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

        

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

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





 

Jewish Holiday Calendar

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

In the summer there occurs a three week period of mourning that begins with the Fast of Tammuz and ends with Tishah B'Av. The last nine days of this three week period (i.e., from Av 1 until Av 9th) are days of increased mourning. However, after this somber time, the romantic holiday of Tu B'Av, the 15th of Av occurs. Summer ends with the 30 days of the month of Elul, a yearly season of teshuvah (repentance) that anticipates Rosh Hashanah and the fall holidays. The 30 days of Elul are combined with the first 10 days of the month of Tishri to create the "Forty Days of Teshuvah" that culminate with Yom Kippur.

Because they occur between the spring and fall holidays, the summer holidays help us prepare for the second coming of the Messiah:
 

Summer Holiday Calendar

The Summer Holidays:

Summer Holidays
 

Note that in accordance with tradition, holiday dates begin at sundown. Moreover, some holidays may be postponed one day if they happen to fall on the weekly Sabbath:

  1. Month of Tammuz (Fri., June 23rd [eve] - Sat., July 23rd [day])
  2. Month of Av (Sun., July 23rd [eve] - Mon., Aug. 21st [day])
  3. Month of Elul (Mon., Aug. 21st [eve] - Wed. Sept. 20th [day])
  4. Month of Tishri (Wed. Sept. 20th [eve]) - Thur. Oct. 19th [day]
    • Rosh Hashanah / Yom Teru'ah - Tishri 1 5778 (Wed. Sept. 20th) - Seder
    • The Ten Days of Teshuvah: Wed. Sept 20th - Fri. Sept. 29th
    • Shabbat Shuvah - the Shabbat that occurs during the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Fri., Sept. 22)
    • Tzom Gedaliah - Sun. Sept. 24 (sunrise to sunset fast)
    • Yom Kippur - Fri. Sept. 29th (the fast begins an hour before sunset and runs 25 hours until after sunset Sat. Sept. 30th).
    • Sukkot - Wed. Oct 4th at sundown through Wed. Oct. 11th at sundown.
    • Hoshana Rabba - Climactic last day of Sukkot, Wed. Oct. 11th.
    • Shemini Atzeret - The "eighth day" assembly after Sukkot. Thurs. Oct 12th.
    • Simchat Torah - Celebration of the conclusion of the completion of the yearly Torah Reading Cycle. Thurs. Oct 12th - Friday Oct. 13th.
    • Shabbat Bereshit - The beginning of the Torah Reading Cycle for the new year (Friday, Oct. 13th after sundown through the following Sabbath day).
       

Note:  Some calendars will list the first day of a holiday without indicating that the holiday actually begins sundown the night before... So, for example, while Tishah B'Av begins Monday, July 31st at sundown, some calendars will indicate it occurs on Tuesday, August 1st...
 



 

 


 

August 2017 Site Updates
 


Call to do Teshuvah...


 

[ The following entry is related to the month of Elul and the "Season of Repentance..." ]

08.18.17 (Av 26, 5777)   The Elul Eclipse this year marks the beginning of the "Forty Days of Teshuvah" leading up to Yom Kippur. This is a season of introspection and teshuvah (i.e., "repentance") whereby we seek to turn our hearts to God and to attune ourselves to what is most important. This is not a trivial task but requires courage and the willingness to be genuinely honest with ourselves... All of us have unhealed parts, "hidden faults" of which we are not fully aware. Therefore king David prayed, "Who can discern his errors? cleanse me from secret faults" (Psalm 19:12). We are cleansed by confession, that is, by looking within our hearts to uncover deeper motivations...  If we are honest with ourselves we may discover, for example, that we are angry or fearful people, despite how we otherwise wish to regard ourselves.  If you find yourself unable to let something go, for instance, some pain or failure of the past, remind yourself that you must do so if you want to move on with your life. Focusing on how things could have been different is to be enslaved to the past. The goal of teshuvah (repentance) is to turn us back to God for life, but to do this, we must be be willing to let go of what makes us sick.
 

שְׁגִיאוֹת מִי־יָבִין מִנִּסְתָּרוֹת נַקֵּנִי
גַּם מִזֵּדִים חֲשׂךְ עַבְדֶּךָ
אַל־יִמְשְׁלוּ־בִי אָז אֵיתָם
וְנִקֵּיתִי מִפֶּשַׁע רָב

she·gi·ot · mi-ya·vin · min·nis·ta·rot · nak·kei·ni
gam · mi·ze·dim · cha·sokh · av·de·kha
al-yim·she·lu-vi · az · e·tam
ve·ni·ke·ti · mi·pe·sha · rav

 

"Who can discern his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults;
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression." (Psalm 19:12-13)

Chagall Angel (glass detail)

 

Note that the Hebrew word translated "errors" (i.e., shegi'ot: שְׁגִיאוֹת) comes from a root word (שָׁגָה) that means to wander, stray, or transgress. The question raised by King David is of course rhetorical: "Who can discern his errors?" The answer is no one – apart from divine intervention... David therefore asked to be cleansed from his "secret faults," which are not those that were performed by him "in secret," but rather those that were unknown, unseen, and unconscious to his own sense of awareness. These are "mindless" sins, unthinking offenses, hidden dispositions, character traits and actions that a person unwittingly performs, perhaps because of deep forces of which he was oblivious. These are the "secret sins" set in the light of God's face (Psalm 90:8); the "sluggish darkness" of the human heart that leads to death and ruin: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and incurably sick; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9). How many of us, after all, are fully aware of what we are doing when we are doing something? How many of us are completely transparent both to ourselves and before God, with no unclear motives, etc.? We must always be vigilant... There is always the force of habit, or the subconscious desires or conflicts of the inner life, that work on us, not to mention the trauma of our past and the present devices from the enemy of our souls.  May the LORD give us the willingness to be healed, even if there are parts of ourselves that seem to resist that healing.

Note further that "presumptuous" sins (מִזֵּדִים) are not necessarily flagrant sins as much as those that arise from self-reliance or pride (זָדוֹן). Only the humble of heart can be truly free from the dominance of presumption and sin. "Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me" (Psalm 119:133). May God make us humble of heart, free from presumption and the illusion that we do not need God for every step we take.  Therefore may it please the Lord to heal those parts of ourselves that don't even know they need to be healed... Amen.

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Elul Tov, chaverim. Turn to God in teshuvah while there is still time! The LORD calls out to all who are willing to believe to come to Him for life: "Seek Me and live!" Do not let the shame of your past hinder you; run to God's outstretched arms!

 

בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה הַמְּרָפֵא אֵת חֲטָאֵנוּ הַנִּסְתָּרִים

ba·rukh · Adonai · ha·me·ra·fei · et · cha·ta·ei·nu · ha·nis·ta·rim
 

"Blessed is the LORD who heals our hidden sins."

 




Remembering our future...


 

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

יְהוָה עז לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן
יְהוָה יְבָרֵךְ אֶת־עַמּוֹ בַשָּׁלוֹם

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

Keep holding on, dear friends! The Lord our God is faithful and true. He gives us acharit ve'tikvah (אַחֲרִית וְתִקְוָה), "a future and a hope" (Jer. 29:11). Shabbat Shalom!
 




The Bridge of Faith...


 

08.18.17 (Av 26, 5777)   There is always a gap between what we are and what we could be, between the "is" and the "ought," and between the real and the ideal in our lives... Our conversion imparts to us a new spiritual nature, but we still must struggle through our deep inadequacies so that we might learn to truly love God and others (Shema). God graciously saves us by faith, and he sanctifies us the selfsame way, though in the latter case this means learning to keep focus, to persevere, and persist in hope - despite the shortfall of our lives. So where are you going today? Are you keeping faith in God's promises for your life? Are you catching up with the miracle of what God has done for you?
 

הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה דֶּרֶךְ חֻקֶּיךָ
וְאֶצְּרֶנָּה עֵקֶב

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

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


 
 

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




Avodah Zarah...


 

08.18.17 (Av 26, 5777)   "Beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them..." (Deut. 4:19). God's creation is surely magnificent and mysterious, but it is a means to the end of displaying his glory, and is not to be regarded as an end in itself (Psalm 19:1-3). The sages wonder, however, why the Torah condemns venerating the heavenly powers, and ask, "Would not a king be pleased when his people honor his officers?" They reply that since we are partakers of God's nature and direct witnesses of his Reality (Rom. 1:19-20), bowing to the creature rather than the Creator violates the sanctity of the soul. Idolatry is forbidden because it denies that you are a bearer of God within your heart, and that outrages the Divine Presence by desecrating his handiwork. On the other hand, if the soul knows that he is joined with God, his godly esteem will strengthen him to walk according to his true identity as a child of the Most High God.
 




Blessed to Give...


 

08.17.17 (Av 25, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week (parashat Re'eh) we read: "you shall surely tithe..." (Deut. 14:22), which can also be translated as "be certain to tithe" (the infinitive absolute (עַשֵּׂר תְּעַשֵּׂר) lays emphasis on the action). God wants us to have a "treasure in heaven that does not fail," and therefore tithing may be regarded as form of "investment" in heaven, of being "rich toward God" (see Luke 12:21, 33; Matt. 6:19-20). Moreover, our Torah portion further commands us to give to the needy, admonishing us not to harden our hearts but rather to feel compassion: "You shall give to him freely (literally, "giving you shall give"), and do not let your heart feel bad when you give, for because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake" (Deut. 15:10). Here the Hebrew word "give" is mentioned twice (נָתוֹן תִּתֵּן) because giving to others is also giving to God, as it is written, "Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed" (Prov. 19:17). When we give tzedakah (charity), it may seem like we giving something from our own substance for the sake of another, but in truth we are actually taking, since we are spiritually receiving back much more than we give (both in this life and especially in the world to come). The reward we get in return for our giving is always far greater than whatever we originally gave (Mal. 3:10), and this implies that giving is really a kind of "taking..." This agrees with Yeshua's teaching: "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).
 




Nearness of Blessing...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Re'eh... ]

08.17.17 (Av 25, 5777)   From our Torah this week we read: "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen (shema) the commandments of the LORD your God ... the curse if you do not listen and turn away" (Deut. 11:26-28). Here we note that the only condition for the blessing is that we actively listen to God, for that is the path, but if we refuse to listen we will therefore stray from the path. The blessing, then, is as close as your heart, revealed as you choose to believe; the curse moves you away from the heart, straying from the path to a place of exile...
 




Life in Perilous Times...


 

08.17.17 (Av 25, 5777)   The Scriptures foretell that the time before the prophesied End of Days would be "perilous" (χαλεπός) and full of moral depravity: "Understand this, that in the last days perilous times (καιροὶ χαλεποί) shall come" (2 Tim. 3:1). In the entire New Testament, the only other place we find this word translated "perilous" (i.e., χαλεπός) is in Matthew 8:28, where it describes savage demonic activity. Indeed, the word likely comes from a Greek verb (χαλάω) that means "to let down from a higher place to a lower," thereby creating a sort of spiritual "chasm" or rift, which again suggests that Satan's activity will be unleashed upon the earth.  In the "End of Days," then, a wave of fierce demonic activity will appear upon the earth that will menace and terrorize others. If you can stomach reading the daily news, you will see that this peril is a regular feature of our world today.

Are we then to be in dread of these things?  No. "There is no fear in God's love" (φόβος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ). God gives truth and grace to help us navigate our difficult situation; he understands the character of the times in which we live... Notice that the Greek word translated "times" in the phrase "perilous times" (καιροὶ χαλεποί) is also translated "appointed times" (מוֹעֲדִים) throughout the Scriptures. In other words, God has appointed this time to be one of judgment upon the world system, and we are here forewarned so that we can speak the truth and offer healing to others who seek deliverance... The Lord will never leave us nor forsake us; He will shelter us in Goshen (גּשֶׁן, lit. "drawing near") before the hour of his wrath; He will walk with us through the waters, and through the fires (Isa. 43:2). Our Lord knows how to calm the storms around us...

Let's be careful to whom we listen and accept as our authority.  The latest "news" and gossip of this evil world is inherently deceptive, a carefully crafted dialectic of social engineering devised by Satan that is intended to divide people into warring factions in order to enslave them to their fears. We are not to follow the madness of the crowd or be victims of such devices (1 Pet. 5:8-9). The irony in all of this is that there is indeed a "dialectic" of the Spirit in motion, however, a dialectic that will make the various conflicts of this world look like a mere "tempest in a teapot."  The great day of the LORD approaches, and the elements will all be burned with fervent heat, as it is written: "But the Day of the LORD (יוֹם־יְהוָה) will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a horrific roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and every deed done on it will be laid bare" (2 Pet. 3:10). As was also foretold in our prophets: "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, and my righteousness will never be dismayed" (Isa. 51:6). Instead of giving credence to the fearmongering and propaganda of this depraved world, we must follow the LORD God Almighty and to submit to His leadership despite the miasmic madness that surrounds us.  May God give us greater grace for these desperate days...
 




Cursed for your Blessing...


 

08.17.17 (Av 25, 5777)   "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse" (Deut. 11:26). The blessing comes from the obedience of faith, and not in any other way. You cannot be justified by the law, that is, declared righteous before God, even if you were to keep all of the commandments except one: "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it" (James 2:10), and indeed the Scriptures state that no one is without sin (e.g., Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:23; 5:12 1 John 1:8; Psalm 130:3; 143:2; Prov. 20:9; Isa. 53:6; Isa. 64:6). The consequence of sin is death (Rom. 6:23) which is separation and exile from the Divine presence. The good news is that we are justified by God's righteousness, not our own. τῷ δὲ μὴ ἐργαζομένῳ πιστεύοντι δὲ ἐπὶ τὸν δικαιοῦντα τὸν ἀσεβῆ λογίζεται ἡ πίστις αὐτοῦ εἰς δικαιοσύνην - "to the one who does not work but believes in the One who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness" (Rom. 4:5). In other words, we are given merit (or "imputed righteousness") on the basis of our faith that God justifies (i.e., declares righteous) those who trust in the sacrificial intervention of Yeshua for their sin problem. God has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, as it is written, "Cursed is every one who is hanged on a tree" (Gal. 3:13). If, however, you refuse the way of the healing provided by heaven, then (by default) you have chosen the path that leads to the curse. That is why remaining agnostic or "neutral" on the question of how we are made right with God is not an option (John 3:18-21). Each of us has been bitten by the snake and must now look upon the truth (Num. 21:8-9; John 3:14-15). There is no "middle ground" when it comes to the divine remedy: it is either cross of Messiah for your sins or you must bear the loss on your own. The path of blessing, however, is found by trusting in God's righteousness, which the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16-17).

You are invited to come before the Divine Presence to receive the blessing - you are welcomed with joy - because of the glory of God's love given to you in Yeshua... And while you can never "earn" God's love, of course, you must take hold of it by faith, as Yeshua said: "This is the work of God - that you believe in the One whom God sent (John 6:29). This is the great work of the heart, the "obedience of faith," namely, trusting that Yeshua was given for your sake, for your sins, so that you can be healed by the love and grace of God.  Faith finds courage to accept God's love, despite whatever may tempt you to feel unworthy or unacceptable.  It pushes past the superficial view that you can please God by what you do, instead of enjoying God by knowing who He is: God is love; God is Light; He is Faithfulness, the Savior of your life... Faith works through his love (Gal. 5:6).
 




Education for Eternity...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Re'eh... ]

08.17.17 (Av 25, 5777)   "Know within your heart that, as a parent disciplines his child, so the LORD your God disciplines you" (Deut. 8:5). This verse expresses the idea of "musar" (מוסר), or moral education intended to develop godly character within us. "My son, despise not the chastening (i.e., musar) of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction (i.e., tokhechah). For whom the Lord loves he corrects; even as a father the son in whom he delights" (Prov. 3:11; see also Heb. 12:5-6). In light of Torah we infer that God disciplines us because we are his children, for the sake of our growth and maturity, and not for vindictive reasons. God's correction indicates that he feels responsible for our character development, as a good father feels responsible for the character development of his child. Correction from the Lord is ultimately "soul-building," since it enables us to be partakers of His holiness -- and is grounded in His love and concern for us as our Heavenly Father (see Heb. 12:5-11). Hang in there, friend. "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Heb. 12:11). May God help us in our "education for eternity."
 

וְיָדַעְתָּ עִם־לְבָבֶךָ
כִּי כַּאֲשֶׁר יְיַסֵּר אִישׁ אֶת־בְּנוֹ
יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ מְיַסְּרֶךָּ

ve·ya·da·ta · im · le·va·ve·kha
ki · ka·a·sher · ye·ya·ser · ish · et · be·no
Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · me·ya·se·re·ka

 

"Know within your heart that, as a parent disciplines his child,
so the LORD your God disciplines you" (Deut. 8:5)

 




The Torah of Love...


 

08.16.17 (Av 24, 5777)   God does not love you based on your obedience, but his love for you will lead you to obedience... It is only after accepting that you are accepted despite yourself -- despite your inherent inability to please God, despite your incurably sick heart, despite your disobedience, sin, and so on -- it is only then that earnest, Spirit-enabled obedience may spontaneously arise within your heart. In that sense "obedience" is like falling in love with someone. It is your love that moves you to act and to express your heart, and were you prevented from doing so, you would undoubtedly grieve over your loss... Therefore the "law of the Spirit of Life in Messiah" is first of all empowered by God's grace and love. We walk by faith, hope, and love - these three.  And this explains why the very first step of teshuvah (repentance) is to love God: Shema! Ve'ahavta et Adonai... The first work of faith is to believe in the miracle that God's love is "for-you-love..."

If you still find yourself operating from a sense of God's conditional acceptance, you will undoubtedly need to repeat the same sins over and over until your heart is finally convinced of its incurably wretched state. You must first be utterly sick of yourself to believe in the miracle of God's deliverance. Only after this does the good news of the gospel find its opportunity to speak...
 




Destroying Idols...


 

08.16.17 (Av 24, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week (i.e., Re'eh) we read: "You must destroy the names of [their gods] out of that place" (Deut. 12:3). But how are we to obliterate the names of idols in our midst except by ignoring them – or rather, by refusing to invest them with power to affect our lives?  Instead of focusing on the various ways that people may go wrong in their theology and practice, we must look instead to the Lord and walk in His ways. Let us seek his face, spending time in deep prayer, pouring our hearts out before Him. Let us worry less about what others are doing than how we may enter into meaningful connection with God for ourselves. As Yeshua said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matt. 6:33). Focus your attention on tending the fire upon your own altar instead of fretting over the altars of others. We destroy the names of idols by letting them fade or pass away; we refuse to be seduced by their deceptive claims to authority and instead reaffirm our devotion to the one true God.
 




Softening your Heart...


 

08.16.17 (Av 24, 5777)   "You must cut away the barrier of your heart and no longer stiffen your neck" (Deut. 10:16). But how can we do this other than by accepting the will of God and therefore trusting in his guidance? When we surrender to Gods' care and stop resisting his will, we can let go, relax, and begin to flow with the Spirit. When we soften and open our heart, we allow ourselves to be taken up and comforted by God's Presence.
 




True and False Prophets...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Re'eh... ]

08.15.17 (Av 23, 5777)   From our Torah portion for this week we read:"If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder (אוֹת אוֹ מוֹפֵת), and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, 'Let us go after other gods,' which you have not known, 'and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst" (Deut. 13:1-5).

This passage concerns matters of godly leadership, and raises questions of what criteria should be used to establish authority. Note that the Torah here immediately states that a miraculous "sign" (i.e., אוֹת, or unusual event) or "wonder" (i.e., מוֹפֵת - literally, "appealing thing") does not authenticate a message as being from the LORD.  No, what distinguishes a true prophet from a false one is something deeper, namely a genuine passion to adhere to basic Torah principles, that is, moral truths that are easily discoverable by anyone.  As Yeshua taught us, a true prophet of God will never undermine the commandments given in Torah (Matt. 5:19). The truth of God bears its own internal witness and does not stand or fall by outward signs of success for confirmation (Rom. 1:19-20; Psalm 19:1-3; John 1:9). Yeshua warned us that false prophets would arise and perform great signs and wonders that would be so compelling that lead astray, if possible, even the elect" (Matt. 24:24). Moreover, the Messiah of evil is soon to appear, "the coming of the lawless one who, by the activity of Satan, and with all power and false signs and wonders will deceive those who are perishing – "because they refused to love the truth and so be saved" (2 Thess. 2:9-10). Note the connection between loving truth and salvation, friends. We are instructed to "test the spirits" by first asking whether their teaching is in alignment with the truth of Torah, and then by asking whether the doctrine ascribes glory and greatness to Yeshua, the Savior and LORD, who is none other than God who has come in the flesh to ransom lost humanity from the curse of the law's judgment (Gal 3:10-13; Rom. 8:3; 1 John 4:1-3). The promised New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) inscribes the Torah on our hearts and establishes truth within the inner being (Jer. 31:31; Heb. 8:10). Eternal life centers on a spiritual connection with Yeshua, the Living Torah, and True Vine of God (John 15:1-8). As it is written: "Whoever has the Son has the life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:12). The true sign of God, and a miracle greater than that of parting the sea, is life given to a dead heart, an inner transformation that comes from the power of the Living God.

It is important to remember that God doesn't share His glory with those who profane His Name. The Name of God is not subject to the spirit of the age and its linguistic conventions but rather represents His character and reputation. He is looking for those to worship Him in the spirit of truth -- for those who want to share His heart and passion for a lost and dying world... The Father's business is to save the world through the ministry of His Son Yeshua the Messiah (Matt. 28:19-20).

