the truth that "love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude; it does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth" (1 Cor. 13:4-6). Being in a genuine love-relationship with God gives you the courage to face the ambiguity of a world filled with suffering with hope and compassion.
 

חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת אַל־יַעַזְבֻךָ קָשְׁרֵם
עַל־גַּרְגְּרוֹתֶיךָ כָּתְבֵם עַל־לוּחַ לִבֶּךָ

che·sed  ve·e·met  al  ya·az·vu·kha,  kosh·rem
al  gar·ge·ro·tey·kha,  kot·vem  al  lu·ach  lib·be·kha
 

"Let not love and truth forsake you; bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart" (Prov. 3:3)



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The Scriptures declare that "we are saved by hope" (ελπιδι εσωθημεν). God's Holy Spirit imparts hope to our hearts so that we can walk in the victory of faith (Rom. 8:24-28). The LORD gives birth to our hope and is the goal of our hope's deepest longings... Yeshua's personal love for you is the answer to all your heart's questions. And now, "May the God of hope (אלהֵי הַתִּקְוָה) fill you completely with joy and shalom (שִׂמְחָה וְשָׁלוֹם) in your trusting, so that by the power of the Ruach HaKodesh (בְּעז רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) you may overflow with hope" (Rom. 15:13). Amen.

Personal Update:  I did not mention it earlier, but I have been sick most of this week, dealing with exhaustion, pain, and some other issues. Thank you for remembering this ministry in your prayers, friends; we go a day at a time with God's help. Shabbat Shalom.
 




Ceasing from Anger...


 

01.19.18 (Shevat 3, 5778)   "Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil, for evildoers shall be cut off…" (Psalm 37:8-9). The temptation for many is to get ensnared by offense – to so identify with wounds of the past that we become bitter and "cut off" from our own hearts. We have to turn away from the pain that drives us into exile. Someone once said that great sins are like great possessions -- both are difficult to give up. We think that "letting go" of what we want is difficult, but it is often far harder to let go of what we don't want... We have to be willing to "give up our sins" in order to find inner healing (and "giving up our sins" also means breaking free of the "pride-shame" cycle).  Often we can only get to this point when we are afflicted and weary of our soul's sickness. Holding on to resentment creates a terrible bondage of the soul. Seeking retaliation usurps God's authority in our lives and is a sign of radical unbelief...  "Perfect love" (אַהֲבָה שְׁלֵמָה) casts out fear and trusts in God's care despite the testing of our present circumstances...

It is written in our Scriptures: "Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23). Our most profound problem in life -- the underlying root of our other sins -- is always unbelief that takes the form of forgetfulness, mindlessness, and lethargy.  This then leads to fear, pride, and other attitudes of heart that are finally expressed as sinful actions. Hence we are urged: "Seek the LORD while He may be found" (Isa. 55:6). If we were truly awake to the reality of the risen Savior, sin would often not find its "occasion" in our lives. If faithlessness is the matrix of sin, hope is the matrix of teshuvah...

The sages of the Talmud equate anger with idolatry (Shabbat 105a). We often feel most angry when we believe we are losing control of life. We feel helpless, powerless, and invisible, so we attempt to exert our will in order to feel capable, powerful, visible -- alive. Our will therefore becomes all-important, usurping the will of God for our lives...  Yet this is essentially a return to our previous life -- the "womb" of flesh from which we were delivered. We have "forgotten" the truth about reality and are now operating under a set of false assumptions. Teshuvah here means waking up to reality, "reframing" the situation in light of truth, remembering who God is and who you are, and then asking for God's loving intervention.... Instead of trying to control the situation using manipulative methods, we look to the Spirit of God to direct us and show us the path of righteousness....
 




New Beginnings...


 

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

01.19.18 (Shevat 3, 5778)   The very first word of the Torah indicates the awareness of the significance of time - "in the beginning..." (Gen. 1:1), and according to Jewish tradition, the very first commandment given to the children of Israel (as a whole) was that of Rosh Chodesh (ראש חודש), or the declaration of the start (or head) of the "new month," particularly concerning the first month of their redemption (Exod. 12:2). In other words, Passover month was to begin Israel's year. Note that the word for month (i.e., chodesh) comes from the root chadash (חָדָש), meaning "new," and therefore the Passover redemption (chodesh yeshuah) was intended to mark a "new beginning" for the Jewish people. And indeed, God marks the start of our personal redemption as the beginning of our life as a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), just as Yeshua is the "first of the firstfruits" of God's redeemed humanity (1 Cor. 15:45-49).