The way of Yeshua is always hidden in this world -- it is a life of sacrifice, of struggle, and quiet confidence and joy.  What man esteems and what God esteems are two different things. God invariably uses the lowly, the humble, and the weak to display His glory and power. God is not revealed by Cathedrals with ornate priesthoods and elaborate rituals any more than he is revealed by the hucksterism and nonsense shouted from televangelists or revivalists (nor, for that matter is He revealed in the convoluted music of J.S. Bach or in the arid theologizing found in many "Protestant" sermons). The Good Shepherd leads his sheep beside still waters...

Signs and wonders are always ambiguous and constitute a divine test (Deut. 13:3; 1 Cor. 11:19). Yeshua pointed this out in His parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Even if a person should encounter someone literally risen from the dead it wouldn't suffice to impart true faith. Indeed, Yeshua had stern words for those who wanted Him for the sake of "signs and wonders." He called them an "adulterous generation" -- because they were not interested in God's passion but rather in their own (Matt. 12:29; 16:4).

Yeshua told us that the "great" in the Kingdom of God are those willing to be the servant of all (Mark 9:35). Those who truly give Him glory -- who do not profane His Name -- will live in humility and will habitually ascribe glory to the Person and work of Yeshua the Messiah. They will agree with Paul's words: "God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal. 6:14). The Holy Spirit, whom Yeshua called the "Spirit of Truth," always brings glory to its right focal point (John 16:13-14). We are called to live the "crucified life" and be filled with truth.

We must use godly discernment, friends.  Note this well: The LORD allows false teachers in our midst to test our hearts: "For there must be (δεῖ) factions among you so that those who are genuine among you may be recognized" (1 Cor. 11:19). Therefore "test the spirits" to see if they are "of God," that is, whether they focus on the righteousness of God given exclusively through Yeshua, the "narrow way that leads to life" - or whether they focus on something else. The Holy Spirit always centers the heart on the glory of God revealed in Yeshua (John 16:14; 1 Cor. 2:2, etc.).
 




Torah's Weightier Matters...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Re'eh... ]

08.14.17 (Av 22, 5777)   From our Torah this week we read: "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing (הַבְּרָכָה), if you obey (שָׁמַע) the commandments of the LORD your God... and the curse (הַקְּלָלָה), if you turn aside (סוּר, "withdraw," "draw back") from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known" (Deut. 11:26-28). Presupposed here, of course, is knowing what the commandments of the Lord are, which is why we are further commanded neither add nor to subtract from Torah (Deut. 4:2). We are neither to go back to passivity and slavery by making Torah another "taskmaster" (i.e., "adding" to Torah), nor are we to erect "private altars" by exalting our own interpretation as exclusionary and divine (i.e., "subtracting" from Torah) (Deut. 12:1-7). Instead, we must face up to our responsibilities by making difficult life choices: we must discern the "weightier matters of Torah" (Matt. 23:23). When we were enslaved in Egypt, we were free from responsibility; we could play the victim by blaming others for our sins, our sorrows, our troubles. When were set free to serve God, however, we were given the power to choose to live outside of the realm of the curse by accepting God's blessing. Therefore bacharta ba'chayim: choose life so you may live!
 




Remember who you are...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Re'eh... ]

08.14.17 (Av 22, 5777)   One of the greatest mistakes is to forget who you really are and your beloved status before the LORD... "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine" (Isa. 43:1). Forgetting who you are leads to forgetting who the LORD is, just as forgetting who the LORD is leads to forgetting who you are...

The Torah declares: "You are children of the LORD your God (בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַיהוָה אֱלהֵיכֶם). You shall not cut yourselves for the dead" (Deut. 14:1). In this verse, Moses reminds the people that they are children of the Eternal (יהוה) and therefore they were not to mourn for the dead like those without hope of life beyond the grave... Our God, the Father of Israel, is the Source of Life, and even if our earthly fathers die, we will never be orphans, because the LORD, the Everlasting God who is the "God of the spirits of all flesh" (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), always watches over us: "He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber" (Psalm 121:3). But if we forget who we are, if we lose sight of our place in the Heavenly Father's heart, then we are likely to fall into a state of excessive and self-destructive mourning over the losses we experience in this world. In the most tragic cases, this can lead to the darkness of unremedied despair, "living among the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones" (Mark 5:5). On the other hand, if remember our place at the Father's table as his children, if we take hold that we are beloved of God - his very own "treasured people" - then we will regard the difficulties we encounter in this world as a test of faith intended for our good (Deut. 8:3,16, Jer. 29:11).

God regards us as his beloved children, and therefore we trust him as a child trusts his father. We may not always understand all that our father does, but we have complete faith in his good will toward us, even in the face of death itself. We do not engage in self-destructive mourning, then, because we are treasured by God and we trust in God's promises for eternal life (John 11:25). Because of this, Jewish halachah (legal custom) puts limits to grieving practices. Excessive mourning, interminable gloom, self-destructive anger, or the refusal to let go of our fear may indicate a lack of faith in God's care as our Father. Remember where it says "God works all things together for good," for that includes even physical death... Let us therefore "hope to the LORD (קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה); be strong and strengthen our heart; and (again) let us hope to the LORD" (Psalm 27:14).

For more on this very important topic, please see the article "Am Segulah."
 




The Meaning of Shalom...


 

08.14.17 (Av 22, 5777)   In our Torah reading for this week (i.e., parashat Re'eh) it is written: "You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way" (Deut. 12:4), which there refers to Canaanite practices of idolatry that were based on mystery and superstition. Unlike these religious cults that were based on vain speculations, however, the Jews were duty-bound to carry out God's will as expressed by the truth of divine revelation. Our father Abraham was given revelation of Torah (Gen. 26:5) and at Sinai moral truth was enshrined in the Ten Commandments (Exod. 24:12; Deut. 5:22). A basic assumption of Torah therefore is that "ought implies can," or that we are genuinely responsible to know and to do moral truth.  Unlike the ancient "mystery religions" that abandoned themselves by "celebrating" the lower nature, the Torah insists on overruling our base impulses and finding peace in the midst of the struggle to walk in righteousness. Therefore we do not understand the Hebrew word "shalom" (שָׁלוֹם), or "peace," to simply mean the absence of strife, but rather "wholeness," "completeness," "healing" -- the integration of the heart and mind that comes through catharsis and personal struggle (Gen. 32:28). Faith does not mean passivity, but protest -- "arguing" for (and even sometimes arguing with) heaven, reminding God of his promises, lamenting over the divine absence; finding courage to oppose the status quo, and repeatedly appealing to heaven "be'khol levaveinu" (בְּכָל־לְבָבֵנוּ) -- with all our hearts -- precisely because we believe that our prayers can affect even the divine decrees... True faith confesses to "move mountains into the sea" (Mark 11:23) and refuses to let go of God until it receives the promised blessing to become "Israel" (Gen. 32:26).
 




Seeing the Blessing...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah reading for this week, parashat Re'eh.... ]

08.14.17 (Av 22, 5777)   "See, I am giving... the blessing (הַבְּרָכָה) when you hearken (i.e, shama: שָׁמַע) to the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you today" (Deut. 11:26-27). Do not understand this as referring to blessing that results from hearing God's word, but rather the blessing that enables you to hear it... It is the blessing of being made awake, alive, and attuned to the Spirit of God. In this world you may or may not receive material blessing as you heed the truth, though you assuredly will be sustained by God's ongoing care (Psalm 37:25). The heavenly blessing is always present before you, however, when you sincerely turn to God and seek to do his will.  And may it please the LORD our God to help us turn to Him now, in this hour...

"Blessed be the God and Father of our our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who has blessed us in Messiah with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" (Eph. 1:3). Note that the Greek text translated "with every spiritual blessing" (i.e., ἐν πάσῃ εὐλογίᾳ πνευματικῇ) does not refer to "merely spiritual" as opposed to substantial or material blessings, but rather the blessing given by the Holy Spirit, those powers and graces "in heavenly places" (ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις), that derive from the kingdom of God, which are the highest blessings of all.
 




Solar Eclipse and Forty Days of Teshuvah...


 

[ The month of Elul begins Monday, Aug. 21st, which marks the advent of the 40 days of teshuvah. This signals the call to turn to God and to prepare for the coming fall holidays... ]

08.13.17 (Av 21, 5777)   The last month of the Torah's calendar (counting from the month of Tishri) is called Elul (אֱלוּל), which begins Monday, August 21st this year (and which also will be marked by a total solar eclipse). Traditionally, Rosh Chodesh Elul marks the beginning of a forty day "Season of Teshuvah" that culminates on the solemn holiday of Yom Kippur. The month of Elul is therefore a time set aside each year to prepare for the Yamim Nora'im, the "Days of Awe," by getting our spiritual house in order.

During this season we make additional effort to repent, or "turn [shuv] toward God." In Jewish tradition, these 40 days are sometimes called Yemei Ratzon (יְמֵי רָצוֹן) - "Days of Favor," since it was during this time that the LORD forgave the Jewish nation after the sin of the Golden Calf (Pirke d'Reb Eliezar). Some of the sages liken these 40 days to the number of days it takes for the human fetus to be formed within the womb.

Rosh Hashanah will begin in about five weeks (i.e., Wed.,  September 20th at sundown). During the time leading up to the High Holidays, it is customary to engage in cheshbon ha-nefesh ("soul searching") and to derive comfort that God is forgiving and loving to those who sincerely turn to Him. The Jewish sages chose the seven "Haftarot of comfort" to encourage us to make our hearts ready for the upcoming High Holiday Season.
 

 

Note that the word "Elul" (אֱלוּל) may be read as an acronym for the phrase,
ani le'dodi ve'dodi li (אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי), "I am my beloved's, and my beloved in mine"
(Song 6:3), to encourage to become full of desire for the Beloved of our soul...
 

Shuvah Yisrael ad Adonai Elohekha: "Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God..." (Hos. 14:1). The sages say you must return to the place where the LORD is your God -- that you receive his acceptance and love, and that you reclaim your status as his beloved child...

The following Hebrew blessing can be recited to ask the LORD to help you prepare for the month of Elul and the forty day "Season of Repentance":
 

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

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

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



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Parashat Re'eh - ראה


 

08.13.17 (Av 21, 5777)   Our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Re'eh) begins, "See (רְאֵה), I give before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing (הַבְּרָכָה), if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse (הַקְּלָלָה), if you ... turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known" (Deut. 11:26-28). We obtain God's blessing (i.e., berakhah: בְּרָכָה) when we obey the LORD, and our decision to obey manifests the blessed state of walking before the Divine Presence (the direct object marker et (את) before the word "the blessing" alludes to the blessings of "Aleph to Tav," that is from Yeshua, as described in Lev. 26:3-13). As King David said, "I have set (שִׁוִּיתִי) the LORD always before me..." (Psalm 16:8). David made a choice to "set" the LORD before his eyes, for he understood that opening his eyes to Reality was the only path of real blessing.

On the other hand, we obtain God's curse (i.e., kelalah: קְלָלָה) when we close our eyes and "forget" that the LORD is always present.... Suppressing God's truth invariably leads to idolatry, that is, to self exaltation. Note that the root word for the word "curse" (kalal) means to be treated as of little account, and therefore "ratifies" the rebellious heart's attitude toward God. This is middah keneged middah - we are ignored by the LORD as we ignore Him, just as we seen by Him when we truly seek His face (Isa. 55:6-7). So we see that the blessing or the curse really comes from our own inward decision, and God establishes the path we have chosen. As King David said, "God supports my lot" (Psalm 16:5), and Solomon wrote, "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps" (Prov. 16:9).
 


Note: The third of the "Seven Weeks of Comfort" leading up to Rosh Hashanah is called Aniyah so'arah (עֲנִיָּה סעֲרָה, "O afflicted and storm-tossed one"), which reminds the Jewish people of God's eternal and unconditional covenant of peace. Indeed of the Jewish people it is said, "no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment." Therefore the LORD invites the people to drink freely from the waters of life: "Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant (בְּרִית עוֹלָם), my steadfast, sure love for David (Isa. 55:3; Luke 1:68-75; Acts 13:34).
 




A Chosen People...


 

08.13.17 (Av 21, 5777)   "God chose you... from among all peoples" (Deut. 10:15). The idea is repeated several times in Torah (for example, see Deut. 14:2; Exod. 19:5-6; Deut. 7:7-8; Amos 3:2). The corollary of being chosen, however, is the responsibility to serve as an instrument of God's love to repair a broken world. Therefore the Apostle Peter refers to followers of Messiah as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession" (1 Peter 2:9, cp. Exod. 19:6, Deut. 7:6). Please note that these words were addressed to those formerly called Gentiles, since he adds: "Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people" (1 Pet. 2:10, cp. Deut. 32:21; Hos. 2:23; Rom. 9:25). The Apostle Paul likewise calls believers in Yeshua a "chosen people" (Eph 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13) who have been given direct and priestly access to God (Heb. 4:16). This priestly lineage began with Malki-Tzedek (Melchizedek), culminated in the advent of Yeshua, and is passed directly to the disciples by means of their justification and identification with the risen Savior "who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a treasured people (am segullah), zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14). Therefore "blessed is God who … has chosen us in Messiah before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless ... through whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace" (Eph. 1:3-7).
 




The Fear of the LORD...



 

08.11.17 (Av 19, 5777)  Some people are afraid that God will punish them for their sins, but the true fear of God, yirat ha'shamayim, is rather the fear of losing our closeness to Him... The sages say that where it is written, "What does the LORD ask of you except to fear the LORD" (Deut. 10:12), we should read instead, "fear with the LORD" (לְיִרְאָה אֶת־יְהוָה), that is, we share his concern that we could forfeit the sanctity of a heart-relationship with Him due to carelessness and sin... We fear our sin because it blinds us from awareness of God's care and love. The fear of God can therefore be understood as God's fear that we will miss the blessing of intimately knowing him.

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

Shabbat Shalom, and may the LORD help us stay close to his heart always.
 




Healing a Divided Heart...


 

08.11.17 (Av 19, 5777)  From our Torah this week we read, "Don't say in your heart... it is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in" (Deut. 9:4). Not even in your heart (בִּלְבָבְךָ) where the guise of humility is not needed... Internalize that you obtain your inheritance by the blessing of God alone. To realize this, we must surrender our pride. Inner dividedness comes from being undecided about who we really are: We both see and yet do not see our real motives. For instance, we may suspect that we are proud or selfish, but we push this awareness out of mind in an act of willed ignorance. This creates "double-mindedness" since we both want to be humble and proud at the same time. The source of our problem, then, is the will, which serves as a gatekeeper of what we admit to ourselves, and the healing comes when we are honest before God and ask Him to be delivered from the sickness of our ambivalence: "Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your Name" (Psalm 86:11).

Much of the walk of faith involves kavanah (כַּוָנָה), or focus; we are to "press on" (διώκω) to hear the upward call of God (Phil. 3:14). The problem for many of us is that we are irresolute, indecisive, and therefore we hesitate... A divided heart is at war within itself, "two-souled" (δίψυχος) and unstable in all its ways (James 1:8). If "purity of heart is to will one thing," then impurity of heart is the result of simultaneously willing two things... It is therefore a state of inner contradiction, of having two separate "minds" or "wills" that hold contrary thoughts or desires. Yeshua said that "a divided house cannot stand." May it please God to heal us of such ambivalence by making our hearts whole, resolute, steadfast, full of conviction, and entirely awake to the glory of His Presence at our right hand (Psalm 16:8). May we be set free from lesser fears that divide the heart and rob the soul of shalom shelemah, God's perfect peace...
 




Always Here and Now...


 

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

08.11.17 (Av 19, 5777)  From our Torah portion this week (Eikev) we read: "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you..?" (Deut. 10:12). This is the unending question for the heart of faith: it is always here and it is always "now." The midrash says that the word "and now" (וְעַתָּה) implies the "what" of repentance (תְּשׁוּבָה), turning to God in this hour, regardless of whatever sins you have committed in your past. True repentance turns you away from your sin to become present before God, wherever you might be... Let us seek God and love, chaverim!  Shabbat Shalom.
 




Our Good Shepherd...


 

08.11.17 (Av 19, 5777)  The walk of faith is one of "holy suspense," trusting that God is on the other side of the next moment, "preparing a place for you" (John 14:3). In the present, then, we live in unknowing dependence, walking by faith, not by sight. For "hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he sees?" (Rom. 8:24). This is the existential posture of faith - walking in darkness while completely trusting in God's daily care. Our task at any given moment is always the same - to look to God and to accept His will. This is where time and eternity meet within us, where God's kingdom is revealed in our hearts.  Therefore 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).
 

יְהוָה רעִי לא אֶחְסָר
בִּנְאוֹת דֶּשֶׁא יַרְבִּיצֵנִי
עַל־מֵי מְנֻחוֹת יְנַהֲלֵנִי
נַפְשִׁי יְשׁוֹבֵב
יַנְחֵנִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי־צֶדֶק לְמַעַן שְׁמוֹ

Adonai · ro·i · lo · ech·sar
bi·not · de·she · yar·bi·tzei·ni
al · mei · me·nu·chot · ye·na·cha·lei·ni
naf·shi  · ye·sho·vev
yan·chei·ni · ve·ma·a·ge·lei · tze·dek · le·ma·an · she·mo
 

"The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not lack.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
 He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake."
(Psalm 23:1-3)



Hebrew Study Card
 

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

Shabbat Shalom, friends. Thank you for your prayers and support as we press on together, studying Scripture and seeking God's face... May the LORD bless you and keep you always....
 




The Bread of Life...


 

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

08.11.17 (Av 19, 5777)   Our Torah portion for this week includes the famous statement: "Man does not live by bread alone (על־הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם), but from everything that comes from the mouth of the LORD shall he live" (Deut. 8:3). Note that Yeshua quoted this verse when he was tested with physical hunger in the desert (Matt. 4:3-4). Eating is inherently a sacrificial act: We must "eat life" in order to live....  But while physical food helps us survive, we must ask the question, for what end? Do we live for the sake of eating (and thereby live to eat for another day, and so on), or do we eat in order to live? If the latter, then what is the goal of such life?  What is the source of its nutrient and where is it taking you? What does your soul or "inner man" feed upon to gain the spiritual will to live?
 

כִּי לא עַל־הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם
כִּי עַל־כָּל־מוֹצָא פִי־יהוה יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם

ki  · lo · al-ha·le·chem · le·va·do · yich·yeh · ha·a·dam;
ki · al-kol-mo·tza · fi-Adonai · yich·yeh · ha·a·dam

 

"Man does not live on bread alone, but by everything that comes
from the mouth of the LORD does man live" (Deut. 8:3)



Hebrew Study Card
 


Both the written Torah and Yeshua (who is the true embodiment and expression of Torah) attest that we receive sustenance from the Word of God (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים), the Source of spiritual life.  But the word of God itself expresses the message of the very love of God (אַהֲבַת הָאֱלהִים) that always sustains us -- whether we are conscious of this or not. After all, for those of us who understand our brokenness and radical dependence for deliverance from ourselves, what "word" could we possibly endure were it not His words of hope, consolation, and even endearment? The Love of God is our life, chaverim, and the love of God is most clearly seen in the life and sacrificial death of Yeshua the Messiah...

May we always remember that our very spiritual life -- its source and its end -- depends upon receiving the word of the Living God who is King of Eternity (אֱלהִים חַיִּים וּמֶלֶךְ עוֹלָם). He is the Bread of our Life (לֶחֶם הַחַיִּים) who speaks life-giving words of hope and love to all who will attend themselves to His Presence. 
 




The Ineffable Name...


 

08.11.17 (Av 19, 5777)   The "tetragrammaton," or the four-letter name YHVH (יהוה), is regarded as God's "proper name" in the Scriptures, though it is better to understand it as a metaphorical term that points to God's ineffable and infinite essence (אין סוף). This is plainly taught in Torah. For instance when Moses asked for God's Name, God replied, ehyeh asher ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה), "I AM that I AM" (or "I will be what I will be"), abbreviated simply as ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה), "I AM" (Exod. 3:14). Note that God identified himself with Being itself, since ehyeh is the Qal imperfect form of the verb hayah (הָיָה), meaning "to be." Indeed, the Name YHVH (יהוה) essentially means the "Eternal Presence," since God is called ha'hoveh, ve'hayah, ve'yavo (הַהוֶה וְהָיָה וְיָבוֹא) - "the One who is, and was, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8). This "threefold Name" of the LORD of Hosts encompasses all possible states of being, indicating that God is LORD over all possible worlds... Amen. God's power and understanding are infinite (Psalm 147:5) and his Name is a mystery: "His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many crowns, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself" (Rev. 19:12). So while the Scripture indeed states "the LORD is your name forever" (יהוה שִׁמְךָ לְעוֹלָם), the Hebrew can be read, "the LORD is your name for the world (i.e., לְעוֹלָם), indicating that it is a name accommodated for the language of mankind. Indeed the philosophical idea of a "name" implies "substance" and a definable essence, but the LORD transcends logical analysis and taxonomies. In this connection note that Yeshua taught us to simply regard God as "Abba," our Heavenly Father, likening the Infinite Mystery of Reality to that of a personal and loving providence. The LORD God is both "transcendent," that is, high above all we can ever fully know or describe, but He is also "immanent," that is, as close as our hearts and the breath from our lips (see Deut. 30:14). God's unsearchable greatness, power, and love extend to every possible world, unto the "breadth and length and height and depth" of all that exists, and that includes the inner recesses of your heart...
 

    "May you, being rooted and grounded in love, have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Messiah that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:18-19).
     