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




Walking by Faith....


 

01.18.18 (Shevat 2, 5778)   The Hebrew word for "faith" is emunah (אֱמוּנָה), which comes from the verb aman (אָמַן), meaning to uphold, support, to make steady and sure. The Hebrew word for "truth" (אֱמֶת) comes from the same root, as does the word "amen" (אָמֵן), implying that reality is upheld and subsists by the Word of God's power (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:17). Faith enables the soul to perceive the eternal within the transitory, the invisible within the visible, and the Divine Presence in the midst of the whirlwind. When applied to the heart, "faith" is better understood as "faithfulness," since it implies integrity and trustworthiness, and so on. God's faithfulness is bound with His love (חֶסֶד), which means that He can be relied upon to uphold you as you sojourn through this world to world to come...

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


Happy 2nd Birthday, Emanuel David!
 




Sufficiency from God...


 

01.18.18 (Shevat 2, 5778)   We must always be on guard against flattering ourselves, since the "flesh" naturally assumes that there is something we must add or may contribute to God's work of salvation given in Yeshua... Human pride is always scandalized by the message of the cross, since the cross represents the radical insufficiency of the ego to please God... There is absolutely nothing we have to commend ourselves to God, and even our faith is a miracle based on divine prerogative and not our own wisdom. "If anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself" (Gal. 6:3). God does not ransom the soul so that the flesh may be coddled or appeased. There is one verdict for all of us, there is one "narrow gate" that leads to life, and that gate is opened through the inner confession that we are hopeless sinners who are entirely unable to save ourselves. This is why the "gate is narrow and the way is hard (θλίβω) that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matt. 7:14). The salvation of the soul is tribulation (θλῖψις) for the flesh...

Yeshua didn't die a painful and bloody death on the cross to save sinful flesh but to become sinful flesh in exchange for the sinner who trusts in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). The cross is not the place of "moral reformation" but rather the confession of our own death. We don't come to the cross to get "cleaned up" but rather to die and be reborn. By faith there is a divine exchange, whereby the natural life is crucified and buried and the spirit is miraculously reborn and given life from heaven, but (again) even this faith is a gift from God... Previously we were described as "dead" in our sinful state - the living dead, if you will - until God sovereignly opened our eyes to personally reveal the truth to us.  Now we "take up the cross" by identifying all that we are with Yeshua. We live in a state of ongoing dependence. The entire process of salvation and sanctification entails being a humble witness of what God's great power has done and is doing for you....
 

יְהוָה תִּשְׁפּת שָׁלוֹם לָנוּ
 כִּי גַּם כָּל־מַעֲשֵׂינוּ פָּעַלְתָּ לָּנוּ

Adonai · tishpot · shalom · lanu
 ki · gam · kol · ma'asenu · pa'alta · lanu

 

"O LORD, you will establish peace for us,
for You have indeed done for us all our works."
(Isa. 26:12)
 



Hebrew Study Card
 

God does the work "for us" (לָּנוּ) and we are His witnesses... Salvation is "of the LORD," and is not the result of our own efforts. Anything of eternal value comes from God alone, who is the beginning and end of grace. "Not by (human) might, nor by (human) power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts (Zech. 4:6). If we lose sight of this truth, we are again made subject to the "law of sin and death" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת), that is, the futile principle of self-justification that constitutes the "wheel of suffering."  We can escape this cycle only by means of the cross of Yeshua, where we accept the truth about our condition and trust God for our deliverance. It is the "law of the Spirit of Life" (תוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים), that is, the inner reign of the Holy Spirit, that sets us free from the reign of sin that leads to death.
 