There are two places in the Torah when God explicitly revealed the meaning of the name YHVH (יהוה) to Moses. Both occurred at Sinai. The first occurred at the outset of Moses' ministry (at the burning bush when he was commissioned to be Israel's deliverer), and the second occurred after incident of the Golden Calf during the time of the revelation of the law at Sinai.  It was only after Moses despaired and confessed the people's need for salvation that the LORD instructed him to meet him again at a place (i.e., makom: מָקוֹם) on the top of Sinai, where He would descend in the cloud to "declare His Name" (Exod. 33:17-34:7). This dramatic experience of revelation was later called middot ha-rachamim, or the revelation of the attributes of God's mercy...

Of the thirteen attributes that defined the meaning of YHVH as our merciful Savior, two are joined together. The LORD is rav chesed ve-emet (רַב־חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת), "abundant in lovingkindness and truth," indicating that his love is always a part of reality... In other words, just as God's Name means "presence" and "breath," it also means "compassion" and "love." As Yeshua said: "I am the Aleph and the Tav," says the LORD God (יְהוָה אֱלהִים), "the One who is and who was and who is to come, the Lord of Hosts (יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת)." Yeshua is the revelation of the Name of God, YHVH clothed in the flesh. As he testified to the Jewish people: "Most assuredly I say to you, before Abraham was, ehyeh: I AM" (John 8:58).


Note:  Some people object to the name "Jesus," claiming that it has pagan (or "Zeus") connotations. However, there is absolutely nothing misleading about the name Jesus, even though it is a Latin transliteration (i.e., IESUS) derived from the Greek transliteration (Ιησοῦς) of the original Hebrew, which later appears in its shortened form as Yeshua (e.g., 1 Chron. 24:11; Neh. 8:17). Note that the name Yehoshua comes from the verb יָשַׁע, "to save," and יה, a shortened form of YHVH, and therefore means "the LORD saves." According to the late Dr. David Flusser, Professor of Early Christianity and Judaism of the Second Temple Period at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, "Yeshua" was the third most popular male name during the time of the Second Temple period. For more on this topic, see the Names of G-d section of this website. Shalom chaverim!
 




Torah of the Spirit...


 

08.11.17 (Av 19, 5777)   "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness" (Matt. 7:21-23). This is why we say, "Blessed are You, LORD our God... who sanctifies us with His commandments..." The giving of the commandments is a gift that enables us to walk in the righteousness of life (Prov. 12:28). "If you know that he is righteous, you also know that everyone who practices righteousness has been fathered by him" (1 John 2:29).

It is clear from various Scriptures that we are not justified by means of law-keeping (Rom. 11:6; Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5; 1 Cor. 1:29; Jer. 9:23-24; Isa. 64:6; Zech. 3:4, etc.), though on the other hand that does not excuse us from doing the works of righteousness (Matt. 5:16; Eph. 2:10; 1 John 2:29; Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:12; Col. 1:10; Gal. 5:6, etc. ). The LORD did not "waste His breath" revealing the principles of moral righteousness to the Jewish people, and therefore the followers of Messiah, the anointed King of the Jews, are to "study to show themselves approved unto God" (2 Tim. 2:15) as talmidim (disciples).  Indeed, it is the spirit of truth poured out in the new covenant that "writes Torah upon our hearts" so that we can please God (see Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 10:16). The "law of the Spirit of life in Yeshua" (תּוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים בְּיֵשׁוּעַ) empowers to serve God according to a new principle of freedom. After all, true freedom doesn't mean doing "whatever you want," but rather means the power to choose contrary to the demands of your lower nature. We "put off" the old self and "put on" the new (Eph. 4:22-24). It is the divinely imparted "new nature" that gives us the power to "put to death" the old self by reckoning it crucified with Messiah (Gal. 2:19-20). Obedience to the Torah of Yeshua leads to further revelation, just as disobedience to it leads to further darkness (Matt. 13:12). Yeshua is only the "Author of Eternal Salvation" for those who heed and obey Him (Heb. 5:9). Sanctification is a matter of faith: "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25).

The Shema says, "And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart" (Deut. 6:6). The sages note the distance between the mouth and the heart is as that from earth to heaven. Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves (James 1:22). Put the word into practice and your heart will awaken to heavenly realities. Words that enter the heart become part of your being, and the gateway to the heart are works of love.
 




Obedience for Good...


 

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

08.11.17 (Av 19, 5777)   "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you, but to revere the LORD your God, to walk in divine paths, to love and serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?" (Deut. 10:11-12). In this passage God asks for you to be healed, to be made whole, to be loved, and to be set free, but these blessings come from being in an existential and trusting connection with him. Loving God is "for your good" (לְטוֹב לָךְ), though the ostensible appeal for personal reward for obedience may be understood as a sort of concession to our frailties as human beings. Are we asked to obey God for the sake of getting a reward? Should that be the ulterior motive at work in our spirituality? A baby loves based on need, though as he grows he learns to love others for who they are, not for what they can do for him. It is true, as David said in Psalm 19:11 that in the keeping of God's commandments there is "great reward" (i.e., עֵקֶב רָב, alluding to the blessing of Israel), though the true "reward" is found in personally knowing God. What greater reward could there be, after all?  The Torah's point here is that obeying God is for our own ultimate good, though this is understood to constitute a good that transcends the hedonism of the ego. At first we may be moved to serve God for the sake of some kind of reward (or to escape punishment), but as we grow in our understanding we begin to realize that there can be no genuine reward apart from the gift of God Himself, and every blessing we receive is meant to be humbly shared with others.

"And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but ... to love the LORD your God with all your heart? (Deut. 10:12). Here we may ask, Can love be commanded? Yes, first as a moral duty, and later as a passion obtained and refined by grace. As we practice our faith – as we "walk in divine paths" – we will learn to love God bekhol levavkha, and from this deep feelings will arise. Love, however, begins in covenant, in duty, in teshuvah – an answer or response to the question, "Will you follow me?" or "Do you love me?" Only by trusting and walking in God's paths do we begin awakening to how we should live, and our behavior will transform our hearts and souls. The Ve'ahavta of the the Shema ("and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart...") puts God in front of all our experiences (see Deut. 6:5-9). As our eyes are opened we encounter blessings that remind us that we are loved, valuable, and significant people.  God's commandments are "for our good" in the sense that they reveal that we are beloved children and God is our heavenly Father. The commandments are invitations to learn to love and to understand how much we are loved.
 




Our Daily Bread...


 

08.10.17 (Av 18, 5777)   "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matt. 6:11). Eating food is a spiritual occasion, an opportunity to renew deeper significance for our lives. The Torah states, "When you eat and are satisfied, bless the LORD your God for the good" (Deut. 8:10). Giving thanks sanctifies our experience; it is not just a "polite" thing to do but is at the very heart of leading a Torah-true life... The daily bread of God is what sustains and nourishes our way through this world; it is the bread of hope, the bread of healing, the bread of love. Therefore dirshuni yichyu: "Seek God and live!" (Amos 5:4). The Lord gives us daily bread (לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ) so that we return to Him over and over in our need. God wants us to depend on Him, to keep asking, seeking, knocking.... Storing up manna leads to rottenness because faith is always a present concern. God's truth is not a static thing (like a noun), but rather is alive, purposive, and full of action (like a verb). We keep trusting; we keep walking; we keep pressing on, etc. Therefore Yeshua says, "Follow me; take my yoke upon you, and you will learn." "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8).

Our Torah portion this week says, "And you shall eat and be satisfied, and you shall bless the LORD your God (וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ) for the good..." (Deut. 8:10). From this verse we learn the Torah of Gratitude (תּוֹרַת הַכָּרָת טוֹבָה), that is, acknowledgment of God's blessing in our lives. Even in our times in the desert, when we are tested and experience various trials, we are instructed to open our eyes and be thankful.  Dayenu! God's grace is sufficient for us, for in times of trouble we often grown the most, as it is written: ἡ γὰρ δύναμίς μου ἐν ἀσθενείᾳ τελειοῦται– God's power is perfected in our infirmities (2 Cor. 12:9).
 




The Oneness of God...


 

08.10.17 (Av 18, 5777)   Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad: "Hear, O Israel, the LORD (יהוה) is our God (אלהים), the LORD (יהוה) is one (Deut. 6:4). Here many of the sages regard the great affirmation of faith to be that the LORD – YHVH – the very Source and Breath of Life – is none other than Elohim, that is, the Creator, the King, and the Judge over all. YHVH and Elohim are "one," God's compassion and justice are bound together in perfect unity. Some have said "Elohim" is likened to fate, the inevitable weight of reality, or the "law" of moral consequences, whereas YHVH is likened to possibility, to what hope foresees, and therefore to mercy, transformation, deliverance, and salvation. Ultimately the Shema centers on the reconciliation of the truth of what is with what is possible as revealed in the Messiah. At the cross God's attributes of absolute justice and infinite mercy are mediated, reconciled, and made one. "Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him... mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth springs up from the earth; righteousness looks down from heaven" (Psalm 85:9-11).

Note:  You cannot have the Shema (Deut. 6:4) without the Ve'ahavta (Deut. 6:5-11): "Listen... you shall love..." The Ve'ahavta is called kabbalat ol ha'mitzvot (קבלת עול המצוות) - the acceptance of the yoke of the commandments, which means we should not merely know intellectually that there is a God, but that we should love God by serving others in this world. Shema -- "listen" – ve'ahavta – "you shall love." The imperative arises from the Reality; God is the Source o four life, and we share that life with others. Teshuvah ("repentance") is our faithful response to the question of whether we will embrace God's love for us.
 




Gratitude and Seeing...


 

08.10.17 (Av 18, 5777)   From our Torah this week (i.e., Eikev) we read: "And you shall bless the LORD your God for the good..." (Deut. 8:10). Whenever we derive benefit or enjoyment from something we are to bless (i.e., thank) God for his goodness. Indeed the Hebrew term for gratitude is hakarat tovah (הַכָּרַת טוֹבָה), a phrase that means "recognizing the good." The heart looks through the eye, and therefore how we see is ultimately a spiritual decision: "If your eye is "single" (i.e., ἁπλοῦς, sincere, focused)," Yeshua said, "your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). When we see rightly, we are awakened to God's Presence in the little things of life, those small miracles and "signs and wonders" that constantly surround us.  The good eye of faith sees hundreds of reasons to bless God for the gift of life (1 Cor. 10:31). The LORD is "enthroned among the blessings of His people" (Psalm 22:3).

The thank offering mentioned in the Torah (i.e., zevach ha-todah: זֶבַח הַתּוֹדָד) reappears in the New Testament. In the Book of Hebrews were are instructed to "continually offer up a sacrifice of thanks (זֶבַח תּוֹדָה) to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his Name" (Heb. 13:15). It is interesting to note that the Greek verb used to "offer up" (i.e., ἀναφέρω) is used to translate the Hebrew verb "to draw near" (karov) in Leviticus. In other words, the "offering up of thanks" for the sacrifice of Yeshua functions as "korban" and draws us near to God. Thanking God for personal deliverance constitutes "right sacrifices" (זִבְחֵי־צֶדֶק) as we draw near to God in the hope of His love (Psalm 4:5; Heb. 7:19).

"Give thanks to the LORD for He is good; his love endures forever" (Psalm 136:1); "give thanks to the LORD always" (Col. 3:17; Eph. 5:20; 1 Thess. 5:18)... Gratitude is foundational to our lives as followers of Yeshua. Indeed there are really only two prayers we ever offer to God, namely "Help, LORD!" and "Thank you, LORD." Meister Eckhart once remarked that if the only prayer you said in your entire life was, "thank you," that would suffice... Genuine prayer ultimately resolves to an expression of thanks. We are to "praise the Bridge that carries us over" into the Presence and Love of God, and that Bridge is Yeshua our Lord.
 




The Mystery of God...


 

08.10.17 (Av 18, 5777)   The Torah centers on the LORD our Savior (יהוה מושיענו) who is "God with us" (עִמָּנוּ אֵל). The whole of Scripture concerns the revelation of salvation (יְשׁוּעָה), from the very first prophecy in Eden to the culmination of a new heaven and earth (Rev. 3:15; Isa. 65:17; Rev. 21:1). The mystery of God is Messiah (τοῦ μυστηρίου τοῦ θεοῦ, Χριστοῦ) in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:2-3). Indeed the ultimate mystery is that "God was manifest in the flesh" (θεὸς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί) (Isa. 9:6; Tim. 3:16; John 1:1,14,18, Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:3; 1 John 5:20, etc.). Yeshua is "God's Word," the Living Torah (התורה החיה), the divine message, and the Voice speaking from the midst of the fire. For God, who said "Let light shine out of darkness," is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Messiah" (2 Cor. 4:6). With the advent of the Lord our Savior, God speaks "in Son" (ἐν υἱῷ) and there is no true Torah apart from the Heart of God manifested in the "panim el panim" revelation of Yeshua, who alone is the Mediator and Bridge between heaven and earth. People seek God in all manner of experience, but if they do not seek God in the Messiah, the Transcendent One who emptied Himself to the depths of dust, they will never find Him (Phil. 2:7; 2 Cor. 8:9).
 

 




Faith and Healing...


 

08.10.17 (Av 18, 5777)   Abraham, in despair over everything natural, found the truth of God: "And he believed in the LORD, and the LORD counted it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). Abraham was made right with God as he crossed over from the realm of this world to take hold of unseen beauty and promise...  After all, what is "justification by faith" if it is not the reality that we partake of the divine blessing and heavenly promises solely on account of the righteousness and goodness of God? Justification is God's business, not our own; it is the divine prerogative to initiate and reveal the glory of salvation. Our response is to simply believe, to let go off our own attempts to justify ourselves, and to allow God to love us. We have nothing within ourselves to offer the Almighty; rather we trust in the mercy of God to heal us and declare us as righteous... "O LORD, I am made small before all your kindnesses and all your faithfulness, which you have showed to your servant..." (Gen. 32:10). Jacob was "made small" through the revelation of love and truth, and the focus shifted away from himself. "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). This is not an act of the intellect as much as it is an act of will: It is faith in God to do the miracle of transformation. We are called God's workmanship (ποίημα τοῦ Θεοῦ). As Luther once said, "Abraham closed his eyes and hid himself in the darkness of faith, and therein he found light eternal."
 




Prophetic Listening...


 

08.10.17 (Av 18, 5777)   A verse from our Torah portion this week (i.e., Eikev) recalls Yeshua's words that "every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old" (Matt. 13:53). Rashi noted that the phrase, "And it shall come to pass if you hear" in Deut. 11:13, i.e., ve'hayah im shamo'a tishme'u (וְהָיָה אִם־שָׁמעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ), is grammatically puzzling, since it the Hebrew literally reads "if you hear, you will hear," which suggests that as we listen attentively to the words of Torah, we will hear more, and we will encounter spiritual connections and applications that are new and ready for this hour. The early sages commented: "If you listen to the old, you will listen to the new" (Berachot 40a). Focusing our attention on the commandments even while in exile is likened to practice for the world to come, since then they will not be new to you when the final redemption appears. Happy are those who love the Torah. More light comes as we live in the truth (John 13:17). As Yeshua also said: "For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away" (Matt. 13:12).
 




A Circumcised Heart...


 

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

08.09.17 (Av 17, 5777)   Our Torah for this week (Eikev) appeals to our need to forgive: "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer hardened" (Deut. 10:16). The metaphor of a "circumcised heart" (ברית מילה של הלב) symbolizes cutting away the outer covering of the heart so that it is "opened up" to feel once again. God wants us to let go of "hard feelings" so we can experience compassion (i.e., com+passion: "feeling-with") and sympathy for other people... Heart circumcision represents a radical turning away from the insular realm of the self toward the emotional realm of others and God. When our hearts are open, we are able to receive the flow of the Spirit of God and obey the "law of the Messiah" (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) to bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2).
 

וּמַלְתֶּם אֵת עָרְלַת לְבַבְכֶם
וְעָרְפְּכֶם לא תַקְשׁוּ עוֹדָ

u·mal·tem · et · or·lat · le·vav·khem
ve·or·pe·khem · lo · tak·shu · od
 

"Circumcise the foreskin of your heart,
and be no longer hardened"
(Deut. 10:16)



 

Physical circumcision represents a sign or mark of inclusion; it is a token that you are one of God's family, a Jew, though it is only a sign or token. Spiritual circumcision is an inner operation of the heart that marks you a true child of heaven. It is about your identity and purpose. Therefore we see the paradox that some physical Jews are not spiritual Jews, and some spiritual Jews are not physical Jews (though some are both), as the Apostle Paul said: For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God (Rom. 2:28-29).

Spiritually speaking, a heart that is insensitive, indifferent, unfeeling, and callous toward the needs of others is regarded as "hard." Sometimes such hardness comes as a result of living in a fallen world. Many wounded people live with "scar tissue" that surrounds their heart, making them feel numb and unwilling to open up and trust others. Their affections have become disordered and their ego rationalizes blaming others or seeking various forms of entitlement. "Turning off your heart" can mean suppressing any positive regard for others (empathy) while nurturing anger and self-righteousness, or it may mean withdrawing from others as a lifeless shell (both approaches vainly attempt to defend the heart from hurt). Although Yeshua always showed great compassion, especially to the wounded and broken in spirit (Isa. 42:3), He regularly condemned the "hardness of heart" ("sclero-cardia," σκληροκαρδία) of those who opposed his message of healing and love.

A hard heart is closed off and impermeable to love from others, and especially from God. It is a "difficult" (קָשֶׁה) heart, inflexible and even cruel.  Scripture uses various images to picture this condition, including a "heart of stone" (Ezek. 36:26, Zech. 7:12), an "uncircumcised heart" (Jer. 9:26), a "stiff neck" (Deut. 31:27), and so on. Stubbornness is really a form of idolatry, an exaltation of self-will that refuses to surrender to God. If you are wounded and afraid to open your heart in trust to others, ask God for healing...

Hardness of heart is something all of us deal with, even those who trust in Yeshua. After all, New Covenant believers are commanded to "put off the old self with its practices" (Col. 3:9) and are urged not to harden their hearts (μὴ σκληρύνητε τὰς καρδίας) through unbelief (Heb. 3:8,15, 4:7). May God's love help us keep our hearts soft and open toward others... May He give us a new heart, and put a new spirit within us. May He remove the heart of stone (לֵב הָאֶבֶן) from us and give us a heart of flesh (לֵב בָּשָׂר). May we be lev echad - "one heart" - with one another and with the Father (Ezek. 11:19). May we be so sensitized to the Presence of God that we detect the slightest touch from His hand upon us. Amen.
 




Believing in Love...


 

08.08.17 (Av 16, 5777)   From our Torah portion for this week (i.e., parashat Eikev) we read: "But now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask from you ... but to love him with all your heart and with all your soul?" (Deut. 10:12). But how are we able to love God be'khol levavka (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ) – "with all our heart" – and be'khol nafshekha (וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶׁךָ) - "with all our soul," apart from healing of the brokenness that makes our hearts divided and sick? That is what the redemption from Egypt was about: we were personally chosen by God, redeemed by his grace, led out from from cruel bondage, only to be led into the desert, away from the world, where we slowly began to understand that we were valued, cared for, and beloved of God. We believed in the possibility of promise, of covenant... Only then could we hear the request from heaven: "Now love Me..." In other words, we can only truly love God by knowing we are beloved by God, and the invitation to love him is a response of his great passion for you (1 John 4:19). Accept that you are accepted in the heart of the Beloved (Eph. 1:4-6).

For more on this, see "Blessings and Brokenness."
 




Cleaving to God...


 

08.08.17 (Av 16, 5777)   Faith perseveres in the way of life... "You who have clung to the LORD your God are all alive today" (Deut. 4:4). The Hebrew word devakut (דְּבָקוּת) means "cleaving" and refers to communion with God. This word comes from davak (דָּבַק), meaning to "cling" or "stick" (the Modern Hebrew word for "glue" is devek (דֶבֶק) which also comes from the same root). Devakut, then, implies being intimately connected with God in an earnest and passionate relationship.... The sages comment that we can cleave to God only one day at a time, since our future is conditioned upon this present day and its challenges.  As Yeshua said: "Take therefore no thought for tomorrow: for tomorrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient for the day its own trouble" (Matt. 6:34). One day at a time. The LORD gives us daily bread (לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ) so that we may persevere for this day; he feeds us with hunger to teach us to rely on alone him for true life (Deut. 8:3). "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand today -- if you hear his voice" (Psalm 95:7). Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart (Heb. 3:15). "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God, but encourage one another every day, as long as it is called "today," so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:12-13).
 

דָּבְקָה נַפְשִׁי אַחֲרֶיךָ
בִּי תָּמְכָה יְמִינֶךָ

da·ve·kah · naf·shi · a·cha·re·kha
bi · tam·khah · ye·mi·ne·kha

 

"My soul clings to you;
Your right hand upholds me."
(Psalm 63:8)



Hebrew Study Card
 

 




Making Room for Wonder...


 

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

08.08.17 (Av 16, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Eikev) we read: "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?" (Deut. 10:12-13). Ultimately we must make the choice whether we will respect life or not, and that is the question before us... In this present world, God "hides" so that people may seek him (Isa. 45:15; Matt. 13:10-15). The voice of conscience may be suppressed and the revelation of nature ignored; moreover, some things are perceived only if they are looked for in the right way, and the Divine Presence is not apprehended apart from humility and reverence. We must "make room" for wonder; we must open the "eye of the heart" to see what is greater than our everyday vision. "It is good to look at the sky often, as this helps develop the awe of God." Indeed the word for fear, yirah (יִרְאָה), is connected with the word for seeing, ra'ah (רָאָה). When we really see life as it is, we will be filled with wonder over the glory of it all. Every bush will be aflame with the Presence of God and the ground we walk upon shall suddenly be perceived as holy (Exod. 3:2-5). Nothing will seem small, trivial, or insignificant. In this sense, "fear and trembling" (φόβοv καὶ τρόμοv) before the LORD is a description of the inner awareness of the sanctity and eternal significance of life itself (Psalm 2:11, Phil. 2:12).

The fear of God is paradoxical. One verse teaches the fear of the Lord (i.e., his power), another teaches the "fear not" love of the Lord (i.e., his grace). We are drawn to God in adoration, appreciation, wonder, and love, and yet we are compelled to shrink back because of His overwhelming power, glory, holiness, and radiance. Therefore we see "the disciple whom Jesus loved" both leaning on his chest but also falling on his face in "dreadful adoration" (John 13:23; Rev. 1:17). Only when these heart attitudes are combined is the heart balanced. But the fear of the Lord is primary (see Psalm 110:10; Prov. 1:7, 9:10), and when we walk in it, we are released from the ordinary fears of men by apprehending a far surpassing power that overrules all things. Again, it is a paradox: if we fear lesser things we lose sight of the awe of God; but if we first revere God, we will lose sight of lesser fears.

In Jewish tradition, seeing the Presence of God in all things is called yirat ha-rommemnut (יִרְאַת הָרוֹמְמוּת), or the "Awe of the Exalted."  We might get a sense of this reverential awe when we behold the canopy of stars in the night sky, or when we look down from atop a mountain peak, or when we catch site of a spectacular sunset. Or we might experience it during the birth of a baby or the death of a loved one... This sense of awe or "transcendent mystery" is also called yirat Adonai (יִרְאַת יְהוָה), the "fear of the Name." It presents a holy hush, a feeling that you are standing before something utterly wonderful, sacred, set apart, mysterious, and profoundly significant; it both attracts yet causes you to draw back... 
 




Religion vs. Spirituality...


 

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

08.08.17 (Av 16, 5777)   It has been wisely said that "religion is for people afraid of going to hell; spirituality is for those who have been there...." Religion seeks defense of the ego and delights in the idea of personal reward; spirituality seeks death of the ego and delights in the idea of shared love... Studying the Scriptures for the sake of "religion" is ultimately self-defeating, since the answer is not religion but spiritual rebirth: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).

"Circumcise your hearts," our Torah says, "and be no longer 'difficult' (i.e., לא תַקְשׁוּ עוֹד) [Deut. 10:16]. Find a way to feel, to care, to sympathize once again... "It is enough to open your heart the smallest amount - even the width of a pin head - to repent, so that you feel a prick within your heart, like a piercing sting in living tissue, not like a needle thrust into dead flesh" (Menachem Mendel of Kotzk).
 

וּמַלְתֶּם אֵת עָרְלַת לְבַבְכֶם
וְעָרְפְּכֶם לא תַקְשׁוּ עוֹד

u·mal·tem · et · or·lat · le·vav·khem
ve·or·pek·hem · lo · tak·shu · od

 

"Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart,
and be no longer difficult."
(Deut. 10:16)

 




Thou Shalt be Satisfied...


 

[ The Torah reading for this week is parashat Eikev, traditionally read during Shabbat Va'tomer, the second "Sabbath of consolation" after Tishah B'Av. ]

08.07.17 (Av 15, 5777)   Our Torah portion this week includes the remarkable commandment: "And you shall eat and be satisfied" (Deut. 8:10), which means that God desires for us to receive the goodness of life itself. "Taste and see that the LORD is good." Addictions, cravings, lusts, etc., arise from a refusal 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 present for us, but we will only find them if we open our hearts to the wonder of God in this moment. We can "break the spell" of continual dissatisfaction, of the power of greed, ambition, and so on, when we discover that our constant hunger is really a cry for God and His blessing. This is the blessed "hunger and thirst" given by the Spirit (Matt. 5:6). Our sense of inner emptiness is an invitation to come to the waters and drink life. So come to God's table and ask the Lord Yeshua to give you the water that will satisfy your heart's true thirst for life...
 

וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ
עַל־הָאָרֶץ הַטּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַן־לָךְ

ve·a·khal·ta · ve·sa·va·ta · u·ve·rakh·ta · et · Adonai · e·lo·he·kha
al · ha·a·retz · ha·to·vah · a·sher · na·tan · lakh
 

"And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the LORD your God
for the good land he has given you."
(Deut. 8:10)



 

"Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack" (Psalm 34:8-9). We can only "taste and see" when we are earnest however, when we seek God with passion... When you pray, lift up your heart and soul to God, asking for the miracle to surrender to Him in the truth. Where it says, "with all your heart" (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ), present before him all your passion and desires; your hopes and your needs, your fears and your anger; and where it says, "with all your soul" (וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ), offer before him your very soul, as if to be sacrificed in his service; and where it says, "with all your muchness" (וּבְכָל־מְאדֶךָ) offer to him all your strength, all your means, and all your dreams. Ask to be filled with the Ruach HaKodesh to be enabled to apprehend the glory of God in the face of the Messiah (בִּפְנֵי הַמָּשִׁיחַ), through whom we are being transformed for the glory of God.
 




The "Whole" Commandment...


 

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

08.07.17 (Av 15, 5777)  "The whole commandment that I command you today you shall observe and do, so that you may live..." (Deut. 8:1). The Hebrew phrase kol ha'mitzvah (כָּל־הַמִּצְוָה), here translated as "the whole commandment," refers to the heart attitude, or the inner passion of the soul. Some have linked the word "commandment" (מִצְוָה) with the word "connection" (צוותא), suggesting that God's commandments are the means by which we cleave to Him, as is written: "this is the love of God (אַהֲבַת אֱלהִים), that we keep his commandments" (1 John 5:3). The commandments are "for life" (Lev. 18:5), which means they serve as the call of the Beloved to rise to something far greater... The "Whole Commandment" is to walk in God's love. As it is written, tamim yiyeh im Adonai Elohekha: "You shall be wholehearted with the LORD your God" (Deut. 18:13), and "Fear God and keep his commandments - כִּי־זֶה כָּל־הָאָדָם - for this is the whole man" (Eccl. 12:13).

The Kotzker once said, "The prohibition against making idols includes the prohibition against making idols out of the commandments. We should never imagine that the whole purpose of the Torah is its outer form, but rather the inward meaning." Indeed, sacrificial blood was placed over the tablets of the law (i.e., the blood sprinkled on the kapporet, or the "crown" of the Ark) that represented God's forgiveness and atonement for sin. The life is "in the blood," which represents God's passion, the deepest truth of Torah. And this is the message of the gospel itself, of course, since the blood of Yeshua passionately shed for our sake has opened up a new and everlasting way for us to be rightly related to God (Heb. 9:12).
 




Seeing the Sacred...


 

08.07.17 (Av 15, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week (i.e., parashat Eikev) we read: "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God..." (Deut. 10:12). Every moment of life is an opportunity to ask the question: "How may I see the sacred here?" How may I revere and esteem the gift of life? How may I perceive the awe of God? Seize the moment and walk in God's way, today, now, and in this hour. Open your heart; renew your mind; turn to the light; find the sacred in your midst...
 

הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה דַּרְכֶּךָ
אֲהַלֵּךְ בַּאֲמִתֶּךָ
יַחֵד לְבָבִי לְיִרְאָה שְׁמֶךָ

ho·rei·ni · Adonai · dar·ke·kha
a·hal·lekh · ba·a·mi·te·kha
ya·ched · le·va·vi · le·yir·ah · she·me·kha
 

"Teach me your way, O LORD,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your Name"
(Psalm 86:11)



 

King David understood the great need for focus, for passion, for surrender: "One thing I ask of the Lord; that is what I will seek" (Psalm 27:4). Therefore he prayed for deep healing: "Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your Name" (Psalm 86:11). David understood that walking in the truth required "uniting his heart," or "repairing the breach" within his inner affections so that he could experience God's Presence... He needed emotional healing from inner wounds that split him off from reality. In effect, David prayed: "After You have healed my ambivalent heart, I will thank You with all my heart - entirely, wholly, completely - and I will glorify Your Name forever. My healing comes from Your great love (chesed) toward me, and through your love I am delivered free from the depths of hell" (Psalm 86:12-13).

Where it says, Ve'ahavta et Adonai be'khol levavkha – "you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart" (Deut. 6:5) that includes both your "good heart" and your "bad heart" – that is, all of you, all of your being, the whole person. Come as you are - broken, fragmented, divided within - and ask God to unify your heart by the miracle of his grace...
 




Tu B'Av - the 15th of Av...


 

[ This evening, August 6th (at sundown), is the 15th of Av - otherwise called Tu B'Av... ]

08.06.17 (Av 14, 5777)   The Torah teaches that because of the Sin of the Spies, the entire generation of Israelites rescued from Egypt was sentenced to die in the desert (Num. 13-14). According to the Midrash Eichah Rabbah, every year until the fortieth year (after the Exodus), on the eve of the Ninth of Av, Moses would command the people, "Go out and dig," and the people would leave the camp, dig graves, and sleep in them overnight. The following morning a messenger would proclaim, "Let the living separate from the dead!" Fifteen thousand would die that very night, but the survivors would return to the camp for another year.... This occurred year after year, but in the fortieth year no one died. Since they thought they might have miscalculated the days, they slept in their graves an additional night. This went on for five nights until the fifteenth of Av, when they saw the full moon, realized that there calculations were correct, and rejoiced that no more of the first generation would die. They subsequently declared Tu B'Av a day of celebration. The "desert generation" had finally died off and the new generation was finally ready to enter the land!

Just as Yom Kippur originally celebrated the reconciliation of Israel to the LORD after the sin of the Golden Calf, so Tu B'Av originally celebrated the reconciliation of Israel for the Sin of the Spies. Therefore both the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur became joyous times celebrating forgiveness and restoration to the LORD. The Babylonian Talmud (Ta'anit 31a) quotes Shimon ben Gamliel as saying, "Israel had no holidays as joyous as the fifteenth of Av and the Day of Atonement, when the maidens of Israel would go out and dance in the vineyards... What were they saying: Young man, consider whom you choose to be your wife..."

Indeed an old  midrash says that 40 days before a person is conceived in the womb, God decrees who that person's life partner will be (Talmud: Mo'ed Katan 18b). The sages calculate that Tu B'Av falls 40 days before Elul 25, the traditional date of the creation of the universe, and infer that at that time - before the foundation of the world - God "chose us to be His beloved (Eph. 1:4). Tu B'Av reminds us of the deeper truth that you were created to be in a love relationship with God!

In modern Israel, Tu B'Av is observed as an annual holiday of love and affection (i.e., chag ha-ahavah: חַג הָאַהֲבָה) that is celebrated like "Valentine's Day" (though it is a much older holiday of course).  However, since it is the "last" festival of the Jewish year, Tu B'Av prophetically pictures our marriage to the Lamb of God (Seh Elohim), Yeshua our beloved Messiah. On a soon-coming day those who belong to him and are faithful to follow his ways will be blessed with the unspeakable joy as their "wedding day" finally has come. This is heaven itself - to be in the Presence of the LORD and to be His beloved (Rev. 19:6-9).

With the advent of the holiday of Tu B'Av, we are reminded of the beautiful phrase, ani l'dodi ve'dodi li (אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי), "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine" (Song. 6:3), a phrase the sages say is an acronym for the name Elul (אלול). Now the month of Elul begins in just a couple of weeks (i.e., Monday, August 21st this year), and the entire month is set apart to prepare us for the coming High Holidays that begin late September During this time it we engage in cheshbon ha-nefesh ("soul searching") and to derive comfort that God is forgiving and loving to those who turn to Him. The sages chose the seven "Haftarot of comfort" to encourage us to make our hearts ready for the upcoming High Holiday Season.

Note: Why is the 15th of Av called Tu B'Av? Well, as you perhaps know, Hebrew letters can be used to express numbers.  Joining the letters Tet (9) and Vav (6), for example, equals the number 15, sometimes written as the acronym "Tu" (ט"ו). The phrase "Tu B'Av" (ט"ו באב) indicates the 15th day of the month of Av (אָב), a "full-moon" holiday that has been celebrated as a day of love and affection since the First Temple period.
 




Parashat Eikev - עקב


 

[ The Torah reading for this week is parashat Eikev, which is traditionally read during Shabbat Va'tomer, the second "Sabbath of Consolation" after Tishah B'Av. ]

08.06.17 (Av 14, 5777)   In our Torah reading for this week (i.e., parashat Eikev), Moses continues his farewell address to Israel by saying, "And because (עֵקֶב) you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the  love that he swore to your fathers" (Deut. 7:12). Note that the word eikev (עֵקֶב), often translated "because," literally means "heel," which recalls Jacob (יעקב) the "heel-holder" who wrestled with the pain of his past to learn to bear the name Israel (יִשְׂרָאֵל), the "prince of God" (Gen. 32:28)... And like Jacob, we must grapple to believe that the covenant of God's love and acceptance is for us, too... The Sassover rebbe interpreted the opening verse of our Torah portion, "And because you will listen..." (וְהָיָה עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן) as, "and it shall be when your heel is ready to take a step, you will listen to your heart." This is the step of faith. As you begin to walk with God, you will come to know yourself as a child of the great King. Likewise regarding the related verse in the Torah, "Because Abraham heard my voice" (עֵקֶב אֲשֶׁר־שָׁמַע אַבְרָהָם בְּקלִי), the sages read, "Abraham heard the word 'down to his heel'" (Gen. 26:5). Like Abraham, we will hear God's voice as we walk with him by faith...
 

עֵץ־חַיִּים הִיא לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ
וְתמְכֶיהָ מְאֻשָּׁר

etz · cha·yim · hi · la·ma·cha·zi·kim · bah
ve·to·me·khe·ha · me·u·shar
 

"A tree of life is Torah to those who lay hold of it;
those who grasp it are called blessed"
(Prov. 3:18)



Hebrew Study Card

 


Our portion begins: "ve'hayah eikev..." (Deut. 7:12). Here translators differ about how to understand the Hebrew. The JS version, for instance, renders this as "and if you listen," whereas others render it as, "and because you listen..." The former translation makes the blessing seem conditional upon obedience, whereas the latter reading affirms the obedience that leads to blessing...  The Hebrew word eikev (i.e., עקב, "heel," "step"), however, refers to action, and therefore it may be regarded as a prophecy expressing faith that the blessing which God swore on oath will be fulfilled.


Haftarah for Eikev...

Note that the weekly haftarah portion (i.e., reading from the Prophets) is usually thematically connected with the weekly Torah portion; however, after the fast of Tishah B'Av, and for the next seven weeks (49 days) leading up Rosh Hashanah (i.e., the new year), we read selections of comfort that foretell of the future redemption of the Jewish people and the coming Messianic Era. In other words, we have a seven-week period of consolation, encouraging us to keep our hope alive, culminating in the "jubilee" of the Jewish new year.  This week we will read Va'tomer Tziyon ("But Zion said...") from Isaiah 49:14-51:3.  Here we read of God's consolation to Israel: "Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me" (Isa. 49:15-16). The Haftarah concludes by Isaiah saying that the LORD will comfort the Mountain of Zion by making it like the Garden of Eden, with joy and happiness within her, along with thanksgiving and the sound of song.
 




Immanence and Exile...


 

08.04.17 (Av 12, 5777)   The Sacred Name of God [יהוה] is formed from the words hayah ("He was"), hoveh ("He is"), and yihyeh ("He will be"): הָיָה הוֶה וְיִהְיֶה, indicating that the LORD is always present, despite momentary appearances. Note that all the letters of the Name are "vowel letters," which mean they evoke breath and life. Indeed the very first occurrence of the Holy Name in Torah regards the inspiration of nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" in Adam (Gen. 2:4). The LORD is always present for you, breathing out life and hope, despite the appearance of exile... The veil that once separated us from God has been rent asunder... Let us draw near in faith! Shabbat Shalom and love all of you who call upon the Name of the LORD!
 




The Works of Faith...


 

08.04.17 (Av 12, 5777)   From our Torah this week (i.e., Vaetchanan) we read: "And now, O Israel, shema: listen to the decrees and judgments that I am teaching you, and do them that you may live..." (Deut. 4:1). The sages have said that "the seal of God is truth," since the final letters of the three words that conclude the account of creation (Gen. 2:3) -- bara Elohim la'asot, "God created to do," spell the word for truth (emet) [i.e., בָּרָא אֱלהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת - אמת]. We do not study Torah and the Scriptures merely for intellectual edification, but l'shem shamayim, for the sake of doing the "works of love." As Rabbi Chiya said, "Someone who studies Torah but does not intend to do the mitzvot (commandments), it were better were he not created." Faith without maa'sim tovim (works) is dead, and we are to be "doers of the word" and not hearers only (James 1:22). The Baal Shem Tov said, "the object of Torah is that the individual should become Torah himself," which agrees with New Testament teaching that we are to be "living letters," expressing God's light in our daily lives through our actions (Matt. 5:16; 2 Cor. 3:3; Phil. 2:15).
 

וְעַתָּה יִשְׂרָאֵל שְׁמַע אֶל־הַחֻקִּים וְאֶל־הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים
אֲשֶׁר אָנכִי מְלַמֵּד אֶתְכֶם לַעֲשׂוֹת לְמַעַן תִּחְיוּ

ve·at·tah · yis·ra·el · she·ma · el · ha·chu·kim · ve·el · ha·mish·pa·tim
a·sher · a·no·khi · me·la·med · et·khem · la·a·sot · le·ma·an · ti·che·yu
 

"And now, O Israel, listen to the decrees and judgments
that I am teaching you, and do them that you may live..."
(Deut. 4:1)


 

God writes the Torah on the hearts of those who put their trust in Yeshua for righteousness (Jer. 31:31; Heb. 10:16). It is written that "we are God's workmanship, created in Yeshua the Messiah for good works (לְמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים) that God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). In other words, the agency of the good works is the reality and spirit of Yeshua within the heart of faith, not the striving of the carnal nature... Yeshua, be my inner word, my heart, and my groaning for life today, and forevermore, amen.
 




Awakening to Life...


 

08.04.17 (Av 12, 5777)   We shouldn't be surprised that most people refuse to wake up and realize the profound spiritual danger of their lives – the dread over the inevitable, the sure demise and loss of all things of this world, and the intuitive certainty of personal judgment and death – since the Scriptures declare that people willingly suppress the truth and "celebrate" untruth (see Rom. 1:20-32). Soren Kierkegaard commented: "The world wants to be deceived... intensely, more intensely, more passionately perhaps than any witness to the truth has fought for the truth, the world fights to be deceived; it most gratefully rewards with applause, money, and prestige anyone who complies with its wish to be deceived" (Judge for Yourself). Indeed, any distraction that seduces people to deny reality will suffice for the sake of untruth... The Scriptures state: "And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in the power of God" (John 3:19-21).
 

    "While there is nothing terrifying whatever and no terror whatever, there is nothing that builds up either, no upbuilding whatever. There is forgiveness of sin - that is upbuilding. The terrifying is that there is sin, and the magnitude of the terror in the inwardness of guilt-consciousness is proportionate to the dimension of the upbuilding. There is healing for all pain, victory in all strife, rescue in all danger - that is upbuilding. The terrifying is that there is pain, strife, danger; and the magnitude of the terrifying and the terror is proportionate to what builds up and to the upbuilding." - Soren Kierkegaard, Christian Discourses, 1848.
     


It's vital to remember that one of the main tactics of the devil is to cast a spell over you to induce a sense of forgetfulness and apathy... The devil wants you to forget that you are a child of the King. The entire venture of teshuvah (repentance) presupposes that you are created be'tzelem Elohim - in the image of God - and therefore you have infinite value and dignity. This is all the more evident in light of the awesome ransom that Yeshua paid to reconcile your soul with God.  Understand: the judgment is great because the love is so great... So what is one of the greatest of sins you can commit in your life? To forget what God has done for you... Remaining asleep, unmindful of your true identity is one of the most tragic things of life.  Therefore the blast of the shofar is meant to jolt us from our sleep... We are to remember who we really are -- to remember that God is our King. The person who says, "Tomorrow I will do teshuvah" really is saying, "Not now." And then tomorrow comes and he says, "Not now." And in this way his entire life passes by, saying, "Not now." Finally one day he wakes up only to find himself already dead.

May God help us wake up today to the Reality that is set before us. The "End of the World" is the day you will die and give account of how you lived before the Truth of Eternity -- and there will be no more rationalizations, no more evasions, no excuses, no pretense of being a victim, that will bear on the question before the bar of heaven....
 




Every Prayer Answered...


 

08.04.17 (Av 12, 5777)   If you earnestly pray yet are tempted to think that God is not responding, remind yourself that every prayer uttered to God from a heart of honest faith, that is, from a heart that trusts in God's redemptive love given in Messiah, is indeed answered, and not a syllable goes unheeded or will be lost before heaven.  Just as assuredly we believe that no one will get away with evil -- that justice will eventually be served and all wrongs redressed at the bar of Eternal Judgment -- so we understand that every utterance of the heart of faith finds compassionate response from the heart of heaven. Indeed the essence of teshuvah (return, "repentance") is heartfelt prayer, and therefore when we bring honest words and turn back to accept the truth, God's mercy and compassion are decisively evoked (1 John 1:9). The most important thing is not to lose faith, however, but to believe that God hears you and will indeed answer the cry of your heart. Decide to believe and settle your expectation. Never give up hope. God is faithful; He will do it (1 Thess. 5:22).
 

שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ כִּי כָשַׁלְתָּ בַּעֲוֹנֶךָ
קְחוּ עִמָּכֶם דְּבָרִים וְשׁוּבוּ אֶל־יְהוָה
אִמְרוּ אֵלָיו כָּל־תִּשָּׂא עָוֹן וְקַח־טוֹב
וּנְשַׁלְּמָה פָרִים שְׂפָתֵינוּ

shu·vah · Yisrael · ad · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha · ki · kha·shal·ta · be·a·vo·ne·kha
ke·khu · im·ma·khem · de·va·rim · ve·shu·vu · el-Adonai
im·ru · e·lav · kol-tis·sa · a·von · ve·kach-tov
u·ne·sha·le·mah · fa·rim · sa·fa·tei·nu
 

"Return, Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him,
"Take away all iniquity; accept what is good,
and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips." (Hos. 14:1-2)

 




Torah of the Neighbor...



 

08.04.17 (Av 12, 5777)   Our Torah reading for this week (i.e., parashat Vaetchanan) repeats Aseret Hadibrot (the Ten Commandments) as they were initially given in Parashat Yitro (Exod. 20:2-17). Though there are some slight language differences between the Exodus and Deuteronomy versions, both begin with "I AM" (אָנכִי) and both end with "[for] your neighbor" (לְרֵעֶךָ). Joining these together says "I am your neighbor," indicating that the LORD Himself is found in your neighbor. When we love our neighbor as ourselves (אָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ), we are in effect showing love for the LORD. We must learn to disregard the claims of our ego and cling to the idea of chesed. So who is your neighbor? You are -- to every other soul you may encounter this day...
 




Ultimate Concerns...


 

08.04.17 (Av 12, 5777)   Our Torah portion this week (i.e., Vaetchanan) repeats the commandment not to make an idol: "Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you... 'You shall not make for yourself a carved image (לא־תַעֲשֶׂה־לְךָ פֶסֶל) or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth" (Deut. 4:23; 5:8). Literally this refers to the ancient practice of bowing before "mediating forces" of God, often symbolized by art and ritual, as a token of respect or as a means of finding "acceptance" within a group. We are not to imitate such customs of the pagan world around us; on the contrary, we testify of the One True God and repudiate the need for intermediaries between God and man... On a different level, "bowing before an idol" means passively yielding to the world and its ideals rather than submitting to the truth. When we seek to fit in, to feel like we belong, and follow the trends and passions of the crowd, we express idolatry of heart. Most intimately, an idol is a source of desire, happiness, and security apart from the LORD. Your "god" is whatever your heart admires, follows and loves... If you have "other gods" before the LORD, then something is wrong, since we were created by God to find life in Him alone. "Surely you don't think the Scripture speaks vainly when it says: the spirit which He sent to live in us wants us for himself alone?" (James 4:5) "Grace will save a man... but it will not save him and his idol" (A.W. Tozer). Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14).

The purpose or "goal" of life is to learn to be loved by God, to accept our place within his heart, and to "live, move, and have our being" rightly related to Divine Truth revealed in Messiah. The first lesson, then, is to know who we are and how much we are loved. Learning this is often a struggle, however. We are easily distracted. We forget why we are here. Because of this we must constantly remind ourselves of our true identity, of our high calling, and the reason for our lives... Much of our trouble comes from "disordered love," by elevating what is finite to the status of the infinite. Indeed idolatry is the substitution of not-god (לא־אֵל) for the sacred, absolutizing the present and worshiping the temporal. We find lasting inner peace only after we surrender to God's will for our lives...

Often we are slow to realize our desperate need and God therefore allows us to revisit the various "waste places" of our own lusts until we have become sick of ourselves -- sick "to the bones." We have to be willing "to give up our sickness." Usually that means that we must experience repeated failures until we have "learned from the heart" that the LORD alone is our Healer and Deliverer (2 Cor. 7:10). Ironically it is only after we have abandoned teshuvah in our strength that we are enabled to truly turn.

God knows that we are unable to overcome our inner corruption - that we are unable to help ourselves - apart from his miraculous intervention, and therefore he creates a new heart and puts a new spirit within us (Ezek. 36:26). In this way the Lord makes us direct witnesses of his transforming power and glory... Our changed lives are made testimonies sent out to impart hope, to raise the dead of heart, and to bind up the bruised of spirit. The consolation and comfort we receive from God is the comfort we can offer to those who today are suffering... בָּרוּךְ הוּא הָאֱלהִים אֲבִי אֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ - "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

People are "hard-wired" to value and desire what they esteem as good.  It's not a question of whether we worship, but what... What is your ultimate concern? What are you looking to for life?
 




The Mark of Faith...


 

[ The following is related to both Tishah B'Av and this week's Torah portion (Vaetchanan). An idolatrous heart withdraws itself from God's Holy Presence (Ezek. 8:6)... ]

08.04.17 (Av 12, 5777)   God watches over his remnant... In his vision of the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem due to the apostasy of the people, the prophet Ezekiel overheard the LORD commissioning a mysterious "man clothed in linen, with a writing case at his side, saying, "Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark (lit. a Tav, תָּו, which resembled a cross) on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it." And to the others he said in my hearing, "Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity... but touch no one on whom is the mark" (Ezek. 9:4-ff). God has set his seal of ownership upon us and put his Spirit in our hearts as a pledge of what is to come (2 Cor. 1:22). God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: "The Lord knows those who are his," and "Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity" (2 Tim. 2:19).
 




Praying to Pray...


 

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

08.04.17 (Av 12, 5777)   Our Torah portion for this week begins, "And I pleaded (ואתחנן) with the LORD at that time, to say..." (Deut. 3:23), which implies that we must first pray in order to be able to pray, that is, we make ourselves ready to pray by finding the inner freedom and grace to groan before the LORD.... If you can't find the words to pray, then plead with the LORD and ask for the Holy Spirit to groan on your behalf (Rom. 8:26). "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Matt. 7:7). "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will show forth your praise" (Psalm 51:15).

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

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)

 




I am my Beloved's...


 

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

08.04.17 (Av 12, 5777)   From our Torah this week we read: "I stood between the LORD and you at that time .. for you were afraid..." (Deut. 5:5). Martin Buber comments: 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)

 




Spiritual Heliotropism...


 

08.03.17 (Av 11, 5777)   As a seed planted within soil seeks life by "reaching" for the sun, so our souls are drawn upward by the desire for God. The Lord calls us "out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9); he calls us to awaken, to grow, and to come to the fullness of his life (John 10:10). Being called "out of darkness" means being set free of those spiritual forces that have held us captive. When we turn to the Divine Light for our sustenance and healing, we are set free from the pain of our fears and the insanity of evil (Acts 26:18). As it is written: "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7). The Greek word "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός) comes from the verb sodzo (σῴζω), meaning "to save," from saos (σάος) "safe," in the sense of being under care and influence of the Spirit of God. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Heeding the truth of Yeshua grounds you in what is real and reveals your identity and provision as a child of God. "For you are my lamp (כִּי־אַתָּה תָּאִיר נֵרִי), O LORD, and my God lightens my darkness" (Psalm 18:28).
 

כִּי־אַתָּה תָּאִיר נֵרִי
 יְהוָה אֱלהַי יַגִּיהַּ חָשְׁכִּי

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

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


Hebrew Study Card
 
 




The Heart of Heaven...


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av... "Nachamu, nachamu..." ]
 

08.03.17 (Av 11, 5777)   In our Torah for this week (Vaetchanan), Moses recalled the awesome revelation of the Torah at Sinai, describing how the mountain "burned with fire unto the heart of heaven" (בּעֵר בָּאֵשׁ עַד־לֵב הַשָּׁמַיִם) when the Ten Commandments were inscribed upon the two tablets of testimony (Deut. 4:11-13). The sages say that the tablets represented a heart, as it says, "write them on the tablet of your heart" (Prov. 3:3), and God's word is likened to a fire that reveals the great passion of God's heart for us (Jer. 23:29; Deut. 4:24). Tragically, the two tablets were smashed after the people lost sight of the heart of heaven (לב שמים), and therefore God requires a broken heart - teshuvah - to behold his glory once again. Therefore we see that Yeshua died of a broken heart upon the cross for our return to God, when the fire of his passion burned unto the very heart of heaven, and in his mesirat ha'nefesh we see the greater glory of God...
 

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 steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart."
(Prov. 3:3)



Hebrew Study Card
 




Healing in Exile...



 

08.03.17 (Av 11, 5777)   From this week's Torah (i.e., parashat Va'etchanan) we read: "if you seek for the LORD your God from there, you will find him, if you search for him with all your heart (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ) and with all your soul" (Deut. 4:29). From where do we search, from what place, except while we are in exile, after hardship, testing, and tribulation? If you seek for the LORD your God from there - in the midst of your exile, in the midst of your heart's cry - you will find him there, in your heart. This message is a prophecy, so that even after testing befalls you, in the end you will belong to the LORD and will hear his voice.
 

וּבִקַּשְׁתֶּם מִשָּׁם אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ וּמָצָאתָ
 כִּי תִדְרְשֶׁנּוּ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶׁךָ

u·vik·kash·tem · mi·sham · et · Adonai · E·lo·hey·kha · u·ma·tza·ta
ki · tid·re·she·nu · be·khol · le·va·ve·kha · u·ve·khol · naf·she·kha
 

"But you will seek the LORD your God from there and you will find Him,
if you search for Him with all your heart and with all your soul."
(Deut. 4:29)


 
 

Note that the word "you will seek" is in the plural, whereas the rest of the verse is in the singular. "Where is God to be found?" asks the Kotzker Rebbe, but "in the place where He is given entry!" As the Apostle Paul wrote, "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is LORD and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same LORD is LORD of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For "everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved" (Rom. 10:8-13).
 




The Heart of Love...


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av... "Comfort ye My people...." ]

08.02.17 (Av 10, 5777)   Our Torah for this week (Vaetchanan) includes the first part of the Shema (שמע): "Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is One, and you shall love (וְאָהַבְתָּ) the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might..." (Deut. 6:4-5). During its recitation we attempt to concentrate our attention to the utmost, pronouncing each word carefully and covering our eyes with our right hand, focusing on the Kingship of God and our primary need to love Him with our whole being.  Yeshua said that the Shema was "the great commandment of Torah" (see Mark 12:28-31). Note that the opening declaration of the Shema includes three Divine Names: Lord (יהוה), God (אלהים), and Lord (יהוה) again, which suggests the multiplicity-in-oneness (unity) that the word "echad" implies (see below). In the Torah scroll, the two letters Ayin (ע) and Dalet (ד) are enlarged in the opening verse of the Shema. Together, these letters form the word 'ed (עֵד), which means "witness," suggesting that we recite the Shema to testify of the sovereignty of God and our great need to love Him bekhol levavkha, (בּכָל־לְבָבְךָ) with all our hearts...
 

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד

she·ma · Yis·ra·el · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · Adonai · e·chad
 

"Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD."
(Deut. 6:4)



Hebrew Study Card / Shema Reader Page
 


The Shema affirmation says: "The LORD our God is one LORD" (יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד). Interestingly, the word echad (אֶחָד) in Hebrew, translated as "one," implies unity in diversity, not absolute numerical identity (the word for one and only one, i.e., "unique," is yachid (יָחִיד)). For example, in Exodus 26:6 the parts of the Tabernacle (Mishkan) are to be constructed so that "it shall be one (echad) tabernacle," and Ezekiel spoke of two "sticks" (representing fragmented Israel) as being reunited into one: "and they shall be one (echad) stick in My hand" (Ezek. 37:19). Moses also uses echad in Genesis 2:24 when he says: "And they (husband and wife) will become one flesh (basar echad)." God's attributes as Compassionate Source of life, Eternal Judge, and Savior, are unified and affirmed in this verse. Ultimate Reality is multidimensional, personal and loving, and that is part of the very essence of God. There is no such thing as a "Person" - either human or Divine - that exists in an absolute vacuum, outside of relationship. Absolute monism is inconsistent with the idea of Divine Personhood, just as Aristotle's "Unmoved Mover" is a logical absurdity.

There is a "three-in-one" sacred place of the heart (represented by the inmost chamber of the Mishkan called the Holy of Holies) which contains the "three-in-one" sacred Throne of the Divine Presence (represented by the Ark of the Covenant covered by sacrificial blood that signifies the cross of Messiah), before which the "three-in-one" blessing of God is heard (represented by the the priestly benediction when the Sacred Name YHVH was uttered), as we affirm the great "three-in-one" affirmation of faith known as the Shema: "Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is One LORD," which declares our duty to love God with the "three-in-one existence" he has given us: with all our heart (be'khol levavkha), with all our soul (be'khol nafshekha), and with all our strength (be'khol me'odekha).

At the revelation at Sinai, "the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven" (בָּאֵשׁ עַד־לֵב הַשָּׁמַיִם), wrapped in darkness, cloud, and heavy mist" (Deut. 4:11). Yet what is this divine Fire if it is not the very passion of God - a passion that descends from the "heart of heaven" to the place of revelation within the human heart? Indeed the fire is none other than the Word of God, "the Voice that speaks from the midst of the fire" (קוֹל אֱלהִים מְדַבֵּר מִתּוֹךְ־הָאֵשׁ) the truth revelation (see Exod. 3:2, Deut. 4:33). As the Spirit asks: "Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his Son's name? Surely you know" (Prov. 30:4).

 

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

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 

Yeshua is the Center of Creation - its beginning and end.  As it is written: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the 'Aleph' and the 'Tav,' the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36). Indeed he is called מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים / Melech Malchei Hamelachim: The "King of kings of kings" and the LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest celestial glory to the dust of death upon a cross. Yehi shem Adonai mevorakh (יְהִי שֵׁם יהוה מְברָךְ): "Let the Name of the LORD be blessed" forever and ever (Psalm 113:2).

Note:  In Hebrew, the "heart" of something represents its core. center, and essence. Revelation is a matter of the heart, written by the God's Spirit, yielding a life of praise and thanks to the Lord. For more information about the Shema and its blessings, or to download Shema study pages, please see the Shema section of the site. Shalom.
 




Return to your heart...



 

08.02.17 (Av 10, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week (Vaetchanan) we read: "Take good heed for your souls..." (Deut. 4:15). The Hebrew grammar here is a bit unusual, since the verb shamar (שָׁמַר), meaning to "keep" or to "guard," is written in the passive (niphal), i.e., "Let yourselves be guarded well..." (וְנִשְׁמַרְתֶּם מְאד לְנַפְשׁתֵיכֶם). If we open our hearts to heed or listen to the truth of God - if we surrender to God's will for our lives - we will be protected from the snares of idolatry. "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" (Deut. 4:39). When you surrender from the heart you will understand that "the LORD is your keeper (יְהוָה שׁמְרֶךָ)... and yishmor et nafshekha - the LORD will guard your life" (Psalm 121:5,7).

Note that the phrase "lay it to your heart" (in Deut. 4:39) may better be rendered as "return to your heart" (וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ), suggesting that the truth of the LORD is found there – within the heart that truly seeks him (Deut. 4:29). Hashivenu! In other words, the truth is found in the heart's seeking for the LORD and His love. Know this truth today... "The most important part of teaching is to teach what it is to know," that is, to know "in your heart."
 




Cleaving to God...


 

08.02.17 (Av 10, 5777)   "But you who have clung to the LORD your God are all alive today" (Deut. 4:4). The Hebrew word devakut (דְּבָקוּת) means "cleaving" and refers to communion with God. This word comes from the root word davak (דָּבַק), meaning to "cling" or "stick" (the Modern Hebrew word for "glue" is devek (דֶבֶק) which also comes from the same root). The sages comment that we can cleave to God only one day at a time. As Yeshua said: "Take therefore no thought for tomorrow: for tomorrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient for the day its own trouble" (Matt. 6:34). One day at a time. The LORD gives us daily bread (לֶחֶם חֻקֵּנוּ) so that we may persevere for this day. "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand today -- if you hear his voice" (Psalm 95:7). Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart (Heb. 3:15). "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God, but encourage one another every day, as long as it is called "today," so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:12-13).
 

דָּבְקָה נַפְשִׁי אַחֲרֶיךָ
בִּי תָּמְכָה יְמִינֶךָ

da·ve·kah · naf·shi · a·cha·re·kha
bi · tam·khah · ye·mi·ne·kha

 

"My soul clings to you;
Your right hand upholds me."
(Psalm 63:8)



Hebrew Study Card

 




Centrality of the Heart...



 

08.02.17 (Av 10, 5777)   During Shavuot (Pentecost) we recall the revelation at Sinai, but our Torah portion this week (Vaetchanan) urges us to remember the holiness of God and to sanctify our lives as sacred every day of our lives: "Only take care, and guard your soul very diligently (רַק הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ וּשְׁמר נַפְשְׁךָ מְאד), lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, 'Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so'" (Deut. 4:9-10). We must never forget that the LORD is our Righteous Judge and that we will give account for everything we have done in our lives (Matt. 12:36). Indeed the message of the cross – of salvation itself – is unintelligible apart from the justice and righteousness of God.  The suffering of Yeshua for our sake attests to God's judgment for sin, and this is understood in relation to the revelation given at Sinai. God does not "wink" at evil or pretend it doesn't matter to his heart; on the contrary, he endured horrific suffering and died so that we could be delivered from the verdict that our sin demands. Only at the cross of Messiah may it be said: "Love and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed" (Psalm 85:10). "Above everything else guard your heart, for from it are the contours of life."
 

מִכָּל־מִשְׁמָר נְצר לִבֶּךָ
 כִּי־מִמֶּנּוּ תּוֹצְאוֹת חַיִּים

mik·kol · mish·mar · ne·tzor · li·be·kha,
ki · mi·me·nu · to·tze·ot · cha·yim

 

"Above everything else guard your heart,
 for from it are the contours of life"
(Prov. 4:23)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Notice that the word mishmar (מִשְׁמָר) refers to the act of guarding someone closely, just as an prison guard or warden might keep watch over a prisoner. The phrase translated "with all diligence" (mikkol-mishmar) literally means "more than anything that might be guarded," and is used here to intensify the command to exercise vigilance. Plainly put, this verse commands us to watch over our heart more than anything else.

Guard your heart... and yet "the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint" (Isa. 1:5). We understand how apt we are to go astray in our affections, and therefore our heart is easily divided, obstructed, and liable to failure... Despite its frailty, however, the heart determines totze'ot chayim, or the "issues" or "contours" of life. In the Tanakh, the word totza'ot is often used to refer to the borders of territories or the boundaries of a city. This verse is saying that from the heart of a person (lev) a "map" or "chart" to life is drawn. As the heart is either pure or corrupt, so will be the course of one's life... Purity of heart represents healing, which means being single-minded in our affections and attention before the LORD. For all of this we need nothing less than a miracle, chaverim...

How you choose to guard your heart from inner corruption and hardness will determine the "road" of your life. Concerning this verse the Metzudos commentary says, "Above all – more than anything else – a person must be careful to guard his heart from improper thoughts, for one cannot contemplate using the heart – the very vortex of life – to harbor thoughts that are inimical to life." Because the flesh is weak, we must be vigilant lest we become cynical, weary, and unfeelingly selfish. An unguarded heart soon becomes troubled, lonely, suspicious, and unstable. If, however, we keep ourselves from the obstruction of sin, we will experience the free flow of compassion, encouragement, and joy. The faithful heart is open - it believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Cor. 13:7).

It is your personal responsibility to guard your heart from negative influences -- a duty that is connected with yielding yourself as a vessel or "steward" of the kingdom of God. We must regularly ask God to enlighten "the eyes of the heart" according to His wisdom and power (i.e., truth revealed in Scripture), and to impart the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our desires and affections so that they conform to the character of the Messiah.

Note: For more on this, see "The Centrality of Heart: Further thoughts on Vaetchanan."
 




Tishah B'Av Prophecies...



 

08.01.17 (Av 9, 5777)   Yeshua foretold the destruction of the Second Temple when he lamented: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.  For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, Barukh Haba Ba'shem Adonai: 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'  Yeshua then left the Temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the Temple. But he answered them, "You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down." (Matt. 23:37-24:2). Note well that we are not awaiting the construction of the "Third Temple" which will be hastily erected during the time of Jacob's Trouble during the Great Tribulation, but we await the "Fourth Temple," that is, the Temple that will be built by Tzemach Tzaddik (צֶמַח צַדִּיק), namely, the Messiah the Son of David (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־דָוִד) who will come again to establish the Kingdom of Zion upon the earth in fulfillment of the promises of God (Zech. 6:12; Jer. 23:5). At that glorious time the mourning of the Jewish people will forgotten, as it is written: "Thus says Adonai Tzeva'ot (יהוה צְבָאוֹת): The fast of the fourth month (Tammuz), and the fast of the fifth month (Tishah B'Av), and the fast of the seventh month (Gedaliah), and the fast of the tenth month (Asarah b'Tevet), will be to the house of Judah for joy and rejoicing and for pleasant appointed seasons. Therefore love truth and peace" (Zech. 8:19). In that coming day, "The LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one."
 

וְהָיָה יְהוָה לְמֶלֶךְ עַל־כָּל־הָאָרֶץ
בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא יִהְיֶה יְהוָה אֶחָד וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד

ve·ha·yah · Adonai · le·me·lech · al-kol-ha·a·retz
ba·yom · ha·hu · yi·he·yeh · Adonai · e·chad · u·she·mo · e·chad
 

"And the LORD will be king over all the earth.
On that day the LORD will be one and his name one."
(Zech. 14:9)


As I've mentioned repeatedly over the years, the word "Zion" (i.e., tziyon: צִיּוֹן) is mentioned over 160 times in the Scriptures. That's more than the words faith, hope, love, and countless others...  And since Zion is a poetic form of the word Jerusalem, the number of occurrences swells to nearly 1,000!  It is therefore not an overstatement to say that God Himself is a Zionist.... "Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth" (Psalm 50:2)Zion represents the rule and reign of God in the earth and is therefore synonymous with the Kingdom of God. The entire redemptive plan of God -- including the coming of the Messiah Himself and our very salvation -- is wrapped up in the concept of Zion.  It is the "historiography" of God -- His philosophy of history, if you will.  