וְהָיָה מַעֲשֵׂה הַצְּדָקָה שָׁלוֹם
 וַעֲבדַת הַצְּדָקָה הַשְׁקֵט וָבֶטַח עַד־עוֹלָם

vehayah · ma'aseh · hatzedakah · shalom
 va'avodat · hatzedakah · hashket · va'betach · ad-olam

 

"And the work of the Righteousness One will be peace,
and the service of Righteousness One will be quietness and assurance forever."
(Isa. 32:17)
 



 

Note that it is the "work" (singular) of righteousness that is in view here – not the "works" of righteousness (plural) which we might perform (Titus 3:5). In other words, it is the work of the LORD alone, that is, the righteousness and glory of the Messiah, blessed be He, that gives us true peace. As it is written, "The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; he is their stronghold in time of trouble" (וּתְשׁוּעַת צַדִּיקִים מֵיְהוָה מָעוּזָּם בְּעֵת צָרָה); Psalm 37:39. Likewise the "service of righteousness" refers to the singular "avodah" of the great High Priest "after the order of Malki-Tzedek," which is the eternal service of intercession established in the decreed will and counsel of God Almighty (Heb. 7:20-21). This does not refer to acts of service performed by human beings in their religious ceremonies (i.e., the Levitical priesthood with its various forms of sacrificial worship), but rather the perfect act of service and sacrifice of Yeshua given upon the cross -- the everlasting atonement and eternal redemption secured by the priesthood of Yeshua (Heb. 9:12). "For our sake He made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ)."  Only God through Yeshua can give us true inner peace and security forever... Only Yeshua gives us peace with God....
 




Keeping Focused...


 

01.18.18 (Shevat 2, 5778)   Where it is written, "cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Pet. 5:7), the word translated "anxiety" (μέριμνα) comes from a Greek verb (μερίζω) that means to be fragmented or divided into parts and pieces. Being anxious is therefore the uneasy state of being unfocused and divided within oneself... King David understood the need for a unifying principle for his life: "One thing I ask of the Lord; that is what I will seek" (Psalm 27:4). He understood that walking in the truth required "uniting his heart," or "repairing the breach" within his inner affections so that he could experience reverence and awe before the Divine Presence (Psalm 86:11). King David knew that "right desire is the deepest form of prayer."
 

שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
 כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט

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

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

Chagall  Exodus (detail)

Hebrew Study Card
 

The Scriptures warn that a "double-minded man is unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8). The word translated "double-minded" is dipsuchos (δίψυχος), a word formed from δίς, "twice" and ψυχή, "soul." The word describes the spiritual condition of having "two souls" that both want different things at once. Being double-minded therefore describes a state of inner ambivalence, of having two separate minds holding contradictory thoughts. (In a sense, being double-minded is an affliction for the person of faith, since the unregenerated person lacks even the capability for collision within the heart.)

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

Many people live in regret over the past or in dread of the future. The Hebrew name of God, the Tetragrammaton (יהוה), means: "He is Present." We can only find God now, today, at this hour. Today if you hear His voice... Yeshua said, "The kingdom of heaven is within you" (מַלְכוּת הָאֱלהִים בְּקִרְבְּכֶם), that is, is to be found within the heart of faith (Luke 17:21).
 

    "If you want to know about Heaven and what Heaven is, you do not need to cast your thoughts many thousands of miles off, for that place, that heaven thousands of miles away, is not your Heaven. The true Heaven is not a created place but an uncreated place, and it is not found in a particular place but everywhere, even in the very place where you are standing and going. For when your Spirit within yourself is able to penetrate inwardly through and beyond your own flesh and life, and is able to catch hold upon the innermost moving of God, then you are clearly in Heaven."

    - Jacob Boehme (1575-1624)
      


Purity of the heart is to will one thing... When we are anxious, we become inwardly fragmented or divided, and thereby lose our sense of identity and purpose in this world. God invites us to come boldly before Him to find help (Heb. 4:16). He is a "very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1). We cast our burdens upon the LORD so that He can sustain us (Psalm 55:22), and that we may have a "right spirit" (רוּחַ נָכוֹן) renewed within us (Psalm 51:12). We can bring our brokenness to God - including those distractions that tear us away from Him and that make us inwardly "two-souled" - to find healing for our hearts. When we do so, we will discover the Source of Power that makes us "unshakable and always able to abound in every good work" (1 Cor. 15:58).
 




The Shema Prophecy...


 

01.17.18 (Shevat 1, 5778)   Instead of thinking of the Shema (שְׁמַע) as a commandment to be externally obeyed, you can regard it as a prophecy about your inner life: "You shall love (וְאָהַבְתָּ) the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deut. 6:5). Only God can quicken a dead heart, after all, and fill the soul with holy affections. Only the LORD can impart to us strength needed to take hold of promises as He writes His Torah upon our heart. As it is written, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever" (Rom. 11:36).
 

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

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

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



 

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

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

Note:  What does a commandment to love mean? People can obey God for a variety of reasons, many of which are not spiritually genuine. After all, Yeshua's harshest words were directed to the scribes, Sadducees, and Pharisees who "obeyed" the commandments yet were severely missing something altogether essential...
 




Retelling the Story...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Bo) and the story of yetziat mitzrayim, the great Exodus from Egypt....  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.17.18 (Shevat 1, 5778)   In our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Bo) we are commanded to retell "in the hearing of your son and your grandson" how the LORD overthrew the arrogance of the Egyptians and performed wonders to deliver us" (Exod. 10:2). This commandment is the basis of the Passover haggadah (i.e., הַגָּדָה, "telling"), the "oral tradition" of our faith, when we personally retell the story from generation to generation so that the spirit of the message is not lost. We participate in the seder to make it "our own story," a part of who we are. Therefore b'khol-dor vador: "Every Jew must consider himself to have been personally redeemed from Egypt." Retelling the story of the exodus enables us to "know that I am the LORD" (Exod. 10:2). We recall the words, bishvili nivra ha'olam – "For my sake was this world created," while we also recall the words, anokhi afar ve'efer – "I am but dust and ashes." When we retell the story of the great redemption, we strengthen our faith and better know the LORD.

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

וְהָיָה לְךָ לְאוֹת עַל־יָדְךָ
וּלְזִכָּרוֹן בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ
לְמַעַן תִּהְיֶה תּוֹרַת יְהוָה בְּפִיךָ
כִּי בְּיָד חֲזָקָה הוֹצִאֲךָ יְהוָה מִמִּצְרָיִם

ve·ha·yah · le·kha · le·ot · al · ya·de·kha
ul·zik·ka·ron · bein · ei·ne·kha
le·ma·an · ti·he·yeh · to·rat · Adonai · be·fi·kha
ki · be·yad · cha·za·kah · ho·tzi·a·kha · Adonai · mi·mitz·ra·im
 

"And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand
and for 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. 13:9)


 


In this connection, the traditional haggadah describes four kinds of "children" at the seder table. First is the child who is unable to ask, or who doesn't understand that there is a question about the meaning of the seder (she'eilo yodea lishol). Second is a simple child who goes along with the seder but does not bother to look beneath the surface to find its meaning and relevance. The third child is rasha - alienated and distant - a stranger at the table who wants to hear a different story rather than the one being told. Finally, the wise child (chakham) humbly asks, seeks, and desires to understand the mystery and the truth about Passover. The wise child's questions lead to answers that lead to yet other questions, and so the meaning of the redemption belongs to him... By extension, since Yeshua is indeed the Lamb of God, the true Substance of the meaning of Passover, we must ask and answer the question, "Were you there when they crucified our LORD?"
 




The Life of the Blood


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Bo) and the story of the Passover exodus from Egypt.... Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.16.18 (Tevet 29, 5778)   The Hebrew word for "Passover" comes from a verb pasach (פָּסַח) that means to "pass over," though it also can mean "to limp," recalling the "heel of Messiah" that was bruised in the battle for our deliverance (Gen. 3:15). It is written in the Torah, "the life (i.e., nefesh [נֶפֶשׁ], breath, "soul") of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to cleanse (i.e., kafar [כָפַר], cover, atone, ransom, purify) your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life" (Lev. 17:11). When Yeshua offered his blood upon the cross for our purification, he poured out his very soul, his final breath, and his last extremity for the sake of our healing... Since blood is the carrier of life, it has its own spiritual "voice" that intercedes on our behalf in the Holy of Holies made without hands (Gen. 4:10; Rev. 6:10; Heb. 9:12, 12:24). The great passion of our Lord still speaks, since Yeshua always lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25).
 




The Great Lamb of God...


 

01.15.18 (Tevet 28, 5778)   From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Bo) we learn that though God instructed each household to select its own lamb for the Passover, the Torah refers to "the" Lamb of God, as if there was only one: "You shall keep it [i.e., the Passover lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter him (אתוֹ) at twilight (Exod. 12:6). Note that the direct object "him" (i.e., oto) can be read as Aleph-Tav (את) combined with the letter Vav (ו), signifying the Son of Man who is First and Last... Indeed there is only one "Lamb of God" that takes away the sins of the world, and that is our Savior, Yeshua the Messiah...
 

רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה

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

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



Hebrew Study Card

 




The Torah of Passover...


 

01.15.18 (Tevet 28, 5778)   The very first occurrence of the word "Torah" (תּוֹרָה) in the Scriptures refers to the faith of Abraham (Gen. 26:5), and the second occurrence refers to the law of Passover: "There shall be one law (תּוֹרָה) for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you" (Exod. 12:49). There is a link here. Abraham lived before the time of the Exodus, of course, and therefore he obeyed the Torah of Passover by means of the Akedah (the sacrifice of his beloved son Isaac and the substitution of the lamb of God upon the altar). Abraham's faith revealed that the inner meaning of Torah is that the "righteous shall live by faith" (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17), that is, by trusting God's justification of the sinner (Heb. 11:17-19). The Torah of Passover likewise teaches that redemption from death is possible through the exchange of an innocent sacrificial victim. The blood of the lamb was "a sign" of imputed righteousness obtained entirely by faith - with no "leaven," or human works, added. This is the "korban" principle of "life-for-life" that underlies the sacrificial system of the Tabernacle as well. Ultimately all true Torah points to Yeshua, the Lamb of God, who is the divinely appointed Redeemer and promised Slayer of the Serpent...

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




Exodus and Freedom...


 

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

01.15.18 (Tevet 28, 5778)   God's redemption is both "out of" and "into." The LORD takes us out of hell, bondage, and death into heaven, liberty, and eternal life. But note that he takes us out only to bring us back in; he redeems us to bring us to Sinai; he writes Torah upon our hearts; he makes us "in but not of" the world (John 17:15-16). Every Passover we retell the story of our redemption. We remember how we bitterly cried because of our bondage and how God graciously delivered us by the blood of the lamb. We rejoice that we are called am segulah - God's own treasured people. Because of God's love demonstrated at the cross, we are transferred (μεθίστημι) from the realm of darkness into the kingdom of the Divine Presence (Col. 1:13). Today may we live as salt and light to a perverse world, sharing the message of God's great liberation from the power of sin, death, and evil...



 




Exodus and the Lamb...


 

[ Our Torah reading for this week, Parashat Bo, describes the great Passover by means of faith in the efficacy of the blood of the Lamb of God and the subsequent exodus from Egypt... ]

01.14.18 (Tevet 27, 5778)  Our Torah reading for this week begins with God commanding Moses "to go" (i.e., bo: בּא) before Pharaoh to announce further apocalyptic judgments upon Egypt. The purpose of this power encounter was to vindicate God's justice and glory (deliverance/salvation) by overthrowing the tyranny of unjust human oppression. Pharaoh's nightmare of "one little lamb" outweighing all the firstborn of Egypt was about to be fulfilled.

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

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

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

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


 

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

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




The Exodus Parable...


 

01.14.18 (Tevet 27, 5778)  The great exodus of Israel from Egypt is the central parable of the Torah. The bondage of the Israelites to Pharaoh represents humanity's slavery to sin; God's deliverance from bondage is effected by trusting in the blood of the sacrificial lamb of God; the passage from death to life symbolically comes through baptism into the Sea of Reeds; the journey to truth represents the pilgrimage to Sinai, and so on. Indeed, the redemption in Egypt led directly to revelation given at Sinai, and when the LORD God gave the Ten Commandments, he did not begin by saying he was our Creator, but rather our Redeemer: "I am the LORD your God (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ), who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exod. 20:2). This is because the purpose of the creation itself is to demonstrate God's redemptive love and to be known as our Savior and Redeemer, just as Yeshua is the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9). "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Creation therefore begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Mashiach, the great Lamb of God and our Savior... He is the Center of Creation - the Aleph and Tav - the Beginning and the End (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:17). All the world was created for the Messiah: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36). Ponder the glory of our Savior, chaverim! Shavuah Tov!
 




Hope and Deliverance...