In a sense, the ideal or vision of Zion is the heart of the Gospel message and the focal point of God's salvation in this world.  Zion represents our eschatological future -- our home in olam haba (the world to come). Even the new heavens and earth will be called Jerusalem -- "Zion in her perfection" (Rev. 21). "This is what Adonai Tzeva'ot says: I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, but I am very angry with the nations that feel secure" (Zech. 1:14-15). "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch" (Isa 62:1). "The builder of Jerusalem is God, the outcasts of Israel he will gather in... Praise God, O Jerusalem, laud your God, O Zion" (Psalm 147:2-12).

It is worth noting that in the discussion from the Talmud, the 6,000 years of human history are divided into three epochs of 2,000 years each. The period of "tohu" occurred from the time of the fall of Adam until the call of Abraham; the period of "Torah" occurred from Abraham until the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, and the period of the "Messiah" refers to the time when the Messiah could appear before the Kingdom is established in Zion. The time immediately preceding the appearance of the Messiah will be a time of testing in which the world will undergo various forms of tribulation, called chevlei Mashiach (חֶבְלֵי הַמָּשִׁיחַ) - the "birth pangs of the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98a; Ketubot, Bereshit Rabbah 42:4, Matt. 24:8). Some say the birth pangs are to last for 70 years, with the last 7 years being the most intense period of tribulation -- called the "Time of Jacob's Trouble" / עֵת־צָרָה הִיא לְיַעֲקב (Jer. 30:7). The climax of the "Great Tribulation" (צָרָה גְדוֹלָה) is called the great "Day of the LORD" (יוֹם־יהוה הַגָּדוֹל) which represents God's wrath poured out upon a rebellious world system. On this fateful day, the LORD will terribly shake the entire earth (Isa. 2:19) and worldwide catastrophes will occur. "For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" (Rev. 6:17). The prophet Malachi likewise says: "'Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,' says the LORD Almighty. 'Not a root or a branch will be left to them'" (Mal. 4:1). Only after the nations of the world have been judged will the Messianic kingdom (מַלְכוּת הָאֱלהִים) be established upon the earth. The remnant of Israel will be saved and the 1000 year reign of King Messiah will then commence (Rev. 20:4).

 

The concept of the King Messiah, the "Anointed One" who would one day come to deliver his people from oppression at the beginning of an era of world peace has been the sustaining hope of the Jewish people for generations. King Messiah is the instrument by whom God's kingdom is to be established in Israel and in the world. This hope runs throughout the entire Tanakh. According to rabbinical Judaism (following Maimonides), this Messiah figure is not divine, though he certainly has divine powers and attributes. Indeed, he functions as Israel's Savior who would be empowered by God to:

  1. Restore the Kingdom of David (Jer. 23:5, Jer 30:9, Ezek. 34:23)
  2. Restore the Temple in Zion (Isa. 2:2, Micah 4:1, Zech. 6:13, Ezek. 37:26-28)
  3. Regather the exiles (Isa. 11:12, 43:5-6, 51:11)
  4. Offer the New Covenant to Israel (Jer. 31:31-34)
  5. Usher in world peace and the knowledge of the true God (Isa. 2:4; 11:9). This will include the entire world speaking Hebrew (Zeph. 3:9).
  6. "Swallow up" death and disease (Isa. 25:8)
  7. Raise the dead to new life (Isa. 26:19)
  8. Spread Torah knowledge of the God of Israel, which will unite humanity as one. As it says: "God will be King over all the world -- on that day, God will be One and His Name will be One" (Zech. 14:9)
     

According to this general framework of history, we are currently living in the "days of the Messiah," just before the time of great worldwide tribulation that will lead to the prophesied acharit hayamim (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים), or the "End of Days." This is the age in which the spirit of the Messiah is available to all. These are "days of God's favor" that are ending soon. According to traditional Jewish sources (Pesachim 54b; Midrash Tehilim 9:2), no one knows the exact time when the Messiah will appear -- though there are some hints. The condition of the world during the end of days will be grossly evil (2 Pet. 3:3; 2 Thess. 2:3-4, 2 Tim. 3:1-5). The world will undergo various forms of tribulation, collectively called chevlei Mashiach (חֶבְלֵי הַמָּשִׁיחַ) - the "birth pangs of the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98a; Ketubot, Bereshit Rabbah 42:4, Matt. 24:8). Some sages say the birth pangs will last 70 years, with the last 7 years as the most intense period -- the "Time of Jacob's Trouble" / עֵת־צָרָה הִיא לְיַעֲקב (Jer. 30:7). Just before the arrival of Yeshua as Mashiach ben David, a period of tribulation and distress for Israel will occur. After this "great tribulation" period, however, Yeshua will usher in Yom YHVH, the "Day of the LORD," and the sabbatical millennium, the 1000 year reign of King Messiah will commence (Rev. 20:4). (For more click here.)
 

קָרוֹב יוֹם־יהוה הַגָּדוֹל קָרוֹב וּמַהֵר מְאד
קוֹל יוֹם יְהוָה מַר צרֵחַ שָׁם גִּבּוֹר

ka·rov  yom  Adonai  hag·ga·dol,  kar·ov  u'ma·her  me·od,
kol  yom  Adonai  mar  tzo·re·ach  sham  gib·bor

 

"The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud." (Zeph. 1:14)


 


Although "Day of the LORD" (i.e., yom Adonai: יוֹם יְהוָה) is often associated with Tishah B'Av and the catastrophic destruction of the Jewish Temple, the words of the prophets were only partially fulfilled, and there awaits another Day coming when God will terribly shake the entire earth (Isa. 2:19). "For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" (Rev. 6:17). The prophet Malachi likewise says: "'Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,' says the LORD Almighty. 'Not a root or a branch will be left to them'" (Mal. 4:1). For those who are godless, the great Day of the LORD is a time of horrific judgment, but for those who belong to the LORD, it represents a day of victory and great blessing. Regarding that day the prophet Malachi said, "Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things" (Mal. 4:3).

Ultimately the Great Tribulation period is redemptive and healing (called yissurim shel ahavah, "the troubles of love"). The prophets wrote that Zion will go through labor and then give birth to children (Isa. 66:8). Thus the Vilna Gaon wrote that the geulah (national redemption) is something like rebirth of the nation of Israel. This accords with the prophetic fulfillment of Yom Kippur as the Day of Judgment and time of Israel's national conversion. In the verse from prophet Jeremiah regarding the "Time of Jacob's Trouble," it's vital to see the goal in mind - "yet out of it he is saved" (וּמִמֶּנָּה יִוָּשֵׁעַ). When Yeshua returns to Zion, all Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:26). The sages note that childbirth is a time of radical transition and struggle for the baby -- from the time of relatively peaceful existence within the womb into the harsh light of day -- and therefore a similar transition between this world and the Messianic world to come is about to take place....
 



 

July 2017 Site Updates
 


The "Tone" of Tishah B'Av...


 

[ The tragic holiday of Tishah B'Av begins this evening at sundown... ]

07.31.17 (Av 8, 5777)   The Scroll of Lamentations (מגילת איכה) is traditionally recited during Tishah B'Av to remember the destruction of the Holy Temple and other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. Lamentations is an acrostic poem that begins with the Hebrew letter Aleph in the word "eichah" (אֵיכָה): "How (eichah) lonely sits the city that once was full of people!" (Lam. 1:1). The sages note that this word "how (eichah)" could also be read as "where are you?" (אַיֶּכָּה, ayekah), God's first question to Adam after he broke covenant in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:9). The midrash draws a connection between the lamentation of the LORD over Adam's banishment from Eden and Israel's banishment from Zion (Hos. 6:7). In both cases the problem centers on the failure to ask where God is.

During the Tishah B'Av service at the synagogue, when the cantor reaches the second to last verse of the book, "Hashivenu," he pauses and the congregation recites the verse in unison: Hashivenu Adonai, elekha vena-shuvah; chadesh yamenu kekedem: "Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21). Often this verse is repeated and sung to a haunting melody as the scroll is returned to the Ark.
 

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
 

How many people today live in a state of self-imposed exile from the LORD? How lonely... God uses our loneliness and alienation to question our hearts, asking each of us, ayekah – "Where are you?" "Why have you turned away from me and chosen a state of exile?" Our inner pain is meant to provoke us to seek His face. He awaits our only possible response, "Hashivenu!" -- an imperative (demand) for the grace to repent: "You return us (i.e., you cause us to return) so that we may be reunited with you and healed!" We do not appeal to our own resources or strength to undergo this return, but rather trust that God's sovereign grace is sufficient to restore us to His presence. As Yeshua said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up" (John 6:44).

The tears of the prophet Jeremiah represent God's compassionate love for the Jewish people; the Book of Lamentations is really God's cry... God cares about the suffering of His people: b'khol tzaratam lo tzar (בְּכָל־צָרָתָם לוֹ צָר) - "In all their affliction he was afflicted" (Isa. 63:9). Even after all the horrors that befell the people of Judah due to God's disciplinary judgment, the LORD still encouraged them to seek Him again. "The faithful love of the LORD (חַסְדֵי יהוה) never ceases, and his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness" (Lam. 3:22-23). Our response to the faithful love of the LORD is teshuvah (i.e., תְּשׁוּבָה, "turning [shuv] to God"). In Modern Hebrew teshuvah means an "answer" to a shelah (שְׁאֵלָה), or a question.  God's love for us is the question, and our teshuvah – our turning of the heart toward Him – is the answer.  We return to the LORD when we truly acknowledge that He is our Father and our King. May we so turn today...
 




Return to your heart...


 

07.31.17 (Av 8, 5777)   In parashat Vaetchanan we read, "Know therefore today and return to your heart (וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ), for the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). Here again we see the centrality of the heart as the mode to encounter God (Luke 17:21). Savor the phrase, "Know therefore today and return to your heart..." It the heart that is the place of connection with God... As Yeshua said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20). Today is the day to "return to your heart" and receive again God's love for your soul...
 




Tishah B'Av - July 31st - Aug. 1st



 

[ The following is related to the fast of Tishah B'Av, which begins Monday, July 31st.... ]

07.30.17 (Av 7, 5777)   Tishah B'Av (תשעה באב, the "ninth [day] of [the month of] Av") is an annual day of mourning that recalls the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people over the centuries, but most especially the destruction of the Holy Temple and the ongoing galut (exile) of Israel. This year Tishah B'Av begins Sunday July 31st at sundown and runs 25 hours until Monday, August 1st, one hour after sundown. The customs for observing the holiday are similar to those of Yom Kippur.

Tishah B'Av is generally regarded as the saddest day of the Jewish year (and even sadder than Yom Kippur) since it was on this date that both the First and the Second Temples were destroyed and the Jewish people were forced into exile.  The root of these tragedies is said to go back to the Exodus from Egypt, when the LORD decreed a 40 year exile from the Promised Land because of the Sin of the Spies on the ninth of Av. In addition, Aaron died on Av 1 (Num. 33:38), and this was said to foreshadow the destruction of the Temple. The sages call this prophetic principle: ma'aseh avot siman labanim (מַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹת סִימָן לַבָּנִים): "The deeds of the fathers are signs for the children." 

The ninth of Av is the lowest point of a three week period of mourning that began with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz (which was undertaken to recall the first breach in the walls of Jerusalem by the Babylonians before the First Temple was destroyed three weeks later). The period of the "Three Weeks of Sorrow" is intended to instill a sense of teshuvah (repentance) and to prepare for the Messianic redemption to come.
 

Three Weeks of SorrowThree Weeks of Sorrow
 

Tishah B'Av allows us to express heartfelt grief over the loss of Zion and therefore over the fraility of our human condition. During this time it is appropriate to lament and grieve over our sins and to shed tears that attest to lev nishbar v'nikdeh, a "broken and crushed heart" (Psalm 51:17). Indeed, during the entire "Three Weeks of Sorrow" we read selections from the prophets that forewarn of the coming destruction of the Temple (churban) and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people (galut). During this time of the year, we listen to the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah crying out for our repentance...

During Tishah B'Av synagogue services, the lights are dimmed and the Aron Hakodesh (Holy Ark) is draped in black (in some synagogues the parochet (curtain) is removed as a sign of mourning). The crowns with tinkling bells are removed from Torah scrolls. Congregants remove their leather shoes and do not greet each other.  The cantor leads the prayers readings in a low, mournful voice, and the cantillation (Hebrew chanting style) for the Scripture reading is set to elegiac, sorrowful melodies.
 

 




Pleading with God...


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av... "Nachamu, nachamu..." ]

07.30.17 (Av 7, 5777)   Our Torah portion for this week (i.e., Vaetchanan) begins: "And I pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying..." (Deut. 3:23). The Torah does not mention any specific time here, though we know from the context that it was just before Moses' death. The sages comment on this verse by saying that when a person is praying, regardless of the prayer, it is the heart attitude that matters most. If your prayer is devoid of the depth of feeling, it is as if you are not praying at all. That is what is meant when the Scriptures states, "Trust in Him at all times, people; pour out your heart to Him" (Psalm 62:8), and elekha Adonai nafshi essa (אֵלֶיךָ יְהוָה נַפְשִׁי אֶשָּׂא) "To you, LORD, do I lift up my soul" (Psalm 25:1).
 

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, 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 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 believe that no prayer goes unanswered, and we find strength as 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.

Therefore remember the One who poured out his heart for our healing before the Father, in the agony of his passion and in his heart's suffering unto death for our sake... Few words were spoken, but groans, cries, gasps for breath, and the steadfast resolution to offer up the last drop of his blood for our healing and life... Pouring out of heart is not about the words we use, but the fullness of heart being presented: "When you pray, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words be without heart" (Bunyan).
 




Parashat Vaetchanan - ואתחנן


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av (i.e., Shabbat Nachamu, see entry below). ]

07.30.17 (Av 7, 5777)   Our Torah portion this week (Vaetchanan) includes some of the most foundational texts of the Jewish Scriptures, including the Ten Commandments, the Shema (the duty to love God and study His Torah), and the commandments of tefillin and mezuzot. In addition, in this portion Moses predicts the worldwide exile and the eventual redemption of the Jewish people in acharit hayamim (the prophesied "End of Days").

The portion begins with Moses' plea to the LORD to be allowed entry into the Promised Land, despite God's earlier decree (see Num. 20:8-12; 27:12-14). The Hebrew word va'etchanan (וָאֶתְחַנַּן) comes from the verb chanan (חָנַן), which means to beseech or implore. It derives from the noun chen (חֵן), grace, implying that the supplication appeals to God's favor, not to any idea of personal merit (in Jewish tradition, tachanun (תַּחֲנוּן) are prayers recited after the Amidah begging for God's grace and mercy). Moses was asking God to show him grace by reversing the decree that forbade him to enter the Promised Land.

Note that in Jewish tradition, the idea of appealing to God's grace is not without expending personal effort. The gematria of vaetchanan is 515 -- the same as the word for prayer (i.e., tefillah, תְּפִלָּה) - which suggests that while grace is "free," it is something precious that must be sought after with the whole heart. Despite his repeated appeals, however, God finally said to Moses: רַב־לָך, "enough from you" (Deut. 3:26) and reaffirmed His decree that he would not be allowed to lead Israel into the land. That privilege was given to Yehoshua bin Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן), i.e., "Joshua the son of Nun," who foreshadowed Yeshua the Messiah.

Moses was prophetically forbidden into the land because the covenant made at Sinai was insufficient to fulfill the promise of God. This insufficiency, however, was not the fault of God's Torah, which of course is "holy, just, and good" (Rom. 7:12), but rather because of the weakness of the human condition (i.e., the "law of sin and death" - תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת). "For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3-4). The New Covenant was needed to bring people to Zion, and this required a "change in the Torah" and the offices of a new priesthood (see Heb. 7:12). "The former commandment was set aside because of its weakness and uselessness - for the law made nothing perfect - but a better hope is introduced, and that is how we now draw near to God" (Heb. 7:18-19). The Love of God is our remedy, chaverim... 

 




Shabbat Nachamu (שַׁבַּת נַחֲמוּ)


 

[ With the advent of this Sabbath, we have seven weeks to prepare for the new year (Rosh Hashanah) and the High Holidays - a "jubilee" season that heralds the return of Yeshua... ]

07.30.17 (Av 7, 5777)   The prophet Zechariah (זְכַרְיָה) foresaw the future Messianic Era when the various fast days of the Jewish year will be transformed into to appointed times of great joy (Zech. 8:19): "Thus says Adonai Tzeva'ot (יהוה צְבָאוֹת): The fast of the fourth month (Tzom Tammuz), and the fast of the fifth month (Tishah B'Av), and the fast of the seventh month (Tzom Gedaliah), and the fast of the tenth month (Asarah b'Tevet), will be to the house of Judah for joy and rejoicing, and for pleasant appointed seasons, and the truth and the peace they have loved (וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָבוּ)."

Because the great vision of Zion is promised such future consolation by God, Jewish tradition named the Sabbath immediately following Tishah B'Av as the "Sabbath of Comfort, that is, Shabbat Nachamu: שַׁבַּת נַחֲמוּ, and assigned to it the prophetic portion from the Book of Isaiah that begins: נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי - Nachamu, Nachamu ami - "be comforted, be comforted, my people..." (Isa. 40:1). The sages reasoned that the word nachamu was repeated to offer consolation for both Temples that were destroyed. Thematically, this Shabbat marks a time of joy over anticipated comfort: Despite present tribulations, the LORD will vindicate His glory and completely ransom His people.
 

נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי יאמַר אֱלהֵיכֶם

na·cha·mu · na·cha·mu · am·mi · yo·mar · E·lo·hey·khem
 

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God"
(Isa. 40:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 


Seven Weeks Until Rosh Hashanah...

Shabbat Nachamu marks the start of a series of seven weekly readings related to the final redemption of the Jewish people (and indeed the entire world) called "The Seven Haftarot of Consolation."  From the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av until Rosh Hashanah, we read words of comfort from the prophets. These selections foretell the the restoration of the Jewish people to their land (the ingathering of the exiles), the future redemption of Israel, and the coming of the Messianic Era. In other words, we have seven weeks  - 49 days - to prepare for the start of the new year (Rosh Hashanah) and the High Holidays - a prophetic "jubilee" season that concerns the return of Yeshua (and may He return soon, chaverim).

Note:  Parashat Vaetchanan is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av.
 




Close in all our Calling...


 

07.28.17 (Av 5, 5777)   The Torah states that the LORD is close to us "in all our calling to Him" (Deut. 7:7). He listens to all of our heart's cry - our yearning, our lament, as well as our praise, and attends to our daily needs. Our part is to turn to God for help in all that we do: we are to "know Him in all our ways" (בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ) by trusting in his nearness (Prov. 3:5-6). Even if we feel our prayer is unanswered, we trust despite our temporary darkness, believing that God sees our need and knows what is best for us. God is close "in all our calling to Him" (בְּכָּל־קָרְאֵנוּ אֵלָיו), and therefore we are often brought to a place of need. We can endure suffering and find acceptance as we call upon God for help in all that we do.
 

בְּטַח אֶל־יְהוָה בְּכָל־לִבֶּךָ
וְאֶל־בִּינָתְךָ אַל־תִּשָּׁעֵן
בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ וְהוּא יְיַשֵּׁר ארְחתֶיךָ

be·tach · el · Adonai · be·khol · lib·be·kha
ve'el · bi·na·te·kha · al · tish·a·en
be·khol · de·ra·khe·kha · da·ei·hu · ve·hu · ye·ya·sher · or·cho·te·kha

 

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
Know Him in all your ways, and He will straighten your paths."
(Prov. 3:5-6)



Hebrew Study Card
 

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart... know Him in all your ways." The Hebrew word for trust is "bittachon" (בִּטָחוֹן), from a root word (בָּטָח) that means "to lean upon," to feel safe and secure.... Bittachon describes emotional acceptance of the goodness of the LORD. Some of the sages have said that while emunah (אֱמוּנָה), or "faith," represents a state of cognitive understanding (בִּינָה) that God is involved in all the events of the universe, bittachon means emotionally trusting that the Lord is present in every situation for your good.... Rabbi Bechaya put the distinction this way: "Everyone who trusts has faith, but not everyone with faith trusts." Bittachon is an intuitive awareness of the personal love of God for your life, coupled with complete trust that He deeply cares for you (Rom. 8:28). It is an expectation that the love of God is "I-AM-always-with-you," too.

Shabbat Shalom, dear friends... Thank you for praying for Hebrew for Christians.
 




Your greatest need...


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.28.17 (Av 5, 5777)   From our Torah this week we read: "For the LORD your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing" (Deut. 2:7). With God you have everything you need; without Him, you will never be truly satisfied. "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee," which is to say that the merry-go-round of desire for things of this world is ultimately vain and unfulfilling. Indeed, it is slavery to be attached to unslakeable desire; it is madness to restlessly desire more and more. God has set eternity within our hearts (Eccl. 3:11), a hunger that only heaven can fulfill, but we try to find happiness with the trinkets and junk of this passing realm.... When the LORD is with us – and when we dwell in the simplicity of that reality – we lack nothing: "For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you" (Psalm 84:11-12).
 