 

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

01.12.18 (Tevet 25, 5778)  When Moses proclaimed the good news of God's forthcoming redemption for Israel, the Torah states that the people could not listen because they were "short of breath" (Exod. 6:9). Interestingly, this phrase (i.e., mi'kotzer ru'ach: מִקּצֶר רוּחַ) can also mean "lacking in spirit," as if in a paralyzed state of hopelessness. Indeed, life in this evil world can be suffocating at times. And though we may not be under the oppression of a cruel Pharaoh, we are affected by the "princes of this age" who spurn the message of the Messiah's redemption and love, and we are still subjected to bondage imposed by taskmasters who defy the LORD and who seek to enslave us by means of lies, propaganda, and threats of violence... The devil is still at work in the hearts and minds of many of his "little Pharaohs" that govern the world system...

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

The Scriptures declare that "we are saved by hope" (ελπιδι εσωθημεν), that is, we are saved through an earnest expectation of good to come on account of the promises of the LORD God of Israel. Amen. The LORD is called "The God of Hope" (אֱלהֵי הַתִּקְוָה), indicating that He is its Author and its End (Rom. 15:13). God both gives birth to our hope (tikvah) and is the satisfaction of our heart's deepest longings. For those with God-given hope, gam zu l'tovah – all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28). In light of God's promises, hope is the one "work" that we are called to vigorously perform: "What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?" Yeshua answered, "This is the work of God, that you trust (i.e. hope) in the one whom He sent" (John 6:28-29).

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

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




Prisoners of Hope...


 

01.12.18 (Tevet 25, 5778)   "Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my Salvation (אֱלהֵי יִשְׁעִי); in you I wait all the day long" (Psalm 25:5). Because we are beset by difficulties and various trials in this life, we must seek the truth from God our Teacher, who is the Savior to all who look to Him. Our seeking is expressed in hope (תִּקְוָה), and this implies we lament over the exile and yearn for deliverance -- both for ourselves and for the whole world. We must console ourselves and find courage, since we are called asirei ha'tikvah (אֲסִירֵי הַתִּקְוָה), "prisoners of hope," to whom the word is given: "be not afraid," and "return to your strength, you prisoners of hope" (Zech. 9:12). The sages here note that the Hebrew word for "prisoner" (i.e., asir: אָסִיר) comes from the root asar (אָסַר), meaning "to bind" or "to fasten together," suggesting that we must be bound to hope with an unshakable bond, never surrendering to despair. Even in the pitch of deepest darkness God's kindness never ceases, and his love is renewed for us day by day (Lam. 3:22-23). Let us, then, press on in faith, strengthened in the conviction that the hope of the righteous will never be cut off.
 

הַדְרִיכֵנִי בַאֲמִתֶּךָ וְלַמְּדֵנִי
כִּי־אַתָּה אֱלהֵי יִשְׁעִי
אוֹתְךָ קִוִּיתִי כָּל־הַיּוֹם

had·ri·khei·ni · va'a·mi·te·kha · ve·lam·me·dei·ni
ki · at·tah · E·lo·hei · yish·i
o·te·kha · kiv·vi·ti · kol · hai·yom

 

"Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for You are the God of my Salvation;
in You I wait all the day long." - Psalm 25:5
 


Hebrew Study Card

 

"Though the fig tree does not blossom, nor fruit be found on the vines, though the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, and though the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation" (Hab. 3:17-18). The targum translates "I will rejoice in the LORD" as "I will rejoice in the Word of the LORD." The Source of such joy comes to the heart of faith that 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). Augustine rendered Elohei Yishi as "God my Jesus," since "Jesus" (i.e., Yeshua) 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." He is the Source of our hope.

Dear friend, if you should find yourself in the "Slough of Despond," that is, in a swamp of despair, keep focused on the light ahead and strive to enter the straight gate. Resolve within your heart you would rather die fighting than return to the vain comforts and illusions of this world... May the LORD give you the strength to journey mechayil el chayil!
 

אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם עוֹז־לוֹ בָךְ
מְסִלּוֹת בִּלְבָבָם
יֵלְכוּ מֵחַיִל אֶל־חָיִל
יֵרָאֶה אֶל־אֱלהִים בְּצִיּוֹן

ash·rei · a·dam · oz-lo · vakh
me·sil·lot · bil·va·vam
yel·khu · me·cha·yil · el · cha·yil
ye·ra·eh · el-Elohim · be·Tzi·yon

 

"Happy is the person who finds strength in You,
in whose heart are pilgrim highways…
They go from strength to strength
and appear before God in Zion" - Psalm 84:5,7
 

 





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