כִּי שֶׁמֶשׁ וּמָגֵן יְהוָה אֱלהִים
חֵן וְכָבוֹד יִתֵּן יְהוָה
לא יִמְנַע־טוֹב לַהלְכִים בְּתָמִים
יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם בּטֵחַ בָּךְ

ki · she·mesh · u'ma·gen · Adonai · Elohim
chen · ve'kha·vod · yit·ten · Adonai
lo · yim·na · tov · la·cho·le·khim · be'ta·mim
Adonai · Tze·va·ot · ash·rei · a·dam · bo·te·ach · bakh
 

"For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you."
(Psalm 84:11-12)

 




Moses' Miraculous Words...



 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.28.17 (Av 5, 5777)   The midrash says that even though Moses "stammered" and was "kevad peh" (heavy of mouth), he was empowered to speak fluently whenever the Holy Spirit moved him.  Sefer Devarim (the Book of Deuteronomy) is unique among the five books of Torah because it represents Moses' great farewell appeal to follow the LORD bekhol levavkha, "with all of your heart" (Deut. 6:5). In this final book of Torah, Moses - who once described himself as lo ish devarim (לא אִישׁ דְּבָרִים) "a man of no words" (Exod. 4:10), speaks some of the moving words of all of the Holy Scriptures, eloquently calling us to embrace the truth of Torah, to walk in God's love, and to await the final redemption...
 




Moving Toward the Center...


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.28.17 (Av 5, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week we read: "'You have been traveling around this mountain country long enough. Turn northward" (Deut. 2:3). Around and around, covering the same ground; learning the rules of behavior, focusing more on "the what" than on "the how." The sages say that "turning north" (צָפוֹן) means turning to that which is deeper, hidden (צָפוּןֵ). Look within and attend to the secret sins, the unconscious ways that prompt us to revisit old patterns of behavior: "Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me" (Psalm 19:13). Examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith: ἑαυτοὺς δοκιμάζετε - test yourselves (2 Cor. 13:5). Consider what gives life to your everyday choices and attitudes. God calls us to love Him in wholeness, and that means in the hidden recesses of the heart (Matt. 6:6).

There is a tension between self-acceptance, the unconditional love of God, and the duty to consecrate ourselves: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13). The sages say that every desire is ultimately rooted in a hunger for life, for God, and for holiness – though it is our responsibility to uplift the desire, to sanctify it, and to order our affections by making them express the hunger for heaven (1 Cor. 10:31).
 




Living in Worldly Exile...


 

07.28.17 (Av 5, 5777)   One consequence of the self-policing mindset of a culture indoctrinated with political correctness ideology is that the "big questions of life" are often regarded as inflammatory, radical, challenging (or at least impolite), and therefore they are carefully avoided and even censored... The failure to seriously discuss the "big questions" of life, however (for example,  "Who are we?" "Where did we come from?" "Why are we here?" "Where are we going?" and "What does it all mean?") is to abandon the deepest need of the human heart... Pop culture abandons our existential plight by exchanging our need to find meaning, purpose, and healing with chatty comments or mindless sound bites about externalities, superficialities, fads, and vanity. The result is the despair of exile, a thoughtless mode of existence that "lives" in ignorance of its ultimate concern.
 




The City of the King...


 

[ The following is related to the fast of Tishah B'Av, which begins Monday, July 31st.... ]

07.28.17 (Av 5, 5777)   Jerusalem is central to the Jewish heart. When religious Jews pray three times a day, they always turn toward the Holy City (i.e., mizrach: מזרח "east"). Synagogues likewise place the holy ark (the place where Torah scrolls are kept) on the wall closest to Jerusalem. Many observant Jews keep small section of an eastern wall of their house unpainted as a sign of mourning for the destruction of the Temple. Every year we close the Passover Seder with the words, La-Shanah Haba'ah Bi Yerushalayim! ("Next year in Jerusalem"). These same words are invoked to conclude the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur. Indeed Yeshua called Jerusalem the "City of the great King" (Psalm 48:2; Matt 5:35): It is the place where He was crucified, buried, resurrected, and from where He ascended to heaven. It is also the birthplace of the true church (כלה של משיח) and the focal point of humanity's eschatological future. At the Second Coming, Yeshua will physically return to Jerusalem to restore the throne of King David. Then all the New Covenant promises given to Israel will be fulfilled as the Kingdom of God is manifest upon the earth.

For more on this, see "The Significance of Zion and the Tragedy of Tishah B'Av."
 




Transience and Tishah B'Av...


 

[ Today we are observing the holiday of Tishah B'Av... ]

07.28.17 (Av 5, 5777)   In the Book of Isaiah it is written: "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8), which sets up a great contrast between olam ha-zeh and olam haba – between this present world and the heavenly realm. Unlike the grass of the field that dries up or flowers that soon fade, the word of God stands forever. And despite the frailty of man and the inevitability of physical death, God's truth endures, which is a foundation upon which we can rest.

But how are metaphors that our lives are "like dried up grass" or a "withered flower" intended to comfort us? Do they not, on the contrary, lead us to regard our lives as vain and perhaps meaningless? Yes indeed. Our lives are empty and vain apart from God and His truth. If we find ourselves wincing over such images, it is perhaps time to reexamine the state of our faith: To the extent that we regard this world as our "home" we will find the transience of life to be tragic... For those who are seeking a heavenly habitation, the "City of God" and the fulfillment of the promise of Zion, the fleeting nature of this evil world is ultimately a form of consolation... 
 

הוֹדִיעֵנִי יְהוָה קִצִּי
וּמִדַּת יָמַי מַה־הִיא
אֵדְעָה מֶה־חָדֵל אָנִי

ho·di·e·ni  · Adonai ·  kitz·tzi,
u·mid·dat ·  ya·mai ·  mah ·  hi,
e·de· ah ·  meh ·  cha·del ·  a·ni
 

"O LORD, make me to know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how quickly my life will pass"
(Psalm 39:4)



Hebrew Study Card
 

The theme of the transience of life is part of the message of Tishah B'Av. The Holy Temple, despite being the pride and joy of the Jewish people during the time of King Solomon, went up in smoke, and the place (i.e., ha-makom: הַמָּקוֹם) where the LORD chose to "put His Name" vanished as if it had never been... Understand, then, that the expression of your highest ideals, your most celebrated achievements, likewise can be turned to smoke in an instant. This, then, is the sober message of Tishah B'Av, a "holiday" that teaches that all things will be "tossed into the oven" (Matt. 6:30), though the truth of God endures forever.

On the Torah's calendar, Tishah B'Av is "sandwiched" between the two times Moses received the tablets of the covenant, first during Shavuot and later, after a period of repentance, during Yom Kippur. This means that just two months after celebrating the Sinai revelation, we mourn for the destruction of the Temple and the beginning of our long exile; and two months later still, we celebrate national atonement and the restoration of the covenant during Yom Kippur.  All this is prophetic, of course, since Shavuot recalls the ascension of our LORD and the giving of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit); Tishah B'Av foretells of Israel's long exile and the "age of grace" extended to the Gentiles; and Yom Kippur foretells the coming atonement of the Jewish people at the end of the age, when Israel accepts Yeshua as their great High Priest of the New Covenant (Jer. 30:24).

Tishah B'Av reminds us that this world is not our home, and that we are "strangers" and exiles here. The heart of faith is always in collision with this world. Yes, it is an affliction to wait for the LORD, a sort of "homesickness" of heart... The apostle Paul says our loneliness and alienation prepare for us an "eternal weight of glory" beyond all comparison, because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. "For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17-18). Just as the "two-souled" man is unstable in all his ways, so the process of being "educated for eternity" means learning to focus our heart's passion and hope on the glory of heaven. "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Ultimately, the loss of "the place where God put His Name" was a deliberate affliction of His love for his people. The Sacred Name of God [יהוה] is formed from the words hayah ("He was"), hoveh ("He is"), and yihyeh ("He will be"): הָיָה הוֶה וְיִהְיֶה, indicating that the LORD is always present, despite momentary appearances. Note that all the letters of the Name are "vowel letters," which mean they evoke breath and life. Indeed the first occurrence of the Name in Torah regards the inspiration of nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" in Adam (Gen. 2:4). The LORD is always present for you, breathing out life and hope...
 




Weeping and Exile...


 

[ The somber fast of Tishah B'Av begins this coming Monday at sundown.... ]

07.28.17 (Av 5, 5777)   The somber time of Tishah B'Av allows us to express heartfelt grief over the loss of Zion and therefore over the frailty of our human condition. During this appointed time it is appropriate to grieve over our sins and to shed tears that attest to lev nishbar ve'nikdeh, a "broken and crushed heart" (Psalm 51:17). Indeed, during the entire "Three Weeks of Sorrow" we have read selections from the prophets that forewarn of the coming destruction of the Temple (i.e., churban: חֻרְבָּן) and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people (i.e., galut: גָּלוּת). During this time of the year, we listen to the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah crying out for our repentance...

During the two Tishah B'Av synagogue services, the lights are dimmed and the Aron Hakodesh (Holy Ark) is draped in black (in some synagogues the parochet (curtain) is removed as a sign of mourning). The crowns with tinkling bells are removed from Torah scrolls. Congregants remove their leather shoes and do not greet each other.  The cantor leads the prayers readings in a low, mournful voice. The cantillation for the Scripture readings are set to elegiac, sorrowful melodies (for more on this click here).
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵנוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂנוּ אֲסִירֵי תִּקְוָה

ba·rukh · at·tah · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · me·lekh · ha·o·lam,
a·sher · a·sa·nu · a·si·rei · tik·vah
 

"Blessed art You, LORD our God, King of the universe,
who has made us captives of hope."


 
Download Study Card

 




Words and Consequences...


 

07.28.17 (Av 5, 5777)   The midrash notes the morphological similarity between the word devarim (דְּבָרִים), "words," and devorim (דְּבוֹרִים), "bees." The words of Torah can give joy and sweetness to those who heed them (Psalm 19:10), but they are a deadly poison to those who do not: "Just as the honey of the bee is sweet and its sting is sharp, so, too, are the words of Torah." Likewise, our words can either be used to build up, edify, and comfort others, or they can be used to tear down, deliver poison, and cause pain.  As it is written in the Book of Proverbs, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue."
 

מָוֶת וְחַיִּים בְּיַד־לָשׁוֹן
וְאהֲבֶיהָ יאכַל פִּרְיָהּ

ma·vet · ve·chai·yim · be·yad · la·shon
ve·o·ha·ve·ha · yo·khal · pir·yah
 

"Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits" (Prov. 18:21)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Our ability to use language is perhaps what most differentiates us from animals -- and what most closely links us to God Himself. Indeed, words (devarim) and rationality (הִגָּיוֹן) are central to tzelem Elohim, the image of God, even as Yeshua represents this image most perfectly as devar Elohim (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים), the "Word (λόγος) of God" (Heb. 1:3, John 1:1). Just as the Word of God resounded, "Let there be Light, and there was Light (Gen. 1:3), so our words are the medium of how we experience and understand reality.  Words, then, can bring forth light and life, though tragically, they can cause darkness and death, too.

Life and death are be'yad lashon - in the "hand of the tongue," an idiom meaning under the control of the tongue.. Our words (and the thoughts they express) have vast spiritual significance and repercussion... Because we are made in the image and likeness of God, words wield spiritual power. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "word" (דָּבָר) also means "thing." When we bless others, we are invoking grace and good will to be manifest in the world, but when we curse others, the opposite effect is intended. The phrase, "those who love it will eat its fruits," suggests that as we speak, think, and imagine, so will come to us: we will eat the fruit of our words and their consequences....

Note: For more on this, see the parashah article, "These are the Bees."
 




Counting Stars...


 

07.28.17 (Av 5, 5777)   He took him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them..." then he added, "so shall your offspring be… And he believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:5-6). It takes more faith to believe the innumerable stars in the night sky were created for you than to believe that you were created for them… The stars light up the night sky to reveal the wonder and mystery that bespeaks your life (John 1:4). On the other hand, our lives are likened to vapors that quickly dissipate and are soon forgotten: "What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes" (James 4:14). In light of this antinomy, the sages reasoned that each person should walk through life with two notes, one in each pocket.  On one note should be the words bishvili nivra ha'olam (בִּשְׁבִילִי נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם) -- "For my sake was this world created," and on the other note the words should read, anokhi afar ve'efer (אָנכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר) -- "I am but dust and ashes."


 




Jeremiah and Jesus...


 

[ The following relates to Tishah B'Av, which begins sunset on Monday, July 31st... ]

07.27.17 (Av 4, 5777)   The prophet Jeremiah (ירמיהו הנביא) clearly foreshadowed the prophetic ministry of Yeshua our Messiah. Both Jeremiah and Yeshua were called to deliver the judgment of God upon sinful man. Both lived in a time of political upheaval and unrest for Judah. In a sense, both were "prophets of doom" who became "enemies of the Jewish state."  Both condemned hypocrisy and foretold disaster unless the people turned to God with all their hearts (Matt. 15:8; Jer. 7:9-15). Both were "weeping prophets" who lamented over the City of Jerusalem (Jer. 9:1; Luke 19:41). Both were misunderstood and persecuted by the people of their day. Both prophets were plotted against by the citizens of their own hometowns (Jer. 11:21; Luke 4:28-30), and both were rejected by the religious and political leaders of their day (Jer. 20:1-2; John 18:13, 24). Both rejected the Temple worship as corrupt and beyond repair. Both condemned the "religious" reinterpretation of the Torah (Jer. 8:8; Matt. 23:2-3;23; Mark 7:5). Both were forcibly taken into Egypt because of political persecution (Matt. 2:13; Jer. 44). Both were falsely accused, arrested, and unjustly beaten (Jer. 37:12-15; Matt. 26:61; 27:26). Both were rejected by the secular Jewish king of the Jews (Jer. 32:2-4; Luke 23:8-11), and yet both never abandoned the Jewish people and ultimately offered God's comfort and hope (Lam. 3:22-25, John 14:1,27).

Jeremiah and Yeshua both preached the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) of God that would transform a heart of stone into a heart of flesh (Jer. 31:31-34; Luke 22:20; Heb. 8:6-13; 9:15, etc.). Both foresaw that the true Temple of God was made without hands, built from material of hearts of those who truly serve God in Spirit and in truth... The destruction of the First Temple was the central catastrophe of the older covenant, just as the destruction of the Second Temple was the central catastrophe of the New Covenant. Because of the suffering and sacrificial death of Yeshua, the inner veil of the Temple has forever been rent asunder, and access to the Presence of God has been made available to all who trust in Him....

Yeshua warned us about the "leaven" (i.e., doctrine - διδαχή) of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and politicians of his day (Matt. 16:6-12; Mark 8:15). In Luke's Gospel, this leaven is defined as hypocrisy (ὑπόκρισις): "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy" (Luke 12:1). But what is hypocrisy? The word might come from the Greek prefix ὑπὸ (under) combined with the verb κρίνω (to judge), and hence refers to the inability to come to a decision and exercise genuine conviction. It is a state of being "double minded," duplicitous, and insincere... Later the word connoted playing a part, "putting on a show," feigning righteousness, acting with insincerity, reusing "canned answers" or repeating the party line.  Hypocrisy is therefore a form of self-deception. It is institutionalized prejudice dressed up as religion; it is counterfeit thinking that cheats the truth; it is ethnocentric nonsense that despises others as unworthy, inferior, etc.  The "leaven of the Pharisees" is like old sourdough added to the community -- it "puffs people up" and is therefore based on human pride. The message of both Jeremiah and Yeshua was marked by repentance, humility, and the sincere desire to love and serve God. 
 




The Cry of Jeremiah...


 

[ The Fast of Av (i.e., Tishah B'Av) begins Monday, July 31st at sundown this year... ]

07.27.17 (Av 4, 5777)   When he saw the Jews so crazed with the fires of their idolatry, Jeremiah asked them, "Why do you pursue idols? What attracts you to such emptiness? The Jews replied, "We have forsaken the LORD and He is angry with us. That is why we seek comfort in our idols..." (Jer. 8:14). This midrash reveals the profound connection between our faith in God's love for us and our tendency toward sin.  Despair over oneself can lead to shame, and shame leads to shameful actions (Prov. 13:5; 23:7). A person who abandons hope in the LORD and His love becomes a prey to the devil himself. If he no longer believes God can give him comfort, he will turn to the grossest forms of immorality to assuage his sense of abandonment.

According to Devarim Rabbah, "The Holy One, blessed be He, sent Jeremiah to the people when they sinned and said to them, 'Go tell my sons to repent.' The people said to Jeremiah, 'Should we return to the Holy One, blessed be He, with these faces? [i.e., we are ashamed to show our faces to Him].' The Holy One, blessed be He, sent Jeremiah again to tell them, 'My sons, if you return, is it not to your Father in heaven that you are returning? For He has never rejected you... By your lives, I will not deny my relationship with you. ' Nonetheless, despite such appeals, the people mocked Jeremiah and clung to their shame. It was the shame of sin that led to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, just as it was the shame of sin that led to the death of the exiles in Egypt....
 




Jeremiah and Moses...


 

07.27.17 (Av 4, 5777)   The sages sometimes compare Moses and Jeremiah. "Everything that is written about Moses is written about Jeremiah. As Moses was a prophet for forty years, so was Jeremiah; as Moses prophesied concerning Judah and Benjamin, so did Jeremiah; as Moses' own tribe (the Levites under Korach) rose up against him, so did Jeremiah's tribe revolt against him (Jeremiah was a kohen); Moses was cast into the water, Jeremiah into a watery pit; as Moses was saved by a female slave (the slave of Pharaoh's daughter), so Jeremiah was rescued by a male slave (Jer. 38:7-13); Moses reprimanded the people in discourses, so did Jeremiah (Pesikta d'Rav Kahana). We may add that Jeremiah expressed the same reluctance as Moses to become a prophet and offered the same kind of excuses (God gave Aaron to be Moses' mouthpiece but directly put words into Jeremiah's mouth (Exod. 4:14-16, Jer. 1:8-9). Some scholars have said that Jeremiah might have even regarded himself as the coming prophet whom Moses foretold (Deut. 18:18).

As a young man, the LORD appeared to him and said, "Listen closely, Jeremiah. While you were still in your mother's womb, I sanctified you to be a prophet for My people. The time has now come for you to go forth and prophecy." Deeply moved and afraid of this responsibility, he replied: "Master of the universe, how can You send me to rebuke the Jews? They will kill me! They even threatened to kill Moses and Aaron, who led them from Egypt, and they mocked Elijah and Elisha. Who am I to deliver your message to them?  I am young - only a child. Who will listen to me?" (Jer. 1:6). The LORD reassured Jeremiah: "Be not afraid. You shall indeed go wherever I send you. I have chosen you precisely because you are so young and innocent. Go to them and pour out my wrath upon them (Jer. 1:7-10).

Jeremiah was dismayed that he must be the "prophet of doom." "He said, 'Master of the Universe, what sins have I done that in the days of all the prophets who preceded me and those who will follow me, you did not destroy Your House, but only through me?' The LORD answered, 'Even before I created the world, you were prepared for this mission'" (Pesikta Rabati 27:5). Nonetheless, Jeremiah begged the LORD not to send him: "The day on which I was born was an evil one (Jer. 20:14); May this day never be blessed (Tishah B'Av)" He continued to protest. "Consider the differences between Moses and me. In his time, the Jews were told, 'May the LORD bless you (Num. 6:24),' but I must bring them a curse (Jer. 29:22). In Moses' day, You promised to protect your people and give them peace (Num. 6:26), but I must bring them news of evil days which will come to pass, days of darkness and death, of war and great tragedy (Jer. 16:5). Woe is me to be destined for such a bitter task!  I am like a priest who discovers in the course of punishing the unfaithful woman that she is none other than my own mother! So I am consigned to deliver the news of exile and destruction to my people, who are as dear to me as my own mother!"
 




The Plea of Moses...


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.27.17 (Av 4, 5777)   Various commentators regard Sefer Devarim (i.e., the Book of Deuteronomy) as Moses' final warning to Israel in light of their repeated failures and setbacks.  Some (primarily Christian) commentators even go so far as to say that the book represents an indictment against the Jewish people that warrants regarding them as a cursed people. (This is essentially the odious doctrine of "replacement theology" that denies ethnic Israel has a future and a hope in God's plan of salvation.) Even many Jewish commentators, among them Rashi, seem to focus on Moses' rebuke (i.e., tochachah: תּוֹכָחָה) of Israel and regard the book in a negative light. Because of this, it should be stressed at the outset that Moses' correction of Israel - including his review of the unseemly history of the desert generation - was primarily intended to remind the Jews of their high calling, their new identity, and their preciousness as God's people.  As will be seen, Moses wanted Israel to remember its identity as am segulah (עַם סְגֻלָּה), God's "treasured possession among all peoples" (Exod. 19:5). Moses' admonition (מוּסָר) functions more like the plea of a father to his children to walk in a manner that is worthy of his name than a stinging rebuke of the sins of his children. "My son, despise not the discipline (musar) of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction (tochachah). For whom the Lord loves he corrects; even as a father the son in whom he delights" (Prov. 3:11; cp. Heb. 12:5-6). Therefore we read, "Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son (כַּאֲשֶׁר יְיַסֵּר אִישׁ אֶת־בְּנוֹ), the LORD your God disciplines you (הוה אֱלהֶיךָ מְיַסְּרֶךָּ)" (Deut. 8:5).

To underscore this point, notice that just before Moses began his reproof of Israel, he declared his love and faith in the people. "The LORD your God has multiplied you until you are today as numerous as the stars in the sky (כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם). May the LORD, the God of your fathers, make you a thousand times more as you are (כָּכֶם), and bless you, as He promised you" (Deut. 1:10-11). Moses first brought up God's love for the Jews before he began his admonition.  Notice he used the word kachem (כָּכֶם, "as you are") in this blessing.  May the LORD multiply you - as you are - a thousand times! You are beloved; you are worthy: may the LORD bless you a thousand times over! (How different is this picture of Moses than the typical cartoon made of him by many in Christianity, who envision him smashing the tablets as if that were his "last word" on the subject of the Torah to Israel!)

Were the people perfect then?  Obviously not, as would be clear through Moses' later admonition to them. Nonetheless, Moses used a "good eye" to see their potential as God's chosen people. Here was this ragtag group of of desert wanderers, descendants of slaves from the "house of slavery," whom the LORD God Almighty personally redeemed to be His own treasured possession.  Despite their failures in the past and all that went before, Moses reminded them that they were esteemed as mamlechet kohanim v'goy kadosh (מַמְלֶכֶת כּהֲנִים וְגוֹי קָדוֹש), a "kingdom of priests and a holy people" (Exod. 19:6).
 




Using the Good Eye...


 

07.27.17 (Av 4, 5777)   If you look for flaws or defects in others, you will find them (Prov. 11:27). "A bitter person makes himself miserable." In this connection, recall that when the Jews came to Marah, they "could not drink the water because it was bitter" (Exod. 15:23). The Hebrew, however, could be read, "they could not drink the water because they (i.e., the people) were bitter (כִּי מָרִים הֵם). The problem is often not "out there" but within the heart (Matt. 15:19-20). How we choose to see, in other words, says more about us than it does the external world. If you read the daily news and see only ugliness, you run the risk of becoming hardhearted.  Your despair can eclipse the Presence of God....

Instead of refusing to judge others (in the name of supposed tolerance), we are commanded judge people favorably by using a "good eye" (עַיִן טוֹבָה). As it is written in the Torah, "in righteousness judge your neighbor (בְּצֶדֶק תִּשְׁפּט עֲמִיתֶךָ)" (Lev. 19:15). Notice that the word translated "righteousness" is tzedek (צֶדֶק), a word that includes the heart motive of "charity" and love.  We are commanded to give tzedakah (צְדָקָה, "charity") not just because it is "right," but it is right because it is based on God's love and care for others.  Something is righteous, in other words, because it expresses the truth about God's love. We could read this commandment as "in love judge your neighbor." Our judgments should be based on compassion, empathy, and care for others - never as a verdict about someone's worth and status before God. We see with a redemptive eye, and that means seeing the potential of others and their inherent worth as God's children.

Similarly, Yeshua warned us not to judge by appearances, but to "judge with righteous (צֶדֶק) judgment" (John 7:24). In the context in which he spoke (i.e., teaching the crowd during the festival of Sukkot in Jerusalem), Yeshua justified healing someone on the Sabbath day as an example of understanding the "weightier matters" of the Torah. He appealed to the crowd to use their sense of charity (צְדָקָה) before coming to a decision. He was grieved that people often "turned off their hearts" by disregarding the pain of others (Mark 3:5). Yeshua warned us not to "judge by appearances," which was the very mistake Job's friends made when they regarded Job's suffering as deserved because of some hidden sin... Certainly such indifference to personal suffering is an implication of a merit-based religious system that was endorsed by some of the religious authorities of Yeshua's day. Even some of Yeshua's disciples mistakenly correlated suffering with sin (John 9:1-3).

We are to "master the art of seeing good in others." Soren Kierkegaard tells the story of two young portrait artists who both sought to capture the essence of beauty in their paintings. One artist looked high and low for the "perfect face of beauty" but never found it. Tragically, he later gave up painting and lived in despair. The other artist, however, simply painted every face he saw and found beauty in each one. Now which of the two mastered the art of seeing the good in others? Which of the two had a good eye?

For more see on this see, "Righteous Judgment: Further thoughts on Devarim."
 




Shabbat Chazon....



 

07.27.17 (Av 4, 5777)   Parashat Devarim is always read on the Sabbath before the 9th of Av, the traditional date on which both the First and Second Temples were destroyed. This Sabbath is called "Shabbat Chazon" (שַׁבַּת חַזוֹן), the "Sabbath of Vision," so named from the opening verse of the Haftarah: "Chazon Yeshayahu ven-Amotz" (חֲזוֹן יְשַׁעְיָהוּ בֶן־אָמוֹץ), the "Vision of Isaiah, the son of Amoz" (Isa. 1:1). When it was first recorded, Isaiah's vision of the destruction of the Temple was still future, and the Jews still had a chance to repent before the great tragedy befell them. However, since they did not repent, calamity finally overtook the inhabitants of Judah....  Despite this devastation, however, the Berditchever Rebbe saw in Shabbat Chazon a distant "vision" of the Third Temple of Messianic times, as indicated by Moses' farewell address as a "second Torah" (i.e., mishneh ha'torah: מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה), that is, a prophetic retelling given to the generation that finally would enter the Promised Land. Despite a long period of exile and mourning, the Sabbath before Tishah B'Av foretells the World to Come, a time when our redemption will be complete and all traces of the pain of our past forgotten, as was spoken by Moses himself (Deut. 32:43) and later by the prophet Zechariah: "Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'The fast of the fourth month (i.e., Tammuz) and the fast of the fifth (i.e., Tishah B'Av) and the fast of the seventh (Gedaliah) and the fast of the tenth (Asarah B'Tevet) shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore love truth and peace'" (Zech. 8:19). The sorrows of our exile will be turned into the joys of redemption!

For more on this topic see: "Fast Days of the Jewish Year" and "Vision of Destruction: Further Thought on Shabbat Chazon."
 




Righteous Judgment...


 

07.26.17 (Av 3, 5777)   "Judge others as you would want to be judged." As Yeshua said, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge be'tzekdek (בְּצֶדֶק),' that is, with merciful judgment (John 7:24). Truth is classically understood as "correspondence with reality," however since reality is not static, the truth of something is bound up with its past, present, and future. To "walk in truth," then, means being mindful of the complexities of something, and consequently refusing to rush to judgment or to be prejudiced in our thinking... Since truth includes possibilities for the future, it uses the good eye and "hopes all things" (1 Cor. 13:7). Notice that the word tzedek (צֶדֶק) includes the decision to act in "charity" and love. We are commanded to give tzedakah (צְדָקָה, "charity") not only because it is "right," but because it expresses God's love and care for others. A judgment is righteous, in other words, because it decisively affirms faith in God's love...
 

    "Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind... Pride always means enmity - it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good - above all, better than someone else - I think we may be sure we are being acted upon, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is either that you forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether. "- C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity)

 




Words and Peace...


 

07.26.17 (Av 3, 5777)   According to the sages, tzara'at (i.e., "spiritual disease") is punishment for evil talk, or "lashon hara" (לָשׁוֹן הָרָה). Using deceitful speech is spiritually dangerous, and therefore a key virtue of the healthy soul is the practice of shemirat ha-lashon (שְׁמִירַת הַלָּשׁוֹן), or the "guarding of the tongue." As the Spirit attests: "Come, children, listen to me: I will teach you the awe of the LORD (יִרְאַת יְהוָה): What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:11-14). This implies that our inner peace is connected with our intention and use of words: Consciously refraining from evil speech expresses reverence and wonder before the Divine Presence, whereas the contrary indicates spiritual dis-ease, a divided heart, and inner grief: "From the same mouth come blessing and cursing; brothers, these things ought not to be so" (James 3:10). We are healed by turning to God in the truth. The one who respects the LORD will "see good," that is, he will see the goodness of his surroundings in the light of God's Presence. Seeing the good in others, using a good eye (ayin tovah), is therefore the contrary of lashon hara and slander. Our words should be used to upbuild, edify, and esteem others, never to accuse or tear them down. May God help us speak so that we "give grace to those who hear" (Eph. 4:29).

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




The Crucified Life...


 

07.26.17 (Av 3, 5777)   Some people seem to think that to be "crucified with Messiah" means that we must totally surrender our lives to God by denying ourselves and mortifying every passion apart from the Spirit of Messiah living within us (Gal. 2:20). However, if we could do this - if we really could crucify ourselves, deny ourselves, and completely yield our hearts to God in absolute surrender, we wouldn't need the miracle of salvation, would we? We'd be back at the religious game, attempting to please God through our own "best efforts," and endeavoring to affect spirituality by means of our own merit. On the contrary, Yeshua said that no one is able to come (οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐλθεῖν) to him for life unless God Himself "drags him" (John 6:44). The flesh is scandalized by this, of course, since the ego plays no part. Eternal life is found in the righteousness of Yeshua, and self-denial means to quit thinking about yourself (from α-, "not," + ῥέω, "to speak") by accepting what he has done for you. We have been (already) crucified with Messiah (the verb συνεσταύρωμαι is a perfect passive form), and just as we are identified with him in his death, so we are identified with him in his resurrected life. This is a matter of faith, trusting that God's love for your soul overcomes the law's powerlessness and your own inability to save yourself...

The first duty of the heart is to believe in the miracle of 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 (1 John 4:19). 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 accept you, sustain you, and bless you -- even in your weakest moment.  That is the nature of trusting in God's love for you.

The moral law of God is a perfect mirror, revealing the truth about our inward condition. The reality of our sin leads to brokenness and the confession of our need for God's power to change our hearts. But we can only get to that place by means of the cross: We first die to all hope in ourselves and our religious aspirations, and then God does the miracle. The cross demonstrates that any attempt of the flesh to please God (i.e., "religion") is useless and needs to be laid to rest.  True obedience, then, means surrendering to the LORD who heals your heart (forgives your sin) and sets you free to know Him. This is the "end of the law," after all - to walk as God's free child who pleases Him out of a relationship of love, trust, and blessing. We can obey God, in other words, only if we first surrender our hearts to his love.

All who surrender obey, but not all who obey surrender... While we are not saved by obeying rules of conduct but solely by trusting in God's love (Eph. 2:9; 2 Tim. 1:9, Titus 3:5, Rom. 11:6, etc.), we will find ourselves willing to obey God from the heart only if we are really convinced that he loves and accepts us, despite our sins... The love of God is not without discipline, structure, and order, after all. Love is polite; it listens; it seeks to serve and worship with reverence and gratitude. So, after unconditionally surrendering our hearts to God, we will desire to do his will, that is, we will want to know and to do his Torah (Psalm 1:2), and the Holy Spirit will therefore lead us to a place of order, faithfulness, and peace - not to disorder and confusion (1 Cor. 14:33,40). There are disciplines to the life of faith that are instilled within our hearts to help us "work out" the inner transformation of God's love into our daily lives. And that is part of the rationale for liturgy, ritual, observing the moedim (biblical holidays), reading the weekly Torah portions, giving tzedakah, performing acts of chesed, and so on.  Ideally such things are meant to provide "form" to the inner content of the heart. May we follow the path of peace. Shalom, dear chaverim...
 




Blessing of Surrender...


 

07.25.17 (Av 2, 5777)   "And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying... "Blessed are the lowly and humble, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5). Those conscious of their inner poverty, who mourn over their sinful condition, and who are afflicted with themselves, can let go of the need to "manage appearances," to be in control, or to seek validation from others, and therefore they are free to surrender their lives to God's care. They "flow" with the Father's will as a "gentle breeze," no longer resisting or striving, but simply trusting in God's care. When they are wronged, they seek neither revenge nor vindication, but only healing and restoration (1 Pet. 2:23). Paradoxically, it takes strength to be genuinely "lowly of heart," but such is found in the Spirit of God (Zech. 4:6). Indeed, the Spirit leads us to our inheritance: "the humble shall inherit the land and delight themselves in great peace" (Psalm 37:11). The fruit of the Spirit is the outgrowth of God's miraculous life with us, and we partake of that life when we live in Yeshua (John 15:1-5; Gal. 5:22-23).
 

וַעֲנָוִים יִירְשׁוּ־אָרֶץ
וְהִתְעַנְּגוּ עַל־רב שָׁלוֹם

va·a·na·vim · yir·shu · a·retz
ve·hit·a·ne·gu · al · rov · sha·lom

 

"But the humble shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace."
 (
Psalm 37:11)


 
 

God "opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." The LORD our God dwells with those "of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite" (Isa. 57:15). True greatness is found in outside of the self, beyond the instincts of the carnal ego. Those who seek to exalt themselves and to "gain the world" do not understand that the very reason for their life is to be sacrificed for the sake of love. Obeying God's call to love is not a burden, but rather sets the heart free. As Yeshua said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:28-30).
 




Weeping and Exile...


 

[ The Fast of Av (i.e., Tishah B'Av) begins Monday, July 31st at sundown this year... ]

07.25.17 (Av 2, 5777)   The somber time of Tishah B'Av allows us to express heartfelt grief over the loss of Zion and therefore over the frailty of our human condition. During this appointed time it is appropriate to grieve over our sins and to shed tears that attest to lev nishbar ve'nikdeh, a "broken and crushed heart" (Psalm 51:17). Indeed, during the entire "Three Weeks of Sorrow" we have read selections from the prophets that forewarn of the coming destruction of the Temple (i.e., churban: חֻרְבָּן) and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people (i.e., galut: גָּלוּת). During this time of the year, we listen to the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah crying out for our repentance...

During the two Tishah B'Av synagogue services, the lights are dimmed and the Aron Hakodesh (Holy Ark) is draped in black (in some synagogues the parochet (curtain) is removed as a sign of mourning). The crowns with tinkling bells are removed from Torah scrolls. Congregants remove their leather shoes and do not greet each other.  The cantor leads the prayers readings in a low, mournful voice. The cantillation for the Scripture readings are set to elegiac, sorrowful melodies (for more on this click here).
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵנוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂנוּ אֲסִירֵי תִּקְוָה

ba·rukh · at·tah · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · me·lekh · ha·o·lam,
a·sher · a·sa·nu · a·si·rei · tik·vah
 

"Blessed art You, LORD our God, King of the universe,
who has made us captives of hope."


 
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Zion's Indefatigable Vision...


 

[ The Fast of Av (i.e., Tishah B'Av) begins Monday, July 31st at sundown this year... ]

07.25.17 (Av 2, 5777)   The solemn holiday of Tishah B'Av represents the yearning of the heart for the establishment of the Kingdom of God upon the earth... As Yeshua taught his disciples to pray: tavo malkhutekha (תָּבא מַלְכוּתֶךָ): "Thy Kingdom come"; ye'aseh retzonkha (יֵעָשֶׂה רְצוֹנְךָ): "Thy will be done," ba'aretz ka'asher na'asah va'shamayim (בָּאָרֶץ כַּאֲשֶׁר נַעֲשָׂה בַשָּׁמָיִם) "on earth, as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10). Now if you say that the King of the Jews lives inside your heart by faith (Matt. 2:2), and if the King of the Jews calls Jerusalem the "City of the Great King" (Psalm 48:2, Matt. 5:35), then heed the Spirit's call to "pray for the healing of Jerusalem" and the final redemption to come. At the End of the Age, the Messiah will indeed return to establish Zion as a praise upon the earth (Isa. 62:7).
 

שַׁאֲלוּ שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלָםִ
יִשְׁלָיוּ אהֲבָיִךְ

sha·a·lu · she·lom · ye·ru·sha·la·yim
yish·la·yu · o·ha·va·yikh
 

"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem;
May those who love you be at peace" (Psalm 122:6)



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He Carries us Through...


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.25.17 (Av 2, 5777)   From our Torah this week (Devarim) we read: "The LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place" (Deut. 1:31). Part of the miracle of faith is coming to believe that you matter – that your thoughts, words, and deeds are of interest to God. You may be tempted to regard yourself as unseen and powerless before the Creator of the universe. How is it possible for anyone to serve the Infinite One, since "even the heavens, and the heaven of heavens, cannot sustain You" (1 Kings 8:27)? Are we not made of clay, whose foundation is but dust? (Job 4:19). Here the miracle of faith believes that God, the LORD and Source of all life, seeks relationship with us, and that He makes place within Himself to hear us, to engage our lives, and to walk with us... God is LORD over all possible worlds, and his infinite concern reaches to the uttermost. Indeed, "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us:" God emptied himself (κενόω) and clothed himself with human dust so that we could be touched by His love. The LORD carries us through our exile so that we might know and trust him...

"And just as we have borne the image of the man of dust,
so we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven"
(1 Cor. 15:49).

 




Redeemer of Waste Places...


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.24.17 (Av 1, 5777)   Though it would have taken just two weeks to march directly to the promised land from Egypt, the people were not ready and needed to wander from one dry place to another. Therefore we are told to remember the "whole way" (כָּל־הַדֶּרֶךְ) of our journey: "And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the the desert that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart - לָדַעַת אֶת־אֲשֶׁר בִּלְבָבְךָ ..." (Deut. 8:2). Yea, God works "all things together for good" - even tragic events such as the destruction of the Temple and the exile of His people, and therefore we are commanded to remember the "whole way" of our journey. "Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost" (John 6:12). We "press on to the goal" but also trust that God is able to redeem even the seasons of our lives lived in the waste places. Because of Yeshua, nothing of our lives will be be entirely lost. Amen. ברוך יהוה שגואל את הצער שלנו - "Blessed is the LORD who redeems our sorrows."  Chodesh tov, chaverim....
 




Suffering and Bitterness...


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.24.17 (Av 1, 5777)   How do we suffer gracefully, without becoming hardhearted and bitter? How do we cope with the disappointment of unanswered prayer? How do we bear with the inevitable grief and loss of those whom we love?  How do we understand some of the promises of God such as "ask whatever you will and I will do it" in relation to life in this world? Does God really listen to our prayers? Does he really care what happens to us?

Our options are somewhat limited regarding the existential question of why we suffer.  We can either ignore the question altogether or face it directly. If we seek to earnestly answer the question, however, we again only have a couple of "live" theological options. First, if we affirm that God is both all-powerful and all loving but will not remove our personal suffering on the basis of some sort of "principle" (for example, because he will not overrule the consequences of our free will), then he may seem indifferent to our pathos, since this would seem to imply that God values the ideals of justice more than those of mercy and compassion. It should be clear that this option is not viable for believers in our Lord Yeshua, who clearly taught us that God desires "mercy and not sacrifice" and taught us to show compassion to all people (Matt. 9:13; 12:7; Matt. 6:15, etc.). Another approach is to affirm that God is indeed all-loving but not all-powerful. God simply can't intervene to end our suffering because he is unable to do so. God wants to bless us and take away our pain, but he's limited in his means to do so. In other words, evil exists independently of God's control as a powerful force that contends with and undermines creation. It should also be clear that this option is also not viable for believers in our Lord, since God is repeatedly affirmed to be "omnipotent" or all-powerful throughout the Scriptures (e.g., Job 42:1-2; Isa. 14:27, 43:13; Jer. 32:27; Dan. 4:35; Matt. 19:26; Psalm 147:5, etc.). This leaves us with the option that indeed God is all-loving, all-powerful, and therefore pain and suffering are "tools" in his hands, intended to work for his glory and for our ultimate good (Rom. 8:28). In other words, God uses suffering as a means of transformation of the soul (soul-building theodicy).  In short, if we have trouble accepting God as our "Heavenly Father" who may use trouble in our lives to transform us in love, then we run the risk of becoming bitter and resentful people. Much more can be said on this subject, of course, but this will suffice for the moment...

In light of such profound questions that so intimately affect our lives, it is important that we are "real" and honest with God... From our Torah portion this week (Devarim) we read: "You were not willing to go up but rebelled at the word of the LORD your God. And you murmured in your tents and said, 'Because the LORD hates us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt...'" (Deut. 1:26-27). We may decry the childish insolence of the people, we lament their lack of faith, and yet God was still speaking through Moses to Israel...  The sages ask whether we can ever be justifiably angry at God, and answer that yes we can, because otherwise we could never love Him "bekhol levavkha," with all our heart (Deut. 6:5). Indeed, how can we claim to love God if we withhold the truth, lie to ourselves, and attempt to hide who we really are from Him?  If you are angry at God, he already knows, so why the pretense? Being angry with God is part of being a real person in a real relationship with Him, and allowing yourself to express the truth of your heart to him is a sign of trust. God can "handle" the darker storms of your heart: trust Him to heal you this hour. Chodesh tov, chaverim....
 




Are you Willing to Ascend?


 

[ The following entry is related to our Torah portion this week, parashat Devarim... ]

07.23.17 (Tammuz 29, 5777)   From our Torah portion this week (i.e., Devarim) we read: "But you were not willing to ascend (וְלא אֲבִיתֶם לַעֲלת), but became bitter (מָרָה) against the Word of the LORD your God" (Deut. 1:26). Moses' rebuke was not that the people were afraid to conquer the land as much as that they had lost heart and no longer desired to take hold of God's promise. The people gave up their dream; they forsook their hope; and they had lost the "devotion of their youth, their love as a bride, how they followed the LORD in the desert, into a land not sown" (Jer. 2:2). The people's failure was on two levels: First they lapsed in faith by abdicating trust in God's word, and second, they had lost the passion of their first love. In light of this, the sages say that the greater problem was that of losing heart, since the heart directs the will to believe in the miracle of God, or not...

Moses' rebuke of the people's heart condition recalls the sober warning Yeshua gave to the Ephesian believers: "I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your menorah from its place, unless you repent" (Rev. 2:2-5). Likewise the author of the Book of Hebrews commented: "And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief" (Heb. 3:17-19). The question of our faith is essential: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31).
 





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